Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Mobiling more for less

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

A new law this summer, “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” makes it easier for consumers to change their cell phone service.  We are retired and want to receive the most value for our money that we have earned and now spend.  Earlier this summer, we declared our independence from pay TV, bought an indoor antenna, cancelled cable TV, and are now enjoying saving $900/year.  We recently re-evaluated our mobile phone service and found that we can get more value for less money!

Our mobiling needs began when we began Airstreaming with our new Safari in 2007.  We bought our first mobile phone primarily for safety and emergency concerns while traveling away from home (we have an AT&T landline).  We chose Verizon because of reports of good wireless coverage and bought a basic flip phone for $99.99 and have stayed within our allowable 450 minutes/month, resulting in a monthly service bill of $43.69.  Actually, we rarely use more than 200 minutes/month, so while reviewing our current service, usage, and costs, we looked at Verizon Nationwide 65 Plus Plans, such as the single line, 200 anytime minutes for $29.99/month, with an overage charge of $0.45/minute.

I then reviewed the Consumer Reports January 2014 issue on choosing the best phones and plans, and I was surprised to learn that Consumer Cellular* was the leader in their satisfaction survey, with top scores for value, data, and support.  According to Wikipedia, in 2014, “Consumer Cellular received the highest overall satisfaction rating in the mobile carrier category of PC Magazine’s 27th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey…”  I liked reading and hearing that Consumer Cellular has inexpensive plans that require no contract and can be changed anytime without a service fee, operates from the AT&T network, and is the exclusive wireless provider for AARP members (and gives AARP members discounts).  Consumer Cellular* has a low-cost family plan that lets family members share minutes, and calls between phones on the same account are free (otherwise, there are no free mobile-mobile or free night and weekend minutes… See Consumer Cellular’s FAQ webpage).

We are AARP members and make few calls and don’t text or surf the internet with a phone, so a Consumer Cellular Family Plan through AARP made sense to us (text and data plans are optional).  We chose the Anywhere/Anytime 200 minutes Voice Plan, $15/month ($14.25 for AARP members).  Since this is so inexpensive, we purchased two new flip phones, Consumer Cellular Envoy,* for $35/each.  The additional line will cost $9.50/month, so our expected monthly service charge, including surcharges, fees and taxes is expected to be about $26/month, saving us of over $200/year!

We chose both the black and red Envoy phones and had our previous mobile phone number ported to the black phone.  Each mobile phone comes with its own wall outlet charger. We also got two Premium Combo Packs that include a car charger adapter and leather case.  The Envoy phone can provide text messaging and 3G networking, should we want these options in the future.

DSC_0106 Consumer Cellular Envoy

Now we each have a mobile phone that we can personalize with photos, contacts, and MP3 music (the phone is also a MP3 music player and I can add an optional microSD card, up to 32GB).  We can now contact each other whenever we want and can find each other when out shopping, camping, and hiking (in most campgrounds that we visit).

DSC_0126 Cell phones, cases & chargers

Envoy’s two megapixel camera* is adequate for our purposes and will be helpful if an accident occurs while traveling.  I was pleased that the phone has Bluetooth and I learned how to transfer files using Bluetooth,* once the phone and MacBook Pro were paired.  Below is a photo taken with the Envoy phone, transferred to the MacBook Pro’s iPhoto library, and uploaded to this article.

Img11 Envoy image of our Airstream

Cutting our previous mobile service costs nearly in half, while gaining a second mobile phone through Consumer Cellular has resulted in our mobiling more for less.  Now our attention turns to getting our Safari clean and ready to get on the road again* and enjoying our fall camping season and more riveting experiences!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Happy in sunny San Diego

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Our Airstream Safari trailer is happy as a clam after getting the salt deposits washed off upon returning to home base after basking on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach for 5 days.  The big, annual wash and wax job will take place next month before we begin our fall camping schedule.

DSC_0335 Salt deposits washed off

We have been happily enjoying viewing free, over-the-air high definition TV over the summer and celebrating our independence from pay TV with the help of our Mohu Leaf 50 indoor antenna, saving us $75/month.

Last week, we were happy to discover the first flower bud on one of our pitahaya cactus plants, Hylocereus undatus, that we planted three years ago.  This is also known as Dragon Fruit and we are happy that it grows well in San Diego.

DSC_0001 Our first pitahaya flower bud

We obtained our plants and sample fruit of the Pitahaya Roja* (seen below) from Ong Nursery.

Last night our pitahaya bloomed under a full moon. Pitahaya flowers in Southern California bloom for one night only.

DSC_0054 1st Pitahaya bloom

Pitahaya pistil with writhing tentacles happily rises above 800 stamens.**

DSC_0052 Pistil rises above stamens

I climbed a stepladder under the full moon and applied a small brush to cross-pollinate two flowers.  The deed was completed by happy bees in the early morning.

DSC_0087 Bees pollinating pitahaya

We now await the fruits of our labors.

DSC_0021 Ripe pitahaya fruit

Eating Dragon Fruit* is a happy, refreshing and healthy experience.

Another happy experience occurred early this summer when we gathered with friends for a Victorian picnic in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

SAMSUNG CSC

(Photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

Seen on the table is ham and cheese stromboli (made by Larry), along with German coleslaw, fresh fruit, lemonade, lemon curd, pickles, empanadas, hard boiled eggs, and sliced cheese.

SAMSUNG CSC

(Above photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

HPIM2905 Bill & Larry, happy in Old Town

And of course, we had a Happy time in Old Town San Diego!*

And continue to be Happy in America’s Finest City!*

* This is a link to a YouTube video.

** Pitahaya: A Promising New Fruit Crop for Southern California, Paul H. Thomson, 2002

Mountain knight stars, part one

Friday, April 18th, 2014

As we prepared for a change in our camping venue, from the now hot desert to our relatively cool mountains, we heard the shocking news that the San Diego Opera would begin to shut down after the last performance of Don Quixote* in April.  San Diego Opera, considered one of the top ten opera companies in the nation, is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.  I was especially saddened because I have performed as a supernumerary in 21 San Diego operas over a ten year period, which included roles such as the soldier, guard, henchman seen here in Tosca, and lead waiter in Cosi fan tutte.*  I brought along the novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, to read during our 5-day mountain camping trip so that I could totally immerse myself in this multifaceted story (and local drama) and appreciate the character of Don Quixote, brought to life onstage by bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto* in the operatic version, Don Quichotte, by Jules Massenet.*

DSC_0067 Don Quixote & knights

The more I read, the more I began to identify with this knight-errant character, who goes on quests, searches for adventures, does good deeds, appreciates beauty, pursues dreams, fights for things he loves, and yet remains compassionate.  I began to see parallelisms as waxing moonlight gleamed on our trailer’s armor when the stars began to shine.*

DSC_0075 Armour under mtn

As we battled the hot sun by extending the rear awning with an additional sail held in place by ratcheted webbing, I remembered Don Quixote’s battle with giants (windmill sails).*

DSC_0029 Rear awning extension sail

We trekked on mountain trails on a quest for adventure.*

DSC_0054 Larry, Mac, & Tasha, Cedar Trail

I spotted what looked like a Dementor or something else* and prepared to do battle.

DSC_0095 Dementor?

But just then, a wary wild turkey hen emerged while foraging.

DSC_0017 Wary turkey hen

Her worried look seemed justified because she was being pursued and courted by a strutting tom turkey, whose grandiose display reminded me of the valiant character, Don Quixote.

DSC_0142 Tom turkey struts

More mountain adventures are coming up in part two, along with stunning flowers, feasts, stars, and more about Don Quixote and the San Diego Opera,** why this opera needs to be saved,* and how you can come to its rescue!  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing… and saving!***

*This is a YouTube video.

**UCSD-TV San Diego Opera Spotlight video

***This is a San Diego Opera video produced by UCSD-TV

Safari hunt for wild horses

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Auspiciously, our relaunch of desert camping and return to Borrego Springs occurred on the two-year anniversary of our first photo shoot of sculptor/designer Ricardo Breceda‘s The Serpent with a Chinese dragon’s head, when Bert Gildart (“Year of the Dragon”) and I (“In pursuit of dragons and pearls“) photographed Larry offering a pearl (symbolizing wisdom) for the dragon to chase.*

The Serpent is one of many metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda* on the Galleta Meadows Estate owned by Dennis Avery* (who sadly passed away on July 23, 2012).  Although I have photographed many of his sculptures (See “Springtime in Galleta Meadows“), there are many more that we have not seen, so upon our return to Borrego Springs, we wanted to find, visit and photograph the horses, especially since Chinese New Year 2014 marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac (Find your fortune).*

DSC_0093 Borrego Springs' horses

When we first arrived at Christmas Circle, we spotted two horses pulling a stagecoach, but we wanted to do a photo shoot with the wild horses, so we checked the Sculpture Installations Map and drove down S3 to find them.  We were not disappointed.  As we arrived, a sabertooth cat was attacking one.

DSC_0035 Attacked by saber-tooth cat

I set up my camera while Larry put on his Chinese peasant outfit of the 1880’s consisting of a tunic, trousers, coolie hat and sandals.  He then offered a wedge of cabbage to the first horse, which appeared skittish.

DSC_0040 Offering to skittish horse

He was more successful when he offered two wedges (Number 2 is a lucky number in Chinese culture).

DSC_0058-2 Offering 2 for good luck

Larry illustrated one of the themes of the I Ching hexagram 34, Ta Chuang / The Power of the Great, “Perseverance furthers“.

DSC_0082 I "Perseverance furthers"

“Perseverance brings good fortune.”

DSC_0075-2 Acceptance

DSC_0095 Happiness

We are hopeful for good fortune as we gallop into this Year of the Wood Horse, but it might be a wild ride!  For good luck, we cleaned and decorated the house with Chinese symbols and red and gold colors.  Our Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner featured roasted Chinese duck, Chinese mustard green/ham egg flower soup, and jiaozi, Chinese dumplings (See “Where Dumplings Came From and Why Eat Them on New Years,“* which has a quick image of jiaozi in our trailer)!

DSC_0190 CNY 2014 dinner

Time passes, but our hearts remain young as we celebrate life!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert camping relaunched

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

We stayed home for the holidays in December as we followed the activity progression schedule prescribed for Tasha by the Veterinary Specialty Hospital* following her hemilaminectomy due to a ruptured disc last November.  She has made an excellent recovery and has resumed her normal routine and activities so we relaunched our monthly camping trips and returned to Borrego Palm Canyon where we had made our maiden cruise seven years ago this month.

DSC_0162 Borrego Palm Canyon 2014

Tasha quickly learned to use the gangplank (Mr. Herzher’s Smart Ramp) that we recently purchased for our corgis to embark and disembark our Airstream Safari without injuring their backs.

DSC_0152 Tasha & telescoping ramp

As I unhitched and set up the campsite, I heard a drone hovering high above me, which turned out to be a DJI Phantom Quadcopter with a GoPro camera* controlled by Airstreamer, photographer Rich C, who we first met here seven years ago.  (See his driving and aerial video tour of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park* that includes a brief clip of me setting up camp!).  According to Rich, he “is currently on the road contracting and consulting in his ‘other career’… network and data base design.”

DSC_0139 DJI Phantom Quadcopter

The DJI Phantom Quadcopter elevates scenic photography to a new high!*

Last Friday our governor declared a California statewide drought emergency.  Our severe drought has limited the growth of plants, flowers, and seeds that sustain birds.  We were amazed, mesmerized and entertained by the numbers of birds (especially house finches and White-crowned Sparrows) that fought over the seeds from our Soda Bottle Bird Feeder by Channel Craft.  White-winged Doves and Gambel’s Quail also visited and added to the chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0014 Soda bottle bird feeder

We also feasted. Larry is seen below preparing vegetables for a stir-fry using Zha Jiang Mian Sauce and Shirataki (sweet yam) noodles.

DSC_0024 Vegetable prep for Japchae

Rich and Jodi joined us for dinner on Monday.  On Wednesday, I joined them for a hike up Palm Canyon.

DSC_0113 Hiking with Rich & Jodi

Rich has a good eye for getting that perfect picture.  He is seen here setting up his camera on a tripod placed in a creek for a time exposure image of a waterfall.  (See Rich’s images in his post, “Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego“.)

DSC_0117 Rich, tripod & falls

We were all happy campers during our five days of glorious sunshine.  (See Rich’s video wrap-up*)  Even our dogs had happy faces as they trotted on the 0.6-mile sidewalk to the Visitor Center.

DSC_0156 Happy Tasha & Mac

Indeed, Happy days are here again!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

San Diego safari interlude

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Our Airstream Safari descended 4,000 feet from our campsite in the Cuyamaca Mountains and enjoyed a restful interlude at home base in San Diego before going to the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  In the meantime, our Airstream friends, Bert and Janie, visited me at the Whaley House and Larry at home.  The following day we took them on a journey to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

“Safari is a Swahili word for ‘journey’,” said our Africa Tram driver and guide, and indeed, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park* is a journey through various habitats for a large array of wild and endangered animals, along with a wealth of plant life.  As soon as we entered the park, Bert spotted many photographic opportunities,

DSC_0226 Bert on safari photo shoot

such as the Southern Bald Ibis, native to southern Africa.

DSC_0229 Southern Bald Ibis

We continued on our safari and came upon a romantic lion interlude.

DSC_0247 Romantic lion interlude

A nearby lioness basked contentedly in the sun and seemed satiated (perhaps after dining on the 4×4 driver).

DSC_0244 Contented lioness basking

We took the Africa Tram for an overview of the largest exhibit, the open-range enclosure, covering 300 acres and presenting various plains habitats of Africa and Asia.

DSC_0271 Bert, Larry, & Janie, Safari Park

The tram makes periodic stops for photographic opportunities,

DSC_0266 Photo shoot from tram

such as photographing the giraffe.

DSC_0264 Giraffe

Janie and Larry rested after we got off the tram at Nairobi Station, while Bert and I hoofed it up to Condor Ridge.  Photographing the California Condor through a mesh enclosure is difficult, but Bert reveals how it’s done in his post, “California Condor Milestone“.

DSC_0304 California Condor

We are happy that the California Condor is escaping extinction due to breeding programs* at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cuyamaca Mountain high

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

While high winds roared through Southern California last Monday, causing power outages and damage in Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and dust storms in Arizona,* we were hunkered down in our Airstream Safari 4,200 feet above sea level in a pine and oak forest along the northern extremity of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range on our first full day in William Heise County Park after a 3 year absence.  By the following day, the wind and rain had stopped and we set up camp and enjoyed beautiful sunny weather the rest of the week.

DSC_0021 Heise campsite setup

On Wednesday, our good friends Bert and Janie came up from Borrego Springs for a day of hiking, photography, feasting, conversing and having a good time.

DSC_0039 Bert with new Nikon D800E

Bert brought along his new Nikon D800E.*  Bert and I promptly took our Nikon cameras on a hike on the Cedar Creek Trail, while Janie and Larry enjoyed chatting at our campsite.  As soon as we got on the trail, we were happy to spot a couple of mule deer.

DSC_0042 Deer on Cedar Creek Trail

We enjoyed photographing the rich textures of this oak, pine and cedar forest and delighted in the play of light and shadows.

DSC_0051 Bert shooting bench & trees

We returned to camp just in time for lunch that Larry was preparing:  Caldo de Mariscos (based on a recipe by Chef Rick Bayless*), a medley of squid, catfish, shrimp, and baby Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) simmered in a tomato-based soup, seasoned with guajillo chilies.

DSC_0090 Larry's Caldo de Mariscos

This savory dish brought smiles to all.

DSC_0094 Lunch with Bert & Janie

This is the second time this month that Bert has been observed slurping the last drops of soup out of his bowl (Japanese style).  The first time was recorded in Aluminarium’s blog post, “Bottoms Up!”

DSC_0096 Drinking soup Japanese style

We sipped on wine and shared our thoughts during this mellow afternoon.  We celebrated our wonderful times together this camping season: at Agua Caliente County Park last October and then celebrating life with a lunch, hike and photo shoot in November.  This truly was a mountain high* and we look forward to many more in the future!

DSC_0201 Mellow afternoon at Heise

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Following stars and gold

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Clear starry skies were seen on Twelfth Night, an auspicious sign for our successful return to the Anza-Borrego Desert on Epiphany, also known as Día de los Reyes, The Day of the Kings.  A new study suggests that the Magi, following a star, journeyed from the Far East (China) on a spice trade route, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

(Photo credit: Nina Aldin Thune, Magi, Wikimedia Commons)

Away from most light pollution, we enjoyed the dark desert skies filled with stars.  (See previous article, [Earth] “Once dark, now too bright!“)

We did turn on Larry’s New Year’s display lights for yet another celebration of life, including Epiphany, also known as “The Day of the Lights”.

Epiphany also marks the beginning of the Carnival season, which continues through Shrove Tuesday.  Since this season is also known as “king cake season”, Larry adapted a Panettone recipe by Mario Batali and added candied fruit, rum, and brandy.

We shared this delicious cake with the campground rangers and hosts.

We also fed the hummingbirds, such as Anna’s Hummingbird seen below.

Seen below is a Costa’s Hummingbird, which is typically smaller and, according to Wikipedia, “The male Costa’s Hummingbird’s most distinguishing feature is its vibrant purple cap and throat with the throat feathers flaring out and back behind its head.”

We were also nourished by food for thought in the form of books and magazines, and by listening to KPBS via 97.7 FM Calexico, which brought us the sad news of the death of Public TV travel star and host, Huell Howser.  We have followed Huell Howser’s California’s Gold series for years and have delighted in his enthusiastic visits of people and places up and down California.  View KVIE Public Television’s video, “Huell Howser – California’s Dreamer” and YouTube’s “A Farewell to Huell Howser“.  Huell donated his entire California’s Gold series to Chapman University, which may be viewed on their Huell Howser Archive website, including Episode 148, “Road Trip to Anza-Borrego“.

And so the adventure continues into 2013, and as Huell would say, “California, Here I Come“!

Once dark, now too bright!

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

It is written, in the beginning… the earth was with darkness, but by the 20th century, urbanization and electrification of the world brought the dawn of light pollution that now threatens our night skies, ecosystems, health, astronomy, and our enjoyment of the stars. (Read about environmental consequences of night lighting in Daniel J. Rozell’s article, “Night Lights – Too Much of a Good Thing?“)

(Photo credit: NASA, NOAA, Earthlights, Wikimedia Commons)

We arrived in the Anza-Borrego Desert to celebrate the winter holidays and had just an hour to set up before we were enveloped by darkness and beautiful stars twinkling in the desert night sky. (Click on the image below)

Many winter festivals and holidays incorporate elements of light as part of the observances and celebrations.  During the early evenings, we lit our outdoor Christmas tree that Larry made from homegrown bamboo.

It lit up the trailer as well, but not enough to obscure the stars.

While writing this post, I became aware of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a non-profit organization with the stated mission of “fighting to preserve the night”.  The IDA is based in Tucson, a city famous for having a strong lighting ordinance to ensure that people use night sky friendly lights.  Their website provides guidelines for outdoor lighting to preserve the night sky and has designated Borrego Springs, California, as one of four International Dark Sky Communities that have met and exceeded their requirements.

The extent of the worldwide expanding communities that emit light at night is revealed in this NASA-NOAA Satellite View of Earth at Night and this Time Lapse View From Space.  According to the IDA, NASA’s new ‘Black Marble’ images of nighttime Earth “reveal that our globe is heavily littered with excessive and wasteful lighting that produces light pollution”.

Earlier this year, writer/photographer Bert Gildart wrote in his article, “The Challenge of Dark Skies“, “Because light pollution is so pervasive, areas of the country endowed with a Dark Sky Status should be celebrated.”  Bert concludes by saying, “Help reduce light pollution and preserve areas blessed with a Dark Sky Status by using your night images to celebrate and call attention to these ‘vanishing’ islands.”

So I join in the celebration of the night sky by presenting the images above, but I must point out that the stars on the horizon are obscured, not by the sunset, but by the sky glow produced by the city of El Centro, 60 miles away!

See and listen to the YouTube video, “Arthur C. Clarke on Light Pollution“.

And, until your next opportunity to see a clear night sky full of twinkling stars, enjoy the breathtaking wonder of the night skies as seen in the YouTube videos, “Plains Milky Way” and “Yosemite Nature Notes – 19- Night Skies 1080p“.

Back on the saddle again

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

I was back on the saddle again and turned to look back down the trail that curved around and down into the Moonlight Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert where I had my first wonderful encounter with Peninsular bighorn sheep in January, 2011. My second encounter occurred when Bert and I hiked this trail last December.  After Bert and Janie’s visit two weeks ago, I was fired up and ready to go again on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.

I got on the trail at it’s eastern side, which allows for a gradual increase in elevation to get to the Moonlight Canyon, and hiked through the canyon without spotting any sheep.  On its western side, the trail meanders sharply up and over the saddle where I spotted a hopeful sign, bighorn sheep scat!

I few more paces onward and I abruptly stopped in my tracks.  Straight ahead of me was a large ewe acting as lookout on a ledge as younger ewes were eating.

Ewes (female sheep) have shorter horns with less curvature than rams (male sheep).  While stopped in my tracks, I quietly set down my walking stick and made adjustments on my Nikon D40 camera with 18-200mm lens.  I then started taking photos and walked slowly towards them.  They disappeared around a bend in the trail and, when I got to where they were first spotted, they were nowhere is sight as I looked down the sloping trail.  But as I looked up the steep slope to my right, I was happy to see that a total of 4 ewes had just gone a bit higher for safety and continued eating.

According to the San Diego Zoo’s “Desert Bighorn Sheep Fact Sheet“, Ovis canadensis are opportunistic herbivores and ruminants, and one of their favorite foods is the Encelia (Brittlebush) seen on this slope.

According to the Bighorn Institute, most ewes have a 6 month gestation period and give birth to one lamb per year, usually between February and April.  The young ewe seen below appeared to be about 8 months old.

According to Wikipedia, Desert bighorn sheep have keen eyesight and “are able to climb the steep, rocky terrain of the desert mountains with speed and agility.”

I spent about twenty minutes with these ewes and I sensed that all, except for the youngest one, recognized me from previous visits, and seemed to accept me, smile, and move about comfortably as they focused on eating.  The youngest one, however, fixed her gaze on me and seemed curious and fascinated by my presence, and I was pleased to meet and photograph her.

I was thrilled to be back on the saddle again of the Moonlight Canyon Trail and see such beautiful and precious creatures…

May we be good shepherds to all wildlife and all of nature.*

*See Author’s note in Comments section below.

About the Author

BILL, along with partner, Larry, were first-time RV'ers when they purchased their custom-ordered 23' 2007 Airstream Safari SE. Bill (a retired RN) and Larry (a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist) enjoy bringing history alive in the area of San Diego, CA.