Friday, December 30, 2011

Train of Lights - Niles Canyon Railway Part II

We had a great experience on the Niles Canyon Railway.  We arrived just in time to catch the train (which I can't recommend).  Our son had fallen asleep in the car on the way to the Niles station (right near Niles Avenue in Fremont, which is a great neighborhood with lots of shops and a few restaurants).  It took him about 15 minutes to finally wake up; he was happily surprised to find himself already comfortably situated on the train.

The train was full of families, but not packed (perhaps since we were riding the train on the Tuesday after Christmas; the train can get very busy, especially on weekends in December before Christmas).

As we were moving through the Niles Canyon, my wife got up to get some hot cocoa from the food & drink car near the front of the train.  After a few minutes, the train came to a stop.

My wife returned about 5 minutes later.  It turned out that the train had decoupled.  Luckily, she hadn't made it to the hot chocolate and was on our side of the train.  The delay lasted about 20 minutes or so, by which time our son was just starting to get a bit restless.

The rest of the trip (which ended up at just under 2 hours because of the delay) was a mellow, fun ride for all of us.  Our son enjoyed walking through the different types of vintage cars (though we never did make it all the way to the hot chocolate car).

By the end of the ride, it was dark outside.  The Train of Lights is, indeed, a train of lights:

Here's the locomotive:

Santa Fe car:

More lights:

The outside of our car:

Here's where the train decoupled earlier in the afternoon:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Train of Lights - Niles Canyon Railway

The Niles Canyon Railway is one of the great hidden gems of the Bay Area.  It describes itself as "a railroad museum where the exhibits come to life," which is entirely accurate.  The Railway operates vintage railroad equipment along the Niles Canyon between Fremont and Sunol.  

Each November and December, the Railway operates the Train of Lights.  The old trains are strung with holiday lights on the inside and out.  The trains are full of kids and parents; it is a really great, mellow way to spend a late afternoon with the family over the holidays.  

Two trains operate each night -- one leaves from Niles in Fremont at 4:15pm.  The other leaves from Sunol at 7:15pm (heading in the other direction).  The ride usually lasts around 90 minutes.  This seems to be just about the right amount of time for this sort of thing; by the end of the ride, most kids are ready to get going.  Tickets are $25 (early in the season you can get reserved seating, or even rent out an entire train car/caboose for a private party).

We recommend the 4:15 train out of the Niles station.  You get to enjoy the ride in the daylight, looking at the scenery along the steep Niles Canyon.  You can see the river, the steep hillsides, the old train equipment on parallel tracks, and the equipment yard (which is also the turn-around point for the train).  By the time you get back to the station, it is dark; you can see the amazing lights on the outside of the train.      

Here's a view of our train car:    

Facing the other direction:

Here's a shot of the canyon:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking Forward To A Happy New Year!

We're taking a blogging break for the rest of 2011.  Happy Holidays!  And, all the best looking forward to a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rockridge Kitchen Tour, Part IV

As we pointed out last week, 2011 seemed to be *The Year of the Island* on the Rockridge Kitchen Tour.  Here's another kitchen with an island (this one with a rounded side):

Really interesting light fixture.  Also liked the cabinets here.

The same kitchen included a fun blackboard -- another great idea for families with youngsters:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rockridge Kitchen Tour, Part III

Folks on the tour were able to see the converted garage at the home with the kitchen that had the magnetic doors for kids.

We were really taken with what the residents were able to do to convert the garage into a great studio living space:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rockridge Kitchen Tour, Part II

More of our impressions from the Rockridge Kitchen Tour!

The kitchen with the great built-in bench also had a large, narrow island.  Islands seemed particularly popular on the tour this year.

This kitchen also boasted an island, and it included a larger breakfast-nook-type area.

The doors in the breakfast nook are magnetic, which seems like a great touch for families with youngsters:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rockridge Kitchen Tour

Here are a few of our impressions of the Rockridge Kitchen Tour, which took place on October 2nd.

Note - we respect the rules of the Tour and we did NOT take any pictures in kitchens where the residents asked that no pictures be taken.

We particularly liked the built-in bench in this kitchen:

Note the storage space under the bench:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crummy Contractors -- A (Painter) Horror Story

Here's a Crummy Contractor story told to us about a somewhat frightening painter.  Note:  This one did NOT happen to us personally -- we've had an excellent experience with an expert painter, which we've blogged about previously.

Homeowner asks a painter if he'll provide a bid on a project basis instead of by the hour.  The painter gives a bid and gets hired.  Painter proceeds to work for an hour or two a week on the project, hiring an "assistant" to help by the hour.

Painter complains that he is losing money on the project, and asks to re-negotiate.  Homeowner asks that the painter start working more than an hour or two a week so that the project can get done before the painter tries to argue that the homeowner should pay him more money.

In a departure from past practice, the painter insists on getting paid at the end of the day.  After the painter leaves, the homeowner notices that the painter had gathered up all his stuff and taken everything out of the house (much work remains to be done).  Homeowner later learns painter had rushed straight to the bank to cash the check.

But, the homeowner manages to cancel payment minutes before the check is cashed.  The painter proceeds to repeatedly call the homeowner to demand more money.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) on the Big Screen

If you want to see It's A Wonderful Life on the Big Screen, you can probably not do any better than the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto.  For details, check out
December 24th at 9pm

Older Holiday Movies That Bring Me Cheer

This time of year I love to hang out at home, make a big bowl of popcorn and watch the following five oldies but goodies!  I'll be writing more on these favorites and where to still catch them on the big screen at historical movie theaters!

1.  A Christmas Story (1983)

2.  It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

3.  Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

4.  White Christmas (1954)

5.  Holiday Inn (1942)

Fixing Anything

Here's a handy flow chart on how to fix just about anything.  The chart has made the rounds on social networking sites.  My understanding is that it first appeared on George Takei's excellent blog.

You gotta love it:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Deck the Halls

The San Francisco Symphony is hosting children's holiday shows during the weekend that are worth seeing.  There are two shows on Sunday -- one begins at 11am, and the second concert and show is at 3pm.  They include a post-show party and gifts for kids.  For details, check out the Symphony's Deck the Halls page.  The Symphony is a real San Francisco experience; they are approaching their 100th anniversary.

For reservations call 415-864-6000.

Chanty Singing at Hyde Street Pier

Tonight (October 3), at 8pm -- and every first Saturday of the month -- the Living Museum at Hyde Street Pier (part of the National Park Service) hosts chanty singing.  We've done this before; it is a lot of fun.  It provides a real taste of maritime history, and is fantastic in the atmosphere of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. 

Wear warm clothes -- it is cold on the ship.  Also, bring your own mug (or a to-go cup) if you can -- for hot cider!

Call 415-561-7171 to reserve a spot. for more details.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Doors as Tools for Organizing

A few days ago, I blogged about doors as tools for organizing.

My wife saw the post.  She looked at the picture.  And then she said she thought it was pretty awful and was going to take down the shoe organizer.

Just goes to show you that it's okay to change your mind about stuff around the house!

--Bungalow Papa

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Aphrodisiac Mac & Cheese"

I've been on the look out for the perfect mac & cheese recipe for quite awhile.  When I finally found this one and adapted it to fit our families likes, I was really excited to find out how everyone liked it!  My husband actually said the mac and cheese should be called aphrodisiac mac & cheese; he loved it!  Our 3-year-old loved it, too.

I found the original recipe from the book Kids in the Holiday Kitchen by Jessica Strand & Tammy Massman-Johnson and it is called Merry Macaroni (Strand and Massman- Johnson, p.22)

I changed a few things to adapt the recipe.  My changes included adding some olive oil to the butter, and I also used brown rice elbow macaroni.  I used Strauss organic whole milk and heavy cream, which adds a richness to the taste.  Also, I used high quality Gruyere cheese!

1 pound (16 oz.) of dried elbow macaroni
2 ounces of butter, 1/2 ounce of olive oil (Can also use all butter, experiment depending on taste)
3 cups of grated Gruyere cheese
2 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup of heavy cream  (Strauss or other organic preferred)
1 cup of whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (regular, whole wheat, or gluten free (try Mariposa Bakery if you are in the San Francisco Bay area.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large pot, cook the macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente (tender but firm to the bite.)  Drain, and set aside.

Lightly grease a casserole pot or 8 (8-ounce) ramekins with 1 tablespoon of the butter or olive oil. (I used a casserole pot as I actually don't own ramekins, and I greased with olive oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together the Gruyere, 2 cups of the Parmesan, the cream,  milk, dry mustard, and nutmeg.  Add the macaroni and toss until thoroughly coated with the cheese mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to the greased ramekins or casserole pot.

In a small bowl, toss together the bread crumbs and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Sprinkle the ramekins or casserole pot evenly with the cheese bread crumbs, and dot each ramekin or casserole pot with 1/2 Tablespoon (or less,  depending on taste)  of the remaining butter (or olive oil.)

Bake until the tops are golden, 20 to 25 minutes. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as our family does! 

Serves 8

--Bungalow Mama

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three Cozy Oregon Retreats

Sisters, Oregon
FIVEPINE lodge, an oregon retreat

This lodge is in Sisters, Oregon.  Though the original log building was destroyed in a fire in 1964, this newer "largest log cabin" was built using the same scale as the original building.  Part of the lodge was built on family member Elda Teresa Willits property, and she called the lodge "a bridge between two worlds."  Her wish was that the guests would cross the bridge and leave their old thinking behind.  The three words that guided her life were love, acceptance, and forgiveness. This lodge also has a Shibui spa, an oasis for wellness and relaxation.
PO Box 578
Detroit, Oregon 97342

A friend of mine who lives in Portland, Oregon told me about these hot springs.  This hot springs retreat is about one hour and 40 minutes from the FIVEPINES lodge in Sisters, Oregon.  This retreat includes three meals a day.  One thing to keep in mind in the fall and winter is that some roads are closed during this time.  

Deer Haven Farms Bed and Breakfast
Newberg, Oregon

Guests of all ages at this B & B are encouraged if they want to pick vegetables or berries, collect eggs, or hang out with the farm animals (holstein cows, chickens, peking ducks).  

During Thanksgiving, there is a giant festival in the Williamette Valley with 150 wineries with games, food, music and wine.  There is a three-day barbeque at Erath Winery (November 25-27, $15.,  The ribs are supposed to go fabulously with pinot!  There is a wine trolley in Carlton ( for a hop-on, hop off tour of more than two dozen wineries.  The winemaker, Mark Vlossak, winemaker at St. Innocent Winery (Nov. 25-27, wine $12. food free,, cooks his special cassoulet to feed around 600 people!

--Bungalow Mama

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Our Old Bungalow

Dear Old Bungalow,

I know that I'm not always appreciative of you.  I know I need to work on taking better care of you too!

Yesterday, I called Fidelity Roofing to have them clean the gutters for you!  They were recommended by Custom Kitchens, so I hope they do a good job.   I'm worried when they come out that they'll say I need a new roof, but I took the chance anyways.  Plus, I was told that we have moss growing over our laundry room.  We'll see what they say.  

Anyways, I appreciate you for giving us a home these 8 years.  It is hard to believe it has been 8 years.  We were so bright eyed and bushy tailed when we first looked at you at your open house.  We imagined all the things we could do with you, changes we could make, parties and family dinners we could have...  

The reality of owning an old bungalow is a little different (OK, a lot) different than what we thought back then.  Each step of renovation takes time, planning, and money.  Yet, we love you!  We appreciate your keeping a roof over our head!  


Bungalow Mama

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

I went to the Smith Family Farm with my son around Halloween (wonderful place to go in October with a child!).  We went on a hay ride and got to pick out pumpkins.  As a recent foodie, I've been looking at what kind of pumpkins you can actually use to make good pumpkin pie.  I went to the connected outdoor market and picked up a few sugar pumpkins.  Then, I went home and scoured all my cookbooks for a recipe using a real pumpkin!  


I then went to Whole food and looked at all of their cookbooks.  This is what I found from America's Test Kitchen, "All Time Best Holiday Recipes,"  from the editors of Cook's Illustrated:  "In numerous tests, we've found that very few tasters can distinguish between a fresh or canned pumpkin once it's baked in a pie.  The real problem is that a pumpkin, fresh or canned, contains a lot of moisture, which dilutes the pie's flavor." (p.88)

The recipe I used for pumpkin pie can either use fresh or canned pumpkin.  This recipe was delicious!  My son and I had so much fun making it too!  For this recipe, I used store bought pie shells from Whole Foods, but next time I'd like to try my own shell.  I also included the brands I prefer.

Pumpkin Pie (adapted from recipe from "All Time Best Holiday Recipes," Holiday season 2011)

1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounces) can pumpkin puree or 15 oz. fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15 oz. can
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz.) sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 recipe of single crust pie dough, partially baked  or premade crust

1.  Adjust oven rack to the lowest position, placed rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Whisk cream, milk, whole eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in medium bowl.  Set aside.  Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in large saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly and mashing yams against side of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

2.  Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated.  Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using ladle or silicone spatula to press solids through strainer.  Rewhisk mixture and pour into warm freshly baked pie shell or premade shell.  Place pie on heated baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges of pie are set and center registers 175 degrees, 20 to 35 minutes longer (center should look firm but jiggle slightly).  Transfer pie to wire rack and let cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours.  Cut into wedges and serve.

--Bungalow Mama

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doors as Tools for Organizing

The doors in our hallway/"mud room" are useful tools for organizing things.  For example, here's a monkey hangar, useful for hanging clothes and bags:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crummy Contractors - Call for Stories

If you have a Crummy Contractor story that you would like to share, please email us at  Or else leave a story in the comments.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Crummy Contractors #2

An electrician has been working down in the crawl-space underneath our dining room.  He is replacing an old fuse box, sending the lines out to the circuit breaker.  

The fuse box is replaced, with the electrical lines capped.  The electrician doesn't put a cover on the box containing the crimped wires.  But that's not the problem.

Fast forward to a week or two later.  We had been storing some stuff in boxes in the dining room.  The boxes are sitting on the hard-wood floor.  We move a few of the boxes around.  

There's a hand-sized hole under one of the boxes.  

How did it get there?  We ask the electrician when he comes by to do a bit of work getting electricity out to our back yard.  His response:

"Oh yeah.  I forgot to fix that."  

Why was he punching holes in the dining room floor?  That remains a mystery to this day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Goodbye Halloween

Tough to believe that Halloween season is over.  Now we have to get ready for Thanksgiving.  But before I go, here's one last look:

Roasting time for pumpkin seeds at 325 degrees:  About 25 minutes.  If you don't like salt, you can try a huge variety of seasonings.  I even tried using cinnamon this year.  It was pretty good...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wood Chips

With the new sidewalk in place, I started thinking about whether I could do anything to make the area around our big tree a bit nicer.  One day, while wandering around the neighborhood, my son noticed a toy helicopter lying on the ground near a tree.  He started playing with it.  About 3 minutes later, the property owner came out and asked us to move because she was going to put wood chips down around the tree.  She wasn't rude about it, and even surprisingly offered to let my son keep the helicopter.  We didn't keep the helicopter.  But the wood chips seemed like a good way to solve my tree-related question.



  It took about five large bags of chips to surround the tree.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Finished Sidewalk

Bringing my series of posts about our sidewalk to a close, here is the finished product.  Looks pretty good:

Unfortunately, the sidewalk ended up a lot closer to our hedge than I would have liked.  The front of the hedge is suffering and I'm going to have to trim it back.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crummy Contractors #1

A pipe on the side of our house is leaking.  But it only leaks occasionally, and it isn't quite clear why.

I was able to figure out Step #1 myself, without hiring a professional:  Wait and see if it will go away.  I managed to let this step go on for several months.

Step #2 - Ask a professional plumber to come take a look at it.

Step #3 - Try to assess the source of the leak with a simple visual inspection.  I had sort of done that before Step #1, but maybe the professional can figure it out.  This step takes an hour and fails.

Step #4 - Turn on different water sources, one at a time, and see what happens.  That seems like a pretty good idea.

But please note two points that you wouldn't think your professional plumber might forget:

(A)  Make sure the sink isn't stopped up BEFORE you turn on the water.

(B)  Remember to TURN OFF THE WATER when you are done.

Ours forgot.  Big mistake.  Big mess.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween in Rockridge, Part 2

Trick-or-Treating on College Avenue in Oakland on Sunday, October 30th (hosted by fun merchants):

 No need for fake cobwebs here.  I haven't had the heart to remove the spider web near the front of our own bungalow -- at least not before October 31st...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween in Rockridge

A lot of the bungalow-dwellers in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland really get into the Halloween spirit.  Here are a few examples.

Note the ghosts and living dead behind the cobwebs.

 A most excellent carving:

Orange tinsel with pumpkin:
 Massive inflated cat, ready to pounce:

More cobwebs:

Massive cat is really impressive:

Living at the same home as the massive cat are some ghosts and living dead:

 Cobwebs and jack-o-lanterns:

Cobwebs and scarecrow:

 Very large spider (near stroller):

Dangling ghosts:

More cobwebs:

More dangling ghosts:

 Living dead and cobwebs: