31 December 2008


Here on the cusp of a new year we tend to pause and look back to review the high & lows from the past year. I have been pondering this thread for a while but recent events have thrown me off my feed. In spite of all my turmoil of late, I do have a lot to be thankful for. 2008 has been one hellofa ride.
  • I started this year with the threat of prostate cancer hanging over me. Diagnosed in late 2007, I postponed treatment until after the holidays. I decided to take the surgical approach to eliminate the root cause. Went under the knife in late January and spent 5 weeks recovering. Have fully recovered and follow up test show no sign of cancer. Dodged that bullet. Some people have passed away due to prostate cancer and I consider myself lucky to have caught it early. As I have stated before, if you are floating around the 50 mark, get checked out by your physician. It is simple and fairly painless and may save your life.

  • By the way, this year was the year for family injuries/illnesses. While I was in the hospital for my surgery, both older brothers had medical problems. One had dental problems (root canal) while the other one fell of his bike in Seattle and shattered his right wrist/arm. He wound up getting metal plates and screws and had to wear some serious-looking appliance to support healing. For a while, he was sporting the Borg look (Resistance is Futile). Everyone has recovered from those injuries/illnesses, but recently we seem to be heading back down that old path. My oldest brother had knee surgery earlier this fall to correct some pain, but it has backtracked on him recently and looks like he will have to have more work done. On Monday, I dislocated my shoulder while running and will be in a sling for a while. Too early to tell if I will need further repair. In spite of my recent mishap, I am grateful for my health and that of my family. (I'm also glad my injury was not worse).

  • Got to travel more both on business and pleasure. This year, I have been to Tulsa, Orlando, Minneapolis, Dallas, Austin, College Station, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Grand Cayman, & Cozumel. Spent a few days with my son in Northern California, and few days with my family on the coast of Washington and a week with my family again on a Caribbean cruise. I love to travel, even if it is on business. I am grateful for the opportunities to see the beauty of other places.

  • My son is in his junior year of college. 2.5 years down and holding excellent grades. He has scored some good intern gigs and looks to be heading back to Seattle this summer for an internship with a software company. His future looks bright. He took a job as RA in his dorm this year and, while it has been a great experience for him, I don’t think he wants to do it again next year. I am grateful that he is doing well.
  • We survived Hurricane Ike. Many people down in this part of the coast lost a everything, while others suffered damage to their homes. The only impact we had was to be without power for 10+ days. While it was a major pain in the ass at the time, we realized there were people who had it a lot worse that we did. I am grateful that we did not suffer any major long term loss.

    • We lost our dog recently. Even though we saw it coming, we did not expect it this soon. It was definitely one of the hardest things we have ever done in our lives and we are still mourning his absence. I am grateful to have had him as a family member and the lessons he taught us.

    We have so much to be thankful for. In spite of some of the low points, 2008 was a good year for us. We managed to survive albeit with a few more scrapes and bruises. I am looking forward to 2009 with as much vigor as my meds will allow. The only downer is that I cannot celebrate the New Year in the traditional fashion (something about no drinking while on vicodin). Bummer.

    Everyone have a safe and Happy Year!

    30 December 2008

    Man down!

    Best laid plans…

    I know that some of you out there keep telling me that life’s good and we should be thankful for our blessings, but, I’m here to remind everyone that life can sometimes be a spiteful bitch.

    I am now trying to write my musings sans the use of my left hand (and no, this is not some kind of Freudian experiment). Yesterday, work was going well and it was a fairly light day. I took time at lunch for my daily run. Since the weather was beautiful (clear & low 60’s) and I had the time. In preparation for upcoming my half marathon, I thought I would follow Terri’s and Abby’s lead and push my run up a bit by going for the longer route (6+ miles). Was making good time and heading back to the building when I tripped over a separation in the sidewalk and did my best comedic impression of a faceplant. Tired to recover but had too much forward momentum and went down hard. My knee and hands took most of the brunt of the fall, but I musta rolled hard to the left because my left shoulder hurt like hell. After getting my breath back and surveying the damage I limped back to the locker room to see if a hot shower would help. It was while I was trying to take off my shirt that I noticed that something was amiss with my left shoulder. The top of the ball had shifted 3-4 inches forward and I could not lift my arm above my waist without help (can you spell dislocated?). Took one look at it and thought aw s%&$^%t, this wasn’t in my plans. Next thought I had was if this would keep me from running half marathon in 3 weeks.

    After weighing my options, I put my running clothes back on and went upstairs to tell my people I was going to the ER (was bleeding and had no strength to put my business clothes back on). I decided to drive back home (35 minutes) and go to our local hospital ER on our side of town. Was not in much pain, but there was no way that the shoulder was going to heal itself. Figuring for a long afternoon/night, I picked up momma and we hit the ER around 3 pm. They did the normal triage stuff and the parked us in a waiting room for a doctor. The ER was packed and I didn’t get to see a doc until 7:30 pm. He confirmed it was dislocated (gee, thanks doc. I sorta figured it out on my own). He first tried (key word being tried) to numb me up with lidocane and pop the ball back in the socket (I asked for scotch and a bullet). After trying to rip my arm off, he decided to knock me out and have several male nurses arm wrestle it back into place. I will admit, while I did not feel it, but they worked me over like a WWE bout. I seem to recall being face down at one point with the ortho guy pulling on my arm from under the table like it was a tug-o-war. The finally decided that surgery was the only way it was going back. So, there I was at 0300 (3:00 am, nothing to eat since breakfast, and trying to find comfortable spot to sit/lie in) on my way to surgery. Procedure took very little time (15 minutes I am told) and recovery was about an hour. Whatever they gave me to knock me out was really wild. I kept dreaming about little ponies in surgical masks. Came out of recovery with my arm in a sling (but shoulder back where it is supposed to be) and some more vicodin. Right now I am laying low at home now trying to figure my next move and get some rest.

    The lesson learned here: RUNNING can kill you! Stop Now before you hurt others!

    We had planned to leave for a small New Year’s rally with the folks and my brother, but there is no way I can handle a trailer at this stage. Now I am worried if I can still make the half marathon…
    (And, yes, I am grateful that it wasn't worse)

    28 December 2008


    Way too much food.

    The problem I have with having everyone over to our house for Christmas (and Thanksgiving) dinner is we always over prepare. We have enough food and drink to feed a platoon and, typically, we wind up with a lot of leftovers (we are still carving our way through the ham and turkey). We try to send stuff home with family but it usually stays in our refrigerator until we finish it off or throw it out. Of course, after 4 days of ham, we start to get creative on how it gets served (ham omelets, quiche, ham chili). Of course, the dog used to be more than willing to help us out with this problem, so we have had to change our plans.

    Trying to take it easy for the holidays. I resisted the urge to venture out on Friday for the latest deals and bargains, but I did have several things to return to the stores for refunds. Every year, I always wind up buying gifts for certain family members that I think are great ideas, but come time to wrap them, reality sinks in (what the hell was I thinking) and I wind up giving them something else. This usually leaves me with a few unassigned gifts to either keep or return. I even have 3 gifts from last year that never made it into the rotation. So, yesterday, I decided to venture out to the mall and make with the returns. Wasn’t as bad as I feared. Crowds were moderate, parking was ok, and the return lines were actually very fast and efficient. Of course, I did spend time cruising the local sporting goods store (Academy) while there was a major thunderstorm going on outside, so I picked up another pair of jogging shorts (although I was agonizing over buying some more camo gear). The only mistake I made yesterday was dropping by the local PetSmart. On weekends, they have pet adoptions and I wanted to just take a look at the available dogs they had. Way too soon for me. I think we will eventually get another mutt from the SPCA, but I ain’t ready yet.

    Today is kinda another lazy day for us. Woke up late, rainy and cold down here (ok, not as cold as you guys up north, but it was in the mid-40s). Front moved through yesterday afternoon while I was surfing the malls and dropped the temps 10-15 degrees. I have to go back to work tomorrow but have the rest of the week off, so I can live with a one day work week. Besides, it should be quiet at the office and I might actually get some real work done. We (momma & I, son & girlfriend) have tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra this afternoon. We did this last year and made an afternoon of it. I actually scored floor seats this year so it should be fun. I am planning to take the whole crew out for dinner downtown afterwards (I’m thinking eye-talian).

    Trying to get back into my running pattern. I did get in a few 5 milers this past week, but the holidays have really put me on hold. 20 days and counting until the Aramco Houston Half Marathon and I need to keep on pace.

    I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep...

    26 December 2008

    Merry Christmas, Ya'll!

    Bah! Humbug!

    Ok, I wasn’t that bad, but I have been a tad grumpy of late. I normally get into the holiday spirit after Thanksgiving, but this year has been a bit more downer for me (primarily due to last week). We usually have the tree up and decorated early but, we really did not get the ornaments on until Christmas Eve. Normally, we tend to overload the tree with our plethora of ornaments (after 28 years of marriage, we have accumulated a veritable treasure trove of ornaments from around the world), but this year we toned it down. We had both of our families over for Christmas lunch/dinner and opens gifts. Everyone had a great time and ate way too much. I will have to run an extra 5 miles just to work off yesterday. One thing I always wind up making is wassail. I guess I’ve been doing that for 15 years now and it is a tradition. I inherited the recipe from a co-worker back in the ‘90s and I have been making it ever since. It is non-alcoholic and made up of various juices and I cook it up in a large coffee urn. It is really good on a cold day, but, even though it was a balmy 72 degrees down here yesterday, the family sucked it up like it was nectar from the gods. Honestly, I only had a small taste yesterday. A few years back, I had several office parties to attend and was asked to brew my wassail for each one. On top of the normal Thanksgiving and Christmas batches, I must have made & drank 5 batches that year. I’ve kinda been burned out on it ever since. In spite of my dour mood, we had a great Christmas with family. I am grateful for the blessings we have had this year (subject for another post) and glad we had this time together.

    For as sidebar, I thought I would try and lighten things up.

    Ok. I asked for it. Terri started a little meme (actually morethananelectrician kicked it off, but I credit Terri for tossing it over the wall to me) that we are supposed to list 10 things we like that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet (Ten things I like that begin with the letter “__“). Terri tagged me with the letter “J”. Piece ‘o cake.

    1. Jerky – nothing says road trip like a couple of packs of mesquite flavored jerky. We had a couple of guys at work who would cook up some deer jerky every year and give it out as Christmas gifts. I took a couple of pounds of it on the trail to Philmont and it is a great energy boost (plus can give your mouth a work out).

    2. Jesse Cook – I picked up a CD of Jesse Cook many years back when we were on a road trip to Fredericksburg (Texas) and really fell in love with his music. He is an exceptional Canadian artist that plays a really wicked flamenco guitar. Gravity and Tempest are two of my favorite CDs.

    3. Jets – I have always loved to fly. One item on my bucket list is to get a pilot license.

    4. Jewelry – Now, I ain’t much of fan of jewelry but I do like the reaction I get when I give it. I am not one to sport much bling, in fact the only hardware I wear is my wedding band and my A&M class ring. Never go anywhere without them. I wore both when I was in the Army and we were in the field on maneuvers and blowing things up. The last two treks I did to Philmont with my Boy Scout troop, I wore them on all of the time.

    5. Jambalaya – I do love good jambalaya (especially with some good andouille sausage). In my younger days, I would drive hours for some good jambalaya, but lately, I have been paying for the sins of my youth and have to shy away from it lest it kicks my heartburn into overdrive. Still, even on an occasional basis, it is worth it.

    6. John Wayne – definitely loved the Duke. I know, I know. This is kinda a guy thing, but I watched all of his movies when I was growing up and used to idolize him. Love the way he knocked heads with the bad guys (“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”).

    7. James Bond – Bond. James Bond. Have always been a fan of the Bond series. Have read every book Ian Fleming wrote and seen every movie. I like the new version with Daniel Craig (haven’t yet seen Quantum of Solace) but I still think the best Bond was Sean Connery.

    8. Jackalopes - Although hard to track down, they make for mighty fine eating.

    9. Jack Daniels – I know someone else stole my idea, but my favorite whisky has to be Jack. I have a dream that one day I will go to Lynchburg, Tennessee and get to tour the Jack Daniels distillery.

    10. Jogging – I know. Some folk may think I am nuts for running in the heat of the day or on a cold morning or in the rain, but I find it helps me keep the pounds off and lets me vent some of the stress and frustration I may accumulate during a normal work day. I find it cathartic to run and be alone with my thoughts. Of course, you should keep your conversations to a minimum lest people think you are “strange”. I made it a point to jog/run everywhere go (vacation or business) regardless of the weather. Have some great memories of places I’ve been.

    Addendum: My sincere thanks to all who expressed their condolences and thoughts over the past week.

    21 December 2008

    Life moves on

    It's getting better every day.

    It is still hard to ponder the loss, but we are trying to move past it. With the holidays fast approaching, it is hard to get into the Xmas spirit, but we are preparing for next week. It helps to be engaged in activities and work so as you do not have the time to dwell on the loss, but it has dampened my normal Christmas cheer. I have been actually writing a journal on Shadow and his memories (good & bad) to help me move past the emotions. I am ok for most of the day, but there are a few times that seem most poignant. Typically early in the morning and late in the evening are hardest for me. Those were the times I walked him, so I miss them most. Is it considered weird to keep up with the walks in the morning and evening? I honestly feel I owe him those times and will keep walking the block regardless of the weather. I consider it some kind of homage to his spirit. A few neighbors have noticed me walking with a dog leash and no dog and I try to explain it to them. At least it helps me deal with the memories. The hardest time I have is when I come home and he is not there to greet me. I guess that is what is making it hard for me when I head home after work. Saturday I went to pick his ashes up. It is kind of weird having your dog delivered to you in a sterile box wrapped in velvet. For a moment, you think you are looking at a bottle of Crown Royal. We are considering spreading his ashes in the backyard and park but will probably wait until after the new year. In some morbid way, it is comforting to have him back home. Trying to lighten our situation, I actually put him down in the middle of the floor in the den so you would have to step over him (just like we have done in the past). I’d like to think he would appreciate that. You have to find humor in life and, in my own way, I am dealing with our loss with the same attitude as I have when he was here. One day further down the trail.

    Lest you think that this is getting to be a dirge-like, we are trying to remember the blessings he gave us. He had a tremendous impact upon our lives. I feel we were blessed to have him for so long and he brought us many memories of joy. In spite of any complaints I may have voiced, we are better off for having him as part of our family.

    I, for one, am glad to have had known him for the past 12.5 years.

    18 December 2008

    Dog gone

    Sorry guys. I didn't mean to get maudlin here but I am trying to work through some of the issues I am having with Shadow's death. If this gets too depressing, please forgive me and move on to lighter venues.

    Shadow was not doing well this past weekend and was having a very difficult time breathing (short of breath). The wife took him to the vet Monday on the hopes they could give him some more meds to improve his condition but, when we went to pick him up, the vet let us know that there was not much more he could do for Shadow. He was on oxygen for most of the afternoon and, while is condition improved slightly, he was still having a problem breathing. He was having heart problems (not getting enough oxygen) and seemed to be getting worse. After much debate and some torn emotions, we chose to put him to sleep instead of have him suffer much longer. I feel it was the most difficult decision we have ever had to make. It was very hard to sit there with him and watch him go, but the vet basically said he was suffering and he could only prolong his life, but not improve it. We had considered moving him to the emergency clinic to keep him on oxygen, but were uncertain if he would even survive the trip. We wanted to keep him alive until my son got home from college (Wednesday) but realized that was only for our benefit, not his. Eventually, my wife and I came to the conclusion to let him go, but it was not without regret. Still very difficult to talk about it and, while it is getting better, we miss him sorely. I was finally able to get a hold of my son Tuesday night and told him the news. I couldn't quite bring myself to call him Monday night but I did not want him to head home without knowing. He took it very well. I think we had forewarned him this was coming and he knew that his time was limited. I also feel that, with him away at school in Austin, the distance made it easier for him to accept. Since we were with Shadow every day, it has been hardest on us. This has been long in coming and I honestly felt I was mentally prepared and could take his departure well, but that hasn't proven so. I've delt with a lot of crap in my life and had always felt I could handle this kind of loss, but this has hit me harder than I ever imagined. We lost an exceptional friend/family member that has left a hole in my heart.

    The vet was exceptional in his care for Shadow. He did everything he could, but, in the end, he could not make him better. We basically signed off on his procedure to put him to sleep and elected to have him cremated. We will get his ashes back next week and may bury him in the back yard or spread them in the local park where he loved to run free. Not sure of those plans yet, but there is no rush.

    We appreciate everyone's thoughts & condolences...

    15 December 2008


    No witty repartee tonight.
    We just got back from the vet.
    We had to put down Shadow tonight and I am just not up to it.

    13 December 2008

    Trying to keep up

    Been very busy down here. I get this way every year. Trying to finish up projects at work before everyone takes off for the holidays, setting up Xmas lights, trying to determine what to get for the family, Xmas parties, trying to use up my vacation before the end of the year (or lose it). I know I am cramming too much, but the end of the year is looming and I feel like I have much to do (promises to keep & miles to go before I sleep).

    In past years, I have been actively involved with the Scouts and we did a lot of activities in December (Scout fair, volunteer work) but now that I am on the out, my time is unorganized. The past three years I have participated in a volunteer effort called Elves & More where we gather at the convention center to build bicycles for kids who would not get them otherwise. Pretty impressive gig when you consider that, over 10 days we build somewhere near 25,000 bikes that will be delivered just prior to Christmas. I’m a hands-on kind of guy and love to build things, so I take this opportunity to give back to my community in a small way. I try to make it a point to go every year as part of the holidays. I was not able to go today, but plan to take off from work on Monday and Tuesday to work the program. I have participated in it the past 3 years and, while it is tiring and involves a lot of dirty work, it is one of the most rewarding things I do every year. It humbles me to see the number of bikes we build every year. I only hope it makes a difference in someone’s life.

    11 December 2008


    Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time.

    My office is just on the backside of the Johnson Space Center (“Uhh, Houston. We have a problem”), so we share a lot of the same resources/space as the NASA folk do. Today is one of those days it was good to be a neighbor. The Space Shuttle Endeavour was on its journey from California back to Florida and did a flyby on the Johnson Space Center. The Shuttle had stopped for the night in Dallas and they flew south to circle the space center for a while to let the folks in JSC get a chance to see her up close and personal. The benefit of having a 6 story office building overlooking JSC is that we had a front row seat to watching the Endeavour fly by. And I mean a ringside seat. That puppy was flying “slow & low” over the Clear Lake area during the lunch hour. They made several passes around our building while flying only 500 feet off the deck. We were close enough to see the pilots of the 747 as they slowly looped the area. Needless to say, traffic came to a standstill as everyone got out to see it fly over.


    Snow Day!

    Ok, ok, maybe it is not as pristine and majestic as some of you guys up north, but we actually had snow down here yesterday! Certain areas got a fair amount while others only got a light dusting. Seeing as we only get snow once every 5-10 years, this is a big deal for some folk. Of course, half the city shuts down due to "wintry conditions". Having lived most of my yout in New Joisey and spending 5 years in Germany, I consider myself a fair driver when it comes to driving in snow, but, honestly, some of my fellow Houstonians scare the living crap out of me when the roads ice up.

    07 December 2008

    Never forget

    December 7th, 1941.

    With September 11th in everyone’s mind, we sometimes tend to forget what happened 67 years ago.

    Mr. Vice President, Me. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 a date which will live in infamy — the United Sates of America was suddenly and deliberately attached by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

    Three years ago, I had an opportunity to spend a week in Maui with my family. While our time on the island was fantastic & memorable, I had always promised myself that, if I ever made it to Hawaii, I would do everything possible to visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. After coordinating a short inter-island flight from Maui to Oahu, we were able to attend the memorial. The memorial was packed with tourists/visitors and we were lucky enough to get tickets on the tenders to tour the actual memorial where the Arizona lies. I have done a lot of things in my life and seen a lot of places, but this, by far, was the most sobering and awe-inspiring. The memorial is simple and reverent, paying respect to the 1177 crew members who lost their lives on that day.

    John 15:13

    06 December 2008

    There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

    Once we pulled anchor out of Cozumel, it was pretty much a straight run north across the Gulf into Galveston. I would regale you with more stories of elegant dinners and great shows, but things caught up with me and I was under the weather for most of Saturday. I was not seasick but was not in any mood for food or drink. I’m pretty sure it was not due to the dinner we cooked/ate or the drinks we ingested but more to some self-induced stress that I gave myself worrying about a minor issue. Throughout my life, I have always tried to maintain a positive outlook even when things are rough, but I have never lost sleep worrying (until now). I kinda did it to myself and have no one else to blame. In the end, it was over nothing and everything is back to normal, but I screwed up the last day of my cruise. Really pissed at myself because I missed out on some really good shows and a kick-a%#$ dinner (lobster & crème boulle).

    The return trip was fairly uneventful in spite of me wimping out. Seas were fairly mild and we spent most of the day cruising north on the open waters. One final day to sit by the pool or play on the slide or play miniature golf. Was kinda windy up top, so most people stayed on the lower decks. Last chance to buy souvenirs from the gift shop, order your pictures, smoke your Cubans, gamble your remaining savings or order your liquor from the duty free store. We made good time as we moved out of the warmer temps back to the cooler Texas coast. After running overnight, we pulled into port around 0700. They have a very intricate system of disembarking that involves unloading people by deck and cabin number. I was very impressed that they were able to get every single passenger (3500) and their luggage of the ship within 2.5 hours without major pandemonium. The only thing we had to do was to pass through customs to declare anything you are bringing back stateside.

    As this was my first boat ride, I’d like to impart some comments/suggestions regarding our next trip (yes, in spite of getting ill the last day, I would probably go back). My brother has done several cruises on different lines and to different regions and his observation regarding this ship was this was the Walmart of cruise lines (not sure if he meant that as a compliment). Food was good, rooms were nice/clean, lots of things to do/see, very affordable. Was not the fanciest ship on the ocean, but something your would not have to mortgage your house on and you could take the kids (but why?).

    If I go again I would:

    1. Take less clothes (I way over packed).

    2. Bring a clock (the room did not have any clock to keep track of time). I know, I know. You’re on vacation so why bring a clock, but a lot of ship board activities are time based and it would be nice to know what time it is. Besides, when you are sitting up all night, it is good to know what hour it is.

    3. Bring a nightlight. We had an outside stateroom with a balcony, but when you close the curtains the room was dark! Kinda hard to stumble over the bed or chair trying to find the bathroom.

    4. Bring a pair of walkie-talkies. Momma and I are on different wavelengths. I am an early riser and I love to roam the ship trying to explore or discover new things. Many times I would go up top to run or work out in the gym and there is no way we can communicate (forget cell phones) with each other. At least you can relay messages to your loved ones (I’d down in bar - bring me more money!). This also applies when you go on shore and you wind up separated in the shopping area. Now, most of these areas have cell phone service and you can use your cell phones, but unless you arrange for something with your carrier, you could wind up paying from $2.50-5.00 per minute just to talk with your loved ones. My motto was: we’re on vacation - no cell phone, no blackberry, no e-mail. Speaking of e-mail, you can go on line while on board, but the minutes are pricey and limited. Was going to try and blog while on the boat but balked at the prices they were charging.

    5. Bring a pair of binoculars - nice to look out of your stateroom and watch the shoreline (or maybe spy on the neighboring ships).

    If you go, I’d recommend getting an outside stateroom on one of the upper decks. You definitely want a window (inside staterooms were way too dark and you got no view of the outside of the ship unless you were on deck) and having a balcony is much better. Most balconies were tiny (about 8 feet across by 3 feet wide). Just enough for a small set of outdoor chairs and a table. Really cool to sit out there sipping your wine (or scotch) and watch the ocean. Very romantic for those so inclined. Just remember, your balcony has neighbors on both sides that can hear everything.

    05 December 2008

    Land Ho!

    We left Grand Cayman Thursday afternoon for an overnight run north to Cozumel. On a cruise, you typically travel from port to port during the evening so you can spend more time on shore (spending money) during the day. Dinner is at either 1800 (early) or 2000 (late) and there are a myriad of shows/entertainment afterwards. We attended several good shows (Las Vegas style musical, magic show, comedy) along with hitting the slots in the casino. We even stopped over in the karaoke bar for a brief while, but, fortunately, we chose not to participate (although my brother was trying to sign us up).

    Friday morning dawned early with us docking in Cozumel. Now here is a town geared for the cruise ships. They have two gianormus concrete piers that can dock two cruise ships each. Since I am an early riser, I will typically get up at 0530 and head up to the top deck to try and get some running in (got to have some way to work off all of the food & liquor we consumed). It is really cool/neat to run the track on the top of the ship and get a panoramic view of the ocean. I don’t really like prefer running on a track (just slightly ahead of running on a treadmill) and this track was only 1/10 mile long (that means 10 laps = 1 mile). While running laps that morning, I got to watch us pull into port around 0700 and dock next to another huge cruise ship. Nothing like seeing two giant ships parked side-by-side 30 yards apart.
    If you were on the port side of the ship, you could look out of your stateroom directly into the stateroom of the other ship (Hey, now, folks. How about closing your curtains?). We got to disembark at 0800 and head to the local village/shops for tours/activities. Of course, whenever you get on/get off the ship, there is always someone there to take your picture as a “memory” (translation: we’ll sell you a picture of you and a Mexican dancer or leather clad Aztec warrior for $9.95). Just smile and move on. Cozumel has figured out how to maximize their profit from the tourist trade and has set up a shopping center/village right at the end of the pier to sell you whatever you need. While it is a bit hokey/commercialized, I understand that these shops are tied in with the cruise lines so they are a more dependable/reliable to the customers and you are less likely to get ripped off. You can bypass these shops and head into downtown Cozumel as my parents did, but you may not be able to score a fair deal. Besides, most of anything you could ever want from a tropical paradise is found there. You can buy your trinkets, hats, souvenirs, meds, jewelry, duty-free cigarettes & liquor, or you might even find a good pair of boots for a steal. Me? I got a couple of bottles of Omaprazole (for heartburn) while my brother tried to talk me into a new pair of alligator boots.

    But, what if I don’t want to do shopping? You can partake in one of several dozen activities from sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with the dolphins, jet skis, parasailing, etc. Get the picture? There is something for all interests. If you have no aspirations to do any of these exciting adventures (we are on vacation, remember?) you can sit on the boat and enjoyu the pool or lounge on the beach and sip a 3 foot tall margarita from the local bar. Us? We signed up for a Mexican cuisine cooking class that, on the surface sounded a bit lame but turned out fantastic. Basically we were driven to a local resort and set up in a kitchen and taught how to prepare some very interesting genuine Mexican dishes. It was not a real stretch since most of the stuff was partially prepared for us and there was an open bar (another beer, senior?), so it turned in to a wild & crazy event. We prepared a fish wrapped in a banana leaf along with rice & beans and a sweet dessert. We spent about 2.5 hours cooking & drinking and we got to eat the results. The head cook (Luis) was very funny and had everyone laughing as we went. Afterwards, we sat around the resort and enjoyed the activities on the beach. Eventually, we caught a taxi back to the village and meandered back to the boat. Of course, along the way, I just had to stop by and pick up my new boots. Excellent pair of boots for almost nothing (ok, 2300 pesos), but it still was a quarter of what I would pay in Houston.

    Boarded the ship and we pulled out at 1700 and headed north for Texas.

    Next stop: Galveston.

    03 December 2008


    I really need to finish this thread up. Was trying to post up our vacation itinerary, but the pc problems & work have conspired to delayed my entry (I know - excuses, excuses).

    Anyway, after we left Jamaica, we hauled our assets northwest to Grand Cayman. Never been on a cruise, much less to any of the islands so any stops were a new experience to me. Grand Cayman was an interesting dichotomy in culture. We landed on the backside of the island (the port of George Town was closed) and had to catch a taxi to town. It was an adventure to unload a boatload of 3000 touristas and coordinate all of the activities. We jumped over to the main town to do some obligatory shopping and buy trinkets/souvineers. Lots of great stores and deals (If you want some deals on jewelry, I have a place for you) - no taxes or duties on jewelry or watches. Tour Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (I doubt it was the original, but we’re on vacation) or the local Hard Rock Cafe, pose with the pirates, try out some Tortuga rum cakes, or buy really good some Cuban cigars (Romeo Y Julieta). It was a fun little place to visit but essentially a tourist trap with lots of people hawking junk. After lunch, we hopped a bus for a tour of the island (most of the scuba diving and snorkeling was cancelled due to rough seas). This consisted of a lame tour of the island on where we got to visit such wonderful sites as the rum cake factory, seven mile beach, hell and the turtle farm. Yes, I said hell. In Grand Cayman, there is the town of Hell (so named because of the rock formation that looks like the flames of hell). It is supposed to be the running joke to mail postcards from hell (or I was in Hell with my wife). Boatswain Beach (aka the turtle farm) was actually the highlight of the tour. It is a working turtle farm/preserve that is part educational and part conservation. Nice facilities that show lots of turtles from the hatchlings all the way up to the giant sea turtles (weighing 200+ pounds). You get to see how they raise turtles and even get to handle some.

    Nice laid back tour. Afterwards, we raced back across the island to make our tender to get back on the ship only for find a parking lot full of people with the same idea. We had to wait an hour to catch a tender to our ship but made it back to the boat in time for happy hour & dinner. Good layover of Grand Cayman but
    too short. I would prefer more time on ground to explore.

    Dinner and show that night were exceptional, as usual. We are slowly getting used to life on the ship. Not bad having full time room service, as much food as you can eat, and no real pressure. I am definitely not used to this lifestyle.

    Next stop: Cozumel.

    30 November 2008

    Move along. Nothing to see here.

    We survived the holidays with a few less dollars and a few pounds more. Family has gone back home, Stephen left for school this afternoon with his girlfriend and her sister. Have not yet heard from him but I assume he made it to Austin before it got dark. Update: He just called in and they had arrived with out any problems (traffic heavy). Was nice to see him home for a few days. Over the past 2.5 years in college, he has really grown (both spiritually & emotionally) from when he left for college. I no longer have concerns if he will do well in life. I know he will do well and wind up with some high tech job making more money than his dad. He has already lined up a intership with Microsoft in Seattle this summer that most college kids would kill for. Certainly beats some of the summer jobs I had back in the ‘70’s. We are already making plans to go & visit with him this summer in Seattle next summer. We will drop in on my brother as well while we are in the northwest.

    Did not accomplish much this weekend aside of getting a the computer set up. I had planned on getting the Xmas lights up and cleaning up the yard, but seemed to be running in slow gear all weekend long. I think the cruise has put me off my schedule (seems like a good excuse).

    Speaking of cruise, now that my pc problems appear to be resolved, I will try to catch up on my vacation report (if anyone cares). Spending a week on a boat with your family will test even the hardiest of souls. We left Galveston a week ago on Sunday and, after 2.5 days of straight sea hauling, we reached Jamaica only to find the port closed. Rough seas closed the port on Tuesday and we could not dock. Of course, that meant all of the shore excursions were cancelled as we 180’d the ship and headed for Grand Cayman. My brother & I were slated for some doing some zip-lining in Jamaica but that was not to be. 4 days of straight sailing can get kinda boring, in spite of the ship board entertainment. I had planned to exercise/run every day on the ship to stave of the effects of non-stop eating, but Tuesday the wind was so strong on the upper deck that running laps was a serious challenge. I did hit the ship gym for a while along with sitting in the sauna, but prefer to run outside. I will note that running track on a moving ship is a weird feeling.

    29 November 2008

    It's Alive!

    Did I ever mention that I hate shopping? I think I'd rather try to give a cat a bath than brave the crowds on Black Friday but that's just what I did yesterday. Normally, I stay away from the stores during this time, but necessity forced me to venture out in search of a new PC. I really hate changing systems. I typically wind up losing a lot of my favorite bookmarks and e-mail address accounts. The only good think is that I bought an external hard drive in October and was able to back up most of my important pictures/data/music. I was able to score a new system from Fry's Electronics (gianormous electronic store) for a pretty decent amount of coin. Have been setting up new system since 0500 this morning and have about half of my favorites clocked. More bells & whistles in a smaller, faster box.
    Now all I have to do is figure out to set up my e-mail accounts.

    27 November 2008

    Be Thankful

    The bird's stuffed & in the oven.
    For many years, we have had Thanksgiving dinner at out house. Since both my family and my wife's family are in town, we have tried to serve as the gathering hole on Thanksgiving day. Lots of prep and stress, but we have a great time. We try to share the preparation duties but one of my roles is to stuff the bird early in the morning. This started way back when we lived in Dallas when I would try to run in the annual Turkey Trot. I would get up at at oh-dark-thirty and stuff the turkey, toss it in the oven and hit the trail. Been a while since I have been doing the annual run, but I still have the bird prep responsibity.

    This year will be a little less hectic (I think). Stephen is home from college. My parents are having dinner over at their house (2nd brother is still in town from our cruise), so we will only have my wife's family and my son & girlfriend. Should be fairly calmer by those standards. Later today, we will go across town for dessert with my family (translation: more eating). Lots of food, conversation, football, naps. Will need to run an extra mile today to make up for the intake.

    Even with all of the stress that sometimes comes with the holidays, I am tremedously grateful for what we have. We have our family. We have our health. THAT is what I am most grateful for.

    Be safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving, Ya'll!

    26 November 2008

    Great. Just Great.

    Of course, just when things appear calm & everying is quiet, that's when life likes to reach out and slap you back into reality. Seems like my PC has taken off on a cruise of its own. I have an older PC and right after we got back home I noted that Sparky is making all sorts of interesting clicking sounds (uh-oh, that doesn't sound good). I may be a novice in the IT department, but I think I can diagnois a pending hard drive crash. The only good thing is that I bought external hard drive a few months ago and have been backing up my data on a regular basis. I am lucky enough to have a surplus laptop I bought from work (old & slow) so life is not all bleak.

    Oh well, I guess I need to Cowboy up and starting looking for a new system. Looks like I will be going out on Black Friday to get an early Xmas present. Anybody got suggestions?

    24 November 2008

    Bon Voyage!

    Back on land after 7 days at sea!

    We got back to Galveston early Sunday morning and finally made it home around noon. Very good trip. This was the first cruise I have ever done and I enjoyed it, even though I got sick the last day of the trek. We did a 7 day trip on the Carnival Conquest running out of Galveston, Texas with a trek across the Gulf of Mexico with stops in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Was to be a family trip with my parents and both brothers and their wives. Interesting to be that close on a boat with my family for a week. Many interesting stories/debates ensued throughout the week.

    We had a good time and ate/drank non-stop. The first 2.5 days were “fun days at seas” where we basically hauled butt across the Gulf on the way to Jamaica. There is a lot to do on the ship from a myriad of shows, playing games, gambling, exercising in the gym, playing miniature golf, run/walk the 1/10 mile track, or just sit out by one of the pools. I never pictured the Gulf as being that big, but once you leave Galveston, it is huge. Miles of open water with an occasional oil platform or passing ship off in the distance. Very peaceful. Sunsets were spectacular. Life aboard is whatever you make of it. You can get up early and walk/run the deck or sleep in. Have breakfast in your room or eat in one of several dining rooms. They typically have ton of planned activities each day that you can participate in or lay out by the pool and read/catch some rays. Lunch is pretty much wide open between 1100 until 1430 with plenty of good eats available. Dinner is either early (1800) or late (1930) seating and is in one of the formal dining rooms. Very fancy service full course meals every night. If that is not your cup of tea, you can always get hot dogs/hamburgers/pizza up on the back deck by one of the pools. Of course, you can always find an open bar close by. As with most all-inclusive cruises, once you book your trip, the meals are covered in your fee. What is NOT covered is your “incidentals” like any liquor or sodas or souvenirs. Of course, they take pictures of you throughout the trip for you to remember (buy). Getting on the boat, getting off the boat, having dinner, playing craps, doing bingo, posing with one of the showgirls, posing with Sam the Pirate. We did have one group/family shot taken and I did buy that package. Be careful with these little incidentals. You can run a hefty tab by the time you get home.

    More to follow…

    23 November 2008

    Land Ho!

    Sorry about the late last posting but we were leaving early and I had worked up a post but never published it.

    We docked about 0700 this morning and just got home.
    Lots of unpacking to do, laundry, catching up on e-mails.
    Dog did great! He loved the two ladies who came over several times each day to take care of him. To say they spoiled him is an understatement. In spite of all of the attention he got, he was still jumping up and down (as much as he can) when we came home.

    More details on the boat trip later. Very tired.

    16 November 2008

    Anchors aweigh!

    Been prepping all day. Just about finished packing and have way too much gear to take for a week long trip. With a couple of Philmont backpacking treks under my belt, you'd think I could travel lite but I always tend to over pack for trips. Never sure if it will be cold, what kind of dinner attire will we wear, what about trips off the boat? We have never done a cruise so we have no idea as to what to take and not to take. I will probably take 40 lbs more than I really need or use.

    Last minute shopping yesterday. A few more Hawaiian shirts (hey, they were on sale). Bought bottle of scotch & rum for the room (parents are bringing the vodka). At least I have my medications lined up. Speaking of medications, we have prepped the dog for our eventual departure. If you read any of my earlier missives, Shadow is a very intuitive dog. He knows when we are leaving for a road trip and that he is not going along. He was a Humane Society dog so I am not sure he has some abandonment issues, but he is normally not happy when we leave him for any extended period of time. He usually gets very depressed and will mope around while we are gone, in spite of who we have take care of him. I’d put him up with the vet for the week, but we did that 10 years ago and he still had not yet forgiven me for that. So we leave him at home and have someone come over and take care of him. Now, prepping him for our trip we have taken him to the vet and had him check out from stem to stern. Poor old guy. At 13 years old, he has a myriad of problems (bronchitis, cushings diesese, mitral valve prolapse, bad hip). Hell, I have seen people with less problems than he has. Despite all of these challenges, he is still a puppy at heart. Still looks for his daily walks. Still trying to catch that damn squirrel. Always ready to mooch a snack. Looking for a place to take a nap. I was setting up his pills for next week and realized that he is taking 9 different pills every day. I won't even mention how much those suckers are costing.

    Bon voyage, ya'll.