March 25, 2008

Look What I Can Do!

Do you ever come to my blog only to find some lame political rant, or a bunch of pictures of birds, when all you really wanted to do was watch "Weekend at Bernie's"? Well, guess what? Now you can do both!

Thanks to my new favorite site ( I can embed tv shows and feature length movies on my blog. You can certain that I will be scattering episodes of "The Tick" into my blog posts from now on!

March 22, 2008

Spring Break Highlights

It's amazing how quiet our house is when we don't have five additional people in here. I must say that at least two of our pets are rather relieved to have the house to themselves once more. Although I have a feeling Harvey is a little sad. He misses all the attention he got due to the standoffishness (good word, huh?) of the other two around the little ones. He is looking even more bored than normal.

So, here are some of the highlights from the Renslow's recent visit, in no particular order.

Aside from the snow on Sunday, we did have some pretty spectacular weather. And I think all seven of us got sunburned at least once. The mildest day was probably at the Grand Canyon, where it was a pleasant 60 degrees. After enjoying some yummy hot chocolate at the El Tovar hotel, we all went outside to enjoy the view.

On our way out of the park we stopped by one of our favorite overlooks along the Little Colorado River Gorge, just east of the Grand Canyon. I was surprised that Becca was brave enough to stand so close to the edge, considering it's a sheer drop of well over 800 feet.

Her dad was also brave, for about three seconds. You can see how white his knuckles are from the death grip he's got on that railing. I don't think Sarah came within 50 feet of this spot.

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix was also a highlight. Everyone got to see some really cool cacti and the best lizard encounters of the whole week.

The kids even tried their handing at grinding some mesquite beans on a metate.

Hannah was particularly delighted by the butterfly pavilion.

On Tuesday we convinced Curt and Janine to drive their truck up a high-clearance road outside of Sedona to one of our favorite red rock hikes. Curt was giggling like a little girl as he rocked and rolled the truck over the rocks on the road. I think he had fun. We took a short trail out to the Cowpies, several large and flat red rock formations perfect for kids to explore.

Curt, Sarah and I tried to make the trek out to Mitten Ridge Saddle, but the trail was a little too much for both of them to handle, so we turned around early. At least Sarah will have a good story to tell her friends.

Sarah also got a hold of my camera one evening and started taking close-ups of everyone around. Becca was a more than willing photo subject.

March 21, 2008

And Justice for All

Over two million people have watched this inspiring speech. There's a reason for that. As my brothers Steve and Chris have both stated much more eloquently than I could, it's because this is the time when we can begin to seek a more perfect union. And this is the person who can begin to help us as a nation become everything that is in our power to be.

Remember those often hollow words many of us recited by heart every single morning in elementary school? Remember those words driven into our memories with rarely an explanation or discussion of their meanings or implications? Words like "indivisible", "liberty" and "justice". Words that, to a ten year old, are nothing more than words. Well, for years now, those words have seemed antithesis to what my own observations were of what this nation had become. I saw a divided nation, made up of red states and blue states, with little to no common ground between them. I fumed while I watched as our liberties, those very freedoms that inspired a handful of brave souls 221 years ago to forge a new nation, were chipped away due to the politics of fear and hatred. And I despaired that justice for all was nothing but a fantasy, something I would never, could never see achieved in my lifetime.

Well, as Dylan sang so eloquently during the height of the last great American revolution, the times they are a changin'. What I see in this man, what I see in this candidate for the President of the United States, is the will, desire and ability to inspire an entire nation to realize its full potential. I see the potential for the greatest political and cultural revolution of modern American history. I see the possibility that we are not doomed to become the most despised and mistrusted nation on the planet. For the first time in my life, I can begin to accept that perhaps, with this man's help, we might just be able to achieve liberty and justice for all. And I am beginning to have hope that someday I may actually be able to honestly and truthfully proclaim that I am proud to be an American.

Who knows, I might even feel good enough to remove the Canadian flag from my backpack.

March 18, 2008


Figures that not only would we get our first snow of the winter the day after the Renslows arrive, but Sonja and I encounter our first live scorpion while on a walk with Sarah, Becca and Hannah out behind our house!

Now, considering the company we were with at the time, you might have expected a fair bit of, screaming, running, dancing around like a crazy person. But surprisingly enough, while most of them stayed well back, they were more intrigued by it than anything else. In fact, Hannah was so fascinated by it we had to actually keep her from getting too close. When we first saw it I had neglected to bring my camera with me, so I had to go back to get it. Hannah was the only one brave enough to join me on the return trip. Figures that the five-year old is the bravest of the bunch.

In case you're wondering, this is a stripe-tail scorpion. Their venom isn't necessarily that strong, and probably wouldn't feel much worse than getting stung by a wasp. They're also the most common scorpions in Arizona. Much more so than the infamous bark scorpion, which is the most venomous species in North America. So there it is. Our first scorpion. I guess they actually do exist.

March 17, 2008

Snow and Cactuses

When Minnesotans leave Minnesota to visit the desert, you'd think they'd be able to expect warmth and sunshine. Well, that's what the Renslows were expecting when they planned their spring break trip out here. Of course, things don't always work out according to plan.

Case in point. We hadn't gotten so much as a flake of snow here at the Well all winter long. Then, Janine and family arrive from Minnesota and the very next day what happens? Snow. In March. In Arizona. Since we didn't get much exploring in due to the cold wind and snow, we decided to head south today, hoping that the Phoenix sun would pan out and give us a nice sunny and warm day. Becca sure was excited about that prospect.

Or should we say possessed by that idea? Anyway, it did pan out well after all. The day was gorgeous. Not too hot, not too windy.

We arrived at the Desert Botanical Garden and spent the afternoon checking out all the cool cacti and bird life of the Sonoran Desert.

Here's one of the dozens of Verdins hopping around in the mesquite and palo verde trees.

Here's one of the butterflies from the butterfly pavilion. But since it's not a bird, I have no idea what kind it is. I think it's an orange one.

Hannah was disappointed that none of them landed on her, but she got to be a butterfly once we got outside.

Some of the exhibits demonstrated how people use the desert plants for their survival, too. This Hohokam hut was fun to explore.

But the excitement couldn't last forever. And eventually even Becca's energy began to wane. They were all troopers, though. And at dinner everyone commented on how cool the plants were and about all the fun they had.

I think this picture says it all.

March 10, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

As evidenced by the sunny 78 degree weather we experienced today. So, I decided it's about time I got rid of a rotting eyesore and beautified the front yard today.

The New Arrivals: (L to R) Spanish Bayonet, Autumn Sage (Salvia greggiai), Thompson Yucca, Arizona Firecracker (behind the yucca).

The Culprit: a rotting cow-tongue prickly pear that had been run over by a truck several times and been frozen quite solid from some pretty heavy frosts. It was now oozing a nasty orange liquid. It was time for it to go. So I dug it out and chucked it.

This is where that prickly pear used to live. It's right on the corner of our yard, so it's the first thing anyone who visits us sees when they arrive. It took me a couple hours of hauling rocks, moving dirt in a wheel barrow with a flat tire, removing prickly pear spines from my fingers, and digging holes...but I got it done.

VoilĂ ! Didn't turn out too bad, if I do say so myself. I even worked up a good sweat, something that I am sorely in need of doing more often. I was able to salvage a few paddles from the rotting prickly pear. Hopefully they'll take root and we'll have a nice cactus growing there now.

Here's a more artistic view of our little cactus garden. Quite satisfactory.

March 04, 2008

A Geek's Salute

Sad news for geeks around the world today. One of the creators of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax, passed away. For anyone who struggled to fit in during high school, D&D was often one of the only safe refuges you could find. I mean, who would dare slam a half-orc fighter-mage with a strength of 18 and a +5 Sword of Ultimate Cleaving into a locker? Or knock their books out of their hand in the hallway? That's right! No one would! Um, not that any of those things ever happened to me, of course.

Anyway, while all the "cool kids" would be out drinking beer and partying on Friday nights, us geeks would gather in someone's basement, multi-faceted dice in our custom-designed dice bags, to slay umber hulks and bugbears. It was high adventure, I tell you. I still vividly remember some of the campaigns my friends and I went on. I even uncovered some old character drawings of mine. Delhanha and Elias were two of my favorite characters. Although if I remember right, Elias was met an untimely death at the hand of Vecna, the Arch-Lich. That was a particularly nasty bit of business. If anyone ever asks if you'd like to infiltrate your way into the Fortress of Drakmoor, destroy the Spider Throne and recover the Sword of tempting as it may sound, say no.

Somewhere along the way I lost my original handbooks, but recently repurchased a 2nd Edition Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Greyhawk Adventures Manual, all on the off-chance I ever encounter a motley band of ex-geeks (or not-so-ex geeks) who want to dust off their Helms of Insight and scrape the rust from their Swords of Wounding and give it another go. Haven't found such a group yet, but I haven't given up my search.

For those of you still unfamiliar with what Dungeons and Dragons is really all about, watch this hilarious sketch called "Summoner Geeks". This short cartoon captures the essence of nearly every late-night campaign I ever played. I would usually alternate between being the dungeon master and the guy arguing about having previously cast a spell.

And, here's a great clip from Reno: 911 that demonstrates what can happen if you take your D&D playing a bit too far. Which I never did, of course. Well, except for that time some friends and I decided to build a forge and make our own swords. Yeah, that didn't work out quite like we were expecting. At least we put out the flames before they reached the house.

March 02, 2008

A Fair Day

There's nothing like a bit of jousting to make a Sunday afternoon feel complete. Sonja and I spent the day near Phoenix enjoying the beautiful weather at the Renaissance Festival. As always, the jousting was the melodramatic highlight of the festival.

I must admit I kind of spaced out a bit during the show and sort of lost interest in everything but playing with my camera. This was really the first time I really tried to see what it could do on subjects that weren't feathered. The results were pretty darn impressive, considering how far away we were sitting from the action.

I think this is the knight who actually won. And, if I remember right, this guy won last year's joust, too. Not that I really care, but you'd think they'd let someone else win once in a while. Although, I suppose letting Sting get his way is probably for the best.

We also spent a little time birding at the Gilbert Water Ranch on the way to the festival. We weren't really sure what to expect with this place, but were both very surprised with how cool it was. The birds were everywhere, and both of us came away with some lifers. The highlight of the water ranch were definitely the Black-necked Stilts pictured below.

But the American Avocets were also very cool. Both of these were lifers for Sonja (only the stilt was for me).

The Anna's Hummingbirds were also numerous and cooperative.

This Black-throated Sparrow was actually from Montezuma Well the day before. But I liked how it turned out so I decided to post it, too. It's nice to see these beautiful little sparrows returning to the Well.

Makes it feel like spring is finally here (if the 75 degree temps and my sunburned face weren't enough).