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Home And Away

March 3-8, 2018
Written March 6++
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

d180303_02_uni.jpgd180303_04_crowd.jpgLast Fall we went back to university - for one day only - and now we tried it again.  I guess we are now sophomores.  One Day University is a New York-based organization that arranges professor lectures throughout the country and it is nice that Fresno is on their regular circuit.  The format is simple: a bunch of  (mostly retired) folks in a meeting room for a few hours, no books, no tests, and no homework.  That's not exactly how I remember university from 50 years ago, but it works for us now.

Saturday's class schedule was divided into two sessions: history in the morning and film in the afternoon. Here are my class notes.   History first.

The Supreme Court: What's Next and Why it Matters
Dr. Allison Gash, University of Oregon
d180303_06_suprcourt.jpgThis session veered between history and political science as Dr. Gash explained how the Court's role has grown from a vague constitutional beginning to its activity in the 20th and 21st Centuries. The constitution defined little more than the existence of an independent judiciary, with lifetime judges.  Justices developed the crucial role of balancing Federalism, state's rights, and individual rights, with powers collected over the years and they developed power with little more than the credibility of their words.  "Trust me, I'm a judge."

Almost by definition, the Supreme Court has always dealt with politically controversial decisions, sometimes on different sides as the country changes.  For example, there have been decisions both upholding and denying slavery.  Dr. Gash seemed to view the current situation as the most politicized era for the federal judiciary, one that threatens the court credibility and hence their power. We will watch more carefully.

World War I:  What Really Happened and Why It Matters Now
Dr. Jennifer Keene, Chapman University

d180303_12_draft.jpgOur second class presented WWI from the American political impacts rather than from a military viewpoint.  Dr. Keene noted that the US avoided the European war for almost three years before President Wilson declared war in 1917.  Over the next year-and-a-half, America shifted from neutrality to a total war footing, raising the army from 300,000 to 4 million men, largely through forced conscription.  Selling the draft under the patriotic banner of "selective service" fundamentally altered how the US viewed the armed forces.

Beyond raising an unprecedented army, the US also shifted industry from peace to war and in the process changed society.  Women necessarily joined the work force, and in the process pushed forward voting rights.  Industry, no longer able to import immigrant workers, turned to African Americans from the South and created a northern migration that indeterminate the future of cities both north and south.  Black American soldiers gained a measure of equality, in French society at least.  It would be another half-century before organization such as the ACLU, founded in WWI, would make significant progress at home.

Short Film Festival

Our Saturday afternoon class was ten films, short pieces from two- to 18-minutes long.  The selection had been organized by short film expert Douglas LeClair and represented a part of the film industry I'd never really considered.  Content ranged from comedy to serious and I will not even try to summarize the small films, except to say that, overall, they were thought-provoking.  

Short films like these apparently serve as introductory or experimental projects for both beginning and established directors, writers, and other crew, more for establishing credentials than earning much money.  For the One Day Uni Fresno festival, we voted on our top two films and they got cash prises. Not enough for a career, but a bit.

d180303_20_newcity.jpgd180303_22_mamo.jpgOur Saturday wasn't over yet as we needed to have dinner with Marianne's mom.  Mamo chose Chinese food and we stumbled into a Chinese New Year's celebration at New City, a good place in her neighborhood.  As "regular" customers, we were shuttled into a back room, away from the New Year's speeches and festivities, but near enough to still feel like we were at a party.  Nice surprise.
d180304_04_succulent.jpgd180304_02_yardflower.jpgOn Sunday, we started slowly for our trip over to Gabby and the family in the Bay Area.  I made one pass through our back yard, checking out how the week's rain had improved things.  March had brought over an inch of rain to Fresno, not much by the standards of other climates, but plenty for our almost-desert.  Our bloom-once-a-year plant that Klare had given us was enjoying the season.  As the summer heats up, this coastal plant struggles, but for now it is spectacular.
For variety, we crossed the San Joaquin Valley via side roads that run through orchards and vineyards.  These farmlands reportedly provide half the fruits and nuts eaten by Americans, on only about 1% of the country's farmland - provided there is enough water.  We'll see how the climate warms.
Three hours later, we were quickly involved in catching up with Ava and Sam (and mom and dad too, but all grandparents have their focus on the kids.)   We have almost nine years diary history of Ava and six years for Sam.  They are both growing way too fast.  (Another common grandparent lament.)  They ask why Opa is always taking pictures and it is hard to explain, but little, everyday, scenes are important.  They'll learn this some day.
Right after arrival, Mamal took me along on Sam's first baseball clinic of the year.  Serious baseball - sort of.  The coaches do their best to teach the basics to the six- and seven-year olds, including the basic of having fun, but this is not the big leagues.
After an hour of baseball, Mamal took Sam to Rinconada Golf Club for a few practice swings.  Like in baseball, Sam is a lefty, so it looks unusual, but he does pretty well in both sports.  And hanging around with Dad is always a highlight for him.
Back home, Gigi helped with homework.  Another of those moments that make up memories for us, even if the kids hardly notice,

From there it was family dinner, including Mamal's mom.  More memories.

Monday was mostly just hanging around.  Kids went to school, Mamal to work, and the rest of us managed some exercise and chores - mostly it was Gabby with the chores; that whole parent thing, you know.  We visited Manoucheher, Mamal's dad, in the rehab center where he is making some progress, but not easy times.
d180306_04_slime.jpgEvening activities included homework, Sam mostly reading and Ava mostly laptop drills.   Computers are absolutely essential nowadays, even in the third grade.

Homework successfully completed, it was time for Gigi to work with the kids making "slime", or at least try to.  As near as I can tell, this succeeded only in the sense of having a shared experience, not in a useful product.  Oh well, some recipes just don't work.

Tuesday started with usual activities; school, work, exercise, chores.  After half-day school, there were parent-teacher conferences and tutor sessions and more.
Sam's baseball practice came at 4:30.  For the Rahimi clan, this is a family event with two uncle coaches and four cousins on the field. 
Coaching was done with care, precision, and enthusiasm.
Fielding, hitting, running bases - it was all part of practice.
And, at the end, everyone celebrated and left happy.
While the uncles and boys were busy on the field, Ava and her friend Maddie took cousin Layla over to the climbing playground.   More fun.
We started Ava's birthday celebration, one day early, with pizza and cake with her grandfather, Babai.  Celebration with family is wonderful for memories, for both the birthday girl and all the family! 

And early birthday wasn't over yet!  Back home, Ava opened a few more presents.  There was a Hawaii theme because the family is heading to Maui for Spring Break in a few weeks.  Ava will be able to shine!

March 7 was all about Ava's 9th birthday, as it should be.  I'm not sure that, at such an advanced age, she still believes in the birthday fairy, but she appreciates the overnight-appearing balloons and decorations nonetheless.  (Friends Josie and  Badger added the cute sign while we were all with the horses - more on that next.)

d180307_10_garrodsign.jpgThe big deal of the day, was Ava's birthday party at Garrod Farms, a spectacular 125-year-old family farm. Ava had invited nine of her friends for a very special birthday celebration.

We started with a pizza picnic.  Despite the overall excitement, everyone managed to eat and giggle and generally provide a good birthday environment.
Pretty soon it was time to walk up to the horse stable and patiently (?) wait to get fitted for helmets.  Some of the girls had never ridden a horse before, but their more experienced buddies assured them it would all be fun.
As birthday girl, Ava was first on board her horse.

Then, one by one, each of the other girls were placed on their rides and led off to form a girls-only posse.

With everyone mounted and ready, Gabby gave a thumbs up for the start of the ride through the Saratoga hills.  By all reports, it was a most spectacular and successful ride.  Each girl stayed on her horse.


d180307_40_samup.jpgd180307_42_homework.jpgBack at the picnic grounds, Sam had to make do with a more stationary ride.  He seemed OK with it and he also did not fall off! 

While the older girls were on their ride, the rest of us did homework.  For Sam, it was reading to Gigi.   He was OK with this too.  Birthday cheer stretches to little brothers.

For my part, my official photographer duties were put aside and I wandered the Garrod Farm to see what the place has accumulated in a century-and-a-quarter.  Horses and fruits have been a part of the ranch from the beginning, with public wine sales arriving later, in 1994. Next time, we should try the tasting, but not while on duty as photographer/driver.


After over an hour on the trail, the girls rode back smiling, even if a bit sore.  A happy crew for sure.

The party still had some standard birthday formalities:  cake and presents.  That was followed with eleven young people running around acting just like kids.  As they should.  All under a blue and white California sky. 

While Ava was at school and at her party, mom and dad's present was delivered and set up.  Ava has reportedly been asking for a trampoline for the last two or three birthdays, always to be told "no".  This year, the story changed and it was a special surprise.
After the horse party, we managed to keep Ava inside and distracted.  After Mamal came home from work, he joined us and, for reasons Ava could not understand, suggested a round of pickle ball before dinner. 

d180307_85_hug.jpgHe hit the ball off the court, toward the special surprise and Ava's shock was priceless.  And her hugs for mommy and daddy were warm and genuine.
For the next couple of hours, Ava and Sam bounced while Mamal, Gabby, Marianne and I chatted over sips of wine.  Eventually, hamburgers and french fries were prepared and we finished off the last of the birthday cake and bite-sized cupcakes.  Too many calories for our adult diets, but it was all in the spirit of a great 9th birthday.

d180308_02_toschool.jpgOn Thursday morning, before we drove back home to Fresno, Gigi and I were invited to Sam's first grade song concert.  All the kids were cute.  Most of them knew the words of both the songs and their spoken story parts - mostly.  As distant grandparents, Marianne and I don't often get to share such events, so it was all special and hug-worthy.

And that was it.  A great 9th birthday finish.

Future activities remain murky. 

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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