Stuffed full of gratitude

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Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that over the time I lived in Seattle, I carved out a set of traditions on Thanksgiving. The Ballard Turkey Trot followed by bagels with M & J and later on dinner with M, J and any other folks we happened to rope into the festivities. So, I was really nervous about what we were going to do this year and was already trying to figure out my exit strategy so it wasn’t a huge bummer weekend. (Ironically, I was planning to visit Erik & Nerissa in the Bay Area before the universe stepped in and helped me out with that arrangement.)

Even with the new surroundings, I still found myself thinking a lot about M and that whole situation. As I prepped the sweet potatoes she’s always requested, I allowed myself to enjoy the memories of our past holidays and, without getting too woo-woo about it, said good-bye to that part of my life and wished her well. I joked to T that it was culinary equivalent of pouring out a forty for your fallen homie. (We’re so gangsta now… )

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So, it is time to forge some new traditions. This year, we were hosting Erik & Nerissa in a house that one month ago movers were loading boxes into. (Talk about something to be grateful for!) We opted to trade the Turkey Trot for a nice hike, but we decided to keep the bagels portion of the program. So, Erik & Nerissa joined us for some carbo-loading and we all headed over to the beautiful parks near our house.

They brought Kali with them, who was very happy to be here:TD15_ErikNerissaHikeWe had a nice long hike. Austin got to be off leash for a lot of it and had a great time running through the woods. The rest of enjoyed a more leisurely pace:

TD15_GroupHikeI can’t believe these views are only a few miles from my house:

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We ended up hiking for almost two hours, which was a little more than Wally had in mind. He was pretty wiped. Even Kali and Austin were pretty chill when we got home…

TD15_KaliAustinWe had some time before dinner, so we ate snacks and played some Mexican Dominoes. (There may have also been some champagne… )

TD15_MexicanDominosWe finished the game and made a huge and delicious dinner. We ate and drank good wine and had a lovely meal. Then there was Cards Against Humanity and more wine and laughing so hard my clavicle hurt. Followed by pie.

TD15_CAH(Photo courtesy of Nerissa… )

It is ridiculous how much I have to be thankful for this year. With all of the terrible things happening in the world, it seems so important to appreciate good fortune while you have it. I hope you and yours are enjoying similarly awesome holidays right now.

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Adventures in Oakland

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We’ve been settling in to our new life. It’s really weird to have mild sunny weather in November, but we’re enjoying it while it lasts. Working at home has been an adjustment, but, for the most part, I’m enjoying it. The dogs have found their own routine where they battle over who gets the chair by my desk:

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And because my office is upstairs, I try to limit Wally’s trips up and down the stairs. When I make him stay up there, he gives me his famous sad Lab face:

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T takes Austin to the office a couple of days a week, so I see this face a lot…

T found an awesome dog park really close to his office, so we went and checked it out one day after work. Not only is there tons of space for Austin to run around and chase critters, but there are gorgeous views of the bay and San Francisco:

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Why yes, that is the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. From the dog park… Crazy talk!

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We’ve been enjoying exploring the trails near our house:

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This trail is only three miles away from my very urban neighborhood. It’s crazy.

We’ve also some fun adventures. We got to spectate cyclocross with my friend Katy:

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We took Austin down to meet Erik & Nerissa’s dog Kali. Since they are basically the same special dog, they had so much fun playing.

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It was a lovely evening until T dropped a knife while carving chicken. It bounced back up and nicked his calf. With the blood thinners that he’s on, it bled A LOT, so we ended up in Urgent Care:

UrgentCareT

Luckily, he didn’t need any stitches and was totally fine.

I had another crazy thing happen. One day, when I was getting some water in the kitchen, I heard this weird noise. It turned out to be a hummingbird. IN my kitchen. Trying to get out the closed window. I was so scared that he was going to die trying to get out (or I would inadvertently kill him trying to get him out of there.) I took a broom and he’d land on it for a moment or two before resuming his efforts. Thankfully, he moved to a new window and I could remove the screen from the one next to it. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of him before his successful escape:

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It was so crazy to see one so close. I guess that’s what we get for painting our kitchen red. 😉 I’m just glad this little nugget was at the office with his dad:

Austin

Fireworks

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It’s been quite the summer so far, (more on that in another blog post), so I’ve been excited to have a 4th of July visit from Erik & Nerissa on the calendar. Erik’s birthday is at the very end of June, a few days earlier than their arrival, so we prepared a little mini-birthday celebration – cupcakes and Goldschläger (long story). We opted to divide the cupcakes into quarters, so we had Erik hold his candle while we sang Happy Birthday…

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It may have been Erik’s birthday, but Nerissa brought us a present from her recent business trip to Japan – exotic KitKat bars. (Green tea and red bean flavors, in case you can’t tell.) I actually wish they sold these in the states, they were delicious.

ExoticKitKat

I’d originally worried that we were going to have our typical gray and rainy 4th of July weather, but we actually had the opposite extreme – temps in the 90’s. Here the dogs demonstrate our primary coping mechanisms… Option one, hang out in front of the fan:

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Or Option Two, hang out under the shady tree in the backyard:

FrogDogVoila, Option Two!

LawnGroupWe finally got to take them to Essex/Delancey:

CocktailEssexWhat a nice-looking group:

EssexGroupErik showing off his fruity cocktail:

ErikCocktailOn the night of the fourth, we opted to stay home. It was lovely. We grilled, drank wine, watched the fireworks from our back porch and stayed up late playing Mexican Dominos. #murica

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We stayed up way too late, but it was lots of fun!

MexicanDominos1We wrapped up the visit with a delicious dim sum brunch at Din Tai Fung. (Pro tip, if you go mid-morning on a holiday Sunday, there’s no wait!) We stuffed ourselves with dumplings and then wandered around Capitol Hill. It was the perfect end to a lovely visit.

Catalina hijinks

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After yesterday’s craziness, it was nice to have a day to sleep in, enjoy the island and hang out with T, Erik and Nerissa. After a big bacon-filled breakfast, we took the golf cart into town. Judging from the huge group of finisher shirts heading to the ferry, it appeared that most people were heading home today. Which meant we had Avalon to ourselves for the most part:

RecoveryHijinks06RecoveryHijinks05But that just means no witnesses to our silly photos!

RecoveryHijinks02Catalina has a bunch of crazy painted bison dotted around town:

RecoveryHijinks01Which means more photos…

RecoveryHijinks_BuffaloBoysAfter browsing in the cute shops for a while, we headed up to look at the Wrigley Memorial Botanic Garden. Apparently, I ran down this yesterday…

RecoveryHijinks_WG3It was really interesting to see a botanic garden of succulents and other local plants:

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I love how sculptural succulents are:

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Nerissa in the garden:

RecoveryHijinks_WG4We walked up to see the memorial:

RecoveryHijinks_WG5It took me quite a while, because there were many stairs involved:

RecoveryHijinks_WG8RecoveryHijinks_WG9But the architecture was impressive:

RecoveryHijinks_WG6As was the view:

RecoveryHijinks_WG7Naturally, I made Erik pose on the Bridge of Science. (We never really figured out what made it “sciencey”. I figure placing a physicist on it certainly helped!)

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All of that walking around worked up an appetite, so we headed back to town and stopped for ice cream. (Yep, I’m rocking the dorky compression sleeves in public.)

RecoveryHijinks_IceCreamOur final Avalon activity was to go check out the old Casino building.

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We’d originally planned to do a walking tour of the inside of the building, but they were having a special event and not offering tours. The Art Deco murals on the outside are quite cool:

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The outside of the building is quite nice as well.

RecoveryHijinks29Then it was back to the condo for some lunch, a brief nap, some adult beverages and some croquet. The complex had a little court, so it seemed like a very pleasant afternoon activity. T set up the court and Nerissa ran the wickets to show us the course.

RecoveryHijinks32Her dedication to the art of croquet is impressive:

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We had a very enjoyable time, croquet is a silly game. (Made sillier by us and a little alcohol… )

RecoveryHijinks_CroquetRecoveryHijinks35RecoveryHijinks34At the end of the game, Nerissa had us do a fun panorama shot:

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The rest of the evening was filled with fun card games, (Cards Against Humanity, obvi, and a really fun game that Erik & Nerissa brought called “We Didn’t Play Test This At All.”) champagne/wine, delicious dinner and lots of laughter. It was a fantastic way to end an amazing weekend. We stayed up too late for our early wake-up call, but it was worth it.

The next morning we were up early to catch the 8:00 ferry. This meant one last sunrise:

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Packing up and getting to the ferry was hectic, but we made it happen. Farewell, lovely island. Thank you for a beautiful weekend. Even the tough parts…

RecoveryHijinks40RecoveryHijinks44Good-bye, ridiculous condo. You were a wonderful place to stay.

RecoveryHijinks45The ride back was a bit quieter and more subdued than the ride out. Thankfully, so was the external temperature.

RecoveryHijinks41We killed a few hours in Long Beach. First at a great breakfast place and then a really cool coffee house:

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Then it was time to say good-bye and head for home. Such a fun trip!

Out of the gray and into the blue

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Even though we’ve had a very mild winter here in the Pacific Northwest, I was still soooooo excited to get away to some California sunshine. Our flight landed early and coincided nicely with Erik & Nerissa’s arrival. After buying all of the groceries that we could fit into the rental car, we made our way to the ferry terminal for our trip to Catalina. They had this handy topographical map. Whose idea was it to run a marathon on this mountainous rock?

CatalinaArrival01And, of course, Erik & I had to get our picture taken with the pirate bison!

CatalinaArrival02(Fun fact about Catalina: back in the in the 20’s a film crew brought bison to the island to film a western. Naturally, they left them behind and the herd flourished on the island. Now, they are part of the island’s local wildlife.)

After a long wait in line, we were onboard the ferry, (im)patiently waiting for departure:

CatalinaArrival03The ride over was quite lovely. We saw a bunch of dolphins as we neared the island, jumping and frolicking in the ocean ahead of us. Naturally, any attempts to photograph them with my iPhone were futile, so picture dolphins in this view:

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After so many years, I was nervous that it would have gotten ruined, but it was still just as beautiful as I remembered.

CatalinaArrival05We picked up our key and took a taxi to our condo, approximately a mile or so from town. It was like stepping into an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” I mean, this was the view from our balcony:

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CatalinaArrival07Wicker-palooza on said balcony:

CatalinaArrival11I thought they did a nice job with the mission-style architectural touches inside.

CatalinaArrival10But the highlight was this:

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I mean, look at that tub! (Sounds of choral music) I felt a little guilty about the giant bathtub, given the very serious drought situation that California is in, but after a hilly marathon, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

It was a chill evening, given the ungodly early hour I had to get up the next morning. We grilled some chicken and hung out on the balcony. I laid out all of my race stuff and went to bed early in the fruitless quest to get a good night’s sleep.

Christmas traditions

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This year, Susan came up to Seattle for Christmas. For many years, she would do a pre-Christmas party that we would come down for, but it’s been a long time since we spent actual Christmas together. (I want to say we were living in Oakland, so maybe 2000?) Back then, I was so busy trying to create this perfect Christmas experience, that I wouldn’t actually enjoy any of it. So much has changed since then!

Now, I’m less worried about having some Martha Stewart-style fancy holiday. I want to hang out with the people I love, eat great food and drink some delicious adult beverages. Over the years, we’ve developed our own traditions, like the traditional Christmas eve starchfest… uh, I mean… pittaha:

xmas2014-PittahaWhich we served on T’s and my Christmas present to each other: a new table for the dining room:

xmas2014-TableSettingAnd of course there are lots of dogs to love:

xmas2014-SusanDogpileChristmas morning started at dawn (both Blue and Susan are early risers!) Susan had said that she hadn’t bought much, but the big pile of presents told a different story. My brother also outdid himself:

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They also gave us a gift card that T turned into this:

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Susan gave T a bit of his childhood:xmas2014-TandBobsSauceI think the real winners of the day were the dogs. Even with the fancy new decorations, they had an awesome time:

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Someone had so much fun, he fell asleep half way through the present opening.

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He still managed to rally for a little Christmas day run, still in his ribbons. We finished up the day watching movies and making a nice pork loin for dinner. Very pleasant.

The next day, we resurrected an old family tradition of mine: the returning gifts/going shopping the day after Christmas. I’d managed to ruin Susan’s big gift to us by buying a pressure cooker over the black Friday/cyber Monday weekend. (Bless her heart, she was very nice about it.) So, we were off to Macy’s to return it and get some new cookware. We scored an awesome deal on some shiny new Caphalon which will replace the set we got when we got married:

xmas2014-NewPansWe finished up the day with a trip to Roux, for some deliciousness:

xmas2014-RouxDessertsFor the final day of our visit, we decided to make some sugar cookies. Susan typically makes a batch every year, so we decided to observe that tradition as well:

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It turns out that moose can be tricky:

xmas2014-Cookies2We may not be professional cookie decorators:

xmas2014-Cookies3And things got a little punchy toward the end…

xmas2014-CookieFight1xmas2014-CookieFight2The next morning we sent Susan off with a nice little brunch at Skillet, and then she hit the road for home. We ran errands and prepared for our upcoming new years adventure. Stay tuned for another exciting blog post!

The motivating power of Mother Nature

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For our last full day, Nerissa had a nice long hike planned for us. Ten miles in all, on a trail filled with river views and waterfalls. Originally, we’d planned it with the anticipation of hot weather and taking little dips in the water as needed. But, Mother Nature decided to favor us with cloudy skies instead. We fueled up with a fantastic smoked salmon scramble (roughing it!) and got ready to hit the trail.

Y14-TFhike3The crazy thing about hiking in this area is the diversity of terrain that you go through. We saw everything from lush forest:

Y14-TFhike2To huge fields of granite:

Y14-TFhike4Y14-TFhike5And, of course, there were rest stops/photo ops:

Y14-TFhikeTandIY14-TFhikeEY14-TFhikeTEventually, we joined up with the river and added cool water views to the already interesting granite:

Y14-TFhike14Y14-TFhike8Y14-TFhike10 Y14-TFhike12Y14-TFhike11Y14-TFhike13Erik eventually decided that enough was enough and stayed at a good lunch spot, while the rest of us went on to see Tuolomne Falls. As you might expect, there was a fair bit of climbing involved.

Y14-TFhike6When we got to the falls, Nerissa and I clambered out onto the granite across from the falls, while law-abiding T kept going down the trail. The view down was beautiful, but a bit unnerving:

TF-viewAnd, of course, the falls were breathtaking:

Y14-TFallsNerissa captured this cute photo of me:

Y14-TFallsMeAnd I got this (slightly blurry) shot of her:

Y14-TFhikeNThe more observant folks may have noticed the increasing presence of ominous clouds in the background of my photos. We were definitely concerned about them as we rendezvoused with Erik for lunch. We ate quickly and hit the trail. Of course, there’s only so quickly you can hike this kind of terrain:

Y14-TFhike7We started getting little sprinkles of rain, but nothing too bad. It wasn’t until we got back to camp that the rain seemed to be getting serious. We decided to investigate Tuolomne Lodge for drink/dry hangout options, but that turned out to be wildly mis-named. It was then decided to head down to Lee Vining, a tiny town next to Mono Lake. The rain continued to get stronger, so it was definitely the right call. We ended up eating dinner at a weird gas station restaurant and then getting a glass of wine at the bar at Mono Lake Inn, a surprisingly pretty spot, should you find yourself in the area.

When we got back to camp, we were greeted by an unbelievable sunset (the combo of the wildfire smoke and rain clouds?)

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It was a bummer not to have a last campfire night, but it was a fun adventure in that “making the best of it” way. We turned in early and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of rain on tent.

The next morning it was overcast with showers in the forecast. We discussed the possibility of doing a short hike, but it was generally agreed to just head for home rather than chance getting caught in the rain. We stopped for a surprisingly delicious lunch in the tiny town of Oakdale and made it to Erik & Nerissa’s place with plenty of time to shower and repack our crap. I’d scheduled T and my flight for later in the evening, so we had time for a nice walk and yummy dinner before going to the airport. It was nice to have a leisurely transition to civilization.

I’m so grateful to have been able to go on this impromptu adventure. Many, many thanks to Erik & Nerissa for inviting us and being such magnificent hosts. I’m hoping this will be the first of many fun travel adventures to come.