Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I Left My Hat in San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista is a mission city the Spaniards set up in the early part of California history. The town is rather run down today, being part of the "gone with the old". Kids in Silicon Valley, being part of the "in with the new", usually learn about this place in history lessons, and the accompanied field trip is an excitement all on its own. Right before the holiday break Henry's school took all the fourth graders to San Juan Bautista, as part of their current California Missions curriculum. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with them. The town is about forty five minutes from school, through some part of windy country roads. The car was warm, kids were rowdy, and Henry got car sick. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, yakking away with the driver mom who happened to be Chinese; Henry was in the seat behind the driver. By the time he got my attention, I had about twenty seconds to choose between my hat which was in my lap, or his shirt which was on the floor. My hat won and caught Henry's processed breakfast just in time. Luckily Henry was able to quickly recover once we arrived at the destination and enjoyed the rest of the day. My hat, sadly, didn't fare as well. It was old and commercially made, easy decision to toss it in the first garbage can in town.

 This is the bell in front of the Mission.


 The Mission and its attached bell tower. The small gate to the right leads to a grave yard of over 4,000 Indians died of western diseases after the Spaniards arrived.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Phantom of the Opera

The Andrew Lloyd Webber production on US tour stopping at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. We made it a family event for Christmas eve, and it was Henry's first big theatre experience. Although he's seen the movie and lots of YouTube clips, seeing and hearing the Phantom in person turned out to be quite disturbing. He couldn't sleep half of the night.
The show was amazing -- the theatre, the stage setup, the costumes, the singing, and of course, the music. I wish there is a back stage tour so we can see how they moved Phantom onto the platform above the stage, or how he disappeared in the last scene.

Friday, December 26, 2008

First Attempt at Cookies

Something probably most of you did when you were a little girl. There is no baking in China, no westernized oven for that matter, everything is cooked on stove top in pots and pans. I never had the need to learn to bake in my years here, what with all that sugar and butter involved, things I try to avoid most the time. A few times I grabbed a tub of cookie dough at Costco and we had a great time baking and eating those cookies. It's fun, it's delicious, it must not be that hard to make. It wasn't. I used a basic recipe on the back on the Ghirardelli chocolate chip package. Our oven broke down couple of weeks ago, and I had to resort to baking three batches of cookies in the toaster oven. The guys came home, after being out all day and evening, to a counter full of cookies. No one complained.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Best holiday wishes from our home to yours!
(Trinket: Are we done yet, Santa Papa?)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Watery Dinner

When I lived in Canton I ate fish almost every day. Given the opportunity, I would still have fresh seafood as the primary protein source. A bit hard to do when I have to work all day. On days when I'm home and can go to the market for fresh fish, we each end up with the seafood of choice. In the picture below starting from the upper left corner going clock-wise: 1. White Pomfret, or flat fish. My fish of choice in the US. I've only seen them in Chinese markets, usually produced in India and flown in to California. The guys at the fish department do the cleaning, and there is almost no scale. Slightly marinated in rice wine, salt, green onion and ginger, cooked and served whole in its own juice. The head is very small, flesh is tender and meaty, and there are very little bones other than the spine and fins. 2. Baby scallops, sauteed in rice wine and green onions. Henry's new love, to show me why I should appreciate the days when he lived on mac & cheese. 3. Stir-fried thin rice noodles from the Chinese deli. This dish is hard to cook at home and we all like the chewy texture, so I try to pick it up from the deli whenever I can. 4. Grapes from the farmer's market. 5. Sauteed Chinese broccoli with king oyster mushrooms. Both I've only seen in Chinese markets. Chinese broccoli is leafier than the American version and slightly bitter. King oyster mushrooms are very meaty, can be a good substitute in vegetarian dishes for meat. 6. A fish steak of some sort from the Chinese market, cooked in rice wine, green onion, ginger, and pearl onion. Bill likes the traditional ocean fish steak texture and taste, and less small body parts to deal with.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pretty Things

Last rose of the summer. The rose bush is going strong despite the patio cover we put up above it this spring. We will need to prune it very soon. The only persimmon I harvested this year. I was told that fruit trees tend to go into biennial growth spurts. Last year we got at least couple dozen persimmons, so hopefully next year will be a big harvest again. I'm on two-week furlough from work, and not having as much time I would like to play on the computer and update my blog. Lots of shopping to do. Enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sleep Is Hard Work

Why do wee babies and small pups emit such sweet warm smell when they sleep that's entirely intoxicating?
Every night we sit down in the living room to watch TV, and the dogs find their respectable beds to doze off. When it comes time to head upstairs for good, my job is to carry Trinket up with the least disturbance so as not to bother the old injury in his shoulder. I pick him up from the doggie bed, gently, cradle him like an infant, and he usually wakes up, gives me "I'm sleepy and life is good" look. I kiss him on the cheek and tell him he's mama's boy. Then I smell his little paws, especially the white paw sticking out in the picture. They smell so warm, and sweet, it makes me dizzy. I kiss the top of the paws -- never the bottom, I know where they've been to. I drop him off in one of the doggie beds upstairs, and he curls up in a perfect little ball, so tight that you can't tell where it starts and ends.
I'm the mother of this furry little creature. How strange!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dr. Phil

Phil is a yoga instructor at the Pacific Culture Center in Santa Cruz. I have been taking Phil's classes since April. He's moving to the east coast in January, and thanks to my company's extended furlough for the next two weeks, today was my last class with him. Phil's website is Yoga with Phil. I have had many yoga instructors in the ten years that I have been practicing. The big gyms tend to cater to beginners, and the studios tend to cater to the spirited souls. Phil's teaching is practical, sophisticated and very demanding. He's the only instructor willing to work with my stubborn bad hips, instead of labeling me as some sort of unwilling lazy duck and push me aside. He sees human body as functioning structure built from inside out, not limbs to form poses to look like pictures. Phil has humor and ideas. He talks up a storm in the class, and if you have to stand on one leg for three minutes, the entertainment is perfectly on the spot. Before the election he talked sincerely about the uncertain future of the nation. The frankness is a breath of fresh air, even in Santa Cruz. Phil is a rare find, and I will miss him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Basketball Season

Game one in Henry's first basketball league. Hint, Henry is the one with the ball, ready to shoot Our weekends now are all about practices and games. There is a game every Sunday, at various times in various places, against various teams from various cities. The official practices are on Friday night and Saturday morning, but the coach added an extra 45 minutes special practice before the game on Sunday. We have two parents juggling one child doing one activity. I honestly don't know how other parents deal with multiple kids with multiple sports and classes, most of the time just the mom doing all the work.

Monday, December 15, 2008

North Bay Miscellaneous

Bolinas is a funky little town on a peninsular just north of Stinson Beach in Marin County. The only road into town is unmarked, so as not to attract visitors. Of course this gets my attention. We looked for the town last year when we visited Point Rayes seashore, but missed the road; this time we got directions from the locals and determined to find it.

We did. It was town's artists' open studio during Thanksgiving weekend and there was quite a crowd. The weather was exceptionally nice, and the out of town surfers added to the traffic too.

The town is very dog friendly. There were happy hounds running around, crossing streets on their own. We didn't have time to make it to Dogtown, but it's indeed a place, not just a cute name.

The surf shop's slogan is "Live and Let Live", well said for the town.

We walked around town, had lunch and visited a few studios. Lots of spirituality inspired paintings,
sculptures, pottery, tapestry, etc., nothing stood out. Even found a small yarn shop that sells a variety of goods, including yarn. I learned from the shop hop that if what's on my back is more advanced than any item displayed in the shop, then most likely I would not find anything interesting. On this particular day I had on my well worn Frode from Elsebeth Lavold's viking book. The shop was all about fat yarn on big needle quick knits, similar to the level of artwork we saw in the rest of the town.

We live and let live.

On our first day while driving around looking for Olive Press we found this nice chocolate shop in Jack London Village in Glen Ellen. The shop is called Wine Country Chocolates, ran by a mother-daughter team. They had fresh truffle fillings for tasting every day, absolutely delicious.

The price was pretty good too. A custom box of 12 truffles was only $20.

While in Sonoma we took Henry to Traintown. I had brochure from this place in the days when Henry was a train fanatic (from about two years old to seven or eight), but we never managed a visit. We went for a ride on the train, which stopped at a miniature western town, with a real petting zoo.

While we couldn't afford to eat at The French Laundry (see my previous post, and as Lesley said in the comment, it would cost about $700 for dinner for two. I need a stronger stomach for that), we did find our Thanksgiving dinner at WildFox in Novado. I had grouper with crab cakes, and creme brulee for dessert, while the guys did the American thing and enjoyed turkey with all the trimmings. The kids' portion was so big that Henry made two dinners out of it.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The first time I heard about Yountville was when The French Laundry won three Michelin stars in 2006.

About its owner and executive chef, Thomas Keller, according to Wikipedia:

"In 2005, he was awarded the highest, three star rating in the inaugural Michelin Guide for New York for his restaurant Per Se, and in 2006, he was awarded three stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to the Bay Area for his restaurant The French Laundry, making him one of only two chefs in the world with two simultaneous three-star restaurants."

For the 2007 Pixar movie Ratatouille, Thomas Keller served as a consultant and gave the producers and animators the opportunity to present French cuisine through computerized animation. Keller also showed up in the extras in Adam Sandler's movie Spanglish and made "the world's greatest sandwich". The French Laundry shares the subtle elegance with the rest of Sonoma county. The stone building with a simple brass sign above the flower bed was easily missed.

Bouchon is another Thomas Keller restaurant, a few blocks away from The French Laundry. The restaurant has a small bakery that sells lunch fares for take out. There are a few tables outside the bakery and that's where we headed after picking up some sandwiches and pastry.

Down the street from Bouchon was a grand old building remodeled into a shopping center with cutsie boutique shops. Henry and I found these super duper double pointed needles in Napa Style (kitchenware store). Henry is about 4'8", so the needles are probably close to 3' long, and the girth is bigger than size 50. We never figured out what they really meant to be.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Still Look Like A Pug

Last Saturday was the 15th annual Pugtacular. Henry had basketball practice in the morning so it was half way into the competitions when we arrived. As soon as we walked into the hall it was Pug and Owner Look-alike. I grabbed Bucky and jumped right into the ring. We won the second place again. Here we are, don't want to look the same direction. Guess we don't actually look that much alike, but then again, how many people seriously want to look like a pug any way. Bucky says he will look cute for a cookie.

Pugs in Christmas costumes. Some pugs we've seen year after year, still cute.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Olive Press

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we took a quick trip to North Bay (north of San Francisco, about seventy miles from where we live). We stayed in Marin County, and drove around for couple of days and visited sites in Sonoma and Napa counties. Olive Press is an olive producer in Sonoma. Their tasting room is in an Italian stone building on the side of a country road.

There are olive trees in the front yard.

A stone olive press in front of the building.

They had quite a few kinds of olive and olive oil for tasting. There is a large window in the tasting room where you can see part of the olive oil production, while a video showing the oil pressing process. A group of 10 can request a tour of the facility. The olive harvest season is October to January. Their olives come from within three hours drive, and are pressed within 24 hours of harvesting. A nice courtyard for picnic. It was a cold and gloomy day and we already had plans for lunch, otherwise this would be such a nice lunch spot.

Large water fountain behind the building. Beyond that is acres of vineyard, which is the mainstay of the region. I suspect the vineyard supports the olive oil business, but I hope one day things will turn the other way, or at least even out a bit.

We discovered this storage room with barrels of wine lining the walls. Marble sculptures of half nudes guard the entrance. Must be an interesting story how they got here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Movies and TV Show

DVDs from the libraries: 1. Much Ado about Nothing: Shakespearen comedy made into movie, with big names like Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves. Great entertainment value and lots of pretty faces to look at. 2. Marie Antoinette: Got it to see the pugs. Director Sofia Coppola has bay area connection. Kirsten Dunst is beautiful, and the costumes are gorgeous. I share Ms. Antoinette's sentiment about the poor: "Let them eat cake." (Turns out she didn't say that, but I agree nonetheless.) 3. Persuasion: A new adaptation of Jane Austin's novel by a UK director. Very good and very Jane Austin. Sometimes it begs you to scream: "People, speak your mind already!" 4. As Good As It Gets: We used to have a pug mix Precious that looked similar to the Brussels Griffon in the movie, and that's why we went to see the movie when it first came out over ten years ago. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are great, but I still watched the movie for the dog. 5. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: First book I read with the bookclub, but this is another case of movie ruining the book. So bad I couldn't finish it. 6. Nora: James Joyce biography of sort. Another movie to portray artists (writers and poets included) as disgusting bastards that are full of foul language, engage in violent graphic sex acts and should require many hours of anger management classes. I don't believe it. TV Show: Boston Legal: We "discovered" the show only couple of months ago, and we have been watching the current season (final season) while catching up the previous seasons on other channels. A quote from Wikipedia: "According to Nielsen Media Research, Boston Legal draws the richest viewing audience on television, based on the concentration of high income viewers in its young adult audience (Adult 18–49 index w/$100k+ annual income)" The main character, Alan Shore, speaks for the common sense and justice in life. He is portrayed as a successful lawyer, winning just about any case, too bad reality would be a defeat. Still makes you feel good to hear someone argue for the ultimate truth and justice. Alan is by far a hero, he can be greedy and slimy, and he pursues sex like a real man. He can be good when he tries, which is better than most. The other night Bill commented that Alan Shore thinks like him. I know there is a reason why I like this character. The Finale was last night. I didn't like it. I didn't like the show ending, didn't like two heterosexual sexual guys getting married, and really didn't like the way they portrayed Chinese. They couldn't even get the accent right. If the "big Chinese" is buying out an American firm, they wouldn't spell the name Chang (it would be Zhang, if they are trying to use one of the most common sur names in China). On the other hand, I wouldn't want my company to be bought by the Chinese either, so things like this bothers me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pugtacular is Coming!

The annual pug party hosted by Northern California Pug Club is coming up on Saturday. This year they moved the venue to Walnut Creek, a little closer to us, and a much nicer town. We've been going every year since Bucky was a wee pup, and I've written on this blog for the past two years: 2006 and 2007. Henry wrote his version of the story here: Chapter 1, Chapter 1 (the second half), and Chapter 2. In 2006 Bucky and I won the third place in pug and owner look-alike, after Bucky finally won the race for the first time in a decade. Doesn't the puggie look just like his mom?

This year we are not sure if we'll enter Bucky in the race. He's been a bit stiff lately, hard to get up and run around. Will have to see how he feels on Saturday. Bucky has been a bad dog this week. Had three accidents in as many days, each time right after we let him back into the house. He says it's getting too cold and damp out in the back yard. Bring back the sunshine and he'll bring his business outside.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Recent Reads

1. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (Sarah's pick for the book club meeting in October). Darling little book published in the 1930s, very playful language and names. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to finish it, put it on the list of one-day-I-want-to-read-it-again.
2. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham (audiobook). Grisham's new book after his only non-fiction The Innocent Man, about an American football player playing football in Italy. Cute small towns, delicious food, lovely girls, but the fun and talent stops there. I hope one day Grisham will write the more meaty stuff again, what a waste of skills to cook up these page turners.
3. Bleachers by John Grisham (audiobook). A different Grisham page turner (or CD flipper) about a different football player. A review on Amazon calls it a light novel. In fact it's so light that I hardly remember much about the book. See above for waste of talent and skills.
4. Bonk by Mary Roach (audiobook). A study of sexual physiology, written by a fun loving scientist. Be sure your partner is in town when you read it.
5. 74 Seaside Avenue by Debbie Macomber (audiobook). Macomber became famous among knitters for writing fictions including knitting content. I read her first book, The Shop on Blossom Street, when it first came out a few years ago. I was disappointed -- it was a fluffy quick read and a perfect fit the image of an air head crafter. Obviously things hadn't changed other than the numbers in Ms. Macomber's bank account.
6. Smoky Rain 烟雨朦朦 by Qiong Yao 瓊瑤 (in Chinese). The Danielle Steele in Taiwan. She wrote a few dozens of novels all with similar plots and language -- pretty girl, handsome boy, rich family, poor family, sweet poems, falling in love, struggles, someone dies, loads of tears. I pick up one of them once every ten years or so, to remind myself I'm still human.
7. The Appeal by John Grisham (audiobook). The routine Grisham legal thriller. Large chemical company dumped large amounts of waste in grounds and water in small southern town. People died. Good lawyers sued, won in court and lost in appeal because the company bought the new judge. Bad guy gets richer. I still believe there is justice in this world.
8. The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. Lesley's pick for our book club meeting in November. Story is told from a young girl's perspective about her father in Shanghai in World War II. Caldwell picked up the plot from the experience of her uncle and the book clearly shows her lack of knowledge of Chinese language and the life in Shanghai in the era. But it's a great book nonetheless.
9. Off Season by Anne River Siddons (audiobook). Siddons has not disappointed me until now. The story is strange, 11 year old girl falling in love with older teen boy (who turned out to be 12 later in the book), he dies, and her mom dies. Girl meets another handsome boy, has a beautiful family, then he dies. She finds traces of unexplainable correspondence but life goes on. I do wish from time to time though, that I have met my beloved at a yet younger age, so the teenage love is sweet and precious to me.
10. The Natural Knitter by Barbara Albright. I don't usually count my knitting books as part of the reading list, since I usually don't actually read them. But this book, I actually read it, word by word, almost. The descriptions and pictures of various fiber animals are lovely. This book is a great compliment of the Wild Fiber magazine, and it's very useful to have all the information in one place.
11. Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador Shayne. Another knitting book that I actually read, albeit standing at the kitchen counter, thanks to the YouTube video that I discovered here. The ladies met in the vast online knitting community, like the way I met many of my readers (even local ones, as I found knitting groups online first and later joined the meetings). As usual, pop knitting books are just a bit too ... pop. Like I posted a long time ago here, knitting won't make you rich, talking about it does.
12. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica (audiobook). A marketing manager turned waiter turned writer observes life around him. There is a very good review on Amazon about the audiobook that I listened to. The take away from the book is not about tipping a good waiter at least 20%, but about admitting to oneself your failure and having the strength to move on. It's easy to take shelter in the safety of a secure job, even as bad as waiting tables for the rich and working for a nasty boss. I've had my share of bad jobs, jobs that turn me into the terrible person that I'm not (is it happening today?!), but I chug along for the safety net, with the excuse that it's all for the greater good. Henry listened to this particular chapter with me, and yes, this kiddo will have more courage than his parents. To start off he bought yarn for his knitting project, while I was really hoping he would spend some time on the loom.