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Archive for the ‘Adventures and Outings’ Category

We’ve always thought in sound bytes. Only difference now is that those sound bytes become our Twitter feed as we broadcast our inner thoughts to the world.

Even when sometimes they really should have stayed inside.

As I traveled to Europe this month for a friend’s wedding, I couldn’t help but miss having Tim there — I voice most of my inner thoughts to him (okay, I voice all my inner thoughts to him) and without that release, I had to start jotting things down in my iPhone for fear they would burst out at the most inopportune moment.  It just didn’t seem right to not share the experience with someone, even if only  in tweet form.

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The first time Jack went down this hill (before Tim and I even knew what was happening!), Liam blindly followed. At the bottom, Jack celebrated with hoops and hollers of “THAT WAS AWESOME!!”, as if a whole new world of awesomeness has been opened up to him.

Liam, on the other hand, bailed on the nearby grass and was thankful to still be alive. There would be no repeat performances for him!

Of course Jack decided he would do it over and over again — until mommy freaked out and said enough! I’m pretty sure all the other parents in the park were giving us the evil eye as they watched us let our son do something pretty dangerous (the hill was steep, scattered with loose tree branches, and he’s on a flimsy little scooter that is not meant to go so fast!). But hey, gotta let boys be boys.

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When I moved to Switzerland, I decided to jump into things and experience local customs and foods without reservation or judgement.

I celebrated bringing the cows down from the high pastures in the autumn. I roamed the streets of Basel when all hell broke loose for Fasnacht. I rode my bicycle everywhere. We put burning candles on our Christmas Tree. I sunk my teeth in the mouthwatering McFondue burger – a local treat. When the World Cup was being played in South Africa, we joined the raucous celebrations in the middle of Europe. I swam in the Rhine River.

When I told my European friends and co-workers that I was going to move to California, I asked them for a list of “classically” American experiences that they think I should try out. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Monster Trucks
  • Nascar Racing
  • Hamburgers the size of my head
  • NFL “football”
  • MLB
  • Shooting guns

Obviously, there is much more to the American experience than this limited and fairly crude list, but it was an entertaining place to start.

…and now I can knock the last item off of the list.

Over Christmas supper with some new friends, I found out that most of them had guns, and that sport shooting with shotguns is quite a popular activity. I almost burst out laughing – sort of like when I met Swiss who would gush about cheese fondue. For real?

Last week I got an invitation to join a few guys for some skeet shooting at an outdoor sporting club south of San Jose, so I jumped at the opportunity. The last time I fired a gun was in 1999, and it was an automatic assault rifle, as I was getting my final certification with the Canadian Armed Forces. And when I finished my service, I promptly forgot the whole thing.

The fellow with the new shotgun – Alex – was really excited. He’d only had his new gun out once before, and he was eager to try it again. The other fellow – Ryan – is from Nebraska, and had grown up with guns, but didn’t have one now. So we loaded a backpack full of shotgun shells ($6 for 20), arranged for the skeets, and set out on a walk.

It was a lot like golf, only more awesome, because you get to shoot things and they explode. Much more satisfying than dropping an egg into a hole.

We walked from station to station – eighteen in total – and assessed the challenge at each one. Would the skeets travel from left to right? Would they be floaters or quick? Would they coast over the ridge directly to you? Would it be a “rabbit” that skitters and rolls across the ground? Regardless, you just needed to point the gun and waste ’em.

So. Much. Fun!

So scratch one from my list of American “To-Do”, and chances are good that I’ll take Tasha out do enjoy that experience next time.

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Operation Drivers License has been one gong show after another.

It started with my written exam. After standing in line (out the door) to get my number, I proceeded to wait…and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Four hours later, my number was called.

I’m not even being facetious. I’m serious.  Thank you California budget cuts.

Look on the bright side, while waiting four hours in line, I got to study the Driver's Handbook for valuable information like this.

And to top it off, I was definitely on the wrong side of the tracks in San Jose. I mean, every time Tim drove up in the minivan, he was half-expecting to get shot and I actually caught one (of the many) tattooed thugs taking a video of me with his camera phone. Like I was that much of an oddity?

Yes, yes I was.

At one point, I realized that I was the only white woman in a room of 200 people. Again, I am not exaggerating to make a point. I counted.

If dude can take a video of me, I can post photos of him on my blog.

When my number was finally called, I continued to wait another 20 minutes while the nice gentleman entered my info into the DMV system not once, not twice, but three times. Then he asked me to proceed to window 17 to get my picture taken, at which point, I waited for another hour, this time standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other suckers in line.

Have I mentioned how much I love the California DMV?

After getting my (horrid) mugshot taken, I was then directed to window 27. Oh, right…because I haven’t even taken my written exam yet. And of course, another line.

By this point, it was 4pm, and I had lost five hours of my life that I would never see again. I overheard a staff member saying that you could come back the next morning and take the written before the line-ups get going so I booked it outta there feeling like I didn’t really accomplish all that much. Well, other than having some 19-year-old black kid with a big cursive script tattoo up his arm saying “Self-Made” try to hit on me. If you can really call that an accomplishment.

The next morning, we pulled up at 8:00 am, ready to hit window 27 before the already-growing line-up of people would be processed and want to write their tests, too.  Sure enough, the line-up was down the street…but the doors were closed.   I had to laugh when I walked up and saw the chicken-scratch writing on the posted Office Hours where someone had changed Wednesday’s opening time from 8 to 9 am. Yes, it was Wednesday.

Of course it was Wednesday.

And back we went to exploring the sketchy streets of East San Jose…trying not to make eye contact.

The good news is, I returned and was able to take the test quickly.  All four people testing ahead of me were here for their second or third re-test which gave me some last-minute jitters but thankfully, I passed with 29/30 and I was outta there with a learner’s permit.

Finally.

I came busting out of the office, line-ups still down the street and found Tim and the twins hanging out at the minivan out front.

I couldn’t resist.

Waving my learner’s permit in the air, I shouted, “Daddy, can I drive now?!” in a high-pitched squeeling voice with a hint of 17-year-old-girl. Tim didn’t laugh but I did.

Sadly, as I got in and inspected my new paperwork, I read that I was only permitted to drive with a California-licensed driver. Crap. Oh well, no practicing for me. It’s only been a year since I drove a vehicle…no big deal, right?

Somewhere in there we also realized that we couldn’t use the rental car for the road test so I called all the driving schools and finally found one that had an instructor available to take me to my road test the following day.  And now I know why they had someone available. For starters, he couldn’t answer any of my questions and kept responding with, “hmmm…well, that’s a good question…”. Secondly, we had just left my street when he pulled into a Taco Bell to stop and get a taco.

And he gets paid by the hour.

But really, by this point in the game, I’m not going to lose it over the guy’s poor business ethics. Just get me to my road test! This time, I made the appointment with the Los Gatos DMV…for you Victoria folks, think Oak Bay, and then some.  Needless to say, there was no gang activity or security patrols. I was in and out in five minutes and queued up for my road test. Everything was going great.

And then the examiner came out to review my paperwork and suddenly stopped to ask if I had my Social Security Number.

Uh, no.

She then proceeded to inform me that unless I have a SSN or have otherwise been in the country for 60-90 days (so my Visa info can get caught up in the system), I’m not passable.

I think I almost started to cry.

I calmly explained to her that I have two kids to drive around and although I’m all for public transit, the San Jose system isn’t really feasible for us. I need a license!  She kindly reassured me that it was no problem, I could just use my out-of-country license.

Well, I could…but it’s expired. That’s why I’m in this mess.

So she whipped out her clipboard, scribbled some notes and dissapeared into the office. A few seconds later she returned and handed me a 90-day temporary license.

Uh? Seriously?

My eighty-dollar-taxi-driver, otherwise known as my “instructor”, came over and was a bit baffled to hear I was done and we could go.

I mean, he hadn’t even finished his taco yet.

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It’s been an interesting couple of days around here.

A new series of ads in Basel…

No. No you're not.

And then Tasha and I went to Lörrach, Germany (just over the border) to a small music festival to hear a friend of ours. After the show we found out that none other than Norah Jones was going to hit the stage. A few euros later, and we were enjoying stage-front spots in a crowd.

Lone Star

Norah is very talented, moving smoothly from piano to electric guitar, to the Rhodes keyboard. Her voice is captivating, and she has a lot of charm, even learning a bit of Deutsch to properly chat with the crowd.

Adventures!

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I love history, especially ancient history. I can spend hours reading about the military expeditions of Roman emperors, the organization of Greek phalanxes under Alexander, or the mythology of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

One of the significant factors that attracts me to Europe is the rich history of western civilization that is cradled here. I still get excited when walking through the streets of towns and cities here, thinking about the history of the land. The Rhine river, in particular, is fascinating to me.

The Rhine – possibly the most important and influential river in Europe – flows 1,200 km from Switzerland into the North Sea. In fact, Basel is where the river bends northwards into Rhineland (a German province that has been at the frontline of conflicts for centuries), and flows all the way to the Netherlands and out into the sea.

This river was a major natural barrier for Cold War military strategic planners. It was a dividing line in both World Wars. If we go way back in time, the Rhine (and the Danube) provided a natural defensive border for the northernmost reaches of the Roman empire.

So you can imagine my excitement at the chance to swim in the Rhine!

Apparently, this is the thing to do in Basel during the hot and humid summer weather. The temperatures lately have risen to 34C and the humidity from the river valley makes everyone shine with a little sweat. Offices and homes are not air-conditioned either (I have heard that there is a law against it!), so taking a dip in the river is really the only relief.

After work on Friday, I hopped on my bike and headed to the river with a few of my friends to cool down. In classic European style, there were plenty of speedos, and more than a few people on the banks of the river with no swimsuits at all (although this was only in the more sparse areas).

The whole trip was a refreshing and fun way to spend a Friday evening.

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I’ve been here for nearly a year and today I saw, for the first time ever, a female motorcycle rider.  So she does exist in Europe! And because I would never dream of trying to ride a bike on these foreign roads (yes, it’s the same side of the street but seriously, everything else is completely arse-backward here), I’ll have to just post this photo as a tribute to my beloved, whom I sold nearly one year ago. Sadly, it still stings the same as it did the day I handed over the keys.

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