The Storks are Nesting

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I just turned 39 and I may have begun nesting. I suppose this typically happens before the child is born but maybe since having him I’ve become aware of what world I want him to be raised in.

That world is one that is away from the humans. It has goats and green things and high speed internet and Amazon Prime and Xbox Live for socializing. And a burn pit! I want to burn things. And I want a pond. I want to be able to build and play with remote control boats... and learn how to fish I guess.

Maybe it's not about him after all... maybe it's all about me and the nest I want to live in?

We have been toying with the idea of moving onto a farm for a few years now. We left an urban lifestyle in Baltimore in '08 to a neighborhood on the cusp of urban but find that we are straddling two worlds. Down the road we have an abandoned urban eatery named “Chicken, Steak and Chocolate Cake” while raising chickens in our city back yard. Not far from the house you can buy Lake Trout wrapped in newspaper for lunch or you can make a sandwich from a tomato grown in our backyard garden. We have a fox and hawks that eye up our hens as well as city rats that steal their food. We are either moving back in or further out. After our trip to the Beekman 1802 farm this weekend our vote is for the later. Further out! We're taking the chickens but leaving the rats.

I was told we were going to visit the farm of these two guys on TV. I didn't know we were going to meet in person the objects of my wife's desire. She rarely has 'crushes' or gets giddy or starstruck but I witnessed all of three of these this weekend. They all happened simultaneously and manifested themselves in a blush and a babble that I've never seen before. She was a schoolgirl in their presence. I'll admit, I was a bit of a schoolboy too.

Three fabulous boys and a girl with a crush #beekman1802 #beekmanboys
 

I was brought up to speed on the Beekman boys on our drive up to Sharon Springs, NY. I knew a little from her love-stuck ramblings in the past but was eager for a crash course. They are two city dwellers from Manhattan who stumbled upon and bought a farm outside of Albany, NY and relocated from the city. They met a local goat farmer who was looking for a new home for his herd and they went into the dairy business. Their story was then featured on the Planet Green Network, one of the Discovery Channel networks, as a TV show about their adventures in farming. Since then, the farm and business has grown and turned into an empire selling more more than goat milk.

When we met Josh and Brent outside of their store in Sharon Springs NY and I told them I'm envious of few people. They are on that list. Relocating to an idyllic farm after living in the city is the realization of the dream we've been nurturing since our son has come around. I love the idea of giving him the space to run and explore and learn from his surroundings while still traveling like we do. And did I mention the pond for remote control boats!

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The idea of being able to stretch out, look at the stars and wait for the Amazon Prime deliveries to roll in on the UPS truck is a fantasy worth exploring more. Maybe our city nest will be relocating to a farm where it belongs.

I May Be A Jedi Now

Obi Stork

In order to get into the Mumbai airport you need a boarding pass. You need to present this to the bearded man with the gun and the second gun in the holster around his waist. Several signs around this large man warn passengers not to even attempt approach him within 2 hours of your departure time. "Passengers MAY not enter the airport before 2 hours of departure!"

We were there an hour or so before this window of opportunity. We didn't have a boarding pass because we were flying standby and would need to talk to a ticket agent to get the pass. It was a hundred degrees outside.

We waited our turn in line. We were on deck and my wife yielded all dialog to me. I approached the man and offered my typical friendly greetings. No response from him. Not even a hint of a smile.

"Boarding pass?" He barked.

"You see, we don't have a boarding pass. We are traveling standby and we have to get our boarding pass from inside." I offered.

"Boarding pass?!" He barked again. Louder this time.

I smiled and laughed. He sounded like Americans when a foreigner doesn't recognize what they are saying so they just speak louder.

Again I tried to explain but he motioned us off to his superior who had a bigger beard and bigger gun.

I explained that we were traveling standby and showed him the paperwork we had to say so and then pulled out my ID and said "We're employees and traveling standby and need to get in to talk to an agent."

"Employees?" He asked looking at my ID. "Where is her ID?" Pointing to my wife.

And this... was the coolest moment... of my life. The coolest (actually, the only cool) thing I have ever said spontaneously.

"She doesn't need an ID." I can't recall, but I hope I waved my hand in a Jedi-like when I said that.

And then he motioned us through. In the rush of the moment, I can't say for certain, but I think he said... "She doesn't need an ID" as he did so.

To Goa With Love

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With the luxury of non revenue travel also comes the joy of spontaneous adventure. Our trip to India would begin with either a flight from Newark into Delhi or Mumbai. We had tentatively prepared an itinerary around Delhi being our entry point but when that flight was full and we were able to score the last two seats on the outbound Mumbai flight we had to rearrange things a bit.

The first of which was to find some place to stay upon arriving at nine pm after a 14 hour flight. A quick room was booked by Susan on her iPhone in her middle seat two rows behind me before the order was given to turn off all electronic devices. Since we were the last to board.... and had bags to stow... this had to be done in minimal time. Although we got an auto reply confirmation that the room was booked we did not get confirmation that transportation would be waiting for us upon arrival. I was hoping for a man with a Stork sign. See these guys every day but never had the luxury myself. Since all we had was an address and no international data plan we would be reliant on the prepaid taxi driver to get us to bed.

We chose the hotel based on a google maps search for its proximity to the airport and the number of positive reviews it had on hotels.com. All was set. Except our driver didn't know where it was as evidenced by his frequent stops to ask other drivers and his exaggerated hand gesturing to his roster with the hotel name on it. Apparently it wasn't where the dispatcher at the airport said it was and was more than the quoted "prepaid" fee. We were lost on the streets of Mumbai surrounded by traffic, congestion and stifling heat.

Bumper to bumper traffic in India is exciting enough without a lost and angry taxi driver who appears to be close to kicking you out for under payment.

From the backseat, we called AT&T and ordered some international data and secured not only our location on Google maps but that of our destination and were able to direct our driver to the red pin on the map. "A few more blocks," I'd say with no guarantee he understood me. What on the map was just a few miles took over an hour to reach.

Our first two nights in India were on Mumbai's Juhu Beach at the Sun and Surf hotel, which apparently is often frequented by Bollywoods elite (or so Wikipedia says). I naturally assumed any handsome couple by the pool was said "elite"... just as they naturally assumed I was a rich American tech startup guru. Although not the most conveniently located for exploring by foot it was easy to hire a driver to take us around and he waited for us at each stop to show us our next destination.

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After two days on the beach we decided to research our next stop. Since Goa was an easy an affordable flight from Mumbai with lots of hotel options... we booked tickets on Jet Konect for the next day. Goa has plenty of resort options during the peak season with beach and water sport activities but we assumed those places would have limited offerings during monsoon season (now). To ensure we would be entertained we found an inn in the heart of Goa's capital city, Punajim. The inn is five generations owned and blocks from the market district. An open outdoor second level dining patio which according to the in room guide book allows guests to "sit on old style chairs and marble top tables over a beer or local feni or sipping a juice, one can observe local town people go about their mundane chores. A little imagination - down memory lane to better times, to an old fashioned world of chivalry and you can envision youthful Romeo's serenading comely damsels from below the balconies or perhaps almost hear the wistful lament of Portuguese Fado emerge from the shadows of twilight. A comfortable bed, good food and drink, an informal warmth and friendly and caring staff soon make the Panajim Inn a romantic home away from home."

The inn is amazing. Since it is off season we had our choice of any room for the same 'basic deluxe' price. Roughly $40 usd a night. We are on the second floor with a balcony overlooking a courtyard with a day school behind it. Having no clock, we are awoken each morning by the school kids running down the alley to class.

On the first day I asked a man down the street if I was going to rain today. He said it's going to rain for the next four months.

As of today, we have been here for two days with plans to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. Although the forecast has called for "rain with spells of heavy rain" we've had no trouble getting out taking a tour of a spice plantation, visiting 16th century churches and shopping the street vendors of Goa. We are off to talk to a friend we've made across the street and then hire a taxi to take us to see some temples. After we hope to have dinner at a local Goan establishment our new friend told us about. Although it's not as good as his moms food, he said.

My Feet Were Fish Food

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I sat with my bare feet dangling into a tank training a few hundred recently imported Chinese flesh eating fish to not only welcome my feet but to think the crust buildup from walking the streets of Mumbai is down right delicious. The "Dr. Fish Foot Treatment" at The Bambooo House (three o's) is temporarily off the menu after their tank sprang a leak killing all the pedicure providing fish. The new recruits aren't currently up to the task yet and are being trained (and starved) by employee volunteers until they are no longer skittish around wiggling toes and are eager for human consumption. "You can try them out if you please. Complimentary, of course." Said the owner mistaking my inquiries for interest in the procedure. "Rather, they can try me out?" I reply. "Yes, yes. You can help train them. They may just run away. But maybe they won't." "It's the maybe they won't I worry about?" "No charge, of course. Sir, no charge" "No, I mean if they don't run away, but are untrained, will they bite too hard? Will I pull my foot out and they not know to let go? "They have very little teeth, sir. Nothing to worry about." I've never had a pedicured or a foot massage before and have no frame of reference on this one so I cannot say with authority that fish do a better job removing dead skin from a man's hairy foot that their loofah wielding human counterpart. But, I can say this. They are much less judgemental. I was much less hesitant to stick my foot in the face of a fish than a fellow human.

Good thing I wear a hat to work. Yep, no shampoo.

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I've had periods in my life when personal hygene wasn't on the top of my list. There were times when I'd use anything that lathered to wash my hair if I was out of shampoo or better yet, something else was closer. I even was told that seawater and toothpaste makes dreadlocks so I 'bathed' in the ocean for a week with a tube of Crest.

So, that being said... I'm not all that disappointed when I'm forced to improvise in a hotel.

There are times when you get all decaf and no regular coffee for the coffee maker. Sometimes you get two fitted sheets on the bed that wrap around you like a burrito. And then there are the days when there is no shampoo but two hairnets.

Today, I will lather twice and rinse once... with soap. And if things don't work out and my already nappy hair turns even nappier - I've got a hat I can tuck it all up under.

My dream of having a band of minstrels.

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On days when the air is still and fog forms over a river, it looks like the Great Wall of China is snaking its way across the Earth. Since many state lines overlay rivers, each state is safely protected from their neighbor. Unless you're driving a VW... it can safely pass through. When I was driving to DCA the other morning, I knew it may be an interesting day as each bridge I drove over suddenly had zero visibility. Reagan National Airport is on the Potomac River (damn that L'Enfant) and was invisible from the employee parking lot. Of course, I didn't call ahead to see if my flight was delayed. We should have the same text alert feature provided to passengers. "Captain, your flight is delayed. The inbound plane making up your flight is holding and soon will divert to an airport with dozens of other planes all in line for fuel too. And then they will all try and depart at the same time, which as you know - ain't gonna happen. Go back to bed. We will send you an alert when we need you."

I never got that SMS. I, along with many others, waited for the fog to lift. I ate the breakfast I brought. Later, I ate my lunch. I entertained old ladies with my silly stories and scared a man when he told me why it wasn't dangerous to take off in the fog.

"If the shit hits the fan," I told him. "And we need to return to the field, there's nowhere to go."

Actually, the fog was only over the airport and there would be plenty of available take-off alternates. He had already gotten under my skin though and his wife, who was in earshot, was a nervous flier.

Oh, the band of minstrels?

We finally departed and got to our destination hours late. The passengers for our next flight were anxiously Greaseawaiting our arrival. They applauded as we walked up to the boarding area. (We weren't taking the same plane that we brought in so they were at a different gate.) They were a lively bunch... they were the cast of the Broadway show Grease and were traveling back to New York after a performance on the road. Several of the band members had their instruments out and were playing for the other stranded passengers.

We were there and the passengers and bags were there - all we needed was an airplane. Danny Zuko told me it had just left. He said the gate agents told them it was needed for another flight but their spirits were lifted when they saw us. Then they sang,

You're the one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey The one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey The one that I want (you are the one I want).

I told them "I'll get us an airplane! We are going to New York!"

Again, they applauded.

One of the stage hands said, "I like a can-do Captain!" He slapped me on the back and added, "Make it happen, Captain!"

There was a pretty good chance we weren't going to New York. The fog had slowed things down and planes were stuck everywhere. My fears were confirmed when I called dispatch and heard commotion in the background. It sounded like a triage unit setup outside a natural disaster. "You're where! But your plane is... uhho. You're not gonna like this." He put me on hold and I smiled to Sandy Olsson.

minstrel_svirac2Dispatch came on the line and said, "I gotta plane for you. It's on the ground. It's at the gate."

I told the passengers over the PA, "Off to gate 48!"

And they followed me like I was the Pied Piper. A man played a stringed instrument behind me. I realized all this time the only thing missing from my life was a traveling band of minstrels to follow me where ever I go.

Since storms cancelled our evening with The Flaming Lips - I had to go to Youtube.

Well, The Flaming Lips show in Philadelphia turned into “A bit of a bath - a big bath” (to quote the Woodstock documentary - although theirs was in reference to the bath the promoters would take upon getting the bill for the festival.) Although we had a nice evening and some great Indian cuisine downtown with some friends at Karma, our evening of Lips was cut off after about 6 songs when storms rolled in from the West and forced us all into the air conditioned “too unbearably hot outside” tent. Or in our case, the air conditioned and cold “too rainy for outside” tent. Actually, first Susan and I cut through the rain into an unused beer tent that had since closed up shop. We were dry for about 60 seconds until we were forced to vacate our dry dwellings by a water saleslady, “You’re not allowed in there!” In the larger tent we waited for the storm to pass while I watched the Weather Channel app on my Google Phone draw red cells around “our current location”. We were warned about the possibility of storms before the set started and were assured by the band they'd play as long as the weather cooperated and the promoters said it was safe. First came the rain and they played on - then the lightning. After an hour in the tent, and amidst the worst of the thunder and lightning, the staff announced we should leave, "the show is over." Although I was optimistic up until this point, I figured the venue had a curfew and this couldn't go on for ever. We left during the Philly accented and encouraging, “you’s all should leave now” but I knew the tone would turn less pleasant as I already heard a few staff grumble about how they were supposed have gone home 5 minutes ago. Into the rain we went. We regrouped with friends at Dave and Busters next door and played video games in wet clothes to wait until the weather gave us the time to walk to the hotel. Sitting in wet clothes at video games took me back to Adventure Island in Tampa and playing Pole Position in a wet bathing suit. Much like then, I’d have hated to be the kid in the seat after me. Ah well, all in all the bit of the set we saw was fun. Lots of confetti and balloons and great music. Next time, we will have to see them inside in August.

Nana, Ms. Pac-Man and the One Armed Bandit

Nana in Virginia City While in Lake Tahoe, we took a trip to Virginia City where the ladies in the group were happy to find MORE slot machines. I followed my Nana waiting for it "to hit."

"No Christopher, this one is about to hit." She'd say.

Back at one of the casinos in Tahoe, while the others were gambling upstairs, I spent an hour and a few dollars in the gameroom trying to break the high score on Ms. Pac-Man. While there were many kids down there with me, none shared in my excitement as I came within a few thousand of EEE's score. Soon after I gave up on the record I got served by a little kid on Dance Dance Revolution. I thought I was a better dancer after a few beers?

6 hours ahead to 3 hours behind

On Woensdag (Wednesday), we left Amsterdam for Reno. Well, we attempted to leave Amsterdam for Reno. The daily Usairways flight from AMS to PHL was full and rather than roll the dice on one flight we figured a safer bet would be to roll the dice on two relatively full flights out of Frankfurt. And if we didn't make these flights? Hey, we get to spend the night in Germany! Fortunately, we had three days to meet my folks and grandparents in Reno. This was Wednesday and we were to meet them Friday.  We bought two tickets on the ICE train to Germany. It's a highspeed train that tops out at 175MPH between cities! Although the room we were in held six, we only shared it with one lady who played Sudoku in German. Sudoku is the international language of road warriors.

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Upon arrival in Frankfurt, we only had an hour before the first of our two options for the states so we sprinted straight for the ticket counter. This flight was to Charlotte and from there we had a few options to get to Phoenix and then off to Reno.

I didn't have to understand German to know the agent wasn't happy about us showing up an hour before departure for an international flight. I'm bearded with a backpack, smiling telling her, "Today, tomorrow, next week. Whenever. No stress." 

"Run!" She says. "You may make it."

So much for pleasantries.

At security I got manhandled. I should have paid him for the attention he gave me. Security was both fast and friendly and done at the gate so the line was short. (The boarding was nearly finished so there was no line.)

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We were the second from the last of the free loaders to get on and sat separate from each other which was unfortunate because typically I get the meaty portions of Susan's meal. My seat mate didn't seem too interested in abliging me in my coachclass habits. "You gonna eat your fat?"

Landed in CLT and I made the command decision to call it a day and spend the night in a hotel. The Phoenix flights were full - as were the connecting flights to Reno and rather than spend all day cramped in a plane, we'd rest and try again in the morning. I called the same hotel we stay at with the airline since it has several nasty food options within a walk that all sounded pretty good after a day of traveling - Waffle house, Cracker Barrel and some sloppy buffet place with squeaky green beans and overly buttered rolls.

Looking at the next days flight options, the most open westbound flight was an early San Francisco flight that would get us in at 9am PT. We could spend the day in San Francisco and then take an early morning Gotobus to Reno for $30 each. We found this option after Googling, "bus Reno from San Francisco".

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And this is where we are now... hours from the bus ride to Reno! The bus caters to the casino crowd and with a few extra bucks you can buy some chips for Harrah's and get a free steak. Since the bus leaves from Chinatown, I'm hoping it's full of aging chinese ladies off for a day at the casino. And us, two weary travelers with bulging backpacks and well used ipods.

Dutch appliances puzzle us

So after a few weeks I think we've finally figured out how to use the appliances on the houseboat. We downloaded a few manuals, asked around a bit but ultimately it was trial and error that came through. The clothes do finally come out smelling clean but still incredibly wet and while we still haven't figured out the dryer, this may be the reason it takes a few cycles to dry. As you can see, most of the numbers seem to correspond with times but it's the sequence in which you push buttons that hasn't come easy. Most of the panel buttons give you an 'ERR' if pushed at the wrong time. And two "start" buttons? For a few tries, I thought CENTRIFUGEN was a spin cycle, but - still wet.

Since Snelfoto signs hang near 1 hour photo booths, Snelwas naturally means quick wash. Granted - all this would be easy with Babelfish (yes - from HGTTG), but I prefer to speculate while on vacation. I've been on a digital diet.

 

And look at the DRYER!.  Dryer

There is a display that isn't photo'd that gives a series of icons to correspond with the letters. A few shaded water drops versus a few unshaded water drops? Several shaded suns rather than a few unshaded ones? And you don't have the option for a bit of both.

"I'd like three dark water drops next to a solid white sun?"

We've come up with "A" a few times seems to do the trick.

Interesting feature - you have to drain the water pan every couple of cycles. Rather than spit the water out into drainage - it collects in a pan under the machine. Pure spent water from a days activities!