Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bodega Bay

Jill's Journal: We have a completely ridiculous amount of incredibly fun things scheduled over the next few days, so here’s a few sedate pictures from today (I’ll share the more exciting ones tomorrow). Yet more beautiful coastline in yet another charming seaside town…this one Bodega Bay.

We probably won’t be hugging the coastline quite as tightly as we thought we’d be on our way up north (as cell coverage is somewhat spotty and Rob needs an internet connection for work), so we’re enjoying it while we have it. Bodega Bay looks like it would make a wonderful vacation spot. Quiet, beautiful, and lots of fun outdoors opportunities.

Although neither Rob nor I (and certainly not the girls!) have seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds,” much of it was filmed in Bodega Bay. This 1873 building, the former Potter Schoolhouse, is supposedly the star of the final scenes in the film. This now-private residence (technically located in nearby Bodega) is really a neat-looking old building and stands out from the other architecture of the area.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Erika’s Version of San Francisco

Jill's Journal: Erika hates writing (she thinks it’s a terrible chore), but we do a little every week as part of school. Today her assignment was to tell us about yesterday’s time in San Francisco. I thought this was too cute not to share.

Only One Thing…

Jill's Journal: In reviewing our long list of things we had wanted to cover (and did!) in San Francisco, I realized there was only one thing we never tackled. And it was by choice – Alcatraz Island, shown here in one of our snapshots from the Fisherman’s Wharf area. The girls are still young and they have not enjoyed the two or three occasions I’ve taken them to historic jails or prisons on this trip. They’ve been uncomfortable each time. Instead of thinking (caught) bad guys are interesting, they find them a little scary, for lack of a better word. So, after discussing it, we saw no reason to give them nightmares with this most notorious of federal prisons. Rob and I have both taken the tour before and it’s fascinating, but we’ll save it for our girls when they’re older, if we ever make it through this area again.

Royal Wedding

Jill's Journal: Rob made fun of me (boo!), but since we have tv at our location this week, I wanted the girls to see at least part of this morning’s royal wedding. Yes, I know we’re not British and we’re far more interested in someone like Mickey Mouse than we are in celebrities, but I thought it was still an historic event they should see.

Unlike a lot of girls, I wasn’t enamored by weddings when I was little (I would much rather daydream about horses than weddings), but I distinctly remember watching the Charles and Diana spectacle as a little girl and thinking all the pageantry was just amazing. And besides, there were lots of horses in the processions!

Sure enough, the girls settled in for the highlight show here on the West Coast and were pretty enthralled. What little girl doesn’t like a fairy tale? They then spent the rest of the day pretending they were queens, kings, and princesses. But guess what their favorite part was? The procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace…because of all the horses, of course. They are my daughters, indeed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Big Day in San Francisco

Jill's Journal: Today marked our final full day in San Francisco and, just like the other three, it was a very, very full day. This one was also extra special because it was highlighted with not one, but two, cable car rides.

It started with yet another drive across that magnificent bridge. If we ever make it back to San Francisco with older children, we’d like to bike across it in the pedestrian/bike lane. They just weren’t ready for it at 3, 5, and 7.

Our number one goal of the day was to get the girls on a cable car, the thing they most wanted to do in the city. We had scoped out the locations and the one with the shortest lines by far was the Powell and Mason line – but at the end of the line (Taylor and Bay) near Fisherman’s Wharf. Seeing those cars turn around is really a treat. What a well-orchestrated, old-fashioned marvel.

Here’s the girls riding on their first car, on the inside. On our second car, all three got to hang off the side just as they envisioned. Part of their vision probably didn’t include their parents keeping a strong hold on each of them…but safety first. Reality bites. :)

And one final cable car shot. I think the cable cars will probably be the number one thing the girls remember about San Francisco because they anticipated the ride so much and then thoroughly enjoyed it when we got the chance.

The girls loved being able to see the cable underneath the street which pulls the cars. After riding the cable cars, we negated the entire point of riding by then walking for nearly three miles around the city, including over the top of Nob Hill. Of course, three miles up and down the steep hills in San Francisco has to be the equivalent of walking about double that anywhere else. Then add kids into that equation, including a 3-year-old who needed some carrying up those hills…and we felt we walked closer to 10 miles in theory than just three.

Normally sidewalks are a smooth line, if that makes sense. This one was curvy to accommodate some tiny one-car garages. The girls loved leaping off each hump. You just don't see sidewalks like this anywhere else.

Union Square. Most people know this is one of the world’s premier shopping and theatre districts and the heart of San Francisco, but not everyone knows it was named for the pro-Union rallies staged in the plaza during the Civil War. (I didn’t know that either!) The 97-foot tall monument commemorates the U.S. victory at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War.

Our impromptu walking tour led us to the lovely Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill. The original Grace Church was built at a different location in 1849 during the Gold Rush. When San Francisco was leveled in the 1906 earthquake and fire, the church wanted to rebuild. A family gave their also-destroyed property on Nob Hill for a new, more prominent location. The cathedral took a few decades to build and wasn’t completed until 1964.

Grace Cathedral is as imposing inside as it is outside. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have all preached here.

Also at the cathedral is the AIDS Interfaith Chapel, a memorial to the nearly 20,000 San Franciscans who have died of AIDS. This is a piece of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, with each panel three feet long by six feet wide (the size of a grave). The quilt block is rotated regularly to represent the tens of thousands of names sewn into the fabric.

Our final major stop of the day was the Palace of Fine Arts. The girls had a big treat waiting for them – an afternoon at the Exploratorium. I don’t even know how to describe the Exploratorium except to say it’s a hands-on science and perception museum. It’s perfect for school-age kids (and, I suspect, for adults with even a passing interest in science).

I had never been to the Exploratorium before, but Rob had been a few times and was in his element showing the girls around. It’s tough to tell who enjoyed it more. I just stood back and immensely enjoyed watching them all together.

Erika especially loves science and I believe could have spent all day there (and perhaps multiple days). She was fascinated by just about everything.

Even the little girls had fun and I don’t think they even knew they were learning.

Happy girls, distorted by the glass.

Extraordinary grounds. Stunning, really. It was the perfect ending to our adventures in San Francisco proper. We’ve had such a fantastic (and utterly exhausting!) time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marin Headlands and Marine Mammal Center

Jill's Journal: Just on the “other” side of the Golden Gate Bridge lies a wilderness of sorts. It’s protected land, part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, and the crown jewel has to be the Marin Headlands. The beautiful hills overlook the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco itself. It’s the perfect spot for miles and miles of hiking and picnics. (And wind, lots and lots of strong wind. In fact, the wind can get so strong through all the ridges and valleys it can reach hurricane force during winter storms – yikes!)

Here’s a view of Rodeo Beach. The sand on the beach fades into a lovely lagoon on the other side (hidden here by a hill).

There’s a ton of historic military fortifications throughout the Headlands. This one, Battery Mendell, was built in 1905 and once housed the biggest guns in America. Two cannons could hit vessels eight miles out at sea.

The picturesque former chapel at Fort Barry is now the Marin Headlands Visitor Center.

The girls and I had one main goal of the day after school and that was to visit the Marine Mammal Center, located in the Headlands. Here’s Victoria getting cozy with a sea otter statue and wishing she could make friends with a real one. Alas, the 65 patients today were mostly elephant seals, with several harbor seals and a handful of sea lions.

About 20 hospital pools just like this are at the center, which is the largest marine mammal hospital by volume in the world. They rescue between 600-800 animals a year from the California coastline. It’s mostly different varieties of seals which have been injured in some way (trapped in fishing nets or trash left by careless humans, attacked by sharks, etc.) or malnourished pups separated from their mothers. The hospital operates if necessary, nurses them back to health, and releases them back to the wild. It’s been featured by Mike Rowe on “Dirty Jobs” and is really a neat place. The girls truly enjoyed it. Erika, my science-minded child, even got to watch part of an elephant seal necropsy (the younger two are not ready for such things, so I kept them occupied around the corner). She was completely fascinated, yet another of many indications that a medical career just may be in her future.

Where are you going next?

One of the jokes during the trip has been about where we are going next. During a conversation with Kristi once I blurted out - "70 degrees." Its been a quip ever since, whenever a fellow campground dweller asks what our next move is, even if we know (which as all you readers know - isn't always), I seem to say "70 degrees."

Well, this morning I looked at the weather, and it appears as if the joke is on me. I've been very fond of the weather here in Novato - not too hot, not too cold, and I can usually be found with any window around me open to the breeze. I've made the joke into the truth - I'm in '70 degrees.' My hope is to try to keep us in that belt of good weather (especially considering what's going on in some other places weatherwise) for a good long stretch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Out the Window

Jill's Journal: Today’s nice, educational afternoon I had planned for the girls went out the window when Rob hijacked the car and dropped me off for a surprise pedicure while he took the girls to the library. And after picking up my happy, relaxed feet (with me attached), he took us all to an unexpected dinner out. He is a keeper!

And that educational afternoon? Tomorrow is another day (said using my best Scarlett O’Hara voice).

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 1969

Jill's Journal: This adorable couple is celebrating an anniversary today. I’m particularly grateful they married 42 years ago because I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. I think it’s the best decision they ever made (well, other than having kids, of course – can’t overlook that!). Happy Anniversary, “Grandpa” and “Beppy!”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Jill's Journal: Easter was the last major holiday we had yet to spend in the fifth wheel and we continue to be amazed at how normal life really is in our miniature home. We celebrated just like we did just about every other Easter since we’ve had kids, including sharing the Easter story and enjoying an egg hunt.

I love this little egg made by Madelyn. It’s a happy egg, just like her.

The big girls made a cute craft – the chicks’ wings are their handprints. Our littlest one started the craft and well…she was displeased with the glue situation (i.e. not given free rein with the glue) and refused to finish. It’s never, ever, ever dull around here with three little ones.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pacifica to Novato

Jill's Journal: Our time in Pacifica has been lovely – it’s a cute area literally 10-15 minutes from downtown San Francisco – but today was time to move. We’re not totally leaving the area yet, but we did head north of the city instead of south of it. Our new “home” is in Novato, about 20 miles above San Francisco. There are quite a few really interesting things to see north of the city, so we’re excited to be here. The RV sites here are still quite petite, but not nearly as tight as in Pacifica. Thank goodness. I don’t think anything could be quite as tight as Pacifica.

The downside to our move? We’re no longer on the ocean. The upside? There’s sunshine, glorious sunshine! In Pacifica, it’s so foggy the power lines sometimes drip like it’s raining. The temperature went up by about 15 degrees just by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to the other side. Between the fog and the claustrophobic quarters in Pacifica, a week was plenty of time. It feels great to be above the city.

We do have one more day we’re planning to spend in San Francisco, so that will come soon. Surprisingly, we have found San Francisco to be the most difficult of the big cities for us so far on this trip. Between the ridiculous scarcity of parking, the very steep streets which make walking with little ones almost impossible, and the absolute mobs of people, we have found San Francisco to be incredibly non-family-friendly, at least for our kids’ ages (babies we could carry would be fine; older kids would probably also be fine). There’s a ton to see here, of course, and a lot of cultural opportunities for families who live here. It’s a wonderful city and we’ve had a great time, but it will be somewhat of a relief when this area is behind us. Novato already feels like a whole different world (in a very good way).

Friday, April 22, 2011

San Francisco, Act 3

Jill's Journal: Any idea why this man is dressed like a pirate spray painted in gold and standing on a bucket? Anyone? No? Me either. Believe it or not, we saw two gold guys and one silver guy today, plus a multitude of other street performers. The girls especially like the musicians. Madelyn will start dancing at the drop of a hat, while Erika is more intrigued by the process of what they’re doing. Victoria? She just likes to take it all in.

It was full day #3 for us in the heart of San Francisco. We started with a tour at the Boudin Sourdough Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Boudin is San Francisco’s oldest continuously-running company and for good reason: the bread is divine. Simply DIVINE. When gold was discovered near San Francisco, the Gold Rush quickly swelled the population from under 1,000 to over 20,000. It was at that time (1849) that Boudin started as an old-world French bakery, one of more than 60 bakeries serving the suddenly swollen population.

But Boudin was different than the others. Their traditional French bread had a distinctively tangy taste due to the way the wild yeasts and lactobacillus cultures in the leavening reacted to the foggy San Francisco climate. Viola, a new and enticing bread was born: “San Francisco Sourdough French Bread.” (As Erika was excited to learn, sourdough has been around since ancient Egyptian times, but the San Francisco variety is both the most “sour” and the most popular type in the U.S. today). Anyone who bakes knows sourdough bread is unique in that it needs a “starter,” or a portion of previous dough which provides the natural yeast for leavening the next batch. The wild yeast/lactobacillus in this “mother dough” has a strain of bacteria similar to what is found in other fermented products like wine, cheese, and yogurt. It’s “alive” and must be regularly fed flour and water to keep it happy.

Visitors can watch the baking process from beginning to end. And the smell? Oh, that ambrosial smell.

Boudin’s mother dough today has been fed continuously since its beginnings 162 years ago. A small portion is shown here on display. Each loaf of bread uses a bit of the original. In addition, in spite of today’s widespread use of preservatives, sugars, fats, dough conditioners, etc., Boudin remains 100% true to its original recipe of only flour, water, salt, and the mother dough. The result? Heaven on a plate.

My two favorite pieces of Boudin trivia: The company used to hand-deliver its bread all over San Francisco in the early-morning hours, just like milk used to be delivered to individual homes. Houses had nails on their front doors so the delivery men could quickly hang loaves on their route. And (trivia piece #2), in 1906, as San Francisco was collapsing around them in the massive earthquake, a member of the Boudin family had the presence of mind to scoop up the mother dough in a bucket as they fled the crumbling walls. Boudin as we know it would not be in business today without that calm response in the eye of the storm.

After our bakery tour, we had the San Francisco staple of Boudin sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder. What a marvelous combination. The bread is perfection. The clam chowder is very nice as well. And yes, I know this is going to offend several of our loved ones, but with apologies to all the fans of California’s “New England” clam chowder – it’s just not as wonderful as what is found in the East. We’ve tried it at all the Central California places that are supposed to be the best at recreating the New England varieties (Pismo Beach’s Splash CafĂ©, Half Moon Bay’s Sam’s Chowder House, Boudin Bakery, and more). And while they are all very, very good, not a one of them is the mouth-watering, delectable “chowdah” that warms you from the inside out and literally melts in your mouth. There’s a reason it’s called “New England Clam Chowder.” And that’s okay! There’s also a reason it’s called “San Francisco Sourdough” – that can’t be recreated anywhere else either. We just feel incredibly lucky and so blessed to be able to try these authentic dishes in the places where they’re done best.

The girls got little individual sourdough loaves shaped like turtles. Happiness!

Other than sourdough, what else comes to mind about San Francisco? Surely cable cars would be up there. We’ve relentlessly been trying to get the girls on a cable car, but the crowds and lines are crazy. We’ve even looked at hopping on at one of the intermediary stops, but there’s always small crowds even there and it would be impossible to find space for five of us. We finally stopped by the Cable Car Museum (shown above with a cable car going by) in an effort to at least learn a little about them.

Amazingly, this is the machinery that runs every single cable car in San Francisco. Cable cars are towed along tracks in the streets by a moving cable and have no motor or power of their own. San Francisco has the only operating cable car system in the world.

This is the only surviving cable car from the original 1873 fleet.

Levi Strauss is another San Francisco institution and we also stopped briefly by the Levi Strauss “vault.” A German immigrant, Mr. Strauss had one of the most prosperous dry goods businesses in the west. A Reno tailor named Jacob Davis bought fabric from Strauss and made trousers that used copper rivets for extra strength. They were such a hit that Davis decided to patent his invention. Strauss provided the financial backing and the name. In 1873, the patent for riveted clothing came through. The rest is history.

The girls favorite thing about Levi’s Plaza? Undoubtedly the fountain they could run through.

On our way home, we took a beautiful drive through the Presidio, which is located on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. In 1994, it ended 218 years of military service for three nations – first for Spain, then Mexico, and finally the U.S. It’s now a wonderful park, residential area, and national historical landmark. The national cemetery on the Presidio grounds overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fort Funston was an unexpected stop on the way home. We kept seeing hang gliders in the air and decided to stop. It turns out the 200-feet sand dunes overlooking the ocean and the strong ocean “breeze” (I’d call it more of a vicious wind!) make it one of the nation’s best hang-gliding spots. These guys make it look effortless.

After the kids were safely tucked in bed, a former junior high school friend of Rob’s stopped by for a visit. Stacy is a traveler herself – five continents and counting! – and a complete delight. It was a lovely end to a very, very busy day.