Sunday, November 13, 2005

5 Years, And Counting!

This was another great weekend for us. We've kind of had a run of them, knock on wood. Next weekend will be our Friends Thanksgiving party; a few friends over for dinner, pot luck. We're keeping it a little small - only about 11 people, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Friday, we spent a lot of the day at home with Rachel, working on packing things up for her and trying to pack for ourselves without her really cluing in that we were going away as well. I had to run a couple of errands, but other than that we were home all day. Rachel was very cute. She was very excited about going to Monterey with her grandparents. I talked to her at some point about star fish, which she owned up to not knowing about. She seemed very interested in getting to touch them; I made a point of mentioning that to my parents.

While they were still getting her ready, and I was out doing errands, Carmen came over to see if Rachel could play. I guess she said she had to get ready, but then after a few minutes she wanted to go to Carmen's. Dawn said Rachel just couldn't decide whether she wanted to keep getting ready or go play. I had gotten a lot of the clothes Rachel would need together, and at some point, Dawn was going to help her get it packed. Dawn opened the bag and suggested to Rachel that they could start packing. Rachel immediately scooped up all the clothes in one big armload and dropped them right in the bag! Hysterical.

One of the things I was out doing was picking up maps; I got a couple for Mendocino, since we're going there in a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, one for Point Reyes, and two for Monterey to give to Rachel. She was very excited when I brought them home from AAA. We saw her off with my parents at about 4:30 and started getting ready in earnest.

Dinner at the Lark Creek was excellent. The dinner menu was almost the same, but the special was different. We made it very complicated by each having the same salad (arugula and endive with fuyu persimmons, pomegranate, pistachios, and prosciutto with a bit of a creamy dressing) and sharing the 2-person special, which was grilled beef ribs cut off the bone after cooking with roasted fingerling potatos and steamed greens. Their breads are very good; we've always loved the rolls and eat several every time.

Last week, the chocolate dessert was a chocolate bread pudding. It turned out to be fairly good, according to Elisabeth, though I wasn't all that impressed. Speaking of Elisabeth, we actually bumped into her on the way into the Lark Creek lot! Neither of us knew she was going to be there, and if we'd been on time we wouldn't have seen her. She and a friend were going to a concert given by one of her workers, and they just happened to be searching for the place. We pulled into the lot and both thought "wait... is that Elisabeth!?" at the same time.

Anyway, this time, the chocolate dessert was a molten chocolate cake with cherry chip ice cream. I wanted to have it with vanilla, not being that crazy about cherry, but they either didn't hear me or forgot. The ice cream was just so-so, but the cake was excellent!! It actually rivaled the chocolate souffle cake from Mangia Mangia in Albany, among the best chocolate desserts I've ever had.

The staff were very nice; they brought us an extra plate of the amuse bouche, which was deviled eggs with a bit of horseradish in it and some smoked salmon caviar on top. Perhaps the first time I've ever actually liked caviar. Of course, they brought lots of the rolls, which are very popular, and at the end they brought us a special plate with Happy Anniversary written in chocolate and two chocolate chip cookies and two small blondie squares, along with a promise that if we were too full they'd pack them for us to take with us.

From there, after calling Elisabeth to tell her that the chocolate dessert was a real chocolate dessert this time, we drove out to The Ark, the cottage where we spent the weekend. This was our third time staying at one of their cottages; we stayed at the Ark last year as well, but we stayed at The Fir Tree with my parents in January of 2000 for Dawn's birthday weekend.

The cottages are very nice; secluded, quiet, comfortable. For the breakfast part of 'bed & breakfast', they will provide breakfast makings. We told them we only wanted breakfast for one day, but that meant 10 eggs (from their own chickens), 17 organic Valencia juicing oranges, a jug of granola, a quart of organic cream-top whole milk, a large loaf of Acme-style bread, two croissants, and some fruit.

We didn't get to sleep until after midnight and didn't get up until almost 10am. Dawn said she was awake aroung 6:30, and I think I might have woken up around then too, the first time. I definitely got back to sleep for a while, though. We made breakfast from what they provided; it was all delicious - fresh juice (I forgot how great freshly squeezed juice can be...), scrambled eggs with rosemary, and the two croissants. After a while, without cleaning up from breakfast, we picked a hike to do and headed out. I think we left the house about 12:30 and drove into the park to go to the Tomales Point trailhead near McClure's Beach.

We didn't start on the hike until right about 1:30pm, and since it's a 4.7 mile hike each way out to the point, we didn't plan to go all the way to the end. I took a LOT of pictures along the way. I'm very lucky that Dawn not only likes to hike, she doesn't mind waiting for me to take pictures. We picked this hike in particular because it is close to the water; there were a couple of others that we thought about, but it didn't look as if they'd have views of the ocean. This was even better because the trail has Tomales Bay on one side and the Pacific on the other. There were several points along the way from which we could see both.

The image stabilization on the zoom lenses is extremely cool. It's still sort of funny that I can hear it adjusting the optics, but it does a really good job. You can literally see the shake before you hit the shutter, and then when you push the shutter button half-way to focus it, it also kicks in the stabilizer and suddenly the shake vanishes! I got some great long distance pictures of birds and elk, and some nice shots of some flowers. Other than some crows and turkey vultures, we couldn't completely identify all the birds we saw. I think there were at least two kinds of hawks.

At about 3:15, we ran into someone who told us that we only had another 45 minutes to go, so we decided to go for the end even though we hadn't planned to originally. Considering how much we were stopping to take pictures, and to have lunch, I couldn't imagine that we were anywhere near the end. We didn't, in fact, make it to the end. We turned back just after 4, because it really looked as if it was still a while longer to get to the point. We'd been keeping an eye on the sun for a while, and wanted to make sure that we got back to the wider trail before it got dark. The trail further out is narrower and harder to follow. The sunset was gorgeous; I think I got some good shots, but I haven't looked at them closely yet.

We made it back to the parking lot at Upper Pierce Ranch at about 5:30; 2.5 hours out, 1.5 hours back. We were movin' on the way back. I do think we got pretty close to the end; probably at least 8 miles. Interestingly, we did find something in the cabin that talked about the average hiking speed being 2 miles an hour, so that kinda fits given that we were going much faster on the way back than the way out. The sun set about 5:10 and it didn't get dark too fast; I was actually able to see the car as we came around the last curve. Just near the end, one pack of the Tule Elk were pretty close to the trail as we went by, and it really seemed as if they were staring at us. Why are you still here, they seemed to be wondering.

We went back to the cottage to change and then went to dinner at The Station House Cafe. It was pretty good; I had clam chowder and a sirloin steak. The chowder was very good, but I think I'm going to have to start asking for my meats cooked medium instead of medium rare - it's starting to be too common that the meat comes more rare than I prefer. They also had pop-overs, which were very good when they were warm. The first couple we got were practically cold, and turned out to be very disappointing once we got warm ones. Dawn skipped an appetizer but had baby back ribs and really liked them; even managed to eat them all!

Didn't manage to sleep as well last night, but still didn't get up until almost 9. Ah, lazy mornings. We made a second breakfast out of the food they gave us, along with some Saag's British Bangers we picked up at the Inverness store, and still wound up taking home some of the bread, part of a blueberry scone, and a whole bunch of granola. Check-out is at noon, and that's really unfortunately early. We'll have to ask for a later check-out, even if we have to pay extra; especially considering that we didn't arrive until well after 9 Friday night.

We were able to go for a short hike towards Tomales Bay from just north of Point Reyes Station on Highway 1. The description of the trail was a little odd, and we wound up sort of wandering around a cow pasture for a while, but we didn't have a lot of time anyway. We had to walk a bit slowly in one part to make sure the cows would get out of the way (they did) without putting us between any of the babies and their mothers. It was funny to be so close to them. They, like the elk on the way back to the car yesterday, stopped eating to watch us.

So far, the Western Scrub Jay below has been my favorite picture of the weekend (and the new Canon DSLR):

I really love the way it came out. I took this at 300mm (480 equivalent) with Image Stabilization, at probably about 30 feet, so it's cropped pretty significantly. The focus is very good, and I'm quite happy with the color. There have been some points when I looked at some of the images when I thought that the color wasn't very good, but this is pretty great. I think there might be another couple of bird pictures that are good, but this is the best so far.

The ride back was generally uneventful. It's only about 39 miles home from the trailhead, and we made good time except for the part where someone had hit a fire hydrant in San Anselmo; we started to try to figure out the detour feature on the Prius navigation system, but didn't do it soon enough. No big deal.

Speaking of the Prius, I think I'm going to have to take it in this week. First of all, the gas engine has been shuddering when it shuts off a lot of the time, and I want to know why, but more importantly it's really been lugging lately. It had a lot of trouble getting up the hill to the cabin the first night, and hasn't been too happy with accelerating from a stop or getting up hills since. We smelled something (oil, I think) burning when we got out that first time. None of the engine lights ever came on, or anything, so I'm taking it for granted that it's nothing too bad, but I'm going to have them look at it.

Rachel was just on when we got to my parents' place. She told us all about her trip. She says that her favorite part was the whale boat ride, for which they have rain checks because they didn't see any whales. It'll still be too early for that when we're in Mendocino, but we can talk about them anyway. She definitely seemed to enjoy herself and didn't express any distress at having been away from us for two whole days. A real relief, to be sure.

Oh, and as you can see, I've figured out how to use Hello to upload pictures to the blog. Not that it was hard, by any stretch of the imagination. I think it took all of 3 minutes, including downloading and installing the software. The way it works is that you tell it your id and send an instant message to BloggerBot, which creates a post. I don't know that I'll ever want a post that's just a picture, so I'll probably wind up doing the post to get the picture uploaded and then pull the URLs from there to put into a regular post, like the picture above.

Here's one more picture, a lone poppy, very out of place in November. The California Poppy happens to be one of my favorite flowers, but I certainly didn't expect to see one on this trip!

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