Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park

We just returned from a stay in Palm Springs and it was such a change from the Bay Area.

We did some sightseeing, lots of relaxing and the kids were in the pool every single day.

Golden Barrel Cactus at The Living Desert zoo.

We had several ice creams at Lappert’s including Dole Whip and an amazing flavour called Kauai Pie, which is coffee ice cream with coconut flakes and macadamia nuts.

The vacation rental was quite lovely and had a nice pool and hot tub!

The best part of our trip was getting to Joshua Tree National Park. As you may know, the government shutdown meant that the National Parks employees weren’t working, but the locals were devotedly helping maintain restrooms and taking out the trash!

Facilities aside, it was a chilly and windy morning out there in the desert. We started from the northern entrance near the visitors center and slowly wandered our way down south, stopping to climb boulders and take lots of photos. It was amazing to see the Joshua trees and all the strange rocks and boulders around, many of which had rock climbers ascending them.

As we made our way further south, the landscape changed quite a bit as we left the higher elevation Mojave Desert and entered the lower Colorado Desert. No more strangely cantilevered boulders and magical Joshua Trees, instead grasslands and Cholla Cactus.

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Top Ten: Books to venture forth with

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This week’s question from the Broke and the Bookish is:

Top Ten Books I Plan To Have In My Beach Bag This Summer 

(which I have totally not followed, please see below)

Tis the season for beach reads and road novels. I love browsing through other people’s summer reading lists especially road trip reading lists like at Conde Nast Traveler, LA Times, Buzzfeed, NPR, Electric Literature, Paste Magazine
Having spent most of my life near the equator where it is pretty much hot (or hot and rainy) any time of the year, and having to adjust to the four seasons here in Northern California, summer makes me think less of beach reads and more of escape. Of travels to unknown lands full of adventures. So I’m not thinking of putting these books in my beach bag but rather that backpack that is dragged along whenever we go anywhere – road trip, beach trip, flight.
hobbit
The Hobbit, one of the best adventure books out there.
yearmeats
My year of meats – Ruth L. Ozeki (my thoughts)
Perhaps an unusual choice this one. But Jane Takagi is a documentary film producer who travels America looking for families to feature on this programme that promotes beef in Japan. Ozeki also covers a wide variety of issues and themes in her book, and part of the story is set in Japan, in case you’re wondering.
whitebone
The white bone – Barbara Gowdy
I picked this because it doesn’t seem to be much talked about on book blogs, which is a pity as this book about elephants (yes, I said elephants) is emotional, dramatic, and moving. And it is a road trip of sorts as they trek to find their “white bone”, a relic that they believe will lead them to the Safe Place.
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Lost at sea – Bryan O’Malley
Raleigh is on a road trip with some classmates she doesn’t really know. They’re traveling from California to Vancouver. There’s some soul-searching, some bonding, and something about cats.
marceline
Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens – Meredith Gran
Marceline might just be my favourite Adventure Time character. She’s a vampire and in this volume, fronts a band that’s on tour. Oh and my second favourite character, Princess Bubblegum, is their manager. As they make their way through the various weird lands of Adventure Time, all sorts of oddness crops up. Lots of fun. So it’s a journey of sorts, through made up worlds.
wild
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
This book features on plenty of these types of lists. Not actually a road trip as Strayed is on foot  for 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I know this is a bestseller and in all likelihood you’ve read it, but in case you haven’t, it is a great read. Her determination, her inexperience, her sorrow and emotions, as well as pretty solid writing, make this a great summer read.
homecoming
Homecoming (Tillerman Cycle #1) – Cynthia Voigt
The Tillerman kids have been abandoned in a mall parking lot by their unstable mother and make their way to find their relatives up north, walking, hitchhiking, living on their own wits and with whatever they can scrounge up and whoever will take pity on them. A harrowing journey for such young children on their own.
terra
Terra Incognita – Sara Wheeler (my review)
I have a minor fascination with Antarctica and Wheeler kind of understands that. This is definitely some journey.
A time to keep silence- Patrick Fermor
A Pelican in the wilderness – Isabel Colegate (my thoughts)
It’s not fair to lump these two books together but they do touch on a similar topic of retreats. I’m not religious but I have to admire those who cloister themselves and devote themselves to their faith. So these aren’t traditional travel or roadtrip books but they do have a wandering spirit.
bookthree
Book of Three and the rest of the Prydain chronicles – Lloyd Alexander
It has been far too long since I’ve read this series. I used to read and reread these books as a kid. They were a barrel of fun and adventure, as well as promising some thrill and a little bit of creepiness that make a fantastic kids’ series. And there is journeying as Taran and his merry band make it through the various realms of Prydain.

Newport Beach roadtrip

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/70a/10455688/files/2014/12/img_4219.jpgI never thought of making Newport Beach a destination, but I’m glad we did! It was a delightful, relaxing four nights away from home, at a sprawling hotel/timeshare resort – so big it has a shuttle service, three big pools, tennis courts, playground, basketball court and more.

Holidaying with young kids is never easy – getting them to sleep at the usual time never happens, and with the younger one sleeping in our bed (the grandparents got the three-year-old), I got jabbed and kicked and edged out of bed. And because he’s 19-months-old, sleeping in means 645am – even after sleeping an hour later than usual! And of course as they always do, they fought over the same few toys and books that we brought with us, ate far more snacks than usual, and had themselves a ball of a time running around the hotel. But I managed to finish a book, get halfway through another, and even browse some magazines. So that was a great holiday!

 

 

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There was all kinds of Christmassy things to set the mood. A walk in the lovely Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar found us among a garden of poinsettia and the rest of the gardens were decorated for Christmas! A cute little gem in this elite town. The kids also sat the reindeer carousel at South Coast Plaza and we managed to finally catch the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, which was in its 106th year. We had tried – and failed – to find a place to park on Balboa Island the night before. And it was getting late and we were all hungry and tired after a long day so we skipped it. The next day, Sunday, parking was still tough but we persevered, parked so very far and walked and walked and walked to get to a viewing spot and got to see some wonderfully decorated boats, including a fire-breathing dragon! Wee Reader was so thrilled.
 

 

 

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And of course plenty of eating! A one and a half hour wait for Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza! Was it worth it? Well, it’s Din Tai Fung, and they make good xiaolongbao. And there isn’t a branch in the Bay Area! 😦

 

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And I must say that I had some rather delightful salads. From top left, the husband’s bison burger with sweet potato hash and kale at True Foods Kitchen, lemon tart and spinach and prosciutto salad at The Sliding Door Cafe at Balboa Peninsula. Some fun drinks – pomegranate limeade and a cranberry-tea-pomegranate soda at True Foods.

 

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One of the best things was taking in the beauty of sunset from the hotel.

Weekend Cooking: Eating in Yosemite and Lake Tahoe

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A well-deserved latte in the morning – the one-year-old does not sleep well in pack n plays!

 

It’s not the easiest thing to do, dragging two kids (aged 3 and 1) on a roadtrip. There’s so much to pack – diapers, extra clothes, a pack n play for the baby, toys and books and a well-loaded iPad for the big one. There’s plenty more to think of – where can we stop? Is this a good place to stay? How will they fare on the drive?

As a result we haven’t been all that adventurous when it comes to roadtrips. International trips though, we’ve done two to Singapore, a 20-plus hour flight with stopover!

I just realised that this is the first time we’ve crossed a stateline since the kids were born (not counting the husband’s work trips)! Our previous trips have always been within California, which is a rather huge state as states go.

Er but yeah, we did pop into Nevada a little as we drove from the East Bay to Yosemite and then to Lake Tahoe. So it kind of counts!

But this is a Weekend Cooking post! So on to the food!

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Erm right, that’s not food.

We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, how lucky we were to score a night’s stay just a week before! We’d stayed outside Yosemite a few years ago when my parents visited and the problem was that it was quite a drive in and out of the park (from the park entrance we arrived at, into Yosemite Valley, was nearly an hour). We sure didn’t want to do that again, especially with little kids. The lodge is a decent place to stay, although rather pricey! It’s right where the tram tours are, and there’s a restaurant for dinner and a cafeteria for all other meals. The only issue we had was the very noisy guests next door, who arrived at midnight and proceeded to slam doors, and of course woke the baby who refused to go back to sleep in the pack n play – in other words, he slept in my bed, kicking legs, tickly fingers, nuzzly nose and all equals no sleep for me!

The cafeteria does ok food, a pretty good variety at lunchtime from cold salads and sandwiches, to hot foods like pork chops served with mashed potatoes and asparagus, burgers, pizzas, the usual stuff. Breakfasts are the standard pancakes/waffles/French toasts with bacon/sausage etc. And this being California, the breakfast burrito.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant, which is only open for dinner. It has a lovely view of the forests and the cliffs (but as we were staying at the lodge itself, it was a similar view from our room) with dramatic floor to ceiling windows. Lovely service (always a plus!) and some delicious lamb chops served with a gremolata and mashed potatoes, and a cheesy French onion soup to start, made for a relaxing (as relaxing as one can have with two kids clamouring to be fed) and enjoyable end to our first night of the roadtrip!

The drive from Yosemite to Tahoe was just absolutely breathtaking! We took the Tioga Pass and saw the Tuolumne Meadows  (at 8,600 feet one of the highest-elevation meadows in the Sierras), Tioga Lake, Mono Lake (apparently over 1 million years old!), saw plenty of snow on the ground and on the mountains (I’m always still fascinated by snow, having lived most of my life in the tropics).

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And in Tahoe, there was plenty of good food too. From the Hawaiian stylings of Kalanis (a bit of an odd choice I know, but it was just by our hotel, and we were hungry), with some perfectly cooked duck, served with Vietnamese pickles, a Thai basil mash and a duck spring roll (interesting, but it was unfortunately sitting in its sauce which meant it wasn’t crunchy). They even served the kids some free ‘appetisers’ when they seated us – string cheese and oyster crackers!

20140530-103259.jpgTo the simple breakfast of a vegetable omelette with potato pancake and biscuit at Driftwood Cafe.

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The Blue Dog Gourmet Pizza was another hit. The pizza dough was just right – not too bready or thick. And the toppings weren’t overly salty as some places tend to be. We did a half Primavera and half Meat Lovers so there was something for everyone.

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And because we were in Tahoe we did the boat cruise. The two-hour trip took us to Emerald Bay to see the Vikingsholm, a 38-room mansion built in 1929, and the quaint little ‘tea house’ built on the tiny rock of an island opposite (the only island in Lake Tahoe).

 

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Thanks to the Kindle, I managed to do a fair bit of reading. I started and finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – a very endearing book. And finished reading The Septembers of Shiraz – a bit depressing to be honest (a lot of it takes place in prison) but evocative and elegantly told.

weekendcooking

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: A trip to Sonoma County

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Sonoma County (like nearby Napa Valley) is all about wine. But on our three-day trip, we didn’t visit any of its lovely wineries, nor drink any wine. But we did eat and drink (I just had a few sips! Sad!) at two breweries – Half Moon Bay Brewing Company in Half Moon Bay and the Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa. Russian River Brewery is known for its Double India Pale Ale called Pliny the Elder which has won several awards and which my beer-drinking father-in-law enjoyed, but I really liked their Irish stout called O.V.L. Stout, which had a velvety chocolatey finish. I never quite understood how a stout could taste ‘chocolate-y’ (not chocolate) until I tried this one. Dark and just gorgeous. I wish I could have had more than a few sips!!

 

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The Russian River Brewery also has a mean list of pizzas but this Omni pizza we ordered was a bit too salty for me. I actually preferred their gorgonzola salad.

 

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The food at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company was better (it was more of a restaurant than a pub). I had a nice Dungeness crab roll with a side salad (didn’t photograph well) but the husband really enjoyed his fish and chips (well, it was garlic fries – but so so good!).

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Besides all that eating and hanging out at the hotel (unfortunately it was a bit more chilly than we anticipated and only managed to swim once), we hit Howarth Park, a lovely community park in Santa Rosa for Wee Reader to sit the miniature train, the old carousel and just to run around the playground. He declared it “fun!”. So it was a lovely couple of days out with the family, despite not having any wine in wine country!

 

 

 

 

 

weekendcooking

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Sky Burial: An epic love story of Tibet

skyburial

This is probably one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever read. It is a remarkable, fascinating read, a love story of Tibet and its people.

Shu Wen was a doctor. So was her husband Kejun. They had been married for just a few months when Kejun is sent to Tibet as a Chinese army doctor. Not long after, Wen is notified of his death. There is no information provided about his death, official or otherwise. She decides to sign up with the army to go to Tibet and find out what happened to him. With the shortage of army doctors in Tibet in the 1950s, the military takes her on.

Traveling with her army unit, Wen saves the life of a Tibetan woman named Zhuoma. The heir of a privileged family, Zhuoma speaks Chinese, having studied in Beijing. She and Wen become friendly (she has lost a loved one too) but become separated from the rest of the company when some Tibetans attack the convoy.

The two women find a nomad family residing in the lowlands who help the injured Wen, and the two women decide to stay with them until summer, to learn how to survive outdoors and for the family to build their supplies to spare them provisions and horses.

The details of the family’s self-sufficient daily life are fascinating. Gela, his brother Ge’er and his son Om were responsible for matters outside the home such as pasturing and butchering their herds, tanning hides, mending their tools and tent. Gela’s wife Saierbao and two daughters did the milking, made butter, cooked, collected water, made rope, and made the dung cakes that were the heat, light and fuel source.

Wen spends 30 years isolated in Tibet. But she never loses sight of her goal and eventually finds out what happened to Kejun and returns to China.

Xinran tells Shu Wen’s story simply. Although she says in the beginning that this is the story of a woman she meets in Suzhou, who tells her this tale over two days and then disappears, it has been classified as a work of fiction, so I’m not quite sure whether to call this fiction or non-fiction. Still whatever genre it fits into, this is a beautiful story, and an unforgettable one that will stay with you long after you finish the book.
Global Women of Color

This is my sixth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).

xinranXuē Xīnrán (薛欣然, pen name Xinran, born in Beijing in 1958) is a British-Chinese journalist, broadcaster and writer. In the late 1980s, she began working for Chinese Radio and went on to become one of China’s most successful journalists. In 1997 she moved to London.

Bibliography
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices.
Sky Burial.
What the Chinese Don’t Eat
Miss Chopsticks
China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother

SoCal again!

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There was snow on the mountains as we drove south on the 5, luckily this wasn’t reflective of the weather to come! It was indeed warmer in San Diego and Anaheim than in the Bay Area.

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All that sugar was making my hand tremble…. Haha, not really, but these tiramisu pancakes from Cafe 21 (which I shared with the husband as well as a prosciutto omelette) in downtown San Diego was awesome! Sinfully so!

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Another sinful treat (not on the same day that is) from Azucar in Ocean Beach, a Cuban-influenced patisserie which we first visited in November and which I was determined to return to, because it was just that good (so is their coffee). This was chocolatey and crunchy and just a delight to savour.

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Did you guess it yet? We went to Disneyland! It was wee reader’s first visit and I had been worried. Worried that it would be too much for him, that it would be too crowded, too tiring. I am a worrier.

But it turned out great! The first ride he sat was Dumbo and he loved it so much he didn’t want to get off. He loved pretty much everything that went round and round, like the rocket ride pictured above (he rode it twice), and clapped and laughed during It’s A Small World (which was Christmas-themed!). But his favourite ride was interestingly enough, the train that goes around Disneyland. He sat it three times! Of course he cried when getting off some rides and wanted to be carried when waiting in those long queues. But at least there were none of the tantrums and screaming incidents that we spotted throughout the park.

And since we had grandparents in tow, the husband and I were able to pop over (having first collected FastPasses) to sit the more adult rides like Star Tours (we are big Star Wars fans) and Indiana Jones (we are also big fans). I wasn’t really supposed to sit these rides, since they do say ‘expectant mothers should not ride’, and at 21 weeks I am indeed expecting (due in early May). But these weren’t exactly Six Flags upside-down and head-spinning rides so they were fine, and fun!

It was a great week-long trip, and made for great memories and photos. I don’t expect wee reader to remember much (or any) of this in the future, but I’m sure the rest of us will!