Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oreo Lil' Rounder

So I got to try one of the new Oreo Lil' Rounders from Carvel Ice Cream for FREE. I actually had no idea that there was a store 15 minutes away from us. I used to get their ice cream cakes while we were in Boston since there was not a Dairy Queen nearby. I really liked their ice cream cakes and I love oreos combined with FREE and I had to try it. And, I wasn't impressed with it. The cookies were too crunchy and so the ice cream started to seep out the sides. Eh- I would prefer an oreo ice cream or a regular ice cream sandwich to this. At least I didn't pay anything to try it :-)

Chabot Space and Science Center

Saturday was Smithsonian Museum Day where hundreds of museums around the country gave FREE admission to their galleries. We decided to go to the Chabot Space and Science Center that is in Oakland since it was right up the street from the temple and it generally costs $15 a person. We definitely arrived there at the right time because we had no wait, but then a line appeared for the rest of the time we were there.

The museum has various exhibits, several shows (planetarium and special)and telescope viewing on weekend evenings. We decided to see the special lecture with a space historian who worked on the "From the Earth to the Moon" HBO series. He showed us the in depth aspects of the craters and valleys on the moon's surface using the Google Earth feature. I had thought that the differences in the color of the moon's surface was due to differences in elevation- such that the dark spots were the valleys and the lighter parts the mountains. It is somewhat related in that that the rock is actually colored differently (not just the shadows)- the rock composition is varies- one is lighter and the other is darker. We also learned about LCROSS- the satellite mission that will try to determine if water is present on the moon. The first part of the satellite will crash into the moon and then the particles will be analyzed by the following satellite. If you have a 12 inch or longer telescope, you can probably see the impact at 4:30 am on October 9th.

We enjoyed the exhibits- here we are seeing how astronauts get a work out- that little suit is really heavy (although William thought it was so easy that he finished before I was able to snap a photo).

We also learned that astronauts sometimes wear diapers- yes, diapers- since they have to be in those big, bulky suits which are difficult to remove. They even have the NASA logo on them. They had a demonstration showing this special powder that is in the diaper that can hold up to 1,000 times more liquid and it turns into this gel substance. If you add salt later, it turns back into the liquid. So amazing- William wonders why they haven't made these mainstream. They might have, but we just don't know it since we don't have children.

This is one of the pods that are launched up to the international space station. 3 people fit inside of this for 2 days to get to the station. That gives me even more admiration.

They have three different observatories. Here are two of them that house their lens telescopes

One of the lens telescopes look like this

The other observatory has a different design that is so ingenious- the roof completely slides to the side.

The telescope inside this building uses a mirror.

We had a good time and learned things we had not known before, but we were glad that it was free. We weren't sure that it would have been worth a $30 price tag for the two of us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Carrot Cupcakes

Our neighbors gave us a bunch of carrots and so I made these carrot cupcakes and cream cheese frosting from the Martha Stewart cupcake book. I modified the cupcake recipe slightly and added different amount of spices (including nutmeg) since we didn't have ginger. A funny part is that I was so worried about the spice ratio that I forgot to add the oil on the first 6 cupcakes. I fortunately remembered for the rest of the batch and those were delicious. The oil-less ones were edible- they were just very dense and not very moist but some extra cream cheese frosting. Haha- you would have though that I would have learned my lesson with the cupcake pops- at least these definitely looked much more aesthetically pleasing!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The California Saints

Last night I attended a lecture at the inter-stake center at the Oakland Temple in honor of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Oakland Stake. The guest speaker, Richard Cowan, was a former professor of mine at BYU- I took his course on temples and absolutely loved it. He was the perfect speaker for this anniversary since he co-authored a book entitled The California Saints: Over a Century and a Half in the Golden State. His niece gave one of the most touching introductions with acclamations of praise for his work and service from President Monson, Ann Madsen, and Robert Millet. Bro. Cowan is truly one incredible for he is nearly completely blind. Yet, he received his PhD from Stanford, taught at BYU, chaired the committee for the Gospel Doctrine manuals, and written numerous books and articles. He is so kind and has a great sense of humor. One of his former students submitted this story that was published in Reader's Digest. He uses braille notes and at the beginning of class one day, he had a panicked look over his face for a second while fingering the notes but then exclaimed "Phew- I was afraid that someone had sat on my notes!" He had slides along with his presentation last night and when they became out of sync with the text, he joked "Some people claim that professors can see through the back of their head- well, I can't even see from the front of mine." Truly he is a brilliant scholar and an all around inspiration.

I enjoyed the talk as California has been my "home" for the past two years and probably will be for an indeterminate amount of time. Bro. Cowan recounted the story of Samuel Brannan who lead a group of Saints out to San Francisco on the ship, Brooklyn. The group left on February 4, 1846, the same day as the first pioneers left to go on their trek West. The ship sailed down around South America, stopped in Hawaii, and finally sailed into San Francisco nearly 6 months later in July. There is a plaque commemorating this event in the Chinatown area of San Francisco- I need to go and check it out. He told many other things about the church being established throughout California. There is also a special exhibit about the history of the church in California over at the temple visitors center that I want to check out the next time we are at the temple.

National Parks: America's Best Idea

"National Parks: America's Best Idea" is one of those monumental films that everyone needs to see. Directed by Ken Burns, it is a 6 part series highlighting the creation of the National Parks system. You can watch Part 1 online for a limited time. The cinematography in this film is breathtaking. The film provides the perfect blend of current images along with sketches and photos from the period. It has intensified my desire to visit Yosemite, as that- along with Yellowstone, was the focus of this episode. I was so glad that I was able to visit John Muir's home a few weeks ago and to learn about his life because the film spent even more time detailing his belief in the sublime power of nature, particularly that found in Yosemite. He dedicated much of his life advocating for the preservation of these sites, saying that "wildness is a necessity" for all of us. What Muir and many others had written was that observation of these sites confirmed the existence of a supreme being who had created these majestic sites. I loved that the subtitle of this episode was "The Scripture of Nature" highlighting the sacred nature of these places. However, I agree with the historian quoted in the film that issuing democracy- that all men are created equal- is America's best idea, but that national parks are definitely a great idea.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I greatly appreciated the sense of humor used by these vendors down in Monterey. It got a laugh out of me- but not enough to actually purchase the shirts or any other objects. But clever none the less.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cannery Row and Bubba Gump Shimp Co.

Following the aquarium, we walked around Cannery Row

and the waterfront in the afternoon

and then right before sunset- I love the pink sky tones (Again, thanks Dan for the photos!)

We then ate at the original location of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co in Monterey CA (I had no idea it started here). William has eaten there before but neither Dan nor I had and there was no wait to eat outside (although they did have heat lamps- gotta love Cali for that) so we decided to give it a go. I was very happy with the food- especially the Hush Pups, these fried cornbread nuggets with little pieces of shrimp and fish inside. SUPER good. And they have a unique method of serving them- in newspaper lined tin can. I also liked their fish and chips. I liked the thing that they have signs on the end of the table for you to indicate if you need waiter service saying "Run Forrest Run" and "Stop Forrest Stop."

And of course nothing no trip would be complete without a stop at the Ghiradelli Chocolate store so that we could have their fabulous ice cream sundaes (I did share with William since we had just eaten). It was a great end to the day- and holiday traffic wasn't bad either.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monterey Aquarium

We express our greatest gratitude to our friend Dan for having enough camera batteries when ours ran out. These photos are all of his camera work- THANK-YOU!!

Here we are surrounded by thousands of anchovies

They had the most AMAZING jelly fish- so mesmerizing and ethereal.

These ones were more blob like- but still interesting.

I had never seen these lobed comb jelly before- it has these flashing multicolored lights inside of its body (too bad you can't really tell that from the photo).

The Secret Lives of Seahorses special exhibit was INCREDIBLE. I have never seen so many sea horses in one location.

The weedy seahorses are my favorite- especially the leafy seahorse.

This weedy seahorse is neat, but not quite as spectacular as this other one

We also attended the special sea otter feeding which was so great. The sea otters were so cute

and playful. They feed them by putting food inside of these special toys that the otters have to manipulate to get the food out. It was so fun to watch- its now one of my favorite animals.

We also saw penguins

and many other items- like a white shark and this crustacean.

In addition to all of the great animals- we loved their sense of humor. In this book with other sea mammals, they included the scuba diver whom they gave the scientific name homo wetsuitus (sorry its so blurry in the photo)

We thought that the aquarium was DEFINITELY worth the hefty price tag ($30 a person) and is definitely one of the best that I have been to.

Pinnacles National Monument

One of my long time friends since junior high, Dan, came to the Bay area for a visit over Labor Day and William and I were able to spend a few days with him. We had planned to spend Labor Day up at Yosemite BUT our plans were thwarted by a small controlled burn that got out of control. The initial burn was only supposed to affect a few hundred acres but it instead turned into nearly 7,500. Since it was such a large area, it shut down the main road from SF into the park- to have rerouted around it would have added an extra hour each way and combined with bad traffic- it would have been miserable. So, we changed our plans and they ended up being a great substitute. Our first stop was the Pinnacles National Monument. It became a national monument by Pres. Teddy Roosevelt the same week as Muir Woods and the Grand Canyon so it obviously must be pretty amazing, but yet, none of us had really heard of it. The Pinnacles are made by eroded remains of a volcano so they made these really unique spires.

We decided to enter on the West entrance since it provided up close views and shorter hiking distances since we wanted to go to Monterey afterwards. The road on this side is very small- just over one lane- so we were happy that we did not have a huge car. The view just as we started our hike.

The trail was not very bad at all- more than just a walk but not too strenuous. Here's William on the flat part of the trail.

And the best part about it was that we were right up next to these amazing rock formations.

So many beautiful scenes, as you can see from many of the photos.

And some of the leaves were changing to give a fall feel to it.

One of the best things about the trail was that the park was not crowded at all- we pretty much had the trails all to ourselves with a few other hikers. Me contemplating the spectacular.

We took the Balconies Cave Trail loop which included the Balconies Caves. Here I am at the entrance to the caves.

I was glad that I read the website beforehand because it advised us to bring flashlights for the cave which as absolutely necessary as there is no natural light. It was so incredible- we had to duck under boulders and crawl through several tight spaces. They fortunately had some white paint marks to help show us the way.

We could not believe just how precariously this boulder was perched.

All in all, the three of us had a brilliant time at this monument and William and I will go back sometime to the East side of the park so that we can see the other half (bummer that the road does not run though the entire park) and the other caves- Bear Gulch- which have bats.

Monday, September 21, 2009

John Muir National Historic Site

Several weeks ago, my friend Dyan and I went and took the tour of the John Muir National Historic Site up in Martinez, CA. John Muir is called the "Father of the National Parks" in that he helped convince Pres. Teddy Roosevelt of their importance of preserving these amazing natural wonders. The site includes the house and part of his fruit orchards and they have a guided tour at 2 pm on Wed-Friday. We had an excellent tour guide- he was so knowledgeable about the house and Muir's life and conveyed the information in a way that was accessible and INTERESTING to everyone. We were sad to learn that he was only there for the summer so we felt lucky to get him.

This was the house that Muir spent most of his adult life- it doesn't look like the home of someone who would have been a preservationist and it is because it was the home of his in-laws. Muir's daughters didn't even want it- they sold it.

This is Muir's study where he wrote most of his books, including his children's story called "Stickeen" about a brave little dog and a glacier.

I of course bought a copy of this book- this version has some beautiful illustrations.

I loved the little greenhouse sitting room off of the dining room

They had some amazing pieces of artwork by Thomas Hill and William Keith throughout the home. I love the piece above the stone fireplace. Muir constructed the fireplace himself so that he could have a "real mountain campfire".

They had a bell tower at the top of the house with beautiful views of the surrounding farms.

There used to be 1,800 acres where Muirs in-laws and then Muir to grow many varieties of fruit: apples, peaches, cherries, almonds, grapes, pears, oranges, lemons, apricots, and figs. The windmill pumped water to irrigate the fields.

And even Nora had a good time as you can see by the smile on her face