Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The 4 3 3 4 Theory

Last December Char, Nathan, and I were in Chicago for Tiffany’s graduation. We stayed with our good friend, Millie. One morning over breakfast, I told Millie I really felt comfortable in her home.

I don’t flippantly make that comment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have made that comment and still have fingers left over.

When Millie found out we would be in Chicago for Thanksgiving she offered us her house. She was going to be gone over Thanksgiving and said we could stay there, the kids could stay there, and we could have Thanksgiving dinner at her home.

When Char told me, I liked the idea because I do feel comfortable at Millie’s. While talking about it with the kids I developed a theory – the 4, 3, 3, 4 theory. Simply put – four years ago there were three of us at Thanksgiving, this year we were trying to bring together three families at a fourth families house and she wasn’t even going to be there. Both kids called me a geek. I think that was their way of saying they agreed with the theory.

When we arrived at Millie's we discovered she had left towels and linens out for everyone. She encouraged us to eat anything we could find. She left two pages of notes on where we could find things in her house and she left the keys to the car in case we wanted to use it.

She also did me a special favor by setting out Peet’s coffee. Millie introduced me to Peet’s coffee. She brought me a bag on one of her visits to Colorado. Every morning at Millie’s house, I would wake up and make a pot of that wonderful coffee.

But, like the old saying goes – there’s no free lunch. What did Millie want in return for four nights of lodging, letting eight people congregate in her home, enjoying Peet’s coffee every morning, and rummaging through her kitchen on Thanksgiving Day? She asked me to replace two nine-volt batteries – if I had time. I replaced them and left her a note telling her it took thirty seconds of my life that I will never get back.

If you read my previous post, you know we had a great time at Thanksgiving. That’s due mainly to Millie’s generosity. That and the fact – I really do feel comfortable there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Review

I’m one of those people who believe Holidays, like Thanksgiving, are stressful. This past Thanksgiving was no exception. I had to fly into and out of O’Hara airport. First of all, I hate to fly. Secondly, there is bad blood between the O’Hara airport and I.

Besides the flying part, Char and I had a great time in Chicago with the kids. Here are some of the highlights.

Upon arriving, we went to DOR’s (Daughter of Ralph) and SILOR’s (Son in Law of Ralph) apartment. It looked almost like the first apartment Char and I had.

While there, we played a little Guitar Hero. I got exceptionally good at playing ‘Slow Ride’, but decided not to become a rock and roll star when I retire. I mean there is all that traveling, and then the whole groupie thing.

Char and I had the privilege of taking in one of SILOR’s basketball games. SILOR is number three. They won with a score of 73 to 48. SILOR scored twelve points.

On Wednesday, SILOR entertained us. He took us to a place for lunch called the Soup Box. They have twelve different kinds of soups and encourage you to mix soups together. Now, I admit that it sounds a little weird but ‘when in Chicago. . . .’ I asked the guy what he recommended and he suggested the chicken and sausage gumbo mixed with the creamy chicken and rice. I swallowed hard and said I would try it. To be honest, it was fantastic. It also gave Char a great idea for a Super Bowl party.

SILOR then took us to the school where DOR teaches. It is the first marine military academy in the nation. It’s a nice school, but it was also the first time I heard my little baby girl referred to as Mrs. Gordon, that made me smile.

Thursday morning SOR (Son of Ralph) and SORSO (Son of Ralph’s Significant Other) showed up as we were having breakfast. SOR told everyone that for Thanksgiving we dress formal. They arrived all dressed up. I’m sure this is just one of the many times SORSO has wanted to strangle him

The kids are getting tired of hearing this but. . . .if a year ago, someone would have told me I would be in Chicago to celebrate Thanksgiving with DOR, SILOR, SOR and SORSO I would have laughed. If they told me that DOR would do most of the cooking, I would have laughed even harder. Yet, DOR cooked enough food to feed half of Chicago. It started with appetizers including a cheese ball with crackers and celery and cheese provided by SORSO. Celery and cheese is a necessity at Thanksgiving, the kids would throw a fit if we didn’t have it – well, maybe not. Then we proceeded to have a twenty-pound turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes, and a few other dishes. It was finished off with pecan pie, and pumpkin cheesecakes in the shape of miniature pumpkins. All of it was extremely good.

This was followed by an evening full of games. Playing Guesstures all the guys ended up on the same team and of course, we were beaten. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. We even did a group huddle – it didn’t help.

Friday we were in downtown Chicago, along with everyone else. We took in many sites but two of my favorites were the skydeck at the Sears tower and Millennium Park. Sears Tower was completed in 1974. Ten thousand people work in the building and it is visited by one and a half million people a year. The skydeck is located on the 103 floor. You get there by taking an elevator that travels 18 MPH.

At Millennium Park, you can see Cloud Gate, better known as the bean. It looks like a giant jellybean, it’s 66 feet long, and 33 feet high. Now brace yourself because I’m about to tell you how much it cost. You ready? This bean cost $23 million. You can read more about it here.

When it was time to leave, getting on the airplane, I noticed our pilot had gray hair – that is a comforting thing if you don’t like to fly. Shortly after we took off, over the intercom the pilot said something like, “It a beautiful day to fly. My job and the job of the entire flight crew is to get you to Denver safely.” I told Char I really liked the pilot. She said all pilots say that. “Yeah” I replied, “but this one sounds like he means it.” And with that, I fell asleep after a great Thanksgiving full of family and food in Chicago.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sunday Funnies

A preacher retired and moved to the country to enjoy life and practice his hobby of yard work. Needing a lawn mower, he headed into town to buy one.

On the way, he saw a sign advertising a lawn mower for sale. He stopped at the house and a young lad came out to greet him. The preacher asked about the lawn mower and the kid said it was behind the house. The two went to look at the lawn mower.

The engine was sputtering along at idle speed. The preacher increased the speed of the engine and mowed a few strips. Satisfied that the mower would do the job they settled on a price of $50.00.

Later in the day, the young lad was riding his bicycle when he spied the preacher pulling on the engine starter rope. The kid stopped and watched for a couple of minutes. He asked, "What's wrong?" The reply came, "I can't get this mower started. Do you know how?" The kid said, "Yep."

"Well, how do you do it? Tell me!” the preacher yelled. The kid replied, "You have to cuss it."

The preacher rose up indignantly. "Now you listen here. I am a preacher and if I ever did cuss, not saying I have, I've forgotten how to do it after all these years."

With a wise look on his face well beyond his years, the kid said, "Preacher, you keep on pulling that rope and it'll all come back to ya."

Courtesy of Rachel

Monday, November 19, 2007

Growing Up Ralph - Thanksgiving Tribute

I’m not sure if love is blind but I do think at times it’s pretty gullible.

Years ago, when Char and I were dating, Thanksgiving was a few weeks away. I asked if she would like to go to the district turkey shoot with me. Being young and in love, she immediately said yes.

The district turkey shoot involved all the people on my district competing for the largest frozen turkey by shooting clay pigeons. Clay pigeons are round, brightly colored clay disks, four inches in size, which are flung through the air by a machine. It's normally called trap shooting but because of Thanksgiving, we dubbed it the ‘turkey shoot’.

While driving up the mountain, Char said she had never been to a turkey shoot before. Hearing that, I didn’t want to bore her with minor details like shooting clay pigeons and frozen turkeys. I reached behind the seat, handed her a pair of long leather gloves, and told her she might want to put them on. She stared at them then asked why. “Oh, those are so the turkey spurs (claws) won’t tear up your arms . . . as bad.”

Now she was taking a real interest in the event, she even wanted to know what she had to do. “Well, when we get there put the gloves on, go to the cage and grab one of turkeys.” I had to pause to answer her question. Of course, they're live turkeys, you can’t shoot a dead one.

"Try and grab them as close to the legs as you can, that way they can’t kick as much and you can somewhat control how bad you get cut by the spurs.” I had to pause here for another question – of course, all the other girl friends and wives do the same thing. They have been for years, perhaps they can give you some pointers.

“When you’re holding the legs try not and worry about the beak. Those pecks really don’t hurt. . . .that much.” Another question – yeah, they peck, I thought everyone knew that.

I continued, “Say I don’t suppose you brought an extra set of clothes?” When she replied no I went on, “Man, that’s to bad. You see the natural tendency is to hold the turkey close to your body in an effort to control the spurs and the beak. But that’s the last thing you want to do, hold them away from you. If you hold them to close you’ll end up being covered with turkey crap and that stuff really stinks.” Another question. I felt obligated to answer, “Of course they do, if someone yanked you out of a cage and was about to throw you in the air to be shot at wouldn’t you?”

As we pulled into the field where the turkey shoot was to be held I had one last suggestion. “Oh yeah,” I said, “after you throw the turkey in the air don’t forget to fall to the ground . . . don’t want to get hit by any stray buckshot.”

Everyone just stared as Char climbed out wearing long leather gloves. She must have had a good time – she still married me. And, for that, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sunday Funnies

Each Friday night after work, Stubby would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak. But, all of Stubby's neighbors were Catholic....and since it was Lent, they were forbidden from eating meat on Friday.

The delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest.

The Priest came to visit Stubby, and suggested that he become a Catholic. After several classes and much study, Stubby attended Mass.....and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, "You were born a Baptist, and raised a Baptist, but now you are a Catholic."

Stubby's neighbors were greatly relieved, until Friday night arrived, and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.

The Priest was called immediately by the neighbors, and, as he rushed into Stubby's yard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped and watched in amazement.

There stood Stubby, clutching a small bottle of holy water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat and chanted: "You wuz born a deer, you wuz raised a deer, but now you is a catfish."

Courtesy of Dan Morrow

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ralph On Fire - Sector F

(NOTE: This is the first of a sporadic series of stories called “Ralph on Fire” about events which happened on forest fires. Throughout this series, you will hear much about a man named Alan. Alan was and still is a good friend. He has helped me remember the details of many of these stories.)

Standing at the edge of the helipad, I was shaking. The helipad is where helicopters land on forest fires. The helipad manager was standing next to me saying,” You can’t go any closer until the engines are off Sir. Sir, do you understand me?” I was not used to having older men call me “Sir”. He knew what had happened and he knew I was shaking from pure, unfiltered, anger. Waiting for the helicopter engine to shut down, I started recalling the events of the day. . . . .

It was a typical fire briefing. Crew bosses and division bosses huddled around as the Fire Boss, the ultimate authority on a fire, started the briefing. The fire boss and others conducted two briefings a day, a morning and evening briefing. Briefings told you where on the line your crew would be, what your objectives were, what type of weather to expect, communication plans, safety issues, and the like. You were also given a packet of information and a map highlighting your section of line.

The structure of fire teams is a lot like the military. As a crew boss, I was responsible for supervising and the safety of the crew. Each crew has two squads, a group of ten people, one of which is a squad boss. The squad boss is a working leader responsible for directing and supervising the firefighters.

At the briefing, our crew was assigned sector F. The Fire Boss was quick to point out we were not going to like the assignment. “Campbell, that is some very steep ground, extremely steep. The past few days we had a team of sawyers in there cutting a lot of trees. They left a mess. We have trees jack-strawed all through that section of the line. We want your crew to clean it up.”

When the Fire Boss was finished the safety officer jumped in, “Campbell, that section of line is really steep and rugged. The fire shouldn’t move that direction today but you have very limited visibility so a lookout will be posted across the canyon on the other mountain.” Then the communication person made sure the lookout and I knew what radio frequencies we were to use.

Standing on top of the ridge looking down at our sector it was clear they were not lying. It was steep - real steep. It also looked like a tornado had just gone down the hill ripping trees out of the ground and laying them every which way. I knew two things. First, safety on that terrain, with chain saws, and sharp tools was going to be an issue. Secondly, this was not a one-day job we would be back.

Before sending the squads down the mountain, I radioed the lookout across the canyon. He was in place and the radios were working well.

One squad was to work the upper portion of the mountain, the other squad the lower half. One of the squad bosses on this fire was Alan, a good friend of mine. Alan knew the aspects of fire much better than I did; I was a little better at the organizational side of things. We had been on many fires together and made a great team.

We had worked through the morning taking brief breaks and stopping for lunch. My smashed bologna and cheese sandwich with somebody’s handprint embedded in it tasted like a gourmet meal. As we were finishing lunch, the lookout radioed. He was checking in and to let us know that the fire was increasing in intensity.

By mid afternoon, I was at the bottom of the mountain working with some squad people and we were starting to see progress. The mess we had stepped into earlier was starting to get cleared up. Throughout the day, Alan, the other squad boss, and I had stayed in close radio contact as the fire rumbled in the background.

Suddenly a helicopter appeared overhead and over the speaker system came the following message, “Drop your tools and run. Get out of there NOW!” I was responsible for the crew and was going to be the last one out. It wasn’t a conscious choice, just a fact. I was at the bottom of the mountain and every crewperson was ahead of me.

Everyone dropped their hand tools, chainsaws, and whatever they had that could slow them down and started scrambling towards the top of the mountain. The smoke was increasing and visibility dropped rapidly. It didn’t matter. We all knew which way we had to run – up. Even with the dense smoke, we ran hard as the noise from the fire increased, sounding like a freight train charging through the woods. It became increasing louder and louder and was bearing down on us.

Nearing the top of the mountain, gasping for air, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me up. Then we ran some more until we reached our safety zone.

Turning towards our section of line we watched as a wall of flames engulfed the canyon where we had been just moments before. The heat drastically increased and the smoke became so thick it was hard to see the person next to you.

Sitting in the safety zone, we caught our breath and gathered our wits. I got on the radio and called fire camp. Immediately the question came back, “Is uh. . . .is uh . . . everyone all right and accounted for?” Everyone was safe but the crew was split up. We requested transportation back to camp and then started regrouping.

Walking away from sector F some crew members were yelling and cussing, some were walking quietly and somber. Then someone made the startling revelation, “I think I figured out what the ‘F’ stands for!”

Back at camp, I immediately went to the helipad. I really wanted to “talk” to our lookout. Standing at the helipad shaking I had no idea what I was going to say or for that matter do. The helicopter engines had shut down and the lookout got out. He immediately looked at me and asked if everyone was okay – tears had and were still rolling down his face. “My batteries. . . my radio batteries went dead. I couldn’t warn you. I tried. I really, really tried.”

We walked away from the helipad talking about what had happened. It was an accident. There was no anger, there was no hostility, just a lot of relieve that everyone had made it out okay.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sunday Funnies

A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, who looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabbie, St. Peter invites him to pick up a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven.

A preacher is next in line behind the cabby and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher's entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but take that cloth robe and wooden staff."

The preacher is astonished and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely I rate higher than a cabbie."

St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: "This is heaven and up here, we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabbie drove his taxi, people prayed."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Caved

Maybe you haven’t noticed but there is a subtle transition taking place on the food network. The titles of the dishes they are making are becoming longer and longer. In some cases, it takes longer to say the name than it does to prepare the meal.

Instead of saying “Fish and Salad”, they describe it as “Crispy Pan Seared Florida Snapper with Passion Fruit Cream and Florida Citrus and Shaved Fennel Salad, Garnished with Sautéed Florida Gulf Shrimp and Spicy Green Mango Jam.”

Instead of “Chicken with Gravy”, they declare it “Chicken Marvalasala and Pappardelle with Rosemary Gravy.”

No longer can we just have “Roasted Chicken” oh no, we have to have “Herb-Stuffed Roasted Chicken with Reduced Pan Gravy, and Herbed Rice Pilaf with Peas.”

I thought about resisting this new trend but a few days ago, I cooked a chicken and well. . . I caved. (Imagine a picture here.) I meant to take a picture when the chicken came out of the oven but it smelled good, and looked even better. Instead of taking a picture, I ripped off a wing and began to eat. I was munching on the wing when I realized I had forgotten the picture. I looked at the mutilated chicken and decided to forego the picture, I mean – well, presentation is everything.

Then it came time to name this award-winning dish. I did what the big boys are doing. It’s called “Dutch Oven Roasted Butter Basted Butt Rubbed Wingless Chicken.”

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sealed Frustration

Home from the store I started putting everything away - most people do that.

When I got to the bottle of aspirin, I decide to open it and put it in the medicine cabinet. I opened the sealed box and took out the bottle. Then I noticed the “Safety Seal” around the lid. I fought with that little plastic seal while staring at the message it was “put there for my protection”. Grabbing at a knife I almost cut myself. I started muttering something like, “For my protection my. . .” Finally, I cut through the plastic seal.

Now, I’m at the hard part, the child proof cap. Past experience has taught me those child proof caps can be hard to open the first time or two so I decided to get it out of the way. I struggled with that thing for a few minutes. It finally opened when I was heading out the door to find a neighbor kid. What a relief. I hate having the neighborhood kids help me with my medication.

Walking across the room to pick up the cap (how it got there is not important) I noticed the foil on the lid opening. You have to remove all of that foil. If you don’t every time you shake out an aspirin, it will hit that one little piece of foil and go flying across the room. Reaching for my trusty knife, I cut through the foil and scrapped it off the lid. We are making progress!

I hate the fact they stuff cotton in those bottles. You cannot get your finger in there to get it out. Your trusty knife won’t do the trick either – it’s too big. So, you need your reliable ballpoint pen. Of course, in the process of trying to get the cotton out you slip and stab yourself with the pen – hey, it’s better than the knife, right?

Okay, the box has been opened and thrown away, the “safety seal” has been cut off and is still clinging to the knife, on my own I was able to open the child proof lid, all the foil has been removed, and the cotton is a wadded up mess laying on the counter.

I’m ready to put the aspirin away, right after I take a couple.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Funnies

A little girl is sitting on her grandpa's lap and studying the wrinkles on his old face. She gets up the nerve to rub her fingers over the wrinkles. Then she touches her own face and looks more puzzled.

Finally the little girl asks, "Grandpa, did God make you?"

"He sure did honey, a long time ago," replies her grandpa.

"Well, did God make me?" asks the little girl.

"Yes, He did, and that wasn't too long ago," answers her grandpa.

"Boy," says the little girl, "He's sure doing a lot better job these days, isn't He?"