Sep 142012

I loved going to Cal.  My experience and the friendships I made there completely shaped the person I am today.  The energy of campus and the Berkeley streets is something I associated with college campuses so imagine my surprise when I showed up to Northwestern for grad school and it felt like a ghost town in comparison!  Over Labor Day weekend, Mike and I went up to the Bay to celebrate the wedding of his old coworker and we spent a few days being tourists and visiting friends.

I hadn’t visited campus after graduating many times since living in Chicago and then New York meant that any time I was in California, it was usually spent in LA with family.  Magically, my good friend Cristina (who was also the officiant at our wedding)  just moved back to the Bay and we got to spend the day in Berkeley and walked around campus.  First stop?  Zachary’s Chicago Pizza on College Ave.  I wanted Mike to try it since he’s from Chicago and I love Zachary’s (well, loved in college, which sometimes can be misleading when you’re remembering Top Dog hot links consumed at 2am to be the best thing on Earth).  The verdict: Chicago pizza is denser and cheesier in Chicago but Zachary’s has a fresher taste since it has more tomatoes and you can eat more than 1 slice without feeling like you’re going to explode.  So Chicago still wins.

Next, we walked around Berkeley and reminisced like geeks while Mike and Will had to endure our “remember this?” ramblings.  We got coffee at Cafe Strada (where I once overheard a conversation in Latin) and made our way in a loop on campus.

Count them…9! In Front of the Physics Building

As we rounded the corner to Memorial Glade, we paused and looked at each other.  Is that what we think it is??  Yes, yes, in fact, it IS a game of Quidditch about the start.  We struck up a conversation with one of the students and then what took place was probably the most hilarious conversation around Quidditch.  “Well, we can’t fly, obviously, so we just run around with brooms in between our legs.  It’s uncomfortable at first but you get used to it.”  The Snitch, which is a flying gold ball in the book, takes the form of a player wearing special yellow Snitch shorts with a contraption velcroed to the back that looks like a flag football flag with a ball at the end of it.  So that player runs around campus while getting chased until the opposing team pulls off the velcroed ball.  You can get the shorts from the International Quidditch Association.  Pretty incredible.  All the hoops where handmade from PVC pipes and what looked like hula hoops.  Only in Berkeley…

Apparently There’s An International Quidditch League

After that we came up on Lower Sproul Plaza, where we found a dance group holding auditions for the semester.  AND, it was our old dance group, Danceworx!!  Woohoo!  Now, Cristina and I totally geeked out and started trying to follow along to the tap routine that was being taught.  One student runs over to us and starts to tell us more about the group but we explain that I was President and Cristina was Treasurer back in the day!  So we head over and meet the current officers and they tell us about their Facebook and YouTube pages.  Now there are a ton more officers whereas we only had 3.  It made us feel old when we mentioned we used to have old videos of our performances…but they were on VHS tapes.  Wah wah.  They were like wowww, 2003, that’s a long time ago, we don’t know anyone from back then.  Ha!   Meanwhile, Will strikes up a conversation with the strange man watching the auditions: “they’re goddesses!”

Checking Out the Danceworx Auditions

Berkeley Sather Gate

Remembering the Good Ol Days

It was such a nice day out in Berkeley but we had an inkling that the city was going to be covered in fog.  The original plan was to head over to Golden Gate Bridge but once we checked the traffic, it was a no go.  Instead, we drove over to Indian Rock in North Berkeley and got a gorgeous view of the entire Bay with the fog rolling in.  Indian Rock is this huge boulder formation in the middle of a residential neighborhood and a great place to check out the view.

Berkeley Indian Rock View

View of the Fog Rolling In Over the Bay from Indian Rock


Berkeley Indian Rock

Sunny at Indian Rock, Foggy in the City

It was such a beautiful day and so nice to spend it with our good friends.  I will miss this!

Sep 132012

It seems when you grow up somewhere, you don’t really appreciate the beauty of it until you come back after being gone for a long time.  For almost my entire childhood, I grew up next to amazing scenery and took it for granted.  But now, older and wiser, every time come back after running errands I’m oohing and aahing over the spectacular ocean views.

Oftentimes, Mike and I will go for a walk by the ocean, either by Terranea or by the Oceanfront neighborhood.  If you follow Hawthorne Blvd all the way to the ocean, Oceanfront is where you’ll end up.  There are a couple of lots and we’ll walk along the path to the lighthouse.  I love the smell of the native plants–it’s so familiar to me.  I like to call it “coastal shrubbery.” It’s got that faint hint of herbal citrus.

I just ordered a travel tripod so we went to test it out on the cliff views!  I was pretty excited since I had been wanting one for a long time and to get those super sharp photos, it’s better to have a tripod and a wireless remote shutter release.  I decided on the Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod, it’s lightweight and an affordable price.  So far I’ve taken it around a few times and everything works great.  The true test will be bringing it on an extended hike.

Here are some of the shots from our walk along the cliffs:

Palos Verdes Cliffs

Cliff Views Along Oceanfront Path

Palos Verdes Lighthouse

Palos Verdes Lighthouse

Palos Verdes Scenic Lookout

Scenic Viewpoint from Hawthorne Blvd

Sep 112012

My mom and Eric often go hiking in the Malibu Canyons on the weekend, so Mike and I went along with them one weekend on one of their favorite hikes: Solstice Canyon.  The trailhead and parking lot is located off of Corral Canyon Rd off of PCH 1 (make a right if you’re going north from LA).  The small parking lot fills up pretty quickly so we parked about a 5 min walk away when we arrived at 10:30am.  Not too bad.

The trail is pretty easy, there is a loop trail option, but we took the out-and-back Solstice Canyon trail since it was blazing hot and getting close to lunch time. 😉  Here’s a link to the trail map.

Hiking Up Solstice Canyon Trail

It wasn’t a very long hike, but we did stay for a while at the waterfall where you can scramble on some boulders.

Eric and Mike Climbing the Boulders

The waterfall is at the end up the stairs beyond the deserted Roberts Ranch (a really neat old burnt down mansion with some of the antique stoves still in place–Thermador brand, fancy stuff!).   There were a bunch of fruit trees growing around the home, including banana trees and lime trees.  We took a keepsake lime and had it in some beer later, shhh…

Old Fireplace/Kitchen of Roberts Ranch

It was a beautiful day with gorgeous blue skies and even better with NY style pizza slices at D’Amore’s afterwards.

What’s funny is after doing so many hikes/treks on our Asia Trip, Mike and I have noticed that we notice the little things a lot more now.  It could be an interesting plant, different animals, or just the smallest cool detail.  We’ve really found a great appreciation for the little things!

Gold Leaf Remains

Delicate Web

Aug 232012

On one of our days downtown, Mike and I went to check out the Art Institute.  The first and second Wednesdays of the month are free for Illinois residents (and Mike still has his Illinois driver’s license).  I managed to score a ticket from someone who had just left the museum so I got in for free too!  The last time I was there was during my solo visit to Northwestern to check out Kellogg Business School before I applied.  I wandered the city, went to a Hubbard Street Dance performance, and rode the Navy Pier ferris wheel with the company of me, myself, and I.

Mainly, we went to the Art Institute for the old time New York photo exhibit which has a special place in my heart.  I love the old city photos and all of the Photo League stuff.  There’s something amazing about seeing the city you live in as a foreign yet still familiar place.  You just get this feeling that…life goes on.  People come and go and the city is there, ever changing but ever permanent.  The exhibit itself was really small, on the basement floor, and while there were some nice photos, they weren’t as good as I’d seen elsewhere.

The star of our visit was really the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit.  If you don’t know his name, you definitely know his art which is synonymous with American pop art. It had really wonderful pieces, here were some of my favorites:

3D Pop 

Always Justifying and Making Excuses…tsk tsk


After Lichtenstein’s phase of pop art where he focused on comic strip-type imagery, he played with different subjects but always kept his signature “dot” painting style.  I thought this painting of a seascape was really nice, it was done on a clear pane so it felt like you were looking through the glass.  Beautiful.


It was a really nice time and just the perfect length of free museum time!  We’ve learned that museums are best done in 2-3 hour sessions so you don’t burn out and get art fatigue.

Aug 172012

While staying with Mike’s parents in Antioch (close to the Wisconsin border), we wanted to find a fun activity for the four of us to do.  I’d been wanting to visit a dairy farm (mostly to try various delicious treats like cheese and ice cream) but the closest ones we found were 2 hours away.  Too far.  Maybe next time?  Anyhow, we decided to go see the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Oak Park, which is a neighborhood just west of downtown.  Mike had gone there as a field trip in high school and he even bought a guide/map so he could take his mom one day…25 years later.  Ha! 😉

We walked around the neighborhood to view some of his famous homes and also took a tour of his home and studio.  The neighborhood is really cute and is an old wealthy part of town.  The lot sizes and homes are just enormous!  Back in the day, as Wright was becoming an established architect, some of his neighbors commissioned him to design their homes, which is why there are so many in one place.  Here is the home is often shown as a great example of the prairie homes Wright is so well known for.  The emphasis is on the horizontal rather than the vertical, a departure from what was going on around him at the time.  It’s amazing that these homes that were built in the early 1900s can seem modern and not “old” at all.

Horizontal Lines of the Prairie Home

One of the things I love most about all his homes is how much they incorporate landscape into them.  Almost all the homes have huge built-in planters to make sure that nature is seamlessly a part of the exterior.  The attention to detail is incredible.  There are a lot of different styles in the surrounding blocks depending on the requests of the client.  Here is an interesting house with some Gothic elements and has really interesting embellishments.

Moore-Dugal Residence

One of the most fascinating parts of the Moore-Dugal residence are the chimneys.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Very long and narrow.  Wright takes even a functional mundane aspect of a house and makes it interesting.

A Beautiful Chimney

Here is a home with beautiful wood paneling on the outside that again was extremely modern for its times.  The curve of the wood around the outside is amazing and the overhang of the porch is also finished with wood underneath as well.  I love his leaded glass windows everywhere.  He used a lot of those since they provided good light with privacy.

Beautiful Woodwork on the Outside

We were thinking about taking the tour of his home and studio and were wavering a bit since it was $15/person and we weren’t sure if it would be any good.  Good thing we went for it!!  We committed because Mike found a book in the gift shop about his home and when we flipped open the pages, we were stunned by the photos.  Definitely do it if you can!  It is truly amazing to step inside his home and look at how he thought of every single detail.  Everything is custom built and designed.

Built-in Fireplace Nook Complete with Curtains

He worked with different ideas to create space or make rooms more intimate.  My ultimate favorite was the dining room with its high backed chairs and an amazing intricately carved screen above the table.  The screen is the same size of the table and is meant to make the room more intimate by bringing the ceiling lower.  Each of the chairs has a high back to frame each guests face to encourage conversation.  Just simply beautiful.

Can I Please Have an Intricately Carved Screen Above My Dining Room Table?

After touring his home, we went over to the adjoining connected studio where he would work with his team.  When you first walk in, it literally takes your breath away and your jaw drops.  It’s an octagonal room with high ceilings and very open.  There is light pouring in through the windows up top.  Definitely an inspiring place to work.

Wright’s Studio

In the waiting room of the studio where he would keep clients, there is an amazing glass skylight with Art Deco patterns.  When you’re in the room, it bathes you in a golden-green light.  The contrast of the glass with the dark wooden beams was amazing.

Beautiful Art Deco Glass Skylight

All in all, an amazing experience and totally blew my mind.  It seems back then more people designed their own homes and today, only the extremely wealth can afford to do so.  Touring the home made you really appreciate the potential for a home to be truly beautiful.  It definitely inspires me to one day perhaps explore what it would take to design your own home.  Or at least maybe one room of it? 😉

Aug 062012

Mike and I are visiting his family in Chicago for 3 weeks and during our first weekend, we spent a few nights in Wicker Park/Bucktown with one of Mike’s best friends from college (his best man actually).  We don’t get to see them very often and he just happened to be in Chicago taking his medical boards.  I tried out Airbnb for the first time, which is this site where you can rent rooms/apts from people.  Kind of like vacation rental by owner but with a much better site and you can pay with your credit card directly on the site.  We had trouble finding a place through Craigslist (beware of apartment rental scams asking for payment by bank transfer!) and really wanted to find a place with a common area to hang out versus two hotel rooms (which would have been super expensive anyway).  So Airbnb is definitely a great option if you’re looking for a place for at least 4 people.  We found a great apt in the heart of Wicker Park so we could walk to great restaurants and shops.  It’s my favorite neighborhood in Chicago.

We happened to be there the weekend of Wicker Park Fest so on Saturday we just walked around the neighborhood and checked out all the street vendors.  I love street fairs!  It was insanely hot but in the evening it was really nice.  At night it got really crowded but when we walked around during the day it was relatively empty.  There were some neat “live art” exhibitions going on.

Live Art Exhibition

This one was a clown trying to get out of his bubble and the woman next to him was cleaning and sweeping the floor of her bubble.  All I kept thinking was how hot it must have been in their bubble that was sealed up!  There’s a great graffiti mural down Milwaukee Ave–I love the contrast between the bold colors and darkness of the skyline.

Beautiful Mural

Absolutely stunning.

We also went to historic Wrigley Field to catch a Cubs game.  They played the St. Louis Cardinals that day and there were so many Card fans in the stadium.  By the volume of their cheering you would have thought it was a home game for them!   We got the tickets on Stubhub and they were definitely way more expensive than the Angels game we caught in LA.  $90 versus $15!  Really the cheapest tickets we could have gotten for the Cubs game were in the $40 range but we wanted some decent seats.  Was a good time and a great game even though Cubs lost 6-9.

Go Cubbies!

Going back to Wrigleyville definitely brought back memories of going to Cubs games at Kellogg.  I think I’ve been to most of the bars in Wrigleyville–some good memories there and makes me feel old now! 😉

Jul 302012

Before heading to Chicago for 3 weeks, Mike and I did a whirlwind visit to the Bay Area to see some friends over a long weekend.  We drove up on Thursday and came back down on Monday.  It was fun seeing friends and two of them were new first time homeowners!  Feels like everyone around us is buying.  I couldn’t believe how ridiculously expensive the Bay Area real estate market is!   It’s funny how a few years ago our visit would definitely be centrally based in the city and now everyone’s moved towards the South Bay and we only went up to the city once.

Well the one day we went up to the city, we lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous day.  Sunny blue skies and warm!  Not the norm for a San Francisco summer day.  We walked around Haight and Alamo Square before heading to Sunday Streets in Dogpatch (funny name for a neighborhood right?).

Beautiful Day in Alamo Square

My favorite thing about walking around Haight is exploring all the cool little shops and fun architecture and street art.  I’ve always wanted to live around there if I ever lived in SF.

Colorful Apartments on Haight

Graffiti Van

It was a quick visit, so we didn’t get to do much sightseeing, but we’re planning on going back up for longer over Labor Day weekend since we have a wedding in wine country to attend.  Definitely excited for that!

Jul 202012

We just heard from a fellow couple from our diving liveaboard and they sent us photos from our dive at Manta Point. They arrived back in Switzerland after their honeymoon and I’m so glad they remembered to send the photos!  I had forgotten my camera and this was the dive not to forget it!  We saw three huge mantas and they came so close to us, about 5 feet away.  These things looked so unreal and had wingspans of at least 12 feet.  Just out of this world.  This dive had a really heavy current so you had to hold on to dead coral in order to avoid getting swept away.  Our divemaster took us to a “cleaning station” where he knew mantas come and get cleaned by smaller fish.  The current is the weakest at the very bottom of the ocean floor so you just hold on and get as close to the ground as possible and wait for mantas.  Pretty soon, one swam over and hovered above us for a few minutes while it got cleaned by all the little cleaner fish.  Sometimes there would be giant trevally hanging out underneath the manta for protection from the current.  The photos don’t really do it justice, but here’s a glimpse of what that experience was like!

Swimming Right By Us

Each Manta Has Unique Spots Underneath

Probably 12 feet across

Jul 202012

Every time I’m home I try to surf at El Porto in Manhattan Beach, which I guess I consider my “home break.”  It’s a pretty mellow beach break and very consistent. Even when it’s small, it’s still pretty fun.  Usually the first time someone comes, the first thing they see are the Chevron refinery pipe stacks next door and get freaked out. I guess since I’ve been coming for a while, they never really bother me.     It’s just so nice being in the water and I almost always see dolphins.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m a little less die-hard about going surfing all the time.  I used to try to go every day no matter what.  Now…I make excuses like well, it looks gloomy, or it looks choppy.  But once I’m in the water, I always am so glad I paddled out.  I guess getting older either makes you more complacent or lazy or maybe I just don’t like wiping out as much? =)  I was talking with my friend and she hit the nail on the head.  Since I don’t really get to go consistently anymore (having lived in Chicago and then NYC for the last 6 years), every time I go it’s a re-learning process and constantly sucking.  It’s tough.  Surfing is one of those sports where you could surf for years and never be any good.

Luckily, one of my surf buddies was in town (she lives in NYC now too) so it made it that much easier to go out.  It was a gorgeous day and we had such a good time catching up in the water.

Post Surf at El Porto


Jul 112012

You can see Moro Rock along the whole drive up to Sequoia (coming from the South).  It’s just staring at from around every bend, so naturally you have to go to the top.  It’s actually a really short (but steep) climb to the top and the views over the canyon are breathtaking.  It’s best to go early in the morning before it gets too hazy.  We had the whole top of the rock to ourselves!

Top of Moro Rock

View Over the Canyon from Moro Rock

Steph Showing Off Her Karate Moves

Falling Rock is just a short hike away from Moro Rock.  It’s probably a hike less traveled, which made it even better.  Not another single soul on the trail.  It gives a great viewpoint of Moro Rock itself and has nice rocks to climb around on.

Falling Rock

Later that day, we did the hike to Tokopah Falls—3.6 miles.  Not too bad, but we did it in the heat of the afternoon sun.  The payoff is fantastic though.  The waterfall tumbles over a vast expanse of boulders and you can climb around and over the falls for some great views.

Tumbling Tokopah Falls

View Looking Out From the Waterfall

Relaxing After the Hike