Ringing in the fall season

Yesterday brought us the official start of Fall with the Fall Equinox! That means it’s time for the cooler air to come through, as we settle into the time of changing leaves, Turkey Trots, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I wanted to share a few items that come with this season – ranging from silly, to important!

First, I just have to point this out: Krispy Kreme has released a new pumpkin donut for the season. I know pumpkin is all the rage during Fall, but even for non-donut lovers this has to be kind of exciting. I personally am on the fence about all things pumpkin, but look forward to squash soups and a chill in the air.

Next, check out this article on paint colors from Real Simple. If you are in a house where you think your painting duties are overdue, this is a great resource. Try to enjoy the time indoors (COVID-19 + smoky air = more time inside, right?) by repainting parts of your house that need a little touch-up. Instead of spring cleaning, it is fall touch-up!

Also, it’s almost playoff baseball season! As a sports fan, when I think “Fall,” I think playoffs. I also think football. The NFL is underway and college football has started in certain parts of the country, but the A’s just won the division and the Giants are battling it out for the final spot in their league. I know we can’t go to games, but are you watching? How do you think our local teams will fare?

My last random point of the day is to get out – when and if you can – to enjoy the changing of the seasons. Even though we don’t get snow here in Walnut Creek, we do get at least parts of all four seasons. The change from summer to fall is always spectacular, and I hope you get out and hike or just walk around and take it all in! And, last but not least Apple Season is here, so if you want to take a day trip up to Apple Hill off of 50, pick some apples, drink some wine, and get donuts and cider here is a link to the Apple Hill and a map. Oh wait, one more random thought about fall. I just picked a bunch of figs and was planning to make a fig, blueberry, pepper jelly, do you think I could find canning jars? NO, I went to every store I could think of and they were all out … at Ace, he said it is that time of year, they haven’t had a shipment since last week, next year I will plan better.

There are still adventures to be had during a pandemic

I know this pandemic has been difficult for a lot of us. Trust me, I love going out to try new restaurants, to go on adventures far and wide…and don’t even get me started on the ramifications and impact it has had on all of our work situations! But, I want to offer a glimmer of optimism – there are plenty of ways to get outside and still have fun, despite the virus!

For example, I make regular trips to Lake Tahoe and the Reno area. I love it up there, and my son lives in Reno, so I try to go up there as often as possible to visit, ski, or both. Additionally, we live in a great region where we have Shell Ridge and Mt. Diablo right in our backyards! When the weather cools and the smoke clears, you can try a new trail!

If you’re a foodie like me, you may be struggling to find good places to eat and new places to try that offer correct social-distancing practices. At wineries, however, they are seating outdoors at their beautiful gardens, thus you can distance yourself from other people quite easily. My friend Veronica and I recently did this at Rombauer Vineyards and Bennett Lane in the Napa region.

We went up Friday before Labor Day Weekend and it was the perfect time -not crowded, though they said they were booked solid for the holiday weekend. We had a great one on one experience at Bennett Lane and enjoyed most of their wines which was determined by what we toted to our car. We then headed to lunch at (Farmstead), and enjoyed the nice weather and lunch on the patio, although the hostess was a bit snooty as we showed up 15 minutes late. We had the trout and brick cooked chicken, along with shishito peppers from their garden. You can see the menu here.

Rombauer Vineyards has a beautiful view as noted in the picture with the roses in the foreground and their Zinfindel and Chardonnay are among my favorite wines. An interesting tidbit that I did not know, Co-Founder Koerner Rombauer’s great aunt Irma authored the cookbook The Joy of Cooking, and his ancestors originated from a famous wine-growing region in Germany.

What’s Cooking for the 4th?

I just took a long weekend to Reno to see some friends and my son. Time there is often spent having great dinners. I love to cook and it gives me an opportunity to try out some new recipes on my friends. This time I grabbed the Better Homes & Gardens magazine that was sitting in our office with a fabulous cherry cobbler on the front cover and made a couple of the cherry recipes from the July issue, just in time for the 4th!

July Issue … Cherries!

The Cherry Caprese Salad with Burrata on page 92 and it was a big hit and Barbs, my friend’s mother, is the best cook ever. She shared some good tips and helped a lot. I served it with marinated fresh shrimp courtesy of my neighbor from Osprey Seafood, where I can place an order and pick it up down the street, leaving my check in the box (he knows where I live) and served it with a mango jalapeño salsa. The next night I attempted the cobbler and it turned out amazing. The recipe asks to brown the butter and then freeze and grate it into the dough. I thought it was more work, but the brown butter makes the biscuit. Brown butter makes everything better!

Wishing you a Happy 4th of July spent with friends, family, and some wonderful food. (text or email me if you want the recipes)

Escape Room: So much fun!

Have you ever done an Escape Room? I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. We did “Cash Me If You Can” and it was fun! We went to Red Door at the Veranda in Concord, which is on the top floor of the shopping center with a great view! This one had a dual purpose in solving how to get out and collecting chips in a casino environment. There is also a Da Vinci Code element to it with ciphers and thinking outside the box. In the end, it was exciting and challenging.

You might ask, “what is an escape room? Is it claustrophobic, can I get out, etc.?” Well, Red Door Escape creates immersive escape rooms that encourage human connection where teams of 2-8 people need to solve puzzles, hints, and clues to escape a series of rooms in under 60 minutes. 

Each escape room episode is uniquely themed where your team has a common objective in order to escape the room. The episodes can deepen relationships, encourage communication and collaboration. They can do team building events, obviously.

Luckily we had one person who had done this before and was a big help in helping solve the puzzle. We actually escaped under the allotted time and got bumper stickers saying so. It helped that I unknowingly cheated on part of it, but hey isn’t that thinking outside the box? It costs about $35 a person and a great family or friend building experience that requires lots of communication and teamwork.

Every week they post a new riddle on their board. Can you figure out the riddle from the sign above? It’s a tricky one. Post your answer on kristinlanham.com at the Contact Me page. The first correct answer will win a $10 gift card of their choosing!


Do you have a Book Club?

It could be said, one of the rites of passage of adulthood is joining a Book Club. Amazingly, I have now been part of the BBC book club going on 16 years. We were a group of parents whose kids went to the same elementary school and many of the kids were on the Dewing Park Swim Team. Our co-founders, Allison and Janet, started discussing it on the playground while waiting for the kids to get out of school, invited friends, and, thus, in September 2004, the BBC Book Club was formed. I have never been exactly clear on the acronym for our book club, but it came about by the first book that was read: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik. So, it is the Bon Bons Book Club, but that is too many B’s for BBC – maybe it was condensed to “bonbons” as one word. 

We are 20 members strong and usually have 12-14 people show up for our monthly discussion. A few have come and gone and we have added some new faces, but it remains always fresh and interesting. We alternate hosting, and the host gets to pick the book and provides the refreshments. You can imagine with that many women it is sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise and keep the discussion focused. We may talk about the book for a short time, or it might be a very involved discussion depending on the book. Sometimes it will get sidetracked and we catch up with each other’s personal lives or new books to read.

We now have known each other for so long that we have been there through many trials, tribulations, joys, and happiness. We’ve been together when our children going off to college and out on their own. There has been support in times of trouble and sorrow and just as many celebrations. We will occasionally do a movie book club of a book that we had read instead of meeting at a house and then going for dinner to discuss. We have had stays at a cabin, got together for a tutorial in painting by our in-house resident artist and craft guru Julie Zouzounis. And then there is our annual Christmas exchange meeting…my favorite of the year!

We usually gather at Erica’s house, because it is one of the most festive and earliest, fully decorated homes of the group. We do a themed gift exchange where everyone brings a gift worth $25-30 and puts it under the tree, wrapped of course. This year’s theme was consumable gifts, i.e. candles, honey, etc. (and then there were a few not-so-consumable things like angel teaspoons and a cutting board, but they do promote consumable items!). Once a gift is opened (we draw numbers to determine the order of opening a gift), you have the option of stealing an opened gift. It can be stolen twice before it’s frozen.

Some people really hate that concept of stealing because they don’t want to upset anyone, but I love it! There is banter and laughing and at the end of the day everyone leaves with a nice gift that was meant for them, even if it didn’t feel like it when a gift you really liked got swiped out from under your nose. 😉

We have also done a few charity programs. This year, we donated diapers to the Monument Crisis Center. In the past, we have put together cards for Kids Creek Care and some have adopted families for Christmas at the Trinity Center. I think books were the initial draw, but the glue of this group is the friendships and experiences we have shared! And that is why this BBC continues to endure as a group.

Do you belong to a Book Club or would you like to start one of your own? Would love to hear your comments or questions.

Here are the names of our voted favorite books each year – we each get three votes. Some years there is a tie, so I have added them too.

2005: Kite Runner

2006: Broken For You

2007: Glass Castle

2008: Plain Truth

2009: The Help

2010: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

2011: Cutting For Stone & The Hunger Games

2012: The City of Thieves

2013: The Fault in Our Stars

2014: The Night Circus

2015: The Orphan Train

2016: Boys in the Boat

2017: Small Great Things

2018: Nine Women, One Dress & Before We Were Yours & Beneath the Scarlett Sky

2019: Where the Crawdads Sing

Best camping spots near San Francisco

It seems like I’m coming up with one of these blogs every Fall, and rightfully so – it’s a gorgeous time of year to get outside in the Bay Area and have a campfire, pitch a tent, and take in the beautiful nature that surrounds us.

Today, I’m re-visiting this TimeOut.com list and pulling out five campsites that I think are worth your time while the weather is still nice. Read below and let me know if I missed any!

Kirby Cove Camp – Golden Gate Recreation Area

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, you can settle into a very private campsite with astonishing waterfront views of the city. Bonuses: You’re walking distance to the beach and a picnic area.

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East Bay Camp – Angel Island State Park

Angel Island is a quick ferry ride from Pier 41 or from Tiburon. There are 11 sites, and they may be a bit of a hike from your landing, but nowhere else can you get 180-degree views of the East Bay hills or San Francisco.

White Gulch Beach – Tomales Bay

You can’t beat kayaking into a campsite along the shoreline of Tomales Bay. This specific site is protected from the wind as its back in a cove, and you might see a ton of wildlife!

Steep Ravine Campground – Mt. Tamalpais State Park

This is a bit less rugged, considering you can book a rustic cabin here that overlooks the Pacific. There are normal camping options, too, and you’re just steps away from the gorgeous Steep Ravine Trail.

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Sempervirens – Big Basin Redwoods State Park

There are few settings more beautiful to camp in than under the redwoods, which tower over this state park. You can pull your car right up to the highway here and enjoy modern sites with picnic tables and fire rings.

Ballet at Stern Grove!

I was able to catch part of the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco recently – I made it to the ballet, which was fantastic! We spent the first half of the ballet in the De Young Museum, so we missed a chunk, but it was still great.

The ballet was a free performance, which I think is so interesting that they provide this show for free. And it clearly paid off, because right in front of me were a couple little girls getting the full experience.

We learned that they were taking ballet themselves, and now they were getting to experience a live, professional ballet for free in a beautiful setting. Plus, you can’t beat a nice day out in the city!

It takes a bit of time to park and walk to the grove. Once we got there, we had to hike up the hill and find a place to sit amongst the trees. Luckily, in the area we went to, some people were saving a spot for their friends who didn’t show, so even with our late arrival, we got a decent view! See pictures for how far up the hill people climbed to see this free show.

If you want stellar seating, make it it a day and get there early and have a picnic. When Stern Grove Festival comes back around next year, I’ll be sure to make more out of it. What a great way to involve those who normally couldn’t afford to see it and the opportunity for small children to experience the ballet.

Get your music on!

Here’s a fun thing to do in the Bay Area summers: go see live music! I love going to Bottlerock Music Festival in Napa every spring, and if you’ve never been to a proper festival, you really are missing out on a cultural phenomenon.

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Sunshine, good music, unique eats and drink vendors everywhere? What could possibly go wrong? Here are some music festivals coming up in the second half of the summer in Northern California:

Stern Grove Music Festival 

I encouraged everyone to check out this free festival in San Francisco in a previous blog, and my urging stands! It goes through mid-August!

Festival Napa Valley

This takes place from July 12-21, so you still have time to squeeze it in! Opera, jazz, wine, food, and a gala hosted by Seal. Seriously! Check it out.

Guitarfish Festival

From July 25-28, you can enjoy live music in a family-friendly setting on the banks of the Yuba River near Truckee. What a scene! More info here.

Petaluma Music Festival

On August 3rd, you can benefit the Petaluma public school system by attending this one-day festival with four stages of music. Very cool!

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Outside Lands

This is the big one – the annual 3-day festival extravaganza in Golden Gate Park is worth every penny! This year, enjoy Paul Simon, Childish Gambino, Twenty One Pilots, and more! Visit the website here.

A survival guide for sellers living in a fully staged home

Nicole Solari, a broker in Northern California with The Solari Group, wrote a funny, interesting article recently that I wanted to share below. This version has been slightly edited for length, and includes my own commentary at the end. Enjoy!

Most of us are reasonably familiar with the litany of woes sellers and buyers typically experience. One of my agents, however, is getting an all-too-real refresher course in the twists and turns of selling a personal residence when it’s fully staged.

We accidentally created a manual on exactly how to pull of something spectacularly awful as living in a staged home while it’s actively being shown. So, if you find yourself advising sellers how they should cope with living in a staged house while it’s actively being shown, suggest these 10 survival skills to them:

Leave for the first few days the listing is active.

The best way to cope with living in a staged house is to put off doing it for as long as possible. Not everyone can afford this expense, but, at a minimum, a nice long weekend away seems to be worth the cost!

Stop thinking of staying in a staged house as living. It’s not. It’s camping.

Have realistic expectations to make the temporary inconvenience more bearable. Think of the extended stay as a camping trip, so it will be more tolerable. It’s a relatively accurate description of the “lifestyle” anyway.

Establish sensible advance-notice periods to insert in the showing instructions.

The agent needs to guide the discussion regarding how much advance notice sellers need to prep the property and vanish with kids and pets in tow. Giving two hours notice before a showing seems reasonable to most buyers and agents, and most often give more.

Don’t do anything that spatters, like cooking. Or eating.

Sellers shouldn’t use the oven. They shouldn’t microwave anything potentially explosive. And, they most certainly shouldn’t fry anything unless they’re prepared to wash down the stove and everything surrounding it immediately after use. When dining in, the menu should be limited to salads (as long as dressing spatters are rigorously prevented), sandwiches and other things that aren’t messy, such as takeout. Ideally, they’d just eat at restaurants or directly over the kitchen sink.

Shower at the gym, and have a hairdresser on speed dial.

Sellers want to be clean and buyers want to see a flawless home. Having a shower in showing condition means cleaning and its surrounding glass relentlessly and hand drying it every time it’s used. However, the gym shower is much more simple!

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Keep necessities in easily hidden bags or covered containers in every spot necessary.

Although I would never look under the bed, my seller assures me, if I did, I would find the bathrooms scale, a box of makeup, a bag containing soap, toothpaste, and floss, dog toys, a bag of allergy medications, and a set of pajamas. All I can say is thank goodness (and our stagers!) for bed skirts.

Give in to an obsessive need to clean, tidy and touch-up paint.

There’s nothing like having to get a property ready to show multiple times to focus a seller’s attention on minute details, and that’s good because buyers see everything. Suggest sellers keep cleaning supplies, garden gloves and tools, trim and wall paint, and brushes together in an easily accessible – but hidden – spot.

Protect the stager’s furnishings against every weird mishap conceivable.

If a seller soils or damages a rug, piece of furniture, lamp or perfect accessory, the loss to the stager is more profound than most sellers realize. The cost to replace an item is often significant, plus it can be difficult to locate a replica of the spoiled item, especially if it’s a unique size or style. It pays to protect them! So, sellers should plan to live like monks. They should try not to walk on the rugs or eat or drink near anything that’s not theirs.

Do NOT change the dog’s diet or routine.

Even with the best coping skills, sellers are stressed. And their pets (as well as kids) are double so. Nothing is as it usually is. And sellers’ little ones are involuntary conscripts in this process. So, sellers need to keep as much of their routine intact as humanly possible. And, whatever they do, urge them NOT to try a new dog food while they’re living on someone else’s rugs!

Hire a cleaning service.

The constant wiping, cleaning, and tidying soon gets to every seller. If they can afford it, hiring a professional cleaning service to come in on a regular basis is respite care for stressed-out sellers. You’d be amazed at what a memorable and welcome gift that can be.

It might seem a little overboard, but their are agents out there that will suggest all these things. I am more of a middle of the road. Get the house looking stellar, take professional pictures and then keep it as tidy as possible. Having a caddy that goes under the sink with all your shower and morning routine items is just fine. Many people go away the first weekend of an Open House and if you have kids, that adds a whole different dimension of keeping a place tidy. Just picking up the toys and putting them in a basket may just suffice.