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November 1 - December 3
Written November 2 and later

Dear Diary,
This is the story of our America Trip - California edition.  (This visit is mostly family stuff, baby pictures and such. If you are looking for a "travelogue", this may not be interesting.  Now I feel you have been fairly warned.)
Since this is a bit long, I'll add an index:
-- Los Gatos Arrival
-- A bluegrass evening with Bangers and Grass
-- Mamo and all that's happening in Fresno
-- Yosemite

And, there will be a second part of our California trip too.

We arrived in Los Gatos on Thursday, November 1, the day after Halloween.  After half a day of good fun with Ava and Sam, we celebrated Marianne's birthday, again, with huge steaks, her favorite, and some of Gabby and Mamal's good pinot noir.  A good start on a California family vacation.


Friday was more Ava and Sam time, followed by an evening birthday pizza party for Alan.  He and Lillie will be getting married next year so, like Gabby, he is absorbed into the "Rahimi clan".  It was a fun gathering and allowed me to "meet" four of the youngest clan members.  Ava, at age three,  is the oldest of this young generation.
Everyone got dressed up and pretty.
Pizza, cake, and kisses for Alan on his birthday.
The newest of the new generation.

Saturday weather was perfect for getting outdoors, so we decided to go to Roaring Camp and ride the 100-year-old steam train.  Getting our crew up and fed and pottied and dressed and ready takes some time, so it was 11:00 before we made it out and it was almost time for lunch already!  I really don't know how young families accomplish anything beyond the eat-food-etc part, but they do.

Just in case there was some take-along lunch we could take advantage of, we stopped at some "food trucks" parked nearby.  This is a craze that has not hit Germany, so the colorful mobile restaurants were novel for Marianne and me.  In the end, however, we decided to pass on the offerings, but we'll be back!
From trucks, it was off to Roaring Camp, an old-west themed park in the hills between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz and a favorite for generations.  In fact, my own last visit may have been 20 or 30 years ago with my sister, my nephew Mike and my own two little boys.  I think.

The good news was that the weather remained perfect, the redwood forests were as impressive as ever, and there was plenty of happy-kid sounds as families waited for the steam engine to return from an earlier excursion.  Ava was part of the happy-kid sound-makers.  Sam, who was missing his nap, was more subdued but as cheerful as any of the little people he was looking at.  The bad news was that the old steam engine broke down before it could return from its first trip.  Bummer.  Oh well, we'd had an hour of fun in the California sun. 



Then, to make sure Opa and Gigi were both fed and worn out, we stopped by the New Leaf Market, a Santa Cruz Mountains purveyor of healthy-eating, and picked up picnic food and went to a nearby park. There we did all the required eating, swinging, climbing, sliding, running, and generally having enough fun to completely forget any disappointment about a broken-down  steam train.
Back home, Sam and I took naps, Ava tried (unsuccessfully), and mom and Gigi chatted.  They do that a lot. The kids went to bed a bit early and grownup dinner was take-out Sushi.  Another good day.

Sunday?  Nothing special.  Shopping while the little family went to a birthday party.  This place sure does have lots of birthday parties.

Monday? Nothing special.  More shopping.  More playing with kids.  Monday Night Football for me, something I get to see about 2 or 3 times per year max.  Political discussions of just how CLOSE the US presidential election seems to be.

Tuesday was more of the same -- plus the election.  First, we played with Ava and Sam and I took a few snaps of them playing with the new neighbors.   California "winter" weather remains pretty darn nice.
Ava doesn't like Sam's help on her bike.
Nice blue eyes, all around.
 As for the election, Marianne and I are happy with the presidential result, but I remain concerned with the US political 50:50 division. Lets see if Obama can lead Democrats toward the middle and if someone can do the same for the Republicans. 

Meanwhile, we will spend our vacation worrying about grandkids rather than a new US government.

Thursday (8th)
d121108_02_ToAlbany.jpgd121108_90_Station1.jpgWe left the grandkids for a visit with Marianne's brother Tom's family in Albany, up in "the east Bay", but first we had lunch at Station 1 in Woodside with friends Malinda and Scott.  It's a long story, but we connected on an airplane via their interest in Germany and Marianne and I now have another California couple that we need to work into our US trips.  Uniquely, we can also get together when they manage to have some time at their place in Nuremberg.  A nice connection all around.

Our evening was spent with Tom and family at Kensington Circus Pub, listening to "Bangers and Grass", one of the bluegrass bands he plays in.  All five band members are local and extremely talented.  (See recent newspaper article.) Bill, on the banjo, casually noted that his latest CD had gone to number one on the national Bluegrass charts this week.  A fun evening for sure.



d121109_02_Path.jpgFriday was a long drive to Fresno, after a meeting in Novato with our financial planner - important for retirees.  The advisers, a small company call Equius, have a wonderful office space inside an old airplane hanger at Hamilton Field.  Nice place.  Nice people.  But most importantly, they seem to make sense with their plan for financing our retirement.

d121109_10_hills.jpgd121109_12_windmills.jpg The drive was a pretty boring four hours, as needs to be expected for a trip down the Central Valley.  I often remark about how crowded the San Francisco Bay area is, but how empty these farmlands seem to be, other than crops and a few windmills.

d121109_16_Dinner.jpg We are starting a week with Mamo, Marianne's mother.  That will be the whole next sub-chapter.

Friday dinner: pizza and conversation.  Fun for us.  Fun for Mamo.

Saturday was dinner at Babi's, Marianne's sister's house.  Nice dinner and a good chance to see her family, husband Ruben, son Henry and his girlfriend Scarlett, Max the dog and Penny, the egg-laying pet chicken.  I actually brought two cameras, but managed to forget to use either one.  Next time.

Except for a Monday trip to Yosemite National Park (see below), the week has been nice and slow, with meals out or at home and not enough exercise between them.  A bit of shopping or looking at Open Houses doesn't count as much exercise.  Watching TV counts even less.  I thought keeping fit at home was hard, but this is even harder.  We need to think of something.
Misc. Pictures With Mamo - breakfast and window shopping

Thursday (15th) -- Gabby and the kids arrived this afternoon for a few days with Mamo.  Was fun for all.   Mostly we just hung around the house, but we did have one cloudy-day Friday excursion to the zoo. 
Hanging around the house

The Fresno Zoo
Zoo visitors  -- all cute
Zoo's feathered residents -- some more colorful than others

On Monday (12th), we drove up to Yosemite National Park.  It's only about an hour to the park entrance from Fresno.  Although Mamo has a lifetime pass, the park entrance rangers waved us through saying entrance was free because Monday was Veteran's Day.  No vets in our car, but we'll take free anyway.
Track to Yosemite Entrance - Snow blocked some parts
We had lunch in the dining room of the 19th Century hotel at Wawona.  Off-season as it is now, we could just walk in, unlike during the summer crush when reservations are mandatory.  I wandered a bit around Wawona, taking pictures of the hotel buildings.  The hotel manager saw me taking pictures and he proudly told me that the buildings were built from 1883 through 1918 and the National Park Service has run them since the 1930's, keeping them in the original style and appearance (but with modern plumbing!)


The rest of the drive took more than an hour, plus time for photo opportunities along the way.  We had a bright winter sun for lighting, so the Yosemite Valley was as picture-worthy as any place we've visited.  The high granite cliffs did remind us of our recent trip through the Italian Dolomite mountains.  The pictures turned out OK, but can not properly describe the day,  surrounded by dramatic cliffs, looking at fall colors and snow-white accents, and visiting the famous Ahwahnee Lodge at the end of the drivable road.  I didn't even mind the two-and-a-half drive back down to Fresno.
Valley Pictures -- From 'Tunnel View"

Scenes from the valley

Full 360 pan.
Around the Ahwahnee lodge
There are more National Parks in the area, but I don't know that we'll make any.  Let's see.

d121119_02_MamoWave.jpgFinally, on Monday, we did have to leave Fresno, something that is always a bit sad.  However, this time we could say "See you in a few days, on Thanksgiving!"   Another story.


John and Marianne


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