California North Coast Road Trip

For the second half of the trip (2 days/2 nights), we headed out to the North Coast via the Russian River Valley. We wanted a little nature to go with our wine, so I planned the trip as a split between Sonoma County and the North Coast, centered on Point Arena.

I hope you make it out!

But first we drink! We started the day at one last winery. We went to Williams Selym, one of the OG Pinot Noir makes in Sonoma. At least this is what two of my friends say and I am too lazy to fact check this. We had a really nice tasting, but it felt a little Ex Machina with Alicia Vanderker. As in, there was a distinct possibility there were malevolent robots who were waiting to do us harm behind the sleek gleaming interior decor.

Getaway cars at Williams Selym

Fortunately, we made it out and even left with wine, which should increase our quality of life. Phew. We drove along the 101 to the 128, stopping for lunch at Disco Ranch in Boonville. It was a super cool wine and snack-y/tapas cafe. Between the food we bought off-the-shelves and a few tapas made in-house, we had an awesome picnic. We ate on their little patio. It was really a neat place and if you wanted to have the perfect Spanish or Italian snacks to go along with your wine, this is the place to shop!

We went for a short-ish hike through the redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park, where we were able to charge our car for a little bit. Then we headed to the coast. Our hotel was in Point Arena. The Wildflower Boutique hotel is a renovated inn that is absolutely delightful. I highly recommend it. The rooms were stylish, affordable, and clean. Each morning, there was a delivered breakfast from four options that we would choose from the night before. The people who worked there were really nice. Overall, it was a really positive experience.

That evening, we went to The Bird Cafe. It is a cash-only restaurant that at the time, was only open Friday-Saturday. Now, it’s closed while they think about future projects but I highly recommend checking it out on a visit. The food was delicious. The walls are covered in bird art (swoon) by Nicole Ponsler. They serve Pelican Bread, which is made locally by a baker who is very into the process (grinds his own grains). The wines were from Penny Royal Farms Winery. Apparently, it’s hard to get suppliers to deliver out to Point Arena so they’re pretty happy to have their arrangement with a winery they think is delicious. We ended up eating pretty much everything on the menu- to be fair, there’s two choices for apps, entrees, and desserts. I really liked it and would love to go back some day!

The next day, it was up to coast to Mendocino and Ft. Bragg. First, we went to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful! There were gorgeous well-maintained gardens along the entrance lawn/meadow that transitioned to longer trails along the bluffs. I loved it! The dahlias were particularly gorgeous at the time we went.

For lunch, we went to the Lost Coast Brewing Company, which had good food and beer. Then we were off on the Skunk Train for a ride through the redwoods. It is an old logging railroad that is now perfect for tourists who want to see redwoods without hiking! After the train ride, we headed back to Pt Arena. We had dinner reservations for about halfway down the ride, but when we passed the restaurant it was still too early for dinner. Plus, we were all tired from the driving and thought it would be a lot less fun to drive on the foggy, winding roads through the dark. So, we bought picnic provisions from the little store in Pt Arena and at at the large table in the lobby of the hotel. It worked out perfectly.

But yes, one thought for a North Coast trip. The driving distance is a little deceptive relative to how long it will take due to the single lane, many curves, and slightly decreased visibility depending on the fog. While it’s nice to stay in a hotel for multiple nights to avoid packing/repacking, another option would be to drive up the coast and hotel hop more frequently in order to prevent backtracking along the driving routes. Anyway, things to consider in case anyone is reading this blog for travel tips!

Street band in Pt Reyes Station

The next day, we headed back to Menlo Park. Our first stop was an early lunch at Spud Point Crab Co in Bodega Bay. It had been recommended by Mom’s cousin and it was incredible! We ate clam chowder and crab sandwiches, which were epic. Although I had planned for a picnic in Pt Reyes Station, we had spoiled our appetites but we still went for a walk around town.

We drove to Menlo Park and had dinner at The Little Store in Atherton. SMS and I had an awesome lunch there a few weeks prior and we had high hopes for dinner. But it was kind of a bizarre experience. The owner was pretty weird with strange suggestions and strong wine upsell attempts. Fortunately, we all thought it was kind of funny rather than too off-putting, but I’m not as eager to go back as I once was. The food was still excellent and if I’m in the area and have a craving for French Onion Soup, that’s where I’m going!

Mom, Dad, and I left from SFO the next day. We grabbed breakfast in the Centurian Lounge (yay!) before heading off to our respective destinations. It was an awesome trip! Next up, trip recap with SMS’ parents!

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!

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!

Reflecting on 2020

Since 2011, I’ve used this list to help reflect back on the year.  I really enjoy looking back while preparing to move forward. So…

1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?

Got vaccinated against COVID!

2.  Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I did ok!  I feel pretty happy with my betterment efforts although there is still work to be done. To pick a small area, I am happy with how much I read this past year (67 books!) but I will make a much more concerted effort at reading more non-fiction!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister! (Repeat from last year.  Go B!)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No.  

5. What countries did you visit?

Ouch.  Oh 2020, what could have been.

6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?

International travel!

7. What dates from 2020 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 23: I was supposed to go to Norfolk for a one week surgical visit and instead, I was on the USNS Mercy response to the Port of Los Angeles!

April 2: On the Mercy for my 40th birthday.

August 21: Our housing offer went bottoms up

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

SMS and I navigated a tough Fall.  I 100% realize that we are still very fortunate in our lives but August and September were rough.  

9. What was your biggest failure?

Well, it’s not really a failure but I do feel a little stuck in my job if I want to advance from a research or military rank perspective.  But more opportunities should open in 2021 assuming that things will, in fact, start to get back to “normal.”

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

My right shoulder for a bit.  And I think I’ve avoided being sick with COVID.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

SMS Christmas present- a pair of special sneakers.  I might realize the high of being a sneakerhead!

12. Where did most of your money go?

Rent/Two Households for 2/3 year.  Real estate debacle. Savings account.

13. What did you get really excited about?

SMS and I have had a great time being together in SD.

14. What song will always remind you of 2020?

“Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion.  And let’s be real, W.A.P. made quite a splash :]

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Same.  Pretty happy.

– thinner or fatter? A little thinner

– richer or poorer? Poorer (real estate debacle)

16. What’s one thing you wish you had done more of?

Non-fiction reading!

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Phone-scrolling.  Gossip site reading during the second half of the year- I was so good the first third! (Argh, this is a repeat.  Will do better in 2021!)

18. How did you spend Christmas?

With family.

19. What was your favorite TV program?

Call My Agent (Pour Deux Percent) Seasons 1-3; Pandemic; The Queen’s Gambit; Insecure Season 4; Unorthodox

20. What were your favorite books of the year?

Olive, Again by Strout; The Dearly Beloved by Wall; City of Girls by Gilbert; Celine by Heller; Writers & Lovers by King; Cork Dork by Bosker; Milkman by Burns; Deacon King Kong by McBride; Girl, Woman, Other by Evarist; Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Wilkerson

21. What was your favorite music from this year?

“Dance Monkey” by the Tones and I.  Hahahahaha

BTS, “Rain on Me,” Dua Lipa, Mabel, Emili Sandé

And one of my last workouts featured “Wait Til You See My Smile” by Alicia Keys is really beautiful, even if it’s from 2009.

22. What were your favorite films of the year?

I watch so few movies that, shamefully, my favorite of the year was Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.  I thought The Social Dilemma was a huge missed opportunity and about 40% of the “documentary” was a super-cheesy Hallmark-like film.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

40.  On the USNS Mercy.  I mostly tried to avoid anyone knowing it was my birthday.  

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

No COVID.  Is that too glib?  Yes, but it’s also true.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?

I am all in on the joggers trend and recently bought a huge sweater.   When I wear it, SMS calls me Dobby the House Elf (not in a good way but I don’t care!)

26. What kept you sane?

SMS and my family!

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020

The power of social justice and hoping/believing/acting that the moral arc of the universe truly does bend towards justice.

qMonth Post

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s been a warm Fall and very botanically-oriented. SMS has developed a keen interest in native Southern California gardens. The beauty of them is…subtle. While many might just see piles of sticks, true visionaries see beauty, sustainability, (tiny) flowers, and hummingbird attractors. We went to a few native gardens in the local area, to include one in Point Loma and the one in Morley Field. The later was a demonstration garden that gets watered frequently so has a much shorter dormant (read: stick-like) period. We talked to the gardener there for a bit. He was slightly eccentric and knew a lot about the plants.

After our garden tour, we went to Mission Hills to walk through the neighborhood. We had coffee and quiche at Kettle and Stone, a cute coffeeshop with an awesome succulent/moss wall frame.

I also tried to rehabilitate my raphis palm that did not take well to not being watered for two weeks. Oops. It will come back, I know it!

Little native garden seedlings at my feet- San Diego Sunflower and mint!

SMS and I went to North County to pick up some Native plants and pick up some pizza from Blue Ribbon Pizzeria. It was a fun field trip and both of us decided we could definitely handle living in North County!

We also went to a few outdoor wine tastings. I really liked the vibe at Grant James. It’s definitely unpretentious and their wines are really good! Who wouldn’t love a wine tasting with beer pong vibes?

Wine tasting at Wiens Family winery

We also had a family outdoor lunch followed by a tasting at Wiens winery. With a name like that, I think your professional destiny is pre-ordained.

Halloween decorations, 2020 style!

I did micro-Halloween decorating. I have a cute figurine from Linda, but SMS is against too many seasonal decorating items. And since we are a little squished in the apartment, I agree for now!

C-bird’s new favorite toy.
Colorful native garden plants. These I can get behind!
Flaming dessert to celebrate my MIL’s birthday!
SMS, hitting the trail!