Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Tradition at Dunsmuir House--free days!

I am passing this information on because it can be a charming addition to your holiday festivities: 

A Holiday Tradition on Saturday and Sunday, December 13th and 14th, 2014, 11 am to 4 pm.

"Experience Victorian grandeur with a visit to 'A Holiday Tradition' at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate. [The] City of Oakland Parks and Recreation invites you to step back in time and experience a turn-of-the-century Holiday Tradition at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate." 

The magnificent 16,224 square foot, 37-room mansion that volunteers would have put in more than 2,000 hours to transform into a breathtaking masterpiece of an Edwardian holiday will be open for only one weekend this year December 13th and 14th.

"Tour the 115-year-old mansion, watch a special presentation by the Oakland Ballet Company and let the kids enjoy the Frozen Family Fun Zone. Come and Sit at the outdoors Winter Café while enjoying food, something warm to drink and lots of entertainment throughout the day." 

It has been years since I have gone to the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in the Oakland hills at Christmas-time. My now daughter-in-law and I took her daughter and my grandaughter to the estate for a tea almost 15 years ago. The holiday teas are all sold out for this year, but check here for other events. 

I am really happy to hear that this year the house tour and some special entertainments are free this upcoming weekend because the mansion and the grounds are charming any time of year, but particularly so when decorated for the holidays. If you have the time and inclination, I hope you will take advantage of this wonderful offer. 

Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605. (510-615-5555. Enter the park at the Peralta Oaks Court Gate)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Angel Island State Park hosts Christmas adventures

Christmas on Angel Island! 

I could have come up with something original to write, but this press release just arrived and it sounds like fun for the holidays. Not a lot of hiking involved, but you can add that in yourself on either the island or wherever (Tiburon or San Francisco) you board the ferry. 

"Angel Island State Park will host a series of family-oriented Christmas adventures this December. Angel Island’s first Christmas Adventure occurs each December weekend prior to Christmas Day.

"The holiday event includes roundtrip ferry transportation from Tiburon or San Francisco, gingerbread cookie decorating for kids, a visit with Santa and his elf, a ride of the decorated and lit Christmas tram that tours the island, hot chocolate for kids and mulled wine for parents.  

"Cost is $36/adult, $22/Kids 6-12 and $7.50/Kids 3-5. Reservations are available online at" 

I have previous articles on Angel Island hikes, here's one:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wonderful and free holiday events in San Francisco

Adopt a cat at Macy's (SPCA program) 
You may feel like the holidays are coming way too fast, but if your household is like mine, scheduling outings with the kids or grandkids takes some advance planning. Since I have just started receiving information on some of the things we like to do in San Francisco that are free, I thought I would pass along the info to anyone who lives in this area or will be visiting soon.       

Treat #1. We can never resist going to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco in 5 Embarcadero Center (the foot of Market St.) to see the "snowfall" and the Snow Village and train. 

I love watching the "snow" fall delicately from the upper heights of the Hyatt's dramatic atrium, which is lit by 300,000 cascading lights. These beautiful displays, and a 30-foot tree, will be in the hotel’s lobby from November 22 through December 30. 

Snowfall fantasy--Hyatt Regency S.F.

The snowfall's schedule will be: Saturday & Sunday at 10:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; 4:30 p.m.; and 6:30 p.m.; Monday thru Friday at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Snow Village display, also in the hotel's lobby, contains over 1,000 pieces and many are animated. 

You can preview the displays at the Interior Lobby Lighting ceremony on November 21 from 7:00 – 7:30 p.m. Free music and entertainment by the Glide Memorial Choir, Meshuga Nutcracker and the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra Brass Section. 

Breakfast with Santa is not free, but I imagine it is fun. On select dates between November 29 through December 24, you and the kids can have breakfast or buffet with a visit from Santa in the Hyatt's Eclipse Restaurant. Reservations are required (415) 788-1234.

Treat #2. Next up is a visit to the 28th annual Holiday windows display in Macy's Union Square store (170 O'Farrell St). Cats, kittens, dogs, and puppies, available for adoption through the San Francisco SPCA, will be bouncing around inside the delightful window displays enticing you to open your heart to a new pet. Almost 300 pets were adopted last year and this year's goal is 320+. 

They'll be there from November 21 - January 4, 2015 and on most days from 9 am to 9 pm (coinciding with the store's hours.) Volunteers to help with the pets and to answer visitor's questions are still needed, click here for info

Treat #3. If we have time and energy, we'll also visit one of the grand hotels--either the Westin Saint Francis, 335 Powell St. (Geary & Powell St.) on Union Square, or the Palace Hotel (2 New Montgomery Street). 

Castle at Westin St Francis (2010)
Westin St. Francis: The St. Francis Sugar Tree will be on display Nov. 26-Jan. 2. On November 26 at 11 am, Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdre and his team will unveil the new “St. Francis Sugar Tree." It is a 12-foot tall tree with over "1,000 pieces of glistening candy made from pulled and blown sugar. Rows and rows of... handmade snowman, sugar ribbons, candy canes, elves... will adorn this rotating tree." 

The opening event is free and open to the public. You'll also enjoy music, coffee, and cookies. More events, click here

Palace Hotel: Just a look inside this gracious hotel at the Gingerbread Chateau designed by Chef Renee Cade is enough of a treat (but you can also go for brunches, teas, teas with Santa and more) Look at the schedule, click here

Added: A seasonal treat, but not free, is ice skating in Union Square, 333 Geary Street (Geary and Powell).The outdoor rink is already open and will continue its run until January 29, 2015. Hours 10 am - 11:30 pm (with some breaks for maintaining the ice.) Link here

Holiday village--Hyatt Regency S.F.
Transportation: All of these destinations are within reasonable walking distance from the Powell St., Montgomery St. (closest to Macy's) or Embarcadero Center (closest to 5 Embarcadero) BART stations. BART map here. 

Thanks to Molly Blaisdell, Hook, Line & Thinker, for sending the information on the Hyatt's events.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The stories we tell ourselves

Rewards of the Sierra
I knew I was a worrywart, but I recently read my journal notes from a backpacking trip in 1995 and was flabbergasted at what I had written 19 years ago. It's a good example of how I can be my own worst enemy. I usually keep a journal when backpacking--old style--using pen and paper. When we return home, I am usually too busy getting back to normal (whatever that is) to do anything with the notes except put them in a file folder. Lately however, I have been trying to enter all of my notes into Word files. 

The entry below is from a trip over Piute Pass in the Sierra. Piute Pass is not exactly easy, it's 11,400', but as Sierra trails go, it would be considered moderate. The Native Americans used it as their route--before winter set in--to travel from the high country over the pass and into Nevada. 

I am going to highlight the couple of sentences that struck me--and explain why at the end of this entry. 

North Lake to Hutchinson Basin via Piute Pass
Monday, October 3, 1995. Drive. We drove over Tioga Pass to Bishop. Then drove west from Bishop on the Line St. (hwy 168). The campground closed October 1, so we slept in the parking lot near the packers’ station.
Though the weather is higher than normal (in Bishop it was 88 degrees at 5 pm.), the aspen are turning yellow. There was only a bit of snow coming over Tioga Pass, and over here (the grasses) is brown.

Tuesday, October 4. Day 1 hike. 3-1/2 miles. The route is described as “leisurely” in our Sierra South guidebook, but the authors are younger or in better shape—or both. The first third is along the Bishop creek; there are beautiful aspen around us. Late summer flowers are still blooming; the lupine is fading.

The trail is pretty easy, though we are always ascending. The second third is “moderate” requiring lots of stopping to rest. It has many switchbacks and the vegetation fades out as you climb above timberline.

The third portion is a mix of stair-stepping and leveling out. Granite towers above, lots of talus, but the trail itself is very good. We passed several lakes—varying in size from tiny to medium sized—starting with Eldon and now at Piute.
We left about 9:30 am, made camp about 3 pm. We are both pooped. The campsite is above the lake with some shelter, but the winds are howling—I estimate about 25 mph. The ranger told us that the temperature would drop to 20 degrees at night, and I believe it. It’s now 6:05 pm and we’re already in the shade. I think it’ll be pretty dark by 7 p.m.

I hope my flashlight holds out.

Though I started today with a sore lower back, it doesn’t hurt at all right now. What I don’t like is that I have little reserve energy. I haven’t figured out the answer to this. Ralph seems more tired than on our previous trips, but he took a nap and was able to fix dinner, wash dishes, and hang the bear bag.

I wonder how we will make a rational decision about when we have to give all this up! [my concern about aging.]

Today's evaluation: 
Packers on the JMT 2013
1) The fact that we were "pooped" at 3-1/2 miles amazes me as I read this today. I had forgotten that we steadily increased our daily mileage through the intervening years. These days, because we try to keep up our walks throughout the year, we generally expect to do an average of 12 miles per day. 

2) While rationally one knows that one's backpacking days will come to an end at some point, it seems obvious to me now that I started fretting about this 19 years before I needed to!   

This is why I am thinking about "the stories we tell ourselves."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Odds and ... odds!

My brain rarely slows so collecting ideas for future articles, hikes, vacations, garden or house projects is also a non-stop activity. Not having any one topic for today's blog's focus told me that I was ready to share several hints or other items of interest with you. Most are odds rather than ends, hence my blog title.

In "There's another use for that: some products do more than intended," I ran into a household hint that my Aunt Dealtry taught me 60 years ago--that a crumpled up sheet of newspaper was even better than paper towels for cleaning windows. It was news to me, however, that you can use WD-40 to prevent your terra cotta flower pots from oxidizing. (read more by Angela Hill, Bay Area News Group, 9/13/14 by clicking here).

Speaking of newspapers, we recently had our grandchildren (9 & 11) over for a few hours unexpectedly, so we were searching for something fun to do. I remembered that my students used to love one of our science activities: constructing buildings and other structures with rolled up newspapers. Basically, you take 2-3 sheets of newspaper, roll them diagonally into a cylinder, tape the roll, and then use several rolls to build whatever you want. (This ties into science because one quickly learns that certain designs are more structurally sound than others.) As you can see from the photos in this blog, our projects evolved. Some in our group decided to make animals--sort of pinata like--and the fun and creativity grew. (This is a great rainy day activity for a small group.) 

Here's an item that genuinely surprised me--and may save a life. According to the California Highway Patrol, drunken drivers are more likely to attempt to drive in the slow lane when they are under the influence. Problem is, if they enter the freeway on the wrong side, they will be in the fast lane facing oncoming traffic. Some advise, therefore, that you avoid the fast lane and drive in lanes to the right to avoid such drivers. (by Mr. Roadshow, Gary Richards, Bay Area News Group. 9/19/14.

I was also surprised to learn (also in the aforementioned article) that, unlike the doors of an elevator, the doors on our Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) do not open automatically when encountering an obstacle. The article points out that not only is this a potential hazard to the hapless rider, but also it can put the BART car out of commission for hours. 

And animal lovers, just in case you missed this item in AARP's newsletter, "A Final Resting Place--With Fido," informed us that many states and localities are changing laws that have not allowed people to be buried with their pets (or vice versa). The article mentions places in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia that have lifted bans and the movement appears to be spreading. (AARP Bulletin, Read Possibilities, Sept. 2014, pg. 6)

That's all for now, folks!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Adventure challenge, the Cotopaxi Questival, comes to San Francisco

photo provided by Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Questival comes to San Francisco this Friday, Oct. 24 - Saturday, Oct. 25. The 24-hour outdoor adventure challenges individuals and teams to race to win international humanitarian trips and other prizes. Following the race is a free concert with local bands, food trucks, drinks, and more​ after 3 pm on Saturday. There's lots more information on the Cotopaxi website, click here.

The events will be held at San Francisco's Crissy Field. There are three steps to the contest: complete the challenge tasks that you want to do; document the tasks completed; win prizes according to your score. In April, over 5,000 people experienced Questival Utah. Now the S.F. Bay Area plays host to this new race.
Cotopaxi is a new brand of upscale outdoor gear and clothing. The company was launched in April 2014, and is a venture-backed benefit corporation. Cotopaxi donates 10% of all profits to non-profit partners who in turn support healthcare, education and clean water projects in the developing world. 
So if you are interested in races, adventures, concerts, and parties, why not check out the "Cotopaxi Questival San Francisco," this weekend?
Register here for the challenges:

Susan Alcorn notes: This is not an endorsement of any event, product, or company. The information is provided as a service to those who might be interested in these events and contests. Athletic events often involve some degree of risk, so carefully consider your own health and fitness before entering into any contest.I have not received any money, services, products, or any other payment for this post.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hikers: Have you heard of rolling pin therapy?

Susan's latest therapy may seem wacko, but seems to be helping
Rolling pin therapy? It sounds wacko, but I think it can work. Here's some background. Five months ago, I started having pain in both of my legs. It was shortly after we had returned from our trip to the Galapagos--where our walks had been much shorter than our usual hikes. In the Galapagos, we did more snorkeling than walking--and when we did have a walk it was at most a mile and without much elevation change. At home, we had been doing 8-10 mile hikes in the hills near us. As soon as we returned from our trip, we took one of our routine walks--and I have been in pain ever since.

In my ongoing, and often frustrating, attempt to have my legs return to normal, I have tried most of the traditional treatments. I was encouraged when the pain in my right leg disappeared about two months later, but since the pain in my left leg had been worse all along, I was still not a happy camper.

As I mentioned in previous posts (click here), my regular internist at first diagnosed "musculo-skeletal strain" and thought it had been caused by the longer walk. He had me get an MRI of my spine and that seemed to eliminate an even scarier consideration--that I had spinal stenosis.

I tried to patch together some cross-training exercise in the form of Pilates, time on the elliptical trainer, and swimming. I stopped hiking as advised, but I found that even performing the simplest of activities was difficult. I couldn't stand on one foot to put on my pants; I couldn't climb the half-dozen steps to our house without pain.

Recently,  some of the things I have tried seemed to have helped. I say this advisedly, however, because this healing process seems to be a two steps forward, one step backward sort of thing. Cortisone shots into two areas of my leg provided some relief--but the pain moved elsewhere.

Finally, I decided to try something new, for me anyway: trigger point therapy. It has involved the therapist (#1) applying pressure directly to the sore spots, and (#2) attaching some kind of kizmos to my leg and zapping me with light electrical impulses. These procedures may seem unorthodox, but interestingly, they have been helping.

Which leads me to a summary of my third visit to my new therapist: first some of the manipulation, then the zapping--and finally, a recommendation to pull out my rolling pin and use it to massage my sore muscles a couple of times each day.

Calf in Briones Regional Park (EBRPD)
I can definitely say that my condition has improved. We were able to walk 4.3 miles in the rolling hills of Briones Regional Park today. This is the first time in months that I have been able to consider going that distance. It remains to be seen how I will feel in the middle-of-the- night when pain often wakes me, but after hiking with only minor pain today, I am finally feeling optimistic that I may be on the road to recovery.