Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chillin' with the folks.

My parents are here (far right in this old pic). They arrived Thursday night. We are enjoying each other's company and have already had an adventure. We still have all day Saturday ahead of us. At some point, they are heading south to see my brother and sister-in-law. When they do, I will post about their time here. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sam's blog

Sam wrote a few new blog posts today. He and I have the day off from school and work tomorrow and plan to get a few more posts up on his website.

If you get the chance, please go to (Cam bought the url for him) and leave a comment or two.

Thanks for encouraging his writing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

An evening at the Rodeo. (or is it Ro-day-o?)

One nice part about the jobs Cam and I are working in now is that occasionally, we are able to spend time together during the workday. Friday, I returned home from work around 1:20 pm. Cam was working from home. I made a salad for us from the lettuce which is growing nicely in the patio garden.

The good people at Marin Honda were putting a new odometer in our car. The original, digital one appeared scrambled from time to time which wasn't a big deal but it always seemed to do it when I was trying to use the tripometer to navigate during directions. Since repairing it is covered under warranty, we took it in to have it done.

The funny thing is that after installing a new one, they forgot to set it to the actual mileage. When I got home from the dealership, I finally looked at the odometer and noticed that our car appears new again. It read 6 miles. Since they checked the mileage when I dropped the car off, I'm sure they will notice the discrepancy when we go back for the next oil change. Actually, I probably need to bring it back next week but it is fun imagining we have just added 35,000+ miles to the life of a warranty.

Anyway, Cam suggested that when I got home with the car, Sam got home from school and he finished work for the day, we head out to the beach. Honestly, I was a bit tired from the week and would have been ok relaxing at home and going out over the weekend but we worked so hard to get here, I'm not passing up trips to the beach lightly. So we went.

He'd thumbed through our infamous, Marin Hiking book and selected Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. This beach is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a remarkable area very close to our friend, the bridge. We have often headed out a bit to explore which is wonderful but are excited to dig deeper into this area that is so close to home.

We drove up the highway just a couple of exits to Sausalito. We've been there before and enjoyed it but this time we drove through an entire area of downtown and of the bay front we'd never seen before. We're looking forward to going back there soon too. So we wound around past Sausalito and ended up at the base of the bridge. We circled back past some historic buildings and the Bay Area Discovery Museum and found the road we wanted. It takes us through a tunnel under Hwy 101 at the base of the bridge. It is a one-lane tunnel. The sign said it has a five minute red light. We didn't mind waiting our turn. It is a pretty lengthy tunnel and fun to drive through.

Emerging on the other side, we are greeted with rolling hills and open space. This is the area where early one morning, Cam and I saw a bobcat when we were trying to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. No bobcats this time but we did see more deer. We joked that seeing them is becoming common but they are still extraodinary. Cam really enjoys seeing the bucks. I'm amazed by the fawns that seem to be everywhere these days.

Just a few minutes down the road, we arrived at the parking area for Rodeo Beach. As Cam mentioned, we had to cross a marsh (easy via an interesting bridge/walkway). Many pelicans and other birds were enjoying the water. Then we were there.

Cam had said the area was known for semi-precious stones. I refused to call them semi, all of the stones we found there were precious in my eyes. And we did find some beautiful ones. My favorite was this tiny, bluish-green little pebble of what I'm calling agate. I wasn't going to keep it but held it in my pocket for a bit so I could look at it again later. When I pulled it out the next time, it was a duller grayish green. Still beautiful but not the stunning, radiant color it looked in its natural setting, wet from the surf and lit up by the setting sun. I threw it back immediately.

While the beach was brilliant, the sun was illuminating the hills behind us. I enjoyed looking at them too. Loads of surfers were making the most of the impressive waves up the beach to the right. We decided to walk along the beach, to our left, toward the interesting rock formations in the distance.

We kept picking up and admiring the pebble like stones along the way.

Then, suddenly, I saw a sand dollar. This was the first one I'd seen since we've lived here. It was beautiful. I knew they were animals but the hole a bird appears to have made cleanly in the center led me to believe this one was no longer alive. Upon returning home, I read in Vera Vello Capogna's "Did You Ever Wonder About Things You Find at the Beach?" that live sand dollars are a pinkish color. I don't know that I have ever seen one. This one was still fascinating.

We made it to the rocks and continued to be captivated by the water sparkling brilliantly.

I found another sand dollar. This one was tiny, not much bigger than the tip of my thumb. (The other one had been larger than a silver dollar.) I loved this tiny, little sand dollar. We must have found a wind break too because the sun warmed us up. Notice Sam climbing the rocks in the background.

As few minutes later, Cam noticed starfish clinging to the rock. While we'd seen many on our trip to the tide pools at Agate Beach, we hadn't been expecting them here. They snuck up and surprised us in the wild.

STARFISH!! A purple one, an orange one and a pink one.

We spent awhile running back and forth, into the water when the tide went out, trying to catch a glimpse of the starfish. Then running back out, away from the waves, trying to try to avoid wet britches.

A bit further down the beach, I saw these guys on a rock. They appear to be barnacle-type creatures as they are hard on the outside and seem firmly attached to this rock but I don't know exactly what they are yet.

Then Sam called us over to the rock to see a crab he had found. As we were watching that crab, we saw another then another. Suddenly, we noticed that there were crabs hiding in nearly every crack of these giant rocks.

Literally hundreds of them peeking out until we approached. Then receding, "Nothing to see here." This one was almost purple. We didn't use the flash and they were hard to see with the naked eye. I'm glad some of the pictures turned out.

We saw another starfish that appeared engorged. Cam thought it was pregnant. I thought it had just eaten something. We'll have to do some research and find out. Anyway, it was huge.

He stood next to it to put it into perspective.

Farther down the beach, the boys climbed more rocks.

What a glorious day.

Duir Woods?

So last Saturday, we gave to the environment by helping out with Coastal Cleanup Day. On Sunday, we received. The Sample's song Nature is going through my head now. "Nature, it's all around me. Nature, it's so astounding." (Click on the "Nature" link or here for the MP3.)

Since we'd purchased a National Parks Pass at Yosemite the previous weekend, (Admission to that park is $40. The National Parks Pass is $50 so purchasing one was an easy decision.) we decided to put it to use by going to Muir Woods. All of us had been there before but we hadn't been together.

I talked Cam and Sam into stopping for a picture in front of this sign. It is becoming a tradition and will be fun to continue to look back on how we change in front of it over the years. (See pics of Sam and I in front of this sign.)

We'd woken up early and as much as I was looking forward to going to Muir Woods, I thought the park opened at 9 am and that it might be nice to work with Sam to help him post something on his blog about all of the remarkable things he's done lately before leaving. But Cam noticed that the park opened at 8 am and while the park is just a couple of exits away, we do have to travel a bit on Hwy to get there after exiting off 101. So we decided to get a move on.

The early start paid off. We parked in the second spot from the entrance to the park and were there before the rangers. No one was working the desk at that hour. Looks like we could have walked right in to the near empty park even without our pass but at least we have it.

Walking in the main entrance, we were immediately amazed by these trees, which are some of the tallest in the world.

Not far down the main path, we noticed a side path leading to Ocean View Trail. A sign told us that due to tree growth, there was no longer a view of the ocean but it looked like it did lead to something called Mountain Home. Cam thought it sounded interesting so we branched off.

It was a nice, peaceful hike. Mostly up-hill which served to get our hearts pumping and warm us up which was nice. It is cool in the early-morning shade of these enormous coastal trees. We didn't see many people until we gave up on finding Mountain Home and hiked back towards the main trail. In the time we were off hiking (about a mile up and a mile back), the crowds had arrived at the main trail.

Just before joining the crowd, we noticed three deer (a doe and two fawns) grazing just off the side path. They were very close and didn't seem to be bothered by all of the people at all. We pointed them out to some other people with small children who were standing nearby and continued on.

Piggyback rides were employed to get deeper into the park, away from the crowds (and to get some snuggles in).

Soon, we were out of the congestion, practically on our own again. We talked about how fun it will be to come back to the woods throughout the year, in the rain, on random weekdays off, etc. Since our admission fee is already paid, we can come for quick trips as well as longer ones.

We saw another deer. Then a bit later, someone repaid our earlier kindness and pointed out another deer to us. Can you see her in the shot behind Sam? She didn't seem bothered by our presence at all.

Her reaction to this buck was a different story. When we were about to move on from watching the her, he appeared. He was captivated by her. He kept approaching her and she kept moving away from him. Their dance was fascinating. We watched them for awhile until she finally moved off.

Farther into the woods, we noticed another doe with fawns. We saw another buck attempting to interact with them. In about four hours, I counted 10 deer. It is possible some of them were the same deer but we thought they were different animals in each encounter.

Sam took a few nice photos of us by these trees. Check out Cam's post for a picture of some smooching.

Towards the end of our loop, back near the main entrance, we encountered this amazing burnt out tree. Sam and I had visited it before when we were here five years ago. At that time, he loved running out of it appearing to scream. Were we those tourists with screaming children whose proximity we now avoid? I didn't think so but who knows? Guess we are all a bit more subdued now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Coastal Cleanup's Rewards

Awhile ago, I got volunteer happy. One of the things I agreed to do was participate in Coastal Cleanup, a global Ocean Conservancy event. While I wasn't particularly excited about the idea of picking up trash, I am personally bothered by trash and figured if I wasn't willing to do it, who would?

My trash picking-up resentment has ties to my past. In junior high school, on occasion, my friends and I would act up and have tiny little food fights at the outdoor picnic tables. One time, when I thought I was especially cool, I said, "Watch. I'm going to hit Mr. Daniel's with a grape." (Mr. Daniels was our vice principal and the unfortunate man responsible for keeping us in-line during lunch.)

I never meant to actually hit him with a grape but in a show of silliness, threw one towards him. My aim is so bad that I actually hit him. Of course, everyone at our table burst out laughing, except me. I was the obvious guilty party. (Note: The irony that part of my current job is supervising kids during lunch isn't lost on me.)

As punishment, a couple of times, I was required to pick up trash in the lunch area. Yuck. But the punishment worked. I hated having to pick up trash in front of my classmates.

And really, I wasn't much more excited about doing it now but it seemed like a right thing to do so I said I'd do it. Happily, Cameron and Sam agreed to join me. One of Sam's new friends from school, Jarred and his family were going to meet us there too.

So after a nice breakfast of whole-wheat blueberry pancakes, we walked down our hill, across a fairly busy street, along a quieter one for awhile then arrived at Blackie's Pasture, the Coastal Cleanup location closest to home. Cam's brother, Eric said they held Coastal Cleanup projects on Lake Michigan in Chicago. I know events were held at waterways around the country.

Since we'd played and picnicked in this park previously and planned to return many times, making it cleaner for us and safer for the sea birds that feed there was motivating. Cam just posted on his blog about a hike he took there and the birds he saw this morning.

We didn't take pictures of ourselves sitting on the ground and climbing on rocks to pick up numerous, tiny pieces of trash. It was weird, at first glance, there didn't appear to be any real amount of trash but upon closer inspection, there were little pieces of crap everywhere, hiding in the grass and the cracks between rocks. I think the thing I picked up most of all was styrofoam. Broken up bits of styrofoam, must come in with the tide, get situated, decide they like it here and plan never to leave. Both Cam and I picked up zillions of pieces of styrofoam. We also found bottles, food wrappers, and a couple of tennis balls, a roll of blue tape, ribbon, dental floss and lots of other crap.

Sam's friend came with his younger brother and their father. We met some friends of theirs that day too. At some point, the boys became more interested in throwing rocks than picking up garbage. I made a deal with Sam that he could throw one rock for every 10 pieces of trash he picked up.

After about an hour of decent work, Sam's friend was done and invited Sam to join him on the rope swing. We didn't know anything about a rope swing at Blackie's Pasture and figured we'd better go check it out.

It was hiding in some trees on the top of a hill that didn't look easy to climb. It wasn't but we made it to the top.

Sam got several good swings in with the other boys that day, and then we decided to go back as a family one night this week. Cam had worked from home that day so we didn't have to wait for him to come home on the bus. He was free at 5 and Sam finished his homework early that evening. This, combined with the lovely weather seemed like cause for a celebration.

It was lovely at the bay. I enjoyed watching Sam and Cam walk together and talk. When Sam decided to take a break from swinging, I took a turn. Then, Cam swang a bit too.

We climbed to the top of the hill and enjoyed the view of the bay.

We are fortunate to have such a beautiful place so easily accessible to us and were happy to make it a little bit better.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My five things to eat before you die

Cameron just posted his recommendation of five things to eat before you die. He tagged me and said it was my turn to write about my recommendations.

But I'm so fickle. A phrase an old boss of mine used once about some clients we didn't really respect comes to mind when I think about my food preferences. He said they were like crows excited about the last shinny thing they saw.

Maybe I can name five categories of food to eat before you die?

Salty and Fried
Right now, I'm quite happy with the fried potatoes, onions and pepper topped with parmesan cheese Cam and I had a couple of hours ago. Cameron mentioned squash for some reason around that time and the homemade fried squash I've eaten in the past came to mind. Any fried mushrooms... As a child, we'd sometimes go to Mike's Fine Foods in Scammon, Kansas. Mike was so large he literally sat on two bar stools at the bar but I loved his fried ravioli. Garlic fries (I think I remember garlic cheese fries) from Jake's and those we had at the Giants Game. In Chicago's Greektown we had flaming fried cheese complete with an "O-Pa!" from the server.

Spicy and Exotic
This past week, I've been cooking with these tiny hot peppers. One of the women I work with at the school is Indian. She let me tag along on a trip she made to a Milan Imports, an Indian grocery store in Berkeley. She kept putting things in my basket and assuring me she would give me a recipe for using the ingredients.

The fried potatoes were made to quell a craving I was having for these awesome eggplants she taught me how to make. They were stuffed with cilantro, salt and these tiny hot peppers, and then sauteed in oil. Yum. We had it with Sombar, a vegetable stew made with tomatoes, onion and squash with Indian seasoning. These have been my favorites of late.

Dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant at Clark & Addison in Chicago where we sat on the floor and didn't have utensils but used that spongy bread to sop up the food is up there too.

Maybe BBQ isn't exotic but since I worked for America's Pork Producers for two years, I'd better not forget to mention BBQ pork. The dry rub ribs I had to the World Pork Expo and another time in Kansas City were excellent but my favorite was the BBQ Pork Sundae my friend, Brooke made on the Today Show. Thanks for the recipe and picture Carma, courtesy of

This week gets to be "All About Me" in one of the classrooms where I work (ala student of the week). On the bulletin board where I am featured, I had to list a food I like to eat. For that, I chose pineapple curry shrimp. I hate to burn us out on it but it is yummy. (Els sent a recipe for mango shrimp I'm excited to try too.) So favorite foods of late? If so, the list would definitely include fish tacos from Joe's Taco Lounge.

Dinner at Sushi Ran in Sausalito, the scallop dumpling at Kaze on Roscoe in Chicago. The softshell crabs we made in the tiny apartment in Lincoln Park. Barbecued oysters at Sam's in Tiburon. The fish stew from Whole Foods. It is better than the one I made from scratch.

Chocolate/Nearly All Desserts
Got to keep those eyes brown. Favorite foods in general, usually the most chocolate dessert on any menu. Although the tiramisu we had at Milano's over Labor Day weekend was extraordinary. Thanks, Deanette for introducing me to this delicacy. Do you remember having it at the Cafe Phoenix in Grinnell, Iowa?

I did burn Cam out on homemade chocolate chip pecan pie made with the pecans my grandmother gave us which were grown on the trees my grandfather grafted in their yard.

From childhood? I loved making those Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (still do). I also used to dump random sweet toppings into a bowl (whipped cream topped with powdered Quick and sprinkles) and when my little brother would ask what I was eating, I'd say, medicine. Growing up, when my friend Sherry and I would walk around town talking for hours, we loved to stop at the Tropical Snow (shaved ice stand). I would always get half Passion Fruit and half Guava. We didn't drink but were sure these drinks made us drunk. We'd get so giggly and silly. And what about cherry limeades or vanilla dr. pepper's from Sonic?

Friends of my parents owned Turner's Dairy Bell in Columbus, Kansas. Greg Turner used to let my brother and I come into the kitchen and make our own pizza. We loved running the dough through the roller and tossing it a few times. Then at some point, it was personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. We used to earn certificates for free ones through their Book It promotion. It worked; my brother and I would read. And my mom would take us out to eat. Sometime, I discovered Calzones...

Then, I was burnt out on pizza for awhile after working at Godfather's Pizza in Newton my senior year of high school. In college it was Great Plains. Papa Johns in Des Moines. Ranalli's then Carreno's in Chicago. We just tried Stefano's in Mill Valley last Friday and thought it was good not to die for but Cam said they are entirely solar-powered which is cool and though it wasn't to die for it was tasty. And what about lasagna? Can I put it under this category? Spinach lasagna.

Fruits & Veggies
Today, on the way home from Muir Woods, I stopped at a fruit stand and picked up a couple of more avocados, tomatoes and red onion to make guacamole. We've been eating homemade guac nearly every week too. Oh, and berries of all kinds, I love them.

Eating Out
Favorite food experience of all time (because isn't so much of it about the experience?) I never made it to Spiaggia in Chicago. If I had, I imagine it would be on my list. I can't believe it isn't on Cam's list since it was one of the places I've heard him talk most about.

When we lived in Lincoln Park, I loved walking to John's Place on Webster. Their house salad with cherries, walnuts and gorgonzola and a glass of raspberry lemonade while sitting on the table outside or having brunch, juevos rancheros or banana nut pancakes. Brunch in Chicago, so many good memories, Toast, Orange, that place Eric and Sarah took us on Mother's Day when they announced their engagement. Kitsch'n, the place on Roscoe we started going near the end. I enjoyed gumbo and red beans and rice while celebrating Cam's birthday at Heaven on Seven and at Schuba's on Fat Tuesday before Melissa's show. And sizzling rice soup from the local Asian restaurant. And who can forget Treats? Or the salad bar or bbq, blue cheese chicken sliders at R.J. Grunts? And Flat Top Grill where you pick your own ingredients and they stir fry it for you?

I know there are many, many more memorable food experiences and foods in general I'd like to recommend. Apparently, I can't name just five. I've decided it is impossible and instead have taken stroll down my memory food lane. Thanks for joining me. And since I'm big on letting people make their own choices, I'll just say, pick five from this list that sound good and enjoy at your leisure.

And since this all started with the Traveler's Lunchbox's Tag Event, you are it. What things do you think people should eat before they die?