2014 US trip: Last days in California

13 03 2014

After I left Asilomar at Pacific Grove, I spent the night in Monterey, then, because it was stormy, I headed to Bakersfield and then on the Palm Springs on the Sunday. My conference started on the Monday, so having Sunday to drive for just a few hours, pop into the outlet mall near Palm Springs for a few things, check in, unpack, catch up with a few friends I spotted in the lobby when checking in to the conference hotel, was nice and relaxing.


Some of my impressions from the second week (the conference notes are on my other blog, so I won’t repeat them here) include:

  • Californian radio is pretty awful, especially when you’re on a long drive and don’t have your own music to listen to. No doubt Australian radio is as bad or worse, but as I have my own car and my own music in that car, I never have to listen to it! In California, searching the radio stations takes you through a vast array of mariachi-type music, Bible-thumping preachers or ‘uplifting’ gospel songs, (c)rap music, heavy rock, a little bit of classical, maybe some country (I like country!), or perhaps some classic rock or ‘yacht rock’. Latino and evangelistic stations seem to dominate the airwaves.
  • Californian traffic is fast and furious. Well, not so much furious, but it is fast. You have to keep up with the traffic more so than obey the speed limit, otherwise you’ll get squashed between trucks. US drivers are polite and let you in, though some (mostly on LA freeways) weave in and out of lanes for no apparent betterment in position. There’s also a lot of tailgating — not malicious ‘get out of my way’ tailgating, but just driving too close to other cars for the conditions. That’s a bit scary. And when it rains, as it did for the first time in months while I was there, the drivers going over the passes on the I5 north of LA didn’t slow down from their 70+ mph speed while going down steep hills in heavy cloud and slick rain — I white-knuckled it through that section, wondering if a truck or car in front of me would slip in the conditions and go out of control, causing a pile-up. Leave some space between you and the next vehicle… don’t see it as an opportunity to slip in and fill it as the other driver might be deliberately trying to stay a safe distance from the car/truck in front.
  • Palm Springs was hot (85-90F) at the time I was there (early March). I’d hate to be there in summer. There were LOTS of people in and by the pool at the hotel, some of whom were getting very burnt as they’d likely flown in from a snowy state and were wearing no sun protection. The nights were balmy and cooler than the days, but definitely not cold. The hot climate plants were growing well — e.g. the palms of course, bougainvillea, cacti, aloes, etc.
  • The Palm Springs VillageFest markets (held every Thursday night in the main street) are pretty awesome and very big! Fresh produce, gourmet foods, arts and crafts, buskers, street food, and thousands of people all behaving well. The restaurants are all very busy on the night. If you go and you like BBQ beef, do yourself a favour and spend $8 on a Tri-tip BBQ brisket in a toasted bun from the CVBBQ food stall. Delicious!
  • The TSA rules on taking off your shoes might work better if someone actually checked the area for potentially dangerous things that can poke into your bare feet! I was at LAX going through the TSA screening area, and had got to the other side ready to grab my shoes and bags when a small and very sharp screw pierced my heel. It hurt like hell! I squealed a bit, hobbled around, and another passenger asked if I was OK. I pulled the embedded screw out of my bare heel pad and hopped over to the TSA agent and handed the screw to him…. and got absolutely NO response. Not even a question asking me if I was OK.



Yes, it does rain in California

2 03 2014

After several months of no rain (unusual for winter in California), the heavens have opened. It rained in much of California most of Wednesday and Friday this week just gone, all night Friday night and much of Saturday. As another storm front was coming in I changed my plans and decided to leave Monterey today (Saturday) instead of Sunday. And I’m glad I did.


Storm clouds inland from Monterey on Hwy 101

It took me just under 4 hours to drive from Monterey to Bakersfield, which is perhaps half way to Palm Springs, my ultimate destination tomorrow. Had I left it to Sunday I’d be driving 7 to 8 hours in possibly horrible conditions.

As it was, driving today wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. There were strong winds, heavy rain in patches, steady rain the rest of the time, some minor rock falls on the shoulders (though if you’d hit one of those small rocks with your car tires, you’d know all about it), and reasonably steady and moderate density traffic. Lots of trucks on Hwy 46, and very bad surface for some of that highway too.

Some more observations on this drive:

  • Many of the groves of nut trees (almonds? pecans?) were covered in white/pale pink flowers, which looked like light snow on the ground.
  • At the ends of some rows of nut trees are bee hives. I’m not sure if they are there to fertilize the trees or to collect pollen and make honey from the flowers of these trees, but it looked like a win-win for the orchardists and the apiarists.
  • Tumbling tumbleweeds have almost become fences in their own right when they’ve got caught in the fences on the side of Hwy 46.
  • Lost Hills isn’t a town so much as a paddock full of oil wells (donkeys; see the photo at the end of this post). There are hundreds in a very small area of land. There are quite a few by the Alvarado River, north of Paso Robles too.
  • Close to Bakersfield there are oil donkeys in the middle of fields of crops,  which seemed a bit odd.
  • Bakersfield looks pretty dry and dusty and very much a workers’ town, at least the bit I saw coming in from the I5 on Hwy 58.


Amazing mac and cheese

2 03 2014

A friend and I had another dinner at Hula’s Island Grill in Monterey last night. We’d gone there last Saturday too and the food was so good we went back!

We shared a small bowl of their Poblano mac and cheese, and it was SOOOOO good!

I had the Kalbi (Korean style BBQ beef) for my main meal, which was also excellent, but I could’ve eaten that mac and cheese all night!

The owner shared with us what was in it when we asked, so here’s how I remember it: Jack, cream, and parmesan cheeses in the mixture, along with mashed up Poblano chili and elbow macaroni of course, topped with Jarlsberg cheese and popped under the griller for the cheese to melt and form a golden crust. It was SOOOOO yummy! And so simple.


Empty Spools at Asilomar: Friday 28 February 2014

2 03 2014

Our last day today. Well, half day.

When we got to the room after breakfast some ladies had already packed up and gone, especially those with long drives ahead of them, such as the lovely Marilyn from St George in Utah. Others had partly packed.

I wanted to get the background of my 3rd piece completed before they came to pick up the rental sewing machines from our room, and got most of it stitched.


My body of work for the week

Pam had a final Q&A with us, then it really was time to pack up and vacate the classroom.

I got a couple of lovely cards from the ladies and a small gift from Donna, as well as a thank you card from the whole group. That was very unexpected and it was lovely reading all their nice comments.


The ‘another’ reference is to the fact that I was an Australian taking a fellow Australian’s class… in the US!


Those left in our group had our final lunch together and then it was time to say goodbye.

Would I do another class with Pam? ABSOLUTELY! she’s a great teacher and an enormous amount of fun (and she wears the greatest colours!). I’m privileged to know her and to have been taught by her. And the great thing is that have three almost finished pieces to take home with me — at previous workshops, I’ve finished maybe half the work, so it was gratifying to get so much done.


As I said yesterday, it’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot, made new friends, and enjoyed the tranquility of this gorgeous part of the world.

All photos from my week at Asilomar (many are not in these pages) are on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157642239044034/

See also: