Stan’s Obligatory Blog

7/16/2014

Visiting Monterey

Filed under: — stan @ 11:44 pm

After traveling through Big Sur, we arrived in Monterey. We headed to Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were hoping to see some sea otters there, among other things. As it turned out, we got there just in time to see the sea otters get fed, which drew a big crowd. And after that, we went outside, and we saw a couple of wild otters floating in the kelp just offshore.

Next, we went to see the “Tentacles” exhibit. Check out the colors on this cuttlefish:

There was also a big exhibit of jellyfish, and a lot of history of the sardine canneries that used to be there.

When we went to check in to our hotel, we stopped for a photo-op with the bell across the street. We’ve been seeing these bells all the way up the 101 since before we left L.A. And when we got in our room, we had a laugh about the evacuation map and instructions. Then we headed out for yet another fancy dinner, and later on, we settled in by the fire pit back at the hotel. All told, it was a fun day.

Traveling up the coast

Filed under: — stan @ 2:08 pm

On Wednesday morning, we headed back up the coast. The plan was to stop and see the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas, and then continue on up to Monterey. We left Moonstone Beach and headed north. When we were close to the visitor center at Hearst Castle, we saw some zebras running on the hills next to the road. The tour guides at the castle had said that there were still some feral zebras on the ranch there, descended from the ones that were in the Hearst private zoo. Then, a few miles north of the castle, we saw the sign for the elephant seals. There were quite a few of them lounging on the beach. The volunteer from Friends of the Elephant Seal told us that most of the seals there were males, and that the females were out at sea feeding at the time. There were several pairs of males out in the waves, jousting with each other. She said they do that when they’re young as practice for later on, when it becomes a serious business for mating.

Here’s a short video clip of a pair of seals jousting:

After the seals, we continued north, through Big Sur, where we saw a new type of animal crossing sign that I can add to my collection.

Hearst Castle and Moonstone Beach

Filed under: — stan @ 10:39 am

Our second day plan was to travel from Santa Barbara to San Simeon. We’d signed up for two tours of Hearst Castle for the afternoon, and then we were spending the night in Cambria.

The castle was impressive in an absurd way. Completely over-the-top excess. The tours we took were the “Upstairs Suites Tour” and the “Designing the Dream”. I was pretty much dumbfounded and left speechless by this.

After the castle, we headed down to Cambria and Moonstone Beach. When we checked in, they told us they were going to move us to one of the ocean-view rooms. We didn’t complain about that. The view from the front porch was nice. We walked down the street and had dinner at the only restaurant right on the beach. Then we went back to our room and opened the windows. We listened to the waves all night. In the morning, I took a walk down the beach, hoping to see an otter or two. I didn’t see any, but I did see seals and some dolphins.

7/14/2014

Overnight in Santa Barbara

Filed under: — stan @ 11:02 pm

Our plan for this week is to take a trip up the coast, playing tourist along the way. I’ve only been living in California since 1982, and I’ve never done this before. But first, we had one more piece of cleanup from the wedding. We’d rented a deluxe portable restroom to put in Carla’s back yard for the party. It was one that had a sink and a flush toilet in it. Because of that, it had a big water tank in it, and it weighed something like 1,000 pounds. And we needed to move it out of her back yard and into the alley so that the company could come and pick it up later today. They said that they would pick it up by 5:00. but we wanted to leave before then, so we had to figure out how to move it.

Our first attempt to just push it failed miserably. it was just too heavy. So I went back to my tool shed and thought about it for a bit. Then I saw the old wooden curtain rod. I got a 2×6 for a lever, some 2×4 scraps for a fulcrum, and cut four pieces of curtain rod for rollers. We went back to Carla’s and lifted the unit with the lever and put the rollers under it. And with that, it was pretty easy to move. We rolled it out the gate and into the alley. And then turned it and rolled it up against the wall to wait to be picked up. And with that, it meant we were ready to go.

We ended up getting a later start than we’d hoped, and we didn’t get to Santa Barbara until close to 6:00. We checked in there, and then took a walk down State St to look for somewhere to have dinner. One of the first places we passed was Opal. It looked good, but we kept walking, almost all the way to the ocean, looking at menus along the way. Then we decided that nothing else we’d seen looked as good as the menu at Opal, and we headed back there. And it was good.

7/12/2014

We’re a family now!

Filed under: — stan @ 11:19 pm

Today was Kathleen’s and my wedding. We’ve been planning this for some time, but the planning process was put on hold over the winter when my back went to hell. But now that it’s back to normal, we decided to forge ahead, and we’ve spent the last two months planning this day. The event was held in Carla’s back yard. After two years of Sunday bike rides, I’ve heard lots about the tribulations Carla experienced with getting the yard redone, and so when she volunteered it for our wedding, we were very happy. We spent a lot of time working out the decorations, and all of yesterday putting them up. And along the way, we arranged for tables, chairs, a DJ, and professional bartenders. So by the time the actual day came along, we were pretty tired, but still excited.

We consulted with a Unitarian minister for our ceremony. She pointed us in the right direction, and we wrote it ourselves. We thought it would be appropriate if Kathleen and I both walked in with our respective kids along, since they’re part of the new family we’re forming here. I’d asked the minister if there were particular sides for the bride and groom to stand on. She said that there is some traditional way it’s done, but she’s been doing all same-sex weddings lately and can’t remember what the traditional arrangement is. I thought that was a nice sign of the times, and we decided to just wing it. The actual ceremony was only about five minutes or so. We wanted to keep it concise and to the point.

Afterward, it was time to eat. We’d arranged to have the Lobos Truck do the food. We’ve seen them at ArtWalk and other events, but we’d never eaten there, owing to their always having a long line. We took that to be a recommendation, and the food turned out to be pretty good. The only downside to it was that it took a fairly long time to serve everyone, since they cooked each one to order. But it was good.

The bartenders came from Goose on the Rocks, and they did a very good job. They kept track of everything, mixed and served, and they were just good to have there to keep an eye on everything. They’d given us a shopping list of supplies to get, and it turned out to be pretty conservative. We’ve got a lot of booze and such left over. But that’s all right.

Music was by DJ Oda, and he played music the whole time, including making some impromptu mashups later in the evening.

Our cake was my by our friend Karina from my office. She’s become quite a good baker, and knows how to make a cake that looks great and also tastes great. And the cake she made for us was a winner all around.

So it turned out to be a good party.

7/4/2014

Echo Mountain for the 4th

Filed under: — stan @ 2:05 pm

Since my back has finally recovered from the troubles I had over the winter, I wanted to see if I could hike again. So this morning, I met up with Karina and her friend for an easy hike up Echo Mountain. This is the first time I’ve tried a decent hike since we’d hiked Mount Wilson last October, during the government shutdown.

It was a nice day to be outside. We did the hike at a reasonable pace. Not quite as fast as we’d done it last October, but brisk nonetheless. At the top, we found some shade, and I broke out the chocolate muffins I’d made last night. And then we came back down. I was a little worried about the going down part, but my back did just fine. So I guess that means I’m ready for more hiking.

6/14/2014

The chocolate tour

Filed under: — stan @ 6:57 pm

A few weeks ago, we signed up for a tour of chocolate and candy shops in Beverly Hills. It sounded amusing. And today was the day.

We began in front of Sprinkles cupcakes, where we got to sample a mini-chocolate cupcake. It turned out to be the same kind of cupcake that I’d gotten from the cupcake ATM there when we did the bike club ride to see it. It was pretty good. It was about as good as a bought cupcake could be.

The second stop was at Sugarfina. They had lots of interesting-looking unusual candies, as well as a ‘Candy Concierge’ desk in the back. They also had sparklers for cakes. I think that sounds like a fun variation on candles.

It wasn’t as stop on the tour, but we passed by a place that makes fresh ice cream using liquid nitrogen. That sounds entertaining.

The next stop was at Edelweiss Chocolates. They are apparently famous for two things. First, their chocolate-covered marshmallows. And second, for having the little conveyor-belt machine in the back that inspired the famous “I Love Lucy” episode back in the 1950s.

After that, we took a fairly long walk to get to Lette Macarons, where they were quite careful to explain to us that macarons are different from macaroons. And then we got to sample some. They were all right, but I guess it’s just not my thing.

Next was Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique, where we started off sampling a chocolate truffle with a dusting of curry on it. That was a bit odd. They also had a lot of chocolate with bacon and other odd things in it. There were little dishes with small fragments to sample, so we got to try a lot of different variations. They also had the “Sommelier Crafted Water” there. Hmm.

The last major stop was Beverly Hills Brownie, which was pretty much what you’d expect. The brownies we sampled were pretty good.

And that was the candy tour. No Oompa-Loompas, but still pretty entertaining.

6/12/2014

Another field trip

Filed under: — stan @ 9:49 pm

This week, an email was sent to everyone in my office, inviting us to come and see the trenches that Kate Scharer has been working in on the San Andreas Fault. The location was near Lake Elizabeth, a bit north of Los Angeles. This is the southern end of the Carrizo Plain segment of the fault. So a group of us made arrangements to go up there for the morning.

The route up there went up San Francisquito Canyon. That was the site of the Bouquet Canyon Road Race in 1978, which I’ve long regarded as the single most miserable day I’ve ever spent on my bike. And it was also the site of the St Francis Dam disaster, which is an interesting bit of local history.

It was a nice day, but kind of windy up there on the fault line. Kate had her dogs with her, and they were running around, trying to get us to play with them. That, and they also like to go down into the trench to lie down on the cool dirt at the bottom. Kate took us on a tour of both trenches, pointing out the layers and where they were broken by past earthquakes. She showed us where the breaks could be traced from one trench to another. She also pointed out ancient animal burrows and worm holes.

After the trench tour, we took a walk up to the top of a small rise near the trench site. From there, we could take in a full 180-degree view of the fault zone.

On the way home, we stopped briefly at the site of the former St Francis dam, just to marvel at how big is was, and to try and imagine what it was like when it all came crashing down.

It made for an interesting morning.

6/3/2014

The Destruction of Money

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

A few weeks ago, I signed up for yet another tour with the Obscura Society – L.A. This time, it was a tour of the Federal Reserve in downtown Los Angeles. This is where they handle distributing cash to all the banks in southern California, and all the way to the casinos in Las Vegas. So even though they don’t actually print money there, they do handle astoundingly large amounts of it. And in addition, this is where money goes to die. As the cash passes through there, bills that are too worn are shredded.

We saw the room where they sort the money, picking out counterfeit bills, and putting the stacks of bills into the machine that inspects them. Apparently, the machine automatically detects and shreds the worn-out bills, and the shreds are just blown up a pipe into the ceiling to some sort of trap up above.

They showed us the carts they move money around on. Each cart holds something like 460,000 bundled bills, so a cart holds anywhere from $460,000 to $46,000,000. After we’d worked that out, they showed us the vault. It looked like the last scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, only with carts full of money instead of wooden boxes. At that point, I ran out of zeros to count with. That vault had to have held a couple billion dollars in cash. Yikes. No wonder security at the building is tight.

At the end, they had us fill out a little survey and gave us each a small bag of shredded money to take home. It was a unique little adventure.

6/1/2014

Tasmanian Devil!

Filed under: — stan @ 5:52 pm

Today, we went to the San Diego Zoo. We’d read that they have a new Australian exhibit that has actual Tasmanian Devils on display. None of us had ever seen one before, and many Americans don’t even realize that the Tasmanian Devil is a real animal. So that got us interested.

We were also hoping to see the pangolin, since I’d read about it and seen a short video of it in National Geographic, but it turned out we missed it. There in only one pangolin at the zoo, and it’s the only one in captivity in the U.S., and they only bring it out once a day for about 15 minutes, and we missed it. So I guess we have a reason to go back again.

There were something like four Tasmanian Devils there. We could only see three of them, and they were all sleeping. Even the most ferocious animals are cute when they’re sleeping.

We wandered around some more, and we saw lots of other cute, furry animals. We went to see the pandas again, and we finally got to see the baby panda that was born back in 2012. Of course, he’d basically full-grown now. But we got to see him.

It was a nice day to be outside, and we’ll have to do it again some day. And next time, we’ll be sure to get there in time to see the pangolin.

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