Monday, June 29, 2009

Father's Day 2009 - Dover AFB Open House

I am the spawn of two USAF Veterans. My father, Tex, has a penchant for airplanes. Specifically, the F-111, also known as 'The Aardvark', because of it's long, pointy nose (sexy, huh?). He worked very closely with them while we were stationed at the RAF Upper Heyford airbase in the UK during the early 1970's.

So, for Father's Day for the last few years, I've tried to find local airshows that we can attend together to get him his fix (and apparently, I got the gene too - I am enthralled from beginning to end). Willow Grove Naval Air Station put on one of the best shows in the region, but the base has been scheduled to close, and has since stopped hosting one. Luckily, we're blessed by living in a fairly central location, and there are several excellent exhibitions each year (nice alliteration, if I must say so). This year, Tex wanted to check out the Open House at Dover AFB in Dover, Delaware. On Father's Day, we trekked on down for the show.

We got there early to get good seats and to check out the static displays. Dover AFB is, in addition to being an active USAF base, also the home to the Air Mobility Command Museum. They had a lot of different aircraft on display, some restored and some just as they were when they were retired. A few that we had the pleasure of meeting:

And there he is. Tex. Dad. I know he doesn't look it, but he's absolutely loving all this.

To coax a smile out of him, I sprung for one of his favorites; an A&W root beer float.

It got close to start time, so we took our seats. We managed to stake our claim next to the media platform, which was right at show center, and we were at the fence line.

The show was opened by the AFA Wings of Blue Parachute Team:

The wind was kicking up and it was obviously a lot of work for them to maneuver and land near the target. These guys are terrific, they made me want to go jump out of a helicopter immediately.

There was a jet car - the Air Force Reserve Jet Car. It's a drag race - looking vehicle that has a Westinghouse J34-48 jet engine mounted on the back, with afterburners and everything. I believe they clocked it at 314 mph on its' pass. On the jet car website , it states that the jet car can reach a speed of 400 mph in 8 seconds. If they let it go any longer or faster, it would want to fly, and they like keeping it on the ground.

This next guy is Matt Chapman, from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I've seen him before and I have to say, this guy is AMAZING. Matt will fly his little plane straight up, until he runs out of airspeed; then he falls backward and flips the plane back over and zooms back to earth. He's also able to flip it end over end a few times up there; the whole time, you're holding your breath - hoping that he makes it through.

Apparently, the night before, Matt challenged the jet car guy to a race. I know in this picture it looks like Matt is winning, but as soon as I snapped it, the jet car shot forward and absolutely SMOKED Matt and his plane. The DE State Trooper they had present clocked the jet car at 341 mph. There were a lot of WWII era fighters and bombers flying as well. It was a real treat to watch them and envision what it must have been like, not only for the pilots, but the enemy who went up against them. En masse, these suckers are loud and intimidating.

I belive this next one is an F-16 (Tex has the program, I'll check and if it's not, I'll correct). The pilot showed off all of it's features, he zoomed us a few times, dropped his tailhook to make like he was going to land on a carrier and generally showed it off to its' utmost ability.

There was a legacy flight also, where the F-16 flew along with it's older counterpart. It was really cool to see how far we've come.

They demonstrated some of the large transport aircraft as well. These planes are HUGE. One of them even has 5 sets of landing gear. 5! Suprisingly, they are really maneuverable. It was impressive to watch them perform short take-offs and landings, as well as to see how agile they were once in the air. They need to be, as they routinely fly into and out of hostile zones.

Back to the aerobatics! Which, we all know, is really where it's at.

This is Herb and Ditto (Herb is the pilot, Ditto is the plane). See the smoke coming off of Ditto's wings? Herb designed these special smoke thingies (I have no idea what they are called) that cause the smoke to clip itself into rings, which he then flies through.

Here he is hitting a bullseye. It was actually so windy out that the rings were having trouble forming, but man, he did his best.

Matt Younkin was up next. His plane was painted black and red - it looked just like the Red Baron.

The Aeroshell Aerobatic team, which I had never seen before, were fantastic. It's breathtaking to watch these pilots fly in such close proximity to one another, and to make it look easy and graceful. And they're talking to the crowd the whole time. Most of the pilots had a direct link to the announcer, who would chat with them while they flew. We could hear it all. They were having a great time up there. I don't know how they could do that while flying upside down and zooming straight down to the ground. These are some talented guys (and girls).

After they landed, the four planes lined up on the runway, facing the crowd. They all hit the gas while holding the brakes and burned rubber for a minute or so. Then the pilots got out and stood on their wings, but the smoke was so thick that we could barely make them out.

I (and the folks at the Open House) saved the best for last.

The USAF Thunderbirds were the finale. I've seen them several times before, and they never fail to impress. All day had been overcast and gloomy, but right before they took off, the skies cleared up and it was all blue and sunny and perfect. Clearly, Mother Nature is a fan of theirs.

They ended the show beautifully.

Since it had rained for the 40 days and 40 nights (it felt like it) leading up to the Open House, parking in the field across from the base was impossible. Instead, they arranged to shuttle folks back and forth from the parking lot at the local mall. Which is fine before the show starts. Once it's over, everyone wants out. The line was ridiculous.

But since Tex and I had our chairs, we just parked ourselves on the side grass and waited till the end of the line came, then we moved ourselves down with the end until we could get on a bus. 2 hours later.

There we are. This was about 1.5 hours in. I'm still smiling (Tex is too - believe it or not), so that's a good thing. But wait, what was that in the picture up there? Was it a -

Hey! There's a hosta in that flower bed! How about that? I can't escape them, no matter where I go. :)

I hope all the Dads out there had a Happy Father's Day. We're heading down to the Thunder Over the Boardwalk show in Altantic City in August, so you'll get to see more planes. Before that, though, we'll get back to the serious business of hostas, and maybe a little drive-in movie fun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cocktail Hour - Root

A month or so ago, GeekBoy found an article about the origins of root or birch beer. It seems that, before there was what we today know as root beer, the tasty beverage was a spirit rather than a soda/soft drink. He read that there was a distillery out there making the spirit, true to its' original recipe. Filing this bit of info away for future reference, he moved on to other endeavors. A week or so ago, on a trip to the local Wine & Spirits store, he remembered the article, and asked if they had it. GeekBoy was in luck, they did. Of course he picked up a bottle for us to try.

It's called 'Root'. The fine print on the front of the bottle reads: 'This rustic spirit was inspired by a potent 18th century Pennsylvania folk recipe. It is an alcoholic version of what eventually evolved into Birch or Root Beer.'
The back of the bottle has illustrations of the 13 organic ingredients. They are: anise, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, spearmint, lemon, smoked black tea, wintergreen, clove, orange, nutmeg, sugar cane and birch bark.
It also came with a booklet that included some historical information and recipes for cocktails. To summarize; the concoction was introduced to the colonial settlers by the Native Americans in the 1700's. Through the years after that, it became stronger and more complex, as the recipe was passed down. Apparently, the ingredients were readily available in PA, so it became quite popular here. In the late 1800's, the temperance movement inspired a pharmacist in Philadelphia to remove the alcohol from the 'Root Tea' (as it was called) and he (tongue firmly in cheek) renamed it 'Root Beer'. This new beverage was unveiled at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where it was a smash hit. You know how the rest of it goes.

So, Geekboy perused the included cocktail recipes and settled on the 'Rootini'. Probably because we had the necessary ingredients close by (and he knows I have a penchant for frou-frou martinis). Very simply, the recipe is:

2 oz. Root
1 oz. vanilla liqueur (we used Liquor 43, as I was out of Navan)
granulated sugar (to rim the glass)

Combine the Root and the liqueur in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake it up, and strain into the sugar rimmed glass.

We skipped sugaring the rim - I always make a mess with that and I thought it might be a little too sweet for me.
It was really very good. Rich, sweet, but not syrupy. Kind of like the essence of root beer with a kick. It reminded me of A&W Root Beer Barrel candy, yum. I would order it as an after-dinner drink in lieu of dessert, or if I was out just for cocktails. It's not something that I would drink with dinner - I tend to shy away from sweet things with my dinner food.

We tried a bit straight up as well. It was potent, but actually very tasty. I could see maybe serving it on the rocks, to cut the intensity a little. Overall, we really enjoyed it. It's an interesting addition to our bar. One of GeekBoy's buddies had a taste of it on Sunday and gave Root a thumbs up as well. We'll definitely be trying the other recipes in the booklet soon.

If you can find it, I highly recommend giving Root a try.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A quick trip back in time....

We're heading back to the Spring of this year now. (I never know whether to capitalize it or not - so I'll switch it up at my discretion) This past Fall, we decided to leave the last of the leaves on the ground out front, after I saw a film at the Academy of Natural Sciences about oak trees. In the film (which was wonderful) the narrator explained that oak leaves contain all sorts of nutrients vital to the trees' health. Once they fall to the ground they start to decompose and the earth absorbs all the composting goodies, which help to feed the tree over the winter. 'Great', I thought, 'I'm KILLING the trees when I get rid of the dead leaves!' I absolutely adore our trees and when any of them die and need removed, I feel like I've failed them somehow. Except for the one that got hit by lightning. That wasn't my fault. However, now when there's a thunderstorm, I hope and pray that none of them get hit. It's very stressful for me - I am well aware that I have issues.

An aside: did you know that the wood from oak trees struck by lightning is used to make magic wands? I had no idea. GeekBoy told me. The landlord at his last apartment (he lived over the garage) was a Wiccan wizard (should I capitalize 'wizard'?), whose property was named 'Rivendell'. When we had that particular tree taken down, we offered him some of the wood. Apparently, he already had a stash and didn't need any more. I think I would like a magic wand though. I wonder if you have to be a wizard to make them work, or if I could use it to get the cats to scoop their own boxes. Anyway, back to the spring.

So we left the last of the leaves to rot on the ground and keep the trees happy. We don't just have oak trees; we have red, white and chestnut oaks, tulip poplars, ash, elm, hickory and some mitten-leaved trees. And a walnut too, I think. Hopefully they all like their own leaves. This seemed to work pretty well, and wasn't too much of a pain when it was time to start clearing them out so the plants could get some light.

All of these photos you're about to see were taken in April of this year.

Here's the front, see the nice rock border? It's not so ugly, now that the advancing mesa of leaves is gone.

I call this spot 'the peninsula' because it, well, sticks out like a peninsula. All that green stuff behind the trees is that lily-of-the-valley I was talking about before. I added the tulips and hyacinths last year, to try and get some color going before the trees leafed out.

And here it is from the top:

The birdbath garden (yes, we have a gargoyle):

This is the side yard, where we uncovered the flower bed with the rock border during the 'Great Clean-Up of 2007':

(Please ignore the weed lawn, we're working on it. At least it's mostly green)

And finally, my hosta beds. This is where I'm putting most of my new acquisitions. It's sort of a testing area. Once they mature and begin to spread, I'll harvest some and plant the offspring elsewhere on the property. GeekBoy is due to dig me a third one over in this area this summer.

On the left:

And the right:

So there you have it, where we started this Spring. It's come a long way in the last 2 months. I'll be posting more recent photos soon; but first there will be a review of a new spirit (of the alcoholic variety - not the supernatural type) that GeekBoy found, and a post recapping Father's Day spent with Tex. It's not always all about hostas, but it's all good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The first step is admitting that you have a problem

I know I said that this next post would go back to spring of this year, but today a package from my favorite hosta nursery arrived. Bridgewood Gardens, in Strasburg VA, sells some of the nicest plants I've ever received through mail order.

This box is the bane of GeekBoy's existence, and one of my most favorite sights to see on our front stoop:

Let's open the box, shall we?

Look at them all tucked away in there! Bridgewood does such a great job of packing their plants that the box could be thrown around and stored upside down on the truck and the plants would still look like this when you opened it. They use a straw-like material to secure the soil in the pots, held down with a couple of rubber bands. Then they stick a thin piece of bamboo (as tall as the box) in the corner of each pot; this keeps the pots upright and stable in the box. In addition to these measures, they also hot glue in a couple of empty pots (if your order doesn't quite fill the box) to make sure that no sliding around occurs during shipment.

I ordered some of their single-eye hostas. This is a good way to get some of the more expensive plants at much lower prices. The growing point of a hosta is called an 'eye'. Sometimes people call them stalks, sprouts or shoots; they're all the same thing. When hostas multiply, they grow more eyes - these are what you separate when you divide bigger plants to get lots of smaller ones. Anyway, Bridgewood sells single-eye hostas in addition to their normal plants, which are usually 2 or 3 eyes. The single-eye plants are just a little smaller, because they are younger. They'll eventually catch up to the multiple eye plants. This is also why (if you aren't trying for instant impact) you may as well buy the cheaper, smaller greenies at your garden center. They'll grow to the size of the larger, more expensive plants in a month or so. Why pay Home Depot to do the growing for you?

Back to my new babies.....

This here is 'Sweet Tater Pie' - I love some of the names that the folks breeding these come up with. In my head, I say it with a thick, sugary southern accent. Like one of the ladies on 'Designing Women'. (remember that show? or is it just me?)

This is 'Christmas Tree'. When it blooms, the shape of the flower stalks, combined with the color and shape of the leaves are supposed to give it a 'christmas tree' effect. We'll see. I'm not the most abstract of people. It'll probably look like a normal hosta to me.

This handsome fella is 'Rebel Rouser'. He's a Bridgewood introduction, which means that they developed the plant. They bred together a couple of hostas that had characteristics they liked and came up with one that possessed the best of both.

Here we have 'Crowned Imperial'. He's, hopefully, going to get real big.

I'm really excited to see this one when it establishes itself. He's 'Kiwi Black Magic'. His scapes (the flower stems) will be black, with purple flowers and black seed pods. I love that sort of contrast.

'Blue Diamond' - I have a thing for the blue hostas. The leaf color of a mature blue hosta is so different than anything else out there in the plant world. Since we're in nearly full shade, any color is better than none at all. I'll take it any way I can get it. And the blue ones like the shade a lot - it keeps the coating that makes them blue from melting off.

And finally, may I introduce 'Jimmy Crack Corn'. I pretty much bought him just for the name. There is seldom any rhyme or reason to my selections, and here is a perfect example of that. According to Chick over at Bridgewood, this one will get big, and his leaves will be a gold color. Sounds good to me. Now I have the annoying song in my head.

Here they are all together:

They don't all 'look the same' right? Please say they don't.

I haven't decided where they're all going to go yet. According to GeekBoy, I was supposed to wait until he dug the next hosta bed before ordering more plants. Huh. Oh well. It's like anything else; if you love it, you'll find a home for it. I don't tell him when it's time to buy new computer stuff.

Next time, I'll go back to the spring. I have all the pictures ready to go. It'll be interesting to see how my gardens grow. (at least I think it will be)