Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What I'm Reading 3/21

Things are still hectic at work, so my reading continues to be relatively light. This week, I read a couple young adult books and that's about it. I've also started Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, but I'm not through it yet.

William Steig -- Abel's Island
William Steig was an author I remember really enjoying as a kid. He had this great picture book called Sylvester and the Magic Pebble that was quite lovely. In any case, Abel's Island is a chapter book and it was an enjoyable little read. Slightly odd in terms of the language -- emotionally it's about right for third or fourth graders, but the language would be difficult for a lot of adults I know. I think it's probably a better read-aloud book for kids than one they'd read independently. I DO really love authors who don't talk down to kids, though. Actually, I guess I would really have enjoyed independently reading this book as a kid -- I would have been excited to go look up all the words I didn't know and figure them out. :-)

Ian McEwan -- The Daydreamer

Another young adult book, written by an author who normally writes adult literature. I really enjoyed McEwan's Atonement, and The Daydreamer was not a disappointment. Peter, the main character, is a boy who often gets lost in the world of his fantasies with poignant results. It's a quiet book, a bit dreamy, very well written. Again, I like it because it doesn't talk down to kids in any way. I think I read somewhere that McEwan wanted to write a book for adults that kids would love, too, and he's done a great job here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tomales Bakery

This morning I woke up and realized that I had no milk in the house for my coffee. As much as I may try to deny it, I'm afraid I actually DO need coffee in the morning. I didn't have any yesterday, and I was wiped out and headachey by mid-afternoon. But I CAN'T drink my coffee without milk. At work, I actually water it down and then add milk. (Though, it should be said, the coffee at work is labelled "strong" and "not so strong" and I'm pretty sure that "decaf" is a four letter word around there).

Anyway, what that meant this morning was that I had to go out for either coffee or milk. I'm a solid 12 miles from the nearest grocery store, so I took the go out for coffee option, and went into the town of Tomales, which is only a few miles from my house. There's not a whole lot to Tomales: A general store, a coffee shop, a sandwich shop, a cute little hotel that usually doesn't even have anyone at the front desk (you get a key code to get in and out), and a teeny tiny park with swings and pine trees that shed cones as big as my head. That's about it, and I love it.

In any case, Tomales Bakery = AWESOME. I can't believe I've lived here for 2 months and haven't made it in till today. This may become my new Sunday ritual. It's this teeny-tiny little shop that smells like heaven. You can barely fit 3 people inside. Anyway, I got there nice and early, so it wasn't packed yet, and I had my pick of the pastries. (supposedly they sell out of almost everything by 11am most days). I had a humongous pecan roll that was absolutely delicious and perhaps the best coffee I've ever had. Just plain old coffee, but I doctored it up with a bit of organic brown sugar and some Strauss Family Creamery half and half, and it was absolutely delicious. Strauss milk is fabulous. Unfortunately, it's also VERY expensive. A half-gallon glass bottle of it costs around 5 bucks (including a dollar bottle deposit, but still). I've bought it a couple times, and even the skim tastes super-rich and fresh. But, really, I can't justify spending that kind of money on milk most of the time.

Other advantages to Tomales Bakery:

1. You get to pour your own coffee, which is good for me because I like to make mine about 1/3 caffeinated and 2/3 decaf.

2. It has these lovely wooden chairs outside where you can sit and drink your coffee and read the paper

3. If you go early in the morning, it isn't yet overrun with bikers and tourists, so you can watch the locals chat outside the post office, pet the dogs that wander around, and just breathe the lovely air and enjoy the quiet.

4. They're cheap! My coffee and cinnamon roll was only 3.50 total. And their loaves of fresh-made bread are about half the price of all the other local bakeries I've seen.

5. They'll call you to let you know when you've stupidly forgotten your wallet on their counter and not make fun of you at all when you go back to retrieve it. :-)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sonoma Coast Park and Armstrong Woods

Last Sunday, I went to Armstrong Woods for the first time. I hadn't really intended to end up there. I had to work all morning and by 1pm, it was such a beautiful sunny day, I just had to get out of the house. So I drove north up Highway One, figuring I'd just stop wherever looked interesting.

I stopped first at Goat Rock beach in Sonoma Coast State Park, hoping to see the Harbor Seals that apparently come ashore there this time of year to have their babies. Unfortunately, they haven't arrived yet for the year. This is the sign that greets you as you enter the beach.

I don't know if you can read the sign, but it says "This is one of the most deadly beaches in California." Reassuring, eh? Apparently these massive "sleeper waves" occasionally come out of nowhere and snatch unsuspecting tourists off the beach and suck them out to an untimely demise in the sea. Fun.

This sign is at one of the parking areas up above the beach. Sadly, this forces me to admit that my mom was right. (Did you hear that, Carol? You. Were. Right.) She's been warning me about mountain lions for months, telling me about how a mountain lion ate off a woman's face while she was hiking and so on. I really thought she was just being overly paranoid and trying to stop me from hiking alone. But, then, look at the pretty picture. I mean, it's not going to stop me from hiking, mountain lions or no. I'm pretty sure that the reason things like mountain lion attacks make such a big splash on the news is because they're so darn rare. Still, I wouldn't like to run into one of these beasties out on the trail.

In any case, after seeing neither harbor seals nor mountain lions (or goats, for that matter) at Goat Rock, I continued up highway 1 for a couple more miles, then decided to cut across 116 through the Russian River Valley and circle home that way. I have to say, the drive along the river there is nearly as pretty as the shore. And I totally want to live in one of the cute little houses perched up in the trees in all the little towns along the Russian River. Too far from work, I'm afraid, but maybe someday when I'm allowed to telecommute. Eventually, I ended up in Guerneville, and when I saw the sign for Armstrong Woods, I couldn't resist, since several people had recommended the hiking there.

I wasn't disappointed. Armstrong Woods, for those of you who don't know, is a state preserve that is chock full of massive Redwoods. What I'll say about it is this, for the trees, it's just as lovely as Muir Woods, with less than a tenth of the crowds (no tour buses!!!). The views if you hike up into the hills above Muir Woods are much better, but the lack of crowds is such a big draw, I think I'd probably rather come to Armstrong. Though I don't think I would hike alone here, again. Not enough hikers for me to feel safe. If I fell and sprained an ankle or something, it could be ages before someone came along and saw me.

In any case, It was fairly late in the day by the time I got there, so I only hiked a couple miles, up a ridge and then back down into the Redwood grove. It was also a bit of a gloomy day, so I don't have many good pictures. Here's one of something that blew me away, though:

The height and diameter of the tree are amazing enough, but the thing that really gets me is the age of the tree. How is it possible that something that is 1300 years old can even still be alive? How can something have been in the same place for 13 centuries and not have been disturbed? It's shocking, and wonderful. Makes me feel pretty insignificant, actually. And the tree is healthy, too. If stupid humans don't screw it up, it could live for hundreds of years longer. wow.

Anyway, today is the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market for the first time, and probably the SF MOMA. I've been told it's actually kind of disappointing if you've been to the art museums in DC, NY, etc. But I'm going to give it a try, anyway.

Reading this week 3/10

David Kamp -- The United States of Arugula.

I feel like everyone has been talking about this book, but I didn't end up being all that impressed with it. I've been trying to articulate why, but I'm not really sure. Perhaps because I'm not enough of a foodie to know all the big name chefs he talks about? Or maybe just because I don't actually tend to enjoy nonfiction books all that much to begin with? I'm much more of a fiction and poetry reader. I think I was just expecting it to be more exciting in some way, with all the buzz. Not a terrible read, but it's not a favorite, either.

Dora Mary Russell -- The Sparrow

Now this one is a new favorite. It's about a group of people who are the first to encounter a new alien race adn the tragedy that ensues. The description on the back didn't catch my attention at first, but a friend had recommended the book a few years back. Then, just recently, I saw it on a staff favorite display at Copperfield's Books and finally decided I should check it out. I read the first chapter or so, wasn't caught by it, and put it down. But then I tried again a few days later and I'm so glad I did. Russell's writing is lovely, and the characters felt like real people , people that I would love to have as a part of my own life. My heart absolutely ached for the main character, Emilio. I also found the structure of the book really compelling. You know from the first page that the expedition to this new planet has ended in tragedy, only one survivor who is all-but-incapacitated both physically and mentally. Russell then does a great job balancing scenes from the planet with scenes from the present of the book to slowly reveal the story.

Ray Bradbury -- Farenheit 451.

Somehow I've never read this book before, which isn't all that common for me and 20th century classics. I'm not quite done with it, and I've liked it a little less as I've read farther into it, but the first section grabbed me immediately. Bradbury really is a wonderful writer. I'll write more about this book when I actually finish it.

Also dabbled a bit this week with some ee cummings poetry, another Plath biography, and the usual tourist books about the Bay Area.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

big blue sea

I've fallen in love with the Pacific Ocean.

I didn't grow up with the ocean. In fact, where I grew up (Michigan) is pretty darn far away from the sea. We have the Great Lakes, which are spectactular in their own right. But they're not the ocean. As a kid, my first experience with the Atlantic was visiting my grandparents in Connecticut and, frankly, I thought it was pretty icky. The beach we went to was overrun with horseshoe crabs, which are not the most pleasant creatures ever, and the water was dark and seaweedy and dirty. We also went on vacation in Florida a couple times, and I LOVED collecting shells on the beach. Mostly, though, I just didn't care much about the ocean. I was perfectly happy with nice, clean freshwater lakes.

But in November, when I saw the Pacific for the very first time (on Thanksgiving day, no less), it was love at first sight. And now, I live only 5 miles from Highway One, and the ability to drive up and down the coast is at my fingertips. So I spent the weekend exploring the Sonoma Coast. SO beautiful.

How can I be lucky enough to have all of this right in my backyard???

Yesterday, my friend L. and I wandered around the beaches just north of Bodega Bay. I can't remember which beach these pictures are on, but could it be more gorgeous? We went to Coleman Beach, Miwok Beach, and Shell Beach, and then today on my own, I went to Goat Rock Beach, hoping to sea the seals that come there to "nest" in the spring. Unfortunately, they haven't arrived yet. In any case, I'm fascinated by the rocks just jutting up out of the ocean everywhere around here. VERY different from the super fine-sanded, flat beaches of Lake Michigan.

Anyway, we went at low tide yesterday, and so I got to experience tidepools for the very first time. Check out the awesome sealife I saw:

These are called Giant Green Sea Anenomes, though they're not actually that big.

This one is an Ochre Sea Star. He was a BIG dude, 8 or 9 inches across. They also come in a bright orange color.

And this is a combination of Goose Barnacles and California Mussels. I never knew barnacles could be so lovely.

There are also all these places where waterfalls tumble out of the cliffs above the water and make their way down to the ocean. And the rocks on the beach are like nothing I've ever seen -- all sorts of greens and reds and striped white and black. I don't know much about rocks, but I certainly came home with pocketfuls of them that are now in lovely little heaps all over my house, along with some beautiful pieces of driftwood. Anyhow, I have a zillion more pictures, but it's getting on toward my bedtime, so they'll have to wait for another day.
(Sorry about the oddball formatting -- I'm still getting used to how this blogging thing works, and I'm too sleepy at the moment to fuss with it anymore to get it all to look exactly the way I want it to)

Cuteness overload

This, my friends, is the cuteness that I see outside my bedroom window on a daily basis. This little guy was born the morning this picture was taken. When he grows up, he'll look like this:

Pretty, huh? I actually have no idea what variety of goats we have here, but they have this long hair and crazy curly horns. To me, they look like they should be frolicking on an Alp somewhere. Instead, they frolic outside my window and make me late for work with their distracting antics.

(p.s. Finally got the software installed to download images from my new camera. I've been a regular picture-taking fiend lately, so there are many more to come!)