Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stalking the Wily Sea Turtle

A few weeks ago, I suggested to Mrs Elliott that we might consider taking a camping trip to Hawaii. She jumped at the chance. "I suppose it's the only way I'll get you to Hawaii," she said. She knows that I find staying in resort hotels to be boring.
   My idea came from an article I read online about Happy Campers Hawaii, a Big Island company that rents out VW pop-top campers for $125 a day. The campers are fully set up, with beds, a stove and sink, linens, silverware, a hand-drawn map of the island showing major towns and beach camp parks, and other basic necessities. They don't come equipped with refrigerators, the original Dometic unit being small as well as finicky to keep operating, but they do provide an ice chest and ice is easily found in the local stores.
   Considering that your $125 covers the cost of lodging and a rental vehicle, it's a good value. 
So Mrs Elliott cashed in a bunch of her credit card air miles for tickets, I reserved a van, and we flew RDM to PDX, PDX to Honolulu, Honolulu to Hilo on the Big Island, arriving in the midafternoon. Bud and Teri, who own Happy Campers, met us at the airport, drove us to their little operation right off Highway 11 in downtown Hilo, and helped us get set up with Uli Kai, our 1987 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper. We own the 1984 model so we didn't require a lot of instruction to get familiarized with the new "treehouse on wheels" we'd be using for a week.

Uli Kai -- Click on picture
for larger view. (photo: Jack)
For all but one night at a resort hotel, we camped at beaches.

Like all of Happy Campers Hawaii's vans, Uli Kai had a journal in the glove box for guests to write about their experiences. We found plenty of tips and tales in ours, and Mrs Elliott filled in seven pages with details about our adventure. I photographed them for transcription here:

Captain's Log Star Date 4/27/11: Arrived in Hilo from Bend, Oregon last week. After stocking up at market & Longs [drugstore] for wine glasses (can't drink wine in plastic cups) we went to Issac Hale Beach Park -- grassy area & parking lot were nice but we chose to park on the gravel near the boat launch. Lovely spot but someone parked nearby and played reggae [Hip hop, actually -- Ed.] into the wee hours. 

En route to Luapahoehoe park
we stopped so Mrs Elliott could
take a sip. (Photo: Jack)

Day 2. Up to Luapahoehoe [beach park]. Lovely grass parking with a cherry spot on a hill between trees but it was windy so we came down onto flatter ground. Nice spot, friendly people. 

We rode the zipline at the "UmaUma
Experience" as seen on The
Bachelorette (I don't pay much
attention to that show, commented
the owner). (Photo: Jack)

Mrs Elliott)
Day 3. Headed to Waipio Valley and stopped in the town [...]

Rainbow over the sea at Kapa`a
beach. (Photo: Jack)
(Two pages are missing here, "town" would be Honoka`a, where we had lunch. Then we drove across the island through Waimea (overcast, wet) to the other side of the island, then north along the coast, through the popular Spencer's beach, which looked like a fun family place but requires reservations, then farther up the coast to Mahakona beach, which was grubby, then even a bit farther to Kapa`a beach, where we found a lovely spot right on the shore. Another couple driving a Happy Campers van was also at the beach, they said that this was one of their favorite parks.)

Day 4 was spent at the Hilton on the Kohala coast, a 62-acre oceanfront resort in Waikoloa Village.
Mrs Elliott)

The journal resumes:
[Jack had] one too many Mai Tais by the pool and napped most of the day. Mrs Elliott swam, paddleboarded, bike boated, went down the water slide, swam some more, and shopped.
Church at Milolli
(Photo: Mrs Elliott)
Day 5. We were ready to hit the road, the nice bellman filled up our ice chest and we were off to play in Kona. Went to the farmer's market, walked around town, and shopped. Then down the coast to Hookena Beach -- not our kind of place. Nowhere to really part the van to enjoy a few, but friendly staff. A good place to swim and boogy board, but we don't do that so we moved on to Milolli. We liked it better than Hookena because it was quiet and had great tidepools. We met a young chap from Cambridge, England who was bicycling the entire island. It as just him & us for the night. (Flush toilets no showers that we could see!) We parked at the very end of the lot. There is a church across the driveway. 
   Drove to Volcano and check out Namakani campground -- it was very nice and grassy. No view. It was cold and rainy so we just walked the Kalieua Iki [volcano caldera] trail which was fun & a good workout. Saw the lava tubes -- just okay, and the Jaggar Museum. We were too cold and wet to wait 'til sundown [when the red glow of lava lights the fumes coming out of the caldera], so we went into Volcano fior dinner. Rock Lava Cafe OK for what it was.
Stalking the wily sea turtle.
(Photo: Jack)
   Then we drove back down to Punalu`u Beach Park to sleep. We wanted to wake up in sunshine. Whittington is by far more scenic but we figured we could see turtles and swim at Punalu`u so went there. 
   Water is cold & choppy and so far no sea turtles (oops, just saw one on shore).
Day 6. Parked on the far side (north side) of Punalu`u Beach by the boat launch. There is a dirt road that takes you to this side where the boat launch is [as well as the ruins of Punalu`u Landing -- Ed] and where you can park the van under a tree facing the ocean. Fairly secluded but at the sand and not a parking lot.
European-Americans and Aussies standing about.
Despite the many, many signs advising that it is
bad form, rude, and a violation of state and federal law
to get close to or touch the drowsing sea turtles,
a surprising number of pimplewits thought it necessary
to have their darling children alarm the animals by,
you guessed it, approaching and touching them
so their idiocy could be captured on film forever.
(Photo and commentary: Jack)
Since it's our last day, I assume Mr Elliott will be finishing off the beer & wine and having another nap [I did -- Ed.]. I'll finish my book and go for a swim [She never -- Ed.] then BBQ & off to Hilo in a.m. for our trip home.

Mrs Elliott finishes book.
(Photo: Jack)
Mrs Elliott closed by providing tips:
Tips: Get paper plates -- so much easier. We ran out of BBQ propane & water in the [van's] tank so make sure it is filled. Baby wipes make better toilet paper. A small headlamp makes a great light to read by at night. Buy fresh fish from roadside vendors. Big pieces & fresh for very little money makes a good dinner. Ice blocks last longer than cubes. Dry ice is the best but must be wrapped in newspaper or it freezes [the food]. 

Her contribution to the journal will be appreciated by future campers, I am sure.

What I learned.

The weather was nice, if you like that kind of weather. It was humid, and warmish, mostly. The air felt . . . used, like the air in a small room with too many people in it. I found that even one blanket was too much at night, and usually slept with only a sheet on top. Even so, after three nights, the sheets smelled sweaty. Like an unwashed nutsack.
   Adding a layer of sun screen on top of sweaty skin didn't make things better. I was sticky much of the time.
   Staying at the Hilton provided a nice place to clean up. Most of the beach parks on Big Island have showers, but they are for rinsing salt from the sea off, so they are outdoors and soap is not permitted or cool as they drain right into the soil or the sea.
   The locals are very family-oriented, and considering that until recent history, "family" tended to include just about everyone one might ever see in a lifetime, everyone is family. So our European-American ideas of personal space and campsite boundaries are more rigid than theirs. Which means that a local might feel comfortable sitting down at the picnic table directly in front of one's van. As did a nice local woman at one camp.
   Camping is different in Hawaii. For one thing, there are no designated camp sites. No signs saying "Camp Here." One might come across a "No Camping" sign in a few places at or near the parks, but near as we could tell, if camping was not explicitly forbidden, it was permitted, or at least tolerated. Most campgrounds have a fee requirement, but no one comes by to collect fees.

I had hoped to snorkel. I have never snorkeled before. My reader may recall that I am not terribly comfortable on water, and don't find bobbing around in it to be much better. My friend Bruce Miller offered to take me to Juniper Fitness and teach me how to snorkel, but I had to cancel because there was simply too much to take care of before departing.
   The next option was to sign up for a snorkel adventure while on the island, but I could not work up much enthusiasm for that. Mrs Elliott and I could have rented snorkel gear, but none of the beaches looked very snorkelable, being mostly lava. Besides, no one should every snorkel alone and Mrs Elliott suffers from vertigo when she snorkels.

Snorkel. That word looks funnier and funner the more I look at it. Snorkel. Snorkel.

While driving around, I paid attention to the demeanor, conditions, and expressions of the folk living there. Hawaii, or at least the Big Island, does not look a cheerful place to live. No one looked happy. The European-Americans looked the least happy. The place does not look a healthy one: obesity is a recognized problem with Pacific Islanders, but most European-Americans were obese, too. Looked saggy and tired. The tropical sun is not kind to white skin, women in particular looking battered by decades of UV, faces like saddlebags.
    Nor did the women look very happy. When visiting a new area, I always check to see if women look happy, feeling that places where women are happy are happy places to live. It was one quality that Mrs Elliott and I both noticed about Bend: plenty of pretty women who looked happy. There were few pretty and no happy-looking women in Hilo or Kona.
   I saw no signs of interesting music. Near as I can tell, there is little live music in either town, and what music there is is "old" music: old acoustic stuff from the late '60s, early '70s, like James Taylor, performed by old white folk; or old Hawaiian music performed by old local folk. Nostalgia music. The towns seem to close at dark.
   Likewise, outside of touristy art in cruise ship ports, the art scene looked moribund.

Jack is not certain whether he could live in Hawaii.

Even so, we are thinking of visiting another island. As I write this, Mrs Elliott is looking up rates at the the new Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu. She's thinking of bringing her kids and grandkids there next year to frolic. Her side of the family is big on that sort of thing. Jack, not so much. Unless he is left to sample umbrella drinks until he needs a nap, he prefers to avoid places designed around entertaining children. So it's not likely that Jack will want to spend much time at that Disney Resort and Spa.
   However, one must give Honolulu a try: the 2010 edition of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that Honolulu ranked sixth in overall wellbeing and placed "best" in the categories of Life Evaluation and Emotional Health.
   In Why Are Some Cities Happier Than Others? Richard Florida crunched the Gallup data and found that higher average income correlates with happiness, and while Honolulu rates highly in terms of well-being it  has average income only slightly above the national mean; and though human capital (education levels) correlates strongly with happiness, Honolulu, again, is not exceptional in that regard.
   The key may be the significant negative correlation between well-being and the share of working-class jobs -- meaning that areas with more knowledge, professional, and creative jobs tend to have less unemployments and creative jobs tend to be more satisfying. Honolulu seems to have a large number of these jobs

Maybe there's even music.

And we might want to visit Kauai, as it has white sand beaches. The Big Island is too new, geologically, to have significant white sand. In Kauai, now, there's a place where a fellow can snorkel.

Snorkel. Heh.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Facing Facts, Hair Edition

"What are we doing?" asked Jim, as he covered me with the sheet and picked up his clippers.

"Giving up," I said.

When a man has male pattern baldness, his choices of hair styles shrinks yearly, until there's nothing to be done.

"Buzz it."

"You know what we call that?" he said. "Easy money."

Ha ha, I laughed, and it only sounded a little bitter.

Seriously, there's nothing left to do with the hair. Mrs Elliott recently suggested that I let it grow and comb the whispy bits on top back, but that made me look like an old dirt farmer, someone who's musical education stopped at Ernest Tubbs.

In a last-ditch effort to put some life into my coif, she tried adding a few streaks of blond to the sides, which results in some vaguely copper-colored patches, which didn't do much to improve things.

Combover, anyone?

At least really short hair is easy to take care of.  And, hell, I can touch it up myself with the old No. 3 clippers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Keeping One's Spirits Up

Over at Serena Rides, we read that, "It is April in Bend. Spring in my beloved Central Oregon is finicky, fabulous, and requires constant positive self-talk."

Jack is not bothered by the weather. The weather is fine, as far as I am concerned.

I had a few errands to take care of this morning. Had to visit Paul the Computer Guy's shop to drop off an external hard drive that wants a new case and controller, then to Bend Mountain Coffee downtown for a light breakfast, and a drop-in at Dudley's to trade in a few books that I've read.

It was cold, snowflakes were flurrying.

I wondered why this weather is so troubling to some, but not to others. It doesn't bother me, I enjoy it. It is, in a word, bracing.

I like to think that it is something in my Caledonian heritage, but in truth I have no idea why I don't find the weather insulting. It can be inconveniencing, but there isn't an emotional component attached to it.

However, I am troubled that others are troubled. Bruce Miller dislikes the weather and will complain about it dependably, and Mrs Elliott seems to feel put-upon.

That those around me are bothered by the weather bothers me more than the weather does.

Hey! Whaddaya Expect? It's a 27 Year-Old Vehicle!

Our camper van, a 1984 VW Vanagon with the highly-functional Westfalia pop-top camper interior has gotten leaky. There are these four levers on the dash that control distribution of air to the various vents. The one that controls the air on the feet of the driver and passenger no longer works. The cable connecting the lever to the flaps that close off the air has broken, leaving the vent open.

I took the van to Gary Young's Old Volks Home off south 3rd, and he said he'd be able to replace the cable -- if I could find one -- by reaching up into the dash from under the van. But he'd misunderstood which cable was the broken one. He thought I meant the cable that controls the hot water that goes into the heater core. That one can be replaced from below. But the footwell control cable can't be gotten to without removing the entire dashboard.

This is a difficult job and can take an experienced mechanic the better part of the day. Jack is the anthesis of an experience mechanic. Rather clumsy, in fact. So I won't be tackling that job, and will let Gary take care of it.

Not that he's particularly happy to do it. Most jobs on these practical vehicles are straightforward. Dash removal is considered an ugly one. "I'm too old and not as flexible as I used to be," says Gary.

While the dash is out, there are two other things that want looking at. First, the heater core should probably be replaced as it is 27 years old, too. If that old core develops a leak, the whole damn dash would need to be pulled again. So I'm reaching out to find a new core.

And finally, there is this great big plastic heater box hiding in the dash which houses the heater core and the flaps. On a box this old, the foam gaskets that seal the flaps when they are in the closed position have rotted to the point where they leak, causing cold air drafts in the van. That box is glued or plastic-welded shut and is going to require some work to get open. Gaskets are probably no longer available, but hardware store weather stripping will suffice.

One thing lead to another. These matters must be attended to. Sometimes that's how it goes. I can view this as an opportunity to do some much-needed maintenance, or as an unwelcome financial burden.

But we love our van and we get a lot of pleasure going camping in it. It only has 86,000 miles on the clock, so I'm gonna get the work done that needs being done.

Jack and Mrs Elliott Take a Vacation

Last week I came across an article online by a family who took a camping trip on Hawaii, the Big Island, by renting a VW camper van. I knew that Mrs Elliott likes places like Hawaii.

I forwarded a link to the article to her, and said, "How about this idea?"

"Perfect," she said. "I know there's no other way I'm going to get you to Hawaii!"

I've been to the islands three times before and frankly, resort life does not appeal. Laying about pools, shopping, being cooped up in a hotel room with nothing to do and in company with someone who likes to watch a lot of TV and who has different viewing tastes thank I ... these things make me loony.

So we contacted Happy Campers, the folk that rent the VW vans, and made our reservation. Mrs Elliott tracked down the good prices for airfare, and we'll be on our way.

She likes to camp, I like being in nature.

I got my little computer with an offline blogging app, my mp3 player, a brand-new Kindle e-book reader -- enough gadgets to keep me happy -- and all I'll need in addition is a small charcoal BBQ and a place to park.

Keep you updated.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Three New Shows on TV

Two out of three isn't bad.

Mildred Pierce, taken from James M. Cain's (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity) novel of the same name, is a fine production. In his first two novels he cast women as she-devils using men for their own ends, but in Pierce he switched gears and made a woman with two children the sympathetic lead. Kate Winslett's acting is great; the woman has chops, it's hard for me to take my eyes off her. Everyone else on the cast is superb, too, and the set designs are perfect: unlike Boardwalk Empire's (HBO) Prohibition-era Atlantic City which has a soft-focus appearance, Pierce's post-Prohibition settings of Glendale and Pasadena and the coast highway from LA to Santa Barbara are brilliantly and crisply re-created. Only two episodes left. I'll miss it when it's gone. (HBO)

The Killing. Dunc noticed the lack of stereotypes. I appreciate the lack of sand-state locales. These both because the series is a Danish import. No cops with $100 haircuts on this show, no hot actresses slumming as forensics experts, no handsomely-stubbled matinee idols playing detective, no unusually good-looking people at all. There is darkness and tragedy, struggle and pain. (AMC)

I saved the worst for last. The Borgias. Period piece set in 15th century Rome. Sumptuous settings surprisingly well-lit for a time predating electric lighting. Vatican intrigue! Illicit love! Sword fights! Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? can tell just by looking at them! High school level writing! Why is it high school level writing? Because it has more damn clich├ęs than a parody ("the suspense is killing me"), and because whenever anyone speaks a phrase in Latin there's always someone handy nearby to repeat it in English. (Showtime)

It's nice to see two good shows because the lack of anything worth watching has made Jack despondent.

Breaking Bad is still on hiatus. Dexter, where's Dexter?

But Nurse Jackie is back on again.

Coming: Game of Thrones. It looks great in the trailer, but fantasies are usually so full of themselves and pompous that they can't help but catch a case of "the stupids" (thanks, Dunc) early on. My idea of a proper fantasy is Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (Comedy Central)

That about wraps up this episode of Amateur TV Review.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Could Use a Little Less of that Sunshine

Spurred by a lawn care article in this week's Bulletin and by the April/May 2001 issue of the High Desert Gardening newsletter put out by USO's Extension Service, Jack has spent the last two days puttering in the yard.

Now is the time, the Bulletin article says, to green up that grass.

They interviewed Cindy Jeffers over at Landsystems Nursery out on highway 20, and what she said made sense to me. I've always felt that if we are going to plant grass in a desert environment and water the shit out of it, we should try to make it as healthy and strong as possible. And because I've taken it upon myself to do the lawn care this year, I thought I'd pop out to see Jeffers on Friday and have her take a look at samples of the turf, and get advice.

First thing I noticed when pulling a plug out of the lawn on the North Terrace AKA the "front yard," is that snow mold had killed several patches. The snow was heavy and wet this year. Prime fungus conditions. Note to self: apply fungicide next fall.

"You need to rake all this dead stuff out," said Cindy, looking at the front yard plug. I had already raked it the last weekend, but it was clear that my leaf rake didn't have the Welly to pull up the deep stuff matted atop the soil. I used to have a garden rake in SoCal, but it was left behind with the rest of my garden tools when we moved because the trucks were full of more important stuff.

So I added a real garden rake to my purchases.

She said that the sample from the rear looked good.

"Do you get them aerated and dethatched," she wanted to know.

I said that the front yard lawn was new in 2009, that we had the rear and front both aerated and the rear dethatched in 2010, and that I had aerating scheduled for this year.

"Alternate," she said. "Do one this year, the other next year."

Okay, aerating on odd-numbered years, dethatching on even. Roger that.

According to what she said in the Bulletin piece, I wanted to get some soil activator and some organic fertilizer for the lawns. So we got a bag of each.

What about greening up the lawns, she asked.

I had some Ortho "Fall Lawn Fertilizer" back in the shed, but I'm wanting to get away from Ortho's Better Living Through Chemistry - Trust Us approach, and to enrichen the soil and make the runoff more nutritious for the bedding plants. Pitching nitrogen on the lawn will green it up, it's the approach that all your "Mow, Blow, and Go" gardeners follow in SoCal, but it's like feeding children pure sugar. Sure, they like it and it gives them energy, but it ain't gonna build healthy bones.

"You don't want to use that," she said of the Ortho.

She showed me two "unsugared" ways to green up the lawn. One, an expensive ($50 a bag) organic supplement which I'm sure is super good, but out of my price range, and the second, iron, for $10. Something I could afford. We tossed a bag of that onto the flat.

I also needed some lawn seed -- to reseed the areas damaged by snow mold and some spots on the back yard (the "South Terrace") where the previous owner's dogs had dug craters into the ground, ankle-twisting, firewood cart-toppling holes that last fall I finally got around to filling.

A few other bits and pieces, some fertilizer for the perennials, a new 75' garden hose that won't stiffen like an miffed anaconda when the weather gets chilly, and I was out of there.

So when I got home, I attacked that front yard lawn. It's only 300 square feet, but it needed two rakings to pull up the dead stuff, which made an impressive two-foot high haystack nearly three feet in diameter. I was surprised at how much plant material there was. And how quickly my hands blistered, even with gloves.

Then I mowed both lawns, about 1,300 square feet total, with my push mower. There hasn't been much growing yet, but there were spots that were sprouting well, so I reckoned that I might as well get everything off to an even start.

I was fatigued at the end of it all, but had enough energy to go out for last night's First Friday Art Walk, have a glass of wine with Sharon and Mr Miller, followed by a nice dinner at Tart.

I feel good about doing this work. I think I pulled a muscle in my thigh raking.

The weather service told us that it would be raining today, so I took them at their word and worked another three hours: turned over and amended the soil in what is to become our fragrant herb garden, pruned our perennials, cleaned up yard debris in the beds and edged them, and fertilized the lawns.

"Water after applying," the labeling on the fertilizer bags say.

But there was no rain today.

This will not be a surprise to anyone who's lived in Bend longer than I. "It rarely rains a significant amount here except during thunderstorm season, when the rain is, of course, unpredictable," Bruce Miller tells me. "If the directions say to water something in you have to plan on applying the water yourself instead of depending on nature to do it, no matter what the forecast says."

Good thing I got that new hose. My Magic 8-Ball tells me that tomorrow I'll be setting up sprinklers to soak the fertilizer into the soil.

The weather here sucks. I need rain, not this incessantly cheerful sunshine!

In the Old Country (coastal SoCal) there are three predictable seasons: your alternating sunshine and rain winterr ("mudslide" season), your sunless overcast spring ("May gray, June Gloom"), then the endless relentless heat from summer through December, this latter broken only by the Santa Ana winds that set the area afire. Rain was pretty predictable.

Even so, I enjoyed being a gardener at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco back in '73. I was only 23 at the time, and stoned most of the time. Now I'm 61, achier, but little else has changed. I still enjoy working in the yard.

The hot tub will feel good on my aching back tonight.
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