Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Solstice Greetings And Annual Message of Hope

Belated, I know. But better belated than never. Besides, I always like to wait and make sure the days are getting longer. More sun-light. You know what I mean.

We are still here in Menlo Park, grand-parenting Penelope while daughter Rebecca and her husband Jeremy work. Rebecca chairs the English department at Castilleja Girls School in Palo Alto now, and Jeremy continues his tech consulting, mostly at Simply Hired in Sunnyvale. Penelope is wonderful and figures largely in my last several blog posts, of course. Daughter Rachel and her husband Will just bought and renovated a house in DC, where they live. Rachel is manager of governmental affairs at Amgen there, and Will is on the staff of Montana senator Max Baucus. The big news for Rachel, apart from the house, is her new master's degree from American U. And much more time to devote to interior design.

We are much enjoying our little travel respite in Middle California. The weather is pleasant, if occasionally on the cool and wet sides of the spectra. Our little cottage is cozy but comfortable. There are both natural and human sights and sounds of interest nearby...beaches, mountains, and forests, The City, with all its culture, and Stanford shopping mall, of course. The little downtown parts of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto, all nearby, are very attractive. The Bay Area is a foodie's paradise, and, of course, we love to cook. Thai basil and galangal root and kaffir lime leaves are all at Nak's, a mile away on Santa Cruz Ave. Besides, one can live pretty well on 2$Chuck and Costco's pintxos and poulet roti.

We plan to return to Europe in April and resume our travels from Toulouse, see more of southwestern France, then more of Spain, up the Atlantic coast generally all the way to Calais, and then across to Britland. The UK of GB is still part of Freedonia, and we'll spend 90 very pleasant days there before returning to Schengenia. The next 90 days we'll pass leisurely through France and then concentrate on Italy, perhaps all the way back down to Sicily. Heaven. And then we'll confront the periodic issue of whether and how to ship the Grey Wanderer back to the States. In any case, we'll be back in the States in the late fall of 2013.

It's a great year to look forward to, and we hope our readers' 2013 will be wonderful as well.
At Brix in Napa; Jeremy's dad Robert treated us all to a great Xmas dinner

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Goin' To The Zoo, Zoo, Zoo*

So Thursday Rebecca, Penelope, Vicki and I went to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo by the sea, near Daly City. It was cold, cold, cold. But P appeared to love it, especially the zoo-choo-choo
Flamingos...winter in Middle California

Napping primate friend

On the zoo choo-choo...a 1925 baby steam engine


Meditating Montana grizzly

Morning after polar bear

At 20 months, Penelope is learning her alphabet; and here
has spotted the P and W together...her letters

A black swan

Our party, momentarily resting

Lions resting

Hippo showering

Rhino sauntering

Tiger pacing

Penguins feeding

Near the pachydermarium

Our party on the move

Fellow primate


Feeding the giraffes

And a final peacock

*Raffi; also Peter, Paul, and Mary

Monday, December 24, 2012

Milford Sound, 2009: We Return You Now To Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog

So, as chronicled earlier, we did New Zealand's Milford Tramp in January of 2009, stayed at the lodge in Milford for a couple rainy days, watching waterfalls come and go, the kea and the sand flies, and then did a half-day kayaking tour of Milford Sound. The latter is one of the South Island's best-known fiords and is indeed a world-class sort of place. For the kayaking trip, we had purchased a disposable water-proof marine camera and used up nearly all its film taking pix of the marvelous sights. We left the camera with Rebecca when we returned to the States in March of 2009. Then we departed for Europe.

But some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half years, the camera passed out of all knowledge.

But it turned up again in the summer of 2012, during cleaning and reorganization of Rebecca's garage, and, within only a few months, I took it to the Santa Cruz Avenue Walgreen's for developing. (I hesitated because I did not believe anyone was still developing film). Anyhow, below are a few pix from the kayaking trip. Memories of the great beauty of the place, of its incredibly still waters, a giant walled inlet of the violent Tasmanian Sea, of high peaks and glaciers towering above, of changing from street clothes into a wet suit, outdoors, on the beach, in a cloud of sand flies, still haunt me.
Milford Sound, Mitre Peak, etc.

Looking back to the interior

Us, kayaking; I remember asking the guide whether
this might be a good place to set my altimeter, and
his replying, straight-faced South Islander, that yes,
we were indeed at about mean-tide

The waterfall; we had just seen Sutherland Falls and
so were not all that impressed

Up closer

So what do you do with a few remaining frames from a four year old disposable
camera? That's right, take pix of your current abode...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

ChooChooFanning with Penelope

All this fall we have been taking Penelope to the weekly baby story time at the nearby Atherton library (small library, great staff). The library is at the Atherton civic center, a 15 minute walk from our cottage, and also there is the Atherton Caltrain station. On a good day at story time, we'll see three choo-choos whoosh by, two southbounds and a northbound. Maybe more if we go to the nearby park and playground. The Caltrain runs more or less hourly from San Francisco down the peninsula to San Jose and on to San Ajo, I mean Gilroy. The choo-choos have become Penelope's new obsession, surpassing happies, and even Santa is a distant 2nd place. (We have taken her to Stanford Mall half a dozen times to observe the Macy's Santa and to get accustomed to the Santa photography session ordeal; maybe next year). Anyhow, all our local travels are now scheduled around the Caltrain's appearances at Atherton, or Menlo Park, or Palo Alto, or Redwood City. On rainy days, or when she's really bored with the grandparents, we content ourselves with one or two of the many Caltrain videos on YouTube; the best of which is the artful From these I have learned, additionally, that the current nomenclature is "railfanning," no longer the archaic "trainspotting." Thus, "choochoofanning," adapted for 20-month-olds. Penelope's older second cousin, James, I know, shares her interest in railroads. Anyhow, Wednesday we decided it was time for Penelope to ride the Baby Bullet*, at least from Redwood City to Millbrae and back, with stops at Belmont and San Mateo.
Approach of a Baby Bullet

Baby aboard the Baby Bullet

With Grandma at the station

Another station, with Grandpa

Riding with Grandma

Bye-bye, Baby Bullet

*I have subsequently learned that the Baby Bullet is not merely the sleeker locomotive, but those that run the express route, with very few stops

Happy Halloween

Some words of explanation. We are still here in Menlo Park, our European travels suspended for a few months, helping care for grand-daughter Penelope again while her parents work. Penelope is now 20 months old, and beginning to talk in complete, well-formed sentences. She started with the usual "mama" and "daddy" and "hug" and "duck" in the late spring and early summer, and, by the time we were back from Europe in September, her vocabulary had grown considerably. At 18 months she had about 70 words, mostly nouns. In the last several weeks, she has begun putting gerunds and nouns together, and then verbs, and pronouns, and adjectives, then full sentences. “I see Grandma.” “Grandpa make oatmeal.” Etc. Well, Hemingway well-formed sentences. Not Shakespeare, yet, but she definitely knows her Shakespeare doll from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, and calls it “Shakespeare." Every day we are astounded at what she has picked up and is using. I could not possibly put a bound on her vocabulary now. She parrots everything. We have to be very careful what we say. ("Grandma fart!") She became fairly adept at Baby Sign Language this fall, and still uses it a bit, but it has been superseded. It is wonderful knowing more fully what is on this little person's mind. And she is not reluctant to share.

Anyhow, one of the words she had learned by the time we returned in September was “happy,” as in happy face. Any face became a “happy,” and by early October, all pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns were included as “happies.” Our daily walks around the neighborhood and elsewhere became searches for “happies.” Thus “Happy Halloween,” for us, in small part recorded in the following pix.  
Behold! Happies! On one of several visits to the pumpkin farms near Half Moon Bay

Riding horsie

Some happies are edible

Surfing with Grandma at Moss Beach

At the Menlo Park Halloween Parade

For the parade, she is a wizard

Confronting the Great Happy

Conferring with other wizards at Fremont Park


Finally finding where Grandma hid the last of the chocolates Aunt Carole left for us!

For Halloween she is a dragon (here with Mama as Huck Finn (always literary))

Checking out the haul after visiting Maggie's next door; no candy!

Finally, the Mother Lode, at Engine House #5

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pomona RV Show

Another weekend rolled around. We'd been wanting to go to an RV show, and the California show, reputedly one of the largest, was beginning in Pomona, not even 400 miles away. So we took off Friday afternoon, drove to Pomona, spent the night with Tom Bodett, took in the show on Saturday, and drove back Saturday evening. Alas, the show was not what we'd hoped for, only about half the size of the Tampa show we saw a few years back, but we picked up quite a few new ideas and leads, and driving through LA afforded me the opportunity to recite some lines from my favorite movie.*
Not "the best RV show," actually, but good enough

You knew things were not going to be quite right when the entrance was covered in
a dozen or so plastic "outdoors" displays, with the San Gabriel Mountains in the
background, barely visible through the smog of 10 million people

We saw all the Bs and B+s, and Cs, and truck campers and 5th wheels and toy-
haulers of interest, but didn't really focus, since our travel plans presently are a
bit unclear and we already have the Grey Wanderer parked near Toulouse; it's
not even clear we'll need a rig beyond November, 2013; nonetheless, a few
items got our attention, and others', including this Mitsubishi-based Fuso 4x4
expedition camper, a prototype from SportsMobile, a firm we have long watched
with interest; perhaps we should be a bit younger to explore in an "expedition"
camper, but we figure nobody would mess with a monster like this and you could
stealth-camp anywhere you liked...

There are some great YouTube pieces on these vehicles, Fusos, Mans, others,
many of which we saw in Europe, climbing every mountain, fording every
stream, following every rainbow...sounds like SportsMobile will build these
for about the same price or a little more than our (admittedly top of the line)

Speaking of which, the most interesting thing we saw at the show was this Roadtrek,
more or less identical to ours except on a Sprinter 3500 chassis, a prototype "e-trek,"
that is, a completely electric (except for the M-B power-plant), fully-featured class B
RV; no propane, no ugly vents, no noisy generator; they accomplish this, including
powering the AC and microwave, with a super-sized alternator, solar panels, six
house batteries, and a 5000w inverter; we were taking lots of notes...

Tow-car of dreams...

We got back to Menlo Park in time to pick up my sister Carole, who was fresh
off the San Francisco Nike Women's Half Marathon; she's one of the "over 1
billion served" (as am I and pretty much everyone I know) so we had to take
her by the new store in town; and then later let her have some time with
Penelope and dinner with P's parents; it was another pretty good weekend!

*"But then, there was a lot about the Dude that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. And a lot about where he lived, like-wise. But then again, maybe that's why I found the place s'durned innarestin'. They call Los Angeles the City of Angels. I didn't find it to be that exactly, but I'll allow as there are some nice folks there. 'Course, I can't say I seen London, and I never been to France, and I ain't never seen no queen in her damn undies as the fella says. But I'll tell you what, after seeing Los Angeles and thisahere story I'm about to unfold--wal, I guess I seen somethin' ever' bit as stupefyin' as ya'd see in any a those other places, and in English too, so I can die with a smile on my face without feelin' like the good Lord gypped me."