Friday, October 31, 2008

The Halloween Owl

How often do you get to have a close encounter with a wild owl - on Halloween? The kids and I had just such an experience tonight! We left the house at dusk to go trick-or-treat, and as we were tromping up the sidewalk to the 2nd house of the evening, we heard an owl hooting. At first I figured one of the neighbors had a soundtrack of scary halloween noises playing, but then we heard it again. Not just me - the kids heard it too - and Andrew said "Owl!". I stopped and scanned the trees across the street, and sure enough, perched at the top of a nearly leafless tree across the street was the silhouette of an owl. I pointed it out to the kids - they saw it now too. As I was pointing, it launched itself from the tree and swooped right toward us, as if to make a meal out of little Elizabeth, paused directly overhead - just 15 feet above us, then turned slightly and flew away silently. Quite a halloween treat!

Here are me and the kids in our costumes, showing off the jack-o-lanterns that the kids carved (with help from mom) from pumpkins my dad grew in his garden. Thanks, dad!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Last harvest?

Raspberries in late October? Yep. I checked our backyard raspberry patch yesterday - October 20 - and found 3 very nice, ripe golden raspberries in our raspberry patch. There are a few more unripe berries on there, but with the colder weather moving in today, I suspect that was my last harvest this year from our garden.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thailand and Laos (June 14, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the World Revisited. I sent this email from Thailand on June 14, 2002 during our 6 month journey around the world.

Hello all!!

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away . . .

We previously gave you a lesson in Australian english
- I suppose we need to include some Thai versions of
the English language as well:
-"Please Waiting" - a sign at a theater

-"Smooth and Mellon" - on a Tiger whiskey bottle

-"Please don't feet up on sanitary" - in a bathroom
stall - translation Don't stand on the toilet

-"No ladey bar or gaydey bar in room" - in our Chiang
Mai hotel - translation No hookers or Drag queens in
your room

We've also seen some unusual English words, I hesitate
to call them expressions, on T-shirts:
-"Haworthia. The nature coming."

-"What your bathroom?" with a cartoon kitty

-"Indiana Ten Bigfoots" with a big 23 similar to a

Observations on Laos:
-This is real Asia unspoiled by too much tourism and
the fake front that goes with it

-The pace of life is slow and relaxing. Everybody is
very laid back.

-In general the people are more friendly than the
Thais. Probably because it is less touristed.

-Transportation is slow - it's a good thing nobody is
in a hurry

-The largest Lao bill is 5000 kip, equivalent to about
50 cents. This means when you change a hundred dollar
travelers check you are a millionaire with a 2 inch
tall stack of bills.

We've been busy since last we wrote. We headed north
from Bangkok and stopped in Ayuthaya, the former
capitol city, to see the 17th to 19th century ruins.
These are nothing compared with the ruins at Angkor,
but worth a stop none the less.

From here we took an overnight train to Chiang Mai.
The train was really nice compared to the bus. Our
seats converted into beds and there was a fold away
table, waiters to deliver food to your seat, the works
- and this is only second class. We really liked
Chiang Mai. It's much cleaner, quieter, cheaper and
more laid back than Bangkok. The people are also a
lot more friendly. From here we did a three day trek
to visit some Hill Tribe villages. The hill tribes
are minority groups, mostly having migrated south from
China and vicinity, that live in small rural mountain
villages practicing subsistence farming.

We also took a Thai cooking class which was really
good and went to "Monk Chat" where the monks get to
practice English and the tourists get to ask questions
one on one.

Also as part of the trek we rode a bamboo "raft" down
the river, with little bits of it continually falling
off. Finally we rode some elephants through the
jungle. This would have been cool except for the
horrible cruelty displayed by the trainers - hitting
them with big sticks and stabbing them with knives.

From Chiang Mai we headed into Laos via Huay Xai. We
took a "slow boat" down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.
It took 2 days to go just a couple hundred kilometers
in a cramped boat with wooden bench seats. The
temples in this World Heritage Area were amazing.
Just the sheer number of them is overwhelming. Also
the monks are really friendly since they all want to
practice their English on the tourists. We even
helped a few with their homework. We really enjoyed
the city and watching the local crafts people at work
(papermaking and silk weaving). This has been one of
our favorite spots of the trip.

It has been Brad's dream to accumulate enough scars to
scare little kids when he's old. He managed to scare
several Lao kids without even showing one scar. We
went on a trek to some Lao villages that had only been
visited by tourists once before. Some of the kids
that had never seen white people before burst into
tears at the sight of us. The rest of the kids and
not a few adults just stared at our every move. They
wanted to see how we walked, what we ate, everything.
It made me empathize with celebrities who are
constantly followed by the press. The only toy we had
to show off was the zoom lens on the camera. The kids
had fun looking through it as we zoomed in and out.
Our guide Mr. Nou (pronounced new) was awesome, the
best we've had. The village where we stayed overnight
was holding a ceremony the day we were there, no
outsiders allowed. Mr. Nou managed to get around this
with a bribe of 1 chicken and a bottle of whiskey
(total value $2.50). At night they fired up the
generator to watch a Lao dubbed version of the
original Planet of the Apes.

From Luang Prabang we took an 11 hour bus ride to the
capitol city, Vientiane (again only a couple hundred
kilometers). Along the way we stopped at some road
side "rest stops" - no facilities. The windshield on
the bus was held on with packing tape and the bus was
retrofitted with a wooden floor. We headed for a
little "eco-resort" outside of Vientiane for a little
peace and quiet. Since this place has no electricity
one of the workers invited us to his house to watch
the World Cup (soccer) game on that evening. This led
to an invitation to a wedding in his village the
following day. We didn't see the actual ceremony, but
the reception is pretty much like an American wedding,
food, drink and dancing. Just like back home, Amy
danced while Brad sat and drank whiskey. The kids had
a good laugh watching Amy dance and everyone made an
effort to make us feel welcome.

On the bus ride to the resort the bus would stop
anytime someone asked it to, wait for them to do their
shopping, and let them back on. On the bus ride back
to Vientiane about 1/3 of the bus was filled with
goods for market including live frogs and chickens.
Back in Vientiane we realized that our world view has
changed when we decided not to eat in a nice
restaurant because the $6 meals were outrageously

We re-entered Thailand and headed to the country's
first national park, Khao Yai (translates to Big
Mountain). This was one of the highlights of our trip
to Thailand. We were able to see Macaque monkeys,
Gibbons (these are apes not monkeys as we were told),
several species of squirrel, Hornbill birds, Barking
Deer, Sambar Deer, porcupine, Elephant Scorpion,
Indian Civet (exotic looking feline) and our favorite,

Next it was back to Bangkok to spend a couple days
before flying on to Turkey tonight. We decided to
take advantage of the air-con in the movie theater and
saw Star Wars II. After the previews there is a
message that says "Please pay tribute to the king".
At this point everybody stands while scenic images of
Thailand and the King doing good things are shown.
Everybody here really seems to respect and like the

Until next time . . .

Brad and Amy

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Employee no more

I officially became an independent contractor today. My former employer, IP Commerce, eliminated my position as part of a reorganization. They did offer me a contract, however, as a technical account manager, which I accepted, but the contract may last only a month or two. I'm a bit disappointed because I really enjoyed my job and my team. I'm also a bit excited because this unexpected change has provided me the motivation to pursue some of my own business ideas, and to venture into the world of contracting.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my professional life.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Snowy hike

Amy and I had an overnight getaway to Georgetown this weekend. After dropping the kids with Amy's parents on Friday evening, we spent the night at the charming Rose Street B & B in Georgetown. There was one other couple staying in the house that night, and we had some really engaging conversations with them Friday night and Saturday morning. We far prefer the B & B or hostel setting over the typical motel/hotel for this reason - you have the opportunity to meet great people that you just don't get at a hotel.

Saturday morning we were greeting by some unusually beautiful weather - bright sun shining through a light snowfall with golden aspen leaves and green conifers all around. After a relaxed morning and a fantastic breakfast, we drove up Guanella Pass for a hike to Silver Dollar Lake. Up at this high altitude, the snow was falling. Not the fluffy winter variety of snowflakes, but the autumn ice pellets, driven by the wind. I don't mind the cold and snow - in fact I really enjoy it - and it made for a great hike of a few miles to the lake. On the way down, we spotted a pair of ptarmigan with half summer and half winter plumage. They didn't mind us at all as they slowly hopped from rock to rock on a scree field just yards off the trail. Bring on the winter snows - I'm ready!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

4:43 mile - for 26.2 miles???

Imagine running a single mile in 4 minutes 43 seconds. I can't because I've tried and can't even come close to 5 minutes. But Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia just set the world record marathon time of 2:03:59, which is 4:43 per mile for 26.2 miles! That's an all-out sprint for over 2 hours. It's absolutely unbelievable, and a little depressing to know that even with all my training, I'll never even come close to a feat like that. Well it's time to stop feeling sorry for myself and just keep running.