Thursday, December 13, 2012

LOVE...we have no idea...

I am an animal lover!  I love all kind of animals.  As far as pets, most people fit into one of two categories…a “dog person” or a “cat person.”  I can’t say that I fit into either category, really…because I love cats and I love dogs.  Unfortunately, my husband and cats don’t go well together, and I don’t want to get rid of him!  So, we recently added a new member to the family.  About 9 months ago, we got a puppy!  For my children, this is their FIRST puppy…  For me, this is my first puppy in about 15 years, and the FIRST puppy that I have ever had in the house!  She won me over in no time, and I am extremely attached to her.  Sometimes I look at her cute little face, and say, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”  She is loyal, she is obedient (most of the time)…but she can’t love me in the way that I love her, and she can’t know how much I love her…


Now, puppy love is one thing…but the love of a mother…that’s a totally different spectrum.  If you have read my previous blog posts, you know that I have two boys and a girl.  My boys are 9 and 8 (born 13 months apart), and my daughter is 6 (and a half!).  I stay at home with them and homeschool them.  They are a part of my every day, 24 hours a day…and I wouldn’t have it any other way (even on the difficult days).  I believe that children are a blessing, a gift, given to us by God (Psalm 127:3).  I am thankful that I am able to be with them, to teach them, and to love them!  Many times throughout the years, I have looked into their eyes, and said, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”  My mother used to tell me that I would never know how much she loved me until I had children of my own.  I believe that she was right.  I understand so much more now about why she did, said, and chose the things that she did.  While my children DO love me, they don’t know the love of a mother (or a father) yet…


I have also been blessed to experience another spectrum of love…the love that I have for my husband!  We celebrated our tenth anniversary this year.  I can truly say that my love for him is more today than it was 10 years ago.  It is a love that words cannot describe, and that spans so many situations.  My husband loves  me, and has the capacity to feel the same love for me that I feel for him, yet some days, I will ask him, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”  His response is usually, “I think so,” with that little smirk of his that I love so much!  I couldn’t imagine my life without him, and I don’t want to ever have to experience life without him!


While I am so blessed to experience the depths of different kinds of love in my life, there is one love that I just cannot comprehend!  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotton Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)   “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?   Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:35, 37-39)   “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (1 John 4:9-10)

“O how He loves you and me, o how He loves you and me.  He gave His life, what more could He give…o how He loves you, o how He loves me, o how He loves you and me.”  (O How He Loves You and Me! by Kurt Kaiser)

“He left the splendor of heaven, knowing His destiny was the lonely hill of Golgatha there to lay down His life for me.  And if that isn’t love then the ocean is dry, there’s no stars in the sky, and the sparrow can’t fly.  If that isn’t love, then heaven’s a myth.  There’s no feeling like this.  If that isn’t love…”  (If That Isn’t Love by Dottie Rambo)

“…Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade…to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole tho stretched from sky to sky.  O love of God, how rich and pure!  How measureless and strong!  It shall forevermore endure the saints’ and angels’ song.”  (The Love of God by Frederick M. Lehman)


And…all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning of this post…He gave them all to me because He loves me…to show His love for me!!!  


I wonder if God sometimes asks, “Do they have any idea how much I love them?”

“…and to know of the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…”  (Ephesians 3:19)

We have no idea… 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

30 Days of Thanks (21-30)

Well, it is the second week of December, and I am just now getting around to posting the final section of my 30 Days of Thanks for Thanksgiving!!! 

Day 21:  I am thankful for cell phones…I know that might sound weird or materialistic…but I can reach people for the most part, no matter what.  We take our cell phones with us everywhere…so at the store, at the doctor’s office, or on the road…we can reach our friends and family.  I am thankful for this because there are times when I need to talk to someone in my family…in an emergency situation or just in need of advice…and I can reach them without any problems, usually.  There are times when they are busy, when the phone is dead, or the reception isn’t good, but for the most part, we can get in touch no matter where we are.


Day 22:  Today is THANKSGIVING!  I am a strong supporter of being thankful all year long, and I try to be…but I am so thankful that we have a day set aside where people will think about what they are thankful for…what God has blessed them with…what they have that others may not.  It has become much too commercialized for my liking (Black Friday starts after dinner on Thursday??!), but I am still glad that this is a day set apart for thinking about being thankful for what we have.  I watched a football game with my husband tonight…and they allowed the coaches and some of the players to tell what they were thankful for.  I appreciate that even though football has become a big part of most Thanksgiving celebrations that they still throw in there that the players and coaches are thankful for more than just a game.


Day 23:  I am thankful for medicine.  I believe that God is the ultimate healer, but I do believe that He has given people the good sense to make things that will help us when we do not feel well.  I am part of that group today.  I am not sure what I have, but it feels like a really bad head cold.  I am thankful that it just takes a short trip to the store to pick up some medicine that will (hopefully) make me feel better.


Day 24:  As I went out to the store last night, I saw that several people had put up their Christmas decorations.  I am thankful for the decoration.  I don’t know if everyone feels this way, but a house all lit up with lights celebrating the season just lifts my spirits.  It lets me know that something special is coming…and also just brightens up the dark of night.  I so enjoy seeing those decorations and am thankful for them and for those people who take time to decorate the outsides of their homes for all of us to enjoy!


Day 25:  I am thankful that it is only one more month until Christmas!!!!


Day 26:  I am thankful that my children are able to play, and that I am able to hear them playing.  My daughter was born with some physical “problems” that were fixable.  We went to the Shriner Hospital to have her problems “fixed.”  Nothing like a place like that to humble a mother!  I saw a mother who had to sit by the wheelchairs of her child, wiping away the drool because the child had no control over himself.  The mother kept looking at my daughter, who was dancing around the room, singing, and talking to every person who walked by our room.  I was so humbled.  We might have problems, but this lady has it worse than I do.  We can always find someone that has more problems or what we think is more problems than we have…although most seem to think that the grass is greener on the other side...  I am very thankful that my children CAN play and laugh with each other…and thankful that my ears work just fine to hear them (even though they do sometimes get a bit loud!).


Day 27:  I am thankful for photographs.  I have been looking at pictures today…of myself when I was young, my parents, my grandparents (who have since passed away), aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members.  I enjoy the memories that a photograph brings with it.  It amazes me how I can see a picture of a time in my past, and it’s almost like I am magically transported to that time…  I miss my grandparents and miss the fun times that we shared as a family when I was growing up, so these pictures hold very special memories for me, and I am so glad that we have them.


Day 28:  I am thankful for my parents coming to visit!  They will be here in about 11 days.  I am thankful that they take the time to drive 10 hours to visit with me, my husband, and our children.  Since I am an only child, my three children are their only grandchildren…and I am thankful that they take time out of their lives to spend time with us. 


Day 29:  I am thankful for good food and good company.  We recently had dinner out with my husband’s mother and father…at an Italian restaurant.  We really don’t go out to restaurants very often…but this was special…and the food was DELICIOUS…but the company was the greatest!  I am glad that my husband sees that spending time with his parents as they get older is important, and that our children value the time that they spend with them as well.  They all wanted to sit the closest to Mamaw or Granddad!


Day 30:  I am thankful that tomorrow is December!  I am excited about Christmas getting closer…and now that December is almost here, more people will be “noticing” and decorating and celebrating!  I am ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior, with my family!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Trip: Final Tips

Some of my posts were accidentally deleted...  So, this was the last in the series about our trip.  It is out of order, unfortunately, but the info it still valid...  :)

If you are planning a trip of similar nature, here are a few tips from me to you…

1.  Spend a lot of time planning.  I spent a lot of time planning, and still feel that I could have done better.  For instance, when we were standing in line at the San Antonio zoo, I checked on my phone for coupons for admission.  Why didn’t I think of this before?  I have no idea.  There was a coupon…a very good one…but I had no way of printing it.  I made my case to the ticket lady…telling her that we were from out of town and had no way of printing the coupon.  She gave us the discount anyway, but I would have felt much more prepared if I had printed it at home before starting the trip.  Also, when we were in San Francisco, we wanted to tour Alcatraz.  As I mentioned, they were totally booked for the day.  In Merced, we had no idea how long the bus took to get to Yosemite and back, so a day there was just not enough...  So, look online for coupons to places that you know that you will be visiting on your trip, pre-book any tours that you want to take, and ask lots of questions about places that you want to visit at the train station BEFORE you get there.  These three things will save you a lot of trouble in the long run, in my opinion.

2.  Teach your children along the way, even if you aren’t a homeschooler!  My kids still remember things from the “fact sheets” that I made for them in each city.  They still have their folders that they can look through and refer back to.  This will be good for them as they begin to learn states and capitals and such.  There is a wonderful homeschooling resource for this exact thing done by “Confessions of a Homeschooler!”  I did not know about this prior to our trip, but it would have saved me so much time and lots of researching because she has already done the hard parts.  Check out the link here:  She calls it “Road Trip USA.
Here are some pictures of my daughter's folder.  I made one for each of the children.  I also included pictures of some of the pages that were in the folder.  I made "fact" pages for each state and also included a copy of each state's page in a kid's atlas that I had on hand.

3.  Pack lightly.  One of the major grievances that my husband and I both have about the trip in general was the large suitcase that we brought along.  It was marked “HEAVY” through Amtrak, and it was a pain for us to lug around, even though it had wheels.  Remind yourself that there are grocery stores that you will be able to stop at along the way, and that there are places to do laundry.  Pack as light as possible.  Amtrak’s policy on luggage is awesome, but even so, packing light will help you more in the long run. 

If you happen to get inspired and go on a similar trip, please come back and let me know.  I would love to hear about your experience…or if you have already gone on a similar trip, I would love to hear about your experience as well. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

30 Days of Thanks (11-20)

Day 11:  I am thankful that we have God’s Word available to us.  There are many times throughout the day when His Word will speak to the exact situation that I am dealing with.  The Words of the Bible speak to people today just as they have for many years.  I am so thankful that I have a Bible and am able to read it whenever I want.

Day 12:  I am thankful for my home.  Although we do not own the home that we are in, I am thankful that there is a place here for us to live…that keeps us warm in the winter, cool in the summer, protects us from the “elements.”  We have a place to sit, a place to lay our heads at night, running water, and so many more conveniences that were never even thought about years ago.  I have a dishwasher, a washing machine, a dryer…so many things that I didn’t have when we were first married, but they have made my life much easier.  So, along with being thankful for my home, I am also thankful for the things inside my home that help me to do my “jobs.”

Day 13:  I am thankful for my husband’s job.  It is NOT the greatest, easiest, or most desired job in the world…but it is a JOB.  Many people are without a job…but we are blessed that he has had the same job for the past 7 years.  Yes, we are living paycheck to paycheck…but at least we have a paycheck that we know is coming.  My desire is that he will truly have a job that he enjoys, but I am thankful that he does what he has to do to provide for our family.

Day 14:  I am thankful for my vehicle.  When we first moved to South Carolina, we had an S-10 truck.  It was a “stick shift,” and to this day, I do not know how to drive a stick shift.  There were only four seats in that truck…and soon after we moved here, God surprised us with Gould #5…so, we had no vehicle to transport our entire family to places that we needed to go.  We were blessed with family and friends who helped us out, but at the same time, it wasn’t easy.  We had to do a lot of planning for anything like trips to the grocery store, doctor visits, church, etc.  Then, shortly afterward, we were blessed with a great deal on a car!  That car served us well for many years…but then, my husband got a boat…can’t pull a boat with a car.  So, we switched up to a truck…a BIG truck.  I hated that truck with a passion.  I always felt like I was running over everybody (and did accidentally hit a parked car one time because it was so hard to see where you were going in that thing!).  So, recently, my wonderful husband decided to trade it in on something easier for me to drive.  Now, I have my PERFECT vehicle…it is a Buick Rendezvous…not too big, not too small…just RIGHT!  I love it and am thankful that things worked out for us to get it.  I was praying the ENTIRE time that we were at the car dealership, which made me nervous in and of itself! 

Day 15:  I am thankful for the freedom to homeschool my children.  I know that the rules are different in different states…some are much more strict than they are here in South Carolina.  I have heard really bad stories about people in other countries trying to homeschool…it is not a “welcome” thing in many places.  So, I am thankful that I am able to do it, legally.  I am thankful that God called me to homeschool my children when I thought that I “would never do that.”  Be careful what you say “never” to!  I enjoy being with my children, I enjoy seeing them learn, and I enjoy being here for them when they need me.

Day 16:  I am thankful for time that I was able to spend with my grandparents growing up, and that my children are able to spend time with their grandparents now.  I was about 8 or so when my grandmother (my dad’s mom) passed away.  I didn’t really know her that well (my fondest memory of her is that she always bought me blocks of cheese that she would give to me when we would visit…she knew how much I loved cheese!)…but I do remember the funeral, and seeing Daddy cry.  I had never seen him cry like that before.  Then, when I was a teenager, my grandfather (my dad’s dad) passed away.  I knew him a little better, and have good memories of times that we spent together.  His house always had a certain smell to it.  It didn’t smell bad, just like an old house smells.  I am glad that I was able to know them even if it wasn’t as well as I would have liked, and that I have fond memories of them.  My mother’s parents were our next door neighbors…so I knew them as well as anyone could know their grandparents.  I was very close to my grandfather, calling him Papa after I hit my teenage years because I like a commercial on TV that sang the word “Papa” in what I thought was a catchy way.  I spent a lot of time sitting with him…outside, inside, watching western shows, watching him whittle, listening to him whistle…so many, many fond memories…I could write pages on the memories that I have of Papa.  He passed away almost 6 years ago, but the hurt in my heart is still as fresh as the day he died.  I miss him so much, and have dreams about him often.  He was a great man, and I am so thankful that I was able to know him in such a way that I can pass those memories on to my children.  They were very little when he passed away, so they didn’t get to know him.  My grandmother, or Granny, died earlier this year.  She and I were not very close, but I am blessed that I was able to have her as part of my life…  Grandparents are very special.  That is why I am also thankful that my children get to spend time with their grandparents.  My husband’s parents live here, so we are able to see them often.  My parents still live in Tennessee, but they come to visit at least a couple of times a year.  My children are making great memories with their grandparents, and I am thankful for that. 

Day 17:  Today I am thankful to be living here, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Yes, we live at the beach, and yes, there is some desire for most people to live near the beach.  That is one of the attractions, for sure…but I am thankful that we do not have to deal with hard winters (as I am not a fan of winter anyway)…I am thankful for so many places around here that we can visit and have fun family time…I am thankful that we have family members that live nearby. 

Day 18:  I am thankful to know that God took a day of rest…and that He expects us to take one as well.  Today, which was Sunday, I rested quite a bit.  My husband and I took advantage of the rain and clouds to make for a nice nap time.  We rested…and it felt good to rest.  He works hard, and I am going all day with the children most days…so to get a time of rest was something that we both really needed.

Day 19:  I am not feeling well today…my children are not feeling 100% today either.  It’s not easy to do the things that need to be done when your body doesn’t want to cooperate.  I am thankful that I am still here for my family though.  None of us are deathly ill.  So, even though we aren’t feeling like ourselves, I am thankful for the health that God has given to us…because it could be much worse.

 Day 20:  I am thankful for memories that are being made.  My children get a little loud and rambunctious at times, but I look at them and think, “This is going to be a memory for them someday.”  I am an only child, so growing up, I played by myself a lot.  My mom played with me, and my dad played with me…but I mostly got used to playing alone.  However, when our family got together, it was play time with the cousins…I had a cousin a few months older than me, a cousin 2 weeks younger than me, a cousin one year younger than me, and a cousin that was 4 years younger than me.  When we all got together, memories were made…and a lot of times, we were loud…a lot of times, we got hurt…a lot of times, we were rambunctious…BUT we survived, and now that we are all grown up, those are memories that will last us a lifetime.  I can think back to times with them, and it seems as if it were yesterday instead of YEARS ago.  My kids are a little loud and a little rambunctious right now, but they are making memories that will last a lifetime…and I am thankful for that.

30 Days of Thanks (1-10)

Since November 1st, many people have been posting on Facebook or on their blogs daily about the things that they are thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving being this month.  I decided to do this a bit differently.  I am keeping a record of things that I am thankful for each day, and I will post them on here when I can.  I wanted to do it once a week, but as we can see, that did not happen!
Day 1:  I am thankful that God sent His son, Jesus, to be our Savior.  Without Him, how lost I would be.  These lyrics came to mind as I thought of my thankfulness to have Jesus as my Savior, my Comforter, my Counselor, my Friend, my Peace, and my Love.

“God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus.

He came to love, heal and forgive.

He lived and died, to buy my pardon.

An empty grave is there to prove

my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

Because He lives, all fear is gone!

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives!”
Day 2:  The best earthly gift that I have been given is my husband!  I am thankful that God picked Mark and I out for each other.  He has loved me through a decade of ups and downs.  I couldn’t ask for anyone better to spend the rest of my life with…to be the father of my children…to be my best friend!  I am so thankful that he serves and follows Jesus.  He cares for and provides for his family above and beyond what anyone would expect of him.  He gives of himself for us.

Day 3:  I am thankful for Mark Jr.  God chose to bless Mark and I within the first year of our marriage with a baby boy!  He has truly been a blessing.  God has kept His hand on Mark Jr. from the beginning.  His start was a little “rough” as there were some complications in the pregnancy (you can read about that in an earlier post), but Mark Jr. has since been the “picture of health.”  He has had colds and allergy problems from time to time, but for the most part, he has only been to the doctor for his yearly check-ups.  He has a tender heart…he hates to see or hear of people suffering.  He says that he wants to be a pastor or a missionary someday…and his personality seems to be “fit” for that…I just want him to continue to follow Jesus in whatever he does.

Day 4:  Thirteen short months after Mark Jr. was born, God blessed us with another boy, Caleb.  Caleb had quite a few complications when he was born…although the pregnancy was uncomplicated (something else that you can read from an earlier post).  God healed Caleb…and Caleb has also been very healthy since then.  Caleb is a bright spot in our family.  He always wants to be close to people…giving hugs, holding hands…  He is the one that most often just comes up to Mark or me and tells us that he loves us out of the blue.  He is a very sweet boy, and I am so thankful that God decided to give him to us!

Day 5:  I am thankful that I am no longer the only girl in our house!  :)   Sarah Grace was born in March 2006, twenty months after Caleb.  So, when she came along, I had 3 children, all under the age of 3 in my home!  It was very busy, but I was still thankful for God blessing us with another child.  She is truly a ray of sunshine…rarely ever is she not smiling, laughing, or telling some AMAZING story that she has thought up!  She is very girly…loving anything pink or purple…and wanting to play with dolls or dress up.

Day 6:  I am thankful for my other family members.  My parents are a 10 hour drive away…  Most of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and long-time friends live there as well.  I am thankful though that I still have them as a part of my life.  They are still able to travel to see us and the children.  I know that it is something that they look forward to.  My family has always been special to me…I always enjoyed our family get-togethers.  I miss them, but am thankful that we still communicate regularly, and see each other when we can.  They sacrificed for me throughout my life, and now that I am a parent, I can see how much they have done for me.

Day 7:  I am thankful for my in-laws.  From the first time I met Mark’s family, I have been treated as one of the family!  They took me in, they are there for me when I need them, and they are always willing to listen and help when things come up in our lives.  I have never been treated as the “in-law,” but as the daughter or the sister or the aunt…whichever title fits with the family member.  I heard many horror stories prior to marriage about people and their “in-laws.”  My “in-laws” do not match up with those horror stories, and I am very thankful to have them in my life.

Day 8:  I am thankful for my church family.  I may be biased, but I think that I have the best church family and pastor to lead us in the world today!  My church family has been there to support, encourage, and pray for me and my family…they always have a kind word, a hug, or a smile to share whenever we gather together.  I enjoy the praise time in church…listening to my brothers and sisters praise the Lord for what He is doing in their lives brings me joy.  I have never met a person more knowledgeable in the Scriptures than my pastor (who also happens to be my father-in-law).  He has taught me so much, yet I still learn something new from him.  No matter what question comes up, he can lead us to the answer in Scripture.  He says that if he doesn’t know the answer, he will find it…but I can’t remember an occasion where he was asked something that he could not come up with a reference to answer it with Scripture!  I am thankful that he takes on the task of shepherding us, and that God blessed him with the knowledge and desire to preach the Word!

Day 9:  I am thankful for my friends.  A few years ago, I reconnected with a friend because of Facebook.  She and I were best friends when we were 7 years old.  We were best friends for several years.  As people sometimes do, we went our separate ways, with our separate friends, and did not really have much contact after middle school.  We were friendly to each other, but when we thought of friends, we probably didn’t think of each other.  I saw her MANY years later as my church was doing a walk against abortion…and she, her husband, and their daughter were there.  We talked for a while, but didn’t really CONNECT.  I saw her again years later, after I married and had two children of my own.  We didn’t really have a lot of time to reconnect then either, because she was going one way, and I was going another.  After that meeting though, I kept trying to remember what her last name was so that I could try to “find” her.  Thanks to Facebook, showing me “People You May Know,” I did “find” her.  We had so much in common after all of these years.  She and her family came to visit us one summer.  We had so much fun together.  We keep in touch, sometimes daily, but at least weekly now.   She is once again one of my best friends.  I am thankful for our friendship, and thankful that God reconnects people in His perfect timing.
Besides my husband, I have one other best friend.  She and I met a few years ago, thanks to our homeschooling group.  When I have spent time with her, I leave encouraged and refreshed.  She is definitely a God send in my life.  She is the first REAL friend that I made here in South Carolina.  Moving from Tennessee, where ALL of my family and 28 years worth of friends were living, it was difficult here not knowing anyone.  She has been there for me more times than I can count, and I am so thankful for her friendship. 

Day 10:  Speaking of our homeschool group, I am very thankful for them.  When my husband and I began researching the laws about homeschooling in the state of South Carolina, it didn’t take us long to decide which option we wanted to go with.  This was the only option that had a local, thriving group.  During the first year of getting started, I was in regular email communication with the president of our group at the time.  She and I had never met in person, but she was quick to respond to me, and helped me out in numerous ways.  One of God’s little surprises happened one Sunday morning…we had a visitor to our church.  She didn’t really intend on visiting, but we were meeting at our local library at the time, and she happened to show up.  On Sunday, we were the only people in the building…so when we let her in, she said that she would just stay for church.  Afterward, several people came over to her to introduce themselves…  My husband said, “Hi, my name is Mark Gould, and my wife, Hillary…”  With that, she interrupted him, and said, “HILLARY?  HILLARY GOULD?!?  Where is she?!”  I was with my children…but she made a beeline to where my husband had pointed me out.  She told me who she was!!!  She was the president of our homeschool group!  We finally got to meet.  After that, she has also been a great encourager to me.  Many families in our group have encouraged me…as many of them have been homeschooling longer than I have.  We have a weekly co-op…so that children can make friends, and parents can make friends as well.  It has been a blessing to our family.  My husband and I were just talking the other day about what an awesome group of families are in this group.  We are so thankful for the group, and all of the families that make up the group.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Our Trip: Through California

We arrived in Merced in the very early morning hours.  We took a taxi to our hotel for the night.  We had planned on spending the next day at Yosemite National Park, but were informed at the train station that it was an extra cost for that bus…besides that, from the time we would get over there, to the time that we would have to catch the bus to come back to Merced to catch our train that night would give us VERY little time at the park.  So, we decided that it would be best to not go to Yosemite, and just spend the day doing very little in Merced.  We walked around the town, ate at a Mexican restaurant there, re-fueled our grocery bag, and let the children play on a playground there.  We were able to leave our bags at the Amtrak station, which helped us to just walk around the town without any hindrances.  Merced was a nice, small town…the people were friendly…but we didn’t really do much.

From Merced, we traveled back to Los Angeles, to catch the train to go back east. 
Traveling through California gives you many different kinds of scenery.  Here are a few pictures of the California countryside. 




San Francisco: Day Two

Our second day in San Francisco began with continental breakfast at The Opal.  They served fruit, yogurt, cereal, and pastries…a lot like most continental breakfasts…except that the fruit that they served was EXCELLENT!   My husband and I both commented about how fresh and “different” from what we buy from the stores or have tasted in other places.  We are not sure if it was home-grown or what…but it was definitely worth going back for seconds!  After breakfast, we packed our bags because we were leaving that afternoon.  After that, we decided to check out Chinatown!

We loved Chinatown.  There were little old Chinese ladies stopped us to try to ask us how old our children were and to tell us how “beautiful” they were.  They were touching the children’s hair and patting their backs as they tried to communicate with us.  They were so excited about our children that it really was amusing to watch!  As we were walking through the streets, someone handed us a coupon for a Chinese restaurant called, “Chinatown Restaurant.”  We decided to go there for lunch.  It was more delicious than I can even begin to describe.  Chinese food is my favorite anyway, and having some in Chinatown was amazingly yummy! 

We left Chinatown and headed toward Pier 39 which was where our bus boarded that evening to take us to the train for our next segment of the trip.  We decided to get there a little early to see what all was there.  It didn’t take long for us to find the sea lions that live there! 

They were very loud!  We walked around there for a while, watching the sea lions.  As soon as we walk away from the sea lions, we see Alcatraz…a better view here than we had when we were at the Golden Gate Bridge. 
The tours left from there, but they were all booked.  If you are going to San Francisco and want to tour Alcatraz, book your tour well in advance!  We walked around some of the shops at Pier 39…we found a shop called, “Lefty’s.”  This is a store made especially for left-handed people.  My oldest son is left-handed…and my middle son is somewhat ambidextrous…he writes with his left hand, but does other things (like throwing a ball or holding a bat) with his right hand.  You never think about how many things a left-handed person has to deal with until you go into that store.  The one that particularly interested me was a left-handed notebook.  The “spiral” was on the opposite side, making it easier for left-handed writers to write. 

After a lot of walking, we were tired…we rested on a bench to wait for our bus to arrive.  As we sat down, sea gulls came over in front of us.  I am guessing that they are fed from there a lot.  The sea gulls were the BIGGEST sea gulls that I had ever seen…and my husband, who spent half of his childhood living on the east coast, said that they were the biggest that he’d ever seen as well.  The sea gulls that we have here in Myrtle Beach must be of a different breed or something…because it would take at least two of them to be as big as the ones that we saw in California!  One of the poor birds didn’t have a foot.  It looked like a “peg leg,” so we began calling him the pirate sea gull! 

Our bus finally arrived, and we left San Francisco. 

We were taken to the train that would bring us to our next stop, Merced, California.  (Merced is the town nearest to Yosemite National Park.)

San Francisco: Day One

After a long, relaxing, BEAUTIFUL trip down the coast, we finally arrived in San Francisco.  Our actual stop was in Emeryville, just outside of San Francisco.  Our train had actually been delayed that morning, so we got there much later than we had planned.  We stayed at a VERY nice hotel (Marriott) within walking distance of the train station.  We walked over there, talked the attendant at the desk, and he ended up UPGRADING our room.  We were supposed to have just a “regular” room but he upgraded us to a small suite.  This had two VERY large beds…(they were the most comfortable beds I believe I had ever been on) and a couch that had a pull out bed.  We also had a balcony with a very nice view…  Here is our view at night…

And in the morning, we discovered this famous site that we could see from our balcony!!!

We slept a little later that morning since we had gotten in later the previous night.  We were late for the continental breakfast that the hotel provided, so we had to find something else to eat.  Looking out from our balcony, we saw a little café…it was appropriately named, Emery Bay Café!  We decided to go there for a late breakfast, early lunch.  My husband had an omelet, I went more of the lunch route with a club sandwich with potato salad, and the children shared a breakfast plate (pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon).  The food was DELICIOUS!  We all tried a little off of each other’s plates…so I can vouch for it all!  If you are every in the Emeryville area and need a place to eat, I highly recommend Emery Bay Café! 

After finishing our meal, we walked to the subway station.  We took the subway into downtown San Francisco. 

We spent most of the day searching for our hotel.  We asked for directions, and someone sent us the LONG way around.  Afterward we found out that we were VERY close to our hotel, but the guy giving directions must have not known the town very well.  The thing I remember most about our first hours in San Francisco was the wind!  It was so windy that actual garbage was blowing around the city.  I had a piece of cardboard blow on to my legs, and I had to PUSH it to get it off!  It was like something that you would see in the movies…never experienced anything like that before! 

We stayed at The Opal in San Francisco that night.  It was a VERY nice hotel…an old hotel that had been renovated.  They are still upgrading parts of it, but they are keeping it like it was in many ways as well.  It had a feel and an atmosphere about it that took you back in time!  We really enjoyed staying there! 

After we checked in, we decided to see a little more of the city before turning in for the night.  We took the bus to see the Golden Gate Bridge. 

We wanted so much to walk across it, but our first day in San Francisco was very cold!  We decided that we would try that some other time…maybe on another visit to the west coast!  It was amazing to see the Golden Gate Bridge though, and our children will never forget it.  They have found it in movies lately, and point it out saying, “We were there.  That’s the Golden Gate Bridge!” 
When we got back near our hotel, we decided that it was time to eat some dinner.  Connected to The Opal was a restaurant called “Mel’s Diner.” 
We decided to take advantage of its location…eat our dinner, and then walk a few feet to the elevator to go up to our room for the night.  The diner was set up as such…it looked like something from the 50’s.  As we sat down, we noticed a picture of Guy Fieri!  He had been there with his show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” that I LOVE to watch!  I thought that was pretty cool!!  We ordered a pretty regular meal there…burgers and fries…and my daughter Sarah ordered, “Sarah’s Grilled Cheese” from the kid’s menu.  She was so excited to see her name attached to a food that she loves! 

Our Trip: Traveling the Coastline

By this time, we were very far away from our starting point at the Atlantic Coast…but we finally got to see the ocean again…except now, we were seeing the Pacific!  Coast to coast had become a reality.  After leaving Los Angeles (we had a very long delay at Union Station), we headed up the coastline to San Francisco.  This was the most scenic and most memorable part of the trip…and we were sitting the whole time!  Here are some pictures of our train travel along the coastline…