Friday, December 12, 2014

Falling into Fall

Hello blog family,
I apologize for my long absence over the last few months. I can't believe it's already December which means winter and the new year are just around the corner. Since I haven't posted since my birthday in September, I'll just start from where I left off. 

October to me typically means leaves changing color, sweaters, boots, fireplaces, hot cider, cool breezes, and pumpkins. The beginning of fall in California had me worried. It was still too hot to really be considered fall or do any of my favorite fall activities. Despite my refusal to accept that it was truly fall, we decided to go to a local pumpkin farm and get small pumpkins to decorate our new apartment. In my sundress and sandals we made the drive to Tanaka Farms in Irvine, CA. This farm is great because they grow and sell lots of different fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and affordable. Not only did they have a great pumpkin patch with the mountains as a backdrop, but they also had a small shop where they sold Halloween decorations and other cute knickknacks. We ended up spending a long time walking through the many fields, finally picking out the perfect pumpkin, although we never actually had time to carve it. We also picked out around 35 small pumpkins for decoration. Including a pumpkin carving kit and the entrance fee, it all was around $50. 
Pumpkin patch
Tanaka Farms
Apartment Tour: (its 90% done)
After my pumpkin picking adventure I was really missing home and the real fall weather. It just shouldn't be 90 degrees while kids are getting ready for Halloween. Luckily two of my best friends from high school got married in October, so of course I made the trip home. It took me a combined 2 planes, 10 hours, and 3,000 miles to get home for less than 48 hours, but it was well worth the hassle. Everything was absolutely beautiful, and it was great to spend the night with my closest friends from high school since I don't get to see them very often. The wedding was fall themed, so I definitely got my fill of fall in while I was there (thank you!). The bride and groom have been together since Junior year of high school, and I couldn't be happier to have been part of their special day. 
Love you guys, I can't believe you are married! 
Since I went home in October and I will be going home again in December for Christmas, I decided to stay in California for Thanksgiving this year. This was my first Thanksgiving in my entire life that I wasn't with my Mom or Dad. I was definitely sad about the fact that I wouldn't spend the day with my family, but I was also excited that I would have the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner myself. I spent weeks ahead of time planning, getting my favorite recipes from family members, and shopping to make sure my boyfriend and I had an amazing dinner just like I would have had if I were home. I am really proud of myself because everything turned out just as I hoped it would. We had a great day watching football (Eagles beat the Cowboys), drinking wine, laughing, and eating turkey and pie. Hopefully this is my only Thanksgiving not at home in PA with my family, but I am thankful we had such a perfect day and that I got to spend it with my love. 
Cheers before the game
My completed meal
I did it!
Our first Thanksgiving just the two of us
Before moving to California I really hated the outdoors. I was always the type of girl who was more concerned about breaking a nail or getting my designer sneakers dirty. Well after moving here, I am happy to say this has all seriously changed. California has so much natural beauty that it is impossible to want to be inside and stay clean. Now all I want to do is be outside, go hiking, and explore our backyard. I have a list of over 30 different hikes and national parks I want to see while living on the West Coast. One of the parks on that list was Irvine Regional Park which is about a 10 minute drive from our apartment. This park is only about 160 acres but has a lake, hiking trails, outdoor sports, and even a zoo. We first made a stop at the zoo since I absolutely love animals. The entrance fee was $2.00 per person and well worth the money. I expected this small zoo to have only animals I would normally see on a farm like goats or pigs. In addition to farm animals they also had a black bear, a bald eagle, and even three mountain lions. Since my boyfriend and I went to Penn State and our mascot is the Nittany Lion (aka mountain lion), we spent a good 30-40 minutes here. Most of the time when I've gone to a zoo the animals are sleeping and not being very fun or active. Here they were completely energetic running around, chasing each other, and playing with a large green ball. We even got to watch the zoo workers feed and train the two younger siblings which was such an amazing experience. If you are ever looking for a cheap, fun activity to do that kids will enjoy, the OC Zoo is perfect.  
Feeding time
Don't mess with a Nittany Lion, seriously
After our awesome zoo experience we decided to get some ice cream and sit by the lake while planning which hiking path we would try. We ended up deciding on the Puma Ridge Trail which is considered difficult because of the incline, but I didn't think it was bad. The trail was beautiful and included views of the entire park and even of the city in the distance. We hiked about 4 miles before we decided to sit and enjoy the sunset over the mountains. This was the perfect way to enjoy our Friday off and spend time together in nature. The entire day ended up costing less that $15 including parking ($3.00), the zoo entrance ($4.00), and ice cream.
Eating ice cream by the lake, it's beginning to look like fall
View of the lake below
Horseback riders and a blimp in the distance
Amazing sunset
I love the colors on the mountains 
After we went hiking on Friday at Irvine Regional Park we were officially hooked and decided to go again on Sunday to close out the long holiday weekend. It was actually raining early Sunday morning (which never happens in CA) and cloudy for the rest of the day, so we again did a local hike at Peter's Canyon Regional Park. Still a small park at 350 acres, Peter's Canyon offers views of a lake, the Irvine skyline, and scenic OC mountains. Even though it was spitting rain on and off, this trail was surprisingly busy. On a sunny day I imagine the park would be pretty crowded. We hiked on the East Ridge View Trail which again was labeled as difficult. Besides one steep part of the trail up the tallest mountain in the park, I would consider this a great trail for beginners. I loved the 360-degree views from the top where we stopped to enjoy our triumph of finally making it up the mountain. We completed the 5-mile trail loop in less than 3 hours and were able to get back to our car before sunset (the park closes right at sunset with no exceptions). We completed two of the hikes on my list in only one weekend, and I was already on to planning our next adventure. 
Just hanging around in nature
The lake, we need more rain
It is a lot more steep than it actually looks
Sun peaking through the clouds
City in the far distance
With my boo 
When we first moved into our new larger apartment, I knew I wanted to get our first real Christmas tree together. We went to Home Depot over the weekend to pick out the perfect 6 ft tree, ornaments, lights, and a tree topper. Can you guess what theme we chose? Penn state colors of course! We made a night out of decorating the tree (we named her Holly), drinking wine, and cleaning up the ridiculous amount of glitter that covered our floor. I'm really happy with the way our first tree turned out.
Which one should we choose?
Ready to go home!
Our Penn State tree
Love these colors
Our most recent hike was in Foothill Ranch, CA at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. This park is much larger than the others at 2,500 acres. This has been by far the best hike we've done so far but also the most challenging. We first went on Mustard Road Trail which splits to Vista Lookout Road Trail. This is the part of the park with the most elevation. We stopped many times to enjoy the view but also to catch our breath. Finally when we came to the top and could see what we'd been working feverishly towards, I was simply speechless. At 1,500 ft of elevation, it was absolutely breathtaking. There is a picnic table at the top where we sat and ate a snack taking in the natural beauty that surrounded us. 
The beginning of the trail
Clouds above the mountains 
So beautiful 
After our snack we ventured back down the mountain to our next stop on the trail. The mountain was so steep that it was easier to run down rather than try and slowly work our way down, although running is not advised when there have been mountain lions spotted in the area. Once at the bottom, we then took Red Rock Canyon Trail which was much easier and had almost no elevation. When we got to the Red Rocks it reminded me of Joshua Tree which I've blogged about before. Although the view from the first trail was stunning, I really enjoyed climbing in the rocks more. We could have spent hours here but after the hike up the mountain we were pretty exhausted and decided to hike back to the car. I want to go back soon and hike some of the other trails that we didn't get to do. Whiting Ranch was really amazing but much more advanced than anything we've done before. After the 6.5 mile hike we gorged on In-and-Out and then crashed on the couch for hours.  
Rock walls
Playing in the rocks
It rained earlier in the week and things were still wet
We will be going home next week back to PA for Christmas, and I can't wait to see my family and friends! I hope all of you have a great holiday with your loved ones.