Travel

Sonoma | San Francisco

California gets the lion's share of our vacation dollars. Not only is Craig from Los Angeles (which means we have family there), we have family in the Bay Area as well. Last August Happy and I headed up to the Sonoma area for a short getaway, and then met family in San Francisco for a long weekend. 

On the first full day we were there, we headed for the coastline and came across this little hidden gem. Here's the truth: I had to go to the bathroom. So we stopped here and ended up loving it so much we took a wine and cheese break. John, the owner, is truly all about making the experience great for his visitors, and has been curating some of the best wines of the region for more than a decade. Who is Sophie? His beloved dog.

Next we stopped at Duncan's Landing Overlook, which is just off the Pacific Coast Highway. Beautiful spot.

We ended up at Point Reyes. Craig had been there and wanted to hike down to the lighthouse. I took one look at the steps and told him I'd wait for him, but of course he talked me in to hiking down there. 

This was our canopy at the Medlock Ames tasting room in Healdsburg. I love wine country. I just didn't take many photos of the wineries because I was busy. Tasting wine.

The next day we headed up to Jack London State Park; I didn't have any idea where we were going until we drove up to the gate. Pretty cool place. London and his wife are actually buried there, and there's an incredible story behind the Wolf House. Here's an account of what happened to their dream house, taken word for word from the website:

Jack London wrote so many books about wolves and dogs that his friend George Sterling gave him the nickname 'The Wolf'. So when Jack started to build his dream house in 1911, it was only fitting that people would call it the 'Wolf House'. Jack and Charmian never got to live in their home because one hot summer night in August 1913, spontaneous combustion started a fire in the house. Nobody was living near the house so the fire was quite advanced before anyone became aware of it. The Londons were sleeping in the Cottage about a half mile away and were awakened by a farm worker who saw the red glow in the sky. They got on their horses and rode to their beloved dream house. By the time they got there, the house was completely engulfed in flames and beyond saving. Although Jack vowed to rebuild the house, he did not live long enough to rebuild. Today, we have a beautiful ruin.

I just loved these two trees.

We secured an AirBnB rental in San Francisco, and most of us stayed there together. It was my first time staying in someone's actual home while they weren't there. They were incredibly gracious and generous, telling us to eat whatever we wanted, use whatever we needed, and even left us a bottle of champagne to welcome us. I have to confess that I was a tiny bit uptight about staying in someone's home (okay, more than a tiny bit. So! Much! Responsibility!) Though we were very conscientious guests, I don't think I could ever rent out my home to strangers.

Here's our first official game of Uno. Piper is a master.

This is my fantastic niece Caitlin and her boyfriend Clay. I think they belong in a magazine ad. 

Here's most of the kid crew. We were missing Cameron and Lauren. Top Row: Another beautiful niece Kyra, Caitlin and Clay. Bottom Row: Very cool couple Holly and Caleb (nephew), and Mandy and Piper.

Mother and daughter. Love these two so much. Bonus Trivia: they have the same birthday. 

Happy and Gia.

These two. Mandy (our middle daughter) and Cameron (our youngest son) fell into total sibling mode shortly after we were married. As in, they play hard and also fight like brother and sister. The way all of our kids love each other is a really amazing gift. 

Happy loved seeing his baby. We all miss him so much now that he lives in the Bay Area. 

Here's the whole crew just after we locked the door to leave. I've named the others in earlier pix, but this one includes Lauren (Kyra's girlfriend), my spectacular brother, John, and my beloved sister (in law), Cathie.

After we said our goodbyes, Mandy, Cameron, Happy, Piper and I headed down to the pier. Mandy and Piper had never been to San Francisco so we did a little tourist jaunt. All in all it was a great trip.

Chicago

I committed a lot of sins in Chicago. And by sins, I mean I broke a lot of my own stupid photography rules. Cardinal sin: I left all of my camera gear at home. I had a smaller bag packed with my Nikon D750 body and two lenses, but at the last minute decided I didn't want to lug them there and back. (The purpose of the trip was consultation, not tourism, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

My second crime was documenting the trip with my iPhone, knowing full well I was going to put mobile photos on my blog. [Gasp!] I guess when you've spent more than a decade in the photography profession, you feel like you should at least have enough dedication to actually carry your real camera to cool places like Chicago. Leaving it at home means you're a slacker and a poser. These are the stories I tell myself. 

When we did an architecture tour on Chicago's First Lady, I decided to let myself be a true tourist for once, which means I didn't stress about getting the right angles or perfect light. I just snapped the images as we rode down the river on a big honking boat. The skyline is so stunning. I visited Chicago in the late nineties to interview the creators of Veggie Tales for a magazine article, but I came and went on the same day so I didn't get to linger. I was pretty wowed by the architecture.

I actually did pay attention to the tour guide's description of the buildings, but I didn't write anything down so I have no idea how to identify most of these. They're tall. They're pretty. They're funky and inventive and fancy. (P. S. Is it just me, or do the cars parked in this building look like they could all just topple over the edge with a little too much gas?)

After the architecture tour we took a random walk down the Magnificent Mile and ended up wandering into the Chicago Cultural Center. In addition to the cool exhibits and the Tiffany Dome, I was delighted to find Chicago's permanent StoryCorps studio. That encounter warrants its own blog post, but suffice it to say that our experience there was nothing short of amazing. I'll say more about that later.

We didn't have much time to spend at the Art Institute and it felt really wrong to just breeze by Renoir and Degas. Which brings me to my final transgression: I took pictures of some of my favorite well known paintings. With my iPhone. With no regard for angle or composition (see: time constraint.) And I'm putting them on my blog, even though if you (or I) really wanted to see them we could google them, or order a print. Like the world needs one more iPhone shot of American Gothic. 

As we headed back to the car, I snapped these photos of Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. The giant people on the sides actually open their mouths and "spit" water, but I missed my photo op and I was too tired to wait around for them to do it again. 

Wandering Around Colorado

Back in November 2014, Southwest Airlines fares to Denver were ridiculously cheap. I decided that Craig and I should book the tickets for spring 2015 ($249 round trip for BOTH tickets!) and then decide what we were going to do once we got there. I love the Rockies. I found out that there was going to be a hot air balloon festival in Erie, which is one of my bucket list items. So that was that (or so I thought.) 

About four weeks before our trip, my father died. Craig had taken a lot of time off of work and needed to reschedule the trip. I decided that since I already had everything planned, it might be a good time to get away with my oldest daughter and her two daughters, so we just went for it. And aside from a very weird AirBnB experience in Boulder, it was a great trip.

As it turns out, the hot air balloon festival was part of an annual town fair in Erie. It did not disappoint Haven and Storey (or the grownups.)

I really wanted to get up a little higher in elevation and we wanted to hike. But my sore back and two little kids didn't add up to a full-fledged hiking adventure. I was content to drive in the mountains and stop along the way. We flew by the seat of our pants by driving up the Peak to Peak Highway with no agenda or destination in mind. After turning off on 116 we found that the road was closed due to snow. A few people were headed up to hike (hint: they had poles and hiking boots on.) I was skeptical. Amy, who has long been an outdoor adventurer, convinced me to take a short walk... that we'd stop when it got to be too much snow. This woman was wearing slip-on flats, and was carrying a 25 pound kid. She gets the all-odds-against-you hiking award. (After all, in addition to what she had on her feet and what she was carrying, she was hiking with an 18 month old, a six year old, and a 53 year old with a cranky back.) Each time it looked like we'd have to turn around we somehow made it through it without busting our butts. It was so much fun, but it did get a little tiring for Haven (the beauty of a closed road is that you can plunk yourself down in the middle of it.)

On our way up the Peak to Peak Highway, we saw a sign for the Carousel of Happiness. Amy and I looked at each other at the same time with raised eyebrows, and said "What is THAT??" Storey had just fallen asleep in her carseat, so I ran in and checked it out so we could decide whether or not to stop on our way back in to Boulder. It was indeed what it sounded like. The Carousel of Happiness is "Nederland Colorado’s magical menagerie featuring 56 whimsical, hand-carved animals on a restored 1910 Looff carousel, turning to the music of a 1913 Wurlitzer band organ." AND RIDES ARE ONLY $1. By the time we got there, Storey was out cold from our walk and Amy questioned whether or not we should wake her up. Mama was thinking about how cranky this toddler would probably be since we had been waking her up all day. But Gia pulled the grandmother card... "She's GOT to experience this! It will be magical!" And of course it was. Check out the pre-ride anticipation. 

Meanwhile, Amy was having a very serious conversation with the gorilla. (Don't worry, the kids had very secure seatbelts on.)

I was pretty disappointed that the evening balloon glow was called off due to wind, but we got up extra early for the launch on Sunday morning in the hope that they'd all fly. There were supposed to be about 30. And even though the wind seemed very still on the ground, it was much more blustery up in the air, and most of the balloon owners packed up and went home. Thankfully, a few went ahead and inflated to please the crowd, and a couple of them even launched. The guy who drove (navigated? manned?) the Wicked balloon was staying at our hotel.  Haven was so curious about him and kept calling him "The Wicked Balloon Guy." He popped up many times in our conversations often over the next day or so. [Haven: "Hey, so about that Wicked Balloon Guy..."]

We had time to kill before our evening flight out of Denver, so we went to the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science. 

As you can see, Storey had a little dance on the way out of the museum. One of my very favorite things about her at this age is that if you start singing Taylor Swift, she will stop whatever she's doing and start dancing. I think that should be a law for all of us or something. When we were hiking, Storey took the lead at one point... at least until Amy started singing (click on photo below for a taste of her enthusiasm.)

The Bounty of Takoma Park

I'm closing out my New England blog posts with the first place we landed on our 10 day trip . (Yes, I'm aware that Maryland isn't technically New England. We flew to Baltimore to spend some time with family before heading up the coast.) If you want to feast your eyes on the beauty of Maine and the sights of Washington D. C., you'll find them here, here and here.

Takoma Park is in the Washington D. C. Metro area and it's a cute little town. We enjoyed meals at several small restaurants (especially breakfast at Mark's Kitchen and the Woodside Deli) and had fun walking in and out of several funky, quaint shops. But the thing I love the most about Takoma Park is their farmer's market, which happens every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., every week of the year. Rain or shine. 

Ever had Huckleberry Pie? Me neither. Take a gander at the beautiful edibles of Takoma Park. 

Amish Hunting

I learned everything I know about the Amish from the 1985 Harrison Ford movie, Witness (which is to say that I'm pretty clueless about the whole culture.) So when my husband and I drove through Lancaster, Pennsylvania last fall, I was hell bent on seeing some Amish people. It was a Sunday afternoon and I didn't even know if Amish people got out on Sundays.

They do.

We wandered around and actually saw a couple of carriages whiz by, but I didn't get a good look. And being gainfully employed as an editorial/travel photographer, I was itching to snap a few photos. I had my D700 out and ready to go, but when we finally came upon a family of four in an open carriage, I couldn't pull the trigger. Yes, I make my living taking photos. Yes, it would be "legal." But it just seemed so voyeuristic, so disrespectful, so paparazzi to stop down the road and stick my big honking 70-200 lens in their faces as they drove by. And it wasn't a situation where I could politely ask if it'd be okay for me to photograph their family (though from what I hear, even if I could, the answer would be no.) I decided to err on the side of being a decent human and told my husband he could go ahead and drive on to whichever covered bridges he wanted to see. I just couldn't figure out how to align my camera and my conscience in this setting.

So we found a bridge. Being the incredible guy he is, my husband stopped, let me out of the car, and waited while I photographed the bridge. And that's when the good karma caught up with me. I was standing on the bridge contemplating my best angle when two carriages surprised the crap out of me and barreled through (I wasn't altogether prepared for them, but was able to catch a couple of shots on the fly.) It was loud.

I stood there thinking, "Maybe if I hang here a little longer, more will come." 

Sure enough, two more sailed through in the next few minutes. And here's the best part: the way it happened, they were bombing my photo of the bridgeso it wasn't intrusive. The last guy even gave me a smile and a little wave, as if to say, "Sorry we got in your shot!" 

I snapped a couple more shots of the bridge and we headed toward New Jersey. It's situations like these that make me wonder why I don't let things breathe more often. You know, Hakuna Matata. Don't push the river. Sometimes I think that opportunities are like cats: if you hover over them or try and get them to come to you, they run. But if you go about your business and put your focus elsewhere, more often than not they end up climbing in your lap.