Saturday, August 29, 2009

Redwood City Council: Vote for Jeff Ira

Here's my first in a series of candidate endorsements: re-elect Jeff Ira for City Council.

Jeff Ira is the only incumbent running for re-election this year, since two other council members (Howard and Hartnett) term out. Jeff Ira has been on the council for more than 10 years and knows his stuff. He's fiscally conservative and helped keep the city from having to make major cutbacks when the bottom fell out of the economy -- instead of blowing surpluses on recurring expenses like new staff, RC bolstered its savings and did some one-time infrastructure improvements.

Basically, Ira is a voice of reason and experience on a council that will have at least two rookies and will be relatively inexperienced overall.

Redwood City government is doing a lot of things right right now, and keeping the one incumbent running for council is a good move.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Top 5 Fridays!

Top 5 designers who have a shot at the Final Three

5) Althea: If Tim says she's gonna blow people away, that's all I need.

4) Gordanna: Love her already for her accent.

3) Louise Black: Always helps to have a full name that rolls off the tongue, like "Kara Saun."

2) Christopher: Producers love drama.

1) Johnny Sakalis: Again with the drugs and the drama.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Election season in the RC

Before you know it, people will be getting their vote-by-mail ballots and candidate signs will be popping up in what seems like every other yard. There's an election Nov. 3, and Redwood City will be electing new council members and school board members.

In coming weeks I'll be publicizing my endorsements here. What makes me think I'm any more qualified to make endorsements than the next blogger? Well, I know all but two of the candidates, at least a little. (I don't know a single person running for the high school district board, but if I have time to learn enough about them to make solid choices, I will.) And I know Redwood City, since I've lived here for seven years and have been heavily involved with entities that deal directly with local government. And before that I covered Redwood City for the Examiner for more than two years, so it was my job to know Redwood City.

Of course, I may be totally off base with the picks I make and if you think I am, let me know. Hopefully these blog posts will create some interesting dialog and spread reliable information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

LEGO mania!

Whenever you clean out a purse or bag or stoller or car or even sometimes a pocket in our house, you are almost assured of finding at least one Lego. And I am totally fine with that.

Years ago I started ordering boxes of Legos on Ebay thinking that it would be cool to have a toy around that our friends' kids could play with when they come over (OK, I thought maybe I'd want to build something, too.)

Now that Arthur is old enough to play with Legos (Noah plays too, even though it's a little beyond him), the Legos are out in force and Nathan has gotten into the act, buying lots of boxes on Ebay, plus some great sets for cheap.

Right now we're busy sorting the Legos by color and searching for a good way to store them: containers need to be clear, have lids, fit in the drawers under the train table, and not be too deep. Hopefully we can actually get the guys to keep them sorted. Arthur seems to really like it that way, and hopefully it will be a good way to get Noah to learn his colors.

Buying the sets on Ebay is definitely the way to go, because Lego sets have been getting way too specialized in the last 10-20 years -- so many of the pieces are highly customized for the specific vehicle or building that it's designed for that it's hard to build anything else out of the parts. (I wrote a story about BAYLUG 10 years ago that touched on this.)

And if I keep practicing my building skills, I can use Lego as a way to play with my kids and as a creative outlet, kind of like this guy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jet lag: the six-day hangover

My head hurts, and pretty much has since we got on the plane Sunday afternoon, which was Saturday evening. I'm less disoriented now than I was a few days ago, that last sentence notwithstanding.

Our boys, who were waking up daily at 6 a.m. for the months leading up to our trip, have slept past 8 (2 a.m. Sydney time) every day. I have consistently been waking up at 2 a.m. (8 p.m. Sydney time).

I've had a stuffy nose and sore throat since we left Sydney, which could be due to allergies, jet lag, a cold, or the fires that created a haze over the Bay Area, or all of the above.

And slowly, slowly, I have been processing photos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Manic Monday (you expect me to know what day it is?)

Boys need to be woken up at 8:15; I was wide awake from 2 to 5 a.m.

More Australian words:
capsicum = bell pepper
sultana = raisin

House and cars are in good shape; I suspect they never drove the minivan, fearing it's massiveness.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our last day in Sydney

Tomorrow morning we'll head to the airport and leave on an early afternoon flight and arrive in SF tomorrow morning.

Today I headed to the Farmers Market to load up on the best chocolates I have ever had. Then our local babysitter came over and took the boys to the park so we could pack and clean. During nap time, Linda and I went over to Surry Hills and my favorite fabric store. I'm just sorry I won't get to see her fabulous new linens in her Sydney home.

This has truly been an exciting adventure, as Arthur would say. I am going to be really happy to get back to our house, with its dishwasher and clothes drier and double-paned windows and totally awesome cars. But I'm going to miss living in a big city where you can take the bus almost everywhere and there's an awesome view around every corner.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 5 Friday!

Arthur's top 5 adventures in Australia:

5) Taking in the view from the top of Sydney Tower

4) Taking the ferry to Manly, twice

3) Visiting Wildlife World and petting a koala and a huge bug (on separate visits)

2) Playing in the sand at Bondi Beach

1) Hiking to a waterfall overlook in the Blue Mountains

Gunning for Health Care

This is too good just to post on my Facebook page.

I was just looking through this column for a graph or two to quote here, but the whole thing is a must-read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting around in Sydney

Sydney has a fantastic bus system. In most relatively close-in suburbs, you can go to a bus stop and in five minutes or less (most of the day on a week day) a bus will come to take you downtown in a totally reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, many of the buses are older and aren't accessible.

Last week a bus driver gave me kind of a hard time as I was going through the long process of folding up my stroller to get on one of those non-accessible buses. He said there were two other bus lines that has accessible buses that went between Randwick and the CBD. So I checked the web site, which said there was no sh thing. But that web site had led us astray in the past, so yesterday when we were ready to get on the bus I waited for about 20 minutes, and zero accessible buses went by. The schedule posted at our bus stop indicates that there's an accessible bus there once an hour, but it doesn't even go all the way downtown -- just almost!

So finally a bus comes that is going where we need to go an I start the process and then ask the bus driver if there are accessible buses on this line. He says to check the schedule, and I tell him about the once an hour. Then he tells me half the buses in the city are accessible (so why can't they send a few to Randwick?!?), which may or not be true.

THEN, he has the nerve to say this: "We can't do any better than that!"

Um, hello? Seriously. Unless the bus system is in dire financial straits, which I doubt, then yes, you sure as heck CAN do a LOT better than that.

In other transportation news, I am slightly more comfortable driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right (not the correct) side of the car. For some reason I have the urge to keep far away from the right side of the lane, so much so that I veer into the left lane. It's a good thing Nathan drove with me the first few times. With him helping me calibrate, I found that I have to drive so that it looks to me like my right wheels are right on the right lane line. It's fairly annoying. I guess 18 years of driving one way makes for seriously ingrained habits, and serious issues doing it the other way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aaahhh, Myall Lakes!

Saturday we set out from Sydney for a weekend in Myall Lakes National Park, which is about 3-4 hours north of Sydney. It's a rural area near the ocean that reminded us of Monterrey and maybe coastal areas north of SF. The difference is that palm trees and eucalyptus are actually native. They live alongside ferns plus other plants and animals that have no place whatsoever in Nor Cal.

Saturday night after we settled in to our "eco cabins," Linda and I left to do some grocery shopping at the IGA in the nearby metropolis of Booladegah, 15 kilometers away over partially "unsealed track" (some paved road, some unpaved). It was dusk on our drive there, and I was on 'roo duty. Less then 10 minutes into our drive, I cried "Kangaroo! Stop!" And we both watched as a kangaroo stood at the left side of the road, ready to spring across. It was my first wild kangaroo! For about 20 seconds it stood there and then decided to hop across: boing, boing, boing, off into the woods on the other side of the road.

A few minutes later I watched another 'roo (Australians are big on abbreviating) hop casually along the side of the road. It was sublime and satisfying, seeing an animal relegated to zoos and the imagination in the northern hemisphere, as commonplace here as the deer back home.

Sunday morning we set out on an uneventful but lovely bushwalk in the area near our resort. Then we got some food and set out on a drive to a local beach, Seal Rocks. It wasn't long after we arrived that I realized that it may be the nicest beach I have ever been to. It was sheltered by low hills all around, so there was virtually no wind. The sand was as clean and fine as any I've seen anywhere*. During a break from kid duty, I strapped on my boots and scrambled up some rocks (the local kids were doing it barefoot) to the top of an outcropping between the beach and the next bay. It wasn't big, it may have been 50 feet high, but the view from the top reminded me of the high cliff in the movie "Cast Away," the whole continent suddenly seeming as wild and exotic as the desolate island in the middle of the Pacific. There was nothing between me and home except a lot of water and Hawaii, and I half expected to find a mysterious hatch or the recordings of a crazy Frechwoman.

Once I scrambled back down I found my kids were still happily building sandcastles and wandering around the smooth, coal-black rocks, collecting shells and sticks. It was perfect. It was the first time in a long time that a moment was flawless, me and a bunch of my favorite people happy and peaceful in this perfect place, and I wanted it to last forever. We were there for hours, but it seemed like minutes before we had to leave because the sun was getting low in the "winter"** sky.

*It's possible I've been to a nicer beach in Hawaii, but when you're in Hawaii, everything seems better, so it's hard to make a comparison. I really think Seal Rocks is the best ever.

**It's winter here, but it's a safe bet that the weather at Seal Rocks Beach Sunday was nicer than most summer days in Half Moon Bay.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Top 5 Fridays!

Stuff that's backwards here:

5. Driving on the left side of the road

4. Steering wheel on the right side of the car

3. Wall switches: up is off, down is on

2. Sun is in the north

1. Winter starts in June

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Last weekend

We had a 3-day trip to Leura in the Blue Mountains, which is a quite lovely and scenic area just west of Sydney. Linda set us up in a really fantastic house close to downtown and great bushwalks (Australian for hikes). Seriously, if you want to book a trip somewhere, but especially Australia or California, talk to Linda.

We went to Scenic World, which is kind of bizarre, given that it's in a national park. If you think Yosemite Valley sometimes seems like a theme park, check this out:

This is a view of the gondolla-boarding platform from the gondolla itself. Above that is Arthur looking through the glass bottom of the Skyway. (I didn't get any pictures on or of the Railway, which features Indiana Jones music, because I was frightened.)

The Blue Mountains really are beautiful, despite the wacky rides. Imagine a gondolla strung from Glacier Point to El Capitan! Anyway, we went on a lovely bushwalk that featured waterfalls and steep cliffs and lots of other cool rocks and stuff that Arthur and the rest of us (including Dad in his awesome new outback hat) loved.

Finally, this is the Three Sisters from Echo Point, one of the biggest attractions in the Blue Mountains. The Sisters appears to be the second most famous rock formation on the continent. There's a lot of flat, sheep-grazing area and desert out there, I guess.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Getting a lift?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law 19 years ago. Born out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the primary goals of the ADA were to ensure equality in hiring and housing, but it also included accommodations in public and private and spaces to allow access to wheelchair users and people with other types of disabilities.

If you have ever pushed a stroller or spent time in a retail establishment or public institution with a person in a wheelchair, you should feel gratitude towards all the people who fought for civil rights from the 60s onward.

In the US we take ramps, elevators and flat entrances to stores and restaurants for granted. Australians aren't so lucky. Most stores and restaurants seem to have at least one step at their entrance. Doable for a stroller, usually, but impossible for someone who can't walk.

The other day I saw a man in a wheelchair pull himself agonizingly out of his chair while his friend carried it up a set of about half a dozen stairs. He somehow made it up the stairs and got back in to wheel himself to the next step, about 10 feet away, and his friend again lifted the chair over the step and he got back in. I wondered: Is this some place he has to go on a regular basis? Can he only go if there is a friend available to come with him? What a burden to someone who already has a hard life.

Some places have accessible bathrooms, but not all. Almost no clothing stores have accessible fitting rooms. Some buses have level entrances and ramps that can deploy for wheelchair users, but not all. Today at the zoo, a place where I would guess half the visitors are pushing a stroller, we had to carry our prams down a flight or two of stairs. We were lucky enough to have five adults and only three strollers in our group, but at home I take my kids to the zoo or the aquarium by myself all the time. I pretty much could not do that here. Arthur and Noah and I would be stuck at home except for trips to the park, until they were old enough to walk long distances on their own.

What gives? I guess businesses won't make changes for moral reasons unless they are compelled by law to do so. Why hasn't Australia's government taken action on this?

A photo by Arthur of Anya pushing her stroller at the zoo with Linda and me.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nom nom nom

Tonight we got a sitter and went to a fab restaurant called longrain in the nearby neighborhood Surry Hills. It was oh so yummy and fantastic. The wine was a pinot called X from Victoria which sadly I can not find online. We had my favorite animal flesh of all, venison, and some fish in a green curry that was divine.

The rest of this week promises to be mellow but fun: tomorrow is Athena's birthday, so festiviteis at the zoo are planned (Linda managed to arrange for a baby elephant to be on display just for this holiday). This weekend there is another naturish weekend planned a few hours away.

In the coming days watch for posts and pics on our weekend in the Blue Mountains and the self-guided architecture tour I did on a couple days last week.