Homer's Travels: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vacation: San Francisco - Day 2

Day 2, after the frenzy of reservation making, unmaking, and rearranging, started in Santa Clara, CA. We had looked at our itinerary and, after a few calls to the Alcatraz and Angel Island tour people, decided it was impossible to reschedule these tours this trip. We would follow the original itinerary as close as possible and try to fit in all the Missions and a few of the easier side trips.

After a good breakfast at an IHOP down the way from our hotel, our first stop on day 2 was Mission Santa Clara. The Mission is located on the campus of Santa Clara University. The campus is very attractive and the gardens surrounding the Mission were in bloom. The Wife was amazed at the wisteria that clung to an arbor. We toured the church and I took pictures. There was no store near the Mission so we asked a student-looking fellow if he could direct us to the university bookstore. He gave us good directions but, unfortunately, the store was closed. No Santa Clara swag today. You would have thought that Easter weekend would be a great time to visit the Missions but you would be wrong. Three of the Seven that we visited on this trip were closed. A few pictures of the Mission can be found here.

We left the Mission and headed to the nearby Winchester Mystery House. After missing our turn a couple times and watching an Ambulance drive the wrong way on a busy street, we managed to get there. We bought our tickets for the Mansion tour. We had about an hour to kill before the tour started so we perused the overly commercial gift shop (most of the items in the shop had nothing to do with the Winchester House) and had a humongous M&M cookie. The cookie, about 10"-12" in diameter tasted really good but sat rather heavily on top of the breakfast we'd had earlier that morning.

I wandered around the gardens taking pictures until it was time to start. Our tour guide was an a young lady of college age who was versed in all the lame tour guide jokes about the house. She walked us through the 161 room house built by the widow of William Winchester of Winchester Rifle fame. After the untimely death of her husband and young daughter, she consulted a spiritualist who told her that they had been killed by the spirits of all those who had been killed by the Winchester Rifle. She too would die if she didn't do something quick. To appease the spirits she moved to Santa Clara and bought an unfinished farm house and began having work done on the house. She thought that if the house were ever finished she too would die. Thus began the building of the Winchester House, a house that was never finished and where the building continued 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. The construction often didn't make sense. There were doors on the third floor that open to open air. There were stairs that rose to the ceiling with not outlet. There were closets 1 inch deep. The passages and rooms became a maze. Some say the chaos was to confuse the spirits. Others believe that Mrs. Winchester was just a bad designer who didn't plan well.

The house, convoluted as it was, was very nice with expensive furnishings and Tiffany glass windows and chandeliers. For all the chaos on the inside, the outside is attractive and coherent.

We didn't see any ghosts or vengeful spirits during the 65 minute tour but it was interesting. Most of the inside pictures didn't come out very well due to the lack of light - I really need to get me a tripod - but the pictures I did take can be found here.

After the Winchester House we decided to try to do Mission San Jose on the way to San Francisco. I looked at my directions and I thought I had a good plan to get to the Mission. As we drove north I noticed a large body of water on our right - San Francisco Bay. It should not have been on the right. If anything, it should have been on the left. Oops. I should have turned onto 101S instead of 101N. We decided to skip the mission for now and headed into the city.

I just want to make clear right away that I do not like one way streets. They are a royal pain in the a$$. San Francisco is full of one way streets. I was kind of prepared for this but I was not prepared for all the No Left Turn signs. No Left Turns can be worse than one way streets. We ended up making five turns to make a simple left turn onto Broadway.

Our hotel, the Royal Pacific Motor Inn, is located on the corner of Chinatown and the red light district. We'd stayed there the last time we were in San Francisco and we knew what to expect. It's not the best hotel and the area feels pretty rough but when we go on vacation we aren't going for the hotel room. The room is just a place to sleep in between all the fun and interesting stuff. The Royal Pacific fits the bill nicely. The view from our room was pretty good with a clear shot of the Transamerica Building and the Bay Bridge.

OK, a question: why do four and five star hotels charge you for wireless internet access while the crappy hotels offer it for free? Doesn't make much sense to me. The Royal Pacific only had access in the lobby but it was free so I couldn't complain.

After we checked in, we headed out to one of the Wife's place's of interest: The City Lights Bookstore. The Wife is interested in the Beat Poets and City Lights was one of their hangouts. We'd been there before but the Wife needed another poster for her classroom. The bookstore is only a couple blocks from the hotel so it was a very easy stroll. We walked through the store which, the Wife and I agree, was full of giants. Everyone seemed to be over six feet tall. We bought the Wife's poster and we walked through the back alley, known as Jack Kerouac Alley, and read the poetry inset into the pavement, the murals painted on the wall, and the strange graffiti.

By this time we were both a little hungry so we started looking around for a place to eat. We ended up at the San Francisco Brewing Company, a nice old Brew Pub with a lot of history. While we ate dinner the Wife asked our enthusiastic server the best way to get to Mission San Francisco de Asis. The directions to the mission involved taking Market Street to Dolores St. When the server left, the mentioning of Dolores was too much for the Wife. A few tears flowed.

We finished our meal and asked our server if there was a convenience store where we could by some snacks. She gave us directions to a Walgreens not too far from our hotel. Actually she gave them to us twice. We didn't listen very well the first time (we were a little tired). The second time she actually pantomimed the walking and turning in such a way that even we could understand them.

We left the pub and started following the directions. We reached a corner where a right turn was called for. We looked down the street and couldn't see a Walgreens. We asked a guy who came from that direction and he said he hadn't seen it. Soooo, we took a left and walked a block or two before we gave up and walked back to the corner. This time we turned right like the server has said and less then a block later ... Walgreens. This would not be the last time we didn't follow directions on this vacation.

That night I scarfed down a bag of Twizzlers Pull-n-Peel (Cherry) which, added to the half of a giant cookie, probably didn't do me good. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like crap. I made it to the bathroom where I had to sit down since my legs were getting a little noodly and my stomach wasn't feeling so hot. I'd felt like this before when I'd had food poisoning. I was really afraid since food poisoning would knock me out for the next two to three days. I made it back in bed (The Wife slept through all this) and I slept through the rest of the night. I woke up feeling fine so I guess it wasn't food poisoning.

That was our busy day 2. Here a few San Francisco Pictures.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Guide

The Wife and I both drive Hondas. My keychain has two identical Honda keys. Awhile back I was looking for a way to differentiate the keys. The answer was given to me by Aunt Dee. On a visit she gave me a penny with a heart-shaped hole cut in it. I connected it to the ring with my car's key. Dee has guided me to the right key ever since.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Until We Meet Again ...

When you marry, you not only gain a spouse but you gain the spouse's family as well. The Wife's family (the Family) are a wonderful lot - full of life, love, and the need to party like there's no tomorrow. I was welcomed into the Family with little hesitation and I have grown to love each and every one.

The brightest star of the Family was Aunt Dolores, Dee. Aunt, Grandma, Mom, Sister. What a wonderful person. If there was a beer-drinking-out-of-a-shoe reason to party, she was there. You knew when you received a letter or card from her as the envelope would be covered in shiny, colorful stickers, often having something to do with rainbows or unicorns. I picked out her birthday card this year. I chose one that said: "You are a human Sparkler. Yes you are." Yes, she was.

On Good Friday, the first day of Spring, Aunt Dee peacefully lost her battle with cancer. The wake was held on Tuesday and the funeral was Wednesday. The Wife and I flew in early Tuesday and joined the family that had gathered at Dee's home. Everyone was there. We went out to eat before attending the wake. After the wake the Wife and I joined the Matron of Honor (Dee's daughter), the Best man, the GodSon, and the Altar Boy and this wife. We talked about Dee, religion, politics, and all the other things we talk about when we get together. I usually sit back and just soak it in contributing little but appreciating a lot.

The next day was the funeral. The funeral mass was beautiful. Dee would've loved it. After the funeral we all went to Dee's home to celebrate the life of a wonderful soul.

The 36 hours from the wake to the gathering after the funeral were a roller coaster of emotions. There was unending reminiscing on Dee's life accompanied by raucous laughter ... followed by the free flow of tears. This all reached a crescendo after the family returned to Dee's home after the funeral. Jim Beam, referred to as "Arnold" in honor of Dee's father, was toasted over and over until most of the Family were toasted themselves. Old Family party traditions were continued - drinking beer out of someone's shoe (Aunt Dee's in this occasion), singing the Schnitzelbank, hiding empty beer cans and bottles all over her house (a tradition started after her surprise 75th Birthday party - she was finding them six months after the party), and telling Family stories.  New traditions were started - Bailey's Irish Cream will forever be known as "Dee". Dee would've enjoyed the whole thing. I'm sure she was looking down on all of us and just laughing at it all. She will be missed.

Valentine's Day, 1931 - Good Friday, 1st Day of Spring, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Vacation: San Francisco - Interrupted

Day 2 started with an early morning phone call from The Wife's Dad. The Wife's aunt, Aunt D, a wonderful woman, after fighting cancer for over a year, passed away peacefully. This was one of the issues that was looming in the background causing stress.

The next hour was a flurry of activity as I bought flights to Minneapolis, made rental car reservations, and canceled tour tickets. By 8:30 AM we had unmade and re-made traveling arrangements and rearranged as many of our vacation plans as we could salvage.

When I get back from Minneapolis I will try to post about the shortened vacation. I'm not sure if I will post anything before Friday.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vacation: San Francisco - Day 1

Day one of our vacation was ... not quite what we expected. Not bad but not as good as it could have been.

We got on the road around 7:00 AM and headed north on 101. There was very little traffic. The cruise control controlled the cruise and we made pretty good time.

Our first stop was
Mission San Juan Bautista. It was closed. Yep, unfortunately, the mission is closed on Good Friday. We decided we would catch this mission on the way home and we walked through downtown San Juan Bautista.

The town has a nice downtown full of artists studios and antique shops. Every now and then a rooster would crow - probably practicing for the upcoming second annual San Juan Bautista Chicken Festival and Parade. We looked for a place to eat and ended up at
the Mariposa Restaurant, an old house that was converted into restaurant. The place reminded me of my Grandma's house. The food was delicious.

On the way back to the car, the Wife bought a complete set of hand painted mission notecards from the artist, Norm, at the Lazy H Studio.

We got back on the road and headed to
Mission Santa Cruz. We arrived, got out of our car, looked around, and wondered where the mission was. The only thing there was a reconstructed chapel, a gift shop with museum displays, and a tiny little garden. Not very impressive.

We decided to find our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara ( we got it at a great price. Not to sound like an advertisement but Hotwire.com got us a great price on the room - $76 bucks at a great hotel). On the way we passed eBay, Intel, AMD, and many other technology Holy Places. After checking in we went down to the hot tub to soak. It felt awesome except for the little obnoxious kids who just had to talk to us. We ignored them the best we could but they were still annoying.

Then the real adventure began - the search for dinner. We really didn't have any idea of which direction to drive in so we set off in a random direction and went a searching. After driving around and around, seeing such geek drool inducing sights as Yahoo, Sun, and Oracle, and driving around some more until our gas light came on, we found an Italian restaurant. It turns out we drove close to 10 miles just to end up a few blocks from our hotel. For a second there I thought geeks here didn't eat. The restaurant turned out to be a little too fussy for me. I'm not much for fussy food. The wondering violin player irritated me a little bit as well. We left the restaurant and went looking for ice cream and ran into a several, less fussy restaurants. *sigh* We did find ice cream.

Not the greatest start of the vacation but we don't care. WE'RE ON VACATION!!! WOO WHOO! Since we really didn't see anything, I took no pictures.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This, That, And The Other

Just a few odds and ends.

  • The home equity line of credit has been approved so now, if we find a house in Omaha that we want to buy in April, we can go ahead and pay cash for it.
  • Now that the line of credit is approved the house is back on the market. We talked with our realtor yesterday and we dropped the asking price pretty severely. Hopefully the aggressive price drop will lure in some buyers.
  • The other shoe, the one related to last Friday, dropped today and it was Great News. Everything was negative which, believe you me, is very good news.
Now it's time to distract both of us so we are going on vacation. Yep, we're going to one of the destinations listed on the right-hand column of Homer's Travels. Actually, it's the only domestic vacation currently on our list: San Francisco. This is the first real vacation I've had since Peru in 2006. Since I was saving up my leave at work so that we would have a large reimbursement check when I pseudo-retired, we didn't go anywhere last year. The closest thing to a vacation for me was our visit to Minnesota for the Altar Boy's wedding. While that was fun, it wasn't quite long enough to be a real vacation being only 4 days, .

Our itinerary includes such marvels as completing the California Missions (7 to go), the Winchester House, Alcatraz (an evening tour), and a Segway Tour of Angel Island. We have another day to hit a few spots like Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, and a few other places. We will be there for a total of seven days starting Friday.

I am planning to take my laptop so I may be able to post about the trip. I've never done that before and it will depend on how easy it is to get internet access. I think our hotel has Wi-Fi in the lobby but I'm not sure about in the room. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Traveling In Time With Ira

As a few of you know, I'm a fan of the This American Life radio show on NPR. I rarely listen to it live but I have downloaded all the the episodes, all 352 of them. Actually I only have 324. Some of the older episodes are missing and I missed some of the podcasts darn it. I usually listen to them while I'm doing chores around the house.

I started listening with episode 1 and I am slowly making my way forward. Today I listened to three episodes ending with episode 177. What struck me was that it's sort of like traveling in a time machine. Most of the episodes are not connected to any one time. There are the occasional holiday shows which make it weird to listen to a Christmas or Valentine themed show in the middle of summer. Then there are the shows that are connected to specific temporal events. The show started airing in 1995 and some of the early episodes followed Senator Bob Dole during his 1996 presidential campaign. As I've listened to each episode, I've slowly moved forward through time towards the present. One of the episodes I listened to today covered the 2000 election and how the Florida hanging chad count-recount fiasco affected the Republican-Democrat dialog. It was kind of weird listening to their take on this event knowing that in eight months 9/11 would take place. The world seemed a lot simpler back then.

I am looking forward to listening to the show's take on 9/11, the Iraq war, the 2004 elections, and Katrina. At the rate that I'm going it will be awhile before I finish them all and catch up to the present. I'm now in early 2000. Eight more years to go in 175+ entertaining and thought provoking steps.

P.S. I was sad to hear that Arthur C. Clarke passed away today. The world is now short one visionary.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #48: La Jolla Natural Preserve

I'd planned to do this hike with GeekHiker but, due to issues beyond my control, I could not reschedule the hike for Saturday when we could have done it together. I still needed to hike so on Thursday I hit the trail. I needed to hike mostly to keep my mind off of what was going to happen on Friday. The hike turned out to be a good distraction.

The hike began at the Chumash trailhead across highway 1 from the Construction Battalion's (The Sea Bees) firing range. The trail immediately starts climbing up a sharp ridge. The trail climbs 838 feet in 0.64 miles. I have heard people refer to this part of the trail as 'The Elevator.' I see why. It is a grueling climb. The mosquitoes didn't help either. I probably lost a pint of blood on the way up to the top.

I reached the top of the ridge where there is a trail junction. To the left is the Mugu Peak trail that skirts around the 'base' of Mugu Peak. Straight ahead takes you between Mugu Peak and some other peak that I don't know the name. I went straight, following the Chumash Trail over this saddle, and down into La Jolla Valley. As I crested the saddle I saw an amazing green valley, shrouded with light haze, glowing in the early morning sunshine.

I followed the trail down into the valley. The grass was long and covered in dew. This got me wondering so I stopped and looked down and ... flicked off three ticks. I hadn't seen a tick since last summer but thinking back to last year, this was when the ticks began coming out in force. As I walked down the trail, I would stop every 500 - 1000 feet and flick off a few more. All in all I guess I flicked off at least a dozen ticks. None got on me though.

The valley has several creeks crossing it. Most of them were dry but every one was lined with lush green growth and tall oaks and sycamores. I like this part. I like trees. My first geocache on this hike, "Hangin' in La Jolla" was hanging on an oak tree next to the trail.

There are very few reminders of the modern world along this trail. The support antenna and the thrum-thrumming of airplane and helicopter engines from nearby Point Mugu Naval Air Station (now part of Naval Base Ventura County) were the only things that reminded me of the outside world. They faded into the background as I walked along.

I continued on the trail. I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye but it kept vanishing when I tried to see what it was. After a couple more glimpses I realized that whatever it was, it was on the brim of my hat. An inch worm. Well, actually a half inch worm was inching it's way along the brim of my hat and every now and then it would poke over the edge where I could see it. It got flicked off like the ticks.

Soon afterwards the Chumash trail merges with the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. This portion of the trail is a wide grassy dirt road. This was also where I stopped finding ticks. Thank you Cheezus!

The trail crosses a wood plank bridge and becomes the La Jolla Fire Road. One thing I like about this series of trails is that all the junctions are clearly marked. Along the road I passed four signed junctions and the La Jolla Walk-In Camp. At about 3 miles you reach a four way intersection. To the right is the Overlook Fire Road. I walked part of this road last year.

I continued straight through the intersection on the North Overlook Fire Road. The road drops rapidly. This was a big difference from the valley trail which went up and down but in a much more gradual way. This road drops fast. At the bottom you reach another signed intersection. This is the Deer Camp Junction. To the right is the Wood Canyon trail and Sycamore Canyon. To the left is the Wood Canyon Fire Road. There is a picnic table and a porta-potty here. I looked for, but failed to find, a geocache at this intersection. I think the cache has gone missing.

I took a left and followed the Wood Canyon Fire Road for a short distance. The road is flanked by oaks ands sycamores and is really nice. On the left I come to the signed Guadalasca trail and I followed the sign. I located the "Trail's End" cache near the junction. I dropped of the Beanie Bear TB here to help inspire other geocachers to come this deep into the valley.

The Guadalasca trail starts climbing back up. It passes through forests, meadows, and switchbacks that go in and out of the shade. It was about 11:00 by now and the sun was pretty hot. I decided to keep going to the top of the trail before I stopped for lunch. This part of the hike was pretty tough. Not as bad as The Elevator but it was a lot warmer and I already had 5 miles under my belt and I was getting a little pooped. I was plodding along sort of like a zombie when a 4 - 5 foot snake jumped out of the brush and zoomed across the trail just a foot or two from my feet. I think I almost jumped out of my skin. That was one of the signs, for me, that spring was approaching as the snakes and the lizards, which I hadn't seen for several months, started to reappear along the trail.

The Guadalasca trail ends at the end of the Guadalasca Fire Road. At the junction there is a nice splash of shade and some rocks that someone had stacked to make a couple low, footstool height chairs. I turned right and followed a narrow, weathered trail to an old rusty gate a hundred feet down the trail. There I found a cache, "Slegal's Secret Skyline Stash". From the cache site you could see the city of Camarillo in the distance and the campus of Cal State Channel Islands (Formerly the location of the Camarillo State Mental Hospital and said to be haunted). I walked back to the rock stools and shade and sat down to eat my lunch and rest. My orange tasted especially good today. Looking at my GPS, I saw that I was near the halfway point of the hike.

The Guadalasca Fire Road heads up a little more before turning a corner into a breeze. At the corner the road started to head back down and the breeze was a cool ocean breeze. The sweat dried up quickly and the hike became easier. The fire road takes you back to the four way intersection. I turned right and took the La Jolla Fire Road to the junction of the La Jolla Canton Trail and turned left. I'd been on the trail before but it looked different. It was so much greener and everything looked alive. I found the "Why Before The Y?" cache along this trail.

I followed the La Jolla Canyon trail until I reached the junction with the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. This trail would take be back west towards Mugu Peak. From this trail I could see my next trail, Mugu Peak trail, going up the ridge as I approached. I noticed a bright orange patch half way up the trail. "Looks like flowers", I mutter to myself. The junction with the trail is signed. I crossed a small creek, this time with water, before the trail headed up. I found another geocache, "Take a Break", near the bottom of the trail.

I climbed and climbed and there it was a stretch of trail lined with bright orange California poppies. Another sign of spring. These poppies, along with several other blooming wildflowers, really brightened up the trail. A real spirit lifter.

Along the Mugu Peak trail I located three more caches, "See The Beach", "Tr...Oops I placed another one", and "Support Our Troop-er!". At this point I had to decide to either go up and over Mugu Peak or go around the 'base'. I took inventory and I decided that I just didn't have the umph to go up and over. Fortunately I have already been up to the peak on an earlier hike back in 2003 (I near passed out of heat stroke back then - I didn't have nearly as much water as I should have. This time I was more prepared).

I looked for and did not find a cache along the 'base' of the peak. I wasn't the first not to find it. I reached the junction with the Chumash trail and headed back down The Elevator. It is as tough going down as it is going up. I didn't fall but the trail sure tried to suck me down. I managed to find two more caches, "Sea Bees [can do view]" and "Welcome", on the way down to the car.

It was a good, long hike. I was on the trail for about eight and a half hours. The hike ended up being 12.7 miles with about 1,200 feet of vertical. I found 10 geocaches. The flowers were blooming. I was distracted from the crap that was coming to a head the next day. My legs and feet are still sore two days later. Yep, it was a good hike. Pictures can be found here.

I haven't decided if I'm going to hike next Thursday. My next scheduled hike, Chorro Grande, is about 12 miles with 3,000 feet of vertical. I am not sure if I should do such a strenuous hike right before I sit in a car and drive five hours to San Francisco. Oh well, I have a few days to think about it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

One Down, Many To Go

One of the most stressful things in our lives came to a head today. I haven't posted about this because it was private but I hinted at it in this post. Fortunately everything turned out O.K. We can let out our collective held breath and get on with our lives. On to the next stress inducer.

Thank you to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.


Think Happy Thoughts

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book: Isaac Asimov's "The Gods Themselves"

When it comes to reading, I try to alternate non-fiction and fiction and it was time for fiction. I didn't have a long list of fiction to read so I pulled up a classic from 1972, Isaac Asimov's "The Gods Themselves".

The first non-Star Trek fiction that I read on my own was Asimov's
Foundation Trilogy which was later expanded to several more books. I really liked Asimov and I read many of his books including some short stories such as this interesting one that I discovered just a few days ago. So, after reading and enjoying so much of his writing I figured I would read another of his award winning novels.

"The Gods Themselves" is divided into three sections. The first details the invention/discovery of the Electron Pump, a seemingly endless source of free energy. The Electron Pump works by shuttling matter between two parallel universes with the difference in natural laws between the universes supplying the magic of free energy. In this first section we follow Professor Lamont who is trying to prove that the Electron Pump will result in the Sun exploding.

The second section follows a triad in the parallel universe. Much time is taken fleshing out the very alien beings and how they interact in this parallel universe. It turns out that the aliens are the true inventors of the Electron Pump and they are using the energy even though they know that our Sun will be destroyed in the process. The aliens are interesting but in the end feel almost like an afterthought added to make the story more interesting.
More time is taken explaining the alien race than explaining their relationship with the electron pump and the rest of the novel.

The third part returns you to our universe, the moon specifically, where we are introduced to another culture, the Lunerites - a society of immigrant humans and humans born on the Moon. A somewhat minor character from the first section is reintroduced and, with the help of a Moon Maiden, saves the universe.

I was a little disappointed. This story actually felt like three independent short stories and, while there was a common thread, never felt like a cohesive whole. There also seemed a shallowness to some of the character reactions that didn't feel true. Some of the reactions felt exaggerated. I just couldn't see real people acting this way.

As I read the book I wondered if all of Asimov was this way. Could it be that my expectations have been elevated by some of my recent reads? Am I more discriminating in what I read? Maybe. I am not a reader of the classics. I read predominately science fiction. I don't consider myself a sophisticated reader. Perhaps I'm learning the difference between good and bad writing. Then again, maybe Asimov wrote one book that didn't live up to my expectations.

It was an OK book with some interesting turns but in the end it just didn't do it for me. Move on, there's nothing to see here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Smell My Finger ...

The Wife: Smell my fingernails. What do they smell like?

I take a deep breath, smelling her fingernails*.

The Wife: My Butt?!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

* They actually smelled like vanilla.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Movie: The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters

Saturday night, after a rather blah day, especially for the Wife, I went to blockbuster and rented "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". I was a little unsure when I picked it up. It's a geeky documentary about video game geeks. I wasn't sure if the Wife would enjoy it or not. It was a little too ... me ... but it had gotten good reviews so I gave it a shot. What the heck, it was a free rental.

There are several different types of geeks in the wild. Computer Geeks, Star Trek Geeks, D&D Geeks, and Video Game Geeks just to name a few. This movie was about a sub-genre of the video game geek: the Classic Video Game Geek. For those who are sane and are not familiar with the video gaming, the classic video game is the old arcade style games such as Pac-Man, Centipede, Defender, and the centerpiece of the documentary, Donkey Kong.

The movie follows Steve Wiebe. While he was enjoying a good life, it was an average life and he did not excel at any particular thing. Then he set his sights on the Donkey Kong Record, a record set 25 years earlier by Billy Mitchell. All of the people in the documentary are characters. Wiebe, though he had his own problems, is the only one that seems normal to me. Wiebe's one issue is the desire to be good at something. All the others, gamers, 'referees', and record keepers, seem like they crawled into a cave in 1982 and never came out. A few of them were even from that gaming mecca of the world, Iowa. It turned out to be an interesting and very funny story of obsessions, politics, egos, and irrational rivalries. Mitchell came off pretty bad in the movie in my opinion. He was conceited, hypocritical, vindictive, and a little slimy. The Wife and I were rooting for Wiebe through out the movie and we both whooped when we found out that after the filming of the documentary Wiebe had beat Mitchell's record. Unfortunately, three months after Wiebe broke the record, Mitchell got it back.

I highly recommend this movie.

The best part of the movie for me was looking at the Wife and seeing a big smile on her face. The situation we are currently struggling with is not a cause for smiling and seeing her smile made me feel really warm and fuzzy. The movie seems to have broken her out of her funk and the smile continued into Sunday. I don't know if it's only a temporary reprieve or if it will last longer but that doesn't mean that I'm not grateful for the 90 minutes of distraction and the happiness that followed.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Facial Hair Poll Results

Well, with a whopping eight votes, the facial hair poll is officially closed. Like the current democratic candidates, it was a close result. The extremes: Full Beard and Clean Shaven, both received 37% of the vote. The compromise, Goatee, received 25%. The lowly Mustache and Other categories received 0%. This pretty much gives me the option to choose my own Facial Hair style.

Drum roll please ... I have chosen to go Clean Shaven for a while. We'll see how long it lasts. In the past clean shaven has only lasted a month or two at the most.

I was going to post a picture of the pile of facial fur but it looked a little pathetic so no pictures.

P.S. Don't forget to Spring Forward today or you'll be late tomorrow!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #47: Las Robles Trail - Part 2

Thursday's hike was the eastern half of the Los Robles Trail. I posted about the western half last month. I was not that impressed by the western half as it was very urban and the up-down roller coaster was grueling. The eastern half is a totally different hike. There's a lot of vertical up-down but it was not as difficult as the other half and the trail has a much more rural feel to it.

The hike starts on east Potrero Road and starts climbing up to the top of a ridge. The first two thirds of a mile take you past some nice homes before it turns west and away from the evidence of the urban. Near the top of the ridge I ran into my first quandary. Since I was dividing the Los Robles in half and I was now doing the second half, my trail description was backwards. When I reached the first intersection, a four way intersection, I had difficulty deciding how to determine the correct way to go. It turned out there were a couple ways to interpret the reversed directions. I decided to use the geocaches that I'd programmed for this hike to guide me. Not the best way to go since I didn't even know for sure if they were even on the right trail.

After making a few wrong turns and taking some questionable trails, I made it to the main Los Robles trail and started off in the right direction. The trail is a dirt road that passes through a rural area even though civilization was never really that far away. The surrounding hills blocked most of the traffic sounds. The only reminders were the power lines that criss-crosses the hills.

The last third of my hike was familiar territory. I'd been here last year when I did the Los Robles Loop. After going down a steep and kind of treacherous, trail I arrived at a picnic table that was going to be my turn around point. When I got there, without falling down I may add, I realized that I had not reached my desired 5 miles yet so I followed a spur trail that took me up a hill. This part of the trail turned out to be the best part of the hike. The trail was covered by a canopy of trees - very nice.

I turned around at the 5.02 mile point and headed back to the picnic table. On the way back down I noticed something that looked familiar. I stepped off the trail and there it was, a geocache. Looking through the log I saw that I had found this one when I did the Los Robles loop.

I sat down at the picnic table. Like the table on the Happy Camp hike, I was accompanied by a lost hat. I had lunch and rested up in preparation for climbing back up the steep trail.

I found a few more caches on the way back to the car. The caches took me on a different path which, some how, shortened my hike a wee bit. The total hike was 9.73 miles. There was about 584 feet of vertical - not much compared to some of the hikes I've done recently. The different path also took me to the wrong side of a creek forcing me to ford the swift moving cement lined creek bed. Fortunately my boots are waterproof and I managed to cross without slipping on the slimy algae covered concrete.

The hike was OK. Definitely better then the first half of this Los Robles trail. It turned out that the geocaches were the main feature of this hike - I found 14 geocaches in all. The caches got me on the right trail and kept me going in the right direction. They also took me to various vista points that gave me great views of the city of Thousand Oaks. Without the caches, the hike would have been just average. A few, very few, pictures can be found here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Killer Of Creativity

I haven't been posting very regularly lately. The house has been a stressful place these past couple weeks. Some of the stress inducers have been mentioned in the last couple of posts but the most stressful issues cannot be blogged about. Some things are just too personal.

I try to get posts put together but, to tell the truth, stress is not very conducive to creativity. I've been drawing a major jagged edge blank lately and my mind just isn't there. I am still going to hike. I need the distraction. This should result in at least one other post this week but that may be it. Who knows.

Homer's Travels lingers in the background. The people who should be in my thoughts are there, front and center. I hope that everything will turn out well.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Mister, Can You Spare A Dime?

If you drive by our house you will not see the for sale sign. Why? We are applying for a home equity loan and you can't get one while our house is for sell. The silly thing is, once you've qualified and the loan is in place, there is nothing stopping you from putting your house back on the market. So, the house is off the market for about two weeks while the loan is being processed.

The loan will give us the funds we need to buy our Omaha house in April when we go back to job and house hunt. Who knows, if everything goes right we may have a home in Omaha by the beginning of May.

Now all we need to do is get our Oxnard home sold. Let's hope our buyer doesn't come looking while the house is off the market.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Leap Day Blues And The March To Weirdness

Friday was 29 February, Leap Day. By some strange coincidence the Wife's school had the day off due to some Religious Education Conference. We planned to make it a nice day and go out for lunch and do some errands. Well, it didn't quite turn out as we planned.

We woke up to a bleary overcast sky and we both woke up a little obsessed with the house. We had planned to sell our house here in California and use the proceeds to buy a house in Nebraska. We are also planning to go to Omaha in early April for some job interviews and to look at houses. There's the rub. Our current house has had so few interested parties that we are concerned that the house won't sell in time. Meanwhile a house the Wife has been really interested in went off the market. So now we think if we find a house in April we will have to make a bid immediately. So I became obsessed with figuring out where we were going to get the additional $50K we would need to buy a house without selling our current house first. The Wife was obsessed about getting the house that she wants. Our worries and anxieties fed off each other all day.

Fortunately for us all this worrying and fretting manifested itself by us both being blah and it never turned into the grumpies. We went around all day going "waaaa! ... waaaa waaaa!" It was pretty pathetic but we kept it civil.

The day wasn't all bad as we did get out and did some errands and we had a good lunch at
Zoey's Cafe, a small restaurant tucked back in an alley off of main street. The place has a Mediterranean feel and is cozy and intimate. We ate out on the small balcony. I was actually surprised how much I liked the food. Very good and very satisfying.

So, what do I do after a blah day punctuated by periods of anxiety? I watch a 36 year old Russian Sci-Fi movie. We started watching "
Solaris" at around 7:30. The Wife survived about 40 minutes before she'd had enough and went upstairs. I stuck it out and watched about 120 minutes of the 165 minute film. I couldn't take it. The acting was stiff. The reaction of the characters to absurd situations didn't make sense. There were stretches, several minutes long, where nothing happened. They say this movie has a cult following. After watching it for two hours I suspect it's a suicide cult. A perfect end to my waaa-waaa Leap Day.

Saturday started out very much like Friday. I was a little blah, though not as much as Friday, and it was still overcast. We'd decided a few days back that we needed to get back on the road so we'd decided to go to our fall-back destination: Cambria. We headed up the road and my blahs faded away as the clouds broke up and let the sun shine through.

We stopped at Harmony to look around there some more. We were there
last year and we decided to stop one last time. There were more flowers in bloom and the place looked really nice. The chapel, that had been closed, appears to be reopening. They've refinished the doors and a room in the closed restaurant across from the chapel has been cleaned up so it could be used as a small reception hall. Very nice. The wife bought a vase at the pottery shop. I bought a T-Shirt. I added the best pictures to my Harmony Set on Flickr.

We drove into Cambria, parked the car, and started in on the stores. We hit two of the Wife's favorite places. She ended up buying some decorative Cannisters at one of the stores. I'm not sure I like them but they're ok. We followed the shopping with lunch at our customary restaurant, the Main Street Grill.

After lunch we headed up the short hill behind the town to visit Nitt Witt Ridge. We were met by Mike, the owner and tour guide of Nitt Witt Ridge. He is obviously excited about the place and is full of information. This led to a very interesting tour of Art Beal's masterpiece home. You start with a four minute video about the place - actually a video segment from the early 80's show Real People. Art Beal, also known as Der Tinkerpaw and Captain Nitt Witt, was quite a character. His creation is really hard to describe. The place was built over a 50 year period by Cambria's garbage collector and it appears that a lot of Cambria's garbage ended up in Art Beal's house. It's a mish-mash of competing styles and folk art. The place fell into disrepair after the death of Mr. Beal. Many neighbors wanted it torn down. Then it was declared a California Historical Landmark (#939). It's unfortunate that there is no state, county, or city funding to help restore and maintain the place. It is all done with tour fees and volunteer work. If you're going to be in the area, make a reservation to tour the place, it's worth it. Some pictures are here.

After Nitt Witt Ridge we hit a few more stores, including a funky new place called
Dirty Laundry that sold some crazy novelties (The "J" will be getting a little surprise - props for her religion class).

We left town and crossed over to the 101 via CA-46, one of the most beautiful roads around. The road takes you over the green hills, through Ranches and Vineyards, offering sights of the ocean all the way south to Morro Bay. The views were spectacular on Saturday.

On the way south we stopped in San Luis Obispo. After the wackiness that was Nitt Witt Ridge, we wanted to stop at another quirky landmark - Bubblegum Alley. We'd used a computer in a Cambria internet cafe to get the address and we made our way into the very interesting downtown area in search for weirdness and boy, did we find it. The narrow alley is pretty gross. Both walls are completely covered in chewed bubblegum. Not much more to say about that except
here are some pictures.

Our last stop on the way home was a scenic overlook that I've passed many times. There is an
old abandoned bridge that I wanted to photograph. I finally got to do it. Here are some photos.

The day ended well. We were both tired but in good spirits. The only issue I had was a bad case of accelerator foot - I could hardly walk when I got home. Saturday was a perfect balance to the blahness we were stuck in on Friday. I'm sure I will worry about the house move a lot more between now and the end of summer but everything will be all right if I can find some weird place to go to every now and then.