Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween 2006

When I woke up Halloween morning, the strangest thing happened. Remember reading about Coffee Matey at Tim's Superhero Summit Birthday Party? Well for some reason, the spirit of Coffee Matey leaped out of Tim and jumped into me this morning. But since it was Halloween, I decided not to bother finding an exorcist and I just went to work that way.

This is the scary face that welcomed trick-or-treaters. (10/31/06)

Our office had a Halloween pot luck (I brought lasagna). Lots of people brought food, but only a handful of people dressed up.

James with a few other costumed co-workers. (10/31/06)

One of the administrative assistants made an awesome cake in the shape of a big spider. The way she did the black frosting made it look like it was covered in fur, like a hairy tarantula. It looked amazing and tasted even better.

One of our office admins made this spider cake from scratch. (10/31/06)

In the evening, we didn't do anything too outrageous with our decorations, since we've been really busy lately. But Coffee Matey stuck around long enough to hand out candy and Play-Doh to the kids. We had 64 trick-or-treaters -- up more than 20% from last year!

James and Tim trick-or-treat at Everett & Manny's new crib. (10/31/06)

After we shut down at 9:00, we popped over to our friends' Everett & Manny's new apartment that they had just moved into days before. We wanted to be their first trick-or-treaters. They weren't actually giving out candy, since they were still moving, so we brought candy and Play-Doh for them.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lunch at a California Roadside Icon

The day after our tours of one California landmark, we stopped by another one: Pea Soup Andersen's, the "Home of Split Pea Soup." Located in Buellton, CA, Pea Soup Andersen's is one of those old-time roadside attraction restaurants/gift shops/motels that is advertised with billboards all along Highway 101, reminding you how many miles you have left to get there.

We stopped for lunch at the famous Pea Soup Andersen's. (10/23/06)

Established in 1924 by Danish immigrant Anton Andersen, the restaurant was then called Andersen's Electric Cafe, in honor of their prized posession, a new electric stove. Since it was on the road to Hearst Castle during the heyday of Hearst's newspaper empire, many Hearst newspaper writers and reporters would stop by the Cafe.

Andersen's has been a central coast staple since 1924. (10/23/06)

By the late 1930s, the place had become known as Pea Soup Anderson's, and has been going strong ever since. Tim and I have stopped to eat there once or twice before, but it's been a while. So when Jon and Amy suggested it during the drive back from our San Simeon camping trip, we thought it sounded fun.

Jon signs "The Great Register of the Select Customers of Andersen's." (10/23/06)

When you walk in there, it's definitely one of those places that's seen better days. But it definitely has a sense of history about it. And looking at the registry book near the entrance, you can see names from all across the U.S., including many international visitors.

The famous pea soup. (10/23/06)

Naturally, I had to order the split pea soup while I was there (Tim doesn't care for split pea soup), which wasn't bad, although it's not a must-have item. But it's something you have to have at least once in your life.

Touring Hearst Castle

During our San Simeon camping trip, several of us opted to take tours of Hearst Castle, the secluded palatial estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Built from 1919 to 1947, the Julia Morgan-designed compound is located on a hill near San Simeon overlooking the Pacific ocean.

La Cuesta Encantada, or as it's commonly known today, Hearst Castle. (10/22/06)

Hearst Castle is modeled after historic architectural styles that Hearst admired in his European travels. In fact, to me it looks more like a church than a castle. Altogether the main house and the three guest houses contain 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, and airfield and the world's largest private zoo.

The Neptune Pool was modeled after Greek influences. (10/22/06)

Invitations to "The Ranch," as Hearst used to call it, were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Hollywood stars and famed politicians were among the many guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Calvin Coolidge, and Winston Churchill. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they could partake in a variety of events in the daytime, including horseback riding, swimming in the two pools, playing tennis, etc.

What I wouldn't give to have been able to be one of those guests in the heyday. Whenever Tim and I are anywhere near the area, we always make an effort to take at least one tour.

Tim smiles in front of the Casa Grande. (10/22/06)

Tim, Amy and Joe left for San Simeon Friday morning, since unlike Jon and I, they were able to get the day off work. So Friday evening, they were able to attend the nighttime tour. Tim and I had done the nighttime tour once before, probably back in 1997 or 1998, and it was amazing. Not only do you get to see the estate lit up, they also have people dressed in period costumes throughout the property.

Some of the many statues on the estate. (10/22/06)

On Sunday, Ralph and Anna took the main tour, while Tim, Lynne and I took the garden tour, which doesn't actually take you inside the main house (which isn't a big deal since we've been in there many times over), but takes you on a walk around the esplanade that circles the estate.

This pool was modeled after Roman baths and features gold mosaic tiles. (10/22/06)

My favorite parts are the two swimming pools, including the amazing Neptune Pool, an outdoor pool modeled after ancient Greek influences, and the indoor pool modeled after ancient Roman baths. You can't really tell in the picture, but the entire pool bottom, walls and arches are covered in tiny 1" x 1" tiles that were set by hand. It's truly spectacular.

Tim got this shot of the Neptune Pool on the nighttime tour. (10/20/06)

The garden tour also includes a visit to the wine cellar, which is still stocked with thousands of bottles (most of which are empty, incidentally). Hearst freely served alcohol to his guests, even during the 13-year prohibition. Although Hearst was a moderate drinker, he had little regard for drunks, and anyone who drank too much was asked to leave (actor Errol Flynn was one of them).

Anyone who has the chance must take a tour of this fascinating piece of California history.

NoCal/SoCal Camping Trip 2006

For the first time in four years, we got the big NoCal/SoCal camping group together for another camping adventure. The location this year was San Simeon State Park, which is approximately mid-way between the Bay Area and Southern California — the perfect meeting choice.

The NoCal/SoCal Camping Group. (10/23/06)

It's been forever since we all got together for camping. The last time was in 2002 in Santa Margarita. We tried again in Big Sur in 2003, but for reasons that I'm not remembering at the moment, the Bay Area side wasn't able to make it. In 2004, Michele was pregnant, which kind of ruled out a camping trip. And in 2005, Liele was just a newborn. Fortunately, 2006 was the year to make it happen.

Lynne poses with Liele on Liele's first ever camping trip. (10/21/06)

The group consisted of Tim and I, our friend Joe, my cousin Shel, her partner Lisa, and their daughter Liele (age 1.5), Shel's brother Ralph, our friend Lynne, her girlfriend Anna (and her dog Tor), our buds Jon and Amy, and some friends of Michele & Lisa: Bridgett & Bob and their daughter Phoebe (age 4).

It was really fun knowing that it was Liele's first camping trip. Hopefully there will be many more.

Here's proof that Tim actually likes kids. (10/21/06)

It was a fun group, and we had a great time. But man, was it cold cold cold! We were all huddled around the fire at night. But it was great weather in the daytime once the morning fog wore off.

Amy and Jon take a break in Cambria. (10/21/06)

Some of us made a few excursions into Cambria, a little town two or three miles south of the campsite. Although it's mostly bed & breakfasts, antique stores and souvenir shops, they actually had a decent grocery store there. So it was a great place to pick up stuff that we forgot to bring.

We saw elephant seals chillin' on the beach. (10/22/06)

Others took the opportunity to go to Hearst Castle, which is three or four miles north of the campsite. Tim, Lynne and I, for example, took the garden tour, which I'll write about in a separate blog entry.

We closed the trip with our traditional Bop-It Extreme challenge where the entire group passes around the Bop-It Extreme, until the last survivor is left standing. In our camping trip to El Capitan last year, I was Bop-It Extreme champ. This time the honors went back to Tim.

Bop-It champs Anna, Lynne and Tim. (10/23/06)

Next year we're talking about doing Yosemite, which would be the first time our NoCal/SoCal group have camped at a national park. From what I've been told, I need to make reservations now! So who's coming with us to Yosemite?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Visiting Tom Sawyer Island

While at Disneyland, we decided to check out Tom Sawyer Island, a narrow island set in the middle of the Rivers of America, the large body of water that borders Frontierland, New Orleans Square and Critter Country. It's been a Disneyland staple since 1957.

Aerial photography of Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island. (Date unknown)

Normally, this attraction is not on our agenda, since it's only accessible by boat, not to mention that Tom Sawyer Island isn't exactly one of the most thrilling parts of the park. But rumors have been buzzing lately that Disneyland is going to reconstruct the entire attraction with a Jack Sparrow theme in time for the release of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

You can only get there by "raft." (10/15/06)

In the event that plan came to fruition, we wanted to see it once more in its original state.

Of course, when Disney floats any major expansion idea, it creates huge debates among Disney fans. On one hand, you get the preservationists, who argue, that Tom Sawyer Island is sacred ground due to the fact that it is the last remaining attraction that was designed by Walt Disney himself.

The Mark Twain River Boat passes by. (10/15/06)

Then you get the other half that says that if Walt Disney were still alive, that he would want to update it, which is proved by the fact that Walt Disney himself tore-down older rides and replaced them with newer ones, some several times over. I typically agree with the latter.

The Pirate's Den on Tom Sawyer Island. (10/15/06)

It had been a few years since we were there. We probably go around it more often than we go on it, since the Mark Twain Riverboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia and Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes each go around the island. The island was exactly as I remembered it, with caves galore, rope and pontoon bridges, and dozens of things to climb. It's definitely meant for small kids, I realized as I squeezed my way through the small treehouse.

Fort Wilderness was closed. (10/15/06)

The only major bummer was the fact that the Fort Wilderness, "the last outpost of civilization at the end of Wilderness Trail," was closed. I remember being inside there the last time I was on the island several years back.

Incidentally, I found some interesting facts while researching Tom Sawyer Island. Like in August 1970, it was briefly taken over by anti-Vietnam-war hippies who raised the Viet Cong flag on the flagpole. And more bizarre is the claim that Tom Sawyer Island was annexed by Walt Disney's home state of Missouri, making Disneyland the only theme park that is in two states. I'm not so sure if the latter is true. I need to research it further.

A Visit to the New Disney Vault 28

Today Tim and I used our freshly-purchased Disneyland annual passes and spent a couple of hours at Disneyland. One of the things I wanted to check out was a new experimental urban apparel botique at Downtown Disney that had just opened a few days prior. The store is called Disney Vault 28, a reference to the year that Mickey Mouse made his debut in "Steamboat Willie."

The newest arrival to the Disneyland Resort (10/06)

The store is targeted to fashion-conscious shoppers. For example, t-shirts aren't $20, or even $50. Most run about $75. And a pair of jeans will set you back upwards of $200.

T-shirts run up to $75. (10/06)

According to Disney, it's the only store of its kind, and was developed for customers who wanted products that were not available in other locations. The store will be stocked with two new Disney brands, Kingdom Couture and DV28, as well as celebrity-favored designers, including Chip & Pepper, Paige Premium Denim, Tarina Tarantino and Red Monkey.

To depart from other Disney stores, the store will have less movie tie-ins, focusing on classic characters, like Mickey, Tinkerbell, Alice in Wonderland, etc.

Doesn't look like your typical Disneyland store. (10/06)

The first thing we noticed while there was the lack of any extensive men's clothes. They had a little tiny section in the corner, and that's it. And although the store is cool to browse at, we saw very few people actually making purchases.

The paltry men's section. (10/06)

Although we certainly wish Disney the best with this new concept, our prediction is that the store won't be around in a year's time. We briefly toyed with the idea of buying one of the Vault 28 shot glasses, since it could become a collector's item once the store goes out of business, but we opted not to when we saw that it cost $18.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Carolina & Todd's Wedding

Today was Carolina's wedding day, and what a great day it turned out to be. Although it didn't exactly start off that way.

The happy couple, Carolina and Todd. (10/14/06)

The whole morning, all it did was rain on and off again. Which might not ordinarily be a problem were it not for the fact that it was an outdoor wedding. On the beach, no less! There was no indoor site where the wedding could be held, nor was there a Plan B in place.

But someone up there was looking out for carolina, because by the time the wedding started at 4:00, the clouds had cleared up and the sun had been shining brightly. It was perfect weather.

The wedding overlooked the beach at Crystal Cove State Park. (10/14/06)

The actual location was the Crystal Cove State Park, which offers three miles of Pacific coastline, plus wooded canyons, open bluffs, and offshore waters designated as an underwater park. The view from atop the cliff was stunning.

It was a bilingual ceremony, with live Spanish translations so that Carolina's friends and family from Peru weren't left out of the loop. The bride and groom even read their vows in each language, which was especially adventurous for Todd since he doesn't speak the language (he did great).

The reception was held in a cute little courtyard in San Juan Capistrano. (10/14/06)

It was an intimate wedding, with maybe 50 guests. But it was very special in that Tim and I were so happy for Carolina, who has found love. We definitely tip our hats to that (not that we actually wore hats).

The cake tasted as good as it looked. (10/14/06)

The reception was at Cafe Mozart, a quaint little botique restaurant in the heart of downtown San Juan Capistrano. They set up the tables in a cute little plaza, complete with a working stone fountain. And just as one would expect from a restaurant like that, the food and cake (made by the head chef himself) were fantastic.

Carolina's parents hold up their wedding photo from 1962. (10/14/06)

There was lots of salsa dancing after dinner and the cake. Even Tim was out there shaking what his mama gave him. Once things were dying down, we had two party crashers, who appeared to be around 12-13 years old. They went out on the empty dance floor and did their best hip hop moves to the music while the rest of us chuckled.

Our wild and crazy friend Nancy poses with Tim. (10/14/06)

Congratulations Carolina & Todd, and best wishes for a long and happy marriage.

James Turns 20!

For everybody who thinks I’m 37 years old, I’m sorry to break the news, but you are wrong. At exactly 2:57 p.m. pacific time today, I turn 20 years old. In Mars years.

James celebrates his 20th Martian birthday. (10/14/06)

Yep, according to the Alternative Birthday Calculator, Mars has an orbit that is equivalent to 1.8807 Earth years. So when I entered my earthly birth date and time, it figured out that I turn 20 Martian years old today.

And I’m owning it! The best part is I can still claim I’m only 20 years old for the next 1.8807 Earth years! :)

Friday the 13th Strikes Again

I’m normally not superstitious. But ever since a few years ago when I got not only one, but two flat tires on Friday the 13th, I’ve had a touch of Friday-the-13th-phobia. And all day I was expecting something to happen. Other than the sudden rain storm that started with seemingly little notice, I thought we were in the clear.

What we woke up to - a broken pineapple plant. (10/14/06)

It wasn’t until we woke up this morning that we noticed the rainstorm brought down my prized pineapple plant. I’ll admit, the plant had already been leaning for quite a while due to the weight of the pineapple it was growing. But it was the rain that delivered its death blow.

The pineapple today. (10/14/06)

Incidentally, this is the same pineapple we blogged about last May. I’m posting a photo we took last June just to illustrate how much it has grown since then.

The pineapple in June. (06/05/06)

Oh well, at the very least, we can still eat the pineapple the plant grew. Yum yum!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Disneyland Annual Passholders Again

When our Disneyland annual passes expired last October, we decided that rather than automatically renew it like we had the previous 5 years, that we would instead take a year off before renewing. And since the first week in October marks the unofficial Gay Days at Disneyland, we figured it would be the perfect day to don red shirts and renew our annual passes.

Sleeping Beauty Castle, back to normal without the 50th Anniversary decorations. (10/07/06)

The only difference this year was we got $154 Southern California Annual Passes, instead of Premium Annual Passes, which at $350 a piece has become too expensive for us. Of course along with the Southern California price comes blackout days, so we won’t be able to go on Saturdays, Holidays or during the month of July. But as the saying goes, the blackout days are the days you wouldn’t want to go anyway, due to the immense crowds.

Wearing our red shirts in the Disney Gallery. (10/07/06)

Another reason we renewed this weekend was because it was the first time in its 51-year history that Disneyland decorated the park for Halloween, and we wanted to check it out. It was all part of Disneyland’s HalloweenTime promotion.

Main street is decorated for Disneyland's HalloweenTime celebration. (10/07/06)

Other highlights included the Haunted Mansion Holiday, which is when Jack Skellington and crew take over the Haunted Mansion that you see the rest of the year. We also finally got to ride the re-vamped Pirates of the Caribbean with the newly-added soundrack and appearances by Jack Sparrow (the pirate played by Johnny Depp).

The "A" in California has been transformed into a giant candy corn. (10/07/06)

I also wanted to go to Tom Sawyer Island, which is reportedly going to be re-made into a Pirate Island in time for the third installment of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise. We didn’t really have enough time to do that today, but I’m hoping to check that out next weekend.

Carolina & Todd’s Wedding Shower

Saturday was also Carolina & Todd’s wedding shower, which was held at the home of Tim’s boss (Carolina is a co-worker of Tim). It was mostly people from Tim’s work, which is one of the reasons why I originally planned not to attend. But after I made Tim come with me to our company baseball night, I lost my excuse to get out of it. Quid pro quo, right?

Carolina and Todd’s wedding shower had these cool custom-branded chocolate bars. (10/07/06)

Actually I ended up having a better time than I expected. Plus, I got to practice my Spanish with Carolina’s parents who flew in from Peru for today’s shower and next week’s wedding. And in case you’re wondering why they look more Japanese than Peruvian, it’s because they are Japanese, at least by heritage. Yet everyone in her family was born and raised in Peru and speak fluent Spanish.

Todd, Carolina and Carolina's parents. (10/07/06)

I got to meet some nice people, like Tim’s co-worker Helena, and Jennifer, the wife of another one of Tim’s co-workers. Both of them were from South Korea originally, and we had lots of fun talking about South Korean culture. And they were quite impressed that I had read about how the government of South Korea is moving the capital from Seoul to a remote part of South Korea (I remember reading something about it in the paper one afternoon).

Tim, James and Jennifer. (10/07/06)

We’re definitely looking forward to the wedding next week. Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tim & James: UCI Students

I can finally say that I am a student at the University of California at Irvine. Well, that is if you consider someone that takes a one-night UCI extension class a UCI student. Tim and I had been wanting to take this professional development course for a while, and we finally got around to it.

Tim on the UCI campus. (10/04/06)

While we were there, we stumbled across a dormitory complex called Middle Earth, which we thought was funny. So Tim took this picture of me near there, since he jokes that I would be a Dwarf if I was in Lord of the Rings.

James in Middle Earth. (10/04/06)

Truth be told, if I was in Lord of the Rings, I would most likely be a Hobbit, since I like to eat, drink and grow plants!