Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Almost perfect

Everyone knows that life in Walnut Creek is perfect, but until now we haven't known how perfect.  Well, not completely, it turns out.

Our copy of In a Nutshell, "Community Newsletter of the City of Walnut Creek", arrived this week.  It's the usual heady of mix of community news - the tree inventory has cataloged 11,703 trees so far - and incisive political reportage - there's a public meeting about the West Downtown Specific Plan on Thursday.  However, nestled between the centre pages is a very glossy report: WC: A Community Connected: The 2012-2014 Budget Story.

Among the many scary-but-colourful figures and graphs (surely put together by a Berkeley MBA) are a couple of interesting revelations.  The first is that revenue and expenditure for the Creek are exactly the same at $135.5 million each!  That's some impressive book balancing, although I'd be interested to see our local politicians' expense accounts.

More worryingly is the news that the overall quality of life in Walnut Creek is only 96%.  Which means that, with a population of 64,173, there are 2567 unhappy people out there.  Move away and stop dragging us down!  Or maybe that each resident spends 14.6 days a year being miserable.  Let's hope it's not over Christmas.

Either way, it's tricky to determine what might nudge out that 4% of imperfection.  We have a Cheesecake Factory, a Peet's, an Apple store, a Yogurtland...who'd have thought the lack of an In'n'Out would drag us down that much?  Time to withhold my taxes and write to the mayor.

Well, I'm happy...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Reasons to love America #633

Tempura Oreo Ice Cream.  A mountain of green tea ice cream, surrounded and surmounted by six tempura-battered deep fried Oreos.  And whipped cream.  And chocolate sauce.

Green tea is a vegetable, right?  And from now on, every Oreo I eat must be fried.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Copa America

Britain.  A sea-faring nation.  Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves, etc.  Apparently some people dispute this, and so the America's Cup was invented to let lesser sailing nations compete in our domain.  Don't let the fact that Britain has never won fool you, we're still the best.  And it's not called "America's" because they won it first, the first yacht to ever win was named America.  It happened to come from America, but that's a coincidence.

Anyway, in 2013 the Cup is being competed for in San Francisco.  It'll be in the Bay, the first time the competition has been so close to land, and in anticipation they're currently holding the America's Cup World Series in the city.  The boats are smaller, there are more of them, yesterday there were several capsizes during practice, and it's all very exciting.

More exciting is that we have a British competitor!  Ben Ainslie, who has won the small matter of four Olympic gold medals for sailing, has put together a team!  But his boat seems to be sponsored by an American bank.  Whatever, it has the British flag printed on it.

Lots of other nations were taking part too, including China, Sweden, NZ and Italy.  Today we were matched against the South Koreans, and after some white-knuckle maneuvering we won!  Go Ben!  It was all a little confusing, to be honest, as three races seemed to be taking place simultaneously.  The announcers weren't too clear about what was happening either, but I'm sure all that will be ironed out come the real thing.  All in all a fine day, and full results can be found here.  With my island heritage I'd be tempted to enter myself, if I can just put my hands on $150 million...

The America's Cup village.  Sailing is not an elite sport.

SF puts on its usual weather display, but at least people wanted a breeze today.

I had to give a cheer to the Kiwis too, of course, although we're meeting them in the quarter finals tomorrow.

Expectant crowd.  It was $25 a seat, or you could sit a lot closer, by the water's edge, for free.

Team Ben!

It's coming home!  And by home I mean Britain.

It was cloudy, so the USA team didn't show up.  They're obviously Californian.

The first race pitted the Swedes against the Italians.  Apparently they both have the sea in their countries too!

Italy bringing it home.

The two sides of the Italians.

Here are the teams.

Woo, go Ben/Britain/J.P.Morgan/etc.

Easy there skipper, we don't want any tipping over.

This is where it got confusing: Italy and China were engaged in another race.

Somewhat disdainful that humans need boats to get around on the water.

Dueling it out.

A few final tight turns, and Ben brings it home for GB.

That's Ben Ainslie right there, with his back to me!  I think he's steering.  He's a year younger than I am, and already has the four gold medals.  But is he happy?  Umm...probably.

This is what they're all after.  It wasn't actually there, I just took a picture of a picture.

One team obviously went disastrously off course.

The somewhat empty media centre, although you probably get a better view from here.

I'll be there, and so will Dad!  He's already booked in.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Muir than you can eat

John Muir: naturalist, activist, friend of Chevron.  At least, he was tonight.  It was another sponsored dinner entitled The John Muir Fresh Aire Affaire.  Ironic, given Chevron's recent incident.

None of that mattered as we sauntered around a pear orchard in John Muir National Historic Site, enjoying "food stations" - basically an all-you-can-eat buffet, but a little more spread out.  Smooth jazz drifted through the branches before the obligatory fund raising auction and pledge drive.

There were also real live National Park Rangers there!  We cornered one, Tom Leatherman (what a great name for a ranger) and fired questions at him.  He knew his stuff.  When Meg was staying she was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Sequoia National Park, but I couldn't convince Tom to do the same for me here.  I had to be content with a photo, and a return to the suckling pig food station.

A national park, in Martinez!  Who'd have thought?

Dinner in the orchard.  We arrived early.

Could you tell me where I apply for respiratory problem compensation?


I spotted the martini glasses quickly...but they were used to serve cous cous!  What?!

This little piggy went wee wee wee sizzle.

My new friend, Ranger Tom.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Taking the weather with them

Meg and Ellen have returned to Great Britain (third in the Olympics medal table).  Apparently the weather has followed them - the country is sweltering in 30C+ heat.  Apart from the places where they have flood warnings.

Their final day was a highlights package of the rest of the trip.  At 8.30am Meg and I were in a somewhat chilly swimming pool (neighbour Peggy came out to see who was crazy enough to be in the water at that hour).  This was followed by a trip to Target, then to Trader Joe's, froyo at Yogurtland, and lunch at the Habit Burger.  The only disappointment was the Peet's Coffee at the airport, Ellen's final treat to herself, which was only open 5am to 2pm!  Oh well, it's always good to have something to come back for.

Goodbye E&M, thank you for entertaining me so much during your stay.  It was also very educational; I'm now off to the library to pick up the latest book in the Rainbow Magic: Princess Fairies series - Anya the Cuddly Creatures Fairy.  Without Meg here, how am I going to find out if the fairies manage to reclaim all their magic tiaras from Jack Frost and his goblins?

It's not Peet's, but needs must.

Modelling the new Hello Kitty San Francisco tubs at Yogurtland.

Rounding out the American diet.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Santa Cruz

Roller coasters - nasty things, in my opinion.  But I was in a minority of one, as adrenaline junkies Ellen and Meg went on every ride that the Santa Cruz boardwalk had to offer.

The day started as every day of stomach-churning activity should with a trip to Psycho Donuts in San Jose.  We popped into Shauli and Anat's to eat them, where Anat had (of course) baked a delicious cake too.  Meg and Arbel played beautifully together.  I think they have arranged marriages in Israel, so we could be onto a winner.

Then it was on to Santa Cruz, with a band of fog that hovered off the coast but didn't make it inland (amazing, given our luck).  The ladies braved rides with names like "The Hurricane", "The Fireball", and "The Cliffhanger". I sat on "A Bench" in "The Shade" and read "A Book".

After five hours Meg showed no sign of quitting, but Ellen was admitting to a somewhat unsettled tummy.  The remedy was obvious: Yogurtland.  After that Meg dozed most of the way home, where Hannah welcomed us with pizza and some Champagne we bought at the weekend.  Donuts, hot dogs, froyo, roller coasters, Champagne, pizza...all the major food groups.

Arbel starts small.

Meg goes for the Kooky Monster.

On the Boardwalk, with Meg and Ellen appraising the place from the cable car.

First ride: a high speed car chase (forwards and backwards).

Then these scary looking swings.

I was interested in more refined, leisurely pursuits.  Like photography.

Not Ellen.  Here she assumes the Cliffhanger position as a too-short Meg looks on.


A quick stop for lunch.  Time spent eating is less time riding.

I contemplated dessert, but that looked even more unsettling than the rides.

A big girl now.

Strapped in and ready for "Freefall".

It's what all the kids are doing these days.

Scream if you want to go faster!

Finishing off with a third trip down "Logger's Revenge".

Someone won't need a shower tonight.

Wandering home in the late afternoon sun.