Gubba and his great-grandchildren!

After an amazing 7 months on the road, I was so, so excited to take a break in San Marino for four days to celebrate my grandpa's 90th birthday! The whole family was expected to be there- every cousin, every great grandchild, every aunt and uncle. I was so excited to see everyone, and also ready for a nice recharge at home, in a familiar place, a familiar bed, a familiar shower. I was excited to not have to adjust to another new place for a few days, switch off my travelers brain, and just relax.

We arrived on Friday morning, October 2, and were greeted with lots of hugs from my very excited mom at the airport. Thanks for picking us up Mom! We had a few errands to run before the festivities began - Jake needed a haircut, I needed to see the dentist, but before we knew it we were back in my parents kitchen, happily eating lunch and drinking all the coffee I could find - jet lag was not going to get me! We also went through our dozens of packages - since we had the luxury of coming home, we took the opportunity to order everything we would need for South America, hiking shoes, more hiking clothes, socks, restocked on toiletries, Dramamine, and snacks. It was like Christmas with all of the packages we had! I was also super excited to see my cat, Rudy. I missed that giant kitty! He, however, was less excited to see me. When Jake, the International Cat Whisperer, walked in the door, Rudy was right there, perked up and eager to say hi. But then when I came through, he glared at me and ran away to burrow under my parents bed! What kind of welcome is that?? I think he was mad that I had been away for so long. Nice to see you to, cat!

After sorting through what to keep, what to return, and what to exchange at REI, we were ready to see the family and headed up to the bar at The Huntington Langham Hotel, Gubba's favorite spot (he and Da got married there and he goes up several times a week) for a cocktail party. Actually, the hotel was honoring him for his big birthday by presenting him with two crystal tumblers, engraved with his name; one to keep at the bar for his special use, and one to take home! The family was all in attendance for the gift giving and had an amazing time laughing, catching up, and meeting the newest additions to the family, Baby Miller and Baby James. It was overwhelming being there, I was so happy to see everyone I could barely contain myself. Jake and I told stories of our travels and ate and drank to our hearts content. After the hotel party, a bunch of us family members went out for more drinks and fun at Magnolia House (great old fashioneds there) and Lucky Baldwins. By the time Jake and I went to bed it was 4am- how on earth did we stay up all day and night after just arriving from Japan that morning? What a fantastic Friday night!

The next morning was filled with errands before the big Western themed extravaganza - we spent quite a bit of time at REI. While I wish we didn't have to take so long running errands and had more time to play with the little kids on the swingset in the backyard at my aunt's house, I'm glad we had time to go and get the stuff we really needed. My hiking boots have been so necessary in South America! All that shopping made me hungry, so we made a very necessary stop at In-n-Out - oh how I missed a cheeseburger with grilled onions, fries, and a chocolate shake! At 4pm, though, it was all about the family - Gubba's party was starting, and the family was gathering early for a photo shoot and beers before the rest of the guests arrived.  With everyone in their best western attire in honor of our favorite cowboy, the night was filled with music from Gubba's favorite mariachis, checkered table cloths, bright flowers, delicious BBQ, drinks from our favorite bartender named Taco, and fun (obviously).

The next morning I got a very special treat! My best friend, Abby, brought her beautiful 2 month old baby girl, Ava Noelle, to our house to meet me! When Abby was pregnant I cried over the fact that I wouldn't be there for her baby shower or Ava's birth, and that I wouldn't get to meet her until she would be almost 7 months old. But there I was, holding this precious, beautiful, smiley, happy baby in my arms at just two months. I was ecstatic! Abby arrived for brunch and we talked and drank champagne all day, and I held that perfect little girl all day too. I cannot wait to see them again when we get home! I love that little peanut like she is family, and I'm going to snuggle her like crazy!

The day was capped off with leftovers and listening to Gubba's stories. I love when Jake and I get some alone time with him so we can ask him question after question about his cowboy days, or how he met Da, or his many pranks on his friends. This night, he showed us pictures of his high school steps, where he first saw Da, and told us how that day he got a ride home with his good buddy, Da's brother, and asked Da on a date. The rest, as they say, is history. I could listen to his stories forever, and I love that he loves to tell them. His favorite ones, and mine, being any that involve my grandma.  I particularly love the one about how Da was secretly taking riding lessons in order to impress him with her equestrian skills, and then he happened to spot her one day at the barn - the secret was out! I love when he talks about the ridiculous stunts he used to pull with his friends, and how many times he and Da moved houses because he kept selling the ones they had just built and moved into. I love that I don't always know how much truth there is to the more fantastical stories. Have you seen the movie "Big Fish"? If so, the grandpa is Gubba. The stories he tells are always intertwined with a little bit of exaggeration, a little bit of magic, and a little bit of truth, just like Gubba's stories. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you watch it. Anyway, I love getting to spend time with this amazing cowboy.

On our last day, Monday, we did laundry and packed. I pet Rudy, who had finally come around to me again. And my parents, Jake, and I had a super tasty steak dinner, cooked by Mom, and lots of really good wine (I mean really good!). It had been a wild weekend and I was happy that the four of us finally had some time to catch up. On our way to the airport we talked about the very real possibility of them visiting us in Buenos Aires in December (for my birthday! Woohoo!). And knowing that we'll be back home at the end of January, just a few short months away, we had a less tearful, less difficult goodbye than in March. They watched at the LAX curb as we waited in line to check our bags. Little did they know that we almost weren't allowed to board our flight! More on that in the next post on Colombia!

Thank you, everyone, for the best weekend at home! Thank you Jake for seeing how badly I needed it and not even blinking an eye when I asked you to change our flights. Thank you, Abby, for coming over and introducing me to your baby girl. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for making it possible for us to come home for the party, to see you, to see Abby and Ava, for everything. It was an incredible four days and reminded me just how lucky Jake and I are to have so many people who love us and keep track of us and bend over backwards to make us happy.

On to South America!!