Thursday, January 18, 2007

Best use of a tank of gas

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Mary and I drove up to Yosemite. We've always wanted to see Yosemite in the winter, but neither of us had been before. In 2000, when we spent our first anniversary at the Wawona Hotel, we bought a gorgeous painting from artist Letty DeLoatch. It depicts the snow turning into an early spring runoff at the base of the trees. Since then, we've been curious to see what it really looks like. In the past, we've mostly been to Yosemite in August and September, near our anniversary. At that time of year, the waterfalls are drying up or only weakly spraying mist. But we also happened to go in 2004 on Memorial Day, and in the late spring the waterfalls are overflowing to the point that it was not possible to get near Bridalveil Fall without getting drenched.

Anyway, it was plenty cold here at home and all around northern California last week, so we wanted to see what the valley would be like. We could not have been more pleased. The Merced River was covered with ice, and its small islands littered with snow. (We were told that if it stayed cold for three or four more days, the ice would become thick enough to skate on.) The valley meadows also sported patches of snow in the shadier spots. The southern valley walls had patches of ice in spots, but the northern walls did not, presumably because they get more sunlight.

We got a neat treat when a huge block of ice fell from Bridalveil Fall while we were watching it. It was nothing short of spectacular. I happened to be looking through the camera when this happened, but I was too stunned to snap it, not that you'd notice anything out of the ordinary in a still photo, anyway. When this happens and the ice hits the bottom, the noise is startling. We'd heard this earlier in the day but not known what it was. Our tour bus driver suggested that we might see the same occur at Yosemite Falls earlier in the day, since the morning sun on its southern face causes its ice to melt. We got up early Tuesday morning and came back, but no such luck. After we spent less than an hour eating breakfast indoors, we came back out to find much of its ice already gone ... we'd missed it. We hadn't even heard it.

We stayed in El Portal at the Yosemite View Lodge, only about half an hour from Yosemite Valley even with slow, careful driving through icy road conditions. Because they did not have a high occupancy rate, and because they had mis-quoted the price of our room over the phone, they gave us what they called the "honeymoon suite" at the price of a normal room. The amenities included a hot tub, fireplace, large-ish TV, kitchen, and balcony over the river. They did not include a room heated to a livable temperature upon our arrival. The room was 40 degrees when we checked in! It took about two hours to bring it up into the 60s, and Mary didn't want to get into the hot tub until the ambient temperature would make it comfortable to get in and out. This from the same gal who brags about having used the outdoor hot tub when it had snowed at her mom's house in the Sierras some years ago. Bah! But we both agreed that the room should have been heated before we arrived. This actually kept us from staying a second night in an otherwise very nice room.

On Monday night, we ate at the Mountain Room, with a view of Yosemite Falls. We were the first to arrive at the restaurant after it opened for dinner, so we got the best choice of seats. I'd never eaten here before, although Mary had years ago. The food and service are equal to that at the Ahwahnee, but the atmosphere is more relaxed and the dress is more casual.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Blogging Paradox

Well, it seems I haven't posted for almost a week. Guess we've been pretty busy! This brings to mind the Blogging Paradox, or is it an irony?

That is, when you're really busy, your life may be more interesting, but you have no time to post to the blog. And when you have time to post to the blog, it may mean nothing is happening, or nothing interesting is happening.

Or maybe the trick to posting regularly is to create a rhythm or cadence, such that you can make the time when it is necessary.

In the last week, I spent a day at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, plus another day at home to prepare, and another day at home to recover. I also spent two days at the San Jose Coin Club show in San Jose. And Mary and I started a Home Improvement class offered through Milpitas Adult Education. I have plenty to post about all of these, but no time!

Our calendar for January is really packed. The main reason is we plan to seriously start looking for work in early February. A secondary reason is that our annual passes for Disneyland are valid until January 23, so we want to try to get down there one more time before they expire. Yes, I know we just got back from there. Can one every have too much Disneyland? (don't answer that)

Between now and the end of January, we plan to go to Yosemite for two days so we can see it during the winter, go to Disneyland for two days, go to our Truth Project class at church every Wednesday, go to our Home Improvement class every Thursday, dance C2 at Helen's Barn in Bakersfield for a weekend, and visit Mary's dad in Portland for three days. Oh, and each of us has assorted doctor's appointments and stuff two. Is there really time to do all these, even if we're not working right now?

Which brings to mind the Retirement Irony, or is it a paradox? How did we ever find time to work? We have less time now than we ever did when we were working!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Disneyland Day 2

We were in Disneyland last Thursday and Friday with the Bachos, but because of a slow internet connection and a recalcitrant Powerbook, I never did post about our second day. So do y'all really care what rides we went on in DL?

Of course you do.

Mary and I started our day off with a ride on Winnie the Pooh while waiting to meet up with the Bachos, who got there a little ahead of us and were already on another ride. One nice feature of Pooh is that the line is never very long.

After meeting up with the Bachos, we went on Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates, Indiana Jones, and the Haunted Mansion (which is still set up for the Nightmare Before Christmas, funny rather than scary.)

In New Orleans Square, there is a concert stage called the Golden Horseshoe or something like that. We talked the kids into seeing the Bill Hill and the Hillbilliesbluegrass/rock and roll/comedy show. All us adults like the shows, and I in particular think Disneyland has great musicians, having all the in- and out-of-work musicians in the LA area at their disposal. Anyway, these guys made very good music, even if the jokes were a little lame. The kids fell asleep and I'm still not sure if they've forgiven us.

Later, we made another musical side trip to California Adventure to see the Aladdin musical. It is dazzling, with numerous sets, parades through the auditorium aisles, and an overhead flying carpet. The actors were all hams, and the genie, in particular, had some great lines. ("Been locked in that lamp for 10,000 years; missed Tom and Katie's wedding!") The kids even stayed awake. Because Jerry booked the trip through AAA, he got a special "preferred seating" option and we sat in the second row, very front of the orchestra section. It's actually easier to see some effects like carpets flying through the middle of the auditorium from the middle or back of the auditorium, but they've seen the show several times before, and now they had the opportunity for a different POV.

Then we went directly from California Adventure into the Grand Californian Hotel for dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Storyteller Cafe. One of the chefs there spearheaded a move several years ago to accommodate celiacs in his restaurant, so we know we can ask for gluten-free food there and all the chefs will work with us. This time, we did not need to speak to a chef in person because we ordered the same food we'd eaten the night before in that same restaurant. Margaret was really happy to be off her feet and resting for a while; Jerry and Chelsea seemed anxious to get back on the ride treadmill. Jordan and Melanie were just going with the flow. And Mary and I will take any opportunity to eat gluten-free food over the chance to go on a a ride. They brought wonderful glutenous rolls for the others, and when we asked whether gluten-free rolls were available (we did get some in Disneyland), we got warm slices of Kennikinnick bread, which was better than nothing and way more than we were expecting. The only drawback of the whole meal is that it took so long we missed the Main Street Electrical Parade, scheduled for that night in CA Adventure.

After dinner, back on the Disneyland side, the kids wanted to do a lot of shopping, which was disappointing because we'd already lost so much time seeing shows and eating dinner, and this would be their last hours in the park. The latest thing is pins on a lanyard; you buy a set then trade with employees until you have a collection with all the pieces you like. It looks like a lot of fun, provides more interaction between customers and employees, and definitely provides a revenue stream for the company.

Anyway, eventually we found our way to Buzz Lightyear, where I blew Mary out of the water; Star Tours, where the most adorable little squeaky-delight girl sat behind us; and then back to Indiana Jones where we'd grabbed a fast pass earlier that finally came up around 11 pm. At the end of the evening, we got in the line for Space Mountain at 11:45. Supposedly a 45-minute wait, we knew they wouldn't close the ride while there were still people in line, even if we didn't finish up until after the midnight closing time. The new Space Mountain uses music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which everyone seems to like. But they also put spotlights along the tracks, which light it up and let you see what's ahead, while simultaneously blinding you. It's a very different experience, and I liked the old darkness ride better, even if the music is now better. But I seem to be in the minority among our group, who liked being able to see the curves ahead.

At 12:30 when we got out, we found Main Street still open, and the kids still willing to shop. It had been pretty breezy and chilly ever since the sun set, and by this time it was pretty darn cold. We all had to walk to our hotels, about half a mile away in opposite directions.

On Saturday morning we met at Denny's for breakfast, where the service was everything we never experienced before in this restaurant. Long wait, no coffee, no silverware, and at the end, no bill. And later, the after-effects. TMI.

Mary and I made a quick stop at Scrapin' in the Hills, a neat store in Anaheim Hills just a few minutes from Disneyland. We decided to pack it up and head out, even though we could have gone back in the park to pick up one of the rides we'd missed: Roger Rabbit, Mr. Toad, Peter Pan. But overall we got to do and see a lot and the kids added an energy we haven't experienced there for a long time.

Our annual passes don't expire until January 23. Should we try to get back there before then? Let me know what you think. If I made a reservation now it might be affordable to fly rather than drive.

Katrina victims erect modular houses in Mississippi

This article from the New York Times describes a new trend in housing for the Gulf coast: modular homes, built hundreds of miles away, shipped to a site, and erected quickly.

While we were in Bay St. Louis in April and May of 2006, we did encounter first hand some of the problems mentioned in this article. Building materials beyond the very basics were hard to come by, and expensive when found. And many out-of-work contractors converged on the Gulf area, some with questionable credentials or ethics.

Modular houses circumvent these obstacles and more. Because they can be assembled quickly, they require less on-site labor. Because they are fabricated in other states, the cost of materials is lower. And it may be easy to post them on the 18-foot stilts required by new flood zone rules in some areas.

The article also describes the basic reality of rebuilding. For example, Hurricane Katrina destroyed 70,000 dwelling in Mississippi alone; more than 30,000 families live in small FEMA trailers, which are similar to the fifth-wheel trailers used by vacationers. But the past 15 months have been anything but a vacation to those living in these cramped quarters.

Modular houses are also favored by relief organizations like Habitat for Humanity,, which can fabricate the houses in better-off areas where the volunteer workers are available.

Anecdotes from the article are located in Pass Christian (pronounced "Christy Ann"), located just across a small sound from Bay St. Louis, where Katrina first hit the coast. Many of the most destitute residents we helped were from Pass Christian. The article has lots of good information and I highly recommend it.

Note: I've found that sometimes New York Times articles require a password, or even a subscription after the article is more than a week or two old. In that case, sometimes you can search for the article's title and find an unlocked version to read. In this case, just search for the title Katrina Victims Find a Solution: Modular House.

Friday, January 5, 2007


Forgot to mention that when we were waiting in line at Soaring over California, I was talking to the people in line behind us. When they found out that we are from San Jose, they asked it we are Spartans fans. I said we had both gone to San Jose State but we did not go to the games now. They mentioned that the Spartans had trounced the Bulldogs this season. You're from Fresno? My sister lives in Fresno! Yes, we talked about the Bulldog shop and all things Bulldog. I said I'd have to give Carol a bad time about their losing to San Jose. They asked what she does and where, but while they knew the school, they didn't know her.

Anywhere, here's raspberries to Carol! Neener neener, we won!

he he


We stayed at a Motel 6 in Coalinga on Wednesday night, and they did not have internet access. So the previous post was delayed by about 36 hours from the time it was written until the time it was posted. When I fired up the computer to post it, it complained twice about a bad network connection, and it crashed once. When I fired up Safari to post using the online form, it also crashed, but the post did get delivered. Grrr.

We got into DL about 4 pm Thursday, but we had to eat first. Storyteller's Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel, gluten-free pizzas (one for each of us) and grilled salmon without any seasonings. It was all wonderful. We had pretty much written off doing anything at DL because it was late in the afternoon, but it turns out DL had sold out and turned customers away, so they kept all the parks open late (California Adventure until 9 pm, Disneyland until midnight).

In California Adventure  we met up with the Bachos and went on the Tower of Terror, over an hour waiting in line. Then another hour in line at Soaring over California. Then the line at the roller coaster was short, so even though the Bachos had fast passes we waited in the short line. Then we used the fast passes to go on it a second time! Jerry let me use his fast pass since he can only stomach the ride one time.

In Disneyland  we walked right onto Pirates of the Caribbean. When we came out, we were in a prime location to view the Fantasmic (sp?) smoke-and-mirrors presentation over the water at New Orleans Square. Mary and I thought we had seen this before, but none of it was familiar. Very well done and quite different from any of the other fireworks displays we've seen, with live dancers, puppets, lasers, and movie clips being shown on a smokescreen of water vapor from the fountains. Then we walked right into Indiana Jones. I love it when Mary screams at the spiders on the wall. A treat for me was going on the Matterhorn. Mary and I have never been in condition to ride it before, so it has been at least ten years since I've been on it. Finally, we walked right into Small World, which has a long line during the day. By this time, it was almost midnight. They've redone Small World with a Christmas theme, which none of us had ever seen before. It's all red, green, and gold, with gift-wrapped boxes, reindeer, and poinsettas scattered throughout. They also changed the music to a medley of Small World, Jingle Bells, and Deck the Halls. I did notice that there were signs saying Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy New Year, and Feliz Navidad, but none saying Merry Christmas. We promised ourselves to take another look around the park today to see how consistent this is.

I think today's plans call for Space Mountain, Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear, and Peter Pan. A gluten free burger at Club Buzz. Liberal use of fast passes. Another sold out day at the park. And hopefully the Electrical Parade in CA, which was rained out last night.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Old and New

Until now, I've been using my own homegrown blog software to post at But I'm finding that adding the capability for comment and response by others is more work than I care to invest right now. Community is where it's at. Community drives a sense of purpose that one person alone can't achieve.

The downside is that now I have to learn an entirely new system or language for posting. My homegrown blog used a nice language that I created myself. For example, it will *embolden* text between asterisks. It will /italicize/ text between slashes. And it will create links without tags simply by placing the URL and the link text on adjacent lines. Some of this may be similar to the languages wiki sites use. It's also similar to the Setext markup language.

OK, enough technical stuff. Who is this weirdo, anyway? What is he all about?

I am a challenge square dancer. For example, last night we went to the New Years Eve dance at Cook's Barn in Sacramento. The dance was C1 with C3A star tips. That's who showed up!

Mary and I are also round dancers, but we have not been dancing much this past year. We did go to the "Formal Affair" dance in Willows last October. Unfortunately, our first round dance cuer retired due to health problems (with his voice), and our second cuer was deported back to Japan for the crime of being a good citizen, playing by the rules, and properly petitioning for permanent residence here after fifteen years of teaching round dancing, teaching ballroom, and paying taxes. If he'd lived here quietly and under the radar as many others do, he'd probably still be here teaching us today.

I am a webmaster. But aren't we all? My web site is mostly about square dancing. It is located at

I am a programmer. My favorite job was programming interesting user interfaces at Silicon Spice, a company that now exists only in the fertile imaginations and fond memories of those who once worked there.

I am a Christian and a Bible student. We attend Calvary Chapel San Jose, one of a network of churches that grew out of (or perhaps spawned) the Jesus Movement of the 1970's. I received a degree from Bethany Bible College, one of a network of institutions that grew out of the Pentecostal movements of the 1900's and 1910's.

I like to collect old maps. My most recent acquisition is a 1968 road map of the San Francisco bay area, dated 1968. This map is not as old as most I like to collect (those dated 1940-1960), but it does bear the old Enco gas station logo; I don't ever recall seeing those stations in this area, but perhaps there were some in other parts of the bay area.

I like to collect old radios and electronic equipment. My most recent acquisitions are a Fluke oscilloscope from the 1970's and a Sony transistor radio probably from the early 1960's. Dick Cook gave me the Sony radio this morning when we were visiting at Cook's Barn, and Dick is brokering my purchase of the 'scope from an elderly gentleman in Oroville who is liquidating his collection (and from whom I've bought other equipment in the past).

I play the piano. Our living room is graced with the 1933 Wurlitzer baby grand piano on which Mrs. Tippett taught me to play when I was about five years old. She lived down the street and she gave me a lesson every afternoon after school for two years, until she "taught me everything she knew" and sent me off to real teachers (i.e. those that cost money). My dad liked to tell the story that my next piano teacher, Mrs. Brant, told him continued piano lessons would be a great investment in my case, because "piano lessons now will cost a lot less than therapy later." Thirty years later, Mrs. Brant was still teaching piano lessons because in her words, music, more than anything else, teaches you to think. I have a hard time arguing with either of her statements.

I like to collect books, mostly about theology, history, computer technology, or radios. My most recent acquisition is a commentary on the book of Acts by Luke Timothy Johnson. This book came recommended by a source I'll discuss some other time.

I am a Macintosh user. I've already paid to go to MacWorld Expo next week. I hope I get to go! (We're awfully busy.)

Finally, I am on vacation and have been for a little while. In 2006, we took a road trip for three months to 39 states, DC and Canada. We spent two weeks doing hurricane relief work with City Team on the Mississippi Gulf coast. Three days in St. Louis, three days in Chattanooga, three days in Atlanta (ill), a week in Washington, a week in New York, a week looking for a moose in Maine, Vermont, and Ontario province, a few days in Toronto, and a quick rush back across the north with a brief stop in Roosevelt NP in North Dakota. After we got home, we took off for another couple of weeks to visit Mary's brother in Paraguay; he and his wife are missionaries there. Back home, then a few days in Disneyland, where we have an annual pass just for this year. Back home, then off to North Carolina to see Matthew home from his tour in Iraq with the Marines. Lots of miles on the truck, the car, the AA account, and the tennies. (And the credit cards.)

My name is Mark.

Hot Foot Spin is a challenge square dance call.