Mar 182012
California Coastal Excursion

This last fortnight we had the opportunity to travel to the US for the first time since our Big Move.  With abundance of forethought (and a smart suggestion from Kim- Thanks Kim!), we got a trip to the States for the family written into his contract when we signed on.  So, when Game Developers Conference came around, we bundled up our spawn, two large suitcases, and any number of weirdly mixed emotions and headed on a quick (and unfortunately incomplete) mini-tour with family and friends.

Mea Culpa 
I would like to apologize up front for 1) not fully announcing the trip- I don’t like to advertise such things until they are over for safety reasons, and 2) not being able to see everyone we wanted to.  I think you will be able to tell from my tales that our time was pretty much fully covered by what we did manage to fit in.  But, there are definitely people and places we wish we had been able to see.  I am hoping we get to see you all on the next pass!

Also, I was up for about 32 hours yesterday, with only a little plane-napping to take the edge off.  I fully acknowledge that my brain may be a little fuzzy still today.  If my prose isn’t up to usual standards, I will hope the kind reader will indulge in some good old fashioned .. er.. um… what’s that word?  Oh well.  You know, be generous in your thoughts and I will try to rest up for next week’s report.

That Being Said….

The Big Trip

Phase 1- Bay Area

Kids in Strasbourg Airport ready to go

We left early in the morning on March 5.  How early?  Early.  No, earlier than that.  That early?  Yes.  Really?  Really.  Ugh.

Our route was Strasbourg through Paris to SFO.  We thought it might be cool to have breakfast in Paris, so we didn’t worry too much about eating early.  That was a Mistake.  It turns out that the terminal we were in in Paris had almost no food!  There were vending machines.  And there was one small, very overpriced organic cafe.  How overpriced?  Well, think airport food prices.  Then think overpriced for that.  They had a carrot “muffin”.  It was no larger than 1.5 inches in diameter and 2 inches high and went for 3.5 EU (about $5 US).  We got a few rolls and a couple pieces of unpalatable quiche and hoped for better fare on the plane.  That was another mistake.

The Paris Airport did have some nice
resting accommodations

Air France had terrible food.  How Terrible?  Well, think airplane food.  Then think worse.  One meal involved leek quiche and shredded peppers and onions with a mango tart for dessert.  If that menu sounds good to you, you are not any member of our family.  But, also, keep in mind- airplane food.  So, even if you liked that stuff, I suspect you wouldn’t like that stuff!  Luckily, we were about to face two weeks filled with every favorite food we have in the States.  So, it was probably best that we arrive slightly hungry :-)

DS taking advantage of Free Water

Once on the ground our first indicator that we were back in the US was the sudden and frequent appearance of Drinking Fountains!  The next indicator was the nice Taiwanese gentleman who rented us our car.  The third was the car itself.  I rented a “standard” sized model to ensure enough room for luggage and David’s mom.  This turned out to be a relatively sleek, late-model, red Chevy Impala.  But, after the Golf we felt like we were driving a boat!  Luckily, we found American roads to be pleasantly roomy- though the drivers were as pushy and impatient as we remembered.

Our first stop in No Cal was Pleasanton, where we stayed with our friends Clive and Raquel and the Cute Contingent of daughters and cats.  Both of Raquel’s older kids were available the night we arrived- along with their dad.  So, we had a really pleasant Pleasanton welcome of Japanese food and the combined Axelrod/Blackledge families.  Wonderful!  We were all completely exhausted, but it was SO nice to have a good meal with good friends.  This is definitely the stuff we miss about the U.S.

DS and Sami

DH and Mark- (Sorry, hon, there are less zombified pictures
of you later, but this is the only one I have of Mark)

Jake and Malia being good role models for future sibling relations

DD and Lexie (who knows how to work the camera!)

The next day, after a fairly embarrassing amount of sleep, we went to one of my favorite places near our old Castro Valley digs- the Oakland Zoo.  They have added a ton of cool exhibits since we lived there, but the basic feel of a great community zoo is still there.  The Karlesruhe Zoo here had a similar feel to me.

DS loved helping the girls- here he and Sami are watching Fruit Bats

Clive DD and Raquel

DD and Molly the Tiger have a quiet moment
Shortly after that Molly spotted Sami and grew agitated. 
It is a little freaky having a predator that size interested in someone in your group!
A docent even came by to make sure everyone was being safe.
We whisked the small ones away when Molly kept up her interest.
DH and DD in front of the Impalla-
DD is downright people-sized now!
Raquel and David kicking back on a giant butterfly

Giant Tortoise

The girls and DS playing- I had no pictures where they all were still at the same time!
There are MONSTERS at the end of this book!!!

The next day David got to do Work Stuff and attend GDC.  So, I grabbed the kids and saw some high school friends in San Fran.  I had to pay $24 for 2 hours of parking, but, Sue brought me Girl Scout cookies, so I figure I came out ahead. Semi-ironically, we dined at a French Bakery :-)

Hans-Christian, Me, Sue-
Everyone was excited that DS caught the shot with both the Cable Car AND the Duck Boat

Nick and Nate, Profile
Nick and Nate

The next day we went to Ardenwood- and Seafood :-)  For some reason the seafood here has just not been particularly available.  Definitely no crab.  So, we grabbed that whenever we got the chance!  Luckily, we had several chances. 

DS loved his role as Big Kid

The chickens showed no fear!

Clive Raquel Lexie DS Sami
I know they have a loud annoying voice, but I love peafowl
Another assisted lift
Another Lexie Classic Look, with DD
CRAB  I really can never get enough, giant sea Bug that they are….
David dancing with Lexie
DS loved this static toy that
Clive and Raquel had
Though it did have its dangers 😉
On a random shopping trip we happened across-
Some of my books!  Too cool :-)

Phase Two:
The next day we moved out of Hotel Blackledge and all its friendly amenities, and moved on to the Homewood Suites in Brisbane, CA.  (I want to give them a shout out, actually- best hotel experience I have had in ages.  Clean, friendly, and the only surprises were pleasant ones.)  There we met up with David’s mom and, once again, became tourists.  The agenda here involved Chinese Food and lots of Museums!

DD’s top priority was sharing her art, of course!
The nautilus was pressed up to the glass, so DS responded in kind.

Odd exhibit- it squeezes you like a snake constricting prey!

DS looks at mantids

DH and his Mom at the museum

I always love jellies

Checking out Foliage

SCORE- DH got a giant butterfly to land on him.
I have never seen a brass Lichtenstein before!
This in a “finger mask for storytelling”.  Grin.  Love it!!!

These guys were mass produced by the Mayans around 300 BC
It is a household incense burner.  With Character!

Modern Inuit art

Ever wonder what happened to that firebombed church in
Montgomery from the 60’s?  Yeah, it is hanging in the De Young….

Doh.  Lost the top off it.  This was a political
piece called The Spine and Tooth of Saint Guerro
It is a cathedral made of bullets and guns
with a human tooth and spine embedded in it.

Close up of the Tooth
Got them both smiling!  You have no idea what a challenge that is for two
people who both either blink (Connie) or scowl (David) for photos

A few moments for homework in the room
DD disapproving of DH’s choice in T-shirts
Another smiling shot- I was on a roll!
(Or maybe they were just happy to see each other!)
Waiting for the tram that was taking Grandma to the airport

Phase Three:

Ok, so at this point David had to go back to Europe to do some more Work Stuff and the rest of us headed on down to Southern California for a few days.  We really lucked out, though, since our flights took off from the same terminal we could hang out together before the trip.  David reports that his flight was awfully French, with the entire flight crew and the lady sitting next to him being entirely non-English/German speakers.  But, he muddled through.  The kids and I got a little Jet Blue commuter flight down to Long Beach.  Honestly, it was roomier than our Intercontinental flight on Air France! Dad and Connie picked us up and we moved into Chez Herweck for a couple of days filled with oceany, arty, pet-filled goodness!

Reading in the terminal

Wilson has put on a few pounds since
we fed him with a dropper!

DS happily ensconced with Willow

The traditional measuring- They grew!
Showing Grampa her Art
Standing like DD

Granny Connie gave it a try

DD deigning to share a chair
Dad was remarkably attentive as DD taught him Digimon

 Tidepool & BBQ day!

At first we thought we would go to Whites Point… only, er, well
it fell into the ocean!

No road there anymore!
These were to watch for Japanese invasion forces

So we moved down the road to another location… Surprisingly to me, it had also fallen into the ocean!  Though, apparently about 80 years ago….

Walking out to the tide pools
The remains of a beachfront community
Dad liked this brick

“Are you being arty?”  He asked.

How did they graffiti in there?

No, really, HOW?

Roy was here

“Mom, don’t try this!”  Apparently, the step down on the other side was a doozy

Out on the rocks

Oddly, most of the German playgrounds don’t have swings

DD caught a large grasshopper

We stopped at the store on the way back to Dad’s house and
discovered an Oh So American free supermarket magazine…

Paul came over for a BBQ and played catch with DS
Now my kid can brag about doing drills with an ex-pro football player!

Looking up my books online :-)

Paul and Lola
DS, Paul and Pumpkin Pie

Dad’s yearbook photo.  He says that the tux was
a fake front!

Dad was also the Art Director for the yearbook and
did all the drawings

Kids and Willow

DS and Willow- she sort of claimed us this trip


DS and Shelby

Granny and Murphy
(I can never remember his name- he just doesn’t
look like a Murphy!)

Dog procession

DD and Willow

Phase Three-
Next, we met up with my Mom’s side of the family at a fish house for a sort of Pre-birthday bash for the kids.  Then we transferred over to Mom and Mark’s house for the remainder of our stay.

DS and Uncle Keith

Granny and Grampa

Fran and DS

Great Grandma Connie- (sorry about the sun!)

Aunt Leslee and Connie
Hey look Aunt Sue, you were represented, too!  Bainbridge Island Salmon

Birthday Pie

DS always gets Uncle Keith and Grampa Roy’s names confused
We thought a handy dandy visual aid might help
Oh dear….

Then it was back to Riverside to collapse.

Settling in with Bubby and Ivy

The next day was off to another museum!  The Discovery Science Center has been one of our favorites since we lived in Irvine.  Apparently they got some grants because they had a lot of new stuff.  But, also some old favorites.

They had a large new interactive exhibit upstairs devoted to eco-friendly
living.  How…. European!

There was a Purple Bubby who lived on a Purple Planet

Climbing wall is still there, but no attendant!  Also, European!
DS in the peg board
DD took a different approach
Like carving a sculpture

Tah Dah

A different approach to the light harp, too.
I would love to see head-banger harpists!
Bubby was more melodious and…. calm!

Always love the Puff!

 After the museum, we got some Pie at Polly’s, then it was off for a haircut… I forgot to get photos of the finished doo’s, but at least I have evidence of the event!


 The next morning Mark finished up radiation for his cancer!  Woot!  Quite the accomplishment!

Yay Mark!

 The last day was filled with non-photogenic shopping and then a late night flight out of LAX.

This was our final flight.  A small commuter from Paris to Strasbourg.
On the last one, they slept on me.  But, for this one
they had to sleep on each other!

I must say that the flight from LAX to Paris was more comfortable than the one from Paris to SFO.  And the food was better.  Not good- better!  But, it was still a long, cramped trip.  We got up around 8 AM on Friday morning and went to bed here around 11-12 PM Saturday night.  Granted, there was a time change of 8 hours (German Daylight Saving Time doesn’t start until next week).  But, that was still pretty much a 32 hour day!

Take Away

So, what did we take from this trip?  Well, for one, we really do miss our family and friends and it was nice seeing as many people as we did!  There were lots of emotional tweaks with memories and things we want/wanted, etc.  It is going to take us some time to work through everything that got churned up and to process all the things we did!  But, here are a few quick thoughts from my fuzzy brain:

  • CA is definitely a lot more convenient than Germany.  But, it is also a lot more crowded and dirtier.  And there is something a bit raw and, maybe even a little mean about the feel of US culture.  
  • BUT- our family and friends are amazingly generous and wonderful people.  Everyone we met with and stayed with and dined with made us feel welcome and loved and cared for.  It was truly a blessing and an embarrassment of riches!
  • U.S. food assortments are also wonderful.  The melting-pot society has resulted in a fabulous array of really good eats! 
  • At first it was VERY strange to speak with shopkeepers in English.  And, when confronted with someone who was not a native English speaker, I had to resist the urge to try them on German or French.  Amusingly, when on the plane coming home, one of the flight attendants woke me to offer me a drink.  I responded to her French inquiry with a mixture of Spanish and German!  “Agua, Bitte” I mumbled.  When she stared politely, I remembered and corrected myself, but it took several beats to get my language centers untangled.
  • It was nice having large, well constructed roads.  But, I find that I have sort of grown to like the smaller European cars…. I just wished every other car on the road was like that because I think if I came back to the US and drove a Golf I would feel exposed and dwarfed.  US drivers, by the way, are not like either Germans or the French.  They aren’t controlled and they aren’t crazy.  They are aggressive and just a little oblivious.  
  • But, Thank Goodness for plenty of parking!!! (Except in downtown SanFran.  That was pretty ridiculous!)
  • I in no way miss being inundated with all the political stuff.
  • I in no way miss the level of SELL SELL SELL going on.  I was sort of shocked by that, really. I know the US is a commercially-minded place.  I was certainly aware of it before we left. But, even so, the sheer number of ads and DEALS everywhere was sort of disarming.  There were hawkers at the mall trying to get us to sell them gold.  The movie we saw (John Carter- Good flick, BTW.  We had a blast!) had something like a dozen ads and previews before it.  I practically needed to pee before the Real Film even started!  And, no matter where we went it felt like everything had an angle.  It wasn’t enough just to offer a reasonable service for a reasonable price.  There had to be some extra twist attached.  So silly and stressful! 
    Of course, part of the benefit here is that with the language difference we can just sort of tune advertising out.  But, the fact is, there is just overall less of it surrounding us.  We don’t get junk mail.  The TV ads are all clumped at very specific points and are limited in number.  And, frankly, I think the expectations are just a little more straight-forward here.  Even when buying the car no one went to “Check with the Sales Manager” and tack on an extra $100 fee or anything!  Sort of unheard of in The States….
  • DS misses the U.S. more than the rest of us.  I think for me, enough money to make an occasional trip to see folks and the ability to easily communicate here (i.e. Learn The Language, Stupid!) would go a long way toward smoothing the rough edges… Well, ok, that and a dog.  Definitely miss having a dog!  But, for DS the adjustment is harder.  I am not even sure he knows what it is he misses.  But, we are going to keep working on figuring out how to help him adjust.
  • I really missed David.  Like I got all silly and weepy and stuff thinking about returning home to him.  Awww.  Nice to know I care!
  • If we do move back to the US, I definitely want to live someplace with a bit more space between people.  It is just so lovely here having room- and a view!  Plus, water and seasons are sort of nice.
  • Planning only one day between retuning and the start of the school/work week was a mistake.  The kids are going to be completely blitzed tomorrow.  And they both have unfinished homework from the trip.  There just really wasn’t an abundance of downtime- and when there was, everyone had a tendency to sleep!

Ok, well that is all I have for right now.  Next week we should have some interesting tidbits from Germany to share.

Tschuss from the very tired Paris household!

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