Sunday, July 26, 2009

What the heck?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Putty in My Hands?

I've been taking the summer session of ceramics on Thursday evenings. Last night I took my camera with me and did another time-lapse movie. This movie is a frame taken every 30 seconds for almost 3 hours. My goal this summer was to make a small teapot, but at my current rate of success, my goal really should be to make a lidded vessel and worry about handles and spouts later.

If you're reading this via the FaceBook feed and you can't see the video, it's posted on my blog, you can watch it and comment there.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's OK, I'm with the Band

I drove out to Barboursville, West Virginia this past weekend for a 30 year high school reunion even though I didn't graduate from there. The kids had things going on, Fern had to get to the airport to fly to North Carolina and Kevin had swim lessons, so Dan covered them and I drove out alone.

(Dad worked for the Army Corp and we moved several times, so I attended a bunch of schools:
Davis Creek Elementary: 1st grade
Sukuran Elementary, Okinawa: 2nd and part of 3rd
Davis Creek: part of 3rd
Pea Ridge Elementary: the rest of 3rd through 6th
Barboursville Junior High: 7th-9th
Barboursville High School: part of 10th
James Wood High School, Winchester, VA: rest of 10th-12th)

I started band when I was in 6th grade and stuck with it until after high school. The whole band experience created great opportunities, wonderful friends and lifelong memories. It's unifying, no segregation by gender or athletic ability. We went to band camp together, football games, shows, competitions, exchange trips. By the time it was all said and done, you spent a huge hunk of your life during those seven years with your band mates. Like living in the Sousa House at Hogwarts.

Dan asked me whom I wanted to see at this reunion, why was I bothering to go, since I actually didn't finish school there. My answer: the band kids. I guess if you're not part of a group like that, you don't get it, you don't get the camaraderie.

It's not just me, either. The other band folks enjoy seeing each other too. It turns out there always seems to be a solid core of the band who show up at the reunions. One of my fellow flute players complemented me, although I'm not sure she knew she had. She told me she remembered I always had a pretty high-up chair, I was always pretty good. I had forgotten that and I appreciated her mentioning that. I remembered not being first chair or even second chair, so of course in my mind I remembered failure. Now I see it wasn't.

I'm amazed how time alters our memories, like how good of a musician I was. But in addition to that, my memories of the town of Barboursville, my neighborhoods, school buildings don't match reality. Since we moved away from there during my sophomore year, I never drove there, I didn't go out there. All my memories of those places are visual, how they looked, the landmarks where you turned to get places. I never learned the names of the streets.

I drove around to see the sights, where the schools were, to the houses I lived in, and the shops I went to. I didn't know how small my street was at the time, it seemed spacious where us kids played hide and seek and kick the can. It is really barely wider than one car. I drove around to all four schools and was disappointed. Many years ago they closed the high school and turned it into a middle school, and they razed the junior high and made it into a park. One elementary is boarded up, the other is the only one still open.

I had a great time reviving memories and friendships. And with Facebook it's easier to keep in touch than it used to be.

And now for some pictures:

233 Daughtery Drive. This is the first house we lived in in West Virginia. My bedroom was the window up on the left. Those trees weren't nearly as big back then. I think my folks bought this house for about $23,000.

Davis Creek Elementary, the only one of my four schools still open.

6159 Rosalind Court. We moved in here in the middle of my third grade when we came back from Okinawa. It was white back then and had a covered front porch, and no cutesy picket fence.

Pea Ridge Elementary School, what's left of it.

Main Street Barboursville. Looks pretty much the same as it did when I was at the junior high was across the street.

This is all that's left of the junior high, these steps go up to the park now.

The library is still blue.

Camden Park is still there. Barboursville is on the east end of Huntington. Dad's office was in Huntington, my orthodontist was in Huntington to which I'd ride the city bus. On the west end of town was the amusement park. We didn't go very often so it was a treat when we did go. It took several visits over several years to work up the courage to ride the big roller coaster. Looking at it now, it's just a rinky-dink old wooden coaster, nothing to be afraid of. But that's all part of that altered-perspective-of-youth thing.

When I went down town for my ortho appointments I'd often stop in the peanut shop afterward for a quarter pound of roasted pumpkin seeds, my favorite. Nice to see the shop is still there and open.

Here are some of kids from band. I guess we're all adult now, huh? Or pretend to be, anyway.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review of Paridisus Punta Cana

Overall: B-

Arrival & Check-in: A
Public Spaces: A
Beach: A+
Room: C
Food: D
Golf: A

Dan and I went to Paridisus Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for three nights while the kids were off at camp at the end of June.

Paridisus Punta Cana is a large property arranged in two halfs. The front half has the large reception/admin building and restaurants and guests' bungalows are on the back half near the beach. These two areas are separated by a large naturalized area with indigenous vegetation and a mangrove swamp.

You arrive in a beautiful open-air reception lobby area with fountains and large fish ponds. The area also houses a lobby bar with cozy bed-gazebos, a business center, pricey shops, a small casino and a club with shows in the evenings. We didn't go to any shows but we did lose some money at the roulette table one night.

Check-in went smoothly, after which we and our luggage were driven to our bungalow. The bungalows were arranged back near the beach with plenty of space between, each had eight rooms on two floors. The bungalows closest to the beach were reserved for the royal service guests. We were farther back and had about a 5 minute walk to the beach and the restaurants.

The beach is wide with beautiful white sand. At a lot of resorts you will have to put your towels out at the crack of dawn to save a beach chair. This wasn't the case at Paridisus. There were plenty of lounge chairs available at all times of the day in the sun as well as under large thatched roof umbrellas. They even had double wide beach beds to lounge in. Punta Cana is a popular destination of European tourists which means many women have no qualms about sunbathing topless. We saw very few topless sunbathers at the Paridisus so it would be a good place for families. The picture I posted two weeks ago of the senior couple was taken about a mile up the beach, not in front of our beach.

Our room was nice on first glance, but I've given it a C because of the little annoying things. The room was pretty, the beds were on one level and a sitting area was one step down, but we had two double beds, not queens or one king bed, so it was an awkward (annoying) arrangement. The electricity was supplied based on occupancy, which meant the AC, the fridge, and the alarm clock all went off when you left the room. (Annoying.)

The Paridisus is an all-inclusive resort and you can't drink the tap water so water and soft drinks were available in the rooms (and the bars). However, we loaded the fridge with our drinks, but they never really got cold even with the fridge running all night. (Annoying.) The two other annoying things were the coffee maker didn't work, and for some reason the bidet wasn't bolted to the floor.

The bars had cold bottled water available at all times which was nice since our fridge didn't work well. They also had a house cocktail that could be ordered sin alcohol. It was served from a slushee machine as was the piƱa colada mix. The house drink was good, very refreshing, especially sipping while lounging on the beach.

The food was mediocre at best. There are several restaurants on the property and I'm sure there was a schedule posted somewhere, but we never really figured out which were open for dinner on which nights. We ate at the Italian restaurant one night and I think that was our best meal. The setting was lovely, situated on stilts over a pond inhabited with flamingos and biting insects. We also ate at the Chinese place one night. I've cooked better Chinese myself, and I don't cook well. Our other dinner was at the seafood grill. My fish came burned on the outside and not quite done on the inside. For lunch I found enough palatable food on the buffet to keep myself alive, but barely. The desserts were better, we even had some corn ice cream. It wasn't bad.

Breakfast had the best selection, but had the worst service. Dan would get coffee every morning and they never came back in a timely manner to refill his cup. The coffee girl would walk around the dining room refilling cups, but managed a path through the dining room that didn't lead back to our table, no matter where we sat, in the middle or on the edge. I successfully ordered tres huevos solo blancos from the guy at the grill.

Dan picked this trip out from the Spirit Air packages because of the "free" golf. The greens fees were complementary but the cart fees and club rental were extra. The club rental balanced out with the $25 checked bag fee Spirit charges. If we stayed another day and played golf another time, bringing our own clubs and paying the checked-bag fee would have been worth it. The included golf was located at a nearby resort, the Cocotal, and there were free shuttles to and from the course, as well as to the local shopping mall and other attractions.

The course at Cocotal was beautiful. We had a tee time at 1:30, but arrived early because of the shuttle schedule. After checking in and getting our rental clubs, we got to start right away. We never saw another golfer, no one behind us rushing our play, no one in front of us to hit into or stall our pace. It was the most relaxed game Dan and I ever played. The course was in great shape, the fairways provided great rolls, so you could have a "normal" drive and get 50 more yards out of it. The front nine was a lot shorter than the back nine. For me, from the forward tees, it was about 800 yards longer. Even with the extra yardage on the back, I would have played again if we had an extra day.

All in all, I'd recommend the Paridisus for a short stay of fewer than five nights. I think you'd get tired of the food if you stayed longer. Plan your dinners so you're not stuck with the buffets. Use insect repellent in the evenings and strong sun screen during the days.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Eagle

I tear up when I hear all the "the eagle has landed" sound bites of history they've been playing on the radio today.

It was the afternoon of 21 July, 1969 for me, not the night of the 20th. My family was spending the weekend at a military-run beach resort at the north end of the island of Okinawa on the other side of the international dateline. There were no TVs in our cinder block rooms, just one black and white set in the rec center. I can still picture the institutional blue room with all the adults camped out on the sofas staring up at the small box on the wall. Us kids were all running in and out, playing ping pong, making noise, and parents calling, "Shush," and "Come watch this, it's important."

Where were you 40 years ago?


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh Happy Day

my wee pup is 14 today. Where did the time go?


Traveling With Large Groups

If you missed yesterday's post start there to catch up.

Last night I ordered 50 green fire neon tetras (Aphyocharax rathbun) from the pet shop. They should be ready for me to pick up after work. They should look like this:

I'll post my own image of them tomorrow.

Wonder if I'll qualify for the carpool lane, me and 50 companions?


Monday, July 13, 2009


It's crunch time at work.

My survey I've been working on is going to sponsor testing this week and external usability testing next week. That just means I have no time to blog.

OK, so I'm making time, which is why this'll be short. Sort of.

We went to the in-laws on Saturday to visit Dan's folks. When we got back yesterday, I started working on my 55 gallon fish tank.

The tank is set up in my bedroom along the rail that separated the sitting area with the sleeping area. I've always had algae problems in this tank for some reason, but never in the tank down in the family room. The difference? Dunno. Both are neglected. I don't vacuum the gravel nearly as often as I should, but I think the tank upstairs is in direct sunlight part of the morning.

I was so inspired walking in the Caribbean to get my tank clean and stocked again. We had seen a school of small fish so large it cast a gray shadow in the water. I walked into the school and just stood there watching thousands of these small fish swimming back and forth around me. I decided to stop procrastinating and get my tank back in shape. I wanted a school of fish.

So yesterday I siphoned all the water out (it was so green, I hadn't noticed there weren't fish actually swimming any more) and took out and washed the gravel. I cleaned out the filter box and bleached the plastic plants. I got the stand moved to the opposite wall and Dan helped me get the tank back into place. Now it's full and the water is cycling through. Looks good, but I think I'm going to set up the diatomic filter too just to make sure the water is sparkling clean.

Tetras are great schooling fish, so I want to buy a large school of them for my newly cleaned tank. I talked to the owner of the pet store here in town, he places orders on Mondays for Tuesday shipments. I should be able to get about 50 fish for a near wholesale price, and I'll order whatever small tetras are on his order sheet today, green or black neons would be pretty.

Despite the work I did get done, I could have gotten more accomplished. Every time I went downstairs for something I was sucked in to the TV. Dan had the travel channel on. It was running a marathon of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. If you like travel or food, or drinking, you'll like this show. Except for the fact it renders you immobile, you just have to keep watching. Tony travels to a different place each show and learns about true local cuisine and drink, not necessarily the food we Americans think of when we think of that country. Far too captivating. We finally turned off the TV at 10:00. Sheesh. I think the new season premiers tonight at 10:00 pm.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

To Hold you Over: A View of the Beach

I've started a post reviewing the hotel we stayed at in the Dominican. My paying work has been getting in the way so I haven't had a chance to finish it.

In the mean time, I'll share this little shot I took during one of my walks on the beach.


Monday, July 06, 2009

The End of a 9-Day Weekend

I'm back from vacation.

I'll be posting a review of our hotel soon. I came back to work to 775 unread mail messages that I'll have to work my way through. Not to mention catching up on blogs, too, right?

The play is over, we finished up our run of Willy Wonka last night. I really had fun running the spot light and am ready to do it again next time.