Sunshine, candles, and the wisdom of a Ferris Wheel.

I had another one of those memory-blur weeks.

You know- the kind where you sit back at the end and wonder if it all really happened.

After a hectic fall and holiday season, John and I topped it all off with a last-minute trip to California. We romped on the beach with two little princesses. We said sayonara to a pretty fabulous 2012 with dear friends. We experienced the madness of a college bowl game on New Year’s Day. And we revisited the giggles of youth as I added another candle to my cake.

Incidentally, there are 38 candles now. Not counting the one for good luck. But let’s start at the beginning.

Remember our fun friends who initiated our love affair for Montana? Now that Spencer works for Stanford, they live in California. Waving a couple of extra Rose Bowl tickets under our noses lured us to sunny California for a quick trip. Nothing but blue sky in the forecast, John wisely upgraded our rental car to a convertible. While locals complained of a “cold snap” in the weather, we relished the warmth of a 60-degree day, knowing that it would be 5 months before we could do so at home.

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First stop? Gladstones in Malibu for a delectable patio lunch with my BFF and her family. The restaurant is a fixture on the beach that hosted birthdays and pre-prom dinners. Now, 20 years later, we giggled our way through our meal just like we used to– with a couple of husbands and two mini-versions of Amanda along for the fun.

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After lunch, we frolicked on the beach. The girls explored the tide pools while the bigger girls posed for a few photos. I have to be honest: I could have flew back to Utah right then and the trip would have been worth it. Do you have friends like that? Go hug them. 

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A man sat alone, facing the water, surrounded by seagulls. I wondered what went on in his head, sitting in the sunshine on the last day of the year. Was he making resolutions? Mourning losses in 2012? Giving thanks for the birds? It was a pocket of calm on a beach full of people. From where I stood, it looked like utter peace.

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We said our goodbyes (sniff, tear) and headed to our hotel to meet our friends. We didn’t realize we were staying at Stanford Central. Being a SoCal native, I know how big the Rose Bowl is- I’d even dragged Amanda to a game years ago! And now we were in the thick of the madness. So fun!

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After catching up with Nancy and Spencer at dinnertime, we settled in at the hotel bar to ring in the New Year. Our table was perfectly situated for optimal people-watching. It’s interesting to ponder the different choices people make on the last night of the year. For some, it’s what’s called “Amateur Night”– the two sick girls laying on the floor in the handicapped stall of the restroom for two hours were prime examples (yikes). Some ladies decided the evening called for The Shortest Skirts in the World. Couples dressed to the nines clung to each other’s hands en route to big parties and events. Packs of single young men roamed the lobby in droves, presumably following The Skirts. A gentleman sitting at our large table kept interrupting our group’s conversations, trying to start his own. He seemed annoying… until I thought about the fact that on a night like tonight, he had no one to spend time with but a group of strangers in a hotel bar. His attempts at communication seemed less irritating.

When midnight finally rolled around, we counted down to 00:00 hours and clinked champagne glasses. As I rang in 2013 with a kiss from John, little flashbacks of my memorable year filled my fuzzy head. Thank you, 2012.

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And on to the next.

New Year’s Day: game day! As we boarded the bus bright and early on Tuesday morning, John and I really didn’t know what to expect. We certainly weren’t prepared for a closed freeway and a police escort to the Rose Bowl! As we arrived at the stadium, it became clear that we were in for a big day.

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Our friends handed us tickets to the alumni tailgate party. Again, we weren’t sure what we were getting into. Picture a traditional tailgate party. Now add 17,000 people. It was madness! There was plenty of food, drink, sunshine, and silliness. We donned party beads and sipped (multiple) spicy Bloody Maries. We munched on BBQ chicken sliders and sweet potato fries and tried not to stalk the Lady with the Cupcakes (unsuccessfully). We clapped along with the rowdy Stanford Marching Band.

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After many hours, it was finally time to head to the main event. Throngs of people, dressed in Cardinal red, flooded into the stadium. They don’t call it “The Granddaddy of Them All” for no reason.

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It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be in a stadium with 100,000 rabid fans on Bowl Game Day. You could feel the roar of the crowd start in your feet. Skywriting planes wished us a happy year ahead and a Stealth Bomber fly-over surprised us all. It was ON. The best part (besides the bratwurst)? Our team won!

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After a day of eating, drinking, and cheering in the sun, our crew was beat. We bee-lined it to the hotel restaurant, secretly wishing for bed. The minutes ticked down until my birthday, kind of forgotten, as is common with a January 2 birthday. Sweet John clued our waitress in and I got to make a wish on an early birthday candle, sunk into something called the Junk Food Platter which included a giant cotton candy and multiple other sweet treats.

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I called it ‘diabetes on a plate.’ And proceeded to taste each component with glee.

Hugs all around: Nancy and Spencer’s flight was at an ungodly hour the next morning. I felt lucky to have been able to ring in the new year and share the fun Rose Bowl experience with them and felt a twinge of sadness that we had to say goodbye.

The next morning, John and I slept in a bit. I was awakened by a buzzing cell phone next to the bed, blaring sweet happy birthday texts and Facebook notifications. As I scrolled through words of love from friends near and far, I felt a bit blue. Why? Was it because I was feeling old? The number 38 seemed kind of BIG– and I sometimes feel like I’m running out of time. Or maybe it was the Holiday Blues. In addition to the usual madness of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, between October 27 and January 2, John and I celebrate our anniversary and both of our birthdays, too. And now the fun was ending! Maybe that was it. I sipped my coffee and told myself to snap out of it: I had just about everything I wanted in life at that moment. And then it hit me.

That was the problem.

It’s been a string of HIGHS for us lately, with very few lows in between. It’s become the norm to expect it all! And as I was reminded during my cake-making experience, having big expectations can decrease joy in life if they aren’t met. The Rolling Stones’ line played on repeat in my head: You can’t always get what you want.

Somehow the realization that I had no expectations for the day made me feel better. We had a wide open sunny day and a convertible. We had dinner plans later with my best friend. John sang me the happy birthday song and we headed off to find any adventure that wanted to come our way.

We landed on Abbot Kinney, a funky area near Venice Beach with shops and restaurants. My goal was a fabulous lunch and a glass of wine. I remembered a wine bistro I’d been to years ago, but it was closed for lunch. Bummer! (Expectation decreasing joy.) We strolled along, peering into shops, and enjoying the eclectic neighborhood. John and I both allowed a little daydream of California living for a few blocks.

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We stumbled upon a restaurant that had what I was looking for: an “open” sign and a wine list. It turned out to be one of my favorite meals ever! The menu was filled with incredible options, the vibe was hip and modern. We sat outside under heaters and enjoyed a long, lingering lunch. A butterscotch pot de crème with salted caramel sauce will be in my dreams forever– unbelievable. A young guy sitting at the table next to us was also celebrating a birthday. There’s something fun about wishing a stranger a happy birthday and sharing that “we’re special” moment.

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After lunch, we strolled a bit more. I found a few trinkets and an awesome cookbook in one shop; John found a new ball cap in another. We got back into the convertible with smiles on our faces and headed toward the beach for a walk in the sun.

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We didn’t know it until we saw it, but the Santa Monica Pier was the best birthday idea ever. It was a glorious day, the beach filled with sunbathers and laughing children. I had an intense urge to ride the Ferris Wheel- my favorite. We bought a few extra tickets for the little roller coaster while we were at it.

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For such a manly man, John is on the timid side when it comes to roller coasters. I find it adorable. We rode it twice, laughing uncontrollably, before our date with the Pacific Wheel.

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A Ferris Wheel seems very romantic to me- something about swaying in the breeze, in your own little private pod, the world turning around you. We peered over the side, feeling the pang of danger that comes with being at such great heights. We snuzzled as the wheel paused while we were at the top, the vast ocean twinkling in the afternoon sun below us. There were a few bumpy pauses along the way around- others needed to settle in to their own experience below us. And then, the wheel started turning continuously. My favorite part is right after the peak– there’s nothing around you, nothing below- just the view and you. Time seems to stand still there at the top for a moment and then down, down you go.

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It kind of fell into place for me there on the Pacific Wheel.

We spend a lot of time in life, struggling on the upswing, always looking forward, always toward that goal at the top. There’s a moment of suspended bliss there when it’s reached, and if you’re smart, you take a moment and soak it all in. Because in a moment, that shining moment in the sun ends and the cycle starts again. There’s some time when you’re down, even below ground, wondering if the ride is over and about to stop. And then up, UP, UP you go again. The trick is to enjoy the up and the down as much as the view at the top. The trick is to enjoy the ride.

And I did.

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After a Nathan’s hot dog followed by a power nap back at the hotel, my birthday celebration continued at a Mexican restaurant with Amanda, her hubby and sweet step-daughter. Sabor has fabulous margaritas as big as my head and it was a blast to end the day with my best friend. For the third time, I made a wish and blew out a birthday candle, feeling loved and content with beginning a new year of my life.

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The next day, we enjoyed a quiet morning with room service breakfast, then spent time with a childhood friend of John’s in a lovely little Eden she shares with a sweet dog named Miss B. We chatted over a delicious lunch she prepared, the door wide open to the garden outside, the January sun warming the porch (and the dog). It was a simple, beautiful afternoon and I was smitten with the ease of it all.

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Life is so different here, I thought, as my hair whipped around my head in the convertible en route to the airport. The temperature on the dashboard read 71 degrees.

It was 5 degrees when we pulled into the driveway in Park City.

But as I dropped my bags and fell to the ground, on the receiving end of 38 birthday kisses from Cholula, I felt the kind of cozy that comes from within. You CAN always get what you want. It all depends on what it is that you want. Life is good. Whether you’re surrounded by 100,000 people or alone on New Year’s Eve; whether you’re 3 or 8 or 38 or 83; whether you’re struggling below ground level or enjoying your moment in the sun at the tippy top… it’s good to be alive.

Bring it, 38.

11 replies »

  1. Happy 38th! Sounds like your first married new year was a delight. Convertible — great idea. And the high-five shot on the beach looks as if you’re trying to catch the sun and put it in your pocket. That’s a great plan, if you ask me.

  2. Happy Birthday and Happy New Year, Amber! Sounds and looks like you had a fabulous time. I’m even delighted your team won the Rose Bowl while you were there to enjoy it in person (and that’s a hard thing for me to say considering I went to Berkeley and am programmed to hate all that is Stanford). 😉 Many wishes to another fantastic year!

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