Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 14: Across the Great Divide

That is Science Officer Linda conducting another field demonstration in her mobile classroom. Today's lesson was held as we crossed the Continental Divide. She is illustrating the key trait of the Continental Divide, which is that water drained on the western side pours into the Pacific Ocean whereas water drained on the eastern side eventually pours into the Atlantic Ocean.

LK was obviously not the only smart person who understood this principle. A bikie babe who saw me taking the picture gave her a big thumbs-up. Well, Linda took it to be a big thumbs-up, but to me it looked more like "Would you hurry up and get the hell out of there so I can get my picture taken."

It's really good that LK has assumed the role of Living Font of Knowledge, because our time in Yellowstone Park has been a visit to one of the strangest, most unexpected worlds I have ever been in and I appreciate understanding some of the bizarre things I am seeing.

Like most people, I knew there was a geyser called Old Faithful, and I knew that the park sat on the remnants of a massive supervolcano that had exploded hundreds of thousands of years ago - and many think will one day once again darken the skies of North America.

But the things we saw were better than the best special effects in movies. We saw steaming openings in the ground spewing multi-colored liquids, water bubbling in dozens of holes in the ground, limestone landscapes with blasted trees and steaming vents. More than a couple of times, we would turn a corner in the road and see an entire meadow with massive vents of steam rising in six or seven places.

What's underneath this planet of ours is very close to the surface in this place.

I have downloaded heaps of pictures, and they do a better job of explaining Yellowstone than my words will. But I will give you a quick sense of it.

There were three key places in the park that we enjoyed and each was quite different. The first we went to was West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Here there are dozens of steaming holes in the ground, and the colors around them are phenomenal. The pictures are here but LK thinks they don't show the massive amount of steam in the air rising from so many of the geysers.

A couple of points that were really striking:
1. The thin crust of the geyser field reaches all the way down to Yellowstone Lake, and some of the most interesting things happen when the water spews from the geysers into the water.
2. The vegetation that manages to grow among these geysers is amazing. Some of it is incredibly vivid, obviously benefitting from its closeness to the hot, steaming geysers.

The second place we visited - the Upper Geyser Basin - is the most famous, for it is where the Old Faithful geyser is. And the hundreds of tourists who flock there (and seem to skip the other parts) is testament to how famous that geyser is.

But to be candid, Old Faithful may be the star of this area, but the rest of it was far more interesting to me.

LK and I took about a 2-m ile walk around the geyser field, and we were close enough to dozens of little geysers that we could see the water bubbling in them and smell the sulfur in the gases they were emitting. Those pictures are here.

It was a cool day, but very warm in the geyser fields, as you would expect from what is essentially an outdoor steambath as the heat under the ground keeps forcing hot water to the surface.

And the final spot was Mammoth Hot Springs, which was completely different from the rest.

Here the underlying rock is limestone. In the other geothermal parts of the park, it is rhyolite. (Rhyolite is a volcanic rock, not too awful different from granite.)

The limestone is a remnant of the ancient sea that once covered this area. As part of it dissolves, it ends up leaving this white rock called travertine, which makes the terraces of the Hot Springs. (I won't get a good mark for this essay if Mrs Kennedy figures out I plagiarized the last bit.)

To skip the scientific jargon, let me just say that you end up with places like Angel Terrace in the picture on the left. It's eery and other-worldly. That's not snow on the ground, but white rock, and there are little steaming outlets throughout this desolate place. More pictures here.

We had hoped to see a few more spots in the park, but twice we ended up sitting for more than half an hour waiting for road works to let us through. By the time we got to Mammoth Hot Springs it was late in the day, and we headed out of the park on the north end.

An hour drive and we are staying in Livingston Montana tonight. It's really just a sleepover, and we are the road for a new adventure tomorrow. The science lessons are going on hold. Tomorrow is a history class as we head to Little Big Horn Battle Monument to learn how brave Americans fought off invaders trying to take over their homeland.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 13: Mountains Gone Wild

Imagine, if you will, that you are an explorer struggling through harsh and unyielding wilderness and you suddenly come upon these magnificent mountains. Go on, you're the explorer who found them, so it's up to you to give them a name.

What do you choose? Do you use your first reaction upon seeing them - maybe the Majestic Mountains? Or if you're from some faraway place, do you try to name them after something from your homeland - say, the American Alps?

Perhaps you notice that the mountains look like something familiar, and you name them something like The Witches' Hats Mountains.

But, no, the people who discovered them didn't quite see witches' hats when they named them. These mountains are called the Grand Tetons, and no matter how much you try to avoid the topic, there simply isn't any way around it. Grands Tetons is French for "big tits."

That's right, there is a major mountain range and a US national park which is named "Big Tits National Park" to anyone who speaks even high school-level French. And this park is run by the same federal government that fined CBS millions for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction when it revealed her grand teton.

I suppose if it were discovered today, they'd just call it Hooters and franchise the visitor centers. But enough about the name. Let me tell you about the mountains. They are awesome - and I mean that in its literal sense that you are in awe of the beauty and grandeur of these mountains. They tower over a plain, making them seem to loom up out of the ground to stand over the rest of the land.

Well, actually, that is exactly how they came to be. The mountains rose when the earth dropped along a fault line. One plate went up (the Teton side) and one went down (the Jackson side). Originally, the peaks were more than 30,000 feet above the ground below, but glaciers and erosion have knocked them back significantly.

But the process is not done. The mountains continue to rise and Jackson Hole and the plain below them continue to sink. In fact, scientists are pretty sure that Jackson is going to experience a significant earthquake some time in the future. That science lesson is courtesy of LK who pays attention to the videos at the visitor centers. And I pay attention to her.

The wander around the Tetons is beautiful and varied. There's a loop road that takes you to the side of Jenny Lake, with the mountains looming over this crystal clear lake.

There's a drive to the summit of Signal Mountain, which gives you two spectacular views. One is of the massive plain at the foot of the mountains through which the Snake River winds its way. And on the other side is Jackson Lake with panoramic views of the Tetons. Breathtaking stuff.

We've taken so many pictures it was hard to choose which to post, but I've picked some to give you a sense of this wonderful place. They're here. The last picture is for Peg. We came across a group of students from Miami University of Ohio taking part in some academic excursion. LK took a picture of the logo on one of their four vans.

We had enough time after touring the Tetons to wander into Yellowstone, which borders the BT National Park. Absolutely amazing stuff, but I will post that tomorrow and combine it with the other Yellowstone places we are going to visit tomorrow on our way to Montana.

So stay tuned. Old Faithful beckons.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 12: Howdy Stranger

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, I'm gonna mess around.
Yeah, I'm goin' to Jackson. Look out Jackson town.

"Jackson", by Jerry Leiber and Billy Wheeler

Yesterday morning we left Idaho Falls to get to Jackson. Good-bye Idaho. Hello - for the first time - Wyoming.

Honor our GPS had us take a scenic route through the Targhee National Forest.

It is an absolutely beautiful place with high hills and massive fir trees. I kept saying how gorgeous it was. LK kept agreeing but then would add, "I just have the idea we're going to turn a corner and go Wow!"

Meaning she thought it was lovely, but she was on this trip for the special effects not just beautiful forests.

Part of the journey involved a very steep climb up a mountain to reach the Teton Pass. That's where you finally start to see the valley below. And in case you're not quite sure what you're looking at, the good folks at Jackson Hole have given you a pretty big clue:

(And just what is it about the tourism folks at these western places that they think it's cute to make believe that folks in the Old West all talked like Yosemite Sam? We've seen Deadwood. We know what they really said to strangers.)

It was midday when we arrived at Jackson and were lucky that our hotel room was available. By the time we'd checked in and put our stuff in the room, we were faced with two choices - a quick trip to check out the Grand Teton National Park or a couple of hours checking out Jackson.

Lunch and shopping won, since we didn't want to have to hurry our visit to the Grand Tetons. That will come tomorrow.

I must say that Jackson is very different from the last few places we have visited. There are some people who perhaps could most politely be called unique. "Friggin' weird" is the other way to describe some of them.

We saw a guy in shorts, a shirt and a cowboy hat. Oh yes, and a silk cravat. Which he carefully removed and folded before eating his lunch. Think of a cross between an Alpine yodeller and a ranch hand.

We saw dozens of bikies and bikie babes in their leathers. That's not so odd, but I had to keep looking at them because some of them were so old I'm still not absolutely sure they were really wearing leather.

And, yes, we saw a woman in a pink outfit wheeling a baby stroller down the street with her twins in it. That's them in the picture. When I asked her if I could take a picture, she said sure, but cautioned me that her girls were pretty sleepy right now. I guess that's what the sign was talking about when it called Jackson the "last of the Old West."

And so now I sit alone in our room since my wife has left me. Left me to go shopping, of course. After lunch she graciously offered to let me go back to the room while she checked out more shops. In other words, she knew I would be a huge grumbling millstone around her neck and would much prefer that I just leave her the hell alone. I am a little concerned, though, because as I left she said that I had better play online poker and win big today.

So shuffle up and deal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 11: The Craters of the Moon

There are three things that gave special significance to me when we visited Craters of the Moon yesterday. First, its formal launch as a National Monument in 1924 was on the same day as my birthday 24 years later. Second, it was named a National Monument by Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge, the 30th president of the US and the only one to come from my home state of Vermont.

Third, about 150 years ago, a pioneer heading to Oregon described Craters of the Moon as "the Devil's Vomit," which is something I have been called a few times in my life.

Actually, there was a fourth connection. The Craters of the Moon had most of its hot and fiery activity many years ago and today it is crusty and pretty much sedentary.

When he made this fantastic place a federal park, old Silent Cal called it "weird and scenic". Today "weird" carries a slightly different meaning, but back then it mostly referred to things that were not like other things, kind of other-worldly. In that sense, Craters of the Moon is still weird. And wonderful.

It is a lovely legacy of thousands of years of volcanic eruptions. Massive fields of lava are frozen in time, some so fluid at the time they hardened you can almost see them rippling today. Some of the volcanoes erupted so violently that they destroyed themselves in the process, and there are places you can see large fragments of the craters scattered among the lava flows.

And throughout, but particularly in a section called the Devil's Orchard, you can see life growing among the lava and rocks as centuries of dirt finally settles atop them and the hardiest plants borne by birds and the wind take root.

It is desolate, but not in the way the Nevada desert seemed so barren. The frozen rivers of lava, the Great Rift of Idaho where the earth split and huge mounds of cinders are permanent testament to the fury of dozens of volcanoes exploding over thousands of years.

LK and I hold a fascination with volcanoes, fault lines and those other places that give such strong evidence of the turmoil inside our planet.We have walked among steaming outlets in Montserrat several years before it exploded, as well as smelled the sulfur on the Big Island in Hawaii. Last year, we visited Vesuvius, and we have been at the Eastern Africa Rift. Yet today was as spectacular a display of the power of volcanoes as I have seen.

And I have saved the best for last.

Deep into the park, there is a massive cinder mound. It's about a quarter-mile walk to the top and about 165 feet (60m) rise in elevation at a 15-degree pitch. (The standard wheelchair ramp pitch is about half of that.)

The picture to the left is near the top, and the people behind me are probably halfway down to the car parking, which is just barely visible.

Well, we haven't been walking the streets of Greenwich to get over here and be intimidated by a (big) pile of old ashes. "Shall we climb it?" I asked LK.

She calculated how hard it would be to drag me down the hill if I collapsed. It soon dawned on her that she could just roll me, and said "Sure".

Off we went, and quite frankly it was nowhere near as hard as it was walking up the stairs a year ago. I huffed and puffed a bit, but really never had a problem. And once we got to the top, what a payoff!

The views of the Great Rift are spectacular. In every direction, you see for miles, and it was well worth the effort. I even got to do a fairly poor form of the Warrior, as you can see at the top of this post. Plenty of pictures from the top and elsewhere in the park here.

On the way back down we encountered several people persevering in the climb. One guy who was not in particularly great physical shape looked to be reconsidering. And as you do here in the US, we said Hi and smiled at everyone we passed.

When he had gone on, I turned to Linda having gained a genuine insight. "You know," I said, "every one of them is looking at me and saying to themselves, 'If he could make it, so can I'."


PS Sports Bulletin. In the third day of competition, the tie was broken. LK won 2-1 in a bitterly fought oldies contest. DK took the early lead when The Crew-Cuts came on, but LK parlayed two old white guys, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin, to win the day. DK remains convinced that Patti Page was a good choice for the contest, but after three days no one has once asked how much is that doggie in the window.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Day 10: Connie Francis Saves the Day

Well, we are in Idaho now, having driven from Elko, Nevada to Twin Falls this morning.

One of the best things about the car we rented is that it has digital satellite radio, so there's plenty of options to choose from during those long stretches between destinations. At first we were smitten with the sheer volume available - a station that plays nothing but Bruce Springsteen, another devoted to Elvis. But eventually we found our way to the 50's station, playing nothing but songs from the first decade of rock 'n roll (as the station kept reminding us in its promos) .

Having grown past the age where we could amuse ourselves by guessing the color of the next car, we instead started playing a game on the way to Elko where we each picked three singers or groups. The winner was the one who picked the most performers who went on the air before we reached our destination.

LK took a pretty quick lead when they played the Platters. I was pretty sure I was going to catch up but song after song came on - almost all singers and groups I had thought of picking. We were literally in sight of our hotel when Frankie Lyman came on. At last! Goal for the Good Guy! Tie game at the buzzer.

Then yesterday we headed off to Twin Falls and each got to add another singer. LK took Connie Francis. I took Jimmy Rodgers. And we were no more than 20 minutes into the trip when the station played another Frankie Lyman song. I'm ahead! I yell. No, you're not, says LK. She insists that I am cheating, that once they play your pick you don't get a second point if they play it again.

I counter with --- well, you don't really care about the argument. Suffice it to say that she won, and I didn't get to count Frankie Lyman. LOL when the Platters came on soon after. She couldn't count them, either.

Anyhow, with about 2 hours to go in the trip Jimmy Rodgers comes on and I am looking strong. LK has three good picks - Connie Francis, the Everly Brothers and Bobby Darin - but she's being whitewashed. We roll into Twin Falls and wouldn't you know it - they decide to play the No 1 song from 50 years ago today. You know, the one by Connie Francis. Another goal at the buzzer. Another tie. If only I had driven faster, we would have been in the hotel by the time Connie started singing her lungs out.

Anyhow, I want to tell you about Twin Falls, Idaho.

I met a woman in Elko last night who was raised in Twin Falls. She lives in Salt Lake City now. It will tell you a lot about her life that she travels hundreds of miles from Salt Lake to have fun in Elko.

Anyhow, when I told her we were driving to Twin Falls the next day, she told me how she had grown up there. Then she said, "There's not much to do there."

I dismissed it as bad vibes from someone who has spent too much time lately in the Mormon capital of the world. I started to change my mind today when we had lunch after landing in Twin Falls and this super-friendly waitress confided to us, "You know, there's not much to do here."

Well, they were both wrong. We found plenty to do.

After lunch we went to Target and loaded up on stuff (a cheap watch, a tablecloth, three bags of Goldfish snack crackers, Mr & Mrs T bloody mary mix). And laundry detergent, because Linda decided there was plenty to do here - like washing my undies.

We had seriously discussed going about 45 miles to Hagerman where they have a national monument devoted to fossil digs. At first we had been keen to do it, both of us thinking it would be cool to see dinosaur fossils where they were discovered.

Then we read up on it this morning and found out that even the dinosaurs seemed to have skipped Twin Falls because there wasn't much to do. The best fossil they have is of a horse. And a gopher. And a turtle. You know, the sort of things you can probably find in at least 50 percent of the backyards here in Idaho.

Suddenly, adding a two-hour round trip onto our three-hour drive to get here didn't seem worth it. And besides, those undies had been sitting in the car in scorching heat for several days and were in danger of becoming fossils themselves. It seemed better for public health and safety to heed the advice of the lady from Salt Lake and our waitress and just accept that there's not much to do here.

Tomorrow, though, we are exploring Craters of the Moon National Park, boasting three lava fields with some of the word's deepest open rifts. That's the real reason we're stopping here. And after the lava fields we're on our way to Idaho Falls where, I suspect not much happens. But it gets us just one stop away from Yellowstone.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day Nine: A Tanner Shade of Brown

Linda warned me ahead of time that the drive from Reno to Elko was going to be long, boring and without anything to even bother to check out. She grossly overstated how bad it was.

The actual drive was OK - only about 4 hours and all on highway. I knew we were in for a long haul when Honor, our GPS system, got us on Route 80 and said "Stay on I 80 for the next 296 miles." I fully realized just how long a haul it was going to be when I checked the clock to see how much longer we had to go, and we had only been on the highway for about 40 minutes.

One of the things I did discover was that whoever named this state had a sense of humor. It turns out that nevada means snowfall in Spanish. Well, driving through this state from one side to nearly the other, I believe that was their little joke on everyone. The correct name would have been Suciedad. That's Spanish for dirt. I could even buy into Rocas (rocks), but Snowfall!!!!!

As you drive east across the state, you first notice that the landscape is a long, flat plain of dirt ending in low, misshapen mounds of dirts that only an optimist would call mountains. The mounds are quite interesting if you find three or four shades of brown interesting.

On the plus side, the ruling powers in this state have set the speed limit at 75mph (121 kph). It's nice that they let you get past the dirt fast, but unfortunately it's not fast enough to turn it into a brown blur. And because the road has no curves for mile after mile (1.6km after 1.6km), you eventually get a little bored staring straight ahead and shift your eyes to the side to see what is there. And it's more dirt.

I suspect no one will be surprised to learn that there aren't a lot of towns along this route. In fact there was one exit that ended in dirt (of course) about 200 yards off the exit ramp. We had left at noon and decided to have lunch on the road as a chance to stretch our legs. At about 1pm we passed East Fernley and considered lunch since it was the last service for 47 miles.

The sign said there was the standard fare - McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway. "I would rather wait for something more interesting," said Linda, forgetting we were driving through a place that sued TS Eliot for calling his poem "The Wasteland" when that was rightfully their proper trademark. No, LK seemed to think we were on some sort of motorized cruiseship motoring through the desert in search of haute cuisine.

To her credit, we drove on to Lovelock, pulled off the highway to get fuel and were sitting across from a McDonalds on the west and Ricardo's Ribs on the north. That's it at the top of the post. The ribs were great, along with the potato salad, coleslaw and beans. All for $21 - and we had so much left over it will be our dinner tonight. Score one for the person who kept awake on this exciting trip by regularly reminding me of the speed limit.

To be fair, the landscape became much more interesting as we neared Elko. Lots more dirt hills, and many more shades of brown. And in the late afternoon, there were dark black shadows giving them a much more interesting look. I think it says something that the absence of light makes a landscape look better, but that may be because I was pretty brain dead from boredom by the time we got our hotel.

Not surprisingly, the vodka tasted especially good tonight.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day Eight: Virginia City Revisited

A bit of nostalgia yesterday. It was almost 50 years ago that Linda, Sandy, Peg and Steve visited Virginia City. LK fondly recalls that there is a picture of her sitting at Mark Twain's desk, so yesterday it was off to find that desk and take an updated picture.

Virginia City is only about 30 miles away from Reno across desert and up a pretty steep mountain. Once you get there, you realize you are technically dead center in the middle of nowhere. High up and overlooking miles of dirt, the former mining boom town now exists apparently only as a tourist spot.

The town is quite obsessed with the fact that Mark Twain was once a reporter for their newspaper. In fact, Samuel Clemens first used the name Mark Twain while in Virginia City. It's a small place to visit - maybe four blocks long - and it was easy to find the Mark Twain museum, which is in the basement down a set of rickety stairs from a general store.

That's a picture of LK next to the desk she sat at long ago. They don't let you sit at it anymore, but still it was kind of neat to revisit it. There are other pictures of the museum and a few more of the city here. The last picture is just a sweet shop called Reds', which I took for my father whose name is also Red.

There were two slight disappointments about Virginia City. The first is that there isn't much to see there as the shops are all almost tourist spots with funny t-shirts and cowboy paraphernalia. It wasn't real crowded, but I did notice that most of the folks wandering around there looked as if they were prime candidates to shop there.

The second disappointment is quite a blow for those of us who watched Bonanza in the 60's. That cowboy show was set in Virginia City, but it turns out there was no Ponderosa Ranch. And here I had patterned much of my life trying to be just like Hoss.

Oh yeah. There was a gun shooting show at 1pm, in which they closed a wooden gate and let you sit on some wooden bleachers while actors not good enough to make it in Reno did a bit of a cowboy retrospective. We decided we could skip that one.

Back to Reno in the afternoon. Linda went out into the very hot day to check out shops. I watched the Red Sox beat the Orioles. (Thank God they finally broke their losing streak!) A little bit of time in the casino, beef and a huge salad from the salad bar for dinner and by 10:30 I was acting like an old guy and wanted to go to bed.

Absolutely nothing is likely to happen today. We are driving a couple of hundred miles to Elko. Looking at the maps, there doesn't seem to be much between here and there. And in fact, it doesn't look like there's much there once we arrive. It's really just a rest stop on the way to Idaho. (And you know how bad a place has to be to be called that!)

And finally, I didn't have the camera with me when I posted about Lake Tahoe. If you want to see some of those pictures, they are here.

Day Seven: The Honor System

Time to leave Colusa. But it wasn't easy saying good-bye to Jaki and Robert. They had treated us like royalty. Some day I will have to tell them I was kidding when I said we were related to the Queen.

They did all sorts of wonderfully generous things for us. Robert detached one of the elements in his toaster so I could have one-side-soft-toast (TM). He even helped Linda out by confirming it when she said the balding on the back of my head looked like a little laneway ending in a cul-de-sac.

But it was time to go and start the road trip. And even there these generous people didn't stop, loading up an ice chest with water and cokes, and a bag with whatever scotch and vodka we hadn't killed in the first six days. Funny, there was a lot less of my vodka than LK's scotch.

Robert and Jaki drove us to Sacramento Airport to pick up our rental car. Along the way, they were able to tell us all about the various crops and processing plants we were passing in this agricultural part of the state. I told them I can't wait till they get to Oz so I can drive them around and tell them I haven't got a clue what we're looking at.

Once in the car, we popped in our Tomtom 930 that I bought a couple of months ago planning for this trip. The GPS works brilliantly and really does get you from one place to another. The voice I chose from the options is a British woman's, sounding very much like Honor Blackman. I suggested we call our GPS Miss Galore; Linda suggested Honor.

The nice thing about Honor is that she is so reasonable when you make a mistake. As we were leaving the airport, she told me to take a left in 600 yards. I turned too soon, and we were heading north instead of south on the highway. LK told me I was going the wrong way. Honor told me in the calmest and nicest tones, "Take the next exit." She then guided me down three country roads until we ended up at the freeway entrance going south. She told me to get on the freeway.

I think we call could learn from how nicely Honor corrects our mistakes. Never makes us feel dumb. Never says why didn't you listen to me? Never says I am the one with the map, so why do you feel you know a better way in an area you've never been in? As I said, many of us could learn from Honor, and you know who you are.

We had all day to make the fairly short trip to Reno, so we drove around Lake Tahoe. Talk about extremes. We left Colusa (elevation 56 feet/16 m) in the morning and by the middle of the afternoon we had climbed to a peak more than 9000 feet (2.7 km) on our way to Reno. Lake Tahoe is spectacularly beautiful. We left the camera in the car, so I will add some pictures later on today once we retrieve it.

At about 6pm, Honor told us we had reached our destination. We checked in, munched on some of the snacks Jaki and Robert had loaded for us. OK, munched on them while having some of the drinks they had loaded for us. Then went down to the casino to try our luck.

As for our luck on the night, I am reminded of that wonderful scene in Albert Brooks' movie "Lost in America". You may recall, he has quit his job in anger and with his wife played by Julie Hegarty, they sell everything they have, buy a mobile home and head off to explore America.

First stop is Las Vegas, where they have a bit of fun until Albert goes to bed and Julie decides that a little more roulette will be great fun. Well, the scene ends with one of the classic lines as Hegarty eventually confesses to him, "Honey, I've lost the nest egg."

We haven't lost the nest egg, but some of the straw seems quite loose.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day Six: Lessons Learned

That picture is actually from the drive here to Colusa the day before, but the 102 temperature posted in the rear-view mirror will give you an idea of what it's like here. And no, Jaki does not have a terminator-like chip in the middle of her forehead. It's just the angle I was shooting at.

Yesterday was a great day to do what we did - not much. We sat in the shade, went for an occasional dip in the pool and had a beer or two in the afternoon. Then in the evening we abandoned all pretense of being on diets and had fantastic ribs, baked stuffed potatoes, slices of the sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten (grown, of course, on site) and fresh sourdough. Dessert was a warm peach cobbler Jaki made, with vanilla ice cream. I don't usually eat desserts. I did last night.

The good news is that LK and I have been able to repay our extremely generous hosts with some knowledge they did not have before.

First, we taught them that one of the surest tests of whether someone has had too much to drink is to say "Kennedy". (OK, we had to spell it for them at the time.) For some reason, after a certain point in the evening, it starts sounding like it lost its middle consonants -- "Keh-eh-ee". Throughout the various evenings we were able to put our theory to the test, and I now believe that long after we have flown the coop there will be nights in Colusa where people sitting around will be valiantly trying to say Kennedy.

And secondly, we explained to them that Jaki's last name - Roady - is actually a phrase in Australia, although I would guess it's spelled roadie. It means nightcap, as in "one for the road". So when the night is winding down, someone inevitably will ask "Roadie anyone?" Robert immediately seized on the phrase. I won't tell you where it went from there.

I got some education of my own yesterday. Robert brought me to the Toy Box and showed me how to use an electric saw. He tells me it's safer than a chain saw, but you can still cut your toes off. LK came out to the room and stood there scowling. It's probably another tool I will never use.

Picking up a rental car in Sacramento this morning, and on the road to Reno.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lazy Days

It's been a hot, lazy day with Robert and Jaki here in Colusa. I will post about it tomorrow, but I've just uploaded two sets of photos and I thought I would write this post so anyone who is interested can check them out.

First, Jaki has an amazing, world-class garden, and Robert has added a small English garden on one side and a small Japanese garden on the other. Unbelievable stuff - especially when you consider that this area has been running at about 100F all summer and gets virtually no rain. The pictures can be seen here.

Second, Robert is to handyman as Don is to klutz. He has a garage he calls the Toy Box, and I think there are hardware stores that have fewer tools than he does. I could not believe it so I took some pictures to show you. They're here.

And I will tell you the range of tools he has. The screw came out of my reading glasses, and I guilt-tripped him into fixing them for me. I knew he would have a micro-small screwdriver, which of course he did - both straight and phillips head. But the screw was so extremely tiny that he then went into the Toy Box and brought out a little square device that magnetizes the screw driver so you can put the screw in the hole. And when you're done, it demagnetizes it.

And to think I couldn't take the toaster apart!

Day Five: In Which I Open My Big Mouth

Yesterday I discovered the limits of how long I am willing to stand on the sidewalk in the sun waiting while Linda wanders shops.

We had checked out of MacArthur Place and popped over to the town square in Sonoma to check out the shops. You know times are tough. It is the middle of the summer holiday season on a beautiful day in one of the most popular tourist towns. We parked easily and wandered around the square with only a smattering of other people in sight.

Anyhow, my limit is about an hour. But that may be an artificial number because Robert was standing with me and we were having a good old yarn. By myself, it may be closer to 20 minutes.

I discovered the time limit when Linda started to go into yet one more store selling things she really didn't need. "Oh come on," I snapped. No sooner had I said it than I realized it was not a cool thing to do - especially with someone who has been awake several hours every night while you are sound asleep next to her.

And she stopped, looked nicely at me and quickly said, "OK" in the most pleasant voice. A chill went up my spine.

We crossed at the street corner, and Jaki led LK off to another shop. A sisterly solidarity sort thing I think. You know. No man is going to tell us women when we can and cannot shop. I was in deep doodoo. Fortunately, I figured out a way to save the day.

When they came out, I suggested that the women can take their time shopping but us guys were going to go have a beer. That suited Robert, who had noticed an pub with Guinness on top, and it suited the women who promptly walked back across the street to the store Linda had not entered when I piped up.

And I have learned my lesson and will never again open my mouth like that.

After all the Sonoma shopping and drinking was done, we piled into the Hummer and made our way up to the Napa Valley and into St Helena, where we stopped at Taylor's Refresher for lunch. This is a drive-in built in 1949 that looks pretty much like every other post-war drive-in. Jaki and Robert hadn't ever eaten there, but it had featured in the show, Drive-ins, Diners and Dives, and she thought it would be fun to stop.

We had a pretty good idea it would be worth the stop because the line was about 15 deep to put in orders. Turns out the place has changed hands in recent years, and the new owners have turned it into a gourmet drive-in. Sure, they had burgers, but we all ended up with the seafood options which looked so interesting. LK and I had ahi burgers with wasabi (Big Yumm), Jaki and fish and chips, which was mahi mahi not your old whatever bait didn't get used on the boat fish, and Robert had fish tacos. Add in chili sweet potato chips and battered onion rings. Super good lunch.

If you're within 50 miles, go there.

Then on to Colusa and Jaki and Robert's house. Their backyard is one of the most beautiful gardens you will ever find. I will take some pics and include them tomorrow. Maybe make a Shutterfly page if I am really energetic (which has not been the case so far this trip). And if I do the camera thing properly, I will also show you Robert's rather amazing collection of tools. So many things. So few that I can use.

We had a lovely evening sitting around the backyard talking. Well, three of us were talking and Jaki was frantically getting water into all the plants that had not done so well under the care of a teenaged neighbor while they were away. As evening fell, a swarm of dragonflies above the roof seemed to be taking care of any mosquitoes for us, and hummingbirds keep popping onto the birdfeeders Jaki has hung.

It will probably go near 100 today (in centigrade, that's "very hot") so poolside and relaxed sounds like a good idea.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day Four: California Drinking on Such a Summer's Day

Some days just start out well and get better from there. Yesterday may have been one of the most perfect days we've had.

Jaki booked a car and driver to take us around to do wine tastings. Or to be precise, as Robert said, wine drinkings. The agenda was to visit smallish boutique wineries, rather than the big names you can find in the bottle shops. So at 10:30 in the morning here we all are at VJB wineries sampling six of their best.

I thought I had tried everything, but this winemaker started us out with a tocai, which was a pretty interesting variety I had never tried. It's related to the Hungarian tokay, but this is a dry white compared to the Hungarian sweet wine. Having a Hummer that is already jammed full of luggage - and being the first winery of the day - didn't stop us from buying a couple of bottles.

And off we went to a couple of more wineries. We liked the small range at Audelssa, but Robert and Jaki thought it was a bit too green. We were the only people in the shop, and it looked like it was going to be a long Monday for him, so the guy behind the counter started getting creative with the pricing. With 40% discounts, LK and I snatched a few more bottles for our road trip.

Then it was off to Eric Ross winery, which has adopted a poultry theme. Struttin' Red is their blend, The Rooster Club is their loyalty program, and you can see the statue that guards their front door. The group call this picture Don & The Big Pecker.

I assume it was Eric Ross running the counter, but I'm not sure. Whoever it was, he was one of the funniest people I've run into in a long time. His wife or partner showed up and sent him on some errands at the end, and it was pretty obvious that she was the one who ran the tasting room and he was just the warm-up act.

Anyhow, this will show you what a great day it was. After we tasted their wines, we all ordered some sandwiches from a nearby deli and John, our driver, went off to get them. Linda and Jaki walked across the road to check out some shops, but Robert and I stayed behind and sat on some wicker chairs in the shade in front of the tasting room. After a while, the woman from the tasting room came out and told us we looked like we needed a glass of wine, asked us what kind we wanted and came back with a full glass so we could sit and relax. Amazing.

When the car returned we went to Ceja, a winery that was the first to be started by Mexican Americans. It's definitely still a family operation, and their son and daughter took turns telling us about the wines they were pouring. They were both very good, but the son was a character. Turns out he had majored in drama in college, and you could tell that he had his part down well. Very funny kid.

They had some really good wines, especially a rose that was perfect for a warm summer day and a picnic. So we bought that - and some other bottles, of course - went outside the tasting room to some tables they had set up and had a picnic lunch under the umbrella.

The final winery of the day was Gundlach Bundschu, an older winery established by Germans (if the name hadn't already given it away). This one turned out to be a disappointment. For the first time all day the tasting room was busy, the person behind the counter was brusque and distracted, and frankly the wines weren't as good as the ones we had been drinking all day. So we snapped a picture by the pond (the one at the top of this), jumped into the car and headed home.

I should add that the weather was absolutely perfect. It was warm without being hot, and there was a very gentle breeze almost all the time. We got to taste some really good wines and the company was great. And then we are told that this was a gift to us.

This vacation is starting out on a very high note.

Day Three: Hot in Sonoma

This is actually a story from Day Two. I hadn't included it in that post for what should be obvious reasons, but since it became a recurring theme on the next day I am backtracking.

For 25 years, LK and I have valiantly fought to have the last punchline in any slanging match. So I thought I had won when we were having a chat before dinner. As you do when at least one person has trouble reading the menu, you end up talking about how eyesight gets worse as you get older.

I was saying how my reading was pretty good and I didn't need glasses until about two years ago. I made the mistake of adding, "But I guess no one can avoid having their eyes start to dry out and change focus."

To which my loving bride quickly added, "And that's not all that's drying out."

As our friends laughed, I came back with my counterthrust, "I know. First my eyes, next my wife."

Thrust. Counterthrust. I assumed I had won.

Of course, I was not considering that there is no time limit on when the other person can come back over the top to reclaim the prize. So it was back at our hotel having a nightcap when LK struck.

Jaki ran a flower business and was heavy into the design and decoration side of it. She was telling us about some of the creations they had put together for funerals - floral fields with airplanes flying overhead, and such.

LK thought and said, "When Don goes I think I will have them make a giant martini glass, and I will have him in it with a pimento in his mouth and a toothpick holding him in place."

I pointed out they didn't make toothpicks big enough, and she said, "Well, we can always use a garden umbrella."

And all day yesterday, whenever we went past an umbrella - and eventually this grew to include flagpoles - my wife and friends debated the merits of whether they would suit to hold me in place. Frankly, I do not quite get the humor of this all, but those three seem to think it's hysterical.

Anyhow, we arrived in Sonoma after a short drive from San Francisco, and it was like we had travelled hours. When we got out of the car (and it's a Hummer, so car is quite an insult), the temperature was in the high 90s and all those complaints about cool San Francisco evaporated.

It was after noon when we got here. We stopped off at a place and tasted some wines that won't win any awards and wandered around the gift shops they had attached. Then to the town square of Sonoma, which was chock full on a Sunday afternoon.

We found a place to park the Hummer - and I am glad it isn't me parking that monster - and went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. Fantastic food, and the type of Mexican flavors that just don't make it across the Pacific to Sydney.

Then some wine tasting at Sebastiani winery. Some of their stuff was quite nice. I really liked the Alexander Valley cabernet. Jaki and Robert also like the blends.

Then time to check in at Macarthur Place. Beautiful, big rooms and really nice grounds. By then LK needed a nap to make up for her lack of sleep the night before, so I went to Jaki and Robert's room and we opened the cooler and had drinks. At 5, the place had a wine and cheese tasting, which was really just a full glass of wine refilled a couple of times and all the cheese you wanted. No pretense at "tasting".

Then we went back and woke up LK. After all it was cocktail hour, and she was falling seriously behind. And we turned the TV on because one of their friends is a pit crew boss for one of the leading dragsters, and ESPN was showing the Seattle races.

We got to learn a lot about drag racing, which was truly unexpected knowledge.

As you can imagine, after the heat and the lazy afternoon we went to the restaurant on the grounds here. Good food, followed by a complete lack of any more energy. I even found myself turning down Robert's invitation of a nightcap. Bed looked too inviting, and when I lay down it proved to be every bit as comfortable as I had hoped.

Today is an all-out assault on visiting wineries. Jaki and Robert have arranged for a limo, so we can skip that spitting-the-wine-out bit if we want to.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day Two: Feet Don't Fail Me Now

Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible.

Those were Walter Cronkite's words, and it seemed kind of nice to use them while so many of us are thinking about his great achievements this weekend. While I may not be quite as romantic as Cronkite, this really is a great city, although I am still biased in favor of Sydney.

Yesterday started poorly for LK, whose little toe had a blood blister roughly the size of - oh - her little toe. Doctor Don to the rescue. I soaked a pin in vodka, as you would expect, and gave her a quick jab to let some of the pressure off. It probably didn't really help much, but it made me feel useful. Three band-aids and cotton socks, and LK was off to tough it out.

We took a cable car to Union Square. It was going on noon and Robert and I decided to have a beer while Linda and Jaki attacked Macy's and London Sole. I think Robert and I got the best of it because we were sitting out in the Square on a beautiful day watching the very interesting people who make up this city.

When the women returned, I did notice, however, that LK was able to try on and buy a new pair of shoes, so perhaps Doctor Don had helped her toe. Or perhaps the chance to buy a pair of shoes from her favorite shoe store was the true healing power. We will never know.

We got to show Robert and Jaki a deli-style restaurant we usually visit when we're here, and after sandwiches that would feed a family of four with leftovers, we all decided to grab a taxi back and have an hour or two to rest before the evening.

In other words, the twin themes of eating and sleeping and eating some more before sleeping again were still in play.

I cannot remember who said it, but last night proved the old line about spending a beautiful winter's day in San Francisco one July. The temperature was in the 50s (maybe 11 or 12C for my metric people), but with a strong wind and fog setting in, it was a very cold 6- or 7-block walk to the restaurant. And a really cold walk back.

Linda and I had debated whether we needed to bring sweaters and stuff since this trip is happening in the heart of summer. Thank God she prevailed.

Anyhow, lots more laughs, more food and complete exhaustion by the time we got back to our room at 11. For me complete exhaustion meant I went to bed and fell fast asleep for the night. For Linda, complete exhaustion meant she stayed awake until 4am. I didn't even know she had the lights on reading for a couple of hours.

Today we're leaving our hearts in San Francisco and taking the rest of our body up to the Napa wine country. We will be staying in Sonoma at Macarthur Place. Looks to be very special.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day One: San Francisco Opens Its Golden Gates

This following program is dedicated to the city and people of
San Francisco, who may not know it but they are beautiful and so
is their city.

This is a very personal song, so if the viewer
cannot understand it, particularly those of you who are European
residents, save up all your bread and fly Trans Love Airways to
San Francisco U.S.A., then maybe you'll understand the song.

It will be worth it, if not for the sake of this song but for the sake of your own peace of mind.

The Animals
Intro to San Francisco Nights


Well, we couldn't get tickets on Trans Love Airways, so we had to fly United, but we got here anyways. We have now been here 24 hours, and I am still waiting for a noticeable difference in my peace of mind. But maybe that's because I was pretty peaceful-of-mind when we left Sydney.

I can add, though, that San Francisco is indeed beautiful. Some of the people here are, as well, but I am not quite as quick with the compliments as The Animals were.

Our friends Jaki and Robert were waiting at the airport for us when we landed and within minutes we were laughing. It is really great to connect so well with people and enjoy them so much. We are spending five more days together (2 in the Napa Valley wine region and 2 at their house), so we'll see how we're getting along after that.

My concern is that I have had marriages that couldn't handle six straight days with me, and I really hope that doesn't happen with Robert and Jaki. Since they went out in advance of our arrival and bought a half-gallon jug of Johnny Walker Black for LK and Ketel Two vodka for me, I can assure you it isn't likely to happen on our side.

We brought them Akubras, those classic Australian bush hats. I don't know if either of them is a cowboy hat sort of person but we wanted to bring something that was sheer Aussie as a gift. Frankly, though, I think Robert would be much more likely to wear a green-and-gold motorcycle helmet that plays the Australian anthem. We'll see.

Yesterday was pretty much an eat and sleep day. After we checked into the hotel at Fisherman's Wharf, we tested the booze to make sure it hadn't gone past its use-by date, and then we walked down for lunch at a place on the water . Crab and shrimp sandwich with mayo and horseradish. Yummm.

The walk back was probably a mistake because LK wasn't wearing walking shoes and got a blister on her toe. Injured and jet-lagged, she crashed for a nap. I forced her to wake up at 6:15. And at 6:30, 6:40, 6:50 and 7:00. She finally got out of what I think may be the deepest sleep you can get without using the drugs Michael Jackson used.

After a shower, we met up with Robert and Jaki again and walked a restaurant. Linda had black cod on udon noodles and edamame. Robert and Jaki had Alaskan halibut wrapped in paper-thin pastry crust covered with sauce. I had ahi tuna grilled rare, served with wasabi and a nori roll. Yumm. Yumm.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, went to the bar for a nightcap. Realized we were too tired and full to really want one and went back to our rooms. Major crash into bed. Deep sleeps for LK and me, and late rise this morning.

As I said, a simple first day to our adventure. Mostly eat, drink, laugh and sleep. Not a bad way to start the trip.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Taking Flight

We're off.

We are flying to California today. This is a state where democracy rules.The people once chose to be governed by the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan and have now voted to be governed by the B-movie Austrian actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. And yet they seem to be completely baffled about why the state keeps getting into all sorts of messes.

We will be in San Francisco for a few days, then the Napa wine region. Finally we will be in Colusa at our friends Robert and Jaki's place. From there we begin a long driving holiday through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and other places we have never been.

Toward the end we end up at Devil's Tower, that great landmark from Close Encounters. I have already found myself building mounds with my mashed potatoes.

Having had six months to prepare for the trip, we awoke this morning realizing we had lots to do. We are now trying to frantically finish everything in the four hours we have before we must leave. So I'm signing off.

Next post - from the USA.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TV or Not TV

Dear Caroline,

Sorry this is getting dragged out, but life has been hectic as we plan for tomorrow's departure.

Today I had to go to the bank and cash in all the change we save for holidays. I can now tell you what it does to your shoulder to carry a bag with $700 worth of coins.

Then I had to spend almost that much getting two months worth of prescriptions. And then I had to get a special kind of light bulb for the bathroom so you can see yourself in the mirror. It's in the heat lamp/exhaust fan and I should warn you that the plastic white case fell out, and I am not sure if it is going to stay put. So don't be too startled if you're brushing your teeth and a white piece of plastic conks you on your hear.

Oh, and if it falls off again, don't look inside because there are dust things in there that I couldn't reach and you won't want to look at them because it would be very spooky if they started looking back.

Anyhow, after all that I had to work on the final part of that work project I have been doing. You can understand I was not happy when it cut into cocktail hour by 50 minutes. But don't worry. I am remedying that as I write this.

So, what else do you need to know about as you house sit? Well, the one thing you will not figure out by yourself is how to run the TV and DVD player in the lounge room. I know I showed it to you last week, but I also know no one can retain everything I said.

It's all complicated because I bought the TV from a friend of Stan at Lee's Fortuna Court. I think it was legal, but I didn't ask. Anyhow, the TV didn't come with speakers built in so here's what you have to do if you want to switch from watching TV to watching a DVD.

Take the NEC remote control and push Video 3.
Take the Yamaha remote control and push VCR (I know there's a DVD button, but I didn't connect it to work that way. Of course.)
Use the LG remote to run the DVD. (Only it won't control the sound.)
The only way you can control sound while watching a DVD is using the volume buttons on the Yamaha.

To go back to TV.
NEC push Video 2.
Yamaha push TV.
You can use the Yamaha or the Foxtel to control volume.

Or you can go upstairs and watch a DVD on that TV. Turn it on. Push AV and cycle through the AV options to get to the DVD player.

While we are on the subject, you can record things on the downstairs TV but not the upstairs TV. To record, push the R on the Foxtel.

And downstairs (but not upstairs) you can watch On Demand movies. We get two each month as part of our package, so please do it. (And we haven't used any in July yet so go for it.)

Well, my glass is empty so I am ending this. Tomorrow when you come here, there will be a shaker full of vodka martinis in the freezer. Olives in the fridge. Enjoy. And thanks for helping us out as we have the vacation of a lifetime.



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kitchen Patrol

Dear Caroline,

Sorry I couldn't finish yesterday's letter but Davy and Jeff came by for dinner. Throughout the day, LK told me she felt mean because she didn't feel she was cooking enough for everyone. So last night she only roasted two chickens for the four of us.

Judging by the mashed potatoes I put in the fridge at the end of the night, I suspect she cooked seven or eight. And there was plenty of zucchini, green salad and peas left for today's lunch. I am starting to think my physique may be a testament to Linda's sense of portion control.

Anyhow, since I am talking about the kitchen, - and speaking of portion control - these are the things you need to know while you are house sitting. First, you will find two sets of carving knives in the corner to the right of the sink. If these aren't enough, there is another set in the cupboard by the clothes dryer.

There are wine glasses in the cupboard on the left, as well as the cupboard on the right. And there are lots of wine glasses in the cupboard in the hallway. The cupboard on the left also has plates. If you don't like that pattern, there are three sets in the cupboard in the hallway. Or you could use one of the three sets in the hutch in the dining room.

If you need a collander, there are two that LK leaves out by the sink, but there are five more in the right-hand cupboard of the island next to the table. Right next to those are about 10 cheese graters. These come in really handy when you need to grate a dozen different varieties of cheese for a dish.

I know LK tried to teach you the order of the utensils in the drawers to the right of the oven. There is a section for big spoons, a section for slotted spoons, one for peelers, one for things that pick, one for things you use for garlic and several others. Don't worry about getting it right. I haven't after 25 years, and it gives her something to say to me when I put the lemon juicer thing next to the pickle picker.

I will add that if her system makes sense to you, you should not let me know because I will never let the two of you alone together again.

Oh, I should add that there are some useful things in their little sections far in the back of the drawer, so don't give up hunting for whatever you need. Chances are if it exists, it's somewhere in Linda's kitchen.

The garbage bags and storage bags are in the third drawer, and there are at least three more of everything in the laundry room cupboards.

The cleaning stuff is under the sink. I think there's two or three of everything, except perhaps for the dishwashing liquid which is the only one you will probably want. I showed you how to start the dishwasher, but remember that the bottom rack is broken and you have to put a dish in the front to balance the ones in the back or it kind of flips up.

Oh, and one other thing about the kitchen. The toaster is under the knife rack. It works perfectly if you want your toast brown on both sides, but it's not very good anymore if you want one-side-soft toast.

I have to get back to the work project I foolishly ageed to do. So tomorrow I will cover off the rest of the house.



Monday, July 13, 2009

Household Advice

This work project I agreed to is turning out to be like work. I've been so busy getting it done before we head off on our dream trip that I haven't had time to blog, haven't had time to work out. Well, OK, I could have made time by pushing back the start of cocktail hour, but frankly that was never going to happen. After all that hard work, I needed my reward.

Anyhow, starting Friday Caroline is going to be staying here house sitting for us while we holiday, and I promised her a list of things she needs to know about the house. She called it her Swapping Wives letter, and I had the good sense not to ask what that meant.

Given that time is running short, I figured I would just make that letter to her my blog so I at least get one in today. So here goes.

Dear Caroline,

Thank you so very, very much for house sitting while we wander around the world for two months.

I promised you information on how to cope with our house, and this is it.

But first, I need a little help. We probably have not remembered to notify everyone we get a bill from to email us, so you should open any mail we get and send us an email if we need to make a payment. I would ask only one thing. If any bills come from, when you send them to my email address, please change the bill's name to since LK will be sharing the same inbox. Thx

As you may remember, we recommended you sleep upstairs. That's partly because the floor by the front wall in the guest bedroom is unstable because the joist isn't supporting it. And I've been far too busy in the past seven months to arrange to have it fixed. But it's also because the bedroom upstairs is much nicer.

One thing to remember, though. It has a very high bed. Linda loves it - thinks of herself as the princess and the pea. I think of it as a potential broken ankle. If you have trouble getting into it, I have found that falling on it and rolling around like a walrus will help you get on eventually. You don't need to clap your arms, by the way.

As you probably recall, there are no lights working in the hanging light over the stairwell because we haven't been able to figure out how you can get to it, hanging out there in the middle 25 feet above nothing but hard wood. I think I am onto a tool that will help, but it will be much too late to help you, so hold onto the railing.

The Wii is upstairs, and you're welcome to use it. I have password protected my personal weight and BMI history in Wii Fit because I don't want you to find out that I am overweight. If you practice the bowling in Wii Sports, we might let you join us in a Sunday tournament. But if you beat me as Shirley did last week, you won't get invited back.

I've told the neighbors you're staying while we're away, and you should feel free to go to them if you need help with anything. Kevin and Fiona are on the south side (toward the water) and Andreas and Mrs Andreas Whose Name I Cannot Recall live on the other side. Kevin and Fiona have a small dog that would look cute in a silent film. But you will get to know him well. We call him Little Yappy, although Kevin and Fiona use another name. Ours is the right one.

As you may recall, the house is pretty well stocked with many supplies. There are about 75 rolls of toilet paper. If you start to run out before we are back in eight weeks, I would strongly recommend that you skip the Indian curries for a while. There are probably a dozen rolls of paper towels, nine or 10 boxes of cat food, several bags of cat litter and four or five bottles of Johnny Walker Black. Plenty of sparkling wine in the garage fridge and a rack of cheap red wine that I am happy to share with anyone willing to try it.

Oh dear, I've rabbitted on and have to go because we have friends coming over for dinner. I still haven't written about the practical things like how you need four remote control devices if you want to watch a DVD. Guess there will be part 2 tomorrow.


Friday, July 10, 2009

The Blog of Knowledge

Today is science and research day. Since I am the one with time on my hands and the rest of you are all pretty busy, I thought I would catch you up on some of the latest findings.

The first apple to fall on this little Newton's head this week comes from a couple of Australian researchers who have discovered that tall people make more money than short people. Talking about his study published in The Economic Record called "Does Size Matter in Australia?", Professor Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University said, "Our estimates suggest that if the average man of about 178 centimetres gains an additional five centimetres in height, he would be able to earn an extra $950 per year."

Let me translate for the Yanks. "If a 5-foot-10 guy grows to 6-feet, he could make another $740 a year."

Of course, the reverse will also be true. In these challenging economic times, when businesses are desperate to control costs, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover companies that have ended up hiring only short people because they can pay them less. And of course, the bosses will look even taller in comparison so they will make even more money.

(And no, the researcher never did get around to explaining how a worker is supposed to be able to grow another 5 centimetres. That's probably the subject of another grant they're seeking.)

The study started out to discover if fat people made less, and it turns out they don't. Which may be because there are so many overweight people now they pretty much constitute most of the work force.

That's fairly good news because the real rub with all of this is that worrying about how much you're making is likely to make you overweight. In a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, a Harvard researcher named Jason Block has discovered that fat people tend to overeat when they're stressed. Jason studied 1355 people for nine years. I think he probably could have discovered the same information by asking three or four fat people at the diner this morning if they ate more or less when they were nervous.

This new research is especially interesting to me because for six months now my WiiFit trainer has been telling me that stress leads to obesity so I am not sure how groundbreaking the discovery really is. And for the sake of Harvard's integrity, I really hope Jason doesn't have a Wii at home.

And our final study today is one conducted in Scandinavia that discovered that people who have long marriages tend to stave off dementia better than those who live alone.

This one, however, may be in dispute. At least that's the case if you listen to Brian Kilmeade the host of Fox News' morning show, Fox and Friends. He complained that the study isn't relevant outside of Finland and Sweden, because ... well, I think it would be best to use his actual words:

"We keep marrying other species and other ethnics. . . . The problem is the Swedes have pure genes. They marry other Swedes, that's the rule. Finns marry other Finns; they have a pure society. In America we marry everybody. We will marry Italians and Irish."

I don't think there's much to say after that. But it's worth clicking on the link to check it out yourself. As one of his co-hosts mused, Brian seemed to be showing the early signs of dementia himself.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

All The News

The New York Times - you remember, the one that prints all that news that's fit - has clearly picked up the slack in the news business today as most other reporting resources seemed to be poured into covering Michael Jackson's memorial.

Now, I'm not putting down all the coverage. It's important to know about the matching suits and ties and single sequined white gloves worn by the guys who, I assume, will now be called The Jackson Four when they go on the oldies circuit.

And it's always newsworthy when Maya Angelou writes another poem, even though I think with lines like this it may not have been her best effort:

We are missing Michael Jackson
But we do know we had him
And we are the world

But enough of that. Despite wall-to-wall memorial coverage, there were other things going on in the world. Missiles in Korea. Riots in Tehran and Tegucigalpa. Obama and Putin reducing nuclear weapons. Sarah Palin fishing.

And yes, those stories were in the Times today. But I want to catch you up on the big news reported by the Times today - and it's news that you probably didn't see if you were locked into those networks obsessed with the memorial.

It seems that porno films do not have much of a plot anymore.

That's right. In a story in the Media section, the Times' Matt Richtel goes in search of a Pulitzer for investigative journalism by uncovering the fact that porn movies are short on dialogue and long on action. Well actually, not that long. It appears that the movies are now being filmed in short segments that can be viewed on the Internet.

In a pretty good example of saying something without actually using the words, Steven Hirsch, an executive at one of the porn production companies says, "On the Internet, the average attention span is three to five minutes. We have to cater to that."

The intrepid journalist even discovered an unhappy star, Savanna Samson, who bemoans the fact that there's not much script any more. "I used to have dialogue," she says, and complains that just having one sex scene after another just isn't that much fun.

But my favorite bit of news out of the report is that in place of plots, at least one studio is substituting themes. As the report states: "Among the new releases from New Sensations, a studio that makes 24 movies a month, is “Girls ’n Glasses,” made up of scenes of women having sex while wearing glasses."

Which more or less brings this post back to the beginning. I think I am going to try to supplement my pension by submitting a proposal to New Sensations for a movie made up of scenes of people having sex while wearing one sequined glove. We'll call it a tribute and charge twice as much.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Heigh-ho! Silver!

The seventh day of the seventh month turned out to be exceptionally lucky for me. Twenty-five years ago today I married Linda.

It has been a fantastic quarter century, and I cannot believe my extreme good fortune in finding such a beautiful, loving, interesting and funny woman who would actually put up with me for this long. It has been a sharing relationship, in which Linda has taught me the long-term investment value of fine jewelry, the benefits of buying good shoes and to not wear certain color combinations. I have taught her all my bad habits.

I think our long love affair can be explained by three conversations. The first happened 26 years ago. In the midst of falling madly in love, we had moved to the point where we started thinking of living together.

I told Linda I had failed at two marriages, and as much as I loved her I didn't think it would be such a hot idea to get married a third time. "What do you think?" I asked.

She thought for about two seconds. "No, I want to get married," she said.

"OK," I said. That settled that. And pretty much established the decision-making structure that would serve us so well over the next 25 years.

The second conversation happened on the afternoon of our wedding. Our great friends Walt and Terry stood up with us - and in fact we got married in their house. Twenty-five years later, I still remember Terry, whom I love dearly, saying to me after the vows, "Listen, buster. This one sticks. I've never been in someone's wedding where it didn't last. So you're not walking away from this one."

I won't say I was intimidated, but the fact that I still recall it 25 years later probably says it all.

And the final conversation was this morning, our silver anniversary. The first words my darling said to me: "Donald, can you turn over. You're snoring really loudly."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bowling with the Stars

I see where Madonna has chosen to honor Michael Jackson's memory by having someone dressed like him dance at her performance. And she and her dancers will all wear a single white glove to honor him during her finale.

That's nice.

I guess each of us has to find their own way to honor Michael. Since LK and I have only certain things we do that have great meaning in our life we decided to take a clue from Madonna and honor Michael, as well.

So we had him bowl with us on the Wii during our regular Sunday afternoon matches.

But since it seemed a bit odd to have Michael Jackson bowling against Bampy and Armagh, we figured we needed another late rock star. So we decided that the King (who would have been Michael's father-in-law had he survived) would bowl against the King of Pop.

But then we invited Shirl to come over, and we felt she needed to choose someone who's now singing with the band in heaven. She chose Karen Carpenter.

So last night we had a bowling match where LK bowled for Michael, I bowled for Elvis and Shirl bowled for Karen. Perhaps it was just LK's competitiveness, or perhaps Michael was moonwalking on the lanes in heaven, but he easily beat Elvis in the first two games. Unfortunately, Shirl had some troubles figuring out where to stand and how to "throw" the ball on the Wii, and most of Karen's efforts looked -- well, they looked anemic, which was probably appropriate.

Anyhow, in the third and final game Michael started missing spares, and Elvis looked set for his first win. But, in an upset that would have drug inspectors taking samples, Karen suddenly learned how to throw strikes and squeezed a 5-pin win in the 10th frame.

So, in the first Dead Rock Star Memorial Tournament, the results are: Michael 2, Karen 1, and - sadly - Elvis 0. But I'll say it anyways. "Thank you, ma'am."