Yule Log – 2011
I seem to have recovered from last year’s bout of authoritis (writer’s block) and so here is my annual Christmas Blog or for short, Yule Log.
Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house the Claus family and all the Relative Clauses were gathering to relax and review the season. Sales had been good this year at the local department store, Claus and Affects. Santa and his wife were home with their insect pet, Bee Claus and their cat Retractable Claus. The Rev Worthy Claus was there with wife, Good Claus, the Justice of the Peace, Just Claus, his nephew the window washer, Dangling Claus, and the art gallery manager, Opening Claus. All were sad that they had not heard from their wayward son, Independent Claus, that had rejected all the snow and ran away to live in the south of France (they hope he does not become a Lost Claus). His brother, Probable Claus, the card shark, was too busy gambling in Vegas to make it home this year.
After dinner Santa had to take the dog for a walk to exercise Conditional Claus and to get away from nosy Aunt Interrogative Claus. He rejected the advances of the town's notorious loose woman, Propositional Claus, but at the corner, he dropped some change into the basket where two members of the local welfare family, the Dependent Clauses, were begging and stopped to listen to the stump preacher, Declarative Claus, on the next corner.
Santa was happy beclaus the busy season was over.
In recent years, our lives have seemed dominated by airplanes. I travel for work eight or nine times a year. Usually for only two to four days, but it nearly always requires a plane trip. Jan, being retired, often accompanies me to the more interesting locations so she flies a lot too. Then, about seven years ago we found this lovely house on Whidbey Island (Puget Sound, Washington State) with a panoramic view overlooking the water of Dugualla Bay, fell in love with it and bought it. We’ll retire to it in a few more years, but in the meantime we use it as a vacation home and fly to it about three or four times a year. So that means we fly nearly once a month.
Oh, the other thing about our Whidbey Island home -- Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. We get to see and hear EP-3E Aries II’s (signals intelligence), P-3C Orions (anti-submarine warfare), EA-6B Prowlers (electronic warfare), and the new EA-18G Growlers (which are replacing the Prowlers) as well as the occasional C-9 Skytrain (transport) and SH-60 Seahawk helicopter, fly low over our house. I say “hear” because the EA-6’s and EA-18’s rather dominate the sound environment when passing over – inside it is noisy, outside all conversation must take a break. We knew about the noise when we bought. It probably saved us about $100K on the house compared to equivalent property elsewhere on Whidbey, but we figured by the time we retire our hearing will be half gone anyway and we wouldn’t notice. We talked to the neighbors and they all said “what planes?”
Then there is even the little remote controlled, helicopter I bought and keep at the house on Whidbey to play with when visiting. So you can see how big a role airplanes play in our lives at the moment.
Air travel has gotten so much more annoying in recent years. First there is all the increase security after 9/11. I’ve already written about Jan trying to carry her silver butter knives through airport security a few Christmases ago. It adds about another hour to most plane trip legs – and we have the joy of half undressing – first, jackets then shoes and after the underwear-bomber – do you remember the old TV ads “show us YOUR Underalls”? What is next? “I dreamed I went through security in my Maidenform”?
Then after the recent economic downturn the airlines started actually filling planes up. How unreasonable! One used to be able to count on most middle seats to be empty. No more. And I swear that the seats are only 2/3 the width they used to be (or maybe I’m just 50% wider?). On recent trips I have ridden beside people that were assigned the middle seat but actually occupied over half of the window and aisle seat as well.
I have gotten a pair of those noise-reduction headphones to try to reduce the noise during the rides. They actually work pretty well on that low-drone of the engines and on some of the air turbulence noise but seem to do nothing at all for the screaming baby right behind you or for the pair of loud-talkers beside you and I am sure it will not reduce the annoyance of cell phone user talking the entire trip, when these are approved. My recent trip back from San Diego seemed like Kiddie Korral. There must have been six kids under four within a row of me. The one in my row argued with her mom about keeping the seatbelt on – and won. She was sitting in the seat, standing on the floor, sitting on the floor and back up standing in the seat all within less than one minute through most of the flight. And when she did stay in the seat for a few seconds, her legs were constantly kicking the arm rests. By the end of the flight I felt like I’d had a full body massage but with none of the relaxing affects.
Then there are those new full-body scanners. Shouldn’t we at least get paid for posing in the nude? I’d ask for some wallet-sized prints, but I don’t want to spend the rest of the day apologizing to TSA officials. It used to be that you only had to put your hands in the air and keep them there if there was a gun poking you in the back.
In a recent overnight flight to Germany, the attendant came to our row a little before take-off and apologized (that was a first already) that the little individual TV screens in our row were not working. I didn’t mind because I planned to read anyway (there is never anything on those screens I want to see). What she didn’t say was that the computer that drives those screens (did you know it runs Linux) was failing (it spent the entire trip rebooting – I could watch all the failure messages). Furthermore, their fancy new system also controls the overhead reading light – rather than a simple switch, you get a button on the remote to control the light. Without the computer, we couldn’t turn on the light. So much for reading. We spent eight hours in the dark. Oh well, got more sleep than I’d planned.
This fall flying back from Whidbey, Jan had a new experience. We’ve both had luggage missing before but the airline always found it and delivered it within 24 hrs, but this time when Jan’s did not show up on the carrousel and everyone else had, left we told the luggage folks that there was a similar bag on the carrousel but that it was not hers. They checked the id on the bag and called the owner, who was in a limo a couple of miles away leaving the airport with Jan’s luggage. The lady had had her limo driver pickup her luggage and he’d apparently assumed that there would be only one red roller bag on the plane. The car came back to the airport and we exchanged bags and got home only a little after midnight.
This next part was really funny, a satire about “How to Live Healthfully” and the current state of the world, but was censored by Jan – so I still have “writer’s block.”
Since Terry's rant was about the frustration and joys of air travel, I'll add my seasonal rant about the frustrations of getting ready for Christmas. Since we live a long way from family, it is impossible to avoid the post office or UPS company stores in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'm usually pretty stoic about waiting in long lines as long as the people in front of me seem focused and organized. Last Christmas I was in the post office line from hell.
An extremely disorganized couple was at the counter when I arrived with my packages. There were about 5 people between me and the disaster unfolding before my unbelieving eyes. First of all, the couple had brought several unwrapped objects that they wanted to mail in one of the flat-rate boxes. But, they insisted on trying to stuff everything in the smallest box. Anyone in their right mind would instantly know that it was hopeless. They didn't see it. They kept trying to rearrange the items, as that would magically make everything fit. Then, they had to work their way up through all the boxes until they finally found the largest one would do the trick. Duh! The poor postal employee then discovered that they were not finished...The woman upended a huge sack of outsize, thick envelopes on the counter. The pile started spilling off the counter, so the employee set the man aside with his box and gave him the professional packer-sized tape dispenser for him to get his box sealed up. Big mistake. Before any envelopes could be gathered, the man had got himself completely tangled up in the tape. So all efforts to get stamps for the hundred envelopes had to stop while the man got untangled from the tape. The postal worker ensured that there was a safe distance between the man and the tape as she taped up his box. Meanwhile, the line behind me had grown by 10 people. Then, back to the pile of slippery envelopes... the postal worker noticed that not all were the same size, so in order to speed up the process, she was trying to get the woman to sort them by size so they could be weighed and the proper postage stamps issued. But as soon as the postal worker would get a stack of 10 matched up, the woman would do something to dislodge the pile. The line had now grown to 8 more people and had spilled into the foyer. Then the postal worker noticed that the envelopes were unusually thick, and that required each one to be fit individually through a template before being assigned a postal stamp. The woman was told that most of her letters would require a 30-cent postage stamp. The worker did not have stamps in this denomination in her drawer, so the safe had to be opened to find the right kind of stamps. However, the safe could not be opened until the key to the safe was found....the line had now grown to the sidewalk outside. Finally the key to the safe was found, the right number of stamps for the right size envelopes were counted out and the couple was shunted off to the side to stamp their envelopes.
The rest of us whizzed through line and I was in my car ready to back out into the one-way street away from the post office, when a car backed out in front of me and waited and waited and waited. It was going nowhere. Neither was I. I tried getting around it on one side. Couldn't make it. I tried the other side. Nope. Couldn't make it either. So I sat and waited and waited and waited. finally, this same man that had made such a mess of things in the post office came walking up and got in the car and his wife drove them off. IF SHE WAS WAITING FOR HIM, WHY DID SHE PULL OUT INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET TO DO HER WAITING WHEN HER CAR HAD BEEN IN A PARKING PLACE????? Some people are pretty loosely tethered to reality is all I can say. I made a new year's resolution to stay completely away from post offices in the month of December. Email anyone?
We’ve had another good year, with a trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and London, as well as a trip to Montreal, two to Washington, DC, several to San Diego, and to our home on Whidbey Island (north of Seattle). We spent Thanksgiving at Jan’s sister’s home on Lake Norris, Tennessee. Jan’s mother lives with them. And as usual we will be spending Christmas at Whidbey and our daughter, Katherine, and her husband, Bill, will come up for part of the time (they live in Seattle). Bill’s parents will be out from Maine and join us as well.
Terry’s company has a new name ITT Exelis after splitting off from ITT in November, but nothing about his job has changed. Terry is not yet ready to retire but we are starting to think about it.
Jan continues to re-paint a room or two a year to add color to our Whidbey house, much to Terry’s disappointment (he prefers them all white, “now there are only a few rooms left I can really feel at home in.”).
Terry and Jan Anderson