Monday, August 18, 2014

Lynn Monday - Yosemite

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Lynn Kirby
Date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 6:00 PM

We got an early start today. Breakfast and suitcases out for pickup at 6:30, leave at 7:30. We got to Yosemite valley about 11, but the drive there was absolutely spectacular scenery. In fact, the scenery was spectacular for hours and hours. Cliffs, rocks, trees, meadows, lakes, valleys. I probably took over a hundred pictures.

The Kirby family went to Yosemite in 1976. I remember some of the views and being scared of heights. I was probably scared of the driving too. On this trip we are in the back of the bus, so I can't see where we're going. I can only see out the side windows. Our bus driver is great and has a lot of experience. I trust him.  Today I was able to really look at the scenery. First, I could look at it only through my camera, but it was too big and too beautiful to miss, and so I had to look through the window. We didn't fall off the cliffs we were on, after all.

To get out of the park we had to go over one of the only 3 passes over the Sierras, the highest one. We went over another one two days ago, and we avoided the Donner Pass. Today we got up over 9,000 feet; the elevation did make us fall asleep off and on, but the scenery woke us up again.

After we left Yosemite, we stopped at Mono Basin, another place to take lots of pictures. And now at 5:47, we are at Carson City, still on the road to Sparks, near Reno, where we will spend two nights. So we should be on the road for about another hour. It was a long day (and a shorter message.)

Love, Lynn

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This is Fresno, it must be Sunday


This morning we were in Bakersfield, CA. As we drove away, we realized that we could barely see the mountains to the east, the mountains to which we had just spent the day to the east of, yesterday. The tops of the mountains were just a faintly darker color than the sky. Turns out that this valley has some of the most polluted air of the country. It is surrounded by two mountain ranges, and it's hot, so there is an upper air inversion most of the time. In the winter, when it's a bit cooler, the air is a little better, but it's a big problem year round.

The area is the source of many fruits and nuts. They grow apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, citrus, berries, almonds, pistachios and more around here. Even corn, which I thought belonged to the midwest.  In fact, 13% of the nation's agricultural products come from here.

The undeveloped land is brown and scrubby, with cactus and tumbleweed and many types of trees that I don't recognize. Most of the greens are a greyish green.

We visited two national parks today, sort of: Kings Canyon and Sequoia. I say "sort of" because we really only went to  a very small part of either. The drive there was pretty and thrilling, if you get a thrill from driving on a fairly narrow winding road hundreds of feet above things about 20 feet to your right. Or you could just close your eyes. Actually I didn't do too badly. I seem to be a little less afraid than I have been in the past.

The reason we went to such a small part of the parks is twofold. First, there are no roads to most of the land in these parks. The vast majority of the parks is for wilderness hikers. The other reason is that the major road through the parks is so twisted and has such sharp turns that large vehicles, such as our bus, are not allowed to go there.

But we did see some of it. We had lunch at a picnic area called Big Stump because it has a big stump of an old sequoia tree.  It has a huge diameter, maybe 25 feet or more. We went to a place we could walk and saw the biggest known sequoia tree, named General Grant. I think it is 167 feet tall and the diameter of its base is 40.3 feet. That may have been the largest, but there are a lot of really big ones in the area. You can even walk through one that has fallen and hollowed out over the years, without stooping.  I did find walking around there very tiring. I had to keep stopping to rest a bit. I think it was because i am used to walking on flat ground, and this was pretty hilly. But also, we were at about 6,000 feet above sea level, and since at home we are at about 350 feet, that is a big change.

There is a difference between sequoias and redwoods. The sequoias are a lot fatter around, and redwoods are a lot taller, like about 100 feet taller. The sequoias grow inland, and their needles are in large clumps around the tree, with large sections of the trunk showing. Redwoods grow along the coast and their needles, although very high from the ground, grow in a shape more like a Christmas tree.

After we left the park we drove to Fresno. We stopped at a local fruit stand, but the fruit needed a couple of days on the kitchen counter to fully ripen, so I didn't buy any.

Our guide told us some things about Fresno. It is just about the geographical center of California. A bank in Fresno introduced a new concept in credit cards, and their card turned into Visa over the years. Fresno had the first modern landfill, the type where they add dirt over additions to the garbage--sort of a composting idea. They used that landfill from 1937-1987.

And so we have had dinner and are about conked out.

Tomorrow will be a long day.

Sent from my iPad

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Death Valley

Lynn's 3rd message: Death Valley

Before I start, i should say that I have a lot of pictures, but I don't know how to use this computer, so they'll probably have to wait until we get home. I am finding just writing this message quite challenging.

We left Vegas 7:45 and our first stop was a grocery store to go to the bathroom and buy food (in that order). 

Today we were scheduled to go to Death Valley but only if the temperature would be under 115. The reason for that is that the bus would overheat on the climb out of the park and we would be stranded in the heat and in a place where there is no cell phone service. But the forecast was for only 110, so we were going. I was pretty pumped about getting there. 

We got to Death Valley National Park about 10, and we stopped at an overlook for pictures. It felt pretty hot, but it was only in the upper 90's. A little later we stopped at Furnace Creek, which was at a lower elevation, and so it was hotter there. The lower the elevation, the hotter it is, and Death Valley is a few hundred feet below sea level. Getting out of it one has to climb 2 - 3,000 feet. 

We stayed at  Furnace Creek about an hour and a half for lunch and sightseeing. The restaurant was so crowded and service so slow, I worried about having time to view the remains of the borax mining they did there in the 1880s. But I did get to go outside, and as soon as I did, I wanted to go back in. It was 112, and no, I mean NO shade. I took a quick picture or two and got back in the bus. One more stop was at the Sand Dunes. I got out to take a few pictures (not many people did), and the bus driver told me to empty my shoes before getting back on the bus. They were actually pretty full. 

Death Valley's geology is interesting--sedimentary rocks and sands moved around by shifts of tectonic plates, wind, and volcanic activity in the past. There are many colors in the rocks and many different sorts of rock formations. The vegetation changes as you go from place to place; there is very little at the lower points of the park, mostly a few stunted Joshua trees and what is probably tumbleweed. Most of the wildlife is nocturnal (smart of them!) so we saw none. I heard a sound that may have been a very unmusical bird and saw one buzzard circling in the sky. Mostly what we saw was rocks, sand, and mountains with many subtle colors--white, green, black, red, yellow.

I'm glad we went there, but I don't think I'll ever return. After we left we were headed to Bakersfield, CA, but the shortest route we could have taken had a road that had been washed out by rain (it's so dry here, when it does rain it floods). So we drove north along the eastern side of Owens Lake. The water from that lake is all but gone--it looks more like a plain than a lake. Its water was used for years by Los Angeles, and a moratorium has recently been called on that. Now there are just what appeared from a distance to be just puddles.

We stopped in Lone Pine, CA for a look at Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, just 85 miles from the lowest point (in Death Valley). It was hot there, too, but a sign in the visitor's center said that today's temps were: Lone Pine 93, Mount Whitney 54, Mammoth Lakes 78, and Furnace Creek 112. The high today in Bakersfield was 99. I'm appreciating Wisconsin.

Much of the way to Bakersfield we passed miles and miles and miles of wind farms, and in the area of Tehachapi, miles and miles of trains all standing still. We did a lot of speculating about that on the bus.

Our motel tonight is a Hampton Inn, which is nice but far different than The Golden Nugget, and the best restaurant nearby is Denny's. We had a good dinner and now we're resting up for tomorrow's adventures.

Love, Lynn ( or

Lynn on our trip 2

Lynn message 2
A full day in Las Vegas, but without a car, we stayed within a few blocks of our hotel, The Golden Nugget, which is in the downtown area. We learned why this hotel has it's name. It owns and has on display the worlds largest gold nugget. It's about 15 by 12 by 6 inches at its largest parts. It was discovered in 1980 sort of by accident. It was buried vertically with the top of it, which is very small, only 2" below ground, behind a barn. Wonder how it affected the farmer. Did it change his life?

We walked in the morning before it got too hot. I wore a dress, which is what people did last time I was in this city, about 30 years ago. No more. A normal dress that covers one's knees and torso attracted attention. In fact, one person asked if I was from England. I think the less you wear, the less attention you get, because it is the norm. But I don't think you can blame the skimpy attire on the heat exclusively, as this has always been known as Sin City.

We were surprised to see an ABC store, because the last time we saw them was in Hawaii. They were on just about every block there, but we had no idea there were any on the mainland. This one really did seem just like the ones in Hawaii in merchandise and layout. Cool!

Not counting the casino and gambling machines at every turn, the pool is a big feature. In the center is a 750,000 ( or is it 75,000?) gallon tank filled with all sorts of very big fish and sharks. A water slide goes right through the tank. I couldn't resist. Unfortunately, in the slide the water goes into your eyes so fully you can't keep them open. I was disappointed to miss the sight of the fish, but it was still fun.

Fremont Street. There is a metal canopy over the whole street for 3 blocks. It is made of strips of metal that overlap but don't touch. Surprisingly, it is shaded by the strips and it's air conditioned in that area, which is pleasant. (It went up to 102 outside.) Pleasant, but it can't be very environmentally responsible. There are all sorts of sights on this street, including almost totally naked women who will let you take their picture for a fee. We were wondering if we could do the same and make a few extra bucks.

At night there was a light show on the Fremont Street ceiling. We went but we left immediately, as it was one of those events that attempts to convince people they're having fun by making it deafeningly loud. It was painfully loud.

Did we gamble? What do you think?

Lynn on our trip

We spent the day working around the house and yard. We left for Appleton about 3:30, and our trip didn't have a very auspicious start. First, a car right in front of us on  the bridge over the Fox River began to burn and couldn't really pull over. Heavy traffic in both lanes made getting past him tricky, but we did eventually. Then we got lost, and would still be lost if I hadn't brought my iPad for directions.  on our way back over the bridge,there was a huge traffic tie up due to that disabled car having caused an accident. Police every where, etc.

We found the Olive Garden for dinner. As we made a left turn into the place, on a left turn arrow, a car that had been going to make a right turn on red stopped to give us the right of way and the car behind him ran into him. In the restaurant our seat was right across from  family with a screeching kid. He did settle down, but the whole restaurant was quite noisy. Our meal was quite slow in coming because we ordered whole wheat noodles and they had to go buy some before they cooked them, i think. We did get free desserts because of the long wait.

> We got to the airport in plenty of time for our 8:27 take off. The bar ( no walls) was open and heavily inhabited by  a group traveling together, all quite excited, drunker by the minute, and LOUD. Turns out they were going on our plane, which was about a half hour late in boarding and taking off. The boarding clerk told them they had to settle down before he would let them board, and they did.

The flight was smooth and quiet enough, although i think one of the pilots was sick because he went into the bathroom about 15 times, each time quite close to the previous time. I decided I didn't have to go bad enough to go in there. We landed in Vegas at about 10:30 their time, 12:30 in Wisconsin. We got to our hotel about midnight (Vegas time) and got all balled up checking in. Trying to find the checkin desk was tricky, and while walking we learned that smoking is allowed in public places in Vegas, and loud music, lots of booze, gambling, and sex are part of the culture. (On the way to our hotel, we passed the Erotic Heritage Museum.) We spent a lot of time walking back and forth in our hotel trying to find our room, 3120, which was either on the third floor, room 120, or the 31st floor, room 20. It was the former, and miles from the elevator. We got to bed and fell asleep immediately.

More after some sleep and further adventures. But i can say that i look forward to leaving Vegas tomorrow morning!

Love, Bill and Lynn

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Skipping the hard parts

I thought the Adam Sadler movie "Click" was surprisingly  helpful.  The  hero  has too many remote controls in his life: tv, heating and cooling, So, he goes to Bed, Bath and Beyond.  In the back of the store is the Beyond desk where he buys a universal remote control.  He is very surprised to find that the remote mutes his wife and his boss and he uses that feature whenever he feels that he doesn't want to hear what they are saying.  He finds that he can use the device to fast forward during an argument and get past it to a better, more congenial time in his marriage and his work.  After a while, he finds the price for that convenience: a drastically shortened life time, much of which he had fastforwarded through.

When I went to college, I questioned many aspects of the assumptions and procedures of teacher training.  Ok, I overquestioned and that attitude led to my doctoral studies in educational research. When I began, I gave too little weight to the political side of education and of improvement in education.  But here 45 years later, it doesn't seem that we have any wonderful new insights into improvements in schooling.  Much of what we know about doing schooling well was known 500 years ago.

Americans are often interested in being #1, in being the fastest and the best.  But the best overall educations for the entire lifespan seem to come from not trying too hard.  I just saw a headline about not trying too hard learning a 2nd language.  Today, I see a headline about not overdoing exercise.  Finland has been doing pretty well with education and I guess their schools give a 15 minute break each hour.

Sometimes, the hard part for moderns is accepting the timeouts, the pauses, the gap years, the slowness of maturation and the many seasons and experiences that are needed to build a happy, competent, well-balanced human being.  It doesn't work well to skip the hard parts or the slow parts or the challenging parts.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Consolations of education

There are many books, both the deep kind and the shallow, about education.  What makes a good one?  What good is an education, etc.etc.There was a popular book in the Middle Ages called The Consolations of Philosophy.  There could be one on the Consolations of Education.

it can be a big comfort to know that others have faced the same questions and difficulties that face us.  Should we let our parents arrange a marriage for us or should we arrange one for ourselves?  Should we enter a highly religious life or work in retail or repair cars or what?  Is our government mis-using its power?  Is technology dominating our lives?  Is science leading us all astray? How did we get here?  Why are we here?  Should we strive to be happy or good or both or what?

It can be fun and satisfying to get a handle on what the Bible, the ancients, the Middle Ages and the moderns have thought about such questions and their answers.  Just about any position you can imagine has been adopted by somebody.  How they lived and what they thought can be helpful when we are facing the same or similar questions.

I find modern computers and their offspring, such as electronic books very helpful in trying to get a feeling for any subject.  Some moderns I know like to start any research or learning project with Google.  The woman who runs the campus lab where I am a volunteer just told me that she needs help with Excel pivot tables.  Pivot tables!  Haven't heard those words for ten years.  I needed to refresh my knowledge.  I did what I always do, looked in Amazon Kindle books for something I could afford and could download in an instant.  Found a fine book.  Got a bit of a refresher and am on the way to being able to help.  

But while writing this post, I thought about YouTube.  A relative worked with YouTube videos to improve his ability on a soccer team.  Another used it to improve his guitar technique.  So, I thought why not check "pivot tables".  True, the topic is a specialized one, a way of slicing and dicing data with Excel.  But, Excel is very popular so it is really no surprise that there are many good videos about using Excel pivot tables waiting for me.

That is the way it is these days.  Worried about an aging parent?  Can't pay your tax bill?  Car won't start?  Check it out online.  Got bigger, vaguer worries?  What about your religion?  Fading ability to play the piano?  Check the problem online.  After a little while, doing so gets to be second nature and you check out things more quickly and easily.  You have more confidence.  You may even get to the point where you are referred to something you already know well.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Popular Posts

Follow @olderkirby