Friday, June 23, 2017

Elizabeth crafts a souvenir: Part 2

In a world where souvenirs are often plastic and made in China, one woman dares to be different ... even crafty.

This summer, E-5 Productions presents: Elizabeth Crafts a Souvenir Part 2 (Hammer Time)

The best $1 I spent

Ryan loves long car trips. He also really loves to play games on long car trips.

His favorite is the license plate game. Really.

In the past, I'd wake up from a nap and he'd start listing states for me to document. After years of hastily scribbled lists in his reporter notebooks, I broke down last fall and bought an app that allows us to track them all.

The most we'd gotten was 47 during our trip to Florida in March.

We ultimately added Montana and Nebraska on our trip to Florida in March, missing only Utah, Nevada and Hawaii.

Unfortunately, that app wouldn't update with the new version of iOS. So I bought another license plate app, States & Plates, to use for this trip. (A free version is available, but I ponied up the money for the ad-free version.) Ryan loves this version because it allows you to pick a starting state (Arizona) and assigns points based on the distance to the different states you spot.

Admittedly, this quest for 50 does sometimes require cruising the parking lots of toursist spots (like those at the Grand Canyon).

At one point Saturday, he turned right when the sign clearly directed us to "Turn left to exit."

When I pointed out the mistake, Ryan just grinned and said, "But there might be a Nebraska plate in this parking lot" on the right.
There wasn't one in that parking lot, but we did finally locate a Nebraska - in the third parking lot we tried that day as we departed the park.

That was state no. 43. We found the elusive Hawaii plate while walking through a parking lot in Flagstaff.

Mississippi, the state that is unusually difficult even when traveling in the South, was spotted during a serendipitous walk through a YMCA parking lot in Phoenix.

And we eventually recognized a Louisiana. That state and California need to differentiate their primary plates. They use the same red script at top that ends with an "a." Even the "L" and "C" look alike from a car-length away. The difference? A blue border on Louisiana.

We finished the western trip with 48 (missing only Rhode Island and Maine). Now, to convince Ryan that we aren't perpetually playing (he wants to start over again back in Harrisonburg).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sign of the day: Ryan notices a missing L

No explanation necessary, I hope. Ryan's goofy grin says it all.

(At least five of the eight elevators in the hotel suffer from this same "spelling error." Another just says "P.")

Monday, June 19, 2017

Elizabeth's POV: The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hike at the Grand Canyon

No one has ever mistaken me for a nature girl. I have steadfastly refused to "camp" through 12 years of marriage, much to Ryan's dismay (those early years of Girl Scout camping thoroughly cured me of any desire to sleep, cook or use the bathroom outdoors). Earlier on this trip, Gena asked with obvious concern whether I had even brought sneakers on the trip. (I reassured her that I had.)

Therefore, I was trepidatious about the Grand Canyon leg of this vacation. Ryan kept talking about hiking - wandering aimlessly on trails 6 to 8 miles long in blazing heat. Obviously I survived, but it was a tough day. Ryan on several occasions accused me of "Brooke-ing" it - a reference that likely will make sense only if you watched the 29th season of the Amazing Race.

Early on in our hike. Notice the lack of a smile. 

The National Park Service tells you to expect any hike to take twice as long on the way up. Hike down into the Grand Canyon an hour, and expect it to take two to get back. Inexplicably to me, it gets far hotter as you go down - it was around 87 degrees at the rim Friday but 109 at the bottom. The park was under an extreme heat alert.

We left for our hike about 8:45 a.m. They really recommend that you leave earlier than that to avoid hiking during the worst of the sun (10 a.m.-4p.m.). I didn't really enjoy the way down because I was too nervous about tripping and about how far Ryan was going to push us to go. Fortunately, I think Ryan got some really nice pictures that I can look at later.

A view from not-quite-halfway down the trail. 

The way back was torture. I stopped -- literally -- at every shady rock or after five minutes, whichever came first. Even Ryan admitted afterward that my face was such a vivid shade of red that he wasn't sure I was going to make it.

 I had no idea Ryan snapped this shot, but I remember exactly what I was thinking: How am I ever going to get all the way back up there?
But I did. I'm not eager to do it again, but I did come away with some valuable lessons that I now call "The Indoor Girl's Guide to Surviving the Grand Canyon" (patent pending):
  1. Buy hiking boots. My sneakers didn't give me enough grip on the clay trails, and I slid often. I also didn't have the ankle support that I needed. Alternatively, I might have fared better with walking sticks to improve my balance.
  2. Pack higher sunscreen than you think you'll need. The NPS recommends SPF 50 at minimum. We had that on our arms and legs, but I could have used it for my face, too. Also remember to reapply sunscreen after you get to the top of the trail because you will have sweated most of it off.
  3. Bring one more bottle of water than you think you'll need. We drained 4 bottles, then refilled them on the way back. We ultimately had one left at the top. I had to persuade Ryan to bring the 4th, but even he admitted it was a good idea afterward. 
  4. Make sure your salty snack (to off-set your water intake) actually contains salt. We brought low-sodium trail mix by accident. Gena also recommended bringing Gatorade; helpful advice that we ignored because I think Gatorade tastes disgusting. But we bought a bottle after reaching the rim, and I don't think anything has ever tasted better in my entire life. 
  5. Sunglasses and a hat are essential. Lighter-colored clothes are recommended and would have been nice. I didn't have any, since I almost exclusively travel with black clothes to avoid ruining them with my constant spills. No matter what color you wear, you will be coated in red dust that has mixed with your sweat to form a gross paste. 
  6. Go at 5 a.m. Even though you think nothing civilized happens that early in the morning, you will save yourself a world of pain by being off the trail by 9.
  7. Remember that your Significant Other has many great qualities, even if none of them were on display on this particular day. And hope that your SO remembers the same about you.
    Ryan in his "King of the World" moment at the nadir of our hike. 
  8. Never ever hike with someone training for a marathon. Ryan ran a half in April and is training for the full 26.2 in September. I am in better shape than I have been in years thanks to two months of barre and Pilates classes that have strengthened my legs and core. Still, I did not have the fitness level to go as far as I did, and should have argued more firmly with Ryan about it. His energy and enthusiasm were super annoying - he never sat down once and when we got to the top, we said "Ready to hike the rim trail?" In the blazing sun! For miles! Next time, I'll be sure to invite friends to come with us - one who can go my pace and one who can go his. Otherwise, I fear the result will be either death or divorce. 
Dessert in the desert was the highlight of the day. 
For Ryan's radically different perspective, read this post.

Ryan's POV: At the Grand Canyon, everything is awesome

What a sight.
Hiking is awesome (lots of exclamation points). Hiking the Grand Canyon is awesomer (even more exclamation points) because it lends itself to epic challenges – the kind myths are made of: Humans versus nature; Humans versus gravity; Humans versus mortality; Humans versus humans with selfie sticks.

Our Grand Canyon trip had all the major elements of a classic heroic tale that Joseph Campbell outlined. He’s the guy who figured out that myths across different cultures -- and even modern epic stories such as Star Wars – have the same key plot points. Now we can add “Ryan and Elizabeth’s Grand Canyon hike” to that canon.

First, the call to adventure

Adventure awaits!
Naturally, for us, it was seeing the enormous gorge that plunges more than 6,000 feet. It’s obviously meant to be trekked or climbed or somehow experienced – not just seen from a distance. Otherwise, it’s just a “big hole with lots of rocks,” as Gena and John’s daughter Ellie described the Grand Canyon when she was three.

Granted, it was supposed to be 109 degrees down in the canyon on the day we decided to go. And yes, the trail is steep in places. And the occasional misstep could drop you several hundred feet. So there might have been some initial hesitance on Elizabeth’s part. But that’s what has to happen for heroes – an initial refusal of the call to adventure. It’s like when Luke Skywalker first ignores the instinct to help Princess Leia because he feels obligated to help Uncle Owen with the harvest.

Crossing the first threshold

Nevertheless, a reluctant Elizabeth and I set off from our cabin and down the Bright Angel Trail on Friday morning. The plan was to walk a couple miles down, then turn around -- and not to go the full six miles to the Colorado River, which the Grand Canyon folks strongly discourage doing in one day during the hot season.

But not even a mile into our hike, Elizabeth made it clear that she was not impressed. I think her exact words were: “OK, can we turn around now?” This was a bit worrisome because, at that point, we were still going downhill.

Initiation and road of trials

We pushed on. There were pictures to take.

Long way down. 
And all kinds of people of all ages were working their way up and down the trail. One guy was running it. Presumably he was going to run back up, but I really didn’t want to stick around to find out. Heroes don’t get lapped.

We did have to dodge other trail-blocking tourists with their selfie sticks, which really should be sold with companion self-awareness sticks to protect others – and sometimes the users themselves. One lady told us a ranger said 34 people died at the Grand Canyon the first year of the selfie stick and eight already fell to their deaths this year, she said. Those numbers don’t seem to be accurate, according to a review of news articles and a FiveThirtyEight analysis of Grand Canyon deaths.

In fact, it seems that environmental factors, such as dying of dehydration or extreme heat, is a bigger concern than falling, according to the authors of a Grand Canyon death book called “Over the Edge.” (What else would it be called?)

So it’s a good thing Elizabeth had us pack four bottles of water.

On we went, forging ahead past the 2-mile rest-stop. We had gone far enough that the condors that circle the canyon were now above us, though I couldn’t seem to figure out the camera’s manual settings fast enough to get decent snapshots of them.

But there was other wildlife to capture.

This little guy posed for the camera.
This bighorn sheep ran down the side of a cliff across the canyon from us.  Yay for the zoom lens. 

Woman as temptress

Elizabeth: Can we please turn around now?!?!?

Ryan: Just a little farther.

More trials

A few twists and turns beyond the 2-mile mark, Elizabeth’s cheeks began looking flushed. So we started heading the two-and-a-half miles back up. Straight up at some points, although we somehow were passed by a few people in their 70s because we kept stopping to rest. (I’m not complaining, I’m just sayin’ …)

Yep, that's a sign with a dude puking.

The ultimate boon

We achieved the goal of the quest and finally made it back to the top. We were not lapped by the runner. And we did the five-mile round trip in three hours.

Temptation away from the true path

OK, this one really doesn’t work if you take it literally. Neither of us was tempted to walk/fall off the trail.

Figuratively, though, Elizabeth did suggest several times that we should take a shuttle bus (a shuttle bus!?!?!) to one of the western points to watch the sunset.


This, according to Campbell is the point in which the hero realizes a greater understanding. For me and Elizabeth, I think it was the realization that flatter, shadier paths are a happy compromise.

So we agreed to start walking the rim path and perhaps catch a shuttle to the farthest lookout point.

Happy apotheosis!
The magic flight

After walking about three miles around the rim trail, we settled in to watch the sunset at the second-to-last watch point. That’s where I finally got my condor action shots (after about 40 tries).

I have a lot of crappy, blurry far-away shots, so this was the best I got. 

Without any clouds, the sunset was kind of a monochrome gold, rather than a burst of magentas, blues and lavenders, but overall it was good.

Refusal of the return

Elizabeth: Should we take the shuttle back?

Ryan: Nah, the line’s too long. Who wants to stand around like cattle. Let’s hoof it.

The crossing of the return threshold

Clearly, heroes aren’t always smart. We started walking the three miles back in the fast-fading light with the wildlife (coyotes?) lurking in the darkness. Shuttle buses kept passing us. And we returned to the village just as the final hues of twilight disappeared.

Freedom to live

This is where Campbell says the hero learns to live in the moment. No regrets. No fear. Just an epic blog post to write.

Also check out Elizabeth's more tragic take on our epic Grand Canyon experience. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Can anyone do something about these barnacles?

Ryan and I spent our last day in San Diego at the beach, sans cellphones. So we have no pictures to prove how much we enjoyed ourselves. You'll just have to trust us.

The Ocean Beach dog beach early in the morning.

First, our location was perfect. We got the most adorable Ocean Beach cottage through Airbnb. It was less than 100 yards from the ocean (the sand started about 10 feet from our front door).

The sunset view from our porch.
Ryan blogging on our porch in the morning.

Second, we just really love the beach, though perhaps not for the reasons you think. This pie chart shows approximately how we spend our time at any sandy shore:

Wednesday's people watching yielded a few gems: the woman who loudly lectured her kid for throwing a bottle into the ocean, the creepy middle-aged man who complimented a twenty-something woman on her lack of tattoos before asking for her phone number, and the two teenagers whom we watched for 30 minutes but never figured out whether they were dating or siblings (or perhaps dating step-siblings?)

The best exchange by far was between a 60-ish woman in a fuchsia swim cap and the lifeguard on duty at stand No. 3.

Fuchsia swim cap approaches life guard stand, holding a shell in her hand. "These barnacle shells are really sharp," she says. "They're dangerous."

Lifeguard No. 3: "Yep." She resumes scanning horizon.

Fuchsia swim cap: "Well, can't you all pick them up?"

Lifeguard No. 3 now peers down at fuchsia swim cap. "All of them? I'm pretty sure that's impossible."

Fuchsia swim cap seems shocked by this answer.  She huffs, "I guess I can just throw this one under your stand so no one gets cut on it."

Lifeguard No. 3: "Sounds good."

Ryan has spent the last two days randomly asking if someone can do something about the barnacles. (Did I mention that we're now in the desert?)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sign(s) of the Day: Occupied

Ryan mocked me for saying that I was super impressed with the women's bathrooms at Petco Park. I stand by my praise though.

The Padres have invested in a product called Peep No More. These Occupied/Available signs on every door made it easy to quickly locate an empty stall without any awkward peeping, just as the name promises.

Peep No More took part in the MLB Trade Show in 2014 and apparently is now also in AT&T Park in San Francisco. The company recognized as the NCET Microenterprise of the Year, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The Phoenix Convention Center, where I'm attending a conference this week, could totally benefit from investing in Peep No More. On the conference's first day, I myself bent down once to check for the presence of feet and witnessed two embarrassing attempted entries into occupied stalls.

Thank goodness for entrepreneurial women.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The E-5 tour

Ryan and I mapped out our baseball travel this year (five new stadiums for him, four for me), and he's calling it the E-5 tour because based on ESPN's season-opening power rankings, we expected to be subjecting ourselves to some pretty awful baseball (opening day ranking in parentheses).

  • Twins (28th) at White Sox (27th)
  • Brewers (25th) at D-backs (22nd)
  • Reds (29th) at Padres (30th)
  • Reds (29th) at Braves (23rd)
  • Athletics (26th) at Phillies (24th)
Petco Park absorbed that old warehouse. 
Several teams have surprised us though: the Twins and Brewers were both in first place for their games, the Diamondbacks were contending, and even the Reds have not looked entirely dismal (to borrow one of Marty Brennaman' favorite adjectives).

We still haven't picked our Camden Yards game this year, so maybe there's hope for a matchup of the Orioles and an exceptional team. Although at this rate, even a ridiculous O's optimist like Ryan might agree that the E-5 tour has morphed into E-6. Ryan and his cousin Matt have been commiserating over texts about the last month being the worst stretch of Orioles baseball since the Sydney Ponson era.

Here are a few pictures from E-5 Tour stop #3 at Petco Park in which the Padres beat the Reds 6-2.
Our seats in the right field bleachers offered a great view. 

The Padres jumped all over the Reds in the 1st inning with four straight singles ... 

... and stole a few bases ...
... and made the Reds have a lot of these. Ryan said former Oriole Scott Feldman's pitching performance looked familiar, much to my dismay. 
You can read about our visit to Chase Field in Ryan's post. (The Padres, by the way, had a more traditional/less scary mascot.)

After this season, Ryan will be missing only seven of the current 30 MLB stadiums. He has seen both L.A. stadiums and I haven't, so I will still need nine more.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The coolest place to see in the desert

Desert flowers.
The second leg of our western trip brought us to Tucson, where we visited with our friends Gena and John and their children Ellie and Johnny.

And I admit that when I found out they were going to take us to the Desert Museum, I thought the same thing as Gena's sister, "Wait, is that a thing? Is it just a museum of different cacti and grains of sand?"

It does, in fact, have cacti and sand and much more. It's pretty awesome, even if the mountain lions didn't cooperate and stayed hidden in their den.

A forest of Saguaro cacti at the Desert Museum. 
It offered amazing views of this part of the Sonora Desert. There are several types of cacti in the desert with the biggest ones, the Saguaro, standing like trees. Many of the big ones are well over 100 years old because they don't grow arms until they are at least 75.

The museum also has all kinds of desert mammals, snakes, birds and other critters on display.

Prairie dog on the move. 
That included a family of bighorn sheep. We were there in time to see the most violent attempt at nursing nature has ever produced. The little bighorn sheep calf trotted under his mother and jumped up at her hard as the bugger could. I hurt for her. (I'll skip the utterly ridiculous jokes).

Got milk? 
And petting stingrays (that have been de-stung) also is a thing. They did not come from the desert but from the Gulf of California, which is considered still part of the regional ecosystem.

John, Johnny, Gena, Ellie and a mysterious lady with a black hat (Elizabeth) try to coax the stingrays to brush by their hands.
Another missed opportunity. It thought about letting her pet it but then decided Elizabeth's hat looked too funny.

I spent much of the time trying to take pictures, which was easy with stuff that stayed still, like flowers and cacti and grains of sand. 
Meta shot. 
The hummingbirds were a different story. I'd get all set-up with the lighting and color balance and a fast shutter speed and try to focus on one, and as soon as I'd take the shot, zip -- it was gone.

This was the best I could do. 
 I'm pretty sure they were messing with me. 

Elizabeth constructs a souvenir: Part 1

The chair that drew us in.  
While exploring Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, Elizabeth and I found this interesting shop that now sits in one of its "historic" former homes, the Stevens House.

I use quotes around "historic" because Constance Stevens built the house in 1901. So while that might be ancient by the city of Phoenix standards, it's like an architectural larva compared to some of the castles and ruins we've seen in Europe. Several other buildings in heritage square were from the 1920s. Heck, Elizabeth and I have lived in houses and apartments older than that. 

Nevertheless, we were attracted by the colorful chair with bird feet hanging from the roof of the porch. (Who wouldn't be, right?) And we learned that Handcrafted Vintage Makerspace was a hands-on museum of sorts that allows patrons to try out late 1800s technology to make items, such as knitted socks from a sock-maker machine or wooden toys cut with a pedal-powered bandsaw. 

This is what she was aiming to make. 
So Elizabeth set out to make a souvenir. And considering this year is our E-5 Tour, she chose to make a baseball out of string like one that was displayed in front of the store. 

It involved hammering, lots of weaving and plenty of patience. It also required what looked like enough string to stretch from Phoenix to Tucson. 

"This is a lot tougher than it looks," Elizabeth said at least three times during the process. 

The tools of the trade. 

Hammerin' Hank has nothing on Elizabeth. 
Check back later for the second part to watch how Elizabeth put it together and find out how it turned out.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The chase at Chase

PHOENIX – While we aren't going abroad this year, Elizabeth and I have embarked on our most ambitious summer baseball tour – at least six stadiums in six cities featuring 11 teams spread over the course of the season.

Chase Field (a.k.a. the stadium formerly known as The B.O.B. -- Bank One Ballpark)
Our trip out west this month began with a game at Chase Field, most famous for hosting historic Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that the Yankees lost on a Luis Gonzalez bloop single over the infield ...

... and for having a swimming pool over the right field fence.

(No one hit a splash-down home run, but the Brewers' hitters kept Diamondbacks right fielder David Peralta pretty busy.)

The Diamondbacks, while only being around since the 1998 season, really play up their "history" with gigantic characters based on their former stars, such as Gonzalez, Matt Williams (really, Matt Williams?), Mark Grace and, of course, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

We didn't know this until we saw the back of a giant head, then saw children posing with "scary Randy Johnson," as Elizabeth called him.
Scary Randy Johnson with scary Mark Grace not scaring fans. 
After watching photo session after photo session with them, Elizabeth decided she, too, wanted a photo with scary Randy Johnson. But just before she moved to pose with them, the two Disney-characterized players took off down the concourse

We gave chase. Through the crowd, we bobbed and weaved, trying to keep up. They were remarkably fast and agile for two top-heavy giants who kept having to duck under banners and high-five fans. We kept getting caught behind slow moving crowds of Diamondbacks fans. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be.

Meanwhile, the game featured several former Orioles cast-off pitchers, all of whom gave up runs, including Arizona's T.J. McFarland (3 earned runs in 1 1/3 inning) and the Brewers' Oliver Drake (2 earned runs in 1/3 inning) and starter Zach Davies, who gave up 3 earned runs in the first inning, then settled down to earn the win.)

Our view from the upper deck of former Oriole Zach Davies. 
 There were lots of pitching changes and mound visits.

Whatever they told the Diamondbacks' starter didn't work. 

The Diamondbacks ended up losing 8-6, which is the fourth consecutive time we've seen the home team lose. 

But, on the bright side, we ultimately got our picture of Elizabeth with scary Randy Johnson. We caught them just before they ducked into the Giant Scary Players' Locker Room. 
Elizabeth asked Scary Randy Johnson what the sign was for a fastball when he pitched for the Diamondbacks. Or perhaps she asked him what place he thinks the Baltimore Orioles will finish this year. Or maybe he was telling me that I could only take one more photo.