Friday, August 28, 2009

Perforated House - Melbourne

all images by Peter Bennets
Austere and 'blank' during the day, this house from Melbourne has an ethereal quality at night: I love the way the facade gains depth and mystery (or perhaps it is the really good photos!)

Got to admire the quintessential Australian 'backyard' with kids swinging from the Hills Hoist, the Victa mower, cricket stumps... only wish it had been left to a Landscape Architect. Sometimes architects just miss that certain *something* that makes a garden a nice place to be.

Read more about this unique project here.

All photographs by Peter Bennetts

Home Soon Home

I have been offline for several days now as we made our way from Chicago to rural Virginia. Our apartment was packed up on Monday, the truck arrived Tuesday and took away all our 'stuff'. We drove out of Chicago on Tuesday afternoon.

We felt very sad to say goodbye to Chicago and all our lovely friends and neighbors - but were buoyed by a nervous excitement.

We stayed with some good friends in NOVA (Northern Virginia) and made it to Fredericksburg on Thursday in time to close on our new house. Of course there were a few frayed nerves and tense moments - despite the absolute joy of packing up a house and moving across the country with three young children in tow ;-)

We used Mayflower movers for several reasons: a glowing report from Design Mom during her recent move, an impeccably good reputation, a number of add-on benefits, and most importantly - the fastest promised delivery time. You will therefore sense our frustration when we were able to track our truck passing through Fredericksburg this evening... but are not to expect our items to arrive until Tuesday! Fingers crossed that the driver finishes his other deliveries quickly and we can have our things this weekend.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Guinness Stew




Guinness Stew was the first meal that our Little Miss ate (at 6 months old) with real gusto. I had figured that she was a fussy eater as she refused most everything I offered her. She did however, like Ella's Kitchen baby food available in the UK (when she and I visited my sister). This brand of food is terrific: combining a multitude of organic fruits and vegetables to make some really interesting flavors. I love that it comes in a re-sealable pouch so smaller quantities can be served - squeezed directly onto a spoon. Great for meals on the go.
I had suggested making a beef and red wine casserole for dinner one chilly Chicago winter night. My husband put in a request for Beef and Guinness Stew. I told him "No. I don't have any Guinness and besides, I don't have a recipe." I was then presented with 10 printed versions of Beef and Guinness recipes while he ran out to buy the Guinness. Really. Did I have any choice?! At the time, I didn't find any one recipe that I liked, so I combined several recipes.

Now we are emptying our fridge and freezer, I am somewhat restricted by what we still have: some beef and veal stew cubes from Fresh Picks, scant stalks of celery, parsley and carrots picked up at the last Farmers Markets, 8 prunes, not a skerrick of fresh thyme (the Cooks Thesaurus notes that oregano will do), 1 x clove of garlic, a handful of onions, some parsnips, a very small amount of flour... will have to send husband off for tomato puree and Guinness.

This dish is not a last-minute meal, but with a little planning and early preparation, it can cook itself. I started cooking the stew on Thursday night then finished cooking it for last nights dinner (while I prepared to go out!)

Here is my approximation of a recipe:

BEEF AND GUINNESS STEW
Ingredients:
2 pounds cubed stewing beef (trimmed of all fat and sinew and cut in 1'' cubes)
2 tblsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour (seasoned with salt, pepper and a good pinch of cayenne pepper)
2 large onions (3 x small), diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
16 oz Guinness
2 cups cut carrots (cut into rounds if smaller, dice if large carrots)
1 bay leaf
1 stalk fresh thyme (or oregano)
2 tblsp tomato puree / paste dissolved in 4 tblsp water
12 prunes, pitted
parsley (finely chopped for garnish)

Method:
In a plastic bag, toss beef with seasoned flour, shaking off excess.

In an ovenproof casserole (large enough to hold all ingredients), heat the oil over a high heat and brown the meat cubes all over. Reduce the heat, add the onions and celery and cook for a few minutes. Add a third of the Guinness, stirring to remove any baked on flour. Add rest of the Guinness and any remaining flour, carrots, tomato puree, bay leaf and thyme, stirring well to combine. Bring to a boil, then cover and braise in 300 oven for 2 hours (or up to 3 hours) until meat is tender. If stew is runny, finish cooking on stovetop, uncovered until gravy thickens

At approximately 45 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the prunes. Season to taste.

Remove the bay leaf and serve sprinkled liberally with parsley alongside mashed potatoes (or mashed potato and parsnip) and peas or steamed beans.

How does one *accidently* buy a house?


While we were in Fredericksburg, Bernadette arranged for a realtor, Sabrina, to show us a few houses to give us an indication of the local market. Sabrina, her brother Ken and his wife Patti did a sterling job of showing us a range of places that fit our criteria: 3-4 bedrooms, 2+ bathrooms, study, kitchen with adjacent living room, playroom / basement, backyard, etc. Nothing was quite right or mutually acceptable and we ended up with Paul’s heart set on one house, and mine on another. Realising we couldn’t agree, we set off to see Richmond, the capital of Virginia, and put the whole experience down to an initial reconnaissance mission. While we had space to clear our heads, Paul and I each started to see the virtues in the other’s pick. We spoke about it and realised that for resale potential, my choice was probably the better pick. We each had a lot to think about while we watched the children cavort around the Children’s Museum of Richmond

While Paul was off with the kids, Sabrina called and asked us what we thought. I told her that we didn’t quite agree... but how about she put in a verbal offer $25K less than the already reduced price - thinking that it would be rejected outright. I confessed to Paul and he agreed that for the price we offered, he would be happy with the choice. You can imagine our surprise when we found out that the offer was accepted - on the proviso that we settled quickly! 

On our way to Washington DC on a Saturday, we stopped into the house and had another look around with our realtors. This is when we started to get attached to our decision, and saw the potential in the house. We arrived in DC and caught up with Gabrielle, Craig, James and William who had only two days earlier, moved into their new house. We decided that we should really act on our decision quickly and put in a contract and deposit while still in the area. So... on Monday, we headed back to Fredericksburg to put in a formal contract. Then back to DC to stay with Gabrielle’s family before heading back to Chicago on Tuesday. Our trip home was rather tumultuous as we wondered if we had done the right thing. We then had to organise a building inspection, a mortgage and all those other ‘moving-type’ things. 

Due to the tightening-up of the once very lax mortgage market, we found it a very long process to secure a mortgage. Where once illegal immigrants were able to borrow 110% the value of a home, it was now considered too risky for a visa-holder, with a very good credit score, an excellent debt to income ratio and secure employment to be given a loan. It wasn’t until this last Wednesday evening that we were finally given the green light - PHEW - with just a week until settlement. 

We now sit, on a Saturday night, with the moving company arriving on Monday morning to pack up our household. We drive away from Chicago on Tuesday. We close the contract on Thursday, and then we wait until our furniture arrives. We are really going to miss the city life in Chicago. We also look forward the opportunities our family will have in a four bedroom house on almost 2½ acres!


POST NOTE May 2013: 
This post originally appeared in my previous blog: gearon.org 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Martin Wilson Photographic Montages



all images by Martin Wilson
I was really interested to see Martin Wilson's photographs. He photographs his 35mm images in a particular sequence to ensure a larger image is created once he arranges his film strips into a contact sheet.

I like that his art incorporates similar subject matter to the artworks I create with rum sum sum - only in a completely different way! I like the 'One Hundred' piece that he created for his Granny on her 100th birthday, using 'found' numbers to represent each year of her life. These artworks take painstaking planning.

All photographs by Martin Wilson

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Funky Lunch

image by Funky Lunch
Today I followed a swissmiss link to a site named Funky Lunch. The aim of the authors is to produce a book with fun yet healthy sandwich options to tempt fussy eaters. Have a look at their gallery for some fun ideas.

I like this idea for an Eric Carle inspired Very Hungry Caterpillar - what a great idea for a garden party!

Photograph by Mark Northeast at Funky Lunch

Drawing Summer to a close...





Summer activities are drawing to an end as the beginning of the school year looms. Our impending move seems to make the end of Summer appear more defined or final. This is not a good thing in Chicago as the Summer is impinged upon at either end by that domineering Winter. To finish it any sooner is sacrilegious!

Master 5 finished his Kung Fu classes today. He has been doing Kung Fu for a couple of months and has, on the whole, enjoyed the experience. He takes classes at Healthkick and adores his teacher Sifu Paula who seems to have a masterful way with kids. Last weekend, we attended a performance his school put on in Chinatown. Demonstrations were made at all skill levels. Four performers playing the parts of two dragons were particularly impressive.

The last soccer class will be next week. I enrolled the boys over the summer in Soccer classes with Chitown football - part of the Lil Kickers group. This was to give ourselves some sort of structure over the long gap in the school year - as well as provide an excuse to exercise and meet some new friends.

Our intention is to take the boys along to Soccer next Tuesday, have some lunch, then drive to Virginia! (well, part of the way at least).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Class photo

Tying up one those loose ends before our move, I dropped a class photo of Master 5's preschool class to his school this week. At the end of the last school year I took photographs of the students to incorporate into a thank you montage for each of the class's three teachers. The photos of the kids were so beautiful and natural, it seemed like a great opportunity to create a class photo as a memento for each family... and a great fundraising opportunity for the school! The school was thankful for the photograph and the nice packet of money too.

Master 5 was going to complete his final year in a Montessori preschool program this school year. We are sad that he is going to miss out. We are also going to miss his wonderful and caring teachers Mses Michele, Casey and Kimberley.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Empty that fridge


It is one week until we depart Chicago. It is beginning to sink in at last. WHERE HAS THAT TIME GONE! Now we have to do those mundane but necessary things like empty the refrigerator and work out what we eat/throw/donate... As someone that hates wasting food, I will have to use a little ingenuity.

The first item for tonight's dinner 'hit list' was a white eggplant the boys chose at a recent farmers markets. I think they loved the way it looked (as Master 5 is not a great fan of *eating* eggplant). I also had abundant coriander, basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella from last weeks market, some parsley and a pound of frozen ground lamb from Mint Creek Farm.

I decided that the eggplant would be turned into a baba ghanoush. This would also help to finish our tahini, drain a bottle of olive oil and use up a lemon. The coriander and lamb would make great meatballs and I could use the tomato, basil and mozzarella in a simple salad dressed with salt and olive oil. I thought this might look a little lonely on the plate so I opened a tin of garbanzo beans (chick peas) and dressed these with some chopped parsley, olive oil, salt and lemon juice.

BABA GHANOUSH
Ingredients:
Eggplant - medium to large (white is less bitter)
1 clove garlic
salt
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
juice of half lemon
olive oil
2 tblsp tahini

Method:
Using tongs, turn eggplant in flame on gas stovetop to char surface. If not quite cooked, zap in microwave for a minute (alternatively, rub with olive oil and roast in an oven). Peel the charred skin off then press out bitter juices in a colander. Using a stick mixer, blend with pinch of salt, chopped garlic and tahini. Add lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Stir through parsley. Alternatively just mash all ingredients with a fork if a chunkier consistency is desired.

MIDDLE EASTERN LAMB MEATBALLS
Ingredients:
1 pound (500g) ground lamb
pinch salt
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
1 cup coarsely chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves
olive oil

Method:
Blend onion, spices and coriander in a food processor. Add lamb and process until smooth. Shape into small balls or wrap around a wooden skewer (soaked in water for 30 mins). Fry in small amount of olive oil until brown and cooked through (or grill or broil kebabs on sticks). Drain on paper towel.

These recipes were adapted from The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander. The absolutely brilliant tome and ONLY cookbook I will ever truly need.

The kids LOVE chick peas (garbanzo beans*) so I always have a tin handy. A great source of protein and fiber, these can quickly be turned into a hummus or simple salad or curry. The kids will eat a whole tin between them if I don't rescue them quickly enough.

This was a very successful meal with Master 3 and Little Miss 11 months eating everything without complaint. Master 5 brought up his aversion to eggplant, but insistence that it was really like 'Hummus' from Master 3, helped persuade him to finish his dinner.

* Master 5 once misheard and thought these were called Rapunzel beans - so we often call them by this name :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bye bye Sue


The boys were keen to visit the Field Museum before we leave Chicago, so we made a visit today. The Field Museum is a brilliant 'old school' museum of curios, artifacts and animals, with something to appeal to almost everyone. We have barely scratched the surface of what this museum has to offer. Possibly something to do with being trapped in the dinosaur section too many times.

We said hello (as we do when we arrive at the museum) and then goodbye to 'Sue', the 'largest, most complete and best preserved' example of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever found. With some speed-viewing, we even managed to fit in a couple of more exhibits than we usually do, including the Underground Adventure exhibit, the Real Pirates, The Ancient Americas and Water. The Pirate exhibit was extremely popular but required too much reading for this young family, making it a very slow moving experience, compounded by a couple of bottlenecks (where a number of patrons were beginning to lose their patience). This was a shame as 'pirates' appeal to all ages, and there would have been great scope to provide some more kid-friendly exhibits, or at least a fast route through.

We are going to miss the Field Museum, but are also very excited at the prospect of being able to explore all the Smithsonian has to offer.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Molly's Cupcakes


There are several establishments - just around the corner - that we are going to miss BIG TIME! We just LOVE our neighborhood and the fact that we can live without a car (we did for 18 months) as so much of what we need is within walking distance. Living on acreage in a more suburban - less city-like environment is going to be a big adjustment for us.
We visited one of those establishments yesterday. Molly's Cupcakes. Although we are not super-regular visitors, we do visit from time to time - particulary during our very brief Chicago-Winter-walks, when it is just TOO cold to walk any distance, but we need to get outdoors before we succumb to cabin fever.
A selection of games including Jenga and Connect 4, keeps the boys occupied while I have a warming cup of coffee. The success of the lattes served here totally depends upon the barrista, but they do use the local Intelligentsia blend, so it bound to be better then the chain stores... and they use ceramic cups. YAY.
I love the ethos behind the cupcakes baked here: using a recipe from a favorite grade-school teacher, with a portion of profits benefiting local schools. The photo shows Master 3 eyeing our selection: Cookies-n-cream, Coconut Cream and Lemon Meringue cupcakes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What to do with abundant corn and coriander?


Recent trips to the farmers markets have left us with a fridge full of corn and coriander (cilantro). I was wondering what to cook for the kids dinner and remembered that my brother's partner Amanda*, a committed vegetarian, used to make great corn cakes. I dug out the recipe and set to work...

AMANDA'S CORN CAKES

Ingredients:
3 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 3 to 5 corn cobs)
1 small red onion, chopped
2 eggs
1/4 cup fresh coriander/cilantro (including stems and leaves)
1 cup plain flour
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tbs peanut oil

Method:
In a food processor, place 2 cups of the corn kernels, onion, eggs, coriander and flour. Process until combined.
Stir in remaining corn kernels and season to taste.
Heat peanut oil in in non-stick pan over medium-high heat. In batches, drop heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and cook for approximately 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towel once browned both sides.

Variations:
I used olive oil instead of peanut oil. I used a brown onion as I didn't have any red onions. I used more coriander than specified. I used a soupspoon to drop the batter into the oil.

Amanda served these with a chili sauce (1/2 cup sweet chili sauce, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 tbl fish sauce).

Little Miss 11 month was happy to eat the corn cakes, but the boys were not so enraptured (preferring the honey-glazed chicken I served them with). Interest did peak however, with the addition of tomato sauce (ketchup).

I think these corn cakes would be great as a brunch item served with some crisp bacon and perhaps a creamy but spicy tomato sauce. They would also make a fantastic appetizer if made teaspoonful size and topped with a hearty guacamole, pico de gallo or perhaps a mango/avocado/chili salsa.

I'm not too sure where this recipe came from, but I guess the absolutely brilliant Australian delicious magazine, or perhaps Good Taste.

*Our whole family fondly remembers, and misses Amanda. Amanda was a beautiful soul who succumbed to a nasty and virulent melanoma cancer... way before her time.

What else we will miss about Chicago



Today the boys had their last art classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music. This has been an excellent venue for us over the past three years with the kids attending various art classes, Wiggleworms French classes and piano (although this last one wasn't as successful!)

The wonderful Laura Reyes has seen both boys for art. I love the way Laura begins each class with a physical exercise to get the kids in tune with their bodies, this is followed by a story, then a multi-media artwork representing a theme from the story. Artworks are assembled using a variety of media with quick changes between each media type to ensure the children do not become bored. Artworks might consist of modeling dough, beaded pipe-cleaners, sparkle paint, crayon, markers, paints using a variety of brushes, found objects, etc. All children are given the same materials and I love the way artworks are expressed in many different ways depending upon the child's predilection. No child is ever told what to do or guided towards completing their artwork in a defined manner. The class ends with a clean-up. Children immerse their hands in a tub of soapy water, filled with toys and objects relating the the theme used in class. This is a fantastic ploy as the children get cleaned without even knowing it! Classes were super motivating for Master 5 (who wants to be an artist when he grows up) but just a really fun opportunity to eat play-dough, drink paint and be reckless with a paintbrush for Master 3.


Something else I will miss from Chicago is Argo Tea. For someone schooled in the world of independent coffee shops and who really does not like Starbucks coffee (and only goes there in an emergency), Argo Tea has been a very welcome alternative. Originating in Chicago, there were only three Argo Tea stores when we arrived in 2006. This has recently grown to 15. Argo serves a good cup of coffee as well as their substantial range of tea drinks (using white, green, black, red and herbal tea varieties). I particularly like their Mojitea iced tea on a hot day. I dislike drinking coffee from paper cups unless it is to-go. I give full marks to any business that serves coffee in a ceramic cup - this seems to be a rarity in the States. Whenever we attended classes at Old Town School of Folk Music, we would patronize Argo Tea's flagship store at Armitage and Sheffield for a coffee and snack.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What we will miss about Chicago





We trekked along to Chicago's Green City Markets this morning - for our last family visit. I love being able to walk to these markets, grab some wonderful produce and have picnic snack with the kids (mostly a croissant or danish, perhaps a berry smoothie, some sorbet, fruit, tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers or anything that catches our collective eye). We then have a lunch using our finds when we return home.


The kids are really going to miss their 'hot cheese' from the Brunkow cheese stand. I am going to miss their delightful horseradish raw milk cheddar - so creamy and tasty on a crusty Bennisons baguette*. The Brunkow man is going to miss the boys asking for 'hot cheese'. He always makes them repeat their request as he likes to hear their accent! We always have a block of this 'baked' cheese in our fridge (plain, jalapeno, garlic or the new tomato and basil flavor). Served warm, I fry it in a pan for a 'bits and pieces' dinner, throw it on a warm chicken salad or thread it on vegetable kebabs (marinated with fresh herbs).

As we are attempting to empty our fridge before our move, I had to make some prudent purchases today. We walked away with two quarts of peaches, a punnet of super sweet tomatoes, two punnets of blueberries, an epi loaf, 'hot cheese', curd cheese and fresh mozzarella, a bunch of basil, a bunch of coriander (cilantro) and a couple of cherry scones (devoured on site).

*I had to have a quick break after writing this - to have said snack - as I was salivating rather severely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More than meets the eye...

Master three comes into the room dressed as a Transformer. I say to him "Oh, I just saw your Mummy and she said you should be having a nap." "I don't have a Mummy" he responds. "She was power-cuted."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer on the go... Part 2


Our second Summer vacation included a road trip out east in July. We really enjoy taking road trips to explore our surrounds. We like to get off the interstates wherever possible to witness a more ‘authentic’ and less-franchised America. We missed out on a road trip last year due to my appendicitis and pregnancy with Mietta, so this trip felt way over-due. One of aims of this road trip was to catch up with friends that live in Virginia, namely: David and Bernadette and their kids, Aiden and Mikayla (great friends and our road-trip companions in ‘06 and ’07) and Gabrielle and Craig and their kids James and William (our best friends and school buddies who recently moved from Chicago).   

Leaving after one of Paul’s phone conferences, we had a short travel day down to Madison, Indiana. We arrived at our hotel and I was immediately disappointed. The hotel was located in ugly-Americana-strip-mall-parking-lot-dominant-anywhereville. I had specifically chosen Madison as it was touted to be one of America’s best preserved towns. A trip downtown restored confidence with a brilliant and historic main centre, devoid of chain and franchise stores (I did notice however, that a Subway had snuck in).  Arriving late, we had a choice of precisely one eatery in the downtown precinct: the Hong Kong Kitchen. Thankfully, the owners were very welcoming and accommodating for our little ones. In the morning, we had more of a look around and visited Roger’s Diner and Soda Fountain for a milkshake in a retro and long-established diner. Madison would be a lovely day-trip or weekend destination from Chicago. Full of lots of boutiques and curio shops, the stores opened late and closed early. 

Our second day saw us drive through northern Kentucky and into West Virginia. We were really taken by the lush, green and very dense forests - just beautiful. We would love to explore the Glen Ferris area a little more - looked gorgeous with the wooded hills, winding roads following a river and sections including swimming areas and rapids. We found our hotel at Fayetteville and went in search of something to eat. When I researched and discussed possible destinations with Paul, I asked him “Who would eat at a place named Dirty Ernie’s Rib Pit?” “I would!” he answered without hesitation... so this is where we had dinner. What an experience: a very full car park was a good sign; a very basic building (not unlike a barn) with screened porch with a number of would-be patrons waiting for tables. The interior was festooned with flags and sports pennants, the floor covered with peanut shells and walls plastered with signed one dollar bills. It had DIVE written all over it - and it was great! Fayetteville is extreme-sport central, with whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock-climbing and, once a year, bungy-jumping and base jumping from the New River Gorge Bridge. Fayetteville sported its fair share of Nimbin-types!  We had breakfast at the very comfy Cathedral Cafe in the morning. We were super-impressed with the cafe’s toy chest - where children were invited to select a pre-loved toy and take it home with them. This helped keep the boys amused for some time over the long car journey.

Our day’s journey saw a re-emergence of Luc’s motion sickness (had not seen this for some time!) We arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia around lunchtime and we headed straight for Monticello, the house, gardens and plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. We had a highly-organised tour of the house and learnt a little of how incredibly brilliant a man Jefferson was. We enjoyed the gardens and stretching our legs for a bit. The boys tried their hand at writing with a quill and ink. Back in the car, we headed for Fredericksburg to stay with David, Bernadette and family. 

Photo: The boys try their hand at writing old-fashioned-style with a quill and ink. 


POST NOTE May 2013: 
This post originally appeared in my previous blog: gearon.org 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Watch out planet Earth

Master 5 says to me this evening "Do you know what I am going to do tomorrow Mum?" "No" I respond "What are you going to do tomorrow?" "I'm going to conquer a planet!" "Do you have a planet in mind?" "I'm going to take over Earth". One must admire the confidence and fortitude of the younger generation.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hello Blog World

Hi all, It's me - Anne - here. As if I didn't find myself stretched enough, I have undertaken to write another blog!

I am launching this with the greatest of intentions - hopefully I will be able to find a little time to update this blog from time to time. If nothing else, it should serve as a record of our move from the city of Chicago to rural Virginia.



POST NOTE May 2013: 
At this stage, I was writing two blogs. gearon.org and rum sum mum
I began gearon.org as a means of keeping family informed about our move from Brisbane Australia to Chicago USA. 
I thought I would start a new blog, rum sum mum, with a more global appeal - including updates about rum sum sum projects, items that I found of interest, food we were eating and a means to document our move to Virginia. I have slowly been updating rum sum mum to include my earlier gearon.org blog entries. There was some overlap, but all posts made before this date were made in the gearon.org blog.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer on the go... Part 1


Summer in Chicago has been somewhat disappointing. After a very long and brutal winter, Chicagoans were waiting... and are still waiting, for Summer to begin... preferably before it is officially over. 

To offset the lack of Summer, we have made a couple of trips away. The first trip, in June, was to San Jose in California while Paul attended the Semtech Conference. We stayed a night at the Argonaut Hotel San Francisco on our way there (great for kids with themed rooms and a gift from the ‘treasure chest’ when the kids checked in). We did the obligatory cable car ride, look around Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, saw the seals and ate crab at the ultra-touristy Crab House - made all the more palatable with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and stunning views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. 

After making our way to San Jose via Caltrain, we checked into the Fairmont Hotel. This hotel has an excellent location, we received a nice big room, but we found it to be incredibly unfriendly towards families. A series of unfortunate events soured our opinions of this establishment: We had to request a crib (cot) a number of times (despite it being requested in our booking and again on check-in); we had to pay to have the mini-bar removed (took around three attempts - and then all items ended up being charged to our account); we had to request extra towels despite the booking being for 5 people; no kids menu or smaller kid-friendly portions on the room service menu; officious concierge service; convoluted process to organise a sitter; then it took three calls for someone to investigate the leaking toilet in our room; housekeeping rudely exclaiming “Oh, you’re still here” as we prepared to leave our room (well before our check-out time) but delayed a little as we didn’t wish to wake our sleeping baby.... AHHH! On the upside, the kids and I were able to have some really good outings, including seeing a live Sesame Street stage performance, visiting the Children's Museum, eating a burger at Johnny Rockets, playing in the Plaza de César Chávez fountain, the hotel pool and visiting the excellent The Tech science museum. With a little reluctance, we decided not to hire a car while we stayed in California. We were happy with this decision as it was so very easy to get around both San Francisco and San Jose without one.  It would be nice to spend a little more time in and around San Jose to explore a few more sights - such as the Winchester Mystery House and some of the theme parks including Great America, Gilroy Gardens or Raging Waters

While we were in San Jose, I was struck by how unfriendly the people seemed to be. Perhaps I have become too accustomed to the friendliness of the Midwest? It seemed that everyone was a little too preoccupied or reluctant to let their guard down. I gave a few mothers that ‘knowing look’ so often shared amongst caregivers when kids are running amok or just being kids. This was more than often ignored or overlooked. It made me feel very isolated and cemented the notion that I never want to live in the Silicon Valley: it seemed just too hostile.  

We checked into the San Francisco Hyatt Regency on the way out of California and couldn’t be more impressed after our bad experiences at the Fairmont: crib send straight to the room (with extra towels - no need to ask), special welcome package for the kids, kid-friendly room service menu; a concierge that called to see if everything was OK... so fantastic! ....and the people smile in San Francisco. The unfriendly attitude must be quirk of the Silicon Valley. 

Photo: Family standing on Pier 39 with Alcatraz in the background