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.