Wined and Dined


I've been really sick lately, but that didn't stop me from going over to cousins Nick and Jess' place on Sunday for a five course dinner to celebrate my birthday. Yup, five courses! They even printed menus and everything was made from scratch. My mouth is watering just remembering what I ate that night. My favorites were the pea soup and duck with parsnips. These two are fancy, and great hosts.

It was fun to be wined and dined and we all agreed that dinner was a success. We also talked about how much we like to host people over for dinner, even though neither of us really do it that often. I cook at home, but usually not for others. Maybe this feast will be the impetus to get us cooking more often and for more people. I don't know how much I'll be serving duck at our house, but in the company of good friends, even a simple meal can be one worth savoring. 

Photos, clockwise from top left:
Jess' delicious pea soup, served with crème fraîche
Dodger, Nick and Jess' dog
Pear salad with homemade dressing
Nick and Jeff
Our custom dinner menu

Happy Birthday to Me


Now that we actually have a backyard we are taking full advantage of it. The nights are getting cooler, but we are trying to extend our summer as far as we can. I think we spend more time in the backyard than we do in the living room, actually. Having a backyard (and a husband who loves grilling) makes it really easy to entertain people, too. 

I invited my close friends and family over to the house last weekend to celebrate my birthday. It was a small gathering, but I had so much fun. My Mom had originally said she wasn't coming and I was kind of bummed out, but I understood because she lives two and a half hours away. But then she totally punked me by showing up with my brother, who I also thought wasn't showing up. That totally made my day! I was also really happy to see my niece Gabby and cousin Austin's daughter Amber come over to our house for the first time.

Jess, Austin, Lisa and Fauna (Amber too) getting ready to play bocce ball.
Amber and Gabby.
Thanks to Jeff, Nick and Jess for prepping and grilling. 
I love party favors. 
I told Jeff to get me a birthday cake that said happy birthday to me on it. He took it literally. 
All of the cousins in one place. This is kind of a rare occurrence, but awesome!
I tried something different this time when I invited everyone over. Usually, I just send out an email to let people know they're invited to something at our house. For this BBQ I created a Google+ Event. It has a cool feature called Party Mode, which allows guests who have RSVP'ed for the event to post photos to the Event page straight from their phone. Instead of me being the only one running around with a camera, other people shared photos as well. Everyone invited can see the images posted to the Event page. Here's a video to see how it works. 

Camping at Mt. Madonna


I can't remember the last time I went camping before this past weekend. It must have been several  years ago. Luckily, Jeff and I kept some of our camping equipment in storage at my Mom's house so we were pretty well-equipped to go up to Mt. Madonna for a couple of nights. We realized the pump for our air mattress doesn't work when we tried to inflate it at the campsite. Jeff ended up blowing up the mattress with his lungs. Poor guy said he almost passed out twice!

Mt. Madonna is in Watsonville, and although it's pretty close by, it feels like you're so far away from any city. You're still far away enough to not have any cell phone reception, though.

We managed to book a campsite only a few days before we arrived, which is kind of hard to do with the state parks. It is a really well-maintained county park and of course, dog-friendly. A lot of families were there with kids and dogs. There are some great trails to hike on from the park, too.

Just a short drive down the 152 from Mt. Madonna County Park is a great little produce stand, selling all kinds of food and flowers. It makes for a great stop to stock up on food and snacks before heading to the park.

I know it seems like we're on a camping and hiking kick lately, but it's fun and addicting. We are trying to squeeze in more of these trips, whether a day hike or a weekend camping trip, before the weather starts to get rainy. Who wants to join us?

I wasn't going to post this picture from our trip, but it's kind of funny so I had to share. Jeff was trying to find some little bit of cell phone service at the campsite to download his homework assignment (he's taking some programming courses). He got enough reception to get his assignment, and then got to work on his laptop in the middle of the woods. It's hard for us to disconnect sometimes! 

Skyline to the Sea


I'm not sure where I first heard about the Skyline to the Sea Trail, but it's something that Jeff and I really want to do in the near future. It's a three day hike that starts off at Saratoga Gap and finishes at Waddell Beach. Some people start the hike at Castle Rock State Park instead. Much of the hike goes through Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Two Saturdays ago, Jeff and I wanted to do the last part of the hike, which starts at Big Basin headquarters and finishes at Waddell Beach. We drove up Highway 9 early in the morning through some fog (Highway 9 is so beautiful!), parked the car, and headed towards the coast through the redwood forest.

This particular segment of the hike is twelve miles long. We finished it in four hours. We weren't weighed down by backpacks and even ran for parts of it. It will probably take us a bit longer when we'll be backpacking. I've heard the other days of the hike aren't quite as easy, but I still want to do it.

The hike was beautiful and easy for us, even though a sign on the trail said it was "strenuous". Waddell Beach is a great place for windsurfers and kite surfers. Because of all the wind it's not that great of a place to sit and relax. Jeff's cousin Austin, who was surfing nearby, met us at the beach to drive us back to our car. Next time we do this hike, we'll probably hike back up to park headquarters instead.

Have you done the Skyline to the Sea Trail? Know of any good hiking trails in the Bay Area?

Its Beach, Santa Cruz


One thing I really missed about California while we lived in Singapore was dog-friendly places to take Stan and Joe. I've taken advantage of the fact that lots of parks, beaches, and even businesses are dog-friendly here. The dogs come with me everywhere I am allowed to bring them. They're really good with car rides and going to new places.

We (all four of us) recently visited Its Beach in Santa Cruz. Its Beach becomes an off-leash dog park before 10 am and after 4 pm. We showed up in the afternoon and so did lots of other dogs and their owners. Jeff tried getting Stan to jump in the water, but we've come to the realization that our dogs aren't really fond of water. It was fun watching other dogs dive into the waves though. Our dogs would rather sniff around in the sand or the tide pools.

The weather started cooling down a bit this week and fall is definitely around the corner. I'm not sure how many more trips to the beach we can squeeze in before this summer weather is officially gone for the year, but I'm going to try to take the dogs out at least a few more times.

If you're in San Jose next weekend and you're a dog owner, you should check out Bark in the Park. It's such a great event for dogs and humans. We'll be there!

Hiking in Alum Rock Park


San Jose from the hills of Alum Rock Park
I felt like going for a hike a few Saturdays ago, so naturally I pulled out my phone and Googled "hiking trail." The first search result was the Boccardo Trail in Alum Rock Park, a relatively short drive away from downtown San Jose. I packed a backpack with snacks and some bottles of water, and off we went to climb the mountain.

The sun was beating down hard on us that day, but working up a sweat while enjoying the view of San Jose below was just what I needed. The Boccardo Trail is short and parts of it are really steep; it was harder than I expected, but we enjoyed the challenge. It's also part of a longer hike through the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. I'm putting this 12.7 mile hike on my bucket list.

To learn more about the Boccardo Trail and other Sierra Vista trails, check out this website.
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