Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Jeep Pumpkin

Sebastian's Jeep Pumpkin
My family owns a lot of Jeeps. Some Sundays there are three Jeeps parked in my driveway.

I would like to own a Jeep for fun and play and of course to go to Jeep weekend.

In addition to the Jeeps owned by my family, the 16 year old neighbor who just got his driver's permit also just got a brand new 2013 Jeep to learn to drive. It is a beauty. But then, all new Jeeps are beauties.

To celebrate Halloween, they carved pumpkins and he made a special one for his new ride.

I thought it was cute--and he did a really good job carving the Jeep pumpkin.

Jeeps seem to be the real vehicles around here. They are everywhere and they seem to do everything. After going to Jeep week earlier this year, I believe that they really can do almost anything.  I need to sell Kitty so that I, too, can have a Jeep.

Happy Halloween--Jeep Style!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daylight Savings Time Ends

Although I am not sure how daylight savings time actually saves daylight, I am sad to see it end.

It is one of those dots under the exclamation point denoting the end of summer. That along with the final games of the World Series means that whatever illusion I had of summer hanging on are truly gone.

Dawn is barely thinking of gracing the eastern sky now in the the morning as  I head off to work--and evening is arriving almost as soon as I return home. 

Soon, while I may not need my headlights to illuminate the highway on my drive to work, I will likely be driving home in total darkness. The dark days have arrived.

I think I understand the angst that the older civilizations had about the light becoming shorter on a daily basis and wondering, because they did not comprehend the spinning of the planet about the sun and the tilt of the Earth's axis, whether the light would return.

Nothing good happens after dark!

The sun will return--I am sure of it.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Housewarming

Family Halloween Portrait
I am not a fan of Halloween. Most everyone who knows me knows that. I stopped trick or treating when I was in fifth grade because I thought the whole holiday was contrived. 

But, last Saturday evening I went to a Halloween Housewarming Party and had a great time. I even dressed up--notionally I was Marc Anthony and I was going to the party with my Cleopatra. 

What a party--food, games, fun, and most of all family celebrating the excitement of a new house and a new home.
The Women in my Life

Friends. Wow, what friends were there to celebrate. The costumes were magnificent and demonstrated a high degree of creativity.

And there were new acquaintances. 

Maybe I will do more Halloween parties in the future and enjoy them more. 

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Musings - October 28, 2013

1. The end of October and Halloween in upon us! Four days to go.

2. A vehicle with this logo on it was in my driveway the other day. I wondered if I should be worried about going into the house.

3. I learned what graupel was the other day. A nice piece of trivia I could have lived without knowing I think. It might be a good word to know for scrabble.

4. Here is a scary item I read yesterday: 30 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. And we wonder why we have so grossly uninformed people in America today. 

5. Well at least the World Series is exciting. It is tied 2-2 with only three games remaining. Game seven, if necessary, would be played  on Halloween!  Might keep some of the goblins off the streets.

6. Here is some interesting birthday trivia: On this date in 1955, Bill Gates was born. One year later, the former President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (a/k/a Ahm-a-dinner-jacket) was born.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Visit to the Pumpkin Patch

The Pumpkin Farm and Nicole
It is the season of the Great Pumpkin and Halloween is just around the corner. That meant that the time for our annual trek to the pumpkin farm in Davidsonville, MD was upon us. 

Yesterday was the day. Clear blue skies and moderate temperatures combined to make an idyllic day on the farm with the pumpkins. 

Jax: I Like it but I Want a Moon Pumpkin
There were, of course, pumpkins everywhere, but there was an incredible amount of fun as we charged through the corn stalk maze launching corn kernels at each other while running sneak attacks across the rows of corn. I admit, I had never done that before and ensuring that the other non-family members in the maze were not inadvertently attached added a sense of realism and fun to the game. 
Ethan: Is it the Great Pumpkin?"

We were a bit disappointed in the quality of the pumpkins in the field. Many were broken and rotting already. In fact, we did not purchase any large pumping, settling for a few small ones and some gourds. 

The Corn Maze
There was the obligatory posing on the straw bales for the annual photos--but with it being such a beautiful day, the posing was not a problem.

A great afternoon and fun memory it just makes me want to say: Happy Halloween!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, October 26, 2013

No Pets makes No Sense

I stopped and looked at the sign posted prominently on the entrance to the rest stop building. Why must my beloved dog remain outside complicating my life when she is traveling with me? It makes no sense--none at all. After all, they let children into the building and we all know that they are far dirtier and more destructive than pets.

On my most recent sojourn, I discovered that most of the wineries in the Seneca Lake region of New York allow dogs to accompany their owners into the tasting rooms while sampling the fruit of the vine. Why must my dog remain outside at a rest stop where food is not being served? Or for that matter, why discriminate against pets anywhere--food or not? 

Pets are companions. I am sure that soon there will be a movement to ensure that dogs and cats are seat belted when traveling in a car--not only for their own protection but the protection of the driver and other occupants. I mean, who needs the family pet flying around the interior of the vehicle during an accident?

For now, I am contemplating some radical action to try to get these ridiculous laws and rules reversed. What would be the harm in allowing my dog into an establishment especially on an extremely hot or cold day?

We seem to spend a lot of time writing laws and making rules that have precious little hope of being enforced, why don't we begin to take some rules and laws off the books thereby restoring freedom of choice and begin enforcing personal responsibility?

Makayla rules!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Second Favorite Rest Stop

I think it a bit odd that I have favorite rest stops along the highways I traverse. These are places where I pause to gather my wits during the hours of highway driving. My favorite rest stop is along I-95 shortly after entering Florida. "Welcome to the Sunshine State" the signs proclaim! Yeah. I really could use some sunshine right now.

My second favorite rest stop is no where near the first. It is along Route 15 a few miles after entering Pennsylvania from New York. It sits high atop a ridge overlooking a valley and a dam with a lake behind it. 

During the autumn, the area is especially pretty. The colorful trees surround the scene making it seem as if a painter had stopped and decorated the region for their own use. 

The small town in the valley below the dam is quaint and bucolic. I would like to visit there some day, when I am not feeling the stress of trying to drive more miles per hour than the speed limit allows. 

I am, it seems, always hurrying from one place to another with just enough time allotted for the trip and none available for the pleasantries of visiting places along the way which are more than a just few yards off the ribbon of macadam I am traveling. 

But this rest stop is a stop I must make. It slows and grounds me and makes me pause to enjoy the beauty of the region. 

I am thankful that it is there to slow me down and to break up my trip.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chilly Gray Autumn Days

October 23, 2013
Gray and Chilly
Yesterday was one of those chilly, gray, autumn days that just makes me want to do nothing. I felt as if I could not  just do nothing except hang around and be a couch potato.

I noted that the leaves continue to remain valiantly attached to the trees, as if they can keep the inevitable from occurring. Yet they remain and for that I am glad. During my sojourn to upstate NY this past weekend I could see areas where the leaves have already made their way to the ground and the bare trees are evidence that autumn is transitioning into winter. Ugh!
Geranium on the Back Deck

Here in Maryland, my lawn remains green and in need of mowing. It was cold and rainy; hence, the mowing never happened. 

The gray skies just want to make me nestle under a big pile of  bed covers and let the world pass by. Unfortunately, it will not. The world keeps chasing after me despite my best efforts.

At least some color remains, until tonight when the first frost of the season is due to slide into my yard and transform the vibrant plants of summer into brown memories of the season past.

Life goes on--but the memories remain and sustain. 

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grapes and Wine

I am amazed how many different varieties of grapes are used to make wine.

Most people can name a few.

Just a few. The biggies are:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Pinot Noir
Petit Verdot
Cabernet Franc

But there are so many more. Including the ones above, I  found over 20 different grapes that I currently have represented in wines in my cellar. The additional ones include:

De Chaunac
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Sauvignon Blanc
Touriga Nacional

Others that I know I have tasted or even possessed include:

Petit Manseng

I likely missed a few in the list--but the point of the exercise for me was to review the different varieties of grapes that I have sampled and to realize that each grape and the wine it produces has unique qualities which when combined with the growing region and the skill of the wine maker produce very different wines.

Wines are like people. Each person is unique despite their ancestry. And like a good wine, hopefully we get better with age.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lowest of the Low

Of all of the horrific things I have had the unfortunate opportunity to read about in the news, a story I ran across yesterday really made my emotions boil.

It was about human trafficking in the UK (read England) but it is happening everywhere.

This one was especially stomach turning because it was about a young girl who was smuggled into Britain to have her organs harvested. Boldly enough, the article was titled: Girl smuggled into Britain to have her 'organs harvested'. I was appalled as the story unfolded about this being the first confirmed case of such an incident in the UK. But, the story reads, not likely the last nor even the only.

Another story states that there are 2.4 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. 

If we are looking for cause--here is one. I did not fully understand the magnitude of the problem. But the story I read about being trafficked for organ harvesting really caught my attention. I won't go down the mental road that the story took me--but, I will say, it really hit home with me that this stuff is real and real people are being hurt and even killed. Maybe the article resonated with me because it was about a young girl and I am the father of a daughter that I love very much.

I know we all thought that slavery and human trafficking had been abolished--but, sadly, it hasn't. Worse, it is happening in the U.S., too.

So, I'm sorry that this story isn't about the usual stuff I write about, it is not uplifting nor does it have a happy ending, but I urge you to read the two articles I linked and be disgusted enough to take action.

While we are struggling with government shutdowns and political infighting, millions of people worldwide are enslaved and dying. I offer this website from the FBI as a place for more information: FBI--Human Trafficking

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Musings - October 21, 2013

1. The World Series starts this week. Baseball will be drawing to a close with the end of the month.

2. By not traveling on a holiday weekend, I found open highways, light traffic, and record setting travel times. WooHoo! 

3. When you mow the lawns for the last time of the year, how do you know it is the last time?

4. It was 39 degrees this morning when I woke up here in Maryland. Who forgot to pay the heating bill?

5. I liked a statement that I heard about running a marathon: There is no way I'm going to run that far unless I'm being chased by a clown with a knife and there are margaritas at the finish line.

6. Life is made exciting by the pursuit of something that I don't have, but want--especially if I have to work hard for it.

7. Sometimes wanting is far better than having.

8. It is hard to say good-bye, especially when the parting was unexpected.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cold Autumn Morning and The World Series

Autumn Tree with Obligatory
 Upstate NY Deer Target
It was 43 degrees outside as I woke this morning to greet another day. 

I was afraid there might be frost on the leaves, but at least that didn't happen. The day dawned bright, clear and crisp--but no frost. Yet!

The colors of the leaves on the trees continue to deepen and the excitement of the continuing foray into autumn continues. Soon hunting season will be upon the region and the thinning of the herd will begin.

Sunday's can be exciting with all of their promise and the expectation of adventure. My day will find me on the ribbon of highway homeward bound to prepare for another week of high activity.

Turning to sports--

Baseball is poised to begin its final chapter of the year. 

I was a bit disappointed that the World Series is going to be between the St Louis Cardinals (defending their crown) and the Boston Red Sox. While the match-up seems to be a no brainer, the teams tied for the best record in baseball during the regular season,  I would have hoped for almost any other two teams in the playoffs--like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers, for example.
Entry way to Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FL

But I will watch the series because it is the final chapter of a baseball season that began eight months ago with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. The season ends as the Spring Training 2014 schedules are being published and I am planning my trip to Sarasota to enjoy time with the Orioles. It is the circle of baseball, I guess.

I never thought about it, but baseball spans all four seasons. Spring Training begins during the last weeks of Winter and continues through Spring and Summer and well into the first half of Autumn. Until Spring Training begins,  I will be watching Penguins hockey and suffering through what is at this juncture a mediocre Ravens season while waiting for the return of the warmth and the sun. 

-- Bob Doan, writing from Ithaca, NY

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Finding Autumn in the Finger Lakes

On NY 414 Heading to Watkins Glen
It took a five hour drive--but I finally found autumn yesterday. On the drive to Ithaca autumn appeared in the hills, known by some as mountains. 

The trees have seemingly found their color as the season progresses. I hope these colors soon find their way to Maryland.
Looking on Seneca Lake from a Winery

The day was perfect. The trip from Maryland to upstate NY was uneventful and punctuated with stops at four new Seneca Lake East Shore wineries. I actually found some NY State red (yup RED) wines worth buying. I'm going to disguise them as being from Sonoma to get people to try them. They were from Silver Springs Winery,  a great new find on the eastern side of Seneca Lake. The Bold Merlot was especially stunning in its depth of color and rich flavor.  It had a solid nose of dark fruit. And since this was the first winery I visited--I'm pretty sure of my assessment.

It was good to enjoy the colors of autumn, but even in the Finger Lakes the colors are muted in response, I believe, to the weather conditions which have been experienced across the region since autumn began. 

I wonder what today will bring?

-- Bob Doan, writing from Ithaca, NY

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gray Skies but Bright Heart

Dark Skies over the Pool House
Although the skies were gray yesterday and threatened rain, I was really excited that our government lurched forward--even if only by three months.

Perhaps there is yet hope!

In celebration, I drove with the top down on Cat to enjoy the warm day despite the impending threat of rain which never fully materialized except for some widely scattered sprinkles.

Cold weather is on the way though.

I had the oil changed in the truck and equipped it with new windshield wipers for the coming winter season. I will hate to back Cat into the garage one day soon knowing that the likelihood of driving it again before springtime arrives is relatively remote. 

Soon, I will be looking for a coat before leaving the house. That will be sad. 

But, as each day passes pool opening day in the spring draws one day closer.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Call to Action -- A Follow-up

Yesterday, following my own advice, I wrote two senators, two members of the House of Representatives, and the President. I received only one email response--from my local representative, so far.

Am I discouraged by the limited response? 

Nope! They were all pretty busy yesterday finally accomplishing their constitutionally appointed tasks. Traffic, unfortunately, should be back to normal for the morning commute.

Today is a new day and it, too, is a day needing renewed prayer and so I will again pray for our leaders.  Even though they finally achieved an agreement to reopen our government--the need remains great. A one time prayer push will not be sufficient. The trials and the tribulations of the day are great.

I urge everyone to continue to be in prayer over this crisis which is not ended, but only delayed until January and February.

I am not going to overload my representatives' email accounts today--but I will continue to pray for them and this country--every day. Maybe next week I will send them another word of encouragement.

I heard the words of a great hymn God Bless America as I was writing this. 

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, 
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free. 
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, 
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer: 

God bless america, land that I love, 
Stand beside her and guide her 
Through the night with a light from above. 
From the mountains, to the prairies, 
To the oceans white with foam, 
God bless america, 
My home sweet home. 

-- irving berlin

When it is the darkest, the arrival of the dawn is most greatly anticipated and appreciated.

We need God's blessing upon the land, this nation, our society, our leaders, and each of us who calls this land our home.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Call to Action

In reflecting upon the fall of the Roman Empire and the numerous empires and countries which have risen and fallen during the history of the human race, like maybe the British Empire, I am stuck by the similarities.

Among them greed, corruption, and selfishness.

Sadly, I worry that we, the greatest force for democracy that the world has ever witnessed, are experiencing the same thing. We have become besieged with special interest groups who define their entire existence upon one limited issue. Their unwillingness to compromise for the greater good of the country is carving a path to destruction and clouding the true mission and purpose for our nation and our society.

It is time for "We the People" to take action! We must let our representatives and leaders know that we are here, we are watching, and that we demand action!

Here is what I propose: Pray.

Yup. Pray. 

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul instructs: First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. -- NET Bible

Don't know what to pray? 

Try this:

Father in Heaven, I bring before you the leaders of our nation. We are facing troubling and difficult times and I ask You to provide our leaders with the wisdom and understanding they need to lead our nation. Help them to seek your will. Guide them and us through these difficult and stressful times and help this country fulfill the mission that you have laid our for us in this world. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen

Note: instead of just saying "our leaders" you may want to substitute the names of the leaders: President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and your senators and representatives (in my case Barbara Mikulski, Ben Cardin, John Sarbanes)

Don't stop there!

Now write an email (it's faster) to each of the members of Congress and the Executive Branch that you prayed for. Use their web sites because they are all under limited staffing during the shutdown. You can find a listing of their names and addresses at the Contacting Congress website. Let them know that you prayed for them and that you are urging them to seek God's will for this great nation during this difficult time. 

Here is what I wrote in my email though their websites:

I prayed for you this morning. May you seek and find God's will for this nation during these troubling times.

Try it!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Has Autumn Gone Missing?

When I looked outside yesterday at the beginning of the holiday, I was not expecting the sight that confronted me. 

Leaves were everywhere across the yard and my pool! The trees around my yard are losing their leaves and yet have not yet transformed from their summer green into the autumn colors. 

The leaves are just falling from the mostly already barren trees without providing the autumnal display that in some way makes the season special and exciting. 

There are leaves everywhere, But I have not had the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy their burst of color. The mum and the mandevilla continue to brighten the covered pool area providing some small splash of color against the otherwise drab background which is prepared for the coming winter weather.

Many of the trees around my house have already shed their leaves in preparation for winter's howling winds. 

Even the temperatures are confusing. The mild temperatures may have confused the leaves and the trees, stifling their anticipated show. There are pockets of trees which are transforming--mostly small stands of maples it seems. 

But despite autumn's delayed arrival, it is surely here as the leaves are falling in ever increasing numbers from the trees. I need to rake the lawn and move the leaves back into the wooded areas where they can rest more comfortably.

I am sure autumn is not missing, only giving us a respite before handing off the weather to winter. And really, who wants that weather any sooner than need be?

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Musings - October 14, 2013

1. Happy Columbus Day celebrated. In some ways this day is really the celebration of the subjugation of the native western hemisphere peoples day. But hey, it's a holiday and a day off.

2. The Government shutdown is about to enter its second week with little hope for resolution in sight. I ran across this political cartoon which aptly expresses how I feel.

3. I was corrected in my blog about the marathon yesterday. The news video shows the guys at mile 13--yes after the first half of the marathon they were still in really good spirits.

4. Some of the best government shutdown political cartoons of the week.
  a. The Tea Party strikes

  b. A scary truth

  c. Who is in charge?

  d. And the best of all--former presidents weigh in:

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Races, Marathons, and Life

Did I ever say how impressed I am that two of my sons ran and finished a marathon yesterday? They ran 26.2 miles? I've never even walked that far in a single session. I have walked over 6 miles doing Volksmarches in Germany, but never anything over 10, let alone trying to run 26.2.

It was a great Baltimore day for running. Temperatures in the 60's, a light drizzle to keep everyone cool, and nice crowds lining the race way. The Baltimore Running Festival was awesome.

They guys started in great spirits on their 26.2 mile journey through Baltimore and the ended together--the way they trained and the way the chose to end working through the cramps and the pain to be victorious--together, a true team.

With Their Medals after the Baltimore Marathon
The video is a news clip that shows them competing in the race together at about the 13 mile mark--a half marathon distance--which is how they ended--with exactly the same time crossing the finish line.

Although they say that running is a solitary sport, these guys have proven that running can be a team sport. 

The pathway to yesterday's success began back during March as they trained for the Frederick Half-Marathon and made the decision to go for the Maryland double--completing both the Frederick Half and Baltimore Full Marathons. I remember the cold May morning in Frederick when this dynamic duo of a team conquered the Frederick Half-Marathon and I promised then that I would be there for them at the finish of the Baltimore Marathon. And I was.

I am not a runner--I don't have the right mindset for it, but I appreciate those who do run. I am in awe of their accomplishment. And they indicated that there will be more marathons in the future. 

Congrats to both of them on this awesome accomplishment.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rain, Traffic, and Taxes

This week has been a difficult week for travel around the area.

Wednesday there was a terrible accident on a major highway near me which closed the road during the morning rush hour and the resulting regional traffic disaster changed my normal 15 minute commute into an hour and forty-five minutes of excitement on the highway. I did enjoy watching the sunrise during my extended commute--but I admit my backside began to hurt a bit from just sitting in traffic idling at about 4 mph on four lane highways where the average speed is normally closer to 70 mph. 

And then, later in the week, the rains came.

Traffic in our region simply fails to move when the rain comes. My commute on Thursday and Friday was tortuous. I mean--really hard, long, slow, and painful. Thank goodness for Sirus Radio in my vehicle or I am sure I would go crazy listening for traffic reports trying to find a way around the mess--etxcept, there isn't any.

We needed the rain. I believe it had been over a month, maybe closer to mid-August since we has seen any appreciable rainfall. Of course, it really didn't need to come all at once.

At least the governor is happy about the rain. He hadn't had the opportunity to tax anything new in a while. And I am serious. Since the governor has been in office there have been 32 new taxes or significant fee increases totaling $2.3 billion!!! And we actually do have a Rain Tax!

At least someone is happy about the rain and the misery it can cause. I have to take more water out of my pool after closing it to keep the level down where I want it for the winter. 

The commute will always be bad during rainy weather, but to tax me on top of that? 

Well, as Benjamin Franklin said:

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

And maybe rain.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, October 11, 2013

Into the Darkness

Although it is only October, I have already done three days in a row of going to work in darkness and coming home after dark. Usually, I do not get to experience the thrill of Alaskan-like sunshine depravity until after Thanksgiving--but this year is crazy in more than one way.

First off, for those of you who were following my furlough exploits, I was not clear in stating that I am no longer furloughed. Congress, in a rare moment of lucidity passed a bill which allowed for many civilians related to military support to be recalled to work, and I was among that blessed group. That is why I am not answering the house phone during the middle of the day.

No, I am at work missing all of the sunshine and more recently, rain. AND NOT complaining about it.

This week has been busy with late, long meetings followed by racquetball matches. Or a family emergency that we are working through. I am leaving the house about 5:10 AM and returning somewhere close to 8 PM.

All of the travel in darkness means that I am not in a very good mood. Last evening I was at the pharmacy trying to pick up one of my regular prescriptions and was informed that the Federal Government, which is shut down I remind you, had changed some rules and I now needed to show my drivers license before they could even order my medication. Did they call me? They had had the script for four days. No. Did I want to verbally eviscerate the pharmacist? You bet! I was tired and not in a particularly good mood from driving in traffic in the rain.

Some federal worker, one of my brethren, somewhere, had reinterpreted a rule and the impact was placed squarely on me. I hope the slug is still furloughed. I had been trying to get to the pharmacy to pick the prescription up for three days. Now, I need a return trip tonight. Like that is going to happen.

What I really needed was a great dessert to drown my sorrows. Like the one I bought at Wegman's last week. But, it is already eaten. I must have an eating disorder if I think a good dessert can solve the problems of the world. Or even just my little portion of it.

Where is the ice cream? Maybe I can eat my way into next springtime.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halloween Comes with the Decorations

The pumpkins are on the porch. The decorations are displayed in preparation for the hoards of children dressed in costume offering a trick or a treat. Our garden is ready for their visit. It is more than likely we will not even be home to celebrate the holiday as we will be strolling through another neighborhood with the grandsons watching them extort candy from the people living there.

But it is coming. Maybe too soon the cold weather will be here and the moon will illuminate the bare branches of the trees on the lawns giving them their eerie October appearance.

Autumn is here and with it the annual Halloween celebration. I've never been a huge fan of the celebration as it is a bit dark. But, my house is decorated.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Autumn Graces the Trees

The colors of autumn are slowing beginning to change the greens of summer into oranges and reds. One of the first trees to experience the transformation is just up the street from us. The reds of autumn are arriving on its branches daily. 

I have seen the changes starting in many other trees, but this is one of the first in our neighborhood.

Autumn had arrived. With the rain of Monday and the cooler temperatures, I suspect that more and more of the trees will begin to don the festive colors of the season.

I was concerned that the extremely dry conditions of the past two months would mute autumn's colors. The sycamore trees, for instance, have already shed most of their leaves and hence will not be fully engulfed in their yellow costume for the season.

It has arrived, this season of transition. I can already see the changes in the trees and feel the coolness in the breeze.

Next, the harvest!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gravity -- Movie Review

Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and space. Sounds like a perfect mix? Right?

Well . . . not so much.

Gravity is a movie about space, trying to survive a series of disasters and return back to earth alive. That is the short story. Actually that is the long story, too.

The imagery and photography are spectacular--especially in 3D (which I highly recommend) and Sandra Bullock plays one of the best roles that I have seen her perform. George Clooney is adequate. Neither gives anything close to an Oscar worthy performance.That is the good news. 

The problem is with the script, the plot, and the science. Nothing that is depicted in space in the movie is accurate. That is sad because it highlights the lack of knowledge that most Americans have about space.

The plot is nonexistent. The movie is a plotless action movie set in space. The event which sets into motion the is loosely based on a historical event from a few years ago, but that is where any similarity to reality or the laws of physics ends. Added to that,  there is no character development--and by the end of the movie I really did not care if the main characters lived or died. And they really did not do anything to make me want to care about their outcome. 

The action scenes--and the movie is mostly action, are fun to watch and the 3D really makes them come alive. If I checked my knowledge of space science at the door I probably would have enjoyed the movie more--but, where the movie makers could have taken time to provide a rudimentary education about space and space operations, they decided to take a Buck Rogers approach to orbital mechanics and fictionalize the results. Sadly, it did not work for me.

The ending is a page right out of American space flight history with Gus Grissom's Mercury flight. 

One interesting note--only two actors are ever depicted on screen (alive) during the movie--Bullock and Clooney. I think they probably could have used some help.

RECOMMENDATION: Not suitable for the under 12 crowd. There are some graphic and disturbing scenes. I cannot recommend this movie except for the incredibly awesome on orbit images of the earth, the shuttle, the Hubble, the ISS, and the Chinese space station. Fortunately it is a short movie running just over 90 minutes.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Musings - October 7, 2013

1. The surest sign of ineptitude is the inability to resolve disputes amicably in order to serve the greater good of society.

2. Sadly, we elected our congressional representatives and they are doing just what we asked them to do--be singly focused upon a limited set of issues with little regard for governing the country.

3. Maryland's new cell phone and seatbelt laws are another example of legislative powers gone wildly awry.

4. They're back. The stink bug blight is underway.

5. Furlough Day 7 has turned into back to work day!

6. I watched a great football game yesterday. Denver and Dallas played a classic games where each team played awesome offensive football. 99 points were scored--the fourth most points scores in an NFL game scoring game of all time and one quarterback passed for over 500 yards and the other for over 400 yards. Yet, sadly, the game ends because of clock management. Earl Weaver had it right when he said something to the effect that in baseball there is no running out the clock--you still have to throw the ball over the plate.

7. The first weekend in October 2013 provided some fantastic weather for us to enjoy. It was reminiscent of summer. It is summer's last gasp. The last, parting kiss until next year. 

8. The government shutdown continues at the expense of the American public. And Congress does not seem to care.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Furlough Day 6: Completed Tasks and Uncertainty

Delivering the Ornamental Grasses to the Recycling Center
The grasses have been trimmed. The task was finally completed after realizing that operator error played a huge part in the problems I was having with my battery powered trimmer. The image I published yesterday of the battery contains the clue to the problem with the trimmer--which failed to work properly both on Friday and again on Saturday morning.  I was charging a 24V battery with an 18V charger.

Dumb!  Who knew they would fit? And the indicator confirmed that charging was occurring. Black and Decker should have known better. And, duh, so should I.

It worked a lot better after it received a 24V charge. Yay.

The job is done. The grasses are at the landfill for recycling into compost.

It was a unusually warm October day. A great day to enjoy a soccer game and work outside. A great way to get ready for the darkness and the cold which will be coming all too soon.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge ,MD

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Furlough Day 5: Inoperative Tools

Today, I get to finish a project started yesterday but was left unfinished due to equipment malfunction.

The task? Trimming the ornamental grasses around the pool. The problem? The battery on the hedge trimmer died yesterday and was not sufficiently charged to complete the task. It is frustrating when tools fail to perform as required to accomplish the jobs that they must be used for. I use my hedge trimmer once per year--to trim the ornamental grasses and I expect the battery to be charged and ready to go for the task.
Trimmer without battery on the Trash Can
 where it needs to permanently reside

But, it means that I get to complete the job today, as part of my furlough day 5 tasks. Yes, although it is Saturday, it is still a furlough day because I cannot go to work, even if I wanted to.

I was encouraged by one small glimmer of hope. As reported by CBS News: 

On Friday, House Democrats unveiled a strategy that could end the impasse by October 14. They are circulating a "discharge petition" that, if signed by a majority of House members, regardless of party affiliation, could force a vote on a spending bill to reopen the government, sans any alterations to the health care law. 
That strategy aims to exploit the fissures among Republicans that have surfaced in press reports. A growing handful of GOP congressman are coming around to the idea of ending the government shutdown and living to fight over budget policy another day.

Perhaps, in a piecemeal fashion, this impasse will end.
Trimmer Battery on the Charger

Meanwhile, the list of things getting accomplished around the house continues to grow. I believe that I need to start planning a week of vacation every autumn just to take care of this stuff instead of trying to cram the activities into the already too full weekends. It is nice to get this stuff done 

I wonder if Monday will be a furlough day? Next week?

I have to be honest--if this is what retirement is like, I'm reconsidering it as a future option.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, October 4, 2013

Furlough Day 4 - Pillar of Fire

I saw it yesterday morning as I was leaving the gym after playing racquetball. The pillar of fire was visible on the eastern horizon as the dawn was just beginning to shake off the nighttime darkness. I tried to get an image of it hanging there in the predawn sky. 

I recognized it immediately as the pillar of fire from Exodus 13:21-22:  Now the Lord was going before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel day or night. He did not remove the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people. - NET Bible

I know, of course, that I was not seeing THE pillar of fire, but in these uncertain times what I saw struck a chord deep within me--WE need a Moses to lead us from conflict and partisanship and into the promised land. We need leaders who can, in the face of uncountable odds, lead this nation and not quibble about the small stuff.

We need leaders who are willing to compromise and listen to reason and act accordingly. I'm not so sure we have any currently in positions of authority in this country. We have become a people of the sound byte with no intellectual depth upon which to evaluate situations and make decisions. "We the people" have become "we the sheep" and the wolves are leading us astray.

Today is Furlough Day 4, and I definitely felt the drag of indifference yesterday. In an effort to shake off the lethargy, and as Phineas says to Ferb, "I know what we're going to do today!" It is going to start on the racquetball court at 0530 and head somewhere after that!

I'll let you know.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Furlough Day 3 - Defending the Homestead

As furlough Day 3 gets into full swing, I am attempting to maintain a fairly normal schedule. I played racquetball at 0530 this morning and now, in addition to watching the news hoping for sanity to return in DC,  I have a list of tasks to accomplish during the remainder of the day.

The task list is significantly different than that accomplished on normal (non-furlough) day as it includes:

1. Shopping for dinner items--a trip to Wegman's is imminent
2. Vacuuming (ugh!)
3. Picking up prescriptions (normally a stop on the way home)
4. Preparing the marinade for the meat for dinner (I do this, infrequently)
5. Cutting the grasses around the pool (normally a weekend task in the springtime)
6. Defending the homestead from the attacking hoards

Stink Bug on the Prowl

The last one is particularly problematic. My house is under siege from the ever present and ubiquitous stink bugs. Every time I look around there is another one crawling in the house that needs to be dispatched into the nethermost regions. 

They are everywhere it seems, hence ubiquitous. And they fly! My choice method of disposal is the toilet and a watery grave. I try to get three or more to flush at a time since they can't be squashed, like so many other bugs, because they stink. And implementing a catch and release policy seems self-defeating. 

I think there may be a market for the Stink Bug Eradicator! It is an invention that, I am designing during my free furlough time, sucks up the bugs and seals them into a small plastic bag for safe, stink-free disposal into the trash. No fuss, no muss, no stink, no environmentally dangerous chemicals, and better yet--no hand-to-bug contact required! I can see the ad already on the TV.

I just looked up and there a three more begging to go for a swim.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Furlough Day 2 - Closing the Pool

Pool with Water Lowered Ready for the Cover
What does a federal employee do when furloughed? Stuff around the house. Yesterday was the saddest day of the year--pool closing day.

It was a beautiful day reminiscent of the summertime with temperatures into the 80's and sunshine. But, that also made it a great day to close the pool.

Since I had precious little else to do, it gave me something to do which is both critical to get done before the bulk of the leaves fall from the trees and it took my mind off the whole furlough thing.
Pool with Cover in Place for Winter

Alone, closing the pool takes about five to six hours to get everything done and all of the chemicals balanced for the winter. It is a sad day because with every action completed in the closing process I am increasing the distance from the summer fun that was experienced around the pool. 

And so now it, the pool, waits as do I for the return of longer days filled with sunshine. There are six months until pool opening day--provided the furlough ends. 

I wonder what I am going to do today? I even offered to go shopping for Chris. Can you believe it? I do know that I will stay in contact with many of my fellow furloughed friends via the magic of Facebook. We need to look out for each other--although it amy not seem like it, these are trying times.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Furloughs and Shutdowns

Having lived through the first day of my adult life in a furlough status and on the threshold of day 2, I can state that it is a very weird feeling to have a profession but not be able to go do the things that I am trained to do. 

I like, I think the number is 800,000, of my fellow federal employees are idle. We know that what we do is important and that we contribute in a positive way to life in the US. I was a bit hurt that there were bills introduced to get the National Park Service back on the job before the rest of the federal workforce. I guess seeing the museums shuttered on the Washington Mall brought the reality of what was happening just a bit too close to Congress. 

I went to a meeting of the Howard County Public School Academic Calendar Planning Committee last evening and found that three other of the committee members, like myself, are furloughed. We exchanged some pleasantries about the day, but were very quickly consumed with the business of the committee--but, it helped to know of others outside my own small work unit who are similarly affected by the nonsense occurring within the government.

I was somewhere yesterday and we were naming the states from which people commute to get to work. The states were Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Confusion. 

I have a huge list of things to do today, so I guess I will practice being retired and do all kinds of things to keep myself busy while keeping an eye on the news to see if I can return to work tomorrow and if the insanity to the south will abate.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD
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