Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kids, video games and the agony of inevitable defeat

Do you remember growing up and that your parents were the authority of everything and could help you do anything and had the answers to all of your questions? Do remember playing video games? Do you remember that moment in your life you could beat your parents at video games? I remember getting an Atari 2600 (ok, this fact makes me old) and playing it with my parents. Of course, I played it A LOT. So much so there came a point in time where I could beat my parents every time. It was at that point they no longer wanted to play as much....I never figure it out back then.

We recently purchased Mario Kart for our Wii system. M. doesn't play it as much as A. simply because she hasn't developed her hand-to-eye coordination like A. has. But, A. wants to play Mario Kart ALL the time...so much so that we actually limit her time. Saying all that, A. is actually better than Dianna and I'm afraid she will very soon surpass my Mario Kart skillz......

Monday, August 25, 2008

The first day of school for A.

Today, was A's first day of school. Do you remember your first day of school? I do. At the time I was living in Bremerton, Washington (my dad was still in the Navy). I remember walking to kindergarten with my mom. I don't I have too many memories from that year. Our family moved at the end of that year to New Mexico. I was happy to leave Bremerton...for the simple fact that it rained practically every day. It wasn't a lot of rain but, it really rained just about everyday. That is a big deal as a kid because if it is raining that means your are stuck inside.

Back to A's first day of school....she was very excited and had not one iota of visible fear. She did pause as she peered into her classroom for the first time. I could only wonder what was she thinking as she was about to enter into her next stage in life. Only she knows...

Time just flies by.....it amazes me. I am the only who feels the older I get the faster the world moves around me, especially "my" world?

It seems like just yesterday A. was born and, before I know it, she will be graduating from high school.

Today was a good day. One of those days where everything is right. One of those days I wish I could slow time down....here's partially why...

I talked to Dianna after she picked A. up from her first day..... A. told her "today was the best of my life!" Wow, such enthusiasm.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movie Review - The Ruins - 21

Just so you know my reviews are not your typical reviews with a complete synopsis.....they are just my "take."

The Ruins - ok, I tried to read this Scott Smith book and bailed about 1/3 of the way through...it just wasn't that interesting of a read. I rented the DVD and this was even less interesting than the book. At least the book took the time to develop the characters and establish their relationships in the beginning. The movie, in which Scott Smith wrote the screenplay, has almost no character development, whatsoever. Scott Smith expects the moviegoer to believe that a group of American vacationers have a random encounter with a foreigner while in Mexico one day who then invites them to look for his friends missing brother who has yet to return from an archaeological dig. The lead up to most scenes and the scene transitions are poor attempts at film making. It is hard to believe this movie was funded...I'm sure they tried to bank on Scot Smith's success with the late 90's hit "A Simple Plan." Here's a simple plan, skip this movie, unless you're getting paid to watch it.

21 - This movie was based on the novel "Bringing Down the House," which is a very loose portrayal of the M.I.T. blackjack team. Although the book and the movie have been significantly fictionalized for Hollywood purposes, they are both very entertaining. The book itself was a very fast read (I finished it in 2 sessions about 4-5 years ago). Kevin Spacey is well cast as the Hollywoodized MIT faculty member who organizes, bankrolls and leads the on-screen team. When watching casino heist movies I always find myself rooting for the bad guys (the bad guys being the robbers, not the casinos)....consider the MIT team the heisters who try to take the casino's money without breaking the law. FYI....the casino backroom beatdown scene is complete fiction but, it does build the antagonism of the casino. I had high expections for this movie and they were exceeded.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vacation blues & working out

Yesterday was my second full day since the vacation and I am reminiscing constantly about the vacation. Does anyone ever get back from vacation and say to themselves, "this day last week I was doing this" ???? I do.

Well, it was time to get back into my regular workout routine. The last time I went to the gym was July 24th...3 weeks. I knew it was going to hurt....and, it did, especially my rowing. I was surprised how much aerobic endurance I lost in 3 weeks. I always row 10,000 meters....2,000 meters in I was ready to bail but, I went the distance. My heart rate peaked way to early (avghigh 175, with a max 190 during my final sprint). I finished with a terrible time of 43 minutes, 33 seconds. Prior to vacation I was sub 40:30. But, I also did some resistance training prior to my cardio today. I like cardio....and, in a strange way, I don't mind the pain associated with endurance exercise. I view this pain as a challenge....me vs. myself, can I win? Today I did.

Monday's goal is a sub 43 minute 10K row.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 14 - drive home and random vacation thoughts

The last day of our vacation, now, back to the real world. We had to a make few extra pit stops on the way back but, we made good time and arrived home safe. Thanks to Robert & Jessica for house sitting. Everything was in perfect order when we arrived.

This was an awesome experience for our family. I grew up taking road trips with my parents and, I have very fond memories of those trips. I hope the girls will one day feel the same way. And, it was great to spend so much time with my girls.

If you are taking a trip to southern California I highly recommend the CityPass. Be sure to save even more by purchasing it from Costco. Next time, I would spend more time at the beach as well as Hollywood (if you don't have young kids with you).

Random California Observations
1) Dallas/Fort Worth drivers are much worse than California drivers
2) Hardly anyone drives a truck
3) Every food establishment posts their inspection score in the front window, at least the places we ate at.
4) San Diego is a more relaxing experience than LA
5) 3 days at Disney is a lot, 2 days maybe better
6) Save money at Disney by taking in your own food
7) It's almost impossible to visit more than one S. California attraction each day
8) Trader Joe's and In-n-Out are always very accessible
9) Getting used to Pacific time was easy....

Things we need to do next time in California
1) More beach time, we will visit La Jolla beach as well as Malibu
2) More time in Hollywood
3) Skip Universal Studios
4) Skip Sea World, we go to the one in San Antonio often
5) Eat at Pizza Nova again
6) Try Tony's Jacal in Solana Beach
7) Visit Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia
8) Stay in Sedona, Arizona, again, on the way back if we are driving
9) Did I mention more beach time?
10) We took over 800 pictures during this trip and we still feel like we should have taken more.
11) stay at least a couple of nights in the Del Mar/Solana Beach area

Day 13 - hike Bandelier, visit Santa Fe

The Hampton Inn we stayed is actually located in White Rock, NM, which is a part of Los Alamos, NM. I lived here for 6 years and attended elementary there. This is a great place to live and enjoy the outdoors. One of things I find attractive now about this is area is what I call the lack of consumerism.

We headed out to Bandelier National Monument after a quick breakfast. The trail we decided to take was the Main Loop. This is a very easy hike mostly on a 1.2 mile paved trail that goes through archaelogical sites. After yesterday's hike in Sedona the girls needed something easy. We also climbed up ladders into a few cavates. A cavate is small alcove carved out by Indians.

Dianna and the girls checking out a cavate

Here's the view looking out of a cavate

These are steep canyon walls

In the center, right you can see a petroglyph of a macaw

Nice pic of a wildflower

After the brief hike we headed into Los Alamos and grabbed a quick Subway lunch. From there we visited the Otowi Station. I love this small bookstore. It has a nice mix a books, including many related to the atomic history of Los Alamos, and science toys that the girls always enjoy looking at (and asking for). This bookstore is right next to the extremely interesting Bradbury Science Museum. This is a free attraction, too. From there we made the 30 minute trip into Santa Fe to shop at the plaza. Then, it was onto Maria's New Mexican Kitchen. This place has the best margarita anywhere. The owner actually has published The Great Margarita Book. They have over 150 different tequilas available. The margaritas vary in price from $6.50 for the 100% agave house up to the $45.00 top of the line. Of course, Dianna and I stuck with the $6.50 version. We also both had the blue corn enchilada stack. This was a traditional New Mexican style enchilada plate with the blue corn tortillas stacked instead of rolled, and we both opted to have an over-easy egg on top (this is a New Mexican thing).

I had the stack Christmas style which meant that enchiladas had red and green chile sauce. I have had these before without the egg and I think I like it better without. The rice beans and beans were very average. We were in margarita mode after taking down 4 strong margaritas between us so, we stopped at the Walgreens Drug Store on the way back to White Rock. It seems like every store in New Mexicon sells hard liquor and Walgreens was no different. What a concept...you can get juice for your meds at the same stop. They had the Jose Cuervo premixed margaritas on sale super cheap so we got some to have for our home bar. When we got back into White Rock we went to the Overlook. Even though it was dusk we still had a great view of the canyon with the Rio Grande at the bottom. I find this place to be incredibly relaxing. Growing up in White Rock I would ride my bike with friends to this spot just to hang out. I miss this part of the world. We went back to the Hampton to rest for the long drive back home the next day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 12 - hike Sedona, Arizona - drive to Los Alamos, NM

After eating breakfast and loading the car up with our suitcases we headed out for hike. In order to park anywhere of interest in Sedona one needs a Red Rock pass. They are only 5 bucks for the day pass but, it took us three stops to find somewhere that had them in stock. After much debate I decided we all should try a hike up Doe Mountain.

Trail head marker #60 - Doe Mtn Trail

The girls before the hike begins

A nice macro of a prickly pear cactus

The ascent begins

Still climbing

Some of the view going up

This trail was a bit too much for the girls. Although it was short, 0.8 miles each way, the elevation change going up was 450 ft.

The girls and I are at the top

Dianna and the girls at the top

The marker in the background would prove difficult to find later. Doe Mountain is a large mesa, with 1.5 miles worth of trails that zig-zag across
the top, providing a 360 degree view of the area. I have to admit we actually 'lost' this marker when we were ready to go back down and had to resort to the GPS I was carrying. Luckily, I had marked the top as a waypoint on the GPS unit.

Here's the payoff at the top

Another shot from the top

A couple pans from the top

Heading back down

Still coming down

Here's A. a little worried about my precarious position

Almost back at the trail head

I highly recommend this trail, just not for children under 12.

After the hike we headed toward Los Alamos, New Mexico. On the way out we we stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch and everyone enjoyed dipped cones for dessert. We also got a chance to see Oak Creek Canyon in the daytime (this is the drive we made the night before to Flagstaff).

This part of Arizona was beautiful...after seeing Sedona and the Oak Creek Canyon area we did not regret missing out on visiting the Grand Canyon. We finally arrived in Los Alamos, New Mexico around 10:15pm. We got to bed right away because we had another hike in the morning.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 11 - drive to Sedona, Arizona

It was time to leave California today. The first stop on the way out was at Trader Joe's in Riverside to pick up a couple of cases of two buck chuck wine. While there I noticed Trader Joe's has their own brand of 100% agave Tequila (reposado). So, I also grabbed a couple of bottles to try it out. We made good time until we left the freeway in Arizona to take the scenic route toward Sedona. Right before leaving California we made a pit stop in Blythe. Do not stop in this town. It is the most expensive place....gas was 40 cents higher than anywhere else in Cali...even the McDonald's food items were about 25% higher across the menu board. Side note - I hate McDonald's, in fact, we all do but, I think it is impossible to take a road trip and not eat there. They are more prevalent than Starbuck's. In fact, heading out on road trips we always pack sack lunches.

In Prescott we made our final visit to In-n-Out. I ordered a single cheeseburger and well done fries, both 'animal style.' Good stuff.

Between Prescott and Sedona the scenery was incredible. Here are some panaromics:

In the middle of all of these winding canyon roads was the town Jerome, built, literally, right into the side of the canyon. The road through this town actually consist of several switchbacks.
Here's a view of the town and some signage explaining the historical significance of the town:

As we drove into Sedona we were amazed at the beauty of red rock formations. More photos later. We made a last minute decision to make the 30 mile drive up to Flagstaff to visit the Lowell Observatory. Little did I realize that this 30 mile trip involved a drive through Oak Creek Canyon....one super winding road. And, we made this trip at night. The observatory was great and, even the girls enjoyed it. All of us got to look at Jupiter using the 24" refracting telescope. We didn't get to see the Red Dot since it was on the other side. We also had a chance to view the moon on a small 10" reflecting telescope. The observatory also had a very interesting exhibit hall. We did run out of time in the exhibits since they closed at 10pm. We then had to make the drive back to Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon. This time the drive didn't seem nearly as long.

Day 10 - Disney (day 3)

This blog is missing pictures. I will post them later.

Last day at Disney. We are now two for three in the parking garage battle. We parked on the Disney side again - it saved us a lot of walking. We had a plan this morning to go to the same place where we got our dream fast passes on the first day, which is next to Sleeping Beauty's castle. When we got there, the Disney Dream Crew was there, but they were handing out special mouse ears. Something is better than nothing. You can't buy this particular mouse hat in the stores. If we bought them, they would probably be about $13 a pop. Dianna and the girls went to see if they could catch Belle and Mulan at the Princess Faire while I went to get Fast Passes for Soarin' over California. Dianna called me to let me know that Belle left yet again while they were in line. I told her to meet me again by Sleeping Beauty's castle, and wouldn't you know it - the Dream Crew was back there handing out Dream Passes. With Dream Passes in hand, I offered up to the girls to ride Big Thunder and Splash Mountain. Surprisingly, the oldest did not want to ride. The youngest, however, did. She loves roller coasters (except Space Mountain). The last big drop on Splash Mountain is a blast. Next, we did Soarin' over California again for the 3rd time with our regular Fast Pass. We headed over to the Monsters, Inc ride, which was cute, and the girls rode again later a second time. The Tower of Terror was next for me. This is the only amusement park attraction I have ever bailed on. I heard some people coming off of the ride saying that they would never ride that again. We ended up eating at Taste Pilot's Grill again, spending $36 again for food, but for amuesement park food, it was pretty good. We did Soarin' over California for the forth and final time. This was everyone's favorite ride. It was kind of sad leaving Disney, but after three days, it was also about all we could take. On the way out, we hit World of Disney which is in the Downtown Disney area, so the girls (including Dianna) could get their souviners. This took about an hour. We went back to the hotel for some rest. Tomorrow we head to Arizona.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 9 - Universal Studios & LA Area

My least anticipated activity on the trip - Universal Studios. Dianna got excited driving to Hollywood and seeing the infamous "Hollywood" letters on the mountain. She also saw the Church of Scientology from the freeway and wanted to stop in and check on Mr. Cruise, but we didn't have the quarter of a mil to join. I told her he was fine and happily jumping over couches. Back to Universal Studios - I had low expectations, and they were not met. This park is not ideal for children under seven, although there are some character photo ops, most of the attractions are meant for older kids.
There was a Curious George play area, but a lot of it was water-related, and the girls didn't have their swimsuits, and they were not going to get their clothes wet. We did the studio tour, which was the most interesting thing. Here's a pan shot I took on the walkup to the studio tour:

The studio tour was quite lengthy but, it provided a many photo ops. We saw, from a distance, the aftermath of a fire on their backlot.
Luckily, Universal Studios has their own fire department:
During the studio tour we drove through various scenes. Here's a stuntman scene, in sequence:
And, here's a car scene from the Fast and Furious 2:

Here's some shots from the War of the Worlds set depicting the 747 crash scene:
This scene was a little too real

And, the most anticipated portion of the tour was this guy:
But, I took care of him, with some nunchuk skillz here:

Wisteria Lane set from Desperate Housewives:

And, the infamous Bates Motel set:

After the tour we were randomly selected for an Access Hollywood interview.

Here's M. letting me know she wanted a burger cooked by Elvis Costello:

Eating at Universal Studios was not fun...there were not enough tables in the food area, so we had to wait 15-20 minutes for a table. Waiting consisted of trying to beat someone else to a table that was vacating. People were hoovering around tables like vultures on the freeway. We also had wait in the food line for about 30 minutes. We only did Universal because it was part of our city pass. A cool thing that Universal does is lets you buy a souvenir cup with refills for 69 cents. At Disney, all drinks are 3 bucks each, with no refills. There was also a cool area at Universal outside of the park called the City Walk. They had all sorts of shops and places to eat. Kind of like an outdoor mall. Here's a pic of the girls in front a life size Barbie display:

Our original plan was to drive around Hollywood as we left the LA area to come back home, but we decided not to battle traffic as we did this morning on our way to Universal. This is probably not the best idea since it was Saturday night, and it was a busy scene. We then drove down Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills.
If only I had just little bit more cash

I guess the city of BH doesn't allow
the use of the phrase "Pawn Shop"

No sighting of Britney with her photo crew. We didn't stop since we figured they wouldn't let us into any of the stores, especially with two kids in strollers. But hell, they probably would have towed our car as soon as we got out since the make our car doesn't start with a "B" or "M". We started to drive closer to Malibu, but we only drove a little past Santa Monica and decided to make a U-turn. On the way, we talked about stopping at Santa Monica Pier, but that place was packed. Instead, we stopped at the beach area just south of the pier, and it was so cold A. was shivering - that's what 65 degrees does to you when you are used to the 105 heat in Texas. I love the beach/ocean and the mountains, too, but, unfortunately, I live in neither. I guess it's back to the lottery idea.

Here's a some photo of the girls just south of the Santa Monica Pier:

Here's a beautiful Santa Monica sunset:

I talked Dianna into letting me stop at Pink's on the way back to get a chili dog, and she said, "What is that?" This girls needs to go to South CA more often. When we got there, the line was wrapped around the building, probably about an hour wait. I didn't quite expect that - I figured everyone was getting ready to go to the clubs. Oh well, next time.