Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Enjoying the Shade of the Family Tree

This year Heather and I are enjoying a holiday at my brother's house, which means we get to enjoy spending some time with him and his wife, as well as their four children.  It's interesting to see the family traits, both physical and personality wise, that you grew up with showing their form in a new generation of children.  Voracious reader - check.  Smaller than average stature - check.  Excelling at school without trying - check.    Lack of appreciable social skills - check.  Zero body fat and high muscle density - check.  Stubborn to a fault - check.

Of course knowing your family's personality quirks can be quite fun.  When I noticed that my 15 year old nephew had a bit of a beach fuzz mustache and goatee, I told him "10 bucks says that when my dad sees you he'll look you over like he's performing some kind of medical evaluation and say "What's that on your chin, it looks like something's growing there - did you forget to shave, son?" or something to that effect."  I didn't actually hear dad say anything about Bryan's budding beard, but Bryan did walk up to me about 10 minutes after dad arrived and said "Somebody owes you ten dollars".  It took a few seconds to register what he was talking about.  Then I just smiled and nodded.

The highlight of Christmas so far, though, has been the trip with mom this morning to Hardees for cinnamon raisin biscuits.  I wasn't even hungry, but I love me some cinnamon raisin biscuits, and they don't even sell them at the Hardees in San Antonio where I live!  I guess Mexicans just don't have a taste for them.  I had two and they were delicious.  Too bad I have to drive 1000 miles to get them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Like Secret Deodorant, For my Feet

When I was a kid I used to get a new pair of house shoes every year.  They all looked the same, except for being slightly larger to accommodate my growing feet.  The inside was a pale yellow fleece, while the exterior was a manila envelope brown vinyl.  I have terrible circulation in my feet, despite having veins there as large as some people have leading into their hearts.  Because of this my slippers were always on my feet, and since I only got one pair a year at Christmas, I had to make them last.

It didn't take long for the fleece to get matted to a nearly flat constitution, and eventually my big toes would work a hole in the bottoms of the soles.  The fact that the soles were made of the same thin vinyl as the rest of the shoe probably didn't help their longevity, but this was easily fixed with a couple of pieces of duct tape.  Before Christmas came around I would have some duct tape on the bottom of the heel as well.  Sure it looked ghetto, but it worked.  As a bonus, they didn't increase the friction of the shoes, so I could still run full speed and slide around corners in the house, which I'm sure my mom appreciated.

For years Heather would have to make an annual trek to Kmart, to get the modern version of my childhood house shoes, as they were the only place to find them.  This was an absolute act of love, as Heather hates Kmart, with a hatred as deep as the hate between cats and dogs.  Over the years the color had gotten darker brown, but not much else had changed.  I really don't like the moccasin shoes with the heavy sole, or any slippers that seem to be designed to allow me to wear them for a walk around the block.  I want them light, warm, and flexible.  So I was dismayed when even Kmart stopped carrying my favorite house shoes.  In hindsight, I should have bought a lifetime supply, but how was I to know?

Last year Heather found a semi-suitable substitute at Walmart, but I couldn't help but look longingly at her purple slippers, that have an exterior which is like shag carpeting, and which terminates just above her ankle.  The interior is super soft and warm, and the sole is thin and pliable.  So when I found a similar pair at the store, except in blue (they look like someone killed Cookie Monster and made slippers from his hide), I was intrigued by the thought...could my feet fit into a women's extra large?

The answer, if you're curious, is heck yeah!  My feet now luxuriate in some awesome house slippers as I traipse around the house.  I love my house shoes, no matter what gender they were designed for. They may not fit in with my den covered in deer heads and stuffed water fowl, but then, I don't have one of those, so that's ok.  And they aren't so overtly feminine that I feel like I should be wearing them with pink leotards or something.  Besides, who would wear pink leotards these days?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Perilous Situation

There is a lot of attention these days in the news about the coming Fiscal Cliff.  This refers to a host of economy dampeners that are set to take effect on January 1st.  The end of the Bush era tax cuts, a resumption of higher social security tax rates, stoppage of extended unemployment benefits, and more.  I am deeply concerned, not so much about the fiscal cliff, but another even more cataclysmic event that is on our horizon.

I am speaking about something you are probably already aware of and may think you have already come to terms with: the Twinkie Cliff.

That's right, thanks to labor issues and poor management, Hostess announced recently that they are going out of business, and that means no more Twinkies rolling off the bakery assembly line.  You may not realize it now, but there is a serious crisis coming.

We probably won't notice at first.  Most of us don't eat Twinkies every day, and there are other companies that offer similar products.  But eventually there are those among us, and you just may be one of them, who will want a Twinkie, a real honest to goodness bit of golden creme-filled heaven on earth with a little cowboy hat wearing cartoon pastry on the box, and then will come the sad realization.    The Twinkie is dead.

There are some things you just don't appreciate until they are gone.  Like Styrofoam fast food containers, and music videos on MTV.  But if the Rolling Stones, who's member's average age is greater than the average age of the Supreme Court justices (I'm not kidding) can make a come back, who's to say the Twinkie won't be resurrected by another bakery company?  I'm optimistically holding out hope for this solution.  It seems more feasible than politicians in Washington getting their collective acts together.  And I have a feeling we're going to need a lot of comfort food in the next few years.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shooting for the Stars

After a conversation cropped up at work about shooting homemade rockets, I decided it would be fun if a bunch of us got together and had our own launch day.  To this end I sent out the following email to everyone in my section: 


Greetings, Earthlings!

You are hereby invited to participate in an informal rocket club, whose name is TBD, but for now we will  just call it the Recreational Orbit-seeking Club using Kits assembled In Texas, or ROCK IT!  I know there are some of you who would argue that this really spells ROSCUKAIT; I invite you to come up with a better name and we will vote on it.  There are no entry fee or dues associated with club membership, which consists of 2 levels:

Level 1 (Rocketeer): Build, paint, and name your own rocket.  Shoot it into space (or at least into the lower troposphere).  Bonus points awarded for originality of name, paint job, or other external modification.  Extra bonus points for unique payloads.  Don't worry if you know nothing about building a rocket - I don't either, but I hear there are kits you can buy that are fairly cheap and easy to assemble.

Level 2 (Spectaculator): You're more than a spectator, you're spectacular!  One part fan club, one part heckler, it doesn't matter, so long as you show up to watch the rocketeers' amazing successes and possibly more amazing failures.  Can a horned toad really launch on a rocket?  You don't want to settle for second hand stories around the water cooler (or under powered microwave), you want to see for yourself!

If you're interested in joining this exclusive club (only people with a working pancreas can participate) let me know what level you would like to be, and you will get to help pick the first build and launch dates!

If you are not interested, no negative replies required - I realize some of you have active social lives/are not particularly enamored with the idea of shooting things into the sky.  I don't understand it, but I accept it.


The amazing thing isn't how many people are interested in building a rocket (nearly everyone, as it turns out), but how many responses I got with suggested acronyms for the club's name.  Apparently the only thing more fun than blasting a rocket into the sky is coming up with a group of words that acronymize (yes, I said it) into a witty name.  Who knew?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Loving the Redbox

As I was renting a  movie today from my local Redbox, I couldn't help but reflect on how amazing it is that I can rent a Blueray movie for less than a buck fifty, with tax.  When I was a kid, a VHS movie was 2 bucks.  At least, I think it was.  We didn't actually get a VCR until I was in 8th grade, and even then we rarely rented movies, but from what I remember it was $2 at Blockbuster.  The last time I went to that establishment which is not surprisingly headed for bankruptcy, it was $4 for a rental.  And yet here it is, a few years later, and I can get a new release for a fraction of that price, and I don't even have to interact with another human being to do it.  You gotta love America.

Speaking of movies, Abraham Lincoln has had a busy year, as his second movie is coming out this week.  Apparently this one was less physically challenging than the last, where he purportedly turned to a body double for some of the more intense action sequences.  I still haven't seen either movie, and will look forward to getting them at the Redbox in the next few months.

The one bad thing about the Redbox is that the outdoor one I use comes with a sunscreen that is totally worthless at actually preventing the sun from washing out the screen, but that you have to hold up the entire time you're browsing movies.  Really, no one could come up with a button, clip, or velcro to keep this thing out of the way if I don't want to hold it?  C'mon guys, you're letting me down here.  Not just me, but millions of other lazy, cheap Americans.  I know you can do better.

I will close by advising you not to take your significant other with you to the Redbox.  It's much easier to just come home with a movie to watch.  There's nothing more aggravating than watching movie after movie that you would like to see go scrolling by, only to have the other person pick some lame Romantic comedy to watch.  At least that's what Heather tells me.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vote Early, Vote Often

It's early November, which means it that time of year again, when politicians spend millions of dollars to convince us to not vote for their opponents.  As much as I hate the negative ads and political punditry, we still live in one of the greatest nations in the history of mankind.  I think Luxembourg has us beat, but that's only because they offer free pizza for life.  Takeout only.

Remember, there are starving kids in China, and if that country were a democracy the politicians there would be forced to pander to those kids' parents by making promises they never intend to keep.  Sure, their kids would still be starving, but at least they could go to sleep at night believing that their government really cared about them, not just about becoming the world's next superpower.

We already are a superpower, and with great power comes great responsibility.  (If you don't believe me, just ask Spiderman.)  Part of that responsibility is making your voice heard.  So do some research on the issues.  Look into your heart.  Then head to the polls and for goodness sake ensure you punch the hole cleanly through.  In a few weeks you can tell your kin around the dining table that you're thankful that you live in a free country where you get to help decide who is in power, whether your candidate won or not.  And be even more thankful that you won't have to watch any more political attack ads for at least 6 months.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Foolproof Coffeemaker (Isn't)

Coffee, one of man's greatest discoveries.  I have had a cup of Joe every morning before heading to work for many years now, but a few months ago I decided to take my coffee habit into the office with a small coffee making device.  Using only this piece of plastic, which holds the filter, plus of course a filter and coffee grounds, hot water and gravity, I can make one cup of caffeinated bliss.  Of course, this low-tech solution soon brought me the derision of some coworkers, but I stood by its utility.  Eventually, though, even I had to admit that it was not as classy as the more well-known one cup coffee system.  Unfortunately, I don't rate having a secretary (the original one cup of coffee system), but I can afford a Keurig, so I went with that upgrade for my desk.

For those of you not familiar with this particular technological marvel, you simply open a hatch, put in a "k-cup" (pre-measured with coffee, sealed until use, and ridiculously expensive per serving compared to just buying grounds and filters) and hit a button.  A minute later, you have a cup of coffee   Unless you forgot to put your mug under the spout, then you have a wet, messy, albeit delicious smelling desk.

For those of us that are cheap, there is another option called "my k-cup".  it is a plastic device that holds a small reusable filter, allowing you to fill it with coffee grounds yourself.  The entire thing has a screw on lid, which you attach prior to placing it in the Keurig where the k-cup goes.  Of course, this thing is bigger than a k-cup so you have to remove another plastic piece that normally holds the k-cup in place.  Before you use another k-cup you must replace this piece, or else the k-cup will sit in the coffee maker, but the water will not properly pass through the k-cup, but will instead end up squirting all over the coffee maker.

I know this, because I made that mistake last week.  I'm sure my boss and coworkers were all amused listening to my reaction when I turned around from the whiteboard where I had been working , expecting to find a fresh cup of coffee, but instead finding a big mess.  It went something like this "What the....(opening lid to see if there is any indication what went wrong, realizing I didn't put the k-cup holder back in) AAAARGH!!!  I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!  I bring in some cream from home, and instead of making some delicious coffee I forget to put the piece in?!  You've got to be kidding me!!!"  I quickly calmed down, and made myself a cup of coffee the right way once I had cleaned up my mess.

Needless to say, later on when one of the guys I work with made a mistake with the copy machine he got a bit distraught, then told me he had "pulled a Morrell".  "What did you do?" I asked, assuming he would relate what mistake he had made.  "Something stupid" he said.  "Oh, wait, I didn't mean it that way".  I let him know that I knew what he meant, and hadn't taken it the wrong way, although I appreciated him putting 2 and 2 together for me, as I hadn't made the connection between the obvious secondary meaning and what he was really trying to convey.  Hopefully my name doesn't become associated with making laughable errors in the workplace.  If so, I wonder if I can get that copyrighted.  Let me make some coffee and think on that one a while...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Letter From Mom

Last week we deactivated our lousy Cricket cell service, and had our number moved from our Cricket phone to our backup Tracphone cell.  We assumed this transfer would be seamless, but after our old number was deactivated we learned that our phone would be inoperable until we received a new sim card to use the new number.  This left us without any phone service for a couple of days, which really isn't a big deal, because almost nobody calls us anyway.

As fate would have it, my mom decided to call us and was aggravated to learn that our number was disconnected.  This week I got the following letter in the mail:

Brad and Heather,
You need to call and let us (the parents) know a ph # that works.  The number you text is not yours.  I called Larry and he doesn't have it either.  Please Call.  Love Mom.  PS. Cards beat Nationals and are now playing the Giants and they are on Fox.

Of course by the time I got this letter we had already reactivated our phone, but I was really tempted to send mom the following letter:

Dear Mom,
We inadvertently disconnected our phone for a couple of days.  Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.  PS. I know my brother Jerry works for the Post Office, but I think it's a bit overly optimistic to think I will get a letter from you before a baseball game you are watching is over.  Thanks for the heads up though.
Your Son.
Brad

I guess on the bright side it was kind of nice to get a letter in the mail, although when I got an envelope from mom I was kind of hoping it was an early Birthday check.  Maybe next time.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Who's Your Soccer Mama?

It's been a physical fitness couple of weeks for me.  First there was Wingman Day, a day where the Air Force takes some down time to contemplate taking care of ourselves and each other.  It was decided that we should have a competition between the offices at work, and each section had to field a team.  I didn't really want to participate, since I had my annual PT test coming up the following week, but decided running one leg of the 4 x 100 wouldn't kill me.  Then one of our guys claimed a bum foot, so I ended up running the first and last leg, which wouldn't have been so bad but the track was an asphalt lane around a softball field that dropped about 30 ft in elevation for the first half, then left you climbing back up on the back half.  Doing that twice at a near sprint is not as easy as it sounds, and it really doesn't sound that easy.  Throw in some lunges in a later competition and my legs were pretty used up.

The following week was my PT test - pushups, situps, and a 1.5 mile run.  I like running with music but I haven't been using my iPod during my speed work to prepare for the test, and I figured it was best to test as I trained, so I reluctantly left the music behind.  We got up to the starting line and took off.  The track is a meandering course that is 1.5 miles in length, which I prefer to running in circles around a quarter mile oval track.  And with my GPS watch, I am able to track time, distance, current and average pace.  That is, once I hit the start button.  Apparently I didn't press the button hard enough when we took off, because when I glanced down to see what my pace was it registered zero.  By the time I figured out what had happened it was too late to help me, so I was left running blind as far as keeping my pace goes.  It was quite aggravating, although I did make my goal time.  If I wasn't going to do my regular routine I guess I could have brought my music after all.

The following day we started a new initiative here to do PT as a group on Thursday afternoons.  If you've never played soccer, it's pretty tiring and really can make you sore, due to the sudden starting, stopping, and shifts in direction.  Doing this the day after my PT test certainly sent me a friendly reminder of the fact I'm not getting any younger.  I've been hobbling around the last couple of days while bruises, cuts, blisters and stiff muscles slowly recover.  On the bright side, not only did I score a couple of goals, but more importantly, I was able to steal the ball from our British exchange officer once.  Not only is he about 6 foot 6, but more importantly, he's British!  Beating him head to head at soccer was like showing up Eminem at a rapping duel.  Even if it did only happen once, it was the highlight of my week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Blast From My Past


Yesterday I excitedly opened a brown package that arrived in the mail.  Inside was a book that I ordered last week on Amazon.  In preparation for my Mom’s visit last week I had been unpacking some boxes, and came across my childhood book collection, or at least the portion that I have in my possession.  Having two brothers many of the books that I read as a child and considered part of the Morrell library belonged to my brothers, so many a familiar book is now in their possession.  Being a bookworm I read every book in our house multiple times.  From “The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes” to Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”, if it was made of paper and didn't have legs to run away, it found its way into my grubby little hands.  And I mean that literally – when I was young I refused to bathe more than every other day, and I had quite petite hands, even for a child. 

As I was reminiscing and leafing through old classics I read and reread as a boy, I noticed that one of my favorite books, one that had actually been my own and not my brothers’, was missing.  I couldn't remember the name of it, but it was one of those books where you make decisions throughout the book which leads to glory or destruction, depending on your choice.  The original and best known series of this type was called “Choose Your Own Adventure”, but when I did a web search for “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I was unsuccessful at finding this favorite of mine.  I know because although I couldn't remember the title, I do remember that this particular book had a spaceship with a large grey spider on the cover.

I told my mom about this and she called my brother Steve, who relayed that it was probably a “Which Way Book” (apparently he had tried to track one down as well, and got that information from a librarian), so I put that into my search and there it was: “Space Raiders and the Planet of Doom”.  I still remember getting that book and reading it in the gym when I was in the fourth grade.  I made it through several pages before it was time to go to class, and couldn’t wait to get home to finish the story.  I still remember landing the spaceship on the planet, covered with such a thick fog that there was no telling what was below, or if a landing was even possible!

So this week I have enjoyed going back through the book and choosing my way along the various story lines again.  I think I’m doing a better job this time around making choices that don’t end in my death.  Perhaps somewhere subconsciously I remember to not eat the giant mushrooms.  Or maybe I’m just a lot better at making good decisions at 37 than I was at 9.  Whatever the case, it was totally worth the seven bucks it cost me to purchase this little piece of my childhood!


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some Assembly Required

 It wasn't long ago that I had to assemble bunk beds that we bought for visiting friends and family with kids.  One of the dowels that connects the bottom bunk to top bunk was missing, and rather than try to get a replacement part ordered by spending half an hour wading though voice prompts and trying to describe the part to a customer service rep halfway around the world, I opted to drive down to Lowe's, buy a dowel rod for a couple of bucks and cut it down to size.

Then as I was putting together an office chair that I had bought the other day, it dawned on me that there was a time when you could go to the store and purchase furniture and it would arrive already assembled.  I'm sure the furniture companies save a lot of money by using the consumer for free labor, but why do we accept this imposition when we buy a computer desk but not for other products?  Can you imagine buying an iPad or digital camera and getting a box of parts and a soldering iron with instructions in French, Spanish and bad English poorly describing how to put all the parts together to get your finished product?  Am I the only one that thinks we're letting the businesses that sell us components, parts and fittings in the guise of finished products off easy?

I suppose it could be worse.  I mean, the company that sold me a fake Christmas tree makes me put that sucker together every year.  At least I only have to put my office furniture together once.  Although in all fairness, I suppose I could assemble the tree once and just decorate it every winter.  The rest of the year I could pretend it is an evergreen tree growing in my loft.  Hmm, not a bad idea, actually.

Of course the idea of charging the customer full price for reduced services is not limited to cheap furniture from China.  They now have restaurants where you can cook your own meal.  Hey, thanks, but I've already got a place for doing that, it's called my kitchen.  Sometimes I wonder if the world's going crazy or if I'm just missing out on awesome marketing opportunities.  I need to brainstorm some ideas for saving labor by having the customers do what paid workers would normally accomplish.  Jack in the Box put digital ordering systems in their restaurants so they can fire the kid behind the counter making minimum wage to punch in "Sourdough Burger Combo", so I'm too late for that one, but I'm sure there are other opportunities out there.  I just need to keep my eyes open and never underestimate the power of changing the paradigm while nobody's looking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Long Arm of the Law


Not too long ago I found myself on the wrong side of the law.  It wasn’t the first time I had been caught transgressing our nation’s driving laws.  The last time I was pulled over for speeding was extremely annoying.  Allow me to set the scene.  I was staying at a lodge in the mountains with friends, the majority of whom were skiing at the mountain which this lodge conveniently was located at, or Breckinridge to be precise.  I, being the frugal (or cheap, depending on your point of view) person that I am, having purchased a season pass to another set of slopes, opted to take the 30 minute drive up the road to ski there rather than skiing with everybody else.  I don’t remember the cost of the tickets but this saved me somewhere in the ballpark of $120 over a two day period.

Imagine the bitter irony, when, only about a half mile from the lodge, I was pulled over for speeding through the tiny town of Breckinridge.  Sadly, I had just noticed that my speed was a bit high, and had already started slowing down when I saw the police car behind me.  Needless to say, the ticket I received cost me more than it would have cost me to simply ski the very mountain where I was staying.  Aggravation really isn’t a strong enough word to express my sentiments about that point in time, but what are you going to do?

Flash forward almost 3 years, as my speeding ticket is finally about to drop off my record, dropping my insurance rates back down (no, I wasn’t even counting that cost in the equation), and here I found myself with a police car following me once again with its lights flashing.  This time I was driving on a country road where the speed limit is inexplicably only 40 mph.  As it turns out, I was doing 50, but that wasn’t the surprising part of my conversation with the police officer.  The surprising part came when he asked me about my Illinois plates and I explained that I am in the military.  He actually gave me a warning ticket and thanked me for my service!  I had heard of warning tickets before, but as someone who has been pulled over several times and never received one, somehow they were in the realm of semi-believable entities, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  I don’t know if I like Texas or not but I do like Texans!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adding a Pool Room to the House

I still remember the day when a coworker offered to sell me his PlayStation 3 for only $250.  Almost as well as I remember the day, a couple of months later, when it stopped working on me.  So when a guy at work offered to sell his pool table to make room for his girlfriend's stuff, you couldn't blame me for being hesitant.  But since Heather and I have wanted a pool table for awhile, and since he was offering it for only $100, to include not only the table and balls, but also 2 nice pool sticks and a wooden rack that mounts on the wall to hold them, I couldn't resist.

The only problem was figuring out where to put it.  My house comes in one of two floor plans, one with 4 bedrooms and a large loft, and one with 5 bedrooms and a small loft.  Unfortunately, mine was built with the small loft, which I calculated to be a bit too small for the table.  It would have fit, of course, but taking shots from the sides would have required shortened pool sticks or else a lot of aggravation and awkward high angle hits.

Not to be defeated, I did the measurements on the master bedroom upstairs.  One of the draws to our house is that it has a master upstairs and down, and we chose the convenience of not having to climb stairs each night and morning traversing to and from bed.  That left the master bedroom upstairs for a guest room.  As much as I didn't want to lose the guest room, it was the only other place the pool table might fit.  Once I measured the dimensions I realized there was no way to have a bed and a pool table in there, but the pool table would fit with plenty of room all around by itself.  The guest bed would just have to relocate either to the loft or more likely to one of the other bedrooms (sorry guests, but you'll have to either walk down the hall to the bathroom or we will move the pool table into the corner and put the bed in the master bedroom while you're in town).

Next up was getting the actual table to my house.  The kid I was buying it from has a large diesel Dodge truck, so I knew this wouldn't be a problem.  We took the table apart and carried the top down the stairs and to his truck.  There wasn't a good way to put the rest of the table in his truck without possibly damaging the felt, so I  decided to see if it would fit in my Vibe.  The Vibe has carried a lot of freight, from a dishwasher to 500 pounds of paving stones to a 52 inch TV, so I figured it was worth a try.

The stand barely fit, and that was with the hatch glass open so the legs could extend out the opening, and with the front seats as far forward as they would possibly go.  I'm a pretty small guy, but there was literally only inches between the steering wheel and the seat.  Just try moving your seat all the way forward and see if you can squeeze in there.  Make sure the seat back is at 90 degrees too.  I dare you.

Needless to say, I couldn't even hold my head up, or it would have been crushed into the sun visor, so I tenuously placed the car in reverse with my head less than an inch from the glass, turned to the left so as to get me a view of the road.  With my knees hugging the steering column I slowly creeped down the road following the big red Dodge with the rest of my purchase.  Turns were executed using a boat captain hand to hand motion, and I gained a new appreciation for Clowns, even though I still hate them.  Fortunately it was only about a 10 minute drive to my house, and I'm thankful I wasn't in an accident because I probably would have either been decapitated or killed from the force of the airbag exploding my internal organs.

Once we got to the house and I extricated myself from the car, we got everything upstairs, which was a sweat drenching exercise, and put it all together it the new pool room.  It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.  I even put our two bar stools up there and mounted the pool stick rack right away.  Heather and I have been enjoying our own personal pool hall, and the pool table shouldn't suddenly stop working in a few weeks either.  My house just went up a coolness level.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Last Days of Freedom

This was my last week of vacation, and despite my best intentions to unpack the boxes in our loft, it has not come to pass.  We did at least get some much needed cleaning done in the two bathrooms downstairs and the kitchen and living room.  More importantly, we had a lot of time to just veg after two weeks of travelling.  I started reading "All Quiet on the Western Front", and we knocked out some races on "Need for Speed", upgrading to the only Lamborghini I will ever drive.  We even finally made it to the HOA swimming pool for the first time, after living here for a year.  I quite enjoyed the near-perfect combination of hot weather and cooling water, and it's only 4 foot at the deep end, so no fear of drowning.  The only down side is that the shallow depth means that diving is verboten (I can neither confirm nor deny whether I still snuck in a couple of shallow dives).

I thought of my trip home today when I read that Kodak is exiting the film camera business.  I'm sure my dad will be disappointed as he still uses a film camera, which I learned when he came to visit at my brother's house last week.  You can imagine my young nieces' disappointment when he took their picture and they asked if they could see it.  "No, honey, grandpa has to send the film to get it processed before you can see the pictures.  Just be thankful they don't make daguerreotypes any more, or we'd all have to stand still much longer for him to take a picture."  (Note to dad - it's the 21st century!  Tommy Lee Jones is not as cool as you think he is, and technology is moving forward - time to get rid of the VCR and 8 Track player too.)

I may be all for jettisoning outdated technology, but some things should not be discarded, to include classic movies.  Heather and I finally watched "Roots" this week for the first time, which was a pretty good miniseries.  I doubt either of our families watched it when it came out and even if they had, Heather and I were too young to remember it, so we made use of the extra time this week to take it in.    It was a very compelling story, but I must say it was kind of sad watching a young 18 year old Lavar Burton playing the lead role of Kunta Kinte, years before blindness would rob his sight and force him to wear a banana clip visor on Star Trek, The Next Generation.

Next week it's back to the proverbial grindstone.  I wonder if Millers ever actually said "back to the grindstone"?  Anyway, as fate and a little forward planning would have it, I'm returning to two 4 day weeks, thanks to the Labor Day weekend, which should help ease the pain.  This goatee will go the way of the Dodo and sleeping in until 7 will become a distant memory, but it will be good to get back to being a productive member of society again I suppose.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Recharging My Batteries

Two weeks ago Heather and I started our whirlwind tour of central America - no, not the Central America filled with tropical forests and corrupt regimes, but the middle of the USA, home of lots of farms and patriotism.  We drove from San Antonio to Heather's grandparents in the boothill of Missouri the first day.  It turns out Arkansas is just as nondescript as you would imagine it.

Heather's grandparents, at 90 years of age, are definitely showing their age, and we relished the visit knowing that our time with them will undoubtedly be coming to an end in the not too distant future.  It was encouraging to spend some time with a couple who have been together over 70 years.  He is almost blind and she is nearly deaf, but together they get everything done that must be done.  They both offered the same sage words of wisdom as we were heading out the door that has guided them through the years, and which is undoubtedly even more prescient at this stage of their lives  - "take care of each other!"

Next we moved on to Heather's parents in Kentucky.  This was a very restful week, as there's not much going on at the ole' farm.  I caught several naps in between watching the Olympics and reading my books.  I found an old US yearbook from 1973, and it was interesting to browse.  Most of the political headlines could have come straight from today, and it reminded me how little things truly change over time at the core.  We also got to spend some time with our two grown nieces and a new grand nephew.  I never realized that a toddler could become addicted to anything, but I think that kid was hooked on playing with smartphones.  He went from mom to aunt to grandma like a heroin addict looking for his next hit.  Maybe someone will invent an app that teaches kids to read.

We finished off the week by driving to my brother's in Hannibal, Missouri.  We had a great visit and got in some touristy activities, like touring a local cave and taking a ride on a riverboat on the Mississippi.  It was fun going back to the college where Heather and I met, and I even got to show a couple of my nieces my tiny dorm room that I believe still has the same furniture in it, although the blinds are in worse shape now.

My parents both came up for a couple of days, although at different times, since they are divorced and if they occupy the same space for more than a brief period of time the universe may implode.  As a bonus, my driver's license was about to expire and I was able to get a new license at the nearest town across the river, so now my license photo has me with a beard.  We finally headed out for the two day drive home and arrived back here with 2400 more miles on the car after spending over 40 hours on the road.  It wasn't an action-packed vacation, but we enjoyed it immensely.  I realized again just how important family is, and Heather and I even tossed around the idea of retiring in the Hannibal area.  I don't know if that will happen but we definitely need to visit home more often.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vacation Plans

The fiscal year is coming to a close soon, which means I have several weeks of vacation days that I need to burn through in short order.  The good part of this is that I get away from work for a while to recharge my batteries.  On the down side, I haven't really taken the time to plan a real vacation, so other than a nebulous intent to visit with family, there's not much in my vacation plans this year.  There are so many places that Heather and I would like to go visit, but that will have to be for another season, when I have more time to put in some deliberate thought.  I've been so run down from work that I just haven't had the energy to do serious travel planning.

One place that I know we won't be visiting for a vacation anytime soon is the deep South.  Technically, living in San Antonio I suppose we are already there, but I consider this the Southwest, a different region from the areas east of the Mississippi.  I refer specifically to the Gulf Coast areas that were hit hard by the oil spill fiasco a couple of years ago.  I know BP garnered some major legal woes from the incident, with devastating economic and ecological impact, but I find their "Come On Back to the Gulf Coast States" commercials not only disgustingly disingenuous, but just plain annoying.

Each time I have to see a wide-eyed local representative of Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi or Alabama touting whatever their local tourist department has decreed to be the most promising aspect of their state "In Florida the beaches are even more relaxing", "In Louisiana the Creole makes you feel even smarter" I am reminded of how real actors aren't as overpaid as we think they are.  And how do you make beaches more relaxing, anyway?

Can we just have some shots of pristine beach interposed with guys with goggles and hardhats working on an oil rig and a nice voice-over from Tim Allen about how BP is committed to meeting our nation's energy needs while increasing their vigilance to protect our fragile planet?  Maybe throw in some kids giggling while making a sandcastle or something?  I wonder when the marketing geniuses will realize that all these commercials do is remind us that BP was responsible for releasing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.  Please, BP, help us all move past this tragic incident and stop peppering us with these annoying "Sure we unleashed mass pollution and destroyed livelihoods with one unfortunate accident, but it's all better now" commercials!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Allergic Reaction

Last year when Heather and I moved to Texas, I was relieved to find that neither Heather nor I experienced any noticeable allergies.  This was great news for Heather, and somewhat surprising, as she had various issues with allergies in the previous three states we had lived in.  For myself, it was a relief, because although I have not been one to suffered from allergies, the one exception to that was when I lived in Texas for 10 weeks of Army training almost 20 years ago.  I don't know what I was allergic to, but my nose never stopped running for two months, so I was a bit nervous about living just a few hours' drive south of where I had experienced such annoyance.

When we moved here the state was experiencing a record drought, with no rainfall and daily high temps at about 110 degrees for a couple of months.  As you can imagine, not much was growing at that time, other than people's electric bill.  I didn't really appreciate the upside of living in a virtual furnace at the time.  This year has been another story.  Rain and cooler temps in the 90s have returned to San Antonio, making for a more moderate and comfortable climate for man and beast, as well as vegetation that is indigenous here.  Unfortunately, it turns out that I am indeed allergic to something that grows in Texas.

My misery began on Monday, when I woke up to a sore throat.  This is normally a precursor to a cold, so I expected to be coming down with one.  this would normally mean one day of sore throat followed by around 6 days of my body producing vast quantities of, to put it delicately, sinus congesting mucus.  Instead, by Thursday the normal cold symptoms had not kicked in, but were replaced by a chronic sore throat, cough, and restricted airway.

By Friday morning my voice was down to a whisper as I finally broke down and called for a doctor's appointment between coughing fits.  They were able to get me in within 45 minutes, and I was given Claritin for my hay fever, plus some medicine in small gel tablets to help with the cough.  Unfortunately after sitting in my car all day the gel tabs had congealed into one mass of melded spheres, although I was able to get them separated using a butter knife and delicate pulling.  More importantly, the Claritin has kicked butt on whatever evil microscopic plant matter was causing my respiratory woes quite nicely.

While my usually strong, if slightly unpleasant, singing voice won't be back for a few more days while my throat recovers from its present roughed up state, at least I am sleeping through the night now without feeling like I'm about to lose the ability to breath, and I can carry on a conversation without coughing every 3 seconds, which you don't really appreciate until you are in the throes of pollen-induced hypoxia.  Breathing really is one of life's great pleasures, so take a deep breath, and enjoy!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices in My Head, But It's a Good Thing

It's the hottest part of the year, which means it's time for me to start running to get ready for my physical fitness test this fall.  I may need to rethink the timing that I have set up for my annual test now that I live in southern Texas.  In the meantime, I have added a powerful new tool to my arsenal to help me run faster - a set of Bluetooth headphones.

I've always been a fan of music, especially when working out.  When I was younger I would sing songs in my head while running (and sometimes when running a more moderate pace I have been known to sing out loud) but  nothing helps move your focus from the pain in your heart, lungs and/or legs quite like some good tunes produced by professional musicians.  Unfortunately, I don't know anyone willing to drive in front of me in a pickup truck with a sound system blaring from the back end, so that has entailed having an iPod with earphones to carry the auditory accompaniment into my brain.

This has some negative side effects, such as having to reinsert the earbuds occasionally as the pounding force of each step yanks downward on the cord and slowly pulls them out, and the aggravation caused by the feel of the cord slapping against your bare skin (and there's no way I'm running with a shirt on when it's hot outside - I would overheat faster than a Buick with a clogged radiator).  Worst of all is when you accidently catch the cord with a swinging arm and give a hard jerk on the earbuds.  It doesn't happen often, but is extermely annoying when it does.

You can imagine my reaction when the Major who works for me who is an avid runner mentioned the other day that he uses Bluetooth earphones that don't require a wired connection to his iPod.  My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and I immediately said "I've got to get some of those".  I don't know why I never thought of it before (it's not like this is a new invention that just hit stores last month), but I went to my local Best Buy and did my part to help them stay in business.  I have to admit, I probably could have saved considerable dough by buying online, but I feel like it's only right to occasionally buy at the local store that I go to when I want to browse electronics.  It's not like they can provide that service for free.

Needless to say, I wouldn't say I'm enjoying my twice-weekly runs, but I am loving my new purchase, and even use it when I'm not working out, just to be free of the tangles.  Until they figure out a way to implant speakers into your head this is the next best thing.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Friends is Easy (With a 3 Year Old)

This week I went out twice, which makes for a pretty social week for me.  First, on the 4th of July a bunch of us from work got together for a barbeque and fireworks.  I'm ashamed to say that Heather and I left before the fireworks, and I was in bed asleep before they went off - I'm no good at staying up late anymore.

The highlight of the party for me was watching my boss, an F-16 fighter pilot and former weapon school instructor (think Top Gun for the Air Force) play the X-box version of a video game where you get to fly an F-16 in combat.  Compared with the two guys who own the game, jerkily pulling the plane hither and yon, the Col smoothly flew through the landscape demolishing the enemy.  On his first encounter the young Captain was literally in mid-sentence saying "you'll have to shoot this plane 2 or three time to bring it down" as a fireball appeared on screen with the word "destroyed" next to it.  We all started laughing, and just sat back and enjoyed the show.

On Thursday, I got to dine at BJ's, a favorite among many of us, as we had a farewell dinner for a Chief Master Sergeant on his way to California.  Unfortunately, Heather couldn't make it to this engagement due to a prior commitment, but I got to make a new friend, as I was seated next to two of my co-workers' 3 year old niece.  I helped her color on her place mat and talked to her throughout the meal, enjoying her childish antics, like licking her arm when she got milk on it, and crawling under the dinner table because she was bored.  Her aunt had her hands full, and I expect some of her behavior was due to knowing she could get away with more with her than with mom, because that's how it usually works.  By the time everyone was ready to leave I had made a new buddy, and she held on to my arm and said "I don't want you to go, I don't want you to go."

Of course I explained that I had to go home and go to bed, and I was sure she also needed to get to bed as well, so she could wake up ready to play in the morning.  So she asked if I could come over and play and I told her maybe sometime.  Then she made her way down to her uncle who's house she's staying at and asked if I could come over and swing with her on their swing set.  He found that funny of course, probably because I would actually fit on the swing.

I was struck once again at how easy it is to befriend small children, and how we could all do well to be more like them.  Not by throwing all manners out the window, but by opening ourselves more freely to others.  If only we could erase the years of scars and callouses that build up on our hearts and lose our cautious distrust, we could be as welcoming of each new person we meet as we were when we were little.  We would all have more friends and life would be that much sweeter.  I guess that's why God gave the world children, to remind us all of our better selves.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Making Waves

A few weeks ago some of the guys at work piled into the young Captain's Dodge truck to grab some lunch.  It was pouring rain out, but we weren't going to let that keep us from getting some Chinese food in our bellies.  We enjoyed a decent meal and conversation, then got back into the Ram for the trek back to work.  It was raining so heavily that there was severe flooding on the roads, and like the big kid he is, Mike decided it would be fun to drive through the water at high speed, driving close to the cub for maximum throwing effect.

We all enjoyed the feel of the heavy truck plowing through the waterlogged streets like some kind of hybrid aqua-machine, and got some good laughs from the height and distance the water was carrying as it sprayed out along the side of the road.  Then as we came up to an intersection there sat a lady in a Buick with a cigarette hanging from her mouth and her window, presumably to let the smoke out of the car, rolled halfway down.

Seeing the lady, Mike pointed at her, and shouted through his windshield (as if she could hear him) "roll your window up, lady!" and kept driving.  I initially thought he was going to slow down, but he simply let off the gas a bit as he shouted for her to save herself, and we all watched as a tsunami rose from the Dodge's sides. The last thing we saw was the wave cascading down towards her open window.  Had we been decent people we would have all sat silently aghast, but of course the car broke out in laughter at the combination of the lady's bad luck and Mike's inability to process the information fast enough to slow down and save her from the deluge.

I don't know if she saw it coming and quickly rolled up her window, but I'll never be able to erase from my mind the image of that wall of water rising up and blocking her visage from sight as we passed by, with Mike pointing at her and shouting helplessly.  I guess he at least gave her an incentive to stop smoking.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Day Haiku (or Two)

In honor of dad's everywhere, I bring you today's piece of poetry: a Father's Day Haiku.  Finally, life's most overlooked holiday and the most overlooked form of poetry come together in one epic celebration.

Lying on the couch
Or lounging in your chair
This day's for you dad!

Ok, that doesn't feel like quite enough to honor the most important man in our lives, so let's add a bonus Haiku.

Your role in my life
More than a sperm donor
Thanks for raising me!

I don't know why my Father's Day Haikus end in exclamation points, but I hope you found them as rewarding to read as I did to write.  Remember, you can't find Father's Day Haikus at Hallmark, only here.  Happy Father's Day everyone!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dinner and a Movie, All at the Same Time

This week Heather and I tried out a new place in town (new to us, at least), a movie theater that also serves up food and beverages.  I'm not talking about waiting in line for 5 minutes to buy a tub of popcorn or Sam's Club sized portions of Milk Duds, but actual food that you eat in the theater.  Want a burger and a beer?  They've got that.  They even have tables in front of each row of seats for you to put your food on so you're not balancing it on your lap.

I don't know if we would have gone to this theater, but we had coupons from our Realtor for free tickets, and since we were apparently the only two people in America under the age of 40 who had not seen the Avengers, we decided to have a Monday evening date night.

I'm not sure which was more novel, going out on a Monday night, or eating mozzarella cheese sticks with a chocolate-peanut butter shake while watching a movie at the theater.  Heather had chicken strips and fries.  And no drink.  It made me thirsty just watching her eat that.  Of course, I was watching with my peripheral vision, since my main focus was on watching the Incredible Hulk destroy an alien race by pounding them into submission.

Overall I give the experience and the movie 2 thumbs up, even though the food was a little on the pricey side. My shake was delicious, and the food was pretty good too.  It was a bit distracting having a waiter ducking his way down the aisle to get payment an hour before the end of the movie, and it's not the easiest thing to calculate a tip and write it on the credit card receipt in the flickering dark, but it was still a lot of fun.  And the movie lived up to the hype for once.  I'm using that space in my brain to erase the collective disappointment of the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers sequels.  Thanks Avengers!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reel Mowing

I have always been intrigued by reel mowers.  There is something appealing to mowing your yard with no sound other than the quiet whisping of the blades slicing their way through your lawn early in the morning.  Not having to keep a container of gas in the garage and replenish the mower with each trip around the yard would be pretty cool as well.  Plus the whole thing has a romantic 1920's feel to it.

When my current mower, which is 10 years old and was a pretty cheap model to start with, began having issues with the engine, I figured it was time to get a new mower.  I could probably invest some money into trying to find and fix the cause of the white smoke and surging power, but it's just not worth it on a device that's probably nearing end of life that was only about $150 to start with.  So I took the plunge and bought a reel mower.  Not your grandpa's model, but a top-of-the-line version.

As I assembled the mower (essentially connecting the handle to the base) I was amazed at how closely the blades come to touching without actually doing so.  It really is a marvel of engineering to design a product so that several spinning blades of metal come within a millimeter of hitting a stationary blade without actually coming in contact with it.  I couldn't wait to try my new mower, and when I hit a test strip in the back yard that I had left unmowed as I used my old gas powered model for the last time, I found that it was very effective in chopping the grass down to the same level without an overabundance of effort.

Unfortunately, the next day I moved on to doing the front yard.  The front yard is much smaller than the back, but has a couple of trees with mulch to work around, and the grass is thicker.  45 minutes of pushing, stopping, tilting to remove whatever twig or piece of mulch had stopped the blades cold, backing up, making another run, getting bogged by thick grass, etc, and I realized this was going to be a lot more work than I bargained for.  I though perhaps if I mowed the lawn twice a week, it wouldn't be so bad, but as I lay in bed with my back killing me, I realized I would be making a return trip to the store and upgrading to a gas powered lawnmower.  I may even go for the self-propelled model to help with going uphill.  I don't know if I'm ready to embrace that level of lazy, as I have no problems pushing my current model, but then again, I'm not getting any younger.  I'm sorry to see the reel mower go, but I'm afraid I have to get a real mower.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Random Thoughts

Today's random thoughts...

I have started bringing headphones with me to Starbucks so I can listen to my music rather than theirs while I surf the web.  It's not that I don't like Starbuck's selections, it's that I hate them, and they blare them at such high volume that I can't seem to block it out...until now.  Ah, thank you inventor of the ear buds, for another service rendered.  Now you have improved the quality of my workouts and my time consuming public wi-fi.

American Idol has lost my interest, but Heather watches the show still, and I caught much of the finale, including a vocally unimpressive but visually unforgettable performance by past winner Fantasia Barrino.  Apparently Taylor Hicks was unavailable, so they had to turn to Fantasia to resurrect one of the least successful Idols of days gone by.  For her performance, someone actually persuaded her that a glossy black sequined body hugging outfit would look great on her, which may have been true 40 pounds ago.  Needless to say, I couldn't help but think of what a rhinoceros would look like if it crawled it's way out of a tar pit.  It really was that bad.  You can probably find a clip on You Tube if you don't believe me.  If you watch it, let me know if Fantasia actually sang any words besides "yeah, yeah, yeaaaaah".

As I pulled into a Taco Bell last night for my first meal of the day at close to 7 pm yesterday (it was a hectic day - strike that, week - at work) an actual Mexican couple was leaving.  I don't know if I've ever seen a real Mexican  eating at a Taco Bell, but this is as close as I've gotten.  If only I'd been there a few minutes earlier.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just Over the Horizon

During a dinner with several co-workers this week the topic of retirement came up, due to the fact that one of  the Colonels I work for is retiring from the Air Force in a few months.  This has had me thinking a bit about the fact that I will be retirement eligible in 4 years, and what I want to do when I grow up.  Or at least when my time of serving my country in the military comes to a close.

Granted, 4 years is a long time, as I learned when I joined the Army (don't worry mom, it's only 4 years!  Oh, how long those 4 years were).  But time has a way of slipping by quickly.  The idea that the next time we have a presidential election after this fall I could be a full-time Starbucks customer is hard to wrap my head around.  I have contemplated everything from teaching to small business owner, and I really don't feel any closer to figuring out what I want to do with my time.  I may need to buy a magic 8 ball to help with my decision when the time comes.

Add to that the fact that Heather and I have to figure out where we want to live, and it gets even more complicated.  If we don't have to relocate due to a particular job, the canvas of where to reside is a big blank.  We've been mulling around living somewhere in the Northeast, along the lines of New Hampshire or Pennsylvania.  I definitely want to live somewhere with significantly less human beings than San Antonio.  It's not that I don't lie people, I just like them in small doses.  When there's a hundred of them in cars and trucks parked behind a red light in front of me I find that less than desirable.  I realized recently that coming from a tiny town has molded me with a preference for more rural settings, and fortunately Heather shares my love of nature over concrete.

What I look forward to the most is having more free time though.  One day this week I actually got excited and did a fist pump as I was driving away from the office and thinking "Yes, I'm actually getting out of here at a decent time!"  Upon realizing that it was just after 6 pm, I concluded I've let my standards drop considerably.  Although I don't mind working long hours when the work is rewarding, which is why I don't mind the hours I'm currently putting in, there's something alluring about every day being like a weekend.  Wearing jeans and a t-shirt all day would be pretty awesome as well. Pretty awesome indeed.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Something's Missing

When I was a kid I had a brother who loved doing puzzles, and another brother who loved doing models.  Being the youngest, I tried my hand at both hobbies, but I must say painting and assembling a miniature automobile out of plastic parts just isn't my thing.  Not so much because it is difficult or boring - I'm pretty patient and easily entertained - I just don't get a lot of satisfaction over having a tiny Ford Fairlane when I'm done exacto knifing various parts from their holding cells and Supergluing them together for hours on end.

I do like doing puzzles, though.  When I was younger 500 pieces was my limit, but as I've grown more sedentary and also realized there are techniques for making the process easier, such as arranging the pieces by general color and shape, I have taken on some 750 and even a 1000 piece puzzle.

Unfortunately I have found the puzzle section of most stores to be lacking.  I don't know if I just have a hankering for the kinds of pictures that were on the 1970s and 80s era puzzles of my childhood, or if I just don't particularly like dolphins,unicorns or Thomas Kincaid paintings, but I took to the internet a few months ago to try and find some puzzles with the pictures of barns and watermills that I grew up loving so much.

This week I have finally been wrapping up my final purchase, a 1200 piece beast with a lovely picture of a small village in the Alps.  As I am approaching the end, I can't help but notice that I have a lot of red pieces left, which corresponds with the fall colors in one section of the puzzle.  However, I have holes that, unless there is a jarring visual dissonance in the mountains and meadow that I think should be shades of purple and green, reveals the disturbing fact that there are some missing puzzle pieces.  I really don't want to do a 1197 piece puzzle, nor do I expect to gaze with satisfaction upon a view of the mountains with three white gaps staring back at me.

 I suppose this is the chance one takes when buying a used puzzle, but really, how do you lose three pieces to a puzzle?  You take the pieces out of the box, put them all together, then disassemble and put back in the box.  I can understand a piece falling to the floor unnoticed during this process, but three?  Although to be honest, I think having just one piece missing would be even more aggravating.  The sad thing is, I will have to throw this puzzle away when I'm done, because there's no way I'm doing it again knowing it is incomplete.  And I can't stop now, with 40 or so pieces left to go.  I just have to keep trudging on, trying to reach an unattainable goal, all the while knowing I won't get there, like Bob Dole did when he won the Republican nomination for president.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Morrellian Empire

Because the Lt Colonel I work for is deployed to Afghanistan, I get the privilege of doing a Lt Col's job for 10 months for a Major's pay.  Not that I'm complaining.  For one thing, it's kind of rewarding to actually do what I always envisioned officer's doing, and besides, at times I feel a bit overpaid, so at least I'm earning my pay for a while.

A few weeks ago the Colonel in charge of my directorate let me know he was moving some additional folks into the division I'm temporarily running.  At the staff meeting that day when he made the announcement of their relocation, he noted that only one other division was larger than mine, and that only by one person.  A couple of minutes later, one of the folks from that division piped up that he should probably move over as well, since his primary duties better aligned with the other folks who were migrating.  The Col gave his assent, paused, and said "Now Brad has the biggest division.  I guess he's empire building over there."

This soon led to jokes about the "Morrellian Empire".  I take some solace in the fact that the boss wouldn't be joking about it if he really felt I was an "empire builder", and the subject has led to some good laughs.  The Col has a "to-do" board in his office, and one morning we discovered that someone put at the top of his list of future actions "Overthrow the Morrellian Empire".  Then there was the day I arrived a few minutes late to our staff meeting.  When my turn to update the boss came I started with a short apology for coming in late, which he dismissed with a wave of his hand and by saying "don't worry about it, you have an empire to run".

Apparently the joke is gaining legs.  Yesterday, after another long day at the office, I was headed to the parking lot after depositing my garbage at the dumpster (yes, the emperor still has to take out his own trash), and as a car was pulling out of the parking lot I noticed it was a new Lt Colonel who arrived here a couple of weeks ago.  As he drove up he rolled his window down and with a straight face proclaimed out the window "Long live the Empire!" then rolled his window up and drove away.  I couldn't help but laugh as I continued the trek to my car.  I just hope the empire doesn't collapse before my boss gets back from downrange to resume possession of his kingdom.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Earning my Mancard

Many men have fond memories of growing up helping their dad build a shed, or fix the plumbing, or possibly working on the family car together.  I was never of much help with such projects, not due to an inherent inability to work with my hands, but more because dad didn't demand it and those things didn't really hold my interest.   I learned to change the oil in my car, but that's about the extent of the skills I acquired in 17 years at home.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that I find projects that require handyman skills to be daunting, even if they are simple to do.  At my last home I had a set of blinds in the bedroom that hung crooked for weeks (dare I say months?) after one of the screws holding them in was pulled out of the drywall.  I asked several friends for help, and even offered to pay one guy to install some new blinds, but no takers.  Finally my friend Jenny kindly pulled the blinds down, and I was able to overcome my inertia and install new blinds (thanks Jenny!).

When I bought a somewhat damaged foreclosure as an investment property, I got the opportunity to punch a few holes in my man-card, although I left many tasks in the more capable hands of an excellent Jack of all trades (his name literally is Jack).  I did caulk the bathtubs, removed wallpaper, did some drywall repair, fixed a gate, and a lot of painting.  In the end I was feeling considerably better about my man skills.

This week I got to take another baby step towards manliness by installing a couple of ceiling fans by myself.  I've had the opportunity to help a couple of friends as they installed fans in my homes, but this was the first time I did the procedure solo.  In all fairness the existing light fixtures already had the bracing for installing a fan, so it was fairly simple, but it still made me feel a bit more competent.  Although it was a bit disconcerting when I threw all the circuits in the garage and the dryer in the room next to the bedroom with bare wires I was about to find myself grasping was still chugging along.  Apparently it's normal for a dryer to be on a separate circuit in a box on the outside of the home.  Mental note made for future reference.

The best part of the ceiling fans is not the fact that I feel more competent at home improvement, however, or even the gentle breeze they create while whirring overhead, although those are both nice benefits.  The part I'm enjoying most is the extra light they cast.  I'm not sure who at D.R. Horton ok'ed the crappy light fixtures that came standard in my home, but I'm glad to be rid of them.  It's nice to be able to read in my office without squinting at a dark page.  That will come in especially handy when I'm reading "Man-up!  10 things every guy should be able to do for himself".

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Charitable Contribution

I learned a long time ago that when a Colonel asks you if you would like to "volunteer", saying no isn't really an option.  So when I was asked a few weeks ago to spend a couple of work days downtown combing through non-profit entities' applications to be included in this fall's Combined Federal Contribution (CFC) campaign, I agreed to do it, despite the fact that I feel the military wastes hundreds of man-hours supporting the CFC, when we could simply make an announcement about the campaign kickoff and provide a web site for people to view the charitable causes and sign up to donate if they see fit.

As it turns out, the day and a half I spent looking over and approving packages was a much needed break from my regular job.  It was fairly straightforward, they provided coffee and danishes, and I got to enjoy a walk downtown during lunch.  Although I have no desire to live downtown, I could see the allure that one of my friends feels for living in such places, and San Antonio has a very pleasant urban atmosphere, I must say.   Although I was tempted to go home and relax after we wrapped up early on the second day, I really couldn't do so and keep my integrity intact, so I headed back to work where my stress level immediately returned to the higher position I am sadly growing accustomed to living with.

Of course the whole point of the exercise was to approve or deny applicants' entry into the CFC.  We were instructed in what to look for, which included the Federal statement of tax exempt status, properly annotated tax returns with accompanying audit, etc.  One thing we did not do is approve or deny based on the charity's costs.  I made the mistake at looking over the costs incurred vs services rendered of one non-profit, a foundation for Tourette's.  According to their tax statement, they brought in a little over $200k in contributions, making them a fairly small organization.  They paid under $60k to provide services, mostly in the form of a camp for kids with the syndrome.  Meanwhile, they have two board members pulling in a total salary of $100K, which isn't exorbitant by any means, but that means half of their donations go towards paying the salary of these two board members.

A look over the financials of a larger organization didn't lift my spirits any.  Total revenue of just over $8 million, with $2.5 million to pay for general administrative and advertising costs.  That's 30% of your donation going to cover overhead.  I guess you can't expect those guys who call you during supper to seek your contribution to accost you for free.

I suppose I have to face the fact that I am extremely frugal, and just because I would run a non-profit to wring maximum utility out of each dollar given, with minimal overhead costs, doesn't mean that the rest of the world works that way.  It gives me some solace to know that these organizations are overall doing great things, and most are filled with volunteers dedicated to meeting the needs of others, often with no compensation.  And now that I've done my part, I can get back to doing my actual job, where I will probably be honored with an atta-boy from my leadership for my volunteerism, even though it kept me from doing my duties for the better part of two days.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When the Wrong Way Feels so Right

In days of old, cars were fairly equally divided between those with the gas cap on the right, and those with it on the left.  As time went by, however, car manufacturers figured out that many drivers prefer to have access to their gas tank on the driver's side, because it's more convenient than trying to cajole your wife into filling the tank just because the opening is on her side.  Or something along those lines.

In response to this evolution of cars, gas stations have moved from having all cars feed through in one direction, with cars parked on the side of the pumps that correspond to their cars' design, to allowing cars to pull up in either direction, so that all pumps are fully utilized.  Apparently military bases didn't get the memo.

At my last base, as well as my current one, they insist on having arrows directing the cars to pull up in one direction only.  If there's one thing worse than sitting in line to fill up your car with gas, it's sitting in line while several pumps sit unused.  Ok, there's probably several things that are worse, such as sitting in line waiting to fill up a Suburban, or sitting in line with a broken radio that you can't switch channels or turn off and a radio station glitch causes the song "Macarena" to be played over and over again, but you get the point.

So today I broke the rules and pulled my car around into one of the unused pumps on the left.  And I must say I felt no guilt at all.  Although I do feel a bit guilty about getting Macarena stuck in your head (make sure you do the dance moves with it).  Sorry!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Typing Wars

At the office I have several contractors that work in my division, with various backgrounds.  Dan is a younger guy who did 4 years in communications while in the Army, Anthony is a former Army medic who is now a Command Sergeant Major in the Reserves, Ross and Ken are retired Air Force Tech Sergeants.  There are a lot of personalities and points of view that make work interesting, especially when you throw in the 4 active duty NCOs that fill out the team.

Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn't help but notice that Anthony, a fired-up guy with great leadership skills who is always ready for go time (not surprising considering his position in the Reserves) is a painfully slow typer.  I've met plenty of people who hunt and peck, some with real proficiency that rivals traditional typing speed, at least when compared to slower typers.  Anthony was not one of those folks.  He really does look like he's hunting and pecking when he types.  Being the great boss that I am, I not only gave him heapings of grief over his typing (dude, did you drop some bread crumbs on your keyboard and now you're trying to find them or what?) but I also encouraged him to get some typing software and learn how to type for reals.

Anthony, being the great guy that he is, actually went out and bought "Mavis Beacon" typing software and has begun working through the lessons, and at home no less!  I wouldn't mind him doing them at work, considering it will more than pay off in productivity over the long haul.  Fortunately, before gaining this new proficiency he chose to try and defend his current abilities one day when I was ribbing him on how slowly he types.  He claimed that he could type 50 words per minute his way, while I put his speed at no more than 20 wpm.  This challenge led to Ross bringing up an online typing test to see who was really right.  Typing Wars 2012 was on!

By the time Anthony started taking his typing test a small group had gathered around the computer, watching with a baited tension comparable to what the crowd must have felt as Ralph Macchio lined up on the mat opposite that snotty blond haired kid in the first Karate Kid movie.  Unfortunately, Anthony got both legs swept by the typing text about astronauts.

Watching  for the longest 60 seconds as his gaze went from the screen to the keyboard, with fingers poised for several seconds, followed by a deliberate striking of a couple of keys, then head back up looking at the screen again, then back down to the keyboard, a hesitation while searching, then finding the right one, striking the key, then back to the screen again, repeated over and over, would have been painful to watch, had it not been so funny.  At the end of the test the computer gave his results: 18 wpm, with 7 errors.  I struggled to decide which to give him a harder time about - the fact that he types less than 20 wpm or that almost half of his words, even at that glacial speed, had errors in them.

Of course then the guys made me sit down and take my turn at the test, which was followed by everyone else trying to beat my score.  At the end of it all my results stood on top: 58 wpm with 2 errors.  A couple of guys got pretty close, but no one was able to top me, although an average secretary would blow my score out of the water.  I'll admit that it was kind of fun to win the ad hoc contest, although it was more fun to remind Anthony that since I type 5 times faster than him, once he learns to type he will be able to knock out a document in 12 minutes that would take him an hour to do today.  That will be like having an extra guy in the shop!  In all honesty though I would take 10 Anthonys, even without any typing skills, if they all had the same passion and professionalism as he has.  I'm really fortunate to have great guys like him working for me.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop poking fun at them - how would they know I care?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Office Humor

I think I'm losing my comical edge.  While I did have one of my Sergeants chuckling at some good-natured ribbing of one of our contractors yesterday, I typically get more laughter in a week from my sneezes than from my jokes.  The Captain whose cubicle is next to mine busts out laughing when I let loose with one of my ear piercing eruptions.  He just can't help himself.

Earlier in the week, I got a call out of the blue from a friend looking for some professional advice.  She prefaced the conversation with something to the effect of "Sorry to call you, but I need some help and you're my last resort".  I had no snappy retort to this gem of a statement.  Anything from "Wow, you really know how to compliment a guy" to "Man, you must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel if you're calling me" would have been called for at this point, but I didn't get any inspired witticisms until after hanging up.  I'm really slipping mentally.

It's not easy keeping a dry sense of humor in sharp focus.  If you try to be funny you are just lame, so the only time you can really be funny is in the spur of the moment.  This means you need both a fast mind and lowered inhibition.  Once you think the comment through it's too late - the perfect moment has passed.  But speaking without the filter on leads you to sometimes insert foot squarely into mouth.  That hindsight feeling of "yeah, probably not appropriate" or "that's definitely going to be taken the wrong way" is not a pleasant one.

My last boss liked to tell people "When I met Brad, I thought he was going to be a boring, quiet guy, but once I got to know him I found he is really funny".  I don't think I've ever made my current boss laugh.  Fortunately that's neither a job requirement nor on my to-do list, but I have to wonder if being funny is something else that deteriorates with age, like muscle tone and memory.  Maybe my grandparents were hilarious when they were in their 20s.  I guess only time will tell.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Week In My Life

This past week was a busy one for me.  In addition to my normal duties, I got to participate as a note taker for two days of a senior leadership conference, plus attend two awards ceremonies.  That means my normal 7:30 - 5:30 workday expanded to a 6:45 start time for a couple of days, and 10-11 o'clock end time for a couple of days.  Rather than tell you how tired this made me, I decided I would share some of my thoughts from this week.  Just as soon as I get done taking a nap...

Monday: Not much to tell about this day, except that as much as I hate wearing short sleeve blues, I hate wearing long sleeve blues with a tie even more.

Tuesday - Wednesday: Senior leader's conference.  As a note taker, this was a pretty easy, if slightly long, couple of work days.  I did help build some slides as well.  It's interesting to watch what is supposed to be a collaboration session devolve into a game of trying to guess what the person in charge really wants to hear.  Note to self - If I ever want my peeps to hold a brain storming session, I need to leave the room and have them brief me up on what they come up with after they are done.  The good news is my buddy who is stationed in Georgia was also a note taker, so we got to hang out for a couple of days.

Wed - Thursday: Two awards ceremonies.  On the good side, half of the enlisted guys who work for me were honored with awards this week.  One got an award from the Air Force Association, and the other won Senior NCO of the year for all of 24th Air Force.  That was a pretty big deal, and I was happy to be there to see it, although for some unfathomable reason half of us from the office were seated at tables across the room from the awardee and his family.  At least everyone in the unit got to sit together the second night.

The difference between the two awards ceremonies was stark.  The 24 AF ceremony included an awesome performance by a local high school JROTC drill team, as well as some music by the AF Band of the West.  If you've never seen a band try to rock out some tunes while wearing mess dress, consider yourself lucky.  The men's mess dress uniform, similar to a tuxedo  but blue and with medals, is pretty snazzy, although not what you typically associate with a lead guitarist or drummer.  The women are less lucky.  Their dress is full length but made of a material that is too thick and stiff to properly drape, so it ends up looking like a conical pyramid of polyester.  The lead singer reminded me of a bottle of Mrs. Buttersworth's syrup - trying so hard to be a person and a syrup bottle at the same time, but really only succeeding at pulling off one of them.  At least she had a good voice.

The highlight of the 24 AF awards ceremony, though, was the dancing that accompanied the Band of the West's performances.  Not that I did any dancing - I dance about as fluidly as Stephen Hawkins talks, but watching some of my less self conscious co-workers work the floor was worth the $40 price of admission.  One captain in particular, whose facial expressions and dance moves were somewhere between gleeful and robotic, entertained everyone present.  Even more impressive was his wife, who danced with him the whole time without any show of embarrassment.  That's what I call true love!

The highlight of the AFA awards ceremony, on the other hand, was when we were dismissed.  It ended almost an hour earlier than the event of the previous night, but felt 2 hours longer.  There was no entertainment, unless you count either the singing of the national anthem to kick it off, or listening to the MC try to make stuff up for the couple of people whose units hadn't sent him a copy of the award packages their people won with.  "I'm sorry, I don't have any information on what Ms. Rodriguez did, but I'm sure she did some outstanding things this year...probably won civilian of the quarter...obviously she wouldn't have won if she wasn't really doing great things for her unit!"

Friday: Actually got home before 7:00 today, and lunch with the guys at Jersey Mikes plus the upcoming weekend makes this the highlight of the week, although I'm bummed about the rain and the fact that there's undoubtedly more coming throughout the weekend.  This leads to the following snippet of conversation on the way back from lunch - Me: "Why does it rain every weekend?  All this rain every week is having a serious negative effect on my morale".  Capt Forostoski, without missing a beat: "All of this rain is really having a negative effect on our Morrell".  Thanks, Mike, for making me smile.  Having sunny days all week followed by cold and rain on the weekend still sucks, but I'm glad I like the people I work with.  It really helped make this long week much more endurable.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Evolution of Reading

One of the good things about not having internet at your home is that you get to use your computer in interesting surroundings.  Today I'm at the Castroville library, in the best area to use a laptop, due to it's desk by the windows and a convenient power strip.  This just so happens to be in the children's book section.

As I look around I'm struck by the fact that the best books really are made for kids.  The covers are way cooler.  They're short enough to read in one sitting.  The words are bigger and they have pictures inside.  Not that I'm asking for a picture on every page, but would it kill publishers to throw in a half-page drawing now and again?

I used to consume books voraciously, until I got into High School.  It was just so hard to find books that interested me.  You really can't tell by looking at the cover of most books for adults whether the book will be good or not.  And they are so long.  I enjoy John Grisham books but the guy has a way of shoehorning a 600 page story into a 1000 page book.  I feel like I'm travelling down a river, with moments of intensity followed by stretches of laborious rowing to get to the next interesting section.

There's something to be said for getting to the point.  I finished the last book in the Hunger Games Trilogy last night, and I think that is their best feature - not a lot of extra fluff; the stories move quickly along.  Sure, the main character is pretty flawed.  And apparently any book with a female lead that is written in the first person must have 2 guys vying for her love.  Is this every teenage girl's fantasy, or is it just that hard to write a story with only one love interest?  I don't know, but hey, at least the plot moves along at a fast clip. If only it had a nice illustration every 70 pages or so.  I guess you can't have it all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Price of Other's Success

As a supervisor, one of my most rewarding roles is in helping those under my charge to reach their full potential.  Sure, they do all of the hard work, but sometimes I can offer some mentoring, guidance, or at least try to take care of them when it comes to putting in a well-deserved awards package or crafting their annual evaluation report.

In the past I have found my attempts at getting my charges recognized to be less than successful, but this year I finally got the pleasure of having one of my senior non-commissioned officers (or SNCO as we call it in the miliary, since we love acronyms) recognized for his superior performance over the past year when he was announced as the SNCO of the year for the staff where we work.  Even better yet, he gets to compete for the annual award for all of 14th Air Force, which is a large organization and will be a great win for him.  Unfortunately for me, this means I will have to attend the annual awards banquet with him.

I'm not a huge fan of things like awards banquets, but I realize sometimes it comes with the job.  What I didn't realize, was that the uniform I will have to attend in is not my normal AF service dress (think civilian suit), but the mess dress (think tuxedo).  It's not so much that I mind wearing formal wear, although the last time I wore a tux was at my wedding 17 years ago; it's the cost involved.

When I first entered the AF, realizing the mess dress uniform is pricey, I found one online near my size, bought it and had it tailored to fit me.  I've never actually worn it in the decade since, and I've got some things I have to buy to get it ready to wear.  The shoulder boards with rank alone will be close to 50 bucks.  Then there's the shirt, bow tie, and cummerbund (pretty sure it came with a couple of those but if so they've been misplaced over the years), cuff links (I don't think I've ever worn cuff links), and a handful of medals.  Needless to say, I thought I was being forced to buy a $40 dinner, but it's going to cost several times that when it's all said and done.

On the bright side, one of my other NCOs has an awards banquet the very next night that I will have to attend, so at least I'm getting my money's worth a little bit, (and his dinner is only $25).  Also, Heather enjoys formal wear as little as I do, or else I could be looking at a dress purchase equal to all the money I'm spending on my uniform.  So the damage could be higher, but I feel like I'm in one of those Visa commercials where everything adds up, but I can't figure out what the "priceless" payoff is.  I guess supporting my troops is the priceless part, because it's the only thing that makes all this worth it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We Interrupt These Commercials to Bring You the Following Game

Last Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year.  The Super Bowl was founded in the mid 60s to create a venue to determine the best team in football, and also to create a venue for multi-million dollar advertising spots.  Over time, the commercials have taken an increasingly prominent share of the post game conversation and have become in some ways even bigger than the game.

For many the iconic Super Bowl commercial involved a football player named "Mean" Joe Green, a young boy, a bottle of coke, and a souvenir jersey.  Even if it aired before your time, you have probably seen this 30 second clip of commercial gold.  Unfortunately, awesome advertising is difficult to create.  This can be proven by the number of commercials that businesses spend incredible amounts of money to create, which range in quality from mind-numbingly lame to exquisitely unmemorable.

While there were many duds to choose from again this year, Coca-Cola gets my nod for "biggest waste of money" this go round. Lacking any real inspiration, the team at Coke decided to pull the semi-iconic polar bears out of the closet.

Unfortunately, they were unable to create a story line with any semblance of meaningfulness or humor.  I suppose watching a computer animated bear stumble across the ice, juggling a bottle of coke the whole way while juking and jiving around other bears was supposed to be some sort of homage to football, but I couldn't get past the fact that Coke isn't sold in glass bottles anymore, unless you get them from Mexico, and I doubt polar bears would be importing their sugary beverages from that far south.  Plus, just how shook up would that bottle of soda be by the time he was done flipping it around?  It should have looked like he dropped a Mentos in that thing when he finally popped the top off.

So here's my polar bear commercial, with an homage to the past.  Polar bears are finishing a game of football out on the ice.  One of the bears is walking into the entrance of the cave.  A young polar bear stops him and hands him a plastic bottle of coke to quench his thirst.  He looks around for something to hand the cub, but realizes he has nothing to give him, as polar bears don't wear jerseys.  Polar bear looks off into the distance.  We see some seals lying near the water.  Camera zooms in on one of the seals.  Back to the Polar bear, with a look on his face that says "problem, I just found your solution".  Polar bear hands cub his coke and walks away.  We hear a roar and some struggling.  Polar bear walks back into frame, takes coke back from cub, and heads into the cave.  He stops, turns around, and throws the lad a seal skin.  The end.  If that doesn't tug at your heartstrings I don't know what will.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Madlib Romance

This week as promised we’re going to build the ultimate Romantic Comedy together.  All you have to do is choose from the options provided.  Here we go!

Valerie is a
a) Spunky teacher who inspires her students to learn but whose luck with men is uninspiring
b) High powered business executive who has sacrificed her love life on the altar of success
c) Successful writer reluctant to let go of a comfortable long term year relationship with her boyfriend from college

Mike is a
a) New coach for the HS girls' soccer team who is charismatic, incredibly good looking, and full of himself
b) A cattle rancher who helps run his family’s meat processing plant in the heart of Montana
c) Struggling musician who pays the bills by moonlighting in the security business

When they meet Mike is annoyed by Valerie’s
a) enthusiasm and optimistic demeanor
b) ambition and drive
c) seeming superficiality and desire to win her co-worker's approval

While Valerie is put off by Mike’s

a) arrogance and lack of feelings
b) Rural lifestyle and slow pace
c) Opposite views on everything from politics to the meaning of life

Mike and Valerie get lots of opportunities to aggravate each other because
a) The principal assigns Valerie to help Mike connect with his girls and turn the soccer team around
b) Valerie’s boyfriend dumps her right before their scheduled couple’s retreat at Mike’s Ranch, forcing her to take a casual friend  she has no connection with
c) Valerie’s company hires Mike to beef up security due to some vandalism and threatening letters

After some real comedic hilarity and some touching moments too, Mike and Valerie’s blossoming relationship is suddenly torn asunder when
a) Valerie mis-connects the dots and comes to the conclusion that Mike had an inappropriate relationship with a former student and got her pregnant
b) Mike finds out that Valerie’s company trying to put his family slaughterhouse out of business
c) At the instigation of her colleagues Valerie tells Mike he’ll never succeed in his dream and should focus on a “real” career

All hope seems lost until
a) Valerie finds out Mike was only helping his former student get back on her feet
b) Mike realizes Valerie isn’t personally responsible for her company’s actions at the same time she formulates a plan to stop her boss from carrying out his plan
c) Valerie’s brother helps her realize her friends are shallow and she should be encouraging Mike to pursue his dreams, just as their dad encouraged her when she was starting to write and others said she’d never succeed

This sets the scene for a frantic trek to reunite because
a) Mike is about to get fired due to the circulating rumors
b)  Mike is about to sell the ranch to try and save his family’s business
c) Mike is about to bypass a local battle of the bands to start attending night school

Fortunately for us we can finally relax and enjoy the reunion when
a) Valerie stands up for Mike in front of the school board and entire community, exonerating his name and proclaiming her love
b) Valerie convinces her company to call off their actions against Mike’s business through an impassioned speech coupled with a revelation about some underhanded dealings of her boss which gets him fired, then racing to the bank where she arrives just in time to stop the sale and they both profess their love for one another
c) Valerie, with the help of Mike’s band mates and a compassionate organizer of the event, get Mike to the competition in time where he couples a winning performance with a heart rending diatribe before the crowd of how he would do anything to not lose Valerie, who confesses she was wrong to try and keep him from pursuing his dreams and will love him no matter how “successful” he is in the world’s eyes

The End!