Monday, July 30, 2007

More Home Improvement Stuff

The never-ending home improvement continued this month with two new projects: a new garage door and a freshly acid-washed swimming pool. We're very happy about both.

I had to dig deep to find a picture of our old garage door (06/14/2001)
I had to dig deep to find a picture of our old garage door (06/14/2001)

Our garage door has been broken for several weeks now, and we had gotten a little tired of parking on the driveway and having our cars get so dirty so quickly.

The newly-installed roll-up. (07/30/2007)
The newly-installed roll-up. (07/30/2007)

The swimming pool was also in need of an acid wash. You're supposed to do it every five years or so, and this was the first time we've done it in the six years we've owned the home. It looks a lot fresher and cleaner now, so we're pleased.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Farewell Visit to Lion Country Safari

August 2, 2007 Update: Just days after I posted this entry, the Irvine Co. announced that it has agreed to extend the lease for Wild Rivers and Camp James for one more summer season. As of now, the demolition trucks won't be arriving until the fall of 2008.

When it comes to theme parks, Orange County has long been the home of two classic attractions: Disneyland (now two theme parks, technically) and Knott's Berry Farm. However, long before Tim and I were Southern California residents, there stood a third theme park: Lion Country Safari, a wild-animal themed attraction that operated in Irvine from 1970 until 1984.

A satellite photo of the one-time Lion Country Safari
A satellite photo of the one-time Lion Country Safari

It was one of those theme parks that had a drive-through reserve where you could drive among the wild animals. After driving through the safari, guests could explore the amusement park section of the property, which had such attractions as the Zambezi River Ride, Native Villages, African Auto Trek, Tots Tree House, Junior Jungle, Afritheater, Lake Shanalee and the Africamera.

The original park map.
The original park map.

One of the big Lion Country Safari celebrities of his day was Frazier, an aging Lion who came to Lion Country Safari from a Mexican circus. He surprised everyone when he fathered a litter of cubs well into his old age. He became the star of the park in its first two years, prompting a Frazier frenzy, with several park souvenirs modeled after the lion. Frazier passed away in 1972 and was buried on the grounds of the safari.

Megan at what was once the train station. (07/26/2007)
Megan at what was once the train station. (07/26/2007)

By the 1980s, attendance began to dwindle after suffering some bad publicity. Apparently there was an accident on the 405 freeway caused by a runaway elephant. And there was also an incident where park staff attempted to anesthetize an escaped hippo and accidentally caused it to drown. In retrospect, it was probably for the better that the park closed ... for the animals' sake anyway!

Interior of one of the main buildings. (07/26/2007)
Interior of one of the main buildings. (07/26/2007)

After the park closed in 1984, the management converted half of the former Lion Country Safari into a children's day camp originally called Camp Frazier (today it's called Camp James). The other half was converted into Wild Rivers, a water park that still stands there today (but not for much longer).

The old amphitheatre. (07/26/2007)
The old amphitheatre. (07/26/2007)

This October, the former Lion Country Safari coffin will get its final nail when the bulldozers wipe out Camp James and Wild Rivers to make room for the 3,700 homes The Irvine Company plans to build there.

Before the demolition takes place, I wanted to take a peek at the property. As it turns out, I have a Camp James hook-up in Megan, who is the daughter of my boss Dori. Megan is a junior counselor at Camp James. So I made arrangements to meet Dori and Megan after work so I could get the grand tour.

Lion Country Safari's Lake Shanalee today (07/26/2007)
Lion Country Safari's Lake Shanalee today (07/26/2007)

It was pretty cool. They showed me all around the camp, which has most of the buildings from the Lion Country Safari days still in tact. The grounds were gorgeous. So many big trees. The lake is beautiful too. In fact, I'd be surprised if they take it all out without keeping at least part of it as a public park amidst the 3,700 homes.

I'm just glad I got a chance to check it out before it's gone, gone, gone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Muggle at the Grand Hallows Ball

As a self-described muggle, even I found it hard to resist Harry Potter fever when the 7th and final book was released at the strike of midnight on July 21st. So with my pal Cass from work in tow, I headed to the Grand Hallows Ball Friday night at the Border's bookstore at the Block of Orange. Rather than bore you with a wordy description, I'll just post a few of my favorite pics from the night:

This one had the best hair in the group. (07/20/2007)
This one had the best hair in the group. (07/20/2007)

James and two Harry Potter superfans. (07/20/2007)
James and two Harry Potter superfans. (07/20/2007)

James with Prof. Umbridge, Hermione, Harry and a young witch. (07/20/2007)
James with Prof. Umbridge, Hermione, Harry and a young witch. (07/20/2007)

This was my favorite group there. (07/21/2007)
This was my favorite group there. (07/21/2007)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Have a Cuke and a Smile

A few weeks ago, I read about a new drink Pepsi was introducing in Japan with some rather unusual attributes. In fact, the name says it all: Pepsi Ice Cucumber.

Pepsi Ice Cucumber ... only available in Japan. (07/16/2007)
Pepsi Ice Cucumber ... only available in Japan. (07/16/2007)

Leave it to the Japanese to invent a cucumber-flavored soda! So when I heard that the Japanese representative for the company I work for was coming to the United States for some meetings in July, I jokingly sent him a link to the news story and asked if he could bring some Pepsi Ice Cucumber with him.

Taste the flavor of the cucumber! (07/16/2007)
Taste the flavor of the cucumber! (07/16/2007)

Well to my surprise, a couple of weeks later he actually showed up with an entire case of 24 bottles! He said it was hard to find, too, having checked with several stores before he actually found one that had the drink in stock. I was floored that he was able to pull it off, including getting it through airport security!

Deciding if I like it or not. (07/16/2007)
Deciding if I like it or not. (07/16/2007)

We passed a bunch of them out at the office for a taste, and out of all the people that tried it, nobody hated it (although nobody loved it either). The best analogy I heard was from Melissa who compared it to cucumber-melon lotion. "It tastes like that lotion smells," she told me.

Move over Dr. Pepper! (07/16/2007)
"Move over Dr. Pepper!" (07/16/2007)

It's definitely an interesting experience. As it turns out, according to a recent BusinessWeek article, Pepsi Ice Cucumber was largely a publicity stunt by the Pepsi company, which only produced 4.8-million bottles and then immediately discontinued it. Well we're definitely glad we got to try it before it disappears forever.

Friday, July 13, 2007

From Our Penpal Lilibet

While we were in Hawaii, we got another letter from our British penpal Lilibet. The last time she sent us a note was just after her 80th birthday. This one is in response to her more recent travels.

Our letter from our English penpal. (07/12/2007)
Our letter from our English penpal. (07/13/2007)

The letter says:

The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter.

Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh much enjoyed coming to America in May and were touched by the warm welcome they received everywhere they went.

The Queen much appreciates your kind words of support and good wishes and I am to thank you once again for writing as you did.

Your sincerely,

Jennifer Gordon Lennox, Lady-in-Waiting

One Chutney Squishee Please

Tom picked us up after our redeye flight back from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Because he actually volunteered to pick us up for our 4:30 a.m. arrival — yes that's 4:30 a.m. — the least we could do was buy him some breakfast. So we decided to take him to Homer Simpson's favorite retailer, Kwik-E-Mart for some coffee and doughnuts.

Tim and Steve check out the real-life Kwik-E-Mart. (7/13/2007)
Tim and Steve check out the real-life Kwik-E-Mart. (7/13/2007)

As part of a promotional tie-in with The Simpsons Movie being released this month, 7-Eleven has given 12 of its stores a makeover to look like an exact replica of the Springfield landmark. As it so happens, one of these 12 stores was in Burbank, not too far from Tom and Christine's place.

Today's donuts at tomorrow's prices. (07/13/2007)
Today's donuts at tomorrow's prices. (07/13/2007)

Not only do the stores look like Kwik-E-Mart, they are also stocked with other favorite products from the Simpsons, including the pink-sprinkle doughnuts, Buzz Cola, KrustyO's cereal, Squishees and "Radioactive Man" comic books (although all that was left were the doughnuts and Simpsons Monopoly games). The converted stores also feature life-size cutouts of favorite Simpsons characters.

The Squishee machine. (07/13/2007)
The Squishee machine. (07/13/2007)

It actually turned out to be a good time to go, since you could just walk in (normally there's a long line, says Tom). We picked up a half-dozen of the iconic pink donuts, as well as drinks. And as much as I was hoping to find it, they did not in fact have a chutney-flavored Squishee as they do on the show. Rats!

Steve & Marge under the Bank of Springfield sign. (07/13/2007)
Steve & Marge under the Bank of Springfield sign. (07/13/2007)

Besides Burbank, you can find Kwik-E-Mart stores in such other cities as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Mountain View, Orlando, New York City, Seattle, Vancouver and Washington DC.

Mmmmmm. Chili dogs. (7/13/2007)
Mmmmmm. Chili dogs. (7/13/2007)

If you'd like to see a quick YouTube video of our adventures in the Kwik-E-Mart, click the image below twice. If the image doesn't show up, here's a direct link.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Did Somebody Say McDonald's Taro Pie?

Who knew that in Hawaii you can get breakfast sandwiches with Spam? Another local favorite is McDonald's Taro Pie. To see a YouTube video of James' review of the Taro Pie, click the image below twice. If the image doesn't show up, here's a direct link.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Catamaran to the Na'Pali Coast

One of the definite highlights of our trip to Kauai was the boat trip to the Na'Pali Coast, which has to be one of the most beautiful locations on the planet. You can't get there by car, since there are no roads in that part of the island. To get there, you either have to hike or get there by boat or kayak. We all opted for the boat.

We took a catamaran to the amazing Na'Pali Coast. (07/10/07)
We took a catamaran to the amazing Na'Pali Coast. (07/10/07)

It was the only major excursion where all seven of us were in attendance. We were worried that Steve might not make it, since he was feeling under the weather that day. But in the end he decided to make the best of it.

Amy, Jon, Sabrina and Eric — the daredevils of the bunch — spent most of the time riding on the net. It's not only the bumpiest part of the catamaran, it's also where you get the wettest.

Amy and Tim were all smiles. (07/10/07)
Amy and Tim were all smiles. (07/10/07)

Altogether it was a five-and-a-half hour experience, including one hour of snorkeling just off the Na'Pali coast. Just before sunset they began serving cocktails and a buffet dinner.

James trying not to throw up on the choppy boat ride. (07/10/07)
James trying not to throw up on the choppy boat ride. (07/10/07)

Of course I couldn't the dinner and cocktails since I got horribly seasick, which is pretty unusual for me. The first half of the cruise was fine. But after we returned to the boat after snorkeling, I began feeling incredibly seasick. I made it through without losing my lunch ... barely.

But the stunning views were worth it all. (07/10/07)
But the stunning views were worth it all. (07/10/07)

The snorkeling was just okay. There wasn't a lot of sea life out there that afternoon. But the highlight was clearly the amazing landscape. So seasick or not, it was definitely a day well spent.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Aloha Kauai

For the second leg of our trip, we made our way to Kauai, the oldest and fourth largest of the main Hawaiian islands. It's known as the garden isle, and rightly so. The island is green, lush and beautiful.

The Kauai Seven: Jon, James, Amy, Sabrina, Eric, Steve and Tim. (07/09/07)
The Kauai Seven: Jon, James, Amy, Sabrina, Eric, Steve and Tim. (07/09/07)

In many ways, the Kauai experience was worlds apart from our Maui experience. Not to take anything away from Maui (which was fantastic), Kauai was much less crowded and so much more low key.

We were there with a fun group too. Jon & Amy were there. They have a friend that runs a bed and breakfast in the middle of a lush part of Kapa'a, a mile or two inland. Fellow Southern California folks, Sabrina and Eric, were also at the bed and breakfast.

The beach at our resort in Kauai. (07/07/07)
The beach at our resort in Kauai. (07/07/07)

Since we couldn't imagine going to Kauai and not being near the beach, we stayed at the Sheraton near Poipu beach on the south shore. The beach was spectacular. Blue water. White sand. And while I wouldn't call the ocean water warm, it was surprisingly not cold. You got used to it pretty quick.

We went to Hanalei, but didn't see Puff. (07/11/07)
We went to Hanalei, but didn't see Puff. (07/11/07)

We did more island excursions on Kauai than we did on Maui, some of which I'll write about individually. One of my favorite experiences was the drive to Princeville, on the north shore of the island. If the drive there wasn't worth it itself, the view of the bay from the Princeville hotel was unforgettable.

The amazing view from the Princeville Hotel. (07/11/07)
The amazing view from the Princeville Hotel. (07/11/07)

We also stopped at the Foodland in Princeville, which one of the locals told us is the most expensive supermarket in the United States. I'm not sure about that claim. Some things seemed the same, although others seemed very expensive, like a gallon of milk.

Look at the price of milk at the Princeville Foodland. (07/11/07)
Look at the price of milk at the Princeville Foodland. (07/11/07)

One of the things I wanted to try during our vacation was the taro pie available at the local McDonald's. I always find regional differences in McDonald's fascinating. Here in CA we have apple and cherry pie. In Hawaii it's taro pie.

Another interesting tidbit: You can get any of your McDonald's breakfast sandwiches served with Spam. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your opinion of Spam), we never had the chance to go during the a.m. hours.

James tries the taro pie at McDonald's. (07/12/07)
James tries the taro pie at McDonald's. (07/12/07)

We had a redeye flight our last day, so after checking out of our hotel we did some shopping in Lihue. Our favorite store was the William & Zimmer Woodworkers Koa Store, which had surprisingly affordable koa wood items that were hand-made locally on Kauai by five craftsmen (way better than the imported-from-the-Philippines junk that you find at Hilo Hattie and the like). If you're ever on Kauai, check it out at 3-3601 Kuhio Hwy, in Lihue. (808) 245-4871. Ask for Candice!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July in the 50th State

Apart from a little shopping and a couple of restaurants in the nearby town, we really didn't leave the resort very much during our stay on Maui. But we did have one major excursion when we celebrated Independence Day at the Old Lahaina Luau.

We celebrated Independence Day Hawaiian style. (07/04/07)
We celebrated Independence Day Hawaiian style. (07/04/07)

Lahaina, an old whaling town dating back to the 1820s, is pretty touristy nowadays. But we went there because several of the locals we spoke to said the luau there is one of the best on the islands.

Tim and Steve about to enjoy the Old Lahaina Luau. (07/04/07)
Tim and Steve about to enjoy the Old Lahaina Luau. (07/04/07)

As promised, it indeed was one of the best luaus we've been to (the ahi poke was phenomenal and they even had octopus poke, which wasn't bad). The open bar was also top notch. The only problem is when you've been to so many of them (this was our fourth) that they start blending together.

The hula show. (07/04/07)
The hula show. (07/04/07)

As is typical at these things, they closed the show with hula dancing, which is always interesting. I'm glad we went, although we probably don't need to attend a luau again for several years.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tim and Jenn's Hawaiian Scuba Lesson

Ever wanted to see Tim in a wetsuit? Now you can in this YouTube video filmed during their scuba lesson. Our favorite moment was at 02:25 when Jenn finds algae in her mouthpiece. To see it, click the image below twice. If the image doesn't show up, here's a direct link.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Chillaxin' in Maui

For our vacation this year, we returned to Hawaii. Although we've been to Hawaii in 2002 (Oahu & the Big Island), this time we decided to change it up by visiting two entirely new islands. First stop: Maui.

The Maui Five: Steve, Jen, Doris, Tim and James. (07/05/07)
The Maui Five: Steve, Jen, Doris, Tim and James. (07/05/07)

Maui is the second largest of the eight major Hawaiian islands, and the third most populous. It is often called "the Valley Isle" because of the narrow plain between the 10,000-ft.+ Haleakalā volcano and the West Maui mountains.

An amazing Maui sunset. (07/05/07)
An amazing Maui sunset. (07/05/07)

For the Maui leg of our vacation, we stayed at the Grand Wailea, on the Southwest coast. The Grand Wailea has to be one of the Top 3 resorts on the Island. It was simply amazing.

Our room at the Grand Wailea. (07/02/07)
Our room at the Grand Wailea. (07/02/07)

We were there at the same time as our friends Doris and Jen. Doris is the meeting planner for a major technology company that was having a sales incentive meeting there. Even though we're not affiliated with the company, she hooked us up at their sweet group rate (you rock, Doris). Also joining us was Steve, our friend from Virginia.

Our balcony view of the ocean, Molokini and Kahoolawe. (07/02/07)
Our balcony view of the ocean, Molokini and Kahoolawe. (07/02/07)

Everything about the resort was awesome, especially the waterpark complex. This multi-faceted, 2,000 foot long, 25,700 total square foot, 770,000 gallon pool consists of nine free-form pools at six levels, beginning at 40 feet and dropping to sea level. The pools are connected by a river that carries swimmers along at varying speeds, from white water rapids to lazy currents.

An overall view of the property (from their website)
An overall view of the property (from their website)

The water park included four jungle pools, four tile slides, two long water slides, a white water rapids slide, a Tarzan pool with rope swing, the world's only water elevator (seriously, a water elevator!), a sand beach, six waterfalls, caves, three Jacuzzis, a sauna, an infant pool, and a swim-up bar that we "accidentally" found ourselves in on occasion. They even had a deep scuba pool where Tim and Jen took lessons.

Jen and Tim during their scuba diving lesson. (07/03/07)
Jen and Tim during their scuba diving lesson. (07/03/07)

The lobby was a huge open-air complex, with the Botero Bar in the center. It was a nice place to enjoy drinks and pupus amid the hotel's collection of sculptures by acclaimed Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

The lobby of the Grand Wailea. (07/04/07)
The lobby of the Grand Wailea. (07/04/07)

The other great feature was the Spa Grande, which is included with any massage treatment. It had everything, including two huge Roman Jacuzzi tubs, two cold-plunge pools, Swiss jet showers, regular showers, a eucalyptus steam room, a redwood sauna, a cascading waterfall massage, and five aromatic baths to soak in.

Plus, the spa attendant provides you a complimentary body scrub of Hawaiian exfoliants. I couldn't take pictures since it's clothing optional (separate men and women facilities, of course), so you'll have to settle for one from the resort website.

The Termé Wailea Hydrotherapy baths (from their website).
The Termé Wailea Hydrotherapy baths (from their website).

It was such a nice place, it's no wonder that we only really left the property two or three times during our entire five-day stay.