Random adventures through my life... in all their glory and splendor.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Home Owner Aptitude Test 3: FAIL

Home Ownership Rule #143: You can lie to yourself, but you won't fool the house.

Earlier this week, I found water in my basement. As previously stated, our house is about 100 years old and water in the basement is, at this point, a fairly common occurrence. What makes this particular leak unique is that there's been subzero temperatures for about 7 days in a row. You would think this would have raised a red flag. But it didn't because my super genius brain rationalized it to me in such a way that although I didn't understand, it made sense. It told me that there simply couldn't be water down there in this weather, and that if there was, it must be from some unusual, one-time circumstance. So as I got out the mop, and muttered to myself, "It's freezing outside, there can't be water down here, it's freezing..." my brain wove these marvelous stories that hypothesized about massive furnace condensation, or strange winds blowing snow down the chimney, or about global warming causing the earth to superheat from the inside out. It could be anything. My brain also told me that there would never ever be water in my basement again in January, because it was freezing. And it made me repeat this over and over. They were charming tales and I believed them as I mopped. I believed them the second and the third day as well.
Eventually though, I casually mentioned to Chris that I had been cleaning up water that couldn't possibly exist in our basement.
But she spouted some gibberish phrases like, "Did that spigot on the side of the house freeze and break because you left the hose attached?" and, "You know, like you did at the last house" which in my heightened state of awareness barely sounded like English at all. "No, I took the hose off in the fall. And besides, that wouldn't cause water in the basement anyway. It's freezing outside." I responded logically.
Chris bowed to my supreme intellect.
So today after mopping more water that wasn't in my basement, I played a hunch and found conclusive evidence that my brain was right all along.

I went outside and found a 2 foot ice fountain had formed between the ground and the spigot.

See, clearly a case of furnace condensation.

(Follow up: Yes, the plumber is coming tomorrow morning...)

Home Owner Aptitude Test 2: D+

Bob is not a popular man in the Gardner household. He's the previous owner of our house, and basically, anything that goes, will go, or has gone wrong, I blame on Bob. If Bob had taken care of it right the first time, then I wouldn't be dealing with it now. Yes, I know. Our house is nearly 100 years old and he's only 65. Don't try to change the subject. It's all his fault.

For instance, I'm absolutely positive that Bob didn't update any of the electrical wiring. He added some more, but there's still plenty that's ridiculously old. The whole south half of our house is on one circuit. So I could be in the front with the vacuum, and Chris could be in the kitchen (three rooms away) with the coffee maker and we'll blow the fuse. There are 16 circuits in the electrical box. What exactly are the other 15 doing? I think they should quit loafing and help poor little 15amp #16 when the toaster oven kicks on.

Suffice it to say that 'Bob' is my three letter four letter word, and when I put on my Mr. Fixit hat, it gets a lot of mileage.

So today's exercise in frustration is courtesy of Bob. Because if Bob hadn't bought the cheapest bathroom faucet on the planet, I wouldn't have had to spend 5 hours replacing it. I know what you're thinking... "But Lee, the sign at Menards says that replacing a faucet usually takes 60 minutes or, at the most, 90 minutes if you're a hydrophobic, seven fingered monkey."

Here's the thing... This faucet has been bugging me for a while because it sprays water at weird angles, which is symptomatic of debris clogging the fixture. No biggie, you should just be able to remove the piece at the end of the nozzle, the aerator, at clear out any bits of gunk in the filter. However, when you buy the cheapest faucet on the planet with a permanent aerator, this is not an option and you have to truck your butt out to Lowes for a replacement once it gets clogged. Thank you Bob. So I run out to BigBox Store #1 and buy a nice $70 fixture (on sale for $45) only to get it home to find that it's aerator is also permanently attached. Apparently a $70 faucet is on the low end, and only suitable for people who think their pipes don't rust. Anyway, it was a deal breaker, so I return it and go to BigBox #2. Fortunately they have an equivalent faucet for the same price and it has my 'feature.' So I get home, gather a bucket o' tools, and mentally prepare myself for lying on my back on my bathroom floor for the next hour. I turn off the hot and cold water from under the sink and proceed to get hosed down. Again, normally when you turn a knob into the OFF position, it's reasonable to assume you won't get wet. But when Bob buys the cheapest Water Supply Valves in the world (probably some package deal with the faucet,) you should just expect them to break on contact. So I dump all my tools on the floor, wedge the bucket behind the sink, and run into the basement to find the main shut off valve. I crank the valve closed and walk back upstairs. Water is still pouring out. I run back downstairs and turn the valve more. Water is still coming out. I do this two more times, and I think the only reason the knob didn't break off in my hand is because my flailing little Tyrannosaurus arms barely touch fingers, let alone grip anything. Then, in a moment of shear enlightenment, I turn on the water for the laundry sink in the basement which effectively drains all the piping above it. And finally my bathroom sink stops running. Yay Gravity!

So I'm off to LocalHardwareStore #1 for a new set of valves. LHS#1 is closed because I guess only idiots don't finish their "60 minute" weekend projects before noon on Saturday, so drive on to LHS#2 that's a little more forgiving... they give you until 6pm. As I peruse the plumbing repair aisle, I can now see why someone would skimp on valve quality. You can save about 19 cents per valve, and you do have to get one for hot AND for cold. So that's like, what... give me a minute... let me do the math on this one. But I'm not bitter. I'm just walking around a hardware store with wet pants because some guy wanted to save 38 cents 10 years ago. My cold drippy butt can get behind that.

Anyway, I was kind of in a hurry and forgot that pipes as well as valves come in multiple sizes. So I bought valves (the good ones) of both sizes for a grand total of $9.75 and trucked back home. Now, what I really should have known was that the world's cheapest faucet would be connected to the world's cheapest water valve with... you guess it, the world's cheapest, and now crustiest and not-so-flexible, tubing. That miscalculation would cost me trip #2 to LHS#2. For those of you keeping count that's 2 trips to BB1, 1 trip to BB2, 1 trip to closed LHS, and 2 trips to LHS#2. This project has now cost me 5 hours, $50 in parts, and roughly $120 in gas. So at this point I call my wife and ask her some thinly veiled questions like, "You won't be home any time soon, right?" to make sure I've still got a buffer of time.

The good news, and the reason I gave myself a passing grade on this Home Aptitude Test, is that the faucet is now installed and almost completely leak free! As a bonus, the aerator is not only removable, but will shoot water square at your crotch if you don't put it back on correctly. Now that's a feature the next owner of this house is sure to appreciate!

I hope they blame Bob too.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Did you hear that small popping sound? That was my ego.

It's worth mentioning that Chris finally agreed to being dragged out to karaoke last Friday. So I've been all excited this whole week knowing that I would get to witness the sacrificing of a karaoke virgin. Needless to say, she did just fine and we had fun. Although, she kept singing break up songs... should you take it personally when your spouse sings 'You're so vain' and then follows it with 'Take it on the Run' or do you tell yourself it's just a coincidence?

So Chris was chatting with one of the other folks at the bar and I walk into this conversation:

C: So is karaoke night always like this?
Local Girl: No usually there's more people singing.
C: I'm glad there weren't tonight. I would have been intimidated.
Local Girl: Pfft, not after you heard them once. Hon, there were 7 or 8 singers in here last weekend and they were all awful.
C: Heh, then I guess I won't worry about it.
Me (blurting): I know, right! (Thinking... wait a minute, I was here last week...)

I can has dream?

Unnamed gray tabby, CodeName: "Fat Murray"

One of the nice things about working for a government agency is that when these federal holidays like MLK Day come around, you can visit all of your favorite capitalists without using a personal day. Today I hit the dentist, the recycling center, Ace Hardware, Lube Pro's, Taco Bell, and the gym. That's a week's worth of lunch hours right there. I had also scheduled an appointment with the Vet in hopes of catching one of the "Outsiders" and getting it's little gears put in neutral, so to speak. (Much to Chris's chagrin, I keep calling them "The Outdoorsies" which is absolutely as lame as it sounds) Under normal circumstances, we feed them before going to work. They know the schedule and come running. But it's been so ridicu-cold lately that even though we put food out early, the cats don't show up until much later after the sun comes out.

Intolerant Tabby would like to celebrate
this day by being left the hell alone.

Anyway, today, I don't know how they knew, but 15 minutes after canceling the appointment and explaining to the Vet that there was no way I would possibly see, let alone capture a cat in this weather, they showed up and brought friends. It's as if they all have little feline cellphones and texted each other.




So, there I am standing in the snow feeling like Boss Hogg at the end of every Dukes of Hazard episode with nothing to do but throw my hat on the ground, clench my fists, and take pictures of the freeloaders. Happy MLK Day little punks. You won't out smart me next time!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Past: Overrated

So today I decided to try and make good on one of my goals/resolutions. Chris and I cleaned house yesterday so I figured I'd try to take a bite size chunk out of one of my perma-projects. And actually I nibbled at two.

I mentioned earlier that it's been 'stupid-cold' lately, and it reminded me of a project that's been half finished for, um... two years now. I put insulation up in the ceiling of the basement throughout about 3/4 of the house, and on days like this, when I walk around in socks I can tell exactly where I left off. The worst part is that there are 3 full bundles of insulation unopened and a 4 foot pile of scraps just sitting there, waiting to either be installed or eventually get wet and ruined. There's something extra stupid about being cold and yet literally sitting on a stack of insulation. Anyway, the odd and end pieces are now up and performing as designed and I can at least chalk that off my list.

Another one of my back projects is to sort through the boxes of notes, letters, and cards that I've got stashed in the basement from years gone by. Basking in the glow of successfully warmifying my house (and calculating all the pennies I'll now be saving) I grabbed a shoebox from the storage room and started picking through envelopes and little folded notes. Turns out it was the 1990 through 1993 box, which can pretty much be summed up as "Ugh." See, back in the days before there was text messaging and cameraphones, we would use this thing called a 'pencil' and apply one end gently to a piece of paper, creating a pattern of symbols. It was pretty primitive. It took the full use of your hand, so like, you couldn't send a text, play tetris, and listen to MP3's at the same time unless, of course, you had a typewriter, a Nintendo (there was only one choice...,) a time machine and two friends. And the language we used is what you now call 'Job Interview English' except we used it all the time and not just on term papers. Texting hadn't been invented yet because we still had 10 fingers and we hadn't evolved to the point of only needing our thumbs to communicate with each other. So for an example, the Olde English phrase, "I cannot believe that Susan asked William to TurnAbout" would roughly translate to "SRLY?" As you can see, text messaging is far more efficient and eloquent.

This shoebox was chock full of letters, mostly from girls I had treated badly, and a couple from ones I had treated really badly. There are a few problems with rediscovering old notes from old girlfriends. For starters, they really don't tell you much about you. They're mostly about them. Honestly, now that it's been 15 years, I'm really more interested in how *I* did on my Spanish final than how they did. But not much more. I also think there should be some kind of ritual at the end of a relationship where you give each other back all your correspondence. At least if you got your own sappy letters back then you'd know how your day was and what a dope you were. Can you imagine some relative of said ExSig coming up to you years later asking about what their mother was like in high school? The correct answer is, "I don't know," not "Sure, here's a box with 150 letters of her expressing her unyielding love for me. Woo-Hoo, what a horndog! I've been keeping them just in case someone like you came by." Or maybe a burning ceremony for any notes folded more than once down the middle. That would be acceptable.

Romeo, Juliet, now you listen to me.

On a slightly more serious note, this Sunday I'm singing a song called "I'm Not Who I Was" which pretty much describes how I felt after getting back in touch with some high school folks through MySpace. No really, I'm cooler now. Just ask me. I've been practicing in the mirror for years now...

Yar! She's a cold one!

So for those of you who are not in the mid-West (my blog has a HUGE following in Southeast Asia...) we're finally getting our winter weather. Temperatures are dangling around zero degrees Fahrenheit and the wind drops that another 15 degrees. So that's like -85 degrees Celsius or something.

How does it feel to look Death square in the eye?
Do you feel lucky? Well, Do ya?

Cold like this turns normal routine things into problems. For instance, when you turn your car off, you legitimately have to wonder if you are going to be able to start it again before April. Some of us with older vehicles worry about that kind of thing daily anyway, but now it becomes a real concern. You have to ask yourself, "Have I done absolutely everything humanly possible to help this car start again? Turned off light, defroster, and radio - check. Said 5 hail Mary's - check. Gently stroked the dashboard and whispered, "It's ok girl, you can rest now..." - check.

And pretty much anything left in your car that contains liquid is forfeited to the elements. That can of Coke that rolled under the shotgun seat three months ago, is now going to seek it's revenge on your apathy. Heck, I left a pen in my car this morning and I'm debating whether I should sacrifice it or call in a rescue party. Batteries? Drained. Lotion? Solidified.

So Chris and I laid in supplies on Friday in hopes of not having to leave the house again until Tuesday. It's not going to work. We're out of ice cream already. And frankly, if I were in a Zombie movie, I'd face the hordes for ice cream... not that they'd be moving very quickly in this weather anyway. Come to think of it, it would be pretty easy pickings, I mean, it's not like I wouldn't have plenty of time to reload. But I digress...

Speaking of the frozen undead, the remaining kittens of the apocalypse seem to be taking the cold snap in stride. I noticed today that my neighbor's garage door is open about a full cat-width so I suspect that's where they've been shacking up. They come out and sun themselves during the day, so we really only see them on the weekends. I really didn't want to turn this into a cat blog, but they're the only things moving around these days and I got some decent pictures yesterday. So here you go. Oh, and if you ever need to shoot a picture of a black object in snow, here's the trick: BUY A PENTAX. These were shot on automatic (2 points for the idiot proof camera!)
Famine giving Death the hard goodbye.
Kinda makes you wonder about how much infighting there was between the Pale Rider and the others...

Famine posing for a chilly photo op. Death lurks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Come on brain, don't fail me now...

Chris and I were talking in the car about tidbits and factoids that had come up throughout our day when the conversation meandered into this:

C: Hey, someone told me today that they've developed a drug that inhibits recalling bad memories. I don't know how that would really work, but the idea scares me.
L: Um, yeah, isn't that what 'Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind' was all about? Realizing that bad memories shape your character? What does that title mean anyway? Isn't it the long way of saying 'ignorance is bliss?'
C: Yeah I think so. Which is what makes the title ironic.
L: Hey speaking of things forgotten, I read the other day that they've found a drug that reverses the effects of that disease... the big one...
C: *blink-blink*
L: ... the one where you... forget... things... (realizing I'm doomed)
C: Altzheimers.
L: That's it. I was stuck on Parkinsons, but I knew that wasn't right.
C: Maybe you should look into that.
L: Why?

You're laughing WITH me, right?

2007 in review

Well, I know I'm kind of late for all the cool year end lists, but I don't think I've ever done one before and since 2007 is worthy of note, humor me.
A couple years ago, though I don't remember the original source, a friend quoted something to this effect in his journal, "If you haven't laughed your loudest and cried your hardest in the past year, then it was wasted." Now, I don't totally agree with that sentiment, but it's been bouncing around in the back of my mind for a while. And 2007, though I wasn't really expecting it, did deliver both.

See! I'm really at Salt Lake City!

Life changing events this year:
-Visited Salt Lake City on business
-Cruised the Caribbean with the family for pleasure
-Chris got a digital camera and started blogging
-Rekindled the writing bug
-Submitted adoption dossier to Ethiopia
-The Joy of Karaoke
-The Pain of Pestilence

Fav pic of the lil' bugger.

Who knows what's in store for 2008 but here's the plan as it stands today:
-Be a parent (not just apparent...) By the gods, this looks like it's going to be the year. For as prepared as I should be, I think I'm like everyone else, just praying for the strength to make all the right decisions for my children and for a flippin' good babysitter.
-Learn bass. I think I've finally hit critical mass on this one. I have the desire and I have no excuses. Church needs someone on bass. "The band" doesn't need a 3rd guitarist. I don't really even have any aspirations of being a particularly good player. I just want to be functionally mediocre. I can do that. I'll let you know where I end up in a year.

(These are my 'every year plans')
-Make 'progress' on the house. I tend to get overwhelmed by large projects at home. The housewalk really forced us to get some of the big stuff done. But really, if I divide and conquer, and I can see progress, then things get done. I find it satisfying when it works out that way. The hardest part is just getting off the couch...
-Get back into glass. Stained glass art falls into the progress category. There's about 600 small projects that need to be done before I have an area that's carved out for glasswork. It needs to be cat proof and yet well ventilated...? That's why it hasn't been done.
-Write more music. Again something that I don't do regularly that brings me a lot of satisfaction. I've gotten back into the habit of writing, I'd just like to channel that back into music.

It's true, I'm not going to run for President this year (by popular demand...,) but I think 2008 could be another landmark year and as just as significant as this last year has been. Um... did I just use the word 'landmark'? Uh, maybe I should resolve to not using marketing-drivel/corporate-speak for a year... Sigh... always room for improvement.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Why for art thou blogging?

Since soooo many of you have asked...
The reason I've been blogging a lot more the past 2 months is worth mentioning. For most of the year, I had an after-work routine that, barring slight variations, was pretty consistent. It involved coming home, eating, working out or doing errands/chores, then heading onto the computer to play 'The Game' until I got tired. Now, 'The Game' to me is utterly therapeutic because it meets all my qualifications for being relaxing. It's not particularly fast paced, game time is about 45 minutes per round, and I found a system so I win pretty much every time without batting an eye. It's total brain candy and I just go into drone mode for about an hour, then decide if I want to do it again. (If you're wondering, no, unless you're Ken, you haven't played this game. It's totally obscure, old, and generally not noteworthy, but it does offer addictive gameplay.) Anyway, from time to time it would flit through my mind that these 45 minute chunks could really be put to better use. Then I'd click 'New Game' and I wouldn't have to think about THAT again for a couple days. In late October I had an Epiphany of sorts. I'd like to think that I came about it all my own, but really I think the lack of progress on any of my longterm goals finally broke me. I couldn't ignore my 'Do it Later' list any more. Besides, there were things like blogging and song writing on that list that I genuinely wanted to do but just hadn't set aside any time for them in months. Dropping 'The Game' was the only way anything was going to change, so mid October, I committed to not playing the game through New Years, as kind of a reverse resolution. I figured I could do it, because really, I just needed to get through the 6 weeks to Thanksgiving, then we'd get busy and it would all be downhill from there. So I did, and this blog is pretty much a direct result of the decision to reallocate 45 minutes of my time a night. You could argue that I'm still wasting my time, but I don't think so. At the very least, journaling is cheap therapy. :-)

All present and accounted for

(Written December 31st)

Ok so stumbling in at 3am after 20+ hours of travel wasn't exactly an ideal day, but when three fuzzy faces greeted us at the door, we knew we were home. So a big Gracias goes out to Megan for taking care of our furballs. As a bonus I saw Death and Famine out back today. I hadn't seen the two of them together since Thanksgiving and figured that nature had run it's course on one of them (they're both black so I wasn't really sure which one...)
Anyway, so now today's challenge is the adjustment back into regular life. I've still got this cold thing that I picked up a couple days ago. Having a cold on a vacation stinks, having a cold and catching connecting flights just sucks. I knew I was in trouble when my ears actually felt better at 36,000 feet than they did on the ground. Also, although I never really felt like I had 'Sea legs' on the boat, I still feel like I'm swaying back and forth. I'll be glad when my living room stops rocking.
So no New Year's partying for me, kids. I'll be horizontal way before midnight.

So how was your day?

December 30th
Day: You go home now.

Ok, so let me put the events of the day in order for you:

6:00am- Chris gets up, Waking Lee up
6:30am- Shower, pack, and eat.
8:00am- Off the boat toting luggage, looking for tour bus
8:20am- Sitting on bus, awaiting tour
9:00am- Santo Domingo tour is supposed to start
9:30am- Tour actually starts
12:30pm- Tour ends, dropped off at airport
2:10pm- Made it through customs with all paperwork in order
4:45pm- Fly out of the Dominican Republic
7:30pm- Land in Atlanta, Georgia
8:45pm- Made it out of customs and back through Homeland Security
11:05pm- Flight leaves Atlanta
12:00am- Landed at Midway
1:00am- Carpooled to my sisters house, picked up car
1:30am- I start 'seeing things' in the fog, but tell Chris I'm fine for driving anyway.
3:00am- Home, changed kitty litter, passed out.

Fine dining to Flying dining...

Cruise Day '8'

Santo Domingo redeemed
December 30th

So here's our problem. We had to check out off the ship at 8am this morning. Our flight, assuming it was on time, leaves at 4:30. So either we sit at the airport for 8 hours, or we find something else to do. The cruise offered one last excursion, which was a 3 hour tour around Santo Domingo. After much deliberation, miscommunication, and ill-will, we decided to do it. At the very least, they're supposed to drop us off at the airport afterwards, and frankly, the tour cost us just about as much as cab fair does for us gringos. So this time, we went around Santo Domingo in our little tourista bubblebus, shielded from the unsavory elements and it was very enjoyable. Ok, when I say 'went around Santo Domingo' I mean we drove 6 blocks, went up a block, drove back the way we came 4 blocks, got out, walked the 2 blocks to get back where we started, and went to the airport. But those 6 blocks were really cool! Santo Domingo is the city Columbus founded, so we were standing in some of the oldest buildings in the New World. Where Columbus lived. Where Cortez and Pizzaro planned their conquests. Where Sir Francis Drake plundered. It's all more interesting than I thought it would be. We then went to the Amber museum which was cool. Chris has a thing for Amber, fortunately for me she's always been more interested in the process than the possession.

Mmm... Old Cannons...
Anyway, the excursion left a much better impression of what Santo Domingo will be like for future tourist. It's a beautiful nation, given a few years and I suspect it'll be another regular stop for most of the cruiseliners.

And no, they did not charge us to leave. :-)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cruise Day 7

December 29th - At Sea
(Written Dec. 30th)

Day seven was an 'At Sea' day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Now this was our second day without a port on this cruise. Our first one was Christmas Day and normally the cruise would have ported on Martinique Island, but since nothing was open, we didn't stop and instead puttered by the island. Today though, we had to haul keester and cut across The Gulf from Aruba back to the Dominican Republic. The key point is that A) we were moving fast, and B) we were nowhere near any land to buffer the wind. Compound that with the cold that I caught yesterday and you are in for a wild ride Mr. Toad. Btw, cold symptoms should be completely outlawed in the Caribbean. Being stuffy and tired is just cruel and unusual punishment at sea or otherwise.
So I spent the day, and I mean the WHOLE day, exploring the two non-advertisement channels on our cabin TV. Luckily, I'm not as up on my second round movies as I thought so it wasn't unbearable... unless, of course, I stood up, which was quickly remedied voluntarily or otherwise.
So those of you who told me about Wild Hogs, Happy feet, Blazing Saddles, Stardust, Bourne Ultimatum, A Christmas Story, Music & Lyrics, and CNN... you were absolutely right. Every one of those movies met my semi-conscious expectations, unless you're the dope that tried to tell me Wild Hogs was good. Don't worry, I knew better.

Cruise Day 6

December 28th - Aruba.

One Happy Island indeed.

As it turns out, The word Aruba (although I forget which language) means 'Nothing' because apparently the first folks to get there weren't terribly impressed by all the scrublands. We, however, found plenty to do. Chris and I took the island tour, while the others (after a minor fiasco and a decent amount of frustration) went snorkeling. The tour was interesting because, if for no other reason, we got to see the economic differences on the island. We went through the poor, middle class, and upper class districts on the way to several of the sites. I guess I was surprised that everything from orphanages to golf courses would be on a tour. Maybe it was unavoidable due to travel routes, but our guide did a good job of putting a positive spin on things.

This poor guy only has ONE swimming pool!

And to add to his coolness, he dropped us off at the Butterfly Farm instead of taking us all the way back to the boat. I think Chris took 9000 pictures, give or take a couple. Contrary to my initial impression, butterflies are really interesting when you aren't trying to memorize their life stages for a biology final. It's one thing to read about all the different survival mechanisms, it's another thing to have one whiz by your head and hear your guide say, "That one's very toxic, he's used to flying wherever he wants. This one here isn't as daring because he just *looks* poisonous and doesn't really like the attention." Huh. Just because your brain is the size of a pinhead doesn't mean you can't have personality.
Little known fact:
Black butterflies are the ninjas of the insect world.

We were ported in Aruba all evening, but Chris and I went back to the ship for lunch after our tour and never went back out. Shopping... expensive food... meh. As the T-Shirts say, "Same crap, different island."

Cruise Day 5 pt2: It's Karaoke time!

(Written Dec. 27th)
Ok, so this one time, we were on a cruise, and I did karaoke...

Clearin' the dance floor, one note at a time...

No seriously, they had karaoke for an hour tonight, and if you think I was going to miss it, well, then you sir have not been reading my blogs. There were a couple of twists tonight that made things memorable and different from what I would consider 'normal' karaoke. For starters, it was a formal wear night for dinner, which means everyone was dressed up except of course those of us who rushed back to our cabins and changed. Secondly, native English singers were in the minority. Good, bad, or otherwise, it was entertaining. And just to make sure the evening was unforgetable, mi familia was there to supply ample peer-pressure and to record the event in case there weren't already enough pictures and footage to keep me out of public office.

So did you know that there's some super cheesey song called "Feel like making love" that is NOT the rockin' one by Bad Company? Yeah, well, I found out the hard way too. Which, as much as I wanted to sing it, it was probably for the best that it was mislabled in the songbook. It was not a 70's classics kind of crowd. It was a karaoke 'standards' crowd, which makes sense in retrospect. If you're going to know any songs in English, it's going to be stuff like Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and apparently... sigh... Neil Diamond. (What is the obsession with singing Neil Diamond at karaoke? Someone explain it to me plz because I've got nothin.) Anyway some guy did La Bamba and it was a huge hit. (Karaoke lingo: any time women dance to the song you're singing, it becomes a 'huge hit.') And I really didn't want to follow that, but fortunately, with all my prior l33t karaoke training, I chose to sing 'Ring of Fire' by Johnny Cash. It's very American with a Spanish flair and just happens to be the only JC song I'm comfortable singing. The other guys that sang came in their suitcoats and had that international smooth groove air about them. I, however, just to be, like, total anti-establishment, performed in sandals and a hoodie, complete with a dance move I like to call the wobbily 'WhiteBoyNeedsMoreToDrink' one-step. I think the name is pretty much self explanitory, but my dad shot video of it if you want to follow along. Anyway, it went over really well and I could tell by the way my family wouldn't make eye-contact with me afterwards that they were duly impressed. (Karaoke lingo tip II, 'going over really well' means that the applause feels genuine, regardless of whether it is or not. Conventional Wisdom dictates that being inebriated helps more songs 'go over really well.')

Anyway, it was a great way to end Day 5. Our bodies are still in the Caribbean, but our hearts are starting to tell us that this vacation will be over soon. Work came up for the first time in conversation at dinner tonight and I'm starting to feel like I've been dealing with the same crazy people for, like, a *week*. On several occasions, Chris has interjected this sentiment into conversation, "I once had a life where I had to get up, go to work, and worry about things every day. Frankly I don't know how I did it. I much prefer this life."

Indeed, and tomorrow my Love, is Aruba.

Cruise Day 5

December 27th - Margarita Island

Watch out for Mangrove Ninjas!

So far, today has been the exact opposite of yesterday. We ported at Margarita Island in Venezuela this morning and the only way I can describe it is that it's like they know they rock and they've got nothing to prove. The beaches were close to port and basically spoke for themselves. The shopkeepers weren't agressive. Of the islands we've been to, this is the first to just let us be tourists without feeling totally assaulted. I'm sure there's more to the story here (like the cruise liners strong arming the locals out or something,) but I appreciated being sheltered, unhassled, and just allowed to enjoy the beach, bars, and shops for once.

Needless to say, we spent the most money there... you know, as a reward for good behavior.

Today's theme was to take the advice of friends who had been on other cruises.

A coworker recommended trying a Coco-loco. So being the savvy (and now international) drink orderer that I am, I walked up to the beach bar and had this conversation:

"Hola senor, wat you like?"
"Hi, what's in a Coco-loco?"
"You wan Coco-loco?"
"What's in it."
"Yes, what is a Coco-loco made of? Er... ingredients."
"Ah, si, uhm, ah, coconut... milk, y ah, coconut... rum."
"I'm for it."
"You wan Four? Four Coco-Loco's!"
"No, just one."
(blank stare...)
"Si, one Coco-loco," (Blender whirs...)

That's right, I can look like a dolt in pretty much any bar in the world! Respect. Anyway, all facts considering, he was very nice to me after that and guessed I was from England. English??? I probably should have just let him think that, but I fessed up and we (read HE) talked about Chicago baseball while adding about 15 different liquors to my 'coconut rum' drink. I always figured that the British would be better adjusted at ordering drinks, but it gives me hope that maybe there's a whole country full of people who can't order in a bar without disgracing their nation.

The next piece of advice I got was, "Get over it, men give great massages."

So I signed up for a 'theraputic massaje' on the beach. Three women and one man were giving massages, as you can guess, I got the guy. It was pretty heavy on the therapy and light on the relaxing. It was 45 minutes of drilling pressure points, which wasn't exactly comfortable, but feels good now. Anyway, I'm glad I did it. Chris asked me afterwards if I felt better. I told her, "Not much, but I think I'd feel a lot worse if I hadn't done it." That was one of the lessons from kayaking the other day. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile just to stay in place.
Dad: Still looking for yesterday's kayak. Just kidding!

Cruise Day 4

December 26th - Grenada Island
(written December 27th)

Grenada. I should have stayed in town...

Well, I didn't feel much like blogging yesterday. Want to know why? Here's some Lee Gardner trivia with which you can amuse and impress your friends. I flippin' hate canoes. I was a Boy Scout for most of my minor years. I completed a total of 4, yes count them, *4* merit badges (I'll explain that whole saga some other day...) Anyway, one of them was for canoing, so that on the off chance that I ever jumped out of a plane and landed in a canoe (because I would never get into one voluntarily) I could at least scramble back to shore. As far as I'm concerned, completing that merit badge was for survival purposes only. And like many other survival training exercises, it was awful and emotionally scarring. I remember in high school these fresh military recruit guys would come back from Boot Camp and talk about horrible stuff like mustard gas training and bunker drills. And I was all like, "Pfft, Back in 8th grade I had to portage a full size aluminum canoe BY MYSELF." Yeah, that shut them up pretty quick.

So when my sister suggested kayaking on Grenada, I was like, "Sure! I've never been in a kayak before!" In the guidebook, all the day-trips all have little code pictures to describe the outings and this one had the 'Light Activity-Family Oriented' symbol next to it. That should have been my first clue. But, you know, I've been, like, working out and stuff and had just conquered the Wall, so I was feeling pretty virile and stuff... It wasn't until later that I realized that 'kayak' is the Eskimo word for 'cheap plastic canoe.'

I've tried to blot most of it out of my memory, but here's the basics... We should have known that things were going to be rocky when an 18 passenger tour bus came to pick up the 24 of us. When we finally all got to the boat launch, Dad and I figured we'd get a two seater instead of both going solo. The plan is to row out to a beach on an adjacent island, hang out for an hour, then come back. No problem, we could see that the island wasn't that far away. So we hop in, and right away, my Father who has had a lifetime of back issues, finds that his seat cushion is misaligned. The problem is it's pretty much impossible to make any kind of effective adjustment to a seat behind your back, with a life preserver on, while you're sitting on it floating in the water. Mine was fine so I didn't even think about it until he couldn't hardly sit up at all. All I knew was that from the get go if my paddle wasn't in the water, we were going backwards. My psyche can handle it if I'm not making 'progress' but I get reeeally frustrated knowing that every second I'm 'resting' it's going to cost me X number of extra strokes just to get back where I started. Anyway, yes, the wind was against us right from the start. Then we turned a corner, and the wind was still against us. Then we turned another corner and the wind was STILL against us. And that's when I snapped and called for help. There was no way we were going to make it around the last corner (which reportedly had the strongest winds and current.) We weren't the only ones who got stranded, there were at least 8 of us who had to be towed back in. On the return trip, we came back exactly the way we went out so I could see that we did indeed cover lots of water, we just didn't make it to the beach. So we spent the better part of the afternoon on 'the wrong' beach waiting for the rest of the kayakers to come back. But really, is there ever a wrong beach to be stuck on in the Caribbean?

So after talking to our guides, it turns out this was a fairly new excursion and that you can get to the beach by either going clockwise or counter-clockwise around the island (makes sense.) But one way is too short for hardcore kayakers and the other way is too long for us recreational types. They also claimed to have taken the wind into account when determining which route to go, but that it shifted after everyone rounded the first corner. *I* think it wouldn't have mattered. Upwind is upwind regardless of which side of the island you're on. Anyway, we survived with some generally unused and now overworked and cranky muscles and mostly just a bruised ego.

When we met up with my mother later her response was, "Don't you know you should never get in a canoe with your Father?" We laughed, but not because it was that funny. It was that 'bonded through peril' kind of laugh.

The worst part about the kayaking trip is that it nearly overshadowed the beauty of Grenada. The weather was amazing that day and we decided that the breeze would have been perfect for doing pretty much anything but paddling.

As a total nonsequitor, to get to the boat launch, we took a tour bus through town. It's always interesting to see what's different and what's been totally Americanized on these islands, but I had to laugh when we passed 'The Office of the Leader of the Opposition' (that's exactly what the sign said) and then half a block up was the Peace Corp building.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Daily Distraction: Caption THIS!

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? I'm pretty sure that they're the same ones who say that "He who can laugh at himself will never run out of material." Anyway, well, I have no words for this one so I need your help:


We've deemed this picture the 'goofiest candid photo' of the trip. And since we've been kicking it around over here, I figured I'd let everyone else put on the blindfold and take a whack at it too. So feel free to post your uber-cool, most high-larious, captions in the comment section and rofl away.

Cruise Day 3 pt2: Gomer hits The Wall

My Christmas Bell

I've been trying to 'expand my horizons' on this trip. You know, when I'm not sleeping in the sun somewhere... or sleeping in the shade somewhere... or sleepin- well you get the idea... I figured now is as good a time as any to try some different things. For instance, I don't usually eat much (read 'any') seafood, so I've ordered a couple of the seafoody dishes at dinner. My only goal that I had for this trip was to attempt the rock climbing wall on the back of the ship. Mostly because I know rock climbers are dead sexy beasts and I wanted to be one, if only for a few moments before I splattered on the ground.
Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot like... oh, never mind.

People give you really weird advice when you're contemplating climbing a wall. Or maybe it's that other wall climbers are weird and therefor give weird advice. My sister, the yoga instructor who has climbed before, recommended keeping my shoulders in. I'm still trying to figure out what she actually meant by that, but given my prior experience with aerobic instructors, it didn't surprise me that her advice wouldn't be in real English. And speaking of fitness nuts and other foreigners, there was this guy in front of me who claimed to have gone rock climbing before but was asking a load of dorky questions. I mean, stuff even I figured out, like, "Which rocks are the hardest?" Um, duh, they're *ALL* hard especially the ones waaay at the top... Anyway, the worst part was, he really did know what he was doing, he was just in the tourist ask-a-million-questions mode. As soon as he got strapped in, he was all business. He whipped out 2 small daggers and just stabbed his way to the top. So now I know how ninjas spend their holidays. Whoda thunk?

Aaaanyway, Who wants to follow that act? Me, I guess.

So today was the day. After standing in line and watching monkey babies scamper up the side of the wall for 45 minutes, it was my turn. I told my family that they didn't have to come, although it would be nice if someone got a picture. Needless to say they were all there ready to stare, point, throw things, applaud if/when appropriate, and of course take pictures of the whole ordeal.
Have you ever played one of those video games where you pick up some kind of invulnerability powerboost and you've got about 20 seconds to wreak havoc before reality sets back in? Well, as soon as I touched the first handhold, I figured I had about 45 seconds before my muscles would shake and give out or I'd realized what the heck I was doing and do something stupid like look down. I didn't actually time my ascent, but the pictures are all timestamped within 2 minutes, which means I hauled my keester up that rock like a squirrel on fire. The next thing I knew, I heard a voice from the other end of my safety line yell, "You have to LET GO OF THE WALL to come down." Easy for you to say... you're already at the bottom. Thank you Mr. Helpful.
This is me, NOT letting go of the wall.

But I did it. I climbed the wall and rang the bell. I'm no ninja, but I get by.

Cruise Day 3

December 25th, Christmas Day
No Port of Call

Today was an 'at sea' day. Apparently this cruise normally stops at Dominica (?) but since it's Christmas Day nothing would be open so we're just cruising on to Grenada. I'm fine with that. I'm getting pretty good at sitting next to the pool doing jack squat for long periods of time. Chris has been reading, I've been flipping through about 750 songs from the 80's on my iPod.

I saved you a seat!

As a total side note, Chris has been dropping things ever since the trip started. She keeps trying to tell me that her inner ear is just super-sensitive or something, but I think her brain went on vacation and now her limbs are going on strike. Lens cap, food, memory card, toothpaste, more food, razor, etc... pretty much EVERYTHING! So, I *thought* I was behaving myself and maybe not being 'supportive' per se, but at least not sighing heavily everytime I heard something clink on the bathroom floor. But I guess I wasn't as stealthy as I thought because after like the 700th clatter, I hear from the bathroom, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't roll your eyes at me. I'm not dropping things on purpose, you know." So tell me ladies, how did she know? She wasn't even looking at me. Could she sense it with her inner ear? Anyway, to date, I have only dropped one thing this whole trip. Unfortunately it was her toothbrush and it wedged into the utility end of the toilet brush. What? It's not like it hit the floor, shesh, you women are so sensitive. Fine, we'll call it even. Anyway, I fessed up immediately and we bought another toothbrush for, like, $57 + gratuity at the general store here on the boat. I think is called the "If you had to buy it here, we know what you're willing to pay for it" shop.

Cruise Day 2

December 24th - St. Maarten
(Written Dec. 25th)

Merry Christmas everybody! Wish you were here!

Well, Yesterday was 1/2 day at sea, 1/2 day in St. Maarten. Carrie and Dad decided to go on a snorkel trip while the rest of us just wandered around Philipsburg. And by 'wandering around' I mean 'walking past about 600 liquor and/or jewelry shops.' Unfortunately, as we are not booze and diamond types, this left us with a whole lot of meandering and not a lot of shopping. To prove what a wild bunch we are, here's a complete list of expenditures on St. Maarten for the 6 of us:

-2 Snorkel trips
-4 Froo-froo non-alcoholic drinks (Woo-Hoo!)
-1 Stick of deodorant
-1 Tube of foot cream
-$2 donated to the St. Maarten Animal Humane Society
-1 Scarf (an actual souvenir)
My brother-in-law doing his part to keep the Caribbean economy strong!

This was the first port we went to that was really built for tourism. We were the 5th cruiser at the dock, so it was kind of interesting to see how the immediate pandemonium disperses as you get further and further away from the boat. If you were a shop owner, the difference in traffic you would see just by being half a block closer or farther would be pretty severe. And frankly, how do you sell YOUR jewelry when there's 599 other jewelry stores in a 3 block radius?

Anyway, here's my deep thought of the day: This cruise reminds me of high school. It might be because it's about the size of my alma mater... But there's also the same kind of weird social circles. It seems like there are certain people that you run into constantly and others that just kind of appear once and then you never see them again. Or is it that you only take note of certain people and the rest of the faces just fill the gaps? I don't know, but I've 'just run into' family members several times accidentally at weird times in strange places. (Remember, this is like a 10 story hotel, it just shouldn't happen that often...) There's also another family with exactly the same schedule as us (same flight, hotel, and dining time) which is kind of awkward.

So last night was our first formal dinner which wasn't as goofy as I thought it was going to be. I expected to feel really out of place, but the staff treats you the same (i.e. really well) so it didn't feel forced. Where I'm going with this though is that there are several pictures of me attempting to look debonair or anti-debonair.
Not fooling anybody...

But the highlight was later in the evening when Chris said, "So, how's the ice cream, sugarpants?" and I heard, "So, how's the ice cream, (Not-Sugar-but-another-word-that-starts-with-SH...) yer pants?" I think I replied with something like, "Well, it's good, but it's not THAT good" and then had to explain what I heard. Needless to say we've been giggling about it ever since, because, you know, Chris asks me that kind of question all the time. The rest of the family is totally out of the loop on this one, as we've been incorporating 'Sugarpants' into conversation and then snickering quietly.

Cruise Day 1

December 23rd, 2007
Royal Caribbean Cruise - Santo Domingo

Since I don't know when
I'll have the time and/or inclination to blog out here, I figured I should do it whenever I can.

So far, 2 for 2 on the happy endings. Chris and my folks survived the mean streets of Santo Domingo AND our lost luggage appeared tonight as if it had been waiting for us the whole time. We are currently at the end of 'Day one' according to the Cruise schedule and have left the Dominican Republic.

Right outside our hotel, the foodline I mentioned earlier was part of a political rally. Apparently 'The People's Candidate X' was giving out food as proof that he understood the state of poverty. And when I say 'food' I don't mean cans of Campbells and ramen noodles. I'm talking about live pigs and chickens. Chris said that on their way back to the hotel, the security guards were all pointing and taking pictures of these 3 turistas walking down the middle of the street between the working poor and their Christmas dinner. Chris asked one of them to email his pic to her, but she claimed dibs so you won't see it on this blog if it shows up.

In Santo Domingo, pigs are caught by YOU!

After we checked out of the hotel, but before we left, there was a family in the lobby that was just finishing up from their cruise. We chatted a bit, but as it turns out, it costs $10 to enter the Dominican Rep, and $20 per person to leave. I'm sensing a snappy Hotel California-esque slogan in their future.

Regarding luggage adventures, back when we were initially packing, I had mumbled something about how I didn't have any unique way to identify our luggage. My folks usually wrap their bags with colored duct tape so that you can spot them easily... you know, like at the baggage claim, or floating in the water. Chris's response was, "I've never seen another bag that's the same color as mine." Is it me, or is saying something like that just begging for trouble? Anyway, so once we found our rooms on the boat, we were standing in the hallway deciding what to do next, which btw is not an uncommon event for a bunch of Gardners, and I spot a luggage cart wheeling down another hallway. "Hey, there's Chris's bag" I noted, but since none of the other bags were here yet, my comment didn't raise any eyebrows. And besides, Who's going to believe that a partially color blind guy who has been in a stupor for the last 36 hours can spot an olive green bag in another hallway? Well, for the record, I'm a flippin baggage hero. I chased it down and found it parked in front of a room that was off by one digit from ours. I'd take full bragging rights, except if Chris hadn't mentioned it's unique color I wouldn't have thought twice about it. Suck it colorblind test, I'm handi-capable!

Ok, and here's my deep thought of the day: Other tourists are like other drivers. Have you ever noticed that YOU are the only one that 'drives right' on the interstate? If someone else is going faster than you, they're a lunatic, and if they're going slower, they must be idiots. (George Carlin made that observation so you know it's true) But in the same spirit, there are no 'normal' tourists. They're either ridiculously good looking and you can't figure out why they would subject themselves to looking at YOU on their vacation, or they're so goofy looking you can't believe they ever made it through customs. heh... "Yes sir, your papers are in order, but I have seen your passport, and for the sake of our children cannot allow you into our country." And to make things just that much weirder, they usually hang out together.

Ok, Ok, no more making fun of strangers...

Parting shot: Standard procedure on a cruise is to have a lifeboat drill as soon as everyone has boarded. For us, we had already been on the boat a couple hours but hadn't eaten since breakfast and the blood sugar levels were running a little thin. I'm pretty sure that was the case because I've never before heard my wife whisper, 'dead... dead... dead...' at anyone who was late for a safety drill. Also, I can *usually* resist the urge to punch her square in the life preserver.

I'm going to stick with the low blood sugar theory...

Tomorrow St. Martin!