Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big Bear part 3 and SGT Kurt's Big Adventure

So, you probably thought I was safely done with the Big Bear trip but there is still some more to tell. We saw two movies while we were there: Public Enemies with Johnny Depp and The Proposal with Sandra Bullock. If you like old cars and automatic weapons then Public Enemies is the movie for you. I marveled at two things: how well the Thompson submachine guns ran with blanks (nary a jam on camera) and that the actors actually changed magazines during the firefights. The Proposal was enjoyable and fun to watch although I couldn't see Sandra Bullock as the much feared tyrant boss that she was supposed to be. She is too cute to be mean. Mary and I saw her when we were in the audience at a Jay Leno show taping. She was very witty in person and seemed like a really fun person.

Anyway we couldn't stay away from the wild wilderness and on Friday we went for another hike to see The Champion Lodgepole Pine and Castle Rock. All in all the hike turned into an 8 mile walk. The CLP is the tallest lodgepole pine in the area or the west or both. I'm not sure at this point but it was a very tall tree. As always, click on the picture for a larger view.

Mary and Marla at the CLP trailhead

Checking out the corn lillys near the CLP

Proof that Mary has gone off-roading at least once in the Jeep

The view from near Castle Rock of Big Bear Lake

Now for something completely different.......
SGT Kurt arrived home last night from 3 weeks service in Australia with the CAARNG on joint exercises with the USMC and the Australian Army. The flight from Long Beach took about 18 days but the flight back was a day shorter due to crossing the date line (actually it was about a day or so but it seemed longer). Kurt had many adventures which frequently involved large, ugly and possibly poisonous spiders. His tales of derring-do and Army misadventures rivaled anything Bill Mauldin would have written had he been there. Kurt can tell a story like no one else. He makes me think of my Grandfather who could spin a story and keep me in stitches listening. Another successful adventure for Kurt!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Big Bear vacation part 2

Tuesday was our big 10.5 mile round trip hike to the fire tower on Butler Peak .
We climbed about 1,500 ft in elevation in the 5.5 miles to the fire tower. Mary, Marla, me and the five dogs did the hike. There is a road to the fire watch tower but it is closed due to a forest fire in the area in 2006. I don't know when the Forest Service plans to re-open the road to vehicle travel.
(click on photos for a larger view)
Mary has been walking at least 5 miles a day for the past year or so and is in great shape. She shrugged this hike off as a walk in the park.
Marla's dog Blossom got the papoose treatment for part of the way. The climb and the heat was a bit much for a gentleman of his age.

As we approached the watch tower the road grew steeper but at least we could see our goal as we climbed.

Yes, the tower is perched high on the mountain!

The tower is complete with an outhouse, propane tank and radios.

Before you can climb the steep metal stairs to the tower you must negotiate a rocky path to the base of the tower.

Mary at the top of the stairs. Much to our surprise a couple were running the tower that day. They were a retired couple who volunteer for this duty. They chided Mary and Marla for being there - it seems the road is closed to people and vehicles (even though there was no sign to that effect). Then they had them sign the guest log. 50 other people had made the hike to the tower this season compared to 5,000 when the road is open for driving. The Grouch sensibly stayed below the tower in the parking lot to keep the dogs company.

Marla enjoying the view (which was straight down on a couple sides of the tower!).

I stayed to console the dogs while the ladies were absent. After having some snacks and drinks we headed back down the hill. The walk back down was in some ways even more strenuous than the hike up!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Big Bear Lake 2009 - Part 1

(click on the pictures for a larger view)
We went to Big Bear Lake this past week for the third annual Big Bear trip.
As usual we rented a vacation house near the lake, and again as usual we picked yet another house to get a variety of experience although so far all three houses have been in the same general vicinity. We made the journey in the trusty Jeep and pulled the off road trailer to carry our mandatory survival gear such as a vacuum cleaner, copious amounts of soda pop, dog gates, books, guns, cooler, hiking gear, bicycle, music, movies, clothes, snacks...well you get the idea. It was about 104F when we left Santa Clarita on Sunday at about 11 a.m.

A couple hours later and about 5,000 ft higher we stopped at Angelus Oaks in the San Bernardino mountains for a late lunch at a nice little cafe. Here we are looking like Okies fleeing the dust bowl for California in the 30s except Mary is better dressed than they were. After a tasty lunch we called Craig to see if he could spare a few minutes to see his youthful non-senior appearing parents. Craig worked this summer as a volunteer camp counselor at Camp Tahquitz, a boy scout camp only a few minutes from Angelus Oaks.

Craig had a few minutes to spare so we stopped by the camp to see him. The Jeep was parked on a hill and Mary was on the up side so you get a feel for Craig's size these days!

Marla and her three dogs met us at the house in Big Bear and with our dogs we had 5 canines in the place. Almost immediately Mary and Marla set off for the lake to let the dogs swim. I stayed back to do work on the laptop. This is something that will not happen next year. It just about spoiled the vacation for me. Grrr!

The house was nice. One bedroom on the second floor along with the kitchen, balcony out back and a large living room. Downstairs were two bedrooms, two baths, and a hot tub outside.
The view from out balcony was fantastic. The next day we took a 10.5 mile hike up to a forest service lookout tower. More tomorrow!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Night Out

Yesterday we saw 'Spamalot' at the Ahmeson theater in downtown Los Angeles but more about that later. In fact it was a miracle that we were able to see the show considering the trauma that we experienced prior to the show at a Sizzler restaurant. First off let me establish that the girl taking our order could not have been old enough to drive. If she was 15 it would be stretching things. As the Missus and I placed our orders for the salad bar the sweet little thing chirped "Is that a senior salad bar?" Let me just say that all conversation in the place stopped as everyone turned to see who the two oldsters were who must have been standing at the register with their walkers and hearing aids. Of course all they saw were two youthful adults in the prime of their lives and no seniors at all. But, being the frugal types that we are, with a shrug of the shoulder to indicate our nonchalance we said "Sure, senior salad bar, yeah that's the ticket". In the end we saved a buck fifty but that was after we spent five minutes straightening out the order and eliminating the extra salad bar and other mistakes she made. Oh well, when you are so young mistakes mistaking people's ages!!!!!!!

Spamalot was very funny and very good. It is the expanded version of the show that was (or maybe still is) running in Las Vegas. John O'Hurley (the boss from Seinfeld) plays King Arthur and was very good. The songs were good, the jokes funny, and the chorus girls were pretty. What more can you ask for? When we left the parking garage we ran smack into the traffic exiting Dodger stadium from a night game. All seemed lost as we were diverted around and around but due to clean living and good luck we ended up on freeway and headed home.

Tomorrow we leave for Big Bear!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The happy bicyclist

How do you tell a happy motorcyclist? By all the bugs in his teeth! Get it? You know, he's happy so he's smiling all the time when he's riding his motorcycle and those darn bugs just get stuck to his teeth like a grill on a '51 Buick....Well, I guess I am a happy bicyclist but I can't say I'm smiling all the time while riding but today I got my share of bugs - in the mouth and down the throat. There were swarms of tiny nats all along my bike route this morning. I could feel them bouncing off my face and my sunglasses and then it happened. Some nats right in the open mouth. I spit most of them out but a couple got swallowed. I wonder what the calorie count is on nats and what the serving size is? A little bit further along it happened again. I guess I need to be less slack-jawed when riding. I must have a vaguely Neanderthal look to me as a pedal along with my mouth half open and a dazed expression on my face. I guess it serves me right to ingest bugs.

Hurray! Mary is back home after a week in North Carolina. I didn't manage to burn the house down while she was gone and I ate fairly regularly and even did the wash once but it was a good thing that the cleaning ladies were scheduled to come the day of her arrival. All the evidence of my slack living was whisked away and the house made sparkling clean.

Tomorrow (Friday) Mary, Marla and I are going to see 'Spamalot' at the Ahmenson theater at downtown Los Angeles. We are all looking forward to seeing it. Saturday we wrap up our chores around the house to get it ready for our week long absence while we vacation at Big Bear lake. It will be Mary, Marla, me, and five dogs. I'm looking forward to it and hopefully I will have some nice pictures to share when we get back the following weekend. It will be nice to leave the 104F heat behind and trade it for highs in the low 80s and nights in the 50s.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grouch(y) Updates

Yesterday was my drill day and due to some fluke in scheduling no other National Guard unit was drilling on post. Things were incredibly quiet. I had been alerted earlier in the week that "Military Days" was being held at Ft. MacArthur this weekend and that we would have some recruiters present. For those not in the know on Ft. MacArthur, click here: Military Days is a two day reenactor festival. What are reenactors? Well, click here for a lesson: Anyway I saw a perfect opportunity to get some fun away from the unit and requested some time to visit with our recruiters to assess their duty performance. I'm sure the Commander saw through this charade but he told me to go and see what was happening there. Ft. MacArther is located on a bluff overlooking the San Pedro and Long Beach harbors. The view is incredible and probably the most beautiful ocean view in the L.A. area. Just driving up to the installation was a treat. When I got to the front gate the lady dressed in late 19th century garb demanded $10 from me to enter. "I'm with the recruiters" I told her. Uh-huh - that will be $10. "I'm here on official business" Uh-huh; admission is $10. "You won't make a serviceman pay to enter will you?" I asked with my most winning smile. She finally let me go in, probably to get rid of me. The reenactors covered all eras from Romans to modern Iraq. My internal reaction was interesting. I thought the costumes and gear was interesting until it got to Vietnam. That made me uneasy. The guys doing Iraq left me cold. Maybe that is too close to reality but I thought the Iraq/Afghanistan reenactors were wanna-bees. There was a group of high school boys dressed as some sort of Blackwater types walking around pointing their air-soft replicas at the crowd menacingly. I wanted to spank them and send them back home. But, at the same age I would have been in heaven doing the same thing. The middle aged guys dressed as WW2 soldiers with their belts straining to hold their paunches in were just silly looking. A guy dressed as General MacArthur himself complete with corn cob pipe and aviator glasses stopped to pose with me and the recruiters (yes they were on the job and signing up prospects as fast as the forms could be filled out). As soon as we lined up with the General a group of camera snapping photogs rushed over to take our picture while our picture was being taken by someone else! The last event of the day was a group of Japanese Army garbed reenactors attacking American Army garbed reenactors in a squad v. squad firefight with blanks popping and the Japanese officer waving a sword in the air. Once again it seemed both silly and disrespectful but a similar demonstration by Civil War reenactors would not. I guess I am just weird.

Where were you when the Eagle landed?

I was at my grandparent's house in Ft. Lauderdale with my family. We watched the whole thing on TV (or at least I watched the whole thing) and I even recorded Walter Cronkite's narration of the events on my little tape recorder. I have the tapes somewhere. I was enthralled at the time and actually I still am by space travel. Twice now we have seen the space station pass overhead at night. It is a very bright light moving very fast through the sky. I hope my children live to see space travel expand and become routine and maybe, just maybe they will get a trip into orbit! Reminds me of the opening lines from Heinlein's classic "Have Space Suit, Will Travel"

"Dad," I said, "I want to go to the moon."
"Certainly," he answered and looked back at his book. It was Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, which he must know by heart.
I said, "Dad, please! I'm serious."
This time he closed the book on a finger and said gently, "I said all right, Go ahead."
"Yes, but how?"
"Eh?" He looked mildly surprised. "Why that's your problem, Clifford."

Yes, that is our problem - but I hope that smarter and more able people than me will have it figured out before I die.

I watched The Caine Mutiny last night for about the 4th time. What a movie! If you haven't watched it, you must. It is a fantastic story of loyalty, a young man maturing, another man pushed past the breaking point, cowardliness, danger and redemption. It is full of references
that have found our way into our pop culture: Queeq's steel balls that he rolls in his fingers when under stress, the missing strawberries, and others. I read the book one summer as a high school teen before I had a summer job and not much to do. I remember even then that I sympathized with poor CPT Queeq. Watching the movie again last night reminded me that most always things in life are not black and white. Jose Ferrar's scorn that he blisters the Caine's officers with after they are found not guilty of mutiny is fantastic. What am I talking about? You will have to see the movie. I will lend it to you if you like. Just be sure to return it.

It is 100F today at 2:00 p.m. so it will be even warmer a little later today. I got up early to cut the grass and do some work on the Jeep before it really got hot. I like this weather but it makes me sleepy. I see now why the siesta is an important part of the cultures of the Mediterranean and Central/South America. I am all in favor of adopting this sensible practice. So, I believe it is time for my siesta.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Coyote gangs

We've been seeing a coyote lurking around behind our house over the last week or so. Today when I was walking the dogs on the road behind the house Roscoe was almost dinner for a coyote gang. He saw the decoy standing in the brush and went charging after him. The coyote was so large I thought it was a small deer and ran after Roscoe calling him because I didn't want the deer to be injured. I quickly saw what was going on; there were more coyotes waiting for the decoy and Roscoe further on up the hill. The hill is covered in heavy undergrowth so I could only catch glimpses of the pack and Roscoe but either he finally heeded my calling or he realized that he was getting in over his head but he finally returned to me. The decoy coyote tried to lure him back but I kept both dogs moving along. We went back to the house but I thought we could continue on past the house for a little more walking when I saw the pack was following us on the hill opposite of our house so I quickly got the dogs up the hill to our back yard. For good measure I chucked some rocks at the gang but they vanished into the undergrowth. That was a close one!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!!

We have just returned from the pancake breakfast and the parade. The food was good and the parade even better. Now we will relax until this afternoon when the festivities start at Grouch Acres. I hope all of you are having as good a time as we are! Beautiful weather, sunny and in the
high 80s. Just perfect.
(click on the pictures for a larger view)

Here we are ready for the parade. I have no idea who the girl on the far left is. The couple is Janell and Ted, our friends.

The end of the past years it would be a trash truck but maybe the bus is to pick up the parade marchers too tired to make it back to the start line.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day vigil

(click on the pictures for a larger view)

It is the day before the 4th of July and this Grouch is almost giddy with anticipation. I simply love the 4th. It is my favorite holiday celebration of the entire year. It is impossible to be grouchy on Independence Day. The 4th has it all: historical value, unabashed sentiment for our country, parades, picnics, fireworks, family togetherness. I have very fond memories of the celebration in my hometown of Forest Hills, Pa. The community had a party at the park where they gave grab bags to the kids, food for all, had games for us to participate in, and the volunteer firemen competed in tug of war and blasting a beer keg with their fire hoses until it got over a line. The keg was empty so I guess the firemen drank the beer first. I don't remember a parade and the fireworks at night were in another community but no matter, I loved it then and I love it now. In order to be in the proper spirit Mrs. Grouch decorated the homestead with bunting and flags.

She put out the Uncle Sam mascot too. Tomorrow on the 4th we will do the grand slam of celebrating. We start with the Rotary club pancake breakfast, then get our spots for the community parade. Then in the afternoon friends and family gather at Grouch Estates for a cook out. Tomorrow evening we'll see fireworks at the local mall. Maybe I will have some pictures to show in the next edition of Citizen Grouch!

Mrs. Grouch always wanted a wind mill for her garden and on her birthday this year her youngest son obliged with an 8ft beauty of a windmill. Of course it came in a flat box much smaller than 8 feet tall which means that there was a zillion little pieces to be assembled but Citizen Grouch was up to the task and the end result is seen here. Hopefully it will not blow away the next time we get our 70 mph winds.

Here is a picture from my desert trip of the big brother to our windmill. You can see the family resemblance.

Criptic message to a secret reader: Wilbur Smith has a new book: "Assegai" In it, men are men and women are women and the villians are bad. You will like it.