Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cable Guy - Final Installment

So the problem with our Internet connectivity seems to be resolved. Comcast did show up and repair the box out front and we have had Internet connectivity all day. Its been lovely.

A good thing too since between the wind (gusts up to 48 mph) and the cold (30s), it was definitely a day to stay inside and surf the net. It was also a very lazy day. I watched some TV and devoured a Cinnamon bun along with my morning Coke in the morning before jumping on the erg for a 30 minute row. Not a great amount of meters, but I got through it and can build on it. I hope to add another row tomorrow to welcome in the new year. Ann and I did watch Nicholas Cage in National Treasure - Book of Secrets. It was highly entertaining and fit our mood for the day.

We have no real plans to welcome in the New Year. We are way past the time where a night of boozing it up sounds like a good idea. We do have a bottle of bubbly chilly in the refrigerator though. So to all of you, I hope you have have a wonderful 2009 as we usher out 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Cable Guy - Round 2

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, as part of the service call from yesterday, We (Comcast technician and myself) forgot to test the signal coming from the cable box located out on the street by our house and as happens these days, we lost our Internet connection around 9 in the morning. So we called Comcast and arranged for another service call. This time between noon and 3:00. Since someone here, either Ann or myself, works from home on any given day, the Internet is not a luxury. It's something we need in order to work from home.

While we waited the phone rang and much to our surprise it was a Comcast representative calling from Philadelphia. He mentioned that he had read my blog post and wanted to make sure everything was taken care of to our satisfaction. That sound you heard this morning was my jaw dropping. First off, my blog has no real regular readership other than the two daughters. People that happen upon my blog usually come via searches for white bean chili recipes or searching for the Eagles Nest restaurant, which by the way has changed ownership and is now called something else or people searching on erg topics. Anyway we told him of the problems we were still having and he promised to call the local office and make sure things got done on time and correctly. So score one for Comcast. Although you have to wonder who is taking the time to scour the Internet for Comcast postings. Around Noon we got a call from the local office saying that they too had read the blog entry (I think maybe the Philly people made them read it, but whatever), that they had one of their top technicians on the call and he would be out when promised and the would also give me a $35 courtesy refund. Ok. Score another point for Comcast.

As it got to be 2:30, I was wondering if indeed the technician would show up on time. He did indeed. He introduced himself (Jaime), shook hands all around and petted our dog. We showed him to the computer and he confirmed that there was no Internet and also made the comment that out Comcast provided Gateway (Netgear) was an antique and he would replace it. I wonder if he would also replace the Linksys USB wireless antennas we have on our other computers as they are even older than the Gateway. After he checked our computer, he went outside to check the signal. He was gone only a short while before reporting back. It was indeed a bad signal. According to Jaime, the signal strength reaching the Gateway INSIDE the house should be at least 50. The signal coming out of the cable box on the street coming to the house was only at 46. By the time the signal routed through the house to the Gateway, he estimated that the signal strength was practically nil and hence our lack of Internet connectivity. He placed a work order for someone to come fix the cable box out on the street to get the signal up to snuff. He thought they would either be out later today or no later than tomorrow. He left his number and advised us to call him if the problem was not corrected by tomorrow afternoon. So the problem has been identified and, hopefully, will be resolved quickly. The last time we had signal problems it took about a month before the cable box on the street was actually fixed despite at least two separate work orders for the repair being put in by the Internet techs (the second request obviously corrected the problem, but he knew there was an outstanding work order when he came to the house). So I'll give Comcast high marks for the follow-up, the refund and the promise of a new Gateway (Jaime didn't install it since there would have been no way to test it to see that it was working properly). Now we'll see how they do with the follow through. (To be continued).

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Cable Guy

Today was just a total waste. The kind of day where you want to reach through the Ethernet and strangle the cable company. Our gateway (combination cable modem and wireless router) has been giving us trouble over the past week or so. Our connectivity has been on and off. Off mostly during the day and on at night. I figured it was time for a service call. When I called, the person at Comcast could tell that the signal to the gateway was much weaker than it should be and we set up a service call for today between 9:00 AM and Noon. Noon came and went and no technician. I called Comcast at 12:30 and asked when I might expect the technician. Apologies were made and I was told that I was "next in line" for the technician assigned for my call and that the technician or a dispatcher would call me within 15 to 20 minutes. No call was forthcoming. meanwhile Daughter#2, who had driven up to Washington the night before to see some friends dropped by on her way home. She wanted to go for a bike ride so I could try out my new bike, but I was shackled to the house waiting for the service call. More time passed and no technician. By 2;30 Daughter#2 was gone and I was dialing Comcast again when the knock finally came. Of course as these things go, our Internet, which had been down all day was now working when he sat down at our computer. Great. He did, after a few calls back and forth to the main office, get our wireless network back up and running so that was something at least. In the rush of it all, I forgot to ask him to check the signal coming to the house so I might need to go through this yet again. It just sort of wasted my whole day. Grrrrrr.

After that debacle, I decided to watch one of my Netflix movies. I chose the documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car?" Considering GM is now hat in hand it just makes you sick what they did to kill it off, their own car, going so far as to recall all the electric cars (they would only lease them - not sell them) they had built and marketed and crushing them all. It also calls into serious question the whole hydrogen car crap the Bush administration signed us up for. January 20th can't come fast enough.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Official Red Ryder, Carbine Action, Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

Well not exactly, but I do feel like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" and how he feels about his very special Christmas present. To quote Ralphie: (it was) The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive. I felt like that this Christmas as my family presented me with this:
A Felt F75 Road Bike complete with bike shoes.

While Santa delivered it, it was up to Daughter#2 to make the arrangements and her poor husband was dealt the hand of putting it together. To both and Santa (Ann) I can only say "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you". I had been coveting this bike for about two years now and I can't wait to give it a spin. I have to admit though I am a bit intimidated about the clip in shoes. I've never ridden with them before and I'm sure there are a few falls in my future until getting my feet in and out of the pedals becomes automatic. Daughter#2 is dropping by tomorrow and we're hoping to get in a short ride. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Silence Is Deafening

Today we went from a full house back to just Ann and I. Daughter#1 and The fiance were the first to leave. They flew back to Connecticut this morning. After getting back from dropping them off at National Airport, Ann and Daughter#2 went out to do some shopping. Upon their return, Daughter#2 and The Son In Law loaded up their truck with their Christmas presents and Gracie, their lab mix, and headed to Richmond for a Christmas celebration with his side of the family. After the girls had left, The Son called and asked about our plans for lunch. We decided on pizza and met him for lunch. I think The Son has had about as much family time as he could stand over the past few days an opted to go back to his condo rather than drop by our house. After Ann and I returned from lunch, I intended to watch some of the bowl games that were on TV. Instead, I promptly fell asleep on the couch for a much needed nap.

We did enjoy some turkey leftovers after Saturday evening Mass, but after having a full table over the last few days, it seemed rather strange and all too quiet with just the two of us. It's true what they say about family making a Christmas. I hope yours was as good as ours.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Recap in Pictures

I thought I'd give a short recap of our Christmas to date through pictures. On Tuesday evening, Daughter#2 and The Son-In-Law rolled in from Harrisonburg with Gracie,their lab mix, dropped her off and rolled back out to visit a friend in downtown Washington. On Wednesday morning, after much drama in New York trying to find the right Delta terminal and not miss their flight, Daughter#1 and The Fiance arrived at Washington National Airport.

After their arrival and Daughter#2 arriving back home, we ventured out to have lunch at Daks Grill here in Woodbridge. I have no idea what we did for dinner. We did dig out some old home videos to show The Son-In-Law and The Fiance. A few good laughs were had by all. Christmas morning we discovered our camera was missing (it was later found in Ann's purse) so we'll have to wait for Christmas present pictures are downloaded from Daughter#1's camera. After we opened presents we had a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs , bacon, some fake bacon for Daughter#2, toast and OJ. After breakfast everyone went off to clean up and prep for dinner. Daughter#2 fired up the crock pot to make some hot cider with mulling spices.

By 4:00 the turkey was ready to be carved.
A family picture before we say grace and dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, gravy, peas and rolls

After dinner and desert of apple pie a la mode and pumpkin pie with Cool Whip, most of us retired to the family room with groans a plenty. The two daughters gave a preview of the bridesmaid dress for the up coming wedding of Daughter#1 and The Fiance.

We watched the movie "Maid of Honor" before turning in for a long winter's nap.
Today we kept breakfast simple with just some bagels and pumpkin bread muffins. We also discovered that the minivan's battery was dead due to the lights being left on inside the van while charging Ann's new Garmin Nuvi. I put it on the battery charger and all was well until I tried to turn on the radio and it asked for the security code. Now I understand the whole security code as an anti-theft deterrent. However, the van is over 3 years old and I have no idea where the security code might be written down, if we ever got it at all. I quick look through our owners manual and other paperwork didn't turn anything up. I guess we'll have to contact the dealer and see if they can help. What a pain.
After rounding up The Son, we headed in to Old Town Alexandria for the afternoon. We decided to try out Zandrias's favorite bar and have lunch at O'Connell's. It was very cozy and we got seated close to the fireplace. Their O'Connell's Ale was outstanding. This picture of us all was taken by a gentleman wearing an Auburn sweatshirt so we exchanged "War Eagle's". He was very generous to offer to take a picture of the seven of us. I had the Shepard's Pie, which was quite yummy.
After lunch we walked around Old Town for a bit and dropped by the Torpedo Factory. This converted Navy building, where they did indeed manufacture torpedoes during WWII, is an art center featuring studios of many different artists. Here Daughter#1 and The Fiance pose in front of some sculpture.

Before heading home, we walked along the waterfront. At this point it was getting a bit chilly so we didn't linger long.

After we arrived home the daughters and the Husband/fiance went their separate ways to meet old friends while The Son treated his parents to some Thai food for dinner. Then it was time to come home and crash, except for this entry. Merry Day After Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I missed posting last night, Christmas Eve, due to no Internet service. Thank you Comcast. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas. We did here in Virginia despite the lack of snow. There is nothing like having family around you when you celebrate Christmas. I will have a detail wrap up later on this week, but it's late and its been a busy day so I'm going to keep it short and sweet tonight and leave you with a few Christmas quotes - the ones I used last year plus one.

"Perhaps Christmas doesn't come from a store. Perhaps Christmas means a little bit more." - How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. '

From "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. The meaning of Christmas as told by Scrooge's nephew Fred:

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. 'Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'

And from Dr Suess and the Whos, the lyric from the song "Welcome, Christmas":

Welcome, Welcome
Fah who rah-moose
Welcome, Welcome
Dah who dah-moose
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Come this way!

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day.

Welcome, Welcome
Fah who rah-moose
Welcome, Welcome
Dah who dah-moose
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas
Bring your cheer
Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome all Who's
Far and near

Welcome Christmas, fah who rah-moose
Welcome Christmas, dah who dah-moose
Christmas day will always be
Just so long as we have we

Fah who for-aze
Dah who dor-aze
Welcome Christmas
Bring your light

Welcome Christmas
Fah who rah-moose!
Welcome Christmas
Dah who dah-moose!
Welcome Christmas
While we stand
Heart to heart
And hand in hand

Fah who for-aze
Dah who dor-aze
Welcome welcome

So to one and all a Very Merry Christmas and God Bless Us every one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Favorite Christmas Movies

I've been thinking about this post since Holidailies started, but haven't gotten around to putting it together until now. I saw the list of The Top 100 Christmas Movies and I thought I would rank my favorites. This isn't a comprehensive list of all the Christmas movies I've seen, just my favorites. Without further ado:

1. Love Actually (2003) - Not Ranked - A bit strange it wasn't on the list. Currently my favorite
Christmas movie. A collection of different love stories woven together. My favorite, the writer
and the Portuguese maid.
2. One Magic Christmas (1985)(Ranked #61) - It got lost in the theatres going up against "Santa
Claus" starring Dudley Moore. It has a very "It's a Wonderful Life" touch to it. The family
watches this every Christmas Eve before turning in for the night.
3. A Christmas Carol (1984)(Ranked #11) - George C. Scott plays a great Scrooge and the music
is fantastic. A must see for me every year. I bought a copy for Daughter#1
4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)(Ranked #2) - This movie kicks off our Christmas season.
Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwen are great in the title roles.
5. A Christmas Story (1983)(Ranked #12) - This movie hits really close to home of what it was
like when I was growing up I never stuck my tongue to a flagpole though. Darren McGavin as
the Dad is priceless.
6. Prancer (1989)(Ranked #31) - This movie has slowly moved up my list of favorite Christmas
movies. You can't help but love Jessica Rigg and her belief in Santa and wanting to get Prancer
back to Santa.
7. A Christmas Carol (1938)(Ranked #6) - I love this Dickens tale as you can tell since I have two
versions in my top 10. Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit are
wonderful in this black and white version.
8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1963)(TV)(Ranked #9) - Technically not a movie, but a
favorite Christmas must see. Watching the Grinch be transformed always gets to me. Dr
Suess was genius.
9. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1964)(TV)(Ranked #14) - Again a TV show and not a movie, but
I look forward to this every year and hearing Linus's speech on the true meaning of
10. Polar Express (2004)(Not Ranked) - The elves are a little creepy and the whole animation
was a weird, but I loved the bit about being able to hear the bell if you still believed in
11. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (Ranked #1) - A perennial favorite. It's a bit long, but I love the
parts where Clarence shows how life would be without George Bailey in it. We all touch so
many lives.
12. Scrooged (1988)(Ranked #22) - Bill Murray rocks as the Scrooge type character. Funny
take on the old classic.
13. Home Alone (1990)(Ranked #23) - Another one that took me a while to warm up mainly due
to Macaulay Culkin. The relationship he strikes up with the older neighbor and how they
help each other makes it a hit for me and the comedy is pretty good too.
14. The Homecoming - A Christmas Story (1971)(Rank#79) - Made for TV movie that
introduced us to the Waltons. I loved that show. I don't have a daughter named after the two
younger girls for nothing.
15. Miracle on 34th Street (Ranked #56) - Remake of the classic. Richard Attenborough, Mara
Wilson and Elizabeth Perkins are great, but too many blatant product placements and the
whole ending was a good deal weaker, in my opinion, than the original.

Feel free to weigh in with your favorites. And to all a good night.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Feast

Today dawned clear and bright. The first sun we've seen in quite a few days. And it was cold. Very cold. A mere 18 degrees with a wind chill of 10. That's cold for Virginia. It's suppose to be back into the 50s and raining by Christmas eve. I find rain so depressing. It's so not Christmas. Give me snow and if you can't give me snow, at least make it somewhat cold. Rain? Bah Humbug!

Today Ann and I shopped for our Christmas feast. We ended up going to two different grocery stores to track down all that we needed. Dinners are always a bit more of a challenge when Daughter#2 is in attendance since she is a vegetarian and also lactose intolerant. We try to be sensitive to her needs and make sure she has something here she can eat. That includes Christmas dinner where we have purchased a tofu turkey with all the trimmings for her. I'm interested in seeing how it turns out and how it tastes. I hope it turns out well for her sake.

Tomorrow is my last day to commute down to the base for this year. I have a feeling it will be either crazy busy with a push to get things pushed out the door or very laid back with many people already off or at least in holiday mode. I'm hoping for the latter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I feel like I'm in a holding pattern. Just waiting for the big day to come. Waiting for the kids to come home. Waiting for the last presents to be delivered. Waiting. There is a sense of anticipation in the air.

Today wasn't much different than most of my Sundays have been recently. Get up whenever (as opposed to 6:15 during rowing season) and gather up the dirty clothes and start the laundry. I can't stand laundry taking all day to complete. I try to start it early and set timers so I know when to move clothes from the washer to the dryer and when to get them out of the dryer to fold. The earlier it's done the better in my book. After the laundry is going, I relax, check my e-mails,and surf the web while enjoying my morning soda and a bagel or breakfast bar . My morning soda used to be Pepsi. I was a confirmed Pepsi drinker, but that has changed over the past year. The reason being Pepsi no longer makes a size bottle that I like. They used to sell Pepsi's in 16 oz bottles. They did away with those. Then they went to 20 oz bottles. 20 oz was okay with me. You can still get this size as individual bottles at convenience stores, etc, but not in grocery stores in six-packs. Now they only sell on 12 oz, 24 oz or 2 liter bottles. 12 oz is too small, 24 oz is just too much. Too much sugar and too much caffeine. The 2 liter bottles require you to use a glass. I prefer drinking from my soda from a bottle and not a glass. I can get Coke in 16 oz bottles and so I made the switch.

At 10:45 I headed out to Gold's for my erg class. With college kids home for the holidays, there was almost a full class. I managed to get in 11,000 meters during the class. Like yesterday though, it was a struggle and I thought I might puke over the last few meters. I'll try again tomorrow morning for another 5,000 meters.

After erg class, Ann and I met up with The Son for some pizza (sausage, mushrooms and onions). After pizza we hit up Giant for tonight's dinner of lamb chops. After returning home we settled in to watch the Redskins hold on to beat the Eagles. Things are never easy with the Redskins. They are still mathematically in the playoff picture, but they need a lot of help.

The rest of the evening was dinner and watching some TV. More to pass time than anything else. Tomorrow is a day off for us. I work on Tuesday and then I'm off until after the New year. Daughters#1 and 2 arrive on Wednesday. I can't wait.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Bloody Mess!

When I managed to extract myself from bed this morning, I had a few things I wanted to do today. Not that I wanted to get up seeing it was another cloudy, dreary cold morning. Its been a while since we've seen any sunshine. The things I wanted to do were to erg, watch Navy play in their bowl game and fix our outside lights. As I was getting my morning coke from the refrigerator, I decided before my day got underway, a Christmas movie might be nice way to ease into the day. Comcast's On Demand Channel is running a large selection of Holiday movies, some free and some not. Ann likes the Bill Murray movie "Scrooged" so that's what I picked. It's really pretty funny and has the usual "A Christmas Carol" happy ending. So that was two hours well spent.

After the movie, I headed upstairs to erg. Working out on the erg for me is a funny thing. Sometimes I feel into it. Sometimes I don't. Today I didn't feel it. I struggled through 5,000 meters. About the best I can say for it was that I finished it. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more into it. After a shower, I settled in to watch the first of the college bowl games, which featured Navy vs Wake Forest. I really like both teams so it was hard to know who to route for. In the end, our and my family's association with the Navy won out over Jim Grobe's (the Wake Forest's coach)
Ohio University ties. It was a good game with the score going back and forth before Wake finally pulled away at the end.

Next up - lunch. Ann and I grabbed a sub from Jerry's Subs and Pizzas before I tackled the outside lights. It was a two fold job. One, remove the net with the melted connection and two, find the burned out light on another net that was keeping a section of that net from lighting. Removing the melted net was quick and painless and I moved some other nets around to cover that space. Good, one down and one to go. I brought the second net in to find the burned out light. After plugging in the net, it only took me a few minutes to find the problem. A bulb had broken off leaving just the remnants in the base. Frankly it was a lucky find right off the bat, otherwise I was looking at checking some 50 lights. As I tried to get the broken bulb out I got a shock as the wires to the bulb were still there and exposed. Note to self - unplug the lights before you work on them. I replaced the broken bulb and the net lit right up. However, I did notice another bulb that was burned out. As I was going about trying to extract that bulb, it broke off and cut the heck out of my thumb. It wasn't a bad cut, but did it bleed and bleed and bleed. I continued to try and replace the bulb, but I was dripping blood onto the kitchen floor, which didn't sit well with Ann. She took over the task while I worked on stopping the bleeding. Once I got a band-aid on it, that seem to do the trick. I took the now repaired net outside and out it on the bushes and it's now burning brightly in the night.

After attending church services, Ann and I dug into bowls of white bean chili with The Son driving up to join us. We retired to the family room to watch some more football and the three of us promptly all nodded off to sleep. No one can say we aren't a lively group. Now I'm off to finish that nap.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dunk It

Today was a work day so no goofing off or running out to shop to help save the economy. That was just as well given the weather. No, we aren't getting the snow that the Midwest and northeast are getting. Just some light rain and fog. This time of year, I would opt for the snow. That would really put the icing on the Christmasy feel of things. Although I have to say, the look of all the Christmas lights in the fog was quite beautiful.

To kick off our weekend, Ann, The Son and I attended a college basketball game between Radford:

and George Mason. Yes that George Mason, who went to the Final Four a few years back.
Radford is the alma mater of The Son. Their sports teams don't get up this way very often so it was a rare opportunity to go see them play. Radford is about a four hour drive and is located in southwest Virginia, not far from VA Tech. It's a shame they don't travel more up this way seeing how a large portion of their student body and their athletes come from the northern Virginia area. On the other hand, GMU is a short drive from where we live and we've been there a number of times for various sporting events. GMU is slowly making the conversion from a strictly commuter school to having a large on campus student body. Ann and I always mention, when we talk about retirement, about retiring to a college town. About how we love college sports and the energy you feel in a small college town. We talk a good game, but we certainly don't take as much advantage of GMU's proximity as we should. Anyway, we traveled out to the Patriot Center, GMU's basketball area. Our seats were decent. The Patriot Center is big enough to give you the feel of big college basketball without having to sit in nosebleed seating. Lets see, according to GMU's web site, it seats 10,000. I'd say it was 60% full with a fair number of Radford students there. Probably home for the holidays. The Son was coming directly from work and left late and didn't arrive until half time after missing the turn to make it onto the GMU campus. I hate to say it, but he has the worse sense of direction. He has lived in this area all of his life, but he has no idea where things are or how to get there. Despite his late appearance, The game was good. Somewhat exciting. Radford kept it close until GMU hit 8 of 10 3 pointers in the second half and Radford had trouble making foul shots. But overall a good night's entertainment. My only complaint was the food or rather the cost of it. A hot dog, bag of chips and a soda was $12. Next time I'll eat before I go.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Donuts and Burned Out Christmas Lights

First let me thank the Holidailies's staff for selecting yesterday's entry A Rockwell Christmas as a Best of Holidailies selection. It's very humbling and certainly helps the number of visists to my page. Hopefully some will like what they see and continue to return.

I worked from home today. I traded today for my usual Wednesday work at home day. I had to go in yesterday for a big in-house review of a Request for Proposal that will be released next month. That went a lot better than anyone expected. And there were donuts. Mmmmmm.

Speaking of donuts, I weighed myself this morning and found that I was eating my way out of my lightweight status as defined by US Rowing. I decided I had to get a lot more serious about my off season erging and get on a much more regular schedule. So during my lunch break I hopped on my erg and did 5,000 meters. I managed a best time since our rowing season ended, but a long way from where I should be. Since I'm home until Tuesday, I'm going to try and erg at least 3 of the next 4 days. Lets see how disciplined I am about doing that.

Today I also checked on our outdoor lights, which have quit working for the most part. I found that one of our light nets was partially fried. This was one that was involved in last year's frying incident, but I had hoped it was good enough to go this year. Apparently not. I took that net off line and the others are now working again although obviously there is a hole where the missing net is/was. We're going to shop for a replacement tomorrow, but I fear most decorations have been pretty picked over by this point.

I leave you with a picture (above) from this year's Diamond States Regatta back in July. The webmaster and our unofficial photographer just got around to posting this year's pictures to the club's website. I'm seating in bow of our Men's Quad. I miss being out on the water.

To the those in the midwest and northeast about to get clobbered with snow tomorrow, think white Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Rockwell Christmas

Deep in our hearts I think we all long to experience that all American Christmas as portrayed by the works of Norman Rockwell. The small town idealistic setting, with snow on the ground and more gently falling from the sky. The horse pulling the open sleigh. The family all at home gathered around the tree and fireplace while carolers serenade from outside. In a lot of ways I lived those Christmases portrayed by Rockwell. For many years after we moved to upstate NJ, I would trek out into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree. Usually one a tad to big to fit comfortably in our small living room leaving my Dad the job of trimming them down to a manageable size. We had the bubble lights to put on the tree. A string passed down from my grandparents. Back in the "old" days, if one light went out, the whole string did. We had Perry Como on the record player. Not tape, not CD, but old vinyl as played on our RCA console stereo. I also made our own wreaths for our front door. I even sold one or two to neighbors. Of course I no longer have a crafty bone in my body. We had the annual Christmas plays at our elementary school. Good old Paradise Knoll. My first year living in Newfoundland (NJ not Canada), when I was in the first grade, before I made it to Paradise Knoll, I went to a three room school house. Now that's rather Rockwellian. I also sang at the early service at our church, which I'm sure would shock anyone who had the misfortune of hearing me sing now. We has these maroon colored robes with big white bows. It got us out of the first half of Sunday school. We had the best place to sleigh right outside our front door. I nice big hill that the town often left unplowed just so we could use it (there was another exit to get out to the main road so not plowing it wasn't a big deal). I still have the sleighs we used back in my youth stored in our basement. Unfortunately we don't get to use them here in Virginia much. Finally and the best part, I had a very loving family without which Christmas wouldn't mean nearly as much. This includes both sets of Grandparents. My dad's parents would spend Christmas eve and Christmas morning with us before returning to Bloomfield. The afternoon and Christmas dinner was spent with my Mom's dad and step-mother. By the time we made the drive home from High Crest Lake, we were worn out puppies and treasuring our Christmas memories.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FOIA - The Other Side of the Coin

I don't talk about work very often and I think we can all agree that's for a good reason. There is a reason the verb to be Dooced is now part of the mainstream blogosphere. I think we can also agree that for the most part the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA is also a good thing. The people have a right to know what their Government is up to. But I'd like to speak from the other side for a moment. First let me say that my agency doesn't do any investigations or the like. We don't compile dossiers on malcontents, etc. What we do is buy things. Very expensive things. In an environment of shrinking budgets everyone is looking for an advantage. A leg up on their competition. So enter FOIA. I'm currently assigned to work two FOIA actions since they involve my contracts. Both are clearly fishing requests related to an upcoming competition I will be involved in. The companies making the requests obviously don't know what to ask for or aren't sure what to ask for and therefore ask for everything. While you may say this is just being thorough, I say it's just using the old adage of lets throw enough sh*t against the wall and see what sticks. Most of what they are requesting just flat out doesn't exist. And when you have an effort that lasts a couple of years and you ask for copies of "all correspondence" you're literally looking at hundreds of letters and e-mails. The job of researching, cataloging, making recommendations on what is releasable and what is not and making copies of all this falls to you know who. We are coming up on the end of the year. I'm up to my eyebrows in work that needs to get done and I really don't have time for these fishing expeditions. However, by law, I have too. So far I've spent about 40 hours trying to fulfill these FOIA requests and I'm still not done. Another frustrating part of it is that I don't know who really is requesting the information. Oh sure I have a name of a company, but they are only acting as a front for who is really asking for the information. There are literally dozens of companies here in the Washington area who exist solely to do this sort of thing. It's all rather sleazy. Frankly you have to wonder who really wades through all the stuff we ultimately provide them and of what value it is. Most of what they really want, pricing information and unique/proprietary data isn't releasable anyway. And they do have to pay for my time and I don't come cheap.

On a similar note, on a competition I was involved in earlier this year, the award of which was protested by one of the losing companies, a decision was just issued on Monday - we won and the protest denied. Yes! Chalk one up for the good guys.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Whose Woods Are These, I Think I Know

Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods On A Snowy Evening" is one of my favorite poems and seems just right for December and Christmas. The reason I bring up poems and poetry is today was get the Christmas cards done day. It's not a task I look forward to as it seems boring and tedious. However, once I get into it, it draws out memories from the past. The first card ( I do them alphabetically going through my address book) is an old friend from my high school/college days in Severna Park. Smart kid (Physics major and then law school) and decent athlete. We had some really fun times. Even though we only live about 50 minutes apart now, we can't seem to make time for each other as our lives have diverged over time. There are others like college friends that live in Georgia. Our two nannies that we hired right out of high school. One still lives close by and the other is in Wisconsin. Both have families of their own now. We also have new people on out list as Daughter#2 In-Laws have been added and now Daughter#1's fiance's family. It's an interesting trip down memory lane.

The glass of beer is from the first bottle from my batch of Scotch Ale that I brewed about 5 weeks ago. Seems to have turned out pretty well although, while clear in the bottle, its hazy after being poured. I assume its from sediment in the bottle. I thought this bottle also tasted a bit watery at first. It might just have been me though. The second bottle tasted fine. I'm going to save most of this batch for Christmas to share with the rest of the family.

The gifts continue to be delivered. A few a week. Now we need to get with the wrapping.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

O Christmas Tree 2008

Today we finally got around to buying our Christmas tree. This is a good week later than we normally buy it, but time seems to be getting away from us this holiday season. We get our tree from the local nursery. They usually have a good selection. They had a fire going today as we pulled up. We normally buy a Douglas fir, but couldn't find one we liked. Actually we did find one that we like until we looked at the trunk and saw that it curved like a banana. We selected a Frazier fur instead.

When you buy a tree from them, they give you a pointsetta.

We ended up picking these two. Now if we can remember to water them, they might actually last until Christmas.

Another perk if you shop for a tree at the nursery on the weekend - they feed you! They had various cheeses and fruits, a tasty crab dip, spicy wings and meatballs in a bbq sauce. You can wash it down with coffee or hot cocoa.

They trimmed our tree for us, packed it up and tied it to the top of our minivan and we were ready to roll for home.

I had all kinds of offers to help decorate the tree. The Son shows how he helped out. Actually he left to go home and do laundry.

Taking a cue from The Son, Ann helped decorate the tree from across the room.

So I was pretty much on my own for getting the tree decorated. I put on some Christmas music to set the mood and I got to it starting with the lights. At first I thought this string was totally nonfunctioning as it would not light at all. That's until Ann walked over and threw the switch that controlled the outlet I was using. Ooops.

The lights took longer than I would have liked as I found three bulbs that were out. I cannibalized some replacements from other defunct strings of lights I keep for that purpose, but they barely glowed at all. I think I need to get new lights for next year before these totally go. Ok, a shot with the lights finally up.

After the lights, I began adding our ornaments. It's a mixture of bulbs and objects like a boat, a Santa playing bagpipes and some decorations left over from when the kids were in school. After about an hour I was all done. Here is the finished tree. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of Cars, Rowing and Missing Keys

Ann dragged me out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM. At least it's ungodly for a Saturday morning. She woke me up so I could get an emissions test done on The Son's car. Why didn't The Son do it? Good question. We are terrible enablers. His car is only a year old so getting through emissions was no big deal. I was second in line at the gas station so I didn't have to wail long at all. After the test was done, it was off to the DMV to renew the registration. I pulled in the drive up window line which appeared to be 7 deep and settled in. After about 20 minutes and no movement in the line, I called Ann and asked when they opened as it was now about 8:40. She checked and they had been opened the whole time I had waited in line. In fact I had seen people go in and out the front door of the building. About that time another driver pulled up next to me and motioned for me to roll down my window, which I did. He told me that the drive up window was closed. Duh. No wonder there had been no movement. As I pulled out of the line of cars, I could see that all the cars were empty. They must belong to the DMS employees trying to park as close as possible. What a waste of time. I just drove home and had Ann renew on line. Grrrr.

This afternoon i attended a kick off meeting for a new Masters Regatta that we hope to start up this summer. Its been tentatively been named the Occ0quan Masters Sprints. Its to be held in July on the Occoquan and hosted by the Occoquan Boat Club. It should be interesting working on the inside to see how it all comes together.

After the meeting I went to an open house hosted by one of my teammates and her husband. It was nice. Good food and good company. Nice to see those I haven't seen since our season ended last month. As I was preparing to leave, I searched my pockets for my car keys. Nothing. I went outside to see if I had dropped them on the ground getting out of the car. I opened my cell phone and used the lighted display like a flashlight. Nothing. I looked on the driver's seat and there they were. Only trouble was the car was locked. I called Ann to come bring a spare set of keys to unlock it. She was none to happy about it even though the drive was only about two miles. A stream of obscenities emerged from her mouth. Geez, you would have thought I had woken her up at 2:00 in the morning and asked her to drive 30 miles to pick me up. If she had stuck with our original plan for her to accompany me to the Open House, I'm sure it wouldn't have happened. She is turning into quite the hermit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Realigning Our Day

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. Yesterday I had laid our long weekend out. Friday we would buy our tree and decorate it. Saturday we would do our Christmas cards and Sunday we would wrap presents. In between all that I would go to an organizational meeting for a new masters sprint regatta on the Occoquan and an open house on Saturday and watching the Redskins on Sunday. Alas with all the rain yesterday, we decided the trees would be too wet to put up and decorate. In addition, Ann attends a bible study class on Friday mornings. She came home from that tired and cranky. All she wanted to do was take a nap so we shelved the tree idea. While Ann napped, I made my lunch and read the paper and then started to watch the Christmas movie Prancer. About halfway through the movie, Ann emerged from the bedroom refreshed and we watched the end of the movie, which required a Kleenex or two. After talking about what to do next, we decided to try and wrap up some of the remaining items on the various Christmas lists. We did some mad shopping on line and also headed out to a few stores to get some other items. Overall it became a very productive day in the end.

The Son dropped by for dinner as he has all week. We usually go out for pizza on Friday nights, but we're trying to empty out the refrigerator in anticipation of filling it again with the makings for Christmas dinner. So leftovers it was. We're watched James Madison University play Montana in the I-AA semi-finals. A lot of kids from this area go to JMU. Alas, they ended up losing in a wild game. Maybe next year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Quest Begins Tomorrow

The Quest begins tomorrow as we begin our search for the Christmas tree to grace our living room for the holidays. The weather forecast is not promising as they are calling for cold and wet and possibly some snow. If it is raining, we'll have to wait. It's hard to decorate a wet tree. Something about electric lights not mixing well with water.. Hopefully we'll find a tree as nice as last year's, which looked like this:
Before closing and heading to bed, just a quick shout out to Daughter#1, who had surgery today to remove some skin cancer. Hope you're feeling better kiddo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Where I Have Lived

I'll grab hold of today's writing prompt as it is late and I need to get to bed so I can get up at the unholy hour of 330 AM to go to work.

Today's prompt: Do you still live in the place where you grew up? How far away are you now and why?

I've lived in several places growing up. I was born in New Jersey and spent my first 13 years growing up there. At age 14, just as I was about to enter high school with all my friends, my family was uprooted to North Carolina when my Dad got a promotion. One year later and another promotion and we moved to Severna Park, Maryland, which sits between Baltimore and Annapolis. I attended Severna Park High, which was a very good place to get a public education. After graduating, I moved to Auburn, Alabama for college. I loved Auburn. After graduating college, I got a job in Charleston South Carolina before finally moving here to Virginia where I've been for the better part of 32 years now.

If I had to name the place where I felt I really grew up, it would have to be Newfoundland, NJ. I lived there from age six and until we moved to NC at age 14. My fondest childhood memories are from there. The baseball team (Newfoundland Cardinals) where I played second base and catcher. There were summer days filled with bike riding, swimming, camping out in the Moody's backyard, endless hours of Kick the Can and Flashlight tag, pick up baseball games in the Buckwheat field behind the fire station and trips to High Crest Lake. I was in the high school marching band even though I was only in middle school at the time. The Newfoundland/Oak Ridge Fireman's Fair every Labor day week. There is a line from the movie "Stand By Me" where Richard Dryfus is typing at the end and he types something to the effect of and I'm paraphrasing "You never have friends like those you have when you are 12". For me that could never be truer. So to Bobby Dunn, Kevin Meistickle, all the Moody boys, Doug Wickford, and the rest of the Allison Ave gang, I miss you all.

According to Google Maps, Newfoundland is 277 miles from where I live now. Although it's a lifetime from that 3 bedroom, one bath rambler to the 4 bedroom 3 1/2 bath colonial I live in today. The big reason I moved away was first my dad moved the family so staying in Newfoundland was not really an option. Once I saw life outside Newfoundland, there was no going back. There is really nothing in Newfoundland that would call me back. All the people I knew there are long gone themselves. There is no real work to speak of. It's surrounded by Newark watershed property and numerous reservoirs. It's pretty country but very isolated. I'm sure that sounds strange to people who only know NJ by way of the NJ Turnpike or Newark itself. Actually now I'm located not far from where I went to high school. Severna Park is less than an hour away. I use to look forward to visiting when Daughter#2 would have a WAGS soccer game against the Severna Park team. I like it here. I love being so close to the Occoquan. I could have moved when my job did 11 years ago. But I chose to stay and commute the 80 miles. Its been worth it. This is home now.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

White Bean Chili

We are still finishing up leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Ovcr the years, you come up with different ways to use up the leftovers. There are always sandwiches, of course - regular and open faced. We also make a version of Shepard's Pie using turkey instead of ground beef or lamb. Another recipe favorite we discovered on a Bush's bean can was White Bean Chili. Ann was indisposed tonight so I was put in charge of getting dinner ready.

To begin I added some olive oil to a pan and sauteed an onion.

While that onion was cooking, I got the rest of the ingredients ready including the green chilies, some northern beans, cumin, flour and the turkey.

I added the green chilies, cumin and flour with the onion and cooked for about 4 minutes before adding the beans. I bought that mixture to a boil and let simmer for another ten minutes and then added the turkey. I let the mixture just simmer for about forty-five minutes before serving.

Serve in a bowl with some crusty sourdough bread and you have some happy satisfied campers. Yum!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Deck The Halls or at Least the Bushes

Today we started decorating in earnest for Christmas by putting up the outside lights. We made the switch over from single light strings to the nets a few years back and I have to say they make quite a difference. Not only to they go up in about a third of the time, but they just look better. Many more lights and much more uniform. We had to replace two nets this year since some of our old ones had burned out sections and they're easier to replace then to spend hours trying to discover which bulb(s) are the culprits. Of course we also waited to the coldest day of the year to decide that today was the day to put the lights up. I had to take frequent breaks to blow my nose and wipe my eyes. As I was about to finish up I discovered that the flood light that we use to illuminate the wreaths on the front door was burned out. That necessitated a trip to the store for a replacement. Those babies are expensive. The picture above is from last year, but it looks basically the same as this year. It's quite a dramatic sight as you come around the curve leading to our house and it slowly unfolds in front of you. While I was out, I also filled up the minivan. I need to drive myself in tomorrow as we're having our Contracts Group Christmas Party off base. Its one of the few times we get together as a group outside the few random training sessions they conduct for us at the base theatre. We're spread over portions of five floors and three different buildings. Needless to say no one knows anyone outside their respective Departments. It's a bit unreal at times. I expect to eat my fill and get out before the games begin. Those always tend to be a bit awkward.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Repair Sunday

Today dawned cold and windy. The dusting of snow we received last evening still lay on the ground. We have been babysitting The Son all weekend and I took him back to his place so he could shower and clean up. His heat was not working and hasn't for a few days. Because he owns a condo, the other units helped keep his unit from freezing up. The temperature was right at 60 when we arrived. As any one who knows me and especially my family, I have no do it yourself skills at all. Still I did a few basic checks on his heating system. I checked that he still had gas coming into his unit by turning on one of his stove burners. He had gas. The fan in his heating system wouldn't come on so I thought maybe a circuit breaker was tripped. Nope. While The Son showered, I looked at the outside unit. Of course I had no idea what I was really looking for. I pulled off the access panel and the diagram on the backside of the panel didn't match anything I was looking at so I put it back on and the unit started - for about 10 seconds before shutting off. Hmmm. My uncle has experience with such matters so Ann gave him a call and woke him up. Ooops. But he was nice about it and came right up. While I was waiting for my Uncle to arrive, I went and looked at the outside until again. It sits in a utility closet off The Son's balcony. I took of the access panel looked around like I knew something, which I clearly I did not and put the panel back on making sure the access panel was seated firmly and correctly giving it a smack to seat it firmly. The unit started right up. Figures. I didn't call my Uncle off, but let him arrive and assess the situation. His explanation was that its a safety feature that if the panel is off, the unit won't run. Obviously the panel while on wasn't on correctly. Lesson learned. Since we had dragged him up we also had him look at the light in The Son's closet, which hasn't worked in a while. He determined the switch in the light fixture (it was string pull) was bad and we needed a new fixture. We headed off to Home Depot and procured the necessary hardware. My uncle had it up and working in no time. It's nice having relatives with some talent. For helping us out, I took him and his wife out to lunch along with Ann and The Son.. The rest of the day was spent laying around watching football and waiting for the Washington - Baltimore game tonight. The game isn't even 6 minutes old and the Redskins are already down by 14. I could be turning in early tonight.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

First Snow

There is nothing that says Christmas more than a good snow. We received our first snow of the season today even if it wasn't more than just a light dusting. There is something magical watching it fall. The way everything becomes so quiet and peaceful. Watching it accumulate on the bushes already hosting the lights of the season creates quite the winter wonderland. Living in Virginia, just south of our nation's capital, we don't get a lot of snow so we tend to overreact a bit when we do receive some. I could hear some of the neighborhood kids down the street running around in their excitement that it was snowing. I'm sure they tried, without much success, to put together some snowballs and snowmen. We haven't had a major storm in a few years now and we are way overdue. How much chaos would it be to have a major storm hit during the inauguration? The city would be paralyzed for days. Its also been years since we've had a white Christmas. I can remember only a few my whole lifetime and just one where it snowed on Christmas eve. I was maybe 10 or 12 and living in northern NJ. That still remains with me as one of my fondest Christmas memories. We have a black and white picture of my Uncle and Grandparents in our driveway making their way to our door through the snow with Christmas presents in hand. By we, I mean my Dad. I'm sure it sits long forgotten in some box of pictures in his attic or garage down in Florida, but I remember it clearly. Since this year we have the girls and their respective husband and husband to be for Christmas, how nice if they could have a snowy memory like mine to save in their heart for a lifetime? Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Every Day is Christmas

Like last year, I have signed up for Holidailies. An entry for every day in December (technically it runs from 5 December through 6 January). After signing up I promptly forgot to post yesterday and I'm running late tonight. Better late then never.

A side benefit of ordering most of your Christmas presents on line is that it makes everyday seem almost like Christmas. First there is that lovely feeling of accomplishment as present after present falls into your shopping cart and it's only slightly painful when you enter that credit card number for the Xth time. Then over the course of the next several days you can track your presents as they travel from spots all over the country and all heading to your front door. Then everyday the brown UPS truck or white Fed Ex truck or even the trusty U.S. Postal Service is dropping things at your front door and ringing the doorbell. All of which sets the dog off in a barking frenzy until you answer the door and bring your treasures indoors. And tomorrow that doorbell will be ringing again as these Santa helpers deliver the goodies. It is almost like Christmas every day. Now all I need to do is wrap them. Hmmm...maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Scotch Is In The Bottle

Well the Scotch Ale is anyway. I spent yesterday afternoon bottling up the ale that has been fermenting away down in the laundry room for the past two weeks. It always amazes me how long it takes me to bottle two cases of beer. Like 3 1/2 hours. Granted most of that time isn't spent doing the actual bottling. Actually most of that time is spent cleaning and sanitizing the equipment and bottles prior to bottling and cleaning up afterward. Lets begin. This is the parts of the bottle tree being sanitised. Two minutes and no rising!

More cleaning and sanitising. Here it's the bottles being sanitised and hung out to dry. I do about 54 bottles. Note the paper towels around the bottle tree. Bottling beer is a very messy business. The paper towels also kept sticking to my sneakers and I would drag them around like some dofus trailing toilet paper coming out of the bathroom.

Right prior to bottling the beer, I prepare the priming sugar. You boil the sugar in a pint of water. The sugar will carbonate the beer.

Here I am siphoning the beer from the fermentor into the bottling bucket. Turns out I used the wrong size tubing for the siphoning and I had to keep priming the siphon. I'm glad I combed my hair for the picture. I transferred about five gallons of ale into the bottling bucket.
Ann helped me bottle the beer. She filled the bottles while I capped them. Somehow we forgot how we bottled from last time and made one heck of a mess what with overfilling bottle after bottle. As I said, it was messy business. I ended up bottling about 52 bottles. I broke one so ended up with 51 bottles. The beer should be ready in about two weeks. I'm sure we'll enjoy it with the family over the Christmas holidays. The finished product, bottled and packed.