Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Post Script

Some additional scenes from the trip home:

Our route took us past the intersection where James Dean died. There's a Steinbeck connection to this fact: Dean's first major movie role was in Steinbeck's East of Eden, set in the Salinas Valley. Furthermore, he was driving to a sports car race in Salinas when his fatal collision happened. Here's a tribute near that intersection, outside a store selling produce, mostly nuts, from the area.

In our drive to get home I withstood the lure of "historic route 66" at various I-40 exits in CA and AZ, but we did get off at Seligman in search of ice cream. Found it at the Snow Cap Drive-in, at east end of town, in case you drop by.

The Snow Cap sense of humor is indicated by the sign for "dead chicken." On the menu the sundaes are listed as either "male or female." I bit and naively asked, "What's the difference?" "With or without nuts," was the answer. Seligman has several Route 66 themed shops that we've visited before, but this was our first visit to the Snow Cap.

Here's the scene west of Gallup, just before you cross from AZ to NM. The Gallup I-40 corridor through red sandstone cliffs is really a great welcome-back-to-NM sight. Gives me a thrill as does the I-40 entry to NM on the east side when the flat TX cropland gives way to a vast array of mesas and arroyos.

A couple of hours later, here's the ancient Laguna Pueblo. Much better pictures at the link, but I like the ancient-modern contrast of this shot.

I mentioned last time that Cedar Crest welcomed us back with an afternoon mountain shower. Well, yesterday morning, sitting on the patio enjoying a cool morning, breakfast, and newspaper, I glanced up and saw rainbows. Grabbed my camera and ran around to the front of the house and got this shot. Cedar Crest: Not the end of the rainbow, but you can see it from here.

Th-th-that's all, Folks.


Rob and Susie

Friday, June 20, 2008

We're Home

Dear Family and Friends:

We got home Thursday noon. But first, a report on the visit last weekend of Malia, Jeff, and Valerie to Monterey.

On Saturday we headed for the Monterey Aquarium. Time after time when we told people we were going to Monterey for three months, they said, Go see the aquarium. We put off going until we had company to take. Malia had gotten excited at the Denver Aquarium, so the acclaimed Monterey Bay version was one of Jeff and Valerie's priorities.

And it was spectacular. We took it in morning and afternoon sessions, sandwiched around lunch at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory. Malia was a little jet-lagged in the morning, but by afternoon was pretty active. You'll have to rely on web-site pictures -- too dark for my camera.

I was really impressed by the jellyfish. They're regarded as a simple animal, but they've got all these shapes and appendages and are transparent to boot. Fascinating.

We were lucky: Forest Gump was sitting outside the restaurant with his suitcase and box of chocolates. Jeff, a Forest fan, was thrilled; Malia's still thinking about it.

We ended the active part of the day at the Dennis the Menace Park -- Cartoonist Hank Ketcham was a Monterey Peninsula resident -- I've seen references to Carmel and Pebble Beach as the site of his residence (he died in 2001).

Sunday morning we took the 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach. The plan was to go on down the coast to the Rocky Point restaurant where we had gone for Mother's Day lunch with Heidi, Mandi, and Paul. But when we got to the Pebble Beach Lodge, overlooking the 18th hole of the golf course, I had an inspiration: Let's go to Father's Day brunch here! In contrast to Mother's Day they had space available. Check out this view:

Great brunch spread, too. Pebble Beach is the site of the 2010 U.S. Open and it's not too early to buy souvenirs. Proably can't reserve this table now for the final day of the tournament.

We continued on down the coast until Valerie and Susie had seen enough cliffs and high bridges, then turned around and looped inland via the Carmel Valley to return home.

Monday, in search of sun and a warmer beach, we drove up to Santa Cruz, by way of the lettuce and strawberry fields in the Salinas Valley. (We'd been told that we'd know it was summer in Monterey when the fog set in -- that seemed to be what was happening this weekend, as you can see from the pix.) On Saturday, Jeff, Malia, and I had gone down to the Marina Beach. Showing Malia the ocean was another item on Jeff's checklist of things to do. We were standing near the wave line when an above-average wave came ashore that got our feet wet and that was a bit of a shock for Malia. This perch at Santa Cruz was close enough for her.

We also enjoyed a stroll down the Santa Cruz Boardwalk -- pretty good crowd for a Monday it seemed to us.

After that we hiked through the big redwoods near Santa Cruz, then headed over the coastal range for a late lunch, a stop at a Los Gatos park for running, swinging, and sliding by youknowwho, and then to the San Jose airport where the kids had a late flight back to Denver. We had a great time and were really glad they came to see us.

My last class had been on Thursday and I had prepared my final exam, scheduled for Tuesday, early in anticipation of spending most of the weekend hosting and touring. On Thursday morning, right before class I got the inspiration to make the test a take-home exam. I had a problem in the exam that needed some reflection and thinking, and that can be hard to do in a two-hour exam. So, idealist that I am, I decided I wanted to give my students a chance to show me their best work and that meant giving them the weekend to work on it.

And it paid off. A couple of potential Bs moved up to A and some borderline Cs moved up to solid Bs. I'm a real softie. I want them to realize this stuff I'm peddling can help them in their career, so I don't want to feed the negative impression so many people have of statistics.

Incidentally, my Bahrain-Navy, Annapolis-graduate, student won a prestigious award for his thesis -- he developed a computer-based, easy to use method for determining how to deploy Coast Guard vessels around a port to defend against small-boat attacks such as hit the U. S. Cole. It's interesting, in class and office visits, he, Abdul, is very quiet and deferential. In making his thesis presentation, competing against four others, he was really dynamic: "This works, it's been successfully used, you can use it now, so I'm really glad to have the opportunity to tell you about it." He made the sale.

Got some other good feedback. My civilian student, who works for a Fort Ord organization, said this was the first stat test that made her think, instead of being just "chug and plug." One of the professors in the department sent a note saying that the thesis of one of her students was improved by being in my class and by my consulting with him. He also had a class project that was very difficult to analyze and we spent a lot of time working through that. My Korean AF officer was very appreciative. He wrote: "Thanks you sir! I could learn a lot of insights from you. And I had enjoyed your class." I got a lot of insights from him, too. He sat front row, center, and usually had questions before class started that told me where I needed to hit some topics again.

One of the things I like about being on campus is the opportunity to attend a variety of seminars. An Academic Center in the same building as my office is aimed at studying and improving the military-civilian interface ; they had some interesting speakers -- one from Save the Children and one from the FBI forensic lab were two of the people I heard. I also heard a lot of Operations Research seminars about various R&D efforts aimed at improving military operations, such as the above harbor protection example. Another example had to do with a portable camera tower that could be used to scan an area looking for activity that suggested bad guys planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices, I believe) while being able to distinguish such activity from a local gardener hoeing weeds. Tactics for deploying UAVs (unmanned airborne vehicles; so many acronyms, so little time: I learned that SME was a subject-matter expert. I've used that term repeatedly in my class and didn't know there was a time-saving acronym) was another seminar topic. I doubt that the general public has much idea about how much research is done to improve military things -- we hear mostly about the problems, failures, and cost overruns.

I had thought I'd spend Tuesday grading and we'd leave for home on Wednesday or Thursday, but since I had a couple of weeks before grades were due, and because Matt and family were in Albq on business, staying in what they called Hotel Easterling, I collected the exams on Tuesday morning and we left at noon. As we left, Susie said: I know it'll be hot along the way and at home, but (after three months of Pacific-chilled weather) I promise not to complain about hot weather.

Got to Bakersfield for the night. Next day was a long one -- 13 hours, 570 miles -- to Holbrook, AZ. I kept a close eye on Tuzi's temperature gage and any time it strayed above 200 degrees, I'd gear down, let the engine rev a bit and cool itself off. (Until last summer, when we got an overheating warning light on the way to Taos, I'd just let the automatic transmission shift when it wanted. After reading the manual, decided I needed to do some peremptory shifting.) We went through Needles, CA about noon, so avoided the worst of the triple-digit heat. A/C worked well enough that we kept cool -- that wasn't the case in the original Tuzigoot.

Oh, one good thing: We had gassed up not too far from Monterey on the way out in March and when we left Tuesday we had about 3/4 of a tank. That enabled us to get into AZ before having to fill up. CA diesel prices are about a dollar per gallon higher than they are in AZ.

We stopped briefly in Winslow to visit the La Posada Hotel. They've added a large Mary Coulter room gift shop and are landscaping the front entrance. They've got videos playing in the lobby describing the restoration process and also Tina Mion's art. She's the wife of the owner. The owner, Allen Affeldt, who we got to know a few years ago, wasn't around, so we didn't have a chance to visit with him. We'd thought about having dinner there, even went so far as to freshen up a bit, but we just weren't in an elegant-meal mood, versus a let's get parked for the night mood, so we continued on to Holbrook for the night. Same KOA we'd stayed at in March on the way out.

Got home Thursday noon and had a nice day with Matt and family, all except Kaci who is in the Cleveland area for the summer.

One last shot of the Marina Dunes and Pacific Ocean:

Bottom Line: Great experience. Glad to be home. Cedar Crest even staged an afternoon thunderstorm today just to welcome us back. Priceless.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Carmel Culture

Dear Family and Friends:

Another weekend report:

This turned out to be our Carmel Culture weekend. Susie saw an ad for a dance program done to the music of George and Ira Gerschwin. This was Friday night, in Carmel's Sunset Center (The Cultural Heart of Carmel-By-The-Sea). Susie's a great dance fan -- as in This Bus Brakes for Dancing With The Stars -- and we both enjoy Gerschwin music, so we went. Mostly ballet it was, with a couple of tap dance numbers. The leaps, lifts, and spins the dancers can do -- I'm getting a little technical, I know -- are pretty amazing. And the music, recordings of many classic artists, kept it all moving with familiar tunes and kept me awake.

On Friday I had gone to lunch with some of the NPS profs and mentioned to one of them about our Friday plans. She invited us to join her and another NPS prof and his wife Saturday night in Carmel for "Bea-ing Lillie!" Dinner, too, beforehand at an Italian restaurant in Carmel. Sure, we said, we'd like to go.

The other prof is Don Gaver, the only prof at NPS who I really knew before we came. We've been on committees and programs together over the years. He has emeritus status and I didn't see him on campus at all when we got here. We had an e-mail exchange early on and he said he wanted us (couples) to get together, but then I didn't hear again. I got busy and didn't contact him. About half-way into the term I asked colleague, Pat Jacobs, where Don was, figuring he must be traveling, and she said he broke his hip right at the start of the quarter and was having a difficult recovery and rehabilitation. He's been on campus a few times recently; we've had some good visits on technical stuff and I went to lunch with Pat and Don week before last.

"Bea-ing Lillie" is a long-running tribute by Laynne Littlepage to Bea Lillie. Littlepage had a show, "An Evening with Bea Lillie," for 20-plus years -- some of you may have seen it -- and has recently re-vamped it into "Bea-ing Lillie." In the first act she appears as herself, Layne, talking about Bea and doing some of her songs, then in the second act she plays Bea (as I understand she did for the entirety of the original show).

I just vaguely knew who Bea Lillie was. As the website says: "Before Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Tracey Ullman or Whoopi Goldberg, there was Beatrice Lillie." Noel Coward called her "the funniest woman of our civilization." Her career ran from the 1920s to the 60s; she won Tony awards in 1958 and 1964 (why wasn't I paying attention?) and died in 1989.

Anyhow, there was lots of funny stuff. One story and song: Bea tried to buy rights to a song by Rogers and Hart, but they wouldn't sell. She got even with Rogers by appearing on Fred Allen's radio show and doing a parody of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" Their show was called "Picadilly." Lots of crazy lyrics: "Oh what a beautiful noninclement afternoon!" You can buy these old radio shows, but I couldn't find any free transcripts on the internet. Apparently Rogers threatened to sue and Allen and Lillie came back with a wicked parody of "Sound of Music."

The theater that hosted this show, The Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, is very small -- living room size, seating maybe 30 people -- tucked away in the trees along a narrow street a few blocks away from the main part of town. As the web site says: We invite you to discover the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts and its ever-changing display of artistic delights, reflecting the bohemian inventiveness that gave Carmel its original charm. You could tell we were in serious art territory by the paintings of nudes hanging (in several senses of the word ifyouknowwhatImean) on the walls.

Meanwhile, Saturday noon, our artistic sensibilities turned to literature and the John Steinbeck House in Salinas, restored and operated as a charming little restaurant. This is where Steinbeck was born and grew up.

I've been trying to immerse myself in Steinbeck's world since we've been here, but haven't read nearly as many of his books as I'd hoped to. We did visit the Steinbeck Center in Salinas a month or so ago and have tracked down this cottage he lived in in Pacific Grove:

And here's a Cannery Row mural showing Steinbeck, on the left, and crew.

Of course, Steinbeck wasn't very well-liked in Salinas when some of his books were published -- two of them were burned in Salinas! He sided with the migrant workers in the 30s and 40s against the growers, bankers, and political power structure (droll understatement there). As an Okie, I grew up with the impression that Steinbeck somehow maligned our good state, only to have its reputation resurrected later by Rogers and Hammerstein (How's that for full circle?). Now I think "Grapes of Wrath" is one of America's greatest novels. The Steinbeck Center shows that Salinas forgave him. I may have mentioned earlier about the great exhibits pertaining to his books, including clips from the ones that were made into movies.

One Steinbeck site I've wanted to find was the Corral de Tierra, which means "walls of earth." This is the Spanish name for a scenic, idyllic valley between Salinas and Monterey that Steinbeck wrote about in "Pastures of Heaven," a collection of short stories set there. I did read and enjoy that book -- his characters were something short of idyllic. We had been close to the Corral one day, but I didn't realize where we were -- I was looking for Pastures of Heaven signs. Well, armed with knowledge and a map, we found it. Here's a picture from the website:

Here's one I got in the area -- a more developed area.

Oh, here's a sign just down the street from our RV park:

Just wanted to show you what stressful conditions we've been living under.

Next weekend Malia, Valerie, and Jeff arrive! Then I give a final on Tuesday after that and we'll head for home Wednesday or Thursday.


Rob and Susie

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What we did last weekend, continued

Dear Family and Friends:

Discovered the near-perfect restaurant this past weekend, almost too late 'cause we've just got two weekends left.

After our Friday afternoon Salinas valley re-tour, I suggested we go to Moss Landing to try out Phil's Seafood Market and Eatery. Moss Landing is only about 8 miles up the coast from us and we had been there visiting antique shops a while back. I had seen Phil's on a list of best Monterey Peninsula seafood establishments. Well, they serve great food in an boisterous, casual atmosphere. I really enjoyed my halibut fish and chips.

But, the best was yet to come: As we were leaving I saw a small poster saying that Phil's featured bluegrass music every Monday evening. So, we went back Monday evening.

The food was great -- I had halibut tacos. I'm conducting an ongoing search for the world's best fish taco, and this one leads the way. Large pieces of grilled halibut surrounded by fine California salsa-stuff, encased in a large wheat tortilla that was so heavy and leaky you could hardly handle it. But, hey, a little juice dribbling down your chin is part of the experience. What's more there were two of them -- tacos, not chins, but on second thought, ... .

Meanwhile a local bluegrass band entertained us -- a good group, not too professional, not too raw. Sounded good.

May go back next Monday, just for the halibut!

Speaking of fish, on one of my homework assignments, Mr. Kim, my student from the Korean AF, who has picked up some of my skeptical view of textbook data, wrote about the data in one homework problem: "It smells fish. (no y) It seems to be fabricated data." He's probably right (statistics means never having to say you're certain.)

Speaking of entertainment, the previous Friday we went to hear Emmy Lou Harris at a classic Spanish-style theater in downtown Monterey. She put on a nice show, but her band too often drowned out her words (for both of us, so it's not just my degraded hearing ability). I've seen that happen often -- on the road bands are given more leeway than they get on recordings. Numbers tend to be overproduced. And the stars let it happen to keep things in harmony, so to speak.

Meanwhile, between Friday night and Monday night, we made a Saturday afternoon drive about an hour up the coast to a stand of redwood trees in a state park near Santa Cruz. Jeff had expressed interest in seeing big trees while they're here and we wanted to check these out. Jeff has memories of a family vacation years ago and a picture showing our trusty Suburban, Old Blue, posed in front of a tree with a tunnel you could drive through. I think that was in Sequoia National Park across the state from here. These trees in the Henry Cowell State Park aren't quite that big, but they're impressive -- tallest is about 270 ft., if I recall correctly. They don't have the diameter of the sequoias, but they're still pretty awesome. A few pictures:


Rob and Susie