Saturday, 26 September 2009

In the company of men

Today the Haas Women in Leadership (are they ever anywhere else?) organisation held their annual trip to Napa Valley. Hannah didn't go, but poor Vince, Elliot, and Dan were abandoned by their better halves. I felt I had to join them to offer my support at a ten-hour college football watching session at Vince's house.

Of course, being the village, when I got there men were outnumbered by women, most of whom were under six-years-old. But when babysitting duties were dispensed with, Dan cooked up a storm with some huge steaks. Male integrity was restored.

Who's the dude with the chick's hair?

Vince's telly can show you two the same time!!

Are you allowed to be here?

Grillmaster Dan does the business.

The empties.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Beaucoup de vin rouge

The Haas wine club is in full swing, with an event every week at the moment! This time around it was red wine, with Kirstin from the local Solano Cellars wine shop bringing in four cheeky bottles for us to try.

Part-way through the third glass I had the revelation that I'm not cut out to be a wine taster. While smells and flavours like 'maple bacon', 'grilled buffalo heart', and 'red cherries' were being bandied about, whenever I stuck my nose in a glass I was getting grapes and alcohol. And an overarching smell of wine.

I contented myself with knowing what I like (wine, in general), knocked back what was left, and held out my glass for the next pouring.

Our wine club officers (i.e. they get to keep what's left at the end) set up.

Here's what we came for!

Kirstin talks us through what we should be smelling. Not sure what that cup of coke is doing there...

They just never pour enough.

In summary: tasty.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Rosh Hashanah the second

It seems like only a year ago that we celebrated Rosh Hashanah at Dana and Amir's house. These days the social circle has grown so much that we have to hire the community room in University Village to fit us all in!

Dana and Amir once again took the reins, organising everyone to make sure that food and drink was provided in abundance. I missed the Gefilte fish, but was probably the only person there to do so. Once again an evening of food, drink, fun, and laughter made me realise that, even after a fab weekend away in the wilderness, it's always nice to come home.

All set for the attendees.

Filling up.

Vince provides the good stuff ($1.99 at Lucky's).

Amir welcomes us all...

...then hands over to Rabbi Shauli to explain what's going on (apples and honey - yum!)

Poor Christine has her work cut out on two fronts.

It all looks good from where I'm sitting!

Mopping up.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

45 minutes away from it all

Hannah and I are back from a wonderful weekend away in the country. The Marin Headland is just a short trip over the Richmond Bridge but as soon as you get there you're in a land of redwoods, dappled sunshine, and breathtaking coastlines. Hannah and I booked ourselves a decadent weekend at the Samuel P. Taylor State Park campsite.

By decadent I mean that we had an air mattress to sleep on and there were only two of us in the tent. It also turned out that we were five metres from the bathrooms and their hot showers. Does this really count as camping? We put all our food into the raccoon locker (they don't have bears out this way), unfolded our camping chairs, and popped open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our great escape.

With no electricity (and therefore no wi-fi!!) we were in bed shortly after sundown. At around 2am I was woken by the sound of scraping metal. I rolled over, trying to ignore it, but after another ten minutes of commotion I shook Hannah. "I think there's a raccoon stuck in the bin!" I exclaimed. "Not tonight dear..." she mumbled sleepily. "No, really!" I said, pulling on my fleece and grabbing my torch.

There at the end of our campsite were two raccoons, one sat on top of the huge rubbish bin and another hiding under a car, squeaking loudly. Hannah appeared, and after taking the requisite photos (see below) we debated what to do about the third one, noisily and obviously stuck inside the dumpster. Dismissing Alien-esque thoughts of the furry monster jumping at my face I flipped the lid open which Hannah deftly caught, and thus avoided waking the entire campsite. A few jumps and a bit more scrabbling and the stripy-faced mammal inside managed to claw its way out, rejoin its friends, and disappear with them into the night.

As I climbed back into bed there was a scratching at the tent door. I unzipped it to see the same raccoon, returned. "I am the spirit of the forest," it said, "and take the form of a raccoon at night. For showing me this kindness and saving me from the bin I will grant you a wish." "Um...thank you," I said, surprised. "How about world peace?"

"Hmmm," pondered the raccoon, scratching his nose. "That's a bit beyond my remit. How about I rustle up some acorns for you...?" "Don't worry," I replied.

"Suit yourself," it said, and snuffled off. The rest of the night passed without incident.

The following day was spent on gentle hikes and chilling at the campsite. I finally finished reading my book, we explored the local river, Hannah paddled on the beach while I napped, and that evening we climbed the nearby hill to look at the stars. Away from the city lights they were phenomenal.

This morning we struck camp and headed to Stinson Beach. The campsite had been hot and sunny for the entire weekend, with the redwoods making it pleasantly shady, but down here on the coast the sea fog had descended with full force. This didn't stop the surfers, swimmers, paddlers, and sand castle builders, but the whole scene was reminiscent of a North East beach holiday rather than a Californian getaway. There were shark warning posters, but that was it.

We cut our losses and drove up Mount Tamalpais. This is the type of mountain I like - 2,500ft high with a paved road all the way to a car park at the top. From here we could see that the coastal fog was just that, and inland the sun shone brightly. The view was amazing, taking in the city, virtually every bridge over the Bay...everything. We freewheeled all the way back down to Berkeley and this evening's Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Our campsite.

First-class accommodation.

Now this is more like it.


Friday dinner.

Our friendly, furry, early morning visitor.

What other coffee were we going to drink?

Hannah gets ready for her big hike of Saturday. I stayed at the campsite reading...

Hannah's picture.

Hmmm...maybe I should have gone with her.

Hannah on sunny Stinson Beach, Sunday morning.

But she's not the only predator around.

This is more like it - from the top of Mt. Tam.

We were even treated to a military fly-by. I was waiting for Ride of the Valkyries to start.

One day, all this will be hers.

Friday, 18 September 2009

All roads lead to...

And in overseas news: the Tour d'Angleterre, Britain's premier bike race not stolen from one that happens over the Channel in France, made its way today through my hometown of Frome. Our reporter on the scene (my mum) said the excitement lasted for the whole ten minutes it took to cycle from one end of the town to the other. But it did get reported in the news.

Photos below:

Frome hasn't seen this much excitement since Farmer Cooper's sheep got loose and ate the flowers in the churchyard.

What's wrong with horses?

The return of the winos

With a new school year comes a most important development - the re-starting of the Haas Wine Club. Needing to drown our sorrows now our guests have left, Hannah, me joined Fiona, Amir, Dana, et al and made our way to the opening social of cheese, biscuits, and a cheeky Pinot Gris or two. With so many Europeans and Antipodeans present the locals didn't stand a chance, and those of us who could stand at the end raised a toast to many more events in the future.


Drink up...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Back to the quiet life :(

With a heavy heart (and an even heavier car after all their clothes shopping) I drove Ian, Ellen, and Megan to SFO airport this afternoon. In the two-and-a-half weeks they've been here they've hit most of the NorCal hotspots - Yosemite, Monterey, Big Sur, SF, In'n'Out Burger, Jelly Belly...but with so much else to see they'll have to be back soon :)

Anything to declare?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday stroll

Solano Avenue is our nearest boutique-y shopping street, five minutes walk from Uni Village. Every year they hold a street festival and parade, and today was their 35th (the same number of years as my parents' marriage. Coincidence?)

With students working, other partners committed to other things, and Ian and Ellen off in Napa (wine tasting...again!), the unlikely trio of Dana, Megan, and me made our way up there this morning. I'd expected a small gathering of street stalls from local vendors, but as soon as we were washed away by the sea of human traffic we realised that this thing was huge.

The entire mile-long street had been blocked off with around 12 stages for music and dancing set up along its length interspersed with food stands, local organisations' stalls, artists, shops spilling out onto the pavement...the local cinema was showing free cartoons, there was a Scientology stand with several anti-Scientology protesters stood in front shouting, and a group of Morris dancers (better or worse than Scientology? I'm not sure). The whole thing was bookended by fairground rides.

After three hours we'd fought our way to one end and back again, and emerged replete with free balloons, pamphlets, seeds, stickers, pendants, and pens. Meg was a star, walking almost the entire time, and now she's having a well deserved nap. In the meantime, something long hoped for has arrived in the village...

Two princesses.

All a bit busy.

Meg grabs some energy-restoring provisions.

You travel six thousand miles to escape, and then what happens?

Supermodel and designer baby.

Food offerings are as healthy as ever.

Can't think what to put here...

Still young...?

Tonight we decided to reassert our youth and go to see The Killers - a popular modern beat combo that all the kids are listening to these days. The concert was in the Shoreline Amphitheatre down in Mountain View - home of Google. It was a nice venue, with a great atmosphere (liberally augmented by spectators' various herbal concoctions...)

Looking at the listing beforehand it seemed that The Killers would be playing without any supporting acts. As everything started at 7.30pm there was some unspoken optimism amongst our crowd of 30-somethings who went that it might all be over by 9pm and we'd be tucked up and snoring around 10pm.

No such luck. The Nervous Records began, followed by The New York Dolls (every band name had to start with the definite article). Finally, at the ridiculous hour of 9.40pm, The Killers arrived. But boy, they did not disappoint. The only downside was that they didn't play every song they've ever recorded. The energy, sound, and overall rock'n'roll-ness made even the rebellious post-midnight bedtime worthwhile.

Time for an afternoon nap...

Are you all old enough to be out this late?

There they are! Wow.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Legal in the state of California

After a year of driving under questionable circumstances ("sorry officer, I'm a foreigner...") yesterday I continued my path towards legal alien status by finally taking my driving test.

As usual, the most difficult maneuver was negotiating my way around the bureaucracy. I began queueing at 9am at window 12 of the Oakland Department of Motor Vehicles. When I told a security guard I had an appointment he motioned me towards window 13, where I was told to take my documents and insurance to window 24. There I was informed I should drive my car around the back of the building and wait in line. All instructions were delivered at the usual machine-gun speed of officials, making it very hard for a non-native speaker like myself to keep up.

I waited in line, being sure to check out what the people in front were being asked to do (hand signals), and suddenly my examiner snuck up from behind. After several high-speed, unintelligible sentences she handed me a piece of paper to sign and my test began.

"Where is your emergency break?" was the first question. The fact that Americans only use the parking break in an emergency tells you all you need to know about driving styles around here. We went through indicators, headlights, and the rear window demister(?). "I'm going to get into the car with you now, ok?" she asked. "Um...sure."

There were more instructions, something about carrying straight on until she told me to do otherwise - I was too terrified to do anything else - then we were off.

The Oakland test centre is in the middle of a big trading estate, which brought unpleasant flashbacks to the days of learning to drive in similar places in Frome (Mum shouting "Buster!" at me, the name of her childhood dog, whenever I scared her).

My examiner instructed me to turn right, to turn left, to reverse...

The only hairy moment came when a pedestrian appeared by the side of the road riding a bike, holding a dog on a lead, and made to cross. Having heard stories of friends failing for not giving way all times (it's different in Texas, I'm told) I immediately stopped. The pedestrian remained still. The car behind me beeped its horn. My examiner rolled down the window, shouted at the car behind, then turned to the pedestrian and screamed "are you going or not?"

Back at the test centre (where I was still shaking) I was informed that I'd only missed out on one thing. "Remember to look both ways at every intersection," my examiner said. Looking in one direction is more than most Californian drivers manage, so I was fairly happy. The man at window 23 told me I'd be receiving my licence within ten days.

PS Many thanks to Dana and Amir for trusting me with their car for this adventure. Greater love hath no friends...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Trees and bridges

Another scorching day, so where better to find some shade and coolness than under the boughs of some giant redwoods and in a gentle breeze from the Pacific. Oh, and in the air conditioning of The Cheesecake Factory.

It's behind you.

Godfather, Goddaughter, redwood tree.

Tree trolls.

A three-yr-old contemplating the immensity of the human endeavour that is the Golden Gate Bridge.

Classic tourist shot #24.

"Hello? Grandma? Send me some money!"