Sailing with the Shaws

One thing I’ve really wanted to do since we moved to the bay area was go sailing. Every weekend at the dog park we can see groups of sailboats in the distance and it always looks so fun. So I was really excited when Erin and Jason came to visit and we got to go sailing.

Erin’s aunt lives in Point Richmond and has a sailboat. It’s a beautiful older boat that they have been working to restore. She invited us to go out on the bay and I was able to get Mike to watch the baby while I finally got an outing.

Erin and I have been BFFs since we were dorky seventh graders. We used to dress in matching outfits and braid each other’s hair, resulting in crimped afros. We were awesome.

Still awesome after all these years. 

Anyway, sailing was amazing and I would love to learn more about it. I did have to take a Dramamine. The feeling of going over those rolling waves sort of reminded me of morning sickness. Imagine that for six weeks straight – ugh.

But onto better thoughts!

Erin and Jason appreciate good food and beer above all else, so we tried to show them some of our favorite places to eat and drink. We had pork mole, plantains, and guacamole at Talavera in Berkeley.

Saturday morning we headed to SF to show them the Ferry Building market. It was crazy crowded so we didn’t hang around too long.

The perfect image of San Francisco: Ferry Building, streetcar, homeless person’s cart.

Then we walked to North Beach so we could have Tony’s Pizza for lunch.

Banksy, I think.

I didn’t realize Tony’s doesn’t open until noon on Saturdays, but it was a good tactic to get there around 11:50 because we got a table as soon as they opened.

Ohhh, the lillet blanc fries.

Harper learns the merits of excellent pizza.

Later that day we tried to show Erin and Jason the Trappist, a really good Belgian beer bar in Oakland. But we got kicked out because we had Harper with us. Sad face! Instead we got a chance to show them some authentic Chinese food. We got together with our neighbors, Brandy and Kyle, and got a huge table at our favorite Szechuan restaurant.

That way we got to try all sorts of dishes, including eggplant with garlic sauce, short ribs, and spicy pork. And I had to grab a buttercream bun from my favorite bakery on the way out.

I think we showed them a pretty good time and I can’t wait for them to come back!

Spring blooms

Spring sprung a while ago here, but I just now got a chance to take some photos of all the flowers in bloom. I hope someday to learn more about the names of flowers and flowering trees and bushes because there are so many cool ones around here.

Several of my neighbors have these bright purple bushes.

Isn’t this tree striking? I wish I knew what that was.

These tulips made me smile, thinking of midwestern springs.

Of course California poppies are everywhere.

Look, a little lemon!

These are the flowers that come out of our succulents in the front “yard.” I’ve never seen them get as big as they have this year.

The only thing blooming in my mini garden is, of course, mint. I’m hoping to get to the garden store at some point so I can refill my other pots.

Looky what we got

I’m excited to say that we finally got a DSLR camera. We have been wanting one for years — me for better food photography and product shots, Mike for shooting birds at a distance. And of course just generally to improve the quality of our photos. (OF THE BABY)

Here she is.

We got a Canon Rebel T4i, which came highly recommended. We also got a 60 mm macro lens and 55-250 mm telephoto lens in addition to the one that came with the body.

I will need some lessons on how to use the camera — I’m a little intimidated, honestly — but I’m so glad we finally have it.

Road trip: Bodega Bay/Eureka

After Christmas, we were thinking it might be a good time to take a little babymoon. Mike had the time off, and we figured late December probably wasn’t the biggest touristy season (unless you’re up at Tahoe). So we booked a hotel in Eureka, CA, which is about a 5-hour drive north of us. Mike wanted to eat at a crab shack in Bodega Bay and I wanted to drive through a giant redwood tree. Don’t ask me why these are the things we wanted to do before we had a baby — we just did!

Fortunately, traffic was not bad at all and we made it to Bodega Bay in about an hour. If Bodega sounds familiar it’s probably because it was the setting for the Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” In real life, it is significantly less creepy.

The day we were there it was chilly, but absolutely beautiful. We got there around lunch time so we went straight to the crab shack, the Spud Point Crab Company. Clearly it was the place to be.

We each had a crab sandwich — just extremely fresh crab meat with a little sauce — and shared some clam chowder. Mike is the true seafood lover between us, but I can definitely appreciate crab that’s right out of the bay.

After lunch we drove up to Bodega Head and hiked around the cliffs. It was gorgeous up there.

I am not much of a hiker these days (and it was extremely windy), but we had fun. We want to go back another time because you can see whales up there.

After that, we continued our drive up north. To get to Eureka you drive through Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the pot growing center of California. So things are a little…different. The landscape is beautiful, all forest and mountains. But at times it looks almost like Appalachia, but mixed with hippies. The best way I can describe it is that we drove through a tiny town that had a natural foods co-op with a huge American flag in the front window.

Anyway, we got the sense that this part of the country was a little quirky. And that was fine by us. We got to Eureka just in time to check into the hotel and make our dinner reservation at the Brick and Fire Bistro. I didn’t take any photos because it was super dark in there, but it’s a nice little romantic restaurant where all the food is made in this big brick oven. I wanted to love this place, but many missteps into dinner I just couldn’t. Thankfully Mike’s coq au vin was out of this world and he shared it with me. I forgave them after that.

On the way to the hotel I noticed this funny little place called the Chalet House of Omelettes and I immediately knew where we’d be having breakfast the next day.

It’s basically a quirky diner, sort of in the spirit of Des Moines’ Waveland Cafe, where pretty much everyone knows each other. The food is huge and not at all fancy. But it’s great fuel for travelers (and I imagine loggers and fishermen, too). I had a bacon/broccoli omelette and some pancakes.

By the time we left I felt like we were friends with half the restaurant, including the woman at the next table over who, in a very grandmotherly way, had a lot of questions about my pregnancy. But it didn’t bother me at all. I kind of miss that instant kindness and trust of strangers.

By the way, if you get a chance to read a little history of Eureka, it’s a really interesting town. It has Gold Rush roots, but eventually became a center for lumber. There are tons of Victorian houses that have been restored, including the huge Carson Mansion.

The real attraction up there, though, is the Avenue of the Giants. It’s a 31-mile stretch of road in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where you can drive through a canopy of some of the world’s tallest trees and stop at some sights along the way. And it really is mile after mile after mile of dense redwood forest. My kind of place!

We included the people for scale.

We stopped in one area that was supposed to have some of the tallest trees and hiked around. We were kind of lost, but it was still really beautiful.

It felt like we were in Oregon rather than California. Everything was so lush and green and mossy.

I know I’ve said this before, but being in the woods, especially in the mountains, is truly my happy place. It calms me down a lot. I think something about being dwarfed by nature is very spiritual, and it kind of steadies you. At least it does for me. I think this is what Gaudi was going for when he built the inside of the Sagrada Familia.

Later that day we stopped at a visitors center, where they had this truck carved from a single redwood tree. We are total nature and history nerds, so we spent kind of a long time there.

Then we headed to the last part of our trip — driving through a tree!

There are actually several places where you can drive through a tree. But this one also had little cottages carved out of trees.

Seems like it would be a fun place to take a kid, no? We’ll definitely be back.

Road trip: Sequoia National Forest (part 2)

Our last day in the cabin we decided to venture down the mountain, and then back up into another part called Balch Park. It was another winding drive through what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but this time we started to see some really big trees. At first we were just seeing stumps, and hoping it wasn’t going to be a depressing day in the woods. But eventually we got to a picnic area with a lot of full-grown sequoias.

One interesting thing about giant sequoias — they actually have tiny pinecones, about the size of an egg. They are really tightly closed, though, so it takes fire to open them up. That’s why a lot of trees have visible fire damage. They’re built to survive it.

After lunch we went on a little hike in the woods. Once again we kept seeing all sorts of interesting plants.

This one was easy — wild roses.

This particular area had some archaelogical sites where thousands of years ago people had used these basins in the rocks.

After lunch we drove on into Balch Park. You can see a lot more significant trees in that area. And you can even camp underneath them! (note to self for future trips).

I love that a lot of the trees have names.

Some of them were so big they were once used as shelters, houses, restaurants. I’m glad there was a little museum there so you could see all the historical photos of the area.

We were surprised to learn that giant sequoia wood isn’t even good for building. It was so brittle that some of it was used for stakes or pencils. It’s kind of unbelievable that people were so driven to cut them down anyway.

This one refused to be cut down!

The scale of the trees is just really hard to put into words.

We kept taking photos of the Yaris next to them for comparison.

There were cute little ground squirrels all over the place.

But after a long day of exploring we had to make the trek back to the cabin. The next day we drove to the Kings Canyon National Park, where we stayed in the Grant Grove area at the John Muir Lodge.

I can highly recommend this place. It’s really comfy and is right nearby the restaurant and visitors center.

Anyway, our first goal was to drive down the road a little bit and see the General Grant tree.

It’s a short, easy hike to get to it, and there are lots of other huge trees in the area.

The Nation’s Christmas Tree.

We could have gone to see the biggest tree, the General Sherman, but it was such a long drive that we couldn’t fit it in. Instead we cornered this park ranger and got all the information we could about giant sequoias.

He also helped us identify this strange looking plant. It’s called snow plant.

That night we ventured to a lookout point not too far from the lodge and ate blackberry pie with this view.

The next morning, our last day there, we decided to drive down into Kings Canyon. We’d heard the drive itself was as much a part of the experience as getting to the bottom, and that turned out to be true.

We took more photos of the intrepid Yaris on the way.

Eventually we made it to, literally, Roads End, where we went for another hike.

More interesting plants.

You could see these cool domes, where the rock had slid off forming a sheer face.

And at the very end of our trip, while Brigid and I made lunch on “Muir Rock,” our husbands decided to jump into the freezing cold water.

I can’t believe they did it, but it was pretty awesome.

Road trip: Sequoia National Forest (part 1)

First of all, I apologize for the site being down so long. I was just trying to update WordPress, and I ended up crashing the whole site, which took a while to put back together. On the plus side it gave me lots of time to go through all my photos from our recent vacation, so now I can post them!

Our trip was kind of a surprise. Our Minneapolis friends Brigid and Aaron were planning a trip to see the giant sequoias and asked if we’d like to come along. We took about half a second to say yes. Unlike the coastal redwoods, which we’ve already seen, the giant sequoias are some of the widest, and overall largest and oldest trees in the world. Seeing them was sort of a life list thing for us.

We also just wanted to hang out with Brigid and Aaron, who are expecting a baby in a few months. They are just as nerdy as we are when it comes to nature, and they make great traveling companions. They’re the only people I know that are willing to be squished in the back of our overfilled 2-door Yaris for an extended road trip.

I’m dividing my posts about the trip into two parts because I have so many photos. The first part covers the time we spent in a remote cabin in the Sequoia National Forest. Then the second part will be from Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, where we stayed at the John Muir Lodge. It’s kind of confusing, when you’re in the national forest, versus the national park, versus the national monument. Hopefully it will all make sense!

So we started out driving to Fresno, picked up some groceries (since we had to bring all our own food and bedding to the cabin), and then headed east into the mountains. We took a very curvy road up to about 7,000 feet to our Grouse Valley cabin. The best way to describe its location is probably the middle of nowhere, although not quite as remote as Mono Hot Springs was. The one-lane dirt road part was only about 5 miles this time…

We stopped along the road on the way there to admire the view and some flowers. We spotted some monarch caterpillars and these spiky looking plants.

The view up top.

The cabin itself is one of three on the property. We stayed in the caretaker’s cabin, which is code for ‘not as nice as the other ones.’ If we go back I would definitely stay in this one that has its own lake.

But the overall property was just beautiful.

Apparently, you can bring your horses with you on vacation. 

In the distance we could see cows grazing, and after a while they came over to investigate us.

They may have been upset that we were cooking a steak dinner.

This mule deer also came by a couple times.

In addition to horse and cow pastures and pretty lakes, the property also has apple and pear orchards and almond trees.

There was also a big field of yellow flowers right outside the cabin.

The sunset that first night was just gorgeous.

The next day we decided to drive to the top of the mountain for a better view.

It was just blue sky for miles and miles.

We couldn’t help but giggle at one of the peaks that looked like a butt. We dubbed it butt butte.

The next day we drove into the woods a little bit and went for a hike. The trails weren’t marked particularly well, but they also didn’t go particularly far.

We finally got to see some of those big trees.

These pine cones actually came from a sugar pine.

We kept finding all these cool wild flowers everywhere we went. Of course I’ve forgotten the names of most of them.

We found a little lake, and as we peered over the ridge we saw our friends, the cows.

We didn’t think they would be nimble enough to make it up the hill, but eventually they came and joined us.

The only scary part was on our way back, when we saw what we were pretty sure was bear poop.

But we never actually saw a bear. Many, many other animals, but no bears.

Part 2 coming soon!

European cruise photos

So when I was trying to find that photo of the pizza Erin and I ate in Italy, I kept searching for my blog posts about our trip. After some fruitless searching I had to ask myself if it was possible that I didn’t actually post anything about it. Apparently I kept it all to myself! Maybe I thought the blog wasn’t supposed to be about travel at the time, or maybe I posted about it on my work blog, which I had back then.

We took the cruise in June of ’07, to celebrate Erin’s masters degree, and because her grandmother had left her some money that we wanted to use to take a trip together. So, we booked a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean, starting in Venice and ending in Barcelona. We planned excursions, sometimes two a day for every day that the ship wasn’t at sea. We were not going to miss a thing!

The first problem came a couple months before the trip when the back pain I’d been having for years became so unbearable that I had to have surgery. Blessedly, I had a quick recovery and was able to do everything I wanted to do. It was just a little stressful there for a while. Then, the day we left we had a total disaster with our flights. We started in Kansas City and went to Chicago. When we got there to board our flight to Germany, they told us that it had just left. What the hell? We thought we were early. Well, it turns out that Lufthansa had changed the time of that flight, but no one from the airline or Princess told us, and we never thought to check. So we were stuck at O’Hell, waiting on standby for a flight to Europe during a very busy travel time. We waited for 9 hours and finally gave up and got a hotel that we had to pay for. We tried to find our luggage but only came up with one suitcase, which was a little unnerving.

The next morning we went back to the airport and got back in line, thinking we would have to change our flight to the next stop on the cruise. We found some seats and had our luggage moved to that flight. But at the last minute they said they could get us on a flight to Germany so we would just make it to Venice in time for the cruise to leave. Yes! Unfortunately, we would have to leave right that second to make it on the plane. So you better believe we ran through that airport. Right as we got to security, dreading the long lines, some security person opened up another line and we raced through. It felt like some kind of miracle. We were running with our shoes in our hands as they were calling our names for the flight. That was seriously insane. I have a pretty big fear of flying, but I was so happy to get on that plane I didn’t care.

Up all night, but relieved to be getting on our last flight.

The sad part was that we were late getting to Venice. By some miracle our luggage made it through all those transfers (and we almost lost it again in Italy), but we had to skip all of our excursions in Venice. Basically we drove to the boat, got on, and left. But that was the last time we had any worries on that cruise. It was absolutely spectacular.

The water was unbelievably blue. We had perfect weather every day. We sat poolside while people brought us cocktails.

The ship was bigger than the Titanic, I think, and almost brand new. If I can ever afford that kind of vacation again I will most definitely take it.

Our monstrosity of a ship, spotted from land.

After we left Venice, our first stop was Athens.

The Old Olympic stadium.

It was hot, dry, and had the worst parking conditions I’ve ever seen. Maneuvering this enormous bus around tight corners, our bus driver actually got out at one point, moved some construction cones, and drove around them.

We saw the Acropolis and many other ruins.

Unfortunately, the Parthenon was under construction, at the time.

It was the first time I’d seen an olive tree or an orange tree (which seems funny now).

After our tours we had some free time in the city so we wandered around and got an ice cream cone. As we were standing outside of this building, all the sudden a bunch of police officers started clearing everyone out of the building and closing off the street. I guess I shouldn’t have said we didn’t have any more worries because it turned out to be a bomb threat! But at that point everything pretty much rolled off of us. It was a little chaotic while we tried to find our tour guides, but we made it back OK.

Next stop: Turkey. We started in Kusadasi and then saw the house where the Virgin Mary had lived.

I saw my first fig tree.

Then we toured the ruins of the city at Ephesus.

It was pretty incredible the level of technology they were able to achieve with what they had at the time.

This sign cracked me up.

After that we went to Istanbul. Got a beautiful view of the city from a distance.

Teenagers are the same everywhere.

You know what else is everywhere in Turkey? Cats!

We toured the Hagia Sophia, which is just beautiful.

I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but I was desperate to use the bathroom, and after waiting in a very long line had to use one of the scariest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. I think I’m scarred by that experience!

But I loved Turkey, and would love to go back. Not only is it this fascinating mix of cultures, but the beachy vacation spots are just as beautiful as anywhere else in Mediterranean Europe but a lot less expensive.

Later that day we got to tour a rug factory, where we bought tiny Turkish carpets. The rugs are so expensive, it was all we could afford. But they aren’t really my style anyway, so I can appreciate the little square I have as a souvenir.

Before we left Istanbul, we got to go through the Grand Bazaar and buy some pashminas and a soccer jersey. That place is absolutely gigantic. We definitely wished we had more time there.

But we had to get back to Greece. Our next stop was Mykonos.

It’s definitely a gay hot spot (as Club Ramrod confirmed), but it seemed family friendly as well. It was certainly the Greece I had imagined with all the whitewashed buildings and little churches.

I could have stayed there a long time — it was so beautiful and relaxing.

In fact I would really like to be there right now. Sigh!

After Greece we went to Naples. We took a harrowing drive, then hiked to the top of Mount Vesuvius and looked down into the volcano.

The belly of the beast.

Then we took a tour of Pompeii.

Again I was fascinated by how well preserved the history was there.

They still had bread ovens, brothels, intricate tiles, and ruts in the road where cart wheels wore them down.

Naughty, naughty!

After Naples we went to Rome.

It is pretty much impossible to see Rome in a day, but we sure tried. We actually got a jam-packed experience by picking the Angels and Demons tour (all the places from the book). We had this adorable tour guide that had the uneviable job of keeping us, and the other long-winded tour guide, on task.

Our view through most of Rome.

Better view!

The long-winded tour guide.

We managed to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, and still have time for a pasta lunch and gelato.

Note to self: Remove dorky tourist gear before taking photos. 

I was really blown away by all the artwork, the architecture — the fact that I kept recognizing things from my art history classes and there they were in some tiny dark church.

I think I was just totally overwhelmed that day. You really can’t describe the feeling of seeing something like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy or The Pieta in person.

I would love to go back with Mike. I think for a history buff (or a foodie) Rome is the ultimate.

After Rome we went to Pisa. I really loved it there because it felt like exactly what I imagined Tuscany to be like. Sunflower fields, wineries, bikes with baskets on the front.

One funny thing: We had to ride in this tram thing around Pisa, and at one point our tram scraped into the side of some guy’s car and dented it. He was so upset, of course, and he and our driver were screaming at each other in Italian. By that point we just had to laugh.

We saw the leaning tower, which was cool and somewhat scary. Then we got to tour this beautiful winery called Varramista. I was very jealous of whoever got to live there.

They also make olive oil there — I bought a sampler, of course. We had a tasting with bread and cheese, too.

Our last stop was in France. We went to Aix-en-Provence, which is really pretty and has this great outdoor market.

I remember I ate a yummy risotto with peas, and we ordered rose because that is the specialty in that region. (I can’t believe I did not photograph the food! My, how times have changed.) I wish I could say my many years of high school French paid off, but I was too intimidated to use it much.

Then we drove to this tiny town called Lourmarin.

We bought pretty French tarts and walked around the little alleys. It was so picturesque.

We had the option of staying in Barcelona and doing some excursions there. But I think by that point we were exhausted and out of money. So we basically just went to the airport. Thankfully our flights home were completely uneventful. And of course I went back later for my honeymoon.

It was definitely one of the best trips of my life, and it totally opened my mind to just how much there is to see out there in the world. We basically just checked off a bunch of tourist stops. Imagine how much there is to see beyond those. So even though I hate to fly I will still keep doing it because I can’t stand to think of missing out on all there is to see. Life is too short not to see as much as you can.

The OC and Catalina Island

For part 2 of our trip, we went to Irvine to visit my sister and her boyfriend. And of course Vladmir.

He has decided to take up crafting.

And the elusive Jezebel.

Some of Mike’s coworkers, who have an office at the Orange County Register, took us out to lunch at a Venezuelan restaurant. I’d never had arepas before. They’re basically sandwiches with slow-cooked meat inside.

We also had plantains on the side, which came with sour cream and crumbled cheese for dipping. I don’t have a photo, but we all ordered frothy juice drinks that were really yummy.

Oh and I can’t forget that we went back to Sam Woo’s for Chinese food. This time they brought us a 5.5 pound lobster (!!) and four of us managed to eat the whole thing.

Mmm, pot stickers.

But what we really wanted to do while we were in the area was visit Catalina Island. You have to take a ferry there, which takes about an hour. We got lucky and found a groupon for half-price tickets.

It leaves from Newport Beach. Arrested Development fans may remember this area from the frozen banana stand stuff. I was totally going to get one for that reason, but then I realized I did not actually want to eat a frozen banana.

There’s always money in the frozen banana stand!

Though it was pretty cool that day, we at least had sunny weather.

We were thinking of going parasailing when we got there, but then we noticed this.

Yes, that’s a submarine that you can actually ride in. Well, it’s a semi-sub that only goes down 100 inches. But we had to do it!

So we took the 45-minute underwater tour. You basically buy shots of fish food that you shoot into the water and swarms of fish come up to the windows.

At one point we saw this mass of glowing jellyfish that was pretty cool.

Catalina’s pretty overrun with tourists (and surprisingly, spring breakers), but it’s also really beautiful.

After lunch we went on a little hike up to the nature center.

On the way we saw a woodpecker on this tree that was absolutely stuffed with acorns.

Then we came upon this little rock maze.

At the nature center we learned that someone brought bison to the island a long time ago for a movie and they have been there breeding ever since. Weird!

It was great to just relax in the woods up there. And Mike had a good time bird-watching.

One funny thing about Catalina — everyone who lives there drives a golf cart. Or some kind of miniature vehicle. We saw two vintage mini Land Rovers that were so cute.

At 4:30 it was time to get back on the ferry and head back.

After that we did some damage at the mall in Costa Mesa. We have really tried to be thrifty about clothes the past couple years, but after a while you have to restock. Right, mom?

More coming about San Diego…

Spring in color

Not that we have much of a winter to begin with, but we pretty much had no rainy/cloudy season this year. So I have been lucky enough to enjoy even more sunny walks than usual, and now they are filled with the bright colors of spring.

Even some of my plants, which have received no attention whatsoever for months, are starting to revive.

I really need more recipes involving chives.

Trees are flowering, of course (achoo!), and I’ve seen a few tulips and daffodils that remind me of spring in the Midwest.

These were minis. So sweet!

I don’t know what the heck this thing is, but it’s seriously out of control.

I feel like our next-door neighbors’ statue is really enjoying the weather.

I really need to learn more about flowers and trees while I’m here. There are so many brilliantly colored and patterned options for landscaping.

Also on my love list this week: oranges. Some of the best I’ve ever had, and they were only 39 cents a pound!

The week in photos

Mike got home from a business trip and the dogs took turns cuddling up to him. When one of us is gone, Reggie will spend long amounts of time staring at the door in case we come back.

One of my customers asked for poufs with a more rounded shape, and you know what? I think I like it better than what I have been doing. I try to be open to custom orders because they so often lead to new products or new designs.

I’ve been getting a ton of orders for rope knits, so I ordered rope that comes on a giant spool. I put a spool of thread next to it for comparison sake. Ha!

And how about this little box of yummy?

It’s from Phil’s Sliders in downtown Berkeley. You really can’t argue with two tiny burgers and rectangular tater tots. They inspired me to make my own California burgers this week.

It’s all OK if you have a wheat bun, right?

I have been so burger crazy lately. Must be all those meatless years catching up to me.