Twenty Thirteen: The Year in Review


Twelve years on, this experiment in urban living just feels right. For many years we punted on the question of whether we would stay in San Francisco or migrate north to the rolling hills of Marin. As much as we love sunny days, big backyards and ample parking, we won’t take this city for granted. We love that we live a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. That Golden Gate Park is our big backyard. That world-class museums and cultural centers are a short bus ride away. That we hear five different languages being spoken to children at the playground. That when we have an appetite for Vietnamese food, we have a half dozen options in the neighborhood. That our children’s concept of “normal” will never be small. That a short commute means more time at home. That even in a city of 825,000, we always seem to bump into friends around town. That in small spaces, a family can grow with love, support and a sense of place. For so many reasons it became clear that we are a San Francisco family and this city is where we want to grow.

And while we lovely our city dearly, we certainly enjoy getting the hell out of town from time to time. We started the year with our annual pilgrimage to Death Valley and the Owens Valley. We spent two nights in a tiny cabin in the hills above Lone Pine and then found our way back to the Panamint Valley in Death Valley NP, where we camped for two beautiful, still nights. We can’t think of a better way to start the new year. We had some ambitious plans for skiing, but only managed one 3-day trip up to Kirkwood. While Carson stalked the halls of Red Cliffs Day Lodge, Autumn logged another two days of ski school and a few runs with Dad. As the summertime fog enveloped our home, we made plans for a trip north to the Oregon Coast. We spent a week at a vacation home near Florence. We visited the epic sand dunes, the Sea Lion Cavern and many windy beaches. On July Fourth, we cast bedtime aside and took the kids to their first fireworks show. Much smiling and squealing ensued. We also took a day trip to Corvallis to visit the OSU campus, which was a first for the kids and great fun for Jody and me.



After a dozen schools tours and countless hours debating our options, we received Autumn’s SFUSD school assignment for her Kindergarten year. With a sigh of resignation we learned that we didn’t receive any of our choice schools. Through three subsequent rounds of placement our luck did not change. Autumn was oblivious to all of this and started her school year in August with a sweet curiosity and mild trepidation. But as the days ticked by and the shuffling of kids settled down, we learned that a spot had opened for us at one of our top schools. In the third week of the year, Autumn moved over to Lafayette Elementary School without missing a beat. She loves her teacher (Ms. Hubbell) and we love the community of families at the school. At snack time, she can often be found discussing the nature of twin prime numbers with her classmates while swinging from the monkey bars.


Autumn continues to practice ballet every Friday with Miss Tilley, and in May she had her first recital. It was the very definition of cute overload as twenty wee ballerinas showed us their very best. Grandma Mary and Grandpa Bill were on hand to show their support. She loves to create, and we keep a steady supply of markers, crayons, paper and glue on hand to support her art habit. Outside the house, she has become a hearty hiker, a capable camper and an expert marshmallow roaster. She logged a few more days skiing at Kirkwood in the spring and she gets more steady on her bike with each outing. Without a doubt, she is a handful. But as Jody and I like to remind ourselves in the most trying of times, “At least she isn’t dull.”


Favorite Books: Tiptoes Lightly, Circus Ship
Favorite Food: Pizza, Hamburgers
Current Career Inclination: Dress Designer or Scientist


Suddenly, there’s a little dude in our midst. No longer just Autumn’s baby brother, we got to see Carson in a new light this year. He’s goofy and funny. He’s shy and sensitive. He can eat his weight in pasta. And with no urging from his parents, he’s decided that his favorite color is orange, naturally.


Carson (and Autumn) had a blast in the off-season with Sara, our summertime nanny who seemed to possess boundless energy and surplus of warm smiles. They had daily adventures on the town, taking buses to the park, the beach and the library. And after two years of accompanying his big sister to morning drop-off at preschool, it was finally Carson’s turn. He began his first year at Presidio Preschool in August. He loves his teachers (Roxanne and Thui), his friends and the giant train set he gets to play with every day. Carson currently holds the record at Presidio Preschool for most superficial head wounds in a one-month period. We’ve started saving the incident reports as artifacts of his childhood.


In October (the golden days for SF weather), Carson and Autumn went to their first concert just a stone’s throw from our front door: Calexico at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. There was singing, there was dancing, there was Carson accidentally kicking over some dude’s plate of nachos (sorry, brah). Just two months later, a cold snap descended upon San Francisco, threatening to put a chill on Carson’s birthday plans. But the little guy wanted a cable car birthday, so we bundled up and hopped on the California line for a ride over Nob Hill to the Embarcadero where we had a quintessential city birthday party in the shadow of downtown.

Favorite Books: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site; Steam Train, Dream Train
Favorite Food: Pasta, Pinto Beans
Favorite Toy: Legos, Excavator


This year marked the two-year anniversary of PritchardPeck Lighting and the company continues to grow. Jody and Kristin brought on more employees, packing them into every corner of their cozy SOMA digs. Their work was published in several trade magazines and in October they were awarded the highest honor from the IESNA for their work on the Velti Headquarters in San Francisco. Earlier in the year, Jody joined a few colleagues for a trip to Italy and Slovenia to tour lighting factories, talk to manufacturers and drink wine (not necessarily in that order).

But all work and no play makes Jody a dull girl. So in 2013, she found a way to sneak in a little time for herself. Once a week, Jody gets some ice time at Yerba Buena Center. She takes ice skating lessons every week – a little dream come true from her childhood. Though because I stay home with the kids on those nights, I’ve never actually seen her skate. So it’s entirely possible that she drives downtown with her skates, finds a warm place to relax and tucks into a Hot Toddy for a little mommy quiet time.

Best Meal: State Bird Provisions with Kristin and Simon
Most Fabulous Moment: Riding a private Chris Craft to Murano
Biggest Indulgence: SP-Terri Ice Skates



I spent a lot of time this year counting miles. In 2012, I started commuting to my office by bike and doing some longer rides on the weekends, eventually posting 1,500 all-purpose miles. It felt great to get back into cycling and the commute offered a great way for me to put in a lot of non-negotiable miles every week (not to mention, a good excuse to avoid MUNI). In January of 2013, I set a solid but achievable goal of 2,000 miles for the year. So, I hit that goal in June and kept on cranking. By the time the year was out, I had knocked off 4,000+ miles and completed two century rides: the Marin Century and the Tahoe Sierra Century. Most of those miles come as part of my commute, and I remain in awe that I get to have such a beautiful ride to and from work every day. I even got to sneak in a mid-week bikepacking trip. I ventured across the bridge and into the Marin Headlands after work one day for a night of solo camping followed by blueberry pancakes at the Dipsea Cafe on my way into work the next morning. Every other Tuesday, Jody teaches art class at Autumn’s school and Carson gets to ride to work on the back of Dad’s bike. All in all, he seems pretty chill about the whole thing and falls asleep more often than not.

In other news, the long-neglected Yummy Lovin’ website got a reboot and some new content. It contains recipes that have become Pritchard Family staples. SierraSoul remains on indefinite hiatus, though I would like to finish up our New Zealand trip report before ten years passes – it’s almost ready.

Favorite Book of 2013: Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
Favorite Ride of 2013: SF to Novato via Marshall on June 22
Favorite Show of 2013: The xx at the Fox Theater on May 30

We hope this message finds you well. And we hope you have a safe and happy holiday with the ones you love most.

Matt, Jody, Autumn and Carson
San Francisco, CA

P.S. If you’d like to see more of our family portraits, they’re posted on Flickr.

Carson’s Cable Car Birthday

Our little man has been growing up in so many ways. He’s in his first year of pre-school, talking a mile a minute and (for better or worse) going toe to toe with his sister on a daily basis. He’s becoming such a fun little dude. In perhaps the least surprising twist of any young San Francisco lad’s development, he’s fallen in love with cable cars. He loves to ride them, he loves to visit the Cable Car museum and he loves playing with his toy cable car—the one with the real working bell—at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

For his third birthday this year, we decided to mix it up and take his party on the road…err, rails. At the end of a bone-chilling week (by SF standards), we were joined by our committed family who rode the California Street Cable Car over Nob Hill and down to the waterfront for a party in the park. It was a birthday we won’t soon forget.

If you get these updates by email, you can watch the video here.
And you can see more photos from the day here.

Twenty Twelve: The Year in Review

Family Portrait - December 2012

As we parted ways with 2012 and started a new year, I thought briefly about just letting our year-end review slide this time. I had a lot on my plate, and who wants to read last year’s news when a fresh calendar awaits? But as much as I appreciate the friends and family who stay up-to-date with our little brood from this website, in many ways, we are the intended audience. This site lets us walk back through the brief history of our family, laugh at the naïveté of our early years and give Autumn and Carson a record of their childhood. So to our two children, I say this: if you’re reading this, years from now, give your old man a hug. Because I just as well could have sat on the sofa with a bowl of cereal and watched reruns of The Simpsons tonight. But I did this instead. Now THAT is love.


This young man crawled his way into 2012 and ran his way out of it. Carson is a bona fide K-I-D. Our expectation (read: hope) that Carson would be the mellow Yin to complement Autumn’s high-speed Yang did not really materialize. This came into focus as Carson practiced his favorite hobby of climbing up and jumping off everything in sight. He’s retained his sweet smile and all of his teeth, which is more than we can say for his sister at this age.

Carson at Badwater

Carson found his sea legs early in the year and hasn’t slowed down since. He loves kicking the soccer ball around the park, which he visits often with our wonderful nanny Ahna and his buddy Naomi. One of his first words (after Dad), was “light” which no doubt brought a wee tear to his mother’s eye. He loves to help in the kitchen and comes running anytime he hears the mixer or suspects any cookery is taking place. He reaches in the air and pleads, “tall, tall, tall” – his way of asking to sit on the counter so he can check out all the action. His love of food extends to the dining table where has been known to eat platefuls of pasta, bowls of beans and more bananas than a troop of monkeys. We have a video from early in the year where you can see for yourself.


The little lady of the house is not so little any more. Autumn grew up in so many ways this year, we find ourselves both delighted and terrified at where this thing is going. Autumn is in her second year at Presidio Preschool, steeling herself for the jump to kindergarten. After touring eight schools and attending several enrollment faires and classes this fall, Mom and Dad look forward to enrolling Autumn in one of the Richmond District elementary schools in August. She loves art and books and delights in the nature walks her class takes in the Presidio every Friday. Her favorite books include: If I Built a House, Peter Rabbit, The Story of Sleepy Sam and anything from Dostoevsky’s oeuvre. If anyone knows how we can obtain a personal sponsorship from Crayola or Flax Art & Design, please let us know.


Autumn’s boundless energy found many outlets this year, as we sought to direct her perpetual motion outside the home. In April, she stepped into her bindings and pointed her tiny skis downhill at Kirkwood. A few preliminary runs with Dad were followed by a lesson in Kirkwood’s Little Rippers program…a routine we plan to continue in 2013. She continues to take weekly swim lessons at the JCC and loves to show off her skilz when we visit the pool at Grandma and Granddad’s house. At Grandpa’s house in Twain Harte, it’s hard to say what’s the bigger draw: splashing around in the lake with her sand toys or reminding Grandpa that they have ice cream at the Snack Shack. In September, she began ballet classes with Miss Tilly, whose neighborhood studio is something of an institution in San Francisco. Later that month, she got her first pedal bike and proceeded to punish the pavement in Golden Gate Park.



For Jody, 2012 was a balancing act, with a growing family on one side and a growing business on the other. Jody and her partner, Kristin, poured their energy into growing the company they founded in 2011, PritchardPeck Lighting. What started a year earlier with two laptops and a short list of clients has grown into a thriving business. In 2012, they brought on staff and moved into an office space in the SOMA area of SF. As their reputation and client list grows, they’re trying to find moments to take a deep breath and enjoy their success.


To that end, Jody was the champion of travel this year, instigating a number of trips that found us loading up the car and chasing the horizon. In March, Jody and Autumn traveled north to Portland to celebrate Grandma Eileen’s graduation from her Master’s program and hang out with cousin Bodhi. We kicked off the summer with a long weekend trip to Santa Cruz and kept the momentum going with weekly trips to beaches north, south and right here in the city. A bag full of sand toys and cooler full of sandwiches is as close as we can get to hitting the Easy Button these days. In early July, we visited Grandpa in Twain Harte and had two nights of camping in the Sierra. Speaking of camping, in September, we repeated our trip to Kirby Cove and had the company of cousins Marley and Ashtyn. The stars aligned and we had another fog free night, which is key when you’re sleeping at the confluence of five very large foghorns. After Christmas, we took another Griswold Pritchard Family roadtrip to the Eastern Sierra and points south. We had two nights at a rustic cabin near the Alabama Hills before heading into Death Valley National Park for a few nights of camping in the remote Panamint Valley, site of last year’s camp and a spot that is quickly becoming one of our favorite DV destinations.


Matt is about one-thousand words into this post and finding it rather difficult to switch to the first-person view. So, in honor of Ricky Henderson…

In 2012, Matt received a promotion at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. and now manages a product team within the eCommerce Technology group. Among other accomplishments, Matt ensured that the system that randomly generates millions of promotion codes for WSI will never produce one with a swear word. Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter. Speaking of work, after twelve years commuting on MUNI buses, Matt had a moment of clarity. One day in April, he tried riding his bike to work. One day led to two, and he found that he could cut a full hour from his commute by riding his bike, not to mention the vast improvement in scenery and fitness. By year’s end, he had racked up 116 days commuting by bike for a total of 1,568 miles.

Cozy in the Cabin

In the evenings, Matt continues to fight against the life-sucking vortex that is our living room sofa. When he wins a bout, he usually ends up at TechShop, where he dons a pair of safety glasses and slips into geek mode. With access to more machines and fabrication tools that he can possibly hope to master, he’s been having a hell of a good time designing and building a number of projects this year. When Autumn hears mention of TechShop, she usually inquires, “Daddy, are you working with the saws or the lasers tonight?” If we play our cards right, she will never know what a bizarre question that is.

So that’s a peek at 2012 in the life of our family. So memorable in some ways, and a total blur in others. We’re healthy and pretty damn happy (most days) and for that we feel blessed. Thanks for checking in on us. Wishing you and yours a year of good cheer in 2013.

God Bless.

Gravity is a Harsh Mistress

It’s amazing how a moment can go from laughter to complete shit in just a matter of seconds. All it takes is a little distraction, a bit too much confidence and the inescapable forces of gravity. Autumn recently graduated from the wee charms of her Skuut balance bike to a bona fide big girl pedal bike, complete with basket and custom license plate (sans training wheels). She’s still getting the hang of it, and as you can see from the video, so is Dad.

Not to worry. The tears were dry within minutes, and Autumn was smiling shortly thereafter. Dad is still a little freaked out.


My affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America was short-lived. For a number of reasons, Troop 81 of Novato, CA had a hard time holding my interest. I bailed about a year into the program, well before I had achieved any level of proficiency in some basic elements of campcraft. Years later (around the time I was at OSU), I developed a deep appreciation for hiking, backpacking and alpine climbing. In the years that followed, I found a partner in Jody and pursued backcounty adventure at every opportunity. Together we learned map and compass navigation, backcounty cookery, winter travel, and any number of skills that we’ve deployed from Wyoming to Patagonia, New Zealand to the Dry Tortugas. And right here, in the mountains and along the coastline of our Golden State, we’ve had more adventures than we can remember.

Back in 2003, we created SierraSoul to document our wanderings and help educate others about backcountry travel. We’ve written articles on trip planning, snow camping, and first aid. We have a spreadsheet that helps you calculate the optimal caloric density for backpacking food and a half-written article about thermodynamics and heat transfer as it applies to backcountry travel. Despite this hard-won knowledge, I had always held on to one deep, dark secret: I couldn’t start a campfire to save my life. It is shameful, embarrassing and difficult to explain. I simply never learned how to do it. I think I hit rock bottom in New Zealand, on our second night along the Routeburn Track. We were staying in a hut with a pot-belly stove. The caretaker had stocked the hut with ample firewood, kindling, newspaper and (no kidding) a bucket of coal. And still I failed to start a fire. It was Thanksgiving.

Fast forward five years. Our backpacking calendar has slowed down considerably. Our nights outside are focused on the family, and we’re usually just a stone’s throw from the car. Autumn and Carson are becoming capable campers, having braved the wilds of Death Valley, the Sierra Nevada, the Marin Headlands and Grandpa’s backyard. Carson will climb anything in sight and is usually covered in dirt within minutes of our arrival. Autumn divides her time between woodland dance routines and reminding Mom & Dad that we get to roast marshmallows after dinner. Which brings us full circle…back to the campfire.

In early July, we took a week for a low-key vacation. Our plan was a few nights at Grandpa’s house and wandering trip through the Sierra, camping along the way. After a quick drive to Twain Harte and a night to decompress, we headed east along 108 and found a great little campsite off Eagle Meadow Road. We are still in dispersed camping mode, and likely will be until we civilize these savage beasts. What it lacks in convenience, it more than makes up for in solitude and guilt-free nights. We had pine trees, we had granite, and we had a big damn fire ring waiting to be used. After setting up camp, I put Autumn to task picking up the small, dry twigs we would use to prime that evening’s fire. With a hot meal in our bellies, we set the stage – more twiggy fuel, some dry pine needles, matches, kindling, firewood. I thought through the instructional pep talk that an Eagle Scout friend gave me a few years back. I buried my past failures, lit a single match and started our campfire. A s’more never tasted so sweet.

We eased our way back to Twain Harte to knock the dust off the children, celebrate the Fourth of July and catch some restful sleep in a comfy bed. But we wanted one more night under the stars before returning home to foggy nights in SF. This time we headed further up 108, near the top of Sonora Pass. We found a great campsite at about 9,200′ with beautiful High Sierra views. Autumn and Carson had a blast just playing in the dirt, climbing (and falling off) everything in sight. I found success by the fire ring for a second time. I won’t call it a comeback, but the progress feels good.

A chilly night led to a slow morning. But at least it was a slow morning filled with bacon and eggs. While the kids collected some last minute dirt under their nails, we broke camp and then headed down the hill. We didn’t quite get the four nights of camping we planned for, but two nights is nice. I’ll take two nights in the Sierra with this crew any time.

There are more photos from the trip here.

Ski Bunny – Short Film

Autumn’s been coming to Kirkwood since she was four months old. She knows the inside of the Red Cliffs Day Lodge as well as any local. Last year, we put her on skis for the first time and pulled her around the flats to try “skiing” for the first time. This year, we decided she was ready for something more. This past weekend, we hit Chair 9 at Kirkwood. She loved it. Four runs in a row—pretty good for her first outing. I’m sure it won’t be long before she’s booting up 99 Steps or hucking the mandatory air at the bottom of Heart Chute. Check out the video below. We feature one of Autumn’s favorite songs on the soundtrack and the post-run interview is pretty great.

If you get these updates via email, you can watch the video here.

Mobile. Agile. Big Smile.

Attention Heisman voters: keep your eyes on this kid.

Carson took his first steps just a few weeks ago. He’s making his way through the stage where walking is interesting, but crawling is faster. And with more walking comes more falling. He’s grown a bit tougher in his second year, so the total tear count is being held in check. Here he is strutting his way along the Ocean Beach promenade.

If you get these updates via email, you can watch the video here.

Days in the Valley

We took our first trip to Death Valley back in 2005 during a September road trip to southwestern Utah. It was a quick layover during a long drive to the storied canyons of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. The scale of Zion Canyon with its high-country terraces and serpentine slot canyons quenched our thirst for a bit of adventure. And the Seussian red rock of Bryce burned its twisted forms into our memories. But the brief time we spent in Death Valley stuck with us most all. We found ourselves heading back just a few months later during an impromtu winter road trip down the east side of the Sierra. We gave ourselves more time to explore, making the pilgrimage to Racetrack Playa and ringing in the new year on the rim of Ubehebe Crater.

After Autumn was born, we started talking about when we could share the park with her, which was really a conversation about just how soon you could subject a young child to a twelve-hour road trip and camping in the remote desert backcountry. After a steady year of Tahoe trips and good number of nights in the tent, we decided fifteen months was about right. To make things interesting, we dismissed all of the responsible destinations and instead aimed for the Saline Valley, one of the most remote outposts in the largest national park in the Lower 48.

After ten hours of driving, doing a northern end run around the Sierra, we braced ourselves for the final leg of our trip: fifty dusty miles down the infamous washboard of Saline Valley Road. As it happens, the washboard wasn’t a problem. The 6,000 foot pass laden with 16 inches of unplowed snow was the problem. We white-knuckled our way over North Pass and drifted down to the valley floor, where we looked back at Autumn and took a moment to reflect on how incredibly responsible we were being.

That night, the temperature dropped to the low thirties, about ten degrees cooler than we had expected. Jody did an admirable job keeping Autumn warm, but low temps and the forecast for a major storm found us breaking camp by mid-morning and resigning ourselves to just a single night in the tent. We spent the next two days enjoying the hell out of the Lone Pine area, taking trips into the Alabama Hills and generally goofing around.

Two years and too many seasons have passed, and we find ourselves a family of four. Carson is fairly sturdy at age one and has ample tent time under his belt. We found an opportunity for another wandering road trip south. Two days after Christmas, we loaded up the Subaru and hit the road in the pre-dawn hours. A very dry start to the winter gave us the unusual opportunity to cross Tioga Pass in late December. We landed in a shoebox-sized motel room along Highway 395. Decompression in tight quarters took a while, but by the following day we found our way into the park and did a short day hike in Mosaic Canyon. Carson loved the view from his perch atop Jody, and Autumn was in her element, bouncing her way up the canyon. A full-speed faceplant had us both worried that our little girl would advance her quest to be toothless by the age of four, but the grill remained intact and we brushed the dust (and blood) away.

That evening we found ourselves more comfortable accommodations and settled on our plans for the following day. The temperature was relatively low, hovering around the low 40s overnight. Our original plan to camp in the Eureka Valley and visit the Eureka Dunes wasn’t going to fly given the elevation and corresponding temperature drop. But the Panamint Valley looked promising. Big and desolate, with a low elevation, the Panamint Valley was the perfect place to find some distance between us and everything else.

The next morning, we loaded up the car again and drove back into the park. We bounced our way north along a washboard dirt road and found a big patch of sand with plenty of room to spread out near the northern end of the Panamint Valley. Dispersed camping is the perfect remedy for the guilty feelings that usually vex families with young children in crowded campgrounds. Our nearest neighbor was two miles away and the kids had the biggest sandbox they could ever dream of. We played a bit and watched the sun set early over the Inyo Range. Camping in late December means very long nights, but we kept Carson and Autumn entertained until bed time arrived. Jody had her hands full sharing a tent with both kids. I stifled feelings of guilt and drifted off to sleep in my own tent just twenty feet away.

Morning brought happy smiles, but also bitter cold and a painfully slow sunrise. We filled our bellies with a big breakfast and broke camp, a little bummed that we had just one night at this amazing site. Our drive home took us back over Tioga pass and we stopped at Tenaya Lake, to stretch our legs and play on the ice. We drew into SF pretty late and knocked the sand out of our shoes one last time. We’ve now camped in three of the four major valleys in the park: Death Valley, Saline Valley and Panamint Valley. Getting to Eureka Valley just requires slightly warmer weather—something that isn’t hard to come by in this place. The kids had a great time and they’re getting used to these long road trips. We hope this is just the start of many more years exploring Death Valley and all the outer lands of this amazing state we call home.

More photos from this recent trip can be found here.

More photos from our 2009 trip can be found here.