Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye 2010 - We Knew You Were Coming

I remember years and years ago working on a “think exercise” project to describe what Social Security (my then employer) would look like in the impossibly far-away year of 2010. We created a planning document, a path-finder, if you will, to keep us moving toward the 2010 we had envisioned. It was hopelessly optimistic at the time: a vision of service on demand without the need to visit an office, citizens filling out applications online - in their robes and slippers if they wanted, and snow-bound seniors in remote areas talking to a representative using video conferencing. And what strikes me as strange today is that most of it is now reality.

Goodbye, 2010. It seems like only yesterday when you were far, far away.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holidays With RVers

How are Christmas and "The Holidays" spent in an RV?

Some decorate any available surfaces:

Som just drive and hope they "run into" Santa:

Some realize Santa needs a latitude adjustment, too:

We hang our stockings, one for for each of us (but which belongs to John?), and one for each of the Keets:

And then our special ritual of the year -- A December Hottub photo!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Usually He Scratches

John and I periodically play pool, the winner for the day taking two out of three games. John is a slightly better pool player than I am, but I win more sets than he does because he habitually scratches on the 8-ball or sinks it in the wrong pocket.

We have our own pool cues with identical cases -- one case is labeled "winner" and one "loser." After each game, we use the appropriate case for our cue stick until the next time we play. I have had the "winner" case for... well, let's just say for longer than would be my fair share.

Today John was brilliant -- he easily won the first game, and almost ran the table on the second. And here is the final shot (children, do not try this shot without pool shark supervision!), on which the victory of his second win depended:

Look out, John... next time, the "trophy case" will again be mine!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lettuce Entertain You

Location: Yuma, AZ

Every day at the Mexican border, buses pick up scores workers with temporary agricultural visas who have just walked across the checkpoint from Mexico into Arizona. The re-purposed school busses, pulling port-a-potties and hand-sanitizer wash stations, deliver the workers to one of the many lettuce fields in and around Yuma.

And then the day begins, a day that is just like yesterday was and just like tomorrow will be. It is another day of picking lettuce, and for most workers that means picking an astonishing 3000 heads before they head for home.

Yuma is the lettuce capital of the country from November through April (Salinas, CA, claims the honor in the summer). Crops are ready for harvest every 6 weeks or so, and fields are replanted as soon as the previous crop is gone.

Some interesting lettuce facts:

  • There are 70 varieties of iceberg lettuce alone.
  • Iceberg lettuce costs about $2,200 per acre to grow and should produce 700 to 800 cartons to the acre.
  • Picked head lettuce, if kept cool, will last 30 days. That is NOT in your refrigerator -- factor in the time it takes for it to get to you, and you are left with about 10 days of fridge time before the science experiments take over.
  • The Yuma lettuce fields are irrigated by water from the Colorado River. The irrigation pipes are moved from field-to-field as the season progresses. The cost to the farmer for water is $15 per acre/foot.
  • During the winter season, 12 million heads of lettuce are harvested in Yuma each day.

As John and I were driving around the country outside of Yuma, we spotted a group of lettuce pickers that were near enough to the road for us to stop and watch for a while. What we saw was an orchestrated symphony of picking virtuosity.

And it was obviously hard, back-breaking work.

An all-in-one, motorized trailer-esque vehicle slowly moves through the fields, at a stroller's pace (in the photo above, the entire assemblage is moving to the left). The front of the vehicle has filled pallets and boxes waiting to be filled. The rear is the picker's tossing station. And in between the two, workers box the lettuce, stacking the boxes into crates, and then the crates into pallets. The pallets are eventually transferred to trucks for distribution throughout the country.

It is the pickers that draw your eye. The pickers walk either behind or along side the trailer and drop the lettuce into buckets, then other workers put it on conveyors or pack it into boxes.

The pickers move quickly -- so quickly that it takes a while before you realize all that they are doing: bend down, decapitate a head of lettuce with a 12-inch knife, straighten up, hack off excess leaves with a couple practiced swings of the knife, bag the lettuce into the top-most piece of plastic wrap from a stack hanging from their waist, give it a twist and tie off the bag. A few seconds have now passed. They do another. And another. And another.

If they are working ahead of the end of the trailer, they drop the bagged head on the ground to be picked up by another worker as the wagon passes. Otherwise, it is delivered into the packing system in back. The pickers never stop. Pick, stand, hack, bag. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

We were mesmerized watching the operation in this field, and there were at least 3 other operations like this going on just in this one field. As we watched, one of the pickers waved John over, using hand gestures to offer us a head of lettuce. When he returned, John was juggling five.

A journalist named Gabriel Thompson has recently published a book, now on my "must read" list, entitled "Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do." A section of this book covers his 2-month stint as a lettuce picker here in Yuma. He found picking lettuce is not merely back-breaking work, but also takes years to build the proficiency needed to keep pace with the trailer. Years of pick, cut, wrap, pick, cut, wrap -- hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

Lettuce doesn't get any fresher than our unexpected bounty. I have never thought of lettuce as having an identifiable smell, but it does -- field fresh lettuce has a subtle earthy smell, pleasant and herby, clean and crisp.

We had salad tonight, and the lettuce was the best I have ever had. And all through dinner I thought about what it took to get all the heads of lettuce I have eaten in my life to my table. Our heartfelt thanks go to "our" pickers-- we enjoyed your gift more than you will know.

Gabriel Thomson said, "I don't eat lettuce in any form without thinking that someone bent down, cut it and wrapped it - and did that thousands of times a day."

And we will always remember that, too.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dandy Don Died Today

It came out of the blue on the Evening News - Dandy Don Died Today! I should research this more carefully, but just excuse me and let my memories take over.

Monday Night Football exploded into our lives as the war in South East Asia was grinding to an ignominious halt. Those of us who participated in the latter got no parades, but parades come and they go and they are over. Our welcome home was MNF with Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Dandy Don Meredith, forever after known as "Jeff and Hazel's Baby Boy". He was the perfect foil to Cosell's dry wit.

I remember the "Ice Bowl" in Green Bay in 1967. That was the beginning of "the Frozen Tundra". Meredith was the Cowboy quarterback in that most exciting game. I forever after was a Cowboy fan as a result of that game (and possibly because a classmate of mine at the Air Force Academy played defensive end on the '68 thru '81 Cowboy teams).

Anyway, I'm rambling about great memories and good people. After all, it's Monday night, and guess what's on TV.

Turn out the lights, Don, and thanks for the memories.

Your friend,


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Changing Technologies as a Boomer Grows Up

I don't know how to be older. I've only ever been younger.

When I was growing up, television sets had one big dial, which you turned through the numbers 2 to 13 to find one of three networks -- ABC, NBC, or CBS (for simplicity, I'm talking only about VHF). As I got to early adulthood, a wire into the house was installed, and that "cable" filled up those 2-13 channels with an amazing array of programming, most of it local. Later, a box was added, and the box gave us more channels than we ever thought possible, opening up a world of networks.

My first computer was a TI 99/4A, and I used it to learn how to program using Basic (a computer language). Hard drives were unheard of then -- programs came on a cartridge and saving data was done on a simple audio cassette recorder. The video was displayed on a TV (the one already in your living room!), and I can still remember the whiny wheep-wheep sound the recorder made as the data was saved or loaded. Pong was amazingly high tech.

Next, an Apple IIE, and an Apple IIGS came into my life along with text adventures, floppy disks, and mono color monitors (your choice, amber or green text). Then came a series of PCs, each increasing in computing power and memory. Color TV was the newest and greatest gadget, although the reds looked eerily other-worldly and seemed to shine and fluoresce.

I was a full-fledged adult when some odd geeky whisperings could be heard about a thing called the "internet." I originally connected when Arpanet was the mover and shaker, finding servers in far off places with interesting articles and documents just waiting to be downloaded. There were no pictures, and no search engines. Things were found by stumbling upon lists of resources other people had found. Mysteriously named protocols like Archie, Veronica, FTP, WAIS, Telnet, and Gopher helped to navigate. Eventually Yahoo came to the information-discovery rescue by creating a way to really plumb the depths of the internet.

I was mid-career when the World Wide Web hit -- at first text-based experience, but graphics could be viewed if a separate application was installed. I was working in Information Technology (IT) -- as a Local Area Network (LAN) manager and a Systems Operator (SysOp), which led eventually to work as a web programmer/database administrator (DBA). At one point, I even knew how to rewrite an .ini file to optimize memory and why a DOS machine beeped at you as the operating system loaded!

Fast forward three short years ago when I left those hi-tech jobs for the fun and excitement of the gypsy life of a full-time RVer. It has not disappointed. But in that short time, it feels like the rush of technology is already zipping past at sonic speeds. I have a phone; it does not have "apps." I have a TV; it does not have Google, it does not connect to the internet, and it does not display 3D. I have an e-reader; it does not have color displays or play games, and it takes 60 seconds instead of 5 to download a book. I do not know what the difference between 3G and 4G really is. The electronics of my world are not synched with each other in any meaningful way.

The distance between being on the cutting edge and feeling vaguely disassociated happened in only three years. 36 months. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1100 sunrises and sunsets.

Being older used to mean being out of touch with technology and not understanding how to interface with objects that only understand interfaces. My father, born in 1910, could not figure out how to make "the HBO" appear on his television. It required turning the TV dial to 3, and then turning a knob on the cable box from pointing right (for channels 2-13) to pointing left -- but those two steps left him confused and frustrated, and undoubtedly feeling old and left behind.

In the late 1980s, I heard that, by the end of the century, people who did not understand how to use a computer would be the "new illiterate." And I think that prophesy came true. How many people today do not have email? How many businesses can afford not to have a website? John and I tend to avoid campgrounds without a website, preferring to check each one online before we pull in. And I keep in touch on a daily basis with many old and new friends on social networks like Facebook, but I almost never contact those who are not connected.

So where is this leading? Today John (and I) unexpectedly moved a little further into the 21st century through the acquisition of a new phone. It started innocently enough: the battery on John's phone died. So we jumped in the car and trekked to the Verizon store to get a new one. They didn't carry the right battery (for one of their phones? Come, on, Verizon!), but we saw a Best Buy next door and decided to see if they could help us.

On the way over, I remarked that it seemed like it had been 2 years since John got his phone, so maybe he was due a new one? An hour or so later, and a Best Buy gift certificate cashed, John walked out with a new Android phone, the first smart phone for either of us.

We have now entered the world of "there's an app for that," a world where we can get our mail during lunch at Paneros, or play computer games while waiting for the dentist to call our name. We can now Google as we travel, and find the nearest Trader Joe's when we are in a strange city and have an emergency need for perfectly seasoned lamb chops.

We may not be young, but we are not ready to be old either. As we replace our technology gadgets and gizmos, we will have fun learning what they do and how to use them. My phone is due to be replaced this May. Will it be a smart phone?

You bet. There are still a lot of Freecell games I haven't won -- and the older I get, the more time I seem to spend in dentist's offices. I guess there's a kind of "technology karma" to that.

John receiving his first smart phone call (from me!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

A-one An-A-Two... Wunnerful, wunnerful!

There is a small golf course and resort in Southern California that was developed by the King of the Bubbly himself, Lawrence Welk. It's called, not surprisingly, Welk Resort and Champagne Village, although its original name was the simpler Lawrence Welk Village. I can't speak to the quality of the golf courses, although I'm sure they are first class, but I can tell you about the museum. Yes, there is a museum dedicated to Lawrence Welk, nestled snuggly in a corner of the lobby of the theater, the theater located just to the side of the musical note fountain, it in turn overseen by a statue of a batonned Mr. Champagne himself.

The museum is free, and the day we stopped by we were the only visitors, although the reservationist was in the same room and she was on the phone selling tickets without a break. The lobby is dedicated to Lawrence Welk and his early life: how he was born in a small, German settlement in South Dakota where his father got him his first musical instrument -- a $400 accordion. He promised his father he would pay for it by working on the family farm until he turned 21, which he did.

He learned to play it on his own, and fulfilled his repayment promise, but stayed not a day more -- on his 21st birthday he left the farm to play in Big Band orchestras, eventually forming his own band. The "Champagne Music" tagline was born during a Pennsylvania tour when a patron said his band sounded "light and bubbly like Champagne."

The museum's centerpiece is this huge crystal champagne glass, said to be "the world's largest." It may at times be bubbly and lit, but it wasn't the day we were there. It quite charmingly sits in front of the theater's refreshment stand.

But the best part of the museum has to be the life-size cut-out of Mr Wunnerful himself, with a vintage TV camera focused on him and a live feed from the camera displayed on a ceiling-mounted TV. How could we not take advantage of THAT photo op?

Lawrence Welk died in 1992 at age 89. The Lawrence Welk Show aired for an amazing 27 years from 1955 to 1982, and can still occasionally be seen on television today.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving At Mitry Lake

Thanksgiving Day Feast at Mitry Lake, just north of Yuma can be summed up as a boondocking adventure with failing batteries, chilly nights, great food, and good friends!

We got here just before total darkness on Tuesday, so we didn't get a chance to look around until Wednesday morning. Coming in as darkness fell, we only knew that the road out of Yuma had become a dirt road, and then got even more narrow, rutted, and rustic, until it emerged through the trees onto a flat gravel area overlooking Lake Mitry -- our new home for a few days.

In the morning we looked around a bit more. The lake could be seen in the distance from our haphazard parking in the dark, but we'd need to move the rig because we'd never get level there. A fire ring had been constructed, but we only had a couple bundles of wood which wouldn't last long. This may be Arizona, but temperatures were set to drop into the 30s. A good fire seemed a must. So we moved the rig a short distance away, and then John tackled the wood problem.

Not so tough a solution -- he ordered a cord of wood to be delivered. He met the truck and guided them into the campsite. The driver was, to say the least, a bit surprised to come through the rutted roads and find a slew of RVs parked everywhere he looked!

Thursday morning: We got up in time to watch Santa arrive on the Macy's parade. Football followed as John made a Yam Casserole for Thanksgiving dinner. It was excellent.

Everyone brought their dishes out at 2 P.M. for a fantastic feast. To paraphrase Nancy E., you get a lot of RVers together who basically live in 400 sq. foot homes, and yet they find enough tables and chairs to serve a dinner for 38 people!

The firepit turned out to be a great idea -- temperatures did get very chilly, but the fire was warm and kept us all outside and socializing long after the cold would have driven us in. We discovered that our coach batteries are not holding a charge as they should, so we have no heat during at night when we can't run the generator. Thursday, the temperature fell to 48 degrees inside! Two quilts on the bed and some cuddling for warmth kept us from being miserable, but getting up for night bathroom breaks was not much fun!

And what would a Boomer get-together be without a group photo? This was taken by Becky Hazen, who kindly emailed it to us all. Thanks, Becky!

More photos of the event can be seem on my Picassa album clicking on the following:

Lake Mitry Boomer's Thanksgiving

Hope you all had a Happy Turkey Day !

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Passport Books in Yosemite

Today we made our last trip into Yosemite for this year. One of our goals had to do with the National Park Passport Program. For those that aren't familiar with it, the National Parks all have a "passport stamp" (or cancellation stamp) that shows the date and location, and sometimes includes a graphic. The bigger parks have several stamps, usually one per visitor center. If you want to collect these stamps, you just stamp them into a book that is available in the gift shops. Here's what a stamped page from my book looks like:

John got me interested in getting these stamps -- he had been a collector for years. So I bought the standard sized passport book (above), and have been getting stamps for about 3 years.

But after a while, the book became too small -- there just wasn't enough space for all the stamps. I had already gotten two of the small books, removed their spiral spines, and melded them together with some binder rings. It still wasn't enough, so now I needed to take the next step. I needed to get the larger, passport-on-steroids version that they sell. It features a zippered binder, add-on pages that can be easily slipped in where needed, and it is just plain bigger so it is able to hold many more cancellations.

In other words, I needed to go to the "Big Girl" book. So we headed to the main Visitor Center/Bookstore in Yosemite Valley to get my upgrade.

Yosemite Park is not a lightweight when it comes to our fabulous National Park system. 3.7 million visitors go there each year. John Muir, Galen Clark, Ansel Adams -- all were enthralled with the beauty and elegance of Yosemite landmarks such as El Capitan, Half-dome, Yosemite Falls, and the Giant Sequoias. It is one of the gems of the park system.

So you'd think they would have the large version of the passport book, wouldn't you? Alas, they "don't carry it," only the small version.

Dejected and dismayed, I was forced to leave without my "Big Girl Book." But there are lots of National Parks, and soon I will find the book in one of them -- but then, of course, I'll need to do some more "arts and crafts" to incorporate my little pages into the big book!

Today was a beautiful day in the park, and despite the book fiasco, we had a wonderful time. There was quite a bit of water for October -- the Merced was running full, and Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls (the upper and lower falls can be seen in the photo above) were flowing nicely. They tell us that the best time to see these falls is in the Spring -- maybe next time we'll come then.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Coarsegold Tarantula

Mid-October to mid-November is tarantula mating season here in the Sierras! Just down the road from the park in Coarsegold, the upcoming Tarantula Festival on Halloween weekend should be a blast!

Just saw my first tranny here at Park of the Sierra -- I let him (or her) walk over my foot, which to him (or her) must have been just a huge, white, annoying speed bump. He (or she) went up and over, then scurried on. I'd like to think he (or she) was contemplating an afternoon's amorous romp, a spring in his (or her) eight-legged steps and a spidery twinkle in his (or her) eye. Have fun, kids!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life . . . while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music. . . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."

-- John Muir, "The Yosemite"

Said to be a valley as beautiful as the Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy (meaning "grass with edible seeds") had been protected since 1864 as part of Yosemite National Park. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco petitioned Congress to allow a dam to be built on Hetch Hetchy's river, the Tuolumne, to provide much needed water to the Bay area.

A seven year battle ensued, with John Muir and the Sierra Club leading the fight against the destruction of Hetch Hetchy valley. Muir lost; in 1923 the O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed, and today it still provides water and electricity to San Francisco. A "Restore Hetch Hetchy" movement still exists, but the removal issue is not without controversy. In 1987, Dianne Feinstein, then the mayor of San Francisco and an opponent of restoration said, "All this is for an expanded campground? ... It's dumb, dumb, dumb."

Before and after photos
of Hetch Hetchy do show a lovely valley was flooded, but all the beauty was not lost. John and I visited the dam, and saw impressive hills, a waterfall, and a pristine lake (the caretaker is the only one allowed to put a boat in the water, and no one can swim in it).

Visitors are allowed to walk the dam, and continue through a tunnel to hiking trails that go to the waterfalls. There are two falls in spring and early summer, but one was dry when we were there. The other can be seen in the photo below, emerging from a hanging valley on the left about half-way down the image.

Hetch Hetchy is in an out-of-the-way part of the Yosemite National Park, so there are very few visitors compared to the tourist frenzy in the main areas of the park. Entering is a calm and unhurried process, and each car is given a laminated parking pass for their windshield. We noticed something... odd about it. The reverse side only has a map -- so what happened to regulations 1 through 7?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One of My Favorite Places

Yosemite Valley as seen from above -- one of the most beautiful, sublime, and ethereal places on Earth. It seems immortal, a place that has always been and will always be -- although that is Mother Nature's little joke. The valley has only recently come into being, geologically speaking, and has been changing ever since.

The mountains, the Sierra Nevada, are granite, solidified underground from molten lava and later exposed through erosion. Yosemite Valley was originally cut by the Merced River into a "V" shape. The river ended up at what was then the bottom of the valley. Glaciers subsequently filled the valley -- so deep they almost reached the top of Half Dome. When they retreated, they left the typical glacially-carved "U" shape, the shape that we see today. Scrapings and polishings from the glaciers can be seen everywhere you look, and erratic rocks dropped by the glaciers, some balanced precariously, are testimony to the relatively recent and powerful ability of glaciers to reinvent the landscape.

Here is Half Dome in profile, as seen from Washburn Point. Those who climb to the top use cables embedded in the rock on the far side. So many people want to make the demanding trek that the Park Service now limits the number of weekend climbers to 400 a day. Half Dome is not a broken "full dome" -- geologists tell us that it formed just as it is today.

When we got to Glacier Point, a little further down the road from Washburn Point, we found a wedding about to happen! We were there on 10/10/10, and the Mother-of-the-Groom told us Yosemite was hosting 10 weddings in various parts of the park in honor of the unusual palindromic date.

Here are John and I at Washburn Point, the photo taken by a wonderful Australian couple we met there. If you're reading this, "thanks!" and have a wonderful rest of your stay in the U.S.!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"There's No Way To Get Around It"

Location: Coarsegold, CA

Before now, my last trip to Yosemite was in 2006. At that time, a huge landslide had just happened. Traffic into Yosemite from the west, through Mariposa and El Portal on Highway 140, was halted along the Merced River.

The slide started at the end of April 2006, but by the beginning of June it had really burst. 300 tons of rock had cascaded down the mountain, burying Route 140 and ending just short of damming the Merced River. For a couple months, anyone needing to get to Yosemite was forced into a 1.5 hour detour to the south entrance. The news then said, "It's huge and and it just keeps rolling ... there's no way to get around it." On June 1, observers had noted only 13 seconds in the previous four days when rocks were not moving.

When I was there in August it was marginally better -- two temporary bridges had been erected to bypass the slide -- the road detoured over one bridge to the far side of the Merced where the road followed an old railroad bed for a while, then returned to the main road via the second bridge. When I first got there, the detour was available once a day -- provided you were in line behind the "follow me" pilot at 7:00 A.M. for the day's only trip around the slide. Eventually, a one-way traffic light replaced the pilot car, allowing 24 hour access, albeit with a fifteen minute wait for the light to change.

Now, in 2010, I was interested to see if I could still find the place where the detour had been or if it had been totally erased by time. As we traveled 140, I kept looking for signs of the bridge or the temporary road. Finally, I found them!

To my surprise, nothing had changed.

The bridges still bypassed the landslide (the brown area in the photo below), and traffic lights still controlled the one-way traffic:

We were told that the entire hillside was deemed unstable, so rather than cleaning up the rock slide the decision was made to semi-permanently re-route the road. Here's how it looks today -- the "old" road is still clearly visible, and you can see how close the slide came to damming the Merced River:

Once we got into Yosemite, El Capitan presided solidly. We had heard that the waterfalls were dry, but we did see a small trickle from both Yosemite and Bridal Veil Falls, probably due to a few days' rain this week.

We wandered through Yosemite Village for a short while, where the "John and John" team (Muir and Macon) posed for a photo:

More Yosemite to come!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What Three Things Look Like Before They Get To The Store

As we have been driving down the country roads just south of Yosemite, we have passed several orchards interspersed in the farmland. Most of the trees were not ones that we could identify, so we decided to find out what was being grown.

1) We stopped at this grove first:

After scraping off the pinkish skin from one globe that had fallen on the ground, we discovered a tan pistachio shell hiding inside, with the greenish nut inside it! Almost like a Mother Nature's Russian nesting doll!

2) Our next stop was this grove:

These look like hard, waxy green olives on the tree. We could break apart the outer skin, but didn't find anything recognizable inside.

Since our reverse engineering failed, we had to ask at a fruit and veggie stand. Turns out these are un-ripe almonds!

3) After a stop at the local Trader Joe's, we came away with brussel sprouts in all their "birthday suit" glory. This is only the second time I have seen them on the stalk -- the first was a long, long time ago -- 30 years or so -- when I was visiting my friend, Ken, in San Jose.

The sprouts on the stalk were wonderfully fresh, some of the best I have ever had. There are a surprisingly large amount on the stalk -- we have now had them for two meals, and there are still some left. Mon petite chou!