Westward Vacation Days 3-6, Yellowstone

(Mary Beth)

Days 3, 4, 5, 6 (June 30 and July 1-3) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


Our drive from Mt. Rushmore on Sunday was another long one, but we got by with fewer stops since “certain” Hope children were limited in their liquid intake. The mountain scenery from Ranchester to Cody, WY (and the East Entrance to Yellowstone), was stunning with lots of switchbacks… twisty/windy road.


Unfortunately, we forgot to account for the time change, so when the GPS told us we would arrive at 7:30 P.M., we were thinking of it in Central Time. Nope… in MOUNTAIN time, 7:30 P.M. meant an additional hour of driving. Uggggggh. Double ugh, actually, because the kids were stir crazy, bickering, and seriously getting on each other’s (and our) nerves.


Then, to add insult to injury, the address I had programmed into the GPS turned out to NOT be for our campground; it was for a location about ½ hour away from our campground. MORE DRIVING.


By the time we finally got to our Yellowstone campsite at Grant Village, it was nearly dark, we were hungry and exhausted, and Mama was fit to be tied. I actually agreed to a quick, no-fuss dinner of MRE’s (freeze-dried lasagna; just add water), and we hit the hay.


The Yellowstone camping experience is highly unusual in that bears are a huge consideration. As a result, campers are not allowed to leave ANYTHING out at the camp site. Everything (food, water, stove, trash, clothing… EVERYTHING) has to be locked away in a bear-proof manner at night or when you leave camp. This makes for tricky packing and storing, and is the main reason we decided to rent a U-Haul for our trip — it is our very own bear-proof box.


Before we left Rapid City, SD (Mt. Rushmore area), we stopped at Cabela’s, and I was able to buy some bear spray (pepper spray to use during a bear encounter). Oddly enough, the Bass Pro in Independence, MO, normally carries bear spray, but they were sold out when I went to buy it before our trip.


The bear spray has been a real bone of contention between Craig and me. He thinks the possibility of running into a bear is too remote think about, and he keeps making fun of me about the bear spray. I tell Craig that as the “Mama Bear,” it is my instinct to protect my babies, and I don’t care what he says. The man who helped us at Cabela’s agreed with me. He said he used to be a guide in Alaska, and that pulling on a pair of pants also meant wearing a 44 Magnum. Absent the 44 Magnum, he highly recommended taking the bear spray.


That first evening in Yellowstone, I kept the bear spray glued to my hip. Bear spray is, essentially, just a gargantuan can of pepper spray. I have been pondering its potential usefulness in life outside of the wilderness. Anyway, I even practiced with the bear spray to be sure I knew how it worked. (Craig was thrilled, of course.) Our campsite was the closest one to the restrooms, a fact that might bother me in a non-bear-infested campground. In this case, I could not have been happier.

Monday, 7/1/13 was our first full day in Yellowstone. We woke up refreshed and ready to go sightseeing in the park.


Of course we started with Old Faithful. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the visitors’ center (cool interactive exhbits and a kid-friendly room with an awesome model geyser), wider geyser area, and lunch. We even got to see Old Faithful do its thing twice.


After Old Faithful, we drove up the road a bit to Biscuit Basin (more geysers and gurgling wonders) and Mystic Falls. It ended up being a 2-mile hike to the falls and back, and I was very, very, VERY sorry I had left my bear spray in the car!!!!!! The hike was beautiful, but there weren’t enough people to suit me. I felt like bear bait, and it was freaking me out. With Craig making fun of me the whole way, I was hollering “Let’s go, Royals! CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP” every minute or so. I figured cheering for the Royals would scare bears away for sure. (I considered cheering for the Bears, instead, but I was afraid this might have the opposite effect.)


As we ended our hike, I slid down a slope on some loose gravel and skinned my knee. Probably because he walks too fast AND because he was making fun of me, my falling down was most certainly Craig’s fault. Luckily, there was this sweet little creek at Biscuit Basin, and it was perfect for wading (and cleaning off wounded knees). Cooper ended up going for a bonafide swim — typical Cooper. He rode back to camp in nothing but his undies, then made a hilarious mad-dash to the tent (so as not to be seen in his underwear). Again, typical Cooper.


Also on Monday, Inspired by the previous evening’s crankiness, we created a kids vs. parents competition. The rules were: no cussing for the parents and no bickering (or other “annoying behaviors” as determined by Mom) for the kids. The kids won and got to choose dinner — spaghetti back at camp. Craig got so many “violations,” I actualy asked to switch teams at one point. LOL The competition really was a great idea, though; the kids were angels.


After dinner, we went to a Ranger Talk at our camp. It was an interesting program about how the native cutthroat trout are being pushed out by the mackinaw in Yellowstone Lake. I even got to wear a grizzly pelt as an audience participant!


Back at camp, we taught the kids how to make their first-ever pudgy pies. Mmmm.


The best thing about Tuesday (July 2) was horseback riding in the Yellowstone backcountry. The boys had a good time, but Emmie and I both lovvved it. Obviously, the scenery was incredible, including a crazy edge-of-the-world dropoff at one point. Our warning from the wrangler was, “Okay, is ANYONE afraid of heights????”


There is so much to see, do, and explore in Yellowstone… Lots of “gurgly bits” and wildlife.


The pro’s of camping (beautiful setting, modern facilities, amazing showers, clean everything, huge laundry facility) definitely outweighed the con’s (having to lock everything away from the bears and sites being a bit too close together).


I am glad I never encountered a bear on the trail, but I was disappointed we never saw one at all in the park. I would have loved to have seen a bear, but it also would have been nice to prove Craig wrong. (He had declared, early on, that we wouldn’t even SEE a bear in Yellowstone. I HATE when he is right!!!)


Today (Wednesday, 7/3), we enjoyed a few more sights before leaving the park. Gibbon Falls was most notable — beautiful. We drove about 4 hours outside of Yellowstone to Missoula, MT, and stopped at a hotel. We decided to “treat” ourselves to an indoor pool, wi-fi, and a real bed for one night.


We have not decided, yet, where, exactly, we are heading tomorrow. Mount St. Helens, Seattle, and Vancouver (our ultimate destination) have all been mentioned. At dinner, we left it open-ended and decided to see how we feel in the morning. The kids, though, have already asked if we can stay at the hotel and swim all morning. 🙂

I did some reading about Vancouver, today, and it looks like there is a TON to do, there. My big hope is that we can go whitewater rafting. We’ll see!


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Take a kid fishing?

The “Take a Kid Fishing” campaign has been around for quite some time now.  I can’t remember when it started exactly but I know it was long before I had kids (mine are 12 and 8) and long before the introduction of the Wii and PlayStation3.

The cause is well intended and promotes getting kids out and teaching them the outdoors.  I do enjoy this.  I do support the idea and the cause.  I enjoy spending the time with my kids.

But let’s be real (or should I say “reel” [rimshot]).  [record scratch]

Taking a kid fishing in 2012 is not the same as was in 1950 when kids were stuck at home playing with sticks and Radio Flyer wagons.  Fishing competes with video games, DVR’s, NetFlix, you name it.

My version of a successful “take a kid fishing” relies on the fact that I have to put the kid(s) in a boat and move away from shore.  To my credit, I pack a cooler full of snacks and drinks to help occupy the false hunger pains they seem to endure 1 hour after eating a full meal. I am also lucky to own a private lake on which I am 98% confident we can catch fish.

Catching a fish or fishes will hold their attention.  Not catching fish creates boredom.  The formula is simple.

If I try to take my kids to our neighborhood pond, the adventure lasts about 10 minutes and they walk back to home to fire up the DVR, the Video game, the NetFlix, etc. etc.

If any fish are caught, the trip ends with a session of cleaning the fish.  This is always entertaining from both my boy and girl alike.  Maybe I am raising a couple of sociopaths, but they do not shy away from the bloody mess of which is “cleaning” the fish for consumption.

Now… eating them later is another story.

Take a Kid Fishing

San Francisco Trip: Day 5



Driving the Crooked Street in the Mustang


(Mary Beth)


(Written from home at 8:30 P.M. on 10/26)

Our last full day in San Francisco was incredible! We rented a red convertible Mustang and drove up to Sonoma for the day to check out the wine country. The Mustang was Craig’s idea – but it was an excellent one!

We visited several wineries and did tastings. My favorite winery was the first one we visited – Seghesio. I thought the wines were tasty, and the girl who worked there was very down-to-earth and super helpful. She didn’t seem to mind at all that we were “newbies,” and showed us the ropes. We felt much more knowledgeable at the rest of the day’s stops, thanks to her.

We also visited Coppola, Gary Farrell, and Arista. We tried to go to Joseph Swan, but they only do tastings by appointment on Tuesdays. (Well, la dee DAH!!!)

The tasting experience was much the same at each winery. You go in and, for about $10-$15, they describe and give you a few sips of about 5 different wines. You drink what you like and dump what you don’t like. At each of the wineries, they started us out with a white (mostly Chardonnay, but Seghesio had a Pinot Grigio), and then proceeded with a number of reds – their “specialties.” The reds were typically Zinfandels or Pinot Noirs. The wines were good, but we didn’t buy anything. We very much enjoyed the experience, but I think I enjoyed the drive with the top down in the fall sun and the movie memorabilia at Coppola as much as anything.

We opted to not do a wine tasting at Coppola since those wines are readily available here at home in Kansas City. Instead, we ate outside on their restaurant patio – a gorgeous setting overlooking their vineyards. Just beautiful. The movie memorabilia there included the Godfather’s desk, 5 of Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscars and numerous other Golden Globes, etc., plus tons of items and photos  from Apocalypse Now, a Tucker car, and lots of other fun stuff.

When we got back to San Francisco, it was about 5:30. On a whim, Craig got brave and drove the Mustang on Lombard Street, a.k.a. the “crooked street.” Craig had expressed a small bit of anxiety over driving in the city (what with all of the street cars, buses, and crazy traffic), so I was pretty excited that he decided to tackle Lombard.

Overall, a lovely day and a perfect end to a memorable trip!


About Our Accommodations, etc.:

While in San Francisco, we stayed at the Hotel Carlton. We found it by reading up in Frommer’s San Francisco 2011. It was reasonably priced (about $95/night, I think?), and the location (Nob Hill) was okay. (As I mentioned before, we did not feel comfortable when we walked south or east toward Union Square, and we were careful not to do that again after our first day.) We were central to everything in San Francisco, and anything/everything we wanted to do meant an easy walk to this bus stop or that. We did buy a 7-day Passport that allowed us to take any “Muni” (Municipal) bus, cable car, or street car in the city. This made it extremely convenient for us to get around.

The hotel was “charming.” I mean, it wasn’t overly plush, or anything – not by a longshot. When I first arrived, I really thought, “Hmm. I’m not sure I want to stay here,” and I even told Craig to hold off on unpacking. My biggest complaints (shocks) were agey carpet (just kinda yucky) and no counter space AT ALL in the bathroom. (There was just a pedestal sink in there.) There was also an icky looking sort of scuzz around the bathtub area – both in and out. Like, you know, this place is pretty old and some of this stuff needs to be replaced or updated. I would liken this to our apartment on the Plaza (if you knew us back when). Clearly, this was an old building. I think it was built in the 1930’s?? Not sure.

Well, the hotel quickly grew on us, and we happily stayed. The staff was super friendly and helpful. They answered every request quickly and with a smile. (We had them repair a breaker that was out when we arrived, had them bring extra pillows, more coffee, etc.)

The restaurant (“Saha,” known for Arab Fusion cuisine) was good for breakfast AND dinner. Dinner was pretty awesome, in fact. Each evening, there is a happy hour at 5:30, and the hotel serves wine in the lobby. During the happy hour, this man plays the organ… All funky… like the theme from “Sex and the City.” He’s pretty rockin’, believe it or not. Turns out the organ guy also works behind the front desk – cool, huh? And, last night, he helped us decide what we should order for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Good stuff.

The room was small, but adequate. I was occasionally awakened by the sounds of guests in the hall or upstairs (some guy taking a bath right above my head at 1:30 A.M.), so the walls were pretty thin. The hotel guests were mature, though… There was no “ruckus!” The bed was quite comfortable; I slept very well every night.

There were also several other restaurants and bars within walking distance, and we liked going to those, as well. Very convenient.

If you don’t mind a little “charm” in your hotel, I think you will very much enjoy the Hotel Carlton.

San Francisco Trip: Day 4

(Mary Beth)


(Written at 6:30 A.M. on 10/25/11)

Yesterday was a lolligagging day. Well, it was supposed to be, anyway! Our plan had been to do a little shopping, get some souvenirs for the kids… that sort of thing. By days’ end, though, we had covered a great deal of the city and were worn out in a good way.

We started our day with breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Saha. They were out of quite a few dishes, and the waiter said this was because it was the end of the work week. Huh? It was Monday?? Whatever. It was totally fine. I had the eggs benedict, which were SOOOOO much better than “fine!” Craig? Fool.

After breakfast, we called Melody for some advice on shopping, and we headed back to the Cow Hollow area where we had been on Saturday. Having lots more time, we wandered a lot, and ended up buying some cool stuff (for me! — it’s my birthday, after all!). We didn’t find anything for the kids, though, so after lunch, we decided to head back to the Fisherman’s Wharf area to find, you know, cheesy kid souvenirs. (Boring long story about lunch… basically, we wandered and wandered and finally settled on a place called “The Grove.” While I was in the bathroom, Craig ordered me a “quesadilla” instead of the “chicken enchilada” I had asked him to order. So, yeah… lunch was “fine.”)

Down at the Wharf, we wandered a bit more, checking out some of the enormous ships that are moored there. It was a little more chilly than the other days, so we hustled a bit. But, we got to see what we wanted to see, included a couple of sea lions who were play fighting on an adjacent dock. Cute.

It was not so easy for me to find gifts for the kids. I don’t know why! If they had been WITH me, I’m sure they would have been grabbing items EVERYWHERE and giving me the “can I have this can I have this can I have this?” treatment. I was trying my best to imagine what they would be grabbing, but I was coming up rather empty. Okay. With Emmie, she would have been grabbing the super dorky stuffed animals. But, just as if she HAD been there, I couldn’t buy them — they just weren’t CUTE enough! (You know… cheaply made stuffed animals? Not cute enough? Anyone with me on this?)

We stopped for a drink at a nice enough place, and from our seat at the window, enjoyed some quality Wharf people watching. We lucked out, and the “Bush Man” was scaring people from behind his “bush” right across the street from our window. The Bush Man is a street person (homeless guy??) who has fashioned a “bush” out of some tree branches. He holds the branches up in front of him and parks himself in front of a trash can. As unsuspecting tourists walk by, the Bush Man growls at them and slowly reveals himself, “GaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWL!” Then, he laughs in a freaky/nice way that says, “ha ha ha, don’t worry, I ain’t gonna kill you.” Then, he demands a dollar for his “work,” saying, “Hey, man. I made her holler! You gotta GIVE me a DOLLAR! HA HA HA!” What’s funny is that the bush man scared the crap out of me the other day down on the Wharf. We were on our way back from our Alcatraz tour, and he TOTALLY got me. Well, I would SO not have given him a dollar. See, when someone scares you, you really just want to kick them real hard in the Adam’s Apple. At NO POINT did I feel compelled to give the man a dollar. F*cker.

But, yesterday, I had so much fun watching his “act” and watching other tourists doing what we were doing — just taking it all in and enjoying being “in on it…” I’ll be honest. I almost gave him a dollar. Craig brought me back to my senses though. Right. I’m still mad at the man.

I am leaving out the sweet little morsel that Bush Man and another street vendor creep got in a big ol’ Jerry Springer inspired argument while we were watching from the restaurant across the street. Craig and I saw this man get out of his van and pour what looked like motor oil on the bush man. He did it twice! WTH? When we walked over where we could hear the two, the Bush Man was loudly putting down the man in the van. It was very weird. Craig guessed that Bush Man was in van guy’s “territory” or something. Who knows.

We went in probably 4-5 more stores and finally got some stuff for the kids.

Then, we took a long, interesting bus ride across town to a restaurant our friend Molly recommended called Fang. The bus ride essentially took us all the way from the Wharf area to the downtown or Union Square area. What was so weird was that this was a “double” bus, and it filled up almost immediately — mostly with Chinese-speaking kids. The kids seemed to be about middle school age. There were plenty of adults, too. The bus was PACKED. It was about 5:30, so we couldn’t figure out where all these kids were going. Maybe home from school? (Like, Chinese School?)

Fang was amazing. We ordered WAY too much food, but everything was just incredible. Best hot and sour soup EVER. Every hot and sour soup I ever have in my life will undoubtedly pale in comparison. The flavors of everything were just fresh and amazing. We were pretty adventurous in the items we ordered: onion cake with peanut sauce, julienned snow peas, steamed seafood pot. Everything we had was just amazing. Incredible place. Thanks for the tip, Molly! 🙂

We were SO full after eating at Fang. We took a cab home, and hit the hay happy. :))))) Another wonderful S.F. day.

Today (10/25) we are renting a car and heading to wine country! We know just enough to be dangerous. LOL Pretty sure we’re going to Sonoma over Napa, but we’ll see. Craig wants to rent “something fun” instead of “just” a compact. Hmm. “It’s my birthday,” so what the hell!!!

San Francisco Trip: Day 3

(Mary Beth)

Whale Watching with San Francisco Whale Tours

Day 3, Sunday, 10/23/11

(Written at 7:30 A.M. on Monday, 10/24/11)

Yesterday, we went whale watching. This and the Alcatraz tour were the two activities I had been sure to reserve even before we ever left Kansas City. It was funny; when I read the reviews for the whale watching, everyone either gave the trip and company a huge 5 stars, or they gave it 1 star. The determining factor in each case was numbers of vomiting, seasick customers on the excursion. 🙂

Needless to say, Craig and I went hopped up on Dramamine. Less drowsy formula. I took my extra Dramamine with me just in case other passengers showed up unprepared.

When we arrived, Victoria — biologist and deck hand — greeted us with two questions: Did you take seasickness medication? And, did you bring food and water?

Thank you. What is UP with people? Here is a person giving you evvvvvvery opportunity to NOT screw up your day! And, yet, STILL, there were a handful of people who did not take seasickness medication. I only became aware of one girl, though, who was ill. She was apparently miserable for the entire 6 hours, which I simply cannot fathom. Ridiculous! Before we left, addressing ALL of the passengers to give us a briefing, Victoria pointed out that I and one other passenger had extra Dramamine with us and were willing to share. I gave pills to two different ladies. So, for me, there was just no excuse for getting sick.

Now, about whale watching…

I went into this knowing that it was entirely possible we would return to the mainland having seen little more than a dolphin or a seal. I had prepared myself that even if I just got a six-hour boat ride out to the Farallon Islands on an exceptionally beautiful and temperate October day, that would be “enough,” which it was. But, we were SO not disappointed! During our day, we saw a gray whale, about a half dozen humpback whales (including 3 traveling together), harbor porpoises and harbor seals, and sea lions. Wahoo!

It was fun. It wasn’t fun like riding a roller coaster is fun. It was fun like catching fish is fun. There’s a LOT of waiting and patience involved between sitings, and it’s not like you are getting to see the whole whale each time it surfaces… This is no dramatic Free Willy, you know? Still. It is truly amazing to have the opportunity to be so close to these enormous, magical creatures and to occasionally steal a glimpse of them. I had an awesome time, and I would recommend the experience to others.

If you watch the video Craig posted, you will get a good idea of what it was like.

Below, I will give more details of our day. The “play-by-play” if you will. This is likely to be boring and is mostly for ME. So, read at risk of boredom! 🙂

We met at the booth for San Francisco Whale Watching Tours at 7:40 or so. We used the restroom, grabbed a tasty coffee from the coffee shop next door to SFWW, and used the restroom. By then, everyone had pretty much arrived. Victoria gave us a briefing about how the day would go. At that time, and all day long, Victoria made it so very clear that she just loves her job. I LOVE that characteristic in a person! How fun to be around someone who loves to share their passion with others. We all walked down to the boat together, and we received a briefing from Captain Tom.

Captain Tom was probably our age (40-ish), or possibly even a bit younger. Like Victoria, it became very clear that whales and maintaining a healthy, unpolluted ocean environment were very important to Tom. All day, from both Victoria and Tom, it was really emphasized to us how important it is to take care of the ocean environment. And, yes, as I had read prior to the trip, Tom was sure to stop to scoop up every bit of trash (or “rubbish”) that was spotted along our route. By day’s end, 12 partially-inflated balloons attached to ribbon and one kid’s marine-themed sleeping bag had been snatched out of the ocean. All of this trash was spotted in the water very near the Golden Gate Bridge, meaning it was closer in to the mainland. All of the stopping was a bit annoying. Yes, I do understand and support the idea of leaving things even better than you found them. Definitely. It was just a bit laughable. Each time we stopped, Victoria would yell, “More balloons!” And, Craig would say to me, “Kit Kat wrapper!” or “butterscotch wrapper!”

After Tom’s briefing, Victoria introduced her husband, Matt, and their good friend, Jason, who both work for the Bay Aquarium (also in Fisherman’s Wharf). They had come along on a Sunday in hopes of seeing some great white sharks. Whoa! That made the trip seem even more exciting. I didn’t know if we would spot any great whites (we didn’t), but I suddenly felt even better that we would see SOMETHING. “Hey, the friends and family came along — this should be a good day,” I thought.

It took us about an hour and a half to reach the first island of the Farallon chain. We began slowly circumnavigating the island, and Victoria gave us the skinny about the Farallons. (Victoria, mind you, is a small, pretty, 20-something lady with a HUGE voice. OMG. No problem hearing Victoria!) We learned that the Farallons are protected as a coveted National Wilderness Area (a very rare distinction), which means the ONLY humans allowed to step foot on the islands are working for the government. Victoria explained that if they are on the Farallons, they are biologists who are conducting animal research — mostly about birds. There are hundreds and hundreds of bird species who call the Farallons home.

Victoria didn’t get all the way through her spiel before we spotted the blow (or “spray”) of a gray whale. SO EXCITING! Captain Tom stayed a good distance away from the whale (the law says we must stay 100 yards away), but we followed the whale for probably half an hour as it circled the island. There were one or two other whale watching vessels who joined us (including one that did not abide by the 100-yard rule) — not cool, which Victoria and Tom pointed out gently. The experience of seeing and following a whale is neat. Like I said before, you must have some patience. When the whale surfaces, you HEAR it before you SEE it. 🙂 Each time a whale (or, heck, any other animal) would surface, Victoria would whoop and holler (she gave us fair warning about this before we ever left). I heard her friend, Jason, making fun of her one time, and she said, “Wait until I see a great white; my head actually pops off!” LOL It was good, actually, because lots of the passengers got excited, too, and most were helpful in trying to point out sitings to others. (But, some passengers were completely quiet and not at all enthusiastic or helpful to others. cough cough CRAIG HOPE cough cough … chuckle.)

After the gray whale finally eluded us, Victoria explained a bit more about the Farallons. They are smelly because of all the bird and seal poop. Um UNDERSTATEMENT, as it turns out. When we got downwind of the island?? NASTY!!!!! Just smelled like steaming, simmering poo. G-ross. There are tons of mice on the island, which is a problem, apparently, that biologists are trying to figure out. They don’t know how to get rid of the mice without endangering the birds. There are also tons and tons of flies. On a less windy day, the flies plague the whale boat and passengers all the way back to the mainland. Ick. Glad for the breeze, I was!

Next, we headed farther west toward other islands in the chain. We spent the brunt of our time in a wide open area where we spotted the 6 or so humpbacks. My first humpback siting was probably my best “siting” of the day because he flipped and I actually got a great glimpse of his tail! SO AMAZING! I was so excited, I made the dude next to me give me a high five (which he readily did – so funny).

My second favorite experience of the day was when we saw 3 humpbacks traveling together. They totally went under our boat. Well, that’s what I am telling myself. All I really know is that one minute they were on the starboard side, and the next moment they were on the port side. Pretty cool, huh? The video Craig got is of this time… again, we probably spent 30 to 40 minutes in that area, and saw several humpbacks.

After that, we headed back toward the mainland. On the way back, we saw seals or sea lions sunning on the buoys near the GG Bridge… so cute! Little lazy buggers. We also saw the harbor porpoises on the way out and back. (They are like dolphins, but are smaller and don’t have the “beak” nose.)

Nearly everyone (including Craig and I) napped much of the way home, and Victoria said that’s how it is every time. It’s sort of like being on an airplane — what else are you gonna do for a two-hour boat ride? (Plus, when you add in the Dramamine…)

Overall, great day and great experience.

We stopped for a beer at a bar at Fisherman’s Wharf so we could watch the Chiefs vs. Raiders (in Oakland) game. We didn’t stay long; amazing as it sounds, the Chiefs were pummeling the Raiders, and the bartender changed the channel for some St. Louis fans (boo) when the score was Chiefs 28 to Raiders 0. We came back to our hotel and had a two-hour nap.

Then, we got up and walked down to a tiny, adorable Italian Bistro. It was a lot like our favorite Cayman restaurant — Edoardo’s, but much, much, MUCH smaller! We were one of 3 tables when we arrived, and no one came after us. There were probably a total of 10 tables in the entire place. Very small. Our dinner was delicious. Craig had Gorganzola pasta (creamy, fatty goodness!) and I had penne puttanesca, hold the anchovies. Pretty good. The tiramisu was DELISH. Cute place, great food.

Today, I am 99 percent sure we are going to rent a car and head up to the wine country. We have lots of recommendations from friends, so it should be a fun day. Looking forward to seeing some pretty landscapes.

Gosh, I am SO glad we came here for my birthday. The weather has been absolutely PERFECT. The natives are sure to tell us it’s not always like this. We have really been fortunate. It’s been sunny and warm every day. SO BEAUTIFUL!