Cheating My Way To A Garden

IMAG0735-w1200-h1200For the last few weeks our tiny plot has been ablaze with spring color. The calendar says March but our plants say April, maybe May.

Does that mean it’s tomato time? Home Depot’s got plants. Why not try?

I headed to the garden center. My plan was buy a plant, a pot, some soil and get to work.

And then I spied it.

IMAG0736-w1200-h1200I picked up a plant already over a foot tall, with flowers, in a pot with an attached tomato cage!

This is cheating, right?

No planting. No weeding. No getting my hands dirty. It will have to be hand watered. That’s my only real contribution.

If things go according to plan there should be fruit to harvest in a little over two months. I can’t wait.

Will they taste as good without all the grunt work? I’ll let you know.

Is It Dog Friendly?


Last year as we decided where to move, Doppler was a large concern. We wanted a dog friendly place. That’s part of why we chose Orange County.

IMAG0677-w1400-h1400Because of weather, life is lived more outdoors. And most places without roofs welcome dogs. You see dogs at the mall. You see dogs in Home Depot. You see dogs on restaurant outdoor patios.

That’s where we took Doppler tonight.

IMAG0670-w1400-h1400Woodbury Town Center is our local shopping center. It’s got a Ralph’s (supermarket), Home Depot, Staples, Trader Joe, Walgreen’s, banks, medical, dental and vet offices and a bunch of smaller shops. There are about a dozen restaurants clustered together in an outdoor courtyard.

We sat down outside at The Counter. It’s a build-your-own burger place. Doppler supervised quietly from Helaine’s lap.

IMAG0680-w1400-h1400The waitress saw me taking a photo with my cellphone and pointed toward a nearby fountain. She said it was perfect for sunset shots. She was right.

We wouldn’t take Doppler into a store with food, but other than that she goes nearly everywhere. We’re never the only people with a dog.

Local Strawberries Come Home

strawberry field irvine aerial


Irvine produces a lot of strawberries! It’s likely the farmland will become housing at some point. Not yet.

Meanwhile, the satellite image (thanks Google) at the top of this post shows one of many strawberry fields in my part of town.

If there’s a crop that lends itself to the anal retentive it’s strawberries! The fields are geometric works of art. The plastic wrapped raised beds run straight as an arrow. My office isn’t as neat.

Helaine stopped for some at a local farm stand. They are exquisite. We’re told they’ll be available through the summer.

Is this a fair trade for pizza? No, it is not.

You take what you can get.

Fireworks At Disney

We did a bunch of stuff today, culminating in dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, plus Cousins Michael, Melissa and Max.

We ate at Downtown Disney with a plan. After our meal we’d move to the Disney parking garage and watch the fireworks from an upper floor!


Guests Mean Baked Goods… And Guests

Helaine's baked goods

Guests are arriving tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law are flying in from the ‘burbs of Milwaukee. Brutal winter. We’ll reintroduce them to the Sun.

Their trip from Milwaukee to Orange County will take nine plus hours.

I’ve done my part. I’ve been to the store to pick up my sister’s favorite goodies.

Helaine has been baking. Oh, my. I was skinny when Helaine and I met.

There are baked delights so delicious and unhealthy they can only be baked to convince a recalcitrant boy not to be scared of you. I don’t get those anymore.

“I don’t think these came out right,” Helaine offered as I walked into the kitchen earlier today.

I’ve heard this before. She’s so wrong.

Pastry. I heard the word “almond” float by. Slender, twisted, pale in color. I took a bite. Flaky. Oh. My. God. Nirvana.

I offered to take them off her hands, no questions asked.

Also appearing on tonight’s show… chocolate chip and thumbprint cookies. Both killer.

The cool thing about Helaine’s baking is how much she enjoys it and how good she is at it. Where is my 21 year old metabolism when I need it?

Beside eating, we plan on showing Jeff and Trudi around. It’s a nice place and we have access to the Sun.

Exotic Vacations While Connected

gangesTwo friends of mine are out of the country. It’s a very exotic vacation to India and now Bhutan. She’s been sending emails. He’s been taking photos.

I am loving their vacation. Being there would be better, but this is pretty good. They are living a dream.

30 years ago, before Bhutan was open to the west, I saw a National Geographic photo of that monastery, perched precariously on the side of a mountain, and made up my mind to get there some day. That day is supposed to be tomorrow….the last excursion to wrap up the trip. We will see what happens.

800px-Taktshang_editThat was written yesterday. Well, yesterday to me. They’re 10 1/2 time zones away. Day and night become a jumble.

It’s snowing in Paro, Bhutan as I type. Just light snow. It’s a steep climb to Tiger’s Nest. Light snow might be too much.

Until they went I didn’t know about Tiger’s Nest, but I did know about Paro’s airport. It’s one of a handful of most dangerous airports in the world. There are dozens of YouTube videos showing ganges 2airplanes on approach. Getting there involves threading the needle through narrow gorges and mountain passes.

We had our second Skype session tonight. Late afternoon for them. Middle-of-the-night for me. We chatted like we were in the same room, though nearly 7,900 miles apart.

The conversation ended when their hotel suffered a power failure. Some things remain rooted in the past.

I never saw this day coming, where distance isn’t a barrier to communicating. It’s like science fiction, except it’s not.

Dinner At Pink’s

Helaine and I drove to Hollywood last night. Helaine had some goodies for Stef. It’s a 55 mile drive. An hour and a half last night. LA traffic is as advertised.

Stef met us after work.

She’s been to the Golden Globes, SAG and Grammys. She’ll be on the Red Carpet at the Oscars too. Stef’s part of the team that produces the ‘pre-game’ and ‘post-game’ shows on E!. They’ll be live seven hours at the Oscars.

OK, I’m her father. I’m biased. It sounds like a pretty cool job.

I’m especially glad she’s involved in live TV. It’s a rush when you’re on and there’s no turning back. I tried to explain the feeling before she started. Alas, you can’t properly describe an experience.

We brought Doppler along, which limits where we can go. Who cares? She’s an excellent traveler.

We ended up at Pink’s on La Brea. It’s a hot dog stand, built in 1946, still rocking it’s 1946 style. Pink’s is a reflection of LA’s early adoption of cars versus public transport. You could drive up, get out of your car and get a dog!

I had the “HUELL HOWSER DOG – 2 hot dogs in ONE bun – mustard, chili, cheese & onions.” Huell was a well known TV personality whose segments on LA’s quirky native culture are still played, long after his death.

I also had a Dr. Brown’s Cherry. That brings me back to Flushing, as a kid. The taste hasn’t changed. It was magical.

Pink’s no Glenwood! Will someone please tell Rob I said that.

Our drive home was much faster–a little less than an hour.

We’re very lucky to live so close to Stef. It’s a trip we enjoy taking.

Las Vegas Oddities

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Michael and I just returned from a trip down the Strip to Encore. It’s a beautiful luxury hotel, sister to the equally elegant Wynn. My friend Jon Schneider from Cheshire is visiting. We had coffee. Very nice.

The rolling signs advertising “Girls That Want To Meet You” are still driving around, though as Michael noted, they’re looking faded. Some of the women pictured on the signs must be in their forties by now.

The world’s largest Ferris Wheel is now visible, though seemingly not yet running.

It was cool–high was near 60&#176. There were still people out at the pool this morning. For some people, being in Las Vegas this time of year is like receiving a pardon from winter.

The Wynn is all dressed up for Chinese New Year. The influence of Chinese culture is very visible in Las Vegas. Some of the casinos’ best customers are of Asian ancestry.

Here’s a perfect example. We’re staying on the 50th floor. Except it’s not. It’s really the 40th!

The express elevator counts 38, 39, 50, 51, 52, etc. My understanding is “4” is an unlucky number to some Chinese people.

At some point in the constructions some contractor must have said, “Renumber the floors? Sure, we can do that.”

There’s also a large Buddha shrine with fresh flowers as you enter the lobby and red everywhere. Red is a lucky color.

At the Wynn/Encore, where their players club card is called, “Red,” there are Chinese gardens with large red ornamental dragons hanging from the ceiling.

Everywhere you go there are statues of horses. It is the year of the horse.

This is smart marketing. I’m sure the Catskills marketed this way toward my parents and their friends in the 50s and 60s.

A Hike In Red Rock


Most people think of Las Vegas and stop at casinos. That’s easy to do. They’re built as one-stop shops to separate you and your money. Luckily, there’s a lot more going on here in the desert.

Just west of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. Red Rock Canyon is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area is 195,819 acres and is visited by more than one million people each year. In marked contrast to a town geared to entertainment and gaming, Red Rock offers enticements of a different nature including a 13-mile scenic drive, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnic areas, nature observing and visitor center with exhibit rooms and a book store.

Red rock 2   GmailMostly, it’s undisturbed desert with great views.

With temperatures in the upper 50s today was perfect for a walk. We chose a trail with little vertical climbing and started out.

We’re actually not sure how long we were on the trail before we lost it. There were still plenty of footprints in the dry river wash we followed and we didn’t go too far astray. We just lost the actual trail!

My Cousin Michael was quick to note, no birds. We did see one tiny gray bird Mother Nature has made nearly indistinguishable from the rocks it lands on. That was it. One bird… and we were looking.

It’s also interesting to see the colors of the plants. Many of the living desert species have colors normally only seen once a plant has died!






Scared of Sochi

If there was a website that did nothing but publish journalists hard luck stories from Sochi, I’d be on it a dozen times a day. No doorknobs. No floors. Toilets that won’t flush toilet paper. Yellow water. Digital hacking so thorough, NBC’s Richard Engel had his cellphone compromised in under a minute!

You can’t make this stuff up–though it’s not unexpected.

Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, is a victim of a type of government that favors ‘every man for himself’ thinking. It is a country which has watched the most dishonest among its populace become the most wealthy and where gaming the system is a national pastime.

That the Sochi infrastructure was built half-assed is, again, no surprise. Overseers who were supposed to insure a well planned outcome had other priorities. Police are corrupt. Inspectors are corrupt. Government officials are corrupt. Every hand is out!

So, we’ll all spend the next few weeks laughing at Sochi’s inadequacies, until something major goes wrong. I am scared that will be terrorist related. CNN reports most Americans feel there will be a terrorist attack at the Sochi Olympics.

The central Russian government has many enemies among its own citizens. Rebels who are powerless socially and politically often see violence as their only viable option.

Starting from the end of the 20th century, significant terrorist activity has taken place in Moscow, most notably apartment bombings and the Moscow theater hostage crisis. Many more acts of terrorism have been committed in Chechnya, Dagestan, and other parts of the country. Some of them became a matter of significant controversy, since journalists and scholars claimed them to be directed by the Russian secret services, often through their Chechen agent provocateurs. – Wikipedia

Will terrorists attack the games? I am petrified the answer is, yes.

The State Department issued a memo to athletes, reported in the Wall Street Journal.

“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk.”

I never shied away from New York City after 9/11. I understood the risks and felt them minimal. If offered the chance to attend these games, I would pass.

This Sanctuary Is For The Birds

Three camera safaris over three days. “Clicky” and I have been busy! This afternoon I joined my cousins at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, just across from UC Irvine.

The sanctuary sits on 200 acres owned by the Irvine Ranch Water District. It serves wildlife and people.

The wetlands are a critical component of IRWD’s Natural Treatment System, as they naturally clean urban runoff from San Diego Creek and help to protect the environmentally sensitive Upper Newport Bay. After interacting with the bulrush and other plants for seven to ten days, up to 70 percent of the nitrogen is removed. The cleaner water is returned to the creek to continue its journey to Upper Newport Bay and the ocean. – IRWD website

In many ways this site is similar to Wakodahatchee Wetlands, near where my folks lived in Florida.

The first thing you notice when you step out of the car&#185 is the sound. There are thousands of birds in close proximity. They’re not quiet!

We arrived as afternoon ‘golden light’ was fading. Bird photography needs light. There was little. That limited what I could capture.

San Joaquin is less than 15 minutes from here. There’s no doubt I’ll be back to see more.

&#185 – The last thing I noticed was bird poop on my nice new car! I’ll let it pass this time. No repeats, please.

Surf City Sunset


Until I moved here I had no idea Huntington Beach was Surf City. It is. I’ve been to HB a few times already, always with my camera. This afternoon it was me, “Clicky” and a bag full of lenses.

Over the past few days the forecast has pointed toward swells from a mid-Pacific storm hitting the coast. They wouldn’t be giants, but this winter has been disappointing to SoCal surfers.

“Isn’t it a little late,” Helaine asked? I was leaving around 4:00 PM.

IMG_1878The idea was to combine a little surf photography with sunset and whatever else I could find. I went to the beach unprepared! I was wearing jeans and sneakers. Somehow, the walking across the sand and into the ocean part hadn’t clicked. I ended up barefoot with my cuffs rolled up.

I like the vibe at HB. The whole beach area has a friendly feel with people of every shape, size and color.

The photo at the top of this entry is a 14 shot panorama. It was stitched together in the computer. Panoramas are very wide angle shots.

IMG_2019As I was repositioning myself near the base of the pier I walked by two girls. One was jumping while the other was trying to take a cellphone shot. I asked if I could give it a try.

I tried first without a light, but the contrast between the sky and her was too much. The finished photo uses the flash on the camera. I can’t remember the last time it was used.

Click the photo to see a larger version.

The temperature was mild and the beach stayed crowded as the Sun dipped behind Santa Catalina Island. The real show begins after sunset as the sky cycles through its colors until the clouds turn a fiery red.

And it’s January.


Holy Smokes, It’s Holy Jim

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After yesterday’s disappointment I was ready for some real California wilderness today. My cousin Melissa and her son (also my cousin) Max picked me up around 10:00. We headed south toward Cleveland National Forest and the Holy Jim Trail.

I know. Weird name. There is a story.

“Jim Smith was a talker—no ordinary talker. . . a man given to blasphemous eloquence. When he started cussing. . . he could peel paint off a stove pipe.” –

We entered the forest in Rancho Santa Margarita, then drove a few miles down a dirt road to the trailhead. It was rutted with rocks poking out in spots. All I could think of was settlers heading west a few hundred years ago riding roads like this for thousands of miles.

I’m not yet a westerner. I don’t yet understand all the nuances. There are homes in the national forest. Some are substantial. Most have rock foundations. Some have propane tanks and outhouses with solar cells. No power lines. No phone lines. No cable TV.

One cabin had a small Yagi antenna pointing toward civilization. Cell service for them, not me!

After 28 years in Connecticut it’s time to get used to a new look. Look down in Connecticut you mainly see green. Look down on the Holy Jim Trail it’s mostly dirt.

Though we’re in the midst of a significant drought the trees were mainly green, but the mix was weird. Trees and cactus comingling.

The trail runs through Trabuco Canyon. We were bounded on both sides by steep mountains.

The goal was Holy Jim Falls, but we never got there. There were time restraints, but more than anything I really felt out of shape. This walk was a wake-up call for me.

We left the trail and headed home, with a detour. We stopped at Cook’s Corner, a biker bar with its own Wikipedia entry!

The place was filled with motorcycles and bikers. Some looked menacing in leather. Their swagger was trumped by the vibe at Cook’s. Nothing bad was happening here.

As we headed to the parking lot I spotted three deer on a nearby hill. Our first wildlife of the day… and they were behind a restaurant.

The Disappointing Drive

We live at the northeastern edge of Irvine. Beyond us is wilderness. Some of it, supposedly, is spectacular.

For instance, the sinks in nearby Limestone Regional Wilderness Park has been called a “Miniature Grand Canyon of Orange County.” Probably a little bit of hyperbole, but worth seeing, right?

Limestone Canyon Regional Park   Google MapsI drove Portola Parkway to its end and turned onto Limestone Canyon Road. There were locked gates in either direction. Frustrating. Google Maps doesn’t show this as limited access.

My next attempt was on Jeffrey Road. Once again it looks fine on the map. The reality was different.

unfriendly-signThough the gates were open there were signs everywhere reminding me not to be there!

One open gate featured at least ten locks, each sharing a chain link with the next. It’s not great security, but it allows any of ten groups to control access to the road without sharing a key. Pretty clever.

gate-with-many-locksI called my Cousin Melissa, an Irvine native. She promises to take me out early Sunday for a little introduction to the wilderness.

Today I’m just disappointed.

Sunsets: California Photography’s Low Hanging Fruit

Shooting sunset photography here is like shooting fish in a barrel! Four out of five days the sky is ablaze with color. With little horizon blockage the results are easily obtained and still spectacular.

My new spot is up Portola Parkway toward the toll road. There’s wilderness on both sides and a nearly uninterrupted path to the setting Sun. Thank you highway planners for leaving a place for me to pull over that’s just right.

Oh — and sunset is in the afternoon. Much easier than the East Coast’s sunrise!

This picture shows office buildings near John Wayne Airport (approximately 8 miles) and the distant mountains on Santa Catalina Island (around 46 miles distant).

Sunset with Santa Catalina in the background

All the pictures are clickable for larger version.