Saturday, December 30, 2006

Miami (or "North Cuba")

Hola! Como' estan ustedes? Miami es muy bonita, pero es una problemo porque Bret no habla espanol.

Ok, so I've heard a lot in the past few years about Miami becoming increasing multicultural, but I honestly had no idea. It is actually rare to hear English being spoken here, and we have yet to have a waiter or waitress that was a native English speaker, but it all adds to the experience. South Beach was beautiful, although we did hear one gentleman proclaiming that he sat behind some "300 pound whale" at dinner who "obviously didn't belong in South Beach." I almost dropped my apple fritter in disgust. Somehow a Purdue t-shirt and Docker shorts doesn't qualify me to visit South Beach, but I care not. I believe I was the only person this morning reclining pool side wearing white socks and tennis shoes while reading the memoir of Bob Newhart. I was just "gettin' my engineer on."

Other highlights thus far included a generous helping of Cuban food (I tried to order "whatever made Fidel sick" but was denied), and seeing a friendly German chap get an eye, shirt, and short load of "gull doo" while visiting the Everglades. It was exciting that I actually remembered enough German from high school to be able to translate his swearing. The Everglades were beautiful, and Erin only noted 5 or 6 times that "this would be a great place to dump a body." We had delightful fruit milkshakes on the way back into the greater Miami-Havana area. I had key lime; Erin had pineapple. We have considered on multiple occasions on this trip that we are far more excited by what can be mixed with soft serve rather than the beauty of nature.

Tomorrow we board the cruise ship. We couldn't be more excited. All is still well with the adoption, according to the agency. We hope to get a chance to post some pictures in the coming days. In the mean time, "hasta luego."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Post Christmas Blues

Today has not been the feather in my holiday cap that I had hoped it would be. In fact, to be honest, the day has pretty much sucked thus far. There have been multiple, shall we say, incidents to support my evaluation this morning, a couple of which I will recount here.

First off, you might be saying to yourself, "Oh, that poor soul. He has to work between Christmas and New Years. He must work on a slave ship with a captain who looks like Gollum from Lord of the Rings." Well, you'd only be partially correct (I'll not say which part), but the truth is that I thought it would be good to conserve some vacation days for our cruise next week. It seemed like working a single day between Christmas and New Years when nobody else would be at work would be a simple way to save a vacation day. I figured I'd listen to my iPod, watch a little TV, maybe write a blog entry about what I ate over the past four days (which would be quite a tome). No sweat. Well, it's almost been that easy.

For starters, this morning when the alarm went off at 6am, I nearly had a coronary. I've been somewhat sleep deprived over the past few days, and I was deep asleep when the alarm went off. I dragged myself out of bed. I had a few bucks left on a Starbucks gift card, so I decided to not make coffee at home, instead opting to swing by Starbucks on the way into work for a bitter cup of joe and one of those new breakfast sandwiches they're hocking. The girl at the drive up window didn't seem to quite have it together, probably angered by having to work the early shift on the day after Christmas. She handed me my cup of coffee, and at about the point where the coffee was evenly placed above my crotch and the side of the seat where your keys, money, etc fall into an abyss that cannot be reached, the lid sprung off the cup allowing for a fount of, shall we say "friggin," hot coffee to spew forth onto, er, the worst possible place on my lap and the side of the car seat. As I finished squealing in pain, I looked at the cup to figure out what went wrong. Nothing looked askew, so I put the lid back on and held the coffee while I mopped up the mess. About 6 seconds elapsed before the episode repeated itself, further damaging what was left of my ego and car seat. After further mopping and another fount, this time of swears, I reexamined the cup. The lip had been compromised such that the lid fit just fine, until you put any pressure on the sides of the cup, at which point the lid would exit stage left and give you a coffee lap dance, the likes of which leaves you with stained pants and an angry, not so peaceful feeling.

Once I got to work, I worked for about an hour on a few things I needed to clean up prior to the cruise. At about 8:00am, I felt a low rumble in my gut which was telling me that Christmas dinner had decided it was time to get a move on. Now most families have ham, potatoes, perhaps a salad of some sort for Christmas dinner. We have chicken fingers from Captain D's (with honey mustard AND sweet 'n sour sauces for dippin'.) Why chicken fingers you ask? Well, in the past, our choice has been the more traditional Christmas dish of lasagna, made lovingly by my grandmother. These usually get assembled shortly after Thanksgiving and placed in what grandma considers her "auxillary refrigeration unit," better known as "the garage." Now this course of action alleviates freezer overflows and normally works relatively well in Indiana winters. But this year, it's been in the 50's for most of December. As Christmas approached last week, various members of the family intervened and the lasagnas went unused. (Nothing says "Happy New Year!" like a little food borne bacteria induced wretching.) Therefore, the backup plan was chicken fingers from The Captain. Bless my aunt and uncle for taking up responsibility for the food, and in all honesty, the chicken fingers were a rather welcome break from tradition. I suspect what caused my issues this morning were the sheer number of chicken fingers I ate (let's just say that I don't think I left that chicken with enough fingers to hold a pencil) plus the variety of baked goods and sweets that I ate in the days surrounding Christmas. In any case, I took shelter in the bathroom nearest my desk in hopes of getting in a few minutes of quality reflection. About 2 minutes in, I heared a knock on the door.

Now our building has a lovely staff of cleaning people who keep our restrooms sparkling clean, despite the, er, problems that a staff of middle aged male engineers seem to inflict on them. The cleaning staff is nothing if not persistent though. There's no "I'll wait them out" when dealing with these folks. You either finish up and get the heck out of their bathroom, or you risk them making an unflattering entrance and swearing at you, frequently in a foreign tongue. I opted for the first option, knowing that I'd left the job half finished. As I washed my hands and made my exit past the glares which said "You'd better not have plugged that toilet up, Dough Boy," I considered which direction the cleaning lady was coming from. I knew that going to the nearest other restroom was a risky maneuver, but I thought I'd be safe if I hiked diaganolly across the floor and finished my task in a distant land. This plan seemed to work with great success, for about 3 minutes. I'll be danged if that little lady hadn't finished up my first bathroom AND dragged her cleaning cart across the floor, all in under 5 minutes. I finished up, again, and prayed that she'd be working on the women's restroom as I left, or perhaps it wasn't her at all. No luck on either count. As I left, her eyes said "You should see a doctor." I was deeply embarrased. I slinked back to my desk and decided that I'd need to go to the other building if I needed to do another deed before the end of my day.

So there you have it. Hot coffee on crotch...Another bad bathroom(s) experience. I sure hope I get out of this day without any further complications. All of this makes the pending cruise sound just that much better.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Sorry for the lack of any posts this week. Erin and I have been extremely busy with work, not to mention other pending arrivals. There's nothing much new to report. The product I'm working on is currently in the factory, which is always a stressful time, and we have another one headed to the factory in a couple of weeks. After that, perhaps I'll get a little rest. Oh wait, that's about the time the baby will arrive. Since I work with China so much, my sleep schedule is already sort of a disaster, so hopefully I'm being groomed for dealing with an infant.

Erin is finishing up her semester at school, which means large wads of grading all in a short amount of time. She's winding up nicely though. Once we finish work today, we'll attend approximately 14 family meals, by my count, and open gifts at about 6 locations. And then we'll actually take a vacation next week.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Meetin' the Mother

This morning we got a chance to have breakfast with our matched birth mom, her two kids, and one of her close friends. Obviously this was a little bit of a stressful situation for everyone involved, and as it turns out, we had to fly minus our social worker. This meant one less person to cover my mouth as I ask if the mother will mind if we sacrifice a cat before breakfast, as is "the way of my people."

In the end, the experience was a very positive one. The birth mom was delightful. She had a great personality and was obviously very intelligent and sincere. Her two little girls were also a treat. Erin was angry when I made her give them back at the end of breakfast.

The only minor hiccup in the morning was in Erin's choice of gifts for the little girls. She got one of them an Etch-a-Sketch type thing, but for the youngest one, she got a miniature version of one of those big round things where you turn a big arrow in the center to an animal, and then the gadget makes the animal sound. The sound, as is obvious to all parents, was the first issue. Nothing wakes up a Bob Evans like a "cow goes moo" four or five hundred times. More humorously, at least in my mind, was that the thing played a little banjo lick like something from "Deliverance" after every animal noise. Nothing says "here come the white folks" like banjos.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Bee Thousand" by Guided By Voices (1994)

In spring of 1994, my sister and I drove to Cincinnati to see one of my favorite bands called Pavement. Opening was a band called Guided By Voices that I knew very little about. That concert set in motion a love affair with GBV that led to purchasing literally hundreds of CDs and records and going to dozens of shows. I can remember thinking the band looked, well, old. In reality, they were a bunch of guys in their late 30's, but they didn't look like they belonged on stage. I also remember thinking that the songs were good, but I wasn't entirely convinced they could play.

In reality, GBV was the brainchild of a 4th grade school teacher in Dayton, Ohio named Robert Pollard. Having dreamt for years about having a band, he began hanging out with his friends, recording albums on old cassette decks and cheap 4-track recorders in a detached garage behind his house between beers and pickup basketball games. Since his favorite bands were The Who and The Beatles, some of the vocals have a slightly British affectation, and the songs definitely sound like they fell out of 1966. His brother-in-law played drums and some local neighbors played various other instruments, but the songs were primarily Pollard. After about 8 years of recording and releasing records on his own in quantities of 25 to his friends, he spawned "Bee Thousand." Like all the others, it was recorded on a cheap 4-track on worn out cassettes. The sound quality is terrible, once described as "listening to a radio station you just can't quite pickup." But there are some amazing songs underneath the hiss. The album also caught the attention of several record labels and gave Pollard enough income to quit schoolteaching.

"Bee Thousand" launced a new genre in the 90's called "lo-fi," which really just meant "can't afford to record in a studio." There were dozens of imitators, but rarely was the songwriting of "Bee Thousand" matched. Pollard and GBV went on to record dozens of other albums before calling it quits in 2004. (For those who may remember, the last concerts were a pair of New Year's Eve shows in Chicago to which I drug my wife. She still hasn't forgiven me.) Frequently he'd release four or five albums in a year, and while his ability to self-edit has been called into question, if you're willing to weed through the dozens of albums, there are some amazing gems to be found.

I miss the four or five hour GBV concerts. I miss seeing a band onstage that looked genuinely excited to be there, and I think part of GBV's appeal is that it was one guy who couldn't give up on the fact that he really wanted to play music, despite nearly everyone else in his life telling him he'd never make it. Pollard has toured as a solo act since the demise of GBV, but this month he announced that he's done with the road, his age finally catching up with him. So for now, if I can't see the concerts anymore, I've still got 10 or 15,000 songs worth of Pollard to listen to on my iPod.

"Echos Myron"
"Smothered In Hugs"
"I Am A Scientist"

Guided By Voices website link
Allmusic Guide link

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Tale of Two Calls

Yesterday afternoon I received the first of two major telephone calls in the last 24 hours. The first was from our local adoption agency. A young lady has selected us to potentially parent her child who is due in January. There are a lot of details to be worked out, and as is always the case in adoption, there are many things which could still change the situation, but we're hopeful. In the mean time, please say a prayer for this young lady and her unborn little boy. We get to meet her next week, so we'll keep everyone posted.

The second call came at around 6:45am this morning. This one not so happy. I knew it was bad news when the phone rang on two separate occasions while I was trying to shave.

"I was in an accident." (In a somewhat shakey tone.)

It snowed about 1/16th of an inch here last night, but this left the roads in pretty awful condition for the morning rush hour. Now every man knows that such a call can immediately go down two paths. The first leads to a tender, caring exchange where the husband makes sure the wife is ok and assures her that everything will be fine. The second leads to a hellish week where your dinner is thrown hastily on a plate and slid across the counter to you with a terse "There's your dinner" with an implied "loser" tacked on the end. "You care more about the car than you do me. Hope you enjoy the couch jerko." Understanding this, I took the first route.

"Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Is the car ok?"
"I think so."

Here is where I ran back up the path and took the second route, or so I've been told.

"Why did you take the backroads this morning? I thought we agreed that in bad weather, we'd take the main roads?"
"It wasn't my fault! There wasn't any ice...until the mail boxes."
"I can't believe we're discussing which route I took. I can't believe you!"
"How many mailboxes? Are you sure the car is ok?"

This was all resolved over the course of a few more phone calls. In the end, the wife sustained only husband inflicted emotional damage, the car sustained some minor bumper damage, and a couple of mailboxes suffered a mow down at moderate speed. I'm sure we'll get the call on those tonight. I'll leave you with one final comment from my dearest:

"I didn't think it would be icy because I saw the salt trucks. They salt to prevent ice, right?"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

On Saturday, Erin and I decided to take a weekend drive out to New Castle, Indiana to see the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. In a state where Oscar Robertson, Bobby Plump, and Damon Bailey are the other trinity, this New Castle museum does a nice job of showing some of the highlights of Indiana's crazy basketball past.

There are nice exhibits covering the 1954 Milan tournament win chronicled in the movie "Hoosiers," the rise of Crispus Attucks High School and its star, Oscar Robertson, and the 1990 state title game where 41,000 packed the Hoosier Dome to watch Damon Bailey. And then there's the John Wooden exhibit. The exhibit features a wax (?) figure of Wooden speaking to wooden (hah!) cutouts of basketball players. He's neatly dressed in a suit and tie, and when you press a button, a DVD projects the real Wooden's face onto the figure, and it gives a pep talk to the boys. There was something very creepy about the whole thing. I kept expecting blood to start oozing from Wooden's eyes and him go all zombie on the boys. Very strange.

The museum was run by a lovely group of elderly women who were eager to tell us about all of the attractions to be seen in Henry County. We nearly had to make a run for it to get out of a lingering conversation about the Wright Brother's Birthplace. All in all, it was definitely a worthwhile trip, and we'd highly recommend it as a quick day trip from Indianapolis on a weekend.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Love A Parade

Many of you know that the majority of my family hails from Bedford, Indiana. This southern Indiana town provides a bevy of inspiration, most of which could be filed under "unintentionally funny." My uncle has kindly forwarded me the lineup for Bedford's Christmas parade this year. I have highlighted what are sure to be some of my favorite, er, floats. My uncle also kindly noted that the Christmas parade probably isn't as good as the July 4th parade. On July 4th, Twinkie the Kid throws twinkies at spectators from the back of a pickup truck. Get your tickets now...

Lineup set for Christmas Bedford parade
Bedford Times-Mail
BEDFORD — This year’s theme for the Festival of Lights Christmas parade is “What Does Christmas Mean to You?” Here is the lineup as of Nov. 29.

1 City of Bedford DARE truck, Bedford Police Department
2 City of Bedford DARE sprint/motorcycle, Bedford Police Department
3 Official welcome banner, Bedford Middle School Beta Club
4 Official theme banner, BMS Beta Club
5 Color guard, American Legion Gillen Post 33
6 Mayor Joe Klumpp, City of Bedford
7 2006 Grand Marshal Rachel Sorrells
8 Flintstone Christmas “sponsors” float with grand marshal runnersup: Lexi Stewart, Sydney Corbin, Morgan Lambrecht and Alyssa Day
9 The Joy of “Gifting,” Dollens Elementary
10 Christ Is Christmas, Mundell Christian Church
11 Santa’s ’66 Chevelle Malibu, Cruisin Classics Inc.
12 Christmas Shoes, Hands of Praise (Guidepointe Church Signing Ministry)
13 Fire truck, Pleasant Run Fire Department
14 “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Hoosier Hills Armed Forces Families Association
15 Unicyclist Joseph Blanchard
16 Firetruck Elves, Shawswick Fire Department
17 1948 Studebaker street rod, Gerry and Janet Taylor
18 Bloomington Brass Band
19 Smokey Bear and Hoosier National Forest, Hoosier National Forest U.S. Forest Service
20 Christmas float, White River Baptist Church
21 Holiday Spirit, Shawswick Elementary cheerleaders, dance and basketball teams
22 A Gift of Caring, StoneBridge Health Campus
23 Combs Animal Farm, Jay Combs
24 Quad axle dump truck, Shelby Trucking
25 Insect fogging truck, Bedford Lions Club
26 Ringing Out For Jesus, Dive Christian Church
27 1974 Chevy Nova, Joe Jones
28 A Victorian Christmas, Lawrence County Victorian Dancers
29 BRMC ambulance
30 A Christmas Story, Little Theatre of Bedford
31 Nikki and her Christmas dogs, Nikki Richter
32 Merry Christmas, City of Bedford Fire Department
33 Merry Christmas from General Motors, GM Powertrain — Bedford, GMAC Mortgage LLC, Evergreen GMAC Real Estate and Hubler Chevrolet Cadillac
34 Fayetteville dance and cheer squads
35 Christmas Through The Eyes of a Family, StoneBridge Health Campus
36 Classic Touch Limousine, Classic Touch Limousine Service Inc.
37 Trinity Lutheran High School Marching Cougars, Trinity Lutheran High School
38 Mobile glass truck, Sipes Body and Auto Glass
39 1916 Boneshaker hi-wheel bicycle, Roger Webster
40 Engine 1, Shawswick Volunteer Fire Department
41 Angels We’ve Heard On High a Savior is Born, Second Baptist Church
42 BMS cheerleaders
43 The Canteen, Salvation Army Emergency Services
44 ’06 2500 Big Horn Diesel, Sternberg Chrysler/International
45 Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, Hoosier Hills chapter
46 Street sweeper
47 Street sweeper
48 Pre-Teen Indiana 2006, Queen Mica Sloane
49 Cheerful Elves, Oolitic Middle School cheerleaders
50 A Hillbilly Christmas, Hair Masters
51 ’73 VW Super Beetle Convertible, Bob Evans Restaurant
52 Golf cart, TA Contracting Corp. — Tommy Abel
53 Calliope music, Ron Bell
54 A Child’s Big Toy, Root’s RV Inc.
55 Christmas Morning, Kids Time Preschool and Day Care
56 Chevy pickup antique car, Paul Keith
57 JayC Plus Shopping Cart Drill Team, JayC Plus Store
58 1972 Volkswagen Beetle, Jim Hillenburg
59 Cub Scout Pack 333
60 Dashing Through the Snow, Hoosier Hills Credit Union
61 Seven-passenger van, Disabled American Veterans van
62 Christmas Means — A Shiny New Fire Truck, Shawswick Fire Department
63 Re/Max Float, Re/Max Real Estate Center
64 Stagecoach, McKnight’s Rangers
65 Street sweeper
66 Street Sweeper
67 1948 Chevy antique car, Artie Grimaldo
68 Gifts of Christmas, Springville Champions 4-H Club
69 ’06 International CXT, Sternberg Chrysler/International
70 The Christmas Story, Heltonville Methodist Church
71 Go Blue Jackets, Heltonville Elementary basketball players and cheerleaders
72 Lawn Mower Convoy, Lawrence County Equipment
73 White River Humane Society Mobile Adoption, White River Human Society
74 Sheriff, Lawrence County Sheriff Department
75 Christmas in the Alps, Extreme Gymnastics
76 Fighting Irish, St. Vincent de Paul cheerleaders
77 People Helping People, H&R Block
78 Merry Christmas from Pridemore Cycle, Pridemore Cycle
79 Cosmic Christmas, Bedford Youth Bowling Association
80 Fire truck, Guthrie Township Fire Department
81 City of Bedford Clerk-Treasurer Donna Brumbaugh
82 Country singer Lori Anderson
83 White Visions of Sugar Plums Danced in their Heads, Gymnastics by Ann
84 BMS dance team
85 Subway with Subman, Subway Restaurants
86 Ambulance, Dunn Memorial Hospital
87 One Horse Christmas, Coulter Family
88 Christmas in the Past, Caleb Bailiff and friends
89 Street sweeper
90 Christmas Spirits through activities and services, Troop 333 Boys Scouts of America — Sponsored by K of C 1166
91 Puppets on God’s Highway, Mitchell First Church of God
92 Country Christmas, Sipes Body and Auto Glass Inc.
93 Oolitic Fire Department Engine 2, Oolitic Volunteer Fire Department
94 OMS dance team
95 1957 Chevy antique car, St. John’s Episcopal Church
96 Brownie Troop 399, Girls Scout Brownie Troop 399
97 Stalker Cheerleaders (I know this is a school down there, but it still sounds funny)
98 The First Leon, Park Place Church of God
99 Marshall Township Fire Engine 6-oz., Marshall Township Volunteer Fire and EMS departments
100 The best band in the parade, Andrew Hartman’s Funtime Band
101 1976 Corvette, Altrusa International Inc.
102 Merry Christmas to All, GRD Waste Removal
103 Santa’s Toy Shop, Lawrence County Junior Leaders
104 Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Shawswick Middle School
105 Girls Scout Cookies for Santa, Girl Scouts of Tulip Trace Council/North Lawrence
106 TASC Bus, City of Bedford TASC
107 Perry Township Volunteer Fire/EMS
108 Country Boys, Jordan Kinser and Leyton Craig
109 Celebrate Christmas with Our Family, Pizza Hut
110 Clydesdale Christmas, Jerry George
111 I Thought They Were Reindeer, Horsin Buddies
112 Street sweeper
113 ’57 Chevy antique car, Charles Dorsett
114 Christmas Is Remembering the Birth of Jesus Christ, Dollens Elementary and OMS PTO
115 Williams Fire Department
116 Sam Shaw, Sam’s Place
117 1937 Chevy street rod, Scott Brock Bedford Limestone Suppliers
118 Merry Christmas, Dollens girls and boys basketball teams
119 Bedford Ford Youth Project, Bedford Ford Youth Project
120 He Is The Light Of The World, St. Vincent de Paul school and the Knights of Columbus
121 1951 Ford pickup antique car, Dan & Carol Robbins — Bedford Limestone Suppliers
122 BNL Marching Stars, Bedford North Lawrence High School
123 A Christmas Story — Ralphie’s Coming to Town, D&S Excavating
124 Santa and Mrs. Claus Are Coming To Bedford, Sipes Body and Auto Glass Inc.
125 Street sweeper
126 Bedford police car

Parade details
When: 6 p.m. Dec. 2
Where: Downtown Bedford, starts at 15th and M streets and is 12 blocks long
On the Internet:
(This link is worth checking out for the pictures of some of the previous prize winning floats.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Quick Vacations

Isn't it amazing how quickly five days off from work can go by?

We started off the holiday Wednesday night by purchasing a complete "nursery in a box" to outfit the baby's room. Wednesday evening I began assembling, with assurance from the web community that this particular product was "easy to assemble." I should know better. I began by dumping parts A through ZZZ onto the family room floor. I started with the chest of drawers, and after about 20 screws, I decided that a power tool was in order. Lucky for me my powered screwdriver had a dead battery, so it was helpful for approximately half a drawer. Things were sailing along with little trouble, until I started to notice that for three pieces of furniture, the assembly instructions consisted of one sheet of paper. It was at this approximate level of detail:

1. open box
2. put together chest of drawers
3. stop swearing. put together crib.
4. stop kicking and swearing. dress any wounds from screwdriver.
5. put together changing table.

At one point I screwed the back panel onto the front of one of the pieces. Argh. The other annoyance was that after about 500 screws, the company switched to fasteners requiring an allen wrench. It was barrels of fun trying to twist in another 500 screws with a tool designed for hands the size of a toddlers. The whole experience took about three hours, but in the end, we got furniture that actually looks decent and serves the purpose. Erin was delighted, and she didn't even notice all my mistakes.

Thursday was spent in Bedford with our family. We had a nice Thanksgiving. It was a great chance to update our families on what's happening with the adoptions, and it was also great to hear what is going on in everyone else's lives. Plus I managed to eat a small planet worth of food.

After spending the night at a local hotel in Bedford (these words alone should suggest "not gonna be 4 star") we headed to the new casino at French Lick. I should note that Erin and her mom nearly got us run out of Lawrence County when they inquired at the front desk of the local hotel about the possibility of obtaining an alcoholic beverage on the evening of Thanksgiving. The kind lady gave us a "drinkin's sinnin'" look before telling us that no (respectible) place would be open for such a drink on a major holiday. To make matter's worse, wife and mother of wife then proceeded to ask "Well then is there anywhere to get some dessert? Maybe a hot fudge sundae?"

"McDonald's is 2 blocks down on the right."


French Lick, the home of Larry Bird and former home of my favorite establishment -- "French Liquors," is home to a new casino attached to the French Lick Springs resort. For those who don't know, French Lick used to be quite the gambling destination for the likes of Al Capone and other sordid characters of the 20th century. Now it's turned its greedy gaze to the citizens of southern Indiana. It's always entertaining to see a glassy eyed pensioner chained, quite literally, to a slot machine -- cigarette firmly lodged in the corner of the mouth, mixed beverage in hand, shouting obscenities at a slot machine in the parlance of southern Indiana:

"We's lost six months of disability on this here machine!"

"Mavis, see if you can track down one of them girls to get mamaw another pack of Marlboro's."

It was a Thanksgiving cornucopia of "I seen's," "we's," and "don't got's."

After a day at the casino, we took in some shopping at the outlet mall on the way home, moving us closer still to finishing our Christmas shopping for 2006. All in all, not a bad way to spend a holiday. Any vacation featuring vast quantities of food and slot machines can't be all bad.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The City County Building

As part of Domestic Adoption Dance Party 2006, we've been required by the great state of Indiana to have background checks done in every county we've lived in during the past five years. Luckily this is only two counties so it's not so much of a hassle. But if they'd asked me to do this in 2000, I'd be doing some serious travling. In an effort to fulfill this request in a timely fashion, Erin and I headed to the City County Building to get our checks done for Marion County, better known to the rest of the world as the city of Indianapolis. Now there are few places on planet Earth where you feel more like a criminal than the City County Building. This building houses many of the city courts for Indianapolis, and it's adjacent to the jail, so it's not exactly a debutante ball.

In our post-9/11 universe, the first thing you encounter as you enter the door is a row of metal detectors and airport-style baggage scanners. This is accompanied by a woman with a voice to make Ethel Merman proud shouting "Remove all coats and belts, and remove all objects from your pockets." No sweat. We stood in line watching people get scanned, poked, and prodded by the security team, and finally, the line reached the girl in front of us. She pealed off her coat and threw it on the conveyor belt. She then tossed her purse on the conveyor. At this point, the process stopped.

"Mam, you can't take that in there."
"What choo talkin' 'bout?"
"Your purse."
"What about it?"
"The handle is a handcuff. You can't take that in there."

Shore 'nough. The girl had a pink purse which featured the adorning glow of a silver handcuff as part of the strap. She pleaded that the cuff was fake, but it made no difference. We chuckled to ourselves about this incident, and I silently wondered why I'd never dated any girls who brought their own handcuffs, but we fully expected to move right on through the process in no time flat.

I went first. I threw my belt, change, and coat on the conveyor. Right on through. No sweat. Next up -- the wife.

"Ma'am, you'll need to remove your necklace."
"Ok, here ya go."
"Ma'am, this is too long."
"No, actually it's very nice. It hangs just low enough to look sophisticated, but..."
"No, it's too long to take in."
"Really? You're serious?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Can I leave it with you?"
"Yes, but we get to keep it."
"Can I hide it in the bushes?"
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that, ma'am."

At this point, my wife returned to our car, several blocks away, to put away her necklace. Now, what I don't understand is this. They let me enter the building with my belt, and the circumference of my waist is much greater than that of my wife's neck (if this isn't true in your family, God bless you). Therefore I can't see how her flimsy little jewelry is more dangerous than my leather belt, but common sense has escaped us in these times.

The rest of the fingerprinting was uneventful, except for the fact that you can't actually take the background check with you. You have to go back a day later to pick it up, thus getting to experience the City County Building for a second time. And this just covers one of the two counties...I'm sure the other county will be an adventure as well.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


This morning on my way to work, I got behind a circa-1984 Ford Tempo with a license plate ring that read "Cruising Into The Future." Now my uncle owned one of these little monsters, therefore I have a bit of inside knowledge that anyone driving a Tempo is lucky to be cruising out of their driveway, let alone into the future. I will never forget going to my aunt and uncle's house and seeing their Tempo parked in the driveway, where it had been for several months, with a pile of kitty litter under it to catch all of the fluids as they drained out of the vehicle. The thing leaked like the Titanic. It was not a reliable vehicle, to say the least.

This got me thinking about all the cars my parents drove while I was growing up. My dad is easily the most knowledgable person on cars, engines, folk music, human organs, dirigibles, firearms, animal parts, Civil War wound cleaning, flammable hand cleansers, welding, fire, leaf clearing, Christmas light hanging, plants and birds and rocks and things, that I've ever known, yet there have been some questionable automobile purchases in our family's past. For example, I remember at one point we had both a Ford Pinto and a Ford Grenada. Everyone knows the story about the incredible exploding Pinto, but do you remember the story of the Ford Grenada? Perhaps you remember its cousin, the Mercury Monarch? That's right, you don't even remember the Ford Grenada. That's because they've all rusted out of existence and memory. It took almost three minutes to even find a picture of a Grenada on the Internet! At another point, we owned both a Chrysler Horizon AND a Dodge Omni. That had to put us in some kind of special class all our own. I distinctly remember learning several new swears while dad worked on the Horizon. It was a fine automobile, with its add-on air conditioning and silky hatchback. I remember the hatchback more vividly than most. Very few children have ridden from Indianapolis to Louisville in the hatchback of a Horizon with four adults and a baby occupying the rest of the seats while listening to Zig Ziglar tapes on the add-on cassette deck. The tapes make more sense now that I'm an adult. Anyone driving a Horizon needed some tips on success. At least my folks removed the deck lid from the trunk so I could see out into the rest of the world while being indoctrinated. Humerously, the first link I saw on Ziglar's home page was for an article called "How To Survive A Road Trip With The Kids." Here's a hint -- don't pop in one of Zig's tapes. Or make the kids ride in the trunk.

My dad has owned some really cool cars as well. He owned a 1964 (and a half!) Ford Mustang. I was in 6th grade when he purchased this little convertible, and I thought it was about the greatest thing ever. He even got me a belt buckle with a gold plated Mustang emblem on it. (This belt buckle also insured that I wouldn't date too young. Interestingly, I found this buckle not too long ago, and the top half of it was corroded. I spent some time trying to figure out why just the top would be corroded, then it dawned on me that when I was in 6th grade, I ate rather substantially, and the corrosion was from my gut reminding my belt that it had better hold on tight.) Dad also owned a 1980 MGB convertible, which was a fun little car, until you had to order parts from the UK, which usually meant another lesson in anger management from dad.

I could write a whole book on this topic. I haven't even mentioned all of the car-aircraft carrier-combos that one of my other uncles has driven over the years. Or the fact that my dad also owned an AMC Javelin that he still defends with "that was a pretty little car!" when harrassed. Currently I drive a big, white Hyundai Sonata. It's been a great car. I never have any problems with it, it has plenty of room inside, and it didn't cost much. I've also been informed that the car would have only been unhip, had I not gotten it in white, so now it's not only unhip, but it also makes me a champion for the elderly. I care not. The car is reliable and comfortable; therefore, I like it. And it requires no kitty litter after operating.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Now I know for a fact that my brother-in-law Troy has asked for dolls, er, I mean toys, for Christmas in the past -- most recently a Darth Tader and a Spud Trooper. Therefore I have no shame in presenting you this -- the Brian Wilson action figure. Now most people in my family realize I'm a pretty big fan of the Beach Boys, and in reality, I'm an even bigger Brian Wilson fan. He has written some of my favorite music of all time. But I just can't see myself sitting on the floor of the living room posing Brian's legs while he plays "I Get Around." I mean, they didn't even do a circa-1964 "playing bass wearing a striped shirt Brian", instead they opted for the "considering building a sandbox in my family room, I hear voices telling me to raid the fridge again" circa-1966 Brian. I've supported all of the wacky Brian Wilson projects over the past few years, and sometimes they've been surprisingly good (see "SMiLE" and his Christmas album from last year). But I don't see myself picking up a posable Brian Wilson any time soon.

Here's a link to Brian Wilson's website regarding the action figure project, and here's a link to a funny news story about it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Poke Me Again Please

If you're a faithful reader of our blog, you'll recall that many of the entries from last November and December centered around us filling out paperwork, getting things notarized, and getting poked and prodded for the purposes of creating a medical history and dossier for our Chinese adoption.

Now it's 2006, and we're doing it all over again for our domestic adoption. All the family histories ("So, Dad, you're still alive, right?), medical information ("That's great, doc, I don't have ebola this year either!") and picture collecting ("Geez, honey. We looking smashing yet again this year!) is being done again. The hundreds of dollars and duplicated effort will all be worth it in a few months, but in the mean time, it's making me surly.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Album" by Peter, Paul & Mary (1966)

Over the past few weeks, my CD collection has been going through a major overhaul. The introduction of the iPod into my life has alerted me to the fact that I own a lot of music that I no longer care about. It's not that I think it's bad or that I shouldn't have bought it in the first place, rather it's about my tastes changing as I get older. I don't listen to nearly as much stuff as I used to, so when I do listen to something, it had better be good. I have discovered this wonderful site called where you essentially trade CDs for $1 each. My goal has been to unload lots of stuff I'm not actively listening to in exchange for stuff that I'll hopefully listen to for the forseeable future. One of the groups I've been picking up is Peter, Paul & Mary. Now many of you may be surprised that I don't already own all their stuff, but for whatever reason, I only owned their debut album, therefore is providing me an excellent way of picking up some more of their stuff cheaply.

One of the things that is frequently happening to me as I get older is I'll hear a quick fragment of a song in my head, and many times I have absolutely no idea why I know the song or where I've heard it. As it turns out, several of those songs land on this album. My dad owned this on record when I was a kid, and since I dang near wore out every record he owned, it's not surprising that I know this one backwards and forwards as well. I guess in the grand scheme of PP&M records it's not considered a jewel, but for my money, there are some true gems on here. "And When I Die" was a hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears later on, but this version squashes their version like a grape. "Hurry Sundown" has a haunting minor key harmony that sticks in your head (actually, this is one of the songs that for years I've been trying to figure out where I know it from). Additionally there are wonderful covers of John Denver's "For Baby (For Bobbie)" and The Weavers' "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." With the exception of a couple of late 60's clunkers in the middle, this is a fantastic record.

After I received this CD in the mail, I did a quick web search on PP&M and discovered that Mary Travers is recovering from Leukemia over the past year. I'll make no jokes about the age of my parents, but it's hard for even me to believe that she turns 69 next week. Paul McCartney is 64. The 1960's are quickly slipping into history as evidenced by one of my wife's high school students asking "Who are The Beatles?" a few weeks back. Ouch.

"And When I Die"
"Hurry Sundown"
"For Baby (For Bobbie)"

Peter, Paul & Mary website link
Allmusic Guide link

Monday, October 30, 2006

Baby Update

As most of you are aware, Erin and I filed for an adoption from China earlier this year. It seems like it was about five years ago, but it was actually March of this year when China logged us into their system. In March, we were hopeful to have Grace by Christmas. In fact, I think my card to Erin last Christmas made some comment about it being our last Christmas without kids. Crud. Maybe I should have said "...this will be our last Christmas with vast quantities of ice cream and barbeque" or some such. In any case, since March, the wait for a child from China has extended to lengths we hadn't really imagined. At this point, we're hearing 2008. The reasons for the slow down are sketchy and not worth going into. Just know that we're not alone. Everyone in the line for a Chinese adoption is in the same holding pattern.

With that said, and after some prayers, Erin and I have made the decision to go ahead with a domestic adoption in the mean time. After fully committing ourselves to the Chinese process, to which we're still fully committed, we are also fully committing ourselves to adopting a child from here in Indy. We've already gotten things ironed out with both the local adoption agency and our Chinese agency, and we're hopeful to have an infant by February or March of 2007. That's February or March. It actually could be in January, but saying it makes my stomach feel funny. It's not that I'm not ready...we've waited so long. It's just that we were all set for our little 12 month old Grace...and now it's...a newborn. Diapers...night feedings...the whole shebang. He or she will be either bi-racial or full African American, and as Erin and I like to say, we're just trying to hit all the kids in that song. You know, "Red and yellow, black and white...they are precious in His sight." And they'll be equally precious sitting at my dinner table.

So say a little prayer for us. Erin probably needs it more than I do. We went to Babies 'r Us, USA Baby, Burlington Coat Factory baby zone, and Once Upon a Child already last weekend. I was told by multiple people that I looked like I'd been hit by a train. I had gotten used to the idea that the only burp cloths we'd ever need to own would be for me after too much Mexican food or for my dad in a few years. But I can get used to the idea of having them around for a newborn as well.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I just happened to notice that it was one year ago today that I added the site meter to our page, therefore it must have been (almost) exactly a year ago today that we started our blog! Almost 2500 people (my uncle in Birmingham 2200 times, my grandfather 200 times, and myself 100 times) have visited our blog in the past year. Not a huge number in Internet statistics, but hey... who really cares?

In other news, I ate a McRib at McDonald's for lunch. That isn't meat. It just isn't.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Covered Bridges

This past weekend, Erin and I joined my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and his mom for a jaunt through the annual Covered Bridge Festival in Bridgeton, Indiana. This festival does a particularly splendid job of giving Hoosiers a chance to drive through the hills looking at the newly turned fall leaves while backing up traffic for miles in every conceivable direction.

The highlights of this year's trip included a man who makes marshmellow blowguns in his retirement and sells them for $6.50 a pop, a soy candle which was scented "Smell My Nuts," and one of those guys covered in silver paint acting like a robot...from the 1800's. If there's one thing the Amish do well, it's the robot. Here are some pictures from our little trip.

Awww...they got ahold of my uncle Bret's Christmas list...

Here are my brother-in-law, his mom, and my sister all chowing down on tenderloins large enough to stop your heart...

A look down a street in Bridgeton... I choose where I'm headed next at this festival based solely on how much smoke is eminating from the building. Lots of smoke == good grub. Or a carelessly discarded cigarette in dry leaves.

Two of my favorite words -- "Free Sample." After a rest stop at a Port-o-Let with a less than stellar hand sterilization system, nothing says "Get yer bacterial infection here!" like a tub full of Old Tyme Sugar Korn.

This was one of many "man with chainsaw make you decoration" offerings at the festival. He appears to be making...logs...from the larger this case...

The lovely Erin carefully selecting her wares from piles of someone else's trash...

This was the largest pot of ham and beans that I've ever seen. It looked pretty wonderful, although it's hard to tell if the guy is scooping out beans or vomiting in this picture. If there's one enclosed tent you want to steer clear of at the Covered Bridge Festival, it's this one.

And finally, a view of the NEW covered bridge in Bridgeton. The beauty of the Covered Bridge Festival is that it highlights the many unique, aging structures which gave the festival its name. It also has upped the notoriety which comes with torching these structures after a high school football game.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hair Care

First off, sorry for the dearth of posts this week. Work has gone from zero to sixty, and it appears that the pedal will stay on the floor until the end of the year. Don't they realize that this impedes on my blogging time? Onward...

My extended family has, to say the least, had some hair issues over the years. Now I know this may sound odd, but it's true. Hair, or the lack thereof, has played a key role in several family holidays and provides my dad something to poke at my uncle about while they sweat out the holiday of the moment. I can remember thinking as a child that hair must be very important, as I'd seen multiple family members in tears over various hair-tastrophies, and I knew that on Friday's, I would never be able to see my grandmother as she was always "getting her hair fixed," which as a child made me think that they must have to replace it each week. I guess I inherited some of this, as my hair has gone through a new stage approximately once per year since college. I'm currently in the preferred stage for engineers -- "don't comb it when you get out of bed."

A few nights ago, my lovely wife informed me that she had purchased a kit to do "highlights" at home, and that she might require my assistance. The last time she bought one of these kits of evil, we ended up with black dots all over the paint in our shower and on our countertop. And if memory serves me correctly, she was none to happy with the results on that particular occasion. Knowing better than to question a woman on a mission, I responded that helping her wasn't high on my list of things to do (slightly lower than poking myself in the eye), but that I'd be available in case of emergency.

At about 9pm, she emerges from the bathroom with some white glop on her hair that smelled like something with which you might clean out a toilet or sewer drain. It reeked. She plopped herself on the bed with a towel around her shoulders and informed me that the product stated that it needed to sit on her head for a minimum of 30 minutes for minimal highlights, or longer for lighter highlights. It seems odd to me that you would put a product on your head that can dissolve paint and countertops, but my grandmother is still alive after several million gallons of Aquanet have soaked into her head, so perhaps the human head can withstand more than I realize.

At about 20 minutes, she hopped up and headed into the bathroom for a look. The initial screaming led me to believe that perhaps I'd left the toilet seat up, but instead, she was screaming at her newly highlighted hair. She immediatley started trying to remove the product in the shower, and when she emerged...

Now the bruises from calling your wife "skunklady" or saying things like "that would look great if you were a hooker" don't heal quickly. Following my insensitivities, she headed out the door at 10pm to buy a hair coloring kit to redo her whole hair in her natural brown. This in itself seemed like another bad idea to me, but I stayed quiet and nursed my wounds.

When she returned, she followed all the directions on the new package, which involved us watching another half hour of TV in a caustic ammonia-based cloud with a towel draped around Erin's shoulders. When she rinsed the latest product out, I heard yet another scream. Part of me hoped that her hair had actually fallen out this time around, 'cause that there makes a stellar blog entry. Instead, her hair just turned a shade of red. It doesn't look bad, but it's definitely not her natural hair color. Apparently the second dye somehow mingled with the original dye and created this new shade.

In the end, Erin looks very nice as a redhead. And I have learned that if she reaches for hair dye at WalMart in the future, I should not say, "But honey, you looked like crap the last time you did that!" At least not out loud.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Way to go, Tony!

Just wanted to post a quick congratulations to my good friend Tony Sahm and his new bride, Jennie! We had a great time at their wedding last night, and we wish them the best in their new marriage! When I saw the groomsmen wearing Converse Chuck Taylors, I knew I was at the right wedding...

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Skylarking" by XTC (1986)

This is one of those albums that completely changed what I listened to in high school. It was originally recommended to me by a guy named Paul Colella from Boston who used to be on the RIME Music board, back in the pre-Internet days of the late 80's and early 90's. (Strangely, a couple of years ago I was talking to another music fan on this new fangled Internet who had traded music with Paul...what are the chances...)

In any case, when I bought this in high school, I listened to it non-stop for about 6 months. It's the perfect blend of the Beach Boys, weird instrumentation, great orchestral and string sections, and uplifting songs. No album in my collection do I more closely identify with summer than this album. I can remember Eric and I driving around blaring this during high school, both of us excited that a band that sounded like XTC even existed. What other band would tackle the issue of marriage in 2 tracks on the same album?

There are lots of stories about the band fighting with the producer during the recording of "Skylarking," and if those are true, it's a prime example of something stunningly well crafted coming out of intense circumstances. It made me a huge XTC fan and had a lot to do with my obsession with English music over the next 15 years. Much to my wife's chagrin, this has recently caused me to import a 9 CD box set of unreleased XTC tracks that was just released. Oh for joy...

"Ballet For A Rainy Day"
"Earn Enough For Us"
"Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"

XTC website link
Allmusic Guide link

Sunday, October 08, 2006


This afternoon, given the gorgeous fall weather, Erin and I took a quick trip out to Shades State Park for a hike. We're very fortunate to have several great state parks within an hour of our house, and the hiking at Shades is wonderful. One of the things Erin loves about Indiana is our claim to have waterfalls. Shortly after we were married, we stopped at Cataract Falls, which has an approximately 30 foot drop over the main falls. Erin quickly declared that this does not constitute a REAL waterfall and that the individual who named the site must have, indeed, had cataracts. Given that her childhood history with waterfalls is rooted in California and the many falls of Yosemite National Park, it's not surprising that our 30 foot falls didn't garner any "oooohs." Today we found another Indiana waterfall at Shades, in which Erin delighted in the minimalism...

Following our traversal of the mighty falls of Shades, we went to a restaurant in Covington, Indiana which features one of my favorite restaurant names...

Any place called The Beef House has gotta be good, and this place is no exception. In addition to their mighty slabs of beef, they pride themselves in great dinner rolls. I don't think the rolls are all that great...good, but nothing to advertise on your web site. But the staff did have shirts that said "Got rolls?" on the front, and after eating there, I imagine I do...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Slippery Cell Phone

Upon my return from the Land of the Slurpy Eaters last weekend, Erin and I ventured to Brown County for a stroll through the shops and a chance for me to regain my sense of Indiana hillbilly. For dinner, we decided to stop in Morgantown, Indiana for a bite at Kathy's Cafe. I remember going to Kathy's as a little kid, my most vivid memory being that they brought me the rest of the chocolate shake I ordered in the mixing cup, in addition to the shake they poured me initially. To a fat third grader with a penchant for shakery, this was dreamy. In recent years, we've considered stopping at Kathy's numerous times, but they seem to be open weird hours, so we jumped at the chance this time around.

Kathy's was quite similar to my memories of the place. The decor hasn't changed in at least 30 years, and they still feature a lunch counter, lots of home made pies, and most importantly, milk shakes. Erin found it amusing that the wait staff wears hospital scrubs. Comfort always wins over asthetics in Indiana. Our food was home cooked and a tad on the greasy side, which made for a nice return meal after a week of duck tongue and kung pow chicken with bones. We returned home to Brownsburg full, which is my minimum requirement for any dining experience.

At some point after returning home, we discovered that Erin's cell phone was nowhere to be found. This is not an unusual occurence, and we have had numerous discussions over the definition of the word "lost" in our marriage. Erin's claim is always that she does not know the location of an object at a given time, but she insists that this does not constitue an item being "lost." Rather, she simply does not currently know the location of the item at this very moment. Sounds lost to me. We tossed the house and cars looking for the phone, but no luck. Usually this means we give it a couple of days, and the object turns up in a glove compartment or jacket pocket. Not so in this case.

So Erin began retracing her steps. She thought the phone was in her purse while we were in Brown County. I must preface this with the fact that on the last trip to Brown County, she bought a purse with zipping compartments to prevent things from falling out as she cavalierly tosses her purse about. She mentioned that as she exited the car at Kathy's, her earrings fell from her purse, and she had to retrieve them from the street. I inquired as to how this could occur with the new purse, and she told me that she had placed the earrings in the front compartment -- "you know, the one without the zippers to hold stuff in."

"Was your cell phone in that pocket as well?"

The purse with zippered pockets was obviously a good investment. Erin requested that I call Kathy's to see if the phone had turned up, but I remembered that we didn't actually park in front of Kathy's, we parked in front of a hardware store up the block. I called the hardware store, and they said that someone else had called another store on the block asking about a lost phone and that they had looked around in the street but found nothing. I figured Erin must have called Kathy's, so I left it at that. No sign of the phone. The phone we've owned for precisely three weeks.

Wednesday afternoon, Erin's mom gets a call from Kathy's.

"We found this phone in the street. It wasn't charged, so we spent three days figuring out how to charge it to get a number out of it. Do you know whose phone this is?"

So Wednesday night we hop in the car for a lightning fast trip to Morgantown. We retreived the phone, and I got some more pie. At the end of our meal, Erin picked up her purse and promptly dumped its contents under the booth. I may have to weld this purse shut.

As we left Kathy's, I noticed a cute old barbershop up the street. Upon closer inspection, the sign offered up "Barber Shop and Bait." God bless Indiana. Now if we could only find the set of car keys that's been missing for three months...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Picture Update

Due to some weirdness with Shutterfly (the site who hosts our picture albums), apparently only my pictures from Shenzhen were available. I've added the pictures from Hong Kong. Click here for those pictures.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I have returned...

So I'm back home, safely, in lovely central Indiana. I have to say that I don't think Indiana has ever felt any better. I'm all unpacked, and I have a vicious cold I'm trying to shake (well, it may be a cold, or it may just be that my body is ticked off with me for what I put it through in the past week).

In the mean time, for anyone that is interested, click here for a link to all of my pictures from Shenzhen and Hong Kong (it's easiest to just click "Slideshow" link at the top of the pictures). I haven't filtered through these at all yet, so I'm sure there are some duds in there. They're in the order that I took them in, so somewhere after the shots of the breakfast buffet in Shenzhen, things transition over to Hong Kong.

Anyway, glad to home, glad to have a soft bed, etc.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hong Kong Swan Song

...And so it comes to a close. My first trip to Asia will end tomorrow when I board a plane in Hong Kong for my return to the U.S. It's been fun, but I'll be a happy man when we touchdown in Chicago.

Today we walked around Hong Kong until my feet bled (seriously). This place is amazing, and it's such a stark contrast to mainland China. Getting off the ferry in Hong Kong this afternoon felt like we had stepped into New York when compared with Shenzhen. I knew very little about Hong Kong prior to this trip, but it is truly an amazing place. I have never seen such a vertical city. All of the buildings are stacked right on the coastlines of the various islands, and there are massive skyscrapers in view everywhere. I took loads of pictures, but I only will be able to post a few tonight.

Additionally, I'd like to treat everyone to a ride in a Shenzhen taxi from my office back toward the hotel. This was just a small snippet of what we experienced riding back and forth to work each day. I read an article in a Chinese paper which said that Shenzhen has installed traffic cameras to catch traffic offenses, and the most common offense was driving into oncoming traffic. Check out the video, and keep in mind that actually this was a very calm ride compared to others. Take note of the lack of stoplights at major intersections, as well as the way people just pull out in front of each other. This is just the norm... (You'll probably have to click on the big button in the center of the video twice for it to play.)

The rest of these are just a few of my pictures from walking around the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. I realize my ability to take a picture of a city scene at night is lacking, but I post it simply to give you an idea of how majestic Hong Kong really looks. It was truly striking at night.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Uh, does she belong to somebody?"

Tonight as we were walking to dinner, a small child ran up to my coworker and started begging for money. "You give me money." She said it over and over. Then she grabbed the waistband of his pants. Then she started smacking him on the rear end. It was the strangest thing. And when he finally shook her lose (English teacher correction from the states... loose), she sort of growled at him. I caught a picture of the event as it happened.

We went out to do a little shopping Shenzhen style before dinner, and in trying to find an area that was suggested by a co-worker as having some nice shops, we walked through what in my mind was a classic Asian cityscape.

The wonderfully friendly Lily helped us find some great Chinese merchandise. I agreed to come back to her shop after she accused me of "killing her" and "taking her dinner" by haggling with her.

A manager at our company over here took us to lunch at this little local place. We had a full meal featuring duck (with head!), lamb, Kung Pow chicken, vegetables, cucumber, watermelon, and various other things. It came to $30 for six of us, and we left a lot of food. Apparently over here it is proper to leave some food, as it suggests you left the restaurant full, whereas if you leave with an empty plate, you obviously left still wanting more. Here's a picture of the restaurant exterior.

There are a couple of primary schools nearby, so it's a kick at lunch to see all the kids in their school uniforms wandering around. They dig their popsicles in the heat.

Tomorrow night it's Hong Kong and the conclusion of my first trip to Asia. It's been an experience beyond words.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I need some help in here..."

This is the one thing in China that I simply cannot understand. I risked being beaten senseless to take this picture, but I feel that this is a topic that warrants some discussion.

First off, while I was taking this, there was a gentleman in the next, er, squatting area who was obviously having a bad morning. If it were me in Indianapolis, I would simply sit down with a copy of the morning paper and let nature take its course. But in this scenario, how does one relax? How can I possible spend the time to make this an enjoyable experience when I'm doing some kind of Johnny Bench style squat? My knees couldn't take it.

The whole time I've been over here, I've been debating whether to give this thing a run (har har). My coworkers and I have decided that it's not a good idea. I guess my biggest question lies in what to do with my pants. I looked around for some sort of hook, thinking perhaps you were supposed to strip down before using this thing, but it doesn't exist. I can't imagine how I would really use this without having some sort of incident where I'd spend the rest of the day explaining to people "No, really, it's chocolate. I spilled cocoa." Plus based on the cleanliness of the majority of the facilities I've seen over here, I'm not thinking I want to be scooting around this thing in my socks.

There is exactly one bathroom in our whole building at work here which has a "western" style toilet. One of my coworkers used it yesterday and discovered that if he sat on it, his knees were against the door of the stall such that he couldn't even close the door. Someone needs to show these folks how to build a proper facility.

I suggested on multiple occasions this week that I needed a demo by an Asian to show me how to use this thing. I suppose it would be a fairly unpleasant experience, but I really would like to know. Until I see a demo, I'm convinced that these folks have an extra muscle or something that I don't have, because it doesn't appear to me that there's any way I would use this without ending up with either a leg or an arm in the drink.

And trust me, after a week of eating the local cuisine, I greatly fear the inevitable scenario which finds me out and about with only a "squatty potty" in sight.


I realize that I've been in China for approximately 3 days, but I'm already homesick. I miss Erin, but the longer I'm here, the more I also miss the U.S. Everything here is just a little crazy, and it makes you sort of miss the ordered world that is America.

This evening we went to a little restaurant called The Seagull, which is right around the corner from our hotel. It has a huge, nice outdoor patio, so we decided to just sit and enjoy the sweltering heat of a southeast Asia evening. About 15 minutes into our Tsingtaos, we hear what sounds like a waitress dropping a glass. But in this case, it was a patron hurling a glass across the restaurant. This was followed by much screaming and shouting and the hurling of about 5 more glasses and plates. At this point an employee of the restaurant came out to calm the man down. He turned his screaming at a waitress over to punching a waiter, and then he threw some more stuff. I'm not talking about throwing it down at the ground, I'm talking we were watching in part to make sure we didn't get hit 30 feet away. The whole episode went on for about 10 minutes, and at the end, the guy, still ranting, sat down, had another beer, and finished his cigarette (don't even get me started on the smoking...nothing wakes you up in the morning like a nice breakfast buffet and 30 Asian businessmen smoking). In the U.S., this dude would have been shown the door, but here, the restaurant accomodated him. It was wild.

I also experienced several cab rides of terror today. It appears that the basic premise is that they just assume that other cars will avoid you, so if you're approaching a speeding delivery truck head on, the cabbie assumes that the truck will eventually hit the brakes or the curb. Pedestrians are speed bumps. Women frequently carry umbrellas to keep the sun off while riding bicycles, and nobody even slows down for them. It's intense. Renting a car over here seems like a very, very bad idea. I spent 10 minutes trying to hail a cab after work, and finally a car pulls over with a smiling Chinese kid screaming something at me out the passenger window. I politely declined his offer for a ride, but he kept hassling me. I kept imagining waking up missing an arm in a basement in Mongolia. Finally a real cab picked me up, and after driving for several city blocks in rush hour traffic up the wrong side of the street, I was dropped safely back at my hotel. I'm sure Tide will get the urine out of my boxers.

Here are some more pics for your enjoyment. The Chinese sign would say something like "Pictures for you to like."

This is a row of bars right behind our hotel. Frequently there are some cute girls hanging around them. Hmm...

This is the House of the Flying Beer Mug...better known as the Seagull...

This is "The Sea World" which is basically a dry docked boat with a hotel on it. It's also surrounded by restaurants and shops. It's quite the tourist attraction...

The Sea World features the Overpriced Coffee Shop like everywhere else in the world...

More shops at The Sea World...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Picture pages

Ok, as promised, here is the first batch of pictures... Remember that you can click on a picture to get a bigger version. I'll try and explain them as I go...

The hotel lobby...

My lovely Shenzhen hotel room..."5 star" everyone keeps telling me....

A picture of the building where I'm working...

The second floor is where I had "chop stick wars" at lunch...

An engineering workplace...I miss my cube walls...

Huh...a small child in a bamboo, er, cage?

I'll post more of these tomorrow...

"You like spicy?

These three words signalled my first lunch experience here in China. "The boys" here in Shenzhen took me out for Hunan cuisine at a little local place. They ordered a chicken dish, a beef dish, a tofu dish, and some vegetables. When the plates hit the table, there was a snapping of chop sticks like I've never seen. I wondered where my plate was before the food arrived, and I quickly discovered that I don't get my own plate. Everyone eats right out of the serving plates. All my OCD had to go right out the window, as I had to stab my own food right out of the dish with my chop sticks like everyone else. And the slurping...oh the slurping. The other interesting point was that the chicken dish, while tasty, seemed like a whole chicken had been pretty much ground up for the food. Much time was spent spitting out shards of bone. Oh yes, the spitting. That was the other great thing. You spit out bones, you spit out seeds from the watermelon. If you need to unload it, you just spit it.

This place is pretty intense. I took a couple of pictures on the way to the restaurant, so I'll post those tonight. In the mean time, I've got to fight this Hunan food off long enough to avoid having to use the "squatty potty" down the hall. That's an experience for another day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back on the ground

I left Indy at around 11:30am and arrived in Shenzhen at around 8:00am the next day (that's 8:00pm in least you don't have to reset your watch!) The flight wasn't as bad as I expected. You sort of get lulled into a place where time stops meaning anything. Given the usual content of these pages, I maintained a list of what I have eaten thus far:

Courtesy of United Airlines:
spicy pretzel/nut mix
ginger ale
chicken and rice (more like salt and rice), roll, salad, banana bread, fruit cup
Diet Coke
2004 Canepa Cabernet Sauvignon (icky Chilean red wine drunk only to induce sleep)
bowl of Chinese (read...Ramen) Noodles. Again with the salt.
an almond cookie
2 Luna bars, packed by my wife. "Nutrition for women" it says on the wrapper. I'll let you know if I'm a C cup in the morning.

While flying, I took lots of notes and observations. It gave me something to do. Here's a pretty much unedited list of my thoughts while airborn between Chicago and Hong Kong:

Man there's lots of Chinese people on here.
I sure wish these guys would stop sitting on and playing with the exit door.
The guy at the end of my row squeezed his plastic wrapped dinner roll and treated it as though it smelled rotten, yet he ate McDonalds an hour into the flight from under his seat.
The line for the toilets is at Disney World levels after the chicken/rice lunch.
I changed seats before takeoff, because the guy next to me had, what I consider to be, a disturbing cough. I saw "Outbreak."
Oooh...I'll get to see "Nacho Libre" finally.
(At this point, I wrote "13 hrs to go!")
Glass of wine didn't help me sleep. 10.5 hrs to go.
The ice over the arctic circle looks unbelieveable out the window. Too bad my picture didn't really turn out.
Listening to My Brightest Diamond on the iPod. Makes me miss Erin.
8 hrs left. This isn't so bad. I'm getting hungry.
Slept through the beginning of "Inside Man." Looks like film watching is a bust on this trip.
SNACK!!!!!! Oh, for joy!
Why are they serving me Ramen soup with chop sticks. Soup with sticks?!

Well if you read this far, you're a trooper. If you're interested, check out a globe for my route. We flew north from Chicago to a city called Churchill on the Hudson Bay in Canada. The next indicator I saw had us approaching the Verkhoyanskiy Mountains of Siberia. Next stop was Hong Kong.

I'm beat. I'll try and get some pictures tomorrow of the area around the hotel and work. We had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant tonight. I had fried rice with shrimp and pork in it. I couldn't bear to eat a cheeseburger as my first meal in Asia. Looks like the week will be an adventure...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

An Evening With Sufjan

One last post before I get airborne... :)

Last night, Erin and I had dinner at the Bosphorus Cafe, which is a Turkish restaurant in downtown Indy. The food was great, and the guy that ran the place was friends with you the minute you came in the door. We both ate until we were miserable, but we'd highly recommend this place if you're looking for something different.

After dinner, we went to the Murat to see Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan (pronounced Soof-Yahn) has become a personal favorite of mine over the past couple of years. He's gone from being completely unknown to being played in Starbucks and as the theme music to the film "Little Miss Sunshine" recently. Click here to hear his song in the trailer for the movie (the song comes in about half way through the trailer). Anyway, he puts on a great show, and last night he had strings and horns to compliment the mix. It was a great evening of music that even Erin enjoyed. The only problem with the whole event was that apparently the Murat is staffed by arctic sea monkeys or polar bears, as the air conditioning blew on us all night, and by the end of the show, it was about 55 degrees in the venue. It was ridiculous. Erin and I actually gave up our seats at the end of the show to stand in the back huddled together for warmth. But we still had a great time.

I'm all packed and ready to go. I'll post again when I get to Hong Kong...

Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm leaving, on a jet plane...

...but I dang well know when I better be back again.

Sorry for the lack of updates this week, but it's been very hectic. Next week this blog will be turned into "Mr. Bret Goes To Hong Kong. Follow the adventures of a 31 year old software engineer, dropped off in Hong Kong for a week to work on a project with his Chinese counterparts...and eat everything he can find that doesn't include feet."

Every time I say, "They're sending me to Hong Kong" it sounds like a childhood threat. "If you don't stop that, we'll send you to Hong Kong." In any case, I'm looking forward to the trip, and I intend to take scads of pictures of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I plan to wander through all city parks echoing "Grace, where are you?"

Be sure to check often next week, starting probably Tuesday for my travelogue.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Weekend Pics

So here are the promised pictures from our weekend at McCormick's Creek and the Apple Butter Festival.

First off, here are a couple of yours truly and his lovely wife...

Here are some of those "it's easier to climb 400 stairs than hike up a hill" stairs that the DNR has installed...

Here's another view of one of the stairways as you approach it on the trail...

Here are a couple of random shots of a decaying southern Indiana town with little sign of apple butter...Plus two final reasons to love Indiana...