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.