Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Next Juan Valdez — Part 2

Last year I wrote about our Kona Coffee Plant that we brought back from Hawaii and how, after three years, it sprouted three whole coffee beans! Well, the Kona Coffee Spirits were more generous this year, bringing me 20 times more beans with a whopping harvest of 61 beans!

Last year's fledgling crop. (06/18/05)

Keep this up, and maybe I'll be able to brew an entire pot of coffee (heck, I'd be happy to make one cup). We'll see. Either way, you can bet you'll read about the results on the James & Tim Blog.

This year's abundant 2006 Crop. (06/28/06)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I Now Pronounce You Kane and Wahine

A couple of months ago, I was complaining to Tim that we don't have any more weddings to go to. It seems we've finally reached that age where all our friends and relatives who would potentially get married already are. The last one I went to was in 2004 when my cousin Marc married Michelle. But then we were pleasantly surprised when a couple of weeks later, we got the invitation to Ray and Brena's wedding.

The happy couple, Ray & Brena. (06/24/06)

The wedding was held at a private residence in Riverside, California. The theme: Hawaiian. Both Ray and Brena have family history in Hawaii. It's also their honeymoon destination.

When bloggers collide: James & Tim and Laura S. (06/24/06)

We've known Ray for quite a few years, dating back to Tim's days in Club Pavo (a sort of party circle that would get together for shindigs every now and then). We got to know Ray even better when a group of 11 of us signed up for an Alaskan cruise together. On this cruise, we kept hearing Ray talk about this woman he had just recently met. We thought he was making her up until a couple of months later when we finally met her in person at Dana & Eric's luau — and she was hella cool too!

The original Alaska 11, reunited for the first time since 2004, plus honorary cruise passenger Brena. (06/24/06)

Everyone had a great time and we wish Ray and Brena much happiness and success in marriage.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Chillin' on the Virgin Islands

In case you're wondering why you haven't seen any updates to the blog lately, it's because we spent a week on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I originally planned to update the blog from the island in real time. But when it came down to it, what would you rather be doing? Writing a blog in the hotel room, or sipping rum punch by the pool? 'Nuff said.

James & Tim having dinner at The Fish Trap on our first full day. (06/11/06)

St. John is the smallest of three main U.S. Virgin Islands. The 20-square-mile island, with less than 5,000 residents, is more than two-thirds national park. There are no airports on the island. The only access is by boat. It's also where Academy Award-winning actress Renée Zellweger married country singer Kenny Chesney (whose marriage lasted not much longer than our vacation).

The awesome 1/4-acre swimming pool. (06/15/06)

We were there with our friends Doris & Jenn, whom we visited in Santa Cruz last year, and who visited us earlier this year. And we also invited our friend Steve, from Washington, DC (with whom we traveled to Hawaii in 2002).

The 1,200-sq.-ft private beach. (06/15/06)

How did we end up in the Virgin Islands? The idea started with Doris, whose company was planning a sales incentive meeting there. As the event planner, Doris had some work responsibilities there, but since most of her time would be free, she suggested it as a group vacation, and it sounded good to us.

Dinner on our last full day: Doris, Jenn, Tim, James and Steve. (06/16/06)

We stayed at the Westin St. John, one of the newest resorts on the island. It sits at the end of Great Cruz Bay, on the west side of the island. The property is gorgeous, complete with a private 1,200-foot-long beach, a 1/4-acre swimming pool, and lush foliage everywhere — complete with a wide assortment of wildlife, including exotic birds and iguanas!

Jenn helps feed the iguanas. (06/16/06)

The resort did an exceptional job at making guests feel secluded, even though it's only a short drive from Cruz Bay, the main town on the island. On three nights, we braved the terrifying taxi drives into town to dine at some of Cruz Bay's many restaurants. The rest of the time we stayed at the resort (who wanted to leave?).

An undated satellite photo of the Westin, courtesy of Google Earth.

We had a great time there. We also had many fun excursions, which I'll categorize separately just to keep things short. In all we definitely enjoyed ourselves.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Annaberg Sugar Mill

One of our favorite excursions on St. John was our visit to the Annaberg Sugar Mill. Technically it was the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill, an 18th/19th-century sugar factory built in the height of the Danish plantation era, when sugar and slavery dominated the island for 150 years. Today the ruins are maintained by the National Park Service.

Adventurer James & Tim. (06/12/06)

Built between 1797 and 1805, the Annaberg Sugar Mill was dominated by a large windmill, which was used to crush sugar cane stalks. Slaves would feed the sugar cane stalks into the rollers, and juice would flow downhill to the factory.

The remaining windmill structure. (06/12/06)

The heart of the Annaberg sugar operation was the boiling room. The slaves would ladle the cane juice from kettle to kettle, gradually concentrating and purifying the boiling liquid. Then they would pour the juice into flat wooden pans where it cooled and crystalized into sugar. Timing was critical. If juice was removed too soon, it became molasses instead of sugar crystals.

This was the boiling room. (06/12/06)

In all, it was a very interesting lesson in the islands' sad era of slavery.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Trunk Bay

After our trip to the Annaberg Sugar Mill, we met up with Doris & Jenn at Trunk Bay, which has been voted one of the "Ten Best Beaches in The World" by Condé Nast Traveler magazine and has received similar acclaim from other publications. It is one of the most popular beaches on the island, and the only one that charges admission ($4 a person).

The water was incredibly clear. (06/12/06)

One of Trunk Bay's signature attractions is the underwater trail for snorkeling its coral reef. By the time we got there, Doris and Jenn had already finished their snorkeling adventure, so we were able to use their gear to check it out ourselves.

Great sand too. (06/12/06)

The snorkeling area was fascinating. Tons of little tiny fish everywhere (and some larger fish too). It took me a few minutes to get acclamated to snorkeling again. I had done it in Hawaii and enjoyed it then, but still, it took me a few minutes to overcome the feeling of wanting to panic when a little bit of water would creep into my mask. Fortunately for me, one of the friendly lifeguards gave me some good tips.

Trunk Bay was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

One of our excursions was to Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, the most populous of the three major U.S. Virgin Islands (population 19,000). St. Thomas is also one of the most popular cruise ship ports-of-call, with about 1.5 million cruise ship passengers landing there in 2004.

Steve, Jenn and Doris on the ferry to St. Thomas. (06/14/06)

St. Thomas is also the shopping capital of the islands. We thought it would be a great place to pick up souvenirs, since there wasn't very much shopping on St. John. We didn't find very many interesting souvenirs there, but if you are looking for alcohol, cigarettes, jewelry, sunglasses or perfume, St. Thomas is the place.

One of the main shopping streets. (06/14/06)

Charlotte Amalie is named after Charlotte Amelia of Hesse-Cassel (1650-1714), queen consort to King Christian V of Denmark. It is famous as a deep-water harbor that was once a haven for pirates. Charlotte Amalie has many buildings of historical importance and is home to the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere (which we didn't see).

Charlotte Amalie from the ferry. (06/14/06)

It's a very interesting city, but based on the parts that I saw, I was a little unimpressed. But I'm glad we went.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Parasailing in the Virgin Islands

One of the most memorable excursions on our Virgin Islands trip was the afternoon we went parasailing. With the exception of Jenn, none of us had ever parasailed before. And let me tell you, it was a lot of fun.

Tim and Doris go up and away. (06/15/06)

Actually I thought it would be a lot more terrifying than it was. But aside from the initial pulling as they're getting you up, I found that being up there was quite peaceful. And I'm really surprised that Tim handled it so well, since he's typically afraid of heights.

Doris waits for the next victim to lock into place. (06/15/06)

We had to go up in tandem, which means that since there were five of us, Doris had to go twice, accompanying both me and Tim. Steve and Jenn went up together. What a day!

Pulling in Steve and Jenn. (06/15/06)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

British Virgin Islands

One of the things we were looking forward to on our vacation was a day trip to the British Virgin Islands, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Originally part of the Dutch Empire, the islands were acquired by Britain in 1672.

James & Tim passing through the Sir Francis Drake Channel. (06/16/06)

We were on the Island Time boat (led by Captain Coco), which took us from Great Cruz Bay on St. John to Soper's Hole on the island of Tortola, where we had to go through customs (you need a passport to go to the British Virgin Islands from the U.S. Virgin Islands). Soper's Hole was also the home of famous pirate Blackbeard between 1715-1718.

Soper's Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. (06/16/06)

Afterward, we went through the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the island of Virgin Gorda, which means "Fat Virgin" in Spanish (Christopher Columbus gave it that name on his second voyage in 1493 because in his opinion, that's what the island looked like).

Our destination on Virgin Gorda was an unusual geologic formation known as "The Baths," located on the southern end of the island. At The Baths, the beach shows evidence of the island's volcanic origins, as huge granite boulders lie in piles on the beach, forming scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. It was gorgeous.

The Baths on Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. (06/16/06)

Because there's no dock there, we had to swim our way onto the island, marking the first time in my life that I've ever swam to another country!

Another view of the Baths. (06/16/06)

After exploring the caves, we found a dingy little snack shop called Poor Man's Bar & Grill, which was operated by some not-so-pleasant locals. But since we don't consider that we've visited another country until we've spent money there, we bought a round of drinks.

Enjoying a Red Stripe at the Poor Man's Bar & Grill. (06/16/06)

Afterward we headed back through the Sir Frances Drake Channel to Norman Island, where we were going to do some snorkeling. Legend has it that Norman Island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, however I think there are several places that hold that claim.

On the way, we went by Salt Island, which is notable for the wreck of the royal mail packet steamer, RMS Rhone. It was one fo the first iron ships ever built, and it sunk in a hurricane on October 29th, 1867. All but a few of the crew were lost. Some of the underwater scenes in movie "The Deep" were filmed in and around the wreck.

We also cruised by Dead Chest Island, which reputedly got its name when the notorious Blackbeard, after a mutiny, put 15 men ashore on this island with only a bottle of rum — hence the song: "15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." I was told by Captain Coco that the island was used for filming portions of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, however I haven't been able to verify that.

Dead Chest Island. (06/16/06)

We also passed Peter Island, on which sits a home owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

At Norman Island, we went to the Caves, which is known as one of the best snorkeling spots on the British Virgin Islands. And it did live up to its expectations.

The Caves on Normal Island, where we snorkeled. (06/16/06)

There was tons of coral, countless fish, spiny sea urchins, crabs and more. And I personally got to experience why "fire coral" got its name ... because I got a bad sting from it on my right knee. And it hurt too! Luckily Captain Coco had some Windex on board that she was able to spray on it to minimize the sting (it was either that or peeing on it).

Tim re-boards the boat after snorkeling. (06/16/06)

Afterward we headed back to St. John where we had to go through customs again. They weren't stamping passports, but I asked them to stamp mine. After all, what good is a passport if they don't stamp it? :)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Disneyland Roses in Bloom

One of my favorite birthday gifts this year came from Jon and Amy: An official Disneyland Rose Bush, a rose variety developed especially for the Disneyland Resort. They ordered it from Jackson & Perkins, the plant's exclusive distributor. And the other day the very first roses opened up.

A close-up of James' Disneyland Rose. (6/5/06)

As the official rose of the Disneyland Resort, this variety steals the show at the Happiest Place on Earth with colorful blossoms blending every shade from pink to copper. It's so Disney, that even it's official name — JACmouse — pays homage to Disney's most enduring icon.

The official tag, shown the day of planting. (4/3/06)

It's actually my first rose bush, which you may find surprising since I love gardening so much (I think I'm part Hobbit). And so far I like it, although Tim (an old rose-growing pro from his Chino Hills days) has given me lots of good tips, like getting rid of the suckers.

What it looked like upon arrival. (4/3/06)

I also noticed a few aphids have already made the bush their home. So my solution was to buy some ladybugs from the hardware store and let them out on my Disneyland Rose. And as luck would have it, an hour later I didn't see a single ladybug left. Oh well, on to greener pastures I guess.

What it looks like now. (6/4/06)

Thanks Jon and Amy for such a fun gift!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bathroom Remodel 90% Done

We're so happy ... We have a functioning master bathroom again! That's not to say the bathroom remodel is done yet. We still have to buy mirrors, mount towel bars and hooks, and have cabinet doors custom built (since there's nothing pre-fab that works). But after five weeks of having a bathroom in various stages of disarray, we at least have the Big Three (toilet, sink and shower) in full working order.

Tim is the first to try out the new shower. (06/04/06)

In case you're wondering why I haven't posted any pictures of the remodel yet, it's because I'm waiting for it to be done so I can post before/after pics. I thought of posting in-progress pics, but the changes were so incremental, that it wasn't exactly exciting blog material. So check back at a later date for pics.