Monday, February 29, 2016

Mountain View Weekend

No packed suitcases this weekend- SMS and I stayed home.  We started off the weekend by going out to dinner with a few of our friends from the apartment complex.  We walked down to The Yam Leaf, a vegetarian Mexican place about 1/2 mile away.  We had been there before but it had been awhile.  I love their pupusas!  SMS and I each got a pupusa and then split the sides on a house combination platter.  It was really a great dinner and fun to catch up with our friends.  We hung out for awhile which was good because one of our friends started out a little rough because he had gone way too long without food and he was hangry!  He recovered well though.

Saturday was fairly mellow.  I went for a run with the Mountain View Running Club, which was really enjoyable.  It's a great group of people and I love talking to people during the run and afterwards at Starbucks.  This week, I ran slower than last so I could talk a lot more.  My running partners are so lucky, ha ha.  I start my marathon taper this week so I wanted to start scaling back.  The week prior, I had done two miles at 7:30 which was awesome but left no extra air for conversation.

I came home and SMS and I ate lunch.  We had a mellow afternoon and then left for the Vance Joy concert at 5:15.  We went out for Ethiopian food at Sheba in Oakland prior to the show.  It was pretty good.  I loved the injera and the food was tasty.  I'm glad we had it because we had talked about Ethiopian food the night before and I knew I'd have major cravings if I didn't eat some soon!  There was a lot of food and we couldn't finish it all.  I think the waitress was sad we didn't take a to-go box but one of the dishes was raw (on purpose) and we didn't want raw meat sitting in the car unrefridgerated for a few hours.

I wrote a separate post about the concert.  It was a solid show and I'm glad we went.  I kind of messed up on the planning because I bought the tickets awhile back.  What I didn't realize until Saturday morning was that I had actually bought 4 tickets.  So, since it was so last-minute, I just sold the extra two on Craigslist since most of our friends make weekend plans ahead of time.

Sunday started with a 10 mile long run.  It's funny that 10 miles seems like nothing now.  I'm really excited for our marathon and it will be interesting to see what my post-marathon training plans will consist of.  I'm thinking of Krav Maga and HITT workouts, with 1-2x weekly longer runs to maintain this base I've worked so hard to achieve.  First, though, there's a little matter of getting through 26.2 miles!  Unfortunately, it looks like it might rain (boo!) but maybe that will make me want to run faster!

After the run, SMS made a "Baconator" omelet, which efficiently destroyed any calorie deficit I may have incurred while running!  It was delicious and I was hungry so thank you SMS!  Then I took a nap.  Afterwards, we went to the commissary and I baked a cake for dinner on Jeff and Hope's boat.

We were invited to dinner on their boat and we had the best time!  First, we went for a walk around the Coyote Point Recreation Area.  It was beautiful!  There were wildflowers, views of the city and a beautiful sunset.  Then we went to the boat, which is absolutely beautiful.  We hung out for a few hours and had great conversation.  We had excellent appetizers- my favorite is Hope's homemade cheese.  Then we had a fantastic vegetarian lasagna with a side salad and asparagus.  It was fantastic food!

We left about 8:15.  Although I was having a great time, I was getting so tired.  My long runs don't usually wipe me out but all day yesterday, I had felt more tired than usual.

I don't have any leap day plans, but I will try and think of something cool.  Maybe a leap year cake and an impromptu party?

Vance Joy Oakland Concert

Vance Joy, with opening acts Jamie Lawson and Elle King, played a sold-out show at the art-deco Fox Theatre in Oakland on Saturday, 27 Feb.  It was an all-ages show and as Elle King said, "Raise your hands if you're over 21....What are you doing here?!"  All three acts had solid performances, although I definitely had a favorite.

SMS and I walked in just after Jamie Lawson had started.  He had a small, self-supported background  of his name separating him from the rest of the stage, which had a huge backdrop of VANCE JOY.  He played an acoustic set composed of mid-tempo songs with very sweet lyrics.  The cynic among us would use slightly more negative words such as "saccharine" or "sappy" but boo on that person!  Who wants a negative vibe ;)  Jamie Lawson has done well in Great Britain and hopes to break into the US scene more.  He's got a good start by having a solo tour starting in May so best of luck to him.

Elle King totally rocked.  She was extremely adept at sassy stage banter and really livened up the crowd.  She opened up with "Where the Devil Won't Go," which was awesome and high-energy.  She free-styled a little musical interlude while waiting for the banjo to be trouble-shooted since initially, it wasn't miked properly (a replacement cord fixed the problem).  Everyone thought her lyrics were great, mostly because "Oakland" was rhymed with "rule" and "cool" so the concert-goers felt good about themselves.  Seriously, it was a pretty funny improv and definitely a testament to her stage presence and showmanship.  It was fairly clear that she's a little over singing "Ex's and Ohs," but she still delivered.  I heard one of my favorite live mash-ups ever from here, which was Nick Jonas "Jealous" and The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face."  It was excellent!  It does reveal my slightly embarrassing pop-music tastes though.

Then, it was time for Vance Joy.  He had a confident stage presence and an excellent back-up band.  His songs are similar in style to Jamie Lawson and without the power of the back-up band, it would have had the same mellow energy.  The thing that struck me the most about his songs is that he uses a falsetto in almost every one to convey vulnerability.  The thing is, his falsetto is not really that good.  I haven't heard enough of his recordings to hear if it does better in the studio environment, but in the live setting, it's almost cringe-worthy at times just listening to the vocals alone.  It veers towards a pitchy vibrato that if I was sitting in a coffee shop open mic night, I'd look around for his cheering section and hope that one of them would pull him aside afterwards and say, "Great lyrics, great chord progression....maybe lose the falsetto?"

Vance Joy played an hour-long set, which included an encore of two songs, one unaccompanied acoustic and finally, "The Fire and the Flood," the tour's namesake and really well done.   Another highlight was "Call Me Al," which showed the strength of the back-up band since they did a great job with the back-up vocals and horns, even though the horn section was a lot smaller than Paul Simon's.

So, overall, solid show.  I wouldn't buy marked up scalped tickets, but face value would be ok.   I love the Fox Theatre and we don't go out to concerts that often so it was a nice treat.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Scenes from the Museum: De Young, Pierre Bonnard and Highlights from the Collection

Tartine, a great start to our day!
On Sunday, we woke up, checked out and headed over to the Mission District for breakfast.  I hadn't been to Tartine yet since moving here and I was in the mood for some delicious carb-y carb carbs!  SMS and I stood in line for awhile and then bought several things- a Croque Monsieur, a frangipane-filled croissant, a savory scone, a hazelnut tart and a morning bun.  The purchases lasted until the next day (honest!).  My favorite was the morning bun.  It was amazing!  I think it is an under-the-radar Cronut, since it had the flaky layers of a croissant with some excellent fried/baked with-so-much-butter-it-may-as-well-be-fried goodness.  We also talked briefly to the girls next to us who were having a reunion after many years.  One of the girls was from Japan and had spent time as an exchange student at the other girl's house in Philadelphia several years ago.  
A safe in Room and Board.  Not for sale.

After desser- I mean, breakfast, we went to Room & Board, a furniture shop where I had seen a desk I thought SMS would like.  After some debate and browsing, it was deemed a winner and SMS ordered it in charcoal.  He's going to have the nicest furniture in the house soon!
Does it look like someone in Heaven has an upset stomach?

After Room & Board, we headed to the de Young museum.  I wanted to see the Young Woman with a Unicorn by Raphael, which is on loan from the Galleria Borghese in Rome.  I heard about it from my Aunt Maria's friends so I was excited.  It was a beautiful painting.  Some of the permanent collection pieces on the way there were also pretty epic in their own way.  I took pictures of two of my favorites.
I imagine there are several expressions one could have while holding a severed head, but
I feel like this expression of bored detachment would not be one of them. 
Pierre Bonnard- I really liked this sequence of four.

After we acted like mature art aficionados, we headed downstairs to the Pierre Bonnard retrospective.  It was an excellent exhibit and I feel lucky to have seen it.  I actually preferred his Japonaise-inspired prints in addition to some of the colors and patterns seen in his interior paintings, including his nudes.  If you have a chance to go, I definitely recommend it.  I'm not the biggest fan of his late work of huge murals with more muddy green but that actually speaks to the strength of the show.  The viewer gets to see examples from his entire career in an exhibit that flows very smoothly.  
Snowy!  Plover!

After the museum, we headed to Andytown Coffee Roasters in Outer Sunset, which is my favorite neighborhood.  I ordered a snowy plover, a delicious concoction of soda water, espresso, brown sugar and a huge dollop of freshly-whipped cream.  Intensity!  It is so delicious.  SMS got a decaf espresso.  He also noted, while we were in line, that I "know all the places in San Francisco to stand in line."  I told him to channel it into a Japanese-type experience, where standing in line is part of the deal.  I'm not sure he bought it.  

Then we headed home.  It was nice to have a full weekend but still get home while the sun was still out.  We watched some more of Mozart in the Jungle, which we both really enjoy and recommend.  It's pretty unusual for us to find a show we both like but this one is a major win!

San Francisco Saturday

Saturday was light on pictures, so have some cats
from Neko Atsume!
This past weekend was absolutely beautiful weather-wise. SMS and I decided to spend most of it in San Francisco. The main reason was for a Williams alumni event emphasizing the continuing relevance of a liberal arts education in various disciplines. The San Francisco event focused on Science and Technology but there are other events in different cities focusing on health, finance, etc.

We headed up Saturdgamba our best and I think we stand a fairly good chance of achieving a BQ!
ay morning after I went for a run with the local running club. It was the weekly Saturday run, a 3.5 mile loop that ends at Starbucks. I ran with 3 guys and we ran two of the miles at a 7:30 pace!  I felt pretty awesome!  I'm looking forward to the marathon. I feel really ready training-wise so as long as I feel good on race day, it should be a pretty good day. J and I want to qualify for the Boston marathon. Unfortunately, we're right on the border pace-wise so there's no time to spare which is a little nerve-wracking since there are things like water stations, bathroom breaks and the fact that runners often run a little more than 26.2 miles due to not being able to "follow the line" exactly due to banking of the road.  But we will

Anyway, enough running talk.  We went to Japantown and ate at Kushitsuru.  It was fine.  On the menu it said it was the best restaurant in Japantown.  SMS pointed that out.  Later in the meal, I said that I was so happy we were eating at the best restaurant in Japantown.  SMS was drinking tea at the time and laughed, which almost caused it to come out his nose.  I didn't even mean to be funny!

After lunch, SMS headed to the Kabuki spa.  They have a traditional Japanese onsen, but it's single sex on alternating days so only he would be able to enjoy the baths.  I went to the Korean make-up shops, where I looked at all the character masks and marveled at the incredible mark-ups on the snail goo products compared to the prices in Seoul.

SMS was done more quickly than I expected.  A person can only hang out in hot baths for so long!  We headed to the Financial District and checked into our hotel.  We stayed at Club Quarters, which was very nice.  It was clean, functional and fairly inexpensive.  I booked the trip through Priceline as a hidden 4-star hotel.  Although the hotel is nice, I wouldn't quite call it 4-star.  When I was looking on their FAQ checking regarding parking, there was also a question about the 4-star rating and where it came from.  It was hilarious because the answer was basically, "Not from any outside agency but we think our amenities compare favorably to four star hotels."  Self-rating doesn't seem like the most objective way, but it does show a high level of confidence, I suppose!

We headed over to the Williams event and had a really nice time.  The event was really well-done.  The lectures were excellent and we spoke to some interesting people.  I saw some people from my class and overall, it was a really good afternoon.  There was a cocktail reception afterwards that seemed to go on for awhile so SMS and I left, thinking that I had misread that there would be dinner. Oops, there was dinner.  I feel a little badly leaving when I had been in the head count but really, I thought it was winding down.

Leo's Atrium
One positive for not believing what I read (hey, the critical liberal arts mind strikes again!) is that we had an awesome dinner at Leo's Oyster Bar.  Oh my goodness, it was delicious.  We had two California oysters each and then were treated to a pair of St Simone by a really eager maitre d'.  He was very enthusiastic about oysters and the restaurant.  We had a really nice time talking to him.  He also delivered the wrong order to our table which we didn't realize until we had a bite.  We had been waiting on uni toasts and when we were delivered a lump of something surrounded by toast, we thought it was our order.  It was actually the salmon tartare.  The waitress said not to worry about it and to enjoy it so really, even though we went out to eat, we continued our evening's trend of getting free food!

We also enjoyed (and paid for) the lobster roll.  It was really delicious and the bun was absolute perfection- toasted, golden and with a near-perfect ratio of bread to lobster.  I think the perfect ratio would be hard because can there ever be too much lobster?

We also really liked where we sat. We were on the side of the bar, in the atrium.  The atrium has a very vintage decor feel with high ceilings.  It was nice to sit in an area with the best of both worlds- the energy of the bar and the uniqueness of a creatively decorated space.  Our area was called the "Low Bar," which felt slightly like a kid's table since the seats were smaller and lower than normal bar seating.  It was lovely and unique.  If you want a table, reservations appear to be a must but we were very happy to get in and our seating was perfect.
How do you back-in a dragon?  Very carefully!
Afterwards, we headed out and saw the tail-end of the Chinese New Year's parade.  The highlight was seeing a human-carried dragon puppet get backed into the lobby of a building.  The dragon was super long and navigating the head with the tall horns was a bit challenging.  But they did it!  Then they set off the remainder of their noisemaker fireworks which was really loud.  I feel very grateful to live in a country that is safe enough that when people hear explosions and loud sounds, they look for the fireworks instead of worrying about bombs.

Then we headed back to our four-star abode.  It was a really nice day and we were excited to see a little more of San Francisco the next day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Photographing the Firefall: Horsetail Fall, Yosemite 2016

Too early for the Fire effect but still so beautiful!

Getting closer...

 In late February, Horsetail Fall is directly struck by the setting sun leading to the Firefall effect.  For half an hour, the surrounding rock and waterfall have an orange glow that makes it look like magma is flowing off the cliff.  The effect is slightly more dramatic on camera than to the naked eye but either way, it’s very cool to see.
Firefall 2016 on Sat 2/13, Sun 2/14 and Mon 2/15
We were there for three nights, each with a completely different look.  Saturday was the best night.  The absolute key was that there was not a cloud in the sky.  Almost as important, a high wind blew mist against the cliff and into the air which led to increased light dispersion.  It was absolutely stunning.  On Sunday, the Firefall effect did not occur because there were clouds to the West which blocked the sun too much.  Overall, it was clear but the clouds were in the worst spot for those hoping to see the Firefall.  Monday was a pretty good day, but not as spectacular as Saturday.  The skies were clear but the difference was the lack of wind so the cliff was more dry and the mist spray more muted.   

Monday was the day we took a film photo with some settings assistance from our little digital camera.  Sunset was at 5:36 and SMS took his picture at 5:34.  At that point, the light had narrowed onto the Falls alone which really highlighted the Firewater effect.  The key window was 5:27-5:34 on a day where the official sunset time was 5:36.  Shooting earlier allowed for highlighting the brighter cliffs, which is beautiful but slightly decreases the contrast of the water.  It really depends on the effect a photographer is going for.  On Saturday, the cliffs were gorgeous because the moisture created an incredible luminance that looked like the inside of an abalone shell.   

An excellent article goes into extensive detail about the effect for those who are interested but there were a few key takeaways for me.  First, where to photograph? People set-up near the Cathedral Peak picnic area, parking areas just before the El Capitan Picnic Area or the El Capitan Picnic area itself.  My preference is the slightly oblique view from the El Capitan Picnic Area.  The two pullouts before the picnic area give a more oblique view/profile shot of the fall, which is also stunning.  This is where a local photo academy set up.  The Cathedral Beach Picnic area is more en face and gives a longer view of the Fall since the bottom portion is less blocked by the cliff to the right of the fall.  Really, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Parking-wise, the Park Service allows parking by blocking the left lane to traffic on Southside Dr. for the Cathedral Peak site.  On the El Capitan side, the two parking pullouts have limited parking.  The second pullout (right before the picnic area) has a deep lot that people can double park without blocking in the front row of cars.  The picnic area has a lot of parking, designated and self-made.  
Just a bunch of people, hanging out in the woods
There are a lot of photographers at all these spots!  Our last night, we showed up at 5:15 and still got a spot in the El Capitan picnic area.  We had been climbing there earlier and saw people setting up at 3:30!  Unless that’s fun for you and you’re making an afternoon out of it with a hammock and a picnic (which some people did), there’s really no need to stake out a place that early.   Everyone’s camera is pointed up at a pretty steep angle so you can get very close to a person without ruining his/her shot.  To be polite, we did ask the people around us if it was ok to set up where we did.  They were there first and even though we didn’t impact their set-up at all, I wanted to acknowledge that they had the right to tell us to move.

It’s a pretty cool sight to both see and to photograph.  It’s a well-known event and it won't result in a world-wide exclusive photo but it’s ok!  Seeing it in person is well worth it.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Nutcracker: Multi-pitch Yosemite Climbing!

President's Day started off with another delicious breakfast.  After packing up, we said good-bye to Ron and Liz and headed out.  Unless it's Summer and we're camping, I would definitely love to stay at the Blue Butterfly again.  It was a great experience.

We went through the Rock Arch gate and this time, took a couple of minutes to stage a photo of SMS driving the Prius through the Arch.  Maybe it's a little corny, but I thought the rock arch was really cool.
Go on with your bad self, lil' Prius along with your incredible MPGs!
SMS and I headed straight to the Manure Pile Buttress to climb the Nutcracker, a 5 star, 5 pitch crack heavy route.  We started at the 5.9 alternative start, which was the most difficult pitch of the day.  I had a little trouble there but managed to work my way through the climbing problem and we were off!

Relaxing on the Ledge, Half Dome in the background
And then we slowed down.  The whole time we were there, only two pairs were climbing- us and the people we were directly behind.  Climbing can be a little tricky because you never know who's going to show up and when.  As a result, we wanted to start climbing right away because we didn't know if anyone else would show up.  In retrospect, maybe we should have chilled on the ground for about 45 minutes so we could have just kept climbing without long breaks but really, there was no way to know.
On the ledge
But it wasn't that big a deal.  The weather was gorgeous and our longest wait was on a really comfortable wide ledge.

Taking a selfie from the hanging belay, right before starting Pitch 3

For the third pitch, SMS had to set up a hanging belay, which is a little scary if I overthought it so I tried to ignore the fact that two pieces of equipment and a really thick webbing was all that was keeping me from falling to the ground.  Instead, I just focused on happy thoughts and all the amazing beauty around me.  Cheesy but better than "Ohmygodimgoingtodie!!!!"

SMS climbing Pitch 3
The climbing conditions were spectacular.  There was a small trickle of water down one of the cracks on the third pitch, which is known to happen in the Winter.  It wasn't too hard to deal with since there were multiple alternate dry footholds.  I personally struggled at the mantle crux, mostly because I was pretty tired at that point and it took me a few minutes to gather up the strength to pull and push over the top (that and a really good belay- thanks SMS!).

Panorama from the Top: Half Dome on the Left and the Sentinel behind, slightly to the left
We hung out for a minute or two at the top, admiring the view.  We didn't hang around too long though because we had slightly underestimated our water needs.  As a result, we really wanted to get back to the car and the full water bottles inside.
We did it!
After the climb, we headed up the road to see the Tunnel View.  It was amazing!  I had actually told SMS we could skip it and just go get food, but he had said it was close.  I'm so glad he encouraged us to go because it was so much cooler in person.  I've seen some incredible photos of this view but it only imparts a fraction of the grandeur.  One of my favorite parts is seeing Bridalveil Falls in the right mid-ground because really, it's so majestic it almost seems like a film set but then the continually moving water over the Falls made it look more "real."

This made me flash back to a college religion class, Sacred Geographies
There were so many people taking pictures and we found someone kind enough to take our picture.

Re-hydrated but a little hungry!
We went to Yosemite Lodge and split a cheeseburger and fries.  We were planning on going to Commonwealth later so we didn't want to eat too big a meal.  You know, a modicum of restraint a few hours before a cheesy delicious nacho feast!

When we were done with our tide-us-over snack, it was almost time for the Firefall.  We pulled into the El Capitan picnic area lot where we had parked for our Nutcracker climb earlier that day.  There were so many photographers in that area!  While the effect wasn't quite as intense as Saturday's, it was still pretty awesome and we were glad we stayed.  It was a great ending for our Yosemite trip!
Getting closer!
Firefall!  It's a little hard to see in this photo but really, the water looks like magna!
We drove home.  On the way home, we stopped at Commonwealth and ordered the nachos and hush puppies-breaded corn dogs.  Both were delicious.  Not the healthiest but we were happy to have eaten from the snack menu.  The rest of the ride home wasn't bad.  We got home a little on the late side, but we didn't care.  The weekend was so amazing!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jam Crack, Lemon, Pine Line: Day Climbing in Yosemite

I woke up really early on Saturday :/ and read for a bit outside on the deck.  It was beautiful but I got pretty cold.  I went back inside to warm up and then SMS and I headed downstairs for breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of a gluten-free quiche, gluten-filled seedy toast, fruit and yogurt, orange juice, coffee and tea.  It was delicious and filling.  We spoke with two fellow travellers who are roomates from Pasadena.  They were fun to talk to.  Ron and SMS spoke for a bit and I think they were starting to become BFFs!  
Pine Line, El Capitan
We decided to head back to the climbing routes near the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.  The climbing area is known as Sunnyside Bench.  Our target: Jam Crack, a 2 pitch 5.7/5.9 crack climb.  We beat two other climbers to the base by about 5 minutes (yay!), so we started out unimpeded.  It was a really nice climb and I was surprised how well I did in the cracks.  In the past, I haven’t liked them too much because I hate the foot pinching that can happen when jamming feet into the cracks.  To imagine the pain, picture wearing really uncomfortable high heels for a few hours and then on top of that discomfort, occasionally trying to bend your foot in half length-wise.  Blech, no thank you!  But, even though there were a few of those moments, it was worth it to make the climb.  The view from the top was so beautiful.  It was a mental snapshot view since neither one of us had a camera but that’s totally ok.

Also, shout-out to the best rock climbing partner, SMS!  Obviously, I have a huge bias, but I think he’s amazing.  He’s also very kind and patient, which is a big deal.  I’m a far weaker climber than he is but he makes the day really fun and helps me out a lot.  An ideal rock climbing partner team would be closer in ability so that the two can swap leads, which is a faster way of going and gives the leader a little mental break between pitches.  Also, if I were better, I’d have more skills that would be a more secure back-up if we ever ran into a problem.  But, for some reason, SMS still likes climbing with me even though it’s more work for him.   Thank you SMS!

After Jam Crack, we climbed a flake layback which was tough.  SMS just told me its name is Lemon, which I get.  I basically “fell up the route” but overall, I’m glad that I tried it even though I lost my temper at one point since I was scared that I would fall and break my ankle(s).  Not the highlight of the day but SMS didn’t hold too much of a grudge (see!  Amazing!).  

After Sunnyside Bench, we headed over to Camp 4 and the nearby Swan Slabs.  It was a little busier here with a few small groups and after pacing back and forth along the rock for a bit, we decided not to wait and to head over to El Capitan instead.
Pine Line, El Capitan
We hiked in and up to a ledge where we climbed Pine Line, a pretty fun crack that is an alternate start for The Nose.  We saw a few climbers high up on the nose, but still with a ways to go given the time of day.  No matter, we did our own thing.  There were two nice guys practicing their aid climbing but otherwise, we had little company.

Looking up The Nose.  Our rope for Pine Line is to the right.
We finished up and started packing up.  We headed over to the Cathedral Peak area to check out the view of Horsetail Falls.  I decided I liked being closer better but it didn’t really matter since clouds blocked the Firefall effect that night.

No Firefall tonight!
I wanted to see if we could get into the Ahwannee for a light dinner at the lounge that, unfortunately, is currently closed for renovation.  We tried to leave but traffic was terrible.  We parked in the Village Store parking lot and shared some chips and dip to wait out the traffic.

We headed back to the B&B and ate leftover pizza (glamorous!).  Then we planned out our next day.  Based on how (surprisingly to both of us) well I climbed that day, SMS felt good about going up the Nutcracker the next day.   Exciting!  A multi-pitch route in Yosemite!  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Yosemite Weekend Getaway!

Half Dome
SMS and I had an amazing weekend!  Our initial motivation was a little sluggish since it was a last minute trip planned during the workweek but I’m so glad we pushed through and made it happen.  We went to Yosemite for the holiday weekend.  The weather was perfect.  We had the best time exploring, rock climbing and enjoying our unique experience at our bed and breakfast.

We decided to take the mellow approach and leave on Saturday morning rather than feel rushed on Friday night.  This decision was also helped by the fact that we couldn’t check into our bed and breakfast after 9 p.m. and there was really no way we would make it to Yosemite by that time on Friday.  I was also able to get in a 6 mile run on Saturday morning, which was great since I didn’t want to go three days without running.
Commonwealth Beer Sampler
At 9:45 we left and headed East.  We stopped for lunch in Modesto at Commonwealth, a gastropub with a large tap list and delicious food.  I went with a Chicken and Waffle from their brunch menu and SMS got a chicken club.  Although they had great-sounding salads, SMS and I clearly decided to stick with their Un-diet menu.  We were a little disappointed that their snacks menu wasn’t served until 3 since the reason we stopped there was for the potato chip nachos but what we had was tasty.  We decided we would try to stop on our way back from our Yosemite trip.

We took the 140 into the Park, arriving around 2:30.  Driving through the Valley was pretty spectacular.  It was crowded but manageable.   All of the off-season lodging options in the Valley were full by the time I had booked our trip so I was expecting that we would be sharing our experience with others.  
Lower Yosemite Falls with friends

First, we went to the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  The Upper Falls were my favorite because there is so much water and parts of it slam into little outcroppings making the most gorgeous, turbulent spray.  It’s amazing.  We also walked over to the climbing routes a little to the right of the path to the Lower Falls.  There’s a route named Jam Crack that SMS really wanted to do so we put it on our TTD (Things to Do!) list for the next day or two.  

We also climbed a very small boulder and I gamba'd my best to climb it and conquer my fear.  I did it!  I was very happy and had SMS take a photo of the (small) triumph!
Horsetail Falls, a little early in the Firefall Effect (not very orange-y yet)
Then we headed towards El Capitan and parked in one of the turnoff parking lots to watch the sunset on Horsetail Falls.  I’ve written a separate post about the Firefall effect.  We went each night to check it out and Saturday was the most spectacular.  The sky was perfectly clear so the setting sun light was undiminished.  The spray against the cliffs and the spray upwards created an intense light scattering effect that was incredible to see.  We took pictures and just took in the scene.  I’m really glad that we sought the experience out.  
Morning View from our room's deck

Next it was off to the B&B.  I highly, highly recommend the Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn.  Ron and Liz are the most gracious hosts and full of information about the Valley.  Ron has an incredible climbing background and was really helpful in giving us route advice in addition to several back stories about the history of Yosemite rock climbing.  We stayed in the Lotus Room, which was very spacious and had a balcony overlooking the Merced River, which had a great water flow level.  We could even hear it (slightly) through our closed windows.  The room had its own bathroom and the bed was very comfortable.  The room was decorated in an Art Deco style, which was pretty cool.  I’m not completely familiar with the style and it was great to see a whole room decorated that way to get a cohesive overview of Art Deco d├ęcor and furnishings.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Local Weekend

After a few out-of-town weekends, SMS and I relaxed around Mountain View this past weekend.

On Friday, we went to Morocco's Restaurant, featuring Moroccan food with belly dancing at 730.  The belly dancer didn't seem to have the best rhythm in the world with her little cymbals but it was still festive.  The food was pretty good and SMS and I enjoyed sharing several dishes.  Our favorite was the Briwatt sampler.  Briwatts are sort of like samosas with phyllo instead of dough.  They were delicious- beef, crab and veg.  The eggplant salad was good although almost chutney-like, which actually went really well with our lamb tangine to give it a little more flavor.  I don't think we'll be rushing back to eat there again (especially since we've found a new favorite- keep reading!), but I would recommend the place.
These birds were huge!  Picture from the long run and since the weekend was light on photos, this is what you get.
 On Saturday, J and I met up for our 20 mile long run.  I'm glad I ate carbs the night before!  The run went pretty well and we kept up a pretty good pace.  I slowed down a lot the last 2 miles because my legs felt so heavy but I'm confident that on race day, I can just push through and suck it up for whatever remaining miles are left when that feeling hits.  I mean, unless of course that feeling hits at the 3 mile mark.  Then I think I'd be pretty screwed.

I got back home, showered and took a mini-nap.  Then SMS and I headed to Palo Alto where we bought an office chair for him and then grabbed a late lunch at Sushirrito.  SMS ordered my favorite, the Geisha's Kiss.  I ordered a salad because I had eaten a big early lunch after my run and wasn't too hungry.  But then we treated ourselves to ice cream sandwiches at Cream.  I had a half sandwich, which is an off-menu item where I probably saved about 5 calories from a 600 calorie dessert by only having one cookie cut in half instead of two.  Ha, ha.  It's ok, I wasn't really doing it for the health benefits.  A half sandwich just sounded like the amount I felt like at that time (clearly, I must not have been right in the head.  When would anyone voluntarily choose half an ice cream sandwich?).

After Palo Alto, we went to Trader Joe's to stock up for my planned vegan Super Bowl feast.  A lot of our friends are veg and since we had invited them over for the Super Bowl, I wanted to make food everyone could enjoy.  I used recipes from OhSheGlows and ChefChloe to make sliders, enchiladas and cupcakes. It all ended up turning out really well and everyone really enjoyed the food the next day.

Our party was more successful than these game day Skywriting Doritos, I think.
Yes, we had a Super Bowl party!  It was a lot of fun with J and her family and a friend, some neighbors and a SMS co-worker.  People mingled well and seemed to have a great time.  I missed the second half because I was socializing too much but basically, a football game was on while people focused on talking, eating and drinking beer.  Perfect!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Russian Gulch and Pt. Cabrillo and Pt. Arena Lighthouses

On Sunday, SMS and I continued our Mendocino County adventure.  After we packed up, we walked around Mendocino Highlands for a bit.  It was so windy and I think SMS was a little over it, but I wanted to check out the Northern part.  Yes, it did look the same as the rest but it was all so beautiful that I couldn't help but want to explore.

Russian Gulch Waterfall
On the way to the hike, I wanted to stop at Pt. Cabrillo lighthouse.  It was cute and we toured the museum, a preserved assistant light keeper's house.  The lighthouse was only open on the ground floor.  The views were spectacular and the lighthouse and surrounding buildings (including cabins you can stay in) were very cute with their red roofs.
My best picture of the day- with a real camera, not an iPhone!
Our main focus for the morning was the Russian Gulch State Park.  I had read about a 36 foot waterfall so we decided to check it out.  There's a pretty easy hike along a fairly level trail.  The loop is about 6.4 miles but we took the shorter part of the loop in-and-out for 5 miles total.  While the forest is pretty and it was nice to hear the creek along the way, the highlight was the waterfall.  It was very beautiful.  It was pretty amazing that such a seemingly small creek could cause that big of a cascade.  We took a few artsy photos since SMS had his camera gear.  That was actually pretty fun because we were iPhone-less for the weekend so I had to count in my head to measure his exposure times.  He hasn't developed his film yet so I'm not sure how well I did, but I hope it turned out alright!
The blowhole
At Russian Gulch, there's also a blowhole.  It's basically a big sinkhole with a fence around it to protect people from falling in.  It wasn't as dramatic as Hawaiian blowholes I've seen, but it's probably pretty cool during high tides and storms.
A banana slug!  SMS spotted it and I was very excited to see one!

A tree overgrowing the stump of another, older tree.  It reminded
me of a Cambodian temple!
After the hike, we stopped at Frankie's Pizza.  Despite glowing reviews I read before the weekend, I thought it was fine.  Nothing special but since it's pizza, it was still a pretty nice lunch!  Frankie's also has a sugarcane mushroom ice cream that's worth trying for the novelty.  It tastes a lot like butter pecan.

Pt Arena Lighthouse and our Prius!
Then we started along Route 1 on a meandering trip back home.  We stopped at Pt Arena lighthouse, just making it before 3:30.  This meant that we could go to the top of the lighthouse although our squeaking in under the wire earned us an eyeroll from the docent.  Who cares!  We ran up the 151 stairs and got a nice 5 minutes up in the tower where we heard about local history from a local Native American and just kind of looked out on our own.
CAPT SMS, up in the lighthouse keeping watch
After that, we just headed home on a beautiful scenic road.  North of Jenner, the hills were a vibrant green and looked beautiful in the golden hours.  No pictures except mental ones but it was really beautiful.  We stopped in the Marina district in San Francisco for dinner.  We were a little wishy washy about where we wanted to eat but then we saw Saiwalk.  It's a Vietnamese street food restaurant and after so much time in the (not so) chilly wind, pho sounded awesome.  It was pretty tasty, filling and reasonably priced so we were happy.  Then it was homeward bound.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Road Trip to Mendocino!

Last weekend was a call-free weekend and I was determined to go somewhere with spotty cell service.   Since my call weekends are based on being able to answer the phone, a few places are off-limits most of the time.  I watched the weather forecasts during the week and due to the high chance of Sunday evening snow, Yosemite and Tahoe were ruled out and Mendocino ended up being the winner!

I have done a few Route 101/1 road trips but I've only lightly traveled north of San Francisco.  SMS and I have gone to Tomales Bay twice and even made it up to Jenner once, but I was really interested in going further towards the true North Coast.  
Mendocino Beach, picture taken at that unfortunate moment
when a nice smile suddenly spasms.
We left around 7:30 on Friday evening.  I had a patient who came in after hours for a "small" bleeding issue that was easily resolved.   Since I need to maintain a modicum of professionalism, I can't get too into a "Crazy Stories From the Work Place" submission- that was a Reader's Guide section, right?

Anyway, SMS and I got our respective tasks done and hit the road.  The trip took just over four hours which was a little long for the end of the work week but I wanted to have Saturday free from any major driving.  We pulled up to the Sweetwater Inn, retrieved our key from the porch, settled in and passed out.

The next morning, we enjoyed muffins delivered to our door in addition to some passable coffee made in the little four-cup in our room.  Then it was off to walk through the Mendocino Headlands.  It was an absolutely gorgeous place!   The ocean was so powerful and waves would pound against the rocks with huge breaks and spray.  The shoreline was getting pummeled and it was just incredibly impressive how much power lies within the ocean.
Totem against Sleeper Waves?

Little Alter
We went down to a little beach, which was sheltered but I couldn't completely relax since I had read so much about sleeper waves.  No, these are not waves that love naps!  They are powerful, sneaky waves that want to drag unsuspecting morons with their backs to the sea into the ocean deep.   Fortunately, this did not happen (yay!).  SMS and I enjoyed exploring the beach with the little waterfalls and lots of driftwood.
SMS showing off his fancy Japanese umbrella- the print only shows up when wet.

After our State Park hike, we decided to walk through town and grab an early lunch since the muffins were not high-satiety items.  We walked into the Mendocino Market, where SMS said we should listen to our noses ("Bacon!") and we ordered delicious sandwiches.  I had a tuna melt on sourdough (amazing!) and SMS had a BLT.  I wasn't as big a fan of the BLT and I have decided in my cooking mind that there should be a Winter BLT for when tomatoes aren't Summertime awesome.  Maybe a tomato jam with amazingly paired cheese plus the BT?  I may work on this idea...don't steal it!
Guess which trail we took?

So pretty!
After lunch, we headed to Ft. Bragg.   We checked out Glass Beach, which was pretty cool.  There was a lot of seaglass, some in pieces you could collect (if it wasn't illegal!) and others so small that it was part of the pebbly sand.  I really wanted a piece or two but I didn't care enough to flout the town's rules so I partook in the "Leave No Trace" ethos (boo).
After Glass Beach, we walked around the central shopping block that seems to cater to tourists- lots of galleries, knick-knack shops and boutiques.  Then it was off to the North Coast brewery where we each had a few samplers.  SMS tried the different styles of the Red Seal Ale and I tried the Belgian-inspired beers and two stouts.  My favorite was Old Rasputin but after the sampler and a bottle later, I think I'm stouted out for awhile.  Beer that dark takes a certain amount of fortitude that I can only muster up every so often!

We headed back to Mendocino and went to the hotel spa.  Unfortunately, Japan has ruined American spas for us since people here are gross and don't bathe very well, which could be overlooked except for the gross foamy bubbles that result.  Yuck.  The hot water felt great but still...yuck.

After our short spa experience, we headed out to take sunset pictures.  We went to Patterson's Pub for dinner.  There were a few nicer restaurants that sounded great but I wasn't hungry enough to justify a high $20s- low $30s entree so off to the pub we went.  I had fish 'n' chips and SMS had a Reuban.  It did the job and the place had a nice atmosphere.   It would have been fun to hang out, but we had big plans for Sunday so we headed back to the Inn.