Saturday, 31 July 2010

Up to the highest height

America in general, and Berkeley in particular, enjoys celebrating each and every pastime that can possibly exist. Especially if you can make a competition out of it. This weekend it's the turn of the kite flyers, with a two-day festival down at Berkeley Marina featuring giant flying octopuses (octopi?), synchronised displays to music, and enough space and wind to allow all-comers to have a flutter.

There was a surprisingly aggressive fighting kites tournament with much cheering from the crowd, but the highlight for me was the far more cut throat "candy drop". The children lined up on one side of the field as a bag of sweeties was hoisted on a kite string high up into the air. After a count of three the bag opened, the goodies fell, and the children were set loose. Wow - it turned out that the fence was for our protection, not theirs.

I fancy myself as a bit of a kite flyer, having honed my skills on Llandudno beach with my Dad and an original Peter Powell (the stunt kite, like everything else, was a British invention). Today I only brought along a small single-string, which saved my blushes while watching people who really knew what they were doing. Tomorrow I'm off to find a hill and start practicing for next year.

Kite flying: popular.

Some large sky-dwellers.

Not quite measuring up.


A strong field for the fighting kite championship.

Shauli and Anat find the best position to view the action.

Great work from one of the synchronised teams.

I used to think I was good at this...

Ok, time to turn it on.

National holiday

Some days in America are important, and should rightfully be celebrated. Thanksgiving, so-called Independence Day, Hanukkah. But one day outshines them all, and that day is today.

Keen readers will remember that this isn't the first year we've celebrated this particular event, and like last year we were also welcoming a new cheesecake to The Factory's extensive line - the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake Cheesecake:

Oooooh yes.

Silvi, Ignacio, and baby Ignacito had popped over to join us for an afternoon by the pool, and it didn't take much to persuade them that a slice of dessert that provides more than the recommended daily calorific intake (for a rhino) was what they wanted.

Ignacios senior and junior get ready for a long night of overindulgence.

Hannah, with the intimidating Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake.

Ignacio can't wait to get his teeth around The Original.

Scared by my Reese's monstrosity.

Silvi tucks into an Oreo Cheesecake.

30 seconds later.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Back to school

This morning the two-year holiday known as "doing an MBA" came to an end for Hannah as she donned her power suit, grabbed her Crumpler briefcase, and headed out the door to conquer the corporate world. She's on the complimentary shuttle bus right now, being chauffeured to Chevron HQ where her day will bring free coffee, a free gym, and a new Blackberry smartphone. Now she can check her e-mail anywhere! Woo.

Me? Well, I'm back to the role of Executive Domestic Manager with duties like cooking, cleaning, checking the water temperature of the pool, and meeting for coffee/lunch with fellow domestic managers to share best practice. It's an important role.

Have you got a pen? And tissues? And are your daps in your P.E. kit?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Family friendly

So if Chevron is a big, evil oil company, how come they organise a family theatre festival here in Walnut Creek? Hey?

A happy San Franciscan family.

Pretty flags.

Song and dance.

Free face painting!

Maya the puppy.

The festival did attract some evil things...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Trouble at Creek

Walnut Creek isn't Berkeley! But today this unlikely centre for political unrest became just that when a large demonstration was held both for and against Johannes Mehserle, a BART police officer recently charged with the manslaughter of Oscar Grant. Walnut Creek's courthouse had been chosen because, apparently, it's conveniently located.

I missed the demonstration, mainly because I was sat inside enjoying a nice cup of tea. A helicopter had been buzzing around for a while, and we'd heard sirens, so Hannah decided to find out what was going on. On the Internet, of course. We weren't actually going to leave our apartment complex.

As soon as it became clear that something was going on I grabbed my camera and, with no regard for my own safety, dashed out to keep you informed (and see if I could loot any high-value electronic items). Unfortunately all the action was over. A few stragglers urged me to fight the power, and the remaining riot-geared police officers could not be persuaded to beat me up no matter how much I taunted them. I came home empty handed.

The online media makes it sound a little more exciting (online accounts distorting the truth? I frown upon that!) One dry cleaning business boarded up its windows. "If you're from San Francisco this is a letdown," commented a resident who was watching events from a deck chair. In the end the SF Chronicle had to conclude that there was a bit of shouting and not much else. Like I said, this isn't Berkeley...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Devil's Mountain

You can see Mount Diablo from our house (if you open a window and hang out as far as you can), so when someone at church mentioned that there's a campsite right at the top we couldn't resist attempting the climb (in a car) with Anat and Shauli to check it out. We would normally have walked, but with Anat being pregnant...

The campsite, at 3000ft, offers views down across Walnut Creek, the hills beyond, down to the Bay, SF, and Mount Tam. As usual the fog was rolling in, creeping inland from the Pacific and keeping the Golden Gate Bridge (and most other things over there) obscured. We had an evening jaunt to the top, and on the other side the agriculture of the flat central valley spreads to the horizon. You can supposedly see Yosemite's Half Dome as well, but it was being shy.

After a night of more than one encounter with the local wildlife, we turned to the real reason for our trip. A game of The Settlers of Catan on top of a mountain! The setting was perfect, the game less so - Shauli won. Again.

On arrival, we were greeted by a park ranger.

Heading up the hill.

Admiring the view from the top.

It is rather pleasant. Look - Half Dome!

Because it's there.

King of the castle.

Anat takes a breather.

Once I get you up there...

...where the air is rarified.

Breakfast time Saturday morning.

The morning's chefs.

"This is how we do it in the Israeli army," Shauli teaches me.

A shady spot for the most important activity of the weekend.

Planning tactics.

It didn't help.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Tooth and nail

In a move that has shocked the Bay Area dental community, Elliot has actually managed to buy a practice! After two years, and several false starts, amazingly nothing went wrong and we greeted him from the signing last night with a big cake. His new office is in trendy Palo Alto, 20% off to clients who mention they read this blog.

Say ahhhhh!

Let's hope he's better with teeth than with Champagne bottles.

Elise is pleased that Elliot has finally fulfilled his marriage potential.

The contrasting styles of the Singer girls. Hannah: 60s Berkeley.

Maya: 5th Avenue, New York.

Sofia: hostile Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Now I've had the time of my life

Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Once Upon A Time in the West, Dirty Dancing. There are some films that sear themselves into history like no others, that demand repeat viewings to peel away the layers of subtlety and subtext. Last night we joined hundreds of like-minded cinephiles in SF's Union Square for an outdoor showing of the greatest of these.

Dirty Dancing tells the seemingly banal story of a girl on holiday with her parents who finds love through dance. But it is so much more than that. Or maybe it isn't. But how could you not be moved by the cheers that greeted Patrick Swayze's appearance, or at every memorable line ("I carried a watermelon", etc.), or the soundtrack of Hannah's teenage years before she met me and I introduced her to real music? As the fog rolled in we retired to the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy's for further post-film deconstruction.

An expectant crowd waits.

Pre-show entertainment. Quite clean, actually.

Here we go! The film that once so shocked Hannah's Granny that she made her granddaughters turn it off.

Someone's happy.

Wasn't Jennifer Grey Oscar-nominated for her role?

The tension and emotion on-screen gets to all involved.

One to try in the swimming pool tomorrow.

What happens if you indulge in dirty dancing.

Saturday, 10 July 2010


Pretty much the most exciting thing that can ever happen to anyone in their whole life is when they get a new computer. And with the promise of Hannah having a salary soon (I seem to remember having one of those once...) I've been allowed to move from my bargain-basement laptop back to a real machine.

So it's been an great week, with components arriving daily and me getting to plug them together like grown-up Lego. The new beast has a quad-core Phenom II processor, 4Gb DDR2 1066 RAM, and a Radeon HD 4650 graphics card. If any of that excites you then you can definitely be my friend.

It's also environmentally friendly! The motherboard includes an Intelligent Energy Saver: "The deterioration of environment and the shortage of natural resources had increasingly become an undeniable threat to human being" states the possibly-computer-translated manual.

Unfortunately all is not well in paradise. I have an (environmentally friendly) hard disc that is refusing to transfer data at anything more than a snail's pace, which means my old laptop is actually faster than my new machine. Still, it's all fun! Why get paid to fix computers when you can do it for your own education and enjoyment...?

The cage is open, but the beast sleeps.

At least it's running the important things properly.