closing escrow today on condo town home

(Rachelle) well we’ve officially got the american dream. sure i’m thrilled, but i have to admit, i’ve never been one to aim for it either. it may seem so strange to say that, but i tend not to subscribe to what the majority wants (i’m too creative for that). i wasn’t one of those girls in high school planning their wedding, picking out their china patterns, dreaming of their white-picket-fence homes with husband, 2.5 kids, and dog. no, i pulsate on creative curiosity, a love of life, discovering beauty and living with wide-eyed wonder. none of this suburban mediocrity for me. so along the way, an infinitely-wise God has me married with child and buying our first brand-new home. i am humbled, grateful and chuckle that this is my life.

dj and i don’t want some secluded cul-de-sac home where you have to drive everywhere. how i miss walking to the metro in bethesda, md! we wanted a walkable community to engage with people and life. aliso viejo may be a bit boring and white-bread, ’scuse the term, but it is clean, safe, stunningly-beautiful and filled with fresh air and gorgeous scenery. so we chose Vantis South Latitudes as our permanent abode for at least the next 7 years to get jeremiah through middle and high school. check out the pics, our model in plan 4, the hawkins. it is a 3 floor loft style condo/townhouse. my main concerns was having lots of natural light and some place to finally make art in a permanent studio. at present i am making art on our dining table, surely about 5-steps backwards from previous art-making environments i’ve had. so i’m thrilled to have a small space in our tandem garage and a window. like i said, i’m not a typical homeowner who relishes in luxurious bathrooms and kitchen updgrades. i just wanted art space and light all these years and now i have a little more.

closing today. dj’s done all the work, we just pick up our keys and voila we’re moving in! open house and bbq gatherings to come!

where to buy window vinyl sticker

One of the questions we get with our Xterra is the nice domain name sticker on the back.

xterra at north rim grand canyon jacob lake inn

We got it from for a great deal. They sell Domain Name Decals to put on your vehicle or anywhere you’d like. You get 2 decals for the price of 1 with free shipping — just $10. They even included 2 smaller stickers, which we put on the side windows — so they cars that we pass can also see our domain name. 🙂

Leaving Las Vegas

Today we reach our final destination of Southern California: Westminster, California, to be specific, near Huntington Beach. We logged just over 4,000 miles on this cross country drive along the southern route with some zig-zagging to make this a most memorial family vacation too.

We stayed overnight at an off-strip hotel in Las Vegas, taking in a few of the better sights and sounds amidst the notoriously edgy city known as “Sin City.” The temperature was kickin’ well past 100 degrees, so the hotel pool provided some (albeit crowded) relief. I lucked into a last-minute slot for a 25-minute massage at the hotel spa, my highlight of the day.

After much deliberation over reading a few mixed reviews along with my desire to try something new, we had supper (an early dinner at 4:00pm) at the Bellagio Buffet. My line-waiting reading material of choice was the iconic Mark Driscoll book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev, but the short wait only afforded me a Driscoll one-liner. (cf. a Facebook fan club: Mark Driscoll is my homeboy) The most popular item seemed to be the king crab legs (meticulously pre-cut in half lengthwise so you didn’t have to work at digging out the meat), or it may have seemed the most popular b/c those legs visibly hang over most of the buffeters’ plates. Food was very good, though not quite as dazzling as the first time we went a few years ago.

Afterwards, we view more Chihuly glass sculptures in the Bellagio lobby and the dancing water fountain show — so good that Jeremiah wanted to see it twice. Then a stop by The Venetian. And to top off the night, father and son went bowling just before midnight. (The score was unevenly split: Dad 121, Son 49.)

The sleep was passable on a very mushy soft queen bed.

[update] We arrive at our final destination, Rachelle’s parents place, just before 2:00pm local time. The trip odometer reads: 4,072 miles. Video below is a small excerpt of the last leg of our drive.

edging along the North Rim of Grand Canyon

All of creation speaks of God’s power and beauty, especially at the Grand Canyon. Words cannot fully describe its essence. Even photos are not sufficient to capture the scenery. This place is both deep and wide! Way bigger than big or enormous. 3 highlights among many:

  • Walking into the Grand Canyon Lodge and seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time has to make everyone of us go WOW!!! From here we hiked over to the Bright Angel Point as well as along Transept Trail. view from North Rim
  • Going off-road towards Point Sublime in our 4-wheel-drive Xterra simply because we could. It woulda took 2 hours to go 18 miles, but after 5 miles or so, we were still winding through forests without any sneak peeks at the supposedly incredibly sublime view. We didn’t want to spend 4 hours+ in the Xterra for this round trip, because that’s what we’ve been doing for 3,500+ miles already, so we turned it around.towards Point Sublime
  • Point Imperial makes the Grand Canyon much more grander. The viewpoint spans way past the 180 degree panorama, and at its furthest point you can see 80 miles out. After this lookout, seeing smaller slices of the Grand Canyon was a little less satisfying.Point Imperial

The anticipation of seeing something new and spectacular energized me to be a morning person for a day yesterday, even though I’m not known as the outdoorsy hikey campy kind of guy (though the walking part, casual hiking, I’m enjoying more now). Much more could be said about the journey to Grand Canyon North Rim, which is only open from May to October, and supposedly only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors see the North Rim. Most visitors (90%+) go to the South Rim where there are more amenities and more people; probably way better for people watching, but who comes out here for that?

There’s lots of information all over the map about the Grand canyon, but it is hard to find the essential information. If you only had a day (like we did), my recommendation would be to see the North Rim: stay at Jacob Lake Inn (there’s a gas station here; but if you’re a long-term planner type, get a 1-year-advance reservation at Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge). Start at the Grand Canyon Lodge and get the glimpse of Grand Canyon through the big picture windows while sitting in the leather sofa. Walk over to Bright Angel Point (30 minutes round trip). Go 4-wheeling to Point Sublime. Drive over to see Point Imperial. Return to Jacob Lake Inn and enjoy a thick milk shake and homemade cookies. Sing praise to God along with all creation.

I can’t find the Kid’s Meal!

After a 9-hour driving day, we pull into Jacob Lake Inn, where we’ll stay for the next 2 nights. We left downtown Santa Fe after a 3-crepe breakfast at 8:00am, and get here just after 5:00pm. (It’s actually 4:00pm local time, because this part of Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time.) A mostly boring drive was intermittently interrupted by incredible vast open space framed with water-etched cliffs. Along the way we saw yellow cautions signs for deer, horse, and cow. One road-side stand offered Indian Tacos and another Buffalo Jerky.

We stopped for a quick lunch at KFC in Tuba City about 2:00pm. I paused longer to pick something out to order because the menu board was too busy and cluttered. Even Jeremiah exclaimed, “I can’t find the Kid’s Meal!”

Similar to KFC’s sibling Yum Brand franchise restaurants: Taco Bell, Long John Silver, A & W, and Pizza Hut, their menu boards offer too many options as if splattered by Jackson Pollack. I like the much cleaner menu boards of a Chipotle, Potbelly, Wendy’s or even McDonald’s. We have eaten once at Wendy’s on this trip, and have thus far avoided McDonald’s.

I thought we could maximize and cram one more thing in today, and drive the hour to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park so that we could catch the sunset tonight, but I was out-voted. So we’ll be staying around the Inn and resting for tomorrow’s day hike.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Xterra trip odometer says 3,361 miles. [ We’re way out in the sticks, so no cell phone coverage, no mobile Internet; I found this Linksys signal in the nicer Lodge part of the Jacob Lake Inn campus, but there’s no lobby to sit in nor an outlet to plug into, so I’m crouched in the hallway to make this post. What a person goes through to keep people updated. 🙂 ]

hey hey Santa Fe

art gallery in Santa Fe We pull into Santa Fe soon after noon, after gaining an hour for crossing into Mountain Time. Santa Fe is known as “the city different” and a “center of the arts”, the city name is translated as “holy faith”, and for a visual artist like my dear wife Rachelle, this visual beauty wonderland has no equal. So the first thing we do is drop off Rachelle along the Canyon Road art galleries for 5 hours of uninterrupted visual art feasting.

Vibrant colors dot the city just as they do the sunset:

Santa Fe sunset Santa Fe sunset draws a crowd

Travel tip for Santa Fe tourists searching for where to stay: instead of picking a franchise hotel chain along Cerrillos Road, we found 2 lovely & affordable places downtown Santa Fe (yes, walking distance to the Plaza!): dancing ground of the sun and Camas De Santa Fe. We’re staying at Camas, with free WiFi, and love it!! (and rates were super low via [note: granted these 2 have mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, but if you want a top-rated inn on the same block, go with The Madeleine]

dancing ground of the sun Camas De Santa Fe

on the road again

We’ve just left Plano proper, and driving north on I-35 to Oklahoma City for lunch. We stopped by Starbucks this morning for our morning fuel: Rachelle was feeling like something different but reverted to the usual tall almond latte, Jeremiah with a vanilla milk, and DJ with his current drink du jour: iced grande Americano in a venti cup [more room for half & half, less cost, less caffeine, less spillability.]

morning Starbucks run

This morning’s Starbucks run is courtesy of a gift card from Rachelle’s previous workplace. Rachelle is driving this morning so that DJ can be blogging. Yes folks, Rachelle is still the effervescent morning person!

Tonight’s destination: Big Texan in Amarillo. This is the notoriously famous restaurant that serves a 72 oz. steak that they’ll give it to you free if you can eat it all with sides in 1 hour or less. I’m not attempting that (thought I have finished a 50 oz. bone-in steak at Trail Dust in Dallas once). But we will eat there tonight and hopefully snag a photo of the main stage — a platform with a table and clock for those who attempt the 72 oz. steak in an hour challenge.

i have no iPhone, yet

One last family excursion in Dallas before we head out in the morning for Amarillo: after the opening weekend viewing of the Ratatouille movie (great story!) and French dinner at La Madeline (to match the movie and mood) — we trekked over to the nearest AT&T/Cingular store!

store closed

Our attempt to be part of history in the making was met with a “closed” sign. Apparently this store in Allen, Texas, only stayed open to 7:00pm, and our arrival after 8:00pm didn’t qualify. So I will have to wait longer to behold a demo iPhone in my hand, and a bit longer to have one in my pocket.

And why wait in line and deal with poor customer service, anyways, when I could have free shipping and convenient home delivery? Yes, you can buy the iPhone online.

And news like this, below, makes you kinda want to work for Apple:

Apple giving free iPhones to employees

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) — Good news and bad news for Apple’s 18,000 employees: they are all getting free iPhones but they will have to wait a month to get them.

“We’re giving phones to employees at the end of July,” an Apple spokesman said Friday ahead of the launch of the device, which combines a cell phone, a Web browser and a music and video player.

Chief Executive Steve Jobs announced the gift in a meeting with employees Thursday. Employees will get the high-end model with 8 gigabytes of storage, worth $600.

finding good food

Cabin fever drove us out of the Plano house we’ve been staying at (I worked from the home office Wednesday); and we ventured into the rain for something to eat for dinner that night. We were on a quest for the legendary world-renowned Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse barbeque, and we weren’t able to find it at the Frisco mega-intersection of Preston and 121. It was listed on our GPS, which I forgot to bring with us in our borrowed sedan, but I knew the intersection at which it was listed. We drove around and couldn’t find it. I even stopped twice to ask for directions. Nobody knew where it was (although one guy from Georgia was very excited to learn that Sonny Bryan was founded here in Dallas and will make his way there very soon). I called up Google 411, and the number they connected me at was disconnected.

We quit that quest and went to a local non-franchise Tex-Mex place called Senor Conrad’s. The place seemed not descript, but soon as we walk in, the ambiance impressed us. It wasn’t a mega-restaurant with 500 seats; capacity was probably right around 100. Cozy setting, $5 margaritas, and nice abstract art on the walls. Because of the smaller size, everything was amazingly personable: the food was great, the service was excellent! (we had fajitas and bbq tacos, plus 3 desserts — sopapillas, flan, and churros.) Sorry, no camera to take pictures, so you’ll have to take our word for it. Reasonable prices too — our highest recommendations. Here’s the info:

Senor Conrad’s 2809 Preston Rd. Frisco, TX 75034 Phone 972-334-0937

And here’s one commentary found on a web discussion board:

Went to Senor Conrads on Preston Road /Frisco.The old Tres Meridas location.OMG what a great meal.Had the caso/beef/sour cream appe it was amazing.Hubby had the ribs and I had the sour cream chickan enchiladas.Had the Sapades w/apples dessert.5.00 margarita swirl all day(which was great).Please excuse mispelled words.We met Conrad and he was so nice.Please give it a try.

Thursday I wander around looking for companions for lunch. I dropped in unannounced at my old home church where I was married 12 years ago. I took 3 people there to a nearby Sonny Bryan’s in Richardson, and I experienced it for the first time. Beef brisket sandwich combo, famous onion rings.. warmed bbq sauce (bottles aligned on a hot plate), fixin’s bar .. wait staff came by 3 times to offer hot rolls .. again, no photos. Well, I was slightly underwhelmed, great Texas-style BBQ, but my expectations were over-hyped. Not to stir up Texas bbq wars, my preference leaned more towards Rudy’s in Austin, where they have 3 kinds of beef brisket — regular, moist, and extra moist.