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Last September, my Dad surprised me and came up to Oregon for my birthday. He loves to hit the road in his shiny black Corvette, and HWY 101 from the Bay Area is a road tripper’s dream. For the first few hours you wind through hilly emerald green pastures dotted with boulders, cows and sheep; the countryside, we discovered on our travels looks a lot like northern Scotland. Next, you drive through lush valleys packed with conifers, which eases your mind about the shortage of trees, and then quite suddenly, the road spits you out along the coastline. Here you can get out of your car, walk barefoot through the soft, white sand, get your feet wet enough to realize how bloody cold the water is, then hop back into your warm car and continue on.

101 then rolls you up hills that become thousand foot peaks, where you can stop again and take in the Pacific Ocean in all her majesty. Oh it’s beautiful up there! The cliffs are breathtaking and from that height, the ocean appears to be broken up in lines like desert sands; each line introducing different shades of green, blue, even black water. As your eyes scan the horizon you find yourself taking in and holding deep breaths of crisp, salty air that flows straight into your capillaries. Whenever I stand on those cliffs I like to imagine I’m in Ireland or Nova Scotia, or perhaps I’m one of Jane Austen’s heroines who has left home to travel west, and seeing the sea for the first time. It’s always thrilling.

After you pull yourself away from the inspiring ocean views, the landscape drastically changes from sandy tree-lined cliffs to dense redwood forests that beckon you to stop and take in a moment of calm. There’s something otherworldly yet welcoming about the redwoods. It’s as if they’re waiting for something. What that is I’m not exactly sure, I think it’s different for everyone. What I do know is that after I leave, I feel elated.

Stout Grove

Leaving the redwoods is difficult, but you still have a few more hours alternating ocean views with patches of forest. Then suddenly, you are at the Oregon border, where people stop to have their picture taken. This is my favorite part of driving through the border. I love the excitement in their faces as they stand in front of the Welcome to Oregon or Welcome to California sign and awkwardly have their picture taken by their mom or husband, girlfriend or grandma. I love the adventurousness of the human spirit and I think even the smallest adventures keep us young.

Unlike my mom who is a young 65, Pop is an old 65. Like they say, “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.” But I think this trip helped him regain some of his youth. When he arrived he had color in his cheeks and pep in his step, despite the fact that he was exhausted after such a long drive. It was great to see him and he was awfully sweet to come up for my birthday, since I hadn’t made any friends yet and family live so far away. In return, I spoiled him with starlit nights and culinary delights. After his nap, he and I went for a long walk on the beach, which he loved, and said the landscape reminded him of Morro Bay because of the large rock formations. For dinner I made him my special – chicken potpie, which has sort-of become our favorite “guest meal.” I got the recipe from Comfort Food by Williams-Sonoma, my most favorite cookbook at the moment.

After dinner, we all went outside and lit sparklers. I danced around with my sparkler while my husband watched, smiling. My dad, who is fascinated with outer space, was looking at the star-filled sky. “You know, I haven’t seen this many stars and the Milky Way Galaxy since I was a boy.” He said in wonderment. I thought it was adorable that he called the Milky Way by its proper name. As we all gazed upward, he showed us how to differentiate between a planet and a star – a star “twinkles” a planet doesn’t. When I spotted the planet Venus, he explained why this planet is brighter than any other planet or star in our galaxy – it’s partly due to the highly reflective clouds that surround it. Lying down on an old quilt, he showed me how to spot satellites in space, which I’d never done before. It’s quite simple really, you just stare for a long time in one spot, and all of a sudden you’ll see something that looks like a star moving across the sky at a steady pace. It’s crazy, as soon as you have the eye, you can spot them all over the place. “Ok…that’s a little scary.” I joked. “We’re always being watched by big brother.” Pop said, almost admiringly. Next, he attempted to explain something even scarier – Dark Matter, which is something Einstein tried to prove. I began to realize how smart my dad was on the subject of Astronomy. After all, he has been studying it for pleasure for as long as I can remember. Excitedly, I listened to him explain how outer space is slowly spreading, when all of a sudden I felt just as excited for cake – so we went in.

I had to make my own birthday cake this year. Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve become spoiled on the best cakes you can buy, and I couldn’t lower myself to eat one from Fred Meyer. Instead, I found a great German chocolate cake recipe and used Scharffenberger chocolate, fresh eggs, sweet cream butter, King Arthur flour, organic pecans and coconut flakes. It was a two tier cake so I smothered the inside layer with the coconut-pecan filling and then I covered it with chocolate ganache frosting. I was a little surprised it turned out so well, as I rarely hit the culinary nail on the head on my first try. It usually takes me two or three attempts before something turns out perfect – like my creamy chicken potpie with its flaky, buttery crust.

After we had our fill of German chocolate cake and ice-cold milk, Pop and I talked and played Kings Corners until after midnight. It was great to spend quality time with him. When I got tired of loosing, I told him about the adventure Tony was taking me on the following day. For my birthday, he was treating me to a kayaking trip on Lake Earl. I’d never been in a kayak before and was beyond excited about our nature quest.

Cake for breakfast? Absolutely!

The next morning was a beautiful, warm summer day. After eating a healthful breakfast together and discussing the highlights of our visit Tony and I said farewell to my dad, who I could tell was excited to hit the road again. As we waved him off, I felt a little sad and melancholy, like I always do whenever I say good-bye to anyone I love.

However, I had little time to wallow in nostalgia. Tony was excitedly making PB&Js and bagging up chips and a soda for our afternoon on the lake. If only I had known what was going to happen I would have brought some water and a more protein enriched meal, like roast beef on a roll!