Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Long days

Yesterday was a perfect example. I was up at the crack of dawn as yet again my brain was ticking. I wish I could just flick a switch and turn it off. There is just a lot going on right now. Anyway, I packed a couple more boxes, and did some serious tidying up ready for the cleaner to arrive.

As part if the packing experience, I had discovered things that I wanted to donate, so the first job was to take some of them to my boss who was collecting for a mental health hospital. It's interesting that the one year I was organized enough to buy my wrapping paper in the sales after Christmas, that we are going back to England for Christmas and I can't wrap anything before I go :-) That, and I really don't want to take to pack it and take it to California. So I donated it, along with some games and toys.

I also discovered the purple martin birdhouses I had volunteered to clean, and they needed to go back to the coordinator. So after delivering both those things, I got to work.

I already can't remember what I did at work yesterday, but the end of the day was interviewing candidates for my own job. Three candidates were whittled down to two due to broken tooth, and both candidates were easy to talk to, though the process took longer than I expected.

We didn't get finished until 8:15 pm, so went straight to Book Club. Luckily my timing was perfect and a yummy dinner was being served just as I walked in. I haven't read the book, as I couldn't get an audio version of it. At least I wasn't the only one :-). However we had an interesting discussion about the election, and how things are reported these days.

Finally I went home and my brain was still ticking, so I did some varnishing of a couple of kitchen cabinet doors, and finally hit the sack at 11:30 pm.

No wonder I am tired today!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Moving House

Packing- what fun! Actually I quite like it. It's time first to clear out the clutter to sell the house. I'm finding it quite therapeutic, although the dogs are very confused. The kitchen almost looks bare, but I have a feeling that I'll get used to using just what I have here. We also replaced all the 'pulls' on the doors and drawers and it looks so different. So now I am adding a finish to the doors to spruce them up a bit. Next we have to take the lights off the fan (which are very old fashioned), and then we just have to put up the new lighting to finish it off. Makes me wish we'd done it years ago.

Tomorrow we move some of the clutter to the storage unit, and I start on the cupboard under the stairs..

Saturday, June 10, 2006

First day on the lake!

Today we walked to the lake, and hauled out the kayaks which were remarkably clean considering they had been stored upside down all winter. We rinsed them off with lake water and took a slow leisurely paddle towards the beach. There was a lovely breeze, and there was only one other boat out there, so it was all very relaxing. Once we got to the beach we went for a swim. When Dick got out the water he watched a turtle make its slow way down the beach and in the water! He then admitted once I got in that he also saw a water snake!

On the way back, we met up with Brian, Chip and Steve- three really nice guys who were cleaning off boats for other people just because they volunteered to :-) We also saw lots of purple martins having a great time flying in the wind. It was getting so hot, we headed back on home to shopping lunch and jobs.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Death Valley - May 10th and May 11th


Wednesday 10th May- To Death Valley
The convoy parted ways at Kingman as we headed towards Death Valley and Joel and Stevie headed home to LA. Back across Hoover Dam, back past Vegas and past Area 51, finally driving though barren areas of land that Dick kept noting as being 'straight out of the X files'. It was difficult to see exactly where the valley began until we found our first information station. There we picked up a map and headed to Dante's View, where we first felt the heat of the area. The long twisty road up there was worth it for the views- miles and miles of barren nothingness. In the distance we could see both the highest point in California, Mount Whitney at over 14,000 ft above sea level, and the lowest point, Badwater, 262 ft below sea level. It was very dry and very hot.

We drove on to 'Zabriske's Point', where the rock formations look like huge claws of some unknown creature, and then to 'Badwater', the outside temperature continually rising. At 6 pm it was 105 degrees. Badwater is thought to be named after a traveller who wrote 'bad water' on his map after his donkey refused to drink it. No wonder, it is very salty! We walked on the salt crystals and gazed up at the mark on the hillside which showed where sea level is. The heat never leaves the valley as the surrounding mountains trap it in. We hit the perfect time for sunset again, this time over Artists Pallette, an area of naturally occuring strange coloured sand. We were definatley working up a thirst and a beer was foremost in Dick's mind. We were staying at Furnace Creek Ranch and we hit the bar!

Thursday 11th May- The longest day- Part 1
The longest day began with standing on sand dunes in the dessert- most peculiar and still no cooler first thing in the morning. A long barren drive north towards 'Scotty's Castle' where we bought a detailed map of California, and had our first incling that the day may turn out to be longer than we expected. We were heading towards Yosemite and happened to mention it to the ranger. She noted that the main route across the Sierra Nevada's was still closed due to heavy snowfall. Snow? In May? The map did say 'closed in winter'. Can't be that bad we thought. Want to bet??

Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon May 8th- 10th


Monday 8th May -Hoover Dam.
Finally we left Vegas, and drove past the famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign. I had enjoyed my time there but I was not sad to be leaving. Despite being very glitzy and clean on the surface, their policy to allow smoking everywhere finally got to me. Dick is normally the one who doesn't like crowded places, but I was with him this time. That and the men and women lining the streets slapping their hands to try and get your attention to give you an almost pornographic card advertising the 'services' of some young scantily clad woman. Lovely. You can imagine the litter build up at the end of the day. Not a place to take anyone under the age of 18.

So we headed east out of Vegas towards the Grand Canyon. There was lots of building work going on near the Hoover Dam. It seems they are building a bridge across the river, so you won't have to drive across the dam itself in years to come. Probably a security issue these days. You have to go through a security check point even now.

The dam is not as big as I imagined as you drive up to it, but is huge when you stand on it. First we did the tour, where you watch a movie of the history of the dam first. It is then that you realise how much of a huge achievement it was when it was built during the depression. It was finished sooner than they had planned and gave a lot of people jobs when there weren't any, as well as providing water for so many. Then they take you down into the dam and they show you the insides. The guide told us that they had only recently started allowing visitors to do this again after 9/11. Unfortunately you can't go outside at the bottom of the dam any more, which apparently really did make you realise how big the dam is. But you do get to go on an observation platform which hangs over the dam and you get a real bird's eye view of the power tower's which hang at a 45 degree angle over the valley. We walked across the dam into Arizona, where I discovered they do not have summer time, so despite changing time zones, the time was still the same.

Back on the road, the scenary becoming more sparse and dry toward the canyons. I wanted to go in the East entrance of the canyon, and we got their just as the sun was going down which was perfect timing. You start to see clues that you might be near the canyon when the landscape changes and everything looks very flat. The park is free to enter at that time of day, and there are several viewpoints. We stopped and watched the sun go down over a smaller end of the canyon and it was stunning. We were warned that there was so much more. Driving along towards Grand Canyon village it was getting darker but there were sparks of what looked like firelight. The parks service were doing some controlled burning which gave the whole end of the trip a really surreal feeling.

We stayed at the Grand Canyon hotel, an attempt at a lodge style hotel, which had free wifi in the lobby, so Dick was a happy man (somewhere to download his podcasts!) It was late enough that we ate in the hotel and had an early night ready to go hiking the next day.

Tuesday 9th May- Grand Canyon
We bought an annual National Parks pass, a cheaper way to see all the parks we would see this trip. Nothing really prepares you for parking up and walking over towards the canyon in what seems a normal tourist area and then suddenly seeing the huge expense of the canyon right in front of you. Stunning. Gob smacking. Ten miles from the south rim to the north rim and it seems a lot further. I just couldn't stop taking photos, and it is true that none of them can really show what is there. Everytime you look, you see something else that catches your eye.

We had planned to walk some way down the Bright Angel Trail, a trail that can lead to the canyon floor, but you can't safely do it in one day, and we had not planned to hike for more than a couple of hours as it is very hot down there. The trail meanders down but fairly steeply, and I was concerned about coming back up as I am not as fit as I should be right now. So Dick, Joel and Stevie carried on down a bit further and I had fun playing with my camera whilst making my way back up.

After lunch we drove to some of the other view points and I took yet more photos. I just couldn't get enough.

That night we ate at a restaurant at a spitting distance from the canyon, so Stevie and I even walked over to see the sunset again between courses. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped and watched the famous Imax movie about the history of the Canyon, which was also well worth it.

Wednesday 10th May- Sunrise
I had seen two sunsets over the canyon but not a sunrise, so I got up at 4:30 am, and drove into the park to the nearest viewpoint where people were already gathering for the sunrise. It was cold! I had on a fleece and a jacket and was still cold, but it was worth it. More people arrived, including a Japanese tourist bus- I only really noticed them as some were wearing masks as if they were trying to avoid the pollution. Pollution? I had a great view and took loads more pictures, the reds in the layers of rock showed even more clearly.

I drove back to the hotel on deserted roads only to see elk eating the flowers in the hotel flower beds! I saw four in total and they totally ignored me. Then I went back to bed to warm up!

Las Vegas May 3rd- May 7th 2006

Wednesday 3rd May- Flight to Vegas
As usual, I was working right up to the last minute, so I was glad to get to the airport. Atlanta's airport is horribly busy, whenever you go. This time I was leaving from the C gates, flying AirTran for the first time. About an hour before the flight I sat down to listen to my Ipod when I noticed the case was covered in blue ink! A pen had exploded inside my bag. Luckily it was in a pocket, so I spent the next 45 minutes trying to clean it out, and suddenly realised my flight must be boarding! It was, but I was ok. The flight was very full, and I was sat next a woman who was travelling with her mother to go and see Celine Dion in concert. She was very excited.... The flight attendents were very friendly and helpful, though I wasn't happy with just a pack of crackers for a four hour flight. This saving money lark by the airlines may well backfire, as no food means that those who drink (and pay for every one) get drunk much quicker as the guy sat in front of me proved. I think the scantily dressed lady who sat next to him regreted her choice of clothing by the end of the flight!

The first thing I saw was the slot machines in Las Vegas airport! The airport was very clean and new looking, relatively quiet, and yes, some people were gambling. I was meeting up with Carl and Tracy for our limo ride to the hotel. Dick had flown in earlier that day and raved about the stretch limo that collected him- we just got a town car.

The Aladdin Hotel is ungoing a renovation, so it was a bit confusing finding the hotel lobby even. It seems the priority is to get you into the casino first, and then you find the lobby later! Dick met us near the lobby and after going to our room we were back downstairs walking through the mall area of the hotel which was meant to look like the streets of somewhere in Arabia. We sat in a bar, and tried to stay awake having gained three hours in the time zone change.

Thursday 4th May- Topcoder and the strip
The whole purpose of this part of the trip was because Dick was invited to cover the 'Topcoder Open' for his 'Java Posse Podcast'. So we were up eating a very nice breakfast with the competitors first thing the next morning. The Topcoder guys were very friendly and didn't seem to mind that I was joining Dick. They made us feel very welcome right from the beginning. Tracy and I left the geeks to do their thing while we explored the hotel (the spa!) and then walked down part of the strip. Tracy had been to Vegas before so she was a great guide: a mini Eiffel towel outside the Paris hotel, gondala's being guided around the pool at the Venetian, both inside and out, and more slot machines than I have ever seen in my life! After lunch we decided we couldn't take any more of the strip, so we relaxed by the pool in a wonderful breeze under a palm tree. What a life!

'Topcoder' know how to treat everyone well, and this time they gave the geeks the perfect down time by inviting everyone to dinner and an evening of gaming at 'Gameworks'. We each had a unlimited gamecard for 3 hours on everything from racing games to Dance Dance Revolution. I have never been into gaming of any kind, except the occasional 'Tuxracer' at Christmas (penguins racing in downhill races!), so it was a whole new experience for me, and I had a great time. We raced cars, motorcross (my favorite!) and even horses, and shot zombies and terrorists for about two hours! The noise was what finally got us. Noise is something that is not easy to escape from on the strip. Next stop was New York and hot dogs! Every landmark you see in New York was there, including all the people. So we headed back to the Bellagio to see the fountains and Joe sweet talked us into a bar on the terrace for the last two shows of the night.

Friday 5th May - Topcoder and more of the strip.

Tracy and I opted for a more relaxing morning and had coffee and a walk through the mall while our geeks continued to report on the competition which was heating up. After lunch, we explored further down the strip and saw the cheesiest moving statue show in Caesar's Palace.
Tracy and Carl were leaving that night so we all met at the hotel Mexican restaurant at the end of the day for a Cinco de Mayo margarita.

That night we were invited out by Bruce Eckel, a past interviewee of the Java Posse, to go into the real Vegas (ie downtown and NOT the strip) with his friend Brad (who turned out to be the City Attorney of the City of Las Vegas). Brad explained that the strip was in county limits and not even in the City of Las Vegas. We went to an area that was having a street party, a monthly affair, and then had dinner at Mexican restaurant. Brad then kindly gave us a full tour of the strip by car, and told us bit more of the history of the area.

Saturday 6th May - The geeks hit Vegas
Dick and I breakfasted in Paris on crepes and coffee, and then took a taxi to a local camera store. The lens on my camera had given up the ghost, and I had been without a camera all the time, and we didn't want to go on the rest of the trip without a camera. $500 later I was a very happy lady, and we took a local bus back to the other end of the strip. Joe had talked about the new Wynn hotel so we went in there, and it was beautiful, their flower display rivalled the Bellagio. We found a bar with a view of a cascading waterfall, and relaxed whilst waiting for Joe and Dez to join us for lunch.

After lunch we went and explored TI (the new name for Treasure Island) which was very disappointing, and discovered that Dick had left my old camera lens back in the Wynn hotel. So we double backed and booked a show for the evening- La Reve, similar to Cirque du Soleil.

Bruce joined us for dinner at the Wynn at a very nice but expensive restaurant whose name I can't remember. Then we headed for the show, only to discover that the show had been cancelled due to a faulty stage. Disappointed, we took the Monorail to the MGM, and walked over to another free monorail to connect to the Mandalay Bay resort. This time we rested in a Russian Vodka bar where the main bar was frozen in order to keep the vodka cold, Dick had a chocolate peanut martini and a big smile on his face for the the rest of the evening.

Sunday 7th May- Enough of Vegas, time to chill.
Following a late breakfast, we headed for the pool to listen to Ipod's and chill. Only in Vegas would a band be playing and deafening everyone on a Sunday morning, so we didn't last too long.

Joel and Stevie arrived mid afternoon from Los Angeles, and were staying at TI. They picked us up and we went to the MGM for dinner at the famous 'Emerils' restaurant. Unfortunately their name is better than their food and the only thing special about it was the price!

We headed back to TI to see the show outside on the pirate ships, hoping to see a swashbuckling pirate show, only we should have guessed by the title 'Sirens of TI' that it wouldn't be the case. Instead we were treated to scantily dressed 'sirens' luring pirates into their lair by some terrible singing- just dreadful, and certainly not a show for kids!

Our reward was ice cream at the plaza in the Venetian, and a walk back to the Aladdin.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back again

Well I didn't write for a week and forgot my login and password! I think it is about time that I wrote down all my logins and passwords somewhere. I know I tend to use the same few passwords, so I need to do a bit of changing some too. Friday night I went to our annual bookclub sleepover, and Liz had a book with all her passwords written down. I hope she locks it away when she leaves the house! I also realised that Dick knows loads of paswords that I don't, so we need to amalgamate some too.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Technology etc

My thought for the day is how technology changes our lives. Tonight I sat and updated Dick's calendar from my Mac, and I know he will now know about everything that is on my calendar. I was amazed to discover that he had already put in my usual meetings. I know it is partly because he can plan his geek nights! In the same breath I had 50 spam messages since this morning (filtered out already thank goodness) and several emails to answer. Gosh it seems to take longer and longer to cope with emails. At work I had even more, and it has now become a chore to check them. It's not like they go away if you ignore them!

I also realised how many chores Dick usually does, as he is still away in San Fran. When I came in late from work I scrambled to put out our trash, and the neighbors trash (a favor Dick always does for them), I forgot to check the mail, then I had to feed the dogs (something they won't let anyone forget but he also does it in the evening, as I do it in the morning). Then I remembered it was going to rain tomorrow afternoon and get cold again, so I need to remember to drag in some firewood so I can light the fire this weekend. ... that can wait until tomorrow, it is dark already. It is my day off tomorrow, but I have to do lots of chores, and the list is growing longer. I need a glass of wine just thinking about it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Long Day

Long day.. got to work early at the special request of someone, who then did not turn up! Hate that. Dick went off to San Francisco too, so didin't get much of a chance to chat to him before he left, as he was also trying to edit his podcast and get it published before he left. I think it is probably a good idea that he is not here, as I would not have seen him that much this week anyway! Just have to remember that I have to be home in time to sort out the dogs before I go out again. Social meeting tonight- good opportunity to network, but now I'm tired. At least my sinuses don't hurt as much and the headache has just about gone- maybe because I have not had much time to think about it! Will steam again before I go to bed though. Have to work out how to get the spell check working on this blog, as it does not seem to be working right now. Maybe because I am working on a Mac? Will get my geek to do some research if I can't work it out!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Volleyball

Last night the team played again and lost again. For me it is definately confidence. The more we played the better we became and we warmed up into it. We always seem to win the games we play after the official games are over. Also there is some conflict with the guys- having four of them and swapping in does not work as well as when it is a stable team. Poor LeAnne was out with a migraine. Today I think I have a sinus infection, though I am not sure as I've never had a sinus infection before. Does not feel good. Glad I am working from home today, though the meeting minutes could be interesting!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday afternon on the Mac

I don't remember the last time I sat down and just played on the computer. Sure I have jobs I really should be doing right now, but what the hell. It started off as a job- to get my email up to date. I've only been intermitently being checking it in the last month, and then there is so much it gets overwhelming and I just can't face it. So I took the bull by the horns and went for it today. Thank God for Gmail. The spam box was 600 messages full. No more. I cleared out all the ones whch are too late to answer now anyway and the notification emails I get about travel etc, which I do like to get once in a while. but do they build up too. Then I have all the ones which get forwarded from work, which is also ok when I need them but otherwise they just clutter up the email. So I am down to about 5 in the inbox and now I am a happy person! All are related to work and will have to be dealt with but not on a Sunday afternoon! I also got to write to Sue and Chris- I worked with both of them at different times in the past. It is good to catch up on news of mutual friends as well as their own news. We are all on different continents- Sue in Hong Kong, Chris in England. Both had responded to our annual Christmas message I sent out with the Christmas cards. That was also an eye opener- it turns out we had quite a full year last year after all and travelled more than I had remembered. I decided I liked receiving similar missives from friends and have stopped apologising for sending out a more personal message, though I do try to write a line or two that is more personal in the cards themselves. So while I was writing emails I noticed a link to blogging out the corner of my eye and decided to set it up there and then. Now I just have to work out how to find the blog again and correct the spelling!

Here is my Christmas letter which I am posting to remind myself of our 2005. However I am going to edit out some things that should not be public....

"Well my Dad summed it up nicely this morning... You? Not ready for Christmas? That's unusual! I still can't work out what happened to December!

Anyway, enough of that. The best bit was when Dick and I ran away from everything and went on our first cruise for 5 days to the Bahamas :-) We drove down to Jacksonville, Florida in the Mustang, and had five days of reading, sleeping and relaxing on the boat. Oh, and we walked around Freeport, and Nassau too. It was very pretty 'mon'! Ate conch and rum cake and had no Internet connection for 5 days! How did Dick survive you ask? Barely :-)

Working backwards in time, September I hit the big 40, and Dick surprised me with a party two days after. Everyone just turned up at our house at the appointed time and I had no idea. I had my first real American present and got some very comfortable cowboy boots which I love, and my sister Jane tells me are very trendy right now. The first time I have been 'in' for years! Part of my birthday treat was a girls weekend in Texas visiting an old neighour who built a house on Lake Dallas, complete with wonderful views and a pool in the back garden. It was exactly what I needed :-)

Talking of Jane, she is pregnant and they are expecting the little one to arrive at the end of January. Therefore we will be coming back to England in early Spring, and we will be driving around to see as many as we can as we haven't been back in over two years, and both Jane and Dad have moved house since. Mary, Dick's mum, came out in June – more on that later, and is here with us for Christmas and the New Year. We saw Kirsty, Dicks sister, only two weeks ago, she came out with Mary for a quick visit on her own and she shopped until we all dropped. It seems things are still cheaper here. We also went to see the new Georgia Aquarium which is the largest and newest in the world and is fabulous.

The main reason we did not come back to England in late spring as planned was originally due to Uncle Sam, and the IRS. I hate the 'try to work out how much you will owe in taxes' plan because you don't always work it out right! So the plan was to use air miles to get us to stay with some friends in Los Angeles for a cheap holiday instead. Well, things didn't quite work out that way! It just so happened, that the 'Java One' conference was happening in San Francisco around the same time. For those non geeks among you, it is the ultimate Java Geek conference and Dick was invited on an all expenses paid trip to attend. Shame :-) Well, I couldn't let him stay in San Francisco all on his own could I? Mary even came out to house and dog sit :-) We changed our free flights from LA to San Francisco, and Dick geeked for a week while I explored during the days. We were wined and dined every night by the local Sun Microsystems guys whom Dick has got to know well, and Dick met and spoke to some of his Java Idols. Dick himself is well known in the Java circuit and was recognised several times at the conference which he found both amazing and embarrassing. My shy quiet hubby turns out to be Java hero! Java has turned out to be very significant in his life this year.. more on that later.

Anyway, post conference we hired another mustang convertible, (which was paid for by the company because they had not had to pay for flights :-), and we drove down the beautiful Route 1 four hundred miles on the Pacific Coast highway with stunning views all the way to LA. We stayed with Joel and Stevie and explored the area including Universal Studios and the Paso Robles vineyards. (Need I say more?) The only thing we never saw was the actual Hollywood sign, even though we drove down Rodeo drive (it was behind us all the time we were told after !) Stevie is an animator for Disney and she took us on a private tour around the studios, and then later down to the original Disney world (now 50 yrs old), which was an amazing experience. It was nothing like we expected and Dick admitted after he was not looking forward to going until he went on some of the rides, which were not all aimed at children! In fact, we plan to take someone down to Florida to see the bigger more modern Disneyland someday.

To top it all, the very last weekend we were there happened to be the World Superbike race at Laguna Seca, which is just south of San Francisco. It was the first time in 10 years that the top level of motorbike racing in the world was going to be in States, and we normally only watch it on TV, so Dick in particular was very excited. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out out be the day we had hoped. It took 2½ hours to get from the entrance of the park to a parking spot, and we only just got there in time to see the 40 minute race, and it then took 3 hrs to get back out again- it was a good job our flight home was the next day! As I've told you before, we go to two other race tracks every year, one here in Atlanta, and one in Birmingham, Alabama, both of which deal with large crowds and the latter in particular, a new course, would have done a much better job of hosting it. Needless to say we won't be going to see it there next year, Dick said a beer and a bar sounds like a better idea! However, the Java One conference is in May in 2006 so maybe we'll go North and explore the Napa Valley after this time :-)

Back to Java and Dick. First he now regularly writes about Java for an online magazine called Developer.com. Both Dick and I have iPods (I listen to more books than I read these days) and as usual, he is way ahead of some of the geeky trends, so he begun a 'Podcast' (for those of you who have not heard of it, it is like a mini radio program) on Java called the 'Java Posse' about all the news in the Java world and some interviews too, which he does at least once a week with two guys in California, one who works for Sun Microsystems, the other works for Google. If you do a search for 'Dick Wall' on Google, you can see some of what he does! We haven't updated our home web site in a long time, so that needs to be on our resolution list this year. "

Why Blog?

It's a New Year, journaling hasn't worked yet, keep hearing about blogs and decided to give it a try- I think. My only reservation is the rest of the world being privy to my thoughts, so we will see. Why Quaint Jackie? My imagination was not flowing so I borrowed a hint from my instant messenging name, and that was borrowed from my hubby Dick in the first place. 'Quaint' referring to being English in an Amercian world. It is quite a part of my identity here, being English in the Southern Bible belt. My accent is frequently commented on even now, when I am told I have mellowed out a bit. As I always say, most of the time it is a good thing to stand out- people remember me easier, especially when I phone them but if I complain or forget to call someone back, then they always remember it was me they spoke to! Just occasionally it is frustrating, for example when some people insist on telling me all about their English heritage at inappropriate times. I still get asked how I have kept my accent after just over 6 years here. I think it is because Dick is English too, and so we hear English spoken often. I often do tease Dick about his 'Americanisms' though, and I confess we both talk about taking out the trash these days instead of emptying the bin.

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