Tuesday, December 25, 2007

6-year-old telemark skiing on moguls

At Mary Jane, it's not uncommon to find 6-year-olds skiing black runs. On Sunday, though, I saw a little guy cruising down a black run - moguls and all - wearing telemark skis. Kinda embarrassing when a first grader can free-hill ski as good or better than I can on the bumps. I like to think they have an unfair advantage due to their low center of gravity.

Amy, Andrew and I all went skiing at Winter Park on Sunday. This is actually the 3rd season that Andrew's been on skis, and he's doing great. He still likes us to hold onto his harness, but he doesn't realize that we're not assisting him at all - he's doing it all himself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Preschool Holiday Concert

Andrew participated in his first ever performance on a stage: the Free Horizon Montessori School Holiday Concert. His combined Primary (pre-school) and Kindergarten class jammed the stage to sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Dreidel Song, and The Twelve Days of Christmas. In the audience, a few hundred parents with video cameras watched with smiling faces. Andrew sang well and enjoyed himself, even if he did get a bit lost during some of the verses, and fidgeted a bit. Good job, Andrew!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Explaining infinity to a 4-year-old

How do you explain the concept of infinity to a 4-year-old? I've been struggling with this for a few weeks now. Andrew can count to about 100 now, and he loves to shout out numbers that sound huge, like "five hundred thousand". Trying to outdo his friend Quentin in the big numbers game, he asked me, "what is the biggest number of all"? "Infinity," I told him. This leads to interesting conversations, such as:

Dad: "You would have to keep counting forever to count to infinity."
Andrew: "You mean until you die?"
Dad: "Well, uh, even longer than that."
Andrew: "What is infinity plus one?"
Dad: "That's also infinity. Infinity isn't a normal number. No matter how high you count, you can always count 1 number higher, so you'll never count to infinity. It's kinda complicated."

I find myself using that same explanation for other questions, such as "why is the day shorter in the winter?"

So now Andrew has a new phrase he likes to use. "It's kinda complicated..."

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Dec 1: the journey

As always, Andrew thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the underground train at the airport. From there, the first leg of our flight took us through Dallas. Amy's secret seating scheme to reserve 3 seats but skip the middle seat served us well. We reserved an aisle seat, the opposite aisle seat, and the window seat, but not the middle seat; no one else got that unreserved middle seat, so it was ours! From Dallas to Belize City, we didn't get so lucky, until the couple across the aisle from us discovered that they lost their passports. Their loss was our gain - 2 extra seats on a flight that was otherwise completely full! Next was a 14-seat puddle jumper that took us 30 miles to the village of San Pedro on Amergris Caye - the smallest plane I've ever been in except for a short joy ride in a sail plane (glider). What is ambergris? A secretion from the intestines of a whale, once used to make perfume, and at the time, more valuable than gold. Next was a short taxi ride to the dock, followed by a boat ride through the dark to the Costa Maya Reef Resort, about 6 miles north from San Pedro. There aren't any real roads outside San Pedro, so boats are really the only way to get there.

Dec 2: relax
On Sunday we let the kids enjoy the pool and the sand, and we snorkeled around the resort's pier. A school of about 400 bonefish puttered around a sand flat just past the end of the pier, and hundreds of grunts hung out under the shade of the pier.

Dec 3: snorkel
Belize, just south of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, is a small country with only about 250,000 residents. It's home to the world's 2nd longest barrier reef, which sits about half a mile from the front door of our beach-front room. A nice spot for snorkeling called Mexico rocks is a short paddle on a sit-on-top kayak from the beach. Dozen of coral "heads" (small groups of coral) are separated by sand flats in about 10 feet of turquoise water. Amy and I spotted a large southern sting ray up close, and a large variety of smaller reef fish. Quite good snorkeling, though not the best I ever experienced. How did we do this with 2 small kids in tow? We left them with grandma and grandpa for a few hours.

Dec 4: snorkeling in Hol Chan marine reserve

Hol Chan is a reserve at the southern tip of the key. We joined a group of 4 others plus our guide. The first stop is a cut in the reef where we snorkel down one side, across the cut, and the back up the other side of the reef. Here we saw 2 large spotted eagle rays with about 8 feet of wing span. The graceful fish are amazing to watch. The next spot is known as shark/ray alley. Here the nurse sharks, southern sting rays, yellow fin snappers, and jacks are well accustomed to tour boats feeding them chum. I'm not really crazy about the idea of feeding wild animals, but the result here is an incredible and very memorable experience. We were actually able to reach out and touch the 3-6 foot long nurse sharks, while the rays were so tame they would swim straight to us and I could grab their wings.

Dec 5: diving; Andrew falls in the drink

On Wednesday morning we went for 2 dives. The first was a deep dive to 100 feet just outside the reef, starting with a swim through a short cave. The area has deep coral canyons, a wide variety of hard and soft corals, and a decent number of reef fish. The 2nd dive was in much shallower water maybe 1 mile from the heart of San Pedro. Once again the guide used food to lure the sharks and rays, and they were even tamer than yesterday. Here, you could easily reach out and grab a nurse shark by the tail and let it take you for a short ride. They didn't even try to get away when you swam toward them. One shark acted like a dog when we grabbed it, turned it upside down and rubbed its belly; the shark seemed to enjoy it! After the feeding frenzy, we swam around and saw a turtle and another spotted eagle ray, this time up close. Awesome. In the afternoon I cast Ron's fly rod from the end of the pier while Andrew watched. After one cast, I heard a big splash - Andrew had fallen right off the end, about 4 feet into the shallow ocean below. I immediately jumped in after him, and was proud when he popped up to the surface with his eyes wide, but didn't panic, tread water like a champ, and remained calm. Another man on the pier pulled him back up, and then Andrew was actually pretty excited about his little adventure, and went running to tell mommy all about it.

Dec 6: back to Mexico rocks

On Thursday we ventured back to the coral heads in front of our resort. This trip was better than the first, with brighter sunlight and a more aquatic life, including another nurse shark and another eagle ray, again up close and personal. Andrew and Elizabeth enjoyed the pool and the beach -yet again!

Dec 7: fishing in the lagoon

Ron (Amy's dad) and I ventured in a 2-man kayak out to the mangrove-surrounded lagoon on the west side of the island with 3 fly rods. Ron explored the lagoon 2 days before, and plotted his course on his GPS. Without it, you could easily get hopelessly lost in the narrow channels and confusing, small lagoons. I landed a small bonefish and small barracuda, and we spooked a school of large snook but weren't able to land any of them. As I paddled back, we trolled a fly and Ron landed a decent size barracuda which we kept for one of the maintenance men who worked at our resort and told us he liked barracuda. After paddling 10 miles with my bony butt on a hard plastic kayak seat, I was happy to be back on land.

One other thing: all of us endured mosquito and sand fly bites, but somehow Elizabeth was almost unaffected. While we had dozens of itchy bites, we could only find one spot on Elizabeth that appeared to be a bug bite. Lucky girl!

Day 8: from hot to cold

On Saturday we woke to our 7th consecutive beautiful, 80+ degree sunny morning overlooking clear blue ocean. 12 hours, 1 boat ride, and 3 airplane flights later, we landed in Denver in the middle of a snowstorm at 18 degrees Fahrenheit, scraping ice off the windshield.

Overall, Belize was great. The diving and snorkeling was great and very memorable, even if it didn't fully live up to the hype of being the world's greatest. Prices in Belize are high, since almost everything is imported. Groceries cost about double what they would at home.

The Costa Maya Reef Resort is above average, but not fantastic. The beach and pool were nice. The isolated location makes it quiet and relaxed, but with the next resort about half a mile away, you don't have a lot of choices - you're pretty much stuck with what they offer you. Food prices were high, some meals were good, and some were mediocre. Service was slow. Our room was spacious and adequate, but far from superb. The dishwasher was broken, although they did fix it, and the AC in one room didn't work.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Off to Belize

Amy, her parents, and our kids are all hopping aboard an airplane tomorrow morning and going to Belize for a week. We'll be staying on Ambergris Caye, and hope to spend time snorkeling, diving, fishing, and otherwise enjoying the beach. After this morning's 10 degree (F) temperature, I'm really looking forward to some warm weather.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Leaving NZ (March 14, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. I sent this email on March 14, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

We are off to Aussie (as the Kiwis call Australia)
tomorrow so we thought we would give you an update on
the rest of our adventures in New Zealand.

Free Advice - Don't do a glacier hike in the pouring
rain. Although the waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs
are beautiful in the rain, the ice and river crossings
are treacherous. Not to mention that being soaked to
the bone isn't much fun either. Despite the rain we
did get to walk on the glacier and glimpse some of its
mysterious blue caves.

After the glacier we headed south through the lakes
region and went on a jet boat ride. Wanaka and
Queenstown are both set on huge lakes and are pretty
little towns. We then tried to go up to the Cascade
Saddle overlooking Mt. Aspiring and its glaciers. We
were again thwarted by rain (It may be rainy, but at
least it is windy) and ended up seeing the inside of
Cascade hut.

We continued south to Fiordland and the famous Milford
Sound. Before going to Milford we met up with some
friends from home, David and Heather Schutt. We also
spent a couple of days of relative luxury on an
overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. The sound
(actually a fiord since it was carved by a glacier,
not a river) was really cool. It is much larger and
less traveled than Milford. The walls are nearly
vertical, thousands of feet tall, with more waterfalls
than I could count. Finally we got some good weather
for the cruise, a rarity on the West Coast.

After the cruise we drove over to Milford Sound which
is stunning as well. The constant drone of scenic
flights overhead only slightly diminishes the
enjoyment of the view. We hiked up Gertrude Saddle
for a better view and it was definitely one of the
highlights of the trip. Brad tried fishing on the
Eglington river and caught nothing after spotting only
a single fish on a mile of river.

We had to make sure and visit the third major island
of NZ and went over to Stewart Island for a couple of
days. We happened to be there at the opening of the
newest NZ national park, Rakiura. We got to see the
prime minister and Sir Edmund Hillary speak. The town
had all kinds of festivities for the occasion and we
had a good time. We also visited the nearby bird
sanctuary of Ulva Island. It was really amazing to
hear so many birds calling and the waves lapping and
the breeze through the leaves. We watched a Weka
(remember the Chicken-Duck) pull the moss off a 3 foot
section of log in search of food and a robin tried to
land on Amy and picked at both of our boots.

We drove through the Catlins (along the southeast
coast) where Brad finally caught a fish - a whopping 9
incher!!!. We spent a couple of nights in Dunedin.
The architecture there is really neat - mostly
Victorian. We also went on a tour where we saw
penguins, sea lions and fur seals up close - some as
close as 10 feet.

Now we are in Christchurch and will be off on the
plane in the next few hours.

Hope this email finds everyone well.

Brad and Amy

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kiwi Update (Feb. 26, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. I sent this email on Feb 26, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

Howdy, y'all.

Before a summary of our recent travels, here's some
things we've noted about New Zealand.

1. Highways. There's not a single road in this country
which is straight or flat for more than about half a
kilometer, and they allow passing on 2-lane roads
around blind curves and hills. They also have nice
signs like "2 fatalities this month :-(" and my
favorite, "Dangerous drivers next 24 km".

2. It should be a requirement of all developed nations
that its citizens make a valiant attempt to keep
insects out of their homes. Not here, though. There
are horrible swarms of biting sandflies everywhere,
and everyone leaves windows wide open day and night.
No screens, either! The only screens we've found were
at the most basic 4-wall huts in the backcountry --
I'm talking 2 full days' hike to get there.

3. Plumbing. We've already talked about the toilets
(and thanks to the sharp folks who told us about the
half flush and full flush buttons). But separate
spigots for the hot and cold water? Makes it hard to
get warm water.

4. What do kiwis call a cooler (or ice chest)? A
"chilly bin".

5. What do kiwis call a small house or cottage? A
"bach". I asked if that's short for "bachelor pad" but
the guy I asked didn't know.

6. The weka bird. I like to call this thing a "chicken
duck". Looks like -- you guessed it --a cross between
a chicken and a duck. It's a native bird like the kiwi
but not as rare, and not nocturnal, either.

7. Genetic Engineering. Kiwis have taken a strong
stand against GE. It's everywhere: signs at farms
boast "GE free NZ" and much of the packaged food you
buy is clearly labeled "GE free".

And here's what we've been doing. Since our last
report, I caught a nice 18 inch rainbow trout on the
Tongariro river which we cooked for dinner. Caught a
few smaller rainbows there, too. From there, we drove
to Wellington, the nation's capital, where we toured
Parliament and watched a movie (they sell ice cream
and beer at the movies) to kill time before catching
the 1:30 am ferry to the south island. Once across, we
spent 2 days kayaking in Pelorus sound, which was
pretty remote and nice, but really windy -- we didn't
even have to paddle much for a few hours. We camped at
a bay which we had all to ourselves (except for a few
million sandflies - nasty little buggers) and even did
some paddling after dark, when the paddles cause the
"bio-luminescense" in the water to glow. Pretty cool.

Next we heard about an organization called Willing
Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF). Folks like us work a
half day on the farm in exchange for free room and
board. We needed a break from our adventure, so we
decided this would be a good way to settle down for a
few days and better meet some real kiwis. We stayed on
Tony Sparks' 10-acre farm on the west coast for 4
days. We herded cows, Amy shucked garlic, and we both
helped sand and varnish his interior walls. He's got a
4-year old daughter named Hana who was a lot of fun.
We also met his girlfriend and her 2 kids and heard
all about their soap opera lives in the small
community of a hundred or so people. We worked extra
one day so we could take a day off and go caving. We
hiked and rode inner tubes through a cave with a
stream running through it. The cave has tons of tiny
glow worms on its roof which glow like stars.

Next we went on a 5 day backcountry tramp. I attempted
to fish on the remote, upper Taipo river for 3 days,
but no luck here. Spotted a huge trout, probably 25
inches or more, but couldn't hook him, and then the
persistent rains every night made the water too murky
to spot any fish for the rest of the trip. Quite a
tough hike over unmarked trails, boulder-hopping up
and down river beds, and stream crossings. We used a
3-wire bridge, which is just that - 3 cables strung
across the river with V-shaped braces to stabilize it.
The 3-wire was probably 100 feet long. Also used a
cableway, which is a little cart hanging from a cable.
This thing was about 250 feet long and has a crank at
either side to get it across. Quite fun! At the end of
the trail, we hitched a ride back to our car (don't
worry, mom, I'm safe).

Since I had no luck fishing the river, I decided to
spend a few days at Lake Brunner and the surrounding
streams. More frustration for a day and half before I
finally landed a 22 inch brown trout from the lake at
sunset (using a woolly bugger for you flyfishers out
there). It might be the biggest fish I've ever caught.

From there, we traveled farther south on the west
coast to the tiny town of Okarito (no stores, no gas
station). We took a boat tour of the lagoon, learned
about the country's efforts to control the population
of the introduced possum and stoats, which kill kiwi
birds and destroy native forest. This is a great
little town. After we returned to the campground from
a few hours' hiking, we found a fresh-baked loaf of
bread waiting at our tent from the owner of the boat
tour company!

That's all for now. Tomorrow we do a full day of
hiking on Franz Joseph glacier.

Hope everyone is doing well back home.

--Brad and Amy

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Zealand week 2 (Feb 9, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. Amy wrote this email on Feb 9, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

We've been here 2 weeks now and it has gone by very
fast. Brad is off fishing today leaving me to keep
you all informed.

First off - a number of you wrote to tell us that the
2 buttons on the toilet are for a half and full flush.
For the life of me I can't tell the difference of one
from the other. Some others have asked if the toilet
swirl the other way. Actually they don't seem to
swirl much at all. The water pretty much just goeas
straight down. The flushing mechanism definitely is
not as good as what we are used to.

From the Bay of Islands we travelled down to Rotorua
which is a big Maori cultural area and has lots of
thermal features. We went to a hangi which is kind of
like a Hawaiian Luau, but this was much less touristy.
We saw some traditional dances and songs and ate
traditional food. It was very good. We went to one
of the thermal areas which was neat, but nothing next
to Yellowstone. The one geyser they have they have to
puor soap into to reduce the surface tension of the
water to make it erupt.

Next we went on a proper tramp, 4 days three nights.
We went on the northern circuit in Tongariro national
. It is one of the "Great Walks" which are some
of the most popular walks in NZ and are best marked and
have some of the nicer huts. We stayed in huts each
night which are basically cabins with bunks in them.
They have a gas heater and gas stoves so it is pretty
cushy for the backcountry. They are not as nice as
the winter huts in Colorado though, but better than a
tent for sure. One of the days of the hike was the
Tongariro Crossing which is supposed to be the best
one day hike in NZ. The day we crossed there were 300
people on the 10 mile stretch. It was crowded, but
not too bad. There are steaming volcanic craters,
lakes that filled old craters and lakes of various
shades due to the minerals in the soil. The rocks are
also various shades from black to red to yellow.
Really cool.

On the drive to Rotorua they were having updates of
the Super Bowl along with the news. They were calling
it the game that stops America. My condolances to
Jason Holschen.
[Editor's note: if I remember correctly, Jason's team the Saints lost that Superbowl]

Elizabeth's first day in day care

Amy started a part-time contract working on the Lawson HR/payroll system at Catholic Health Initiatives. She's excited for the chance to spend a few days a week interacting with adults, and the extra money will be nice, but we were a little worried about how Liz would react to being without mom for a full day. It turns out she hardly missed mom at all. I'm not sure if we should be relieved or concerned. I thought for sure she would go into hysterics when Amy left her at Kindercare, but she had no problems. Amy said the Liz wasn't even particularly excited to see her when she picked her up. I guess she must be having lots of fun at Kindercare.

Here's what her report said Elizabeth did on day 1:
  • Went outside and got leaves and took them inside
  • stacked soft blocks
  • painted with water colors
  • ate well @ lunch
  • cryed [sic] while laying down for nap / woke up happy
  • put foot braces on at 12:20 took off at 2:20
  • colored with markers
  • sang and danced
That's a busy day!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mao: The Unknown Story

I just finished reading Mao: The Unknown Story, a biography of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. It is based on years of research including extensive interviews with many of Mao's inner circle. It's full of intriguing history, especially the close relationship between communist China and the Soviet Union. Ultimately, it's a story of an utterly evil megalomaniac who delighted in inflicting violence and suffering on other people and caused the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese.

Some of the book's revelations:
  • Mao was never driven by ideology. The communist party was merely a convenient vehicle by which he could gain personal power.
  • The so-called "Long March" of Mao and his band of communists in the 1930's, one of the most overblown myths of Mao's personality cult, was no heroic struggle. Rather, deals made between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Stalin allowed Mao's army to proceed. Later in the march, Mao intentionally sacrificed a huge number of Red Army troops under the command of a rival for his power base, Chang Kuo-t'ao.
  • In 1946, Mao and the Red Army were on their last ropes fighting the Nationalists in northern Manchuria, where they had only one remaining strong post in the city Harbin. The Nationalist Army was advancing with much superior strength, and Mao had become resigned to abandoning the city and resorting to guerrilla warfare. He was saved at the last minute by a most unlikely ally - the United States. The US put heavy pressure on the Nationalists to call a cease fire - at the very moment Chiang Kai-shek was on the verge of victory. Mao issue an order to disperse the troops and resort to guerrilla warfare on June 3, but rescinded it on June 5 when the cease-fire was declared. According to the author, this cease fire was probably the single most important decision affecting the outcome of the civil war, which of course the communists won.
  • The Great Leap Forward, a 5 year economic plan from 1958 to 1963, caused the deaths of 38 million Chinese from starvation and overwork. As if that's not bad enough, these deaths were not the unintended consequence of failed economic policy. Mao caused the famine by selling most of the nation's crop to the Soviets and other allies in order to buy weapons, and especially nuclear weapon technology. Even when made fully aware of the mass famine across the country, Mao pushed to extract even more crops from the peasants.
  • The reason Mao launched the brutal cultural revolution in 1966 was to purge his rivals in the party and in the Army, whose influence was becoming a threat to his totalitarian power. Even his closest and most loyal supporters were subjected to torture and imprisonment. Liu Shao Chi, one of the top party members, was imprisoned and tortured for 3 years until dying in prison in 1969. Amazingly, his death was not made public until after Mao's death, because Mao was so worried that it arouse sympathy for Liu.
  • Over the course of Mao's rule, 70 million Chinese died at Mao's hands.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

'Round the World Trip - Revisited

Back in 2002, Amy and I took 6 months off from work and traveled around the world. It was a life-changing experience, not to mention a lot of fun. During our travels we sent emails to friends and family, since this was before I had a blog - before just about anybody had a blog, I suppose. I decided it would be fun to dig up those old emails and post them here. Be looking for them over the coming days. Here is the first one we sent, on February 1, 2002.

New Zealand: week one

We arrived in Auckland on Saturday morning and spent 3
days in the city. Had a bit of trouble finding a room
since it's summer here, but it worked out ok after
some help from the tourist info center. The museum had
some great exhibits on Maori (indigenous people)
culture and history. On Sunday we took a ferry to
Ronitoto island, a 600-year old volcano, and hiked to
the top. Monday we took a cruise out in the harbor to
spot dolphins, and were able to follow a pod of about
20 dolphins as they rode the bow wave of our boat. We
had dinner in an English pub where everyone was
watching Cricket. Can't figure that sport out -- I'll
have to get a book and figure out the basics. We'd
like to catch a rugby match too, but the season
doesn't start til Feb 22, apparently.

Anyone know why NZ toilets have 2 buttons on the tank
to flush? We haven't figured it out yet either. Both
of them seem to do the same thing. Also, they call
bell peppers "capsicum" down here. Took us a while to
figure that out.

We decided to rent a car -- should be about the same
price as taking buses everywhere -- for NZ$28 per day
(about US$12). We drove norht on Tuesday, stopping in
one of the few remaining Kauri tree forests. These
huge trees are thousands of years old, and one
particular tree was 5.2 meters in diameter (that's 16
feet across). The forests here look really ancient,
like something out of Jurassic park -- probably all
the giant ferns. Next, we spent 2 days tramping
(that's Kiwi for "hiking") the coast. Didn't pass a
single person the first day. Had about 6 miles of
beautiful beach all to ourselves.

Now we're at the Bay of Islands, leaving tomorrow
morning for a 2-day sea kayak trip. Having a great
time!! Starting to develop a Kiwi accent of my own,
but that should wear off soon.

5:49 mile

I shaved 6 seconds off last weeks' pace and ran a mile in 5:49 this morning. It was the same course - 4 laps around the track at Green Mountain. If I improve by 6 seconds each week, that would get me to five minutes within a few months.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grandpa's birthday

Amy and I are lucky to have all of our parents living within a short drive from home. My dad's 68th birthday was this week, and we got them all together at our house to celebrate with a steak dinner. We got a photo of them with the kids, too.

Happy birthday, Dean!

1 mile

How fast can I run 1 mile? I've been wondering that for a while now. After running a marathon at a pace of 7:35 per mile, surely I could run a single mile in 5 minutes, right? Wrong. I ran 4 laps around the track at Green Mountain High School this morning in 5:55. I'll be working on my mile speed in the coming months and see if I can break the 5 minute barrier.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Andrew's oddball ear trick

Andrew does this odd thing with his ears. He's done it for quite a while, but he's discovered that the other kids at preschool get a kick out of it, so now he's doing it more than ever.

It looks painful to me, but doesn't seem to bother him at all. Crazy kids these days.

Halloween 2007

Elizabeth enjoyed her first Halloween celebration yesterday. I don't know if she was real keen on the costume, but she loved the candy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First steps

Elizabeth has taken her first wobbly steps! After spending the first year of her life with bilateral club foot, 3 months in full-leg casts, and then wearing the Ponseti brace most of the day since then, she's doing great!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

World Series tickets

Along with millions of other fans and ticket scalpers, I tried my luck yesterday in the Colorado Rockies' online sale of World Series tickets. Like 99% of them, I didn't get tickets, but instead spent several aggravating hours failing to connect to the ticket vendors' overworked and underpowered web servers. The whole system crashed on Monday so they tried again Tuesday, after the Rockies made the absurd claim that their site was the victim of an attack. The only "attack" was the massive number of fans all trying to buy tickets at the same time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The vasectomy report

I apologize if any of this is incoherent. I'm still a little groggy from the valium. I just got home from the vasectomy. It's rather strange to be laying in a doctors office with your pants off and have 2 female nurses prep'ing your privates to be cut open. I was supposed to get a valium drip, but the nurse couldn't get the needle in right - after trying 3 different veins. She finally gave up and the doc administered a shot of valium. I quickly felt the drug take over, and next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and it was all over. I was totally out of it during the procedure, and was quite surprised to learn it was done. I was also the most intoxicated I've been in years as I got dressed and plopped into a wheelchair. Amy wheeled my to the exit, pulled up the car and drove me home. Looks like I'll spend most of the next day on the couch with an ice pack on my crotch.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I've got an appointment with the doc tomorrow afternoon. Love my 2 kids, but don't want to have any more. So I'm gettin' snipped. The brochure from the doctor says I should expect to spend a couple of days taking it easy. It even has a picture showing a middle aged guy kicking back in his easy chair while his wife serves him food. That doesn't sound like such a bad way to spend the weekend!

Childhood toys

My brother and his friend Michael were in town (they live in Breckenridge) and came over for dinner tonight. Andrew loves to play with his Uncle Erik, and they had a great time wrestling, playing with cars, reading books, etc. I pulled out a box of toys that I had when I was a kid - my mom gave them to us a few weeks ago - and we were taken back to our childhood for a few hours. Some of the toys in the box from my mom:
  • ping pong ball gun
  • pop gun
  • toy airplanes
  • fake poop (2 different types)
  • rubber snakes
  • a kazoo
  • gyroscope
  • rubic's cube
  • handheld ball-in-maze game
  • rubber bigfoot figure (Erik said it used to scare him)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rockies in the World Series!

Along with 50,000 others at Coors Field last night, I watched the Rockies sweep the Diamondbacks to win the National League Championship. It was a great and rare experience. The best part was that Eric Byrnes, the D-backs trash-talking left fielder, got slapped with the 3rd out in the 9th inning to end the game. After the D-backs were down 0-2 in the series, Byrnes said that the Rockies didn't outplay Arizona, rather they were just lucky.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Help kids with club foot

For anyone who would like to help the 150,000 kids born with club foot each year, I now have a personalized page where you can donate to the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment.

I recently saw video of a Phillipino girl whose bilateral clubfoot went untreated until she was 10 years old. The Ponseti method corrected her feet without surgery, and without the high expense and likelihood of pain that accompanies it.

When we consulted with doctors at the Children's hospital in Denver, they told us that Elizabeth , at 1 year old, was too old for the Ponseti method and would need surgery. This is all too common with doctors in the US since they either don't know the Ponseti method, or they know they can make a lot more money performing surgery.

Rockies are rockin'

I've never been a big baseball fan, but I've actually enjoyed watching the Rockies in the playoffs. I got a call from a friend tonight who has tickets to game 4 of the NLCS on Monday might. The Rockies now have a 3-0 series lead over Arizona, which means that game 4 could send them to the world series.

Sucky ducts

I've been gradually working on improving my home's energy efficiency. Today's rainy weather made for a good day to stay inside, so I decided to check the ventilation ducts. The house was built in 1971, and apparently whoever did the duct work was a lazy, drunken buffoon. It's surprising that any hot air made it all the way to vents. I went through a hell of a lot of tape and duct sealer putty.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Brace relief

Elizabeth visited her doctor earlier this week and got some good news. Her feet look fine, and she can now wear her brace only 12-14 hours per day (overnight and during naps) instead of 18 hours per day. The extra hours of freedom every day should help her learn to stand a walk pretty soon.

Stock options pay out

When I started working at BoldTech back in the boom days of 1999, I got stock options. When I left almost 5 years later, I exercised some of those options, and it finally paid off. BoldTech was acquired by Perficient a few weeks ago, and I earned nice return on my investment. Not enough to retire early or buy that 40 foot yacht, but a nice bit of cash nonetheless.

Since Amy and I are close to buying an investment property, that money go right into our down payment. What an exciting way to spend my unexpected bonus. ;-)

Friday, October 05, 2007

October harvest

Garden fresh tomatoes in October? Yup. I was out in my backyard picking ripe red tomatoes yesterday. Not only tomatoes, but cucumbers, chiles and even a few raspberries, too. It's a balmy 83 degrees in Denver today. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Six feet

What do you do if you have 3 children with bilateral clubfoot? Take them to Dr. Ponseti, and write a web site about the experience.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bugling elk

This is the time of year when the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park put their mating ritual on display. The dominant bulls gather a harem of cows, and then spend lots of time and energy keeping the young upstart bulls from moving in. The park is home to hundreds, probably thousands, of elk which are habituated to humans and not at all afraid of them since they can't be hunted (legally) in the park. The result is quite a good show, despite the crowds. Two years ago we got really lucky and got to watch a 7-point bull lord over a harem of 25 or so cows and nearly as many calves. The bull was about a hundred yards from the trail, and some of the cows as close at 10 yards away. Our luck wasn't quite as good this weekend, but it was still a good show, and we heard lots of bugling. Didn't get any good photos of the elk, but here's a shot of the family at the end of our hike.

Burrito face

We gave Elizabeth a bean burrito for dinner tonight, with a predictable but amusing result.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New Ponseti web site

There is a new web site for the Ponseti International Association. According to their estimates, it costs only $100 to treat a child in a developing country using the Ponseti method. Thanks again to my friends and family who donated enough to treat 9 children!

Too early for fall colors

On Saturday, we joined our friends the Desmarteaus (Brian, Marnie, Katelyn, and Ethan) for a short hike and a picnic on 10,000 foot Kenosha pass. A few of the aspen trees are starting to put on their annual autumn spectacle of bright golden leaves, but not too many yet. By next weekend, I'm guessing they'll be in their prime at this elevation, but it will be a few more weeks until they turn at lower elevations.

Almost standing

Elizabeth is almost standing on her own now. She can easily pull herself up and enjoys standing while holding onto something. She'll step sideways around a table or chair, as long as she can hold on. She is still wearing her brace about 18 hours per day, and our doctor has recommended that we spend 5 minutes each day stretching her right ankle. I don't think it hurts her - it may be a bit uncomfortable, but she hates it anyway. Being immobile for 5 minutes may be the worst part.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Second tier amusement parks

Amy and I treated the kids to a 3 day weekend of kid-centric fun. Saturday's destination was Heritage Square, a rather odd jumble of separate attractions, owned by separate companies, anchored by a Victorian theme town. The highlight is the alpine slide, which is a lot of fun, and probably worth the $7 cost. Elizabeth thought zooming down the hill on a sled was the greatest thing ever. Her only disappointment was that the teenager and geezer on the 2 sleds in front of us seemed to be deathly afraid of breaking the 3 mile-per-hour barrier, so we had to wait for several minutes for them to get the hell out of the way so we could get some speed. We also rode the train that circles the place, which was rather lame but mildly enjoyable for the kids.

Sunday was lazy day at home. Andrew played most of the day with the neighbor kids, while mom and dad kept Elizabeth entertained.

Monday began with a 3-mile hike through Roxborough state park. This place has beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, and great trails. Well worth the 30 minute drive from home. Our hike included a close encounter with a doe deer, who wandered within a few dozen yards of us as we rested on a bench, and then got spooked and bounced away after a couple of loud snorts in our direction.

Monday evening was the big event Andrew looked forward to all weekend: Lakeside amusement park. On their last weekend of the season, they offer 10-cent ride tickets, and kids' rides are only 1 ticket. That's cheap entertainment folks, even after you pay the $2.50 per person entry fee. It's probably no surprise that this somewhat dilapidated and very dated park doesn't attract the beautiful and well-heeled crowd. In fact, it seems to be a magnet for the obese, people with really bad teeth, and various other oddballs. It's really quite a freak show. My favorite sightings tonight were (1) the trashy-dressed young woman who used her cleavage as a cell phone holder, and (2) the overweight guy with a long red goatee wearing a kilt and an Iron Maiden T-shirt.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ponseti Video

I found this video showing Dr. Ponseti receiving an award from the Children's Miracle Network. It has some good footage of his work, as well as his acceptance speech where he gives a summary of his long medical career. The most unfortunate aspect of his work is that not enough doctors are learning his technique. There is only 1 doctor in all of Colorado trained by Ponseti, and few American doctors are learning it. There seems to be more interest from doctors overseas. It would be sad if Americans had to travel to overseas to treat their childrens' clubfoot.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

69th place on Pikes Peak

I finished the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday morning, and thanks to generous donations from friends and family, I raised about $900 for the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment ! I can assure you it was the toughest 900 bucks I ever made.

I beat my personal goal by about 1 minute, finishing the 13.3 miles and 7,815 vertical feet in 3:05:03.

Some stats
I finished in 69th place overall (out of 1647 finishers), and 63rd place (out of 1162) among male runners. That's close to the top 4th percentile overall, and in the top 6th percentile for the men. In the 35-to-39-year-old-male category, I was 12th out of 189, which is in the top 7th percentile.

The 1st place finisher was Matt Carpenter (a perennial favorite) at 2:12:56.

Results from the race are posted here.

Play by play
Mile 1: a relatively easy stroll up a gently sloped & paved road through Manitou Springs.

Miles 2-5: "The W's" at the foot of the Barr trail. So-named for the way the dozens of switchbacks look on a map as they climb a steep 2500 feet or so above Manitou. This is a single track trail crowded with runners, and little room to pass. At about mile 3, I started tracking my position - the number of people I passed, the number who passed me. By mile 4, the pack thinned out enough that passing wasn't a problem anymore. In most races, mile markers tell you how far you've run so far. In the Ascent, they did it backwards - they tell you how much distance to the finish line. Its was rather disheartening to see the "11 miles to finish" sign when I was already tired and gasping for air.

Miles 6-9: Finally, a break from the steeps. Still uphill, for sure - there are no significant flat sections on the trail, much less downhill, but it's a welcome break from the W's. Beautiful trail, too. It'd be nice to come back sometime when I could enjoy the scenery.

Mile 10: "We're baaaack!" (the steeps and switchbacks, that is). This is the last mile of tree cover. It's also where I got passed by a skirt. Literally. A woman wearing a pink running skirt passed me here.

Miles 11-12: You break through tree line at 11,800 feet of elevation, right at the "3 miles left" sign. Staring down at me is the east face of Pikes Peak - 2,300 vertical feet to go! At this point my heart is literally in pain from pumping so hard. Except for the top few dozen runners, no one is actually running at this point in the race. It's a fast hike at best. The trail gets really steep again, but now it's also more rugged and uneven, with big rock steps to boot. This is a high-altitude, voluntary version of the Bataan death march, with hundreds of stick-thin runners trudging forward in pain.

Mile 13: No rest for the weary. They saved the steepest, rockiest terrain for last - the Golden Steps! For a few brief moments here and there, I feel light headed, and the pain in my chest (that would be my heart) isn't letting up. I pass a few people who've run out of gas, and a few others who reserved some juice for the end pass by me. I think I improved my overall position by 1 place since I started keeping track about 10 miles ago. I crossed the finish line at 3:05:03, a minute faster than my personal goal.

If that doesn't sound fun, then just imagine turning around and running back down the same trail again. That's what hundreds of people did on Sunday morning for the Pikes Peak marathon. About 70 ridiculously fit and insane runners did what's known as "The Double" - running the Ascent on Saturday and then the full marathon the very next day. And you thought I was crazy!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Less than 2 weeks til race day

It's less than 2 weeks until I race in the Pikes Peak Ascent. I've turned the race into a fundraiser for the Ponseti Foundation, which seeks to improve treatment for clubfoot. So far I've raised about $500 in donations, and I'm hoping to double that amount. I've been training hard, including an adventurous 4 hour solo run up a trail on Mt. Evans. After getting lost and going the wrong direction for several miles, the seldom-used trail got progressively more steep and rocky, then turned into nothing more than alpine meadow with rock cairns to mark the way, then alpine swamp (yes, my feet were soaked), before reaching summit lake at 12,000 feet. From there I kept marching up the road toward the summit. Amy dropped me off at the trailhead (approximately 9000 feet elevation) in the morning, and picked me up near the summit 4 hours later.

Many thanks to all my friends and family who have supported the cause. If you'd like to support the cause, click here for more info.

Chinese tattoos

Chinese characters and themes are en vogue as tattoos these days. Here's a bit of advice: if you're gonna get some Chinese characters permanently tattooed on your body, make really sure you know what they mean.

Some of my Chinese former co-workers are in Denver now, and one of them went to the Dragon Boat Festival a week ago at Sloan's Lake. He was working at a booth for the Chinese American Council when an American guy approach and showed him the tattoo of a Chinese character prominently displayed on his leg. He asked, "can you tell me what this means"? The character on his leg was the Chinese word for "stupid".

How appropriate!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Running for a good cause

On August 18, I'll be running the Pikes Peak Ascent to raise money for the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment. You can support this great cause by making a donation to the association in honor of my masochistic endeavor - racing 13.32 miles and 7,815 vertical feet! Information on how to donate is below, but first, here is some info about club foot.

Club foot is one of the most common birth defects, affecting approximately 150,000 children each year. Although the condition is treatable, many children in poor countries don't receive treatment and are disabled for life. Dr. Ignacio Ponseti pioneered a non-surgical method of correcting club foot, and this association is committed to advancing the treatment of children with clubfoot deformity through education, improved care, and research.

My daughter Elizabeth was born with club feet, and thanks to Dr. Ponseti, she is well on the way to a full recovery. Some day, I hope she can hike - or even run - up Pikes Peak with me.

More about the race:
The Pikes Peak Ascent is 13.32 miles long and climbs 7,815 vertical feet (1.5 vertical miles!), ending at the 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak. If you're curious to see the race route, here is a link to a very cool Google Earth map showing the trail. Here is how the high-altitude portion of the course is described on the race's web site:

There’s a reason trees don’t bother growing above 12,000' on Pikes Peak. They can’t! Makes one wonder if trees are smarter than runners. Above treeline most runners take 30 minutes or more, some much more, just to cover a mile. What little air remains can’t satisfy the endless stream of zombies hoping only to survive their next step—a death march right out of a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Adding insult to injury, it might start to snow!
My personal goal is to finish in 3 hours, 6 minutes, which would put me in the top 7% of finishers with an average pace of about 14 minutes per mile.

I would appreciate your generous donation! Since I don't have any other way to know how much money my friends will raise, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment on this blog or send an email telling me how much you donated.

You can make a secure online donation at this link to the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment. If you'd rather send a check, please make it payable to: Univ. of Iowa - Ponseti Fund and send it here:

Ponseti Fund for Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment
c/o The University of Iowa Foundation
P.O. Box 4550
Iowa City, IA 52244-4550

I very much appreciate your support in raising money for this great cause!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No more casts

Elizabeth is out of her casts now! We took the casts off both of her legs on Saturday morning after about 14 weeks of casts. She sat in the bathtub for a while to soften the plaster, and then Amy cut through with an old butter knife, which takes a long time, but it means we don't have to worry too much about cutting her. Her feet look almost normal now! Not only that, but now we can give her proper baths and let her play in the pool.

She still has a long road of treatment ahead of here, though. For the next 3 months, she'll be wearing a specially designed brace and shoes for 18 hours per day, and then she'll wear a similar brace at nighttime until she is about 4 years old. These photos show her feet before the casts, after the casts, and with her new brace contraption.

Above: before the casts

Above: after the Ponseti treatment

Above: the new-fangled brace contraption. Doesn't she look thrilled???

Monday, July 09, 2007

10 years

Amy and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary last Friday. We saved a bottle of wine from our wedding day and opened it over the weekend. It was a little past it's prime, but still drinkable.
Ten years sounds like such a long time, but it doesn't feel like a long time. I love you, Amy!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Camping - with 2 kids

Amy and I are camping veterans, and Andrew spent his first night in a tent when he was just over 1 year old. This weekend, we eased our way into a new level of outdoor accommodations, with a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old joining us in the tent. This experiment was somewhat complicated by the Elizabeth's two full-leg casts. We decided to spend just a single night in case the experiment went horribly, horribly wrong. Fortunately, it all worked out. We even had fun, I would say. We camped at about 9000 feet elevation near Keystone, and the toughest part was keeping the kids warm overnight. I'd guess the low temperature was around 40. We bundled them up in hats and gloves, and covered them with multiple layers. Now we're ready for a longer stay in the great outdoors.

Based on a tip from my brother, we drove to Lower Cataract Lake after leaving camp this morning. The aptly named lake, on the east flank of the Gore range, has an impressive cataract feeding into it. The waterfall tumbles several hundred feed down a jumble of boulders and into the lake.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mt. Evans Ascent

A lot of people think runners are crazy. Call me crazy then, because this morning I joined about 350 runners at Echo Lake, at 10,640 feet elevation, and raced them from there to the summit of Mt. Evans at 14,264 feet. Ok, that's an exaggeration - the finish line for the Mt. Evans Ascent was about 100 feet below the summit. I ran the 14.5 miles and approximately 3600 vertical feet in a time of 2:25:15 - I think that was 21st place overall, although I haven't seen the official results yet. My average pace of 10:01 per mile was one #@$%*! second short of my personal goal. I thought I was on track to meet it, but in the last mile, I lost track of the time. I'll blame it on the lack of oxygen. There ain't much of that stuff up there, and every heaving gasp I took in the last few miles was a painful reminder of the low atmospheric pressure. I did pass one guy in the last few hundred yards of the race, so that makes up for it, I suppose.

It was the perfect morning for a race, though. Clear skies, nice temperatures, and no wind, which is very rare in those environs.

The lunacy doesn't end there, however. The Mt. Evans Ascent is just a training run on my preparation for the Pike's Peak Ascent in 2 months. That one will be more of a fast hike than a run though. With more than twice the elevation gain over just 13.1 miles of dirt trails, Pike's Peak will be much tougher.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dr. Ponseti

We met with Dr. Ponseti yesterday and from all the glowing reports I’d heard about him I practically expected him to walk on water. He didn’t do this for us, but I can see a definite improvement in the position of Elizabeth’s foot in the cast. He expects to change the cast on Monday and then have a tenotomy (a procedure to improve the up/down motion of the foot) performed next Friday. After this procedure we will be able to return home.

There are at least 4 families staying in the Ronald McDonald House that are here to see Dr. Ponseti; one from Canada, one from the Domenican Republic, and one from Mississippi. Add in our Colorado family with the Chinese born baby and it’s quite a crew.

The local media was at the hospital doing a piece on Dr. Ponseti yesterday and we were asked to sign a media waiver and all that good stuff. I doubt we will make it on TV though since Elizabeth screamed like a banshee through most of the visit. Everybody loves a 93 year old doctor curing the world’s children, but nobody wants to listen to my daughter scream.

I’ve heard that crying during the casting is pretty unusual and I believe it. Elizabeth cries whenever I touch her right foot – even if it is just to play “This little piggy”. I know that this does not cause her pain and I’ve felt what the doctors do and I’m sure it is not painful either. Uncomfortable, maybe, but not painful.

Iowa City is a pleasant enough town. We went to a concert in the park this evening and had a good time. The town has a nice everyone-knows-everyone feel and the parks are really nice. We also went to the children’s museum today and Andrew had a lot of fun there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Iowa City

We made it to Iowa and managed to keep our sanity. I think this is in large part to the portable DVD player that my brother loaned us - Thanks Jason! We'll see Dr. Ponseti today and are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City. The facilities are perfect for families and are open to the families of any child under 18 being seen at the hospital here. We have a room of our own which is like any hotel room - except with a sleep number bed. However, there are also shared facilities that make things much more like being at home. There is a playground, several shared kitchens and a big dining room, a play room with tons of toys and a staff that really knows how to take care of people. The Lions Club brought in dinner for everybody last night which was a relief after being in the car so long to not have to brave a restaurant or cook.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Off to Iowa to see Dr. Ponseti

After 6 weeks of casts, Elizabeth's right foot, which was more deformed than the left, isn't making the progress we hoped for with her club foot treatment using the Ponseti method. Her doctor, Daniel Hatch, recommended that we visit the man himself: Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, who pioneered the method decades ago. The good doc is 93 years old - that's right - ninety three! And still practicing medicine. Now there's someone who loves his job. He does have another doctor working with him now, at least.

The good news is that the expert doctor is available to work this us. The bad news is that he's in Iowa. Iowa City in fact. Amy, her mom, Andrew, and Liz all loaded into the family wagon this afternoon and headed east. That's 15 hours of driving with 2 kids in the car, and no scenery worth seeing. I won't be surprised if the 2 adults need some professional help after they arrive, too. Fortunately, Iowa City has more physicians per capita than any city in the US.

The clan will probably be in Iowa for a few weeks, and I'll be living a bachelor's life back home.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Big Head Todd at Red Rocks

Last night, Amy and I went to see Big Head Todd and the Monsters at Red Rocks - the world's best concert venue. Jeremy Lawton, who plays keyboards and a mean slide guitar for the band, is my college roommate and fraternity brother, so and it was great to see him on stage in front of a big crowd. The Samples had a good opening set as lightning storms lit up the sky over the city, and as soon as they left the stage, the skies opened up over the amphitheater, pounding us with a 10-minute hailstorm. Someone in the row in front of us brought a big tarp, which we crowded under to wait out the storm. It was great show!

Monday, May 28, 2007


For Memorial Day weekend, we loaded the kids into the 4Runner and headed to Moab. I've been there four or five times now, and never get tired of it. Amy and I rarely visit the same place twice - we usually are much more excited about experiencing something new. Moab is the rare exception. Even after all these visits, there are still plenty of new places nearby that we haven't yet explored.

Day 1 - Arches National Park
We spent most of the day on a 6-mile hike in Devil's Garden. Andrew was a champ - he hiked the first 4 miles by himself (a new distance record for him), without even asking me to carry him. In fact, I think a rock climber may have been born. He was fearlessly scrambling up and over boulders and up steep slickrock - always with a parent positioned next to him in case of a slip. The last 2 miles he spent sleepy piggyback on mom, while dad carried Liz and the family's daypack. Elizabeth endured her journey on my back quite well, too.

Day 2 - Behind the Rocks
On Saturday we skipped the crowds and 4-wheeled and hiked some seldom-used trails west of Moab to a couple of nice arches and through Conehead canyon. We passed only a single 4-wheel drive vehicle on this 2.5 hour hike. After lunch, we did some 4-wheeling to Picture Frame arch and let Andrew scramble on the rocks again.

Day 3 - Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky
Canyonlands is vast - over 300,000 acres surrounding the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. The views from here definitely rival those at the Grand Canyon, and the variety in the landscape is definitely greater. Once again, there are some fantastic, short slickrock trails that are perfect for the family.

Day 4 - back home after meeting my dad for lunch in New Castle.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Farewell, Tango

We said goodbye to our dear old dog, Tango, today. Here she is last night with me and the kids.

Our Chow-German Shepherd mix had a hell of a life. Amy and I found her at the Denver Dumb Friends League about 9 years ago. She was a 3-year-old stray dog who ended up at the pound. There's not a lot of demand for dogs this age, so she languished in her plexiglass enclosure for many weeks, and her time there was about to run out. We visited the place and spent time with a few of the dogs. The first few were hyper and licked us a lot; then we spent a few minutes with Tango. She was mellow and friendly, and didn't lick us once. That sealed the deal.

Tango was an accomplished escape artist. She actually pried a hole in our chain link fence -- with her teeth -- large enough to escape through. That happened sometime in the first 4 hours we ever left her in the dog run in the back yard. I came home at lunch to check on her, and panicked when I found her missing. By the time I typed a "lost dog" flyer on the computer, I found Tango - sitting patiently on my front porch. We figured out that all she needs to be happy when we aren't home is a view outside where she can watch and wait for us to return home.

Tango was also an accomplished mountaineer, having summited 11 of Colorado's 14er's (14,000 foot peaks) with me, including a snow-covered Mt. Sneffels on Memorial Day weekend.

She hung in there after our 6-month round-the-world trip in 2002, when we left her in the care of Amy's brother and sister-in-law, Jason and Jan. She stayed loyal again when we left her with my Mom while we spent 4 months in China last year. (Thanks a ton to Jason, Jan, and my Mom for the many times they kept Tango for us!)

It's been tearing at my heart for months now to see her deteriorate. The worst part is that in the past few weeks, her happiness faded completely, and when she looked at me, her big brown eyes looked sad and confused, wondering why she was in so much pain. When
that happened, I knew it was time. It was heart-wrenching, but I know it was the best thing to do for her.

Tango, we'll miss you!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Going mobile with two casts

Elizabeth is now wearing her 4th pair of casts in the series of about 8 pairs of casts she'll need to correct her bilateral club foot. The casts aren't painful, and don't seem to bother her at all. She gets around pretty well, although she can't quite crawl. The casts are thigh-high so they won't slip out of position so easily, but despite that, her right cast has slipped out of the correct position in each of the first 4 weeks. Her right foot is more bent than the left, so the foot hasn't been pulled up as much yet, which makes it easier for this cast to slip down.

This video shows just how mobile she is despite the fact that she can't bend her knees or ankles.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Being a big brother

Now that Andrew has been a big brother for almost 2 months, we asked what he likes about having a sister and what he liked about being an only child. Here is what he said.

Things he liked about being an only child:
  • Playing with only mommy and daddy
Things he likes about having a sister:
  • Playing "zooms" (cars) with her
  • Having her next to him in the car seat
  • Hugs
  • Sharing food with her
  • She's cute
  • Making funny sounds with her
  • Making funny faces with her
We're glad the second list is longer than the first!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pikes Peak Ascent

A while back in this blog I pondered the possibility of running in the Pikes Peak Marathon - 26.2 miles and 7815 feet of vertical - up and then down again. The uphill part will of course be tough, but it's the downhill part that really scares me. My recurring nightmare was that I'd be cruising the downhill half of the run, in a weakened state and with knees throbbing, and take a nasty head-over-heels spill. Ultimately, I decided to just do the uphill half of the race - the slightly more sane Pikes Peak Ascent. I have until August 18 to get in shape. Pikes Peak or Bust!

Successful surgery

My mom had surgery today to remove her cancer. Not only was the surgery successful, but the doctors also reported the great news that the cancer hasn't spread to her lymph nodes. Less than 2 weeks after her diagnosis, the cancer is gone - hopefully for good - and she's on the road to recovery! Our prayers have been answered.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Convert iTunes to mp3 with QTFairUse

Apple iTunes is great - if you have an iPod, anyway. If you're using any other player, iTunes protected AAC files are useless. I have an old Creative MuVO USB mp3 player that I listen to when I'm running. (A good set of rockin' tunes helps me pick up the pace.) I use iTunes for 2 reasons:
  • I can't download the music I want anywhere else (for example, the Hillbilly Hellcats, a great rockabilly band)
  • I got a gift certificate
In the past, I've burned my iTunes to CD, then re-ripped the tracks in mp3 or wma format so I could get them on my mp3 player. That's a great way to do it, assuming you actually want them on a CD. But what if you don't even want to put the tunes on a CD?

I found a good solution. Download a sweet little tool called QTFairUse and fire it up. This tool converts your DRM-restricted AAC files to unprotected m4a (MP4) files, which are playable in iTunes. QTFairUse updates your iTunes library so it uses the new m4a files instead of the old AAC files, and it also keeps any ratings or other tags you've added to the tracks. It will convert specific files you select, or it can convert your entire iTunes library. Now you can use iTunes to convert tracks to mp3 format, and voila - you can now play your tunes on any mp3 player.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The dreaded diagnosis

My mom called this morning with some bad news. She has breast cancer, the same disease that claimed her mother, aunt, and maternal grandmother. Fortunately, she discovered it very early. The tumor is small, and will probably be removed within in a week. We don't know yet what other treatment she'll require, but we're hopeful that she'll beat this thing, thanks to early detection.

At the moment, she seems to be more concerned about how her illness is going to "inconvenience" other people than she is about her own health. That's my mom, though. So selfless it's exasperating!

Hang in there, mom! We're all pulling for you.

Cast number two

Elizabeth got her 2nd pair of casts on Wednesday. The process starts at home, where Amy soaks her old casts off using a warm bath and vinegar. The plaster soaks off in only about 20 minutes. So far there is no noticeable improvement in her foot position, but it's not expected to be noticeable until the 3rd or 4th cast.

Then it's an hour and 15 minute drive to Greeley. Yep, Greeley. Dr. Hatch is the only Ponseti-trained doctor we could find in the whole state, but it's worth the drive.

At the doctor's office, Elizabeth sits in Amy's lap while the doctor and 2 nurses put the casts on. It takes about 30 minutes, and Elizabeth spends about half of that screaming. You can't blame her for that, I suppose. Fortunately, Amy is able to keep her content part of the time with a bottle and a toy. One week down, seven-to-nine weeks to go!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cast number one

Elizabeth had her first visit to Dr. Daniel Hatch yesterday to start her club foot treatment using the Ponseti method. She now has thigh-high casts on both legs. For at least the next 8 weeks, she'll be visiting the doctor weekly to gradually move her feet closer to the normal position, getting a new pair of casts each time.

They look horribly uncomfortable, but fortunately they don't seem to bother her. The casting process evoked a fit of ear-piercing screams, though, and she was having a bad before it even started; she was running a fever, acting fussy, and obviously not feeling very well. Poor girl! THe good is that she has gotten over that trauma and today she was in a much better mood.

We may have seen her first fit of jealousy today, though. As Liz sat watching mommy, Andrew came and sat in mommy's lap, and Elizabeth instantly burst into a fit of tears. How dare he sit in her mom's lap!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

China Blue

I just finished watching China Blue on PBS - a documentary about a factory in China making blue jeans. Even though I spent 4+ months in China, I was stunned by what I saw. A 17 year old girl left her farming family with 100 RMB (about $12) in her pocket to find work in a far-away city. She found it at the Lifeng factory, where she not only worked, but also lived in the factory dormitory, sharing a room with 11 other girls - not women, but girls as young as 14 years old. Among the revelations that stick in my mind:

  • She earned only about 6 cents per hour
  • Minimum wage and overtime laws were completely ignored. She often worked 15 hour shifts, and sometimes more than 24 hours in a single shift - with no overtime pay.
  • Unions and strikes are illegal. Anyone attempting to organize would likely be jailed. Thought China was a communist/socialist country? Think again.
  • The factory owner said, categorically, his rural workers are not only uneducated, but cannot be educated and cannot learn a work ethic.
  • Workers' first months pay is withheld as a "security deposit", and they are never paid it unless they receive "permission" to leave the factory, which of course they are never granted.
  • She worked more than 3 months before receiving her first pay. In the meantime, she had no money. Need medicine? Sorry, you're SOL.
  • Under public pressure, the international companies that buy from China started sending inspectors to verify working conditions. Factories know in advance when the inspectors are coming, and coerce workers into lying about working conditions and pay to keep the inspectors satisfied.
She and all her coworkers were virtual slaves of the factory, rarely leaving the premises. During one long shift, she left to buy an energy-boosting tea (for 6 cents) from a street vendor. She was fined 2 days' wages for leaving.

You can't pin all the blame on the evil factory owner here, though. He faces intense competition from within China and elsewhere, and he couldn't possibly compete if he were to follow national labor laws - as long as other factories continue to break the law.

I'm sure many of my own clothes were made in China. And there's no doubt that working conditions in other countries - India, Pakistan, wherever - are just as deplorable. So what to do? I suspect it would be pretty difficult - and fairly expensive - to fill my closet with clothes that don't weigh so much on my conscience.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New gig at IP Commerce

I accepted a job offer today to be Director of Integration Delivery at IP Commerce, a company based in Denver. The company is building a software platform to enable and simplify electronic payments over the internet. So what will I be doing? Building and managing teams of developers that will build software to connect the system to various banks and payment service providers. I'm excited about the opportunity, and I'll be among friends - I've worked with many people there in the past.

I've enjoyed my 2nd tour of duty with BoldTech, and the unique opportunity I had to work in China and build a cool video web site at the same time. This new position should be a great opportunity for me, though, and I look forward to it.

Token white guy

I don't have too many opportunities in my life to be the person who is adding racial diversity to a business-related function. I did, however, have that opportunity while working in China last year. My company's China office quietly invited me to a career fair in Hangzhou, where I would ostensibly help the recruiting effort. My main qualification, as is turns out, was my undeniably Caucasian appearance, which apparently lends a certain international credibility to a Chinese company's operations.

Now I'm considering changing careers to be a professional Caucasian. Consider this story I found today in my daily email from steepandcheap.com, of all places.

Last night I ran into a friend who had just returned from living in China for three years. He taught English and mostly stuck to Beijing, but he said he found another job that allowed him to travel a bit even if it didn't pay too much money. Chinese companies would pay him to sit in on meetings. It wasn't for his advice or his mediating skills, they brought him in so their company would look more international when they had meetings with other companies. It was a pretty good gig, he said he only had to talk once, but it was a ten minute spot in front of 600 people while pretending he was the designer of some project. Apparently national media was there and the whole thing was pretty stressful. The whole thing sounds like an 80s movie I would watch on a Sunday afternoon.
I'm highly qualified for that job. In fact, I can't think of anyone who is more clearly Caucasion than myself. Time for a new career?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Talipes Equinovarus

Elizabeth was born with club foot, scientifically known as Talipes Equinovarus. Hers is bilateral, and more severe on the right foot than the left. Club foot is the most common birth defect, and fortunately, it is treatable with a very high success rate.

We of course knew about this before we adopted her. Part way through our adoption journey, we joined the waiting child program, which matches orphans with special needs to adoptive parents. One of our motivations for adopting was to provide a loving family to a child who might otherwise never have one. Kids with special needs are less likely to be adopted, so we felt like this was the right thing to do. We are fortunate enough to have the means to correct Elizabeth's condition, but if she were to stay in China, there is no saying when or if she would receive treatment, and how good her treatment might be. While finalizing our adoption in Guangzhou, it was inspirational to meet several other couples who were adopting kids with even greater needs than Liz - including conditions such as cleft palette and deformed limbs.

We are opting to treat Elizabeth using the Ponseti method, which is a non-surgical way to manipulate the tissues back to a normal position. Although Ponseti is usually started at a younger age, it also has been very successful on older patients. Liz will go through a few months in casts, and then spend many more months with a brace. With a little luck and God's will, she will be completely normal when the treatment is finished.

Liz's first appointment is this week, and I'll be tracking her progress in the blog as she goes through the process. Here is a photo of her feet now.

Since Mia Hamm, the famous US soccer player, was born with club feet, we know that people can fully recover and live normal - even extraordinarily athletic - lives after treating this condition.

Envysion is live!

Since July, I've been working for BoldTech Systems as a consultant to Envysion, a start-up company in Boulder that provides web-based video management solutions. This is the project that brought me to China to lead a great team of developers in building Envysion's new web-based video application. We officially released the web site to the public this week, although several customers had been using it prior to then in a beta version.

Check out the site here! Note - you will need to use IE on Windows XP. We'll be adding support for other browsers and platforms in the future.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Back home with the kids

After 2 weeks in China, we're back home with the kids. Kids - plural - I'm not used to that yet! Our long flight home from Guangzhou included an unexpected overnight stay in LA, since our flight arrived in LA an hour late and we couldn't catch our connecting flight to Denver. After passing through immigration in LA, Elizabeth is now a US citizen!

Amy devised a great scheme for getting us some extra space on the plane. We knew there were about a dozen empty seats on the 777 - with 3 seats on each side, 2 aisles, and 4 seats in the middle. So we requested seats near the rear of the plane, and got the window seat and 2 aisle seats (A, C, and D), with an empty seat (B) in the middle. We were hoping, of course, that no one would take that one middle seat at the back of the plane, and we got lucky - since both the B and E seats were empty, we actually had 5 seats for the 4 of us, which meant Andrew could lay down flat on 2 seats and Elizabeth had her own seat even though we only paid for a lap ticket.

Back at home, all the grandparents have had a chance to meet their new granddaughter and we're getting over the jet lag. I've been up since 3 am.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Adjusting to a new family

After spending her first 10 and half months at the orphanage and in foster care, Elizabeth is faced with a big adjustment now. All the people and places she is familiar with will be replaced by strange new ones. The first day we had her, she was completely cheerful and smiling. By day two, though, she lost her smile and her appetite. She threw up and had diarrhea. It could be been due to food, or just physical illness, but I suspect the stress of her new reality was a big factor. Days three through five with her new family brought a gradual improvement in her mood and apetitie. On Sunday, day six, we had a bit of a breakthrough. Our room was hot and stuffy, and she seemed listless. Amy and I took Liz and Andrew to the hotel pool, and were overjoyed to discover that she loved being in the water. We set her in an inflatable floatie we brought with us, and that big smile reappeared as she floated around the kiddie pool and watched her big brother splash and play. It was fantastic to see her and Andrew playing together, too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Elizabeth's birthplace

Today we took a 90 minute journey through the countryside of the Jiangxi province to Elizabeth's birthplace in Fuzhou (in the Linchuan district). The district is home to about 1 million people, which makes it a small city by Chinese standards. She was found as a newborn at the Hua Li restaurant, a non-descript eatery along the town's main road. A dozen or so people, including several small children, were gathered outside as our van pulled up. Foreigners like us are an extremely rare sight in a town like this, so folks were very curious to see us, and especially the little blond-haired boy, who everyone says is piao liang (beautiful). Everywhere we go, people ask about Elizabeth and what she is doing with these strange-looking foreigners. We've learned to tell them ling yang, which means adoption. Our adoption agency has a guide for us, Evelyn, who is usually with us on our outings. Repeatedly, Evelyn has translated the locals' reaction - they say that Elizabeth is lucky and will have a great life with us. It's heartwarming to know that people here understand and appreciate what we're doing.

The Hua Li restaurant in Fuzhou

Galactic Peace and Pocari Sweat

Our hotel in Nanchang is the Galactic Peace International Hotel. No kidding. Crazy name, but a really nice hotel. For about $70 per night, we have an extra large room with a larger-than-king-size bed (call it the Emperor size), huge TV, spacious bathroom, and plenty of space. Besides the nice room, it also has a nice pool, gym, and all the amenities you'd expect. The concierge will even retrieve Pizza Hut for westerners who don't want to venture out into the crowded streets.

One American family is here with their 3 and 5-year-old boys, who provided Andrew with much need playmates. We offered to take the kids to the People's Park, which is one of the nicest city parks we've seen in China. Their mom asked how we would get there, and we said "by taxi, of course." That nixed the deal. Apparently they'd been on 1 other Chinese taxi ride and the experience was too harrowing for them. It is true that the simple act of crossing the street here is a death-defying experience, and a typical cab ride will raise your blood pressure.

The Galactic Peace is near the city center, and is a popular place with adoptive parents. We're sharing the hotel with both American and Spanish groups who are here adopting. It's been good to share our experiences with others.

You might be wondering about the 2nd half of the title of this post. What is Pocari Sweat? Well, Elizabeth was sick for a day or two, and we were looking for something like Pedialite for her - electrolyte replacement. A trip to the local Wal-Mart led us to an "ion supply" drink called - you guessed it - Pocari Sweat. Sounds tasty, eh?

Wondering what Wal-Mart is like in China? Not so different the Wal-Mart experience in Lakewood, Colorado, actually. I'm one of the only people in the whole place speaking English, and everything there is made in China.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ba Ba

Ba ba is the Chinese (Mandarin) word for "daddy". It's also the word for "poo poo". Ok, technically they are different words because they're spoken with different tones, but to tone-deaf westerners, they sure sound a lot like the same word. I guess that means I should think twice about trying to teach Elizabeth to say "ba ba" because she might think I'm issuing a command for her to do something.

Surprisingly, she's fairly well potty trained already at 11 months old. All you need to do is sit her on the baby potty and whistle, and she knows it's time to pee. If you add a carefully-toned "ba ba", she knows it's time for #2.

Her first night with us went quite well. It did take about 30 minutes of crying before she fell asleep, but we were pleasantly surprised that she slept all the way through the night; we'd been warned that she likes a midnight snack.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Presenting Elizabeth Grace Swanson

At about noon today (March 6 China time), we welcomed Elizabeth Grace into our arms and our family. She is a big girl for an 11-month old, with 4 teeth and a big smile! She will officially be our daughter a few hours from now when we sign some papers. Andrew is enjoying his new role as big brother, smothering her with gentle hugs and kisses and being very concerned when she cries.

Lousy LAX

We arrived on time at LAX, dreading the 4-hour layover until our 11:50 pm departure to Guangzhou on China Southern airlines. Since Frontier and China Southern don’t have a baggage agreement, we had to pick up our checked bags and check in again with China Southern. The long underground hallway to the baggage claim was a throw-back to the 70’s. A myriad of brightly colored tiles decorated one wall and the place is lit up bright enough to be a surgery room. The baggage claim area looked like something you’d expect to see in South America, with decades old carousels, construction, and decor. To top it off, a high-pitched whine pierced the air, apparently the result of security alarms on various doors. The whine begins when someone opens a secure door and continues long past it’s closing. After a long wait for our bags, we learned that the international terminal is a separate building and made our way there, where the official airport signs marked with “China Southern” led us through throngs of people of all nationalities – to the wrong aisle. After wandering a bit, we finally found the China Southern desk on a different aisle, surprised to see about a hundred people in line already, more than 3 hours ahead of flight time. After a long wait here, we were chosen as the lucky winners of a bonus security check of our baggage! We carted our load to yet another long line. After a few millennia in this queue, they finally deemed our lugged safe, so we could go get a bite to eat before the marathon flight across the pacific. It was about 2 and half hours since we landed! Good thing we had that long layover.

Next we passed through security on the way to our “gate”, and I use the term loosely here. The gates at LAX’s international terminal are a crowded cattle call with doors opening straight onto the tarmac, where diesel powered busses, packed almost as full as a city bus in China, haul weary passengers for about 5 minutes to odd, free-standing jetways out in the hinterlands of the airport. Finally we packed ourselves into our 3 seats in row 30 of the fully-booked Boeing 777.