Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A trip into wine country

Monday 28th - Tuesday 29th November

Drinkers of Californian wines will have heard of Napa Valley, an area about five hundred miles north of Cal Son’s home. Nearer is Temecula, an inland valley about thirty miles north and a bit east of San Marcos.  Last visited about seven years ago the idea of a drive up there took hold.

The route (US pronunciation “rout”) was via Freeway 78 heading east, then Interstate 15 heading north into Riverside County. The four-lane Interstate 15 cuts through what looks like back country. Fewer trees, great sandstone boulders littering the sharp hillsides, just the very occasional house perched on a terraced piece of ground.  There were signs for the Pechanga Indian Reservation (Pechanga meaning place where the water drips); now, though not seen, the Reservation has a casino resort.  The road trip took under an hour and soon we were back at Calloway Winery. Overlooking valley slopes and distant hills it is one of about twenty wineries, many of which offer tours, tastings and events various. (The term wineries is far more common then vineyards here). Memories had stirred of a long ago super-couth lunch at Calloway.  There is construction going on currently but the restaurant is as glorious as remembered. Large tables; a constant supply of iced water; fans overhead; shades at the windows when needed – and a menu which suggests a recommended wine for each dish. Lunch is served between 11am and 4pm so our arrival early afternoon caused no difficulty. The meal: delicious; the waiter: attentive; the wine: divine.

We returned to the freeway via the Old Town. It has that onetime Gold Rush / is it Disney? /we love tourists” look about it. Parking was easy – but as we opened the car doors we were hit by two blasts, one of the mid-eighties temperature (local women in strappy tops and shorts), the other of sound. From lamp-post mounted speakers came Jingle Bells, then Rudolph, then Silent Night. Shoppers can buy “outrageously feminine attire”, gifts, Temecula olive oil, model trains, antiques, collectables... And it was in the Antiques Faire (think the large antique place in Olney or the one in Hungerford) that I spotted the only remotely boat-related item for this blog – an ornamental “litehouse”, priced $9.95.

We drove out of town, the Mexicans swinging “CASH 4 GOLD” placards by the roadside gone now. The sun was lowering, the hills and ridges seemed even more stark. You realise how very developed the coastal areas are, how built up are the immediate inland valleys – but that undeveloped country is largely uncultivated, untamed, just wild. 

* Boatwif glanced at her watch at one point: 2.40pm. Back in the UK in pre-retirement days this would have been ten minutes into lesson 5. Glee - or guilt - as she gazed out over the huge expanse of vines and the surrounding hillsides...

Postscript from Cal Guy Jnr

It is noisy on Tuesday mornings. I like it. The garbage trucks come. They go down the street and then back up on my side. The first truck has a big arm. It picks up the grey bin and empties it. That is the trash. Then the next truck comes. The man gets out to lift the black bin up. That bin has garden stuff. Then the next truck comes. It has an arm and it lifts the blue bin. That bin has recyclables in it. We could still hear the trucks today so I made Granny look for them lower down in the neighbourhood. We went in my red push car. We saw the last truck. It was hot so I wore Granny’s white hat. Then we went to the park again.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Boys and toys

Friday 25th – Sunday 27th November

Last Sunday the Captain and Boatwif watched as Cal Guy Jnr fell irrevocably in love with trains. That was at Poway. (See On Monday the older brother escorted the Captain and Boatwif from Cal State University to Escondido on the Sprinter (light railway) – just two stops away, the purpose being a bookstore visit. Waiting for us at the top of the ramp at Escondido overlooking the station (US: transit center) were Cal Son and Cal Guy Jnr. What a good view there was of the two coach train we had ridden on and of the other double-engined train. Cal Guy Jnr jumped and jiggled as the hooter sounded and the shorter train drew out. Infatuation!

            Next day Cal Son came up with a project: the train table was to be reinstated to its original purpose. Clear off surplus toys, find the wooden rails, fasten together a loop with an incline, add a siding, locate the right battery operated trains, attach some magnetic trucks – and start! What joy; what excitement! Cal Guy Jnr leapt in the air, purred with pleasure, verbalising Californian toddlerspeak nineteen to the dozen... this was a project well worth doing.

            Two days later, while Cal Mom was preparing Thanksgiving Dinner, another project was started: create a route for the electric trains.  Track was laid out from under the bed, across the bedroom, under the door and across the landing to a complex four-way junction. Much testing and track cleaning had to happen – but Cal Guy Jnr, refreshed from his nap, was enthralled – and did not interfere with the proceedings. He has since surveyed the layout and watched Cal Guy Snr’s inspection of points and assembling of trucks and locos, still his face lit up with awe and wonder...

            Friday, though, saw a serious “Boys and toys” event when the Captain and Cal Guy Snr spent four or more hours aboard USS Midway, the 1940’s aircraft carrier which last saw action in Gulf War 1. So many highlights: eager questions answered, aircraft to sit in, an audio headset to help the tour, but the most impressive place seems to have been the huge engine room (one of four)  - and the job aspired to? Why, that of flight controller!

            And now the marathon Boys Event is under way. There were signs yesterday: a huge sparkly gold bow ribbon attached to a tree at the first address inside the gate; further along there were two tall and slender conifers bedecked in coloured lights. Around the estate all day Dads have laboured with wires and cables and extension blocks because now is “Holiday Season”, time for candy canes and reindeer to decorate the house fronts and lights to be festooned along the roof line. With two long poles taped together – and a fair amount of perseverance - Cal Son and the Captain have attached strings of LED lights to the eaves. A polar bear stands guard at the door, lit Santa faces line the drive while reindeer graze on the front grass. (Cal Guy Snr has confided that he doesn’t think Santa will have difficulty in identifying his house!)

            What other toys for boys? A flying hobby shop visit was made – as is customary – to buy a couple more chuck gliders and two small train accessories for the wooden train set (as much for Boatwif as Cal Guy Jnr.) But the boys haven’t had it entirely their own way: Cal Gal developed and practised a routine of five tricks to perform at the park, is a keen Charades for Kids player, had a ball with clay and bubbles, and also made a sea urchin and a redpot monster out of recyclable plastics at the San Diego New Children’s Museum on Friday. There was a special bookstore run for her on Sunday – and she enjoyed the Happy Feet 2 movie at the cinema (though big brother and the Captain opted for The Muppets)..

            Back to school and work tomorrow – back to serious graft after all the playing with toys!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Outdoor Adventures

Monday 21st – Wednesday 23rd November
            Cal Guy Snr was detailed to escort us up to Double Peak Park, a city park about  a thousand feet above San Marcos from which, on a good day, wide views can be seen.  It was a good day.  After the severe rain on Sunday night cold sector weather left the skies clear and with good visibility. The skyscrapers of San Diego (about 35 miles south) could be made out, and beyond them the borderlands of Mexico. To the west the land stretches across the valley of San Marcos and out to the coastal towns of Carlsbad and Oceanside and on Monday afternoon the sun sparkled on the endless Pacific Ocean. But the most spectacular views are to the north and to the east, layer after layer of sharp hills and behind them taller mountains.  Since last year a viewing telescope has been installed and Cal Guy Snr was keen to point out certain features. Home, of course, is hidden by a ridge though the university campus on the other side of it is clearly visible. He sought out his sister’s school to the north west of the city and then his, to the north east. We wandered then down to the play area.  A woman and her dog emerged at the top of a steep path. “Is this the Secret Trail?” we asked.  No, but it was "a great workout to come up from behind the fire station!"  Cal Guy Snr sniffed a chance to explore. “Let’s do one of the trails!” Slowly the situation was weighed up: to walk without map, compass, hiking poles and water bottles would be folly. The only possible emergency aid with us was a stray binky* in Boatwif’s pocket (good for a toddler emergency maybe!) The idea was postponed, to be discussed at home. Perhaps it was no longer rattlesnake season (the warning notice didn’t give dates) but the mountain lion is back, spotted a couple of weeks ago in the brush up behind the university... So trail adventure delayed until another time.

On Tuesday morning a checkout of the chuck gliders was declared. These, for the uninitiated, are model aircraft made from polystyrene or balsa wood which can be launched by chucking like a dart or by winding a propeller with elastic.  A fair number has been assembled over the years so down to the park at the bottom of the road a convoy trundled: in the lead was Cal Guy Snr sitting on his skateboard, followed by Cal Guy Jnr in the small red push car, Cal Gal taking up the rear on the pink bicycle. We arrived, we chucked, we assessed: best distance achieved - Cal Gal; most unstable aircraft with erratic performance - the one under Cal Guy Snr’s control; most innovative use of model - achieved by Cal Guy Jnr for repeatedly launching polystyrene model backwards down the slide.

Later in the day Boatwif and the Captain (time off for good behaviour?) stole out, first to the Carlsbad Outlet Mall and then continued on up Highway 101 to Oceanside, in need of some boats to look at. Glitzy power boats lay in the harbour but out on the sea were two, no three, sailboats. Three micro lights buzzed above our heads, surfers searched for a good wave and canoeists ploughed out past the pier. A low promontory of rocks and boulders protects the river mouth so we clambered along it, as far as it stretched, glad to be in splashing distance of the water. Back on the beach the cause of the deep tyre marks on the sand became apparent: a tractor was towing the lifeguard towers along the beach to a central point, ready for winter maintenance.  The beaches are officially closed, no lifeguards are on duty but that doesn’t deter the committed surfers – or the bucket and spade brigade. Today (Wednesday) we were there again, among them, this time on the other side of the pier, with three children and a 15 piece sand toy set. All San Marcos visitors will have trodden the diagonal boards of the Oceanside Pier (taking care to observe all the rules, of course.) A large gull wheeled down, landed and gobbled a substantial fish in front of us while three pelicans, perched on the rails, preened themselves. On the promenade folk cycled past on unusual leisure bikes, the most extraordinary being a sort of low slung armchair, with a dog perched on the back! It may be winter, it may be the day before Thanksgiving – but it was pleasantly hot!

Earlier in the week the forecast for Thursday was rain, “but that doesn’t matter ‘cos most people are indoors doing Thanksgiving.” Not so all day at Oceanside, as, so a notice advertises, between 7am and 9am the coast road will be closed for “Thanksgiving Turkey Trot”, a series of races of varying distances, pilgrim and turkey costumes optional... Thanksgiving: a great explanation of it is given by Jaq Biggs (US citizen now living afloat nb Valerie in the UK) who explains how the festival originated and adds some recipes too.  See “What Americans Do With Pumpkins, and Other Thanksgiving Treats” at .  43 million Americans apparently have been on the move today, criss-crossing this vast country to reach their families for Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey here is in the fridge, the veg has been bought, fruit pies too. Down at the Outlet stores yesterday an assistant in Tommy Hilfiger told us how she’d see her parents for a few hours on Thursday, go home for a couple of hours to have a nap, then report to the store at 10pm to prepare for the 5am Black Friday opening... Huge discounts will prevail – and for those desperate for an outdoor adventure they can sleep outdoors all night to secure a good place in Friday’s queues. Guess what?  That’s one adventure no-one in this household is planning to do!

* Binky (informal term): US - pacifier; UK - dummy

Monday, 21 November 2011

“These are a few of my favourite things...”

San Marcos and Poway

    It was at the local play park the other day that Cal Guy Snr pronounced himself King of the World. He had scrambled to the topmost position of the climbing frame and adapted the well-known "I'm the king of the castle" expression. "Well, if you're king of the whole world," ventured Boatwif, "what would be your first rule?"

            Back came a reply: "All lessons in school will be about trains and planes and nothing else."  Cal Guy Snr and Cal Gal certainly know their minds. In a pre-breakfast discussion we had listed all sorts of favourite things from foods (pizza for Cal Guy Snr, spaghetti bolognese for Cal Gal), to toys, to theme parks, then books (The Phantom Tolbooth, current third grade class reader, and A Thousand and One Things to Spot in Fairyland) and on to weather: snowy (Cal Guy Snr), rainy (Cal Gal, "because I like jumping in the puddles").

A trip to Poway was suggested – and this too might have featured in a favourites list. In the park at Poway (a town about 15 miles north east of San Diego) is the Poway-Midland Railroad, run by a group of volunteers who restore, maintain and operate several antique railcars. Today was to be a steam day, when the Baldwin Steam Locomotive built in Philadelphia in 1907 for quarry work is operated.  We arrived just as the impressive engine came out of the engine shed, did a first circuit of the park and was filled with water.  We sat sideways on in the passenger car, waving madly at all the other visitors in the park as the train did its two laps. A brass bell rings, a hooter and whistle are sounded, steam hisses out at ground level when pressure needs to be released, smoke billows from the funnel – wondrous sights and sounds for all generations! We lingered; Cal Guy Snr asked questions, Cal Guy Jnr taking a keen interest too. "Would you like to ride up here?" asked the (female) engineer. "There'll have to be an adult, you'll have to listen to instructions..." and that is how Cal Guy Snr, Cal Gal and Boatwif became assistant engineers riding on the footplate of a steam locomotive, right behind the boiler with full view of the brake lever, the water pressure gauge, the bell rope et al!

"If you've got to make a report in school after Thanksgiving on something you've done over the holiday then I think you've got a topic!" Cal Son said sagely To Cal Guy Snr. What a good time had been had. Such was the lady engineer's enthusiasm for old trains that she had visited the Rail Museum in York in 2008 – and as we left the Fireman called "Pass our regards to your Queen Mother..."

On the second day of our San Marcos stay we were dispatched to Sprouts Organic Food Market for various items. Just as we arrived at the checkout the Captain's phone bleeped, signalling the arrival of a text message. Techno Son-in-Law, spending a night afloat nb Cleddau had written: Not sunk the boat but have a question. While the Captain's attention was diverted into responding to a boating crisis five thousand miles away Boatwif had to deal with the checkout staff.

"Plastic or paper?" Blank look on Boatwif's face. "Plastic or paper?" came the question again. Realisation: this was a decision to be made about carrier bags. No handy Sainsbury's yellow everlasting elephant bag with us so a decision was required. It must be non-PC to opt for plastic in a shop whose name includes the word "Organics" so paper it ought to be – which is how Boatwif came to be standing in a parking lot in bright sunlight looking for an unfamiliar rental car holding a very heavy paper bag, containing amongst other things a gallon jug of milk, while the Captain texted and then phoned Techno Son-in-law to discuss the vagaries of Cleddau's central heating systems...  Apparently all is well and we are led to believe the boat is now tied up again back on the right pontoon!

"These are a few of my favourite things..." At some point Boatwif must check out the Barnes and Noble bookstore.  Will she be brave enough to walk down the hill to the university campus light railway station and get off at the right stop in Escondido in the next valley...? Perhaps she'll have to recruit some local help, payment by book of course!