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.)