Saturday, February 28, 2009

Too Big...For Their Britches

01 March 2009

So now the big cry from the conservative side is against nationalization. Well folks, hate to tell you, but it is already here. The only difference is that the Federal Government is letting the new owners of these banks, brokerages and dens of thievery (you and me) continue to be poked in the eye by the little rich kids who haven’t been told that their not rich anymore and who think their crap don’t stink and allowing them to continue to do whatever they want to. Who are WE to question THEM? Well, I guess we’re only the ones who put up how many billions to bail their butts out of bankruptcy, that’s all!

“I’m too big to fail and you can’t do anything about me taking my bonus', my vacations with the company jets, throwing lavish parties (but I already bought my new gown a month before the bailout, so it must be okay to still throw the party!!) and I’ll make a bigger pain in the ass of myself if you don’t play the financial game just like I want to have it played.” Not to mention continuing the same management style (and attitudes) that brought on the problems being dealt with right now.

Well, wait a minute…wasn’t it by the generosity of American tax dollars that you were saved from the brink of bankruptcy.

“Yes, but you still haven’t gotten the clue-bomb that I’m too big to fail. So you can’t touch me or I’ll tell Mom on you.”

If I remember right, someone being on the brink of bankruptcy hasn’t stopped you guys from hounding about 2% of the population with mortgages that are currently unable to make their mortgage. It certainly hasn’t stopped the calls to their homes when these same taxpayers have missed credit card payments. Why is this any different?

“Aren’t you listening!!!! I told you already, we’re too big to fail. We’re too big to touch. So there!” (this is the part where they stick out their tongue at the news cameras and give us raspberries.)

But I certainly don’t recall in 1990 the government offering to bail out my Dad when he lost his corporation and house to bankruptcy….Oh, that’s right. He ISN’T big enough for the government to allow not to fail. Different rules, different game….or is it?

The new game needs to be that if you don’t want nationalization while you’re still at the reigns of your company…don’t take government “bailout” cash. None. Zero, Zilch... Nada! You say you’ll go bankrupt? Good, declare bankruptcy already and stop draining the taxpayer pockets with your piss-poor mismanagement and all the other frivolities that WE keep having to pay for.

Believe it or not, you are not too big to fail. So stop taking the funds or just calmly move over and let Uncle Sam step in and guarantee the funds they have spoken for. Then Uncle Sam can finally evaluate and acquire all your assets for the Resolution Trust Fund 2 to reorganize and sell at the appropriate time.

No golden parachutes, no fun parties with cool bands, no corporate jets flying to Washington to plead your case, no whining, no crying, no more of your gross mismanagement of funds and policy, no more fleecing of the taxpayer, no more “too big to fail.” Amen

August 2010

I guess it is almost like getting marching orders. Now all we wait for are the details. After having contracted here since January of 2004, it is a bit surreal to have a date attached to the words, “end of contract.”

As I said, we have no specifics. We could be relocated to work this job from another location for all I know. Now we just wait to find out what the firm date means to us. Am I done with contracting? I hope not. I kind of like the flexibility and the opportunities this has allowed me. Once you get to traveling the world, it kind of gets in your blood. I can’t even guess if forced to settle down in a 8-5, how I’d fair!

We had a saying in Antarctica…The first time you go down for the adventure. The second contract, you go down for the cash. The third and subsequent contracts you go down because you don’t fit in anywhere else! I hope it’s not true…although I’ve been told that I’m a freak before. :p

I’ve mentioned before that it has become much quieter here in the last year or so. I think there is still resistance, especially to the patrols that are still out humping in the streets and cities. But as far as the base goes, things are quieter here in Iraq. Looks like all the evil talent with any skill has gone east to Afghanistan to keep their terrorism skills sharpened. Doesn’t mean there aren’t bad guys here, just fewer of them.

The recent elections seemed to indicate that as well. No violence during the elections and better overall participation from the population.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drama Alert!!!

26 January 2009

What a day! All drama, all day and it was ALL about the LT (pronounced el tee for all you non-military types.) Let me introduce her to you for starters. She is a very nice, petite Italian-American 23 year old former Miss Unnamed-Small-East-Coast-State that I’ll leave unnamed for now and has been in the Army for three years. I’d be the first to admit that professionally she has her act together, but as a young woman it is ALL about her…and today was no exception.

So when I came into work this morning, I’ll concede that she was a bit stuffed-up sounding in the nasal passages, but the oh-woe-is-me sighs every fifteen minutes with that little groany moan was overdoing it just a little bit. But...then came the explanation of why she was stuffy.

“Well, this morning I was like out running out by the General’s quarters and two helo’s came in low and like purposely kicked up dust as they were like landing on the pads across from the General’s quarters. Well! All that dust just has me like so stuffed up now, I just can’t breath and like my face feels swollen and my sinuses are like just so clogged up, and I just feel so miserable (and I hope you’re feeling as miserable or worse listening to me, as I feel). But when I got up to the pad, like I saw that I knew the pilots and they just thought it was so funny to kick up all that dust since they knew me and recognized me running.”

And she didn’t just tell me, she proceeded to tell every object living and not that passed the desk, so I got to hear the story about thirty times over about five hours. But then, disaster struck again. Upon returning in the truck from building 17, she realized that she had just lost her new preppy reading glasses. Admittedly, they were stylish, but she loses things all the time, so it really wasn’t something that I’d consider a national catastrophe that she’s misplaced or lost these glasses that she’d only had two days.

Then if we (I use the collective term, because when SHE is miserable, we all have to be miserable and having a “bad day”), disaster struck yet again. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, lightening can strike twice in the same place! OMG, Miss Chicklette Teeth has split one of the beautiful stick-on teeth that Donald Trump supposedly paid for when she entered into the Miss America Pageant having won the Miss Unnamed-Small-East-Coast-State.

I will have you know that it was at this point in the afternoon, the clocks all stopped. Former Miss Unnamed-Small-East-Coast-State about had a meltdown that her sparkly-white Chicklette tooth was split in half! I mean, OMG, she hadn’t even received the replacement crown that came loose only a month ago that she ended up swallowing when she tripped over a curb while chewing gum!

Now I’m sure that I don’t need to even tell you the fun we had with that one. Someone asked if she was monitoring her “output” to retain the crown to have it put back in. You just don’t want to know the horror on her face at THAT suggestion…or the tears in our eyes as we discussed the possibility of a one-toothed Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, coming out with one big-old “teefer” and singing All I Want For Christmas Is My One Front Tooth!

So now we have the LT holding and covering with her little finger like Mike Meyers in Goldfinger to protect our possibly-horror-filled eyes from the sight of the dangling Chicklette which has split in two, rushing around and trying to find someone with a vehicle to take her to the dentist to have her Humpty-Dumpty broken stick-on-tooth pasted back onto her real tooth which we can only speculate was probably discolored from tea, coffee and blueberry pie as a child…long before her participating as Miss Unnamed-Small-East-Coast-State in the Miss America Pageant.

Senior Chief (Navy Sr Chief—we work in a blended office since we operate in a Joint Forces Environment) volunteers to take her with their vehicle, “but I want to see it! Can I see it?!” Her almost-Shakespearean response is,” No, no one may see it. (Woe is me, I’m doomed!) I just have to get to the dentist, NOW!” What, are we going to turn to stone if we catch a glimpse of her damaged grill?! Gimme a break.

As sweet as she is, you’ll have to admit that she is rather “high maintenance” so to speak. Okay, she might be compared to say Zsa Zsa Gabor without the bitch-slapping of the cop incident, because the LT knows how to get her way and respects authority.

So it was a fun day all in all. Where else could we get so much entertainment squeezed into a 12-hour day? Well, this was just one full day of drama and I am absolutely beat. Sitting next to that woman will do you in. She is admittedly cute, sweet, infectious, but very high-maintenance and will one day make some lucky guy a very miserable and hen-pecked wretch, now won’t she?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


13 January 2009

Or for those not familiar with the airport three letter designators, Kuwait City (KWI) - Seoul, South Korea (Inchon - ICN) - Phoenix (Sky Harbor - PHX) - Chicago O'Hare (formerly Orchard Airfield, thus ORD) - London Heathrow (LHR) - Kuwait City (KWI)

A belated Happy New Year. Sorry that I wasn't able to keep up with the blog over last month. So what I'm gonna do is give you the rundown as pulled from various emails and "notes to self" along the way. The itinerary looked something like this...

Dec 2 - 9 Seoul, Korea and sites around Seoul to include Itaewon, DMZ, Suwon, Insa-dong, Ichon
Dec 9 In transit from Seoul to Tokyo, Tokyo to Seattle, Seattle to Phoenix
Dec 10 - 16 Phoenix/Mesa, Cottonwood/Sedona/Jerome and back to Chandler/Mesa
Dec 16 - Dec 30 Back home outside of Chicago and back to Baghdad via London

In all my travels, this is my first circum-navigation of the globe.

04 December 2008 2230pm

Just a quick email to let you know I arrived in Seoul in one piece. Nearly missed my connection in Dubai! We got stuck circling in the air and then the transfer bus got lost on the way to the terminal....Duh!

So I arrived very sleep deprived and hadn't slept in like 24 hours. Good thing I had the chance to recharge in Kuwait those couple of days. We went out to eat and what do you think my first meal here is??? General Tso's Chicken! Forks weren't even on the table. Guess it's good I know how to use chopsticks.

Slept like a baby last night, but up early today (it's now 0645 and we're headed out the door) to go on the DMZ tour. My phone doesn't work here, so I will just have to make do with email.

All else good. Just wanted to drop you a quick one to let you know I arrived and I'm okay.

05 December 2008 1030am


Or phonetically you might pronounce it as 'yo bo say oh'...hello in Korean. I was told they only use this to answer the phone, but I've heard it in all the shops I've gone in too.

Having a great time since I got in late yesterday afternoon. Today we went on the DMZ tour and also took the tour of the North Korean tunnel #3 that was secretly drilled into South Korea in the 70's or so. Very interesting, but I love history and I've always been a self-proclaimed "M*A*S*H-a-holic" to boot. The tours were a whole day event from 0700 until about 1630. Then when we got back, the three of us went out to a Korean place for dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant and took our shoes off and put them into cubby holes at the entrance. I learned that this is very normal in Korea. It is very bad manners to NOT take your shoes off when you enter a home or restaurant. They may cut you some slack if you’re a westerner the first time or two, but expect to wear out your welcome fast if you don't conform!

So we are seated on the heated floor at a table sitting about two feet off the floor and in the center of the table is a hole with a gas cooker with a metal cooking top that allows you to cook your own food at your table. The restaurant brings out a marinated skirt steak, the side dishes and such and then you cut the meat into strips and cook it on the cooker with garlic and veggies. Lots of garlic. The Koreans LOVE garlic. Everything is eaten by everyone off the same plate and same dishes of sides (which takes a bit of getting used to if you've never experienced it before). Everyone at the table just kind of reaches in with their chopsticks and eats communally together. I was filled in while we were eating that when a very traditional family eats, the oldest male will eat first before anyone else digs in.

Up until this dinner, I had successfully avoided kimche during my first 24 hours in country, but broke down and had to have some at dinner. Not bad, and I like the spicy stuff anyway. But still, I don't plan on making a steady diet of it! ;) problem. It's almost like I came out of the womb with them! Although I will say that the stainless steel chopsticks I used today were far superior to the big clunky black lacquered ones I used last night.

So, you might ask about my first impressions of South Korea. Well, after spending so much time in the Middle East, I'd have to say that Korea is much cleaner and more westernized than I expected. But these false expectations might have been given to me by people that have been there but probably weren't in Korea since the 90's. Things change. I found that Korea is a like any other westernized city (oriental or occidental) in the world. I also noticed the lack of obvious societal divisions on the level that I've seen in the Middle East. One other thing I noticed is that the Koreans are very much "First Adopters" when it comes to technological gadgets. (A marketer's wet dream, if you will) If it is new, they have GOT to have it....NOW!!!

06 December 2008 1430pm

Sorry that I haven't called home at all. I figured the email would be enough for all of you right now. As I said earlier, my phone doesn't work here. I'll talk with my gracious hosts about using their phone and try to call this morning (your this morning, my tonight!) before I go to bed. I can't dial direct from their home phone, but I've got my AT&T calling card, so I just need to find out how to access their system here in Korea. It's kind of a pain that we are like 15 hours ahead of you, so the time schedule is really a pain in the butt to remember what time it is back there.

We went to see the fortress at Suwon today (about 1-1/2 hours south in bumper to bumper traffic). The trip to Suwon was nice but the weather here is like Chicago in January....very windy and very cold....snot-cicle cold! Standing up at the guard tower #3 at the DMZ yesterday on top of a mountain with 40 mile an hour winds and temps at 20 was a bit chilly and today wasn't any warmer at Suwon.

The fortress at Suwon is a UNESCO Heritage site. After WWII and the Korean War, the city was pretty devastated. Fortunately, the town had the original plans stashed away and pulled them out in the 80's or 90's to rebuild the fortress and city back to its original glory.

From Suwon, we went over to Osan AB for shopping. Nice base. I finished up my Christmas shopping for all but one gift. The weather here has been as cold and bitter as by you guys in Chicago! It's a good thing you sent the hat, coat and gloves or I'd be really freezing my butt off.

I decided to get a few mink blankets and will give a couple of them as gifts. They are really warm and nice feeling. I have a small one on my bed in Baghdad, but it isn't as nice as these are. They are microfiber and are warm to the touch. I ended up having to buy a suitcase for all the blankets I bought! At only $20 a piece, it is a steal. Also found a nice set of stainless chopsticks with matching spoons for the brother-in-law. Him having been stationed in Korea before he wanted a nice set for home. Normally the Koreans eat with the chopsticks and these spoons a little larger than tablespoons with long handles like Ice tea spoons. So you eat your ramen with the chopsticks and drink the soup with the spoon.

Also got necklaces for the girls. Found a nice white jade, a beautiful teardrop shaped purple amethyst and a nice smoky gray tiger's eye. I think the only gift left to buy now is the Celadon pot or vase for Cheryl (and a nice vase for me for the entry at home) and some hand painted fans for the girls stockings. And I'm done! Wooo-hooo. But you know what a bore shopping is for me!!!! ;) You can get up off the floor now!

07 December 2008 2100pm

Good morning! I slept in this morning to wake up to snow! Believe it or not, we have done so much walking that I'm sore. Even though back in Baghdad I've been running 4 and 6 milers the past two months, I don't get the uphill/downhill workout that I do in this place. My calves and quads are feeling the hills! Been doing a bunch of uphill/downhill walking like down into the North Korean tunnel that was dug into the south side and walking up the mountain above Suwon at the fortress. Well, that and just walking locally. The steepness of all the inclines here in Itaewon remind me so much of walking in San Francisco...not quite as scenic as San Fran, but just as steep.

Well, got to hop in the shower and then off for another day of fun. We are staying local today and just taking the subway around. Today we're supposed to be heading out to shop in the Insa-dong area. Lots of local crafts, furniture, wood carving, pottery and such. If I didn't do enough shopping outside of Osan, I'll make up for it today!

Had my first taste of soju. I had been forewarned not to do more than two. For some reason, rice grain alcohol and kool-aid have a delayed effect on the body and you don't realize how much you've consumed until you try to get out of your chair! But I only had one and then onto the strip to have a few beers. The weather was cold tonight and I'm still sore from all the uphill walking around here. I will look forward to a nice bath or two to relax my weary bones when we get to the hotels in AZ and home by next week this time.

08 December 2008

Trip to Ichon. One of the trips I knew that I wanted to make was down to Ichon to the place where the Celadon pottery is made. I had seen some beautiful Celadon when I was in Kuwait (including one pot with cranes on it that I liked) but I wasn't going to pay the $300 they wanted. Same pot in Ichon only cost me about $125! We looked around at a strip mall of shops to get an idea what was available and then broke for lunch. Can't buy pottery on an empty stomach.

We go into the restaurant just down the block a bit from the shops, take off our shoes and sit down on the nicely warm and heated floor in front of a table in the main restaurant. They don't speak English and my host speaks some Korean. No problem, we will be adventurous. If he can eat all this stuff and is still standing, I'll give it a shot too! First they brought out this soup. One taste and I was in L-O-V-E! This had to have been the absolute best pumpkin soup I've ever had in my life! Fresh pumpkins (should have figured since they had bunches of them in the entry and in the restaurant as decoration too) and probably fresh cream. I'd of had her write down the recipe if I could speak and read Korean.

Then on to the main course. The waitress wheels out a cart and just starts filling the table we are sitting at with all kinds of bowls and plates. It was a regular Korean smorgasbord for lunch! I didn't much care for the fish, but the pork and beef were great....and noooo, I didn't order ANY kagogi...that I know of (you know, woof, woof, woof or probably yap, yap, yap). I was forewarned on that. Then again, how would I know whether it was on the menu when I don't read or speak Korean? The lunch specials menu probably read, "Lunch Special: All You Can Eat Kagogi! Finger-licking Good and Good For You" and I wouldn't have known the difference, now would I? Hmmm, of course, they could have snuck it in somewhere in that smorgasbord of mystery food and who'd of been the worst for the wear?! Well then, if they did, it tasted like chicken, or beef...or pork...and I liked it! It was there!

After we were sufficiently stuffed, we put our shoes back on, paid the nice people about $8 a piece (for all that food! can you believe it?) and got on with the job of pottery shopping. I think I only spent about 200,000 won (about $165-175 all total) on pottery. They had these great Celadon pill boxes that were great for stocking stuffers for the nieces too. Good thing I didn't bring my whole bankroll of won, because I saw this monstrous pot that an adult could have hidden in that I would have bought. I have no idea where it would have lived at home, but it was a great buy! Spoken like a true shopper.

09 December 2008 0500am

I can't believe how fast the time is going. Sorry I haven't called. It kinda sucks that my phone doesn't work here...I’m about lost without it! Anyway, just finishing up packing and we will be out of here in a couple of minutes to the airport. See you in a few hours...well a few hours according to my itinerary!

I'm sitting in Seoul airport right now at a free internet site, so I thought I'd send off a message. I'm tired but anxious to get to AZ now that I'm this far. I'm just waiting on my flights to Tokyo-Seattle-Phoenix. A few connections this time around. Even with 18 hours of flight and some wait-time in terminals in Tokyo and Seattle, I still will end up arriving in Phoenix three hours after I leave Seoul!

09 December 2008 2130pm

Arrived back in the US on Tuesday the 9th. As posted in the itinerary, I arrived in Seattle two hours after I left. I'm not quite fully understanding this whole international date line stuff, but it seems to work somehow!

I left Seoul in a light rainstorm and my first leg had me changing planes in Tokyo. I finally was hungry and decided to catch a Sapporo (Japanese beer) and some chips, so I got in line at a little shop at the airport. Looking up at the menu, I suddenly...saw stars! The Korean woman in front of me had bumped her suitcase and the upright handle happened to slam down the weight of her steamer-trunk-sized suitcase into my crotch. Owww!

"Are you okay?" (Hmmmm, what the heck are you supposed to say to that?!) Well, after I got over my initial shock, I was actually okay. I smiled awkwardly and said yes and then just started laughing. The military makes us wear a flak vest and helmet when we leave Baghdad, but of all things to happen at the airport, that probably isn't one of the situations you'd expect or plan for...otherwise I'd of worn a catcher's cup when I left home! She was rather red-faced at the whole situation and started apologizing all over the place.

Which reminds me of a funny joke I received recently...

Golfing dilemma

Two women were playing golf. One teed off and watched in horror as her ball headed directly toward a foursome of men playing the next hole. The ball hit one of the men. He immediately clasped his hands together at his groin, fell to the ground and proceeded to roll around in agony.

The woman rushed down to the man, and immediately began to apologize. 'Please allow me to help. I'm a Physical Therapist and I know I could relieve your pain if you’d allow me, she told him. 'Oh, no, I'll be all right. I'll be fine in a few minutes,' the man replied.

He was in obvious agony, lying in the fetal position, still clasping his hands at his groin. At her persistence, however, he finally allowed her to help.

She gently took his hands away and laid the man to the side, loosened his pants and put her hands inside. She administered tender and artful massage for several long moments and asked, 'How does that feel?'

He replied, 'It feels great, but I still think my thumb's broken.

Thankfully, the rest of my stay in the Tokyo airport was full of no other surprises. While I was sitting enjoying my beer and chips, an American woman about my age walked up and asked if she could join me. She had just finally gotten out of Bangkok, Thailand after being inconveniently stuck in paradise an extra eight days. But seriously, her story had a silver lining. She was from Seattle but was waiting on the Tokyo/Portland flight which left near the same time as my Tokyo/Seattle flight.

She had been staying at the Ramada in Pattaya which was a government sanctioned hotel. The hotel let her know when this whole little revolution party started that the government was going to be picking up her whole hotel bill and food bill for as many days as she would be inconvenienced in Thailand. (I should ever be so lucky!) That and she was just laid-off from her job before she left. So it wasn't like she needed to get right back home on a set schedule. See, I told you it had a silver lining.

Got out of Tokyo to Seattle and had a few hour layover before moving on to Phoenix via our friends at Alaska Air. During my few hours layover in Seattle, I called my buddy in Chicago. First words out of his mouth are, "Have you seen the news this morning?"

Looking up from the phone, I could see CNN running a story on Blagojevich (our Illinois governor) and the police leading him off in a car.

"Yeah, so they've just arrested Blagojevich. Big deal. He hasn't done anything they'll be able to prove (without spending no less than $6 mil to investigate and such) and even if they do jail him, he'll just end up in the governor's wing of the prison at Illinois' version of Camp Cupcake with former Gov Ryan." Really, what is the point in wasting taxpayer money on another three-ringed political circus. The state's budget is already strained, why do we need another boondoggle for the lawyers? Chicago politics have always been a circus. Why the hell would one expect it to be anything but that when on election days, the precincts with the highest turnouts are the ones with the largest and highest number of cemeteries! Lesson to be learned is that if you don't like Chicago politics, sell your vote to someone who has the stomach for it or move to Florida...oh, that's right. They have their own little voting issues, now don't they?

10 December 2008 0800am

So here we are in Phoenix/Mesa this morning after a very restful night at the Courtyard. My sister and brother-in-law are going to meet us in a little bit here and then we will all head up to Sedona. We're going to start off with a train ride through the mountains in the Verde Canyon around the Sedona area in an old-fashioned 40's style train. It's the "Santa Express" with a guest appearance by you-know-who...Santa Claus! Wooo-hooo! I'm about so excited I could just pee my pants. I still don't know how old Santa makes it back and forth from Camp Victory over to Verde Canyon every Wednesday and Saturday until Christmas! I did see him in line at the chow hall on Thanksgiving Day with his helpful little elves giving out candy canes, so I'll find out more and write you later...

11 December 2008 1910pm

Got your call yesterday afternoon, but we were in and out of phone service on that train ride in the mountains from Cottonwood to Clarksdale and back. By the time I got back, we were at dinner and then the jetlag body-slammed me. It was 9pm when I thought of calling, and I knew you'd be in bed by then, so I figured I would try to catch up with you today.

Oh, and just so that you know, Santa and the elves were quaffing eggnog in the last car of the train after their visit with us on the "Santa Express" through Verde Canyon! Maybe we were such a stiff crowd they all needed a belt to loosen up with afterward to put them back in the "spirit" of things. They thought that we didn't notice, but you just never know what elves are capable of once they let their hair down.

The Adobe Grand Villas, the B&B we stayed at in Sedona was great. With the room "themes", the B&B chef and the Jacuzzi tubs and walk-in showers the rooms were worth whatever they wanted to charge us! We stayed in the "Tuscany" room while my brother-in-law and sister stayed in the Wild West room...complete with the wagon wheel waterfall on the door! Their bed is a Conestoga wagon and the bathroom sinks have old hand pump spigots where the water dispenses. Not to mention the spiral walk in showers. No need for a shower curtain they are so huge. The Jacuzzi soaking tubs don't suck either with their fireplaces in front! Also have fireplaces in front of the beds. I don't know who their decorator was, but they deserve a medal for their work. Talk about attention to detail! In our room, the tiling and everything are just beautiful. And it does remind me so much of Italy.

If you've never been to Sedona, you are going to have to come out to this place. Besides the beautiful red mountains, hiking trails (a lot like Garden of the Gods in Colo Springs) this place also has "New Age" feel and shops here. The Adobe Grand Villas are probably the nicest hotel or B&B I have ever been at...and that has been a bunch around the world! We have been taking mental notes on everything since we both love the Tuscan style. We have taken plenty of pics of our rooms, but does a great job of promoting it too.

Took a quick side-trip over to Jerome. Interesting place, full of art shops and stuff related to the old mining town that it once was. The town has its own flair and charm. Would have liked to have stayed at the haunted hotel on the hill too which used to be a hospital when the town was young and wild. Maybe next time we're in the Sedona area. You can't visit Sedona once and not be drawn back by its beauty and peacefulness.

12 December 2008 2200pm

Sadly, we left Sedona today. It really is a great place. Arrived at our hotel here in Chandler. We are staying at the Wild Horses Resort. Too bad I don't golf as they are supposed to have a very nice course here. Hopefully, we will get to Rawhide for a steak or two although the restaurants in the hotel are top notch too. Maybe we'll even stop by the casino if there is time. Being so close to the 202 and the 10, it is a pretty good location to get anywhere in the Valley.

17 December 2008
Spent the rest of the week in Phoenix area, but I'll be damned if I wrote anything down. It is so much like home that I never really think to jot anything down when I'm there! Anyway, arrived back in Chicago on the 16th as planned, but as we were getting ready to land and passing over 294, you could see the snow on the highways and the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We called the limo when we got in, but he said he was hoping to make it there in an hour! Took us an hour to get to Phil's parents house about 10 miles from the airport. So we ended up staying there for the night. By later Wed morning, the roads were clear and we made our way back home. This was to be only the first of a few snowstorms while I was home.

22 December 2008 0700am

-4F Feels like -29F! Holy shnikies it is cold here! Yes, it is 9pm and a minus 4 with a steady wind of 23 mph giving us a balmy wind chill of -29F! The high today here in Sycamore was a minus 2 with 20 mph winds steady and blowing and drifting snow. There are still blizzard warnings in the western counties (including ours, DeKalb). Not that I'm complaining about being home, but I guess I am. Why can't Christmas take place about mid July and in Hawaii? I have to say, Arizona was so nice...even on the days it rained. To think we went from complaining about rain and 55F degree weather to this!

I have skipped the whole idea of Christmas cards this year. Just too stinkin much going on right now. I feel like I'm rushed to do a million much so that I'm not really feeling like I'm relaxing at all this time around. About as much relaxing as I've done this vacation was the three days in Sedona. It is really heaven up there. I'd love to move up there, but unless you're an artist or a clairvoyant, you are going to have quite a time finding a job!

Other than that, just going crazy here. Ordered the fresh turkey for Tuesday afternoon pickup. Did all the food shopping today. With the extreme cold you'd think people would stay home, but they were all out in full force. Well, gotta get moving here. I've got cheesecakes to be bakin!

Planned traditional Christmas Eve Feast:

To be served in formal dining room, with tablecloth, candles, proper Christmas floral pieces for the dining and dessert tables, china and crystal goblets.

Stuffed 21lb. fresh Turkey (HoKa Turkey from HoKa Turkey Farms in Waterman, Illinois purchased at Inboden Meats on First St in DeKalb)
Dressing w/chopped walnuts, chopped onion & celery, chicken broth and butter (from bird and from oven)
Heinz turkey gravy
Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberries
Mashed potatoes (boiled in chicken broth with one yellow onion to sweeten them up and mashed with butter and sour cream)
asparagus with Hollandaise sauce
Nibletts corn (who doesn't like Green Giant?)
fresh green beans with hickory smoked bacon and chopped onions sautéed in the bacon grease
fresh baked sweet potatoes in the shell
mixed salad with scallions, roma tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled egg

To finish (after gift unwrapping) with your choice of (home baked from scratch) regular sour-cream topped cheesecake or eggnog cheesecake and coffee

Eggnog Cheesecake

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup eggnog
2 eggs
2 tablespoons rum
1 pinch ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
In a medium bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons sugar and butter. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
In a food processor combine cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, flour and eggnog; process until smooth. Blend in eggs, rum and nutmeg. Pour mixture into cooled crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 250 and bake for 45 minutes, or until center of cake is barely firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and immediately loosen cake from rim. Let cake cool completely before removing the rim.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

25 December 2008 1915pm

A very Merry Christmas to you all. This vacation has been a lesson in patience and a reminder of the flakiness of the Chicago weather. Could have been worse. Just watched the news on TV showing people who were stranded at O'Hare over the holiday. We had 3 snowstorms in six days. As soon as we'd get a break, we had to brace for the next one. We've only had about 12 inches of snow overall, but living out in the farms like I do, the roads are slow to get cleared and drifting has been a big issue. With the single digit temps we've been having, the salt didn't really start to work on the ice until the temps warmed up on Christmas Eve to the lower 30's.

I was actually afraid that my sister, brother-in-law and nephews and niece wouldn't be able to make it out because of the weather, but at the last minute the weather broke and warmed up enough for the roads to get cleared. I was imagining gettting stuck with a fresh 21 pound turkey, two home-made cheesecakes (one regular and the other an eggnog cheesecake) and all the assorted food for a dinner to feed 10 (we all like leftovers, so I always cook too much! Who doesn't like turkey sandwiches slathered in Miracle Whip?) Wasn't worried about being stranded with all the liquor to accompany said dinner!

All in all, it has been nice to be home. But at the same time, I think being home any other time of the year is probably better since you get so caught up in the hype of the holidays. Now that the holiday stuff is over, I can get back to packing a few boxes of supplies to send back. Please let me know if there is anything I can ship out for anyone.

Just remember you are all in our thoughts and prayers over the holidays. You're never far from any of our hearts. A very blessed and Merry Christmas to all of you. See all of you again soon.

28 December 2008 2000pm

Just a quick hello to let you know that I'm nearly packed and ready to come back. I need to come back to rest up from this crazy, whirlwind trip. Hope all is going along alright there for you guys. If it makes you feel any better, I've been thinking about you all while I've been home...all good thoughts, don't worry. Have you received any of my other emails? I hadn't heard a peep back from you and am wondering if maybe hotmail has been down again.

It has been nice coming home again (as expected) but things at home are so hectic. I feel like I just rush from one place to another without really relaxing any...especially with the holidays and the interesting weather we've had here.

Just to round off the three snowstorms we've had over the past 10 days, yesterday it warmed up to 50 and it rained about 1-1/2 inches, along with fog as thick as pea soup! Such crazy weather. Lots of flooded roads from the 12 inches of now-melted snow from last week. At least we had the dreamed of "white Christmas". Today is a bit more normal at about 28F this morning and expected high of 38F.

Today I go to see my AFS kid. He is a sophomore in college and is visiting his old American family and bringing his brother. His brother is coming over next school year as an exchange student too. We will see if he speaks better English than his brother did when he arrived! So I am going over there to visit them for a couple of hours in the afternoon, then over to my friend and his family (who I'm godfather to their daughter) to celebrate Christmas.

If there is anything anybody would like while I'm home, please email me and let me know so I can mail it off on Mon or Tues when I go to the post office.

30 December 2008 1600pm

Just a quick one to let you know that I'm leaving home in about two hours for the airport. It is the longer flight via London, but I'll be getting into Kuwait on New Year's Day.

On a sadder note, we ended up having to put our 12-1/2 year old Husky, Cayenne down. We found a lump the size of my fist under her right front leg and the doc said that she had another one starting under the left leg too. She said it was a very fast growing and possibly cancerous tumor and the best thing we could do was put her down now before she was unable to walk and feeling pain. At her age, there is no way that we'd put her through another operation. The Doc said that the lump wasn't there last month when she was at the vet for a checkup and that this was looking like a very aggressive tumor. She said that Cay may have gone another two or three weeks, but it would have become more painful for her the longer we waited. Eventually, she wouldn't be able to walk or get up.

Poor old Cayenne had already started to have balance problems and was very slow getting up and sitting/laying down and even negotiating the one step down onto the patio from the kitchen. Although I know it was the humane thing to do, it still doesn't erase my selfish feelings of wanting her around longer. I'm just very sad right now and it is kind of difficult for me to concentrate on leaving when I'm still so overwhelmed with sadness. She was like a kid to me and I'm really feeling her loss.

The doc reminded us that Cayenne had a very good life with us. She said that Cay never forgot the tough first seven months of her life before she was rescued by Husky Rescue and we got her. Before she came to live with us her life consisted only of abuse, constant exposure to the cold, worms (hooks and whips), giardia (intestinal parasites), ear mites (with red crust crumbling out of her ears) and starvation. She really had so much love to give and was always so sweet and so kind. In all reality, I know it was us who were lucky to have had her come into our lives. I already miss her kisses and her howls and tail-wagging when you'd pull out the lead for a walk or offer her a pig's ear or for her piece of cheese in the morning.

My supervisor Lance wrote me such a nice email when I told him about Cay, it made me cry my eyes out...again! I think he is right.

"I know how you feel. And it is never the same when you go back home and he/she is not there. But remembering the great years together and the pictures of her will help keep her in your memories. She is much better off now. Can you imagine how you would have felt if she was going to be in pain and you weren't there - God made sure you were home for her last days."

Well, I'm on my way out the door in an hour.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Arrived in Seoul

05 December 2008

I arrived in Seoul in one piece. Nearly missed my connection in Dubai! We got stuck circling in the air and then the transfer bus got lost on the way to the terminal....Duh!

So I arrived very sleep deprived and hadn't slept in like 24 hours. Good thing I had the chance to recharge in Kuwait those couple of days. Went out to eat and what do you think my first meal here is??? General Tso's Chicken! Forks weren't even on the table. Guess it's good I know how to use chopsticks. It's almost like I came out of the womb with them! (Thanks Jasmine! Jaz was a Chinese/German/American translator friend of ours when I was stationed back in Germany in the 1980's. Our group would cruise the countryside on weekends near
Kalkar/s' Herrenburg/Nijmegen/Emmerich area for Chinese restaurants. She declared that if we were going to make a habit of Chinese Restaurants, we all needed to learn to eat with chopsticks.)

Slept like a babey (an intentional mispelling due to an infiltration of advertisements!) last night, but up early today (it's now 0645 and we're headed out the door) to go on the DMZ tour. More later...

Relaxing in Kuwait

02 December 2008

Just got into Kuwait yesterday and got my passport back tonight. Went up to the airport to see if I could move up my tickets and Emirates said that they are booked both tonight and tomorrow from Dubai to Seoul. I can't even go to Dubai and wait till Wed because of the way my ticket was booked. Damned Expedia. They get you good prices, but don't try changing anything!

So I'm holding up in the Kuwait Hilton right now. I've been here before, but this is only the second time. I usually go to the Crown Plaza, but I like the Hilton here a bit better and decided to treat myself since I couldn't get out. Got a room facing the water and will probably do a massage and haircut and get the string treatment on the brows. Tryin to keep the uni-brow under control! So far about as much as I've accomplished today was breakfast.

Back off to the Blue Elephant Thai restaurant for dinner. I wanted to have dessert yesterday, but was too full. They have a coconut flan that I was dying for but was ready to bust last night, so I'm going to have to save room tonight!

03 December 2008

It's Wed afternoon about 1pm and I'm about ready to go. I was able to get a late checkout till 5pm. My flight to Dubai isn't until 1050pm, so I'll be spending some time at the airport. Of course that is nothing new. Like all the airports in the Middle East, it is like a huge shopping mall, so there is plenty to look at and window shop if nothing else.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In Kuwait…finally

30 November 2008

I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get out of Baghdad. All day Saturday, it rained cats and dogs. Fortunately, there seems to finally be enough rock down in most of the places that count so that the mud is somewhat reduced…except in the streets. Even the suggestion of liquid coming down from the sky turns the fine dust in the streets turn into a soupy pea soup slurry.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they had sidewalks all over the base, but they’ve yet to put sidewalks along the most traveled pedestrian areas, ie the very pedestrian crowded streets leading to the Green Bean coffee shop where the all the shops are and additionally along a busy street leading to the Medical clinic. (Go figure. If you’re not in bad enough shape to require an ambulance to get to medical help, you will be when you’re hit by some Humvee driven by Sgt Mario Andretti. Don’t laugh, it happened last year. The poor soldier ended up with a broken pelvis. And we joke in Chicago that if you’re going to “buy the farm” let it be by a Bentley and not a cab! Imagine the stigma of being run down by a Humvee. Oh the humanity!)

Add to that the issue of the MP’s only pulling over civilians because it is too much hassle to ticket Sgt Snuffy for going over the speed limits…that and the fact that turn signals are completely optional for the military but required for civilians.) But the military certainly have had plenty of concrete the last two years to pave parking lots all over creation here on Victory.

I’m finally beginning to understand that success in winning the war on terrorism is only measured and truly accomplished by the amount of concrete parking lots you can lay down in Iraq.

More on the subject of pains in my ass…

The flight desk told me on Saturday evening that my call-time for my flight was at 1330 Sunday afternoon. Got there with plenty of time to spare and all they say then is..."oh, the flight has been pushed back 6 hours." That’s when you know it’s going to be a long one!

So we end up sitting on our thumbs for six hours, only to find out the plane landed in Baghdad, but wasn't going to take "Leg 1"…neither was it going to take us ("Leg 2") to Kuwait where it was headed back to because of mechanical problems. Now we know this is not looking good. Okay, it’s time to start wondering if they are going to cancel the flight.

The C17 flew back to Kuwait, they repaired the front landing gear, flew back to Baghdad, took Leg 1 and arrived back in Baghdad at 0245am this morning to take us...Leg 2 to Kuwait. Fortunately, the crew got permission to run a complete mission back to Kuwait and we boarded finally at 0300...arriving in Kuwait at 0400.

But the baggage people were slow, so it took our luggage until 0530 to get to Ali As Salem. Yep, I'm kinda tired. I slept from 0630 till about 1100am and am now finishing up shopping and wondering around Ali As Salem before trying to catch a few more zzzz's. This is the part about traveling out of Baghdad that is in the realm identified as a pain in the butt! More later.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gettelfinger gives US the Middle-finger

17 November 2008

Ron Gettelfinger Pres of the UAW says his UAW workers have already made too many concessions to the auto industry and won't stand for any more. Well Ron, maybe you had best wake the hell up and realize you are no longer in the driver seat of this situation in an economy disguised as a semi truck careening downhill through the mountains at a precipitous speed.

So far you, your lobbyists and your UAW workers should consider yourselves damned lucky to have retained all of your high salary jobs this long. It's time now for the UAW to ante up. But don't you worry, Big Ronny. If you don't make concessions now, you may not ever need to again because the Big 3 will be done. Done; as in "stick a fork in them" done.

Done, Done, Done.

Then the Japanese, Germans and Koreans can reopen the more profitable American auto factories with their name on them, rehiring your former UAW (now) non-union members producing quality cars with a different name but without a union label. And guess what? They are going to take those jobs for significantly less than their former union salary. I say that because according to unemployment forecasters, the US very well may have an 8-9% unemployment rate by the middle of next year. People are going to take the jobs so they can feed their families and so they can have a normal life again. All thanks to you and your lobbyists, Ron.

As I have suggested before, you have milked the cow dry. So when will you realize that NOW it is time to be part of the solution. Time for the UAW to dig deep into their pockets and help bail out the Big 3. The federal government didn't break the US auto industry, you Ron, broke it. If you and your workers want to retain what you have, you WILL make concessions. If you don't, then you must be willing to accept the consequences. Joe Q Public is not responsible for your boneheaded stubborn attitude or for the UAW not allowing the US auto industry to build vehicles that are competitive in the world market. A quick $25 bil injection isn't going to cure this problem like penicillin to a minor infection.

This problem is far deeper and more serious than that. And Ron, you know it better than anyone else. If you can't be competitive in your markets, time to give it up and do something you can be competitive in.

And Comrade Pelosi, please understand that you can not force the American public to pay for and buy the crap that US autoworkers are putting out when it isn't competitive in a World Marketplace and isn't what the American public wants. We are still a market economy. This IS still the United States of America.

But that could change and we could be forced to buy the American version of Mother Russia's Lada if Comrade Pelosi gets her way. But let's hope that the "lame duck Republican congress" can hold tough against this infringement of free enterprise/free market and NOT give into Pelosi's charms!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does Life Always Have To Be A "Pisser"?

12 November 2008

One of my coworkers came in two days ago and is ever-so-slightly disgusted with his living situation. Now, life in trailers with no bathrooms can be a pain in the bladder at times, but you deal with the, what feels like a mile, walk to either the nearest porta-pottie or to the bathroom trailers about a 1/4 mile away from the trailer. But there are always those few disgusting slobs who urinate in bottles in their trailers or will just relieve themselves on the side of the trailer. Worse yet are the ones that collect the urine bottles and store them under their beds.

And before you defend their adopted third-country mentality, no, this place is nothing like camping in the forest! The world is not your urinal. Trailers are placed fairly close together and other people have to deal with the smell of your urine as is dries and stinks to high heaven. Let alone waking up at 3am to the sound of your roommate about three feet away from you relieving himself into a bottle.

His description of waking up in the middle of the night to hearing water running and think it was raining inside the trailer only further cements the fact that there are a lot of lazy crap-for-brains people that can only be described as sub-human here. I guess CRC is unable to screen that trait out of the eligible work candidates they send here.

So coworker goes to KBR to complain and request a move. KBR in all their wonderful sensitivity to the biohaz waste being stored in a rubbermaid container by coworker's roommate, stealthely turn the problem back to coworker and tell him to confront the roommate and have him stop or move. That is KBR dealing with issues head-on. All that after the mayor's cell on base has specifically threatened to put people dumping biowaste into the trash cans back into tents if they are caught. Well who the heck (short of Allen Funk and Candid Camera) are going to catch the low-lifes peeing in a bottle. Do you want that burned in YOUR brain. I'll pass.

Well, coworker decides to work it the other way and write a letter to KBR stating the obvious and advising he will take it to the highest levels at our company and the military unit he works for. Problem solved. He has now become a bigger pain in their ass than the roommate pissing in the bottle. Talk about reverse psychology in action! The "KBR Realtor" took him around to several trailers so he has his choice of where he wants to move to...while the Pisser gets to stay in the trailer continuing to stockpile aging bottles of urine under his bed. Am I the only one thinking that something is wrong with this picture?

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