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A settled nomad living on the edge of Appalachia. I love to listen to music, spend time with my family, and play sports. I'm lucky enough to write code for a living. I'm often accused of having no "filter" as I tend to overshare. I make beer on occasion and try to sample new beers whenever I can.

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Four S'mores Revisited

4 min read

A couple weeks ago I talked about my "Four S'mores and Seven Beers Ago" t-shirt.  You may recall, if you read the post, that I really loved that shirt but that it was effectively ruined by the oily drippings of a Wendy's hamburger.  

Well, something kind of magical happened after I posted that.  My step-mother, Patty, made me a new shirt with the imagery on it.   It's a darker version - both the image (this time an iron on) and the shirt are darker - but it's just as awesome.  Honestly, it was one of the coolest things someone has done for me just out of the blue.

My step-mother and I have not always gotten along as well as we could.  However, she has, even when times have been kind of dark and gloomy, done some pretty cool and thoughtful things for me.  Things that she didn't have to do, things that wouldn't benefit her at all, but that have really blown me away.

Way back in high school, when I was a junior, I was on the Speech and Debate Team.  For those who know me, but who didn't know me in high school, me being on a debate team probably isn't a real shocker.  Anyway, I competed in a few different events; extemperaneous speaking, student congress*, lincoln douglass, and team comedy.   When I signed up I didn't even know there would be a team comedy category.  However, it did exist and so I signed up for it too.  I wasn't particularly comedic even if I was funny (yeah, I amused people like a clown).  The good news was the event didn't require that we write our own comedy bit - instead we could use one written by a proven comic.  All we had to do, the "easy" part, was deliver the act.

But what act?  That was the question.  My teammate and I settled on the classic, "Who's On First" by Abbot and Costello.   It turns out we were no Abbot and Costello.  Our delivery was wooden and generally not well received.  It was, easily, my worst event during the various competitions.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with S'mores.  Well, it has nothing to do with S'mores.  However, I am getting to a point so just bear with me.

While the delivery of "Who's on First" turned out to be much harder than we anticipated it wasn't even the hardest part of the contest.  First, let me remind you that I competed in debate back in the late 80's.  There was no internet.  I could not just ask Google for any bit of information that exists and get it back in about 20 milliseconds.  Thus, finding a copy of the Who's on First transcript was really hard.  Like, impossible hard.  You couldn't go to your local bookstore and pick it up, the library didn't have it, I couldn't order it via Amazon.  We couldn't find the damn thing.

But then Patty stepped in to save the day.  Unbeknownst to me she went out, found a vinyl recording of Abbot and Costello that included "Who's on First" and then she transcribed the whole thing.  I knew she was transcribing it becuase, when I came home from school she was hunched over the old record player listening to two second long snippets of the act, scribblig furiously, and then picking up the needle and moving it back to listen again to make sure she didn't miss anything.

Go ahead, listen to the video and imagine trying to transcibe that damn thing.  I don't know how she did it - and with an old album at that.  But she did and it has always stood out as one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.  

Well, creating this shirt for me ranks right up there with "Who's on First."  It was that cool.  She did it without fanfare, hell she mailed it to me without warning so I just had a random package on the porch when I came home from work.  When I picked it up I could tell it was a t-shirt but it didn't even cross my mind it would be "Four S'mores" - I mean, you can't get it anymore.  But she did.

Very Cool.

Oh, and if you remember why the Four S'mores shirt was so cool to me then here is a bonus surprise photo of me, as a little kid, wearing my Huey, Duey, and Luey Shirt.

Damn I was a cute kid.

This Weekend We Were Not "Les Miserables"

17 min read

Memories

Sometime in 1989 or 1990 I asked a girl out on a date to see Les Miserables at the Proctors Theatre in Schenectady NY.  I worked part-time making ice cream sundaes at the local Friendly’s and the two tickets cost me a full month's wages.  However, I had heard great things about the show and I really wanted to go so I figured it was worth it.

On the day of the performance I got dressed up and awaited my date (who was also my ride).  However, instead of seeing her pull up at the front door I listened to her on the phone backing out.  I had about 20 minutes until the show was about to start, I was a couple miles from the theater, and I had no ride.  I dashed out of the house and began running - there was no way I was letting that investment go to waste.  It’s a good thing I ran distance for my high school track team.  I made it with some time to spare.

While I cooled off outside the theater and elderly man asked me if I had  spare ticket I could sell him.  He and his wife were in town visiting someone and they had just bought a ticket from some other guy who appeared dateless.  I was twice the face value of the ticket so I sold it.  At that point I figured my day wouldn’t be able to get any better - I was about to see the show for free!

I was wrong - the show blew me away.  The stage and set were incredible, the story was engrossing, and the singers were amazing.  It affected me.  My tastes in music were altered, my perception in how a person could sing were destroyed.  I had no idea an orchestra could sound so good.  I had no idea people could hold a note so long.  I had no idea.  I was seventeen and clueless.  I don’t remember the entire show but I know it moved me.  I may have cried.

I walked home afterwards in a daze.  I spoke about the show for days afterwards.  I imagine my mom got tired of me talking about it.  I still talk about it whenever someone gives me the chance.  It has, since that moment, been my favorite show of any kind.

Memories are dangerous though.  Nothing lives up to your memories.  In fact, in contrast most things suck when re-experienced after having been built up in your memories over the years.  My memories, certainly, have made Les Mis better than it could possibly be.  I have seen many musical since then and while they were all, for the most part good, they sucked in comparison to my memory of Les Mis.  “Rent”?  meh.  “Avenue Q”?  boring.  Sure, when viewed independently each of the other shows I’ve seen have been enjoyable - I just don’t compare them.

I have not seen Les Mis again since that day all those years ago.  My memory has just continued to pile on the greatness.  Thus, it was with great trepidation that I opened my Christmas present this past December and saw that Lisa was giving me two tickets to Les Miserables on tour in Greenville SC.

I was excited but I knew nothing could live up to my memory so I tried to tell myself to be happy if it was a third of the experience. I tried to cut back on listening to the soundtrack.  I tried not to think about the show at all.  I had enough distractions with taking a new job that, for the most part, it worked.  Well, except the cutting a back on the soundtrack; that just wasn’t going to happen.

As the date approached I did slow down my soundtrack replays.  I also managed to avoid thinking about the show entirely.  Instead I just focused on the trip that surrounded it.  We took a long four and a half day weekend that involved visiting some friends in Johnson City, TN; two days in Asheville, NC; and a little over a day in Greenville, SC.

Asheville

Asheville is an interesting two full of quirky shops, interesting people, and a personality split between incredible opulence and a artistic freedom.  In general, both Lisa and I really enjoyed our entire visit to Asheville and I would recommend it as a weekend getaway for almost anyone.  We enjoyed the shops, the brewpubs, the street art, musicians, and the Biltmore.

The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned residence in the US.  It’s about 125,000 sq feet and was built for a four person family of George Vanderbilt (grandson of the shipping/railroad tycoon of the same last name).  The house is situated on 8,000 acres.  The land is all beautiful.  In fact, the three mile long “driveway” carved through my favorite portion of the estate; a lush and peaceful forest.  Everything about the residence and the grounds speaks incredible wealth.

It’s really hard to imagine a family of four (plus the untold number of servants) living in the house.  The dining room contains two tables - one for 37 people (used whenever more than four people were going to dine) and a table for four.  That room alone was apx 3,500 sq feet.   That’s two normal sized houses laid out in one room.  It is truly something you have to see to appreciate.

However, at least for me, it is hard to separate the majesty of the house with the fact that it is obscene that four people lived that well while, just off the property, the surrounding countryside was populated with poor farmers and sharecroppers.  The house was completed about 30 years after slavery ended and was built, in large part, by black laborers - many of whom were probably born as slaves.  When viewed in that light it just made the house seem wrong.  The Vanderbilts were truly the 1%.

Just about two miles away from the Biltmore lies downtown Asheville and the difference between the two is stark.  That isn’t to say that downtown is dilapidated - it isn’t (far from it in fact) - just that while the Biltmore is overstated elegance downtown Asheville is a comfortable conclave of artists, musicians, students, shops, and brewpubs.

Lisa and I stayed at one of the few hotels in the downtown area so we could just walk around, drink, and safely get back to our room.  The city was full of neat little surprises.  There was a little inverted corner hidden behind a gate that descended into a cozy courtyard, there were some cool cat sculptures including one hanging out on a lamp, and there was a spectacularly restored old arcade (not the video game kind).  We wound our way through all of the downtown streets and on each one we found new cool shops that we couldn’t help but go into.  It was all very cool.

It is my understanding that Asheville has risen like a phoenix in the past twenty years.  They’ve done an amazing job of making it into a city that you would want to live in.  The entire downtown area sees fully of unity and camaraderie.  There is a real sense of community.  Nothing makes this more evident than the Friday night “Drum Circle” that takes place each week in Pritchard Park.  A wide cross section of the city show up.  I’d guess about fifty different people were playing a variety of percussion instruments while at least twice that many stood off to the side and watched while still another fifty danced and hula-hooped.  

From the tone and sound of it I expected it to be a purely “hippy” kind of experience and, for the most part, it was.  However, the crowd was anything but a simple gathering of stoners.  There were people playing drums while still wearing their neckties, there was an older black lady rocking the tambourine, and there were little kids shaking their maracas.  Amongst the drummers the mix was pretty even between men and women but the ages spread from around eleven (a girl) to a woman who was at least seventy.  It was very cool and it filled the night air with a great rhythm as Lisa and I dined just across the street a local (but spreading) joint called the
Tupelo Honey Cafe.

Greenville

I had heard some good things about the revitalization of Greenville before this week so I was a little dismayed by the rundown condition of the north-western outskirts we passed through on our way in.  However, once were reached our hotel, on Main Street, I was impressed with what they have done to bring back the “downtown” feel of Greenville.

It is easy for me to compare and contrast Greenville from Asheville but it isn’t fair for either of them.  Greenville made me think of a casual stroll through the park in a seer sucker suit.  It was casually formal.  We didn’t have as much time in Greenville so I can only really speak about the Main Street (yes, it’s actually called Main Street).

Main Street is beautiful.  It is a wide but peaceful boulevard surrounded by expansive sidewalks and draped by tall shady trees.  If, for some odd reason, you were driving down Main you’d feel compelled to park and start walking.  It’s incredibly inviting.  The streets are lined with small, slightly high end, shops, restaurants and cafes.  Most of the restaurants had abundant sidewalk seating.  Plus, and this was cool in Asheville too, their street facing walls were entirely open to the fresh air and the public walking by.   Some of the restaurants accomplished the open wall via french doors and others via a “garage door” type system.  Either way they did it the effect was a welcoming one that was also very comfortable while we were dining.

Greenville made me want to be, at least temporarily, “southern.”  Well, not entirely, but I did want to try and make my visit as authentic as I could so I tried to eat food I just can get anywhere in the north so, for lunch, I had shrimp and grits.  I was pretty sure when I ordered it that I wouldn’t like it and that I was just paying for an experience.  I was wrong.  It was pretty tasty.  The grits were blended with some kind of creamy sauce that had a hint of the shrimp flavor and they went wonderfully with the seafood.  

I’ve had grits a lot in the past and I like them - sort of.  I started eating them when I was in the Army but I didn’t like them with butter.  Instead I prepared them with sugar and milk - sort of like oatmeal - and I really liked it.  It was the only way I’d had grits that I liked.  Granted, these were probably all instant grits, but it was what I knew about grits.  Thus I really didn’t think I’d like savory grits.  I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone because I would definitely eat shrimp and grits again.

While I’m not sure it counts as southern, the next morning for breakfast I also went way outside my comfort zone and had corned beef hash with poached eggs.  The hash had a creamy horseradish sauce on it and it was also pretty good.  I’m not sure I’d order it again elsewhere but it was a good and filling breakfast and I’m glad I had it.

One of the highlights of Main Street is Falls Park which is a fantastic multi-layered park right on the western portion of Main.  There is a cool suspension bridge that gives you a great view of the waterfall.  We were lucky to be there on the same night as one of the Greenville high school’s had their prom.  Lisa loves admiring the girls dresses on prom night in Huntington so she was thrilled to get to “prom stalk” the girls of Greenville.  I’d say, for the most part, she loved their dresses.  Plus, it was cool to see so many young people hanging out downtown even if it was just for a special occasion.

The Experience

Starting five years ago Lisa and I decided to stop giving each other traditional “object” gifts from Christmas. Instead, we alternate giving the other an Experience.  So far we’ve been to an NHL all-star game, the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls/Toronto, and Chicago for Cubs game.  This year we went to Asheville and Greenville but the experience was Les Miserables.  I enjoyed seeing our friends and I loved exploring the new towns but, for me, they were all secondary to Les Mis.

We had our tickets for Saturday night, at 8pm so we headed back to the hotel and got into some nice clothes and then headed to the
Peace Center about a block away.  We arrived at 7pm.  We were not going to be late.  It’s a good thing too because the Peace Center doesn’t mess around.  Once it is time for the show to start - it starts.  There is no warning dimming of the lights; it’s just lights out, a quick reminder to turn off your cell phone, and then the music starts.

The Peace Center has an unusual layout - but the acoustics were great (to my untrained ears).  However, before the show Lisa and I had to stand and wait for our aisle to fill.  We were in row V, seats 1 and 2.  That put us three rows from the back of the first floor  - right on the edge of the row. There is no center aisle so everyone has to go in via the end.  That was cool though because we got to meet the nice couple sitting behind us.

While we talked someone mentioned that the set had changed and that the turntable was no longer part of the show.  The turntable was one of the key features of my initial experience that really struck me.  I am pretty sure I made an audible sound of appreciation way back in 1989.  The turntable added a lot of cool depth to the stage and animated the scenery.  It was very cool.  Lisa told me that she knew some people who had seen the old version and this new set version and that this new set was even better.  I was skeptical.  I mean, no turntable and better?  Please!

When the first notes hit I had serious chills.  I’m talking full body goosebumps.  I stopped thinking about how the show was 23 years ago and just instantly lost myself in the music and story of this production.  To be honest, initially I was lost.  I recognized the song but my mind was still a little caught on the turntable so I forgot what the initial scene was supposed to be.  I had to clear my mind and just listen.

Fortunately, the singers were great so it was easy to “just listen”.  At times it felt like they were singing a little faster than I remember the songs going but their voices were still incredible.  It was also interesting that some of the voices sound so similar to the voices I was familiar with from listening to the soundtrack.  

True to what I was told the set was vastly different.  It was far more complex this time around.  There seemed to be a lot more pieces to it and the set was constantly moving and changing as the singers performed.  In fact, the set was so alive it was practically another character in the show.  One of the more notable shifts of the set were after Jean Valjean stole some silver from the bishop.  When he was captured and brought before the judge the set was shifting as he ran so that as the police turned him around he was suddenly facing a very highly seated judge who seemed to magically appear there out of thin air.  The stage hands and manager deserve some serious accolades for their work at keeping the set changing so smoothly.

Just before the end of the first half of the show the screen on the back of the stage begins to show its’ potential but, it is later, when after Valjean flees into the sewer carrying Marius that the backdrop came into its’ own.  In the scene Valjean exists stage right dragging Marius and then the lights shift and the backdrop is altered to look like a stone tunnel.  Somehow, as if by magic, Thénardier seems to walk out of the screen and the tunnel image shifts to make it appear as if the tunnel is even longer.  After Thénardier loots a corpse the scene changes a little more so that suddenly the stage appears to be a full crisscross of catacombs while Valjean enters from stage left still dragging Marius.  It was very cool - and thanks to the lighting - and the shifting tunnel scene on the backdrop - I said, out loud (and not in a whisper), “That is cool”  I felt a little guilty for bursting out like that but it was really cool.

I did miss the turntable and I don’t think this set was better than the old one.  But, it wasn’t any worse either.  It was cool and great in its own way.  They were able to do some amazing things with the set.  I’m still not sure how they managed to change it around so frequently and so quickly.  It was extraordinary.

There were a few other changes compared to my memory, most notably how the climax at the barricade was handled.  However, it was still gut crushing.  In my memory Gavroche’s final scene takes places on the top of the barricade and was shocking in its delivery.  However, in this rendition you can’t see Gavroche but Grantaire’s scream of anguish is painful and may have caused a tear or two to be shed.

The entirety of the performance was really good.  The only real knock I have is that the singers weren’t always as clear as I would have liked so that I couldn’t understand them.  However, considering my expectations going in where that it would, maybe, be about a third as good as the show of my memory, it was exceptional.  This was one of those rare memories that, when revisited, wasn’t a let down.  I can’t remember any other time in my life where that happened.

The only downside is now the pressure is really on me to come up with an experience for Lisa this Christmas.

Surprise - We're Going to Disney World

11 min read

Last week was Spring Break for the girls and Lisa and I had a wickedly fun plan to surprise them with a trip to Disney World. On Monday morning Lisa took the girls to Patti's house as she normally would if we were going to work and then she came back home where she and I worked on finishing the packing before we headed back over to get the girls.

When we got there Shannon was pretty confused. She wanted to know why we were there and we told her that since it was the first day of Spring Break that we had taken the afternoon off to have some fun with her and Emily. Emily suggested we go to Ritter park - so I asked if maybe she'd like to go to a larger park. Shannon said sure. I asked them if maybe they'd like to go to Disney World and Emily said "YES!" and Shannon said "Sure." I told Emily "OK, Let's go" and Emily started to hop around in excitement. Shannon very skeptically said again, "Sure, let's go to Disney World." I agreed with the idea again and old her I was serious, that we could go to Disney World that day. Shannon didn't believe me at all but Emily did and she was stoked. I ended up pulling our suitcases out and showing Shannon all of the stuff we packed before she seemed convinced.

From Patti's we went to Arby's for a light lunch and then the local, small, airport for a direct flight to Orlando Stanford Airport. It is a smaller airport about 45 minutes from Disney - but we had a car waiting on us and we went straight to our hotel, The Port Orleans. In the past we've always stayed at the All Star hotels - but we decided to upgrade our accommodations this time so that our bus rides to each park would be a bit shorter. Overall we were glad we did. The hotel was nice, the food was better than that at the All Star, and the bus ride was a lot shorter. Plus, the swimming pool looked really cool and had a neat water slide.

After we settled in we decided to head to the Magic Kingdom part of the park (the traditional Disney World) in order to get in some rides and enjoy one of the many parades. We stayed at the park until around midnight before we headed back to the hotel for some sleep. Everyone had a nice time and, I think, by this time Shannon was fully convinced. Our first full day, Tuesday, also took place at the Magic Kingdom.

We started Tuesday off by waiting to meet with Rapunzel - Emily's current favorite princess. The wait was pretty lengthy so while Lisa and Emily waited Shannon and I went to Tomorrowland and took in the Stich Experience which we knew Emily wouldn't like. Once that was done we headed back to Emily and Lisa for the Rapunzel experience. Rapunzel's bit lasted for about an hour because the girls were given a craft to do, then they danced with Rapunzel and her beau Flint Ryder. Finally they each got to have their picture taken with the pair. Rapunzel did a great job of playing the part but I have to say Flint did an even better job - he had the Flint Ryder smirk down pat. Their helpers also did a great job of keeping all of the kids engaged while they waited on their turn to have their photo taken. It was the most interactive experience they've had with a Disney character so far.

After the Rapunzel experience we walked around Fantasy Land and took in some rides like the teacups which Emily and Shanon both loved; especially since I was tasked with making the cup spin as fast as possible. We also made sure to go on the rest of Emily's favorite rides like "A Small World" and "Dumbo" it was great watching her have so much fun.

Four years ago, on our first trip to Disney World, I tricked Shannon into going on Space Mountain with my brother and his two kids. I was pretty worried about her and was not a good companion for the ride and I undoubtedly made the experience more stressful for her than it had to be. Earlier this school year, for English class, Shannon wrote a paper about how terrified she was on the ride but how she also had a lot of fun. With that in mind she decided she wanted to try out Space Mountain again so we got in line. However, just before we could get on the ride she backed out and decided against it.

A bit later that evening the four of us went on Thunder Mountain which is an outside roller coaster themed like an old train. Emily had been on it before but wasn't thrilled with going on it again on this trip but both she and Shannon enjoyed themselves. When we had finished I mentioned to Shannon that Space Mountain wasn't much different but that it was indoors and dark. She decided again to go on the ride and this time she didn't back out. Instead she had a blast and asked to go right back on it.

It was around 11:30pm and the park was mostly empty so we were able to go through the line without waiting. She was addicted to the ride and wanted to go on it again and again but, sadly, the park was closing so we couldn't do it more than twice. I was super proud of her for overcoming her fear and trying it again.

On Wednesday we went to Epcot Center. There we went on Mission: Earth which is a cool NASA simulation that sort of feels like you're taking off in a rocket and sling-shotting around the moon to Mars. It's pretty fun and Shannon, who had done it on our last trip, still really enjoyed it. A bit later we went to one of Emily's favorite rides "Finding Nemo" which has some pretty cool technology in it that makes the animated fish seem to be existing in the real world artifacts of the ride. I'm not sure how it works but it is cool and all four of us enjoyed it.

Before dinner we headed back to the hotel to spend some time in the pool. We had actually spent a little bit of time in it the day before but without Lisa. On Wednesday Lisa came to the pool too and the girls were able to show her how they could use the water slide. Shannon just learned how to basically swim last summer and Emily still can't. Thus, at the slide Shannon got the hang of it and was willing to slide off and submerse herself - a particularly cool trick considering her prior reluctance to put her head under water. Emily wasn't really ready to do the slide by herself so she would get to the top of the slide and call out my name and then give me a thumbs up. She wouldn't slide down until I returned the thumbs up signal. It was pretty cute.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant with Chip 'n Dale (Pluto and Mickey were there as well). It was a neat restaurant that rotates above one of the rides we had gone on earlier in the day. The girls really enjoyed the meal, the changing scenery, and the characters. After that we headed to Downtown Disney for some shopping and we finally made it back to the hotel by midnight. It was a great day but also exhausting so when we finally got back to the hotel we all fell into a deep sleep for a later wake up the next morning for a day at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studios is a more "adult" themed park with bigger rides and more "extreme" shows. Overally I think it was Emily's least favorite day with the exception of a neat magical experience that evening that had Mickey replaying his role as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Honestly, I thought the show was bit disjointed but some of the effects in it were pretty cool. However, it was not the highlight of my day - instead Shannon turned the trip from a good one into a great one by opening my eyes.

Earlier in the day she had asked me about the Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster. I told her, based on part of my memory, that it was like a much faster Space Mountain. I didn't mention the loop-the-loop or the corkscrew. She decided she wanted to go on it so we headed over. There was a 70 minute line! In hopes that we could shortcut the line we went in the single-rider line where they separate groups and fill in empty seats. Our wait was still about 60 minutes but eventually we were put on the ride. We were actually in the same car but she was about 10 rows behind me. I was pretty worried about her but because we were so far apart I couldn't talk to her or really think about how she was doing - I just had to hold on and enjoy the ride.

I'm glad we were apart. I think, had I been with her, that I would have ruined the ride for her with my stress. Instead she thought it was the best ride ever. She loved it and wanted to go right back on it. She loved the loop-the-loop and thought going upside down was amazing. She couldn't have been happier and I was super proud of her. As we left the ride I asked her if she wanted to go on the Tower of Terror and she declined. It was at this point that we had to go to the big Mickey show so she had about an hour to contemplate the Tower. When the show ended she told me she did want to give the tower a try. I was a little surprised but I wasn't worried considering how well she handled the Rocking Roller Coaster so we hurried over and got in the empty line.

As we were getting in she said she was a little worried and I said, "don't be, the roller coaster is scarier than this" and I meant it. We rode up and then the drops began. We fell about five stories, bounced back up, fell again, zoomed up and down and up and down. After about five bounces she said she felt like she was going to get sick and I told her to hold on, we only had one bounce left. She smirked in disbelief but I was lucky and we only had one left - it was a big one though. She didn't get sick but she was glad it was over. I gave her five and we walked away from the ride where she decided she was swearing it off and wouldn't ride it again.

As we walked down the path, away from the ride, a mother was talking to her son telling him he could handle the Tower that the Rocking Roller Coaster was scarier. Shannon turned around and yelled, "NOT IT ISN'T! DON'T BELIEVE HER THIS IS MUCH WORSE!!" It was hilarious. Needless to say the boy did not get up to go on the ride.

From there we reconnected with Lisa and Emily, had our photo taken by the huge Mickey Sorcerers Hat, and then headed back to the hotel for some sleep before our flight home.

It was our best, and shortest, Disney trip yet. The lines were, generally, non-existent and the weather was perfect (mid 80s, sunny, and no-humidity). The girls both did things they had never done before, neither one of them was sick at all, and they will both remember this trip for years to come. It was awesome to see them both have so much fun. All in all it was a great surprise for their Spring Break and Shannon's 10th birthday. I'll post photo's as soon as I have a chance.

My Mice

1 min read

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The girls took a small break at Disney World at the Hall of Presidents

On a picnic

1 min read

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The girls and I had a nice picnic in the park today.

Pumpkin Carvings 2010 Edition

2 min read

Last night we sat down to do our annual pumpkin carving.  As usual we all enjoyed ourselves and, I think, we had some pretty creative pumpkin efforts even if they didn't turn out exactly like we had hoped/expected.

Emily is finally getting to the point where she is strong enough to do some of the cutting herself so she managed to cut out one of her pumpkin eyes before needing help.  Shannon is finally able to attempt to express her creativity in her carving and this year she gave herself the difficult task of carving the Pillsbury Dough Boy into her gourd.  Lisa decided to get a bit retro and she created a hippy pumpkin with a big peace symbol for an ear.    Meanwhile, I decided to try for my most detail oriented pumpkin yet and I attempted to carve out the Cat in the Hat.

We don't have any cool special tools like a dremel to do these with; we use a razor blade, a grapefruit spoon, and some old broken up pumpkin carving saws that came in a kit.  Needless to say our tools aren't really quite sufficient for the job all the time but I'm still happy with how they all came out.

Here's a slideshow of the pumpkins both in daylight and glowing at night.  Enjoy.

Birdmen of Norway

1 min read

My boss, Mark, saw this on CBS 60 minutes and shared it with me. I had seen an older video but this CBS one is a higher quality. Check them both (CBS and older)
Watch CBS News Videos Online AND

My New Bike

7 min read

A couple of weeks ago Lisa came across a really nice bike on eBay that she thought I should bid on. I debated about it until the auction was almost closed becuase, quite frankly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest any serious money into a sport that I am so obviously bad at. Eventually the deal proved too tempting to pass up and I made an offer and won the auction. However, it seemed I was not going to get the bike becuase my offer was less than the sellers "reserve" price. Undeterred I emailed the seller directly and asked him to inform me if the bike was relisted as I would consider re-bidding. He responded and told me I could buy it for what my max bid was (well, that + $14 to round the numbers out). I accepted and within a week the bike was delivered to my office by our UPS driver.

The bike features an '08 Santa Cruz Superlight frame, an '08 Rock Shox Reba front fork, all sorts of Shimano XTR parts including hubs, shifters, Hyrdaulic disk brakes, and derailleurs, a Chris King headset, a Fox Float RP 23 rear shock, a Thomson seat post, Kenda navagel rear tire (running tubeless) and Mavic DT Swiss rims. Honestly, I barely know what all of that means so if, at this point, you are lost don't worry you aren't alone. The basics are this is all pretty high end stuff that passed the muster of my more knowledgeable and skilled friends.

my bike in my office

The bike arrived last Wednesday but we weren't going for our normal mid-week ride due to the bad weather so I had to wait until Saturday. Over the course of the next couple of days I managed to transfer my crappy nylon pedal's onto my highly tuned racing machine. It's was sort of like putting a Yugo Emblem on a Ferarr and I caught some nice crap from my friends for it - but I just don't have the necessary confidence for clip in peddals (more on those later).

On Saturday we hit up our normal trail but we went about it a little backwards and climbed the hill we normally ride down. Almost immediately I noticed some differences in the overall ride of the bike. The front shock, during the first 400 yards of the ride, saved me from going over my handle bars and the efficient shifters and gears that actually stay in gear made the climbs much, much, much easier. I also noticed I was able to make a turn I usually have trouble with thanks to the improved stopping power of my vastly superior brakes. I was feeling great. In fact I felt so great I was riding a bit more aggressively than I normally do which, when looking back with hindsight, may not have been the best idea.

One area I always walk through is a tricky rock garden and the surrounding trail that occurs about half way up to the top of the mountain. This time I decided I would try to ride through the surrounding trail and that I would just walk the garden. Unfortunately when going over a decently sized rock (about 12-18" tall) I steered poorly between the second two rocks and my front tire lodged into one of the neighboring large rocks. If you've ever ridden a bike or a skateboard before you can imagine what this did to me - I flew right over the handlebars. Fortunately I'm actually pretty adept at landing after that particular dismount so I didn't really get banged up at all and I was quickly back in the saddle and riding.

Later we approached a section of the trail that has been dubbed "Bills new Nemisis" becuase I typically won't even try to ride down it. I have ridden down it successfully once but most of the time I don't even bother. However, it was the first real bit of downhill for the day and I wanted to see what this full suspension bike was made of so I just dropped in and rode. Intially I did ok but I started to build up some speed which made me nervous so I used my rear brake to slow down. Then my back tire started to skid and I was hitting some big rocks kind of hard so I released the brake because, in my limited experience, it is easier to go over most of these things with a bit of speed. Unfortunately it can also be hard to steer when you're going over rocks and ruts while picking up speed and you don't have much confidence. One larger rock kicked my front tire to the left and started to point me off the trail towards a tree so I applied my back brake again so I could correct. Almost immediately the loose soil and my rear tire started to slide so I released and then tried to steer back to the right. However, the slipping I was already doing proved to be too much and my bike just slipped out from under me and I slid down the hill while still sitting in a normal riding position (just lying down).

My legs both hurt a little from the fall and slide but overall I felt OK considering I had avoided hitting the tree and I wasn't really hurt so I hopped back on the bike and finished the trail out to the road where we found Ed fixing a flat. When I passed up Ed to stop and help he noticed that my back tire looked a little funny so we investigated and quickly discovered that my rear rim was pretty badly bent. My ride for the day was officially over after 1.5 miles. It was pretty disheartening that I had just bought this expensive bike and immediately had to take it to the shop for repairs - I had never had to get my much cheaper bike fixed. My bike was still ride-able down the street to our car but not safe for trail riding so we headed to the car and then I went to the local bike shop to drop mine off for repairs. At this point I had been in possession of the bike for less than 3 days - that was on Saturday afternoon.

I just got the bike back from the shop (today is Friday). So, at this point, the repair shop has had nearly twice as much possession of my bike as I have. I can't afford to keep that trend alive so hopefully I don't break it again.

The only thing left to upgrade on the bike are the pedals. They really do suck. Even though they are textured because they are nylon they get pretty slick when they are muddy and I have a lot of trouble keeping my feet on the bike. Most mountain bikers use clip in pedals (STB, Egg-Beaters, or Time ATAC's) becuase they give you a better base on the bike, improve pedaling efficiency, and help you when you need to hop up the hill a bit. However, I'm a little nervous about the idea because you are locking your foot into the bike just like you do with your boots and ski bindings (practically the exact same mechanism really except it locks in at the ball of your foot instead of the heel and toe). I know that I need to overcome my fear on this issue so I have bought a pair of shoes and some Time ATAC Alium pedals that I will be installing on my old bike for a week so that I can practice getting started and locked in and, just as importantly, releasing when i need to. I figure after about a week I can transfer them to my new bike and I'll go out and try just the river trail and some other easy bits of up and down so that I can get comfortable enough with them that I can ride without being worried about my knee being destroyed when I crash.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Summer Fun - 2009 Edition

6 min read

The past few weeks have been fun-laden. So much so, in fact, it has been hard to find the time to even talk about all the stuff we have been doing. I think my last update had us returning from our Grand Canyon adventure and since then we've taken two more short trips and we've done a bunch of stuff right around the house.

Our first trip was to Johnson City Tennessee to visit some friends who used to live here in Huntington. Johnson City is about 4 hours drive to the south of us so we drove down there for the fourth of July weekend. We left here on Friday and then drove home on Sunday afternoon (the day Federer managed to pull of the huge Wimbledon win against Roddick). While we were down in Johnson City we visited a couple neighboring towns and, all-in-all, we really had a nice time. Lisa and Sarah went to a healthy food store and Lisa picked up a nice Rain Barrel at a pretty good price even after the exorbitant 9% sales tax.

We also managed to see two separate fireworks shows which the girls really enjoyed (plus a third on Sunday night after we got home). The first fireworks show was in a small neighboring town called Jonesborough Tenn. Jonesborough was really pretty cool for such a small little place. It was setup to be very friendly for people to walk around while at the same time they had really embraced their old architecture and have even become a bit of a tourist destination thanks to their Storytelling Festival each October. Main street Jonesborough was exactly what Disney is trying to capture with their "Main Street USA" but far more authentic. The whole town just had a really cool laid back vibe to it.

The second show was from the back yard of Sarah and Dean. They live pretty close to a school and the city puts on a big show from the schools football field so we could sit on the back deck and watch the fireworks go off. It was nice that the two shows we saw down there were scheduled for different nights so it was easy to see both of them. The kids had a great time not only watching fireworks but also playing with Sarah and Dean's two kids who are very similar in age to Shannon and Emily. Overall it was a really nice visit and, considering how close they are, I can't imagine it will be too long before we coordinate for another visit.

Our next trip was to Kings Island and we did that about 10 days ago. We drove up Friday night after work (to Cincinnati) and stayed in Blue Ash (near the park) and then spent all day Saturday at Kings Island. Shannon wasn't too willing to venture into any new rides but she had a blast on the rides she did go on. The one new ride we managed to get both girls to go on was the Scrambler which has always been one of my favorite rides. We were going to drive home Saturday night but we ended up staying at the park until 10+pm to watch fireworks again so we eneded up getting a room at the last minute at a Country Inns and Suites. Lisa and Shannon had a late nite dinner at the waffle house (which Shannon loved) while Emily and I hit the hay. The next morning before heading out Shannon and I used the hotels pool and whirlpool for a bit (which Shannon loved) and then we hit the road and made it back in time for our Kickball game.

Speaking of Kickball - my team is kicking ass right now. We finished the first half of the season at 2-2. We were beaten in one game and in the second loss we had to forfeit because not enough of our female players made it to the game that day (we have to have four present out of our 9). So far in the second half of the season we are 2-0 and we are in sole possession of first place. In that first game (after the Kings Island trip) we played pretty well and scored enough runs in the first inning to seal the victory (there are five innings in a game). This past weekend we had to play the other team that won in week 5; The Cabell Comprehensive Kickballers. They were considered by most to be the favorite going in even though we beat them in the first half of the season becuase they had been scoring so many runs. Well, we won again - this time 9-3. It was our best offensive performance of the season and we played fantastically. Joe kicked 2 homeruns, Ed booted in another, Mike had a triple, we had a few doubles - all in all it was great. I had a single and what should have been a triple but I was waved in on the triple and so I headed home. I had to dive to try and beat the throw but the guys throw was true and he got me in the stomach as I dove so I was thrown out at home. Fortunately, I at least drove in a run but had I scored we would have hit double digits which would have been cool. Only the Kickballers have scored double digits this season.

Along with kickball I've been mountain biking a bit and I've been doing pretty well; I think landing on my head has made me a better rider. While three weeks ago our entire ride kind of sucked (I was all out of sorts, Mike had 3 flats, and Sean had a flat) the past two weeks have been my best efforts yet. Two weeks ago Ed set a really stiff pace for us but I managed to keep up (sortof) and I didn't have to take any extra breaks to do so. Plus, my climbing and obstacle handling was much better than it had been in the past. Then, last week, while I started off a little shaky I picked it up a lot as the ride went by and I managed to navigate through some tricky parts I've not been able to ride before. Usually I end up hitting a root or a rock or something that causes me to stop and then i have to walk. Instead, this time, I managed to ride through it all. I was pretty stoked about it. Sadly, our friend Jason, who was on his first ride in quite a while, ended the ride off by crashing and hurting his ribs. Hopefully he heals up fairly quickly so he can get back out with us again.

I think, at this point, our busy summer is just about to finish and we can settle down and get some stuff done around the house. School starts pretty soon and Emily begins Kindergarten while Shannon enters third grade - it should be an exciting enough time without us going out any more. I know I have a ton of chores to take care of

What Happened in Vegas

8 min read

Lisa and I headed to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago for a sunny vacation with my brother and his wife. We drove up to Cleveland a couple days before we had to fly out and dropped the kids off with Lisa's parents before jetting away on Monday of the week. Our flight, with American Airlines, generally sucked (and unfortunate condition I'm coming to expect from most domestic carriers) and we arrived in Vegas late. We then hired a shuttle service and got a ride to the Westin. I had booked the Westin room via priceline.com back in December when I first told Lisa about the trip as part of our Christmas present and we had a pretty good deal of $70/night.

As the trip approached Lisa was getting pretty nervous about the Westin being off the strip but it wasn't very far off the strip at all and you could walk right across the street to Bally's to catch the monorail which worked out wonderfully for us as Ted and Cyndy were staying one monorail stop up at the MGM Grand. The Westin was OK. I can't really give it a great review but it wasn't that bad either. The hallways were a bit dingy but our room was clean and the staff was generally friendly. However, our initial check-in was full of problems. Our first room (on the fifth floor) didn't have an in-room safe. Of course we didn't know that till we got to the room so we locked our bags in the room and went back to the front desk where we had to wait in line again. We were moved to a new room on the fifth floor but it had two problems. The first was a dead battery in the smoke detector (they fixed that) but the second was the presence of a very large dog in the room beside us. I was unaware that the Westin was a dog friendly hotel. The neighbor dog didn't like the smell of me or something because we could hear him growling through the wall so I went back downstairs and got in line again. We were then given a room on the 12th floor. Finally, we had a solid room with a safe, no neighboring dogs, and a working smoke detector. We were settled in about an hour after we first arrived at the hotel. I don't want to dog the Westin entirely becuase, quite frankly their seemingly hyperbolicly named "Heavenly Bed" is one damn comfortable bed. In fact I'd say it was vastly more comfortable than any bed I've slept on including our tempurpedic (Lisa has always liked the tempurpedic but she even preferred the Heavenly Bed). If I had $3500 to blow on a bed I'd order one today.

That night Ted and Cyndy came down to our hotel and we enjoyed some very light snacks at the hotels mixer for guests and then we headed out and did a little light gambling. Ted, Cyndy, and Lisa all like doing slot machines so that was all we did that night. I don't really care much for the machines but I tried to enjoy them and managed to lose my days gambling money in record time. It was not a good sign for things to come in regards to me gambling during the week.



We had pre-purchased some tickets to go to the Price is Right show at Balleys on Tuesday and so, once we had breakfast, we headed over there and made sure we were signed in and that we had our name badges on. Bally's and Paris are connected so while we waited for the show to start we walked around Paris a bit and did some minor sight-seeing. Then we headed back to the show and had a great time. It was a lot like the version on TV but there were some noticeable differences. First if you were called to "Come on Down" you only got one chance to get up on stage. If your bid wasn't the closest without going over you were sent back to your seat with a tee-shirt as a consolation prize. By rotating contestants through this way they were able to give a lot more people a chance to play which was pretty cool. The second noticable difference was that between each prize round they gave away 1000 gaming credits at Bally's to four people in the audience. Via these two gimmicks they could claim to have more than 50 winners in the show. Finally, in the show case showdown there was only one show-case and both contestants (people who hadn't played in any game at all yet) bid on the same prize package. The person closest without going over would win a cruise to Mexico and if they were within $100 they would win the entire showcase (including a new Nissan). Both players overbid by about $7000. It wasn't that their bids seemed that outlandish but that the value of the showcase was so incredibly low; $13,000! It had the cruise, a 61" DLP, the Nissan, a fridge/freezer, and some other stuff. It was pretty shocking.

We had a great time cheering on the contestants and shouting out "HIGHER", "LOWER", and "ONE DOLLAR!!" and we felt the show was well worth the money even though we didn't get called up to play. It was neat being a part of something we all remembered from our childhood.

Wednesday was a day with nothing planned so we just wandered around a lot and had a good time. To be honest I don't even remember Wednesday.

For Thursday we had a special treat planned as we had pre-ordered tickets to see the Cirque Du Soleil show, "O". All four of us saw "Ka" the last time we were in Vegas and Lisa and I had seen "La Nouba" when we were in Orlando back in 2001 so we knew we were in for a nice treat. Even though Lisa and I were a little let down by Ka after La Nouba our faith in Cirque was fully restored by "O". "O" was much more enjoyable to us than "Ka" and Lisa thought it was even better than "La Nouba" - I'm not sure about that assessment but I really enjoyed "O". My favorite part of the show wasn't one of the acts or athletes but rather the technological marvel that is the stage they performed on and in. "O" is a water based show and the stage can disappear in part or entirely and leave a pool in its wake. It was awesome. At times the entire stage would sink beneath the water while at other times just a small pie wedge would be submerged. The flow of the show was so well timed that it would seem like the stage couldn't have time to disappear before a suicidal high diver would descend head first into the water. It never seemed like the water could be deep enough yet it was. It was fantastic.

On Friday we two couples split up and did our own things. Ted and Cyndy were flying home while Lisa and I were flying, via helicopter, to the Grand Canyon. Our shuttle bus picked us up at the hotel and then took us to a small nearby airport where we met our pilot and, before we knew it, we ascended to about 3,000 feet for a great trip around the Hoover Dam and then onward to the Canyon. We only got to see a small part of the canyon but it was still really cool. We flew past the Grand Canyon Skywalk and then landed at the base of the canyon for a picnic lunch and about 30 minutes of photographic opportunities. After that the pilot loaded us all back up and we flew on a different route back to the airport. Lisa had never flown in a helicopter before so she was a bit nervous before the flight started but by the time we landed in the canyon she was loving it. It was a great excursion and I highly recommend it. However, don't limit your Grand Canyon encounter to just that - you need to make sure you visit the South Rim at some point as well becuase it is a much grander vision than the portions of the canyon we visited. Someday I'll be taking Lisa back to see that part (and, who knows, maybe another Helicopter flight from the Canyon rim).



Finally, Saturday arrived and we had to check out and prepare to leave. By this point I had not won at all during the trip but instead had lost my daily allowance each day. It was very strange. However, even ignoring my losses the trip itself was great. It was nice to see Ted and Cyndy and I was really glad to get Lisa to the Grand Canyon and in a helicopter. Overall it was a great trip and I look forward to our next vacation (wherever that may be).