Sunday, November 30, 2008

Filming Documentaries on Submarines

Bubblehead just wrote about the documentary "Sharks of Steel" they filmed on board his old boat, USS TOPEKA. It brought back memories for me. (I started to write this as a comment on Bubblehead's blog, but then decided it was long enough I should just post it on my own blog).

On my first use-ta-city, we got to film a special for the History Channel called "The Great Ships." Man, we joke about midshipman ops being "groundhog day ops," but shooting a documentary TV show magnified the groundhog day aspect of it times a hundred.

Step up the camera in control. Sound the General Alarm. Gong gong gong gong gong gong gong... Man Battlestations. Everyone scurries about. Cut. That was good. Everyone go back to your rack or wherever you were before we sounded the General Alarm.

Move the camera to Crew's Mess. Sound the General Alarm. Gong gong gong gong gong gong gong... Man Battlestations. Everyone scurries about. Cut. That was good. Everyone go back to your rack or wherever you were before we sounded the General Alarm.

Move the camera to the FCML passageway. Sound the General Alarm. Gong gong gong gong gong gong gong... Man Battlestations. Everyone scurries about. Cut. That was good. Everyone go back to your rack or wherever you were before we sounded the General Alarm.

Move the camera to the torpedo room...

You get the idea. They had to get the view from EVERY possible angle.

Okay, great, got the battlestations shots. Now let's do a FIRE DRILL!

Set the camera up in Control. 4MC report of simulated fire. Sound the general alarm. Rig ship for fire and general emergency. Everyone scurries about putting on EABs and OBAs and manning fire hoses. Okay that was good. Secure from fire and general emergency, restow all damage control equipment. Everyone go back to your rack or wherever you were before we sounded the General Alarm.

Set the camera up in Crew's Mess... rinse and repeat.

As much as it was a pain in the arse filming it, I thought the History Channel did a really good job with it. It cracks me up when I got a phone call out of the blue years later from my cousin, Jud, saying, "I just saw you on TV!!! My cousin's a FAMOUS TV STAR!!!"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leftovers

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers for lunch the rest of the weekend. Besides the sweet potato casserole, another one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes is my wife's cranberry sauce. Today for lunch, I had a turkey sandwich with chipotle jack cheese and some cranberry sauce. Man, talk about FUSION!

Flashback: We used to always give our Chop (Chop = Navy slang for Supply Officer) flak for doing things like serving chocolate ice cream with apple pie. He tried to proclaim it as "fusion."

Anyway, back to the present, this wasn't the Chop's kind of fusion (no offense Chop :-) ). No, this was really and truly culinary fusion. The sweetness of the cranberry sauce with the spice of the chipotle jack cheese was just AWESOME!!!

Moving on...

I really wanted to get out of the house at least ONCE this weekend to do something fun with the boys. As I watch them grow older, I fear they will lose interest in me. Indeed, I was trying to convince the boys to go on an afternoon geocaching hike with me when the phone rang. It was a friend from ES's second grade class who lives not far away, and he invited ES to come over and play. ES opted to play with his friend instead of go hiking with me, and that kind of made me sad.

My 4 year old took pity on me and obliged me. We dropped ES off at his friend's house to play, then YB and I headed over to the Beaver Creek Reservoir.

YB all suited up for the hike.

This is the first time I've been hiking out there since we moved back to Ashburn. During our previous tour here, we always saw some form of wildlife during our hikes around the reservoir - a fox, a beaver, box turtles, deer, geese, ducks. Today we didn't see any wildlife except for some distant ducks on the reservoir, but we saw lots of evidence of wildlife all around us.

Evidence of Beaver

Evidence of Deer

LOTS more Evidence of Deer

As much as I would have preferred for ES to have come with us on the hike, this was a great opportunity for me to have some one-on-one time with YB and talk about these things that tell us the wildlife live here. This is stuff that ES knows and remembers from our hikes here before, but YB was too young then to understand or remember it. I think it was a pretty good educational walk for YB today.

Panorama shot looking east to the reservoir.

I love these cedar forests in Virginia.

I thought these were pretty. I don't know what they are, but I know at least one of you who will tell me what it is.

Going for the geocache, I tried to take us on a direct approach. That didn't work out so well. We encountered a couple of obstacles along the way - in the form of small streams flowing into the reservoir. They were iced over, and YB got a kick out of tapping on the ice with our hiking sticks. That made the hike in a bit longer than anticipated because I had to hike upstream aways until it got narrow enough to step over.

Obstacle.

Even so, we really enjoyed the walk together. There was a period of time where we were trudging through some wet marshy grass, so I picked YB up and put him on my shoulders for a bit.

Self-Portrait with the Reservoir in the Background

At one point, YB declared, "Daddy, soon I will be big and you won't have to carry me on your shoulders anymore." He said it in a very cheerful tone of voice, and his implied meaning was he was excited that he wouldn't be a burden and could do it himself. At the same time, my heart kinda sank. I already felt sad that his older brother would rather go to a friend's house than come with us, and now here was my youngest son proclaiming he wasn't going to need me anymore either. :-(

YB with the Geocache
(and the little plastic dinosaur he took from it)

When I told my wife about this conversation, she asked, "So do you want another one?" No, no, I'm not saying that. Our two boys are a handful as it is. I just wish the two that we have weren't growing up so quickly.

How the heck did he get to be so tall???

On a positive note, after we found the geocache, it was a pretty quick walk out, bypassing all the obstacles we went around on our way in. YB was very impressed by how quickly I got us back to the car after it took us so long hiking in. He declared, "Daddy, you're AMAZING!"

That was a good ego boost and a good way to end the hike. Plus, our hike received YB's "favorite part of the day" proclamation just before we said his bedtime prayers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Another successful Black Friday

Hooray! Once again, I have successfully avoided going anywhere near any shopping plazas on Black Friday.

What did I do instead?

Finally hooked up the Wii (my wife's been asking me to do that for a while now, and it just hadn't percolated to the top of my to-do list yet), played video games with the boys, hung some pictures, aaaaand...

Ta-da!

...hung up Christmas lights. I'm not sure if I'm done yet though. We might need to put some lights around the living room bump-out. In case you can't tell in the picture, those two lit-up blobs in the foreground are penguins. They didn't come out so well in the photo.

How was your day off?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful for...

- My wonderful wife
- My two awesome boys
- A very loving and supportive extended family
- Good shipmates and friends and the difficult challenges we've overcome together
- Being an American
- A good church
- A great house
- Food to feed my family and clothes to keep us warm
- A secure job and a good paycheck in this troubled economy
- Good schools for both of my boys

We were blessed today to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the house of some friends from church. It was an awesome dinner with all the fixings. My favorite dish was the sweet potato praline casserole.

After dinner, we all went for a walk around the neighborhood to help the food settle and make room for dessert.

Ode to an After Dinner Walk.

Mmmm, full belly - tryptophan flowing in my veins,

Ahh, the crisp fresh air - biting my cheeks, can't feel my nose,

White picket fences and seasonal decorations - orange and yellow gords,

Bare trees - dark silent sentinels silhouetted against the sky,

Brown leaves under our feet - crunch, crunch, crunch,

Geese flying in a vee-formation high overhead - distant honking,

Quiet conversation and laughter amongst friends,

And my seven year old plays Nintendo...


While I wish I could have convinced him to enjoy the walk with us without the distraction of electronic entertainment, I figured I had three choices.

a) Refuse to let him bring the Nintendo, he refuses to go on the walk and stays at the house.

Result:
+ Content son.
- Son doesn't get exercise.
+ I enjoy peaceful walk with friends.
- Son doesn't enjoy or learn to appreciate the beauty of the season.

b) Refuse to let him bring the Nintendo, he refuses to go on the walk, and I drag him kicking and screaming on the walk against his will.


Result:
- Unhappy son.
+ Son gets exercise.
- My ears hurt from listening to his crying and whining.
- Son still doesn't enjoy or learn to appreciate the beauty of the season.

c) Allow him to bring Nintendo, he goes on walk.


Result:
+ Content son.
+ Son gets exercise.
+ I enjoy peaceful walk with friends.
- Son still doesn't enjoy or learn to appreciate the beauty of the season.

I figured 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

Ahhhh, Nintendo by the fire.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Water Heater

Thank you all for your advice and recommendations on the water heater issue. The overwhelming majority of responses were to replace the water heater NOW and not wait until it failed.

I agree.

Those of you who know me well also know how frustrated I get doing projects around the house. I'm not a very good repair man. I'll get the job done, but it'll usually take me at least two trips to Home Depot and a lot of frustration.
Aside: For you non-submariners out there, an "A-Ganger" is an Auxiliary Division ("A-Gang") mechanic who keeps the hydraulics, diesel generator, plumbing and sanitary systems in working order.
I liked the idea a couple of you shared about finding an A-ganger to help me. Unfortunately, I don't know of any A-gangers in the DC area. A-gangers are awesome at what they do, unfortunately there aren't many requirements for A-gangers in the Pentagon. DC duty is mostly paperwork and powerpoint, and A-gangers and paperwork go together like oil and water - no offense intended! If we had been in a submarine home port, then that would have been a pretty good idea.

As I typically do with large purchases, I put together a spreadsheet to compare costs and features. I compared the water heaters at Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears.

In the end, I decided to go with Sears for two reasons: support for the military and cost.

First, I recently read an article about the Sears company's support of military members. If a Sears employee is deployed as a military reservist or national guardsman, then Sears will pay the difference between their Sears salary and their military salary and will maintain their Sears benefits while they're deployed. Based on that aspect alone, I probably would have chosen Sears even if they were priced a little more than the competition.

Tangent...

Before I jumped on that band-wagon, I wanted to make sure I was being fair. I didn't want to say I chose Sears because of their policy if Home Depot and Lowes were doing the same thing. So I did a little research.

To Home Depot's credit, they do make efforts to hire military veterans and dependents, but I could not find anything on their website that offered the benefits that Sears offers their military reserve employees.

On Lowes' website, I could not find anything about military reserves or national guard, and nothing came up for me on a Google search for "Lowes' military reserve" other than military discounts for customers shopping in the store.

End of Tangent


Okay, so given Sears' support of their employees in the reserves, I was predisposed to choosing Sears for our new water heater. However, when I added up all the installation costs, haul-away costs, county permits, etc, etc, Sears actually ended up coming out being the cheapest. It was only $12 cheaper than Lowes, and $50 cheaper than Home Depot, but it was still the lowest price (for a similar 50 gallon, natural gas water heater with a 12-year warranty).

I've had two friends recommend a tankless water heater, but I decided not to go tankless due to this article at Consumer Reports.

Someone else also mentioned not paying the extra for the longer warranty. In our last house, I totally agreed. We didn't expect to be there more than a few years, and I got the lowest priced, shortest warranty water heater. In this case though, I turned to another article at Consumer Reports. Given the place I am in my career, it is possible we could own and live in this house for a long time to come, and the longer warranty water heaters come with more design improvements as highlighted in the CR article.

The Sears guy came and installed the new water heater yesterday. He asked my wife, "What's wrong with old one?" She told him our story, and I don't think he agreed with the consensus of you folks here. I got the impression he thought we were nuts for replacing a functional water heater. Oh well - he's not the one who would have to clean up the mess when it blows, right?

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pleasantly Surprised

Okay, okay, I take it all back.

I had a POSITIVE experience at the DMV.

Will wonders never cease?

I had been procrastinating going to the DMV and getting my title and registration taken care of just like I procrastinate going to the dentist. Now, in hindsight, I wish I would've done it a lot sooner.

Pentagon newbie gouge: There is a Virginia DMV office IN the Pentagon on the 2nd floor in corridor 10. At the time of this writing with the state of the remodeling construction, when you walk in the Metro entrance and go up the escalators, the construction boundaries force you to walk down corridor 10 and right past the DMV office.

There are two service counters, and I think they can do just about anything there. I went in about 0900 and there were five people in line in front of me. I only had to wait 5 minutes before it was my turn.

The two employees working the counter, Julie and Gilbert, were both very knowledgeable, friendly, and professional, and they worked together as a team to find answers to questions and overcome obstacles. I was VERY impressed. They had me in and out of there with new Virginia plates and registration in no time. It looked like they were having fun and actually enjoyed their work, and it made it actually a pleasure to speak with them and conduct business with them. What a concept, huh?

My transaction took a little longer because I was transferring my title from Hawaii, but even so, there was never more than one person in line behind me, and there was nobody in line when I left.

Two thumbs up for the Virginia DMV Office in the Pentagon!

Disclaimer: Of course, this is a single data point, and I don't expect you to draw a trend line or make any generalizations about DMV service from this one experience. :-) It could've been a fluke.

Update 12/16/2008: More data - at least on the wait. I've gotten in the habbit over the past few weeks of peeking into the DMV office in Corridor 10 every time I pass by to see if there's EVER a line. The average is 4 people waiting in line. I've never seen more than 5 people waiting in line. There have been some occasions of NO people waiting in line, and some in between 0-4 people, but it seems to me most often I see 4 people waiting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Credit Score Nightmares

Once again, I am counting my blessings.

Given the way the economy is going, it freaks me out that we might not have been able to buy our house if we had moved here so much as one month later than we actually did. You may recall my previous posts about my credit score during our mortgage shopping experience.

Friends of ours have had their house on the market for about six months. They just finally got an offer on the house and accepted the offer, but the deal fell through.

Wanna know why?

The buyers weren't approved for the loan.

The loan required a credit score of 740, and their credit score was only 737.

Um... they've got a significantly better credit score than I do!

Holy crap batman! Seriously, that stupid $70 late payment to Dominion Power and applying for a Best Buy card to buy a TV (the two things that drove my credit score down BELOW 700) would have prevented us from buying this house if we had moved here a month later!

It probably goes without saying that I had a new appreciation for protecting my credit score after the mortgage debacle, but this just really drives the point home. (No pun intended.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yelp!

One of the things I love most about the internet is the ability to find objective reviews by other people of products, restaurants, etc before you buy it or go there yourself.

The first place I remember seeing this was Amazon. On Amazon, I can see reviews from people who have previously bought a book or movie or any other item (since Amazon has grown to the point that I can't think of what they DON'T sell anymore). In Amazon's case though, you just have to take the price that they offer as the sole source provider.

As eCommerce and the internet marketplace have grown, we started to find more places that offered customer reviews of the seller in addition to the product itself. I think eBay was probably the first place I remember seeing this, and then Pricegrabber.

Nowadays, before I buy anything, I usually check the ratings and prices on both Pricegrabber and on ePinions. I've found that neither site has 100% coverage of everything I shop for, but between the two I can usually find a handful of user reviews.

The one thing that I think has been slow in coming is user reviews of local restaurants and businesses. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it was out there and I just never happened upon it.

You will see occasional reviews for businesses if you do a Google Maps search for a business, but it's not very well populated yet.

The first website that really grabbed my attention as a good source for restaurant reviews by average people like you and me was TripAdvisor. My wife started using TripAdvisor to research where we should go when we went on vacation, like the trips we made to Maui and the Big Island. As a matter of fact, you don't have to be going on a trip somewhere. It's a great resource for looking up restaurants and businesses right around your home town. I think the name of the website probably sets people off as thinking it's just a place to plan vacations and whatnot.

Now I've happened upon a new website for customer reviews, and I really like it.

Go check out Yelp! It appears to me to be a cross between TripAdvisor and ePinions. I like the standardized questions it asks about each restaurant - thinks most people would like to know like cost, if they have takeout, dress code (fancy or casual), parking availability, reservations available or recommended, etc.

I've started to populate my Yelp profile with reviews of my favorite restaurants. In some cases, there are already several reviews, so I just add my vote for how many stars and write a quick blurb. In other cases, if there aren't any or many reviews of a place, then I'm cutting and pasting my review from my blog into the Yelp site to provide more information for other users.

One thing Yelp shares in common with TripAdvisor is that it keeps track of your grade distribution. In other words, looking at my Yelp profile, you can see how many times I've given a restaurant 5-stars versus 4-stars versus 3-stars, etc. I both like and dislike this feature...

I like it from the stand point of grade-inflation. If everyone gets 5-stars, then how do you know what places are the best?
Aside: This is sort of like the Navy evaluation and fitness report system that keeps track of the reporting senior's average grades. If a senior officer gives everyone 5.0 grades, then how do you know which ones were really truly the top performers? I try to keep my reporting senior average down around 3.5, so that if you see an eval signed by me with a 4.5 on it, then you know that guy is really truly a top performer.
Anyway, I hope that a 5-star rating from me will carry some weight because I only give them to our absolute favorite restaurants.

At the same time, I dislike this feature because it means more work for me. It means that I have to write reviews about "meh" and "blah" places that didn't impress me so that I establish my average low. You can't just write about the places you love if you want those places you love to stand-out.

Then again... maybe I'm just way over-analyzing this.

Does anyone else look at the reviewer's average and say, "Hey, this guy is a tough grader, and he gave this place a 5, so it must be REALLY good!"?



Mesmerizing Video

I had to share two videos with you that were on the Broadside Blog.

I don't know what it is about this first video. The music is somehow mesmerizing, and the video is just crazy. Do you think they really did that, or is it somehow doctored?



Broadside also posted another pretty funny video on his blog. This looks like a fun day at the office.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things I'd rather do than go to the DMV

If given the choice between going to the DMV or doing something else, I would much rather...

- Go to work.
- Go to the dentist.
- Take my boys to get a haircut. (I assure you that is no easy task.)
- Rake leaves.
- Eat kim chee.
- Take my boys to have their picture taken.
- Shovel snow.
- Clip my boys' fingernails (again, not an easy task.)
- Watch CSPAN.
- Eat cow tongue.
- Change a poopy diaper.
- Watch over someone else's shoulder as they do anything in Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint or Word or anything else on the computer. (As you know, I consider this a rare common of office torture.)
- Take my boys to a vegetable eating contest and convince them to participate.
- Mow the lawn.
- Do a JAGMAN investigation. (Whenever something bad happens in the Navy, an officer is appointed to conduct an investigation in accordance with the JAG Manual to determine if someone should be punished. They're generally not fun.)
- Rub raw meat on my face and arms then sit in a cage with a tiger who hasn't been fed in a week.
- Watch the Bass Fishing Channel.
- Eat black licorice.
- Run naked through the street.
- Write the Unit Sitrep reporting to the Navy at-large that I was arrested for running naked through the street.
- Stand in the CNO's office and explain to the CNO why I was arrested for running naked through the street.
- Spend ten hours in the car driving across country with the boys in the back seat fighting over the nintendo.
- Take a swim in piranha-infested waters.
- Give myself paper cuts.
- Rub salt in the paper cuts.

Okay, so why am I thinking up this list of things I'd rather do than go to the DMV?

First, here's a little gouge for midshipmen and newly commissioned officers out there: Register your car(s) in YOUR name. If your car is registered jointly in your name and your spouse's name, then each state you go to is going to want to charge you some form of property tax and/or make you register the car in their state. If your car is registered ONLY in YOUR name (the active duty service member), then you can leave the car registered in your home state of record and not pay local property taxes in each state every time you do a PCS move.

Up until a year and a half ago, I followed that advice and it served me well. Oregon registration only costs like $54 for two years. Cha-ching!

In case you didn't know, many states have something called a "tri-state rule" that says you aren't allowed to live in one state, keep your driver's license in another state, and have your car registered in a third state. See for example this site in California:
Tri-State rule - You have to have two of the same, you can't have your vehicle registered in FL, a NC driver's license and you're a resident of GA. Two of the three must be the same.
When I moved my family to Hawaii in June 2007, I flew out with them and had like 5 days to get them settled before I flew back to Norfolk. I had to check in at the Navy Housing office and get some form of transportation for them to get around. We bought our Toyota Camry Hybrid the day after we arrived on the island.

Needless to say, I was in a hurry.

For the sake of convenience, I just registered the Camry in Hawaii and left it that way while we lived there.


Fast forward a year and a half, and now, here I am, violating the tri-state rule. I'm living in Virginia with an Oregon driver's license in my pocket as I drive my Camry around with Hawaii plates.

Virginia has had this thing where if you drive a hybrid (or other "low emission vehicle"), then you can use the HOV lane even if you're the only person in the car. Well, it turns out that you can't just drive in the HOV lane with a hybrid. First, you have to register your car in Virginia and get the special Virginia plates that allow you to do that.
So I went to the Virginia DMV to register the Camry and get to use the HOV lane.*

First, they tried thwarting me with the insanely long line just waiting to see the information desk receptionist who pre-screened you to see what you wanted and determine if you had everything you needed to get what you want. That didn't stop me though.

Next, after sitting in the waiting area listening for them to call my number, I got to the counter and the lady tried to thwart my registration attempt with one of those swift double-tap kicks to my face. You know - the type of kick that Jennifer Grey does to the school principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Okay, no, she didn't really assault me, but she might as well have.

She wanted some form of PROOF of my ADDRESS.

Huh???

Okay, so I EXPECTED the DMV to put up road blocks (in a philosophical sense) to being able to get what I wanted. Before I went there, I did some research on the DMV website, and nowhere did it say anything about needing to prove my address.** Well, it just so happens that I recently renewed my Oregon driver's license, and it has my new Virginia address right there printed on it.

I showed her the license, but she wouldn't accept it. She said I had to show her a utility bill addressed to me at my new address.

Um... Excuse me??? That's a total CROCK!

First, what the HECK difference does it make what address I write down on the page? If I don't write the correct address where I get my mail, then I'm not gonna get the registration I'm applying for now am I? Then I'M the one who's screwed.

Second, why is the address permanently printed on my driver's license not just as good as a utility bill? It would be a heckuva lot easier for me to make a fake utility bill than it would be for me to make a fake driver's license.

Third, if they're going to impose that as a requirement, then why don't they WARN you BEFORE you waste the time driving there and waste the time waiting in line? Why don't they POST it on their darn WEBSITE? Why didn't the receptionist at the information desk ask me, "Do you have your utility bill to prove your address?" before she gave me a number and allowed me to sit down in the waiting area? For that matter, why did I even wait in line to see the receptionist? Why don't they post a BIG SIGN at the entrance to the DMV that says,

"We won't do didly for you unless you can prove your residence address with a utility bill"???

Ahem.

I've often said that tact is not one of my strengths.

It took every ounce of my will power not to tell the lady at the DMV what I really thought. Speaking slowly and calmly through my gritted-teeth, I informed her I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard all year. If the address was good enough for the Oregon DMV to print it on my driver's license and MAIL the driver's license to me AT that address, then I think it should be gosh darn good enough for registering my car.

She agreed to go ask her boss.

Thankfully, the boss agreed.

Whew. Overcame that obstacle. Now we can successfully complete this transaction and I can get on with my life, right?

Not so fast...

Now I tell her I want the low emissions vehicle plates. She told me go back to the receptionist lady to get another form to fill out for the special plates.

Low and behold, at the top of the form, it says that low emission vehicles with new registration after July 1, 2006 are NOT entitled to use the HOV lanes.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

I asked the lady about it. She said that's what the form said and she didn't think I was allowed to use the HOV lane anymore with a hybrid. Nice. I told her that was the whole reason I was going to register the car in Virginia, and if I can't use the HOV, then there's no point in registering my car here. She tried to argue with me and tell me I had to register the car in Virginia since it's in Virginia. I just took my paperwork and walked out.

Since then, I pulled the string and did a little bit more research. In order to monitor the usage of the HOV lane by people driving low emission vehicles, they require you to register for the special plates. Each year, they evaluate the usage and decide whether or not to extend the program allowing the low emission vehicles to drive in the HOV lanes for another year. It's currently been extended through July 2009, at which point they'll evaluate and decide again.

The lady at the DMV was just clueless that was all. The form was printed a long time ago and did not reflect the annual extensions that have been approved since then.

Unfortunately, I foresee another trip to the DMV in my future.

There is a DMV office in the Pentagon though, so hopefully I won't have to go too far out of my way to get this taken care of.
Footnotes:

* For those of you saying, "But I thought you rode the bus to work?" Well, I do most days. There have been a handful of days so far where I've had to attend a conference or a meeting across town, so I have driven my car in to work. On most of those days, I have a friend who lives nearby in Ashburn who also goes to Crystal City, so he will ride with me to use the HOV lane and split the toll costs. This week though, he was at an off-site training session, and I was stuck in the traffic driving home in the evening. So although I expect those cases will happen infrequently, it'd be nice to have the VA plates on the car to use the HOV lane.

** I have since gone back to the DMV website, and found that they do require a proof of address to title or register your car in Virginia. I don't know if I just missed it last time I checked the website or if they added it recently. However (comma), in their list of acceptable documents for proof of address, it says, "Driver’s license, learner’s permit or DMV-issued photo ID cards displaying the applicant’s current address."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guaranteed Ride Home

More Pentagon noobie gouge:

If you use public transit to commute to work, then I recommend testing your "Plan B." If you get into a crunch, it'd be nice to have tried it once before when you're NOT in a crisis time-crunch.

It's been a heckuva first week in my new job. I've been late coming home every night this week. Tuesday, I missed all the buses out of Crystal City and the Pentagon. I had to take the Metro out to West Falls Church, and I managed to catch the LAST bus out of West Falls Church with a slim 6 minutes to spare.

If I had been one Metro train later, I'm not exactly sure what I would have done to get home.

Enter Guaranteed Ride Home. If you are in the DC area and use some form of public transit to commute to work, then you should sign up for this. Register on the website, and up to four times per year they will pay for your cab fare home if you have a family emergency and need to get home in the middle of the day or if you have to work overtime and miss your bus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Awesome Shoes

I have to give a big shout-out of thanks to Chap. After I complained about how much my feet hurt from walking so much back and forth to and from and around the Pentagon, Chap recommended picking up a pair of Deer Stag shoes.


I wasn't able to find a pair right off the bat. For a while there, I started wearing my steel-toe shipyard boots to work because they were a heckuva lot more comfortable than the Bates uniform shoes were.

Over Veteran's Day weekend (two weekends ago), my wonderful wife took me to a big warehouse-sized shoe store in Ashburn Village that had Deer Stag shoes in stock. I tried on a pair of Times with the SUPRO (Super Under-foot Pedorthic Radical Orthotic) inserts and they were instantly comfortable. My wife told me to walk a bit in them to be sure. I walked three laps around the warehouse, which I guesstimate was about half a mile, and they were really nice.


I thought about writing a laudatory blog post about them after my first day at work wearing them, but I figured that was too soon. I wanted to give them a week "on the road" before I started bragging about how awesome they are.

Well, it's been a week, and I LOVE these shoes. It's been one helluva week with a lot of speed walking back and forth around the Pentagon, too, but I feel like I've been walking on air.

If you're looking for something that'll pass as uniform shoes, but will be comfortable for lots of walking, then I highly recommend picking up a pair of Deer Stags.


H/T to Chap - my feet thank you!

Update: See Follow-Up on Comfy Shoes here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Theme Songs

Another Teleportation Song flashback.

Back when I was a JO, boats got to choose who would stand Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) during the ORSE (Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination). The result was, naturally, that boats would try to stack-the-deck with their best watch officers. On my use-ta-fish, we called the ORSE EOOWs the "Rock Stars." During the weeks leading up to the ORSE, the three ORSE EOOWs would be running forward and aft like a rock band with a group of roadies in red drill hats following them wherever they went. They would all go to the engine room together - one to stand the watch for simulated casualty drills and the other two to watch. After the drills were over, they would all come to the wardroom together to debrief the drills. This process would be repeated usually twice per day (a morning set of drills and an afternoon set of drills). Then, the rock stars would huddle in the wardroom together again in the evenings for ORSE EOOW training.

Anyway, the reason I tell you all this was because the ORSE EOOWs had a theme song.

"Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains.

Those of you who are bubbleheads already get it. For those of you who aren't, I'll explain.

The room where the EOOW stands watch giving orders to the watchstanders in the engine room is officially called "Maneuvering," but the unofficial slang term for it is, "The Box." Hence, the EOOW on watch for drills was, "The Man in the Box." Get it?

Fast forward 13 years to my new job in DC. Last week, I finally got to say those magic three words, "I relieve you," followed shortly by, "now get the hell outta my chair so I can get to work." My predecessor was still around for the rest of the week working on his transfer package and checking out of the command, so he was still around and I could ask him questions about things that came up to make sure I was doing it right.

Now he's gone.

It's all me.

As I got off the bus Monday morning and started walking to MY office, I suddenly got that old theme song running through my head...

BOMP
BOMP - BOMP
BOMPBOMP
BOMP - BOMP
BOMPBOMP
BOMP - BOMP
BOMPBOMP
BOMP - BOMP
IIIIIIIIIIIIIII'm the maaaaaaaan, in the BOX!

Reminds me of the advice my predecessor as a department head gave me before he left. "YOU ARE the adult supervision. Don't assume anyone else is going to do anything. YOU'RE driving the bus, man."

So what about you? Do you have a theme song? I know at least one of you who does, and it's become a new teleportation song for me. I'll write about that some other time though.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Localvore Eatery

Back around 1995, there was a small cafe in Mystic, CT that used to use all local produce. I enjoyed walking there for breakfast on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when I didn't have duty) and having omlettes or some variety of eggs benedict with local eggs and vegetables. Unfortunately, it went out of business not long after I moved to Mystic.

I recently read an article somewhere about localvores and places that use local organic produce. Sunday was the first time in 13 years that I've happened upon such a place.

We tried this new restaurant in Ashburn. Actually, it's not really "new" age-wise, but it's new to us. It opened right about the time I left Ashburn two years ago. In any case, this place is AWESOME and immediately one of my new favorite places to eat.

American Flatbread Ashburn (website)

I find that I am more and more attracted to the word "organic" on food or restaurant labels because it usually means NO MSG.

When I saw "Flatbread" in the name of the restaurant, I was thinking it was going to be like Panera or the Atlanta Bread Co. with sandwiches and stuff.

Nope.

Not even close.

This place is "flatbread" as in PIZZA.

Darn it! (Because you know I can't stand pizza - sarcasm).

The atmosphere and decor were modern and similar to Panera, except for the prominent brick oven behind the counter. The walls were decorated with small paintings describing the history of bread, and a large mural of Loudoun County annotated with the location of the farms where the owners purchase their produce.

The food was absolutely AWESOME. I had the special, which was a "Roasted Butternut Squash Flatbread." It had...
Local organic butternut squash with roasted garlic, sage, Cherry Glen Farm chevre, carmelized shallots, argula, and all natural mozz
Oh my gosh it was heavenly good. They have some really good beer on draft, too.

The service was prompt, professional, and friendly.

I expected to pay a premium price for the "local" and "organic" aspects of the food, but the prices were better than I expected. The flatbreads just come in one size, and one flatbread was good for two people. My wife and I shared one flatbread, and we still had a couple of slices left over at the end. I think most of the flatbreads cost around $20, so that's not bad when you consider it feeds two people and then some. They had an individual sized pizza for the kids, too.

Anyway, if you're a LoCo type of person, I highly recommend giving the American Flatbread place a try.

Oh, I noticed they don't have a menu posted on their website, so in case you're curious what type of stuff they've got, I scanned a copy of their paper menu. Click on the image below to see a larger version. In addition to this menu, they had a hand-written specials board with three or four other items that all sounded pretty tasty.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cha-Ching!

Success!

After our previous move to Ashburn, when we had a ton of empty boxes piled up in our garage, I posted an ad on Craigslist offering to sell our moving boxes for $20.
Aside: In case you don't know what Craigslist is... Craigslist is a FREE and very simple website for posting local ads. You can find some pretty good bargains there.
I had five people within an hour respond that they wanted them.

Poof! Boxes gone! Poof! Twenty bucks in my pocket! Cha-Ching! :-)

Given how quick and how many responses I received on that ad, the lesson I took away was that clearly I didn't ask for enough money.

Fast forward four years to our next move to Ashburn.

This time, I added up how much it would cost to buy the boxes from the U-Haul website. It was roughly $150 worth of boxes.

I've been posting an ad to Craigslist every Friday for the past four weeks trying to sell the boxes.

First, I asked for $120. Someone came and bought just the wardrobe boxes for $25. Although I wasn't successful in selling ALL the boxes and clearing out my garage, I still had made more money than I had in selling all the boxes from our previous move.

I subsequently lowered the price to $100, then $80, then $60. After my $60 ad last weekend, I had one lady come with a Volvo and take all the boxes she could fit in her trunk, and she gave me $20. Cha-Ching!

I still had a TON of empty boxes piled up in my garage though.

This Friday, I posted another ad, this time for $50. I had a buyer within an hour of posting the ad. She came and took most of the boxes (all that she could squeeze into her SUV) this morning and handed me a $50 bill. Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! She came back two more times to fill up her SUV again and took almost all the boxes.

I figure I'll put the handful of remaining boxes out for recycling this week. I'm pretty pleased we got $95 out of it.

I'm even more pleased that I have a CAR parked in the GARAGE now instead of a bunch of cardboard boxes.

Note to Self: $20 was too little, $120 was too much. Next time, try $50.

Long live Craigslist!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Preemption

We are developing a habit of buying ten year old houses.

First, let's rewind about seven years to when we owned our first house in San Diego. One day, we drove up the street to our house to find a waterfall cascading down the driveway. Our water heater was in the garage, and it had rusted a hole in the bottom and dumped its contents into the garage. Luckily, it was just the garage. Luckily there wasn't much on the floor in the garage, so the cleanup was fairly reasonable. Of course, it happened on a weekend, and Sears couldn't come to replace it until Monday, so we took showers at our next door neighbor's house that Sunday morning.

Fast forward about three years to our second house in Virginia. One of the things we love about living in Virginia is having a basement. We had enough money left over from selling our house in San Diego that we were able to hire a contractor to finish our basement in Virginia and put in a home theater, another full bathroom, etc.

Early one Saturday morning of a three-day weekend, my wife heard a noise sort of like a "whooooosh!" from the vicinity of the basement. Upon further inspection, we found our water heater decided it didn't like holding all that hot water anymore. It gave up the ghost.

I tell ya. There's nothing like spending the first day of your holiday weekend combating a flooding casualty in your house. I shut off the water supply isolation valve to the water heater, but that didn't stop the flooding in the basement. I figured it was because the isolation valve on the inlet of the water heater was leaking, so I shut off water to the entire HOUSE and opened some faucets low in the house to drain the system to stop the flooding in the basement.

Whew. The flooding is stopped. Now for the cleanup.

My wife and I spent the first half of the day just cleaning up the mess, sucking up water with the wet-dry shop vac, sopping up water with every towel we owned, and trying to figure out what was wrong with the sump pump.
Aside: Isn't it ironic how the only time we ever pay attention to our sump pump is when we REALLY NEED IT to be PUMPING and it's NOT? If we were in the Navy, we'd have some sort of PMS (Preventative Maintenance System) card that told us to check the pump to make sure it worked every 3 or 6 months.
We finally got to a point where the cleanup was mostly complete and the fans were running in the basement to dry out the carpet. We were then able to pause for a moment, take a deeeeep breath, and take stock of our situation.

Whew... cleanup mostly done. Now for system repair and restoration.

So there we were... Saturday of a three day weekend, not only with no HOT water but with NO water PERIOD. I called Sears, but they couldn't do anything until Tuesday. Then I called a dozen or more plumbers in the phone book, but most didn't answer.

The only plumber I could get on the phone that Saturday morning wanted me to sign a contract for ten years of indentured servitude and hand over my first born son in return for his services to come replace my water heater before Tuesday.

Ahhh, no thanks.

We spent that holiday weekend taking showers at our next-door neighbor's house and eating out every meal. We took some buckets of water home to use for flushing the toilets.

I learned something new that weekend. My good friend Vince came over and taught me how to "sweat" copper pipe and install a new valve.

On the first trip to Home Depot, I bought a new isolation valve, flux, the flux brush, and solder, and Vince brought over his propane torch. Once we got the new isolation valve installed and allowed the joint to cool for a couple of hours, we said a prayer, crossed our fingers, and held our breath as we turned the water back on in the house to see if the repair was a success.

It was.

Well... sort of.

Actually... not really.

The new valve Vince had installed was holding just fine, but we reinitiated the flooding casualty as water started pouring out the hole in the bottom of the water heater again. It turns out, the source of the flooding was NOT the isolation valve on the INLET side of the water heater.

I learned something else new through that experience.

Ya know that valve in your shower that has one handle to both turn the water on and control the temperature? Yyyyeah, they're not so good at ISOLATION. In fact, they're DESIGNED to allow water to leak by from the cold side to the hot side as an anti-scalding safety feature. The unintended consequence is that this allows cold water from the water main to go up to the showers in the house, leak by to the hot side, come down the hot pipes into the OUTLET of the water heater, and leak out the rusted hole in the bottom of our busted water heater.
Aside: I think there's some unwritten universal law that no home repair project can be accomplished in ONE trip to Home Depot.
Since there was no isolation valve on the outlet of the water heater, I had to make yet another trip to Home Depot and buy ANOTHER isolation valve and Vince let me borrow his pipe saw. I cut out a section of the pipe on the outlet side of the water heater and installed a new isolation valve.

I dug up this old picture off my Palm Pilot. On the right is the isolation valve that Vince showed me how to install. On the left is my own handy work from installing the isolation valve on the outlet of the water heater.
Once I got the outlet isolation valve installed, we said a another prayer, crossed our fingers and held our breath again, and turned the water back on in the house to see if the isolation held.

Thankfully, it did.

Whew... cold water restored to the house. Now we can at least use the toilets.

We made it through the weekend continuing to use our neighbor's shower and eating out so we didn't have to wash any dishes. On Tuesday, we got Sears to come install a new water heater for somewhere in the ballpark of $600.

GETTING TO THE POINT

So why am I telling you all this?

We have just purchased yet another ten-year old house with the original water heater in the (nicely finished) basement.

During the home inspection prior to closing, the professional home inspector told us he was worried about the water heater. It's old and it's making noises indicative of scale buildup inside, and he recommended replacing it.

We tried asking the sellers to replace it, but they said no. It works. It doesn't leak. It's fine.

Our realtor told us, it'll be fiiiiiine. If it does "break," then your home warranty will cover it.

So here's the question: Should we...

A) WAIT until the water heater BLOWS and floods the basement like our previous two houses on the premise that the home warranty will pay for it? (I'm sure they'll come up with SOME excuse why it isn't covered.)

B) SAVE the time and effort of cleaning up the mess in the basement and just go ahead and pay out of pocket to replace the water heater NOW?

C) Implement some risk-mitigation strategy and install a kiddie-pool under or around the water heater and do daily operational checks on the sump pump?

What say you peanut gallery?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Useless

Deja vu.

Flashback: Circa 2006, I said to myself, "Self, our home warranty is an absolutely useless waste of money. Why on earth did we pay for it? I'm NEVER going to waste my money on another home warranty again."

Every time anything went wrong in our last house, I dutifully called the home warranty company.

Every time I called the home warranty company, they dutifully cited article blah, section blah blah, paragraph blah blah blah, sub-paragraph blah blah blah blah that CLEARLY states that [insert name of your household casualty here] is NOT covered by the home warranty. So sorry. Thank you for playing. Buh-bye. (Whew! Dodged another sucker actually trying to get us to pay for something.)

Case in Point #1: The vent from our clothes dryer went into the wall in between the laundry room and the first floor half bathroom, then down through the floor and out through the back of the house under our back deck. Well, one day, I noticed water dripping down the bathroom wall from the electrical outlet on the wall next to the sink.

Water and electricity don't tend to go well together ya know?

I would dare say they're a dangerous combination. As I got closer to inspect the scene of the casualty and identify the source of this "controlled leak," I was alarmed to discover hot, damp air gushing from around the edges of the electrical outlet. Somewhere in the wall, the dryer vent had ruptured and was venting the exhaust from the dryer into the wall, and it had found an outlet in the adjacent bathroom (pun intended).

I (foolishly) thought that the purpose of a home warranty was to pay for things that break in your home and were beyond your capability to repair. I called the home warranty company, and... copy and paste the conversation above - not covered by the warranty.

This happened like FIVE times in the two years I lived in our previous house here in Virginia (not the dryer venting through the bathroom electrical outlet mind you, but stuff braking that I thought should be covered by the home warranty.)

The home warranty covered us ONCE! They fixed the broken handle on the dishwasher. Whoopie.

Fast forward a smidge over two years.

We're in the process of buying our house in Virginia, and I told the realtor that our last home warranty was useless and I didn't want to waste our money on it. Our realtor assures us that this is a GOOD home warranty and worth the money, and my memory has experienced a typical exponential decay on WHY I believed home warranties were useless.

Now, three months later, our humidifier isn't working.

My wife called the home warranty company.

They cited article blah, section blah blah, paragraph blah blah blah, sub-paragraph blah blah blah blah that CLEARLY states that [insert name of your household casualty here] is NOT covered by the home warranty. So sorry. Thank you for playing. Buh-bye. (Whew!)

Note to self: NEVER EVER BUY ANOTHER HOME WARRANTY.


I should demand my money back.

I would be interested to see a Consumer Reports study on home warranties. Consumer Reports had a pretty interesting article on extended warranties on other items.
"Extended warranties are notoriously bad deals for the consumer but retailers push hard to get you to buy them, or service plans, because they're cash cows. We tell you why in most cases, you don't need an extended warranty."
There's another important decision at hand that dovetails with this story, but I'm going to save that for another blog post.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You know you have a problem when...

My sister-in-law Laura is psychic.

I'm sitting here in my comfy chair.

The phone rings.

I answer it.

Laura: "Hey, I was trying to think of someone I knew who would probably be sitting around with their computer on their lap..."

Me: Silence.

Laura: Asks me to check the status of an arriving flight on the internet.

Me: Check. The flight has landed and arrived at the gate 6 minutes ago. They're going to baggage claim 1. Mission accomplished.

Laura: "Okay, thanks. I'll let you get back to blogging."

Am I that predictable?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homework

Yes, I have homework tonight.

This week, ES is the "Sea Star" in his class. Each day this week, he had something he had to bring with him to school to help his class get to know him better. I figure that's a good thing since he's new to the school and all.

On Monday, he had to take a sharing sack with one or two special items to school. "Try to encourage your child to choose items that have some sort of meaning rather than a collection of toys." ES took two of his favorite stuffed animals - Lotis and Sanders, and a scrapbook that I'll explain in a moment.

Sanders is the newbie in this house. It's a dolphin. ES picked it out because the dolphin was the mascot as his old elementary school, and he named it after his old school.

Lotis is an old salt. Lotis is a small puppy dog that ES takes everywhere. He had a predecessor, Otis, who used to go with us everywhere, too. It became a habbit for us to take a picture of Otis everywhere we took him, and at one point, our friend Shannon made a scrapbook of all the places Otis had been. Here are a few examples...

Otis Geocaching in Manassas, VA

Otis enjoying the Cherry Blossoms in DC

Otis visits Thomas the Tank Engine
Strasburg Historic Railroad, PA

The problem was, Otis liked to hide. There were many times that Otis spent the night away from home at places like Chick-fil-a because he was "hiding" and ES forgot to extract him from his hiding spot before we went home.

One time, I took ES with me to the grocery store to pick up a few things. When we got back home, we walked into the house, and ES gasped and said, "Otis is at the grocery store!"

Me: He's what???

ES: He's at the grocery store! We have to go back and get him!

Me: Do you know WHERE in the grocery store he is?

ES: Yes, he's in the toilet paper.

Me: Riiiiiight.

So we drove back to the grocery store. Sure enough, there was Otis, peeking his head out between the packages of toilet paper on the shelf.

Unfortunately, Otis hid a little too well at some point. He's been MIA for a long time now.

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of telling you ES took Lotis, Sanders, and his Otis scrapbook to school on Monday.

On Tuesday, he had to take an "all about me" poster. It had stuff like his age, favorite color (orange), favorite books (The Hobbit and Frindle), what he wants to be when he grows up (President of the United States), food (pizza), sport (swimming / snorkeling), etc.

On Wednesday (today), he had to take one of his favorite books to the class to share. Since The Hobbit and Frindle are a little long to read in class, he took a shorter book that his teacher could read to the class. He chose Dooby Dooby Moo. This is actually a book I bought while on deployment, and I made a video of myself reading the story to the boys and mailed the book back along with the video.

On Thursday, he's supposed to take a letter from one of his parents. This is why I have a homework assignment tonight. "Parents, you will write a letter to the class telling us how special your child is to you. Send the letter in a sealed envelope to school with your child, and I will read the letter to the class."

ES doesn't like this part of being the Sea Star of the week. He wants to skip this one. I can't imagine why. As if *I* would EVER do ANYTHING to EMBARASS him!

Skipping ahead a moment, on Friday, ES will be presented with a friendship booklet created by his classmates. "The booklet will include the Sea Star's picture and include compliments written by the class." Overall, I think it's a nice lineup of events to help the class get to know him.

So back to my homework assignment. I suppose some of you might think I'm just procrastinating by blogging, but I started writing this to help get the creative juices flowing and help come up with some ideas for my letter to my son's class. No really. Me, procrastinate?

Let's get started, shall we?

Dear Mrs. E---'s class,

My name is Kevin, and I am very lucky and honored to be ES's Daddy. There are lots of things we like to do together.

We have had a lot of fun hiking together. One time, he really impressed me by going on a 4 mile hike when it was 17 degrees out. That's REALLY COLD! ES is strong and determined, and he finished the hike on his own two feet. I was very proud of him.

Me and ES Hiking Near the Potomac River

Another time, we were on a long hike through a rain forrest in Hawaii, and a sudden rain storm turned the trail into slippery, gooey mud. It took us a long time to hike out of that valley. The sun went down. It was very dark out, but ES was very brave. He took my flashlight and led his younger brother and me back out of the forest. He made sure to point out where there were dangerous holes for us to step over and poisonous centipedes for us to avoid.

Waimano Valley before the storm

While we lived in Hawaii for the past year, we liked to go snorkeling together. We saw a lot of beautiful tropical fish and sea turtles.

Me and ES Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

We also went kayaking together three times. The first time, we just went out on Pearl Harbor for an hour to see if we liked it. We did! The second time, we rented a kayak for the day and paddled all the way around Chinaman's Hat and back. The third time, we were on vacation in Waikoloa on the Big Island and rented a kayak with a glass bottom so we could see the fish and sea turtles swim underneath us.

Me and ES Kayaking Around Chinaman's Hat, Hawaii

We have fun at home, too. ES is very good at chess, and we like to play video games and watch movies together. I can't wait to watch Star Wars Clone Wars with ES this weekend for our family movie night.

Since I am in the Navy, we have to move around a lot. Although ES is only 7 years old, he is now living in his sixth house. He has made many good friends through all of our moves around the country, and I know he will make good friends here, too.

Sincerely,
ES's Daddy

How's that? Embarassing? Too mushy / too much parental pride?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fish Food

I started to write a post about how awesome it's been to have my old college roommate Ryan in town for a visit this weekend. It had been a LONG time since I'd seen him. All sorts of memories and funny stories came to mind, and what started out as a simple blog post was evolving into an epic novel of sorts.

I decided you didn't need to read ALL of my Ryan stories in one night.

Surprisingly enough, Ryan's wonderful wife Jennifer told me something new this weekend that added a whole new dimension to one of our college adventures.

Ryan and I both loved to sail and were on our NROTC sailing team. Together we took 2nd Place in the Trojan Regatta sailing in a 420 class boat. We used to sail a lot on San Diego bay. By day we'd take water guns and water balloons and have water fights between boats. By night we'd take friends across the bay and tie up at Anthony's for dinner.

For Spring Break of our junior year, we teamed up with two other midshipmen and sailed a 27-foot Lancer to the Coronado Islands. The winds were in our favor and it only took us about 4 hours to sail down there off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.

Chris (front), Bill (at the helm), and Ryan (in the back)
en route to the Coronado Islands

Bill checking out the south island.

We sailed along the southern island and anchored out the first night in the lee of the middle island. The next day we sailed up around the northern island.

We rounded the northern tip of the island and got running downwind. Each of us took turns at the helm while the other three guys took turns jumping and doing flips off the bow and grabbing a line trailing behind the sailboat as it went by.

It. Was. A. BLAST!

I had my scuba mask on and would hang onto the line for a while flying through the water. There were a LOT of sea lions on the northern island, and several of them came out to swim with us.

Okay, fast forward 15 YEARS to our kitchen here in Ashburn where Jennifer proceeds to inform me that we were jumping and splashing and acting like sea lions... in a mating ground for great white sharks.

(Silent pause as information processes in noggin...)

Uhhhhhhh.

Woops?

Keep in mind, that was long before cell phones and mandatory ORM training. I'm not even sure we had a bridge-to-bridge radio. We were a LONG way from getting any sort of medical help out there.

Man, am I glad our XO at the NROTC unit didn't have to write THAT Unit Sitrep!

Aside: A Unit Sitrep is a message we send to tell the Navy top brass when something bad happens. We want the top brass to hear the bad news from us before they hear about it from some reporter sticking a microphone in their face and asking, "Admiral, how do you feel about those midshipmen getting eaten by Jaws? Why haven't you instituted a training program to prevent such accidents from happening?" We don't want the admiral giving the news crew the deer-in-the-headlights stare and not having a clue what they're talking about.

Anyway, it was great to have Ryan, Jennifer, and their adorable daughter here this weekend. They were here for a house-hunting trip and out looking at houses all day, but we shared a lot of good beer, good wine, and good memories in the evenings. The Navy's kept us stationed on opposite sides of the globe for a long time now, so it'll be nice to be in the same neck of the woods for once.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Autumn Fun

I know I've said this before, but I love autumn.

Tree in our backyard

Today was an absolutely beautiful day. It was one of those days where the temperature was on the fence - neither "warm" nor "cold." If I had worn a long sleeve shirt or a fleece, then I would have been uncomfortably warm. Yet, wearing short sleeves, there was just enough chill in the air that the occasional breeze would send a ripple of goosebumps across the skin on my arms.

The trees are still gorgeous. The last time I wrote about enjoying the fall colors, about half the trees were still green, and half were brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Now, about half the trees are bare, and the other half have taken their turn to amaze us with their beauty.

I decided we had to take advantage of such a beautiful day while we had the opportunity. I took the boys to the Flash Mob event, which was fun and good to meet a lot of geocaching friends there, but short. Then we stopped to find two traditional ammo-can-hidden-in-the-woods type geocaches.

Found It! (Can you see it in there?)

Bliss.

The boys got first dibs on the toys in the geocache.

The boys showing off the toys they got.

When we got home from geocaching, I decided it was time to rake the leaves. I know this is a chore many people, including me in the past, have dreaded. My wife says she doesn't like autumn for exactly this reason. Then again, it's been three years since I was home during an autumn to rake leaves. My awesome wife took care of all that and more while I was in the training pipeline and off on deployment.

So, I guess there was a sort of novelty in it for me since it's been so long. I found myself smiling while raking and sucking up the leaves this afternoon. I took a sort of perverse pleasure in it.

Believe it or not, there IS grass under all those leaves!

The boys enjoyed the leaves in their own way.

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend, too!