Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Vacation in the Great Indoors

If you only read yesterday's post, you might get the feeling like you were missing something. This should fill in the gaps.

We took a vacation. Goodness knows, we needed one. Deborah foresaw this need back in January, and went to the local Ramada and got one of each brochure on the rack. After a lot of phone calls and investigation, she picked out the Kalahari resort and waterpark in Sandusky, Ohio.

Did I mention that this is an indoor waterpark? I've been to several while I was in California and Spain — pretty much ideal places for an outdoor waterpark — but this one was built to appeal to us poor midwesterners that don't have year-round access to warm, sunny skies. There wasn't any need for sunscreen or insect repellent, even. We scarcely knew what the real weather was like outside. It currently bills itself as "Ohio's largest indoor waterpark" with signs promising "America's largest indoor waterpark" come December.

The place was big. Real big. I haven't altered this shot, other than to do some color correction. Fortunately, our room wasn't too far down this hallway.

We got there on Monday afternoon in what was definitely the off-season. The parking lot, built for thousands of cars, held perhaps twenty. Lines for the slides and rides were virtually non-existent. We practically had the place to ourselves.

The "Leopard's Lair" was definitely the centerpiece of the waterpark, with all kinds of slides, water wheels, valves, and hoses all over the place. A water-wheel-driven bell counted off the seconds until the enormous bucket at the top would be full and dump out again. So there was a constant clanging amidst the roar that gave the place the feel of some huge, steamy factory.

The kids were scared at first of the noise of the place — a constant, thundering roar, along with clanging, the screams of people on various rides, and the weird wail of the Zip Coaster launching rafts into weightlessness. We all got used to it pretty quickly, though.

Despite the enormity of the place, every inch of the space was accounted for, so much so that it sometimes was difficult to figure out where the entrance to a particular attraction was. We kept discovering more things, like a "lazy river" inner-tube ride (Fiona's favorite) or the not-immediately-evident kids' area.

Fiona and Aiden enjoy the water slide in the kids' pool. At first, they were afraid of the place, and all its noise and splashing, but they were having a blast by the third day.

This is probably one of my favorite shots that I got on this trip. Aiden liked to do whatever I was doing while it was my turn to watch the kids at the kiddie pool, and he sat down beside me and flashed me this huge grin.

Can you find Deborah?

They had dry entertainment, too. This was a huge "treehouse" with all sorts of ladders and tunnels, and lots of little rubber balls. Here, Fiona discovers what happens if you put a ball into a fast column of air. We also discovered that you can get two of them going at the same time — they go around each other in a fascinating, orbiting dance.

Since it was Paul's birthday, we brought him along. And we gave him a shirt, too, but he doesn't know that yet in this picture.

Here, fishy, fishy, fishy. Being the aquarist that I am, I had to stop and admire the fishtanks and their denizens. This tank was set into the side of a swimwear shop.

One aspect of the place I didn't care for much was the unspoken attitude of "we will have all your money before you leave." I would have blogged about this during the trip, but paying $9.95 per day to try to access the internet through a wonky infrared keyboard hooked up to the TV, or $5.95 per 15 minute increment to use the much nicer Mac down in the lobby seemed a bit excessive, especially when I've been plenty of other places that provided a computer room for free. Our restaurant the first evening was a bit of a shock, too — granted, there were five of us, and we were treating Paul for his birthday, but it's the most I've paid for a meal, ever. They did have enough things that actually interested me, though (like surf lessons) that they ended up with a fair amount anyway.

A silly souvenir. Some shops sold the usual junk (Oh yes, I want a shot glass with the hotel's name on it. Not.) but others had handmade items, like this zebra mask. Deborah's modeling it here, but Paul really made it look right, especially while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

An African theme was evident throughout the place, many of the decorations being apparently genuine imports, which I found surprising. Fiona said that this must be a porcupine. I'll go for that explanation.

OK, I've taken some kidding about my blog being "all food, all the time" but this really does deserve a mention. This is the Kalahari Wrap at the Karoo Marketplace restaurant, and it's yummy.

Yes, we chlorinate our water. When we went, my swim suit was the same color inside and out. Now, instead of being all green, the outside is a sort of odd orange. In all fairness, we were in the water about six or seven hours per day.

All in all, we had a fun, relaxing time. With all the amazing number of things that could have gone wrong on such a trip, none of them did. No one felt left out, or unduly imposed upon. We all got to enjoy what we wanted to do.

We're back home now, and taking a big breath before life begins again.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hang Ten

Always wave your arms about wildly. It helps.

One of the featured attractions at the Kalahari is the ability to surf indoors. Having spent eight years in California just slightly too far away from the coast — I could bike to Seal Beach and back in a day — this exerted a powerful pull on my imagination. I used to skate; how hard could it be to learn to surf...? $30 and a waiver later, I was signed up for surfing lessons.

I deeply appreciated the language of the waiver. It gave you a pretty good idea of what to expect. I think I did most of the things it mentions. It wasn't until I got there that I also saw signs suggesting more substantial clothing than what I had on; the flow of water is quite capable of removing your shorts. And there's a live video feed that goes throughout the hotel...

My instructor for the evening seemed to be wiping out on the surfboard about as much as me, so after a while, we switched to boogie boards, which were more his forté. That went much more smoothly.

To be honest, though, "more smoothly" is a little like saying, "slightly less fattening than bacon." I was staying on the board more, but being down lower made me feel like I was facing down two dozen fire hoses. I think I filtered a few thousnad gallons through my eyeballs alone. And I was still getting dumped every minute or two...

[cue surf music] Hahahahaha... wipeout!

Maybe the point of a vacation is to beat you up so badly that going back to normal life seems like a treat.

Or maybe that's just my idea of fun... :-)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We're broke, but we have a pretty kitchen to show for it

Day one

If a kitchen installation could ever be said to "lurk," well, then, this counter and cabinets definitely lurked. The bowing down in the middle isn't your imagination.

Gotta disconnect the plumbing first...

...and then you can pull out the implements of destruction. There's something very satisfying about tearing up something that's been irking you for years. I even got a sawzall so that I could enjoy the destruction even more.

Ewwww. All that black stuff is where the sink and faucet had been leaking, and rotting out the countertop.

Now, to start prying it away from the wall. It's obvious that whoever did this originally built it all by hand.

Huh, that was easy. It wasn't even attached. My guess is that this house used to have a much wider stove, and when that was replaced with a modern, narrower unit, they built this extra cabinet to take up the space.

The rest wasn't so easy. Sometime around midnight, Paul and I finally defeated all the rest of the original builder's safeguards and booby traps, and hauled the whole thing out to the carport. We stopped to survey what was left behind.

There really is no such color as that, is there? I used to complain quite a bit about having carpet in the kitchen, but now that I've seen the alternative, I think I'll be quiet. I think it's linoleum... at this point, though, it acted more like oily, crumbling cardboard.

Day two

A few hours later, bright and early, Paul Mundinger of Warsaw Custom Cabinets showed up, and he and his assistant (I think his name was Mark?) started a very well-rehearsed show.

Paul has been doing this for 29 years. Can you tell?

It was fascinating to watch these guys. I absorbed as much as I could — which was all the easier, because Paul was training the new guy, and was explaining everything he was doing the whole time.

One aspect of the construction I thought was funny was that whenever they had a part lined up, and they were ready for the other person to put in the screw, they'd say "George!" I asked why. Turns out that many years ago, someone had said, "No!" and Paul had heard "Go!" and... well, I can imagine. "George" doesn't rhyme with anything else they do, so they use that for their signal.

Ta dah!

Painting the shed, we sing "Alleluia!"

When choosing friends and relatives, you should make sure they all have useful talents which you can expoit for your own gain. That way you won't have to pay them!

I'm kidding, of course. We did buy them lunch...

Having Joel and Paul — both profesional painters — help out with this project made an enormous difference. The shed looks so much better now.

Wait, are they helping me, or am I helping them...?

The only downer during the whole process was Joel getting a call from his boss during the middle of the project. When Joel told him what we were doing, his boss said, "Oh, if I had known, I could have given you 10 gallons of Duration (about $450 worth of premium paint) for free." ....sigh. I'll be sure to ask next time!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Phoenix Rises, Again

Someone must be praying over my blog.

Last night, as I was taking out the trash, I saw our old '77 Phoenix sitting on the grass, where Joel, Paul and I had pushed it out of the way — it took all three of us — so that we could paint the shed. I'd been trying to get it running again for months — years? — now, and I was just about ready to call the junkyard to come and get it.

Maybe moving it to a different place will have made some difference, I thought, as I deposited my trash, and walked over to look at it wistfully. I banged the passenger door open and closed a few times. But even if it did run, how would I keep the door shut? On a whim, I punched the lock knob down — that's how old this is thing is, it has little plungers for the locks — and gave the door a half-hearted swing. It closed. And locked.


How many times had I tried that before? A hundred? Two hundred times? Why did it work this time? I silently vowed never to open that door again.

If that worked, maybe I should try starting it again. I slunk into the driver's seat with some apprehension.

Chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy.

I paused in a sad way.

Chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-boom-boom-shibbidy-boom chibbidy.

Wait, what was that?

Chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-shibbidy chibbidy-boom-shibbidy chibbidy-boom-boom-shibbidy-boom chibbidy. Chibbidy-shibbidy-boom boom-boom-boom chibbidy-boom-boom badbadabadabada-ROOOOOOOOOM.

Black soot scorched the grass. A great foul cloud enveloped the landscape. The beast roared. And I sat there, scared. Dear God, it started. It runs. The door closes. What does that mean? What's going to happen that I need to have this thing running? My eyes were wide with amazement and incomprehension. I drove it around the block a few times, scarcely daring to believe.

I started to head out to put some fresh gas in it, but it occurred to me that Deborah thought I was just taking out the trash. So I headed back inside. After supper, it started again, and I got some input from my car-parts store on a good course of action to deal with the after-effects of a long dormant period. (Turns out the guy restores old Moto Guzzis. We swapped stories.) Two of the guys came out of the shop just to have a look at it. That's a great old car, they said.


My cup overfloweth...

The garden has certainly been productive. That's just from one picking, and there are plenty more, ripening. What in the world am I going to do with this many peppers?

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cart Chronicles

I realized when I first started putting this post together that a fair amount of this is going to sound a bit like "Ruth got out of the hospital." The problem is, you don't necessarily know who Ruth is, and you certainly don't know what landed her in the hospital.

So I need to back up a bit.

Several decades ago, my father-in-law, then a missionary in Quito, Ecuador, started putting together a bike trailer to haul his kids around in. As the kids got larger, and the hillside that he lived on didn't get any less steep, he decided to electrify it, and, through a near-constant evolutionary process (or intelligent design with a lot of revisions, if you'd rather) he came up with a small, battery-powered vehicle, known to the family as The Cart.

This didn't go unnoticed, either; it was a bit of a trademark, actually, as, to my knowledge, they never owned a gasoline-powered car while they were there. This was daily transport, and unusual enough to get him on Ecuadorian TV at one point.

Once Deborah's parents retired, though, the cart came back with them, and sat; the 12-15 mile range wasn't practical in rural New Hampshire. So, when they came to visit, they brought it with them.

Seats four, comfortably!

It took a little work to get it going again — a few new bulbs and $180 worth of deep-cycle marine batteries — but within a few hours, it was ready to take for spins around the block, and to show off a bit for our neighbors...

I totally misjudged the speed, weight, and braking ability, big time. Fortunately, Tiffany jumped, and, with all the weight over the rear axle, the front end of the cart hopped the curb without damage to man or machine. Chris says he's not going to press charges. :o)

This was an extremely welcome addition to the stable, too, because Deborah needed to take our one working car in order to get to work and class, and I was effectively stuck at home. The cart opened up all sorts of around-town possibilities.

But, sadly, the fun was short-lived: I knew I had to keep the batteries from shifting around, but it never occurred to me to prevent them from bouncing up. I was tooling around Winona Lake with the kids one afternoon, and we hit a rough patch of pavement. The batteries bounced. They made contact with the aluminum frame. 36 volts and a great number of amps sparked, the cart lurched, and then everything was still.

Providentially, we broke down right in front of some folks we knew, and they opened their garage and provided toys for the kids to play with while I checked out the damage.

I watched this wire melt before my eyes.

Once it was obvious that we weren't going anywhere in the cart, our friends took us home, and I came back a few hours later with a borrowed pickup to get the cart.

There she sits. Did you ever wonder why I had made a large door in the side of my shed?

So it's all very sad. I'm trying to diagnose the poor beast, but electical circuits aren't my specialty. Deborah and I were talking about saving up some money to get her father to come down and take a look at it. He says he's sure he could get it running again pretty quickly.

I miss it already. And I didn't even grow up with it!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Good Recommendation

I was wandering around Wal-Mart at 11:30 last night, looking for an alarm clock. (They're in the furniture section, by the way.) I was completely worn out, and a bit overwhelmed by the variety, and worried about the rather disparate needs I have in an alarm clock — see, our bed is about six feet in the air, and several previous alarms have met their doom from a lesser height. I needed one with a pleasant sound; Deborah's favorite alarm clock (which she still implies that I broke on purpose) literally made me jump nearly a foot off the bed when it went off. And, I wanted one that I could see in the night if I wanted to, but that wouldn't keep me awake with the glare. I thought a snooze button might be a good idea, too. It was all too much to process. Almost without thinking, I closed my eyes, and said, "God, give me wisdom in picking out an alarm clock. It's important." When I opened my eyes, they were immediately drawn to one clock — it was a weird sensation, like my eyes had handles — and locked onto it. That one? Well, I hadn't wanted to be greedy; it was more than the $5 I'd planned on spending, but not by much. I noted the need for batteries, bought it, and went home. Paul was home when I got there, and started raving about the clock, how he had one just like it, and it was the best one he'd ever had. I just smiled. It was a nice confirmation of what I already knew: God knows what he's doing, and he's taking care of me, even in the dark days of my insane schedule.

That's what coffee is for, right?

Last night, I wonderd to myself, "Why am I so tired?" Then I got to thinking about it. Let's see:

  • I'm working 40 hours a week.
  • My supervisor is on vacation, so I get to manage the department in her stead.
  • I'm coming home in the middle of that for about 24 hours a week so that I can watch the kids so that Deborah can go to work and go to class.
  • I'm trying to finalize the deal on my motorcycle parts drawing.
  • I'm painting my shed.
  • I'm renovating my attic.
  • I'm coordinating the construction of new lower cabinets for my kitchen, wrangling plumbers, and getting ready to do remove the old cabinets myself — and I need to keep them largely intact, as I've found someone who will haul it away for free so that he can use them as a workbench in his garage.
  • I'm trying to finish collating 1,500 copies of my book. By hand.
  • I'm transferring my domain name and business website to another server.
  • Diagnose and fix an electric car, when I know astoundingly little about electrical circuits.
  • Diagnose and fix a gas-powered car, when I know astoundingly little about carburetors.

Oh, and, most of it's fairly urgent.

The cracks are starting to show. Don't they make some sort of spackle for that?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eek! A Spider!

I don't normally get too excited about spiders. I'll step on them if my family members insist, but for the most part, I like to let them control the other bugs. Last night, by contrast, while I was re-installing some insulation in the shed, I saw one crawl out of the batting towards my hand. It was just a few inches in front of my eyes, so I could see a violin-shaped marking on it's back quite plainly. I got my hand out of there in a hurry, and found the closest thing I thought would killing without destroying it — a can of artist's fixatif (well, at least he won't smudge now...?) — but despite the heavy spray, he got away. I could be wrong — I don't have the body for identification — but I think that's as close as I've gotten to a brown recluse ("fiddleback") spider. I'd have liked to have known for sure. Official sources claim that they don't live this far north, but there's quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that says they do. Oh, well. No bite, no spider, and only a little scary moment of adventure.