Monday, January 06, 2020

Las Vegas

We rang in the 2020 New Year with a trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

Departing Tuesday night, we arrived at McCarran International Airport, picked up a rental car and started the drive to Kingman, AZ.  On New Year's Eve, the only dinner spot open was the McDonald's on Route 66.  It was a cute town and I learned that Route 66 was established in 1926.  We got a nice room upgrade at the Best Western Plus and were well rested for the drive to the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday we arrived at the Visitor Center around noon and were surprised at how chilly it was at the South Rim.  I guess most weather reports are for the significantly warmer base of the canyon.  We still enjoyed site seeing and the gift shops, we took the 5 minute walk to the scenic overlook and then got on the shuttle to some of the outlying buildings.  It would have been more enjoyable if we dressed better and had a plan.  It was a breathtaking view.  The visitor center featured a lot of exhibits and a movie.

The drive back was tough.  We stopped for dinner at Mr. D's diner in Kingman on Route 66 and it was a nice treat before finishing the drive.  It was late when we arrived at the Hilton Grand Vacations on the North end of the Las Vegas Strip.  We stopped for groceries on the way also as our room featured a full kitchen.  We did get settled in and called it an early night.

We started Thursday off with breakfast in the room followed by enjoying the basketball court and heated pool that were part of the hotel amenities.  The wind made the pool less than perfect, but there were a few other brave kids and adults out and about.  After lunch, we headed onto the strip to see the Bellagio fountain show.  After some site seeing, we met David for dinner at the Royal India Bistro at the Rio before attending the WOW Water Spectacular Show.  At the end of the night, we briefly visited with my sister before heading back to the hotel.  That night I ventured out for some gambling.

Friday was our last day in town.  We packed up and headed for Fremont Street to give ziplining a try.  It was fun, but not worth the $24/person price tag.  After walking around Fremont Street and seeing some of the street performers, we headed back to the Paris hotel to meet my sister for lunch.  The Giada Restaurant is located in the Cromwell Hotel and in addition to a nice atmosphere had a terrific brunch menu as well.  With my wife's diamond status, we were comp'ed $100 and our meal for 4 adults and 2 kids while ringing up at $160, only cost us $60 plus tip.  After lunch the girls explored the strip, while I headed to the Bally's poker room for some cards.

The flight back was as uneventful as the flight out.  The toughest part was the late hour.  We did not make it into the house until 1:30 AM.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Goodbye 2019

It just occurred to me that I failed to do a Goodbye 2018 post.  But for 2019 here goes...

2019 was a good year for the household.  I solidified my career with a year of employment at CDOT.  My wife is continuing her Air Force commitment.  My first born started 7th Grade at D'Evelyn Junior/Senior High School.  My second born started 5th Grade at Woodrow Wilson Academy.  They continued with piano taking lessons at home.  They are also both playing basketball through the Apex Center.  My 5th grader did a science fair project on water quality.

We hosted birthday parties for my second born at Skate City and my first born at Boondocks.

We traveled extensively this year thanks to Southwest Airlines' companion fare.  We were in Memphis in January, Orlando in April, Nashville in May, Seattle in July, Houston in July, Hawaii in November and Las Vegas in December.  In addition, I made a solo trip to Memphis in September.

Professionally, I am feeling good about transportation.  It is not "fun" like oilfield work was and there is a little more bureaucracy than there was at Oracle, but overall, it is a rewarding environment in terms of authority and autonomy. I like the stability of government funding.  Most importantly, I like that it is relatable.  People can understand what I do for a living.

My community involvement has stayed low.  I have avoided taking on new commitments.

In terms of hobbies, I have again embraced Crossfit, doing the 2019 Crossfit Open in March and the 2020 Crossfit Open in October.  I did a charity 5K and a team mountain bike event.  We played golf several times and I have been enjoying my new clubs.

I had a few key coin purchases including an 1829 dime and two 1832 half dimes (they were different varieties).

We got 2 days of skiing in the spring, but have not been yet in the fall.  I did not get out shooting.

I read a few novels this year.  My favorite was Educated by Westover.

In terms of purchases, the best was probably for Crossfit.  I got a Nylon weightlifting belt from Rep Fitness and some Nubz from Jerkfit.  The Roomba was an OK purchase.

We had a few home improvements with 2 bathroom remodels, a new driveway and new fans in the girls bedrooms.  The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl and the Washington Nationals won the World Series.  Matt Frazier and Tia Clair Toomey both repeated by winning the Crossfit Games.

Best wishes for 2020!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Science Fair Lessons Learned

Science has been glossed over in our elementary school curriculum in favor of spending more time on Math and Reading which is vigorously tested and tied to school funding.  One way to supplement that has been to participate in the science fair.  At WWA, Kindergarten can make a presentation, 1st to 3rd compete in the Lower Division and 4th to 8th compete in the Upper Division.  Upper Division kids are supposed to work independently.

The most popular projects are typically growing plants, physiological response to lack of sleep or video games, geology models, erosion.  Gone are the days of volcano models.

After initial success, the past couple of years have not had the same Science Fair awards in our household.  It has been a combination of running out of ideas and general lack of interest by the children.  We watched a YouTube video last night and the biggest take away is that the project needs to resonate with kids.  The best projects make observations in the student's environment and then develop and execute controlled experiments (varying one thing at a time and measuring the outcome) to understand phenomenon.  Judges are also impressed by projects that have an impact on society or personal health, as well as projects that have significant learning.

Subjective/Qualitative like taste are difficult to include.  It is best to stick to things you can measure.

There is not as much stock put into visual impact and presentation at the middle school level, but I feel like that is important.  The ability to present information or research on a story board or with a powerpoint presentation is a valuable life skill that has come up for me over an over again for me as a student and a professional.  Graphs and charts are compelling to visualize information in a way that data tables are not.  Today, it is very easy to include a looping video as well to add to a story.

As Nisha only has one more opportunity to participate in the science fair at WWA, I am going to keep a running list of phenomenon that could flourish into science fair experiments.

  • Visualize plaque after brushing teeth - Electric or Conventional Toothbrush
  • Dishwasher detergent tabs - Commercial Pods or Homemade
  • Thermos Tech - What keeps food/drinks the warmest or the coolest
  • Growing bulbs/herbs at home, success factors
  • App usage and Mobile Phone Energy consumption - streaming YouTube vs Playing a game vs Google Maps vs Strava vs Talking on the Phone
  • Tic-Tac-Toe:  Outcome if you start in the center, corner or side?

I think to be successful, the observation has to be relevant and background research easy to conduct.  This year pH and Total Dissolved Solids were difficult for my 5th grader to wrap her head around.


Nisha (5th) - Water Quality Testing pH and TDS (no award)
Diya (7th) - no contest held at D'Evelyn


Nisha (4th) - Stain removal using Thieves or All Detergent (no award)
Diya (6th) - Static Cling (no award)


Nisha (3rd) - Apples Turning Yellow (1st place)
Diya (5th) - Egg substitutes (3rd place)


Nisha (2nd) - What is Friction (1st place)
Diya (4th) - Soil vs Dirt (3rd place)


Nisha (1st) - Bacteria growth - Thieves vs Clorox (Grand Prize)
Diya (3rd) - Water Conservation (2nd place)


Nisha (K) - Which magnets are the Strongest
Diya (2nd) - Generating Electricity from Solar and Wind; drill generator; Kill-a-Watt meter


Diya (1st) - Phases of the Moon Model


Diya (K) - No Science Fair for Kindergarten

Monday, December 02, 2019

40th Dive!

I recently hit a milestone of 40 SCUBA dives.  After getting certified, I had my doubts, that I would ever reach that number.

23 of those were freshwater in the Coral Sea (21) and Rainbow River (2).

17 of those were salt water in Los Cabos (2005), Oahu (2013), Bahamas (2015), West Palm, FL (2015), Miami, FL (2017), Key Largo, FL (2018), Maui/Kona (2019).

I started out with Open Water Certification in 2005

I took a refresher course in 2011

In 2016, I started taking specialty courses towards Advanced Open Water.  I intend to finish the Advanced Open Water in 2020 (Deep Diver, Nitrox, Search and Recovery, Night Diver)

In regards to gear:

  • Mask/Snorkel - 2005 (??)
  • Booties - Aqua Lung 5 mm - 2013 ($67)
  • 3mm wetsuit - Aqua Lung - 2013 ($160)
  • BCD - Oceanic Bioflex - 2013 ($100, recommended annual service)
  • Fins - Oceanic Viper - 2013 ($90)
  • Regulator/Octopus/Computer/Gauges - MK25 first stage-Aeris Ion second stage/Atomic SS1/Aeris 300XT - 2014 ($1167, requires annual service)
  • 7mm wetsuit - Henderson Thermoprene 7mm XL - 2016 ($260)
  • Dive hood - 2016 ($52)

I intend to transition from an Octopus to an Atomic SS1 secondary air (2019)

I intend to transition from my current computer/gauges to an air pressure only and wrist computer (TBD)

I would like to get my kids involved.  They have a mask and snorkel from our Maui/Kona trip and I will look into getting them in the pool at Meyers with Coral Key Scuba.

My first experience was fun, but I was extremely sea sick.  That was why I never expected to dive more than the first 4 times.  I still get sea sick on boats, but am learning to manage it.  Diving locally has got me so much more comfortable with my gear and I feel confident when on vacation.

All of the salt water experiences have been memorable.  I have seen sharks, sea turtles, octopus, eel, variety of reef fish, squid, Goliath Grouper and Manta Rays.  I have seen wrecks.  I don't expect to get into technical, deep, wreck or cave diving, but you never know what the future holds.

At some point in the future, I would like to go on a dive vacation, rather than just adding a dive excursion to a beach holiday.  I would also like to dive more of the inland United States at spots like Blue Hole, NM and other.


I had a chance to eat at a farm-table-farm restaurant that truly minimized waste.  Cloth napkins, cutlery, plates, glass cups, no to-go boxes were the standard.  Everything was locally sourced and leftovers went back to the farm to feed the chickens.

A second experience was the Patriot Act episode on the environmental impact of clothing from the oil required to make polyester and spandex to the fresh water to grow cotton and other items.  Most donated clothing ends up in land fills.

Finally packing for a 9 day trip, I was amazed at how everything I needed could be packed into a suitcase and carry-on.

It is slowly becoming apparent that I buy too much stuff and am not responsible about re-use or re-deployment of existing stuff. 

While I have no intention of becoming a minimalist, I would like to take small steps to reduce my footprint.  I am going to start tracking purchases of durable goods.

During the vacation, the only durable good I bought was a Hawaiian Shirt.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Hawaii 2019

My wife organized a wonderful trip for us and I was in the mood to journal some of our adventures.

Wednesday - 11/20 - Dinner at Root down at DIA, fly to San Jose, check into Courtyard Marriott for morning flight.

Thursday - 11/21 - Breakfast at the airport (Chick-Fil-A & Bagel Sandwich), 5 hour flight to Maui, smooth with snack pack and cookies, check in at Westin, dinner at Aloha Small Plates (Monchong, catch of the day fish sandwich), groceries from Safeway

Friday - 11/22 - Explored pool and Westin sister properties, girls to Coconut Painting, Mac and Cheese for lunch, snorkeling, saw lots of fish, bought Hawaiian clothes at Ross, Ratna ate at Vegan Farm to Table to Farm restaurant, picked up a pizza for the rest of us

Saturday - 11/23 - Pool time, snorkeling, breakfast buffet, lei making class, 2 tank dive with Lahaina Divers, picked up Mexican and Greek for dinner

Sunday - 11/24 - Candy lei making, professional pictures, beach boogie boarding, Panda Express for lunch, fly to Kona on Mokulene Cessna Caravan, check into Marriott Kona, dinner at Chubby's

Monday - 11/25 - Breakfast at IHOP, 300 yard open water swim on Ironman practice course, paddle boarding at King Kamehameha Marriott, lunch at Quinn's, Big Island Divers Manta Ray night dive (40th total dive), girls all seasick, picked up Ramen and rolls for dinner

Tuesday - 11/26 - Check out, drive to Volcano National Park, Sulfur Banks Trail to see Steaming Vents, dinner at Kilaeua Military Camp Crater Rim Cafe

Wednesday - 11/27 - Breakfast at Crater Rim Cafe, Crater Rim Hike, Black Sand Beach, State Rec Area, Lunch at Tex, Check in at Kona Sheraton, dinner at Ray's

Thursday - 11/28 - Breakfast at Hotel, fly to Maui on Mokulene Cessna Caravan, rental car to Paia beach and lunch, California Pizza Kitchen at Maui airport for dinner, fly to San Jose (4.5 hours, smooth flight)

Friday - 11/29 - Breakfast with Ashish and family, Rangoon Ruby Burmese lunch in Palo Alto, followed by Scoops Ice Cream and Paris Baguette coffee and pastries, Ford Expedition Rental Car, fly to Denver in the evening (easy 2 hour flight)

Overall, this was an amazing trip and the pictures do not do justice to how beautiful it was.  The weather was amazing, especially when contrasted with the snow in Colorado.  We did some great activities and really enjoyed site seeing.

Best Activity - Manta Ray night dive
Best Restaurant - Aloha Small Plates
Best Hotel - Westin, Maui

Lessons Learned

  • Have a kitchen and stock up on breakfast, lunch and snacks.  It is tough to eat out all the time
  • Having access to a washer and dryer is really nice for beach vacations with wet swimsuits
  • Military families should definitely check out the Kilaeua Military Camp for its access to the park, activities and dining options
  • When snorkeling go out on a boogie board or pool noodles, it will be a lot more comfortable
  • Our kids are prone to seasickness
  • Mokulele airlines is super convenient

My only regret was not getting in better physical shape for my trip to Kona.  I swam on the Ironman course, but only for a few hundred yards.  It would have been nice to go for a run on Alii drive or even rent a bike for part of the bike course.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Plaza Suite

My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a preview showing of Plaza Suite, by Neil Simon, performed at the Arvada Center.  The company at the Black Box Theater has always impressed me and the chance to take in a light comedy was not to be missed.

The play was essential 3 acts plus 1 mini-act with all roles be played the same group of 5 actors.  All of the acts take place in Suite 719 of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York with couples at various stages of their lives.  The first act consisted of a couple married over 20 years, with a workaholic husband and supportive wife.  The second act consisted of high school sweethearts reconnecting, despite the woman being married and the man being thrice divorced.  The third act consisted of a married couple that is actually a team working to get their soon to be married daughter out of the bathroom and to the venue.

The dialogue was witty and I would have missed several of the 1968 references if not for the study guide.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Trip to Memphis

I had the opportunity to fly to Memphis to visit my folks.  I try to go by myself about once a year and I timed it to line up with my Dad's eye surgery.

They are doing well and a lot has changed in Germantown with new stores and shops popping up all over the place.

We went by the Container Store and I got new Nalgene bottles to replace the ones I left in Houston.  My mom had some Banana Republic rewards and I got a pair of shorts and two new polo shirts.

We did a surprising amount of dining out

Chicken Salad Chick - I sampled the Classic Carol, Olivia's Old South, Lauryn's Lemon Basil and Fancy Nancy.  I ended up ordering Olivia's Old South (my favorite) on toasted white bread with a side of Fancy Nancy.  Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed any of them.  It was fresh, light and flavorful.  Although we carried out, the restaurant was bright and airy with a good vibe.  Several people were picking up grab and go 16 ounce containers of chicken salad.  I feel like this could be a great franchise opportunity in Denver.

Newk's Eatery - I ordered the Chicken Pesto Sandwich with pasta salad.

Bombay House - I ordered the Tandoori dinner which was very good and very generous serving sizes.  I took about half home to go.  My parents were able to split the vegetarian dinner with minimal leftovers.

I also was able to fix their Amazon Alexa, help them navigate some financial accounts and fix the Roku device my sister gave them.  As a result of the Roku, we watched a few Hindi movies on Netflix including

Bareilly Ki Barfi - Cute Rom-Com

Baazaar - Wall Street movie based on an insider trading scheme

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga - Cute Rom-Com

Between those activities and catching up on what is going on in the world, it was a very pleasant trip.

The United flights were OK.  The flight out was great.  The plane was half empty and plenty of room in the overhead compartments.  I had a whole row to myself.  The flight back was more full, but there were plenty of empty seats.  It was a smaller plane and my backpack was more full and I had to do a lot of rearranging to get my stuff to fit.  I also had a cooler bag full of snacks that fit under the seat in front of my.

I was reading Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson, but abandoned it in favor of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I may pick it back up, but it was not as engaging as Seven Eves.  The Gladwell book did not disappoint during the first few chapters.