Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Santa Barbara; Paso Robles; Wine Tasting Part 1; San Jose Event; Blue Beacon; Allium; Petaluma

Tempus fugit... Latin for "time flies"... here we are in the middle of June, and I am posting this from Petaluma, California. We left Port Hueneme and headed up the beautiful Pacific coast to Santa Barbara, where we spent some time with Kim Cantin, a friend who had lost her husband and son in the Montecito mudslides in January 2018 when their home was destroyed by a 15 foot wall of mud moving at 20 mph. The devastation is still very obvious and sobering... houses, garages, and even the foundations of many homes were washed away, along with 23 people killed, two of whom are still missing, including Kim's son.

Suzanne and I went for a hike up in Los Padres National Forest, in the mountains above Santa Barbara, and the rainy winter had left the hills well-watered and covered with wildflowers. Rejuvenation of the foliage can't take away all the sadness, but people here are rebuilding their homes and lives and a sense of optimism is apparent. 

This unusual photo was taken after dinner one night with Kim and her daughter Lauren and friends.  Suzanne is holding an actual light saber from the filming of Star Wars, given to Kim and Lauren in honor of Kim's son and Lauren's brother, Jack, who was a huge Star War's fan... never make smart aleck remarks to a woman holding a light saber!!!

Next, on to Paso Robles, home of some of California's best Zinfandel vineyards... but first, we had to go to a tasting... "not wine, Ty... olive oil!" Really??? Actually it was a great stop; we tasted at least 10 different varieties, and I filled up on French bread dipped in olive oil and spices. 

We were headed up to our first wine tasting and saw this falling down barn, AKA as a fixer-upper; I had to stop for a photo, since it might not have survived until we were driving back an hour later...

Wine tasting in Paso is a delight. The weather was warm, and the sun a bit bright, but sitting outside and enjoying the magnificent views was unforgettable.

My Lovely Bride got quite artistic with her iPhone, catching a server pouring a tasting at an adjacent table... 

This signboard gives turistas a quick primer in what to look for in a wine tasting experience...

I can attest that this photo of Scooter Girl was taken BEFORE a wine tasting! Suzanne ordered the same model that Britta Grubin had recommended a week or so ago, and she loves it... and has named it Ananda (Sanskrit for Bliss) thanks to a recommendation from Barbara Kulle.

On to San Jose and Suzanne's Serving Spirit Level 2 class, which was very well received by the participants... 

And on to Lodi, for a couple of great wine tastings, but more important, a bath for our coach... the guys at Blue Beacon Truck Wash also do RVs, and we had several thousand miles of dust to remove. They do a great job at a very reasonable price, and are open 24/7.

Lodi's only problem was the temperature... it's been a long time since we saw triple digits like this! Fortunately, the extra high temps, unusual for early June, only lasted a few days, or they would have burned the grape vines...

Our PT in Lodi was a bit restrained because of the extreme heat - several long walks and a bike ride, but getting out on farm roads between vineyards and ranches was still quite enjoyable. The grapes are still tiny at this time of year, and we wish we could return when harvest time comes in September/October and the bunches of grapes are as big as softballs or even rugby balls.

Speaking of plants, thanks to Brad, Colette, Britta, Gayle, and any other contributors I may have missed who identified the wild onion (Allium aflatunense), "Purple Sensation",  a couple of posts back. Native to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, they are also found in the US as ornamental garden plants. I am often struck by the beauty of the natural world, and the complexity of life forms and varieties surrounding us. 

We have arrived in Petaluma and are staying near the river with this view from a city park with miles of trails for running, walking and biking. We are looking forward to wine tastings with our friends Jerry Facciani and Karen Barrett from Las Vegas, and Holly Berkley from Healdsburg. More about that in the next blog.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

California is So Screwed Up!

Readers of this blog have seen that I avoid political statements. Even though most of you may have surmised that I am a conservative based on my Navy career, I do not criticize liberals in this blog. I was stationed in California twice, in Long Beach and San Diego, back in the 70s, and frankly, I loved California THEN, but I have been appalled by what I have seen in the past month, from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Jose up in the Bay area... I will not go into many details, but this billboard in San Jose broke the camel's back, so to speak... here is what the United States is headed for if we follow these imbeciles in California... imagine the message this billboard sends our children and grandchildren... if you agree with this billboard, please unsubscribe from my blog. Why? In 2017 alone, there were 70,237 deaths from opiod/drug abuse in the USA, compared to 58,220 Americans killed during the ENTIRE Vietnam war, from 1965 until 1975... where are we going??? These billboards are all over California, and probably Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and other druggie strongholds... where will this end?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gila Bend; California, Here We Are! San Diego; Port Hueneme

We only stayed one night in Gila Bend. When the sun was setting over the desert and temps had dropped into the high 80s, we got out for an after-dinner walk near the airfield. The control tower was flanked by a huge saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) higher than the tower itself.  

This sign is familiar to us military folks. "FOD" stands for Foreign Object Damage, and every airfield and ship that carries aircraft will have such signs and "FOD walkdowns" several times a day on the airstrip/flight deck to find and remove litter, rocks, snakes, or other materials that could be sucked up into a jet engine intake or blown around by propellers. 

The drive on Interstate 8 from Gila Bend (pop. 2,701), to San Diego, CA (pop. 1,301,617), was an interesting one. The day started warm, but after we passed Yuma, Date City, El Centro and  and Plaster City, we climbed up from the Sonoran Desert over the Laguna Mountains to Laguna Summit (4,055 ft), with a big elevation gain from 227 feet below sea level in the Imperial Valley. Our motor coach strained up the steep 6-7% grade, slowing to 35-40 mph, but still passing many of the heavy semis headed west. The weather cooled and trees started to appear above 3,000 feet. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through this area, but regrettably I didn't have time to hike these mountains.

As  you get into civilization in the Golden State, we saw this unofficial "Welcome to California" sign... YIKES!!!

Arriving in San Diego, we were happy to be able to meet up with friends from Naval War College - Andy Sargent, a Marine Corps F-4 Phantom pilot, and his lovely bride, Marcia, who had written a great book called Wing Wife, about her experiences as a fighter pilot's wife. I was happy to get Marcia to autograph her book; it is a fascinating story - I learned a lot about Andy that I hadn't known back in Newport, Rhode Island when we were classmates in 1980-81.

We also got out hiking with Nita Gill, seen here with Suzanne at a park near Solana Beach. Nita was also gracious enough to have us over for a gourmet Moroccan dinner at her beautiful home with her husband Frank. Nita was in Suzanne's Serving Spirit class in San Diego and took over my book table responsibilities, freeing me up for more hiking. Thank you, Nita!!!

It was a short two hour drive from San Diego to Tustin, just south of Los Angeles. Marj Britt, the former Senior Minister at Unity of Tustin, had invited us to visit. Suzanne took advantage of the opportunity to broadcast her live Unity Radio show, Messages of Hope, from the sanctuary at Unity of Tustin, with Marj as her guest. This photo was taken in the beautiful Spiritual Garden that Marj had designed; if you're in the area, it's a unique experience that you shouldn't miss.

The afternoon traffic in Los Angeles was TERRIBLE, but we finally arrived at our next campground, on the Naval Construction Battalion Base at Port Hueneme, near Oxnard and Ventura, for a six-day stay over Memorial Day weekend. A dinner with Britta and Peter Grubin and their kids Annabella, Juliett and Maxwell was a highlight of the week.  

Britta also taught Suzanne how to ride a "scooter" - Suzanne had so much fun that she's now looking into getting one of her own! (I gave some thought to getting one myself, but after a nanosecond, I decided that I'm too much of a klutz...)

I am a bit more coordinated on the water... we went kayaking in Channel Islands Harbor, where this very user-friendly (read "sissy") kayak launch float allows you to get into your boat without getting your feet wet. You can see that My Lovely Bride is all charged up and rarin' to get paddling...

Some of the floats and piers had a few very large locals lazing about, barking, snoring and occasionally fighting for spots in the sun. There seems to be no convincing these rascals to go to work and catch some fish. California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are intelligent, feed on squid and fish, but are themselves preyed upon by orcas and white sharks. Males run to 770 lbs., while females average a svelte 220 lbs. Large males have been known to feed up to 250 miles from shore. It can be surprising to find them surfacing near your kayak - our first sighting of the head of a smaller harbor seal made us think that a dog might have fallen overboard from a boat. These guys have obviously had plenty to eat at sea and are now taking some R&R ashore...

Speaking of food... before leaving Southern California, My Lovely Bride made a few subtle hints about taking her out for dinner... like when I would ask, "Hey, Babe, what's for chow?" she would answer, "I'm not sure, Ty, I forgot to take anything out of the freezer; maybe we could go out?" "But Sweetheart, didn't we go out to get BBQ sandwiches for lunch back in Texas a few months ago?" Smack!!! "Okay, okay, I'll find someplace to have dinner..." Carl's Jr. and Taco Bell were all booked up, but this nice lady at a vineyard restaurant said they had decent food on the cheap... Note to self: never trust a nice lady who works in a restaurant... she must have been the cleaning lady. We wound up at Tierra Sur, a kosher restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard. The food was exceptional, MLB having a delicious halibut and Your Faithful Correspondent having the best veal ever. I knew we weren't in The Villages anymore when I asked for the Seniors' Blue Plate Special and the waiter suggested the mobile taco stand a few miles down the road... sigh...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Las Cruces; Secret Santa's Spring Sleighride; Cave Creek; Desert Kayaking; Flagstaff; Kachinas; Scorpions; "But We Don't Have a Dog..."

From Kerrville, we headed west on I-10 to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We had stayed in Las Cruces before, but this was a special visit - we were having a traditional New Mexican dinner with Ray and Raven Valencia at their beautiful Southwest-themed home. Raven is one of Suzanne's spiritual friends and a member of Souls Awakening, and Ray is a fellow Navy Surface Warfare Officer and ship commanding officer. Ray and I had a lot in common, swapping sea stories with storms in the middle and tales of wild and crazy guys we had known back in the days of the Old Navy...

Before leaving Las Cruces, we went on a bike ride on a bike path alongside the Rio Grande. Last year during our visit, the river was running fast and high, but this year... well, here is My Lovely Bride standing in the middle of the dry river bed!

Okay, it's time for a floral quiz... help an old sailor out, will you? What is this flower?

Some of you may recall the post from Kansas City when we visited Always and Furever, the remarkable animal shelter for elderly dogs. Well, one of our friends is the famous Secret Santa, and when he heard about this shelter, he decided to help out with a Spring Sleighride. He and a dozen or so Kansas State Police and local police cruisers, the chief of police, and the mayor rolled up to the shelter during a Volunteer Day Orientation with lights and sirens... here is a Secret Santa Elf in front of a 2012 Econoline van that was presented to Jen Dulski, the founder of Always and Furever, to transport dogs to the vet. (Their old small bus was inoperative.) It's generosity like this that renews your belief in humanity. Secret Santa even replaced all the carpeting and provided magnetic signs with the shelter's logo... 

Speaking of Jen and Always and Furever, here is her photo of an amazing sunset from the shelter... we wish Jen, her amazing volunteers, and of course the residents of Always and Furever much love and happiness in the years to come. Here's the link to their web site:

From Las Cruces, westward to Tucson for an overnight stop at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, then on to Cave Creek Regional Park, just north of Scottsdale and Phoenix, for four nights. We had the good fortune to spend time with our dear friends Lynn and Jeff Hollahan and Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson. This dinner at the Boissons was great fun, with Elizabeth's fabulous food and Cyril's amazing French Champagne and wine... he is a real connoisseur - my favorite that evening was actually the Conn Creek Anthology Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. (Cyril surprised me, because as a Frenchman, he is very proud of his Bordeauxs and Champagnes...)

Jeff is an amazing guitarist, and provided a fine musical interlude after dinner (as did Cyril, but that picture didn't come out, regrettably).

Suzanne presented her "Magnificent You!" talk at the Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center to a large, enthusiastic crowd, including many friends in the PHX area. It is partly based on her book "Wolf's Message", one of my favorites...

We also love Cave Creek for its hiking and mountain biking in a desert environment; the mountains here are studded with big rocks and saguaro cactus, and there is no water at all... so when we arrived at our trailhead, Suzanne got out of the car and asked a couple of gals finishing a hike, "Hi... is this where we launch our kayaks?" There was more than a moment of stunned silence before the laughter began...

Next, on to Flagstaff, where we had a week of rain, almost every day during our stay at Camp Navajo. Nighttime temps dropped into the low 30s/high 20s, and we even had frost on the car... This wasn't "Chamber of Commerce weather"! We got together on several occasions with our dear friends Janean and Jack Quigley, also Shining Light Parents, and went for a bike ride at Lake Mary in off and on rain and windy 50 degree weather, but having pizza in the back of their truck while it rained was a highlight of our visit.

We had several great hikes, including one with Janean to Sandy's Canyon Trail, Walnut Canyon Trail and Fisher's Point....

... which sits atop this impressive striated sandstone rock formation, which is actually made of petrified Permian Age sand dunes. The Permian Age, lasting from 299 million to 251 million years ago, ended in the great Permian Extinction, when 90% of marine life and 70% of land animals were wiped out. 

Flagstaff's San Francisco Peaks (elev. 12,633 ft) had a lot of snow on them during our visit...

One of my favorite cultural stops was at the Museum of Northern Arizona, where there are numerous displays explaining the lives of Pueblo Indians indigenous to this area. These kachina dolls representing spirit beings are mostly identified with the Hopi and Zuni tribes...

Image result for striped bark scorpion

We reluctantly departed Flagstaff for San Diego (via Gila Bend) The gate guard at Luke Airforce Base Auxiliary Airfield, where we spent the night, informed us to beware of rattlesnakes and scorpions, as they are very active at this time of year. "Don't worry about the large brown scorpions, they aren't very poisonous; but the small white ones, kill on sight!" He was referring to the giant hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), up to 6 inches long, and the bark scorpion (Centrursoides exilacauda), seen here, which is much smaller but deadlier.  The guard must have realized his warning was subject to interpretation, because he added, much to our relief, "The scorpions don't kill on sight!  You should kill them on sight because their sting is really bad!"

Finally, being on the road for a year, we often have to arrange with friends around the country to receive our mail and packages in anticipation of our arrival.  We asked an anonymous friend in an unnamed location if we could use her address for an order from Amazon.  She kindly agreed and notified us that it had arrived.  When Suzanne emailed to thank her, I asked her to find out if we could also ship some boxes of dog food that Rudy and Gretchen need for their special older dog diet.  Suzanne added to her email, "Is it okay if we have some dog food delivered to you?" You will understand why she will remain anonymous, because her reply, which made all of us laugh when we met up with her in California, was, "Thanks, but we don't have a dog..."

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tulsa; Oil; Fleet Admiral Nimitz and the Museum of the Pacific War; Kerrville

On the road again, heading south and west! From Unity Village, we headed to Tulsa for an event and some special time with Lynette Setzkorn. Suzanne's Tulsa event, Magnificent You!, was very well received at Tulsa's Center of Light. (It is a totally new presentation that will grab your heart - if you haven't seen it, you're missing out!) The event were hosted by Rev. Monica McIntylre, and garnered the highest attendance on record. 

We had a delightful experience - and a delicious dinner - with Lynette, Rev. Monica, and several friendly and interesting members of the Center of Light.

While in Tulsa, we stayed at Expo Square RV Park, a very nice campground near a huge arena where the state fair, car shows, equestrian and cattle shows, etc., are held. This great statue, the Golden Driller, honors the Oklahoma men who drilled for oil and built the oil industry in this part of the country. 

Next time you turn on your home furnace, fly to a distant vacation, take a cruise, or get into your Chevy, Lexus or Mercedes, think about the hard work in rain, hail, snow or hurricanes that oil field workers, refinery operators, pipeline workers, and long haul truckers perform so that you can turn that ignition key and get to work or take your kids to school. I grew up in south Louisiana, where the offshore oil industry was the largest single industry, allowing anyone willing to work long, hard hours to make a good living for their families and even put kids through college. They are underappreciated today, and that's a shame. Our energy independence (and much of our national security) today is due to their efforts.

Before we left Tulsa, we had to go on a bike ride and walk through an amazing park, The Gathering Place, a brand-new attraction on the Arkansas River near downtown. It boasts great trails, gardens, a pond with a beach, unique and creative playgrounds, and eateries. With a price tag of $465,000,000, it is the largest private gift to a city park in US history; the park was the original idea of George Kaiser, and the Kaiser Foundation continues to lead the park project, although about 80 foundations, businesses and individuals also have made large contributions. 

We left Tulsa for Texas, and it was an interesting trip. We had a major mechanical issue in Jacksboro, when a leveling jack hydraulic line burst. The line had been replaced a few months ago by Ocala Camping World, a national RV sales and repair company, but the service tech evidently didn't secure the hydraulic hose with a retainer, because we found that it had been rubbing against the inside rear drive tire for 3,000 miles, and in spite of being metal jacketed, friction and heat took its toll and it failed. (We are NOT happy with Ocala Camping World... they won't even return my phone calls.) In spite of our problem occurring over Easter weekend, we were very lucky to have been just a few spaces down in our campground from a mobile repair technician, who fixed our hydraulic problem Monday morning.

On to a great stop in Fredericksburg, Texas, where we visited the National Museum of the Pacific War; the adjoining Nimitz Museum was closed for renovation. Watching videos and listening to radio news reports of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the Bataan Death March were particularly emotional, as were the displays and recordings of the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal and Tarawa. We were drained before getting to the Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other displays. You need at least a full day to see the entire museum. The ship model is USS Tennessee (BB-43), which was lightly damaged by Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor- she was protected from torpedoes by the USS West Virginia (BB-48), moored alongside, which was sunk. Both ships were repaired and returned to the Pacific war; Tennessee was hit by a Japanese kamikaze suicide aircraft off Okinawa. I was fortunate enough to have served on USS Iowa (BB-61), built during WWII, decommissioned after the Korean War, and recommissioned in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, one of my heroes. I also served as his escort officer when he and Nancy visited USS IOWA in 1986.

Admiral Chester Nimitz's famous quote, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue", was meant in that instance for the US Marines at Iwo Jima, but it can equally be applied to the young men and women who continue to be deployed and fight our enemies in the Global War on Terror, even though political correctness prevents the use of that descriptor any more. 

At Iwo Jima, the Leathernecks' incredible sacrifices against a dug-in, battle-hardened, suicidal enemy is one of most legendary in world history. Our Marines suffered over 26,000 casualties, including almost 7,000 killed in action; the Japanese lost 26,000 men killed. The battle is memorialized by the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, DC. The photograph of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal is one of the most stirring and iconic images ever taken.

Our next stop was Kerrville, in the heart of Texas Hill Country. This is a beautiful and very friendly part of America. Suzanne had two events here, and we enjoyed the company of our good friends Sylvia and Ed Reeves on multiple occasions. 

While in Kerrville, we stayed at a very nice RV resort near this stream. You don't think about Texas having such scenery, but come to Hill Country and find out for yourself how beautiful it is! I first came to Kerrville to visit a great aunt in the 1950s. (My Lovely Bride reminds me with a smile that she wasn't even born yet...)

During a walk around town, we saw this sign... it reads, "Camping... spending a small fortune to live like you're homeless". Yup, I think that's pretty accurate!

I went for a hike while Suzanne was teaching her Serving Spirit class, and this lake at Joshua Springs Park and Preserve near Comfort, Texas, provided a serene view for a weary hiker. 

This fisherman may or not be catching, but at least the setting is fabulous! This is just a mile from Joshua Springs Park.

The nearby town of Ingram has a replica of Stonehenge, built by local ranchers Al Shepperd and Doug Hill in 2/3 scale and originally erected on Al's ranch in Hunt, Texas. It sits on the path of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse. The duration of the eclipse will be 4 hours and 26 minutes, and there should be some neat festivities.

Finally, the Ingram site also has two replica Moai, Easter Island statues.  This one looks like he could use a serious haircut!