Meandering Through Santa Cruz


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After a relaxing morning at our beach house rental on 25th Street in Santa Cruz, my husband and I headed 2-1/2 miles away, to Capitola Village, a cute little beach area with your typical souvenir shops & restaurants along with hard-to-find parking.  After nabbing a great space due to my husband’s new-found parking karma, we grabbed a lunch reservation off OpenTable.com for Paradise Beach Grille, rated high for lunch spots on TripAdvisor.com.

Since I’m new to blogging I didn’t think to photograph our lunch for your viewing pleasure, but I did snap a shot from our table across a little inlet to a colorful beach hotel across the sand.

View from Paradise Beach Grille

After a refreshing glass of Chardonnay (I am on vacation, after all!) and a Turkey, Brie & Apple Panini we crossed the street for a delicious ice cream (caramel no sugar added is highly recommended as it was delicious AND felt virtuous) then walked down the beach and back up by the stores for a little shopping. At one store I found artistic items for the home but resisted all but a set of turquoise felt coasters and some handmade stone studs for my daughter.

Bierfilzl

The coasters are called Bierfilzl. Apparently, up until the late 19th century coasters made of wool felt were used in taverns across Bavaria to soak up not only any moisture but also to cover the beer glass while sitting in the beer garden on a beautiful summer day, to keep out unwanted flying guests. While the invention of less expensive paper coasters in 1880 marked the end of felt coasters, Bavarians to this day apparently call all coasters “Bierfilzl,” or beer felt. How could I live without them?

We loaded up the car and headed to Seacliff State Beach nearby. It’s a $10 day use charge but saving the $10 would have meant a long walk downhill to the beach so we handed over the money and headed down. There are plenty of bathrooms, a Beach Shack for lunch and snacks, lots of RV parking and a long beach with waves that looked good for boogie boarding but not surfing. It was filled with kids and dogs and folks enjoying the gorgeous day, as well as lots of folks making good use of the steep staircase up the cliff to run stairs, some even making use of the picnic tables for pushups afterwards. I got tired just watching them, and was more than happy to limit my exercise to a walk up and down the beach.

Seacliff State Beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter which is not overly attractive except to the flocks of birds, apparently was good for fishing, but has since been closed to fishing but is in use as an underwater structure to support sealife.

It got hot, we were tired, and thus we headed back to our little house on the beach. Hubbie‘s on the couch & I’m in the shade on the ipad enjoying the sounds of the ocean and the nice cool breeze. It’s a tough life.

Tonight we’re dining at El Palomar — my favorite Mexican food restaurant in town — and then packing up to head home.

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A lending library to help create community


securedownloadI’ve become more and more convinced that building a community is essential to enriching our lives. It isn’t enough to live isolated from my neighbors… to truly enrich my life I need deep relationships with a people and, ideally, with women and men, young and old, with varied interests and backgrounds. It isn’t easy when I spend most of my waking hours a 40-minute drive away at work to become close to my neighbors, all of whom are on acre lots in a neighborhood full of individuals who moved in at different times, in different stages of life. My first home was brand new, in a new community, and it created an instant community — aided in part by the developer. We had neighborhood celebrations at Easter and 4th of July. Most of us had young kids, and could bond over shared sports and schools and time outside with our children. Here most of the children have grown up and gone away, few people come out in their front yards and tall trees and bushes or fences obscure the backyards from view. So one way we’re working on creating a sense of community is by installing a Little Free Library, to share books with anyone who comes by and sees something of interest. It’s a start!

Greens


I read yesterday that our eyes don’t view greens as clashing, so you can mix and match all hues of greens and not be thought odd.  I’m not adventuresome when it comes to mixing and matching patterns and colors in my clothes.  Black is easy, elegant, slimming, professional … and what you’ll generally find me wearing.  But colors look better on me, at least near my face.  So I’ve become bolder in my color choices lately.  Not quite to the level of J Crew models, who find pink floral cardigans to go perfectly well with striped satin pants and bright heels.  But some color, nonetheless.  Apparently mixing greens is easy on the eyes because we’re so used to seeing a mix of greens in nature.

Take this picture, for example.

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It’s in one section of the garden at Versailles.  Lights, darks, brights — a mix of green shades bundle together and all look beautiful, calm, peaceful.  So I’m taking a hint from nature … biomimicry is all the rage, after all, and mixing some colors into my wardrobe.  I guess I’m gaining confidence in my old age.

23andme


I’m a DNA addict. I love finding learning about my ancestry, but I don’t have the time or patience to do the hard work of tracking down historic records, visiting cemeteries, spending weeks in the library’s microfiche archives. Nor do I have the money to hire a professional to do the work for me. So I’ve participated had my brother swab his cheek for National Geographic’s DNA project. And I swabbed my cheek for my DNA info from Family Tree. And, now, I’m spitting into a test tube for 23andme. The feedback my brother received from National Geographic was interesting, but very general about our ancestors 20,000 or so years ago. I was wanting to know more about folks in the middle ages, maybe, or even ancient Roman times, but it’s hard to relate to 20,000 years ago. The Family Tree was more detailed but I find it very hard to understand. And I had dinner with a 23andme fan recently so I decided it was worth the $99 to check it out. This time I get not only geneology information but health information as well. After carefully following the directions on the box, I started spitting away. Fortunately I’m not very good at it, and filling up the tube looked as if it was going to take all day, so I stopped to open up and read the more detailed directions inside (as opposed to on the box itself). Discovering that I wasn’t to spit within 30 minutes of eating, drinking or chewing gum. And I’d just thrown out my gum. So my advice if you choose 23andme is to read ALL of the directions before beginning!

This Week I’ll Write, Not Tweet


Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I’m taking the March Challenge to write something every day.  To find the time, I’ve decided to try switching my twitter addiction to a writing one.  Every time I want to check twitter, I’m going to write, instead.  May be disjointed, random tidbits but at least I’ll be writing about life instead of reading tweets about others’ lives.

Unfortunately for anyone reading this, I have yet to learn how to do anything other than the basics in blogging, and even adding photos is a time-consuming challenge for me.  So these blogs are rarely going to be illustrated as I’m using my time to write instead of to figure out this blogging thing.  Maybe that will be the next step!

Dreaming of Vacation


There are so many places I want to visit, live in, explore … and so little time to take even a one-week trip, much less to stay someplace long enough to do more than make introductions.  Worse yet, my husband wants our vacation this year to be Alaska or tropical, and I want it to be Southern France, or the Loire Valley, or the Greek Isles, or Wales, or the UK, or Berlin.  And I’m ending up using my time off to participate in TEDActive, Qideas, my son’s graduation from college, Goddess Kamp and, to cap off the year, Rancho la Puerta.  It’s not like I have room to complain.  I’m blessed to be able to have spent most of the week at TEDActive in Palm Springs, hearing about ideas worth spreading.  And I’m beyond excited and proud of my son for graduating in four years, and the whole family’s coming to Santa Cruz to celebrate and renting a beach house for 5 nights from which we can explore the Boardwalk, Monterey, Salinas (Steinbeck museum), maybe even the wine country or Big Sur.  I’m also looking forward to what I’m calling my “Christian TED” experience at Qideas.  So it’s all good.  But it isn’t the year-long immersion in France or England I long to experience.  Guess I have something to look forward to; after all, anticipating and planning a trip is almost more fun than actually experiencing it!

Not much time t…


Breathe

Breathe (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Not much time today but I wanted to post a link regarding mindfulness and celebrating the miracle of life.  In many situations we are told to focus on our breathe and to breath from our diaphragms.  Scuba diving, for example.  I always end up with more air in my tank than anyone else when scuba diving because I focus on slow, deep, what-I-call-yoga breaths (mostly to ease my anxiety as I think of all the horrible things that could go wrong and cause me not to be able to breath while I am 80 feet under water).

Scuba diving in Elba island, Italy

Image via Wikipedia

Yoga, clearly…meditation.  Acting.  I’m taking a voice class (meant to help us with public speaking), and the first lesson and the first portion of each subsequent class we spend working on our breath, as without having good breath we cannot give voice to our thoughts or those of our characters.  As noted in the attached link, if we focus on our breath we can celebrate the fact that we are here, alive, able to breathe.  I sometimes imagine what it will be like when I take my last breath, or if, ailing, dying, knowing the end is near I will finally value the miracle that is my ability to breath in fresh air, and wish I hadn’t taken it for granted every other minute of my life.  If I am feeling down or anxious or worried, simply spending a few minutes to celebrate my ability to deeply breath helps remind me of how wonderful it is to have the seemingly simple pleasure of automatically taking in air.

Last time I was anxious and felt my stomach starting to get nervous, I forced myself to sit still for a few moments and relax and breathe, and it made all the difference.

When I gave birth without an epidural to my first child the only way I got through the pain was a combination of focusing on my breath, on his passage to life, and lots of good hot water from the shower pounding my stomach.

When I read an excerpt in my voice class and have to project to the audience in the back of the room, I can do that only if I focus on deeply breathing.

So my short blog today has lengthened by my random meanderings about the power of breath…it is one of those common miracles that is easily overlooked but well worth honoring.

http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/mindfulness-and-awareness/five-steps-to-mindfulness

Florence, Day 2


English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

Image via Wikipedia

Ponte Vecchio shops

A young Italian girl at our B&B, Le Stanze di Sante Croce, fixed us a wonderful Italian breakfast with bruchetta, cheeses, hams and bread, served in the inn’s terrace.  Afterwards Jack and Brittany met up with our B&B host for a morning walk to the local Farmers Market and a cooking class.  Though a cooking class would do me good, Austin and I instead walked down Florence’s cobblestone streets to Piazza della Signoria, just a few blocks away, to meet our Context Walk guide for a 3-hour tour of the Galleria degli Uffizi.  Along on the tour with us was a family of four from the Bay Area…I guess we Californians like Context Walks!  We started with the art from the 14th Century — mostly of Madonnas with Jesus and abundance use of gold — through the art of the 1800s.  My favorite painting at the museum was Botticelli‘s Primavera, pictured below.  Not only is it beautiful, it also shows the “circle of life,” reaching up to the heavens and the heavens reaching down for you.  A close second favorite was Da Vinci’s The Annunciation… but then I like almost anything by or about Da Vinci.

Primavera

My son’s ill-timed cold was getting worse after three hours on our feet of art history, as was my jet lag, so as soon as the tour ended we headed for the only place we could find with seats, which was the very small museum cafeteria.  It isn’t the best choice for lunch, given that the selections are minimal and fairly expensive —  Coca Cola light (dt coke) was 5 euros– but at least it gave us the opportunity to sit and rest on the terrace and enjoy a beautiful day.  After a light lunch we headed to the Ufizzi’s first floor — the tour can’t cover the entire museum, and there were a few things on the first floor we had wanted to check out, despite our tired feet.  We didn’t really do the art on the first floor justice, walking pretty quickly through to get to the  Caravaggio paintings I wanted to see.   I fell in love with Caravaggio’s work a few years ago in Rome when we spent a Sunday afternoon at the Borghese Gallery, and now I look for his art in every City we visit.  After a short visit to his paintings Austin and I were more than ready to head back  to our B&B for a nap.  There, we found Jack, Brittany and my newly arrived stepmother, Anna Marie, sitting down to the meal they had shopped for and made in the terrace of our B&B.  They invited us to join them for some pasta with pesto sauce along with other dishes they’d created.  So Austin and I sat down for a 2nd lunch, this one much better than the first.

Cooking Class at Le Stanza di Santa Croce

To the left is a picture of Brittany rolling out the pasta on the terrace of Le Stanze di Santa Croce.  It was a long process but the results were well worth it!  She bought her Dad a pasta machine earlier this year she enjoyed the class so much, and Jack used it just last night to make he and I a wonderful meal with fettucine and homemade red sauce with herbs from our organic garden, complete with thin crusty slices of bread on which we had learned in Tuscany to rub garlic cloves and then top with homemade olive oil and a little kosher salt.  Delish!  To the right is the picture of Jack with the owner of the B&B, leading them in their cooking.

After our lunch we headed over to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David in all its glory.  We’d had the B&B owner reserve us tickets, which cost a few more euros but was well worth it.  The line for those who hadn’t reserved stretched around the block, and had to have taken 45 minutes if not an hour in the hot sun.  In contrast, we were able to walk right up to the lobby and wait only a few minutes for the crowd inside to clear before making our own way inside the Galleria.

Once we walked in and handed over our tickets, we turned to the left to go into the 2nd, main, room, and there, down a long hall lined with other sculptures, stands David, under a glass dome built especially for him.  It’s a majestic sight and well worth the visit.  We walked past the other statutes and stood, transfixed, staring up at David.  We took the guide’s advice and walked slowly around, looking intently at each portion of the sculpture.  The stone is so lifelike I couldn’t help but be amazed at how Michelangelo was able to carve life into cold, hard marble. The right hand is bigger than his left, thus drawing attention to the stone David is holding as he prepares to put it in his slingshot and slay the giant.  His expression looks different depending on which side of him you’re on.  After we’d all finished our walk around Michelangelo’s majestic work we heading back down the hallway and stopped at the various sculptures that line both sides, and then briefly toured the adjacent room, before heading off to dinner of pasta, pizza and red wine.  And, of course, a walk to get gelato for my daily nightcap.  I am somewhat obsessed with gelato when I’m visiting Italy, and insist on a cone after lunch and again after dinner as the perfect ending to the meals.  Yet despite that, and wine with lunch and dinner, and loads of pasta and pizza, I have never gained weight on my trips to Europe.  It’s all the walking, I suppose, versus all the sitting at my desk I do at home.  My perfect diet, then, would be to spend most of my life on vacation in Europe!  Definitely sounds like a good plan to me.

Firenze for the First Time


Our arrival in Roma was quick and smooth, other than our initial encounter with a rude shuttle operator who fought with our first taxi driver, led us back to the airport’s shuttle counter and seemed to want to force us to take a shuttle.  We found another taxi.  Since my husband ended up getting sick and having to stop the car during the taxi, that was an excellent decision on our part, and we negotiated down to 50 euro for the ride.

One arrived we lugged our luggage up two flights of stairs to the hidden doorway of the B&B Best Pantheon where our children had spent the night.  It is quite a find (from Tripadvisor.com) — very well located, well-priced, and, according to our kids, with amazing croissants for breakfast, along with a plateful of fruits and other goodies.

With a 10 a.m. checkout time we had no time for R&R, so it was on to the taxi stand near Largo Argentina — the only ancient Roman site I had time to visit before heading to the Termini station for our trip to Firenze.

Purchasing our tickets to Florence using the machines was easier than I feared.  Finding our train’s track was slightly confusing because Florence was only a stop, and Milano showed up on the boards.  But through the kindness of strangers and a more thorough examination of our ticket to find the train number we found it and were soon on our way.  Our seating companion, an Italian businessman, helped me hook up to the wi-fi on the train (you need an Italian phone number to get the passcode, but the wi-fi is free), so I checked emails during the trip, and the ride was smooth and painless.

It was a 10-minute taxi from the Firenze train station to our B&B, Le Stanze di Santa Croce.  The B&B is on a tiny road well-located for sightseeing.  Our kids shared the beautiful bedroom pictured here.

Our bedroom had a small balcony, though we never used it.  And although it was in the middle of the City, just off the Piazza di Santa Croce in one of the most happening parts of the centro storico, it was quiet at night.

We walked to Ponte Vecchio, where jewelry stores line the bridge with an enclosed hallway on the very top designed so the d’medici family didn’t have to mingle with the general masses, or risk assassination.  It is so beautiful that it was the only one of the bridges not bombed by the Germans … rumor has it that someone high up in the German army loved to watercolor, and didn’t want such a perfect watercolor of a bridge destroyed.

On the way to Ponte Vecchio we admired a boat race on the Arno River,

then stopped at the Galileo Museum for a quick tour (which wasn’t very interesting, probably because I had no guidebook to lead me through or explain what I was seeing).

After a long walk on the bridge, and a long day given that we hadn’t slept since our night in Atlanta, many hours before, my feet in pain, we headed for dinner at Baldovino, just a few steps from our B&B.  It was excellent — great pizza, good house wine, and a nice atmosphere.

Then to bed to get ready for tomorrow’s adventures!

Taking A Bite Out of the Middle Fork of the American River


We labored this Labor Day Weekend by white-water rafting down the Middle Fork of the American River, and had a blast.  We were a mixed-bag family of rafters — the 26-year-old, Dominic, had rafted Class IVs once before; 50-year-old Mom (that’s me!) had rafted down the Class IIIs of the South Fork on two, two-day trips before and had gotten bored by the relatively mellow Class IIIs and was ready to try something more adventurous.  Our older daughter had a bad experience inner-tubing down a rocky waterway when she was younger that had stuck with her, making her anxious about the trip, and the two younger children had never rafted before.   We’d considered a “luxury,” three-day rafting trip own the Snake River in Idaho, that allows for fly-fishing, massages in the evening, and gourmet meals, but finally decided it was too expensive for this summer.  So we elected to stay in California and try out a one-day adventure.  With all of our needs in mind, I selected an advanced beginner/intermediate, one-day trip down the Middle Fork of the American River.  There are a host of outfitters offering such trips, and it’s hard to distinguish one from another.  After some research on TripAdvisor and other sites we selected All-Outdoors, and it was a great choice.  They’ve been in business since the early 1960s, are conservative in their approach to the rapids, are well-organized and have a great group of experienced and fun guides.  Look them up at http://www.aorafting.com.

As their website explains, historic remnants of the California Gold Rush are visible in portions of the Middle Fork canyon (mostly rusted metal, and some caves made when the miners tunneled into the rock and carved out the gold), but no houses.  You’re rafting in a remote wilderness area where thick oaks and pines carpet the steep canyons on either side, with willow and wild grapevines weaving their way down the riverbanks. No clouds interrupted the blue expanse of sky, and the contrast between the intense green treetops carving into the deep blue of the sky, with the clear water beneath us, was so beautiful it made you want to grab some watercolors and paint it.  A few plump blackberries were still visible on the vine on our early Sept. trip, and loons enjoyed the water while turtles sun bathed on the banks.

The Middle Fork is about 140 miles east of San Francisco and 50 miles east of Sacramento. Interstate 80 is 17 miles from the All-Outdoors Middle Fork meeting place.  We spent the night in Auburn, about a 25-minute drive from the meeting place, at the Best Western Golden Spoon.  It was a Best Western, so nothing fancy, but it was certainly adequate for our purposes, and make-your-own waffles were quite good and included in the price of the room, along with pastries, yogurt, bagels, etc. and of course coffee and juice and tea.

Once we made it down the 45-minute bus ride to the launching spot (I recommend taking Dramamine if you tend to get car-sick, because the winding mountain road has views of beautiful canyons but can also be stomach-churning), we had a short intro-to-rafting which can induce fear (what to do should fall out of the boat and end up riding the 6-foot-drop through boulders and churning water curled in a ball and holding your breath), you tighten your life vest and helmet and head out into the crystal-clear and ice-cold water.  Jerry guided us through, from our first step into the liquid ice that is the American River (it was freezing cold!), to riding Tunnel Chute backwards (more on that to come) to the water fight at the end, we came through our 9-hour adventure a little sore, saved from sunburn only by multiple applications of 100 SPF, and looking forward to trying the intermediate runs next summer.

You sit on the inflated sides of the oblong raft and one would think that the rubber would make for a comfortable seat … but your bottom does get sore after a few hours.  Never fear, though, as the rapid you’ll be approaching quickly takes your mind off any sore parts and has you instead thinking in terms of survival!  The ride starts off quickly with a class III to get the day started off with a little excitement.  Then after some time to practice your paddling (each of us paddles, and sometimes to have to dig it in and use those core muscles to keep the raft in the right position as we churn through a rapid), we get out to walk up the rocky path and peer down at Tunnel Chute.  S—, was my initial reaction.  Are we seriously going down that?  Part of me wanted to back out — I did not want to ride that rapid curled in a ball and hoping for the best as my body tumbled down the six-foot drop past sheer rock walls — but I also didn’t want to chicken out and miss a fun ride.  So, we all opted in and went for it.

Unfortunately, our paddling skills were not the best, and despite our guide’s best efforts we ended up riding the rapid backwards.  It was OK for us, because the guests end up getting off the boat’s sides and sitting down in the raft for the ride down, but it was pretty harrowing for our guide.  Later we found out that the one time the raft catapulted him into the water and forced him to ride down raft-less, and his raft guide-less, in part because they had entered the chute backwards.  But this time he held on, and we all made it down wet but safe, and exhilarated.

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