Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another Froggy Evening

This afternoon, we spied one of the tree frogs out on our back deck once again. We're not sure where its friend/mate/acquaintance went, but it was nowhere to be seen.

We had company over for steak dinner, namely, Maria and Dan who did such a great job painting our house and disposing of lots of ugly wallpaper in the process. LC marinated the steaks, and then took the canvas cover off our gas grill before cooking them there. It was a nice evening, as we indulged in a beer (!) with our meal for a change. Our cat Maya was smitten with Dan all evening, even putting her paw on him at one point.

We arranged for Maria and Dan to take our grill from us, so we three carried it and the propane gas tank down the deck steps and out to their truck. LC brought the canvas cover through the house.

After they left, LC noticed something on our living room floor: The tree frog! It must have hidden itself in the canvas. For its safety, LC placed over it a glass fishbowl that we'd been using for our visiting real estate agent cards.

She carried it outside

and returned it to the wilds of suburban Frederick (our deck). Where and when will it show up again?

Ocho Stinko

So, as he threatened, Chad "Desperate Attention Whore" Johnson of the Cincinnati Bungles has legally changed his name to Chad Javon Ocho Cinco.

For the Ravens' opener next week against said Bungles, I fully expect M&T Bank Stadium to echo with the cries of, "Ocho STINK-o!" (clap clap clapclapclap)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Okay, I'm on board

I can now vote for John McCain, but not because of John McCain. Rather, I'm thrilled that he selected such a staunch, popular conservative as Alaska governor Sarah Palin for his running mate. I fear if McCain had selected a Romney or a Lieberman, that would have been curtains for him. Now he has a chance.

I'm still not crazy about McCain, but at least I can pull the lever/mark the box.

And the fact that Palin is easy on the eyes (not bad for a mom of five) doesn't hurt either. ;-)

UPDATE: Check out this Photoshop on Creative Minority Report.

Eight Days A Week

Was the #1 song in the country on the day I was born!

Find out yours here. (HT: Paramedicgirl.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Arizona Trip Report: Basketballs, Bugs, Chair Lifts, Canyons, Dry Heat, Cacti, And A Retirement

(Note: long, and photo-laden)

Our Arizona trip began Tuesday night the 19th with dinner for my SIL Colleen at my 'rents in west Baltimore. She and my brother would not be making the trip because they just bought themselves a house in Locust Point, not far from Fort McHenry. Congrats! Mom and Dad graciously let us spend the night so that we wouldn't have to drive back to Frederick just to have to return to the airport the next morning.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, we headed to BWI Marshall for our Delta flight to Atlanta. A new security wrinkle: I now have to unpack my CPAP machine when going through security. On the MD-88, we had the two seats on the right side of the aisle, while the other side had three seats across. Before we took off, we saw emergency vehicles heading to the other side of the airport for a small plane that had gone off the runway.

It was a nice smooth flight into the ATL, then we passed our 2-hour layover by lunching at a Chili's on our concourse. I was surprised that clouds and some light turbulence accompanied our flight to Phoenix. LC took in the recent Prince Caspian in-flight movie, while I contented myself with The Traveler and my MP3 player. I was in the center seat of the 757 between LC and a fidgety young woman who kept bumping me.

Arriving at Sky Harbor Airport in the surprisingly deserted Terminal 3 (there's a Terminal 2 and the busy Terminal 4, but no Terminal 1), we noticed one thing right away: It's hot. Film at 11. We obtained our rental car, a small Chevy Aveo with power nothing, but nice legroom and working AC, from Enterprise. We would later learn from both my parents and Bigsis not to rent from Payless; they wound up getting runarounds and ultimately having to Paymore.

We had stayed at the Ramada Inn in north Phoenix off I-17 three years prior when we had come out for our goddaughter Emily's First Communion. Unfortunately, I forgot where it was and got us a bit lost (it was off Cactus Road). With that in mind, we settled for dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse, a chain which has become all but nonexistent on the East Coast. My ribs were scrumptious. The ones I consume, I mean.

The next morning, we hustled over to Wal-Mart in Surprise to buy lasagna and other stuff for dinner that evening for all the family members who would be in town. My parents would have gotten it, but they had to take a later flight. Once in Wal-Mart, we soon discovered that shopping there was a game of Dodge the Retirees, most of whom were from nearby Sun City. More on that later. The shopping experience was punctuated by fighter planes from nearby Luke AFB swooping overhead.

We dropped off the foodstuffs at Casa del Bigbro and then headed to the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Phoenix to have lunch with the lovely, talented, charming, and slimmed-down Mom2BJM.

We wound up arriving at the restaurant at the exact same time, so we didn't have to search for each other, and guess what's on her license tag? As with other "peep meets," we talked about anything and everything. We tip our hat to Dad2 as well as B, J, and M for letting us steal her for part of an afternoon.

Back we went to Bigbro's to start heating up making dinner for his family; Bigsis, her hubby, stepdaughter, and grandson; Littlesis and her hubby and daughter; Littlestbro; and the missing Mom and Dad. It was great to see our nieces again. This is Emily (our goddaughter), Bridget, and Sarah, with Sammy the cat plopped on the table where he wasn't supposed to be.

And he wasn't budging.

Lauren decided it was time for her close-up.

It turned out that we could have bought about half of the food that we did and still been fine. But as dinner went on, everyone wanted to know where my parents were. We hadn't heard from them since early that morning, and we sibs knew they would have raked us over the coals had we failed to inform them of why we weren't at dinner at their place on time without an explanation! So when they finally showed up just in time for grace, we all let them have it . . . playfully. (Correction lovingly supplied by LC.)

There wound up being one piece of carrot cake remaining after dessert. While Littlestbro insisted it was a smiley face, we thought it might have been something else.

Or make that two other things. ;-)

Before turning in that night, we decided to take a dip in the pool at the hotel. Not too surprisingly, it was bath water.

On Friday, it was off to Falcon Dunes Golf Course just across from Luke AFB for Bigbro's big retirement ceremony, concludong 24 years of service to this country. Greens fees were only $15 that afternoon for anyone who could brave the 107-degree heat for 18 holes.

It was an impressive ceremony, to say the least. I'd attended many of these before when working for the Defense Department and singing the service hymns, but this was the first in which I had a personal stake.

(Some of the following photos are augmented from the official collection or from Littlesis.)

The ceremony began with the presentation of the colors . . .

. . . which was followed by the National Anthem, sung solo by Bridget.

Then Bigbro and his boss, Lt. Col. Kevin Grove (flight callsign: Coconut -- get it?) stood at attention as his honors were read.

"Coconut" and others testified about what Bigbro had done for the Air Force, especially in making training more efficient while at Luke and in getting his unit more physically fit through playing basketball. Of course, according to The Regs, basketball wasn't supposed to be used for PT, but instead of objecting, his unit played quite often. His teammates presented Bigbro with a signed basketball.

He got so many awards and comendations that he may have to expand Casa del Bigbro just to fit them all. Here's one from his civilian boss, Tom Morey.

He also got the doorplate with his name and those of his bosses on it:

And some guy with a middle initial of W chimed in:

But what was also impressive is that the Air Force gave a commendation to his wife . . .

. . . and his girls. He gave flowers to all five.

And his wife got to pin his retrement medal on him.

Then, in a solemn ceremony, he was given an American flag that Coconut had flown in his F-16 (maybe while we were shopping at Wal-Mart?).

Finally, he received a "shadow box" with his medals and other awards, as well as another flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol as arranged by Sen. John McCain (perhaps you've heard of him).

Then it was time for Bigbro's rebuttal reflections.

He mentioned how he'd been in the military more of his life than not, and the transition to civilian life would be interesting. He's currently job hunting, but he still has almost three months of terminal leave from the USAF, so he has time.

The ceremony concluded, and cake eating ensued.

But as it ended, we noticed something. Look just to the left of the Air Force flag.

Obviously, the building wasn't swept for bugs beforehand (hyuk hyuk). A praying mantis who couldn't hack the golf course temperature either had watched the whole proceedings!

All in all, a fitting ceremony honoring a man I'm proud to be the brother of.

That evening, we were joined by his cow-orkers, fellow school parents, neighbors, and other well-wishers for a catered dinner at Casa del Bigbro.

On Saturday, we mostly chilled out around the house after the events of the day before, alternating between watching preseason football and the Olympics. I made the suggestion that we go to 4 PM Mass, which we did at a parish in the middle of Sun City. The congregation was over 2/3 retirees. Dinner was pizza which LC and I provided, and this time we bought just enough.

Returning to the Ramada Inn, LC wanted to stop down in the lobby. She then called me on the house phone telling me to come down also. It turned out that a group of barbershop singers were having their "afterglow" in the bar! That was something that LC, a former Sweet Adeline, couldn't resist. So we hung out with them for about an hour and a half. Quartets were singing different songs at the same time.

One reason why we stayed at this Ramada Inn was that it included breakfast, including scrumptious, fluffy waffles that we could prepare ourselves. It was good to have one less meal to worry about cost-wise.

So on Sunday, we had an early breakfast, and then set out northward on I-17 for Flagstaff. The elevation changed from around 1,000 feet in Phoenix to 7,000 feet at Flagstaff, an eclectic, avant-garde community up in the high desert. Many from the Valley of the Sun come up on weekends to beat the heat. It turned out we were on old Route 66:

And as you see, it really is a left turn at Albuquerque.

We stopped at Tourist Information to ask about some folks who had been there last week (*flips a nickel to Steven Wright). We decided that a trip up Humphreys Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona, might be just the ticket. (Photo gacked from the Web.)

So we drove up another thousand feet or so to the chairlift at the Arizona Snowbowl, being passed on the way over a double line by some impatient French speakers. The little Aveo did fairly well up and down the steep hills.

A leisurely 30-minute ride up the chairlift would take us to one of the summits of Humphreys Peak.

"Sit back as the chair comes below you. Okay, now pull down the rail and enjoy!"

On one of the lower trees near the lift, we saw some discarded underwear. I don't even want to go there. Also among the lower part of the ski run is a disc golf course.

The ride was surprisingly quiet. The temperature dropped as we got higher. Up the mountain, that is.

But on this day, we were fine even in T-shirts and shorts. Finally, we reached the top, where we had to jump off and run to the right so as not to get whacked by the chair at the wheel. There was a stiff breeze, and the temperature was in the 70s (whew!).

I'll shut up for the most part and let you enjoy the view.

In the next picture, Flagstaff is off in the valley to the left.

Notice the fire burning somewhere in the distance in the next two photos. Also, you can't really make it out here, but the Grand Canyon is visible way to the north as a strip of lighter ground. Bigsis and her family were there for a couple days at the same time that we took these pics. Littlesis and hers were there before we arrived.

Then it was time to head back down. Notice how steep this section is from the summit!

On the way down, these folks took a pic of us, so when the lift stopped for a minute or so, we reciprocated! For the life of me, I can't remember what they told me the name of their website was, except that it had something to do with "mojo".

The ski runs looked challenging, to say the least; they were all black diamond. And it looks as though some trees have fallen either to disease or to clear out deadwood for fire protection.

Just before we reached the bottom, we passed a couple with a teenage girl who was scared to death of being on the lift. Hope she wound up enjoying it instead! And three teenage guys decided they didn't need no stinkin' safety bar, telling us it was "optional." We'll see them in shock trauma sometime.

Wanting some good local Tex-Mex, we had a delicious and filling lunch here in Flagstaff. That's Humphreys Peak in the background:

As we pulled up, an older Latino woman approached us about wanting to be taken to Phoenix. There's charity, and then there's stupidity; how did we know she wasn't being followed by someone? It just seemed too weird. She disappeared as quickly as she showed up. We prayed for her nonetheless.

One of the barbershoppers from the night before suggested we drive down Route 89A into Oak Creek Canyon toward Sedona, which we did after lunch. We weren't able to get any pics of the ride down a couple thousand feet through switchbacks and winding roads, but every turn provided another spectacular view of rock formations. There are plenty of places to picnic and camp along the way, as well as a few lodges.

The route passed Slide Rock State Park, about which Mom2BJM wrote recently. I had hoped we could visit Slide Rock, but a storm was coming and it was starting to rain (!).

So we headed on into Sedona, which was difficult to negotiate because of massive road work taking place through the town; maybe that colored my first impression of Sedona as tourist trappy. But there's nothing negative about the magnificent rock outcroppings surrounding the town, made only more impressive by the advancing storm. Enjoy:

In another Idea That Will Have To Wait For Another Time, I had hoped to take the scenic route through Cottonwood, Prescott, and Wickenburg back to Bigbro's, but we just didn't have time. Oh, well, we'll just have to have another vacation there when we're out in Reno!

So, along with half of Phoenix, we headed back south on I-17. LC was taken with the saguaro cacti along the way.

Dinner that night was at the 5 and Diner in Peoria. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Speaking of Mom, she took a picture of me in said diner while I was selecting tunes at the jukebox. Or was I about to do something else?

We said our goodbyes in the parking lot.

On Monday, packing up and checking out of the hotel went smoothly, as did returning the rental car. But I forgot to unpack my CPAP, resulting in a delay at security.

I had hoped we could catch an earlier Delta flight home, but having already checked our luggage (the Colin and Christie Rule, for you Amazing Race fans), we had to stay with our flight. There was an earlier flight into Baltimore via the ATL, but it also may have involved more money. Still, there was no harm in asking. Next time, I'll ask at check-in.

The 3+ -hour flight to Cincinnati (Northern Kentucky) on a 737-800 was nice and smooth. LC watched Made of Honor, which didn't look like much. I finished reading The Traveler. We offered to pray for the mother (Frances) of the lady sitting next to us, while she offered the same for my FIL.

The Cincinnati airport was as deserted as Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson was packed. We had a light dinner at Max and Erma's, then boarded an MD-88 for Baltimore. Then panic set in: As I tried to strap myself into my seat, I couldn't see my cell phone! I knew I used it in the gate area, so I was prepared to leave the plane and possibly miss the flight to find it. Fortunately, it had fallen off my belt and onto the floor, where another passenger found it. Thank you, Lord!

The flight to BWI was a rough ride as we had turbulence all the way. Fortunately, it was not much more than an hour, and we landed safely. Meanwhile, on the other side of the airport where the accident had occurred when we departed, we saw a fire! That turned out to be a training exercise.

We went to BWI Meditation Room 1 for our luggage, then to Meditation Room 2 (the steamy hot and congested BWI Arrivals lanes, which haven't become any less congested since recent renovations) for our parking lot van which took nearly half an hour to get to us. Then we drove home, unpacked, and got what sleep we could.

All in all, a nice little trip. And let's all thank Bigbro for his service.