Sunday, August 21, 2011

No soup for you!

This was a great weekend, spent with Deirdre at our cottage on Lake Huron. Before we left down state on Friday after work, the weather forecast for Saturday was "Mostly sunny, high temperatures on the low 80s." As we have learned this summer that the forecasts that the weatherguessers make for Oscoda are rarely correct. When we got up on Saturday morning it was overcast, and the temperature was in the upper 60s. We decided to take a stroll north up the beach, but we quickly turned around as we saw dark rain clouds heading from the north. That was a good decision because a short time later the skies opened up and we were deluged by rain.

So instead of spending the day at the beach, we decided to go north to Harrisville for lunch at the Old Place Inn. Harrisville is a small town about 15 miles north of Oscoda with a couple of quirky restaurants and shops, as well as an beautiful harbor and marina. The restaurant we went to for lunch is called the Old Place Inn. The Inn is a small, family run restaurant with some of the best soups made on the planet. The Old Place Inn is so small they do not have a website... or even a Facebook Page. Such modern expressions of the place just don't seem to fit it well.

Back to the soups served at the Inn. We arrived at the Inn a little after noon on Saturday. We were the only patrons when we arrived. The Inn seats about 50 people. Did I tell you that we were the only patrons when we arrived? Anyway, we were seated and Karen, a waitress who has served us many times, told us that the soups today were, "Vegetable, Corn and Mushroom Chowder, Cheese and Broccoli, and Chili." I ordered a cup of the Cheese and Broccoli soup and a BLT. Deirdre asked for the Corn and Mushroom Chowder and a Canadian Bacon sandwich. Karen took our order and promptly went back to the kitchen.

We waited for what seemed like a while for our soups. I even said to Deirdre, "I wonder if they are milking the cows to make the cheese." Soon after I said that, Karen walks out of the kitchen with our sandwiches... and no soup. When Karen arrived at our table Deirdre said to her, "We also ordered soup." Karen's face fell and she said to us, "Oh my! I did not even write down your soup orders. Sometimes my brain does not get up with my body." She quickly retreated to the kitchen and a few minutes later our soups were served. Needless to say, the soup and the chowder were fantastic. But the story does not end there.

Deirdre and I chuckled at this as the reason why we go to this folksy little restaurant is because of the soup they make there. I was also thinking that perhaps the Soup Nazi was working there and we would be forever denied one of the restaurant's wonderful creations. At least the Cook did not come out of the kitchen at that moment and say to us, "No soup for you!."All in all it was a good laugh for us.

While we were eating (and recall that at the time we were the only clients in the restaurant) the Cook (who is also the owner of the Inn) came out from the kitchen to talk to us. Why, we might never know, but regardless, Deirdre struck up a conversation with him about how much we liked his soup. The Cook was beaming and said, "You know, I used asparagus stock as the base for the Cheddar and Broccoli Soup." He then told us how he had asparagus left over from last night's dinner menu and how he made the stock. Deirdre then suggested to the Cook that he should consider getting a webpage or at the very least a Facebook Page to advertise the Inn and the daily soup menu. The look on his face when Deirdre suggested an Internet presence for his business was as if we were green aliens from the planet Voltron and that we were asking him to surrender his liver to us for our meal. Clearly, the Cook was not a big believer in the Internet and its possibilities.

The Cook politely excused himself from our conversation and Karen returned and she seemed a little more interested in the idea of a Facebook page for the restaurant. Karen then said to us, "I do not have a Facebook page, nor do I engage in any social media. My name cannot be found on the Internet. I have been in hiding from my ex for the past 13 years and I do not want him to track me down." Really? You work and live openly in an out of the way restaurant in a small city on the northeastern shores of Michigan, trying to conceal your whereabouts, yet you will tell two perfect strangers that you are in hiding? What if we had been sent by the ex to snuff her out?

Yep, living in northern Michigan is always full of surprises. If you are ever driving northbound on US-23 and you get to the only stoplight in Harrisville, turn right and the Old Place Inn will be in your left. Stop in for some soup. And some interesting conversation.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Origin of East of the Equator

Recently, I have been asked about the name we gave to our cottage, East of the Equator. I have had people tell me, "You can't be east of the equator," or "Don't you know anything about navigation? How can you be east of a line around the Earth?" I think that it is high time to explain the origin, or genesis of the term East of the Equator.


noun, plural -ses [-seez]
an origin, creation, or beginning.

First off, I know a lot about navigation. I was a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer for 22 years, driving ships all over the oceans of this fair planet. I have sailed in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. I have been deployed to the Arabian Gulf, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. I have navigated the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Panama Canal. I am a Golden Shellback. I was the Navigator of USS FLETCHER (DD 992) from 1988-1990, in the days before GPS. I became very familiar with celestial navigation to use the stars to find my way across and back again on the Pacific Ocean. I know my way around a chart and a sextant.

Now, let's step back in time to when I was an Ensign serving aboard my first ship, USS NIAGARA FALLS (AFS 3). The FALLS was homeported in Guam and it was common for my ship to be underway 75% of the time. The motto of the ship was "Mobile Support for Seapower." And mobile we were. Whenever a carrier battle group deployed to the western Pacific or Indian Ocean, an AFS would deploy with the group to provide logistics support.

Here is an image of the FALLS underway:

In April, 1987, we deployed to the Indian Ocean to support the USS CONSTELLATION (CV 63) and Battle Group DELTA. At the time, one of the few places where U.S. Navy ships could go in that area of the world was a small island seven degrees south of the Equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. Dee-Gar, as it is also known as, has been in the hands of the UK since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Though the Brits own the island, the U.S. military is the primary inhabitant. In the 1970s, the U.S. started expanding the airfield and the port facilities to allow for military aircraft and ships to use Diego Garcia as a forward staging base. It was the only truly friendly land for the U.S. for thousands of miles. During this expansion period, single-wide trailer homes were shipped to the island to house the military and support personnel building the more permanent structures on the island. Many of these "single-wides" remained in place after permanent quarters were built. Some of these trailers were placed a few feet from the ocean with a small deck to overlook the sea. In time, most of the trailers were removed, but the ones placed close to the ocean remained and access to these trailers would be given to the Wardroom of ships that pulled into Diego Garcia.

Below is an image of the island taken from the air. As you can see, there is not a lot of land there:

Now we are getting to the meat of my story. Recall that earlier I wrote that I was an Ensign aboard the FALLS. An Ensign is the entry level rank for U.S. Navy officers. Typically, the Ensigns of a ship are tasked with menial, but important tasks for the Wardroom, such as picking up and distributing the mail, and setting up places ashore for the other officers to go to relax and unwind. So, the first time the FALLS pulled into Diego Garcia in the summer of 1987, I was tasked with stocking the aforementioned single-wide with beer, soft drink and munchies for my fellow Wardroom members to go after work for a drink. We called our single-wide the Hooch.

Typically, our work day ended ~1730, and if you did not have duty, you would more often than not go to the Officer's Club for dinner, and then walk the 100 yards or so to the single-wide to take in the sunset and drink a couple adult beverages. Our first stay in Diego Garcia lasted 6 weeks, so there were plenty of opportunities to head to the Hooch. We ended up making five more port visits to Diego Garcia during this deployment. There were many memorable nights spent there, taking in the sights and sounds of the sea as the day ebbed into night. At the Hooch we came to say that is was a place "just east of the equator, where it is always a quarter past five." That name, "East of the Equator," stayed with me thereafter.

Fast forward to 2009 and Deirdre and I are looking for a cottage on Lake Huron. We already knew what we would name it: East of the Equator. We found a property we loved and in January, 2010, we bought it. Since taking possession of the property, we have made many upgrades to it (look for images from the cottage here), and earlier this summer we commissioned a local artist who had made other signs for us to paint a sign with the nautical signal flags to spell ECHO OSCAR TANGO ECHO" East of the Equator.

The sign was completed last week and I took it with me when I drove here last Friday. We specifically envisioned the sign to be hung over the fireplace mantle and yesterday I set to work to to precisely that.

Of course, being an engineer I had to measure a few things in order to get the wire and the hooks just right:

I got to use my new drill to attach the mounting hooks to the back of the wood:

And I had to be able to hide this patch in the wall:

Here are a couple images of the mounted sign:

From August 13, 2011
So now you know the origin of the name of our cottage, East of the Equator, where it is always a quarter past five. If you ever happen to find your self near Oscoda on a weekend in the summer, look for another sign:

Chances are we are there. Stop in and say hello.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Virginia is for: Vanity Plates (Part Two)

I can't make this stuff up. I finally got around to blogging about all the vanity plates I saw during my brief trip to Norfolk, and what did I see in Harrisville, MI, just a few moment ago? A Ford Expedition... with Virginia plates... with vanity plates:

Harrisville is a small town on the northeastern shores of Lake Huron, and it is located about 18 miles north of our cottage. Deirdre and I drove up there for lunch today to try a new restaurant. After leaving the restaurant, I saw this SUV and I immediately locked on to the vanity plates. I would hazard to guess that the owner of this vehicle is a firefighter from Virginia Beach and he works with the K-9 unit.

Virginia is for: Vanity Plates

Last month Deirdre and I went to Norfolk, Virginia, to attend the retirement ceremony for Roy Kiddy, a dear friend and former shipmate. It was great to see Roy and his wife Mary and their kids, and to live a little Navy life again. I was stationed in Norfolk from 1995-1996, and much has changed since I lived there. It is still a quintessential Navy town, with Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Norfolk and Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek located there. I had forgotten about another element of living in Virginia... vanity license plates.

It seemed like every fourth or fifth car had something to tell me about the owner. It also seemed that that most of the people who drive in Norfolk disregard even the commonest courtesies on the road, cutting me off, driving 55 MPH in the left lane of the freeway, etc. Here are a few examples of the vanity plates we saw during our sojourn to Virginia:

The image above was taken at the Navy Exchange in Norfolk. Perhaps the driver is sanctified?

I have no idea what this person is trying to say about themselves or their car:

I am not quite certain who TJ is... but clearly this car is TS's "babe:"

I will let the reader guess what kind of car this license plate was affixed to when I took this image:

I took this image aboard Naval Station Norfolk. Clearly, this person is involved in some sort of radio communications... or he/she is a freak:
These images are a very small sample of what the vanity plates we saw during our 48 hours in Norfolk. Clearly, many of the drivers there have something to say about themselves and do it via their automobiles.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kent County Youth Fair

This past Monday I had the opportunity to go to the Kent County Youth Fair. As some of you know, I was raised as a city boy. Born in Detroit, raised in Wayne County. Not a lot of farms or farming opportunities. The closest I came to a farm growing up was going to Grosse Pointe Farms. Not exactly a farm boy.

From Kent County Fair

Fast forward 30 or 40 years. I am living in west Michigan, specifically, Grand Rapids. Just a few miles away from our home there and you are in the country. Lots and lots of farms. A former Sailor I worked with (who retired a year or so before I did from the Navy) took up residence in Lowell, a small and very agrarian town about 10 miles east of where there are lots of small and medium sized farms. My former fellow Sailor is named Mike and last Monday he invited me to go with him to the Kent County Youth Fair. Mike's two kids were racing their horses and he wanted me to see them race.

I hopped in my 3 Series and headed to Lowell. Mike and his wife Rhonda and I grabbed a bite at a local watering hole, then we headed to the Youth Fair. This was the first youth/county fair I had been to in a long, long time. Rhonda went to the stables to meet up with Kristen and Kaitlin, who would soon race their horses. Needless to say, Kristen and Kaitlin came in first in their respective classes. When I see people like Kristen and Kaitlin, it gives me great hope for our future. They are both growing up to be fine young women.

Mike and I went to the livestock barns where we saw cows, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, etc. All of the animals at the Fair were raised by young men and women during the past 18 months or so to be shown and judged. It was really amazing to see these animals who were clearly carefully raised by future aspiring farmers.

From Kent County Fair
From Kent County Fair

From Kent County Fair

From the livestock barns, Mike and I went to the main arena where pigs were being shown. Mike told me that the the pigs that these young men and women had raised were being judged on how well the were handled by the owners. There was a lot of pigs running about and I did not quite understand what I was watching. There was lots of squealing and pig herding, and it was great fun to watch the porkers be handled.

What truly impressed me where the young men and women who clearly took great pride in their work raising and looking after their animals. It was clear to me that these animals were well cared for, and that their caretakers learned a lot about responsibility tending to their animals. After watching a few rounds of judging, Mike and I went to see his daughters race their horses. Unfortunately, the camera I had was not good enough to capture good images of the horses racing (the sun was setting and the light was ebbing away), but here are a few pictures of what I was able to capture of the racing:

Back to the piggies. Almost all of the livestock shown at the Kent County Youth fair is auctioned off and the profits are then passed on to the young adults who raised them. The past few years, Deirdre and I have purchased a pig from one of Mike's friends who raises them. The pork from the pigs we have purchased last us about 9-10 months and the quality of the meat is nothing short of amazing. This year, Mike suggested that we purchase a pig from one of the exhibitors, which sounded like an excellent idea. I was unable to be at the auction yesterday, but Mike represented me well.

From The Pig

Mike was my agent at the auction and he purchased a 255lb male barrow pig. On Saturday, this pig will be sent to the Pinckney Hill Meat Meat Company for processing. As is sometimes said, chickens are involved by the pig is committed.

From The Pig

Here is an image of Mike and the pig, whom we have temporarily named Wilbur:

From The Pig

In a few weeks, the freezer in our basement will be re-stocked with the highest quality meat you can imagine. Look for more stores and recipe about the meat at at my other blog. Next year, I am going to the auction!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another great weekend, just East of the Equator

Hard to believe that two weeks have passed since I last felt the muses compelling me to write something... and post something. On this thoroughly wonderfully warm and calm Sunday, the muses have hit me so here we go.

Deirdre worked remotely from our cottage the week of 25-29 July. I was able to leave work around 4PM and I arrived at our cottage around 7:30PM. We went out to dinner at a nearby place called Woodland Pines Resort. Dinner was unremarkable, but they did have Blue Moon on tap. From there, we went to the VFW for a nitecap and tried our luck with a few pull-tabs, but my luck was pretty cold.

Saturday, 30 July, was perhaps the best weather day of the year at our cottage. Our day began early that morning, as Samson woke us up around 5:45AM as if to say, "Hey, the sun is rising soon. Let's go see it! We were not disappointed.

The temps were in the mid-70s, and there was a gentle but constant breeze from the southwest. When the wind is blowing from the southwest, it keeps the bugs and the biting black flies away. Deirdre, Samson and I spent the better part of the day at the on the beach, enjoying the breeze, with intermittent dips in Lake Huron.

The highlight of the day on the beach was a visit to a nearby pine tree of a Bald Eagle. Sightings of Bald Eagles in Oscoda are common, but if you have never seen one in the wild, the sight if this magnificent bird is amazing.

This eagle stayed on his perch for about 90 minutes, before flying off to his next meal or adventure. Look for more images of him/her the next time he pays us a visit.

We believe that Samson is a new species of canine, the German Shepherd Water Dog. We can't keep him out of the water when we are at the beach.

All this activity on the beach and in the water does lead to one very tired dog:

Life remains good, just East of the Equator.