Ella Is So Happy to See Her Mom!

Friday, July 6, 2007
Petaluma, California

This trip has been the longest period of time that Ella's been away from her Mom so naturally she's getting a little homesick. We're all very excited about hooking up with Darva (Ella's Mom and my youngest sister) in San Francisco.

Darva has been to San Francisco plenty of times, but usually on business. She's coming out to be a bona fide tourist this time around. I have to chuckle a little...because Darva's not into the whole camping scene. We're staying at the Petaluma KOA which is touted to be among the creme de la creme of all the campgrounds in the company.

To afford the girls some privacy they'll be bunked in one of the luxurious kamping kabins that happens to be minus a private bath. It does have a cute little porch swing, though. Thank goodness the communal bathhouse is extra, extra nice and it's cleaned 3 times a day. Needless to say, Ella's in heaven! She's with her Mom, in a wonderful city, in their own little cabin and this is hands down the best campground of her entire adventure with us. She's certainly experienced the whole gamut.....from the absolute worst (Lemon Cove) to the very best!

This KOA even has a petting zoo and an el primo playground. Need I say more? Actually yes, because Vance is on cloud 9, too! Around the clock activities are scheduled for the kids including crafts, face paintings, banana bike rides, ice cream socials and evening hayrides. This is one of those campgrounds that's a destination unto itself. I met grandparents who pack up their grandchildren (leaving the parents at home) and spend a week here just letting the kids play and hang out. The Petaluma KOA lives up to its reputation as a camping resort. Vance and Ella are constantly out and about enjoying some personal freedom while we adults savor some time without the kids under foot.

We're camped adjacent to the Rec Room and activity building and you should have seen the look of horror on Mark's face when an evening of karaoke cranked up the first night of our arrival. The thought of sipping wonderful California wines from nearby Napa and Sonoma each evening to tunes like 'I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt' and 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' performed by teenage girls didn't appeal to our sense of relaxation. But it was all in good fun and fortunately it was a one night only gig during our longer than anticipated stay.

Originally, we had planned to leave and go back to Yosemite the day after Darva and Ella flew home to Georgia. The Bay area holds so much nostalgia for us that we simply couldn't stick to what little itinerary we had mapped out. So we just kept extending our visit. We were up to 13 days when we finally had to make ourselves leave. Otherwise, we would still be there!

Yosemite was hot – temperatures at the campground would typically top out in the high 90’s, even breaking the 100 mark a couple of times. So when the temperature started sliding downward about the time we topped Altamont Pass (site of a huge and beautiful wind turbine farm), we were happy campers indeed.

A few miles closer near Oakland, the characteristic fog of the Bay Area was everywhere. It’s hard to describe our emotions as anything but jubilant. There is something about the weather out here that lifts you – I felt it often when I lived in Las Gatos and San Francisco. No matter how tired or wrung out I would be after a long days work, seeing the belt of fog looming over a section of I-280 on my drive home would always lift my spirits. I loved to leave my window open at night, letting the cool air drift in to the sounds of my favorite jazz station, KKSF.

There is a certain sense of homecoming for me in this return to San Francisco. Had I not met Denise, there is a good chance I would still be here. I loved living in the Bay Area, I simply loved Denise more, moving back to Atlanta to be with her. That decision obviously worked out well, but this area has always had a magnetic pull on the both of us.

Happy and laughing, we rolled down the windows to soak in the cool, moist air, with the temps dropping into the mid-50’s at one point around Berkeley. Unfortunately, we hit town right at 5pm on a Friday. Coupled with several wrecks, what should have been about a 45 min drive to the campground turned into a 3 ½ hour trek in bumper to bumper traffic. But we really didn’t mind. We crossed the Richardson Bridge to get get across the bay, which afforded Vance and Ella their first big views back into San Francisco.

I was somewhat bummed out initially when I realized just how far north of the San Francisco our campground was. We are staying in the Petaluma KOA, which I thought I had remembered as 10-15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Like many other memories of San Francisco, this one was a bit fuzzy, as the actual distance was closer to 40 miles. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we fell in love with Petaluma, a mid-sized historic town that is convenient to everything. We were approximately 20 mins from wine country, the coastline, and from the Muir Woods/Mt Tamalpais area. San Francisco proper was only about 45 mins away, including the usual glorious drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. The town itself has undergone a great renovation, and is full of interesting shops and restaurants, including a brand new digital theater complex which we took full advantage of (Ratatouille, Transformers and Harry Potter!)

Wandering into town our first evening in search of food, we were quickly (re)introduced to the differences between California and the rest of the country. Vance and Ella zeroed in on an extremely eclectic toy store called ‘Jungle Vibes’. Inside, we find a party going on with appetizers, wine, beer keg and an old slushy machine grinding away by the front door - with a bottle of Tequila helpfully sitting on top. It wasn’t a raucous scene at all...we later found out it was an open house celebration of the downtown restoration association.

The funny thing was, it felt perfectly natural to wander around the store with the kids, party and all. They loved it, we loved it – it didn’t seem uncomfortable, like it would have back east. Ella located some type of scooter you sit on and was soon zooming around the isles – something I’d usually never let Vance do in a store, but here it seem perfectly fine. The only trouble we had was getting someone to take our money for a couple of books we wanted to purchase – we finally good naturally decided to come back on another day, when things were more back to normal!

The campground is huge – nearly 300 campsites. We are setup right next to a huge water tank, which is right next to a very large activities building. The first evening is karaoke night, which has attracted a large crowd of children singers. It’s kinda cute, although the thrill rapidly wears off.

Darva is joining us for a week. It’s interesting to see how your focus and method of travel changes when you are accompanied by others. With Ella in tow, we found ourselves slowing down a bit, taking advantage of Vance having a playmate. With Darva, we’ll put more of an emphasis on food – good food. Normally, eating is a bit of an afterthought when we travel – we get hungry, we find something close at hand. Denise will usually make an effort to research and find us a good restaurant every few days, but otherwise we eat pretty basic.

So traveling around with Darva for a few days will be a real treat, because her finding and enjoying good food becomes our focus. While we will still ‘see the sights’, she’ll also steer us in the direction of good meals around the clock. Darva knows restaurants and markets all across the country the way that we might know of trails and campgrounds. It promises to be a full week (pun intended!)

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