Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.


Pinnacles National Park

After Adam's horrible case of shingles, visitors, and a weekend of rest, it seemed like forever since we had explored a new place. We spent a few hours at Golden Gate Park on Thursday, but we've been itching to go somewhere beyond the city so Saturday we decided to make the short drive to Pinnacles National Park. I can't even begin to describe how much fun it is to have a never ending list of places to go near where we live. There were so many places we never got the chance to visit in and around Nashville, but it seems like for every one or two places we visit here, I add another five or six to our to-do list. With an active little boy, it makes for some exciting weekend adventures and this adventure seemed to be his favorite yet.

Saturday morning, we woke up and headed out at a pretty decent time for us on a Saturday, just after 10:15. We drove a little over two hours South East to the West Entrance of Pinnacles and arrived just before 1pm. 

Our first stop was the visitor center so we could be sure to get Landon's passport book stamped. As I walked in and said hello to the park ranger I noticed this little sign hiding in the corner.

My initial thought was that it was a complete joke. Call me naive, but I didn't realize there were tarantulas in California. If I had, moving here might have taken a lot of convincing. So just about the time I realize that it probably isn't a joke, Adam walks in and I point to the sign as I start to freak out. He looks over at the ranger and ask how likely it is that we will encounter any tarantulas to which she replies, "You might see some on the trails. Their mating season is just about over". Their what? I was seriously ready to leave at this point, go home, call it a wash, and never return. We'd go ahead and stamp Landon's book of course, but that was it. As we walked by the car, I literally had goosebumps all over my body. If it was only me, I would have left, but I couldn't do it to my boys and my damn determination wouldn't let me. I never let myself be restrained by my fears which has allowed me do some pretty amazing albeit rather scary things. This may have been the top of my list. In the jungles of Belize, when were preparing to go zip lining, our guide pointed out the tarantula holes to us. Unaware then as well, I informed that if he pointed out an actual tarantula he would be carrying me out of the country. Thank god, we never saw any that trip, and to ruin the anticipation, we didn't see any on our hike at Pinnacles either. I did however see a number of holes along the way and thanks to a guide in Belize, I'm pretty sure I knew what they were. 

So once we left the visitors center, we set some ground rules for the day. No joking about tarantulas, if I jump on your back at anytime please let me stay there, if I start to pass out you better catch me, because if I wake up and one is on my face you will be a 31 year old widower. After all parties agreed, we made our way to the Balconies Trail. The Balconies Trail is a fairly easy 2.4 mile loop which takes you through the Balconies Cave. This is the view from the trail head.

Created by an extinct volcano Pinnacles is aptly named from the lava rock formations that peak out of the ground. It's a favorite place of rock climbers, but for some reason Landon wasn't as interested in climbing these rocks as he was at Arches National Parks. He immediately exclaimed they were too high and he would hurt himself. As we started our hike we came across a number of pine cones and buckeyes littering the valley ground. Growing up with an Aunt who was a die hard Ohio State Fan, I'd seen many buckeyes in my life, but none like these. They were huge. Also huge, were the pine cones. Even the pine cones from some of the tallest trees in Yosemite had nothing on these.

We took the path upward first, leaving the caves for the end of the hike. With only a 100 feet elevation change the initial climb took us up out of the floor of the and gave us a vista of the formations. You can see the trail weaving through the trees in this picture.

What's hard to see in the pictures is just how colorful the rocks were. With shades of red, brown, black, blue, green, and gray. The sun shining directly on the rock face brought the colors to life. If the sheer size wasn't enough to impress, the natural rainbows on the rocks sure were. It was nothing like I had ever seen.

When we were at the visitors center the park ranger asked if Landon wanted to earn a Junior Ranger badge. Any kids ages 3 and up can participate in the Junior Ranger program and it is free. The ranger gives them a booklet for activities to complete on their visit and once they have completed any six within the book they earn a badge. This was something I had heard about, but we hadn't participated in at any of the parks. Although Landon was a little young for some of the activites, he still tried and it was a great way to keep him busy while Adam took pictures.

The activities were fun for kids and required them to interact with the park. Some included drawing the caves and naming animals inside and other required conscientious habits while visiting the park. His favorite was tracing the buckeye and drawing the winter leaves on the buckeye trees.

One our way out to Pinnacles the weather was really gloomy. We had driven through rain most of the two hour drive, but we were very fortunate with clear skies and mild temperatures.  In the Summer, the park can reach well into the 100's and that would be way too hot for any of us to enjoy. Instead, we enjoyed a crowd-less hike and were able to stop and go at our pace. Landon exploring and Adam taking photos. This photo was about at the crest of the hike, before it starts heading back down.

Another favorite activity of Landon's while Adam takes pictures is to eat. I've learned to ALWAYS bring plenty of food. Nothing is worse than a hungry whining boy in the middle of a hike. I've made that mistake before. So while Adam sets up for some long exposures, Landon enjoys a sandwich. Hands down, food is the best way to get him just sit still. 

As we made our way down we came across the Balconies Caves. We didn't realize until we got to the park that you can take the trail through the cave and so we were a little unprepared. We had read that we would need a flashlight or headlamp, but we first came into the cave we didn't think it would be necessary.

Boy were we wrong. Adam happened to have his headlamp in his bag, but we didn't bring Landon's. I used my phone's flashlight. The caves were formed by tallus which are fallen boulders that wedge inbetween the rocks and create a pocket of space underneath. In some places the light came through the boulders like here.

But in other parts, it was completely pitch black. Landon had a ball climbing up and over the rocks and asking if monsters were in the cave.

He followed right behind his Daddy and did amazingly well. There were some pretty tight places and tall steps to climb and they all seemed to be in the darkest parts. Some of the boulders were pretty low too which required bending down as low as you could without actually having to crawl. We even managed to have a little fun with the tallus.

Don't be fooled by my face though, I was taking up the back the entire time I just kept thinking that if I saw a tarantula I would run away screaming back the way I came. Who knew what would lie ahead after one and I didn't want to run over my family on the way out. Had we planned better and had more lights, we could have taken our time a little more and looked for bats. We didn't happen to see any, but we were only focused on the ground.

Once we came out of the cave it was only almost the end of the hike. It definitely didn't seem like 2.4 miles even to Landon who, for a change, was over it before we got to the end. He's gotten his stamina up a lot over the last year and this hike seemed to a breeze for him.

Once we were back to the car, we went back to the visitors center to show the ranger his booklet and earn a badge. I didn't realize it at the time, but when a new ranger get his first badge they have a to take an oath. It was unexpected and the cutest thing ever. As she started, I pulled out my camera and caught most of it on video. 

After taking his oath, he received a cute little ranger pin and a woodpecker badge. We plan to get him his own camelpak backpack for Christmas so I'm going to have it sewn on there for him. I'd recommend anyone who visits a park with kids to participate in these ranger programs. I wish we had done it at all the parks we've visited recently.

Since we didn't come across any tarantulas, I have to say Pinnacles was an extremely enjoyable little day trip for us. Had I known about the tarantulas, I wouldn't have gone. I'm still not sure I will ever camp there. I may have Adam research a little about tarantulas and when they are active. However, I will be sure to visit the park again. One thing we really missed was seeing a California Condor. They like to ride the warm air pockets around the balconies, but we didn't see any while we were there. It would be really nice to go back another time and witness one as long as the tarantulas
continue to stay in their holes.


A New Type of Thanksgiving

This year, Thanksgiving was very different from all 28 in the past. With the exception of one year when I had a stomach bug, I've always spent Thanksgiving with lots of family. Even last year when we lived in Nashville, we came up to Louisville to celebrate Thanksgiving with everyone. We've stayed home a few times on Christmas, but never Thanksgiving. This year, we didn't have a choice.

So on this Thanksgiving morning, I didn't get up early to take a shower. Honestly, I didn't shower at all. I didn't get an early start cooking dishes to take to my Dad's house. I didn't pick out a cute Thanksgiving outfit for Landon or dress up myself. Instead, Adam got up with Landon around 9am and they let me sleep in. I woke up at 10:30...on a holiday! Once I was awake, we made some cinnamon rolls for breakfast and talked about what we should do for the day.

We decided to go to Golden Gate Park which is the central Park of San Francisco. We quickly found out that it has a little bit of everything including a number of playgrounds, a few dog areas, bike trails, a number of lakes, an art museum, botanical gardens, a Japanese Tea Garden, and a designated area for every sport you could ever imagine. Before we could see it we heard music blaring from a small concrete area and came upon the roller blading/skating rink.

We weren't quite prepared for sports, but that didn't matter because even if you don't have your own equipment they have all types of bikes to rent. Or peddle carts for the whole family. At the boathouse you can also rent paddle boats for a trip on the water. And for people who aren't inclined for physical activity, we saw a number of open air, two person motorized cars for audio tours through the main roads of the park. We happened to have Kaiser with us so we pointed out places on the maps we'd come back to another time and noted some activities we will try. Beyond the plethora of activities, the park is the perfect place for a stroll as it is a welcomed oasis in the vast concrete jungle of San Francisco. With lush greenery for miles, my Mom will be happy to know that there is also a TON of green grass. We went just to walk around for a bit of exercise for the boys and explore some new places. It wasn't long until we stumbled upon one of the playgrounds. Naturally, Landon had to stop and play for a bit.

With a peanut butter sandwich for convincing, we left the playground and headed down one of the paths to discover more of the park. We passed the conservatory of flowers, which seems to be the perfect place for a picnic, but didn't linger as it said dogs were not supposed to be in the area.

We continued past the De Young Museum, a fine arts museum in the middle of the park, which supposedly has commanding views of the park which are supposedly laid before you in 360 degrees from the museum's tower. Across from the museum is a music concourse which is littered with fountains. It ends at an amphitheater that is a host to a number of events throughout the year. Nearby, we passed the entrance to the Japanese Tea Garden. From what we saw from the outside, it very much represented the gardens in Japan. An entrance fee is required and dogs are not allowed, so we snuck a look inside and put it on the list of things to do another time.

We continued on and found Stow Lake, a man made circular lake where you can rent the paddle boats. A number of people were out on the lake enjoying just that. The lake was full of different ducks and birds and we walked around it for awhile before making our way back in the direction of the car.

I really enjoyed the park as it was a welcomed and unplanned new experience not far from our house. San Francisco has the most beautiful parks. The number of activities and events is unending, but the park itself is what steals the show and no two feet are the same. From bamboo gardens to rose gardens, pines to catcus, we saw a little bit everything on our short adventure. These were my two favorite tress of the day. They don't even look like they would grow in the same part of the world.

 Even the boys had fun just walking through the park and playing at whatever they came across along the way.

Obviously, that is a race car he is driving. When we got back home Adam and I started working on Thanksgiving dinner. While he started on some mac and cheese especially for Landon, I made an appetizer, homemade mozzarella sticks. They tasted pretty good, but didn't turn out exactly like I was hoping.

With only three people to feed, it wasn't the biggest spread. We bought a turkey breast instead of an entire turkey which still was more than enough for the three of us. We had macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and rolls. I even managed to make some chocolate chip cookies for dessert (the break and bake kind).

I didn't spend a ton of time in the kitchen or slave over making the most gourmet food. I have one very picky eater and a three year old who can be picky so it just isn't worth it. Since we haven't purchased a kitchen table, we sat around the coffee table, Landon sang his prayers and we ate. We talked to Landon about Thanksgiving and asked him what he was thankful for. His food, of course, was his first answer. After the second round of prayers, I asked Landon to go one more time so I could take video. This is a prayer song that he learned at his daycare and although he is acting a little silly this time, I want to remember these little stages forever.

We spent the evening, lounging around the house and enjoying having nothing to do or anywhere to go. That being said, Adam missed our family a lot. I missed seeing everyone, but I realize that following our dreams has consequences and I seem to be able to deal with that better at times. Maybe holidays are going to hit him more or maybe he is just now becoming homesick. I know his Grandmother is the biggest reason for that, especially since she is one person we know won't be coming to visit us here. For me, I did miss being a part of Thanksgiving with my extended family, but in a way not having everyone else around made me cherish these two guys that I did have even more. One thing I've learned is that leaving behind everyone you know makes you appreciate them more, but it really strengthens the bond you have with the family you're left with. I never would have thought Adam and I would be able to grow closer, but new experiences such as this bring us closer and closer. Next year, if we can manage to go home I would love to, but this year I am most grateful for the ability to really enjoy my little family. To appreciate them in a way I've never known before and to grow closer with each passing day. Happy Thanksgiving!


A Birthday Visitor

Last Thursday night, my Mom and the man she is dating (Jack) flew in from Louisville for a visit. They were supposed to arrive during the day, but their flight was delayed which meant that Landon and I got to surprise them at the airport. It was just as much of a surprise for Landon as it was for them. He had no idea who he was waiting for as we watched people come out of the terminal, but he said he wanted it to be Grandma.

Lucky for him, it was! With a late arrival our originals plans were scrapped and instead we enjoyed a quick dinner before a trip up to Twin Peaks for a view of San Francisco. Unfortunately, it was a foggy night and the city was barely visible, so we called it a night and went back to our place.

Friday, while I was working and Landon was at daycare, Adam took them around some of the sights in downtown. They made their way to the Ferry Terminal and to Fisherman's Wharf were they ate lunch with a view of Alcatraz. I'm jealous. Afterwards, they continued over to Coit Tower for some wonderful views of the city.

Then they walked to China Town before Landon and I met up with them for dinner at Calzones in North Beach. Calzones is the best little Italian restaurant in Little Itay, but I'm not sure "best" counts when we haven't even tried any others. We found something good and have stuck to it, but Mom agreed, it was delicious!

When dinner was over we walked around the area for a bit before dropping them off at Pena Pechamama for a night of live music. Located in North Beach, Pena Pechamama is an old speakeasy which now serves as a Bolivan vegan restaurant that has a variety of nightly entertainment. When I first heard about the place I immediately knew that Mom would enjoy it. It's always fun to go somewhere and do something you couldn't easily do at home. They had a great time and talked the place up enough that it's somewhere I would like to go on a date with Adam.

After, a late night, we all slept in Saturday. Once we were all up and moving we had a big breakfast before heading out to one of the most perfect San Francisco places, the Marin Headlands. If someone only had one day in San Francisco, I would recommend they spend half of it at the Marin Headlands. Maybe it's because my first real San Francisco experience was there, but I really believe that this is the place where you fall in love with the city. 

We took them to the very top, to a place called Hawk Hill, where we hung out for a bit enjoying spectacular views of San Francisco. 

And of the headlands from the opposite side.

Once they were done picking their jaws off the ground and able to move on, we found our way to a quiet little sport for a picnic. I think this was the part of the day I was most looking forward to. I've been waiting and planning a picnic, slowly accumulating the perfect picnic items and I had to admit, it paid off. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic of meats, cheese, hummus, fruits, and wine. Now, I just might have to picnic every weekend.

After our little feast, we headed back to the peninsula to share another wonderful San Francisco experience, sunset on the beach. We made our way down to Marshall Beach where Landon played in the sand while we pulled out the blanket, enjoyed the last of the wine and watched the sun fade into ocean. 

I have to admit, it wasn't the most spectacular sunset I've witnessed here. The sky was a pallet of colors, but only momentarily. Still, it was beautiful and we hung out on the beach until darkness began to fall at which point we made our way back up the mountain (as Landon likes to call it) and to the car. Adam snapped this picture just as we were leaving for the night.

Since it was dark, but only 6pm, we decided to make a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts. A beautiful open air domed structure situated on a lake, it's a place Adam and I had been wanting to visit and when we passed it earlier it caught our guest's attention as well. We walked around the area, enjoying the structure lit up at night while reading about it's history.

Built to resemble Ancient Greek architecture, this peaceful oasis downtown makes you feel like you are transported to Ancient Greece, a world away from bustling San Francisco. Even Landon enjoyed the visit, telling us stories about the angels while we walked around. Afterwards, we went back to our place and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out.

Sunday, we decided to get some brunch on the way to Muir Woods, a place my Mom really wanted to see. After a little research we decided to try a well known brunch place called The Dipsea Cafe. It was a great choice! We had omelets, eggs benedict, home style potatoes, fresh biscuits, pancakes and even a pumkpin waffle. The food was wonderful and the setting was adorable. I know my Mom enjoys a good brunch and we really found a gem with this place. It is somewhere we will be frequenting often on our trips to Marin as it's on the way to Muir Woods and Muir Beach. After we were good and stuffed we made our way to Muir Woods. 

Jack, asked if I ever get tired going to the same places. I've been to Muir about 4 or 5 fives now, but the answer is no. I think I could go to Muir Woods everyday for a year and never grow bored. As my Mom put it, it's an enchanting place. It's impossible to explain it with words, you just have to feel it. I've never really understood what it was that made Muir so enchanting until I heard the park rangers talk this visit. I've heard other talks, but this time the park ranger explained that Redwoods have tannic acid in them which helps them fight fires, disease, and ward off insects. Because there are not many insects in Muir, there are not many birds. Thus, for woods, it is very quiet. When she said that, it hit me like a tons of bricks. I knew it was quiet and still and that it was different, but I could never put my finger on the reason why. Now it made sense. Any place outside without birds singing might sound unattractive, but I can tell you it is anything but that. Just another reason why I could visit everyday.

Of course, they both loved it and I'm pretty sure this was Mom's favorite part of the trip. After our afternoon visit to Muir, we parted ways for the next few nights. My Mom had rented a condo through her timeshare near Santa Rosa so they left for their condo for a few days in wine country. While they enjoyed wine tours, we went back to work and school for the week. Mom's birthday was Tuesday and we planned to meet them that night for dinner. Landon was most excited about her birthday because he knows birthdays mean birthday cake. Since he was so excited for cake and loves to help, I thought he could enjoy baking a cake for her, so Monday night Landon and I had a baking session. Complete with a full spoon licking session.

Tuesday, after work, we drove up to Petaluma and met them at a wonderful Italian restaurant. I think all of us ate every single bit of our dishes. After dinner, we headed back to their place for birthday cake, ice cream, and gifts. Can you tell what Landon was most excited about? Poor little guy had to wait about 24 hours after we baked it to eat some delicious lemon cake.

Mom opened her cards and gifts. Since she came to California to celebrate her birthday and loves pictures, figuring out what to get her this year was a no brainer.

A picture of all us from Saturday overlooking the city. We returned home late Tuesday night and didn't see them again until Thursday night. They arrived in the afternoon and we spent the evening together eating Chinese takeout and enjoying the night before their flight back home Friday morning. 
While I wish I had been able to celebrate Mom's birthday with her all day Tuesday, the entire trip was a fun reunion/celebration for all of us. I'm so glad she chose to spend her birthday with us and I hope that she ended up having as much fun as we did. 

Living so far away from family really makes you enjoy the time you get to spend with them. It's fun and exciting, but also bittersweet. Lucky for us, we've had a lot of visitors and will have many more. Mom is already planning her next birthday trip, for Landon's birthday in January. Now we have big shoes to fill to make his as much fun and I can only hope I look this good when I turn 62 years old! 

Happy Birthday Mom! 


Tidepool Exploring

By far, the biggest downfall of moving has been leaving our friends and family both in Nashville and in Kentucky. The move from Louisville to Nashville was easy and seamless, but there is a HUGE difference when you add an extra zero to the number of miles between you and the people you love. Nashville was 300 miles away from Louisville and was easily drivable. San Francisco is almost 3,000 miles and even a plane trip takes at least 5 hours. So, I was really hopeful that coming out here I would be able to make some friends quickly. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case thus far. Landon has been able to do that, but he is three and the friendliest child on the planet. I work in a very small office and, while everyone is nice, there just isn't anyone I have really clicked with. It doesn't help that my Nashville co-workers left some pretty big shoes to fill. Moving to a new city, working full-time, and having a family doesn't leave a lot of ways outside of work to meet people.

On the upside, not chit-chatting all day with my friends at work has again given me the opportunity to listen to Dennis Prager three hours a day. Just a few weeks ago, he was having an hour on the importance of friends (he ALWAYS speaks to me!) and brought up that you should date for friends like you date for a spouse. He mentioned how great it would be for there to be a friendship dating website of sorts. Just a few minutes later a caller mentioned that there was a wesbsite called Meetups. I immediately downloaded the app and spent the evening scrolling through the thousands of groups in the Bay Area. This website might not be as popular in other cities that are not as large, but believe me when I say that in the Bay Area there is a meet up group for EVERYTHING you could ever think of. Scrolling through, I found of number of meetups that caught my eye. In order to “meet up” you must ask to join the group, give a little information about yourself, and sometimes contribute a small amount of money. I found a small girl's group in my immediate area, a book and wine club, and a travel club. I also came across a young adults group for the church we might become members of and a family group centered on adventures with children. It seemed like this could be the answer to solving my loneliness. Now, I just needed the courage to actually go to one of these group meetups.

Last weekend the family group had an outing and I thought it would be a good way to try out these meet up groups while doing something together as a family. Adam’s case of the shingles has been pretty debilitating so I wasn't sure if he would join us, but I really wanted to get out and do something fun with Landon. The group is ran by an organization called Tree Frog Treks. They're an organization who are all about making science fun, connecting with nature, and exercising one’s imagination. How perfect is that for a little boy? Their aim is to take kids outside of the conventional classroom and bring them into contact with the nature in their own back yard. They have a number of events and activities all over the city including at their facility. Most of these things are still a little too advanced for Landon, but it definitely seemed like an organization we’d like to get him involved in as he gets older.

The adventure they had planned for this weekend was exploring the Tidepools in Half Moon Bay. As low tide approaches in the late afternoon the receding water exposes a rocky sea floor that is littered with pot holes. These pot holes become shallow pools of water and trap all kinds of sea life temporarily and allowing children a glimpse into life underwater. After a short hike to the tidepools, we arrived at 3:30pm just as the low tide was beginning. As the water continued to go out, more and more of the ocean floor became exposed.

This adventure was recommended for children over 4 years old and you could tell that some of the older children, around 8 years old, were getting a lot more out of the experience. It took Landon awhile to understand exactly what we were doing and to be patient and look for animals, but once he did, he was really excited. The program had two guides who were both extremely knowledgeable and were able to make it fun for kids of all ages. They suggested we bring containers with us and Landon really enjoyed scooping up the water to try and find something.

Some of the older children were able to find large crabs, nudibranch, hermit crabs, and shrimp. We found a crab and shrimp more Landon's size.

But size didn't matter to Landon who still thought it was pretty need to scoop his container into the water and come up with animals.  Mr Science, the guide, was able to show us some larger crabs that he was brave enough to pickup.

As we continued to explore, the tide was continuing to recede and the amount of exploring seemed endless.

Someone would shout they found something and everyone would run over to look and see what it was.

Funny thing is, I think I was more excited to explore and find some animals than anyone in our family. It was a little intro to scuba diving for a three year old that can't be underwater. 

For me, the most interesting thing was the millions of  anemones.  When they are underwater they look like this...

But when the water recedes they close up all of their arms to become a small lump with a center hole. As the water pulls out they become covered in sand and shells and look nothing like the animal they are when they are underwater.

Yeah, that's right. It's an animal. When you touch it, even the closed up exposed ones shrink even more. Adam's favorite part was that the arms, when touched, are sticky, because they are injecting small amount of poison into whatever is touching it. For humans, it is harmless, but that is how they catch other animals to eat.  

Just about the time they were beginning to spot the big animals, such as starfish and octopus, Adam started to feel really badly and we had to leave. It was his first time out of the house in over a week and while his shingles were getting much better, he was still in a lot of pain. We had to say goodbye from the group early as they continued to explore.

Despite our shortened trip, it was a ton of fun. I was so happy that I was turned on to meetups and discovered that family group. We will definitely be doing more events with them in the future and be going back to the tidepools again. Not only did we learn a lot about animals and the habitat, but it was an absolutely beautiful setting.  I don't know if I will have as much luck with the other groups, but this one was a hit.