Category Archives: Family

Palm Springs weekend

In late September, my wife Jan, my sister Susan and I spent a long weekend in the Palm Springs area (apologies to y’all who’ve already seen some of these pictures on Facebook). Ostensibly, the original reason for the trip was a visit to the Thornton Winery in Temecula, to catch the Dave Koz Summer Horns tour. We saw this show last year in High Point at the Coltrane festival, and it was great! We had some Wyndham points we needed to use, and found a nice place to stay in Indio, at the east end of the Coachella Valley, about 25 miles from Palm Springs proper. We flew out on Wednesday, and up until the concert Saturday night, our plans were pretty fluid. We knew we wanted to see Joshua Tree National Park and visit some of the Temecula wineries, but that was about it. Susan found out about the Palm Springs Tram to the San Jacinto state park, and we decided to try that. Honestly, this was the highlight of the trip for me! We found out that Palm Springs is way more than casinos, golf and tennis ๐Ÿ™‚

The valley is at an altitude of less than 500 feet, and is hot, even in September. It was over 100 Wednesday afternoon when we drove in from LAX, but the palms were lush and there seemed to be no water shortage in this area. Thursday morning, we drove west from Indio to Palm Springs, went up the access road to the tram. It climbs to 2600′ in 2.5 miles. The Tram then goes up to 8500′ in about 10 minutes, taking you to the mountain forest from the desert, and dropping about 30 degrees F. We decided to head toward San Jacinto Peak, which is 5.5 miles (11 mile round trip) from the tram, and at an elevation of 10,834′. The trail goes through a beautiful forest, on the way to the peak.


The summit is a rocky boulder pile, but it did have a picture-worthy sign.


However, the views are fantastic. The peak is over 10,000′ higher than the valley, a perspective you don’t often get except from a plane.


Friday, we headed 25 miles east from Indio to Joshua Tree National Park. We’d been advised (by folks we met on the summit of San Jacinto!) to start on the south end by I10, and drive across the park to experience the changes in the terrain and ecosystems. You start in the Sonoran Desert zone near I10, hot, with creosote bushes as the dominant flora on the valley floors. The road crosses the Pinto Flat and begins to climb. As it gets higher and cooler, you pass into the Mojave Desert zone, and the vegetation starts to change, with the eponymous Joshua Tree (a species of yucca) as the indicator species.


There is a huge variety of plant life and varied topography in Joshua Tree NP, and the recommendation to drive across is a great one. We stopped at Key View, an overlook of the Coachella Valley from approximately 5000′. We hiked up Ryan Mountain, at 5400′ the highest in the park. Ryan Mountain is a stout 3 mile round trip hike, gaining about 1000′ from the trailhead, but it affords a 360 degree view.

Saturday, we said good-bye to the Coachella Valley, and headed up CA74 out of Palm Desert into the Santa Rosa mountains, through the Anza Valley, and to Temecula. The drive up CA74 is spectacular, as the road goes through so many hairpin turns you can’t count. If you drive this way, be sure to stop at the overlooks and marvel at the way the road winds back on itself. We arrived in Temecula around noon, and found that they were having a street festival and a massive traffic jam! We managed to get through and headed to the wine country. There are so many wineries clustered near Temecula, it’s amazing…at least 25 or so in just a few miles on Rancho California Road. We hardly knew where to start ๐Ÿ˜‰ . Some are very big, and others are much more intimate. The first one we really liked was Weins, and if you go, I’d recommend it. Fantastic wines, and a very relaxing, friendly tasting room. We tried several others, but the first was the best! We ended our day at Thornton Winery for dinner and the Summer Horns concert. Our dinner table was in the center front of the dining area, but we’d hoped to be a bit closer to the stage. However, we realized that the owner’s table was next to ours, and we didn’t feel so bad ๐Ÿ˜‰ . The concert was great, though the dinner itself was just average. They do have a Nebbiolo that was outstanding, though!


After the concert, we headed a bit up the interstate toward LA, found a motel and stayed a short night, before we headed to LAX to catch the return flight to RDU. A great trip, and learned a lot about this part of southern California.

New Years Europe trip

We’re now a week back from our trip to London and Paris, and I’m finally back on US Eastern time, tho I am nursing a cold I’ll blame on traveling. It was a truly great trip, in spite of weather that could have been better. We (myself, Jan, and my sister Susan) flew direct between RDU and LHR, so that reduced some of the air travel stress. On arriving in London after the overnight flight, we were happy that one of our rooms was available for check-in at 8AM, as that gave us a chance to get organized for the day. Since it was raining, we opted to head to the British Museum, getting there about 10 (opening time) along with everyone else in London. However, we saw a lot (Susan had never been there before, and the last time Jan and I were there, it was a short visit) and it was a great start to the trip. We went back to the Chesterfield Mayfair to prop up our feet for a while. We had tickets to the G-Funk jazz show at Pizza Express in Soho, so we headed over there about 7:30PM to have a slice before the 8:30 show. We’d heard about this venue on internet radio, and it was outstanding. Imagine a basic pizza chain restaurant, where you go down into the basement to a room that seats about 75 people at tables, with about 10 feet between you and the performers. Miles Gilderdale (of Acoustic Alchemy) is the lead of G-Funk, and put on a fabulous show for 2 solid hours. If we lived in London, we’d be there all the time…


On Tuesday, we slept in, knowing we’d stay up for the New Year’s fireworks, so we headed to Buckingham Palace a bit before 11 to see if the changing of the guards, or Horse Guards parade was going on. Alas, canceled due to blustery, rainy weather. We headed down the Victoria Embankment, went by St. Paul’s Cathedral, and then crossed the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern Gallery. We headed back for dinner at the Chesterfield Mayfair (quite nice) and then to the edge of St. James park to watch the fireworks. We’d read about this, and it lived up to expectations, despite the stiff breeze blowing the pyrotechnics.

New Year’s Day brought more rain but also the London New Year’s parade, featuring about 8500 participants and a half-million spectators. The parade stages on Picadilly and around Berkeley Square, just a couple blocks from our hotel, so we watched an hour or so before heating to West End for a matinee performance of Matilda. This is an excellent show, and we were fortunate to have seats on the 3rd row on the center aisle.


We turned in early since we were catching the 0540 train to Paris. The weather actually sounded promising for the 2nd, with rain ending about the time we arrived in Paris, and sure enough, we got to Paris with clear skies and the sun coming up (at 9AM local time, with the hour difference from GMT). We took a cab from Paris Nord to Notre Dame, and then strolled toward the Louvre…to find a 4 hour line to buy tickets. We stood in line for about 30 minutes, and then a fortuitous chain of events transpired. Where is the “loo” at the Louvre queue? Google said try the Carosel du Louvre. I reconnoitered, and found not only a fine facility for 1.5โ‚ฌ, but also a very short line to buy tickets at the Museum Pass shop. Some quick texting and we were in! Saw the high points (gee, the Mona Lisa is small from across a sea of people in the room) and absorbed the ambient culture ๐Ÿ™‚ . Then, to the Tour d’Effiel. There was a ridiculous line for the elevator, so we stood on queue for about 45 minutes to walk up to level 2 (the top was closed). It was well worth the walk! We had dinner, admired the lights on the Tower, and strolled up to the Champs-ร‰lysรฉes. The Christmas lights were still up and were spectacular. However, we had a train to catch (the 2113 to London) so we headed to the station.

Friday the 3rd, we slept in, and then tried to ride the London Eye. However, it was shut down for technical problems while we were in line ๐Ÿ™ (the Eye was due to shut for 2 weeks for annual maintenance on the 6th). Oh well. Grabbed some fish & chips at a pub near the hotel before the evening show of Les Misรฉrables, which is my all-time favorite musical. We had the great fortune to have seats on row 4 for a great view.


Saturday was our last full day, and we decided to visit the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, and to try the Eye one more time. Successful on both counts! Some Google homework for the reader – why is there a big blue cock in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square ๐Ÿ˜‰ ? The Eye is spectacular, particularly after dark…


What a great trip! Almost makes up for 9 hours cramped in an airplane seat, fighting the jet stream, headed back to North Carolina…

Mackerel are still running…

I returned to the coast Thursday evening, but the weather forecasts had been going downhill all week. The cold front that was to kick out the low pressure area was going to stall and produce rain on Saturday. Hmmmm. I was planning to work remotely on Friday, including 4 hours worth of scheduled search committee phone interviews in the late afternoon, but Friday was going to be the best weather day of the next three days. OK, nothing time-critical that needs to be done on Friday morning, so shift a half-day to Saturday, when I’m sitting in the house watching it rain, anyway. Fish in the morning and do concalls in the afternoon. Sounds like a plan!

Jan and I headed out after breakfast Friday (and a quick beach walk for the dogs, who were quite pissed about getting left), launched and motored thru Bogue Inlet, and started searching the sky for birds working fish. Didn’t see any, so we just rolled the trolling lines off the stern and headed east. After 10-20 minutes, I spotted a disturbance on the water, soon followed by a flock of gulls, as we headed in that direction. We picked up a couple of small blues on the Gotcha’s. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, we started seeing fish and bird activity all around. We caught a couple small Spanish along with more blues. We trolled for probably an hour more until we’d boated a half-dozen mackerel, all I wanted to clean and for eating while fresh. We released a good number of blues. I tried to plug up some fish while they were active, but the pods were quick to the surface and then sounded, and I couldn’t get in range with the plugging rod, much less the flyrod. Besides, the bite had slacked off, anyway. We toasted another successful fishing trip and headed in.

more mackerel-1024

Going thru the inlet, the tide was running out fast, and the rollers were big at the bar, several feet up and down the waves as we went thru. The “Defined Benefit” did a great job on that. When I got past that and sped up to plane, I noted that there was at least a 5mph difference between the GPS speed and the “water speed” on the boat speedometer, and the buoys were leaning heavily seaward.

Got back, did calls, hosed down the boat, pulled the fish out of the fridge and cleaned them.

That’s my kind of multi-tasking day…

Listening to the raindrops already falling outside…

First fishing trip on the “Defined Benefit”

The weather this past weekend was not the best, but Sunday was nice enough to take the boat out for a few hours of fishing. I’d moved some fishing gear on board, putting on a couple of boat rods for trolling, as well as plugging rod, and a variety of casting and trolling lures. I’ve also put my 9wt flyrod on board as well for times when the fish are on the surface.

It was overcast and cool with a 10 to 15 mph north wind as Jan and I headed from the ramp, around Archers Point, under the bridge, and out of the sound thru Bogue Inlet. The beach here faces south, so the north wind flattens out the ocean like a lake for the first couple miles offshore. As we headed out the channel, I spotted a cluster of boats around the first sea buoy. Didn’t see any birds working or signs of obvious fish activity, but I dropped a couple of lines off the stern and headed generally east (parallel to Bogue Banks), about a mile offshore. After a while, I took off the Hopkins and gold spoon I’d been trolling and put on two Gotcha plugs. Then I looked and saw some birds working the water several hundred yards away and we turned and headed in that direction. I got out the plugging rod and moved to the bow while Jan had the helm. Soon, she said, “is this rod supposed to be bouncing like this?” I put down the plugging rod and went to the stern and pulled in a nice Spanish Mackerel. We trolled a bit more, and picked up some small bluefish. A couple times we had more than one on, and Jan had to bring one in. The blues were vigorously working the water all around and I caught several on the plugging rod. I thought about rigging up my flyrod but decided to leave it in the rack.

We moved around the area, which oddly only a few boats were on. There was some vigorous disturbance on the water and we moved closer. I’m not sure what was there, but they were big. Saw dorsal and tail fins that made me think it was a pod of sharks. Jan asked if we could put some distance between us and them ๐Ÿ˜‰ . One of the boat rods dipped again, and it was another Spanish, bigger than the first. By now, the sun was out and it was warming up, contrary to the forecasts. We puttered around a bit more, plugging up some more blues, and then decided we’d had a great time and headed for port. A great day! I’ll be back this coming weekend, and hope to repeat!

Picture of Joel with two mackerel

Nice Spanish Mackerel!

A Roanoke Bass for Father’s Day

What do you want to do for Father’s Day dear? Why yes, I’d like to take a short trip over to the Eno River and see if I can catch a Roanoke Bass. These are a fairly rare, spunky overgrown sunfish, and are quite wily and strong for their size. Left the house shortly after 10am, fortified by three lattes ๐Ÿ˜‰ . Drove the 15 miles to the Eno River State Park, rigged up and hiked the quarter mile to the river. The water level and clarity were perfect. Our piedmont streams are never crystal clear, but I could see the bottom in 3 feet or so of water. I’d not been to this particular spot in a couple years, but I remembered why I like it so much. Clear water, deep shade, and the quiet of being far from a heavily traveled road.

There were two trees which had fallen into the middle of the pool I wanted to fish, but there was still water to work around the them. I put on a crayfish pattern and soon caught a 12-14″ sucker. These guys are great sport and strong, so I was not unhappy. I lost the crayfish in a tree (tugged an a subsurface snag and it flipped into a tree when it came off…oh well! Time to change flies! I put on a small green rubber legged streamer, flipped it near the snags and had a very strong strike. Brought in this Roanoke Bass:


No more action there, and I walked downstream to a long pool. I was trying to figure out the best way to get down the steep bank. I put my rod down and figured I could swing in on a stout ironwood tree on the bank. I was trying to decide where to step when I slipped, shinnied down the tree, and info the water. Not graceful, but effective! I worked up the pool in cool, waist deep water, picking up lots of sunfish but no more bass.


Came back home about 2pm, and now getting ready for Father’s Day grilling. Not a bad day at all!

37th anniversary of the Breakout console game

I should probably write about my 32nd wedding anniversary (tomorrow) instead of this, but hey, let’s live dangerously! I was catching on RSS feeds tonight, and saw this Engadget article. This immediately brought back many memories of beer-soaked nights at Kirkpatrick’s on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. As the 37th anniversary, that put it in 1976, my sophomore year at UNC-CH…a quick trip to Wikipedia confirmed the dates. I spent many evenings getting to the point where I could clear the screen with one “ball” – many evenings at Kirk’s, many quarters in the Breakout console, and many 50-cent beers. I was not a pinball wizard…the finesse eluded me ๐Ÿ˜‰ . However, Breakout became my game. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it was a subtle sign that I was destined for a career in IT. Ah, what a trip down memory lane…

Thinking about retirement and next steps…

Planning is important as one considers retirement. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and have now, as of last week, publicly announced my intent at work. I’m stepping down from my post as an Associate vice Chancellor at UNC Greensboro effective 12/31/13. That’s several months away, but I wanted to give my boss time to think about how to parse and refactor my portfolio and plan for my replacement. I actually told him several months ago that this was in the works, but we’ve now, as of March 28th, made a statement at a department-wide town hall meeting, and I’ve started to tell my campus colleagues.

While I like my job and am still turned on by technology, I’m looking forward to spending time doing what I want to do rather than what I have to do. I’ll have over 30 years of service to the State of NC by the end of the year, and am looking forward to spending more time at the beach, more time traveling, more time standing in a river waving a flyrod, more time catching up on my reading list, more time teaching myself a few new programming languages and applications, and other deferred projects.

I’ll continue to teach one class per semester at UNC Chapel Hill as long as they are willing to retain my adjunct appointment, and I look forward to being able to devote more time and energy to teaching. I do have to sit out one semester due to state rules about re-employment but that will just give me time to recharge the batteries. I’ll also evaluate consulting opportunities (and have some feelers out), but I won’t be looking for anything that will get in the way of doing what I *want* to do.

I’ll be holding down my regular gig until probably October/November, and then will begin a knowledge dump with my eventual replacement. It’s going to be both an long and short nine months, I think…

The Quiet Man for St. Patrick’s Day

It’s just about time to pull out the DVD to watch The Quiet Man (John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond). It’s got the best fistfight scene in any movie ever made ๐Ÿ˜‰ Coffee and Irish whisky ready! It’s an annual tradition; my wife and I have been watching this for probably 25 years. Of course, we know most of the best lines! We’ve invited the next door neighbor over to watch with us. We’ve got appropriate weather today, overcast, windy, a bit damp and about 50F. It’s a nice soft night to talk a little treason ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dog days of spring…

What a nice day! Although this is “spring forward” weekend with an hour less sleep, today has been full of blue skies, warm temperatures and light winds. Ran a couple errands, then took the dogs to the creek. It’s hard to see any person or animal happier than a lab running thru the woods along a creek.


Sitting on the porch in the sun now, dogs asleep, finishing last night’s bottle of Chianti…