Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Jaunt to Joshua Tree

A few weeks ago (actually, the end of October, so several weeks ago), we spent a long weekend in the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree area of Southern California. I'm not sure what we were expecting, but it was a very intersting trip!

First of all, before we got to Joshua Tree, we spend the day in Palm Springs - better known as "God's Waiting Room" due to the overwhelming number of old people. The place is a desert oasis, if you're definition of refuge consists of golf courses and "homes for active seniors." I was expecting something like Rodeo Drive in the desert, but it was more like Del Boca Vista. The only thing that wasn't unexpected was the heat - which I'll quantify as "pretty damn hot." But hey, it's a dry heat.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park is about an hour's drive from Palm Springs (which is about 2 hours from LA) through the southern part of the vast and inhospitible Mojave Desert. Well, it's vast, but there are about 4 small towns along the way, including Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.

Joshua Tree NP consists of several different ecosystems, and has elevations ranging from 500 to 5,000 feet. The northern desert is characterized by stands of spike-like ocotillo plants and “jumping” cholla cactus. The northern part of the park contains the habitat of the Joshua tree. And, the western most part of the park, above 4,000 feet, provides habitat for juniper and pinyon pine.

The trip was fairly uneventful, but it was interesting to see that the desert is nothing like the stretches of sand dunes that us East Coasters are led to believe. There are tons of plants and animals, and suprisingly, lots of water. Browse through the pictures below and see the diversity for yourself.

A teddy bear cactus and a yucca plant. The yucca is related to the Joshua tree, as you'll see in the pictures, but the name difference between "tree" and "plant" is apparent.

Sarah getting a closer look at some of the desert vegitation in this seasonal stream. Bird life was very plentiful in the park, and this area was also full of bugs, lizards and other creatures.

Some of the rocky outcroppings that make Joshua Tree such a destination for rock climbers.

The Joshua tree "forests" looked like orchards. The trees were almost perfectly spaced, and appeared to be in rows that were planned and designed.

Sarah, piloting our intrepid Sebring convertible through the desert.

Probably the most disturbing image of the trip was the smog cutting through the Palm Springs valley. According to the guide, there is one pass through the mountains east of Los Angeles that acts like a funnel and sucks the LA fog into Palm Springs and Joshua Tree NP.

In the middle of the park, there is a man-made lake, created by ranchers back in the good old days to water their grazing cattle. There is much more water in the desert that we ever imagined - you just need to know where to look.

Does Sarah ever follow directions?

Under the stars and the Joshua trees at our luxury campground accomodations.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Smarter, Funnier, and so grown up!

Hi everyone! I've just returned from Florida, where I had a blast hanging out with Ty, Jake and Alli for a few days. My visit was free but hanging with the kids always makes me feel like a million bucks.

Ty is starting the 2nd grade this year and he is really looking forward to starting school (and seeing his favorite gal pal, Victoria!). Ty is reading a lot and is always intensely-focused on whatever he is doing. During my visit, Ty asked me to play video games with him and Jake ... I obliged and they were very disappointed when I beat them... twice! I have to say I was pretty happy with my performance at NBA All Star Hoops given I had a) never played the game before, b) really dislike video games, and c) showed them aunt sarah isn't as old as they might think!

Jake is starting the 1st grade this year, and quite frankly, dreading the entire back to school thing. At the school orientation, I asked Jake if he liked where his desk was, and he answered "No, I just want to sit somewhere else all by myself." OK.... good luck with getting his homework done every night, Holly! Speaking of which, Jake and I worked on his summer project together and had a lot of fun - he even decided to do extra decorating after we had done all of the required elements. We made a mobile featuring scenes from an Arthur book, including a lobster with googly eyes, holding a feather. Sometimes Jake seems lost in his own little world, but every 30 minutes or so he will say something that makes you realize he's been listening all along. He's a smart - and very clever - little boy and loves to make faces at the camera and make everyone around him laugh (hello, middle child!!).

Alli.... well, where do I start? She is raring to go... to school, to dance class, to shop at the mall, you name it! Alli is SO excited to start school this year. She'll go three days a week and will have the same teacher Ty and Jake had. She is also signed up for dance lessons and has already started practicing with her Bella Ballerina video tape. She's probably also the most articulate of the three... actually, on any given day i think she could out-talk anyone in the family (even Mom!), Ha!

All in all, a very fun trip! We managed to see March of the Penguins, go to Busch Gardens, go to Channelside for bowling and the Aquarium, and spend plenty of time in the pool! A very busy five days!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Home Sweet (new!) Home

Hello! Thanks so much to everyone who's called and sent well-wishes on the closing and the move! And for those we haven't gotten to yet.... Jason and I just bought a house! The new place is in Pacifica, at the top of a hill on the Ocean side, just south of SF. After closing on July 6, we began prepping the house for our arrival.... which basically meant painting the white walls something more appealing, a lot of indecision around where things would go, and much anxiety over whether the homeowners association would allow us to have a satellite dish (... Jason living without the Steelers games!? the horror!). We are now officially moved in but only slightly settled! It was a looong moving day.... We finished painting the downstairs rooms, and are now faced with painting the bedrooms whilst surrounded by boxes and furniture (and lots of Jason's engineering books which he claims he still needs b/c he uses them "all the time"). We have two master bedrooms & full baths upstairs (luckily ours has an ocean view!) plus a laundry room - which oddly also has an ocean view (consolation prize for doing laundry I suppose!). Downstairs is a half bath, kitchen, living room, dining room and patio. We also have two garages now which means that if we ever get ahead of that mortgage payment, we can buy (and have a place to store!) kayaks.

One other quick note on our move - for our friends in the Bay Area - next time you have to move, make sure you check out the Delancey Street Foundation moving company. They are incredible! Between the two of us, Jason and I have used them five times. They really do an amazing job (have you ever seen a mover RUN back and forth from the truck to finish your job as quickly as possible?!) and the rates are the most reasonable in town, AND they are a non-profit so it's tax deductible. Check them out, highly recommended!

OK, so on to the pictures.... we're still working on a lot of things (the brass lighting fixtures MUST be eliminated!!) but we figured some pictures were better than no pictures. You can kind of see the "before" and "after" effects of the downstairs rooms in the pics below, but we still have a long ways to go on the upstairs so those "after" shots will come (much) later!

We hope that we will have more visitors now that we have an official guest room... and, we live really, really close to the ocean and a great surfing beach. You may want to come for FogFest!! It's Pacifica's annual city-wide festival.... Pacifica is known for heavy fog during July-August but the rest of the year is pretty darn nice and we're looking forward to some sunny days on our patio!

We hope everyone is doing well and we welcome any advice on merging two distinctly different "styles" into one house... otherwise, we might just be pitching a few things and starting from scratch, in order to keep the peace around here :-)

Dining Room before:

Dining Room in progress:

Dining Room after!

Kitchen Before & After

Front entrance, looking toward back door:

More pictures to come soon!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pinnacles National Monument

In our never-ending quest to spot the elusive California Condor (population: 156 captive, 118 wild), we took a trip to Pinnacles National Monument this past weekend (June 10-12).

But, before we get to the story, we bet that you're wondering about the differences between a National Monument and a National Park. Basically, a Nat'l Park must be approved by Congress, while a Nat'l Monument can be declared solely by the President. Here is a good explanation, if you're interested.

Sarah was in lovely Houston for work, so Jay picked her up at the airport around 8:30 PM on Friday, and we continued south on the 140-ish mile drive. We were quite tired, but managed to get the tent up and get to sleep by 11 PM or so. (We'll skip the story about the campground gate being locked at 9 PM, and us having to lay down a piece of wood and drive over the "severe tire damage" spikes in the exit lane.)

During the night, there was quite a bit of wildlife out and about. It was just like being in San Fran, except the fire engines and the police sirens were replaced with strange squeals and various rodent-types rooting around our tent. Sarah commented that, "those things sound like pigs!?!?" To which Jay replied, "Whatever. It's probably just a big 'possum."

The next morning, as we went to the bathroom, we were both confronted with signs on the doors that read: "Please pack all food in your car. Wild pigs are in the area." Well, not only was Jay disgusted at the fact that Sarah was right about the animals outside and he was wrong, he was equally disgusted at the fact that these signs weren't placed at the entrance to the campground! That would have been a good fact to know before morning...

Anyway, we headed to the park in hopes of seeing the elusive California Condor. The weather was beautiful, with the temp around 85 and one tiny, lonely cloud off in the distance, but otherwise "Enchanting Crystal Blue" skies. (Sarah brought paint chips along, so the normal Roy G. Biv colors no longer have meaning in our world!) While paying our fee, we asked the ranger where to go to see the elusive California Condor. She gave us a look and replied something like, "Oh, you never know where you can see them. They like to ride the thermals." Gee, thanks for the detailed info.

At the tiny visitor's center, we asked the other ranger where we might have the best chance to see the elusive California Condor. (Mind you, the combined age of these two ranger chicks was about 35.) Her reply was something like, "Oh, they're around. They like it high up." Two rangers and a visitor's center and we're no closer to seeing the elusive California Condor than we were in San Fran.

So, we headed off on the High Peaks trail - a ~5-mile loop through the volcanic pinnacles and spires, hoping to get at least a glimpse of the elusive California Condor. The rangers did point out one tidbit about identifying the birds, which was very evident in the photos in the visitor's center: look for the giant red number tags on each wing!

As you can see from the pictures below, Pinnacles is quite a sight. It looks like a rock climber's dream, and even though there were a few trails marked with a carabiner logo (evidently a sign of good climbing), we only spotted one small group of climbers, and they were about 30 feet from the parking lot. We did see tons of birds, including a group of Violet-Green Swallows that gave us quite the entertainment during our lunch break, and a bunch of Turkey Vultures (for which Jay had to point and yell "Condor!" every time one flew over).

Probably the highlight of the trip - other than the stop at the Gilroy Factory Outlets - was the close encounter with a bobcat back at the campground. As we sat reviewing paint chips and debating our preferences between Rosemary Seafoam Mist and Garden Glow, watching a squirrel cavort about and a rabbit hopping 10 feet away (not to mention the woodpeckers pecking, the other birds chirping, and some other bird building a nest in a tree hole), Sarah jumped and screamed "MOUNTAIN LION!!!" as this bobcat came running between us and the tent, honed in on the unsuspecting rabbit.

As Sarah sprinted to the car and Jay jumped up on the picnic table, the rabbit ran away, the squirrel dove into his hole, and the bobcat never even noticed our presence. It just walked over to a tree about 30 feet from our picnic table, hopped up into a "V" in the split trunk, and proceeded to nap, yawn, clean it's paws, and pay absolutely no attention to us. You can see some good pictures below, but it was quite a scene for about an hour or so.

This marks our second venture in tracking the elusive California Condor, with the first being Big Sur back in February, '03. We'd like to get back to Big Sur, and maybe take a hike up into Ventana Wilderness in our continuing search for the elusive California Condor. But, maybe we'll head to the LA Zoo instead. They have 30 elusive California Condors, including 7 chicks! We're sure they'll be easier to spot there!

So, the bobcat and the wild pigs made for quite an interesting trip, not to mention the fabulous time reviewing paint chips. We're still sad that we didn't get to see the elusive California Condor, but the trip was pretty fun anyway.

Let us know how you like the pictures!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


and more views

and even more views - there is a lake at the valley in the center of this view

Another old man

Jay, reaching the summit of a rock

Pinnacles rock formations

Sarah taking a break in the shade

and more

more views

and East

The view south

The old man at Pinnacles

Sarah, trudging up the trail

Pinnacles National Monument - Looks like a big hand at the top of the rocks

Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles National Monument

Mission San Juan Bautista

Sarah, drinking away her troubles at the campsite...



Bobcat in tree, squirrel at base of tree

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Unveiling...

The Unveiling...

So, about a year ago, I moved into a new apartment and my mother came out to visit and help decorate. Being a good Catholic boy, I have a tiny Last Supper sculpture (OK, it's more of a mass-produced casting, but let's not nitpick...), and knowing that my mom is very artistic, I asked her if she could paint me an updated Last Supper to hang in my dining room.

Now, my concept was, "What if Jesus was doing his thing in 2004 San Francisco?" He would have been hanging out on Polk Street (OK, probably in the Tenderloin, but close enough), turning water into martinis or mojitos, and eating tapas instead of bread. So, I was thinking Jesus in a bar, maybe cigarette in hand, or cosmo, and definitely shaved and dressed in Banana Republic gear.

Well, Mom would have none of that. Sacrilege! She couldn't put a cigarette in Big J's hand; wouldn't put a martini in his hand. Even with my begging, she wouldn't follow through on my concept. I know that she wanted to beat Michaelangelo at his own game (and her and I both knew that she could!), but her parochial upbringing prevented her from doing it in a blasphemous fashion. Instead of Jesus + 12, she painted a central character + 14 as a ruse. Instead of Jesus as the center of attention with hands spread, she painted a karaoke singer with mike in hand. Instead of wine, cocktails. And, instead of bread, popcorn and olives.

My parents both visited last week - almost a year to the day after my mom and I discussed the "commission" and she began working on it. We had a formal unveiling, with the painting covered, everyone ready, and a quick lifting of the cover...

Damn! This is sooo cooooool! I was expecting it to be nice, but I had no idea that it was going to be so freakin' fantastic! The faces, the drinks, the background, the table, the menus... Everything was so beyond what I imagined, I was just floored! I love it! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!!

It went right up on my dining room wall!

Thanks Mom!!!