Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Day at the Farm

We spent a weekend in October visiting Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, California, just a little over an hour’s drive from Huntington Beach.  The weather was surprisingly fall like, a slight chill in the air, which was a nice respite from the unusually warm weather we have been having.  A family affair, my dad was visiting for the weekend.  Parking was a bit of a challenge, but we started a trend by parking along the highway, right in front of the entrance to the farm.  The place is a bit hilly, so next time we will ditch the stroller. 

The farm had far more than the apple picking we had set our hearts on.  Focused, I got in line and purchased our bag for picking and our entrance to the orchard.  Had I known a bit more, I would have added more.  There are a lot of options—berries, pears, apples, flowers, and pumpkins.  There were goats and cows, too, much to Ele’s delight.  It’s crazy that she is already fifteen months old.  She’s a pretty good walker, now, but she takes off, so we kept her contained as we traversed the farm.  Ele gladly explored the apple orchard, but after tumbling, literally, down a hill, she opted to take a seat and pick and sort the apples that were readily available at the foot of the trees. 

We made our way over to a pumpkin patch—there were more than one—where Ele wandered throughout, trying to pick up the big, heavy balls.  She really enjoyed mooing at the cows next to the patch, but the cows weren’t too impressed.  The area surrounding the farm is beautiful.  It was really nice to feel like we had taken an adventure.  Another area of the farm has a colonial theme, with workers dressed in costumes, and the buildings built in appropriate style.  We’ll definitely try to make our trip to Riley’s Farm a new family tradition.

We stopped at a hole in the wall café in Beaumont, just down the hill.  It was delicious!  I had turkey salad stuffed inside a tomato—not something I would expect from a small town diner-like atmosphere.  It was a fun day!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Escape to Puerto Rico...With a 1 Year Old

Our flight from Fort Lauderdale was only a little over two hours, but we spent the entire day traveling.  We got to the airport two hours before our flight was supposed to leave, to find out it had been delayed over three hours.  They gave us a voucher for $20, so we had lunch on JetBlue, but it really wasn’t enough, looking back at the disaster that ensued.  E was so excited about all the people coming and going, so she skipped her morning nap in lieu of checking it all out.  She fell asleep due to pure exhaustion right when we were going through security, and woke up right when we were finally boarding the plane, a mere 45 minutes. 
Uh-oh.  She was alright the entire flight, but the last twenty minutes was a disaster.  There were some nasty looks and glares, but there was nothing I could do to appease my girl.  Obviously these people don’t remember what it’s like, or don’t have kids.  During that twenty minutes I wanted to scream, run across the ceiling, and tear my hair out.  Luckily, none of that was possible.

It was an hour wait for our rental car, and then another two and a half hour drive.  Oops.  E did rather well, but both husband and E were a bit frustrated with me at the end of the day.  We pulled into our rental at almost ten at night.  What I thought was going to be a two hour flight and one hour drive turned out to be much, much more.  Thank goodness my people are loving when it comes down to the end of the day.

Our rental was great.  We were right on the beach, with views, and also had a pool to enjoy in the complex.  I explored the area all week with four different jogging routes, each of which were beautiful and included ocean front views.  We ate in for dinner most meals, but took lunch with us as we explored some of the western part of the island.  Our place was a fifteen minute walk to Jobos Beach, and a twenty minute walk the other direction to Shacks Beach.  Jobos Beach was perfect for a one year old.  We really liked the Isabela area, and enjoyed a few local restaurants like One-Ten Thai, Ola Lolas, and El Carey Café.  Oh, I miss those places, and look forward to going back some day.  We had delicious Thai food, amazing burgers at Ola Lolas, and mouth watering sandwiches and smoothies at El Carey Café.  Our rental was so relaxing, and E loved the views from the fourth floor balcony.  Our favorite excursions were to a little colonial town in the hills, San German, where we had lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, and wandering the coast around Rincon. 

Throughout our journey, there was a mix of American tourists and locals.  The locals were really sweet, especially to little E.  Ola Lolas was owned by American retirees from Michigan.  It’s located on the road down to Shacks Beach, and makes for a nice jogging path.  It’s possible to jog from Shacks Beach along the sand towards Jobos Beach, and it is a really beautiful run.  The week we spent in Isabela was filled with relaxation, while offering the charm of a small beach community, which we loved. 

Photos: 1) View of Jobos Beach from the beach in front of our rental  2) Ele splashing in Jobos Beach  
3) San German church  4) Ele on our rental's balcony (amazing view!)  5) Shacks Beach

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Train Wreck

At the end of our amazing adventure in Hue, we were to catch a night train to Hanoi.   A train had derailed, though, delaying the entire train line headed north.  As a result our train was delayed.  It wasn’t until 2:30 in the morning that our train finally arrived.  Vietnamese sleeper trains are very clean and pleasant—I have absolutely no complaints.  To this day the worst trains I’ve ridden on were in Italy.  We were supposed to arrive in Hanoi the next morning, but because of the delays it was going to be evening of the next day. 

After a long night and day, our train stopped about 15 minutes outside of Hanoi.  We were in the third car from the front.  Outside, we could see a car had been severely damaged by a collision, and we quickly discovered that it was from our train.  There were five people in the car, not including the driver.  They were in a taxi, a family returning home from a wedding.  The taxi driver decided to cut over the train tracks, and the car got stuck.  Seeing the train coming, the driver bailed from the car, but the family did not have time.  Three of them were instantly killed, one was severely injured, and an 11 year old boy was pinned in the car.  We could see some of this from our window.  Our guide, Phuong, and a former Australian military member of our group, Justin, jumped out to help.  People in nearby houses also rushed to help.  Train officials jotted down notes on their clipboards, and took photos, but did not get involved.  Phuong, Justin, and a few others worked tirelessly to free the boy.  They did, and it was another 45 minutes before a cab was flagged down and sent to the hospital.  He most likely lost his legs.  We were delayed for about two hours.  There was absolutely no damage to the train. 

It was heart wrenching, and we were all shaken from the experience.  It is hard to not feel responsible, in a way, for those deaths, even though it was far beyond my control.  It is frustrating to see no ambulance come in response to a huge tragedy like this.  It was inspiring to see a community jump in to help, immediately.  We were ending our vacation, and were looking forward to sailing in Halong Bay for a few days, before wrapping it up in Hanoi.  We did have an incredible time in Vietnam, but I will absolutely always remember that train wreck with sadness and grief. 

We are so lucky to have so much help at our disposal with a moment’s notice.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Adventures in Vietnam

We had been on the road for four weeks without a single incident.  China, Cambodia, and a week left to check out more of Vietnam.  We had visited Hue, a former capitol, complete with its own forbidden city-like complex and several tombs of former Vietnamese kings.  The highlight of our time in Hue was a day where we spent the first part of the morning on the water, as there is a river that flows through the city.  We traveled to an ancient Buddhist monastery.  It was serene.  Our guide, Phuong, dug in the ground and quickly found a shell from an American gun left from the war.  Hue is filled with scars from the American war. 

Going through the monastery, though, was peaceful.  It was a bit overcast, and Rick and I enjoyed wandering the grounds on a hill rising above the river.  There was a rusted car on display, the car that had been driven to Saigon in 1963 to protest the treatment of Buddhist monks by the Southern Vietnamese government.  The driver, a Buddhist monk, borrowed it from a college student, parked the car, doused himself with kerosene in the middle of the street, and lit himself on fire.  He committed suicide to send a message that the war was unjust.  His home was the monastery in Hue.  At least two Americans copied his act of protest—Norman Morrison, a 31 year old father, burned himself outside the Pentagon in 1965, and Alice Herz, an 82 year old woman, set herself on fire the week before Morrison on a Detroit, Michigan street corner. 

After the monastery, we got back on the boat, headed up the river a bit more, taking in several fishermen.  We got off the boat and got on the back of a motorcycle, each of us with our own Vietnamese driver.  It was awesome.  The rain started to let down.  It didn’t really stop the rest of the day, only occasionally giving us respite. We continued on, and I enjoyed the views of rice paddies, interrupted by narrow roads and alleyways in neighborhoods.  Our next stop was a coliseum like structure.  It was erected during the French occupation (starting in the 1850s) for their amusement.  They used it for animal fights, we were told.  As we peeked through the locked gate, a group of kids came running up to us to check us out.  Having spent some time in Cambodia, I assumed they were trying to get some money.  They didn’t, though.  They were just curious, and according to Phuong, they were on a school holiday, saw us, and just wanted to check us out.  In Cambodia, where poverty is really bad, many children do not attend school because it is much more lucrative for them to sell goods to foreigners.  I did not find that to be the case at all in Vietnam. 

Next, we were off to see some tombs of the Nguyen family, who had officially ruled Vietnam from the early 1800s, but had huge influence in the region for hundreds of years.  We stopped at one of the more impressive tombs, and it was in disrepair.  Having spent time in China, I saw many parallels, but this tomb looked neglected.  Hue is the major crossroads between North and South Vietnam.  Unlike Korea’s 38th Parallel, which is man-made, Vietnam’s division between the north and south had existed for centuries.  As a result, Hue became a crucial part of the war between the Viet Cong (Communist North) and the United States, who supported the South.  There were a lot of major battles fought throughout this region. 

For lunch, we continued to a Buddhist Nunnery, where we had an amazing vegetarian spread.  The rain got far worse, and so we stayed for awhile.  The nuns encouraged us to take a rest in their beds.  Their beds consisted of a bamboo mat—the kind you purchase to hang out on the beach in Hawaii—on the concrete floor.  This was typical throughout Asia—I saw this in several Chinese homes, Cambodian, and Vietnamese.  The rain wasn’t getting any better, so we jumped back on the motorcycles to take a look at an old covered bridge. 

There also happened to be a “history museum” next to the bridge, so of course I dragged Rick in to see it.  An old Vietnamese woman, probably in her 80s, took us around to each exhibit and showed us how traditional people in the region lived through pantomime.  She was wonderful, and when she smiled, her teeth were black.  At the end of her tour, she took some green leaves and chewed them, pointing at her teeth.  Then she offered them to me.  Usually not one to refuse, I did this time.  Thank goodness!  When I asked Phuong about her teeth, he shared that it is popular for older people to chew leaves that turn their teeth black.  It is considered a mark of honor for the elderly.  She was definitely proud of her teeth. 

After wandering through more beautiful countryside, we stopped at a shop selling all kinds of things, but most importantly, incense.  Here I received a lesson on rolling incense.  It’s difficult!  From there we went back to civilization.  We visited a friend of Phuong’s, a woman named Thuy. 

Thuy’s mom was pregnant during the war, and her mother was exposed to Agent Orange.  As a result, Thuy’s arm never fully developed, so Thuy functions with one arm.  Because she was exposed to Agent Orange, no one will marry her, as they fear her children could also have genetic issues.  Because she cannot marry, Thuy, a woman in her 30s, still lives with her parents.  For a living she makes beautiful hats.  Here we would call them rice paddy hats—the conical shaped hats that are stereotypical for those working in rice paddies to wear.  The beauty of her hats is when you hold them up to the light, there is a silhouette of a typical scene in Hue.  I bought a few different sizes.  Thuy was lovely, and spoke reasonable English.

I really enjoyed Hue. The Vietnamese people were so gracious and welcoming.  I think of Thuy often.  She was filled with love and joy, in spite of the life of restriction she leads.  She did not appear bitter, but accepting, and at peace.  I hope to be more like Thuy in my day to day life.

All photos taken by me or Rick McDonough 1) Perfume River, Hue 2) Thien Mu Pagoda  3) Car at Thien Mu Monastery  4) Tiger Arena or Ho Quyen Coliseum  5) Nguyen Tomb  6)  Buddhist Nunnery near Hue  7) History Museum near Hue  8) Thuy & our guide, Phuong  9) Countryside outside of Hue

Saturday, July 7, 2012


It was a very moving moment.  At the train platform at Auschwitz, a group of people draped in the Israeli flag spent some time here, on the tracks.  They sang, embraced each other, cried, and left behind the candles.  To be at Auschwitz is overwhelming and you don't know quite what to feel or do to take it all in.  Watching people mourn their loved ones made it much more of a tangible experience.  While Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel's stories popped in my head, the survivors and their pain, along with the clear connection to Israel's fight, was so vivid on that hot July morning.

A few years ago I started teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict to my senior IB World History class, and it was right after a summer trip to Israel with the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher’s Program  Teaching the situation in the Middle East is difficult.  I often have Arab students in my class who have family in the midst of the situation, and occasionally I also have Jewish students who come at it from a different angle, so it is important to let the students take charge of the learning.  We read The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, an amazing story that teaches the history of the complex conflict, while telling the true story of a Palestinian family & a Jewish family who occupied the same home at different times.  We also watch an excellent documentary entitled Promises, which traces the lives of seven children on both sides of the conflict.  Each child’s family comes from a different perspective, so it is valuable in conveying that there are not only two sides, but several valid points of view.  I also recommend seeing Paradise Now and The Lemon Tree (which has nothing to do with the book) for more insight.

Going to Israel was an amazing experience.  On the one hand, I felt the emotion behind Holocaust survivors to fight for protection from anti-Semitism, for there to be a safe place for them, and a place where they can practice their beliefs in the open, with pride.  However, it was hard to understand the wall surrounding Jerusalem—a barrier.  I have a hard time with barriers, especially physical ones.  It was also powerful to see Muslims, Christians, Jews, and secular, non-religious people living in harmony in a holy city with so much history.  It is possible for there to be peace. 

Friends of mine lived in Jerusalem for a couple of years.  I had a chance to see them briefly, while I was there.  They were not Jewish, and as we sat on a bench eating ice cream,  they shared the woes of finding an apartment to rent since they did not practice kosher eating.  When they returned to the States, I remember Peter telling my husband that he was having a hard time re-adjusting.  He felt guilty for the ease in going about his day.  No one cared what religion he was, what he was wearing, or much else.  In Israel, this determines everything. 

I am so thankful for the thoughtlessness that we have in going about our day, but I am also glad that I had a glimpse, a moment merely, of seeing something else.  

All photos were taken by me on my trip to Poland and Israel.  1) Auschwitz 2) Jerusalem  3) Jews dancing at night in Jerusalem with loud Jewish music meets techno  4) Guns being guarded outside of a Holocaust Museum outside Nahariya.  It is mandatory to serve in the Israeli military, and part of that service includes Holocaust education.  5) Kibbutz outside of Nahariya

Friday, July 6, 2012

Musings of a Parallel Universe

I wrote a couple months ago about being inspired by Mark Twain to go out in the world and try the things that you always wished you had given a shot.  A friend of mine has been talking about being a writer for a living since I met her almost eleven years ago.  At the time we met, she and I were classroom neighbors just setting out to try the teaching thing, and we were both teaching freshman English.  She dreamed of writing, and I dreamed of being a travel writer or host of a show like Globe Trekker.  Neither of us has really changed our minds.  Both of us are still teaching, only I have switched into teaching all history classes, and she has moved to teaching 12th grade English. 

Now she is going out there and doing what we have always talked about doing, and here I am with nothing to show for myself.  Don’t get me wrong—I feel great about my life choices.  I just feel like there is a parallel life or two out there that I could have, would have lived, had I not chosen this particular path.  Sometimes I wonder, too, if my wandering and exploring will lead me to that path, just in a matter of time…I just have to find it. 

Please check out my friend’s journey.  It is very inspiring, and I hope to jump start my own dreams, so please follow my musings as I explore here, on my blog!

All photography by Rick McDonough taken in Shanghai, China

Monday, July 2, 2012

Planning Puerto Rico

We ended up deciding on the Fort Lauderdale beach cottage.  We like the idea of being closer to the city, which gives us more flexibility in making day trips around Southern Florida.  We’re excited about checking out Florida.  I know it’s crazy to go in the summer, but it’s our vacation window, and so we’ll take it!  We will be celebrating our fifth anniversary there, too!

For our next leg, we’re off to Puerto Rico.  I spent a lot of time sifting through different vacation properties.  The end of our time in Puerto Rico will be spent at Wyndham’s Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa, a beautiful hotel with a AAA four diamond rating.  I’m using almost half of the points I won from the Women on Their Way travel blog contest to stay at the resort for three nights (90,000 Wyndham Rewards points of my 200,000).  We are super excited about staying there, so we made that our last three nights.  That left us a full week to find a vacation rental. 

Here are the two we deeply considered.  The Rio Mar resort is on the northeast part of the island, close to San Juan, so we will explore that part of the island and El Yunque rain forest while we stay there.  Because of that, I looked for an entirely different area of the island to make our base for the week.  I looked at Fajardo, on the east coast, a couple of places on the southern coast, but I kept going to properties that were on the west coast in Aquadilla, or the northwest, in Isabela.  Here are the two properties that were available during the week we needed.  We went back and forth on them several times while deciding.

Option 1:  Aguadilla 2 bedroom condo with ocean views, beautiful pool, free parking, wi-fi, children’s playground, and a 3 minute drive to the beach.

We really liked the size of this unit, not to mention the amazing views.  We usually stay at more budget friendly places, but I looked at this week as the highlight, big budget item of our year, so I justified spending more money than usual.  We really like this one because Ele would have her own room.  It seems silly, as she is in a crib, but it would be nice to close her off at bed time and have the run of the place without sneaking around her or moving her. 

Option 2:  Isabella 1 bedroom condo with ocean views, pool, free parking, wi-fi, and it’s on the beach, but it’s a 15 minute or 20 minute walk to beaches that are safe for children. 

We couldn’t get over the balconies and views from this unit.  It’s right on the beach, which is really appealing, as vacation is the only chance for this type of view or experience to happen!  The down side is that Ele will have to go to sleep in our room, and then we’ll have to either sleep with her in there, or transport her after we’re ready to go to bed to the living room.  The thing we kept coming back to when debating the two units are the amazing views from the balcony, even better than the Aguadilla unit.  There’s really comfortable furniture on the balcony, and a grill, so we can also have meals out there.  It’s more expensive, though.

When it came down to it, I was going over the options with my dad, and I realized that we will not be able to stay in a unit like that the next time we go to Puerto Rico, unless it is just Rick and I.  We hope to grow our family soon, so we could potentially stay at the Aquadilla unit with more kids in tow.  With that realization, we opted for an amazing week on the beach, option 2.  I am super excited about our Puerto Rico vacation.  Now I just need to research what to do to keep my 1 year old bug bite free!  We also need to rent a car, still. 

***This picture isn't our exact unit, but the views are similar.  Click on the vrbo link to see the unit.

Photos:  1) Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa  2) Wyndham Rio Mar  3) Aquadilla balcony view  4) Isabela condo complex  5) Isabela balcony view

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dreaming of Vacation

I’m dreaming of the trip we are going to take this summer!  With teaching behind me, I am itching to make some decisions, so I can feel like it’s really here.

Originally, we had planned to go to Boston for a few days, and then on to Ireland.  We had wanted to go to England, but with the Olympics starting in late July, we can’t be bothered with all those people that will be traveling around the U.K.  Flights to anywhere in Europe are so expensive this summer!  After watching prices for a few months, I just don’t have the gall to spend this much money to get to Ireland.  If I were flying to the Middle East or Asia, I might justify the high price, but it should be at least $500 less than it is to get to Ireland right now.  Ugh!

I thought we could possibly go to Costa Rica, but I do not have the heart to expose my daughter to all the bugs.  Perhaps I’m a fool, or ignorant, but we have decided upon Puerto Rico as our destination.  I have no idea if it has just as many bugs, but in reading reviews, people didn’t mention it.  With flights from L.A. being 9-10 hours with U.S. stops, we are splitting up the travel, just as we had planned to do with getting to Ireland.  We’re going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida!  We’ll wander South Florida for a few days, and then head on to Puerto Rico.  I’ve only landed in Miami, so I would love to explore a little bit of Florida.  My husband has not been as far south in FL, so he’s excited to check it out as well.  Here are the two rentals we are weighing from

OPTION 1:  POMPANO BEACH, 20 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale

It’s a 1 bedroom condo, on the ground floor, ½ of a block from the beach.  It looks clean and nicely decorated.  The price is about the same as option 2, but we would have to rent a crib, so that is an added expense. 

There’s a pool, free parking, and wi-fi.  Looks nice, right?


It’s also a 1 bedroom, but it is a beach cottage, so a bit more private.  It’s a 6 minute walk to the beach.  It also looks clean, and it has charm.  A free crib is included.  There is no pool, but if offers free parking and Internet. 

Which one would you pick?

Photos: 1) Fort Lauderdale, Florida  2) Pompano Beach, Florida 3) Pompano Beach unit, vrbo  4) Fort Lauderdale unit, vrbo

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Redefining Myself

I played soccer in college and coached high school soccer in the off season, so by the time I graduated my identity was very much wrapped around being an athlete.  While I was student teaching the following spring, I tore my ACL playing in a spring league.  Since I couldn’t take any time off while student teaching, I had to wait three months to have surgery, and then it was another six months of physical therapy and such before I could really start exercising regularly.  During that time I learned to adjust to a new version of myself.  It seems like there are moments in our lives like these that call for us to shift who we are.

 Now that I am a mom, I am here again, changing, but also trying to remain true to myself.  A huge part of me is adventure, so I romantically envisioned myself with my baby on my back, but continuing on.  I’m finding it a bit more complicated, though.  In trying to decide upon a travel destination, we considered Costa Rica.  My parents bravely moved our family to Costa Rica when I was 11 months old.  If they can do it, I can visit there for a week, right?  I had an amazing time with 3 of my girlfriends over a Spring Break several years ago.  I would feel totally comfortable taking my daughter there.  Then reality hits.

We have to go in the summer, rainy season.  No problem; she’ll need afternoon naps every day, anyways!  Then I envision our car stuck in the mud, or rolling over, with my sweet little girl.  Who is this person?  I have never been one to think of these scenarios.  Stop it!  Then I remember the flying cockroaches.  They won’t hurt her—it’s okay.  Oh, but those mosquitoes.  No big deal when it’s just me, but my precious baby?  I don’t want her to have to suffer.  Can I put Jungle Juice on my 1 year old?  Probably not.  Hmmm…

As I read the descriptions of all the great things to do, I want to go zip lining again.  It was my favorite.  Ele can just ride with me, right?  Or Rick can just hold her while I go, and then he can go.  Maybe we can ride horses?  Oh, I suppose we shouldn’t.  

I will take our girl to Costa Rica, but maybe not while she’s this young, too young for malaria pills, it seems.  I don’t want to allow for my fears to take over.  I want to teach Ele to be a risk taker, and traveling is such a great way to teach her so many things.  I know that we would have an amazing trip with her if we did go, but I am going to try another idea, and hope this one doesn’t get cast down as I try to keep that piece of myself that I love.

All pictures taken by me on an old fashioned film camera! 1) Monteverde Cloud Rain Forest 2)Manuel Antonio National Park 3) Dominical 4) Monteverde Cloud Rain Forest

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

San Francisco

Since having a baby, we’ve taken two road trips.  The first was comfortable—an hour and a half getaway to San Diego.  We spent the week exploring a different part of the city, slowed down by the demands of a napping and hungry four month old.  Ele did really well, though, so I was emboldened to try something further away.  We picked Angels Camp, which ended up being about an eight hour drive from home.  We broke up the drive by heading to Bakersfield for the night, to pick up my dad, who was joining us for the week.  Since Ele only naps twice a day, now, there was a lot more flexibility.  We spent the week training her to nap when we were in the car, and I entertained her on the drives when it wasn’t time to nap.  It was a success, and Ele is quite comfortable in her car seat because of it!

I won a travel blog contest through Wyndham’s Women on Their Way (Hooray!), and they invited us to stay in a four star hotel in downtown San Francisco.  Who can pass that up?  We decided it would be our first flight with Ele, so we packed our bags—one for us, and one for Ele.  It’s amazing how much gear a baby needs, and we really streamlined things.  Since we had to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel, I played it safe and brought the car seat, too.  The great thing is, since we flew on a Wednesday and Saturday in May, the flights were not full, so Ele was able to sit in her car seat in her own seat both ways.  I’m not expecting that when we fly across the country this summer!

The Parc 55 Wyndham was beautiful, and I really enjoyed meeting some of the other blog contest winners—6 of the 10 of us were there.  I’m honored to be a part of the group, as the other women are pretty amazing.  The hotel provided a crib and refrigerator, so it was pretty easy for us.  We were right by Union Square, so we could walk along Market Street, down to the Embarcadero and back, without any hills.  On Friday we decided to wander, so we put Ele in our little backpack carrier and hit the streets. 

One of our favorite things to do in a city is to just start exploring.  We headed towards Chinatown, checking out the stores and people as we ambled.  Ele absolutely loved being in a city with tons of people.  She had started to say hi to people a few weeks earlier, but with a person everywhere we turned, she adored the attention and responses to her friendliness.  We’ve noticed that people are so much more open and willing to speak to us now that we have a baby.  

For lunch we hit our favorite Chinese restaurant, the House of Nanking.  We ended up sharing a table with a mother and daughter from Tennessee in the city for the first time, and enjoyed their excitement.  Ele especially liked the sweet potatoes on my plate.  From there we headed a little through North Beach, but then through a neighborhood I hadn’t checked out before.  There were some charming boutiques and some really nice antique stores.  It’s been awhile since we’d been to the Embarcadero, and it is so much nicer than it used to be.  The stores and restaurants in there are something we will have to check out again. 

We followed the water front and walked to Pier 39.  We visited the sea lions, but Ele was far more interested in grabbing the attention of all the people that were gathered to see the sea lions.  As we waited in line to catch the cable car, we met a nice couple from Ohio who had driven across the country in their motor home over the past month.  The next day their nephew was getting married in the Japanese gardens in Golden Gate park.  That must have been a beautiful wedding, as the weather could not have been more perfect.  Ele’s first cable car experience was trumped again by her interest in entertaining the passengers!

The next day we had a couple of hours before we had to head to the airport.  After a delicious breakfast at a local restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge, we wandered down Market Street and discovered Yerba Buena Gardens.  It was a really cool area, with museums, a charming French restaurant, and a live jazz concert in the park.  We’ll definitely head back here when Ele is walking, as there’s a children’s park with a museum, carousel, and playground.  Ele was so excited to have a chance to crawl in the grass while we enjoyed the live music. 

I love San Francisco, but it is quite a different experience with an infant.  Traveling with a baby is awesome, but we have really had to rethink the way that we travel, the activities we plan, and the pace that we go.  We’re still trying to figure it out, as we try to plan for taking her overseas this summer!

All photos taken by Rick McDonough 1) View from our hotel room, Parc 55 2) Chinatown Graffiti 3) Embarcadero neighborhood 4) Ele 5) Chinatown 6) Yerba Buena Gardens 7) Night view from our hotel

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.” –Mark Twain

It was Mark Twain’s famous story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, that convinced my husband that a trip to California’s gold country would be a good plan for Spring Break.  We decided to head up north for a week, and our temporary home would be Angel’s Camp, the town where the frog once lived.  The foothills of the Sierras are beautiful this time of year—everything is green, the trees are regaining their leaves, and California poppies adorn the hillsides.  There are charming mining towns up and down Highway 49, and we had fun exploring a few of them.  People are really friendly when you have a baby, so we met a lot of nice shopkeepers and restaurant owners.  

The town of Murphy’s became our eating out destination.  It has some neat shops, and some day I would love to return to rent a vacation cottage or to stay at the local B & B, an old Victorian.  There are dozens of wineries in the area, and the town features many tasting rooms.

It was on one of our drives on a windy road that we turned to check out Mark Twain’s cabin on Jackass Hill.  Apparently he spent 5 months living in a small cabin, while he tried his hand at mining.  They built a replica of the cabin on top of this hill, named for the donkeys that pack trains kept there.  It was here that Samuel Clemens—Twain’s real name—scrawled down the notes that eventually became his frog chronicle, the story that made him famous.  He had heard the story in the local tavern at Angel’s Camp. 

What was Twain doing as a miner?  It turns out that Twain did a variety of things, in addition to writing fiction like Huckleberry Finn, a book I remember reading in high school.  He was a newspaper writer for a number of different towns, from Nevada City, to San Francisco, to Buffalo.  He started his twenties as a steamboat pilot along the Mississippi.  After the fame of his jumping frog tale, he was hired as a travel writer for the Sacramento Union. 

My heart is a flutter at dreaming of the possibilities that lie ahead.  My day job does not define me, even though I absolutely love it.  I can still be a Mark Twain or Lawrence of Arabia.  May Samuel Clemens inspire you to go out and turn over that rock—you never know what could be waiting for you to discover.

Credits:  The Mark Twain House and Museum web site, , for more background on Twain’s life & Rick McDonough for the photography.