Friday, April 27, 2007

Been there, done that, you can have it!

Well, we're back from Las Vegas. It truly was a world unto itself - a pretty sordid world. Never before have I seen quite the level of open encouragement to indulge yourself in all your basest vices, as I did in that city. Signs glimpsed by Papaya Daddy & myself: "Seven deadly sins: one convenient location", "Seven deadly sins? We demand a recount!", and "Finance your fun with our bank!". [Aside: can you name the seven deadly sins*? We looked them up when we got home. They really aren't all that glamorous or exciting - my guess is the sign makers didn't know what they were, either.]

There were fun things to do in Vegas. But the enormous casinos you had to drag your kids through in order to get anywhere bothered me, the endless smokiness everywhere bothered me, the crowds bothered me, and the in-your-face money extraction industry bothered me. (Evidently 86% of Vegas visitors gamble, with the average visitor spending $626 just on gambling! And I didn't see a single gambler who looked like they were enjoying themselves. That's a lot of money to waste on something that isn't fun!) But all this paled in front of the shameless peddling of women, everywhere, all the time. I don't consider myself a prude, & I'm not just talking about the enormous billboards and flat panel displays of almost-naked women everywhere. I'm talking about the newspaper vending machines (free) every fifty feet or so, chock-full of open pornography flyers & details on how to buy the women pictured (okay, so the women had small stars over their nipples to keep this from being "frank" porn - not a lot of difference in my book). I'm talking about the men handing out "business cards" with pictures of naked women and their prices ($49 special)! I'm talking about the way these cards were strewn over every single sidewalk, as well as stuck into railings, trash can cracks, etc. I'm talking about the guys wearing T-shirts that said, "Hot Babes - Delivered to your door in 20 minutes!" who accosted you as you strolled. I'm talking about the billboard trucks that drove slowly up and down the Strip all day long, picturing naked women in suggestive positions on beds & the number to call so they could appear on your bed. I'm talking about the almost 200 Yellow Pages of "escort services" in the phone book. It really made me angry (one of the seven deadly sins, by the way, but maybe it was an appropriate anger).

To my surprise, I found out once I got back that prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas & Clark County (although it is legalized in smaller counties of Nevada)! Obviously it is a law that is not taken very seriously - from what I can find out, enforcement is limited to occasionally arresting the prostitutes themselves. This seems to be missing the point. Maybe they could do something about the demand, the nauseating advertising, the open invitation to "Come & sin all you like! It's fun and there are no consequences here!" - perhaps occasionally arrest somebody who hires a prostitute? The US State Department suspects that Las Vegas is one of the main US hubs of international human trafficking (modern slavery), with most victims forced into the sex industry.

The one thing on the Strip that I really loved were the fountains at the Bellagio. There were hundreds of jets, covering an enormous area, and occasionally they "performed" a choreographed routine to a piece of music. The talented fountains expertly interpreted a fairly wide range of musical genres, sometimes spurting up to 200 feet in the air. It was delightful, fun, awe-inspiring (for a water-lover like me), and helped to wash away some of the visual pollution paining my eyes. The one irony of the fountains occurred when they "performed" to a somewhat sappy, sentimental song with the refrain, "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free." I thought it was an odd choice of song in a city that celebrates one's worst instincts, where thousands of people are encouraged to further enslave themselves to gambling addictions as they lose their savings to large, rich casino owners ("finance your fun"), and where human trafficking thrives in an openly supportive environment.

We were so glad to get away and gaze upon wide, open, clean spaces once again. The kids & I did have fun, but I do not feel the need to return - ever. Even though I never did get to see the volcano at the Mirage erupt!

***The seven deadly sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath (or anger), envy, and pride (worst of all). They were believed to lead to deadly deeds & destroy the life of grace in those who indulged in them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Off to Vegas, baby!

I spent my childhood and adolescence exploring various countries around the world. After marrying Papaya Daddy, I finally ventured beyond the Eastern and Midwestern states in the good old US of A and have been amazed to discover how much there is to see and do in my very own home country. Imagine, I used to think the entire Southwest was one big boring flat desert with an occassional Saguaro cactus bettering the landscape. If you had asked me where the Grand Canyon was, I would probably have said "Colorodo" - because how could something as spectacular as that be in a wasteland like Arizona? And I thought California was all Hollywood - I had no idea it contained landscapes like Yosemite or the Sierras (which amazed me on our honeymoon). How wrong I was!

Well, tomorrow I get to continue the exploration of my incredible home nation by venturing into Nevada and Las Vegas. Papaya Daddy is attending a snazzy medical conference called "Got Resus?" at one of the big casino hotels on the strip, where he will learn various advanced ways and means to resuscitate various ages of people in various situations (and will even practice invasive trauma procedures on either mannequins or chunks of pig flesh, I'm not sure which). Meanwhile, I will tow the two kids around to see and do what there is to be seen and done in Vegas (for free). I have been trolling internet sites to find out what you can do in Las Vegas if gambling doesn't appeal to you and you don't need to get married or divorced, and I have am amazed. This city is a strange country and culture unto itself! It's like a weird, off-color Disney World for adults with exhorbitant prices for the more spectacular attractions.

Just one example: there's an entire Venice streetscape inside one of the hotels, with canals and gondolas and gondoliers. For a mere $18 per person, you can stand in line for a couple hours and take a 10 minute gondala ride. I've been to the real Venice before, and I think it costs about the same there for the true experience. (Needless to say, this isn't one of the things I'll be doing with my kids.) Crazy, crazy!

Thankfully, we won't be staying in the strip, since I'm not sure how long I could stand to be near casinos. We'll be in a nice, clean, chain inn and I'll navigate the Strip traffic every morning to get Papaya Daddy to his conference. We plan to have fun. I'll let you know when we return what we think about yet another new experience in this fascinating & varied nation!

P.S. I'm certainly not sad to be leaving the Hopi Reservation tonight. Currently (according to The Weather Channel), the wind is blowing steadily at 37 mph and gusting to 58 mph. You get painfully sand-blasted every time you step outside and visibility is about 1 mile. Even though it's sunny, everything (including the sky) is brown. Just the sound of the wind constantly whistling around and through the windows is starting to drive me crazy. The Papaya asked if our house was going to blow away. Our metal folding chairs are blowing across our yard. Time to go pack. GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Like Magic

For over a year now, I have halfheartedly, now and then, attempted to teach a disinterested Papaya the letters of the alphabet using various disjointed methods (there may be a direct correlation between his disinterest and my halfheartedness). As a result of my labors, he reliably knew about half a dozen letters.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I finally followed the advice of both a friend and 378 Amazon reviewers who collectively gave this film 5 stars, and purchased The Letter Factory, a DVD by Leapfrog.

Let me tell you, it's magic for our family.

After not many more than half a dozen viewings, the Papaya knows all his letters as well as their most common phonetic sounds. Even more importantly, he's excited about them and picks them out everywhere, proudly telling me what they are and the sound they make. He's even beginning to get the idea of sounding letters together into words. Even the Banana seems excited about letters and sounds and sits in rapt attention for the length of the video (extremely rare for her).

I really don't know what it is - this DVD lacks the charm and cultured adult entertainment value of Sesame Street. But somehow, it delivers! Who says watching TV (or in this case, our new flat screen monitor) isn't good for kids? (Although I feel vaguely guilty for so successfully abdicating my role as alphabet teacher to a DVD.) Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

And one more picture...

These are a couple of the Hopi Buttes (actually on the Navajo reservation) that we passed as we drove home from Winslow last Saturday. You really can't beat the sky here.

(By the way, can anyone tell me how you put borders around pictures in Blogger? I haven't been able to figure it out.)

The desert is green!!!

Winter before last (our first here) was incredibly, unusually dry - so dry that most Hopi (traditionally farmers) didn't even bother planting any crop in the spring and summer. As a consequence, nothing grew in our yard last year except a lot of tumbleweed and pigweed (both thorny and nasty), some hardy mint, and a few glorious sunflowers. This last winter, however, has been a lot more normal, with a few good snowfalls. As a result, our warm weather lately has catapulted the desert, and even our backyard, into a lush greenness (at least to our eyes), somewhat evident even in the aftermath of this late snowfall a week ago.

Here you see our amazing mint and brave peach tree, as well as the detritus blown against our fence after a full day of 30-50 MPH winds

Keep in mind, the above are pictures from over a week ago. Check out these pics of our trees now: a blossom from the peach tree and our happy Navajo willow with the desert behind it the greenest we've ever seen:

And how are the poor abused plants in our cold frame doing? Well, they're markedly better and actually growing daily now, but it still may be awhile before we're enjoying a home grown salad (although I did hopefully plant cilantro last week in the sad blank spaces):

And to close, we've gotten four more flowers from our bulbs (since the blue iris that bloomed a month ago)! I haven't yet taken photos of the two yellow irises (or crocuses, I'm not sure) out front, but here are the two red tulips that came up in our backyard. See if you can guess which one bears the Papaya's loving touch (he's obviously inherited our black thumb-ness).

Our dining room table these days...

Need I say more? (See this entry if you don't get it. At least in this picture there are 4 socks that actually go together to make pairs.)

And one more picture...

It's Lightning McQueen, hanging from barbed wire.

It's here, and it's beautiful!

We've finally (I think) finished just about everything involved with getting our new computer set up. We are in love with the screen. So are the kids:

We spend hours playing with Google Earth (I even found the very maisonnette we lived in in Nairobi, clear as day!) & watching scrambled slide shows of all of our pictures, back from 2003. Now that the novelty is wearing off a little, maybe I can get back to mundane things again, like updating this blog...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tax return = new computer

Last Saturday, after about six frustrating hours on the Dell website and about 698 hours of Papaya Daddy's research and contemplation over the last year or so, we finally completed our order for a new computer. It should arrive today. He is Very Excited and I am Pretty Excited.

So, dear readers, enjoy this last blog entry from our old computer. The next one, I'm sure, will look extra snazzy and shiny because it will emanate from a beautiful new computer with a bunch of fancy stuff like dual core technology (which I really don't understand and care much about even though it excites Papaya Daddy) and a 24 inch ultra-sharp flat screen monitor (Papaya Daddy's long term dream and something I'm excited about too). We won't be watching Netflix on our little old TV any more!

And now I need to sign off and finish backing up all our files onto CD's, disconnect this old computer, and carry it to the guest room before FedEx arrives. (So far I've backed up about 20 CD's of photos. I'm sure there is a better way to transfer information and maybe our new computer will provide it.)

So farewell from our old faithful computer. Next post, from the new one!