Sunday, February 28, 2010

Warmer & No Mountains

Bonnie is such a clever pup. She wants to remind us that time is passing by, and we might want to think about where we want to retire, eventually.

I vote for warmer (which is just about anywhere) and no mountains (which freak me out.)

Bonnie wants a yard, and dog treats.

Doug wants a nice, long, growing season for a garden. And we all want to know where our 3 kids will live. So I can photograph them more readily.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Disgusting Frozen Archeology

It's just that winter has become rather sickening. I am just not appeased by the fact that the temperature has crept up from 17 below to 18 above today.

It's. Just. Not. Good. Enough.
Because look at all this snow that we're still stuck with. It's disgusting. It's been here since November. And this same snow--dirty snow--will still be here for another month or so.

See that "Tis" sign? That means "splat", as in an electrified field around the perimeter of our house, trying to keep the mutant rodents away. But they ignore the sign. . . .

. . . and this sign, too. It's in rodent language; the little red rectangle means "Go Away."

But the rodents are invading anyway, adding to the "yuk" of winter. Here's a picture of one of them:

Notice all the rodent droppings around it. In the spring, when we do our archeological melt, peeling away the layers of snow, foot by foot, we'll get to revisit these layers and layers of frozen rodent droppings. It won't be pretty.

This is not pretty, either. There are probably frozen skateboarders, UPS delivery trucks, and snakes under this snow. Probably even that Netflix DVD that I'm sure I dropped into the mail. . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Take me away

I think I could even climb aboard this plane. . . .if I would be guaranteed that it would take me away from here to someplace warm. Someplace significantly warmer than 17 degrees below zero. Take me away, Disney!

Monday, February 22, 2010

And when the snow melts away. . . Oh, Wait! This is Castaway Cay!

At risk of giving you some kind of psychic whiplatch after all that hoar frost, I thought I'd send you back to Castaway Cay, the last day of our Disney Cruise. Do you think the ship could use some repairs?

Remember the little video clip from a few days ago, where everyone was staring intently at the water? Here's a shot of the search for starfish in the water. Notice those clouds moving in, as Mother Nature decided we'd had reached our quota of two hours of sunshine and warmth for the winter. . .

The Mickey-ites waving "goodbye" to us:

And a sunset:

Friday, February 19, 2010

More North Dakota Hoar Frost

More from yesterday's hoar frost. Today wasn't nearly as pretty, but we hit 21 degrees. Woo Hoo!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Frosty Winter Surprise

Winter still has some surprises in store for us! I practically hyperventilated when I saw this this am:

I had to leave half an hour early for work so I could wander around in the snow first and photograph these:

And then, how was I suppose to get any work done when I could see this out my window??????

None of these were black and white photographs, by the way; it was Mother Nature's conversion, not photoshop's.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More of Grand Forks Heat Wave

It got to 17 degrees above today! But here's the really strange thing: I counted 32 cars with their windows open in my 2 mile drive to work!

Winter has addled our brains!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olive Kitteridge and Grand Forks Heat Wave

What is it about this dismal book that has moved into my mind and won't let go? Olive Kitteridge is a book about Olive, through 13 stories, all of which feature her to some extent. Some times she just mentioned; other times the story highlights her perspective and view of the world.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Download Cover

And what a dreary view it is! Olive has almost no illusions about life, other than her faulty expectation that after her years of raising her child, being highly focused on his well-being from her perspective, he will automatically continue to be a central part of her life, and relate to her, living nearby, as she ages. Sure, it's nice if our offspring will feel inclined to be our buddies, as they grow up, but they don't owe this to us. . . and developing lives that are satisfying and not totally "offspring-focused" is our responsibility. Olive doesn't know this; she's not particularly sensitive in her focus on her only son, and she's often dismissive of the people around her.

All of the stories address issues of relationship, but most often, failure of relationship and loneliness.

See what I mean about this book being dismal? For much of the book, Olive is a middle-aged, unappealing, under-appreciated, blunt, unforgiving, almost joyless person, who works very hard, and occasionally reaches out to others in very touching, unexpectedly meaningful, but brutally honest, ways. Part of the problem with this book, though, and why I call it "dismal" is that it is very easy to identify with Olive, to some extent. (And thank God it is only to some extent!) It's also easy to see my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances in Olive, which just makes me sad for all of them.

It's easy for Olive to zero in on the mis-guided and failed attempts of others to connect with one another, often risking nothing of themselves, and constructing lives with little meaning, or hope, and all too often betraying and abandoning those around them.

Strangely, even the unlikable Olive works her way into your heart as you read this book. In her small town, people seem to accommodate to one another, often (but not always) looking out for each other, but just as likely enjoying casual meaness toward one another. As you read this book, you want Olive to get her efforts rewarded, you want her to be less lonely, but to also be, somehow, nicer, to those around her as well. And sometimes there's such a glimmer of hope for Olive; a better life seems just within reach, but, well, there goes Olive, being her usual Olive-self.

Dismal though it is, I give this book a 5-star rating. It's beautifully written, and I found myself highlighting (in my nook) lots of sections, just for the language and the insights.

(Bonnie got a break from her reviews; she didn't need another "dismal" she told me.)

And speaking of that glimmer of hope almost in reach, Grand Forks practically hot a heat wave this past weekend! We got to 27 degrees above zero, and we residents of ND are practically codependent to our state: "It's not so bad! Look, you can even have fun in this climate!"

Look! There was sledding:

and a snow mobile race:

and Doug and I tromping along the river . . .

in snow shoes:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Castaway Cay

Being the astute readers that you are, you will no doubt recognize that these videos are NOT of North Dakota!

On our last day of the cruise, in Castaway Cay, we were treated with several hours of warmth. It wasn't quite warm enough to go snorkeling. . . or even put a swimsuit on, but we actually wore shorts and got our feet in the water.

Serenity Bay is the little beach Disney has for the adults. I saw all these adults standing in their water, staring at their feet. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and had to go see what was going on and it was so cool!

In this first, quite short, video, you'll see me imperiously demand that Doug come into the water with his video camera. I certainly didn't want to take my Nikon into the water. Oh no! But Doug so very nicely obliged and got this footage:

We don't have wild-life like this in North Dakota! I took my life in my hands and touched them!

And this is just a little more of the same, but where I'm rather enthralled by the little critters . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day! (but go away!)

Some say my Valentine's Day perspective is warped. . . .

. . . but you know I'm right!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Palo Staff on the Disney Magic

Handsome guys who made sure we were indulged on the Disney Cruise:

These men all work in Palo, the upscale Italian restaurant on the cruise. Pietro, the maitre d, is from Italy. He was aghast at the current temperatures in our home state of North Dakota (about -30). We're so pathetic; we have so little to brag about . . . If only we could export our weather. . . . (maybe as weapons technology).

The bartender. . .

. . . . a server keeping all the trays of the brunch filled with delights. . . .

. . . and the delightful Igor from Bosnia. He was our waiter for the 3 meals we got to have at Palo, the tea, the brunch and a dinner. "Tea" is an elaborate event in itself, accompanied, of course, by more food and desserts. During brunch and tea, if you manage to tear your eyes away from the feast before you, you can look out the windows at the ocean.

Somehow, Disney manages to find individuals as employees who seem to be selected for their easy-going, cheerful, natures.

While Doug and I were walking around the decks (trying to burn off some of the calories!), one cabin steward noticed my camera and stopped me, grabbed a towel from a room, warmed it with a hair dryer, had me wrap my camera for a minute, then sent us through a door to the "secret verandah" for photos. He said "we Nikon owners have to watch out for each other" and said that many of the staff had learned, some the hard way, to take such measures before leaving the internal air conditioning, for the outside humidity, to protect the cameras. Sweet! (Sorry. No particularly exciting photo from this, however, other than a shot of the ocean.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Commercials 2010 Naughty List

Super Bowl Commercials 2010 Naughty List and boobs: WHAT were they thinking???? Sorry, but are the writers of these ads having a problem with their manhood, or is there some unfortunate incident with women they'd like to talk about?

I don't think there's going to be any purchases of Dockers happening in this household in the next decade or so! An ad that has men (ugly-butted men; couldn't they have at least been cute?) running around proclaiming that they have no pants??????? And need to wear the pants in their houses? Dumb. Perhaps the ad-writers should consider that 1/3 of the Super Bowl viewers are women, and not insult them. (Even I watch the Super Bowl; I, the noise-cancelling-headphone-wearer-during-sports-cause-I-hate-their-sound; I watch it for the commercials.) But that also leaves another 2/3 rds audience who are male, and do they really want to been portrayed as buffoons? Probably not, just as women don't want to be portrayed as Wardens, and ball-and-chains. Tsk, tsk.

But the worst ad was the Flo TV spineless ad, that had the guy walking around, shopping, carrying the bra. Apparently, he's spineless 'cause he wasn't watching tv????? Just yuk. I did notice that these same sponsors, in another ad, are also supporters of breast cancer awareness, and relief efforts in Haiti, so they are perhaps not completely worthless scum. Then again, they might be.

Somehow, I feel more forgiving of the Dodge ad, because at least it was funny. Or at least, I really liked the promise of the toilet seat being down.. . . but do men really, really want to be portrayed as such idiots?????? The men I know aren't. And it shouldn't be only up to women telling these ad writers to clean up their acts; just think how we women would feel if WE were the ones who were being portrayed as such boobs (even though it's quite nice that we have boobs.)


On to more important things, like my photos of the Disney Cruise. I feel that I should give you some kind of warning at this point, like STAY CALM and CONTINUE TO BREATHE, 'cause you're going to see some extraordinary food. And chocolate.

Glorious chocolate.

What the heck; I'll let the photos speak for themselves. These were photos from the brunch we had at Palos on Day 6 of our Disney Cruise.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 5 of the Disney Cruise: Grand Cayman & Sea Explorer

Because we decided we wouldn't be nut-cases (technical term) and snorkel in forecasted 60 degree weather, we decided to book a Disney excursion in Grand Cayman that takes you on a Sea Explorer/Submarine. Sounded like a good compromise.

It involved being tendered to Grand Cayman on a little ferry. And a wait. And then a short walk in Grand Cayman, to a bus. And then a wait to board. And then a wait for the bus to take us to the site of the excursion. And then a wait at the site to board another little ferry. And then a short trip to the actual sort-of submersible little ship.

We pulled up along the little ship, and a practically-a-teenager type person waited and waited until the two ships quit crashing into each other, before tying the two boats together. Then many grinning? happy? scared?. . .sea sick?. . .. people were off-loaded from the little vessel onto our ship, and we were allowed to board the little "Sea Explorer."

I wasn't sure exactly what was suppose to happen, but did ask one couple, as they lurched into a seat as the two boats continued to crash into one another, whether the child-lone-crewperson seemed to know what they were doing. They thought possibly. . . .
And then we prepared to descend. I particularly like to take photographs when I think they might possibly be the last photograph I might ever take in my life. . . . just in case. . . . .

And then, I finally figured out that this little boat actually WASN'T going to descend into the water, but WE just descended a small set of stairs, sat on benches, and looked through glass windows at the ocean around us:

I did really like looking at the schools of fish, and stingrays, and coral. . . and somewhere along the 45 minutes even remembered that my D300s could shoot video (not interesting enough to post.)

This made me wish I really could have gotten skillful at scuba diving. . . . but actually, I really would have just loved to go snorkeling in Mexico or the Grand Caymans, or Castaway Cay. Snorkeling takes me deep enough. . . .

Of course, we then had our return trips of waiting and a boat ride, waiting, and a bus ride, waiting and another boat ride.

All in all, I thought it was way too much "transport" for a very brief excursion. If you ever have a chance to go on a cruise to to the Grand Cayman's, there are much better ways to spend your time than standing or sitting and waiting. The one entertaining feature was a young couple with two little children. . . and the smallest child, about 3 years old, was practically feral!

I kid you not! He bit his mother, breaking the skin. . . . and her method of dealing with this was to try guilt-tripping him by telling him how painful it was "when you came out of me." Dad was just totally out to lunch and no help at all. It was weird. I expected someone to cue the "Jaws" music at any time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Barnes & Noble Nook: The Art of Racing in the Rain

It's just too much! Maybe one of you can talk some sense into Angela! First, she and Doug go on a cruise. And then, while they're on this cruise, Angela reads this book on her nook and asks me to review it!

It's just too much to ask of a dog!

The books is " The Art of Racing in the Rain," by Garth Stein. It's narrated by a sweet, noble, lab mix, on the last day of his life. This fine creature understands that it's time to be. . . . Get This!. . . . "put down" and reminisces about his life.

It's a totally maudlin book. . . a real tear jerker (How could it not be?!), as Enzo philosophically takes you into the devastating details of his owners/family. He tells of his beloved Denny, and the death of sweet, young Eve just a few short years into their marriage.

And, as if that's not sad enough, then Denny has to battle his in-laws to retain custody of the cute little Zoe, their 3 year old daughter.

If you are in the mood for a sad, sweet book, this is perfect. If every once in awhile, lifetime Someone's-going-to-die movies appeal to you, ---like maybe on a rainy, or cold, winter day, you'll like this.

It's not funny, like "Marley and Me," but it's about a dog, and that can never be all bad. But is this really the right book, I ask you, for a Disney Cruise?????

I mean, isn't Disney suppose to be "the happiest place on earth?" You're not suppose to curl up someplace with your nook, and cry! Sheeeeeeesh!

OK. . . . Now I'll turn this over to Angela.

"Errr, Thanks Bonnie. That was. . . . uh. . . . great.
I just want to tell a few more things about the Barnes & Noble Nook. I debated for several years about getting the Kindle. . . and there was just something about only being able to read books that I bought through Kindle that just made me hesitant.

I heard about the Nook in November, and for no apparent reason, with little research, I ordered it! It wasn't even out yet! I knew that it was suppose to have a system in which you could add books from other sources, like or or google books, and this was definitely a selling factor for me.

It's also suppose to work with overdrive, a library system, if your local library subscribes to this, which would allow you to add your library's ebooks onto the reader. I'm hoping our itty bitty little library will eventually have this.

It has a "lend" feature, which allows for the lending of some books, once, to someone else for 14 days. Message boards are springing up that help provide a forum for this "brokering" of exchanges.

I've been able to add pdfs to it, and have acquired a number of free books--at this point, mostly directly through barnes & noble.

One major problem I experienced with the nook was with registering it. It was suppose to work over the AT&T 3G network, including in Edge areas or partner areas. Ha! Not in the hinterlands of North Dakota! Nor apparently, in places like Montana, Wyoming, SD, Kansas. . . only in definite AT&T solid blue 3G areas. Once registered, it works over home wifi, but the initial registration involved my driving to Minneapolis, some 300 miles away, to do this. It wasn't actually necessary. . . just made it easier to order books "over the air" directly onto the nook, without having to sideload them with a USB cable connecting it to my computer.

This past week, the firmware V1.2 came out, and once I installed it, even mine would now register in ND. Others in the "wilderness" areas are now being to register their nooks as well.

This thing is awesome! I'm really enjoying reading on it. You turn pages by just gently swiping a finger very lightly a small distance across the bottom. I can listen to music on it while I read, and even add my own photos to display as the screensavers if I want to. The e-ink display is very easy on the eyes for reading, much nicer than a computer screen, and if I want to, I can change font style and size. (I usually want to if I'm walking on a treadmill or using an exercise bike.) At this point, most recent NYT bestsellers directly from B&N cost between $5 and $10, although depending on what publishers do, this may, unfortunately, change.

A strange aside of the nook are the message boards of B&N regarding the nook. It reminds me of Stephen King's "Under the Dome." If you remember Bonnie's review of this book, people end up in opposing camps, with all sorts of characterological quirks emerging; basically your usual human melodrama whenever you get more than a handful of people together.

That's what the B&N nook boards are like! I kid you not; people have even threatened to take out someone's grandmother on it! And then there are the usual grown-up sorts who basically provide technical assistance as the quirks of a brand new technical gadget are worked out. I find the boards to be fairly addictive reading themselves! (Bonnie thinks I need to get out more!)

And she's right; I need to give her a less challenging assignment for her next review!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stars of the Disney Cruise

What's a cruise without wonderful people?
This first is, I admit, a random pirate that we spotted in an elevator.

And this next pirate is Louis, who never made us walk the plank, but saw to it that we had great food every night:

Sarah is a total sweetheart. Every night she made Disney critters out of towells in our room. Sarah told me that she would be out to sea for about 5 or 6 months, and then would go home to Thailand to see her family for 2 months. Her older sister would then make for her whatever food she wanted. The staff members on ships work extremely long hours. I really liked talking to them, whenever I got a chance, hearing about their families, and asking about what it was like to work on the ship.

I'd read about life on a crew ship for another line, and was glad to hear that the workers on the Disney line tended to be very positive about how Disney treats them. Getting time off is very precious, however, especially if they got a chance to sleep.