Israel: Ruined Roman Toilets

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Don’t mind me.

Having never been outside the New World, I had never seen actual ancient ruins before in person.  What constitutes a “ruin” in my neck of the woods, is usually half a mud hut from 150 years ago or something (yes, I know there are ancient ruins in the Americas, but not on nearly the same scale as the Old World).  In Israel, it seems you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting some ancient, crumbling stone building with real archaeological significance, and the rock you threw is probably an ancient relic too.  But, so long as it doesn’t have an inscription on it, you can still take it home.

We saw some new (to us) ruin pretty much everyday, each one more impressive than the last.  That might not sound exciting to everyone, and after a week or so even us history buffs can get a little ruin fatigue.  But for the most part, each one was fascinating in its own right, made more so by our guide Roman’s extensive knowledge and knack for storytelling.  These weren’t just piles of old rocks or windswept foundations.  They were palaces and fortresses.  Vibrant villages and houses of worship.  Biblical people walked along some of these very roads, looked upon some of these very walls, entered through these very gates.  Not to mention how incredible it was that these structures and tunnels were built almost entirely with only the most ancient technology: human muscle.

Our first official stop on our Holy Land tour were the ruins of Caeseria Maritima.  Built by Herod the Great, the same Herod who built the Second Temple and ordered the infants of Judea killed after the birth of Jesus.  He was the Roman appointed ruler of Judea but was not actually a big fan of the Judeans (Israelites).  So he built himself a nice little seaside palace, harbor, and city to rule them from afar.  It was a Roman town for the most part, not a lot of Israelites hanging around.  It was extremely prosperous and was the largest city in Israel in the time of Jesus.  It’s also the place where Herod’s grandson, Herod Agripa, would be struck down by worms after accepting adulation from his subjects when they declared him a god.  Whoops.

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Caesaria Maritima

Of archeological significance, Caesaeria Maritima is where the Pilate Stone was located.  The Pilate Stone, unearthed in 1961, is a limestone block inscribed with the name of Pontius Pilate (yes, that, Pontius Pilate), and hails him as a Roman governor in those parts.  This is significant because prior to its discovery there was no archeological evidence for Pilate’s existence, only the written words of the Bible and ancient Jewish historian Josephus.

aqueduct1It wasn’t hard to see why Herod picked the spot, with its beautiful views of the Mediterranean.  He even had an aqueduct built to bring water to the city from a spring at the foot of Mt. Carmel, 20 miles away.  We saw what was left of the aqueduct.  Pretty impressive stuff.  But perhaps most impressive were the ancient Roman…toilets.  Ok, that’s a joke.  The toilets themselves weren’t that impressive, it was their location.  Right along the entryway to the hippodrome (stadium)!  Imagine walking into AT&T Park and locking eyes with someone in full grimace doing their dirty business.  I think that would hurt season ticket sales.

From Caesaeria it was on to Mt. Carmel and the possible site of Elijah’s battle against the prophets of Baal from the Old Testament.  From atop the mountain, which is really a very long ridge, we had a fantastic view of the Jezreel Valley below.  The Jezreel Valley is a wide flat valley, used primarily for agricultural purposes these days.  But over the centuries, it has been a battlefield fought on by Biblical warriors, Egyptian pharaohs, Napoleon (who called it the perfect battlefield), and, as recently as 1918, the British and the Ottoman Turks.  It’s no surprise then that this will be the location of the Battle of Armageddon spoken of in the book of Revelation.  The word Armageddon is derived from the nearby ancient town of Megiddo, incidentally our next stop on the tour.

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Jezreel Valley from Nazareth
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Down the shaft to the water tunnel

Megiddo nowadays is an archeological mound, or a “tel.”  A tel is a mound or hill which is not naturally occurring, but built up of layer upon layer of human civilization.  One city built on the remains of another over the course of centuries, forming a little mountain.  The really cool thing about Tel Megiddo is the water system.  Built by King Ahab (I think) to allow the citizens to gather water from the nearby spring without leaving the city’s fortified walls, it’s a shaft and tunnel system still intact today.  And we got to explore it!

Our last major stop of the day was Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus.  We went to a high point near there which overlooked the Jezreel Valley from the other side for another stunning view.  Then it was on to Galilee where we would spend our next few nights.  You know, on the Sea of Galilee.  Unreal.

Next up:  Mount Arbel, the Jordan River, St. Peter’s fish, and sailing the Sea of Galilee

Other observations:

  • You can buy  wedding wine in the First Miracle Souvenir Store in Cana, the town where Jesus turned water into wine.  No, seriously.
  • Traffic in Nazareth is terrible. Maybe worse than in Jesus’ time.
  • I saw a mongoose!
  • Falafels are the Israeli fast food equivalent of cheeseburgers.  And they are amazing.

Checkpoints:  0

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Israel: Land of Cats?

Snapchat-265181827About nine months ago, my dad announced he would be leading a group to Israel for a tour of the Holy Land.  He had lead a few such tours before, most recently in 2010, and I always hoped one day to join him.  But, as you can imagine, a 12 day tour of the land of the Israelites doesn’t come cheap.  So when he made the announcement I thought, “That would be a great trip, but I just don’t think I can afford it right now.  Maybe someday.”

Not long after the announcement, dad came to me and said as the leader of the tour, he was able to bring along one person, free of charge.  Would I like to go?  I’m pretty sure I asked Jen first if I could leave her alone with two kids and two crazy dogs for 12 days, but I may not have before answering a resounding “YES!”  It’s not too often you can walk where Jesus walked for the price of lunches and souvenirs.  Jen, because she is the World’s Most Amazing Woman, of course agreed to let me go on what I thought at the time, but hopefully won’t be, was a once in a lifetime journey.

Before continuing, let me make this disclaimer.  While this certainly was a pilgrimage of sorts, no one in our group of 19, all from the same church, was expecting to curry any sort of special favor with God for having made the trek.  While visiting sites significant to our faith and walking along some of the very streets Jesus walked was certainly inspirational, there was no expectation of special blessing or revelation for having done so.  In a way perhaps equally shallow and significant, being in those places did makes the Bible come alive, and yet we know that the importance is the what, not the where.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, we weren’t there to worship the relics and ruins.  But being in that place, you can’t help but feel your faith strengthen and deepen.

Our group of 19, ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-seventies, launched from San Francisco International Airport at approximately 8 PM on a Tuesday evening.  Our Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down at David Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel at approximately 8 PM on Wednesday evening.  No, it’s not a 24 hour flight.  It was a solid 13, plus the 10 hours ahead time difference.  Plenty of time in the air to watch three movies (Anthropoid, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, and Young Frankenstein) and several TV episodes and still have time to spare.

After making our way through customs–an easier task than expected–and collecting our luggage, we  were met by our tour guide for the duration, Roman Tyutnev.  We had an hour long bus ride ahead of us to our hotel in the resort town of Netanya, which is right on the Mediterranean Sea.  Right from the get-go, Roman was on, pointing out this and that as we drove through Tel Aviv in the dark toward our destination.

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Josh looking a little beat at the hotel

We arrived at our hotel, the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, a tired and bedraggled mob.  It may not have been a 24 flight, but between leaving for San Francisco six hours before our flight departed and then the hour bus ride after our arrival, we were pushing a 24 hour travel day.  Roman distributed our room keys and we all went to crash, anticipating our first glimpse of the Holy Land in the next day’s sunshine.

I think most of us woke up before that sunshine would appear, as our bodies tried to adjust to our new timezone.  With plenty of time to spare before breakfast and our early touring start, several of us made our way out of the hotel and down to the Mediterranean Sea, which was literally across the street.  There wasn’t time for a proper swim, but I put my hands in it just to say I did.

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Mediterranean Sea beach

I haven’t traveled much internationally.  The only two other countries I’ve visited are Ecuador (once) and Mexico (several times).  Both to Ecuador and once to Mexico I was with my brother-from-another-mother Josh, who made the trip to Israel as well and was my roommate.  That brought the total number of international trips with Josh to three, and total number of international trips with my wife to….zero.  Should probably fix that soon.  One of the first things we did was head up to the roof of our hotel and take a bromantic selfie with the Med in the background.  If Jen could not be with me on this trip, it wasn’t too much of a step down to experience the Holy Land with Josh and my dad.

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The freshest honey
We made our way to breakfast in the hotel and were treated to a pretty extensive buffet.  This would be par for the course on the trip.  A few interesting things about the food in Israel, specifically breakfast.  Since most places we went were Kosher, there was rarely any meat at breakfast.  Not only is pork not on the OK list, but milk and meat are not to be served together.  So at breakfast there may be cream for the coffee and milk for your cereal, but that meant no bacon (pork or otherwise) for your eggs.  There was plenty of other good stuff though.  Eggs, pastries, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, and at least at the Leonardo, honey dripping from an actual honeycomb.

After breakfast we loaded up the bus and began our touring in earnest.  Our destinations that first day were the ruins of Caeseria Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, Mt. Carmel, Tel Meggido, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee.

Other observations:

  • Israel has a TON of feral cats.  They’re everywhere.
  • Almost every building in Israel is off white.
  • There are rocks EVERYWHERE.  So many in fact, you are allowed to take them from national parks and ancient ruins.  Unless they have an inscription on them.
  • There is an IKEA in Tel Aviv.

Checkpoints:  3 (all in airports)

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Netanya. Our hotel on the right.
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Our rooftop selfie.

Favorite Places

I was thinking the other day about some of my favorite places to be.  Usually I think about my favorite places to be when I’m about as far from them as possible.  Like, for instance, at work at 3:26 in the morning.  But rather than just hear about my favorite places, I want to know what some of your favorite places are, and why.

First, a few groundrules:

1.  You have to have been there more than once.  A place can’t be your favorite if you’ve only been there one time.  It may have been the cats pajamas, so we’ll give it credit for a super fantastic experience, but it can’t make this list.

2.  It has to be some place specific.  Like, an actual place.  No corny cop outs like, “any place where my friends are” or “wherever my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/kids/dog/cat/parakeet/whatever is.”  Please.  Barf.  Don’t try it.

3.  Home does not count.  I love my couch and TV as much as anybody, but I make the rule and I say home is off limits.

There, that’s it.  Three simple rules.  List however many favorite places you want and why each is your favorite in as many or few words as you like.  Put it in the comments.  Then, in a bit I’ll share mine.

Ready, go!

My Summer Vacation 2008

Jen, Lily, and I returned from out vacation mere hours ago.  Vacations are great but it is always nice to come home.  Well, maybe not if you usually vacation in someplace really exotic, like say, Phoenix. But if you are among the common folk of this great nation and can’t afford to travel to a place quite as lavish as Phoenix, then its usually nice to come home, if for no other reason then your own bed is usually the most comfortable.  Unless you’re me and you’ve been sleeping in a double bed for the past eight years which at any given time may contain three humans and one very hairy dog.  And besides, it might not be Phoenix, but Sacramento is pretty freaking great.

 Yes, we vacationed in Sacramento.  I can’t tell you how odd I felt or describe some of the looks I got telling people that when they asked me where I was going on vacation.  No, it isn’t your prototypical vacation destination, but it wasn’t too far away, it wasn’t expensive, and it has a lot of stuff Jen and I like, ok?  There’s lots of history, like Sutter’s Fort and Leland Stanford’s mansion, there’s the state capitol, there’s Old Sacramento and the Railroad Museum…ok, maybe it does sound more like a 4thgrade field trip than a vacation, I’ll give you that.  But you know what?  We enjoyed ourselves dagnabit!  Well, most of the time.

Our trip to Das Kapital began on Wednesday.  We drove the hour and a half to Sacramento without incident, however finding our hotel was more adventurous then was expected or appreciated.  You’d think in this day and age of Google maps, mobile phone GPS, and in-car navigation systems it would be impossible to get lost, but somehow or another I’m still able to overcome technology with alarming regularity.  In my defense I don’t have an mobile phone GPSor in-car navigation, other than Jen with a map (for you young kids out there a map is like a Tom-Tom only on a big piece of paper and for you older folks a Tom-Tom is like a map inside a mini TV thingy that sits on your dashboard).  I did have a print out of the directions from Googlebut unfortunately that didn’t take into account the Fix I-5 initiative and the many closed on/off ramps and detours.  Couple this with Sacramento’s infernal insistence on making virtually every street one way and you can imagine our difficulty.  Jen did a fine job as navigator using the downtown map in the visitor’s guide the city was kind enough to send us ahead of our trip and we finally reached our destination.  Unfortunately we came by way of the local homeless shelter which was not as far from our hotel as one would hope and Jen immediately assumed we were to be staying in the slums.  Our walk to our room at the hotel did nothing to assuage her concern.  The front side of the hotel, a Ramada Limited, looked decent enough, but as we turned the corner to go down the hall on the backside to our room, the corridor resembled something out of a prison movie.  It was dark, narrow, and hot witha concrete floor and that ominous prison hallway echo.  I opened our room door with some trepidation.  Fortunately, this is where the similarities to a penal institution ended.  The room was nice enough and even included a small refrigerator.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but it wasn’t San Quentin either.  For better or worse, it was about what I expected and we were quite comfortable the whole trip.  After making the several trips to the car to get our many bags, I realized that the prison corridor feel was the result of a somewhat hastily built outside wall of what was once probably an open balcony walkway.  I’m guessing this was done to deaden the sound of the traffic from the freeway which was directly behind our hotel.  And that’s a real nice feature.

A quick note on our luggage.  There are three of us.  Two adults and one baby.  Three human people.  Twelve bags.  Thirteen if you include the Pac ‘n Play and fourteen if you count Lily’s booster chair as a bag.  Now, Jen has never been one to under pack, but this is a lot even by her standards.  If it was just Jen and me we could’ve gotten by on less than half that (hopefully).  One tiny person extra and we’re like the Israelites fleeing Egypt.  Babies, man!

I won’t bore you withan hour by hour recounting of our days, but I will bore you with a general overview.  Wednesday night we didn’t do much, just went out to eat, figure out how to navigate the city–which once you do figure it out is pretty easy to get around in–and walked around a mall.  We spent Thursday in Old Sacramento, which looks like Sactoprobably looked in the mid-1800’s.  There’s lots of shops and restaurants, wooden boardwalks and museums and its right on the riverfront.  We spent time in the California State Railroad Museum and the California Military Museum and just walked around window shopping and trying our best to stay in the shade and cool.  Warning for the many others who I’m sure are planning  summer vacations to Sacramento, it gets very hot.  So hot in fact that we ended our day witha dip in the hotel pool.  This was Lily’s first experience with a swimming pool, and while she was skeptical at first she eventually took to it and enjoyed it I think.  That was a fun little baby moment.

Friday we went to the California State Capitol which, in addition to being the seat of state government, is also a functioning museum.  And its free!  We didn’t see Ahnold, but we did see where his office was.  Jen kept insisting that we were allowed to go in and see it and kept bugging me to ask the two guards posted at the entrance if we could go in.  In my mind something being guarded is usually a clue that its a no-no, but whatever.  I refused to ask and we moved on.  We walked down the Capital Mall, saw some of the monuments that are there, the Peace Officers Memorial, the Firefighters Memorial, and the California Veterans Memorial, and enjoyed the scenic park the best we could in 90+ degree heat.  We ended up at Leland Stanford’s mansion and tooka tour of it which was pretty interesting.  After that we went back to the hotel for a couple hours before meeting up with some friends who live in the area for dinner at a great Italian restaurant called Paesonos.  Of course I got the dish that included copious amounts of sausage; my second such meal of the trip.

After checking out of our hotel Saturday and before heading home we had a couple more things we wanted to do.  The first was to see Sutter’s Fort which is smack dab in the middle of town.  We happened to be there on a demonstration day so there were all kinds of folks in period costumes doing things like weaving wool into yarn, making blankets on big looms (is that what you do on a loom, I’m not really clear on that), baking, cleaning rifles, and all kinds of other activities that would have gone on when the fort was functioning.  As a history geek, I really get in to this kind of stuff and being a teacher, Jen does too.  Plus she also likes history, so we totally geek out on our little nerd vacations.  John Sutter was a pretty interesting guy, and while I won’t bore you with his story here and now, I might bore you with it later when I have some time to read up on him a little more.  But I’ll probably save that for Past Tense so I don’t lose any of my loyal Life of Ando readers who are too thick to enjoy a good history lesson.  Whoops, guess I shouldn’t insult them either.  I meant thick in a good way, like, uh, muscular.  Yeah, muscular, that’s the ticket.  Let’s move on.

The last activity of our trip was a ride on the Southern Pacific Railroad steam locomotive.  Or as Jen and I will forever after affectionately call it, the Locomotive from Hell.  Honestly, I’m sure most of the time it’s a very enjoyable ride, but not when you feel like your being scalded by 1000 hair dryers pointed directly at your face.  And they’re all on high.  Throw in a melting, screaming baby and you’ve got all the elements for the family vacation experience of a lifetime!  They said it was only forty minutes, but it felt more like four excruciating, blistering hours.  It wasn’t at all the trains fault, it was just so hot and the side of the open gondola car we were in was about three feet from the surface of the sun.  It was so hot in fact there may have been twin suns, like on Tatooine.  Once we got moving the temperature went from blood boiling to merely blood simmering, but sitting there waiting for everyone to board was akin to being burned alive.  I’m just sure of it.  We had planned to head for home after that anyway, but the anticipation of sitting for the next two hours in a gloriously air conditioned car sealed the deal and trumped all other potential photo ops.  I’m only partially sorry for this, as there was one or two more pictures I would’ve like to take, but in the interest of survival, both physical and marital, I think I made the right decision in foregoing those.

Other than the Train to Perdition episode, Lily was her usual angelic self.  She was good in restaurants, cooperative in museums, and pleasent at the hotel.  The only real complaint was that she had recently discovered that she can scream at an unearthly high pitch and volume and we were concerned our hotel neighbors may not appreciate it.  Mostly because I didn’t appreciate it.  Other than that, she did darn well for a six month old who’s parents were dragging her all over the city in oppressive heat.

Now, I will recommend Sacramento as a destination, but witha caveat.  If you like historical stuff its great.  There’s a ton there, a lot of which we still didn’t see, and a good deal of it is free or at least pretty cheap.  The city itself is nice, withtree lined streets and some very cool neighborhoods with big, old, nice houses.  We ate at several good restaurants and there were more that we wanted to try.  But, if you’re looking for nightlife or sun and sand for your summer vacation, there are probably better places.  OK, there are definitely better places.  But we enjoyed ourselves and actually plan on going back in October.  Hey!  Its for business, Jen has a conference there.  What do you think we are, dork vacationers?  OK, you’re right.

For some pictures of this exotic locale, click the Photos tab above.

Homecoming, Home Depot Signage, and Other Nonsense

Lily on the plane with her aunt Doreen, aka NanaI’m happy to report that Jen and baby have returned from Colorado safe and sound.  By all accounts a good time was had by all  They enjoyed their time with the family there and while they were away I only missed two baby milestones; Lily’s first foray into semi-solid foods and an honest-to-goodness laugh.  Oh well, I was bound to miss something anyway due to my jet-setting, rat race lifestyle.  Oh right, I’m home by five everyday and never work weekends.  But honestly, I’m not bitter.  Lily brings plenty of joy to be shared with the whole family, so it was nice that those who live far away got to experience some of it too.  Hopefully she’ll have an amazing first left for my sister and her husband when they come up to visit in a month of so.  Thankfully, Lily was a very cooperative addition to the friendly skies, as she slept on the plane pretty much the whole time they were in the air, both coming and going (Is it bad form to use the slogan of a different airline [ie. “the friendly skies”] than the one you flew when talking about it to others, especially if the experience was mostly pleasent?  Is that robbing them of the good word-of-mouth advertising they’re entitled to?  Just in case it is, let me rephrase that last bit.  Lily was an excellent airline passenger making it easy on Jen to be free to move about the country.  There, I feel better.)  I’m glad to have them home.

You may recall a post last week and my mention in that post of a project I was beginning while the girls were away.  Jen reads my blog somewhere in the neighborhood of only once a year, so I felt fairly confident that I could talk about the project here with little fear of her getting wind of it.  However, just to be safe I didn’t mention what the project actually was.  This was a wise decision on my part, because wouldn’t you know it, Jen happened to access Life of Ando the very next day.  Not to read it, mind you, but only to find a link to Ask a Ninja of all things.  When I talked to her on the phone later that evening, she questioned what my project was.  I was able to downplay it, I’m pretty sure without compromising my integrity, and not let on that I was actually installing the dishwasher that had been sitting in our garage for the past year.  Leave it to a woman to try to spoil the surprise.  Fortunately, she never figured it out, and doubly fortunate that I didn’t burn down or flood the house in my attempt at home improvement.  She was genuinly shocked when she walked through the kitchen after getting home Saturday night and saw an installed dishwasher and she was probably even more shocked that it actually worked, though she was good enough not to say so.  What a wife I have.  More on this at a later date.  I video documented the whole procedure so look for that soon on a YouTube Friday near you.

During the installation process I made a couple runs to Home Depot where I noticed two signs there I thought were interesting.  Thanks to the greatest invention of the past 50 years, the cell phone camera, I was able to capture these signs of the times and share them here with you.

Has political correctness gotten so out of hand in this country that it even effects our fowl.  We can’t just call chicken wire chicken wire anymore?  Were the turkeys getting their feelings hurt?  What’s next, poultry nuggets?  Mmmmm, doesn’t that sound good?

Now, I’m no marketing expert but I always thought advertising increased savings would be a better tool for attracting customers.  Or maybe they just need a comma.

And for the “other nonsense” I offer this bad, yet relevant joke:  what has four arms, four legs, and is all wet?  My old dishwasher.  Ba-dum-cheeeeee!

One last thing, if I was a celebrity I’d be sweating it right about now.  With Tim Russert and George Carlin kicking the bucket in the last week and the well known and documented fact of public figures always dying in threes, I’ve never been more relieved to be a nobody.

Busy Weekend

If I’m honest about it I would say that most Memorial Day weekends are spent doing little more than sleeping in, watching war movies, and stuffing my face with as much sausage and other BBQ’d meats as is legally allowed in the state of California.  In recent years I’ve tried to do my part to honor the fallen for whom the holiday is for in the first place by sending a message to a service member overseas via one of the many websites that do that sort of thing and saying a prayer for them.  But most of what I usually do on a Memorial Day weekend can be done from my comfortable indentation on the couch.  Not so this year.  We were all over the place.  Jen’s college roommate Kerry was visiting from Florida via Bakersfield and came up to spend the weekend with us.  In preparation for her arrival we redecorated our second bathroom.  Well, Jen was supposed to redecorate our second bathroom, but somehow I was drafted into the project.  We finished tearing down the last bits of masking tape the night before she arrived and I’m sure she appreciated the newly painted sky blue walls as much as she did the pleasant aroma of fresh paint as she brushed her teeth.  Friday night after Kerry arrived, we went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (review forthcoming).

Our first excursion of the weekend was a Saturday trip to San Francisco.  From the outset it didn’t look to be a promising day.  The forecast was gloomy and it was raining as we left the house, but it stopped as soon as we reached the Marin Headlands and held off for the rest of the day.  Our plan was to go to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, maybe take in the exhibits at the De Young Museum and/or the Academy of Sciences, cruise down Lombard street, check out Fisherman’s Wharf, and any other S.F. must-sees we could cram into the day.  I give us a score of 7 out of 10.  We lost some time wandering around the park just trying to find the Japanese Tea Garden, until I realized we were in the wrong end of the park.  However, after driving past them three times on the same road we did discover that there are buffalo in Golden Gate Park.  Bet you didn’t know that did you?  We didn’t make it to any of the museums, but we did have lunch at Mel’s diner.  Which would you rather enjoy, a Monet or a patty melt?  Yeah, me too.  After lunch we went to Pier 39. 

Ok, this isn’t a racist statement or anything, just an observation, but there were a ton of Indians there.  As in from India.  I bet every third person we saw on the wharf was Indian.  I’ve been to San Francisco and the wharf countless times and I don’t recall ever seeing so many Indians.  Does the American Memorial Day weekend coincide with an Indian holiday?   My theory is that this increase of Indian tourists is due to the rise of India as an increasingly prosperous industrial nation.  Anyway, I just found it interesting (bet you didn’t expect to find a global-economic commentary here today.  The Life of Ando is full of surprises). 

While on the pier, Lily was sporting her very stylish sunglasses and was gawked at by several well meaning wharf walkers (Indian and otherwise) and even had her picture taken by a random European couple.  While on the pier we ate authentic Boudin sourdough bread, “fresh” from the 150 year old mother dough, check out the sea lions sunning themselves, and marvled the biggest biologically altered starwberries any of us had ever seen.  When we’d had our fill of the docks, we made our way home, meandering through the city, including the crookedest street in the world, and a very, very nice neighborhood right on the southwest cliffs of the city whose view out their back windows would look something like this:

Sunday we laid low, giving Lily a chance to recover after a busy day out.  She did remarkably well, by the way.  I don’t remember her ever crying except when she was hungry.

Monday morning, I decided that I would go to the Memorial Day ceremony down at the cemetery.  I hadn’t been to one since I was a kid and decided I owed it to our fallen vets to pay my respects.  I’m glad I did.  The cemetery was awash in red, white, and blue with over 1000 flags planted on graves of vets or flying high.  They had brought in several vintage military vehicles including several restored jeeps and a halftrack.  There was also an armored personnel carrier of the type they use now and some members of the local national guard unit, most of whom are currently serving in Iraq, to explain it to people.  There were, not surprisingly, a lot of veterans in attendance with their hats, jackets, and t-shirts proclaiming which war they served during or what branch and unit they were in.  Everything from WWII to Iraqi Freedom was represented.  A troop from the local Coast Guard post was on hand standing at parade rest throughout the ceremony except when a color guard of old Marines in their dress blues raised the flag.  A men’s choir sang the national anthem and when they did all at once right hands of men from all over the crowd snapped into a salute.  That actually gave me goosebumps.  The ceremony was emceed by an 84 year old WWII Navy man who is still as spry as ever.  The speaker was a veteran of the Marines in WWII and then the Army in Korea and Vietnam.  He served for over 30 years and gave a good speech about the sacrifices made by those who didn’t return home.  The service ended with the playing of Taps and a 21 gun salute, one of which was fired by my friend and cardiaclly challenge softball teammate Jim, who many of you have read about before.   Jim served in the Army and is a member of the local American Legion chapter.  Afterwards, I walked around the cemetery snapping pictures.  But the highlight of my weekend was getting to meet and shake hands with three Pearl Harbor survivors.  The first was Jesse Love, the chaplain for the aforementioned American Legion chapter.  I walked up to him as he was leaving the covered area where the podium was and as I did I started to get really nervous.  As he approached where I was I stretched out my hand and said, “Would you mind if I shake your hand?  Its not everyday you get to shake the hand of a Pearl Harbor survivor.”  At least that’s what I tried to say, but I was nervous and got all tongue tied so I don’t know how it actually sounded, but he must have gotten the point because he said, “Well, you’re shaking one now.”  The other two I met were Tom and Dick (I guess Harry wasn’t available).  Don’t those just sound like names guys had back in those days?  I saw them talking together after the ceremony, with their bemedaled garrison caps and Hawaiian shirts on, Tom standing with a cane and Dick sitting next to his walker.  I started and stopped going up to them about three times before I finally got up the courage.  I noticed a break in their conversation and went for it.  I shook their hands and repeated my “Its not everyday” line to which Tom replied “Clean living, that’s how you do it.”  I assume he meant to live as long as he has that’s the way to go.  I asked if they’d mind if I had my picture taken with them.  A woman sitting next to Dick, a daughter or granddaughter perhaps, offered to take the picture.  That’s Tom standing next to me (I’m the one not wearing glasses) and Dick sitting down. 

I talked with Tom for a little bit after the picture.  He was in the Navy on an escort carrier.  He wasn’t on duty when the attack started, but had gone up on deck to have a smoke when the bombs started to fall.  I asked him how old he was and he told me he was about 20.  I told him that I’m sure I was just goofing off too much when I was 20.  He laughed.  I thanked them again and went on my way thrilled to have met three men who I would consider to be my heroes.  I will definitely be making this trip a yearly habit.

The rest of Memorial Day was spent with Jen, Lily, and Kerry out at Pt. Reyes.  We went to the lighthouse out there and observed the happy cows on the many dairies out there on the coast.  Then I took the girls on a forced march out to chimney rock, which itself wasn’t all that impressive, but the hike, er, march, was worth it.  They even said so once they caught their breath.  Except for Lily.  She fell asleep in the snuggly for most of the march. 

All in all, a pretty successful and fun weekend.  If you want to see more pictures of our weekend travels click on the Photos tab at the top of blog.

Back To Nature

100_1705.jpgThis past weekend Jen, Jackson, and I took a much needed and spontaneous camping trip to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.  We decided Friday afternoon that Saturday afternoon, we’d back up the Jeep and hope there were campsites available.  There were, so we spent the next eighteen hours in wooded, peaceful bliss.  Except for the group two campsites over who had one very volumous laugher amongst them.  It was nice to relax and hang out, just the three of us, playing cards, reading, and staring blankly into the trees.  Its amazing what just a brief escape and change of scenery can do for your psyche.

I guess that’s why people like to spend extended periods of time sleeping in the dirt, getting smoke in their eyes and lungs while cooking dinner, not showering, and having to do #2 in an outhouse.  For some reason getting back to those very primitive conditions helps us to relax and recharge.  Maybe its the fresh air, or maybe the exercise of building your own shelter (tent) and cooking your fresh kill (burgers) over an open flame (propane Coleman stove).  Whatever it is, it touches some primeval chord in our brain, or at least in mine.  I know not everyone is keen on camping, and I really can’t blame them (see first sentence of this paragraph), but for me at least there are few activities that are as good for the soul, enjoyable, and relatively inexpensive.

I’ve been really into camping lately.  I even requested a tent trailer, or at least contributions toward one, for my birthday.  I didn’t camp much when I was a kid.  My dad has a serious aversion to dirt, dust, and the like, so therefore is physically unable to camp.  I can remember only three times in my childhood where my family did honest-to-goodness camping.

#1 – Burney Falls approx. age 4

 We went with my moms parents and my uncle and I think we stayed in a trailer.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are from this trip.  I remember my dad, grandpa, and uncle walking down near the falls and coming back all wet.  I remember we went to some caverns nearby.  I don’t remember it, but I know I bathed in a very small brown wash tub.  My mom was kind enough to snap a photo of this seminal event.  I also know that my dad, the man who spent the first two decades plus of his life growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota, caught his first fish ever.  Just sad.

#2 – Eagle Lake approx. age 10

Our family went with some friends of ours, who had no sons and two daughters much younger than me, and if something could go wrong, it did.  First off, it rained.  Actually, it monsooned and we were staying in tents.  Second, everyone got violently ill from some bad re-fried beans.  Everyone except me.  So here I am, in a drenched campsite, with no one my age to hang with, while everyone is puking their guts out.  Good times.  Third, when Mike, the family friend, was feeling better, he and I got up one morning at six AM to go fishing.  It was early, it was cold, and we got nary a nibble.  The most exciting part of the morning was when I got a pretty bad snag and lost my hook.  More good times.

#3 – Trinity River approx. age 13

This trip was good.  Again, we went with some family friends, different ones, who had no male children, but I got to bring along a friend.  This time we actually caught some fish, the campsite had an arcade, and a bear kept ransacking the garbage cans every night.  Now that’s camping. 

On a related note, when Jen and I went this past weekend, we didn’t really tell anybody we were going, save maybe a couple.  Not because we were being secretive or anything, it just didn’t occur to us.  But when I didn’t show up for my fantasy football draft, which I had half-forgotten about, my buddies got a little worried.  I wouldn’t just miss a fantasy draft without saying anything.  They became more worried when they tried to text me and got no reply.  I always return a text.  Our friend Leslie even called one of the hospitals in town to make sure we weren’t in it.  What can you say about such friends?