Sprocketts by the Bay

Sprockett family adventures as California residents


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Bill & Melinda Gates Speak at Stanford’s Graduation

If your passions are global health and education and you get an opportunity to hear big players in global health and education (and philanthropy), you go! Especially when it’s within walking distance of your home. And even better? Free.

Bill and Melinda Gates were the 2014 Stanford University graduation speakers, so you better believe Dan and I were there! For multiple reasons, I’m glad to have attended a Stanford graduation before Dan goes through his own ceremony. I know I’m going to be tears when Dan goes graduates, so this gave me an impartial observer opportunity to know what to expect. Things like, go early to get a good seat. Stanford provides snacks and water on your way in to the stadium where the ceremony is held. And don’t expect a solemn ceremony.

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Stanford graduation (and perhaps more true for the undergrads than the graduate students) is to a standard graduation ceremony what the Stanford marching band is to a normal college marching band. The Ohio State University band fans, don’t watch. It’ll roll your stomach.

Dan and I were shocked as the undergraduates paraded in dressed as penguins, Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2, clowns, and even whoopie cushions. We didn’t stay to see the graduates walk across the stage, so I can’t say for certain that they received their diploma while carrying a giant inflatable whale, but I would venture that happened.

Whoopie cushion graduates.

Whoopie cushion graduates.

Peapod graduates.

Peapod graduates.

But we weren’t there for the graduates. We were there for Bill and Melinda. The irony of having a non-college graduate speak at a prestigious university graduation ceremony was not lost on me. However, their commitment to education and global health through their foundation shows a value in learning, whether through formal or informal means. (And to be fair, Melinda has a degree in computer science and an MBA.)

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Based on their annual letters and blog, I wasn’t surprised by the message and left inspired. They spoke not of the importance of providing aid, but of providing tools. They each spoke of their individual experiences that led them to value and commit to philanthropy. Bill talked about his vision that technology should benefit everyone and so he had made it his priority to close the digital divide. He highlighted that if only wealthy children have access to computers, it increases inequality. His first true experience with poverty was during a visit to Soweto, South Africa where he left questioning whether innovation really helped. Wondering, what keeps the world’s poorest poor?

Melinda spoke of experience in India with the most marginalized populations, including female sex workers and individuals with HIV. She reminded us that the stigma of AIDS is vicious, especially for women. And that to do the most, you must first see the worst because sometimes it is the people you can’t help that inspire you the most. But we cannot look away, and we cannot lose hope. Facing that suffering is how change is born.

They both reminded the eager audience that optimism is often dismissed as false hope, but there is also false hopelessness. There is a power in optimism to fuel innovation that leads to new approaches to end suffering and change the world. But they cautioned that innovation that is focused only on the market will increase inequities. Innovation must be combined with optimism and empathy to solve problems, otherwise we are simply working on puzzles.

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I also appreciate their recognition that absolute and total luck are a big factor in success: the luck of where you are born, when you are born, and who your parents are all play a big factor. They are also realists and didn’t ask the Stanford grads to go forth and change the world immediately. Instead, Bill and Melinda encouraged them to find jobs, pay back their debts, build successful careers, maybe even meet a spouse, and then, when they can commit heart, talent, experience, and leadership, to change the world.

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Surprise Birthday Party: Ghostbusters at Dolores Park

San Francisco plays free movies on a big screen in various parks across the city. My brother, Nick, has had this activity on his “to do” list for quite some time. On top of that, one of the parks that hosts the movies is just down the street from his apartment. And on top of that, his loving girlfriend, Laura, knew about his wish list and that the movie was playing in the park down the street from him on his birthday weekend. And so she started scheming. She invited friends, organized sandwiches from one of Nick’s favorite sandwich shops, Ike’s Place (if you visit the Bay Area, go!), and organized a surprise meeting at Cerveceria and a reason for Nick to be so near the park, but not be destined for the movie. I was especially excited because, despite her far superior baking skills, she gave me and Dan free reign on a birthday cake. (Check out California Test Kitchen for details on the cake.)

Of course the day before the planned surprise, Nick found a poster that Ghostbusters was playing in the park and told Laura about his find (I suspect, because he was secretly hoping their plans might alter enough that they could go). So even though he knew about the movie, he didn’t know he was actually going to get to go to the movie…with his friends…and dinner…and dessert — all in surprise to celebrate HIM. Traffic was unfortunately kind to Laura and Nick on their way into San Francisco. Combine that with Dan and my several block adventure on foot in the wrong direction, and Nick beat us to the pre-set meeting point. Although he looked like our Unflappable Nick (“Oh? A surprise party? For me? Sure, sure.”), I read his exterior quiet as a bit of shock that this event was all about celebrating his birthday. Nick is such a provider, organizer, and taker-carer, that I think it is a twist when others are doing all that for him. So way to go, Laura!

After a drink at Ceveceria, we wound our way into the packed park, set up picnic blankets, and enjoyed sandwiches and birthday cake before the movie.

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Although I have only seen Ghostbusters twice, and both in the last year, I still feel an odd nostalgia for/connection with the movie.

IMG_9267There was also a joy in watching a movie under the stars, with lovely friends, and snuggling with your husband to stay warm while he whispered Ghostbusters lines in your ear three seconds before the characters themselves said them. 🙂

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What a beautiful evening: celebrating the best big brother a little sister could ask for!


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Lake Tahoe: Four Years of Marriage

Our anniversary celebrations have been, literally, all over the world. For our first year, we visited good friends in Phoenix, Arizona. Our second year we headed to Paris, France where we were lucky to be able to stay with family and visit a friend. Our third year was in Sydney, Australia, where we were living. And our fourth year was at Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe has been a mystical place for me since I was young. It was a place I knew I wanted to visit, even though I didn’t quite know why. It was also a place that was far, far away, just like in the fairy tales. And then we moved to California and this storybook land moved reachably closer. Thanks to an excellent GroupOn find, we planned a weekend trip away to celebrate four years of marriage. Four years!

Tahoe is spectacular. We fell in love and started planning our return trip on our first morning there. We stayed at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, located right on the border of California and Nevada in South Lake Tahoe. It was also conveniently near the little “downtown,” with shopping, restaurants, and the Heavenly Ski Resort gondolas. (They were under repair, so that’s on the list for a future trip.) Thanks to our GroupOn, our hotel room was larger than our current apartment and featured more sinks than in our current apartment. It also included a buffet breakfast and two complimentary cocktails each night.

After sleeping in and enjoying a large breakfast, we set out for the day, originally heading toward Vikingsholm, a Viking-style castle built in 1928. Spoiler alert: we didn’t make it there, so it’s also on the list for a future trip. And here’s why we didn’t make it there:

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Inspiration Point was totally worth the scenic view stop. And, because we had landed an actual parking spot at the Point, we decided to maximize the opportunity and head out for a hike. Our choices were to follow a longer path toward “Desolation,” complete with hiking registration, in case we got lost, or a shorter path toward “Cascade Falls.” We chose the falls.

Although the hike was only 20-25 minutes, and a gentle hike at that, we spent over two hours exploring around the waterfall.

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Look for Dan on the far right of the picture.

Look for Dan on the far right of the picture.

In our infinite wisdom, we had also assumed the hike would take us through tree covered paths and so had neglected sunscreen. We know better. But sometimes you just do silly things. And this was one of those silly things. I shall carry these odd tan lines  that resulted from my serious sunburn with me throughout the summer as a reminder of our beautiful time in Tahoe.

We got back to the car and headed toward Vikingsholm along with all the other mid-afternoon tourists who think the same way about the idea of visiting an intriguing Viking-style castle. That meant the parking lot was full. So, we decided to save the castle in favor of a trip to Baldwin Beach and some time out kayaking on the lake.

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The water is clear, blue, and absolutely sparkles. And that’s even more true when you actually get out in the water. The water, however, was still quite chilly, so I was thankful to be able to enjoy it in a kayak. I couldn’t believe the people just swimming around in it when I got goosebumps just from being splashed a few times (thank you, husband).

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By this point it was already 4:30 and time for happy hour at the hotel. But as we started our drive back to the hotel, we both realized we weren’t ready to head in for the day. The sky was blue with hardly any clouds, the temperature was just right in the upper 70s, and we had a State Park Beach Access pass that was begging for more use. So instead of heading back to the hotel, we headed to Nevada Beach so that I could check off “visit Nevada” from my “40 things to do by the time I’m 40” list. Yes, weak, but we spent several hours on the beach in Nevada, so I count that as an activity that allows me to check it off my list.

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After our second beach trip, we ate a later dinner at the Base Camp Pizza Co. and enjoyed one of our free hotel cocktails outside on the desk of the hotel.

Our second morning was just as lazy as the first. Sleep in, big breakfast, then head out for the day. We shopped around the stores in South Lake Tahoe for a bit. We headed past the Renaissance Fair that happened to be that weekend and on to Tallac Historic Site, a collection of homes on three different estates from the turn of the century.

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We had fun wandering through the homes, imagining what it would have been like to be a guest, the servants, or the owner of one of these homes. One of the estates has set up the guest homes and the servant homes so that you can peer in to see what it would have looked like and read a bit about the time. For example, at the nanny’s room I learned that toys were not just toys, they were miniature versions of tools the children would need to learn how to master as adults. Early practice!

As we walked up to the kitchen, a dog started barking. Well, the sound of a recorded dog barking. Thinking this was designed as part of the experience, I exclaimed (when my heart started beating again), “Well, that’s unnecessary!”

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Turns out it actually IS necessary.

I contend that the unexpected mannequins in many of the rooms are not. Watch out visitors – I nearly jumped out of my skin several times. Aside from my mini-scares on the property, the area is beautiful and was a nice cultural addition to our trip.

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The only bummer part of our trip was our drive home. Again, in our infinite wisdom, we timed our drive home in the hottest part of the late afternoon…in a car without a functioning air conditioner. Let me tell you, even with the windows down and the air rushing in, 95 degree wind does not cool you down. We were jonesing for Jamba Juice with 90 minutes to home and we didn’t pass a single one on the highway. Perhaps, perhaps, we missed one, but it was a surprise. And then we got to Stanford only to find that the JJ had just closed (early). So thank you to Fraiche for meeting our smoothie craving.

It was a fantastic trip and a loving time to connect, talk with, laugh with, and learn with the person I am, more and more with each day together, so happy to have as my partner in life. I love you, Dan!


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Create it Ceramics

Our housing complex sponsored a pottery painting event at Create it Ceramics. And it was not what we anticipated.

We arrived early to pick out our piece to paint, which was a more difficult task than I would have guessed. Especially since going into the day I already knew I wanted to paint a mug. But there were several styles of mugs to choose from, combined with distracting items like pretty plates, and candy bowls, and 3-in-1 teapots. It’s a good thing we were early because we both needed that time to select the perfect mug.

After directions and several minutes of puzzling at the wall of colors, I sought assistance coordinating the colors for my coffee (or in my case, tea) mug. When I finally sat down to paint and enjoy the company, I was only about 20 minutes behind the rest of this very creative group. But in my previous pottery painting experiences my “take home” was less than impressive and little used, so I was determined to make something “pretty” and “displayable.”

With a lighthearted activity, you would think the conversation would stray toward subjects that took little brain power so you could concentrate your brain power on your pottery. Topics like television shows, movies, summer plans. But then again, this is Stanford. (And apparently it was just me who needed so much concentration!)

While painting several layers of color onto our chosen pottery pieces, we discussed the philosophy of law and the right to punish others who break the law. We discussed socialism, motorbikes and the best routes to the beach and back (one of the motorbikers was painting a giant T-rex bank…so it just goes to show that you can’t make assumptions on first appearances), microbiology, and economics. Among other subjects.

Focused on painting straight lines on my mug.

Focused on painting straight lines on my mug.

It certainly made the nearly three hours it took to create these masterpieces pass quickly! What a fun group of new Stanford connections!

"World Best Microbiologist"

“World’s Best Microbiologist”

And the finished, fired products:

Trying to show the really cool microbes Dan pained on his mug.

Trying to show the really cool microbes Dan pained on his mug.