Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Getting Better All the Time...

Those of you who know what a crappy singer I am will be relieved that you can't hear me warbling...okay, screeching that old Beatles song...But it's an apt theme for the progress with our remodel.

As of today, the oak hardwood floors are finished, and look gleamingly gorgeous. The Spousal Unit and I expanded the painting portion of the project plan.. Alliteratively... and the new color schemes, coupled with fresh, white ceilings, gives the place a whole new look. Even the trailer is beginning to feel like "home".

Of course, we are buying some nice new furniture pieces to replace some of the "eclectic" stuff, and revising what will go up on the walls once we move back in next week. But hey, it's only money!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Remodel Hell Continues!

Last night was our first in the 17' trailer, and it was almost our last. The Spousal Unit (SU) is definitely not suited for the small RV lifestyle. She prefers the bedroom to be as dark as Carlsbad Cavern, without the lights. Between the twin skylights, a couple of missing slats on the window blinds, and the high-intensity street light on the corner, SU wasn't a happy camper...literally. Naturally it was too cold, this being "summer" in Washington State. So, SU wound up sleeping like a baby; Waking up every hour and crying!
I found the experience comparable to sleeping in a "Wet CHU" (Containerized Housing Unit, equipped with a bathroom), so was very comfortable. I made the mistake of mentioning that to the SU, which scored me zero sympathy points.
Our contractor and his crew showed up on time this morning, ready to remove the rest of the carpet, the interior doors, and trim, in advance of the floor installation team who hit the ground tomorrow. During the walk-through, we discovered that an old leak in the siding had rotted away a portion of the subfloor and footer, and covered the insulation with mold. Yet another benefit of hiring a general contractor to do the entire remodel is that it took him just a couple of hours to completely repair the damage, while his crew completed the removal job. Of course, the new drywall will need to be painted, which of course led to our decision to have the bedrooms/office repainted in complementary colors...they were last painted in 1990. Yep, we are definitely experiencing the remodel phenomenon known as "Project Creep".
Wednesday, 20 July:
I returned to work, leaving the SU to greet the hardwood floor installation crew. Telephonic reports during the day confirmed that these guys were all-star caliber craftsmen. The floor looks great...and they are due to finish by Friday. We celebrated our anniversary and the remodel progress by going out to dinner at Hunan Garden, which virtually assures that we'll shatter the previous family record for number of days in a month eating out in a restaurant by this Friday. (Sigh)

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Deployment is Great Prep for Home Remodeling!

I am sitting in the bare bones computer room, blogging as a team of Haz-Mat specialists are tearing up the carpet in the dining room and hallway. They are removing the 1970's vintage vinyl flooring, which is impregnated with asbestos, in addition to being truly ugly. (By the way, I exercised great self-restraint this morning by NOT referring to them as the "Master-Abaters".  Since they are all large dudes, wielding sharp implements, that was a wise choice on a number of levels.) While my beloved Spousal Unit is experiencing a fair degree of stress associated with having our relatively placid lives disrupted, I have found that the tempo is somewhat akin to life during deployment. Well, except for the rocket and mortar attacks, convoys, and helicopter flights, and mess hall food, and walking several hundred meters to the latrine and shower trailer...anyway, by comparison, this is a breeze! By the way, it's 8:30 p.m. in Baghdad, and it is still 100 degrees, while the temperature here is...65 degrees! Much more comfortable...
My spousal unit and I decided about a year ago to have the 20-year old carpet replaced with hardwood floors pretty much throughout the house. We did a lot of research and discussion, and let the idea percolate for nine months...though I doubt that "gestation period" was conscious! After first deciding on bamboo, we finally settled on solid oak, and expanded the project to replacing all of the cheap, hollow-core interior doors and trim with solid hardwood versions, and scrapping the yellow formica kitchen countertop and chipped yellow sink for a nice Corian deck and heavy-duty stainless steel sink. Angie's List yielded a good contractor, the estimate was within our budget.

Once we got the schedules finalized, the odious task of moving most of our belongings from the house to the garage was next on the agenda. This is where being blessed by having some of the best friends/colleagues ever really saved our butts. Last Saturday, these valiant warriors of amateur furniture relocation showed up and we completed the mission by noon...Yep, three hours of hard work, followed by an hour of pizza and beer "after action review" yielded a cleared house. We owe them BIG TIME.

I purchased one of those inflatable queen-sized mattresses with the integrated electric pump, and we spent the rest of the weekend camping out in the empty house, watching TV, eating left-over pizza, and mentally getting ready for the actual kick-off this morning. Spousal Unit packed up the pups and headed out for a day-long exile, while I remain on-site to handle questions. So far, so good! Another friend will be hauling out the 15' trailer I rented from Ft Lewis Recreation Services this evening, which will be parked next to the house and serving as our residence for the next two weeks. Our general contractor just called to confirm he, and a gigunda trash dumpster, will be arriving sometime tomorrow, and the flooring subcontractor starts on Wednesday. If all goes according to plan (and doesn't it always?), we'll be ready to move all our stuff back in the house in 14 days, and resume life in a very different looking home.
I'll post a progress report mid-project, and a final report once everything is back to "new normal".
(Postscript: The asbestos abatement foreman just advised that there's hazmat vinyl under the newer vinyl in the kitchen...we thought that had been removed when the new stuff was installed...good thing they discovered that while the job is in progress, so it can be removed for just a relatively small added cost. Otherwise, the wood floor install would have come to a crashing halt day after tomorrow! Semper Gumby!)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Loose in the Palouse, I'm a Walla Walla Wallah!

One of the best parts of my civilian job is when I escape my Cubicle of Deathly Boredom and get out on the road, providing emergency management planning assistance to local jurisdictions.  This week I was invited out to the southeastern portion of our state, which is geographically referred to as The Palouse. This time of the year is especially stunning, with endless rolling hills covered with bright green wheat, undulating in the wind like an emerald ocean. There's a whole different vibe out there, compared to the Seattle area...more laid back, plain spoken attitudes. The Palouse is also home to Washington State University, which is the football arch-rival of my grad school alma mater, the University of Washington. Since I was a guest of the locals, I didn't wear any of my UW apparel...well, at least until I was leaving town this's good to show the purple and gold just to remind people that all Huskies aren't confined to Seattle.
Next stop was the all-time alliterative capitol of America: Walla Walla Washington! Despite living in this state for over 30 years, I had never visited Walla Walla until today. Serious omission there! Quaint downtown, wine shops about every 100 feet (the Columbia River region boasts some of the finest wineries in the world, and they definitely have the market cornered on quirky, funny names!), and the sidewalks were filled with people eager to prove that Walla Walla deserves their recent honor of being named, "Friendliest Small City in the USA". I witnessed what probably passes for Road Rage, when one motorist hollered at another driver who was blocking an intersection, "Hey there, sir, if it's not too much trouble, can I get by you?" The response? "Oh, gee, I'm really sorry...I'll move in a jiffy! Have a nice day!"
Since I didn't finish my meeting until late afternoon, I decided to stop for dinner in Union Gap, after getting stuck in slow-moving detour traffic. Crawling along the main street, I glanced to my right, and spotted an old favorite from my Yakima Training Center tank gunnery days in 1980-81..."Jean's Cottage Inn". I saw an open parking space and on impulse pulled in. I think the last time I had eaten there was 1983. It was a favorite among our battalion officers, because their schtick was simple and brilliant: Offer a heftyT-Bone steak, potato, and salad for around $10, and serve that meal in about five minutes after you place your order. Naturally I didn't expect the current version to be anything as awesome as I remembered it, but I was dead wrong! Almost 30 years later, the price of a steak dinner had gone up a measly buck ninety-five, the steak was a fork-tender 16oz T-Bone, the salad and potato were first rate, and yep, it was sizzling in front of me in 4 minutes and 27 seconds. If you've stuck with the grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables regimen on a regular basis, but are in the Yakima area craving a serious burst of 1950s chloresterol goodness, you've gotta drop in at Jean's Cottage Inn...(Just be forewarned that Jean's isn't open on weekends...a faith-based accomodation which hasn't hampered business since they opened in 1946.)
I sure do enjoy being on the road!

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Tribute To My Uncle "Bub"

My uncle, Leo R. "Bub" Howe, passed away on 31 March this year. Uncle Bub typified members of "The Greatest Generation" in that he was humble, hardworking, generous, and very modest about his combat service during World War Two. When I was growing up, both my father and mother made reference to Uncle Bub's heroism during the Battle of the Bulge, but there were never any details. As I became older, and went into the Army during the mid 70s, I tried a couple of times without success to get Leo to talk about his wartime experiences. He just would say something like, "It wasn't fun," and change the subject. 

Several years ago, Uncle Leo and Aunt Mary Lou were staying in our home, visiting my dad and some other friends in the area. I had just received notice that my reserve unit was going to be deployed to Iraq, so I asked Uncle Bub if he had any advice for me. He retorted bluntly, "Don't go!" Leo paused for a minute, then started telling me what it was like during the final days of the push into Germany in 1945. He was a Sergeant in the 364th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 76th Infantry Division, and was assigned as a forward observer/scout/liaison, driving ahead of the front lines in a jeep with a lieutenant. Uncle Bub explained that it could get pretty dangerous out there, with the constant potential of running into a German ambush, but he liked the freedom of roaming the countryside. One morning in April, as Leo and his lieutenant were approaching a woodline outside of a small German village, a small group of Wehrmacht soldiers came out of the forest with their hands in the air. A German Colonel asked Leo if he would be willing to take their surrender. When the lieutenant said "Yes", and asked how many troops were surrendering, the colonel replied something to the effect of "The whole division." He went back into the trees, and emerged with a major general. The general indicated he wished to surrender his division to the American Army, rather than the Soviets who were bearing down from the East. Uncle Leo and his lieutenant radioed this news to their command post, and were directed to bring the general back to battalion HQ. As for the rest of the German division, Uncle Leo said he told the colonel to have them ditch their weapons, and start them marching down the road toward the U.S. front lines. Leo and the lieutenant drove the general back to the battalion, where he was bundled into a Piper Cub observation plane, and flown back to Division HQ. Uncle Bub grinned slightly, and said that incident gave him the most pleasure of anything that had happened to him during the war.

That was the only time Uncle Leo and I talked directly about the war. I know that he was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal for valor, in an era when such medals were given sparingly. More important than any medals he earned, Uncle Leo was a hero more for how he lived his life after returning from Europe. He was an honest, faithful, contributing member of his community up until his last day. He and Aunt Mary Lou raised a family, instilling in them those same attributes. Whether Uncle Bub was operating his barber shop, working for the local school district, or managing the small hotel in Hawaii, he did everything with energy, enthusiasm, and humor.

I'm very proud to have known my uncle, Leo R. Howe, and will always be grateful for the courage and sacrifice he and our other war veterans have made, and continue to make on our nation's behalf.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Bub...You've earned it ten times over.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You've Got To Read "Lions of Kandahar"!

Major Rusty Bradley, US Army Special Forces, and Combat Journalist Kevin Maurer have co-written an amazing, powerful non-fiction account of the little-known Battle of Sperwan Ghar, which occurred north of Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2006. I had the opportunity to preview this book prior to its publication date (June, 2011), and was sucked in by page two.
There are some really superb books out there describing the realities of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. ( Kaboom, by Matt Gallagher, is one of those) What really grabbed me about Lions of Kandahar is Rusty Bradley's talent for pulling the reader into the middle of the action...His descriptions felt so real to me that I was compelled to drink lots of water while reading about some of the prolonged firefights.
I have talked to a couple of acquaintances who are part of the Special Forces community, and know Major Bradley. These folks say he's the real deal, not a self-promoting poser, which validates the highly positive impression I formed from the way he described his philosophy of combat leadership, and relationship building with the Afghan people.
Anyone who is serious about gaining a perspective about why we are in Afghanistan, and whether we can truly accomplish anything more after the death of Osama Bin Laden, should definitely read this book.
If you don't also feel humbled and awed by these Special Operations warriors after the last page, then nothing will move you. I am truly grateful for what Major Bradley and his fellow Green Berets have accomplished, and sacrificed, since 2001.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Writing, Relationships, and Laziness

I enjoyed several aspects of being deployed to Iraq for a year.  One of those positives was having the opportunity to write this blog without feeling guilty about taking time away from my spousal unit. Writing is a solitary pursuit, which I seem to do best when I focus on the task. I can't write for diddly while sitting in the living room with the television on. Retiring to my CHU after the duty day was done (at least until the indirect fire alarm went off, or I got called out to go to a crime scene) allowed me to put in at least a solid hour of crafting tight paragraphs three or four times per week. While I didn't post everything I wrote, because some of it was pure crap, I was regularly exercising my dormant skills. Based on feedback from a variety of my blog readers, as well as my own self-critiques, I believe my writing improved from "Mostly Mediocre" to "Occasionally Good". This isn't false modesty by the way, as I do a lot of reading, and most of those published authors leave me in their dust. I also recognize that the authors whom I admire and respect work their butts off to achieve such results. I have asked myself a lot recently, "So, Dave, are you going to settle for your deployment blog being the zenith of your writing career, or are you going to move forward?" My ambition is to write a decent, enjoyable novel or three, and I know in both my head and my heart that no novel ever wrote itself. The big question is whether I have the inner resolve and commitment to finish the 40 or so drafts it's going to take before something is good enough to be published.
Thomas Edison's Inspiration versus Perspiration Ratio definitely applies to writing popular fiction and non-fiction.
There is another factor which I alluded to earlier in this post. I'm not sure if I'm willing to cut time and energy from my relationship, and also my civilian job, in order to write as frequently and intently as I'll need to accomplish my goals. Tonight, having pissed off my wife during a stupid argument over how precisely-centered the new shower caddy was, it's easy for me to channel my frustration into introspective journaling...Hence this longer-than-usual blog post. Sometime in the next 24 hours, I'm going to need to apologize, and my temporary visa to Isolation Land will be revoked. I'm also traveling more frequently as part of my job, which sucks more energy out of me than such trips used to. While I can always take my laptop along and write while holed up in my hotel room in the evenings, I know that it'll be tough to pass up just vegging out, resting up for the next day of workshops, facilitating planning meetings, or driving back from Spokane or the Tri-Cities for three to six hours. Ironically, I truly enjoy those activities. (Well, except for driving 'til my ass goes numb.) It's definitely the best part of my job, and I like feeling that I have  accomplished something to help my fellow Washingtonians survive the myriad disasters lurking out there. Yeah, more internal it any wonder that I'm bald as a politician's lie?
A number of my friends have been moaning about their decisions to give up something for Lent. Not being one for organized religion, I usually view their public vows of sacrifice with some skepticism. After all, the whining about how tough it's gonna be to stop posting on FaceBook, or drinking coffee, or buying Victoria's Secret underwear seems in my opinion to devalue the act a bit. Quietly changing one's lifestyle to demonstrate humility seems much more in keeping with the Christian ideal drummed into me during Sunday School lessons 50 years ago. Having said that, I can also choose to "give up something" in order to write productively, but there's no heroism or sacrifice or altruism involved...If I want to succeed as a writer of popular fiction, I'll need to make some relatively significant changes in my life. Am I willing to do this? I'm thinking about it...but as of tonight, I just don't know.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sleep-Deprivation...Now Without Coughing!

For at least six months after I returned from Iraq, I slept very little due to a chronic cough, induced by exposure to toxic smoke from the burn pit on my Forward Operating Base. Thanks to some good medical intervention, my cough is pretty much under control...but a new source of sleep-deprivation has arisen to take the cough's place.
Yep, this innocent looking little animal, aka Frodo the French Bulldog puppy, has been keeping me and my spousal unit in a state of sleeplessness for the past three weeks. Frodo is a sweet little dude, but like most puppies he's gotta pee more frequently than my old partner at FOB Kalsu...and that's saying something! It has been eight years since we last had a new pup, and I was still a cop back then, and used to frequent call outs at 0-Dark-Thirty. Eventually Frodo will become capable of utilizing the dog door, and the sweet slumber I've been craving will be mine once more. Until then, I may need to invest in a pair of those eyeglasses with eyeballs painted on the lenses, in order to nap in my cubicle at work without getting busted.

The Domino Theory Redux

One of the benefits of being older is having some historical perspective when observing current events.  This definitely is the case for me while I watch the political and social upheaval in the Middle East and Africa. Seeing the long-term autocratic regimes of Egypt and Libya toppling in favor of grass-roots coalitions, supported by the armed forces, I can't help but wonder whether the same thing might have occurred in Iraq, if we hadn't invaded back in '03.  Food for thought, anyway...
I'm also fascinated by the diplomatic strategy my country is employing with the various governments and their respective opposition groups. When I was in elementary school, and read about the Hungarian Revolution in the 1950s, I wondered why President Eisenhower hadn't helped the Hungarians overthrow their Soviet occupiers. Of course I later understood that such a response would very likely have triggered a nuclear war with the USSR, and world history would have been substantially different! (Thanks, Ike!) Now it appears that our government is successfully influencing these regime changes without overt action, though I have absolutely no clue what is going on behind the scenes...assuming that WikiLeaks doesn't broadcast the details in a few months.
The final revelation here has to do with the theory that social networking media such as FaceBook and Twitter largely facilitated the synergy which knocked over the governments in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and perhaps others to follow. I called an old friend this afternoon, who is an adept historian, and we ended up talking about FaceBook. My friend mentioned that he will never join FB, as he sees it to be petty and divisive, especially in his academic work environment. We didn't get a chance to fully-explore the topic, but I wonder if my friend would be so resistant to "embracing the FaceBook" if he thought about using it to  further his own activist leanings...(My friend is a union leader and fights for good, instead of evil, just in case you thought I was buddies with the UnaBomber or some other schmuck like that!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Welcome Home, Warrior-Citizen!" "Huh, Who, Me?"

A full 8 months after returning home from our Iraq deployment, our unit was notified to attend the Army Reserve's Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen Ceremony last Friday. It's a nice concept, designed to acknowledge the unique sacrifices we reservists/national guard folks make when going off to war...but it's also supposed to be conducted immediately upon the unit's return home, so as to have meaning. Stuff like timing has never deterred the USAR, naturally, so we found ourselves standing in formation (after 90 minutes of rehearsal!) in the Reserve Center's drill hall/gym, surrounded by soldiers sweating on the exercise machines while looking at us with undisguised amusement. (It's always fun to watch other poor schmucks having to stand in formation!)
Eventually, the Bird Colonel commanding the local Joint Mobilization Brigade showed up with his Command Sergeant Major (CSM) in tow. These were the same two who had chewed us out during our pre-deployment "incarceration" at Fort Lewis for wearing civilian clothing on the weekends after the training day was over. Needless to say this duo wasn't on our list of favorite folks, but at least on this occasion they were convivial enough. After our Ops Officer read a standardized script full of bland verbiage, we filed over to receive a folded flag encased in a triangular wood and glass box...which looked exactly like the cases for displaying casket eerie resemblance we all remarked on.  We got a silver-colored metal plaque, engraved with our name and rank, and some flowery language about our wartime service, to attach to the front of the flag case. I've still got no idea where I'm gonna put this thing...For now, it remains in the trunk of my car, keeping my golf clubs company.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Read This Book!

And by "This Book", I'm referring to KABOOM: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, by Matthew Gallagher. Not only is the author a gifted writer, he has accurately captured the essence of soldiering in a way so many military authors aspire to, but so few accomplish.  Matt Gallagher served as a front-line combat leader in Iraq during the Surge. His deployment blog of the same title served as his journal, and ultimately the framework of this book.
Although I was not a front-line combat soldier during my own Iraq deployment, I definitely identified with many of Matt's experiences, especially his encounters with dumbass field-grade officers, and really stupid policies/regulations...or the effed up interpretations of regs by the aforementioned field grades.
The author W.E.B. Griffin almost always inserts the following philosophy into his novels: "The measure of a man's intelligence is determined by how much he agrees with you." Using that scale of measurement, I believe Matt Gallagher is on a plane with Albert Einstein.
Seriously...Read this book. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brutal Honesty Can Be Fun(ny)

I was tasked to review participant evaluation forms from a recent emergency planning workshop, which we will be hosting in a couple of months. There's usually at least one no-holds barred comment contained in this kind of feedback, and this bundle provided an instant classic.

In response to the question, "How well did the presenter convey the material to the audience?", one responder wrote in bold print, "Presenter read every dang Power Point slide verbatim...WTF? He MUST BE STOPPED NOW! His unabated dispensing of boredom almost caused a training death..."

"This is an Exercise..."

This morning's mission at work is to serve in the Sim Cell (Simulation Cell) supporting the State of Arizona Emergency Management Division while they conduct a mutual aid exercise. I've got about 30 minutes before my next "inject" (I get to role play various deployed first responders), so an impromptu blog post is in order to stave off boredom.
So yesterday morning in my cubicle, as I was chatting with a colleague, I noticed a field mouse poking his little head out from underneath one of my rolling file cabinets. He spotted me, and zipped back out of sight. I raised the alarm, which spurred a cornucopia of varied reactions from my cubicle neighbors. AJ's response was "So?", while Sandy began hyperventilating. The rest of us military vets immediately began plotting our tactics for implimenting RCOIN (Rodent Counter-Infestation) operations, ranging from conventional mousetrap/peanut butter emplacements to mini-IEDs. Posting the SITREP on Facebook yielded even more suggested solutions: Glue traps ("They stick to your ribs"), cats (Frankly, I'd rather have mice.), and from a combat infantryman I served with in Iraq, "Trap 'em in a box, then stomp on the box!"  That last one was a bit extreme for our Washington Hug-A-Tree Daily environment, but I filed it away just in case the lesser options failed. Our planning session was interrupted by a scream from Sandy's cubicle...She had just discovered the ninja rodents had gained entry to her junk food drawer, leaving half-eaten chocolate caramel Easter Eggs, cracker crumbs, and mouse turds littering everything else.
It appears that our entire building is infested with the little furry vectors, leading to many female employees propping up their feet on boxes while at their desks...Honest, folks, I'm not being sexist, this is based upon personal observation...and this being a state agency, it should be about 30 days before we get the necessary RCOIN equipment package issued to us.
Semper Mickey!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Today's Forecast: "Slightly Bloggy with a Chance of Irony"

My wife says that I'm happiest when either someone has given me a microphone, or I'm writing for fun. I think I'm guilty as charged, with the most compelling evidence being the resumption of this blog. After being relatively "blog-free" for the past seven months, the siren call of the written word launched once more into the ether has me smiling with anticipation.
Some of my desire to post what I think are humorous comments on the internet has been sated by routine sacrifices to great god of Facebook, yet there are limitations to that platform. Most posts must be short, and while there is a ready-made readership among my 150 or so "FB Friends", it feels like I'm doing an Open Mike routine, but with only 5 seconds onstage. There's also lots of competition and a fair amount of banality cluttering up the display of true jewels. Yep, my own posts can definitely fall into the banal category, but I do try real hard not to routinely add crap to the compost pile.
There's a lot more competition for my attention, now that I'm back home from the Iraq. There wasn't that much to do at night in my CHU other than watch movies, read, or write blog posts. The blog also served as my war journal, which is also providing fodder for the novel I'm (slowly) working on. Don't get me wrong, I'm damned ecstatic to be home almost every night with my first-class spousal unit and also our Jack Russell Terrier. It's just bad form to spend a couple of hours every evening in the back room, pounding away on the keyboard, especially after having spent a year apart. Nu-uh, not gonna be making THAT mistake. Guess I can forsake the iMac back here for my deployment-tested laptop, at least until my wife gives me THAT LOOK which translates to, "Pay some attention to me, lest I "accidentally" knee you in the groin tonight once you are asleep!"(I wish I'd learned to speak Arabic with the same fluency I have developed in "Spouse".)
Well, that's all for tonight...But tomorrow I shall regale you with the dramatic saga of "Mice Infestation in the Workplace"!