Monday, December 31, 2012

This simply has to stop...

My blog is anything but political.  I generally write about events in my life, post pictures of my dog, our cottage, etc.  However, the events of the past few weeks in Washington have caused my blood to virtually boil.  The 112th Congress will certainly be remembered for being, to date, the worst in the history of the Republic.  On Friday, I sent the e-mail below to my Representative and Senators who are representing me in Congress.  I have yet to hear from Representative Amash, Senator Stabenow or Senator Levin.  I will post their respective responses  when and if I ever hear back from them.  If you are as mad at Congress as I am, you might want to let your elected officials know, too.

Senator Stabenow, Senator Levin and Congressman Amash,

Shame on you all for getting us here, the edge of the fiscal cliff

How do you look at yourself in the mirror each and every day with the realization that the 112th Congress is, because of your incompetence and ineptitude, the worst Congress in the history of the Republic?  As I wrote to you yesterday, all of you deserve public censure on the floor of the House and Senate and then you should personally apologize to all the people you are supposed to represent.  You have all been utter failures in your job and you need to apologize to us all for your incompetence.

I have a simple request as your constituent: Please explain to me what you are planning on personally doing tomorrow, Sunday and Monday to fix this mess you collectively made.

I can be reached via e-mail:  I look forward to a response from you or one of your staffers.


Paul Kratochwill

Monday, December 24, 2012

Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

When I lived in Chicago, we purchased an artificial tree from a nearby IKEA store.  We decorated it with a few strings of lights, a couple of ornaments, you get the idea.  In 2005 when I was stationed at NOSC Chicago Deirdre came in for the week of Christmas.  After I decorated the tree, I sent her a picture of it and she declared, "It looks like the Charlie Brown Tree."  I had to admit that it did look a little spartan that first year.

In the intervening years, we got a natural tree, or we had no tree at all.  Fast forward a couple of years to 2012.  The tree is once again out of its box and Deirdre strung the lights.  We added ornaments together.

The tree topper is a Belleek star Deirdre picked up along the way.

We are ready for Santa's visit tonight.  I hope that you are, too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Samson the Dog

Our dog, Samson, is a rather famous individual.  He has a Twitter account where he occasionally posts his comments on the life he leads.  It takes a lot of effort to be him, so he tends to sleep at least 8 hours a day and whatever he can get at night.  He also is quite photogenic.

No doubt he was contemplating a nap when I snapped this image.  He also enjoys hanging out in our yard, chasing squirrels or other small animals who decided to  cross into his territory.

One of Samson's favorite things to do when he is not chasing small furry creatures is rolling around on his back.  He does it with such gusto.

Samson has been a part of our life for five years.  He was a rescue pup.  Somebody dumped him in a park just north of of downtown Grand Rapids.  He was fearful, aggressive and scared when we brought him home.  Now, he is kind, loving and just a great dog.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving traditions

In our home we sorta stray from the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  While I have cooked a turkey with the traditional side dishes, more often than not I have made things that are not commonly associated with Thanksgiving.  For our Thanksgiving meals we have made Chicken Picatta, Peppery Flank Steak, Chicken Curry, Rack of Lamb, etc.  You get the idea. 

This year, I will be making a beef tenderloin roast from a recipe that Deirdre found a few weeks ago.  It will just be the two of us for dinner, as we are going to sneak away for a few days to our cottage in Oscoda.  

Thanksgiving is a very American holiday.  It has resisted any real commercialization of the event because we are not celebrating a religious holiday or event.  Rather we are celebrating the good fortunes that have been bestowed upon us as a nation and a people. In no particular order, here are some of the things I will be thankful for this coming Thanksgiving Day:

  1. I have a job I love with a great company.
  2. Because of Item 1, I do not worry about tonight's dinner or if I am going to pay the next bill that arrives in my mailbox.
  3. I am thankful for the people with whom I work.  They are a great group of engineers whose strengths cover my weaknesses.
  4. Because of Item 3, we laugh a lot at work.  I am thankful for that.
  5. I am in excellent health.  I have no chronic or acute health issues.
  6. I am thankful for the U.S. Constitution, and for its first 10 amendments.  I am especially thankful for Amendments 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10.
  7. I am thankful for my career in the Navy.  I served for 22 years, went to war a couple of times, but I did not experience a physical or mental scratch during my career.
  8. I am married to a wonderful person who appreciates me for who I am.  We are a great team.
  9. I am owned by a German Shepherd Dog who we rescued five years ago this week.  He was scared and skittish when we brought him home.  Now, he is an obedient, lovable, goofy dog who is essentially a 100lb Yorkie.
  10. I am thankful, each November, for Beaujolais Nouveau.
  11. I am thankful for my neighbors.  I could not have asked for better people to be my neighbors.
  12. I am thankful for single malt scotch.
  13. I am thankful for technology.  I am able to keep in touch with friends who literally live on the other side of the planet.
This is what I am thankful for today.  What are you thankful for today?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mirror Lake Organics World Headquarters: Yak Attack

We spent Saturday night with some old friends, Paul & Marj Weideman.  Paul and Marj are the owners of Mirror Lake Organics.  The raise livestock (lambs and yaks), and they keep horses, a pig, chickens, ducks and peacocks as well on their farm.  Paul and Marj moved their organic farm from Lapeer to Imlay City recently for more land and to expand their ability to make organic soaps and skin care products.  As readers of my blog know, I am a huge supporter of the products Paul and Marj make.  My skin is better than it has ever been thanks to their soaps and lotions. 

What is a farm without one of these?

Deirdre and I had not been to their new farm and production facility, so this was a good weekend for us to check Samson into Whiskers for an overnight, and for us to head to Imlay City for dinner.

We arrived at Marj & Paul's farm about 3:30PM, well stocked with wine, beef tenderloin, and snacks for the evening.  Dee and I soon thereafter were given a guided tour of the farm and its facilities.  We also met some of the animals that call Mirror Lakes Organics home.  Note the duck with the chickens.

Huron the Dog

Hamlet the Pig

Sheep and a Llama
Iorek the Great Pyrenees Dog

This is a yak.  Her name is Tesha.  She will come into play later.

Tesha the Yak

Another view of one of the yaks.  These are fairly large animals.

The wide open spaces and the fall colors were pretty amazing.

Following the tour of the farm, we retired to their beautiful farmhouse.  Marj and I cooked dinner, enjoying Herb and Garlic Crusted Beef Tenderloin, Green Beans with Shallots and Baked Butter Nut Squash with Panko and Cheese.  Yes, we also had a few bottles of Syrah we picked up earlier in the day from our good friend Amy at her shop, Art of the Table.

After dinner, we did what most people do in rural Michigan: we had a roaring bonfire.  No images of the fire are directly available, but suffice it to say it was amazing.  After a few glasses of wine sitting around the fire and catching up with Paul and Marj, we called it a night and settled in for a restful sleep.

We awoke on Sunday morning and enjoyed a lazy breakfast of coffee, sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs.  Well, Paul and Marj and Dee enjoyed the eggs, but I politely passed on them.

We got dressed and Marj took us out to see a wooded part of the farm that we did not see on Saturday.  We walked through the woods in into the pasture where the yaks, horses, llama, Hamlet the pig and the sheep were milling about.  The horses walked over to us and seemed to be saying, "Please pet us.  We need some affection."  Deirdre and I obliged, rubbing their necks and noses.  

After a few minutes with the horses, Deirdre and I told Marj that we needed to head back to the farmhouse to pack for our trip home.  We started to walk to the gate the leads from the pasture into the main area of the farm.  Three of the four yaks were nearby, but Marj assured us that they were docile and tended to avoid contact with us.

As I was walking to the gate, Tesha the Yak decided that instead of avoiding me, she did want to have contact with me.  She dropped her head and charged me, pointing her horns at the center of my torso.  I tried to avoid her charge, but I was unable to get away from Tesha.  She hit the right side of my abdomen with her left, though I was able to push her head away to deflect most of the energy of her charge.  Tesha quickly moved away from me and Marj started yelling at her to run off.  Tesha quietly moved away and we were able to walk to the gate and get out of the pasture.

At first, I did not quite know how if I had been injured.  It felt like I had been punched in the stomach, which is sort of what happened.  I pulled up my shirt and I saw that I had a four inch abrasion on the right lateral side of my abdomen.  My immediate concern was that the blow from Tesha was more significant than it originally felt, but after a few minutes I came to the conclusion that this was just a flesh wound, or more precisely a subdermal hematoma.

Subdermal Hematoma

Despite my interaction with Tesha, we had a great time spending the afternoon and evening with some old friends.  I also learned first hand that despite published reports that yaks tend to avoid contact with humans, they will definitely let you know when they do not want you near them.  Yaks are furry but they are not necessarily friendly.

In closing, I also have a new found respect for bull fighters.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Celebration and Anaphylaxis

Last night was supposed to be a celebration.  It was supposed to be a celebration for the delivery of a product to one of our biggest and most prominent customers.  As some of you know, I work for General Electric Aviation Systems.  We provide avionics to most of the aircraft manufacturing companies located around the world.  Well, we delivered big a few weeks ago.  We delivered a product to a customer ahead of schedule and under budget.  Everybody wins when this happens.  However, the evening did not quite turn out that way for us.

One of the executives (John) who oversees our work wanted to show his and the company's appreciation by having the team working the program over to his home for food and drink.  Deirdre and I made a conscious decision to remain in GR this weekend to catch up on some home projects, as well as to attend this event hosted by John and his spouse.

The event was announced earlier in the week, with a show time of 6:30PM.  We left our house about 6:15PM and it took us about 25 minutes to drive to John's house.  His home is in a densely wooded area in a suburb of Grand Rapids.  Deirdre and arrived at John's house at approximately 6:40PM.

We parked our car and headed to John's house.  We walked to the front door and I lightly knocked on the screen door, and we let ourselves in to John's house.  John was immediately in front of us, greeted us warmly, and introduced us to his spouse, Billie.  I thanked them both for their hospitality, then Deirdre and I walked through his kitchen to a deck at the back of his home to get a drink.  15 or 20 people from our program team were already there, and some were milling about the deck, enjoying the view into the woods.

Deirdre and I got ourselves something to drink, and we moved back inside to the den and had a seat on a sofa.  In the den, the Royals-Tigers was on TV.  The game was in the 8th inning and the Royals had just scored 4 runs to bring the them to within Tigers, who at the end of the 7th inning enjoyed a 6-0 lead.

We sipped on our drinks, and a moment later John announced that the the food was ready in their dining room.  Deirdre and I walked to the dining room, grabbed a plate and made our way through a very well appointed buffet.  We returned to our seats in the den to watch the end of the Royals-Tigers game.

Then, it happened.  I felt a scratch in my throat.  At first I chalked it up to my allergies, which have been acting up a bit lately.  I nibbled on the food I selected from the buffet, and it happened some more.  My eyes were watering and I felt a dull cough every few moments.  Deirdre was sitting across from me, and we both were making small talk with the people who had gathered in the den to watch the end of the baseball game.

Deirdre was speaking to one of my co-workers and I noticed that her voice was an octave or so lower than normal.  I felt my chest tightening up with each breath I took, and the scratch in my throat became more pronounced. Dee looked at me and she said, "I think I am reacting to something in this house."

I was having similar feelings, and I asked our very gracious host, John: "John do you have cats?"  John said to me, "Yes, I do, but they are upstairs."  John then walked out of the den to attend to a newly arrived guest.

At that moment, Dee and I made the decision to leave as soon as the next batter got out in the baseball game.  Well, the next batter was the third out for the Royals, so the game ended moments after we decided to leave.  Dee said to me, "Please give John my thanks, I need to get outside."  I walked over to where John was standing and I said to him, "John, Deirdre and I are both reacting to your cats.  I want to thank you for being such a gracious host, but we need to leave."

John said to me, "Paul, I am so sorry.  The cats were upstairs."  John followed me to his front door.  Deirdre was already outside on John's front porch, coughing a little.  John walked outside with me and said again, "I am so sorry about the cats.  They are upstairs and I did not think that they would be a bother to anyone."  Dee and I both thanked John again for inviting us into his home, and we politely took our leave and headed to our car.  We had been in John's house for about 45 minutes.

We got in our car, wheezing, sneezing and coughing.  We headed home, opening the windows to try to flush our lungs with fresh air.  We arrived at home and Samson greeted us as we walked into our kitchen from the garage.  Samson immediately started sniffing my legs and backside.  He clearly knew that we had been at a place that had "indoor bunnies."

I took off the clothes that I was wearing and threw them downstairs to be washed lated.  I hopped in the shower to scrub down the cat dander that had made its way on to my skin.  

One of the effects of an anaphylactic reaction is a drop in blood pressure, so after I got out of the shower and dressed, I checked my BP.  It was a a respectable 124/71.  I continued to cough and sneeze the rest of the night, but it was clear to me that I was going to live.  

Morale of the story:  Deirdre and need to continue to avoid being around cats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Summer into Autumn

It was a good weekend to get away.  The last days of Summer, 2012, were upon us and Deirdre had a reading day for work, so on Thursday night after work we made trek to our cottage.  It was well worth the drive.

Michigan is known for its beautiful, albeit brief, summers and beautiful fall colors.  I was hoping that some of the trees here would have started the transition from green to the autumnal palate of red, yellow and orange.  We are still a few weeks away from that point.

I was able to get a couple images of Lake Huron in its last throes of summer:

Looking north to Oscoda
And what would a visit to East of the Equator be without an image of Samson the dog:

He loves it here and it does not matter the temperature of the Lake.  He managed to at least get his feet wet a couple of times.

So long Summer, hello Fall.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This just never gets old

We had another wonderful weekend, just East of the Equator.  Our friend the American Bald Eagle paid us a visit.  Seeing this amazing symbol of America in the wild just never gets old.

The lighting was not the best, but I was able to catch a few good images of our visitor.

He spent about half an hour in this roost, which is a pine tree two cottages to the south of our place.  And as quickly and quietly as he arrived, he left.  

Yes, this view just never gets old.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Au Sable River Canoe Marathon

It is 1947.  I am imagining a conversation that went something like this:

"Hey, Bill, I have an idea."
"What is your idea, John?"
"I am thinking that we should start a canoe race."
"John, there are a lot of canoe races out there."
"Well, this one will be different."
"How will your canoe race be different?"
"Well, we will start the race in Greyling, around 9PM on a Saturday night, then the race, which is really more of a marathon, will head east down the Au Sable River."
"OK, John.  Where will the race end?"
"Easy answer, Bill: Where the Au Sable River empties into Lake Huron."
"Are you crazy. John?  There are dams and other obstacles along the Au Sable.  Not to mention that will be course will be almost 120 miles long."
"I know that.  The canoeists will have to portage their canoes over the dams and the other things in their way.  And as for the length, well, it is a marathon."
"Sounds interesting.  Let's do it!"

That is how I imagine the first discussion about the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon went.  The Race, as it is also known as, has grown from a backwoods event dreamed up in the upper lower peninsula of Michigan in 1947m to one of the jewels in the Triple Crown of Canoe Racing.  The three races that make up the Tripe Crown are, The General Clinton Canoe Regatta, The Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, and la Classique de Canots de la Maurice.

Deirdre and I try to plan our vacation in the summer so that we are here for the end of the Race.  The Race is held the last weekend in July and this year, we had front row seats to the finish line.

The canoeists are two person teams, many of whom have corporate sponsors. Also, some teams make shirts for each running of the Race...

There is definitely an international flair to the race, as the winners for the past few years have been a Canadian-American Team.

Here is an image of the winners, Andrew Triebold and Steve Lajoie as they made the final turn for the past few hundred yards of the Race:

And here they are crossing the finish line:

It is also a great event to people watch...

Until next year...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Eagle has Landed

As many readers of this blog know, we are fortunate to own a little slice of heaven on the shores of Lake Huron, just about 3 miles south of the Au Sable River, near Oscoda, Michigan.  We purchased our cottage in January, 2010, and little by little, we have made this place our own.  In 2010, we contracted to have new windows and flooring installed.  In 2011 a new kitchen found its way to our cottage.  This year, we put in a deck to make the comings and goings from the beach a little easier.  The deck is also a fine place for a libation at the end of a long day.

This is a view of our cottage and the new deck taken a few feet towards Lake Huron:

This is the view from our deck towards Lake Huron:

We gave our cottage a name, calling it East of the Equator.  The origins of that name can be found here.  We purchased this place to relax, unwind and most importantly, recharge.  Deirdre and I have hectic jobs that keep us busy almost every day of the week.  We come to our cottage to get away from recharge our batteries to face whatever comes our way during the next work week.

An added benefit of owning a cottage where we do is that American Bald Eagles are part of the indigenous animal population.  We have been fortunate to see a few of these amazing birds quite a few times since the beginning of the year.  There is a pine tree one cottage south of ours where an eagle will sometimes roost and today, roost he did.  Here are a few images of the eagle, who was clearly enjoying the view, too:

These were the best images I could capture with my Nikon CoolPix.  Deirdre had her Nikon D300 with a zoom lens and she captured more images, that will certainly soon make it to her blog.  After about 20 minutes, the eagle had seen all that it wanted to see, and left.  He was completely silent as he departed, flying down the beach for a hundred yards or so before heading inland.  It is an amazing thing to see this magnificent bird of prey fly.

So, if you ever find yourself near Oscoda on a Saturday or a Sunday during the summer, chances are Deirdre and I will be East of the Equator, along with perhaps an eagle two.  Stop on by and remember that cocktails are served at 6:30PM, sharp!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week Two of the Basement Project

Week Two of the Basement Project ended on a very positive note.  A lot of water lines were moved, studs were roughed in, and cement was mixed and poured where the new bathroom will be.  This is a view of where the bathroom will be, before the cement was poured and studs were installed:

This is the floor before the cement was broken up.
A few plumbing lines installed and in place.

Lance doing his magic.

This is what is looks like now:

Insulation is now in place and the old carpeting is gone:

Perhaps the most important thing to happen last week was that the plumbing, electrical and structural inspections passed without a problem:

Plumbing inspection approved!

Electrical and Structural inspection approved!

Next week will be all drywall, all the time:

Updates to follow as the project continues to unfold.