Archive for November, 2006

Well duh !

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

According to the BBC News article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6158615.stm, family restaurants are failing to provide healthy choices for children’s meals.

Cast your mind back to a previous post of mine where I was ranting and raving over the choices that are available from most US family restaurants and then tell me why the article above comes as a complete surprise.

The funniest thing is that we have been to both Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden who are supposed to be Italian restaurants, i.e. a style of cooking that uses a lot of pasta and cheese, and it still looks like they used the Kraft Mac’N’Cheese mix out of a packet.

Thanksgiving’n’Things

Monday, November 27th, 2006

This week I found myself doing a  “Bah ! Humbug !” to Thanksgiving. We received an invitation to dinner from one of our neighbours but we declined on the grounds that I have precious little time away from the office as it is and I wanted to spend the holiday relaxing at home. It’s also the case that I can only take one turkey dinner a year and that’s reserved for Christmas.

A four-day weekend is nothing to be sniffed at so we vegged out on Thursday. On Friday, I made sure I was up for the 5 am start of the holiday sales. This is as big as the post-Christmas sales in the UK and people go mad here. So, at 11:30, I got out of bed and headed towards Frys. What a mistake. The Bay Area was there as well.

I checked my previous posts and can’t see any reference to the fact that, earlier this year, we blew up the PS2 by plugging the audio cables into the step-up transformer ( I use “we” to refer to other members of the family that did it while I was in the office ). So, for at least 5 months, we’ve been without karaoke.

The release of the PS3 hasn’t done anything to reduce the price of PS2s but I gave in to temptation and bought a new one. $129 later, we are back to singing “I Love Rock’n’Roll” and “Take On Me” to Diamond standard.

This PS2 is about 1/4 the size of the original one and it makes you wonder where all the electronics have gone. I’m contacting my usual sources to find out about getting a modchip installed.

Today saw Joanna’s birthday arrive after at least 365 days since the last one. On Saturday, we took her to see The Nutcracker performed by the Peninsula Youth Ballet company. It was a very good show and since our only exposure to the story was through a Barbie video, it was great to see the proper interpretation. One nice touch was that after the show, they put on a tea party so that children could have photos taken with their favourite characters. At least, that was the intention. It cost us an extra $10 per ticket and the ticket said it started at 5:30pm. When we arrived at 5:10pm, it had already started and most of the food had been eaten. Joanna was still able to get photos with Clara and The Sugar Plum Fairy so the money wasn’t entirely wasted. However, we’re going to be writing a letter to the Sam Mateo Center for Performing Arts as I wanted my cake.

And finally, I forgot to mention that we had a clock fall of the wall while Sam’s mum and step-dad were still here. As a thank-you present for us looking after them, they bought us a replacement. This isn’t an ordinary clock…oh no ! This is a clock that sets itself using a long wave radio signal from Clock Central somewhere in the US. What more could you ask for ? You change the clock to some random time, press a button and, within five minutes, the hands move of their own accord to the correct time.

This is *much* better than a karaoke PS2.

We’re the Pet Shop Boys

Friday, November 10th, 2006

This Tuesday saw the highlight of my year as we went into San Francisco to see the Pet Shop Boys. If I’m honest, they could read names from the phone book to a techno beat and I’d be happy but they did put on a fantastic performance. San Francisco is a liberal place and everyone seemed to have brought along their partners. In fact, we were all gay that night 🙂

The couple behind us told us all about their life and how they met which included a stint in the Navy for some reason. The military has a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. They were fun to talk to. One of the guys had been to a book signing with the PSBs the day before so he was gushing about how great Neil Tennant was and how Chris Lowe may ( or may not ) be using a dermatologist. This took him off on a tangent about how he’d found small wrinkles under his eyes and how he’d gone to see his Los Angleles friend who also happened to be a dermatologist and was going to charge him $400 .

I think I blew their idea of a reserved English man because he congratulated for me “getting my groove going” during the first half. After the second half, he tapped the shoulder of the guy sitting next to us saying “Honey, I’ve been watching you from behind all night and I have to say, it’s fantastic !”.
I also managed to get myself on the radio (Energy 97.2 [ or 92.7 ]) for being the first in the queue for the show. That was more by mistake than anything else. The show started at 8pm, it takes 20 minutes to get into the city but I wasn’t sure how long it would take during rush hour and there were a lot of cars queuing to get over the Bay Bridge so I made sure that we left at about 4:30 with the intention of spending another 30 minutes looking for parking.

As it turned out, it took exactly 20 minutes door-to-door and we stood outside the theatre by 5pm. We spent another 45 minutes walking up and down the street looking for somewhere to eat ( during which time Sam touched the Pet Shop Bus but I was too scared in case I got beaten up by some burly security guard ). So, by 5:45, we were first to queue up outside the theatre and the doors didn’t open until 7pm. It was a warm night so it didn’t matter too much but I don’t think Sam was too impressed because her boots most definitely were *not* made for walking ( or standing ).

Anyhoo, we got asked by someone if we didn’t mind being on the radio. Sam chickened out but I performed like a trouper regaling the interviewer with the tale of how I appear on the PSBs “Somewhere” DVD in the documentary on how they put on the show at the Savoy in London in 1997. About 17:13 seconds into the documentary, you can see my face for 1/3 of a second and I play “Man in queue #6”. The interview lasted for all of 30 seconds and he went back inside and never called again.

Busy, busy, busy !

Friday, November 10th, 2006

The end of October saw another Halloween and, this time, I went trick-or-treating with Sam and the girls and, it seems, the rest of California.

There is a street in Millbrae that everyone seems to go to. The fun thing is that everyone in the street sits out on their front porch with a big bowl of sweets and all the kids go from house to house lining up to get a Tootsie Roll. Some houses really get into the swing of things. There was one house which had decked out their garage like a spooky diner with UV lights, brains, worms and smoke. We did a lot of walking that night and the girls managed to fill their cauldrons with sweets. It’s amazing how ungrateful children can be. They had a cauldron full of sweets and were still complaining when some houses didn’t answer the knock on the door !

The best bit was that, because we were out trick-or-treating, we’d turned off our porch light and nobody came knocking on our door. Consequently, I have two $10 bags of sweets sitting next to my bed that I’ve been dipping into while I’m sitting in bed watching Family Guy 🙂

I was chuffed with myself this year because I managed to carve 3 pumpkins in 45 minutes. That’s not going to break any records but, considering that I’ve only had one pumpkin carving experience since we moved here, it’s an achievement and everybody was impressed.

My costume this year was a Frankenstein-like affair complete with green face and head scar. We went to a Halloween party the weekend before and I was introduced as “really a serious business man underneath all that make up” to all of the guests. I think I frightened off one little pirate because we turned up at the same time as he did. The look on his face was basically “there is *no* way I’m going in there with *that* (pointing at me)”. His parents couldn’t convince him to come in so they left without stepping foot over the threshold.

The party was fun and I ended up getting wrapped up in toilet roll along with a pirate father from next door.

November 1st saw us greet Sam’s mum and step-dad. The house hasn’t been this clean since the arrival of the last visitor from the UK. We rented a Dodge Grand Caravan (MPV) for the two weeks that they are here so that we can ferry them around. They stayed in a hotel in the city for a couple of days so that they could get over their jet lag and we picked them up again and brought them back to us to stay for a week. They’ve been getting into the American lifestyle which, apparently, consists of coffee mornings and shopping. Sam’s mum is loving it, Sam’s step-dad is taking the opportunity to relax at our house whilst not participating in coffee mornings and shopping.

We took them to the Golden Gate bridge on Saturday morning but the fog was very low so they couldn’t get too many pictures. They were still impressed with the scale of it all but a little disappointed they couldn’t see everything. The Exploratorium is close to the bridge so we took them there as well. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the Exploratorium before but it’s a fantastic place with lots of science experiments that everyone can play on. To make sure that we get a chance to play on everything, we have to elbow a lot of little children out of the way but all’s fair in love and war.

The best “experiment” is a room with a fluorescent wall and a bright light that flashes every 20 seconds. When the light flashes, the fluorescent wall leaves persistent shadows. This means you can make lots of silly shapes and see them on the wall. Hours of endless fun and we also get a discount for being members of AAA (American Automobile Association). What more can you ask for ?

When we left the Exploratorium in the afternoon, all of the fog had burnt off so I took everybody back to the bridge so they could take more photos. This time, we went to the Marin headlands which allows us to get a better view of the bridge from a higher angle. That made Sam’s step-dad’s week.

After the Saturday tour, Sunday saw the girls, Sam and Sam’s mum go to the girls’ swimming class while the men went to Frys.

The swimming school is fantastic. It’s in Burlingame which is only 5-10 minutes from the house and it’s a very popular place. Sam’s been trying to get the girls into the school at the same time so that it’s easier for us all to go but in the interim, Rachel got into a class. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds ( or should I say strokes and breaths ? ). The school has a ribbon system to mark their progress. Rainbow, Green, Blue, Red, Purple and Gold. Rachel got her blue ribbon within 3 weeks of joining and when Joanna finally joined she skipped Rainbow and got her Green. The school has a deal with the local Baskin and Robbins to give the kids an ice cream when they get a ribbon which gives them an incentive to keep swimming.

The trip to Frys was an eye-opener for Sam’s step-dad and we spent a good hour or two just browsing the store. I finally relented to Apple and bought an iPod with an iTrip which broadcasts the music on an FM channel so that it can be picked up by the car radio. Quality is very good but I need a remote control to allow me to change tracks while I’m driving otherwise I’m going to have to put my cellphone down.