Monday, December 26, 2005

Some Old Rachel Stories

I'm working on sending out the holiday letter, which means hunting down a couple of addresses. I wish Google Desktop Search were better about finding things in my multiple email archives, but... oh well. Anyway, while hunting for the address of Dawn's cousin Jill, I found an email dated 8/29/03 to Jill & her husband Schuyler (who coincidentally works for one of my customers) in which I related these three as being recent stories about Rachel.

1- One day, my brother took her to the park; as they were leaving, she looked at him and said, unprompted, "thank you for taking me to the park, Aaron." Two days later, we were having my parents, brother, neice, and nephew over for a BBQ; they arrived during Rachel's nap and when she saw Aaron after she got up, she said 'hi'. A moment later, she said "I'm ready to go to the park, Aaron."

2- My mother was playing the "what's so-and-so's name" game with Rachel. "What's my name?" "Carol" "What's your father's name?" "Daddy" "Well, that's what you call him, but what's his name?" "Dylan" "What's you're mother's name?" "Mommy" "Well, that's what you call her, but she's a person with a name. What's her name?" pause pause "I'm a person too." Today, she actually said to me "Are you a person with a name?" "Yes, Rachel, I'm a person and my name is Dylan." "I'm a person with a name too!"

3- And one not so recent; when she was just crawling, Dawn and Rachel took a nap on our bed; I think she was about 8 months old. Dawn woke up and went to do some things downstairs. After a while, oddly she started hearing VOICES from our bedroom, so she went up stairs wondering how someone could have gotten into the house without her noticing. Well... Rachel was sitting on the bed fiddling with the TV remote; you know, turning it around, looking at it, chewing on it... and, every so often, POINTING IT AT THE TV!

Shrieking? How about Glitter?

A while back, I mentioned about how girls shriek a lot. They also leave glitter all over. It's incredible - there can be no warning at all, just suddenly glitter everywhere! One of the things Rachel got for Christmas was a 'fairytale wonderland' dress-up chest, from Elisabeth. It has three costumes in it, pink, purple and blue. Rachel tried all three of them on over the course of the evening at Elisabeth's aunt's. Soon, there was starting to be glitter everywhere... on my pants, on the table cloth, on the chairs (mine, Dawn's, and Rachel's, at least), on the dogs... you get the idea. We figured it was from one of the costumes, but didn't investiage too carefully.

Last night, Rachel decided to wear the blue costume to bed. Silly, but fine, whatever. Then, this morning, she came and flopped on the bed with us for a little while. When I went back up there to do something for a couple of minutes, I discovered a TON of glitter all over that part of the bed! It's like fleas now, getting transferred from our bed onto me and then from me to the sofa, where I'm sitting now.

And it's not just the costume. At least 50% of cards and letters we get for her have glitter in them. They make glitter glue. And glitter make-up.

At least she didn't do any shrieking last night while opening it! She's very cute in the costumes, though.

2005 Holiday Letter

Hello everyone!

At this time last year, we had plans for sending out a year-end/holiday letter, but never actually got around to it. If anyone felt left out or forgotten, please know it was only how busy we often find ourselves and how often things we might like to do get put aside. Since it's been two years, I'll have to make sure to keep it brief, lest we go on too long...

I'm sure everyone wants to know about Rachel more than the rest of us, so I'll start with her (don't worry, we're used to it). Rachel is wonderful and changing and growing fast. As of 12/21, she's 42.5" tall, which makes her still about 90th percentile for height, as compared to 50th percentile for weight (still under 35 lbs) - tall and thin. She's been in a Montessori pre-school for a bit more than two years and loves it. She has learned and grown so much, it's just amazing. She's one of the bigger kids now and loves to take the new young children under her wing. She is working on reading, writing and even some simple math, loves the monkey bars, and is looking forward to the opening of the two new play structures at school in January.

Believe it or not, all this means that we're trying to decide where she should go for Kindergarten. It's a bit of a dilemma –she can either complete her Kindergarten year where she is now or begin Kindergarten at our local elementary school. We actually like both options, but beginning at the local public school for Kindergarten means she will be assured of a spot in a 1st grade class, whereas if we wait to start her in public school in 1st grade, there may or may not be a spot at our first choice for an elementary school. It’s made still more interesting because many of our neighbors’ children will also begin Kindergarten there! We’ve still got time to finalize this decision and we are taking it!

Over the last two years, Rachel has taken gymnastic and music classes and next month she'll be starting 'Little Leapers', a dance class at the Y. Always very verbal, Rachel is extremely talkative, although she's going through a phase of using a lot of baby talk. She's very good at making friends, both with the other 12 kids under the age of 10 on our block and with the kids at school, including her friend Tessa who is the daughter of my friend Dana, whom I've known since before high school!

Dawn has been working for the local Head Start for quite some time now. She's been responsible for disabilities and mental health and has helped significantly in getting the agency back on track. Soon after she started, they had their regular Federal oversight review and the results were very poor - only Dawn's area had no deficiencies! Early this month, though, the Feds did a mini-review and announced that they were "clearing" all the deficiencies. It's been a long road, and Dawn had a huge hand in it. Negotiations will start next month on whether she'll stay - they're pretty desperate to keep her, for good reason.

I've now been working for the same company for over 5 years, the longest I've been in a single position, and now we've been acquired again by a capital management firm. The rumors abound, but it sounds fairly positive. In particular, it seems clear that they view us as a software company and understand that we've been run by a finance group. In the software business, you sometimes have to spend money (by hiring sales people and software developers, for instance) in order to make money (by improving and selling the software, for instance).

Both our jobs are extremely convenient, being part of a 3-mile triangle from our house to our offices and Rachel's school. Although we each have had various reasons to want to leave these jobs, we've a log of reasons to keep them. We're hoping for some nice changes at work as we get into the new year!

Earlier this year, Dawn took Rachel and me to Disneyland for a week. It was my first time there as well as Rachel's, and we all had a great time. Four days in the two parks was plenty of time. Rachel particularly liked seeing all the various princesses (the only one we didn't 'meet' was Ariel, the Little Mermaid, presumably because she can't walk if she has fins; given that the movie ends with her deciding to remain human, I'm not sure why she can't be found walking around) and the “Ferrist” Wheel, as she calls it. It's huge and has cars that run on an internal rail so that they really swing and shake as the wheel turns. We took that for our first ride the first day, and lucked out a little - the way she was sitting, Rachel almost ended up going face first on the metal floor except that I was watching her to see her reaction to the whole thing and managed to catch her. Her other favorite part was sleeping on the top bunk in the "Kid's Suite" at the hotel.

In May, I went on my tenth annual long weekend camping trip to Yosemite (only the third time we went, but that’s a long story); we had a wonderful time and are starting to plan for next year’s trip. In October, Dawn and Elisabeth went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a week and also had a great time. They swam with dolphins, took a zip line adventure through a forest, went tequila tasting, and drove into beautiful mountains.

Dawn and I celebrated our 5th anniversary (already!) at the beginning of November. Rachel went to Monterey Bay with her grandparents and uncle, while Dawn and I went back to one of our favorite places - a bed & breakfast near Point Reyes. We had a wonderful time relaxing and hiking and taking pictures with my new camera, while Rachel got to touch a star fish and go on a whale watching boat ride (no whales). For Thanksgiving, we went to Mendocino with my family where we did more hiking, a lot of eating, and I took yet more pictures (900+).

Over the last few weeks, Dawn has been taking some time off from work, while I've been working more because we're so busy, but for the first time in 5 years, I am not working over the company's holiday break. My two current obsessions (both of which Dawn has gone on record as saying are “good” obsessions) are energy efficiency and photography. In the last several weeks, we have added insulation under the floors, into the exterior walls, and between the crawlspace and the house, sealed the various holes between the crawlspace and the house, and replaced the (very?) old washer and electric dryer with new very high efficiency models. I estimate that the insulation additions have cut our gas usage by 50% over last year (although Elisabeth was living with us then). At the end of October, we bought a new Toyota Prius, and like it quite well. We’ve saved over $200 in gas so far, and are emitting far less pollution to boot. Finally, around the end of January, we’ll be installing solar panels on the roof; the estimated production should cover around 85% of our annual electric usage. I have visions of yet more, but seem to remember promising to keep this brief…

As for photography, well… there are two parts to it. First is the new Canon 20D SLR with image stabilized (amazing!!) lenses, which has been just wonderful. It has been really nice having a ‘real’ camera in hand again, and I’ve taken some fantastic pictures already. Beyond that, I’ve been delving into an archiving project to sort, cull, catalog and scan all of the slides and negatives we have that seem worth keeping. So far, I’ve been through 91 rolls of slides dating from 1987 to 1999; they originally totaled around 3500 and I’ve cut them down to 1346. Next up is sorting our negatives, of which there are around 150 rolls! The slides took me about 50 hours over two weeks, and the negatives, being, well negative, will be much harder.

Also in the last two years, I've started keeping a weblog occasionally. I use it partially to help us write down tidbits of Rachel's life and development, partially as a way to let friends keep up with us when events or geography conspire to prevent spending much time together, and even occasionally as a way to vent, rant, rail, or celebrate. The blog address is and you can always reach us by leaving a comment on it, or sending us email: dylan (at) darwincg (dot) com or dawn (at) darwincg (dot) com. Soon I'll have to make Rachel's into an actual mailbox: rachel (at) darwincg (dot) com; she's already started getting phone calls from friends, it can't be long before she starts getting email!

We wish happy holidays of all sorts and a wonderful 2006 for each of you.

Dylan, Dawn & Rachel

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Hate Bad Drivers

This is going to be a bit of a rant, but I really am getting fed up with bad drivers.

1- Your turn signals are there for a reason. Use them, but only when you're getting ready to make a turn! Now, I admit that I have forgotten to turn off a turn signal after changing lanes, but it doesn't happen often, and at least I was using the damned thing!

2- Also, it is a good idea to pay attention to the people who are driving around you. You're not the only person on the road, and the other drivers' predictive capabilities may be hampered by the momentary glance in the rear-view mirror or something, so don't suddenly decide to pull of to the right side of the road and then, even more suddenly and with even less warning, make a u-turn across the path of the people behind you. It's great that you were aware of the absence of on-coming traffic in the other lane, but some awareness of the people behind you would be good too.

This morning on the way to Rachel's school, some moron in a mini-van pulled out of traffic to the right as if to park, without signalling. OK, fine - would have been nice if you'd signalled, but you're not in the way, so it's not that big a ... WHOA!!! Make up your mind!! All of a sudden she was turning left across my path either into a drive-way or into a u-turn. Regardless, she didn't signal and I had no warning she was going to do it. Given that she didn't signal, I don't know whether it would even have been "my fault" if I'd hit her, as it is by default if you rear-end someone (at least here in California). Probably not, since she was actually out of the traffic lane (as if to park).

I managed to yell only "make up your mind" in front of Rachel, rather than the various more colorful things that went through my mind, such as "what the fuck are you doing, you stupid fucking idiot bitch!??!"

And then there was the guy Dawn was telling me about who, in a large pickup, came racing up behind her on the freeway, honked, and then raced around her. She called him an asshole. And the guy who came up behind me on the frontage road on the way to work, where the limit is 35 and I was doing 40, and then crossed the double yellow line to pass me.

I tell ya. It's far too easy to get a license, not to mention a car, in this state (and probably country). The number of people who either haven't had any real driver training or are completely incapable of following any semblance of the rules is ridiculous.

I'm just sayin' :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Breathtaking Inanity"

Well put, Your Honor!

Judge bans teaching intelligent design

Judge Jones' Memorandum Opinion, dated 12/20/05. The conclusions starting on page 136 are good to read.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Vote Solar!

Duane sent me the URL for Vote Solar today. I haven't looked at most of the rest of the site, but they have a place for sending email to the California Public Utilities Commission to encourage them to enact the Million Solar Roofs campaign in California. The idea is that if we build a million solar roof installations over the next 10 years, we'll add something like 3,000 megawatts' production and we'll increase demand sufficiently to make a significant increase in supply which will result in a significant decrease in cost, which will, in turn, increase demand.

Dawn and I love watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It would be nice if they could be a little less obvious about the product plugs, though at least occasionally it's fun that they make fun of it. What I really wish is that they would put solar panels on the houses they build. Some of these houses are huge and must have significant energy loads, even with energy efficient appliances and such, so it would be really great for both the family and the environment if the house were producing at least a portion of the power it needs. In some cases, I'm sure they could even put up enough solar to allow them, as I want to do eventually, to do both water & house heating with electricity generated by the solar panels.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Short Prius Update

I filled the tank today, though it wasn't all that close to empty, because I needed to inflate the tires. The tires were down to 30-35 psi, so I inflated them to 42-44. At least according to my hand-held gauge; the one on the gas station pump was reading higher, but I decided to assume it wasn't very accurate. I guess we'll see when I get a new one...

266.1 miles on 6.823 gallons is 39.0 mpg. The car was claiming 39.3, and I think it's a little warmer today than it was the last time I filled it, so it makes sense it would hold more today than last time. The truck, which we still haven't sold and are still driving more than we planned, would have taken 22.175 gallons, or 15.352 more. At $2.179/gal, that's a difference of $33.45.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My God, It's Full of Slides!

I've been working a lot on sorting out all my slides. I started Tuesday night and went through roughly 25 rolls, as I mentioned in my post on Wednesday night to Thursday. I was up until 1am Wednesday morning doing it, using the little slide table and paying half attention to several old episodes of CSI that happened to be on the Tivo. Wednesday night I spent doing some "research" (I was, in fact, looking up some information about various thing, such as solar hot water) and posting; didn't get to bed until after 12.

Thursday night, I went back through all the slides I had decided to throw out, using the loupe and the large light table I borrowed from Rick. I did wind up deciding to keep a few of them, but not many. Getting them back into the right boxes was a pain in the neck. Not that leaning over the slide table for 4 hours was any less. I also got through most of the rest of the rolls of slides, but wound up finishing a couple on Friday night and the last several this morning. The only reason I didn't do the last 12-ish on Thursday night was that it was already a bit after midnight and my neck was bugging me.

Friday night I didn't do any, because our friend Chris came to visit. Chris signed back up with the reserves and hooked up with a unit out of Dublin. He'll be doing IT/IS management and prep, helping other units get ready to deploy. I'm glad that this helps minimize the likelihood that he will be deployed. Chris had a bit of an adventure getting here. We decided it would be best for him to take BART and us to pick him up. He calls me when he's on the train, I figure when that means he'll hit the closest station and we head over there at that time. We're two blocks from the station when my phone rings... it's Chris. Umm... I'm in Fremont. Oops. Someone steered him to the wrong train and he wasn't paying enough attention and by the time he realized what was up, he was stuck.

OK. So, we went home again, ordered some food from a nice Mediterranean place near by and then Rachel and I went to get the food and then Chris while Dawn stayed home to set the table and get things ready. This time it all worked pretty well. Had a devil of a time finding parking near the restaurant, and wound up about two blocks away. Carried Rachel to the restaurant, got the food, carried the food back and Rachel walked. She did great. I conned her a little by getting into the old see-who-gets-there-first game. She had fun and only complained about being tired when we were almost back at the car.

Dinner was good, Rachel went to bed easily, and Dawn, Chris and I talked and talked. Dawn went to bed around 10:30. Around 11:45, Chris asks if it's 11:45. Yeah. When's the last BART train? Oh, shit. Luckily, it turned out to be a bit after midnight, so we high-tailed it to the station. Then today he called to tell me that he had more adventure on the way back to base! At some point along the way, the train developed the infamous "door problem". When they can't get a door to close properly, they have to make everyone get off and take the train out of service. It's usually not that big a problem, because there should be another train coming along in 10-20 minutes. 'Course, that's not true with the last train of the night! Takes them 45 minutes to bring a train down from the end of the line to take them where they're going...

Tonight I went back to the slides... I've sorted, numbered and cataloged 195 slides from 1987 to 1990, including putting them into 3-ring binder sheets, 20 to a sheet. I decided to have a set of sheets (only 1 for '90, but 3 or 4 for the other 3 years) for each year and number the sheet ####-# using the year and the number of the sheet. For the slides, I decided to number them starting with 1 for each year. I have one unused slide sheet right now, and there are definitely more than 20 slides for 1991, so I am going to wait.

Actually, the REAL reason I'm waiting is that I am wondering if I am missing two rolls of slides! The first one I started with, which was the lowest numbered, was actually labeled roll #2. I just figured that there wasn't a roll 1, or that must have lost it a long time ago. When I started to work on 1991, though, I thought I had rolls 21 and 22, having just finished 20 for 1990, but then I realized that I actually had 22 and 23, having just finished 20... so, where's 21? In the morning I'll go through the chest upstairs and see if maybe there are a couple of rolls left. At least I won't have to redo too much. There are 50 slides for 1987 that I would have to renumber if I find roll #1, since that's almost certainly from '87. I suppose it could be '86, but I doubt that I'd be lucky enough both to find it and not need to renumber 50 slides.

I think I'll go through the rest of the boxes and make sure I know what they are and see whether I think any are missing...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Masculine & Irreverant My Ass

I saw something the other day about how Hummer won't be coming out with a hybrid because it doesn't fit with their "masculine & irreverant" style. Whatever. I just heard another of their obnoxious H3 ads and feel the need to point out that no Hummer is even listed in's emissions calculator!

Insulation, Solar, and More, Oh My!

On the 15th, after we got back from our anniversary weekend, I had McHale Insulation blow R-13 cellulose insulation into the exterior walls, completing the major insulation projects we're in a position to do. The two smaller things we can do, as far as insulation is concerned, are to put insulation on our hot water pipes and improve the insulation of our furnace ducts (more on the latter later).

"They" say that the first 6 or so feet of hot water pipe should be insulated... Home Depot has 4-packs of 3-foot 3/4" pipe insulation foam for $4.97. I'll have to try to see how much I think I actually need - at that price, I would guess it is not entirely unreasonable to do all of the exposed hot water pipe... I mean, I probably have less than 100', so that's a little more than $100. Not that I have any information about what it does to the heat retention, really.

Yesterday, after much deliberation, I finally made a decision on solar, and today I signed the contract and paid the deposit. I narrowed the choices down to Sun Light and Power and Marin Solar, based a little on whether they came out to the house to see the site for themselves and stayed within the primary constraints I gave them (wanted to use only the flat roof), a little on how significant their operations are, and lastly on power production & cost considerations. The first knocked Real Goods out of the running, the second took out Berkeley Solar Electric and Sesco Electrical, although all three of them were pretty competitive on price.

Ultimately, the decision between SLP and Marin was fairly tough. They've each been around a long time, though SLP's been doing solar for 29 years while Marin's been at it only 5. They each have relatively significant operations - SLP's big enough that they actually stock the panels, which are the hard equipment to get, so they're able to start much faster than most, and while Marin is obviously somewhat smaller, they're clearly not just a couple guys in a van with good intentions and some knowledge but limited experience. As long as the rebate reservation is in time to qualify for the current rate, ability to do the installation isn't all that important... what's a month or two's delay for a Solar installation in winter against the 25-30 year expected life of the system?

I'd been leaning pretty heavily toward SLP, in part because they're bigger, they operate a pretty green business, and they have been around longer and may have a slightly better chance of being around longer in the future. Of course, there's not really much reason to think that Marin's going to have any problems any time soon - solar's a growing business, and as demand increases world-wide, supply will eventually go up, prices will eventually come down, and it'll grow still more. So, we finally decided on Marin because their bid costs just 10% more but will produce nearly 25% more power and result in greater savings.

So far, we're seeing about a 20% decrease in electrical usage because of the new washer and dryer, which are not only substantially more efficient per load, they are much larger, enabling us to do fewer loads. That decrease puts us at around 5600 kWh of usage per year, of which about 5000 will be produced by our new solar system. Now I can just buy Renewable Energy Certificates from PV USA Solar to offset the rest for $25 a year. They only sell the credits per month, so I'll just buy one each January & that'll be that.

They have a sister site called Certified Clean Car, where I can actually offset the Prius' emissions by buying, essentially, enough renewable non-CO2-producing energy production to offset the need for some power plant somewhere to produce the equivalent CO2. For the Prius at 8,000 miles a year, that costs only $34.99! For the '97 Pathfinder, it would be 59.99 and for the '93 Accord, well... their calculator doesn't cover the V6 for some reason... just sent them an email. Wow... this is pretty cool... I might just have to do both of these!

Anyway, the solar installation ought to be able to start around the end of January, assuming that the rebate reservation comes back by then... it's all done FIFO, so it may take several weeks, but the per watt amount is based on when it is filed, so we'll be at $2.80... it drops to $2.60 on the first, I think.

The solar system will cost us about 18,400 or 20,100, depending on whether we are able to take advantage of both the state and federal tax credits. At the moment, I have to assume we'll only get one, because the state credit (this is different from the state rebate), which is 7.5% of the unrebated cost, expires at the end of the year, and may be based on getting the system permitted, paying for the system, or installing the system, depending on whom you ask. The fed credit is 30% of the unrebated cost, up to $2000, and is based specifically on putting the system into service (i.e. tying it to the grid) on or after 1/1/06, so we will definitely get that.

The 2004 Form 3508 for the solar credit asks the following questions, to which each answer must be yes to qualify (I'm abbreviating to relevance to me, and emphasizing as well):
  1. Did you purchase and install the system in 2004?
  2. Is it a PV?
  3. Is it rated for 200kW or less?
  4. Is it solely for electricity generation?
  5. Is it primarily for my (family's) energy needs?
  6. Are all components certified by the California Energy Commission?
  7. Does it have a 5-year warranty?
Assuming the same questions apply on the 2005 form (when it comes out), modified to refer to this year, the answer to each of these is yes, except the first, because while I could pay for (purchase) it this year, it is too late to have it installed (which doesn't necessarily mean placed into service). If I'm lucky, sometime during the course of the year, the legislature will decide to renew the credit for 2006, and if they do, it will most likely be retroactive to the first of the year...

In other areas of the quest for energy efficiency, I had Sustainable Spaces out to do a performance appraisal on the house. It cost $395, which they will credit back to me if I have them do any work. What they basically found is that the house may as well have a 12 x 26 inch hole in the wall, because of how fast air is exchanged between the house and the outside. I find the results reasonably interesting, and they are willing to bid for things even though they don't think they may make the most economic sense... I hope that they will do that, and I will definitely be asking how much gain there is in each item, which will give them plenty of time to tell me they don't think the item is cost-effective.

So far, they seem to want to
  • replace the 80% furnace that is nearly 3 times the capacity we need with a combined hydronic forced air furnace (uses hot water from the hot water heater to heat a fan coil to transfer the heat to the air and then blow the air through the ducts into the house)
  • replace, resize, and insulate the duct work; between the large gaps in the plenum, any additional leaks in the duct work, and the relatively minimal insulation on the ducts, we're losing a significant portion of our heat energy through the ducts before it even gets into the house, not to mention that the furnace is pulling more air from the crawlspace (cold & dirty) than the house (warmer & cleaner)
  • add a heat register in Rachel's room (not to mention that I've long thought of putting one in the laundry room under her room and am now thinking we might want to have one in the front entry and one in the downstairs hallway, either in the wall next to the stairs opposite the laundry room or in the riser for one of the steps)
  • install a PV system (I'm already doing that, and with the company they recommended when it didn't look as if they could size it fast enough)
  • seal the crawlspace; this one I'm not really sure about... I more or less understand the notion that having it be sealed makes it part of the building envelope and could help reduce energy usage, but since they also call it out because they claim it's wet down there, I'm a little confused - haven't seen much evidence of it being wet...
The thing I'm disappointed about, and that they are saying won't be cost effective is air leakage through the attic. According to their stats, we're losing 27% of heat through air leakage into the attic and then outside. Ideally, they'd go up there and seal the top plates so that hot air getting into light switches and fixtures and electrical outlets can't get up into the attic. The problem is that there's a ton of insulation blown in up there that will make it tough to do that sealing work... it cost us almost $1200 to put most of that insulation up there (there was some already), so I don't know if I want to have them take a whole bunch out and then put it back, but I'm very disappointed that we won't be able to do that sealing...

I'm also asking them for information on solar hot water... from what I understand, you basically have a secondary holding tank (60 gallons to go with the 50 in my hot water heater) filled with water that is heated by a solar panel or two on the roof. This water is fed to the water heater in place of cold water (i.e. the cold from the main goes to the solar hot water system instead of to the gas water heater) which means that the water heater doesn't have to do as much work to get the water hot... it still has to use gas to keep the water in it's internal tank hot and to heat the water coming from the solar tank to the set point, if it's not already there, but that should be a lot less than dealing with cold water coming straight from the main.

What I'm a little confused about at the moment, as I write this, is why someone told me that you can't use a demand water heater instead of a storage water heater... as long as you have a storage tank being managed by the solar hot water heater, I don't really see any reason that the gas heater would have to have a tank... Will have to look into this more, but I don't think it was Sustainable Spaces who told me that? Not sure now... After a bit of searching, it seems as if you still have to have a storage tank, but the tank doesn't itself have to be a water heater, and that, as I thought, you could have a demand heater in place of the regular storage water heater to fill the difference between what the sun gives and what you actually want. This probably is particularly important if it is cold and particularly for several days and the water in the storage tank has time to cool down significantly...

So, before I go to bed late for the second night running, I'll mention the other big project underway right now... a few days ago, I rearranged our bedroom enough to uncover the chest that has a lot of our pictures in it. It has about 100 rolls of slides, about 60 rolls of negatives, and 4 APS rolls, and that's without the 5 photo storage boxes full of yet more rolls of film... OK, I just had to look - they have around 80 rolls, all negatives. Of that total (around 240 rolls of film), at least 50 or 60 are from our wedding and honeymoon. And somewhere, we have the medium format negatives from our wedding photographer.

Last night, I pulled out a bunch of the boxes of slides and started going through them with my little light table (holds 6 slides at a time) and no loupe. Put about 30 slides that were not in boxes back in their boxes. Weeded out a LOT of the slides. Had a great trip down memory lane with stops in 88, 89, and 96 through 99, but I was up until 1. Today, I borrowed a loupe and a real light table from my co-worker, Dr. Rick. I'll start by going through all the ones I weeded out, just to make sure that there aren't any I really ought to keep. I think I want to get the slides out of the way first - since they are positives, it is much easier to tell whether they are any good. With the negatives, I have a feeling I may have to be comparing them to the photos, which will take even longer! Of course, the only negative strips I can toss are the ones that are completely hopeless, so I don't know exactly how I'm going to keep track of which are worth scanning and which are not.

And then, of course, there's work, where I'm busily trying to get J's work done while hoping that M takes long enough to sign that I'll be able to free up a reasonable portion of my time for them... I really ought to have gone to bed at least an hour ago...

I haven't even mentioned that we went to KFOG's Concert for Kids last Saturday... I was there mostly to see KT Tunstall, who was fantastic. She's going to be at Cafe du Nord on 1/31, and I was able to get tickets on Sunday! Aqualung was also good, though I don't know their music well and they were too loud at times and too hard to understand. Madeleine Peyroux, I'm just not a big fan of... her band was great, and I'm sure she's really good, but jazz simply stretches the definition of World Class Rock (KFOG's slogan) a bit too far beyond the breaking point. We were hungry, not having had dinner, and left during her third or fourth song.

The best part was either KT's commenting on her being a "demented one-woman band" or her breaking a string (the G-string) and playing Black Horse and a Cherry Tree "without pants, as it were."

The weirdest part was this woman who got up and started dancing in the aisle... hopelessly uncoordinated... clapping approximately in time to, but OFF beat. Definitely drunk, probably from being at the 'Gormet Soiree' before the show. At some point, someone from her row came to tell her, we thought, to sit down because she was blocking the view. Shortly after that, we started smelling vomit. The alcohol-laden kind, which is particularly nasty smelling. It turned out that the woman the 'dancer' came with had thrown up on herself... now why neither of them tried to get her out of there or go get help, I do not understand, but boy was it disgusting! They did wind up leaving after KT's set was over, and the house staff brought down one of those big rolling mop buckets and did some mopping, which helped immensely. But it was really, really weird!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Major Child Development Milestones

Rachel can officially read and write! OK, no, she can't do either especially well. She is still almost as likely to write a letter upside down or backwards as correctly, and she frequently confuses N, M, and W, when writing them, but she can look at the letters and sound them out and figure out the word and, if it's perfectly phonetic, she can even sound out and write down some words.

She is also very close to being able to tie her own shoes... she's been "making the cross" for months, usually "helping" me with that part of tying my shoes, but now that she has shoes with laces, she's working on making the bow and finishing it off. She's very close and seems, more or less, to understand what's going on, she just isn't quite getting the second loop to form properly. It's so amazing to watch her work on things like that.

When we picked her up from my parents' place tonight, she was working with their chinning bar. She uses it most times that she's there, but this time my father really put it up high - she could just get her hands around it - and she can actually get her feet up and over it entirely by herself! She evidently doesn't fee quite ready to let go with her hands and just hang from her knees, but I know she's close to that too. She told my parents she'd do that when she's 5. That's next September, if you're not keeping close track. Something tells me she may do it sooner than that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rachel's First Advent Calendar, or, Any Idea What Rachel's Doing?

Yesterday, Dawn gave Rachel her first advent calendar. You know, the ones with a Christmas scene on the front and 25 little carboard doors that can be opened, the numbers 1 through 25 distributed approximately randomly among the doors, each with a little piece of chocolate behind it. Yeah, exactly - a four-year-old's dream. They opened the first two since it was already the second, and they pin it onto the cork board on Rachel's door with the plan that they will open one each night.

Earlier today, I was wondering what Rachel was doing. It was nice and quiet, Dawn and I were cleaning up in the kitchen, and Rachel was off playing by herself, which is great, but I wanted to know what she was doing. It's good to check in on her once in a while. I asked Dawn if she knew what Rachel was doing, and she said no, but just leave her, she's occupying herself. Sounds OK, but I figure I'll just check in on her a teeny bit.

I walk from the kitchen toward the study, taking a quick look into Rachel's room, but not stopping too long, because I don't want Rachel to decide to come see what I'm doing. She's standing in her room, looking at her bulletin board, and when she sees me, she turns and walks further into her room. I continue on to the study. Wait. That was a bit furtive. She was doing something and knew she wasn't supposed to be and thought she could avoid the attention by walking away from it. I can just tell.

I walk into her room, and there are at least a half dozen extra slots on the advent calendar open! I don't know why I'm surprised. She's FOUR. It contains CHOCOLATE. It's in EASY REACH.

FOUR + CHOCOLATE + EASY REACH = Oooh! I think I'll have some! Yummy!!

She's got two in her hands. OK, no, one in her hands, one in her mouth. It takes a bit of back and forth & struggle to get her to give me the one. Including threatening to throw the advent calendar away. I take the calendar downstairs because it can't stay in her room. Dawn flips out. I manage to get her not to go up to Rachel's room and, instead, go back myself. Rachel and I talk about it. She wants the calendar back and wants it on the board at her level. She says she won't open anymore without us.

Right. I offer that she can have it on the board at the top, where she'll need one of us to pick her up to get to it. No, she wants it down low. It can be at the top, or we can keep it somewhere else. No, it needs to be down low. It can be at the top, it can be somewhere else, or it can go in the garbage. OK, fine, Daddy, put it up high.

Of course, now I have to get it back from Dawn who, still angry, has put it in a closet. Not that I couldn't figure out which one, but I still have to get her to buy into the deal I've negotiated. OK, that wasn't too hard. I put it back. Now, though, we have to have the conversation about what is going to happen the rest of the month - since you at a lot of them, there won't always be a chocolate in it, so if you open the door and there's nothing there, it's because you already had it, and you just won't get one that time.

I go through this several times to make sure it sinks in. As I said... I don't know why we were surprised, but it seems to have taken. I promised her that next year she can try having it down low again.

I need to tell my parents about it. I'm sure it'll elicit reminiscence about my & my brother's childhoods. At least the story, which I'm old enough to remember on my own, in fact, about how my brother vanished. We noticed after a while because it was very quiet and, with him, quiet was bad. It was the other way around with me, apparently: quiet - good, noise - bad. So we started looking for him. We looked everywhere we could think of.

Bedrooms. Closets. Bathroom. Tub. Under beds. Back yard. Living Room. Kitchen. Breakfast room. Dining Room. Garage (no door). Behind the garage. On the garage (he wasn't big enough to get up there, but we checked anyway). In the basement (locked & he wasn't big enough to get to the lock, even if he had a key, but we checked anyway). In the street. In the front yard. In the neighbor's yards. Then we checked them all again.

I think we were just starting to become truly worried. He was not more than 7, probably a bit younger, though I don't remember for sure. I've just been checking around the front of the house & the neighbor's yards, the sidewalk, under the cars in the street... no luck. I'm walking back into the house and I happen to glance in the breakfast room from outside. Keep in mind that we've "definitely" checked the breakfast room already at least twice.

There he is, sitting on the floor, ripping apart the freshly baked loaves of rye bread our mother made that morning. Well, at least he hasn't been run over! I find my parents and tell them. My mother doesn't flip out, she bursts into tears. Between all the possible disasters I'm sure were going through her head (I am sure I didn't have much of a clue then, though I do now) and how much effort she put into the bread every time... yeah...

She also couldn't bear to throw out the bread, so she put it in plastic bags in the freezer, took it out again a few days before Thanksgiving that year to let it dry out, and then used it in the stuffing. Best stuffing we'd ever had, so we've been using good bread in the stuffing ever since.

Might have to ask if there are any such stories about me, as I can't remember any off hand.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Giving Thanks for A Great Weekend!

The rest of the weekend was quite nice. Rachel, after having some trouble on Thursday, was absolutely great almost the entire rest of the weekend. Saturday, we went for a hike in the morning up the North Trail in Russian Gulch State Park. The weather was pretty good, if a touch chilly. Rachel did, in fact, hike some, but she wound up being carried a lot, with piggy-back rides from Dawn and shoulder rides from my father & me. At some point, she actually fell asleep on Dawn's back, so I started carrying her in my arms. This is not going to work next time (in 2 or 3 years), as we all talked about (including Rachel) after the hike.

I took a lot of pictures, but I'm not really as happy with them. I think the more interesting things to me this time were of the trees against the sky, and I was having a lot of trouble getting decent exposures. I also got a lot of shots of mushrooms, which is what my parents were after, but I am not as interested in them as they are. I have a really fantastic picture of a mushroom from my trip to Yosemite in 2004, and in two days of photographing tons of mushrooms, I don't think I got a single picture even close to as good as that one.

After Rachel's nap and some lunch, we went back into town to get her some play time at the park there and walked around Mendocino some, including having hot chocolate at the Mendocino Bakery & Cafe again. We ran into Roderick, a former long-term boyfriend of my cousin's. It was nice to see him, and too bad my parents and brother weren't around at the time. I took some more panoramas, but haven't really had a chance to try stitching them. I got a bunch of shots of the sunset over the headlands, and am curious to see how they turned out when I get them on the monitor at home, which seems to be better than the laptop screen (even though the laptop screen is both newer and larger). I'm especially interested in the bright reflection off the window of the last house before the headlands...

Sunday was moving day and we got up and packed and out of the house by 9:30, including having my father's cottage cheese pancakes (with Rachel's help). First, Dawn, Rachel & my brother, and I went to ride the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg to Northspur, a middle of nowhere stop on the tracks between Fort Bragg and Willits. The ride was interesting (but COLD). The conductor pointed out the largest, oldest tree in the area, which was never logged because it had already been hit by lightning too many times and would have shattered when it hit the ground. It's pretty bedraggled & has about 40 ft missing from the top. He also pointed out where we passed the end of commercial power & telephone service, a 'spring board', I think he called it, which is a board they would put into a slat cut in a tree about 10-15' up in the air so that they could cut it down. Cutting down a tree with a 10' diameter took them days and the lumber jacks would be up there for 10 hours a day until the tree came down. At Northspur, some guy on the ride stood waiting for them to turn the locomotive around while listening to some football game on a Sirius radio.

After the train ride was over, we headed into Mendocino again to play in the park, look around a little more, and have ice cream (for those of us whose name was Rachel and didn't want something HOT to drink!). Just as we were getting ready to get in the car to head home, parked almost directly across from the volunteer fire department, the siren for the FD went off... it's unbelievably loud. Rachel did really great, though, and didn't freak out. I'm sure it helped that we all piled quickly into the car to reduce the noise, but it was fairly loud in there; we could actually feel the vibration. The two responders we saw showed up quickly and took off in one of the vehicles.

From Mendocino to 128 @ Cloverdale seemed faster coming back than it had going out on Wednesday. I think it's because we hadn't been in the car as long before starting on 128, but who knows. Perhaps it was just the anticipation of dinner at the World Famous Hamburger Ranch & Pasta Farm, which is where we'd stopped to use the restrooms on the way up. The food was reasonably good; not as good as Barney's or Christopher's, but good. We made it all the way back home without ever having stopped for gas, but I did go get gas before packing it in for the night. 10.5 gallons, 418mi = just 39.8 mpg.

Totals for the trip:

Really nice dinners: 3 (Wed, Thu, Fri)
Hikes: 2
Walks in Mendocino: 3
Chances to follow birds around bushes: 3
Great Sunsets: 4
Category 3+ Meltdowns (by Rachel): 1
Gallons of gas: 10.5
Tanks of gas: less than 1
Pictures in the new SLR: about 900

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fabulous Dinners & Lots of Pictures

Well, here we are in Mendocino. As I mentioned yesterday, we're staying at a place called 'Blue Heron', which is a house rented out through Shoreline Vacation Rentals. It's a pretty nice house, although the coffee maker doesn't work and they only had enough toilet paper in one of the bathrooms to get us through one night! Their 'encyclopedia' says that we can get more at one of various drug or grocery stores in Mendocino or Fort Bragg. I think that's ridiculous. My parents are renting this place for probably at least $300 a night, they ought to be supplying things like toilet paper. It is, however, probably the nicest house we've ever stayed in up here, with a gorgeous master suite (including a bathroom that's like something out of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), good, consistent heat, and circulated hot water. The views of the ocean aren't great, but we've seen lots of birds from the house (California quail, eagles, ravens, and others we haven't identified) and there's a path to the bluff overlooking the ocean a couple of houses away.

So, here we are. We came up Wednesday afternoon, by way of Navarro Vineyards, where we stopped for wine tasting and lunch. We had my brother, Aaron, in the Prius with us, while my parents and family friend Charles were in my parents' car. Between our needing to stop to get something in Richmond and how fast my mother most likely drove, they were at Navarro for almost an hour before we got there. Apparently, there had been lots of birds around before we got there. The sun was out and it was fairly warm and pretty. We had pumpkin cider bread with cream cheese, and grapes, for lunch. Aaron ditched us to ride the rest of the way up with them; I don't really know why but I assume it was because we don't drive fast enough.

We stayed to do some wine tasting, including Rachel who asked for wine. The person behind the counter was with it enough not to point out to her that it wasn't actually wine, just gave her (and me too) tastes of their wonderful grape juices. I took a few pictures; I wasn't paying enough attention at first and managed to take several pictures in macro mode even though I was about 30 feet from the main subject. Oh well. If they look terrible I'll delete them and if they don't, they'll just sit in our photo archives until... whenever we do something with them.

There were long segments of the ride that were just great for the Prius... long winding downhill stretches with lots of coasting and little active acceleration. Of course, there were plenty of uphill bits to get us in position for those, but that's the way it goes. At this point, I think we're doing about 48mpg since I filled the tank last, which I certainly won't complain about.

My parents picked up the keys in Fort Bragg (a few feet south of the entrance to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens); I dropped Dawn & Rachel off at the park in Mendocino to play for a little while and the met up to find the house and drop off all our stuff. The house turns out to be just a few houses further down the private road from the last place we stayed last time: Crane Dance. That house was pretty nice, maybe even better in some ways (much better ocean views, and the bedrooms split with 2 on one side of the living/dining/kitchen area), but just not overall as nice as this one.

There was some minor drama around Wednesday night's dinner; it was late and there were a lot of onions to prepare, and we needed to get olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as the broccoli Dawn and I were planning to make, so Charles and I went into Mendocino, found out where Dawn and Rachel had holed up when the fog rolled in, and shopped at Mendosa's. While we were on the way back with the goods (& my girls), we met my mother on the way into town to get cilantro, because she'd left it at home. Then the drama actually came up... it was getting a bit late & we had to get my mother to calm down a little and just make the thing she was making. Dinner was quite good, though - especially the pissaladiere my mother made (not my mother's recipe), about which the only problem anyone could find was that it was gone! I barely remember what else we had, and only remember the broccoli because that was my contribution.

Thursday morning, preparations for dinner started pretty early, and were punctuated by a nice walk we took. First, we went to the bluff over looking a reef where there were several seals (or sea lions?); I noticed on the way back to the house tonight that the house next to the access path is called 'Seal Reef'. I think they're seals, but I'm not completely sure. Sea Lions seem to be pretty closely related, though. We also saw several oystercatchers, which have very distinctive long, bright red beaks. From the bluff, we came back up to the road and walked all the way back out to the main road, looking at flowers and birds and mushrooms along the way. There were a lot of mushroom, of several varieties. I took a number of pictures.

We talked briefly with a woman who must live around here, or at least spend a lot of time here, who mentioned that the weather's been cloudy/foggy a lot through the summer and into fall, and in spite of not getting a heck of a lot of rain, there have been incredible numbers of mushrooms. She took the trouble to point out that many wild mushrooms are extremely poisonous to humans (and dogs, though we didn't have one with us), but we were certainly not planning on eating any, and had even talked to Rachel about it some.

On the way back, we spotted a heron on the bluff, but couldn't really get close enough for a decent picture before it flew away. Throughout the walk, Dawn and Rachel (and my mother occasionally) picked up pine cones, leaves, and twigs. I think the plan was to make a center-piece for the table and/or a fire, but neither has happened yet.

It was tough to go back and forth between my two lenses a lot, so I'm wondering if I made the right choices with the lenses. The two main things I've been photographing are at opposite ends of the spectrum. On the one hand have been the mushrooms and flowers, which tend to be around 40-80mm and up close. On the other have been the seals and birds, which tend to be as close as I can get but at 300mm. The two primary subjects are diametrically opposed... I have with me 17-85 and 70-300mm lenses. At home, I still have the 28-135mm I got from butterflyphoto but am planning to return in favor of the battery grip. All three lenses are image stabilized, which is really cool, but I wonder whether I ought not really be using the 28-135 as my main lens with a higher-end IS zoom? I think I'm going to stick with these for now, but add a second battery to the mix. Hmm.. I like the sound of this 100-400mm IS, but it's a $1300 lens (after a short search online). There's one on eBay for about $850 US. I wonder how the IS does at 400mm? I'll have to see if Looking Glass has one in stock sometime.

Anyway, Rachel had a pretty good time on the walk. She looked at a lot of things and was quite interested, though she was already starting to be a bit of a pill. I don't think she's been eating enough, and then she runs out of energy and gets whiny/demanding/etc. She tried to use the binoculars at one point, but insisted on looking through the wrong side, so I don't imagine she was able to see anything. Oh well. She had more trouble in the evening until she finally went to be right about 8.

Dinner was very good, except that Rachel wasn't very good company, and Dawn had to take her off to the bedroom to try to settle her down. We had the turkey, done Julia Childs' way of cutting the legs off and baking them in a separate dish. Charles made the stuffing (and gave me the recipe), including chopping, sauteeing, and mixing in the turkey liver (sounds gross, and I normally wouldn't want to eat the liver, but the stuffing was damn good!) and then spreading it on the bottom of the pan that the main turkey was baking in. This way, the stuffing soaked up a lot of drippings without actually being inside the turkey. That was probably part of what made it particularly good. The gravy was made mainly with the drippings from the legs, and was also very good. Besides the turkey/stuffing/gravy, we also had an apple chutney Charles made, pear-cranberry relish I made, butternut squash with shallots, and green beans with garlic and almonds.

The best part was the stuffing, and like the pissaladiere, the only thing wrong with it was that there wasn't more. The best part of the dinner, that is... my father made two desserts this time: a persimmon pudding that was more of a wet cake and a divine chocolate cake. I had more of each, and would have had still more if I hadn't been so full already. Not to mention that my weight is coming back a little bit at the moment and I want to avoid having that get too far out of hand. Rachel managed to calm down and make it back to the table, but still didn't really eat all that much. She had some dessert, and wanted more chocolate and then more again, which she didn't get.

As we were cleaning up, I had a bit of a fun moment with Rachel. She was being a bit of a pain in the neck, reaching for things on the counter, and I kept moving things, particularly the desserts, but left the turkey dish where she could reach it. She complained that I kept moving things and I said that it was because I didn't want her to eat any more of them, so she got her determined "I'm going to push Daddy's buttons now" look on her face and proceeded to eat a piece of turkey. And then several more. This was, of course, just fine with me. Of course, she then proceeded to get up at 5 this morning.

Today was much better, as far as Rachel's company was concerned. She ate more, for one thing, and only started whining a couple of times. Around mid-morning, we went up to Fort Bragg to look around, as none of us had ever been there, beyond the Safeway and Rite-Aid the last time we were up here (11/03). Oh, and the movie theater, where Dawn and I went to see Star Wars 1, which must have been May '99? There wasn't really a whole lot to see; it's a small town, but larger, busier and less interesting (at least to us) than Mendocino.

We went into a couple of stores & galleries (I got a couple of lens cap keepers), including one that had some fantastic prints. This guy (Jon Klein) had a couple of pictures he took of raindrops on vines or rose branches in which the raindrops are acting as lenses and you can see things in them... one was a vine with several raindrops on it, each with very clear images of rose bushes in it. It was fantastic, especially given his statement that the entire image originated from a space smaller than his thumbnail! They didn't have either of those pictures in the Jon Klein pages, but that link goes to the gallery we were in.

Before lunch, we headed down to Mendocino, where we were going to have lunch and then walk around for a while. Dawn and I wanted to find the little cafe we've had fantastic tuna sandwiches from the last time we've been here, but couldn't seem to find it. At least, not before we were so hungry we just settled for something. In this case, we wound up at a market/deli across the street from the post office, where Dawn got what she describes as the best BBQ chicken sandwich she's ever had. Later, we found the one we were looking for: Cultured Affair Cafe, which is apparently for sale.

Dawn and I were planning that Rachel would have a nap, even if we had to drive around for a while to arrange it. This didn't really wind up happening, but (not to give away anything) it turned out OK. After lunch, we headed over to the William Zimmer Gallery. We thought initially that this was a new gallery, but it turns out that they just moved from another location since we were last here. Right near the entrance, they have an absolutely gorgeous table with a glass top and a wooden base that looks like a set of four Cs joined together and twisted into a bit of a spiral. My description undoubtedly doesn't do it even the least bit of justice, but there it is. This place may be even more expensive than our favorite gallery in Mendocino, the Highlight Gallery. We stopped by there later.

While Dawn and Rachel were finishing Dawn's sandwich outside William Zimmer, I took a few pictures. I say a few, because I wasn't really expecting to do much. But then a hummingbird showed up at the sage bush behind Dawn and I started taking pictures of it. I was following it back and forth around the bush, which may actually have been somewhat comical. A number of the pictures turned out extremely well, and I think I might have to make a triptych. At some point, I switched from P to Tv, but I didn't have a hat and the sun was too bright, so I couldn't actually see the read-out inside the viewfinder. I took 6 pictures that way, trying for high shutter speeds (I wanted to get past 1/2000, but all of those were badly under-exposed).

While inside William Zimmer, where the gorgeous table I mentioned was $12,000, we also saw a really ugly, very narrow (1' diameter?), but quite high table that looked as if it was supposed to look like a metal jelly fish with a wooden head. This ugly table was horrifically overpriced at just $500 less than the gorgeous one. I joked that maybe we ought to buy the wood & glass one, since it was obviously on sale, even if only accidentally. From there, we walked over to the Highlight gallery, where I only took the time (so far; I hope we'll have time to go back this weekend) to get the business card of a guy who makes front doors (they have at least one on display at Highlight). Dawn and I were considering having him make us a new door after our last visit, but weren't ready to commit (it's not cheap). We might be more interested now, so I need to get in touch with him again.

Anyway, on the way to Highlight, we met a really handsome dog named Blazer, a burmese (I think) mountain dog with a ton of fur. He was very well groomed (because he's a priss, according to the owner's 16-year-old-ish daughter, who didn't look like the toughest girl ever herself) and extremely gentle. He wanted lots of attention, but Rachel didn't seem to want to pet him unless one of us was. I don't know why she does that sometimes... it's kind of funny.

After Highlight, we went out onto the headlands a bit. While waiting for Dawn & Rachel to come back from the restroom, I figured out how to set up AE lock, exposure bracketing, and reminded myself how to do continuous shooting mode. As they were on their way back, I was trying to take some close ups of some kind of bird on the blackberry bushes (which are everywhere on the headlands), but it took off before I could change lenses, maybe because Rachel was coming. I was able to wait a little bit and another came by, so I got some pretty good shots of that one. I haven't figure out what kind or sex it was yet. I also got a couple of great pictures of Dawn and Rachel hiding behind a slat fence (two horizontal slats that could barely hide a gnat!) and jumping up to surprise my father, including a great shot with a "surprised" expression on his face.

Someone plugged Rachel in along the way, because all of a sudden she was having a great time and walked all over the headlands by herself, wanting to be in front the whole way. We only had to caution her a few times about getting to close to the edge; luckily, most of the trails we happened to pick were not really all that close to it anyway. I showed Rachel some pictures a few days ago that I took of Dawn on one of our previous visits, making faces like a couple of the huge faces carved into some old wooden pillars along the trails. She thought these were great and was actually willing to take some pictures doing the same thing with her mother. I haven't looked closely at those yet; I'm hoping they came out well.

I also took a lot of pictures for possible panoramas, mostly using Duane's suggestion to take them in portrait to get more vertical height out of the finished product. I put two sets through Panorama Factory; the first wasn't all that impressive because I only took 4 because of running into the sun's reflection on the water, while the second got badly mishandled for some reason. I'm not sure why yet...

Rachel was very interested in a couple of the large holes that open to the water & get tide currents. I took some good shots of her and Dawn looking into one of them. After our hike, we took a few minutes to go to Mendocino Jams & Preserves, and the Chocolate Haus. The former to let Rachel do some jam tasting (she'd done some with Dawn in Ft. Bragg and loved it), the later to give her a spontaneous reward for having been such great company and our all having had such a nice day so far. We shared a dark chocolate rocky road, then went back to the car and drove back to the house.

After a while, we went back out to go to dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, which is definitely one of the, if not the, best restaurants in the area. I think I have been there twice in each of the last 3 or 4 trips up here. They're always fantastic. When Dawn and I were here in 1999, we went one night and then tried to go to 955 Ukiah after seeing Star Wars 1. Since 955's wait was over an hour, we decided to see what Cafe Beau's story was, seeing that they are a whole 40' down the road, if that. We have a table available right now; would you like it? Umm... yes! I had the mixed garden greens salad and Niman Ranch top sirloin (this seems to be their current menu, at least until they change it), while Dawn had pumpkin soup & a vegetarian main course and Rachel nibbled at the tortilla appetizer and then the prawn appetizer (actually, she ate quite a bit of this, including all 4 of the prawns along with one of my father's which is what made her want to order it).

Rachel had been warned a couple of times that dessert is only for people who are good company and eat a good amount of dinner. I went out to let them know (in the bathroom) that our dinners had been delivered, and waited to carry Rachel back because I wanted to remind her about the desserts. I told her that she was being very good company and eating well, so if she ate a bit more of her dinner she could definitely have dessert, including either the apple crisp (which probably didn't interest her much) or the chocolate cake, which I told her would surely be really good. This definitely piqued her interest and reminded her that there were good things in store for people who don't make dinner hard.

We wound up with a chocolate cake (for me, but with raspberry sorbet instead of coffee creme anglaise), huckleberry pie with vanilla ice cream (for Dawn), and chocolate sherbet (for Rachel, who ate about half of it after graciously agreeing to let Dawn have a taste, and me two, and even stopped before it was gone because she'd had enough!). All of the food was excellent, and I heartily recommend Cafe Beau for dinner, or two. On the way back to the house at some point, I said "wow, that was a really great dinner", and Rachel, otherwise unprompted, said "I like that restaurant, we should go there again!" We tried to get her to tell my parents, but she got shy and didn't want to (so we did). We have plenty of left-overs, including desserts, so we most likely won't go back this time. More's the pity, though it's marginally better for our waist-lines not to.

Since they're undoubtedly going to change the menu online eventually, here are the things we had:
  • Mixed garden greens salad with baked marinated goat cheese and Niman Ranch bacon
  • Brandied pumpkin soup with tomato, onion, Gruyere cheese, minced prosciutto & rye croutons
  • House made tortilla topped with shredded beef cuitlacoche (corn truffle), served with salsa asado and salsa fresca
  • Niman Ranch top sirloin, broiled, sliced & served with Pt. Reyes blue cheese sauce, sautéed baby potatoes and summer squash with fresh herbs
  • House-made tortillas with greens and wild mushrooms served with salsa asado, spicy tomato sauce, cuitlacoche (corn truffle), coconut rice & black beans
  • Sautéed prawns, served with roasted tomato-chipotle sauce, fresh corncakes, creme fraiche and cilantro
  • Flourless chocolate cake with whipped créme anglaise & whipped cream
  • House-made fruit sorbets or chocolate sherbet with toasted almond butter cookies
  • the special dessert, which was Huckleberry pie with vanilla ice cream
Rachel got to see the stars with us tonight, because it was very clear when we left the restaurant and when we got back to the house (all 10 minutes of travel time, if that). She was very impressed with how many there were, and even commented that she'd never seen so many before in her whole life (her phrase). On the way to the restaurant, actually, while talking about Venus, which we'd seen getting into the car, she asked if it had North America there, and said something about this land. When I said, "is this land made for you?" or something, she started singing This Land is Your Land, so we had to get out the iPod and queue it up.

This lead to the annoying discovery/reminder, that the iPod and my home desktop are not completely sync'ed up, as I tried to find the two copies of Imagine (John Lennon's & Joan Baez's) that we have to play for her (this is another story altogether, though I don't think I've told it). Oh well... still need to figure out the right way to make sure they stay in synch, other than to rip & buy music only on that machine... I have Anapod Explorer, about which I have only one complain so far, when it comes to copying music out of the iPod - it doesn't handle compilations!! I suppose it's possible that if I use Anapod Explorer to copy all the music off the iPod onto my extra disk and then have iTunes move it all into the iTune library, it might recategorize things that are part of compilations... or it might not! Argh.

But I've digressed again. All in all, family stress points aside (and mostly only briefly mentioned for that matter), it's been a good weekend so far. Dawn & Rachel and I are going to try to get a chance to ride the Skunk Train (a four-hour round-trip out of Ft. Bragg), but we also want to go hiking with the rest of the crew... When Rachel was going to be tonight, we discussed sleeping late so she'll have plenty of energy to go hiking & look for mushrooms, which she seems very interested in. I sure hope she doesn't get up at 5am again!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Confirmed Bird Sightings

Dawn described us today as pre-amateur bird watchers... When we were in Point Reyes for our anniversary, we saw and got pictures of some. I think we also saw a Cooper's Hawk, but didn't get a picture of it.

It took some work to figure this one out, but it is a Western Scrub-Jay. The National Geographic Birds of California book we have doesn't have the greatest pictures of these, and this one really looks more like the Island Scrub-Jay, which is claimed to live only in the Channel Islands off southern California.

These seem to be House Finches. The 'Purple' Finch has a lot more read than these do. They were very cute, but disappeared abruptly when the Northern Harrier arrived.

We also saw several turkey vultures and ravens, both below. I got what could have been a really great picture of one raven, looking down on it as it flew by; the lighting was great and it was set off well by the ocean below, but it was too far out of focus.

We're spending this weekend up in Mendocino with my family at a nice place called 'Blue Heron'. It's about 4 houses further down the road from the 'Crane Dance' house where we stayed for Thanksgiving in 2002. We've seen several Oystercatchers, with their bright red beaks, and some sort of Heron, but didn't get terribly good pictures of either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Where The Hell Is It?

As I mentioned last night, I had to jump-start the Prius today. Once I got the Pathfinder in position to be able to connect it to the Prius' battery, I got the hood opened and started looking for the battery. Hmmm. Strange. I would have thought it would be rather obvious. Where the hell's the damned battery?? Let me get the manual.

OK, no biggie. The 12V battery's in the trunk. Reposition the truck. Open the trunk. Umm... trunk's locked and doesn't have a lock. Maybe I need to open it from the inside. Great, there's no release there. Back to the manual.

Ah, so. The trunk locks automatically before the 12V battery dies and can't be opened without that battery. OK, so let's see what they say... ahhh... they have a whole procedure (14 steps or something) for boosting the car. Please note that boosting in this context means starting from another car's battery, not stealing! It is this procedure that discusses the existence of a special boosting connector in the fuse box in the front engine compartment!

Let's just reposition the truck again and open said fuse box. That took some work. The front-most clip on the box cover is not really well positioned for someone with large hands, but I managed to get it off after a minute or so. Now we just have to hook up the jumper cables. Not so fast! The clips on the jumper cable are TOO BIG to clip onto the nut & bolt!! Dammit. Hmm... let's see... this little piece of metal with a plastic back looks as if it might actually be touching the bolt?

Turns out that it is. The diagram in the manual doesn't make it all that obvious, but it is, and the alligator clip can actually grab it. I have to pull the cables apart a little bit to get the ground to reach the designated attachment point, but that's OK. Now, the hybrid system will start without even starting the truck (it's got a much bigger battery than the Prius), but it won't put it into gear... OK, fine. The manual wants me to charge for five minutes revving the truck to 2000 rpms.

Rachel's been pretty patient. She's climbing around the base of the tree. When she wants help because she thinks she's about to fall off, I tell her I'm still trying to "fix" the car and if I help her get down she can't climb until I'm finished. She wants down. OK.

I turn it on and leave it running while I put Rachel's car seat in. Don't know if that's five minutes. Probably not.

At this point, everything was fine. Dawn actually followed our route most of the way to her office just in case, but I was pretty sure it was going to be OK. If worse came to worst, I'd just have Lee (the director of Rachel's school) help me jump it again. It is a little odd, though... In a non-hybrid, you just have to get the thing started and either rev it or drive it for a few minutes to charge it up enough to be able to start it again... It's a little wierd that the hybrid system can't start off it's own battery if the 12V is dead.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Some Random Links

I really like everything Randy Cassingham does, pretty much... In addition to This is True and The True Stella Awards, as well as HeroicStories, which he started, he has a site called Bonzer Web Sites of the Week. Each week in This is True, he publishes a new site, suggested by premium True readers. I actually just realized, as I put Bonzer into my list of favorite links, that all of the links that are there so far are Randy's...

Soon, I'm going to be checking out this recent entry: Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools. I'm interested already in a photography book he discusses. The Border's Books near my office didn't have it...

Now, it's not as if I'm going to try to do something really like Bonzer Sites, but I do think I'll have to at least start putting up things I find amusing or cool or... well, whatever. Maybe I'll even categorize them if I do it enough.

For tonight, I'm rather darkly amused by Whack Your Boss.

Since I'm trying to get back into serious photography, I may start looking at Photo Workshop.

And, since Dan and I are considering finding someone to scan all our old negatives and slides (and Duane is interested, and I might try to get my parents and my brother to join in), we were checking out Digital Pickle. Hell, I might pay to do my parents' myself if I have to... lots of cool family photos there... I don't think it will be cheap, but if we all go in together, we should get a decent volume discount. We're thinking of doing the 'regular' scan at medium resolution (2500 pixels per inch) in general. If there are some that we really want the high quality (4000 ppi) or special ('true color' or 'clean') scans, we can do those individually. For high res with both true color & clean scans, it's $1.97 per 35mm without volume discounts. The regular scan by itself is only $0.69...

The medium format stuff from our wedding is a harder decision... I don't believe we should need the extra processing, but the high res alone is 5.99 per vs 2.99 per for the medium res (which is only 2000 ppi for medium format). I don't remember how many there are... maybe I'll sort through them and do some at high and some at medium. Hmm...

Another site does negative & slide scanning at $0.39 per for 3000 ppi and $0.49 per for 4000 ppi. Actually, that might be more in line with the economy scans by Digital Pickle, which are .55 and .75 for 2500 & 4000 ppi. With PhotoShop correction, this place wants .69 and .89 vs Digital Pickle's .69 and .99. My Special Photos offers 4 scans free, so maybe I'll do that and see how they come out and then pay Digital Pickle to do the same ones and compare them.

And there's another site that wants .65 and .79 per for negatives or slides if you do 1001 or more, which we'll easily do if we get together. Dan has at least 4000 just from his two big trips (Europe and Africa). Duane and I don't even get close to that. Of course, 1000 pictures at .65 is still $650. Well, there are a bunch of sites that do it; of the four I've looked at, though, only Digital Pickle will a) do medium format and b) pick them up from me and drop them off again.

Another Tank of Gas

Finally had to fill up the tank in the Prius again on the 19th. Put in 9.358 gallons this time at "only" 2.239 a gallon. At 391 miles, that means we saved another 23.225 gallons, or $52, by not driving the truck. I got a good lesson in the temperature effect on the bladder in the gas tank: the car claimed just shy of 45 mpg since the last fill-up. This is presumably based on actual gas delivered to the engine, though I can't be sure. Anyway, the 9.358 gallons I put in for 391 miles actually comes to about 41.7 mpg.

According to the Prius, however, the 384 miles to the first fill-up were at 43.8 mpg, the 391 to the second at 44.5. Hmm... let's see... that means 8.767 and 8.787 actual usage, respectively. That comes to 44.15 mpg so far. I do like that number better than the 42.5 combined based on the amount of gas I've actually put in the tank.

That said, we're thinking seriously about keeping the truck. The Accord is a V6, and it's mileage is only 18mpg as compared to the truck's 12. As long as we make the Prius our primary vehicle, which it is already, I think keeping the truck for it's greater utility is fine for now. Eventually, I hope that they'll come out with an SUV that gets better mileage than the ones out now.

I'm interested in the rumored Isuzu diesel/electic pickup. Don't see anything about it on their web site, though... That would be really cool - imagine running a diesel/electric hybrid on waste vegetable oil.

And then there's the Mazda Senku: a hybrid rotary sports car with solar panels in the roof and sliding electric doors. That would be very cool. No good for kids, since the back seats are only there to keep the insurance costs down. They make no apologies for having given priority to the front passengers.

Anyway, getting back to reality, we managed to kill the battery in the Prius yesterday. On the way back from some errands, Rachel fell asleep. Dawn was going to sit on the front steps and read while I did some things, so I left the accessories on to keep the fan going. Neglected to tell Dawn. Also to remember after Rachel woke up.

This lead to some hurried carseat juggling this morning and I took Rachel to school in the truck. I'll have to jump the Prius in the morning... we'll see how that goes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Butterball? No... Fire Ball

Tuesday we had the last major insulation project done. It's really the last one we can do: blowing insulation into the walls from the outside. We hired a company called McHale Insulation to do it, as they were substantially cheaper than the guy who's done the rest of our insulation work. They had wanted substantially more to do the floors than Shel, so we had Shel do that...

This insulation is a very messy prospect, it turns out. Also noisy, for those of us trying to work at home while it is being done. What they do is drill a small hole (about the size of a quarter) through the exterior wall (stucco, chicken wire, tar paper, and wood) into the joist bay and then blow particulate cellulose (recycled paper treated with various pest-, mold- & fire-resistant chemicals) into the void space inside the wall. Once it's full, they fill the hole with stucco and prime it with spray paint. Since there are normally fire blocks about half-way up the wall, they actually drill two holes in each joist space.

And I do mean EACH joist space, every 16 inches apart. For now our house is being called the polka-dot house or the chicken pox house, depending on whom you hear it from.

The best part was when they were working outside the kitchen. I'm sitting in the study and just starting to wonder why it got quiet, when I hear one of the workers come into the kitchen and start looking around. I go in, and he says they hit an electric wire and he's checking to see what might be out. Initially, we thought it was just the outlet above the dishwasher, where the new under-cabinet clock radio is plugged in.

I was fairly pleased when Tom McHale, the owner (or one of), called me within a few minutes to say that they would send an electrician out. The electrician's office called later and the best we could do was Friday morning. The rest of the week was uneventful, though we did find ourselves wishing that it weren't so warm, just so we could see how the insulation changes the feel of the house. It does seem quieter, in fact. Most of the people I've talked to about wall insulation haven't commented on the possible effect on noise, but Shel did at some point.

Thursday morning came we ran the dishwasher. Hm... not working. That's strange. OK, it must be affected, except that the garbage disposal, which is in the same set of four outlets, is working fine. I tried moving the disposal to the other side of the four-some, but it didn't start (I would have expected it to as soon as I plugged it in, since there's no switch for that). Then I tried moving the dishwasher to the outlet the disposal was in, but it didn't work there either. That was especially strange. I called McHale just to make sure they knew we'd found a wider effect than we first thought.

Later in the day, Xin came over to take care of Rachel while we went to a meeting. As I was explaining to him all the steps I'd been through trying to figure out what was going on, he pointed out the one thing I'd overlooked. The switch! Dammit! I even thought about the switch when I moved the disposal to the other outlet - it should have gone on just by being plugged in. Of course, that means that plugging the dishwasher into that outlet will require turning the switch on to let it run! Duhh...

Well, at least now we know we can run the thing. With our Friends Thanksgiving party coming up on Saturday, I was a little nervous about having to spend a lot of time cleaning dishes by hand. Of course, we were certainly going to use plenty of things that couldn't go in the dishwasher, but still...

On Friday, the electrician came. He was a funny guy. We amused ourselves with discussing the fact that a) if you don't push too hard as you go through the wall, you won't hit wires on the other side and b) if you check the other side of the wall for electrical plugs and switches, you might be able to miss them altogether by shifting your drill a few inches. He was able to get it fixed within a couple of hours, although he did wind up having to put in a junction box, which means a plate on the outside wall.

I am not crazy about this. For one thing, it doesn't look great. For another, I'm a little concerned about whether it will be water tight. They did a fairly good job patching it later that day, and the electrician left a rubber gasket, but I think I might have to put some caulk just inside the edges to make sure.

Anyway, Saturday was our Friends Thanksgiving party. The third, I think. Last year was the first time we put it on the bbq, and it went pretty well, so I decided I'd do it again. Unfortunately, this time I got it into my head that I should take the drip pan away a little early so that we could start making gravy. This lead directly to the turkey catching fire. Luckily, all it did was burn the skin (completely). I was generally disatisfied with the turkey this time. The meat was pretty good, but we had a lot of trouble getting it to finish cooking, and when we thought it was finished, we wound up finding more that wasn't cooked well enough. We had almost nothing left over. I think the reason we had so much trouble cooking it was that we were trying to cook it at a lower temperature and it was just taking too long, even after we turned it up toward the end.

At one point, Elisabeth was looking out the window when I was looking at the crispy turkey on the BBQ and said it looked like a fireball. I said "as opposed to a butter ball?" Mostly we had a really good time; besides Elisabeth and the three of us, John & Louise were there, along with Karolyn & her relatively new boyfriend, John, and our friend Mike (Tani's brother). John is really cool. He lives on a boat in Sausalito & is the service manager for Sonnen Porsche and is very personable and funny. We get along great.

By the end of the evening, we had eaten a lot, laughed a lot, and were well ready for bed. I do wish that Tani and Duane had been able to make it. She was working, he at the Big Game (which Cal won for the third or fourth time in a row). We had a really good time, though. Next year, I just won't take the drip pan out early...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

5 Years, And Counting!

This was another great weekend for us. We've kind of had a run of them, knock on wood. Next weekend will be our Friends Thanksgiving party; a few friends over for dinner, pot luck. We're keeping it a little small - only about 11 people, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Friday, we spent a lot of the day at home with Rachel, working on packing things up for her and trying to pack for ourselves without her really cluing in that we were going away as well. I had to run a couple of errands, but other than that we were home all day. Rachel was very cute. She was very excited about going to Monterey with her grandparents. I talked to her at some point about star fish, which she owned up to not knowing about. She seemed very interested in getting to touch them; I made a point of mentioning that to my parents.

While they were still getting her ready, and I was out doing errands, Carmen came over to see if Rachel could play. I guess she said she had to get ready, but then after a few minutes she wanted to go to Carmen's. Dawn said Rachel just couldn't decide whether she wanted to keep getting ready or go play. I had gotten a lot of the clothes Rachel would need together, and at some point, Dawn was going to help her get it packed. Dawn opened the bag and suggested to Rachel that they could start packing. Rachel immediately scooped up all the clothes in one big armload and dropped them right in the bag! Hysterical.

One of the things I was out doing was picking up maps; I got a couple for Mendocino, since we're going there in a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, one for Point Reyes, and two for Monterey to give to Rachel. She was very excited when I brought them home from AAA. We saw her off with my parents at about 4:30 and started getting ready in earnest.

Dinner at the Lark Creek was excellent. The dinner menu was almost the same, but the special was different. We made it very complicated by each having the same salad (arugula and endive with fuyu persimmons, pomegranate, pistachios, and prosciutto with a bit of a creamy dressing) and sharing the 2-person special, which was grilled beef ribs cut off the bone after cooking with roasted fingerling potatos and steamed greens. Their breads are very good; we've always loved the rolls and eat several every time.

Last week, the chocolate dessert was a chocolate bread pudding. It turned out to be fairly good, according to Elisabeth, though I wasn't all that impressed. Speaking of Elisabeth, we actually bumped into her on the way into the Lark Creek lot! Neither of us knew she was going to be there, and if we'd been on time we wouldn't have seen her. She and a friend were going to a concert given by one of her workers, and they just happened to be searching for the place. We pulled into the lot and both thought "wait... is that Elisabeth!?" at the same time.

Anyway, this time, the chocolate dessert was a molten chocolate cake with cherry chip ice cream. I wanted to have it with vanilla, not being that crazy about cherry, but they either didn't hear me or forgot. The ice cream was just so-so, but the cake was excellent!! It actually rivaled the chocolate souffle cake from Mangia Mangia in Albany, among the best chocolate desserts I've ever had.

The staff were very nice; they brought us an extra plate of the amuse bouche, which was deviled eggs with a bit of horseradish in it and some smoked salmon caviar on top. Perhaps the first time I've ever actually liked caviar. Of course, they brought lots of the rolls, which are very popular, and at the end they brought us a special plate with Happy Anniversary written in chocolate and two chocolate chip cookies and two small blondie squares, along with a promise that if we were too full they'd pack them for us to take with us.

From there, after calling Elisabeth to tell her that the chocolate dessert was a real chocolate dessert this time, we drove out to The Ark, the cottage where we spent the weekend. This was our third time staying at one of their cottages; we stayed at the Ark last year as well, but we stayed at The Fir Tree with my parents in January of 2000 for Dawn's birthday weekend.

The cottages are very nice; secluded, quiet, comfortable. For the breakfast part of 'bed & breakfast', they will provide breakfast makings. We told them we only wanted breakfast for one day, but that meant 10 eggs (from their own chickens), 17 organic Valencia juicing oranges, a jug of granola, a quart of organic cream-top whole milk, a large loaf of Acme-style bread, two croissants, and some fruit.

We didn't get to sleep until after midnight and didn't get up until almost 10am. Dawn said she was awake aroung 6:30, and I think I might have woken up around then too, the first time. I definitely got back to sleep for a while, though. We made breakfast from what they provided; it was all delicious - fresh juice (I forgot how great freshly squeezed juice can be...), scrambled eggs with rosemary, and the two croissants. After a while, without cleaning up from breakfast, we picked a hike to do and headed out. I think we left the house about 12:30 and drove into the park to go to the Tomales Point trailhead near McClure's Beach.

We didn't start on the hike until right about 1:30pm, and since it's a 4.7 mile hike each way out to the point, we didn't plan to go all the way to the end. I took a LOT of pictures along the way. I'm very lucky that Dawn not only likes to hike, she doesn't mind waiting for me to take pictures. We picked this hike in particular because it is close to the water; there were a couple of others that we thought about, but it didn't look as if they'd have views of the ocean. This was even better because the trail has Tomales Bay on one side and the Pacific on the other. There were several points along the way from which we could see both.

The image stabilization on the zoom lenses is extremely cool. It's still sort of funny that I can hear it adjusting the optics, but it does a really good job. You can literally see the shake before you hit the shutter, and then when you push the shutter button half-way to focus it, it also kicks in the stabilizer and suddenly the shake vanishes! I got some great long distance pictures of birds and elk, and some nice shots of some flowers. Other than some crows and turkey vultures, we couldn't completely identify all the birds we saw. I think there were at least two kinds of hawks.

At about 3:15, we ran into someone who told us that we only had another 45 minutes to go, so we decided to go for the end even though we hadn't planned to originally. Considering how much we were stopping to take pictures, and to have lunch, I couldn't imagine that we were anywhere near the end. We didn't, in fact, make it to the end. We turned back just after 4, because it really looked as if it was still a while longer to get to the point. We'd been keeping an eye on the sun for a while, and wanted to make sure that we got back to the wider trail before it got dark. The trail further out is narrower and harder to follow. The sunset was gorgeous; I think I got some good shots, but I haven't looked at them closely yet.

We made it back to the parking lot at Upper Pierce Ranch at about 5:30; 2.5 hours out, 1.5 hours back. We were movin' on the way back. I do think we got pretty close to the end; probably at least 8 miles. Interestingly, we did find something in the cabin that talked about the average hiking speed being 2 miles an hour, so that kinda fits given that we were going much faster on the way back than the way out. The sun set about 5:10 and it didn't get dark too fast; I was actually able to see the car as we came around the last curve. Just near the end, one pack of the Tule Elk were pretty close to the trail as we went by, and it really seemed as if they were staring at us. Why are you still here, they seemed to be wondering.

We went back to the cottage to change and then went to dinner at The Station House Cafe. It was pretty good; I had clam chowder and a sirloin steak. The chowder was very good, but I think I'm going to have to start asking for my meats cooked medium instead of medium rare - it's starting to be too common that the meat comes more rare than I prefer. They also had pop-overs, which were very good when they were warm. The first couple we got were practically cold, and turned out to be very disappointing once we got warm ones. Dawn skipped an appetizer but had baby back ribs and really liked them; even managed to eat them all!

Didn't manage to sleep as well last night, but still didn't get up until almost 9. Ah, lazy mornings. We made a second breakfast out of the food they gave us, along with some Saag's British Bangers we picked up at the Inverness store, and still wound up taking home some of the bread, part of a blueberry scone, and a whole bunch of granola. Check-out is at noon, and that's really unfortunately early. We'll have to ask for a later check-out, even if we have to pay extra; especially considering that we didn't arrive until well after 9 Friday night.

We were able to go for a short hike towards Tomales Bay from just north of Point Reyes Station on Highway 1. The description of the trail was a little odd, and we wound up sort of wandering around a cow pasture for a while, but we didn't have a lot of time anyway. We had to walk a bit slowly in one part to make sure the cows would get out of the way (they did) without putting us between any of the babies and their mothers. It was funny to be so close to them. They, like the elk on the way back to the car yesterday, stopped eating to watch us.

So far, the Western Scrub Jay below has been my favorite picture of the weekend (and the new Canon DSLR):

I really love the way it came out. I took this at 300mm (480 equivalent) with Image Stabilization, at probably about 30 feet, so it's cropped pretty significantly. The focus is very good, and I'm quite happy with the color. There have been some points when I looked at some of the images when I thought that the color wasn't very good, but this is pretty great. I think there might be another couple of bird pictures that are good, but this is the best so far.

The ride back was generally uneventful. It's only about 39 miles home from the trailhead, and we made good time except for the part where someone had hit a fire hydrant in San Anselmo; we started to try to figure out the detour feature on the Prius navigation system, but didn't do it soon enough. No big deal.

Speaking of the Prius, I think I'm going to have to take it in this week. First of all, the gas engine has been shuddering when it shuts off a lot of the time, and I want to know why, but more importantly it's really been lugging lately. It had a lot of trouble getting up the hill to the cabin the first night, and hasn't been too happy with accelerating from a stop or getting up hills since. We smelled something (oil, I think) burning when we got out that first time. None of the engine lights ever came on, or anything, so I'm taking it for granted that it's nothing too bad, but I'm going to have them look at it.

Rachel was just on when we got to my parents' place. She told us all about her trip. She says that her favorite part was the whale boat ride, for which they have rain checks because they didn't see any whales. It'll still be too early for that when we're in Mendocino, but we can talk about them anyway. She definitely seemed to enjoy herself and didn't express any distress at having been away from us for two whole days. A real relief, to be sure.

Oh, and as you can see, I've figured out how to use Hello to upload pictures to the blog. Not that it was hard, by any stretch of the imagination. I think it took all of 3 minutes, including downloading and installing the software. The way it works is that you tell it your id and send an instant message to BloggerBot, which creates a post. I don't know that I'll ever want a post that's just a picture, so I'll probably wind up doing the post to get the picture uploaded and then pull the URLs from there to put into a regular post, like the picture above.

Here's one more picture, a lone poppy, very out of place in November. The California Poppy happens to be one of my favorite flowers, but I certainly didn't expect to see one on this trip!