Christmas 2023

December 28, 2023 2:37 pm

With Christmas on Monday this year it, again, felt like a sprint to the finish. The girls had Friday off from school, but I was still working. So Saturday and Sunday were filled trying to get everything ready.

I used the weekend to bake! Peanut-butter blossoms, sugar cookies (the girls cut and decorated them), chocolate-cream pie, and crème brulée for desserts. Rolls for Christmas dinner, and baguettes to dip in cheese fondue for Christmas-Eve dinner. It took all day both days, but I got it all done.

For dinner on Christmas Eve we had our now-traditional cheese fondue with fresh baguettes, vegetables, apples, and whatever else we decide to dip. Corinne and Heather read a couple of stories, I played Christmas songs on my trombone (fairly poorly, but with all the baking I hadn't had time to practice that weekend or warm up), and Jess read a story.

This year, in an effort to help the girls develop the ability to consider the interests of others, we had gone to Barnes and Noble and had them select books for each other as gifts. And then Jess and I switched off with them to select gifts for each of us. So after our songs and stories we all opened our books from the girls, drank hot chocolate, ate cookies, and read a little from our new books while listening to Christmas music. With the fake fire glowing in the fireplace, just needed some snow falling outside the window to make it a perfectly pleasant evening.

The girls set out eggnog, cookies, and carrots for Santa and his reindeer and then they were off to bed.

In the morning we were up at dawn (which is the girls' usual time) to see what transformation had taken place in the house overnight.

Thanksgiving 2023

November 23, 2023 8:30 pm

Thanksgiving was a quiet day at home. I took the week off. On Wednesday, I helped the girls make a pumpkin pie.

We played part of a game of a new board game I got on Wednesday from a Kickstarter called Familiars and Foes. You play as the familiars of a group of captured witches/wizards. You have to work together to defeat the foes and rescue the witches/wizards.

Partial Solar Eclipse 2023

October 16, 2023 5:22 pm

On Saturday we watched the solar eclipse, which was an annular eclipse to begin with, but also only partial from our vantage point in Livermore.

I made pancakes and the Spencers came over to hang out with us.

We had some cloud cover throughout the morning and we missed the peak, but we got some good views before and after. The thin, wispy clouds made it more interesting to look at it at least.

2023 Trip: Part 5 - Heading Home

September 23, 2023 2:35 pm

We had originally planned to stay another day, but we were all feeling like it was time to be home. And this way there are still things we haven't done for our next visit.

So we packed up and headed out on the 13th. We stopped at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson on our way out.

I had no idea saguaro cacti grew so tall! I had expected something like 10-feet tall, not 20-feet tall.

It was hot at the air and space museum. We knew it would be, but thought we could see a few things fairly quickly and mostly stay inside out of the sun before it got too hot. But the 30-minute loop we did outside just about did in Jess and the girls.

Lots of things to see there though when it's not too hot to stand and read the signage.

After the air and space museum we got lunch at Brushfire BBQ, which was pretty good. After lunch we headed onto something less conventional--the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures (on the other side of Tucson).

I'm not sure how "Time Machine" makes its way into their name, but it's a building full of miniature scenes which was fun to look at it. And it was air-conditioned! It included a "Fairy Hunt" for the girls to complete. That is, throughout the scenes were something like 12 fairies they needed to find to get a little prize at the end. We found them all and they got to pick out a sticker and eraser or something.

One large room was all scenes related to fantasy and holidays (mainly Halloween and Christmas) which was probably the most fun part.

But the other areas with more realistic to life scenes were cool too. They were more interesting from the view of noticing how many details are included such that a photograph can fool you as to what you're looking at. Like the bookstore here, which is about 10 inches tall:

And they had these pencil tips that had been carved like this in what must have been an incredibly painstaking process:

And I also liked this old European street scene:

After those stops we drove for 4 hours and stayed the night in Blythe, CA. Then up the next day to thread the needle across Los Angeles between morning gridlock and afternoon gridlock. And we had an almost perfect run. We got slowed down by an accident for just a few minutes on the north side of LA. Once safely through LA we had dinner at Wendy's and then up I-5 and home.

2023 Trip: Part 4 - Back to Benson

September 4, 2023 6:58 pm

On the way back to Arizona the train passed the Prada store near Marfa, TX. I had one chance to get a picture as we zipped past. I managed to catch it partially blocked by a sign and the only plant of any size anywhere around, but here it is:

After one of our meals Corinne and I walked to the end of our car to look out the back of the train, which is kind of more fun to watch than out the sides, but there's nowhere to sit since it's just the door from the last car:

We got back to Benson the evening of August 10. Mike met use at the station and we had pizza for dinner and then ice cream for dessert at local spots.

The next day we wandered a bit off road heading towards what I had thought were supposed to be petroglyphs. Both the Garmin GPS map and Google maps wanted us to cross a 30-foot fissure in the ground on what they believed was a real road. So we gave up and turned around. But I had stepped out of the van to look around and a light rainfall had turned the top 2 inches of dirt into very clay-like mud, so my shoes were unwearable. So we went back to Mike's place to grab a change of shoes.

After grabbing clean shoes, we headed down to Tombstone and had lunch at the O.K. Cafe and walked the old-timey street with the O.K. Corral. The O.K. Cafe had a bison head mounted on the wall above a map for some reason. We were the only people there after a couple left so it was a nice quite lunch with O.K. food (actually, I recall the food being pretty good).

We hadn't done our homework and learned anything about Tombstone and the shootout at the O.K. Corral before going, so we didn't know what it was all about. But we watched the 1993 movie when we got home, so we're all caught up now on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and such.

After walking up and down the street we headed further down the road to Bisbee for the Copper Queen Mine tour. I had a headache from about the moment we got in the mine until shortly after we got out. I might have attributed it to the tightness of the helmet, but I adjusted that to something more comfortable almost immediately, so I think maybe it had something to do with air-pressure differences in the mine--I dunno, but it made the time underground somewhat less enjoyable.

You get to ride the train into the mine and hear the retired miner talk about what it was like to work in the mine (pretty much awful in every imaginable way).

After the mine tour we walked around in Bisbee for a little bit. Didn't find much to do but eat some gelato. It was "Pirate Weekend" in Bisbee which meant there were people randomly dressed up in historically-dubious costume wear. (How come when people want to dress up as pirates they go for "Pirates of the Caribbean" and not, like, modern-day Somali pirates? I guess wearing cargo shorts and carrying around an AK-47 just doesn't have the same vibe.)

After wrapping up in Bisbee we headed back to Benson and to Safeway to buy dinner supplies. Apparently multiple other people have had the plan to make chili at Mike's since, after we bought our supplies and made dinner, we found two existing containers of cumin and chili powder in the pantry. So, whomever is visiting next doesn't need to buy any more to make chili.

The next day (August 12) we finally got the full observatory tour (without the "surprise wild animals" package). Lots of fun exploring things. And what trip would be complete without a game of "here's your Geiger counter, go find the uranium!"?

A definite highlight was playing with the stereoscopic imagery viewer which messes with how large things look and gives them an extra-3D-ey-ness somehow. It's also pretty amusing for everyone else too:

We spent that day just hanging around the observatory. The girls played Stardew Valley on the Switch and in the afternoon we played a session of "Keep the Heroes Out" with Mike and lost shortly into the second wave. I took some pictures in the evening:

One of our primary goals for the timing of our trip was to hope for a clear night to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. On the evening of the 12th we went outside to take a look, but other than a small patch directly overhead the sky was overcast. So we gave up and sent the girls to bed. Then just as it was time to turn off the lights for them I poked my head out again and it was completely clear, so we got them back up and went out to look.

And it was pretty spectacular. The Milky Way was blatantly clear across the sky and we saw a few really good, bright meteors. We also saw a kangaroo rat wandering about, which (from stories we've been told) was the best possible wildlife for us to encounter around the observatory. Corinne has a kangaroo rat stuffed animal that she got on our trip to Arches National Park when she was an infant.

The girls went to bed and I stayed out a while longer to watch some more and try to take some pictures using the astro-tracer mode on my camera. I managed to get one that came out pretty well showing Scorpius / Maui's Fishhook and the Milky Way over Mike's FJ Cruiser.

Then, the next day, we loaded back up in the van and started our trip home.