Saturday, August 5, 2017

Camp SLO; Paso Robles; California Events; Guilty Dogs; Lodi; Wine! Kayaking; Robbed Again

We spent a night at Camp San Luis Obispo, a National Guard base where captured Italian POWs had been interned during WWII. One of them, PFC Salvatore Fossati, of the 15th Ordnance Company, was a stone mason, and designed and carved this stone monument during his internment. It is called the Italia Rock.

Next stop, Paso Robles for- YES! Wine tastings! "Paso" is world-renowned for its Zinfandels, but has other varietals as well. We pulled into an unnamed vineyard and parked out back. MLB said, "Ty, what a quaint tasting room!" Fortunately, they had a nicer facility out front... 

Our server at Turley Vineyards was Haylee Sund, the daughter of an active duty Navy captain, and she was a delightful hostess and very knowledgeable about their wines. In fact she is studying viticulture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. We joined the Turley Wine Club, primarily for their exceptional wines, but partly becuse of Haylee's friendly personality.

One of the less known problems related to drinking Zinfandel is that you can actually shrink in a matter of minutes, as this photo proves...

Suzanne has been busy with events in Camarillo, north of Los Angeles, and another in San Jose. She is also working on another book, and is as busy as a one-armed paperhanger. This is a photo of her San Jose class - what a great group!

This class was held at Dolce Hayes Mansion, a beautiful facility often used for spiritual events. The pups particularly liked all the squirrels in a nearby park.

We stayed at the Elks Lodge RV facility in San Jose, near a beautiful suburb called Willow Glen. Houses here go for $1-2 million, even for a remodeled 1950s 1,200 sq ft ranch. This is one of the nicer old houses in an area where we often walked Rudy and Gretchen.

Speaking of our little darlings, we came home one day to find their plastic treat box on the floor - torn open and empty. I had made the mistake of leaving it on the counter where Destructo Dog Rudy could  climb up from the couch and get to it. I read them both the riot act when we returned. Don't they look guilty and remorseful?

Normally I will reward My Lovely Bride for her hard work by letting her out of the galley (kitchen) once a month (I am a very thoughtful husband). This month was Italian. The local Pizza Hut was booked, so after the San Jose event we went to Vin Santo's, a pretty classy place with tablecloths in Willow Glen. (Guys, for some reason women really like places with tablecloths, preferably not stained with stale beer).

While in Lodi, we went kayaking on the Lodi River, a delightful paddle. When we pulled our boats, we met a young woman at the boat dock, whose name is Abba (yes, named for the group). She invited us to hear her play the fiddle at the farmer's market that evening. We showed up after dinner, but found that she wouldn't be playing until an hour later, and we were melting because the temp was 104F. But we will look for Abba next time we're in Lodi.

Our next stop was Sacramento, where MLB would be boarding a jet bound for Florida. Just an hour before I was to take her to the airport, I found that our mountain bikes had been vandalized, and major parts stolen, including a front wheel and fork, stem, and bike computers, probably by one of the hundreds of homeless men (AKA bums) who hang out in the area. After dropping Suzanne off, I returned to file a report, and got to meet one of Sacramento County's finest, Deputy Nelson. While filling out the paperwork, I mentioned Suzanne's work. The deputy was interested, so I gave her some information and Messages of Hope, and later mentioned to MLB that Lacey might be emailing her. There was a pause, and I heard her say in a questioning voice, "Lacey? Lacey?" I quickly replied, "Oh, um, Deputy Nelson!"  (Sheesh... sometimes women have no sense of humor...)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Late Entry: Nellis AFB, Red Flag and Thunderbirds; Santa Barbara Event; Vandenberg AFB; Port Hueneme; Basket Boats??? Hula Babes

I must apologize to all my Air Force friends for omitting two entries from our BSPFT (Brief Stop for Physical Fitness Training) at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas... the first is for our good friend Bill Bayer, who is a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel air battle manager ground control intercept (GCI) weapons controller. That's the guy who vectors our fighters to intercept enemy aircraft or to drop bombs on the bad guys just a mile or two away (that's called close air support, or CAS.) Bill had been stationed at Nellis, and spent a lot of time working out of this building, and also in the 120F desert, usually without air conditioning and cold Sam Adams.  Red Flag is the Air Force's premier air-to-air combat training exercise. Think of Tom Cruise in Topgun for the ACM (air combat maneuvering) part, but the Air Force has 75,000 square miles of airspace to play in over the Nevada desert. (That means if they have to bail out of their aircraft, they can land near a casino or Mustang Ranch for R&R... but I digress.)  Bill also was part of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron that flew Soviet (that's what they called the Russians back during the Cold War) MiG-17, -21 and -23 fighters as aggressor aircraft against our fighters.

Nellis is also the home of the Air Force's Thunderbirds, a group of high performance fighter aircraft and pilots who try to emulate the Navy's Blue Angels. (I may not be invited back to Nellis after this blog post... sigh...)  Okay, actually the Thunderbirds are really hot s..t pilots as well!

Now, back to California... this serene sunset scene was taken at Seal Beach, where several hawks were often found in the branches of these trees, on the lookout for a meal provided by unwary ground squirrels.

Up the coast past Los Angeles is Santa Barbara, a thoroughly delightful city about 100 miles northwest of LAX. And it only takes about two to seven hours to get there from the city of the angels, depending on traffic. Did I mention earlier that L.A. traffic is insane, day or night??? We stayed at an Elks Lodge RV park in Goleta, just west of Santa Barbara, where Suzanne gave her Transformative Power of Hope presentation to an enthusiastic group of attendees at an International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) meeting at Unity of Santa Barbara. Thanks to Barbara Bartolome for sponsoring Suzanne and to her husband Victor for his interest in our RV; hopefully we will see you two on the road soon in your own motor coach! (Basketball fans may recognize Vic's name; he played center for the Golden State Warriors back in the 70s; at 7' tall, Victor is an imposing guy - I felt like a dwarf standing next to him.)

We then motored up to Vandenberg AFB for a week of camping near the beach. This peaceful setting, like the one from Seal Beach, has an almost invisible hazard... well, the tide rips and cold water are a problem for many, but not nearly as deadly as...

... this warning sign suggested...  Yes, great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are not uncommon here, as this area is home to seals and sea lions, which make a high fat banquet for these apex marine predators. (I decided not to swim at this beach.)

We did go for a nice walk on this beach, however. But what's with the jackets in July? Oh, I forgot to mention that this area is quite chilly, with the cold water California Current flowing just off the beach with 57F temperature water and upwelling of nutrient-rich sediments that provide nourishment for fish, such as sardines, mackerel and tuna. Nighttime temps at the campground were in the 50s, perfect sleeping weather, and daytime highs rarely got to 75 while we were there.

After Vandenberg, we relocated to the Port Hueneme SeaBee (Naval Construction Battalion) base near Oxnard. It's right near some major marinas where the pups, being docks-hounds, like to walk. Back when they were much younger, Suzanne was walking them down a pier when Gretchen discovered parts of a dead fish. She scarfed up a piece, but then spit out a pretty disgusting fish eye... even our puppies have their limits. 

In this marina were several interesting yachts, but what really caught my eye was a Vietnamese basket boat stowed upside-down beneath some kayaks. Navy sailors who spent time there will immediately recognize the unique shape and design of these tiny self-propelled fishing boats, often found miles offshore, with one or two fishermen or women using simple hand lines. A mother boat will often drop dozens of these boats in prime fishing areas, and return hours or even a day later to pick up the fisherman and his catch. At night, it was not unusual to see the dim flicker of a Bic lighter a hundred yards or less ahead of your ship, requiring an instant course change to prevent running the boat down. This was the first basket boat I had seen since 1973 when I did my last deployment to Vietnam. 

This boating photo requires some explanation. I have seen bicyclists, horseback riders and skateboarders using their smart phones, but never a kayak fisherman... maybe he's checking a fishing app for the best bait to use???

It's too bad that we had already filed our income tax return back in April, because fer sure I'd have gone to Eddie for my tax advice had we been in Hollywood Beach... hey, who needs a last name, or some high-falutin' corporation name? Just ask for Eddie!!! "We find money others miss".

Finally, frequent readers may recall Hula Babe, the sexy little number that our dear friends Sharon and Joyce gave me last year. (Hula Babe is Al Gore-approved - solar-powered, non-polluting and low-maintenance). When I saw a dozen of her cousins in a marina store window , I wanted them all, but alas, the store was closed, so Hula Babe won't have any friends to join her in the coach while MLB is on travel...  sigh...    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Still Alive! June Update; PHX and Scottsdale Friends; Prescott Event; Big Rocks; Flagstaff; Las Vegas; Lotus of Siam; On to the Pacific!; "Was It Something I Said?"

Mea Culpa to several faithful readers who sent "health and welfare check" emails recently.  Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Excuses for not updating this blog recently include: (1) Extreme heat in the desert Southwest; (2)  huge numbers of ground squirrels/prairie dogs/assorted rodents attracting the attention of our fearless miniature Dachshunds Rudy and Gretchen; (3) long days at the wheel of our coach driving through the desolate wastes of desert Arizona, Nevada and East L.A.; (4) several of Suzanne's events which occupied my attention; and finally, (5) malfunctions of critical equipment aboard our prairie schooner, including the diesel generator (still not repaired, awaiting parts)... oh, and maybe (6) some laziness in my old age...

Thinking back to my last post... I think we were in Scottsdale, Arizona... but before we left the Phoenix area, we had to pay a call on our dear friend and colleague Brenda Baker, who has had some real medical challenges lately. Brenda is a fighter, though, and is building up her health and continuing to maintain her great sense of humor. Everyone who knows Brenda knows that "she is a pistol", as my mother used to say... 

Before heading out, we had dinner with Connie Mariano (retired Navy Rear Admiral and former White House Doctor to Bill Clinton) and her husband John Weber, who had taken Suzanne and me up in his sailplane. This was the view from their patio in the hills above Scottsdale and Cave Creek. Their amazing home is like the ones you see in Architectural Digest...

Temps were rising in the Phoenix Valley, and we were looking forward to cooler weather, which we found in Prescott. Suzanne had an event there, and we had planned on spending a week in that lovely area which sits almost 2,000 feet higher than Phoenix, where temps were already up into the high 90s, and this was early June! Here is the SRO crowd when Suzanne spoke at Unity of Prescott, led by Rev. Terrence Padgett.  

We were camped at Willow Lake Campground, near the Granite Dells, gorgeous exposed bedrock and granite boulder formations which called out to be hiked. The trails laced through these rocks for miles, with hardly another hiker or mountain biker to be encountered for hours...

The water level in Willow Lake itself was much higher than during our previous visit, due to the big snowfalls experienced in the West last winter. These trees had previously been between the trail and the water.

While in Prescott, we paddled at nearby Watson Lake, another reservoir surrounded by parts of the Granite Dells. Here you see My Lovely Bride paddling her NC-15 fiberglass kayak smoothly through the wavelets at sunset. It was a gorgeous evening, and only one other boat was out on the water, over a mile away - it was wonderful having an entire lake almost to ourselves.

From Prescott, we drove north to higher elevation and cooler temps at Flagstaff, AZ. 7,000 feet up, "Flag" is a delightful college town with lots of hiking nearby. Since I am planning a Grand Canyon trip in November, I needed to get some steep climbs in for training. Eldon Lookout Trail is a 2,000+ foot elevation gain from the trailhead, and I made the climb while Suzanne was giving a reading in the coach. . On the way up, I met Terry, a part-time Forest Service firefighter who runs a fish hatchery in California. He was wearing full "battle gear", a heavy flame-retardant suit, helmet, and boots, and was carrying his personal firefighting equipment and water. Needless to say, I was moving faster than Terry. I offered to put some rocks in his waist pack for extra training, and he actually laughed at that suggestion, but declined my offer. I have the utmost respect for these forest fire first responders, because they risk their lives on a regular basis in an extremely hazardous environment. Out West, too many instances of serious burns and lost lives occur when a fire initiated by lightning or a careless camper blows up or changes course because of high winds, low humidity and high temperatures, trapping firefighters before they can evacuate to safer ground. 

The view from Eldon Lookout (9,300 ft) was spectacular. A lookout tower there was once manned to locate fires before they got out of control. Traffic in Flagstaff thousands of feet below looked like kids' toys, and since I was the only person at the summit, I got to enjoy the solitude (with only a few birds for company) for 15-20 minutes until I headed back down the mountain.

Another hike, this time with My Lovely Bride, took us to a section of the Arizona Trail near Aspen Corner and Snow Bowl, just south of Humphreys Peak (12,633 ft., the highest point in Arizona). We hiked through beautiful aspen groves and occasional meadows on a perfect day, sunny and 70F, while Phoenix baked in 100+ degree temps 150 miles south of us. Here she is offering her hand to one of dozens of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that were flitting from flower to flower having lunch. Useless trivia: Monarchs obtain moisture and minerals from damp soil and wet gravel, a behavior known as mud-puddling. Similar behavior has been observed in young boys, but it is not admired as much by their parents as those of the butterfly persuasion...

Following that hike, MLB took off her hiking shoes and noticed that she had removed a good part of dust and dirt from the trail; I warned her that the Forest Service has rules about not taking anything with you except memories and photographs...

Our next stop was in Las Vegas to visit our good friends Jerry and Karen Facciani. The foodie highlight of our brief stop was dinner at Lotus of Siam, one of the top Thai restaurants in the US. The cuisine was so amazing that we wound up going both nights we were in town. Lotus also has one of the best wine lists in the world, and we were surprised when Jerry ordered a German Reisling with some spicy Thai dishes - it paired beautifully! Jerry is a world class oenophile, and every time we get together we learn a lot about fine wines. (Yes, we are sampling a red in this photo... Jerry assured us that a Zinfandel would be perfect to sip on in between dishes and Reisling. And yes, it was!)

It was too hot in Las Vegas to run, so we went to Nellis AFB and used their gym - Suzanne ran on an indoor track and I used a rowing machine. Here is just part of the massive indoor fitness center, scaled for use by the several thousand airmen stationed here, as well as visiting aviators and retired folks like us. 

Did I mention that Las Vegas in June is hot? Reported highs were at 121F, but we saw 131F on the coach thermometer which was in direct sunlight... and it was still in the 90s at dawn... too hot to walk the pups outside on the cement, so we had to carry them to the few shady spots around for head calls. 

Suzanne departed Las Vegas by air to Richmond and Detroit for events, and I continued west, arriving in temperate Seal Beach, CA, after a long drive through the desert and the Los Angeles metro area in pre-rush hour traffic. I had been stationed in Southern California in the 70s when traffic was merely heavy, but now it is absolutely insane. SoCal is a different place in many ways, but one positive thing I noticed was the emphasis on physical fitness. Here is a summer camp for kids; they were running along the beach in sand, then would stop for calisthenics. Ooh-Rah!

After a week of twice daily workouts and extreme boredom with MLB being on travel, she returned to enjoy a day or two on the beach before we headed north to Santa Barbara. I took her out for an Italian dinner, and everything was going swimmingly until she mentioned that she had an evening event for a local Helping Parents Heal group coming up that wouldn't require my presence - I merely said, "No problem, My Love, there's a wet tee shirt contest at a beach bar just a mile away." Without a moment's hesitation, she threw a hard roll at me.  Was it something I said? 

More on our California adventures in the next installment, and I promise it will be out within a week. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Contest Winner! A Cute Desert Tortoise; Not So Cute Rattlesnakes and Scorpions; Soaring! Boating! Saguaros; Up Close and Personal

I am pleased to announce the winner of last week's "Vote on Ty's Hat" contest. Valerie Molle of Salt Lake City was selected from the hundreds of ballots I received. Valerie voted for my old, dusty, Foreign Legion camouflage hat with the cool neck flap, which only a select few actually preferred over the Indiana Jones hat which My Lovely Bride bought for me. (Now, whenever we hike together, I wear the new model, in deference to MLB's desires...) Valerie will receive this very cool looking stuffed desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). These tortoises are very hard to find in the wild, because they rarely emerge from their burrows, except during the summer monsoon season (July-September). But they are long-lived (50-80 years) and survive on grasses, herbs and some varieties of cacti.

We are now staying in Cave Creek Regional Park, north of Scottsdale, AZ, and the daily temps are running 93-100F, requiring that we get out to hike very early. Rudy and Gretchen, our two Dachshunds, get us up at 0530, and after Suzanne's meditation and a quick breakfast, we're hiking by 0715. Other early risers are out on the trail as well - other hikers, mountain bikers and local residents, like this speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus) that I encountered in the middle of my hiking trail while MLB was back in Florida. This species is very adaptive to its locale, and five different populations in the Phoeniz area have totally different colorations, depending on the color or rocks in which they reside. This two foot long critter was almost pink, but others are white, brown or even lavender-tinted. Evolution is amazing...

At the end of that hike, I stopped in a restroom to wash my hands, and as I reached down into the sink to rinse them, my eyes caught movement... this striped bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus), the most venomous of American scorpions. The bubbles around him (her) are from the soap on my hands... I picked up a coffee cup out of the trash and relocated this little guy outside. 

I then stopped at the visitor center to let the rangers know about the scorpion, because their stings can be fatal to children, older adults or those with medical problems. (Fortunately, I don't fall into any of those categories.) Mark, the resident ranger and wildlife expert, gave me all the scoop on local snakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, tortoises, deer, coyotes, etc. Mark has been stung 7 or 8 times by scorpions, and fortunately, the worst effects were intense pain and sore arm muscles for 48 hours. 

He also showed me another local resident, a giant hairy desert scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), a much less aggressive variety than the bark scorpion. I couldn't believe he was picking it up in his hand, but he assured me that it was safe. Relatively speaking. 

After surviving encounters with slithery critters, Suzanne and I were very fortunate to be able to go soaring (separately) with John Weber, who is an expert pilot of sailplanes and powered aircraft (he has 5 or 6 planes). John has been flying gliders (sailplanes) since he was 15 years old, and put his carbon fiber craft through its paces, taking advantage of thermals to rise from 1,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Here John and Suzanne are about to take off. This model has a retractable propeller that allows the pilot to take off without a tow plane. (The propeller is known to other glider pilots as "the mast of shame" and is retracted shortly after take-off.  If all goes well, it is not used any more except in an emergency, even not to land.) See Suzanne's video at for a great summary of the flight. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us. We were amazed by John's ability to find thermals (updrafts) that lifted the sailplane up and up - you can hear the variometer beeping in the background - it's a device that lets the pilot know when he's climbing (higher pitch) or falling (lower pitch). Thank you, John, for an incredible experience!!!

While Suzanne was back in Florida visiting her mom, I got to go on a ski boat ride with Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson and several friends. All of us had lost a child, but as members of Helping Parents Heal, we all know that our kids are always with us - as they must have been on this special day zooming around Bartlett Reservoir. (I did catch some grief from MLB for hanging out with four beautiful bikini-clad ladies while she was out of area...)

Suzanne returned from Florida and we continued our daily hikes; here she is in the early morning's light at Gunsight Pass on the Go John Trail. (The name comes from the similarity of this rock formation with the iron sights on a Model 94 Winchester.)  After viewing my photos of the boat trip, she said she thought of wearing her bikini for the hike, but prudence prevailed.

Another desert hike took us to Spur Cross Regional Park, where last year we participated in a bench dedication ceremony for Morgan Boisson and Kyle Erickson, two young men who have passed to the other side. We are now friends with their parents, and wanted to spend a few minutes in the special serenity at the top of Mariposa Hill. 

While at Spur Cross Park, we found this incredible saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), with more twisted arms than an octopus...

We have enjoyed special friendships here in the Phoenix area - this dinner was at Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson's beautiful home in Cave Creek with its amazing art collection - along with Lynn and Jeff Hollahan and Debra Henson. Suzanne's wonderful assistant Bev was to have flown out to Phoenix for Suzanne's event in Scottsdale the next day laden with supplies like folders and nametags, but she was sidelined by a nasty case of pneumonia.  So, in addition to dinner, we had a "folder-stuffing party" after dessert. Suzanne's marketing assistant, Brenda Baker, was also seriously ill and in the hospital during this period. Fortunately, both Brenda and Bev are recovering after their ordeals.

The big event was titled "Up Close and Personal with Susanne and Suzanne". Susanne Wilson is a medium here in Arizona, whom Suzanne met at the bench ceremony discussed earlier. They hit it off, and over the past year developed a program first presented here in Scottsdale, where it was enthusiastically received by over 100 attendees. Susanne and Suzanne will be holding another workshop at the Hacienda Center in The Villages, Florida, in March, 2018 (details to follow). 

We enjoyed a great dinner with Susanne and her husband Carl, a former Marine who has run several successful businesses and enjoyed sailing in the San Francisco Bay area. We got along very well with this great couple and look forward to their visiting us in Florida.

Speaking of wine... were we? Well, anyway, I would like to acknowledge the fine bottle of Ed's Red from Texas that Ed Reaves presented me back in Kerrville. Who knew that Texas produced good red wines? It went very nicely with Suzanne's pasta. Thanks, Ed (Oh, Ed Reaves didn't actually produce it himself, although I think he may occasionally take credit for it.) Look out, Napa...

Finally, a couple of comments about a sister service from two retired naval officers. We were going through the gate at Davis-Monthan AFB, and the gate guard , a young Air Force guy, checked our ID cards, saluted, and then said something that we had never heard from a tough security force person... normally, a Marine gate guard will say, "Ooh-rah, sir!" A Navy seaman will say "Go Navy, sir!" A soldier will say, "Hooah, sir!" This young Air Force guy said, "Fine and dandy, sir!" "Fine and dandy???" 

That interaction led me to recall this photo...  "Just sayin'..."