Monday, February 21, 2011

Let's Go Sailing; I Hear the Arabian Sea is Beautiful This Time of Year!!

There are just some places retired Americans looking for adventure should not visit. After all that has gone on in recent years I would fire the navigator who plotted a course putting my vessel anywhere near the coast of Somalia...even if it was my life partner. I am dumbfounded as to why this latest hijacking had to happen. It just does not make sense that someone smart enough to earn a medical degree puts himself and others in harms way, even for evangelical purposes, at a time when savages rule a lawless body of water.

Jean and Scott Adam had been pursuing a dream of sailing around the world and distributing the Good Book aboard their sloop christened Quest. According to the couple's website, their initial journeys started in 2002. Originally from Marina Del Ray, the retired dentist, his wife and 2 others succumbed to acts of piracy while on a mission to satisfy their own urges and callings. For dedicated believers, distributing material that promotes Christianity can be hard to ignore. However, there are times when common sense should overtake conviction. Granted, if everyone in a difficult position gave in to common sense we might not have as many significant advances in science, technology, and the human condition as we do today. However, in 2011 the coast of Somalia appears to be as good an "off-limits zone" as there could be.

Government agencies are quick to advise travelers to avoid traveling to dangerous places. According to the New York Times warnings were sent out to maritime travelers by the Navy to stay in the shipping lanes when navigating around the Arabian Sea. Traveling in groups was also advised. The Adams chose to ignore these warnings and left a group of other boats to go off on their own adventure. With such a breech of safety protocol should our tax dollars be involved in this situation at all?

I have not read of any planned rescue attempts, but articles state that American military officials are aware of the situation. In the past ransoms have been paid to secure safe releases of those captured by Somali pirates. The Adams appear to be a family of some means. I hope funds are raised from private sources and all aboard the Quest are released unharmed and before the next high tide. There is just too big difference between a merchant marine and a pleasure boater and who deserves government assistance when it comes to dangerous conditions on the high seas. With so much going on in our world people have to be held responsible for their own actions. This ranks right up there with hiking anywhere near the border of Iran after the year in a decade of powder-keg tensions.

The website for the sailing vessel Quest ( is amazing and quite impressive. This couple has a bigger sense of adventure than I could even fathom. I have been nervous sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. As brought to light by the hijacking of the Quest, there are limitations that should not be ignored unless one is willing to accept the consequences of their actions. As evangelists, the Adams were probably well aware of the situation they were putting themselves in and most likely willing to take what came. Now we can only hope and pray for their safety and well being and also the success of their mission. If they convert one Somali pirate to Christianity who knows what good might ensue in a ravaged territory. The speculation is limitless.

My own thoughts fluctuate so much when I think about the Adam's situation. Of course I hope and pray for their safety but then I get a little perturbed about their decision to sail into the Gulf of Aden. There are places people should just steer clear of - and that goes for all races and creeds. Unfortunately, no one is immune to the harmful intentions of others in the modern day. I am reminded of the line from Casablanca when Rick warns Major Strasser that there are some places in the Bronx where the German army might want to stay out of. Now I'll just keep shaking my head and pondering the situation some more...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hunt Dog Training...Well, Maybe Just Dog Training

Eli gets away with murder. He was such a pathetic thing as a puppy that he was able to exist without incurring much discipline. During his first few months in Chicago, Gracie hardly let the dog put his paws on the ground. Everyone just felt sorry for the tiny mongrel who was a few sandwiches short of a picnic...or so everyone thought. The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is a breed that takes a while to come around. These dogs were bred to be jack of all trades and masters of none. Griffs have a lot of capabilities and smarts. Now I am blown away by everything Eli has to offer.

In the early days I was not much on this rag-a-muffin. It was hard dealing with a whiny wuss who could never EVER control his bladder. This was especially the case when Arthur was adhering to all his obedience training and mellow outlook on life despite being constantly gnawed on by some monkey-looking thing. Looking back, I realize my foolish way of thinking. I should have been more involved in helping Eli reach his full potential.

Over the last year Eli and I have really started to bond. This started when I watched him during Gracie and Arthur's first trip to Westminster. Everyone was wondering how the dog would react to being away from his Momma for the first extended period of time. The consensus was that he would freak out, cry 24/7, and go insane. My plan was to wear him out with tons of exercise and sooth his mind with plenty of bacon and eggs. The plan worked. Eli surprised everyone and was a lot of fun to have around my loft. Together, we explored some of the most beautiful streets in Chicago in all sorts of weather.

I was especially blown away when I witnessed him point for the first time. On one of our walkabouts Eli froze in the perfect position with his left paw up. It was beautiful and I really felt proud of him, despite the fact that he was pointing at an empty bag of BBQ potato chips blowing across the park. One must celebrate the small victories when one can!

Other people are starting to come around to Eli as well. He was not a favorite among those who gathered at the Ale House but now many people enjoy seeing both dogs when they come in for one of Gracie's cocktails. My Mom always asks about Eli and how he is doing. My Aunt Bev on the other hand still doesn't see it. The first time she met Gracie she walked in our hotel room in York, PA and was greeted at the door by Eli; her response - "my what an ugly dog you are!" Although he is a handful he is cute as hell!!

Lately we have been jogging by the lake and I am encouraged by his progress. The Mongrel is still rather rambunctious but this is helping force me to get back in shape. On our outings he responds pretty well when challenged. His slow maturation process is no fault of his own. His true self was overlooked. With a clearer perspective, I love watching him grow both mentally and physically. He has such a charm about him that I have to make sure I maintain a disciplined role in his life because it is so easy to just let go and watch him goof off.

I really look forward to skateboarding with him. I think Eli Mongrel has huge potential to be a great companion on the Lakefront Trail and at Wilson Skatepark.

Last night I was talking to a guy who offered me some tips that worked well when he trained his own Griff. I can't wait to start applying some pressure that will help Eli achieve all he is capable of. Now...if only Gracie will let me take him off the leash once in a while!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Midnight on a Mild Night

Eli woke me up with a quick wet kiss just after the stroke of 12. I grabbed a pair of dungarees he grabbed his seemingly eternal rawhide. The jangle of the choke chain sent him right into Wookie mode. All is quiet save for the Griffon doing his Chewbacca impressions over and over again. He goes quiet as soon as I unlock the door. We step outside into the night and I leave my pea coat unbuttoned for the first time in several months. It's a Monday night; actually, it's Tuesday morning and I have to make the pup comfortable for the night. We both stop on the front steps. Eli looks for bunnies while I decide on our route. It's rather pleasant out so I choose my favorite way...

The melting snow has left little patches of ice on the sidewalks. You don't see them but they're there. Even Eli slips out of stride every now and then but he is much more graceful than myself.

It's so quiet out. Eli crunches through the remaining snow banks stopping at every piss stain left by other dogs. Male dogs used to annoy the hell out of me, but now I don't mind stopping. Being forced to stop every once in a while is good for me. While the Mongrel sniffs I take in the world around me, which is really just an academic attempt to say: I love looking in peoples' windows. I could care less about seeing them; I'm more interested in their decor. Who needs a virtual tour when you can take a walk through a quiet neighborhood after midnight.

I have my favorite residence on Menonomee Street. I pass by several desirable addresses to get to the "one." These people usually leave their blinds open so I get a better view of the interior. It's an expansive open floor plan with a huge kitchen space. I would love to sip on a Louis Latour Chardonnay and make lemon-caper chicken in there one night. This morning when I was walking Eli I exchanged pleasantries with the owner of the place. He came out in his bathrobe to fetch his paper right as we passed. More than once I have passed by and the front door has been wide open. The neighborhood is safe and the schnauzer looking thing that stays by the window would definitely not take too kindly to any strangers stepping past the threshold. This dog let's Eli know who's property it is every time we pass.

When I get to Sedgwick I see a nicely-dressed young woman getting dropped off at her apartment. The SUV drives off before she is safely inside. I hope she didn't give up any of the goods to a guy who doesn't finish the job. There is no form of communication once the car door closes. She gets her keys out and taillights fade in the direction of North Avenue. She gets inside then Eli and I move onto the next yellow patch a few doors down.

Most of the houses down Sedgwick are beautifully decorated inside. There is one house that looks abandoned but at night a few lights illuminate the second (sometimes) and third (always) floors. Three doors down one flat screen was on in a second floor flat. It looked like someone was trying to fall asleep to Sportscenter.

Off in the distance I see flashing blue lights. The peace of the night is broken. I take Eli out in the street to see where the trouble is. The bust is pretty far down the street either at the Stop and Rob or the Marshall Fields apartments. Both places can be pretty rough. This summer was really bad around the apartments. I like seeing the blue lights.

Eli finishes up his business across the street from a house that has some beautiful stained-glass windows. I have never noticed this place before. The windows look very nice with the dark-brick exterior. If only I could see further inside!

I consider going straight down Eugenie and checking out the row of houses that display some nice pieces of art but decide against it. I'm craving a cup of tea and the Mongrel is starting to lag. We will check out the art another night. Besides, it's late and the residents have probably already turned out their lights.

Back at the house I am pulling out my keys when Eli snaps into hunt mode. Damn he looks good when he almost points. I look down the street to see what caught his attention and see nothing of note. It is probably one of those bunnies that are starting to scurry around the different gardens in the neighborhood. But you never know with could have been a burger wrapper blowing across the sidewalk. The hunting instinct usually found in his breed doesn't really apply to this Mongrel but we love  him very much anyway.

The whole time I am drying Eli paws I am thinking about nighttime walks in just jeans and a t-shirt. Spring isn't too far off or at least I hope it isn't. I am also thinking about what I can do to the inside of the apartment so people will want to walk by our place on their nighttime adventures. Now it's time for that cup of tea...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

2011 off to a bang!

After the all-too-quiet months that follow Homestead, race fans were treated to an exciting pre-season race last night. 2011 began with the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway with newly designed cars,  some new sponsors for a few drivers, and new asphalt on the track at Daytona for the first time since the 1970s. Twenty-four drivers lined up to vie for a purse of $200,000 and pride. No points are awarded that apply to Sprint Cup Standings which one might think would lessen the excitement, but such was not the case. The field raced hard. Few drivers went into the race with any concrete strategy and went out on the track just to see what would happen. A lot of drivers had some tight hands during the 10 minute half-time break after 25 laps of white-knuckle racing.

What was very apparent early on and in the second section of 75 laps was the fact that some of the same old feelings between drivers held over from last year. What comes around definitely seems to go around.

If you do not bump draft at Daytona you don't win. Drivers must pair up with another car in order to have any chance at finishing in the money. This year two car packs seemed to fair just as well or better than packs of multiple cars. Very few of the two-pack cars were teammates. Drivers went with who they thought had the fastest car that would help them. However, one very fast car was often left to fend for himself.  The bump-draft style of racing commands attention from spectators. Anything can happen at any moment in the race, as was the case last night.

The Toyotas were fast, real fast. Kyle Busch drove his #18 car with the pedal on the floor but he often had trouble finding anyone to draft with. I found myself scratching my head when Kyle blew around the pack at one point then fell back to almost last place when many of the stronger cars passed him by. One of those stronger cars was teammate Joey Logano who kept the nose of his #20 tight to the back of Jimmy Johnson's #48 Chevrolet. Also, it did not go unnoticed that Denny Hamlin in the #11, also a teammate of Busch, went by him as well. When Kyle finally did hook up with Mark Martin in the #5 the results did not prove well for either driver as both ended up turned around and watching the finish from the garage area. I doubt Kyle Busch was excited about having to team up with a driver who may be just on the waning edge of his great career but he did not appear to have any other choice.

Kasey Khane in the #9 was the first to hit the pit road and he did not return. Junior, who started on the pole, founded his #88 Chevrolet, much like most of last season, amidst some turmoil that included Carl Edwards in the #99 as well. When it came down to the last quarter of the race the field had shrunk from 24 to around 14.

If I was to predict anything from last night it would be that Jeff Gordon in the #24 looks like he may continue his backslide. Last year he seemed unable to sustain the level of driving that he displayed for so many years prior to the 2010 season. Unless he is keeping his cards close to his chest I did not see any of the spectacular driving or decision making from the pits that made him a top contender for so many years. Gordon drives for Rick Hendrick so you never knowhow the rest of the season will unfold...unless you, unfortunately, drive the #88 car.

Four cars were in contention on the final lap. Ryan Newman in the #39 looked like he had the victory locked up until he slid up the track and left an a opening for Hamlin. The #11 tried to pass on the bottom and almost had him until the #39 slid back down and forced Hamlin to go beneath the double yellow line in order to finish the pass. Hamlin was black flagged for this, but he should be awarded a nice steak dinner from Newman for not wrecking the #39 and allowing him to finish in third place.

With all the jockeying going on between the #11 and the #39, the higher side was the place to be. Kurt Busch sporting a new paint scheme, new sponsors, and a new number - 22, went by to the right and crossed the finish line first thanks to very generous racing by Jamie McMurray in the #1. This was the first restrictor plate win for Kurt Busch who had to have been ecstatic to start 2011 in a very positive manner after all the changes he dealt with in the off season.

Points racing begins next week at Daytona. If the start of Sprint Cup racing looks anything like pre-season then the fans of NASCAR are in for some excitement. Qualifying for next week's race continues today and will be broadcast on Fox at 1pm EST.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Still Hibernating...

The stillness of winter can be prosperous for some and rather damaging for others. I wish I was in the group that took advantage of the months when the weather forces one to spend most of his or her time indoors. Strong people can take quiet moments and turn them into productive chapters in their lives. I hate the fact that my camera seems to be bolted to the shelf and picking up a pencil or pen feels like changing a tire. My weakness is pathetic. The world outside my window awaits documentation and a paragraph or two of description. A true artist would put on a few layers and brave the 4 degree temperature in pursuit of something to further his or her craft. I can't even pursue to New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

Writing this is helping. I think I might head down to the Art Institute and check out some art. I need to take my camera but it just makes my bag so bulky...

The Vatican won't recognize iphone confessions. Thank goodness I bought Angry Birds instead. Playing that stupid game is not helping my TMJ tho.

Eli Mongrel loves this cold weather. He wants to go out all the time and run run run. I remember when he didn't even want to put his paws down on the cold ground when he first arrived from Reno just over 2 years ago.

I have seen just about every movie that is now playing on all 8 HBOs and my Miami Vice Seasons 1-3 discs are scratched up from overuse.

It's now 11am and almost time for a Guinness...better go do something productive first!