Saturday, December 19, 2009


I apologize to anyone who follows my blog. I have kept meaning to update it, but never really wanted to when I got home from work. I tended to write most of the text during down times at work before, but since the summer I've been busier.

Anyway, I'll try to be more regular in the future. For now, thought, here are a few highlights that I missed.

Early in the summer, 2nd and I participated in our church's Savior of the World musical production. We sang in the choir -- which is all I was interested in, but they also persuaded me to have a couple speaking roles. I played both Malachi and the "angel to the shepherds." (He's unnamed, so I referred to him as Linus, because of Linus' monologue in A Charlie Brown Christmas.) It was a lot of rehearsals with not too much for 2nd and I to rehearse, but in the end I think I enjoyed it. Though I was a little glad to have some evenings back.

In July, I took a business trip to Las Vegas for Black Hat. It was the first time 2nd and I were apart since March, so it was a little sad. I made sure to hurry back home to her. The conference was in Caesar's Palace, which is rather extravagant. I particularly enjoyed the mall attached to the casino. Unfortunately, the training sessions ran until 6 each day, and left me rather drained, but I did try to get out and see the strip anyway.

During the summer, my poor car was involved in two minor accidents at the exact same intersection near work. Both were the other drivers' faults (no, really!), but thankfully neither was serious enough to require professional repair to my car. In the first, the other car stripped my front license plate off. In the second, I was rear-ended hard enough to worry me at the moment, but I just can't see any damage.

In October, our functional group at work had a team-building exercise, consisting of a little every-man-for-himself competition (some team-building exercise, huh?) at go-karts. Mind you, this wasn't kiddy go-karts. We raced in heats, awarding points via finishing position. I took second, but I "let" my boss beat me, of course -- I wouldn't want to get him upset! No, he was actually a very good racer, and in the last heat the two of us pulled away from the pack for most of the race. He started ahead of me, and, try as I might, I couldn't manage to pass. The track was actually fairly narrow, and mostly turns, making passing quite difficult unless the leading driver made a mistake. We both set lap records for our group in that little showdown, so I'm still quite pleased with myself, even though I couldn't take the lead.

We've had several other things on our plate here, like planning and executing ward activities, but I'll leave well enough alone right now. We are having fun getting ready for our first Christmas, and we hope everyone else is having as much fun as we are.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Counting our blessings

I have thought a bit about how to talk about what happened yesterday. It was a pretty crazy afternoon for both 2nd and me, but I also don't want to sound thoughtless of those less fortunate.

I suppose I should start by saying that, yes, 2nd takes the red line of the Metro home every workday. But she's alright, she was still several stations back at the time of the accident. Also, if I understand correctly, the accident involved two trains heading into the city, while she was leaving the city. Still, she got caught in the city with no easy way out. The red line closed, and though they were running shuttles to get Metro riders out of the city, Metro's efforts seem to have been less than efficient.

For my part, I take I-95 south to 495 (the capital beltway) to get home. Sometimes 95 gets slow, but I find it's much easier to get to 95 than 29 -- the parallel route home -- from where I work. Unfortunately, yesterday there was a semi-truck on fire right at the junction between 95 and 495, blocking all lanes of southbound traffic, regardless of the direction you intended to go at the junction. (I couldn't find a picture of that accident.) And since I was stuck about 1/4 mile from the junction, it must have happened just minutes ahead of me. If I have left work right at 5:00, instead of 5:10....

Anyway, I was stuck at a standstill in traffic for over an hour. It was right about the time that I came to a stop in this mess that I heard about the Metro crash. At first, details were sketchy or conflicting, so I did worry quite a bit about 2nd's safety. I was relieved when I could finally reach her on her cell phone. (Metro stations supposedly have Verizon coverage, but my experience is that there are many large dead zones.) After some time, we worked out a plan: I would get home and figure out how to get to the Rhodes Island Ave station, where she was dropped off, and I would come get her. She thought that would be easier and quicker than fighting for a spot on the infrequent and packed shuttles.

At long last, I got through the traffic, but only after the fire was out cold, and only then via single-file on the shoulder. (Oh, I also watched a driver right next to me get sick and repeatedly vomit out his car door. Nice.) In total, yesterday's commute took triple my usual time. Then I mapped out a path to the Rhodes Island Ave station -- taking New Hampshire into the city, left on North Capitol, and finally left on Rhodes Island. Thinking I was fully prepared, I set out.

It was going smoothly until I saw a lot of emergency vehicles blocking New Hampshire. Ugh. Great. I hadn't checked my route, but apparently it took me right past the Metro collision site. Idiot.

So I diverted to -- as near as I could determine, being unfamiliar with the city -- a parallel route. I was really very worried that I would become lost in this sprawling city and have to stop and get directions. I don't know if my worry was more for my safety or my masculine pride, but I really didn't want to do it. Here I am, still trying to fumble my way to the right spot to pick up my wife, and I see a shuttle packed like sardines! That must be it! If I just head in the direction it was coming from....

And there's a sign directing me to the station! My safety and pride are reassured! This day, this macho man was able to chart a path quickly and spontaneously through an unfamiliar urban maze to provide for his woman. And I was even able to chart a way back home. Yeah, I'm good.

Things worked out for us in the end. Unfortunately, others didn't have our luck. This is where this post gets hard. Some people were chosen seemingly randomly yesterday to suffer this terrible accident. It's the worst in the history of Metro. Doubtless there are and will be good people to help and comfort those who are in need. I don't know how to do so, and I don't personally know anyone affected, so all I can do is pray that they are comforted according to their needs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Honeymoon, Day 5 (Friday)

We started Friday by heading up along the west coast, and then heading inland to Concord Falls. Once we left the main road, it got narrow and winding very quickly. Again, we found ourselves at a place where taxis take tourist groups. However, again, they just stick around at the first waterfall for a few minutes before leaving, while we intended to hike to more falls. My guidebook told me that there are three falls, but the locals told us that the the third waterfall was not accessible at the time. So we looked at the first one, then headed out to the second waterfall.

It wasn't a particularly long hike. Maybe about 40 minutes. And it was a little hot and humid. But along the way we passed some incredible scenery. The path was a little muddy, but not as bad as the paths at Grand Etang the day earlier. When we arrived at the waterfall, again, like nearly our whole trip, we were alone. :) We took our time at the waterfall before heading back to the beginning of the path. Once there, we decided to take a dip in the first waterfall. Boy was the water cold! But it was definitely invigorating!

Next, we headed further north along the coast to Gouyave. I admit, I felt wholly out of place in that town. It seemed like it was only locals there, and zero tourists, aside from us. I know that's not true, because when we took our lunch at a dingy local eatery, there was another table with a few British tourists. (It seems most tourists we ran into were from Britain.) After lunch, we toured the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Plant. Unfortunately, we forgot to take pictures along the way! But we did take a few shots afterwards from the lobby area. They explained during the tour all about the drying, separating, shelling, and sorting of the nutmegs. I can't remember which way around it was, but they could tell the good nutmegs from the bad depending on whether they floated or sank. A machine cracked the shells off of them, but separating the nuts from the shells was still done by hand. They also explained the three grades that they give the mace, the red webbing surrounding the nutmug nut. Mace supposedly (we haven't tried the mace we brought home yet) tastes similar to nutmeg, but more delicate. The three grades were all used for different purposes, from food to cosmetics.

On the way back south, we stopped along the road at Palmiste Bay at the recommendation of our hotel staff. I had heard that there we're some black sand beaches on the island, and they told us to check out Palmiste. It was definitely, dark, though I wouldn't call it pure black. Still, the volcanic sediment is clearly visible. On our way further home, 2nd spotted the local LDS church building, so we naturally had to stop in. The only people there were the cleaners, and we didn't know how to ask politely if they were members, so we didn't. But man, I'm sure I'd have trouble paying attention during church with that view!

We headed out for ice cream before dinner, because we were craving it, and we had already encountered a couple instances of shops being closed after we had dinner. We had more local flavors: mango and coconut. So good! Finally, we had our last dinner on the island. I had hoped to find somewhere that served oildown, which is a traditional dish in the Caribbean that my guidebook told me about. However, since our hotel staff couldn't find any place serving it (perhaps it's more of a home cooking thing?), we had some nice barbecue chicken.

It's so sad that our last day was over! I'll add a little bit about Saturday here, since it certainly doesn't call for a full post. Very early on Saturday morning, we headed to the airport, and the jeep rental "company" (or rather, the guy who ran it out on his own) was supposed to meet us there. Well, he was late, but we weren't worried, because we had arrived with time to spare. However, we were worried when we realized we had to pay an exit fee in cash! We had changed almost all of our Eastern Caribbean dollars back to US dollars at the hotel that morning, and no one had ever mentioned an exit fee. To make matters worse, the airport ATM wasn't working, and we had no car! Fortunately, another woman was in the same mess, but had a car. She and 2nd rushed off to the nearest place they knew an ATM was and hurried back. We made it with a little time to spare. But we really thought we were cutting it too close, though! Aside from that, it was another long, full day of traveling with a lengthy stopover in San Juan -- but not lengthy enough to leave the airport and see anything.

Overall, we had a very, very wonderful honeymoon. It ended far too soon for our liking, but we always have anniversaries...maybe we'll go back someday?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Honeymoon, Day 4 (Thursday)

Thursday was pretty awesome. We started by heading back up into the mountains in the center of Grenada to visit Grand Etang Lake. Grand Etang is a lake formed in the crater of a volcano, some 1,700 feet about sea level. The drive up there was harrowing, more by the narrowness of the roads and speed of the local than by being on a mountain. But when we arrived, we found that we were the only ones there! Well, there was briefly one other tourist couple and their taxi driver, but they weren't around for long. Before they left, we spoke to them some. I mentioned to the driver that I had read that the lake was rumored to be bottomless (even though it was really only 18 feet at the deepest part). He confirmed that such was the tale, saying that if you drown in Grand Etang your body ends up at St. Vincent, another island miles away. "But that's all myth," he told us.

We tried to take the path that looped around the lake, but found it to be pretty muddy; we weren't properly prepared for that. There was another hiking trail that was much more strenuous, taking you to the top of the mountain, but we weren't up for that, either. So we just took some nice pictures of the lake and enjoyed the view.

There were a visitor center and museum almost right around the corner. It really was quite surprising to see that area swamped with tourists when no one was actually going to visit the lake. There were lots of taxis and tour buses which, we assume, had picked up guests from the cruise ships. But none of them went the few hundred extra yards to see the actual lake! (We made it a point to avoid the tourists in our pictures. You'll have to trust me when I say it was packed.)

Next, we traveled to Belmont Estate, a functioning plantation. We had a delicious lunch, including sorrel juice for 2nd, and ginger beer for me. For dessert, we had soursop ice cream. One of the main things they grow at Belmont Estate is cocoa. We got a tour of the estate from a guide named Ward, particularly seeing how they process the cocoa. We got to suck cocoa beans straight from the pod (the white goo is sweet, but don't bite the bean -- it's very bitter), see how they ferment the beans for several days, and see how they dry the beans evenly in the sun. Then we got to taste a dried cocoa bean -- the dark chocolate taste was very strong! We bought a few bars of dark chocolate (the estate only processes the beans, but the Grenada Chocolate Company still makes the dark chocolate on the island). I'm not sure of the reasons why, but Ward told us that the pure dark chocolate won't melt. In fact, we left the bars in our jeep all the rest of the day and they are all still fine!

Next we headed to a couple beaches to the north, on the east shore -- Bathway Beach and Levera Bay. Some of the roads were pretty rough, making us grateful again for having a jeep. Bathway Beach had a decent crowd (i.e., a few dozen people), but Levera Bay was nearly deserted. Finally, we headed to Sauteurs to see Carib's Leap, the cliff from which the natives lept to their deaths after being defeated by the French. We got there before 5, if I recall, but Carib's Leap was already closed. But we still had a great view of the bay and the town.

After all of that traveling, we headed back to our hotel. It had been another long day, so we settled in and relaxed for the evening.