Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Plan For a Trip

Our kind of vacation is always an action trip, full of wonders to see and to experience. We don't simply just stop and go, take pictures here and there, for we believe that the beauty of our natural world is best seen at the backroads. We spend time hiking and exploring the places.

My major observation from exploring the trails and amazing beauty of the US Southwest, is that, there are probably more European and Japanese than Americans. I have talked to some of them, and they always tell me it has been their dream to see the beauty of the National Parks of America. When the parents of one of my colleagues ( Japanese) came, his dad had only one thing to ask: "Bring us to any National Park! More National Parks, I am happier!"  As such, my friend had to ask me in a hurry to write him an itinerary for California National Parks and Grand Circle National Parks. Thankfully for him, the concentration for National Parks are in the West.
Some of California's National Parks

For international travelers, whenever they explore the Grand Circle, which consists of 7 National Parks and many more National Monuments, State Parks and National Natural Landmark, the major city to fly in and out is Las Vegas. Flying to Las Vegas is more than just seeing the strip, considered as one of the civil engineering wonder of the modern world. Las Vegas City Break is more than just a city of gambling! Most European tourists would then explore the Grand Canyon National Park- Mesa Verde National Park- Arches National Park - Canyonlands National Park- Capitol Reef National Park- Bryce Canyon National Park- Zion National Park which forms a circle with Las Vegas as the starting and end point of the circle.
Some of the Parks at The Grand Circle, Southwest USA
Most of the European tourists I met would refer to Bryce Canyon National Park as their favorite park. I am not sure if I disappoint them sometimes whenever they ask me which one is my favorite park, and I would reply, " They are all different! They all have their own unique beauty, all amazing to me. I really have no favorite, but the desert of the American Southwest I must say is my favorite vacation destination, its beauty blows my mind." 
Bryce Canyon National Park
( a popular choice for European tourists for their favorite park )

It is like I have practiced that reply already and I noticed whenever I say that, they kind of not really perk up with my reply, and would tell me back, " Yes, they are all beautiful and mind blowing, but I have to say I really like and love Bryce Canyon, this is the park where I took more than 500 pictures!" So, I would just smile back at them, and assure them that I love Bryce Canyon too, only that I don't really have a favorite park. :) Can you blame me if I say I love all National Parks? Haha!!

Anyway, let me share with you some of the ways I plan for trips. The places here were just an example, I did not pick a trip we already had done, so that the planning here is more for me. :) Let us say, we went to UK first, and after visiting UK, we would visit other places in Europe.
1. Departing from UK, I can choose several destination anywhere in the world to go next. Right now, though I have many places in mind to see in Europe after visiting UK, but I had to consider the time, and resources available. Same thing with my friend. Using the holidays page, we both can create or build our trip.
2. For Example, from UK, I would like to visit Spain. All I have to do is build a trip. Using the holidays page, I build my trip by typing in the departure airport from UK and my arrival place at Spain, let us say Majorca. I choose my dates, and then I have several choices for my flight, which gives the price, and the length of travel. These two are very important to know, since we do not want to spend a lot of time traveling, sometimes for a price difference of $10.00, we may have to choose the one that gives us less trouble, that has no connecting flights, and lesser  time.
3. After I got to choose my flight, I can now choose the hotels and resorts available at Majorca! The site gives many choices to choose from, depending on the needs of the traveler. The beautiful island of Majorca with its sparkling beaches has been a popular tourist destination. No wonder it's the island that has provided inspiration to Chopin's music! The site gives information about each resort, its proximity to nearby attractions and what are the things to do. It serves like a travel guide! One of the places not to miss in Majorca is the Abaco Bar, it is not just a bar, but its awe-inspiring 16th century church inspired decor and architecture, baroque in its forms, really is a sight to behold. 
 4. In addition, I can plan further in the same site. I can look and study if I needed to rent a car, or taking the train will be good enough. I can learn from their various city breaks in Spain such as Madrid City Break. I will learn about the attractions Madrid has to offer and get a glimpse of what my vacation would be like. Madrid is not only an architectural and cultural destination, this vibrant and inspiring city can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Though Madrid is famous for its museums such as The Prado, the Thyseen-bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, which houses works by Picasso and Dali, but in addition, Madrid is one of the greenest cities in Europe! This is not just a concrete and architectural city, one third of its area is covered in trees, with beautiful and inspiring soothing landscape.
These are usually the steps I make whenever I create or build a well ordered cheap holidays vacation. It has always been my goal to make a trip go smoothly, as the trip can be so stressful when we just jump in unprepared and no plans at all. We will end up paying so much but missing a lot of wonderful places and not enjoying most of the time.

Enjoying the Gift of Simple Fun This Christmas

Fun Can Be As Simple As This.......
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego, CA
"What gift do you want this Christmas?"- my hubby asked. 
My response was quick....... 
" I could not think of any dear....I have everything in my heart and in my mind. Just the gift of time, having fun out of the doors and enjoying the simple pleasures in life with you."
2 Kids-at Heart Having Fun Doing Synchronized Leaping
So, for the past 7 days since day 1 of my 2-weeks holiday or Christmas break, we had been wandering in and around San Diego with some family to enjoy each other's gift of enjoying simple fun, taking all stresses away. What gift do I want for Christmas? 
I love the priceless gift of time and sharing activities together with loved ones, exploring the many joys together that we can find from our natural world.
Christmas was never about material things for me. The birth of Jesus Christ showed us God's gift of family togetherness wrapped around not by material riches but by love. For the past 7 to 8 days, we had walked, jumped and leaped about a hundred miles, maybe not as much mileage as what these dolphins had done,

we hiked or climbed up several thousands feet closer to the sky,
Hiking @ El Cajon Summit Trail, El Capitan Open Space Reserve, Lakeside, San Diego County
and we sure had a whale of a good time wandering around home sweet San Diego.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Everyone. Thank you always for your visits to my site, they sure added priceless joy to every pages of my life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Subway Gift Card Give Away

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gift Card Weekend for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.
Our Subway Lunch during Our Hike to Harding icefield, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Subway for breakfast, subway for lunch.....pretty much we live on Subway whenever we are out exploring since the subway sandwich gives us enough complex carbohydrates to burn from the wheat bread footlong, and enough proteins and veggies from the sandwich filling. But Subway always come as an easy choice for us whenever we get hungry and wanted to have decent food that is filling, but not overly greasy, and where we are on the go, where time is very important sitting down to wait for food would be a waste of time for us whenever we have places to explore on our adventure vacation.
Our View During our Subway To Go Lunch
Now, I definitely can make use of a lot of Subway Gift Card. What makes me excited is that I will have my chance of winning as much $10 Subway gift cards by joining the Gift Card Weekend  in Facebook. I give myself a chance to win a gift card by clicking like, and the more like I influence if I share the information to my Facebook friends will give me more chances of getting more subway gift cards. The daily Facebook give-away from 12/23-12/31 is for a $10 Subway gift card. But gift card giving is not limited on these dates only.
Gift Card Weekend is giving away gift cards all month for tons of cool places that includes JC Penny, Regal Cinema, Subway, Sephora, Applebee's, Bass Pro Shops, Adidas, Buca di Peppo, Lowe's, Spa Finder, Marriot, and Giant Eagle. 
Furthermore, when you use the gift card on gift card weekend, which is on Jan 6- 8th, 2012, you will have the chance of increasing the value of your gift card if you use it on the retailers above.
If you have Facebook account, it's so easy to join, click like and you have an entry, share the good news to your friends, and you will increase your chances of getting more. If you do not have Facebook account yet, maybe it's time to register for an account, and join the fun!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remembering Manzanar

Vast Emptiness at Manzanar National Historical Site
As we stood in the middle of this vast emptiness, we felt the coldness ( well, it was really cold with temperature in the 30s or near freezing) and the isolation. Can you imagine living in the middle of this desert emptiness, so hot in the summer ( temperature soars up to over 100s F or high 30s-40s C) and freezing cold in the winter, living in barracks where sands from howling winds could get in, where the holes on the wall and roof could not protect you from the searing heat and biting cold?
In 1942, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and were given about one week to dispose of whatever they owned, except what they could pack and carry for their departure by this vast desert valley, at Manzanar.
Entrance of the Internment Camp (click here to see pictures of barracks before that were all gone now)
The relocation of Japanese into this internment camp also uprooted the Pauite Indians and early settlers of Owens Valley from their homes.  Though Owens Valley is a vast desert region, but the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains produces so much small streams that creates surprising regions of riparian green habitat that allowed easy farming for early Pauite Indian settlers to raise cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat and other crops.
Snow Capped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the West

Snow Capped Desert Mountain to the East of Manzanar
Manzanar is the Spanish word for "apple orchard", and the town of Manzanar was developed as an agricultural settlement beggining 1910. Early settlers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes and alfala on several thousand acres surrounding the town.
 What Remains of the Farm and Apple Orchard

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring water rights in the valley, and by 1920, Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar's land and water rights. Within five years, the early settlers and farmers were exiled from their town. Manzanar became an abandoned town.
Road to Nowhere? This bareness gave a chilling shock imagining how vast, isolated, and brutal the conditions were for Japanese who were interned here. 
In 1941, Japan's attack on Pearl harbor led the US into World War II and radically changed the lives of 120,000 Japanese American living in the United States. In 1942, the US Army leased 62,000 acres at Manzanar from Los Angeles to establish a center that will hold Japanese Americans during World War II. This is where the Japanese were brought to be isolated from the rest of the Americans.
Manzanar National Historic Site was established to preserve the stories of the internment of Japanese in the US during World War II and to serve as a reminder of the fragility of American Liberties. Though this historic site is now bare throughout the grounds, and the few structures left were concrete foundations, ruined water system, 
Japanese gardens, 

Some of the Japanese Garden in the Internment Site
I was told in the Visitor Center that the garden in the above picture won 3rd place based from the records of Japanese internees. To fight off the isolation, Japanese enjoyed nature by having garden contests, availed of the vast area by playing baseball, etc.
and cemetery.

The short 22-minute film, "Remembering Manzanar" is shown at the visitor center every 30 minutes. The film is very powerful in sending the message of the painful experiences of the Japanese who lived here in the camp surrounded by barbed wired-fences. Up until now, I still can almost hear the voice of the man who were sharing his first night at the camp.
 "The first thing we were asked to do was to fill the sack with straw. That would be our bed. Night came and I saw holes up the roof. I saw stars, so BEAUTIFUL. Morning, we woke up with sand all over us. The desert, it is so brutally hot in the summer, bone chilling cold in the winter, and there was always the sand and the WIND."- some words that haunted me after watching "Remembering Manzanar."
 Manzanar National Historic site is one of more than 380 parks in the National Park System. The National Park Service cares for these places saved by the American people so that all may experience America's natural resources, history and heritage.
I could not help but feel sad while walking in the trails of Manzanar, sad and inspired that despite the difficulties of the Japanese people at that time, they continued to be strong, and loyal to the country they still feel they belong, the United States of America. 
One of the exhibits that brought so much tears of inspiration, were American teachers who worked with the education of children in the camp, because, these children were also children of America. 
American Teachers for Japanese Children Continuing Education
Teachers recruitment and retention were difficult then considering the isolation of Manzanar but a few chose to remain moved by so many children uprooted from their normal lives. The teachers who remained dedicated themselves to bringing hope for better future.
The words above were so powerful for me that my heart became congested and eyes misty. The mistakes of the past is painful and heart ripping, but am glad the nation's history acknowledges this mistake that serves as a touching lesson. Forty six years after the Japanese internment, in 1988, congress passed, and signed by then President Ronald Reagan, a legislation which apologized for the Japanese American internment in behalf of the US government. The legislation said that the government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.". The US government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.

The Park is along Hwy 395, about 13 miles North of Lone Pine or 6 miles South of Independence. If you are interested to revisit this part of history, Manzanar National Historic Site should be an easy find if you are visiting the Eastern Sierra, where you can access two National Parks: Yosemite National Park to the West and Death Valley National Park to the East.

Friday, December 16, 2011

LG Double Play

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of LG DoublePlay™ for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Guest Post By Jeff
               I love to stay connected with my friends and family from the internet.  Because I am always on the go my cell phone is my connection to friends and family and even business associates through Social Networking, email, text messaging, and other wireless programs. When I compare my month to month usage I spend an average of 15 hours a week on Social Networking, email, and other wireless programs.  My text messaging volume is just over 200 per week (one way).  My cell phone is my computer away from home and my office.  When it is time to renew my contract I rushed to my local T-Mobile store and Charlie, a salesman I trust puts my hands on the best product for my needs.  He has never failed me and he kept his streak going with the introduction of the LG DoublePlay™ cell phone sold exclusively at T-Mobile.      
               The LG Doubleplay is unique since it is equipped with dual customizable touch screens.  The screens are only 3/4 inches thick with a 3.5-inch main screen and a 2.0-inch second screen that operate either independently or in tandem, accompanied by a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The LG Doubleplay allowed me to customize my phone with with seven home screens and up to nine touch screen shortcuts with one-touch navigation. The nice thing is it looks very professional too.             
            The features that help me are the ability to Swype so instead of hitting each letter individually I swipe my finger across the virtual keyboard without lifting it from the screen. I like to think of it as text finger painting.  Swype can allow up to 50 words a minute.  Sometimes time is of the essence for me and maybe you share this same viewpoint.  It truly allows for easy text input.  My LG DoublePlay cell phone allows me to perform multiple tasks at once such as updating my Facebook pages while simultaneously surfing the Web, texting or checking email.  What a time saver and efficiency change for me.  These features allow me to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.        
            The LG DoublePlay features a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and 720p HD video recorder which allows me to capture and share those precious pictures and videos via messaging, email or Facebook like they are sharing the moments with me.          
            For both my business use and some personal applications this phone offers multiple messaging options, including Cloud Text.  Cloud Texting has perfected the art of linking my target audience with maximum exposure. When a customer seeks information about a sale or product, they simply text a unique keyword that describes the company to 41411 effectively adding them to my marketing campaign. In other words they are signing up for more information about what I offer. I immediately have the capability to welcome new customers with instant coupons, valuable information and discount codes via text message. The neat thing about text messaging is there is not a junk mail slot like email.  Everyone reads text messages.  Another  great feature is Group Text.  The single biggest attraction for businesses using text messaging as a marketing tool is the ability to send a single text message to hundreds or thousands of cell phone numbers all at once versus sending individual messages one at a time.  This gives me a more efficient method of information sharing.          
            The LG DoublePlay features the Android 2.3 system. In simple terms on what it means to me is it makes common operations faster and more efficient for all applications which can make gaming options faster.  The call management services let applications set up easily for outgoing and incoming voice calls.  When selecting apps I have access to the Android Market for the best selection of apps on the market today.     
            Without a doubt in my mind the LG DoublePlay is the ultimate social networking and multi-tasking cell phone on the market today which features a split QWERTY keyboard and dual touch screens making simultaneous mobile activities easy.                 
            I would like to hear your comments about how much time you spend emailing, and how many text you do in a month or in a week, and how much time you spend engaging in Social Networks on your phone.  Leave some comments.  If a certain feature grabs your attention or would change the way you text or engage with your Social Networks I would love to hear about it. See this phone for yourself at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So Much To Be Thankful For

Geographical Contrast in the Eastern Sierra, at Bishop, California
Happy thanksgiving everyone! We just came back from a 5 day desert get-away at the Eastern Sierra. We had such a wonderful time hiking and exploring the Sierras. As always, exploring the contrasts and features of nature always give a sense of peacefulness within that strengthens and inspires the heart.
Enjoying the Geographical Diversity in this Planet Earth at the Eastern Sierra, CA
Life has been great so far, though there are a lot of challenges, but there are more joys and happiness. I guess, it is these challenges that bring deeper joy when we are able to survive them and conquer. Like a hike, the joy is not only on reaching the destination, but the entire journey, how we learn and keep on gaining wisdom from each lesson of life. Life is beautiful, there is just so much to be thankful about. I always feel thankful for the love of family and friends, and always grateful for our good health. I also am so thankful for having the energy and the heart to explore the joys in our wonderful world behind the back roads. 
I am hoping to be able to share more details of the places we experienced in the Eastern Sierra in my later posts. I just would want to take this chance to greet you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Barker Dam Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park
Mileage: 1.5 mile loop 
Difficulty: Very Easy level walk (with only about 100 ft elevation gain), however, for those who wanted to add challenge can scramble up in this rocky wonderland trail.
Trailhead: Park Blvd (12 miles west of the intersection with Pinto Basin Road), Joshua Tree National Park, CA ( less than 2 hours drive from Los Angeles or San Diego, a few minutes away from Palm Springs )
Me and Joshua Tree
The Barker Dam Loop Hike is a fun and easy hike for all members of family. There are two trails that cross at the trail head, be sure to follow the signs that lead to Barker Dam. In the first part of the trail, you will be passing Joshua Trees, which are the largest of the yucca family and grows primarily in the Mojave Desert. 
 Joshua Tree 
Joshua Tree and all other yuccas are members of the lily family. Notice in the picture above how the limbs of the yucca bend down already from its weight. Joshua Tree National Park is world famous for rock climbers though it started before as winter ground for Yosemite rock climbers. It is not a surprise to see rock climbers dotting the surface of the rocks as you walk on the trail to Barker Dam, or anywhere in the Park. 
 Rock Climber at Joshua Tree
Want To Rock Climb?
 We are not technical rock climbers, however, whenever there is an opportunity to scramble on rocks and boulders, we love doing so. There are many opportunities for rock scrambling and bouldering in this park. The Barker Dam Loop Trail is in interpretative trail, and if you pay attention to the signs, you will not miss the petroglyphs that have been left behind by past civilization, but have been vandalized or painted over :(
 Petroglyphs Painter Over :( 
 After a short while of walking in the midst of wall of rocks and Joshua Trees, the calm blue dam (or much more like a pond) is very welcome sight.
Barker Dam
This dam is a naturally enclosed area of steep rock formations and boulders that form a bowl at the center, thus the early settlers of the park built a 20-ft long 10-ft high cinder block wall to fully enclose the area keeping the water in for horses and cattle to eat and drink.
This is a popular spot for the desert big horn sheep to get their fill of water. However, because the desert big horn sheep generally shy away from human interaction, the Barker Dam Loop Trail is closed during sunrise and sunset, the time at which these endangered animals come down from the mountain to get their fill of drink.
For more about this park, visit my two previous posts:
1. Desert Wilderness at Joshua Tree National Park
2. The Joshua Tree

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Giving our holiday spirit a unique look

Guest post written by Emma Smith

I think that it's so boring to go with the typical, traditional looking holiday decor. I'm much more interested in going with something that looks unique and homemade. I've always been quite crafty anyway, or at least really enjoy making crafts, so it's only natural that I use that gift to decorate our home for the holidays!

Plus, it can sometimes save me money to make my own Christmas decorations. While I was online looking for some cheap DIY projects, I ran across some information on Sears HVAC and after I looked at that, I decided to get them to come and replace our system because it's so old and doesn't seem to work so well no matter how many times we have repair people try to fix it.

I did find some more success with some new ideas for some Christmas decorating projects. I even found a tutorial on how to make a gingerbread house out of felt so that you can bring out the same one year after year! IÕm all for something thatÕs cute and reusable after just one season.