Friday, September 23, 2016

Hawai'i — Sept. 2016

Lava entering the sea
Sea turtle at a black sand beach

More photos:

I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, mainly to see Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

Avoiding rain was a bit of a problem. The forecasts were not very reliable. My first full day was forecast to be pretty rainy, but it stayed dry until after dinner. Because of the forecast, I saw waterfalls and gardens closer to my Hilo hotel, instead of going to the National Park.

I then spent the next several days at the National Park. The museum, steam vents, sulphur banks, petroglyphs, craters, and old lava were interesting enough, but I most wanted to see lava.

I first tried hiking to the nearest point allowed where the lava enters the sea. I could see some lava, but it was still quite far away. The next morning, I took a helicopter ride (my first). Better views of the lava, but still too far away (vertically now). Later that day, I took a boat ride, and that was fantastic (and pricey)! Really close (I could feel the heat!), for many minutes, and lots and lots of time to take great photos.

The sea turtle pictured above was one of several. They were each about 3-feet across. I didn't manage to photograph either the wild pigs or the mongooses I saw.

My return flight was a red-eye. I hadn't done that in years. I slept very little.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Still no tourist visa for Victor

Another discouraging update on this 20+ year battle.

As many friends suggested, I tried contacting my political representatives. I had no luck with either my Congressman, Xavier Becerra, or Senator Barbara Boxer.

From Boxer's staff's stock reply:

... It is up to the interviewing Consular officer to consider all the evidence and conclude whether or not the applicant has compelling social, economic and familial ties to leave the United States at the end of a temporary stay....
(emphasis added) Of course, that's our problem: the interviewer does not consider all the evidence! Everyone who does agrees that Victor should get a tourist visa, but that's only my friends and readers. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Glacier N.P. and the Canadian Rockies - July 2016

Link to more photos

I had not been north of Yellowstone in the Rockies. I signed on to this popular tour for early July, hoping for warm weather and little rain. It worked! Although there were sometimes cold winds, and frequent threatening clouds, the daytime temperatures were usually in the 60s and 70s, and I never opened my umbrella!

We saw wonderful scenery: beautiful lakes, swift rivers, waterfalls, glaciers (before they disappear!), lots of mountains. Some of the Canadian prairie and ranchland, too. We had boat and gondola rides. We saw some wildlife, from marmots to elk and bears (no moose). I even got in a little hiking. Canadians were excited by the wildflowers, but they weren't much by California standards.

A fun trip, despite my all-too-persistent travel-related outrage: Because the tour included a day in Glacier National Park in the U.S., and because Victor still can't get into the U.S. (Grrrr!), I went by myself. In hindsight, I realize I should have taken Victor along anyway. He could have just stayed at our Waterton hotel the day we went into the U.S. (But it looks like it's tough to find flights from Mexico to Calgary that don't stop in the U.S.!)

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I went soaring / gliding / sailplaning this week. Something I've long wanted to do.

Link to photos. Captions:

  1. 1. In the sailplane at Southern California Soaring Academy.
  2. 2. The glider, with the pilot behind me.
  3. 3. San Gabriel Mountains; golf course in the foreground.
  4. 4. Being towed up. The tow plane is visible above a strip of tape on the canopy.
  5. 5. California Aqueduct. Golf course on the left, airstrip on the right.
  6. 6. Angeles Crest Highway (California Highway 2) in the San Gabriel Mountains.
  7. 7. Beyond the mountains, the cloud-covered L.A. basin.
  8. 8. Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area.
  9. 9. Landing.

Forever, when people mentioned skydiving or hang-gliding, I always said, "No, I'm not graceful enough; I'd break a leg landing. But soaring! That's something I'd like to do!"

It was pretty much what I expected — like flying in any plane, but quieter, lower, and slower.

It took me well over an hour to get there. The weather cooperated — moderate temperatures and no clouds. It's a bit pricey. Once is enough.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Western Pennsylvania - May 2016

My version of the iconic view of Fallingwater

Part 1: Frank Lloyd Wright

A tour of three Wright houses, including, of course, Fallingwater. I had long wanted to see Fallingwater. We had a great time. Although it rained off and on all week, it didn't rain while we were walking around the outside of any of the three houses.


After the tour, I hoped to hike most of the afternoon Thursday, but it started raining after about 45 minutes, so I had to cut it short. 4 photos of Ohiopyle State Park

Part 2: Family History

Mark Rodney, me, John Rodney

My father grew up in Republic, Pennsylvania. I had never been there before.

I spent all day Friday with my second cousin Mark Rodney. We went to gravesites, houses, the library, and more. I also had dinner with him, his wife, and another second cousin and his wife. I met Mark and John for the first time Friday. They are first cousins. My grandmother Bertha Rodney Hoffman and their grandfather Charles Rodney were siblings.

Hoffman-Rodney Department Store in Republic, PA

This was always my favorite old family photo, of course! I think it is from sometime in the 1920s. My grandfather J.W. Hoffman and my great-uncle Aaron Rodney owned the store. The building is no longer there. A Hoffman brother and sister married a Rodney sister and brother. The two store owners were double brothers-in-law.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The weakness of radical Islam

I sent the following letter to the Los Angeles Times (not published):

Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh continue to circulate a "hit list" of secular writers, five of whom have been murdered since 2015.

Their actions prove the weakness of radical Islam.

The fundamentalists themselves must not believe their version of Islam is very enticing, since they fear adherents would drop away with mere exposure to secular ideas.

If a belief system is so fragile that it cannot survive free speech, it deserves to wither away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Autographs - Lillian Faderman

Stuart Timmons autographed this book many years ago, when it first came out, and more than a year before his stroke.

I finally caught up to his co-author, Lillian Faderman, at this year's LATimes Festival of Books.

(Index of autographs)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Autographs - Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald (click here for her blog) spoke at the Los Angeles Library's ALOUD series this week.

I love the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks in my neighborhood, especially watching them circle in the sky. (You can see one photo here.) I have long said that if I have a next life, I want to come back as a hawk.

(Index of autographs)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Whales in Mexico - March 2016

Victor and I spent three days watching, touching, and even kissing California Gray Whale mothers and their two-month old calves in remote Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico. A 3-day adventure with Kuyima.

The whale-watching was great! Every time we went out, we all got to touch the whales! They are accustomed to coming right up to the boats and interacting with people. Sometimes a mother and calf will just swim nearby and not approach, but each day, at least one pair and usually several came up to the boat.

It was tough to get good photos, since the boat and the whales are in constant motion. I got many pictures of the water, where I just missed the shot of the whale. Click here for an album of 14 photos.

For an aerial view, see this 3:32 drone video. (Not mine, of course!)

It was also tough just to get there! Click here to see Laguna San Ignacio on a map. From Mérida, we flew first to Mexico City, then to La Paz. From there, a six-hour bus ride brought us to Loreto where we spent the night. The next day, another five-hour bus ride took us to San Ignacio, where we spent the next night. Finally, the next morning, Kuyima's van took us the last 90 minutes to their cabins (seen in the first photo in the album). The last half of that was over a rough unpaved road. I made one mistake: Both Kayak and Google showed no direct flights between Mexico City and Loreto, but there are some. I need to figure out what flight search will show more.

By necessity, the facilities were spare. There was no wifi, no cell phone service, no radio, no TV, no news. The solar power meant we had to turn off the one light bulb in our small cabin by 10 pm. There was a small simple toilet for pee in the cabin, but for everything else, including washing up, we had to go outside.

Each morning, a 30-minute boat ride would take us to the whale observation area. In the afternoon, there was sometimes an organized group walk. The weather was warm in the middle of the day, with strong chilly winds in the morning and evening.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fixing Social Security

In response to this op-ed column, I sent a letter to the L.A. Times last week (not published):

Andrew Biggs says, "A policy such as eliminating the $118,500 ceiling on wages subject to payroll taxes, a favorite of progressive advocates, would raise U.S. taxes to Scandinavian levels without fixing the long-term shortfall." He offers no explanation.

I strongly support eliminating that ceiling. Would Biggs or someone please explain why that wouldn't alleviate the shortfall?

After the letter didn't appear in the paper, I sent my question directly to Biggs, who did reply, saying

... eliminating the payroll tax ceiling would fix between 40-70% of the 75-year funding imbalance[, but] employers will “pay” the extra payroll tax by reducing wages for their employees [so that] less payroll is subject to federal income taxes, Medicare taxes and state income taxes. There’s also the way in which higher tax rates provide a disincentive to work....

I definitely still think such a simple fix for 40-70% of the 75-year problem is worth it. And if it helps decrease obscene wages and raises for the 1%, all the better!