Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Angel Island

Last weekend, SMS and I continued to explore the area.  This time, we headed up to Angel Island on Saturday to check out the hike and city view from the top of Mt. Livermore.  We decided to drive to Tiberon to catch the ferry.  It will be interesting to see if the traffic abates once Summer is over but we definitely made a few rookie-ish mistakes driving-wise.

Golden Gate in the Distance from the Ferry
The traffic was terrible and it took over two hours to get there.  This meant we were really hungry when we stopped for lunch (this shouldn't be a rookie mistake but it's still one I make) but we made up for it by stopping at In & Out.  BTW, the grilled cheese at In & Out is not very good but it does have the weirdly magical, addictive fast food taste.  Strange.
Anyway, so what did I learn?  Driving around lunchtime in the city on the weekend.  Ill-advised. Also, a better route from the South might be the I-280 but for now, I'll be scouting out BART options when I can.
Golden Gate from the top of Mt. Livermore
Once we got to Tiberon, we headed over to the Angel Island ferry.  The tickets are bought as passengers board.  We got to Angel Island and headed to the North Ridge trail.  This trail is the first part of a 4.5 mile loop.  Apart from the initial flights of wooden stairs, the hike isn't too strenuous but I would advise bringing water since parts of the trail are really exposed.  After hanging out at the top of Mt. Livermore, we headed back down via the Sunset trail which I'm sure is really spectacular at, yes, sunset since it faces West towards the Golden Gate.

San Francisco and Alcatraz
After our hike, we headed towards the Visitor Center.  The Center is not the Immigration Center which is on the East side of the Island.  I really wanted to check it out but we were out of time and we had already walked quite a bit.  Angel Island is colloquially known as the "Ellis Island of the West" so I thought it would be cool to check out.  Maybe we'll go back but we did get a pretty good overview at the Visitor's Center so it's not mandatory.

Bonfire at Ocean Beach- so cool!
We headed to Outer Sunset for dinner.  The area has been on my radar since reading a cute travel series on it.  I still want to go to Outerlands for dinner and I've made a reservation for September but since that restaurant requires that type of advance planning, we were going to go to Pisces California Cuisine.  It has several prix fixe menus and good reviews so that sounded like it would hit the spot.  Until...we saw Tazaki Sushi next door.  They had kanji, plastic food and a good-looking menu so we were in!  We ate at the counter and the sushi chef was a Chinese-American older guy who said he didn't really like fish except for tuna.  The sushi was pretty good and satisfied our craving but man, both price-wise and taste-wise, I'd love to go back to the sushi go-round under Yokosuka-chuo station!

On Sunday, we relaxed for awhile and then headed over to the rock climbing gym.  SMS passed his lead climb test, which made him really happy.  It had been on his to-do list for awhile but since we were always there on weekday evenings, the place was crazy crowded.  It was still pretty crowded on a beautiful Sunday, which was surprising, but we were able to get a route for SMS to show off his mad skills!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August in Mountain View

A card Brady and I got for Mom.  
Summer continues although I feel badly for the kids already back in school.  School in mid-August- yuck!  A few weeks ago was the highlight of the Summer, SMS' birthday!  We had an awesome pool party with his family and several of our friends.  It was so awesome to see everyone and we had a great time.
SMS is so fast, he's a blur!
Last weekend, we stayed super-local and SMS planned our things to do.  On Saturday, we went to the Redwood City Roller Skating Rink where it was Disco Saturday Night!  It was a lot of fun although it had been awhile since I had been on skates and I was a little timid.  Especially since I saw a few spectacular falls, marked by F-bombs or tears depending on the age of the faller.
When not delivering toys, Santa gives lectures about the Babbage Difference Engine #2
On Sunday, we went to the Computer History Museum and it was really cool.  (Excuse me while I reapply the Scotch tape to the eyepiece of my glasses!)  Seriously, it was really amazing and I'm so glad SMS took me.  We had a Groupon (yeah!) and the first thing we did was head over to the Babbage Difference Engine #2.  Charles Babbage (1791-1871) designed the first automatic computer engines.  The British Government bankrolled the building of the Difference Engine #1, a more complex design with over 24,000 parts all of which were hand-forged by a master blacksmith of the time, Joseph Clement.  It went on for 10 years and only 12,000 parts were created so funding was pulled before the machine was ever completed.  Babbage later drew up the plans for #2 which only had 8,000 parts but he couldn't secure funding.  So the machine was never built in his time and the plans locked away for decades in the Science Museum of London.  Fast-forward to the late 1980s, when the machine was built in time for Babbage's 200th birthday in 1991.  There's a second machine in the Computer History Museum which is on loan from Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO at Microsoft.  So, we saw the machine, heard a lot about the history and saw it in action.  Super cool!
From the back
Afterwards, I went on a docent-led tour while SMS explored parts of the museum he hadn't seen on his last visit.  The tour was very good and tracked the development of computers from the early census-tabulating machines up to the personal PC.  It was a nice narrative arc that kept my interest and I really enjoyed it.  After the tour, we wandered around the museum for a little bit longer before heading home.
The first Mac
We wanted to celebrate by watching more Silicon Valley but we are done with the two seasons.  I have a feeling we'll have a ridiculous binge-watching session when Season 3 comes out!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Local fun with family!

Filoli house entrance
Today was another awesome day!  SMS had made plans for us to hang out with his cousin Jeff and his wife Hope.  I was along for the ride and we all had a great time.  We arrived at Jeff and Hope's house and after having a quick cup of coffee made with Jeff's home-roasted beans, we were off to Filoli, a National Trust country estate from the early 20th century.  Hope has volunteered there as a docent for the last 3 years and we had the most incredible small group private tour.
The house call center- because the Bourn's were involved with energy, there was incredible
circuitry and electricity in the house for its time
Embroidered dining room screen

Ballroom mural
Filoli was built by William and Agnes Bourn between 1915-1917.   The Bourn's wealth was both inherited and made from the Crystal Spring Water, Napa Vineyard, gold mine and energy holdings he had.  The estate is built on the Southern edge of Crystal Springs Lake.  The house is a modified Georgian English style with 43 rooms and over 36,000 square feet.   We toured the entire first floor to include the kitchen, serving preparation room, formal dining room, drawing room, several parlours and the ballroom.  It was absolutely beautiful and Hope's guidance really enriched the experience.
Lurilane Roth, from the second family who owned the house

The name Filoli comes from a shortening of Mr. Bourn's motto: "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life."  Unfortunately, the mention of Love made me want to call Hope "Faith" for the rest of the afternoon due to thinking of Faith, Hope and Love.  Oh well.  I suppose there are worse things to want to call someone!
The resident peacock, outside the window at lunch
We took a lunch break and enjoyed salads in the little cafe.  Then it was off to gardens and this was really an incredible experience.  Hope knew the garden styles and plants and it really increased my understanding of how all of the gardens interconnected.  It was really amazing.  Gardens included the marriage garden, a garden modelled on the stained glass windows of Chartes, a Dutch garden,  an English garden and a walled-in secret garden.  I loved it.  It made me want to garden which, knowing my aversion to yard work, meant that I had really drank the kool-aid.  My poor basil plant that I keep forcing to the brink of death before bringing it back will be very happy to hear about my newfound love for horticulture.  (Hang in there, little guy!)
The sunken garden

Sunken garden from a different angle

Gorgeous lavender
Resting in a temporary sculpture

Moroccan blue tree
After the tour, we dropped Hope off at home before heading to Jeff's community garden plot.  While not quite as impressive as the Filoli gardens, it was still pretty cool to see so much in bloom and ripening produce.  I really wanted to pick from others' gardens since some heirloom tomatoes were totally ripe for the picking but since that's a cardinal sin in a community garden, I refrained.  Barely.
Where the internet was born?

After touring the 1%'s home in Hillborough, we headed back to the house where we hung out on the balcony.  We had some drinks, freshly picked tomatoes, homemade paneer, sauteed peppers and polenta slices with tomato sauce.  It was delicious.  Reluctantly, we decided it was time to head home in order to get ready for the upcoming workweek.  I can't wait until we have Hope and Jeff down here for dinner in Mountain View!

Open up that Golden Gate!

Our approximate biking route
I have a list of things I want to do/see while in the Bay Area and this weekend, I was determined to have a really fun day trip.  The original plan was to hike on Angel Island, a destination highly recommended by a woman at work who has lived here for years.  The plan changed, though, when it turned out we were getting too late a start to make Angel Island worth it.  We slept in until 9:30 (!) and then had a nice breakfast at PantoniQ.  It felt awesome and leisurely- the perfect start to a Saturday.  But things would change...

SMS and I drove to Milbrae and parked the car- free on weekends!  Then we took the BART into San Francisco.  On the way, I looked up ferry times to Angel Island and realized that if we wanted to have a nice day of hiking and exploring the "Ellis Island of the West" museum, we would have to go another day.  It's a State Park and closes on the early side.  No matter.  I asked SMS if he would mind a change of plans and he didn't.

Ferry Building from the dock
First, we got off at the Embarcadero and went to the Ferry Building.  It was bustling as the Farmer's Market was in full swing.  What awesome timing!  We walked past the produce vendors fairly quickly since we didn't want to carry groceries all day.  We went inside and wandered the main hall where the permanent storefronts are.  I am a sucker for the Ferry Building.  A lot of popular, local businesses have shop branches here and it is just food heaven central!  Shops include Humphrey Slocombe, Hog Bay Oyster, Dandelion Chocolate and Cowgirl Creamery.

We were pretty hungry and needed a food solution quickly.  We decided to have almost a tapas hopping experience, getting small plates from a few different vendors.  The first thing to catch our eye was a woman selling Cambodian spiced peanuts.  We really enjoyed these as a snack when we were on our Thailand and Cambodia trip so we bought a small bag to share.  There was a really nice heat to the peanuts- slightly more mild than in Cambodia but that's ok!  SMS commented that he thinks the best mix would be the heat level from here mixed with some of the dried lemongrass spice more typical of the Thai peanut mix.  That sounds awesome to me!
Delicious Cheese!
Next, we passed Cowgirl Creamery and saw their weekend raclette station.  Yum!  SMS went over and, just to make sure, asked if it was raclette.  The vivacious woman manning the station said, "Honey, you know it's Raclette!"  While we were waiting, our no-verbal-filter cheeselady talked to her co-worker about a variety of topics to include the various men who hit on her.  To her customers trying to pay her, she stopped them quickly with the fact that she doesn't handle money because she's serving food and "money's filthy, I think we can all agree on that!"  This doesn't translate well but seriously, it was breathtaking how much she talked and really didn't care who heard her.  But, this is not a criticism of her awesome raclette skills since she was great at getting the perfect amount of boiling cheese without burning.  We thoroughly enjoyed our plate of raclette cheese, fresh bread from Acme, pickles and pickled onions.

After the raclette plate, we each had a steamed bun.  I had the vegetarian greens one while SMS had the savory pork.  Finally, we finished up lunch with an Italian sugar donut with nutella.  It was a delicious meal and we were pretty happy and sated.  We walked to the end of the ferry building pier where we saw a fisherman reel in a small shark, which he released back into the Bay.

Full House- where's DJ Tanner?
Our next stop was the bike rental place because our change in plans involved biking across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I have always wanted to do this!  I think we could have figured it out on our own but it was nice to rent through a company and watch their guide video and follow their map.  If I do it again with visitors, though, I think I would rent bikes in better condition from a bike shop and use Google maps/online resources to navigate.
SMS looks like he feels he may have been tricked..."This is not the Golden Gate..."
Anyway, we got our bikes, signed our lives and credit card information away and pedalled off.  As SMS was to discover, this was not merely a bike across the bridge day- we were going to see San Francisco!

Conservatory of Flowers
We rode down Market St, took a right and cycled up to Alamo Park.  There we saw the "Painted Ladies" houses although as SMS said, "Just call them the Full House houses and everyone will know."  There were tons of people relaxing and picnicking but not for us, we were off!  We rode through Panhandle Park and into Golden Gate Park.  Bikes were the perfect way to see it!  We rode past the Conservatory of Flowers.  Then we saw roller skating flat track where a guy was skating wearing a "Circumcision is Genital Mutilation" shirt.  We saw a flyer calling out for other "Intactivists" which became my word of the day because it's a portmanteau of course!

Spreckels' Lake

Dutch Windmill
We moved on and biked past the de Young Museum and the California Museum of Science.  The Japanese Tea Garden had a long line to get in and we only saw the entrance gate.  We cycled through the park, passing the bison paddock and Spreckels Lake.  Near the coast, we saw the Dutch windmill and then it was on to the Great Highway, pedalling along the coast of Ocean Beach.
View from the Cliff House

Looking North from the Cliff House

Grafitti that says "SMORES NASTY"  I am offended.

When I have millions of dollars, maybe I'll buy a house here.
We climbed the tough hill to the Cliff House and kept going.  By the way, did I mention our map said our chosen route was the most beautiful AND most hilly?  We cycled along Seal Rock Dr, Legion of Honor and Land's End.  We entered into the Sea Cliff neighborhood which was incredibly ritzy- mansions within San Francisco proper!  Then it was on to more hills and finally, the Golden Gate Bridge!
Ta da!

Ready to Ride

This will protect you from earthquakes

It was AWESOME!  It was crowded but not miserably so.  We took a lot of pictures and admired the structure.  In fact, before we even got on, we stopped at an informational sign about the dampeners used to protect the bridge from earthquakes (SMS' call!).  On the other side, we descended (yes!) a blissfully long hill and cycled through Ft. Baker.  Then we went into Sausilito.  We locked up our bikes and had dinner at Copita, a pretty tasty Mexican food restaurant.  It was definitely time for food!
View from Lower Vista Point

Long line back

We made it!  View from the fantail

Alcatraz.  Looks swimmable
Then we got into line at 730 for the 8 pm ferry.   There were a lot of people and we were slightly sweating it as to whether we would get on or not.  We definitely didn't want to bike all the way back! We made it and spent most of the trip on the fantail, which had great sunset views.  We landed in Fisherman's Wharf and cycled back to the shop via Embarcadero and Market St.  It was a little longer distance-wise but pretty much flat which was the most important.  I was a little done with hills!

Overall, we had a great day!  At the very end of the day, I wasn't super-impressed with the bike shop since they were trying to charge a couple for a broken derailer.  It doesn't seem fair to charge the customer since the bikes are clearly high-mileage and in very used condition.  Our bikes were fine for what we wanted to do (kill ourselves cycling hills), but even ours had gear shifting issues and made ominous sounds.  So, word of warning, if you want a nice bike and avoid shady business practices, the tourist trap places are not the best even if their maps are nice!

Monday, July 27, 2015


Certain weekends can feel a little “meh.”  I’m not sure why this weekend didn’t feel as wonderful as others.  Maybe I was coming down off the high of Rip and Linda’s visit where we did cool things and had numerous meals very generously bought for us.  Hmmmm, this sounds like a very likely reason!

This weekend was actually quite fun.  On Friday, SMS decided he wanted to drive us down to San Jose to eat at Santana Row.  It feels a lot like the downtown Silver Spring area in MD- very cute but slightly over-manufactured and corporate.   We weren’t hungry enough to feel like an expensive meal was warranted so we went with Bahn Mi sandwiches from a little cart next to an astroturf green area where people were gathered for a free concert.  It was an Australian cover band whose weak point was its singer but since they sang songs everyone seemed to like, these small sins against pitch and staying in tune were apparently forgiven.  We finished off the evening with cupcakes with delicious frosting and perfectly moisture levels in the cake. 

The next day, I went for a run with the Mountain View Runners meet-up group.  The rest of the day, I read most of The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  It follows a young Hungarian Jewish man through most of his teens and young adulthood as circumstances transform his life from aspiring architect to surviving the shifting horrors of war in Hungary during WWII.  This book was everything I was hoping All the Light We Cannot See would be   I highly recommend The Invisible Bridge even though it’s pretty long at over 600 pages.  It’s worth it.  SMS had a photoshoot on Saturday and then we watched most of Silicon Valley, Season 2.  It was pretty funny but I don’t think binge-watching is totally my thing.  It creates a similar feeling to eating too much candy although more mentally than viscerally.

Sunday was spent planning for our BBQ party at the pool.  I bought tri tip for tacos and made several vegan options such as veggie taco filling, kale salad and roasted beets and brussel sprouts.  It was delicious.  We had a great time hanging out with friends.  I had to steal away for a bit to go to work but otherwise, things were a lot of fun. 

I have a list of places I would like to visit in the area over the next year.  I think next weekend, I’d like to do a daytrip.  I think a daytrip gives an overall project and feeling of accomplishment to the weekend rather than several smaller activities.  My thought is San Francisco.  I would really like to explore the Presidio and the Outer Sunset neighborhoods.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A quick trip to Monterey

After missing the answer to my security question three times, I was locked out of my payroll account and could no longer access my paystubs.  This is a problem, especially so close to a move when I want to keep an eye on the changes and make sure I’m getting paid what I should.  This is important since pay mistakes are never in my favor.  If I get underpaid and don’t claim it, the money could be gone forever but if I ever get overpaid, I could face an unexpectedly diminutive paycheck.  Smaller and cuter are not words I want to describe my paycheck.

The security question, by the way, was “What was the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend?”  I thought I knew what I would have put but apparently, I decided to modify my answer.  Maybe I just put SMS since I haven’t dated anyone before him anyway. 

So, I had to drive down to Monterey to verify my identity.  The upside to this story is I realized Monterey is only 90 minutes away and I will definitely be going back.  I drove past the fruit stands and garlic ice cream of Gilroy, somehow avoiding the temptation.  Then as I approached Monterey, there were beautiful beaches on my left with the most enormous sand dunes.  I wanted to sled down them!

My time in Monterey itself was short and sweet.  The weather was beautiful and I got to take the scenic loop around the Navy Postgraduate School.  It really is a nice campus with pretty Spanish architecture, similar to Balboa Park albeit with a few modern classroom buildings.  This makes it very hard to find a specific destination since the buildings look the same and the signs are carefully hidden.  But eventually, I found the “trusted verifier” who reset my password to a temporary one and, undoubtedly, thinks very highly of my intelligence.

I had to get back to work for an appointment, otherwise I would have braved the summertime traffic to downtown.  I did make a brief stop at ACME coffee, a very firebrand coffee shop with delicious coffee.  I had an iced Vietnamese coffee that was awesome and totally woke me up.  I have pretty much cut out caffeine in the last few months to get ready for otology surgery so when I do drink it, I get pretty turbocharged.   Giving up coffee gives me the sads but SMS and I have been experimenting with some decaf varieties.  The taste is pretty much the same although subjectively, I feel like it is missing a little J’ne sais quoi.  Oh no, wait, I do know.  Caffeine.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pt Reyes Magic

The old lighthouse, decommissioned in 1975
Pt Reyes is a gorgeous place for a road trip.  SMS and I went on a Tuesday in late June and wanted to go back on a day when the lighthouse and Cowgirl Creamery were open.  Linda and Rip had never been so we all decided to forgo the temptation of a Napa daytrip and headed northwest of San Francisco.
Do you see SMS?
I had heard about the daytrip on a NorCal lifestyle blog and it was nice to have a go-by to follow for the day.  We reached Pt Reyes by way of Lucas Valley Rd, which has beautful rolling hills and gorgeous groves of trees- redwoods, birch and eucalyptus.  There is an incredible rock with a tempting crack that SMS really wants to climb but since it's on private property with barbed wire on the fence, I would have to stand a really good lookout if we ever decided to pursue that dream of his!
The North view on Pt Reyes
First, we stopped in Pt Reyes Station.  After a long drive marked by prolonged periods of sitting, we were all understandably hungry due to the calories expended.  We went to Bovine Bakery where we purchased a morning roll and cookies.  We also purchased baguettes for our upcoming picnic.

Our ultimate destination was Tomales Bay Foods.  Ostensibly a market but really, it's dedicated to Cowgirl Creamery and all picnic accouterments to highlight the cheese eating experience.  The Red Hawk cheese is the only CC cheese (CCC?) made there; the rest are made at the corporate headquarters in Petaluma.   We all had a small cheese tasting consisting of Red Hawk, Mt Tam and the seasonal Pierce Pt with flowers and herbs in the rind.  They were all fantastic and we ended up with half-wheels of the Red Hawk and Pierce Pt, in addition to the Inverness, a spreadable, tangy cow's mild cheese.  I also added honeycomb and Marcona almonds to our grocery basket!

So many people!  No reservations, no eating at TBOC!
Our last stop in Pt Reyes Station was Palace Market for some water, paper plates, olives and fruit.  Finally, we were off to our main destination, Tomales Bay Oyster Company.  We had a feeling our plans might be slightly altered when we saw so.many.cars parked on the sides of the road approaching the area.  It was crazy crowded and all of the picnic tables were pre-reserved.  We decided to grab our oysters and go.  We ordered a dozen of the "smalls" (really more medium-sized to our untrained eyes) and a dozen of the extra-smalls.
Our awesome picnic site!
We briefly stopped at the park just down the road at Millerton Point but there weren't any picnic tables.  It would have been perfect if I had brought a large picnic blanket but since I thought we'd eat at TBOC, I hadn't brought it.  Instead, we headed back to Pt Reyes Station and ate at one of the shaded tables on the side of Tomales Bay Food.  It was an absolutely delightful setting and our picnic was amazing.

Best in-laws!
On the stairs and still smiling!

Afterwards, we piled into the car and drove out to Pt Reyes lighthouse.  It was open and we headed down the stairs to check it out.  The day was crystal clear and we had a brief park ranger-led tour in the inside of the lighthouse.  The trek up the stairs was slightly intense but doable.

Father and Son
After the lighthouse, we headed home along the 1.  We stopped at Stinson's beach and it's definitely a place I'd like to go to for an extended beach day.  It was a huge beach with fine, gorgeous, clean sand. There was a nice surf and although I'd need to get pretty warm to want to go in, I think it would be a great place to spend the day.
Stinson Beach
We headed back to San Francisco along windy roads that SMS had an awesome time navigating, sometimes in Sports mode.  He was having an awesome time.  We drove through the Presidio and decided to grab dinner in the city.  I found the Bella Trattoria on yelp and after a brief wait, we were seated despite it being a busy Saturday night.  The pasta dishes were amazingly fresh and really delicious.  We were really happy to have found it and it was a great meal to cap off the day.  Despite sitting in the car, we had walked quite a bit so that meant our carb-loading was necessary.  Seriously, thank goodness we found the place, otherwise we might have been in trouble!