Sunday, February 27, 2011

High Definition Viewing

Time goes by very quick, so many things to do, yet so little time. :( 
hiking (2/27/11), Mt. Woodson trail, San Diego County
snowboarding (2/26/11), Big Bear Snow Summit
hking and rock scrambling (2/27/11), Mt Woodson rocks
snowshoeing (2/20/11), Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Thankfully, weekend outdoor activities never run out of options to recharge to start the work week fully energized. Experiencing nature is always my way of rejuvenating myself. From the ocean, to the valley, to the desert, and to the mountains, there is so much to take in from nature's beauty. For me, my best way to experience nature is up close, as close as I can get.  
Harbor Seals @ La Jolla (2/19/11), taken last weekend
Seals Rushing to the Water @ La Jolla (2/19/11)
Parade of the Squirrels, after the rain last weekend
However, there are so many wonderful places to see, yet we have little time to explore, and of course, little money as well. Thankfully, I can watch the crisp nature sceneries from Travel Channel and National Geographic of places that I probably will not experience in my lifetime. Watching them in High Definition TV makes it feel like I am right there experiencing nature up close and personal. To maximize the full benefits of high definition video and audio, we use HDMI cable as well. High definition viewing is made even finer and better by Optimization-World HDMI Cable. On the other hand, to freeze the wonderful memory from nature, every time we get home after weekend's wandering, my USB cables become busy. Technology has gone a long way indeed, before, it takes longer to surf the internet, download information, do bank transactions, but thankfully, cat-5 cables make it all easier now to do networking.
And now, that the weekend is slowly coming to an end, multi-tasking is something I am trying to perfect but probably never will :( While doing laundry, I do house cleaning, cooking, lesson planning, doing homework, watching Oscar Awards not from Kodak Theater ( well, I could not multi-task there) but from HDTV 
where the pictures make it look like I was right there with the stars. On top of this, my mind goes back to nature, getting inspiration from there. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Ultimate Moving Solution

Photo of Rog showing Teyla the beautiful New River from an overlook at Grandview State Park, courtesy of MJ

I've always been a big fan of rivers. Small rivers. Wide, raging rivers. Deep rivers ... the kinds that flow silently. Winding rivers ... the ones that snake hither and thither, stealthily cutting their way through lush canyons with steep cliffs on either side. Or the ones that tumble down sheer granite or sandstone, transforming into breathtaking waterfalls. Any kind of river, really, fascinates me. If someone formed a group called "The River Lovers Club," you bet I'd be one of the first to sign up!

Rog's Uncle John, a jolly, lanky bachelor in his late 50s who had lived most of his life in Ohio, paid us a visit a few years back. Turns out he is a huge river fan as well! We drove him up to Grandview State Park just outside Beckley, West Virginia, one crisp autumn afternoon. Strolled down to the main overlook with him and, boy, one glance at the flowing New River and the man fell in love!
New River from a different overlook. Photo courtesy of MJ

"This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen!," I remember Uncle John saying, almost reverently, while wiping a tear or two from his eyes. Yeah, the New River has that effect on some people. It is THAT gorgeous, specially when viewed from a park that proudly stands up to its name - Grandview! Uncle John raved about the New River for the rest of his stay. A couple weeks later, when he called from Ohio to check on us, one of the first things he said when I picked up the phone was, "Man, I miss that river!"

So last summer, it didn't come as much of a surprise to us when Uncle John announced he had sold a bunch of his stuff and was moving to Raleigh County, West Virginia. We figured he constantly saw the river in his dreams. Then there was the added attraction of the lower cost of living in our state, as compared to his part of Ohio.

"I was wondering if you guys could come up in a few weeks and help me move?," he wanted to know. Well, Teyla had just turned a year old last summer - too young yet to help lift heavy furniture:) We decided it would be more of a hassle for all of us to go and help with the move - with an active, growing baby needing our constant attention, that is. So in the end, I got to stay home with Teyla one hot weekend in August while Rog made the 5-hour trip to Uncle John's.
Photo of Rog, MJ and Teyla taking a break from a stroll around Grandview State Park last summer, courtesy of MJ

Two days later, Uncle John rolled into town in a huge moving van bursting at the seams with his earthly possessions. Rog drove behind him in his car, which was also filled to the brim with more of Uncle John's stuff. They had spent more than a day packing his things and then cramming them into the moving van and Rog's car. Then because the moving van was so huge and Uncle John had never driven that type of vehicle before, he drove tremendously slower and said he was a nervous wreck all the way, almost expecting to wreck at any moment. Anyway, by the time they reached Coal City, they were absolutely worn out, and they still had to drive about an hour more to get to Uncle John's new place! Well, I wondered about Uncle John's huge F250 pick-up and asked him about it. He told me another nephew would drive it down the following weekend. It was just too big and heavy to haul behind the moving van. And since Rog had to drive his Grandam, and Uncle John had to drive the moving van, they were short of a driver for the pick-up.

Recently, I was thinking about this common moving problem - being short of a driver during moving day - when I came across the web site of this cool moving company, u-pack Moving.

Apparently, U-Pack Moving helps customers save money because they - the customers - do the loading and unloading themselves while U-Pack provides the moving trailer or moving container AND the driver all for a reasonable price that compares to renting a moving truck! So ask yourself this, if you were preparing for a big move, why would you choose to rent the usual moving truck (that you or a family member would have to drive) when you could choose U-Pack Moving and - for about the same price - be provided with BOTH the moving truck AND the driver?
Rog showing Teyla some pretty rhododendrons, the state flower of West Virginia, at Grandview, courtesy of MJ

If I could go back in time, I would definitely tell Uncle John about U-Pack Moving. I'm sure they would have helped make his move to town an easier one. Some of the other things I like about U-Pack Moving are:

- U-Pack Moving doesn't charge you for weight.
They base your moving cost on space, meaning you only pay for the space your stuff takes up in the moving vehicle.

- U-Pack promises faster transit times! They can move you just about anywhere in the United States within 2-5 business days, whereas other moving companies take 15-20 days.

- U-Pack features professional drivers who can safely transport your belongings from your old place to the new one. Moving - specially cross country - can be difficult and dangerous when driving a large, unfamiliar truck. U-Pack lets you have peace of mind by providing you with skilled drivers.

A few months ago, a friend from Virginia passed through town, had dinner with us and, the next day, asked if there were any nearby state parks she could visit. Of course, we proudly recommended Grandview State Park. Our friend's reaction - upon seeing the New River - was similar to Uncle John's reaction of amazement years ago, when he first set eyes on that lovely winding river. So we wouldn't be surprised if our friend decides to move to town in the near future. If and when that happens, we will definitely recommend U-Pack Moving.
Rog, MJ and Teyla once again taking in the grandeur of the New River, courtesy of MJ

They drive. You save. It couldn't be more simpler than that! To find out how much you can save with U-Pack, visit u-pack 's web site today at for a free moving quote.

- By MJ

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter in Spring...Spring in Winter

contrasting landscape: spring at low elevation, winter at high elevation
Clouds Over Mt. San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, CA
now, from the top looking down
we just never stop exploring
until sundown....San Bernardino Mountains from Mt. San Jacinto

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Travel Insurance

Black Eyed Susan Fluttering in the Sea Breeze
Sea Dahlia
After a wet November and December, we did not get anymore rain in January until today. Despite not getting any rain January, wildflowers are still slowly gracing the hillsides and the trail now. They are not at peak yet, but the little wildflowers blooming here and there are enough to inspire.  
Black Eyed Susan @ Sunset
Invasive Yellow Mustards 
Nature's Bouquet at Sunset
Thankfully after more than a month of drought, rain has come today. I am hoping that the coming of rain this week, and more rain next week, will bring these wildflowers to bloom and soon carpet the ground. I know it is not spring yet in most other places, but for us here, fall, winter, spring and summer co-exist :) Right now, we have rain yet a few miles from us at above 2,000 ft there is snow. There are wildflowers along the coast, valleys and desert, yet the mountain pines are still covered with snow. The trees bloom, yet their leaves still show fall colors. And last week, we had a summer like weather, it was such a delight. 
Celebrating Warmth at Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego
How I wish time flies quick to bring spring and summer here soon. No, I am not referring to the spring and summer weather, but the spring and summer vacation :) Spring and summer is the time where most people are planning for a vacation. There is something about spring that calls people to go out and wander, after all it is the time where the withered leaves brought forth beautiful blooms. It is also the time where the wild animals hibernating in winter are coming out to enjoy the nice warm air and celebrate the sprouting of life everywhere. Wandering however also brings some risks, such as losing some money from hotel and flight reservations when traveling becomes not possible because of some important reasons. I had been more aware of this when in the middle of our vacation, one of us became ill, we had to cut our vacation. Having no Travel Insurance, we lost some nights from hotel stay that we could no longer cancel. Aside from health, the weather can also get in the way. Just imagine you have booked a no cancellation flight seeing and photo tour in one of Alaska's famous National Parks, however, because of bad weather, the trip is cancelled. Without Travel Insurance several thousand dollars would be lost. In expensive travel that has no cancellation policy, it is always best to be defensive because we never know what will get in the way. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Another Beautiful Day

My World
And I am loving It
Another beautiful day, here in my side of the world @ Torrey Pines, San Diego.

Hiking Angel's Landing, Zion National Park

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing
Angel's Landing is one of the most famous, challenging (more on mental and emotional challenge than physical challenge) and thrilling hikes of the National Park System. The last half mile of the trail is not to be approached by anyone who has fear of heights. But this is also a pretty rewarding trail. For those with fear of heights can probably do the first 2 miles of the trail, there may be some drop-off in the first 2 miles, but the trail is more manageable than the last half mile.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Perfect Car Connection

Photo of MJ and Teyla at a 2010 classic car show in Beckley, West Virginia, courtesy of Rog
Antiques fascinate me.

I own a pretty handsome collection of old coins tucked safely in a vintage Spiderman tin lunchbox at home. Hubby Rog and I sometimes break the box open on rainy or snowy weekend nights when we are stuck at home and tired of watching TV, and Teyla has drifted off to Dreamland. We neatly set all the coins out on the dining table and carefully scrutinize each one. Sometimes, we talk about the far off places these old coins have possibly been to. Other times, we make plans to take some of the oldest ones - like an 1800 coin from Denmark - to one of those antique road shows, just to find out how much they could be worth. Always, after an hour or so of peering at the coins' worn out, weather-beaten faces and talking about the history behind them, Rog and I round them all up and carefully place them back in the Spiderman tin box ... until the next rainy weekend night when we feel the urge to once again dig them out and look them over.

Vintage cars interest me, too, but not near as much as they fascinate Rog. He is nuts about them! Every time July rolls around - the second weekend, to be specific - I swear my hubby gets this excited, crazed look in his hazel eyes when hundreds of antique cars, trucks, street cars and bikes roll into town for the annual Friends of Coal Auto Fair.
Photo of Rog and Teyla by a "cute" classic car at the auto fair, courtesy of MJ
"Hurry up! We're gonna miss the show!," he whines in the kitchen on the day of the fair, as I rush to put my make-up on and he rushes to fill Teyla's milk bottles up and make sure her diaper bag is well stacked. Then off to town we rush in a flurry. I have to gently remind him, more than once, of the speed limit. His foot is so heavy on the gas. He's just dying to get to the antique car show as fast as possible!
We finally get there in what feels like five minutes flat. Already, noisy crowds of vintage car enthusiasts are milling about excitedly, checking out shiny old vehicles, talking with the proud owners, inspecting giant engines, posing by show cars. We join the happy crowd and bask, all afternoon, in the rich feel of history emanating from these automobiles.
Photo of MJ "test driving" a vintage car at the auto fair, courtesy of Rog
Speaking of cars, one of our close friends, Brian, who currently drives a beautiful baby blue '62 Galaxie 500, has been talking of turning his sweet ride into a just-for-car-show-car and getting a newer, more modern vehicle. He stopped by to visit over the weekend, and him and Rog surfed the net and checked out a couple of new cars.

The Audi A4 sedan is one of the cars our friend has been eyeing. Brian is a tall dude, at 6'2, so he liked the fact the A4 features improved interior and backseat room. Always nice to have enough space to stretch those long legs out! However, he was a bit turned off when he read that the back seat sits too low in the A4. The dark, hooded dash also did not appeal to him.

Rog suggested they look up Hondas, so they did. The 2011 Honda CR-Z features flashy gauges which teach the driver "green" driving. Brian liked that the CR-Z offers awesome fuel economy, compared to some coupes. CR-Z owners also bragged of six-speed clicks in great honda fashion, but shared some downsides to this car, including the fact the CR-Z's cargo hold doesn't hold much at all, city driving uses up all suspension travel, and CVT drowns all available driving fun.

The 2010 Honda Civic Premium is another car Brian says he might like to drive. Wonderful fuel efficiency and good front seats are two things to love about this car. However, the coupe lacks the trunk pass-through many other models in this class offer, and its tight backseat space is another of its weak points.

Lastly, Rog and Brian read up on the Cadillac Cts Luxury, a mid-size, rear-wheel drive sedan. Owners of this vehicle love the world-class interior quality, the many top tech features, and the terrific handling and braking. But they disliked the bulky manual gearbox and the too busy interior design.
Photo of MJ and Teyla by yet another classic car at the fair, courtesy of Rog
We wish our friend, Brian, the best as he searches for the perfect new car and urge any of you who, too, are looking to buy a car to visit, an awesome place to view car pictures and to read reviews, specifications, recalls and news before making that important decision.
- guest post by MJ

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Lesson From Our Trekking Poles

Photo of MJ and Rog admiring the rugged face of a cliff at Grandview State Park in West Virginia, circa 2007, courtesy of MJ

In the years before hubby Rog and I entered the exciting, crazy busy world of parenthood, we spent many a weekend hiking and exploring several state parks and popular hiking trails in West Virginia.

We were quite the impulsive, rather reckless adventurers back then. Anytime the urge to hit the rugged trail struck, we would lace up our hiking shoes, throw some snacks and a few bottles of water into back packs, jump in the car and zoom on down the road to the hiking destination. We didn't care about compasses, flashlights, GPS units or even trekking poles. All we cared about back then was that we got to the trail as fast as we could! Then we would walk briskly, single file down the rocky, sometimes dusty path, telling stories and laughing as we went, drinking in the beauty of nature like bumblebees savoring sweet nectar from flowers. Forget all the important hiking equipment! We were two young people simply thrilled to be hiking in the great outdoors! That's all that mattered to us back then.  
Photo of MJ and Rog at Sandstone Falls, courtesy of MJ
Well, one day, while hiking the Forks of Cranberry trail in Monongahela County, West Virginia, I lost my balance while Rog and I were speedily making our way through the first part of the trail - a very rocky section. Without a trekking pole or even a simple, makeshift hiking stick to help stabilize my footing, I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, twisting my left ankle in the process. Rog was by my side in a flash. As he helped me sit up, I remember a streak of pain shooting up my leg. I groaned as we inspected my injury. The ankle was starting to swell and turn colors. There was no way we could finish the hike, we decided with heavy hearts. Thankfully, we were just minutes away from the beginning of the trail, where we had parked. I was able to hobble back to the car with Rog's help.
Photo of rhododendrons, state flower of West Virginia, along Forks of Cranberry trail, courtesy of MJ 

That incident served as a wake up call for us. I realized, during the time it took my sprain to heal, that if I had been firmly holding a trekking pole in my hand the moment my foot rolled on that rock, I would at least have had some kind of support, something to hold on to. And even if I had fallen, I would most likely not have fallen as hard. Or I might not even have fallen at all. 

So off we marched to Wal-Mart to buy our first trekking poles. And let me tell you, they made all the difference the next time we took a hike! I noticed our trekking poles helped us establish a walking rhythm, they cut the amount of stress on our legs and joints, specially on downhill hikes, and they definitely gave us better balance and footing! Those trekking poles made crossing creeks and rivers so much easier and safer. We would use them to push back briers and clear overhanging vegetation from the trail. Once, Rog even used his trekking pole to poke a black snake laying in our path! It took off in a hurry, and we were able to resume our hike. Today, we couldn't imagine hitting the trail without our trekking poles!

Photo of 6-month pregnant MJ hiking at Brushfork Falls, courtesy of MJ

Sometimes I think buying a house is a lot like taking a hike in the great outdoors, in terms of the thrill. I'm talking about the excitement of having YOUR VERY OWN PLACE. The joy of turning the key in the lock, flinging the door open and saying to yourself, "Yes! This is MY home!"  

Many active duty soldiers and prior service veterans enjoy the benefit of living in their own homes through a VA loan. But the reality is, a lot of them have to deal with high interest rates and monthly payments, things that throw a damper on the thrill of being a homeowner - much like those rocks that littered our path at Forks of Cranberry, that caused my little injury and put an end to our hiking escapade that day. 

Now, the Streamline Refinance Program offers these veterans and active duty personnel fast, simple, hassle-free refinancing SUPPORT, which brings to mind the support trekking poles offer us during hikes. See, Streamline Refinance, a government-backed mortgage loan, assists countless people in saving thousands of dollars a year! Anyone who has an FHA loan or VA home loan is automatically approved! 

VA Streamline Refinance supports homeowners in  refinancing their current VA home loan, allowing them to take advantage of reduced interest rates. And who wouldn't want lower interest rates and monthly payments nowadays? 

I think active duty and prior service veterans who continue to make the same high monthly payments on their homes, with the  sky-high interest rates  (when there are other options), could be likened to hikers attempting to conquer a challenging trail unprepared, with no proper equipment ... with no trekking poles.

I wised up after my little mishap at Forks of Cranberry. We never leave home without our trekking poles now, even for the simplest of hikes. In the same way, I believe homeowners should wise up and check out the Streamline Refinance Program. It's the easiest way to save money on an existing loan! 
Photo of MJ by Little Beaver lake one fall, courtesy of MJ

Visit Streamline Refinance website  to find out how to get DD214 forms. Friendly representatives will provide you with a crystal clear and honest picture of how much you can save.

Swing by their web site and let the savings begin today! 

- by MJ