Pacific Ocean Lifts My Heart

IMG_6907The Pacific Ocean is such large and magnificent and I’ve lived within a few hours of the ocean my entire life. It has always been a balm to my stress. This visit to Clam Beach met my need for my molecules to be reorganized and synced to the rhythm of the waves.

IMG_6915Taking @DozertheDozerian and Lulu along to enjoy the open space and fresh air made it more fun. Clam Beach allows dogs to run off leash on the wet sand for a limited time in the winter.

IMG_6902Of course the point of my visit was to spend more time with the Watlove family. We learned to play a new board game, Fuse. We ate at our favorite restaurants and cooked at home. Nora baked wonderful lava cakes.

IMG_6916I have traveled to Humboldt County about once a year since my best friend Harriet moved up to Arcata to attend HSU. Now her children are in their 20s and the youngest daughter attends UC Davis, so the Watloves visit the Sacramento area often. I can’t remember the last time I made the 6 hour trek to Humboldt County.  There have been changes to the route. The Willits bypass is completed. It makes stopping for lunch or a bathroom stop so much easier and more pleasant.

IMG_6926The weather was the wildest I’ve experienced driving up with snow in Lake County and in Mendocino near Laytonville. It is always good to check CalTrans to confirm roads are open.

Some other changes include legalization of marijuana, so there are more dispensaries now. Also the price of marijuana has dropped so the local economy is feeling the beginning of the pinch. Nora says that most people in Humboldt County also resent the portrayal of southern Humboldt in the Netflix “documentary” as exaggerating the danger for entertainment.

Some of our favorite restaurants:

Ramone’s Bakery, 1555 City Center Road, McKinleyville, CA; I did a pastry run for the sleepyheads and picked 7 different pastries then cut them up for more tastes. Everything was delicious!

Lighthouse Grill, 355 Main Street, Trinidad, CA; known for mashed potato cone and grass-fed beef burgers; our fav’s this trip included fish and chips and a tuna melt.

The Alibi, 744 9th Street, Arcata, CA; this is a dive bar on the Arcata Plaza that also happens to serve a wonderful breakfast.

Pacific Grove in Winter

Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA is popular with families and others year round.

I received the Monterey Bay Aquarium e-newsletter announcing the Member’s Night and made a hotel reservation right away. I figured that on a random Saturday night in January it would be quiet. While it is less busy than this last weekend with the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach, it was still lively.

Traffic on Saturday was congested at various points between Sacramento and Monterey. I reached Monterey in time for a late lunch at Gianni’s Pizza in New Monterey. I checked into my hotel (not worth mentioning) and walked to the Pacific Grove coastal walk for some fresh air. It was beautiful at Lover’s Point.

Beach 1: the family beach

The first Lover’s Point beach is the most protected and perfect for families with young children. The water is c-c-c-old but there is plenty of sand. This beach is also closest to a snack bar and coffee shop.

Beach 2: Good for body paddling out to the surf.

The second beach at Lover’s Point provides access to the surf if you are interested in paddling out or surfing. The first two beaches have stairways to make access easier.

The third beach didn’t reveal itself until I walked a bit further along the beach walkway and looked back. It is a sliver of sand between the rock face and the waves. It is a beach for teenagers and others who like daring each other to dash in the surf.

Pacific Grove is a wintering site for a diminishing Monarch population.

Lover’s Point is the perfect destination for a family walk and picnic or a bike ride. There is some parking on the street and is a good stopping point if you are driving around the peninsula on the coast road. Or it can be a rest stop if you are walking from Asilomar to the Aquarium.

I decided one night is not enough to warrant .a 3.5-4.5 hour drive one way.  A sign of my age, sigh. When I was a teenager I would drive that much to spend the day at the beach. Then with children I needed at least an overnight. Now I want more than one night to recover and to justify the carbon footprint! One thing for sure, Pacific Grove is worth the effort even in the dead of winter.

Railroad Museum Thrills Grandson

Ground floor of the railroad museum, sometimes called the train museum

I have a beloved toddler grandson and he and I go on adventures most Friday mornings. He likes being outside so we rotate between the Sacramento Zoo, Effie Yeaw Nature Area, and McKinley Park. About 6 months ago we went to the California State Railroad Museum one afternoon about 3:00 p.m. We had to park some distance from the museum and walk past the horse drawn carriages. So we rode the carriage and had them drop us at the museum. Then we became fascinated with the wooden sidewalks, the cobblestones, the full size caboose by the river, then the river, then the turntable for turning engines. By the time we made it back to the museum it was almost closing.

This time we got there as it opened at 10 a.m. Staying outside was not an option as the smoke from the Camp Fire (Paradise, 2018) was just too great to stay outdoors. When we walked through the entrance Cal saw a train engine and his smile was huge. He was so excited he was starfishing with his hands. When the greeter asked if anyone was a member or wanted to become a member I knew I might as well invest right away.

Admission is $12 per adults, $6 per child 6-17, free for children 5 and under. Memberships start at $30 per year, so it is worth considering. The museum is open daily from 10a.m.-5p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

56408582734__B2C234D8-29E9-4333-9140-D9267D4BE3E6I used to bring my children here about 25 years ago. My son and daughter were not as excited about trains as my grandson clearly is. At the urging of the greeter we went directly up the stairs to the 3rd floor to where the model trains are displayed. There is also a “toy room” where wee people (ages 2-5) can play with wooden train sets. I was concerned that Cal would never willingly leave. He was over the moon.

Tom also recommends checking out the holiday “Polar Express” extravaganza.

We did eventually make it back to the ground floor to climb aboard all kinds of train engines and train cars. We saw a mail car, a sleeper, and a dining car. When we climbed up to the biggest engine we found our family friend Tom! He volunteers as a docent 2 days a week. He loves trains and he clearly enjoyed telling people about this engine. In fact, I believe the museum has more volunteers than any venue in Sacramento and they definitely make the experience.

We will be returning often.

P.S. The gift shop is also a great place to find things for the train enthusiast. You can shop without paying admission.


Getting out of the Smoke to Apple Hill

The smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County is so thick there is no way we could enjoy a morning out of doors with my grandson anywhere in the Sacramento Valley. So we drove east to Placerville and to Apple Hill just beyond.

Apple Hill is an established trail of family farms and orchards. Long ago when I was a child, Apple Hill was only open in the fall and closed once everyone had come to get their Christmas tree. The main locations to stop and buy pie or apples were straightforward. These days Apple Hill is open June-December and the pie and apple stops are jammed with tents of vendors selling everything from wax hand art to signs warning your neighbors about your “crazy dog.”

Our first stop was at the El Dorado Orchard for the train ride. They have had a short train ride around 2 ponds for several decades. The ponds need some rain and the ducks and geese are gone, but the train ride still was a pretty ride past vineyard and orchard. The cost of a ticket has gone up to $3.50 a person but still better than $5 a person for a hay ride at the next stop.

Traditional apple pie, heated. Yum!

We drove about another 5 minutes to High Hill Ranch co-located with the Fudge Shop Farm. We parked among the apple trees and walked up to the main pie shop. It is built like an old fashioned ski lodge and the view from the deck is really splendid. It was lovely to see some blue sky. The apple pie was delicious. I prefer my apples more tart but the crust was as good as mine.


It is a quick trip down the hill and back into the smoke. My thoughts and prayers go to the many families impacted by the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA. As of this writing nearly 6,500 families are homeless and the fire is threatening the town of Oroville. Please join me in donating to aid these communities through your preferred charity. Mine is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Disaster Relief.

Corn Maze Season: It’s A-Maizing!

Harriet, Brian, Grace, Thea and Nora enjoying the Cool Patch Pumpkin entertainment.

My friends were dropping off their daughter at UC Davis and decided to make the Cool Patch Pumpkin corn maze a family adventure on opening day. The Watloves group managed to navigate the maze in just 1 hour 15 minutes. This left them time to play in the corn “bath”: a giant mass of dried corn kernels.

I asked Thea, the Rotary exchange student from Sweden, what she thought of it all. “It was fun,” Thea said. She said there was nothing like it in Sweden. She’s from a small town near the Arctic circle and is learning a lot about Northern California from her host family.

Grace, Brian and Thea celebrate finding their way out of the maze.

While participants are provided a map and the occasional raised bridge to get their bearings in the tall stalks, the corn maze does provide an additional challenge as the furrows make for uneven walking. Maybe this is less of a problem as the season progresses and many feet have tramped the maze. There is an escape route for people who find themselves panicking. The website warns maze navigators not to call 9-1-1. I wanted to know if they handed out wands that send up sparks–alas only in Harry Potter novels. The Watloves benefited from a full moon and started while it was still light enough to read the map. Everyone must be out of the maze (and off the grounds) by 10 p.m. sharp, so the last entrants are allowed at 8 p.m.

All of the “fun” is affordable at $15 per person. Dixon (maze located at 6150 Dixon Avenue West) is close to the Bay Area and just 10 minutes from UC Davis.

Irresistible Sea Otters

otter-3As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I love the emails I receive reminding me of Sea Otter Awareness Week. I signed up to get an additional email everyday this week! Seven guaranteed smiles! I am willing to risk cuteness overload.

otter-1I have blogged about the sea otters before and their comeback on the Central Coast. But I was reminded of the role they play in our ecosystem when I read a story in Sonoma magazine about volunteer divers who are removing the sea urchins by hand from the kelp forests off the coast of Sonoma County to preserve the abalone population. Human beings are playing the role of the missing sea otter from the kelp forest.

Oh, the adorable sea otter is also a vital member of our coastal community. Is it imaginable that sea otters might expand their habitat to the North Coast?

To learn more about sea otters, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

Celebrating USA Public Lands!

Yosemite NPLDThere are many different types of public lands in the United States, including local parks, state parks, national forests, and national parks. Yesterday was National Public Lands Day and I didn’t want to step past it. So much of my identify as a daughter of the West is associated with the open space protected by various public land covenants, especially those by the federal government.

I have ridden a horse on the public trails in the Sierra Nevada, walked and hiked among the redwoods and douglas firs of Yosemite and Redwood national parks. Our sensibilities around public access to the coast and to the sacred natural spaces is under attack. There are always people ready to exploit it for personal profit. I am so thankful that even something as small as the Effie Yeaw Nature Study Area in suburban Sacramento preserves a little bit of the wildness of Sacramento Valley and still remains for me and my grandson to enjoy. We only saw the fresh deer poop, not the deer themselves, but the potential remains to see something wild a short 20 minute car ride from his house. I do not want to take this for granted.

I also just learned from a father of a 4th grade student, that the National Park Foundation gives 4th graders and their families free park entry throughout the year. I hope all families with children around this age take advantage of this gift.

I’m going to sign off now and look at my calendar to find a time to visit Yosemite!