Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prepare to Panic

I haven't posted much about the Ravens so far this season, but it's become quite obvious that they are not playing like a team that has any intention of going to the playoffs. Having been humbled by former RB Jamal Lewis and the Browns today to the tune of 27-13, the boys in purple fall to 2-2, and a shocking 0-2 in the AFC North. And really, the Ravens are thisclose to being 0-4.

A few things have become obvious:

  • Nobody fears our defensive backs anymore.
  • The offense has been anemic in the second halves of games, although this week they weren't any better in the first half either. They owned the second half last season.
  • Brian Billick's play-calling has been rather questionable all year.
  • Steve McNair is officially in the twilight of his career.

Let the finger-pointing continue.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm Lovettsville-ing It

First, a thank you to all who offered prayers for me. I felt God carrying me through these tough times, and saving me from myself. God bless you all.

Today was an absolutely gorgeous fall day to do just about anything outside. With LC away on a retreat, I looked for something to do that would be enjoyable and good for me. I decided to return to my on-again, off-again hobby of volksmarching. There were no events scheduled today in Maryland or south central Pennsylvania, but there turned out to be a walk in Lovettsville, VA. The small town of Lovettsville is located just a couple miles across the Potomac River from Brunswick, MD in the upper portion of Loudoun County, one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest counties in the nation. There was a new traffic pattern through the center of town that I had to negotiate before finding the start point.

This was the first special-event walk I had done in quite some time. While I enjoy doing the year-round walks, it's also nice to partake of a volksmarch with other people. The walk was mostly on unpaved country roads on the western edge of Lovettsville, and for much of it there was hardly any other traffic on the road. Boy Scouts manned the three checkpoints, but I later encountered another inadvertent checkpoint in the form of a slow squirrel crossing the road . . . which turned out to be a skunk. I let him have as much of the road as he wanted.

Eleven kilometers (nearly 7 miles) later, the walk finished up in the middle of the town's Oktoberfest, complete with vendors, politicos, an oompah band, and organ grinder, and a huge used book and tape sale. One lady clad in a Rhineland dress did the walk with her husband and kids.

Oh, I had a near-catastrophe at the beginning when the pen I pulled out of my pocket decided to explode. I think I used half a bottle of hand sanitizer in trying to clean all the ink off.

Good to be out walking again. I must do this more often.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Our Niagara Falls-Hamilton-Toronto Trip, Part II

Part II: The Canadian Segment, Measured In Centimetres
(long; here's Part I)

Sunday, September 9: Towel Off, Eh?

We didn't get ready in time for the 9 AM Mass at St. Mary of the Cataract, which ironically is right next to the casino. That's where many of my family members went for Mass before the reception. Fortunately, as I was taking my walk the day before, I saw a few other churches, including St. Joseph's in downtown Niagara Falls where we went for 10 AM Mass.

It was an ornate church with an icon of St. Padre Pio and several of St. Joseph, both as husband of Mary and as the patron saint of workers. I appreciated the fact that the Mass stuck to old hymns and eschewed the Oregon Catholic Press/GIA modern bunk. What was disappointing, however, was the amount of talking going on before Mass, as well as what appeared to be a mother and her daughter talking through the entire liturgy. That's disrespectful of the Blessed Sacrament and probably also a violation of the GIRM. If I had been in a more peaceful state of mind, I'd have said something to them. I do plan to e-mail the pastor; he shouldn't be allowing this to happen. (UPDATE: I did so, but have received no response as of yet. I'm not holding my breath.)

Returning to the hotel, we packed up so that we could check out by noon. Then we decided to have brunch at the Denny's we had gone to the day before. I'm sure the Meat Lovers' Scramble wasn't all that good for me, but it sure was good! LC had a similar scramble.

Many of our family members had visited the falls on Thursday and Friday (my uncle, upon seeing the mist from the Falls, said they were on fire!), so we were pleased to find out that my older brother (Bigbro) and his wife and kids (four of our five nieceseses) wanted to ride the Maid of the Mist that afternoon. You don't need reservations for MotM, and the lines are shorter on the American side (accessible from Goat Island). The journey isn't that long, but it's worth it.

First, you get views of the falls that you can't get from standing above them. Then, you get wet. Nice and wet. You get souvenir ponchos, but be forewarned; they don't cover the lower parts of your arms or legs. And just when it seems you can't get any closer to Horseshoe Falls, you do, and the real soakage begins, along with the noise.

Then all too soon, it's over, and you head back to the dock, wondering whether your digital camera survived the liquid assault and wringing the water from your sleeves and the lower part of your pants.

And maybe the second most interesting sight: the girl in her booth on the upper deck reading a book. Oh, well, I guess once you’ve been on a few hundred of these, there’s not much more to see. The falls, the gawking and sodden tourists, the spray, yada yada yada.

(I now return you to your regularly scheduled first-person point of view. :-))

After that, we spent some time gazing off the observation deck and climbing up the side of the American Falls. Then we went through the Obligatory Gift Shop and parted ways with Bigbro, his wife, and his four future wedding receptions; they were flying back the next day. We, however, were just starting our journey.

We swung the Cobalt onto the nearby Rainbow Bridge (alas, no rainbow because there was no sun) and paid the 75-cent toll. Then we showed our passports to the border guard who asked us where we were going and why, and whether we had anything to declare. He then waved us through.

For my first time in nearly 20 years, and LC's first time ever, we were in another country. Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-cooooooo!

We made the obligatory stop to convert some of our money into Canadian currency, and got introduced to the "loonie" (the dollar coin with a loon on one side) and the "toonie" (the two-dollar coin which is really a composite of two coins). Dollar coins really make more sense (pun not intended); I hope we can come up with better ones in the U.S. than the Susan B. Anthony "quarter" and the Sacajawea. The exchange rate at this time was almost one for one.

First thing to do when driving in Canada (or is that "Canadia"?); convert MPH to KPH (kilometers per hour). Fortunately, the speedometer had KPH on the dial. So does the Cygmobile, for that matter. Later on, we would have to get used to forecasted high temperatures in the teens and twenties.

On the drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) from Niagara Falls to Hamilton, we saw several defense (that's "defence" to you Canadians) radio tower arrays; a ship washed up on the shore of Lake Ontario, and what appeared at first to be an antiques outlet store, which seemed to be a contradiction in terms! It was an outlet store that also sold antiques. Also, we saw many Canadian flags flying proudly. (I know, that number again is 1-800-WELL-DUH!)

We found the Holiday Inn Express in Hamilton (technically, Stoney Creek) rather easily as it was located right off the QEW. To get to it, though, we had to negotiate business parking lots full of speed bumps, which I eventually took to slaloming around. Our room overlooked a lovely trash hauler company. We changed clothes and then headed off to East Side Mario's just up Centennial Parkway.

Entering the restaurant, we looked around for our dining companion, and were just about to put our names on a waiting list . . . when she saw us. She came running up and gave me a huge hug and a *chooms* on the cheek, and then she did the same to LC.

A fellow fan of the CBS show The Amazing Race, Seana (pronounced see-ANN-na) has talked online and by phone with me for a couple years, and I knew I wanted us to meet her if we had the chance. LC and I wound up sitting and talking with her at the restaurant for over *4* hours, as if we'd been old friends. And we talked about everything and anything. What a charming lady. She only had dessert while we had dinner. Now I feel fat.

Oh, before we parted ways, Seana gave us a list of possible activities as well as some Canadian Tire money (click to enlarge). She pulled out a huge wad and produced 35 cents worth, which I still have in my wallet. We never did make it to a Canadian Tire, but she told us it's not just for tires.

Monday, September 10: No, Not The *CNN* Tower!

One reason why we chose the Holiday Inn Express: it provides a deluxe continental breakfast which satisfied us quite well. This in spite of the fact that a perfectly good Golden Griddle restaurant was attached to the building.

Before we could go anywhere, we had to get our laundry done. We started it during breakfast, and then as the clothes dried, I went for a walk along the shore of Lake Ontario, stepping carefully though goose shipoopi (are they Canadian geese if they're in Canada, or are they just geese?) until I hit the paved Hamilton Beach Trail. (No, it's not lined with kitchen appliances.)

It had been so long since I'd seen anyone rollerblade that I was taken aback to see folks doing so on the trail; when we lived south of Baltimore, we saw people rollerblading all the time on the B&A Trail, but our current locale doesn't lend itself to rollerblading. There were runners and cyclists as well, with many geese and a few Cygni. The trail was nice and wide, almost as much so as many streets. I passed a bar with a volleyball court as well as Hutch's, a noteworthy fish and chips place that Seana had told us about, and I made a note to stop there before we left the area.

With our laundry all done, we set out for Toronto, about 45 miles or so east of Hamilton. Seana had warned us that 1) the traffic was hideous in Toronto, and 2) parking downtown could be expensive. Not quite sure what we were going to do transportation-wise, we set off by car.

En route, we stopped at a warehouse-type supermarket to get a few things, and sampled some Canadian sweets. I had my first taste of Smarties since I was a kid. Simply put, the British-made Smarties are M&Ms on steroids, unlike the chalk-like American Smarties. LC indulged in some Special Dark chocolate.

Entering the fashionable suburb of Oakville, we asked at a tourist information desk about some folks who were there last week public transportation options into Toronto. Turns out there was a GO Train stop (that sounds weird) in Oakville, and a train was arriving. We drove down there, searched for a parking space somewhere near Hudson Bay, and tried to reach the train station . . . when the train came rolling in. :-( Another one wouldn't come for an hour. Upset that GO wouldn't allow ticket purchases on the train, I strapped on my mukluks and trapsed back to the car, then picked up my winded DW.

Plan B was to try one of the further-out subway stations, but the parking lots were full. So we had to drive downtown and park in a garage. I must say that while the Toronto highways are congested, there's a nice system of variable message signs to let drivers know what's what.

After driving essentially along the waterfront, passing the Exhibition Centre and Rogers Centre (a.k.a. SkyDome), we did indeed park and trapsed over to the imposing CN Tower. Fortunately, we had a nice clear day for the visit.

Before entering the tower, we were sprayed with air a la at airport security. Then we zipped up to the 1100-foot observation deck, complete with the glass floor and the Really Expensive Rotating Restaurant. On the way up, the first thing the guide told us was that this was not the "CNN Tower." I can see why they have to say that. Geegaw at the superlatives of the CN Tower here.

We also bought a pass up to the 1,440-foot "Sky Pod," but the wait to get into the (considerably smaller) elevator was about half an hour. I felt for an Oriental guy ahead of me who bought a Coke from a machine strategically located in the line, only to find that it was room temperature. The refrigeration mechanism wasn't working. (Not too many English speakers in line, I realized.)

The view from the Sky Pod was awesome; we were able to see across Lake Ontario back to Niagara Falls. When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, it's possible to see as far as Rochester, NY, but we couldn't see it today. I pointed out to LC that this was the altitude at which I generally fly when doing airborne traffic reports. One young Indian lady who reminded me of one of my cousins asked us to take her picture, saying she was traveling by herself. Then we went back down to the 1100-foot level and got a much-needed whiff of fresh air and a photo of me on the glass floor.

For such a touristy area, the Obligatory Gift Shop had some nice, reasonably-priced, embroidered T-shirts, and we bought one each. Then, after noticing how close we had parked to it, we decided to trapse along the waterfront. While not quite Baltimore’s Harborplace, the Toronto waterfront affords some nice views of the islands that are only accessible by boat or airplane.

After a delicious and late lunch at the Boathouse Grill, we decided to go on a three-hour 45-minute boat tour of the harbo(u)r islands, which proved to be relaxing and enjoyable. Many geese and Cygni greeted us. All the while, however, we kept looking back at the CN Tower which dominated the skyline. But if we didn’t look that way, we’d have thought we were on a southern Florida canal.

We endured the heavy traffic on the various roadways out of Toronto and sauntered back to our Hamilton hotel, where we had missed the beginning of the Monday night Ravens game against the Cincinnati Bungles. I had hoped we could watch the game at a local sports bar, but LC was whooped, and so was I. We opted for pizza for dinner, but then encountered Pizza Hell as one place after another told me that they didn’t deliver anymore, they didn’t honor THOSE coupons, etc. I didn’t know whether to be more upset with the pizza places or the front desk for not knowing this stuff. So I found a Pizza Pizza (no, not Little Caesars) near where we had met Seana the night before and got carryout. Unfortunately, the Ravens did themselves in with six turnovers in the loss to Cincy, even though the officials robbed Todd Heeeeeeap of a late touchdown.

Tuesday, September 11: I’ve Already Forgotten His Name

We hoped that getting an earlier start today would help with the transportation logistics, so we ate breakfast and left around 8:30 AM. At 8:46, we observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the 9/11 Islamofascist attacks.

Our plans were soon jolted by an accident that jammed things up on the QEW skyway, one which we knew of from the morning news but had not yet cleared. Thinking quickly, I decided to take the other, smaller bridge instead . . . but so did everyone else. Meanwhile, traffic started clearing on the skyway. D’oh!

We had every intention of catching the GO Train at Aldershot, but the parking lot was already full, so we had to continue to Appleby. We parked somewhere near Banff and made another futile dash for the train, but we couldn’t find the ticket machines. And as mentioned above, unlike our commuter train here in the States, we couldn’t buy tickets on the train itself. So once again, we found ourselves out of breath and nowhere near the GO Train, with another not scheduled to arrive for an hour. That was about as Ugly American Tourist as I got, uttering a few colorful metaphors.

Once we arrived in the city, we decided to cruise Yonge Street for a while. If it’s a shop, it’s on Yonge Street, which runs north from the harbor. You’ll find everything from jewelry to clothing to electronics to “adult” things. We lost count of the Tim Horton’s and Starbucks shops, in many instances side by side.

It was a means of killing time before we had our second peep meet of the trip. Like Seana, I met BYoffer (short for Billy Yoffer, a fictional character) through the Reality TV World boards. When he heard that we were coming to Toronto, he wanted to meet us for lunch (we would have done dinner, but he had Scouts that night). We met the nattily clad BYoffer (don’t tell his wife about Natalie!) at his office building in the heart of the Toronto financial/entertainment district. (Whaddya mean, those aren’t synonyms?)

He took us over to Big Daddy’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar, a dark, but classy, below-ground, Cajun restaurant. Like with Seana, I felt like I’d known BYoffer all along. We too discussed everything and anything, including our frustrations with the GO train. I think we kept him a little longer on his lunch hour than he intended! Nice, laid-back guy. He mentioned to LC that Cadbury chocolate in Canada was really made by Cadbury, not Hershey as in "the States." On our walk back to our car, we stoped in a shop where she bought a Cadbury bar and I a Nestle Aero bar. Mmmmmm.

By this time, the whirlwind nature of our trip was starting to catch up to us. We decided to cut this day a little short, but not before venturing over to Greektown on the east side of Toronto. I had a specific reason for going there, but more on that in a bit. It was nice to see what a more residential area looked like, versus the forest of condo towers that competed with the CN Tower for attention downtown. It seems that condo towers can’t spring up quickly enough, especially near the water.

In the heart of Greektown is the corner of Danforth and Pape Streets, which is referenced as a section of the Rush instrumental “La Villa Strangiato.” My favorite rock band, Rush is based in the Toronto area. I appreciated LC’s indulgence while I did this. The other place we should have stopped was in front of the provincial parliamentary building, which was the backdrop for Rush’s Moving Pictures album cover. I guess I should have read more of the Rush Fan’s Guide To Toronto. (There are some good travel tips in there for those coming from “the States,” even if they aren’t Rush fans.)

We left Greektown before 3 PM, but a couple wrong turns and some early traffic jams guaranteed that we’d still need a while to get back to Hamilton. We sampled some local talk radio on the way there. Once back, we discovered that our room keys didn’t work, so for their penance, we took extra cookies from the front desk.

After a nap, we arranged to meet Seana again. She had lent us a pass from the local library that would have allowed us to visit a couple notable sites around Hamilton, but it became increasingly evident that we wouldn’t have the time to do so on this trip. Oh, well, we’ll just have to come back another time!

So we drove off toward chez Seana (a little bilingualism for you there) to return the pass, but were met with quite a thunderstorm. Since the next day was trash day in her neck of Hamilton, the high winds blew all sorts of trash and trash bags through the streets. I felt like I was in an action movie for a minute! But we survived, and got to meet Seana’s DH (and thanked him for letting us borrow her) as well as her incredibly cute DS and DD.

After leaving the Seanas, we decided to check our cholesterol counts at the door and check out the noted fish and chips place, Hutch’s (which I passed while walking the day before). It was definitely a throwback type of restaurant, looking very fifties-esque. So we ordered our platters and everything was fine until . . .

. . . we pulled out the Visa card.

It seems that a lot of smaller places in Canada (or at least outside Toronto and Niagara Falls) do NOT take Visa for some reason! We couldn’t even use it as a debit card! The lady guided us to an on-site ATM . . . where we found that it wouldn’t accept our network! And we didn’t have enough Canadian currency on us. So we had to leave Hutch’s with our meals already being made because we couldn’t pay for them. Drat.

Our drop-back-and-punt option became another Canadian chain, Swiss Chalet (not to be confused with the small hotel chain, Susse Chalet). When we walked in, however, we were surprised to find the place almost empty. True, it was a Tuesday night, but it was only 8 o’clock. Our waitress server, a delightful lady named Maria, explained to us that everyone was home watching the finale of Canadian Idol to see whether local Hamilton boy Brian Melo would take home the title. Seana had mentioned this also, warning us that we could hear car horns going off. It was as if we were dining out on Super Bowl Sunday.

Maria was one of the most interesting personalities we ran into on the trip. Finding out that we were from “the States,” she chatted with us about things like how hard it was to get a Maple Leafs ticket (we told her to come to DC; after DebCapsFan and the Canadian Embassy, there wouldn’t be much competition), how busy the place usually was, how Hamilton needed an NHL team, etc. We gave her a nice tip.

Shortly before the end of the meal, a shout went up from the kitchen to indicate that we had to get out Brian Melo was indeed the new Canadian Idol. While there was much rejoicing throughout the city, we didn’t hear it in terms of car horns. We were grateful for that as we returned to the hotel and went to sleep.

Wednesday, September 12: I Like This Kind Of Exchange Rate

Following breakfast, where the news was all Brian Melo all the time, we packed up our junque, stuffed it into the Cobalt, and then headed for the nearest Tim Horton’s (donut and coffee shop chain, for those of you in the Land Where No One Has Ever Heard Of Brian Melo; there are a few Tim Horton'ses in "the States"). Those aren’t too difficult to find, especially in Ontario, and LC wanted to sample some of their coffee. But once again, we were Visa’d! They wouldn’t take it, debit or credit! Grrrrr. Life may take Visa, but Canada? Not so much.

Since we couldn’t visit any of the local Hamilton tourist spots without putting our schedule in getting back to the U.S. in jeopardy, we decided instead to spend the day on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It definitely is the side that affords the better view. I let LC drive from Hamilton back to Niagara, and we found a $5 parking lot near the casino.

We walked down a long flight of stairs to the Falls and joined the kazillion other tourists gawking at them and blasting away many a megapixel on them. With a few of these folks in tow, we took the Journey Behind The Falls, donning another couple of disposable ponchos. A series of tunnels leads to an outcropping of rock right near the Horseshoe Falls, and there are a couple of inlets where the water cascades by in full force, sometimes splashing into the tunnel. Again, not a long tour, but worth seeing once. More useless fascinating facts about the Falls here.

We succeeded in getting LC her Tim Horton’s coffee at the visitor center, where they took Visa (finally); she liked it, comparing it to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in the States. We sampled their bagels also, but only after quite a wait; they were jammed at lunchtime. Then we rode a funicular back up the hill to the Fallsview Casino (we put the “fun” in “funicular”). The next 90 minutes were spent in the casino spending . . . and winning, for both of us. I walked away with $75, mostly from Tailgate Party and Texas Tea. We did lose sight of each other, but fortunately, we had our cell phones. Speaking of which, they were indicating that we were roaming while in Canada, but to date we haven’t seen any roaming charges on our bill.

After exchanging most of what was left of our Canadian currency (I still have over a dollar in change), we headed back across Rainbow Bridge. We got a little sterner talking to from the U.S. customs official, and LC originally answered “Baltimore” when he asked us where we were going. Technically, that wasn’t wrong since we were landing at BWI Airport. He waved us through, and we were back in the Land Of The (Melo-) Free.

We took a slightly longer way back to the airport through downtown Buffalo, but fortunately we didn’t hit any rush hour traffic. We returned the car to the same perky Enterprise lady, then flew to BWI without incident. Removing my arm brace made things at Security a lot easier. For a change, we did not have to sit and meditate until our baggage got back to us, and we got a quick ride back to the parking lot as we were the only riders on the shuttle. Finally, before heading home, we stopped for dinner at Rocky Run in Columbia, which I paid for from my winnings.

Oh, one last thing I noticed about Canada: The melting pot thing seems to work better there than it seems to be here of late. I saw in downtown Toronto how many people of Chinese and Indian extraction there were, but they spoke perfect English (or Canadian).

So that was our first taste of the Great White North, and I hope it’s not our last; the quick, inexpensive flight makes doing a vacation like this appealing. Had I more time, I would have wanted to venture into the countryside or to explore Hamilton a little more. Toronto isn’t bad at all, but it’s HUGE. Still, it was great to see a few of the sights and meet some cool peeps while at it.

And thanks to Thom and Colleen for giving us the excuse to do so, and a long and happy marriage to you both.

Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Prayers Please

I'm going through rather a difficult time right now, feeling afraid and uneasy. More than that I cannot say, except that I covet your prayers. Thanks.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rising From The Ashes

On Labor Day, since there wasn't a whole lot traffic-wise to report on, we in the traffic plane decided to fly over the quaint, historic town of Mount Airy, which had suffered a devastating fire on Main Street the day before (see also the above video). Media reports had been that the entire Main Street had been shut down. Turns out that it was maybe only one block that remained closed.

But the damage was done. What had once been a pizza restaurant (where the fire started, in a pizza oven) and several other businesses was a pile of timber, which looked like kindling from the air. Fortunately, one of them was not my cousin's wife's deli, Concetta's. Of course, that means others have been deprived of their livelihood.

I visited her today and found that she and other downtown business folks have started a rebuilding fund, and one developer is selling "Let's Rebuild Mount Airy - Fire Can't Stop Us!" T-shirts, with the proceeds going toward the fund.

Mount Airy is going on with its annual Fall Fest on October 6 and 7, and will be doing so with rebuilding from the fire as its focus. The T-shirts will be available. I think we might go over there to lend our support.

Say it's not so, Puffy!

Yes, our radio and TV stations go nutzoid upon snows and rumors of snows here in the Mid-Atlantic. And the reason is simple: Weather has become the real moneymaker/ratings grabber for newscasts, especially on TV.

But in Southern California, I can't believe the reaction to rain. At the end of Big Ben Maller's overnight sports talk show on Fox Sports Radio (which isn't a Fox company, BTW, but is run by Clear Channel), Karen Kay announced that the Southland was "on Stormwatch." Just because of rain! I know, as the old cheesy song goes, "it never rains in Southern California," but . . . it's just rain!

The first time I visited SoCal was 10 years ago this month, and the guy who picked me up from the Burbank (now Bob Hope) airport kept apologizing profusely for the rain, the first day it had done so in the previous 222. I did notice that, just as when the first vague flurry hits here, everybody just slowed down and completely forgot how to drive. (Or did they? I've done L.A. traffic reports before.)

So who's worse: SoCalians with rain, or us in the East with snow/flurries?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Our Niagara Falls-Hamilton-Toronto Trip, Part I

Note: Personal pics not included, as they haven't been developed yet. Stay tuned. I haven't decided whether I'll put them in here or make them their own post.

Part 1: The U.S. (Wedding) Segment

Friday, September 7: Slowly, I Turn! . . .

Ladycub and I took the 45-minute Southwest flight from Baltimore to Buffalo (spending twice as much time in the airport than the flight), and I can safely say that I did not go to the bathroom ONCE before the flight, as I used to out of nerves! I think tooling around in the Cessna has cured me of my fear of flying. But at security, I did have to be wanded separately for my arm/elbow brace, a.k.a. my Instant Conversation Piece (ICP).

We collected our rental Chevy Cobalt from a nice lady at Enterprise and shuffled off from Buffalo to Viagra Niagara Falls, where we stayed at the Crowne Plaza. It didn't take us long to find all my siblings and their offspring, where applicable; they were all with us on the fourth floor of the hotel, and like us, they were in town for my brother's wedding. It had been a couple years since we saw our nieceseses; they're turning into lovely young ladies. Also, all of my aunts and uncles on my mom's side were there, as were a few of my aunts on my dad's.

Across the street from the hotel was the Seneca Niagara Casino, so we strolled through there and had lunch in one of the restaurants. We were by far one of the youngest couples there; most of the patrons were retirees. One couple next to us wanted to know about my ICP, and then they went on to complain about the service they were getting, proclaiming they wouldn't leave a tip. They must be regulars. LC tried a Roast Beef on Weck sandwich--a native delicacy-- and she liked it. I didn't like the Weck bun so much (too much rye), so I had a nice quesadilla instead.

After lunch, I picked up $25 in the casino on The Price Is Right and a couple other slot machines.

We then chilled out, or tried to. But we weren't all that successful napping because the Seneca Niagara was having a sound check for its evening "Dynomite Disco Party" outdoor concert. The lineup included Tavares ("Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel"), Gloria Gaynor, Jimmie "JJ" Walker (who, I understand, is not the toothpick he once was), and the Village People. Good thing it was free.

We headed back to Buffalo for the rehearsal dinner that evening on the third floor of the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, which is located in a building in downtown only steps from the HSBC Arena (where the Buffalo Sabres play hockey) and the Buffalo Bisons' minor league ballpark. It seemed to be one of the few things open in downtown Buffalo. Anyway, we had fun talking with the soon-to-be in-laws and listening to my nieces play piano and other instruments. My youngest brother taught my nieces how to make party hats from the napkins, a tradition started at my older sister's rehearsal dinner back just a few months before we got married.

Sadly, we got back to the hotel too late to see the Friday night fireworks show at the Falls.

Saturday, September 8: Always Remember, You Chose To Be Part Of This Family

I started the morning with a walk through the Niagara Falls neighborhood heading away from the falls. At least the portion of the city that I saw was extremely blighted. The houses were older, but they had character. Unfortunately, most were boarded up, overgrown, and/or had busted windows. All sorts of storefronts had been abandoned. It was depressing. I guess that's the Niagara Falls that the Tourism Bureau doesn't want visitors to know about.

One of the reasons I was walking was that I wanted to find a store that had a 1/8" cable for my minidisc player. I was unable to find one. Not a big deal, though; we had plenty of CDs to listen to.

Returning to the hotel, I collected LC and we decided to go to a Denny's right around the corner for breakfast. Neither of us recommend Denny's for lunch or dinner, but it ranks right behind Cracker Barrel for breakfast as far as we're concerned. Oh, we also had to check out of our room and check back in again; we originally made the reservation for three nights, but wound up only needing two, so the possibility existed that we could have had to move to a different room.

I could have sworn that I packed undershirts for the wedding, but I searched my luggage and found none. So I headed off into town to find those, as well as a pair of beige socks for my uncle. I dropped him and my aunt off at Donatello's, a local sandwich joint . . . which didn't open until 4 PM Saturdays, so they had to walk back to the hotel. It took searching two Family Dollar stores and a Dollar General to find what I needed. Never did find the Nieman-Marcus. Oh, a little kid loudly asked his mom what was wrong with my arm after seeing the ICP. The center of town further south on Pine Street was a bit nicer than the neighborhood I'd walked through; much of it was in fact Little Italy.

The wedding took place early in the afternoon in the chapel of St. Francis Catholic Church to the south in Tonawanda. I was surprised to see my brother Thom (the groom) standing with my youngest brother Phil (his best man) in the back of the church, but that's where the sacristy was. I poked my head in and, in my best Leslie Nielsen voice, said, "I just wanted to say . . . good luck. We're all counting on you." He laughed. If he was as nervous as I was before my wedding, I'm sure he appreciated it.

Colleen looked lovely in a simple but elegant wedding dress. I like the fact that, just as at our wedding, she and Thom either stood or knelt through the whole Mass. They used the same first reading as we did for our wedding Mass (Tobit 8: 4-8). The music was very nicely done, with a string quartet providing accompaniment in addition to the organ. I swallowed my pride and helped our family belt out "On Eagles' Wings," about which David Haas says Michael Joncas just wanted to write a song that began with "yoo-hoo."

For the post-wedding pictures, I wondered how wide-angle a lens the photographer had to get our family. But he seemed to do fine. After the photo shoot, we returned to the hotel, as the reception wasn't going to start for a few hours. A number of us retired to the sports bar for a late lunch and to take in some college football, including a group of Colleen's friends and relatives. Others went to Mass -- again -- for the Sunday requirement, which the wedding Mass didn't meet.

I can think of worse places for a wedding reception than Top of the Falls Restaurant, just a short walk from the American side of the Horseshoe Falls on Goat Island. It looks almost like a rotating restaurant (which there's one of in Canada), and has a couple balconies and multitudinous windows. It actually doesn't have that much of a view of the falls because the dropoff is below the sight line. Still, I could hear the Falls and see all the people trapsing over there, such as the entire population of India.

The dinner was better than your standard wedding-reception rubber chicken fare. I liked how my brother and sister-in-law dispensed with most of the formalities right at the beginning: their first dance, the dance with the respective parents, and the cake. And I give them credit; they did NOT have a bouquet/garter ceremony! (We did, but we simply had the couple dance with each other.)

It was my brother-in-law Jerry who had the idea of getting Colleen a sympathy card for entering into our family. We all signed it with various quips about her wanting to join our crazy bunch. I'm not sure how her family took it.

The dancing started with familiar fare such as "New York, New York," "Shout," and the Chicken Dance. But it didn't take long for more modern stuff to take over, much to the delight of the younger crowd. One young lady was busy teaching one of my nieces how to do some dances, but some of them she didn't need to know yet (she's only 12). The rest of the younger crowd enjoyed songs like Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me," which I don't recall ever hearing at a wedding reception. Most of us hit the floor for the Electric Slide, the Macarena, and "Play That Funky Music." Even the kitchen staff got into the act, although I was wondering if they just wanted to laugh at all these white folks trying to dance.

LC and I took a break and wandered down to the Horseshoe Falls. Even though lots of tourists were still there after dark, the falls remain an impressive and hypnotizing sight; we just couldn't take our eyes off them. Wonder how many pictures have ever been snapped there? Probably billions. The multicolored lights from the Canadian side romanticized the mood all the more. Oh, the wedding and reception took place there because Colleen is originally from Buffalo; she and Thom actually didn't honeymoon there, but in Aruba instead.

We went back to the hotel and retired for the night, while the young ones (with my brother Phil and one of my cousins) continued the party in the sports bar. Eeesh, I sound old.

Next: A maid, two peeps, a tower, a corner, and an idol!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

At the Fair

Last night LC and I checked out the Great Frederick Fair, now in its 145th year. This was the first time we'd come in a couple years, so it was good to be back.

Funny thing is, when we go, we do almost the same things every time. (Do you, at your local/county/state fair?) We start with dinner at one of the fire company stands, since the proceeds benefit them and we'd like them to be around if we need their services, which I pray we don't! I had a scrumptious half chicken platter, while LC tried the shrimp basket. (BTW, she used to say "shrimps" just to irk me, Captain Grammarian. Now I just chuckle.) We'd rather patronize some local non-profit group who can use the money rather than carnies from elsewhere.

Then we make a circle through the fairgrounds. Some of the stops we've been known to make include:

  • The Bingo tent. Oddly enough, this year there was no board showing the numbers that had been called. And unlike other years, we didn't come close to winning. Brings back fond memories of my Bingo-calling days, however.
  • The ice cream line under the pavilion. For some reason, Turkey Hill ice cream doesn't taste that good out of a box from a store, but when hand-dipped, it's the food of the gods. I, however, should have stuck with the "small" quantity of Cookies and Cream last night; the "large" was rather so!
  • The Republican tent. It was pretty desolate last night, however, and was dominated by Ron Paul (who?) schtuff. I reckon on the weekends, there would be much more activity. The same was true of the Democratic tent, although theirs looked a bit more festive. But not much more.
  • The cow milking area. It's always fascinating to see where that white stuff comes from, although not as much so now that hand milking isn't done so often.
But we did check out some other things as well:
  • We watched a pretty wild-looking kids' ride where they were whipped around, up, and down while lying in their stomachs. Kind of like "Superman Meets The Swing Machine."
  • LC was fascinated by a cow that was dilated and about to give birth. I'm glad she wasn't due yet. (No, NOT LC!)
  • We got to see a bunch of little piggies crawling in the dirt; these piglets had been born just that day! They were quite cute. Mom was doing her best to keep them in line. They crowded around a heat lamp to keep warm.
  • Are alpacas some of the wildest-looking animals, or what?
  • I got a lot out of an exhibit on rain barrels, and would like to find a way to make that part of our house. Our AC unit yields quite a bit of water that could be used for other purposes.
Other noteworthy items from the fairgrounds:
  • Not all the musical acts (all country) sell out. The demolition derby? Always does.
  • Does each ride need increasingly-pornographic drawings with it?
  • We agree with comedian Bill Engvall: who on earth comes to a fair to buy a hot tub?
  • What other fried food can they invent to sell? Fried Twinkies, fried Oreos, what's next -- refried funnel cake?
  • At a fair, you see gobs of people you'd never see at any other time. But I bet they might think we're pretty "out of the woodwork" as well.
  • We didn't ride the huge Ferris Wheel, but back in 2003, it was the source of an interesting news story. Hurricane Isabel was approaching, but as I was waiting for the Fair Board to decide what was going to happen in light of the storm, I struck up a conversation with the owner of the midway, and hence the owner of the wheel. He said their plan was to take the brakes off and let the wheel spin in the wind; otherwise, the resistance in the wind could make the wheel topple. That must have been what happened, since the wheel was still there for the conclusion of the fair!
Tell me about your fair experiences, even if they were more like excellent or moderate!

This is Maryland . . . right?

I wouldn't have expected this in a million years in this bluer-than-the-sky, if-we-were-any-more-progressive-it would-already-be-tomorrow state:

Court upholds Md. gay marriage ban

What a victory for those of us who don't buy the drivel of "Love makes a family."

And here's an interesting tidbit:

In January 2006, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock held that the law was unconstitutional and discriminatory. The Attorney General's Office immediately appealed the decision. Last December, the Court of Appeals heard arguments.
Brooke Murdock. Where have we heard THAT name before? Hmmmm . . . maybe elsewhere in my blog? Like here? She was a sleazeball lawyer, so it surprises me not that the pro-sodomy forces found her as a judge to make this initial ruling. State Delegate Don Dwyer attempted to have her impeached for legislating from the bench by overturning the law in the first place, but that move failed.

In spite of all this, it's a wonderful day to be from Maryland, for a change. But the fight is only beginning, since the veto-proof bunch of liberal do-gooders state legislature is bound to try something new next year.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blowin' in the Wind

I took a quick trip up to Pittsburgh yesterday (yes, I wore my Ravens colors), and on the way home, I decided to take a scenic route. I hopped off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Somerset exit and headed south on Rt. 219 toward Grantsville, MD.

In the late afternoon, the hills were gleaming, and only a few specific trees were starting to turn their leaves. It was an uncharacteristically cool day for mid-September, with temperatures not getting out of the 50s.

As I approached the town of Meyersdale, I saw them. Twenty windmills atop a ridge overlooking the town. What a sight! I could watch those things spin all day. I'm only sorry I didn't bring my camera to get my own pictures.

The photo above came from the Industrial Wind Action Group, which is opposed to these windmills. They may have a point that, although a clean source of energy, windmills may only provide so much energy versus the demand. But I'm tired of hearing about the threat that windmills pose to birds, when they face much greater threats elsewhere. Where are the piles of dead carcasses? Show me.

Perhaps if I were living in Meyersdale, I might think differently about the impact of the windmills, but I doubt I would oppose them out of pure NIMBYism. But for today, I found the windmills to be a fascinating and hypnotizing sight.

Then I headed east across I-68 from Grantsville all the way to Hancock. That's a great ride in itself, as long as your car's brakes are in good working order; the road goes over many of Maryland's highest points. To me, it's a far more interesting ride than the PA Turnpike.

So maybe the movie "Cars" had an impact on me after all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Way To Go, Southwest!

Southwest Airlines Communications Director Brian Lusk, you have nothing to apologize for in the issue of a flight attendant asking a skank to cover up her legs. This passenger is a gold-digger, and I applaud Southwest for standing up for modesty and decency. If she didn't want attention, why did she wear the same outfit on the flight back? As the Today show producer put it:

But when she sat down, we learned just how short that skirt was -- when she flashed our national television audience. Yeah, that skirt was short.
All these people complaining? Southwest doesn't need them as customers anyway.

UPDATE: Southwest is apologizing, in a way. But if I were "Keith," I'd be updating my resume.

And decide for yourself if calling this woman a "skank" is too much. (There are other photos, but that? Is the most tasteful one, for what that's worth.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ravens - Week 1

Short and sweet:

No matter whether Todd Heeeeeeeeeap got screwed out of a TD by the officials, you don't deserve to win a game when you make SIX turnovers.

All of a sudden, The Jungle has become the toughest place for us to win. Let's thrash the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


1. I'll be gone for several days, so if you submit a comment, it may take that long for it to appear.

2. I made a decision to remove my links to the Catholic Answers Forums. For the most part, it seems like a good bunch of people, but I've never really felt at home there and just wasn't enjoying it anymore. Maybe I'm getting disillusioned by online communities, and it could be that God wants me to get more involved in the Real World. Coupled with the fact that CAF is threatened with closure for financial reasons, I felt the time was right to sever my ties with it

That, of course, is no reflection on those of you (hi Dymphna) I've met through CAF who find your way here, and vice versa.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I Know A Lottery Winner

I have met Dundalk's own Bunky Bartlett a number of times, and often lunched with a group that included his wife. We're also on an informal e-mail list of geeks and loonies. Anyway, Bunky is now more than $30 million richer after taxes and the lump-sum payout from the Maryland Lottery.

I couldn't be happier for "The Bunky" (as one of us has tagged him) and his family, devotees of Wicca all.

And no, I haven't asked him for anything. Yet. ;-)

Here's all of Bunky's comments, unedited.

(Actually, he's the second lottery winner I've known. The first was the senior computer systems officer on my watch team, who resigned after his wife captured a measly $9 million.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pope Benedict? I'm Ed Hochuli.

Here's a hilarious post on how to keep our Masses faithful to the GIRM and Canon law, with the help of an unlikely source:

New liturgical position

(Hat tip: Curt Jester by way of AquinaSavio. I'd have trackbacked, but I can't find a ping.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Our Farewell to Summer

On one of the most perfect days weather-wise, Ladycub and I went to check out the car show put on by Golden Gears in downtown Frederick. The vehicles dated back as far as 1929, and most were configured for racing; you could see the nitrous oxide tanks. It was impressive to see such vintage boss cars as the GTO, a 1964 Chevy Impala, and a 1972 Chevy Nova SS, to name but a few. By the way, not only did many of the cars have fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror, some even had dice knobs on the dashboard and the door locks! We then sampled ice cream at one of our favorite places, the Frederick Fudge and Ice Cream Company. We highly recommend the ice cream, but their snowballs . . . not so much.

Then we drove about half an hour across Route 340 to Harpers Ferry, WV for a concert by Free Country, a subset of the "President's Own" U.S. Marine Band. (Of course, the local country music station also goes by "Free Country," so who's gonna sue who?) It was a great night for the concert as about a thousand people or so sat on the lawn of a National Park Service training center for park rangers in Harpers Ferry, with the late summer sun illuminating the hills across the Potomac River in Maryland and the occasional train heading along the banks of the Potomac below.

Naturally, Free Country was a country band, playing everything from George Jones to Alan Jackson to Tim McGraw to Brad Paisley. I think their best effort was a faithful rendition of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." There were also a couple well-done original tunes that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the aforementioned radio station. The band dedicated songs to the other branches of the armed forces, as well as those who were wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only down side: sometimes their harmony was off.

There was plenty of literal flag-waving, thanks to the Bolivar (pronounced BAHL-uh-vurr)-Harpers Ferry Veterans' Association whose members passed out small American flags for the performance. We waved them during a song based on the Pledge of Allegiance and during "God Bless The USA" which the Marines changed around by using the first verse of the Marine Corps Hymn instead of Lee Greenwood's second verse.

Try to spend time in the company of Marines and not feel pride in your country. I'm glad I can do so without worrying what others may think of me.

After the concert and at Ladycub's suggestion, we went to dinner at one of the more unique restaurants in the area, the Cindy-Dee in Knoxville, right off Rt. 340 by the Potomac River and the Appalachian Trail. The Cindy-Dee is so old school that it doesn't have a web site, but it's gotten a number of good write-ups, such as this, this, this, and this (and this detractor). The loquacious Jackie Ebersole, burgess of the tiny nearby municipality of Rosemont, recommended this place to us a few years ago.

The Cindy-Dee is a local joint, and there's nothing fancy about it. It has its regulars, and servers who probably don't like being called "servers," but delight in calling you "honey." The place mat was for a Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company event that took place last week. You can buy Cindy-Dee shirts. There's a tabletop Pac-Man game in a corner, and Fifties-era jukebox units at each table which I couldn't figure out how to operate; LC had to show me.

If When you go there, Get. The. Fried. Chicken. You must. I don't care if you're vegetarian or vegan, just get it. It's incredible, and worth the extra wait because it's never pre-cooked. It's also worth the extra calories, trans-fats (thank God it's in Washington County and not Montgomery), cholesterol, etc. And get the four-piece dinner and take a couple pieces home. You can work it off by hiking the Appalachian Trail or by rafting or tubing down the Shenandoah River; many folks were doing the latter that afternoon.

All in all, a nice day with my sweetie. *smooch*