Photo of the month

With the palm tree-lined perimeter of our hotel in the background, Roni and Ben enjoy some kickback time on Pismo Beach Oct. 4. Our fall vacation this year took us to the relaxed coastal community for three days and nights of fun in the sun. Photo by Glenn.

October 2006

Our new Canon Powershot S3 digital camera arrived Sept. 22, so you'll have to indulge us this month as we test it out. Nothing special about this picture of Ariel. Just playing around with the camera's features the first night and discovered that the focus assist lamp makes for some cool alien-like greenery when you use it while shooting video. This is a frame grab from a video clip. Photo by Glenn.

Something a little more conventional. This is a rose in our front yard shot with the camera's macro mode. Photo by Glenn.

And this is Ben and Glenn just acting goofy. The Canon has a display screen that swivels around so you can see yourself when you're shooting self portraits — or when you are making a fool of yourself. Photo by Glenn.

The camera goes with us to the Oakley-Antioch Regional Shoreline on Sept. 24, where we put it through its paces watching Ben testing out his boomerang tossing abilities. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's technique needs work, so he gets a few pointers from Dad about the proper way to hold the boomerang. Photo by Roni.

Down at the water's edge there are lots of flowers and insects enjoying the warm afternoon. It is tough to catch these butterflies sitting still, but the Canon seemed to have little difficulty. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's cat Eevee is not a particularly willing subject as we try out the camera's super macro mode. You can get as close as zero centimeters from your subject with the macro function, although Eevee wouldn't let me get within six inches. Photo by Glenn.

It's the morning of Sept. 27 and we move now to the Big Break (Marsh Creek) Trail in Oakley. The super macro mode is perfect for capturing this praying mantis sunning itself on the trail... Photo by Glenn. well as this giant orb weaver spider waiting for its lunch amid the wild blackberry brambles. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has been taking art classes in middle school this year, which seems to be inspiring him to produce creative drawings such as this one he titled "Japan Dude." Check out the whole picture here. Photo by Glenn.

The race season at Antioch Speedway came to a close Sept. 30, and our friends Sue and Steve Walde clinched their second consecutive championship in the mini trucks division. Steve went out in style, winning the A Main. Photo by Glenn.

At last, we're on vacation! It is Oct. 3, and we're on our journey to Pismo Beach. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Photo by Glenn.

Ben needs an assist from Dad after slipping into the river while exploring the rocks at Pfeiffer Big Sur. Soaked tennis shoes, but that was the worst of it. Photo by Roni.

Ben enjoyed playing inside this burned-out tree trunk that had a huge hole where we could pop up prairie dog-style in the middle. Photo by Roni.

The cerulean waters of the Pacific Ocean stretch off into infinity, or at least appear to in this scene taken from Highway 1. Photo by Glenn.

Roni poses with one of the statues outside the gift shop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Photo by Glenn.

It is dark by the time we get into Pismo Beach, but not too late to sit out on the patio of our hotel room and listen to the ocean. Photo by Glenn.

Oct. 4 is a beautiful morning for walking along the beach. Ben and Roni check out the sand dollars that have washed ashore. Photo by Glenn.

This is but a small sampling of the sand dollars we discovered this morning. Ben collected more than 70 of them. Photo by Glenn.

The Sandcastle Inn looks fancy from the outside. Our room was nice, but we got it at a discount. Photo by Glenn.

Roni does some summer (autumn?) reading on the patio outside our room. You can see some of Ben's sand dollar collection arranged on the table beside her. Photo by Glenn.

The Pismo Pier is a popular hangout for beach-loving species of all types — human as well as avian. Photo by Glenn.

The palms of the Sandcastle Inn contrast against a gorgeous partly cloudy sky. We had mild weather for most of our visit. Our room is on the bottom floor, just to the right of the leftmost palm tree. Photo by Glenn.

The evening sun bathes the beach in a golden light. People are gathering on the beach and the pier to watch the impending sunset. Photo by Glenn.

Time to play around with the new camera some more as we test it out on night shots. You saw the front of the Sandcastle Inn in daylight, so here's the same shot at night taken with a 15 second exposure. That bright object in the upper right corner is an almost full moon. Photo by Glenn.

Another time exposure of the boardwalk that connects our hotel with the downtown businesses along Pomeroy Avenue. Photo by Glenn.

A storm overnight has washed plenty of flotsam onto Pismo Beach, including this deceased seal. Photo by Glenn.

Roni gives a smile during our walk on the north end of Pismo Beach. The pier is visible in the distance. Photo by Glenn.

No, we didn't find this little fellow down on the beach. Actually, we found him (her?) sitting atop a concrete pillar outside one of the hotels. We suspect the hermit crab came from a nearby pet shop and someone abandoned it. Alas, it didn't make it through the night. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's got his SpongeBob SquarePants kite under control as he reels it in after an afternoon flight on Pismo Beach. Photo by Roni.

Glenn and Ben relax on the beach as another late afternoon sun begins to descend. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's got his beach gear and his Nintendo DS. What more does a kid need to have fun by the sea shore? Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Under the boardwalk, down by the sea

October 14, 2006

Normal families take their summer vacations in the summer. But in case you haven't guessed it already from eight years of these monthly newsletters, the Gehlke Family is anything but normal. Our vacation time always seems to fall in... well, the fall. This year was no different, although there was a new wrinkle in that for the first time in 15 years we looked to October rather than September to do the bulk of our traveling. We weren't sure quite what to expect from the weather, even though Indian summers are fairly common and October generally regales us with balmy days made for outdoor excursions. But would we be tempting fate straying too far from California?

With that in mind, and given that our past two fall trips were two-week odysseys that cost us thousands of dollars and miles spent driving through multiple states, we decided to take it easy on the budget and our stress levels by playing close to home. After several weeks of tossing about ideas we settled on Pismo Beach, a mere five hours from home had we used the "fast route" and followed U.S. 101 like told us we should. But what fun is following directions when you can make up your own as you go?

Armed with a trunk full of luggage and reservations for the Sandcastle Inn, we set out bright and early Tuesday, Oct. 3, for what was to be a three-night stay on the beach, playing in the sand and watching the surfer dudes do their thing near the famous Pismo Pier. That is, we would have started bright and early if not for the fact that such a short distance to our destination meant we could sleep in a bit longer. Still, we planned to be out the door by 9 a.m., so actually getting into the car by 9:30 was sorta close to on-time performance. Everybody ready? Not quite. Seemed that somehow Ben had managed to lose track of his brand new Nintendo DS game cartridge that he had opened not five minutes earlier. The car wasn't moving until a thorough search could be conducted.

Ben just about tore Glenn's car apart looking for that cartridge, and for the next 20 minutes there were tears and frantic retracing of steps as we covered every square inch of earth we'd traversed between the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and driveway. Backpacks, camera bags and coolers so carefully packed the night before were hastily tossed aside as the car was stripped to the upholstery in search of an inch-square silicon wafer. Why they make kids' games that size is unconscionable. Ben was thoroughly convinced the game had been devoured by the car's rear seat, and he probed the depths of the seatbelt wells to no avail. At last, with the time approaching 10 a.m., we told Ben he would have to accept the fact that the game was gone for now. This went over about as well as might be expected, but kids are fairly resilient at 12 and we figured that after two or three days he'd probably get over it. Yeah, right.

Following a stop to top off the gas tank and now running an hour later than planned, we made decent time south to San Jose where we met with our first major decision of the drive: hook up with U.S. 101 or be adventurous and take Highway 1 down the coast. We had talked about using 101 if it looked like the stormy weather that had found its way into the Bay Area a few days earlier decided to follow us. But the skies were clear and the temperature pleasant, and we were on vacation, gosh darnit. So we decided to head for the coast and enjoy the splenid vistas around Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur.

Ben's mood had lightened a bit by the time we reached Monterey, but he wasn't buying Roni's theory that his missing game was resting on a sink counter back home. Again he fished into the seatbelt well and felt around with his fingers like a kid sticking his hand through a storm sewer grate. Suddenly from the back seat came excited cries of "I found it! Yes!" Turns out Glenn's car really does eat things. Imagine that! Ben held up the game as proof he wasn't just pulling our chains, blood trickling from the spot where he'd scraped off the skin on his wrist trying to retrieve the cartridge. But he scarcely noticed the wound, happy to have the game in his possession once more.

Roni had packed a picnic lunch, which we ate at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park around 2 p.m. It is worth noting that we had been on the road close to four hours by now and still had plenty of driving to do. Big Sur was beautiful as always, but we only stayed long enough to eat our meals and take a short walk along the river through the campground before getting back on the road.

Driving Highway 1 is like traveling through a time warp where everything slows to a crawl. You can drive 20 minutes and it seems you've only gone five miles. We kept seeing signs to Hearst Castle and it felt like the distances were increasing rather than the opposite. "What do you mean, 65 miles? Didn't it say 60 before?" We'd drive the permitted 45 mph speed limit and still get stuck behind someone going slower, only to watch as hotshots in their fancy convertibles went flying past all of us at 65. And then there were the inevitable vista points with mouthwatering ocean views too good to pass up, especially with our new Canon Powershot S3 along for the ride. We took hundreds of pictures of the blue waters of the Pacific crashing against the rocky shore below. Breathtaking. Time consuming.

We made Hearst Castle just before the 6 p.m. closing time — something we seem to have a knack at doing, as this is the second time we've beaten the buzzer at the gate to the visitor center. We checked out the gift shops and restrooms before returning to the car for the final leg of our journey into Pismo Beach. We still had another hour to go and it had been several hours since lunch, so Ben was getting fairly hungry. Roni suggested that we all snack on some cheese sticks she'd packed in the cooler. What a smart idea. Just enough to tide us over until we could find some chowder house in town.

We sat in the Hearst Castle parking lot and munched our cheese sticks, amused by the large crows that had gathered near our car. The area seems to be a haven for crows; you can hear them calling to each other from just about every treetop around the parking lot. Plotting strategy, no doubt. Ben was in a giving sort of mood and decided to share a bit of his cheese stick with the crow nearest his door. It didn't take long for word to spread around the rookery that a free meal was in progress, and soon we were being swarmed by crows. Glenn decided the time was right to move on, particularly when we began seeing shadows of the birds hovering over the roof of the car. Roll up the windows! "Oh my god, they're following us," Glenn said. And true enough, they were. We drove down the hill with a couple of determined crows in hot pursuit, one outside the driver's window and the other hovering over the roof of the car. Now we knew how the cast of Hitchcock's movie must have felt. We lost them at last as we pulled out onto Highway 1 and left San Simeon behind. Lesson learned: Never feed a critter that spends its time roosting on the lid of a garbage can.

We caught up with U.S. 101 at San Luis Obispo and at last pulled into the parking lot of the Sandcastle Inn hotel just after 7 p.m., our less-than-five-hour journey nearly doubled to nine. We barely had time to check into our room before the afterglow faded from the evening sky and our ocean view was thrust into darkness.

Pismo Beach has one of the best municipal beaches of any town you'll find. A broad wooden pier juts hundreds of feet out from the shore and is a favorite spot of recreational fishermen and tourists hoping to hook something, anything. There's a souvenir shack about midway on the pier where they'll rent you a rod and sell you whatever bait you might need. If fishing isn't your thing, they've also got boogie boards and wetsuits to help you brave the surf under the boardwalk. If you're as adventurous as we are, there's no harm in just setting up a folding chair on the strand and observing all of this activity from a safe distance.

We bought the "Internet special" when we made our reservations, which got us three discounted nights in a beachfront room with a nice view of the pier to the northwest. Not that the room mattered, because no one wanted to spend much time in it. Our first morning in town, we were eager to get down to the sand and surf and see the sights. The weather was fine, despite what Roni had seen on a website that warned us of 40 percent chance of rain and thundershowers. If the crystal clear blue skies were any indication, no rain would be falling today. We poked along the shore and stepped over piles of seaweed while Ben lined his pockets with sand dollars he discovered in abundance. We didn't realize just how many he'd collected until we got back to the hotel and he laid them out on the patio table — more than 70.

One of our vices when we travel is that we love to eat, and one of the things we most looked forward to was sampling the cuisine of the downtown tourist district along Pomeroy Avenue. We had already enjoyed dinner at Pierside Seafood right near the pier after arriving in town, so for lunch on Wednesday we tried patio dining at a burger joint called Brad's that offered Trivial Pursuit question cards as entertainment while we waited for our meals. Roni swears the calamari sandwich she had was excellent, while Glenn enjoyed a bleu cheese burger.

On Thursday, we went to a place called Mo's Smokehouse BBQ, where the pulled pork and sausages were some of the best we've had and the sauces were all right out of the old South. A slogan on the wall above the counter said it all: "Mo don't know fish and Mo don't know chowda." But Mo knew a lot about barbecue, and we wound up taking home a couple bottles of his sauces. Thursday night we finally found the line short enough at the Splash Cafe that we decided to see what all the hubub was about. We figured anyplace with lines out the door must have great clam chowder, and sure enough they did. Some of the richest tasting chowder around. Apparently you can buy it frozen over the Internet. They prepare something like 15,000 gallons a year.

Needless to say, none of this food, as good as it was, was fat-free. We had all put on several pounds in just four days of vacationing, which proves yet again the old axiom that if it tastes good it probably isn't good for you.

We whiled away Wednesday exploring the gift shops downtown and hanging out on the beach, which was Ben's favorite activity. He'd brought along our boomerang and a beach ball, and being that it was the middle of the week and no longer tourist season, we had huge expanses of beach mostly to ourselves. Ben and Glenn hung out on the sand while Roni sat out on the balcony of our room and did some summer reading, enjoying the sounds of the waves and the shore birds. When evening rolled around we watched the sun set, as did just about everyone else in town with a camera. That night, the clouds rolled in and around 11 p.m. we heard rain splashing against the sidewalk outside our patio. It looked as though the weatherman's prediction of 40 percent change of showers had belatedly become 100 percent. We hoped the clouds would scurry off before the morning.

Sure enough, by Thursday morning the rain had ceased and there was little to indicate there had even been any apart from some damp patches on the beach closest to the hotel. The lingering storm clouds burned off as the temperature climbed, and we were left with a another mild, sunny day. We started it by taking a walk along the strand, leaving Ben to the comfort of a beach chair and his Nintendo DS. We don't usually like to leave Ben on his own when we travel, but that is how amazingly safe we all felt on Pismo Beach. Most of the folks out there, like us, were tourists taking in the ambience, and there were so few people that it was difficult to lose track of anyone for too long.

We walked at the water's edge toward the pier, hopping over piles of seaweed and other things the storm had washed ashore, including a decomposing seal. The carcass was an object of curiosity for everyone who passed it. We were lingering over it and taking pictures when an older woman on her morning walk passed us and took a look herself. "You should see the one that washed up over that way," she said, indicating the south end of the beach. "It's swollen to about five times the size of this one." We decided to take her word for it. Later in the day we saw three or four turkey vultures soaring around the boardwalk, and eventually they were feasting on bloated seal. Nothing goes to waste in nature.

The wind kicked up by afternoon, just in time for Ben to try out the small kite we bought the previous day at one of the gift shops. Roni got the idea after seeing several people with much larger kites flying them Wednesday afternoon. The breeze was perfect. We assembled Ben's kite in about a minute and Glenn took him down to the beach to test it out, convinced that it would be torn to shreds by the stiff air currents. But not only did the kite survive its launch, Ben got it high enough aloft that we were able to tie it to the leg of a beach chair and let it do its thing unattended.

Glenn sent Ben back to the room to retrieve the boomerang so they could toss it around while waiting to bring the kite down. Ben is still a bit shaky with his boomerang tossing skills, so he was looking to Dad for some expert instruction. Apparently Glenn failed to impress upon him the need to throw the boomerang in the opposite direction of where people are standing, because the next thing we knew Glenn was sent reeling by a boomerang hit to the right side of his face. Aside from being dazed and a bit bloodied, he was able to patch himself together and suffered only some minor bruising.

Friday morning arrived as we knew it would have to, and we packed our gear into the car for the trip home. We didn't leave right away, stopping first in Port San Luis and then the young resort community of Avila Beach, where you can buy a condo for $965,000. We took U.S. 101 home this time, making enough stops along the way that we quickly lost the benefit of any time saved. A four-day vacation overall and quite a bit different than the mega trips we have been used to the past couple of years, but more than enough vacation for this time.

* * * * *

Well, it's just about that time again. Time to fire up our computers and start burning the midnight oil as we prepare for our annual participation in National Novel Writing Month. That is when we take the challenge of churning out 50,000-word novels in 30 days during the month of November. This will be our sixth year involved with the program, and for the first time we'll have Ben signed up to write along with us. He wasn't sure at first that he wanted to participate. After all, it is a lot of work to get kids his age to compose a simple book report, let alone a whole book. But now he is eagerly awaiting the Nov. 1 kickoff and conjuring up plot ideas. This ought to be fun. If you want to track our day-to-day progress, visit the NaNoWriMo website in November and watch our word counts grow.

Because inevitably our noveling endeavors consume most of our "free" time in November, we're already working on next month's newsletter in which you will learn more about our latest home improvement projects. And yes, fans of our neverending battle with Mr. Gopher Too won't want to miss this one. Until next time, happy Halloween, Thanksgiving or whatnot.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, October 27, 2006 at 01:46 hrs.

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