Random Stuff from My Life

Monday, July 31, 2006

Montreal, part un

I have been to O'Hare before, but I have NEVER seen planes stacked up like they were on Saturday morning. Maybe they're trying a new queueing system to avoid a repeat of the recent mishap...

Anyway, approaching Montreal from the air, one is actually reminded of Chicago: the vast expanse of flatness stretching out in every direction and filled with suburbs studded with homes notable for their vertical orientation and their profusion of swimming pools in a climate that could support pool use at most only one-third of the year. From the freeway, however, the approach to the city more closely resembles another Midwestern metropolis, with the French-language signage providing the only indication amongst the endless series of 1970's-era strip malls and warehouses that one is not, in fact, in Oklahoma City.

Once on foot, however (and downtown), the view changes appreciably from any "south of the border" parallels. It's not European, exactly. Not East Coast American. Not even Quebec City-ish. A mix of all those things, perhaps. Or at least the part we saw, which, admittedly, wasn't much. Having spent so much money on tickets to various Outgames events, we spent our time scurrying to those. I am relatively certain that I could take a Gray Line tour of Montreal and not see a single building that I recognize from this trip.

We did have fun, though, which I will get to in a subsequent post. For now, I feel compelled to share a ramble probably meaningful only to myself...

The comparison of Montreal to other, more familiar, places got me to thinking about one of my childhood obsessions: collecting telephone books. I used to spend hours pouring through the yellow pages (there were no green pages or blue pages or fold-out maps then) of each new city, looking for what these far-flung places had in common. Did the new book contain a listing for an NBC television station? An Amoco service station? A Long John Silver's?

Then I would spend further hours designing cities of my own, always maximizing these "chain" corporate identities that jaded Americans pretend to abhor but secretly keep in business: the precursors to and industry cognates of Wal-marts. I'd like to think that I didn't include the local identity in my cities because the spontaneous creativity of Mom & Pop establishments is hard for an eight-year-old mind to comprehend, let alone replicate in endless variations. But it is far more likely, I suppose, that these corporate identities represented a sense of status that my own upbringing in rural America lacked.

Or it could be (horror!) that I in fact like chains. When people ask me what I miss about the Bay Area, it's not the trendy boutiques or the once-in-a-lifetime culinary experiences. I wish that my current residence afforded me easier access to two things: a Chili's and a Macy's.

While we had quite good food in Montreal (and not a bite of it from a chain), the first place we headed once back on American soil was the Chili's at O'Hare airport. And we knew exactly what to order: the queso dip of which we have been lately deprived. Is it the best tortilla-chip topping I've ever consumed? No, but it is predictably good. Just like a McDonald's in Marrakesh will be predictably clean (in fact, predictably cleaner than any American location of that chain) and have instantly recognizable food. And a Frappucino grande de banane et coco in Montreal will be just as good as (if more romantically pronounced than) the one from the Starbucks at SFO.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Quick update

In Kansas now. Tonight is the big blowout for Mom & Dad's anniversary. Tomorrow we leave for Montreal. It is HOT here! Theoretically it's only in the 90's, but the humidity is ridiculous.

Dad seems to have made it through the first round of chemo okay, but he has experienced one side effect: constant hiccuping for the last two days. That means he hasn't slept very long at a time for the last two nights and is constantly tired during the day.

More later...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More on movies

Other recents movies we have watched: "The Majestic," which is set near here, and "Outbreak," which begins in Kauai and ends in the same town where "The Majestic" is set (and my boss is an extra in it!). Next in our Netflix queue is "South Pacific," also filmed on Kauai. It's weird to see a place that you know really well in a movie--you can tell which buildings are real and which are sets, and when they've reused background scenery.

What's in my mind today

I'm in the office now. I have a bunch of projects I need to complete before we leave for vacation on Tuesday. But I had a bunch of thoughts while I was getting dressed to leave the house, and I just have to get them out of me.

There are a couple of theories on what distinguishes the human experience from all others: the use of language, and the ability to appreciate one's own consciousness. Each of these theories has some flaws (dolphins use something similar to language to communicate, and how can we actually determine whether other species can appreciate their consciousness), but I must say that the two fields of study are intriguing to me. I loved linguistics in college, particularly linguistic anthropology, and I just finished a good book on language loss. But today's essay is (more or less) about human consciousness.

Last night we watched "Man on the Moon." Paul Giamatti was in it, and I remarked to Stan how much more I liked his performance in this movie than in "Sideways." Then this morning, I had all these scenes from "Sideways" running through my head. That got me to thinking about the way the mind (in particular the memory) works. For example, when I was in high school, I had a dream (I think) about running naked through the field behind my uncle's house. I don't think I ever actually did that (the basic reason I don't break laws: fear of getting caught), but the memory of the dream is so strong (much stronger than any memory of actual experience at my uncle's farm) that twenty years later I really can't say for sure whether it was just a dream or whether I actually worked up the guts to act on this desire.

There's been a lot on those "true crime" TV shows lately about the unreliability of eyewitness evidence, which has been particularly subject to scrutiny now in the face of DNA testing. How is it that we remember things, and how are those things ordered?

This is a particularly salient question for me in view of last night's movie-viewing experience. At the beginning of the film, Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman says something to the effect that scenes you will see are spliced together from different points of time in the comic's life. But when you watch the movie, it appears to flow in a fairly straightforward, chronological manner. Then when you click on the biography of Kaufman on the DVD extras, it becomes obvious that, in fact, the sequence of events you just "witnessed" could NOT have occurred in that order in "real life." Fascinating... I wonder if I could reorder my own life to make a better movie.

Speaking of Kaufman (and back to language): On my drive into the office, I was trying to remember whether Kaufman's name was spelled with one f or two. Instantly, phrases from my high school German class started flooding back into my mind. Again, strange how the memory works.

Okay, don't know where I was going with any of this; I guess I just think it's cool to be able to think about one's own thoughts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Holy cow!

I have been SOOO busy, especially at work. I really needed to go into the office on Saturday, but Stan got sick (we think it was food poisoning, because it went away in a few hours, but at one point he was basically incoherent). So, I stayed home and did laundry and other stuff that really needed to be done around here. It was a good break.

He was feeling better by the evening, so we went to a retirement party. Sunday, though, we slept in. Didn't even get up for church. I dropped by the office just briefly, to download some files and grab the laptop. Then we went to a going-away party for friends. Came home and got a little bit of work done.

Stan has been complaining for months that the casino dropped him off their mailing list. They finally agreed with him and wanted to make it up to him with a $100 gift certificate to their restaurant. Even we can't pack away $100 in food at a casino restaurant, so we invited friends out with us on Monday evening. The waitress was brand new and glacially slow, so we got home from our 7:00 dinner reservation at 10:15! I didn't get any work done that night.

Last night, I finally got some work done. Tonight, I stayed late (meeting ran long, so Stan went to Bible study without me) and got some more done. Dad called while I was still at the office. He talked to the doctor today, and his PETScan didn't find any more cancer. So, he starts chemo on Monday and they're assuring him it will be very mild. He's planning to come pick up us at the airport on Wednesday. We'll see...

Aside from his intestinal difficulties over the weekend, Stan is also doing well. He got to take his leg brace off on Sunday. His muscles are a little sore, but he says the surgery really helped his nerve problem. He got his super-expensive custom-fit shoes today (the second pair; the first ones were too tight).

I got the reading list for that seminar I'm going to in Berkeley. It's worse than grad school! (And of course I have no time to read between working late this week, a packed weekend this weekend, and our vacation next week.) Yikes! Oh well; they say there's a little bit of reading time built into the schedule during the seminar. (And the morning sessions don't start 'til 9:00, so if I can get up at normal time I'll have a whole hour in the mornings. Yeah, right!)

Actually, that reminds me of something: I was thinking the other day about how I have become a morning person by default. I still don't LIKE getting up, but my body has been trained (against its will) to open my eyes about 6:28 every morning. There's no way I could sleep in 'til noon these days like I did in high school, even if I had been out 'til 3 a.m. (which is getting harder and harder to do, as well). I'd like to think I'll have an opportunity to test this with our all-night club dance in Montreal, but given the three-hour time difference, that might not be a controlled experiment.

Okay, enough rambling for now...

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Wow, how did we get to be so busy for the next four months?

July 26-28: Kansas, for Mom & Dad's anniversary
July 29-31: Montreal, for Outgames
August 6-11: Berkeley, for executive seminar
Sept. 2-4: Washington, D.C. (rebooking of the Katrina-cancelled New Orleans trip from last fall)
Sept. 9-13: San Antonio, for professional conference
Oct. 7-9: Kansas (our last trip "home" until April)
Oct. 13-15: Missouri, for Stan's youngest brother's wedding (a complete surprise!)
Oct. 25-27: Tahoe, for another conference
Oct. 28-31: Kauai, just because

Sometime in there I've got to find some time to WORK.

Then all the fun stops on Nov. 9, when Stan goes in for his neck surgery. (He's still doing fine after yesterday's hospital visit, although he's starting to get a little soreness.)

My dad had his oncology appointment today. He's going in for a PET scan tomorrow, and will start chemo the day we are there for our next visit (7/26). He's pretty upbeat about it; sounded like the doctor was reassuring.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

He's okay

Stan's knee surgery went well. We got up at normal time, drove to the hospital, got him checked in, etc. The O.R. called the nurse to say they were running an hour AHEAD of schedule. So, he got wheeled away and I went to waiting room to finish my book. And the June issue of "Instinct." And the July issue. And the "AARP Bulletin." And this "one-hour" surgery still wasn't done, and I was starting to get nervous. Then the doctor came to get me. Everything went BETTER than expected. The cyst turned out not to be the problem; he had a muscle mass irritating his nerve. So, we waited around for nearly four hours to get him released from the hospital. He was perfectly fine the whole time, almost finishing HIS book. They had him eating. His blood sugar came back to normal quickly. No problems at all. We got home and he cooked dinner! He can't bend the knee for four days, but putting weight on it is no problem at all. We went to our Bible study. He called the office and asked them to fax him new projects. I thought this was going to be a major disruption to our lives for a few days; it's barely a blip. (Knock on wood.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I am so excited! I get this regular weekly e-mail on travel deals. It's how we found out about the deal on the trip to Morocco we took (geez, has it really been almost) four years ago. This week there was a deal on roundtrip air from the West Coast to Honolulu. $245. That's cheaper than flying to Kansas. Of course, I'm trying not to get worked up about travel deals, because a) we don't make as much money as we used to, b) traveling is more of a hassle when you live six hours from a major airport, c) what money we do have is going to pay medical bills, d) we've already booked all of Stan's time off for this year, and e) I need to conserve vacation time so I can sell it back to cover some of the aforementioned medical bills. Still, when you see a deal that good, you just have to check. I mean... airfare from SFO to HNL is typically in the $400-500 range.

So, yeah, the airfares to Honolulu are great and all. But do we really want to go to Oahu? No. And so then we'd be stuck with adding on airfare to another island. And there's the cost of a hotel. And a rental car. Okay, but wait... this deal is not on an airline website, it's on a travel package operator website. So what if... okay, just for kicks I'm going to check three nights in Molokai, which is where I really want to go. I mean, I KNOW it's going to be over $2,000, because you've got the connections and that's not a high-volume route and it's always... HOLY CRAP! It's under $1,000. Airfare to Molokai and three nights' hotel. Well, if Molokai's that cheap, how much would it be to... Kauai is under $900! For TWO roundtrip tickets from SFO and three nights in a hotel. Wait... our timeshare has a place on Kauai. Okay, how cool would it be if...? No, it's time to go to our Wednesday night Bible study. Wait... I just have to make ONE phone call. "YOU DO? You have three nights available in Kauai? Okay, I'll call back later."

"Honey, I know we have other things to spend our money on, but you're going to have major surgery this fall, and we won't be able to travel ANYWHERE for up to six months. So wouldn't it be great to just take a little trip for my birthday? A last hurrah before you go under the knife and I am completely devoid of travel for the longest period in my adult life... Why aren't you saying no? You're the practical one..."

So, we're going to Kauai for Halloween. I'm going to be in Tahoe for three days before for a conference, so I can just meet Stan in San Francisco. Work won't miss me; I'll just be gone for six days instead of three. It's the week we don't have a Board meeting, so my boss is planning to leave town, too. Stan can actually check in at his office for the last time before his surgery. Using the timeshare instead of a hotel through the website, the two roundtrip tickets (which apparently even qualify for frequent flyer miles--I was amazed because I thought sure these people were a consolidator outfit) and the rental car totaled $711! Did I mention I'm excited?

Busy Fourth

Well, we had a busy Fourth of July. We started off by going downtown to the street fair festivities. Then we headed out in the country for a barbeque with friends from church. Then we drove back into town and served dinner at the Multiple Assistance Center. Then we went to the casino and lost a few bucks. Then we headed home and watched fireworks on TV. Then FINALLY, at 9:57, we decided to jump in the car and drive downtown again to see the fireworks on the waterfront.

Since we live down this lane, I tend to forget how close to civilization we really are. When we started driving downtown to watch the fireworks, there were folks setting off fireworks right across the main street nearest us (maybe 300 feet from our duplex).

Anyway, the fireworks were nice. This year we stayed in the car where we could listen to the radio simulcast.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Twas the Night Before July Fourth

... and Monday night television SUCKED! Stan & I ended up playing Scrabble, which we haven't done in ages. (We didn't plan anything else, because he thought he was supposed to be on a conference call, but that was moved to next week because of the holiday.) We each bingo'ed on back-to-back turns in two of our three games!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Supporting the economy

It's been along time (seems like months) since we've had a day of intense shopping. After church today, we went to the hardware store, Rite Aid, Long's Drugs AND Walgreen's, Target, the cheese factory, Staples, Michael's, and a roadside strawberry stand.

Nothing too exciting. I was looking for a dry erase board that I could put in our shower. My boss and I are always talking about how our best thoughts occur in the shower, but we lose a lot of them before we can write them down. Found something that will work, but not ideal. Target also had a sale on thumb drives, so I got a half-gig one to put all the old wedding files on. Plus a new bath mat... somehow managed to spend $53.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Puttin' on the Ritz

You know how sometimes you just want to get dressed up? Since I have to dress nicely for work, most of the time I wear jeans and a t-shirt and/or sweatshirt on the weekends. I certainly don't want to put on a suit and tie. But yesterday I spent the morning helping a friend move (in jeans and a sweatshirt) and thus was feeling the need to get cleaned up before going over to friends' house last night. We were only going to play cards, but I just really couldn't force myself to put on another set of jeans. Instead, I ironed (!) a pair of cream-colored linen pants that are only appropriate three months out of the year and a shirt. It was the perfect "bar hopping after a day at the beach" outfit. Of course, it was 62 degrees, we didn't go bar hopping, and we hadn't been to the beach. Oh well... I have a sense that the impending trip to Montreal is driving me to practice dressing for show a little. I can't wait to wear the new outfit I found on our trip to SF.

Saturday, July 01, 2006