Thousands of Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park

Just 50 miles south of San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean lies Año Nuevo State Park. Years ago it was an important site for the Ohlone people as they lived, hunted and gathered food on the land and from the sea. When the Spanish arrived in the late 1700s the typical colonialization story unfolds where the Ohlone were baptized, forced into Catholicism, and ultimately ended up dying from exposure to European diseases (in addition to other, more violent acts.)

The sadness does not stop there. Not only did the Europeans decimate the Native American population, but years later they also decimated the elephant seal population by hunting them to near extinction for their highly valuable blubber, which was being used to make oil at the time. After years of constant slaughter, only a mere 50-100 elephant seals existed in the world. Legal protections were put in place and through the help of conservation groups that tiny colony was able to grow into the 170,000 elephant seals that exist in the world today.

As their population rebounded many elephant seals decided that Año Nuevo was the perfect place to mate and give birth. In fact, so many had an affinity for this location that, today, Año Nuevo is the largest mainland breeding colony for northern elephant seals in the world. The site is now a protected reserve where you can only visit via a guided tour. It’s one of only three other mainland locations where they come to give birth, nurse, and mate again before heading out to sea for the remainder of the year (coming to shore only one other time to go through a catastrophic molting where they shed all of their fur and skin.) Breeding season occurs from late December through the end of March and I had been crazy eager to witness this amazing event for the past 5 years.

The opportunity to visit finally presented itself several weeks ago when Alex’s parents were in town. Tickets sell out months in advance for weekend tours, but since visiting family is a fine excuse to take a day off from work, we decided to go on a Monday (we still needed to purchase them a month in advance). I also knew that my brother was interested in going so invited him and his family along as well.

Which is why you see Ellie thoroughly examining each of the animal skulls laid out near the entrance to the park.

Deer at Ano NuevoThere are other elephant seal breeding colonies where you don’t need a guide to visit (near San Simeon, for example), but one of the benefits of having a guide is that you get to learn all sorts of interesting facts. For instance, our guide mentioned that her favorite thing about elephant seals is their amazing diving abilities.

Walking to see the elephant seals

To support her proclamation, she explained that when the first tracking device was attached to a female elephant seal in the 1980s, with their eyes glued to the computer, researchers watched in horror as they saw the seal’s heart rate drop to 3 beats per minute (it’s usually 55-120 beats/minute on land.)  The seal was 2,500 feet under water and, as they saw her dropping farther, they thought she had died. Had they killed this poor animal because of the tracking tool?

Lo and behold a few minutes later she came rushing to the surface in perfectly great health. This, researchers learned, is just how far below the water’s surface elephant seals dive in search of food. Can you imagine being that far underwater? It gives me shivers just thinking about how the pressure of it would crush me like an unfortunate ant who found it’s way under my shoe.

Ano Nuevo

If their diving abilities are not enough to make you go “WOW!” then consider their birthing and nursing behaviors. The females come to shore during the months of December through March to give birth to their pups. For the next 28 days straight they consume no food while staying on shore to nurse their young. At the end of 28 days, the mothers have lost 1/3 of their body weight and are then looking to mate and become re-impregnated by an alpha or beta male.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo

Meanwhile, their fragile little pup is expected to head off to sea and learn how to swim, eat fish, migrate, etc. all on their own. “Mama is done with you, little one!” With these kinds of nurturing tactics, perhaps it’s not too surprising that only half of all pups will survive their first year of life.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo

As for the males, they actually fast even longer — 3 months — during mating season as they compete against other males to achieve alpha or beta male status. You see, you must be an alpha or beta male in order to mate with the ladies and only 1 in 10 of all males will be so lucky as to achieve such status in their lifetime. Oddly, it saddens me that 90% of bulls will never get a chance to mate in their life, while the other 10% will get it all. This is how a single male is capable of impregnating up to 50 females in one season and how they can sire over 500 pups throughout their life.

The day we visited in early February there were over 3,000 seals enjoying the beaches of Año Nuevo— males, females, and pups. The hike out to the point is about a mile and a half, producing ample time for a significant build up of anticipation. As we crested over the sandy hills and had our first glimpse of this large colony, I gasped and said “Oh. My. Goodness.” under my breath.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals

It almost felt like I was viewing the scene before me in a movie theater — a large IMAX screen with amplified surround sound.

Watching the elephant seals from a distance

We saw them kicking up sand, snorting loudly, nursing young, engaging in fights of supremacy, and, most of all, basking in the sun.

Thousands of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo

From afar, in photos, they look like giant logs that have drifted to shore.

Elephant seals at Ano Nuevo

But when you’re there you can witness events like this where an alpha male chases other competing males to the sea away from his harem.Thousands of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo

We all watched in awe.

There were three different viewing sites we went to that day.

Guided walk to see elephant seals

Here we are trekking along the sandy dunes to the third site.Caves through the cliffs

There were fewer numbers of seals at the last location, but there was an interesting outcropping of land that had several caves cutting through it. which you can just barely see in this photo.

Climbing the fence to see the seals

Alex noticed a mama, pup, and daddy seal on the beach nearby, but the only way to view the massive male was to climb the fence, which even Alex’s mom was excited to do.

Male Female and Pup Elephant Seals

Here you can see the mama and pup together in the center with the father in the bottom right of the photo. Another interesting fact about elephant seals is that they have one of the greatest incidences of sexual dimorphism of any mammal. Males are often three times larger than females with an average male weighing 5,000 pounds (yes, that is heavier than your average car!!) and 14 feet long while females are typically only 1,400 pounds and 11 feet long.

Guided walk to see elephant seals at Ano Nuevo

After a two hour hike and tour we headed back to our vehicles in the parking lot.

Family at Ano Nuevo

On the way there we stopped for a photo as Zack (my brother) offered to snap one of the four of us. It’s not every day Alex’s parents come to visit all the way from Michigan so it’s nice to document the occasion!

Walking back to the parking lot at Ano Nuevo

Coastal Trail Hike

Coastal Trail Views

There are sooo many things I LOVE about living in the Bay Area. I could ramble on all day about the numerous things, but the two that I was reminded of while hiking two weekends ago are the pleasant year-round weather and the amazing natural beauty.

Ever since I moved here eight and a half years ago I’ve been completely smitten; so smitten that I practically kiss the ground on which I walk every day in appreciation for how glorious it is. So smitten that I’m okay with the fact that Alex and I have been outbid on several houses by waaaaay over the asking price. I get it. Everyone else is just as crazy smitten and wants their piece of the Bay Area too. And, to me it’s worth it. It’s worth it when everything else here creates so much intense joy. It’s a kind of happiness that feels like a warm blanket as it swells around my heart giving me a sense that all is right in the world. At the same time this happiness produces flutters of excitement in my heart like a teenager in love for the first time. These two feelings coupled together create such an intensity bursting from my core that you just may find me doing heel clicks as I hike down the trail.

Muir Beach EntranceTo soak in all of this amazing natural beauty and experience the fantastic February weather (both of which produce those intense feelings of gratitude), Alex and I went on the Coastal Trail hike in Marin; just 20 minutes outside of the city. The hike starts at Muir Beach.

Muir Beach BoardwalkAfter disembarking from the car we walked through the parking lot heading south. We walked over the boardwalk, took a left (going right will take you to the beach), and then started to make our ascent over Muir Beach.

Muir Beach from Coastal Trail

After huffing and puffing our way up the hill, we were graced with a view high above Muir Beach. This too took our breath away, but in a completely different way.

Coastal Trail Hike

When we glanced to our left, southward, we saw more gorgeous coastline. We kept hiking for a mile or so with significant elevation changes keeping our hearts pumping until you we started to make a side-trip down to Pirate’s Cove. Apparently Pirate’s Cove was a staging area for bootleggers in the 1920s, but I can’t quite imagine why when it seems like such an inconvenience to get there… or perhaps that’s precisely the reason?

Pirates Cove WavesAs we made our way down to the beach, I enjoyed watching the waves come crashing to the shore. Farther out, you can see a wave hitting that large rock in the center.

Pirates Cove Waves

And then make its way closer to shore covering the nearby rocks.

Pirates Cove Waves

As the water swishes around lapping against the rocks it lends itself to a soft, foamy look.

Pirates Cove Waves

And then, finally, the water recedes back to the ocean exposing all of the newly wet, shiny rocks.

Alex at Pirate's Cove

Before heading back up the hill, Alex climbed on this rock and tested his balance in what he likes to call “crane pose” even though there is an actual yoga pose already with that name and it looks nothing like his version. I think he’s going to have to come up with a better name 😛

The couple in the photo asked me where the Cove was and I said, “Isn’t this it?” “Ah, you’re as lost as we are,” was their response. Well, I didn’t really feel all that lost, but their comment left me questioning whether we had truly reached Pirates Cove. There was no sign saying so, but no other path down to a beach that we came across…unless we missed something.

Me and Alex on Coastal Trail Hike

As we made our way back to the main trail by climbing many steps two women approached us and asked if we wanted a picture of the two of us and, of course, we took them up on the offer.

Coastal Trail Cliff Marin California

We continued on and eventually came to this plateau where we could see for miles and miles in several directions. Here the trail appears to lead you off the cliff.

Pathway to the Edge

Eeeek! Probably not a good position for those who have a fear of heights.

Alex on the edge of a cliff

Here you can somewhat see how much Alex is on the edge of a cliff and how far down it is.

Lunch on the Coastal Trail

We decided to sit down for a mid-hike lunch break while soaking in the expansive views.

Lunch on the Coastal Trail

It was so peaceful.

Coastal Trail Views

I could have basked in the sun all day admiring the impressive vista.

Coastal Trail Views

Yep. All day.

Others Lunching on Coastal Trail

A few other hikers had the same idea, but by then it was onward for us so we set out back on the trail and came across another trail map.

Coastal Trail MapIf your eyes are sharp enough you may be able to see the trails we took. We started on the far left at Muir Beach and hiked along the Coastal Trail, took a quick detour down to Pirate’s Cove and then continued on Coastal Trail and stopped for our lunch at the point where it says: “YOU ARE HERE.” This is where we turned inland on Coastal Fire Road and took that loop around back to Coastal Trail. As you can see, there are many possibilities for longer hikes. This particular route was roughly around 5 miles.

Hiking Coastal Fire Trail

This is the beginning of Coastal Fire Road.

Cyclist on Coastal Fire Trail with San Francisco in the Background

When I turned to look to my right, I was taken aback by being able to see the tallest skyscrapers in the city peaking out between the dip in the hills. I’d love to see this view on a clearer day.

Hiking Coastal Fire Trail

We continued on Coastal Fire Road and, despite appearing to be inland, it still offered stunning views of the mighty Pacific.

Hiking Coastal Fire Trail Overlooking Muir Beach

It wan’t until we kept descending for miles that I realized just how much we had climbed during the first half of the hike. No wonder it kicked my ass.

Hiking Coastal Fire Trail Overlooking Muir Beach

As we connected back with the Coastal Trail we saw our launching point, Muir Beach, and continued down the hill to our car. Overall, this was an awesome hike and I highly recommend it. In fact, I want to go back and explore other trails. We were in a time crunch this particular day to look at open houses for those unreasonably expensive homes I mentioned earlier. But these sorts of adventures are a good reminder of why we live here and why the cost of living is so, understandably, high.

Weekend Fun with New Lenses


I’m in the market for a new lens, but I don’t know which one I want. Do I get a fixed lens or a zoom lens? L series, non-L series? f1.2 or f1.4, or 24-70 or 24-105?

Since I have zero experience with any lenses outside of the one my camera came with, I decided to rent a couple that I’ve been eyeing to give them a spin. After a lot of researching, I narrowed down my decision to these four:



This weekend I tested out the two fixed lenses. On Saturday I took some shots with the 1.2, which may as well be made out of $1,500 in gold because that sucker is heav-ey. I assume this has to do with the fact that it’s made out of the highest quality glass Canon produces…and perhaps a tanker…or maybe it’s that there are several additional larger lenses in it.

After heaving it off the table and attaching it to my camera, I took a few shots. Pretty much immediately I was like a giddy teenager on my first date. Being able to set my f-stop down to 1.2 after being confined to 4.0 (with my kit lens) for all of these years is so flippin’ exciting!

Amy Matias

So the first set that you’re seeing are all taken on Saturday with the 1.2 lens. I got together with my dear friends Amy, Marius (and their baby, Mathias), and John. We enjoyed brunch at Universal Cafe on an outdoor table basking in the morning light.

Afterwards while walking along the sidewalk a friendly little poodle greeted a curious Mathias. They both seemed to enjoy each other’s company and I think the poodle sensed Mathias’ interest in him as he kept running back to Mathias after greeting everyone else in our party.

While sitting on the sidewalk Mathias found all sorts of interesting items of which to entertain himself—like a bottle cap or the blades of grass growing between the cracks.

All of these are taken in the shade on a very sunny day, which is some of the best lighting for photography.

We then drove to the Marina to do a little hike along Crissy Field. We plopped Mathias in the park among these pseudo-dandelions (I’m not sure what type of flower they are) where Mathias was overly ecstatic by John showing him how to pop the top off of them.

The major challenge with these photos is that they are taken in the middle of the day with the bright sun overhead casting shadows across Mathias’ face. Not the best lighting for portrait photography.

After snapping the top off of dozens of flowers, we walked along the beach where Mathias was even more excited about the sand.

Crissy Field Beach

Before heading back to the car, we stopped by a cafe to grab some smoothies and snacks. That was Saturday.

On Sunday I switched to the 1.4.

While the 1.4 may not be made out of gold (so much lighter!), I feel like it works just as beautifully. To be honest, other than the weight and size, I didn’t notice that huge of a difference in the shots I was able to take with it. In some respects, it almost felt easier to get the shot I wanted with the 1.4. Here are some photos from Sunday with that lens.

Bumbles and Mo were fairly patient models that afternoon, while Clyde was more interested in running up and down the jungle gym for some strenuous exercise than posing for me.

We then had lunch with our friend Mars and his girlfriend at the tasty vegan Mexican restaurant Gracias Madre. We sat at the outdoor tables and I took a photo of Alex and he took one of me before our friends arrived.

On our walk home we saw this adorable old couple holding hands while walking down the street and with my camera hanging around my neck I, of course, had to document it.

Old Couple Walking Down the Street

My final thoughts:

I realize that comparing the two is somewhat like comparing apples to oranges because they’re taken in different locations, with different subjects and very different lighting. However, I think it’s still possible to get a general idea of whether the 1.4 will be sufficient considering the $1,100 cost difference with the 1.2 and, right now, I’m not sold that the 1.2 is worth it.

Lastly, the first ten minutes of playing with the fixed lens was quite the adjustment (pun totally intended), but by the end of the weekend I had it down. It just takes a lot more effort to move your body to the right place…and sometimes when time is of the essence it can be a problem. That’s why both of these lenses are best suited for portraits where your subject isn’t moving a whole lot. The exception is food shots 😦 I know! Boo on that! The depth of field causes too much blur for the areas outside of the focus for my liking. So I don’t think either of these would work well for food photos, but maybe I just didn’t play around with them enough to figure it out.

Based on the outcomes of the photos, I’m pretty sure that I’d be perfectly happy with the 1.4 and saving myself $1,100.

Next weekend I’m testing the zoom lenses to see if I like them better and hopefully then I’ll know exactly which one I want to buy…but realistically, I know won’t be the case and I’ll probably be torn between two of them.

Highway 1 to Santa Cruz

Pacifica Foggy Beach

This past weekend was just plain gorgeous—warm and sunny. Exactly the way weather should be when I don’t have to be cooped up in the 11th story of an office building toiling away under fluorescent lights. Seeing such a glorious forecast, I had reserved a rental car earlier in the week so that Alex and I could explore a bit outside of the city.

Cliffs Highway 1 California

We headed down Highway 1 and as we came to the ocean near Pacifica we were greeted by a heavy layer of fog as you see in the first photo. However, by the time we got closer to Half Moon Bay it was starting to lift and we could finally see the mighty blue Pacific stretching far off into the horizon.

As we continued traveling south we came across Swanton Berry Farm, who are known for their amazing berries that you can pick yourself or buy pints already picked for you. They’re also well-known for the amazing jam they produce.

Lucky were we to able to sample (on an animal cracker—yes, animal crackers are vegan!) every variety they produce, from tayberry to olallieberry, loganberry, strawberry, and blackberry.

One of my favorite things about living in San Francisco is that you don’t have to drive very far outside of the city to be in “the country.” Swanton Berry Farm is my case in point. When you step inside their store it feels like you’ve stepped back in time—to a simpler place where you had to write letters by hand and drop them in a mailbox and subsequently wait days for it to arrive at your recipients door.  To a place where you had to spin a dial around a rotary phone to connect with a friend who lived far away. A place where the idea of a blog just may have been for those in the community as well as visitors to write their thoughts in an old fashioned notebook.

Not to mention a place where trust is so high that cashiers are superflous. But perhaps that’s just nostalgia for a time and place that never existed? Except here. Here at Swanton Berry Farm where no one mans the till and you pay for your jam or other goodies yourself. Where they provide you with a calculator to assist you with basic math in case your arithmetic is lacking. And where you can hand-write your thoughts to be shared with the public in a paper notepad.


After purchasing some loganberry jam and heading back on the road we drove by some cows and had to stop and say hi to them—you think I’m joking, but I’m totally serious. These two guys were young steers and perhaps not fluent in English because they backed away after our initial greeting. Perhaps I should have tried “Hola!” instead? Spanish is a good second guess in these parts.

Then we came upon this amazing field of yellow flowers. They were so striking I had to pull over to take a photo and, as I was doing that, a very talkative red-winged blackbird landed on top of a branch and began to sing. After having just spent my mornings observing the red-winged blackbirds of Michigan, what I found most interesting was how different this little guy was compared to them—he had very large red shoulder pads while the ones I saw in Michigan had much more discreet orange and red markings along the inner part of their wings. Most often you couldn’t even see the red until they flew which is detailed in the two photos I have from that week in Michigan.

Yellow Flowers Red Wing Black Bird

After this brief bird-watching interlude we continued on to Santa Cruz where it was time to fill our bellies. We decided to get take out from Saturn Cafe and Cafe Gratitude and eat on the beach.

We stopped by Saturn first where Alex picked up a California veggie burger with fries and a mint chocolate chip shake and by the time we arrived at Gratitude we decided to eat in. Thankfully they were totally cool with him eating outside food in their restaurant.

I ordered a quinoa bowl with sesame ginger sauce and grilled seasonal veggies—the “I Am Fortified” dish. It was muy delicioso—filling and satisfying, yet light and refreshing. Cafe Gratitude’s serving dishes have little notes on them reminding you to reflect on all that you’re grateful for—to which I had plenty to say on this particular day.

After lunch, we drove along West Cliff Drive and saw this quaint little lighthouse, which happened to be the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, though we didn’t know this at the time. The parking lot was completely full, otherwise we would have spent more time here exploring.

Lighthouse Santa Cruz

And besides it was to the beach we wanted to go! But….unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who had that thought as a gazillion other people had the same idea in mind. It was crowded with a capital C. Look at all of those beach-goers. Sadly, the traffic en route to the beach was too much for me so I made the executive decision to find a park or some other natural area to enjoy the beautiful weather sans all of the people.

Santa Cruz Beach

But before heading inland we watched the athleticism of the local surfers. Santa Cruz is world-renowned for it’s surfing community and, in fact, is regarded as one of the best places in the world to catch some waves. Hence the surfing museum we saw earlier.

After our coastal tour we came upon Neary Lagoon Park and walked along the trails while observing all of the wildlife.

Have you ever seen a wood duck in person? No? Me neither. Until now. Not only did I get to see a wood duck for the first time, but I was able to see six, adorable little wood ducklings. Can I just say that among all of the beautiful, amazing things we saw that day, the wood duck and ducklings were the highlight for me. No question.

We also saw the usual mallards, many of them coupled like the ones below, but a lot of single males as well. It was like a duckville version of Michigan Tech where the males outnumbered the females four to one.

And no trip outside of the city is complete without a beautiful sunset as you’re coming over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco (we made a pit stop in Oakland to visit with some friends so we drove through the East Bay instead of coming from the peninsula).

It’s at this point that the intense love I have for SF magnifies, becomes overwhelming in my heart and I think to myself “I live here! This is my home and I can’t believe I get to live among such beauty every day!”

Sunset Golden Gate Bridge

Climbing Mt Diablo

One of my favorite things about living in California is the copious abundance of natural beauty that surrounds us. From the oceans and cliffs to the mountains and valleys to the redwood forests and crazy hot deserts that stretch on as far as the eye can see. I don’t even think you need to be an outdoor enthusiast to be impressed with the glory this state has to offer.

Alex Mt Diablo

In early February a group of us went climbing on Mt. Diablo—as the name perhaps suggests, it can be quite sweltering there in the summer, but at this time of the year it’s pleasant enough for some serious outdoor activities.

Group Assesses

The day started off sunny and we were all enjoying basking in the warmth of it. Here the guys are assessing where to setup.

They all decided to tie into this face first. All of those grooves you see next to Mars’ feet are remnants of climbers past. When you climb on a top rope, the rope runs through an anchor at the top of the rock and can rub against the rock as you climb. Sandstone is such a soft rock that it easily erodes like that. I wonder how many climbers it takes to wear away just an inch of rock?

Mars Mt Diablo

Here you can see it even closer. Our crew made sure to set the anchor over the side of the cliff so the rope would not be rubbing against it, to prevent further damage so that everyone who comes after us can also enjoy the same rock. Also, I should point out that Mars is just sitting there on the edge of a 90 foot drop—that’s like standing on the ledge of a 9 story building window. It makes my stomach flutter (and Alex’s feet tingle) just thinking about it.

After the anchors were set and the rope was tied in, we headed down the hill to start climbing. Mars was first.



And then it was Tim’s turn. This particular face was very difficult and no one made it all the way to the top. However, where you see that girl climbing in the top right is the Amazing Face, which had some better holds and everyone was able to climb to the top.

Then it was Alex’s turn.

He was almost there, but it got super tricky at the top and impossible for our group to accomplish. If you look closely, you can see how wide of an angle Alex had between the rope coming from him, and the rope going back to Tim, his belayer. This meant, when he finally lost his grip, he swung like a pendulum all the way over to the other side and had to jump over the rope in the middle.

Later we ended up tying into Amazing Face, which you can see is aptly named.

It’s such a high climb that it took each of them about 40 minutes to complete.

Because the rock is sandstone, many of the hand-holds were just tiny little flakes, so small that you would never imagine you could hold onto them, let alone support your whole body weight. But when all that’s keeping you from falling 70 feet straight down is the tippy-tips of your fingertips, somehow your body makes it happen. (Oh, sure, there’s the rope too, but it’s not really there—just for emergencies.)

Tim Amazing Face Mt Diablo

So by the time Alex started to climb it, evening was setting in.

You can see it starting to get darker here and by the time we packed up and hiked back to the cars, it was completely dark. The park closes at sundown and we were just inside the gates so Mars and I rushed ahead to stop them from locking us out. Phew! No problems there—they hadn’t closed the gates and we were able to sleep in our warm beds that night enjoying the memories of our adventurous day 🙂

Wedding Day—February 25th, 2012

No matter how small or well organized they are, if you’re directly involved, pre-wedding prep always seems to be stressful or, at the very least, insanely busy. And this wedding was no exception. So as you would expect, up until the very last minute we were all running around like crazy setting up, but when it was final go-time and we all sat together at the ceremony a serene calmness set in. Set among the tranquil Redwood Grove of the Berkeley Botanical Garden, Zack and Susan said their very sincere, very beautiful vows to each other. Susan was first and proclaimed that she “had a lot to say” as she pulled out a piece of paper to read her lengthy, but carefully chosen pledge.

Susan Vows

The light was streaming through the canopy of the trees in such a way that illuminated both of them.

And then it was Zack’s turn. I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed as I could feel his emotions well-up when he began to speak.

Zack Vows

After their vows, everyone in attendance had to perform an activity with ribbons that symbolized the interconnected web of our friends and families. I loved that it drew every single person there into the ceremony, that it acknowledged each of us, and that it introduced my family to Susan’s friends and family whom we had not yet met (and vice versa, I suppose.)

Ribbon Ceremony

I love Naomi’s hand on Quinn’s shoulder as he flashes a very genuine smile in this shot.

It was so good to see Aidan vertical at the wedding. The previous day he wasn’t able to join us during any of the festivities because he had caught a nasty cold and was holed up in his hotel room trying to recover.


After the ribbon exercise, it was on to the ring exchange and then the recession.


Then we all hung around for a bit as various group photos were taken. This is Zack’s aunt Pat who flew up from LA for the event.


And his father, Charles, who flew here from the Twin Cities.


And, by now, everyone is well familiar with Nathalie who has quite the independent spirit for a two-year old. The funniest part of the ceremony was when the instant the music started she screamed “I wanna dance! I wanna dance!” while Naomi hugged her as she struggled to get loose and boogie. It was a completely appropriate reaction, in my opinion.

Nathalie Running Ceremony

Audrey, Aidan, and Alex’s lower half.

Audrey Ceremony Redwood Grove Berkeley

After photos were taken, it was on to the reception site in the Botanical Garden. A number of us enjoyed sitting outside on the bench to warm up in the sun.


The below photo is not particularly great, but it makes me crack up every time I see it because the context around what was happening and the looks on Ellie and Nathalie’s faces is priceless. Ellie is quizzically looking at my camera trying to find an ant crawling on it, while Nathalie’s looking at Graeme saying, “Dad, what the hell are you talking about?” To be clear, there was no ant on my camera. There’s no pulling the wool over these two girls’ eyes.


A series of three cute Ellie pics. She almost looks like a porcelain doll with her delicate features. Staring in wonderment. “What the heck did mom and dad just do?”


Flashing her little bitty tongue.

Ellie and Tongue

And here she is pointing to something behind me saying “What’s that?” and, as I turn to look, steals a grape from my plate. Sneaky girl!

Ellie Pointing

And then there’s Nathalie who just enjoyed a plate of fresh strawberries where a little chunk of one didn’t quite make it in her mouth and now resides on her chin. And it’s because of that honesty and lack of perfection that I love this photo.

Nathalie with Strawberry on Her Face

Zack’s long-time friend, Paul, and his beautiful wife, Iliana.

Paul and Iliana

Paul and Iliana

And Susan’s close girlfriends.

Susan and Friends

Table and Group

In addition to Charlie and Pat, Zack’s lovely cousin, Ruth, joined us for the event.

Alex and Christina

Naomi Graeme and Alex

From the far right, Susan’s brother, Tim, his wife, Amy, and Susan’s cousin and her husband.

Tim and Amy

Susan’s niece, Katie.


Cherry Blossom


The wedding favors and place cards for each guest was a small figure representing your Chinese zodiac. The kids (which includes Alex, of course) enjoyed the balancing challenge of stacking them on top of each other. At first there were three.

And then four…and then five.

After we enjoyed conversation and ate ourselves full, we packed up and headed back to the city after a quick detour driving along Grizzly Peak.

Damian and Paul Flowers

It was a beautiful and very genuine heartfelt event. It was so nice seeing everyone and I’m glad all of the out-of-towners could make it!

Wedding Rehearsal and Berkeley Hills Hike

Friday was a jam packed day—first we needed to visit the ceremony and reception site, which was at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, to sort out some logistics and meet with the coordinator there. It was a toasty 77 degree day and we all enjoyed sitting on these benches at the entrance to the gardens soaking in the morning sun.

Oma And Kids

Audrey’s an interesting girl—she has a sharp mind that can remember the finest details and also reflects about human psychology. Years ago I remember this time during the holidays when she was several months shy of turning four and we were sitting on the couch at night in front of the glowing Christmas tree and she turned to me and said, “do you like the Christmas lights?” Such a simple question, but I was blown away by it. All I could think was, “I’m having a conversation with a three-year-old about human emotions and I find this baffling not only because she seems to already have grasped the concept of emotions, but also because she cares to know how I feel.”

Quinn and Nathalie

This shot of Quinn holding Nathalie is sweet (mostly because it’s so rare :P)

Hauling Flowers

The guys were tasked with hauling mountains of flowers to a cool, dark room to prevent them from wilting…unfortunately, some were already unsalvageable after just an hour of sitting in a hot car.

Audrey and Oma

Oma and Audrey enjoying some time together. And then after sitting in the sun for one too many minutes lethargy started to set in for Audrey and she felt it was time to take a snooze on Oma’s lap.

Audrey Sleeping on Oma

That girl does expend a lot of energy so it’s a good thing for her to take a break on ocassion.

Audrey Sleeping

Then it was onward to the Redwood Grove where the ceremony was to be held so that we could sort out the details.

Redwood Grove Berkeley Botanical Gardens

Even though this is new Redwood growth, the trees here are already massive. How cool to have a wedding ceremony among the species of trees that are the tallest in the world?

Redwood Grove Berkeley Botanical Gardens

I love this photo of my mom and Naomi. They look so serene and peaceful. And I’ve never noticed this before, but I might actually see some similarities in appearance.

Naomi and Mom Berkeley Redwood Grove

Nathalie watching as we hammer out of the details of the procession.


But stillness doesn’t last long and soon she was showing me every little fern and twig she found on the ground. I think that’s what I love most about tiny people—everything in the world is new and completely fascinating to them. It makes you re-think about the world in new ways.

Nathalie Fern


After our time at the ceremony site, we headed to Saturn Cafe for lunch.

Saturn Cafe Berkeley

And afterwards walked around the corner to Cinnaholic for some divine vegan cinnamon rolls! Nathalie’s favorite part was the frosting, but I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising after seeing her drink every last melted bit of her ice cream the night before.

Nathalie and Oma Cinnamon Roll Cinnaholic

I think it’s safe to say that Audrey looks stoked to dive into her Old-School roll. Meanwhile Quinn was enjoying some sort of oreo chocolate chip roll.

Our third goal of the day was to climb the hill to the spot where Zack and Susan serendipitously met two years prior. There are some very, very precipitous hills in the Bay Area and I can attest that this particular one stacks up with the best of ’em.

Climbing Berkeley Hills

Naomi and Zack hiking a leisurely pace while taking photos.

Naomi and Zack Berkeley Hills

Naomi and Zack Berkeley Hills

Mid-way through the hike, we came upon this swing. This crazy cool, swing high up on a hill overlooking Berkeley makes it feel as though you’re going to swing right on into the bay.

Audrey Swinging in the Berkeley Hills

Audrey and Quinn both gave it a try.

Quinn Swinging in the Berkeley Hills

After our brief swinging interlude, we continued on…

Berkeley Hills Hiking

Did I mention that it was warm? Well, by the time we finally made it to the spot Zack and Susan met, and with the sun beating down on us, I think that we were all feeling a little parched and I, uncharacteristically, hadn’t brought my water bottle. Susan was smart to wear a skirt. But the view was spectacular enough to make me abandon my thirsty thoughts.

After looking at the photos, I found it interesting how the light and angle of the sun were just so that if you took multiple photos at slightly different angles you received vastly different looking pictures. I like all four of these in this series and couldn’t pick a favorite because they are all so different.

Berkeley Hills Bench

Berkeley Hills Bench

Berkeley Hills Bench

Berkeley Hills Bench

After relaxing and taking in the view for an extended period of time, we then needed to coordinate how we were all going to get our different assignments completed before the next day and somehow make our way to the rehearsal dinner, which is what I’m doing in these photos—coordinating and planning with Naomi who’s higher up the hill.

Christina Berkeley Hills

Again, crazy light causing interesting effects with the camera.

Christina Berkeley Hills

Then it was down to our cars to drive back into the city for the evening’s festivities.

Berkeley Hills Hiking

The last place we had to be was the South Sea Seafood Village restaurant in the sunset for a dinner hosted by Susan’s parents. This was the first time all of our families met together. It was lovely. Alex and I enjoyed conversation with Susan’s brother and sister-in-law and the kids got to know each other via iPhone games.

Zack Graeme South Sea Seafood Village

South Sea Seafood Village Rehearsal Dinner

South Sea Seafood Village Rehearsal Dinner

Only one more post to go summing up the wedding week! Hopefully, I can get that done tomorrow 🙂

Sutro Baths and Land’s End

Thursday’s plan was to do a hike along Land’s End. It’s one of Zack and Susan’s favorite hikes in the city and, this being the week to celebrate them, it made sense to torture our out-of-town family members on this mildly strenuous and painfully beautiful excursion. By Thursday I was starting to feel human again (thank God!), thus able to venture out with everyone.

Alex and Mom Cliff House

We started at Cliff House where you are bestowed with an amazing view of Ocean Beach and in the morning light it glows golden like this.

Zack and Nathalie’s matching hats are adorable. And I love how Nathalie’s hand positioned over her mouth makes it look as though she’s pondering some deeper thoughts on the meaning of life while wistfully staring off into the far ocean horizon. The way that girl’s mind works, I totally wouldn’t put it past her.

Zack and Nathalie

Below is a shot of the Sutro Bath Ruins. Built in the late 19th century, the Sutro Baths opened as the world’s largest indoor natatorium. There were seven pools, one fresh water and the rest salt water all ranging in different temperatures. During high tide the pools would fill in a mere hour from water flowing directly from the ocean, but during low tide a turbine water pump would help to fill the tanks, which would take five hours. Sadly the building burnt to the ground in 1966 and today all we see of it are ruins.

Sutro Bath Ruins

Here’s what a shot taken from the same location would have looked like in the early 1900s.

Perhaps a photo taken from the back can give a better view of the immensity of the structure.

Sutro Baths Behind

Also, it wasn’t just the world’s large pool complex, but it additionally housed a museum and restaurants.

Sutro Baths Museum

Alex, Audrey, and Quinn enjoyed exploring and climbing on the ruins.

Climbing Sutro Bath Ruins

Climbing Sutro Bath Ruins

And here’s what the inside of the building looked like back in its heyday.  From a newspaper clipping on opening day, I read that it could accommodate 8,000 spectators, which I assume was a lot of people in 1896 considering only 300,000 people lived in the city at that time. If you’re curious, you can see a ton more photos and info about the baths here.

And today instead of people frolicking in the water here, birds and other sea creatures enjoy the remains of these salty pools, while people observe from a distance.

Watching Ducks Sutro Baths

I find the next photo amazing—simply because everyone is actually smiling at the camera. With a group of four that includes a 2-year old (who is Nathalie and usually off doing her own thing) in the picture, that’s pretty rare. At least in my experience.

Watching Ducks Sutro Baths

Group Sutro Baths

So the turbine used to pump water into the pools during low tide that I mentioned before was actually built inside a cave. And I’m pretty sure that cave is the one we walked through pictured below.

Sutro Baths Cave

The hill and subsequent stairs to climb up to the parking lot area are a good workout. Too much of a workout for Nathalie’s baby legs so she caught a lift from Uncle Zack.

Zack Climbing Sutro Baths Steps

But, once at the top, she was all about walking on her own.

Nathalie Sutro Baths

While smiling and looking fantastic for the camera is often the most desirable photo, I actually love this more unconventional one. And my favorite part about it is not just Quinn trying to photobomb again, but that he appears to be missing his body from the waist down.


After a quick break soaking up some vitamin D we were off on the hike.

Lands End Trees

Alex and Quinn Hiking

Ah, to be a kid and want to climb all over everything. Were we all like that at age 9? I guess what’s most shocking about this photo is that Alex isn’t up there with them. What?!

Climbing Wall Lands End

Most kids hate hats. Parents purchase them because they know how adorable their kid will look in one, but their child will have nothing to do with it. However, that’s not the case with Nathalie. She adores her hat and even knows how to properly salute with it as exhibited in this photo.

Graeme and Nathalie

Audrey and I were discussing her loose tooth at the beginning of the trail and, after examining it, my assessment was that it would fall out “any day now”. However, I didn’t expect that moment to occur five minutes later while hiking along the trail.

Missing Tooth

Audrey Tooth

Audrey and I were originally walking ahead of the group so after I snapped the previous two photos of her tooth she excitedly ran back to tell everyone what had just transpired. The expression in her face and body as she skips down the trail after revealing the exciting news is priceless.

Group Walking Lands End

Naomi and Zack Walking Lands End

At this point, Naomi and Zack headed back to go pick up their dad from the airport. Meanwhile, the rest of us trudged on and came to this outcropping.

Climbing Hill Lands End

What could they all possibly be looking at?

Group on The Edge Lands End

Why, it’s a zen labyrinth!

Climbing Down Hill

For as long as we’ve lived in the city, this zen labyrinth has been here. And after doing a bit of research just now, apparently it was the year that we moved to SF in 2004 that it was created. However, being a quarter mile off the main trail many people don’t even know about. Perhaps that’s why it remains here to this day without being disturbed.

Walking Lands End Labyrinth

Quinn and Alex Lands End Labyrinth

Audrey Labyrinth Lands End

From the labyrinth we could see the shore below and since the elders in our group decided to take another route to the Labyrinth they ended up just going straight down to the beach (and never actually made it up there—bummer!) They look teeny tiny from here, but if you look really closely you can see them by the stairs.

Cliffs and Beach Lands End

All of that green down there by the beach that looks like grass is actually this…some kind of water-retaining succulent? With our arid conditions (did you know that it only rains during the “winter” here? It’s rare to see even a drop of rain during the summer months) this plant blankets a large chunk of the California coast.

Flower Lands End

I climbed down the cliff to join the others near the water.

Beach Lands End

And not too long after, Audrey (you can spot her mid-way along the trail) followed.

Cliff Lands End

Beach Lands End

Beach Lands End

With the rest of the crew not far behind her.

Beach Lands End

Beach Lands End

Beach Lands End

Back up on the main trail we saw a hawk swiftly dive to the ground, pick at something, and then fly off.


Walking Up Steps Lands End

Walking Down Steps Lands End

Right near the end of the hike you get a glimpse of the mega-mansions residing in Sea Cliff with their multi-million dollar ocean views.

Seaside Cliffs

Trees and Stairs

After the hike we returned to the apartment, quickly changed our clothes, and headed to Millennium for an amazing multi-course gourmet vegan meal.

There was such a large group of us that we got our own private room, which was even more dimly lit than the main part of the restaurant, and if there’s one thing that I hate it’s flash photography in dark places, but when that’s the only option…

Alex and Christina Millennium

Surprisingly, the kids loved all of the food (and I say surprising because kids don’t usually like gourmet food, right?). Aidan and Quinn split the February harvest four-course meal and ate every last morsel of it. I had even ordered an appetizer of the crusted oyster mushrooms and Quinn, who claims to abhor mushrooms, LOVED them. In fact, he loved them so much he wanted me to order another round after we collectively “licked the plate clean.”

Nathalie loved the ice cream so much that she stuck her head in the bowl to slurp up whatever last bits she could get.

While walking home, Nathalie was serenaded by a man on the street and she was completely mesmerized by his singing. It was fascinating to watch as I don’t recall that I’ve ever seen any other toddler be so moved by song.

Rock Climbing and Trampoline Dodgeball

Sadly, I can’t really provide much commentary on these photos because instead of enjoying being out with everyone, I was stuck at home vomiting my stomach through my nose after eating some tainted food at the Academy of Sciences the day before.

On Tuesday the plan was to go to Mission Cliffs, which is a pretty badass rock climbing gym. The height of the tallest wall is five stories and their route creators do an amazing job of creating interesting and challenging routes. From the sounds of it, everyone enjoyed it—even the photographer who happened to be Naomi on this adventure.

Alex said that Audrey had great form and was fearless, which is awesome to hear because those are two important elements to becoming a good rock climber.

From the looks of it, Quinn has some good form too.

Naomi said that Aidan enjoyed climbing so much that he wants to continue doing it in Ann Arbor, which is totally rad. Maybe he’ll be ready for outdoor climbing the next time he visits 😉

After several hours of climbing, it was late enough that some experienced climbers had shown up after work and the kids were able to see what lead climbing is like.

Alex Climbing Mission Cliffs

The next day Alex took the kids and Graeme to House of Air, which is an impressive trampoline gym. Meanwhile, the ladies stayed at home—my stomach was still trying to repair itself from the activities of the day before, my sister needed a few minutes of down time, the baby was napping, and my mom wanted to hang out with us.

On the way to the gym, Alex took everyone through the Industrial Light and Magic campus (Lucas Films/Lucas Arts) where they walked by the Yoda statue. Had I thought ahead, we could have gotten one of our friends to give a tour of the facilities—it’s always fun seeing characters, vehicles, or other items from favorite movies in person so I’m a little bummed I thought of it after the fact.

There are a number of different jumping areas in House of Air and one of them is a dodgeball court where Quinn and Aidan spent most of their time. Quinn ended up winning a game and Aidan came in second a number of times. Overall, they did an awesome job of representing the fam.

Aidan Throwing House of Air

Family and Visiting the California Academy of Sciences

I feel so bad. My poor blog hasn’t gotten enough love lately; however, I’m proclaiming that all ends today when I start to flood the site with a post mortem of the wedding week every day. Expect lots of photos and hopefully not too many words.

Walking down Sutter Street San Francisco

Two weekends ago my brother got married (so happy for him!!) and the entire week prior my mother and sister, Naomi, and her entire family stayed with us. That’s a total of nine humans and three cats in a two bedroom one bathroom apartment. Originally, my mom thought that she’d get a hotel nearby for the time that Naomi was staying with me, but, at Naomi’s suggestion, she ended up crashing on the couch in the living room with the kids. My first thought was “thank god we’re such a close family and enjoy spending time in close quarters together!” But the more I thought about it the more I realized that it’s actually the reverse. Because we’re such a close family (and don’t get to see each other nearly enough), we all wanted to stay together. And, honestly, it all worked brilliantly—amazingly so.

Audrey Pushing Nathalie Down Sutter Street

Sunday ended up being a fairly low-key day since they didn’t arrive until very late Saturday night after their plane was delayed for three and a half hours. The girls ended up going to Union Square and shopping, while the boys went across the bay and took part in a General Assembly at Occupy Oakland. Alex took the camera, but didn’t take any photos and since I was cameraless these three photos are complements of my mum; the two above of me, Naomi, and Audrey walking down Sutter Street and the one of Audrey pushing Nathalie down the street while she napped.

Eating Sushi in the Westfield Mall SF

And this one of us having a sushi break in the food court of the Westfield mall. I don’t know what it is about Nathalie’s expression, but the adorableness of it elicits something in me that makes me want to fold her up and stick her in my pocket every time I look at. Need to stop looking…but can’t peel my eyes away. Ok, my hands are covering my face. Oh wait, but my eyes are peeking through the cracks between my fingers.

Oh my god. I’m such a two-year old.

Moving on.

Being President’s Day on Monday, I didn’t have to work (woot!) so I was able to enjoy the day with everyone frolicking amongst creatures from the rainforest, underwater sea dwellers, and African penguins at the California Academy of Sciences. One of the greenest structures in the world, the building itself is a museum and worth seeing for the architecture alone, but the interesting animals and exhibits inside are also worth your time.

For the first thirty minutes, I had Nathalie all to myself because the super young’ns are not allowed inside the planetarium (which happens to be the largest all-digital planetarium in the world) and everyone else wanted to enjoy the “Life: A Cosmic Story” movie. She was wide-eyed like the photo below pretty much the entire visit through the museum—it’s a lot to absorb for a two-year old, dontcha think?


Standing on her itty-bitty tip-toes, she loved watching the fish and kept excitedly telling me “The fish! They’re swimming!”


After the planetarium, we satiated ourselves in the museum cafeteria (where I likely got food poisoning 😦 ) and played outside. Alex unsuccessfully attempted a handstand on the head of this seal statue. Looks like his gymnastics days are over…(totally kidding, hon! I know you’ve still got those backhand springs in ya!) 😛

Nathalie and Audrey ran laps in the grass and threw wood chips in the play area. You can tell this was taken post-lunch because Audrey ever so adorably has spaghetti sauce smeared across her chin. And I’m still trying to figure out how Nathalie managed to keep a clean face throughout lunch.

Audrey and Nathalie California Academy of Sciences

Audrey and Nathalie California Academy of Sciences

And when you’re two years young falling goes hand-in-hand with running.

Audrey and Nathalie California Academy of Sciences

After our bellies were bulging and my body was infected with a foodborne illness, it was onward to the rainforest.

Christina and Nathalie California Academy of Sciences

Inside the rainforest we saw tons of crazy animals and insects. Like the green lizard sticking out his tongue on the left. I love how you can see his earhole so clearly in this photo. And then like this spider who caught a fly, spun a cocoon around it, and proceeded to eat it.

Bird and Butterfly California Academy of Sciences

And there were lots of beautiful butterflies. If you take your time slowly through the rainforest they will eventually land on or near you where you can closely observe their stunning colors and patterns. The butterfly on the bottom right is aptly name the Owl Butterfly.

Ooooh, I just don’t do well with spiders. My family tells me that as a young babe I actually loved spiders, called them “Piders” and only wished them to be friends with me. But I think that at some point it was revealed to me that they bite and are potentially poisonous and then our friendship was no longer. There’s no animosity between us, just an “I see you, you see me and we go our merry way” kind of relationship. In fact, I always try to bring them outside whenever I find those little buggers in the house. But I will admit that seeing those little fuzzy pipe cleaner things on this spidey’s legs makes me convulse a little.

Then there were these crazy frogs and other reptiles who could suction themselves to the glass. I think what you see there are four little legs with many toes tucked into this frogs underside as he’s glued to the wall.

Haha! I love how Graeme has an almost evil grin as Quinn is being face planted with a spider.

Quinn and Graeme Spider

After the Rainforest the elevator drops you in the aquarium where there are so many fascinating underwater sea dwellers. If you think the rainforest is full of crazy lifeforms, all you need to do is look to the oceans to find even more crazy life adaptations.

Fish Academy of Sciences

It’s not easy taking photos in the darkly lit basement, but Alex (who had the camera at this point) was able to snap some amazing photos of these jellyfish. They’re so beautiful they belong in a museum (harhar). The photos not the jellyfish, silly. 😛

Jellyfish California Academy of Sciences

Jellyfish California Academy of Sciences

After the aquarium we stopped by the African hall and saw the penguins right as they were being fed (forgot to take photos, though.) And then we were all so pooped from hours of being on our feet observing nature that we sat on this bench intermittently while going outside and running in the grass again as we waited to meet Zack and Susan for dinner.

Audrey and Nathalie California Academy of Sciences

Leaving California Academy of Sciences

And quite possibly the best photo of the day was captured by my mum as Quinn was perfecting the art of photobombing. After seeing this photo me, my siblings, and mom all got into a laughing fit—the kind where you can’t stop, breathing becomes difficult, and tears are streaming down your (my) face. I should mention that this is prone to happen with my family all the while our spouses/significant others are all just looking at each other wondering what the hell is going on. Susan got her first taste of this at dinner—a perfect initiation into our family. I’d say that’s pretty much the perfect end to a perfect day (except for the food poisoning part.)

Quinn Photobomb