Friday Sep 07, 2007

Gingerbread Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

A family thumbs up for this recipe. We ended up with plump muffins (too much mixture), so they turned into cupcakes, but were still yummy! We also added some cinnamon.

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Friday Aug 31, 2007

Math Questions

I was checking the answers in Duncan's 4th grade Math homework last night, and came across this question:

  Q. There were 15 problems on a math quiz. Keith missed two.
     How many problems did he get right?

To me, this all comes down to what exactly did they mean by "missed two"? Did he get those two wrong, or did he fail to complete them? For the former the answer is 13, for the latter, the answer is N.E.I (not enough information). It'll be interesting to see how his teacher marks it.

I used to hate questions like this. They should all be clear and completely understandable.

I suppose it could have been worst. At least it's better than these two:

  Q. Duncan has 2,678 Pokemon cards. He only needs 10 more to
     complete his first set. Each pack costs a dollar and
     contains 5 cards. How much does it cost to get that
     first set?

  A. $254. (You never gets the ones you want).

  Q. There are five crows sitting on a fence. The farmer gets
     out his shotgun and blows one away. How many crows are left?

  A. None. (Would you just sit there if someone was shooting at you?)

Monday Aug 13, 2007

Family Things

Three family activities over the weekend.

Last Friday I bought a copy of Rayman Raving Rabbids for the Wii. When Bunnies go bad. Fun for all the family indeed. Big time. There's something blissfully compelling about shooting rabbits with plungers and making them cry. And you should have seen Disco Dad with a remote in one hand and the nunchuck in the other, trying to keep time to the music and keep a load of bunnies dancing. Or whirling the remote around over his head in preparation for throwing the cow as far as possible. Best game I've played in years! I can see some Wii games replacing my previous exercise regime.

On Saturday afternoon we all sat down to watch Bridge to Terabithia on Comcast On-Demand. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Seriously, if you haven't seen this film yet and don't want me to ruin it for you, then don't read the rest of this paragraph. All I'd seen previously for this film, was the brief preview that Comcast provided, and from that I thought it was going to be another Narnia-like movie. So that was my mind-set going into it. Then, about two thirds of the way through the movie, we're told that Leslie Burke, the lead girl, was dead. I'm thinking, nah, she's just over in Terabithia and it'll all be sorted out by the end of the movie. I continued to be in denial right up until the end. What a bummer. Still, nice to see a Disney movie without a sickly sweet happy ending.

On Sunday evening at about 10pm, we headed over to the playing fields at Duncan's school, to try to watch the 2007 Perseids meteor showers. It's still unclear to me just how interested Duncan is in all this or whether he's getting swept along by what his old man likes, so rather than do the special Perseids event at Montalvo's gardens (thanks Alex), we'd try something simpler. It was a New Moon, so potentially good viewing, but we found that there was still a lot of distributive ambient light from the surrounding buildings, roads etc. Plus, by the time we got there, there was a little bit of cloud cover. In short, at that time of the evening, I only saw one meteor (Duncan and Lynea missed it). I then said I'd try to wake up in the middle of the night, and if the viewing was good, then I'd wake Duncan up. I got up at about 3:00am this morning, and saw four meteors within five minutes, so I went back in to try to wake the boy up. He was just too tired and didn't want to get up. Fair enough. I stayed watching for a few more minutes then went back to bed. Next year, assuming the viewing is potentially going to be as good, I again think we'll compromise, but probably go up into the local mountains hills away from the city lights and try that.

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Monday Jul 30, 2007

Little Old Faithful Geyser In Calistoga, California

The other stop we made two weeks ago before Safari West, was to the Little Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, California.

In looking around for links for this post, I discovered a web page from Wayne Boyd that states:

"The proprietors claim this is one of only three 'Old Faithful Geysers' in the world, one being here in Calistoga, one being in Yellowstone in Wyoming, and the last being in New Zealand. A little bit of research on the Internet, however, revealed the proprietors of this spout are not telling the whole story. In a number of places where there is geothermal activity, wells have been drilled and fitted with impermeable casements that allow them to erupt like geysers. Though these so-called 'artificial geysers', technically known as 'erupting geothermal wells', are not true geysers, they can be quite spectacular."

It's not on the scale of the Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park (which you can see via webcam), but it was certainly entertaining enough for a small boy. Even though their web site says it (faithfully) erupts every 20-30 minutes, a hand-written sign on the wall had adjusted this to 30-40 minutes.

We paid to get in (dollar off if you bring your AAA card), and headed out to the back where the geyser was. One of the first things you see is an enclosure with Fainting Goats in it. This is another misnomer. The goats don't really faint. According to the Wikipedia page, they just have "external muscles which freeze for roughly 10 seconds when the goat is startled. Though painless, this generally results in the animal collapsing on its side." We didn't see any fits of auto-goat tipping while we were there (YouTube has a video though), so we carried on to the geyser area.

After a few minutes a 2-3 foot high jet of hot water erupted upwards. We thought "was that it"? Unsure, we went further back and looked at the llamas (that to me seemed to be on the point of thinking about spitting at you at any moment), then headed back again to the geyser area.

Our timing was perfect. It erupted just as we approached it.

This attraction, like the Petrified Forest is fun for kids for about 15-30 minutes. Then it's time to move on.

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Friday Jul 27, 2007

The Petrified Forest

Before we visited Safari West at the beginning of last week, we made two other stops. First to one of the three "Old Faithful" geysers in the world (more on that on Monday) and then to the Petrified Forest near Callistoga.

Here's how their web page describes it:

"Step back in Time, over 3 million years, and follow the trail of majestic petrified redwood giants arrayed before you in a fascinating grove in beautiful California wine country."

There certainly are several large rock-like trees to see scattered along the trail, and they apparently are finding more all the time. I don't remember the one that looks like it's disappearing into a mine shaft from the last time Lynea and I visited (about ten years ago).

But as Duncan pointed out, "why is it called the Petrified Forest? It's only a few trees." And he's got a point. Most of the surrounding visible trees aren't petrified at all. In fact, they aren't even the least bit frightened. I tried to explain that the petrified trees were there own forest three million years ago, but I'm not sure he grasped it.

There is a gift shop you can visit at the end of the tour. I found the prices a tad inflated as we found we could buy some of the same type of rock souvenirs at Safari West for a fraction of the price.

It was entertaining for about fifteen minutes, but I think we'll probably wait another ten years or more before we go back again.

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Thursday Jul 26, 2007

Safari West - Part 4

Here's the final post on this trip. The bird shots. Most of these come from the walk-in aviary that we visited near the end of the tour. Lots of bird species on display in there. I didn't manage to get pictures of them all though. These are not shy reserved birds. They'll quite happily walk amongst you. If you aren't careful, you could very easily step on one.

We very much enjoyed our day (spread over two days) at Safari West. Next time we visit, we'll try to get on one of the "behind the scenes" tours which look fascinating.

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Tuesday Jul 24, 2007

Safari West - Part 3

We came down off the hills and drove back through the animal enclosures. These contain the animals that aren't allowed to roam free. This set also includes the animals in the various cages (including the Blue Duiker that was in the aviary). I'll post the bird shots tomorrow.

A few comments.

The Ring-Tailed Lemurs are on their own island between the cafe area and the gift shop. The frog was in the moat that surrounds the island.

While we were there, the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, up in the branches of their cage, went frantic for a minute or two, screeching at the top of their voices and staring down at the ground. Lynea noticed that this was because there was a small mouse wandering around down there. Apparently they were very offended.

The Warthogs weren't on display. They were in an enclosure at the back that we drove through to get back to the main area.

The giraffe-in-your-face shot was from Monday night, when we were wandering about, just before it got dark. S/he just came over to say hello.

Final photos tomorrow.

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Safari West - Part 2

On Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to Bugs, headed down to the main area at the bottom of the hill, eat breakfast, checked out, watched the parrots being bought out and then waited as the guides packaged up several tours. Sometimes there is an advantage in being selected last. Because of a cancellation and one party that didn't show up we were just sharing the last vehicle with one other family and our tour guide Kelly. As the two Dads didn't want to ride up top, there was just enough room for the two Mums and the two boys, which worked out perfectly.

A co-worker had pointed out that it would be like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, without the severe breaking and swerving. That's about right, at least for downstairs. Lynea reported it was a little bit more exciting up top, especially as she was sitting just behind where the opening was, and didn't always have something to easily hang on to. Don't forget the Dramamine!

There is about 800 acres of land and we covered a large part of that. I believe we got lucky and were able to see one or more of each of the animals roaming on these lands, in some cases, very up-close-n-personal. I've added names to some of the Flickr photos. If there is anybody from Safari West reading this, feel free to add some comments with the various names for the ones that's I've missed. All that was provided to us was a species list. It would be great if they could put together a color guide of Safari West and sell them in the gift shop. I know I'd've bought a copy. In lieu of that, I'll try to do a Google image search for each remaining unnamed animal on the list and try to match them up.

The tour consisted of the following parts. First we went out in the vehicle seeing the animals in their "natural habitat". Then we came back and drove through the enclosures and saw some of the animals that don't get to go anywhere they want. That took about two hours. Short bathroom break and then we toured the aviary and the caged animals. That's about another hour.

I took loads of photos and I'll spread them over the next couple of days as well. Today I've just included the ones taken from the vehicle as we toured the estate. That little baby you see is one day old ("that's why it's so clean"). That's an ostrich egg, about 2-3 pounds in weight and all squishy inside. As I soak up trivia, I remember Kelly saying that if you made an omelette with it, it would be like using 24 chicken eggs. Yum! That's Kelly holding the skull. She was a great tour guide. Very funny and just full of interesting information on each of the animals.

More tomorrow.

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Sunday Jul 22, 2007

Safari West - Part 1

Last Monday we drove up to Santa Rosa (via Walnut Creek so that we could drop off the dog with Grandma), to stay at Safari West, a wildlife preserve and African tent camp. The plan was to have dinner there on the Monday night, sleep over in one of their tents and take the Tuesday morning safari tour.

Nowadays I personally hate camping, but this really was nothing like any tent I've ever slept in before. It has a king size bed, electricity (complete with power outlets), ceiling fan and en-suite bathroom. Think of it like a hotel room with canvas walls. Note that, because of that, if the weather forecast predicts 88 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night, you can be sure that it will get down to 55, in your room at night. Thankfully they supply electric blankets for the bed and a space heater for the room. No cell phone reception or wireless Internet access available though. Also no television. We were really roughing it.

We had one of the tents up by the lake. There was also a little rabbit (or baby hare -- I'm not sure) living under a large upturned dead tree stump just outside, that was very friendly. I was able to practice my zoom camera technique on it.

Looking down the hill from our tent, you can see the enclosure where the giraffes are kept at night. That's also the area where the cottages, reception area, gift shop and cafe are. We had a very enjoyable evening meal there. It was buffet style with lots of good choices for both adults and kids. Three dogs and a spoonbill named Delilah will quickly collect any food you accidentally drop.

I was tentatively worried about how noisy the animals would get at night. In the end, we found that it was only one animal that was really loud and persistent and that was the visiting Canadian geese. I was prepared and just put in some earplugs.

There are three safari tours each day. You can see one of the evening tour vehicles going up the hill past our tent. More on our tour of the Sonoma Serengeti tomorrow.

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Tuesday Jul 10, 2007

Blogging Break

I'm scheduled for the root canal dental work tomorrow and next week I'm on vacation, so I'm taking a blogging break until the 23rd July.

We are thinking of staying over night at Safari West next week. If anybody has done this and has any useful feedback, I'd be very interested to see it. In particular, how loud are the animals at night?

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Monday Jul 02, 2007

Shorn

Over the weekend, we exchanged our dog for a large chihuahua and a couple of throw pillows. Until it grows back, I'll be affectionately calling her Rat-Dog.

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Tuesday Jun 19, 2007

Petco - Where The Pets Go

This felt weird. Really weird.

Over the weekend we had go to Petco to replenish the doggie treats and kitty litter. We also wanted to get Dusti sheared for the summer, so we took her with us. The groomer wasn't there so we just ended up taking her around the store with us.

She acted just like her typical self. Lots of new things to sniff. A few plaintive growls and barks because she was in a strange place. A couple spilt doggie biscuits to scarf up. And the need to be greeted by everybody in the store.

While we were there, Duncan spotted the tank full of living fish snacks you'd normally give to other fish, and wanted some for his fish tank. At the rate he gets through tropical fish and at the really cheap price (12-25 cents each), this might not be a bad idea. I wonder what their life expectancy is (if they aren't being gobbled up by other larger fish).

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Monday May 07, 2007

What's Blooming Now (May 2007)

This is my 1000th post to this blog. It's taken me just under three years.

I thought I'd celebrate with flowers. Here's what's blooming in our garden at the moment.

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Friday Apr 06, 2007

Spring Break

Duncan is on Spring Break next week (the non-religous name for Easter around here). I'm taking the week off too and hoping I won't be as sick as I was during the last vacation in February.

Back to blogging (and probably finishing off the Lifehacker Favorite Links) on Monday 16th April.

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Friday Mar 30, 2007

Ducks

Duncan came running into the dining room last night and whispered "There's some geese in the swimming pool!"

I followed him back down there with the camera. They'd moved onto land by the time I'd got there.

We need to work on his ornithological skills. It was a pair of Mallards and their little plastic buddy.

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