Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saying "No Thanks" to Bags

Dear Em,
When I was in college, I was ready to change the world. I was going to make a difference & make it fast. Then I got out into the real world & bureaucracy, red tape, & politics overwhelmed me. It's not that I can't change the world. It's not that anyone can't. It's just not as easy as you think it is when you're 20 years old. Plus, in the last 10 years, little victories have become bigger victories to me. I mean, I give myself a round of applause if I get the laundry cleaned, folded, & put away in less than 24 hours.

Back to college...I had taken an honors course about sustainability and the environment. Three of my friends and I were fired up. We were inspired. To finish the honors program, we had to complete an independent study. Our study was centered around sustainability in Rhode Island, & we took a four pronged approach. There are so many ways as Rhode Islanders that we could be more sustainable, but my group proposed four methods. First, we researched composting the food scraps that came from the URI dining halls to cut down on the waste we were contributing to the community. Another area we looked at was the Rhode Island education system. We researched how much sustainability was part of the core curriculum & proposed bringing more into Rhode Island's classrooms. The thought was that it won't be about making better sustainable choices of its embedded into our education from the beginning. Then it's just a way of life. Our last proposal was bringing a bag tax to Rhode Island in hopes that if we cut down on bags, we'd be eliminating more waste. Our ideas were presented in a website with other helpful information that could be used as a resource for Rhode Islanders who were interested in being sustainable. There weren't many "think green" websites back then, & we could see that this was the future of how people would look for (paperless) information.

I was once so inspired, & yet our project hasn't even crossed my mind much in the past ten years (to be honest, I forgot what some of the components of our project even were). Instead, my thoughts were consumed with getting married, buying a house, having & raising a child, & balancing it all while excelling at my job. I'm not sure where any of our proposals even went. I honestly have no idea what happened to our website or if it even still exists (although, it looks like other sites have taken it's place). I'm not sure what they're doing in Rhode Island's classrooms to promote sustainability (I'm sure I'll find out when you start kindergarten in a few years). I had hope when I read an article this past summer that indicated URI is still considering the compost process (as well as other sustainability initiatives). But, we still don't have a bag tax in Rhode Island. 

And then I traveled to San Francisco.

Rhode Island may not have a bag tax, but San Francisco does. As we purchased things, we were asked if we wanted a bag. If we did, we were charged 10 cents per bag. It's nothing that breaks the bank. 10 bags= $1. For me, it was more about having the option of saying "no thanks" to bags. I actually had a moment to think, "Do I really need this bag?" before accepting it.

I guess I do have the option of saying "no thanks" to bags in Rhode Island, but it actually kind of stresses me out. When I go shopping at the mall, the shopping bags are marketing reminders that tell everyone else at the mall "Hey, look! I shopped there." Typically during one shopping trip I could fit all of my purchases into one bag, but I feel almost guilty when I tell sales clerks I don't need a bag. It's like I'm saying "I don't want people to know that I shopped here." In other situations like drug stores, I don't need a bag for my small purchases but the sales clerk has my tiny item in a bag before I've even paid. I just feel like a pain to say "Yeah, I don't need that bag" & asking them to take it out. I know it's mostly in my head, but saying "no thanks" to bags just makes me feel guilty.

In San Francisco, I can't even tell you how nice it was to be asked if I wanted a bag. I think I only said yes once. In fact, your Aunt Andrea & I spent an afternoon shopping & she thought I hadn't bought anything because instead of buying a bag I just carried my items in my purse (which to be honest, felt slightly weird. I was worried people would peer into my purse & think I was stealing).

I wonder how much waste is saved in San Francisco simply by asking people if they want a bag? How much waste could be saved if the whole world followed suit? Who knows, maybe our group of four hasn't given up. Maybe we just haven't finished yet. Maybe someday we'll see our honors project proposals come to life in Rhode Island. I would hope it would happen beforehand, but it's possible that it will be our kids bringing our proposals to life. You never know.

I love you so,

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Homemade Fairytales

Dear Em,
During one particularly frustrating morning...after I had dumped a bag of granola all over the took a moment to tell me a story.

Emma: "Once upon a time, there was a really, meany mommy."
Me: "What?!"
Emma: "Well, you wouldn't let me help you sweep the floor!"
Me: "Once upon a time, there was a really sweet girl who loved her mommy so much she gave her a million hugs & kisses."
Emma: "No, that's not in my story!"
Me: "Well, I like that story."
Emma: "No. Once upon a time there was a really, stinky Mommy...Happily ever after."

Afraid of being dubbed a wicked witch in all of your future fairytales, I gave you a turn with the broom.

Have I mentioned you're crazy dangerous with a broom? I'm not sure if you were sweeping granola or slaying dragons in our kitchen, but you had a blast.

I love you so,

Monday, February 25, 2013

Daddy's Restaurant

Dear Em,
On the weekends we like to go someplace special for breakfast. Lucky for us, we never have to wait for a table, the service & the food are always excellent, & we never have any trouble getting served in our jammies. Where do we go? It's a little place we like to call Daddy's Restaurant.

You & I sit on stools at the breakfast bar & chat while we watch Daddy cook. On any given weekend, he makes pancakes or waffles or french toast or egg sandwiches. The food is always amazing, the company is even better, & we pay for our meals in hugs & kisses. It's the best.

I think when you're older, eating at Daddy's restaurant is going to be among some of my favorite memories.

I love you so,

Friday, February 22, 2013

love letters

Dear Em,

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Muir Woods National Monument was one of my favorite stops during our vacation. It was just so magical. I wanted to run around and play hide & seek, using the giant Red Woods as cover. I wanted to sit at the base of a giant tree & read for hours. I wanted to climb (which totally isn't allowed, I broke the rules by going off the path to hug a tree). Wouldn't it be wicked cool to have a forest like this where we live?

Sigh, Red Woods, I think I will miss you most of all. Em, let's put this on the list of magical places I want to take you.

I love you so,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

California Love: Wine Country

Dear Em,

It's hard to believe that less than ten years ago your daddy & I both thought wine was gross. I remember going to a work function. Everyone had a glass of wine with dinner. My manager asked me what I would like. I didn't know. It was all gross to me. I panicked & asked for a white zinfandel, the only one I think I knew the name of. He looked at me & said, "the 80s called, & they want their wine back"- in front of all the other professionals at the table. I could feel my cheeks turn bright red. I wanted to hide under the table.

My best friend Jayme was the first one to take us out to try some wine. We started with a Riesling. It was light & sweet, & the first wine I can say I liked. From there we gradually tried other wines throughout the years. We even did a fun tour of some wineries in the Finger Lakes in New York. Surprisingly, my pallet has grown to favor red wines. It once tasted disgusting, but now I appreciate the deep & earthy tones. Plus, work functions are slightly less embarrassing.

Since touring the Finger Lakes, Napa has always been on our list of places we want to visit. Since it's just over an hour drive from San Francisco, this was a perfect opportunity. Rather than worry about where we would go & who would drive, I booked a day long bus tour (Platypus Tours) for Andrea, Lowell, your daddy, & I. The bus picked us up at our hotel at 10am. We were joined with a group of women celebrating a birthday & our bus driver Tony. Tony had a long history of wine tasting and working. She had three rules. You had to have fun, there would be no talk of politics, & you had to stay hydrated. She was my kind of tour guide. She taught us that we have taste buds all over the inside of our mouths, & to really taste our wine we should slurp like Hannibal Lecter does in Silence of the Lambs. That kind of creeped me out. Of course, if that was too weird, we could just swish it around.

Our first stop was Black Stallion Winery. It was rustic & cozy inside, with a fireplace glowing. We were given information about the year & types of wine we tried. We practiced our new swishing technique (some of us practiced the Hannibal technique). I actually really like swishing my wine. I'm not sure if I taste it anymore than before, but it makes the inside of my mouth tingly.

This winery didn't just sell wine. There was clothing, scarves, jewelry, & trinkets like you would find at a farmer's market lining tables & shelves as well. Shopping & wine tasting seem like such a nice combo, don't you think? It made for a nice first stop.

On the way to our next stop, Tony handed out bottled waters (totally my kind of tour guide!). She also pointed out the mustard flowers that grew alongside of the vines to protect the vines from bugs. She told us that rose bushes at the end of a row of vines aren't for aesthetics. The health of a vine is proportional to the health of the rose bush. If the roses are blooming, the vines are healthy. Tony pointed out popular vineyards. We didn't stop at most of those. Instead, she took us to wineries that were a little off the beaten path & not crowded with tourists. I liked her style.

I loved the vivid yellow colors of the mustard flowers.
Our next stop was Paoletti Estates Winery. We sat at a large farmer's table to try a number of wines. After our tasting we headed to the eccentric wine cave for lunch. The cave was full of wine barrels, which is totally normal. What was surprising were the ceramic sculptures that filled the cave. There were topless women & naked cherubs. There were busts of people that the owner of the winery felt were notable. They ranged from Napoleon to Ronald Regan. The walls of the wine cave had been painted with very expensive wine. It was probably one of the most interesting places I've ever sat down to eat.

With the rest of our tour group.
Still practicing the swishing technique.
Inside the wine cave.

The outside grounds were beautiful as well.
You know, just looking at the vineyard, acting totally normal.
We made a quick stop at Castello di Amorosa to see the winery that is a castle. It's a real castle. The owner bought it from Italy, had it disassembled, & rebuilt it back in Napa. The grounds were full of vines & animals. Chickens & ducks & sheep roamed freely. We didn't taste wine here. We just marveled at the real life medieval castle in the middle of rustic Napa.

Our third wine tasting was at Tudal Family Winery, & it was my favorite location of all. The main building looked like a big barn & we tasted wine in the middle of a garden. It reminded us a little of the Umbrella Factory in Rhode Island. It was rustic, with metal sculptures filling the garden & a broken down red tractor in front of the main building. The sun was shining down on the fields of yellow mustard flowers & vines, & I enjoyed every moment of wine tasting in the sunshine. The wine was great, & if you bought a bottle, they waved the tasting fees.

We did a quick speed tasting at Sutter Home Winery, just to have been at Sutter Home Winery. It was packed, but the tasting was free. It was neat to visit the winery where all the bottles of wine we see in the liquor stores come from.

Our last wine tasting was at Laird Family Estates. We had a private tasting outside, just the four of us. I think our favorite part was the guy who did our tasting. He was funny & down to earth & a fan of the wines. He would start by telling us to choose one wine or the other to taste, & then would say they were both so good we should really taste both. So, we tasted them all. It almost felt like sitting down with a friend rather than doing a wine tasting. The tasting fees were waved if you bought a bottle of wine here as well, & we picked up a couple to bring home with us. We enjoyed our last moments in the sunshine, & then our bus headed back to our hotel.

I'm so glad we got to experience Napa in the sunshine, but I think we all agreed that one day of wine tasting was quite enough for one vacation.

I love you so,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

California Love: 10 Things to do in San Francisco

Dear Em,
* This is the third of 5 posts recapping our California adventure. See also California Love: Where were you during the blizzard of 2013?California Love: the FoodCalifornia Love: Wine Country, & love letters *

I started planning our surprise trip for Daddy's 30th birthday back in November. While I lived in California, I was only in first grade & don't remember much. So, after booking our plane tickets, the first thing I did was google "things to do in San Francisco." One of the first links I found was was Time Travel's San Francisco: 10 Things to Do (Time Travel's 10 Things to Do has become my go-to for when I start researching about traveling to any new place). Now that our adventure has come to an end, I'm creating my own 10 things to do in San Francisco. Here they are in no particular order.

1. Climb Coit Tower

Trust me, it gets steeper, but this spot made me think of Full House.

For us, it was more of a climb to get to Coit Tower than to climb the actual tower. Coit Tower is located at the top of Telegraph Hill. To me, it was more like climbing a steep mountain. I don't know how people live & drive & park their cars on this massive hill. We realized how out of shape we were halfway to the top. By the time we got to the top of the hill, we asked ourselves "Do we really want to climb up this tower now?" Luckily, there's an elevator that will take you up to the top. It's $7 to go up. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure I would have paid the $7. There are so many spots where you can see an amazing city view. In fact, there are some incredible views just outside Coit Tower without going up. Really, I just enjoyed the experience of climbing walking up Telegraph Hill, seeing how silly the cars & the homes look placed on such a steep angle. It was a nice way to start out trip, & resting taking in the beauty of the city at the top was an awe inspiring way to introduce ourselves to the city.

2. Compete in Rogue Trivia night

I talked about how much we loved Rogue Distillery & Public House. I was thrilled that we happened to be there during trivia night. I've never done a trivia night, & it was really fun to challenge our brains (& my iPhone) at a place where there was good food & an interesting beer selection. I think we were the Rhody Rams or something like that, & we were kicking butt...until the time difference really hit us & we turned in at something like 10pm. I know. Lame, right? It was fun while it lasted.

3. Break Out of Visit Alcatraz

I'm sure we've all seen it in the movies or TV shows, & we really wanted to see it in person. Alcatraz is probably the most famous prison of all time, & now it's a Golden Gate Recreation Area. You can ferry out to the island, & take an audio tour of the prison & surrounding buildings once inside. It's kind of eerie to stand where some of the most infamous US prisoners stood. To feel closed in the tiny cells & walk to the rec yard was an experience I won't ever forget. I'm a little bit of a nerd. I love history. The Alcatraz tour was a perfect mix of history, San Francisco skyline & Golden Gate Bridge views, & picture taking opportunities. I heard they have Alcatraz triathlons. If I were to compete in a triathlon (which I likely won't, 5Ks are a challenge for me), that would be the one I would want to compete in.

4. Take a Day Trip (or two or three)

There's so much to do in San Francisco, but there are also gems just outside of the city. Your daddy said Pebble Beach golf course was one of the most beautiful places he's ever seen. Two of my favorite parts of our California trip were our visits to Napa & Muir Woods National Monument (I'll highlight them in my next two posts).

5. Take an Open Top Bus City Tour

Some of the buildings amidst the electric lines the city buses run on.

It wasn't just your daddy & I on this trip. We were thrilled that your aunt Andrea & Lowell joined us on our California adventure too. There was one day when your daddy & Lowell went to the PGA tournament at Pebble Beach. Andrea and I were free to do anything we wanted. We wanted to see THE WHOLE CITY & get a little history lesson at the same time. I also wanted a chance to do something else I'd never done before, ride on an open top bus. We found a bus company that takes you throughout the whole city, but you also have the ability to get off the bus & explore if you want. 30 minutes later we could catch a new bus & continue the tour, & our tickets were good for 48 hours. We certainly saw everything, although some of the stops seemed to be in questionable areas. We didn't do a whole lot of getting off & exploring, & I don't think we realized how freezing it would be to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on an open top bus. I still loved our tour. We saw San Francisco in just a few hours, & I enjoyed filling your daddy in on some of the San Francisco facts we learned.

6. Stay at Fishermans Warf

To me Fisherman's Warf almost didn't feel like it was part of a large city. It actually reminded me a little of Ocean City, New Jersey. It's full of fun little shops & restaurants. There are vendors that sell kites & bubbles floating through the air. If you're looking to bring home souvenirs, there are tons of souvenir shops. Walking along the piers, you have amazing views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, & the rolling hills beyond. Here you can walk without the tall buildings blocking out the sun.

The best part of Fishermans Warf are the sea lions at Pier 39. To the delight of visitors, sea lions have hung out at Pier 39 for over 20 years. You can hear them as you approach the pier. Walk to the end of the pier & there's a viewing spot. It was so fun to watch them sleep & bark & swim & play. My favorites were the instigators who would tease by pushing the others off the docks & into the water. Moments later, they would have their paybacks as they got a big shove in. I loved watching them so much, I went twice. One of the best parts is it's absolutely free.

Everything else in the city is a quick walk, cab, tram, or trolley ride. We had the opportunity to stay overnight at Fisherman's Warf & Union Square, but Fisherman's Warf was absolutely my favorite.

7. Do a Little Shopping
Did you know Gap is headquartered in San Francisco? There is shopping everywhere. I was lucky to have a whole day to spend with just your aunt Andrea. There's no way your daddy would've listed shopping in his list of top 10. Andrea & I could've literally shopped until we dropped (and we almost did). At Union Square you'll find a ginormous Macy's, Urban Outfitters, H&M, & a ton of other clothing stores. For vintage clothing, Haight Street is the place to go. Fisherman's Warf has beachy & souvenir shops. Chinatown is filled with produce markets & shops with traditional Chinese instruments & clothing. If you're looking to shop, San Francisco has a little bit a lot of everything.

8. Ride a Trolley

Sadly, we didn't do this, & I'm super bummed about it. On our last day, I found myself outside of an empty trolley & your daddy took a quick picture. I didn't get to experience the wind rushing through my hair as I stood on the trolley platform, holding on tight. Oh well, it's just something I'll have to go back for.

9. Visit Chinatown

Known for being the largest & oldest Chinese community outside of Asia, as I walked through Chinatown I felt like I was in another country. I've been to Chinatown in Boston & New York & DC. They just don't compare. We happened to be staying in Union Square, a couple blocks from the entrance gates. I was amazed to see the Chinese architecture of the buildings & the lanterns hanging above the streets. It was fascinating to see all the produce markets & Chihuly looking glass shops. We picked up a pink pajama set for you there (I was so tempted to buy you slippers as well). If I went again, I would be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where the fortune cookies are made handmade the old fashioned way.

10. Bike from Fishermans Warf to Sausalito (& take the ferry back)

It was during this trip we saw some of the most beautiful views of the city & it's surroundings. We booked a self guided tour from Bay City Bike, but there are a ton of bike rental & touring shops. It's less than a 10 mile bike ride, & we saw & explored so much during those 10 miles. There are some steep hills to bike up, but it's a fairly easy ride. I loved being able to hop off our bikes whenever we found something we wanted to explore. Once on the Golden Gate Bridge, there are a few viewing areas. While we looked off the bridge & toward the city, we saw dolphins jumping & swimming in the water. It was incredible.

Sausalito is a quaint & upscale town. Once we reached Sausalito, we were agin reminded how out of shape we are. We were pooped. My legs were sore. My bum was sore. We were happy to grab a small lunch & sit by the water to eat. It felt so good to sit in the sunshine before doing a little souvenier shopping. We took the Ferry back & relaxed while taking in the views of Sauslito, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, & Alcatraz.

I feel like I'm leaving things out. There's so many things about San Francisco I fell in love with, it was hard to just pick 10. I'm hoping someday we can return & find 10 new favorite things to do.

I love you so,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

California Love: the Food

Dear Em,

Thank goodness that San Francisco is a bunch of steep mountains hills, because I needed the exercise with all the food I ate. We wanted authentic West Coast food experiences, & what we got was amazing.

We started at Rogue, more to try out the beer selection than the food. Rogue is a craft brewery in Portland. They farm malted barley, blueberries, apples, plums, & cherries totaling 3800 acres of crops. They also make their own cheeses to pair with the beer. There was a Rogue Distillery & Public House in San Francisco, & your Daddy was excited to check it out. When I realized they served tater tots with their meals, that was all I needed. Their selection of beers was diverse & fun. I don't even like beer, but they had mocha & fruity flavored ones that I enjoyed trying. Your daddy was in craft beer heaven.

The next morning we had the best breakfast ever at Boudin Bakery. Boudin specializes in sour dough bread, with the mother dough originating back in 1849. There were shelves & shelves of sour dough bread...sour dough bread for miles. Some of the loafs were in fun shapes like crabs & teddy bears (I thought about taking one home for you, but you don't really like bread & I don't know how you'd feel about me eating the head off your teddy bear). I'm not sure if you know this, but bread is one of my top five favorite foods. If you stuck me on a deserted island & all I had was bread, I'd be OK. If I had stayed at Boudin long enough, I would have tried to eat half- OK ALL- of the bread before going into a pleasant sour dough coma. Instead, I just ordered the scrambled eggs with veggies in a bread bowl. It was flavorful & yummy & bready & absolutely filled me up for the busy day we had planned.

All of our breakfasts in California were great & filling (including a breakfast we picked up from a convenience store one morning). In fact, we missed lunch most days because we were still full from breakfast. One of my favorite things about breakfast in California was the different take on bagels and cream cheese. In the East Coast, we mostly plop some cream cheese on our bagels & call it a day. In California, a bagel & cream cheese also means slices of tomato & capers & lox (I didn't actually try the lox, but I'm kicking myself for it). It's incredible. I will never look at a bagel with cream cheese the same again. Why didn't we think of that on the East Coast?

In Napa our food was great, but the site of our lunch was really the best part. We ate in a wine cave at Paoletti Estates Winery. The owner of the winery is a little eccentric & had a very expensive, very large, very exquisite wine cave built. We had a picnic style lunch in the middle of the massive wine cave, next to beautifully colored stained glass windows. Opera & classical music was playing overhead. It was quite an experience to dine amidst all of the wine barrels (& weird ceramic busts- more on that later). It was for sure something I'd never done before & something I'll probably never have the chance to do again.

After heading back to San Francisco, there was one last thing I really wanted to try, West Coast style Mexican food. Your daddy & I love Mexican food, & I was sure it would be different than what we are used to in the North East. We went Mamacita, a fun & trendy looking Mexican restaurant. The first time we went, we hadn't even thought of making a reservation. Big Fail. It was a Friday night & was packed- over an hour wait. We ended up scrambling for something that wasn't over an hour wait. Lesson to be learned: make reservations for Friday nights in San Francisco. We came back on a Monday, earlier in the evening & were seated right away. Wanting to be able to try the best, we explained to the waitress we were from the East Coast & asked her what she would recommend. She went down the menu & highlighted her favorites as well as the customer favorites. We chose the Pato a la Plancha (duck tacos), Carne Asada (steak tacos), & Rancheras (a beef enchilada with goat cheese- goat cheese is one of my other top five favorite foods). Every bite was amazing. There were layers upon layers of flavor, & I left feeling satisfied & excited that I had tried duck for the first time. It was AH-MAZ-ING.

I miss the California food already, just not the calories.

I love you so,
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