Alameda County Fair

Josh flew into town on Friday to hang out for the weekend. On Friday we went and saw The Last Airbender. It was OK. It was incredibly rushed, which was expected since they took an entire season of storyline and tried to make a 100-minute movie. So that was a little disappointing. We found it strange that they decided to mess with the pronunciations of the names. We also found it strange how much they changed some characters, like Iroh. They also didn’t include almost any of the humor from the series. It’s too bad that so much of the things we didn’t like could have been so easily fixed. Extending the movie to 150 minutes would have provided a lot more time to let the story line flow along rather than being hurried. And leaving in the trademark humor that each of the characters’ personalities have would have been good.

Anyway. This post isn’t about the movie. On Saturday we went to the Alameda County Fair. Getting in had the completely stupid and pointless process of passing through metal detectors. Apparently someone thought that so long as you make everyone walk through a metal detector nothing bad could happen at the fair. We’ll just ignore the fact that the perimeter of the entire fair is unmonitored and consists almost entirely of chain-link fence. Surely someone looking to cause trouble wouldn’t be bright enough to toss over their supplies and then go get them or to have an accomplice toss over their supplies.

[sigh], That’s also not the point. Let’s get back on track.

We started by watching the Mutton Bustin’ competition. Which is where they plop kids (ages 3-6) on top of a sheep and then let it loose to see how long they can hold on. We then moved on to the chocolate-covered bacon on a stick:
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Jess even tried a bite and then proceeded to do her best not to vomit. Josh finished off the whole thing though.

After wandering around for a while we watched the All-Alaskan Pig Racing:
IMGP2975_smallBefore leaving we took an obligatory ride on the swings:
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It was a fun time. We bought some caramel apples on our way out that were incredibly good. They were Granny Smith apples, covered in caramel, with a layer of yogurt, and sprinkled in cinnamon. The flavor was called apple pie à la mode.

Sanctuary Anniversary-moon

To celebrate our anniversary, Kyle and I decided to go away for the weekend. Based pretty much entirely on how much I loved the beach at Point Reyes, I found us a place at the beach! (Having grown up in the Midwest, I’m basically a stranger to beaches. Kyle thinks this is bizarre.) In any case, Kyle took a half-day off on Friday and we headed for Marina, out on Monterey Bay.

Now, we knew that it was going to be chilly. The weather forecast for the weekend was the low sixties, if I remember correctly. The weather lied. When we got there, it was about 50 degrees, cloudy, and windy. Fortunately, the locals are equipped for this sort of “summertime” weather. The forecast would continue to be wrong, but we dealt with it. And it did warm up on Saturday and Sunday.

So the thing to know about the place we were staying (it’s called the Sanctuary Beach Resort) is that it’s built on a nature preserve and there are various measures in place to help the environment out a bit. First up: golf carts! The resort consists of several separate bungalow-style buildings, rather than one big one. Instead of everybody driving their cars around the site, everybody gets a golf cart. Yes, we both had a lot of fun driving ours.

IMGP2852atinyOkay, so we got to our room. And it was seriously one of the very best ones they had, way out on the end with absolutely nothing between us and the ocean. Don’t believe me? This was our view:3

Oooooh. I’m seriously thinking of making that my wallpaper. It re-relaxes me just to look at it. The fence is ‘cuz we weren’t allowed out on the dunes (protected habitat)–the beach access was down a bit further. The extra benefit of the little banned area, though, is that nobody could go walking past. So we could sit in front of our patio window (too cold to sit outside!) and look out to sea and feel like there was just no-one else around. It was glorious. (Side note: who knew dunes were so colorful? Not me. But the plants were gorgeous.)

24Note the fireplace. That’s how our room was heated. How cute is that? Our own little fire demon to keep us warm (yes, it was gas and ran off a thermostat). Calcifer even dried my jeans after the ocean gods got them wet. Good little fire demon. If you looked right out to the right, though, you could sorta see what the little buildings looked like:1

And this shot, taken Sunday, further illustrates how close we really were to the ocean:IMGP2659btinySadly, it was way too cold to go down to the beach Friday night. We settled into our room and went to dinner at a local Italian/seafood joint. On the way back, we stopped at Starbuck’s for some hot chocolate, then just relaxed in our room, reading and trying to balance our desire to have the door open so we could hear the waves against our desire to not freeze. There was a break in the clouds such that we could actually watch the sun set. I had actually never done this before and didn’t realize you could truly see it move! I may have also spent a bit too much time staring at the sun itself, but my eyes eventually recovered.

We started Saturday by going to Denny’s for “breakfast” at noon. Afterward, we went to a pond we’d spotted to play with the bajillion birds. There were gulls, ducks, pigeons, and geese, all being crazy.IMGP2638_smallAlso, on a related note, I love this sign:IMGP2538atiny

The third duck is my favorite.

Next, it was time to finally hit the beach! I’d been looking forward to dabbling my toesies in the water for weeks and weeks. Sadly, it was still dang cold and the wind was blowing really hard. So despite the fact that we took blankets and books down with us, we only stayed for around half an hour. I don’t think Kyle ever sat down; he just stood around, wrapped in the blankets. I rolled my jeans up and ran in and out of the surf like a loon, but it was super cold and the wind was giving me a headache (and Kyle a jaw-ache), so we headed back to our room and on to the hot tub to warm up.

After the hot tub, we were both ‘zausted. Kyle took a nap and I, who am not a fan of naps, computered for a bit. I woke him up when I got bored and we spent forever trying to decide what to do for dinner. We ended up going into Monterey for P.F. Chang’s, which was tasty. That was pretty much it. We were both really tired from the hot tub (we’ve decided those things are energy-sappers), so we turned in early. After enjoying the chocolates provided with our turn-down service, of course. (Somehow, we never did get around to that complimentary bottle of wine. Pity.)

Sunday was our last day there, and we had to be out by noon. I knew I wanted to go back down to the beach, so I woke Kyle up early, around 8, and we ran down first thing. This was good, because it was actually warm and sunny for the first time since we got there! (“Warm” is a relative term, of course, but still.) Kyle took a couple hundred pictures, a few of me being fascinated by waves.

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Okay, I look like a moron there because I was just attacked by a wave monster. You can’t tell from just one shot, but I was wading along happily, and then a couple of waves came together to make one BIG one, I got rather shockingly wet (that water was cold!), and then came pelting my ridiculous way back up the beach. And Kyle caught it all on camera and insisted it go on the blog. So there you go.c

After a while, Kyle retreated to an “impenetrable fortress”:IMGP2839atiny

Yeah. It was soon flooded.

All too soon, we had to return to our room to pack up and get ready to go. I did not want to leave our exceedingly peaceful oasis. However, the appearance of this guy made it a bit easier:IMGP2848atinyKyle found him on the bed (we think he hitched a ride via his computer bag). All I know is that I was in the bathroom, putting on my makeup, when I heard screaming. Yelping, at least. And yes, we trapped it under a glass and left it for housekeeping. But we figured that’s what they would have wanted us to do–they had a sign in the room about different wildlife from the dunes that could possibly make its way into our room and offering to “escort it out for us” if we called them. True, they didn’t mention spiders. But still.

Okay, this post is almost done, I promise. We checked out of the hotel around 11:30 and went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ll be brief and just say that my favorite parts were the jellyfish and sea horse exhibits. (They were so cool!)tiny tiny2

For scale’s sake, that first jellyfish was small. The second one was huge. Sorry, no pics of the sea horses. Kyle’s favorites were the penguins (no surprise there) and sea otters. The aquarium’s parking garage is down Cannery Row, so we got to walk along all the shops, and we had to stop in the Ghirardelli store and split a sundae. We also picked up a yummy caramel apple at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Co. before going to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. And after yet another tasty meal, we pointed Chloe back towards Livermore. Vacation over.

Florida Part 3

IMGP1887Friday was the big day of the launch. Our vehicle placard was for 9:00am, so we were supposed to arrive at the visitors’ center by that time. Expecting traffic to be a disaster we planned to be on the road by 7 at the latest. Mom had decided to ride with us to make travel arrangements easier for everyone else and since she’d probably be up by that time anyway.

So we got up before the sun and got ready to go. The free breakfast at our hotel started at 6:30 so we popped in there right after it opened and grabbed some food to eat on the road. We picked up Mom and headed off. I re-routed us around Orlando to avoid any normal traffic delays expecting regular commuter problem to be exacerbated by launch-watchers.

Being so early we didn’t have much trouble. About 10 miles out we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on the single-lane-per-direction road connecting to the causeway over to Merritt Island. It moved along fairly regularly though. The placard checkpoint was about 6 miles out from the visitors’ center and once we passed that it was smooth sailing to the parking lot. All in all, our drive out was not bad. It took about 2 hours total.

Another group of our party was set to leave about an hour after us and their trip took a little longer but they arrived without too much trouble. The final group was supposed to arrive by 11. They were stuck in much worse traffic and it took them about 4 hours to get there, I think. Apparently the big hold up was the vast number of vehicles that didn’t have placards that thought they’d just drive out there regardless.

Anyway, we arrived a little before 9.IMGP2138The Launch was scheduled for 2:20pm, so we had several hours to kill. We started by heading straight to the IMAX theater to watch the IMAX 3D Hubble Telescope story. Jess loved it. She really likes the Hubble pictures and they used some fancy techniques to create 3D models of the imagery and then fly you through it. It was pretty cool.

After the IMAX movie we met up with group 2 that was arriving. We also took the opportunity to apply ample amounts of sunscreen. Then it was time for lunch. We went to the Orbit Cafe and bought hamburgers and fries.

Once we were done with lunch we went and looked at the astronaut memorial and saw an alligator and a big turtle hanging out in the water. Then we wandered over to the Rocket Garden and read about some of the ridiculously large rockets that were built over the years.

It must have been around this time that the final group arrived and we went to find somewhere to try to watch the launch. It was crowded, to say the least. And it was insanely hot and also rather humid. All things that make for a great party on concrete. We had about an hour to wait. So we waited. We were able to see the screen they had set up so we had some status updates. Finally it was launch time. Everything was looking good and the 10-second final countdown began.

The engines fired up and the shuttle began to rise into the air. Being 7 miles away you don’t hear much of anything for quite some time. But we watched it rise up over the treeline (no direct line of sight to the pad from the visitors’ center). I had thought about renting a really fancy lens to try and get some sweet pictures. But decided against it and just snapped away with our dinky little 55mm lens.

The pictures are acceptable for remembering the event. Here’s just after liftoff:
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And the smoke plume around the time the solid rocket boosters were getting dropped off:
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It was a mighty fun rumble when the sound wave finally reached us. After the shuttle was out of sight we went in to the Launch Status Center and watched some replays from the various NASA cameras. After some much needed air conditioning and sitting we went and saw the mock-up shuttle and then went to the Shuttle Launch Simulator. The SLS was pretty fun. I’d recommend it. The nice thing about the Visitors’ Center is that the extras inside are included in the price. So it doesn’t cost extra for the IMAX or the Launch Simulator.

After that we met up with the remaining other group and got ready to head back. One group left while we waited for Mike who would transfer to our vehicle. So we got some ice-cream cones and waited for him to checkout at the gift shop. We finally left about 30 minutes after the other group.

He checked his fancy Nexus One phone and found out how bad traffic was so we routed around the damage and had the GPS find us a new path away from the toll roads. We ended up one some little road with no phone service but also no traffic and cruised right along at 55-60 mph. We actually got home before any of the other groups. The first group to leave had left a couple of hours before us, but gave up and stopped for food. We thought it was pretty funny. It pays to travel with the nerds.

Florida Part 2

Our original plan was to go to Epcot on Thursday. But, seeing how we didn’t get to the hotel until 2:30-3:00am we ditched that plan and slept in. We spent the day relaxing and recovering from traveling.

We eventually got up and went to lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Jess was very excited since the closest Chick-Fil-A to us in California is about 30 minutes away. It was very tasty and probably the best service I’ve ever seen at a fast food restaurant. After lunch it was back to the hotel for more rest and relaxation.

The hotel we’re staying at is on a resort property which has a miniature golf course. Nothing fancy, but something to do for fun. So we played a round.IMGP1816As we walked back to our hotel room we discovered that the little covered bridge on the property was lit up. So we stopped to take some pictures.IMGP1854The rest of the Dickersons, all of whom also participated in this trip to Florida, had spent the day at Magic Kingdom. We met up with them at the house they’re staying at to celebrate Chad’s birthday.

That was pretty much the entirety of our second day. It was quite nice to just kick back and relax. So we were all rested up and ready to go for day three: launch day.

Florida Part 1

So… We drove down to Sunnyvale and left our car at Mike’s house and took Caltrain to BART to SFO. That took about 1.5 hours. Then we went through security and waited at our gate. Our plane was delayed, apparently because of a mechanical issue in Salt Lake. But it wasn’t delayed much. So we flew to Salt Lake and found that our connecting flight was already boarding. So we power-walked through the airport and grabbed some slices of Sbarro so that we’d have some real food to eat (we also packed all sorts of snacks into our carry-on bags, and we didn’t check any bags, but those slices of pizza would soon prove necessary). So we got to our next gate and attempted to board to find out that they had run out of carry-on space so we had to plane-side check our bags. So despite not having any bags to check we still had to wait at the baggage claim when we got to Orlando.

The flight wasn’t too bad, we watched The Abyss on my laptop which killed about 4 hours. However, our backs are still a bit tweaked from the service project on Saturday, so sitting on the plane wasn’t a bunch of fun.

We arrived in Orlando and went to the baggage claim. Our bags showed up fairly quickly and then we went down to the Thrify rental car desk. There were about 25 people in line and 2 people working the desk and I think it really took them about 20 minutes per customer. It was pretty ridiculous. Eventually a third employee showed up which helped. It took about an hour. So by this time it was 1:00am.

The employee had given us a little map telling us to go out to the area labeled “Economy”, as it was labeled on our map. Well, they don’t actually have an area labeled “Economy”. So I eventually found another employee who said they don’t have economy cars and they were out of compact cars so we should pick one of the SUVs or minivans in the mid-size section. Well, we didn’t want to drive an SUV or minivan in an unfamiliar area. There was, however, a compact sitting off by itself in an unlabeled area. Since Jess has to do all the driving I was letting/making her make the decision. But the lack of sleep, and frustration and stress of traveling was getting to us both and things were looking grim.

An employee drove by, apparently done with his shift, and asked if we needed help. We told him our problem and he said that the compact was available, but seemed confused that we wouldn’t want the “free upgrade” to a mid-size. So we took the compact, a thoroughly unimpressive Chevy Cobalt. But we’d rather be driving that than a big honking SUV or minivan.

Now it was time to start off for the hotel. Placing too much faith in magical electronics I hadn’t looked up any specific directions because we brought our GPS. Well, the GPS had no hope of getting a signal inside the airport or the parking garage. So we started driving out of the airport “blind”. I did know we needed to go south-ish and west-ish. So we started following signs matching that plan which worked out fine. It only took about 5 minutes to pull up a solid signal.

We then discovered that to drive anywhere around Orlando you apparently have to pay $1.25 for every 8 miles. So we paid a toll. Drove 8 miles on the same road. Paid another toll. Drove 2-3 miles and exited. And paid another toll. We finally arrived at our hotel, Holiday Inn Express at Summer Bay Resort. Which is actually fairly decent. We checked in around 2:00 and asked where we might find some 24-hour fast food. So we went to McDonald’s to get food. We drove back to the hotel and got to our room, ate ‘dinner’, and fell asleep.

We had originally planned to spend today at Epcot, but, since that plan also thought we’d get to the hotel by midnight (local, so only 9:00 our time), it was abandoned and we’ll push Epcot to Saturday. So this morning we slept in, and are watching the History channel.