Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well...Christmas is only THREE DAYS AWAY! And I am now officially on Holiday VACATION! (our entire shop closes down every year from just before Xmas to just after New Years...which is why I don't get all the other holidays throughout the year such as Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Cinco de Mayo, Flag Day, First day of Summer, Mothers & Fathers Days, Patriots Day, First day of Autumn, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Every full moon day, and  finally Veterans Day like Jeannie does. OK, she doesn't actually get every full moon day off, but it seems like it.

Anyway, I digress. It's almost Christmas time! Can you BELIEVE IT?

Those that have known me for awhile will know that I go to great lengths every year to make my own Christmas card. I have been doing this since 1997. Digging thru my archive of cards (I have every one), it appears I missed 2 years: 2008 and 2009. I only recall missing one year, I will have to figure out if this is true. Anyway, it's fun to read back thru and see what I (we) were doing and such. My 'rhyme' (verse, ditty, ode) has been my hallmark since the beginning. Someday I might go thru and capture them all for a nostalgic mosey down memory lane (to capture them for the blog I have to "print screen", then paste into Photoshop and crop to size for all 4 of the 'pages' (they're all made in Microsoft Publisher using a quarter-fold, so there are actually 4 printed surfaces). 

I guess I should just post the card and shut up. OK, here you go, my 2011 Christmas card, in 4 part harmony (pretend the first part is the cover, then part 2 is when you open it up under the cover, and so on to the back page).

And there you have it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of the loyal the In-mates AND (Out-mates) of the Asylum! I hope your Holidays are spectacular! Stay safe and warm, see you back NEXT YEAR!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lights (and an important "Swans a-Swimming" update near the bottom)

Holy Moley! Christmas is less than a WEEK away! How did this happen? Where did the year go?

I've been away on travel most of the last 3 months, and things around the house have taken a backseat to that. I know that all the neighbors (along with Pacific Gas & Electric, local airline pilots, AND the Space Station Astronauts) have been wondering if I was going to put my Christmas lights up this year.

Well, never fear. I FINALLY got them up this last weekend. THANKFULLY I do a drawing every year as I take them down, detailing things such as how many strands go where, what color they are, where the plugs are, any extension cords needed (by color and length), and what plugs into which auto-timer unit (I have 2 of them). Having this data from the last year saves me countless hours of re-inventing my layout each year. And also each year it seems I do slight improvements on last years design, thus requiring a complete re-draw every year. If I was REALLY smart I'd get a nice computer drawn layout of the house (along with the side bushes/fences on both sides AND the entire roof) in a few sheets of 11x17 paper. Then I could add in my lights as I go in the deconstruction phase.

Probably one of the most time consuming parts of the installation is unpacking all the strands, placing them in groups according to bulb color (all my strands are single-color bulbs in either clear, green, red, blue or yellow). THEN I carry a small tube of grease with me as I squeeze a small blob into my fingers, then wipe a thin layer on the prongs of the plug, then plug it into my power cord to verify ALL the lights come on. This little step has saved me tons of time from putting up a strand only to find a bulb is out causing typically a third of the strand to be dead. Finding the bad bulb on installed strands can be rough, as you have to pull the bulbs in the dead area one by one testing them (I have built a little testing device where I pull the bulb, touch it to my tester contacts and a LED either lights or not. If it lights the bulb is good and I plug it back in and move onto the next, repeating this until I find the bad bulb. This way I don't have to work with a powered strand, standing on a ladder, or in wet grass or up on the roof. It beats going down the strand with a good bulb as there can be more than one bad bulb, and this will find them all.

I also try to add a little something more or different every year (also why I need a re-draw). This year I FINALLY got the roof totally figured out, where I have lights in each edge./line. Also of much importance is balancing how many strands I have tied into each other and also into the timer units. I have it pretty well balanced and I think a MAX of 5 or 6 strands in a row. I know this is more than you are SUPPOSED to do, however greasing my contacts means they NEVER corrode when they get wet (which will cause arcing and sparking, and will increase resistance causing a commensurate increase in current draw to power the strands, thus increasing the risk of blowing the tiny little fuses in the base of each plug). I almost never blow the little fuses.

Unlike my neighbor Louie. He cracks me up. EVERY single year. He LOVES to put up lights just like I do. But he goes with the "fling them up" method. Every single year he runs an extension cord to one corner of his house, and then proceeds with his flinging. As he goes, the next strand plugs into the last strand. And so on. And so on. He had well over 30 strands last year ALL plugged into ONE power cord. And he wonders why EVERY SINGLE YEAR he has to replace those little fuses. I've gone over and over how he needs to at the VERY LEAST split the house in half and run in BOTH directions from his one power cord! This method alone would cut the strands in a row by HALF! (note: I "loan" him all the strands for his roof every's our little fun joke. And every year after he takes everything down he brings the box back and I store it in my attic with MY strands. And every year I take the box down and over to his house to borrow 'again'. These are the oldest strands I own: they are the multi-color bulbs per strand. Jeannie hates them for some reason, so I just loan them to my neighbor and HE puts them up. Good solution I think. He doesn't need to buy more lights, and I am still getting use out of them, sort of). Also of note: ALL the strands I buy are the cheap strands of 100 bulbs. I usually get them at Home Depot....and usually pay round $4 per strand I think (been a few years since I've bought any). I'd buy them after the holidays, but usually they are pretty cleaned out and getting the single-color strands is harder. Also of note: I haven't bought any strands for a few years now, and many of them are at least 5 years old, some much older.

I figure it's hard to justify the cost of buying new LED lights when I'd need about 50 strands. AND, all my friends and family who have bought them have been seeing a distressing number of bulb failures. I think they get ONE spare LED with each strand. They are SUPPOSED to last nearly forever, but I put mine outside and it's a pretty harsh environment. Thus I continue to use my old strands and yes, I pay a bit more for the power. But these are at least the newer model tiny bulbs, unlike the OLD kind we had a kid with each bulb being a REAL bulb sucking down a few watts per.

And so, without further adieu, I give you my (our) light display for 2011 (if you click on the picture you get a pretty high res version showing MUCH better detail):

Funny....just looking at the picture I've found ANOTHER improvement I need to make. This years NEW embellishment is the Christmas tree on the roof. I had one strand of green and one of red left over. It's kind of hard to see in the picture I think, but trust me: it's a tree. I mostly did it because I KNEW it would further show MY superiority of light-mastery and also crush Louie even MORE (which it DID) . But he puts up a good fight year after year and we have great fun (mostly the fun is me making fun how I should be standing by his house with a fire extinguisher and such). And btw, on the far left, the lights above my green bush is the right corner of his house,,,but being as some of them they are MY lights I figure they can  go ahead an peek into my picture). Between the two of us we totally shame our entire subdivision. I'm always hopeful some new joyful holiday spirited person will jump into the fray. And as always, I await our challenger.

UPDATE!  12-20 6:45pm
I was totally remiss forgetting this next part (I'm SO VERY SORRY JEANNIE!) Last Saturday night we went to a Christmas party at one of her co-workers house. They throw a real nice party too. Every party they have there is a themed contest requiring some sort of food you bring. This year the theme was the 12 Days of Christmas, and the food item was to be a dessert. Jeannie had hemmed and hawed and searched hi and lo, and came up with a creme-puff swan as her entry (actually there was a whole bunch of them). She made the pastries from scratch while I was out putting up the lights. I had planned on helping her (as typically I'm the 'artsy-fartsy' one in the family while she is the logical numbers person (she's a CPA). Well....I came in from my light-fest and lo and behold, she had come up with THIS:

I was floored! It looked AWESOME!!! The puff-pastry part is cut in half, then the bottom half stays intact while the top half is cut in half to form the wings. You place them sticking up and fill w/ the goodly filling and whip creme, sprinkled w/ powdered sugar. I can tell you from EATING them that the pastry part was crunchy-sweet (ie: PERFECTLY DELICIOUS!) and the filling was just tasty tasty tasty! She's made some really amazing desserts, but I think this is her, uhm, excuse me, but's her "Swan Song!"

As I was looking at them, the filling was kind of starting to melt and go gooey, and settling into the puff some (our friend and weekend house-guest who is also named Matt made the comment that they were turning into "Ugly Ducklings"). So she quickly made room (by pulling out a bunch of frozen food) and put those that would fit in the freezer, and the rest into the refrigerator. When we got to the party they graciously made space in their freezer for the large tray of swimmers.

AND THEN IT WAS TIME! The host laid out the rules for his 2 pre-selected judges. They were scoring on artistic appearance, creativity, and taste, and there was an entire table full of entries (and at least 3 other "Swans a-Swimming' entries of totally different construction). And so, guess who won? OH YES SHE DID!!  This picture is of the very last Swan A-Swimming' was the only one that survived the carnage of the food-fest, and I grabbed it and brought it home (as I realized that I did NOT get any pictures of them before we left!). And after getting the picture, I most graciously let our house guest Matt eat the final Swan (though it killed me to do it). But hey...I'm a giver...what can I say.

And so...that is the saga of the 2011 Swans a-Swimming. I hope she makes them again sometime just for us. I LOVE CREME PUFFS!

I'll post my Christmas card with my 2011 verse later this week. Stay warm everybody!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kona, part II

On Friday (our LAST full day on the island) I had arranged a helicopter flight over the volcano. I've been to the Big Island many times and have not yet seen the lava! I think I only went once BEFORE Kilauea started erupting (around 1983 or 84, when I got to swim at the famous Black Sand Beach at Kalapana, (which was totally covered over in the early eruptions way back in 1986 I think). Anyway, EVERY time I've been to the Big Island since the eruptions started, for one reason or another I have never seen the flowing lava. Jeannie went there with her friend Barb when we lived on Oahu, and they hiked out over the hardened lava to where the fresh stuff was flowing into the ocean. She says they were so close that it hurt (keep in mind that lava is around 2200 degrees F...when you think of a HOT oven being around 400F, well...2200 is beyond our comprehension hot!)

But I digress. I checked in with the park website and lo and behold, my luck was still there. My BAD luck I mean. The lava has shifted it's flow pattern as lava does, and it's not flowing into the ocean right now. It's pretty much all underground except for some flow areas that are weeping out of the lava tubes and creeping down the hill....but no red-hot rivers of lava to be found. RATS!!!! If I wanted to see anything other than miles (and miles, and miles) of hardened lava, I needed to do it from the air. I considered an airplane tour and a helicopter tour. Finally I settled on a helo tour, however it required me to get over to Hilo by 12:15 for a 1pm 50 minute flight. No one else in our group was really interested in doing the helo flight (or spending the $ to do it, though in all honesty it was quite reasonable). But nobody had any problem with us all driving up and over Saddle Road (between Mauna Loa and Mauna Keau volcanos) and down into Hilo. The drive was around 95 miles, and in years past Saddle Road was SO horrible that you weren't allowed to take rental cars on it. However in recent years they have resurfaced most of the bad areas, and totally re-routed the other bad spots. So now the drive took about 2 and a half hours, and was quite scenic too!

The tour company was called "Blue Hawaiian Helicopters" and they are the only company who flies helo's on ALL the islands. I got a real good price booking online too! (plus you get a free T shirt AND a complimentary "Visions of Hawaii" dvd, which is shot in full HD with footage from their tours on all the islands....of a BEST OF HAWAII dvd). I was pretty excited about the trip as I've never been on a helicopter before, AND I will FINALLY see some lava!!!!

 This is my helicopter! (well, not actually mine...but I did borrow it for almost an hour). I was in the right rear seat, and there were 4 other passengers. Each person gets a set of  Bose noise canceling headphones tied into the intercom system. Our pilot (Zack) really narrates the tour very well, and fills in the non-scenic flight time with history and such about the island. Soon after takeoff we were already over the east rift zone which is where the current eruption (for the last 25 years) is coming from. It's all part of Kilauea volcano, which is actually part of Mauna Loa I believe. Every volcano has many 'vents' (places lava COULD come out) and the eruption that has been going for many many years now is from the Pu'u O vent (pronounced Pooo-oooo-OH).

  The Pu'u O vent. 

It's a decent size volcano cone, and the HOT spot of the moment is obvious. Thru the escaping steam and gas (a lot of sulpher dioxide which I'm told when mixed with seawater creates an airborne sulfuric acid,  and is VERY BAD for those in it's path who need to breath). If you blow up this picture (click on it) you can see a bunch of the scientific equipment on the lip just about in the middle of the picture.
 Closeup of the vent as we fly right over the top

If you click on this picture and blow it up more, you can see a red spot thru the steam in the lower left area...this is the boiling lava caldera of the Pu'u O vent (at this exact moment...Zack says things change here fast...he flies over it many times a day and it can change from trip to trip). There were moments in the flight when suddenly the gas/steam would blow away and all of a sudden you see clear as day the huge pool of red molten lava. But before I could snap a picture (which was only do'able when MY side of the helo was facing the vent), it would shift back and cover it up again. I snapped this shot just as it was being 're-covered' from a clear view. Suffice to say, it was AWESOME (you'll just have to trust me). And it's at moments like that (when I'm staring down into a red-hot pool of molten lava) that I ponder what noise I would make if the helicopter broke.

Anyway....after many swoops over the vent for both sides of the helo, Zack then took us over the 'skylights', which are holes in the top of a lava if you will. The lava tubes are how the lava travels underground, and the island is FULL of them. I've walked inside a BIG one a few years back, it's quite famous. It's called the "Thurston Lava Tube". If you are ever on the BI, I"d recommend it as part of your Volcano's Natnional Park tour. Just bring a flashlight...funny how dark it can be inside a BLACK tunnel.

 A skylight. You can clearly see the gas escaping. It's like looking into a portal of Hell (my guess as to what that would look like). But it's VERY COOL (oops...I mean HOT! VERY VERY VERY HOT!)

After many passes over two different skylights in the area, he then took us to the ONLY house remaining of all the hundreds of homes that USED to be in the big subdivision called Royal Gardens (which was totally wiped out during the same flows that covered the black sand beach). The man still lives there in his house, and he's quite famous. The locals call him "Lava Jack". As the HUGE lava flow was heading down the mountain many years back burning home after home into vapors and covering the beautiful jungle with lava, it suddenly parted and went around a small blob of land like some kind of miracle. None of the homes in the entire area were insured (as you can't get insurance if you're in a high-risk lava zone, which is ALL of the southern Big Island) so it was a total loss for everybody concerned. It's hard to comprehend losing EVERYTHING you own AND all your money.  
The blob of untouched land. Lava Jack's house is the small orange roof in the upper third of the blob. All the other homes in the entire subdivision were burned. You can see the light gray is the older lava, and there have been numerous recent flows all around it  including right at the very top of the blob (all the dark black parts). Zack says Jack's in danger every minute of every day, as the black stuff is all very recent and still slowly moving.

 A different view of the untouched land looking straight uphill.  Here you can really see the magical parting of the lava, where it separated and then re-joined at the bottom. Apparently Lava Jack moved to this plot of land when he was 22 years old (a LONG time ago) because he wanted to 'get away from everybody'. Then the roads opened up and houses started sprouting up all over the place, and before he knew it he had hundreds of neighbors. But not now...he is truly 'away from everybody' (be careful what you wish for!) and if his house remains untouched, he will be away from everybody (except the helo's and tourist's oogling his property) for the rest of his life! He had a trail over the lava to the nearest town up until a few months ago when one of the recent flows covered  it. Zack said sometimes you would see him on his dirt-bike cruising to/from his property. You see, Jack is world famous. He us is one of the VERY few people with a permit to hike around in the area. The state allows it because he must be able to get to/from his home. For anybody else to go hiking around in this area of active lava flows is an $18,000 fine and up to a year in prison. IF you live. I'm betting he's no dummy and has learned a LOT of where he can and can't hike. He could very easily break-thru and fall into a lava tube. Even if it wasn't active, he could be hurt and there would be nobody to rescue him. Now that his 'short' trail has been covered, he has a 7 mile hike to get supplies (and a 7 mile hike BACK). There's no water or electricity at his house, and likely won't be for the rest of his life. He opens up his house as a B&B every now and then, and people can fly in via helicopter. Zack says he takes them out on walking tours of the area (I guess he can get away with that with his permit). GO jack!! You are my hero!

After we leave Jacks area we fly down to the coast (not very far) where the lava USED to flow into the ocean. As we start flying back towards Hilo along the coast,  we pass a portion of the Royal Gardens subdivision where people have finally been allowed to rebuild. However you are rebuilding on TOP of the lava flow, and will still have NO insurance, and there also will never (in their lifetimes) be power or water. The hardy residents have bulldozed simple roads on top of the lava and someone must have come out and surveyed out the land plots and away they built. Zack said that when your home is taken by the volcano, YOU are still liable to pay the property taxes on YOUR property, even though it's buried under lava. And you now have two choices: pay the property tax on your land (that in some cases will not be habitable in your lifetime) or NOT pay,  and then your plot of land is turned back over to the state. These people apparently kept paying their taxes and even though it took about 20 years or so, were FINALLY were allowed to rebuild.

Can you imagine living on top of the lava with no power, water, or sewers for the REST of your life? These are some tough cookies! (also know that this area is a good drive away from any decent town with shopping available).

After that we headed up the coast and finally back over Hilo, and the last views we saw were some nice waterfalls and pools on a river that runs right thru Hilo. It was pretty but I didn't get any great shots post-worthy. I took a LOT of pics during the tour, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. And after, it turns out they do an HD recording of the ENTIRE FLIGHT. There are 3 cameras underneath the helo, and one inside looking back at us passengers! It includes all the pilots narrations and any questions we asked (we each had a microphone/switch in our lap, and anytime we wanted to talk we waited for a quiet moment and pushed the switch and talked....the entire complement is on the intercom). And for the paltry sum of $24 I bought a copy of the tour! Of course we watched it back at the timeshare and I didn't really even need to narrate much as Zack was doing that the entire time. The only downside was the audio portion of the intercom was rather crackly over-driven...but other than that they all got to go on the tour with me. The only downside was that of the 4 cameras, the pilot has to switch which camera is actually recording. Usually he did a good job and as he was talking about something he'd switch the system to that camera (and occasionally to the view of us as we were asking questions). But as we flew along this entire section of the rebuilt houses he forgot to switch the view, so the camera was looking straight ahead as the flew along the coast.

 After the tour. I took this shot...and if you blow it up, you can see Zack waving to me from the pilots seat (same side as a car). Also of note (and I didn't know this until later), if you look WAY BACK to the left and behind the chopper, Jeannie, John and Donna were parked waiting for me to arrive. Jeannie is standing out waving at me to the passenger side of the silver car, and Donna took a picture of me taking THIS picture while Jeannie waved. I had NO IDEA they were there, and we all laughed when I zoomed in on MY picture back at the timeshare and could see them!

 After the tour we had lunch at a local cafe, and then proceeded back up Saddle Road. Hilo was totally buried in clouds as is typical of the east side of the island, but as we climb up into the saddle area (between the 2 GINORMOUS volcanoes) we drive right into the sun. Both Mauna Loa and Mauna Keau are shield volcanoes, meaning their cones are a very mild climb angle and they are spread out over an incredible amount of land. Mauna Loa is technically the highest mountain on the planet, higher than Mt Everest. The seafloor around the Big Island is at 18,000 feet. The hot-spot in the earth's crust that created the islands spewed lava from the bottom and created island after island, starting with Kauai (the farthest north island) and ending with the Big Island. The summit of both Mauna Loa and Mauna Keau are both over 13,000 feet...I think ML is around 13,700 and MK is just about 25 or so feet shorter. Add that to the 18,000 feet that they rise off the seafloor and they are both over 31,000 feet tall.

 This is Mauna Loa rising up above Saddle road. Behind us is Mauna Keau. You can see how slight the climb angle is of this MASSIVE mountain of lava. And you get a small sense of how HUGE this island is, that these two gigantic volcano's pretty much made up most of the island. The climb is so gentle as you descend thru the clouds that you have no idea how much mountain is above you (as you almost NEVER see the summits from below the perpetual cloud layer). We are probably at about 8000 feet where this photo was taken.
 And this is Mauna Keau. 

Notice that it is shaped very differently from it's big sister though. MK is world-famous for the observatories on it's summit. Our last trip to the island my brother in law John and I took a stargazing tour where they picked us up in Kona and drove us to the tippy-top for sunset. We got to stand on an overlook and wave our arms, casting the largest shadows we will most likely ever cast. You could clearly see your HUGE arm waving on top of the clouds miles and miles away, stretching into forever. As the sun set it got cold quite quickly, and we all jumped into the van and he drove us down to about 9000 feet (just above the clouds) where he setup an amazing 9" reflecting telescope, and then proceeded to amaze us with the stellar sights (and hot chocolate and snacks too). If you are ever in the Big Island I'd highly recommend this was fabulous! After the tour he drops everybody off at their respective pick-up-points (ours was in Kona, just a short drive from the timeshare). If you click on this picture, you might be able to see a tiny bit of the road as it crosses just to the right of the middle of the a small depression with the highest spot to it's left. You can't quite see the multiple observatories from this angle, but there are times as you drive the Saddle Road you can see sunlight glinting off the shiny HUGE domes. Mauna Keau is reputed to be one of the best stargazing spots in the world, as it's above something like 95% of the moisture and such that is in the air, and also as the Big Island has very strict 'light' rules (as in: no upward emanating light is allowed...all streetlights must have hoods on them, stuff like that). So there is almost NO light pollution up there.

I don't have any further pictures worthy of posting from this trip. We were flying out the next morning (Saturday) and this was pretty much the final hurrah. As always I'll surely miss Kona and the Big Island. This trip was quite relaxing as we didn't spend TOO much time behind the windshield, or running ourselves ragged doing thing after thing. Mostly we just enjoyed being in Hawaii again, wearing shorts, T-shirts and flip flops all the time. And eating some tasty foods and lots of tasty beers. All in all, not a bad vacation. John was a real trooper with his newly broken arm, and we were very glad he was able to come after all. I know he was quite sad that it's actually QUITE hard to do dollar-bill origami with only one hand (one of our past-times we enjoy when sitting around drinking beer, eating poke and other snacks and just chilling at the timeshare on the lani). I however managed to mostly decode the very difficult to understand instructions and made a PAIR of flip-flops (using 1 dollar bills). John bought the book of instructions years ago on our first trip here, and he brings it each time. I also made some kind of a 'fat star' thing. Years back I made a Hawaiian shirt, a gecko and a turtle. Jeannie keeps them all in her secretary on display, reminding us of the fun times we had together.

OK...this got long (imagine THAT!)...hope everybody has their Christmas shopping done and can sit back and ENJOY the holiday season!

Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas in Hawaiian) to you all!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


What a week week it was! (note: as I type we are safely at home, and I just don't seem to have enough hours in the day lately to catch up with things. I FINALLY went thru all the pictures and have selected ones for posting...this will likely go into a 2nd post as there's just too many pics for just one).

Anyway, on with today's topic: KONA!

We flew from Honolulu (on Oahu) to Kona (the Big Island, which is sometimes also called Kona, which makes things very confusing) on Saturday after only 3 days on Oahu. The Big Island is my favorite of the Hawaiian islands I've visited, mostly because it's BIG (hence the name "the Big Island"). I haven't yet visited Molokai or Lani, but have been on the rest. They are all nice, yet each island is TOTALLY different from the others. But the Big Island is just that. It's BIG. That means the people who are there are SPREAD OUT! And there aren't nearly the amount of people on the Big Island to start with as there are on Oahu. There are only 2 main cities: Kona and Hilo. Kona is on the west (ie dry) side, while Hilo is on the east (ie WET) side. Hilo gets 400" of rain a year, while Kona gets 10. Which side would you want to live on? I've been to both cities (many years ago I flew to Hilo for volleyball tournaments and stayed a few days), and most everybody prefers Kona, which means it's that much more expensive. Hilo is MUCH greener though as you can imagine.

We stayed at the Kona Coast Resort, which is a timeshare. John and Donna own a share and have stayed there many times over their 20 or so years of ownership. This is the 2nd time we have joined them...the last being 4 years ago I think. We had a really nice view of a country-club golf course from our 2nd story balcony (which is called a lani in Hawaii). Below is a picture of a very cute mongoose running around in the grass. They have mongeese ( mongoo'ses?) all over the islands, and they are EVERYWHERE! They are not natural to the islands but were brought there on purpose. The story of how this came to be is this: 

Long ago they (the State of Hawaii) were trying to find a way to help keep the rat population in check...due to the sugarcane fields there were just oodles and oodles of rats. Some scientist put a rat and a mongoose in a cage together and they fought to the death, with the mongoose winning (as they are VERY fast...and kill snakes in the wild...too bad there have never been any snakes in the Hawaiian isles). SO...they figured GREAT! Lets bring in a bunch of mongeese and let them go...which they did. And BAM! Nothing happened. Rats come out at night, mongeese come out in the day. The two never meet, thus never fight to the death. So now they have a mongoose AND rat problem. They ARE very cute though...much like a squirrel, only their tail is way different and is always straight out behind them...very streamlined. And their ears are kind of like a teddy-bear or soemthing. Almost like a land-otter...if there was such a thing. And they are VERY skittish around people, and will quickly dart into the bushes at the first sign of movement.

The ever-so-slinky mongoose

It was on either the first or 2nd full day there that we visited the seahorse farm. Yes, an actual aquatic farm where they raise seahorses. You see, they are VERY rare in the wild, and as every saltwater aquarium lover wants some, they pay good money for them. However, the ones that are caught in the wild don't live long in captivity. They are carnivores, eating small shrimp and such, (or plankton as babies). This 'farm' has been open for over 14 years now. WAY back in the beginning they kept trying to get the adult seahorses to eat frozen brine shrimp (thawed and poured into the water), which is a staple food for saltwater aquarium fish. They tried and tried but they would only eat live shrimp that were actually swimming around. Finally one day they had one that ate the frozen ones. As over time, the others in that tank learned to eat them by watching. And they found they could take any of those 'trained' seahorses and put them in other tanks where they train a whole new batch to eat the frozen shrimp. Seahorses mate for life amazingly enough, and they found that the babies from frozen shrimp-eaters automatically would eat the frozen shrimp when they were old enough.

Well, it wasn't long before they had a real thing going: seahorses that would live in captivity! And they live a long time...they have some that are 14 years old (from near the very beginning) and still going. So the scientists have no idea how long they can actually live. And due to their success in domesticating them, they have now taken a huge load off the reefs of the ocean, as you can mail order a pair right from this farm, and they will live! As word of mouth goes out, there are fewer and fewer being harvested from the wild as everybody knows they won't live long. 

 An adult seahorse from a mated pair lounging around in it's tank (the other one is at the bottom). As we approach the tanks, they come up to the top hoping you are going to feed them (which we did).

Due to the amazing success in their breeding/domestication program they are now branching out to other tropical saltwater fish, hoping to accomplish the same feat (lessen the amount taken from the wild). The stars of the farm though were the Sea Dragons! They are native to Australian waters, and are EXTREMELY rare! The Aussies know they have a good thing going, so keep any exports to a bare minimum and TIGHTLY controlled. This farm waited years for a permit and finally were able to import a few young ones, which are now full grown. They are quite large now, probably around a foot or so long. They look a lot like a blob of leafy seaweed, only their head and snout is very similar to a seahorse (they are related). Their 2 pairs (2 males and 2 females) are nearing breeding age and they are REALLY hoping they like each other and mate. Every aquarium in the world would LOVE to have Sea IF they can get them breeding they will really have something on their hands. Being as it's nearly impossible to get them, the marine biologist giving our tour said the adults would probably sell for around $10,000 EACH...IF you were able to buy them (which you can't). Here is a picture taken from the web (as we weren't allowed to take pictures of them at the farm, we could only briefly peek in on the 2 pairs swimming around...thank you wickipedia):

An adult Sea Dragon (they are even bigger than this picture, and just amazing to look at in person!)

After the seahorse farm we pretty much bummed around and just took it easy for a few days. Relax, eat, drink tasty beers and such. That was the primary agenda, and we are very good at it! We didn't plan too much, partly as we just wanted to relax, and partly because John has a broken arm and was somewhat limited as to his activities (no horseback riding, etc). However we all went out on a deep-sea-fishing charter on Wednesday  (the day before Thanksgiving). This was our big 'whoop-de-do' for this trip). Even though John had no chance to even try to reel in a fish, both he and Donna went out with Jeannie and I for a half-day charter. We were the 2nd trip of the day for our particular boat: the "Bite Me 3". The Bite Me is a charter company and I think they have either 5 or 6 boats (the boats cost around $300,000 each btw, so it's no small thing to have a large fishing boat). Ours was a 40' boat equipped with six LARGE saltwater fishing rigs.

The Bite Me 3 coming to pick us up for our afternoon on the water

The morning charter was late leaving as the guys who went out were LATE! I think that jinxed them, as they got SKUNKED! Not a single hit on a lure or fish caught. They didn't look too happy as they departed the boat (which was late returning for us). The driver of the boat was Capt. Andy, a very nice guy. And the crew was Hector. He's a native Hawaiian from Kauai, and was a very nice guy also. As we boarded he told us about the prior customers, and we ASSURED him we brought our luck with us! As we pulled out, Jeannie wanted a picture with him, and after he said "now THAT will bring good luck!"

Hector and Jeannie as we head out from the marina 

Hector immediately set to work rigging up the fishing poles and getting lures in the water. It was our first deep-sea charter and I had no idea how the outrigger thingeees worked (the large poles that hang out to the side of the boat after we leave port with lots of lines and such attached to them). They are used to spread out the 5 lures we have in the water so they aren't on top of each other. I'd estimate that our 5 rigs were roughly spread out about 25 yards or so, and a few hundred yards behind the boat as we trolled our way out to deep water. 

Hector checks on things as we are trolling out, constantly making adjustments to the lures so that they are 'just right' for catching fish

Well, Hector and Capt. Andy know their business, and we DID bring the luck! They had seen a school of dolphins after we had been out around an hour or so and Capt. Andy immedietly made a line for them, and we proceeded to do large circles around the school as they swam. Two other boats saw the same thing and we had company as they all wanted to be in that area all of a sudden. But WE got the hit. It was pre-arranged who is the FIRST person to get "in the chair"...and that person was Jeannie (RATS!!!). It was her idea to go out after all, and I surely couldn't' begrudge her that. Capt Andy was watching and said he saw the 'hit'....he thought it was a marlin as he saw a spear briefly. Well, the drag started peeling off one of the reels and Jeannie quickly made her way to the chair. Hector helped her get all set and strapped into the fighting rig, and he brought the rod into the fighting chair holding jig quickly. Once Jeannie was ALL set to fight, he set the drag and BAM, the fight was on! Capt Andy had stopped the boat and the fish wasn't taking much line, he was just sitting there a few hundred yards out (the HUGE reel has around 900 yards of 187lb test monofillament fish line spooled on it).

As Jeannie began her fight, Hector was quickly bringing in all the other lures so there wouldn't be any tangles which would endanger catching the fish. Once he had everything clear we all 'helped' Jeannie as she fought and fought. One of the things about reeling in hundreds of yards of line is that the reel doesn't spool it left/right by itsself...the fisherman has to do that. So not only does she get to TRY to reel in an as yet unknown size fish, she needs to move the line back and forth across the spool as she does so. Well, it was very quickly realized this was a big fish. Jeannie was doing her best, but the rod would bend down and then it would take back all reeling she had done and more. Over and over. The rod is short and stout, and has pulleys where the line touches, yet this broomstick size rod would bend over pretty good now and then as the unknown fish would fight his way deeper and back away from the boat.

Oh, did I mention that it got HOT out there? Once the boat stopped moving forward, the warm Hawaiian sun started to take it's toll on Jeannie. She was dripping sweat and reeling with all her might. Nobody did a time check, but I am betting she fought for around 45 minutes or so (purely a was a LONG time) when we finally got a look at our beast. It was still underwater but was flashing blue and silver, and looked HUGE! Once Jeannie had reeled the fish to the boat, Hector was able to grab the leader of the lure, and the fight is over. Capt Andy had us step back and as Hector pulled the fish close to the surface, he was able to slam a huge gaff thru it's head. There was no escape now. I think we (us passengers) felt a little bad at this point, but for the capt and crew this was money and they weren't going to let it get away.

The gaffed fish being readied to bring aboard. The fight is sadly over for this beautiful monster of the ocean.

And here is our catch....a Blue Marlin (only not very pretty now that it's dead, they quickly turn gray)

Hector and Capt Andy winch the fish to the pier for weighing

And here is the happy (yet sad) group of fisherpeople with their catch. It weighed in at 203lbs, and was the first marlin caught by the Bite Me 3 boat in 5 days! 

After the weigh-in, the fish market folk come out with a large rolling cart and take the fish away to be processed. We are allowed to keep up to 40lbs of our catch, the rest goes in equal thirds to the fish-market, the Capt. and the crew. Considering that Blue Marlin sells for $11.99 a lb in the fish market, I'd say they all had a pretty good day. Especially as we only took 10lbs (what are we to do with 40?) Also, consider that this was our fist deep-sea fishing excursion! Now what am I to do? If I ever go out again I'll have BIG expectations! But quite honestly, I don't think I need to do this again. Not that I wouldn't mind having a shot at fighting my own marlin, but I don't need another one killed for my own vanity. This catch was for all of us, and was remarkable to watch unfold. I was wildly happy for Jeannie at this awesome catch, yet totally green with envy. And yes, I'll have to work on that envy thing. But I'm only human, and doing the best that I can.

Dinner of Marlin steaks and John's famous FRIED potatoes, and Jeannie's salad. MMMMMMMMMMM!

So...turns out 10lbs of beautiful marlin filets is quite a large batch. We had fish that night ( seen in the picture above), and also for Thanksgiving dinner in lieu of the traditional turkey and such.
Thanksgiving dinner in Kona. Marlin steaks, baked potatoes, rice, salad, and fresh sliced papaya.

By Friday we were getting a bit tired of marlin (and we had a LOT left in the fridge) John had struck up a conversation outside with some new people and turns out they like fish BAM! They were the lucky recipients of about 6 lbs of fresh caught marlin!

Well, this will have to do for now. I will work on Kona Part II over the next few days. Hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Aloha from Oahu

(note: turns out that the timeshare over here on the Big Island DOES INDEED have interent...woo-HOO! And thus, I am able to connect with the world. So, without further adieu, I give you the last 3 days on Oahu!)

 Aloha (hello)!

We arrived safe and sound in Oahu Wednesday afternoon. With no checked luggage, we quickly picked up the rental car and made a beeline for for Waikiki Beach and the hotel. Getting off the airline in Honolulu is always a joy. You step out of the gate area into open air...and it's almost always 80 or so degrees out. Suddenly wearing long pants is not the ticket. Our rental car this time around was a Lincoln Towncar...or as I called it, "The Love Boat". First time I've driven a Towncar. It was huge, but it drove nice.

We got downtown and the room was PHENOMENAL! We were staying at the Hilton for the first night, as Jeannie had points to use or loose (FREE ROOM!). We ended up on the 27th floor in the Rainbow Tower...the closest toward the ocean. We even had 2 directly ocean view and the other looking north towards the airport and the West Shore. It was probably the most amazing view I've had from a Waikiki hotel. Here is what we saw:

Keep in mind this is a 3 picture panorama that I made shooting from the oean-view balcony. Turns out doing a pan of that much area gives the ocean a rounded look at the horizon, and the closer stuff doesn't connect together in straight lines (such as the seawall jetty at the far right of the first pic and far left of the 2nd). And the wave direction also doesn't work...but all in all it shows what we saw. We headed out  soon after a basic unpacking and had our favorite Mai Tai's at the Hale Koa hotel's Barefoot Bar (the BEST Mai Tai's on the island IMO) before an early dinner.
The FIRST Mai Tai of the trip

Thursday we drove up to the Pearl Harbor area (where we lived) and did a local hike we both love: the Aiea Loop. It's about 4 miles through various forms of jungle high above Aiea/Pearl City. The terrain goes from lush green thick and mucky to wide open and sunny tropical jungle. On the far side of the loop there used to be a gigantic tree with airplane parts stuck in it. Back in 1944 a B24 Liberator had taken off and the pilot failed to make a turn in the darkness and the plane crashed into the jungle on the ridge. All 10 crew were killed, and there is now a nice plaque at the start of the loop honoring the men. The tree has fallen down (unless I missed it the last 2 times we hiked it) but the area it used to stand was rather dense jungle on a VERY VERY steep portion of the ridge. I have many pictures (and here are a few) of our hike, but none do justice to the beauty and ruggedness of the Hawaiian jungle.
 Here's Jeannie taking a break in a sunny section as we head down towards the creek at the bottom.

The H3 freeway heading up the Halawa valley towards the tunnel and over to Kailua/Kaneohe on the eastern shore. (note: Halawa is pronounced "Halava" Hawaiian the w is pronounced with a v sound)

The H3 freeway took over 20 years to build, as seemingly every shovel of dirt was into burial sites of ancient Hawaiians. They ended up finally building nearly the entire freeway suspended above the jungle on giant concrete stanchions, and when it was finally completed it was the most costly few miles of freeway in the US...something like 20 million $ per mile.
You can see Jeannie up ahead as the trail turns to the left. When the trail went downhill she was like a deer running ahead of me. Any time I'd stop to take a picture she'd easily get 50 or more yards ahead.

Thursday afternoon we moved into the Hale Koa hotel which would be our home for the next 2 nights. This is the military hotel just next to the Hilton in Waikiki Beach on a gigantic piece of Army property. We stay there every time we go to Hawaii (as I'm retired Navy) and all I can say is Biba's restaurant downstairs has possibly the best Mahi Mahi on the island! (and their Mai Tai's ARE the best!)

This is Friday morning. Jeannie's first cup of joe is on the nightstand (you're WELCOME Matt!) and the sliding door is open looking out at the beach and letting in the already warm Hawaiian air into our FRIGID room (Jeannie likes to turn the thermostat down to about 60 for sleeping). She is reluctant to finally climb out of bed for some reason.
Jeannie's twin brother John (my Navy buddy) and his wife Donna finally arrive in Honolulu Friday afternoon. He's sporting his new cast covering the surgery where they put a rod and screws into his radius (the big bone in the lower arm). They were SUPPOSED to fly on Wednesday like Jeannie and I did. However Monday he fell out of his hayloft about 12 feet onto a bare concrete floor. Considering everything, he was VERY lucky to get away with just a broken arm. When he returns from the trip he says he'll tell everybody he was attacked by a tiger shark.
Friday dinner (and BEER!) at the Yardhouse on Lewers Street. They claim to have the largest selection of draft beer in the world. All I know is the half-yard of tasty beer is just what the Dr. ordered, and not just for John! For any beer connoisseurs out there, give me a shout and I can direct you to them if you are ever in Waikiki. Their beers are from all over the world and are an amazing selection. It would take a VERY LONG vacation to sample them all!
After dinner Jeannie and I made it back to our room JUST in time for the Hilton's Friday fireworks display. We had a spectacular view, and I was able to snag a few decent shots. It sounded like a battlefield as the reports echoed off the hotels and wasn't very far at all from us. Quite a nice ending to our last night on Oahu. 

In both photos you can sort of see the Hilton hotels at the far right. In the 2nd shot you can clearly see the building that towers above the closer bldg (which is darker). That farther bldg is the Rainbow tower where our first nights room was only 4 floors from the top.

Our Saturday morning stroll along the beach. This is the world-famous Diamond Head crater of course. I only have about 3000 photo's of this landmark. But still you HAVE to take more pictures of it. Leaving Hawaii without any DH pics is a violation of State Law. It was a rather blustery morning, but still shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. A so-so day in Hawaii is still a banner day most anywhere else. Especially in November!
Here we are at the beach in Waikiki. And yes, that is the amazing Diamond Head just behind know....just like in the last picture, only you can't see it.

And finally, Jeannie and I bid you Aloha (goodbye) from Oahu.

Next stop: Kona and the Big Island.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tunitas Creek Road & Priests Rock Trail, & Veterans Day!


On Tuesday I did a road ride and FINALLY went down and back up Tunitas Creek Rd. It's the road I climbed about a month and a half ago, thinking it was possibly the most awesome piece of road-riding pavement ever. The weather forecast was 64 in San Jose. Got up at 11am after a whopping 4 hours sleep and was riding by noon. Turns out I needed another forecast. The one for INSIDE the redwood canopy. As I climbed up out of Woodside on Kings Mt road towards Skyline Rd, the temp dropped to about 51 degrees.  On the way up there were 2 does just grazing away on one of the switchback turns...I stopped and we watched each other for a bit, and I even managed to get a picture of them. They sure didn't seem to be very afraid. Deer are such pretty animals, and to watch them run (especially UP a seemingly impossible climb) is just awe inspiring.

Doe, Rei (and Me)

I was riding in a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, knee warmers, and my wind vest. No toe warmers, ear warmers, or a jacket. After crossing Skyline Rd I started descending on Tunitas Creek. THAT is where things changed. 51 is pretty chilly, even when climbing...but it's do-able because you're working hard. But once you start to descend, 51 is way past chilly. And it had now dropped to 49. I was SO cold...I started stopping every mile or so in any sunbeam that managed to slip thru the enormous redwoods, and I'd stand there shivering and shaking for a few minutes until I talked myself back on the bike to continue down. I knew it would be better climbing...I just had to endure the descent.

I finally made it thru the redwoods and lollygagged the final 3 miles to the coast in the sun, where the temps climbed back to around 60. After that I turned around and climbed back up.
Thought this bike-hut was pretty's about a mile or so up from the ocean and before the redwoods. The little sign on the door says it's "always open". Must be an honor system or something...I didn't stop as I was anxious to just get climbing again and warm up. Stopping would only delay the inevitable cold. I'll stop someday though...would be fun to stop on a nice day with a crowd there to yak with.

 And the redwoods begin. Funny how it looks SO warm and toasty out. You can see how dark it gets just inside those trees. And these are the small ones!

 This was taken without a flash. It shows pretty accurately how dark it is inside the canopy. And you can see a bit of the bank on the left and how steep it is. This road was cut into the side of the mountain long ago.

 Nearing the top of the ridge (still 3 miles to Skyline Rd, at the very top, then the 4 mile descent into Woodside). The trees are much younger up here and the sun is coming thru. Again you can see how steep the bank is that they cut away to make this road.

It was a pretty awesome ride, but when you're freezing it's not as fun as it could be. All I could think of was getting back to my car and getting the heat on. But I did stop about a zillion times to take was just SO dark in there...the redwoods do a great job of almost completely obliterating the sun. It felt like it was going on night most of the ride, with only moments of sunlight peeking thru. I actually have a lot of pics from inside...but the auto-focus and all doesn't do a good job if you jiggle it ever so slightly w/ not enough light. It wanted to use the flash but I had to turn it off or the pics would be almost black.
  There's a car down in the middle of this picture. I'm betting that was an E-ticket ride! They didn't even bother to try to get the car out!

Finally I crossed back over Skyline and made a quick descent (cold as I was) to the car. It was warm again down in the village of Woodside...and the car was toasty warm! It never felt so good climbing into a HOT car!


Today (Thursday) I did a totally new Mt bike ride: Priest Rock Trail to Kennedy Trail out of Los Gatos. I found this trail looking online for new sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART) network. I've ridden portions of it farther north up off of Skyline Rd, and found this southern section and it looked worth a shot. It hasn't rained since last Thurs/Fri, so I hoped the trails would finally be dry. I was right...but there were semi-gooey sections and even yesterday they might have been muddy still. Looking at the BART map online it appeared the trail would climb pretty much from the start. Little did I know how true that would be.

 Looking back down at Lexington Reservoir. I've only been climbing a few minutes and already gained this much altitude. It's really beautiful up here.

The other sections of the BART trails I've ridden are quite fun. This part was a little slice of mt bike hell (on the way up I mean...coming down was quite fun actually). I only made it up 6 miles before turning around, totally wasted. This trail was the quintessential ridge ride. Ridges go up and down, and up, and get the picture. Initially I had to just climb climb climb to get up on the ridge proper. For about an hour. After that the trial continues to yo-yo with ever increasing high-points as you get further back. Throughout this ride I kept talking to myself about how interesting the name of this trail was: Priest Rock. I don't know about the Rock part, but I sure could have used a Priest! Over and over again (not kidding here) as I'd somehow barely crawl over yet another 15-20+% grade section, I'd get a look at the NEXT ridiculous grade awaiting me (and sometimes the next 2 or 3)...and the words out of my mouth were "oh God"...or "Jeeeesus!"...and more than once I actually I gasped "Holy Mother of GOD!"
Oh God!


Holy Mother of GOD!

It's either down or up, not much in-between!

I kid you not that I must have uttered those phrases dozens of times in the 6 mile outbound portion. It was so hard it was funny. In a 'I can't breath or use my legs anymore' way of funny. I can't recall when I last did a lowly 12 mile ride and felt SO utterly wasted. I will HAVE to go back! There are many more trails in that area, and it turns out I took the 'hard' way up. On the way back I ran into a trail steward who was out for a jog, and she chuckled at my 'choice' of trails to do an out and back on. NEXT time I'll go up a different route. But this trail is part of the BART network, and thus had to be done. I'm sure glad it's over though, as I won't be in any hurry to repeat this particular climb!


And that pretty much wraps up this week. Tomorrow (Friday) is Veterans Day...the annual day where Jeannie (the NON veteran) gets the day off with pay to sleep in and suck down coffee all morning at her leisure, while I (the VETERAN) get the honor of getting up and going to work. Actually, being as the holiday fell on a Friday this year (and Jeannie gets every Friday off as she works Mon thru Thurs, 10 hour days), she had TODAY off for the holiday! Technically, as far as I am concerned, this year she got TWO days off compared to my NONE! But hey...she is a Federal employee and that's just the perks of the job. My company has given up all of the 'lesser' holidays (don't mean that in a bad way) and I get them back during the week between Christmas and New Years. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. But it doesn't make it any better as I head off to work while Jeannie snoozes every year.

Anyway, Veterans Day is always a nice time to remember those who have sacrificed SO MUCH for our country. The world would surely be a much different place without their sacrifice over the centuries. Even now we have a vast number of our finest young men and women scattered across the globe, MANY in harms way, defending the rights we take for granted every day. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers that they will come home to their friends and families soon, safe and sound.

To ALL the veterans (AND their families!), THANK YOU!

And God Bless America!!!