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Into the High Sierras! Our Kid-Free Adventure in Yosemite (Part 2)

IMG_0239 This story picks up midway through our five-day hiking trip in Yosemite. Part 1 is here!

When I left off, we were at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp (HSC) for the night. We slept well, sharing a tent with some roommates we’d had before: an older couple who were traveling by mule train between camps instead of hiking between camps. We really liked them, and we deeply respected their mule wrangler, a tall and dignified woman in her 60s named Sheridan. She’s been leading mule trains in Yosemite for over 30 years!

IMG_0243 At 7am, the bell rang for hot drinks, and everyone gathered outside the meal tent to drink hot coffee and talk. Afterwards we feasted on cream of wheat, eggs, sausage, pancakes, hash browns, and fresh fruit.

IMG_0253 We had the steepest hike ahead of us that day to Vogelsang HSC: 3,000 feet of elevation gain over about 7.5 miles. That morning Sheridan came up to us and said, “My pack mule is carrying a light load. Would you like to give me some extra things in your packs and I’ll carry them for you? I can give them back to you at Vogelsang tonight.”

What a gift! We unpacked everything but the essentials and enjoyed a lighter load up into the mountains that day.

becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-5 After a couple of miles, we came to a fork in the road. One trail was shorter but wound through a dry valley, and the other trail was a couple miles longer and steeper over Vogelsang Pass. Which to choose? Sheridan and other veterans of these trails had strongly recommended the latter trail. We finally decided to take the road less taken… or at least more beautiful.

IMG_0261 becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-6 We purchased our lunches each day at each camp: two PB&J sandwiches and two pieces of fruit. Today for the first time we got three-layer sandwiches; they knew we had a hard hike ahead of us!

Also pictured here are my moleskin- and duct-tape-wrapped toes. I learned that duct tape works a lot better and actually stays on, so by the end of our trip four of my toes were wrapped in thick silver tape! Trust me, it’s works like a charm. (You just might have to take a long bath before you can get it off.)

IMG_0308 (1) becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-7 Just before our final steep climb over Vogelsang Pass, we passed through the most beautiful valley. We lingered there, taking pictures and savoring the flowers and quiet creek.  becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-8 IMG_0327 And then we climbed! Well done, Elliott, on the selfie with the big camera.

IMG_0329 That’s the beautiful little valley down below, and Merced Lake is back over those near mountains.

IMG_0335 At the top of Vogelsang Pass, where it was a lot winder and colder than it looks!

IMG_0340 (1) Poor little frogs, so cold they could hardly move!

IMG_0352 Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, where it was unfortunately so cold that we I put on about 4 extra layers and a hat before I could sit outside and read comfortably. 10,300 feet!

IMG_0354 Steak and baked potatoes with all the fixings that night, and some kind of amazing chocolate cake with whipped cream and mint for dessert. Also, for the very first time, Sheridan invited us into her pre-dinner social group with her box of wine (carried by her pack mule) and asked us to sit with her group and another mule wrangler’s group at dinner… so basically we felt like the cool crowd that night.

IMG_0359 Beautiful but very cold sunset! We lit the wood stove in our tent for the first time that night.

IMG_0371 The next morning Elliott fired up the stove again while we got ready for our last hike.

IMG_0372 Beautiful Vogelsang HSC, which by 9am was already warm enough for short sleeves in the sunshine.

IMG_0378 This was perhaps my least-favorite trail of all, unfortunately. The 8 miles wound steadily downward (no uphill relief for your knees and feet) over a powdery, chewed-up trail, and it marched down the center of a valley without much change in terrain. Made me realize how much I enjoyed that challenging, beautiful, varied hike the day before.

However, I also think we were anxious because we knew we were just a couple of hours away from talking to our kids, finding out if they were ok, and putting our minds at ease.

Some of you, I know, might wonder how a young mother can leave her kids for 5 days, be totally out of touch with them, and bear the separation — especially those of you who have young babies and can’t imagine doing such a thing! I will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t have chosen it myself (although I loved being unplugged otherwise). Sure, I like taking short breaks from my kids, but generally I’m with them most of their waking hours, and they are the dearest people in the world to me. As attached parents go, Elliott and I are pretty attached.

So I chose at the start of the hike to pray every time I thought of Lena and Gil and commit them to the Lord’s care (knowing that we do not know our day or hour to die — or be hurt, or whatever else — and I could not do much about that wherever I was). And after that, I just did not allow myself to think about them any more. Praise God, it wasn’t that hard, and I never descended into panic, although I could feel intense anxiety creeping at the edges of my consciousness before I pushed it away.

I also know that part of our peace came from knowing they had such excellent babysitters. Our parents adore their grandchildren but also know how to say “no,” share our values down to the minutiae, and spend a lot of time with their grandchildren and in our home and so know the kids’ routine and personalities very well. We couldn’t have left them in better hands. Thank you again, parents!!!

IMG_0383 And there I am, done with the hike! We called Lena and Gil shortly after that, and they were headed back from church with my parents and were happily chattering and glad to hear from us. My mom told us that they had been very calm and peaceful while we were gone, didn’t ask about us that much, and knew we were coming back in a few days. Gil even called “Grammie!” instead of “Mama!” when he woke up from his nap, and was proud of that fact.

IMG_0386 And now… on to a much less rustic side of our trip! We spent a night in The Ahwahnee Hotel, a famous old lodge in Yosemite that has housed presidents and queens, and had a deep bathtub, a bottle of body lotion, and a soft robe that I couldn’t wait to enjoy.

IMG_0402 The magnificent Great Lounge on the main floor, where we sat for a long time reading and savoring tea and cookies during the afternoon tea hour. IMG_0404 The facade is famous and blends in so beautifully with the surrounding park.

IMG_0406 My scruffy hiking buddy in the famous Ahwahnee dining room! becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-9 The next day we rented bikes and pedaled around Yosemite Valley, exploring trails, reading books, and even seeing our first bear. Poor guy was a teenager and looked pretty scrawny, almost like a dog wandering through the woods.

IMG_0423 (1) We also hiked up to Vernal Falls, which is usually about 20xs larger than this stream coming down the rocks. The California drought is really affecting Yosemite! We sat for a long time on this rock, reading and watching swimmers down below playing in the cold spray.

IMG_0425 At the top of Vernal Falls… more like Vernal Drips. We also saw Nevada Falls above it, equally anemic. Oh well, the hike was beautiful, and we loved those steep, rugged granite rock faces.

IMG_0430 Speaking of which… this was the last photo I took of them before we headed home…

becca-garber-home-from-yosemite … to these precious people. Happy day! Elliott and I feel rich indeed after such a trip and such healthy, happy, cute little people to come home to! Thanks for adventuring with me, Elliott; I hope this is just the first long hiking trip of many we take together.

13 :: in hiking, husband, marriage, travel

Into the High Sierras! Our Kid-Free Adventure in Yosemite (Part I)

Version 2 We’re back from a week in Yosemite… a week with no kids and no cell phone reception! For those who are curious about what we did and how we did it, here is a bit of our itinerary, and also all my best photos.

Our children are now 4.5 and 2.5, and so Elliott and I had been talking about taking a longer trip away, just the two of us. We’ve slipped away before, but never for more than two nights. This time we were dreaming of going for a week or so, maybe out of cell phone reception, and perhaps as far-flung as South America.

The grandparents eagerly lined up to care for the kids; Elliott’s parents came to our house the first three days and my parents took over for the final four days of our trip. Thank you again, wonderful parents, for making this possible!

Eventually we decided to do something rugged, something we couldn’t do with our children anytime soon. We chose the Yosemite High Sierra Camps loop, which is a network of five camps each located about 10 miles apart, and all at about 9,000-10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California. We chose the option that allowed us to eat a full breakfast and dinner at each camp and sleep in their tent cabins (more about those below), which meant that we only had to bring a daypack with us that held our clothes, toiletries, and books.

And then at 4am on Wednesday, August 26, we took off for Yosemite!

IMG_1128 After eight hours of driving, we arrived and found a place to leave our rental car for a few days. Then we caught the shuttle to the trailhead and started walking. By now it was about 4pm and dinner would be served at the camp at 6:30, so we were glad we only had 2.5 miles to go that evening to get to our first camp.

IMG_1131 IMG_1134 May Lake High Sierra Camp is beautiful, especially because of the quiet, calm mirror of the lake itself right next to the camp.


IMG_1142 That night we got our introduction to the meals at the camps. Each one was better than the last!

At 6pm the bell rang for hot drinks, and everyone gathered to talk and sip tea, coffee, or hot cocoa. At 6:30 the bell rang again, and everyone filed into the meal tent to share long tables and eat a family-style meal. Dinner always started off with a bowl of homemade soup, freshly baked bread (at 10,000 feet!), and a green salad. Afterwards came the main course (salmon, pulled pork, chicken, steak, spaghetti and meatballs… it changed every night) accompanied by sides like roasted vegetables or rice. And they always served dessert!

That night we slept for the first time in a tent cabin. We always hoped to get our own tent cabin, but they were four- to six-person tents and we never got so lucky! Thankfully we always had great roommates, and with earplugs we didn’t hear any snoring. The cots were comfortable, and we slept in our own sheet sacks between the blankets and pillows that the camp provided.

IMG_1140 Beautiful spot for morning worship by the lake!

becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-1 After hot drinks at 7am and then breakfast at 7:30 (hot oatmeal or cold cereal, fresh fruit, pancakes, bacon or sausage, and a large omelet to share… it was ridiculously good food), we set off on our 9-mile hike to Sunrise Lakes High Sierra Camp.

IMG_1147 (1) Along the way we stopped for our last bit of cell phone reception to call our kids for the next four days. A mule supply train walked by, carrying food to May Lake for that evening’s dinner.

IMG_1152 IMG_1155 I waited by this lake for 1.5 hours while Elliott decided to catch the shuttle back to the car, dump a bunch of extra stuff he had overpacked, and get my camera — because my phone battery was dying quickly and I wanted to take lots of photos. A good decision all around, although it set us back on our hike that day.

IMG_0121 This is one of the Sunrise Lakes, which were all so calm and beautiful. This was the hardest day of hiking for me, because the last six miles of the hike were all uphill, and I was really feeling the altitude. That night I woke up to a splitting headache that lasted most of the night, even after I took some Ibuprofen. Thankfully, though, that was the turning point! Afterwards the hiking was smooth sailing.

IMG_0132 Setting off across Sunrise Meadows for our third day on the trails. My naturalist husband loved watching and identifying birds and animals along the way, so this was a familiar pose.

IMG_0134 Gray morning because of a forest fire nearby. Thankfully this is the closest we got to one. becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-3 becca-garber-yosemite-high-sierra-camps-4 My husband catching trout with his bare hands on our lunch break! And me by a mountain juniper tree, one of my favorites that I learned to recognize on this trip.

IMG_0187 IMG_0209 IMG_0235 Merced Lake High Sierra Camp was the largest of the five camps, with about two dozen tent cabins arranged in a circle in a meadow. We made friends that night with some hikers our own age from the South, two things which were pretty unusual — everyone else was middle-aged and from Minnesota.

OK, just kidding about Minnesota.

IMG_0231 We spent the afternoon on the beach by the creek at Merced Lake, reading and dozing. Actually, Elliott said, “This photo should be titled, ‘Where Becca took a nap.'” There are few things more satisfying than sleeping, though, after you have finished your hard work for the day and have nothing else to do — no dinner to make, no kids to care for, no work to accomplish — nothing else to do all day… except rest!

And so we did.

More tomorrow from the rest of our hike!

14 :: in hiking, husband, marriage, travel

Weekend Getaway to NYC! — Part II

IMG_9214 Hi again! Hope you had a great 4th of July… a while ago. ;)

In Part I of this post, I shared a bit about why and how Elliott and I went to New York. Here is the second half for all of you who love exploring and eating your way through new places!

becca-garber-nyc-brooklyn-3 After our morning in Lower Manhattan, Elliott and I took the subway to Brooklyn. I’d never been to Brooklyn, if you can believe it! We got off the subway at Park Slope and basically just started walking, meandering down tree-lined streets of Brooklyn brownstones, exploring the Brooklyn Public Library, dipping into The Community Bookstore to read and pet the cat, and resting for awhile in the grass of Prospect Park:

IMG_9217 We also wandered into Norman & Jules toy shop, which was basically the home of all the best and most beautiful toys in the WORLD, and a type of merchandise with which I am kind of obsessed.

It was there that I saw the Jess Brown doll for the first time. How much do you think she costs? Elliott guessed $65.

becca-garber-nyc-brooklyn-1 This is how much she costs.

IMG_9230 We were hemming and hawing about trying to see a Broadway show that night, so we got back on the subway and tried to get discounted tickets at the TKTS booth in Brooklyn. But they closed one minute before we arrived! Oh well. We opted to enjoy a leisurely dinner under the Brooklyn Bridge instead.

IMG_9239 FYI, Luke’s Lobster right under the bridge is amazing.

IMG_9244 So is sunset from Brooklyn Bridge Park. I had heard about it all my life and finally got to experience it myself!

IMG_9249 We finished up dinner with a pizza from Juliana’s since Taza says it’s their favorite, and I custom ordered ours with anchovies, hot salami, and capers to be like our favorite pizza in Sicily. Delicioso!

becca-garber-nyc-brooklyn-4 And then we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, which was busy and iconic and absolutely wonderful. Especially with this guy: IMG_9335 After we walked off the bridge, we took the subway back to our hotel and collapsed with aching feet. Buuuut it was 8pm in Manhattan on a Saturday night and… YOLO, right?

So we looked up bars within walking distance and found this new one that tons of Yelpers loved, and we decided to give it a try:

IMG_9272 Elliott snagged us two precious seats at the bar, and I wiggled out of the masses of loud, fast-talking, perfectly coiffed Manhattan yuppies (or were they yuccies?) to gratefully sit down and take in the show. The whole place felt beautiful, dark, and gleaming, with waiters in leather aprons wielding brass bar tools, hands a blur over the glittering bottles and sparkling ice. Whatever they were making was mostly a mystery to us (and cost $16 per drink!), but we acted as nonchalant as possible as we ordered and then just had fun.

All I can say is that the whole experience was so worth getting out of bed for. becca-garber-nyc-brooklyn-5 The next day, Elliott and I drove to Providence, RI, for the wedding of a friend of his from Boston. The wedding included a traditional Jewish ceremony, which was a first for Elliott and me. I think our favorite part was when Elliott helped to hold up the bride’s chair for the dancing, which is another thing I’ve only seen in movies (unfortunately!).

becca-garber-nyc-brooklyn-2 We didn’t know anyone but the groom, though, and so we mostly just had fun dancing and eating and exploring the gorgeous property on the water. Not a bad way to end a romantic East Coast getaway, right?

IMG_9299 I flew home the next day to two very happy little kiddos and their wonderful aunt, who had taken very good care of them in my absence. I think they barely missed me! A sign of secure kids and a very good babysitter.

Thank you again, dear husband! Feel free to surprise me again anytime. :)

Our little taste of New England got me so excited for another family reunion in Newport, RI, later this summer. Have you spent time in New England? Which is your favorite little coastal town?

22 :: in husband, marriage, travel

Weekend Getaway to NYC! — Part I

IMG_9152 A few weeks ago, Elliott found out he could go to a two-week training course for veterinarians on Long Island, which is something he’s wanted to do for a very long time. I told him I was coming with him, both kids in tow, and was going to spend every day that I could trucking into the city with my little ones and exploring to our hearts’ content.

He didn’t think that was such a great idea. Crushed!

… because he had a better plan — a much better plan. He bought a plane ticket for his sister Jess to come out and babysit our kids… and then he bought me a plane ticket to come visit him in NYC for the weekend — just the two of us!

IMG_9154 I had the best time on that 4.5-hour flight sitting all by myself and researching what to do in NYC. We’d already decided to stay in Chelsea (south of Times Square and the Upper West Side and Central Park) because I wanted to focus as much as possible on Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. I had barely seen this part of NYC, and I know it is rich with restaurants, shops, outdoor spaces, and urban development.

I printed off Taza’s NYC Guide and a couple of posts from Cup of Jo, got an excellent guidebook from the library, and mapped out our plan for the weekend!

IMG_9361 I arrived at JFK on a Friday afternoon, but Elliott wouldn’t be able to meet me at our hotel in Chelsea until around 11pm. I took the train into the city, finished up some work in our hotel room, and then hit the streets. First stop: Doughnut Plant. Not a bad place to be on National Donut Day!

IMG_9168 I spent the whole afternoon walking from Chelsea all the way down to Soho, stopping to eat and shop along the way.

IMG_9163 As it was getting dark, I slipped into McNally Jackson Books, found the novel I left in my hotel room, and settled down to read for a little while. (This is a great book, by the way!)

IMG_9165 A few minutes later my dear friend and college roommate Sarah found me, and we went around the corner to the delicious bistro called Fanelli’s Cafe. Such a wonderful meal with an old friend! She’s been living in NYC since we graduated from UVA, and I was planning to join her there… until Elliott came along. ;) I still hope we can join her there to live one day instead of just an overnight visit!

After dinner, Elliott arrived in the city, and I was so glad to see that guy. Adventuring alone was fine, but it’s so much more cozy to share it with your best friend.

IMG_9368 The next morning we got up early, eager to make the most of our day in the city. We discovered our hotel is in “the flower district,” which is really just one block of wholesale flower shops. I watched in wonder as dads, daughters, and dogs joined florists and wedding planners in buying flowers that cool Saturday morning.



IMG_9172 Afterwards we searched unsuccessfully for coffee (New Yorkers do not wake up until after 10am on Saturday mornings, apparently) and then walked up to the High Line. I’d never seen it before and loved that fresh, quiet walk above the cars and crowds. At 9am on a Saturday, everything was so peaceful.

becca-garber-new-york-city-nyc-2 Tipsy Parson for brunch! So delicious. We were given a tiny little marble-top table by a big window, and our heavenly breakfast tasted even better when flooded with light from the little garden outside. Lots of fun people-watching, too.

IMG_9181 Chelsea Market… so dark and beautiful even at noon on a Saturday.

IMG_9182 We popped off the High Line in Greenwich Village and made our way to Bleecker Street, where we discovered this gorgeous old market…

IMG_9376 … and Magnolia Bakery…

IMG_9375 … and this friendly bookstore

IMG_9195 … and Murray’s Cheese!…

IMG_9204 IMG_9205 … and finally Purl Soho, mecca of meccas for the yarn and fabric enthusiast, and a necessary pilgrimage for me on every trip to New York City.

IMG_9352 becca-garber-new-york-city-nyc-1 IMG_9209 Doesn’t all that color make your heart so happy?

I have so many more pictures, so I’ll save the rest for (hopefully) tomorrow. Have you been to any of these wonderful places? What’s your favorite little corner of NYC?

11 :: in husband, marriage, pretty places, travel

Why You Should Have Your Friends Over for Dinner

Our studio in D.C.

Our first home in D.C.

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a 388 sq ft studio in Washington, D.C. That tiny apartment was like a bird’s nest; we were level with blooming magnolias in spring and could see the Capitol Dome out our window.

Despite having just enough room to turn around in, we made a regular habit of hosting friends for dinner. We were young and so happy, and so we opened our doors and borrowed chairs and sat on the bed and drank wine. Acquaintances turned into lifelong friends.

Looking back, those were our greatest hosting days so far in our marriage. I think part of it was innocence; we were too young to care about our Craigslist furniture and too-spicy curries. But I think the other part was time and energy – those were the days before we (and all our friends) had kids and early bedtimes. We had no one to entertain but other young couples and friends, and we had nothing but time.

When we moved to Coronado, we dreamed of having those days again. We have a deck and patio furniture and a grill, and the weather here is perfect 364 days of the year. The scene is set for entertaining. We have so much to offer now, compared to the tiny one-room studio in D.C.

And yet months have gone by, and my husband and I realized recently that we’ve hardly had any friends over to dinner. Traveling for work, bedtime with the kids, visiting extended family, and so on and so forth – all of these things have slowed our good intentions down.

Then we made some new friends in Coronado. We only hung out with them once before we received an invitation to have dinner in their home. It was a delicious meal in their simple two-bedroom apartment on Orange Ave. Our two kids and their two kids ran wild through the three rooms of the house. Our Moscow mules chilled in copper mugs on an IKEA table. Their simple, genuine hospitality warmed us through and through. Our friends continued this spontaneous, generous welcoming, giving freely of their time and food and home, never minding the kids or the space. They offered cheerfully, and we felt at home.

Since then, my husband and I have decided to try to have friends over to dinner three times a month. It’s a lot of work for many reasons, especially because, like us, most our friends have a couple kids under five. During our meal, we all spend just as much time seated as running after our children. Also I am still the kind of disorganized person who does a whole week’s cleaning in the hour before her guests arrive. So far I only have two good go-to recipes that accommodate for allergies and children and work well on the grill. We are not yet practiced hosts.

But I almost don’t want to be. Yes, I want to serve good food and strong wine and have forks and plates at everyone’s place. I want to clean the toilet before they arrive, do some tidying, and have the meal mostly ready. I want my guests to feel special, loved, welcomed.

But I don’t want them to ever feel like they are anywhere but in a home.

When I walk into a friend’s house and see her dust bunnies and dishes in the sink and pile of laundry waiting to be folded, I see a home. I feel connection, comfort, and even relief. She didn’t hide the mess before I came! She didn’t clean for me! Her kids don’t have any clean underwear either! Being welcomed into such a home is a sign of friendship these days. It’s a way of saying, “I am who I am, and I know you will see my real life and love me for it. I trust you.” I want to spend time in homes like that, to have friends like that, to fill my life with honesty like that.

I want our guests to feel that way, too. In some ways, I never want to get so good at hosting that I lose touch with that newlywed bride stirring a pot of made-up stew with her husband, taste testing from the wooden spoon, and then welcoming guests into a one-room home with no embarrassment and so much love.

So I’ll keep sending out dinner invitations. I can’t promise my guests an immaculate house, or quiet children. I can’t even promise them a wine glass, because I break them all and I drink my wine out of juice glasses now. I’m still working on finding good recipes to feed them.

But I do promise them a clean plate and a chair to sit in. I promise them a family and a home. I promise them a heart that wants them there.

Take this bread, this wine, this friendship, and stay awhile.

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36 :: in Coronado, family, friends, goals, home sweet home, hospitality, marriage, San Diego, thoughts, visitors

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