central coast with my cousin clan

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i tend to believe that the initial moments of travel have the power to set the tone for the entire trip.

perfect example? that one time in march when i broke my cross-necklace in the security line before spilling my entire iced coffee in front of gate four of the southwest terminal prior to my flight to san francisco, i feared the remaining duration of my bay-city jaunt would fall victim to similar inclement luck. thankfully, that was not the case, but in that moment, i expected the worst.

fast-forward to friday afternoon as i anxiously awaited the amtrak surfliner train on platform two at the solana beach station. as our departure time of 12:34 p.m. came and went, and then went some more, and the lady on the loudspeaker’s announcements dictated a later and later departure time, the pit in my stomach (that was already there based on principle. new experiences always cause a wee bit of anxiety) began to grow. so this is how it’s going to be, trip? are these next sevenish hours really going to be filled with unpredictability and anxiety? will i even make it to arroyo grande before tomorrow? i don’t think i brought enough snacks for that. you catch my drift. i had looked forward to this particular getaway for so long, could my dreams of a perfect weekend be thwarted by a very tardy train and a severe case of hanger due to lack of dried fruits, nuts, and almond butter? i shuddered at the thought.

but before my mind had the opportunity to go down a very ridiculous rabbit-hole, i heard a train whistle and the chug of its cars making their way down the tracks. so maybe “12:34 p.m.” was more of an approximation than an appointment, but whatever, i was ready to find a seat and dive into ellen’s seriously…i’m kidding. i searched the rows for an empty two-seater -one preferably not already occupied by another human mostly for the fact that i’m selfish and i like as much leg/arm/overall body room as i can get. plus where would i put my snacks? anyway, much to my chagrin, the train was sold-out as fridays tend to be a popular travel day for amtrak (makes sense, and noted for next time), so open seats were a premium. i found a lady who looked like she could be a real housewife of del mar (or other affluent north county city), figured she’d be a pretty good travel companion (she probably had enough money to buy me, so i figured she’d want no part of my j.crew-filled suitcase and collection of barnes & noble’s best-sellers), and settled in for the ride.

ready to go!

ready to go!

seeing as it was my first train experience in nearly two decades, i began asking questions of the lady across the row whose calm demeanor evoked the sense that she had done this whole amtrak thing before. the basics, really, where the nearest restroom was, if these kind of delays were to be expected, whether or not she wanted me to move over to join her in her row so we didn’t have to shout across the aisle from each other. turns out she knew the answers to all of these questions…and more. oh so much more. five hours worth of conversation more. that’s right, y’all. in the matter of minutes (it might have even been a new record for me), i had made a friend -sarah, the 58-year-old (she volunteered her age, so you know, i feel that gives me free reign) retired chef and mother of two from simi valley. in those 200ish miles, we covered a gamut of genres -everything from the details of her daughter’s upcoming intimate 1920’s-inspired wedding in san francisco over labor day weekend to raw/vegan cuisine which her twentysomething-aged son has now adopted as his culinary lifestyle of choice. and seriously, nearly everything in between. i injected a few details about my own life, mostly about my dating history which eerily echoed that of her daughter’s, but for the most part, i was lucky to get a word in edgewise. she was the chattiest of kathies (or sarahs) but if conversing with her meant that i had a distraction from the over-hour-behind-scheduled train ride, i was more than happy to oblige. but as with many good things, my time with sarah had to come to an end. as we pulled into the simi valley station, i bid my adieus to my part-time train companion and wished her well. she told me to have a “good rest of my life” (a fair salutary address) and just like that, peace and quiet once more.

or so i thought.

enter the really really drunk girl and her not-quite-as-drunk-but-definitely-intoxicated-and-over-the-legal-limit male companions. oh my garsh. i have never felt older in my life. well maybe not in my life, but in a really really long time. college was seven years ago, but in their presence, it might as well be sevenTEEN years ago. anyway, a few thousand f-bombs, miscellaneous outbursts, a case of the hiccups (how cliche is that?), and two good fall-off-her-chair spills later, the order was finally restored when the terrible threesome disembarked in santa barbara.

with my eardrums able to find solace once more, i snuggled down in my seat to finish seriously…i’m kidding, stealing snorts and hyena-laughs along the way. i kept my cousins posted as to my ETA which was now an hour later than my original approximation. but then finally the sweet sound of “next stop, grover beach” blared over the loud speakers. and in anticipation of my pending arrival, i gathered my items and made my way down to wait in front of the exit doors. in the blink of an eye, the tires idled and the doors flung open and i felt the sweet air of freedom whoosh across my face. i stepped onto the platform and carefully searched the crowd for two familiar faces. and sure enough, as promised A & N were there with facial-hair-surrounded grins, ready with a chariot (not an actual chariot, though in some ways, a BMW is very comparable) to take me home.

we pulled into the driveway of my cousin’s beautiful abode a few hairs past nine where i was almost immediately greeted with hugs and kisses and “we have dinner waiting for yous!” i threw down my bags (more like placed them, i am a respectful house guest) and headed into the kitchen where J had a homemade turkey burger, an avocado salad, and corn-on-the-cob waiting for me. i inhaled the plate, err its contents all the while relaying the adventures of my last nine hours to my family. we spent the duration of the evening catching up on life before setting a tentative plan for the next day’s activities. then sleep, sweet glorious sleep.

saturday morning came at a respectable pace. i’m not sure if it was the fact that i was exhausted (physically and mentally) from the train ride or if i just tend to sleep better when i’m away, but i managed to stay in a slumbered state until well after seven a.m. (and anyone who knows me knows that’s pretty impressive). a quick cup of coffee and some newspaper-reading later, J and i were off to tackle the hills of the neighborhood. a little endorphin rush and glute-working before breakfast was the perfect way to kick-start our saturday. when we returned, M had put his egg-celent (sorry, had to) egg-making skills to good use and there waiting for us was a delicious veggie-filled scramble and a side of fresh fruit. these are what paleo breakfast dreams are made of, people. after our meal, we showered, changed, and prepared snacks for later in the day. the plan was for J and i to take some time exploring downtown san luis obispo while M did yard work and N slept before all of us (including A, who J and i were going to retrieve on our way through SLO) met up at edna valley vineyards for some afternoon wine tasting and picnicking. as far as plans go, i couldn’t help but think it was one of our best.

while J drove us up the 101, she was sure to point out things along the way. while i don’t have a lot of experience with tour guides, if my time with her proved anything, it’s that she must rank as one of the best. we arrived in downtown SLO, parked, and wasted no time in exploring its borders. the sunny and 75-degree weather acted as the perfect backdrop as we strolled in and out of clothing boutiques and specialty stores. in a really awesome turn of events, when we popped into an adorable apparel store called ambiance, we were overjoyed to find the spring issue (the issue i’m published in!) of darling magazine proudly displayed for purchase. obviously a photo shoot ensued. soon thereafter, we passed by bubblegum alley and i was able to check “visit that famous and slightly disgusting gum wall near cal poly: SLO” off my bucket list as i posed for a picture in front of one of its bubbalicious-adorned foundations. we winded in and out of more shops, passed by the san luis obispo mission, made a pit-stop at gap (how could we not take advantage of their sale?), before finally driving over to A’s corner cottage to pick him up for wine tasting. after getting a quick tour of his humble abode, we made a beeline to the vineyards. it was time for some vino and victuals!

look what i found!

look what i found!

that's a lot of bubbalicious.

that’s a lot of bubbalicious.

as we pulled into the parking lot, we were immediately greeted by M and N who had our picnic in tow. the exterior evoked a familiarity as if i had been to this winery before. turns out, i had -about five years earlier when A and N’s oldest brother, B had gotten married. my parents, aunt, and i had treated ourselves to a little morning wine tasting on the day of the wedding. it was kind of neat/circle-of-lifey to return to edna valley with the same family that had inspired my first visit. also, what a coincidence, right? anyway, the five of us sampled a total of five wines -two whites and three reds. i was careful to pace myself (momma didn’t have too much food in her yet and we didn’t need a “uh-oh shawna’s drunk and it isn’t even 2 p.m.” situation on our hands) and i think i did pretty well seeing as i was still walking straight as we headed out to the umbrella-ed tables on the back lawn for our finger-food-filled meal. taking in the sun’s rays, we dined on a feast of crudites, hummus, grapes, nuts, salami, and cheese. and then, we snapped these cute photos.

they make me look good.

they make me look good.


family & the best hosts i could ask for.

we parted ways thereafter, M and N heading to the market to pick up salmon for our evening meal, and J and i heading back to SLO to drop off A so he could finish up some things before heading back over later for dinner. when J and i got home, we quickly took advantage of their sunshine-kissed porch and indulged in a little vitamin-D soaking while team-reading the latest issue of cooking light magazine in the chaise lounges. have i mentioned yet that this was well on its way to being the most perfect weekend ever? right, just making sure. anyway, we remained outside for a few hours before M and N came home with the bounty and then it was all hands on deck to create the perfect mid-summer meal -salmon, pineapple, and zucchini on the grill with a side salad of greens, oranges (from the family garden mind you), walnuts, and avocado. holy scrumptiousness, batman. we all but licked our plates clean! which was good because it made for less work when we washed the dishes before retiring into the jacuzzi for some hydrotherapy. just prior to pruning, we closed up shop, washed up, and the boys and i spent the final hours of the evening with a little (couch) pillow talk. they’re the best.

sunday morning came way too fast. my last day in arroyo grande? say it wasn’t so! we managed to wrangle the boys up for an early(ish) breakfast date at sally loo’s wholesome cafe. a fabulous recommendation from B, who had visited the restaurant on her own central coast getaway back in may. while the five of us dined on eggs of all varieties and sipped our morning joe, we took in the eclectic decor sally loo’s had to offer -a hodgepodge of local artwork and unique furniture finds. B had not let me down in her recommendation (but then again, i never doubted her in the first place). turns out, one of N’s friends is a baker at the shop, too! small world.

two key components of any good breakfast: avocado & coffee.

two key components of any good breakfast: avocado & coffee.

with full bellies and happy hearts, we ventured toward the coast for a little beach-side stroll. we arrived at avila beach and made a beeline for the pier. there we taunted sea lions, gazed out over the water as stand-up paddle boarders made their way across the waves and took in the delightful (sarcasm) smell of fresh fish as local fisherman cleaned the fruits of their afternoon labors. we also took in the spectacular views.

view from the pier.

view from the pier.

sunbathing sea lions.

sunbathing sea lions.

sittin' on the dock of the bay (technically it's the ocean, but i wanted to use the song lyric)...

sittin’ on the dock of the bay (technically it’s the ocean, but i wanted to use the song lyric)…

my best attempt at being artsy.

my best attempt at being artsy.

but at almost noon, the time of my departure train creeped upon us, so we figured we’d better head back to the house for final preparations before my (reluctant) return to san diego. J and i took a speedy run to trader joe’s for some snacks for my seven-hour ride (well hello trader joe’s turkey jerky, you are delicious) but before i knew it, it was time say my goodbyes. it was a flurry of hugs and “thank you’s” and “we can’t wait to do this again sometimes” as i loaded my suitcase into A’s car (he had volunteered to take me to the train station himself). we arrived at grover beach station just a hair shy of 2 p.m. praying for an on-time arrival of my southbound train, A and i had a little heart-to-heart to kill the time. but our talk was cut short as the faint sounds of the train whistle became increasing louder signifying a (refreshing) on-time arrival. i said one final farewell to A before boarding the train, all the while secretly hoping that this trip by the coast would have me homeward in a more timely fashion.

and seven(ish) hours, about 200 pages through my sophomoric reading of let’s pretend this never happened, some turkey jerky and mixed nuts, and a couple of bathroom breaks later, we were pulling back into solana beach station where my parents were gracious enough to greet me at an hour dangerously close to their bedtime.

and just like that, it was sunday evening and time for me to both physically (packing lunches when your refrigerator is a ghost town is tricky business) and mentally prepare for the impending monday morning blues. on the heels of such a weekend as this, i was sure that this particular first day of the work week would be a bit more sour than usual.

turns out it was.

but when you spend nearly 48 hours in the presence of some pretty spectacular human beings, touring a beautiful city, dining on delicious food, and all in perfect 75-degree weather, monday doesn’t even stand a chance.

so to M and J and A and N i say thank you. for allowing me to take you up on your offer to “come visit sometime” and for making this past weekend one of my favorite of the year. i love y’all and can’t wait to visit again soon.

goodbye beautiful view. i'll be back soon.

goodbye beautiful view. i’ll be back soon.

1 Comment
  • Teresa
    July 16, 2013

    A great read. If I haven’t mentioned it before, you have a wonderful, genuine smile… just beautiful.

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