Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove State Park is along the Coast Highway in the Laguna Beach area of California. We went there mostly to check out the tide pools and let the kids play in the sand on the beach while we waited for low tide. What we discovered was a beautiful beach, perfect conditions for a swim in the Pacific, and an overall wonderful place to spend the whole day.

On all the beaches that we’d been to, Emelie had resisted going in the water. She loves baths and begs to swim in every pool she sees, but waves made her uncomfortable so she often wouldn’t even get her feet wet. This time, she was willing to try some baby-steps, from being held by someone who was touching the water, slowly getting closer and closer until she finally was splashing in the waves. She loved it, up until she accidentally got her head wet (oops, didn’t see that wave coming!) and then she was done.

Clinging to Pappa as a wave rolls in

Splashing together with her little brother, as long as she can hold on to Mamma. Peter is just loving every minute!

Smile! 

The thing was, we weren’t really planning to swim. I’d brought bathing suits for the kids, Staffan was wearing his, but I didn’t even have mine with me. The kids ended up splashing around in their clothes, and when Peter got a little cold, the only thing I had to change him into was his swimsuit. Backwards, yes, but it worked.

Happy Peter on the beach

At first I sat, watching longingly as Staffan and Emelie explored the water. Then I took Peter to the water’s edge and splashed a bit with the kids. But as I sat back down in the sand with the kids while Staffan took a swim, I knew I couldn’t miss my chance to swim in the Pacific. So I took my turn and in I went in my clothes. Many weeks and many washings later, there is still sand in the pockets of those shorts. And every time I put my hands in my pockets and feel that awful sand-under-your-fingernails feeling, I smile and remember how great the water felt. And I’m glad I didn’t miss it just because I didn’t bring my swimsuit.

Finally, as the sun, sand and saltwater exhaustion started to kick in, we let Peter catch a few Zs in the stroller while the rest of us explored the tide pools. The tide had finally gone down enough to walk out on the rocks. In among and between the rocks are cracks, crevices and lower areas where sea creatures swim during high tides but are then caught when the tide goes out. The visitor’s center has free laminated guides that show pictures of the different creatures you might see so you can identify them. Exploring the tide pools was fascinating and tons of fun, but also slippery and a bit sharp in places, so walk carefully.

Sparkling water in the tide pool area

Hold on tight and walk carefully!

Try teaching a 3-year-old to say “sea anemone” 

Crabs and fish and plants, Oh My!

Another little tip about Crystal Cove. If you go to the right entrance the first time (which we didn’t), you don’t pay the entrance/parking fee on the way in but on the way out. If you then decide to eat a meal, snack, or (like us) dessert in the little restaurant on the beach, they will validate your parking. Since the entrance/parking fee is $15, as long as you eat for $15 or less you at least break even. The restaurant isn’t cheap, and the validation did nothing for us since we already paid the fee when we went in the wrong entrance, but perhaps someone else can benefit from our experience.

We had a beautiful day at Crystal Cove. I’m sure we would have had a great time at any of the many amazing beaches in that part of California, but the added experience of seeing sea creatures up close in their natural habitats of the tide pools made it an unforgettable day!

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Hangin’ in the O.C.

Our friend Maggie lives in Orange County with her five kids. We connected over Facebook and she invited us to come and stay with them on our way through California. We happily took her up on the offer! A chance to catch up with an old friend and a free place to stay? Definitely!

Here we met our first driveway that was too steep to set up our camper (probably – we didn’t technically try) and so for the first time in 55 days, we slept in a house. It was really nice in some respects – especially not having to walk outside to a bathroom in the middle of the night. But even though we were in great beds, and the mattresses were, by any definition, better than what we had in the camper, they weren’t our beds. The kids didn’t sleep well, which means no one slept well.

So I mentioned Maggie has 5 kids, right? They’re older than ours, ages 10-17 or so. But until recently, they also had foster kids that were younger – like the ages of my kids. So the kids were great with little ones and everyone was used to crazy toddler chaos. On Sunday, before church, she took our kids for a walk and Staffan and I both had some alone time. Staffan borrowed their piano and spent his time making music. I decided to go for a “quick” run, which ended up being anything but quick when I made a wrong turn and got lost. Eventually I realized something was wrong and found myself using on the map in my phone (again, what did we do without smart phones?) and started back in the right direction… doubling my usual run distance. When I hobbled in the door after the time we had planned to leave for church, the morning became slightly less relaxed than intended. But still! Alone time! And then later on Sunday, Maggie said, “You guys should go to a movie tonight!” Seriously? A date? Alone time and couple time in the same day? Thanks Maggie!

Pictures Maggie took at the playground while they were on their walk.

This boy loves to swing!

Not actually one of Maggie’s kids… but her friend’s son who she homeschools along with her own “fab five”

And our church tourism continued. It was perfect timing to be in Orange County on a Sunday, and we worshiped at Saddleback (pastored by Rick Warren, of Purpose Driven Life fame). It’s hard to say if it’s bigger or smaller than Willow Creek, for example, but the sprawling, multi-building campus made it feel much bigger. For me, it seemed too big and disorienting. I have no desire to “rate” or “review” churches, but I have to admit I was disappointed. It’s not that there was anything wrong with Saddleback, but after having heard so much about it, I guess I was expecting it to be different than it is.

We had a great weekend catching up with friends and enjoying the beautiful southern California weather. On Monday, we explored Crystal Cove… which deserves its own post!

Hollywood Drive-by

We left Santa Barbara, headed for Orange County, California, and took a detour off the interstate to drive through Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Even on a Saturday, there was a lot of traffic and since we were towing the trailer it was nearly impossible to park. So Beverly Hills for us was a drive-by, and all our pictures were taken from the car except one. I wanted to take a picture of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, so Staffan pulled over wherever he could find space (definitely NOT a legal place to park!) and I had one minute to hop out and find a star. I had to walk a bit before I saw a name I recognized, but when I came to Ella Fitzgerald, I snapped the picture and ran back to the car.

Here are some more pictures. It’s Hollywood from the passenger seat of a minivan.

I should’ve zoomed this one better. The sign above “HOLLYWOOD” says “stay cool” with an arrow pointing right. We turned right. Who wouldn’t?

These neighborhoods look just like they do on TV

Rodeo Drive, baby! We heard on the radio that they’re trying to get permission to build a 99¢ store there.

Another weird yellow sign that should have been zoomed better. Under “city of Los Angeles” this one says “Magic Ahead”

The Chinese Theater – from the passenger side of a moving minivan

Hollywood Boulevard

The Beverly Hills sign

Los Angeles city skyline

Warner Brothers studio gate

Hollywood Boulevard, Bob Hope Square

We spent entirely too long driving around trying to find a good view of the Hollywood sign. We looked it up on the internet (what did we do without smart phones?) and drove around and around and around trying to find the places they suggested. In the end, we saw it clearly at least. The pictures aren’t great, but they aren’t bad for minivan photography.

This is an expensive picture, if you count the time and gas it took to get it

Obviously, Hollywood is a place you could go and spend your whole vacation. Lots of people do. But we’re not exactly celebrity watchers, and can’t really imagine ourselves spending money on a “tour of the stars’ homes” or anything like that. It was definitely fun to see some of these famous places with our own eyes, and it was worth taking the detour off the interstate. But my curiosity is satisfied and I can’t say I have any great longing to go back.

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Meanwhile, back in Santa Barbara…

We went to a pumpkin patch with our friends Gary, Jeanne, and Tatyana. I had not been to a pumpkin patch in years, and for the rest of the Lindstrom clan, it was a first time experience.

The cutest little pumpkins in the patch!

While we were paying for our pumpkins, Emelie ran off with a wagon and picked a whole new batch!

Then we took them back to their house and got ready to carve them. Again, something I haven’t done in years, and the first time for all the rest.

First we draw the faces we want to carve… 

Not so bad for 3!

I have never seen such intense concentration on her face.

This was quite a pumpkin carving operation!

Then it was time to scoop out the “guts”!

Staffan preparing to carve Emelie’s pumpkin. He did a great job of free-hand carving a face out of the drawings she made!

What a good looking bunch!

Hanging out on the porch that evening by pumpkin-light. The Parsons’ pumpkins are on the left, then the little Peter pumpkin in the middle, then Emelie’s and mine

It was so fun to pick and carve pumpkins with our friends! We took the pumpkins with us and they brightened our campsites for a few nights, before the heat of the Southern California sun aged them a bit prematurely.

On the eve of return…

Tomorrow we are heading back to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. I know the blog is dreadfully behind and if you’re only seeing my blog posts, you’d think we were still in California. We’re not. With the exception of tonight’s post, I plan to “go back” to California and continue to add each post in chronological order of what we did on the trip. I don’t know how long it will take me, but the thing is, this is just as much for us as it is for anyone who’s reading it. This is our record of a life-changing experience, and I want to create it to be something we publish and keep forever. So it will take the time it takes. My only hurry is to record it all before memories start to fade and “real life” starts to invade the feelings of being there and the lessons learned.

But tonight I am taking a step out of chronological order to reflect before it’s all “over”. Yes, we will still be in the US for another 2 ½ weeks and there are still many things we are looking forward to doing. But we will be back on familiar turf, staying in one place for more than a few days and generally changing the lifestyle we’ve gotten very used to over the past 3 months.

It will take us weeks and months to process, digest, reflect on and begin to understand all that we have seen and done. It would be premature for me to try to summarize this trip in a few sentences. Instead, tonight I want to share how I feel about it ending.

Someone asked me today if we are anxious to go home – not to my childhood home but to our apartment in Sweden, where all of our stuff is and where we can return to “normal life”. I’m honestly not. (That’s not to say that I’m dreading it though.) Am I tired of sleeping in a pop-up camper that doesn’t have it’s own bathroom? No, not really. Am I tired of cooking 1 or 2 pot meals outside on a propane stove (using a flashlight after daylight savings ended and it was dark so much earlier)? Maybe a little. Are we starting to get tired? Yes. But most of that has just been these last few days, when we started sleeping inside and our kids haven’t slept very well. Are we sad that it’s over? Yes. Definitely. Making the last “left turn” to drive north from Florida was like a kind of a grieving process that I wasn’t expecting. I was more sad about spending our last night in the camper than I was about the last house that we moved out of. I guess I was expecting to feel “done” with it all by now, but I don’t.

But all good things must end. Someone once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And I do. Part of me still can’t believe we did this. It has been amazing. We will continue to look back, and share memories, and process all that we have experienced. But it is also time to look forward. To prepare for what lies ahead. To decide what’s next. Being away for this long can really clean your slate, so to speak, and enable a fresh start. What have we learned, and how have we changed and who do we want to be now going forward? Those are all questions that we need to answer in the coming days and weeks. It’s a really exciting and yet slightly intimidating place to be.

So that’s what I’m thinking about on this the final evening of our 91 day adventure. Well, that and that I really hope our kids will sleep well tonight. Thanks for sharing in this journey with us!

Santa Barbara

In Santa Barbara we were hosted by the Parsons, some of the sweetest, most encouraging, most hospitable people we’ve ever met. Also some of the busiest – though they always seem present in the moment and you never get the sense that they’re overwhelmed or stressed when you’re with them. Someday I would like to learn that skill. Among other things, they oversee the Former Soviet Union region for Young Life and spend a whole lot of time in airplanes.

They only had a few days to be at home in between trips, and they were willing to share that time with us. What a joy to be with people who love so well and who we view as role models in so many ways. And to do it in a setting like Santa Barbara, which is such a beautiful blend of beaches and mountains… what a blessing our time in Santa Barbara was!

Mountains on one side, beach on the other, palm trees in between

After we arrived, set up the camper in their driveway, and did a little catching up, we piled all 7 of us (the 4 of us plus Gary, Jeanne, and their daughter Tatyanna) into their suburban for a driving tour of the Santa Barbara area. The next day, the four of us set off on foot (well, Peter was more ‘on stroller’ than foot) to explore the town a bit for ourselves. We walked down the main street, window shopping, browsing in stores, and having lunch before we eventually came to the beach. After a bit of play time at the beach, the Parsons came to pick us up and the whole gang headed off to the pumpkin patch! (Even though it’s November as I write and post this, it was October when we were there. Perfect timing for a pumpkin patch.) Picking and carving our pumpkins together was so fun and special that it deserves its own post.

Where shopping meets beach

These musicians just jammin’ on the beach got themselves a back up dancer

Peter knows it’s important to drink lots of water when you’re out in the sun!Great shot of Gary and Tatyanna

That evening, Jeanne and I gave the kids baths and Tatyanna braided Emelie’s hair. (Why she can sit perfectly still while other people do her hair but kicks and screams if I come anywhere near her with a brush is beyond me, but I digress…) We sat out on the porch by the light of our newly carved jack-o-lanterns until it was past time to put the kids to bed. They were being loved on so well that it was hard to tear them away so they could sleep. In the morning it was time for us to go, and for Gary to take to the skies once again.

A beautiful backyard/driveway, perfect for Home Sweet Pop-up!

Thank you Gary, Jeanne, and Tatyanna for sharing what little time you had at home together with us, and for all the ways you blessed us. We hope one of those airplanes brings you to Sweden sometime soon!

Oceano Washout

One more night on our way to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Oceano Campground in Pismo Beach, which is a San Luis Obispo State Park. We weren’t far from Santa Barbara, but we were waiting for our friends to get home. We picked Oceano because it was easy walking distance to a beach, a duck pond and a large playground. The plan was to stay the night then spend as much time there as we needed the next day until our friends were ready for us. And then it started raining.

It was the first time rain had impacted our plans at all, which in nearly 2 months of travel is amazing. So for those who have asked what we do when it rains, well, it was time to figure that out.

Most parents will recognize our rainy-day solution. Veggie Tales on the portable DVD player and phone calls to grandparents. It was just like home, except in a smaller space and with a slightly wetter walk to the bathroom.

During times when the rain was slower, we took things out to the car, and when the rain had mostly stopped, we loaded the kids in the car and quickly took down the camper. It was the first time in about 6 weeks that we’d had to pack it up when it was wet. So while it’s never fun to break camp in the rain, we really felt like we couldn’t complain.

We continued south, then, toward Santa Barbara and stopped along the way to kill the remaining time at a Goodwill store until our friends got home. We do enjoy secondhand shopping.

We weren’t at the Oceano Campground very long, and between darkness and rain, we didn’t get any pictures. But here’s a review:

Price: $31, payable at the office of a different RV park down the road. That was confusing.
Location: Seems to be a great location. We never saw the beach, but the duck pond and playground were right across the street. I think it would have been fun.
Facilities: Lacking. There’s a small playground on site that Emelie had fun with while we made dinner the night we arrived. The showers close at 6pm (what!?) and the toilet area is very basic (concrete floors, no heat or hot water, no mirrors). It’s functional but I wouldn’t enjoy it long-term.
Site-description: Paved area to park campers and vehicles. Grass in between (but do not park on it!)
Neighborhood: Crowded and diverse.
Comments: The electric system is only 30 or 50 amp. Which means that if you just have a regular 20 amp plug like we do, you need an adapter. The campground host was kind enough to loan us one, but it would have been good to know that ahead of time.

Pinnacles National Monument

We worked our way slowly south through California for many reasons. The weather was amazing and there was so much to see and do. We also felt like California is so far away from where we usually are when we’re in the US that we’re unlikely to get back there again any time soon. And at this particular point in our trip through California, we were trying to time it right to see our friends in Santa Barbara when they were home. And so it was that we discovered Pinnacles National Monument, a stop that was never a part of our planned route but which certainly ranks among our favorite places that we’ve visited.

Pinnacles NM is named for the particular mountain formations in the park, but what we enjoyed most about the Pinnacles was hiking through them. There is one trail in particular that, when it’s safe enough, takes you through a cave. There is a lower part of the cave, after which you can turn out of the cave and continue on the “outside” trail, or you can continue into the upper cave, which is much more difficult (and therefore fun!) to traverse. It’s a wet cave, and certain times of year there’s too much water and part or all of the cave is closed. But when we were there, the whole thing was open.

Not in the cave yet, but still some fun narrow passages to hike through!

Look I can touch both sides!

We’ve been in several caves in the National Park system on our trip, and all were amazing in their own ways. This cave didn’t boast any unique geological features (that I know of) and there are no guided tours. There are no paved walkways or handrails (except one part of the lower cave where there are stairs) and no artificial lights. There are white arrows spray painted on the walls so you won’t get lost and hikers are advised not to enter without flashlights.

Little rock tunnel! Mamma carrying Peter, Emelie carrying her baby Lukas

Look! It’s a cave!

In we go! Peter likes to touch the walls too!

Headlamps on and ready to explore!

Stepping stones

Family picture in the cave

It was high adventure that was perfect for a family with small children. It was just hard enough to be exciting, but not so difficult as to be too much or unsafe. So, with headlamps on, we crawled over, ducked under, crossed streams on stepping stones, and squeezed a baby carrier through impossibly small spaces. Emelie led the group, and charged ahead with great excitement and absolutely no fear. Sometimes it was hard to get her to stop long enough for me to turn around and help Staffan and Peter get through. We had so much fun!

Not always easy to get through with Peter in a backpack!

The trail comes out by a reservoir where we sat to have a picnic lunch. A few drops of rain sprinkled on us but it blew over quickly without developing into much. It was a loop trail and most people go up through the cave but then back down on the “regular” trail. We gave Emelie the option and she overwhelmingly chose to go back through the cave. We chose to only go back through the lower cave in the interest of time, but after another tour through the cave we walked back to the car. I would thoroughly recommend this hike to anyone who has little ones with a bit of an adventurous spirit. It’s truly a gem that no one really seems to have heard of and that was the opposite of crowded and over-commercialized, the way some of the “bigger” parks can tend to be. Highly recommended.

Up the steps to the reservoir after the cave

Adventures make you tired

There is also campground at Pinnacles NM, and we stayed there the night before our hike. It is very basic, but adequate and as far as we know the only place to camp in the vicinity. Here’s a review:

Pinnacles National Monument Campground
Price: $36/night
Location: Within Pinnacles NM, which is pretty far out from anything else
Site description: Gravel and “grass” sites, relatively small but since it wasn’t crowded it felt spacious
Facilities: Bathrooms and coin-operated showers in a building near the office, which is a bit of a walk from all the campsites. The primitive campground areas have their own bathhouses, but they are not in the same place as the developed campground (with electricity). No dish-washing facilities, no playground. There is a pool but it was closed for the season (though they still watered the grass around it all night so that it was thick and green and not crunchy brown like the rest of the area).
Neighborhood: Relatively quiet, just a few neighbors with RVs, one other family with kids
Websitehttp://www.nps.gov/pinn/planyourvisit/camp.htm
Comments: It is really annoying to have to walk that far to go to the bathroom, especially at night. But it was dark enough and private enough to just pee on the ground at night. So it worked fine.

Monterey

Our next stop in California was along the coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey, at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA (creative name, I know). At over $50 per night (before our member discount) for the most basic campsite, this was by far the most expensive campground we’d stayed in yet. In fact, we chose to stay an extra night in San Francisco because the weekend rate for the same site was over $70.

On the road again…

Not a bad place to pullover to change a diaper and have a little snack!

Banana time!

It is a popular area to visit, and nearly every campground we were able to find ahead of time was $45+ for basic electricity and water hookups. The KOA boasted some great extra features, so we chose to go there. In fact, as I was checking in, I overheard a conversation between and employee and a man who came in. He was upset by how much it cost and she said, “Sir, some campgrounds are places where you sleep while you spend your days doing other things. We are ourselves a destination. The site you are interested in goes for over $100 per night in the summer and it is never empty.” Wow. Aside from this little bit of attitude, we really liked this place. But I’m not sure I liked it enough to pay $100+ a night to camp there.

They had a nice pool that was temperature-controlled, and a hot tub. They had a “beach area” with lots of sand, a giant trampoline-like “jumper” for kids, and probably a lot more when it’s peak season. It was also a 20-30 minute walk to a state beach. We were there for two nights, and during the full day that we spent there we enjoyed all those things – the beach, the pool and hot tub, and the jumpy-thing. The weather was great, though a little too cool for swimming, even in the warm-ish pool and certainly in the Pacific. But we had a nice time.

 

Mermaid Emelie

Can I have the camera please?

Queen of the Sand!

On the day we left, we stopped on our way south and spent a little time walking around Monterey. There’s a really nice walking/jogging/biking path that follows the water, so we walked on that for a while. It goes all the way down to the aquarium and some other somewhat well-known activities, but we didn’t plan to go to all of those and in the end decided not to walk that far. We explored the Old Fisherman’s Wharf for a little while, which is not all that exciting to be honest. It’s mostly overpriced souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. We saw a few pelicans, and there were a few sea lions, but not nearly as many as we saw in Crescent City, and to get anywhere near them you had to pay a shop owner $2 a person to go down his steps. We walked along the water, enjoyed the nice weather, and ate a picnic lunch. Before getting back on the road, we visited the Denis the Menace playground. It’s a free public park that has one of the best playgrounds I’ve ever seen.

Sleepy Pelican

Sailboats at the Wharf

Sea lions are fun!

One of the best playgrounds around! 

A drink from the lions mouth

We could not believe how long she could hold her own weight on this thing!

Hello!

The big kids weren’t letting her have a turn on this slide so she tried to slide down on the side. It didn’t work so well, poor thing.

Finally she was willing to ask them to let her have a turn on the cool roller slide!

Peter’s not about to be left out of the action!

So many great new things to try here!

Here’s a campground review:

Price: $93 for 2 nights, after KOA member discount, taxes, and “resort fees”
Location: It’s about a 30 min drive north of Monterey and about 15 min south of Santa Cruz. As mentioned, it’s close to the coast and state beach access is an easy walk that takes about 20-30 min. There is parking available at the beach for those who choose to drive, but there is a parking fee.
Facilities: Abundant. A great playground, pool, hot tub, coin laundry, dish-washing sink, and the list goes on. The bathrooms and showers were fine, but far from the nicest we’ve encountered along our way. I guess it surprised me because everything else was so top-notch (and had the price to match).
Site description: Sandy grass-ish site with a decent picnic table and some trees along the back that offered a bit of shade. Slightly larger than the average KOA sardine-sites.
Neighborhood: Very varied, though we encountered more non-American tourists here than anywhere else. There were a lot of rented RVs and a wide variety of languages to be heard.
Websitehttp://koa.com/campgrounds/santa-cruz/
Comments: On the second morning when we woke up, there was no power in the whole area, including the KOA. This meant not only no power but no water either. No flushing toilets or showers or drinking water. We made do because we had filled our water jug the night before and we were leaving that morning anyway. But the employees said it happens there often – circumstances outside their control- but still something to be aware of (keep your water jugs full!). There was talk of KOA getting it’s own generator to avoid this in the future, so hopefully it won’t be an issue for anyone else. I’d also like to comment that the employees were very helpful when our car battery was dead (again) on the morning we were leaving, and they helped get us on the road again.

We forgot to take pictures before we packed up the camper.

Another angle on the empty campsite 

You Must Ask Mr. Google

Almost four years ago, Staffan and I were privileged to be a part of a group that was sitting on a rooftop terrace at a Coptic monastery in Egypt. We had the chance to ask questions of a wise old monk, who was willing to share the wisdom he’d gained from decades of monastic living. But to one question he answered, “That I do not know. You must ask Mr. Google.” It was the last thing any of us expected to hear from an elderly monk in the middle of the Egyptian desert, but sadly the most memorable answer he gave us that day. And so it was that the phrase “ask Mr. Google” entered our everyday conversation.

Nerdy as it might be, we jumped at the chance to visit Mr. Google at home. We got a private tour from a Google employee, Staffan’s cousin Olof. Given how much a part of our lives and culture Google has become, it was fascinating to see the epicenter of it all. There are guided tours of the campus, which are probably well worth taking. The atmosphere is difficult to describe. There is real work being done, and most employees work hard and long. But at the same time, there is a lighthearted, creative vibe that seems to say, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” You could choose to have a group meeting on a “conference bike” – a round contraption with about 6 seats and sets of pedals on it – and ride around campus during your meeting. Or stop by and feed some lawn flamingos to the dinosaur skeleton statue.

Watch out Emelie! With that pink shirt, he might eat you too!

Google Earth

I can see my house from here!

C’mon kids, take turns!

Visitors of every age are signed in and get name tags

What is this ancient technology doing at Google?

Android: version Doughnut

…And Ice Cream Sundae and Cupcake. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. Neither did I. And neither did the kids. They just thought it was a yummy-looking place to play! All the versions were represented, but more than two pictures seems unnecessary.

One thing we thought was particularly interesting is that no money changes hands on the Google campus. Anything you see, from sodas in the refrigerators to lunch in the cafeteria to a latte in the cafe, is all free to employees and their guests.

And so we went to visit Mr. Google. He was a gracious host, showing us where the things come from that we use everyday, letting our kids play, and giving us a good lunch before we were on our way.