Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 6 (Wednesday) in California

This was another relatively lazy day for the both of us. We talked over possible house bids. That's about it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 5 (Tuesday) in California

Tuesday was not a very exciting day for me (Amber), but for my dad and Florin, it proved to be quite fun. I did a ton of laundry, watched the movie, 27 Dresses, with my mom, and wrapped Xmas presents for friends and family. Florin went fishing with my dad. Florin can tell the story of fishing, but from what I understood he caught twice as many as my dad (that would be 2 fish), and my dad caught a 68.5" endangered Green Sturgeon. So, even though our men caught fish, it was a catch-and-release kind of day. Upon their arrival back home, I made fantastic gourmet sandwiches and my mom made tomato garlic soup. Fantastic as always!

Florin and I then headed into town to meet up with my friends at The Madison Bear Garden to have a few drinks. Berta and her man, Dustin, Jon, and Rob were able to join us. We had curly fries, garlic fries, and beers all-around. It was great to kick back and shoot-the-shit with them. I'm amazed that no matter how much time goes by between visits, whenever I'm back with them I feel like it's the good ol' times. I have to say that I really do miss my Chico friends and California (in general). If only it wasn't so expensive and time-consuming to fly there!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 4 (Monday) in California

I went siteseeing in Chico with Florin. We were on a mission to complete our Xmas shopping (we succeeded). I noted the new businesses (Kohls) and lamented the loss of old ones (Kramore Inn). I took Florin with me to Spiteri's Deli (northside of Chico) and we split a delicious Garlic and Rosemary turkey sandwich on Dutch Crunch bread. After finishing the late lunch, he understood why I like it so much. I then took him to Donut Nook, only to discover that they were closed. :( That's okay ... it'll be something to look forward to next time we visit Chico! We then went to Trader Joe's for Florin's first time. I think he liked it--he said it reminded him of European stores. I was so glad to be back at a Trader Joe's. We bought artisan bread, Trader Joe's O's, sausage, fresh sage and parsley, two-buck chuck, and a variety of goodies from my favorite aisle. After that, we headed to Home Depot to check out potential Xmas gifts (for Florin) and then it was time to head home to a delicous dinner of richly marinated tri-tip and homemade french garlic bread. Yum!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 3 (Sunday) in California

After a few days at Yosemite and hanging out with Diana and Chad, it was time to reunite with the rest of the Gustafson clan. Leaving on time for a change, we rolled into the Chico's Chili's and waited for Mom and Dad to meet up with us. The food and company was good. Diana and I also decided that the margaritas were also pretty good! With full bellies, we headed over to visit with Grandma and Grandad. I haven't seen them since September and I cannot say that they are doing all that well. Grandma looks very tired and Grandad has lost 30 or more lbs; they both are beginning to wear their age. It breaks my heart to see them like this, but there is nothing I can do. There is nothing that any of us can do. It's the unfortunate end of the lifecycle ... it may be inevitable, but I don't have to like it. In any case, my Grandma is beginning to show serious signs of dementia or althemier's--I don't know which it is. She mostly keep mum during our visit to her house, but a few times she mentioned that we'd better lower our voices for fear of being asked to leave [the restaurant] and at the end of the visit she suggested (more than once) that perhaps it was time for her and Grandad "to go home." It's really tough to hear that and try to decide whether or not you want to mention that she's already at home. I cannot imagine what it must be like to not even be aware of whether or not you are at home. How lost must a person feel if they are unable to discern where home is? I have to admit, I'm just trying not to even think about it.

On an even darker, more sinister scale, we learned that my [formerly?] drug-addicted cousin and her recently-paroled husband were to be moving into Grandma and Grandad's house that very same afternoon. They were supposed to arrive by 2pm, but even by 5:30 they had not made an appearance. Apparently they are moving in to assist Grandma and Grandad. I'll reserve my true feelings about the matter, but I can say that everyone in attendence was not favorable to the idea, including my own Grandmother. I just (naively) hope that nothing bad arises out of that situation.

After saying farewell and in a shower of hugs and kisses, Florin and I rode in the dusty-blue minivan back to my parent's house. The house hasn't changed one bit in these past few years, but the landscaping has really come along. The southside is nearly completed with brick walkways and built-up sections. The northside has really flourished in it's "natural parklike setting" of redwoods, fruit-bearing trees and figs, and with a three-year old wysteria overtaking the rustic decaying boomtruck. Apparently, the grounds are slated to be included in the Spring Garden Tour of 2010.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 2 (Saturday) in California

Since Diana and Chad had DSL, Florin and I figured a good Xmas gift for them would be a wireless router. Little did we know that they already had a a DSL modem with wireless built-in, but not yet configured. Once we learned that, Florin was able to set them up with wireless access which in turn enabled us all to have wireless access to the Internet. (Yay!)

I'm not sure what else we did today, but it was relaxing overall.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 1 (Friday) in California

The day started with Amber taking Diana to work while Chad (Diana's husband) and I griped to eachother about how much graduate school sucks and how we would never do it again knowing what we know now. The only comforting thing is that it appears that no matter what field you are in or which university you go to, the life of a grad student is always the same.

After Amber came back, we borrowed Diana's car and went to get an oil change. While the folks at the shop changed the oil, we strolled to a Taqueria nearby for lunch. The weather in California was, as always, nice and we were marveling at how fabulous it is to be able to come from a snowy November day on the East Coast to a sunny shorts-and-t shirt day in California simply by hopping on a flight. Lunch was a delicious foot-long burrito that we shared. Mexican food is so much better here than anywhere else.

After lunch and the oil change we got on the road for the 4 hour trip to Yosemite National Park. The drive took us south through the central valley then east on a back roads through the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas all the way to the mountains. We stopped at an information booth about an hour out from the national park and were recommended a hotel in a nearby gold rush town for only $59/night. More on that later.

We went ahead and booked the hotel room site unseen because we wanted to make it to the national park and catch the views at sunset. This was a great idea as we rolled into the Yosemite valley just as the sun was setting. We pulled over here and there to allow me to take some pictures and by the time we made it to the village, it was dark. We turned around and went back to the hotel. Although the scenery was stunningly beautiful (as seen above), the most amazing thing we saw were two bear cubs playing near the road. Of course, there was a dumb tourist nearby trying to take a picture of the cubs dangerously close to the them. It all happened so quickly we didn't have a chance to stop and take a picture, but the image is firmly etched in our memory. We also saw a coyote cross the road right in front of our car and several deer who did what deer do and froze when hit by the beams of our headlights. But Amber did a great job driving and we did not hit a single critter.

We drove back to the hotel and when we arrived to Jamestown, we were greeted by a quaint little wild west town. It is as if we went back in time. We checked into the hotel and were informed that it would be wise to go out and get dinner before taking all our stuff to the room because everything "closes early in this town". It was 7:15PM. We took the advice and found a very nice restaurant at the National Hotel just down the road. This was a more upscale hotel with a saloon and a gourmet restaurant. All the decorations were typical for the time period around 100-150 years ago and the food was absolutely delicious. I treated Amber to dinner to celebrate her victory over the preliminary exam. After dinner we retired to our room and promptly fell asleep as we were exhausted and slightly jet lagged.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving trip to California

Amber just passed her preliminary exam and is one hoop away from having her Ph.D. and I have been working hard to finish up my research so that I can graduate by March and move to Peoria to start my new job with Caterpillar. So after the semester from hell, Amber and I finally were able to get away on a real vacation. We're spending thanksgiving in California with Amber's family.

We flew out on US Airways from Charlotte and quickly realized how spoiled we are since we've almost always flown with United. US Airways is TERRIBLE! Here's why:

1. Charge for checked luggage, which in turn forces everyone to carry on all their crap. Thus, boarding takes 30 minutes instead of 10 because everyone is trying to cram all their stuff in the overhead bin.
2. They charge for any type of refreshments including water. Now this wouldn't be a big deal on a 2 hour flight, but on a 4 hour flight across the US, it's an issue. Some would say unhealthy. So the solution is to just bring your own beverage; oh wait, you're not allowed to bring any liquids... I can't believe nobody has sued the airports and airlines for monopolizing the food and beverage market in airports. $8 for a sandwich in the airport. $5 for a water bottle. Incredible!

So we finally arrived in Sacramento without incident and were met by Diana, Amber's sister who graciously let us stay at her place overnight. While we were hanging out at the airport waiting for our bag, I took this picture in the baggage hall at Sacramento airport. Pretty appropriate decoration if you ask me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Job offer!

So it's been a while since I last posted any updates. This is because lots has happened since our last adventure. The biggest piece of news is the job offer I received from Caterpillar. On Sunday, August 17 I went to Peoria, IL for an on-site interview with the Caterpillar Operator Environment & Interface group. I flew to Peoria and spent Sunday with Marilyn driving around and familiarizing myself with Peoria. That evening I had a dinner meeting with my host, Bob, who was very nice and friendly. We had a very interesting conversation and before we knew it we had been talking for 3 hours.

The interview itself was on Monday and it started at Cat headquarters in downtown Peoria. After breakfast and an introduction with a bunch of other recruits, Bob picked me up and we went for a tour of the Tech Center in Mossville. It was quite impressive and I got to see quite a bit in the two hours we spent walking around. After the tour, it was time to go pee in a cup for the drug test. That was uneventful and as I later found out, I was clean... After a brief lunch with my host and my would-be supervisor, the actual interviews commenced. I had three of them back-to-back. It was grueling and at the end I felt much like a rag feel after being wrung out. Luckily, after the third interview I was invited to test out a ride simulator designed to simulate the ride of a bulldozer in action. Dare I say it rocked my world? It was very eye-opening to see how harsh the ride is in these earth moving machines, and it was a good way to end the visit and to whet my appetite for the job and the opportunities Caterpillar is offering. All in all, I think the interview went well and everyone seemed relatively pleased with me and my credentials.

After the interview was over, Marilyn threw a "grill-n-chill" party with some of her friends. It was really nice but I was exhausted and not much fun. I apologize to Marilyn and all of her friends.

The next morning, I flew back to Blacksburg, thinking that it would be a few weeks before I would find out anything, I went about my business. Imagine my surprise when I received a job offer on Wednesday. This must be a new record. Regardless, it is a very good offer and I am seriously considering accepting. However, I will not do anything until Amber and I will get a chance to go visit Peoria together so she can see where our future may take us. I have 'til October 15 to make up my mind. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Logistics of a Biking and Camping Trip

If you've been following previous posts, you'll know that we bought new touring bikes and panniers for our two-year anniversary. (I think normal people go on a cruise or celebrate in Mexico. We buy bicycles and gear to haul around. Yeah, we might be a little nuts.) Anyway, we coordinated the celebratory trip the weekend before: I picked the trail and Florin made campsite reservations at Cliffview. The working week passed by and Friday night was upon us. There was suddenly much to do! There was camping gear to find, food and clothing to be selected and packed, and gear preparation that was sorely behind schedule.

Truth is, I was a little concerned because I was afraid that our Jalco rims wouldn't be able to support the large 700x38 tires and tubes I had purchased specifically for this trip on crushed cinder. (Turns out that I had nothing to worry about. The larger tires were a very good idea, fit fine into the deep-V rims, and worked amazingly well. What a relief!) I was even able to show Florin a few tips and tricks for making tire-changing easier and faster. (Yes, Florin did his and I did mine.) We then cannibalized our existing camping and backpacking gear to meet our needs. I grabbed my compression straps off of my hiking backpack, pulled out my down sleeping bag, and rolled up our Thermarest pads. Check, check, and check. Florin found his down bag, his backpacker's tent, and his white gas backpacking stove (which is awesome, for the record). Check, check, and check. Now, to fill the panniers.

If food is tricky for backpacking, in my opinion, it's even tricker for cycling. Yes, we have panniers, but we want to pack relatively light but also nutritionally dense. Cycling takes a lot more energy than hiking. In past cycling events I've participated in, I've recorded up to 1,000 calories burned in an hour. I figure we wouldn't burn calories at quite that high of a rate, but it would ultimately depend on terrain, temperature, and effort. We opted for Cliff bars, GORP (trail mix), Gala apples, Clementine oranges, and beef jerky for the snack 'ums. For dinner, we packed both the MSR "Mac and Cheese and Chili" and the MountainHouse "Oriental Dish" RTEs. (For the record, MountainHouse meals are FAR superior in taste, texture, and amount.) Breakfast was going to be leftover fruit, hot cocoa, bagel chips, and cashew nut butter. For me, that food plan was plenty sufficient. For Florin, there's no doubt he needs REAL food a lot more often. I suspect it has something to do with the difference in our "natural reserves." :)

I thought the GORP would be the constant hit of the two-day party, but surprisingly it was the Clementine oranges and the hot chocolate that were in constant and high demand. (My God, those were sooooo good.) Of course, I really didn't pack enough of either of those. We got by all right. We also each rode with 3 bottles of water, but refilled at every chance we could (which was at Cliffview and again at Draper). It wasn't particularly hot, but if it had been, we would've been hurtin'. I'm thinking about packing potable water tablets or bringing along a backpacker's filter, just in case. Probably not a bad idea. (Would make a good Xmas gift -- Hint, Hint!)

I'd probably also change what I wore. I'd definitely keep the Keen cycling sandals. (Those are possibly the single best clothing purchase I've ever made.) I would've opted out of my normal spandex shorts for something more "civilian friendly." Normally, I don't care about what I'm wearing as long as it works. It's fine when I'm straddling the bike and it's obvious that Spandex is for a reason. When you reach the campsite, however, you're walking around without your bicycle. Weaving through 5 campsites full of Boy Scouts, I felt a little awkward in my all-Spandex getup. I have two fantastic pairs of SkirtSports' Compression Fit BikeGirl cycling skorts and I didn't think to wear them on this trip. Next time, I most definitely will. It's either that, or I'm going to bring one of those ever-useful Terry wraparound skirts.

Stuff I would bring next time that we didn't have this time:

  • Flint & tinder
  • Potable water tablets or water filtration system
  • More fruit (apples & oranges)
  • Silk sack/liner for my sleeping bag (ideally the Cocoon Ripstop Silk Mummy liner, found at REI for ~$65, Item #735819)
  • My GSI Backpacking Cook System
  • My GSI 11-Piece Kitchen Set

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Which part did you ride?" "Uh, ALL of it."

I get that a lot. I should say, we get that kind of question a lot of the time, and we often give that kind of an answer. To us, it's funny in a way; 40 to 50 miles by bicycle is a decently moderate ride. We don't shy away from that kind of a distance, we actively seek it out. When you seek, you shall find. And what a find we made with the New River Trail in Southwest Virginia!

It technically starts in Galax, VA and rides 57 miles north, following the New River, up to Pulaski, VA. Being from Blacksburg ourselves, we decided to start on the north end, ride south, camp overnight, and ride back over the course of a weekend. My original plan was to ride down into Galax and stay in a lovely (and comfortable) Bed and Breakfast Inn. Florin, being the backpacker/camper type, talked me into a night of camping instead. While I was not initially thrilled at the idea of all-day exercise toting our own camping gear on our bikes followed by sleeping on the hard ground, I promised I'd at least give it a try before making any rash judgments. For the record, it wasn't bad; it was actually quite enjoyable. Go figure! Here's how it went down and the slideshow below reveals much of our two-day trip.

We started at the 2-mile mark, at the Pulaski/Xaloy gravel lot entrance to the State Park. With our bikes loaded up with all of our gear, we were ready to ride! There was no fanfare, but we were off! Immediately, I noted that riding with loaded panniers on gravel is a bit of a freaky experience. It's nothing like a road bike. My bike, Juniper, was sluggish and felt as if she had a mind and direction of her own. It took many miles before I learned that a light touch on the handlebars would prove easier. (Not only was it easier on my back, shoulders, arms, and hands, but on the general handling of the bike as well.)

I have to admit, I spent a lot of the first part of the ride staring in fear at the loose grit of the trail in front of me. Something I did notice was that it only took about 10 or so miles before I loosened up. Once that happened, the ride was fantastic. I cannot believe how well maintained, stocked, and fantastic the amenities and facilities were throughout the entire trail. And it was an absolute delight to see entire families riding shorter parts of the overall trail.

One last thing: cycling makes you hungry. If you're me, you can survive a two-day trip on GORP and crackers and water, but if you're Florin you'll be needing a lot more sustenance. That hamburger you see below was an out-of-the way ride-like-hell 6 miles roundtrip to the closest local store and "food grill" during the afternoon of the second day. It wasn't the best burger in the world, but it was a burger and Florin was satisfied. Not only that, but we found another gem of a camping spot on the way to Fries. Next trip, we're going to book into there.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Innaugural use of our new egg cups and egg scalper

So today we had our first opportunity to test out the new egg cups and egg scalper my folks sent us a few months ago. We had whole-wheat waffles made from scratch, fresh orange juice and of course soft-boiled eggs (which weren't all that soft because I prepared them). Needless to say Amber was very excited to try the new egg scalping tool and tested it on her finger first.

Here's the outcome of that experiment.
Next is a play-by-play on the process of removing the top of an egg:

First one needs to examine one's enemy.
Then one positions the tool over the egg...
...squeezes the handle and twists...

...and voila! The top is off.

And there's the top of the egg.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Florin at the office

Today Mohammad got a new camera and was showing it off around the lab. He took some pictures of all of us. Here are the pictures of me.

Apparently the camera made Mohammad realize how ugly his lab mates are and he decided to return it. Needless to say, I can't take credit for these pictures.

Me at my desk

Calen at his desk

Manish working hard

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Panniers are awesome!

As Amber and I are getting ready to celebrate our second anniversary, two huge packages appeared at our doorstep; packages resembling bike boxes. Of course, Amber was surprised. About now you're probably thinking how sweet I am for buying new bicycles for the two of us for our anniversary. WRONG! This is a good time to remind everyone that I am a poor college student while Amber is a successful career woman in addition to being a college student. That makes me the luckiest guy on the planet, because she is my sugar momma. She bought us touring bicycles for our anniversary. The reason Amber was surprised is because she was not expecting the bikes so early and she was going to surprise me by having them put together and waiting for me when I would return from the lab the following day. Despite her plan backfiring, it was a nice surprise and we spent an evening putting bikes together. We've even commuted to work on our bikes and just a few days ago, I retaliated by purchasing some nice panniers for the bikes. We are trying to get into the business of bike touring, and we have an overnight trip planned for next weekend. Well, today we got the panniers and I spent some time installing them. Check out the final result!

Here are our bikes, one naked and one fully dressed.

Can't wait to try these bad boys out on the road.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4 in Tennessee

So this past weekend we had our first adventure documented on this blog: a trip to my host family in Tennessee. It was a good-old-fashioned country blowout with 3 grills going, copious amounts of delicious food, beer, stray dogs, cattle, and of course a 30 minute fire works display.

Before we made it there, we ran into car trouble. The Grand Am of Doom apparently had a few clogged vacuum hoses that prevented the engine from breathing properly. This in turn caused the internal pressure to rise in the engine which caused the cam shaft seal to blow out and ridiculous amounts of oil to leak out. Now for those who don't know the Grand Am of Doom, it has always had a bit of an oil leak, maybe a quart of oil per 3-4000 miles, but in this trip alone we had to add about 4 quarts (in 400 miles) to make it to our destination. The GPS Amber bought me for my birthday came in handy when we had to find a Walmart in the middle of the night to buy more oil.

After spending a significant amount of time this weekend with my host dad trying to fix the car, Sunday came around and we still hadn't fixed it. Needless to say, we couldn't drive the car back in the shape it was in, so dad talked me into taking his farm car and leaving the Grand Am of Doom in his capable hands. His farm car is a 1997 Ford Thunderbird, light blue with hints of yellow (bondo) and british racing green (a replacement door), which he uses to haul 500lbs of feed in on a regular basis because it gets better gas mileage than the truck. To quote him "I can almost get 10 bags in the trunk. But it has a big back seat, so I can put what won't fit in the truck there." Amber is so proud...all I need is a wife-beater and I'll fit the picture perfectly. For your viewing pleasure, I have added a few pictures of the "Thunder Chicken of Doom" below.

Notice the British Racing Green door. It's what makes this car so fast!

First post

So this is the initial post for this blog. I plan on updating it on a regular basis (yeah, yeah, promises promises. I know...)

I will try to summarize what's going on in Amber and Florin's life with pictures, descriptions of adventures etc. and hopefully keep the rest of our world up to date on what's going on in our life.

Hope you enjoy it. Feel free to leave comments.