Last weekend we ventured down to Pacifica, a small, sleepy beach town just 20 minutes south of San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite places along the California coast, mostly because hardly anyone goes there despite it being so close to the city. It’s covered in a thick blanket of fog most of the year and doesn’t have much going on typically except for a handful of surfers who brave the cold water to catch a few waves. Crab carapaces, pelican feathers, petrified wood and other treasures wash up on the shore when the tide recedes, making for some good beach combing. One foggy day, I came here and a 100ft blue whale had washed up. She was a mammoth of a creature, hit by a ship I later learned, then washed in with the tides.
On this day, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperatures plateaued in the high 80s (unheard of around here). We played in the waves and ran along the beach, dangling bull kelp behind us for Jack to chase. Then we met a friendly basset hound named Marco and buried Jack in the sand. We went home salty and happy and ate fried chicken and salad (they cancel each other out). In other news, we’re waiting to hear back on whether we will get this great place we viewed. It has 900 sqft, hardwood floors, big closets, a claw foot bath tub and bay windows that let in lots of sun light. We’ve been scouring Craigslist since we’ve been back and this one would be perfect. Fingers and toes crossed!
Last week we traveled across the country from south Florida to northern California. I took a ton of pictures along the way, so if you decide to read this in its entirety, you might want to get some snacks. We decided to take the scenic route, visiting some cities we had never spent time in before and steadily make our way back to San Francisco. The first major city we passed through was Atlanta, Georgia but since we had been there so many times we didn’t stop. We had our eyes set on Nashville, Tennessee.
We got to Nashville and did some exploring. I really like this town. It’s reminds me of a smaller, more country version of LA in some ways. We got coffee at Hot and Cold in the morning and then checked out some cool local spots including Love Circle (TN’s version of Lover’s Lane) where we got some killer views of the city.
Then we hit the road en route to Chicago, traveling through Kentucky and Indiana, watching out for lurking dinosaurs along the way.
Oh Chicago, you beauty! With your lake side views and big buildings and friendly people. It was jacket weather aka the best weather. Some of the leaves had already started to change and the air had just enough bite to it to make it feel like fall. While we were here we had cake donuts and coffee at Stan’s Donuts, did some walking/shopping around the Wicker Park neighborhood, tried on bear suits (as you do), visited the Bean downtown and Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in Oak Park, then wrapped up with drinks at Bangers and Lace and tacos at Big Star before heading back to our hotel.
I have become an expert at smuggling my cat into hotel rooms. Nicole Lee, Cat Smuggler. Nicole Cat Smuggler Lee, Ol’ Cat Smugglin’ Lee. My biggest feat to date was in Chicago while on this trip. We stopped in downtown for the night at one of these boutique-y hotels in downtown. The ones with the doormen and the views and the 5 dollar bottles of water in the mini fridge. First, I had to convince the valet guys that I didn’t need a luggage cart and would carry my own bags to our room to, you know…secure the goods. Then, I carried Mila Cat, swaddled in a blanket like the world’s largest bean burrito baby past the front desk and lobby, into the elevator. Yes! I thought. I’ve made it! But then, an elevator attendant got on. An elevator attendant…seriously? Who needs helping pushing the elevator button these days? This is 2014. I knew Mila Cat was going to meow, because she hates being held and we had 13 floors to go. And not like, hates being held a little, but full on you’re going to die in a fire for holding me- hates it. I’ve had Mila for a long time, I got her when I was living alone in college. We’re good friends, but chick is a freak. A big, orange, black and white freak. But lo and behold, she didn’t make a sound. That’s right. The eagle had landed. KaaaKaaaaaaaa
After getting some morning coffee we hit the road for Iowa. What’s in Iowa? you ask, well there’s fields and barns and cows and then there’s fields with barns and cows in them. And pick-up trucks.
Trey was born in Des Moines, Iowa so we decided to stop by and see his birth place since he’s never been back. As the highway rounded towards the city, all I hear is this loud, cackling hyena-like laugh from the driver’s seat. I look over and Trey is pointing to the “downtown” area which consisted of two measly buildings sticking up like buck teeth from the earth. We have to take the exit to downtown, I told him. We exited off. Holy ghost town. No one there, restaurants empty, hardly any cars. Every building seemed to be this same shade of beer bottle brown. Welcome home, bae..!…? We kept driving westward…
Are you still reading? Did you get snacks? Perhaps you need mega snacks.
Soon we came to Nebraska. If Virginia is for lovers, Nebraska is for…corn…husk..ers. ? There’s a lot of corn in Nebraska.
About 50 miles outside of Omaha and our tenth round of “Would you rather?” we reaaaallly started realizing just how crucial road trip entertainment is on a cross country trip. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, pod casts, talk radio, etc. My favorites are the Nerdist, which is a hilarious podcast where Chris Hardwick from comedy central interviews comedians and other celebrities, and Radiolab, a podcast about science, philosophy and other curious things. NPR news is alright if you’re feeling political and/or want to fall asleep (I’m convinced Diane Rehm is a zombie…someone, please call it). If you like laughing, the new Patton Oswalt comedy album is really hilarious. This trip we listened to the audiobook for Gone Girl. And you know, after 7 hours of listening to it…I still don’t know if I like it or not. Something about the voice-overs that they used just really urk me. I feel like it would have been better if I read it to myself (because the voices in my head are so much better! she says manically).
Finally we left the corn fields of Nebraska behind and got to Fort Collins, Colorado. Now we’re cookin’. Colorado is a winner, if I didn’t like the coast so much, I’d think about living in the mountains here. It’s progressive and outdoorsy and the terrain is pretty sweet. There are bike lanes and dogs everywhere and the people are of the friendly variety. Fort Collins is a little college town, which means it’s has a pretty young feel to it. We had some food and drinks in town at The Mayor, a local tap house and eatery. There was a Pink Floyd cover band playing and New Castle brewery was on hand giving out free beers with prune extract called “The Dark Side of the Prune”. Definitely a buy.
We decided to keep the night going and find the closest liquor store, as you do on a road trip, and ask the woman behind the counter what she recommends. She tells us to try cinnamon toast crunch shots, which is a lovely blend of fireball cinnamon whiskey and rum chata, which, I am oddly familiar with given one of my best friends loves to order these at the bar despite my known hatred for cinnamon flavored liquor (goldschlauggers, sophomore year of high school, I don’t want to talk about it). Fireball whiskey can also be known as Fire Throat Death Juice as it can cause the most painful reflux in the most unassuming of individuals sometimes FYI.
From Fort Collins we drove north-west into Wyoming. Having driven through Wyoming in both winter and summer, and visited much of the midwest, I can attest to this being one of the prettiest states in our country’s mid section. It has a certain charm about it.
After Wyoming came another beautiful state: Utah. We drove through the arid desert, looking up at the cool rock formations as we passed. We also visited the Great Salt Lake (which is the largest lake in the US outside of the great lakes…who knew?) and got some good views of Salt Lake City.
Daaammnn look at that butte. Dat butte tho! Butte jokes don’t get old (yes they do).
Leaving Utah, we were super tired and basically crawled over the border into the first town in Nevada called Wendover. Wendover has nothing in it but a few casinos and hotels. The kind of place one would only come to if they were scoping for good grounds for a meth lab operation and/or wanted to be knifed in the dark and never seen again. Let me preface this with saying, I have a dateline nbc obsession. It’s a weird thing to like watching, I know, but hey…you can only watch so much Seinfeld reruns sometimes (no you can’t, blasphemy!). So we’re driving through the town and there, in all his glory, is Wendover Will. Wendover Will. As in the huge waving cowboy statue/sign from that dateline nbc episode where the girl goes missing and the guy goes to jail for her murder but really it was the guy’s girlfriend who was jealous and killed her and buried her in the gravel pit in the desert but she got off the hook and now the guy is serving a life sentence in prison. THAT one. You know, creepy town.
Then, after driving across Nevada, the most wonderful thing happened……..the California state sign came into view and we crossed the border into California! I was so excited I almost missed the sign.
A blanket of low-laying clouds surfaced overhead and the greenest Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine trees came into view as far as our eyes could see. Northern California: we were back! And it feels good to be back. That right feeling in your bones where you just breathe deeper and smile more. Where your Yelp and Uber apps are actually usable, and people are picketing for things like taxes on soda. Where saying “yes” to needing a bag at the grocery store is met with a judging stare and 10 cent charge. Where weirdness is celebrated and no one looks twice at a vagina mural sprawled across a building. You know, because why not.
We came through Truckee, CA, which is not far from the Lake Tahoe area and decided to stop off and take some pictures.
And just like that, we were home and our sixth trip across the country had come to an end. It was too dark to take good pictures of San Francisco by the time we got there, but rest assured there will be plenty of those pics to come. It’s good to be home!
Over the weekend we made some bird feeders for our back yard using grapefruits. Florida has some of the most beautiful birds ever. My favorites are the large wood storks, herons, roseate spoonbills, and sandhill cranes. I became interested in birds when I was a naturalist off the California coast leading whale watching trips to the Farallon islands (dubbed California’s “Galapagos” for the rich biodiversity there). Someone would point to a tufted puffin or a common murre off the port side and ask “what’s that?” which led me to read every field guide and bird paper I could get my hands on to become a local expert on them. I was basically a wildlife nerd to begin with, but becoming a “birder”…is like, the upper echelon of wildlife nerdism.
I am excited to see what small birds will be attracted to this little feeder. After hanging it up in our backyard we pulled some fresh basil from the garden and strained the leftover grapefruit flesh to make grapefruit gimlets…recipe below..
It was Trey’s birthday yesterday so we did some good ole’ fashion celebrating. His birthdays are always ragers. Last year we crammed 25 people in a room in japan town for karaoke before jaunting around the city loaded up on sake bombs and Hall and Oats. But since it was a Tuesday and we just got back from Europe last week, we both decided a low-key celebration at home would be best this year. So, coffee and breakfast in bed, turkey tacos with too much cheese, shots of tequila with friends on facetime, and a bonfire to end the night it t’was.
And it was a good day indeed.
Happy birthday to you, lover boy. You are my moon, my thunder, and oh do I love this little empire we’ve built.
We’re back from spending a few weeks in Europe and I wanted to share a few photos from our time there. We visited Paris, Naples and the Amalfi coast, Rome, and Barcelona. We had an incredible time and my favorite part of the trip was the time we spent along the Amalfi coast in Italy.
We flew into Naples from Paris and rented this cute little fiat car, because road trips are our thing. Then we started off for downtown Naples looking for breakfast, which ended up being hilariously unexpected and fun. The downtown itself is crumbling, it’s technically bankrupt as is evident by spray paint on the beautiful old architecture around the city (think Detroit a few years ago). No one uses traffic signs either, but somehow it all works out…organized chaos at its finest. I think a lot of people get stressed in situations like this, but for some reason we couldn’t stop laughing, perhaps too aware of the ridiculousness of the situation we were in.
We decided to get the hell out of downtown Naples and head towards the Amalfi coast. Little prepares you for the italian coastline. I’ve seen cliffs that drop into the ocean before…but this is just next level. The small roads and houses carved into cliffs that hug the coastline… the most beautiful turquoise colored waters of the Mediterranean sea just below…the vintage shellacked wood boats in the harbor that I could not stop taking photos of…the Italians and their animated hand-gestures…it was just so idyllic. We visited the small towns of Positano, Priano and when we rounded the turn to Amalfi we just couldn’t take it anymore…we had to park the car, throw on our bathing suits, and jump into the ocean.
We arrived salty and wet to our Airbnb flat. We rented out the home of two artists in the small hillside village of Ravello overlooking the sea. The most beautiful pink and purple wildflowers surrounded the home. Not far from us was a bar with outdoor tables set underneath a cavern where old Italian men sat playing cards and yelling at each other. In the mornings, roosters woke us. Sometimes I wish I could capture everything on my camera, but a lot of the time I just want to be experiencing it and I forget, so I have to describe it with words instead (use your words, nicole). We explored more, walking through lemon groves and down steep stone hillside stairs into town. There were friendly townie cats that hung around, which I always appreciate. One of the days we were there we decided to take the city bus up the hill after spending a day swimming at the local beach. The bus arrived and everyone began piling in. I held onto Trey, pulling him inside the bus (we were the last two that got on) and one behind us who didn’t make it on mustered up all the english he knew to tell Trey, inches from his face, “You are so bright! You stupid idiot!”. I laughed, thinking the guy must have been kidding…it was just a bus ride, and another bus was coming in 15 minutes! The guy gave me the death stare. Nope, he wasn’t kidding. That night we stumbled onto a “International Pop festival”, which reminded me of this tragically uncool talent/beauty pageant my high school used to throw called “The Miss CHS Pageant”, complete with big hair and sequined gowns. After a few liters of wine, this is really, really entertaining.
For local eats, Ada, our Airbnb host, recommended this seafood restaurant up in the hills. We arrived to the restaurant for dinner one night and were greeted by a young, mustached man. The restaurant was surrounded by a vineyard to our right, a goat farm to our distant left, and the sea in front of us. The mustached waitor brought a basket of fresh, whole fish over to our table and told us in italian-english “this is fish from the sea this morning (pointing to the sea). I prepare it for you”. We ordered a liter of the house wine made from the vineyard we were in, appetizers with goat cheese from the goats, and the fresh fish from the sea. Everything tasted amazing, and then…the supermoon came up, casting the most amazing shine on the night water. I know, I know…I didn’t believe it either, but there we were…bellies full of fish, minds tipsy off wine, walking home past friendly cats under the light of the biggest moon. And now I’m dead. It was a good life. Just kidding.
The last day we were there we walked down to the local harbor in Amalfi and rented a private boat that I captained, my first time outside of US waters. We cruised along the coast, hugging the shore and getting more views of the hillside, then we sailed over to the island of Capri before stopping and diving off the boat into the water. After that we came back, packed up the car, and headed for Rome. We really had an awesome time on the Amalfi coast and hope to come back one day.
It’s 4:30 am and I’m sitting in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France about to board a flight to Italy. We’ve just spent the week riding bikes and eating our way around Paris and now we’re heading to the Amalfi coast. Trey tells me I look like I just stepped out of Bill and Ted’s time machine because of the Smiths t-shirt and jean jacket I’m wearing. So, now I have a boyfriend for sale, $5 OBO.
We stayed in a little flat in Bastille, a trendy district in Paris. There was a Vespa repair shop a few doors over with a French bulldog who guarded the door wearing a chain collar. The street was made of light gray cobblestone and there was a boulangerie with the best smelling croissants on the corner.
Highlights of being in Paris were an awesome gathering of foods from a local street market, renting bikes and riding through the city to the Eiffel tower for a picnic, and finding an original EP record of Francoise Hardy (my woman crush) at a hole in the wall flea market we ducked into because it was raining. I’ll do a full post on our time in Europe when I get back (sometime in between finishing my work in FL and packing up to move back to CA(!), but for now I’m going to absorb everything european around me sans computer.
Jack is with our trainer friend Brian who has six border collies and lives on a llama farm and Mila Cat is being watched over by my great friend Mel. We miss them!
Let me start by saying I know how this looks. It looks like I’m either a crazy dog person (I kind of am), a hippie (a little of that too), or a 6 year old playing dress up with my dog (jokes on you, I’m 28). Sometimes I get these ideas in my brain like “It’s Sunday, I’m going to make a collar for Jack out of wildflowers…because he will LOVE that.” Ideas that a normal person would think for ~5 seconds, dismiss, and go about their day.. but I actually execute because I’m that girl, whatever that means.
I took a woven leather belt I had laying around and stuck some pink bougainvilleas, periwinkles, and red carnations through the spaces, then wrapped it loosely around Jack. Jack is the king of wearing things around his neck. When you take his bandana out of the drawer, he prances over all excitedly. We joke that we’re knighting him every time we put it on him because of the way he sits with his chest out and head held high like he’s honored you’ve chosen him to wear it. Bow ties also, for special occasions. So yeah…if you were wondering what flowers + dog look like…here it is. You’re welcome.
Optional: discovering your wildflower plan is foiled and getting yelled at for picking flowers in the grocery store parking lot. Oh well, like Alanis says.. you live, you learn.
Our list of things to do when we got to Florida looked something like this:
1. find a roof to put over our heads
2. swim with manatees
Florida is the best place in the world to see endangered West Indian manatees in large herds. During the winter months the coastal waters get too cold for them so they retreat into the warm waters of rivers and springs, much like the one we visited on this day.
My lab mate spends half her time researching manatees (traitor) and gave us the insider info on where and when to go see them. We took her advice and headed out early in the season to find them. We came across a small group feeding along a canal that consisted of a few adults and a calf. The calf was curious and started hanging out underneath our canoe, so I took a dip in to get a closer look at him. You really can see why they are most closely related to elephants by their leathery skin and finger nails (finger nails!). The moniker “sea cow” they’ve acquired from centuries of grazing on sea grass can be somewhat misleading. Most individuals are know by their scars and wounds (typically from boat propellers) and this little one was no exception, although luckily the mark on his head was just a surface scratch etched in the algae on its skin.
Jim Gaffigan the comedian has this bit where he calls manatees the ‘retired football players of the sea’ because they are so large and slow moving. It’s pretty funny, and true. Even though they are hefty, they have very little body fat (which contributes to their susceptibility to cold water). A few minutes later the calf swam back to its mom and I hopped back into the canoe and we parted ways. Oh I almost forgot….I learned that manatee females have two nipples, one under each arm pit… presumably so mom can continue grazing on sea grass on the bottom while nursing. Can you imagine? Arm pit nipples. So now you know.
Salads have been my go-to lately. Trey’s been in San Francisco for the past week and it has taken every ounce of willpower inside of me not to eat oatmeal for dinner every night.
The thing with salad is that it has to be interesting for me to want to eat it. Otherwise, it feels like I’m a horse chewing cud. My favorite types of salad are generally the ones where fruit is involved, and summer is the best time to capitalize on that with all the best fruits being in season. You’ve got your blueberries and peaches, and your strawberries and watermelons and even mangos and papayas…the possibilities are endless! (she says with crazy eyes)…
This is a salad I’ve really come to enjoy. Little buddy was looking cute so he helped too. Hope you like!
SPINACH + STRAWBERRY SUMMER SALAD
What you’ll need:
1 carton of strawberries, washed
1 package plain goat cheese (crumbles are better than the super soft kind)
1 bag spinach (or more depending on how many mouths you’re feeding)
salt & pepper
balsamic vinaigrette (Annies Naturals is really yummy)
You can also add grilled chicken or slice up an avocado to put on top if you’re feeling rebellious. Let cool in the fridge, serve and EAT!