Thursday, August 20, 2015

More travel!

We had been talking about the trip to the Northwest for some time when my wife comes up with this promotion that comes from the Catalina Island Ferry system:  a free trip to Catalina Island on your birthday.  Well, free is her favorite word so now we were talking about two trips at the same time.  First to the Northwest then three weeks later heading for Los Angeles and Catalina Island.  Hmmm.

You know driving all the way to L.A. for a couple days on Catalina didn't sound that wonderful and I was pretty sure the neither of us would care for more than a couple days on the Island.  But, it is L.A. and there are other attractions.  One, right next to the ferry terminal is the Queen Mary.  We love the old ocean liners and staying on the Queen Mary would certainly fit into our trip.  Then I remembered all the advertising Disney is doing about the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland.  Do you see what's happening here?  See how easy it is to fill a week in L.A.?

We took off on Sunday the 9th headed for Disneyland.  My wife was taken there the first year it opened.  Then she lived in California until her mid-twenties and continued to visit from time to time with the kids.  When we lived in Orlando we visited Disneyworld quite often but I had never made it to the original Disneyland.  She wanted to show me.  We found a much different situation now; I guess 40 years does make a difference!  We stayed in the 'Resort District' at the Doubletree Inn.  It is the last property in the 'district' and walking from there to the resort was probably about a mile.  Still, it was an ok place to stay.

Disneyland was all alone when my wife started going to it then in the mid-70's it got surrounded by hotels so that the attractions looked small.  Well, they've fixed all that!  Mostly they bought up the hotels, demolished them and turned the land into parking lots.  The remaining hotels are farther away and only six or seven stories tall.  While walking around in the park I didn't see anything outside the park at all.  The park itself is much smaller than the Florida park but seems to work for the kids.  We were there in summer so there were quite a few kids; actually hordes of kids!
There were hordes of strollers as well!  That is one of the smaller stroller parking areas. 
We saw plenty of kids sleeping in the stroller while Mom and Dad were visiting Disney!  We got there about 09:00 (they open at 08:00) and it wasn't too bad but as the day wore on it got more and more crowded.  It was only about 80F (26C) so not really hot but because it is closed in there was no breeze.  By 13:00 we had had enough and left for Downtown Disney.  Downtown is an area of independent shops and restaurants; i.e. they serve alcohol!  After dodging strollers for a couple hours we needed wine with our lunch!

We could have gone back to Disneyland but we'd seen almost everything there was to see so were more than happy to wander back to the hotel.  We didn't go on any of the rides except for the train and the riverboat but that wasn't the reason for our visit; my wife wanted to see the changes and I just wanted to say I'd been there.  We were done!  That night we ate in the hotel restaurant and had a fairly nice meal.  Then went into the lounge for one last glass of wine.  The bartender served us then went on break!  She just sat there reading her paper and ignoring us; her only customers!  Absolutely amazing.  We stretched out drinking our wine so that she could come back on duty and give us the check.   Really?

The next day we didn't hurry but made it to the Queen Mary around 10:30.  We were amazed to find that our room was ready!  So we dumped our stuff in the room and took off touring the ship.
There is a Russian submarine tied up with the QM but it was closed for repairs.  I was just as happy to skip it as subs can get a little tight.  It wasn't so bad when I weighed 180 but these days those tight spaces are just a bit tighter!  You can tour most of the QM.  Inside in the passenger areas the walls are wood and beautifully finished.  We got to see some of the mechanical spaces but none of the really good stuff like the engine room, etc. We did get to visit the bridge, officer's country and the radio room; they were done to passenger level.  The radio room is kept up by a local ham radio club which was pretty cool.   Much of the deck is beautiful teak but there are places where it has been replaced with plywood.  The plywood may be cheap but it sure isn't lasting. 

I loved this view of the hull.  They wanted this ship to stay together so they used plenty of rivits!


Our room was quite nice.
This was taken from the entry way and the bathroom is beside me.  We got 2 portholes for the view and the door visible leads to a small closet.  There was a tv mounted in the corner partially obscuring one of the portholes.  The view was of the dock.  We could have had a sea view but figured who is going to stand at the porthole and look out?  I was really kind of surprised at the size of the room.  I'm sure it must have been one of the more expensive cabins when the ship was in use.

Some people complained about noise from neighbors; we had no problem with that.  We did get some noise from the hall because there was a 1 ft by 2 ft louvered opening in the door for ventilation.  My wife noticed that the toilet dripped water when used and when we reported it to the desk they had someone come over and fix it right away.

We ate at a restaurant that is just across the water so we could see the QM.  This was Parkers Lighthouse.  They were a little screwed up offering wine that they didn't have but the food (sushi for my wife and shark for me) was good and the location/view was fantastic.  Parking was validated to only cost $4 rather than $10.

I've blathered on way too much already.  I'm going to hold the big trip to Catalina Island for another day.
Take care and thanks for stopping by.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

More catching up....

So we made it back from the latest Pacific Northwest trip on July 14th.  On the 15th I had a meeting of that advisory board  of the old Test Site.  These days it is called the Nevada National Security Site but all but a few sticklers call it the Test Site.  (Please note that the famous Area 51 is NOT part of the site so don't expect to see any little green men if you choose to visit!)  Like any governmental unit they love acromyms which drive the rest of us crazy but we all try to get along.  The meetings are in the late afternoon-evening starting about 4 p.m. and ending around 9 p.m.  This one was mostly about transportation of contaminated waste.  I got to learn all kinds of wonderfulness about the required signage and good stuff like that.  Of course I already knew that this stuff is radioactive but that the packaging is sufficient to make it safe to handle.

On the 19th we celebrated Number One Daughter's birthday.  I won't offer the number but it's getting up there!  Then on the 20th-22nd my wife and I attended a three day class driving to and from Las Vegas every day to learn about the Community Monitoring program.  This is a bunch of volunteers who oversee weather stations planted around the Test Site.  I wanted to learn more about them and the Desert Research Institute which oversees the program and does a lot of the physical work at the Test Site - taking measurements and that sort of thing.  When we hear that radioactivity in the groundwater is nearing the edge of the Test Site; they are the ones making the measurements.    It turns out they do a lot of environmental research and are part of the state higher education system. 

That gets me to the last week of July and by this time I was ready for some time off!  Of course that means I have time for stuff like smoking some pork, making a couple more trips to Las Vegas for normal 'shopping' and the like.  In addition, in August my wife will turn 65.  This means she is eligible for Medicare; there are quite a few hoops you need to jump through especially if you aren't taking Social Security and she isn't.  I'm wanting to spend some time at home!  We'll see how that works out.  Don't hold your breath!  In fact we are off to Vegas yet again today. 

I can't make this post a total whine so I'll include a photo I took back in June.  When you go to Las Vegas from Pahrump you leave our valley and go up over a 5400 foot pass (1,650 m for the rest of the world).  Then you come back down into the Las Vegas valley.  If the weather is nice and it isn't too windy you can get a balloon ride across the valley.  Here the balloons are coming back to earth just before the mountain gets pretty steep.  This was taken about 07:00 on one of my commutes into the city.


Take care.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'm BAACCKK!!

Yeah, I know, no one missed me.  Well, I'm back anyway.  It's been quite a month so I hope you will be ok with me covering this in a couple posts.  It all started on June 28 when we left on vacation.  What was unusual was that for the first time in years we were taking the car; not our RV.

We have a Toyota RAV4 that we bought basically to drive back and forth to Vegas.  It gets almost 30 mpg where our truck is pretty lucky to get 16.  And, of course, it actually fits in a parking space where the truck really needs two or three!  We were a little concerned about taking the car since the only long trips it has been on have been to Southern California which is only a few hours away.  This would be a weeks long trip up to the Northwest.  As it turned out the car worked out really well.

Our idea was simple.  The family has several birthdays in the July-August timeframe and this year we had 85-65-60-45 quadfecta come up so it was time for a party.  We lived in the Northwest for many years and never really got to spend enough time in the British Columbia cities of Vancouver and Victoria.  We decided that spending some time in Canada then doing the party would be a good thing.  It turned out to be great.

You could make the drive up north in two days but three is really more our style these days.  So we spent three days getting up to Washington.  We had some stuff to drop off before hitting Canada so while we left home on the 28th of June it was actually July 2 before we crossed the border into BC.  July 1 is Canada Day and, of course, July 4 is Independence Day here in the states so we were concerned about crowds; turns out we were right but for the wrong reasons.  Now everyone knows the Women's World Cup Soccer match was played in Vancouver on July 5.  I've got to tell you we sure didn't know that when we scheduled our visit!  (Congratulations to the U.S. women for winning!)  Had we known about the world cup we would have found another time to visit for sure.

Anyway we spent a couple days visiting Vancouver.  You have to visit Stanley Park and we spent a lovely afternoon there; most of the day actually.  Gastown is also a kind of iconic place:  it's near where the city began and has older buildings and trendy shops.  Of course we had to visit it again.  We are uncertain but are thinking that the last time we were in Vancouver would have been 1982.  Hmm, nothing like spending all your vacations in the same place!  And it's really odd but I don't have a single photo of the city!  What on earth is coming over me?

Anyway we escaped the mainland on July 4 and headed off to Vancouver Island and Victoria.  Actually what we were really focused on was Butchart Gardens since my wife had never visited.  To that end we stayed in Sidney, BC which is quite close to the Gardens.  However we certainly had to have High Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria and this was the day of our reservation! 


Well, I have to say it's kind of not that special.  We had a nice table next to a window which was great because it was warm and there wasn't any a/c.  The 'tea' is a multi-level tray:  sandwiches, scones and candies.  Are you full when you leave?  We certainly were.  Was it worth the $63CDN plus tip each; nah.  Even with the exchange rate in our favor it wasn't that special.  We'll not have to return.

On July 5 we woke to find the world to be an odd color.  Turns out that there were wildfires burning on Vancouver Island and the smoke was visiting Victoria.  We visited Craigdarroch Castle which is a Victoria 'landmark'.  Apparently it was built by some early 'robber baron' to show off his wealth in the 1890's.  I don't know what he did but one of the placards refered to questionable 'employment practices'.  Sounded kind of harsh considering it was posted on what he must have considered to be his crowning achievement!  It is quite the place and wonderfully presented by a group of volunteers.  The family was pretty unlucky except in that money thing:  they had 8-10 kids most of whom died fairly young.  One of the survivors had another 8-10; the last of whom died in the 1950's.
You can see the color of the sky behind the castle.  It was really most odd.  I didn't smell smoke but the air quality was really poor.  The web site has some nice photos of the interior of the Castle.  I love the catch phrase they are using:  "Lavish lives and wayward daughters".  That pretty much says it all.

Butchart Gardens is just amazing.  A wealthy family started re-purposing a dis-used quarry and now have ended up with this world famous garden.  It's amazing!  We heard that it is a busy place in summer so got there when they opened; a VERY good choice!  It was relatively uncrowded when we started but by lunch time people were streaming in by the busload.  I didn't count but we must have seen twenty gardeners slaving away; the place is immaculate. 
The house is now used for a restaurant, offices, gift store, etc.  We did have lunch there and it was very nice.  The only sore spot would be the $34 for a half-carafe of their house wine.  Hmmm.  Well, gotta pay those gardeners somehow I guess. 
This seems to be the quarry where it all started.  You can tell we were early because there is only one person in the photo!  You can also see the haze in the air.  Butchart is some way from Victoria and between the distance and the wind direction the air was much cleaner than in Victoria.  Still it's obviously not bright and sunny. 

After our visit to Canada we headed back to the USA via the Black Ball ferry, the 'Coho'.   It is a nice big ship but we were glad to have reservations.  We got home and the customs guy asked why we went to Canada and I answered 'Just a vacation' and he asked 'yes, but why Canada?'.  I swear those people must go to school to come up with weird questions.  Oh well. 

We spent the 7th through the 10th visiting family then on the 11th had the big birthday bash.  No photos but it was lots of fun; too much food and wine as usual.  On the 12th we headed back south getting home on the 14th.  Another quiet drive with just the ocassional idiot being an accident looking for a place to happen. 

Our excitement wasn't over but I need to go do things.  Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photo Op

We had a visitor to the bird bath the other day; a young hawk.  Needless to say there weren't a lot of other birds hanging around!  He didn't stay long but did hang around for one portrait.
The birdbath is attracting attention these days.  It's getting warm outside and everyone needs a little water.  We even had a crow stop by one day.  (No photo, he was shy and quick.)  Plenty of the ordinary birds:  pigeons, doves, sparrows and finches are the most common.  Once in a while we spot a newbie but this isn't exactly on the way to anywhere!

I mentioned the fun with the septic tank.  Found a photo that gives one an idea of the job.
This big old tanker truck with a tractor on a trailer was just the thing.  The top of the tank is about four feet down (1.2M) so we were all glad the guy had a tractor.  No one knew exactly where the openings were so he used a tool to probe around in the ground then proceded to dig in exactly the right place.  You've gotta say it might be a stinky job but he sure knew what he was doing.  Yes, the black thing in the photo is the 'straw' they use to suck up the sewage.

I said it's getting warm.  Here's the latest from the Fox news in Las Vegas.
That's 39C-41C for our highs and around 27C for lows.  Needless to say we are running the a/c a lot.  It is basically 24/7 now for a while.  We like to walk around our neighborhood but when it is this warm we either go really early or not at all.  A new alternative is for us (wifey needs exercise too) go to the gym.  Yes, I said  gym.  It's not a word you've heard from my mouth (keyboard) before but there it is.  As part of my medical care under Medicare (health plan for oldies here in the states) I have a gym membership.  I haven't used it much but these days a treadmill in an airconditioned building is better than walking in the neighborhood at 05:30 or so.  I tried out a stationary cycle; found muscles I didn't know I had in 2 miles.  I tried out an eliptical stepper thing; yep, more muscles I didn't know I had.  Finally tried the treadmill; at least I can do that!  I strained my foot back when we were in Ireland and 15 minutes on the treadmill make it quite painful.  There is something about the surface that is harder on my foot than ordinary walking.  Still, gotta move it or lose it.  They also have strength-training machines.  These are weird machines I've never seen and can hardly figure out how to use even when I'm reading the directions!  I tried two of them:  one for your chest and one for your abs.  I guess they are ok but it's another episode of 'old dog, new tricks'.  As though the new pc wasn't enough.

That's it for today.  My spouse wants to go to the gym again.  Stock market hint:  buy Advil!  Have a good one.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

More Life in the Fast Lane

We are spending most of our time inside these days since the triple digit days are here.  Actually we are hovering in the high 90's most days but we have seen 101F (38C).  To bring some excitement to my life I have just purchased a new computer:  an HP Envy 17" laptop.  Wow is that some learning curve!  My old machine is from 2008 and had a pretty basic version of Windows Vista.  I know some people had a lot of trouble with Vista but actually I was fairly happy.  The new machine is Windows 8.1; it has lots more screen (!) and it's a touchscreen to boot.  So far it's acceptable but from time to time it decides to cancel what I've typed or delete an email without consulting me.  It's just learning curve I keep telling myself!

 One thing that has me going is the amount of software that I'm needing to download to make this thing work.  I forgot how many extra pieces of software are on the old machine.  Of course the stuff HP put on here is not my style at all.  It's a good thing we have a decent internet connection because I'm going to be using it!

Otherwise we did exciting stuff like having our septic tank pumped out.  That was a thrill!  We didn't know where the tank was; there is a pipe coming out of the ground but as it turns out the pipe is 2 feet west of the actual tank opening and 5 feet south.  Happily the guy who did it knows what he is doing and found the tank relatively quickly.  Then he had to dig down about three feet to the tank, remove both the caps and empty both chambers.  Two and a half hours and $500 later; we should be good for another 8-10 years. 

Anyway, that's it for today.  I'd post a photo or two but haven't resized them.  Maybe there is something on the machine that would do it but I don't recognize it if it is here.  Grrr!  Later

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still here!

No I haven't dried up and blown away quite yet but it's getting close.  Actually my wife and I have been occupied with planning a couple more trips in the not too distant future.  These will be much closer to home but should be fun anyway.  I'll fill you in more later.  Can't post a photo of someplace I haven't been yet, can I?

We have had pretty good weather but it's getting warm enough to make firing up the bbq rather than warming the house using the stove or oven a valid consideration.  The lesser cleanup with the bbq has absolutely nothing to do with our choices I promise.  I was looking at a video about smokers (food smokers!) the other day and the presenters ended with 'You can never have too many smokers or bbq's'.  Well, I'm approaching the limit I think!  We have a full size Wever kettle; a Weber gas grill and now the smoker.  That's a lot of iron on the back patio!  Of course I didn't mention the little Coleman grill that we carry on the trailer   Hmmm.  Can I spell addiction?

However I must admit to using all this stuff.  The Weber kettle gets the least use just because I'm too lazy to get charcoal going before we are actually starving.  I do love the charcoal taste.  The gas grill gets used at least once a week and often three times.  The smoker is taking it's place somewhere between the kettle and the gas.  You kind of need all day to smoke something so it's not a spur of the moment thing.  That's not even considering marinades which are used quite a bit.  I did learn something new last week though:  reverse sear.

"Reverse sear" as I understand it works like this.  It is a technique for a small piece of meat like a steak.  you smoke it to add flavor then sear it to finish the cooking.  In this case we had a couple of t-bones that were a bit more than a pound each.  So you do whatever you want to with them first.  We marinate in soy sauce and worchestershire for 20-30 minutes; they get to come up to room temp during that time as well.  So now we put them in the smoker for an hour or so.  This is how they looked when they came out.  I cannot tell you how soft they felt; almost like completely raw meat.


So after an hour in the smoker I fire up the gas grill.  These Weber gas grills go from 0-60 pretty much like a Corvette - fast!  So now I grill the steaks for 1.5 minutes on a side.   For us it was a little too much.  Next time I'd probably use a minute on each side.  (Without the smoking, I do my wife's steak for 2 minutes on a side and mine for 3 minutes on a side and it's pretty perfect medium-rare.  My wife's steak lets out a little 'moo'!)  After resting for a few while my wife made some potatoes to go with the steaks it makes a nice plate doesn't it.  There is still some pink to the steak but not a lot.


Sorry but getting cross-checking grill marks in 3 minutes is beyond me.  Guess I'll lose Master Chef!  Have a good one and I'll be back later!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The end of Ireland as we saw it

Finally!  I know.  All these photos of someone else's vacation are boring.  Sorry.  It seems to be a totally human characteristic though.  Certainly I've seen qute a few vacation photos in my life.  Anyway.

We basically ran out of time to see all we wanted to see in Ireland.  We wanted three or four days in Dublin and we just had to skip Northern Ireland.  We'll just have to include it in another trip.  We both have family from that area so there is some motivation.  However this trip we got on the motorway in Galway and headed east for Dublin.  We thought we'd stop at the Tullamore distillary but when we finally found it there was no parking so we decided to keep going.  Finally we found the Kilbeggen distillary and toured that!  Actually I don't think they do much here but it was a great old time distillary water powered with gears all over the place.  I took a TON of photos because real old time machinery is a facination but I won't bore you with them.  Here's just the one.
So then we finally made it to Dublin.  Went to the airport and turned in the car; who needs a car in a city?  And it turned out that about 80% of the traffic in downtown Dublin was buses!  While at the airport we stopped at the tourist counter and had them find us a downtown hotel - for only 115 euro a night!  We were amazed!  It was the Cassidy Hotel; rather old and some of the work that was done on it over the years wasn't the best but it was actually pretty good.  We'd certainly stay there again!  The big thing was that it was downtown.  We could and did walk almost everywhere.  The hotel is on Upper O'Connell street which is a great location.  Just down the street was this weird thing.
It has no name or anything to identify it; it's just this tall tapering thing.  Dublin was great.  Lots of older building with lots of character that are being re-used for modern stores.  Of course we went to see the Book of Kells (photography not permitted) and Trinity College but mostly we just enjoyed the city.  We did find the worst bar in town:  the Bruxelles in the Temple Bar district.  It was only the second place in Ireland where we had bad service but certainly the worst by a mile.  The bartender couldn't even be bothered to pour the Guinness properly!  What a tourist trap. 

So then we wandered back across the Atlantic and home.  We were more than happy to be back.  Three weeks in hotels is trying even if they are nice places. 

Next time I'll talk about our future travel plans.  Yep, there's more on tap.  Have a good one!