Dec 31, 2008

Street Rod Status...

Today Macie and I visited Deron and Dan Shady's shop where the 1932 Plymouth street rod is going to take form. The four-carb intake manifold is temporarily mounted on the engine, a 241 cubic inch hemi V-8 that came out of a 1953 Dodge fire truck. There will have to be a few modifications made to accommodate this manifold with its four Stromberg 97's, but it's going to be gorgeous:

A Delightful Dinner...

Mary Ann and I have a house guest staying with us this week. Macie Rorabaugh, a friend from Waukee, Iowa, flew down a couple days ago and is staying through Friday. She and Mary Ann worked together back in Iowa several years ago and became good friends. In 2005, Macie accompanied us on the Great Race that went from Philadelphia to San Rafael, CA.

On Monday, we went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!) and followed this up with a Huntsville Havoc hockey match (The Knoxville Ice Bears beat the Havoc 5-2).  Yesterday was cooking day.

Mary Ann and I have been long-time friends of "Microwave Dave" Gallaher, a Huntsville-based blues musician. We thought it would be fun to have Dave come to dinner while Macie was visiting. He graciously accepted, so Macie and I prepared a meal that turned out to be extraordinary -- one where everything turns out a little better than you expected.

The menu:
- Roast pork tenderloin encrusted in a lemon-parmesan-panko crust and served with a garlic cream gravy
- Prosciutto and parmesan wrapped asparagus tips
- Garlic mashed potatoes
- Parisian salad
- Homemade cranberry-blueberry bread
- Vanilla ice cream with warm cherry topping
- Fresh Colombian coffee

The food was great but the company and conversation were even better. Be sure to visit Dave's Web site. Better yet, buy a couple of his CD's and really enjoy his music.

Dec 23, 2008

Christmas Eve at Louie's...

When I was growing up in Schenectady, I worked part time pumping gas.  I worked for Louie Brzoza, who owned a Sunoco service station at 844 Union Street.  It was an odd little place for several reasons.

When curbside gas pumps were outlawed sometime back in the dark ages, the state legislature had "grandfathered in" those gas stations that had existing curbside gas pumps.  So we still had two pumps -- one for regular, one for "high-test" -- right on the curb.  People would simply pull over from traffic and buy a tank of gas.

Another odd feature was that Louie and his wife Jennie and son Jonathan lived in a house on the property.  Their driveway was the route back to the service shop and storage garage that were situated behind the house.  Their front porch had an odd little glassed-in booth at the right end that was where the cash register was located along with a little counter and a telephone and a stool on which we sat when we weren't pumping gas.

I believe my brother Bill and I were paid the handsome rate of 35 cents per hour.  But part of our compensation was the opportunity to learn about cars and engines from Louie, who had been an army mechanic during World War II.  I was probably around 8 years old when I helped rebuild my first Model A Ford engine.  Bill and I both learned a great deal in the little shop that sat at the end of Louie's driveway.

One of my fondest memories of the station is the annual Christmas Eve visit by the subpoena server.  I don't recall his name, but one of our regular customers was the man who served subpoenas for the local courts.  Every Christmas Eve, a ritual took place.  We would knock off work around 3:00 PM.  A group of friends -- Louie, a few customers, my brother and I -- would pull up chairs around the big cast iron stove in the shop.  Somebody would tell a story about their favorite Christmas, another story would follow.  Jen would bring some hot fudge or cookies and hot cocoa out from the house.  And then the subpoena server would show up.

He inevitably had a paper bag that contained a bottle of Jack Daniels that he would share with Louie and any other adults in the gathering.  But our hero was kind of a melancholy drunk with a great burden on his heart, so before long the tears would start flowing.  "I just can't do it," he'd declare.  "How can anybody serve a subpoena on Christmas Eve?"  Every year his lament was the same. And every year Louie would console him.  The subpoenas never got served.  And some poor family in Schenectady was granted a temporary stay of execution.  And the ritual was repeated every year that I worked in that gas station. The Spirit of Christmas even permeated the legal system in those days.

Dec 20, 2008

The Drumroll, Please...

Today we held our first annual Christmas drawing at Ebabe's Gifts.  We gave away a gorgeous Christopher Radko® Winter Wonderland snowglobe valued at $125.  Here is Debbie Galliart stirring up the entries 
and here I am picking the winning entry...
... and the winner is Sharon Moffett of Fayetteville.  Congratulations, Sharon.  
Mary Ann, Debbie, and Sharon Moffett at the official presentation!

And thanks to everyone who came by to enter.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

Dec 18, 2008

A Christmas Poem...

I ran across this poem on someone else's blog.  I tracked it down to a blogger named Michael Marks, who posted it in 2000.   We sure need to express our appreciation to our troops, especially at this time of year.  You might consider an email or a card to someone you know who's on active duty.  If you don't know someone, there are Web sites like the USO site or that will send gifts to troops who have no family.

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight. 
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

'What are you doing?' I asked without fear,
'Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!'
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said 'Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.'
'It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ' Pearl on a day in December,'
Then he sighed, 'That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers.'
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ' Nam ',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.'

' So go back inside,' he said, 'harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right.'
'But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
'Give you money,' I asked, 'or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son.'

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
'Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.'

God bless our service men and women!

Dec 2, 2008

Loss of a Wonderful Lady...

I recently completed an assignment at a manufacturing facility on Long Island.  From my first day on the job I noticed that the cafeteria was a very well run operation.  The food was wholesome and reasonably priced, the menu was varied and appealing, but these are the things you expect.  The difference in this cafeteria was the attitude of the staff.  Everyone was outgoing, friendly, and extremely proud of what they were doing.  It made all the difference in the world!

The manager was a little lady named Cheryl Fickeissen.  She was a bundle of energy and this energy spread to her entire staff.  She was one of those rare people who could call everyone "honey" or "sweetie" and it sounded natural.  Everyone was equal in Cheryl's world.  We were all part of her family and we were made to feel that way.  I commented to my boss one day, only half jokingly, "If we could capture the attitude of the cafeteria and spread it out, this company would have all its problems solved in a week!"

Cheryl was everywhere at once - checking the coffee urns, signing a receipt for deliveries, tending to the cash register.  But she always had time to be friendly.  She called everyone by name.  It was uncanny how many names she had on instant recall.  And she asked questions that made you know she cared about you.  "How's the gift shop doing?  Did you get home this weekend to be with your bride?"  And this attitude was contagious.  On the day before I left, a lady on the staff named Bonnie made her special potato salad as a going-away gift to me.  The cafeteria was a place you soon expected special treatment from and the staff never let you down.

A few weeks ago, we came to work on a Monday and Cheryl wasn't there.  Her daughter Stacy had stepped in to help out and explained that her mother was in the hospital with an apparent heart problem.  A few days later, the doctors inserted a couple of stents in some arteries and she was soon back at work, the same bundle of hospitality as ever.

I learned yesterday that Cheryl passed away last Thursday of a heart attack.  It hit me as if she were a member of my own family.  I will miss her, and I'm sure I have a lot of company.  Excellence is not reserved for the high and mighty.  Cheryl Fickeissen was living evidence that it exists in the most humble and unlikely places.  God grant you peace, Cheryl. †