First time at an Estate Sale

I didn’t know what an estate sale was until today when my mom brought me along to two of them to look for a few household items. After two weeks we are pretty much settled into our California apartment, and we are now working on getting little things now like bookshelves (we don’t have books yet) and decorations for the walls.

Estate sales are basically like garage sales but for everything in the house (and sometimes the house is put on the market as well). I went to two houses today and only the second house allowed buyers into the house.

One interesting thing that I learned was that people hire estate sale companies to run their estate sales. At the first house we went to, there were ~10 workers that covered a wide spectrum of race and age that all wore black aprons and ran around arranging items and pricing them. At the second house, there were three latino ladies that ran things. Here are some photos from that second house:

Each company has their own way of pricing and labeling items. At the second house, they used colored buttons, which was much simpler than the first house’s method, which was having a worker come and stick a custom price onto the item.

The second house was actually really amazing and had a beautiful pool in the back and a spacious garden area right behind the front doors.

The only thing that I dislike about estate sales is that most of the items are old, dusty, and depressing, and since there are so many items in an estate sale, the house tends to look way too crowded. Some people see a bunch of cheap stuff that can be cleaned off and reused but to me it seems like a waste of time to buy them, unless you really like the item or are on a tight budget. By the end, I almost got a headache from looking at all that clutter!

Balboa Park, San Diego


I was so glad when my mom and I decided we would be going to Balboa Park in San Diego because it meant that I didn’t need to search online for any San Diego attractions like art museums or restaurants. When I looked on Google Maps at Balboa Park, I saw that the giant park (1.875 square miles) had tens of museums and gardens. The park a 2-3 day attraction at least.

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There were so many museums in the park that I couldn’t believe it at first. How great is this park!!!

We got there around 4 pm because we’d gone to 3-4 other places in San Diego before. We found that most of the museums in Balboa Park close around 5 pm, and I was relieved because we’d gone to so many other places already that day.

Food always helps when you’re worn out from walking so we found one of the only places in Balboa park that offers substantial meals (that’s what a park guide told us), the Japanese Friendship Garden. The Garden is two acres at the moment, and it will soon be ~10 acres after some construction.


Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl

The next day, we ate at the Japanese Friendship Garden again for a half-lunch half-snack that turned out to fill us up entirely so it became our lunch.


Curry Chicken Rice Bowl

We also enjoyed the Botanical Building. I wanted to go inside because on the brochure it listed a “carnivorous bog” as one of the attractions inside, but I couldn’t find the bog. I’d actually seen it back in the building, but I didn’t recognize it until today. I was looking for some giant bubbling mess with insect carcasses floating on the surface, but after searching online I found that it was a collection of venus flytraps, flypaper traps, and pitcher plants that I’d looked at for at least two minutes that day.




I have no idea how the log above turned out to have such a squiggly cross-section!


The Spanish Village was really charming but we were too tired to do anything but sit underneath a tree in the colorful courtyard and look at the shops from afar.


New Small Californian town: Morro Bay

My family seems to be attracted to small towns no matter where we go, perhaps because we’re from a Midwestern college town in Champaign, Illinois.  We’ve visited two small Californian towns twice each already, and we just tried out another town: Morro Bay.


Morro Bay is a seaside town with a population of 10,000. This is the view from our motel.

Evenings and mornings were chilly. Bayfront Inn was great; they gave us free fish n’ chips coupons and cinnamon roll coupons for local businesses (we only stayed in Morro Bay for about 14 hours so we didn’t have time to use the coupons). The inn also left us complimentary salt water taffy from a local store, Capri Sun pouches, and water bottles.



Every restaurant in Morro Bay advertised fish n’ chips, but I still got a barbecue sandwich. Really big portions!

The coolest time to walk around Morro Bay is in the morning, because of all the fog. There was thick fog that didn’t quite reach ground level. The giant rock in the first photo in this post was completely obscured by the fog.



The dock above smelled horribly of fish and just of the sea. There were pigeons as well as seagulls, and I’d never seen pigeons in a seaside town.

Small Californian towns: Gilroy, Ojai, and Carmel


We started off our journey to Ojai at OD’s Kitchen in Gilroy, CA (population 50,000), for breakfast. Locals lined up ten minutes before 8 am and chatted before the restaurant opened. The locals were talking about some sort of festival in Gilroy where you weren’t allowed to bring beer to drink after eating, then a Vietnam War veteran began talking about how during his time in Vietnam he drank more beer than water.

The locals were friendly to us foreigners and when one local recommended a dish on the menu, I decided to order it: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”


He recommended the “Rosebud”, which was a “Kitchen sink” (chopped up potatoes and ham) plus biscuits and gravy topped with an egg. He also recommended the thickly sliced bacon, and we ordered that too.

We got to Ojai in the evening after driving south for about 5 hours. We’d been here exactly two years ago, and we’d loved it. Ojai (pronounced Oh-hi) is a small town of 8,000 in the Ojai Valley.

My family liked three main things about Ojai.

1). Last time we were here, we visited the Pepper Tree Retreat, the former home of Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti.

2). There is a place called Meditation Mount which holds monthly meditations on the full moon. We were lucky enough to visit on the full moon this time, and attended the meditation, which started about an hour before sunset.


There was a 30 min music session where a young man played relaxing music on a keyboard while everyone (30 ppl or so) sat in a circle on chairs, then two speakers talked about helping humanity by accessing the wisdom from our souls. The sessions stressed unity with each human being. This was the first time I’d heard of this so here’s more information:

Once the sun set and we’d sat in silent meditation for 10-30 minutes (I have no idea how long my eyes were closed) the leaders of the meditation led everyone outside onto the terrace and we released something we’d built up through meditation out into the Ojai Valley to help humanity.


3). The third thing we liked about Ojai were the burritos of La Fuente Restaurant:


Three types of salsa, each spicier than the next.

We came here two years ago and ate burritos in the hot sun outside the small restaurant because the only sitting room was outside. We liked it so much that we ate there twice last time.

This time we came here at 8:30 after the meditation on Meditation Mount for some evening food. We were glad to see that the restaurant had expanded to the adjacent store space as well, so we could sit inside. The carne burrito wasn’t as good as I’d remembered it.


Carmel (a.k.a. Carmel-by-the-Sea, (Carmel pronounced Car-Mel(Mel like the name))), California: We’d been here exactly two years ago as well. It’s a really small, touristy town of 4,000, and the only place we’ve been to in this town was downtown. The seaside part of Carmel is also an attraction but we never left downtown.

The streets were so cobbled and sloped that apparently the municipal code prohibits high heels longer than 2 inches unless you have a permit.


The main reason we never left downtown was a restaurant called Dametra Cafe, which served excellent Greek food. We were glad to see that Dametra, like La Fuente in Ojai, had expanded into the adjacent room. The best part about Dametra was that last time we were here, a cook came out from the kitchen to sing a song to the entire restaurant. A tall, grizzly, hook-nosed man came out to introduce the chef, holding a bouzouki, which looked like a guitar with a broken neck, and a few drummers sat in the back of the restaurant and the short, old chef began to sing.

We learned on this visit that the chef sings at least once every day at random times. And as luck would have it, he came out to sing right after we’d ordered the check.

Day 7: Sacramento, California to Palo Alto, California

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This post is five days late because I didn’t have access to wifi after reaching Palo Alto. We are staying on Stanford University’s Campus and didn’t get a modem and router until today. I guess I could’ve gone to a coffee shop or public library to write this post, but we were all busy unpacking and shopping for food and household supplies.

We immediately began noticing some differences between our old home in rural Illinois and our new home in urban California.

Everything in Palo Alto was clean and space efficient.



Some space-saving bike rack

Going to Walmart was comforting because the aisles resembled the ones back in Illinois, but the store was ten times as crowded in Palo Alto.


There were tons merchandise left on the floor and misplaced on the shelves by customers. I would’ve been shocked, but we were warned by others that this was a result of the busy lifestyle that most Californians live.


First meal at home, eaten on a picnic blanket on the floor of the empty living room.


It was like a cheap furniture factory for the first few days.


One of the busiest streets in Palo Alto, El Camino Real.

Day 6: Winnemucca, Nevada to Sacramento, California

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We were actually a day’s drive away from our final destination, Palo Alto, but we wanted to take a detour to Lake Tahoe, California, so we had to stop at the end of the day in Sacramento.

We stopped in Reno, Nevada, for lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant called 101 Taiwanese Cuisine. A large section of downtown Reno was blocked off for an antique car show/competition, called “Show-n-Shine”,  as part of Reno’s Hot August Nights, a six day festival in downtown Reno. There must have been over one hundred classic cars on the road, shined for the occasion with their doors and hoods popped open.


Owners often sat in lawn chairs on the sidewalk next to their cars.



Everything in Reno was also really big. In Nevada, casinos are legal, and it seemed like every building downtown was a casino.





The streets were often tiled by some sort of fake stone formation. The streets seemed sticky and smelled of urine and other bad things. The people were friendly in giving directions.

We stopped at Lake Tahoe, California, for only 45 minutes at most, because we were eager to get to our hotel. IMG_5165

We still have a few more hours of driving to Palo Alto tomorrow, then the Journey West section of my blog will finish, and the California section will begin.


Intro / Last Weeks in Champaign, IL

My family is leaving my hometown on July 26, 2014,  and driving West. Our final destination is Palo Alto, California (My Dad’s taking a semester-long sabbatical at Stanford University), but we will be stopping along the way for sightseeing. I will stay in Palo Alto for about three weeks and leave for Taiwan around August 23, although my travel agent hasn’t sent me the itinerary yet.

My blog is structured into three main sections, each one corresponding to one part of my upcoming year. The first is Journey West, where we will drive to Palo Alto. The second is California, where I spend three weeks in Palo Alto, California. The third is Taiwan, where I will live in Taipei for a year sponsored by Rotary Youth Exchange. To see all of my posts in order from most recent to oldest, click on the title of my blog at the top of the page, “A Gap Year In Taiwan”.


Here are some of the things I did in Champaign before I left.

Birdwatching that was organized by a very knowledgable classmate in Meadowbrook Park


In the forest

Champaign County Fair

I’d gone last year and really enjoyed the change in atmosphere. I went two nights in a row, and ate a donut burger, deep fried oreos, nachos, and drank a ton of lemon shake-ups.


4H Club


Fairground rides











In Indianapolis, we stumbled upon a Family Day celebration in a park

There was a concert, a World Cup soccer game displayed on a huge screen, lots of food stands and TONS of people. Last summer, around the same time of year, we’d seen a similar festival going on in the same park as we drove towards downtown Indianapolis. Now we were in the middle of it.


Spicy Mango Drink


Ice Cream Cart