Sunday, 26 June 2011

Big Basin

Big Basin Redwood State Park is California's oldest, and true to its name is full of the big trees.  They haven't survived this long without learning a few tricks, one of which is how to grab the maximum amount of sunlight before it gets to the ground.  Which makes camping underneath them somewhat chilly.

This didn't deter us!  Having visited once before, this time we enjoyed a fun night under canvas with the Singers.  The place has a fantastic history and, before the loony lefty liberals and their anti-Chevron environmental craziness took over, it was a Dirty Dancing-style summer getaway for families in the 50's.  You'd pack up your car and come here for a month, and ancient trees were regularly chopped down to make way for tennis courts, a dance floor, and a swimming pool.

Nowadays nature is allowed to run its course a little more, but despite the promise of raccoons from the many warning posters (they're apparently smarter than the average bear as they've worked out how to open the food lockers) the fauna of choice was the mosquito.  We all came away with the bites to prove it.  We also came away with more knowledge, having attended Ranger Dan's survival talk - it's 80% attitude and a Swiss Army knife, he said.  I applied his techniques to spending time with the Singer girls, and mostly survived...

I left the MBAs to sort out the tent...

...while I conserved my energy.

Feeding time (for humans and mozzies)!

Sofia does an impression of a chipmunk.

Hannah does an impression of a Hannah.

Elliot can make even the most gentle afternoon stroll look challenging.

Yet to make their mark on history.

Sisters together.

Winos together.

What would his dentist say?

Breakfast time, and the children are put to work again.

Elise literally wakes up and smells the coffee.

Elliot leads the morning exercises.

Look who visited overnight!  He was very tasty (banana pancakes!)

Not sure what Ranger Dan is thinking, but my 72-hour survival kit includes several Starbucks grande chai lattes and the Internet.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Smoke and mirrors

I've always wanted to be a fireman.  Mainly because of this:

Today my dreams almost came true when I got to visit Contra Costa County Fire Station 6 on a trip with Concord Children's Center!

Instead of one big fire station, which I think is how we do it in England, they have lots of small ones spread around.  There were only six people stationed at this one, and two fire trucks.  We were shown around by Fireman Palo and Fireman Tom, and although we got to see all the bits of the station I didn't get the chance to dress up or turn on a siren.  And you were only allowed to use the fire hose if eight or under.  Most disappointing.

My walking partners, Brian and Rodrigo.

Off we go to the station!  If you see a group of blue-clad kids around here, I suggest you cross the road.

Fire Station 6.

A video about fire prevention before the tour.  It was good, but not Fireman Sam (who's Welsh!)

Fire fighter Palo introduces us to the map room.

Fire fighter Tom gets to dress up (unfair!  He does this every day).


Hosing down.

Class photo - 38 kids in all, and it sounded like it.

Lunch in the park, and then...

...why not fill them all up with hyperactivity-inducing ice cream?!

Tough choices.

"Wild 'n reckless" was a (grammatically questionable) favourite, and it certainly had its desired effect on the kids. I'll be bringing my nephews and nieces here when they visit.  Then running.

Satisfied customers.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Baby update

We got to see baby Josefina today!  She is almost as tall as her parents already, in the 95th percentile for height, and was 7.1 lbs when born.  She is definitely in the 100th percentile for cuteness, and as the first grandchild on either side we had quite a time wrestling her away from her grandparents.  I'm not sure Pete and Fini have managed to hold her yet.  She has lots of hair and dark brown eyes, and is already looking directly at everyone as if to say "there's a new Queen in town".  We'll see if Fini agrees with that!

Fed, warm, asleep.

Tall is beautiful.


I've long noted the similarities between Israel and Wales.  Both are small countries surrounded on all sides by enemies, everyone is related to everyone else, and each has a language that, if you don't know it, sounds like someone's spitting at you.  Israel has Moses and Jesus, but then Wales has Shane Williams and Neil Jenkins.

So when we were invited to Shauli and Anat's for Friday dinner (the start of the Jewish Sabbath), I thought I would indulge in a little cross-cultural heritage by baking some challah bread.  This is the bread that you traditionally make lots of before the Sabbath so that you don't have to do any work on the holy days.  As in modern Christianity I don't think shopping counts as work, but chores such as cooking and cleaning certainly do.

The result wasn't too bad.  You have to roll the dough out and braid it. My loaf looked great before it proved, but unfortunately the top braid slipped off the bottom one and left everything looking a bit lopsided.  Still, it tasted great and I used the leftovers for a sausage sandwich this morning, which breaks so many kosher laws I don't even want to think about it.  שבת שלום, as we say in Wales.

It's not what's on the outside but what's on the inside that counts.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

New citizen

Josefina (Pepita) Kudrnac has arrived!  She was born at 5.30am on 13th June, and everyone is happy and well.  Shoe manufacturers the world over have been put on alert.  As Pete's email announcement stated: "mother and daughter are dressed in animal print, wearing sunglasses and feeling perfectly well".

So cute (the baby and the hat).

Very happy families.

Friday, 10 June 2011


A while ago I was sucked in by the promise of free ice cream to volunteer at Concord Childcare Center.  I've been going along every Thursday, helping kids whose parents don't speak English to finish their homework.  I've certainly provided amusement, being "really tall" and "sounding funny", and fumbling through the odd Spanish phrase now and again ("más rápido, por favor").

But today I had to wave goodbye to a large section of the class at their graduation.  Some of these kids started at the place when they were four months old, and now at the age of seven have to find their own support after school.  Oh, and the bankrupt state of California is cutting the Center's funding by $200,000 next year because apparently people think they can pay lower taxes and have the same level of public services.  Don't get me started...

Anyway, I arrived to find a flurry of activity as the girls had eye shadow and make-up applied, and they boys got sparkly gel in their hair.  Then it was outside to do a goodbye dance in front of the parents, and for teachers Iris and Niele to give a little speech about each graduating child before giving them a certificate and a backpack.  Thankfully everything was bilingual, for the three of us in the crowd that can't (yet!) speak Spanish.  And while I did shed a tear or two - metaphorically - at my kiddies growing up, I also met next year's class.  And they are soooooooo cute!

Preparations in full swing, with Gennesis in the chair.

Fellow volunteer Allison gets the healthy fruit platters ready.

The girls looking good, and Yahir in the background (and teacher Iris behind him).

Me and my super-cute kiddies!  My quest to adopt Mexican babies continues...

Class of 2011.

The end-of-year dance.

The class of 2012 sings a goodbye song to the outgoing seniors.

Teachers Niele and Iris MC proceedings.

Hermione proudly displays her certificate and bag.

Graduates together.

The food arrives, and I got to try my first tomale.

Food + excitement + a bouncy castle.  I left before it got messy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Special delivery

After months (literally, months!) of ongoing, increasingly heated emails with the company that we've paid to finally bring all our stuff from England over, today we received the very happy information that it is on its way!  It's only taken a week for them to tell us it left, but my now-American expectations of customer service have to be tempered when dealing with the old country.

The box of goodies is on board the London Express, a large and precarious looking container ship.  Pray for calm seas, as Hannah says.  We have bought insurance - if we didn't we'd apparently be liable for salvage costs, and my snorkeling isn't that great.

So we wait with fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly and that US Customs looks kindly on such items as our purple fish bath pillow, wheeled wire vegetable rack, and Virgin Mary barometer (blue for dry, pink for rainy).  It's going to be an interesting voyage down memory lane when all one-hundred-and-eleven packages finally arrive.  And then Chevron will give Hannah a placement in Azerbaijan and we can go through this all over again (except this time, they'll pay).

The London Express.  God bless her and all who sail on her (and their stuff).

Where is she now?  Well, somewhere off the coast of Canada, hopefully avoiding icebergs and pirates.  Real-time tracking available here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The way to a girl's heart

Is pink ice cream.

Well, froyo, but who can tell the difference (when you're two)?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Chaos reigns

U2 are playing in Oakland tonight, supported by Lenny Kravitz.  This event had a number of profound effects on me.  The first was that I had seen both of these acts almost 20 years ago - one at the long gone Parc yr Arfau Caerdydd, the other at the Pilton Pop Festival - which brought into stark view my ongoing mortality.  The other was that we got to babysit not only Arbel, but also Claire and JJ while their parents enjoyed themselves at the show!  Noa was unfortunately unavailable.

As usual, the biggest challenge was getting the parents out the door, but after the infinite kisses and hugs (for us and the kids) they were all finally gone and then the fun could start.  JJ has learned to roll, but not cause and effect so is always shocked and upset to find himself on his tummy.  Arbel has a new trick every day, is crawling army-style, but enjoyed spending most of his time kissing his reflection.  And Claire...well, another reminder of time passing is when you can have a dinner conversation with someone you met on the day of their birth.  Scary.

After a slightly frantic 15 minutes when bath time, book time, tooth brushing, nappy changing and two bottles all seemed to happen at once, I can report that it is 8pm and I am enjoying a cold beer in the silence and calm of my own home.  Which will only last until the parents get back from the concert...

Everybody occupied.

We eventually outsourced babysitting to Claire, and went out for a cocktail.  You don't even have to pay two-year-olds the minimum wage!

Cute-as-pie Arbelli.

Vince, I thought you were going to the U2 concert!?

Now, seriously, which of us is the most gorgeous?