Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bay in Two Days

Although it was more than a month ago now, I needed to take a moment to blog about the great birthday I had this year.

It seems that Valerie decided to surprise me with a last minute vacation to San Francisco for just the two of us. She had already taken care of all the arrangements in advance and had even gone so far as to contact my boss at work to clear my time and make sure that there wasn’t anything major I would be missing in my two days away from the office.

San Francisco is one of those great cities that must be seen and visited that is just a couple of hours by plane from Seattle but we never seem to have enough time to go down and explore until now. It had also been a long time since just the two of us went anywhere together and thanks to the very nice friends who were able take our kids for us, this was destined to be a stress-free and much-needed vacation.

We caught the first flight of the morning to San Francisco on Tuesday, September 15th. Our plan was to not rent a car, not figuring to need or want one since we would be spending all of our time in the city. Since it was just the two of us for a couple of days, we packed all of our gear into a large backpack that I wore to keep us very mobile.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, we took the BART system right from the airport to down town. The plan was then to purchase a three day unlimited cable car pass. The cable car stopped not far from our hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. What we hadn’t counted on was that the cable cars throughout our time there were exceptionally busy. We waited for about ½ hour to board them as they came and went full but it looked like we would be there much longer waiting.

We decided to hoof it to our hotel instead and started walking and exploring. It turns out though that what had only been a couple of inches on the map was really quite far. San Francisco is also very hilly (gasp!). Well, after a few blocks we decided to just hop in a cab. That was a good decision… since we survived. Ever play that video game “Crazy Taxi”? We lived it.

We checked into our hotel and ditched our bag and headed back out again to explore the city. Valerie had booked us passes on a double-decker bus tour that you could hop on and off of throughout various loops in the city. In other words, you get off in areas you would like to explore and then later catch the next one that comes by.

We decided to spend some time in China Town and spent several hours walking up and down the streets and alleys there. There is a lot to do and see there and was a lot of fun. There were crowds of people so it was a great place to visit while kid-free.

The highlight was Chinatown Restaurant where we had lunch. It looked a bit seedy from the outside and probably was but the food was fantastic. Everything we tasted was absolutely delicious. We devoured everything that was placed before us.

We had also heard there was a “fortune cookie factory” in Chinatown that you could visit. Finding this became sort of a mission for us. Apparently the tern “factory” is used VERY loosely here. After much searching, asking and wandering we finally found the factory behind a little door in a tiny alley. Two ladies are there cranking out fortune cookies all day long. We loved it and got to taste the cookies right off the… whatever that thing is that they use to make them.

Other than Chinatown, we did a lot of other exploring around the city by various means of transportation and by foot. We crammed a whole heckuvalot into the day.

That night, there was a San Francisco Giants game in town vs. the Colorado Rockies. I really wanted to go, not because I care about either of those teams but because I really wanted to get a look at the stadium there which I had seen so often on TV. Aside from Safeco Field and the former Kingdome in Seattle, I had very limited exposure to other Major League ballparks.

We took public transportation across the city to the stadium, getting there just an hour or so before game time. We got a couple of cheap tickets from a guy selling on the street and before long were in the park. It is a very nice stadium. We did a bit of exploring, standing in the left field bleachers waiting for batting practice homerun ball and even climbed the ladder and rode the slide down the giant Coke bottle above the stands.

We basically did the whole loop around the stadium seeing everything there was to be seen, not caring much about the game itself.

We did park in our seats for a little. It was quite cold and windy once we sat down but it was here that we discovered the best feature of the stadium of all. They have these vendors that walk around wearing hot chocolate dispensing backpacks available for purchase. No doubt, we were all over that. They even had whipping cream canisters in holsters on their belts.

The game was maybe halfway over when we decided to finally call it a night. It had been a long day for us. We again caught a taxi outside the stadium to take us back across town to our hotel.

The next morning, we had early morning tickets to head out to Alcatraz Island and explore there. I had always wanted to visit Alcatraz but had never been before. Valerie had been. It was a great boat ride across the foggy bay. While on the island, I also wanted to do a Virtual Geocache that I had heard was very cool. It didn’t disappoint.

Valerie had insisted that I do the audio tour with headset at the prison. I didn’t really want to. The idea seemed hokey to me, I thought I would rather just wander around and explore on my own. I was wrong. I did try the tour and LOVED it. It was very well done and did so much to enhance the visit there. It was really fascinating.

The audio tour dovetailed nicely with the geocache we were working on too. Valerie, as usual, kept track of all the paperwork and math that needed to be done for us to log the cache.

All in all, Alcatraz was probably the highlight of the trip for me. I knew I would like it but it was even better than expected.

Since we had visited so early in the morning, we still had a lot of the day ahead of us when we got back. We did do some wandering around the touristy area of Pier 38 at Fisherman’s Wharf but it was even too touristy for us so we didn’t really stay there all that long.

We hopped on a bus tour that we had wanted to do that took us among many other places to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Crossing the bridge was another thing I had always wanted to do. We sat on the very front row of the open-aired upper deck of the bus for the scenic and windy crossing.

Eventually, it we started running out of day and had to go check out of our hotel. I put on the backpack of our gear as we were able to do a bit more shopping and touristy looking around on the way back to the BART station for our trip back to the airport. We had crammed about a week’s worth of vacation into two very long days and were, by now, quite exhausted.

We got home very late that night and rounded all the kids back up and home again.

This was a great birthday. I can’t wait to see how Valerie tops it next year. ;)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tolmie Peak Hike

It is raining outside today. Hard.

Sometime in the last couple of weeks, it seems like the seasons have really changed on us. We have about six months of rain to look forward to.

In anticipation of the coming winter, I (Jeff) decided to sneak out for one more little outdoors adventure with Joshua and Benjamin for the day last Saturday. I was looking for a little day hike to somewhere cool, with great views that would also be a little challenging for the boys. Something for them to remember.

I decided to take them hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park up to the old Tolmie Peak fire lookout. It is a fun hike that I have done before.

We started early in the morning and drove up the 17 miles of dirt road from Carbanado up to Lake Mowich where we caught the trailhead. The hike is about 7½ miles round trip from where we parked and gains I think somewhere around 1,000 ft. of elevation.

Little Benjamin at three years old did very well keeping up where we could but did ride my shoulders for parts where the trail got a little rough or where we were doing some pretty good climbing. Having our backpack of gear on and Benjamin on my shoulders gave me plenty of chance to huff and puff myself.

The trail was great even though it turned out to be quite cold up on the mountain. We at times were hiking in snow flurries which was a lot of fun for the boys. They tried to catch snowflakes on their tongues.

The weather never really broke for us so Mt. Rainier remained hidden in the clouds. We didn’t quite get the views that you can sometimes see on this hike...

...but there were still plenty of beutiful things (fall colors etc.) to be seen.

We rested at Eunice Lake for some water and snacks before the final climb to the lookout on top of the peak.

We only stayed on the top long enough to catch our breath and take a few pictures. If you know Ben at all (very energetic) you will know that it is a stressful time to watch over him standing on a peak surrounded by sheer cliffs.

When we got back to the van, before heading home we stopped to eat once more. There we were mobbed by Gray Jays (aka Camp Robbers) waiting for us to drop or be careless with any food. They would come right up to the boys and take crackers right out of their hands or even mouths.

The birds were actually easily the highlight of the day for Benjamin.

Within minutes of heading back out in the van, Ben was fast asleep which is always a sign of a good day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birthday Cake - YUM!

A few weeks ago on my birthday, Jeff made me the most amazing cake!

It was DELICIOUS! Devils food cake with whip cream & strawberry pie filling in the center, then whip cream and fresh raspberries on the top!

Does it get any yummier than that? He gets extra brownie points for making my birthday such a good day! But it would be ok if he stopped trying to get so many candles on the cake. Hahaha

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Daniel's mission call

Our nephew Daniel Walsh got his mission call a couple weeks ago. This is always a very exciting day in our family. Daniel had been stalking his mailman every day for a couple weeks, and it was finally here.

We all gathered at his house to see him open it to find out where he would be spending 2 years of his life. We all had our own ideas - but in the end............
Wait for it..........wait for it.........

Reading it out loud to his mom and sister over skype.

And it is.............................

Argentina Buenos Aires West mission. December 16th

To see him actually open the call it is on video here - Daniel opening mission call

Monday, October 12, 2009

Geocaper - Playing real life Clue

The last couple years we have participated in a really fun geocaching event called the Geocaper.

Last year we were 3rd place - Geocaper 2008

We were hoping to come back this year and place even better. We were once again the House of Orange, and had shirts, and the women folk had orange hair ribbons.

While last year's game was based on the Amazing Race, this year it was based on the board game Clue.
We are all ready - all decked out in Orange

Working fervently on these puzzles -

And then in the end - we didn't solve a single puzzle. Guess more time on puzzle skills, less on hair ribbons and shirts......

BUT - we will be back next year..............and we can only go up from here!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Visiting Keri and Kids

We had a few days this summer where we weren't actually doing ANYTHING - WHA??

So I took the boys, packed them up in the van, and headed over to Yakima to let the boys see their cousins over there, and I could visit with my sister. She also had air conditioning - just an added bonus to getting to see her and the kids.

We had a couple fun filled days. One of our days we went to a splash park - it was deserted. We weren't sure if it is wasn't hot enough for the Yakima folks, but it was plenty hot for us.

We went and picked cherries at an orchard. Of course Ben shared with Zach.........

We went over to Dave's parents house - and Josh got buried in their sand pit.

We had loads and loads of fun. Thanks for having us over! We love you guys!