Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas

I often think back to my childhood and the wonderful memories that I have of our Christmas traditions.    Searching for where Santa hid the gifts in the basement.  (Yes--I did my share of peeking back in the day.  Still do for that matter.)  Christmas concerts for choir and band.  Days and days of baking in preparation for the big day.  My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathering on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day.  Oyster stew (and sloppy joes for my Mom and any of the kids that didn't want oyster stew) and gift opening at our house on Christmas Eve.  Attending Christmas Eve services at our Methodist Church.  I even sang solos on occasion that night.  I remember singing "O Holy Night".  We had our Christmas Day celebration at my grandma and grandpa's house.  Always lots of activity and energy.

Since moving away from home (with a few exceptions of going to Denver for Christmas), Christmas has been a much quieter affair.  Not necessarily bad.  Just different. Our traditions have changed.  Our pre-holiday parties have become the anticipated events for me to take the place of big family celebrations.  Christmas Eve and Day have become quiet family affairs with just the four of us or five of us.  And those numbers are now dwindling with Tom not being able to join us the last two Christmases.  Gift opening in Bill's family was Christmas Day so we have switched up the day that we open gifts according his family's tradition.  With adult children, gift opening takes all of five minutes as there are fewer gifts to open.  Not the hour or more that it used to take growing up, waiting for each person to open their many gifts under the tree.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were work holidays for me this year.  Since Bev bought pies and we were planning on takeout for Christmas Eve and a relative simple stress free Christmas dinner, I didn't really have any preparations to make. So it was going to be a very quiet day at home.  I don't do any baking anymore.  I'm trying to lose weight so having homemade cookies around is too much of a temptation.  But Christopher was bored and I needed to think of something to make this holiday special for him.  So I asked him if he wanted to make cookies with me.  We looked through my recipe box to see what recipes that I had from when I made Christmas cookies at home and picked out a few for him to choose from.  He picked out peanut blossoms and pecan fingers.  So we headed out to Burgerville for lunch and then the grocery store to get what we needed to do our baking.  We had fun spending time with each other planning and baking our cookies.  And they sure do taste a lot better than store bought cookies.

We started a new tradition last year.  Because we were all giving Chris cash to go to St. Louis last year, I wasn't anticipating that we would have any gifts to open.  And with Tom not joining us for Christmas for the first time, I was feeling rather like Christmas wasn't even worth celebrating.  There didn't seem to be anything that would be special about Christmas last year.  So I decided that I wanted to do a family experience of going to a movie on Christmas Day.  I wanted there to be something special to remember the day.  Bill, Chris and I went to see "Skyfall" at Cinetopia and a new tradition was born.  This year, we went to see "American Hustle" and since Christopher turned 21, he was able to join us in a living room experience and enjoy a cheeseburger and hard apple cider while watching the movie.  I was a little skeptical when Bill said that was the movie he wanted to go to.  But it actually was pretty good.  I really enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence's comedic performance.  It was so different from the seriousness in the Hunger Game movies.  And even though she is a relatively minor character in the movie, she stole the show as far as I was concerned.  After the movie, we went to Bev's to start working on dinner.  We watched "Les Miserables" on DVD while we were waiting for dinner to be done.  I didn't enjoy it as much.  I have seen it in a stage production before and remember not liking the first and third acts but loving the second act.  Pretty much the same reaction this time.  I think the movie was overrated.  I do enjoy the music though.  We had a fantastic prime rib dinner.  We opened a few gifts.  We really like the hand blown wine glasses that the Speers sent us.  Tom and Maddy sent us a photo and painting.  We bought Chris a new phone so he has actually been enjoying it for several days before Christmas.  But I had also gotten him a Western sweatshirt to open on Christmas Day.

So all and all a very nice holiday.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our Holiday Season

Bill and I usually have a very busy holiday season with lots of parties to go to.  This year has been a little different.  Much more quiet.  But we did do a few things.  As usual, Bill was in charge of judging for the Rotary Festival of Trees.  This year they did things differently though.  No gala event; no auction.  Instead they had trees at the Hilton for the public to view as usual but instead of auctioning the trees off, they had a raffle.  Not sure if it was successful or not as a fundraiser compared the the auction.  Bill was happy that there wasn't a gala this year.  It is a pretty expensive event to go to and we never need to buy things in the silent or oral auction but it didn't seem the same without the gala this year.  

Everything that we usually go to all ended up being on the same day--December 14th.  We didn't go to the Army-Navy game party.  Bill had no desire to watch Army lose again and he had made plans to go to see the opera with his mother instead.  I thought about going until I discovered that the game was not in the morning but in the afternoon and would interfere with getting ready for a party in the evening.  So I ditched it too and watched the game at home.

It also happened to be Christmas Open House at the Marshall House and Fort Vancouver.  I don't remember the last time that I had time to go down there for Christmas or even if I have before.  Stopped by the Marshall House to see their decorations.  Beautiful of course.

And I always love to go to the Fort when they have everyone dressed out in costume.  I kept looking for a Christmas tree at the Chief Factor's house and never found one.  I had forgotten that Christmas trees were really a German thing and didn't catch on with the English until after this time period of Fort Vancouver.  But they had carolers, various demonstrations of cooking, firearms, games, etc.  

Saturday night was the CAA Christmas Party.  We had fun seeing our friends and especially joining Jeff and Julie for dinner there.  We have seen the Dickens Carolers perform past Christmases at a friend's home.  They happened to be at our CAA party this year which was fun as well.

Wednesday night, Bill and I went to the annual Rotary Christmas Ships party at the Red Lion.  This was the first year that I was actually able to take some photos.  We have gone to many parties over the years.  One of our friends used to always host a party at her condo on that night.  But her home was much too far from the river to actually take photos and you needed to use binoculars to get a close look.  We went to another friend's party one year on the beach but the boats didn't get close enough to us for photos to turn out that year either.  It was pretty cold being out on the beach to watch them as well.  I like to be able to watch and wait indoors.

Last year we went to the Red Lion for the party and I was all set to take pictures but the weather was so miserable that there weren't very many boats, they were way behind schedule to arrive at the Quay and I wasn't feeling very well.  So we ended up giving up and leaving the party.  We did take a route home along the river so we did get a glimpse of them on the way home.

This year the stars aligned and I was able to get pictures.  We had a great time at the party so it wasn't too bad waiting even though they were later in arriving than we thought.  And the weather was wonderful so I headed outside to get some photos as they passed the hotel.

So even though it has been a quiet holiday season for us, we have been able to enjoy a few traditions.  Wishing all of you a joyous holiday season as well.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Exploring Pensacola

We arrived in Pensacola the Wednesday before graduation.  Tom was able to meet us fairly soon after we got there and then we all got together to eat dinner at one of Tom and Maddy's favorite restaurants in Pensacola Beach-Peg Leg Pete's.  So we got our fill of oysters and seafood for dinner that night.  We even bought some souvenirs--not something I usually do at a restaurant but they had quite the gift shop.  Bill really wanted to get the Pensacola Viagara t-shirt.  Tom and Maddy picked out t-shirts and beer glasses too since it was going to be their last time eating there as well.  They took us to several of their other favorites that week--Jaco's on the water in downtown Pensacola, a Mexican restaurant and a Brazilian grill which was quite interesting.  We have never been to a place like that before so it was fun to try it out.

On Thursday, Bill and I headed to the air museum.  It isn't as big as the Air Force museum in Dayton but it was certainly very impressive and well done.  We got tickets to go to the flight line and much to our surprise, we were told that the Blue Angels were getting ready to take off and practice so our docent rushed us to get there so we could catch it.  They actually were running a little behind so we kept doing our tour until it came time.  Unfortunately, the cloud ceiling was way too low for them to practice over the airfield so that we could watch.  They went to practice above the clouds.  But it was fun to see them taxi and take off anyway.  And we got to see a couple of the pilots when we were eating at the O Club.

After our tour, we got back and found Tom's class was in the middle of doing their graduation practice.  Since we had made arrangements to eat lunch with him, we hung out waiting (and waiting longer than we had anticipated) until he was done and we could go have lunch together.

After lunch, Bill and I went to the Pensacola Lighthouse which is on Pensacola NAS.  It was built in 1859 and is apparently haunted.  They have been on one of those ghost hunter shows so they make a big deal of that.  There are 177 steps to get to the top.  Since this girl isn't in the best of shape, getting up all those steps took me awhile but I finally made it up there.

The views from the top are pretty spectacular.  You can see the entrance to Pensacola Bay between Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key, the Gulf of Mexico, the airfield, the museum, the forts, shipyards, and downtown. 

We tried to see Fort Barrancas but it is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  So we went there on Saturday with Tom.  As it turns out Tom had never been there so I was glad he got to see it with us before he moves.  It has quite a history.  There were many forts built on this site as early as 1698 by the Spanish.  It was destroyed by the French and the English also had built a fort there in 1763.  The current structures there are the water battery built by the Spanish in 1797 after they recaptured Pensacola from the British and up the hill from that is Fort Barrancas which was built in 1839 by the Americans.  We didn't go to the Redoubt that was built north of this location but it was also built in 1839.  It was held by the Confederates during the Civil War so Pensacola is known as the City of Five Flags for the five countries that have occupied it during its long history starting in 1559.

Across the way is Fort Pickens.  It was built in 1834 as part of a four fort system to protect Pensacola Bay--Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt on the mainland, Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and Fort McRee on Perdido Key which no longer exists.  During the Civil War, the Union was forced to abandon Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee and evacuated to Fort Pickens.  At the turn of the century, many batteries were added to the area around Fort Pickens including Battery Pensacola which was built in the middle of the fort.  I enjoyed visiting both of these fort and taking photos there.  There is a certain rustic beauty to them.

On the way out to Fort Pickens, we saw the white sand and dunes of Pensacola Beach.  We didn't really spend any time on the beach.  It was a little too cold and windy to enjoy.  But we got a little bit of a peek at it when we were at the Officers Club and while driving on Santa Rosa Island.  Took a quick stop just to get a picture of us and the Gulf of Mexico.

On Sunday before returning home, Bill and I drove out to Mobile so I could see the USS Alabama Memorial Site.  There is the ship which is basically a big museum, an air museum and a submarine to tour.  Bill and Tom had been there together before and Tom had gone with friends as well.  Tom was pretty wiped out from everything that was going on in his life so Bill and I went on our own and let him rest.  Then we met him and Maddy for lunch on the way to the airport to say goodbye.

Since my only time spent in Florida was at Disney World in 1986, it was nice to be able to make a trip to Pensacola and take in the rich history of that area.  We had a great time there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CSO Graduation

It has been a long journey for Tom.  He left for Florida in June of 2012 to start his Combat System Officers training.  Graduation was November 22nd.  It had been over a year since we had seen him and Bill and I really wanted to go to his graduation.  They make a big deal of it so we knew we had to be there.  We got there a couple of days before graduation and had the chance to do some sightseeing and spend time with Tom and Maddy.  I'm separating out the sightseeing pictures and will post and write about those later.  But after touring the air museum and Tom's graduation practice, we went to eat lunch with him at the O Club.  He is a regular there so a few of the waitresses had to come over to talk to him about graduation and what he is doing next.  A couple of the Blue Angels came in to eat lunch after their flight (Bill and I watched them take off) but I restrained myself from taking any pictures of them.  They certainly rock the tailored blue flight suit look.  I mean we are talking really tight.

Friday was all about graduation.  Twenty-four CSO officers graduated from his class.  Tom had wanted to participate in the Blessing of the Wings at the chapel that morning but had more pressing business to take care of before graduation so we didn't get to do that.  But graduation itself was a very nice ceremony.  He got his CSO coin, diploma and wings.

Tom asked Bill to pin on his wings.  He described it as being very moving to be able to do that for his son.  We are both very proud of him.  It was fun watching all these young men and women get their wings pinned on--seeing who they chose to do it and some were pretty creative.  One of the sisters and one of the spouses really packed a punch to give the "blood wings".  One little boy gave his dad his blood wings too which was really sweet.  And a fiance of one of the female graduates did a bend over backward kiss.  So it was fun what some of them decided to do to make it special.

The graduation took place in the National Naval Aviation Museum underneath this display of the Blue Angels in formation.  It was a really cool place to take a picture of Tom and Maddy.

There was lots of photos taken afterward by proud spouses, parents, grandparents and siblings.  Tom wanted a picture of the "Three Toms".  Hard to believe in a class of only 24 that there would be three with the name of Tom.
After graduation, there was a lunch and award ceremony at the O Club.  This is Tom taking his first real look at his diploma since they take it away from you during graduation so you can get your wings pinned.

And they have a tradition of what they call "breaking the glass".  And there are rules that are very creatively written as to how this is supposed to take place.  Basically the graduates that were going to be in the same planes did their toast together.  After drinking the shot, they had to pour what was left over their head and then throw the shot glass at a target of the monkey (see picture below in squadron tour of what the said monkey looks like) in the fountain behind the O Club.  Tom did his with one of the other Toms who will be going to Kansas with him.  We had to stay on the second floor balcony so we wouldn't get hit with flying glass.

After lunch, Tom signed us up for some simulation time in the T-6 and T-1.  In the first picture, he is showing us how they have to strap themselves into the T-6 to attach themselves to the seat, parachute, oxygen, etc.  It is the simulator in which they practice egress for those times when they need to eject.  Bill had a blast--I think this was his favorite part of the trip besides being proud daddy at graduation.  He got to do aerobatics and fly under bridges and between really close buildings sideways, etc.  And Tom showed us how he does a lot of the aerobatic moves.  Maddy and I just did photo ops.
Bill also liked getting to fly in the T-1 jet simulator.  He only crashed the plane twice.  It had a lot different feel than he is used to in little prop planes.  Maddy decided she wanted to give it a try too and Tom talked her through landing the plane.  She actually did it without crashing--although she did it in the grass strip between the two runways.  
He took us on a little bit of a tour of the squadron.  Showed us where they do their flight planning.  And we got to get up close and personal with the planes that they learned to fly and do their navigating in.

 And this was my favorite photo of the whole trip.  They both look so good in it.  

It was a pretty emotional week.  They found out bits and pieces all week about orders to SERE school in Spokane and when Tom needs to be in Kansas and how it affected their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation plans.  And unfortunately Tom doesn't get to go on Christmas leave and will be by himself in Pensacola while Maddy is in Washington.  But it is what it is.  So glad we got to see him but wish that he could come home to see Grandma and Chris.  He is in Spokane for three weeks right now--and has been in the field since Saturday in sub-zero temperatures.  I certainly don't envy him that experience.  I have been cold enough in the house much less going outside with our record breaking cold temperatures here in Vancouver.  

So proud of our boy.  So glad that he is able to realize his long time goal of flying in the Air Force.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fun in China

These are old pictures from June but I didn't see them until yesterday.  One of the girls that Chris went to China with posted them and tagged him yesterday.  Wish I had had them for his China album but all is not lost.  I can add them to his college album.

Chris took lots of pictures and his friends on the trip did as well but it is always fun to get a glimpse of what life is like for your kids when you aren't around and this was one of those perfect examples of that.  I love that Chris is having so much fun with Sarah in these pictures.  The one picture in particular makes me think of James Bond fighting in his tuxedo.  Fun image for me.  And what is so cool is that they felt so comfortable doing it in such a public place.  Chris had no idea that all these Chinese people had stopped to watch them do their finger fencing.  He was in the moment and having fun.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Drop Night

Friday night was when Tom's class chose their next assignments and the planes they would be flying in.  They call it Drop Night.  His class chose a football draft theme for the party which is basically exactly what it is.  The class is ranked and they get to choose their assignments in order of their rank and what is available.  So they all had football jerseys and the wives and girlfriends made theirs as well.  And those with children had their kids there as well.  It certainly was a fun idea.
Tom's next assignment will be McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas.  He will be a navigator in the KC-135 refueling planes.  It wasn't one of his top choices so he is a little disappointed--not as exciting and sexy as a fighter or a bomber.  But Bill and I are extremely proud of him and think it will be a great assignment.  And we are so looking forward to seeing him graduate next week after a long year of training.  It was hard work and we are proud of him for it.

Wisconsin Part Dieux

This trip to Wisconsin involved a little more education time.  And was a little more frustrating.  More technical in nature with actual building involved in two different programs that had to be built just right to work.  Some days we finished early and one day in particular, we didn't have enough time to finish and was really frustrating.

Because I arrived around 2:30 on Monday and didn't have class until Tuesday afternoon, I invited Dad and Shirley to come down to Madison to see me.  They picked me up at the airport and stayed at the same hotel I was staying at.  We went out to dinner at the Great Dane in Fitchburg as I didn't want to try to figure out parking downtown Madison.  We enjoyed visiting at the hotel and drinking some wine afterward at the hotel.  In the morning, I took them out to the Epic campus so that they could see where I had been doing my training.  We had time to go through more of the buildings that I had gone through before.  The New York themed building was pretty cool but my favorites are still on The Farm.

I stayed in most of my nights there otherwise except for a shuttle trip to Walmart to pick up a few things.  I did go out for dinner with my work group on Friday night though.  We ate at a place called The Old Fashioned which was right across the street from the capitol building.  I love seeing the capitol building--especially at night when it is all lit up.  So I was thrilled that I got to see it on this trip.  I can't even remember how long it has been since I have been there but definitely more than 30 years.  Since we had a bit of a wait for a table--I went across the street to go inside to see the rotunda.  Just as beautiful as I remembered it.  These are the only pictures I took this week but I am happy I got to see it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Going Home

One of the nice things about going back to Wisconsin for work was that I was getting to go home.  The first night in Madison, we went to State Street Brats for dinner.  I have been trying to lose weight so I didn't get a brat but I did order fried cheese curds at the last minute since I hadn't had them in many years.  So go figure how I thought I was going to lose weight eating those--but they were oh so good.  And Bucky was on the wall of the bar so I had to get a picture of him. 

The other nice part of going back to Wisconsin was that I got to see my family.  I only had a few days so my only plan was to drive to Tomah after class on Thursday night and get back to the Madison airport Sunday afternoon to fly back home.  No specific plans.  Dane took Friday off so he could spend time with me which was nice.  We decided to go to his mother-in-law's farm to take a walk around the property.  I was hoping I would see a deer but no such luck.  Saw plenty of deer trails, tracks and places where deer had bedded down in the fields but no actual deer sightings.  And I like to drive out on the country roads around Tomah--see the farms, cows, fall foliage, etc.  Stopped at Oak Grove Cemetery to stop by my mom and grandparents' graves.  And the Greenfield and LaGrange cemeteries to visit a lot of family graves.  Came across my Civil War veteran relatives graves and thought I would include pictures of them here as part of my Veterans Day tribute. 

 Fredrick Heser was ill the whole two months that he was in the Army. 
Nathan Spooner and his three sons--Daniel, Charles and Edmond.  Charles and Edmond died in the war.

I wasn't expecting to see anyone except my dad and brothers on my trip home but my Wausau aunts decided to come to Tomah to stay with Uncle Ray and Aunty Karen and to come see me while I was home.  I was thrilled that I got to see them all.  We had a little mini-reunion visiting for several hours and going out to the County Line Restaurant for fish fry that evening.
While we were at the County Line waiting to be seated, we saw John Veldey.  He was my dad's boss for over 40 years at Veldey's Mobil.  Uncle Ray worked there for awhile as well and Dane worked there while he was in high school.  So had to get a picture of these guys together.

I was nice to get home for awhile.  I leave to go back to Madison on Monday.  Dad and Shirley will be coming down to spend some time with me until it is time to go to my class Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Start; New Job

I'm about a month behind in my blogging.  So thought I had better catch up.

We've been anticipating big changes in PeaceHealth for awhile now.  My informatics team has been waiting to be "reorganized" for almost a year.  The decision was that the informatics team would become a system-wide team rather than local and would be working on the Epic Enterprise project--bringing in a new software program for the whole system of our hospitals in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.  Because of all the issues at our hospital though, the leadership insisted that we needed to keep an informatics presence at PeaceHealth Southwest.  I wasn't really interested in the type of work that I would have to do if I went to the system informatics team and it was going to require a lot of travel so I had pretty much decided I was going to stay at the hospital.  But my former director, knowing my aptitude and love of doing analyst type work encouraged me to apply for an Epic analyst position.  It was a long wait.  I applied at the beginning of August, interviewed at the end of August and was offered the job at the end of September.  Since I needed to start working my new job on October 6th, there was a quick transition of trying to figure out who would take over my various responsibilities and get them trained.  I am happy to be on the project though.  It is a huge job but it is exciting to be able to start something new. 

I thought I was going to be starting to work at the PeaceHealth Shared Service Center in Vancouver (pictured above) but as it turns out, they are preparing office space at our Memorial campus downtown.  Mixed feelings about it.  But it is what it is. 

Around the same time that I was working on transitioning my responsibilities, the article that our informatics team worked on was finally published at the end of September.  It was exciting for us to finally see it in "print".  The sad part was by the time it was published, the entire team had split up.  Rhonda is the manager for Nursing Informatics for the system, Alex has joined her, Jill has also joined her team but has moved back home to Cottage Grove, Amy decided to go back to working in the Family Birth Center, Lacey took over being the informatics manager at Southwest and I was going to the IT analyst team. 

Installing Epic means going to training in Wisconsin.  For my position, it means three weeks of training between October and December.  And then working on projects and studying in between so that I can pass the test and actually be allowed to be an Epic analyst.  I have always heard wonderful things about the Epic campus and I was not disappointed.  The Epic campus is located in Verona out in the country so you have views of Wisconsin farmland from the classrooms.  I only had time to explore a few buildings--the learning center where we had our classes was pretty amazing.  All the classrooms had a theme and were named for that theme.  For instance, my classroom was the Cyclops room of Odyssey.  There were super hero themes, Jame Bond, Star Wars, Clue, etc. just to name a few.  And the grounds were beautiful too.
 These are just a few pictures of the amazing training center.  There is art everywhere as well and the meals were pretty fantastic too.
All the office buildings have themes as well.  Being from Wisconsin, the office buildings that I was most interested in seeing were on "The Farm".  The Farm consisted of three big office buildings that were called The Barn, The Stable and The Shed and there was also the Farmer's Market there which was one of the cafeterias.  In those three office buildings were 980 offices just to give you an idea of the size.  Pretty cool!
I was so impressed with the attention to detail in the design and the decor of the buildings.  In the house portions, the office doors were just like doors you would find in an old farm house.  There were sitting rooms and areas that might look like a kitchen.  There was a creamery between the house and barn and I loved that they had huge milk bottles in their little kitchen area there with cool pictures and saying on them.  In the barn, there was the cow cutouts and Babe the Pig from Charlotte's Web.  The flooring in the barn looked like hay.  You crossed a neat wooden railroad like bridge to get to The Shed which had a '50's Farmall tractor in it.  Jill and I didn't really go into The Shed to see what the offices look like but we went through the Farmer's Market to get to The Stable.  The doors to the office there were like horse stall doors and instead of regular office name plates, they were horse ribbons with their names on.  And the carpeting looked like cobblestones.

I'm getting ready to go back next week for more training.  I might check out a few more buildings or the tree house.  We'll see what I have time for.  But it was a really Epic experience.  And the training was pretty wonderful too.