Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Nutcracker on Temple Hill

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a time to reminisce of other great Christmasy things, like hallucinations on Christmas Eve. The Nutcracker is one of the craziest ideas of a Christmas tradition, but since the LDS Temple Hill Events sponsors a free Nutcracker, we figured it was a good time to test out this long running Christmas tradition.
Catherine joined us (of course, we can't do anything without our sister wife), and we spent a very memorable night watching ballerinas, toy soldiers, and rats dance around on stage. 
I don't think we're going to keep this as a tradition. I'm not sure the ballet is really my favorite thing in the world, but it was fun to experience at least once. The temple also puts great lights around the grounds for everyone to enjoy. We loved going up and enjoying a night at the ballet for Christmas.

Sub Par Mini Golf & New Year 2016

For New Year's Eve, we decided to hang out with Tim and Catherine Sebreros and do some mini golf in Alameda. There is a sweet mini golf course in Alameda called Sub Par. The holes are designed around Bay area landmarks. The Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, etc. It made for a really fun night since we recognized all the landmarks we had been visiting for the past few months. 
As it turns out, none of us are too great at mini golf. On some holes, our competition turned into a joke since we were so over par. 
Hole one started us off at Altamont Pass, where there is a large wind farm. We progressed to Fruitvale, I-880, and ended up at the "MacArthur Maze" - which is one of the craziest freeway conjunctions you may ever drive on. 
We also got to visit Berkeley, Napa Valley, and the Sonoma Raceway. 
In the first 9 holes (which ended at the Golden Gate Bridge), Tim was 3 under par, Catherine and I were 1 over, and Caitlin was 4 over. The Golden Gate Bridge is what threw me off (I got 5 on a par 3), but that was nothing compared to the next set of 9. 
Once we made it over the bridge, we visited Alcatraz, the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and Lombard Street. Lombard Street was a lot of fun to golf down, even if Catherine was 3 over par. 
We ended the course with some of SF victorian houses (Painted Ladies anyone?), The EAR, the Bay Bridge, the Park Street Bridge to get onto Alameda, and San Jose's Winchester Mystery House. 
In the end Tim and Caitlin were the winners, while Catherine and I could barely see par with our high scores. This course is definitely one we will visit again and enjoy with friends. If anyone comes to visit us in Alameda, we will for sure make it a night.
After mini golf, we went back to our apartment to ring in the new year with some cheese and crackers, sparkling cider (thanks to Rick Roper), and some fun games. 
We can tell we're getting old, since we were completely drained by the time midnight came. 
We can't believe that it is already 2016. It seems like just yesterday we were afraid of Y2K (not really, that seems like forever ago!). We can't wait to see what the new year brings! 

Christmas Eve Explorations

We didn't travel for Christmas this year, so we decided to explore some parts of the city we hadn't had a chance to visit yet. We spent part of Christmas Eve strolling through Golden Gate Park. The park is HUGE and we didn't even get to see everything inside, but we feel like we made a pretty large dent during our explorations. 
For Christmas, I got a new DSLR, so I had to take it out on Christmas Eve and snap a few pictures in the park. I am still learning how to use the camera, so the pictures were definitely test shots. The weather couldn't make up it's mind for Christmas, so it alternated between cold, warm-ish, and drizzly. But we came prepared with sunglasses, an umbrella, and scarves. 
All throughout the park are great waterfalls, ponds, streams, etc. that make you feel like you're not in the middle of a city. I remember the first time (and subsequent times) I went to New York City all I wanted to do was spend time in Central Park. Golden Gate Park had the same effect on me. There is something special about nature, even if it is artificially crafted. 

We found this amazing stone path at the base of one of the waterfalls, and I spent some time trying out different settings on my camera while Caitlin snapped shots of me looking like a dork.

That's ok though, since I like how the shot turned out in the end. Again, I'm not an actual photographer, but it is a lot of fun taking around a camera and attempting to take "artistic" photos.
In total, we walked about 5 miles through the park, and we left feeling famished. So we decided to head into the city and grab some Indian food (seems like an appropriate Christmas Eve feast). 
After dining on our delicious Indian fare, we went to Union Square to see the big Christmas tree. 
We really felt like tourists as we snapped pictures in front of the tree and of the Macy's wreaths in every window. Who cares, right? I love being a tourist in San Francisco. 
We continued our touristy activities by visiting the Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House. This is a life-size gingerbread house inside the Fairmont hotel. 
Real gingerbread, real icing, real gumdrops, etc. It looked and smelled magical. I'm such a sucker for Christmas traditions, and this one made me feel just like a child. And although I love me some sugar, we could only inhale the scent of gingerbread for so long, so we ventured over to Grace Cathedral to sneak a peak at their Christmas Eve mass. 
This cathedral is gorgeous and definitely one to visit for those as obsessed with ornate churches as I am. We were squished in the back of the service and couldn't hear much that was being said, so we only stayed for 10 or 15 minutes, but it made things feel more like Christmas. 
We ended the night by baking cookies for Santa and watching Home Alone. Christmas in San Francisco is not too shabby, especially when you are Santa and get to enjoy warm cookies at the end of a long day of exploration.

Christmas Tree Lane, Alameda

In Alameda, there is a street called Christmas Tree Lane that lights up every home for the holiday season. Even though Caitlin and I don't have kids, we knew this was something we would enjoy. We parked a block away and decided to walk down the entire block in order to soak up the magic of the square. 
We took tons of pictures of displays that we loved, or ones that we wanted to replicate one day when we have a home. We loved some of the super elaborate homes and some of the more simpler ones too. 
I'm a big fan of Christmas movies and stories, so I was thrilled to see a Nightmare Before Christmas display, and the Bumble and Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. 
There is something special about Christmas lights that make you feel like a child again. This street was amazing since it even featured a real Santa in his sleigh that kids could visit and sit on his lap. I'm so glad we moved to Alameda when we relocated to the Bay. It has that small town feel that brings people together during the holidays. Next year, maybe we'll put up some lights and allow people to walk around our apartment and see all the cool decorations we have. :)

Sampling Food

Growing up, I wasn't a big fan of meat. I would eat chicken, but I stayed away from pork, fish, and red meat. When I decided to serve a mission and was assigned to Salta, Argentina, I knew this was going to change since Argentine's love their beef. Now I eat every type of meat and am willing to try almost any kind of food. But something that has always been off my list is fast food hamburgers, with the exception of In-n-Out (you can't marry a California girl without trying In-n-Out first). So a while back we decided it would be fun to replicate the Buzzfeed Fast Food Taste Test and see which burger and fries were the best of all the fast food places in Alameda. 
We bought hamburgers and fries from In-n-Out, Five Guys, McDonalds, Burger King, Carl's Junior, and Jack in the Box. Then we labeled the bottom of the fries and burgers and did a taste test to see which ones we preferred. 
Some of our friends were more well versed in fast food burgers and were able to identify some of the burgers easily, but not all the burgers and fries were easy to place. Some burgers were disgusting, and some of the fries were inedible, which is probably not surprising considering that we were dining on fast food. 
In-n-Out had the most disgusting fries, and Burger King and Five Guys were the standouts for fries. In-n-Out had one of the best burgers, but Carl's Junior was one of the all around favorites. Jack in the Box was one of the worst all around and nobody really wanted to finish the burger from there. McDonald's and Burger King also scored pretty low. 

It was a lot of fun sampling all the burgers, even though we all finished the night with stomach aches. Now that I've dined on fast food burgers, I can't say that I'll pick up this habit anytime soon, but at least I know where to avoid in case I'm ever stranded on the highway and my only options are Carl's Junior and Burger King. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Harry Potter Birthday Party

Do you ever have an idea, and think it would be so fun to plan and execute, but then procrastinate way too long to actually have it executed exactly how you wanted it? Yeah, that is basically the story of my life, and definitely the story of this birthday party. Our friend James loves Harry Potter (who doesn't), and I really thought it would be fun to have a Harry Potter party. So we talked to his wife, Kathryn, about throwing a surprise party for him in the theme of Harry Potter. She loved the idea, so we decided that when they went to the Nutcracker, we would sneak into their apartment and decorate. 
Kathryn was in charge of the food, and we were in charge of the decorations/butterbeer. We had pink cake (just like in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Golden Snitches, baby basilisk (lil smokies), and a lot more. 
For decorations, we made wands, had Moaning Myrtle in the toilet, Hogwarts banners, the fat lady, a brick wall for platform 9 3/4, and a lot more. It was a surprise to James to come home to a brick wall outside of his apartment door, but that added to the magic of the night. 
We had a sorting hat, and sorted everyone into their houses. 
Ruby and Adam were Ravenclaw, and James and I were Hufflepuff.
Caitlin, Vivian, and Catherine were Gryffindor, and Amy, Porter, and Kathryn were Slytherin.

Once we were sorted into houses, we had games that we played. The most popular was Quidditch (naturally).
We made Quidditch hoops, and used ping pong balls to see who could get the most goals. We didn't have seekers as part of the team, so there was no Snitch, and definitely no bludgers. 

It got really intense. Hufflepuff ended up winning the house cup. I never thought I would be proud to be a Hufflepuff, but that night I was elated! 
We also had a "Have you Seen this Wizard" sign (Prisoner of Azkaban), which seemed like it would be so easy to construct, but we really ran out of time. 
And of course, we ended the night singing happy birthday to the birthday boy! Such a fun night! We would've had fun even if there wasn't a theme, but it is always fun celebrating together Hogwarts style.