Saturday, September 14, 2013

Celebration of Goals Accomplished

My Adventure Girl has wanted to learn to ride a horse from the first time she saw one.  We promised her that, now that she is old enough, we would find a place to ride in California.  Once we arrived and realized that riding lessons would mean a $70/week commitment and a drive through the craziness that is the interstate system, we had to backpedal a bit.  We made a deal instead that if she (yes, at 7 and a half) finally stopped sucking her thumb, we would take her on a trail ride instead.  Luckily, an awesome deal on Living Social came up right at the same time that she not only stopped sucking her thumb for three weeks, but also hasn't chewed holes in the neckline of any of her shirts.  This is huge.  Huge.  So I bought the deal.  But this also meant that I, who at 32 have never ridden a horse myself, also had to go along.  Yipes.

After buying the voucher online for the Sea Horse Ranch in Half Moon Bay, I made the mistake of reading the reviews for the place on Yelp.  And they were not good.  But, at less than half price, I figured we could always walk away if it was really that terrible.  And at first, I wasn't convinced.  I had to sign our lives away, which is to be expected, but the wording of the waiver was downright scary.  It talked about how tiny humans attempting to tame and ride animals that are several times their size is kinda crazy.  (We were the only ones of the group who chose to wear helmets, which I was surprised by.  Helmets to us are just one of those ugly necessities.  Why risk a head injury when you can easily wear protection?) Also included was the standard legal muck about not being responsible should anything bad happen to us...and it was quite likely that something bad would happen, according to the waiver.  So, lesson one learned: it's best to just skim over the fine print sometimes.

Except when it concerns my child, I suppose.  Being responsible for a little person's life runs the One Republic lyric through my mind all the time: "Old, but I'm not that old.  Young, but I'm not that bold." I'm more afraid of doing things that have potential to result in harm to myself because I have to be able to take care of the kids, and letting them do things that involve potential for danger is even worse.  By the time all of these thoughts had passed through my mind, I had also overheard the ride guides, speaking to each other in Spanish, discussing what to do with Ava, who was the smallest and youngest beginner rider of the group by decades. I understand enough Spanish to know that they decided to have one of the guides ride alongside her, leading her horse along.  I was good with that.  But then they put me up on Dot.  Did I mention that I have never been on a horse?  As soon as I grabbed the reins, she backed up.  Quickly.  And I panicked a bit.  The guides told me to pull more gently when I wanted her to stop (whoops) and then, with no real explanation of what we were going to be doing, the horses began strolling down the path toward the Coastal Trail.

And I do mean strolling.  Which I was perfectly happy with.  I ended up in the middle of the pack, while Adventure Girl was taking up the rear with her guide.  I was not at all comfortable with her being behind me where I couldn't see what was happening, but it was probably for the best.  The guides wanted me to get comfortable on my own horse without worrying about Ava as well.  I'll admit, I was nervous for at least a third of the ride.  I didn't know what I was doing.  How do you steer a horse?  What if Dot decided to just take off at a gallop and leave the group behind? The guide nearby made a clicking sound, and all of a sudden she was trotting.  Afterward, he taught me how to stand a little to make trotting more comfortable.  Following a jaunt through a creek and some muddy muck (Ava's favorite part), we eventually ended up at a steep path down the bluff to the beach.  By this time, Ava and her guide were in the lead, and I held my breath the whole time she was descending the slope.  She didn't panic once, the whole ride.  But she did say afterward that she was expecting it to be a pony ride, like at the Alaska State Fair, and that she was surprised to ride an actual huge horse.  We won't be taking riding lessons anytime soon (hooray for my bank account!).

On the beach portion of the ride, I finally got comfortable with Dot, as she had stopped to eat the weeds several times and didn't seem in any hurry to escape her sandy paradise.  The part of the morning that I enjoyed most was the Northern California beachy weather.  People around here think I'm crazy, but it's just too consistently warm and sunny in Alameda for my taste.  Half Moon Bay was fogged in and misty with a cool breeze.  It felt fabulous to ride along listening to the ocean waves...almost like Home(r).  There's something wonderful about knowing that the same ocean flows all the way up into Kachemak Bay, and the same whales travel between here and there.

But back to the horses.  About the same time that we arrived at the beach path, a guy on a Segway appeared out of nowhere and started taking photos.  It was funny in a completely out-of-place kind of way.  No phones, cameras, bags, etc. are allowed on the ride, so a photographer pops up to take photos along the way.  Which is how we got these (after we paid a pretty penny for them, of course).  Now that we know what to expect, I'm sure we will go back.  Especially if we get another half-price online deal!

The guide stayed with her the entire time

Ava and Gloria

At the bottom of the steep hill to the beach

The bluffs are just beautiful

Riding on the beach

Foggy, cool, and misty...just like I like it

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Finding Peace in the City

We have been on a quest to find places that the whole family, dog included, can get away from the city feel and enjoy some of our favorite activities: hiking and wandering the beach.  For the past 3 weekends, we have taken day trips, all within an hour's drive or ferry ride, to explore new areas.

First up was Rodeo Beach, in the Marin Headlands, after I ran the USCG Station Golden Gate Heritage run.  Which was pretty difficult, by the way.  The whole first mile and middle mile of the 7.5-mile race were entirely uphill, to get from sea-level to Golden Gate Bridge level.  Whew.  But I did it, and didn't finish last, either.  Back to Rodeo Beach.  It was nice to bring the dog for his first California outing.  But the beach, on the Pacific just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, was rocky and windy.  We managed a quick hike, and Midas was happy to be allowed off his leash.

Last weekend, we made good on our promise to take the kids to the city once a month.  We took the ferry over on Saturday morning (which we easy!) and went to a Filipino parade and festival, Chinatown, North Beach, and Coit Tower. It's amazing how small San Francisco actually is.  It feels very much like Boston, only with more hills.  We rode the streetcar from Pier 39 to Market Street and walked the whole rest of the day, and we were done and heading home on the 3:15 ferry.  We didn't take the dog, because he is not allowed on the streetcars, but we plan to try to take him along sometime soon.  The kids had a blast.  They both tried dim sum in Chinatown (none of us were big fans), had pizza in North Beach, and counted all the steps down Telegraph Hill (343, give or take a few).

Today was, by far, my favorite day.  We drove to Half Moon Bay, with our new book about hiking with dogs in the Bay Area in hand.  We took the scenic route, over the Bay Bridge and along Hwy. 1.  We are having a bit of a heat wave, so the morning fog burned off early at the coast.  Our first stop was the Grey Whale Cove Trail, where we hiked about 2 miles along the bluffs.
View of Grey Whale Cove

Grey Whale Cove Trail
Being surrounded by open space and able to see out into the ocean does my soul good.  Thank goodness we have found this place!  We had a picnic lunch in Half Moon Bay at Blufftop Coastal Park and then ventured down to the beach.  The kids were so excited (and a little confused) to see soft, warm, white sand.  The dog was happy to get his feet wet (and so was his sister).  After we were sufficiently sandy, we tool a walk on Main Street in Half Moon Bay.  Our favorite stop was the Feed Store.  That's our kind of place!  Live chicks, pet supplies, and a bull moose mounted over the door inside.
Blufftop Coastal Park, Half Moon Bay
We only have one week left until the kids start school.  They were really busy last week.  Ava finished up her final week of sailing camp, where she sailed an Opti by herself, went on a field trip by boat to Ben & Jerry's in jack London Square, and finished the week by finally learning to swim unassisted (although we are are still working on her confidence level when doing so).  Emerson went to Kung Fu camp all week, where he was the youngest camper and got to go to a different playground in Alameda for lunch each day.  It did him good to get a break from his mom and sister after 3 months of togetherness.  This week, we have lots of fun in store.  We were able to get free tickets to Monday night's Red Sox/Giants game at AT&T Park, thanks to Operation Care and Comfort.  I'm planning a surprise trip to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield for the kids later in the week.  Next Sunday, we are headed to Sonoma for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix, which we also got free tickets to thanks to the Heroes in Our Community Program.  The kids don't know it, but the race is preceded by an air show with the Patriots Jets.  It's so nice to have community organizations include the Coast Guard in their special military events, as it doesn't always happen.

This area certainly has kept us busy so far!  We have to remind ourselves to stay home once in awhile, but that will happen more once the kids are back in school.  Second grade and kindergarten...eeek!

Friday, August 2, 2013

City Living

"Mom, look!  A Smurf!  A giant cheese burger!  A motorcycle!"

We have quite a bit to adjust to living the city life.  Billboards are a new favorite around here.  Especially the electronic ones.  After last week's too-many-rules pity party, this week we are focusing on all of the amenities that we can take advantage of while living the city life.  And the kids choose billboards as their favorite thing. Although I could do without the 4-lane, no-shoulders freeway that pass them by, I have managed to navigate my way around (with no thanks to Mandy, our Tom-Tom GPS who has taken to telling us that all exits are coming up in two miles when in fact they are about a half-mile away).

There are so many activities for the kids to try out here that it's hard to choose just one or two.  Now I understand how parents can slip into the running-around-like-crazy mode with extracurricular activities every day of the week.  We are using the summer to try out several, with the intent of each kid settling on their favorite one to continue when school starts. So far, both kids have completed several sessions of swim lessons at Aquatech.  Ava even moved up a level, which is huge for her.  Emerson still refuses to put his ears under water, so he may be stuck at the beginning for awhile longer.  In addition to weekly soccer class (which the kids have fun with but probably won't continue until next summer), Emerson has started Kung Fu and Ava is surprising us all by loving sailing camp.  I admit, I wish I was able to go to camp with her.  In the first week, Ava learned to tie knots, put together an Opti, and even had a field trip--by water, of course-- to visit America's Cup sailing Team Artemis headquarters.  Since sailing is only during the summer for kids her age, she has chosen ballet as her one after-school activity.  She loved her class last year in Homer at the Harbor School of Music & Dance.  This year, she will be trying out Dance/10, where her new babysitter (yay!!) is an instructor.

Starting off in an Opti without a sail

Proudly sporting her Team Artemis hat after a morning on the water

Brand-new white belt at USA Kung Fu Studio
We are also appreciating the conveniences of city life.  Like driving just 8 miles rather than 75 to get to a fabric store.  Emerson and I went to Jo-Ann's yesterday and were both overwhelmed by the selection and size of the store.  I think he was even more excited that I was.  Now to find time to finally get my sewing machine plugged in to make some pillows for the living room.

We are in the sweet spot with TriCare (our military health insurance) in that we live over 50 miles from the nearest military medical facility that accepts military dependents for treatment.  That means we get to see civilian doctors and don't have to pay any co-pays.  Ava saw a pediatric ophthalmologist for the first time ever about 3 weeks ago.  With a small tweak in her prescription and new glasses (which have zero coverage by our insurance!), her vision is now better than it has ever been.  We went for a checkup yesterday and the doctor ruled out having to patch one of her eyes to treat a slight amplyopia issue (one eye stronger than the other) because the new prescription did the trick.  Hooray for not being the new kid in school who has to wear an eye patch like a pirate.

Last weekend we checked out the Berkeley Kite Festival and the Alameda Food & Wine Festival.  The kites were much better than anticipated, but the art was a bit of a disappointment.  We did enjoy wine, beer, and lumpia while listening to some great live music, though.  We are planning to go to the Sausalito Art Festival on Labor Day weekend in hopes of seeing more artsy things rather than crafts and business vendor booths.

Octopus kites at the Berkeley Kite Festival

After telling my husband that I just wanted to find some "wild" trees rather than landscaped ones (which are all that exist around here because it does not rain.  All.  Summer.  Long.  Lawn irrigation necessary), I found one lone "weed" in the Shoreline Park at the end of our street.

This weekend, I am running in the USCG Station Golden Gate Heritage Run on Coast Day (August 4).  It is a 12K across the Golden Gate Bridge and back from Sausalito to San Francisco.  It's not going to be easy.  I have had a hard time adjusting to running here.  Even though it doesn't get much above 70 degrees during the day, that's still about 20 degrees warmer than I'm used to.  And I suppose that the bridge will include at least one hill in each direction, but I've been training in flat Alameda.  As my first race in a really long time, my goal is just to finish and enjoy the unique scenery.  Afterward, we are taking the kids and dog (yes, dog!) to Rodeo Beach, where dogs are allowed on the beach and some of the hiking trails.  This is a very rare find for the area.  On the way home, we are going to stop at Marin Brewing Company (also dog friendly!) to add to Mike's growing repertoire of microbreweries.  The day should include a little something for everyone: trees for me, sand for the kids, and beer for Mike.  Now if I could just find a coffee drive-thru...

Thursday, July 25, 2013


It's been a little over a month since we left Homer.  It feels so much longer than that. Just last weekend, I remember saying that I hadn't really had time to miss it yet.  Well, apparently I did this week.  While I do still like it for the most part here in Alameda, I'm starting to notice things that I really miss about living in Alaska.

My girlie wrote this earlier this week; I agree!

I'm starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. While the houses here are nicely arranged for maximum privacy on tiny lots, the lack of space is becoming more noticeable.  We are lucky to have a yard at all.  I know that.  But our backyard fence extends directly from the corner of the neighbor's house.  The distance from my back door to the one behind me is about the length of our driveway.  It took some thinking to realize why this lack of outdoor space is getting to me.  This is the most city-like place we have lived in the past ten years!  A-ha!  In Homer, we may have lived in a duplex, but we could see about 8 miles across the bay and into the mountains from our windows.  Even in Connecticut, we lived on a 2-acre lot and rarely saw our neighbors (unless their pup ran over and snatched a toy or shoe from the yard, hehe).  I joked with Mike the other night that our house feels like a mini compound, but it is kind of true.  All of the windows are strategically placed for privacy, but we can't even see the street from inside.

So, I thought I'd find us some nice open space with wild trees rather than landscaped ones and get away from the city.  And I came across an unexpected hurdle.  Campgrounds here get booked up months in advance.  And while most of them allow dogs, most hiking trails and many beaches nearby do not.  We were hoping to venture down to Big Sur for a weekend, but the earliest available is not until October!  And even then, we'd have to board poor Midas if we wanted to hike anywhere.  And Yosemite--forget it, unless we want to try one of those concrete and canvas "housekeeping tents."  We need to sit down with our calendars now and book camping spots for next summer.  Yikes.  In the meantime, we may try our luck with some of the walk-in sites that can't be reserved in advance.  But with a 2+ hour drive to get there, we'll have some sad kids if we can't find a spot for the night.  In the meantime, we were able to reserve some Coast Guard lodging at Lake Tahoe for Columbus Day weekend.  In October, because that was the first available weekend.

Aside from the lack of open space and freedom to enjoy public lands with our pup, there are a few other things I'm missing.  Like a good, non-chain coffee place.  Or any coffee place with a drive-thru.  I had forgotten that the little espresso drive-bys are not a nationwide phenomena.  Another not-so-little thing that I'm missing-- knowing people everywhere we go.  We certainly got used to Homer's small-town friendliness.  People say that Alameda has the same feel, but I haven't gotten a chance yet to meet many people.  I think this will probably change once school starts back up (one more month, yay!).  I did find a new place to work out, thanks to Groupon.  I took my first class at Rise Bodyworks on Monday, and I could barely walk Tuesday and Wednesday.  I take that as a good sign!

Okay, pity party over. But if anyone who knows this area has suggestions for weekend getaways, let us know.  I feel like we must be missing something, because it can't be this difficult to get back to nature without planning months in advance.

We have been starting to explore the surrounding cities, and have lots planned for this weekend.  Last weekend, we ventured to Oakland.  To exit Alameda, you have to go through straight through Oakland, so we thought we'd better get familiar with the better areas of town.  We visited Peerless Coffee, since I'm holding out on using my very last bag of K-Bay beans.  It is a pretty large roasting operation with tons of different varieties.  And they even requested my info for possible wholesale orders of my reusable coffee sleeves.  We also checked out the Pedalfest bike festival in Jack London Square.  We stayed for several hours, with the kids riding in a bike parade and then watching mountain and BMX bike shows.

This weekend, we want to visit Berkeley, both to find a few shops (running shoes, fabric, REI) and to go to the Kite Fest.  Alameda is also having a huge Art & Wine Festival this weekend.  And we have a sitter booked for tomorrow evening so we can have an adults-only bike ride to Park Street for dinner.  We are really loving the bike-friendlieness of the area. Mike is still riding to work most days, and Emerson even learned to ride sans training wheels this week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alameda, Ala-cheetah

So my kids love to rhyme.  And the name just kinda stuck.  Oh, well.

We have been in Alameda for two weeks now.  And yesterday was the first day that I had time to just sit for an hour and read a book.  But, we are completely moved in, unpacked, organized, and even have room in the garage for one vehicle.

Which is a good thing, because vehicle number two gets picked up from the shipping company tomorrow.  Hooray for the smaller car, because the larger one gets even worse gas mileage here than it did in Homer.  The entire island of Alameda has a 25mph speed limit, with lots of stop signs and traffic lights.  Not really great for a 4wd SUV...but the furthest we have to travel is 5 miles, so it balances out.

So, the question we have been getting the most, especially from family who are hoping that we love it here more than Alaska so that we don't move so far away again, is how we are liking it so far.  In short, it's an easy place to live.  We have everything we could need right on the island (and have learned that we will not be driving the multiple I-something-80 freeways to get to malls, Target, etc. more than we have to, which will certainly save money).  We live on a little peninsula connected to the main island of Alameda, called Bay Farm Island.  It's the same peninsula as the Oakland airport--yes, we are in the direct flightpath of Southwest Airlines, but it's not bad.  The kids even refer to our area as the "quiet" part of Alameda.

The tree-lined streets all lead to the San Francisco Bay Trail system, which is basically a paved bike path along the bay.  We are two blocks away, and can ride/walk/run a 6-mile loop without leaving the neighborhood.  Alameda is the most bike-friendly place we have ever lived.  We have had to trade in our views of eagles and mountains for egrets and city skyline, but Mike even rode his bike to work today.  Very convenient.  The elementary school is also two blocks away, and we can walk to at least four different playgrounds in 10 minutes or less.

This is also the most culturally diverse area that we have ever lived, which is quite a difference coming from a place like Homer.  We have neighbors of all ethnicities, and restaurants around town to match.  On Saturdays, we have learned to head down to the main shopping center on the island for Off The Grid, an organized collection of 10 food trucks that rotate each week.  Last week we had lumpia and pancit from a Filipino truck, and the week before it was Vietnamese noodles.  The kids, especially Ava, are doing a great job with trying pretty much anything.  We have yet to find a good local coffee shop, though. Certainly missing my K-Bay Caffe, as I knew I would.  I am already down to my last pound of beans and need to figure out how to get more.

We signed the kids up in advance for several activities to help them make new friends.  They have been enjoying weekly soccer lessons, and we started swim lessons this week and an awesome operation called Aquatech.  Today is lesson #2, and they are excited to go back.  We joined a local yacht club thanks to a very generous military rate, and have used the pool there a few times.  The kids went to a movie night there last Friday, which was conveniently scheduled at the same time as a rum tasting for the adults.  We met several club members and chatted with them about what type of sail boat we should get to do a little racing in the bay.  We were also convinced to sign up for their Monday Night Football program, in which members take turns cooking for everyone in the theme of the teams that are playing on your assigned week.  They gave us the Miami-Tampa Bay game as soon as they found out that we are from Florida.  I think we will be cooking up a November Cuban feast.

So, all in all, we are liking it just fine so far!  We love being able to keep the back door open all day, and the dog loves going in and out as he pleases.  We are sad to hear that we are missing out on the nicest Homer summer in a decade, though, and have found that it is actually cooler here than there right now.  It's going to take us quite while to become completely familiar with the town, as there are just so many local businesses, parks, and things to do.  But we are working on it...and trying to remind ourselves to take time to just relax and enjoy the sunshine sometimes, too.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

AK to CA: The Redwoods

This is long overdue, but we have been spending most of our time settling in and getting rid of boxes.

We spent our last day of the moving adventure meandering our way through the several redwood parks, both the national park and state parks.  We took the scenic bypass route off of Hwy. 101 whenever possible, and managed to spend a full day driving just 150 miles.  The trees were so large that they didn't fit in a single photo frame.  This is three:


The kids loved finding "tree caves" and posing inside of them.

Even other lifeforms are huge there.

Horsetails, as we called them in Homer.  Only these were 10 times as large

Huge, gross banana slug with a friend hitching a ride

We are already missing the two-lane roads through the forests, but at least the speed limit in Alameda is only 25mph.  Not a big change at all!

Monday, July 1, 2013

AK to CA: Day 12(the short version)

Crescent City, CA to Garberville, CA: The Redwoods

This will be short since we are at a nice hotel with a bad wifi signal. I will post a full Redwoods National and State Parks description as soon as we have Internet at our new home. 

We spent 8 hours driving just 150 miles today, stopping along the way to climb into and through trees larger in diameter than our car. I took close to 100 photos, but nothing will do the trees justice. It's just one of those places that you have to experience for yourself to fully grasp. We have been lucky in that we have ended up in many of those types of places on our journeys. Standing next to a 300-foot redwood that is 1500 years old puts things into perspective. 

We are in Garberville, CA, which is having a heat wave like much of the western states. It was in the 60s along the coast, but it's 95 here. Luckily, Alameda looks to be at least 10 degrees cooler. Only 200 miles left! Tomorrow: home! (Where there is no air conditioning. Yikes.)

AK to CA: Day 11...California, finally!!

Portland, OR to Crescent City, CA

We left the Portland area this morning, but not before a little fortification for the drive ahead.

Our GPS told us that I-5 south was the fastest way to get to our night's destination, but we really wanted to get away from the city traffic.  We decided to take the extra time to cut across Oregon to the Coast on Highway 38, and we are SO glad that we did.  The drive across the state along the river valley was very peaceful, and the coastal route on 101 was breathtaking.  By the time we got our first glimpse of the Pacific, we also got to stop and enjoy watching a large pod of humpback whales.

We arrived in Crescent City late afternoon, with enough time to stop for information at the Redwoods National Park Visitor's Center.  A very helpful parks employee gave us information on a small old-growth redwood grove not far away where we could walk with the dog and stretch our legs.  The dog is not allowed on trails within the national and state parks.  We got a small taste of what we are in for tomorrow, when we take the day to drive only about 150 miles thorough the redwood parks.  If these trees are small, we can't imagine what's in store for us tomorrow!

Little girl in the big woods
Inside a tree...oh, yeah!

Me and my girlie...we are so tiny!
One more day of adventure, then on to our final destination!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

AK to CA: Day 10

Portland, OR

We spent an extra day in Portland, mainly because The Nana loves Oregon wines.  She arranged a tour for herself and Mike to visit their favorite wineries, and the kid and I planned to go to the zoo.  But it was just too hot for our Alaskan blood.  Luckily, the Portland Children's Museum is right next to the zoo, so we opted for indoor entertainment instead.  The kids had a blast spending the morning exploring.

Not big enough to incubate dinosaur eggs...

The water room...the highlight of the day

We need to get a retro Lite Brite!

Next we had to make a trip to Target for cooler clothing.  Little Man only had one pair of shorts.  It's near 90 degrees again today.  The kids were especially excited to get their first pair of flip flops.  Yes, their first!  Not safe or practical in Alaska, and they were too young to wear them before that.

Here's a bit from The Nana about the winery adventure:

Mike and Nana had an incredible day in wine country. We  ventured out with NW wine tours at 10am and were very impressed. We toured Priva, a small private vineyard....Sinnean, Bergstrom and Domaine Druhin..all personal favorites. Also Tristeatum, a wine/art gallery. It was educational and so much fun. We were so lucky to meet some of the wine makers who create the wines we love. As one of the wine makers stated," making wine and sharing wine is a very Happy thing. You won't find any grumpy people around here!" Very well was awesome!