Friday, April 25, 2014

I left my heart in San Francisco - Part 2

And we're back with days 3 and 4 of San Francisco! As I mentioned in the last post we had a big day ahead of us on Friday with plans to rent bikes and ride over the Golden Gate bridge to the town of Sausalito. The place we rented our bikes from was called Blazing Saddles and they had several locations all over San Francisco. It was really easy to rent from them and fairly reasonably prices. They charge $8 per hour with a max of $32 for the day. We kept our bikes for closer to 7 hours and it was still only $32 dollars. What they don't tell you initially though is that the $11 ferry tickets they "give" you to come back from Sausalito still have to be paid for when you turn your bikes back in. It's worth it to take the ferry back over though, especially if you're crazy like us and attempt to ride up to Muir woods on the bikes. But I'll get back to that part later :)

First thing Friday morning we took a cable car north toward Fisherman's Wharf since there was a Blazing Saddles location near the end of the cable car line. We were able to rent bikes very quickly and get on our way. Armed with maps from the bike rental place and our smart phones, we headed out towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The ride between Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate was a nice mix of coast line, parks, residential areas and some great spots to stop and get some pictures of the bridge.

One of the only pictures of us together from the trip. Proof that we were there!

Not going to lie, the ride across the Golden Gate bridge itself made me a little nervous. The side walks along the side of the bridge are kind of narrow and you have to look out for other cyclists and pedestrians. As long as we were riding I didn't focus too much on how high over the bay were were, but when we stopped at a look out point it kind of hit me and I was ready to get on some solid land ASAP! I will say that the bridge is an awesome piece of Art Deco architecture and it was really cool to see close up how it was built. Unless you're really afraid of heights, I would definitely recommend riding or walking across the bridge!

That's a lot of rivets!

I believe that's Sausalito in the background. 

Once we made if off the bridge we started the mostly down hill ride to Sausalito. By the time we got there we were already getting a little tired so we decided to lock our bikes up and walk around a bit. Plus, it was almost lunch time by this point :) Sausalito is a pretty little town that is built right along the bay. There were lots of pretty little houses up on the hill and a nice downtown area full of restaurants and shops.

We walked around until we found a tiny burger joint that had some promising reviews online. The inside of the restaurant was just big enough for the kitchen area and two tiny tables at the back. Since it was still pretty early, Joe and I were the only customers and were able to snag one of the tables. The burger and fries were great! Joe got a burrito and he said it was good too. Once we refueled, we hit the bike trail again with the plan to get to Mill Valley park. We were told that we could see some giant sequoia trees there. We not only saw some beautiful trees but also some amazing homes up in the hills surrounded by these huge trees and all kinds of other plant life. It would be a pretty incredible place to live!

This is one of the Sequoia trees near Mill Valley Park. 

We made it to the park relatively quick and for some reason decided we could ride all the way up to Muir Woods. Big mistake! Muir Woods is a National Park where you can see some of the really impressive redwood and sequoia trees. According to our maps it looked like it should be a fairly short bike ride from Mill Valley Park. What we didn't realize was that the ride to Muir Woods was ALL UP HILL! And not just a slight hill. A "so steep you can't even ride so you have to walk your bike up the hill" hill. We persevered for a while but eventually gave up since we new we still had to make the ride all the way back to Sausalito. Luckily after our long uphill ride, were able to coast down the hills for a bit and get some energy back. Even though we never made it to Muir woods, I'm glad we got off the beaten path for a while and saw some areas that we never even would have known existed! Below you can see the path of our bike ride that day and the ferry ride home. Joe captured this with our Garmin watch, but he forgot to turn the watch on until we'd already been riding for a mile or so. The red line is our path, the blue area in the graph at the top is our pace, and the green area is our elevation change.

So we made our way back to Sausalito and chilled out on a park bench while we waited for the ferry. We were both pretty exhausted so we had zero plans to bike back over the Golden Gate Bridge.

The bike ride from the ferry landing back to Blazing Saddles was a quick one. Oh, and I think I know why they call it blazing saddles. It's because after sitting on that bike seat all day, it hurts to sit on anything at all :) hehe. After we turned our bikes in we walked to the end of the block to the Buena Vista Cafe for one of their famous Irish Coffees. If you go to San Francisco, you have to go to Buena Vista Cafe just for the experience!

It was much stronger than I expected and I had to ask for more milk in mine half way through! After the Irish Coffees we were still hungry for dinner so we decided to head over to Japan Town and find a place to eat. We settled on a ramen place and slurped some noodles before going back to the apartment and crashing. It was a long day!

On Saturday morning we woke up to rain, but there was too much on our itinerary that day to let that stop us!

We walked down to China town to catch a bus to Golden Gate Park where we were planning on visiting the California Academy of Science (this was another attraction included in the City Pass). I was hoping the the Academy of Science wouldn't be crowded since it was a rainy day, but it was still pretty packed with families, tourists and school groups. The Academy of Science is basically a fun science museum. Different than the Exploratorium though as it was less hands on and had more exhibits. There were some awesome aquariums, a butterfly and bird dome and an amazing green roof.

All the kids were yelling about seeing Nemo and Dory :)

We were also able to get seats for a show in the planetarium about dark matter and space. It was really cool with the giant screen that wrapped almost all the way around the room. After we'd seen everything there we decided it was time for lunch so we took a short bus ride out of the park to a nearby area that looked like it had lots of restaurants. Joe and I are very indecisive when it comes to which restaurant to eat at so it usually took us a good while to walk up and down the streets past all the choices before we finally just gave in and picked one. I'm happy to report though that we never ended up with a poor choice! After lunch we decided to walk back to Golden Gate Park instead of taking the bus. This time we were headed for the Botanical Gardens. It cost $7 to get in to the gardens but we really enjoyed just walking around and seeing all the different plants and specialty gardens. Plus, since it was a rainy day the gardens were pretty empty.

I named this hill "Donut Hill" since we sat on a bench at the top and ate the donuts we picked up after lunch. 

We were going to stop by the Japanese Tea Gardens, which are also in Golden Gate Park, but that would have been an additional $7 a piece so we decided one garden visit was enough. Our plan after that was to take a bus to a park called the Presidio, but our plans changed when I discovered that at some point throughout the day, I had lost my City Pass :( womp womp. Lucky for me, we'd already used all the parts of the pass that would get us into various attractions. The only thing we were still using it for was transportation. So instead of going to the Presidio, we bought me a single bus ticket and made our way to a Walgreens where we could buy a 7 day bus pass that would last me for the rest of the trip. Although I'm pretty sure we still got our money's worth out of my City Pass, I was still bummed. By this point, we were pretty tired and our shoes were soaked so we decided to head home. On our way we stopped at a Trader Joe's for a few more groceries, where I made my 2nd mistake of the day by buying whole bean coffee instead of ground. No coffee for us the next morning!

We hung out at home for a while and let our feet dry out while doing some research about where we should eat dinner. We settled on a place called Nick's Crispy Tacos, which I would highly recommend! They were delicious! Once again, we went home, drank some wine and went to bed :) Well, that's the end of days 2 and 3! Only one more installment of our San Francisco trip left. And it will be pretty long since it will cover 3 days. Thanks again for reading and I hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I left my heart in San Francisco - Part 1

I'm so excited to share our San Francisco adventure with you guys! In order to keep the length of the posts and number of pictures to a somewhat reasonable amount, I'm going to split our trip up into 3 posts. This first post will cover the first 2 days of our trip. Some days I took a lot of pictures, other days I don't think I got any! Through out the post I'll be adding my personal "San Francisco Travel Tips".

Ok, let's get started! First off, before we ever left home for California, Joe and I did some research on things to do in San Francisco as well as buying City Passes. SF Travel Tip #1: If you're going to be in SF for 5 or more days, buy a City Pass! They're $86 per person but worth it if you plan on seeing many of the main attractions.  I'll point out throughout these posts what all we used our City Pass for. We also booked a VRBO (vacation rental by owner) apartment for our week long stay. It was a little cheaper than a hotel and we had a small kitchen so we could eat breakfast there every morning and store other snacks as well. The apartment was small but in a great location and felt very safe. Now onto the trip itself.

Wednesday (day 1)
We arrived in SF around 1:00pm and took a BART train from the airport to the city. Since we had not picked up our City Passes yet (which would allow us to use the bus and trolley system) we had to walk up a couple of serious hills to get to our apartment. It was easy to find though and I was grateful that we only had to walk up those hills once while dragging suitcases. After quickly settling in, we located a grocery store near by and picked up some food basics for breakfasts and snacks. SF Travel Tip #2: Bring your own reusable shopping bags, or you'll be charged 10 cents per bag like us :( We dropped those things off at home and walked down to the SF visitor center to pick up our City Passes. Even by this point we'd already seen some of the fun characteristic things in SF like China Town, the cables cars and the steep hills. Once we had our City Passes in hand we set out on foot in search of a late lunch/early dinner. The City Pass let us ride anything within the MUNI transportation system which includes the buses, cable cars and street cars. Those rides would usually range from $2-$6 each time, and we rode A TON. So I feel like we got our money's worth with MUNI rides alone.

Our plan for dinner was to find a restaurant we'd seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives but it ended up being closed. It was a happy accident though since just a few doors down we found a place called Garaje that turned out to be awesome! Our first meal in SF was definitely a winner.

Yes, they are just as greasy and delicious as they look. In that glass is their version of sangria which was awesome!

We took a bus home and decided to wander up to North Beach, the Italian neighborhood, in search of some gelato :) Another bus took us up to North Beach and we walked around checking out all the restaurants and the pretty Washington Square in front of the church. We finally found some gelato and decided to walk home through China Town instead of taking a bus. Even with all the China Town businesses closed up for the evening, it was cool to walk through. We turned in pretty early on Wednesday since we were still running on central time, and planned to head out early on Thursday to see as much as possible.

Thursday (day 2)
As soon as we were ready on Thursday morning, we walked to the end of our block where, very conveniently, there was a cable car stop. We hopped on one and took it all the way north to the piers at Fisherman's wharf. Riding the cable cars was just as exciting as I expected! It was a little nerve wracking to be flying down a hill on one towards an intersection and wondering if we'll really be able to stop on time.

At the end of the cable car run there is basically a huge lazy susan in the ground where they're able to turn the cable car around. Then it can just regrip the cable underground and head back up the line!

Since we made it down to the bay pretty early and a lot of places weren't open yet, we walked out on one of the public piers to get some pretty views of the city, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. We also walked around an old military area called Fort Mason that had some beautiful homes and buildings. It wasn't something that we'd planned on seeing but it was a nice surprise.

That is Alcatraz island on the right. 

One of the officer's homes in Fort Mason.

Looking back toward Fort Mason from a pier where an old ship was docked. 

Then we walked up to Ghirardelli Square. Yes, that Ghirardelli :) We bought some chocolate and walked around some of the shops.

In the Ghirardelli building you can see the original process in action for making their amazing chocolate. Plus, free samples!

Then we walked across the street to the Maritime Museum. It was free to get in, but they seemed to be under construction or in some kind of transition because there was very little in the exhibits. It was still a cool building though, and like I said, it was free! By this time we were getting hungry for lunch so we headed toward the most touristy pier, Pier 39, in search of some of that famous San Francisco sourdough and clam chowder. We found that at Boudin Bakery! We got our sourdough fix and even saw some of the bread being made. Then we found our way to those crazy sea lions that hang out by the warves. They were fun to watch :)

One of the street cars that ran along Fisherman's Wharf. The difference between a street car and a cable car is that the street car is powered by electric wires overhead and just runs on rails, and a cable car is literally pulled along by a constantly moving cable that is underground. 

They're so graceful in the water, and so funny when they're trying to jump up onto one of the platforms. 

After lunch we went to the Aquarium of the Bay which was one of the attractions included in the price of our City Pass. It was a fairly small, but nice aquarium that showed a lot of fish that are native to the bay as well as some cool tropical fish. There were a lot of little ones running around and they were completely crowding the "tide pool" area, so poor Joe didn't get to touch any of the starfish :(

There were some fun jellyfish though. And no, this picture is not upside down. They were all just swimming/floating like that. 

Looking down one of the public piers toward Treasure Island. 

After the aquarium we decided to get away from the very touristy Pier 39 area and take a bus up some seriously steep and curvy roads to Coit Tower which is at the top of Telegraph Hill. The tower itself was closed for renovations, but we were able to take in some awesome views of San Francisco.

At one point there was actually a signal for ships on this hill. 

Our little excursion to Coit Tower also led us to one of the coolest residential areas that we walked through in the city. The "streets" down the east side of Telegraph Hill were really just wooden walkways and stairs that you had to take to get to the homes. Huge trees were growing on the hill and completely shading the walkways and homes and there were gorgeous flowers everywhere. Then at the end of the walkway there was a very steep staircase going down to the next street. I just thought the area was so cool! It's definitely near the top of "places I'd love to live (but could never afford to) in San Francisco". haha So I guess my SF Travel Tip #3 is go to Coit Tower and walk down the hill through the neighborhood!

Joe really loved the little tower on this house. Also, that is the Bay Bridge in the background.  (Not to be confused with the Golden Gate, which I often did)

This is one of the walkway "streets" I was talking about. 

That little gate is someone's front entrance!

Stairs to the bottom of Telegraph Hill. 

(Don't worry, we're almost done with Day 2.) After we walked down the staircase from Telegraph Hill, we found ourselves in a little square by the Levi Strauss headquarters. We kept walking and made it back to the piers hoping to go to The Exploratorium which was another attraction included in the City Pass. The Exploratorium is basically a super fun, hands-on science museum. When we got there it ended up being only a couple hours before closing, but the person at the front desk told us we could come back that night from 6-10 for their adults only event. Basically it was for adults to run around the Exploratorium and play with all the exhibits with out the kids getting in the way :) Plus they'd be serving drinks. So we chose to come back later and headed out to do some quick shopping and get some dinner. I'll skip all the details (for once haha) and just tell you that we found dinner at a little hole in the wall place called Golden Boy Pizza which was in the Italian neighborhood and the pizza was awesome, and cheap! I had the clam, spinach and garlic pizza and was able to get one huge piece for only $3. SF Travel Tip #4 Use you smart phone to search for "affordable" or "cheap" restaurants in the area. Siri on my iphone helped us find Golden Boy Pizza :)

After dinner we dropped our shopping purchases off at the apartment and headed right back down to the Exploratorium. We had a ton of fun just walking around the place and playing with all the different exhibits. I think people who aren't nerdy engineers would even enjoy it :) Joe did get a little carried away with the circuit making station and I had to peel him away from there. We stayed right up until closing then took a bus and a cable car home.

Ok, so I know this picture doesn't look like anything special, but it was a huge concave mirror and when you stand in front of it and reach out, it was like your arm was coming right back out of the mirror and you could almost touch it. The best way I can describe it is trippy. 

This sculpture is made entirely of toothpicks! And it is still a work in progress. You can see the ping pong balls at the bottom. Those are there because there are actually several ping pong ball tracks built into the sculpture. It was pretty amazing. 

As you can see, Thursday was pretty packed for us so by the time we got home, we crashed. After all, we needed to rest up for our planned trip of biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning! Two days is enough for this post though. If you even made it this far in the post, then thanks for sticking around.

P.s. We said goodbye to Mollie bear today. She was part of our family for over 15 years, and as far as I'm concerned she was pretty much the best dog ever. I love you Mollie! Here's a cute picture of her from a few years ago.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Joe's Picnic Table

Long time no post! We've been pretty busy around here lately. Between the last blog post and now, I don't think I hardly had a free night to blog! First, Joe and I went to Rolla for St. Pat's and it was just as much fun as I had hoped/remembered. Though it did make me wonder how we ever survived Rolla in the first place. As soon as we got home from Rolla, I packed my bags and headed back out the door for a week long work trip. My work trip consisted of driving around West Virginia and Kentucky. It was a bit of a mess trying to get to West Virginia in the first place because of a snow storm, but once we finally got there, the weather was beautiful. The best part of that trip for me was stumbling upon the Blenko Glass Factory and buying one of their signature pitchers. The guys I was traveling with kept giving me a hard time about being so excited about this pitcher, but ever since I saw a PBS special about Blenko Glass I've wanted one! Here's a link to what I'm talking about: Blenko Glass. (Prepare to be underwhelmed haha)

The same day I got back from Kentucky, we had some friends and family coming into town to visit for the night and the weekend. It was great to catch up with all of them and we even squeezed in some time to go bowling and do some shopping. Then Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights were spent preparing for our trip to San Francisco and for the baby shower that we hosted last night. Since we were only going to have 1 night between the baby shower and getting home from San Fran, I tried to do as much as possible before we left. Bright and early Wednesday morning we hopped on a plane to California! San Francisco was amazing and I will most likely be devoting 2 blog posts to it soon, so I won't talk about it too much now. This post is supposed to be about our awesome new deck table that Joe built!

I can take VERY little credit for this table. Beyond some help on finalizing the design and standing on pieces to hold them in place during the building process, Joe did all the work. Which is probably good because Joe is much more of a perfectionist than I am when it comes to these types of things and that's kind of important when building furniture haha. His attention to detail paid off because this thing is SOLID. We based the design off a very similar table at Restoration Hardware. Their version is over $5800!!! Granted, it's made out of teak and ours is cedar, but STILL. If I had that kind of money laying around to spend on a dining table, then well... I don't know what I'd do with it. :) Invest it or something. Our table cost a total of about $150.

Joe started the work on this table by making a model in Google Sketchup and making different variations of lengths, leg styles, and leg spacing until we found the one that was just right. We were able to use a lot of leftover lumber from building the deck, but we did still have to buy a few boards. You can see in the next few process pictures that pretty much all of the connections are made using pocket holes that we drilled using our Kreg Jig. Joe started by building both of the X end pieces. He used various clamps to hold them all together while attaching them with pocket screws.

Then he made the table top. He separated the boards with nails to get even spacing. Then he clamped them across the width and used cedar 1x4s to tie all the boards together across the underside of the table top. These connections weren't done with pocket screws, but were attached from the bottom side so there wouldn't be any fasteners visible from the top.

Once the table top and the two X ends were done, he laid the table top down with the bottom side up, and attached the 2 "X" ends with more pocket screws. Once those were attached he was able to add the cross bracing pieces.

The final part was to trim the ends of the the table top boards off so they're all even. To do this, Joe tacked a yard stick to the bottom side of the table top to use as a guide for his circular saw. This made it super easy to get a nice straight cut.

Overall Joe said it was pretty simple construction, but making all the angled cuts and attaching the angled pieces on the Xs were kind of tricky. He also had to make sure that the end pieces where perfectly square and level so that the table wouldn't wobble or be slanted. I'd say it turned out about as perfect as possible! I can't wait to get some good use out of this table this summer. I guess we first need some chairs though.

Well, that post got out of hand pretty quick. Stay tuned for picture overload from San Francisco! I hope you're all doing well and having a nice springtime! Thanks for reading!