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Archive for September, 2010

A fine fall family minivacation Sep 21

I was sitting here munching on a large apple (a crispin) and it reminded me of an adventure my family took one year. Maybe it’ll work for you, if you’re like us. We like apples, the outdoors, exercise, and money.

We happened to live not far from an apple orchard. It was a good year for the owner, and when we asked, he was willing to hire us to pick up windfalls. Windfalls are apples that fell to the ground before they could be picked. They are generally perfectly good, but they tend to have a bruise from when they fell, so orchard owners can’t sell them as eating apples. At least no one will buy them. But they are excellent for making into cider. So one Saturday, we all trooped out to the orchard and gathered apples. The kids had a blast chasing each other around, finding apples, and taking the occasional bite. After several hours we had gathered a fair number of apples, and he paid us piecework, just as if we were migrant workers.

We had more grass and fewer apples

We promptly bought a station-wagon-load of the apples (which go for a lot less than perfect apples) and still had some money left over.

The next Saturday we traveled to a local place that presses apple cider, and we had them make our winter supply of apple cider. That was an adventure all by itself! Real apple cider is cloudy, and the taste is wonderful.

The cloth bags contain chopped-up apples pressure is applied with hydraulics (modern) or a big screw (antique)

We froze the cider because it didn’t have any preservatives. Two points of information:

  • If you fill the jugs too full, the expanding freezing cider will expand right out of the jugs and make a royal mess in your freezer.
  • If you leave room, though, as the cider freezes, the “essence” tends to concentrate at the top as the crystalizing water in the cider forces the bigger organic molecules aside. This concentrate makes a teriffic apple syrup.
  • If you leave the cider out, keep an eye on it. Just before it spoils (turns to vinegar, actually), it becomes naturally carbonated, and you have home-made apple soda. With the right microorganisms you get hard cider instead of vinegar, so watch out.

We paid the rest of our “earnings” to have the cider pressed. Pretty good deal. If you ever make your own cider, tell us about it!

Category: Adventure  | Leave a Comment
Since we’re thinking about places in songs… Sep 18

What about San José? I remember something about a famous, blah song when I was a kid called Do You Know the Way to San José? (Sorry—I go more for the classical end of the musical spectrum.)

There are a lot of cities named San José, and I never listened to the song closely enough to tell which one it referred to, so let’s look at the one in Costa Rica. (The one in California is all big and modern and full of traffic. Bleah.)

Our San José is a beautiful city in a wonderful, stable climate, like Katmandu, in a valley in the middle of the country. It’s one of the youngest Latin American capitols, less than 300 years old. New by Katmandu standards, eh? Like any exotic location, though, you won’t run out of things to do. The food is great, the climate is mild, tourism is polished, history and museums are abundant, and the people are glad to have you visit.

I haven't shown a shopping picture for quite a while.

Like Katmandu, San José is pretty much where every trip to the area begins and ends, or the town itself can be your destination.

So which San José is your favorite?

Category: Adventure  | Tags: , ,  | Leave a Comment
Time for another really exotic vacation Sep 16

First, a comic.

I've heard of Katmandu, but never heard of the song...

So where is Katmandu, what do you do there, and why is it famous?

Well, it’s the capital of Nepal. Nepal is northeast of India, in the middle of the Himalayan mountains. Even being the capital, it’s in the middle of noplace, as we say up in Minnesota. The city has been around for a long time, more than two millenia.  Back then, almost everyplace was in the middle of nowhere, so it was about as good a place as any to build a city. Actually, if you wanted to travel between India and China overland, it was on the main route.

Doesn't look like a highway to me...

Being so old, you’ll find lots of old architecture and ancient culture. Being in the Himalayas, you can find scenery (mountains and valleys), adventures, and wildlife. Tourism is an important industry there, and you can find multi-day tours to suit every taste. this brief post does not do the place justice. If you go there, you will find plenty to do.

Traffic doesn't look too bad...

If you want to go anywhere in Nepal, you pretty much have to start in Katmandu. But you could end up anywhere.

Category: General  | One Comment
The philosophy of vacationing Sep 14

The time has come to remind everyone wherein lies the core, the basis, the heart, the true gist of a vacation.

A vacation is a change in routine activities.

Most people find it easier to change their schedule if they go someplace, and that’s certainly a good idea. You can, however, change your schedule without going anyplace and that would refresh you just like a “real” vacation, though it’s a little harder to do—too many temptations to retain the old habits.

But I want to warn you about a danger in vacations where you relocate for a while—bringing your schedule with you. Don’t!

Small electronic devices are easy to pack. Don’t. Want to check your Facebook? Don’t! Twitter? Don’t! The human race did just fine for centuries with nothing better than conversation and the occasional letter. When you vacation, disconnect yourself.

Vacation no-no

I’m not just pontificating, either. New research shows that being connected all the time tires your brain out, and having idle time refreshes your brain. So if you’re going to spend all that money on a vacation (even if you get a really good deal through your (ahem) Serenity agent) don’t waste it by hindering the refreshment. It takes a day or two to get used to not being connected all the time, so give yourself at least a three-day weekend.

Email us when you get back.

Category: General, Plug  | Leave a Comment
The best time to be at a resort Sep 13

I like resorts after the lights go out. Y’see, I like astronomy. Resorts are safe places to be at night in the dark. I mean, who’s going to get New York City to turn off all the lights so you can stargaze? And would you want all the lights out there?

But some resorts even have star parties on their roofs, with telescopes, and lighting that points down so it doesn’t light up the sky.

Stargazing at a resort. Click to enlarge

There’s a resort in Atacama, Chile, only 40 miles from town, that features skies so dark they built the world’s largest telescope not far from there. For a little less remote, but still exotic, you could try the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Hawaii. They have 40 acres of back country, and they speak English. They even have a resident astronomer! Can’t make it to the Islands? How about Colorado? Viceroy Snowmass, a classy resort on the Snowmass ski slopes near Aspen has skies dark enough that you don’t even require a telescope. They have a person who gives talks about what’s up in the sky while you sit around a campfire. Don’t look into the campfire, though. It’ll mess up your night vision.

That out of reach, too? How about your back yard? Tonight just after sunset, go out and look west. That really bright star you see is Venus.