Saturday, September 27, 2008

Photos, As Promised

Jeff took well over 400 photos during our vacation. (I took maybe a half dozen, all of him. My photography skills are... limited. Jeff, on the other hand, is really good with a camera.) So, without further ado, here are some pictures!

The above picture is from Hoover Dam, which we saw on our first day. It was really an amazing feat of engineering.
This picture is us at the Grand Canyon, as taken by our bus tour guide. Behind us is Duck Rock.
This picture illustrates just how huge the Grand Canyon is. It's really amazing and it's something everyone should see if they can.
This picture is from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Most of the terrain was cinder, as in the foreground and on the hillside. But there were also large chunks of rock lying around like that.
This is from Wupatki National Monument. From a distance, the ruins just looked like rock formations, until you got closer and saw the individual bricks.
These are some of the dinosaur tracks. To highlight them, our guide sprayed water into the prints.
This is a picture of the Meteor Crater. It's pretty amazing that such a small meteor (relatively speaking) made such a large crater.
This picture is from the Painted Desert. The colors are more vibrant in real life.
This is Newspaper Rock in the Petrified Forest National Park. Ancient peoples scratched these petroglyphs into the weathered rock, revealing the lighter colored rock below the surface. Jeff took this picture from something like 200 feet away, because you had to stay on this observation deck to see them.
These are some of the sky blue petrified logs at the Petrified Forest.
This is a scene from Sedona, which is absolutely gorgeous. The cliffs are redder in real life.
This is me with Elvis. This Elvis impersonator seemed to be a really nice person. There were some developmentally disabled adults who were at the show, and afterwards, he cheerfully and willingly posed for pictures with all of them. Then, when they were done, he graciously posed with me too. He asked if I was a computer programmer and I said yes.

Pseudorandom Bullets of Vacation

  • As you may have surmised, we made it home all in one piece. Vinny was happy to see us but he had definitely had a good time with Grandpa and Grandma.
  • Jeff discovered a new personality within me, that he has named "Beatrice." Beatrice doesn't like to miss her connecting flights and will haul herself across airports at high speeds, after our three-hour layover has been whittled down to 20 minutes by plane delays.
  • Our last day of vacation was spent in Las Vegas. There are many shows in Las Vegas, a large percentage of which seem interesting, but in the end, we decided that when we thought of Las Vegas shows, it made us think of Elvis. So we decided to see a show with an Elvis impersonator in it. We found one that had six different celebrities being impersonated, including Jay Leno, Madonna, Ann-Margret, and (of course) Elvis. They also had Justin Timberlake, but I am such an old fogey that I have never really seen Justin Timberlake, so that part of the show was somewhat boring to me. The Elvis guy did a really good job, though.
  • We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express instead of one of the casinos. Why? Because they provided a free breakfast and free wireless internet, and cost less than any of the casinos. They had a complimentary shuttle to and from the strip.
  • After the show, we had to book it to catch the final shuttle of the evening. It was an athletic event: we walked two miles in about 25 minutes. That may not seem like a big deal until you factor in the fact that we had to weave in and out of heavy pedestrian traffic, going around herds of really slow people; and the fact that I run only when being chased. (Beatrice, however, was spotted running down the Las Vegas strip.) We thought we'd missed the shuttle but sat for a few minutes trying to cool down, and when we'd nearly given up, the shuttle showed up.
  • Our opinion of Las Vegas: we're glad we went once, but that was plenty for us. We don't gamble, drink, or engage in licentious acts, so other than buffets (which we try to avoid anyhow) and shows, there's really not much for us there.
  • We rented a Prius for our travel needs. We really enjoyed it! It's fun to drive, and has a surprising amount of pep to it. We drove more than a thousand miles and used less than twenty gallons of gasoline. The rental price was higher, but the gas savings made up for that.
  • Starting and turning off the Prius took some getting used to, because instead of turning a key, you have to push a button, and the transmission shifting lever thing is very different than any other car. The only drawback is that it doesn't have very much trunk space. It was fine for us and our two suitcases but things could get a little crowded if you had much more to carry. I also didn't like the size of the steering wheel. The diameter of the actual wheel (the donut cross-section) was too small for my hands to grip onto for long periods of time.
  • We did not get fully integrated into Pacific Time. (Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time year-round, and MST = Pacific Daylight Time, so we were effectively in the same time zone for the entire trip.) This was actually a good thing because we were able to get up at the crack of dawn and go to bed within three hours after sunset, and since the majority of our activities consisted of enjoying nature -- really something that can only be done during daylight hours -- we were able to take advantage of all of the daylight hours.
  • It was still really hard to get up for work yesterday morning.
  • The consensus: it was a really fun trip and we're both glad we went.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Arizona Adventures

Yesterday, we started our excursions with Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, followed by Wupatki National Monument afterwards. You pay admission to one and you get to go to the other one too. Sunset Crater Volcano was pretty interesting. The volcano had erupted maybe a thousand years ago, but because of the dry climate, the particulates from the volcano have not really been broken down very much. You can see a lot of ash particles, as well as large rocky chunks of lava. At Wupatki National Monument, there are a bunch of pueblos from roughly 800 years ago. It was interesting to see these structures, and to try to imagine how the people lived at that time. Apparently they meticulously collected rainwater, and watered these gardens that they placed in small patches of fertile soil around the area.

After that we continued north, stopping at the Cameron Trading Post for lunch. They have a restaurant there that serves Navajo dishes, and we each ordered a Navajo taco -- a piece of Navajo fry bread with beans, beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and chilies on top. They were so enormous that neither of us could eat more than half a taco, so we got take-out boxes and saved our leftovers for dinner.

Jeff had heard about some dinosaur tracks near Tuba City, so we went up there and were shown around by a very inebriated guide. He managed to remember where the tracks were, and could almost pronounce the dinosaur names, despite his impaired state.

After that we drove on some back roads and made our way to Winslow, where we stayed the night in anticipation of today's destinations: the meteor crater and the Petrified Forest.

After an uncomfortable night in a hotel room that was mislabeled as a non-smoking hotel room, we drove to the meteor crater. It was really interesting to look at that crater and think about how a small (relatively speaking) projectile made such a big crater. Then we went to the Petrified Forest National Park. It was really interesting to see all the petrified logs there. Some of them looked like regular logs, with believable coloring and still-visible ring formations, but others were mottled with reds, oranges, purple, and a blue hue that matched the sky. In some places, we saw a lot of petrified shards lying on the ground, and it looked as if that area had been mulched with wood chips.

Then, we made our way to Sedona, where we are right now. In the morning, we'll head out and see some of the beautiful sites around here before heading back to Las Vegas, where I have a hotel reserved for us for tomorrow night and the next night. It will be one full day in Vegas before we fly back east on Wednesday!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Grand Canyon

Our Grand Canyon Excursion was a lot of fun. I had purchased a nice package deal from the Grand Canyon Railroad, which included a stay at the hotel in Williams, round-trip luxury-class tickets on the Grand Canyon Railroad, a coach tour of the rim, and one night in a rim hotel. We took the train to the south rim of the canyon on Thursday morning, and returned to Williams this afternoon. We had a bus tour of the canyon rim highlights after we arrived, and then stayed overnight in a nice hotel at the canyon on Thursday night. We walked around and saw a lot of beautiful views of the canyon, from many different angles, and we checked out some of the exhibits about the geology of the region and the like. I also ate ice cream for dinner on my birthday. I don't think there's a better birthday meal than that!

I should add that I was very careful to drink at least two full glasses of water at every meal and a bottle of water between meals, and despite all the hiking and hot sun, I managed to avoid getting dehydrated and did not get another migraine! (I did, however, use the restroom about 270 times.)

We (mostly Jeff) took a lot of pictures of the canyon, the wildlife (lizards, condors, and other raptors), and each other. We didn't bring the cord to connect the camera to the computer along on our trip, so I don't have any pictures to post right now. But I will after we get back, I promise!

Tonight we are in Flagstaff and our plans are to see some of the sights around here, such as Wupatki National Monument and the meteor crater. I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Greetings from Arizona!

I'm writing this from our hotel room at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. We're on our fabulous week-long, adults-only vacation. My dad has graciously agreed to watch Vinny for us while we celebrate our tenth anniversary and our birthdays on this trip. (Today is Jeff's; mine's tomorrow.)

So far it's been fun. We got in to Las Vegas yesterday evening, and spent the night at the Boulder Dam Inn in Boulder City, an historical inn that was built at the time Hoover Dam was being built, as a place for visiting VIPs to stay.

We left there in the morning and drove to Williams, Arizona, where we are right now. Tomorrow we take the train up to the Grand Canyon, spend the night there, and come back on the train the next day.

The only thing that has gone wrong so far is that I got dehydrated and suffered from a migraine this afternoon. So it's an early bedtime for me tonight...

I don't know how much internet connectivity I'll have on the rest of this trip, but I'll try to keep you updated, my vast blog readership!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Adventures in Painting

The previous owners of our house had... interesting... taste in wall decor. They had painted some faux bricks on the walls of the living room and dining room, which could have been cool but just ended up looking tacky instead. They were going for a sort of French Bistro look, I think -- a look that is incongruous with a basement ranch house from the 1960's.

We've been in the house for nearly three years now, and it wasn't until today that we finally got rid of the final remnants of this disaster-in-paint that was our walls. We had redecorated the dining room, where the bulk of the ugliness was, just before Vinny was born, but we hadn't done anything with the living room until this summer.

This was in part because we do not use the living room. The living room furniture from our (much smaller) house in Illinois is downstairs in the family room, and we hadn't bothered to buy any furniture for the upstairs. So it is basically an empty room, which confused our nosy neighbors when they tried to figure out if we'd moved in yet. Right now, it has become a de facto toy room, where Vinny's indoor swing/slide and kitchen set live. We have a piano in that room too, one we bought from our next-door neighbor when he was moving away. But that's really all the furnishings we have for that room right now.

The non-faux-brick sections of the walls were a tannish mustard color -- sort of on the Grey Poupon side of the mustard spectrum, vs. the radioactive yellow color of fast-food mustard. We have now painted the room a light blue -- a color that perfectly matched the sky this afternoon as we were painting.

It looks beautiful. We are really pleased with the color and with our excellent painting job. It was a joint effort. In the morning, I watched Vinny while Jeff painted, and then when Vinny was napping, I took over painting from Jeff. He did the majority of the painting, because he's just a lot faster than I am at it, but I did do the majority of the top coat of the paint.

We did only the living room, but at some point we'll have to paint the hallway too because the interior living room wall extends into the main hallway. But for now we just blocked it off at one point and called it the edge of the living room.

The plan is to make the living room into a really comfortable, relaxing space. Vinny's toys will probably have to go elsewhere. We are not in a huge hurry to furnish it, so we'll take our time and get what we really want. Tentatively, we're thinking of a relaxing fountain, some better blinds, and some really comfortable furniture.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


  • Toe bye-bye: go bye-bye (out, anywhere!)
  • Doe fwoo: go through (e.g., crawl through a tunnel such as under my bent legs)
  • Doe ah-side: go outside
  • Waw hanns: wash hands
  • I touch twee: I want to touch the tree (did he get this love of trees from his Grandpa?)
  • I sit, Mama: Mama, sit down
  • Sure!: yes (he's recently changed from saying "okay" to saying "sure" for the affirmative)
  • Teek ooh: thank you
  • Wan thum: I want [some]
    • dwapes: grapes
    • yogo-toast: toast with yogurt on it
  • Wat Dummmmm: watch "Jack's Big Music Show" ("Dum" comes from the part of the theme song where they sing "Dum ditty dum")
  • I wan talk Gwama/Papaw: I want to talk to Grandma/Grandpa
  • Weed Hi Guy: read "Good for You" -- a Sesame Street book with Guy Smiley in it
  • Moh deck: let's go out on the deck
  • Pee polly: pee in the potty
  • Top Wiiinih: stop whining (yes, he says this to himself sometimes)
  • Listen Mmmmee!: listen to me, now!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mariachi Update

So my regular readership may recall that I formed a mariachi band. I had been asked to participate in Hispanic Heritage month, and found a book of mariachi music that exactly fit the volunteers -- two violins, a guitar, and an electric bass.

I gave my band members copies of the music quite some time ago, and then created CDs of the music using GarageBand and iTunes. I transcribed the music into GarageBand, one note at a time, exported the songs to iTunes, and made a playlist which I burned onto CDs.

Today was our first practice. It was held at the house of one of our band players, who has a lot more space than I do, and who sometimes reads this blog. (Your house was great! Thanks for hosting us!)

Since before we've added another guitar -- the original guitarist has a grad student who plays too, and agreed to join the band without any arm twisting or paycheck witholding. Both guitarists are really good, as of course, are the electric bassist and the other violinist. The music is tricky in places but not too tough I'd say.

You may be wondering how my arm behaved itself. It endured for quite some time, but by the end of the practice, my arm was killing me. I was glad that we had some doughnuts and talked for a while before I had to get in the car and drive. I will probably take some tylenol or something before going to bed, and make sure that it stays unbent all night long.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Actual Conversation

(As reported to me by Jeff)

Vinny: Milk!
Jeff: You want some milk?
Vinny: Sure! and cake!
Jeff: We don't have any cake.
[Vinny looks at him and points toward the kitchen.]
Vinny: Make cake!
Jeff: I can't make cake, Mama makes cake.
Vinny: Mama make cake, home.

(FYI I think when he said cake, he meant pancakes.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day Labors

This morning, Jeff mowed the lawn. In the lawn, he discovered that there was some poison ivy that had spread from the Evil Poison Ivy Patch in the corner of the yard.

That was the final straw. That poison ivy had been spreading for a long time, and I'd long been afraid to touch it. I'm not allergic to poison ivy (surprising, given my other skin allergies), but I was afraid to expose myself to it and become allergic. Also, today is a really hot day and I wasn't that excited about going outside. But I realized that I needed to just get over it and do what needed to be done. I decided to exterminate the Evil Poison Ivy Patch.

I got dressed in a long shirt, overalls, long socks, and shoes. I tied all my hair back, put on a face mask, and donned two long rubber gloves. Then I went outside and tackled that poison ivy.

I wasn't able to completely destroy it but I made quite a bit of progress. I filled a large black trash bag with poison ivy leaves, branches, and runners. There was even one big runner that was probably an inch in diameter that I was able to pull up and throw away. There's still quite a bit more to dig up but I'd say the war is on, and I'm winning.