Thursday, 22 March 2018

Back to NorCal

Hannah can't survive without us, so when she had to come over to Chevron HQ in California for some meetings about whatever it is she does at work, Pete and I graciously agreed that we would accompany her, despite her protests.

So here we are!  All the old stomping grounds are still here, and by stomping grounds I mean ice cream and coffee shops; I've actually managed to gain weight moving from Texas to California.

We're also catching up with all our friends who haven't moved to Houston yet, mainly at the aforementioned ice cream and coffee shops, and driving around the Bay Area.  The reminder of how crazy traffic is here was not welcome, neither was the endless rain that greeted us.  But what can I say?  These small sacrifices are worth it for Hannah's peace of mind.

 Welcome to sunny California!

First stop: Lottie's ice cream shop!  Which is shut on Tuesdays :(

 Luckily the San Francisco Creamery around the corner was open.

Since we lived here, people have had babies!  This is little Pete, meeting big Pete.

Enough of that - time for some more food.

A trip into SF.

Doing an impression of Daddy at Blue Bottle.

And now my trip is complete.

Where Pete will end up when he's older.

Sea lions still here.

We basically did the tourist trail we've done with visitors so many times before.  Ah, the memories.

And here (free chocolate).

Then back on the trolley bus.

Lottie's was open by now, thank goodness.

Then up Mt Diablo.  It wasn't the clearest at the top.

Beautiful views out towards the Central Valley.

Catching up with Virginia, who moved out here from DC shortly after we went to Texas.

New friend Bianca!  She speaks Russian and Romanian, and the universal language of love.

Evie, suitably haughty, on a(nother) trip to the SF Creamery.

Her dad Nate, enjoying coffee and cookie flavour, perhaps a new favourite.

A quick stop at the National Pinball Museum.

Fun with Caleb...while long-suffering older brother Logan looks on.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Rodeo return

My own solo trip to the rodeo was really just reconnaissance; today was the big family outing.  To get ready I'd strip-mined the local thrift stores of all their western goodies.  We looked the part, we felt the part, still didn't sound the part, but we were ready to go.

We caught the metro train down and I was surprised how quiet it was.  I guess everyone arrives by horse.  Once inside, however, it was obvious that weekends are a whole different cattle drive from weekdays.  The fair was open, the place was heaving, and we fitted right in.

We started at the Great American Petting Zoo.  The approach was pleasingly regulation-free, which is the way we like it in Texas.  Fifty varied animals and one-hundred-plus people were left in a penned area.  Animal feed was $3 a pop.  It was chaos.  We moved onto the tractors, then outside to a fabulous kids' farm where you grew stuff, milked stuff, then sold it all to market at the end for two (fake) dollars, one to get you a treat and the other to pay into an agricultural bank.  Grandpa would approve of that.

We stopped by the rabbits but they were mostly packing up.  An enthusiastic farmer introduced us to a Flemish Giant (and it was a giant) and then we caught the end of some horse bucking in the arena.  Today we had tickets to the rodeo proper, in the big stadium, so made our way over via a deep-fried Twinkie, a funnel cake, and spending a fortune on a fairground log flume.

As it was now five hours after we'd got there, we were fairly shattered by the time the rodeo started, but watched the parade of rodeo organisers (on horseback and in carriages, naturally), then the national anthem (the finale of which involved a lady on horseback carrying a flagpole with fireworks shooting out of the top!) and then some calf roping and a bit more bucking.

Pete was virtually asleep on Hannah's shoulder by then.  We trotted home, tired, contented, and 200% more Texan than we had been that morning.  Why can't it be rodeo all year round?  I think I'm off to live on a ranch (as long as, you know, no actual work is involved).

You've got to know your way around a steer.

Which Texas animal are you?  Definitely a skunk.

What could go wrong?

Close encounter.

Goat selfie.

Today's trip is sponsored by...

Top tractor.

Small lunch.

And...another tractor.

Fake cow, fake cowboys.

Real cowboys.

A proud rabbit farmer.  He's digging an actual warren on his farm, which he hopes will make his rabbits larger!

Carnival fun, only $$$s.

How have you got to 5-yrs-old without trying a deep fried Twinkie?  Because you have responsible parents, that's how.

Or one responsible parent, anyway.

Some of the organising committee.  I may volunteer next year, unless I need to supply my own horse.

Rodeo finals!  $50k for the winner.  How hard can it be?

Friendly livestock.

See y'all next year!  (Why is Ned Kelly wanted in Texas...?)

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

None more Texas

It was time for the rodeo proper.  As I stepped off the metro train and walked into the showground one thing became apparent: this place is huge.  With two arenas, one stadium, and a fairground (complete with three Ferris wheels) in-between, it is truly Texas-sized.  By my estimation it was even larger than the Frome Cheese Show!  So: big.

Alone, this was my chance to see exactly what I wanted to, so after entering a competition to win a truck I wandered to the cattle arena and cast my eye over the junior longhorn judging.  There was little chance of me blending in as I'd fatally misread the dress code: blue jeans, cowboy boots, and most essentially a hat were all orders of the day, even with temperatures touching 80F outside and me in my shorts and T-shirt.

I cut my losses and headed to the sheep arena, where I have a little more expertise having successfully showed my cousin's pen of three in the Carmarthenshire Show circa 1994.  The breeding rams were getting judged, but even here Texan bling was everywhere, owners accessorising to their sheep's halters and reigns.  As I left I was asked by a kindly steward if I was lost, and - to my shame - stutteringly enquired as to where the guinea pigs were.  I was dismissed to a far part of the showground.

I left through what was basically a temporary western mega-mall; boots, hats, saddles, spurs and lassos, paintings, photos, and T-shirts of Texas, hides and skins from every animal that ever walked God's fair earth and got shot for it.  It was so dizzying I had to find refreshment before continuing, and luckily "chicken fried bacon" was available just outside.  Yes, bacon breaded and then deep fried like a chicken.  Only 10,000 calories a bite.  It was delicious.

On my guinea pig quest I happened to pass a very raucous tent in which I discovered "mutton busting".  I watched, open-mouthed, as parents paid $15 for their five- and six-year-olds to be placed on sheep and then released into a long pen.  The child that held on the longest as the sheep bolted was the winner.  Despite the immense padding on each small child this seemed like a hundred lawsuits waiting to happen, and may be that in a state less enlightened that Texas.  As it was the whooping and hollering drowned out any safety concerns, for sheep or human.  I left astounded, and a little more Texan than when I walked in.

I finally found the rabbits and guinea pigs, at the side of the horse arena, in time for the costume contest.  This is what I was here for, as were the 50 contestants who had arrived with well-dressed rodents.  I was there for the cute-but-ironic amusement, though I quickly discovered I was the only person not taking this deadly seriously.  Parents were coaching loudly from beyond the spectators' fence, and there was a judging panel of ten making the rounds, deliberating who to award one of five minor prizes to and then the main trophy.  My money was on Alice in Wonderland - a well executed if somewhat prosaic use of a white rabbit - but the "sweet sixteen princess bunny" won the top prize.  There was much excited screaming from the mother next to me when her daughter won.  "Sorry," she said.  "We've had a hard year."  I didn't ask any more.

It took me an hour to get back to where I'd started that morning, mostly because I stopped at every truck and tractor on the way.  The trouble with going to an agricultural show without a five-yr-old is that strangers look at you funny when you sit in a tractor going "brrrrm brrrrm" by yourself.  I'll save that for Saturday, when we will return as a family with tickets for bucking broncos and country music in the stadium.  You have got to come out and see this - y'all don't know what you're missing.

Brrrm brrrrm!  Oh, sorry.

Fancy some shopping?  Because we've got you covered.

The real stars of the show.

The longhorn winner for longest horns?

In the ring.

Well, of course.

Cute, in the "Agventure" part of the arena, but I have real animals to see (guinea pigs).

Sheep judging.

Forget the white coat you're meant to wear in British animal showing - let's get some of this Texan gear over there.

Anxiously awaiting their turn.

Sheep promenade.

How to keep your lamb in top condition before showing.

The breed champ, resting on his laurels.

Chicken!  Fried!  Bacon!

This is supposed to be my "it's delicious" face.

Time for some mutton busting!

Out goes another contender.

Wipeout!  No animals or children were harmed.  I assume.

The contestants, who seem to be intact.

Spur-of-the-moment purchase?

Made for walking.

OK, finally in a section where I feel comfortable.

A serious competitor.

Less serious.

Really serious!

This, shockingly, was the only guinea pig in the field.  And not the most inspired costume either.


My pick for the winner.  She won "best impersonation" but not the trophy.

The judges.

Anxiously awaiting.

What they're all here for.

I stopped by the horse arena on the way out, and this is what I want to look like next time I get on a pony.

Part of the (not open this early) fairground.

Want want want!

Hat sir?

Belt sir?

Cowhide sir?

One of the winners of the quilt contest, and it's easy to guess why.

Y'all come back now!