Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's Official

We're poor again homeowner's again.

We closed escrow on our house in Virginia on Friday morning. It's a little weird owning a house 5,000 miles away that you've never seen with your own eyes.


Many thanks to our mortgage broker, Dave Jones with Prosperity Mortgage, for the quick turnaround on financing our mortgage after the fiasco with USAA. Also many thanks to the wonderful people at Vanguard who were very understanding and helpful in getting our wire transfer done on time.

Closing on this house was not as smooth as our previous house-buying experiences. In addition to the mortgage fiasco that I've already written about, we had a couple of other minor bumps in the road in the last few days before closing.

When we thought we were using USAA for our mortgage, then the wire transfer from Vanguard was going to be an easy phone call because it would be going to our USAA account that was already set up for wire transfers. Unfortunately, when we switched away from USAA, we didn't anticipate the wire transfer would take longer because it was going to a new payee.

I called Vanguard on Wednesday to wire the money and was alarmed to find out I would have to fill out a wire transfer form and take it to a bank for a signature verification (sort of like a notary, but somehow more trusted and special) and then overnight-it to Vanguard in Pennsylvania.

Doh.

Self, calm down. Take a deep breath. everything's okay. We can do this. We'll still make it on time. No problem. We just need to get moving on this. LW came and picked me up at work and we went to Navy Fed to get the signature verification stamp on the form.

We got that done pretty quick and headed to the FEDEX office at the airport. I figured being ON the runway that they'd put the envelope on the next airplane taking off. ...Nnnnnot so much. The FEDEX guy at the counter informed me that they don't guarantee overnight delivery from Hawaii.

Double-Doh.

Self, everything's not okay anymore. This is seriously bad news. FEDEX only guaranteed it would get to Vanguard by FRIDAY morning at 10:45. We were scheduled to close on Friday morning at 9 a.m.

I called Vanguard and explained the situation to them. I told them I got the signature verification stamp and the form was en route via FEDEX, but it wouldn't get there until Friday morning. The Vanguard representative put me on hold to discuss the matter with a supervisor. When he came back on the line, he agreed to accept a fax of the wire transfer form with the signature verification stamp and a copy of the FEDEX airbill. After they confirmed with FEDEX that it was a valid tracking number, they called me at my home phone number on Thursday and took a voice recording of me saying I authorized the wire transfer, and they processed the transfer that day.

My heroes! All's well that ends well. We look forward to getting to Virginia and getting to actually see our new house for the first time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It seems like most people we talk to are surprised that we would buy a house sight-unseen. I would think in the age of the internet, digital cameras, and GIS websites that it would become more common.

This is actually our second experience buying a house via the internet.

The first time we put an offer on a house sight-unseen was when we were moving from SOAC in Groton to San Diego. Since I grew up in San Diego, I was pretty familiar with the area. I had been browsing the realty listings on the internet and found an awesome house in a good neighborhood. When I emailed the realtor though, she said the house was already under contract. Bummer. Kept looking.

About two weeks later, still in Groton and browsing the realty listings again, I happened upon the same house listing. It seemed odd that the listing hadn't been removed from the internet. I wrote the realtor another email to ask if it was still under contract, and she wrote back, "It just fell out of escrow about an hour ago, would you like to see the house?"

My mom went and looked at the house, talking to us on her cell phone as she walked through the house. She and the realtor emailed us photos and a floor plan. We decided to jump on it and made an offer.

We had a "way out" in that there was the standard house inspection contingency. If there was a broken door latch, we could say, "No thanks," and back out of the deal. We already had a house-hunting trip scheduled over Veteran's Day weekend, so our house-hunting trip turned into a house-inspection trip.

That brings up sort of a funny story though...

WARNING: Tangent Ahead

We weren't the only people to place an offer on that house. There were two competing offers. The sellers were Navy and were transfering to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey where we had just come from. We figured they took our offer because we were Navy.

Fast forward to December. I graduated from SOAC and we were flying out to San Diego. My mom wanted to stock the fridge with some basic essentials like milk and juice so we wouldn't have to race off to the grocery store as soon as we arrived. She got to the house and was surprised to discover... there was NO refrigerator.

We called the realtor and she said the refrigerator wasn't included with the house. I said, "Oh yes it was! Look at the MLS listing!" The realtor admitted that she screwed up. She wrote "refrigerator" in the MLS listing, but the sellers had no intention of selling it and took the refrigerator with them.

In fact, and here's the real kicker, the realtor told us that the sellers chose OUR offer over the competing offer because we didn't ask for the refrigerator.

It all worked out though. The realtor gave us like $600 for a new refrigerator since it was her mistake. We chipped in some of our own money and got a pretty nice new refrigerator at Sears.

End of Tangent

I don't think I would be comfortable making an offer on a house sight-unseen in an unfamiliar area though. When we moved from San Diego to Ashburn, VA, I was going to be out at sea for my last 3 months on board, so while I was still in port, I helped LW with the movers and put her and the boys on a plane to DC to do the house-hunting in person.

That brings up another funny story, but I've already told that story in this post.

We didn't know if we'd be in Hawaii for more than a year, so we just lived in Navy Housing while we were here.

Now we're going back to DC. We're familiar with the Ashburn area. We're using the same realtor as last time. We found a house listed on the internet that we really liked and was listed for less than what we thought it was worth (based on analyzing recent house sales in the area). So we jumped on it.

Our friend Corey walked through the house for us and took videos with her flip video camera (thank you Corey!). It's a great house in a great neighborhood with good schools and close to our old church. It was too good a deal to pass up.

Maybe we're just crazy. Stay tuned for initial impressions of the new house in late September.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Farewell Mighty MSP

Tis a sad day.

The Mighty MSP is no more.

At approximately 1125 this morning, the CO ordered the Ship's Duty Officer to strike the ship's colors, and two of our quartermasters lowered the National Ensign for the last time. The CO signed over custody of the EX MINNEAPOLIS SAINT PAUL to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, and the crew was released. (See previous post on decom).

It was a very simple, low-key ceremony in khakis and utilities on the wing wall of Dry Dock #1. The ceremony lasted all of 17 minutes. I will post some pictures of the ceremony as soon as I get them from the shipyard (the pictures taken by the shipyard have to be reviewed and declared unclassified before they can be distributed).

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a video with you. I've been cleaning out my office on the barge and getting ready to leave Hawaii. In the process of cleaning things out, I have happened upon all sorts of mementos.

In preparation for the MSP's crossing the line ceremony last year, we had a Wog No-Talent show where the wogs had the opportunity to demonstrate their talent at entertaining the shellbacks and earn a spot on King Neptune's court (thus bypassing going through the initiation ceremony the next day). One of our sonar technicians demonstrated his "talent" at video editing and he made this music video for us. It was unusual for a "talent" show, but I thought it turned out really well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Farewell Party Gift

Submarine wardrooms periodically have "hail and farewell" parties to welcome new officers reporting aboard and to say goodbye to officers who are transferring to shore duty. Traditionally, the officer who is leaving gets gag gifts for the other members of the wardroom, and all the members of the wardroom get gag gifts and tell stories and "roast" the outgoing guy.

Well... we're in decom.

On Thursday, we will haul down the national ensign for the last time, and the USS MINNEAPOLIS SAINT PAUL will become the EX-MINNEAPOLIS SAINT PAUL. EVERYBODY is leaving all at once, so we had to have one last Mighty MSP wardroom farewell party and shared gag gifts all around.

I had to share with you the gift that the CO got for me. Why? (a) Because it's really funny, and (b) because it's directly related to my blog. He created a book. Well, he took a book and made up a new dust jacket for it to make it look like a different book.

On the front page is the title:

WHO IS BLUNOZ?
The Worst Kept Secret On the Net


First he asked the assembled audience of officers and wives, "Show of hands - who reads the Blunoz blog?" All the hands went up. That actually kinda surprised me. I by no means have tried to hide my blog, and I've pointed a couple of blog posts out to people looking for information about specific hikes or touristy activities around the island. I just didn't think EVERYONE found my ramblings interesting enough to read on a regular basis.

Wait... maybe they don't (find my ramblings interesting enough to read on a regular basis). Maybe they just didn't want to hurt my feelings by NOT raising their hand or saying they DON'T read my blog.

WARNING: TANGENT AHEAD
This brings up the topic of why I started this blog in the first place.

Again, the MSP has been in an unusual circumstance due to our change of homeport from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor. Normally, a new guy would report aboard, and he could get all the local gouge on things to do from the guys who have already been on board a while.

When the boat, the crew, and all the families all move to Hawaii at the same time, we're all new to the island and none of us know what there is to do or see.

I started off writing emails to all the guys in the wardroom to tell them about each cool new place we went on the island. In case you hadn't noticed though, I tend to be a wee bit long winded with my computer keyboard. At one point, I said to myself, "Self, suppose the rest of the wardroom doesn't want to read all your gibberish about hiking, geocaching, snorkeling, restaurants, and stuff around the island?"

So I thought of the blog as a way I could write about our adventures around Hawaii, keep our family and friends across the country and around the world up to date on what we've been up to, post some photos for the grandparents, and if people wanted to read it to get ideas for fun things to do in Hawaii, then they were welcome to read it. If they didn't care, then I wasn't clogging up their email inbox.
END OF TANGENT

Next, the CO shared with everyone that he gets regular phone calls and emails from people outside the command asking, "Did you know Kevin writes a blog?" Yeeesss, I know, I know.

Then he read the back cover of the book dust jacket for us. Here it is for your amusement.
Who is Blunoz?

Blunoz is a source of information unrivaled in cyberspace. Indeed, it is easier to list what not to ask him than to catalog the numerous topics on which he is a self-proclaimed expert. Topics not to ask Blunoz about include:
  • Food other than Mexican
  • How to survive with a MSG allergy
  • Negotiating with a bank
  • Movies that do not include time travel
  • How to best time your arrival - like community pools, ocean restaurants, and Diamond Head
  • How to prepare a house so that the packers do not take the things you do not want packed
  • Explaining to police what exactly is geocaching
  • How to ask someone else to take a photo of yourself
  • Dealing with mothers ahead of you in line
  • Dealing with detailers "Yyyyyeah, hi, about that job in Hawaii I was going to sent you to? Yyyyeah, not so much..."
  • Credit advice
I think he wrote a pretty good summary of my blog so far. My personal favorite was the "How to ask someone else to take a photo of yourself."

Traditional Blunoz Self Portrait
Lisbon, Portugal
March 2007


Thanks for the laugh, Captain. :-)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blast from the Past

My junior and senior year in college, I lived in a small two bedroom one bath apartment in PB (Pacific Beach). I had a computer in my bedroom, but I shared it with my roommate, Ryan.

While Ryan was on his summer midshipman cruise on a gator freighter (a.k.a. amphibious assault ship), someone introduced him to this game called Civilization. He ended up bringing the game home and installing it on my computer.

Many a night thereafter, I would awake in the wee hours of the morning and say to my groggy self, "Self, where is that bright light coming from???" I would lift my head up from my pillow and peer through my squinting eyes to see Ryan's butt firmly planted in my computer chair and his fingers on the keyboard. His face would be in a zombie-like trance, illuminated by the glow from the computer monitor as he played Civilization for hours on end.

"Dude. You. Need. Help. Go to bed."

I don't remember how long I resisted trying the game, but at some point, it sucked me in, too. I would waste HOURS upon HOURS playing Civilization. (You can imagine the STELLAR social life I enjoyed then, too).

There came a time though, when I had finally learned to beat the game and I got bored of it. Done. Fini.

Then the sinister powers-that-be declared, "Let there be Civ II." ...and it was good. And it did wasteth many more hours of my life.

I did learn an element of self control while playing Civ II though. I realized that hours would pass without my even noticing, and then I would be pissed off at myself for wasting the entire Saturday playing a useless video game. So I learned to set a timer. When the alarm would go off after an hour of playing, I would stop wherever I was and say, "That's enough, it's time to do something productive with my day."

No, really.

I hear you snickering. Seriously though, I really did set an alarm to limit my video game time, and I really did stop and save the game and move on with my life.

Believe it or not, LW also liked to play Civ II. After I installed our first home LAN, we used to play multi-player games of Civ II together back in Monterey.

Then we started having kids.

Civ II went by the wayside. Sleep was more important.

So what brought all this up, you ask?

It's amazing the things you find when you're moving. I happened upon the Civ II CD. It was calling my name like a siren's song. I couldn't resist. I had to play a game for old time's sake.

It sucked me in.

I didn't even hesitate to play the game in front of the boys. I thought it would be over their heads. There's no shooting or real action. You move pieces around on a map. You have to pay attention to food production and tax rates.

ES saw me playing and immediately there was a gleam in his eye.

"What's that?"

"Civilzation."

That was it.

No further explanation required.

It's as if that single word was explanation in and of itself of something magnificent.

The next thing I knew, I could hear the soft whispering noise of wood legs on carpet as ES dragged one of the dining room chairs over and sat down next to me. He just watched me play for a little bit. Then he started asking questions.

Now, we're in the midst of playing our first multi-player game together. I figured it wouldn't hurt to let him try it out. I reassured myself, "Self, he's QUICKLY going to see how incredibly boring the game is and he's going to give up and move on to something else."

That hasn't happened yet.

He keeps asking to continue playing our game, and we've been playing a bit every day for the past several days.

I'm not a terrible parent, am I?

Looking on the bright side:

a) It's time we're spending together.
b) It's not just mindless time, it's interactive.
c) He puts on his very best behavior routine, butters us up, and is super cooperative in doing things like taking his bath if he thinks we'll let him play Civ II.
d) He's been reading a lot. I have it set on the lowest difficulty setting with the tutorials turned on, so it keeps popping up windows explaining the rules of the game and how things work, and he's reading them all.
e) He's learning about different forms of government, taxes, and how to balance limited resources between defense, education, and building city improvements, etc.

I might need to start setting a timer for myself again.
*Footnote: Yes, I know they eventually came out with a few more sequels. LW actually really liked Civ III, but they changed too much of the game and I didn't care for it. Neither of us have tried Civ IV yet.

Olympics Closing Ceremony

The Olympics Closing Ceremony was another spectacular show put on by the Chinese. Bravo!

It got me to wondering though...

Would anything like the opening or closing ceremonies of this Olympics be possible in a non-communist country where you couldn't just ORDER millions of members of your population to work for 18 hours a day on practicing for the show and paying them whatever the government saw fit to pay them? Those two ceremonies were ten times more extravagant than any Super Bowl half time show, and the Super Bowl half time shows are backed by gajillions of dollars of big name capitalist companies' advertising.

As those hundreds of Chinese comrades did their dance on the side of the remembrance tower and then dozens more were flying up in the air suspended by wires, it occurred to me that OSHA would NEVER have signed off on anything like that. Well, at least not without extensive safety mechanisms that would have made it just that much more expensive to try and accomplish it in America.

Given the Chinese government's low regard for human rights, I was curious... How many people were injured or killed practicing the high-risk evolutions they put into the opening and closing ceremonies? Not like we'd ever know - they'd never allow it to be published.

If you ask me, it's the same thing with the age of the Chinese female gymnasts. There's no way we'd ever be able to conclusively prove they lied. The communists will create whatever documentation they need as "proof" of the gymnasts age, and they'd never allow anything to be published to the contrary.

Even so, I think these statistics are pretty suspicious if not damning. Basically, all of the Chinese Olympic Team's female gymnasts' heights and weights were the same as that of an average Chinese 12 year old Chinese girl, and they're mostly at or below the 3% mark for the average Chinese 16 year old. It's possible they were all 16 years old. Not probable. Just possible. I suppose if you've got a population of 1.3 BILLION people, and you've got a communist government that can boss people around, then you can scour the countryside for those bottom 3 percentile girls and order them to join the gymnastics team.

There's one other point to consider that they briefly mention in that article. The historic values they used for the "average" Chinese girl's height and weight were from 1965. I would be willing to bet that the average Chinese girl's height and weight has gone UP in the past 40 years, making the data on their gymnasts this year that much more unbelievable.

Again... not probable. Just possible.

All that being said, the conclusion of the article makes a good point: Why bother?
I challenge you to name any activity other than gymnastics (excluding obvious things that depend purely on being small in stature) in which someone who practices regularly between the age of 13 and the age of 16 wouldn’t be a whole lot better by the age of 16 than they were three years earlier.
Why would they need to "cheat" and use girls under 16 years old? Where's the motive?

Thank goodness the Olympics are over. They were fun to watch, but they've been keeping me up late at night watching, and my butt is sore from sitting in our Aloha furniture for hours on end. It's time to hit the rack.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Manoa Falls Hike

I have awesome neighbors.

I have an awesome wife, too, but you already knew that.

They go to extraordinary lengths to make me happy. Not only do LW and our neighbor B across the street welcome me home from work on the front porch with wine and cheese or chips and salsa with some sort of fruity tropical drink, but they go on hikes through muddy rainforests with me. There's more to come later why my neighbors and LW are awesome, but first let me give you a run down on our Manoa Falls hike today.

Manoa Falls is on a lot of local tourist guides. It's not far from Waikiki, so it's probably the closest and easiest waterfall hike for people on vacation staying in Waikiki. I've heard about it many times since we arrived on the island, but today was the first time we've gone on this hike.

If there were two things that stuck in my mind from what I've heard over the past year about Manoa Falls, then they were:
1) Popular spot where tourists leave their rental cars in the parking lot = high crime area where locals break into the cars and steal any valuables you leave behind.
2) Muddy trails, don't go when it's raining or has recently rained

First, our minds were quickly set at ease about our car's security in the parking lot when we arrived and found this:


Nowhere in any of the guides I had read did it say anything about paying for parking. However, I was happy to pay the $5 in order to have a feeling of security that there is an attendant there watching over the cars. It was a fairly small parking lot (it'd probably hold about 20 to 25 cars), so the attendant can see all of the cars from his chair at the parking lot entrance.

Manoa Falls Trailhead

Second, I was pleasantly surprised with the trail. These trails were nothing compared to the Waimano Valley hike we did back in January. Waimano Valley was really and truly MUD. The trail leading up to Manoa Falls is well defined, with a good amount of gravel and rocks, with steps and bridges made from metal and concrete.

This shows what the trail and steps were like.

I'm not saying we didn't get muddy...

YB's shoe after we got back to the car.

I thought I had seen and learned the names of most of the flowers on the island. I was wrong.

This sure was beautiful, but I have no idea what it is.
Turns out, this is a BANANA! (See first comment)

There were a good assortment of other tropical flowers that we've seen elsewhere around the island, too. [Aside: You know you've lived in Hawaii when you can name the flowers on your aloha shirts.]

I'm not sure why this picture grabbed my attention. Maybe because we've been watching the Olympics so much lately. How about this for a new Olympic sport: Synchronized Hiking?

ES and his friend M on the Trail

When we got to the end of the trail, this is what we found...



The big DANGER sign warned us about a landslide that had occurred there once before and dumped like 300 tons of rocks on that very spot.

ES checking out the waterfall.

J, ES, M, and YB had a snack at the waterfall

Family Photo at the Waterfall

My standard hike summary is at the bottom of this post.

Okay, so getting back to why I have awesome neighbors. As long as we were over on that side of the island, I was itching to go back to Azteca Mexican Restaurant for lunch (the best Mexican food on the island).

Unforunately, I was the only person who brought an extra pair of clean shoes to change into after we were done with the hike (and the boys luckily had flip-flops in the car they could wear). Everyone's shoes were pretty muddy.

However (comma), they didn't want to disappoint me and miss out on good Mexican food though, so do you know what they did??? We stopped at a gas station mini-mart and they bought some "ABC slippas" (as in flip-flops purchased at an ABC store for a buck).

B's Stylin' New Slippas

[Cue sound effect: Angelic Choir Singing Hallelujah Chorus]

MANOA FALLS HIKE SUMMARY: I know when I'm trying to decide on a new hike location, I search for an overview about the hike that will help me judge if it's doable with two little boys. For anyone else looking to do this hike, here's a quick summary:
Map: The attendant at the parking lot gave us a pamphlet with a trail map and some information about the hike. I scanned the handout and will include it at the bottom of this post.
Mileage: My GPS reception for most of the hike ranged somewhere between horrible and nonexistent (I couldn't get the geocache near the waterfall because my GPS couldn't get a fix to tell me where I was). The handout from the parking attendant says it was "0.8 miles" but I think that's one way. This website says it's 1.5 miles round trip, and I think that's about right.
Elevation Gain: Parking lot was around 500 feet, the top of the trail was about 850 feet, so total elevation gain was approximately 350 feet of elevation gain.
Terrain: Gravel and hard-pack dirt, man made metal steps. Popular gouge is that this trail is not recommended after it's been raining recently. There are a couple of moderate steep drop-offs along the side of the trail, so watch your children carefully.
Time: It took us a little under 2 hours, and we stopped to have snack time at the waterfall.
Facilities: There was a two-seater outhouse just past the gate at the trailhead. It was fairly dirty for (a) typical outhouse reasons, and (b) muddy people tramping in and out at the end of their hike. However, I give them a thumbs-up for having a hand-sanitizer dispenser in the outhouse. Normally, my boys would water a bush or two along the way, but not today because the trail was narrow and there was a good amount of traffic on the trail.

This outhouse is right after you go through the trailhead gate.

Handout Page 1: Information
(Click on image for hi-res version)


Handout Page 2: Trail Map
(Click on image for hi-res version)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Milestone: First Lost Tooth


7 year old ES just lost his first tooth. He was the only kid in his first grade class last year NOT to lose a tooth.

When he came home from school (they start the school year in early August in Hawaii), my wife asked him if he told his teacher he lost a tooth.

"No," he said.

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because I was afraid she would give me more homework."

Huh???

He frequently impresses me with how smart he is. He's like a sponge absorbing all sorts of facts about things. Sometimes he throws me for a loop with his logic on things. Why would losing a tooth cause your teacher to give you more homework?

What bored little boys do with video cameras




We got one of these cool little Flip Video things. I admit I was a skeptic and wasn't very excited about getting it, but I tell ya - this thing gives new meaning to "plug and play." It is SO easy to use, even our 7 and 4 year old little boys can use it.



So... what DO bored little boys take videos of?


I sat down and watched the dozens of videos they took and noticed three recurring themes:

1. The boys like pretending they're secret agents, sneaking around and taking videos of Daddy with bed-head and Mommy's rear end. Sorry, not posting any of those videos, but they're darn funny to watch, especially with ES's sound effects, theme song humming, and orders to YB - "retreat! retreat!"

2. They have an obsession with the toilet. We have several videos like this:



3. They have an obsession with light switches and flicking them on and off.



In the longer videos of them sneaking around the house and recording LW and me at our groggy weekend morning finest (we're not morning people), you get combinations of all three of the above. ES will be running from recording LW in the kitchen through the hallway, and he'll stop to video the toilet before continuing around the dining room to the family room to record me in my chair with my bed head. Then he'll run upstairs and flick the lights on and off for a while. Pretty exciting, I know.

Anyway, with regard to the Flip Video... besides being extremely easy to take videos and play them on the little screen on the handheld unit, it's extremely easy to plug it into your computer's USB port and upload or edit the videos. There is software built into the handheld, and when you plug it into your USB port, it automatically installs the software. The software allows you to edit the videos and very easily upload them to any one of a number of video websites like YouTube.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I haven't laughed that hard in...

We've been watching the Olympics every night for the past week. Well, almost anyway.

Some of my favorite parts of the Olympics:

- Watching Michael Phelps win the Gold in swimming the 100m butterfly by 0.01 seconds. If you missed it, or even if you didn't miss it, you should check out this photo sequence on the SI website. Absolutely amazing!

- Watching Shawn Johnson win the Gold on the gymnastics balance beam. No offense to Nastia, but Nastia just never looks like she's having fun. Shawn on the other hand with her big, white, toothy grin is fun to watch because you can tell she's actually enjoying it.

- Watching Jonathan Horton win the Silver on the gymnastics high-bar. That was absolutely stellar and worthy of a Gold medal.

I recently saw an ad on TV from AIG that said laughter can add 8 years to your life. Well, the most recent episode of Monk just added about 16 years to my life. LW and I normally watch Monk together off the DVR, but with the Olympics on we totally forgot and didn't even notice the DVR had recorded a new episode of Monk. It wasn't until my mom emailed and asked if I had seen the episode about Monk getting stuck on board a Navy submarine at sea that we hit pause on the Olympics and switched over to watch Monk.
Aside: In case you've never seen the show before, it's about a police detective named Monk who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Naturally, he is extremely uncomfortable with even setting foot on a submarine much less getting stuck on one for five days at sea.


The ENTIRE episode is TOTALLY preposterous. They clearly did not consult ANYBODY who has EVER set FOOT on a submarine before they filmed it. It was SO bad it was absolutely comical.

I mean, yeah, the officers wear summer whites on board the submarine all the time, right? We always submerge right next to the pier without so much as a moment's notice. It doesn't take any time to prepare the ship to get underway and we certainly don't make sure we have an accurate count of who is on board before the crane takes the brow off. Oh wait, we just submerge by the pier, we don't actually have a crane take the brow off - we just let that fall in the water behind us, right? Why yes, the COB is qualified OOD, and he can just relieve the Captain of the Conn anytime he feels like it.

I'm barely scratching the surface of their technical errors here, but the thing that really made me lose it was when they're sitting in the crew's mess eating a meal. The boat suddenly starts to violently shake as if they were in a California earthquake. Monk was wigging out about it, but all the crew members just sat and quietly ate their meals. One of the sailors turned to Monk and said, "Don't worry, it's just a little underwater turbulence."

Maybe you have to see it and hear it on the TV to really get the humor from it, but I erupted in a fit of laughter. I had tears streaming down my face and my abs seriously hurt from laughing so hard. LW thought I was going to pass out from hyperventilation. I just couldn't control myself for several minutes after that.

For you guys at prototype and sub school reading my blog, I know you've probably heard stories about the salty experienced guys on the boat playing jokes on the new guys, but rest assured there are NO doors that go into the ballast tanks. I don't want to spoil any more of it if you want to actually watch it and have a good laugh yourself.

If you missed it, you will be able to watch it on the USA website here. It's episode #705, and as I write this they have up to episode #704 posted to the website.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Furious

low·ball [loh-bawl]
–verb (used with object)
2. to deliberately estimate a lower price for (a service or merchandise) than one intends to charge: to lowball the cost of a move.
3. to give a false estimate or bid for.
Definition from Dictionary.com.

lie [lahy] - noun, verb, lied, ly·ing.
–noun
1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.
2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture: His flashy car was a lie that deceived no one.
3. an inaccurate or false statement.
4. the charge or accusation of lying: He flung the lie back at his accusers.
–verb (used without object)
5. to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive.
6. to express what is false; convey a false impression.
Definition from Dictionary.com.


Dear USAA Federal Savings Bank,

Today, you lost a customer. I feel betrayed and embarrassed that I placed my trust in you to finance my mortgage. I've been a USAA customer for over 14 years, and a USAA Federal Savings Bank customer for over 10 years. I've had two previous home mortgages through USAA.

Our realtor wanted us to use a local mortgage broker that she works with on a regular basis. I talked at length with the local mortgage broker and with the USAA loan agents to ask about policies, fees, rates, and closing costs.

The local mortgage broker told me that because my credit score was less than 720, that he was required to charge me an additional 1/8% on my annual interest rate. He assured me that this was standard practice and that when I looked at the rates on any other bank website that I would have to add 1/8% due to my credit score.

That sounded odd to me, and I wanted a second opinion. I called the USAA loan agent and asked: (1) Is it true that all banks will add 1/8% due to my credit score being less than 720? (2) Does USAA practice the same policy of adding 1/8%? His response was, "No, that is not true, and no, USAA will not add 1/8% to your interest rate due to your credit score." I trusted and believed him because I thought USAA would look at my credit report and understand the ridiculous circumstances that lowered my credit score less than 720.

All that being said, I set aside the questions about the interest rates and just compared the bottom line on the Good Faith Estimates from USAA and from the local mortgage broker. USAA's closing costs were $2,200 lower, and USAA's monthly payment was $38 less than the local mortgage broker's payment. The difference in monthly payments wasn't significant enough to sway my decision one way or the other, but the closing costs were.

Our realtor expressed concern that the numbers on the USAA estimate were not accurate and to verify. I didn't want to blindly jump on the USAA band wagon without understanding the reason why there was such a big difference in closing costs. One of the biggest factors was the difference in county taxes. So I called the USAA representative and asked him about the differences line item by line item. He kept reassuring me that of course USAA was going to be lower because USAA didn't have any hidden fees and we're not brokers out to make money - we're here to support YOU. When I very specifically asked about the county taxes, he replied to me on the phone and in an email, "we stand by our estimate."

Based on my history with USAA, I trusted you, and I chose to obtain my mortgage through USAA.

The first episode that challenged my trust in USAA was the phone call that made it clear to me that USAA had thrown me a lowball estimate to lure my business. The loan processor called and informed me that the closing costs were going to be $3,100 more than the original "good faith" estimate, due to things such as the county taxes. I voiced my displeasure with this, and the loan processor said she would run the numbers again and call me back.

After recalculating, she called me back with a new estimate of closing costs that was only $1,200 higher than the original estimate. I told her I still found that unacceptable since I had specifically brought this to the attention of the loan agent when I applied for the loan and he assured me the estimate was correct and "we stand by our estimate." The loan processor was terribly apologetic and said in order to keep my business, they would offer me 0.xx points or $962.50 off at closing. It didn't make up for the entire $1,200 difference, but it was most of it, and I acknowledge that there is some amount of variability in an "estimate."

That episode left a bad taste in my mouth. If my books weren't all in cardboard boxes on their way to Virginia right now, I would pull out my Social Psychology textbook and cite the chapter and page number about high pressure sales tactics and lowball estimates. This episode smacked of a classic lowball case study.

Everything was all set for closing escrow at the end of the month. My wife and I have just been watching the interest rates in order to decide when to lock-in our interest rate. Both the initial loan agent and the subsequent loan processor recommended we sign up for USAA's Rate Watch service that would email us the current interest rates every day. The emails tended to be slow, so I usually ended up checking on the USAA website.

The second and most recent episode that has destroyed my trust in USAA happened this morning. My wife and I decided the time was right, or rather the interest rate was right at 6.5%, and that I should call USAA to lock in my interest rate.

I called and told the USAA representative that I would like to lock in our interest rate. She was very cheerful and happy to help me, and said, "Let's take a look at what the rates are today." She proceeded to tell me that today's interest rate was 6.625%. I said, "Why is the interest rate you are telling me different from the interest rate on the USAA website?" She had to put me on hold to look into it, but when she came back on the line, she said it was because my credit score is less than 720, so they are required to charge me an additional 1/8%.

Saying that I lost my temper would be putting it mildly. I was absolutely furious. My hands were shaking I was so mad. The loan agent who convinced me to obtain my mortgage loan through USAA absolutely lied to me. The loan processor told me she would need to go review my file and call me back within the hour. I allowed her to go do her research while I let my temper cool off.

When she called back, she said she had reviewed my file and spoken with the loan agent. She tried to tell me that he didn't lie to me. She said it was because the interest rate he quoted me on the phone when we first talked already included that additional 1/8%, he was supposedly being truthful with me and telling me exactly the interest rate I was going to get.

She didn't get it.

I specifically asked him, "Does USAA add 1/8% to the interest rate because my credit score is less than 720?" He said, "No." Please tell me, how is that NOT lying? Plus, at NO point when the loan agent or the loan processor recommended that I sign up for the USAA Rate Watch program did EITHER of them say, "You will need to add 1/8% to the published interest rate because your credit score is less than 720."

That loan agent most certainly, flat out, absolutely, 100%, unequivocally, obviously, and unmistakenly

LIED TO ME

about the interest rate and

LOWBALLED

the initial "good faith" estimate in order to lure me in to choosing USAA over the other bank.

The loan processor was unwilling to acknowledge that the loan agent had lied, and she would not offer any other compensation for the difference. Her justification was that the closing costs now are the same as the closing costs on the good faith estimate (the updated one, after they fixed the lowball). I told her this wasn't about the closing costs. This was now about the interest rate and the subsequent monthly payment.

Looking at the table of interest rates and points on the USAA website, I saw that it cost 0.5 points to lower the interest rate 0.125%, so I suggested that she give me the 6.5% that is advertised on the USAA website and not charge me the 0.5 points. She said there is no way she could do that because she had already given me 0.xx points off. My rebuttal was that 0.xx points off was to compensate me for the initial lowball estimate and didn't have anything to do with the loan agent lying to me about the interest rate, but she refused to budge.

Luckily for me, the loan agent at the local mortgage broker was very understanding when I called him today. He still had all my pre-approved loan paperwork and said he would have no problem achieving our desired closing date. I obtained a new good faith estimates from both USAA and the local mortgage broker, and the local mortgage broker's interest rate, monthly payment, and bottom line closing costs are all lower than the updated USAA estimates.

Since USAA has violated my trust by lowballing me and lying to me, I am cancelling my loan application with USAA, and I'm going with the local mortgage broker.

In my previous blog post on this topic, I did not mention the name of USAA Federal Savings Bank, because I was giving USAA the benefit of the doubt. I assumed it was an isolated incident, and I didn't want to publicly criticize the bank for an isolated incident.

Now that it is clear to me from speaking to multiple personnel at USAA that USAA was not interested in maintaining me as a customer and unwilling to put their money where their mouth is. I am writing this as an open letter on the internet so that others can learn from my experience and be wary of future business dealings with USAA Federal Savings Bank.

Your absolutely furious and formerly loyal customer,
Kevin

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Award and Eval Gouge

Time flies.

I don't know what happened to February, much less June or July. How is it already halfway through August???

Things are winding down on the decommissioning of the Mighty MSP. Friday afternoon we had our final awards ceremony on the Lockwood Hall Lanai. Traditionally, when someone finishes their tour on a ship or submarine, they receive an end-of-tour award. Since we're decommissioning and the entire crew is transferring all at once, we had a LOT of end-of-tour awards to hand out. I managed to read through about 80 awards in a little over an hour by skipping the introductory and closing sentences that are the same on everyone's award and just reading the few sentences of real substance in the middle of the award citations. We also didn't stop to take a photo of each guy getting an award, and instead let everyone know in advance the CO would be available for photos afterwards.


As long as I'm on the topic of awards...

At no point during nuke school or SOBC did the instructors ever sit you down and say, "Hey, let's learn how to write an award." However, chances are, you got to your first boat and at some point your department head told you, "Hey, I need you to draft an award for Petty Officer Smith." Your first response was probably something like a dear-in-the-headlights stare.

For the sake of any those guys out there who are looking for some gouge on writing awards or evals, I thought I would offer some pointers here. Note that these are my opinions and by no means represent any official guidance or policy on behalf of the U.S. Navy. It is my hope that using these pointers will help you to write better quality awards and eval remarks and reduce the time it takes to have them reviewed and approved by your chain of command.

STEP 1. Get the Reference! You will make your dept head's, yeomen's, and XO's job a LOT easier if you submit your draft award already in the proper format.

For awards, there is a very well-written and actually very useful COMSUBPACINST 1650.2X. I'm sure there must be a similar instruction on the LANT side. It's only a few pages long and easy to read. This instruction lays out the policies for different levels of awards, provides the award format and sample awards. The COMSUBPACINST also has a useful "common errors" list and a checklist you can use before submitting the award. You should also check to see if your squadron has a local instruction that provides further amplification or guidance. I suspect every squadron has one.

For evals, the "instruction" is a little more complex. The Navy Performance Evaluation System Manual (BUPERSINST 1610.10A) is more of a book in a 1/2 inch binder. You can download all 19 chapters of it in pdf format right here. I would NOT expect you to sit down and read the eval manual from cover to cover before drafting your first eval. However (comma), if you haven't filled one out before, it would be useful to use the step-by-step instructions in Chapter 1 (pages 1-1 through 1-13).

STEP 2. What to write. Okay, so you've reviewed the applicable instruction mentioned above and you've got your draft in the correct format, but now what? What about the substance or the meat of the remarks?

The nine pointers that follow are my personal observations. If you find that you are having trouble fitting everything you want to say about some truly great guy in the limited space available on the award citation or eval remarks, these pointers will help you eliminate some of those extra words that don't really add anything to the substance of the award.

1. Write positive, active sentences about what the guy DID. For example:
  • "He repaired ___________ (...vital ship's equipment and enabled the ship to stay at sea on a mission vital to national security)."
  • "He managed __________ (...the ship's Radiological Controls Audit and Surveillance program.)"
  • "He planned __________ or better yet, "He planned and executed _________ (...a successful Pre-Overseas Movement upkeep that cleared over seven bajillion outstanding jobs in the Equipment Status Log.)
  • "He coordinated _________ (...the activities of the shipyard and outside contractors in the installation of this new high-tech super-whiz-bang system.)
  • "He supervised __________
If it's an eval and the guy didn't do a particularly good job at it, but got the job done, you could leave the sentences above as is. If it's an award write-up or if you want the guy to have a stronger eval, then you should add a little bit more praise to each of those sample sentences above. You can do that by inserting a positive adverb as the second word in the sentence. You will commonly see words like "superbly" or "flawlessly" or "expertly" in a lot of awards. That way, you're not just just saying he DID it, but he did it WELL. For example:
  • "He quickly repaired ___________ (...vital ship's equipment and enabled the ship to stay at sea on a mission vital to national security)."
  • "He expertly managed __________ (...the ship's Radiological Controls Audit and Surveillance program.)"
  • "He meticulously planned and superbly executed _________ (...a successful Pre-Overseas Movement upkeep that cleared over seven bajillion outstanding jobs in the CSMP.)
If you want to say he's a smart guy or say something about him being a technical expert, the way I usually do it is by saying, "He demonstrated his technical expertise in the way he repaired the ______________, a repair normally conducted at the depot level" or something like that.

2. Definitely include any praise the ship has received from outside the command due to this individual's effort, and use active voice. If you write, "He was recognized for his efforts," then that is passive voice and leaves the reader guessing WHO did the recognizing. His chief? His divo? Instead, rewrite it as, "_____ recognized him / commended him for ________________." Here are a couple of examples:
  • "The Nuclear Propulsion Examination Board recognized him for his superb management of training... or audits and surveillances... or maintenance and material history..."
  • "Naval Submarine Support Center Pearl Harbor commended him for managing the best Command Career Counselor program on the waterfront."
  • "Submarine Squadron THREE commended him for the flawless execution of the ship's post-deployment weapons offload."

Aside
: How can you spot passive voice in a document? Look for the words "was" and/or "by." Instead of "A valve-lineup was performed by the LPO," (passive voice) re-write it as, "The LPO performed a valve-lineup" (active voice). See the difference? It's more concise and eliminates 2 words that weren't necessary.
3. Use rank and name in the second and last sentences, use pronouns in between. Every sentence should not begin with, "Petty Officer Smith..." You should write the guy's name in the standard second sentence, "Petty Officer Smith performed his duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner," and in the standard last sentence, "Petty Officer Smith's professionalism and loyal devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service." In the rest of the citation in between those two sentences, use "he" and "his" instead of "Petty Officer Smith" and "Petty Officer Smith's."

4. Delete the phrases like "was instrumental to" and "contributed to." One of my previous XO's told me these are words you use as filler when you don't really have anything substantial or specific to write about a guy. It's wasted words that just takes up some of your precious limited space in the award or eval format. Disclaimer: Please remember (1) this is feedback for future writers to improve the quality of future awards, and (2) this is my opinion and not anything officially written anywhere. These are actually very common phrases you will see in a lot of awards, so if you have a phrase such as this in an award or eval you have received, please don't take it as a slight against you.

5. Delete the phrase "during his tenure on board."
It's a statement of the obvious. The award already said that it was "for commendable achievement... while serving as a member of ___________ division in USS (ship name) from April 2003 to July 2007." That established that it was during his time on board. Besides, you wouldn't be giving him the award if it was for time he wasn't on board, would you?

6. Delete the phrase "provided watchbill flexibility." Qualifying a required in-rate watch station (for example, an nuke MM qualifying Engine Room Lower Level or an Nav-ET qualifying Auxiliary Electrician Forward) and providing "watchbill flexibility" are not reasons we give people awards.

On the other hand, it would be appropriate to recognize someone who demonstrated initiative and aggressively completed their qualifications AHEAD OF SCHEDULE. It would also be appropriate to recognize someone who demonstrated initiative and qualified additional watch-stations outside their rate (like a nuke MM qualifying Throttleman - a watch normally stood by an EM) or above their expected level for their rank (like an E-5 qualifying Chief of the Watch). Those are both examples of going above and beyond what is EXPECTED of them and are achievements worthy of commendation and praise.

7. Inclusive Dates of the Award. If you submit a group of awards as a result of some major inspection like a TRE (Tactical Readiness Evaluation) or an ORSE (Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination), the dates of the award should not be just the dates the inspection happened.

If a guy is commended by the NPEB (Nuclear Propulsion Examination Board - the inspection team) during the ORSE and you want to give him an award, don't write the award for "1 to 3 April 2007." The thing is, the guy didn't START doing a good job at managing his division or his program on 1 April when the inspection team stepped on board. He STARTED managing his division or his program (audits and surveillances for example, or training records, or material history or...) usually many months before that. So the award is really recognizing him for his efforts over that period of time that he was managing the program, and it culminated in the NPEB commending the program. I'm using ORSE and NPEB as an example here, but it is equally applicable to the TRE Team or to Squadron doing a Nav Eval.

Dates should be provided as month and year (except in cases of some specific heroic act or achievement), so put the beginning month and year that the guy took over in the job where he became responsible for the recognition the ship received during the inspection, and the ending month and year of the inspection itself.

8. Delete negative comments about previous personnel or programs. Your award write-up or eval remarks should neither initiate a report chit or JAGMAN investigation, nor should it be used as evidence in anybody else's Captain's Mast or Court Martial. Do not slander or otherwise implicate that the previous program manager was deficient or a lazy slug or a criminal. (Aside: EKMS comes to mind - it's always the previous EKMS manager's fault). Make positive comments about how much the guy you are commending has "dramatically improved" the program. You could also say the program improved by "two letter grades" from the previous inspection (be careful - actual ORSE grades are not allowed). Those are things that attribute the guy you are commending with doing a good job and improving the bag he was left holding without explicitly dropping dime on the previous guy who left him with the bag in the first place.

9. Spell out acronyms and use commonly understood terms. The guy's parents should be able to read the award without a Navy acronym dictionary. For example, instead of "he preformed vital repairs to the BQQ-5D", rewrite it as, "He repaired the ship's primary sonar system."

There you have it. Here endeth the unsolicited advice of the day. As always, I welcome your feedback on this.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's nice to be a regular

No, no, no, this has nothing to do with eating my fiber cereal in the mornings.

It's nice to achieve the status of being A "regular" at a local business. It's generally hard to do being in the military and moving around every couple of years (or less).

Heck, I've only been in Hawaii a year now, and at some point in the recent past I have attained "regular" status with my favorite barber. She's Korean and doesn't talk much, so it's not like she would remember me from talking about our families or whatever like you might with some other barbers. It took me about 7 months or so before I found her, and a couple more months for me to have sat in her chair enough times that she remembered me.

I knew I was making the crossover into "regular" status a month or so ago when she commented one day, "Samwon else cut you hayah." Do barbers and hair stylists mark their territory? I mean, do they have some "mark" or signature way they do things so they can tell if they were the last person to cut your hair or not? Anyway, she could tell that the previous haircut I got was at the NEX and not in her chair.

Why do I go see this barber you ask? I'll tell ya. One of the things I really liked about Westpac (being on deployment in the Western Pacific) was port calls in places like Okinawa and Korea. I wanted to go get a haircut everyday. Not because I like my hair that short, but because they give you a scalp, neck, and shoulder massage after they cut your hair. I didn't care so much about the haircut as the massage afterwards. Well, this barber I found does the same Korean scalp and neck massage after she cuts your hair, and it's AWESOME. She does a good job cutting my hair, too.
Aside #1: Disclaimer for any of you salty dogs who have been to Westpac before, NO I am NOT talking about the two-pole barber shops.

Aside #2: I know some young impressionable ensigns and midshipmen read my blog and are dying to know what Aside #1 was about. Here's the gouge for any of you guys getting ready to meet your first boat and go on your first deployment: STAY AWAY from the barber shops with TWO poles (your standard red, white, and blue swirling poles outside that tell you it's a barber shop). Your COB will explain why during your port brief before you pull into port, but just in case you're going to fly overseas and meet your boat in someplace like Chin Hae and you get there before the boat does, just remember to stay away from the two-pole barber shops, capiche? 'nuff said.

So what's my point? Why did I bring this up in the first place?

I'll tell ya what's awesome about having "regular" status. Yesterday, I stopped to get a haircut on my way home from work. I didn't have an appointment, and I was walking into the barber shop right behind another guy. She saw me walking in the door and told the other guy that I had an appointment and ushered me into her chair and made the other guy wait for the next chair. That's AWESOME! (Sorry, dude, whoever you were! I didn't ask her to do that!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things I learned about my credit score - Ripple Effects

Okay, this is driving me nuts.

We're in the process of buying a house in Ashburn, Virginia. Keep in mind we lived in Ashburn during our last shore tour in the DC area, so we have "history" with the local utilities. Now, if you ask me, I would characterize it as GOOD history because we had 2 years and 9 months of paying our bill on time every month. However (comma), remember from the previous post that the big BLEMISH on my credit history is the fact that Dominion Power sent our final bill for a whopping $70 to a collection agency when we the bill took a while catching up to us on our PCS move to Hawaii.

Our realtor asked me to go ahead and call the utility companies and set up the services at the house in our name starting on our closing date.

Phone call #1...

I called Dominion Power to set up the service at our new house. They ask for my social security number. I give it to them. Dominion Power proceeds to inform me that because of my "history" with them, they want a

$450

security deposit to set up a new account under my name. You WHAT?!?!?! After TWO YEARS and NINE MONTHS of paying our bill on time every month, just because we were late in paying our final bill for a measley $70 while in transit to Hawaii, you want me to pay SIX TIMES as much as that one delinquent payment???

Phone call #2...

I called Washington Gas. They asked for my social security number. I gave it to them. The Washington Gas customer service representative on the phone proceeded to inform me that because of my "credit history" that he did not have sufficient authority to establish my new account and that I would have to talk to a supervisor. Um... okay... Then, he tells me that the supervisor will call me back.

...They never called.

Eventually, I got it all worked out. I spoke with a supervisor at Dominion and although a supervisor at Washington Gas never called me back, a supervisor reviewed the application and approved my new account. Still, it's just the fact that I have to jump through these extra hoops that's frustrating me.

THE POINT:

Don't let this happen to you! Save yourself the hassle! Be proactive, seek out your final amount due on your utility bills when you transfer and pay them.

Monday Night Food and Fitness - Favorite Recipes Recap

Food

I used to write a post on Monday nights called Monday Night Food and Fitness, but I fell out of the habit. It wasn't that LW wasn't making us awesome meals to eat, it's just that we got into sort of a rotation of eating mostly the same things over and over again because they were so good.

Tonight she tried something new though - chicken enchiladas, and they were AWESOME!!!! I wish I had more hands to give her more than two thumbs-up on this one. (How about two big toes?) The recipe was from our neighbor B across the street, and she got the recipe right off a can of Old El Paso green chilis. If you would like the recipe, here it is:

Creamy Chicken & Chile Enchiladas

1 lb uncooked chicken breast strips

1 package (8oz) cream cheese, cut into cubes

1 can (4.5oz) Old El Paso chopped green chiles

1 package (10.5oz) 6 inch flour tortillas

2 cans (10oz) green chili enchilada sauce***

¾ c shredded cheddar cheese

1. Heat oven to 400. Spray 9x13 glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In 10 inch skillet, cook chicken over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink in the middle. Stir in cream cheese and chilis; reduce heat to medium. Cook and stir until blended and cream cheese is melted.

3. Spoon chicken mixture into tortillas; roll up and place seam side down in pan. Pour enchilada sauce over the top, sprinkle cheese.

4. Bake 15-20 minutes until hot and cheese is melted.


*** All the enchilada sauce they had at the commissary had MSG in it, but LW found some Ortega salsa verde that was MSG-free, and she used that instead. It worked out like a champ.


As I had stated before, the main reason I was writing the Monday Night Food posts was to (a) give a shout-out of thanks and praise to LW for the awesome food she cooks, and (b) to keep track of the recipes that I really like. That way, the next time LW is preparing her grocery list and asks, "What do you want for dinner this week?" I can click on over to my blog and remind myself which things she's made that I REALLY liked.

Up until now though, it's been scattered through a bunch of my previous posts. So mostly to make it easier for myself in quickly providing input to LW's grocery list, I'm going to write a summary here listing my favorites and linking back to the previous posts for the recipies.

Smokey Sweet Potato Chicken Stoup

Tortilla Soup

Falafel Sandwiches

Chicken Parm Meatballs

Layered Mexican Chicken Casserole

Spicy Chicken Breasts with Carmelized Onion Relish

Spiedies

Cilantro Stuffed Tri-Tip

Crash Hot Potatoes

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Pots de Creme

Fitness

Falling out of the habit of writing my Monday Night Food and Fitness post also wasn't due to stopping PT. I just didn't have anything new to write about. Up until last week, we continued our routine of Command PT on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Mondays and Fridays, we did warmup calesthenics and stretching in Bloch Arena and then split up to do our own cardio-type workouts. I usually did a 3 mile run out to the waterfront and back along South Ave. Wednesdays, we had "The PT Nazi" personal trainer lead us through some interval training at Quick Field.

We're getting close to the end of the Mighty MSP's decom, and we're closing out sections of the barge like berthing and showers, so it's harder on the guys to have to go to Command PT and then shower at Bloch Arena or back at their barracks room and then have to trek their way into work in the shipyard. At the same time, most of the work on the boat is done and there's nothing keeping most of the crew on board past 1400, so it's easier for guys to just go to the gym and then go home to shower.

So we've declared an end to the Mighty MSP's Command PT Program. I will say it was a huge success though. On our final Command Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA), we increased the number of Excellent and Outstanding scores by 100% (from 21 to 42), and we reduced the number of PFA failures by 100% (from 10 to 0). Our crew lost a total of more than 300 pounds (I forget the exact number, but I'll look it up at work and correct this entry later). My hat's off to our previous COB, current COB, and our Command Fitness Leader for leading an excellent physical training program and really getting the crew to "embrace the culture of fitness."

Now, I'm riding my bike to and from work, so that is helping with the loss of the organized Command PT, but I'm still doing PT in the morning before I go to work on M-W-F.

Also, my left shoulder has hurt and had a limited range of motion ever since we tried doing that "combat fitness" routine with the PT Nazi on May 28th. Those wheelbarrows and crab walks and pushup-side steps really messed up my left shoulder. The Doc at the Makalapa Clinic said it's tendonitis in a tendon that's very hard to "get at" and that it won't be an easy process to recover. So now I'm going to physical therapy on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and doing specific exercises geared toward working that left shoulder.

Anyway, my main point being that I haven't been writing my Monday Night Food and Fitness posts because we fell into a routine on both fronts and I didn't have much new to write about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This afternoon I took the boys to the sneak preview of
Clone Wars
at the Sharkey Theater.

First, about the movie:

Wow.

98 minutes of rompin', stompin', shootin', flyin', light-saberin', back-flippin', usin'-the-force, inter-galactic battlin' action. The droid robot soldiers provide a good amount of comic-relief, too.

My 7 and 4 year old boys were mezmerized. They made it through the entire movie without any trips to the LBR (little boys' room). The three of us left the theater humming the Star Wars theme song and quoting the one-liners from the droid soldiers.

It was no more violent than any of the previous Star Wars movies. There's no real gore. When guys get shot, they fall to the ground just like in Star Wars IV. I actually felt better about my boys watching this than I would about them watching Star Wars Episode III (which I still haven't let them watch).


Second, about Sharkey Theater:

Here's some gouge for anyone considering a future sneak preview at Sharkey Theater.

The show was FREE for the first 450 people to show up. There were a LOT of people there, but the theater was by no means full. The employees were commenting how surprised they were that they didn't fill the house and have to turn anyone away - they expected a bigger turnout.

Our neighbors suggested going 2 hours ahead of time to get tickets. I didn't know if I could go THAT early. The show was at 2:30, and LW was going to a baby-shower at 12:30, so we dropped LW off, then grabbed some lunch at Subway and went to get in line. I thought we were going to be sitting in line in front of the theater for two hours and came prepared with our lunch and some kids' books and their Leapsters.

It turns out I was over-prepared. We arrived at the theater at 1:15 and there were probably 50 people in line in front of us. I never had a chance to sit down to eat our lunch though because the line moved really quick. The ticket window was open and they were handing out the tickets as people walked up. We made it through the line and had tickets in hand by about 1:30.

The tickets looked pretty schnazzy - you'd think they were intended as a collectors item.


After you get your tickets, you have to enter through the side door up at the front of the theater. Normally, the movies at Sharkey Theater are open seating, so you want to get in there early to get good seats. For this sneak preview though, the tickets had assigned seats, so there was no hurry. Getting in line at 1:15, we got tickets for seats in Row 15.

We had to be in our seats by 2:15, so I took the boys across the street to eat our lunch on the Lockwood Hall Lanai, let the boys run around a bit and use the restroom.

They would allow each person with a military ID to get up to 6 tickets. You did NOT have to have all six people there when you picked up the tickets at the window. They just all have to be there before you can enter the theater. So you could totally send someone ahead to wait in line and get the tickets and have the rest of your family meet you there to go into the theater just before the show.

They had a big sign there saying that Warner Brothers prohibited any cell phones or other recording devices in the theater for the sneak preview, and anyone caught with one would be expelled from the theater.

Overall, it was a very good time and I would totally do it again.