Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saturday at Golden Gate Park

Our Saturday plans were slightly a fiasco, due to incredible amounts of crowds. I had found out that the California Academy of Sciences was reopening after major renovations and that they were having free admission all day- from 9:30 to 10:30. We left fairly early, about 8:45 and it is generally supposed to take 45 minutes to get there. However, everyone else had the exact same idea and jammed the road so it took us nearly 2 hours to get there. We luckily found parking without any trouble, but upon arrival at the CAS, it was too late. The line wrapped all around a good portion of the park. They had actually ended other people getting in line. However, to go inside the museum, you had to wait ALL DAY in the line until your turn. What a HORRIBLE system is that! They should have at least given out time cards to return or something because that is just mean have people wait there all day. I mean, I know that the entry fee is pretty steep ($25 a person), but its not worth that to me to stand in a line ALL DAY. They had some booths where we were able to have some free water and performers, including some acrobats (but we only saw one trick).
The amount of people in this small area was INCREDIBLE. We think that there must have been several hundred thousand people at the park. We tried to get into the Chihuly exhibit, since William hadn't been yet, but the next time was for 5 pm, nearly 6 hours away. Not only was it the closing weekend of the exhibit, but also the people who didn't get into the CAS were invading the De Young.

Since it was way too crowded everywhere, we decided to go to the Japanese Tea Garden. It was my first time being there but William had been there before, but again, was kind enough to go again.

Isn't this so picturesque
Just don't get too close to the Pagoda- it was really rundown when you approached it. It was quite sad because you would think that they would take care of it, especially when they charge you an entrance fee. But, it does look good from a distance
I loved this brick bridge over the water.
Check out the reflection- so green
William explained that these are special designs that mimic natural landscapes- such that the rocks are water and the green grass are islands. This bridge was so cute- yet super steep.
Here's William going up it- pretty much straight up.
The park was such a peaceful oasis escape from the massive crowds throughout the rest of the park.
We then headed over to the Botanical Gardens where they have groupings of plants from countries/places around the world.

Just look at how "picturesque" our great state of California is-
Yup, all of the dead and dying grass and bushes. Don't you think that we see this everyday- why does it need to be "preserved" in a botanical garden?

And the birds were out in full force- lots of geese. I missed the little girl running and trying to scare them, in exchange for scaring herself.
And this bird sunning himself among the lillypads.
And who knew that the park was also a center for yoga
I also saw a few areas that I had not seen before. I had no idea that there was a lake/river where you could rent a paddle boat or row boat. (And no, we didn't do it)
And also this waterfall, and sadly, you can't really see the Celtic cross that is hidden behind the trees (but it is there). And you can also hike up to it.
Despite the fiasco of not going to either the CAS or Chihuly, and after struggling in nightmare stop and go traffic, we managed to salvage our time in Golden Gate Park, mainly because of the BEAUTIFUL, PERFECT weather. Not too hot, not to cold- just gorgeous sunshine. Yeah, it is definitely nice to live here in CA.

Frida Kahlo

After the last fiasco, we finally were able to go and see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. I have been a huge fan of her work since my sister Sarah and I went and saw her exhibition at the Tate Modern Museum in London. This was a phenomenal exhibit, chronically her paintings and how they were influenced by her difficult life. We had gotten the audio guide tour, which was amazing because it was on a palm and incorporated pictures, artifacts, and even her own voice on the screen besides the commentary. Needless to say, I was thrilled that another exhibit was in the area.

I had warned William that he might not like her art, but he was sweet and said that he would give it a chance . . . and to be with me. :-) What a great husband I have. And he didn't like it at all, but let me spend as much time as I wanted there. I listened to the audio tour which is a must with her art because so much is intertwined with her life that you need to hear about her experiences to truly understand what it is like. The above photo was the most poignant for me of this exhibition. Frida had a difficult life- when she was a late teenager, she was in a horrible accident that injured her spine, and she suffered from pain for the rest of her life. The accident also prevented her from being able to carry a child- she miscarried several times- and was devastated by her infertility. She was in love with Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist. However, he continually cheated on her, but yet, he couldn't live without her, nor she without him. She painted the above entitled "The Two Fridas" after her divorce from Diego. In her right hand, she holds a photo of Diego and it is connected to her heart as a representation of the woman Diego once loved, which is then connected to another version of her and that heart is dying and bleeding all over representing the Frida that Diego abandoned. And she is all alone- she only has her own hand to hold onto. The image is powerful in that there is no emotion on her face- fairly stoic- yet all of the emotion- her grief, sorrow, and loneliness- is portrayed in her art. One thing that for me, really makes good art, is that it completely captures the artists emotions and evokes them upon the viewer. The exhibit was good but had fewer paintings than the Tate exhibition, so I would have to say that the other was better. This is one of the things that I love being close to a major city is great art exhibitions such as this

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More Google Antics

Oh, those crazy Googlers. Here's their latest employee practical joke. William was not a part of this, just saw the aftermath. A coworker had been gone for awhile on assignment in Australia and as a welcoming gift, his coworkers bricked in his cubicle. Here is the wall of cinder blocks
And there is the other side of his cube with the laptop.
And to top off this prank, the instigators posted a video on YouTube of their construction. Hahaha- its good to see that despite all of their hard work on the computer, they are able to translate it into effective manual labor :-)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Not Just Kid Stuff

So just because you have a "serious" job at Google, doesn't mean that they don't like to have fun with little toys. William came home as one of the Google sheriffs (what you can't see is that it also lights up)
And it may look like a "normal" drink, but it has a special surprise. You have to push down a ball to have a drink.
But the glass ball sits on the inside the rest of the time you drink it and makes noise. Apparently they are super popular in Japan and Google wanted their employers to have fun as well.
But for us, the fun with toys don't end at work. We have them at our place. In our box of Reeses Puffs, we found this little surprise.
I totally think he looks scary! He kind of creeps me out now- I can't even imagine what it would be like if I was a little kid. William has him hanging from our heater in the apartment.

Our other new adventure is what they call Sippah Straws (my guess is that they were named by someone from Bawhston).
The concept is that inside of the straw, they have sugar crystals that flavor your milk while you sip it. Here's what the straw looks like
And here's a close up of the crystals.
The straws themselves are ok- it flavors the milk, but leaves a slightly weird aftertaste. The Hershey's Strawberry syrup is better. William even tried the strawberry milk through the strawberry sippah and the flavor wasn't super enhanced. Its definitely a unique idea and we still have like 16 since it was buy 1 box, get one free.

These are just evidences that kids stuff are still enjoyed at our house with the young-at-heart ;-)

Weekend Update: Some Planned, Some Unplanned

Our weekend started a little early on Thursday night- we went up to SF to go and see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the SFMOMA. I had checked online earlier in the day and they still had tickets, and so to avoid the $3 a piece surcharge, we thought we could just buy them there. So, unfortunately, when we arrived, they were already sold out for the night :-( I was mega bummed because I was looking forward to going to it. But, we bought some tickets for this upcoming Thursday. Thus, the rest of the night we were able to do what William wanted- we went to the Sony store at the Metreon and he enjoyed playing some of the new video games. We then went to the Virgin Megastore and looked at CD's, DVD's, and even some more video games. We tried playing Guitar Hero and William actually did extremely well- he was able to medium level several times. I'm basically a guitar loser in that despite several attempts on EASY, I still got booed off stage and never finished a song. Needless to say, I was happy to move onto the books. And fortunately, I restrained myself and didn't buy anything (despite a serious desire to get yet another Van Gogh book but I didn't since I already have several).

Since I wasn't able to do quite what I wanted that night, William was sweet enough to let me do
what I wanted to do so we went to Comedy Sportz San Jose. It will probably come to the shock of many that despite living in Provo for 4 years, I never made it to one of the shows there (I know- just one of the "rebellious" things I did like not taking Social Dance nor getting my "MRS" degree there). I found out that they have one here and just like the Provo one, they proclaim to be family friendly and avoid inappropriate topics. They just save them for their Midnight show (which we skipped even though we could have seen it for free going to the earlier one). We found a $2 off coupon on the Internet and also had validated parking at the garage next to it, so it wasn't too pricey. It turned out that we were there on their 21st anniversary of when they started the show in San Jose. Since it was a special show- as evidenced by the balloons- they also gave us "free beers"- ROOTBEER that is. We were lucky enough to get one. Also, they made the show special by having the former players from 21 years ago come back and play with the "newbies". The former players called themselves the "Disabled List". They started off fairly strong with humor, however, their lack of playing for so many years had them fall flat by the end. But, since the owner was one of them, they happened to just get enough points to win by 1. We had a great time- the newbies were hilarious! They could even turn their scenes into fairly decent poetry (well, wouldn't win any prizes). So now I understand what all the hype in Provo was about :-) And I will never give them anything from my purse to use in a skit because they completely used up this lady's dental floss and someone else's hand cream.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Baby Shower with Baby Bento Boxes

On Saturday I went to the baby shower of my old visiting teaching companion, Andrea. And it was such an adorable shower.

My favorite item was the "baby bento boxes" as they called them. They were a packed lunch wrapped up like a little package. One of the girls and her mom made these little napkins and a little pacifier on the end.
And just look at the fabulous lunch inside- a chicken salad sandwich croissant, little mini quiche, a salad with its own container of dressing, and a little chocolate cheesecake.
And they really just have the cutest gift bags these days
Here's the soon-to-be mom- she's going to be having a boy.
I have not been to many baby showers and it was obvious when it came to the game portion. They did a word unscramble with baby terms and I had the lowest score. I also misjudged the circumference of her belly by guessing with string (I was off by a lot for this one- but not the largest estimate), and then they did a final game, as partially evidenced above. It was the "guess what's in the diaper" test. They placed non-digested food items inside the diaper and you had to "smell" them and guess what it was. I was actually slightly disturbed by this game- just one of those visceral reactions to the idea of putting your nose in a diaper even if the stuff was "clean".

Overall, it was quite a fun shower and I was so impressed by the girls that put it on for Andrea- such a great job! I told them that I think they need to submit their baby bento box idea to the Martha Stewart show- its that adorable.

New Local Eats

So last Friday was the day of finding new eateries in the Bay area. In the afternoon, my new visiting teaching companion, Mary, introduced me to Red Mango in Palo Alto. Red Mango is one in the latest trend of natural frozen yogurt- meaning just unflavored yogurt. I got mine with granola, just in case it was super sour and then the sweetened granola would neutralize it out. However, it actually wasn't very tart at all. It just had a fresh, non-puckering taste to it. I was definitely impressed- and so I'm sure that you will hear me rave more about it in the future (but Cold Stone is still No.1).

That evening, we went with William's longtime friend Ben and his wife Bev to one of their favorite Bay area bbq places- Sam's in San Jose. William and Ben grew up together in Texas and so they definitely love and appreciate good bbq. You know its going to be a good place when they have a toy train running up around the dining room. And, they bring your table your own bottle of their special housemade bbq sauce. And boy was this sauce GREAT! Especially with their fries- these giant steak ones. The other item to rave about is their hushpuppies. AMAZING- with a savory taste to them complimented by the honey butter. That was our appetizer and after having those, I could have just left and gone home happy.

For dessert, they took us to another one of their favorite places- and a frozen yogurt place- called Frozos. It is in Santa Clara and I HIGHLY recommend it. And how can you not love their adorable penguin icon.
This place is a self serve frozen yogurt place where YOU decide what kinds and how much yogurt you want as well as which of the myriad of toppings you can pick from. They had the tart original yogurt (I tried it- not quite as good as Red Mango, but not too tart either) and 4 other kinds- vanilla (with sugar), butterpecan, strawberry, and chocolate. And here's William getting serious with their peanut butter gun- yes, they put their peanut butter topping within a calking gun.
You can't really see behind him the vast array of toppings that they had- pretty much anything you could think of to put on ice cream, they had- fresh fruit, cereal, candy bars, cheesecake, brownies (just to name a few). And then they determine your price by the little weight machine- here are all four of our creations- YUM.
I admit that I am a HUGE fan of this place because they just have so many options that you can custom make and decide for yourself what you want to do. If you want to be "healthy" and get the tart yogurt and fruit, you can do that or you can get the vanilla with 10 different toppings (like Ben did in the upper right corner).

We then headed back to our place for a little Tiger Woods Wii Golf. Ben had just gotten the game and shared it with us. The great thing about the Wii is that it makes you feel like you can play any sport, when in reality, I'm pretty much not super coordinated. I mean, I even had a few holes in one (given that I was on easy mode with the helper trajectory).

All in all, it was a great day when we discovered some new local eats. We have been through a bad spell with some not so great places, but this has definitely restored our confidence.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Utah Reunions

If traveling to Boston and reuniting with colleagues and old friends wasn't enough, only two weeks later, I headed back to Utah for a few more reunions- particularly, my 10 year high school reunion. Dadahdan. Yikes- I still can't believe that I've been graduated for 10 years- and I still don't have my PhD YET (and I stress the yet- its on the way).

But before the reunion, I met up with several of my old roomies from BYU who I have known for 10 years now. We were luckily all in Utah at the same time (we did miss some of you- aka Lianne, Melanie, Amanda- to name a few) and we had a great time looking through Sarah's scrapbook of our freshman year. We all lived in Deseret Towers, which is sadly no more, U Hall, the 2nd floor. The U-2 floor- named after my favorite band, and I didn't even have to pay extra money to live there :-) And obviously we are still on the same wavelength as we all wore shades of red/pink without coordinating with each other.
We went to Chili's and had some lunch- and the white chocolate molten cake- while talking and laughing up a storm. Sarah is getting her PhD in history at University of Toronto and Leslie is pregnant and going to have a baby girl! I am so thrilled and proud of both of them. It truly was so great to get together in that while some times has past, we are still great friends.

I was also able to have a little reunion with my family- minus my sister Cynth who was there in spirit- as we went out to dinner to celebrate my mom's and my birthday a few days earlier. We went to the Cheesecake Factory in SLC and were happy that we only had to wait 10 mintues on a Thursday night! We were pretty impressed it was such a short wait- probably because the Olympics were still on. We shared the appetizer sampler and my dad and I shared the strawberry shortcake (it is HUGE- yet, somehow my dad was able to eat a whole one before), and Mom and Sarah each got a cheesecake. It was nice to be able to spend time with my sister before she went down in San Diego to start grad school.

But, the main purpose of the trip was my 10 year high school reunion. William was willing to go, but I wanted to be able to say things that would impress my friends about my husband and I could only do that if he wasn't there correcting me :-) On Friday night, a small group of us- about 40-50 had dinner at Rodizio Grill. It was great because I was able to catch up and talk in depth with several people that I had not seen since high school (If any high school friends want the 411 on specific people- let me know).

Then, on Saturday was a big get together at Sugar House Park- and here's the sign welcoming us (sadly, I couldn't get the '98 part into the frame).
I was glad that I had gone the night before because I was able to chat with even more people this time in that there were hundreds of people there. It was crazy to learn that 3 different people from my high school already have 4 children. Well, I guess at least I am married now so that's a start. I did bring photos of William to the events so that people would believe that I was really married. I truly am SO HAPPY that I went- it was definitely worth it. I didn't realize just how many people I had formed relationships with and had funny memories/classes with and that I hadn't kept in touch with. It was great to see how much people had changed- or had not at all- (I hope that I at least look a little different now that I actually do my makeup and hair).

I was at the reunion for nearly 4 hours and then I went with my buddy from elementary school- Aaron- his adorable wife Lisa, and their cute baby boy to Iceberg for some Grasshopper ice cream therapy. They actually have an adorable condo right across the street- which would be very dangerous for me because I would probably stop there every day- and so we spent a few hours chatting at the kitchen table, catching up about friends, jobs, and life. It just made me feel so incredibly lucky that I was able to associated with such an amazing number of QUALITY individuals in high school. Friends who were "cool nerds" like I was- meaning we were smart, but we also loved to laugh, go to dinner, and hang out- but not get into major trouble. I truly loved high school so much and am so blessed to still be in touch with such amazing friends- and now our circle has expanded with their great spouses. I am definitely planning on being at the next major reunion and I hope that all fellow 1998 Colts will be able to join me

Quebec City: 400 Year Anniversary

My dad is a big French and Indian War buff and so when he heard that I would be in Boston and that I was very interested in going to visit this city, he and my sister Sarah came out and we all drove up there. The flights were quite expensive- about $500 each from Boston- so we decided it was better for us to make the 6 1/2 hour drive. We drove though very lush and green New Hampshire and Vermont and made it over the border into Canada. A few years ago, I went to sociology conferences in Montreal so I had a taste of the French aspect of Canada and was thrilled to be able to head to the capital city.

Quebec City is named after the Native Indian term "Kebek" (and how the city name shoudl be pronounced) which means "place where the river narrows." The St. Lawrence is the river the city sits on and the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site since it is the only walled city in North America. And it reminds me so much of Europe. This year is also the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec by Samuel du Champlain. This being said, it seemed like the perfect time to visit.

And the city was decorated even more for the celebration
We had a hotel in the PERFECT location- at the end of the "Champ Elysee" of the city, only a 5 minute walk from the old city and right next to the plains of Abraham. It has a rotating restaurant on top of it (shown below) but we didn't eat there. But the view was great
A gate along the plains of Abraham- the place has such a French/European air to it
We discovered that we had come at a great day because they had a big parade that evening. We watched by this quaint building with lots of flags. The parade started at 7 but has to have been one of the slowest parades we've ever been to. It wasn't until 8 that it reached us- and we were only a 5 minute walk from the start!
They started off the parade with period costumes, and also some drummers. They were really good with a great beat (and able to walk at the same time).
But the real "high"-lights of the parade were these giant statue floats. They seriously had so many- here's a few of our favorites.

Samuel du Champlain- founder of Quebec- look how happy he is
My dad called this one "E.T.'s Father". We don't actually know what it is a statue of, but it gave us a good laugh
Don't know who this lady is- obviously loves sunflowers
Another float we don't know who it is
We thought she looks like Mother Willow
This one looks like the Ghost of Christmas Past
And what giant float parade would be complete without going back to its religious roots with a cardinal and a father
There were probably about 20 more floats like this but it was getting kind of boring since we didn't know who any of them were supposed to represent. And we definitely saw a wide variety of the floats.

We went to this ice cream place that has delicious soft serve- very light tasting. Sarah and I each got our own vanilla chocolate swirl 2 days in a row. We wished we could have done day 3 but it was too rainy.

It was so fun to wander the streets of Old Quebec this evening- it was so quaint with scenes like this
We then went to this multimedia presentation called "The Quebec Experience. " It was mentioned in 2 different guidebooks and they had late evening English showings (9:15). Its a bad sign when you are the only 3 people in the theater. It was extremely hokey, and tried to be fairly "theatrical" when really all we wanted to learn was the real history of Quebec- not to see water falling in the room and the fake rifles. I don't recommend you going to it- save yourself. We ate at a restaurant right next to the theater and since it was a festival night, the waitress said that they didn't have any more chicken left. But, I was able to get a yummy seafood pizza. I was so happy that the menus were in French with the English translation beneath them.

On Wednesday, we awoke fairly early to a cold and chilly day- the night before had been perfect- not too hot nor cold so it was a good thing that we had seen much of the old town the night before while it was still nice. We went to the 1st English tour of the Citadel- which the British built after winning the Battle on the Plains of Abraham, yet no actual "battle" was ever fought there. The Citadel is in a star shape with grass growing on top to better camouflage it. The most exciting part was watching them practice for the changing of the guard- its similar to how the British, but in French and they have a ceremonial GOAT. Yes, an actual goat that is the descendant of the one given to them by Queen Victoria. I still don't understand exactly why she gave them a goat, but they take good care of this one.
Doesn't he look so spiffy in his blue uniformThe tour led us around the citadel and see some of the remains and artifacts. By the end, it was FREEZING and my dad and Sarah had not brought jackets because it was supposed to be "hot and humid".
We watched about 15 minutes of the changing of the guard and after seeing the goat, decided that was about as interesting as it was going to get and we left.
They even had a full band
Sarah bought an overpriced jacket in the gift shop and my dad would have bought one too but they didn't have his size. So, we went into town and found a hooded sweatshirt for him. This was a complete lifesaver for them because it later started to rain and we probably would have had to give up and go back to the hotel.

We headed down the "breakneck stairs"- that is the literal French translation and I really didn't feel that they were "breakneck" at all. I thought the RB stairs at BYU were much worse.
They have a funicular (a little cable car) to take you up the hill instead of walking them, but we didn't feel it was worth the money for such a short walk. The stairs lead you down to Vieux Quebec- the part of the city down along the shore, which is just as quaint and charming.
We walked along the water for awhile and then headed back where we took a boat tour of the St. Lawrence River. We were one of the 1st people on the boat so we got the prime indoor seats which was quite a bonus when it was raining. However, halfway through, there were these cool falls and my dad wanted all of us to go outside to check them out and get photos without the glass. I thought that I should wait at the table, but he didn't think that anyone would take our seats. Well, of course they did and the short time I was out snapping a Kodak moment, someone had taken our seats. Oh well- at least it was the same view going back to the city.
These waterfalls are pretty sweet- they are actually taller than Niagara Falls- just not as wide.
My dad with all of his French and Indian war readings had heard about these falls and really wanted to see them.
And we were able to get a panoramic view of Quebec City from the boat.
However, after our boat cruise, it just turned into a terrible downpour- just dumping buckets. I was the only one who had an umbrella so Sarah and I shared it while my dad used his hoodie. We managed to struggle up the breakneck stairs back to the city where we found an Italian restaurant where we could eat and get out of the rain. We had tried to go to this authentic Quebec cuisine place and it was completely booked with reservations. So we lucked out by finding this place. I got a yummy calzone and was able to reminsce by seeing a little bit of old school New Kids on the Block on the t.v. near by. Mainly, it was just nice to get out of the rain for awhile.

Next, we went over to Chateau Frontenac. It is definitely the most spectacular building in the city. Its named after one of the Governor's of the city who never actually stayed there. My dad had been willing to stay there, that's how incredible it looked, but it was all booked. Even for $500 a night. But, we were able to pay much less and take a tour of it.
The tour was really fun- the guide had a specific "character" that he portrayed- being one of the bell boys who delivered notes to the guests back at the opening of the Chateau. Here's one of the secrets- the chimney doesn't work- you can see that by the window in the center of it.
Here's the crooked hallway (it really is crooked)
And the 3rd floor (there are 3 slight levels joined by these staircases)
The beautiful ballroom
And check out these amazing chandeliers
This staircase has a special story behind it- that one couple walked down that staircase on their honeymoon and then came back on their 60th anniversary and walked down the staircase again. William wasn't with me so I walked down it by myself, so I guess the 60 year thing doesn't apply :-(
On Thursday morning, we went to the Plains of Abraham and made it there right when it happened. Unfortunately, they had canceled the 10:30 am bus tour so we thought we would go at the noon one. Until them, we went out to one of the bastions where some of the soldiers lived. We got to go down to the basement where they kept the gun powder
They had an audio tour and they told that one of the punishments for disobedience for the soldiers that they were tied naked to this horse and kept out in the elements for awhile. Yikes- definitely a painful punishment
The multimedia presentation at the plains visitor center was much better- it actually gave many historical facts about the founding of the city and its 400 year history. Here's a view of the famous Plains-
And we did not end up going on the bus tour because the bus arrived late (about 12:10) and it was 40 minutes long and we needed to check out of our hotel at 1. I could see that my dad would be panicked about making it back in time so we told him that we didn't care if we went. Instead, we went to McDonald's where I was trying to talk in French, but with a Spanish accent, yet to my embarrassment, and my sister's amusement, he replied to me in English. I was just trying to be respectful but ended up sounding really lame. Oops- at least I tried.

All in all, despite the yucky weather on Wed. and Thurs., we quite enjoyed our time in "Kebek". And the celebration continues for the rest of the year if you are able to make it up there