November 24, 2005

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Hope that all of you out there in blogland (the American part, at least) had a happy Thanksgiving. For us, today had a deeper meaning: it was our fourth wedding anniversary! Happy Anniversary, Shelby! I love you! Here's to many, many more to come.

(No, unlike people who get married on Valentines or New Year's or whatever, we didn't get married on Thanksgiving. But we got married near Thanksgiving; since it's a travelling holiday, the two dates bump into each other every few years.)

Tonight we had the usual Thanksgiving dinner at Shelby's aunt's house, along with a drop-in at my grandparents; we celebrated our anniversary last night with dinner at the Napa Rose. Fine dining on the grounds of the Disneyland Resort might seem like an contradiction in terms, but it's not; the Napa Rose deserves a little wine-and-food note of its own, to be written once I get a chance.

Posted by Kevin at 11:43 PM | Comments (2)

Wine Notes

Shelby already wrote about the Beaujolais Nouveau party that her parents held last Thursday night. Fun! Fruity! Some other recent wine-related notes:

  • Our friend the UPS man has been bringing us a lot of wine lately. In addition to our regular wine-club shipments from Ridge and Justin, we also got boxes from Huber and Kosta Browne.

    Huber was one of the wineries pouring at the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association 'Celebration of Harvest' event last month. One of their wines was a Dornfelder, a varietal that I'd never heard of before; turns out that Dornfelder is mostly grown in Germany (surprise), and mostly used as a blending grape in Spδtburgunder (Pinot Noir). A quick Google search through the English-speaking wine world seems to indicate that Dornfelder is thought of as a trash grape (this may have more to do with said world's general perception of German Rotwein than Dornfelder itself), but the Huber production was anything but trashy — very complex and interesting, and a very deep, deep teeth-staining indigo in the glass, almost black. Between its uniqueness and its Germanic origins, I had to get some.

    The case of Kosta Browne is a little simpler: they just make great Pinot Noir! We met Dave Kosta and Michael Browne at their winery back in 2003 during a trip to Sonoma. Back then, they were still building their reputation (and their winery); now, their reputation is firmly in place, as Wine Spectator has been giving them consistently high ratings — including a 95 for their 2003 Sonoma Coast Pinot and a 96 for their 2003 Kanzler Vineyard Pinot, which are both sitting in our wine cellar right now. Hopefully we'll keep our spot on their mailing list for future years, but we're not exactly bulk purchasers, and the frenzy of those swayed by WS rankings is growing ... I'll be very interested to find out what these bottles are like once the time comes for us to get around to them.

  • This past Friday night, we had dinner with my friend Quynh at her soon-to-be-former home (long story) up in Pasadena. (Her s-t-b-f house is just a few blocks away from a number of houses that we looked at seriously back when we were shopping; we spent a little while musing over what could have been.) We brought a 2003 Nalle Zinfandel. The Nalle was excellent, like every bottle we've had from them — Nalle is my favorite winery, and a dependable source for tasty, well-crafted wine. After the Nalle was gone, Quynh brought out a 2003 Palm Zin — it was also very good, but almost a polar opposite to the Nalle; the Palm's very forward big-n'-fruity taste and relatively high alcohol underscored Doug Nalle's understated Zin-manship.

Posted by Kevin at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

Short Items

  • OC-Is-Insane Dept: Back in February, I mentioned how certain insane people were so freeway-mad, they were seriously proposing to extend the 57 Freeway on top of the Santa Ana River. I meant to say this with a look-at-those-nuts-that'll-never-happen scoff — but now, OCTA, Orange County's transportation agency, is seriously considering extending the 57 Freeway above the Santa Ana River. (LA Times article — use BugMeNot if you need a password.) The Santa Ana River in its current concrete-channeled state is no ecological treasure, but something seems seriously wrong with this idea — wrong in a "what happens when the next 100-year flood comes?" or "what happens if Prado Dam bursts?" kind of way.

  • Extra Bonus "Damnit!" From That Article: At the same OCTA meeting, board members also voted to increase the service frequency of Metrolink trains running from Fullerton to Mission Viejo to every thirty minutes, running from 5 AM to midnight. Yes, that would be the train line separated from our house by a street, a (narrow) park, and a soundwall. There go our property values! The trains wouldn't be bad at all if they weren't required by federal law to sound their horns at every single intersection — which is a lot in an old neighborhood with close-together blocks. (The actual rumble of the train lasts just a few seconds; they're travelling pretty quickly.)

  • Another Google Maps mashup: It's too bad that the people behind Trulia Real Estate Search didn't do this a year ago, when we were looking ... or back when they could've made the big money. They've gone beta just in time for the real-estate slowdown!

Posted by Kevin at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2005

Another Year, Another Annual Pass

We quietly passed our one-year anniversary in this house last week. Yesterday, another important milestone came and went: our Disneyland Annual Passports expired!

So on Sunday night, we went over to the park to renew. Thanks to Shelby's being an audience member on the Dr. Phil show back in August, renewing for another year was a no-brainer, as the insane gift bag that everybody in the audience received included two annual-pass vouchers! (It was Dr. Phil's first show of the season; I guess that he wanted to impress everyone with a real blowout.)

As you can see, this year's pass incorporates a spiffy 50th-anniversary design.

After renewing our passes, we walked around the park for a little while. Everything's been decorated for Christmas; I'll have to come back to take some nighttime pictures before we're 'blacked out' for the holiday season. At Shelby's request, we rode the ride that everybody loves to hate, "it's a small world". (Going strong for almost forty years now — the e.e. cummings-like lack of caps is the official spelling.) At Christmastime, the ride is transformed into "it's a small world holiday" — in addition to the old familiar song, the cherubic dolls representing the children of many nations add "Jingle Bells" to their repertoire, and the ride is lavishly decorated for Christmas. It's very well done, but it's a little disconcerting to see the children of India or deepest Africa enthusiastically celebrating Christmas, singing about dashing through the snow.

On the outside, the facade is completely covered with Christmas lights — and every fifteen minutes, they play a new-for-this-year (as far as I know) show: a bizarre-yet-highly entertaining video presentation, where they use the entire surface of the ride building as a projection screen for an increasingly-frenetic series of scenes from Disney holiday movies, intercut with flashes of pure color or patterns. It's set to music; no image lasts for more than a few seconds; the building's facade is divided into all kinds of squares, circles, and triangles, and each little shape gets its own unique image. It's totally mesmerizing, and, while it would undercut Disney's family-friendly image to admit it, rock-solid evidence that someone on Disney's imagineering staff spent a lot of time doing hard drugs. (And probably still does.) The little kid in line in front of us stood transfixed, staring slack-jawed at the show while his family moved fifty feet down the line; they came back and tried to prod him into motion, and had to pry him away from the handrail, screaming and crying.

(If you haven't seen the exterior of IASW before, see a picture here — and scroll down for links to pictures taken inside the holiday version of the ride.)

Posted by Kevin at 10:15 AM | Comments (4)

November 09, 2005

I Single-Handedly SAVE DEMOCRACY!

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 4:45 so that I could go to work at the polls for our statewide special election. After a brief stop at our local donut shop for a dozen donuts (I asked my mom, who'd worked innumerable elections when I was a kid, if she had any advice, and she said "bring snacks"), I drove off to the Abbott residence in Yorba Linda.

My position for the day was 'Inspector' (versus the more lowly 'Clerk'), which meant that I was in charge of everything that went on at that polling place for the day — I'd picked up the election materials the previous Saturday, would drop off the sealed results at a local police station at 9:30 that night, and inbetween was responsible for answering everybody's questions, telling my fellow workers what to do, and handling abnormal situations as they came up during the course of the day.

There wasn't much need for telling my fellow workers what to do, as they both fit snugly in the middle of the typical poll-worker demographic — retired women who'd been doing this for years and years. While we had a pretty steady stream of voters throughout the day, things could get pretty slow outside of our rush periods (poll opening, poll closing, lunchtime, and I-just-got-off-of-work time), which left these women plenty of time to compare their various diseases and afflictions — and when they ran out of those, their husbands' medical maladies, and then their sons' and daughters'. Woman A had suffered two strokes in the past year or so. Her husband had the tremors — had the tremors real bad. Woman B had some kind of bone-wasting disease — don't worry, it's under control now! — that left her wearing a foot brace and walking with a cane. Her daughter had breast cancer — but that was under control, too — which left her in better shape than Woman B's indeterminate female relative, who had the liver cancer. Took her right away. Well, better that she went that way than suffered like Woman A's mother, who was fit and spry until the day she died at 94, but who had the dementia — "we always said that it was such a shame that she was gone before she was gone".

And so forth. I swear that this went on for about an hour, by the end of which I was inventing imaginary diseases and afflictions for myself in my head, so that I could break into the discussion if need be — perhaps I would discuss the gout that bothers me so much on those long cold winter evenings ("the doctors just don't know how to treat it anymore, you know ..."), that time I got scurvy back during the Peninsular Campaign in ought-six ("I still get a twinge whenever I run my tongue over where those teeth used to be, you know ..."), or the case of dropsy I contracted after I was bitten by a tse-tse fly during that stupid, stupid vacation trip we took to the Congo back in '54.

The election itself went pretty smoothly. Our biggest difficulty throughout the day came in talking senior citizens who weren't used to using computers and didn't like computers through the intricacies of using our computerized voting machines. Given that I couldn't touch a voter's voting machine or look at their ballot after they'd started to vote, this called for some adroit psychic powers on my part, trying to figure out exactly what it was that a voter was doing when confronted with statements like "I try to vote yes on this one, but everytime I try, it just jumps backwards to the very first one" — stretching what could have been a thirty-second explanation if I just could have looked at the machine into a fifteen-minute melodrama.

Much to my surprise, we only had one person who, upon learning that you don't need to present an ID to vote, made a bitter comment about all those illegal immigrants who'd be coming to the polls. South County is slipping ...

For me, the day's tragedy was in the number of people who brought 'slate' postcards along with them to the polls. You know, the things that have been clogging up your mailbox for weeks — paid glossy postcards in which a particular special interest group, through the use of appropriate political imagery and a deceptive title, tries to hook into your ideological leanings and con you into voting YES or NO for their particular proposition of interest.

  • "The 'Join Arnold' Voter's Guide"!
  • "Your Official Republican Voter's Guide"!
  • "The Official Democrat's Voter's Guide"!
  • "The Californians Allied For Progress and Democracy Voter's Guide"!
  • "The Firefighters, Teachers, and Nurses Allied For Public Safety Voter's Guide"!
  • "The Vote Our Way Or We Crush This Dewy-Eyed Kitten Voter's Guide"!

Okay, I definitely made the last one up ... and I'm not too sure about the titles of most of the others. But I was amazed by the pure junk that people would uncritically carry along with them into the voting booth — such as the woman holding the "Join Arnold" (not my cup of tea, but different strokes for different folks) 'voter's guide' that actually advised her to vote NO on all of the 'Arnold' propositions ... but told her to vote YES on Proposition 78, the prescription-drug amendment sustained by tens of millions of Big Pharma dollars. Take a moment to think about it, and the illogic and bias of that particular postcard should have been immediately apparent — but it had a big picture of a smiling Arnold, an American flag, and a GOP elephant, and that was all she needed to know.

Ever stop to wonder about why this special election cost our fair state so much? I'll be that the answer must lie somewhere between this incredible piece of jewelry that each poll worker got (pin soon to be highly collectible, I'm sure) and the big money ($70!) that I was pulling down to be an Inspector ...
Posted by Kevin at 10:52 PM

November 06, 2005

Notes From The OC

  • Everybody knows about that TV show that gave Orange County its current lame nickname and spread OC's fame so far and wide that when travelling, I no longer have to describe my hometown as just "near Disneyland" or "near Los Angeles". (Even in Germany!)

    But we watch that other Fox TV show set in Orange County, Arrested Development. Now that Six Feet Under has ended and The Simpsons has entered into the long twilight years of its decline, AD is, for me, the only thing on TV worth watching. If we had decent TV reception (or I wasn't too cheap to spring for satellite), we'd be watching the third season live right now; as it is, we're working our way through the DVDs of the second season.

    I already knew that The OC isn't actually filmed in Orange County (an OC TV crew used the exterior of Shelby's mother's former employer in Rancho Palos Verdes as background material one day, temporarily changing their sign to make them look like a Newport Beach-based travel agent), but between my warm good feelings and fuzzy recall of local geography, I'd always assumed that Arrested Development's waterfront scenes were actually filmed in Balboa or Newport. Nope; those scenes are actually filmed in Marina Del Rey. The bulk of their other outdoor scenes seem to be filmed in Culver City, near their studios. An AD fan site has pictures from a fan's tour of filming locations: Part 1 and Part 2.

    Betrayed! But I'll keep watching ...

  • Let's Go Down To A-Town, Babeee: In a long-ago entry, I mentioned Anaheim's plans to chase the Holy Grail of property and sales tax by converting the unassuming collection of industrial and commercial property around Anaheim Stadium into the "Platinum Triangle", a magical land of high-end condominiums and shopping. Last week the Anaheim city council approved "A-Town", the most Platinummy of the developments that will make up the Triangle — in a distinct break from Orange County's single-story suburbia, A-Town will include a number of 35-story residential towers.

    While I have no problems with dense infill development here in Anaheim — better that they build it here than sprawling into what's left of OC's open space, and I can't complain about anything that'll bring more tax revenue to the city without raising our taxes — I've got to hope that our city fathers are getting better information than the sketchy tidbits that they've thrown out to the public. The few whizzy computer-rendered eye-in-the-sky movies on the A-Town website (click on the "Tour" link in the navbar) look like they were built inside SimCity. Two legs of the 'triangle' are the 5 and 57 freeways — and the interchange where they come together (along with the 22 freeway) is already the 13th most congested in America. What'll happen there once the residents of multiple thirty-five-story residential towers choose drive to work, or all decide to head over to South Coast Plaza?

  • Ready For The Pop Heard Round The World: While I don't share the extreme bitter pessimism of the commenters on the Housing Bubble Blog, it seems ever more clear that current real estate trends are unsustainable and that we're in for a painful correction. When we bought our house a year ago, I was sweating that we were buying right at the top of the market — prices seemed insane, houses that we had our eye on were sitting around for longer, and our sellers even took a (very modest) price reduction in final negotiations. But the market was just taking a breather — things got even crazier over the past year, and now some very unassuming houses in our ZIP code are on the market for tens of thousands above what we paid for our house. A few of them are even selling!

    While out walking the dogs, I've come across some great examples of the housing bubble in action just a few streets over from our house:

    • First, there's this one: $649,000, 2138 SF, 5BR/2BA — the rehab of this house has been finished for almost a year, but it's just been sitting and waiting (for what? complete market collapse?); even now, it's a stealth for-sale, as there's no sign in the front yard. I actually hope that the sellers do well on this one, as far as I can tell from peeking through the front windows, they did a nice job — glass doorknobs, nicely stained (not painted!) wainscoating and built-ins in the livingroom, the whole nine yards. I think that they'll end up getting clobbered for sitting on their hands for too long, though.
    • This one: $719,000, 1850 SF, 5BR/3BA — thanks to successive home additions, this house has a micro-sized yard (and what yard is left has been paved over). Except for the built-in that remains in the livingroom, any vintage charm has been remuddled out of this one, leaving you with the worst of both worlds -- a Home-Depot-special cheapie remodel on the inside, patched-up old-house shell on the outside. Motivated seller has already reduced the price by $30,000 -- because he's hoping someone will take this thing off of his hands before the bank takes it back!
    • . . . and then there's this one, a unique combination of chutzpah and insanity. $619,000, 796 SF, 2BR/1BA. It's two homes in one! — a peeling-paint rotting-wood old house moldering away in the front, and a peeling-paint rotting-wood 1960-ish 'apartment' (that kinda looks like a garage conversion) moldering away in the back. Live in one, collect rent on the other — what an AMAZING INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY!!1!1!! There's a reason why the listing isn't accompanied by a picture.

    . . . obviously folks are rushing to get that last seat on the gravy train before it pulls out of the station, not to come back for a good long while.

Posted by Kevin at 10:51 PM

November 01, 2005

Halloween Recap

We survived our first Halloween here in the house (remember, we moved in a year ago next week). Digory survived his first Halloween with us — at first, he was shut up in our bedroom with me, barking and baying each time somebody rang the doorbell, but we later discovered he was perfectly quiet and content in Shelby's room (right next to the front porch), as long as he had a steady supply of pig's ears to chew on.

We had quite the crowd — we almost ran out of candy after our first hour, and I ran to the grocery store to buy more. Of course, the rate of visitors fell off immediately after that, but we still had enough people come by that I was able to give away the stuff I didn't like (Runts and Laffy Taffy) while keeping the good stuff (Bottlecaps, Sweettarts, and Nerds) for myself.

Despite that, they must've liked the candy that we handed out, as I was picking empty wrappers off of our front sidewalk this morning.

And while we were impressed with our number of visitors, that was nothing compared to the influx of locusts that the 'heart' of our neighborhood (about a city block NW of our house) got — correspondents on the Anaheim Colony mailing list reported 670 trick-or-treaters last night, and expressed thanks that they didn't live one block over, where the crowds were even heavier. Yikes! Let's give thanks that our little island was (relatively) overlooked ...

Posted by Kevin at 02:40 PM

The Essential Creepiness of Anne Geddes

This weekend Shelby and I were walking through Downtown Disney (the shopping arcade adjacent to Disneyland) with Shelby's parents to find that Anne Geddes had just opened her brand-new flagship AG store there. We didn't go in, but just looking through the windows reminded me of just how bone-chillingly shiveringly creepy I find the body of Anne Geddes' work. The newborn babies shoved into twee costumes, the unnatural stilness of all the children, the contorted postures that either took hours of studio time or ten minutes of tranquilizers (and a copy of Photoshop) to achieve — it's a 'celebration of life' that's so . . . not.

(For example, what in the heck is up with this picture? Or this one — baby on a meat hook!)

She's managed to top the brrrrrrrr factor of her photographs with even worse additions to her product line, however — the entrance to her store is lined with these dolls. Is there anyone who can look at these pictures and not think "forest of dead babies!"?

Posted by Kevin at 11:11 AM

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

(Some notes on the dogs ...)

Whoops -- it's been so long since I've written anything for my blog that the front page went blank with the steady passage of time (thanks to the automatic site rebuilds triggered by blog spammers leaving their comments about mortgages, Viagra, and porn). So I'd better finish up this half-written post I've had sitting around for a while, so that visitors will have something to contemplate besides the void.

The corner of our coffee table.One of our couch cushions.

  • A few weeks ago after German class, I stopped by our local pet food emporium to restock on dog food; while I was there, I picked up a replacement plush toy. Having two dogs in the house (especially one who's a boundless energy source) has really been hard on the chew-toy supply — with just Scout alone, we held onto the same pile of toys for years, but Digory and Scout working together have managed to kill four toys in just a few weeks.

    Now we have a new 'stretchy Beagle' (it has a long elastic band stitched into its floppy middle, so that it stretches during tug-of-war), and Digory is as happy as, well, a dog with a new toy. Digory goes absolutely ape over any toy you have to offer — throw it, and I'll chase it! Just hold it there, and I'll play tug-of-war! If nobody else wants to play, he'll just grab a toy and run around the house with it on his own, occasionally throwing it up in the air to 'break' its 'neck'.

    Scout has a much more standoffish relationship with toys. Sometimes she'll pick one up, frisky and ready to play. Other times, she'll drag a toy off to her lair so that she can hunker over it, growling at Digory if he comes close enough to take it away (which leaves Digory completely unfazed: he'll dart in and snatch the toy away, leaving Scout with a "what just happened there?" look). Mysteriously, when she does decide to play, Scout is much more tenacious with me than with Digory; in tug-of-war games with me, she tries to win, while with Digory, it just takes a few hard tugs before he trots off with his prize.

  • The scarred furniture above is from an unfortunate phase in interdog relationships. Need to show that other dog just how vicious you really are without starting an actual dogfight? Take a bite off of a convenient couch, table, or bookshelf! Sure, that was just a piece of furniture — but next time it could be you, buster! Fortunately, we seem to have transferred these displays of viciousness-by-proxy onto cheaper and more replaceable toys. (Scout, unfortunately, will still occasionally gnaw on the edges of furniture to get our attention — making sure to maintain eye contact and doing it verrrrry slooowly, so that we know it's a deliberate act.)
  • Beags and Chips:Seeing how poorly pets fared in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina induced a sense of paranoia in me about the fate of our own dogs in the face of a possible hurricane. So, dog food and a box of biscuits are a part of our (recently established) stock of earthquake supplies, and both dogs are now RFID chipped, in the event they're picked up without their collars. Digory came chipped; we just needed to get his registration transferred over into our name. Scout got chipped a few weeks ago, when she visited the vet for booster shots. Watching them verify the chip after it was injected didn't instill a sense of security, though: they'd just injected the chip, so they knew exactly where it was, but it still took them five or six tries with the hand scanner before they got a 'read'. How hard will a harried shelter worker try before giving up? Best to keep our dogs as close as we can, methinks ...

(And to finish, a random local pet food emporium recommendation: Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply, near the corner of N. Lemon & La Palma -- not only do you get the warm fuzzy of buying from a local business, they're generally cheaper than the nearby Petsmart behemoth.)

Posted by Kevin at 10:34 AM