Sunday, May 31, 2009

Birthday recap

Although ES's birthday was last weekend, we figured people would have other plans to go out of town for the holiday weekend, so we waited until this weekend to have his birthday party. That plan sorta backfired because 2 out of the 4 friends ES invited to his party were unable to come. Even so, I could hardly believe the level of noise and chaos in our house from three second grade boys (plus 5-year old YB).

For his birthday, ES wanted to go see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. This was my first time going to the fairly new theater at Brambleton, and it was pretty nice. My wife bought the tickets in advance on Fandango, so we just walked right in without having to wait in line for tickets. I thought we were going to need a home equity loan to pay for the refreshments though. Holy cow I think we spent more than the tickets cost on candy and soda for the kids alone.

The movie was pretty good. Not as good as the original if you ask me, but it was entertaining nonetheless. The boys really liked it though, and that's all that really mattered. After the movie, we headed back to our house for P2C2 (presents, pizza, cake, chaos).

I tried taking pictures of opening presents, but they were all blurred like this. Deja vu.

We tried something new and different for the pizza. We decided to let the boys make their own individual pizzas.

My wife made her usual batch of pizza dough, then divided it into quarters.

I rolled out the four individual pizza doughs, put them on parchment paper, and trimmed the excess paper.

My wife set out bowls of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, and we let the boys go to town making their own pizza.

I think they had a good time. There was a lot of laughter. I should've taken a picture of the after-action MESS though. There were pieces of shredded cheese and flour and birthday cake ALL OVER the floor by the end of the evening - thank goodness for Roomba!

Of course, I had to work a traditional blunoz self-portrait in there somewhere, right? This is the white pizza we made for the adults (i.e. me and LW). It's just olive oil, sauteed garlic, and cheese.

Those of you who know our boys know that they're obsessed with dogs, so it should come as no surprise what the theme of the birthday cake was...

8 candles plus 1 for good luck

My wife got the cake at Super Target and it was a really delicious, moist chocolate cake. Two thumbs up for birthday cake from Super Target!

One of ES's friends had to leave, but the other stayed long enough for a game of chess before his mom came to pick him up.


Our chess table is one of my most prized possessions. My dad bought the carved wood chess pieces while he was on deployment in WESTPAC (Western Pacific) many many moons ago, but we didn't have a table big enough for the pieces. My Grandpa is an expert with woodworking and used to love doing wood-inlays of different colors, so he made this chess table to go with the chess pieces my dad bought in WESTPAC. Back sometime around the 2000-ish timeframe, my mom decided to let me take custody of the chess table, and I am very grateful to my dad for the pieces, to my grandpa for the love and care he put into making the table, and to my mom for allowing me to have it after it being a regular fixture in her house for so many years. Our boys love the table and it brings me great joy to see them using it.

End of Tangent.

Overall, I think the birthday went pretty well. Kudos to my wonderful wife for the make-your-own-pizza idea for the birthday party. It turned out great. Kudos also to my wonderful wife for the great cake she picked out, the presents most of the presents she picked out :-), and for the time and effort she put into planning the whole day.

Friday, May 29, 2009

FY10 CO/XO Screening Board Results

Being selected to become a Commanding Officer (CO) or Executive Officer (XO - second in command) is a significant milestone in the career of a submarine officer. For any non-Navy family/friends who want to learn more or refresh their memory on the career progression of a submarine officer, please read this post from last year.

I've been getting a LOT of hits on my blog lately from people looking for the results of the CO/XO Screening Board that met last week. I post them here because I know there are a lot of fellow submariners out there who would like to see the list and wish their former shipmates congratulations, but aren't currently working in a job that gets the "ALSUBFOR" message traffic. It's been a few days since this came out, so everyone on the list should know their official results by now and not be finding out from me.

Without further ado, here they are... (click on each image to enlarge - it is two scanned pages).

Congratulations to all the guys who were selected for these significant career milestones!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day and Birthday wishes

Happy Memorial Day all. My thoughts and prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones in the service of our country as well as to those who are on the pointy-end of the spear right now and not able to spend the holiday weekend with their families. I'm grateful that I get to spend the weekend with my family this year.


In addition to being Memorial Day, it's also ES's 8th birthday. Last year, I posted a collection of some of my favorite photos of / with ES, so I won't redo that. Since it happens to be on a holiday, we let ES open his presents this morning so he can play with them all day.

Unbeknownst to me, my wonderful wife bought ES a shovel for his birthday.

Um... Sweetie???

"What?" She said, "He said he wanted a shovel!"

Um... Sweetie... if he had asked for a machine gun, would you have given it to him? I'm having flashbacks to, "the hole was already there, I'm just taking the dirt out of it" from last year.

He's also very excited about his Nerf dart gun set. We have also ordered the Wii game to go with it. It's pretty cool, you can pull out the Nerf dart part of it and insert the Wii remote to play the Nerf Wii game.

This year marked another first. This is the first time I've ever seen ES actually READ much less even notice he got any birthday cards.

ES is doing a great job reading. His teacher says he's reading at the 5th-6th grade level. He brings home lengthy non-fiction books and devours them within a day or two of checking them out. Last week it was a book about the Romans. This week is was a book about the Vikings. Yesterday, we watched Battle for Britain on Blu-Ray, and I was impressed that ES was able to read the subtitles for the German parts fast enough that I didn't have to pause the movie for him to read it. (Aside: For a 1969 movie, that was very nicely preserved and produced in Blu-Ray).

We've had a busy holiday weekend here. We had friends over for dinner Friday and made spiedies. We had friends over for dinner Saturday and made pizza and raspberry martinis. We had a church home group meeting at our house Sunday.

Limited Edition Pizza
Wheat crust, Chili Man smokey mountain barbecue sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, onions, cilantro, and leftover steak and chicken spiedies. It was SO good! This is my last bottle of Chili Man since he closed his business.

Both Friday and Saturday we ate dinner out on the deck and enjoyed watching the ducks and the turtles and fish in the pond and listening to a bullfrog croaking. The quack mafia pays us a visit each night looking for handouts. It's neat to see how the mamma duck always stands in between us and the baby. It took some trickery to lure the mamma out of the way so someone could get a picture of the baby.

Tonight we're going to the Japanese steakhouse for ES's birthday dinner (his choice - darn!). We aren't actually having his party until next weekend because we figured his friends would have other plans over the holiday weekend.

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend! I'm off to do things outside around the house.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where has the time gone???

Oh my gosh...

15 years

21 May 1994 was one of only a handful of times I've ever worn my "choker" whites.

I probably would have done a post like this last year (my first year of blogging), but we were in Hawaii and my photo albums were in storage. Last year I provided a summary of where I've been on each anniversary of my commissioning. This year now that we have all our stuff out of storage, I thought I'd scan a few of the photos from my commissioning ceremony to have an electronic record of it.

I always loved the setting in the Camino-Founders Courtyard for the commissioning ceremony at University of San Diego.

We marched into the courtyard in pairs.

My dad administered the oath.

My mom pinned on my shoulder boards.

My friend Ken (QM1(SS) type) gave me my first salute. Unfortunately, the salute happened too fast and I didn't get a picture of the actual salute. This is a picture of me handing Ken the traditional silver dollar in return for the first salute.

Just checking to make sure it was signed and none of my professors turned me in for an "incomplete."

Chris and me on our way out.

I've always liked that last photo - partly due to the two of us in the picture and partly due to the timing of it. On the left is my good friend Chris who would later be best man at my wedding. At that moment in time, we had marched in from opposite sides and done a left-face / right-face toward the exit, and then we immediately stepped off marching out the back of the courtyard. So this picture was taken at the precise moment in time that our heels clicked together and before we stepped off to march out of the courtyard.

I'm amazed to look back and think about what my life was like then and what it's like now. I had NO idea then where life would take me. Sure, I knew I was packing up my shtuff and driving across country to Orlando to start Nuclear Power School, but that just seemed like such a big black amorphous cloud at that point.

I couldn't conceive what life would be like after power school. I just had to focus on getting through it with the optimism that there was a prize waiting on the other side. Indeed there was - the prize was a combination of the sense of accomplishment at having graduated from power school and the opportunity to serve my country on the pointy-end of the spear.

I couldn't have asked for a better JO sea tour. My timing in reporting abord was impeccable - right at the beginning of the POM (Pre-Overseas Movement) workups for an AWESOME deployment. The things we got to do just about made the eyeballs pop outta my head and I was STOKED. There was no doubt in my mind that surviving power school was worth the effort. When we returned from that first deployment, I was kinda bummed it was over and I would have volunteered to go on another one in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the boat needed EDO's for the SRA in the drydock, but that was a good learning experience, too.

So much has happened in the past 15 years, and I am grateful for all of it. Sure, there have been good times and bad times. I certainly didn't enjoy the bad times in situ, and I never wanted nor would wish the bad experiences upon anybody. Even so, I value the experience I have gained through both the good and the bad. Looking back, I can honestly say I have been truly blessed in all of my assignments in the Navy so far. In each of my three boats, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best and the brightest guys in the Navy.

Thanks to all of my shipmates for the things you've taught me and the experiences we've shared over the past 15 years.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Last night was ES's last Cub Scout Pack meeting of the school year. They had the bridging ceremony where the boys walk across the wooden bridge and get promoted to the next "rank" up. At the other end of the bridge, the cub master hands them their new colored neckerchief and handbook (yellow for Wolf, blue for Bear, plaid for Webelos). Sorry I forgot to take my camera with me, so no pics of the actual bridge crossing (you can see last-year's bridge crossing here).

ES with his new blue neckerchief.

So thinking about promotions to come... I'm trying to think what would be a cool place to have a promotion ceremony in the DC area. Nothing big and fancy, not like with an MC reading a script and a band playing the national anthem and speeches and all that. Just a cool, memorable spot for a brief ceremony with family.

I have two locations in mind so far, but thought I'd mention it here and see if anyone else had any cool ideas.

In the submarine room at the U.S. Navy Museum.

Someone else I know recently had their promotion ceremony in the Pentagon Chapel. I have to admit I haven't actually BEEN to the Pentagon chapel yet, so I have no idea what that's like.

I posted a poll to on the right side of my blog. Please click over there to give me your vote, or leave a comment to suggest someplace else.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Things I learned about my credit score, Part 3

I continue to learn lessons the hard way with regard to how the credit bureaus work, and I will continue to share these lessons with you (all three of you) so you can learn from my mistakes.

Seeing as low as the interest rates are, my wonderful wife was doing some calculations on how much money we could save per month if we refinanced our mortgage at the current interest rates. I called our mortgage broker to start the process of getting an estimate and find out if it was feasible.

After the previous debacles with my credit score and getting our mortgage (you can go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you missed them), I put a lot of effort into "fixing" my credit and getting my score back up where it should be. ...Or so I thought. More on that in a bit.

Remember when I took our HVAC company up on that 16-months same-as-cash financing?

Yyyyyeah, that turned out to be not such a good move.

However (comma) it didn't HAVE to be, and there's an important lesson learned here. If I knew then what I knew now, I could have had my cake HVAC system and ate it good credit score, too.

The big negative mark on my credit score that is preventing me from refinancing my house right now is because the BALANCE on my HVAC financing account is greater than 50% of the credit LIMIT on the account. Basically, they opened a credit account for me for the amount I needed for the new system and that was all.

In my current situation, the way forward for us is to just pay the balance down to less than 50% of the credit limit on the account and then wait for the credit bureaus to update a month or so from now. (Otherwise, the bank wants to charge us 1.5 points and 3/8% higher interest rate because my credit score is under 700 - but not by much).

If I had known this would be a big negative mark on my credit score, then I would have asked for them to set my credit limit at 2 x the value of the loan I was asking for so that my balance would be 50% of the limit. I tried calling the company to ask if they would just raise the credit limit for me, but they want all sorts of extra paperwork and it's just easier to pay the balance down.

Oh, so while I was on the phone with the mortgage broker guy, I was rather surprised at the advice he offered. He expressed downright remorse that I had just closed all sorts of credit accounts back in August. If you recall, when we were applying for our mortgage, our loan agent told us that the bank doesn't like for you to have lots of open credit accounts (even if they do have low or zero balance). I had several accounts open that I hadn't used in many years, so I closed them all.

THIS mortgage broker told me that it's important to keep REVOLVING credit accounts open for LONG periods of time (especially with low / zero balance) to show that you aren't one of those people who just spends and spends and maxes out your credit limits. I had a NEX credit card I opened in 1996 to buy a computer when I got back from my first deployment, and I thought the mortgage broker was gonna cry when he saw that I closed the account. He said now my "oldest" account is one that we opened in like 2005, so we have a much "shorter" credit history.

Aye caramba. Ever feel like you just can't win???

"For every expert opinion there is an equal and opposite expert opinion."
- I just made that up because it sure seems like it sometimes.

Bottom Line: While I wouldn't rule out taking advantage of same-as-cash financing deals, I would ask them to give you a credit limit that's twice what you actually want to spend so it doesn't show up as a negative mark on your credit report.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pentagon Gouge - ITT and Air Force Artwork

My wife kept asking me if there was an ITT at the Pentagon. (Aside: ITT stands for Information Tickets and Tours - a place you'll find on most military bases to buy military-discounted tickets for local amusement parks and attractions).

Survey Says: YES!!! (Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!)

It's not called ITT, but there is a place where you can buy discounted tickets for stuff. It's in the Air Force Morale Welfare and Recreation office in the 5E900 corridor. It's a shop similar to the Pentagon gift shop but sells exclusively Air Force paraphernalia, in addition to selling discounted tickets.

In the process of searching for this place, I discovered the Air Force has built a veritable art museum in their section of the Pentagon.

Seriously folks, if you take family or friends on a tour of the Pentagon, you should go out of your way to go see the Air Force artwork in the 5A900 and 5E900 corridors. There is a LOT of really amazing artwork there - mostly paintings of various styles and eras. Go check it out!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Funnies

Real quick up front - people like Kelly who tend to stop reading when they realize this is a Navy-related post really should get to the bottom of this post and watch the video. You're gonna laugh.

For those of you who have been around the fleet a while, you've probably read the Summary of Mishaps that comes out on Fridays. The Summary of Mishaps has been written for years in a tongue-in-cheek manner of sharing some lessons learned the hard way by guys doing stupid stuff both on the job and off on liberty. In case you've never read the Summary of Mishaps before, here's a quick sample of what you would find:

B. The second Not-O.K. Corral starred a machinery repairman first class who was on leave and decided to go shooting at a local Air Force base. “While driving to the base,” the report said, noting that he was “licensed to carry a concealed weapon,” he removed his .45 caliber pistol from the glove compartment. His goal was to “make sure it was not loaded,” an action that reveals in crystal-clear detail the mind-boggling limitations of the aforementioned “license.”

With the pistol’s magazine removed, he pulled back the slide to make sure there were no rounds in the chamber. He released the slide and pulled the trigger. Presto! There were no longer any rounds in the chamber, because the cartridge from the one that was there was now passing through his left thigh.

This spectacular display of weapons-handling knowledge was most impressive to his mother, who was along for the ride and who got to apply pressure to the wound and call 9-1-1. A trip to the nearest E.R. took the place of the planned visit to the shooting range. He was treated and released.

Must we trudge through the basic rules of gun handling for the umpteenth time? The old “Never point a firearm at anything you don’t want to shoot” and the “Always treat every firearm as if it was loaded,” et cetera? So be it. Making sure a weapon is unloaded doesn’t mean “jacking the slide back while waiting for a light to change in traffic,” the report added.

There’s nothing quite like calling a body shop and asking for an estimate on repairing bullet holes, and then calling the detailing place to find out how much they charge to remove blood stains.

Note: I now have a new entry at the top of my list of things that I’d prefer other drivers not do, just ahead of “text messaging.”

Want another example? Read "Why Roto-Rooter Isn't Called Hydro-Blaster or Compresso-Exploder." Men reading this story will cringe and wince as if they had experienced it themselves.

ANYWAY, although the official name of this weekly message is still the Summary of Mishaps, they have adopted another name, "The Friday Funnies."

Through the course of my career, on each boat I've been on, I have enjoyed reading the Summary of Mishaps on Friday. Each time I have gone off to shore duty though, I have gone places where I no longer got the regular Navy message traffic.

In the course of looking for something else today, I was on the Naval Safety Center website, and I discovered NOT ONLY can I read the Summary of Mishaps there on their website, BUT ALSO they have Friday funnies podcasts and vodcasts you can download (they're at the bottom of the home page).

Just to see if they were worth downloading, I listened to one and watched one.


Watch this. (Especially if you have small children.)

Oh, WARNING - don't have anything to drink while you're watching this. It'll come spewing out your nose and all over your computer screen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flashback to Beijing Olympics

Hmmm... I seem to recall writing something about this before...
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?
Why did this just pop into my mind 9 months later?

This showed up in the news today:
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Liu Yan, regarded as China's top classical dancer, was to give the performance of a lifetime: She was to dance a solo at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

She was to perform a dance entitled "Silk Road," a piece intended to convey the rich cultural history of China.

But it never happened.

Twelve days before she was to take the stage at the Olympics, in an event that China hoped would catapult the nation to international glory, she fell while rehearsing the dance -- leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

Sure, one accident doesn't PROVE my point, but it sure seems to fit with my speculation last summer doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Then again, maybe not...

Star Trek review for Parents:

First, WRT Star Trek - I received a few questions from friends here, on email, and on Facebook asking me would or did I take my kids?

Answers: No and No.

The movie is rated PG-13 for intense action and brief sexual content. The sexual content is a very short scene of a man and a woman in bed, still wearing underwear but kissing and breathing heavily, but they get interrupted. You could easily cover your child's eyes for this brief scene.

The action is really intense though. In particular, there's a scene where Kirk is getting chased across the surface of some sort of snowy ice planet by an enormous and terrifying monster that keeps trying to eat him. I'm sure I'm NOT spoiling the movie for you by telling you Kirk does NOT get eaten (what would be the point of the movie if he died half way through, right?), but I won't spoil for you the surprise of how he gets away. While that scene was playing out, I said to myself, "Self, this would scare the holy crap out of ES and YB. Cross this one off the list for them to see."

For a more detailed list of the content you might not consider safe for your children, please see the IMDB parent's guide. (Don't worry, they cover up spoiler info with red "spoiler" signs you have to click on if you REALLY want to read it all.)

Air Show

I was trying to make a plan of attack for going to the air show at Andrews AFB on Saturday. In order to prevent the boys from being absolutely miserable, I was planning what I was going to pack in the cooler for snacks and drinks to keep them cool and hydrated. I thought we would bring our Camelbaks with some coloring books and games to play during periods in between air demonstrations.

Then I read the security portion of the website.

No coolers allowed.

No backpacks allowed.

No camelbaks allowed.

No food allowed.

No drinks allowed.

Basically, all the things I would have needed to make the trip enjoyable for the boys aren't allowed.

To sum it up, my choices would be:

a) Sitting on the hot tarmac watching the airshow in the heat and sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (of course the Thunderbirds are the LAST on the agenda for 4 p.m.) with bored, hot, cranky, whining, miserable, dehydrated kids.

b) Taking out a home equity loan to shell out the cash for however much they're charging for bottles of water and refreshments, pumping our body full of preservatives and monosodium glutamate in disgusting food huts and later suffering from indigestion because we couldn't bring our own healthy snacks that we know are safe to eat.

I don't think so.

I did get a good laugh from one of the responses I got from a friend on Facebook: "Only terrorists would bring refreshments to an airshow."

We might go on the Loudoun County Farm Tour instead.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Decisions, Decisions...

First, let me just say the new Star Trek movie was AWESOME. I went to see it on the IMAX screen at the Udvar-Hazy Center tonight. It was very cool to see it up on that big IMAX screen and the sound system was amazing. I'm not convinced it was worth the extra expense in ticket price, and they don't allow food or drinks in the IMAX theater. Even so, the movie itself was SO cool. Totally unpredictable and shocking and action-packed.

Aside: If you're in NoVA and inclined to go see the IMAX show, be sure to order your tickets in advance online. They have been selling out days in advance. The show we went to tonight was sold out, too, and a few people walked up to the counter in front of us, asked to buy tickets, and were turned away. I bought our tickets on Saturday.

They also showed a preview for the Transformers sequel, and that looks awesome, too.

Looking ahead to this coming weekend, we've got a tough call to make.

Should we go to the Thunderbirds air show at Andrews AFB? Or should we go on the Loudoun County Spring Farm Tour? (This is the decision we face for Saturday. Sunday we'll be busy at church and then a church picnic and then getting our HOA pool passes for the season).

For me, I will always have fond memories of air shows. My parents started sending me off in the summer to spend some time with my Grandma and Grandpa in Grand Junction, Colorado when I was 9 years old. Every summer, the Blue Angels would come to Grand Junction and put on an airshow, and my Grandpa and I loved to go every summer. I was really into WWII history, and I especially loved seeing the B-17 that usually came to the Grand Junction air show.

However, I can picture my boys being miserable at the air show - complaining about the heat on the tarmac, complaining about the jets being too loud, complaining about how long the drive is, complaining about not being at home playing video games... When we stopped to visit my Aunt Ruth in Missouri and went to Wightman AFB for a B-2 tour, the boys didn't last through that visit and complained of being bored and hot on the tarmac - and that was just like an hour.

I was tentatively planning on taking the boys to the air show until I found out the farm tour is the same weekend. We've been on the farm tour a few times before and always enjoyed it. At least with the Farm Tour we would still be here in the same county and when the boys get tired and cranky we can just come home. Plus, on the Farm Tour we're driving from farm to farm and the boys are comfortable in their car seats in the air conditioning in the car.

I've mentioned the air show a few times over the past few days to put the topic on their minds and see if they want to go to the air show. Still to be determined...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Inherited Preferences

Isn't it odd how we inherit certain preferences from roommates and coworkers?

Example #1: Pizza in Mystic, CT

When I reported to the Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC) in Groton, CT, I thought I would just live in the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) on base. It was cheap. I didn't spend anything on gas because I could walk everywhere I needed on base. I was going to a boat out of Groton, so I could stay in the BOQ indefinitely if I wanted to do so.

Then someone explained to me that if I moved out of the BOQ before I detached from sub school and reported to the boat, then I would get paid per diem for the entire time I was temporarily living in the BOQ. That amounted to about $3,000 cash back then. So I said, to myself, "Self, let's just see what's available out in town."

Low and behold, a couple of bubblehead JO's who lived in an old house in Mystic were looking for a 3rd roommate and posted a note on a bulletin board at sub school. I answered the ad, and to make a long story short, moved into the old house in the historic district of Mystic.

We were just a few blocks north of the main drag through Mystic that went over the draw bridge, and there were two pizza places to choose from practically across the street from each other - Mystic Pizza and Pizzaworks.

The very first time I went out to get pizza with my new roommates, they insisted that Pizzaworks was the better of the two and that Mystic Pizza was just hyped up because of the movie with Julia Roberts. I took their word for it and just ALWAYS went to Pizzaworks, even when my roommates weren't around.

It took me about two years or so before I ever actually broke that habbit and TRIED Mystic Pizza for the first time, and ya know what? They have DARN good pizza! I especially LOVE the Greek pizza at Mystic Pizza.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that Pizzaworks wasn't good. I still loved Pizzaworks and would alternate between the two shops after that. I was just sorry I had ignored Mystic Pizza all that time because of the opinions of my roommates.

What brought this up you ask?

Example #2: Sandwich Shops in Crystal City

I reported to my current job, and my predecessor and my new coworkers all walked me through the choice of sandwich shops across the street from our building. There's a Quiznos, and then there are three other non-chain shops to choose from. The lunch rules according to the guys in my office were:

- If you want a sandwich, go to Jefferson Cafe. All the guys in my office swear by the Jefferson Cafe as being the best sandwiches in the building.
- If you want a salad, go to the SoHo salad bar. They have a lower price per weight than Jefferson and the same types and quality of stuff on their salad bar.
- If you want soup, go to the Soup Nutsy. They have four different soups to choose from each day.

Well, like the good little conformist lemming that I am (ha ha), I just took their word for it.

Don't get me wrong! I do LOVE the sandwiches at Jefferson Cafe, but I didn't go there very often because they aren't the most healthy and not very condusive to keeping in shape. A sandwich from the Jefferson Cafe is reserved for once-in-a-while special occasions for me. Plus, they have these wicked coconut brownies that I find hard to resist - all the more reason not to go to Jefferson. I do like soup though, so I tend to go to the Soup Nutsy a lot and do the half-sandwich and soup combo.

For some reason though, last week I decided I needed a change. I wanted to try something different. So I went to SoHo to see what they had on their deli menu.

I have to tell you that my new favorite thing for lunch is the West Village wrap at the SoHo deli. Chicken, avocados, lettuce, pico de gallo... It's sooooo good. I think I've had three or four in the past two weeks.

It gets better though. I was having a craving for some saccarine a fountain soda, so I went to get a soda while waiting for my wrap.

First, they have Diet Coke. Cha-ching! I'm lovin' this place.

But then... wait for it... two words...



I have two deep philosophical questions for all three of you who are still reading this:

1) Why is crushed ice so much better than ice cubes? I mean, why would it matter? Somehow it just seems to make fountain soda taste even better. Maybe the extra surface area of the smaller pieces of ice somehow makes the saccarine sweeter???

b) Since crushed ice is CLEARLY so much better than ice cubes, why do so FEW places serve crushed ice? Do the ice crusher machines cost more in operations and maintainance costs?

So what about you dear readers? Any personal preferences you learned from a friend, roommate, or coworker and later discovered you didn't necessarily agree with?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

This was the day my wonderful wife became a Mom.
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP)
May 2001
(Can you believe ES was ever so small???)

I hope all of the mothers in both my real llife and those who just read my blog had a wonderful Mother's Day.

My wife said for Mother's Day she wanted to make a road trip to IKEA, so yesterday we made the 45 minute drive down to Woodbridge, VA.

We got lost in IKEA. It was one of those, "Wait, didn't we already walk past those storage bins once before?" moments when I realized we had gone in a circle and never actually happened upon the exit. Luckily, just then we ran into our friends W & L. Actually, W ran into me - very literally, with his shopping cart to get my attention. :-) Thank goodness they found us. They guided us out of the wilderness light fixtures section to the cash registers and then to Fuddrucker's for lunch.

Last night my wife and I watched the movie Fireproof on DVD, and it was really good. In case you haven't heard of it: Fireproof is a Christian movie about a fireman in a struggling marriage and a 40-day love dare his dad puts him on to save his marriage. In comparison to other Hollywood type movies, okay, it wasn't a mega-blockbuster. However, for a movie put together by a church organization, I thought it was really quite good. Plus, my wife stayed awake for the entire movie! (That doesn't happen often.)

Mother's Day Recap

Our boys have a tendency to come into our room at night when they have a bad dream or need a drink of water or they want their music turned back on or they can't find their stuffed animal du jour or they're too hot or they're too cold or they feel sick or they're not sleepy or they're too sleepy or there was a weird noise outside or there was a weird noise inside or they want to know if we set the DVR to record iCarly or the economy is tanking or property values are down or the pirates are being a general nuisance off the coast of Somalia or...

Anyway, rarely does a night go by that at least one if not both of them get up in the middle of the night. Sometimes it's more than once in a night.

Unfortunately for my wonderful wife, you could set a tactial nuclear weapon off in our bedroom and I wouldn't wake up, so the boys always go to my wife's side of the bed and wake her up.

Last night before bedtime, I begged the boys to PLEASE not wake my wife up in the middle of the night. Granted, I would prefer they didn't get up AT ALL in the middle of the night, but if they did, I told them to PLEASE wake me up instead of Mommy. They said ok.

Okay, so all that was a long lead-in way to tell you about our Mother's Day here at the Blunoz household.

First off, the boys kept their promise and didn't wake anybody up in the middle of the night, so my wife and I BOTH got a good night's sleep last night.

I got up with the boys and tried to convince them to come with me to Dunkin Donuts. They were more interested in playing video games, so I told them to remain quiet. I ran out and got my wife's favorite French Vanilla coffee and donuts from DD along with some roses.

The boys were super helpful and cooperative today. When I told ES it was time to get dressed for church, he said, "Okay," and saved his game and went upstairs to get dressed. I was floored.

After church, we went to one of our usual lunch spots, the Spicy Pickle, then got haircuts and went to the Leesburg outlet mall. Again, the boys were AWESOME and cooperative and didn't whine or moan or groan about shopping.

It was a gorgeous day out... 72 degrees, sunny, and early enough in the season that the bugs aren't out yet. We grilled a steak on the barbecue grill and had a very nice dinner out on the back deck. This was the first time we have eaten out on the deck since we moved into this house.

Dinner on the Deck

The "You Are Special" red plate was a tradition of my friends Chris & Cathleen that we sort of adopted, although we don't use the special plate nearly as often as we could.

Again, the boys were AWESOME and didn't whine about eating their dinner or taking a bath or getting ready for bed. After I got the boys bathed and in bed, I made a run over to Maggie Moo's and got some Happy Mother's Day ice cream for my wonderful wife.

While I was there, I got some for me, too, of course. :-9

So overall, I think it was a pretty darn good day and I'm overjoyed at how good and cooperative the boys were.

I hope you had a Happy Mother's Day, Sweetie!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

$1 Fares for Military on JetBlue!!!


JetBlue is offering $1 fares to Active Duty military for non-stop flights from Dulles or Richmond in the month of May.

You have to purchase the tickets before May 7th, and some of the destinations like Long Beach, CA have already sold out of the $1 fare deal.

Just thought I'd pass this on for those in the DC area who might want to take advantage of it. My JOs are booking weekend trips home as I type this.

For details, click here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

He's too smart for me

Man, I can't wait to go through the teenage years with ES. (Just a little bit of sarcasm there.)

He turns 8 years old this month.

He's already started to call me out when he knows I'm wrong. I suppose I brought this upon myself though. I have a tendency to be very sarcastic and say things just to get a rise out of him, so he has learned over time to question the things I say and determine if what I said was true or if I was teasing him again.

I suggested we go out for Mexican food tonight in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Not because I have any reason to celebrate Cinco de Mayo mind you, only because I love Mexican food and will use any excuse I can to go eat Mexican food. ES responded that we shouldn't go out for Mexican because all the Mexican restaurants would be busy because it's Cinco de Mayo.

Did I mention he's almost 8?

Yep, you're right. You got me there, son.

So we went to Bluz Brothers Barbecue for dinner instead and they had an awesome lineup of tunes playing from Sirius satellite radio. As we got ready to leave dinner, they started playing R.E.M. "Stand." I was singing along as usual when we left the restaurant. We got to the part about, "Now face North," and I hopped and spun and landed facing one direction. After I landed, I said to myself, "Self, that's not really north you're facing, but oh well." We continued walking toward the car, and I got to the "Now face West," part and I hopped and landed - this time actually facing west.

ES immediately threw a flag on the play.

"Daddy." He said it dead-pan, matter-of-factly. "If you're facing west now, then you weren't facing north back there the first time you hopped."

Yep. He caught me alright. (I bet if I had asked him to figure out which way really was North there in the parking lot, then he would have figured it out pretty quick).

Then there are the questions he asks...

It's great when he asks these questions when we're out on a hike or driving somewhere together and have time to talk about it. More often than not though, he asks me these questions right at bedtime. Every night, I tuck him into bed, we say his bedtime prayers together, I kiss him and say, "Goodnight," and then it begins...


"Yes, son?"

"You know how Russia used to be part of the Soviet Union with a communist government? What type of government did they have before they became communist?"


"Why are some countries poor? Why can't the poor countries just print more money?"


"Why is President Obama going to move all our troops from Iraq to Afghanistan?"


"Why do we have copyright laws?"


"What type of government did India have before they became a British colony?"


Update 5/15/09: "What does force majeure mean?"

Did I mention he turns 8 this month?

I need to bring my laptop with me to tuck ES in to bed at night because I'm running out of answers to his questions. I should just prop my laptop on his night table with wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook queued-up ready to answer the question of the evening.

I can't help but wonder how much longer it will be before he thinks he's smarter than me - or actually IS smarter than me (gulp!).

What then?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wiipairs Follow Up

Okay, so disregard my previous praise for Nintendo customer service.

As you surely already know, my wife is much smarter than I am, and she didn't understand why we had to PAY to have the Wii Balance Board fixed since it's less than a year old.

So I looked up the Wii Balance Board user manual (click for PDF file) to read what the warranty said. On page 12, it says...
Nintendo of America Inc. ("Nintendo") warrants to the original purchaser that the hardware product shall be free from defects in material and workmanship for twelve (12) months from the date of purchase. If a defect covered by this warranty occurs during this warranty period, Nintendo will repair or replace the defective hardware product or component, free of charge."
I said to myself, "Self, how long have we really had the Wii Balance Board? I think your Lovely Wife is right and it has been less than a year." I checked my blog, and sure enough, LW bought it on 22 May 2008. So we were absolutely within the 12 month warranty on the hardware and should not have to pay for the repairs, right???

I called Nintendo customer service back to point out the error. The customer service representative claimed that the Wii Balance Board is an "accessory" not "hardware," and the warranty on page 12 goes on to state...
Nintendo warrants to the original purchaser that the product (games and accessories) shall be free from defects in material and workmanship for a period of three (3) months from the date of purchase..."
I threw the BS flag on that.

This is the user manual for THE WII BALANCE BOARD. What other HARDWARE came with the WII BALANCE BOARD???



Saying that the Wii Balance Board falls under the accessory clause of the Wii Balance Board User Manual is like saying the Will Balance Board is an accessory to itself. Where's the beef I mean, hardware?

An accessory to the Wii Balance Board would be the silicone cover or the rechargable battery pack my wife bought for it. If Nintendo didn't want to give a 12 month warranty with the balance board itself, then they shouldn't have printed that in the HARDWARE section of the manual for the BALANCE BOARD.

The customer service rep said that it is a standard warranty blurb they print in all their manuals and the intent was the 12 month "hardware" warranty was on the Wii CONSOLE. I said then they should WRITE that in the warranty because I consider the balance board to be "hardware," especially when this is the Wii Balance Board Manual I'm reading, not a a Wii Console manual.

When I spoke with the customer service rep's supervisor, the supervisor pointed out a sentence on page 1 of the user manual, "Please carefully and completely read the Wii™ Operations Manual - System Setup before using this accessory." (emphasis mine) and declared therefore it is clearly an accessory. He stood his ground based on that sentence on page 1 and insisted the Balance Board is obviously an accessory and therefore only has a 3 month warranty.

I don't think I'm totally crazy here folks. It just doesn't pass the "average Joe" / common sense test in my mind.

In fact, I challenge Nintendo to do a study of random people on the street.

I challenge Nintento to walk up to a hundred random people on the street, hand them the Wii Balance Board User Manual, and ask them, "How long is the warranty on the Wii Balance Board?" I bet MOST if not all of them will flip to the warranty on page 12, read it, and say, "It's hardware, so the warranty is for 12 months." (Oh, and no fair asking 100 "random" people on the Nintendo campus or at a law school where they nitpick stupid stuff like this.)

For a single data point, I approached one of my coworkers in the office this afternoon. I handed him a print out of the manual. Without telling him why I was asking, I asked him how long he thought the warranty was good for on the Wii Balance Board. He flipped through to the warranty section, he read it, and he said, "it says the hardware is covered for 12 months."

What do you think? Am I crazy?

Yes, yes, I said myself up above that this is nitpicky stupid stuff. That's why I stopped arguing with the guy on the phone - I wasn't getting anywhere with him. It feels good to vent though.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kailee's Run

Sunday morning was Kailee's Run - a 5K fund raiser to benefit Tracy's Kids who have helped Kailee, a member of our church, in a battle with cancer.

It turns out that walking 7 miles around DC sight-seeing yesterday was a pretty good warm up for running in the 5K this morning. I set a new PR at 29:16 - nowhere near the front of the pack, but a darn good time for me.

Segway into related topic... you'll see the connection in a few minutes.

I think maybe I'm just cursed when it comes to electronic gadgets.

You don't have to scroll back very far in my blog to find a couple of common themes - an obsession with high-tech electronic gadgets... and an element of frustration and banging my head against the wall when said high-tech electronic gadgets don't work right.

No, I'm not going to regale you with more stories of my BlackBerry woes. Although I will say that my wife got the same BlackBerry that I did the same day that I did (buy one get one free promo). We use pretty much the same applications on them, too, and she doesn't seem to have the same problems I have with her BlackBerry. Maybe it's just me.

Okay, so yesterday we went to do our sight-seeing trip around DC. I wore my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch to keep track of the mileage we walked. When we got out of the car at the Iwo Jima Memorial, I looked at my watch to see what time it was. The watch said 9:16:50... I said to myself, "Self, I coulda sworn we left the house about 9:15, did we travel back in time?" In the time it took me to ask myself that question, I noted that the seconds didn't budge.

Yep, my super-whamodyne fancy high-tech GPS watch read 9:16:50 the ENTIRE day.

I tried looking for a reset button somewhere but found none. I tried pushing and holding one or both buttons for multiple seconds to see if that did anything. Nope, nada, zip, no response.

When we got home from sight-seeing, I went on the Garmin website and looked up the trouble-shooting guide. In order to do a factory reset, first you have to hold BOTH buttons for 6 seconds then LET GO of the TOP button for 3 seconds. Gosh darnit, why didn't *I* think of that???

That worked.

Then it beeped at me and told me the battery was low.


No, it didn't really matter by that point, it just seemed to add insult to injury. No worries, I put it on the charger last night to get it fully charged before the 5K this morning.

Everything started out fine on the 5K, but it was sprinkling rain. Over the course of the run, it grew to a deluge of rain and I was SOPPING wet by the end.

Kailee's Run in the Rain

The Garmin Forerunner uses a cool touch-screen type of display where you touch the corners of the bezel to activate different functions.

Well... it doesn't work so well in the rain.

The water pretty much shorted out all four corners of the bezel. The entire run, the watch was beeping at me as the rain was causing it to go into all sorts of different sub-menus and activating all sorts of obscure work-out programs and options. I had NO control over it. When I actually touched anywhere on the bezel with my finger, it didn't respond at all.

The RAIN was in control.

Normally, my watch tells me how far I've run and what my pace is. This morning, I couldn't get it to go back to the display that told me how far I ran or what pace I was running, so I had no clue for the duration of the race.

So I just ran.

No idea what my pace was. I just ran at what I thought was a comfortable steady pace that I could maintain to the finish line.

It still recorded the data though, and I was able to download it when I got home. When I got home and looked at my pace and my time on the computer screen, my jaw dropped. I routinely jog 3 miles around Ashburn on my own, and I usually finish in about 30-33 minutes or so. Today I hit the 3 mile mark at 28:27 and I finished the 5K at 29:16. That averages out to about a 9 1/2 minute/mile pace, which is pretty darn good for me.

I still think maybe I'm just cursed with (a) an obsession with electronic gadgets and (b) very bad luck with getting them to work right.

Sight-seeing around DC

We have friends visiting from out of town and did some sight-seeing around DC on Saturday. We grabbed some donuts at the Fractured Prune and then headed in to town. Our first stop was at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Blunoz self-portrait at Iwo Jima Memorial.

(It's too bad our guests didn't come in June-August so we could attend the Sunset Parade by the USMC band and drill team).

Then we went to Arlington National Cemetery. I've been wanting to take the boys here for a while, so I was glad our guests wanted to go there this weekend.

ES at JFK's Eternal Flame.

ES walking toward Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

ES watches Changing of the Guard

Panorama Shot of LW, S, C, & the boys.
(Click on photo to enlarge)

YB at Arlington National Cemetery

Oh, and it's not everyday that you get to see General Lee walking up to his old house in Arlington. (Photo by LW)

Next, we grabbed some lunch in the food court at the Pentagon City Mall and then walked over to see the Pentagon Memorial. This was my first time visiting the Pentagon Memorial since we moved back to DC seven months ago. It was a really nice memorial and I was very glad we went to see it. There is a lot of symbology here in the way the memorial was designed.

(Disclaimer: Although there are signs that say "no photography" all around the Pentagon, there are signs at the entrance to the memorial that state photography IS allowed INSIDE the memorial.)

YB at the Pentagon Memorial

Panorama shot (click to enlarge)

Another Panorama Shot (click to enlarge)

There is a reflecting pool under each bench.

So a little bit about the layout of the memorial... There's one bench for each person who died in the Pentagon or on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. The benches that point away from the Pentagon are for the people who were in the Pentagon looking out. The benches that point toward the Pentagon are for the people who were on the plane looking in. The name of the person is on the end of the bench, so as you look at their name, you see where they were that day (in the Pentagon or in the sky). For example, LTC Taylor's bench above shows that he was killed in the Pentagon that day.

The birth years of the victims marked in a timeline on the side of the memorial.

The benches are organized by the age of the individual. On the far right (south side) of the pictures above, are the youngest, and on the far left (north side) are the oldest. One bench forms the first row for a three year old, then there was like one eight year old and a couple of 11 year olds, then there was a big gap between there and the first adults.

Trying to get creative with the panorama feature in my camera.

Next we hopped on the Metro over to DC and walked the Mall.

Me and YB on the escalator down into the Metro.
(Photo by LW)

ES on the Metro

S, C, LW, YB, ES on the mall

ES & YB at the WWII Memorial

Graffiti on the WWII Memorial (not really graffiti)

Walking toward the Lincoln Memorial

There were a LOT of baby ducklings in the reflecting pool.
(Photo by LW)

Once again, our timing was perfect. We arrived just in time to hear this AWESOME park ranger tell us all about the Vietnam War Memorial. Hearing his description of the meaning behind the memorial and the symbology used by the architect really gave THIS visit to the memorial much more meaning to me than previous visits.

YB at the Vietnam Memorial

Tired Mommy & YB on the Metro ride going home

We stopped in Tyson's Corner for dinner at CPK on the way home. Man do I love their carne asada pizza! :-9 It's been a while since we've been to CPK. There aren't any conveniently located to our house here, but it was on the way home from DC and our guests expressed a desire for CPK since there aren't any in Indiana.

Overall it was a great day. I used the route feature on the Buckeye Outdoors website to figure out how far we walked. We walked at least 7 miles. My legs and feet were pretty sore. The boys did a great job through the day, although they got several piggy back rides and rides on the shoulders along the way.