Sonoma Road Trip with My Parents!

Sonoma road trip with wine!

When SMS and I got married, we had pretty basic vows. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the basic vows are pret-ty serious. Love for a lifetime? Sign me up! But if we had been the type to write our own custom vows, would we have included the vow to take epic road trips with our parents? Hell yeah!

So, the epic road trip with my parents is first up! For those of you wanting SMS’ parents, wait a few weeks. It’s coming!

My parents were in Wyoming for a mini-siblings reunion (Dad’s side). Back in June, I said that since they were 2/3 of the way across the country, why not complete the journey and come to Northern California for a vacation continuation? Who can argue with that logic? No one. So, my parents arrived on Monday for a six day NorCal adventure.

For the first two nights, my parents stayed at the Hotel Lucent in Menlo Park. SMS has a 1B1B apartment and we’re just not air mattress people. Haha, we totally could be but we don’t even own one now. So, my parents stayed at HL, which they recommend for nice rooms at a reasonable (for SV) price.

On Tuesday, we had breakfast at our place. Canned hash and poached eggs for the win! Then we headed out to Filoli, which is really beautiful. Gorgeous gardens that have a timeless feel. The original owner planted them knowing full well the peak would be in 100 years, well beyond his time here on Earth. The combination of impermanence and legacy is a dialectic beyond the scope of this blog but still interesting to reflect on.

That night, we had dinner at our place since the next few days would be pretty restaurant heavy. Wednesday morning, we headed up to Sonoma for our first day of wine-tasting and culinary delights! BTW, planning tip. While I have turned into much more of a planner over the years, it is crucial to pre-plan at the current time. Most places have limited seating and time-slots and you have to plan your trip as soon as you think of it. The further out the better. It’s a little much but since Hot Vax Summer was thwarted by the Delta variant, I think this is going to be the reality at least through 2021.

Our first stop was Medlock Ames. This is the only wine club SMS and I currently belong too. I think the wines are delicious, and I really like their thoughtful approach to farming and wine-making. I am a little less thrilled that they’re turning more to single-varietal ($$$$) and abandoning their blends. Mostly because I really love their estate blends they make each year. Alas, RIP. 2018 is the last year they’re making an estate red. I would say I should stock up but I seem to drink the wine more than collect it so I guess I should embrace the change.

ANY-way, we had a reservation for the “Olive Grove Experience.” This included a white/rose bottle per 2 people and a picnic basic full of delicious provisions such as Mt. Tam cheese, Bouchon bread, olives, MA jam, MA olive oil, and salami. We had a rosé and chardonnay, both of which were delicious. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful space. It was the perfect start to our vacation and no matter what the occasion, I alway recommend Medlock Ames.

Then we went into town and had a Northern Italian varietal tasting at Idlewild. I love those Northern Italian wines. Strong reds with a hint of dirt. Yum!

Afterwards, we headed to Chalkboard. SMS and I had been several years ago, but I had forgotten. It’s pretty good but the portions are on the small side. Especially when the waitress claimed that they encouraged “family-style” eating. I guess by family-style, they mean that everyone can stick their fork into everyone’s decidedly individually-sized portion. The food is delicious, but the comic relief was when we all ordered the soup and instead of a cup of soup, received teeny-tiny shots of soup. Several pictures were taken to document the size relative to common objects. I realize this paragraph sort of makes me sound like a pig, but this restaurant was a little on the ridiculous side. But still, delicious food!

We headed back to our hotel which, by the way, was a complete delight! The Camellia Inn was reasonably priced and in the heart of downtown Healdsburg. The rooms were great and the breakfasts were quite nice. We also went swimming both afternoons, which was refreshing after some pretty warm temperatures!

Only two of us got the memo that on Thursdays, we wear pink!

The next day, we drove to Sonoma proper to have lunch with my Mom’s cousins at The Girl and the Fig. It was such a lovely afternoon. The cousins are younger than my parents, but older than SMS and I. We had such a nice lunch and it was fun to catch up. We all had to head out after a couple of hours. The cousins went back to work and we went to Silver Oak.

SMS prefers the Sonoma Silver Oak vs Napa. The tasting room was beautiful. We were outside, which was warm but tolerable since we were in the shade. The view was beautiful, the building gorgeous, and the wines delicious. We all really liked the experience.

After heading back into town, we went for a quick swim and then got ready for dinner. Dinner was at Bravas restaurant, where we had Spanish tapas and split a paella that was phenomenal. We sat in the back courtyard and it was such a beautiful, bug-free space.

The Sonoma part of our trip was awesome. A fair bit of pre-planning and reservation-making, but it made for a smooth trip with delicious wine experiences. Next up, our Northern coastal adventures.

April 2021: Best of the Rest

We are the stars!

Here’s the rest of my photo dump/highlights from April. Still a little slow due to COVID restrictions (lifting, though!) so it’s not that great of a monthly post. Also, I’m writing this a few months late so, you know, details get lost.

Very displeased with horrible spray treatment. 0 stars!
Wisteria season. I love these flowers although apparently, there are some pros/cons to growing them.
Looking good after a San Diego sprinkle!
At the Boswell birthday party with the frunk of the eMustang used as a tailgate cooler. Very clever!
A cat with amazing fur pattern that my friend Rose was pet-sitting.
Whoa, native plants CAN look alive!
Dumpster on my way to the work parking lot. I wasn’t paying attention so when I looked up and saw this, I laughed out loud. Those faces!

April 2021: Birthday!

Hooray, another year! I had a very nice birthday, especially since I got to spend it with SMS rather than a hospital ship targeted by runaway train locomotives! I took Thursday and Friday off, which made for a long weekend gift to myself.

My favorite hiking partner!

To celebrate, I hiked the Dear Springs trail to Suicide Rock…twice! On Thursday, I hiked with my friend Carrie and on Friday, SMS and I went. It was beautiful and worth doing, even though I was a little sore the third day. Idylwild is absolutely beautiful and it made for a great weekend getaway.

On the trail. The yellow arrow is pointing to Carrie. She’s otherwise quite hard to see.

On Thursday, Carrie and I took a day trip out to Idylwild. We did the hike and grabbed lunch and a post-hike beer at the Idylwild Brewpub. The setting was awesome, but we didn’t linger too long because I had a small get-together to go to in San Diego. My friend/colleague Colleen was leaving for a new duty station, so the four lady ENTs got together to hang out and get some quality time in before she left.

On Friday, I celebrated by eating cake for breakfast. Mom and Dad had sent a cake from MilkBar, which is delicious. Nutritionally, I’m sure it’s so bad that it’s good but hey, birthday rules! I also was super hungry because of the tasty treat of a man who was on my birthday card from them. I say “them” but I’m pretty sure it was all Mom.

But before we left town, SMS and I stopped at Camp Pendleton where he got his first Pfizer vaccine! It was the best birthday present! I had been pretty nervous for him, especially in the interval between my vaccination and his. I wanted him to be equally protected but because of the difference in our jobs, we qualified for vaccinations at different time. It turns out he wasn’t quite as excited to get it since he was worried about mild side effects impacting our trip but everything worked out! He felt totally fine.

Snow in April!

We had a great time on the hike. We had decided to stay overnight. SMS booked a room at The Grand Idylwild Lodge, which lived up to its name. There were beautiful outside eating areas, so we decided to order takeaway from town and eat at the hotel. We ordered Italian from FERRO and bought a bottle of wine from Middle Ridge Winery. We bought the Cinsaut, which is usually found in blends. It smelled so good and we really enjoyed it.

We at outside and enjoyed the sunset views of Suicide Rock, which we had hiked to the top of earlier in the day.

The next morning, we hung around for a bit before heading home. We stopped at the famous Dudley’s bakery. Then, we went to Grant James for a wine tasting, which was delightful! The patio is shaded, there was a slight breeze, the wine was delicious, and there was a pizza oven in the back with great pizza options.

And that was my birthday weekend! I had the best time on our mini-trip planned by SMS. Happy birthday to meeeeeeeee!

Day Trip: San Diego to San Luis Capistrano

Even when the mission is closed.

The last day of Mom and Dad’s trip promised to be slightly dreary, weather-wise. Considering that there’s not much to do in San Diego on bad weather days even in the best of times, I wanted to think of a fun activity. I decided we should try to out-travel the clouds and head North on the Surfliner!

I have never taken the Surfliner before, but I knew it went through beautiful coastal towns before it turns inland towards LA. While it goes back out to the coast north of LA, those stops are too far for a simple day trip. My first choice was San Clemente, but it doesn’t stop there as frequently. The next station is San Juan Capistrano. I thought I had never been but in fact I had- when I was very small. Mom and Dad remembered a trip they took there when they lived in LA almost 40 years ago. They were excited to go back.

We bought our tickets online and met on the train. I took the ferry from Coronado, while Mom and Dad walked over from their hotel. The ferry schedule was a little tight to make the train, but it all worked out. I brought mimosa ingredients for the train so we had nice drinks on the way up. Turns out, we weren’t supposed to drink alcohol on the train, but the conductor didn’t say anything. We didn’t find out until the afternoon when the Southbound Debbie Downer conductor informed us of the rule. Eh, win some, lose some.

The train went pretty slowly until we were north of Del Mar. Apparently, the ground is not super stable so there are speed restrictions to prevent disaster. The coastal scenery as we headed North through Camp Pendleton was beautiful. After about 90 minutes we arrived in San Juan Capistrano.

We had about 2.5 hours until the return train. The mission was closed that day, so all I have for the blog are a bunch of lame pictures, including one with a little bit of finger! Classic photographer technique.

But, what do you do when life gives you lemons? Have margaritas! When we talked to the (fun) conductor on the way up, she recommended El Adobe de Capistrano. After a short walk around the town, we went there for lunch and ended up having lots of margaritas- pineapple cilantro, red pepper cucumber, blood orange- so many amazing flavors! I had the President’s choice for lunch, which was a platter of President and Mrs. Nixon’s favorite food items. It was tasty but really, the margaritas were the stars. So delicious!

View from the train going through San Clemente Station

Then we walked back to the train station, boarded, and headed back to San Diego. It was a wonderful day and I recommend it as a San Diego day trip idea to anyone, especially if the Mission is open!

March 2021- Family Trip in San Diego

In March, Mom and Dad visited us in San Diego. As a total bonus, Ed and Meg came out for part of the time. It was an awesome trip. And, I get to start writing something in my blog other than “We sat around our house” or “We went to gardens full of native sticks plants.” This is very exciting news! But as they say in writing classes, “show don’t tell” so here are some details!

We went to the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Just inside the entrance is a high-tech greenhouse that contains tropical plants and gorgeous wood installations that contain epiphytes. These wooden structures have cables attached and can either be on the ground or lifted to form plant chandeliers. There are also a lot of orchids, which warmed the heart of my crazy plant lady sister-in-law.

Second on Meg’s list of lovable plants are succulents. So, we turned to a life of crime and took teeny-tiny pieces (some were already detached!) so she could create a succulent garden in Chicago. It was about as successful as it sounds. The plants traveled well but didn’t take to their new home so well. Probably because plants, like people, become really weather weenies when they live in San Diego too long.

After the garden, we went to Viewpoint Brewery in Del Mar. It’s right by the race track and has a huge outdoor patio alongside the San Dieguito Lagoon. The beer and food are both delicious. The weather was perfect. We took the 101 between Encinitas and Del Mar, which was scenic but also showed how developed Encinitas has become even over the last 10 years. It’s pretty amazing.

Finally, we went to Cabrillo National Monument to look at the Pacific and Bay views. It is a really gorgeous place and it was fun to take Ed and Meg to a place they hadn’t been in San Diego.

The next day, we met up in Little Italy and went to the Saturday Farmer’s Market. The fruits and vegetables looked so good, the flowers were beautiful, and I found a little plant stand where I bought the plant that has leaves that appear to be bug-eaten (Monstera). We met up with our cousin at Ballast Point, where we had lunch and beer.

For dessert, we stopped at Holy Paleta, which is my new favorite place. I’m glad it’s located in a place that is hard to park- otherwise, I might go every day.

Then we sped-walked to the USS Midway since we had timed-tickets. We had a lot of fun visiting, mostly on the flight deck. Dad talked to just about every docent. We looked at the A-3 Skywarrior. We looked off the bow. And someone pretended to be a shooter (carrier-style, not weapon-style!).

After the Midway, we were thirsty (again) so we went to Vistal to grab a drink with Bay/sunset views. We randomly ran into our cousin and his wife again, so they joined us. We sat outside. It was delightful- really scenic and with fun company.

And that was the end of the weekend! Ed and Meg left while Mom & Dad had another day. We took an Amtrak up to San Juan Capistrano, which was such an amazing adventure that it deserves its own post.

February 2021

Mark burning valves in our driveway. Shockingly, our nosy neighbor’s garage door is shut. She’s probably peering from her bedroom window.

February was a little bit more of same old, same old. I was fully vaccinated, but our knowledge of what that meant was still incomplete. Could I still be a carrier monkey? Who knew? So, SMS and I stayed home, did our work, and had another quarentine-y month together.

Gorgeous sunsets in the city parking lot, where I park for work

We continued our native plant watch, visiting the Point Loma Native Plant garden. It’s looking a little more beautiful. More (little) flowers, somewhat fewer dead sticks. Progress!

Meanwhile, at the base of our apartment stairs, a gorgeous jasmine plant had a huge bloom. It smelled heavenly for a few weeks. We loved it. Photo of SMS totally not staged (it is).

February meme alert! I am not a cat! The panicky cat sideways glance is hilarious. I highly recommend checking out this video if you somehow missed the highlight of my February internet browsing.

Overlook Park north of One Paseo/Del Mar and just South of the Del Mar Fairgrounds

SMS and I went to North County to check out some neighborhoods, since we were still deciding between San Diego and Bay Area living arrangements jobs. We like beautiful places but a lot of them have really big houses- way more than we’d like to take care of.

So, to balance our thoughts, we went up to the Bay Area for the weekend. SMS had been there for the week for work. I joined him Friday and we had a great time. We treated ourselves to two nights at the Stanford Park Hotel, which is beautiful. We had delicious pinot noir with our friends in Lafayette and overall, had an amazing weekend. A great way to end the month!

January 2021

My second jab! I was too self-conscious to get a picture the first time but the second time, I wanted a picture.

Well, January was pretty eventful for the US and I definitely followed current events in a much more timely way than my blog posting schedule suggests. I really like Heather Cox Richardson‘s near-daily posts from a historian’s perspective. She’s still writing about current events and I really appreciate her ability to inform the present from events in the past.

The birds continue to do well. Mom continues to send them seeds and treat sticks, so they’re well-fed. Their daily routine is about the same: sleep, eat, drink, chirp, fly. They are especially vocal during Mark’s conference calls. They don’t understand why he isn’t thrilled about this. So they chirp louder.

In other bird-related topics, I used my parakeet ornaments on the tree. They were from the RN I worked with in Portsmouth and I love them. But they were put away by early January so I was on top of the tree takedown for 2021. Speaking of takedowns (or downfalls?)…

Then, on inauguration day came my favorite meme of 2021: the Bernie meme! I know, it was old within a week but there were some pretty clever riffs. My favorite?

Finally, we had some spectacular sunsets. The picture below on the left is from our balcony while the picture on the right is from the City Lot just east of Balboa Park.

Finally, SMS looked pretty good in his Christmas sneakers. I don’t manage to surprise him very often but this gift was a good one!

Christmas 2020

I had a two-part Christmas this year! After getting my Pfizer first dose on 15 Dec, I decided to travel and see my family this year. It was great to see Mom & Dad and my brothers and their families. Dad and I went for several walks, where he was the tour guide for several of the “lesser” monuments in DC. The picture above features a super-attractive one on the left and a more normal picture on the right in front of the Capitol Christmas tree.

Getting ready to see the Christmas star!

We even got to see the Christmas star, which I had also seen in California as Saturn and Jupiter made their way towards each other in the early evening sky. Imagine if the planets had actually collided! (joke)

Getting super-2020 with the nap dress! More comfy than flattering, I think.

We had Christmas dinner at Joe and Nicole’s house. We hung out in the backyard for a bit and then moved inside for an ordered dinner from Army Navy country club. It was delicious! It reheated super well and the Chateaubriand was amazing.

Needs more smize!
Harper’s Topiary Garden in Mission Hills

After a great family trip, I came back to San Diego and celebrated a belated Christmas with SMS. Because he wasn’t vaccinated, he didn’t feel comfortable making the trip to DC. We took a walk in San Diego December weather which was delightful! A lot of houses still had decorations and I was particularly infatuated with the Christmas Corgis!

2020 in Books: A Review

In 2020, I read 67 books. 21 were non-fiction, 46 were fiction. Oooo, already I am pretty happy with myself since I did not think I had read that much non-fiction.

As I look at my non-fiction books more, I’m even happier since I read fewer memoirs than I thought. My favorite book was The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by Barry. It shot to the top of my to-read list in April, when I thought I should get better perspective on a historical pandemic. It’s really well-written, engaging, and informative. Learning about the disease spread and its likely start in Ft. Riley, Kansas were new information for me. It was also interesting that the incubation time was 48-72 hours, which meant that once it arrived at a place, it hit like a lightening strike. 5 stars, for sure!

Other recommendations from the year include She Said by Kantor and Twoley, Cork Dork by Bosker, Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Wilkerson. And if you want a totally satisfying memoir in the beach readiest of ways, try Open Book by Jessica Simpson.

For 2021, I would like to read a more “educational” non-fiction book every month that broadens my knowledge base and academic frame of reference. I’m going to focus on the Navy Surgeon General’s list and Bill Gates’ book blog, but I’m open to other suggestions!

Fiction reading is my joy and if I scroll a little less on my phone, I anticipate even more reading in 2021. I gave myself a little grace to be mindless during parts of 2020 but it’s time to shape up!

On my year in review post, I listed all of my five star reads: Olive, Again by Strout; The Dearly Beloved by Wall; City of Girls by Gilbert; Celine by Heller; Writers & Lovers by King; Milkman by Burns; Deacon King Kong by McBride; Girl, Woman, Other by Evarist.

For Olive Again, I would definitely recommend reading Olive Kitteredge first. I really liked this character- a prickly, off-putting, stoic Maine woman. It reminded me of a more modern Ethan Frome where, due to upbringing and temperament, the character suffers because of how much is left unsaid. In Olive’s case, there is also the addition of what is said is often said in a less-than-constructive way. [By the way, I should have started off saying that I am the worst at describing books in a manner that would make people want to read them. But then this paragraph would have made such a warning redundant.]

The Dearly Beloved was a really thoughtful book on two married couples over several decades. The two husbands are co-ministers at a church, while the wives are as different as me and my college roommate (very). I loved the character of Lily Barrett, but all four members of the quartet are well-developed and complex.

City of Girls was a surprise to me since I find Elizabeth Gilbert slightly insufferable in her non-fiction (Eat, Pray, Love anyone?). This novel was well-told, frothy, and fun. I recommend!

Celine might be my favorite book of the year. This sporadically employed private investigator is a feisty, formidable woman in her 70s with COPD but she can still take on bikers in a bar! I so wish that there was a series based on this character but alas, this book is a one and only (so far!). I do like other Peter Heller books but this is tops for me!

Writers & Lovers opened my eyes to how good a writer Lily King is. The main character Casey is 31 and basically, just trying to figure it out. The writing is excellent and I really like it. There are few unlikeable characters, but none fully demonized which is pretty true to life, right?

Milkman is a similarly themed book of a young woman trying to figure it out but set in the time of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Since I had read Say Nothing by Keefe earlier in the year, I had a pretty rich historical context while reading this novel. It may be a little too dreamy and “literature-y” for some, but still, it was a five star for me!

Deacon King Kong features several characters in inner city 1960s Brooklyn. While there are some heavy themes and circumstances, the book is also hilarious. The title’s character ability to get himself into trouble but then somehow comically escape his fated comuppance/score-settling is laugh-out-loud funny.

Girl, Woman, Other starts as several loosely tied stories featuring a different protagonist before tightening up over the course of the book and becoming a pretty cohesive whole. I almost lost the thread a few times but ultimately, thought the book was fantastic.

So, the above fiction books are listed in order read through the year. If I had to rank them (tough for me!), I would say…

  1. Céline by Peter Heller
  2. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
  3. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  4. Deacon King Kong by James McBride

But ask me again tomorrow, I may have a different order!

2020 in Books: A Review

In 2020, I read 67 books. 21 were non-fiction, 46 were fiction. Oooo, already I am pretty happy with myself since I did not think I had read that much non-fiction.

As I look at my non-fiction books more, I’m even happier since I read fewer memoirs than I thought. My favorite book was The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by Barry. It shot to the top of my to-read list in April, when I thought I should get better perspective on a historical pandemic. It’s really well-written, engaging, and informative. Learning about the disease spread and its likely start in Ft. Riley, Kansas were new information for me. It was also interesting that the incubation time was 48-72 hours, which meant that once it arrived at a place, it hit like a lightening strike. 5 stars, for sure!

Other recommendations from the year include She Said by Kantor and Twoley, Cork Dork by Bosker, Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Wilkerson. And if you want a totally satisfying memoir in the beach readiest of ways, try Open Book by Jessica Simpson.

For 2021, I would like to read a more “educational” non-fiction book every month that broadens my knowledge base and academic frame of reference. I’m going to focus on the Navy Surgeon General’s list and Bill Gates’ book blog, but I’m open to other suggestions!

Fiction reading is my joy and if I scroll a little less on my phone, I anticipate even more reading in 2021. I gave myself a little grace to be mindless during parts of 2020 but it’s time to shape up!

On my year in review post, I listed all of my five star reads: Olive, Again by Strout; The Dearly Beloved by Wall; City of Girls by Gilbert; Celine by Heller; Writers & Lovers by King; Milkman by Burns; Deacon King Kong by McBride; Girl, Woman, Other by Evarist.

For Olive Again, I would definitely recommend reading Olive Kitteredge first. I really liked this character- a prickly, off-putting, stoic Maine woman. It reminded me of a more modern Ethan Frome where, due to upbringing and temperament, the character suffers because of how much is left unsaid. In Olive’s case, there is also the addition of what is said is often said in a less-than-constructive way. [By the way, I should have started off saying that I am the worst at describing books in a manner that would make people want to read them. But then this paragraph would have made such a warning redundant.]

The Dearly Beloved was a really thoughtful book on two married couples over several decades. The two husbands are co-ministers at a church, while the wives are as different as me and my college roommate (very). I loved the character of Lily Barrett, but all four members of the quartet are well-developed and complex.

City of Girls was a surprise to me since I find Elizabeth Gilbert slightly insufferable in her non-fiction (Eat, Pray, Love anyone?). This novel was well-told, frothy, and fun. I recommend!

Celine might be my favorite book of the year. This sporadically employed private investigator is a feisty, formidable woman in her 70s with COPD but she can still take on bikers in a bar! I so wish that there was a series based on this character but alas, this book is a one and only (so far!). I do like other Peter Heller books but this is tops for me!

Writers & Lovers opened my eyes to how good a writer Lily King is. The main character Casey is 31 and basically, just trying to figure it out. The writing is excellent and I really like it. There are few unlikeable characters, but none fully demonized which is pretty true to life, right?

Milkman is a similarly themed book of a young woman trying to figure it out but set in the time of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Since I had read Say Nothing by Keefe earlier in the year, I had a pretty rich historical context while reading this novel. It may be a little too dreamy and “literature-y” for some, but still, it was a five star for me!

Deacon King Kong features several characters in inner city 1960s Brooklyn. While there are some heavy themes and circumstances, the book is also hilarious. The title’s character ability to get himself into trouble but then somehow comically escape his fated comuppance/score-settling is laugh-out-loud funny.

Girl, Woman, Other starts as several loosely tied stories featuring a different protagonist before tightening up over the course of the book and becoming a pretty cohesive whole. I almost lost the thread a few times but ultimately, thought the book was fantastic.

So, the above fiction books are listed in order read through the year. If I had to rank them (tough for me!), I would say…

  1. Céline by Peter Heller
  2. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
  3. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  4. Deacon King Kong by James McBride

But ask me again tomorrow, I may have a different order!