Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Creatures Great and Small

We had a magical Family Day with Paul, Mary and Joy yesterday. Officially, it was our second one, and David joked that it should have started with a wake-up call at 6:00 a.m. and a really long bus ride. Instead, we had the usual frenetic morning routine, which used to be complicated enough when two people needed to shower, dress and eat, but has become totally unmanageable with the addition of a third person who needs to be fed, cleaned, dressed and accessorized with multiple tiny containers of what-not. And who mightily resists all of the above.

So, we got a late start, and our original plan of nibbling patisserie during the trip had to be jettisoned. Luckily, the Rupperts rode to the rescue with a Starbucks run, so there were no parched throats on the 45-minute journey.

Journey to where, you ask? Well, for this first Family Day that we were able to celebrate in our own way, we wanted to make it special. We mulled over the options--theme park? boat ride? snow tubing?--and finally decided on an Amtrak (aka "doot-doot") trip to an exotic location that could be reached within the limits of a 2-year-old attention span. After a little investigation, we chose San Juan Capistrano, though we knew little of its allure. It was the right distance (about an hour from San Diego), and we knew it had a mission.

San Juan Capistrano, we hardly knew ye. But now we do, and our love is deep and strong. First of all, the ride is gorgeous, with cliffs and scrub and beaches and the twinkling sea. The train is roomy and friendly for kids, even those who wish to climb up and down the stairs. When we arrived, we had the serendipitous good fortune to run into a very nice gal named Diane, who was out for a stroll with her daughter Leah--whom she adopted from China a few months ago! Since she was local, she advised us that we were standing mere yards from a fabulous attraction we had known nothing about: Zoomars Petting Zoo. It was literally across the tracks, enter on your right.

Now, I've been to my share of petting zoos, and more than my share in the past year. They're fine, but generally their pleasures are limited to a few scraggly goats and sheep and perhaps a skittish pig or deer. They are dusty and damp and one's child is filthy within minutes. This place, my friends, was no petting zoo. It was petting heaven!

As we entered, we saw sweet-faced emus, llamas and ponies, and a cheerful gal sold us baskets of carrot sticks and ice cream cones filled with seeds. A miniature doot-doot chugged around on a little track, and smiling children trotted around the yard on well-coiffed ponies. The clean, roomy pens contained fuzzy pink pigs, and chickens with black-and-white polka dots. We saw a baby goat the size of a large rabbit, and a miniature donkey with lush bangs.

But oh, my friends, what caused me to shove the children aside and make a bee line for the gate? A gigantic enclosure, filled with comfy wooden benches and smooth tree stumps for lounging, in which angora and Persian bunnies, and spotted guinea pigs in every texture and hue, frolicked and cavorted. Now everyone knows guinea pigs are cute. But you haven't really seen cute until you've seen those twitchy, tufty little beasts leaping around outside a cage. And you haven't really experienced cute overload until one rears on its hind legs in front of you in the hope you will produce a carrot.

After a couple blissful hours, we were ready for more than carrots ourselves, so we got our hands stamped (methinks the highlight of Jarrah's day was the "damp!" she kept showing us, on both hands--she insisted) and made our way into town, which was only one block! After a melancholy detour at The San Ramos Cafe, a ramshackle private home where the chef both lives and grows the day's fare and which was described by departing guests as "the best meal I've ever eaten"--alas, they had no highchairs--we headed up the street to a SJC historical landmark, the El Adobe, which was one of President Nixon's haunts and whose menu features a sandwich named for him. The girls were getting tired and we had a brief but loud skirmish over the perplexing fact that the waiter seemed to be absconding with their strollers (he was merely parking them in another room, but the impenetrable moods of a toddler made this into a grand tragedy) we toasted each other with frosty margaritas (ooooh! drinking in the afternoon! one of the many joys of train travel!) and dug into plates of cheesy goodness.

Hoping for some nap action, we proceeded after lunch to the famous Mission SJC, recently and impressively renovated, where the swallows famously return every spring and the bells toll for thee and then some. We rolled the strollers containing cheese-filled, blanket-clutching babies across the clickety-clack cobblestones, around and around the square for a half-hour, but only one baby succumbed and it wasn't mine. Every time I slowed the stroller, Jarrah craned around to see what kind of fun was forthcoming, and I finally gave up. We sat in the lovely stone courtyard while Joy slept a while, taking turns with Jarrah, and appreciated the fact that it was a Tuesday afternoon and we had no idea what time it was and didn't really care.

When we finally chose a departure train, there was more than enough time for a coffee-and-soda run at Ruby's (SJC is the kind of place where we could run into our El Adobe waiter on the street and he was excited to see us again) and a second visit to Zoomars, where the girls had their first pony ride, and were pretty darn thrilled about it. I was happy to see my guinea pigs again, even though Jarrah wouldn't let me hold the carrots, and we lazed another hour in the straw before making the arduous 50-yard trek to the depot.

And just to show you what kind of day it was: the train was full and the two families had to sit at opposite ends of the car. When the porter took the tickets, he noticed this and without being asked, said "I'll be back in a few minutes and we'll get you all seats together." Which he did. Just like on that little bus in Chongqing, one year ago exactly.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! And those pictures! There are some real keepers here, especially the one of the two girls in the rabbit pen with Joy looking over Jarrah's shoulder. That's the kind of picture I bet they'll look back on in 15 years and love.

So glad you all had a great day. Sage will be SO jealous when she sees Jarrah on a pony!

Miss J

Anonymous said...

Oh Sam,

That was worth the wait!

I am speechless, over our day and your entry.

Big Furry Guinea Hugs,



Anonymous said...

SJC was also the place we all met for the CCAI Adoption Information meeting - August 2004. It sounds so long ago but it feels like yesterday!

Congrats on Family Day #1!


Sam said...

Lynette, you are so right! I can't believe we didn't think of that! It's like destiny that we returned! :)

Hope you, Mark and Ava are doing well!