Saturday, 30 January 2010

Turning over a new leaf

Yesterday marked Tu Bishvat which is (as you'll remember) the Jewish New Year of the Trees! Last year we successfully planted a giant sequoia, but no one told me you had to water it. This time Dana and Amir held a party complete with nuts, berries, and dried fruit. Hopefully the bulbs we were given will last longer than my tree...

Hannah checks that Amir's supplies were ethically produced from sustainable sources (that's why he's laughing).

Soon to be planted.

Sadly missing Twiglets.

Friday, 29 January 2010

To infinity

Life in California is always good but, wow, could this have been the greatest day of my life so far (apart from all those other days...)?

Pixar Studios is based just down the road in Emeryville. They're a "closed studio", which means that they don't let the public in to nose around. That is unless you're Patrick (aka Mr Incredible) and have an old flat-mate from Texas A&M who works as a modeler there. A phone call, some e-mails, and he, the Muckers, and we were on our way to visit.

Armed with our personalised visitor passes we made it through the front gate and were soon standing outside the main entrance next to a giant version of Luxo Jr. After a quick chat with a passing Haas alumnus who now works in finance there (they get everywhere!) we were met by Patrick's friend Seth and ushered inside the huge warehouse-like headquarters.

This is where it all happens. The place is divided into "left brain" and "right brain", with the creative people trusted to make the magic undisturbed (a thought that made finance-centric Christine shudder violently). All throughout are huge displays of stunning artwork documenting the making of the latest Pixar film - Up.

From the first sketches of the artists and directors through to clay models, oil paintings, physical props that they digitally was all there. We even got to see the real-life version of Carl's walking stick (complete with tennis balls)! That's like the Holy Grail!!

Unfortunately for your brave blogger there was a strict "no photos" policy. We did get to glimpse a few seconds of Cars 2 as it played on endless repeat on an animator's screen, and were told how they created a scene in the upcoming Toy Story 3 by importing a giant ball pool into the building and filming staff as they waded through it. And they get paid to do this! I left my business card in a strategic position (by the sink, in the men's toilet) and hope for the best.

Outside the gates.

And we're in!

Christine and me with a couple of the studio's stars.

A rather nice working environment (if we'd have stayed until 5pm it was free pizza and beer night!)

The guests.

When the sun goes down, the lamp comes on.

Huge thanks again to Seth and Patrick (who wins the "best free thing to do" award).

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Going fourth

A rip in the space-time continuum exists along with the geological faults here in Northern California. How else can you explain that Hannah Singer turned three only a few minutes ago and is now four! They grow up fast...but never so fast as to grow out of a princess-themed party with multicoloured cupcakes!

The birthday princess.

It's tough being the eldest.

And fun being the youngest.

It's my party!

The cupcakes are here.

Elise explains the game theory behind winning at musical chairs.

Too much coloured icing will make you crazy.

Guess who's growing up next.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Living dangerously

Think Northern California is a haven of peace and tranquility where the living is good and the sun always shines? Think again! Today we received the following e-mail from the Village Office. Between this and our earthquake kit, we should be prepared for any eventuality.

Dear Residents,

Heavy rains, flooding and power outages are predicted for this week (week of Jan 19)

Be prepared by having:

batteries & flashlights:

or lightsticks (good for kids)

non-perishable foods

extra clothes or blankets to keep warm

More tips for handling power outages:

Radio: Have battery-powered radios on hand.

Phones: Keep fully charged cell phones and corded regular phones ready. Cordless phones won't work in an outage.

Refrigeration: Fill and stow several liter-sized soda bottles in the freezer. In an outage, they can be put in the refrigerator to keep food from spoiling.

Power lines: If you see a downed power line, call PG&E's emergency help line.

We have been warned...

Monday, 18 January 2010

The sun always shines in OC

A shocking turn of events as water began falling from the sky today. Heavily. "It's dumping," as Gen commented in her fluent Orange County dialect.

But did we let such a small thing stop us? Kind of. We did get out of the house to go to the Crystal Cathedral, a megachurch in the nearby city of Garden Grove.

The place is impressive, with 10,000 panes of glass making up the main building and a large 'prayer spire' built next to it. It's also the home of the weekly Hour of Power evangelical tv program, but that gets filmed on Sundays.

Less impressively, it was shut. We drove on to the historical town of Orange, the reason for this whole big county. It was there the heavens really opened, which is why I'm typing this in the warmth of Jim and Gen's kitchen with a nice cup of tea.

The 'Tower of Hope'.

Ironically, the Jesus-walking-on-water fountain was drained.

We could have done with crystal clear skies as well.

Later, in a strangely deserted Orange.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

It's round and it's orange

Irvine is an interesting place. Almost all the land is owned by one company that, since the 60s, has been trying to construct the best living environment they can by careful planning and restrained development. They've done a pretty good job so far. Between all the tree-lined streets, public parks, and shared amenities, the standard of living is almost as high as the property prices.

One of the latest projects is Orange County Great Park, a huge tract of land given over to various recreational activities. The particular activity that we were interested in was the balloon, which offers free flights up to 500ft. Free and bloggable, the perfect combination.

The best laid plans, blah blah, and inevitably the wind blew up and in the litigation-prone culture of SoCal we were all grounded. No matter! The park office has loads of sports equipment also available for free to anyone who asks. I handed over my drivers licence in exchange for a football (a fair deal).

Three minutes of running around led to a number of conclusions. One, we are all very bad at football. Two, we are no longer teenagers. Three (related to two) fitness levels could do with some work.

The grounded balloon left us deflated.

But what's this? James 'Maradona' Holland displays exceptional ball skills (and not a hand in sight).

Hannah 'Pele' Davies sets up a precision cross.

David 'Ginola' least has the hair.

But Frankie 'Lampard' Holland is upset to be benched for this match.

Team photo.

Unreal estate

Jim and Gen have just bought a new house! There's only one slight problem.

Mr and Mrs Holland are proud to announce...


James has always been slightly better at maths than me (in the way that a fish has always been slightly better at breathing underwater than me). His superior intellect is the main reason for my ongoing enmity and resentment towards him that is obvious to everyone.

It was little surprise, therefore, when this morning he pulled out a challenge that involved advanced geometry and bagels. Our mission - from something he had seen online - was to divide a bagel into interlinked halves with one single cut, leaving two Mobius rings of tasty dough that provide maximum surface area for cream cheese.

Confusing? Of course! Delicious? Extremely.

The subject of the experiment, and the tools.

Perfect prior planning prevents poor performance.

The first cut is the deepest.

Inspection time. Have they? Haven't they?

Of course they have, ye of little faith.

A close-up of the hyperbagel. No fakery here: two perfect interlocking loops.

Our completely independent judge confirms our success.

So James, still better at maths than me?

Well...ok, a draw.

And now the hard part, toasting! James employs some specialist tools.

Infinite toasted cream cheese goodness.

\textstyle \log(r)\sin\left(\frac{1}{2}\theta\right)=z\cos\left(\frac{1}{2}\theta\right). = tasty

Want to try it for yourself? Instructions here (consultation available...for a small fee).

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Postcards from the OC

It of course starts with a trip to a mall - The South Coast Plaza. An impressive place, generating $800 per square foot yearly, but more importantly providing excellent wide, flat walking spaces for a young girl to toddle around and limitless punters to exclaim "she is so cute!" "We're very proud," Hannah and I remarked on more than one occasion. We enjoyed a delicious meal at Marche Moderne (great food, bad website).

Then it was the annual "Swimming of the British" where limbs so white that they could be used in a detergent commercial are put on display at the Woodbury Country Club. We waited until the sun had gone down (to avoid the chance of a tan) and slipped into the cool waters of the lagoon pool. Too cool, a screaming Frankie confirmed after 30 seconds. She was dried and warmed by her loving mother as we staved off hypothermia with only the power of our minds. The margaritas back at Jim and Gen's were necessary anti-freeze.

Run! Babyzilla attacks block city!!

This range of shops is more to Frankie's liking than yesterday.

And now showing her more contemplative side. There's nothing two-dimensional about this baby!

Born to live in the OC.

Later, in the (strangely empty) pool.

Please, help me, I can't feel my legs!

Dry, warm, happy.