Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Fine Dinner With the Pro's From St. Louis

March 6, 2009: For the record:
Whew! It’s Friday and it has been a very busy few weeks. For the past two, Dan Turpin and Gary Pace were in from Boeing, St. Louis to install our latest upgrade. Alex Melchers came in a little later and then left early. It is always a pleasure to pal around with the Boeing TLAM Mission Planning folks.
I don’t know, the writing doesn’t translate the evening very well. To characterize it, I went to bed with the warmest smiling pleasantly satisfied feeling I’ve had in many a year. I hated to brush my teeth because that ruined the wonderful flavors swirling around.
We had Dan, Gary, and Alex over for dinner this past Tuesday. We cooked some flank steak on the Holland Grill, asparagus, potatoes au gratin, corn; Matt and Linda brought over a salad and bread. The guys walked in with some ice cream and Edward’s Key Lime Pie. I opened a nice bottle of Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon, and a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay, both of which I had stashed away in the wine celler for just such an auspicious occasion. Dinner and conversation was just wonderful. I don’t actually recall much about what we talked about... oh, except that Alex was going on a church mission trip to Mexico to build on an orphanage. Some dog talk --Peke's, English Bulldogs, Labs, Border Collies, our Dobadore. Everything was... “wunnaful, wunnaful.”
After the bottle of cab’ was gone, it just seemed the perfect time to open the 1999 Sena (a gift from Dave Rusnak). I wish I had thought of it earlier. The Sena was a little cool, having been stashed at 55deg in the wine cellar. But it was a lot of fun to put one’s nose deep in the glass and enjoy the development of that dark inky cabernet nose. Dan seemed to particularly enjoy it. It was fun to watch him warm the glass and enjoy the robust taste and smell as it slowly opened up over about thirty minutes. A quote from the “web” I don’t think really does it justice:
Seña 1999: Tasted in a line-up of Errazuriz wines, including Vinedo Chadwick. This
particular vintage is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 8% Carmenere. It has
dense, pure, blackcurrant fruit, and ripe, slightly roasted nut aromas. Elegant, balanced,
dark black fruits on the palate, with grip and extract. Ripe, rounded, with lovely
substance. This needs five to six years in the cellar. Very good indeed. 17+/20
(November 2004)

Dan and I then graduated to the scotch. I had been told many years ago that Dan was a scotch fan and I had looked forward to taking a wee dram or two with him ever since. I had some Dewar’s, which remained untouched; some Glenmorangie, again we didn’t bother with that one; some Dalwhinnie –the last two drams of a bottle brought back from London in 1993 which we finished off; some Bunnahabhain 12 year old, a new one for both of us which we did taste; and some Lagavulin 16, of which we took more than a couple drams. Gary was well settled into his Yeungling Lager and Black & Tan, but was willing to give the scotch a try. We did him a bit dirty by hitting him with the Lagavulin right up front. Yet, he was very good natured about it and seemed to enjoy the foray into a real man’s drink –a significant departure from his usual “Bud Select” I think.
On the TV, we played Thomas’s “Blue-Ray” of “Planet Earth”, and the guys were fairly impressed with that. We just chatted away until they noticed that morning was going to come sooner than one might hope.
Just an all around good evening thanks to Nancy's prep of the steak and cooking the other dishes. I am just so blessed.

Goodby old friend, "The Beast"

Sold the 93 Chevy Suburban for a paltry $1500. These guys were pro’s. They drove down from Laural, Maryland... took them a long time. They prefaced their trip with the words that they were going to use it for church. That’s a long drive. I figured they would run a scam and they did. It was pretty smooth. Three if them show up and give the car a good look over. They come back and complain that the muffler has to be repaired and there’s a chip in the windshield and offer me $1000 as is. Since I was asking for $1800, that was a bit far away. He whined that it was just for church work support... yada, yada, yada. When we got of to fifteen hundred, all I could think was that several people had called and promised to come by but never even showed up. These guys did show up. This was going to drag on for a long time. So, the deal was made. One guy knew very well all that was required. They wanted the buyer to be left open, and I didn’t care.
Rickey Stevens and friends scrounged up the $1500,I signed, and that was that.
I forget to pull the plates but Rickey came back and reminded me. Obviously they knew what they were doing. Oh well, it’s gone, off our insurance, out of our hair, and away from Matt and Linda’s front yard.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving time

So it’s Thanksgiving time. Grandma Smith’s huge traditional holiday meals were amazing. These days, that would be considered "comfort food," the meals that one fondly remembers. Thus it was with some pining that I approached Thanksgiving the first time I was away from family in USS America (CV 66) in 1977. When I first went aboard and joined the mess, the buy-in and monthly fee was $120. These days that doesn’t sound like much for a month of meals, but compare that with the previous deployment’s buy-in and monthly fee of $65 and you may get a sense of some of the dismay we felt. In addition to that, we were pretty much living on grilled cheese sandwiches and other such meals that were the cheapest possible way to go. The explanation for the financial distress was that the mess treasurer had embezzled all the cash and gone AWOL. So, the Executive Officer, rather than employ the usual accounting tools that an Officer’s Mess might normally use, simply set the buy-in and monthly fee in order to rebuild the treasury. All of that palaver was just to set the tone of lousy meal expectations.
Imagine my surprise to find on Thanksgiving day a spread that exactly mimicked MaaMaa’s holiday feast. It was so exactly the same that the theme from “Twilight Zone” could have taken up the rest of the day. It was fabulous. It was amazing to discover that these Navy cooks could put together a really scrumptious meal; turkey, ham, jellied cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, string bean casserole, regular mashed potatoes with gravy, rolls, all the usual suspects –even the coffee was good. It was wonderful.
These days, we have come to have wine with all our holiday meals. Alas, on the ship, no wine.

While on USS America, the officer’s wardroom used two rooms, the “Clean Shirt” and the “Dirty Shirt,” on the second deck. They were ever so slightly attached by a single door in between them. The “Clean Shirt” was for all officers who were not working in a dirty environment requiring something other than the regular khaki uniform; flying, working the flight or hangar deck, etc. The XO, CDR Baker (if I remember correctly), was quite the stickler for wardroom decorum. If you were not in khakis, you dared not darken the door to the “Clean Shirt.” If you were in khakis, you were not allowed in the “Dirty Shirt.” The “Clean Shirt” was often overcrowded and presented a challenge to find a seat. Sometimes in desperation, we’d just drift over to the “Dirty Shirt” just to have a place to sit. Invariably, the XO would, in not good humor, chase us out of the “Dirty Shirt.” Thus, occasionally, we'd find ourselves wanting to change into flight suits just to make it easier to have a meal with buddies. One was also not allowed to wear a flight jacket when seated. It was always a bit of a worry to hang one’s coveted leather flight jacket up in a common area. Again, CDR Baker was relentless with these wardroom rules.

Another quirky thing about Wardroom One, the “Clean Shirt,” was the curious games the messmen would play. In the “Clean Shirt” we served ourselves from a steam table buffet line. The messmen would re-fill your beverage, and bring you the dessert. Once you got up, they would instantly clear your place. Recall the above complaint about seating space. Sometimes, we’d get a little impatient for that second cup of coffee or dessert and would ask a buddy to protect the spot while going for that serving. Invariably those messmen would be incredibly adept at clearing that spot in the short time it took to blink. More than that, the game they liked the best was to clear your space while you were still sitting there. Yes, you’d be enjoying your meal and good conversation, with fork in hand, turn to speak to your friend and start to stab at that last little bite only to find an empty spot where your plate had been. It didn’t matter whether it was the main course or dessert, if the plate looked close to being done and you were not paying close attention, it was gone! It was amazing, frustrating, occasionally infuriating; but, we had to admire their skill.

And today, Thanksgiving of 2008, we get a late start having slept in til well after nine. For Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, I have the job of making MaaMaa's "refridgerator rolls" (the dough can be refridgerated and used for up to about a week). I made my batch of dough and had placed it in a slightly warmed oven for the first rising. Some time later, having returned from the store for a typical emergency grocery store run, Ash and Nancy were suddenly howling in dismay when they discovered that they had been pre-heating the oven to 400 not knowing about the dough. Alas, now we had a partially cooked glob of bread. Ash was very embarrassed. Not wanting to throw the dough away, we went on with the baking and it turned out to be quite good with a slice of cheshire cheese. Mmmm mmm, gooooood. Is this the beginning of new holiday tradition?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Assignment: Fourth of July

Altavista in many ways was a little like Mayberry of the Andy Griffith show. Not nearly so small or folksy, but still a small town. We had Fourth of July fireworks over at the high school, imaginatively named, Altavista High School. The munitions were set up near the far side of the athletic field, and we'd gather on the front lawn of the campus (now probably a big parking lot since every sixteen year-old these days has their own car). The sun would eventually disappear and there would be the loud showless bang of a salute round. Then maybe one or two more big bangs. This, it seems, was to get everyone's attention as we certainly did not want anyone to miss one of the colorful displays. That would be wasteful. Much more than that, I don't really remember. They were fireworks. We oohed and ahhed and they were pretty neat. There were the single star burst types of different colors and some variations, there would be some roman-candle style sets to go off and some tall mounted displays that might spin wheels or just sparkle like crazy. And of course as all such displays end, there was always the finale with as much ordnance in the air as they could muster. I'd say it was simply quaint and homey.
The "Old Friend From Far Away" assignment was the "Fourth of July", so there you have one.
Yet, the other memorable Fourth display was in England. Yes. When we were stationed in London, the Navy would put on a Fourth of July celebration out at the little support base at West Ruislip, imaginatively named, Naval Support Activity West Ruislip, or something like that. They would bring in a small carnival with a couple of rides and then put on a small fireworks display, not all that different in scope from the Altavista effort with the exception of being updated. They'd have synchronized music to the display. Ain't modern technology great? We'd invite our neighbors, Jack and Dot Williams with any of their kids or fosters they wanted to bring along. Jack, ever the generous guy would try to buy all the food and ride tickets. His job took him to "the states" from time to time so he'd have a wad of twenties. He claimed to be celebration getting rid of the colonies. I'll just warp-up that we always enjoyed it and those days remain a warm spot in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Surprised by an open door

So these are just tidbits I'm remembering from time to time since Ashley wants me to write my "memoires."
This would be: Surprised by an open door.

It was Christmas time. Cousin Reese was either visiting (likely), or the time he was living with us (also possible). Dad had received an invisible dog. If you are not familiar with the invisible dog, it comprises a harness and a slightly flexible rod disguised as a leash. Thus, one can walk holding this rod out front and it appears you are walking a small dog in front of you; except of course, there is no dog, just the harness pulling on the leash.
Reese was playing with the invisible dog and seeing if he could be annoying. At least I thought he was trying to be annoying. I told him to stop. Naturally, he found this "order" to be an invitation to see how far he could go. Being a hot head at the time, I launched after him and he took off like a houseafire, raced around the corner and up the stairs and locked himself in the upstairs bathroom. Feeling safely locked in, he could not help but ensure that I knew that. Quickly analyzing the situation, I planted my booted foot expeditiously against the door. Yes, a couple of wood-screws in the ancient door frame were little match for the full force kick. The shock on Reese's face was one for the ages as the defensless lad stood staring at the dreaded Norm. I think I slapped him once, but the situation was so pricelss for both of us that it ended there. Reese fondly reminds me of that just about every time we see each other.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh my goodness. I never gave a d___ about blogs

Here we go. The last thing I was ever interested in; but, Ash thinks this might be a good way for me to generate my memoirs. Assuming I can take the time to put them here.

But memory is failing me quickly. It's just plain scary. I was thinking of a memory just a moment ago, but creating this blog spot has pushed it out of mind.

The only reason I'm even considering doing this is seeing how impressive Meghann McKnight's blog is; "". She does an "amazing" job.

No way I can reach that standard, especially since I rarely photograph anything and her's is a very fine photo-log with exquisite captions. I just intend to try to recollect stuff from time to time and stick it in there.

So! Here we are. Hello, world.