Monday, 31 October 2011

Weekend roundup

Well, it has been an out-and-about few days since the arrival of Mum and Sheila.  The temporary luggage nonsuccess was rectified, and hopefully a poor girl who has had no clean underwear since arriving in SF now has a chance to change.  The amount I aged during the process of sorting that out has already made the holiday feel much longer than it actually has been...

On Friday we decided to take in the local mountain, and made the strenuous drive to the visitor's centre at the top of Mt. Diablo.  You should always take seniors to state parks with you, you get $1 off admission!  We then trundled down the other side and met Hannah for lunch at Chevron, where they're currently replacing all the fixtures in the bathrooms with gold.  Mum and Sheila were then allowed out in Walnut Creek on their own for the first time...and returned unscathed, with only a few purchases.

Saturday was wine tasting day.  Not north as usual, but south to Livermore (where Hannah was helping at a Chevron science fair).  We stopped off at Wente Vineyards - deeply disappointing - then made up for it at Charles R, and came away with a deliciously cheeky but bold Petite Syrah.  In the town itself there was a full-on Halloween extravaganza.  I haven't seen so many Disney princesses since the Family Theatre Festival.

On Sunday the scorching Walnut Creek weather persuaded us to go to the seaside.  Unfortunately we fell foul of the Northern Californian curse: sea fog.  Luckily a local park was on a ridge above it all, and as we picnicked we watched the low cloud roll back and we made it down to the sea shore before home.  Via Sears, for a little more shopping.

Our visitors depart for three days in Vegas tomorrow.  I'll be sitting quietly, attempting to recuperate from all this action.  And I might do a little vacuuming too.

To see what we could see.

The summit, housed inside the gift shop, for your convenience.

Mum is impressed by the low-hanging fruit.

Hannah keeps it corporate at the Chevron science fair on Saturday.

Later, in Livermore, getting the party started.

Beginning with a flight of local whites.

I was not allowed to climb her hair.

Mother and son, together again.

Easy on the nose, with a strong finish and notes of caramel and buttered toast.

Light and fruity with a citrus tang and honey undertones.

But this is much more their style.

Sunday, and where has the sun gone?  It decided to stay behind in the Creek.

But even the fog couldn't dissuade Mum and Sheila from pulling on their wetsuits and paddling out to catch some "gnarlatious bomboras".  I have no idea what they were talking about.

Arbel wonders what manner of cold hell we have brought him to and why.

Ah, but this is better!  Heading out for a picnic up on the ridge.

Thankfully the fog stayed on the beach.

Passers-by were very impressed with our setup.

Shauli loads up...

...and the men are tasked with heading back to the cars while the ladies enjoyed a walk.

The mist finally rolls back.

Down by the sea, now in sunshine.

A group promenade along the pier.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A clean and hungry look

There comes a time in a man's life when he must learn to take pleasure in more simple things.  Eating a meal and not suffering from indigestion, sleeping through the night without having to get up to go to the toilet, buying a new vacuum cleaner.  Especially buying a new vacuum cleaner.

Our old (secondhand) hoover finally gave up the ghost.  Having both wheels fall off every time you used it eventually got tiring, and so it was time to invest in a new (secondhand) model.  I toyed with the idea of one of these new robot ones, but frankly the hand-finished quality I demand of myself - until I can afford a maid - meant that only a top quality upright would do.

And so today I took receipt of a refurbished Dyson!  Oh yes, the best of British for us, even if it is now manufactured in Malaysia rather than Malmesbury.  Still, it is a thing of beauty, and a quick zoom around the living room proves its efficiency.  Did you know that its pre-motor filter removes particles down to 0.1 micron in size?! I look forward to many long hours of houseproud and dust-free cleaning, and if Hannah is lucky I might even let her use it.  Although strangely she doesn't seem too keen so far...

What's in the box?  What's in the box?

Ooooooh yes.

I got a little over-excited and confused at this point...

...but was soon back on track, and ready to attack dirt in all its forms.

Goodbye bits!

It even has the appropriate attachment to, finally, hoover the blinds!  You have no idea how long I've been wanting to do that.

Happy, contented, with a carpet clean enough to lie on.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Occupy Wall...nut Creek

My Mum and Sheila arrived today!  They're here for two weeks, with a trip to Las Vegas in the middle.  I'm trying to be a good son and give my Mum some independence to prove she can be trusted, but it's hard to let go.

We caught the BART back from SFO and found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration!  I quickly checked to make sure we hadn't disembarked at Berkeley by mistake, but no: here in sunny, middle-class Walnut Creek a gang of Occupy Wall Street protesters had arrived!

There was a pretty sizable crowd, to be fair, and their shouts joined with the honking of many motorists who wished to share their support (or tell them to get out of the way).  There was even a bin of spare placards, but I couldn't persuade our newly-arrived guests to grab some, not even for the blog!

Anyway, we made it home safely through the baying crowd, they're settled in, and enjoying some jet-lagged sleep.  We're having a quiet day around the Creek tomorrow.  That is, as long as the protesters haven't decided to occupy Macy's.  We shall also be making a quick return trip to the airport to sort out malfunction.  I've been banned from putting further details here, to protect the innocent.

Only taking up one BART carriage with their stuff.  And most of it is tea and Cadbury's chocolate!

A welcoming committee?

Go on, grab a banner and march, like you did in the 60s!

Could you check your facts before you protest?  This is California Boulevard.  Main Street is two blocks over.

He's on the phone to his stock broker right now.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The most powerful woman in the world

Hilary Clinton arrived in Uzbekistan this week.  And who should be there to meet her...?

Someone in this photo will be president one day.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The art of cheese

I used to volunteer at Concord Childcare with Allison when she lived in California, but she and her husband David departed the West Coast some months back to go to grad school in Madison, Wisconsin.  And that's only a four hour drive from Minneapolis!  They were kind enough to head over to meet us when school finished.

It was time to mix in some high culture so we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see what was on offer.  It's huge and, most importantly, free!  Among the worthy works of art from Greece and Rome there was also the obligatory crazy stuff, such as the completely empty gallery, and an artist that's living in a corner (though he claims not to really like people).

Then it was time to recover with - what else? - lunch at the Mall of America.  There's a local delicacy around here: deep fried cheese curds.  They love their cheese so much that, if you're a Green Bay Packers fan, you have to wear it on your head.  Anyway, David and Allison insisted that we didn't leave until we'd eaten some (but, thankfully, not worn).

Then on we went to the airport to follow the sun westward.  It was going to be 28C (82F) in Walnut Creek when we got home, which meant my feet might finally thaw out.  So farewell Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Midwest, but we'll be back.  In summary: freezing, friendly, beautiful, cheesy.

More friendly locals.

David and Allison in the sculpture garden.

Rather nice light fixtures.

Considering a purchase.


Yes, modern art is a self-caricature.

That's more like it.

And now a real work of art.

Friday, 21 October 2011


After the grandeur of Lake Superior and the splendour of the Mississippi, what else in Minnesota could possibly compete.  Well, only the biggest shopping mall in the United States!

This is, of course, the real reason I decided to accompany Hannah on her conference here.  And I was not disappointed.  The shuttle bus from our hotel dropped us outside the north entrance (you need GPS to navigate inside) and in we went.

The place is pretty sizable.  If you spent 10 minutes in each shop, the promotional literature tells me, it would take you 86 hours to get around it.  Why did I waste all that time since arriving here?!  We only made it through a little of one of the half-mile-around floors, but did catch a trampoline display that was taking place in the "Rotunda".  Oh, and there's a theme park in the middle too.

In Europe we have our cathedrals, but here they have their skyscrapers and malls.  The effect is somewhat similar - the sudden revelation of being a tiny part of a larger universe that you can neither comprehend nor tame.  I'm sure the thousands of other people in the consumer mayhem crush of shopping bags and push chairs were contemplating the exact same thing.

Yeah baby, this is what it's all about.

Reading the store directory is a major achievement in itself.

Designed by M.C. Esher.

Hannah is in awe.  Or maybe just disgusted.

And here's the theme park.

In one small corner, The Skyriders were entertaining the crowd with their trampoline show.  Look at all that wasted space you could fit more shops into!

Big river

Americans like things to be the biggest - lakes, food portions, budget deficits - and here in Minnesota-St Paul you can find the largest river in North America, the Mississippi.  We've seen the other end of it in New Orleans and so I was expecting a small stream up here.  But no, it is massive.

The Minneapolis banks are lined with old flour mills.  Grain is the big thing in the Midwest, and this is where they took it to be ground into flour and placed on ships to float it along all 2,320 miles of navigable river.  Milling declined and stopped in the early decades of the 20th Century, but the mills are being reused as museums, art spaces and apartment blocks.  It's all very nice.

We ventured onto a small island mid-stream where swimming is "not advised" (but not prohibited!)  If this were California I'd have obviously stripped naked (along with the hundreds of others doing the same) and dived in.  Here, in this more conservative American heartland, I only went so far as to dip one hand in.

This is where we had breakfast.  It is very famous.

Hannah wraps up on a bridge.  You could almost be in Newcastle.

I was disappointed with attendance at my solo performance of The Sound of Music.

So you're allowed to!

See - it's big.

Some local wildlife.

This is their new theatre.

Our favourite form of transport.

Unfortunately flour mills tend to explode.  Here are the ruins of the Washburn A. Mill, one of the biggest.  But they've reused it by putting a museum inside.

See?  Clever.