White Winter

Winter goes on.  Denis was in town Friday to drop Carrie off at her school, and spent the night with us on the way back.  Went out for sushi, geeked out on board games.  Today Michelle went back to school, so it’s just us empty nesters again for a while.

We finally got some good snow last week, and did our first ski trip of the season on Saturday. Woo-hoo!  We went up to Catamount for afternoon/night skiing.  Seth met us at the base of the mountain.  Conditions were mostly good, but a little icy at times.  After it got dark there was some fresh snowfall, which covered up most of the icy patches.  But man, it was really cold.  So cold I bought a bank-robber-style ski mask when we went in for a break.  I was actually quite comfy after that and we ended up doing thirteen runs.

This is my second season on my new skis, and last year I wasn’t always confident on them compared to my old skis, and was still adjusting the way I skied on them.  This time from the first run it felt great, and was able to carve and go flat out with alot of control, even over ice.  In fact, I’d say they’re better skis than my old pair.  Jeannie got a brand new pair of skis too this year.  They’re Blizzards, very similar to mine, but in white.  She’s liking her new skis alot too, and had a great night.  And we’ve both been working out to get the strength up in our legs and knees, which seems to be paying off.  Of course Michelle was whizzing right past us all after a few runs.  Afterwards we went out to dinner with Seth and Cathy and Erin and her friend, which was very nice.  Haven’t seen Erin in a long time, and now she’s graduating college this spring.

In other sporting news, the Bills’ super bowl hopes are dashed yet again.  Still, it was a great game against KC, as is becoming tradition.  The Bills played some excellent ball, and have really come together as a strong team. But some players out with injuries and a couple small mistakes was all it took.  Kansas City didn’t give up any big plays, and was just a hair better overall, so in the end they won.  Ah well, here’s looking forward to next year.

New Lyric – Head Downtown

Almost finished my new song.  This will be the eighth of nine for my forthcoming album.  I’m in the mixing phase now, so look for the audio track coming soon.  Meanwhile, here’s the lyric.  One fun thing about it is that pretty much all the verbs are also names of body parts, except in the bridge where they’re names of different kinds of furniture.  Enjoy!

Head Downtown

Head downtown
Nose around
Eye the sights
Mouth the sounds
Mind the street
Face the heat
Woah, chin up bloodhound

You can arm all your friends
So they can shoulder the burdens
Yeah hand ’em a handle
Palm the trigger
Elbow your way in
Finger the big figure
It’s a backhanded deal
But don’t knuckle under
Just thumb a ride crosstown

Now, seat yourself
In the lap of luxury
Chair that meeting
But couch your greetings
Table the motion
Even bed that woman, yeah
There’s something ahead
And something afoot
So don’t stick your neck out just yet

You can hamstring the competition
Try an’ boot ’em off of your position
Yeah kneecap ’em all yeah
Well that’s just fine
But for now you better toe the line
Else you’re like to foot the bill
So whoa just heel, yeah
Leg it back uptown

Take heart droog
You can stomach some bad news
But you better back off that tack
Go tail some new rabbit jack
Yeah head downtown
Oh head downtown, yeah
Head downtown

– JFS 11/23

Tinsel Town

The new year is off to a start.  Everything is going okay I guess.  I’m getting things done and having some fun, but everything feels very slow and tiring.  This is natural because it’s the wintertime, and there’s still lots of cold and dark.  The days are starting to get longer, but there’s been lots of rainstorms and wintry mix.  We’ve finally stared to get some snow.  First time last week, but it all melted after a few days, and now last night into today.  Hoping we can finally go skiing this weekend.  We’ve been going ice skating as a local alternative, a good way to move the body when you can’t do much outside.

Working out has been actually been going well.  Often it can be really tough in the winter, but I’ve add weight to my workout at the start of the year, and so far so good.  I’ll probably put on a few more pounds again soon.  Meanwhile I’ve dropped some body weight, which is also counter to the usual wintertime trend.

Of course winter break is over and it’s been back to work the last couple weeks, so getting anything else done requires planning around that to have a few hours of focus time on the weekend or at night.  Just as I was getting into the rhythm of being able to do what I want when I feel like it.  Ah well.

I’m trying to migrate my web site to a new host, but there’s just a ton of picky details to attend to.  We wanted to get this done by the new year but had to let is slide.  Next sub-project is migrating my blog.  So soon you may be reading this at a new url, at least temporarily.

And I finished my new song Head Downtown.  More on that in another post.

This last weekend we had a sort of make-up xmas, since Jeannie was down with Covid on Xmas day.  Lots of good food, games, more legos, music and movies.  Mary and Lou came over along with the niblings.  And the Bills are in the playoffs, which is pretty exciting.

Visions of Sugarplums

We had a very nice and relaxing holidays this year.  Well mostly anyway.  Michelle came home mid-week after her finals, and started baking the cookies the next day. So far so good. Thursday I went into the city for an Innovation Lab holiday lunch. That was lots of fun and it was good to see my colleagues face to face. Ben, Ginny and I spent alot of time hanging around talking afterwards. 

Lizzy was supposed to come home Thursday, but got into a fender bender pulling out of her driveway leaving Buffalo.  She flew home the next day.  Jeannie was delighted to see her. That evening we went out to dinner and played legos.  I finished my Porco Rosso fake lego airplane.  The design was kinda structurally unsound, so I had to improvise some reinforcements. Later we watched the Charlie Brown, Grinch and Rudolph specials.

Unfortunately, Jeannie came down with Covid the day before Christmas eve.  The three of us tested negative and went to the family Xmas party on Long Island, this year moving into a new generation of cousins as hosts, at Megan and JJ’s house.  Good to see everyone and catch up.  They have a bar in their house, and JJ is into different kinds of rum.  He’s also into different kinds of alternative and independent music, and wants to help me get set up on Bandcamp.

Xmas eve Jeanne was mostly sitting around or in bed napping. Lizzy was exiled to the sofa bed in the family room so Jeannie could isolate in her office, which was also Lizzy’s old bedroom. The girls did the last of the shopping and Michelle baked while I did the household stuff and we all did the wrapping. Listened to a bunch of Xmas music, best of which was Ella Fitzgerald.

Xmas day just the four of us; we had to un-invite Mary’s and Jeannie’s folks.  We all slept in.  Lots of legos, I got a pirate ship, Michelle got a zen garden, and Jeannie got an a-frame camp house. Lots of other gifts too.  My new favorite game is Ticket to Ride: San Francisco.  By afternoon Jeannie was feeling better, and supervised as the girls made Xmas dinner.  Roast beast, very nice.

Boxing day morning Jeannie was over Covid but still testing positive. The three of us tested negative and decided to go up to my parents in Buffalo b/c Lizzy had to work the next day anyway. Martin and Kathleen and their kids were there too.  Lizzy rented a car and went back to her apartment.  She came back at dinner time with her boyfriend Josh.  After dinner we opened gifts and facetimed in Jeannie.  Afterwards we drank some wine, sat around and talked and played games.

Wednesday was very mellow.  I talked to my mum awhile and took a walk around the lake in the morning and went shopping with Martin and Kathleen in the afternoon. In the evening Lizzy and Josh came by again and we all got pizza.  Thursday Michelle and I went home.  On the car ride we listened to a bunch of new music including Hozier and Noah Kahan, both of whom I liked alot.  I turned Michelle on to the new Peter Gabriel record I/O, and some classic records including Chicago and Bowie.  This led to me figuring out Lady Stardust on piano, a forgotten gem.  I tried to listen to Cortez the Killer but Neil Young is still boycotting Spotify.  

We got home in time for a four-day weekend.  Unfortunately, Michelle came down ill, though not as bad a Jeannie.  I tested positive for Covid too, although I never had any symptoms.  So we didn’t get to see any friends, but it was relaxing to hang around, build legos, work on my song, play games and watch movies, and things like that.  I’ve been reading alot.  Before Xmas I read Geddy Lee’s autobiography My Effin’ Life, and Howl’s Moving Castle, which I like better than the movie.  I’m in the middle of two other books now, recommended by Martin.  One is about Columbus, John Cabot and Amerigo Vespucci, and the whole discovery of the new world thing.  The other is the first of the Discworld series, which is alot of fun, sort of halfway between The Princess Bride and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Head Downtown

After the epic effort to finish of my last song, A Plague of Frogs, my new studio album Plutonium Dirigible is nearing completion.  I’m up to thirty-seven minutes of music.  I have another song, called Sisyphus’s Blues, a reworking of a song I’d recorded previously but not released, which will bring it up to just over forty minutes.  I feel like an album should usually be between forty and forty-five minutes long, so that leaves room for one more song. 

So I’m working on a new song called Head Downtown.  It’s coming together really quickly, and is alot of fun.  I only started tracking a couple weeks ago and it’s already half done.  I’ve had the lyric for a while.  It started as a bit of wordplay based on the observation that the terms for many body parts can also be used as verbs. From there it evolved in to a story about a down-on-his-luck kind of character, perhaps some kind of petty gangster or hard-boiled gumshoe, trying navigate the give-and-take of life in the city.  The music started of kinda jazzoid, with parts of the chord progression lifted from Duke Jordan and Horace Silver.  But as I fleshed out the arrangement the shuffle groove took on a sort of ska/reggae feel. I just finished the guitar part, which was very Andy Summers inspired, with the main sections being a minimalist atmospheric riff and a big chunky rhythm groove on the backbeat. Hopefully I’ll get this one in the can by the end of the holidays, and the album will ready for release early in the new year.

Meanwhile my jazz group Spacecats may have a record in the offing too.  Since our new drummer Rick joined us a while back, it turns out he’s a great songwriter and we now how have ten or twelve originals written by various members of the band.  There’s a great variety of sounds and feels, from swing to samba to funk, even a couple ballads, and from tightly composed and arranged to more open and free.  We may toss in one two interpretations of tunes by Bird or Trane to round it out.  We have a friend who is a sound engineer and record producer with a sixteen-track mobile rig who has agreed to record and co-produce.  We’re thinking of a live, one-day recording session sometime in the new year, and we’re trying to decide it it would be better to do it at our rehearsal studio, or at my house.  

Only thing that remains is to woodshed the tunes so they’re tight enough to be assured of capturing a killer take or two of each.  We were well on the way, but then a few weeks ago Rick brought in a new song that plays with the the meter in a fascinating way, four versus three.  It’s not an easy one to play, but it’s my kind of weird, so we had to spend some time to get that one together.

A Season of Darkness

It’s been a few weeks since my last post.  Nothing really exciting going on.  Been getting ready for the holidays.  Put up our tree, sent out our Christmas cards.  We saw the new Miyazaki movie.  It was amazing but he’s totally lost his mind.  Lizzy was home for a visit for a couple weeks ago with her new boyfriend.  They saw my origami elephants at the tree in the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  Both girls will be home for the holidays soon.  I’ve been trying to wind down work for the year, and been thinking about old friends I miss, and how I’d like to make the time to see people.  Luckily, the plan for the end of the year is pretty laid back, so it looks like there’ll be some time for that.

It feels like it’s been dark all the time the last few weeks.  Only a few hours of tepid daylight before the sun sets in the mid-afternoon. At least the weather has been mainly pretty mild, even warm, and there’s been a handful of sunny days mixed in with the cloudiness and rain.  Been trying the get psyched up for skiing, but it’s not time yet. 

We did go ice skating the other day, which was lots of fun, and good exercise.  I haven’t been on my ice skates in years, and neither has Jeannie.  It’s good to know our skates still fit and we remember how to skate.  We’ll have to do that again soon, hopefully when it’s less crowded.  It seemed like I spent all my time maneuvering around a kid who fell over in front of me, pretty much every lap around the rink.

Even though my energy level has been up and down, my strength is up these days.  Usually the winter is a difficult time for weightlifting, but it’s been really solid since we got back from California.  My elbow, shoulder and back all feel great, and I just went up in weight on my last few sets of exercises, and I’m going to up on the rest in the new year.  

I’ve been trying to lean in to the season by getting more sleep, and although I must say I’ve never been good at going to be early, I find it easier these days. But try as I might, I remain very busy at work right up to the end of the week, which makes it hard to slack off too much. We’re into a new planning season, and things are always in motion.  I compare myself to water seeking its natural level as I slosh around to the most needful tasks from day to day. Good news, I may have just gotten approval to add another engineer to my team.

And, just in time for the holidays, The Global Jukebox 3.0.1 is now live.  This release was basically a hardening of 3.0, with numerous bug fixes and usability enhancements, an a beautiful new splash screen when you enter the app.

I’ve also been working on a new song, called Head Downtown, and there may a Spacecats record in the offing.  More on that next.

New Recording – A Plague of Frogs

I had a very nice Thanksgiving weekend.  Michelle came home for a visit, and we all went out to Long Island Thanksgiving day, and the rest of the time played some games and watched some movies and slept in every day day caught up on a bunch of random tasks. Among them…

I finally finished the song that could not be finished is finished.  A Plague of Frogs is probably to most complicated song I’ve attempted to record, arrange and produce, in the terms of number of interlocking themes, changes in sound and tone, overall length, and sheer number of tracks and layers.  In the end I made it a battle between sax vs. synth rather than sax vs. guitar, and I really leaned in to the bloopy, buzzy sound of the synthesizer to create an alien vibe.  After I did the synth solo I had to put it aside for a while.  I was in a phase of listening to heavily layered 80’s records like So, Synchronicity and Power Windows and had a bunch more ideas to further develop the arrangement.  But then I got to a place where the build up in the middle section was satisfying, and after that there was nowhere else to go.  I found myself sculpting the sound by taking things away rather than continuing to add more parts, and once that realization hit it was pretty quick to finish up the song and get to a good mixdown.  The rest of the kitchen sink will have to wait for other songs.  

So here it is. 

https://zingman.com/music/mp3/plutoniumDirigible/PlagueOfFrogs54k.mp3

I hope you enjoy!

Origami Coast to Coast

Okay so, still trying to catch up with the story.  Before I dive in, I will say it’s the darkest time of year nowadays, and on top of that they changed the clocks last week, so I feel like it starts getting dark around two or three in the afternoon, and it’s a challenge to keep your energy level up and balanced.

Anyway, we got home from California two weeks ago Monday morning, and Monday night I finished my supply of elephants for AMNH.  Jeannie was working in the city the next day, so she hand delivered them to the the museum.  Since I’d given away all my recently folded elephants, including the golden one from my PCOC exhibit, I made one more during the week, this one from a 50cm square of red wyndstone paper.  Friday evening we were off to Boston to another origami event the OrigaMIT conference.  Our friend Adrienne, who we were hanging out with in San Francisco, recently moved back to Brooklyn from Texas, so we gave her a ride.  She was staying with our other friend Brian, so we got hang out with him a bit Friday night.  In addition to origami, Brian is into robots, 3-D printers, insect photography, anime and a bunch of other things, so his house is full of fascinating stuff.

The OrigaMIT convention is a one-day event that starts early Saturday.  It’s usually in the student center, but that’s closed this year, so it was in the engineering building.  It was fun to see a part of MIT campus I hadn’t been to before (been mostly to the student center and the Media Lab back in the day).  Brian showed us some robots he built for his thesis project that mimicked the movement of snails.  To get there we went down a hallway called the Infinite Corridor, but the name is an exaggeration; it’s just really really long.

In the morning I set up my exhibition, which had its own room this year.  I gave my talk on Single-Sheet polyhedra for the fourth time at four different conventions.  After this I’ll retire and think of a new topic, or at least wait a few years until I have an update to give.  The talk went over well and the discussion at the end was interesting, with a different audience wanting know about different things.  A group of us went to lunch we got to for a walk thru the far side of the campus and around Cambridge.  In the afternoon I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish.  There was no document camera in the room, so I improvised a stand for my phone and hooked it up the the room’s projector.  This worked great for ten minutes or so until my phone went to sleep and I couldn’t get it to connect again after it woke up.  So I finished the old fashioned way, folding a model out of large paper and holding it up for everyone to see after each step. 

After that I went back the exhibit area, which was also the vendor area.  I ended spending a couple hours talking to Michael and Richard of Origamido.  Michael was fascinated by the single-sheet polyhedra thing so I gave him a short, personalized version of my talk.  Richard told us about a cool sculpture garden he knows of, not far from where I live.  Origamido paper, as you may know, is handmade by Michael and Richard in small batches for the purpose doing advanced origami, and widely considered the best in the world.  For many years I did not buy much of it because it’s very thin, which is not useful for my style of folding.  However, they’re now making thicker papers, including some duo-color ones made by laminating two sheets together, so I just had to buy a bunch.  I want to fold a bunch of photo-worthy models I’ve designed over the last few years, to update my web site and for my next book.

We drove home Saturday night, and Sunday we were not yet accustomed to the new clock situation.  It’s getting to the point were every time we have a nice day it might be the last one until next April.  It’s already too cold in the mornings for a big bike ride, so it looks like that’ll have to wait until the springtime to pick that up again.  I decided to take the mustang out, possibly for the last time of the season, and we combined it with a light hike around the sculpture garden Richard had told us about.  It’s at the Pepsi corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY, and indeed is a very pleasant stroll around some well manicured lawns and gardens, featuring an array of so-so to really impressive outdoor sculptures.

Finally this last weekend Lizzy was home for a quick visit after attending a conference for her work in Philadelphia; it was very nice to see her, and good that she’s doing well.  Then there was one last origami event, a Special Folding Session at the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday.  I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish one more time, and this time the group was small enough I could just show them across the table.  More than half my class was extremely talented kids, with the youngest ones being in the fourth grade.  One kid in middle school brought a copy of my book and asked me to sign it, and said he was my greatest fan.  He seemed know know alot about my models and could fold many of them.  After my class was over I went outside for a walk around Central Park at lunchtime, from the Belvedere thru the Ramble over the Bow Bridge and back up past Strawberry Field.  I hadn’t been there in many years, so it was fun getting reacquainted with a place I used to know well.

Now finally we have no travel plans coming up, and no events or concerts or anything.  I’m looking forward a few weeks of cozying up against the cold and dark and making progress on some random tasks.  Of course random tasks can turn into a slog, with the darkness and all, but I’m carrying on. I’ll let all y’all know when there’s news about any big updates.

Pacific Coast Origami Convention 2023

Been to two back-to-back origami conventions.  Catching up with my blog now, picking up the story where we left off…

The 2023 Pacific Coast Origami Convention (PCOC) was at a big fancy hotel right near Union Square.  This conference was supposed to happen in the fall of 2021 but got delayed due to a resurgence of COVID, so we were all really looking forward to it after all this time.

We arrived Thursday evening and ran into a bunch of origami friends in the lobby, including Maria from Bogota, Colombia. Jeannie and took the cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf and had dinner Pier 39, right on the bay near the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz where the sea lions hang out.  Total tourist stuff, lots of fun.  We got back to the hotel for the first of several late-night folding sessions.  I practiced my Halloween Spider, which I was teaching the next day, and made a small but important improvement to the folding sequence.

First thing Friday was the exhibit setup.  I brought a shoebox full of models in my backpack, which I’d been carrying around the whole trip.  Luckily everything survived being bumped around for a week and was in good shape.  It was a good assortment of animals, spaceships, and single-sheet polyhedra, including most of my newly folded stuff and things I was teaching.  I had a nice, new large elephant folded out of a golden-yellow paper, because I’ve been folding elephants lately to donate to OUSA’s annual holiday tree.

My Halloween Spider class was full and it was among the more complex models I’ve ever attempted to teach, despite my aim to design a relatively simple and easy spider.  The class went over really well, and everyone finished.  I had a document camera to show a close-up view of my work in progress on a projector, and that helped alot.  One kid folded tiny one out to 3″ paper.  Very impressive.

We found a Japanese restaurant near the hotel that served udon and sushi.  Several other groups from the convention were there, and I was able to borrow some paper to fold with, and made an Octopus and Cuttlefish for model menu.

That afternoon I took Jared’s class, a Sea Lion.  We kinda ran out of time toward the end and didn’t really get to do a proper job of the sculpting and shaping.  Too bad, because his version of the model looked pretty nice.  During the class I was able to fold my own California Sea Lion, a new model which I’d only folded once before, two years ago, so I could submit diagrams of it to the convention collection of 2021.  I found out later there was a table or California themed models in the exhibit space, so I put it there.

That evening there was a reception with drinks and food, very yummy, followed by some activities.  I won a copy of Tomoko Fuse’s book Origami Art, and later on she signed it for me.  Tomoko Fuse is one of the world’s great origami artists from Japan, so it was great to meet her.  The book signing was in the shopping area, and Paper Tree was the vendor, so I bought lots of cool papers.  From there we all went into the hospitality area for more folding, which ran well into the night. At one point I went out with some friends on a beer run.  When I returned, Jeannie had brought down the last remaining beers that Dazza had gifted us to share with our table.  

Saturday morning I decided that the golden elephant in my exhibit didn’t really go well color-wise with the others I’d folded for the museum, and anyway it was nice enough that I kind of wanted to keep it.  So I began folding a new elephant in my hotel room.  It was the nicest one yet, made of a 50cm square of whitish marble wyndstone, a.k.a. elephant hide that I’d brought with me.  I folded as far as I could before making it 3-d, then stuck it in the book to finish when I got home.  

That morning my first class was Peter Engel, who was explaining a system of bird designs he came up with for a commission for a sculpture in a corporate lobby.  After that was Tomoko teaching a spiral shell made out of four sheets of paper. I also took a class to fold the Columbus Cube, a cube variation with a sunken corner.  It was a modular but an interesting shape, and during the class I worked out how I could fold it from a single sheet.

At lunchtime Jeannie and I walked to Japantown to visit our friend Linda’s store Paper Tree, one the finest origami shops in America.  I was happy to see they had my Animal Sculptures book for sale there and prominently displayed.  Also lots of paper, other books, and display cases of folded origami, many by Robert Lang.  He’d just done a gallery opening there the night before the convention.  I bought a cool little metal model of a Japanese temple that you can assemble.  We went to a place called Bullet Train Sushi for lunch.  The food was really good, and it was delivered by little trolleys in the shape of the Japanese bullet train that ran the length of the counter.

That afternoon I taught Octopus and Cuttlefish.  This class was full and went over really well too, and gave me a chance to plug my book.  After that I hung around the exhibit for a while, and the hospitality area, talking to other artists.  Saturday night was the banquet, followed by more activities including Chocogami, run by my friend Maria, where you fold a model of a thing depicted in the wrapper of a chocolate bar from Colombia.  This time I got a shark, and it came out pretty well.  It seemed like alot of people asked my to sign their copy of my book at this convention.  Maybe I’m a hit out on the west coast, or maybe I just don’t get out there very often.  In any event, my book is now on its second printing, which is quite gratifying.

Sunday I slept in and then hung around the exhibit and hospitality.  At lunchtime Jeannie and I took a walk to Salesforce Park, the High Anxiety hotel, and the Embarcadero, all together in the same neighborhood.  It was a beautiful day and great to see some of San Francisco and the bay.

After lunch I did my polyhedron talk.  Again it was very well attended, and Tomoko Peter Engle both attended.  At the end there was time for questions, and I got into a great discussion with Peter about single sheet polyhedra and the whole philosophy behind it.  This discussion carried out into the hallway after the class was over.  I’d never met Peter before; he never comes to New York.  It turns out he’s a big fan of my work, particularly my animals.  This was a great compliment to me, because I consider Peter one of the original masters, and his book Angelfish to Zen was a big influence on me early on, in particular the way it connects origami to art, design and philosophy.

Later in the afternoon I took Goran’s class.  He’s doing really interesting stuff with pleating and curved folding.  I also won a book at the silent auction.  It’s an older book in Italian, about folding boats.  I went thru a phase of designing boats after I’d done airplanes and spaceships, and one of the models on the cover reminded me of one of my own designs.

By Sunday evening I was pretty tired.  Lots of our friends were going out to dinner but Jeannie and had dinner at the hotel, because after that we had to catch a cab to the airport.  Before I left I gave my golden elephant to Maria for her collection for the Bogota origami group.  The flight home was a redeye, and I was able to get some sleep.  We landed in NYC as the sun was coming up, and when I got home I went straight to work.  By Tuesday I’d caught up on my rest and was back to normal.  Only a few short days until the next event.  More on that next post.

Dream of Californication

Just got back from a trip to PCOC, the Pacific Coast Origami Conference in San Francisco, and along with it a fantastic vacation in California.  Last time we visited the Bay Area was almost fourteen years ago.  Oh oh, what I want to know is, where does the time go?

Jeannie and I flew out from New York on Friday night.  Last few times we flew I’ve felt pretty anxious about the whole airport thing, but this time I’ve been so busy with work the last couple months, it was actually a big relief to be hanging around waiting for our flight.  

We stayed the first couple of days at a hotel on the peninsula that we knew from previous trips. It was a cute place with a courtyard and giant pots of succulent plants.  Saturday we met up with my friend Dazza, who lives in Oakland.  He took us to a park near his home with a lake and a very cool botanical garden with all kinds of plants you don’t see back east, and in the middle of that a bonsai garden with carefully grown miniature trees, some of them hundreds of years old.  We went back to his place, in a condo complex with all kinds of fun amenities, then out to eat at a really good oriental place with yummy dishes featuring great big rice noodle.  I must say, Oakland has become trendy and quite nice since we lived in the bay area in the ’90s, much like Brooklyn.  Or maybe I just never had been to the nice parts of Oakland before.

That afternoon we helped Dazza out on a very special beer run.  He had ordered several cases of a Polish porter, that apparently is very hard to get, from a wine shop in San Mateo back on the peninsula.  So we gave him a lift out there to pick it up.  After that we took Dazza for a drive around our old haunts in Silicon Valley in Palo Alto and Redwood City.  We went for a hike up to the radio telescope in Parcel B at Stanford, and then a drive-by tour of the office park where Interval Research Corporation used to be, right near the HP campus.  Strangely, there’s now camper vans and RVs parked all along Page Mill Road and El Camino Real.  One of the most rich and prosperous places in the history of the world full of people living in their vans.  At the end we went back to our hotel and Dazza shared a few porter ales with us and we talked on into the night.

Sunday Jeannie and I went up Skyline Road to Sky Londa intending to go for a hike at Windy Hill for a hike.  But as the day unfolded it turned rainy.  We did a short wet hike up to the summit the view obscured by clouds, and not the long winding one we had in mind.  Apparently it was the first rain of the fall.  The day before we noticed all the hillsides were yellow with dry grass, a hue you don’t see in the landscapes at home.  Since we were already up in the mountains, we thought we’d cross over and see the ocean, where it was not raining.  But, being the first rain of the season, there was an accident up ahead (apparently a very bad one, judging from the number of ambulances and fire trucks that passed us), so the road was closed and we had to turn around.  There’s only a few roads over the coastal mountains, so we went up to the next one twenty miles away, but it was backed up with traffic too.  So we decided instead to light out for our next destination, Lake Tahoe up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of our favorite places in California.  It was raining pretty heavy for most of the trip, all the way past Sacramento and a ways up into the mountains.  In case you’ve never been there, the Sierras are way bigger than anything on the east coast.  The pass over the mountains is above 7,000 feet, and the mountaintops are well over 10,000.

We stayed at a really charming hotel right on the beach, and since it was off season they upgraded us to a suite with a fireplace and view of the lake.  Very nice.  There was a restaurant in walking distance out on a pier with a view of the sunset over the lake.  We were still kinda on east coast time, so next morning we watched the sun come up over the lake from our hotel room.  We took a walk on the beach, where I found a massive pinecone from a ponderosa pine, which must have just fallen and washed up on the shore.  The main activity of the day was to hike up to Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness Area, above Emerald Bay.  This is beautiful forest and mountains with great views.   It was a pretty big hike, over 3 hours, and 800 feet vertical, about 5 miles of very rocky terrain.  Afterwards we went into town to the area of the base of the Heavenly gondola, right near the Nevada border, which is all built up compared to last time we were there.  That evening we went to the casino, but the scene there was beat.

Next day we drove to Yosemite National Park, another one of our favorite places in California.  This was another long drive thru the mountains.  We took the back way thru Nevada, past Lake Mead where Kamasi Washington did one of his album covers.  The last half of the trip was into Yosemite via Tioga Pass, which gets above 10,000 feet.  We stopped at a scenic overlook where you could see Half Dome far away.  We have a picture from that spot with the kids when they were 10 and 7 or so, last time we passed that way.  After alot more driving thru winding mountain roads we arrived at Mariposa Grove, home of the giant sequoia redwoods.  These are the larges trees in the world, and grow over 300 feet tall and over 30 feet across at the base.  They’re thousands of years old.

We had expected to get lunch there, but instead things were under construction and there was no food, the road was closed, the parking was two miles away and the tram wasn’t running.  I guess it’s good that they’re redoing access to the area with an eye toward forest conservation, but it added 4 miles and several hundred vertical feet to the hike.  By the time we reached the area where the parking lot used to be, Jeannie was pretty tired and had to sit down for a while.  Luckily, we met some kind fellow travelers who shared some trail mix with us, and our energy rebounded.  We got to talking and the dude was a Consumer Reports super fan, and was asking me about the auctions they have for the used cars they test, and if I could get him in on it.  The redwoods themselves were amazing and the whole glade had spiritual vibe that reminded me of La Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.  The kind of thing you just can’t capture in photographs.  Overall the hike was about 4 hours, 6 miles and over 600 feet vertical, but not nearly as stony. 

We were staying at the Yosemite Valle Lodge, and the was another hour drive back the way we came (Yosemite is huge).  This is the first time we stayed in the park in a building with solid walls and running water.  By the time we got there it was dark.  Had excellent cocktails and steak and wine at the bar and restaurant there. The breakfast place had for some reason computerized kiosks where you order food instead of telling a person what you want.  However, some food was not on the menu, so when I wanted a banana they just gave me one cuz no one could figure out how much it cost or how to pay for it.  I can hardly wait for the fad of having computers everywhere in situations where human interaction works perfectly well breaks and starts to recede.

Anyway, the main hike that day was up the valley towards Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. Interestingly, the first mile or two of the trail was paved, which made it faster.  Last time we were here it was pretty natural, dirt with some stony sections.  The middle part was still like this.  The last part before the falls was a huge uplift that was mainly stairs made of hewn and stacked up natural rock, a serious Cirith Ungol vibe, but in a beautiful forest, not an orc-infested wasteland.  Naturally, going down was harder than going up.  This was the longest hike yet, over 7 miles and nearly 1400 feet vertical.  

Next day we left the mountains and drove back to San Francisco.  This was the most adventuresome drive yet, another long and windy one, with one memorable section descending several thousand feet in just a few miles.  Had to go like ten miles per hours thru endless switchbacks.  I feel like this may be where they filmed the opening scene of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  We made it safely back across the central valley and thru the Livermore Pass (the windmills have grown quite a bit in the last twenty years) and finally over the bay.  We made another attempt to get out to the ocean and this time we were successful.  We went out to Half Moon bay, where we found a burrito place and got our lunch to go, and ate yummy California burritos on the beach.  We walked around a while and stuck our toes in the Pacific, then drove up the US 1 coastal highway thru Pacifica to San Francisco.  We dropped off our rental car and checked into the hotel for the origami convention, and immediately met some friends in the lobby.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther adventure.