Our Bags are Packed

Our Bags are Packed

With apologies to John Denver –

All our bags are packed, We’re ready to go.
Africa holds us, and won’t let go…
Yea, we’re leaving, on a jet plane,
Didn’t know that we’d go back again…

After three years, we are once again Africa bound. We took our Covid tests on Sunday afternoon and received the negative results back Monday. We start the journey at 4PM later today (Tuesday) flying from Dulles to Newark, and then board a direct flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. We arrive 15 hours later at 5PM local time (11AM DC time) on Wednesday. We’ll have a good night’s sleep and then take a flight to Vic Falls the next morning (Thursday), where the fun really begins. With a bit of luck, we’ll see ellies than evening while having sundowners.

The Safari Camps

We’ll be on this adventure for about 3 1/2 weeks, with most of the time on safaris in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Our first Safari camp, The Hide, is in Zim and a several hour drive from Vic Falls. This is the one part of the trip we are repeating from our last visit. After The Hide, the other three camps are all in Botswana and are fly-in camps. Those flights all set a limit of two small, soft bags and no more than 44 pounds per person. My two bags weigh 40 pounds together. It’s amazing how light you can pack when you need to.

Two Small Bags and 40 Pounds, for 24 Days

Cathy and I, along with our friends Bill and Sharon, started planning this vacation in January of 2020. After a one year Covid delay, it’s finally here. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve and can’t wait for this trip to begin.

Addendum:

I’ve written two other blogs about this upcoming 2021 trip to Africa.

The first one is about why we wanted to return to Africa, after having the “Trip of a Lifetime” there in 2019. It can be viewed here: https://mnhallblog.wordpress.com/2021/06/02/africa-in-our-blood/ .

The Second blog is about the extensive Covid testing required throughout this upcoming trip, along with some stats showing Africa is actually safer (for covid) than several of the States here in the USA. You can read it at this link: https://mnhallblog.wordpress.com/2021/09/01/africa-and-covid-testing/ .

The Orange Crock-Pot

The Orange Crock-Pot

‘Fess up. Who owns, or owned, one of these beauties from the ‘70s? Long before there were Slow Cookers or Instant Pots, there were Crock-Pots. Ours is from 1974 and still chugging along. Seriously, 1974 and it still works. What else do you have that old, and still working? And, you have to love the color…

Cathy’s Crockpot from 1974 – Still Chugging Along…

It’s the 50th anniversary of the invention of the Crock-Pot. Appliance maker Rival unveiled it in 1971 at the National Housewares Show in Chicago. Ads and commercials represented the Crock-Pot as a wonderful, time-saving device, assuring women (yes, this was the ‘70s – almost all cooking related ads focused on women) it would simplify their lives. Hell, baseball player Joe Garagiola even became a pitchman for the Crock-Pot, hawking it as “the perfect gift”. And of course, the Crock-Pot would do all of this great work in those fabulous ‘70 colors.

A Couple of Vintage Crock Pot Ads From the 70s

That color – I’m not sure if it’s called burnt orange, red orange, or just mutant orange. It’s a color you can’t forget. Quite frankly, it and the colors “Autumn Gold” and “Avocado” represent the ‘70s as much as disco, polyester and bell bottoms. If you see anything in one of those colors, you pretty much know what decade it came from.

Burnt Orange, Harvest Gold, and Avocado Green – the Holy Trinity of 70s Colors

Cathy bought this particular Crock-Pot at the age of 18 in the summer of 1974. It was just prior to moving to Washington DC and a job with the FBI. Over the past 47 years, our Crock-Pot has made countless chilis, soups, stews, roasts, and other dishes. We have cooked with it in Germany, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio and Virginia. It crossed the Atlantic four times. How many things do you have that have been with you your whole marriage? This pot, along with our love, is one of the few things that has survived those 43 years. It’s pretty much indestructible and part of the fabric of our lives.

Having retired, I do much of the cooking around the house these days and often braise, roast or slow cook in the oven itself. Still, there are some recipes that just call out for the Crock-Pot. I think the simplicity of the device helps – you fill it with the food you are cooking; pick one of the two heat choices, low or high; and walk away for 6, 8, or 10 hours. What’s not to like, other than perhaps the color?

Summer is ending, autumn is arriving, and winter will soon be here. This ol’ Crock-Pot will again earn it’s keep, providing us with comfort food this autumn and winter. Sure, it has a couple of chips around the rim, but the heater still works fine and the lid sits securely on top. It does it’s job. In fact, it does it’s job much better than any number of devices from this century. It just keeps ticking along and will probably be with us for another decade or two. Now that I think about it, we should list it in our Trust for one of our nieces or nephews… 😉

September 11th, Twenty Years Removed

September 11th, Twenty Years Removed

In “Sympathy for the Devil” Mick Jagger famously sang “I shouted out Who killed the Kennedys? When after all it was you and me.” One might ask the very same question about Afghanistan. As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I can’t help but wonder how much culpability all of us have for these 2,455 soldier’s deaths and 2 Trillion dollars spent.

Arlington Cemetery

Some folks are suddenly concerned about the last 13 who died in Afghanistan, but they don’t seem to have cared about the thousands who died in the previous two decades. Of course the 2,455 soldiers killed doesn’t include the 3,476 contractors who also died there.

Death by Numbers

And, there is of course the money. In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan (all government agencies, not just DoD). That’s $300 million dollars per day, every day, for the last two decades.

Where are we, the American People, in all of this? It’s as if we as a nation have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with our very own combination of inattentiveness, impulsivity, and then hyperactivity. Doesn’t that describe how we as a country react to so many things?

Did we previously care about the Afghan women? The translators? Our GIs there? Now, we are magically, gravely concerned. Where were we one year, five years, ten years or twenty years ago? Sadly, we all know the answer to that question.

Our Presidents, Republican and Democrat committed our troops to Afghanistan. Our Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike approved the dollars spent there. It’s pretty easy to engage in a 20 year war with other people’s sons and daughters, and finance it with deficit spending. Just send kids, guns and money… And Now? Now all anyone wants to do is find someone to blame. American hypocrisy knows no limit and has no shame.

It’s not a problem though. With our collective ADHD, our attention will soon flit to some other topic du jour and those twenty years will quickly fade away. We might briefly look at the problems that confront us here and now at home – disease, healthcare, environmental challenges, domestic terrorism, inequality and border issues to name a few. Will we have the moral courage, conviction and concentration to do the hard work and address these and other concerns?

Where is the soul of America these days? Where have our humanity, faith and decency gone? Perhaps we should start with those.

Maybe, on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 we can quietly remember how we felt 20 years ago. We can at least try to reclaim some of our humanity, faith and decency. If we don’t, the rest of the Stone’s lyrics might well prove prophetic for us as a nation.

Feel Free To Share This Blog…

Addendum:

⁃ I wrote one other blog about my experiences during 9/11 and the Phoenix Project the year after. You can find it here: https://mnhallblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/september-11th-and-the-phoenix-project/

⁃ Thanks to my friends Tim, Mark, Colleen, Larry and Donna for their thoughts and contributions to this blog. They all added different views and ideas that greatly improved my original efforts.

⁃ It’s a bit difficult to come to a definitive number of US deaths in Afghanistan. Some figures count only those who die in country. Others add in those wounded there, who die elsewhere. Still others also add those who died in other countries in support of operations in Afghanistan. I’ve have found no totals that also include those who have committed suicide back here at home.

Africa and Covid Testing

Africa and Covid Testing

In three weeks, we depart for Africa. We’ll have our first (but not last) Covid PCR* test 48 hours prior to departure. In fact, it will be the first of four Covid tests during the vacation. Although the State Department says we shouldn’t travel to South Africa, Zimbabwe, or Botswana due to Covid, it turns out all are much safer than traveling to Florida.

When we board our plane here in the States bound for Johannesburg, South Africa, we need to show the result of a test taken not more than 72 hours prior to our departure. When we enter Zimbabwe, a day after arriving in South Africa, the TEST RESULTS themselves can’t be older than 48 hours PRIOR to the beginning of our travels. Given that it takes at least 16 hours here locally to receive test results back (for a PCR test, not the rapid test), the logistics are doable, but a bit … challenging.

A week later, when we travel from Zimbabwe to Botswana, we’ll need another PCR test. Eight days after that, when we return from Botswana to South Africa, we will receive our third PCR Test. Finally, when we return from South Africa to the States, we will have our fourth Covid PCR test. None of the tests can be older than 48 or 72 hours, depending on each country’s requirements, hence, the number of tests required. Karen, our travel agent, has already scheduled the tests in Africa for us.

Our Covid PCR Tests are Already Scheduled in Africa

The Department of State is currently warning against travel to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa due to the increase in Covid cases in all three countries. Here’s the interesting part. The current number of weekly Covid infections per 100,000 people in each of these countries is:

Zimbabwe – 13 infections per 100,000 people

Botswana – 318 infections per 100,000 people

South Africa – 136 infections per 100,000 people

Guess what Covid weekly infection rates are per 100,000 people in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi?

Florida – 691 infections per 100,000 people

Louisiana – 720 infections per 100,000 people

Texas – 397 infections per 100,000 people

Mississippi – 753 infections per 100,000 people

The United States over all – 306 infections per 100,000 people

Seriously. And they are worried about us traveling to South Africa, Botswana and Zim.

In Africa, the precautions don’t stop with the tests. We will fill out health questionnaires at border crossings and hotels. At the Safari Camps where we are staying, the staff are all 100% vaccinated. If they depart the camp, they are retested upon return, and all staff are temperature tested twice daily. They will also temperature test us once per day. All staff members are masked. They will clean and sanitize all public and private areas as they are used.

Is there risk in going on this trip? Sure. There’s always risk. In addition to Covid, there is also the chance of malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, hepatitis, tetanus, stomach distress, and assorted other diseases.

Cath and I, along with our friends Bill and Sharon have discussed the risks and received continual updates from Karen. For Covid, we will mask as needed, distance from others as required, and wash our hands frequently. Although the vaccination rate is not as high in these countries as it is in the US (due to vaccine access), they are doing the right things to minimize the risks.

As to the other diseases, it’s amazing. They have these wonderful things called vaccines and vaccine boosters now that take care of several of the diseases. For the rest, good hygiene and drinking water only from known sources solves most potential issues. As a side note, Cathy and I have had our International Vaccination cards for decades – they are a great way to keep track of the current status of all of our vaccines, boosters and shots. It’s unclear to me whether owning these card makes us a part of some International Communist conspiracy or not :-).

International Vaccination Certificates are a Great Thing to Have.

All four of us are unbelievably excited about the trip. Originally scheduled for September of 2020, we postponed a year, due to covid overall. Now? We are ready to go.

Risks? Yes, we are ready to take some risks, and travel to Africa. Just don’t ask us to go to Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas. There are some risks we just won’t entertain.

Addendum:

• For international travel, you must have a PCR test, not the rapid test. It is considered more reliable. Unfortunately, it takes longer to receive the results.

• US Covid statistics are at this link if you want to look up your state: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailycases_7daycasesper100k

• African Covid statistics were provided via Reuters. You can look at countries world wide at the following location: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/botswana/ They provide US overall statistics there as well, which match closely to CDC statistics.

Grandma Grubaugh and the Pink Elephants

Grandma Grubaugh and the Pink Elephants

A couple of months after Grandma Grubaugh died in 1996, I received a call from mom. She wanted to know if there was anything I might like from Grandma’s things. I immediately answered “The Pink Elephant and Blue Monkey glasses.” She Said “What?! Nothing else?” “No, those are how I best remember Grandma.”

Grandma and I Just Shy of my Second Birthday

Lillian Henrietta Grubaugh was born on the 2nd of January, 1905 and died on the 4th of December, 1996 at the age of 91. When Grandma died, my Uncle Don was executor of the will and divided the major assets equally out among Aunt Pauline, Aunt Cecilia, mom, Uncle Sonny and himself.

As to the belongings in the house, they took turns picking things each of them wanted, starting with Aunt Pauline, the oldest, and then reversing the order for the next pick. When they finished this up, there were of course many things still left in the house. It fell to mom and my Aunt Pauline to go through the remainder of the stuff in the house, sort it, and give it away or otherwise dispose of it. I think it was around then I received the call from mom, asking if there was anything I might want.

So why did I want those glasses of pink elephants and blue monkeys? Why did I remember them and why did they call to me? I’ve thought about that for awhile.

Sometime around 5th or 6th grade, I started a business of mowing lawns. Or I suppose my dad encouraged me to start the business. One of my first customers was of course Grandma and Grandpa. I think my cousin Joey had the job before, but he’d grown older and moved on to real work of some sort, and the opportunity fell to me.

On mowing day, dad and I loaded the mower in the back of his car and drove across town to 916 Chestnut street, where Grandma and Grandpa lived. He helped me take the mower out of the car and then drive home, with instructions to call him when I finished up.

916 Chestnut Street – The Yard Seemed Bigger Back Then

I’d mow the lawn for the next half hour or 45 minutes. The yard wasn’t big, but there were lots of things to mow around – the old swing set, the low metal fence with posts, a couple of big trees, the vegetable garden, including grandma’s rhubarb plants, and the ancient garage out back. After I finished mowing, I’d do a quick trim of the hard-to-get spots with some manual clippers.

Eventually, I’d finish everything up and head to the house, ready to call Dad. Inevitably Grandma would greet me and have me sit down at the kitchen table. She’d bring out a piece of spice cake, or unwrap some of her date nut bread, or pull some of her rhubarb sauce out of the fridge if the season was right. No matter what she served, she also poured me a big glass of milk in one of those elephant or monkey glasses and the two of us sat and talked.

I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I do remember us having those conversations – maybe about school, or summer camp, or Little League or whatever. It was just the two of us in our own little world.

Eventually we finished up and I’d call dad. He’d drive the 5 or 10 minutes across town and pick me up. Grandma and I would say goodbye, she’d give me a hug, and I’d wave goodbye from the car.

Wonderful Memories Involving Pink Elephants and Blue Monkeys

I cut their lawn for three or four years and the ritual was almost always the same. Around 8th grade, I started a “real job” working at the local pool as a locker room attendant, eventually graduating to lifeguard. I think my cousin Jimmy, Joey’s younger brother may have taken over the lawn mowing at Grandma and Grandpa’s home. Grandma and I stayed close, even after I left for West Point, but those regular private times together disappeared. I’d see her on breaks from school, or when we returned on vacation from an overseas assignment, but of course it was never the same. There was still spice cake or date nut bread, and a glass of milk or cup of coffee. We had wonderful conversations, but they were obviously more grown up. The innocence of those previous times was gone.

Grandma and I at my Graduation from West Point in 1978

I’ve thought back to those younger years and sitting at the table eating one of Grandma’s treats and drinking milk out of those glasses. It’s a warm memory, and I always smile when I see the glasses sitting on a shelf at our home now. Grandma and I having a summer conversation at her kitchen table, wrapped up in our own little world…

Addendum:

Something we also found out from mom and Aunt Pauline was that Grandma often times didn’t use the Christmas gifts we gave her. Instead, she tagged them with our names and put them away in a chest. The tagged items went back to the giver after she passed away. One of the tagged items was an umbrella of questionable fashion I’d given her one Christmas. it still sits by our back door here in Virginia, in case it’s needed.

Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi

I was recently at Linden Vineyards for a wine tasting. It was a beautiful day. While there, I recalled a nice little wine they made in 2017 called Wabi Sabi. Jim Law, the owner and winemaker, said this about the wine when it was released in 2020 – “Wabi Sabi refers to a Japanese aesthetic that reveres the “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete … It is an unintentional wine that resulted in a spontaneous decision ” I was so taken with Jim’s description of Wabi Sabi, I started looking into the concept.

Wine Tasting at Linden on a Beautiful Day

After a year of researching online, and reading one book, I’m no expert. But I learned some things I’m trying to blend into my outlook, and my life. (yes, you can sometimes teach an old dog new tricks.)

The concept of Wabi Sabi is hundreds of years old and almost the opposite of order and perfection. As an engineer, and former military guy, this is 180 degrees from much of my professional career. It has taken some mental adjustments and rethinking. With Wabi Sabi, beauty is “spontaneous, fleeting, and singular”.

Stop and say that again, out loud to yourself. Spontaneous. Fleeting. Singular. Think of the changing colors of a maple tree’s leaves in autumn, before they finally fall to the ground.

It’s a very different view of beauty than we have here in the US and the western world in general, and focuses more on the simple and imperfect. Here, we often seem to think of beauty in terms of a state of perfection that is unattainable for most of us. Something that is often out of our reach.

Wabi Sabi stresses a simpler way of looking at and appreciating things in our lives. It also pushes two views at the same time – against the accumulation of objects to no set purpose, and recognizing the good things you already have in your life.

In the book, WABI SABI SIMPLE,* Richard Powell states it even more plainly – “Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

It is the crack in an old pitcher from your grandmother or an old friend, that makes it unique and dear, and maybe more interesting with a story behind it. You know you cannot replace it, and you treasure it. Someday, you also know it might break.

A Gift to Cathy from Mrs Pray** – Some Simple Wabi Sabi

Perhaps it is seen in the gnarly heirloom tomato with a blemish that you have grown in your garden, as opposed to the perfectly shaped tomato at the supermarket. Each of those home grown tomatoes is unique in it’s shape, pretty to look at, and will certainly wither on the vine if you do not pick and eat it. And, think of how much better a home grown tomato tastes than one that comes from the store.

An Heirloom Tomato from the Garden

Think of the handcrafted items you make or buy, or receive as a gift, as opposed to those mass produced items we all pick up at nearby big box stores.

A Handmade Wooden Bowl we Received as a gift from our Friend, Kirby.

Again, I’m not an expert. Having said that, I am trying to relook at my life and how I view things. I think a bit of Wabi Sabi could help.

As to the Wabi Sabi wine at Linden, Jim also said this “Wabi Sabi reflects our philosophy behind the wine. It is an unintentional wine that resulted in a spontaneous decision. This is unusual for traditional, conservative, methodical Linden Vineyards. Once all blending decisions were made at the winery, there were several lots of wine that had no home. These misfit barrels were blended and bottled without intention or name.”

Linden’s Wabi Sabi … A Wonderful Little Wine.

Jim may have blended those barrels without intention, but the result was a wonderful little wine. It wasn’t perfect, but tasted awfully nice on a summer day. I have only one bottle left, and Linden has no more. Soon, my last bottle will be gone as well. Wabi Sabi indeed.

Addendum:

⁃ * The book I read on Wabi Sabi is titled “WABI SABI SIMPLE” by Richard R Powell. It’s a slim volume, and has some interesting thoughts for life and for work. One comment made was “maintain a conscious perspective that no job is perfect, no job is forever, and no job finishes completely.” Food for thought.

⁃ ** In the spring of 1973, Cathy and I were both in High School and had been dating for about a year. We took part in a High School Volunteer program to help out older folks around town. We worked together and went to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pray, who we had never met before. We spent the day helping to clean up their yard, and clean and fix some things in their home. At the end of the day, Mrs Pray served us cake and something to drink. She tried to pay us, which of course we refused. She then disappeared for a moment and came back with the pitcher in the photograph above and gave it to Cathy. It was from her Grandmother, who was born in 1856 and started using the pitcher in 1875. I think it’s one of the most beautiful and generous gifts we ever received.

– In January of 2020, I wrote a blog called “Perfectly Imperfect”. Looking back at the blog now, I was already on a journey towards Wabi Sabi, and didn’t realize it. It’s always interesting to me when I find events in my life that overlap, and I’m not even aware of it at the time. Read this blog, and tell me if it doesn’t sound like Wabi Sabi by another name: https://mnhallblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/perfectly-imperfect/

⁃ For what it’s worth, Linden’s Wabi Sabi wine was a combination of Vidal Blanc, Sémillon and Viognier, not your typical blend. I love Linden Vineyards here in Virginia. They make excellent wines, by any standard. Want to know more about them? Here’s a link to a 2021 article about Jim Law and Linden – https://vinepair.com/articles/linden-vineyards-virginia/ and here’s a link to Linden’s website: https://www.lindenvineyards.com/

Zman is Gone

Zman is Gone

It’s always tough when a West Point brother dies, but this one hit me harder than most. Zman is gone. I’ve lost other classmates over the years, but Zman was the first from my company, and I felt a great sadness on hearing the news. I suppose it was sadness both for his passing, and the passing of our youth.

Dan Zimmermann was a big guy with a big personality. The kind of guy whose good mood was infectious. We had some good times at WooPoo U (West Point) our Firstie (Senior) year, although I also remember him studying a lot – he was taking P Chem, a class not for the faint of heart. Still, I remember an evening or two (or three) of partying.

Dan’s Graduation Picture

After graduation in 1978, we reunited several months later in Wurzburg, Germany. I was stationed with the 123d Signal Bn (3ID) at Hindenburg Kaserne, and he was across town with a Chemical unit. I can’t remember now if he was a part of 3ID or some other unit. Over the next three years, we managed to hit more than a few Bier and Wien Fests together in the surrounding area.

I remember one evening in ‘80 or ‘81 when the town he lived in held something called a “Heckenwirtschaft.” In Franconia, a part of Bavaria, small towns would occasionally allow the small wine growers to open their homes as limited seating “pubs” – an event called a “Heckenwirtschaft”. Dan’s landlord was one of the people who opened their homes. We spent the night wandering from house to house, and in their cellars or kitchens sampled some good white wines and wonderful homemade foods. It was a great time – one of those evenings when it’s just you and the locals, and because of Dan’s landlord, we were treated like locals as well. Nights like that don’t come around all that often and I remember it to this day. We may have overserved ourselves a bit that evening.

We lost track of each other after our next assignments and didn’t see each other for a couple of decades. In 2015, Cath and I held a mini-reunion for my West Point Company, B-3. There were about eighteen of us here for the weekend and Dan joined up at the last minute for the two nights of festivities. It’s funny, but the whole group of us clicked back together, as if it was Firstie year in 1978. There were stories told, both old and new. The bonds we’d forged decades before on the banks of the Hudson River still held strong.

We saw each other for what turned out to be the last time at our 40th reunion at West Point in 2018. He had become the National Sergeant at Arms for the American Legion, and told us about escorting both candidates, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, to the stage in 2016, when each spoke at the Legion’s National Meeting prior to the election.

B-3 Classmates at the 40th Reunion in 2018. Dan is in the Center in the Back.

In 2020, Cathy and I were going to hold another mini B-3 reunion in May here in Warrenton, Virginia. Dan and I traded emails and spoke, and he was planning to come. Unfortunately, in April, we cancelled the get-together due to Covid. Dan called me after that and we talked for about 10 or 15 minutes about Covid, along with this and that. It was the last time we spoke with each other. He didn’t mention the lung cancer he already knew he was dying of.

It’s Forty-some years since our graduation from West Point in 1978 and those years have passed much too quickly. I think of Dan, and my other classmates, both living and dead. Our class will still have plenty of good times together, and many more reunions. Having said that, the chapel service honoring our departed classmates at those reunions becomes just a little sadder each time.

I’ve also been thinking about the great Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler song, “Brothers in Arms” and it’s refrain,

You did not desert me

My brothers in arms…

Whenever I hear the song, I think of both West Point and my time in the Army. The song is bittersweet, and also a testament to those who have served, and the brotherhood that exists between them. Released in 1985, it also reminds me of my 8 1/2 years with the Army in Germany that decade.

And of course, I can’t help but remember the song “The Corps” from West Point. It celebrates the continuity of The Long Gray Line, past, present and future.

Grip hands with us now tho’ we see not. Grip hands with us strengthen our hearts … Grip hands, tho’ it be from the shadows…

Rest In Peace Zman, Rest in Peace. You are gone, but not forgotten.

Grip Hands …

Addendum:

– You can read Dan’s official obituary here, if you so desire. https://www.mvfh.org/guestbook/daniel-zimmermann . Dan is survived by his wife Mary Lepley, and three children.

– My classmate COL Chuck Allen (Ret) captured that 2015 B-3 Company get together pretty perfectly in this article: https://cumberlink.com/print-specific/article_9ce2a381-0218-5973-b12e-1196218b230d.html . Chuck is still doing great work and teaching Leadership at the Army War College.

– Thanks as always to my friend Colleen for her super editorial assistance. I’m alway thankful for her corrections to my poor English. I’m better than when I started this blog 5 years ago, but still have room for improvement. Thanks Colleen!

Pizza on the Grill

Pizza on the Grill

We recently bought a new gas grill. I’ve always been a charcoal guy, but decided to add a gas grill as well. So – what would be the first meal to come off the grill – Steaks? Brats? Burgers? Chicken? A Pork Tenderloin? It turned out to be a Pizza Margherita. Yep. Seriously. What the hell!?! Well, there’s a bit of a story to go with the decision.

For the last 40 years, I’ve cooked on (mostly) Weber Kettle charcoal grills. The smoke, the flame, the flavor, it all just worked for me. Yea, I always knew there was a bit of inconvenience to it, but that was no big deal, and I’d argue with “gas guys” about why charcoal was superior.

When Cathy’s mom passed away in 2010, we inherited her gas grill. It took me a bit of time to cook on it, but I made the adjustment. I still mostly cooked with charcoal, but if I was in a hurry, or occasionally had something that just needed a quick sear, like shrimp, I’d use mom’s grill. It was also put to use when we did our annual Oktoberfest Run at the farm – When you need to cook 125 Brats and warm up 100 soft pretzels, all available cooking surfaces are pressed into service.

Last week, two independent events happened that changed my outlook.

First, the New York Times cooking section had an article about making your own pizza. I’d always shied away from making my own pizzas in the past. Making the dough seemed like more effort than it was worth. The Time’s recipe? Easy. You just needed a bit of time. It also had a simple recipe for the sauce. Still, it seemed that, while you could make a good pizza in your oven, the oven still wasn’t Pizzeria-oven hot, not even close. I know lots of people make great pizza at home, but it gave me pause.

The second event? Cathy and I talked and decided to buy a new gas grill to supplement our charcoal grill. Mom’s old grill was toast. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m getting soft. In any case, I bit the bullet, and bought a new gas Weber grill. Now with the Weber, as I was reading through the manual, they recommend heating the grill to it’s highest temperature for 20 or 30 minutes before you ever use it. I’m not sure why, maybe to help season everything.

In any case, the day the grill arrived, I heated that puppy up for about half an hour. I went out later to shut it down and glanced at the temperature. Whoa! Over 600 degrees!

A Pizza Oven of a Different Sort

That got me to thinking. 600 degrees still isn’t the 1,000 degrees of a wood pizza oven, or as hot as a commercial pizza oven. But, it’s hotter than most home ovens.

A wood oven, at 1,000 degrees takes about 60 seconds to cook the perfect pie. What could I do at 600 degrees? I decided to find out.

I kept it simple for my first try and just went with a traditional Pizza Margherita. On Saturday afternoon I made the dough and let it rise. While that was happening, I made the sauce they recommended, which was really simple – blended crushed tomatoes, a bit of salt and a swirl of olive oil. I added some garlic and oregano.

The Two Dough Balls for the Crusts

About an hour before dinner time, I put my baking-stone on the grill and started heating it up.

Next? I had a cocktail, got a bottle of Zin out of the cellar and relaxed a bit. Finally it was time to assemble the pizza.

I formed the pie, added some sauce, then placed mozzarella cheese on it, and scattered some basil leaves. I added a quick swirl of olive oil and a grating of pepper. I kept the second round of dough handy, in case I screwed up the first pizza. Into the Weber the pizza went. Six minutes later, I took it out.

Homemade Pizza – Yea Baby!

It looked delicious. I let it cool for a minute or two. Yes, I still remember burning the roof of my mouth on occasion with pizzas straight from the oven… 😉

Finally, it was taste test time, and – Whoa! This was pretty damned good. Was it the best pizza I ever had? No. But it was much better than many pizzas I’ve had. It had a nice crust and a good sauce. The cheese was melted and stringy. This was something I could easily enjoy again and again.

We devoured the first pizza and I quickly made the second one. I added a bit more cheese and basil this time and slid it onto the baking stone. A little under six minutes later, I pulled it out. I’d say Cathy liked the pizza as well, as the second one was also quickly gone.

The Second Pizza was as Good as the First.

I realize I’m late to the “make your own pizza party”, but I’m on board now. The grill made me a believer. I’ve got a few topping ideas for the next pizzas, and some thoughts on how I could improve just a bit. Practice makes perfect, or so they say.

So…I bought this Weber Grill that makes good pizzas. I hear it’s not bad with steaks either. We’ll see sometime in the future.

Addendum:

– I love pizza, although we don’t eat it as much these days (that may change now). I think that’s partly because we have to drive 15 or 20 minutes to the nearest pizza places. It sounds foolish, but growing up in Ottawa, Illinois, we had several great pizza places, and I think it spoiled me a bit. Foremost among the places in Ottawa was Sam’s and Bianchi’s. They are legendary back home. Anyone returning for a visit almost always stops at one of those two places for a pie. If you want to read about me having pizza 116 times at Sam’s in 1972, you can do so here: https://mnhallblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/sams-pizza-in-1972/

– Here’s a link to the article from the NYT than inspired me. Give it a shot – it really is pretty simple. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/dining/a-little-pizza-homework.html

Registering the Dead

Registering the Dead

My Mother-in-Law, Faye received an interesting piece of mail today from the “50 State Action Fund”. The mailing provided a Virginia voter registration application and urged her to register and save Virginia from “the Radical Liberals”. The only problem is mom has been dead since 2010.

Hmmm, Mom may not have Registered to Vote in the last Eleven Years… I Wonder Why?

50 States Action Fund says it is “committed to giving Americans the tools they need to fight back against the rise of socialism. Through registration efforts, we are working to help voters engage in the political process by exercising their constitutional right to vote across the country…. and Protect our values from socialism.” Their website shows us on the road to becoming Venezuela. Their Facebook page of course brings up the bogeyman of taking away people’s guns. Looking closer, it appears they are specifically targeting Virginia.

Uh oh. The Dems are at it Again (Although it’s the Right that’s Trying to Register Dead People…)

It’s interesting to me how the far right, and particularly the Trumpers, continually charge the left with voter fraud. It’s one of the many great crimes committed by us radical leftists. Everyone knows we register illegals, register criminals and register dead people. We evidently do this so we can turn this country into a – take your pick – socialist, communist, or Marxist state. I suppose the 50 State Action Fund is pretty mild, since they only charge us with socialism and not creating a Marxist State.

Here in Virginia, we have an election every single year. It’s actually a bit tiring. This year, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General Offices are all up for election, as well as all members of the House of Delegates. The Republican candidate for Governor was already caught on tape telling supporters that he “has to limit his antiabortion comments on the campaign trail for fear of alienating Virginia’s independent voters, but that he would go “on offense” if he wins office and Republicans take a majority in the House of Delegates.” Of course it’s the Dems who are the liars.

I’m sure there will be many more shenanigans over the next three months before the election, no doubt from both sides. As to mom registering to vote in support of the Far Right, I suppose they will have to pry the registration form from her cold dead hands.

Feel free to share this blog.

Addendum:

I’ve been waiting a long time to find a use for that Chuck Heston/NRA “cold dead hands” tag line. I think this fit the bill.

In the first two hours after I published this blog, three other friends here in Virginia told me about dead relatives or friends who also received this mailing. Maybe they should review their mailing list? I doubt that will happen.

The Jetty – A Place Where our Dog Carmen and I can Both get a Drink

The Jetty – A Place Where our Dog Carmen and I can Both get a Drink

I’ve never ever heard someone say “Man, I can’t stand The Jetty”. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s one of those places that has found a way to appeal to old locals, new locals, people passing by, and tourists. As a bonus, dogs are allowed on the outdoor deck, which makes it one of Carmen’s favorite places as well. Every town should have a place like The Jetty Restaurant and Dockbar, but many don’t.

Cathy and I have been stopping at the Jetty for the last ten years. It’s on the way to our house at the Bay, and a great place for lunch. Two hours from home (and about 45 min from The Bayhouse), it’s the perfect stopping point.

The first time we went to The Jetty was with friends Pat and Bob, and Becky and Jim. Cathy mentioned to her girlfriends we were going to the Bay, and maybe we could meet them for a drink along the way. Becky said to Cathy “What about meeting at the jetty?” Cath answered “Becky – which jetty? There must be ten jetties in that stretch along the water.” Becky answered “Not a jetty, THE Jetty – it’s a bar”. And so we were introduced to this wonderful beach bar.

The Jetty has a great location on Kent Narrows.

Located in Maryland, just over the Bay Bridge on the Eastern Shore, the bar has a great view overlooking Kent Narrows. In the spring, summer and fall, the outdoor tables on the deck stay full, while in the wintertime, the indoor bar and restaurant fill up. With all of the glass “garage type doors” for the bar, the view from inside is almost as good as sitting outside.

With all of the roll-up windows, The view from inside the deck bar, is almost as good as from outside.

When stopping for lunch, we know a nice selection of cold beers, excellent Bloody Marys or tasty Crushes are there waiting for us. The food is decent, and this being the Eastern Shore, the crabs in the summertime and oysters in the winter are always excellent. Good burgers, fish sandwiches or tacos, a great Crab Cake, and excellent salads are all on the menu. This is bar food at it’s best… If you are looking for something more substantial, there’s always several wonderful seafood dinners on the menu as well… As a bonus, dogs are allowed on the outdoor deck, which also makes it one of Carmen’s favorite places. They always bring her a bowl of water, and if you are inclined, you can order special doggie “meals” off the menu for your fourlegged companion (we don’t). She always enjoys barking “hi” to the other dogs on the deck.

The mental transition to vacation mode starts pretty quickly when sitting on the deck, looking at the water and relaxing with a drink. A beer, or two, along with a sandwich makes that last 45 minutes of driving time to Tilghman pass pretty quickly.

Getting in vacation mode….

I’ve seen bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and one year on St Paddy’s Day, a bus parked outside. Many folk also arrive by boat, docking in one of the slips.

We’ve also met friends there for drinks, or for dinner. It’s not a bad way to while away a few hours on a sunny afternoon. On weekends, they often have a band. Our friends, Pat and Bob live just three or four miles from The Jetty – in Pat’s words – “The Jetty is practically our every Friday happy hour go-to bar. Such a beautiful setting, especially the gorgeous sunsets.

Every town should have a place like The Jetty, but many don’t. The water and view certainly help, but the way they appeal to everyone, local or not, is what makes the difference for me. I’m glad it’s on our list of local watering holes and places for a meal. If you happen to cross the Bay Bridge on Route 50 heading to the Eastern Shore or the Atlantic Ocean, make sure and give The Jetty a try. If you’ve been making the trip for awhile, you probably already knew that.

Addendum:

– Thanks to our friend Pat for reviewing and providing input for this blog.

– Note – this isn’t an advertisement for the Jetty and I was provided no money (or drink) in exchange for writing this blog! It’s a local bar/restaurant we just really like.