Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Weekend Away: A Beautiful Bachelorette Bash

At the end of June, I had the chance to get away for a glorious girls-only weekend for one of my bestie's bachelorette party. When I heard about the plans, I wasn't sure that I would be able to make it all work. I really wanted to be there to celebrate my friend, and to enjoy some much-needed female bonding energy. I told Jon about it and he immediately said, "Well, of course you have to go." So I bought my plane ticket and immediately started fantasizing about my weekend away.

Although the rest of the ladies live fairly locally in the Greater Bay Area, I was able to help plan some of the "touch points" from afar. I loved the collaborative efforts and thoroughly enjoyed our text and email chains full of clever ideas and conversation. It was really invigorating and inspiring and made the anticipation that much more enjoyable. I was busy in the few weeks before crafting up my contributions to the event.

Finally the day arrived. I remember the first time I left Alice, Jon dropped me off at the airport and I cried all the way through security. This time I gave them all a hug and kiss and ran right out the door!

On my way to the airport, I had to swing by the drugstore for a travel-size bottle of contact solution and I realized I'd forgotten to pack any nail polish, so I decided to buy a new one for the occasion. I was trying to choose a color, when I realized one of the colors I was considering was called "bachelorette bash." So, duh.

Yeah, those nails could use a manicure...
On my way from the drugstore to the car, my armpit accidentally called my dad. He texted back to tell me he was in a meeting but that he'd call me later, and that he was staying at one of the SFO airport hotels for a conference that weekend. I was already planning to spend that evening with my sister, so I texted to ask her if Dad was aware of our plans, and if she knew he was staying at a hotel approximately 5 minutes from where we would be spending the night. We decided we should probably let him know that we were going to be nearby and coordinate something with him.

So my sister retrieved me from the airport, and we headed over to the hotel row. We were going to hang out at a little park by the water, but we basically had time to park the car and for me to give her a birthday present before we had to rendezvous with my dad. We met him at his hotel and walked down the street for dinner, where I spied an El Torito. Not, like, the very best Mexican food, but dependable enough and way better than what I can currently get in my town, so they obliged me...

Seeing this picture kind of makes me wish I'd also ordered a giant margarita.
As soon as we met up with my dad, he asked "So what's the plan, are we going to Melissa's?" I laughed and said I thought it might be weird to bring my dad over to someone else's bachelorette party. After we dropped him back at the hotel, my sister said she thought my friends would be pretty mad that I didn't bring him over. Later that night, we told the group what my dad said and they were SO MAD that I didn't bring him over. Like so, SO mad. They reprimanded me for many minutes and even considered calling him to see if he wanted to come over. I think it was like 11pm by that point, so we opted to not bother him, although I'm pretty sure he would have happily hopped right in the car. My friend even showed me the text that was still written and unsent in our chat window making sure I knew my dad was welcome to hang out. If she'd sent that text and I'd known she'd made chili for dinner, my dad would have for sure been partying it up with us.

Anyway, we had a fun night kicking off the festivities with a few girls who weren't able to join us for the weekend, but minus a few of the final group. So in the morning, we reconfigured our attendees, packed up the big van, and hit the road for a fun-filled adventure that was a total surprise for the bride-to-be.

Before we left, the bride's like-a-sister cousin gave her a special "Soon to be Meowied" shirt and a handmade cat ear fascinator headband. Several in our group are cat-lovers, but Laura really loves cats; like, even more than I do, which is hard to beat. In trying to include a few feline touch points, the cat theme kind of spread like wildfire. Or like feral kittens...

cat ears about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge
The only detail that Laura knew was that we were headed to Ukiah, about 2.5 hours North of San Francisco in the Mendocino wine country. It was just enough time to feel like a real little road trip, and to enjoy lots of conversation, silliness and laughter through the lovely NorCal landscape - including a road trip soundtrack specially prepared for us by a very dear friend of the bride who couldn't attend, including interludes of personal messages she recorded and timed to coincide with our progress along the way. It was so thoughtful, and we all really appreciated her virtual presence.

Finally, we reached the turn-off for Starfall road - which was exactly 5.9 miles from our last turn, just as they said it would be. 
Heading down Starfall Road, into this beautiful valley.
It's hard to read this sign, but I had to capture it because our fearless driver paid it no heed despite the warnings that going any faster would destroy the road, and despite her nervous passengers who were bouncing around in the back and terrified that we were going to slide over the side of the narrow road and roll down the steep hillside...
Finally we pulled up to our destination, a beautiful home situated all alone on the top of a hill in a valley with only a few other homes.
I've missed the NorCal hills. This was a sight for sore eyes.
The host met us to show us everything we needed to know and we checked out all the rooms. Every window boasted a gorgeous view.
We let Laura lay down and rest for a few minutes while we quickly put up the decorations we'd brought, including some incredibly sexy and stimulating thematic nature photography. 

There were a few more cute items like a glittery banner ("Let's Get Wild!"), but I'm not sure I got any good photos before the washi tape I used to hang them up gave out...

I think we took a break to fix a quick little lunch, but we didn't have long to relax before it was time to head back up the windy driveway to our first activity. We arrived at California landmark #980, the Vichy Springs for a relaxing afternoon of taking the waters in the "Vichy" or "champagne baths." 
A charming bridge over the little creek that ran below the bath houses.
I think my expression here indicates that I'm noticing that I forgot to clean the make-up and baby slobber off my phone camera lens, hence the dreamy glow...
We wanted to relax but we also wanted to chat, so we got cozy in the tubs. There were two tubs in each little room of the bathhouse, so we got the best of both worlds!
The tubs fill naturally, you just move the heavy plug from the filling side over to the other end of the tub to stop the drain with it, and the water bubbles up until it's full. I'd never been in a Vichy mineral bath before, which makes sense since this one claims to be the only naturally warm and carbonated hot springs in Northern America (not sure if/how the ones in Idaho are any different??). Anyway. The baths are touted to dilate the body's capillaries, leaving you warm and relaxed, and are also supposed to soften the skin. I found all of those things to be true. The water looks fairly clear, but as you sit, the bubbles start to accumulate on your skin until you are covered with a carpet of tiny little bubbles. You can wipe them away and watch them begin to gather again. After a while, we all noticed that we were feeling pleasantly warm, and my skin was definitely velvety soft when I got out. According to the website, a 1914 brochure promised that one would feel "a million miles from my cares, and your heart will sing a new song." And you know what? I think that may have actually happened.

The little babbling brook next to the bathhouses, which are inside the building on the right.
When we got back to the house, we set out some appetizers and got cocktail hour underway.
I used my newly developed calligraphy skills to make some personalized wineglasses for everyone. I loved the way they turned out, though I couldn't figure out a way to make them dishwasher safe (and I was running out of time, so hand wash, please!).
My "bachelorette bash" manicure and my champs on the back deck, with a beautiful view of the valley.
While we were toasting the bride, our second surprise was getting set up.
We had arranged for someone to come to the house and lead a painting session. We had talked about hiring a male model to pose nude for a life drawing class, but in the end we requested a feline subject. The artist included several photos of Laura's very own cat.

Laura was appropriately delighted and amused as she surveyed the subject options.
And then the artist presented her with a practice canvas she had done ahead of time in preparation for the party. Laura was pretty thrilled.

One of Laura's dearest friends - event planner mastermind and hostess extraordinaire - and her like-a-sister cousin. Did I mention we all had colorful cat ear headbands and adorable kitty pins...?

Cheers to one of the most amazing ladies I know.
Often these painting parties will have everyone paint the same image, but this artist gave us each a different image to paint, which was cool. She gave us some pointers on painting cat fur and set us loose with our brushes and wine. It was surprisingly difficult to keep my cups straight...

Laura was really into one particular picture of Gatsby but the teacher said it might be a little bit challenging and then Laura second-guessed her abilities. I thought it would be a really fun one to do and offered to try my hand and give it to Laura if it came out well. It was a bit challenging, but it was so fun - I'm always surprised how much I enjoy painting whenever I try it, I always expect to end up crying and furious...
work in progress

It was tough to finish before the artist had to pack everything up, but I was pretty happy with where it ended up in a little over an hour!

Laura loved it and didn't believe me when I offered to give it to her. I guess she hadn't heard me when I made her that deal before we got started!
They all turned out so great and different, and they were all displayed at Laura's bridal shower later in the summer.
After we wrapped up the painting party, the chefs got to work cooking dinner, despite the fact that the water had stopped working somewhere during the painting party.

I happened to walk through the hall and caught this sweet scene through the front door on the porch.

They caught me taking pictures and got self-conscious, so I joined them and enjoyed the gorgeous early evening light through the oaks.

Once dinner was in the oven, the rest of the group meandered out onto the porch and we decided to walk down the hill to the home's garden and pick a few things for our meal.
They all started off down the path and I hung behind to take a few photos. I don't know if it was the Zoloft I'd recently started taking, or the Vichy baths, or the peaceful, comforting surroundings, or the company of these wonderful women (or maybe the cocktail hour?) - or everything all together, but as I stood there watching them walk away, I realized that I was feeling such profound peace and happiness and love.

I joined them in the garden at the bottom of the hill, where we took turns identifying and misidentifying produce and being corrected by Linda.

As we started to make our way back up to the house, I was walking next to Laura and felt the urge to hold her hand, as my sister sometimes still does to me. She obliged me, but she had to stop so she could gesticulate and finish the story she was telling her cousin. I can't remember how the conversation came and went, but at some point, I told them how happy I was feeling. We had such a heartfelt conversation there under the trees in the fading light, I was definitely moved to tears. And then the conversation and the tears definitely required a reading of the Angel Cards.

We did one reading, and it was very meaningful, but something required that we do it again (I forget now what I had neglected to do). So we did another reading, and it was even more meaningful and I cried some more. I promise that I had only had a very modest and reasonable number of drinks at this point.

Our moving and profound experience was interrupted by a small fire in the kitchen, lots of yelling and bickering and profanity, and then the announcement that the meal was ready, despite one of the chefs falling asleep in the bride's bed...

By the time dinner was ready, I'm pretty sure it was the middle of the night. So we thoroughly enjoyed a delicious meal, and then went out to lay on the porch in the dark and watch the stars. It was so dark out, and so quiet in the valley, and so peaceful. After what felt like hours out there, I heard something rustling in the grass near the trees off to the side of the house. I think I had to use the bathroom, so I quietly went inside, just in case it was like a mountain lion creeping around in the yard. After that, people started making their way inside and some were heading to bed - including me. 

The water still hadn't come back by the time everyone went to bed, despite the hosts very best effort to fix whatever was wrong with the well system. So, in the morning, we all just rolled out of bed and shrugged.

I made special coffee cups for everyone, with kitty faces and "meow" written the way it's spelled in French, Italian, Spanish/German, Norwegian, and Japanese, to reflect some of the cultural heritage in our group. And also just because it's fun to see how other languages make and spell animal sounds.
Spanish and German cats say "miau."
French cats say "miaou"
After our chefs whipped up breakfast without any running water - like camping! Inside a beautiful home! - we got ready for our next surprise. A lovely yoga teacher arrived and led a private session for us on the home's porch, with a lovely view of the trees.
I sat near the back so I could take pictures, so I had a great view of these two harassing each other...

The teacher saw me taking photos and offered to take some with my phone during the class.

It was a really nice hour of yoga, I felt really invigorated and inspired, and the teacher was really great. She was reading our group really well, and was also reading these passages during class that were really speaking to me personally, and really moving me.
I didn't have a tripod, so I set up the camera on a stump for a group shot before we headed out.

We said goodbye to the lovely house and headed out for our last stop before we hit the road. We drove a little further up the main road to the Montgomery Woods State Reserve. We wanted to take a short hike through the beautiful redwood forest. We found a little place to pull off and park, and headed down the trail. Immediately, we came to a stream with a little rocky outcropping, so we set down and had a little picnic lunch. 

I think Laura was trying to operate my camera but took this cute selfie instead...

The company was perfect, the cheese was delicious, and the setting was glorious. The redwoods towered above and filtered the sunshine into perfect rays that made the leaves glow in the way that makes my heart flutter.

I was enchanted by this water that made an alluring, deep blue pool next to our picnic spot before it spilled down the rocks to join the stream below where we sat. We didn't have enough time, but I longed to float there for a while.
After I ate, I took off my shoes and climbed carefully down to the stream below, where I stood in fresh cold water up to my shins.

I spied this fuzzy little caterpillar thrashing around in the water, with fish nipping at him from below, so I rescued him and deposited him back on dry land. He had a friend hiding in the moss somewhere...

It was a gorgeous spot and I wanted to spend all day there, maybe more, but we had to head back to real life. We made great time until we popped out the other side of the Robin Williams Bridge and made a wrong turn in SF on Pride Weekend. We took a scenic tour of the Haight while the natives and their various GPS apps argued about the best route until we finally got back on track. We made stops and dropped people off, got back and said goodbyes to most, and then Melissa and I both made a beeline for a long-awaited shower. I had to hustle, though, and once we were both clean and fresh, we hopped back in the van and she took me to the airport.
It was hard to fly away from a place that I love and people that I love so much and wish I could see more. I knew that it was going to be a great weekend, but somehow, the whole was so much greater than the sum of its parts. I was sorry to leave, but my cup was full and running over with a peace, a joy, a love that I haven't experienced in such a long time. I am so thankful that I met Melissa, who introduced me to Laura, who introduced me to their wonderful friends. I am grateful that I know them all, and that I got to spend such a wonderful weekend with them, celebrating one of the most unique and inspiring people I've ever known. I think we should do it every year...