Pro Cycling Shines in Sacramento

20170514_152403It is hard to beat Sacramento for watching a bike race on a sunny day. AMGEN Tour of California Stage 1 ambient temperature was a perfect 73 degrees with barely any wind. The only kink in my plans was the coincidence of Mother’s Day. There were many fans along the road and in the VIP tents, but it was still possible to find a place to watch the finish at about 3:15 p.m.

20170514_152209World Champion Peter Sagan moved to the tail end of the Quick Step lead out train for Marcel Kittel. Then it looked like he might get boxed in. Across the line it was Marcel Kittel first, Peter Sagan second. Thrilling!

20170514_152831Afterward I hung out to watch the jersey presentations and delighted to talk to the first female commissaire that I’ve ever seen at the international level. I asked her how she earned her spot. She said she paid her dues refereeing local races. Normally she rides along in an automobile. Today was one of the few times she was on a motorbike. I asked if she had to prove her ability as a motorcycle driver. The UCI provides a driver and she rides along. I asked how many women there are at this international level–not many. This race has three!  Could this be my third career? haha.

24 Hours in Pasadena

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View of Pasadena from above the Rose Bowl

Pasadena has transformed into the sexy trophy wife for the stodgy stockbroker. There are a lot of expensive bistros and fine dining and entertainment venues and hip loft apartments along the Metro Gold line. This is a stark contrast to the Pasadena I lived in from 1980-84 while commuting to USC. The Pasadena of the eighties had a dying old town and plenty of grubby areas where students and people of color lived. Then the downtown area still catered to the old money in Pasadena and San Marino with several large department stores. We house-sat a home above the Rose Bowl one year and got to know an older long married couple who invited us to their club with their wealthy Republican friends. Her hair was “set” each week and his coat and tie wasn’t new but screamed quality. That was the eighties.

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Sriracha is all the rage at restaurants in SoCal including this McDonalds on Lake Avenue where I found a large Diet Coke.

Their Pasadena still looked and socialized like the city of Julia Child’s youth. She grew up in Pasadena before World War II when the wealthy families built the large churches along Colorado Boulevard and the large homes above the Rose Bowl. Pasadena’s history makes it a more interesting place to visit, even as they tear down and build new or facelift the old.

Pasadena deserves to be a distinct place to visit, apart from Los Angeles. Besides the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, there is the Norton Simon Museum, Huntington Library and Gardens, Gamble House, Pasadena Playhouse and more. My 24 hours in Pasadena is also filled with meeting up with friends. The first night I met friends in Old Town at La Grande Orange Cafe and we dined outside in springtime. Ah Pasadena! The next day I met friends at Green Street Restaurant for breakfast, then Pete’s on Lake Avenue to grab coffee and walk a friend with her dogs, then lunch at a friend’s home above the Rose Bowl. I spent the late afternoon and evening faffing around downtown shopping at Vroman’s bookstore and dining on fancy pizza.

When I was a student resident I had to drive or walk everywhere. Now you can catch the Gold line to downtown. Pasadena’s one shortcoming is the lack of bike lanes. It is relatively flat and could be a great place to cycle. I like to stay at the Hilton Pasadena because of its central location and value. It makes a good home base for visiting Santa Anita Park or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or Universal Studios.

 

I’d love to live in Pasadena today but it is just as out of reach as when I was a student. It is a great place to visit and I look forward to going back.

Celebrating World Penguin Day!

20170330_100529The African penguins are on the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, past the top of the Kelp Forest and adjacent to the Splash Zone. The area was empty of people when I first arrived. I sat on the carpeted bench and watched as child after child discovered the exhibit. “Penguins!” they’d exclaim with the face lighting up. Many sea creatures scare people because they are potentially lethal–jellyfish and sharks–but everyone appears to find the penguins charming and funny.

The penguins at the Aquarium are fed daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. There is no special ticket required to watch the keepers feed them fish and answer questions from the audience. There are also interactive displays to expand your knowledge of penguins. African penguins are among the most threatened species because of their dwindling food supply and habitat, but the Aquarium stays upbeat.

The Aquarium is part of AZA Species Survival Plan, a zoological conservation program that is keeping endangered animals alive and maintaining their genetic diversity through collaboration and sharing of, in this case, the birds around the U.S. When I compare the rich, stimulation that African penguins have in the wild with the sterile, almost two-dimensional exhibit space, I have to remind myself how they can be ambassadors that inspire people to care about what is happening to these wonderful birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Need a penguin fix and can’t get to Monterey? Watch the live Penguin Cam!

Over in South Africa, an organization called SANCCOB is leading the way in studying, rescuing, and rehabilitating wild African penguins. Through their Chick Bolstering Project, SANCCOB biologists monitor African penguins in the wild and bring abandoned, injured or starving chicks in for care. Together with colony managers, they also rescue and hand-rear eggs that have either been abandoned by their parents or when the adult penguins were found nesting in areas outside of the protected colony area. Last year Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculturist Monika Rohrer journeyed to South Africa to volunteer with SANCCOB.  (from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website)

On quiet days when there are few visitors the penguins get to go for a stroll outside their enclosure. Watch the penguin parade.

#MarchforScience on Earth Day 2017

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My Mom and I marched for science in Sacramento on Saturday. We were happy to  support science with several thousand fellow truthseekers. Mom is 81 and not as ambulatory as she once was. In my youth I had to learn to keep up with her long stride. Now we triangulated the march route to figure out the best place to park to save steps. We’d fortified ourselves with brunch at Easy on I and made sure to use the bathroom before we left!

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My favorite sign of the day: Edward Tufte would approve!

There were clever signs, some of which we weren’t nerdy enough to figure out on our own (thanks Google!). I realize some people are critical of marches as just theater and making no real difference. Except that it really boosts morale of those who participate. We are most definitely not alone in valuing science.

The next day was Earth Sunday at St. John’s Lutheran Church. I participated in a forum where we discussed our vocation and the role of science and faith. My thoughts are here.

Every day is universe day whether we recognize it or not. We can pursue our lives and concerns without acknowledging the much larger worlds around us, but it keeps swirling on according to the dynamics that are as immutable as they are mysterious. We’ve only just begun to understand it and learning about our world is the greatest adventure.

 

Huge Harry Potter Fan Visits Hogsmeade

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Hogwarts Express Conductor with Harry Potter enthusiasts

Last time I went to Universal Studios was around 1980. I don’t remember much except the tram ride including an encounter with the Jaws‘ great white shark and the Ten Commandments‘ parted Red Sea. For the next 30 years I thought “everyone should go once to see how fake everything is that looks so real on film.”

Filmmaking has come a long way since then including the magic of the Harry Potter movies. Once while I was in Chicago I trekked to a special exhibit of Harry Potter movie props and videos explaining how they filmed the quidditch match, and so on. I loved it. The weird part is while the magical world of Harry Potter is completely imaginary, everything about the sets and props were very real. The knit sweaters and blankets were exquisite and I was inspired to knit my son a blanket like the one Mrs. Weasley made.

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Pumpkin Juice and Gilly Water for sale

I was in Los Angeles on other personal business but I decided to take the plunge to see the Harry Potter experience at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I didn’t want to go alone so I asked my son’s friend Glen. I know he’s as enthusiastic about the books as I am. He said yes immediately.

I went to the AAA website to check out any available discounts. I got the first of many rude price shocks: $105 per adult with a discount. How do families afford it? I looked at Costco and they had a $200 deal for a yearly pass; however, it is not a deal if you only plan to visit once. As I’m checking out of the site with the AAA passes and they ask if I want to pre-purchase my parking for $20. Oh yeah, the $105 doesn’t include parking!

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Glen at Hogsmeade entrance

Glen and I met outside the Hard Rock Cafe, which is in a shopping area outside the official amusement park. (Imagine an outlet mall on steroids.) All the facades are supersized–it’s a little Times Square, a little Vegas and completely boring. Does anyone really pay $20 to park and shop for Sketchers and go to the movies?

We managed to enter the gates minutes after the 10 a.m. opening. There were plenty of people joining us–many already in their Hogwarts robes. We went straight to Hogsmeade for the Harry Potter experience. Immediately we felt transported. The energy and the excitement is palpable. Glen and I looked and each other and we knew we were ready to get our Harry Potter-geek on. The conductor of Hogwarts Express was there to greet us, the whole place was just what you’d imagine Hogsmeade to be.

We moved on to Honeydukes candy shop and then on to more shops that combined movie sets and souvenir shops. Universal Studios does not miss an opportunity to sell you branded stuff. You can buy Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor hoodies, quidditch shirts, socks and more. You can buy full robes and a quidditch broom ($300).

20170409_132542Friends had suggested we try the butterbeer. It froths like a rootbeer but is twice as sweet. The butterscotch flavor is delicious but I could only drink half of my $7.20 standard plastic cup of butterbeer (yes there is a souvenir option). I am used to the hyper-marketing that is ubiquitous in the USA, but I couldn’t help contrasting it with Hobbiton in New Zealand, where the real beer at the Green Dragon is complimentary and the only souvenirs are sold at the entrance/exit. Ah New Zealand.

We stood in line for about 40 minutes to enter Olivander’s Wand emporium. First we entered a small room lined with wand boxes and then we were invited into a larger room with a counter for wand fittings. The shopkeeper selected a small girl in Hogwarts robes to come forward. She was adorable in her excitement and awe. He proceeded to have her try 3 wands. With the first two the spells backfired. The third wand “chose” her. He called the girl’s family forward for a chat and the rest of us were ushered into the shop for fans to make their own purchases with cash or credit card. Part of me experienced some sympathy anxiety for parents who after shelling out wads of cash were going to feel considerable pressure to purchase a $50 wand for each of their children. Fortunately, Glen and I can afford to splurge and we each bought an interactive want so we could try out “spells” at designated spots around the park.

20170409_114837We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks where we both ordered the fish and chips. It was tasty and filling and $20 for lunch. It was good to sit down briefly.

We experienced almost all of Hogsmeade and so that left us with the virtual ride and the roller coaster. I get motion sick quite easily so I knew the roller coaster was out. But I was curious to see the Hogwarts classrooms that are part of waiting in line for the virtual ride. Glen stowed our wands in a locker (stow everything you can!) and I breezed past the sign that says no pregnant women or people prone to motion sick. And hour later and we were ushered to our ride seats and locked in. I was optimistic for no good reason, within a minute I was starting to feel queasy. I shut my eyes for most of the ride. You’ll have to ask Glen for ride details. He was quite pleased. I was just relieved I didn’t actually throw up. I sat down gulping in fresh air for a few minutes before I was ambulatory.

We went back and did the shopping that we didn’t want to carry through the park. We stepped out of Hogsmeade and looked around at the rest of Universal Studios: Shrek 4D, something with zombies, an animal show, and then at each other. Interested? Nah. Me neither. Four hours in Hogsmeade and were were ready to leave. Was it worth it? Yes!

The California Drought is Over!

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The Sacramento River in the California Delta is super full and is going to remain running high through June.

It’s official: the State of California declared the drought is over. Driving to Los Angeles in the rain, I enjoyed the green hills all the way through the San Joaquin Valley. After years of seeing scary empty reservoirs, it is thrilling to see all the signs of a very wet year.

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Pyramid Lake is part of the State Water Project and stores water until it continues its journey to SoCal water users. When deliveries are low, the level drops. This year the reservoir is full again.

On my way to Los Angeles I stopped at the top of the grapevine at the Vista del Lago visitor center to look at Pyramid Lake. It is thrilling to see how full it is and to see someone recreating.

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San Luis Reservoir is also part of the water delivery system in California. Water is  pumped from near Santa Nella into this reservoir to store it to keep a water supply for irrigation and people throughout the summer. Levels have been restored!