Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back to the quiet life

Well, it's going to be a sad week for me without a froyo powered four-year-old bouncing around by my size.  Today, after a final goodbye lunch at Counter Burger, we drove Ian, Ellen and Megan to SFO and towards their Virgin Atlantic flight.  Their holiday has been all too short, but has also packed it in (especially when it comes to eating out).  Hannah and I are on a salad-only detox in an attempt to shed a few pounds before our naked hot spring break next weekend.  More on that later...

After a trip to Berkeley, Meg decides to become a protest singer (it's better than screaming, her usual form of protest).



Happy Halloween!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Into the wild

Guest blogging or, at least, guest photography now.  Here are some rather fantastic snaps from the McLeans' tour around Yosemite.  They had some gorgeous weather, much better than we've been getting over here in the past few days.  Ellen made it to the top of Vernal Falls, they saw a real live coyote, and ate in the Yosemite Lodge food court (not, apparently, the highlight).

Yosemite - still looking great.

Ellen and Megan - still looking great.

Meg conquers one mountain.

And another!

Some fantastic landscape shots by Ellen.

Lower Yosemite Falls.

Impressive wildlife.

Even wilder (and cuter).

Vernal Falls, on the way up.

Ellen's moment of triumph, up at the top of the falls.  Five miles round trip, 800ft elevation gain.  Most impressive!

Ansel Adams had it easy. 

Half Dome.

A coyote!

The McLeans do National Parks.

Sunset in the valley.

Tea in the Creek

As previously noted, Walnut Creek is a hotbed of political activism.

When Hannah's complimentary luxury shuttle bus pulled into the Creek today she noticed placards being waved by a group of people outside our local USA Gas station.  "Thank goodness," was her first thought.  "Someone's finally demonstrating against a different oil company."  But no!  It turned out to be some dedicated political activists attempting to win the hearts and minds of the passing motorists.  As soon as she told me about it I grabbed my camera and sprinted into action like the war photographer wannabe I am.

American politics is hard to gauge for a European.  Being on the "right" is definitely right, but "liberal" just means slightly less right.  Any kind of centre ground is treated as some form of communism, and I have no idea how an actual left-wing position would be greeted.  It's all about the checks and balances.  It was therefore a little hard to work out where these protesters were from, but I have a fairly clear idea it was the legendary Tea Party.

Still, they were polite when I spoke to them.  "Are you going to vote?" the man with the anti-healthcare placard and NRA hat asked me.  "No, I can't, I'm an immigrant," I replied cheerfully.  This flummoxed him a little .  "Oh...well...we're putting on quite a show for you here then," was his comeback.

The ladies on the other side of the road were more welcoming.  I told them I was after a picture to show people back home, and they were quick to tell me that they wanted to make sure that America didn't turn out like England. "Or Greece," another added.  I weighed up the benefits of launching into a diatribe about social welfare and the collective responsibility of the state to the individual, perhaps with a short geography lesson thrown in, but thought better of it, wished them luck, and returned home.

A reference to the infamous Sarah Palin quotation.  But is this ironic?  Anti-Palin?  Like I said, American politics is confusing.

He's talking about the right to pay whenever you get sick.

Ok, enough snarky remarks.  At least these citizens were out campaigning for what they believe in, on a relatively chilly October night, leveraging Amendment #1 for both free speech and association (I didn't want to ask if any were bearing arms).  If I could vote I would...but probably not for the candidates they were endorsing.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Reasons to love America #542

Fellow Brit James sent me this.  Perhaps it's a not-so-subtle hint for a Christmas present.  It is definitely a further example of everything that is right with this great country - have an idea, sell it!  The Internet just cuts out a lot of the work.

I'll be installing this right next to the La-Z-Boy.

I've seen the future (again)

There's a new trend around here when studios release films ("movies") they hope are going to be giant, money-printing blockbusters - the extended preview.  Avatar did it, Toy Story 3 did it, and tonight we enjoyed 20+ minutes of Tron: Legacy, which isn't out until mid-December.  You turn up at a nearby cinema with your specially printed free ticket, sit in front of an IMAX screen, put on your 3D glasses, watch, and get a few goodies at the end.  You're then encouraged to Facebook and Tweet about it all, whip up the hype, and so extend the marketing budget into a record opening weekend.  It worked for James Cameron...

This Tron is a sequel to the original, which came out when I was 6 and was about a person who got sucked into a computer and met lots of programs there.  I don't need to say more, it was obviously completely cool!!  With middle-aged geeks now recognised as an important economic group with their own money (or, at least, their wife's) to spend, I'm happy to still be a marketeers target.

The Tron Night 2010 screening attendance was a little disappointing.  We'd been told to arrive an hour in advance to avoid huge queues, but actually got there ten minutes before it started and found a quarter-full screen.  We had our phones taken, and were wanded down airport style.  Still, there was a ton of whooping and hollering when things got going (American audiences: the best), the highlight being some joker shouting out "you can't tell me what to do!" when the message to put on your 3D glasses appeared on the screen.

Was my six-yr-old-self sold?  Well, it's again about someone who gets sucked inside a computer and meets lots of programs, so obviously.  Duh.

We got security wrist bands!  I'm going to wear this FOREVER.

Hmmm...not that impressive, but I'll take whatever freebies I can get.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Scraping the apple-bobbing barrel

Meg's heartless parents took her away today for a couple of nights in Yosemite, so I've had to find my own amusement and I've had no excuse to go out for frozen yogurt.  Instead the highlight of my day has been a trip to Target to get more milk.  While there I couldn't resist the draw of the "up to 70% off" signs by the Halloween aisle.  It's mostly empty now, but it turns out not all costumes were as popular as those I've featured previously.

Some things you won't be seeing at fancy dress parties this year:

If you thought the squirrel was poor.

You can dress your dog up as a mounted moose head.  Pretend your pet has been shot and stuffed!  I suppose this is vaguely in the Halloween spirit.

Why not go to a party as meatballs and spaghetti?  Spaghetti outsold meatballs this year, judging by the number of costumes left.  And they're not even convincing depictions of their respective foodstuffs!

Another low-selling food-based effort.  Words fail me on this one.

Monday, 25 October 2010

David and Meg's Gourmet Odyssey

One of the greatest joys of living in the Bay Area is the diversity of top-drawer restaurants representing cuisines from all over the world.  But when you're out with Meg, only one type of food matters: frozen yogurt.

"Froyo", as my 4-yr-old connoisseur knows it, is a well established recreational foodstuff in these parts, and now self-serve cafes where you pile your flavours and toppings high and pay by the weight are sprouting like weeds.  Having discovered Yogurtland last year, both Meg and Ellen were pleased to find that the Creek boasts a plethora of purveyors of refrigerated dairy comestibles.  And it's all fat free!  How do you make peanut butter flavoured yogurt fat free?  Best not to ask.

Cutie pie.

Has quality dipped since last year?


With her love of all things cold, the swimming pool was the next stop.

Hey, Godparenting isn't all fun and games!  There's an important educational element as well.

After Meg's bedtime I opened an interesting present from my sister.  I'd read about it, but with the chance of it arriving in America less then zero I hadn't, in my wildest dreams, expected to see it before I was deported.

Hmmm...hints of garlic and yeast.

But, ultimately, not Marmitey enough.  An easy way to solve that.

Next day, Coco Swirl underwent the tough Megan critiquing process.  The verdict: "nice".


It rained today.  In Walnut Creek!  It was actually part of a well organised plan to give everyone an excuse to stay inside; Ellen and Hannah inside a shopping mall, Ian inside for an afternoon nap, and Meg and me inside Zeum - San Francisco's children's museum.

None of your dusty stuffed animal cases and worthy educational displays here, this is a digital paradise of green screens and 20-ft high webcam doodling walls, with the only paintbrushes found in the icon bars of  graphics programs.

The computers were, naturally, where Meg started off, before graduating to writing, acting in, and producing her own toothpaste commercial.  There was then a break for some "old skool" (or current school, for her) sticking and gluing before we moved on to glowdoodle.  This is a huge cylindrical hall where a camera tracks your movements with a lightstick and projects them several storeys high in front of you.  With the press of a button you can upload them to view later.  Click for a selection of our best!

After a thoroughly creative day we returned to the WC via a BART that had been thoroughly soaked and therefore shorted out.  Most of downtown Oakland had lost electricity, and so we waited in a dim station until a train arrived that didn't even bother stopping at the next one.  Luckily the Creek hadn't faired quite so badly and we polished off the evening with a pizza.  Ian even tried a Guinness.  Not like it tastes in Ireland, his inevitable verdict.

I forgot!  There was some old fashioned tech in the shape of the Yerba Buena Gardens carousel.  I got to go with Meg the first time.  After that I was banished to the outside like an embarrassing uncle (wait...)

Special effects.

Recording our commercial (see below).

Robot man.

Sticking and gluing?  When there are so many computers here?  And your Dad works for Sony?

The awesome glowdoodle.

Mouse control, more impressive at four than I can manage at...a significantly higher age.

One moment of girliness was allowed during the day, but the princess dress (a prop for the music video studio) was swiftly and impressively discarded for being "too sparkly".

Ok, some more last-century playthings.  I came third in a Frome Lego-building competition when I was five.  Did I ever tell you?

The end.

And Ian's holiday finally starts.

For your enjoyment, our under-rehearsed, mostly improvised commercial.  Not helped by the fact that one of the microphones wasn't working :(

I blame the writers and producers.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tall trees

After a wonderful night in our lighthouse we continued down the coast with stops at another couple of Pacific beaches, including one where a whale carcass had washed up.  That was a bit grisly.  So we turned our back on the ocean (the way you're advised never to do) and drove inland to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  This was the first state park founded in the US (in 1902) and, our guide proudly told us on more than one occasion, provided the template for every other in the whole country.

The trees here are coastal redwoods, a much taller species than those at our usual haunt of Muir Woods.  They also enjoy a lot more fog and rain than up in Marin, and we wandered in drizzly conditions reminiscent of a British summer.  The drive back included some explosive travel sickness from poor Meg, which is a feature of most holidays involving small children, and everyone except your faithful blogger has fallen into bed under the combined exhaustion of fresh air and outdoor living (and some tasty NZ wine).

My gourd! Meg enjoys some pumpkins at the coastal bakery where we stopped for lunch.

As old as the trees.

The tallest living things on earth (according to the brochure).

Listening to the ranger talk.

A redwood pine cone, ironically green.

Woodland pixie.

The Father of the Forest - one of the biggies.

If you go down to the woods today.

Later, with an interesting bottle of red that Dan and Fiona gave me for my birthday.  No, it doesn't take five days to drink.