Best. Neighbor. Ever.

Posted by: elraymundo at 4:07 pm on Sunday, September 20, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Friends, Mystery Fawn, Ah, Memories

When Debra and I bought our first house, the one on Sugar Meadow Drive, the home inspector handed us a one-inch binder called “Your House, Your Home.” “Your House, Your Home” is a 300 page volume outlining the care and feeding of a house. It covers everything from the structure to the roof to the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. It breaks out lists of seasonal chores, building codes and maintenance hints and explains arcane topics like asbestos and radon. Flipping casually through the binder, there are diagrams illustrating the perils of truss uplift, wood rot, and combustion.

“Read this,” the home inspector told us. “Do what it says and you’re home will last a very long time.”

As a first-time homeowner and as someone who was never construction-inclined, he might as well have been telling me to read a book on Kung-Fu Mastery written in Mandarin. I know The Debra felt the same way.

Needless to say, when we moved into the house we were thrilled…and terrified. Every seam in the drywall, every nail-pop, every creak in the wall was a potential fatal flaw that could bring the house crumbling down around our ears. The Debra went through her Chamber of the Horribles, which is her dark path from uncertainty to acceptance. She would lie awake in bed and scan the walls and ceiling. “What if that crack up there is the roof about to cave in?” she would say. “I’m sure it’s just the house settling,” I would reply. We had ferocious winds in our neighborhood that would blast down the street sounding like freight trains in the night. “Will our house blow over?” she would ask and I would tell her no, that we might lose some shingles off the roof but that the house would stand.

But I’ll confess that when the heat pump died and the basement utility room flooded and when the lawn mower kicked the bucket and the monster trellis I built in the backyard needed a little help, when the R-values of the wall insulation came up for debate and when it was time to enter the neighborhood Lawn Olympics and fertilizers and the biological characteristics of grass and weeds were suddenly important (monocots versus dicots and the impact of fertilizer run-off on the algae bloom in the Chesapeake Bay) - when all that came up, I admit I was at a loss.

Fortunately I had at my disposal an incredible resource of immeasurable quality: Chris O’Neill, my next door neighbor.




And Chris shares what he knows. Without hesitation. Without compensation. He worked and thought and puzzled and noodled on my behalf so many times I can’t even begin to count. And he did it when he didn’t even know me, when I was just the clueless long-haired dude who moved in next door.

“Chris, my lawn mower won’t start. Any ideas?” Ten minutes later the lawn mower was in pieces and Chris had jury-rigged a spring to stretch from the thing to the whats-it and he’s pulled the starter cord and I’m back in the lawn-chopping business.

“Chris, I can’t figure out why my water heater is flooding my utility room.” And minutes later we were in the basement and I was getting a master class on water heaters and drainage and the downward sloping groove the original owner cut into the basement slab into which he had laid a runoff pipe designed to carry water to the sump pump and how heat and moisture can grow crud which blocks the pipe and causes water to back up and flood the utility room. “Bleach, Michael! Bleach will do the trick!” And we got a funnel and poured a half-gallon of bleach into the pipe and the utility room never flooded again.

I can go on and on. The trellis, the heat pump, adventitious roots, tree-houses, square foot gardens, the diabolical root systems of dandelions, the stealth qualities of gold-colored cars, the glory of re-wiring kitchen soffits, core-aerating the lawns, planning the tunnel we were going to dig from my basement to his…and of course the holiday extravaganzas: leaping from a coffin in a garage filled with dry ice smoke, bungee jumping off the second floor landing to deliver candy to the trick or treaters while bouncing from a cord fastened to an eye-hook in the ceiling of the two-floor foyer, the potato cannon on the Fourth of July, Rocket Man and the weekly unofficial holidays in the backyard where we all drank beer and wine or some other concoction while summer breezes lifted the humidity. Chris was at the root of all of those things.

A couple of years ago - on March 27th 2007, to be precise - a small ceramic deer appeared in our yard. We had no idea who he was or where he came from. He just appeared. This was him:

Mystery Fawn

At the time, I wrote,

La Raymunda called me at the Place of Toil and Labor just after our weekly project status meeting broke up at 10:00.

“Do you have any idea why…”

(and right here I’m already thinking, “Uh oh…what did I do?”)

“…there is a chipped ceramic deer in our front yard?”

(Whew. She didn’t see the hookers and the crack pipes I hid in the closet. Home free!)

We have a guest living among our daffodils - a ceramic deer named Mystery Fawn. (You can see a photo of Mystery Fawn here.) I opened the garage door yesterday to go to work and as I walked around the back of La Raymunda’s car I spotted a deer sitting in the flower bed. I stopped, looked again and, realizing Mystery Fawn was ceramic, stood a while longer trying to figure out where, exactly, Mystery Fawn came from.

There is a house down the street that has been for sale for nine months or so. They have weird red bricks piled up around their trees and flower beds and fake deer standing in the backyard. No one will buy the house, even though the asking price has come down about $75,000. Apparently weird red bricks and fake deer in the backyard are the kiss of death in real estate.

But I digress.

So the only thing I could think of was that some teenage kid stole Mystery Fawn and deposited him amongst our daffodils. Why us in all of suburbia? Well, why not? “Totally random,” I told La Raymunda. She, with her extensive experience with vandalism, believed that vandals actually thought things through before they ran around smashing mailboxes and pumpkins and riding their bikes across other peoples’ lawns.

La Raymunda guesses our next door neighbor, Chris, dropped Mystery Fawn off for an unannounced visit. We had sushi with Chris and Cindy a couple of nights ago and we talked about the fake deer in the backyard down the street - and it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Chris digging out some old garden-fawn from out of his basement and plopping it down next to our driveway in the middle of the night. This is the same man who dressed as a vampire and then harnessed himself to the ceiling of his two-story foyer with bungee cords so he could swoop down on trick-or-treaters on Halloween. A ceramic deer prank is kid’s play for Chris.

I’m coming around on the Chris O’Neill’s Wild Kingdom story myself. Chris is a perfectionist and Mystery Fawn wasn’t just cast ashore on our lawn. It’s obvious that Mystery Fawn was arranged with care, so as not to trample any flowers, aligned nicely with the sidewalk in a narrowing pinch of the flower bed with soft, chipped little eyes gazing longingly toward the northwest.

Mystery Fawn traveled back and forth between our house and Chris and Cindi’s, each time dressed up in something different.

Mystery Fawn Mystery Fawn

Mystery Fawn became Leprefawn…

Mystery Fawn

and Bridal Fawn…

Mystery Fawn

and Rastafawnian…

Mystery Fawn

and Kommoniwannafawnya.

Mystery Fawn

It was a friendly game of one upmanship, with each iteration of Mystery Fawn being a little more outrageous than the last. And then summer came and everyone got busy and Mystery Fawn nestled quietly in Chris’ garage and went to sleep.

Until this week.

Cindi was in Calitastrophe visiting us when the job situation blew up in March. She got the full story of The Plagues of the Calipocalypse. She heard about the wildfires that nearly burned down our house, the mudslides that threatened our property, the vicious Santa Ana winds that blew pounds of ash and soot and leaves and charred debris into our pool every day, the lightning strike that knocked out the data center I worked at, the endless power crises that crippled that same data center for months and ultimately led to its demise, the food poisoning and the IRS bill and then the grand finale: losing my job. Lucky Cindi, she was there to hear all of that. And thank God she was or we would have lost it. We needed a friend to lean on and here we had an O’Neill! And when we decided that enough was enough, that we were fleeing what we called The Anaheimville Horror, when I had to fly from Califiasco to Virginia on a Monday to interview on a Tuesday and then fly back on a Wednesday, Chris and Cindi opened their home, took me to dinner, loaned me their car and massaged my weary feet until I fell asleep.

Ok, they didn’t touch my feet or massage anything else. But they might as well have for all the love and friendship they showed. Because that’s the kind of friends they are. And when The Debra and I returned to Virginia for good, schlepping our worldly possessions across the country for the second time in a year, they housed us and fed us and made us drinkies and then, once all the dust had settled and we were settling into a rented townhouse in Herndon, Chris made us laugh again.

Debra and I went for a walk one evening this week. As we returned home and turned the corner onto Rose Petal Circle, Debra laughed suddenly and said, “Oh my God. Look.” She pointed to the small bed of flowers in front of our front stairs. There sat Mystery Fawn.

The only way to describe this new iteration of Mystery Fawn, whom we’ve dubbed Califawnia, is from the ground up.

Mystery Fawn

Our little friend sits on a California-shaped slab of foam which is split at the top by a bold red lightning bolt which doubles as the harbinger of doom for the data center (death by lightning strike) and the twin earthquakes which rocked our house in April (epicenter: two miles away under some dude’s driveway up the street). Califawnia is threatened by flames and wears a surgical mask so he can breathe while he fights fires with a garden hose and save the homes of the neighborhood.

Mystery Fawn

His shiny coat is smudged with soot and he’s got bandages binding his wounds. A dashing silvery-pink scarf blows lustily in the Santa Ana winds, defiantly announcing that yes, winds of Calistupida, you may fill my pool with dirt and ash and leaves and soot and make me labor for hours every day to clean it, but I’m going to look like million bucks while doing it!

Mystery Fawn

Screw you, Calipocalypse, Califawnia says. I see your disasters. I see your betrayals and stupid natural calamities and I stick out my tongue at you and say nyah nyah because I am home and I am whole and I am, once again, among friends.

And so Chris, I wrap up this very long piece by saying to you, thank you. Thank you for Mystery Fawn. And thank you for being a fantastic neighbor, a port in the storm, an encyclopedia of knowledge, a co-conspirator and, most of all, a damn good friend.

Now I’ve got to find a way to one-up you on the next Mystery Fawn. I already have an idea… :)

Mets 6, Nats 2, Michael 10,000 Megabazillion

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:00 pm on Monday, July 20, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Friends, Sports

I went to watch the Nats play the Mets with Jeff W on a perfect summer night with soft air slipping around the upper decks as we sipped Newcastle and he kept score and I rambled on about past injustices and hopes for restoration and how good it felt to be back home in a place we hadn’t really realized had become home after all these years and how peaceful and relaxed it was to hang out with an old friend and just freakin’ be and not worry about this and that and the other and backstory and commas and the correct use of the subjunctive and hopefully, I thought and I think said out loud, this will become a common occurrence, me going to the ballgame with Jeff and the sun slowly set and draped the night sky in my favorite cloak of velvet indigo and the Nats got pounded for their 66th loss of the season as they round second heading for third in what may shape up to be the third most futile season in major league history but we still aren’t as bad as the ‘62 Mets so take that you smarmy obnoxious Mets fans. Salute!

Right Field at the Nats Game
I double-dog dare you to find a better way to spend a summer night that doesn’t involve a Brazilian underwear model

Conference on the Mound
Candlesticks always make a nice gift…

Ok, had to add this comment Sue made to me in chat after she read this post. She and Jefferoo live in Boston, just to put things in context.

Sue: There really is nothing like a baseball game on a beautiful summer night
Sue: with 5-6 beers
Sue: and people yelling “fahhhhk you Jetahhh” behind you
Sue: fenway of course :) :)

(Hope you don’t mind my publishing you, Sue!)

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Five

Posted by: elraymundo at 11:40 am on Sunday, July 12, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Ah, driving down the road in the Jeep on a gorgeous, soft-aired summer day with a headful of peace of mind, a bellyful of Five Guys cheeseburger and an earful of Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold. Pure bliss.

Ok, so maybe it’s not everybody’s bliss, but it’s my bliss.

La Raymunda and I did the walkthrough of our new townhouse in Herndon today. Debra arranged the rental while we were still in Southern Calipocalypse and the place is great. 2800 square feet of living space with a two-car garage and hardwood floors. The rent is the same as what we paid in Irvine last summer when we rented before buying the house on Stonehaven Drive. The chief difference is that for the same money we get twice as much livable space. Score!!

Our new place is walking distance from the Metro connection in Herndon and just a couple of minutes from the Dulles Toll Road. The supermarket is also within walking distance, as well as restaurants and shopping. There is a Gold’s gym just down the street so I can start dumping all the weight I put on after eating my way through the last several months of turmoil, and Ned Devine’s Irish Pub is two doors down from the gym so I can refresh after my workout. (Just ignore the obvious incongruity there.)

As for the last stretch of our drive across the country, we did it in one fifteen hour shot, driving from Jackson, Tennessee to Virginia and arriving at the townhouse at just before 1:00am Saturday morning. We parked in the driveway, got out of the Jeep and walked up the front steps in the dark and touched the front door to signify the end of the journey home. Then we headed over to Chris and Cindi’s back in our old neighborhood where we are staying until our stuff arrives later this week. Total miles for the cross-country trip was 2841 miles door-to-door and the route was Yorba Linda, CA -> Flagstaff, AZ -> Santa Fe, NM -> Weatherford, OK -> Jackson, TN -> Herndon, VA. Along the way we saw a giant meteor crater, Petrified Forest National Park, the city of Santa Fe, blew through Oklahoma on powerfully gusting winds, ate cheese dip at Stobey’s in Conway, AR and lit our lips on fire at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. Debra wants to write a guest column about Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, so I won’t say much more than that the place is a Nashville soul food institution and the chicken will burn your lips off. We survived the flames, though, and made it the rest of the way to Virginia.

It’s sure good to be home

Trip Stats
Total Distance: 2,841.68 miles / 4,573.24 kilometers
Arrival Time: 12:50am Saturday July 7
Overall Average Speed: 58.1mph / 93.5kmh
Moving Average Speed: 65.3mph / 105.1kmh
Maximum Speed: 86.6mph / 139.4kmh
Travel Time: 43 hours 30 minutes

So Long, 2008

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:12 pm on Thursday, January 1, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Friends, Self-Spotting

Whenever The Debra says something like, “Oh God, I look so old today,” I always remind her to consider the alternative. That’s the perspective I choose to take with 2008, as I send it into its long, wintry goodnight. (Not that there is much “wintry” going on in Southern California, but I try to work with what I’ve got.) 2008 was a massive pain in the butt, but it was better to have lived through it than to have not been around for the experience at all.

To be honest, I can’t wrap up The Year That Was any better than our guests, Wendy Hunter and Rolf Wyss and their two sons did when they came to celebrate my birthday on January 2nd (which I suppose lets the cat out of the bag on the fact that I am writing this post after January 1 and cheating by pre-dating it - but again, I work with what I’ve got). Wendy and Rolf, and their 4-year-old son Jaeger and 8-year-old son Bodø, gave a short performance in our family room which summed up 2008 better than I ever can. They were kind enough to leave a transcript of the performance as well as give me rights to its first publication in North America with an option to add worldwide and electronic permissions with advance written notice - plagiarized and notarized - as long as a live salamander is stapled to the request.


Poem for Michael, Upon Turning 42


At 41, Michael found life a bit dull,
“How to stir things up, and get out of this lull?
I know!” he said, to his lovely mate.
“Let’s get out of Virginia, move to the Golden State.”


So Michael and Debra packed up and came
Moved near family and friends, but what a shame!
Had an earthquake that summer, they were near the epicenter -
Hadn’t closed on their house, they were living in a “renter.”


Went ahead and bought the house near the middle of the market;
Real estate crashed, “Yikes, can we hock it?”
Fellow Yorba Lindans saying, “Yes on Prop 8!”
“Aargh…how can we live in this conservative state?!”


Next thing they knew, fires raged all round about ‘em,
Bonded with those neighbors, “Garden hoses on!” they shouted at ‘em.
With ash in the swimming pool and dust throughout the rooms,
Preparing for the holidays filled Debra with great gloom.


Just when everything was neat and tidy, spick and span,
Torrential rain poured from the skies, enough to break any dam
And send mudslides creeping downward toward all the homes.
“Evacuate!” said authorities. “Now it’s time to roam!”


It’s January 2nd, and orders been restored - all clear!
For Michael looking back, 41 has been quite a year.
What can the next, 42, have in store?


We don’t know, but…we hope you won’t be bored!

To that I would only add this email exchange I had with my boss back in Herndon, Virginia, after we had wished each other a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2009:

2008 wore me out. Between changing jobs, living in four residences, moving twice, crossing the country twice (at high speed while doing conference calls and learning a new job), buying a house, fires almost burning my new house down, mudslides, family holiday drama, losing a top engineer on my team, dealing with the economy and its psychological fallout, and then all the chaos at work to close out December…I’m ready for a quiet year.

So please everyone, while Baby New Year looks cute and cuddly in its New Year Diaper, please tiptoe and whisper and try not to wake it; I need a break.

Happy New Year and may the coming year be blessed, peaceful, prosperous, and full of joy for you all.


TeamRaymond Across America - Day Four

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:49 am on Friday, April 18, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Denver, Colorado
Written from Mark’s office in his home in Parker
Miles today: 376
Total miles: 2252
Number of states: 12
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Hot Springs, SD -> Chugwater, WY -> Cheyenne, WY -> Denver

Greetings from Denver, Colorado!

Debra and I stopped at a McDonald’s in Iowa the other day for a restroom break and a snack. I looked around at the employees and the customers and realized we were in Racial Homogeny Central.

“These white people all look the same,” I whispered to Debra.

She, being ultra-PC, smiled knowingly and didn’t reply.

I didn’t realize how multi-cultural and multi-ethnic northern Virginia was until we got to the Midwest. I mean, I knew most of the people in the Midwest were white, but it didn’t hit me how abundantly white the area was until we were standing in line at that McDonald’s waiting to order. I mean, not only were all the people white, they were the same kind of white. There were no Italian- or Greek-looking white people in the restaurant. Everyone - except Debra - looked like they were yanked up out of Sweden by the hair and plopped down into the middle of Iowa to serve fries.

When we drove through Ellettsville - the über-American small town in Indiana - Debra looked around the place and said, “I bet there’s not a Jew around here for miles…”

So, anyway, not to belabor the point, but if you ever need to know where all the white people are at, look in the Midwest. The place is jam-packed with them. :)


Jonesing for a yummy, home-made cherry pie? Stop at the Sinclair gas station in Orin, Wyoming. Not only can you get a cherry pie that will knock your socks off, but you can eat it while looking out over a sweeping panorama of rugged Old West scenery that stretches for more miles than you can count. And on top of all that, the Sinclair gas station signs still have that really cool big green dinosaur on them.


Jonesing for some really yummy chili and a malt or shake made the old-fashioned way? Stop at the Soda Fountain in Chugwater, Wyoming. The town is just north of Cheyenne by about 45 miles and still has a soda fountain so authentic (it’s been there since 1914) that, were she still alive, you might expect Lana Turner to breeze in through the doorway. And they serve local-made Chugwater Chili which was deeeeeeee-licious.

Chugwater is mostly deserted now - the population shown on the sign as you roll into town is 244 - and apparently it was a bustling place until the Interstate went through in the 1960s. At that point, traffic on the old highway that was the main drag through town dried up and the town shriveled. Now the townies drive to Cheyenne (45 miles) or Wheatland (25 miles) for their groceries. But they still have their Soda Fountain - yum!


Last night at dinner, Sam, Mark and Keri’s daughter, looked at me with big wide eyes and said, “I have a boyfriend. His name is Sam, too.” Sam is 5 years old.

“And what are his plans for the future?” I asked Sam.

“We get in trouble. We play in class,” she said. Then, “Jessie has a boyfriend too.” Jessie is three. “Jessie’s boyfriend is named Mason and he squirts mustard on his butt. And he squirts ketchup on Jessie’s butt.”

I really don’t know how to wrap this up. So I’ll just stop.


TeamRaymond Across America - Day Three

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:53 am on Thursday, April 17, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Hot Springs, South Dakota
Written in room 120 at the Super 8 Motel
Miles today: 450
Total miles: 1876
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Sioux Falls -> Hot Springs

Greetings from Hot Springs, South Dakota!

We’re parked at the Super 8, which sits right next to the Mammoth Site. We’ll be heading over there in a bit to see whatever there is to see wooly mammoth-wise.

The weather was mostly junk yesterday. No rain, but lots of grey clouds which did break up some in the late afternoon. I was hoping for some good, low-level evening light when we passed by Mount Rushmore (the photo-geek in me wanting his photo ops) and even though we didn’t get it, the carved face of the mountain was still awesome and inspiring. Even from the road outside the park the sight of the sculptures in incredible - especially the way they pop out from behind the trees as you round a bend in highway 16a when coming south from Cedar Rapids. It’s just incredible.

The road continues winding through the Black Hills with the mountain on the right, and every once in a while the clouds would part and the dark green hills would light up with evening sunlight. We didn’t stop at Crazy Horse this time, having seen it and climbed to the face a couple of years ago, but we did see it from a distance…Crazy Horse’s arm pointing forward out over the neck and head of his war horse.

Also along the way yesterday we took a drive through the Badlands and then up to Wall, where we stopped at Wall Drug for donuts (we ate A LOT of donuts at Wall Drug when we were there in 2005). Unfortunately, the time of day and the grey skies made photography in the Badlands pretty much useless, but we did enjoy the drive among the rock pillars and spikes and needles and buttes and mesas and never once did we see an anvil crashing on a coyote’s head.

Then again, we were probably in the wrong area for that. Maybe in a couple of days, when we get to Arizona.

Today we’re heading south and a little west from Hot Springs. We’ll slice through the very eastern edge of Wyoming and down through Cheyenne on our way to Denver, where we’ll stay with Mark and Keri, their three daughters, one dog, cat and obscenely-stocked wine cellar.

What I am hoping is that we’ve seen the last of the fierce headwinds that have blown since Indiana. On the ocean crossing to Antarctica last year we learned that fetch is the distance across which wind can blow unobstructed. Since wind causes waves and waves cause rough seas, fetch is a good thing to understand when sailing. Well, from the Rockies to the Appalachians there is nothing to break the wind - meaning that there is a hell of a lot of fetch in the oh-so-flat Midwest. So driving a canvas-topped cube at 85mph into super-strong headwinds has not been fun. I think we’re getting about 5 miles to the gallon as a result of the wind resistance and the sound of the wind inside the Jeep has been FEROCIOUS. The guys at the dealership said they had fixed the air leak where the canvas top meets the top frame of the windshield. The fact that Debra and I have to shout to hear each other over the wind noise tells me that the dealership guys don’t know squat about fixing air leaks.

And so it goes. But we’re having a good time.

Ok, we’re off to see the Famous Woolly Mammoth of Hot Springs. More tomorrow!

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Two

Posted by: elraymundo at 9:54 am on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Written from Carla and Colin’s guest room
Miles today: 787
Total miles: 1426
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Bloomington, IN -> Peoria, IL -> Davenport, IA -> Albert Lea, MN -> Sioux Falls

Greetings from Sioux Falls, South Dakota!

La Raymunda and I are staying with Carla and Colin in their sprawling mansion behind the driving range. This place is HUGE! And their bath towels…mmmm, plush!

(I’m downloading last night’s episode of American Idol as I write this so we can watch it in the Jeep as we drive across South Dakota to the Badlands.)

We drove 787 miles yesterday, which, together with the previous day’s drive of 638 miles, puts us more than 1400 miles into our trip in just two days. The good part is that the boring parts of the trip are largely finished (sorry to anyone offended, but Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and southern Minnesota just aren’t very exciting) and we’re looking at five days of short trips through much more interesting parts of the country. Coming up: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Rockie Mountains, the red rocks and canyons of Utah and the Grand Canyon. I’m really looking forward to the next few days of the trip.


Ellettsville, Indiana sits just outside Bloomington on IN-46. We used that and IN-231 to get us to I-74 which took us up diagonally to the northwest through Illinois to Iowa and I-80. The town is quintessential Americana, at least judging by the view from the road. A small, wooden, white-spired church just off the main drag, clusters of homes with large backyards dotted with swingsets, a clean, tidy brick fire station and flags fluttering from flag poles.

“Wow,” I said to Debra. “This town is so America.”

“I was just going to say that,” she said.

“This is the image of ourselves we like to portray.”

“Mm-hmm,” she assented.

“As opposed to that other one with the guns.”

On another note, we had a lengthy discussion about which route to take through Iowa to get to Sioux Falls. Debra spent and hour or so plotting and measuring different routes and found that they all came out to roughly the same distance. So when she asked if I would rather go to Sioux Falls via Nebraska or Minnesota, I chose Minnesota. Not only did I grow up there, but it makes a much better story to say that you drove from Washington, D.C. to LA via Minnesota. You know, because most people think Minnesota is in Canada.

One final note (I hope) on the odd products sold from the condom vending machines in the roadside men’s rooms of America. I’m not convinced that the makers of the products are aware of what is actually going on down there when two consenting adults engage in amorous enterprise, because in a restroom in Indiana they sell a product called the Tickle Ring, which looked like a dog collar that Sid Vicious would have worn. It had three rows of spikes - made of latex, I hope - circling the ring that apparently enhance one’s experience. “Studded for increased sexual pleasure!” the label claimed. Studded? Oh, the humanity!

And with that final salvo we are off to have breakfast, or perhaps brunch, with Carla and Colin (thanks for letting us crash with you!!) and then bid them and their lovely mansion and their plush bath towels au revoir as we continue west to the Badlands and our night’s rest in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Along the way we’ll pass the Corn Palace, Wall Drug (whose first billboard we spotted in Minnesota on I-90 - “Wall Drug…only 355 miles!”), where we’ll get a maple-frosted donut, the Badlands and perhaps Mount Rushmore, which is equally stunning in the daytime or at night.

Off to Mexico!

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:34 am on Friday, February 22, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends

In thirty minutes we are out the door to the airport to catch the plane to Mexico!

(La Raymunda is staggering around the bedroom like the lost patrol of the undead. Early mornings kill her.)

We’ll spend tonight at Chichen Itza and meet up with Jeff and Sue at Playa del Carmen on Saturday. At least I think that’s what the plan is.

Yay Mexico!!!

Photo of the Day - 1.27.2008

Posted by: elraymundo at 1:28 pm on Sunday, January 27, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Friends, Photo of the Day

Alexandra and the Frölunda Hockey Club
Alexandra and the Frölunda Hockey Club
- Sugar Meadow Drive, Great Falls, Virginia
01.26.2008 ©Michael Raymond 2006 - 2008


Posted by: elraymundo at 1:12 pm on Sunday, January 27, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Friends

Chad and Anna came by for dinner last night and brought their (almost) two-year-old daughter, Alexandra. We’re surrounded lately, it seems, with the small children of our friends, all of whom are closer to our age than the typical ages of the parents of toddlers and little kids. All just part of the trend of couples becoming parents later in life, I guess. (As opposed to how kids used to be cranked out at 19, 22, 24 and so on.)

Anyway, off the top of my head I can think of Chad and Anna. Jim and Lynne. John and Elisa. Tam and Joe. Chris and Misty. Jeff ans Sue. Kym and Tom. Annette and Karla. Wendy and Rolf. Wendelin and Brian.

The Debra is arguing with me about Devon. “He’s six, he’s not a toddler.”

“Yes, but it used to be that the parent of a six-year-old was 30, not 37 or 38 or 40 or 42 or whatever.”

She shrugged, but didn’t argue back.

We are in a golden age of uncle and aunthood, LaRay and I. It’s great. We get to spoil the kids and then give them back!

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