Friday, July 18, 2014

Take 33 - RIP Darling Taylor


On March 14th of this year, we said goodbye to our darling Taylor and just now, did I feel capable of
writing about him. Taylor had been in our lives for 5 1/2 years and we had had him since he was 8 weeks old. He and we had grown together. He has showed us the way while raising him. He was our first dog.

On December 24th, 2013 we noticed something was not right with Taylor, our Golden Retriever. He was listless, would not eat, did not want to drink. He seemed in a daze and disconnected. We hurried him to an Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Palo Alto. After a couple of hours of tests and treatments, we learned he had a 104 degree fever and we were sent home with him and some antibiotics. To make a long story short, during the next week we went back and forth to our vet, hoping it was just a virus and some dehydration but unfortunately, after several treatments we were referred to Sage Veterinary Hospital in Campbell, after more tests we were told it was not a virus but an aggressive form of cancer called Hemangiosarcoma. After he had surgery to remove the mass growing in his body, we kept our eyes in him because the prognostic was not good. He was given two month at most before the return of the disease and chemotherapy might only give him an extra month. In March we noticed a mass developing in his chest and made the quick decision of returning to Sage for the final goodbye moment.

Making the decision was easy when knowing there was no future but it's the aftermath we were not prepared to face. Everything in our home reminded us of Taylor. He had occupied such a large space in our lives. Now the house was empty without him. David and I were in constant pain and tears. We even went away for a weekend and had to hide when the pain bubbled to the surface and our eyes filled with tears. It was a rough time.  Seeing other dogs, especially other Goldens was the worst. Another thing from the well meaning people around us were the sympathy cards. Gut wrenching words that had me burst into uncontrollable tears. I could not even show them to David after they arrived in the mail. I knew he could not face that kind of pain. A neighbour sent a card and included the following text:

JUST MY DOG
by Gene Hill

He's just my dog.

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.

He has told me more than a thousand times over that I am his reason for being. By the way he rests against my leg. By the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile. By the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him.(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me)

When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.

When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags.

Without him, I am only another person.  With him, I am all powerful.

He has taught me the meaning of devotion. He is loyalty itself.

With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.

His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things.

He has promised to wait for me ..... whenever ..... wherever. In case I need him.
And I expect I will - as I always have.

He is my dog.


It took me three tries to read the complete text and even now, I write these words my throat constricts. Thank goodness, with time, (and a new love) things get easier. In my next blog, get ready to hear about my new love. Taylor would approve.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Take 32 - Martial Cottle Park - San Jose

On January 31, 2014 Mr Walter Lester died at the age of 88. Who was Mr. Lester and what does he have to do with the Martial Cottle Park, you ask? Well plenty, actually. You see, Mr. Lester was born, grew up, worked and lived a couple of blocks away from our home, here in Blossom Valley, San Jose. His home, but mostly its land, is the site of the future Martial Cottle Park.  287 acres, equivalent to 236 football fields that is being developed to become a park with a visitors' center, picnic areas, historical farming exhibitions, etc.

Mr. Lester was born on July 7, 1925. He never married, nor did he have any children. Mr. Lester could have become just another multi-millionaire of Silicon Valley as the offers for his land kept coming from investors who wanted to turn it into another sub-division or a mall. However, Mr. Lester was steadfast on his plans for this property. Throughout the years he refused to sell and in 2003 he signed over the property in a grant deed to Santa Clara County and California Department of Parks and Recreations but with certain conditions. He wanted the land to stay the way it was, preserved as farmland and open space, with arching old oaks and broad views of the surrounding mountains. He also stated that he wanted no part of the property to be used for high intensity, organized recreational uses such as athletic fields, playgrounds, swimming pools or other similar activities. He wanted the property to be used as a public historical park that would inform and educate the public about the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley. Silicon Valley, a technological area, used to have a topographical vocation. Much of it covered Santa Clara Valley and used to be known as Valley of the Heart's Delight, a region rich with fruit orchards up until the 1960s.

This space is in the south part of San Jose, bordered by Chynoweth Avenue, Snell Avenue, Branham Lane and Highway 85.  The project for the park had been almost dormant up until a couple of weeks after we moved into our new home, in October 2013.  As I walked my dog in that area every day, I started noticing more and more activity with trucks going in and out and increasing during several weeks with digging and paving and the start of a building going up. Then on February 1st, one day after Mr. Lester's passing,  a partial trail was opened and people started walking, with or without a dog, cycling and simply enjoying this wonderful space. Walking this trail, in its infancy, you can almost imagine what the final product will look like. The feeling is magical. The trail is paved but on each side the soil has been worked and sprinkled with seed to grown grass.  A few benches have been installed as well as a couple of doggie stations with bags and waste bins. The fields around go on forever and you distinctly get the feeling of wide open spaces in the countryside, although you are in the middle of the third largest city in California, almost completely surrounded by mountains in the distance. The main trail is about halfway done as the rest of the land is surrounded by fences during the completion of the project. This is a wonderful addition to our neighbourhood and will enchant and help educate people on agriculture for a long time to come.

Sadly, I did not know Mr. Lester but I will give a silent thank you each time I walk those trails and look out into the distance to admire the same views as he surely did.


Recipe:
I recently found this recipe in an Ina Garten  (Barefoot Contessa) cookbook. I love her cookbooks. I have almost all of them. The recipe is from Foolproof.
The combination of salmon and tomato is not usual but trust me, it is outstandingly delicious.
Well worth the effort. This is a version of the recipe. Enjoy !

Salmon with tomato stew

Olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes halved lengthwise
Salt and Pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons basalmic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
4 pieces salmon fillet, about 8 ounces each

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 3 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat for a few minutes until onion is very tender. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Stir in tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time to time until liquid is almost gone and sauce has thickened a bit. Off the heat, stir in the vinegar and basil.

Place a large sauté pan (that can go in the oven) over high heat for a couple of minutes. Brush the salmon all over with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place skin side up in the pan. Do not move the fish for 3-4 minutes until it is browned. Carefully turn the salmon on its skin side and put the pan in the oven for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the pan and put fish on a serving platter, covering it with aluminum foil for 5 minutes to allow it to rest.

Reheat the tomatoes, check seasoning again and serve hot, warm or at room temperature with salmon.

Bon appétit !







Monday, December 16, 2013

Take 31 - San Jose - Blossom Valley - Getting to know my neighbourhood

Before getting to know my neighbourhood, I had to get to know my house. In the rental home where we lived previously, the appliances were run-of-the-mill machines in-so-far as being very basic appliances without bells and whistles. Nothing beeped nor dinged nor chimed. Where we are now, it is very different. Each appliance has its own sound and musical note, to let you know it requires your attention. For example, the dishwasher has the beep (6 times) at the end of its cycle and it repeats the same 6 beeps a total of three times until you give up and stop whatever you are doing and open the door of the appliance to shut it up. Our fridge has this very practical beep so that if you do not shut either door properly, after a few minutes it will let you know by beeping continually until you realize your mistake. The microwave also has its beep, which is a single long sorrowful one. As though it's sorry to see you take out the food you have placed in there to heat.
Not wanting to be left out, the oven also does its part by beeping and dinging depending on what you require of it. And then there are the washer and dryer. Since 2009, Samsung has been my choice for washer and dryer and I have had that brand in three out of four of my past homes including this one.  I believe someone at Samsung must have a real sense of humour. At the end of its cycle it has this little instrumental number about 15 seconds long that is endearing and child-like. Both the dryer and the washer have this piece so if both machines happen to end their cycle almost at the same time, they both give you their performance almost simultaneously which can be an incredible source of cacophony. However, this synchronization of time is rare and yes, I could make it play at a lower volume but I really don't mind it. I also had had to change the ringer on my phone because it shared the same notes as our front door bell. One day I ran downstairs thinking there was someone at the door when actually my phone was ringing. It's enough to drive you bonkers ! :--))

Needless to say we also have a list of little projects that require regular visits to Lowe's or Orchard's. During one of those visits, I noticed a sign on the road that showed you the way to Hayes Mansion. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation. I soon found out that Hayes Mansion is a Mediterranean Villa designed by architect George Page that used to be the home of the Hayes family until they sold it in the 1950s. The villa remained empty and fell into disrepair until 1994 when it was successfully renovated and it is now a conference center. Do go have a look at their website www.hayesmansion.com. It is simply a magnificent building. You can go there for brunch too. Although quite pricey, I hear it is one of the best and David and I plan on going there one day for a special occasion.

Across the street from Hayes Mansion is a park who also used to have a different vocation. It used to be Frontier Village Amusement Park, a western style theme park which opened in 1961 and closed in 1980. Nothing remains of that theme park except the trees on 49 acres of beautiful grounds. The paths meander through the park and at its edge there are tennis courts and a children play area.  There seems to be an unofficial rule with dogs running freely off-leash and enjoying the open area. As well, there is a beautiful tree shaded picnic area with tables and bbq pits, which can be reserved for special occasions by calling 408-794-PARK a division of the City of San Jose.

Here is a quick recipe for a spice mix to enhance your popcorn:

Southwest Spice Mix
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chile
Toss ingredients together. Use 1 tablespoon of the mix for every quart of fresh popcorn and toss together. Store the leftover mix in an airtight jar.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Take 30 - House Hunting in San Jose - Part 2 Dream Home

Take 30 - House Hunting in San Jose - Part 2 Dream Home

In my last installment, I explained how our hearts had been broken by being outbid on an Eichler house. We were totally heartbroken but as the fog of heartache lifted,we looked at our wish list. We had this wish list we had put together. A column of "must have", a column of "would be nice" and finally a column of "icing on the cake".

 Well after going down the list, it turns out the Eichler had very few of the items on that list. First, it was in the wrong neighbourhood.  It's located in our present neighbourhood which we do not like. It had very little storage space. It would have meant a lot of compromise. We would have had to change our furniture too. Living in an Eichler means embracing the lifestyle and our furniture would have been all wrong. There was no garage. There was no pool.  The kitchen was small. The noise would have been the same as what we are presently complaining about. There was no space for a microwave. The washer/dryer were mini stacked appliances. And a few more items that were not on our wish list. That would have been settling and we had promised ourselves that we would not settle at any cost and this, just to get out of our present dwelling to buy a house. 

Another thing we didn't want was having to compete to buy a house. Price wars are commonplace here in Silicon Valley and it will only get worse due to tech companies that are hiring by the thousands. So, we went back to our list and moved our search a few miles away from the heart of Silicon Valley. Only 6 miles made the difference. Still in San Jose but in Blossom Valley instead of Rose Garden or Willow Glen. We gave up on living in a cool neighbourhood and high walkability for a dormitory area but within a very short drive from many shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas. What we also got in return is everything on our wish list and more, including a pool. Even things we had not thought of. In other words, more bang for our buck. Much more. The house we found is move-in ready and we did not have to promise our first born in order to afford it either. The neighbourhood is also very nice with mature trees and houses about 40-50 years old.

So the lesson we learned here is, know your priorities and try to stick to them. What really matters in your search. The cool area, we can drive to. A house with all we ever want is more important. Now, on to packing and moving. :--)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Take 29 House hunting in San Jose - Part One

Take 29
House hunting in San Jose - Part One

And so we begin the thrilling, exciting, and sometimes disappointing and frustrating task of finding and buying our next home. When we first moved here, houses were at an all time low and deals were everywhere to be had. It was a buyer's market. But, unfortunately,  we weren't ready financially. We still had a property in Canada and many months would have to go by before we could start looking at the possibility of owning a house.  Ironically, now that we are free and able to do so, the market has changed and it is now a seller's market. Prices are higher and competition is fierce. Price wars are commonplace and some sellers are more than happy to take advantage of the situation because they have the upper hand. Regardless of all this, we are pushing forward.

In Canada, when you decide to buy a house, you go to your bank or the bank that offers the best conditions. Here, to get the best conditions and rates you go to a Broker. He or she will gather your information and negotiate the best rate with a bank, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or a private lender. He will speak on your behalf to secure that needed mortgage at the best rate. Unless, happily, you are financially loaded and don't need the help of a bank or a broker. If so, good for you ! As for us, we need a lending hand.  The broker we chose was extremely competent at explaining the American Mortgage system to us and informing us of our financial possibilities and realities. We were thankful that he turned out to be a conservative person and not a salesman out to entice us into taking a bigger loan than planned. We had our goal and he agreed with our numbers. So, after his confirmation that all of our information checked out, off we went with our agents, a real estate couple whom we met a few months prior at a garage sale (go figure!) to visit houses through private showings and open houses. When you look in popular and cool neighborhoods open house events can be circus-like. Here in Silicon Valley the demand for houses is greater than great, the inventory is minimal and its about to get worse since several large tech companies are hiring by the thousands. So back to open houses where there are people everywhere, taking measures, opening doors and windows, etc. A time consuming and tiring activity where you see houses in all shapes of disrepair at ridiculously high prices. A daunting task to see the jewel in each of them. 

And then a ray of hope. There was an Eichler, in our price range. When we first moved to California, we became aware of Eichler homes. They are mid-century modern houses built between 1956-1970, mostly in California with a few in New York State, by Joseph Eichler. A man with a wonderful philosophy of life which included wanting to design homes for people regardless of religion, race or creed. The houses are generally flat roofed with radiant floor heating and walls of windows looking towards the backyard with minimal windows in front, allowing total privacy while exuding wonderful avant-garde design. If you are curious, Google Eichler homes and you will see the reason for our passion. There is even an association for Eichler homeowners mainly for guidance on resources to renovate the mid-century homes and to inform as to new listings of Eichlers. This particular one had been perfectly renovated respecting each little details of the design right down to the colors of the exterior and even to the civic numbers on the house. Those owners got it perfectly. Every little detail. We were in love! Totally smitten. We could imagine our lives there,Taylor frolicking in the yard, Constance the cat bumping into windows at first. We could see ourselves there. So, we put in our best and largest offer as well as a note (some sellers encourage that to know who they are selling to) explaining in a few words who we were and why we wanted their house. And then we waited. We were on pins and needles. When the answer came, we were devastated. The house had gone to another buyer offering more, but not much more. At least the sellers didn't force a bidding war, like it happens in the more desirable areas;  they just considered all the offers they got (and there were a lot) and picked their favorite.  After the disappointment, we figured we had learned a valuable lesson and had to regroup. We had to return to the drawing board, to our list of wants in a house, and strive not to compromise. In my next post, you will find out what we did and what we found. Don't miss it !


Here is a wonderful recipe I found in the paper the other day. Add a glass of Chardonnay (or not) and you will have a great meal and maybe leftovers for a sandwich if you double or triple the recipe.


Pancetta Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

1 trimmed pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon white wine
3-4 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Season tenderloin on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. In a small bowl, mix the mustard and wine. Using a pastry brush or your hands, cover the tenderloin liberally with the mixture. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over tenderloin.
3. Lay a 10-inch square of parchment or wax paper with pancetta, overlapping slices by about 1/2 inch. Lay the tenderloin 1 inch in from the edge closest to you, parallel to the edge. Fold the bottom inch over the tenderloin, then roll the paper around the tenderloin. The pancetta should be tightly wrapped around the roast. Remove the paper.
4.Place the tenderloin on a rack in the roasting pan. Roast about 20 minutes or until the the pancetta is golden and crisp and a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes, then slice into rounds 1-inch thick.

Enjoy !

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interlude - Silicon Valley through my brown eyes

Interlude - Silicon Valley through my brown eyes

In my last post, I promised a Guest Blogger and here he is. It is my husband David, proud Google employee.  Hope you enjoy his Interlude. Do not forget to leave your comments, suggestions or questions when you visit. Thank you.



As a guest and first time blogger I decided to talk about my least favorite subject. Me. Ok, not about me per se, but how a small town french Canadian bumpkin, as Lorraine likes to refer to me, came to work for the best company in Silicon Valley.

My IT trip began in 1978, when I was 8 and my father bought his first computer, a Tandy TRS 80, 4k. Although quite limited, I still wonder to this day how someone was able to write a Chess program in 4k that would beat the 8 year old me every time. (Turns out I stink at chess and any program can beat the 43 year old me).

The passion really started 5 years later when we upgraded to a Commodore 64. The deal was sealed. I then became addicted to those wonderful Compute! And Compute!'s gazette magazines, which is where I first read about a mythical place called Silicon Valley. It's also where I learned English. That and by watching the A-team, but I digress.  Silicon Valley?! in a place called California, half a world away and probably in another, parallel universe. Some would argue that the Valley actually is a parallel universe.

Growing up in rural Quebec, even in the 70's, you could feel the remnant of the Catholic Church oppressiveness, where everybody is raised to believe they are born for small bread (a bad translation on 'né pour un petit pain', which means no great expectations in your future). This would be the total opposite of the American Dream, where you are told that working hard can give you 'the life'. When you are told either too many times you may start to believe it.

The next 10 years were easy, high school, college, university for a BSC, then to push the real world away for a few more years, a Master. In the end, in 1994, I temporarily gave up on my Master to go see the real world, finishing it in my spare time, between two games of Sherlock.

The first job was fun, I got to learn GIS (geographical information systems) which I ended doing for the next 17 years both in Montreal and in Vancouver (job tip: don't paint yourself in a corner by doing the same thing for too long). Along the way I got to solve some amazing problems, like gps-less submarine navigation. But when you grow up, you end up forgetting about your childhood dreams and Silicon Valley went the way of Teddy bear, Miami Vice and Disco. We even came to San Francisco a few times and I never realized how close I was to this place. Just a few more miles south...

Then 6 years ago, the company I worked for at the time, got some sub-contracting from the big G. in Mountain View. I got to travel to the Campus and see a bit of San Jose and all in-between. Every second building posted the name of an IT giant. The other buildings were of giants to be (or not be). That was real?! Those companies did exist somewhere, they were not just logos and names on software and hardware boxes. There were all in that place, that Silicon Valley?!

I dedicated the next few years to build a good resume, with less GIS, and applied to many Silicon Valley's company, even though my heart was beating for G. It's even a verb now?! In the end between Amazon and G, the choice was easy.

So remember your forgotten dreams and investigate those mythical places. Sometimes they exists and dreams do come true.

Now instead of a recipe, let me tell you G. biggest secrets. Here we go... Wait, I am being called to the Teleporter's room; the Unicorn has escaped again...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Take 27 - Rocky Horror Show - The Musical in San Jose

Take 27 - Rocky Horror Show - The Musical in San Jose

Last Friday we attended a showing of The Rocky Horror Show (The Musical) at City Lights Theater in downtown San Jose. I have written about this venue before and will surely write about it again in the future because it an ideal place to see a play or a musical. The space is small, intimate, cozy and comfy. The acoustic is amazingly good for such a small space and yet despite its size you do not feel cramped or suffocated. Its half moon and auditorium shape is wonderful. Ok, so enough on the space let's talk about the show.

In Rocky Horror Show speak, we were virgins. Neither of us had ever seen the movie and its many cult responses or reactions to the dialogue and what is going on on stage. To say this Musical is the utmost in ridicule would an understatement, naturally, but the actors are so good and the voices so great, you tend to forget the silly dialogue. I once heard someone say it is much harder to play stupid than serious so it has to be much harder for good singers/actors/performers to sing in an off key way, at times, and act the fool.

For those who have never seen nor heard of Rocky Horror Show, here is a quick recap of the story and if you want the whole history behind this phenomenon, you will have to do your own research. The story begins on a country road where a couple becomes stranded in their car during a rain storm and decide to go ask for help at a castle nearby. The couple is met by a wacky group of individuals living at the castle who will lead them into an even wackier adventure, changing their lives forever.

Of course, the best known song is the Time Warp tune which almost everyone knew, including yours truly and her hubby. We just did not know the moves that went with it. Now, imagine our surprise, when at the end of the show, actors come out into the audience and take you by the hand to bring you on stage, the whole audience that is, to reprise the Time Warp song, this time with moves and all. I was standing next to Dr. Scott (the character) and when the music started again and they said you take two step to the left, I took two steps to the right and ended up bumping into Dr. Scott. How did I forget where was my left was? David and I both looked like deer in a headlight. Kind of a stage fright ? I am sure, looking back, we were not alone up there on that stage.

 I would also like to mention how good the live band was and how I enjoyed the voices of the character called Riff Raff played by Matty Gregg and Rocky, played by Michael Welland. Both quite accomplished singers in their own right.

So, in closing, despite or because all of the above, we had a great time and I urge you, if you have not seen this show, and there are still dates left in San Jose or it comes to your town one day, go see it and leave your attitude and stiffness at home.

On a different matter, my next post will be by a guest blogger. I will reveal his or her identity then, when I turn over the controls to that person.

In the meantime, I invite your comments, questions or suggestions about this post or any other past posts.

Thanks for reading !