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.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Beauty of Autumn

One thing we don’t see much of in Hawaii is the turning of the leaves when fall comes around. Autumn in Hawaii is basically the same ol’, same ol’ – green and blue, with perhaps a smidgen of red and orange leaves here and there.

So it’s with great pleasure that I can experience an actual autumn palette this year. It’s been a long while since I’ve become intoxicated with the turning of the leaves.

It ain’t New England, but it’s mighty pretty here in California while I’m here this year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Christmas – Earlier and Earlier

Christmas Display at Sears Oakridge Mall, San Jose

I remember when I was a kid … o O ( Oh lawdie, here we go … Dad’s gonna talk about the good ol’ days again. )

Hey! Hush up now. As I was saying, when I was a kid in the ‘50s, we couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving to pass, because then all thoughts turned to Christmas – a week or so later, the stores put up their yuletide displays and the street decorations went up.

The Christmas season just never arrived until all the fall celebrations had concluded.

Then, a decade or so later in the ‘60s, when I was going to college, I noticed Christmas sales being advertised on the Friday after Thanksgiving. When my first child was born, store Christmas decorations began going up while Thanksgiving was just a few days away.

When I returned to Hawaii in the ‘70s, stores began putting up their Christmas displays earlier and earlier, and in the late ‘80s, they went up right after Halloween. Today, the displays start going up before Halloween.

Which has gotten me thinking – maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all. Sure, there’s blatant commercialism involved. But if it gets us thinking and acting in the Christmas spirit … well, maybe there’s some good in that.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Little Changes, Big Changes

My grandson has changed a bit since we last saw him in June. It's now November and he celebrated his 6-month birthday in October with his friends (I mean, with his parent's friends and their little ones).

When last we saw him, he slept and cried a lot. This time around, he's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, goo-goos and yortles a lot, smiles all the time, and stuffs his fingers into his mouth at every opportunity.

He's discovered television, and if it's on, he tends to ignore people and turn his eyes to the tube. If you are carrying him and turn him away to try and get him to look at other people, he'll do that for a second, then turn his head to the sound of the TV - until he gets bored with it.

It's endearing how he is alert to new people and colors. Sometimes he'll pay you the same attention he does to the TV - turning away but then snapping his attention back to you.

I watched his dad feed him pureed carrots last night. He sure enjoyed that. Heck, the way he was smacking it down, it made ME hungry.

You know what? I seem to have lost my own decorum and sense of adulthood. Catch me at the right time, and you'd be amazed and entertained at how silly I can become when I'm around the kid. Lawdie, lawdie.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shoe Shoe Pi Doop

Here we are in San Jose again for at least a week and maybe more.

This morning was a sort of "get reaquainted with the area" time, as we took a drive around the main boulevards to reorient ourselves with places familiar and places new.

We'd heard from one of our son's neighbors that the Cup & Saucer Restaurant had good breakfasts so we scoped it out in anticipation of going there in the next couple of days.

After checking out the cafe's menu, we serendipitously found a little shoe shop called "Doreen's Wide Shoes" when a statuette of the Betty Boop character caught my eye. The wife is always looking for wide shoes (a result of living in Hawaii, I'm sure), so we went in.

While she talked to the saleslady, I gazed around the shop. One wall was half-filled with Betty Boop collectibles. Turns out the owner Dorene had a Betty Boop shop elsewhere and incorporated her stock into the shoe store when she bought it.

I've occasionally run into specialty shops that also feature a wall of collectibles reflecting the owner's fancies.

Normally I'd wait outside at times such as these, but today I had something to amuse me and occupy my time while the wife talked women's shoes with the saleslady.

Why do I have a feeling that we'll be going back there after breakfasting at the Cup & Saucer?

Poop Poop Pi Doo!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Excuse Me, Am I Late?

Ademir Jorge Goncalves of Brazil made quite a night of it with his friends, consuming large quantities of rum until he passed out in a drunken stupor.

In the meantime, a horrible car crash elsewhere resulted in another man being mangled beyond recognition. Still, based on the dead man’s clothes, his family was convinced the body was Ademir Goncalves.

They arranged for a funeral, which was underway when the supposedly dead man appeared on the scene to see what was going on. Ademir had sobered up finally, heard he was going to be buried, and decided to show up at the funeral to show that he was indeed … alive.

I presume the family was happy, once they got over the initial shock. But what I want to know is: Is he married, and if so, how many times did his wife whack him upside the head after they got home?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Salt “Ponds”

I have come across some mini-versions of Hawaiian salt ponds at Waterfront Park in Kakaako, Honolulu.

They are nothing like the ones at Salt Pond Beach on Kauai, but they are a nice – albeit small – illustration of how Hawaiians gathered salt from the ocean.

When waves wash upon the rocks at high tide, the water gathers in depressions and sits there as it evaporates during low tide when the waves no longer wash over the rocks. The dissolved marine salt remains.

A few tide cycles later, the white salt crystals can be gathered for home use.

I find it so very interesting to pause and reflect on how important salt was (and is) to human cultural and economic development.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Great Finish

She knows how to finish what she starts, that Zoe Koplowitz.

Never mind that she has multiple sclerosis. Never mind that she wears a back and knee braces and has to walk with crutches. Never mind that it took her 29 hours of painful walking to reach the finish line.

Zoe Koplowitz, 59, finished the New York Marathon yesterday – a grueling 26.2-mile test of endurance for any fit athlete – then went home to (as she put it) “cuddle with my husband and my dog, and take a nap.”

And you know what? This was her 20th marathon (TWENTIETH!) since being diagnosed with MS 30 years ago, having also participated in the Boston and London Marathons.

What an inspiration she is.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bailout Shmailout

What $1,000,000,000 Looks Like

Was the federal bailout of corporations a wise thing? Did we really expect that everything would be hunky dory if we backed up the financial institutions and automobile manufacturers with money out of each citizen’s pockets?

I had my doubts then, and I still have doubts after a couple of breaking stories in the past day or so.

First – CIT group, which received $2.3 billion from the federal government – filed for bankruptcy on Sunday. It’s going to go through reorganization, and will wipe out holders of its common and preferred stock. So guess what? This means the federal government (read YOU and ME) will lose the $2.3 billion we gave them in return for preferred shares.

Second – Ford Motor Company, which did NOT receive any bailout money when the other auto companies eagerly snatched it up, this morning said it had income of nearly $1 billion during this year’s third quarter. Sure, a lot of it is due to some fancy-dancy money juggling, but to their credit, Ford cut its expenses by a billion dollars.

There certainly are nuances to both developments, but at least on the surface, it appears that accepting the bailout money didn’t help CIT one bit, and rejecting the money didn’t affect Ford negatively at all.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Monkey on the Back

The “Craig Didn’t Watch USC on TV So They Lost” jinx has hit again.

I wasn’t able to watch the University of Southern California vs. the University of Oregon Pac 10 football game yesterday, and … the Trojans lost to the Ducks, 41-20 in Eugene.

You’ve heard me talk about this before. The only games they ever lose are the ones that I don’t get a chance to watch on TV.

Jinx, jinx, jinx! What a monkey on my back.

And speaking of monkeys on people’s backs, a cute little boy came walking by my table at the HSNA coin show yesterday wearing a monkey backpack. It seemed so appropriate and highly illustrative of the jinx I bear and the monkey on MY back.

The boy's parents were kind enough to let me take his picture from behind so I could share something cute with you.

. o O ( I might have to stop setting up at hobby collectibles shows during college football season in order to get MY monkey off MY back. )