Sprocketts by the Bay

Sprockett family adventures as California residents

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Camping at Yosemite

Since moving to California, Dan and I have talked about going camping in Yosemite. After finally figuring out the reservation system and we tried (unsuccessfully) a few times to get a campsite during the summer months when, if you’re not on your computer at 12:01 am when the sites open up you won’t get a place…and even then it’s dicey. So we put camping at Yosemite on our “to-do-when-we-have-more-mental-capacity-to-figure-out-dates” list.

And then I casually mentioned in an email to my brother and sister-in-law our desire to go camping this summer, who casually went to their computer to check out what the options might be, and found a mid-October weekend that was available. In the Yosemite Valley, October is that time when campfires feel especially wonderful, you wear a stocking cap in the morning while you’re eating breakfast, but you don’t need a jacket by the afternoon. In other words, really great weather for camping. Not more than a few hours later my brother had emailed back saying, “Guess what? We’re going camping…in Yosemite.” Talk about excellent timing and a fun surprise!

We loaded up our cars with gear and did all the traditional camping activities: campfires and storytelling, s’mores, cooking over a tiny camp stove, cooking over the fire, and hiking among these stunning mountains. Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt, for your foresight to preserve so many spaces as national parks.

Dan suggested I label these photos, “Majestic vista,” “Majestic vista,” “Photo of a tree,” “Majestic vista”… But I’ll just let the pictures speak for our trip.



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The Town’s Half Marathon & the Outstanding Three

I was inspired to go after another half marathon by two lovely runners, who, side-by-side, trained for and ran their first half marathon this year. Seeing how diligently they prepared and the celebration of completing a challenging goal, I was inspired to commit to running a half, my first in more than three years. Based largely on location and elevation (or lack thereof), I picked the Town’s Half Marathon in Oakland, California.

Nick & Laura off to run a half marathon at the Oakland Running Festival.

Nick & Laura off to run 13.1 miles at the Oakland Running Festival.

I learned that it’s a bit more difficult to train for a distance race when you’ve got a significant amount of travel in your schedule. Between personal and professional travel from May through July, I traveled 50% time. That means my training runs happened in multiple cities in California, in Kansas, in Nebraska, in Minnesota, in Canada, and in France. It also meant I had the chance to run with a variety of friends and colleagues who were eager to support me in my training, even when it meant getting up extremely early in the morning to run together.

Colleagues on an early morning run in the south of France.

Colleagues on an early morning run in the south of France.

I’m beyond thankful for the many people who supported me in preparing, but three really stand out: Dan, Laura, and Nick.

My best training supporter was my husband, Dan. He rubbed my shoulders before many a long run to help me get loose, and again the day after a long run to help me work out the knots. He didn’t tease me, despite handing him the material on a silver platter, about my 5:30 am wake up calls to run while the weather was nice and cool (which also corresponded to 9:30 pm bedtimes). And, when my runs started to get into the double digits, he got up early, timed my progress, and met me to run the last several miles, cheering as we went and helping me push through the full distance. I know of perhaps no other running partner who, when I’m at mile 10 and sweat is soaking through my shirt will stop to rub out the cramps in my back and not complain. He also helped plan our weekend activities around my inevitable post-long run nap-crash. Although he had to cheer for me from Massachusetts on the actual race day (due to an academic course on the other side of the country – isn’t he so cool?), I knew he was fully behind my run. And that support, from the time I started talking about doing this to actually doing it, is what gave me the strength to, week after week, push myself mentally and physically toward this goal.

I spent the night before the race with Nick and Laura (yes, the same of the above photo in case I have not made that abundantly clear) where we enjoyed dinner together. As is only to be expected when dining with these two outstanding chefs, we ate a healthy and delectable perfect pre-run meal of kale-avocado-tomato-corn-spinach-almond-other good things I’ve probably forgotten because they blended so well-homemade dressing salad and tofu sausage, vegetable, homemade sweet potato gnocchi. If I have to run another 13.1 miles to get this meal again, I’d say it’s worth it.

And then comes race day.

We used the mile walk to the start line to warm up and acknowledge to each other that those people running there to warm up? Yeah, we didn’t need that to be ready. (In all honesty, I wasn’t ready to run a mile to the start and then run 13.1. This girl was anxious enough about the 13.1.)

Nick and I getting ready to start the run.

Nick and I getting ready to start the run in downtown Oakland.

On arrival, my first order of business was the bathroom, with it’s lengthy line spanning nearly a full city block. Because of this, I started the race more than 5 minutes late and was immediately stressed out that I wasn’t with my pace group. So what did I do to make up? I played the quickest downbeat song in my playlist and took off to try to catch up to my brother who was, by then, several minutes ahead of me. That meant my first mile was a 7:45. Much too fast for me, considering that’s “sprint” pace and I normally only keep that up for a minute or three at a time.

I caught up with my brother, Nick, around the 2 mile mark, chatted for approximately 17 seconds, and then took off again. As I look back now, I see what a jerk move that was, so here was my oxygen deprived thinking:

  1. We had talked before and decided I would probably run a bit faster pace, so I might as well keep going.
  2. I wanted to see if my 30-something self could keep a similar pace to my 20-something self. (Spoiler: not this time, but I’m motivated to train again and give ‘er another go.)
  3. Just keep running, just keep running. (“Finding Nemo”-style.)


Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t able to keep up a 7:45 pace and slowed down bit by bit, hampered by a lightly cramping upper back and difficulty filling my lungs, until I was back to a more comfortable 9:30 to 10:00 minute/mile pace.

Nick and I were supremely helped along by a most supportive cheerer: Laura. She was up at 5:45 am with us, made us multiple signs that many of the other runners also got a kick out of, and snapped pictures as we ran through. On her bike, Laura navigated the city streets that had been closed for the race to work her way around to four different points along the run and still be at the finish line to snap the “we made it” photo. Her cheering really made me feel special, and gave me a big boost to see someone you knew was encouraging you on throughout the entire race. And not only that, to know you’d see her at multiple spots.

One of the fantastic encouragement signs Laura made.

One of the fantastic encouragement signs Laura made, enjoyed by all.

Although my pace slowed, Nick picked his up and caught up to me again around mile 10. And I am thankful he did because I was at the point of really needing someone to keep me going. Nick was encouraging, kept a nice comfortable pace, and even stuck with me when I needed a walking break. Nick greeted everyone who cheered for us, high-fived “Coach,” and gave me previews of what was still left (“See the Bart station? That means we have a straight, a turn, a turn and then the finish line.”) He didn’t have to stick with me, especially since we hadn’t discussed running together and I had shown him what I kind character I am at mile 2 when I ran right on and barely took time to check in with him, but he did. And I am so appreciative. Those last three miles were the most fun part of the race and crossing the finish line together was my absolute favorite part. And that is just one more example of why my brother is one of my heroes: he has an incredible capacity for good.

The man in the green shirt was not with us, but instead "split the current" to look like it was three sprinting across the finish line together instead of two. I maintain that Nick picked up his pace at the end, he maintains that I did. Perhaps it was an unspoken brother-sister connection that caused this last wee bit of sprinting.

The man in the green shirt was not running with us, but instead “split the current” to make it look like it was three sprinting across the finish line together instead of two. I maintain that Nick picked up his pace at the end (which forced me to pick up my pace), he maintains that I picked up the pace. Perhaps it was an unspoken brother-sister connection that caused this last wee bit of sprinting?

I keep asking myself, “Really, An? Was trying to keep up with your old times so important?” And I’ve realized that nope, what was way more interesting was to enjoy the race, made infinitely more fun by good company, and to celebrate the strength in our bodies that allowed us to run 13.1 miles.

Although I stand by my immediate post-race reaction of, “Hey, everybody! Let’s do a 10-k next because this was a lot of work. Or maybe the marathon relay as a team,” by the next day I was already searching for possible next half marathons, so I guess we’ll just see which run comes along. Any suggestions and/or volunteers?

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A Day in Sonoma

Friends visiting from St. Louis provided just the nudge we needed to finally make a trip to California’s Wine Country. We went with a “wing it” approach and were surprisingly successful, especially since the advice I’d been given was to make appointments at the wineries. We started the 70-degree, sunny fall day with a free wine tasting at Cline Cellars. Cline offers five free tastes, but our bartender told us he “didn’t count so well” so we added a few extra sips, to, you know, truly evaluate which was our favorite.

Enjoying a wine, cheese, and crackers lunch on a beautiful day at Cline Cellars.

Enjoying a wine, cheese, and crackers lunch on a beautiful day at Cline Cellars.

Following lunch, we took a tour of the property, unfortunately missing the promised view of the crushing, but getting some quality time with this guy:



And these guys:IMG_9563

Content with Cline (and with full intention to recommend it to other friends visiting the area), we drove directly across the street to their sister winery, Jacuzzi Winery. Yes, that Jacuzzi, who, interestingly enough was known first for the invention of the propeller. The Jacuzzi brothers used the propeller technology to create a hydrotherapy whirlpool bath to treat one of the brothers’ young sons who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. We again happily enjoyed our five free tasting and “splurged” on a thimble-sized chocolate glass filled with dessert wine. (Total cost for an enjoyable hour at Jacuzzi Winery? $10. Another great find!)

Chocolate + dessert wine = brilliant

Chocolate + dessert wine = brilliant

Needing a breather from our wine tasting, we wandered across the hall where we sampled unique olive oil/vinegar combinations in the little resort-style shop. (Because what goes better with a belly of wine than a bunch of olive oil and vinegar? But no, really…) My favorite was a lemon olive oil and a raspberry balsamic vinegar. Set on the olive oil/vinegar tasting, with flashbacks to our super-fast, semi-forced balsamic vinegar tasting with Mom and Aunt Cathy in Sydney (you try seven different balsamic vinegars in less than 10 minutes and remember it fondly, I dare you), we went for a little walk around the Jacuzzi property, which was in diligent, and cordoned off, preparations for a wedding later that day.

Being my mother’s child, I encouraged our group to wander through the blocked off patio as if we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to go through to get a view of the vines and the mountains beyond.

Worth the rule breaking. ;)

Worth the rule breaking. 😉

Content with our first two winery experiences, and prepared to safely drive, we jumped in the car to explore more of Sonoma. A 15 minute drive down the road, we found Gundlach Bundschu Winery. I spent an hour there and still cannot pronounce its name. This was the first place we had to pay for a tasting, but for only $20, the four of us made out with yet another set of nice wine tastes. The winery has a beautiful patio area (reservations required), but we were still able to enjoy their grounds with a bit of light hiking (as much as you can do in a dress and flip flops) around.

Three wineries in one day had certainly gotten us ready for dinner, so we headed to Sonoma. Sonoma’s central square is as absolutely sweet and idyllic as you would imagine for a quaint downtown in wine country. And even more so with a family fair set up in the middle of the square to celebrate the grape crushing. We made a lap around the square to fully evaluate our dining options and eventually selected Della Santina. I would classify this restaurant as an uninspired Italian restaurant, but I think the fact that we waited over an hour for our simple pasta dishes made them taste better. Although not the highlight of our day, our discussion of superheroes and our distaste for the last season of “How I Met Your Mother” made for nice evening.

As we left the restaurant, we learned that the evening parade (again, in celebration of the grape crushing) was just about to start. We paused to watch for a few minutes before leaving to make the drive home, partially against the grain of the parade, which added some excitement in the form of avoiding running over parade marchers or floats as we drove the opposite way down the narrow street. It was a very successful first trip to wine country and one I am eager to repeat.

Come back soon, April & Brendan!

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Our First Easter in California

Although we seriously debated making a trip into the city for the Hunky Jesus contest at Dolores Park or the bigwheel race at Portrero Hill, we ultimately landed on brunch at our place with friends. On the menu? Scrambled eggs with vegetables and cheese, egg sandwiches with Canadian bacon, mimosas, fruit salad, and cardamom and cinnamon-scented Swedish rolls. I thought I’d share the recipe for that one, from Prairie Home Breads by Judith M. Fertig.

Cardamom and Cinnamon-Scented Swedish Rolls

2 1/2 c. milk

1 c. granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Seeds from 24 cardamom pods, crushed or 2 tsp. ground cardamom

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast

1 c. warm water (110 degrees)

8-9 c. all purpose flour; plus more if needed


6 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1/4 c. ground cinnamon

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened


2 c. confectioners’ sugar

1/4 c. milk

1/2 tsp. almond extract


1. Heat the milk until lukewarm. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and stir in the sugar, eggs, butter, cardamom, and salt. Proof the yeast and add to the liquid mixture.

2. Using the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon, beat in the flour until you have a soft dough.

3. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (45 minutes to 1 hour).

4. Make the filling by combining all ingredients.

5. Roll the dough into an 18 x 12 inch rectangle. Leaving a 1-inch margin, spread the filling over the dough, sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Starting at the long end, roll the dough jelly-roll fashion. Cut the dough into 12 pieces (in the style of cinnamon rolls). Lay the pieces on a prepared baking sheet and allow them to rise for 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

6. Bake fro 15 minutes at 375 degrees.

7. Drizzle with the glaze.

My notes:

  • I added quite a bit of extra flour (probably in the range of 1-2 cups), as the dough was quite sticky. (Too sticky to roll.)
  • We struggled to crush the cardamom pods, so make sure you have the right tools or buy the pulverized version from the store!
  • The filling should be increased by 50-100%. I like a good sticky cinnamon roll, and these needed a bit more filling.
Cardamom and cinnamon-scented Swedish rolls.

Cardamom and cinnamon-scented Swedish rolls.

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A Non-New Year’s Resolution Blog

While living in Australia for the past year, Dan and I blogged about our wild (and sometimes less than wild) adventures Down Under. [Blatant plug: check out sprockettsdownunder.wordpress.com.] As we were preparing to leave Australia and return to the United States, a surprising number of friends and family asked if we were going to continue the blog. Although this spoke to my 8 to 12 year old ego who had planned to become an internationally famous author, without actually putting any real thought into the question, my response was, “No. ‘Sprocketts Down Under’ doesn’t make sense once we’re living in California. Clearly.” My sarcastic tone and accompanying eye roll was appreciated by all. And that’s the stance I’ve maintained. Until this week.

This week I started preparing a presentation about my Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar year in Australia and found myself relying heavily on the blog to find pictures. And as I pulled down photos, I re-read the stories we had written. It was fun to relive our adventures and to have a written record of some of the details that have already gotten a bit fuzzy.

So that’s what did it.

For nothing else, it will be my memory. And my favorite photos aggregated on one site. And perhaps it will even be helpful to a few new California residents or the ten to fifteen people who (I understand) visit San Francisco each year.

Off on new adventures: living on the West Coast and blogging about normal, everyday life.