My Wild Wheel Ride Winds Down

Yesterday (103 days after air date, 17 days ahead of schedule) I got my check from Wheel of Fortune. After California State income tax (7%) and deducting the "value"* of the Hawaii trip (including $1000 spending money to cover meals*, etc.), the grand total came to $37,689. More taxes will be deducted when I file for 2015, but the amount is yet to be seen.

Don't let my focus on the details lead you astray: I'm pumped. This is huge. And while the lasting impression of my whole Wheel experience will be one of the excitement, etc., the money means a lot as well. We're talking 3 years' salary, give or take. So please don't think I'm not stoked.

But there is some bitter-sweetness to it all. This check represents one of the last things to be delivered from this experience of a lifetime which has spanned almost a whole year. There was the invitation to try out, then the tryout, then hearing I got on, then waiting for my taping date, then doing the taping, then the air date, then getting my Hawaii trip dates, then getting my Hawaii spending money check, and now the big check. All that's left is the trip to Hawaii (Della and I leave next week.) It's been one exciting thing after another and now it is all coming to an end.

So what did I do to celebrate my nouveau riche status? After considering splurging on a fancy lunch out, I remember I had ramen and cereal at home so did that instead. I guess I'm a man of simple tastes. I'm sure Della and I will do something fun to celebrate (can anyone say Red Lobster?), but for now, the check went in the bank* and life continues as normal—that is to say awesomely.
Wednesday February 11 2015File under: wheel, misc

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Throw Back Thursday

My dad recently celebrated his 75th birthday. By all measures, that's quite a cause for celebration. Us kids tried to come up with a special gift to fit the occasion. What we came up with was this—a reenactment of some goofy picture of us as children. And we may not have nailed it well as we might have, I think it turned out pretty dang neat. Hopefully he thought so as well.

The process behind re-staging a photo was more involved than I originally thought. The hardest part, it turned out, was finding the right photo. When selecting a photo, we looked for criteria such as background, distinction, accessories, and more. And so many of the photos to be considered seemed to have either distinct backgrounds or accessories/costumes that would be quite hard to duplicate (there were lots of good Halloween costume photos, for example).

Once the photo was chosen, the rest was easy-ish. A trip to the Goodwill to look for costumes, scouting shoot locations, and then post processing (to give it that 1985 fade).

I look forward to trying this out again, and will actively keep an eye out for any photos that might totally fit the bill. But in the meantime, I'm stoked with how this one turned out and was happy to have the opportunity to do it.
Thursday January 29 2015File under: pics, family

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Green Tree Gum

Longtime BdW friend and once Brothers Root blogger Andrew is involved in some pretty exciting stuff I wanted to share about. He and his buddy have started a natural gum company called Green Tree Gum Co. The gum is made without the sketchy ingredients in standard gum (sorbitol, butylated hydroxytoluene, baby seal tears, etc.), instead using all natural ingredients to achieve a cleaner, simpler chew.

And while the existence of such a product is exciting in its own right, what has really been interesting for me has been being privy to the process of starting a business and a product from the ground up. From packaging, distribution, branding, website, and everything else, hearing about what it takes to get an endeavor like this going is just plan neat.

What's that? You're sold. Now you just want to go buy some for yourself? Well far be it from me to stop you. Head on over to their online shop and get yourself some. Or, if you are in the Portland area, find some at your local retailer.

If you're looking to support this awesome endeavor more, you might even head on over to their facebook page and like them. But go buy some gum first. Tell him BdW sent you.
Saturday January 24 2015File under: misc, food

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My Crossword Mug Puzzle

Yeehaw! I'm super stoked to announce the publication of my second crossword puzzle! Rather than the traditional newspaper crossword, this one is written for a mug produced by the good folks over at Unemployed Philosophers Guild. The way it works is this: they made a mug with a static crossword grid on it. Every month, they produce a new puzzle that fits that grid. Mug owners download the new set of clues and solve each month's puzzle, right on the mug!

Creating a puzzle for a predetermined grid (esp. one of such non-standard dimensions) was a new challenge for me. To make it even more difficult, the editor requested a quote based puzzle. To find a popular quote that fit the very specific enumeration of the grid, I first tried just pouring through quotes. After my eyes could stand it no longer, I wrote a computer program to check quotes if they could fit*. Finally I found one and wrote the puzzle around it. While the quote might not be the most famous or moving one in the world, the grid allowed for all sorts of interesting fill which made the puzzle turn out great, IMO.

So how can you do the puzzle? Well, you could always head over to UPG and order yourself a mug (or check out their other clever wares). If your mug drawer is full up, then I suppose you could just download a printable version here.

And, for posterity, here's a screenshot of the puzzle on their website (complete with ridiculous bio) in case the internet ever dissolves and BdW is the only site left.

(The post about my first published puzzle, and the long road to publication, can be found here)

Sunday January 18 2015File under: games, crosswords

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Twas the Night Before Christmas 2014

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through Sin City
The lights were aglow
Making everything look pretty

The bright neon greens
And sultry neon reds
Could almost be seen as
A tree, Della said

The fountains at Bellagio
And the tower high above Paris
Miss Liberty at New York new York
And the giant new wheel of ferris

But for Vegas this is standard
Every night here is glitzy
After all that's why people come here
To feel a tad ritzy

But not me and Della
Shows are our reason
For coming to this place
This holiday season

So we did our best
And saw three shows just today
We saw a juggler, we saw Mac King
We saw a Cirque du Soleil

But Vegas has more than
shows big and small
Sometimes you'll end up doing
Something you didn't expect to at all

We got roped into sitting
through a timeshare man's pitch
And they almost convinced
Til we remembered we're not rich

But the swag that we got
Has added to our fun
Free lunch and a free show
And some cash (not a ton)

We packed it quite full
This Christmas Eve day
But tomorrow will* be fuller
Cause we're hitting the buffet

Until then we rest
On our giant hotel bed
While visions of adventures
Dance in our heads

I think about Santa
As I lay my head and retire
I don't think he'll visit
But I've got all I desire

Good family, good friends
And my partner I adore
Good health and good home
Who could ask for much more

So I drift off to dreamland
And its warm soft embrace
Reflecting on my full life
With a smile on my face

And just as I've ended
The 6 previous 'Twas posts'07, '08, '09, '11, '12, '13
I offer up my wishes
For my friends coast to coast

May your holiday be
A day filled up with delight
Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night!
Thursday December 25 2014File under: holidays, poem

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Merry Christmas 2014


Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Tuesday December 23 2014File under: holidays

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Obligatory DR Beach Post

The Caribbean is synonymous with fun in the sun. And fun in the sun is synonymous with great beaches. So while I'm not generally a beach guy, I did make a point while in the DR to check out as many beaches as I could. By beach number 5 or so, I was starting to come around: beach time ain't half bad.

The things I look for in a beach are 1) uncrowdedness 2) ample availability of shade and 3) absence of hustle (vendors insisting you "just look" at their wares, restaurants with pumping beats to supposedly entice you in, etc.) After these things comes the more generally accepted criteria of sand quality, swimability, etc. And while I didn't find my perfect beach by any means, each one I got to check out has its charms.

I found one secluded enough that with a 5 minute walk down the beach, I was totally alone*. Then, while maybe not the best for swimming or laying out, in a little town called Las Galeras, the beach felt very traditional and unexploited. I did a bit of laying out and reading (after all, what's time on the beach without the reading of a mindless novel), but mostly I stayed active.

Among the land of the mega-resorts (a.k.a. Punta Cana), I walked the length of the beach and back (it counts as my exercise for the day and a cultural experience!) seeing how the true vactioners do the beach. In the hippie(-ish) town of Cabarete, I found some folks to juggle with which caught the attention of some of the passers by. A lady from a nearby resort asked if she could film me to post on their facebook page. Of course I obliged (and then went and stole the video for this here blog :-))

A while I missed some of the reportedly best beaches of the country and skipped out on some of the more stereotypical beach activities, I'm pleased with my beach time. You could even say I more than pleased. I was pretty dang happy.
Thursday December 18 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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How to Skin a Coconut

One of my favorite things to do in the tropics is to find and open a coconut the way nature intended: with no tools. Mano a coco. I don't really like the flavor that much and I don't do it to save money on food. No, I just really really (really) love the concept: something so ubiquitous that you find them on the ground almost everywhere yet so difficult to get to without the right tools. I feel like it is an evolutionary challenge: "Are you clever enough to get the goodness that's inside me?" I take the challenge every chance I get. Here's a handy guide if you ever decide to have a go.

Step 1: Find a coconut. They won't look like those you see in the stores back home. They've got a big thick husk designed to make you feel inadequate. Try looking on a nice coconut palm lined beach. Plus, hey, you're on a beach!

Step 2: Find a couple of nice sharp rocks and start wailing on the thing. Be sure to try lots of approaches and angles because none of them works very well. And try not to smash your finger.

Step 3: Sweat...a lot. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Plus, there's a good chance you'll burn many more calories opening this stupid thing than what's contained inside, so you can write it off as today's exercise!

Step 4: Swear...a lot. Don't worry, that smashed finger will heal. Consider giving up. Because after all, you don't really like coconut and who is this "evolution" that's throwing the gauntlet anyway?

Step 5: Triumph! You've now gotten the husk off, half the battle. You deserve to take a selfie for instagram.

(Yes that was just half of the process. I never said it was going to be easy.)

Step 6: Now comes the delicate part, getting the nut open without spilling the delicious* water inside. If you had your trusty pocket knife, you'd just poke holes through the eyes on the end. But since we're going au natural, try a little more delicate smashy smashy.

Step 7: Drink and be merry! Totally worth it for that half cup of chunky water.

Step 8: Smashy smashy (again). Less care is needed this time around. Feel free to get out your aggression here. You showed that pesky evolution who's boss.

Step 9: Munch on the meat inside...for about 5 minutes until the novelty wears off or you get slightly sick of it. Chuck the rest into the underbrush. It doesn't keep well. Besides, it was all about the pursuit anyway.

Step 10: Head home for a nap. After all that work, you deserve it. On your way, consider grabbing a coconut ice cream and sit back and appreciate how much [of someone else's] work went into making it.

There you have it, a handy step by step guide to one of the most enjoyable rewarding satisfying activities the tropics have to offer.
Sunday December 14 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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27(-ish) Waterfalls

NOTE: I didn't take this photo (or the one below). I didn't take any because I left my camera in my backpack to stay dry. It was my attempt at living in the moment. And when I made the decision, I didn't know how cool it would be. If this photo is yours, 1) thank you for letting me use it and 2)please don't sue me. :-)
I don't mean to sound cliche here, but if you ever find yourself in the Dominican Republic, put 27 Charco on your todo list. I usually don't like trying to sway people into doing what I liked, as I am a much bigger fan of the serendipity of travel, but so much about this place is great, I've gotta recommend it!

Firstly, from a purely geographic standpoint, it's awesome. The river has cut a series of narrow canyons, deep pools, and varying waterfalls. It's somewhat like I imagine the slot canyons of Utah to be like during a flash flood. The canyons would be gorgeous to walk through even without the falls and river, with neat rock layers and formations every which way.

Then there's the experience: they do you up in a life jacket and helmet* and let you jump, swim, and slide your way down. Because I arrived too late (after the always confusing act of getting anywhere), I only got to do 12(-ish) of the 27(-ish)* falls. I got to jump* the highest cliffs, slide the best chutes, and go through some spectacular canyons. I can only imagine what I missed in those upper 14 waterfalls. Also, my guide* told me that the water level the river changes drastically depending on the rains, so some chutes would be faster with more rain, but the cliffs not as high.

Finally, there's the story behind the place. You can read all about it on their website (linked above) but basically, through the help of peace corp, they got it to be a national reserve where the government helps monitor things and keep things safe and fair, and some of the money goes back into the communities in the form of money for schools, etc. The guides share everything so they don't fight (like the hassle that ruins the experience at so many other places). All in all, it sounds like a good good thing that's happening there.

So are you sold yet? Don't you just want to be there right now? I do, again, and I was just there! Next time, though, I will get there early enough to do all 27 and take my camera in a sturdy plastic bag. Next time...
Friday December 12 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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Hit the Ground Walking

The first thing I like to do when I arrive in a new place, after securing a place to safely lay my head, is to head out and walk. No map, no destination, no expectations—just walk. On the functional side of things, it really connects with and orients me to the area. But it also serves to help me truly be in a place, rather than experience it through the lens of whatever guidebook, website, or friend's recommendations I have gotten. Just walking allows me to follow whatever minor whims occur at the moment and see where they take me. There's always time at the end to visit any highlights just walking might have missed.

Take Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, my current whereabouts, for example. Today, my first day here, I must have walked at least 8 miles, and I saw a lot. Of the "you should see this" list, I happened upon the presidential palace, Independence Park*, the malecon*, and the Columbus Lighthouse*. But I also happened on all sorts of other cool stuff, like this crazy Ricola statue* and this amazing fort/castle, places I probably would not have found if I was on a mission to any place in particular. I had lunch at a place that's never been mentioned in a guide book* and got lost resulting in the opportunity to practice my Spanish in asking for directions home. And I earned the 3 ice creams I stumbled upon.

Yep, this hit-the-ground-walking routine really works for me. My feet my be tired and my socks more pungent than normal, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wednesday December 10 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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