Non-fiction day


Army Lt. Col. Tandy Brown, center, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, serves a soldier and his daughters during a Thanksgiving Day meal on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 24, 2014.

 

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. Airports and highways are so crowded that a video of Thanksgiving traffic on a Los Angeles freeway makes an iconic picture of the trek to go home. The song Over the River and Through the Woods vies for top Thanksgiving honors with We Gather Together.

Where do you go, though, when you’ve only been “home” for a few months, or for a couple of years at most? Whose food reminds you of Thanksgiving when Grandma is across an ocean? Where do you make memories if all your dishes are still in transit, wrapped in packing paper, and (the gods willing) unbroken?

If your family is a military family, you may go to the dining facility (DFAC), formerly known as the chow hall, mess hall, or mess deck. What you call where you eat depends on the service to which you (or more likely, your parent) belong.

 

ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2012) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Job David Santiago, from Manila, Philippines, frosts a cake aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Thanksgiving. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/Released)

 

Usually, dining facilities are reserved for service members on active duty. Their primary purpose is to feed the Army that, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Frederick the Great, depending on your source), marches on its stomach. On Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas), the dining facility is open to family members. This is a treat that many military Brats look forward to when they are children, and reminisce about when they are grown. My sister and I recently rhapsodized about the shrimp cocktails we remember setting on our trays as we moved through the dining facility line.

In Facebook groups for Brats, the talk in this week leading up to Thanksgiving has been about eating at the dining facility. Among the comments were those about tables full of fruit and candy, how the cooks decorated the dining facility even up to ice sculptures, and food that included roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, in addition to fancy food such as that delicious shrimp cocktail, crab legs, and prime rib. My own favorite memory (in addition to the shrimp) was going to the milk dispenser and lifting the heavy weighted handle so that the milk shot into my glass with enough force to produce bubbles. I must say that, as a basic trainee pulling KP in the mess hall, I wasn’t quite as thrilled to heft the five gallon cartons of milk into the dispenser cabinet — those suckers weigh over 40 pounds.

 

Army Spc. Matt Squairs shears off a corner from a block of ice he is sculpting into a pumpkin on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 21, 2014. Squairs, a culinary specialist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne’s Group Support Battalion, and other cooks spent more than two weeks preparing a Thanksgiving meal held in the unit’s dining facility.

 

We Brats doted on being allowed into the dining facilities for holidays, but I don’t know that we fully appreciated the work that went into feeding people their daily three square meals, seven days a week, plus holidays — way more people (and food) on the holidays. As someone who has seen both sides of the serving line, I’d like to give all the cooks a rousing cheer, despite the cadence songs we sang about the food. After a day of KP, I felt as if I’d been pulled backwards through a keyhole and my feet …, oh my poor feet how they ached.  I can’t imagine the endurance it takes to be a cook.

 

Army Spc. Trinh Tran, a cook with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, covers prepared salads and dressings for the evening meal service, Nov. 21, 2013. Trinh is on a team to assist in preparation of the upcoming Thanksgiving Day dinner. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kim Browne

 

Hooray for the dining facilities and all the cooks in all the services.

I hope they have a restful day-after-Thanksgiving.

 

All photos are released from the DoD photo archive.

It needs a bird, but none of them cooperated.

 

Yesterday, I stayed home from a Sisters in Crime meeting because my husband, Handy Harry Homeowner, meant to spare me the noise and commotion of fixing the deck. He’d arranged to do the loud work while I was away for the morning. Ever-confident, he planned to surgically remove a ruined plank from the back deck using an electric saw to dismember the plank instead of prying it out. Handy Homeowners of greater-than-spring-chicken-age need to work smarter, not harder.

I meant to attend our Border Crimes chapter first-Saturday-of-the-month meeting. However, while scrambling to eat my eggs, the maniacal whine of the saw taunted me. I tensed when it slowed to a growl as it bit into the plank’s thickness. My mind, fiction-trained through years of reading how-to-write books (conflict! conflict! conflict!) and conditioned to think of fictional disasters with which to plague characters, could imagine Chekhov’s saw. Don’t show the weapon if you’re not going to use it. One slip and blood would be everywhere. With Handy Harry home alone, I couldn’t chance it. So I stayed.

For an hour, the saw screamed at the plank as if taking revenge for insults to its mother. Handy Harry pulled and pounded with the crowbar — no bit of decking would defeat him. Plank body parts accumulated on the top rail of the deck with rusty nails protruding from them like dragon’s teeth. They looked as if they were waiting to sink into the pink flesh of a carelessly-placed hand. A gap between the remaining planks lay in wait for just one misstep, just one. Sipping tea while working on a story draft (conflict!), I remained watchful.

After Harry had the plank pieces out, of course I needed to create a photo-documentary of his work — that’s how we keep track of which home repairs have happened, and when. Carrying my small camera for the snapshots, I opened the porch door as I’ve done thousands of times over the years. I stepped out, my mind on lens and shutter settings. My foot hit the doormat and, quicker than thought, my left leg shot forward. My right leg remained planted inside the doorway but didn’t support me and bent. My right knee slammed into the porch planks. The doormat had slid when I stepped on it.

(Why is it always the knees? Why? Ever since high school basketball, it’s been the _knees_.)

Harry was engrossed. He noticed nothing. I’d have thought that me cannonballing into the wooden porch would generate a significant boom, but Harry has laser-focus. I wanted tea and sympathy and cries of oh-my-poor-dear, if not a call to 911, but if I sat there in the open door I knew a cat, or two or three, was bound to amble out to the screened-porch. Seeing me-on-the-floor, and being clever, they’d know I couldn’t run interference. The open door would beckon and he, she, or they, would make a break. Waiting for the unlikely event of spousal concern, probably couched as, “What the hell are you doing down there?”, or the likely event of a cat escape that would have me limping after a frisky feline in an OJ Simpson/Bronco highway chase around the backyard, left me with no choice. I had to get up — but not before I took a picture.

 

Beware the treachery of doormats.
I’d have dressed better if I’d known I’d be blog-worthy.

As a result of the porch-capades, I’m the bearer of a silver-dollar-sized scrape & bruise on my previously-not-injured knee. (the story about the other knee — injured a few months ago — is less interesting than the story of this knee; even doctors yawn and ask if that’s all for now) The camera sustained nothing more than a slight bout of ‘we hit an air-pocket!’ as I descended.

My good deed of missing my meeting just in case a home maintenance project turned into a horror novel wound up with me sporting an ice pack on my knee and acting as the complaint desk for various muscle groups up and down the body. The ribs were annoyed at that twist in the story. The lower back objected to me having followed the clue that the project was wrapping up and needed documenting. The injured knee felt frail and needed hearty applications of the aforementioned tea and sympathy. The other knee whined that life isn’t fair and it wanted a happy ending.

Handy Harry was fine and proceeded to pound nails into the new plank (from the sounds, he and the weighted mallet were working out issues!). The deck looks much better. I, though, was left looking forward to an Epsom salts bath. The cats never showed any interest.

 

Harry Homeowner’s handiwork

In case you haven’t read, a good portion of the United States will be under part of the path of the moon’s shadow for a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st. I’m very lucky in that I’ll be close enough to the path of totality to probably have a 99% experience.

Many years ago, I was near the path of a solar eclipse, but well away from the path of totality — near this map’s N in Maryland — and I still remember the dimming of the afternoon light.

That eclipse was way pre-Internet, so we didn’t have the daily buzz of Facebook updates, all the websites, and the sale of eclipse-viewing glasses to keep us jazzed in the weeks before the event. (last week, I bought enough ISO-rated specs for the entire family at a local science museum) I must have known about the 1970 eclipse, but I was indoors when it happened. Despite me being in the house, and despite the lack of eclipse-capable photo equipment, that partial eclipse was impressive.

Skipping to the present, in a recent Facebook discussion, an online friend was saddened because she wasn’t able to buy a filter for her camera in time. She’d like photos of the eclipse, but thinks that ruining her camera’s sensor by aiming it at the sun without filters is rather a high price to pay for (maybe) a snapshot. I tend to agree. (!!!)  I suggested that she could make an old-old-fashioned pinhole camera and take photos of the images made with it.

Luckily, I can provide instructions.

Years ago, but not as many years ago as the eclipse I experienced, I made a camera obscura ‘just because.’ I had recently concluded homeschooling three of my four kids and was apparently suffering withdrawal from science projects. As the withdrawal and the project both happened during the Age of the Internet, I have online pictures of my fun at another of my blogs, Happy as Kings (the instructions I mentioned).

 

The oldest and the newest

A pinhole camera I made from a couple of pasteboard boxes, a sheet of typing paper, and some electrical tape (because it’s lightproof).
The large hole isn’t the pinhole, but is the opening for my digital camera so I could take pictures of the pinhole images.

 

If you don’t have filters for your cameras or for your camera phones and you want to take pictures of the eclipse, give the pinhole camera a try.

To increase your chances of taking a recognizable picture, be sure to test the cameras before the eclipse:
— so that you have a functioning pinhole apparatus
— so that your digital camera settings will capture an image
— so that you’ll have figured out how to hold everything in place (a tripod is best, but a pillow arrangement on a table might work)
— and so you’ve had a few dry runs for experience.

Good luck, and happy eclipse viewing.

What it is.

 

Google’s Cardboard function is an application that works in conjunction with a viewing box that fits 4” – 6” phones. Using Cardboard is like looking into a Harry Potter Viewmaster — the view moves as your head scans the displayed scene. Peekaboo totaliarmus!

It’s almost like being there, wherever “there” is.

 

Google Cardboard stereoscopic view.
This view is of one of my former homes — favorite destinations for me. In the late 1980s, me, my husband, and our kids lived in the Perlacher Forst housing area of the Munich Army military community. Our apartment was the one on the 2nd floor.

 

Where you can go.

 

If Google Street View cars or walkers have gone there, you can go there, too.

All it takes is a smart phone with the Cardboard app loaded, choosing a Street View location, tapping on the Cardboard viewer icon, plopping your phone in your Cardboard viewer, and looking into the viewer. The thrill of Potteresque apparating, but without the danger of being splinched.

 

Why to go.

 

The cost of any Cardboard viewer is cheaper than any ticket to faraway lands.

Other perks are:
No suitcase to lug.
No lines at airports or other travel departure points.
No waiting for your color to be called when debarking from a ship.
No electrical transformer thingamajigs needed.
No visa needed (although maybe a Visa).

You also get to sleep in your own bed afterward, but maybe that’s just important for people who’ve had to sleep in many, many different beds.

In any case, for the cost of about a meal for two at Mickey D’s, you can have armchair travel adventures from around the world.

 

Bon voyage!  Gute Reise!  Happy Trails!

 

 

04 Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitor center: To navigate on Google Maps, mouse over the small map in the lower left hand corner on the Google Maps screen. The blue dots are static images, such as this one. The viewer can look around, but can’t walk anywhere. For the ability to move, click on one of the blue lines in the small lower-left map and then either click farther along the blue line, or click on the map image.

 

In light of the potentially disrupting news from the House of Representatives today, I needed to get away for a while. The easiest way to do this, and also to be able to sleep in my own bed, is by taking a trip on Google Maps. Tonight’s visit is to Stonehenge.

The interesting aspect of virtually visiting Stonehenge is that in addition to driving around the henge on the local roads that have been maintained as smaller secondary roads, the viewer can also take a walking tour among the stones.

The picture in the screen shot is of the Visitor Center and shows what I think are representative dwellings where the people who built Stonehenge lived. To get to Stonehenge itself, click on the small lower-left map at Google Maps and navigate by following the blue lines (it’s a bit of a ‘drive’ to the right) and blue dots. Or click here if you’re in a hurry.

I enjoyed the drive from the village to the east and my stroll around the monument. I hope you do, too.

In regards to questions as to why everyone is concerned about Paris, but not about Beirut, the Russian plane, or (the months-ago attack on) Kenya, I think much of it is because so many of us have absorbed “Paris” over the years.

The French capital has what is probably the most iconic landmark ever, one that most westerners recognize. I doubt that the Houses of Parliament in London (hey, a big building!) are as instantly recognizable, nor the Washington Monument (hey, an obelisk!). People who have lived in Munich will recognize the Frauenkirche, but otherwise it looks “like a European cathedral.” Prague’s Charles Bridge is a bridge. Edinburgh’s castle is a castle. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein (the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle) might be as recognizable, but many people won’t know just where it is. The same, even, for Mount Rushmore — what’s the closest city? (Air Force brats from Ellsworth AFB, you’re ineligible to play)

The Eiffel Tower, though — everyone knows what it is and everyone knows where it is.

In music, we have the song “I Love Paris,” but not “I Love Beirut.”
Gershwin embraced “An American in Paris,” but not “An American in Lebanon.”
Louis Armstrong played “April in Paris,” but not “April in Syria.”
Nelson Riddle blamed it on Paree, but didn’t blame Jerusalem (neither Palestinian nor Israeli).

In the realm of the seductive, many 1950s mothers were honored on birthdays and Mothers Day with eau de Cologne named Evening in Paris, but I don’t think anyone ever received cedar-scented Evening in Lebanon.

Cinematically, we do have From Russia With Love, and Dr. Zhivago. Out of Africa, based on Isak Dinesin’s stories, was gorgeous. Those movies are iconic, but reflect the few filmed stories about specific places. New York probably is as well-filmed as Paris, but I don’t know that The Big Apple has the same aura as The City of Light.  The list of movies set in Paris is, to be trite, a laundry list.

Funny Face
Sabrina
Gigi
Irma la Douce
Amelie
Julie and Julia
Three Men and a Cradle
The Red Balloon
Around the World in 80 Days
Midnight in Paris
Moulin Rouge
An American in Paris
The da Vinci Code
Last Tango in Paris
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Les Miserables
Phantom of the Opera
The Pink Panther
The Aristocats
Ratatouille
The Day of the Jackal
and many more

The recent attacks that didn’t get the spotlight that has shone on Paris are just as tragically important. The people who died in the other attacks died just as horribly and uselessly as those who died in Paris. Their families are equally devastated. They need to be recognized and work needs to continue to keep anyone from being mown down, decapitated, executed, or blown up. It is a long work.

What we probably don’t need to do is unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not feeling those attacks as viscerally as we did the attacks in Paris. We know about the other places, but we love Paris.

Let us use that to recognize the human suffering among all people who were attacked.

Yesterday evening was a sad time. It’s difficult to feel particularly useful while sitting in an unremarkable place, and with no talent that is productive during a tragedy. It’s hard to even express a public feeling of sorrow when whether you do or not has little immediate effect.

Still, not expressing sorrow feels callous, and Paris does have meaning for me.  I lived in Europe, off and on, for over twenty years. My first memories are of England (which isn’t Paris, but is close enough for a Chunnel day trip from Brussels), and my husband’s final assignment with the U.S. Army was at Daumerie Kaserne by Chièvres, Belgium (still not Paris, but again, close enough for day trips with the kids).  A friend lives in Paris. Although I’ve never lived in Paris, I’ve strolled there, avoided rivers of traffic, ridden le Métro, sipped hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker), done the tourist routine, and eaten prix fixe meals. The attack happened someplace that was, for me, working on becoming an everyday place.

One of my favorite pictures isn’t of an instantly recognizable landmark. The one I like is a sign for a picnic area.  It still makes me laugh.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Despite the feeling of immediacy concerning the shootings, explosions, and dread execution of concert-goers, I’m also saddened by the attack in Beirut. By the downing of the Russian plane. By the refugees fleeing these bastards who’ll kill anyone, anywhere, and use anyone to do it. I’m sickened by the deaths of innocent people who are near the combatants of our self-appointed enemy who choose to hide in hospitals, and our myopia in attacking such a place. It’s all so desperately tragic and all I can do is say I’m heartsick.

The only cold encouragement is remembering that London wasn’t beaten by the Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. London was changed — and I can’t see an unattended bag without thinking about it — but it’s still there. Paris will still be there, too.

I hope the terror abates soon.

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