Friday, April 29, 2011


I first heard the news yesterday morning and called my brother who is up from Alabama visiting the family farm for a week to help put in the crop. It has been too wet so far to do that so mostly we have been hunting mushrooms but that is a post for another day. I called him to see how his wife and kids are since they were among the dozens of red 'tornadoes reported' on the map. He didn't know. They gave up their land line a year ago and now just have cellphones and he couldn't get a call through. Fortunately this evening he finally was able and learned that his wife and kids were alright, just barely.

Evidently the tornado has been coming directly for them but skipped up over about a mile of terrain coming down again about a quarter of a mile past their house at the corner of the road they living on and continuing the path of destruction. Neighbors, friends and more than a few church members are among the dead but my brother's family survived intact. They have an advantage because their house has a basement when most houses in that part of the country are build on a ground level slab. Lots of the deaths are from houses where all that remains is just a slab and they literally had no chance of survival. A basement drastically helps those odds.

So my brother is headed down a day earlier than planned and since there is no running water or electricity and it may be that way for weeks according to local officials, he will be stocking up on bottled water and a generator on the way home. I'm just glad my brother and his family are alive and saddened to know a few of those neighbors whom I met a little over a year ago when I was down there perished. It just goes to show how fragile life is.

It also reinforced my opinion that we who live in the tornado belt, need to get serious about housing. Every house should have a basement or dug in storm shelter. I don't think I would buy a house without one. That is why perhaps in a few years when I might begin the dream of designing and building my own home, I plan on doing it right and building a home that is not only F5 tornado proof, it is also Category 5 hurricane proof and fire proof. It dwarfs houses that are platinum LEED certified in efficiency, very unique, have endless design possibilities without constraints and are pretty dang attractive. I'm not sure why anyone would ever want to live in a fragile house built of sticks when you could live in a monolithic dome.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cabrillo Point

One of the real jewels I found in San Diego was Cabrillo National Park which is found on a point of land across the bay from San Diego and is the southwest most point of the United States. It is named for the first European who supposedly landed on the west coast and as it turned out, was also buried there when he died from infection from a broken leg. Where he is buried is unknown.

In the middle of San Diego bay is Coronado Island which isn't really an island at all but an isthmus connected to the main land. The only way into San Diego bay is to sail where the two sail boats are to the picture's left around Coronado Island to the bay between it and the mainland which is where all the tall building are at in the background.

My immediate thought was that Cabrillo point was an excellent place for a lighthouse and evidently so did the early settlers as evidenced by this lighthouse. However, due to the height of the point, the lighthouse was often in fog while the bay was open so there is another lighthouse down low along the ocean's edge.

Later during the points past, America became worried about an invasion from Japan and this point and Coronado Island became the site of a huge military base and defensive area. These days, the military still owns the north half of Cabrillo point as well as the north half of Coronado island and is second in size only to the Norfolk, Virginia base and is the home of our entire Pacific fleet. The southern most point that was mostly a defensive place to guard the Pacific fleet from the Japanese has been made into a National Park but there are still many signs of the past military significance including this 16 inch shell that with that stack of black powder cartridges could be fired twenty miles out to see. In an attempt to get some scale to my picture, I grabbed an empty coke can and set on the shell.

On the Pacific side of the point, there are a lot of tidal pools which are open to the public. This rock was purchased on this ledge probably ten feet above the surface and guessing that from the multitude of footprints around, have been used as a dandy seat and a test of strength by those hoping to push it into the ocean.

There weren't any beaches of sand but plenty of sandstone ledges to sit and watch the ocean. I think I lost three or four hours somewhere here. One minute it was shortly after noon and the next thing I knew the sun was dipping towards the horizon.

Not sure what this sandstone bowl is or how it was formed. My best guess was that a rock at one time sat in it and the sandstone eroded around it leaving behind the bowl. Any other guesses?

This was as far south as I could go before I was rim rocked by cliffs and an ocean.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter Egg Blues

Away from home and smack dab in the middle of the urban jungle for Easter weekend with my wife on call all day Saturday, my daughter and I decided to make the best of it. We decided to hit the local zoo in the morning and kill some time. As an added bonus, or so I had thought, there would be an Easter Egg hunt there for little kids every half hour. There was no hurry to get there but when it opened at ten but my daughter was up at five-thirty so we were more than ready for ten o'clock to arrive.

Normally when we hit the zoo at ten, we will be one of perhaps a dozen families. Saturday when we pulled in, we were one of about three hundred families judging by the line that stretched clear across the parking lot and from the numbers arriving, we were the minority. We joined the tail end of the line and slowly shuffled our way across the parking lot to the door. That was when my daughter asked the obvious question that was starting to get me in a huff. "Why do we have to stand in line when those people don't?"

You could pick those people out a mile away. They would get out of their cars from some open space in the front half of the parking lot and see the line stretching all the way to the back of the parking lot. The majority of the people would shuffle towards the back of the parking lot with kids in tow to wait their turn. But 'those people' my daughter was referring too would look from the back of the line, to the entrance, to the back of the line. I could see their gears of turning and sure enough, they would walk towards the doors where people such as myself who had been in line for the past twenty minutes were finally gaining entrance.

There seemed to me two strategies. The most common strategy was the bold walk up with kids in tow and simply cut through the lines, gain entrance and then in the chaos, cut someone off, pay and proceed. Then there was the meek strategy where they would slowly walk towards the door (faster than those of us in line shuffled) scanning the line for someone, anyone they knew where they could give a hello, how is... what is your daughter's name again... and join them in line. If they made it up to the door without seeing anyone, they would stand there looking a little lost for awhile and then spying a gap in the line, would edge in with kids in tow.

Finally the zoo sent one of their staff members out to control the chaos and to send those trying to cut back to the end of the line but this was only after perhaps a third as many of those who were initially in line had slipped in already delaying those honest folks. One father whose wife and son were in line directly behind me obsessively walked back and forth to the entrance trying to get around that person and at one point I thought he had found a way. He called for his son to come up to the head of the line. When his son got there, they sidled closer to the line awaiting their opportunity while I was weighing my options. I wanted to go up and give him a piece of my mind but thought it unwise with a nearly five year old in tow. Evidently perhaps someone told him off or at least gave him a dirty look because just when it looked like he had successfully cut in line, he and his son turned around and walked back to join his wife directly behind me.

Finally we got in, waived our membership card and made it to where they were having the Easter Egg hunt for the smaller kids. It was a large fenced off area and there was yet another line of parents waiting with their children though this one was about a third the size of the first one. Two minutes later, the gate opened and the kids standing near the head of the line went running off and from a distance, I could see them frantically picking up eggs. I was immediately infuriated with the staff for their poor planning because I could see exactly what was going to happen. The first kids would get all the loot and those of us at the back of the line would have a disappointed kid who didn't even get a fair shot at an Easter Egg or perhaps worse, would have to wait yet another half hour in line for a shot. Fortunately I was wrong.

When we got up to the gate, I could see thousands of eggs just piled in different colored piles. They weren't hidden at all and looked as if they had been dumped by a dump truck into piles. The man at the gate said there was a ten egg limit and then we were to take them to the exit, dump them and get a stamp that could be redeemed for a prize. So my daughter dutifully walked over to a pile, picked up ten eggs, carried them over to the exit and dumped them into a large plastic tote there while the lady stamped her hand. We walked over to another building, stood in yet another line and received one larger plastic egg that had a sticker and two small chocolate eggs. What a rip. I'm don't think we will be going back there again on Easter.

Fortunately my daughter who by now was pretty disappointed about the hour of her life gone for a sticker and two small chocolate eggs still had fun doing our normal tour of the zoo. We did our normal tour which has been gradually whittled down to not much at all. The Australian display is being rebuilt, the Africa display is still mostly gone for the winter and the water animals were MIA and their pool just a muddy hole waiting to get redone. In total, we saw some fish, flamingos, giraffe, lion, tiger and a handful of monkeys. Twenty minutes after we had collected my daughter's meager prize, we were walking back to the car. There was still a long line of people slowly shuffling towards the door with a few parents with children in tow standing off to one side looking lost but waiting for the opportunity to teach their children how not to wait for things in their life.

Friday, April 22, 2011


On my first full day in San Diego, I made sure to take a tour of the U.S.S. Midway, America's largest aircraft carrier for nearly a decade that is only dwarfed by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagen currently off shore in Japan. I have toured an old submarine once but this was my first military boat tour I have ever taken. It was very impressive to say the least. Some stats are that the Midway:

  • Built in 1945 at the tail end of World War II and was the longest serving military ship in U.S. history seeing action in three wars, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
  • First ship built too large to fit through the Panama Canal at 1001 feet long, 258 feet wide (113 feet at beam) and 222 feet tall. The ship needed 35 feet of draft to stay afloat.
  • It held something like 1.3 million gallons of oil to fuel it's 12 boilers and got a whopping 260 gallons per mile for fuel mileage. I was told it could stay at sea approximately 3 weeks before needing refueling compared to the 25 years for the average nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
  • It needed 4500 crew members to run the thing eating a total of 13,000 meals a day which worked out to 10 tons of food or 4500 lbs of beef, 3000 lbs of potatoes, 1000 loaves of bread and 500 pies.

Above is the hangar deck which is immediately below the flight deck. When entering the boat, we ended her on the stern end, donned a set of headphones and a device with a keypad and LCD display that allowed you to wander at leisure and enter the number of the area you were at to hear a recording of its function or history. It was an excellent way to tour something like this and very informative. For the most part, everyplace was busy for the first half hour after it opened but then everyone was clustered at the far end of the hangar deck where the gift shop and flight simulators were allowing me to wander by my lonesome through what felt like miles of claustrophobically small walkways, ladders, and rooms. Had parts of the ship been roped off and there weren't signs every five steps or so, I might still be wandering the halls today.

This is one of those pictures that was impossible to get a sense of scale. There was about 18 inches of aisle width here and I could not walk without turning sideways and shuffling.  The beds hinged up and allowed you access to a pan about six inches deep and the width and length of your bed for storing your gear. When closed, you had about 12 inches of space between your bed and the bed above you which meant I couldn't even turn on my side in the bed. Truly it was a coffin like experience.

The anchor chains were massive but had to be to pull up twelve tons worth of anchor. Those spools pulled up the chains and fed them down the tube to somewhere on the decks below. Where the chains went weren't part of the tour. Here as in most areas of the ship, veterans who had served on the ship were there to answer any questions. The one stationed here said that the rubber flooring was installed because the chains really sparked when being drug across a steel deck. Only after I had gone back home and looking over the pictures did I wish I had asked exactly how a chain this size is made.

The anchor was connected at this end of the chain perhaps thirty or forty feet away.

The brig.

One of four engines driving four 18 foot diameter propellers that weighed 22 tons each producing 200,000+ horsepower and a top speed of about 33 knots. The massive gray thing in the foreground is the gearbox and the white thing in the background the steam driven turbine.

I found this display right outside of one of the barber shops in the ship. I found it amusing.

They had a full hospital area with a surgical suite and an x-ray room as seen in the preceding two photos. According to the veteran in this area, almost a quarter of the crew of 4500 could come down sick after a port of call in some third world country but for the most part, the most prevailing injury while at sea were contusions to the head. Being over six feel tall, I needed no further explanation. He did say it was the best place on the ship because here, you got a larger bed, were waited on by staff and weren't required to report to duty.

The flight deck is a little over 4 acres in size and held lots of planes. Unfortunately, due to an extremely hungry stomach that hadn't eaten anything since the day before, I passed by most of them and went directly to the bridge tour. Above is a photo from the bridge looking back towards the stern. Below is from the same area looking ahead towards the bow.

Finally, if I were an enemy of the United States, the last thing I would ever want to see is shown below. More on how I took that photo in a later post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I'm not sure why, but when ever I look back at trip photos, I always feel like I have more than a few of the foods I have eaten. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I subscribe to the philosophy of 'when in Rome eat like the Romans.' So when in San Diego right by the sea, you must eat a lot of sea food if you subscribe to my philosophy.

My wife had won this trip as a prize for giving the base case presentation speech among her peers. They didn't give her all expenses paid but gave her a set limit of money that would cover all her standard hotel and airfare expenses. Since we had booked our airfare months earlier when it was cheaper and before we knew she had won and we stayed in a cheaper motel much farther from the convention center from all the colleagues, we  ended up with a good chunk of change that we could spend on food. We took full advantage of it.

These first three photos above are of our first meal eaten just hours after getting off the plain. We drove up the coast to a famous restaurant called Pacifica Del Mar where even for a weekday lunch crowd, I was severely under dressed in a polo shirt and nice jeans. They let me in and served food to me but I felt a bit out of place. We had baked oysters for an appetizer, I had the fish tacos and my wife had the mixed seafood grill and rice. All was good but the baked oysters were divine.

We ate at a Filipino restaurant that was unremarkable for supper and an Indian buffet place for lunch the next day but neither were worth photo-documenting. However, we did stop for a yogurt treat later that day and I had a blueberry and dark chocolate bit Pinkberry sundae. My yogurt was their regular but my wife had a mango version that was excellent. Next time I would skip the chocolate and just go blueberries.

After Pinkberry and fortunately on full stomachs, we stopped at a Ghiradelli Chocolate store plum full of chocolatey goodness. I don't think I have every seen so much chocolate all in one place outside of the move Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Oscar Meyer weiner-mobile. Enough said about that. Another supper was paid for by my wife's boss who wanted to treat us. Of all the places in San Diego, he chose Kansas City Barbecue which is certainly not what a Roman would eat. It was good food but a lost opportunity.

One of our final meals was at another nice seafood restaurant called Georges On the Cove with a nice view of the ocean. I had a spicy tuna melt sandwich which was excellent and so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of it.  My wife had red snapper and there is also no picture of that. I did manage to get a picture of the seafood kimchi appetizer that we had which also was excellent.

So overall, the trip was a culinary delight other than the two half days that we spent crammed into an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet with not even a paltry bag of peanuts to chew on. Perhaps one more reason we opted to eat some nicer food while in the San Diego area.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Money Pit

Just over four months ago, I was blogging about a disaster that had been averted due to my daughter's good ears. Had she not caught the fact that water was gushing into my basement, my basement might have flooded or at a minimum, I would have ran through a thousand dollars of water on my next monthly bill. Three days later, the same thing happened again and that time I fixed it with copper and thought all my water leaking problems were behind me, at least until I had sold the place to someone else.

Then right before my trip to California, it happened again. By it, I mean I went into the basement utility room to find water spraying everywhere. I quickly found the leak in the fitting between my hot water heater's hot side and the house hot water supply line. After shutting off the water and disconnecting the joint, everything appeared in good order and the rubber gasket in the bottom had no obvious defects and had compression. I taped up the threads with Teflon tape, cinched it up tight and turned on the water again. No leaks.

My confidence it now blown though. Gone are the days when I feel like I can leave my house for a weekend and leave the main water valve open. Now, I am going to have to close it and turn off the hot water heater so in case a leak does occurs as it has now three times in the last four months, I won't flood my basement and won't burn up the water heater. Once again, having copper pipes with 100% soldered fittings seems like my only option when I build my house that will be fire, tornado, earthquake and hurricane proof as well as more efficient than any stick build house by a factor of three. It just doesn't make sense to have one like that which can flood from the inside.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Back In College... Or At Least a College Town

As a prelude to my wife's all expenses paid trip to San Diego for winning her presentation contest, or her penance as she claims, she had to give her speech to another residency program across the state in a large state college town. Of course her expenses to this were paid and since it was on a weekend and much closer to me than our apartment in the urban jungle, the daughter and I met her there on a Friday evening before her speech the next morning.

We met up with another couple, the husband whom is in the same residency batch as my wife, and went out to dinner. It didn't take too long for all those old familiar feelings to come back to me. First I noticed the traffic on the main roads through town. Not only were they busy but they were aggressive with so many expensive cars with too much horsepower piloted by kids that were still young enough to believe they are immortal. I know that feeling though it left me sometime after I graduated college. Several times through town I had to hit my breaks to avoid rear ending someone who either cut me off, or pulled out in front of me. Ahead, cars swerved back and forth between the lanes trying to pick the one that was moving the fastest.

Next, every place in town was packed as college students were intent on celebrating this Friday evening, one of their last before finals began and the end of the semester ended. Every place we drove by was packed to the gills and had a waiting list. The couple we were with wanted to eat at Applebee and so we did. Fortunately for the six of us (we each had our daughters with us), we only had a fifteen minute wait to be seated. But typical of a town full of kids packing on way too much debt and thus not inclined to leave tips, the service was expectedly shitty. Our appetizers came about thirty seconds before our main course and were barely luke warm. My wife and I got the spinach/artichoke dip, something we have had in the past and enjoyed but here, the chips were so stale that it was hard to break them off in your teeth. The main dishes were also terrible and I can say that for sure since I tried both mine and my wife's entrĂ©e.

Since it was Friday and during Lent, she told me she wanted to order the Cajun shrimp and pasta. I told her that she shouldn't because it would be too spicy for her to eat. She informed me that it didn't say it was spicy on the menu but I said in America, it is understood that if it says Cajun, it will be spicy. She didn't believe me and ordered it anyway. I got the batter fried shrimp basket which was bland and if there were shrimp inside all the breading, I couldn't taste them. So when my wife tried one bite of her dish and couldn't eat it because it was too spicy, I gave her the I-told-you-so-but-won't-rub-it-in-since-we-are-eating-with-others look and traded plates. After a few bites, I had to admit that it was probably the worst spiced dish I have ever eaten. It was spiced just for the sake of making it hot and had absolutely no other flavor to it. I gave up on it about half way through and stole a few shrimp from my former plate which although tasteless, was still filling.

Later that night back in our motel room, it was a long time getting to sleep with all the noise going on outside and inside. The cajun shrimp pasta was burning a hole in my esophagus every time I lay down and finally after several hours, I decided enough was enough and willed myself to throw up the entire lot of it in the bathroom. When it was out, I felt just as good as I had up until the point I walked into that darn Applebee restaurant.

The next day while my wife was earning the paid expenses by giving her speech, my daughter and I huddled outside at a small park out of the very cold wind blowing and while she played on the equipment, I got to people watch. Again I was reminded of being in a college town as people where shorts, sandals and light cotton hoodies walked by and the scrolling sign across the street told me that it was only 21 degrees out. Worst of all, the boys and especially the girls looked way too young to be in college. When I mentally figured out that they were closer to my daughter's age than they were to mine, I suddenly felt ancient.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Running Bear

While waiting for my destination for the day to arrive in an hour, I decided to walk up the pier aways to a bench and sit for a spell resting my tired feet while looking out across the bay. Two birds with one stone. Soon after I sat, a dark skinned Indian toting a guitar took up residence on a nearby bench, opened up his case at his feet, removed the guitar and began singing and playing. He was wearing a black cowboy hat with silver trimmed hat band, a leather duster and a silver trimmed belt but by the shape of his clothes, I could tell that he was most likely homeless. He only new a few chords and had a pretty good set of pipes on him but what really floored me was that song after song he performed could have been right out of my list of favorite songs. I sat there listening, enjoying the performance and the scenery.

About ten minutes later, an obvious drunk man staggered up and slumped heavily onto my bench. He sat there in silence for a few minutes and then leaning over, slurred something at me that I couldn't understand. "Pardon me," I said and asked him to repeat himself and then with immense concentration and some liberal interpretation, I was able to figure out he was asking me if the San Diego Padres were playing that day. I gave him the affirmative and he resumed his slump. The day was chilly even with my light jacket on and this man was wearing only a thin t-shirt. Soon he hugged his shoulders, slumped all the way down onto his lap and more than likely passed out. He stayed like that for the next twenty minutes and it amused me being the center of attention to passersby who no doubt wondered why I was sitting with the homeless drunk man. The dark skinned Indian kept on playing and eventually drunk man revived himself and heaved himself out of our bench. He started tipping right towards me and I put out my hands to catch him but he caught himself and staggered off down the street.

Soon afterwards two more homeless guys who came strolling up to the dark skinned Indian. The exchanged homeless pleasantries mostly centered around the weather and then proceeded to tell the Indian that they were a dollar short of a pack of smokes and wondered if he had any money. The Indian told them that he had twenty cents so far but they were welcome to it. One of the new homeless guys bent down and evidently only took a dime because dark skinned Indian told him he could have both and he obliged. It struck me as sad that homeless guys were taking to bumming money from other homeless guys all in the name of cigarettes. But I guess that is all they have to spend it on, that and beer, because from their conversations, they got three hot meals a day from a local church and because San Diego is sunny and 70 degrees on average all year round, their tarps and cardboard were adequate for their needs. Unfortunately for them, they didn't know I was in town and had brought four days of overcast, windy, cold and half the time rainy weather with me.

Those two men set off and the dark skinned Indian continued to play his guitar singing one favorite song of mine after another. I was almost sorry when boat pulled up to the dock, set the gang and began taking tickets from the four other passengers who were going with me. When they were boarded and the dark skinned Indian finished his song, I got up, walked over to him and asked his name. He told me that everyone called him Running Bear. I told him I enjoyed his songs and gave him a twenty which is all I had on me at the time. He thanked me and told me I was a friend to him and could come back anytime. I told him good luck and walked on board the boat.

This is only the second time in my life that I have given money to a homeless man. Most of the time I prefer treating them to a meal because I know that giving them money will probably be smoked or drank away. But Running Bear put on such a good show on the pier bench along the bay in San Diego, I was okay with that. He probably really needed it because is started raining in the early evening that day and didn't stop until almost twenty hours later.

Monday, April 11, 2011

When Your Mind Wakes Before Your Body

Instead of the early morning grunt down the stairs that my daughter gives me every morning to signify that she is up, I heard crying in her room. I hurried up stairs into her room where I found her sitting on the edge of her bed clutching her right arm with her left.

"Daddy, my arm hurts," she cried.

"Where?" I asked her blowing on it with my magical cure all daddy's breath.

"Something is crawling up inside my arm" my daughter replied still crying.

Suddenly it hit me and I asked her if she had slept on top of her arm. She tearfully nodded and I then had an impromptu discussion on the mechanics of blood flow and how when you prevent the blood from flowing in an appendage by say, sleeping on it, your arm will tingle as the blood rushes back to feed all those tissues starving for oxygen. I'm sure that 95% of what I told her was completely lost on her but the 5% that she understood was that the feeling would go away quickly and nothing seriously was wrong with her arm.

But it got me to thinking. I wonder how old I was when I first had an arm fall asleep in bed? I have no recollection but if it happened now for the first time in my life, I might be pretty freaked out about it. It certainly wasn't a topic that crossed my mind as having to explain to my daughter someday before it happened to prevent freaking out. The one topic that falls into that category is quite a few years away and one that I hope my wife will take on.