Phyllis comes to visit. July 31-August 6, 2019

I suggested to Phyllis that she might like to come out for a visit while she is not working. I was so amazed and pleased when she agreed to come. I plan a busy week that mostly works out well. We both have a great visit.

Our first adventure is on Thursday, August 1. With Sarah as our driver we take a trip up to Sonoma Wine Country. We stop at the Olive Press in the Jacuzzi Winery. We sample and buy some olive oil and vinegar and then do a small tasting of their wines. It is not busy and the man behind the bar looks like he could use some patronage.

Phyllis and Mary in front of Jacuzzi Winery

After this we go to Imagery Winery where we have a very nice tasting. I am so glad that Phyllis enjoys the wines and the experience. She even joins the wine club! Then we hurry over to Sonoma Square for our lunch at The Girl and the Fig where we have a tasty lunch and even order dessert, a fig bread pudding with salted caramel and cocoa nibs.

Fig bread pudding with salted caramel and cocoa nibs

Our last tasting at Three Sticks Winery in Sonoma is our least fun of the day. We had to make a reservation for a pricy tasting and tour of their adobe. The person assigned to us has a very lackluster attitude towards us. We sip their very few offerings because they are mostly sold out of everything. The tour is interesting, the wines are good, but the presentation is really lacking.

Room in the adobe complex where we have our tasting

Then we are stuck in horrendous traffic on the way home.

On Friday we have a date for tea at Tyme for Tea in Niles, CA. Sarah comes with us and we order the sparkling Victorian tea which comes with a glass of champagne, scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam, various sandwiches, and desserts along with a personal choice pot of tea. It is all pretty delicious but there is so much food!! We have to bring some of the desserts home because we just cannot eat it all. And speaking of home, once more we are stuck in horrendous traffic on the way home.

Tea and scones
Phyllis and Sarah at Tyme for Tea
Tea sandwiches

On Saturday after a giant breakfast at Bill’s Cafe Phyllis and I brave the Farmer’s Market in downtown Pleasanton. We are looking for ingredients for a vegetable paella which we are planning to make tonight. There are so many stalls with so many vegetables and so many people shopping! One of the vendors is particularly aggressive with me. She keeps shoving samples that I do not want to eat in my face. We quickly buy the rest of the produce we need and head home. Later in the day we stop at the grocery store for the rest of our ingredients. The paella comes out very well and John, Phyllis, and I enjoy it. (Plus we enjoy the leftovers for several days!)

Vegetable paella

On Sunday we meet Jonathan and Ryan for lunch at Zeni’s. It is a favorite of ours and we are really hoping that Phyllis likes it. I took Peggy to lunch here and I am not sure that she really enjoyed herself although she says she liked it. Anyway, it is so great for Phyllis to see Jonathan again and he remarks to me later that he did not remember Phyllis being so funny. We all have a wonderful time with each other and the food although Phyllis cannot quite get over that the injera looks like Ace bandages!!

A platter of veggie combo and sizzling lamb at Zeni’s
Phyllis using her “Ace bandage” for a taste of Ethiopian food while Sarah watches

We head to Jon and Ryan’s afterward to meet up with Leigh, Sam, and Alex. The visit does not go quite as planned since an old friend from Iceland stops by with his daughter. The kids get very rambunctious. The friend does not seem to know that he should leave so we do.

Monday and it is time for another trip to Wine Country, this time in Napa. Sarah is our driver again. We have a lovely tasting at Sherwin Family Winery off Spring Mountain Road. The wine is good and the setting is beautiful. Phyllis signs up for the wine club and I buy a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon. Sarah busies herself taking selfies around the grounds while Phyllis and I enjoy the wines.

Mary and Phyllis toasting
Sarah takes a nice picture of us
I try a selfie of Phyllis and me but I need longer arms!!

For lunch we stop at Gott’s Roadside, the iconic place to eat in Napa Valley, We stand in line to order and sit at picnic tables. We all have hamburgers and French fries. Remembering the terrible traffic from Thursday we decide to head for home after lunch.

Mmm, burgers

Is it Tuesday already?! Tonight Phyllis is catching the red eye so at least we have today to continue our visit. We have lunch and a nice talk at Delatorre’s and for dinner we use up the rest of our Farmer’s Market produce and Sarah’s bounteous tomatoes.

Caprese salad
Yum! Brentwood corn

Around 8:30 PM we head to SFO. I can tell that Phyllis is nervous and we are glad that we go into the terminal with her because everything is pretty confusing. Luckily she has gotten TSA pre-check so at least security is less of an ordeal. Very bravely she waves good bye and I feel teary that my little sister is on her way home after what seems like a very short visit. I hope she will come again!!!

47th wedding anniversary celebration. 7/17/19

We are excitedly looking forward to our anniversary celebration. The day has certainly started off well with a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses!

Yellow roses

We head up to Healdsburg for an overnight and dinner at SingleThread, a restaurant which has recently received 3 Michelin stars. We have eaten at Michelin starred places before and had some incredible meals so we are looking forward to a gastronomic extravaganza.

A pictorial rendition of our dinner –

We are ushered up to their rooftop bar when we arrive for a welcoming drink (extra $$)
The table looks lovely when we are seated
Our first course is called Early Summer in Sonoma. The server quickly goes through all the things on the display. We cannot remember them all. I know we had an oyster and a piece of lamb. It is mostly raw fish.
An adjunct to the Summer in Sonoma arrives. The abalone is superb, the egg thing is very eggy, and the soup is delicious although mine had one of the pebbles from the presentation in it
This is a presentation of heirloom tomatoes along with kanpachi, pickled wasabi, and white gazpacho. The tomatoes and wonderberry are delicious
A box crab presentation. What? More seafood? Okay at least there is some corn. It is all very sweet.
Ugh, this is Miyazaki Waygu better known as tiny portions of rolled up tasteless, maybe raw beef. Texturally the meat is like mush. The very oily oil with truffles overwhelms everything
What’s this? A piece of peach with some cheese? What is it doing in the middle of the dinner? On the other hand at least it is not more of the same sashimi blandness
Next we have some black cod. This is John’s favorite. It is about a one inch square cube. We get excited when they bring the squash blossom. At first we think it might be bread. Alas, no bread.
Meat!! The lamb is good and served with a fava bean purée and green olives. We get our 2 ounce pour of red wine to go with it.
What the hell is this? They are saying it is waygu beef and farro. It tastes like Scotch broth but not in a good way. I eat the radishes
Serpentine cucumber. this is my favorite dish. It is refreshing and cool and has some texture. It is pretty ugly though.
I am actually eating this dessert with “frozen mugwort marshmallow snow.” The ice cream is good and the Albion strawberries are intense.
Some more dessert things

This is the most expensive meal we have ever eaten.  The blandness of the first five or so dishes is overwhelming. Along with the repetitive tastes and textures we have ordered the incredibly expensive wine pairing.  The first five are all mineral forward white wines from France, Germany, and Austria. The pours are tiny. We figure they are charging about $100 a 6 oz. pour. We ask the sommelier to check back with us after we try the wine so we can discuss it or maybe even ask for something different. He ignores us completely.

At one point the serving person asks me how I liked the sake. I say that sake is not my favorite due to its floral taste. She haughtily asks me where else have I eaten? Like I am some sort of rube that just came in off the potato truck. I am taken aback.

In addition to being ignored and insulted the waitstaff also speaks in hushed whispers. We cannot hear half of what they are saying. Three times we ask them to speak more loudly. They ignore our requests.

There are some really tasty vegetables and bites that stand out in this meal. I give their kitchen staff 3 stars for tweezer use. I also enjoyed their bathroom with the Japanese toilet that opens up as you walk in and shines a purple light on the bowl. The padded seat is warm and inviting.

So next year on our anniversary we will dine at a favorite restaurant which will treat us with respect, have tasty, varied dishes, more and better wine, and not cost an embarrassing amount of money.

Three holidays in one! 6/29/19

Today we celebrate three holidays in one – Christmas, Summer Solstice, and    Fourth of July! I really like this outdoor celebration of Christmas where we have a cookout and presents seem more exciting since it has been several months since the last big gift-giving extravaganza. This is our second summer Christmas. Maybe we should do it every year!

Decorations!
Presents!
Brats, sauerkraut, and salads!
Family having a good time!

More fun on the NorCal coast. 6/14/19

This is our last day of our mini-vacation and I have plenty planned. Of course, things don’t always go as planned.  We take the drive up US 101 to the Prairie Creek State Park which is part of the State Parks and Redwood National Parks. Once we turn off the the main road we enter into a spooky, magical world of trees, ferns, and dust from the dirt road. I think both Alex and Sam are quite taken by this other-worldly place.

After about five miles we reach the ranger station. After presenting our National Parks pass, the ranger says casually, “There are some streams crossing the road. You’ll need to use your best judgement about crossing them.” Uh oh, we hope that this is not going to be a problem.

Our plan is to get to the trailhead of Fern Canyon, a beautiful trail which meanders along a creek that empties into the ocean. On either side are ferns towering on walls up to 20 feet high. This trail is especially fun for kids because there are lots of downed trees to climb over and around and little rivulets to splash around in. Here are some pictures from 2015 when John and I were here.

Beginning of the Fern Canyon Trail
A wall of ferns!
Downed trees

We cross one little stream which is no problem at all. Then we see a fast moving stream crossing the road. We pull over to take a look. John and Jon both decide that although the stream is not too deep, the bottom is filled with slippery rocks and stones. We are in Jon’s minivan. It’s not an off-roading kind of vehicle. So our first plan is dashed.

We decide instead to head to the nearby beach where we can try the kites again. Seems like a good idea. The wind is a little swifter today and maybe we can get both kites up. We find an absolutely deserted beach and John and Jon try their hands at the kites. Alex and Sam are perfectly happy cavorting in the sand with make-believe stick swords and driftwood forts.

There is no one on this beach!
Alex and Sam on the beach
Jon appears to be dancing with his kite
Jon is not having much luck getting his kite aloft
The men admit defeat!
Meanwhile, Alex and Sam are totally ignoring the adults

After managing to eke out some fun from our failed hike we move on to the next item on my agenda. We are going to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove which is an area of old growth redwoods. There is a 1.5 mile trail that loops through the forest. We also pick up a brochure on the way in with numbered sites to see. We know that Sam really enjoys finding each numbered view and he takes off to be our tour guide. He also enjoys running ahead and hiding and them jumping out at us. We have a beautiful walk through the woods.

Beeba with Alex and Sam
Sam in a stump
Jon, Sam, and Alex
Beeba and Zayde in a tree
Ferns, rhododendrons, and redwoods

On the way back to Trinidad we get a rare sight, an elk traffic jam! The elk stand in the middle of the road looking at us as we look at them. Finally they retreat into the woods.

Elk jam!

Here’s a new experience for me. Everyone decides that they want Mexican food for our late lunch. Since there are not a lot of dining choices in Trinidad we end up at the Chevron gas station which has an Aztec Grill and have a rustic lunch.

Lunch at the Aztec Grill

After a suitable rest back at the house we go down to the beach in Trinidad. There is a picturesque harbor and a large beach. Jon, Alex, and Sam take a walk up to the headland.

Jon overlooking the harbor
The beach in Trinidad
Sam and Alex at the top of the headland

We order pizza for dinner and spend the evening getting ourselves packed up. We are off for home around 9AM on Saturday morning. It is just a driving day with a necessary quick stop for ice cream.

We had a great time. The best thing that Alex could have said to me was, Beeba makes great vacations. She has everything planned out so there is always something to do.

 

Trees of Mystery and more! 6/13/19

We are off to the Trees of Mystery today! It is kind of like a Paul Bunyan theme park and I bet that most people, even Californians, have never heard of it.  When you approach there is a giant statue of Paul Bunyan with his blue ox, Babe. Bunyan is voiced by someone watching the people  come in and greets them personally while waving his giant hand. There are plenty of photo opportunities before you even buy your tickets.

Family and wooden bear
Alex and Sam with Babe
Jon and Alex by Paul Bunyan’s big foot

Next is our adventure in the woods where there are lots of named trees and information about the growing cycle of redwoods.

Jon, Alex, and Sam with a wooden chipmunk
Peering into the root end of a fallen redwood

When you get up the hill  through the trees there is a gondola ride which takes you high above the trees. You can see Karl the fog rolling in off the Pacific. From here on out Sam has instituted a thumbs up meme for all his pictures.

Thumbs up! Sam, Alex, and Jon on the gondola ride
Beeba at the top of the gondola ride

After we descend on the gondola there is a portion of the park that is about the Paul Bunyan story with lots of carved stumps. The kids enjoyed climbing on some of the carved animals.

Sam peeking out behind Alex on her turtle?

Lastly we are treated to another time capsule redwood cross section.

Cross-section of a redwood

We have spent several hours at the Trees of Mystery. What does the family think of our experience?

We had a good time!

We grab a so-so lunch at a place across the street from the park and then head back to Trinidad. The kids play video games or read for the rest of the afternoon. Jon and I both snooze in our recliner chairs. We are tired out from all the day’s excitement.

Tonight we are having our “fancy” dinner at a seafood restaurant called SALT in Arcata. It turns out to be a great experience with Alex and Sam trying fried calamari for the first time (a hit!). They also both try steamed mussels. This was a split decision with Sam giving it a thumbs up and Alex thinking that this seafood is not for him.

John and Jon at SALT
Sam really enjoys the fried calamari and mussels

Eureka! We found it! 6/12/19

After enjoying our breakfast at the Holiday Inn, we plan our day in Eureka. Later today we will head up to Trinidad and to our rental. The first thing on the agenda today is a look at the exterior of the Carson Mansion. The mansion is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne Victorian architecture. Since it is a private club we cannot go inside but we look at it from the outside and also at the pink house across the street. Since we are going to a Victorian millworks later this morning this is a good place to start. Exterior and interior wood pieces for these late 19th century houses are still being made at the Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka.

Carson Mansion
Sweet siblings in front of the Carson Mansion
Pink Victorian house across the street

Our next stop is at the Blue Ox Millworks. John and I have been here a couple of times before and enjoyed our visits to this working millworks and also trade school for at-risk teenagers. We are shown around by one of the staff who demonstrates the old-timey machines.

Alex, Sam, and Paul Bunyan at the Blue Ox Millworks
Demonstration of treadle powered jig saw
Old-fashioned router run by pedal-power

We wander around the rest of the complex looking at the old printing presses and talking about manual typesetting. Imagine having to set type in mirror image! Each font is in a separate drawer. It is especially fascinating to me since my grandfather Rogers used to run a press in his basement and set all his type by hand. Outside we look at other workshops, horses, and a giant cross-section of a redwood.  I think this attraction is a bigger hit with the adults than the kids.

Enormous cross-section of a redwood

Our next stop is at the Clendenon Cider Works. I figure this can work as a refreshment stop and a demonstration on how cider is made. Uh-oh we strike out. The cider works are not open until August. Oh well, next on my list is the Loleta Cheese factory. Even though when we get there they are not demonstrating cheese making at least there are a lot of free samples. I think Sam and Alex try everything at least twice. I thought the cheese was pretty blah but the kids like it.

So the morning is not terribly successful. But it is lunchtime and everyone always likes to cast their votes for where to eat. It seems like Mexican food is high on list of preferred cuisines so we stop at La Patria Mexican restaurant. Everybody is pretty happy with the food. Alex proclaims that these are the best chips ever!

My shrimp taco with glop and rice
John’s aguachile

There is still some time to kill before we can head up to the rental in Trinidad so we head for the beach. Beyond Humboldt Bay there are barrier islands which can be accessed by a couple of  bridges from Eureka. We drive down to the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area and try our hands at kite flying. Jonathan has some luck getting one of the kites flying but the other one is a dud. Alex and Sam each get a turn flying the kite that works but one kite for two kids is not optimal.

Alex kite flying
Sam kite flying

Next we head out to the beach where it is pretty much deserted. Jon and John try the kites again. No luck. But Sam and Alex are perfectly happy digging around in the sand, pretending things are forts and finding sticks to battle with.

Young man and the sea
Alex and her excellent stick.

Now we head up to Trinidad and check into the very hot rental apartment. It must be setting heat records all up and down the coast! The ad had said the rental has air conditioning but when I call the owner about it he just laughs and tells me you do not need air conditioning in Trinidad. It is over 85F in the rental so we open all the windows and turn on the ceiling fans. It finallly cools off in the evening. Jon and I head to the store for some groceries and Jon makes pasta and sauce which everyone enjoys. We settle into our new space and have an enjoyable evening watching The LEGO Movie.

Trip up the NorCal coast with Jon, Alex, and Sam. 6/11/19

Our long awaited trip up the Northern California coast from our house all the way to Trinidad, CA starts today! Since we have a lot of stuff and people we opt to take Jon’s van. As usual the grownups have long discussions about how and where to pack everything. Alex is definitely patient during this phase of the trip.

Alex waits patiently in the car for the packing to finish!

And finally we are off! Our first stop is at the Bay Model in Sausalito. The commute traffic is still raging so we have a somewhat longer trip than we anticipated.  But everyone is in good spirits and I, of course, try to fill the time with scintillating facts about our first stop.

The Bay Model was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to predict the effects of various projects that impact the bay.  It is about the size of two football fields and it is scaled according to area but magnified 10X in depth. The water flows in and out to replicate the tides. We don headphones to listen to the detailed information at the 25 listening stops. Sam is amazingly  gung-ho in learning about the model. He really enjoys listening to and then finding the next stop.

Sam taking it all in

We have been here with Jon and Sarah probably 25 years ago so we are all seeing this with fresh eyes.

Golden Gate Bridge
Beeba and Zayde enjoying the information

After an hour or so we get back in the van. The ride up to Eureka, our first overnight stop, is about 3.5 hours away. First order of business is finding some lunch. We decide on eating at The Habit in Santa Rosa. Everyone enjoys their hamburgers and fries (or onion rings in Zayde’s case) and Jonathan announces that The Habit will now be his go-to burger place!

Alex and Jon at The Habit

We drive for a couple of hours and the kids are really excellent in the car. They listen to podcasts on their headphones and take little naps. Around Leggett, CA we stop at a gas station with expensive gas only payable in cash and definitely a kind of creepy attendant. Surviving this Deliverance moment we add a trip to the Drive-Thru tree for some ice cream. Jon’s van is really too large to drive-thru the tree comfortably but it is fun to take pictures and watch other people drive their cars through.

Drive-thru tree
Zayde, Sam, and Alex in the tree opening

Our final stop before Eureka is at the Avenue of the Giants Visitor Center. Unfortunately the Center closes at 5 PM and we get there at 4:45 PM. But it is enough time to see the big cross section of redwood with its rings dated and look at the exhibit about Charles Kellogg who extinguished a flame with his voice. This feat was not duplicated again until Jonathan did it on Mythbusters a few years ago.

Redwood cross section with dates, Jon, Alex, and Sam
Jon looking at the Charles Kellogg information
Poster about Charles and Jon’s feat

Now it is a sprint to Eureka where we check into the Holiday Inn Express and find some dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery Pub. We have a fine dinner of Po’Boy, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Rueben sandwich, kid-size pizza, and fish and chips. These entrees are, of course, served with piles of French fries. We are off to healthy start to our vacation!

Beeba’s dinner – Buffalo chicken wings and beer!

May, 2019

I had a pretty horrible May which started with a cold and ended up worse and worse until I was forced to go to the doctor and get some cortisone to try to quell the lung inflammation. But a few things were happening-

Sarah made me pretzel rolls for my sick Mother’s Day. We had to postpone everything else that was planned.
Towards the end of the month I visited Sarah’s garden. I cannot wait for fresh produce!
Poppies in her garden!
Fava beans just shucked
Unshelled and peeled fava beans

The end of April. 4/23-30/19

After we got home from our long trip across the ocean and back, we had a couple of occasions in April. We celebrated Passover twice, once with Sarah’s friends and once with Jonathan and Leigh. Our second celebration was disappointing since Ryan, Alex and Sam were sick.

Seder table set for Sarah’s friends, Kim and Michelle Kwon

On Easter we had dinner at Rose and John Henderson’s Where Alex and Sam got to search for candy and other surprises. Rose made a delicious ham for our luncheon.

Hunting for Easter eggs – Aha! Found one!
Alex with her loot
Beeba and Alex
Sam got sleepy after dinner

And then I got sick with bronchitis which continued for most of May.

 

Huesca and home. 4/16-17/19

I have been raving about the dinners at Finca Prats Resort in Lleida but they also have excellent breakfasts. We like that they have English/American breakfasts and not just pastries and cold cuts. As a non-sweet eater the breakfast pickings are pretty slim sometimes.

John’s breakfast at Finca Prats Resort in Lleida

Today our sightseeing is focused on Huesca in the northeast of Spain. Huesca pre-dates The Roman era. It was conquered by the Moors and repatriated to Christian Spain in the 12th century. It is the burial place of at least two Kings of Aragon. Huesca saw heavy fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Now it is a quiet town of about 52,000 people.

Huesca City Hall

John and I have a really hard time finding a parking spot. We drive around and around getting caught in some old sections of town where the streets are barely wider than the car. We are about to give up when we find an underground garage at their transit center. There are quite a few unused spaces. Huescans must not like to pay for parking.

The patron Saint of Huesca is St. Lawrence who was born here. He was martyred by being burnt on a grill. In our wandering s we come across a church which is dedicated to St. Lawrence so we stop in for a look.

Basílica of St. Lawrence in Huesca. St. Lawrence with grill in niche above door and grill decoration on pavement

The interior of the basilica is done in a classical style having been built in 17th and 18th century. That puts it out of my strike zone. There’s a painting of St. Lawrence being burnt on the grill over the altar which is badly in need of cleaning. The inlaid grill on the floor is a nice touch, though.

Painting of St. Lawrence on altar
Grill inlaid on the floor

From here we make our way over to the Abbey of Saint Peter the Old (San Pedro Viejo). This is a very old church founded by Benedictine monks in the 12th century. We go in and ask the church minder if they have pamphlets about the church in English. Sorry, no. So we figure we will stumble about trying to find things of interest. The church minder has, in the meantime, been ruffling through his files and comes up with a commentary on the church in English. He and we sort of talk about the church. He turns on lights for us and tells us to be sure to see the cloister.

San Pedro Viejo. I got this photo off Wikipedia because the front of the building was covered by scaffolding when we were there
Altarpiece dedicated to St. Peter inside San Pedro Viejo

The real deal is outside in the cloister. The capitals on the columns are resplendent with early carvings of the Old and New Testaments and the struggle of man against evil. They are done in a very early style which is to me reminiscent of the Longobards in Italy. The figures are primitive. Some of the capitals have been restored.

Overview of the cloister
Crucifixion on closer column, washing of the feet in the other
Calvary
Last Supper
Flight into Egypt
Three kings

We have spent a long and productive morning in Huesca and it is time for lunch. I say to John that I cannot face another lunch where it takes forever and we have too much to eat. So we set out to try to find a simple sandwich in a cafe where you can sit down to eat it.

Typical street in Huesca

Down by the city hall we find a place that has a large seating area and a sign saying that they have a selection of sandwiches. John has me sit at a table while he goes to order some lunch. He orders two ham and cheese sandwiches (because he knows the Spanish for this) and two beers. Ah, what pleasure to have a sandwich for lunch with no one hovering over us.

Yay! Ham and cheese sandwich at Granja Anita in Huesca

After this we head back to Lleida to pack because we are leaving in the morning for Barcelona airport. Later, I am ashamed to say, we eat dinner at a normal time at a nearby McDonald’s. It’s pretty poor even for McDonald’s but with enough ketchup it tastes pretty okay.

The next morning we head for Barcelona and our flights back to SFO. We are, of course, screened thoroughly once at the security check and once again at an enhanced security check where we have to take our shoes and such off and get wanded  over and wiped with tissues for traces of who knows what. This happened to me on our last trip as well. I must look shifty. It does seem to me that their efforts might be better spent with someone who is not a 70 year old grandmother.

From Barcelona we fly to Philadelphia where we have to go through the whole security routine again. Then on to SFO on a very turbulent flight. At the end is our sweet Sarah who has come to pick us up. I had a mostly good time on this vacation but I am glad to be home.