Sunday, August 22, 2010

Post Fire Trip to Shell Ridge

Earlier in the summer we discovered Shell Ridge. Not really discovered, we have seen it off in a distance for years; but now the kids are old enough and Beth and I are healthy to explore it. It is a wonderful place to hike here in Walnut Creek.  We discovered on our first hike several ponds, including one pond with tons of polliwogs and baby frogs.  The kids loved the hike.

About two weeks after our first hike, there was a grass fire on the ridge.  The day of the fire, we took the kids safely to the trail head to watch the fire planes and helicopters put out the fire. The helicopters were taking water from the lakes at Heather Farms.  It was pretty impressive.  The kids got to see the news teams interview the fire chief also.
Ever since the fire, the kids have been worried about the frogs.  So we took another hike on the ridge.  Amazingly, even with the summer heat, the area is really rebounding.  The kids got to see that, while the fire burned over 100 acres, that one of their new favorite places was fine.

We found the pond that was previously home to the baby frogs empty.  That is of water.  The frogs were still there!!! There were two kinds, small toad like frogs and small tree frogs.  Most of the frogs were found in the cracks in the pond bed or under rocks.

I also found a huge wasp.  I mean this wasp was the size of my hand.  Come to find out this is a Tarantula Hawk.    You can imagine what they eat!  Click here for more info on what they are. This wasp looked like something out of some science-fiction movie.  In the next couple of months, the tarantulas come out on Mt. Diablo and I can just imagine seeing these things swarming around.  This is a link to  YouTube video of a tarantula hawk.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Zoo

At the beginning of the summer we sat down as a family and discussed what we wanted to do.  We pretty much accomplished what was on the list, with the exception of going to the zoo.

So the weekend before the start of school we took the kids to the San Francisco Zoo.  We also were able to squeeze in a run through Golden Gate Park.

The run through Golden Gate Park has become one of our favorites, especially since we ran the San Francisco Marathon last month.  We took the kids through a really neat tunnel that we discovered on the marathon.  On the other side of the tunnel was this beautiful pond.

After we had spent some time we moved on to the Conservatory of Flowers.

One of the highlights of this run is the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. What makes it special this time of year is that they have a beautiful Dahlia garden. The different sizes, textures and colours are a feast to the eyes. It makes a great place to turn around in the park.

So after our run we took the kids to the zoo.

It has been awhile since we have been to the San Francisco Zoo.  We have opted instead to go to the Oakland Zoo, partly due to the proximity, partly due to how it has been upgraded.  While the visit to the zoo was nice, it came apparent that it is showing its age.

We have always loved seeing the gorillas. It was fun  watching the mother gorilla play with her adopted baby.  The Alpha was fun to watch as he looked out at the people watching him.  He seemed as if he did not want to be bothered by the baby.

The Savannah paddock is nice, especially seeing the Giraffes and the zebras. 

The lemurs were out frolicking.

The kids had a great time. They also loved the bird exhibit in the Petting zoo.  The golden eagle has gotten so big.

Overall it was a very nice day.   On the way out, kids, Beth and I very tired headed back to the car for the drive home.  On the way out of the zoo, we were treated though to this Doggie Diner Head.  It kind of stands out like, huh, whats that doing here.  There is a story behind this head.  Click on the link for the story.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Kids Party

The kids have had a very great summer. One of the their highlights was a kids party at our friends the Vitale's.  The kids had so much fun.  They got to see many of the friends that they have grown up with at the play dates that are in other congregations.
Joe set up a inflatable water slide for the kids to play on.  There had to have been over 30 kids. Myles, our monkey, kept up with the big kids.  The temperature was just right, in the 80's.

The parents had a good time catching up.  One of the things Beth and I have loved about this area is that it is so friendly. 

The families at the party attend 6 different congregations. We may only see them at assemblies or once in a while at gatherings such as these, but we all keep in contact and are deeply concerned with what is going on in everyone lives.
Their kids are such great kids, too.  It is crazy to think that these kids are growing up so quickly.
Joe and Stephanie were awesome hosts!!!  There was so much food.  The kids had so much fun, too. 

It was funny to see Myles play.  This was one of the first big parties that he could actually play with the big kids.  He was on the water slide, played in the kiddie pool (with 3 little girls his age, hmm...), and played on the play set.  He had such a great time.

Thank you Vitale's for inviting us.  It was fun for all!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rhode Island Business Trip Day 3: Newport, RI

The final full day was complete and it was time for dinner, boy was I in for a treat.  I finally got to see someplace in the daylight!!!  The group had decided, on the recommendation of the local analysts to have dinner in Newport, RI at the Red Parrot.  This was 45 minutes away and it was a beautiful drive. 

That is until we were crossing the Newport Bridge.  There was an accident on the bridge.  A Semi had jackknifed across the bridge and it took about an 30 minutes to move it out of the way.  This meant that I was stuck on the bridge, which afforded the perfect, and rare opportunity, to get out of the car, on the bridge (all the cars were stopped) and take pictures of the Narragansett Bay.

You could see all the way to the Atlantic, over to Newport, and up towards Bristol.  There was an amazing house that sat on an island out in the middle of the bay.  It sat on a cliff and and took up the entire island.  It was one of those houses that would be in some type of mystery book.  Click here to see what I am talking about.

When we finally got to the Red Parrot Restaurant, I was hungry.  But I was already impressed with Newport!  It is such a beautiful town.  Newport was founded in 1639 and was the capital for the colony until Rhode Island became a state and it was moved to Providence.

Newport was one of the more important ports in Colonial times and also was known for the pirates that were celebrated by the town people.

Newport is also the location of many of the summer mansions of the the Astor's, the Wideners, and the Vanderbilt's.  JFK and Jackie got married at St. Marie's Church here in Newport.
The food and the Red Parrot was awesome.  I laughed when everyone at the table said that when you are here you have to have the seafood since we have such great seafood in the Bay Area.  That said, I had the Mediterranean Pasta which had shrimp and scallops.  It was SO good.

After dinner, we walked around Newport.  Like I said, it is a beautiful town and is definitely a place I would like to go back and spend more time.  There were a lot of shops, and it did mind me of Monterrey with an upper crust East Coast feel.

I came across this yacht in the marina.  It typifies what Newport felt like, old meets new. This is a very historic place with buildings reaching back to the 1600's to present.

The following day, we had a brief meeting and then flew back that afternoon.  I had a layover in Detroit that ended up being a couple of hours longer than plan.  They have a very interesting train system in the terminal that made me feel like I stepped into the 22nd century. 

Overall, it was a very good trip.  I wish it wasn't for business and wish I could have spent it with my family.  But now I know where I can take them in the future.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rhode Island Business Trip: Day 2

So on the second day, the the training session ended at 5 PM. But that meant that it was still 2 PM on the West Coast. So while everyone went out for dinner, I had to put out a couple of fire drills back at the hotel room. On the way back to the motel, I cam across this house. It is the Arnold House and it was built back in 1693. For a point of reference, this house was built 73 years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. I found history at every turn. To find a house that is almost 320 years old is simply amazing.

I also found Lincoln Woods Park, not very far from the Arnold House. It had a beautiful covered bridge. This park reminded me much of Georgia. Very lush and green. You could hear tree frogs and cicadas in the tree.

I was done with my fire drills just before 7:00. That meant that I could hop in the car and drive up to Boston, just 50 minutes away.

Boston is one weird city. It has the history of course, but it is a blend of New York and suburban Los Angeles. The highway and bridge system is like someone had been playing Sim City too much. I drove through the Big Dig, a huge tunnel under the city that dumped you out onto one of its many bridges. I ended up in Chelsea.

Not really having a plan and it getting dark, I decided to drive down to Plymouth.

I got to Plymouth at about 9:00 PM. Since it was summer, most of the town was surprisingly still open. Plymouth is a beautiful town that bridges its history and charm with the reality that it is a tourist attraction. Off in the distance, I could see the lighthouses out on Cape Cod.

I got to see a replica of the Mayflower (the Mayflower II). I had always known that the Mayflower was not that big of a ship. I was amazed though that it is about the same size as the pirate ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
A nighttime view of the Mayflower II

While I was looking at the boat, I was noticing that there was a school of small fish surfacing. I knew that they were being chased by something bigger, and I was right. The big fish, what ever they were, were chasing the fry towards the shore. These were big fish, probably 3 to 10 pound fish. I wish it could have been daylight so I could see what they were.

I also got to see Plymouth Rock, which is now housed in a building on the shore. The funny thing is that this is only a portion of the rock.  It had been moved from the original spot back in the 1800's.   What I really wondered is how do they know it was specifically that rock?

After I was done, I drove back to the hotel, getting lost a couple of times. The "highways" in New England are not well marked and I would end up on a road that would just end. I finally got back to the hotel at 11:00, ready for my next day of meetings.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rhode Island Business Trip Day 1: Wakill Bethel

There have been a lot of changes lately at work, a lot in transition. I was asked to take a trip out to Rhode Island at one of our sister AAA clubs.  This was for training on a new reporting tool we are adopting and to develop a consensus of how to use this tool.  The closest I have ever been to New England was when I was in New York when I had the privilege of working at Brooklyn Bethel.  So I was allowed to fly in a day early and was able to see some of the country.  It also allowed me to go and see Wakill Bethel. 
I first have to say, since Georgia, I probably make one business trip a year.  I do not like it much, especially leaving Beth and the kids at home when I am so far away.  Beth does not much like either.  So I can say I was a bit hesitant with this trip.  That said, it will probably a few years if ever I make it out that way again, so I did want to be able to some of this country.
Being 3 hours away, it is a pretty easy trip to make.  It allowed me to see Rhode Island and Connecticut as well as reacquaint myself with Upstate New York.  I have come to the conclusion, due to the amount of humidity that the North East gets, that the entire East Coast is one big jungle, green and lush.

There is so much history in the area too.  I drove through New Haven, CT. and saw Yale.  I saw historical markers in Newburgh, NY for Westpoint, Washington's and Knox's headquarters.  This is just on the way.  On the way back I saw further signs of the Revolutionary War, the Gillette Mansion.

My main reason for this day was to go to Wakill Bethel.  I had been at Brooklyn Bethel 20 years ago.  It is really hard for me to actually say that it has been that long.  Since most of the publishing has been moved from Brooklyn to Wakill, I was excited to see the changes.  Also, I have only been to Wakill once, when I went with my best friend Jamie Everitt's family.

So much has changed, and then again stayed the same.  I will say Wakill Bethel is now huge!!!  There are acres of resident buildings. The grounds are such a beautiful garden and I couldn't help but think what paradise will be like.

 The factory was awesome.  I was particularly interested in the bindery.  I had worked on the burst binder. 20 years ago.   In Brooklyn, this machine was one of many machines used in producing the literature.  Now, there is one machine that handles the entire process from burst binder to cover.  And since the process is pretty much more automated, there is very little chance for error, thus less waste.

So with all of the new equipment, it was nice to see some of the old machines there too.  I saw the shrink wrap machine I worked on.  I also saw the old burst binder working in another area.  The deluxe bible department operated pretty much as it did with the exception of the old sanding room.

The Printery was awesome also.  Everything is so organized.  I am amazed on how much gets done with less machinery.

It was nice also to see the dining area.  It brought back many of my  memories of family worship, the morning text, and LIVER and STRAWBERRY FROSTING CAKE!!!!  Talking with the brother, I found out that they had just ended dish duty 6 months ago. 

This is a sample breakfast menu.  The food was always very good.

I took the tour with three brothers from Hershey, PA.  They too had taken a three hour drive to get there.  One was an elder who had attended Gilead in the early years.  It was definitely upbuilding and encouraging.

On the way back to Rhode Island, I drove by Patterson Bethel.  By that time it was 6 PM. 

It has always been amazing to me and I continue with awe how organized the work is and how Jehovah makes sure that the good news is provided at the proper time.

 I drove through Hartford, CT. Then drove along the Long Island Sound, through many of the seaside communities.  I could help but think about movies like Jaws.  The main purpose of this was to end up in Mystic, CT.  To be honest, maybe it was because I was tired, maybe because I had built it up in my head, but Mystic was a bit of a disappointment.  I took a picture of the Mystic Pizza restaurant.  But it really was not that impressive.

I got back on the road and back to my motel.  It was 10 minutes away from the Club.  I had come across this hotel on Trip Advisor and boy the reviews were dead on.  This was a lovely place.  It was away from Providence, but was in a great location.
There was a grocery store nearby and I got my breakfast and snack foods.   

This was day one. 

Two trivia notes:

1.  There are more Dunkin Donuts than Starbucks and probably any other fast food restaurant.  Literally there is a Dunkin in every strip mall and corner in the state.

2.  Rhode Island is not the official name of the state.  Its true name is The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  How about that mouth full.