Sunday, July 29, 2007

Which Harry Potter character are you?

I was Harry Potter at the Harry Potter character quiz @
A little relief from the rigors of the FDA Audit...I finished the book last night, and took the quiz tonight...

If you want to take the quiz yourself, click here Harry Potter Character Quiz @

no rest for the wicked... work we're in the middle of an unannounced FDA audit...which is almost as much fun as having a root canal...except that the root canal is over with much more quickly...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Happy 60th Birthday, Texas style...

A couple of weeks ago, walking into my house one evening, I ran into my next door neighbors. (This is a pic that I took this evening of their gorgeous backyard, or rather, of the gorgeous fence that surrounds their gorgeous backyard, and puts my backyard and every other backyard in a couple of miles quite to shame).

I've known Charles and Melissa since I moved into my house in 1984. They're terrific neighbors: warm and friendly and totally likeable. With them, it's easy to do all the usual neighborly things: when they're out of town, I watch their house and take in their mail, and the favor is returned when I'm away. When my house caught fire a few years ago, as the boys and I stood on the sidewalk, in shock, watching and shivering, Charlie and Melissa came over and stood with us, and I remember Melissa wrapping a jacket around my shoulders and saying quietly, "Anything we can do, you let us know."
That was a real comfort to me, because I knew that she meant it. The B's are people you can count on, and I hope they view me the same way.

We don't socialize much, although sometimes we do grab a bite to eat together. These days, when we run into each other, mostly we commiserate on being aging boomers.
When I ran into them a couple of weeks ago, though, both of them were all smiles.

"Hey, watch your mail, we sent you an invitation,"
Melissa said.

"Woo hoo! What's the occasion?"
I asked.

"Charlie's turning 60 and we're throwing a party,"
Melissa began, and Charlie continued, "Yeah, and it's a Western theme, and there's gonna be LIVE entertainment, and Judi, I'm not gonna say what it is, but here's a clue: don't STEP on the entertainment!"

Hmmmmmmm...don't STEP on it?
I tried to think what that could mean, other than snakes, but came up with nothing.

This morning, I ran into Charlie and Melissa again.

"You might be mad at us,"
Charlie said.

"Why would I be mad at you?"
I asked.

"We sprayed your yard for mosquitoes,"
he said, and then corrected himself, "Well, we sprayed HALF your yard, the half closest to us. We sprayed our yard too..."

"You think that's gonna make me mad?"
I asked, incredulously. "Nah, I can live without the mosquitoes, thanks, guys!"

"Well, we did it because we wanna have some people in your yard at the party tonight...we didn't think to ask you until now, but is that OK?"

"Of course that's OK,"
I said, and wondered if they were going to have fireworks.

"Bring Xander,"
Charlie said mysteriously, "He'll love what's going to happen!"

Xander will turn 5 next month. "It's gotta be fireworks," I thought.

It rained today but cleared up in late afternoon. This evening after showering, I put on jeans and a plaid shirt. I went into my back yard and picked a yellow shasta daisy and a cluster of Dahlburg daisies and placed the fresh flowers in the band of my old white straw Resistol.

Then I put on my hat and stepped outside. It was a little after 7:00, and as I walked toward the alley that lies between my house and Charlie & Melissa's, I saw that a rectangular Plexiglass enclosure had been set up. It ran the width of the alley and was approximately 3 feet high by (as I would later learn) 16 feet long. Inside the enclosure, the concrete was covered with cedar shavings, and three small animal carriers, of the size and type that I use to take my cats to the vet, sat at one end. I noticed that the three carriers were filled with straw.

I was surprised, and thought, Charlie's celebrating his 60th birthday with a petting zoo? They don't have grandchildren yet...that's sort of strange. Charlie's right, Xander will love it, but it's not what I expected at all...

Xander was standing at one side of the enclosure, studying the carriers intently. A tall guy with a moustache, boots, and a hat much bigger than mine was unloading some things, including a big megaphone, from a trailer in the alley.
I wonder if he's all hat and no cowboy? I thought.

Before I had time to think about that, Xander voiced what I wanted to know, asking, "What's in THOSE?!?!?!" as he pointed at the carriers.

The man grinned, and said in a slow drawl, "AHR-MUH-DILLOWS, LAHV AHR-MUH-DILLOWS, Ah'm an ahr-muh-dillow wrangler, and we're gonna have LAHV AHR-MUH-DILLOW races RAHT HEE-YAR!"

That said, he opened the first carrier, thrust an arm inside, and with a flourish, retrieved an armadillo, by its tail, from the straw. He placed it on the ground where it was soon followed by two others. He then filled a shallow pan with cold water and placed it on the ground. To my surprise, all 3 armadillos made a beeline for the pan and jumped in, splashing around on top of each other.

"They're hot," he said, and then he went on to explain that a
rmadillos are mammals, not marsupials or reptiles, and that 9-banded armadillos like these (Dasypus novemcinctus) are the State Mammal of Texas. (Do you know the state mammal for your state? Huh? Do you?!?!)

9-banded armadillos like these are the only species of armadillo that occurs in North America. Approximately 20 other species of armadillos exist, but all of those are found in South and Central America.

Adult Texas armadillos like these weigh anywhere from twelve to seventeen pounds.
The wrangler didn't tell us this, but I found it on the web: Because of the bony carapace and ventral position of the genitalia, copulation occurs with the female lying on her back.

Uh-huh. Moving right along...
births occur in the spring and are always identical quadruplets.

Soon it was time for the races. The wrangler
began by pointing out that unlike races licensed by the Texas Racing Commission, e.g., NASCAR, armadillo racing does not require a huge, expensive track. He explained that the length of the run is 16' because that's the width of most country roads in Texas, and it's a known fact that armadillos can make it across those roads fairly quickly when they need to. The wrangler waxed eloquent about other virtues of armadillo racing, e.g., unlike parimutuel racing, armadillo racing is unfettered by unsavory underworld types; unlike professional sports, including the NBA, NFL, Baseball, etc., armadillo racing is unscathed by strikes or ludicrous player salaries because armadillos race only for earthworms (and for the sheer joy of racing, or so I'm told...)

Uh, except for these two...I'm sure it was just a COINCIDENCE that they retreated to a corner where they piled up and appeared to be sulking immediately after a couple of the guests were heard discussing David Beckham's
five-year contract with the Galaxy that will pay him a base salary of $5.5 million annually...

Gentlemen, start your, jockeys, grab yer armadillos!

Note the jockeys are wearing gloves, not because armadillos bite (they have small, peg-shaped teeth that aren't much of a threat to anyone) but because like humans, nine-banded armadillos can carry Hansen's disease, or leprosy. In fact, I read on the net (The Straight Dope), "other than humans, 9-banded armadillos,
of which there are 30 to 50 million in the southeastern U.S., are believed to be the only significant natural reservoir of leprosy, although a few cases have been found in chimps and mangabey monkeys in Africa."

All too soon, the armadillo races were over, and it was time to have some birthday dinner in Charlie & Melissa's beautiful backyard...

The hammock beckoned, but I resisted...

It's fair to say, a good time was had by all...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

To everything, turn, turn, turn...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. Most importantly, they were read by my brother, Dave, and I know that he appreciated them (because he said so...thanks, Dave).

Here in Dallas, it's hot, although not as hot as it usually is at this time of year. I'm logy these days...dunno why...I drive to work, do my endless hours, drive home, have a little dinner (e.g., mushroom/goat cheese quesadillas, or maybe some pasta salad, and a cold beer), after which I tend to curl up with a good book and read myself to sleep.

I'm heavily into my summer reading this year. Of course, I'm eagerly awaiting the new Harry Potter, but in the meantime, I've read and can recommend some terrific non-fiction. I've just finished reading The Last Season, Eric Blehm's fascinating account about the disappearance of back-country ranger Randy Morgenson in King’s Canyon National Park in the 1990's. Blehm is reminiscent of Jon Krakauer, whom I would also recommend. These were published several years ago, but if you haven't read them and want a couple of fascinating summer reads, pick up Into the Wild , Krakauer's 1997 account of the disappearance into the Alaskan wilderness of 24-year-old Christopher McCandless and Into Thin Air, his personal account of the May, 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster. Along the same lines, last spring I read and can recommend Aaron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place, his aptly named, first-person account of being trapped in the desert after a freak accident while slot canyon hiking alone.

In a different vein (but also non-fiction), I'm currently reading, One Bullet Away, Nathaniel Fick's personal account of becoming a marine officer. Along the same lines, I've also read and can recommend Jarhead, Anthony Swofford's account of being a marine sniper in the Persian Gulf, and Generation Kill, Evan Wright's eloquent first-hand account of traveling with a platoon of First Recon Marines during the invasion of Iraq.

I've been intending to read some Hemingway this summer, but I've been waylaid by a lot of great non-fiction.

And if you're not ready to pick up a book, but would like some more visual entertainment, click HERE for some mindless fun a la a favorite artist of mine, Jackson Pollock.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Time can break your heart and bend your knees...

My younger brother's 22-month-old granddaughter, Hailey, drowned on Sunday. I cannot even begin to imagine what her parents, and my brother, Dave, and her other grandparents and the rest of her family are going through.

I have no words of wisdom or of comfort.

"I'm sorry," seems incredibly inadequate, but I am sorry.

Eric Clapton had the misfortune to lose his 4 year old son, Conor, in 1991, and whether one is religious or not, his eloquent words about grief and loss are better than anything I could ever say:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven

I must be strong,
and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven

I'll find my way,
through night and day
Cause I know I just can't stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom...

Today being the 4th of July, but a rainy, overcast, 4th of July, I simply slept in until about 9:30. Then I got up, had a shower, etc., and at a little after 11:00, Kath and I decided to go out for some lunch. I was tooling down the street in my ‘99 VW Cabrio at about 25 mph as I approached an intersection near my house that happens to have an interminably long traffic light. The light was red, and I sighed as I depressed the clutch and geared down just before stepping on the brake pedal, anticipating the usual 3 minute wait at that light. But my irritation with the slow light evaporated as I stepped on the brake pedal and felt it go straight to the floor. Suddenly, I had no brakes, and because that part of the road is on a slight decline and there was nothing to slow the car down, I was horrified to feel the car actually accelerating as we approached the intersection. Everything seemed to go into slow motion then. I pumped the brake pedal, but nothing happened. For a fraction of a second, I thought about turning, but the car was moving too fast. In a nanosecond I glanced to my left and my right and saw no cars closer than half a block away in either direction so I simply steered straight, exclaiming in disbelief as we flew through the intersection, "OhmyGod! I have NO brakes!"

We cruised to a stop midway up the next block, where we had been mercifully slowed down by a slight incline in the road, and there I saw that in the middle of all this, the car had died or perhaps I’d shut it off, but at any rate all of the dashboard lights were on.

Kath and I sat looking at each other, shaking and catching our breath.

"What on earth happened?" Kath asked.

"I dunno," I said, "My brakes completely failed..."

Kath said I handled it well. She said that I pulled the emergency brake after pumping the brakes, although I don’t remember doing that, and it didn’t help at all. When I turned the ignition back on, the car started right up, and the brakes seemed to work just fine. When I depressed the brake pedal, it didn’t feel soft or spongy; there was solid resistance beneath my foot, both with the engine on and with it off.

Back home, I Googled "sudden brake failure" and read that what had just happened is the classic symptom of impending failure of the master cylinder, although it can also be a symptom of low brake fluid, or of contaminated brake fluid that needs to be changed. A look under the hood revealed that my brake fluid was, indeed, low, although no warning light had come on indicating this, and when I had my car in last week to have the rear tires replaced, I was told that I needed a new air filter but no one said anything about the brake fluid.

I was sufficiently shaken by this experience that I took my car in to a garage this afternoon, where I was told that I do indeed need a new master cylinder, as well as new rotors, calipers and pads. That may well be so, as I’ve driven about 40,000 miles since I last had those parts replaced. The thing that really scares me is that there was absolutely no warning that the brakes were about to go, and if this had happened on any other morning, on my way to work, when there is endless traffic in both directions on that road...well, let’s just say that if it had to happen, I feel incredibly lucky that it happened today.

And to everyone reading this...whatever you drive, go check your brake fluid.