Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Little Break

You're all gonna think that I don't ever work, between this post and the last. But rest assured, I do put in some hours. The week where I realized I had put in a 40 hour week already by 10 am on Thursday was the one that really got to me. There were a couple 2200 nights that week. Thank goodness that's not all the time.

However, this post is not about work, it's about taking a little break. I've been doing pretty good with taking a day off here and there throughout the week for various and sundry reasons...friends and/or family coming into town, getting my registration renewed. And I've sort of gotten over feeling awkward when I come in late or leave early to take care of personal business like physical therapy appointments or meeting workmen coming to the house for improvement projects. Sort of. It still feels like I should be able to clone myself on those days and be in two places at once.

But this week I took Monday off, and...went to The Beach. I've been meaning to, talking about it all summer long. Realizing that summer was almost over, time was running out, and weekends are going to start to get booked up here shortly, I decided two weeks ago (that was the 60 hour week...huh, funny how that works) that I just had to do it.

Now, I *hate* traffic, and there's nothing worse for me to be stuck in traffic with all the rest of the yahoos heading out to the shore. I played with the schedule a little bit, and decided to leave Saturday morning, stay Saturday and Sunday nights, and come back Monday. Not to brag, but it was a *brilliant* plan! It was great! Not hardly any traffic when The Old Man and I finally cruised out at about 1000 on Saturday (no reason to rush, and get up early or anything). We headed out on Rt 50, and were quickly over the Bay Bridge.

I looked at the weather forecast before I went (confession time: no, I did *NOT* GAR this evolution before I started it...maybe I should have. Or maybe not...would have gone even though I was close to Red. Weather and Equipment woulda been the high scores). So I knew there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, but I figured, hey, passing summer thunderstorms...No Big Deal.

I stopped for lunch in Cambridge, MD, at Ocean Odyssey...very tasty! Fish tacos and local oysters. With one eye on a darkening sky, I got back underway, figuring I could stop for cover at a gas station if I needed to.

Ten minutes out of Cambridge, I needed to and there wasn't a single damn gas station to be found. I finally ducked under cover in Vienna, but by that point, I was already wet. The Rocket Scientist was very helpful in asking where my rain gear was. Why, oh why did I forget, and leave my rain gear at home in the shed where it was doing me exactly *no good?!* Equipment and environment spike up another point or two.

I stayed in Vienna for about half an hour, using my time wisely and chatting with my sister, who had just wrapped up her very own adventure in the form of a cross-country drive from Michigan to LA with her step-daughter in a car with 167,000 miles on it. Sounded like an ok idea when they started out; thank goodness they made it safely across without any major incidents. But eventually, I just wanted to keep going and get to my destination. I headed out again. And ran into some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen in my life! Even from when I was in Hilo.

Ya know what? Big fat driving rain drops HURT at 60 miles per hour. They sting even through denim. And it's hard to see through a rain-spotted windshield and a helmet's face shield. It stopped raining five miles from my turn off onto VA 175...eastbound to Chincoteague.

My first memories of the beach are at Assateague Island. We may have gone somewhere else first when I was young, but that's where I remember going for week-long camping trips when I was in grade school. I will forever and always associate Celestial Seasonings almond tea with those trips. I think there must have been a box of it in the camping kitchen gear...it's the only time I can remember drinking it. And I have to assume that the charring on the old percolator coffee pot (the only coffee pot I have in the house) must have come from Mom putting it on the campfire for her morning coffee that she would take to the beach for sunrise.

Assateague Island is a National Park. They've got the wild ponies there, and good lord, is it beautiful. I hadn't been back in probably close to...well, a *really* long time. And I don't know that we ever made it to Chincoteague when I was a kid. But based on a recommendation from JZ, one of the senior Reviewers, I chose to go there instead of a party town like Ocean City or Rehobeth Beach. Nothing against either one of them...just not my scene.

I didn't actually make it to the beach on Saturday. I got to my hotel right after check in time, soggy and a little road weary. The skies were threatening more rain, so I relaxed in the room and scoped out places for dinner. The best recommendation for what I was looking for was the Chincoteague Inn Restaurant, so I moseyed on over there, checking out some of the shops along the way. But, I was not done with getting rained on. It *poured* on me as I dashed from shop awning to shop awning.

The restaurant/bar was in convivial swing when I finally dripped through the door. The pre-season Redskins game was on the tv, until a bolt of lightening shot the signal. The gracious bartender was able to quickly resurrect it though, preventing a riotous mutiny by the crowd of enthusiasts. I intended to only stay for a beer or two with dinner, but each time I was about to the end of a bottle, it started raining even harder. Finally, though, I had my fill of smoke, empty calories and inane conversation, and made my way back out into the night. The hotel was only four blocks from the restaurant, but I waded through nearly knee-deep puddles all the way back. Lotsa, lotsa rain.

I paused for a moment before entering my room. The Old Man, poor thing, was stoically parked outside with no cover, fully exposed to the deluge. If only I could have rolled it into my room! But there was a specific house rule about no bikes in the room...and steps up to the porch. The Old Man was stuck out in the elements.

At this point, I was a little concerned about my prospects for any beach time at all due to the rain. But I woke up to a bright, sunny day on Sunday morning, and set out to make my way to the beach. Chincoteague is a perfect place for a bicycle, so first item on the agenda (well, *after* breakfast) was procuring two pedal-powered wheels. There are lotsa places to rent scooters, motorized trikes and bikes on the island, so I stopped by the closest vendor and then merrily pointed my hot-pink beach cruiser eastward...with a little wobble or two along the way as I got used to the old-school pedal activated brakes.

It was a gorgeous morning; a few clouds in the sky, a light breeze, birds *everywhere!* I don't know birds very well, but there were egrets, herons, seagulls, plovers, pipers, and I don't know what all else. There were a few other early rising people out, mostly friendly types, but some with that surly central Eastern-seaboard pugnacity that I did not miss living on the West Coast.

One of the very best things about having a bicycle on Assateague is that you can get to beaches where there's no parking for cars. It was about a three mile ride, mostly flat with a slight rise over a small bridge crossing the sound, through the marshes, straight up to the beach. I heard the surf long before I saw it, and smelled the salt in the air quite a way out. I locked the bike on one of the racks, and walked the last hundred yards over the dunes to the open stretch of sand leading to the waves.

There were a handful of people already on the beach, so I made a sharp turn to port and headed north for a little ways to my own stretch of empty sand. Spread my blanket, finished sunscreen application and moseyed  forward to test the water. And realized just how spoiled I've gotten being at beaches with crystal clear water for the last decade. I got used to seeing my feet on the bottom, even when I'm in neck-deep water. Not so much here. My feet disappeared into the murky waters when I was barely up to my calves. But it was still salt water, which is good for the soul. I ducked under the waves and played in the surf.

The sun came and went behind some clouds, threatening to dampen my day. I have been accused of having a curse of clouds at the beach. It can be bright and sunny before I get there, and as soon as I step on the shore, the skies darken and rain clouds threaten. But I was already wet, so what was a little fresh water washdown? I flopped on my blanket, covered my right arm (despite 45 SPF I'm still overprotective of the artwork) and dozed pleasantly. I woke a few minutes later to turn over, and saw the brightest, bluest sky with nary a trace of cloud on the horizon. Good for the soul, good for the skin, good for the mind and heart and all those other parts that don't get much attention during long weeks under florescent lights.

I only brought one smallish water bottle with me, though, so I was chased off the beach by a looming thirst after a couple of hours. The closest water fountain was at the visitors' center, so I cruised over there to fill 'er up, and then kept going to the beach access you can drive a car to. Umm -- madhouse! I found a relatively open spot to lay my blanket, but only stayed for a little while. The people watching was fun.

I was feeling peckish on the way home (translation: was madly ravenous), and stopped at a little cafe along the way. The crab cake was superb and gave the fuel necessary to finish the ride back to my room. After a long morning and afternoon in the sun and on the bicycle, I relaxed for a little while before heading out to get some ice cream...which turned out to be dinner because I was too lazy later to go back out. A little National Treasure and Sherlock Holmes later, and I turned out the light for the night.

My plan for the next day was to get up early and pedal back to the beach for sunrise. While it's always good to have a plan, it didn't quite work out that way. I slept in past sunrise, but took the bike to the beach and then ran on the beach. I saw one person when I very first got there, and one person as I was leaving -- and no one else. Was divine! I stayed long enough to go for a quick swim and then headed back to the hotel to get my stuff together to leave.

I didn't want to leave. Well, I wanted to ride the bike, but not back to the city. I'm kind of amazed I've lasted as long in the city as I have. Granted, I've had some nice long breaks, like last summer and this past winter when I went back to Hawaii. So there's been some respite. I just don't like all the people, and traffic, and buildings and hubbub and stuff. I swear I'm not counting the days, but I definitely am looking forward to Assignment Year 2014.

The sun was beating down by the time I was ready to leave, and putting on that leather jacket was not something I wanted to do...humid air pressed densely around me. And black leather, on a hot summer day...whose stupid idea was that? But I got on the road, and well, the air isn't so hot at 50 mph.

The gas light had just come on to let me know I needed to refuel when the skies opened up and I found myself in a downpour. Thankfully, I spied a gas station just ahead and pulled quickly under the shelter. I filled up, groused about the delay to the Rocket Scientist, and sat there for a while until I thought it might be less risky to get back on the road. I made it 1.4 miles before I ran back up on the storm. I found another shelter, this time at an abandoned gas station, and sat there for another quarter-hour, staring at the radar picture on my phone and calculating that I had another 20 miles or so to go in the path of the storm before my trackline took me out of its way.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. Not much traffic, a little windy at the top of the Bay Bridge, and I was home by 1600. I needed the break, and I'm so glad I took it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Must finish this post...it has been languishing for weeks! But if I ever needed proof of my own nerdiness, this post will be it.

I am a word-nerd; kinda like a food-nerd, but with words. I like finding *exactly* the right word that conveys just what I mean, down to the correctly shaded subtleties. Not any word will always do. Sometimes the word I want comes bounding into my head, rolling blithely off my tongue, while other times I know it's out there, but I can't for the life of me bring it forth.

There is a certain amount of ridicule associated with being a word-nerd, gentle fun poked at having a large vocabulary. Many people think I use big words just to show off how smart I am (hahaha...if they *only* knew -- definitely one of those "fake it until you make it" instances, when it comes to me being overly smart). But really, it's not that at all. It's the communication of the thing that is important to me...the getting it *just* right.

I have some favorite words...heuristic, even though I have to re-look it up in the dictionary every so often to remind myself of what it actually does mean -- I'm still not sure I've got a good handle on it; prevaricate, because it's not quite lying, more stretching the truth like a fish story...followed closely by obfuscate; perspicacity, I used this once in an OER (Officer Evaluation Report) for one of my JOs and was talking to the Afloat Assignment Officer about it -- he suggested I might use another word for clarity's sake...oh, the *irony!*; mercurial, peckish, pulchritude, fissure, and squidgey.

I think my word-nerdiness started pretty early on. One of my favorite authors as a kid, and still really today, was James Herriott, who told stories about his life as a World War II era Yorkshire vet sharing a countryside practice, working with small farmers, townspeople and the occasional horsey member of the aristocracy. What eleven-year-old really should know what "sonorous" is? Most of the time reading his books, I could figure out the meaning of the word by the context of the story...but I think I actually had to look that one up. L. M. Montgomery also contributed to my vocabulary; Anne of Green Gables was awesome with big words!

And then there was "The Jabberwocky," by Lewis Carroll. I love that poem. I chose to memorize it junior year of high school instead of the Bible verses (yes, I did go to public school) being taught as literature. "Twas brillig and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. / All mimsy were the borogoves / And the mome wraths outgrabe." How fantastic is that?! It totally paints a picture using words that aren't real words.

So all this background only serves the purpose of setting the stage for describing a little bit of fun at the office. I think it tells *a lot* about the caliber of people I work with that I can honestly say that a "Word of the Day" game is cause for hilarity and morale. There's really two main players of this WOD game, me and EC, one of the other reviewers. We leave sticky notes on each other's laptops in the morning with our choice for the day written down. The challenge is to use the word (correctly, of course) in a conversation or other communique sometime during the day. We've had some great words: polemic, banausic, obdurate (though that one has been grossly overused recently), phthsis.

I'm pretty sure EC is winning. He's worked extirpate into a Digest to the Vice Commandant, routinely includes WODs in emails, and even got a Jabberwocky word (yes, I gave him a sticky note one morning that said, "WOD: A JABBERWOCKY WORD." I had intended he make up a word defined by its context, like my own personal favorite, squidgey, but his use was So. Much. Better.) into an email to our Captain. Who knew that a vorpal blade could be used against a programmatic initiative with the same effectiveness as against the Jabberwocky himself?! The absolute final, Final, *FINAL* bonus round will be if one of us gets a WOD into the FY14 Congressional Justification...EC said he's already got one planted, so as long as it doesn't get edited out between now and the mid-February release of the President's Budget, he's definitely gonna skunk me. There's always FY15 though!

Today drove home one of the most important lessons about words that I'll ever learn, but seem to have to keep banging up against before I really get it: big, fancy words strung sweetly together mean *absolutely nothing,* and can in fact be deleterious, if you don't pay attention to what your audience is actually hearing.