Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bank’s Error, Their Gain

This is a slightly old story, but I just found out about it while reading an old issue of Time in the UCSF Medical Center Radiation Oncology’s waiting room – a good argument for keeping old magazines in waiting rooms.

A New Zealand couple had applied for a $10,000 overdraft but approximately $10 million New Zealand dollars ($6.1 million US) was deposited into their Westpac Bank account by mistake.

So what did they do? You and I most likely would have done the right thing and contacted the bank, then called the news media so they could make fun of the bank. But not these two. They withdrew some of the money and took off for parts unknown.

Since they didn’t take all of the millions, some of the money has been recovered, although the bank declines to say exactly how much.

The perpetrators have been identified as Leo Gao and his Australian girlfriend, Cara Young, and are now believed to be in China. As it is a criminal offense for people to spend money accidently deposited into a bank account, Interpol has been alerted and is hot on their trail.

Well, maybe “hot” isn’t a good word here. China is a very big country. Good luck, Interpol.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Waterless? WATERLESS?

I’ve come across a few of these recently – Sloan urinals that require no water connection.

According to their website: “You don't need to run water supply lines and there are no mechanical parts to worry about. The replaceable sealed cartridge receives waste through drain holes, then through a layer of biodegradable sealant. From there, waste passes through a trap system, through a baffle and then goes down the drain. The sealant layer creates a barrier between waste and open air so odors don't come back up.”

It costs about 500 bucks.

I gotta say it feels a little weird to use it and then just walk away. I mean, doesn’t the inside of the bowl get wet? How is THAT remedied?

But, who am I to argue? If they say it works, I guess it does.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Alcatraz Saga

Being in the San Francisco area has reminded me of my Alcatraz saga. I don’t remember if I’ve talked about this in my wanderings before, but getting to walk on Alcatraz Island required more than just minimum effort on my part.

The first time I tried was when a group of us college students were in San Francisco over the Christmas holidays and decided to take the tour on Christmas Day.

It was cold and rainy, and we didn’t have a lot of money so taking a cab from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf was out of the question – a ride on the cable car would have to suffice. So it did. I had to stand, hanging onto a pole on the outside, while freezing-cold water dripped down my neck.

That was pretty stupid, actually. Y’know, we college students may be been intelligent, but we sure weren’t smart. I mean, anybody in his right mind would know that nothing is open on Christmas Day.

Obviously, the tours were closed and we didn’t get to see the island.

Strike one.

The second time I tried was on a family trip to San Francisco in the ‘70s. Thinking ahead, I had sent in for prepaid tickets and had them in my pocket as we drove to the pier.

I thought we headed for the boats with plenty of time to spare, but obviously I was wrong. We crept along in heavy traffic through the center of town because I had taken the beeline route instead of the swing-around faster route.

The check-in time came as we were crossing Market Street. The departure time came as we finally arrived on Beach Street. And guess what? The tickets were non-refundable. I ate the cost of four adult and two child tickets. Cripes.

Strike two.

I decided to give it one more try a dozen or so years later. We actually were staying in a hotel close to Fisherman’s Wharf, and early in the morning – the day before we were due to fly back home – we traipsed down to the ticket building. Or rather, I should say we had gotten a late start, so I fairly trotted there, my family in hot pursuit.

There, in great big letters on a great big sign on the big tour building, were the words: “Tours Sold Out. Make Your Reservations for Tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Tomorrow we were flying home.

Strike three. Y’er OUT!

I actually gave up the ghost, vowing never again to attempt booking an Alcatraz tour.

However … I really did want to visit Alcatraz, so after the new millennium rolled around, I figured I’d give it one more chance – new millennium, change of luck, and all that.

I bought my tickets online, and the day of the tour, the wife and I drove to Fisherman’s Wharf from San Jose four hours before our check-in time because my son said morning traffic on the 101 was going to be horrendous due to construction delays.

Traffic? What traffic? We got to Fisherman’s Wharf two hours before we had to report, so we sat in the parking lot napping (it was 7 a.m., mind you, and we’d awakened at 5 a.m. – the wife had been upset because I was rushing her), then had breakfast at Pier 39.

We were the first in line for the tour and I can’t tell you how happy I was when the boat finally launched and headed off to Alcatraz.

It was worth it, I enjoyed the tour tremendously. The wife, on the other hand, could not have cared less. The place spooked her.

But I didn’t care, after three strikes, I finally hit a home run and visited Alcatraz Island.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Emerald … Nuts?

Well, the USC Trojans did okay in their bowl game. At least they didn’t embarrass themselves in the low-tier Emerald Bowl against Boston College.

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach however, after BC almost tied it up in the second quarter. “Here we go again,” I muttered to myself. But then, BC self-destructed in the second half and USC prevailed in the end, 24-13, thanks to a couple of reviewed calls that went the Trojans’ way.

By the way, this was USC’s 32nd bowl win, the most ever for any college football team. Alabama has a chance to tie it if they beat Texas in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7.

I’d never heard of the Emerald Bowl until this year and suspected that Emerald Nuts had something to do with it. Well, they did, in a subtle way. The major corporate sponsor is Diamond Foods of California, which makes Emerald Nuts.

Perhaps they could have named it the Diamond Bowl, but it doesn’t matter. It’s probably a good thing that they didn’t name it the Emerald Nut Bowl, which elicits visions of crazy green people running around the football field.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jack Frost’s Visit

One wouldn’t expect to experience frost in warm and sunny California, and I certainly didn’t think I’d get to see it happen.

However, it was pretty chilly in Silicon Valley this week, and early morning temperatures were dipping down within a degree or two of freezing.

We’d been driving regularly into San Francisco during midday, but the hospital bumped our appointment up on the day before Christmas (they wanted up close up early), so we had to leave at 8:30 in the morning.

Our car, parked outside overnight, was covered with frost – all the windows and the roof. Nothing like we’d ever see in Hawaii unless we spent the night on Haleakala, Mauna Loa, or Mauna Kea.

If we’d left at our usual 10:15 a.m. time, the frost would have all melted away and we’d never have seen this phenomenon. Anyway, there we sat in the car with the engine running and defroster blasting away, until the frost softened and the wipers could sweep the ice away.

No harm, no foul … we still got to the appointment on time. And at least it gave us one more thing to talk about that day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joy to the World!

Joy to the World!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Carol

"The Nativity" by Frederico Barocci

For more than 150 years, the Christmas carol “O Holy Night” has brought true meaning into the meaning of Christmas.

Various versions of the song that recalls the birth of the Christ Child have been published throughout the years, and the song appears to have been the first music ever broadcast on radio (Christmas Eve 1906).

It is, indeed, my favorite Christmas carol. This is the version that touches my heart deepest:

O Holy Night

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!

Oh night divine! Oh night when Christ was born!
Oh night divine! Oh night! Oh night divine!

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord, that ever, ever praise we.
Noel! Noel! Oh night; oh night divine!
Noel! Noel! Oh night; oh night divine!

Here is another link:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Novelty Christmas Songs

Why aren’t there very many novelty songs on the radio this year? I did catch “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (Elmo & Patsy), “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (Jimmy Boyd) and the Nat King Cole version of “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” but not much else.

Whatever happened to …

· “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs

· “Christmas Don’t Be Late” by the Chipmunks

· “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” by Yogi Yorgesson

· “Nuttin’ for Christmas” by Stan Freberg

· “Twelve Gifts of Christmas” by Allan Sherman

I need a good laugh around now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Music: The Wrong List

I like, and truly enjoy, Christmas music.

However …

I don’t like Christmas recordings by Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. His singing just doesn’t appeal to me.

I don’t like singers who find it necessary to warble and yodel the long notes, instead of holding the note as long as is required and intended by the composer – artist examples: Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

I don’t like versions of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that feature the phrase “Sa-a-a-anta Claus is coming to town, Sa-a-a-anta Claus is coming to town, Santa Claus is coming to town,” instead of singing it the way it should be sung, with a single “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Artist examples: Bruce Springsteen and The Jackson 5.

And now that I mention it, I don’t like any of the Christmas songs recorded by The Jackson 5.

But that’s about it – a short list.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in the Forest

During our walk along the Sawyer Camp Trail at Crystal Springs Lake last week, we stumbled onto a tree bearing a few Christmas ornaments.

I found it quite inspiring that some folks would bring new ornaments along with them on their walk, hike or bicycling so they could add a little spot of color to the green of the trees lining the path of the trail.

Sharing the joy of the season with strangers – there is hardly anything more inspiring than this.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Music

I like Christmas music and am always sorry when they fall off the planet on December 26. Christmas songs add so much to the season, filling our days and nights with joy, wonder and hope.

We have been listening to Christmas music on radio station KBAY Gilmore and San Jose, which on the day after Thanksgiving went to a 24-hour Christmas music format.

For the wife and me, it’s one and a half hours of yuletide driving into San Francisco, and one and a half hours returning to San Jose – a total of three hours singing along with the spirit of the season.

This plethora – dare I say, “overexposure” – of Christmas songs has brought to focus some thoughts about the music:

1. The best Christmas music performances are by orchestras and chorales. There’s a magnificence that reaches down into soul and lifts your spirits like none other.

2. Although some of the recordings made since the ‘70s are delightful, in general the recordings by old-timers still rank at the top.

3. Pop singers who adapt Christmas songs to their own particular style usually aren’t successful in producing recordings that I enjoy. There are a few exceptions.

4. The best carols are the traditional ones that all of us are familiar with.

5. Novelty Christmas songs aren’t played enough. They never fail to bring a smile to my face.

I will probably expand upon these thoughts in the coming week. In fact, you can count on it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Diamond Head in California?

Our daily afternoon “zapping” appointment at UCSF Medical Center has been rescheduled to 11:45 in the morning, which now affords us whole afternoons to explore the Bay Area.

Yesterday, it was so warm and sunny that we swung off the freeway to visit Crystal Springs Lake, which we’ve seen when whizzing past it on the way from and back to San Jose.

There is, we discovered, a six-mile paved hiking trail called the Sawyer Camp Trail that connects up with the San Andreas Trail – yep, that’s San Andreas, as in the gigantic fault that’s gonna break one day and cause half of California to slide into the ocean.

Ah, but I digress.

The walk is a beautiful one, pretty close to the freeway yet low enough in the valley to virtually shut out the sound of traffic roaring by overhead.

One of the curious sights in the lake is a little man-made island with a small pile of rocks utilized, I’m guessing, to measure the depth of the water. There’s a pole sticking up from the middle with what looks like gradated markings.

Whatever its purpose, whoever pushed the rocks together formed what looks like the profile of the famous Waikiki icon – Diamond Head.

Whatcha think?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seagulls, Seagulls, Seagulls

Q&A for the day: What do you call a group of seagulls? A colony.

And that’s what I’ve seen every morning on the athletic field of Dartmouth Middle School near my son’s home in San Jose – a daily colony of California Seagulls.

They gather there by the hundreds throughout the morning, just crowding together on the field, carrying on their conversations as casually as can be. I’ve seen them as late as 1:30 p.m., so I assume the people at the school just leave them to their own business throughout the day.

Besides, who knows what an angry colony of seagulls will do when you intrude upon their space?

They’d probably dive-bomb your head with fishy poop, that’s what.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Orange House

On the I-280 San Jose-San Francisco drive, we pass a strange-looking house every day that we have come to refer to as the “Orange House.”

(Photo by the wife)

Not only is the house painted orange, it seems devoid of corners in a rounded orange-fruit sort of way. From a certain angle, it looks like a fat orange aardvark sticking its snout out from the forest.

You can see it when you’re driving north on I-280 toward San Francisco, just past the Bunker Hill Drive turnoff.

I understand it used to be called the “Igloo House” when it was painted white.

The fact of the matter is, it’s the experimental “infamous Flintstone House” in Hillsborough built in 1976 above the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

The community considered it pretty hideous, and it was the reason why the community formed an architectural review board to keep other such experimental homes out of their area.

The last time it went on the market, it sold for $800,000 in 1996.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Front Yard Christmas Trees

In the San Jose neighborhood where my son lives, residents receive a post card in early December offering Christmas trees for sale.

Here’s what’s different about these: According to my son, the trees are delivered, set up, then later removed from the front yard. All the homeowner has to do is decorate them with lights and ornaments.

We did a little drive-around of the Almaden Winery subdivision the other night to view some of the early Christmas light set-ups, many of which had the little trees set up in their yards.

Good idea. Somebody was thinking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I’m Quack!ing Up

I’ve got this song stuck in my head. It’s not a song I’ve heard on the radio; it’s not a song from my past that dredges up nostalgic memories. It’s a song about a buncha ducks.

If you’ve been around little children recently, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Children’s songs are so catchy that they stick with you after you’ve heard them a couple of times.

The one I’m talking about is one my grandson hears on a daily basis. I need to write about it so I can get it out of my head:

6 Little Ducks

Six Little Ducks that I once knew,

Fat ones, fair ones, thin ones too.
But the one little duck with the feather on his back,
He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!
Quack! Quack! Quack!

Quack! Quack! Quack!

He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!

Down to the river they would go,

Wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble, ho hum ho.
And the one little duck with the feather on his back,
He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!
Quack! Quack! Quack!

Quack! Quack! Quack!
He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!

Home from the river they would go

Wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble, to and fro.
And the one little duck with the feather on his back,
He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!
Quack! Quack! Quack!

Quack! Quack! Quack!
He led the others with a Quack! Quack! Quack!

This “Kiddie Song Ear Worm” syndrome has slapped me in the ears a couple of times before in my life – Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus.

Here … watch this video, and I challenge you not start singing along:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unusual Roof Attachment

During our drive into San Francisco on the I-280 Freeway that roughly parallels the U.S. 101 to the west, we’ve come across two vehicles with a strange roof attachment.

It looks like a cylindrical intake turbine that you sometimes see on warehouses.

(Photo by the wife)

Each time, the car was in one of the slower lanes, and keeping well within the speed limit. So far, we have seen a red car twice and the pictured black car once, each time on a stretch of the freeway that passes the back side of Palo Alto and Stanford University.

I can’t find anything about it in a Google search; in fact, I can’t even put together a decent set of search terms that produces any significant hits.

So … I surmise that … it’s a freeway emissions collector mounted on top of a low-particulate/low-polluting automobile, collecting data for a Stanford University study or on-going measurement of California highway pollution.

Whattaya think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

California Exempt

On the 280 Freeway between San Jose and San Francisco the other day, I spotted a white mini-hatchback car with an unusual California license plate that read “CA EXEMPT” with a bunch of numbers.

I immediately asked the wife (rhetorically, for I know she didn’t know the answer) was, “Exempt from what?”

I wanted to take a picture, but because I was driving on a 4-lane freeway with lots of other people, it wouldn’t have been safe for me to whip out my camera and snap away while trying to stay within the white lines, would it?

So instead of an instant photo recording, the incident prompted an inquisitive search when we got home. Success! And I even found a picture of such a plate.

It turns out that cars bearing “Exempt” plates are registration exempt because they’re vehicles owned or leased by the U.S. Government, state agencies, cities and counties, or special districts – such as city buses, city hall vehicles, and law enforcement.

The “CA EXEMPT” plates therefore are on vehicles owned or leased by the State of California.

The things one learns every day.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Helmet Warning

While watching the Packer’s game the other day, I noticed what appeared to be a gray patch on the back of each Packer player’s helmet.

What else could it be but a disclaimer or warning label? And that seemed quite ludicrous to me. I mean, big ol’ strapping gridder is going to take the time out to read the miniscule words on the back of his helmet? Maybe a rookie holding and examining his pro helmet in admiration for the first time, but surely none else.

Wanna know what it says?

WARNING: NO HELMET CAN PREVENT SERIOUS HEAD OR NECK INJURIES A PLAYER MIGHT RECEIVE WHILE PARTICIPATING IN FOOTBALL. Do not use this helmet to butt, ram or spear an opposing player. This is in violation of the football rules and such use can result in severe head or neck injuries, paralysis or death to you and possible injury to your opponent. Contact in football may result in CONCUSSION-BRAIN INJURY which no helmet can prevent. Symptoms include: loss of consciousness or memory, dizziness, headache, nausea or confusion. If you have symptoms, immediately stop playing and report them to your coach, trainer and parents. Do not return to a game or practice until all symptoms are gone and you have received medical clearance. Ignoring this warning may lead to another and more serious or fatal brain injury.

Now tell me … how many football players read all of this, squeezed into a 1-inch by 2-inch little gray splotch before every practice or game?

(By the way, the autograph on the pictured helmet is Brett Favre’s.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Picture

I finally got to take some pictures of the snow-capped mountains east of San Jose, from a couple of angles.

Pretty huh?

You gotta remember I don't get to see things like this very often.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It’s Not Snow, But …

This picture of a thistle that I took a few days ago sure does complement the cold weather we’ve been experiencing here in San Jose this week.

Yesterday, there was even snow on the mountains to the west. I didn’t have my camera with me when I headed out early in the a.m. to do some errands, and when I got back to the house, the snow had melted. That’ll teach ME not to be prepared.

We apparently are on the edge of a huge winter storm that’s going to be over the Midwest today. It’s times like this that I’m glad I live in Hawaii.

But this snowy, wintery thistle reminds me that it does get cold in San Jose as well.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Emerald Bowl … What’s That?

It was supposed to be sort of a rebuilding year, so I guess we USC grads and Trojan fans can’t complain too much about the final win-loss record our football team posted this year.

I mean, lots of colleges would kill for an 8-4 record at the end of their season.

Hell … who am I kidding. The Trojans were the most disappointing major college football team in the nation this year, dropping games to Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and of all teams, Stanford.

True freshman quarterback Matt Barkley had a fine start, showing maturity beyond his years until injury and his inexperience caught up with him midway through the season. The offense showed flashes of brilliance before becoming slightly inept, and the defense played well enough to keep USC in games until they too suffered lapses.

I can understand the Oregon loss – the Ducks ended up as Pac-10 champions. But we shouldn’t have lost to Washington or Arizona. Definitely not Stanford, who set records in their trouncing of the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

We’ve been spoiled in the Pete Carroll era, and have come to expect at least being in the running for the national championship.

Two bright notes: We beat Notre Dame and UCLA, our biggest rivals.

However, instead of winning the Pac-10 for the eighth consecutive year, we finished sixth, thanks to a four-way tie for second place. And instead of playing the Big Ten champions in the Rose Bowl for the umpteenth time, we’re headed for the Emerald Bowl to face Boston College.

Frankly, I’ve never heard of the Emerald Bowl, so I looked it up. It used to be the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl (snicker) when it was launched in 2002. The game is played in AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants), the only bowl game to be played in a baseball specific park.

I was right. It’s pretty much a hinky-dink bowl.

Hopefully this year is an anomaly and next year will be a better year for the Trojans. I’m counting on it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Although we’re in San Jose, we’re able to watch the Hawaii television stations via something called “Slingbox.”

A couple of years ago, my son connected the Slingbox to my cable wire, then when he got back home to San Jose, he connected another Slingbox to his cable. That enabled the wife to watch her Korean dramas on his computer when we were visiting.

This year, he went one better and connected a SlingCatcher wireless receiver box to the television set in our bedroom.

Now, the Hawaii cable TV array enters the Slingbox in my home, flies across the Internet to the Slingbox in his office, then through the air wirelessly to the receiver box in our bedroom and onto our television set. Ahhh … live Hawaii TV (the wonders of modern electronics!) in San Jose.

The only thing is that it’s broadcast in Hawaii time, which currently is two hours behind California. So the 7:45 p.m. show the wife likes to watch comes on here at 9:45.

She had the nerve to complain to me that it was too late and she almost falls asleep. Imagine that!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Home Cuisine Japanese Style

We’ve been away from home for four weeks now, and the wife and I were in the mood for a simple Japanese meal, such as chazuke (rice with tea) with a little bit of okazu (animal and/or vegetable protein) and tsukemono (pickled/salted vegetables).

You may recall we belong to the Marukai Wholesale Club in Honolulu. A friend who lives in Silicon Valley told the wife during our last trip that there was a Marukai Market in Cupertino, even spotting it on a map for us.

We had just enough time yesterday to get some stuff there, then drive over to UCSF Medical Center for the wife’s daily radiation zap session. As the Honolulu Marukai requires a membership card (which we have), we made sure I had it in my wallet when headed over to Cupertino this morning.

We needn’t have worried. They don’t require a card here.

We bought a bunch of stuff with strange-sounding names, but basically it was pickled vegetables that ranged from sweet to salty to spicy. Plus some chicken karaage (deep-fried), and some fish tempura (fish patties) from Hilo, Hawaii, my hometown.

And guess what? They had bags of Zippy’s chili.

It was a good dinner last night – a slurp-n-crunch meal.

Friday, December 4, 2009


These cute rodents are all over the place. We see them running across the street as we drive by, and scurrying to and fro in the park, leaping from tree to tree in an endless game of tag.

One particular squirrel makes a frequent appearance in my son’s backyard, and I’ve always wondered if he has a hidden cache of nuts buried somewhere in the yard.

Occasionally it will hold still long enough for me to snap a picture.

Squirrels are cute to watch, but I must have a touch of frontiersman in me, because what comes to mind eventually is … I wonder if I have good-enough aim to shoot it in the eye and bring it home for dinner.

Mmmmm. Squirrel stew.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like …


The one thing that truly lights my Christmas candle is watching my dvd of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO).

As I am in San Jose this holiday season and since my dvd is at home in Hawaii, I made a special trip to Best Buy to seek out the video yesterday. And I found one.

So … last night, I got to watch it and fill up my Christmas tank, turning on my brain’s Christmas pleasure center at the same time. I got to get my Christmas spiritual mojo moving, as it always does when I watch this stirring fantasy.

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve has a simple story line – a young runaway girl (Allie Sheridan), who has been away from home for a very long time, yearns to return home, writing to her parents in her diary yet not having the wherewithal to call them or otherwise communicate with them.

She takes refuge in an old, rundown theater where an old caretaker (Ossie Davis) guides her on a musical journey to lift her spirits and bring smiles and laughter back into her life.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s music tells the tale of the glorious birth of Jesus Christ, opening with the fully instrumental O’ Come All Ye Faithful and segueing forward as accompaniment for a excellent group of talented performers whose voices reach deep down into your soul until you cannot help but be transported yourself into the fantasy.

Two special performances always bring me close to tears. Jewel Kilcher (known professionally as simply “Jewel”) lends her beautiful voice to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and mega-star Michael Crawford (Phantom of the Opera) performs a powerful “O Holy Night.”

One of TSO’s music videos – Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) – is reprised here, absolutely delightful in its presentation of a little girl’s experience with musicians in a night snowfall concert.

The closing number finds the runaway girl finally getting home, thanks to a little bit of help from fantasy magic. It’s extremely heart-lifting, it will have you reaching for your Kleenex, and you will heave a big ol’ sigh when the credits finally roll.

I recommend this video without reserve. It’ll set you back about $15 or so – a small, small pittance compared to the joy and fulfillment it will bring to your heart. It’s guaranteed to get you in the Christmas Spirit.

As it did me … again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Fishy Story

If you’re ever in the California city of Cupertino and want some Chinese food, I recommend the Joy Luck Place. And then, when you’re done, visit the 99 Ranch Market that’s a short stroll away.

What I enjoy are the sights and sounds of the supermarket. 99 Ranch is a-hustle and a-bustle like you’d expect in a crowded Chinese market place, and parking is scarce … plenty of parking spaces, but plenty of cars too.

One of my favorite areas in the market is the seafood department, where there’s always an odd display or two. Unfortunately, they don’t allow picture-taking; fortunately, I took a couple before they scolded me:

Catfish! Catfish! Catfish!

Sea Urchins (foreground) and top shell whelks

Monday, November 30, 2009

Light Rail Works

Message to the City and County of Honolulu: If it’s done right, a light-rail transportation system can work.

As part of our San Jose Harvest Festival excursion the other day, the wife and I caught the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s light-rail train into town.

We caught the Almaden shuttle at the Oakridge Station, just across the street from the Westfield Shoppingtown parking lot, to the Ohlone/Chynoweth transfer station, then jumped on the Alum City line into downtown San Jose.

The trip on the VTA’s two-car train took only 20 minutes, about the same time it would have taken for us to drive. But … the train stopped smack dab in front of the convention center where the exhibition was being held, and the beauty of it all was that we didn’t have to find a parking space.

Exploration and discoveries are so much fun, don’t you think?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harvest Festival

The wife and I took a field trip to downtown San Jose yesterday so we could check out the annual Harvest Festival at the convention center.

I really don’t know what I was expecting, but the word “harvest” stuck in my mind as we made our way there on the Valley Transit Authority’s light rail system.

So imagine my surprise when we got to the festival and found out it’s basically an food and products show – kind of like a huge swap meet but with new and better items (mostly self-produced by the individuals or small companies).

They had a huge area set aside for the food court, selling various ethnic favorites. One of the bonuses was the entertainment. We sat there listening to four guys (three guitars and drums) belt out a program of Johnny Cash favorites. Not bad either … not bad at all.

We ended up spending some money of course, for who can ever attend one of these and not be tempted. The funnest part was that I found some new, hand-made monkeys for my figurine collection. Or rather, I should say that the wife’s sharp eyes did the ferreting out for me.

Nice stuff there … colorful too. See?

Whimsical Danglers

Tiffany Lamps

Hand-Made Pens

Big Ol' Handcrafted Santas

Glass Dragon

Small Portion of the Food Court

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiny Nature Unleashed

Yesterday was a good day for nature discoveries.

First of all, following a delicious dim sum lunch at Pan Tao Restaurant in Sunnyvale, we were talking to my daughter-in-law’s friends in the parking lot when my thoughts began to wander.

I saw a pokey fruit on a little maple tree (at least I think it was a maple), so I moseyed over and picked it.

As I was investigating its interesting surface, I saw a little beetle clinging onto the fruit. Ever the photo opportunist, I reached into my pocket for my handy-dandy camera and snapped a few pix.

Does anybody know what kind of beetle it is? If so, please let me know.

Then, later on when my son and I were heading out from his home to buy me a couple of new crossword puzzle books at Barnes & Noble, I noticed a golden spider guarding its egg sac under the eaves of the neighbor’s garage.

Again, I whipped my handy-dandy camera out of my pocket and took a picture.

Isn’t nature wonderful? You just have to keep your eyes open … oh, and have a camera on hand at all times as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Give a Pound of Flesh?

I love minor league baseball promotions.

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians Class-A farm team in Niles, Ohio) gave away a free flesh removal (liposection, that is) by the night’s sponsor – Valley Surgical Arts.

They originally wanted to give away a free breast augmentation, according to the team’s general manager, Dave Smith. But that idea was tossed because they felt it was “pushing the line on family entertainment."

So they gave away the flesh removal; five female finalists were “reduced” to one lucky winner.

Here’s the ironic part – they gave it away on “All You Can Eat Wednesday.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

This is a perfect day to articulate what I am thankful for this year ...

I am thankful for the birth of my first grandchild a few months ago, with whom I am spending several weeks at his home in San Jose.

I am thankful for my friends - all of them, whether online or in person, whether I've known them for years or just a short while, whether I am close with them or not.

I am thankful for family, because I am their legacy just as they are mine.

But most of all this year, I am thankful for the advances in medicine over the years, which enabled us to discover an anomaly in my wife's health, and to diagnose and treat it effectively in order to prevent future disaster.

Thank you, all of you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monkey Hair

The yardman came by the other day with a small truckload of mulch that he positioned around trees, shrubs and roses in my son’s back yard.

He called it “monkey hair,” but its real name is redwood mulch, created from trees found in California’s redwood forests.

The mulch is supposed to be extremely wind resistant and once it’s there, it stays put, holding its color longer than other mulches.

Monkey hair … how appropriate for a guy like me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tiny Dancer Dreams

In a small neighborhood mall (Princeton Plaza), not too far from where we’re staying in San Jose, we passed by the Capitol Dance Company one day when they were conducting classes for little girls.

The professionals who run the studio apparently know what they’re doing, for numerous awards are on display at the studio entrance.

On the window through which the little dancers were visible as they went through their practice routines was a beautiful poster of a dancer leaping through the air in all her elegance. A harbinger of future performances, perhaps?

What dreams these girls and their mothers must have. What dreams indeed!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Doggie Park Amenities

I’ve seen doggie poop bag centers at a couple of places here in California. The very first time I saw one was in Las Vegas, at The District shopping boulevard at Green Valley Ranch.

The “Mutt Mitts” dispenser pictured on the left is located along the beach walk at Spanish Bay, one of the stops on the Monterey Peninsula’s 17-Mile Drive.

I came across the “Dogi Pot” litter bag dispenser on the right during a walk at Alamaden Winery Park in San Jose.

These bag centers are a good idea. The bags sure are large, though. Are they meant to service an army of Great Danes, Pyrenees, St. Bernards and Newfoundlands?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Health Fee

The wife and I had lunch in San Francisco the other day, at Pier 39’s Fog Harbor Restaurant.

At the conclusion of the meal, when Greg the waiter brought us the bill, I noticed a line item that piqued my interest:

“SF Health Fee 3.5%,” it said.

“What’s a health fee?” I queried out loud to no one in particular. Greg heard me and offered an explanation of what it was.

San Francisco is the only city in the US that has a “health fee.” All San Francisco businesses with 20 or more employees must put 3.5% of its sales into a universal health fund. The money in the pool is then used to reimburse San Francisco residents who work in the city, for their health care.

I didn’t have to pay it, Greg said, but they have to put it on the bill to show the sales and health fee totals.

Well … who am I to deny anyone health care. Besides, it was only $1.29.

I’m such a nice guy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Were They Thinking?

A Rosewood, North Carolina, Middle School teacher hit upon a scheme to raise funds for the cash-strapped school.

For a mere donation of $20, her students could buy 10 extra points on two tests of their choosing, allowing the tests to be jacked up one whole grade.

What’s more, the parents of her students were the ones who proposed the plan, and the school principal, Susie Shepherd, gave her approval to the proposal. After all, she rationalized, the cash-for-grades plan would raise more money for the school than last year’s chocolate sale.

And, she insisted, it wouldn’t make much of an impact on overall grades.

What’s wrong with them anyway? Didn’t the principal, the teacher or the parents realize that serious ethical breaches were being committed, and that in effect they were teaching the students that money talks and advancement can be bought?

As an ethical solution, the ends don’t always justify the means.

Thankfully, when state education officials found out about the scheme through news reports, they scrapped the plan.

This is just another sign that the Apocalypse is coming.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

The other day, while searching for a parking space at Almaden Shopping Plaza, I saw this Mercedes near T.J. Maxx. Could it be? Could it have been Los Angeles Lakers NBA star Kobe Bryant's mother's car?

I'm inclined to think it was. What do you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

South to Monterey

The wife and I took an overnight trip to the Monterey Peninsula on Thursday to visit the aquarium for the umpteenth time, and take in the sights of the beautiful California coast.

We stopped by Santa Cruz on the way to check out the Beach Boardwalk, but mostly everything was closed. I re-checked the calendar when we got home and discovered that the arcades opened at 12 noon, and we got there around 11:30 a.m. And of course, there were no signs to advise us of that, so we left a little disappointed, along with some other people who apparently were visiting the area as we were.

Our time at the Monterey Aquarium was much better spent. I’ve been to aquariums before, but the one in Monterey tops them all, as far as I’m concerned. The featured exhibit was seahorses; I’ve seen such an exhibit before, but this one was particularly amazing.

After dinner at Cannery Row, we turned in early at the Quality Inn, our feet hurting from all that walking we did.

First thing in the morning, we had breakfast at a German restaurant with an Italian name in a city with a Spanish name (Santa Lucia Café in Monterey). I thought was interesting.

We took the 17-Mile Drive on the peninsula, which is something I’d recommend to everyone. You have to pay a fee to get into the peninsula ($9.25, up from the $5 we paid when we last were there about 25 years ago) but it’s worth it.

About half the drive is a winding road through forests, but once you get into the coastal drive, it’s pretty spectacular. We stopped at Spanish Bay to walk among the sand dunes (there’s a narrow boardwalk that facilitates the walk), then at Bird Rock and the famous Lonely Cypress to take some photos.

Finally, we bought some items at the Pebble Beach pro shop, where I stood next to the historic 16 lockers named for the best golfers in the world (e.g. Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer).

We drove through picturesque downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea, and stopped by the Carmel Mission for some photographs before heading back to San Jose via California 1 and 17. The drive isn’t long, maybe about a half-hour from San Jose to Santa Cruz, then 45 minutes to Monterey. The return drive was about an hour and a half.

And that’s about the size of it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Fruitful Detour

Every time we drive a few miles up the road from my son’s home in San Jose to shop at Lunardi’s Supermarket in Los Gatos, we pass a little orchard with simple signs announcing that fruits – lemons, persimmons, walnuts – are on sale.

Yesterday, for the first time ever in the several years that we've done this drive, we decided to stop and take a look at what was being offered.

There’s nothing formal about the set-up: It’s simply baskets of fresh fruit and a table of dried fruit packages sitting on a porch.

It’s run by the honor system, according to a printout posted on the wall. The fruits are priced (4 of this for a buck, 6 of that for a buck, a bag of dried stuff for a buck ‘n a half) and there’s a box where you can leave the money to pay for your purchases.

“This is perfect to write about in my blog,” I exclaimed, while the wife went about selecting some fruit (we bought some persimmons). I whipped out my trusty camera and snapped some pictures of fruit and a couple of trees.