Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Happy birthday Ben!

March 24, 2015
Happy birthday!
I'm someone who loves birthdays. I especially love my own birthday, but I also get pretty excited about Ben's, especially as it presents a perfect excuse to plan a weekend away (see Point Arena Lighthouse, 2013). Ben's birthday falls during the best part of ski season, so where better to spend his birthday than Tahoe?

Our typical Tahoe weekend involves waking up at 5 a.m., driving four hours, skiing, driving an hour, relaxing in the hot tub, eating dinner, collapsing at 9 p.m. in our cheap motel room, eating quick bread at Starbucks, driving an hour, skiing, then driving four hours home. As you can tell, it's exhausting and not particularly luxurious.

Ben's birthday weekend started out differently. He left work early and we drove up to Gold Country for an Iberian-themed tapas dinner at Runquist winery. The winery is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Amador County, one of California's newer wine-making regions. They almost exclusively make red wines, with some unusual varietals and a focus on balanced, not-too-tannic wine (we discovered them on my birthday trip and are members of their wine club). We hadn't attended a wine club event before, but after this one, we'll definitely be going back for more. We sat by a fire, eating delicious food and drinking unlimited amounts of excellent wine while the winemaker fed the fire with old oak barrels and cooked up "dirty steak." I even got a dozen strangers to sing "happy birthday" to Ben.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Sutter Creek, where the innkeeper implied that we were a bit younger than their standard clientele (we were also by far the youngest attendees at dinner). The next morning, we wandered around the towns of Sutter Creek and Amador City before continuing to Tahoe.

Objectively speaking, this ski season has been a bust —we've had fun, but 159 inches is pathetic for resorts that average more than 500 inches. Less than thrilled about the skiing conditions, we decided to hike instead. A lot of roads close in the winter so it took us a while to find an accessible trail. We finally settled on a 6.5-mile hike to Dardanelles Lake, which worked out perfectly — it was a good length, a good level of strenuousness and terminated at a beautiful alpine lake (see photos at end of post). We realized we hadn't done any real hiking in months and definitely want to come back to Tahoe to hike this summer.

Instead of staying at our standard motel, I booked a room at 968 Park Hotel, which bills itself as a "pinnacle of sustainability, style and comfort." We knew it could be our last weekend in Tahoe for the winter so we chose our restaurants carefully. The first night we ate at our favorite Basecamp Pizza and for Ben's birthday we tried a new brewpub, Cold Water Brewery and Grill. Our beer flight lineup: Water House Wheat, Mr. Toad's Wild Rye, Ninkasi Oatis Stout, Heretic's Evil Twin Amber, Le Freak Belgian IPA and Ellie's Brown Ale.

For our final day, we planned to finally hit the slopes at Heavenly, but they shut down the mountain due to 30mph gusts. We drove up to Northstar, where the snow wasn't great, but we found a few good runs to potentially cap off the season. Fingers crossed we'll get one more storm.

Birthday selfie
dardanelles lake tahoe
Granite cliffs above Dardanelles Lake

Must climb rock
Big Meadow
bridge hiking lake tahoe
Almost back to the trailhead
Don't fall
Dwarfed by the trees

We're scheming how to get our hands on a wine barrel.
dirty steak
"Dirty steak" at Runquist winery

- Steph

Video: It finally snowed!

March 15, 2015
Last weekend, Steph's dad visited us to ski for five days at three Tahoe mountains (photos here). I put together this video from our GoPro footage:

(Best viewed at 1080p quality.)

Fortunately, the weekend before he arrived, it finally snowed! You would not believe how happy we were to see snow. We were sitting at a rest stop on I-80 because they had closed the road to Tahoe and we weren't even upset. We just kept saying, "It's snowing! It's snowing!" We even made a snowman as we waited. It was 1 p.m. by the time we hit the slopes, but who cares? For the first time all season, we had fresh snow. Here's the highlight reel of 17" of cold, light powder (compiled by Steph):

- Ben

Austin getaway

March 13, 2015

The list of the American cities I most want to visit: Chicago and New Orleans, followed by Los Angeles, Charleston and Santa Fe. Austin used to be near the top of that list, but now I can cross it off as I was there in January! I met up there with one of my good friends who lives on the East Coast (we split the distance). We visited the LBJ Presidential Library, enjoyed a show at Esther's Follies, listened to live music and wandered around all the quirky stores. It was an awesome trip (Ben was a bit jealous, so we'll have to return together sometime soon).

Non-Photoshopped version


- Steph

Cheers to snow

March 12, 2015
Champagne on the slopes at Northstar

For years, my family has talked about skiing out West, and ever since Ben and I moved to California, my dad has been planning to come out and ski with us. This year, he bought plane tickets and then we had one of the driest years on record (currently, our snowpack is only 27% of average). He almost cancelled his trip, but luckily he didn't, because somehow the skiing still managed to be fantastic. We skied five days in total — one at Northstar, one at Heavenly and three at Kirkwood. Ben compiled our GoPro footage into a fantastic video, but for starters, here are a few photos.

The backside at Kirkwood
I love my new skis
Riding the gondola at Heavenly
Lake, snow, desert at Heavenly
Ben on the slopes at Kirkwood
Tahoe is beautiful
Thunder Saddle is exhausting

Riding the lift at Kirkwood
Volkl rules the slopes —Volkl Kendo (Ben), Volkl Aura (Steph), Volkl Supersport (Kip)
Everyone's happy when the sun is shining
Ski patrol golden retriever!
- Steph

Weekend trip: Dry Creek Valley

March 1, 2015
Over President's Day weekend, we made a snap decision to hop on the motorcycle and head up to wine country. I booked a spot at Liberty Glen, one of the only campgrounds with sites available. It turned out to be nearly empty and beautiful, with wide open sites and views of the surrounding hills. I never would have found it if I hadn't been booking at the last minute.

We spent Sunday exploring the vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and crashed the wine club party at Truett Hurst Vineyards. Their Zinfandels were excellent and they encourage you to explore the grounds with your wine. We sipped ours while sitting by the river.

We took the scenic route home along Route 1, driving in and out of the fog. The area around northern Sonoma/Mendocino is one of my favorite parts of California, and this trip made me like it even more.

- Steph