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More California

November 20 - December 3
Written November 19  and later

Dear Diary,
This is the story of our America Trip - California edition, second part.  Again, this is mostly family, so it may not be interesting for travelogue folks.  And it has now grown to need an index:
-- Preparation in Los Gatos
-- Thanksgiving dinner
-- Christmas tree hunting
-- Playing around home
-- Monterey Aquarium
-- Monterey diner

-- Back in Fresno

d121119_10_Track.jpgMonday (19th) we drove back to Los Gatos to start preparations for Thanksgiving at Gabby's.  This cross-valley drive is one we've done many times before, both as a couple and as just one of us, and I definitely prefer the two-person version.  The California Central Valley is famous for providing America and even the world with rice, cotton, fruit, nuts, and farm produce of all sorts, but it will never gain fame as a wonderful drive and the drive through "the South Bay" around Gilroy is not much better. 

The goal was worth it, however, more grandkid time.  In fact, that's what has occupied much of our Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Mostly we are directed by three-year-old Ava, since her favorite role is "teacher" and she delights in "reading" us books, making up stories as she turns pages.  Some day her reading will catch up to her creating.  Meanwhile, one-year-old Sam does all those things little brothers are supposed to do, mostly irritating big sister or mom or Zoe, the dog.  This exposure to time with little kids gives me even more of an appreciation of the job mothers and teachers do every day of keeping little ones engaged and "on task".  It wears me out!

It is Thursday morning now, Thanksgiving Day.  The kids got a head start on holiday eating last night when daddy rewarded Ava's good behavior of the day with a special ice cream treat.  From the pictures, you can see that Ava was happy and Sam was ... Sam.  Opa and Gigi also got treats, but no pictures!
On Thanksgiving, Gabby and Mamal hosted two-and-a-half-dozen friends and (mostly) relatives for a two-turkey Thanksgiving meal.  The house and table were prepared nicely, even the play room was organized.  The gathering started with a "pickle ball" tournament, short but enthusiastic.  Then there was ample time for socializing, including with lots of kids in the now-chaotic play room.

Then we ate, almost forever.  And talked, even longer.  By any account, the day was a great success.









On Friday, we worked in a trip to the Santa Cruz hills to cut a Christmas tree.  Fun.
Tree farm in Santa Cruz hills
Walking with kids.
Sam selects, Ava cuts, Dad and Opa haul and tie down

Done (Including decoration on Saturday)

By Saturday, "we" needed some running at the park, always a good place to get pictures of kids having fun.  Afterwards, Marianne kept Ava busy with baking, in Ava's own oven, and painting nails.  Nice memories.


On Monday, it was family time in Monterey.  First, we went through the Aquarium with Gabby, Ava, and Sam.  Marianne's second mom, Klare, met us there, but left early because she had a cold.  It's the season.

Here are pictures from our tour.
Walking and meeting Mamo
Little fish and little kids
Touching and watching
Penguin and snack time and a bit outdoors
Interesting fish
On Monday evening we met family at Montrio Bistro.  Klare and Jack were there and Chris, Lisa, and "the boys" (aka: Adam and Spencer) showed up after school and tennis.  It was fun to see the kids and say "How have you been since Paris?".  Dinner was excellent, maybe the best restaurant meal on the US trip so far!


On Wednesday, Brian joined us for dinner at Gabby & Mamal's house. When we dropped him off at his hotel, it was nice to be able say "See you in ten days".  (We end our US trip flying from Denver, near Brian's Longmont home.)

Thursday turned out to be a medical day.  First, I was called by the family dentist (= Mamal) saying I could be squeezed in to get a new crown to replace an old version that was not in good shape.  Now, an hour in the dentist chair may not be your idea of a good time, but I'll admit the whole process was pretty interesting.  Over the years, I have had several crowns installed, all with the normal process involving two dentist visits and a couple of weeks with a clunky temporary crown in between the visits.  This time, Dr. Rahimi did everything in about an hour, first electronically scanning my mouth at the beginning and after the old crown was removed.  Then his computer proposed a crown shape which Mamal tweaked here and there based on his own training and experience.  At this point, the design computer sent instructions to a computer-controlled mill to exactly shape a block of porcelain.  It was fascinating to watch the eight-minute technology show as a square block became a custom-fit tooth.  It was (almost) fun.

Later that day, Marianne was also squeezed into a last-minute doctor's appointment, this time with an ear, nose and throat doctor.  The doctor had examined her the day before and recommended installation of a "tube" in her right ear-drum to fix a chronic ear problem that had gotten worse and worse.  In this case, the technology was relatively old, but the doctor's skill at manual installation of the tiny device was all the more remarkable.  Marianne' hearing improved immediately and she no longer fears the ear pain she often had during airplane landings.

On balance, a good day.

d121202_02_Rainy.jpgOn Friday, we had to say goodbye to Ava and Sam and their parents and head off in the rain to Fresno.  I hope the little kids don't grow too much before Gigi and Opa come back.  The drive to Fresno is normally a bit under three-hours, dull and boring, but not stressful.  This time, miles before we reached it, there was a sign saying: "highway 99 closed south of Madera, use alternates".  Huh?  To make a long story short, this major north-south highway was indeed closed by some sort of accident (flood?  fire?) and ALL "alternates" were blocked with folks trying to use them.  Crawling through the Madera maze of side streets added 90 stressful minutes to the trip.

We did make it to Mamo's house in Fresno and it is always nice to visit her and treat her to as much attention as she deserves, but can't always have.  This weekend we will do the mix of dining out, dining in, shopping, and TV viewing that makes the stay seem homey.
Mamo smiling, both at home and at our excursions.

Marianne's sister Katinka, husband Ruben, and Max all got dressed for Christmas pictures

Monday, we will head home via Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, and a return engagement in Longmont with Rich and his parents. Another story.

It's a mixed feeling to have the end of the trip in sight.


John and Marianne


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