July 2004


This was our last full day of vacation so we tried to take it a little
easy. We decided to drive north a bit to see the San Jacinto monument
and the Battleship Texas both of which are close to each other. This
is an interesting part of Texas history to see but is located in a
strange place in between the Houston ship channel and a long landscape
of refineries and chemical plants.


Between the industry and the swampy land, it's hard to imagine any
great battles being fought for Texas independence from Mexico but
there it is. The monument itself is massive – on the order of the
Washington monument and you can ride the elevator all the way to the
top which we did.

The Battleship Texas occupies an interesting part of my life. The
first time I ever went to Galveston was back in the 80's and we had
gone with some friends. While eating in a restaurant on the harbor, I
had notice what appeared to be a battleship in the drydock across the
harbor. I was ridiculed by others for thinking such a thing and
promptly forgot about it. As we drove back home, I saw signs for the
Battleship Texas and so we took some time to drive over to see it.
Imagine my surprise when we got there and there was no ship. Just
this big wharf looking thing and nobody else in sight except a guy
mowing the grass. I asked him if we were in the right place and he
said yes but that the ship had been raised from the bottom and taken
to Galveston where the hull was being refurbished. So I really had
seen a battlehip from the window of the restarurnt.

Anchor Windlass – Battleship Texas

After Evan was born, we went down there again and I again drove over
to see the ship and it had just been re-floated and placed in it's
place. It was open for viewing but not everything was properly
finished. Finally, 14 years later, we saw it with the kids and it's
finally done and most of it's displays are finished and I was finally
able to take my long-delayed exploration of the ship. This time, I
had both kids with me to enjoy it with.

This was another lucky day for us in that it was cloudy and
threatening to rain. We heard thunder all through our tour of the San
Jacinto monument and the Battleship Texas and finally, when we were
done, we drove off and it began to rain on us. So the day was cooler
than it could have been and we got to avoid getting wet.

We headed back to Galveston for one more trip to the beach. We swam
some more in the waves and made some more sandcastles. Evan dug
another hole. I'm not sure where the hole project came from but he
was quite serious about it and with only a small plastic shovel, he
managed to excavate a hole deep enough to stand in up to his knees and
about two feet across. You may not understand the creative genius
that led to this Christo-like work of art but you've got to admire the
persistence.

We picked up some more nice-looking shells and endured a brief
rainstorm. I thought it amusing that when it started to rain, lots of
beachgoers packed up and headed home. Seems silly to me since you go
to the beach to get wet – I don't make a distinction between getting
wet from the ocean or getting wet from the rain although the rain did
get our towels and stuff a little wet. It was kind of cold too – we
had to take to the ocean to keep warm. Finally, we headed back to the
pool to clean off. We then headed off to find dinner at the Taco
Cabana, gas up the car, and get packed for the trip home the next day.
This was the depressing part.

July 12

The drive home was uneventful. By planning to drive on Monday rather
than a weekend, we enjoyed much lighter traffic and so had no driving
problems on the way home and were able to stay at the posted speeds
(or a big more) all the way home. My only complaint was that about 30
minutes from home, my PDA froze up while I was playing solitaire. I
had been keeping a travel journal all week long and it really annoyed
me to lose it like that. Still, between the four of us, we managed to
reconstruct it and write it down here.

This day saw us heading to downtown Galveston to see the sight down
there. By getting up reasonably early (9:30-ish), we were able to
find a parking garage with covered parking. From there we went
straight to pier 21 to pick up a sightseeing tour of the harbor.

What's a 'buck' stove?

I always enjoy these things and this was no different. We got on
board the boat and sat down. It left and the skipper proceeded to
take us up and down the harbor and point out all sorts of things of
interest. One of the more interesting things we saw was a school of
dolphins. They swam along with the boat for quite some time and were
quite entertaining. The boat showed us all sorts of things like the
shrimp boat fleet, some oil platforms that were in port for refits, an
old sunken ship (whose hull was made of concrete), the ferry boats,
and some freighter traffic.

After having seen the sights, we got off and took a good long look at
the Elissa; a restored three-masted tall ship that is on display at
pier 21. We could have looked through the museum there as well as
watched a movie on the great storm of 1900 that killed pretty much
everyone on the island but we decided to go shopping instead.

We went up and down The Strand (the historical district) and enjoyed
the various shops. We had lunch at a fun place that was mostly old
general store and partly sandwich shop where we were served by a very
friendly grandmotherly type lady. As part of the shopping, we picked
up some cool stuff: Evan got some pink flamingo Christmas lights which
promise to add some humorous decorating touches to his room and some
really good fudge. Galveston has a trolley system which we hopped on
just to get a cheap tour of the town.


When we got back, we headed for the pool to cool off. We had all been
intrigued by the notion of swimming up to the bar and ordering
something slushy so, since it was open at the time, we did. We all
ordered something frozen and then went and swam some more. Around
late afternoon, Erin had gotten obsessive about watching a new Jimmy
Neutron movie on Nick so Mel and I left the kids in the room to watch
it while we went downstairs to the restaurant for dinner. Most things
on this vacation provided a continuous cacaphony so it was nice to
just have a quiet dinner alone. We eventually picked up some take-out
for the kids and took it up to them when we were done.

After the movie, we all got up and went for a late-night walk along
the seawall. We went as far as the nearest intersection and ducked
into a convenience store for some snacks before heading back to the
Rainforest Cafe gift shop. We had meant to go there on our first
night right after dining but we all had eaten too much at the time and
a couple of us had tummyaches so this was our return trip. We found
the required souvenirs and went back to the hotel to go to bed
although not before watching the volcano erupt a couple of times
more.

It's high time I finished out these vacation stories. Stay tuned for the rest today. And now, the story of July 9:

Our first full day in Galveston began early with everybody getting up
and walking over to the IHOP. A series of thunderstorms was brewing
outside so we sat inside the restaurant eating our pancakes and
watching the lightning and rain outside. Even after the brief rains,
it stayed cloudy which made it relatively cool for our first outing:
NASA.

Nasa Mission Control – built
in the '60s and you can really tell

But before leaving, we discovered that if you stood out on your
balcony and looked as if you had anything to eat, the seagulls would
begin swooping around looking for handouts. We ran and got the
leftover pizza and whatnot from our Rainforest Cafe trip and began to
toss tidbits up into the air. The gulls would catch it in midair and
then swoop around again. It wasn't until later that we read the card
on the desk in our room begging us to please not feed the seagulls.
The card didn't say why but I can only surmise that the reason
involved seagull poop.

We hopped into the car and headed up to southern Houston to NASA's
Johnson Space Center. We went there 14 years ago when Evan was a mere
five months old and it has certainly changed in that time. The former
museum has morphed into a huge place with all sorts of entertaining
things for kids to do. It is less a museum than an entertainment
center although all the displays claim to be educational in some way.

We did take two tram tours of the facilities which showed us the old
mission control center and the astronaut training facility. After
that, it was back into the museum to see what there was to see. There
was quite a lot to see and we spent the better part of the day in
there. There was a variety of activities, some displays of artifacts,
and an IMAX theater. We watched a film on being an astronaut there.

We also got to touch a moon rock although it wasn't in its natural
state. This one had been sectioned and analyzed to the point that it
looked more like a broken corner of a bathroom floor tile. Erin was
looking forward to it and came away somewhat dissappointed. Me too.
We had lunch in there and, like at the Schlitterbahn, bought the
refillable souvenir drink cup which was in the shape of the space
shuttle. It seemed somehow inappropriate to be sucking on the space
shuttle but that didn't stop us from doing so and refilling it
numerous times.


When we were there 14 years ago, I had photographed Evan in a pretend
space helmet. It was huge on him. Just for old time's sake, we found
a similar display and I photographed his present-day head in another
helmet. I need to find that old photo and scan it and put them side
by side.

After seeing all there was to see, we headed back into Galveston where
we stopped off at the WalMart to buy some more breakfast items,
replacement sunglasses for me, and some sand toys. You know what that
means: the beach.

We couldn't wait so we went straight down to the beach. It was late
afternoon so we didn't have to worry about getting too much sun. We
swam in the waves for awhile and then retreated to the sand to begin
construction of sand castles. We built one grand one with a moat and
another smaller one that, if I do say so myself, was an excellent
rendition of the Alamo. Evan, for some reason, wanted to simply dig a
hole.

We soon noticed that very close to where we had been splashing in the
waves, a Man O' War jellyfish had washed up on the shore. A small crowd
gathered to check it out closer and someone began warning all present
not to touch it unless they wanted the most painful sting of their
lives. I scooped it up in our sand bucket and deposited it in the
trash can. After that we kind of wondered about the wisdom of getting
back into the water. Nobody else reported any more of them though.

After getting covered in beach sand, we headed back across the street
to our hotel's pool which had a shower for getting rid of the sand.
Then we swam awhile to get rid of the salt and whatnot. The pool
there was very nice with a section that went in a little river around
a central mound of rocks with waterfalls. Also back there was a
swim-up bar. This pretty much ended our day with a long session at
the pool and the hot tub.

This weeks three-day trek to Washington DC was not a vacation; therefore, is not nearly as interesting as it might have been but probably worth reporting anyway.

Since it was work-related, there's not much to talk about here. But since I had never been to DC, I have many observations.

First: those barriers they have set up at all entrances sure are ugly. There are the concrete ones and there are the plastic ones. They're both ugly. There are so many security guards and I know that most of them were hastily hired after 9/11/2001 and so I know that many of them are probably poorly trained. That does not make me feel more secure.

Let us begin our narrative at the Tulsa airport where I arrived and walked up and down the concourse. I was looking for the former American employee lounge thinking that perhaps I'd see somebody I knew but the door was closed and I was a bit too shy to open it. It seemed to be empty so perhaps it was no longer used as such. On my way back to the gate, I saw a man sitting at the bar. This was 10:30 am and I thought to myself “Look at that – a guy sitting at the bar at this time of the morning. Sad, very sad.” Turns out it was my coworker and travel partner.

It seems he's afraid to fly and so has a little ethanol-based tranquilizer before boarding. OK.

We had the usual experience of arriving at DFW and rushing to the next gate while stopping hurredly at a Pizza Hut to grab lunch since they don't feed anybody on planes anymore. We made it but only just. Greasy pizza hastily consumed is perhaps unwise but I had no difficulties. Off we went to DC.

I love looking out the windows and as long as there are no clouds, that's all I do. This day it was partly cloudy and so I read my book part of the time. But when you could see, you could see a lot. There was a layer of puffy clouds down low and a layer of high cirrus right above us. The three-dimensional aspect of clouds cannot be appreciated from the ground and doesn't come across in photographs and so can really only be appreciated from a fast-moving plane. Several times I saw huge rainbows in the clouds as the plane moved along.

Add to this the fascinating panoramas on the ground. As we approached DC from the south, we passed over some very pretty terrain in Virginia which I imagine was pretty close to Mount Vernon. There were certainly a number of mansions on hilltops. The lands around there reminded me of photos of England and parts of Europe with fields separated by rows of trees and patches of forest here and there. I saw a large river with several shoals that looked as if it would be a pretty place to visit. Then, of course, there was the panorama of DC from the air. I was on the wrong side of the plane to see most of it but I did see the Pentagon as we came in.

Our hotel was near there, on the other side of the Pentagon from Reagan National airport. Observation #2: almost everyone in DC is a suck-up. The hotel employees were all overly polite; perhaps in the fear that anybody might be a bigwig who would be offended by a lack of servility. I felt like saying “Easy there, no need to bust your hump opening the door for me, I'm a nobody just like you.”

Observation #3: DC is expensive. I made a phone call to Melissa. The total cost: $51. That's the last time I leave my WalMart long distance card at home.
We spent a day and a half in a conference room in one of the innumerable office buildings in town discussing how best to spend next years money. It was all very congenial but boring. Spending money is fun. Budgeting money is not. Best quote from one of the attendees “Geez, just shoot me!”. My coworker is, like me, a former physicist who left that gig because he needed to make a living and so he's of a like mind.

We were there during an unseasonably cool period just like the one occurring back in Tulsa during which record lows were seen. We were really lucky since this time of year in DC is generally intolerably hot and humid.

Our cab driver on the first morning was a man who was passionately unhappy. He had been waiting outside for a fare that had called and when we showed up and asked him if he was available, he jumped at the chance only to hear two guys who had been leaning against the wall that it was their cab. Then ensued an incident between us, the cabbie, the two men, and the bellman that came down to this:

We needed a cab.
The cab driver needed a fare.
The two guys had called the cab but the third of their party was still not there and so they were making him wait – without the meter running.
The cab driver didn't care – he wanted to get on the road with the two paying customers.
The bellman was promising a new cab in less than five minutes.
Etc.

Everything worked out and I managed, as usual, to stay out of the entire process and finally just got in the car. But the cabbie steamed for the entire trip. He was of african descent (I mean he was actually from Africa not too long ago) and so I couldn't make out most of his angry grumblings.

The way home was blocked by thunderstorms in DFW so we got to the airport early in order to try and negotiate a route through Chicago. The AA lady at the tail end of the line assured us that all was lost and end of the world was nigh as far as travel plans were concerned. All she wanted was for us to use the self-service machine to check in and get out of her sight. As it happened, the agent got us exactly what we wanted in about thirty seconds. So much for doomsday.

Airports have certainly improved since I first got on a plane. Now, they are pretty much shopping malls behind the security stuff and so they are much less boring and you are much less likely to suffer from crummy food. We had plenty of time to have a nice lunch and for my travel buddy to get liquored up for the return trip.

He made a buddy in one of the lounges though. Out of the blue a tall black man in a spiffy hat approached him (us actually), put his hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said “How ya doin'?”. My coworker responded with “Good, how are you?”

The man didn't seem to know how he was. He proceeded to stutter incoherently. I'm not sure if he had thought he new my friend or had approached for some other reason but he stood there trying to collect his thoughts. My friend went on: “Do I know you?”. Again, the man didn't seem to have any good response. And again: “Well, do you know me then?” No answer.

The man eventually went back to his seat and sat down. We wondered if he was travelling with anybody, if he had a problem, if he was just embarrassed or what. He had a ticket and he got on the plane without problems. Odd.

I didn't get my window seat on the way home. There was a little girl of about seven years sitting at the window and was wide-eyed with wonder so I let it go. Her mom was glad for her to have a distraction. They were both very nice and smelled of Juicy Fruit (they even offered me some). I had my book anyway. (I've got to stop taking Ayn Rand novels on planes – I can never finish one. They're too big and heavy.)

We safely avoided weather problems and made it home on time. Funny how tired you can get just flying in airplanes. I remember movies from the '70s that featured air travel. People were always sitting in seats with plenty of legroom and talking in normal tones of voice. Flight attentants were all attractive young women and were not overworked. The sad fact is that flying is a lot like sitting in a kitchen chair in a culvert pipe for fours hours with a vacuumm cleaner running the entire time while being packed in cheek by jowl with a bunch of other people you don't know. Sometimes you get a big jet with a bit more space and some TV or a movie to watch but often you don't. And there's no food to speak of any more. The flight attendants are all ages and sexual orientations and often frantically busy and never seem to convince people to stop bringing those big suitcases on board and trying to squeeze them into those overhead bins. Still, it beats walking. And yet… that trip I took to New Mexico on business last December when we drove the whole way still sticks out in my mind as more fun than most plane trips.

It was interesting, I had a good (non-obnoxious) travel partner, the meetings went pretty well, and we didn't have any weather cancellations. Can't really complain too much.

I forgot to buy powerball tickets while I was there. I could perhaps hit the big time but I never remember. I'll bet the cab driver would know where to pick some up. I've gotta get a different pair of shoes too – ones that don't set off the metal detectors every time I step through.

Anybody ever pay the $10 a day to get internet service via the TV set in a hotel room?

Well, here we are again with Greg's continual saga of doing it himself. I really should set up the video camera and make a comedy out of all these little projects.

When you fully comprehend all that is inside the walls of your house, you are much inclined to try things. When the house is no longer a large magic black box to you, your imagination soars and you say “Yeah, lets' do that.”

But some things are easier than others.

Expanding the electrical system for example. Mel decided that with one teenager and another one looming – both sharing the same bathroom, we have a potentially explosive situation. She therefore imagined a situation where Erin had a place to get ready in her own room. Most reasonable people would outfit her room with a dresser and mirror. At the moment, I can't remember why Mel scratched that idea but it may have something to do with the fact that she has a large closet and that her room is clogged with other furniture. So she decided she wanted an electrical outlet in the closet.

Along with a small chest we have, that would provide a nice place for Erin to get ready for school as long as it wasn't something that required plumbing. Adding an electrical outlet is, in principle, trivial. In practice, it is anything but.

We begin our adventure in the attic. One must splice into an existing wire and drop the extension down into the wall where you want the new outlet to go. This involves creeping like a tightrope walker along the ceiling joists in your attic (which you can't see because they are covered with insulation. You know where they should be so you carry a shovel and push the insulation away with it as you go. You do this with one hand since you're holding onto something else with the other hand. You also do this with a dust mask on since that insulation is made of tiny fibers that don't play well with your lung linings. This makes for a hot, stuffy, environment. The attic is hot anyway of course. It is also dark so you wear a headlamp – that serves the dual function of catching the sweat streaming from your forehead.

When you deduce the correct place for the new wire, you must find a way to crouch and work. I took a scrap of plywood to make a platform for myself but that required a second trip. I then made about a hundred back and forth trips to get this or that thing that I forgot. Finally, I got to the point of drilling a hole in the top plate of the wall. For this, I used an antique hand drill called a “brace and bit” since I didn't want to fool around with a long extension cord. This is fundamentally a good idea but required a lot of arm strength that I am very nearly lacking in. It works though.

I guess I'll spare the rest of the details. Suffice it to say that it was hot, nasty, and physically exhausting. It is still not done but I do have a wire in the wall that has electrical power in it so at least the attic work is done.

So, if you ever decide that it would make you happy to have electricity where there is none now, my advice is for you to lower your standards of happiness.

Evan returned from his latest Boy Scout adventure to Guadalupe peak and Carlsbad caverns yesterday. He never has all that much to say until you take him to a restaurant and get him juiced up with Dr. Pepper; then you can get the full story which we did.

But not until we dropped Erin off at the Girl Scout camp where she will be riding horses all week (on the cheap, I might add). She did this last year and was looking forward to it in the extreme. When she gets excited, she chatters incessantly and so the drive up to Zink Ranch was a bit tiresome. Still, we made our way through the check-in line, the nurses line, the headlice check line (?!), and the gift shop line in good time. We installed her in her bunkhouse and she diplomatically gave us the emotional heave-ho. She didn't actually come out and say “don't let the screen door hit your butt on the way out” but that message was clear. I take that as a good sign. It indicates that either she is strong-willed and confident by nature or that we have done a good job at parenting. Either way we win.

She wondered often as to the fate of her horse Star from last year. Star was about 22 years old last year and so there was some concern voiced as to whether he was now in that big pasture in the sky. It was entertaining to hear about the horses last year. Apparently, one is a retired barrel racer and so whenever it sees a barrel, it will walk around and around until the rider swats its behind with a fly swatter. Another pair grew up together and so one will always hang out with the other. If another horse decides to try and follow his mate on a trail ride, there is trouble. They jealously guard each other. Yet another horse always wants to stop and eat weeds. That requires a somewhat experienced rider. We eagerly await news when she returns on Friday.

Finally, about Evan's trip. It was such a whirlwind trip that they didn't do much but the two things. He had nothing to say about their hike through the caverns. Perhaps that's because we took him a few years ago. He had much so say about the 8 mile hike up to Guadalupe peak which involved about 4000 feet of ascent up to about 8000 feet or so which had them all sucking air pretty good. He borrowed a cell phone and called me from there on Friday – he was excited to be able to see White Sands and El Paso both at the same time.

Today, he is off to church camp for the week. Mel and I had planned on enjoying some uninterupted time together but now I have to go to Washington so I guess she'll just have to have a quiet house to herself for a few days.

I can speak from experience that it's quite nice.</

Next Page »