Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Have a New Blog (again) - johnluth.com/blog

As you can tell, I haven't posted to this site in quite some time. Initially, I created this blog to document my repatriation experience.

It fizzled.

Then I created a blog to document my experience as a new dad.

It fizzled.

Finally, I decided I needed to get a little more serious about this writing thing and decided I would use my recently completed trip to Mt. Everest Base Camp as the catalyst to that writing. Pretty much every new post on the new site deals with the trek (at least to this point), though once the Everest trip is documented, future posts may include such riveting topics as life as a "Floridian," new travels and adventures, fondly thinking back to my life as an expat in India, life with a spirited toddler, or pretty much any other topic I deem fit.

I have to admit, my writing is a little rusty and it's even more adverb-happy than it used to be. But like all things, with a little practice, it's bound to improve. I hope.

So if you're interested in Mt Everest or just my life in general, feel free to check out the new site:

http://www.johnluth.com/blog/

What's different this time? I paid for the URL, so I'm hoping that small outlay in cash is motivation to keep writing. Well, that and the fact that I actually enjoy it when I do it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Hurricane Kit

Florida, as you likely know, is prone to lie in the path of hurricanes from year to year. Orlando, thankfully, is inland enough that it rarely feels the full force of the storms. From what we've heard of hurricanes in Orlando, they're basically an excuse to hunker down, wait out a power outage, grill frozen pizzas, and empty liquor cabinets or wine racks. Windows don't get boarded and it sounds like it's pretty much just a severe thunderstorm with rains that may or may not fall horizontally. The last year there was major impact to Orlando was, I believe, 2004 when three hurricanes, "highlighted" by Charley ripped through the state in succession.

Regardless, if you know my wife, you know she's errors on the side of "planner." So while she was at the office today learning about all of the prep being done for business continuity purposes in the event Isaac impacts Orlando, she quickly googled "Hurricane Kit" and before I knew it I was at Target after work.

I had heard stories of lines at gas stations, runs on plywood at Home Depot or Lowe's, and general chaos at grocery stores. Since Isaac isn't expected this far north until at least Monday (and as of now there's a good chance it will be significantly west of us), I figured I'd get a jump on the rush and get things taken care of. When I walked into Target, well, it was pretty much like any Thursday night at Target. No panic. No rush. Just a bunch of suburbanites provisioning their homes with standard Target things. I immediately knew I'd be mocked by people far more experienced in these types of situations than myself.

What was on my list? I'm glad you asked. Here's the actual shopping list with my comments:

Flashlights… buy some nicer ones… maybe get one that is a ‘free standing one’ that could be put on a table and get some that are heavy duty.. get some cheap ones so that we can have in each bedroom/floor, etc.

I couldn't really figure out why we needed flashlights for each bedroom and one for the upstairs. We only occupy one bedroom and the upstairs contains one room that we rarely, if ever, use. The odds are pretty good that when the power goes out, I'm not going to be in the bonus room. While stocking up on flashlights, a lady approached me in the aisle while she was talking on the phone. She said (into the phone), "I'm in Oviedo and there's some guy stocking up on flashlights." I interrupted and played the new guy card, she was only half listening and accused me of trying to either take the flashlights out of state or sell them for a huge markup on the street corner. I ended up buying four flashlights. Seems like an appropriate number.

Batteries for flashlight

Flashlights come with batteries. Next!

Flame wand + matches

I wasn't sure what a "flame wand" was. Apparently it's one of those extended lighter things you can light a grill with. I'm not sure why we would need these items since candles weren't also on the list but I figured I wouldn't ask that question.

Bottled water.. either single bottles also some jugs for easier storage

I suppose you can never have too much water. We've heard it's also smart to fill your bathtubs with water so you can do things like wash and flush the toilet in the event water service gets disrupted. Using water to flush a toilet makes me miss trekking in Nepal and the various pit toilets utilized in the small villages during tea breaks where a little water and gravity was all you needed to flush. Regardless, I like the idea of separating my washing, pre-flushing, and consumption water. I went ahead and bought both bottles and jugs.

Food.. need stuff that doesn’t require microwave or gas even…likely canned food.. soup, veggies, etc.. gross yes but realistic.  Use your best judgment.

If by "best judgement" you mean create an excuse to buy "Chef Boy-R-Dee Raviolis," then yes, I used my best judgement. I supplemented the Chef with black beans, corn, Progresso soup, and Clif Bars. My money, if we ever need to break into the hurricane kit, is on the Clif Bars and raviolis mysteriously missing.

Bag of ice

I guess a bag of ice would be helpful to fill coolers in the event we need to save food. I wasn't sure how much room we had in the freezer and was going to the gym after Target. I'm guessing a bag of ice wouldn't have survived.

Hand held radio or battery operated radio  Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both

I had really low expectations for this and don't really know how necessary it is (it's quite likely that any Floridians reading this are aghast with my ignorance and this type of radio is the hurricane kit equivalent of taking a mirror to a desert island so you can start a fire). Luckily, there was a battery or hand crank radio with a lamp located next to the flashlights. One cool thing, in the event we're out of power for a few days, is that there's a USB charger so you could theoretically charge a cell phone with the hand crank. I just hope Lindsay's arm doesn't get tired while I'm playing Words With Friends. I felt pretty proud of myself for this one (of course, if this isn't the "mirror" of the hurricane kit, those same Floridians are mocking me for the waste of money that is a hand crank or batter operated dual purpose radio and lamp).

Whistle (to signal for help)

Seriously? I vetoed this.

Black garbage bags (2 boxes)

I wasn't sure why we needed two boxes. It seems like 60 garbage bags would suffice for whatever we have in store for a hurricane that's not terribly likely to impact us.

What does one do with all of these things? In our house, we decided to put them in a Rubbermaid bin in a corner at the bottom of the pantry. I'm not sure exactly why we couldn't just eat the other food in the pantry, but if it makes Lindsay comfortable, if makes me comfortable. Some things are better just left alone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Lazy Stick Revisited

I'm not going to lie; I've had my share of lazy moments in life. One such (prolonged) instance was my sophomore year in college when my roommate and I fashioned a long metal rod we Christened "the lazy stick." I no longer had the remote to my 13 inch television so the lazy stick helped perform such tasks as turning the TV on and resetting the Super Nintendo so we didn't have to wait to start a new round of Mario Kart. I thought of the lazy stick while eating dinner last week while traveling for work to Toronto.

My colleagues weren't getting in until later so I did what any self respecting person would do: explored the nearby Yorkville area (even though it was my first time in Toronto, I felt intimately familiar with the city based on my wife's affinity for HGTV) and found a bar that looked like it had good food and was showing the Olympics. A friendly guy sat next to me that the bartender recognized. She said, "Hey Jeff, you left your phone here a couple weeks ago. I think it's still in the back, let me check." As she left, he turned to me and said, "Yeah, I guess I haven't been here in a while. I actually live right across the street. I figured it was here, but it was just easier to get a new one through work."

That's right; he lived across the street.

I like to think if I had lost my cell phone and had some suspicion where it was, that I could muster up the energy to saunter across the street to find out if anyone had turned it in. Worst case scenario, the phone isn't there yet you're still at the bar.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Local, Non-local, or Stupid?

After five months as a resident of Florida, I finally made a reservation to do what it is that all non-Floridians believe that all Floridians do each and every day; golf. As an ignorant transplant, I thought any empty plot of land that wasn’t a beach, swamp, or planned theme park would be filled with a golf course here; however, based on where I live in Orlando, you actually have to search for courses.

I recognize it’s not prime golfing season and I can’t figure out if this makes me local, non-local, or just plain stupid, but I’m headed to a Johnny Miller designed course next Friday and paying a staggering $29. I emailed my buddy Jimmy about this and commented that I hoped the $29 greens fee included some sort of derogatory comment from Johnny printed on each tee marker. His response: Quotes on the holes would be great. "This par 5 may look tough, but even Gary Koch birdied it once. Of course, I made eagle and then I let Gary buy me dinner to celebrate my 61 - not that day's 61, my 61 at Oakmont in the U.S. Open."

Who cares if it was actually a 63 Johnny shot that day at Oakmont. If you’re making that distinction you’re missing the joke. And you’ve never watched golf on NBC. Of course, if you’ve never watched golf on NBC, you’re not making that distinction. If you have watched golf on NBC, you understand that Johnny still rests on the laurels of a year or two when he dominated the sport. He’s still pretty proud of himself and isn’t afraid to compare himself favorably to today’s stars. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do the same thing, but he was pretty much the Dwight Gooden of golf there for a bit (minus those off the field issues – I’m making an assumption there; you’re welcome, Johnny).

Regardless, I was amazed at what it’s going to cost to play this place. I’ve been watching a LOT of “Pawn Stars” since my return from India and I have those two years of living in an economy still largely based on negotiating. As a result, I’m pretty much a bargaining savant, I count amongst my more impressive negotiations, convincing a dude at a grocery store to break a Rs. 500 note (this is the equivalent of getting a dude at a 7-Eleven to break a $100 bill without buying something) and bargaining the price of prescription sunglasses at the optometrist. In fact, I consider myself to bargaining what Johnny Miller was to golf in 1973.

That being said, I didn’t realize I’d be negotiating when I called the pro shop. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I tried to schedule online but received an error. Can I still get the $40 rate.”
Pro Shop Guy “I can do $29.”
Me: “Is that with a cart?”
Pro Shop Guy: “Yep, that’s what the rate goes down to 3 days in advance. I’ll just give you that. Any other questions?”
Me: “One last one, how long has it been taking to get around the course?”
Pro Shop Guy: “As long as it takes you to play.”

I sense we may be able to get more than eighteen in next week. I also sense they’re not seeing a lot of business this time of year in Harmony, Florida. Either that or from those “local, non-local, or stupid” options, I’m probably non-local. And stupid.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Must Be in the Front Row

We've been in the new house for over three months, and if you were to visit and see our home, you would probably say to yourself, "these guys are pretty settled for having just moved halfway around the world." That would be because we wouldn't have let you look into any drawers, closets, or cabinets. It's true, we look very settled on the outside, but part of moving from India and Chicago to Orlando on a very compressed schedule meant we didn't get a chance to "clean house" before we got to Florida. As a result, it's clean on the outside but not on the inside.

Today, in the few spare hours I had on Easter Sunday before plopping myself on the couch (or outside next to the pool) to watch The Masters, I finally started to clean out the home office. One item I found was a completion certificate for "System Basics" that I received on October 14, 1998 and will most definitely be making a reappearance at work tomorrow (yes, I'm one of approximately 67 Americans that graduated in college in 1998 and still work for the same employer). The other item of note was a ticket stub to a Cubs game that my buddy Matt had scored tickets to through a member at the golf club where he was an assistant pro. As a result, he, his dad, myself, and my roommate Jimmy had some good seats for a random Monday in September:


A couple things stick about the ticket. First, if you don't remember, Kerry Wood was scary good back in those days before he blew our his elbow or whatever it was. Second, for those unfamiliar with Wrigley Field, Aisle 22 is directly behind home plate. Seat 102 is one of the four seats really directly behind home plate, and Row 1 is pretty self explanatory. Easily the best seat I've ever had for any sporting event. The good Reverend Jesse Jackson was in our section behind us. Jerry Krause and Tim Floyd were in our section behind us (a bigger deal in Chicago in 1999 than it is in Orlando in 2012). What else sticks out? In 1999 you could sit directly behind home plate at Wrigley Field for $25. Granted, these were someone's season tickets, but even for 1999 this seems ridiculously cheap.

Highlights from the game included:
  • My dad watching on television while counting the number of beers I consumed
  • Jon Lieber taking a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings
  • Mark McGwire breaking up that no-hitter with a solo home run
  • Jon Lieber proceeding to give up five more earned runs before mercifully getting pulled (still with two outs in the seventh inning
  • My buddy Jimmy playing a more prominent role than anyone I've ever known on Sportscenter by being the first to stand just after Sammy "Screech" Sosa made contact on what at first appeared to be home run but turned into a routine fly ball (yep, he was that guy) during a highlight
With any move comes a time for reflection; however, as I looked at this stub nearly thirteen years later, all I fully place the blame on Mark McGwire's steroid abuse for stealing the opportunity to see a major league no-hitter from from the front row behind home plate. Bastard.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Meet the Neighbors

We've decided to officially declare ourselves "settled" and determined the best way to meet the neighbors in bulk would be to host an open house. Tonight, right around sunset, we took a little stroll around the neighborhood to put invitations in peoples' mailboxes. One would think something so innocuous would be less than noteworthy. Fortunately, when Lindsay is involved, material is never an issue.

While making the rounds we were able to meet a couple neighbors that we hadn't previously. Both sets were a father out playing some sort of sport with a kid. The first was a father and son hitting a baseball into a net in the driveway. We stopped for a brief chat, introduced ourselves, and learned about their favorite BBQ joint and that they had recommendations for doctors and dentists. Important, pertinent things about moving to a new city.

As we approached the end of the second culdesac we noticed a father playing some sort of paddle ball game with his daughter. We deposited the invitations in the mailboxes and stopped to introduce ourselves. We had a pleasant conversation and then Lindsay made some comment about the daughter, who was fourteen, looking like Katniss from The Hunger Games. I found this odd for a number of reasons not the least of which was Lindsay comparing a new neighbor's daughter to a cold-blooded killer. Thankfully, the daughter was a Hunger Games fanatic and wasn't the least bit concerned. In fact, she had read the books, seen the movie, and considered herself a bit of a mix of Rue, Katniss, and Prim. First crisis averted.

But here's where it got interesting. Any time Lindsay has asked anyone if they've read The Hunger Games trilogy, her follow-up question is always (and I mean ALWAYS) asking whether they've read the other hot trilogy of the past couple years, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No different this time; she was on autopilot. So yes, she asked a fourteen year old whether she had read Steig Larsson's masterpiece (coincidentally also about a female killer but aimed at a slightly different demographic than the young adult crowd in The Hunger Games).

All I could muster was, "yeah, you can probably tell we don't have kids."

It feels nice to make a good first impression.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"I wanna go baaaaack"

In April 2005 after a six month stint, I left India for the first time. I didn’t set foot back into the country until November 2010 when I landed to search for a new apartment. In the 4.5 years that passed between those dates, there were no fewer than three situations where I thought I’d get a chance to go back for anywhere ranging from a couple weeks to multiple months. However, as the announcer in FIFA ‘99 would often tell my buddy Jimmy in our N64 glory days, “chance gone begging there” when he missed a shot on goal back, the chance for my return trip to India went begging as well; it never materialized.

As I transitioned to my new job in the US (still heavily involved with working with India), I was delighted to learn that three trips had been budgeted for my return to my adopted homeland in 2012. Not just three trips, but three two-week trips. While I had no intention of spending six weeks in India this year unless absolutely necessary, I took the fact that six weeks of travel had been planned as a relatively safe assumption that I’d wait less than 4.5 years for my return. In fact, the first trip was planned to commence 4.5 months from my return.

I had visions of a productive week of work and a weekend in Delhi filled with my favorite restaurants, a brunch (oh yes, there would have been a brunch), a stop at Maharaja Arts for a rug (the old rug from Home Depot beneath our dining room table is a very nice rug; however, when placed in proximity to our rug from India, it starts to look like, well, a rug from Home Depot), and maybe even a trip back to Grover’s (my tailor) at Khan Market. Of course, as part of this vision, my trusty driver Kailash (whom I obviously would have requested and received, because you know, he was my driver for two years) would have greeted me at the airport with a fresh batch of photos from his recent wedding. Everything was going to be perfect.

Then last Friday I received an email from my boss with a rather ominous subject line: “India is ‘off.’”

That didn’t sound like good news. Hoping that maybe she had mistyped, I still opened the email. Unfortunately, bad news confirmed. The trip was off. I could have saved a few keystrokes and just trusted the subject heading.

The repatriation process is tough. It’s tougher, in my opinion, when you return domestically to an unfamiliar place. I have to admit, after four months back in the states, a busy month of December getting moved, and two months of constant work travel and visitors, I was really looking forward to getting back to a familiar, comfortable place.

In some ways, it helps that I saw some Indian colleagues in Chicago a couple weeks ago, including my boss while I was and the gentleman that replaced me. In fact, we hosted him for dinner at the new house in Orlando when he visited for a couple days the following week. It’s fun to have visitors and show off Lindsay’s “finds” and tell the stories of how those finds were found. It’s more fun when you show a home full of Indian objects to someone from there that truly appreciates it (I mean, people humor us and tell us the stuff we brought back is cool; but what do they really care?). I used to describe our home decorating style as “Pottery Barn and Asia involved in some sort of conflict that has yet to be decided.” As we showed Jagmohan around the new digs, it was pretty obvious Asia came out on top of that conflict.

As good as it is to talk to and see people from India, and I’m not at the “Jack in ‘Lost’” state yet, sitting drunk at the end of a runway wailing “I wanna go baaaaack.” But the reality is, I do want to go back. At some point here I’m sure I will, and 4.5 months may have been a little unrealistic.

Let’s just hope it’s not 4.5 years.