Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Sorry for the delay in posting but waay to much has been going on. I will attempt to hit the high points.

Last Saturday Craig and I accompanied his Boy Scout troop to the Van Nuys ARNG armory to participate in a Christmas push for Operation Gratitude The 500,000 package was prepared at 1130 on Saturday and we were there for it. The Scouts and adults carried boxes through the assembly line where various goodies were put in. Keys for two customized motor cycles were also placed in two boxes. Those soldiers were going to be very happy!

Sunday we picked up Chee Chee for church in North Hollywood and afterwards she treated us to brunch at a grown up restaurant. It was nice!

All this past week has been a whirlwind of preparation for Christmas. Claire and Laura arrived on Tuesday and will stay until the 29th. Christmas eve mass and present opening today. I assembled the new HP desktop yesterday and got it working with Kurt's very skilled help. This blog is being typed on the new PC. Man it is nice!

I'm taking all next week off something I have not done ever (at least as far as I can remember). Ah, the bliss.

The only other thing to mention is that I almost with an inch to spare, almost ran flat into a little old lady who stepped out between two parked cars. I was on my bike but it still would not have done either of us any good. All I saw was the tiny lady clad in a fur coat step into my path; I shouted "watch out!" and swerved just missing her. That would have ruined both of our holidays!

Tomorrow I will install two great gifts in the Jeep: A GPS so I will no longer be lost and a protective plate over the muffler so it won't be flattened like a taco on one of my off road trips.

Hope anyone reading this had a good Christmas too.

The not-so-Citizen Grouch.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They don't get it from me!

I was doing my father duty today and pulling a one hour shift with Craig at the U-cut-it Christmas tree lot supervising the Boy Scouts selling mistletoe as a fundraiser for the Boy Scout troop. Craig and his friend Craig were the Scouts on duty flogging the mistletoe to the sometimes reluctant marks-I mean customers- going in and out of the lot. Craig was being pretty funny and his buddy Craig was almost as silly as he was. In fact they were being very funny and I was even laughing. Kurt is another one who can make me laugh out loud with his stories. He is what I guess is called a raconteur and does indeed tell a story skillfully with wit. He reminds me of my grandfather who would tell stories about his life as a young man that would leave me in absolute stitches from laughing so hard. My daughters are pretty funny too, especially in their writing; they are both accomplished essayists and can write a piece that will make even the grouchiest grouch crack a smile and laugh. Even Mrs. Not a Grouch is pretty darn funny so I guess I do know where they get this talent even though it isn't from me!
One of the perks of (A) living in the Los Angeles area; and (B) being in the fleet business is that occasionally interesting things come my way that many people don't have an opportunity to do. For instance some years ago I received a call from the leasing rep that my company did business with who told me that if I could be to a certain spot in one hour I would get a ride on the Goodyear blimp. Needless to say I made it with about 5 minutes to spare and got an experience to remember. Another time I was offered the chance to get 3 laps as a passenger in a Ford GT on a race track at 200 mph. It was an an interesting experience especially as we passed other vehicles on the track like they were standing still or even going backwards.

The other day I got a call from my Ford guy asking me if I had any interest in seeing the car collection of the comedian with the big jaw who is on the network with the peacock as the symbol and whose initials are JL. I didn't have to be asked twice so at a certain time and a certain place we were passed through the gate and into the auto collection complex. Unfortunately we didn't think to ask if pictures were allowed until we were at the very end at which point we were told to take all the pictures we wanted but we were done and at least I had to get back to work. The collection is of cars, motorcycles, engines and artwork from the 'teens to today. Some of the most exotic and mundane vehicles are there and they all run. JL calls daily to order that a particular vehicle be readied for the drive home. As we were walking through one of the rooms I spied something familiar. 'That is a tank engine' I pointed out to the guide. Sure enough it was an AVDS 1790 engine from an M48 tank. Silly me, it is a spare engine for the Tank Car. In this case an open cockpit roadster with a tank engine for power! Mr. JL has a weakness for one-off hand built cars that have unusual power plants such as steam engines, helicopter turbine engines, the before mentioned air cooled tank engine, and others. I was told that AAA enjoys getting calls to rescue Mr L from the roadside when his unusual cars quit running. I was told that he receives 1,000 letters a month offering to sell him stuff for his collection. He reads each one and sometimes even buys whatever was offered.

Here are two pictures of me in the premier car wing:

click on the pictures for full views

It was a grand time and one of the instances when I am glad that we live where we do and I work doing what I am doing!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Citizen Grouch's rant of the day

Here is my rant for Wednesday:

Mrs. Not a Grouch came home the other day and told me that something she has always, always wanted is on sale at her favorite Ladies nick-knack shop. It is a very, very expensive Lladro, marked down to being only very expensive. It is expensive enough that it gave us pause to think about whether obtaining her heart's desire is something that we can afford, especially in these days of uncertainties. But being a good Citizen Grouch I went to the little shop to see what I could see and to perhaps 'negotiate' on the price.

Walking into this store that is filled with delicate girly stuff and smells of various secret perfumy flowery fragrances undoubtedly sets off an alarm that a man has walked into the place. Conversation seemed to pause for a half-minute and then pick up again as the ladies kicked back into high level trinket and bauble shopping. I felt like, well probably like Mrs. Not a Grouch feels when she goes into say a gun shop or off road store. I remember her telling me once that she didn't like going into a particular gun shop somewhere in the past because of the way the men looked at her. She was (and is) major babe material so I can understand the looks but on the other hand I can identify with the discomfort with the looks but in my case the looks from the women were not 'you are hot material' but rather 'you do not belong in here unaccompanied by a woman. So leave.' But I didn't. Anyway I checked out the item, and asked the help that considering the pretty significant price of the item (and knowing that these figurines like jewelry have quite a mark up on them) if there was anything to be done on the price to make the sale. Well. Let me just say that the owner told me a thing or two. She informed me that not only is the price what is posted, but she would leave the item unsold and take it home with her before she would take a single penny less for it. So there stupid man. I wasn't feeling the love on this exchange. If she had been nice or said that she'd give me another $50 off, or $25, or give me a candle...something. But no. And there was no hint of thinking about it and coming back to talk again. Well, it is her store and it is her's to sell or not but I feel that she was sleeping during the Selling 101 class where the lesson on how empathy is established with the customer was taught. I left without buying it.

Mrs. Not a Grouch now thinks that the figurine may not be her heart's desire after all. I guess we will see but I'd rather spend the money at a place where I get the whole experience; where they actually sell the item and help me understand why I should spend amazing amounts of money on something and I leave with a smile on my face and excitement in my heart. Not at that place for sure.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Road Trip part 2

After we left the cafe at Bodfish we set off for the RA memorial trail up into the mountains. We call this the RA memorial trail (which are the initials of one of our group) not because he perished on the trail but because his battery did. The trail is so rough that it shook his battery apart. When he shut off his Jeep and then restarted it, the battery exploded and put a large dent in the hood of his Jeep. It was pretty exciting. This time the snow cushioned the trail so that is was a lot smoother. The switchbacks going up have a sheer drop off for most of the way which if you would be unlucky enough to fall you would have a clear couple hundred foot drop. With the mud and then snow on the trail and the slippery conditions I was a bit white knuckled as we ground our way up to the top. Once at the top of the mountain range (8,000 ft) we were in some pretty nice snow.

(click on the pics for a large view)

The snow wasn't deep but it was pretty!

The trusty steeds that got us there

A man and his Jeep!
We drove on and all too soon we started descending and coming out of the snow down to the mud. I had my satellite radio tuned to NPR and listened to Prairie Home Companion which was a first for me; it was pretty enjoyable actually. We came out through Jawbone, back along highway 14 and eventually back to Santa Clarita. Total miles were in the range of 250. A fun way to spend a Saturday!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Road trip! Part 1

My friends and I set off on a 200 mile road trip today to Tehachapi, the Caliente train curve, Lake Isabella, and Mojave. Lots of driving and lots of sights! I planned this trip and we set off towards Palmdale via the road that drives along the San Andreas fault. Fortunately we made it through without triggering the 'Big One'. We traversed the flat land around north of Palmdale and headed for the wind farms near Tehachapi. The wind turbines generate 34.5 megawatts according to the sign at the wind farm office. The giant blades create a low frequency rumbling that reminded me of ocean going ships heard from a distance. The sense of power from these massed machines was pretty awe inspiring for me. Since the temp was reading about 38F at this time everyone else was just cold and wanted to go on.

(click on the pictures for a larger view)

The trusty vehicles

Another view. There were hundreds of wind turbines of all sizes for miles around

We drove on further up into the hills and into snow. We passed by Tehachapi and on to Caliente and the Caliente railroad curve. This is everything that the horseshoe curve in PA isn't; the main thing being that you can actually see the trains here! This looks for all the world like a Christmas time model train. The track curves around in a counter clockwise spiral so that the almost mile long train crosses over itself and is in two tunnels almost a mile apart!

The history of the curve

The train starting up the spiral. The rest of the train is down below about a half mile behind

The train headed for a tunnel where we were parked. The rest of the train is still spiraling up! The engineer tooted the air horn for us as he passed. My camera batteries died at this point so no more pictures from my trusty camera! After here we drove up further into the hills and into rain, snow and cold. We headed for Bodfish and Lake Isabella. After a tasty lunch in a small cafe in Bodfish we turned up into the mountains and even more snow. More in part 2!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh, Woe is me!

I got up Tuesday at 5 a.m. as usual but when I came downstairs I could tell something was amiss. There was a strange musty smell in the house. I immediately accused the dogs of doing something to cause this but their bewildered looks told me that they were innocent - this time. I followed the smell to the garage, where I spied the water heater sitting in a puddle of leaking water. Dang! This is the third water heater to fail in the 21 years we've lived here. The water is really, really hard around here and I am told that is the cause of the water heaters rusting through. No going to work for me that day!

I briefly toyed with the thought of replacing the water heater myself. It is not a complicated task at all but being there by myself I didn't know if I would be able to get the new water heater up onto the 3ft high cubbyhole that it sits in without help. So I started calling the plumbers.

Guess what? We happen to live in an area zoned for only super low energy consumption water heaters! Hurray! that added about $300 to the price of the water heater. When the plumber who gave the lowest WH price showed up, I got more bad news: the house was not up to current codes. Hurray! I got to pay to have a pressure release line run outside the house and a few other issues resolved. Total tab was $1,600. For a stupid water heater. The good news is, is that the gas company will give us a $30 rebate for installing the energy efficient WH that we had no choice but to install. Hurray! It really made my day, let me tell you. The water heater is really efficient looking and modern appearing too. I go out into the garage a couple times a day now to look at it and bask in the glory of owning an energy efficient water heater in a house that is completely up to code.

While all that was going on I got a call from Best Buy to pick up Mary's laptop. It was fixed in only one week. Now that was good news! I saved $300 on the repair by having bought the extended warranty when I purchased the laptop. Two points for the Grouch.

A completely unrelated topic:
Listening to my iPod today I heard two songs from the"One On One" soundtrack: "John Wayne" and "Love Conquers All" both by Seals and Croft. This movie is a guilty pleasure for Mary and I; has anyone else seen this? Robbie Benson is in it before he made it big in "Beauty and the Beast".

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Trip to the Desert

This past Saturday Ms. not a grouchette, me and two of her dogs (Pie and Fancy) journeyed to the Jawbone off road rec area past Mojave and Edwards AFB out into the desert. I have been going to this area for over twenty years to Jeep, hike, and shoot but recently I've noticed that it is getting pretty crowded. I knew it was getting more use but I wasn't expecting the crowd we encountered when we arrived in the area. Our trip seemed to be snake-bit right from the beginning. Ms. NaG was not feeling well, in fact she was feeling so poorly that she brought an in-flight barf bag just in case. When we arrived at the Ranger station at the main road into the area we noticed a lot of dirt bikes and quads racing about. Once we actually got into the trail area I was staggered at the sheer number of motor homes, trailers and buzzing dirt bikes. The things were everywhere! We got onto a trail and hadn't gone more than a hundred yards when I realized the hi-lift jack on the tailgate of the Jeep was loose and wiggling about. Turned out a bracket had snapped clear through. I had to dismount the jack, the spotlight attached to the jack, and the mounting hardware and toss it into the Jeep.

We traveled on, only to be beset by buzzing swarms of dirt bikes all traveling at high speed and kicking up clouds of dust. It was extremely annoying! They harried and harassed us for miles until I just couldn't take it and pulled over to cool off. After that things started to turn for the better.
(Click on the photos for a full size image)
We drove on, getting out of the worst of the dirt bike groups (did I mention that they traveled in packs of 5 to 10 or more like Indians on the warpath except on motorcycles instead of ponies?). We found a nice spot to pull off the dirt/sand road for lunch and some plinking.

Ms. Not a Grouchette decided to try the Communist SKS carbine. She is going to impale the target with the bayonet if she misses.

The Grouch looking for a target to feel the wrath of his shootin' iron

The Grouch and Pie - look at the size of the tongue on that dog!

After we shot off most of our ammo and destroyed the Halloween pumpkin that we brought as a target we drove on. The further from the RV park that we got the fewer dirt bikes until finally there were no more. We stopped at the site of an abandoned mining operation. The debris of the buildings, old vehicles and even the remnants of a bike were scattered everywhere. Marla found the vertical mine shaft and we decided that it wasn't deep enough to kill us if we fell in but we'd probably be pretty well hurt so we stayed away from the edge of it.
The sun was starting to go down at it was getting cool.

On the way back out of the area we encountered some cattle grazing near the road. Ms. NaG was sure they were going to charge us but they looked pretty peaceful to me. They probably
are used to Jeep traffic through their dining area.

RIP Blossom

When we got home that evening poor old Blossom wasn't looking too well. Ms. NaG said that he has not been doing well for the last couple of weeks. We learned today that Blossom past away over night. Blossom was a rescue from a county animal shelter. Although he did not live with Ms. NaG very long, he was much loved by her and had a good life with her. He was a gentle dog and his only need was to be with her. Blossom was a nice old dog and will be missed by us all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Craig's Halloween birthday party

Craig had his 16th birthday party on Halloween and it was a success. Mary attempted to talk Craig into having traditional party games like 'pin the tail on the donkey' but Craig resisted and in the end it was very much a party of the 09s: video games in all rooms played at full volume, lots of pizza, chips and pop. Everyone had a great time and only one person got hurt when for some reason he went behind our house in the dark and fell down the hill. Fortunately nothing was broken on him. I escaped for about 3 hours and drove across town to a co-worker's house for their open house. They cooked burgers and hot dogs and had a fire thingee set up in the driveway so we sat outside and enjoyed the food and the trick or treaters. When I came back home the party was still going full blast. We finally sent them on their way at 11:30.

(click on the picture for a full view)
The wild party-ers

Playing video games

More video playing

And finally, a cute dog photo. Ahhhh.....

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tricked again!

Nope, not talking about Halloween (not yet anyway) but illicit credit card use and not even by me! For about the 4th time in two years my credit card has been compromised by some muppet or mope or whatever else this type should be called. We received a message from USAA reporting potential fraudulent use of our Mastercard. Someone tried to charge 20 cents on line as a test to see if the card worked. Fortunately they didn't have the expiration date correct nor the secret code from the back of the card so the charge didn't go through. If it had, Katy bar the door! USAA shut the card down. Meanwhile I was at the train station attempting to get my train pass for November. The ticket machine kept telling me that the transaction couldn't be completed so silly me, I wiped the card off, straightened the card, tried again and again. No dice. I found out what the issue was when I came home. A year or so ago Mary noticed that our Mobil gas card had hundreds of dollars of charges on it all in about two weeks. We rarely use the card. A call to Mobil led us to find that there were hundreds more yet to be posted to the card bill. The super creepy thing is that whoever was using the card lived in Santa Clarita probably not far from where we live because it was being used at the gas station near our house and at a gas station not far from where Mary works! Someone was making the same commute as her! A couple other times we've had to get the MC shut off because of it being compromised. Grrr!

Weather report: It has been cold and blustery here this week. Tuesday and Wednesday we had sustained winds at 60 mph and gusts to 75 mph (hurricane strength) and it was Cold! Tuesday Mary met me at the train station to give me a ride home because it was blowing so hard I may not have been able to stay seated on my bicycle. I don't know what motorcyclists were doing - maybe walking. By tomorrow it is going to be in the high 80s. Crazy!

Craig is having a Halloween party tomorrow and girls will be coming! However these girls play shoot-em-up video games with the guys so I don't think there is any worry of hanky panky - especially with Mary chaperoning! My job will be to fetch the pizzas and then hang out at a friend's house for a couple hours until the party is over. Stay tuned for more on this event.

Hope you all have a not too scary Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Craig turns 16!

Hello Citizen Grouch fans!

It has been awhile since I last wrote but life has kept me busy yet not with anything that is worth commenting on except for Craig's 16th birthday! Craig turned 16 on the 20th of this month. This is a milestone in his life and as the dad it is fascinating to reflect on Craig and how he has matured into the amazing teenager on the cusp of being a young man. Craig is a musician and loves to listen to his music on his iPod, happily singing off-key to the song and not caring who hears him! He is kind to animals, generous to his family, (usually) works hard at school and is still plugging away in Boy Scouts and is in sight of earning his eagle rank. Who knew where the happy little toddler would go with his life? So much is still ahead for Craig and I hope that he keeps his sunny outlook on life.

Craig at a Boy Scout camp at Lake Isabella in 2005

Craig's birthday cake - rainbow sherbet, yum!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Laura's zoo visit

As you know Claire and family are visiting from North Carolina since last Friday and all of this week. On Monday I took the opportunity to be the Granddad and took Laura and Marla to the L.A. zoo. The weather was threatening rain but it pretty much held off the whole time we were there. The zoo is in the midst of upgrading the facilities and some of the exhibits were closed but Laura did not care.

(click on the pictures for a larger view)

It is impossible to take a bad picture of this cute little girl! We were waiting for aunt Marla to catch up with us. This is at the zoo entrance and Laura has her gorilla that she received for visiting the zoo.

Laura was captivated by some tiny gazelles in this pen that were standing on their back legs to reach branches in the tree in the enclosure. Believe it or not but one of the gazelles is crouched down behind the bush by Laura. Every time I tried to get it in the picture with Laura the gazelle would duck back down behind the bush. I guess it was shy!

If I remember correctly Laura and aunt Marla are looking at an alligator.

Marla took this picture and it proves that I was indeed at the zoo with both of them.

The zoo was a bit short on some of the traditional animals such as lions, elephants and the like. Laura wanted to see a camel but when we got to the camel's enclosure an alpaca seemed to have displaced it! No camel to be found. The zoo does seem to have a surplus of wallabies because they were to be found in several different places in the zoo. Good thing they are so cute!

By 3 p.m. I was done even if Laura and Marla weren't and we went home. Laura watched a movie (Hercules) and I took a nap.

Even though this doesn't have anything to do with the zoo I am including this picture of Mary looking sophisticated for a fund raising dinner at St. Nicholas which is the church that the school she teaches at is affiliated with. Who could imagine a lug like me being married to a lady like her?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Strange Encounter

Before I get to the meat of the story I must mention to anyone who is not CA based; Claire and family are here in not so sunny Santa Clarita for the week. Yay!! Everyone looks great and little Laura is the epitome of cuteness! Laura is hoping to swim in our pool while they are here. Two weeks ago the weather was perfect for that. No so much right now. The high is 70F and it is overcast. The pool temp dropped to 68F almost overnight several days ago. So being the good Granddad I fired up the pool heater last night. I think the water temp is in the mid 70s now. I don't think Laura will spend much time in the pool!

On Saturday Daniel's parents had a birthday party for Laura (5 years old now) but I could only stay for an hour because Craig's high school marching band was performing in a band competition nearby. When the time for his performance approached I raced over to the school, had to park about a quarter mile away, raced-walked to the stands and made it just in time! The band was great, and Craig looked good doing all of the intricate steps and marching backwards while playing his trombone. Now that is talent! After the performance I started back to the Jeep. As I walked through the parking lot I heard a woman yelling for help! I looked over and saw a woman and a man facing each other between the parked cars. She kept yelling for help and the man was visibly agitated so I went over. She repeated that she needed help and he kept yelling at her to shut up. He was highly agitated and I thought maybe he was drunk because the woman kept saying 'give them to me' and finally demanded his car keys. He looked like he wanted to hit her so I told him to back off and that I was going to call law enforcement. She said 'yes, please call them immediately!' He moaned and pleaded not to do that and practically tore his hair. She kept saying 'give them to me' and he kept yelling at her to shut up. The other woman was saying something to me but only mouthing the words. I told him again to move away from the two women or I was going to force him away. Just then a medic showed up and said an ambulance had been called. That really set the guy off! I asked just what the heck was going on and the medic said that the man had had a stroke! He looked pretty good to me but what do I know? If the woman had said this to begin with my approach would have been 180 degrees opposite. Since the medic was there I left them and went to the Jeep. As I was driving off the fire department was arriving. I hope the guy didn't have another stroke at that sight!

Ok something different now. I took the replica light machine gun that isn't a machine gun to the range yesterday. To shoot it you must lay down behind it and place the buttstock shoulder rest over your shoulder. After about 8 times of laying down and getting up again in about half an hour I had gotten my daily exercise! A young boy about 12 or so was watching the proceedings and kept looking at the gun when it was not being used so I asked him if he wanted to have a go at it. I think it made his day. With his Dad's ok He got down, braced himself and fired off 10 rounds. He had a big smile when he was done. Another gun enthusiast in the making!

Marla's dog Blossom is here while she is at a dog event with the rest of the pack. He seems very sad that she isn't here and is wandering the house looking for her and whining. Periodically he stops by me for a head pat and then wanders off again.

Tomorrow is the zoo with Laura and I. Hope to get some good pictures to share!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Several Days in the life...

I would like to say that I have not updated the blog because my life is such a whirlwind of fascinating activities but then someone might jump up, point an accusing finger at me and shout "you lie!" as happened recently. And it would be true - the lie part - because these days life for me has been pretty much made of ordinary days. The most interesting day for me was drill day this past Saturday. I was honored with a visit from SGT Kurt Vogeley and his buddy SGT Lane Thompson. In the best tradition of the Army they managed to take the most slender of a legitimate reason to be away from their unit and turn it into a couple hour goof-off mission which involved dropping by to see yours truly. It was fun having them visit and I got to introduce them to several of the soldiers and officers in my unit. One commented on how handsome Kurt is which is true but it did concern me that the 'don't ask - don't tell' rule was about to be invoked.

All that morning the motor pool across the street from my building had all of the vehicles parked there undergoing motor stables (a term left over from the horse cavalry) and the multitude of diesel engines were clattering away for hours until the sound faded into background noise. Around lunchtime I started hearing a weird turbine type whine that rose and fell in intensity. It was kind of science fictiony sounding and reminded me of the space ships in 'Earth v. Flying Saucers' (you must see this movie - what a grand '50s version of the struggle of the free world i.e. the West vs. the evil empire i.e. the U.S.S. R.). This sound went on for about 15 minutes and I finally had to look out the window to see what the heck was making this noise. What I saw towering over the top of the buildings between me and the airfield was the top of the fuselage and tail of a C5 Galaxy cargo plane, the 2nd largest aircraft in the world, sitting on our dinky Army airfield, running up its engines! As I was taking in this amazing sight, it throttled up its engines and literally in a humongous cloud of blowing dust went down the runway and up into the air. The dust cloud would have put the dust bowl to shame. It was an amazing sight seeing the huge plane slowly flying off to wherever it was off to. I got a hop in a C5 from Dover DE to Germany once. The plane has two levels, cargo below and up a ladder to the rear facing passenger seats above. There are no windows upstairs and with the size of the plane it was kind of hard to tell the transition from taxiing to flying to landing.

Sunday was our first mass in the new church. We have been paying for this place since about 1990 and it is finally open. It is a very beautiful church, the 2nd largest in the Los Angeles diocese. My concern is that the 2/3rds of the parish that didn't contribute to build the church certainly won't contribute towards the upkeep of the place. Time will tell.

Claire, Daniel, and Laura arrive Friday for a week's visit in Santa Clarita! Yay!! I will be the lucky Grandad to take Laura to the L.A. zoo on the following Monday. I hope I can keep up with her!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Men Into Space

I'm currently reading "Rocket Men' by Craig Nelson, billed as the "epic story of the first men on the moon' i.e. Apollo 11. It is a great book, very readable and it covers the beginning of the space program for both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. with the capture of German rocketeers at the end of WW2 up through the launch and landing of Apollo 11. The book is worth reading.

I have always been space crazy ever since I was old enough to watch our black and white TV as a kid. I was convinced that the British were going to be the first in space only because of the 1950s SF movies that showed on T.V. were frequently made in England; the Hollywood movies cost too much for the local T.V. stations to show them! I was brought up on 'Science Fiction Theater' 'Men into Space' 'Rocky Jones Space Ranger' and loads of 50s vintage SF movies. Later on there was Twilight Zone (not usually SF) and the superb 'The Outer Limits' I went ga-ga over 'Lost in Space' and then dropped it for 'Star Trek'. During all of that I followed the space program intently. I remember Alan Shepard's flight and my father's disdain for the history making event. "They just shot him a couple hundred miles downrange" he said with derision while reading the evening paper. Later on I stood on the front porch and waited to see Echo go by in the night sky, a giant balloon orbiting the earth. I was delivering papers when I saw the headlines about the three astronauts who died in the fire while testing Apollo 1. I recorded the launch of Apollo 11 and the landing on the moon on my little tape recorder at my grandparents house in sweltering Ft. Lauderdale in July. I still have the newspaper from that day. I was at my office in Chicago when someone told me that the Challenger blew up on launch - I didn't believe what I heard and I was on the way to the shooting range when I heard the news about Columbia. A while ago I read that the space station and the shuttle were coming over Santa Clarita at a certain time at night so we went to the backyard to see them. What a sight! A very bright light, not the usual moving dot that satellites display, appeared and moved swiftly overhead and then faded away. Just to think that people are up there, orbiting the earth! It is the stuff of movies and the TV shows of my youth. I just hope I live to see man (and woman) on Mars!

Now for something completely different...I recently acquired a replica WW2 Browning 1919 that will fire but once for each pull of the trigger and yes it is legal so don't be calling the Feds to snitch on me! This thing weighs about 35 lbs and is a amazing machine with levers, cams, springs, accelerators, springs, pins, pawls, and 35 lbs of massive machined steel. I am amazed at how heavy it is (the M60 that I used in the Army weighs about 23 lbs) and that GIs in WW2 and Korea carried this thing for days and weeks at a time especially considering that the average WW2 soldier was 5'7" and weighed a bit under 150 lbs. The greatest generation was also the toughest generation! Why did I get it? Why does someone get a Corvette or a speedboat or a high speed sewing machine? (ok the last one is not a good comparison). For the experience, the thrill and in my case to have a physical connection with my dad's generation of soldiers. Plus it is wicked cool looking.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Voice from the past

The Missus insisted that I delete some of the 1,000 plus emails that have piled up in the Grouch family email in-box so during a slow time at work today I spent a few minutes deleting them. The military related emails went flying into the delete folder as did the forwarded cute videos of pandas riding unicycles and the like. Then on to emails regarding on-line auctions, boy scout meetings and other long past events. The emails from the Grouch children got to stay around a bit longer. Some of those went back to 2002! Then I stumbled across an email from my dad. It was just a short reply to something trivial we had talked about on one of my Sunday evening calls to him. Then I found another and yet one more written shortly before he departed Forest Hills for the rest home in State College. It was as if I could hear his voice again through the short little messages from him. I hadn't meant to save them but they were saved and now he has reached out from the past and touched me in the present.

I miss him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Invisible Man or The Injured Bunny

So, for a bit today I thought I had become the Invisible Man; not like the book by Ralph Ellison, that staple of high school English classes, but more like the movie with Claude Rains but without the bandages. You see (or maybe you wouldn't have) for a period of time this morning I thought I had accidentally drunk an invisibility potion instead of my breakfast juice or maybe I had unwittingly donned some invisibility shorts rather than my usual beat up Eddie Bauer hiking togs. Evidence seemed to be that I was invisible to numerous drivers on my morning commute as they hurled their vehicles directly in front of me or even at me. But, then I realized that no invisibility potion exists. Were these drivers incompetent, homicidal, or just plain stupid? Being the non judgemental person that I have evolved into I decided that something else was at play. That something had to be The Injured Bunny.

5:50 a.m I depart my home on my bike. Flashing LED lights fore and aft on the bike. Goofy neon green reflective vest draped over my body. Humming an Abba song to myself I set off for work.

5:51 a.m. Joe Smith is drinking his morning coffee when he sees a horrible sight: his pet baby bunny 'Bun-Bun' has managed to get his tiny paw caught in the Nordstrom automatic cheese grater and the result is not pleasant. Grabbing Bun-Bun Joe dashes to his Ford Expedition and peels out of his driveway at high speed headed for the 24 hour vet office.

5:52 a.m. "Waterloo - I was defeated you won the war" I hum to myself.

5:55 a.m. Joe rockets down Frisca drive and yanks the wheel to the right, cornering on two wheels. The startled face of a bicyclist who is wearing a highly visible neon green vest with flashing lights fore and aft on the bike is illuminated in the headlights as he swings onto Las Mananitas and accelerates to at least 40 MPH before executing a hard left around the next corner. "Got to save Bun-Bun!" he thinks.

5:56 a.m. "That was a close one! Now then where was I...'Waterloo - promise to love you forever more...'

6:00 a.m. I'm riding along in front of Burger King. A trash truck lurks in the parking lot. I see its dark menacing bulk. It starts to move on a collision course with me. Surely the driver sees me...he doesn't see me! I lock up the brakes and skid sideways. The truck drives on without a pause..

"Oh no, my friend Joe has twittered that Bun-Bun is injured! Driving a trash truck and texting is pretty difficult...did I just see a bike?"

6:50 a.m. Burbank Train station. I unload from the train and mount up the bike. I head out of the parking lot. What's this? A city of Burbank work truck is in front of me going slower and slower. He's actually stopping in the intersection! He's answering his cell phone and just sitting there! What the..?

"Mack, it's Joe calling! Bun-Bun's hurt, he's hurt bad! I don't know if he's going to pull through. Mack, you've got to call Jose and tell him. And Call Sue too!" The Burbank city worker can't move with the awful news. He realizes that he is sitting in the intersection in his truck with a cyclist behind him who is wearing a goofy reflective green vest. Doesn't the dope know this call is important?!

6:55 a.m. Pedaling down Flower Street. I spy a large truck pulling slowly out of a side street. the driver doesn't see me. He's talking on a cell phone. He'll see me, he sees me...he doesn't see me! I swerve out of the way. The driver continues to talk on the phone.

"Jose, it's Mack! Joe's Bun-Bun is dying! The cheese grater got him!" "Ay caramba!" exclaims Jose, noticing a cyclist out of the corner of his eye. Oh well he didn't get hit.

7:05 a.m. Shaken from three near collisions and a truck blocking an intersection I am thinking 'what next?' when it happens. From yet another side street a Toyota van launches at high speed directly at me. I brake abruptly and the Toyota turns in front of me, a middle aged woman looking grimly ahead, not a glance in my direction.

"Bun-Bun mangled by a cheese grater!" thinks Sue as she heads out to the freeway and eventually the animal hospital in Valencia. "Good thing Joe called me before I left for work. What was that neon green thing I saw as I was pulling out?"

Four near collisions in the space of about an hour. Since I am not a judgemental person I know it couldn't be because the drivers were incompetent, homicidal, or just plain it must have been because of Bun-Bun the injured baby bunny. Or not.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grouch-y reviews

Here are several mini reviews for a movie and some music. If I had anything of substance to write about today I would so this is the best I can do.

Mini Movie Review:

We rented "The Children of Huang Shi" last weekend. This is the true story of a British journalist, George Hogg, who during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 takes over the care of 60 orphan Chinese boys and then marches them several hundred miles to safety to escape the fighting and the Chinese military that wishes to draft the teenage boys. The story was great, the scenery was stunning, and overall we really liked it. Craig even gave it a thumbs-up so if it held his attention it is worth seeing.

Mini Music Review:

One of my enduring favorite singers in Lorenna McKinnett. She sings mostly Celtic music and her voice is fantastic. I first heard her on NPR radio in 1988 and quickly bought a cassette tape of her songs. She has done songs to classic poems such as 'The Lady of Chalott" and "The Highway Man". When she was still a relative unknown I just missed seeing her at a small club in Hollywood - I couldn't believe she was playing there but it was too late to get tickets. Now she is a major performer and I still probably can't get tickets. Anyway, give her a listen if you like Celtic type music. She's pretty good.

So, how can a group have two excellent songs and the rest is pretty much unlistenable? I refer to Coldplay and the two good songs are "Clocks" and "Viva la Vida". The rest leave me cold. (hee-hee).

That's all folks!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Picture time!

I know all of my fans have just been waiting and hoping for a picture-time blog edition. You are in luck! Here for your enjoyment and amazement (as the case may be) is an eclectic gathering of images just for you!

As always, click on the photo for a full size view!

Mary stopped by to visit Chee-Chee at her place about a month or so ago. For the last couple of years Chee-Chee hasn't been in the best of health but recently she has beaten the illness that had been getting the best of her and she is in fine health and spirits. The dog in the picture is a new one but the name escapes me. Mary said that it seems very nice.

A while ago when we were returning from our nightly walk Molly treed a raccoon in our front yard, all without knowing really what was happening. About all she knew was that some sort of creature fled at our approach and ran up the tree and stayed there cussing us out. Molly looked bewildered but proud during the incident.
Some pictures from our Laguna Beach trip: This is a beach at Laguna Beach, thus the name of the town. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to actually go to the beach while we were there. Mary and I will go back next year - just the two of us - and we will visit the beach!

On the scenic overlook - so, does Craig look embarrassed that Mary is using a golf umbrella for a sunshade? Naaah...

Where the rich people live...

This past Sunday Mary, Craig, and I went to Marla's air base for family day. Marla organized a dog agility demonstration with her dogs and the dogs of her agility competition friends. She was the MC and did a great job. There was a very large crowd for the show and many people stayed afterwards to talk to her about dog agility and to pet the dogs. It was great!
The flight line had some WW2 B25 bombers on display along with some T28 and T34 trainers. nearby were these two F16s and an F5 painted to resemble a Soviet MiG for use in air combat training.
Craig got to go inside this B25 that is owned by the former base commander. Note the slogan below the Japanese flags! Unfortunately we arrived just too late to see the fly over of the B25s and the trainers. A couple years ago we were treated to a fly over of the B25s and multiple single engine fighters and trainers at low altitude. A stirring sight!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What would you do?

I recently finished reading "On the Beach" by Nevil Shute. For those not familiar with the book (or the movie with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire) a nuclear war has been waged in the northern hemisphere; the southern hemisphere is undamaged but a cloud of radiation is slowly settling from the north to the south. In Australia where the story takes place the population is aware that death is not only certain but the month of the death of all creatures
is known. Yet, the majority of the people go on with their lives, planting a garden, going to school and work, having babies. The story centers around an American Navy submarine that makes its way to Australia and the captain of the sub; a young Australian woman who before the American shows up is slowly drinking herself into oblivion; an Australian naval officer and his wife and infant daughter; and a scientist who knows that all will be dead in less than a year.

The book was almost unbearably sad to read but very thought provoking. We know we will die but blessed not knowing when; would the knowledge of an end date for one and all change our behavior for the better or worse or not at all? It made me think and wonder how brave I could be in the face of this situation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My not so close brush with the famous

I started to the train station on the bike early this morning and realized that something was wrong with my front gear set. I couldn't shift into the highest ring so I was stuck in medium range. This is like being in 2nd gear in your car. Lots of pedal spinning and not going very fast. I discovered that the cable that controls the front gear set was one strand from breaking completely. If that happens then the shifter defaults to the lowest (smallest) gear and I really wouldn't be going anywhere fast. So...I was taking it pretty easy, riding slowly and not putting too much strain on the drive train. As I approached the turn to Griffith Park I noticed a couple spandex clad cyclists on their expensive road bikes in front of me. As I followed along behind them I noticed several more guys with similar attire and bikes up ahead. Then a group passed us. Then some more passed us. As we approached the parking lot for the zoo it was filled with mobs of cyclists. Hundreds would be my guess. These folks were everywhere, unloading bikes from cars, riding in circles, comparing spandex outfits (well, I didn't see the last but I bet it was going on) and other bikey type things. With my broken bike and slow speed I figured I would be in the way with whatever was going on so I detoured to the L.A. river bike path and enjoyed having it all to myself.

Later at work I heard on the news that Lance Armstrong was leading an impromptu bike ride through Griffith Park and had traffic snarled throughout the area. According to Kurt, Lance twittered that he was going for a ride at the park and hundreds showed up. And to think I was one of them and didn't even know it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Grand Day Out

A grand day out...or actually several! Before I go any further I must include a link to Wallace and Gromit for someone who has never heard of them. I don't know if his humor is on the same frequency as mine but I find these characters very funny:

Be that as it may my grand weekend out started on Friday with a trip to Portland for my older sister Cathy's wedding (when I say older I am of course stating only in a chronological sense and and not in an outlook on life). Since many who read this blog (or at least profess to!) were present, I will not give a blow-by-blow account of the ceremony and the wonderful dinner and visiting afterwards except to say that it was fun, wonderful to see all, and Charlie has a great family. I arrived way too early before the ceremony at Charlie's house and was installed on the screened porch to stay out of the way while the preparations continued. While silently praying that other guests would soon come I was able to visit with Charlie's mom and two sisters and had an enjoyable time talking with them. Here is a link to some pictures of the ceremony: You will need to scroll down to see the event. The older I get the more I feel the need to stay connected with siblings and the nieces and nephews. My great nieces Eden and Estelle were there and cute as lady bugs!

Saturday a.m. I left Portland in the pouring rain and jetted back to hot and sunny Burbank to get my lawn work done, go to church and get ready for the next grand day out.

Sunday the missus and I and the local kids attended the wedding of Chris, the older son of our friends Janell and Ted. The wedding was a bit unconventional but then I am a grouch and a conservative grouch at that but for all that I thought it was nice and everyone had a great time. The bride was radiant and the groom looked relieved that he didn't pass out when his time came to recite his vows. Many of the guests were 20 somethings who had a raucous time at the reception and really enjoyed the music and dancing. I even did the chicken dance - who could imagine??

But wait, there's more! Today we went to Marla's estate in Moorpark. A beautiful house with a huge yard and 20 acres behind it, a massive shade tree in the back yard and oodles of room for her dog agility training ground. She hosted a Labor Day cookout for her family and her dog agility friends. Janell and Ted came too even though they aren't dog people or family but very much friends. Kurt applied his considerable talents to cooking the food to perfection. The food was great and the visiting was even better. And there is a grapefruit tree in the yard laden with huge grapefruits - and I love grapefruits! I took two home to give them a try.

All of this visiting and conversing and socializing is putting my grouch rating in danger of being revoked!

And that ends my grand several days out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Democracy in action

Our happy little town decided the other day to restripe a busy 4 lane main artery to a 2 lane road with a buffer zone and bike lane. Instant chaos. The city manager stated in the paper that this was done to promote the bicycle friendly image of the city. The only image that the residents wanted was one of his head on a pike. In front of City Hall. The city council sensing the anger of the hoi polloi wisely disavowed all knowledge of the changes and ordered the City Manager to appear before the crowd to appease them before they marched on city hall with torches and pitchforks. Kurt even got into the act by sending two emails to everyone in city government demanding that the road be restored as before and also wrote to the newspaper (they published his letter).

The meeting was tonight at a grade school. I went and so did Craig as an observer for a boy scout merit badge 'communications'. There was a lot of communications going on at that meeting! I have to hand it to the City manager; it was a decidedly unfriendly crowd but by the end of the meeting most were smiling. The journey from beginning to end was a bit rocky but no folding chairs were thrown and no one's ancestry was called into question. I even stood up and spoke as a commuting cyclist (good credibility) who could do without the bike lane. The reporter from the Signal got my name and phone number so either I will be mentioned in the paper or they will call me to extend my subscription. In the end the city compromised by restoring the 4 lanes and adding a narrower bike lane. Democracy in action!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday update

The fire that started in La Canada Flintridge is now burning into Acton, a small town with horse 'ranchos' about 20 miles southeast of us. The smoke from the fires is incredible, a huge mushroom cloud of brown smoke topped with an enormous billowing white cloud. The mushroom cloud of smoke is said to be up to 20,000 feet. We've had some smoke and a bit of ash fall on Santa Clarita but not as bad as communities closer to the fires. Kurt's unit is on alert and my state unit's mobile communications section has also been alerted for deployment. Hopefully the cooler weather predicted for later this week will tame the fire. 108F today!

My two managers that I recently hired for Wilmington DE and Atlanta GA are arriving tomorrow for 2.5 days of training at my office. The smoke, ash, and flames will be an interesting introduction to Los Angeles. Every day here is like living in an Irwin Allen disaster movie. Who was Irwin Allen? He's the guy responsible for the Towering Inferno and the original Poseidon Adventure.

Craig received his Life scout rank today. The next step is Eagle. Go Craig!

Speaking of Craig, he asked me recently where he could get sheet music for the theme 'Army Strong" that plays in the recruiting commercials. (I dare you to watch this without getting a lump in your throat) and I said 'the Army band, of course!' I emailed them and much to my surprise and glee a nice SFC emailed me all the sheet music for the song including each section's portion (tuba, trombone, etc.). Now Craig needs to practice it for his upcoming band competition.

That's all for now!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Smoky L.A.

You may have heard about the fires burning in the hills in the Los Angeles area - fortunately none burning near us - but the smoke is starting to get in our eyes (so to speak). The smoke from the La Canada Flintridge fire is blowing our way and making the air visible here in Santa Clarita. Kurt's CAARNG unit is now on alert in case fire fighting support is needed. I pulled fire duty with the State force in 2007 but begged off last year. If called I'll probably have to show up this year but hopefully it won't come to that. It has been amazingly hot this week, about 107F most days and dry as a bone.

Craig and his friends are having movie night at our place tonight. Non stop movies until midnight or so which is fun for them but Craig has banned the Grouch and the Missus from being anywhere near where they are. I guess us just being present is too embarrasing to bear!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Logistics and GI Joe

The Missus and the Sprout and I went to see G.I. Joe at the local 22 plex Saturday evening. For oldsters like me, G.I Joe evokes the Barbie doll sized soldier from the early 60s who was dressed for various wars and various armies from around the world. A friend of mine had some of the dolls and although I thought they looked pretty cool I couldn't figure out how you were supposed to play with them. They were too much like Barbie dolls for my taste. A decade later G.I. Joe starred in a TV animated adventure show which somehow I missed. Now it is a megabucks adventure spectacular movie so off we went to see it. As these type of movies go it wasn't bad; in fact it held my attention and I didn't nod off in the middle of it so I guess it got the Grouch seal of approval.

These type of movies inevitably have a secret base where all sorts of mayhem is planned and attacks are launched from. This movie had two secret bases, one in the Egyptian desert and one under the Artic ice. These places were as big as a suburban shopping mall. They had aircraft, water craft, subs, trucks, guns, ammo, people, training pools big enough to drive subs around in them, people coming and going...there was a lot of activity. I've been in the logistics field for some time when I see things like this I don't think "Wow, look at all that cool action gear!" No, I think "How the heck to they keep this place supplied?" The volume of consumables, repair parts, folks going on leave and returning, replacements, headquarters weenies... the sheer scale of keeping a secret base running like this would call for 24 hour convoys running 7 days a week. Besides the supply convoys the secret bases need a manufacturing support network to construct all of the gee-whiz aircraft, guns, uniforms, subs, etc. With all of that comes parts, manuals, upgrades, factory tech reps - the works. Now, all of that stuff is coming and going, contracts being let, meetings held - It's pretty hard to have a secret organization with a secret base the size of the Mall of America with all of this hullabaloo. And of course this stream is converging on the Egyptian desert and the Artic. Kind of conspicuous? I've thought that the best place to have your secret base would be in downtown Chicago or New York. Say a couple city blocks wide and 10 levels down. There is always construction going on anyway so no one would blink at a secret base being constructed there . You can have multiple entrances and exits so your super commandos could leave the facility, jump on a cross town bus and be out of the area in a jiffy. Your supplies can be delivered by a network of little Isuzu trucks with various company logos on them - no one would suspect a thing. Say...maybe this is why the downtown areas are always being torn up and rebuilt!

One other thing I noticed in this movie - the G.I. Joe uniform regulations seem to specify that the female soldier's uniforms are made without the top three buttons on the shirt, and hair must be worn longer than shoulder length and loose, whether or not it gets in the way of fighting the enemy Ninjas. Strangely enough the bad guy army had the same regs for their female soldiers too! How about that?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Only in La La land...

Just to let you know that I am still alive...two strange things spotted in the last two days: A human-sized plush green frog sitting on a bench along the L.A. river where I ride my bike to work. It was sitting with one leg crossed over the other and arms casually draped over the back of the bench watching the river go by. I know froggy had been there for at least an hour because he had gang graffiti written in marker on his forehead. That afternoon I encountered a man riding two bikes. Actually he was riding one and holding the handlebar of the other bike as it rolled alongside him. Was he taking the bike back to froggy? Is that why the green one was sitting so patiently, that gang members could tag him without him stirring?

Only in L.A.!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In Praise of Reader's Digest Condensed Books

When we were in Big Bear recently we stopped at a book store that had used books for sale. There was a whole shelf of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They brought back some great memories for me. When the family visited the grandparents in Ft. Lauderdale each summer I would read some of the RDCB that they had. When I was younger I pretty much only looked at the illustrations but as I grew older I read many of the books in each volume. I noticed that that the book store had some of the same volumes from the late 50s to the mid 60s that I remember my grandparents having and that prompted me to track down some of the unabridged books at the local library for another read. I was surprised to learn that I had read a chapter from a William Faulkner novel (The Reivers), that another book condensed by Reader's Digest was only half of the original novel, and that yet another left out a key portion of the narrative but still managed to have the story make sense. Re-reading the book 'The Rainbow and the Rose' by Nevil Shute has now lead me to 'On the Beach' and 'A Town Like Alice'. Another book read in the condensed version 'This is Google' led me to the original 'This is Google, or the Education of a Father' a wonderful story of a boy growing up as told from the vantage point of the father. This book, written in 1954 is a goldmine of postwar 'modern' parenting and the mileposts of the culture of the time with much cigarette smoking and martini sipping.

I read today that Reader's Digest corporation is filing for chapter 11. The article stated that in this day of the Internet the compilation of articles of interest for readers is being usurped by search engines and the Drudge report. Ultimately I image that the Reader's Digest will pass into history along with their condensed books and the world will be a slightly sadder place for that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Any Excuse for a Day Off

Mary needed her retired military dependant ID renewed and I needed an excuse to take a day off so we did both on Friday. We drove to Oxnard to Marla's air base to get Mary a new ID card, not that Mary uses it very often but it does allow her into military commissaries and onto bases with minimum hassle so it is handy to have it. We met Marla at a Chik-fil-A restaurant for lunch. Along with Long John Silver's this is in our top favorite fast food places (the other is Wendy's) and ironically we do not have either a LJS or C-F-A anywhere near Santa Clarita so when we get the chance to eat at one or the other we grab it. The C-F-A had a long line to order which put Marla in a time crunch but she apparently made it back to work in enough time. I got a sharp salute from the guard at the front gate at the air base and Mary and I walked over to the admin building to do the deed at the ID section. I noticed that all of the enlisted and NCOs that I viewed seemed clean cut and so...middle class. Nary a tough guy or reformed gang member who was ordered to join the service or go to jail in the bunch. I also noticed a unusual amount of weed pulling and grass trimming that was going begging. In the Army this work is done by soldiers who received Article 15s and part of their sentence is extra duty after hours. The Battalion Sergeant Major never lacks for soldiers to keep his garrison area looking Strac but I can only guess that because the Airmen at Marla's base are so well behaved, no one gets Article 15s and no one gets extra duty so the weeds don't get pulled.

We got the ID card renewed in jig time. In the old days the process involved picking out individual letters and numbers to spell out your name, rank and SSN which were mounted on a board that you held under your chin while getting a picture taken ala the booking photo at the county jail. The picture had all the quality of the quarter a shot photo booth and Kennywood park. Today everything is computerized including the camera. However the picture still has the quality of the photo booth at Kennywood. Now Mary has a valid ID card and can enter any commissary she wishes around the world. It was a fun way to spend a day off from work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Pageant of the Masters and other fun events in Laguna Beach

This past weekend Mary, Marla, Craig and I attended the Pageant of the Masters at Laguna Beach. What is this event? First, check here: Then read Marla's description of the event and the weekend at her most excellent blog:
I can't add much to what she wrote. According to Mary this was our 6th time at PoM but the first time we spent the weekend there. The previous 5 times was as guests of Allison Transmisisons (a little corporate graft and corruption?). The very nice guy who organized the event each year for his best customers passed away and although Allison did one more event after his passing I have the feeling that the annual boondoggle fell victim to corporate cost cutting. Mary asked for tickets to PoM for her birthday which I was very happy to oblige.

Laguna Beach is an interesting place, very artsy and very expensive. How expensive you ask? So much that there are no fast food outlets in town. The most reasonable place we could locate to eat was a pizza parlor which wasn't bad at all. Laguna Beach is so ritzy that we stopped counting Ferraris when we reached 5; it just wasn't worth the effort. We also saw 4 Lamborghinis, 2 Aston Martins, a Morgan plus 2, and and several other exotic cars. Walking from our hotel to the downtown area we came across a small art gallery that had both Asian artifacts and Andy Warhol posters - I didn't see the connection but who am I to judge this? We went in and saw Ming vases and Japanese horse statues that sold for $300,000 each!! It made me ill just to be in the room with them. The stuff was just sitting on pedestals begging to be knocked off and broken. The owner hustled into the gallery to check us out; I can only guess we set off some sort of rube alarm when we came in. I had to wait outside until everyone emerged with nothing broken.

The show was great, the art was fantastic and Craig almost talked me into spending close to a grand for two aircraft paintings. You may note that I said almost. Mary and I would like to go back again and spend two nights in town this time. I would even like to go to the beach at Laguna Beach!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Travel Tales and the Big Party

I returned from my 4 day jaunt back east to Wilmington DE via Philadelphia. My sojourn in Wilmington was unremarkable except for the chaos I encountered at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet that I stopped at for dinner one night. Orders were misplaced, orders were mis-filled, orders were late...I only mention this because this mirrors what happens at our local KFC also when we go there. The only difference between the two places are the accents of the workers. Maybe all KFCs are this way? The truly comment-worthy events happened on the flight back to Burbank. The flight stopped in Dallas and even though the destination was Burbank all of us Burbank bound fliers had to get off the plane with our stuff and then re board. Do you think they do this just to irritate the traveling public? But, this still isn't what I am commenting about. Actually I have two things to comment about. First are the poor travelers afflicted with the slow disease. Not only do they lumber down the isle of the plane but then when it is time to stow their steamer trunks over head they must (in this sequence) 1. look at the overhead compartment; 2. look at their trunk (repeat 1 & 2 at least twice) 3. stuff the trunk in the compartment; 4. shove the trunk futilely trying to fit 10 lbs into a 5 lb sack; 5. turn the trunk sideways; 6. pat the trunk as if to say to it 'don't worry, I will be sitting just below you'; 7. stare at the item, fixing the location in the traveler's mind so it can be located when the plane lands; 8. stare at the seat that the traveler's bottom will be occupying for the next several hours; 9. touch the bag again (optional: shove the bag some more); 10. try to close the cover over the bin. 11. give up and sit down. Version 1.1: stand up and repeat steps 9,10,11. The WHO and the CDC should give up worrying about the swine flu and develop an inoculation for the traveler's slow disease. There seemed to be an alarming outbreak of it on my flight on both legs of the journey!! The second comment relates to the Army reservist on the flight in his ACUs who got the full court In The Army By Association treatment. He only has himself to blame for traveling in ACUs but he did score a free meal from the friendly flight attendant (the other FA was the mean one - it reminded me of the nice cop/bad cop routine from the movies). What is In The Army By Association treatment? This is where the soldier hears from both men on either side of him the reasons why they were not able to join the military (they really, really wanted to, but..) but, since they do not have their own stories to tell, they told the stories of other people that they know who were in the military. This went on for at least an hour. It got so bad that the young woman next to one of the guys telling the second hand tales started in with her second hand military tales! I mean, it is bad enough when you are telling your own fibs about your service, but when you repeat someone else's yarns....give me a break! I bet that Staff Sergeant was ruing the day that he thought that traveling in ACUs would be a no-brainer.

Friday night was the BIG PARTY at Vogeley estates. This was Craig's high school marching band and color guard end of band camp pool party and it was held at our house! The stakes were enormous for Craig's standing in the band and the school. If it was a flop, he was a ruined man. If it was a success, well let's just say that his stock would be listed as a buy on the school stock exchange. Kurt being the most excellent brother and bonvivant realized that the plans needed to be juiced up and raced out to purchase tiki torches, super soakers, nerf balls, floating toys for the pool and appropriate dips for the chips. Kurt's touches were just what was needed to make the party a success. Over 60 kids showed up. They are all reasonably well behaved, polite, and kept the damage to a minimum. The noise level was high, the food was consumed in massive quantities, and I had to add water to the spa and pool twice to compensate for the water splashed out. The band director and his wife spent most of the party on-site and complimented us on: 1. Craig; 2. our other children; 3. our dogs; 4. our pool, house and back yard; 5. our parenting skills. After all of that we were ready to agree to pool parties once a month. Pretty much at the scheduled end time of 10 p.m. the kids started heading home, thanking us for the party and telling Craig that he has a cool pool and it was a good party. At 10:30 Craig had to go in the back yard and ask the last couple who found that the swing for two and the tiki lights provided just the romantic atmosphere if they were going home or what? Way to go Craig!

The next morning we left for Laguna Beach and the Pagent of the Masters...more on that later.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Grouch(y) update

Kurt is a such a nice guy that when he was in Australia recently he used some of his scarce trading items to swap for a Australian army brigade ID sign from a truck keeping my Jeep in mind as the perfect spot for it. I am so impressed with it that I must share it here:

And since we are talking about Kurt in Australia, here is another picture of a resolute soldier:

One Grouch to another: I was at the range today and noticed a guy about my age two spots over. I thought I'd comment on his rifle (in a nice way) but frankly he looked pretty...grouchy. so I didn't say anything. But, later we happened to both be walking to the targets at the same time and I thought 'what the heck, why not' and spoke to him. His face lit up and we chatted all the way out to the target, all the way back and then he gave me a friendly good by as he drove off. Just goes to show that you can't tell a grouch by the cover, or something like that.

Me, a cool Dad? Craig told Mary that one of his friends thought I was funny (I hope not funny looking) and nice to boot. That is tacking pretty close to being 'cool'. I knew cool parents when I was younger but I never thought I'd be getting close to that esteemed rank. Getting promoted to 'cool' would mean twice as much as being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

I had drill yesterday and it was a pretty busy day to the point that after 10 hours of that, 2.5 hours of commuting, evening mass and then dinner I was flat worn out. I collapsed in my snoozing chair and fell asleep until about 12:30 a.m. when Molly, concerned with my well being, started poking me with her cold, wet nose. I managed to wake up and saw her bright little eyes gazing intently at me to see if I was still alive or not. Who knew dogs cared so much?

I am off to Wilmington DE tomorrow for 4 days. This is the same trip that I was supposed to do the Monday after Father's day but got horribly sick and didn't make it. This time I am going no matter what happens. Anyway, this means no Grouch updates until the end of the week.

Upcoming events: The Saugus High School band and Color Guard will be having their pool party this Friday in our pool! The significance of this for Craig is beyond measure. We can only hope all goes well. Saturday and Sunday we will be attending the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. This is not a golf tournament. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big Bear part 3 and SGT Kurt's Big Adventure

So, you probably thought I was safely done with the Big Bear trip but there is still some more to tell. We saw two movies while we were there: Public Enemies with Johnny Depp and The Proposal with Sandra Bullock. If you like old cars and automatic weapons then Public Enemies is the movie for you. I marveled at two things: how well the Thompson submachine guns ran with blanks (nary a jam on camera) and that the actors actually changed magazines during the firefights. The Proposal was enjoyable and fun to watch although I couldn't see Sandra Bullock as the much feared tyrant boss that she was supposed to be. She is too cute to be mean. Mary and I saw her when we were in the audience at a Jay Leno show taping. She was very witty in person and seemed like a really fun person.

Anyway we couldn't stay away from the wild wilderness and on Friday we went for another hike to see The Champion Lodgepole Pine and Castle Rock. All in all the hike turned into an 8 mile walk. The CLP is the tallest lodgepole pine in the area or the west or both. I'm not sure at this point but it was a very tall tree. As always, click on the picture for a larger view.

Mary and Marla at the CLP trailhead

Checking out the corn lillys near the CLP

Proof that Mary has gone off-roading at least once in the Jeep

The view from near Castle Rock of Big Bear Lake

Now for something completely different.......
SGT Kurt arrived home last night from 3 weeks service in Australia with the CAARNG on joint exercises with the USMC and the Australian Army. The flight from Long Beach took about 18 days but the flight back was a day shorter due to crossing the date line (actually it was about a day or so but it seemed longer). Kurt had many adventures which frequently involved large, ugly and possibly poisonous spiders. His tales of derring-do and Army misadventures rivaled anything Bill Mauldin would have written had he been there. Kurt can tell a story like no one else. He makes me think of my Grandfather who could spin a story and keep me in stitches listening. Another successful adventure for Kurt!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Big Bear vacation part 2

Tuesday was our big 10.5 mile round trip hike to the fire tower on Butler Peak .
We climbed about 1,500 ft in elevation in the 5.5 miles to the fire tower. Mary, Marla, me and the five dogs did the hike. There is a road to the fire watch tower but it is closed due to a forest fire in the area in 2006. I don't know when the Forest Service plans to re-open the road to vehicle travel.
(click on photos for a larger view)
Mary has been walking at least 5 miles a day for the past year or so and is in great shape. She shrugged this hike off as a walk in the park.
Marla's dog Blossom got the papoose treatment for part of the way. The climb and the heat was a bit much for a gentleman of his age.

As we approached the watch tower the road grew steeper but at least we could see our goal as we climbed.

Yes, the tower is perched high on the mountain!

The tower is complete with an outhouse, propane tank and radios.

Before you can climb the steep metal stairs to the tower you must negotiate a rocky path to the base of the tower.

Mary at the top of the stairs. Much to our surprise a couple were running the tower that day. They were a retired couple who volunteer for this duty. They chided Mary and Marla for being there - it seems the road is closed to people and vehicles (even though there was no sign to that effect). Then they had them sign the guest log. 50 other people had made the hike to the tower this season compared to 5,000 when the road is open for driving. The Grouch sensibly stayed below the tower in the parking lot to keep the dogs company.

Marla enjoying the view (which was straight down on a couple sides of the tower!).

I stayed to console the dogs while the ladies were absent. After having some snacks and drinks we headed back down the hill. The walk back down was in some ways even more strenuous than the hike up!