Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Vacation: Day 17 (August 19)

The home stretch.

No drive across South Dakota is complete without a stop at the ultimate tourist trap, Wall Drug. Here's Emma at one of the "stores within the store," trying to figure out how to spend the last of her souvenir money.

And here I am atop a jackalope. Note to Scooter: I did not touch it inappropriately.

Distance covered: 640 long miles. But at the end of it, familiar beds and happy cats. Game over; back to work.


Vacation: Day 16 (August 18)

Another driving day. Paused for a look at Idaho Springs, Colorado; paused again to drive around Cheyenne, Wyoming looking for fast food (ended up at Subway). We finished "Half-Blood Prince" some time ago, and are now reading "Peter and the Starcatchers", which is kind of fun but desperately needs a proofreader.

Approximate miles from Glenwood Springs, Colorado to Sturgis, South Dakota: 560 miles. For a second time in my life I get close to, but not close enough to see, Devil's Tower. Someday ...


Vacation: Day 15 (August 17)

Just a driving day, but we only manage to cover about 475 miles (from St. George, Utah to Glenwood Springs, Colorado). What did we do wrong? I don't know.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a scenic turnout for one last look at our favorite part of the country.

I really don't remember much else about this day -- where we ate, what took us so long -- except for driving around Glenwood Springs trying to find cheap accomodations. But I do know that the water in Glenwood Springs really is good -- even at the cheapest motel we could find.


Vacation: Day 14 (August 16)

Everybody's exhausted and cranky, and we have a trunk full of dirty laundry. So we check out of the motel and find a laundromat. After fluffing and folding are complete, we look for lunch. Tempers flare, as now we're exhausted, cranky and starving. Emma and I end up eating at lunch at Wendy's while Kristi walks to a nearby Taco Bell to get some personal space.

Things look better with food digesting. We hit the road, and after several freeways I've never driven before (the Riverside, Orange and Pomona, I think), we're onto I-15 and on our way. We stop in Las Vegas, hoping to find a really good Thai restaurant we went to the last time we were there, but we've lost it. Fortunately, we trip over Kung Fu Plaza, a Thai/Chinese restaurant just a few blocks off I-15, and are more than satisfied with our dinner there.

We end the day in St. George, Utah. Distance covered: about 380 miles -- not bad considering we're so tired and didn't get started until after lunch.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Vacation: Day 13 (August 15)

Disneyland. Ah, Disneyland.

After a decent breakfast, we walk to the park entrance. All of this is new to me; we haven't been to Disneyland since before Emma was born, which means before the new Downtown Disney area was added. We find our way without too much trouble, though, and are soon in the park proper.

And look! An expert predicts we'll have a marvelous time.

We start with the Adventureland/Frontierland/New Orleans Square essentials first: the revamped Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones, the Jungle Cruise, the Enchanted Tiki Room, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. A brief stop in Fantasyland for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, then on to Tomorrowland for Star Tours, Autopia (twice), the "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" 3-D movie, and the improved Space Mountain. We watch the fireworks, ride Space Mountain a second time, then close down the park a round-trip on the Disneyland Express, and a stop at It's A Small World, just for Kristi. I think that covers everything we did.

Regrets: didn't ride the Matterhorn bobsleds; didn't take a second pass at Indiana Jones or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; Emma showed no enthusiasm for Star Tours (one of my favorite rides).

Emma's favorite ride: Space Mountain. We all enjoyed it.

Side note for Twin Citians: driving north on Ayd Mill Road from the 35E always reminds me of Autopia.

The prediction was right -- a fine time was had by all.

Distance covered: 0 miles (unless you're counting Autopia).


Evangelizing Linux

Apparently you can now get the "Christian Edition" of Ubuntu Linux (or Ubuntu GNU/Linux, for you purists).

I can only assume that commands like 'chmod 666' aren't allowed. To say nothing of 'kill'. Or 'touch'. Or 'finger'. And don't get me started on 'pack'.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Vacation: Day 12 (August 14)

We get up and walk to the beach. Pismo is a very wide, very flat beach. We cruise for a good distance looking for shells and sand dollars. We find quite a number of live sand dollars and repatriate them, but also a good assortment of intact deceased ones. They eventually get put in the shoebox we acquired in Cortez, Colorado.

After returning to the motel and cleaning up, we head down Highway 101. Somewhere along the way -- around Santa Maria, I think -- we stop at an Olive Garden for lunch. It's Monday -- the first day of training new waitstaff. Our waiter, Brian, is very new and very anxious. He brings us our drinks, and as he removes my iced tea and sets it down, his tray tips and Emma's lemonade hits the floor next to our table and explodes like a water balloon. Oops.

Brian is very apologetic, and brings a new lemonade immediately. However, when he brings our salad, he also brings drink refills. He sets the salad down, and my new iced tea slides off his tray and lands right in it. Splash.

Brian is now completely stressed out, and we're feeling very sorry for him (not to mention somewhat soggy). His manager comes by later during our meal to tell us that lunch is on the house. I tip Brian fairly generously, all things considered, though Kristi thinks I should have doubled it because lunch was free. Hey, I didn't want to encourage him.

After lunch, we stop in Solvang. Emma does not do a good job; she's got $8 in souvenir money left, and wants to spend about $80; she melts down in a doll shop that (honestly) Kristi should have kept her out of. I get a pretty good bearclaw at one of the local bakeries -- not the best I've ever had, but the best I've had in a good long while.

South of Ventura, we're on the Pacific Coast Highway when we spot a beach with some kite-surfing going on, and stop to watch. Emma finds the front half of a busted surfboard in a trashcan, and decides it's time to boogie-board again. But the half-surfboard is a poor substitute for a boogie board, and she doesn't do much.

We drive through Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and down to Anaheim, where we get a room at the Travelodge on Ball Road. Smart choice. It's walking distance from the Disneyland entrance, under $70 with the AAA discount, has a decent continental breakfast and a swimming pool, and is quite nice for a Travelodge. While Kristi runs out to get some portable snacks to take to Disneyland the next day, Emma and I watch the fireworks from our room's private balcony (yes, we had a balcony at a Travelodge).

Miles driven: approximately 220 miles.


Vacation: Day 11 (August 13)

This is a Very Good Day, mostly.

We eat breakfast, strike camp and leave Nick and Lolretta to the rest of their interrupted vacation -- but not before Nick gives Emma her very own glider! She's ecstatic.

Our first stop is Harmony, the little artist's colony where we got married.

The potter next door to the wedding chapel reports that Denise Mikkelson, the minister, is no longer performing weddings there, and the chapel is permanently locked up. This, plus Kristi's reluctance to eat at the Brambles last night, really makes me wonder about our marriage.

Next stop: Cayucos, where Emma has a tremendous amount of fun body-surfing. This is the highlight of the trip for her so far.

We proceeded to Morro Bay, where the other Morro Rock resides. First stop is lunch at Taco Temple, which Kristi's sister has recommended highly. It's everything we could have hoped for. Almost makes up for the loss of Rosa's Cantina. This is the highlight of the trip for me so far.

On to Morro Rock. Kristi and I used to climb out to the end of the breakwater -- made of enormous chunks of granite and concrete -- every time we visited. With my re-tweaked ankle, it didn't seem wise for me, and it seemed impossible that Emma would do it. So Emma and I waited on the beach, inspecting tidepools on the backside of the breakwater, while Kristi climbed out for both of us.

After a suitable amount of wandering-the-beach time, we get back in the car and drive to Pismo Beach, where we spend the night (in a motel, as campsites continue to be unavailable). We skip San Luis Obispo, which hurts -- we love San Luis Obispo -- but we've learned now that keeping Emma happy makes the trip go a lot smoother. Of course, we'll forget that lesson tomorrow.

Miles covered: approximately 60 miles.



We take a break from vacation blogging for these real-life updates:

Here in Mac-Groveland, we had our neighborhood yard sale yesterday. Emma sold lemonade and a whole mess o' her old toys, books and games, grossing about $38. (I still have to bill her for the lemonade mix and cups; yes, I am a cruel, cruel man.)

There is much I could say about our next-door neighbors in connection with this event. And I'm sure there's much they could say about me. So guys, if you're reading this, feel free to respond in comments.
  • They chose to put their stuff right next to ours (mom explicitly told dad to move it next to ours) so as to present a larger inventory. Which was fine, except that ...
  • They didn't have price tags, so they "borrowed" stickers from us -- meaning all of their stuff had the same round, orange stickers that ours did. Given the previous bullet point, that meant that shoppers had no idea whose stuff was whose without being told. Twice I had to stop shoppers from paying kid-next-door for stuff that Emma was selling, and I don't know how many others I might have missed. Grr.
  • At around 11:30 they decided their stuff was now all half-price, and announced it loudly and repeatedly . Consequently, people started trying to buy Emma's stuff for half the marked price.
  • At around 12:00 they decided their stuff was now free for the taking. I conferred with Emma and decided it was better not to fight this, so all of our remaining stuff now was free as well (except for a few items that I simply pulled from the sale, because there was no way I was letting them go for free).
  • They folded up their tables and consolidated their remaining items on one of our blankets.
  • Emma went to a friend's house, and after Kristi came home from work we went to Chipotle. When we came back, the two younger kids from next door were playing with the toys on the blanket. James, the older of the two, proudly announced "Look what I made!" and showed me a three-inch hole in the blanket. I asked him how it happened, and he held up a pointed stick.

Because Kristi had a rough day at work, after Chipotle we made a spot decision to rent a movie (our current Netflix choice not being particularly cheery). She chose "Failure to Launch". Personally, I think anything with Matthew McConaughy in it is most likely a waste of time, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the deliciously quirky (not to mention deliciously delicious) Zooey Deschanel in a supporting role, which meant I could watch it without feeling it to be a major waste of time. And McConaughy is much more appealing when being bitten by chipmunks.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Vacation: Day 10 (August 12)

We head down Highway 41 for the central coast. We grab some lunch in Kettleman City (skipping In 'n Out, which is insanely crowded), then drive to San Simeon. At the state beach campground, we find Nick and Lolretta, who have brought their very nice trailer out. They offer to let us camp on their site for cheap. Supah.

We play with Nick's toy glider for a while. Emma really likes throwing it, though she's not so sure about catching it.

After a while we drive into Cambria for dinner. Lombardi's Pasta Familia. Overpriced and boring; but it's Cambria, so overpriced is a given, and finding somewhere that we would all be happy with would be a challenge. (Kristi flatly refuses to go back to the Brambles, site of our wedding reception dinner. Read into that what you will.) Oh how we miss you, Rosa's Cantina of Cambria.

The evening is punctuated by the loudest, rudest group of teenage campers since, well, since I was a teenager. Kristi goes out at about 1:00 am to tell them, politely, to STFU. It mostly works.

Approximate distance covered: 160 miles.


Vacation: Day 9 (August 11)

Basically, we sit in and around Kristi's parents' house outside Kingsburg, California. Their house sits on the exact spot where our mobile home used to sit; consequently, the view from their front porch inspires incredible nostalgia.

Emma swims with her cousins, Kristi and I schmooze with family, fine meals are eaten. Kristi's sister-in-law, Lolretta, isn't available -- but we'll see her tomorrow at the coast. We miss Nick and Lolretta's daughter Becky as well, but Beck visited us earlier this year and we're hoping for another visit.

Emma enjoys her time in Central California immensely. Swimming at grandma's and granny's is much preferable to riding in a car for hours.

Approximate distance covered: 0 miles.


Vacation: Day 8 (August 10)

After a breakfast of Uncle Harry's bagels, we're off to Sequoia National Park. The plan is to meet Kristi's parents up there and camp out; the camping plan gets killed for lack of available sites. Sigh.

We arrive at the Lodgepole Visitor's Center; Kristi's folks aren't there yet, so we go inside. We've got leftover chinese food (the lunch my mom didn't eat yesterday) and no cooler, so Kristi brings it into the visitor's center (it's in a takeout container). Waiting around, we watch a movie about bears. A point made quite clearly in the movie is that you don't leave food around where bears can get at it, since this acclimates them to eating human food and creates problems that can lead to the destruction of the bears. Okay, I get that.

We walk out of the small theatre. A ranger notices Kristi carrying the chinese food.

"You can't have that in here."

"It's wrapped up."

"Doesn't matter."

"We can't put it in the car; it'll spoil."

"Just leave it on the bench outside, then."

O. Kay.

I eat the chinese food. Yum. The bears have no idea what they're missing out on.

Kristi's parents arrive. The plan is to hike up the canyon to Tokopah Falls, less than 2 miles away, but Emma barely makes it out of the parking lot before collapsing in a protoplasmic heap. On the up side: with her grandparents there, we're free to do it ourselves. On the down side: the grandparents don't get to do the hike, and Emma has no clue what she's missing. Oh well.

On the way up to the falls, I tweak the ankle I'd sprained the previous month. But do I collapse in a protoplasmic heap? Oh, no. I gamely trudge on.

This is a lovely hike, if you're ever in Sequoia. Kristi and I have done it before, but not for many, many years. It's good to be back.

After returning, the five of us proceed to the General Sherman tree. Emma graciously agrees to walk this time.

Finally, we drive up to Moro Rock. Kristi, her mom and I climb to the top. View: incredible, but I have no pictures to do it justice.

We drive down through Three Rivers and Visalia, and spend the night in Kristi's parents "guest house," their mobile home. Approximate miles: 170.


Vacation: Day 7 (August 9)

We drive into Fresno -- stopping at the Golden restaurant in the Tower District to pick up our favoritest Chinese food to bring to my Mom's house for lunch. Surprise! She's already eaten by the time we get there. Oh, well. My niece Melissa is there waiting for us.

Emma and I swim in grandma's pool; then, when my brother David and sister-in-law Terri arrive, we all go out for dinner at Sal's (the north Fresno branch). Two of our favorite restaurants in one day. Can it get any better than that? Yes it can: David and Terri treat us to dinner. w00t!

We sleep at mom's house that night. No pictures, because I'm an idiot and didn't take any. Miles covered: about 180.


Vacation: Day 6 (August 8)

Pursuant to our revised plan, Day 6 is a marathon driving session from Gallup to Mojave, California. So close, but not close enough; it would take us until too late in the evening to get the rest of the way to Fresno. So we stop for the night. No pictures. Much "Harry Potter" is read out loud in the front seat, many lanyards are woven in the back seat.

Approximate distance covered: 610 miles.


Vacation: Day 5 (August 7)

The Day The Meltdown Happened.

Sure, we should expect that too much time confined alone in the back seat would wear thin. And it does. We just didn't think it would happen this soon. What with the books, games and DVDs we packed along, plus drawing and craft supplies, we figure we'll make 8 or 9 days before things blow up. Wrong.

Today we travel from Pagosa Springs, Colorado to Gallup, New Mexico. The scheduled highlight of the day is Mesa Verde National Park. But first a side trip into Cortez, Colorado to buy Emma some shoes; the sports sandals she insisted on bringing with her for hiking are too small. Sandals in hand (or rather, on foot), we backtrack a few miles to the Mesa Verde entrance. On the long road up to the mesa, as I'm reading "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" to an appreciative audience, Kristi sees a cougar crossing the road. Neither Emma nor I see it, which makes me quite sure she actually saw a feral poodle -- but I'm not about to tell her that.

If the skies of the American southwest don't speak to you, I think there's something wrong with your heart and/or head.

We visit Spruce Tree House, the most accessible cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. (The tours of Cliff Palace are booked up through the late afternoon.)

It wis while we are at the visitor's center that Emma melts down. She asks Kristi to read her the display card on a stuffed-and-mounted cougar. Kristi starts to read, and Emma walks off -- so Kristi stops reading. This apparently is the crime of the century as far as Emma is concerned, and she enters her patented Contrarian Fugue State, wherein anything you say is 100% wrong and cause for screaming, even if Emma was saying it herself 30 seconds before. It's almost amusing when there's no audience, but in the middle of a national park visitor's center, it's more than embarrassing.

It's hard to blame Emma, in retrospect. She doesn't have a sibling in the back seat to fight with; it's only natural she'd want to fight with us instead.

Kristi and I confer. Our original plan has been to go from here to Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah. However, Emma is clearly not enjoying the Great Outdoors as we'd hoped she would; neither is she enjoying the driving. After some angst, we decide that the smart thing to do would be to head for California as quickly as possible. So we have dinner at Nero's in Cortez, then head south on the Devil's Highway and spend the night in Gallup, NM.

Google Maps mileage estimate for Pagosa Springs to Gallup is 239 miles, but add another 60 easily for the side trip into Cortez for shoes and driving within Mesa Verde National Park -- so call it a 300-mile day.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vacation: Day 4 (August 6)

Emma, convinced she's buying her souvenir in town, has a plan for the morning: "We go to the Pueblo, we don't see anything, we come back and get what I want."

And yes, that's essentially what happens. We take a tour of Taos Pueblo (additional fee for photography that I wasn't willing to pay, so GIS "taos pueblo" and find your own damned pictures), and Emma resists buying anything at any of the native shops. Instead, we go back to the shops of Taos' town square, where Emma buys a cat fetish. She now has approximately $8 in her souvenir budget.

We bid farewell to Taos and head out. But a little later we stop to visit the showplace of the Earthship Biosphere movement. Earthships are self-sufficient, off-the-grid residences built in part with recycled materials (e.g., tires, bottles and cans). They work great in the southwest, apparently; your mileage may vary in other climates.

Here's the Yaris under threat of monsoon.

Incidentally, if you have a few million dollars lying around, Dennis Weaver ("McCloud") is apparently selling his Earthship -- supposedly the largest ever built. Quite a spread. Here's some more info on how an Earthship mansion works.

We drive to Pagosa Springs, Colorado that day. Just 150 miles, one of our shortest driving days of the trip.


Vacation: Day 3 (August 5)

A short drive today, from Colorado Springs to Taos. We get into Taos in plenty of time to find a hotel and then ... shop. Taos Pueblo is closed today (presumably for a ceremony of some sort), so we're restricted to Taos itself.

We have lunch/dinner at Michael's Kitchen, where we are required by law to eat whenever we enter the city limits of Taos. Really. You can look it up on Westlaw.

We spend the rest of the evening shopping the town square for Emma souvenirs. Emma has a budget, and means to blow it all at the start of the trip, preferably on a fetish in the shape of a cat -- if she can find one. We talk her down a bit, advising her to at least wait until we get to the Pueblo, where we figure there will be a better variety of authentic fetishes available.

Here's Emma during the shopping frenzy.

Approximate distance covered: a piddly 220 miles.


Vacation: Day 2 (August 4)

After the aforementioned swimming-pool visit and continental breakfast, we hit the road. Today takes us from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

My plan is to buy Kristi a Damned Fine Camera while passing through Denver (a Nikon SLR), but she nixes it; she'll get one once we get back from vacation. We should've bought her one before we left, but there was never time to shop.

Colorado Springs is the home of NORAD. They did a good job of hiding it, though; we didn't see it.

Here are Emma and I at a reststop in Nebraska.

Approximate miles covered: 614 miles. Pretty damned good, if your goal is to eat up lots of boring miles and not stop much


Vacation: Day 1 (August 3)

The start of our vacation chronicles. I'll be posting these intermittently over the next several days.

Despite our plans to leave relatively early, we don't escape St. Paul until well into the afternoon. We make it only as far as Council Bluffs, Iowa that night.

Driving through Madison County, Iowa, I note the lack of covered bridges on I-80. Kristi in turn observes that she hasn't seen many trucks on the road. Emma and I point out that the next nine vehicles to pass us going the other direction on I-80 are semis. "Truck, truck, truck, truck ...." Emma collapses in giggles. I outline my first novel: The Trucks of Madison County.

I don't remember what motel we stayed at in Council Bluffs, but whatever it was, it had a nice indoor pool and the very best continental breakfast we saw the entire trip. Hail to thee, o nameless Council Bluffs motel.

Approximate miles covered: 380 miles. The Yaris averages 40 mpg. We promptly stop keeping track of gas mileage, figuring it can only get worse when we hit mountains -- but damn. Go, Yaris.


CDFFL 2006!!!@!

Yes, it's time. CDFFL is back, bigger and badder -- well, badder, anyway -- than last year.

What's that? You don't know CDFFL? Check it out.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Flightplan (Spoilers!)

If you haven't seen it and don't want it spoiled, please don't read.

Extortion plot revolves around murdering Jody Foster's husband, kidnapping her daughter, and framing Jody for a hijacking attempt. What could possibly go wrong?
  • If Jody decides to bury her husband in Berlin, or have him cremated, the whole thing falls apart.
  • If anybody actually notices Jody's daughter on the plane (or getting on the plane), the whole thing falls apart. (Thank goodness they were the very, very first to board, minutes ahead of anybody else -- and thank goodness neither the gate attendant nor the stewardess at the cabin door noticed the small child with the woman boarding during the "parents with small children" pre-boarding window, 'cuz what airline professional would have looked for a small child under such circumstances?)
  • If the perps are unable to make the daughter disappear early enough in the flight to allow for the "crazy lady" scenario to play out (and thus make the fake hijacking plot credible), the whole thing falls apart.
  • If Jody and daughter don't move to an empty row (again, without anyone seeing the little girl), there's no realistic opportunity for the disappearance, and the whole thing falls apart.
  • If Jody doesn't fall asleep, the whole thing falls apart.
  • If anybody sees the perps drugging Jody's daughter and stuffing her into a food cart, the whole thing falls apart.
  • If anybody actually does a complete search of the avionics bay (instead of having one of the perps do it), the whole thing falls apart.
  • If Jody doesn't get into the cargo hold alone (to open the casket), the whole thing falls apart.
  • If Jody doesn't open her husband's casket (or closes it afterwards), the whole thing falls apart.
  • If the captain doesn't take the air marshall's word that Jody (who has been demanding nothing but the total attention of the crew for hours) suddenly doesn't want to talk to any crewmembers or she'll blow up the plane, the whole thing falls apart.
I'm sure I've missed about seventeen other opportunities for the extortion plot to explode like, well, like the front end of the airplane at the end of the film. And yet, amazingly, despite all common sense, it almost succeeds.

Other points:
  • Why must there be such a convoluted plot to get explosives aboard, when the bombs and detonator take up the space of three packs of Marlboros? Couldn't the air marshall just walk on board with them in his pocket or carry-on, given that he's obviously not going through a metal detector or explosives sniffer with two guns on him?
  • How does Jody, an aircraft propulsion engineer, know the other systems of the plane so intimately as to be able to break into the restricted areas, hotwire the emergency oxygen system, etc.?
Dumbest. Thriller. Ever. On the Klund scale, I give it a 32.


Okay, Okay, I'm Back

Sort of. Vacation was alternately fun and awful, depending largely on Emma's mood -- which in turn depended largely on what horrors we were asking her to endure, so plenty of blame to go around.

More on vacation later, including some snapshots. In the meantime, I leave you with this teaser: Tokopah Falls, Sequoia National Park. It's a lot more impressive in the spring, but a lot safer to climb into and take movies during late summer.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On Hiatus

Nothing to say at the moment. Check back in a couple of weeks; maybe then I'll feel like getting some things off my chest.