Saturday, December 31, 2011

How'd I do?

This time last year, I set out a series of goals for the year.  It's now time to look and see how I did.

  • Quit smoking (again).  I quit smoking after law school, but started social smoking this year.  That expanded to regular smoking late this year.  I quit again on December 22 and so far, so good.
    • Well, I started smoking again after I wrote this post in January.  But, I quit again in May and I have smoked only 3 cigarettes since then.  I consider this a win.
  • Travel to at least 3 central American countries (in order of preference) - Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador.
  • Watch at least two sun rises and sunsets.  I have had this goal every year and I usually make it.  Sunsets are much easier for me to watch than sun rises.
    • I know that I saw well more than two sunsets.  I know I saw one sunrise while i was in Guatemala.  Pretty sure I saw at least one more, so I will count this one as completed.
  • Get an awesome second posting.  This summer, I will get my bid list and get my assignment for my next post.
    • Frankfurt, Germany - May 2013.  
  • Date more.
    • I definitely dated more in 2011 than I did in 2010.  I had a couple of second and third dates, although nothing went further than that.  I count this as a success.
I am compiling my list of goals for 2012 and should post them soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

It's funny how traditions start sometimes.  You don't usually mean to start a tradition, but you do something that you enjoy and everyone wants to do the same thing again the next year and in no time at all a tradition is born.  What's magical about a tradition is how important it becomes to the participants.

One of my favorite family Christmas traditions is how we open up presents.  I think Christmas present opening always says a lot about a family.  Does everyone go at once ripping through paper as fast as they can like in A Christmas Story?  Are presents opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  Does Santa come for adults or just kids?  Does Santa wrap presents?

Our tradition has always been to open up our presents from each other on Christmas Eve.  I think we always did this, but it really started in earnest when we lived in Shenandoah.  We would have to wait HOURS for my Dad to get off work (he usually closed the restaurant around 8 on Christmas Eve).  When he got home, my little sister Katie would sort the presents.*  We'd go in age order, with the youngest going first and the oldest last.  We'd go round and round until all the presents were opened.

*Mom and Dad never used name tags, everyone's presents were wrapped in different wrapping paper and you never knew who had which paper until Mom told Katie when she started the sorting.  Often times, Mom couldn't remember and I think she once had to open one of the gifts to remember who got what.

On year, probably about 15 years ago, my Aunt Lynda (or was it Laura) gave my Dad a joke present for his birthday.  It was a VHS cassette tape of a crackling fire in a fireplace.  The tape played classic Christmas songs.  We all thought it was a riot, but we all wanted it next year.  Each year, we'd make fun of the Yule log, but each year we all wanted that Yule Log playing while we opened gifts.

On Christmas morning, Santa would have always arrived in the night and set out our gifts.  Each person had a different pile of gifts and the stocking would be full and sitting on top.  Santa not only brought toys and fun stuff for us kids, but he was also a practical Santa who brought underwear, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other necessities.  As we got older, Santa brought deodorant and razors and fancy shampoo.  He always brought a calendar, a movie and a CD (now he usually goes with the iTunes gift card) .  Everyone could go through their own pile when they woke-up and as the rest of the family got up, we'd show each other what we got.

Over the years, we traveled more at Christmas time - usually going to Omaha for Christmas Eve and then staying in hotel overnight.  Santa continued to find us, but since he couldn't bring our stockings, he started using large gift bags covered with Sesame Street characters.  Eventually, Santa decided he liked the gift bags better than the stockings and he started using them every year, even when we were at home.

This year was a bit different.  Katie is engaged and this was our first year of split Christmas.  She and Paul went to his family's house for Christmas Eve and came back here for Christmas Day.  We threatened to open presents without her, but we didn't.  When we opened presents, Katie didn't get to go first anymore (both Paul and my 7 month old 2nd cousin got to go before her).  With all the moving this year, we didn't have the Yule Log video.  Santa didn't come until after Christmas Dinner, but he still brought underwear and socks and he brought them in the gift bags.

Ultimately, Christmas is where my family is.  The day we celebrate may change.  Some traditions may die - others may start up.  But, as long as I get to spend the time with my family I will be happy.  Living off in Belize - away from home - makes me cherish these times together so much more.

Mom, Dad, Shelley and Katie - I love you the most.  Merry Christmas.  Paul - welcome to the family.  So far, it seems like you will fit right in.  Bob and Shannon - It was great to see you guys again and to get to meet little Lizzy.  I wish our lives allowed us to see each other more often.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Walking around naked in your living room

I dropped my dogs off today at my housekeeper's house, where they will spend the Christmas holiday when I go to Arizona to spend the holiday with my family.  Anytime I am in the house and the dogs are not here, I feel naked without my four-legged shadows.  Every time I get up, they get up.  If I go to the kitchen, they follow me. Luna even follows me in to the bathroom.  So, walking around the house without them here just feels wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Greatest day yet in Belize

I had about as good of a Sunday as I could imagine yesterday.  It all actually started two weeks ago when I decided I wanted to complete the "La Ruta Maya" - a four day canoe race across Belize.  Each year, the Embassy sponsors a team, but I was going to put together a second team that only had the goal of finishing.  I talked to my friend Beth and she was all gung-ho about it too.  While we were still looking for a canoe, I got the chance to go out this weekend with the Embassy team and practice with them.
This is how you hold a paddle, right?

We were taking a "short" trip from Spanish Lookout Bridge to Valley of Peace Bridge.  I'll be perfectly honest.  Within three minutes of going down the river, I knew I didn't want to do this anymore and I was just hoping to get out of it without embarrassing myself or hurting myself too badly.  The two locals guys - Macario and Jose -   were monsters on that river.  Macario just did not stop paddling.  It was so intimidating to watch him because I just couldn't do it.

You can't tell from the picture, but I already want to stop.
As we went down the river I settled into a pattern, I would paddle thirty strokes and then take thirty strokes off.  Unfortunately, this plan did not work as well as I wanted.  I kept losing my balance in the boat.  We almost capsized about every five minutes.  And not when the water was rough or anything - just me losing my balance.  Anytime we got to some rapids (nothing more than a Class II), I would stop paddling and just make sure I didn't dump us in the river.

As little as I paddled (probably about 1/3 as much as the other two guys), my arms still got extremely sore.  I don't think my triceps had gotten such a workout in years.  My sore arms wasn't actually the worst part, it was my legs.  This canoe is not built for someone my size.  I couldn't sit with my feet planted on the floor because the canoe wasn't deep enough.  I couldn't comfortably put my feet out in front of me and still paddle (I also had no balance in this position), so I ended up sitting cross-legged (or Indian style as we said when I was a kid).  The problem with this is that my right knee kept rubbing up against the side of the boat and my legs still cramped up.

Despite the uncomfortable and strenuous ride, it is one of the coolest things I have done in Belize.  I felt like I was in the "real" Belize.  The river, surrounded by jungle, cuts a fine path through the country with views you don't see from the road.  We saw several dozen iguanas high up in the trees.  These large lizards looked like they weighed about 20 pounds and were 2-3 feet long.  If we got too close, they would dive into the river for protection.  Also up in the trees were howler monkeys, egrets, herons, and another dozen birds I couldn't name.  It was a fantastic day on the river.  I couldn't have asked for anything better (except maybe for a boat with a motor).

As great as canoeing on the river was, that wasn't the highlight of my day.  That afternoon, I drove down to San Ignacio for a poker tournament at the casino there.  This was the first poker tournament that the casino had ever hosted and they were broadcasting it live on one of the local Belize channels.  (Note: if you don't want to read about poker, just skip to the last paragraph).

The tournament was horribly run - not only had the casino never hosted a tournament before, but they don't normally have poker, so the dealers don't know how to deal poker.  (The primary job qualification for their dealers appears to be a cute young girl).  Moreover, I don't think that the people running the tournament had ever played in a poker tournament before.  The tournament started 90 minutes late and took horribly long breaks every time one person had to switch tables.  The dealers couldn't catch the chips and one (admittedly complicated) three way all-in hand took over 15 minutes to settle.  The blinds went up super fast - started with only 3000 in chips and 40 minutes in, the big blind was 400 and kept doubling.

Despite the mess and confusion, I played really well and got really lucky.  I made an early all-in where I tripled up.  As the blinds went up, I won enough hands to stay in the game and everyone else kept dropping by the wayside.  When we got down to the final table, I started to think I could actually make the money (top 3).  I was around 4th or 5th in chips to start and many of the players could barely make a single bet.  After one round, no one had been knocked out with several people winning their all-in bets.  I knocked out one guy with AK suited.  Then, a few hands later, I had KQ spades vs. 10-10 and A-8.  The flop came J-9-4 rainbow.  A 10 came on the turn to make me the winner with a straight and chip leader.

With six players left, I started playing a few more hands trying to steal the blinds and antes.  The blinds were so big that just winning the blinds was worth 5% of the total chips in the table.  We traded chips for a while when there were four players.  I stole some more blinds, but tried to avoid hands where someone already called.  Finally, the other three players got involved in a big hand with two all-ins.  One guy was knocked out and suddenly I was in the money with the guy in third crippled.

After a few hands where no one called and the big blind won the hand, I was on the button with K-4.  The blinds were 10,000 and 20,000 but the guy in the big blind spot was all-in with 13,000.  I called 20,000, as did the small blind.  Flop was J-J-2 and both me and the small blind checked.  K came on the turn giving me two pair.  Small blind checked and I checked behind so that we had a better chance to knock out the big blind.  The river came 8 and the small blind bet 25,000, which I called.  He flipped over a 9-2 and I won the pot.  I wasn't trying to trap him, but it worked out well.  Were were heads up and I had a 4-1 chip lead.

Throughout all of this, the TV crew is trying to broadcast all of this.  They apparently spent five minutes debating my nationality (no one asked for a while).  I kept hearing calls of "Mr. Al with the cheap lead.  He is playing a strong game."  Besides the TV crew, there were about 40 people hovering around us watching the game.  Since almost every hand was an all-in, it was actually pretty exciting to watch (unlike regular poker which can be as dull as watching paint dry).  There was a definite buzz in the air and it was really a lot of fun.
When we got to heads-up, they did interviews with us to put it on TV.  I sent friends texts letting them know that I was playing on TV.

The cash is on the table
Finally, we were heads up and on the very first hand, I see A-7 off suit.  Any Ace is a great hand heads-up, so I raise him all-in.  He immediately calls with pocket kings.  I got an Ace on the flop and another on the turn to win with trip aces.  It was all over and I had won.  I got a fancy trophy and, more importantly, cash.  With a buy-in of US$100 and 45 players (plus several buy-ins), top prize was just over US$3,500.  This was, by far, my biggest cash in a poker tournament, although I have won three other larger tournaments (two online and one live).

All-in-all, a pretty good and long day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Slow Tornado

Tonight we had our annual Christmas party at the Ambassador's house.  I have previously stated that we have a really great Ambassador in Belize, but seeing him dance "Slow Tornado" with some of the local staff just proved how great he is.  This song is by far the most popular Belizean song since I have been here.  It is played at every club and every party and is quintessentially Belize.

One of the other great songs here in Belize is Supa G's Lay di Pipe.  No where near as popular, but this video is just plain awesome.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Belize Bucket List

I leave Belize 6 months from today.  It takes a few minutes for that idea to sink in.  I still remember seeing the Belize flag and hearing my name called just under two years ago at Flag Day.  My knees were shaking so bad that I stumbled into the wall as I was climbing the steps back to my seat.  Yet, despite how vivid that memory is, my time here is over 75% complete.  That thought freaks me out a little bit as well because I haven't done everything I wanted to do yet.

So, in order to make sure I don't miss anything I want to do because the time runs out, here is a list of the things I need to do before I leave Belize.  These are in no particular order:

  • SCUBA dive with the whale sharks
  • Caracol Mayan ruins
  • Lamanai Mayan ruins
  • (I should probably also make it to Altun Ha and Cahal Pech, but I won't cry if I don't go to these ruins)
  • Visit the Toledo district
  • Participate in La Ruta Maya (either as a paddler or a support team member)
  • Belize zoo (can't believe I haven't done this yet)
  • St. Herman's Cave
  • ATM Cave
  • Visit Cancun or other part of Mexican Riviera
  • Visit one more Central American country (preferably Costa Rica)
  • Turn 30!
There are a few more things that I am surely forgetting right now, but hopefully I can get all of this done in the next six months.