Friday, December 20, 2013


Hello to all my fellow inmates here at the Asylum! I haven't been doing a very good job of posting these last few months, and I humbly apologize. No good reason, just lots of lame excuses. I hope to do a better job in the coming months. Personally, I'm still in disbelief that it's CHRISTMAS TIME already! How on earth did it sneak up on me so FAST? It's less than a WEEK away! And today (Friday) was my last work day until NEXT YEAR!

So, I won't go on and on (though I surely could...don't test me!)...instead, I'll just wish you all a VERY merry Christmas. And here is our 2013 Christmas card that I'm sending virtually to all of my friends here in the Asylum. Be safe, and we'll see you (ie: talk online via comments and posts) next year...except for those that I will actually see, in which case I'll see you next year.

Note: three of the four screen shots came out a tiny bit crooked...I had to scan my actual card onto an SD card and transfer the files to my desktop, and this is just the way they came out when I photo-shopped them down to size and cropped off the funky edges my scanner gave them. It's either that or they're perfectly straight and you just have weird eyes...take your pick.

And today (Christmas morning) I added these 2 pictures...the road-runner is a new addition to our front door this year, as I JUST brought him back from Mexico yesterday (where the tortoise came from many years ago) for Jeannie. They are made of concrete...I carried that tortoise a LONG ways on a hot summer day across the border thru a LOOOOOOOOOONG customs line (it weighs at least 20lbs, so I'd move 2 steps and put it down, then pick it up and move 2 more steps...thru infinity). The road runner weighs not quite so much thankfully, and a MUCH shorter line made that one not so bad. I'll have to clean and re-paint Mr. turtle with a fresh coat of shellac to make him all shiny like his new friend (he originally looked just like that). I hot-melt glue their Christmas hats on every year when I do the outside decorations (I hot-melt glue created all their hats too). You can do a lot with a hot-melt glue gun when you are motivated!

OK, OK...ONE more "day after Christmas eve" lights shot (realized I haven't taken any pics of this years lights). This is the last one FOR SURE! I PROMISE!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Another Turkey-day has come around, and Jeannie and I are at her brother John's Virginia farm (as we always are) for this hallowed day. The weather has been cold...when we flew into Richmond back on Friday it was in the 70's and we rejoiced. Saturday it was still warm as we had a nice southern breakfast with Jeannie's sister Sarah and nephew Josh in Richmond, and then moseyed our way into the countryside in our rental car. By Sunday the cold front had arrived...with daytime-highs in the mid-30's,  lows at night in the teens. There was a big storm cruising across the southern half of the country this week headed east, and we've been getting the outskirts of it. On Tues...rain, rain and more rain. However it wasn't the flooding rains that others were getting...we just caught the fringes. Mid 30's and non-stop light rain. THAT is cold to this California-guy. John and I went out early into the drizzle and 'did' the turkey. He lived a good life with a couple of young hens, and is now in a better place (which happens to look JUST like the inside of a refrigerator).

John has been busy making pies for Thursday, we're doing some laundry, and watching "Game of Thrones" on DVD's on yet another rainy day. We've been busy stoking the wood-burning stove these last few days, which is the primary source of heat at the farmhouse. The backup oil-furnace is set to come on if the house dips below 60. Life in the country...if our house back in CA dips below 60 we'd probably die. This is surely a world apart from our day to day lives. Cows in the field. Turkeys and chickens to be fed. Guinea-fowl patrolling the property, keeping the bug population down yet constantly being alert for predators. Many years ago there were 7 of the pretty just the 2 most wary remain. They roost up high during the nights, typically back with the turkeys (company I guess? Or maybe because any disturbance awakes a plethora of gobbling in numbers). The goats and guard-dogs are this last year John got rid of them realizing it was a black hole...a losing game requiring daily attention and money, let-alone vet bills and such for the two guard-dogs (Great Pyrenees). They are now all part of a larger farm, where the dogs and goats live in a much larger pen (field).

For a 'fun' project John is rebuilding a 1970 GTO. It's out in the barn, slowly being disassembled piece by piece. He then refurbishes each piece to whatever degree of newness he can afford/the part requires, and puts it away for the future when it's finally time to put the beast together. He estimates it will take a few years (at best). Right now it looks like a LOT of time and money waiting to happen. But it sure will be fun when it's done. Everything else on the farm is as always...the outbuildings are still standing, the fields have been baled, the wind-turbine hums along with the high-breeze...and life passes by at the slow Virginia country pace that seems common out here in Amish country. Jeannie and I drove into Lynchburg on Monday for something to do (John had to work)...we found a mall and went and saw the new Hunger-games movie. Enjoyed it thoroughly...though for a long movie (2.5 hours) it was over all too soon, leaving us to wish for more. That will sadly have to wait for the next movie.

The drive to and from Lynchburg takes us through Appomattox...which is where the Civil War surrender was signed so long ago. This entire area is knee-deep in Civil War history and battlefields...and as I drive thru the countryside I can't help but wonder about armies marching, on their way to more slaughter. Last week I saw the "Killing Lincoln" movie (based on the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard)...really enjoyed that. Learned some new stuff,  but the most inspiring was the detail of the president on the train headed north to Gettysburg barely 3 months after the famous battle. He wrote the Gettysburg Address on the train himself, practicing it on his butler. Can you imagine a modern-day president actually writing his OWN speech? And then can you imagine the utterly important at that time to not alienate the newly defeated South, yet not coddle them either by alienating the North? It was a speech I'd personally rank as one of the most important ever given in the history of the world (as far as I know)...certainly in the fledgling United States of America. The man who spoke prior to the President talked for 2 hours, Lincoln only 2 minutes. There was no picture of him speaking as the photographer assumed like the man before it would be a lengthy diatribe, so he wasn't ready for his mere 237 words (that number is from my memory...forgive me if I got it wrong) that were SO utterly important in the history of this great country. Looking back historically, that it was so short allowed it to be sent coast to coast over the telegraph, and printed in  it's entirely in newspapers. In just a short amount of time nearly everybody in the country (and many abroad) had read or heard these inspiring words:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And so, on this Thanksgiving day I once-again pause to give thanks. For my wonderful wife and family, my health, and that I had the good-fortune to be born into this great country in a time when I can use the internet, have a job, ride my bike for pleasure, and even criticize my government (or the people in it) if I so desire. Much like Memorial Day, this holiday lends itself for pondering the greatness of those who came before me.  Men like Abraham Lincoln. Reading his well-chosen words always brings a tear to my eye. We can only wonder what other great things he might have achieved had he not been assassinated...much like JFK and RFK. But that history is part of ours and we can't change it. We can only hope to do good things, to treat others how we would like to be treated, and to live a good life with the time we are allowed. It's a time to be thankful for all the wonderful things our lives have to offer. And to be thankful as we look back at the hard times, being glad they are in the past. I'd say life in general is easier these days than in years past, but that might not be totally correct. It's just different, easier in some, yet harder in totally different ways than could ever have been foreseen by our fathers and grandfathers.

I leave you with a picture of our noble bird who gave his all that we might thrive on this Thanksgiving day.

The rain has briefly turned to snow gently fluttering down thru the trees, though I doubt much will stick around for more than a few minutes. I urge you to take a moment and ponder what you are thankful for.

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Well...I have to apologize first's now somehow been OVER a month since my last post. THAT is pathetic. I have a variety of lame excuses and reasons...mostly I think it was just life getting in the way and I needed a break...I've been QUITE busy (but not so busy that I couldn't have posted if I really wanted to). I could have just played it off and said I was on a posting-strike until Horner gets a job riding for a pro team next year (in which case I'd not be posting this, because as far as I know the oldest Grand Tour winner ever is still sadly without a team).

I've been riding when I can, working my way back into whatever form I'm capable of...and then there is the home projects...specifically we had granite counter-tops put into the kitchen and both bathrooms. To save a bundle of money I did all the demolition of the old counter-tops myself (didn't know what I was doing, but I did good). The following is a pictorial essay of a few weeks of not-so-much-fun in preparation for the granite to arrive.

 The spare bathroom "before". We HATE the white grouted tile-countetops. Actually HATE is not a strong enough word. Not even sure there is one that conveys the depth of our dislike.

The sink is out. The hot-water shutoff valve was seized open, and I had to turn off the 
whole house water to disconnect the faucet.

 Under the 4" tiles is a poured slab of concrete, a sheet of some kind of waterproof paper that was stapled to the plywood, and a sheet of some sort of"chicken-wire". Everything has to go.

 Here is the cabinet ready for it's granite. I even had to remove the giant mirror off the wall.

Here's the new sink installed (not yet plumbed), ready for the granite.

And here's the new granite! Woo-HOO!

Here's the master-bath cabinet, I've spared you the gory details (but it needs to be said: BOTH hot-water shut off valves were stuck open, also needing the whole house water turned off. At this point it became inevitable that I was going to replace ALL the shut-off valves (the ones installed are the multiple turn ones, I put in all new brass quarter-turn ball-valves...SWEET! Of course that was a bit pricey...needed 8 of them).

Here's the master bath with both sinks installed. We put in all new sinks and faucets. I don't have a pic of the granite slab here...but I'll have one later as I've added the cut-stone back-splash and put the mirror back up.

And now we're in the kitchen...this is where the REAL work begins.

We've also always HATED the wallpaper above the tile-splashboard. It also MUST go!

This is a good shot of what lies below the tiles. Concrete and chicken-wire and plywood. WHAT a mess! (and what a job...pieces and pieces of concrete with razor-sharp cut-wire everywhere).

Here's the kitchen with the concrete all removed and cleaned up. I put the plywood pieces back (just sitting in place) so we could have a functional kitchen while we waited for the granite. This involved totally removing the old cast-iron sink (weighs a TON), which entailed de-plumbing the faucet, dishwasher and garbage-disposal, removing the 18-ton sink, pulling the concrete out all the way, cleaning up, pulling the plywood and removing all the nails, then replacing the plywood and sink, then re-plumbing it all so we could still use it. I told Jeannie I'd gladly have just paid to have somebody else do all this! She didn't go for it.

And here we are the morning of the granite install....ready and waiting.

The plywood stayed on for the coffee pot until the last moments. Then we moved the coffee pot and presto...ready for granite!

They hung the new cast-iron sink (very heavy AND expensive btw) like it was no big deal. Then the placed the granite pieces together, gluing them in place and gluing the seams.

And the rest of the kitchen pieces are in place. The stove goes in the center slot under the microwave, and the refrigerator (we bought a new one at the same time we ordered the granite) goes in the slot on the right.

I'm currently working the backsplash's. We got cut-travertine tiles (4" and 6"...the bigger ones went in the bathrooms and the smaller ones go in the kitchen. Here in the kitchen I'm also not just doing the bottom row...I'm going all the way up to the cabinets. It will look GREAT when it's done. 

 Here's the spare bathroom with the new faucet and the backsplash 
(no grout yet..I'll do all the grout in one horrible day).

 And the master bath with it's faucets and back-splash. I did all the plumbing myself to save us money. I'm a so-so plumber...had an experience or 2 in my life where I thought I could do a plumbing job and ended up with an emergency plumber (at great cost). No snafu's on this job all went together fine.

Here's the kitchen, and you can see what I'm going for. The bottom row of tiles was horizontal, then the 12" pencil-pieces on top of that, and then we go diagonal the rest of the way up to the cabinets. What you don't see is my artsy-fartsy work that will be starting...the top inch of other tile will be cut off, and I have a sheet of 2" squares, and that small tile will sit horizontally in the middle of the diagonal 4" tiles (hard to explain, it will make sense when I get some more tiles laid and have done or 2 done). Of course doing the diagonal layout requires TONS of cutting. Going around the outlets and such and also the 90 degree and two 45 degree turns throw some extra degrees of difficulty into the mix. However it should be said that I am a master with the tile-saw. That is one of the things I'm pretty good at. Maybe slow...(could never do this commercially...I'd be broke) but my cuts and tile placement are first-rate. We also decided to continue the back-splash all the way behind the stove, in case we or somebody else were to put in a flat-top or a lower top would be hard to match down the road. Easier to just do it now.

Oh...and a week after the granite was put in, we had the porcelain tile floor professionally steam cleaned (the grout and tile now looks just like it did when it was new). THAT lovely little job required ME to basically empty the house of pretty much everything from every room EXCEPT 2 bedrooms. Then I got to UN-EMPTY it all back to where it came from. THAT was no small job either btw. Only THEN was I able to start work on the back-splash's.

OK....That's enough for one post....this Friday Jeannie and I fly out to Virginia once again for our annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage. We'll be out on her brothers farm for a week of relaxing (I hope) and chilling (really chilling I'm's apt to be quite cold compared to California). It's always stressful leaving the babies behind...but we have a doggie-sitter coming in to feed them, and rather than being put in a kennel, they get to lounge around at home all day. Sure they miss us, but at least they are home where they are comfortable. And I'll have the 'doggie-cams' up (web-cams). I like to spy on them...make sure they didn't let all the neighborhood dogs in for a big poker game.

Have a great week!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Johm Muir Trail (part VI, THE END thank goodness!)

And so, after a brief period on Mt. Whitney summit we began our descent.

 Here's a shot looking back.  Whitney is the rounded non-peak-looking peak on the left (over the sheer rock rather than the scree that surrounds it). The pointy peak in the middle is Mt Muir, and the pointy peak to the right I have no idea if it's even named (looks bigger as it's closer to us).

 Here we are looking ahead, towards Trail Crest. Quite the scenic rock formations for sure.

We're past Trail Crest now, heading down the 99 switchbacks. That's Greg below me making great time. Me, I'm taking it EASY, doing my very best to NOT come down hard on either foot from the steps made from rock. I did that (came down too hard too often) on both prior Whitney descents, and I was almost crawling due to unbelievable knee pain well before I reached the bottom. I did NOT want to repeat that. In the center top of the picture you can still see Mt Whitney, the rounded peak.

Looking DOWN a pretty steep face, this is what the 99 switchbacks take us down. You can see many of the switchbacks below. I think that might even be Greg again WAY below me. It's about as barren as it can possibly be up here.

An easy section actually, but you can see the danger (if you were to fall/slip off to the left you'd have a very long slide to your death). That's a lot of work done LONG ago to put those posts and chains into the solid rock of the trail. And they had to blast/dig the trail through can see what we are descending by the angle of the rock on the right side.

We've made good progress heading down. The green and trees in the far off middle is what we've been calling "Greg's Meadow" all these years. I've now passed Greg (he was hoping we'd camp at "Trail Camp" which is basicly a rocky spot where EVERYBODY camps at the base of the switchbacks. I had no intention of staying there if my legs were still working, so I continued down. My goal is to get us to Greg's Meadow. It's still a ways off, but seeing it gives me great hope. 

Just getting to the top of the tree line, you can see some of the higher Bristlecones. Also you can see how steep this valley is that we are descending.

xxx Lake. No camping allowed (darn it!) I would have easily stopped here if we were allowed. Alas, it was just a beautiful spot on the trail teasing us.

 And here is the far end of Greg's Meadow (we've hiked the length of it to get to here, and this is where we camped for our last night). This is the view from camp...not too shabby if you ask me!

I included this shot to show you how hardy the Bristlecone pines are. You can see these little guys are growing literally on the side of a cliff, probably rooted in a tiny crack. Somehow they can survive this kind of environment, which is just amazing! In the bottom to the left of the living tree you can see a dead one. It's a pretty harsh place to live for sure!

Just a shot looking back up the trail, we are getting close to Whitney Portal (the trailhead) now. The high peaks are WAY up this valley, from this view it's hard to believe what's in store for you as you ascend for the first time. You'd think it will just be green and beautiful everywhere, but it turns to sheer rock.

We MADE IT! And this is what's been on my mind for the entire hike down on our final day: a Whitney Burger! I can't tell you for sure if it's the best burger on the planet (considering we've been eating freeze dried food for 4 days now)...but it sure is tasty! And those fries...OMG are they GOOD!! (the burgers are as big as they look too...quite a meal for some hungry backpackers!)

Looking back up Whitney Portal road, this is the view of Mt Whitney you get from the highway going thru Lone Pine. That's Whitney dead center, with Mt Muir the closest jagged 'tooth' peak to it's left. It doesn't look like the highest peak, but it's much farther back than the other mountains in the foreground. If you like to watch old westerns, then you've seen this view MANY times as they did a LOT of Hollywood filming in this area. All the restaurants in town are filled with signed pictures of the stars, movie posters, etc.

And this is a zoomed in shot of Whitney, our final view before we head home. There is a "Mountaineering route" that goes right up the face, but obviously that requires actual mountain-climbing skills with ropes, equipment and such. Nothing I'm interested in. I much prefer the "yellow brick road" approach used by tens of thousands every year. I won't be back up here anytime soon, that's for sure. But it was a great hike and we both ended it without any injuries, and our knees even held out very nicely. Goodbye Mt Whitney!

And so...that wraps up our backpacking trip. I can FINALLY write about something else (hooray, it's about time you are probably saying to yourself). 

Sorry it took so long to finish this, my life has been QUITE busy with the granite counter-tops these last few weeks. It's safe to say it has consumed my life. But they are finally in, the sinks are all in and working, the doors area ll back on the cabinets, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will order our cut stone for the back-splash's. I'll work on those when I can, no huge rush but I just want to get it over-with.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

John Muir Trail (Part V: Mt Whitney Summit)

Day four (our third FULL day) on the trail begins as we awaken at Guitar Lake. We are just a few hours hike from Trail Crest (the top of the ridge which then takes you either to Mt Whitney OR down the other side towards Whitney Portal trailhead). The sun comes up over the eastern mountains around 8am, and we are up and moving, preparing for the day.  After another quick breakfast we break camp and are on the trail.

 That's Greg WAY ahead of me, having already passed the un-named tiny lake (above Guitar Lake). We are headed towards Trail Crest, which is the low-spot in the ridge almost directly above Greg in the sun-beams.

  Looking back towards the way we came (east), and Guitar Lake where we spent the night. The Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass and Forrester Pass are all WAY WAY WAY back that-a-ways.
 The trail gets steep as we ascend towards the ridge. The land is quite desolate up here, nothing but rock.

  And there it is: Trail Crest! Hooray! Elevation: 13,600'. Greg has already passed that spot and has started towards Whitney Portal (thinking we were NOT going to summit Mt Whitney). However it's like 11am, what else are we going to do today? We aren't hiking out until tomorrow. So I set off after him, catching him at the top of the switchbacks. We discuss our options and decide that a Whitney summit is indeed in order. So we ditch our packs right there and grab what we need, and head off for the summit.

 This is the trail towards Whitney. I winds along the ridge, thru some breathtaking rocky scenes. Most of this trail you wouldn't want to fall off, as there is a long way down on either side. That's actually part of Mt. Whitney on the this picture it looks like a giant scree field, and the wild rock outcrop in the middle of the picture is blocking the view of the summit.
 And now you can see Mt Whitney, along with Mt Muir. Whitney is again on the left, just above the solid rock face (very non-summit looking), where-as Mt Muir is the pointy outcrop in the middle of the picture (Mt Muir is also over 14,000 feet).
 Looking back the way we came, Trail Crest is seemingly forever back along the ridge. That is Mt Muir on the left (the outcrop). We are on the final ascent  towards the Whitney summit, heading up the humongous scree field which is the entire western side of the mountain. The eastern side is just a cliff (as you can see from Mt Muir).

 Looking down (zoomed in quite a bit) at the 99 switchbacks trail that descends from Trail Crest towards Whitney Portal. This part is where it isn't so steep, further up the trail (blocked by the peak on the right) is where the switchbacks go nearly straight up the face to the top of the ridge. We'll be on this section later today, trying not to destroy the knees as we descend with full packs.

 And here you see the final summit push. It's a very non-assuming summit, kind of a yellow-brick-road if you will. The rock hut was made long ago, and is a nice little shelter if you happen to be up here when it's cold (right now it's probably in the high 40's/low 50's. You can see the gathering of hikers at the "summit".

A better view of Mt Muir, and the trail heading back towards Trail Crest on the backside thru the scree field. Just above Mt Muir's peak (in the far background) is another peak sticking up, which is also very unassuming. It's more of a flat-top rounded thing, with the left side being slightly higher. That is Mt. Langley, which is also a 14'er. Greg and I summit-ed that one a few years back when we camped/hiked in the Golden Trout Wilderness.

And here is the obligatory summit photo. No, it doesn't quite have the same oomph as an Everest summit I know...but this IS the highest point in the continental United States. Elevation: 14,505'.

That will have to do it for today...I'm SO busy at home just now. Our granite counter-tops arrive on Monday, and to save us a thousand $$ I have been doing the prep-work myself (removing our old counter-tops). This involves not only removing them, but removing the old sinks (both master and guest bathrooms AND the kitchen) all the way down to the bare open cabinets. Then I set the plywood back on and set the sinks back in, and then finally hooking them back up again until Sunday night so we can live. Also I needed to remove the old backsplash (which tore up the drywall pretty good), so I've been working on that for a few days now. In fact, the reason I have some time tonight to work this new post is that I sprayed the "orange peel/knockdown texture" on the spackled/sanded areas that will be visible above the new backsplash, and it takes a while to dry before I can paint it...I'll do that (paint) tomorrow.

Along with the new counter tops we got all new sinks and faucets (the kitchen is a double-bay cast iron/enamel BEAST. If you've ever lifted one of those, you know what I'm talking about here). I also had to remove all the hot-water shut-off valves as they were all corroded open (had to shut off the whole house water supply at the street to do that). It's been quite a job, and I can't hardly wait until it's over. However it won't be quite over for a while yet...we still need to install new backsplash's (we didn't buy granite ones, we will put in our own using ceramic decorative tile). But we can't even really pick that out until the granite is in and we can color-match. I know it will be wonderful when it's all done.

Also I get to do all the new plumbing for all 4 new sinks/faucets. Good thing I'm kind'a handy around the house...though I must admit that plumbing is my 'weak spot' in home can't fake actually have to KNOW things or you can easily make a situation into an emergency (when it involves water flowing somewhere into your house that you can't stop). You don't get points for trying in plumbing, that's for sure. But so far, so good (no emergency plumber calls...yet).

And so...have a great week/weekend! Summer is past, Halloween is coming FAST! After that it's all downhill into the cold and winter, darn it. Come on SPRING!