October 28, 2009

Twelve Days in Palo Alto

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Photos from the Bay Area to Oregon

Rajas and Chicken,
My Mexican Hot Dish

Rajas and Chicken Cassrolle
Bill and Betty
at the Gates of Hell

We arrived at Dain and Marleta's home in Palo Alto on Sunday evening, the 11th of October. We came mostly to hang out and enjoy their company. This means we did not do a lot of things during our twelve-day stay. Dain and Marleta moved to Palo Alto in February after Marleta was laid-off. Dain had not been working for a couple of years. We called it a sabbatical. He visited Palo Alto in January and he walked away with a couple of job offers. He took the offer from Ning.com where he is doing his usual programming thing. Ning allows users to freely start their own social network, like your own private network, or to join one that you are interested in. Their biggest clients are fan clubs for music groups and Vampire lovers.

Dain and Marleta are taking an evening class one day each week at Stanford on particle physics. Their professor is Leonard Susskind, who wrote the first paper on string theory more than 30 years ago. Believe it or not, I am very interested in science and physics. I asked about going with them and they agreed. Betty chose to tag along. We walked the mile to campus. Betty did not enjoy of the lecture, but I got a lot out of it. Dain suggested that I watch a PBS series, the Elegant Universe, on the revolution in particle physics that evolved from string theory.

John, Betty and Bill
John, Betty and Bill
In the Hills of Los Gatos
In the Hills of Los Gatos
Wine Tasting in Napa
Charles Krug Tasting
Daniel Susott, Betty and Bill
Daniel Susott, Betty and Bill
The Swami Family and Betty
Swami Family and Betty
Javier, Betty and Bill
Javier, Betty and Bill in PA
Bryn and Maya
Bryn and Maya
Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta

I made a Mexican hot dish that I love one night. It is made with rajas - fried onions and pablanos - and chicken. We took a bunch of photos, while I made it. Tasted great!
One afternoon we went back to Stanford to see their Rodin collection at the Cantor Arts Center. They have the largest collection of Rodin's sculptures outside of France. Many of the best pieces are outside on the museum grounds. Entrance to the museum is free. We spent a couple of hours looking at the works of Rodin and other artists and craftsmen.

On Thursday Betty, Marleta and I visited Betty's brother John. He has been living in senior housing for a number of years. But he has taken to opportunity to buy a real house again. The house was a bank repo, which he was able to buy for the unheard price of $65k. I believe that the previous owner paid more than $300k for the place; such is the fallout of the recent economic crisis in the USA. While the new house needs lots and lots of work, he and his good friend Matt Richardson have been making great progress. One of the properties best aspects is its yard. It is unusual to get a good-sized yard, but this place has one. The house and yard will end up being quite the steal. After an inspection of the property, we spent a warm, sunny afternoon barbecuing and eating sausages while chatting away and downing several beers. All in all, it was a lovely day.

On Saturday we drove down to Los Gatos, which is a little southwest of San Jose. Los Gatos is another of the wonderful little villages in the Bay Area. We arrived in the mid afternoon. We visited a few wineries in the hills above the town. The wine was OK; Dain even bought a couple of bottles.

We got a much earlier start on Sunday. We drove to the Napa valley. We started at the Beaulieu Vinyard (BV) winery, which produces an excellent variety of wines. We bought many bottles and Marleta joined their wine club. After all the sips we thought lunch was in order. We ate barbecue sandwiches and ribs. Next to the restaurant was the Freemark Abbey winery. The ambience was nice and the folks providing the tasting were very friendly and helpful. Next we visited the Charles Krug winery, which I did not care for and we stopped at the Beringer winery, but did not stay for the tour. Our last stop was the Merryvale winery in St. Helena. Again the tasting was fun and the wines were good.
The last time I was in the Napa valley to taste wines was about 35 years ago. The experience changed my life, because I finally got to taste some very good wines. I have loved drinking good red wine ever since then. When comparing our current experience to my visit in the mid-70s, the current tastings were quite a let down. Then the numbers of tasters were few and the vintners just wanted us to try their wines. Now it is all commercial. They charge at least $10. They will usually refund the $10 if you buy a bottle of wine - but who is to say they will have a bottle you like or can afford. Most of the wine they sell costs more than $15 per bottle and the good ones costing $30 to $50 per bottle. None of this went on in the 70s. We have heard that it is a lot of fun to visit the newer wine growing areas, but this stuff of charging for a tasting probably is the same.
A couple of days after our visit we saw a good movie about the Napa valley in the 70s. Bottle Shock is a well worth seeing. The movie centers on the first blind-test comparison of French and California wines that took place in France in 1976. The California wines took first place. This spelled the end of French dominance of wine making and the beginning of the people taking serious notice of wines from around the world and not just in California.

Dain was not feeling well on Monday, so we skipped the particle-physics lecture, and by Tuesday we were planning our departure. We still had not visited Gay Lynn's daughter Krista and her family. My last BLOG entry drew a response from a distant cousin, Dr. Daniel Susott, whom I have never met but have been in contact with for several years. I thought that he was living in Hawaii, but no - he was living in the Bay Area. Finally, serendipity struck; my best friend in Buenos Aries, Javier Burgos, was being sent to California for work and he would be in Palo Alto on Thursday and Friday. How would we squeeze it all in, in just three days? Somehow or another we did it all.

Thursday my cousin Daniel dropped by Dain's home. We talked and talked and really got to know each other. He does a lot of volunteer work in other countries and he has had an amazing life. To learn more about my cousin, check out Dr. Daniel Susott's Blog.
Later in the afternoon we caught up with Javier. We drew him a map so he could find Dain's place. We talked for a while and agreed to meet the next morning.

On Thursday night we visited with Sanjiv and Krista. We only got a glimpse of their beautiful children, Janna and Kirin. We shared a very good bottle of red wine while we got caught up on each other's lives. Both had changed jobs since our last visit and Sanj had finished a MBA program. It was a fun visit. We should have connected with them earlier, so we could have spent more time with them.

Friday morning we arrive at Javier's accommodations, the Cowper Inn. The inn was created by the remodeling of two old houses with magnificent redwoods towering over them. He needed to change hotels, we drove him to his new digs, then continued into San Francisco. We were headed for Fisherman's Wharf, but ended up at Pier 39 where we had a magnificent lunch. We talked and talked and talked; it was so good to see Javier again. Lunch over and tourist souvenirs purchased, we drove the few blocks to Lombardy Street - the windiest street in the world. Back and forth on the two blocks of switchbacks, it was a great ride. From there we drove up to Coit Tower, and old San Francisco tourist attraction. We had to leave Javier here. It was late afternoon and we needed to be 200 miles away before dark.

We drove to Chico late Friday afternoon. Betty's niece Chistina and her family live about 16 miles outside of Chico. We had brought their girls one of their favorite things: books. They love to read. On Saturday we all went into Chico. Betty and I visited the local farmers' market and walked around the city center. Then we went to Bryn's soccer game. After the game we took them out for lunch. Then we made our way back to their home. Christina and Campbell were going to a fundraiser dinner that night and we were going to join them. Christina's mother Ruth came over to babysit the kids. We had not seen Ruth for a couple of years and it was nice to see her again. The dinner was great. They had roasted a whole pig. All the extras were great too. And the desserts were simply wonderful, which for me was apple pie with real whipped cream. There was music and dancing and a silent auction. It was lots of fun.

So, Sunday we headed north to Eugene, driving all the day. We were staying with a couchsurfing host, Victoria. We had actually hosted Victoria and her partner Michael in August. So, it was nice to see here again.

Well that is enough for now. We will be in Portland for the next ten days or so. I will be writing about that soon enough. Until then, ciao.

Posted by bill at 05:05 PM | Comments (1)

October 15, 2009

Driving Out West

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Photos from from Out West.

Betty with Her Brother Tom
Tom and Betty Cassady
Andy, Julianne and Hallie
Andy, Julianne and Hallie
At Arches National Park
 Arches National Park
$19,500 Navaho Weaving
 Navaho Weaving
The Grand Canyon
 The Grand Canyon
Hoover Dam
 Hoover Dam
Las Vegas Strip
 Las Vegas Strip
Bill with the Busch Family
 Las Vegas Strip
Back: Judy, Krista, Mary and Steve
Front: Tiny, Landon and Bill

This journey began the last day of September 2009. We knew it was the right day to leave, because we saw our first frost of autumn on the ground that morning We drove all day long with but a few stops. We crossed the cornfields of Minnesota. We stopped to rest a couple of hours in Sioux Falls. We drove south along the Missouri River in Iowa and crossed into Nebraska where we passed through Omaha and Lincoln. About 20 miles past Kearny, we drove south on US 183 and then southwest on Kansas State Highway 383. When we reached US 24 we headed west, finally stopping in Goodland, Kansas. It was too late to go looking for Betty's brother Tom, who lives about 20 miles northwest of Goodland, just over the Colorado border, but we called him and arranged to see him in the morning.

We spent the most of the next day, October first, with Tom Cassady. He drove into Goodland and picked us up at our cheap motel. We went out for breakfast at a restaurant at the local airport. The food was very good. I like to see restaurants at little airports like the one in Goodland. The funny thing is that there were no flyers in the restaurant, save me. We rarely see Tom, we talked a lot, catching up on our lives. In his pickup truck, he drove us west to see a defunct pig farm a few miles further west that he bought a few years back. He is salvaging material from the barns and rents its small acreage to a local farmer. From here he took us 15 more miles to his farm just across the border into Colorado. While he has 90 acres, he does not appear to be farming it. The house and the many buildings and grain storage bins on the farm are in good condition. We got a full tour and I liked his homestead. After that he showed us a bit of the local countryside. We returned to Goodland mid-afternoon for lunch. It was late afternoon before we left Goodland driving west toward Denver, where Tom's son lives.

Andy is Tom's son. He lives in the suburb of Louisville, just north of Denver. He lives with his partner of many years, Hallie. They share a passion for the textile arts. He is weaver and she is a knitter. They are raising Angora rabbits to harvest their hair for knitting. As all crafts artists in the USA, they do not derive much of an income from their art, so they need day-jobs. He repairs and rebuilds arcade games and she teaches school when she can find work. Due to the recession, his business is very slow and Hallie is out of work. Still they are very happy together, and they get to spend more time working their art.

We spent three nights in Louisville. The day after arriving, we all went out for breakfast and met Julianne, Tom's ex-wife and Andy's mom. The little restaurant was wonderful. After breakfast Andy and Hallie drove us to a park or retreat in Boulder, then they took us on a driving tour up into the mountains just west of Boulder. It is a truly beautiful area and we got to see a lot of it. By the time evening rolled around we were hungry and decided to eat some hardy Mexican food. Julianne again met up with the four of us and we had a wonderful meal together.

The next day Betty and I drove into Denver proper. I really liked what I saw, but we did not see a lot. We saw the Colorado State Capitol building. Then we spent a couple of hours in a history museum. I must say that this was a pretty good museum, and I should know - having visited dozens and dozens of these kinds of museums. We next decided to visit the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder. On our way back north, we stopped to pick-up Andy and Hallie - who also wanted to visit the facility. Celestial Seasonings was started by a bunch of hippies during the summer of love, that's 1969 to you youngsters. Today they are the largest purveyor of herbal teas in the world. After the tour, we drove the couple of miles to Julianne's home. It is right on the edge of the foothills to the mountains, where she can often be found hiking. The home was very lovely and we felt very much at home. We spent hours talking and eating pizza and drinking beer. It was a wonderful visit.

Sunday morning, October 4th, we started driving west on I-70 up and over the Rocky Mountains and only stopped once to rest along a raging river. It was mid-afternoon when we crossed into Utah. We were going to Arches National Park, just 30 miles south of I-70. There are a large number of natural stone arches in the park. Some are extraordinarily large with openings larger than 100 feet in height. We took a large number of photos that I have posted in a Flickr photo set. We could not find a reasonably priced hotel in the closest town of Moab, so we drove another 30 miles south to stay in Monticello, UT.

The next morning we head south on US 191 until we passed through Blanding. We headed west on Utah 95 to find the Natural Bridges National Monument. Here the bridges or arches were much fewer in number, but much larger some with openings of 270 feet or more. After taking a good look, we headed south on Utah 261. This road is a rural paved road that was in fairly good shape. The exception was a three-mile stretch that was gravel and had a 10% grade. When we got to this stretch of road we found ourselves on a high plateau and the winding road was all downhill. The view was spectacular. Check out Google maps to get a sense of the terrain by clicking here. After reaching the valley floor, we drove by the famous Mexican Hat, a rock formation that comes to a point on top of which sits another rock that resembles a Mexican hat. Continuing down US 163, US 160 and US 89, we were making our way toward the Grand Canyon. We stopped for gas and to check out a Navaho trading post just before we turned off to head into the park. It was a typical tourist trading post, but there was some fabulous Navaho art in the form of weavings. Some of the weaving were priced at more the $20,000 - that's right TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. We were in Arizona now and we went west on Arizona 64 into the Grand Canyon Park. The views were stunning but not as stunning as when I flew above the canyon about five years ago. See my Flickr stream for aerial photos of the canyon area. We spent several hours looking out on the canyon from various places. It was nearly dark when we head south. It was about 50 miles to I-40. We found a reasonably priced motel in Segilman, AZ, and settled down for the evening.

The next morning, we drove past the Hoover Dam on our way to Las Vegas. They are building a huge bridge over the river canyon. You have to drive on top of the dam to cross the Colorado River. We were in Las Vegas in the early afternoon. My cousin Steve had arranged for us to use his condo at the Jockey Club, which is right next to the Bellagio. We did almost no gambling. We did see two shows. The first night we went to Bally's Jubilee, a wonderful burlesque show. It has great songs, dance and plenty of nudity. The next night we saw V, the Ultimate Variety Show, at the Planet Hollywood complex. This show was OK but not great. It's star, Fast Wally Eastwood, was extremely entertaining. To make it a reasonable value, try to find a two-for-one coupon for the shows, which you can find in most of the tourist info magazines or online. We spent two nights in Vegas and we won't be going back for a long time. It just is not a place we love all that much.

We drove the three hours to Victorville on Friday, October 9th. We came here to visit my Aunt Tiny and her grown children. Tiny is 81 years old and is the last living sibling of my mother. Steve lives with and cares for his mom. Several of Tiny's grandchildren live next door. On Saturday, Tiny's daughters, Mary and Judy drove up from San Diego to visit with us. They brought along Mary's daughter and grandson, Krista and Landon. It was a great visit. We enjoyed seeing everyone again.

On Sunday morning, we left Victorville heading for Palo Alto. Palo Alto is where Dain and Marleta are living now. After Marleta got laid off in January, they decided to move north from Santa Monica. My next entry will be about staying in Palo Alto.

Posted by bill at 07:44 PM | Comments (3)