Friday, February 14, 2020

Time is not on our side!

How often have you heard someone saying that they have run out of time? It seems that whenever the topic of time comes up, we simply do not have enough of it and yet, it’s a sobering thought when you think about. Particularly those of us working in the gig economy with no plans on retiring any time soon! I was reminded of this just recently with the passing of Clive James, an Australian critic, journalist, broadcaster and writer who was never short on answers. The way James viewed life, it was all rather simple. “Stop worrying – nobody gets out of this world alive.”

At another time, James said it a little differently but it resonated even more with us: “Life is a gig where nobody leaves alive!” Perhaps it was better expressed by long time journalist and television commentator, Andy Rooney, who famously said, that “I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” Of course, that may be just a tad crass and yet it is an illustration that is hard to forget. All the while, the years count down and inevitably, there are the anniversaries we all celebrate and for Margo and me, January was a time to celebrate yet another wedding anniversary.

On this occasion, before heading out for our traditional celebratory dinner, it called for a wee dram of whisky. Having previously been gifted a bottle of Johnnie Walker “Blue” Scotch Whisky it was time to tackle the top shelf and help ourselves to just one glass. Yes, there is a difference and yes, according to our good friends, the Kennys, who just a few days previously likewise had sampled a glass, “Every other Scotch now tastes like turpentine!” According to Brian, it will be a tough act to follow but then again, with Brian, I have to believe that there will be a bottle or two added to his top shelf in the coming months.

Celebrating anniversaries has always been important for us both but even as we do so, we are also cognizant that yes, it’s been another “trip around the sun.” I only recently read that motoring journalists enjoy long road trips as it gives them the opportunity to be “input free” and for Margo and me, there is no question whatsoever that this is indeed one of the major upsides to driving to the many meetings we commit to support. In any given year you would be hard pressed to miss reading an update about a town we have just visited. Did I mention already that the Blue was incredibly good and oh, yes, the bottle was jointly gifted to us by us back last year on Christmas Eve.

I was just asked to provide a picture of my desk. Not sure why but the folks at HPE who support the HPE blogging and influencer communities thought it would be fun if we shared such pictures with fellow bloggers and influencers. As it so happened I was in the middle of multitasking – meeting a shortened deadline for writing an industry blog post as well as finalizing the books for the year. And yes, there was also a lot of material being pulled together on a topic new to me that I was to write about shortly. In other words, no matter how I try to describe it, or justify the results, my work desk was a mess!

Then again, at this time of year, the opportunity to go on one of those long road trips isn’t in the cards. The weather in the Rockies is always a deterrent to any planning for road trips. Our SUV has gotten quite the work out even as the other cars remain on battery tenders. On the other hand, writing is something that I enjoy doing and pursuing new story lines is always a challenge. Then again, if you look back at posts during February and March of previous years, you will pick up on a common theme – the ideal garage. I have often mused about how many cars you really need and then what would they be? But it is now 2020 so where do we start?

It was back in early summer of 2019 that the Corvette pictured above – a Corvette Series 7, Z06, with the optional Z07 track package (or C7 Z06 as it’s more commonly called)triggered a series of events that looking back brings a smile to our faces. While we may have just celebrated yet another wedding anniversary, we were hoping to celebrate the beginning of a reduction in the number of vehicles we possessed. The path to such a rationalization was neither straight forward nor without diversions and yet, it has brought us one step closer to where we hope to be when February 2021 comes around.

The presence of this Blue Corvette brought me back to the Corvette dealer a matter of just a few weeks later. And yes, it was still on the show room floor and yes, it was only a matter of weeks before General Motors would reveal its next generation of Corvettes – the revolutionary mid-engine C8. To put this all into perspective, I had no plans to buy this Corvette but I just happened to run into a Corvette sales manager I knew from dealings with another dealership where he previously worked and this led to us sitting down, having coffee and talking about cars. After all, I had plenty of time to just talk …

It had only been a few weeks earlier that in pursuit of our plan to rationalize our garage(s) and by this, I mean reduce the number of cars present in our garage, we ended up with more cars. For only the second time in our married life we found ourselves in possession of six cars. Well then, it looked like the plan was going along swimmingly I had to admit. On the other hand, the lease on our i8 Coupe was just about up and that would bring us down to five cars and at this time, we still had the RV, the trailer and the Corvette C5 Z06. And an off-premise garage, to boot! What to do? What would be the perfect garage for us? And yes, there is a label now that will walk you through this column through the years!

As the coffee continued to be poured, our good friend at Corvette suggested “why no trade the RV, the trailer and the Corvette on a new Corvette ZR1!” Whoa … a ZR1? What about the newer Corvette that was coming? The C8? “You wouldn’t want to be among the first to own such a radical change to the Corvette, now would you? As an IT guy you must appreciate just how much new software there will be and do you really want to be involved in debugging a car?” And so the conversation took on a life of its own. 

In an unrelated move, having leased a Range Rover Evoque ragtop convertible, Margo did a terrific job selling the aging Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 that we had owned for many years. So now, we had five cars parked alongside the garages. We knew that it was only a matter of days before we would be down to four cars with the BMW i8 being returned to BMW, so surely, unloading the RB, trailer and Corvette would be a smart move. However, in this endeavor, Margo came up short. Selling a used RV is just so hard to do!

Our Corvette sales manager then told us that no, he didn’t have a ZR1 on the showroom floor and no more were being delivered, but he could find us one. What color did you want? “And give me the details about the package – the Vette, the trailer and the RV (with photos)!” Of course, the response from Margo when I greeted her with the news was to the point even as it was very simple; “Are you crazy?” Seems like another Corvette and indeed a top of the line Corvette was the furthest thing from her mind. And yet, as we noodled on it all, somewhere along the way a switch was flipped and we thought that perhaps other car dealers might be as flexible as our friendly Corvette dealer.
Five Cars? Siz Cars? So much for reducing the number of cars we had to a more manageable three. In time, we came up with a plan. Time was passing, as it does, and at least our BMW i8 Coupe was off lease and had been returned! If any car dealer came up with a plan to provide us with a short term lease on a car and were prepared to take our trade-in package then let’s just go with the dealer that gave us the most money (for the trade-in)! Simple enough, right? But what dealers would we approach? That turned out to be easy; we went back to the dealers we had recently worked with and this narrowed it down to Chevrolet, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW.

Turned out that even though we had surrendered our BMW i8 Coupe previously, the BMW dealer had a new i8 Roadster sitting on the showroom floor … and it had been sitting there for nine months. Coule we help them out somehow?. A deal indeed could be done and to make it happen, the dealership offered us more on the RV and the Corvette than any other dealership. Margo would have to find a buyer for the trailer but that seemed to be pretty straightforward to do and it turned out that even on the trailer, she did good! So it turned out, that cup of coffee and talk of cars has seen us come down from six cars, an RV and a trailer to just four cars and all’s well for the coming year. 
Oooh! Ahhh! Pretty Car! And so the saga continues. Margo and I spent some time in the local mall only to run across a new Aston Martin Vantage. Hadn’t had a chance to see one as of this time but it did lead us back to what would constitute the ideal garage for us. What do we really need with the work we do and the trips we like to take. As we continue to make trips around the sun, will there be a point where comfort and ease of operation become priorities? Will better fuel mileage and driver assists play an important role? Very quickly we settled on a couple of items and they were driven by where we lived and how long we expected to continue living in our current abode.

Turns out we do need an all-wheel drive SUV and to date, we are really happy with the Evoque. So, for starters, let’s keep it! With the SUV sorted out then we see that there is a difference between a grand tourer and a sports car even as we now know we no longer need a track car as well. Margo simply loves her Jaguar F Type and I don’t think that there is any way of taking that away from her anytime soon, even if the Aston Martin Vantage would be an ideal replacement for the Jag. So, that leaves the BMWs – the M4 Competition and the i8 Roadster. 

For as long as I have been writing these winter updates featuring cars and what would constitute an ideal garage, I have written about an exotic that could be a candidate for further consideration. Early on it was a Lamborghini Gallardo and then an Audi R8 – both mid-engine cars. And then there was the mid-enjoy Lotus Exige S-260 we tracked on the Nurburgring. In the meantime, Margo and I have leased a couple of BMW i8s both of which have been mid-engine vehicles that also benefitted from being true hybrids. And yes, we have grown to like hybrids even as we truly do enjoy the handling characteristics of a mid-engine car.

Returning to that conversation of last year with the Corvette sales manager and the off-putting remarks about software and software bugs, there is a very strong likelihood that the upcoming Corvette C8 Z06 will in fact be a hybrid. Perfect, don’t you think? And it is a proper sports car whereas Margo’s Jaguar is probably best viewed as a touring car. Again, perfect. And there you have it – a Range Rover SUV, a Jaguar F Type Tourer and a proper sports car, a mid-engine hybrid Corvette. It doesn’t get any better than that considering how we got here in the first place. And yes, I can live with that.  

What are these references to blue all about, then? Does this indeed mean that any new Vette would need to be blue? We don’t mind Blue Scotch, after all, but really, more blue cars? On that note I think we will have to wait another year before there is any further commentary on the topic of what makes a perfect garage. But perhaps time really isn’t on our side in this regard. On the other hand, it wasn’t just about Blue Scotch, a nice dinner out – there were flowers as well, as you would expect. And if this new, not so thoroughly thought through plan, is to flourish then I have to believe there will be many more bouquets of roses involved!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A decade that was special …

Just to kick things off, I am firmly in the camp that we still have one more year to go before the 20s decade really begins. There was never a year zero, right? But given how I am in the minority here, I suspect it’s only reasonable to expect a review of all that occurred in the 2010s that got us to where we are today. On paper ten years looks a long time but in reality, it went very quickly for Margo and me and looking back now at all that occurred, it was perhaps the most hectic period of our adult lives.

The decade though does belong to Pyalla. It has had its ups and downs the same as any business endeavor experience. Of late though, we have settled into a rhythm and are enjoying working for a number of clients and we really are having fun doing so. And yes, we have reached a point where we are becoming a little more selective as it’s proved to be a whole lot more fun when you work with folks who openly see you as being part of their team.

I guess that is the secret really for our longevity – yes, being in business for ten years does qualify as being a long time – has been our focus and it’s never wavered from being centered on HPE, Mission Critical Systems (MCS) and the NonStop platform. The NonStop community continues to go from strength to strength and with all that HPE does in the marketplace these days, the NonStop vendor community has become the biggest partnership with HPE of any system or platform! More recently, our working relationship with MCS has risen to new heights. Stay tuned as there is more to follow. 

There has been a lot more than business to occupy the time spent in this latest decade. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to couple our love for vendor meetings and events with our love of travel, the arts and yes, music. At a time when everyone just “googles that” unknown or unclear event or action there is still no substitute for meeting face-to-face. An emoji really doesn’t convey true body language. Nor does an email express sentiment in a manner that you can parlor into actions! So yes, for Margo and me, when we look back at what has been special this past decade, there are five distinct areas or categories that provided extra material for our highlight reel. 
First up, the house: As you already know we downsized our home even as we decided to stay in Colorado and to remain close to the front ranges. It’s cold in winter, but then again, we do get to witness four distinct seasons.  The downsize was massive and we are still wearing the repercussions from some of the decisions we made during the downsizing. Moving from 13,000 square feet (10,000 finished) anchoring a 1.2 acre lot is a far cry from 5,000 square feet (4,000 finished) on a tiny lot. We are contemplating getting a much smaller cat! Way less than a quarter acre of property I would guess, as I truly don’t know how small the lot is – then again, yard maintenance is now a blessing compared with what we once enjoyed in Niwot. Yes, we moved from Boulder county and the village of Niwot to Laramie county and to the township of Windsor.

So how do we feel? Well, when it comes to wearing the repercussions it’s taking some getting used to when our master suite is about a quarter the size of our former master while our kitchen is about one tenth the size. But then again, our bills for house expenses are way, way down from what we had grown used to paying. And talk about the bills? Taxes, insurance, gardening, trash collection and yes, housecleaning are a fraction of what we paid for almost two decades and as they say in business, it’s all about free cash flow and that has had a marked impact on our lifestyle. Moving house is usually traumatic but we made the best of it and it did go smoothly and for that, Margo takes all the credit as it was Margo that managed to a spreadsheet and everything happened when it was needed.

Secondly, the music: We went to Los Angeles’ “The Greek Theater” to hear a performance by the 2Cellos. Rated second only to the Hollywood Bowl, it proved to be quite an experience as we hadn’t even heard of it before we attended the open air performance. Have you ever watched the videos of the 2Cellos on YouTube and seen the manner by which they go about blending old with the new – music, that is? When you think about it, who else could have come up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony morphing into Led Zeppelin’s Whole lotta love?  And who else can open with Vivaldi’s Spring from Four Seasons and morph to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – perhaps their best known performance of all.

Of course, their performance at The Greek came towards the end of the decade but it blew away the other performances we had attended during the decade. Well, almost all, as we have to acknowledge that attending the hundredth anniversary of Nat King Cole performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC certainly was an experience. But then again, so were a couple of performances of Mamma Mia in various towns, New York at the top of the list, and then we’ve seen the Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Part of our travels meant we wound up in Las Vegas more than once and we really like their O and Elvis performances even as we hope to catch a couple more in the coming decade.

Music and art have always played an important role in our lives together. We continue to collect paintings and one reason we chose the house we did as our new home were the many walls that enclosed the major rooms. Plenty of room to hang the pictures we have acquired over the years. Another important consideration was the opportunity to create a more open plan combination theater room, bar and wine cellar along with high top tables just for conversation. And it has worked out well for us so that now, we have an area where you can listen to the music, look at the art and enjoy a glass of wine!

Thirdly, the cars: They dominated many of the decisions we made in the past decade. Of course, we spent a goodly part of the decade on track, driving cars ourselves at track events around the western states of America. However, two events truly stood out for Margo and me included our track day driving a race-day prepped Lotus Exige S260 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife – the north loop, or as Jackie Stewart renamed it, “The Green Hell.” But there was also couple of laps that I took sitting behind Mario Andretti as he took me for a spin around the track at Sonoma (formerly, Infineon and before that, Sear’s Point) in a two-seat Honda Indy Car. 

However, no discussion of cars could possibly stop with just a reference to a track and a personality. We started out the decade buying Godzilla – a Nissan GT-R – that after a couple of years we updated to a newer model. Nothing, simply nothing, prepares you for driving Godzilla and it never ceased to put a smile on our face. And yes, it was Margo who had the opportunity to drive the east coast’s famous Tail of the Dragon, US 129, a highway that lies between North Carolina and Tennessee and is only 11 miles long. Whereas the Nürburgring has 150 turns over 12 plus miles, the Tail of the Dragon has 318.

The GT-R may have been the highlight but we do need to give a special call out to the Maserati GT-S we had for half the decade as well as the much newer BMW i8s we have enjoyed. It was almost as if we were watching massive changes taking place in the automobile industry as we went from V8s to Turbo V6s and ultimately hybrid mixes of very small displacement combustion engines and powerful electric motors. This decade has passed and we have no V10s or V8s in the garage any longer and that is saying something for a couple like Margo and me.

You may also recall having read that at the end of the decade we dumped the RV, dumped too our beloved red Corvette that we used for track driving, sold off the trailer and ended up with the BMW i8 roadster as we traded the lot on just one car. It is not easy to sell an RV, so we feel pretty relieved we were able to complete what turned out to be pretty complex transaction! While it’s not really a highlight that we want to advertise all the same for us, being let off the hook is good news!

Fourth highlight of the year: Travel dominated much of our activities away from the house and it wasn’t just about crisscrossing the countryside in one car or the other. Then again, our travels did take us to numerous historic sites and there was rarely a time when we didn't pull over to take a look at something or other. Of course, visiting places popularized by Mark Twain was a must!

We traveled to Europe a few times; sometimes on business and at other times, very personal. We managed to squeeze into our busy business schedule a river cruise, our first Mediterranean Cruise to the Balkans visiting Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. We even sailed out of New York on a cruise that took us to nowhere (but with one short stop in Bermuda) and we enjoyed our time on a dinner cruise on Sydney Harbor as the fireworks celebrated New Year’s eve, 2019. Having Internet access on a cruise ship, no matter the size or the cruise line, pulling out our laptops meant we could continue business without any noticeable interruptions to our daily routines back on land. 

If we were to rank the cruise lines then yes, Seabourn ocean cruises top the list even as we did enjoy Viking river cruises. On the other hand, we remain a fan of the Windstar line. Of interest, the Seabourn vessel we sailed on has become part of the Windstar line. When it comes to our go-to cruise line for big ships it continues to be Princess. There is something iconic about seeing a modern cruise ship moored close by to Sydney's famous Harbor Bridge. ON this occasion, it was the Majestic Princess and the largest vessel in the Princess fleet. 

Call it a long history with the company – family ties as early in my IT career I worked for P&O line subsidiary, Overseas Containers Line (OCL) – but then again, we can see ourselves enjoying our tenth cruise on Princess shortly. We have done a cruise on Royal Caribbean as well as on Norwegian but they kind of fall short in some respects, but then again, there is still time to enjoy an Atlantic crossing on a Cunard vessel.

Fifth highlight is something very special: No story on this past decade’s highlights would be complete without a reference to Margo’s Mother passing away and Margo’ daughter getting married a short time later – Anna and Erich combining their honeymoon with a trip to Poland to lay Grandma’s ashes in the family’s grave. Then Margo became a grandparent for the first time. Daughter Anna first provided a daughter, Ella, before adding twin boys, Aiden and Even just a couple of years later. Certainly, Christmas Eve has become a family time and being around small children again brings back memories from way, way back in our lives. Having such a fresh family connection isn’t without its challenges but then again, long after memories from all of the above have faded, there will always be family.

My mother too passed away and that too was a milestone we knew would occur but all the same, it really is now just Margo and me. My daughter Lisa took a step toward independence late in the decade – as she studies for her Master’s degree; she now lives by herself. Almost, there are two cats that share her new place with her. 

My brother Greg and his wife Robyn became grandparents as well with the arrival of Chase. With three girls in his family, I have to believe Chase will not be the last grandchild and having spent the summer of 2018 – 2019 with him and the family, Margo and I are left to believe that this is only just the beginning. The second daughter, Stephanie, married at the end of the decade – who knows what the next few years will bring? We will always treasure the hospitality Greg and Robyn extended to us during our time in Sydney but I suspect it will be a long time before next we plan an extended stay in Australia. 

The past decade was indeed special for Margo and me. There was the business to be nurtured as there were sights to be seen, music to be heard and cars to be driven. There were many new dining experiences with untried foods to be tasted. Thoughts as to the best restaurant ever? There were plenty to choose from, but it really is a tie between a restaurant we like atop Eze, France and the Cottage Point Inn, Sydney, that accepts arrivals by seaplane. Although too, the reworked Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House now under the management of executive chef Peter Gilmore was a real surprise and worthy of a special mention.
Well, let us not forget friendships! We were blessed to enjoy friendship and company of quite a few great folks – we were quite blessed over the years with truly good friends! I will leave the friendship tales for later as we will be adding a couple of friendship-related adventures in 2020. To the Kennys of Simi Valley, the Millers of Windsor, the Monchs of Sydney, the Rosens of DC and the Jones of Atlanta – a big thank you for letting us be part of your lives as well.

And through it all we both added years to our lives – all of them remarkably good for us both. Now we have a new decade to look forward and even as it has been the subject of many discussions we know the business will continue, families will continue to grow, cars will come and go. Perhaps there will be one more move as our downsizing continues or perhaps, we change continents once more. Whatever transpires it really has been all about the journey and if the past decade is any guide, then look forward to even more perfect days ahead!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Going coastal – I hear the call of the sea, yet again!

The sea has held a special hold on me since childhood. As children, my sister Judy and I would spend long summer days on the beach at the southern end of Avoca, just north of Sydney, on the other side of the Hawkesbury. Days spent doing little other than splashing around in the surf, walking the rock-shelf that went for a mile alongside the ocean and just building sand castles was an idyllic time in my life. It was way back in November, 2013, when I last visited Avoca and I made reference to that trip in the November 12, 2013, post to this blog, Two golds and a red! But America is now my home and trips to Australia only happen occasionally and with my new home residing far from the Pacific Ocean, it takes very little to get me heading that way, no matter the occasion.

Walking down to the beach at Carmel is always a time for reflection. I first started to take time to visit Carmel when I joined Tandem Computers in the late ‘80s. No matter the time of year, there is always something taking place and during those early days I did stumble onto the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. No such luck this time, although we did stop by the Lodge at Pebble Beach’s famous golf course. On the other hand, the wonderful Cypress Pines that make Carmel as famous as it has become are everywhere and the presence makes for good photo opportunities. 

Before we made our trip down to Monterey and Carmel we first had to drive to San Francisco. Crossing the Bay Bridge just as the sun was setting was just another reminder of how much we miss the place. On the other hand, this San Francisco is far removed from our beloved city of just a decade or so ago. For our overnight stay we elected to bed down at the Griffin Hotel right alongside the Bay Bridge which placed us just a few steps away from the Boulevard Restaurant – the site of our “Welcome to GoldenGate Software” all those years ago.

It isn’t that we want to dissuade any of our readers from visiting this most magical of cities but should your plans include a visit, be careful. There are a number of sights that you just don’t want to take in. Nevertheless, our arrival meant that we had made it once more, safely, and that our few days away from the office would be time spent with business colleagues, acquaintances and friends and for that, we will always put in the effort and simply enjoy the ride! 

As with all visits to the coast this trip involved a little business. Margo and I find very little time for vacation these days as we have a digital magazine to publish and numerous wonderful clients looking to us for content for their own publications and social media sites so it’s always a case of taking a working holiday at best. These we have been calling BizCations and looking at our calendar 2020 is going to be a very busy year for us both. Adding a little spice into the mix we have now taken on a major Silicon Valley vendor as a client so this trip was as much about looking at sites and campuses (for an update on what’s really going on in Silicon Valley) as it was thinking up new storylines.

To that end, this BizCation met its goals. And no trip to Silicon Valley should start anywhere else than with a stop by the offices of Kleiner Perkins on Sand Hill Road. That is, after stopping by Buck’s Restaurant for breakfast back up on Highway 84, Woodside. Like to look at an Apple 1 motherboard – well it’s framed and hanging from the wall. It’s rumored that more tech deals were concluded in this café than anywhere else in Silicon Valley. Then again, we arrived in Silicon Valley to unbelievably perfect weather and for the rest of the week, barely a cloud scampered across the sky. Perfect; want three perfect days on the coast well, you missed them!

If Kleiner Perkins was the catalyst for Silicon Valley’s explosive growth than what can we say about the Hearst dynasty? When it comes to publishing Randolph Hearst was among the very first American media moguls and his ranch atop the hills at San Simeon became a beacon that attracted everyone in the media, including the film industry – Hearst owning two of the movie companies of the time. However it is this architectural marvel that continues to pull in the crowds and it was something we just had to do! We had guests with us from Australia and it’s always fun to include a trip to the Hearst Castle whenever called upon to hit the high spots on a trip along the coast.

For Margo and me, being joined on this trip by Dieter and Chris Monch, with Dieter being my former boss during my time with Nixdorf Computers, was a delight. But no, it wasn’t a case of there being a strong wind blowing in from the west but rather, someone shouted that we needed to lean in! Time together gave us many opportunities to discuss the past, even as the tour of Silicon Valley was a revelation for them both – who knew that the vendor campuses would be as large as they were? Dieter is now an investor with interests in almost everything technical and so the conversations covered a lot of territory. In so doing, Margo and I came away with an abundance of potential story lines and for that we are very thankful for the chance to continue conversations that began decades ago.

We had driven down California Highway 1 from Monterey to Cambria before turning inland to visit the wineries of Paso Robles. We drove the 17 Mile Road past the many mansions before we made it to Carmel. But then it was on to Big Sur with a very short detour into the Nepenthe restaurant before arriving at Lucia. Yes, that was my drink – the Diet Coke to the right of the frame! It was hard not to be impressed with the view down the coast just as it was hard not to be impressed with the road itself. To say that it was hard to tear ourselves away from this place would be an understatement, but we still had miles to go.

It was a simple case of heading down to Cambria where we would be spending the night and where we would have the opportunity to dine at Madeline’s where the steaks proved to be an excellent choice. It would be the following morning when we circled back to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle but we didn’t leave Cambria before taking coffee and cake at Linn’s Restaurant where once again, the single portion meringue pies proved irresistible.    

We stopped by a couple of wineries in Paso Robles but none better than Justin Winery where the Justification and Isosceles wines were available for tasting. However, it was their Reserve Cabinet Sauvignon that scored with our small group. Throw in a small plate of cheese and deli cuts and you had all the ingredients necessary for a quiet afternoon of relaxation by the vines. Margo and I have been taking the roads north of Ventura that led to the wineries every opportunity we had when we lived in Simi Valley. It was perhaps the bright spot on an otherwise dreary calendar from those days – dreary, that is, except for the opportunities to spend time racing cars on road courses. On the other hand, driving through the vineyards of Paso Robles meant we had the opportunity to catch up with Cowtrina!

Yet, whether it was the vineyards of Paso Robles or more often than not, the vineyards of Santa Ynez – the location featured in the movie, Sideways – back then, there was nothing better to do than to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon tasting wine. This trip with Dieter and Chris and with meeting up with Brian and Jan brought back so many memories that it wasn’t all that hard to think up new story lines for future articles and posts. It’s almost as if with the beginning of 2020, there was a sense of expectation that our time together would only get better even as we took every opportunity afforded us to pursue working holidays whenever the opportunity presented itself.

There is nothing quite like Santa Barbara on an early January morning. Once again, not a cloud in the sky! We planned a two day break on its wonderful shoreline and that meant breakfast first at the Boathouse seaside at Hendry’s Beach followed by breakfast at Summerland Bach Café. In the meantime being in Santa Barbara meant we had an opportunity to catch up with the Kenny’s and to introduce them to Dieter and Chris and so it just had to be at Brophy’s Seafood Restaurant in Ventura for dinner. Starting late afternoon had initially surprised our guests but then, it was the only opportunity to look east as the sun set over the Pacific and see the colors of the surrounding hills change from gold through reds to deep purples. We would be ending our trip along the coastline by driving inland to Desert Springs which would be our last stop where we would end our time together over steaks at LG Prime Steakhouse.

Almost the complete opposite to what we experienced on the coast, the mountains we traversed on the way back threw everything at us. It was winter after all so what should we have expected that would have been anything different? On the way to the coast we had driven through light snow, yet again, as we drove across Wyoming and then, descending the Sierras just east of Truckee we encountered snow but the Rockies can always turn on a show. Or snow, to express it more simply. Severe weather always sounds ominous and while it slowed us down, the contrast in conditions couldn’t have been more extreme. Clouds? Well, they were everywhere and nasty looking! Golden hills? The scene was monochromatic with nothing by white atop black visible everywhere you looked!

Once again we had chosen the Range Rover and even as our model was the baby in the range – an Evoque two-door ragtop – it handled the conditions admirably. Never stepping out of line and not once communicating to us a loss of traction. We encountered a couple of icy patches and it just sailed on through. There is much to be said about the Range Rover and while it has its critics and it’s styling leaves some to shake their heads, I cannot imagine driving in winter as confidently as we have done so far this winter in anything else. And remember, previously we have owned Jeep Grand Cherokees and Cadillac Escalades, but the Range Rover’s capabilities exceeds both of them.

We may look back at this BizCation a little later in the year and think again of Silicon Valley, the wine districts and even the Hearst Castle, but it will be the coast that will feature more often than not in our conversations. To put it bluntly, I just love the coast and any chance of “going coastal” is an opportunity not to be missed by my books. So, who knows? The year and indeed the decade are quite young and there is much more Margo and I would like to accomplish. Already we know we will be in Warsaw, Poland this spring and then a few weeks later, in Berlin for our annual European HPE NonStop event, so we will not be missing out on too much.

And yet, both of us can’t stop talking about where to next – living here in Windsor, just outside Ft Collins, Colorado, is only a temporary situation we are coming to appreciate. Or is it? No matter where our travels take us I continue to hear the call of the sea. Vacillation has never been either of our strong points, so who can tell where Margo and I will end up next? Again, if we cannot return to Avoca Beach and America is now our home, going coastal opens up many opportunities so stay tuned. The story has only just begun …

Monday, December 23, 2019

Season’s Greetings; questions we have been asked …

Of late Margo and I have been asked many questions about what we are doing for Christmas, the New Year and beyond. At this time of year it is so different for each of us – Margo growing up in Warsaw and enjoying snow at Christmas whereas for me and my family, it was all about making jokes of a Santa Clause in traditional garb trying his best not to falter under the blistering Aussie sun. As you may recall Margo and I spent this time of year in Sydney only twelve months ago and the memories are returning with a vengeance. With snow on the ground all around us, a little warmth would be much appreciated. And yet the memories of that trip continue to linger if only for another chance to sit on shores of Sydney Harbor.

I was about to add how I sure wish we were both back in Sydney, but as they say, be careful what you wish for in case it comes true! No, reading each morning of the devastating bushfires that blaze out of control with some sources telling us the fire line stretches 10,000 kilometers does not seem too appealing. Like a jagged coastline weaving in and around headlines, the fire cannot be measured in straight lines but has to account for all the twists and turn it takes so I have to wonder about the longer term impact. Will we be able to see Australia’s famous bushland any time soon? Will the koalas, kangaroos and king parrots be welcoming us? Will we be able to turn around and see Sydney’s Opera House and Harbor Bridge all at once?

Then again, Australia is one of the most resilient landscapes on the planet even as it set the record for the hottest place on earth just a few days ago; the average across the continent touched 49.9 Celsius last time I checked and that’s 121.82 Fahrenheit! And that’s the average across a continent barely a few hundred square miles smaller than continental USA. But high temperatures only tell part of the story. The question we get the most living here alongside the Rocky Mountains is how could you possibly live in such a country? A desolate terrible island continent – how could you possibly love such a place? Is it possibly a foretaste of the inhospitable lands facing those planning on populating Mars, for instance? 

I first flew coast to coast in 1981 on a trip that would take me from Sydney to Singapore and then on to Europe. The flight would last 8 plus hours but for the first 5 plus hours we flew over Australia. Taking a southeast to northwest route and crossing at Derby, the one thing that struck me was that looking out of my window all I could see were waves of crimson earth. For hour after hour; you just don’t get to appreciate how desolate the country really is until you see it from the air. But at the same time you quickly come to understand why the country’s population clings to a few hundred miles of coastline along its south eastern shores.

Source: Getty

At this time of year with the fires raging up and down the coast and far inland, it’s hard to ignore the words of the poem “My Country” penned a little more than a century ago by a very homesick young lass, Dorothea Mackellar:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
Yes, her beauty and her terror – until you drive over the crest of the highway to see the whole horizon ahead of you nothing but a billowing roiling cloudlike mass telling a story of its own: Devastation and loss. And yet, the country bounces back so quickly that in little more than a year, the leaves are appearing on blackened tree trunks and quickly mask all that transpired just a short time ago. My father spent many a day on the fire lines whether it was in the bush directly opposite our family home located as it was on the edge of a National Park or up at our holiday rental hundreds of miles up the coast. Blackened, blistered exhausted after dodging flames and yes, snakes too, there were many times where these fires only died down with a change in the weather. 

Drought, fires, floods and yes, flies and other pests – you can see it all back home in Australia. And it would be remiss of me not to highlight how California today shares much of the same flora as Australia thanks to the importation of Eucalyptus trees more than a century ago. Some disingenuous entrepreneur thought that their quick growth coupled with their straight tree trunks would make ideal railway ties, that is until California’s termites feasted on them faster than railway workers were able to set them in place. Today, we all witness dreaded fires up and down California’s famous coastline thanks to a much unwanted forest of Aussie imports! 

Before we get deeper into what Margo and I will be doing at this time of year – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the New Year and beyond, our conversations quickly turn to this time last year. In reality despite the headlines, it’s tough to ignore how different Christmas in Sydney really is – with summer temperatures pushing the mercury well beyond the century mark, it’s a time to enjoy the great outdoors with cricket, tennis and golf contests high on the list of pass-times that draw huge crowds. There is always an international “test match” between cricketing nations held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Australian Open tennis championships are taking place even as there continues to be a continuation of Golf Championships featuring many international golfing stars.

But most of all Christmas means family time. It’s the one big event of the year that brings together entire families. Australia, naturally enough, doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving and there are no other festivals around this time of year so Christmas is it! Gathered outside, ducking the ever present flies, families settle around tables enjoying everything that makes it onto the grill. These days, with the cosmopolitan makeup of the bigger cities together with the inclusive nature that comes naturally to all Australians, the Christmas Lunch is a time of celebration. And then, it’s off to the beach for a surf – there’s not too many places where you can say that.

For many Australian families it’s a time too to pack up and head to the holiday home for a much-needed rest. Christmas time is also the time when schools shut down and universities fall quiet. Anywhere from six weeks to nearly three months of down time means lots of holiday time that is spent either on the beach or on travel abroad. No matter where you might find yourselves at this time of year, if you listen hard enough there is bound to be a party of Australians nearby. For Margo and me, living in Colorado, it’s easy to suggest we look at Australia with rose-tinted glasses and in some respects we do. But Colorado is our home and we have spent many more Christmases here together than anywhere else. 

Yes, that is my brother Greg relaxing at the end of the table. And among the many questions Margo and I field at this time of the year has to do with our families. Greg is surrounded by his wife, Robyn and my sister Judy and closer to the camera but just out of view is our daughter, Lisa. This is such a traditional spread that is almost impossible to recreate in Colorado – spot the jar of Vegemite, the sausage and the chicken satay, the tomato sauce (not ketchup) and yes, bottles of  wine and beer. The beer is James Squire’s One Fifty Lashes of IPA – the name coming from the fact that it was the convict James Squire who, after stealing ingredients from the stores to brew the infant colony’s first batch of beer, was caught and the judge ordered him flogged with one hundred and fifty lashes. And yes, plus two barrels of the ale! Or, so the story goes ...

Heading into the city of Sydney for last minute shopping is not too different from last minute shopping in any other major city around the world. Except, that is, for the mad dash across any given streets and into the first air conditioned shop you can find. Sydney was under construction last year and while the trams have started running and more streets are closed to vehicular traffic, it’s apparently still very much a construction zone as overhead cranes continue to dominate the skyline. Then again, there were many highly-decorated Christmas Trees adorning almost every vacant space the city of Sydney affords.

 But then again, in my lifetime Sydney has grown from a city populated by barely a million residents whereas now, with 2020 fast approaching, the same city is host to more than five million Sydney-siders. And it’s still growing. In daylight, it seems to be heaving under the extra weight as tunnels continue to be drilled, structures continue to be torn down and yes, increasing less-tolerant Sydney-siders continue to yell for this or that! What I did miss seeing were the many fruit barrows that dotted the city streets that sold fresh produce picked up at the markets earlier in the day – fresh strawberries! fresh cherries! and much more!

On the other hand, Christmas by night is a revelation. A quick trip north to visit my cousin Mark and his wife Sue landed us in the middle of a proverbial wonderland. My brother had warned me that Margo and I might not be fully prepared for what we would see and clearly as we entered the street, we were not. Every imaginable Christmas icon and every possible combination of lights transformed the street into a northern hemisphere village. Even as the temperature still hovered around the century mark, it was hard not to feel transported to a very different place. And cousin Mark was right in the thick of things with perhaps the most ornate of presentations of all!

This year, it all starts with Christmas Eve as traditionally, for Margo it’s been all about the night before Christmas. We will be heading down to the home of our daughter Anna and her family. With three grandchildren there will be plenty of toys handed out. It’s a whole lot of fun for the little ones even as it will be borderline chaos for everyone else – fully expected and yes, a tradition that I am familiar with dating back to when all of the Buckle clan gathered at the Sydney suburban home of my parents. There isn’t any forecast for snow that I can see, unfortunately but hey, it’s Colorado so weather can change in an instant. Decorations are already hanging in our Windsor home even as boxes of wrapped gifts litter the floor of Margo’s office.

Then again, traditions very much have their place in all of our lives. You may call them routines or even habits and practices but there is something reassuring about re-enacting events steeped in our own families’ histories. In rural Colorado, there are fir trees liberally decorated in lights everywhere you turn and the short trip into Ft Collins one evening last week meant that for Margo and me, we saw that city beautifully illuminated for the very first time! Yes, it was a pretty sight.

But perhaps the biggest question asked of us at this time of year concerns the New Year. Where will we be celebrating? What parties will we be attending? For readers of posts to this blog who follow our travels each year, where we have been in 2019 will be no surprise.  Equally, it should be no surprise to read that Margo and I will be celebrating quietly, at home. For us and with only one exception, we have never made it to midnight on any previous occasion. As for the exception well, of course, it was last year on Sydney Harbor as we watched millions of dollars in fireworks erupt across the harbor and surrounds.

Even so, our thoughts will be returning to Australia as the news of fires continue to be posted with awful videos of blazes rising higher than Sydney’s Opera House – yes, walls of 70 meter high flames.  
And yet, it’s hard to forget a stanza in that poem by Dorothea Mackellar who captured the heartache along with the hope that has been ever-present across all of Australia at this time of year:

Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

To all of our friends – and in this case, particularly our Aussie mates – we wish you the very best for the holiday season. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!