We probably should have taken this picture before the meal.
San Diego: Off We Go

Miles driven: 0.0
Flat tires: 0
Expenses: $0
Days without a shower: 0

A new experiment this year was the stuffing muffin, or "stuffin".
Thanksgiving: the trip begins

We decided that Thanksgiving dinner in San Diego would be the official kickoff for our trip. The holiday was invented by explorers, and the corner of the country makes a natural starting line for a cross-country drive, so it seemed to fit.

Hilary's parents hosted at their home in La Jolla. (It's pronounced sort of like the Georgetown mascot.)

Here's the rundown on dinner:

  • 11 people
  • 20 pounds of turkey
  • 3 kinds of stuffing
  • Plenty of gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potato & apple tsimmes
  • Cranberry & pineapple relish
  • Dinner rolls with butter
  • Apple pie
  • Cranberry-almond cake
  • Ground walnut cake
  • Petit fours

Turkey (stage 1)
Turkey (stage 2)
Apple pie
Cranberry-almond cake

California produce

We always eat tons of fruit when we come to California because everything tastes amazing. I assume that's because it's grown here and doesn't have to travel as far. Or maybe the Californians save the best stuff for themselves and send the second-rate produce to other parts of the country. Either way, I try not to eat grapes in New York, because they're always mushy - not firm and delicious like they are here all year round. Blueberries are even more distinct — here, they have an actual blueberry flavor. Elsewhere, they just sort of taste sweet.

Unfortunately, even in California blueberries don't grow in November. We've been eating some Argentinian imports, but they're a bit mealy and not as flavorful as the local variety.

Along La Jolla's shore is a small man-made cove known as the Children's Pool. Back in 1931, when public swimming pools were rare and lifeguards doubly so, local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps funded the creation of a seawall-enclosed lagoon so that children would have a safe place to swim.

However, the children quickly discovered the underwater sluice holes and how much fun it was to try to swim through them. This of course was ridiculously dangerous and so the holes had to be sealed. Afterward, sand started to accumulate until the lagoon had turned into a tiny beach.

In the 1970s, harbor seals started visiting the beach periodically, especially during winter. Their numbers gradually increased, and by the 1990s, they were showing up every day at high tide, all year long.

This had led to a classic California confrontation: on one side were the beachgoers, who were getting annoyed by all the seals and their, uh, byproducts. On the other side were the animal lovers, who felt we should go in the opposite direction, keeping the seals and getting rid of the people.

You see, seals are easily spooked by humans, and they're protected from harassment by federal law. Some say that interaction with humans can even cause seal miscarriage.

One of several varieties of guilt-inducing sign

Background: a large group of people not going on the beach

The pro-seal movement was not able to get the beach closed off to people, but this was perhaps a blessing in disguise for them. If they had been allowed to install signs reading, "KEEP OFF THE BEACH", it would all but beg free-spirited types to trespass. Instead, they use moral suasion: the signs say something along the lines of, "You have the right to use the beach — we're not going to stop you — but we really sincerely ask you, nicely, not to."

I have never seen anyone set foot on the beach when the seals were present. The onlookers would have browbeaten them to within an inch of their lives.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the situation can't stay this way forever. Seals are seals and people are people and never the twain shall meet. One or the other has to go.

We're with the seals, though not because we're worried for them — scientists point out that there are plenty of seal habitats in the area. However, most of them are offshore, which brings us to our selfish motive: we want the seals to keep hanging out where we can watch them. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a special treat, especially when conveniently located just steps from American Apparel and the Needle Nook. That's worth a lot more than a few extra feet of public beach.

I mean, just look at all the creatures great and small in this one spot:

Sea anemones
Other birds
Lobsters (in the boat)
Yet another bird
Wet tourists

Here's how the seals get into the water:

Torrey pine by the trail
Torrey Pines State Preserve

On Friday we went for a walk with my dad in Torrey Pines State Preserve. It's meant to show what California looked like when it was first discovered. The clifftop trails wind through hilly terrain and periodically overlook the beach.

California: Where the desert meets the ocean

It's named after the Torrey Pine, which happens to be the rarest species of pine tree in the United States — there are just 7,000 left. It's kind of amazing that they manage to grow at all in such sandy soil.

The park is right near a gliderport, and when we arrived at the South Overlook two paragliders were heading our way. They made several passes overhead — at times frighteningly close to the cliffs. I was waving like mad, and finally one pilot was able to briefly let go of his controls and wave back.


We stayed and watched for 10 minutes or so as they circled. I hope someday we get to try paragliding or hang gliding, so I can see what it's like to be a bird.

We later read that the beach beyond the cliffs was, in fact, clothing-optional — the largest such beach in the country. Due to the steep cliffs and limited accessibility, it's an ideal spot for one.

It's probably good for paraglider sales, too.


The ocean floor at La Jolla Cove is covered in large rocks, so when the tide goes out some water remains in and among the rocks. The pools are clear and shallow, and if you're lucky, you'll find interesting sea life in them.

High tide
Low tide
High tide
Low tide

The low tides were extremely low this weekend, so we went down to investigate. At first all we saw were tiny guppy-like fish and tons of mussels. But just as we were heading back, we found a sea anemone.

I also saw some interesting shells in a very shallow pool and tried to pick one up, but it flinched when I touched it. Sea cucumber!

Walking amongst the slippery rocks
Sea anemone
There are two sea cucumbers in this photo. Also 11 ninjas.

It's the day after Thanksgiving: time to put up the Christmas lights.
Long-exposure night photography

I don't like to use my camera's flash. This can be problematic when taking pictures at night.

Hilary and her dad and their two ghosts

If you're not careful, you end up with photos like the one on the left. However, every now and then you get a picture like the one on the right.

Although the sky behind the palm tree appears vaguely blue in the picture, it was pitch black at the time. Or at least it seemed that way. Apparently, the night sky is not really black, but rather a dark, dark blue. When you take a long-exposure photograph, the tiny bit of blue accumulates and it looks like twilight. Coupled with the other strange lighting effects that inevitably happen, the results can be a little surreal.

I've been experimenting with this lately, and it's easy to do if you just follow a few key steps:

How to take pictures in the dark

(Seasoned photographers will roll their eyes here and say, "Duh!", but this section isn't for them. It's for the kind of person I recently was, who gets intimidated by the idea of turning their camera dial to anything other than the green "AUTO" setting)

  • First, put your camera in the mode that lets you manually control aperture and shutter speed.
  • Set the aperture to the smallest number available (like f/2 instead of f/8). This means that when the shutter opens, the hole will be as wide as it can possibly be, letting in as much light as possible. A repercussion of this will be a narrow depth of field — if the foreground is in focus, the background will be very blurry (and vice-versa). But that's probably okay; if anyone gives you trouble, just say it's your photographic style and tell them they don't understand art.
  • Set the shutter time to the longest possible setting. You may be surprised to find that this is like 15 seconds.
  • Don't even think about holding the camera while you take the picture, unless you want a blurry, streaky, ghosty image like that orange one at the top. Find something, anything, to rest the camera on.
  • Don't touch the camera while the picture is being taken. No exceptions: don't even rest your finger on it out of fear that a gust of wind will knock it off the railing and 14 floors down to the sidewalk below. Even if you think you're not shaking it, you are indeed sending tiny vibrations into it every time your heart beats and they're going to ruin your picture. Hands off!
  • Even pressing the button to take the picture is going to shake the camera and give your picture ddoouubbllee vviissiioonn. Consider using the camera's timer so you have a few seconds to let go before the shutter opens. And most importantly...
  • Don't forget to turn off the flash!

...and night
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