Archive for April, 2009

Great Ideas

Posted by laura on Apr 24 2009 | Fun

Tom and Hot Wheels were riding to school this morning when Hot Wheels had a great idea. “I have a great idea” is what he said. “We could sell our house and buy a Bugatti Veyron!” 

The first letdown of the day is always a bummer. Even if we were to green light that particular plan, we still couldn’t afford the Veyron. At least not this year.

Not to be deterred, Hot Wheels moved right on to the next question – “Then how many Porches could we buy?”

His final plan? “Could we get four Porches and one rusty Ferrari?”

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Posted by laura on Apr 20 2009 | Awesome

As I’ve mentioned before, Hot Wheels is pretty consumed with cars. He has nested obsessions, though, so within the greater theme of cars he has questions and stories that can last for weeks at a time. One recent sub-obsession was, “Is a Porche ever faster than a Ferrari?” No matter what we said, he’d come back to that same question time and again. We’re talking weeks of rumination here. Finally, the morning we drove to the airport to pick up our friend Ellen, something remarkable happened. We had just gotten on route 280 when Tom said, “SIMON! Guys! You Won’t Believe This!! Look to the left!” 

It was like a textbook illustration – a Ferrari passed us, closely followed by – you guessed it – a Porche. Simon started to go bezonkers, and just as he was declaring the question answered for all time… the Ferrari joined our lane, and the Porche PASSED IT. It is difficult to describe the jaw-dropping significance of this moment to anyone who doesn’t live with our son. And Tom and I gaped as we saw a tidy resolution to an incessant conflict obliterated before our eyes. It was pretty spectacular.

Next up in the query queue was this; “What is the fastest car in the world?” Hot Wheels and I googled it the other day and it looks like it might be an SSC Ultimate Aero, although I didn’t do an exhaustive search, so don’t quote me on that. The great thing was that in our hunting around we found an awesome Top Gear video of the Bugatti Veyron that I think I’ve now watched about fifty two times. If you have a few moments and you like cars, it’s really cool.


That makes fifty three for me!

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Posted by laura on Apr 19 2009 | Fun, Holiday, Travel, Uncategorized

This was a weekend of anniversaries. Yesterday was Carmen’s Anniversary of Profession! Yay, Carmen!! A year ago on that wonderful day, Carmen and I were here:


Yep – Machu Picchu. Not a shabby way to celebrate, eh? Want to see it again?


machupicchu2These photos aren’t very fancy, but I like looking at the scale – people, structures, mountains. It’s impossible to truly capture on film, particularly with my little camera, but if you squint and use your imagination, it might make you say wow. (And no, these weren’t the only photos I took on that trip – I did post about them last year. But chances are you’ve already seen them and are All Set in that department.)

So that was a pretty nice way to celebrate her anniversary. This year we decided to go to Mount Everest. BOY was that chilly! Ok, just kidding we didn’t actually do that at all. We were together in spirit, though!

What I actually did on the 18th this year was go to gorgeous Limantour beach with our great friends Amy and Andy. It was a unseasonably warm weekend here, and we packed a picnic and stayed all day. Limantour is a superb beach because it’s a little ways north and off the beaten path – not hidden but not swarmed on a warm Saturday. It’s also where Tom and I got engaged 22 12 years ago. Woohoo! 

As we approached the coast, we could see it was completely fogged in, which usually means that once you go up and over the dunes you’re blasted away by a cold wind and not exactly tempted to settle in for a long visit. However, we lucked out and the beach was a great temperature (although a bit windy) and the fog gave us a perfect, moody backdrop. Here’s our friend Andy playing catch with their son:



Wouldn’t this make a cool painting?

Here’s Tom and Hot Wheels down by the water:



Somewhere out beyond them in the ocean is a whale we saw spouting off from time to time. A whale! Sweet!

And here is Amy and Andy’s dog Gus:




It was Gus’ 10th birthday, and he was as happy as a dog can possibly be. At least until the ranger strolled up and issued him a citation for being off-leash. He wasn’t too happy about that, I tell you. 

Other than that – it was a picture perfect day.

Today is the 19th. It is my wonderful Great Aunt Winifred’s Anniversary of Profession today, as well as my other Great Aunt Carmencita’s birthday and Joe and Kristen’s wedding anniversary. That makes this one heck of a good day. I wish I could be there with you all to celebrate, but I’m sending lots of love and hoping your weekend was as lovely as mine.

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The Taxman Cameth

Posted by laura on Apr 16 2009 | Not So Fun

And hopefully wenteth away again, right? How’d you do? With any luck you’re breathing a sigh of relief and beginning the receipt neglect that will carry you happily through the next [fill in the blank - mine's about 340] days or so, until it’s time to panic again! 

For those of you who don’t live in California, I have a moment of zen. Consider it my gift to you, this Thursday morning. Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you might want to sit down, because this might be a whopper for you – but in a good way. Our sales tax here in my county just went up to 9%. Are you laughing yet? In San Rafael, just ten minutes north of here, it’s 9.5%. 

But it gets better than that. In all your friendly generosity, you might be thinking, “Aw, honey, just come out here and visit. We’ll fix you up – we don’t have any sales tax!!” And I appreciate that, I do. It’s just that out in California, we also have this cute little thing called Use Tax. In a nutshell, California residents have to pay our local sales tax on any purchase made anywhere in the world. 

According to the California State Board of Equalization, they want to “make it easy for you to report and pay use tax.” They even sent out a nice brochure that stated at least three times that this process is easy! Don’t fret, California, here’s what you do:

1. Look at every purchase you made in the past year from out-of-state or Internet sellers (worldwide) without payment of California sales tax. (Don’t worry! You only have to pay use tax on items for which you would have paid sales tax in California.)

2. Now for each purchase, find the CA tax rate for the location where you used, stored, gave away or consumed the item. (Because the sales tax varies from city to city, and heaven only knows where you’ve been storing and consuming those purchases of yours.)

3. Multiply the purchase price by the CA use/sales tax rate.

4. Subtract any use/sales tax you paid to another state.

5. Make note of this amount, and move on to the next item on your list. Repeat steps 1-4.

6. When you’re finished, add up all your step 5 totals, and that’s what you owe in use tax. Wasn’t that easy? In most cases you can simply put this on your tax return, instead of filing a separate use tax return with the State Board of Equalization. But you’ll have to look that up! We’re not sure! And foreign purchases follow a slightly different set of instruction, but you can look those up too! And couples filing jointly can split it, which is swell!

The brochure they sent out encouraging Californians to do this easy bit of calculation had a nice little worksheet included, which had about 5 lines to enter out-of-state or internet purchases and work out the use tax. For the percentage of the California residential population that is on complete bed rest with no internet access, this probably works quite well! 

So there you have it. I hope this was uplifting. Happy April 16th!

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Happy Easter

Posted by laura on Apr 14 2009 | Fun, Holiday, Tasty


Well we’ve had another lovely Easter. Lucky one, as last week was grey and gusty, and we were a little concerned that the hunt would have to be called for rain. But the weekend was stunningly beautiful and warm, so all went according to plan. Mum’s coffee rolls came out great and Lena’s ricotta pies were gone in a flash. Boy I love Easter treats! 


Our friends had definitely been practicing looking for things, because they were efficient hunters! I’m feeling confident we won’t find too many eggs lurking in the garden in the months to come. There’s usually a couple though, which always makes me think we should bump up our home insurance policy at this time of year. 

daffodilsHave a look at this unbearably lovely daffodil that Joan gave us – it’s a tiny little plant in the coolest twiggy base… it looks like something out of a fairy tale. Stunning. We had a wonderful time visiting with everyone, and couldn’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather.

Now it’s the 14th, and it’s our friend Anne Marie’s birthday. For those of you who don’t know her, Anne Marie is one of our most remarkable friends. She’s generous, endlessly kind and smart as the dickens. She remembers everything you tell her, and is insanely well read, so consequently she can have an informed conversation on pretty much any topic you can fire her way. If she wasn’t so kindhearted she’d be really intimidating.

The major bummer is that Anne Marie has MS, and can’t move below her neck, which means she needs a lot of assistance. (Good thing we have such a great healthcare system in this country, right?) Things have been really tough for her this past year. You may have heard that California has had a slight bit of trouble managing its allowance, and consequently Anne Marie has lost a major chunk of funding for her care. She also lost income from other sources, so things are always right on the edge of scary for her.

This makes me really mad. It makes me mad because even if she weren’t brilliant and funny and thoughtful, she would still deserve better. It makes me mad that her energy and experience are not being shared with the world as they should be, but are being drained by worry and the scramble to make ends meet. It infuriates me that this woman can speak something like six different languages, and can’t scratch her own nose if it’s itchy. Have you ever had a really itchy nose? Can you imagine having to wait for hours for someone to come to your apartment to scratch it for you? I can’t. It makes me all prickly just to think of it, and that’s got to be the least of her discomforts.

I belong to a group of volunteers who originally formed to help Anne Marie out by feeding her dinner on the weekends. That volunteer group is now really a fan club as well, and we try to help out by holding one major fundraiser each year, although we’ve begun adding more since one doesn’t cover the need anymore. If you’re local, and you’re around on April 25, we’re hosting a dinner fundraiser  - I’d be delighted to hand on details. But even more importantly, if anyone out there has any tips or ideas or suggestions on raising money for individuals with serious illnesses, please leave me a comment! I’m convinced that someone out there has the know-how to help Anne Marie out. I just have to find out who.

Happy Birthday, Anne Marie! And Happy Spring, everybody. Have some lollies.


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Tweetness in the House

Posted by laura on Apr 07 2009 | Awesome, Holiday

This weekend, our good friend Ellen stopped in for a whirlwind visit on her way back to Boston to see her family. Have a look at her blog for a glimpse of her work and life up in BC. I got to live with Ellen and my friend Sam up in Ithaca a few years back, and it was a really wonderful time. Well. Turns out she brings us good luck, because the day before she arrived, we won the Marin County lottery, in a manner of speaking. That is, our friend Elise called to ask if we might be interested in spending Saturday night in one of the cabins at Steep Ravine, which is right on the coast near Stinson Beach. 

steepravinewindowThis might not sound earth shattering, but around here, Steep Ravine, and the cabins particularly, are legendary. Built in the 1930s, they were originally privately owned and leased out for beach holidays. Dorothea Lange used to go there with her family and took a few photographs around the cottages. They were pretty good. Years later the cottages became part of the state park system, and now you can reserve a cabin or tent camping site at Steep Ravine if you get online or on the phone bright and early on January 2, when they open reservations for the year. The cabins book out for the whole season (weekdays and weekends) in the blink of an eye, so it’s an unbelievable opportunity to get to go.

We stopped in at the Safeway to pick up some provisions (marshmallows) and were chatting with Curtis about the weekend. When he heard where we were headed, he just started saying, “Aw, MAN! Aw, MAN!” He grew up around here and said he’d wanted to go to Steep Ravine since he was in high school. 



Pity it’s not that beautiful a setting, eh?

Here are some shots coming back up from the beach:





The cottages themselves are rustic – solid wood worn soft and smooth with use. The main room of our cottage had a wood stove, a table with two benches and a sleeping platform tucked into an alcove. There was a narrow bedroom with platform bunk beds opposite a small closet, and then one bedroom with two sleeping platforms. Simple but pretty luxurious for a camping overnight! 

Stinson often gets foggy and cold at night but Saturday was clear and calm – very lucky weather. The kids were actually hoping for it to get colder so we could light up the wood stove and get the marshmallows going! 

It was a stunning night. Mainly I couldn’t stop staring at the beauty around me – I felt like we’d stepped into a storybook.


On Sunday afternoon, we took Ellen to the California Academy of Sciences since she’s a museum geek, and we wanted to show her all the cool things they’d been working on there. It was a bit of a whirlwind, since there’s so much to see, but the museum didn’t disappoint.



Here she is checking out the fish. I love the ethereal light around those big tanks.

We also got to see the craziest darn thing I’ve seen in a long while. We walked towards this round tank in the center of one of the rooms in the aquarium, and it looked like there were a bunch of branches floating around in the water.

When we took a closer look we discovered they were ALIVE. They had heads that resembled sea horses, but their bodies looked like twigs with random branches and leaves sticking out. They’re called Leafy Sea Dragons, and they’re completely nuts.

Hold onto your hats, people. Here’s a photo from the Academy’s online gallery…




Now I’m not trying to lift their photography – we were not allowed to take our own pictures because the sea dragons are very sensitive and have aggressive agents. So please go straight away to the California Academy of Science site to see the other photos in the proper size and context. They’re fantastic.


All in all, it was a terrific weekend. Thanks, Ellen!

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Something Funny Going On Around Here

Posted by laura on Apr 02 2009 | Awesome, Tasty

Yesterday things were a leettle topsy turvy in our house. The kids’ clothes were all in different drawers. The milk was pink. There were odd messages on the blackboard. And the food was just a bit backwards, if you ask me.

Breakfast: macaroni and cheese, spinach, sausage

Lunch: cereal, muffin, banana

Snack: mini sandwiches, jicama

Dinner: ice cream



Amy brought her kids over, saying they were only going to stay a moment, but somehow Tom talked her into letting them go to the park with our kids for just a little while. After they left, we got to work making the dinner. Whew! That was taxing. 

When the kids came home and saw the table, I think they might have been the happiest people on the planet. It was a good, good night.



Here’s a shot of my dinner:



Now that’s what I’m talkin about.

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