Monday, 15 January 2018

High five

How come Pete keeps getting older but I stay looking the same age?  It's a mystery, as today our little baby boy celebrated his fifth birthday.  It's been a long journey from Obama's California to Trump's Texas but one thing that hasn't changed is Pete's constant, bouncy happiness - a joy at all times, especially 6.45am every weekend morning.

Happy birthday kid!

It's a serious business being five.

"You have to sing happy birthday five times because I'm five!"  As after control as every five-yr-old then.

Where does he get all his energy from...?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Capital of the South

Atlanta is a great city.  Not quite Houston, but then where is?  They do have World of Coca-Cola which (see below) is the most amazing place on earth, and our last few days have been spent touring the other sights, sounds and tastes of the Georgia capital.  Most of these experiences have been tailored to the two-to-five-yr-old age range of course.

So after visiting the local nature centre and lighting a fire in Drew and Sarah's massive back garden (property prices/sizes are almost Texan around here) the big event was our visit to the Georgia Aquarium - so big they named it after the whole state.

And yes, it is big.  The main tank houses four whale sharks, and the giant galleries take you through tropical reefs to Georgian rivers and dolphin habitats.  We even got a private audience with some belugas, thanks to a volunteer telling us which door to sneak through.  Edward, a lifelong member, was encyclopedic in his species knowledge.  The only criticism - of the aquarium, not Edward - is that it's a little too Sea World in parts, with several animals captured rather than rescued (like in dearly missed Vancouver).  But they all seemed happy enough.

In terms of food - wow.  This is southern cuisine, in a way that Texas isn't really because Texas isn't south of anywhere: it's Texas.  We started at The Fickle Pickle, where there were indeed pickles, a whole fried portion of them, and continued through breweries and some home grilling to Nuevo Laredo Cantina where, thanks to a babysitter and taxi, three pitchers of margarita were consumed.

Sadly, all too soon, we were on the plane home, although it was a lot warmer back here than there.  Thanks to Drew, Sarah, Edward and Margaret for a fantastic stay, and y'all come to Houston real soon.  We have coke and margaritas down here too!

New buddies.

The Fickle Pickle's pickles.  A half-portion, which we still didn't manage to finish.

Thursday night at the brewery.

Wet wood, and the faces of scepticism.

But I used to be a boy scout, so this was well within my skillset.  Ha!

Margaret is happy now.

Georgia Aquarium.  Lots of water.


Smart and agile.

They had penguins too!

Diverse life on display.

Totally wild, and impossible to capture.

Friday, 12 January 2018

World of Coke

We're enjoying a short trip to Atlanta to see Drew and Sarah - friends from business school days in Berkeley.  In the way that time works, we all now have children, so Pete has Edward and Margaret to play with as the adults reminisce about when we were young.

Atlanta is famous for a few things like the 1996 Olympics and terrible traffic, but also for being the headquarters of a small drinks company called Coca-Cola.  Down here in the south babies are weaned on coke, and "Pepsi" is a word never spoken out loud.  We had heard many mythical things about the visitors' centre, including you get to drink as much coke as you want!!  Why wouldn't we take a four-year-old to a place like that?

After receiving our complimentary can on arrival we were ushered into a display of historic coke items, including a ceramic urn from the 1880s which used to contain coke syrup - you would turn up at a pharmacy, pay 5c, get the syrup in your glass, then fill it up with fizzy water.  The use of cocaine in this iteration was not mentioned.  There followed a movie with zero factual content but a lot of people looking very happy drinking coke.  Then we were inside!

The main building contains a bottling plant, various galleries about different coke aspects, a "4D theatre" (seats that shake until your sugar-weakened teeth fall out), a polar bear, and the all important tasting room.

And what a room!  Not only coke, not only every variety of coke (ginger lime diet, anyone?) but 100 drinks that Coca-Cola owns around the world.  My sister, from her time in Uganda, recommended Stoney Tangawizi, a ginger beer that contains a month's intake of sugar.  It was very good, but I was less impressed by Bonbon Anglais from Madagascar; smells of chlorine, tastes of fake bananas.  The European offerings were significantly less sweet than elsewhere.  Thank goodness we'll be able to set our own obesity levels after Brexit!

By our fourth visit to the loos it was obviously time to leave.  We wandered around downtown Atlanta, where there are some other things - Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center - but by then I was deep into a sugar crash, and what could be better than World of Coke anyway?  You can't beat the real thing.

Pete meets Mr Pemberton, the inventor of coke, who has an interesting history that was somewhat glossed over.

Welcome to our world.

Excellent responsible consumerism, Pete.

What it's like to be in a glass of coke, but less sticky.

Put these on and you can see the world in 4D!

Where do they hold the recipe, the most valuable secret the company owns?  In this vault that everyone can walk through, of course!

Bottling.  Still syrup + fizzy water.

Alright, here's the reason that we came.

Hannah, enabling.

This is the second time in his life that Pete has tasted a fizzy drink.  And now, thanks to Coca-Cola, it won't be the last!

Me and Drew, determining the finer characteristics of the soda.

And a little more coke.

And a little more.

The store.  Do you have anything non-coke branded?

Maybe I'll get just one souvenir to take home.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Explosive cyclogenesis

The US may be suffering under a "bomb cyclone" but that didn't stop us hardy Brits from getting out - first for a nature walk, then for some ice cream.  Because what's better in sub-zero temperatures than that?

Sadly, this was all really a precursor to saying goodbye to Ellen and Megan, who are heading back to London tomorrow where the temperature is significantly higher than here.  Yep.  It's been another wonderful Christmas and we're counting down the weeks until the 2018 iteration, although hopefully with somewhat more Texan weather.

A walk to blow/freeze the cobwebs away.

Anticipation for the best ice cream ever!

Liquid nitrogen is warmer than outside at the moment.

Melting my heart.

Until next year...

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Hill country

At some point on our trip to Texas hill country, I realised that I was paying for the privilege of staying in a drafty cabin in the middle of nowhere with no wi-fi or phone reception.  It's a great business model, and I will be spending my Christmas money on several acres out in the wilds and plonking some log huts on them.

We got to the wilderness via a long drive.  Long by English standards at least; in Texan terms we just popped next door (I learnt today that Texas crosses two time zones).  We stopped by The Alamo, the birthplace of the Texan revolution and the setting of a fine Johnny Cash song, but it was so cold we didn't hang around.

Thankfully the log cabin owners had left the heating on and a freshly baked cake in the kitchen.  The stern faces of previous, long-dead farmers looked down from the walls, an antique shotgun rested on antlers above the doorway, and the kids had to climb an outside staircase to get to their bedroom in the eaves.  Basically, a perfect Texas retreat for Meg and Ellen.

We spent the next few days exploring hill country and nearby Fredericksburg, a town founded by Germans and still proud of that heritage with traditional decorations everywhere.  We didn't go German when it came to food, opting for Cranky Frank's barbecue instead.  Their hours are "11am - Sold Out" and we were lucky.  They locked the door behind us as we walked in and gave us their last slice of brisket as a free extra.

After much time sitting on rocking chairs out on the porch and wandering the farmland - including an encounter with a llama and an over-affectionate chihuahua - we headed back to civilisation.  Via a winery, of course.  We were soon back in Houston, celebrating our time living like the pioneers of old.  After all, they didn't have wi-fi either.

Remember the Alamo!  We will, but mostly how cold it was.

We sought out the local Japanese garden.  It wasn't any warmer.

Who's that walking over my bridge?

However bad no wi-fi was for me, it was much worse for someone else.

Posing with Wild Bill Hickok.  Quite why the Kansas lawman is out here I'm not sure.

Our home for the next few days.

Welcome y'all.

The best thing about farms?  Lots of fences.

Lounging on the porch.


Howdy too.

Hey Frank, do you have any vegan options?

Tuck in, Meg.

Hannah's new pet.

Out on the farm.

Llama drama.

And back home via a vineyard.

Add this to the other 267 pics of Hannah and Ellen drinking in a winery.  Cheers!