Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Vacation 2009 - Day Two

The first night's temperature went all the way to -2 (yes, that's 2 below zero). Our hotel room was actually too warm so we opened the window a little to cool it off. Amazingly, the heater did not come the rest of the night. After a quick Hampton breakfast we were off to ski at Pajarito Mountain. We got great parking and actually thought we would all make the lesson for the 10am start time. The rental line was huge....we missed the 10am lesson and had go for the 11am. Everyone had some difficulties with the first part of the lessons which covered some of the basics. Right before the lunch break we got to practice going up the tow rope and come back down the kid slope. We are all getting the hang of it but, then M started having trouble with the tow rope. We just figured she was getting tired. After lunch we all went back to the kid slope and D and I were supposed to slow slalom around some cones but, only one of us got the hang of it. They split the kids from the adults and D and I went up on the lift to one the green slopes. Both of us busted coming off of the lift...oh well. I managed to go back on the lift a second time while D went to check on the girls. D was about spent for the day anyways. The girls did great with the exception of M on the tow rope.

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I highly recommend Pajarito Mountain....practically no lift lines whatsoever!

Oh, almost forgot....the White Rock Hampton did not charge us for the canceled room.

Tomorrow is either the Polar Coaster at Angel Fire or cross country skiing/snowshoeing at Enchanted Forest XC. It all depends on the overnight snow forecast for the area.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Vacation 2009 - Day One

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After a one day delay we finally arrived at White Rock, NM. The delay was due to road conditions near the Wichita Falls area. We are so glad we delayed our trip by a day because there was still a lot of ice on on US287 in Wichita Falls area 3 days after a rare Texas blizzard. Now all I have to do is talk our way out of getting charged for the Hampton Inn cancellation. We weren't happy to find out that every Hilton hotel has its own cancellation policy. This one requires 24 hours notice.

On the way in we stopped at our favorite NewMex restaurant, Maria's New Mexican Kitchen. As we have previously mention their margaritas rock! As good as the food is next trip we will hit up Tortilla Flats since several friends and relatives have mentioned it.

Tomorrow we will be skiing at Pajarito Mountain.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Vacation 2009 - Day Three

Wow, that was a busy, busy day.

First up was the San Diego Zoo. We purchased the Southern California CityPass again. This gets us into the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Universal Studios, and 2 days at Disneyland. Also included are small perks such as the SD Zoo bus tour. This was about 35 minute tour that went through 80% of the zoo on a double-decker open bus. The tour gives you a good idea of what animals are actually out and about. Last year we went to see the polar bears but, they were not out...disappointing not just because we all wanted to see them but, we made the long trek to their corner of the park. Taking the tour we knew not visit the polar bears because there were not out and about, again.

After the tour we headed toward the koalas. The girls thought they were very, very cute. I thought it was possible someone put stuffed koalas from the gift shop into some Eucalyptus trees because these guys didn't move, at all.

Lazy Koala

Now we were off to see the panda exhibit. On the way we stopped to see the giraffes and bears.

Mystery giraffe #1

Mystery giraffe #2

OK, not so mystery giraffe #3

The pandas are the highlight of the zoo....there is usually a long line/wait to get into the exhibit. In fact, once you get in the exhibit the zoo workers keep the line moving by only giving you a couple of minutes of panda watching bliss. The pandas were in sleep mode for this visit, just like the koalas. One of the pandas is expecting this month; she was not in the public exhibit, though.

Lazy panda

The girls were starting to act up a bit by now and they were not listening to us for the most part so, I came up with a reward system called Disney points. When they start acting up I just say "Don't lose Disney points." This will work great, of course, until we are through with Disney anyways.

By now it was time to make our way back to the front of the park, we skipped all of the smaller hooved type animals like the gazelle and antelope, etc. Dianna calls them "junk" animals; as in filler for the zoo. She came up with this term after visiting Fossil Rim in Glen is full of filler animals.

We took the 'big cat trail' on the way back. We saw a snow leopard, they were at the very back of the exhibit but, still very cool nonetheless. We also saw a black jaguar that paced three feet in front of us. We have a small black cat so, it was an interesting contrast.

This black jaguar was a monster, much
bigger than our little "Mocha"

At the front of the park the girls went through a reptile house, "M" is really into turtles right now. From there we rode the Skyfari, which is a tram that takes you from one side of the park to the other. "A" calls this 'skyride' and it's one of her favorites.

My iPhone videography skills are definitely not good and, this vid turned out to be somewhat boring compared to the actual experience.

I lost my favorite hat at the zoo....was probably more disappointed that I lost something than actually losing the hat.

Next on the agenda was the Del Mar Racetrack. To save time on the way there we decided to get some fast food. Not knowing the area very well the only place convenient we found was McDonald's. Those of you who know us well know that we hate McDonald's. In fact, the only fast food we will eat is Whataburger or Chick-Fil-A. Of course, the girls kept asking why are we stopping at McDonald's....girls got Happy Meals and Dianna and I got Big Macs. Wow, how does that place stay in business? Not good food. Probably would have been better off eating at the track but, we were only getting general admission tickets (no seats) and, the food had the possibility not being any better the McD's and costing 2-3 times more.

Finally arrived at the track and had to park in the auxiliary lot. This is not bad on the way in since they provide a shuttle but, they stop running it after the 8th race. We were leaving after the 8th race (it was the feature $250,000 San Diego Handicap).

Here's a shot I took of horses come out of the gate
at the backside of the track....this was a 5 1/2 furlong sprint.

Sundays at Del Mar the infield is setup with all sorts of kids activities. The girls, including Dianna, love to see horse racing but, are very bored during the 30 minutes between races. The infield activities provided good entertainment for them. The rode ponies and played on bounce house stuff. My wagering was successful at first, but slowly I started to lose more than I was betting each race and the days tally was minus $65. Good fun. It was good to see quality horses again vs. some of the dogs they are starting to run out at Lone Star Park. Quality horse racing in Texas is in deep trouble. After the 8th race we made the long walk back to our car and headed over to Tony Jacal's in Solana Beach for some fine Californian Mexican food.

The food and margarita's were great.

My plate consisted of a turkey flautas and a
beef enchilada. Outstanding.

Dianna's plate of Beef Sopas, the Sopas were buried
under the avocado, cojita cheese and lettuce.

The girls @ Tony Jacal's in Solana Beach

When we arrived back at the hotel we walked up the shoreline trail next to our hotel. A great first full day in San Diego.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Vacation 2009 - Day Two

Driving from Las Cruces to San Diego was a very long drive. Not much happening along the way.

In AZ we saw 4 speeding camera setups. I knew this was coming after the infiltration of red-light cameras. Here's how it works - the AZ DPS uses small SUV's that have a camera array/light setup on top that is parked on the side of the freeway....keep in mind these were parked in the middle of nowhere, a couple were even in construction zones (speeding fines doubled). I am guessing these will generate ten times more revenue than what a red-light camera would and, these things are mobile so, you don't ever know where they will be. I am happy to report that I don't expect to receive a picture of the Odyssey from the AZ DPS.

In tuscon we stopped my favorite hamburger joint of all-time - In and Out. This is just straight up burger greatness.

In and Out - World's Greatest Hamburger
Tuscon, AZ

As always, this place is jam packed with a
continuous line to the door. It was about
99 degrees in Tuscon and there were
people eating on outside tables because
there were none inside. Dianna and the girls
snagged an indoor table while I ordered.

There are only 3 burgers here because my 4-year old
hates hamburgers. We stopped at the Chick-fil-a next
door for her meal.

As we crossed over into California I saw a lot of my government money at waste (think I blogged about this last year). A large part of the border fence is up in California. If you want stop the main flow of illegal aliens from entering the US all the government has to do is heavily fine the companies that hire them. That project could even pay for itself, at first anyways. Back to vacation....

Finally arrived in SD at 630 pacific time. The Hilton property we are at is on the harbor....we have a one bedroom suite with a balcony that faces the water....this lodging is free using Hilton Honors points.

The girls wanted a simple meal so we opted for some pizza we have had before - Pizza Nova. Not only does this place great pizza but they also have the best salad, ever.

Here's the view from our table @ Pizza Nova

After eating we just went back to the hotel and crashed. Tomorrow it's the SD Zoo and then to Del Mar to see California's best thoroughbreds race.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Vacation 2009 - Day One

First blog update in ages.....I really should make some time for writing here more often., we decided to do Southern California for our family summer vacation, again. Why? Because we loved last year's trip. The itinerary is mostly the same but, with some different stops on the road to and from Tx to Ca. We left the house a little before 9am and were making good time until I had an unplanned conversation with the Tx DPS. My speed was not too bad but it did get me pulled over. I got really lucky to get off with a warning. The officer was actually very polite, considering it was the last day of the month and, you know, the whole quota deal. Our first tourist stop was Roswell, NM. Several years ago I got very interested in the Roswell story. Even with a completely open mind I quickly came to the obvious conclusion that nothing from outer space landed there. We killed about 45 minutes going through the UFO Museum and a couple of UFO gift shops. Dianna and I had some good laughs and the girls were completely bored.

An obvious Roswell photo opp.

Even Coca-Cola is pushing the alien.
Looks like Coke wants to let you know
that aliens get buff drinking some Coke.

Next stop was Ruidoso. This is the only mountain area I had not visited in New Mexico. It probably ranks after the Taos area but, definitely before Cloudcroft. I had previously read about Monjeau Lookout Tower and the views from atop of the mountain. I also read some disclaimers about the 5 mile steep, dirt road to get to the top. Well, with some anxiety from the girls we made it to the top pushing the limits of a Honda Odyssey. I don't think this qualifies as a hike since we only traveled about 200 yards on foot with an elevation change of about 50 feet. This dirt road excursion was well worth it but, unfortunately we cut the visit at the top short since a thunderstorm was moving in on us.

Here's a link using my iPhone 3GS video the first time.

Next time I will definitely take video in landscape mode.

View from Monjeau toward Ski Apache

View from Monjeau toward the looming storm

Local Ruidoso flora

If you look closely you can actually see
the rain dropping from the sky.
White Sands Missile Range

Taken "free-handed," through the driver's side
window, traveling 75 mph near White Sands, NM

We ended the day with a stay in Las Cruces, NM. Next stop is photo shoot of some very cool boulder formations in Texas Canyon, AZ

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who should bailout the US automakers?

I'll answer that question later...but, first, you can't have it both ways. America is in dire financial straits, something has to be done. One side of the fence wants corporate welfare, the other wants wants everyday worker, consumer welfare. I personally believe we need a little bit of one and a lot of the other. How does a country with a "free market" business environment justify bailing out large, failing corporations? Maybe the failing corporation had a bad business model, or poor executive management. So, does it really make sense to take money from well run, tax paying companies and give it companies on the verge of bankruptcy? Most proponents of this are against social welfare.
Back to the GM/Chrysler financial is what's wrong, keep in mind their bad business model has been bad for long time, it's just been extremely "intensified" with the current state of the economy. I will focus on GM here but most of these facts apply to Chrysler and Ford....

1) GM has way too many dealerships - over 6,300; Toyota, for example, only has about 1,400. In most metropolitan areas dealers are competing against each other. The number of American auto dealers must reduced. GM has their hands tied here as every dealership is protected by every state's franchise law. Basically, unless GM declares bankruptcy (Chapter 11) they cannot terminate a dealership. Some states have recently passed legislation to provide franchisees even more protection. Their other salvation could be that GM's finance division, GMAC, which provides the floor plan for many dealerships, could take over a dealership if they don't pay their bills. You ask, what is a floor plan? It is simply a short term loan for a dealership's inventory. Most dealers don't outright own the vehicles on their lots.....just like most Americans don't outright own their car.

2) Too many product lines - GM has 8 while Toyota has 3....think about the overlap in their corporate structure, ie marketing, R&D, manufacturing.....etc.

3) Bad products - Many Americans have turned to foreign brands that are made better with higher safety ratings and better gas mileage. Toyota and Honda have multiple plants on US soil. Some reports even indicate the source material/parts for these foreign lines sometimes exceed those of the US automakers, in other words, that Chevrolet truck may have more foreign parts than that Toyota Camry you see. For many years consumers tolerated poor quality control on the US branded fleet. This is just an example of setting the "bar" too low. You have to wonder if unions have caused some of this. Although, the premise (and origins) of a labor union was a great idea, they are now part of the problem. Unions must share some of the blame in driving US manufacturing overseas (that's another topic unto itself). It is sad we have gone from being a country heavily involved in manufacturing to one of the world's largest importers of manufactured goods. It feels like our primary product manufactured now is the financial transaction; and, thanks partially to the unregulated collateralized debt obligation (CDO) product our (and the world) economy is in the crapper. Back on topic....

So, who do I think should bailout the US automakers? How about someone with a vested interested; someone who needs/wants to keep large, gas guzzling vehicles on the road...Exxon. These guys made about $40 billion 2006, about $40 billion in 2007 and $45 billion in 2008. Doesn't it just make so much more sense? If the Big 3 are going to given money for their failed business model shouldn't it come from Exxon (or Chevron & Conoco) instead of me and you ? Well, if that doesn't happen the Chapter 11 deal will have to do...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A family Valentine's outing

Dianna and I decided to just get each other cards for Valentine's day and, to visit our favorite Tex-mex restaurant...Mia's Tex-Mex. I blogged about this place before - click here for the review. We got there right at 5pm and beat the holiday dinner rush. The girls sampled the awesome tortilla soup; they ate half of it before the meal arrived and, neither of them particularly enjoy soup, at least "regular" soup. Our brisket taco dinner was outstanding, as usual, the margaritas were fantastic. These frozen concoctions are still the best ever....they were a little light on the tequila.

On the way home I hit the trifecta....let me explain. Earlier on Saturday I mentioned to Dianna that I wanted to stop by REI while we were in Dallas. As we pull into the parking lot I noticed a Guitar Center right next door, how convenient. They had an incredible selection of keyboards. After about 15 minutes of playing around on the keyboards I remembered to get some better drumsticks for our Rock Band game which did absolutely nothing for my drumming skills. Now, on to REI....this store was somewhat of a disappointment. Their website has every outdoor accessory imaginable. At the top of my list was to checkout their winter apparel clearance. They had terrible selection...Dick's Sporting Goods had better and, REI didn't have any skis or snowboards. The girls were very, very bored fact, toward the end of the visit they decided to try some of their MMA moves.....on each other. So, traveling back to the house I knew Fry's was just a quick exit off the freeway on the way back. I mentioned this to Dianna and, in the same sentence gave her the option to wait about 10 minutes in the car while I looked around. Jokingly, I asked the girls if they wanted to go into the store with me. A., who must have felt somewhat guilty about her kickboxing moves on M. earlier, said "I'll go with you, Daddy." I let her off the need for her to have to punish herself from that guilt. Ten minutes later I arrived back to car empty handy. Anyways....till next time.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

UPDATE - Home Invasion

Well, we left the live trap, baited and ready to go, in our garage for 5 days. The little guy was definitely not in the garage. We even baited the trap with canned cat food the last 3 days; according to this website that is a opossum favorite.
Our garage still doesn't smell so good. I guess it's time to do some spring cleaning and scrub the floor. First, I need to get a storage shed built in our backyard, if I can get our homeowner's association to approve. I think I might try to run for a board position....that way I can try to dissolve to whole thing.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Our "Home Invasion"

Saturday night I was putting trash into the garbage bins in the garage. I actually took the long way around by going out the front I finished entering the code into the key pad to open the garage door I saw a opossum scurry into the garage. For about the last 5 weeks we have noticed the cat food bowls in the garage were just about empty every morning. Everyone originally thought there was a stray cat eating the food. Dianna's brother said he saw what looked like a cat when he was house sitting for us on our trip to New Mexico. Here's a picture of the real culprit:

This is a opossum, not to be confused with a possum.

So, Sunday morning I went to a friends house to get a live trap and some opossum catching advice (stangely, he just had a opossum problem, too). I waited until the SuperBowl was over (Arizona should have won!) because we had friends over for the game and I didn't want to deal with the marsupial during the game. After the game ended I went out into the garage only to find this:

The "home invader" stealing my beer

Beer is expensive these days and I really enjoy my Bud Light so, I attempted to take back my beer. Here's what happened as I approached the furry creature:

The "home invader" growling and showing me his incisors

So, I just decided to share my wonderful bottled brew with the nasty furball. When I finished I picked up the basket he was lounging in and tried to "stuff" him into the live trap. Dumb move....he quickly darted back into our garage. I gave it a tap on the head with a paint roller extension handle. I guess he didn't like that because left walking toward the street. He went straight to a curb gutter where he peered over the edge and decided not to go in. I approached him with the live trap which I had quickly baited with some apples slices topped with caramel sauce. It suddenly decided to jump into the gutter.....I don't really know if this was smart or dumb. There is no way for him to climb back up to street level.

One more thing.......the "home invader" had a small offspring tagging along. So, here is the little one's destiny:

The live trap is baited and set....

More story and pictures to follow......

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Winter Vacation - New Mexico Snow - Day 5 - Random Thoughts

Day 5 was a safe, uneventful drive home. Of course, we made the mandatory stop at Trader Joe's in Santa Fe. This store rocks!

Random winter vacation thougths
1) New Mexico ski resorts would go bankrupt w/out Texans. Easily 3/4's of all vehicles we saw had Texas plates.
2) Taos Ski Valley was run much better than Angel Fire.
3) Next, for tubing we will try's only $7 per person instead of Angel Fire's $20 per. TSV tubing is only from 5pm-7pm, though.
4) Visit Big Al's in the spring/summer for some horseback riding and camping at the same place we went snowmobiling
5) If I had to stereotype some of the staff while dining I would say there is snobby attitude by many Taos restaurant staffers
6) Next time try more New Mex food while in Taos...there are so many places. The problem is that everyone finishes skiing at about the same time and the restaurants get extremely busy
7) One day, I want to raft a Class IV rapid on the Rio Grande outside of Taos
8) Spend more snow play time at that playground in Angel Fire....the girls could have spent the entire day there.
9) It gets dark very early here in December/January - 5pm
10) One day we will move to Northern New the latest it will be where I retire but, hopefully we can get there sooner than that.