Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mini Road Trip: Guerneville and Armstrong Redwoods

Across from our parking space- I can never resist a cut-out photo op!
SMS and I got up and decided that we should hit the road in order to explore Guerneville and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve during daylight hours.  First, we needed fuel.  We stopped at Nido for scones (not as good as I remembered but still really delicious) and Temple Coffee for a tall French press.

We drove for awhile and SMS mentioned that he was starting to get hungry.  Well, I'm no fool.  I have been in the past but I now know that the slight mention means it's time to start thinking about a food stop sooner rather than later.  I did a little Internet sleuthing and found Yanni's Sausage Grill.  It had rave reviews and I know SMS likes his links.

It was a completely awesome experience.  Yanni and his wife Fran are so sweet and nice.  They gave us their recommendations in addition to a free sample of their "Greek chili."  We ordered a lamb sausage with onions, Greek sausage with pepperoncinis and Greek fries, covered in dressing and feta.  The food was delicious.  At the owners' suggestion, we took it next door into the Penngrove pub where there was more seating and it was much warmer.  We sat at the bar with several locals who were quite nice and interesting to talk to.  There was one eagle-eyed woman who spotted the health inspector's car and told the bar tender to wipe up the water and lose his drink.  The bar passed with flying colors, although I think it would have been fine even without the tip!

After a really nice lunch, we headed to Guerneville where we went into a few shops on the main street.  The old bank has been converted to a few shops within its interior and Big Bottom market also had excellent food for picnics.

Devil chicken at the Boon.
Lovely linens
We decided to check into the Boon Hotel, which was very retro chic.  It reminds me a lot of the Pearl hotel in San Diego.  Our room was great but since the clouds were starting to part, we decided it would be best time-wise if we checked out the Armstrong Redwoods that day.

The forest is known for "tree animals"

Strange wildlife
 We went a little ways up the road and parked near the Reserve entrance.  There was only a charge if a car drove into the reserve and we decided to walk along the trail.  Nothing fancy or long, just enough to see some of the oldest redwoods, 1300-1400 years old!

Pushing the trees apart- so strong!
The park was really special and majestic.  The colors were brilliant thanks to the recent rain and lingering mist.  I loved the green-gray with hints of purple the best that I could see in some of the bark and lichenous material.

We headed back to Boon and warmed up in the hot tub.  We relaxed in the room for a bit and then SMS went out for a quick dinner.  I stayed behind since my stomach was suddenly under duress for a couple of hours, likely due to the crazy spicy green papaya salad that also, weirdly, smelled of hot dogs when we took it in a to-go box (which I threw out, to the annoyance of SMS who wondered why I even took it to go at all!).

When SMS got back, we lit a fire, which was super cozy.  It was a great day and we saw a lot, really making the most out of a day that was mostly gray and drizzle-y.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mini-Road Trip: Sacramento

View from the fantail at sunset, The Delta King
On Monday, SMS and I each went to work.  We met up afterwards for some climbing and, seeing that we were both off for the week, we decided that the next day, we were going to take a mini road-trip.  I had to be roughly within 2 hours travel time due to work so with that constraint in mind, I planned out our trip that evening.

We started off in the mid-morning since my internal alarm clock has been cool with waking up around 8:30 (delightful!).  We drove towards Sacramento and SMS, in the navigator's seat, was hungry and decided he was in the mood for THE WAFFLE EXPERIENCE!  It is a restaurant a little outside of Sacramento proper but it is so delicious that it's worth the drive and strip mall ambiance.  Everyone there seemed very nice and really, how could you not be?  Waffles surroundings, just try to be unhappy there.  Well, SMS was a tiny bit unhappy since they were out of his #1 and #2 choices on the daily special menu.  But he overcame his disappointment and through salty, bitter tears, he ordered up another delicious sandwich.  Once that happened, the title of saddest person in the waffle restaurant was returned to its rightful owner, the woman who plaintively said while ordering, "I just don't feel like waffles!"

We both had slightly breakfast-y waffle sandwiches and it was awesome.  I was a little surprised that they didn't have a classic chicken 'n' waffles sandwich but whatever, what they had was great!
One of my favorites at the Museum
An engineer is very accurate!
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the California State Railroad Museum.  It was pretty cool and we both enjoyed it.  First, we walked through an exhibit on the history of railroads and railways in California.  It's great to learn more about local/regional history.  Then we went into the main exhibit hall where there were so many beautifully maintained locomotives, rail cars and other exhibits.  My favorite was the private rail car for people who just want things their own way.  I also thought the Southern Pacific Cab Forward No 4294 was really cool and absolutely humongous.  Also, if you ever talk to a railroad connoisseur, don't call it a Mallet design unless you want people to laugh and laugh at you.
Old Town Sacramento

The Stateroom
A stowaway!
The museum is located in Old Town Sacramento so we walked through the area to our hotel, The Delta King!  It's a restored 285-foot river boat that is now a hotel, restaurant and event space.  I thought it would be a neat place to stay.  The stateroom was large and clean.  We really enjoyed our stay.
Next, we headed out to Nido, the bakery that supplies The Magpie, which is the restaurant we ate at last time we were in Sacramento.  We split a cheese plate and had a beer.  I made silent plans to come back in the morning to pick up some scones.

For dinner, we ate at Orchard Thai which was fine.  Nothing great and (spoiler alert) the green papaya salad did not really sit well with either SMS or I.  The drunken noodles were good but if a restaurant messed that up, they should just throw in the towel.

We wrapped up the night touring the light displays of the Fab 40s houses.  The neighborhood is completely beautiful.  I stayed there during my Kaiser observation days in September and was really taken with the area.  I figured that there were would be some beautiful Christmas decorations, but I was absolutely blown away.  Even though it was after Christmas, it was so nice to still feel the holiday spirit.

Then it was back to the riverboat for a great night's sleep.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Oakland: Follow in the 36 Hours In... Footsteps

On Sunday, SMS and I headed into Oakland for some urban exploring.  We were mostly following recommendations from the "36 Hours In..." article although we planned to end at one of our favorite restaurants, Hopscotch.
Temescal Alley
First, we stopped in the Temescal neighborhood, where we explored the two pedestrian alleys filled with artists' shops.  As the NYTimes implied, think real-life Etsy.  The shops were pretty cool.  We bought prints from a pop-up shop.  We listened to someone play an electric keyboard/synthesizer and throughout the entire time, we couldn't quite get the point of the store or its economic viability.  We also went into a florist specializing in succulents.  We bought coffees and capped off our visit with walnut-pecan pie with Molasses Ginger Ice Cream from Curbside Creamery.  It was a pretty cool place and it was fun to check out.  I also talked to Ed on the phone for a bit, which was also great and I'm hoping that he'll come out and visit at some point.  He also told me a hilarious story from childhood involving "Free Kicks" at soccer practice which, since I have no memory of it, I'm still not completely sure I believe.

Oh!  And an artist whose stuff I'd like to see more of is Meghan Shimek.  No need to write that down, just a note to myself!

Afterwards, we drove over to the Mountain View (holler!) Cemetery (sad trombone!) to check out the Frederick Law Olmsted designed park-like layout. Uh, ok 36 Hours, you go on ahead and recommend a cemetery, I guess.  It wouldn't be on my list although it was kind of cool that the Chapel of the Chimes outside the gate was designed by Julia Morgan, also famous for designing Hearst Castle.

Near Middle Shoreline "Park"  Nope, nope, nope.
Next, we went to what I think is the worst recommendation on the list.  Granted, it was dark and the area pretty deserted which never makes me think that good things are about to happen, but who recommends a "park" in the middle of a super industrial area/shipyard?  So weird!  It wasn't even that great a view of the Skyline (don't worry, we stayed in the car and didn't stay long just in case the sole person around happened to be Marvin the Mugger).  So, anyway, I dispute the recommendation for Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.  Also, for the hassle of getting there, especially for a carless tourist, there are way better viewpoints, at least in San Francisco, that would be worth traveling to.
Slightly creepy, but I guess sight-impaired accessible, Remember Them monument
After driving by the "park," we went to Hopscotch for dinner where we shared the Holiday Goose Dinner for Two.  It was fun to try something so new.  The first course was a charcuterie board featuring goose pate and goose prosciutto.  The second course was sous vide goose leg and sous vide  then seared goose breast (yum).  It was delicious and even though I'm not scouring restaurants for my next fix of goose, it was exciting to have such a holiday-themed dinner.  I felt like Tiny Tim!

After dinner, we headed home.  It was a fun Oakland day, even if "36 Hours" articles are sometimes a little weird (don't get me started on the 36 Hours in San Luis Obispo when really, the article featured the entire Central Coast.  There are rules!  Or if not, there should be!).

Best Books of 2015: My picks

2015 was a pretty good year for books.  My total number came in at 33, which isn't terrible but I thought I had read more.  I guess that's the surgeon in me- always inflating my numbers!  I've included the full list below, which is roughly in sequential order of my reading.  I searched my Kindle list since I download most of my books from the e-library.  I prefer actual books but the portability, ubiquity and weight of my iPhone/Kindle app make the e-versions my everyday go-to.

Picking favorites is always hard for me. I'm much more of a fiction-reader, but I tried to expand my horizons a bit this year.  For 2016, there is a lot heavier emphasis on non-fiction thanks to a few recommendation lists I came across during some of my end-of-the-year research/reflection (post coming soon!).

This year, I have four fiction recommendations:

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan
     This excellent book follows a former Australian POW captured by the Japanese and sent work on the Great Burma Railroad.  It switches among several different times as it looks backwards on Dr. Dorrigo Evans life.  The unexpected inter-relationships among the characters and the plot structure to a horrible climactic event in the work camp are masterfully executed, even if parts of the story itself are horror-inducing.
2. The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
  I love David Mitchell.  I have read almost all of his books and even though I'm not a super-fan enough to recognize all the cameos different characters play in his novels, his attention to detail and clear vision of his body of work as a magnum opus is very impressive.  I really liked the story even though it was a little more fantasy genre-like than I usually read.  
3. The Invisible Bridge Julie Orringer
  There was a lot of WWII reading this year.  I also tried reading The Nightingale after The Invisible Bridge but I thought the books were too similar, head injury to the main character and all.  The Invisible Bridge follows three Hungarian Jewish brothers in the years leading up to and including WWII.  It was a stark reminder, in fictional form, that history is made up of the seemingly mundane everyday events that can only be seen as a cohesive, comprehensible narrative in retrospect.   
4. Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
  This was a much-buzzed about book early in the year and an enjoyable, well-written read.  Nothing too profound but at the same time, not trashy chick-lit literature either.

I have three non-fiction recommendations:

1. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette Hampton Sides
  This book was amazing.  It's a great story and the story-telling is superb.  What kept crossing my mind as I read it was, "How is this book even possible?" meaning, how did the first-person documentation in the form of crew logs survive when almost certainly, not everyone would live after this misadventure?  To find out how, read the book!  I won't spoil it for you and this is a definite must-read!
2. On Immunity Eula Biss
  Some interesting insights into the thought processes of choosing to vaccinate children.  To me, it's a no-brainer but there are interesting examinations of the domestication and false benign-ness of all things "natural" vs. the complexity of the modern world and science.  In addition, there is an interesting reflection on how the world of complementary medicine has very reassuring, straight-forward language (cleanse, natural, detoxify) while the language of modern medicine is more nuanced and less reassuring (complications, side effects).
3. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Susannah Cahalan
  Thank you sister for my Christmas gift.  This is an easy read and very interesting from both a medical mystery perspective (paging Dr. House) and the fact that our brains are so complex and, at times, terrifyingly fragile to seemingly little insults.

The books can be roughly grouped.  First, to counter-act the high-mindedness of the recs above, I definitely read some beach worthy, chick lit reads.  This is the year I discovered Liane Moriarty and I'm not ashamed!  The best is Big Little Lies.  There are some heavy themes addressed but overall, it's a really nice read that passes along quickly.  I also read Kevin Kwan's two books, which were a fascinating, fictional insider's view to the world of Eastern Asia's super-super-rich.  Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series was a fun fiction-within-fiction read and also worth reading, especially if you have a background in reading a lot of classics (hello high school reading lists!).

I also read a few comedians' books, which I really liked despite not having any in my top recommendations.  BJ Novak's short stories were great and very heavy on the irony.  Is it irony if it's completely in your face?  I thought there should be an element of subtlety but sometimes, it hits across the face like a baseball bat.

I also read a few memoirs this year, which were all very well done.  I liked Dr. Marsh's reflections on medical complications but I wish there was more reflection on how to transition from committing the complication to living with it.  In fairness, he did liken it to an open wound healing to a permanent scar but how does one actually live through and process that transition?  It's something I'm grappling with in my own medical career and any guidance is always appreciated.

Ok, I'm going to wind down with the complete list because this post is getting ridiculously long.  In short, there are no real turkeys on the list below.  [ETA:  The previous statement is a lie!  I would not recommend Pretty Girls!]  I hope 2016 brings you some fun, worthwhile reading in the days ahead!

The complete list
Yes Please Amy Poehler
All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr
The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austin
Big Little Lies Liane Moriarty
The Husband's Secret Liane Moriarty
Three Wishes Leane Moriarty
Redeployment Phil Klay
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories BJ Novak
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette Hampton Sides
Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan
The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan
The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Book 1) Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
The Martian Andy Weir
The Invisible Bridge Julie Orringer
China Rich Girlfriend Kevin Kwan
The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels Jasper Fforde
The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian Eric Greitens
Something Rotten Jasper Fforde
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot
Food: A Love Story Jim Gaffigan
The Knockoff Lucy Sykes
The Glass Castle: A Memoir Jeannette Walls
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Eric Larson
Pretty Girls Karin Slaughter
Shotgun Lovesongs Nickolas Butler
Do No Harm Henry Marsh
Art of Fielding Chad Harbach
On Immunity Eula Biss
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Susannah Cahalan
The Rosie Effect Graeme Simsion

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Alameda: Walk Down Memory Lane

On the 26th, SMS and I decided to head out and explore.  We had our day of rest after traveling on Christmas Eve from Colorado and it was time to take advantage of what the local area has to offer.  We were going to go to Oakland to roughly follow the recent "36 Hours in..." article from Dec 2015, but when I saw the exit sign for Alameda, a wave of nostalgia hit me and I wanted to check it out.  I had lived in Alameda from 1987-1989 and I wanted to see my old school and the former Navy base.
Almost 30 years later!

St Philip Neri playground
First, we went to St Philip Neri.  I was surprised at how little I remembered in terms of the layout.  Gradually, things became a little clearer as I remembered the march from the classroom to the Hall where we had our square dancing classes (really!).  I also remembered the playground in vivid detail once I saw it from a certain corner.  The games of tag, hopscotch and my terrible attempts at tetherball made the playground indelibly etched in my mind.  One thing that really surprised me though was how small everything seemed.  I've heard of people talking about the perspective change in size between childhood and adulthood, but this was the first vivid example for me with respect to a place.

As SMS said, not the type of van you want across the street from a school!
Another view
Back gate, totally open!
Old house!
We headed over to the base, although I'd like to head back at some point and check out the historic Alameda movie theater and Park St shopping district.  We drove through the housing area and I managed to remember how to get to our old house.  It was still there (it was rumored to be condemned after the 1989 earthquake).  I was really surprised at how derelict everything looked.  Nothing looked unsafe but everything was so rundown and dingy- peeling paint, dirty houses, tons of stuff piled up.  It was a definite contrast to 30 years ago and pretty amazing to me that things can change so quickly.  I also looked at the tree in the front yard and I think it's too big to climb on now.  Back in the day, it was the perfect climbing tree and we were in it all the time!

Slightly different signage than the 80s.
View from the patio of Rock Wall Winery
We headed over to the old squadrons and the runway, which is now a protected bird habitat.  The hangers are mainly commercial businesses now, focussed on booze.  There's the Faction brewery, where we had a sampler before going on a tour of St. George's, a artisanal distillery.

At the brewery, the sampler was delicious and the coffee stout was the best I ever had.  We picked the brewery because we were hoping the corn dog stand would open but we were disappointed since the set-up was taking them awhile.
Entrance for St. George.  I love the sign under Visitors.
We went over to St. George's where we went on one of the best tours I've ever been on.  Our tour guide's name was Andie and she was so well-spoken, informative, hilarious and very quick on her feet with witty responses and serious answers to questions that came up along the tour.  I was super impressed at her tour guide skill!

Safety first- I agree!
SMS had a sampler flight and I had a few micro-sips.  The spirits are excellent and the gins are delicious and super-flavorful and herby.  The pear liquor was probably my favorite and one I'd buy on another day.

The masher
The still
Our day was cut a little short in regards to making it to Oakland so we decided to head home and save Oakland for another the next one!

Friday, December 25, 2015


Our Christmas Tree!

SMS started our Christmas 2015 with a special Christmas Eve dinner request- Peking Duck!  We went to the Dim Sum restaurant on Castro and had a delicious Peking Duck dinner along with Wonton Soup.  It was really delicious.  The place was packed but we got our dinner in a reasonable amount of time.  It sounded like there were some other, unhappy diners but we were pretty set and definitely happy with our meal.

Christmas morning came and I was super-spoiled by SMS.  I had put my Garmin back under the tree and I also got a Narwal t-shirt and It Is Right to Draw Their Fur: Animal Renderings by Dave Eggers.  I also got a Santa Hat!  For SMS, I got a hiking hat with extra neck sun protection, Kona coffee and a "vintage" Japanese beer poster.  He's hard to shop for and I try to take notes during the year.  Currently, we're eying a super-chunky wool blanket so maybe we'll have a big joint New Year's present!

After Christmas morning and some breakfast, we hung out during the day.  We went out to Eagle Park to fly our drones.  That was a lot of fun!  It really is so fun to have a toy to play with on Christmas, even as an adult!
Cool, 3D hipster!
That evening, we went to see the new Star Wars in 3D.  It was pretty good.  I enjoyed the references to the original trilogy and I'm slightly enthralled by the "Who are Rey's parents?" theories.  I'm not sure that I need to see it again but I will definitely see the next movie when it comes out!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Family Christmas in Steamboat Springs!

Steamboat, so gorgeous!
SMS and I just returned from an amazing family trip in Steamboat Springs!  For the past several years, my family tries to meet up for a destination Christmas vacation.  For having six people plus significant others, we do pretty well in all getting together.  It doesn't always work and this year, unfortunately, Joe didn't make it but for one of the best reasons of all.  He and his wife are now proud parents to their beautiful baby boy who was born a little over a week ago.

Torchlight Parade
The rest of us toasted their good fortune.  We had an incredible time in Steamboat Springs and I'm sad it's over!  SMS and I flew in Sat, 12/19 and we all went to the slopes to see the torchlight parade and fireworks.  For the "torchlight" parade, the ski/snowboard instructors went down the mountain holding a flare in each hand.  It was pretty cool-looking and the emcee was pretty hilarious in his deadpan, Captain Obvious, possibly Colorado Cannabis-affected statements- "They're almost here....almost it gets brighter, they're getting closer...when you can see them, they can see you..."  Anyway, not very funny when it's typed out but it was a little funny at the time.
Dad carving the lamb, yum!
Mom made several feasts for the family and it was spectacular to be fed so well.  Dinners included Bubba burgers, chicken enchiladas, beef stew in double-cooked mashed potato bowls (incredible), Hungarian Chicken with egg noodles and an incredible "Christmas Eve" lamb dinner.  Lunch was sandwiches and homemade soup.  SMS and I went back on two of the four ski days and it was tasty and warming.  It was completely wonderful.  My favorite was the homemade chicken soup- yum!  I would be getting hungry as I type this but I think I'm still stuffed!
Ed, Meg and Dad.  Not that you can tell, but I promise it's them!
The focus was mainly on skiing and snowboarding (sister!), which was pretty intense!  The first day of skiing was Sunday 12/20 and it was close to a bluebird day although clouds moved in later in the day.  After that, game on!  It snowed approximately 2.5 feet in the next three days.  The snow varied in intensity, but overall, became stronger as the three days went by.  There were near blizzard conditions at the top yesterday with high winds but overall, the winds weren't too bad and the daytime temps were in the 20s and low 30s.  The low winds were key for pleasant lift rides.
SMS and I!
All of the powder made for some incredible skiing.  The mountain is huge and I think I made it to only a third of the runs.  The blue-blacks were my favorite because of the small moguls which added some nice texture to the runs.  Blacks were very mogul-y and double blacks mainly consisted of tree chutes.  The difficulty level was based mostly on mogul and tree presence it seemed.  I didn't see any runs that were overly steep and scary although every time I looked back, I was pretty impressed at the amount of trail behind me.

My favorite run was on the last day when I was on "See Me" and cut through to "Vagabond" through a field of knee-high powder.  It was unreal.  I had so much fun and really, these past four days were the best skiing of my life, conditions-wise.  I felt I skied pretty well, but I'm starting to get a tiny bit slower.  SMS had a great ski experience- we think all the roller skating really helped with his speed and balance.  Not that it was bad before but he was a speed demon and mogul aficionado this trip!

SMS and I also had fun night-skiing on the second night we were there.  The trails were well-groomed and almost empty.  The runs were beautiful glides and turns all the way to the bottom.  I'm so glad we tried it but the best was skiing with family.  We did a pretty good job of meeting up throughout our days there.  Dad bought walkie-talkies that were actually really helpful and a lot of fun to use.

Last night, we had our "Christmas Eve" with an awesome gift exchange.  I cheated and wrapped up a few travel presents from our Spring Thailand trip but don't worry, we got everyone real gifts too!  Brady, SMS and I went in on a Garmin for Dad.  I also wrapped up a book I had for awhile that I thought he would like, Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan.  Initially, I wrapped it in with the Garmin but I thought it might give him a complex.  Mom got bath bombs and Brady got an Angor Wat temple book with overlays that imagine the original splendor over the current ruins.

Mom gave us our stockings which was really sweet and nostalgic.  The detail is incredible and the stockings bring back so many awesome memories.  Mom and Dad also got us little flying drones and everything stopped for about 10 minutes while we played with them.  I haven't had such a fun toy experience like that in years!  The girls also received really pretty earrings from the National Gallery of Art and a new ballerina jewelry stand.  Ed and Meg got me a Corkcicle Canteen, which is one of Oprah's Favorite things, which is awesome since they now live in Chicago where Oprah is a very big deal (is there anywhere she's not?).  Brady got me the Alabama Shakes album (yeah!) and Brain on Fire, which is a memoir I've been wanting to read for awhile.

Overall, Christmas 2015 has been incredible and I feel really lucky and happy to have such an amazing family!
Even our falls are amazing!
Leaving Steamboat, very early