Saturday, 4 December 2010
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
I suppose yesterday (Monday) was about photo opportunities, feasts for the eyes
and reminders of previous delights. Cal Boy and Cal Girl ("Call me Cowgirl,
Granny," but that's a sock story) were back in school; Cal Son was back at work;
Cal Mom was preparing for this weekend's craft fair so the Captain and Boatwif
took to the roads. Down the coastal freeway we bowled (as that's the easier one
to follow) searching for Mount Soledad. We'd been there once before - and have
tried to follow its fortunes, the Federal lawsuit (ongoing) and the landslip
(road rebuilt). On top of Mount Soledad stands an enormous white cross, part of
a memorial to US Forces veterans. From the top the view is - breathtaking. Our
previous trip up there had been during "June Gloom", quite early in the day, so
visibility was limited. The Memorial records the names and service honours of
about three thousand servicemen and women. It is unique in that it is the only
memorial to include photo images. 70% of those recorded are still alive. Just a
few are not American, one being Winston Churchill, his plaque right next to a
RAF Flight Lieutenant who had flown missions over the River Kwai. As for the
lawsuit: well, it's about a religious symbol being on federal land. Yesterday at
about 11am skies were blue, the view extended far and wide - even to the
offshore Mexican islands.
We drove on, further south to another hilltop view, Point Loma, a spit of rocky
land that overlooks San Diego's vast natural harbour, the naval area, the US
Navy Air Arm runway, Hotel Coronado and the city skyline. In 1542 Cabrillo,
(it's uncertain whether he was Spanish or Portuguese), entered the San Diego
harbour with a flotilla of ships from Mexico. An exhibition, a film and a great
white monument commemorate the conquest. Elsewhere information boards detail the
mountain ranges, the commercial and military shipping and aircraft that might be
seen. On the highest point stands the old lighthouse, fitted out as in the
nineteenth century and open to visitors. Overlooking the Ocean side are
viewpoints for the annual whale-watching season when Gray Whales are on their
migratory route from the Arctic to Baja California. Far below are the
"tidepools", a magnet for those keen to explore coastal marine life. There is
always much to see, whether it is naval aircraft on exercise, or coastguard
cutters, or pleasure boats, or submarines, or cruise liners - or even birds
(condors?) and squirrels, one sniffing yesterday around our picnic. And always
there is that deep evocative steady noise of the foghorn, warning craft of the
In the outhouse behind the lighthouse was a small group of school pupils
earnestly seeking answers for their worksheets. Fourth grade they were, (Year
5), on a field trip. In fourth grade, apparently, the history and geography of
California are studied. Two separate people told us that this is the best time,
winter, not summer. One spoke passionately about the light and shadows in the
desert, only about a two hour plus drive eastwards.
A time check - too long to drive a diagonal route across town to Balboa Park but
time to do that promised mission back to the bookstore. The "Dutch Lady" of the
Captain's Satnav directed us thrillingly across the city to feed onto a
magnificently complex freeway interchange. Traffic at 2pm was already heavy
("Shift change", says Cal Son) but we made our way up the inland freeway to
Escondido, the Captain there able to recover via a Starbucks latte. Still no
luck with the plan to photograph the book written by the friend's cousin: it was
indeed in stock, its single copy reserved in the backroom for a customer. Sorry,
Belfast, I did try ...!
Time for bed; suitcases are packed; tomorrow we leave. An 0845 flight out of San
Diego, check in time one hour before, car return before that, early morning
traffic... the alarm, I am told, is set for 0430. We should be back on UK soil
at 0845 on Thursday morning at Manchester.
If the journey is particularly eventful I'll file a report. Meanwhile, from
starry California - goodnight.
Monday, 29 November 2010
Friday 26th - Sunday 27th November
So - at the end of the last entry I was puzzling about "Black Friday". Apparently it is so called because retailers trade at a loss throughout the year until "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving, when huge discount sales bring in the shoppers in huge numbers - at which point their businesses "go into the black" as opposed to "being in the red"!
As for the other common feature of post-Thanksgiving traditions - yes, it's Christmas lights time. From Thanksgiving Night until early January an enormous Holiday Lights extravaganza occurs on Del Mar racecourse (on the coast, just north of San Diego; think Ascot racecourse). It's a drive around the track occasion to view hundreds of lit shapes and scenes. Here the family spent a mere five hours busily assembling and erecting lights: attached to the eaves, strung in the bushes, hung from the branches and planted on the lawn. (See photo...) It was a combined effort: the men slaved and problem-solved, the children swept leaves, the Cal Mom arranged the pretty bits - and I held the baby. Other householders in the neighbourhood have been similarly busy and this evening Cal Guy and Cal Girl did a local walking tour of the light shows installed so far.
In the supermarkets all traces of Thanksgiving had been banished, to be replaced overnight by mock holly, tree-type displays and "Holiday" foods and accessories. I am found guilty of wandering around a supermarket looking at the signage rather than the produce - and certainly it can be entertaining. It was while in a local one on Saturday afternoon that my attention was taken by the magazine titles beside the tills: OK's chief story is "Wedding Special", US has "The Making of a New Princess", whereas The People's main story is "A Perfect Princess". Is the same level of interest in the Royal Family shown in other English-speaking countries? While at IHOP for breakfast the other morning another diner cross-questioned us on when Prince Charles was going to have his go at being King. And he also added " Say, haven't you got a new Prime Minister? It seems all your guys are young and handsome right now." How others see us...
To today's adventure: a trip to the New Children's Museum in downtown San Diego. Right down amidst the skyscrapers, near the International Convention Center, not far from a trolley-bus line is this superb and very recent (May 2008) attraction. Its purpose is to provide inspirational art experiences for children from toddler age to teenage. A massive Trojan Horse dominates the museum, originally constructed to sit on the US-Mexican border. During the course of our four hour visit the children used chariots, blew bubbles, dressed up, made rubbings, made bird houses, painted an outdoor structure, added paper links to a chandelier, climbed ropes and rock walls... the list sounds trite but it is a delightful airy building which encroaches onto outdoor space on two levels and all activities are well-managed by the staff. The location, right downtown, a block away from the seafront in one direction, from the Gaslamp Quarter in another, is stunning. But it is the Museum's rationale that is the more thought-provoking: due to the continuing cutbacks and shrinking of opportunity in the public education curriculum the Museum seeks to provide visual and tactile experiences to school groups and workshop sessions. It seemed to have been funded " by the great and the good". There is much talk of how parents fund music and sport in schools, and how science is a fee-paying extra-curricular activity. If there isn't enough in the public purse provision is pretty limited.
Our route home was initially through the city via the harbour, past the enormous cruise liner that was disabled during a cruise a few weeks ago, past US Midway (World War 2 carrier, now a floating museum) and up the coastal freeway past The Californian Son's (relatively new) workplace and then inland over a few very steep hills before reaching San Marcos. We climbed up past San Elijo Middle School, yet still there were houses some height above it - and it occurred to me that in the UK we reserve hilltops as places to be walked to. Here the hilltop is sliced off, flattened and built on, the slopes below are carved and terraced - and then more houses built.
Thanksgiving Holiday is over: Cal Boy and Cal Girl were in bed thirty minutes earlier tonight as tomorrow school starts again. Roads and airports are busy as people return to work and to colleges. That's the way things are out here...
Friday, 26 November 2010
Tuesday 23rd - Thursday 25th November
No apologies - but the photos are mostly about food! Whatever else it is about the Thanksgiving Holiday Season brings the Americans' love of food to the fore. So it was not inappropriate to start Tuesday with a treat trip to IHOP - for breakfast. Pancakes are a speciality: Cal Guy went for the banana smile Happy Face, Cal Girl for the chocolate bomb Funny Face, Boatwif went for a relatively modest spinach and tomato omelette while the Captain and the Cal Mom indulged in meat-laden pancakes. Later that day there was another typical American experience: a trip to Edwards Movie Theater, just 18 screens for a city population of 60,000. The film (sorry, movie) was Megamind, with an audience of the four of us and about another six people. The children were allowed a SMALL popcorn box (so that was small! )It was a 3D movie, highly entertaining, preceded by tempting trailers of The Nutcrackerand Chronicles of Narniafor the next holiday releases.
The day before Thanksgiving has similiarities to our behaviour on Christmas Eve: shorter working day, long journeys to be with relatives, frenzied stocking up of festive food from the supermarkets. Neighbours were expecting family from Northern California: what at best might be a six hour drive yesterday became ten! It's probably the busiest time for internal flights, news reports abound of travellers' attitudes to the increased security checks (incidentally, I, though not the Captain, was X-rayed at Manchester). Our family, keen to avoid the turkey scramble around the freezer cabinets, ordered an organic bird online; news was relayed of her slaughter and dispatch, a call was received to check that she had arrived - and she (somehow it had become known as "Mildred") was delicious. Several other tasty essentials were delivered but a time arrived when a supermarket trip had to be made. The shopping list was long, but Cal Girl volunteered to help us out. It was three times as busy as normal, five times as busy by the time we emerged. Shoppers had a particular sense of purpose, the frozen birds, mashed potatoes (in cans) and tin foil trays being most in demand. As ever staff courteously and efficiently directed confused customers to the exact aisle location for every requirement.
We awoke to a cold but bright Thanksgiving; it was quiet, no traffic, no work to go to. Late morning an expedition was mounted to Double Peak Park, a mountain viewpoint 1644 feet above sea-level, about 1000 feet above San Marcos. Other families too were enjoying the excellent wide-ranging views: the university campus far below but only about half a mile distant, north towards high snow-capped mountains, due west to the Pacific Coast, Oceanside Pier and even the faint outline of offshore islands, east inland towards ridge after ridge of hills and steep-sided valleys, south towards freeways, hills, developments. Cal Guy and Cal Girl scrambled over rocks, clambered up the ampitheatre steps, explored part of a trail, climbed into a tree - a perfect work up for Thanksgiving Lunch. "Explain what you are thankful for," directed Cal Mom, and then we all tucked into turkey and stuffing, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, mashed potato and (home prepared) cranberry sauce. Some hours later we tackled the apple pie and fruit crumble desserts. Then from a cupboard (closet) we took down a large wooden puzzle of the United States: it seemed a most apt way to consolidate our day.
It is one of only two four day weekends a year: tomorrow will be "Black Friday". (Why? Who knows?) There seem to be two essentials: huge discount sales, starting from 4am and the tradition of decorating the house exteriors with "holiday" lights. A doleful discussion was had about some problem at the end of last season with the nodding reindeer: could Grampy fix it...? This could well be a different sort of challenge from clearing debris from a boat prop or rainwater from an engine compartment...
Afterthought: it's no longer there but earlier the Google Search page was headed by turkey and other images of seasonal food: was that so on UK based computers? Do similar festive images appear on UK screens at Christmas-time?
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
The Cheshire Son-in-Law has chortled, indeed crowed, over a spelling mistake in the last post. Little did he know that "Pajama" was taken directly from the Pacific Coast Gymnasium newsletter given out to parents after Saturday's gym classes, but it does highlight the surprises that assault the eye when reading American English. On a previous trip I struggled with the word "docent": it turned out to be a volunteer ranger, as at a state park or a historic centre. "Faucet" seems to be a tap and on Monday we engaged with "Transit Centers" (railway stations}. Those are the sort of word for word puzzles that you might meet, but then there are newspaper reports. "Octomom doctor under scrutiny" referred to the doctor in charge of the woman who gave birth to octuplets: that could be guessed at. "Farmers' market to begin at adobe" relies on you knowing where the adobe site is (traditional building?) but my favourite reading matter is the type which can be read, but no easy meaning can be gathered, an example a couple of days ago being " California randomly selects redistricting panel". A walk out on the Oceanside Pier provided a fair sprinkling of notices about beach and fishing regulations, although the one photographed apparently is comprehensible to regular anglers.
Saturday and Sunday were marked by rain so indoor attractions were sought. After the 9am gym classes and lunch in a diner an expedition to Escondido's Barnes and Noble was made. Think Waterstone's but with a far larger floor area, plus a Starbuck's corner, a new toy department, a huge audio section, stationery, paper gifts, maps and so on. Cal Guy had a birthday book token to exchange, Cal Girl was not to be left out. A local author was signing copies of her children's book, royalties going to the local educational foundation. Families were dug in, reading for the afternoon. Rarely parted from a camera I had secreted mine into the store ready to gain evidence of a friend's cousin's book on sale in the US. But oh, the book is in print, though not on the shelf, one single copy is on order for that store but it was impossible to establish whether stocks were universally low or in high demand elsewhere... I feel my bookstore experience was incomplete - and have put it to the Captain that we do an evening visit later in the week: after all, they are open until 11pm.
Sunday saw us head south, initially through heavy rain, to San Diego, specifically to Balboa Park. Twelve museums, a world-renowned zoo, botanical gardens, a thousand plus acres of trails and paths, the park established to mark the 1915 -16 Panama - California International Exposition. The buildings are breathtakingly beautiful in an ornate Spanish -Moorish style ... but we were heading for two particular destinations. Parking was difficult, crowds were gathered along the roadways, many clapping pairs of pink balloons together as they urged on the three day 60 mile charity walkers to their final meeting point at the new baseball park Downtown. First stop for us: the San Diego Railroad Museum. An entire room for toy train layouts, N gauge, HO gauge, O gauge, accurate representations of western states' rail routes, one layout taking nearly two hours for its trains to complete the route! A lunch (Cal Babe too) then a dive into the Reuben Fleet Science Center, a totally interactive hands-on science experience. The Big Ones went to the IMAX theatre for a space movie, while Cal Babe and I strolled the galleries and exhibits, before sniffing the air outside and half way along the Prado Colonnade coming upon a jazz saxophonist. Balboa Park draws in all sorts of people - hikers, joggers, art-lovers, musicians, performers and Hispanic wedding parties for their formal photographs. Although we haven't before seen the Park in rain or so green it never disappoints, the glorious buildings are the stars, while the visiting crowds also provide much to gaze at.
"We're going to the beach," was the announcement on Monday morning, a widely popular plan. Four adults, three children, a stroller, one bucket and one spade headed to Oceanside. Again we did the stroller-pushing walk along the diagonal boards of the pier. A pelican and a small school of dolphins were clearly sighted. Conditions were perfect: we were comfortable in shirts and light fleeces, surfers were in and out of the sea, young children played on the beach-side climbing frames and on the sand. With the one bucket and one spade retrieved from the garage a fine 5 towered castle was built, with battlements and garden. (To any listener curious enough I could have launched into a lecturette on the development of stone keep fortifications into concentric castles...!)
Homeward journey was by the local light railway system which runs from the coast inland to Escondido, its primary purpose being to serve the university campus of San Marcos, right at the bottom of the hill from the family's house. The campus station sits on a bridge over the road, an excellent vantage point for a photo of the Californians' neighbourhood. Cal Guy reads well and he skilfully interpreted the Sprinter timetable for us, ensuring that we got off at the right "Transit Center".
Back to "barking at print": after a time in the Science Center in Balboa Park you realise that all information is presented in English and Spanish; so too is a picture board book belonging to Cal Babe that he gazes at when strapped into his car-seat!
Sunday, 21 November 2010
(Apologies for the disrupted appearance of the previous posting: it grieved me to see
words and punctuation so oddly placed. The email is dispatched: compatible
layout is not guaranteed...)
Friday, 19th - Saturday 20th November
It is always great to be back in California, this now being the 9th visit since
Son and Daughter-in-law left UK shores, and the 8th to their family house in San Marcos.
On each visit certain things always surprise me, even though I should know by now to
expect them. The huge height of many of the palm trees is one, the higher from the floor and shorter cubicle doors in public restrooms another. Then there is the breathtaking
sight of the landscape hereabouts: the Captain reminded me that the reason the hillsides are such steep conical shapes is that they were never glaciated. In shops and supermarkets staff freely offer assistance " Shall I just steam this for you?" said the young girl in the Gap shop at Philadelphia, as we were buying a shirt to replace the one the Captain had so effectively splattered with blood from a sudden sneeze at 50,000 feet. Then in a local supermarket yesterday an assistant carefully unscrewed bottle after bottle of shower gel
so that I could select a preferred fragrance!
But some differences have been noted too. It is late Autumn, though not so apparent as in Britain. There seem to be flowers growing in public places and the hillsides and backyards have none of the parched looks that you see in high summer. In my stroller-pushing patrols around the neighbourhood I have come across a couple of patches of leaf litter - but not much. Generally the trees and shrubs are holding on to their greenery, and some of the bushes are additionally adorned by rich cerise berries or purple plum-sized fruit. A number of properties still show traces of Halloween decorations: pumpkins, of course, but also tall corn dollies, Autumn banners and door wreaths.
Today, as forecast, it rained frequently, sometimes pretty heavily; never before here have I seen folk in warm jackets and waterproof coats, open umbrellas in use and roads swilling with rainwater. At 9am the hills that surround San Marcos were totally obscured by low grey cloud. But, as we are reminded, it is the rainy season.
Another season prominent in people's minds is Thanksgiving. Schools are closed, " A nine day weekend, Granny," pronounced Cal Guy Senior (aged 7), while Cal Girl ("I am four and three quarters now") has informed me that Thanksgiving is from the Indians and the Pilgrims. Supermarkets are geared up for the Holidays (festive foods and what we would regard as Christmas merchandise), the Los Angeles Times yesterday was adorned by a huge cover promoting the new Disney movie "Tangled" to be released next Wednesday 24th - and
at the children's gym classes next week (though closed Thursday and Friday) Pajamas will
be the appropriate form of dress!
Just about seven years ago I had a first experience of being a stroller-pushing Granny:
I shall never forget it, along the diagonal planking of the pier at Oceanside that pushes out into the Pacific, a double decker Ruby's Diner at the end, a pelican swooping
overhead. A few years on Cal Babe has been treated to a newer, lighter stroller model. It may have fewer features for the discerning parent, but it is a dream to push, absolutely unlike a wayward supermarket trolley, more a responsive well-tuned coupe, its trim wheels turning and swivelling obediently - until that is the stroller pusher encounters the pedestrian gates at the neighbourhood's entrance. Oh woe, several times have I battled to open said gates towards me, to hold the weight open so as to swing the stroller through; the tussles have made me reflect that it is easier to to take a twenty ton sixty foot long boat into a lock than it is to propel a pushchair through a hostile heavy gate!
Friday, 19 November 2010
The odd, occasional, new entry from a boatless crew... Boatwif and the Captain have flown into San Diego for some grandparent time with the Californian Three.
Tuesday 16th - Wednesday 17th November
Drawn always to water we have in the past two days flown far above one ocean - and gazed upon another. To the travel events first. When asked how long it takes to do a door to door trip my usual reply Macclesfield - San Marcos is 21 hours minimum. Such a trip involves flying from Manchester Airport, into an East Coast airport, Philadelphia this time, and then transferring onto an internal flight to San Diego. So Tuesday morning saw us up at 0500 ... and finally falling into bed at 0845 on Wednesday morning GMT, a record 24.75 hour trip! This time the Manchester leg was on time, we benefitted from three seats for two of us and a smooth transition between passport control, through baggage collection, to customs,to deliver suitcases to baggage transfer, to queue through security and to relocate to correct
terminal and gate.
How well it was all going - until the combined effects of East Coast bad weather, West Coast fog, misplaced aeroplanes and crews left us with a long delay. Some three hours later than expected we were finally on the runway ready to roll - but with
22 other aircraft ahead in the take-off queue! No aircraft could have been more packed than that flight, East Coasters in their
heavy winter gear, burly flight deck crew being repositioned and an inclination on travellers' parts to take maximum carry-on
Arrival at San Diego: we sliced down through the white cloud, the city spread below, the curve of the Coronado Bridge apparent,
the coastline just visible,the skyscrapers streaming with light. Baggage reclaimed, a courtesy bus to the car hire company,
and we headed north. Up the I5 freeway, keeping the coast on the left, following signs for Los Angeles, heading inland at Carlsbad. Drive due east
to San Marcos. At 1140pm local time we arrived at the neighbourhood: "Access barred" pronounced the lady in the metalpress pad box by the
security gates. The numbers had been changed! The mobile phone wouldn't connect! Boatwif flung open the car door, gained access via the pedestrian
gate, tore up the steep hill past all the sleeping houses - and gently tapped at number 408. The Son, the only still awake
person, pulled on some shoes, drove down the hill and his electronic windscreen gadget opened the gates. A kettle, a teapot, a bed:
we had indeed arrived!
The Son gave swift briefing instructions: The children are excited; they invite you to breakfast with them; it must be at 0755.
The throb of aircraft engines had only just died away when Cals One and Two arrived, full of swift chatter. Ears needed to re-tune
to Californian accents and expressions: "Flag Salute" (whole school assembly), math (Maths /numeracy)were the obvious school related
confusions. The students left for school, the grandparents were free to unpack squashed luggage and to acquaint themselves with Cal
Three, a jolly, giggly eight month old creature. Time flew: Mother of Californian Three left to support kindergarten field trip
to the Number 1 Fire House. We, the boat crew, seized the moment: ignore jet lag, head for the coast, find our favourite lunch-time watering
hole on the Pacific Coast Highway. There it still was, the Pannikin, a one-time railroad halt, now a cool Californian cafe> From the wooden beams
hang a cart wheel and a once brass tuba. Real people hang out in it, the notice-board is headed simply with the title "Stuff", small birds fly into
and out of the cafe area, students engage in earnest discussion, there is no plastic in sight - and the cook provides fine Greek Eggs up until 2pm, an
excellent foil to airline food and tumbled jet-lagged stomachs!
A Los Angeles Times proclaimed the news of a Royal Engagement, we bought a copy for 75 cents and drove a couple of miles north. There we gazed upon the
Pacific Ocean; not that Carlsbad State Beach is the prettiest beach or has the highest cliffs or the greatest surf. But here you see an authentic Californian lifestyle, a
November afternoon, one man flying a kite, a couple of sunbathers and three hopeful surfers.
Time was running out: some essential groceries to buy, a liaison at the dentists' office to entertain children various during routine check up proceedings, a dash home and then a
second liaison at the Olive Garden, an Italian eatery over the hill in Escondido, the Son arriving direct from the workplace.
In all it was an excellent first full day: the sun shone on hill and ocean, the children laughed and talked - and we held off going to bed until 1015pm!
Oh, the business of -5 hours (East Coast), - another 3 (West Coast); at 4am the Captain was wide awake and offering to make a pot of tea... Readers, I turned the offer down!