Sunday, September 28, 2008

Goodbye to Summer 2008

Summer went by so quick this year; I have been so overwhelmed with work the past three months that the end of summer slipped by without me really noticing. On my walks to and from work, I had noticed the weather getting cooler and sidewalks getting more and more strewn leaves. Yes, autumn is here. Here in Germany, it got cooler earlier than last year.

What did I do this summer? A lot of time spent at work and not too much fun stuff. I went to visit Seattle in mid-June for two weeks, stopped in Miami for a couple of days on my way back to Germany, got away for the Fourth of July weekend on a road trip to the Alsace region of France, and went camping outside of Amsterdam in late July. So from 1 July to end of September, I had but a three day weekend off during the 4th and a weekend off in late July. All other days within that period, including all weekends and the Labor Day holiday, I spent at work. The last month, I have been working 10-12 hour days including the weekends. This was the last weekend before the end of the fiscal year. Two more days to go – Monday and Tuesday, and life for me will start getting back to normal.

The last three months, I was able to get the following project awarded: 13 DoDDS-Europe school force protection projects; a dental clinic renovation at Grafenwoehr; two major hangar roof replacement projects at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield; a hangar electrical and pneumatic systems upgrade in Mannheim; three separate health/dental clinic renovation projects at Mannheim; two fitness center renovation projects at Mannheim; a hangar renovation, construction of a new parking lot, construction of a 35k ton loading ramp, and rehabilitate an existing building for deployment processing center all at Ramstein Air Base; construction a new fence around a hazmat storage facility at Mainz-Kastel; and flooring replacement and locker room renovation projects at Baumholder High School. All these new projects total to $14M.

I will be celebrating the first day of the new fiscal year, 1 October, by taking the afternoon and the rest of week off. That day, I will be headed to Munich with friends from work to enjoy Oktoberfest. I had a blast last year; I am sure we’ll top last year’s experience. We have a group of 10, mainly friends from work and a few friends of friends visiting from the US. Our reservations are for Thursday, 2 Oct, in the Hofbräu tent, one of the bigger halls at this event. I am thinking of sticking around the area for the weekend. I will fill you in with details on future posts.

Here are a few photos from last year:

Inside the Hofbräu beer hall.

2007 Oktoberfest group.

Hippodrom beer hall, where we had reservations last year.

Hofbräu beer hall, where we have reservations this year.

My new Mini Cooper Clubman will soon be arriving. I should be getting my chili red, black front striped car around 10 October. I will make sure that I catch up on my travels using this vehicle. I had planned to go to Stockholm for the Columbus Day weekend, but that should be about the time that I pick up my car. So no Stockholm trip.

Upcoming trips: I will be going to Adana, Turkey on 20 Oct to conduct security needs assessment and survey on one school there. The plan is spend a day in Istanbul, before heading to Adana. We will surveying three schools in Spain (Rota and Sevilla) in early December. I may stick around for the weekend after we do our work and do sightseeing in Sevilla. We will visit five schools in England in late January. And in February, we will visit two schools in Sicily. In between those school visits outside of Germany are eight other school visits within Germany.

As far as personal trips, I would like to get away on weekends as much as possible, especially holiday weekends (Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving). I have no specific plans yet. I will try to make it back to Seattle for the Christmas holidays.

Despite missing out on most of the summer, I still had some wonderful times. My most memorable moments of summer 2008 include the following:

1. Camping with the Antonio family and friends at Nehalem Bay State Park on the Oregon coast.

Family Camping, Nehalem Bay State Park, June 2008

2. Enjoying a hot summer day at the front porch and back yard of my Seattle home with Jeremiah, Gavin, Cameron, Payton, and Jeremy and eating popsicles to our heart’s content.

3. Camping at Eguisheim and Ribeauville, visiting Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, and walking the grounds of Haut Koenigsbourg castle all during a Fourth of July weekend road trip to the Alsace region of France.

4. Eating escargot and foie gras, also during the trip to the Alsace. The escargot, smothered in garlic butter and pesto, was tasted (or should I say tested) during a dinner at Ribeauville. The foie gras was savored as an appetizer during a dinner at Eguisheim. Both were very tasty, but were also pricey.

5. Camping at a campground outside of Amsterdam especially during the rainy second night. I managed to stay dry throughout the night with a semi-permeable tent. See previous blog for pix.

6. Visiting, once again, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This was my fourth visit to the museum -- I never seem to tire seeing the great works of art by a master.

7. Both summer bbq and beer bashes hosted by a friend from work. They were nice, quick weekend getaways from work.

Finally, I responded to his e-vite for his birthday, but I forgot to wish him a happy birthday on this site. A bit late, but here it --- Happy Birthday Jeremiah!!!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading and Summer Pix

I enjoy reading books, now and then, when I can find the time. I can’t seem to read a book when I am in my apartment. There are always “better” things to do while at home such as watching tv, surfing the net, cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, cooking, etc. I have this mindset that if there were time to read at home, then that time is better spent doing something else. I usually do most of my book reading while using public transport (planes, trains, and buses) or at a coffee shop. I can read magazines at home, but books are another story. I will have to change my mind set because I have stacks of books that need pages to be turned. I subscribe to Newsweek, Time and US News & World Report. These three weekly news magazines take precedence before I can delve into my books. I have established a regular schedule of stopping at a coffee shop on my walk to my apartment after work, no matter what the time is. I will spend from one to two hours going thru my reading materials. The routine gives me time to relax and it also gives me time to catch up on my reading.

I am currently reading Grisham's "The Appeal." Although Grisham is no great literary figure, his style of writing legal thrillers captivates me. The setting is usually "normal" people up against a large, crooked legal firm, with a Mafia-type organization backing. A young, new law school graduate then comes in and saves the day. It's a formula that has worked for Grisham. It's also a formula that has worked for me – reading Grisham is one of my guilty pleasures. He is a masterful story teller. I always have a hard time putting a Grisham book down. The Grisham novels do not translate well into movies. My favorite Grisham book is "A Time to Kill.” This is Grisham first novel, but did not make it big until the success of “The Firm.” The first Grisham book I read was "The Firm." I actually purchased the book at the airport in Atlanta in the early 1990's, and before my plane arrived in Ontario, CA airport, I already finished the book. I eagerly awaited the film adaptation. When the movie finally came out, it was a disappointment. When you read a book, you picture in your mind what you are reading. You are essentially playing the movie in your mind as you read the book. You get disappointed when the actual movie does not come close to your own interpretation.

I just completed "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Marquez Garcia. This is the first book I have read by a Latin American writer. It was a good choice. The language is so rich. I imagine that this novel would be even more eloquent in its native Spanish form. In reading the book which is set in Colombia in the late 1800 thru early 1900's, I noticed some of the older Spanish colonial social customs that reminds of similar customs in earlier times in the Philippines. I will have to expand my selection of Latin American writers and read more of their stories. A new film adaptation of "Love in the Time of Cholera" was recently released. In reading some of the reviews, the movie did not fare well. I can understand how such a novel or film would not fare well today. I reference the old Spanish colonial customs earlier – these customs are neither currently acceptable nor politically correct. Also, a novel such as this would be difficult to adapt to film because story is not laid out in chronological sequence. Tthe beginning of the novel happens near the end of the story. Then it continues with events that led to the opening of the story. There have been films that relate the story in this manner with success; for example Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."

In reading Seattle Times’ Sunday edition a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a story about the
filming of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," a novel I completed reading earlier this year. I was elated to read about the story being turned into a movie. It is definitely one of the best "reads" I've ever had. It ranks up there to my first reading of Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” and Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." I hope the film adaptation of “The Road” goes well. I can not wait until the movie arrives. McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" translated well into film. I hope "The Road" has the same success.

I hope my copy of the book is being passed around to be read in Seattle. There is a certain person, I won't mention any names, but the person had the first opportunity to read the book, and then should have passed it on. OK it's "j to the a to the n to the i to the c to the e." It has been at least four months. So girl – finish the damn book already and pass it on, will ya!!!

The following are few pictures from this summer:

This was taken inside my tent late at night, in total darkness and during a heavy rainstorm, at a campsite outside of Amsterdam. I just pointed my camera upwards and shot the picture. The light source is all from the flash. Anyway, I managed to stay dry throughout the night.

The campground is different than US campsites in that there are open spaces to set up tents and a separate, nearby area to park cars. The tent area has that communal feel. I felt like I needed a tie-dye t-shirt and a well-worn bell bottom denim jeans to fit in.

Actually, the campground users were a mixed lot. Although many were young, free-spirit types, there are also many older folks and family groups. There were also areas to park trailers and RV’s. I joined a friend from work, with the truck and truckbed tent shown on the next photo, and another friend from work and his family, with the camper, to camp just outside of Amsterdam. My tent is set up behind the truck for the first night. The second day, I was relegated to the communal tent area by order of the camp “police.” I was told that it was forbidden to place my tent on the area where my tent was originally located -- something about “protecting” the turf. This is where the RV’s and campers park, for christsake. These large vehicles do more damage to the grassy area than my piddly tent. I moved my tent to the “tent” area for my second night at the campground, but it was not really in the big open, hippie area. My neighboring tents were all occupied by family groups. I am not sure if any of them were bothered by my snoring.

Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square), in Amsterdam, has changed since the last time I saw it in 2004. It is now dotted with life-sized statues which represent Rembrandt more famous painting, Night Watch, in front of the Rembrandt statue.

A picture of me with a wooden statue of a traveling clock salesman, in Freiburg, Germany during the 4th of July weekend.

Freiburg, Germany

During the 4th of July weekend, a friend and I visited the Alsace region of France. The photo is from the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. The museum has a large collection of religious art, by local artists, from medieval and early Renaissance periods.

Unterlinden Museum piece

A common sight in Alsatian houses: a brightly painted home with wooden shutters on each side of every windows and window boxes brimming with colorful blooms. This photo was taken in Ribeauville.

Alsatian Windows

Haut Koenigsbourg Castle is nestled on a high hill overlooking the Alsatian valley.

Haut Koenigsbourg Castle

On a Friday in mid July, a couple of friends and I took off from work early in the afternoon to go to a smaller beer festival in Mainz, across the river from Wiesbaden. We arrived there before the festival opened; also the weather was overcast and cool. So the crowd size was a bit sparse. I’m sure the crowd picked up during the weekend because the weather improved tremendously for the remainder of the weekend.

Mainz Beer Fest, Jul 2008

During my visit to Seattle this past June, I spent plenty of time with Payton and Cameron, who are currently staying at my house while their new home is being built; Gavin and Jeremy, who were also staying at my house and being babysat by their grandma (my sister), while their parents were away; and Jeremiah, who was at my house almost daily and being babysat by his grandma (my older sister) visiting from the Philippines. Among the six of us, we went through several bags of popsicles. During the duration of my stay in Seattle, my tongue and lips were always red, orange, blue, or purple. At least my face remained clean, unlike the kids’ faces. Some were so tired after a full day of playing that they fell sleep right on the floor, still with the popsicle smudges on their faces.

Jeremiah and Cameron tagging my walkway

Look Ma, two hands!

OK, hold on, let me show you my right ear.

What green traffic monitor?

Quick, Jeremy, take a sip before Payton sees you.

Mr. Green Traffic Monitor, can I borrow your orange warning flag?

Hey Jeremiah, can you share some of your goodies with me?

I can see you...

Gavin asleep on the floor

The following video is a gem. Cameron must not have known that my digital camera can also function as a video camera. She was singing and I was able to record without her noticing. Cameron is such a social butterfly, very talkative and inquisitive. I don’t know who she gets it from. Both of her parents are usually quiet and reserved.

And lastly, birthday greetings to Agnes and Rena. Both have birthdays in September.