Thursday, July 26, 2012

California Dreamin' 2012

In 2007, when our second son was born, we chose the name Leo, a tribute to the first Leo I'd ever known and loved:  Jeff's grandfather, the famous Leo Vanoni.  Famous because of his 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren (and counting).  Famous because he makes friends with every person he meets.  Famous because of his enormous and loving heart, encased in his slight stature and unassuming demeanor.  Famous because, after nearly 60 years of dedicated leadership, "Uncle Leo" has become synonymous with "Ventura County Fair."  Famous for the love and warmth and pride and joy he finds in the ordinary and extraordinary. 

In 2008, Jeff and I made a commitment.  We decided that there were few gifts we could offer our children that were greater than the gift of family, of legacy, of love.  We decided that we would fly across the country, every other year, so that our children would know their only living great-grandparents, the lovely Leo and Rita.  We want our children to know their roots and to be engulfed in the love of extended family.  For if there is one thing you can say about the Vanonis, it is this:  their home knows no strangers.  Every visitor is welcomed with a warm hug, a cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, and a generous portion of guacamole straight from the avocado trees in the "backyard."     

This year marked our third cross-country trek.  It was, perhaps, our best trip ever.  Some snapshots:

The ocean always seems delicious to me.  But when it's 3,000 miles away from home, it seems extra-special.  Our first afternoon:

 I've had a thing for artichokes since I was a kid.  Imagine my thrill to discover these on the farm!  I asked if I could take one home, and my cousin-in-law snickered at my request.  "Anne!"  she said.  "They are in the brush pile!  Of course you can take it!"  then I heard her mutter, "I guess one man's trash really is another man's treasure..."

 Always, I am humbled by the food.  The primary crops on the Vanoni ranch are lemons, limes, and avocados - although they grow strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kumquats, loquats, oranges, grapefruit, and artichokes - for fun.  Every time we tour the farm, I feel abundantly grateful for how easy it is for us to put food on our table, and how hard others must work to make it so.  Though nothing parallels a ripe California strawberry still warm from the summer sun, sometimes, watching the laborers in the field, the taste is bittersweet.
 This photo is the gem.  Our camera lens broke, and we hiked all over Ventura and surrounding counties, trying to purchase a new one, to no avail.  Using the lens in manual mode proved a steep learning curve for the Carters, but thankfully, there were several Vanoni photography experts who were willing to lend a (steady) hand.  Photo credit:  Matt Vanoni.  Fashion credit:  Marie Barratt, who made the boys' farm shirts.
 I love this photo because of the stories I elicited right before it was taken - stories of falling in love, with Rita Vanoni, some 65+ years earlier.  I love this photo because of the grins and the laughter.

My mother got me hooked on pictures of hands.  I love this one, especially - the weathered, worn, gentle hand of the farmer with the tiny, tender hand of the picker.

We'll never take for Granted....

...the friendships that we have.  The second half  of our California visit is always spent with our long-time friends, the Grants.  Emily and I became very close during the fall semester of my senior year of college as we shed many tears bonded over our student teaching experiences and collaborated on drinking at the Door coursework requirements.  We stood as bridesmaids in each other's weddings, compared notes during months and months of pregnancies together, and have remained faithful friends, through weekly phone calls and yearly visits.  Though the photo is blurry, I love it all the same, because it takes my breath away:  Emily, look at what we've done in 11 years, I think.  Look at these gorgeous, happy, healthy, playful, funny, kindred-soul boys we grew.  Look at how they love each other, look at the friendship they share, just like their mamas and daddies.... 

The Grants treated us to four nights in Palm Springs.  It was an unbelievable luxury, providing us the respite and relaxation we so desperately craved.  More importantly, our friendship grew and our ties to each other strengthened in the most unlikely and unexpected ways.....

 ...inventing games down the water slide, for example, and conducting "wipe out" type races across the pool....
 ...playing rounds and rounds of the most inappropriate, hilarious, pee-in-your-pants kind of laughter-inducing game of all time:  Cards Against Humanity....

...and in what I have come to think of as our Palm Springs theme song, the reminder that life is short and fleeting.  No, it's not the perfect song for this occasion.  But each time I heard it (played on the outdoor speakers connected to the endless ipod playlist) I heard its wisdom:  embrace the moment.  Fill our lives with our own rhythms of love:  Our family.  Our friends.  And know that it is good -
good beyond measure.

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