Monday, December 31, 2007

What Are You Doing New Years Eve?

The Brave Astronaut celebrated its New Years Eve with the OSG family last Friday night. Tonight, I have left Mrs. BA with the newest member of the space crew at the hospital and come home. If possible, I might be watching the inside of my eyelids come midnight, lest the insomnia rears its ugly head. We shall see.

Traditionally, my parents would have a holiday party during the Christmas week. My mother's Swedish meatballs would make an appearance along with pigs in a blanket (which will certainly appear soon at a football party to be held nearby soon).

So what did we have for our New Years Eve party (three nights early)? In past years, as it was for this one, it has meant fondue. And no it's not 1970. We served it with apples, pears, crusty bread, ham, and broccoli. For dessert, we had chocolate fondue, which was just as yummy. I will say here, this recipe calls for half Emmentaler and half Gruyere, the market had no Emmentaler, so we used all Gruyere . . . and it was good.
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or potato flour
  • 1/4 cup kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups dry, white wine
  • 12 ounces shredded Emmentaler cheese
  • 12 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine the cornstarch and kirsch. Set aside.

Slice the garlic in half lengthwise and rub the cut side over the inside of a medium, heavy saucepan. Discard the garlic. Pour the wine into the saucepan and bring it to a boil over a medium-high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese to the wine by handfuls and stir slowly until the cheese is just melted. (Stirring in a figure-8 or zigzag motion prevents the cheese from clumping.)

Stir in the cornstarch mixture, pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer for two or three minutes until it begins to thicken, but do not let it boil. Transfer to a warmed ceramic fondue pot and serve immediately. Keep warm over a very low flame.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A New Member of the Space Crew

The Brave Astronaut proudly announces the arrival of the newest member of his space station Welcome to the world, my young son. Mrs. BA and baby, along with Little BA (a newly crowned big brother) all doing well.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Loot List

I should be in bed as we leave for the hospital tomorrow morning at 5:00am. There needs to be a few hours "prep time" and then the actual birthing part, which won't take more than about 15 minutes. Don't be surprised if those phone calls come around 10:00am (maybe from the Krispy Kreme across the street from the hospital).

There is some question that I might never have time for this again. Luckily, I have spent some time drafting posts for the future, so I am OK for a few weeks. But lets start with the important stuff. So was Santa good to you? Let's hear about it. Here is the list of things that Santa (and a very good Mrs. Brave Astronaut) put under my tree this year. And yes, this may be substituting for thank you notes in some cases!
  • For my birthday from the OSG Family - A new diaper bag, I had been coveting OSG's.
  • A neck pillow for falling asleep in the car, just not while I'm driving. (Mrs. BA)
  • A calendar of Lighthouses in France, already brought to my office and hung up (from Mrs. BA's sister)
  • Billy Joel's 12 Gardens Live (somebody's been reading the wish list!)
  • A new sweater and dress shirt for work (from my MIL)
  • The DVD that has the line, "I'll have a steak sandwich . . . and a steak sandwich" and this one, "It's all ball bearings these days."
  • This DVD. It's a long story. [from the OSGs]
  • While this DVD had my son's name on it, I think it was really for me.
  • The Book List (I did very well in this category)
    • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson
    • The House: The History of the House of Representatives - Robert Remini
    • Home Maintenance for Dummies (these three all from Mrs. BA)
    • American Creation - Joseph Ellis (tucked in the pocket of the above bag from the OSGs)
    • The Code [all about fighting in the NHL], from one of Mrs. BA's co-workers and good friend
    • Ghost Wars - Steve Coll (winner of the Pulitzer Prize, inscribed and autographed by the author)
    • The book from which the movie, "A Christmas Story"
    • The Totally Useless History of the World by Ian Crofton - ooh! Blog fodder [both from the OSGs]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tidying Up at Year's End

I have a few "starred" items in my Google Reader that I have been meaning to share. So here you are.
  • There has been a discussion recently about what my son's first "real" memory will be. Both my wife and I assume it will take place around this time. Here is an article from National Geographic on memory that is pretty interesting.
  • In that same vein, research has been done that showed that when people are shown doctored pictures of an event, they can be "persuaded" to remember the event differently. It just goes to show the strength of the image.
  • I got a fair number of books for Christmas this year (coming soon, the list of loot!). I am not sure if anyone who bought me a book employed the Marshall McLuhan method, which is to turn to page 69 and read. If you like what you read, buy the book. A blog has been created devoted strictly to that method.
  • I don't have any money to travel. But a man can dream. The New York Times put out its list of the "53 Places to Go in 2008." Let me know if you get there. Better yet, if you go, call me, I'll carry your bags.
  • Countless hours lost here. Don't click unless you are ready to give up a few hours. But it is definitely helping my geography if not my darts game.
  • A very public shout-out to C in DC (yes, I know it's not the written note, is that OK?) in thanks for the Scrabble Page-A-Day calendar for 2008. Were I not going to be a little busy in the month of January, I might consider this event in New York City.
  • Oh, and in the "I LOVE Irony" department, this news item from CNN.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Post Christmas Quiz

While everyone comes out of their post-Christmas sugar comas, here's a little quiz to get the brain juices flowing. Now, no Googling. This quiz is clearly made to remind you how feeble our brains are at retaining simple trivia. The quiz comes from Games Magazine and asked you to name at least three of the five correct answers. All of the answers next week.
  1. Name the last five movies to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  2. Name the last five major party candidates who ran for President and LOST.
  3. Name the last five countries to become members of the United Nations (Hint: all became members between 2000 and 2006.)
  4. Name the last five teams to win the World Series (or lose?)
  5. Name the last five teams to win the Super Bowl (or lose?)
And here is the bonus question of all bonus questions. This question came up during the Poinsettia Bowl (Navy vs. Utah - and that's important). There are only four schools that have produced a president and a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Name them. And I'm looking at you there, ArTrash. We stumped ADR with this one. Let me know if you need a hint.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 12

And so we have arrived at Christmas Day. My son slept in until 8:00 (how many more years will we get that?!) and then we did stockings in bed, before going down to open presents in front of the tree. Each present was better than the next, with a pause to say "Open that" before being convinced to open the next present. And we haven't even opened his birthday presents yet. He turns three today.

My father called from my sister's house, where he is spending Christmas. He reported that he was up at 7:30. My sister's kids range in age from 16 to 21, so that was early for them, too. My brother will arrive there in a few hours. I wish I was there. My other sister is also at home and I will call there later. My mother would be happy that at least some of our family is together on this day. She loved Christmas very much and I miss her today.

I feel like I should have gone to church today, but the act that I should have gotten together is still sitting on the floor looking like unwrapped Christmas paper. My religious beliefs are such that I can talk to God without going to his "house," so I will have my own little moment at some point today.

Here's my Christmas message to all of you. Love your families, love your friends, love the season. Be good to one another and have a very special holiday however you choose to spend it. Here are two ways one can spend it, courtesy of today's Washington Post.

1. Light a Yule Log (but maybe not one this big)
2. Remember Christmases past. This is one of my favorite stories about Christmas. And with the country still in a war, it is a good time to remind people of the story.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 11

It's Christmas Eve and the traditional Brave Astronaut family dinner growing up was homemade hamburgers and my father's homemade potato chips. (Do you really need a recipe?) The burgers were shaped from ground beef into thick patties and fried in a skillet. The potato chips, which we could only get my father to make this one night a year, were sliced thin (by hand) and put into the deep fryer. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, we owned a deep fryer. But God, was it good. Mrs. BA has banned us from getting one. We would toss everything in, because, "hey, wouldn't that taste good deep fried?"

After dinner was over (you'll note, I did not mention a vegetable, I can't seem to recall one), I, as the youngest of the family would be allowed to open one gift. Then my father would read the Christmas story in the Bible, or maybe "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before being sent off to bed. I would leave out some cookies and milk for Santa and head upstairs. Because in our house, the tree, which was sitting on the back patio in a bucket of water, would not come in the house until Christmas Eve. Then it would be decorated by Santa when he came to drop off the presents. Except for the presents that were on the big green table in the basement, which may or may not have been unwrapped and re-wrapped by a small boy.

I was much older when I finally crept down the stairs one night to see my siblings and my parents decorating the tree. I was disappointed, but I still believe in Santa Claus. He's out there right now doing his job. So I better get to bed. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 10

Yesterday was Christmas with Mrs. BA's family at our house. Unlike dinner on Friday night for my birthday, when I overate, as did all my other dining companions, the family dinner was quite restrained. This "guide" was unabashedly stolen from Stinkypaw.

Holiday Eating Tips:
  1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.
  2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an 'eggnog-aholic' or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it!!!! Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!
  3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.
  4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.
  5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?
  6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.
  7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.
  8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?
  9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.
  10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips: start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

National Treasure 2 and a Family Christmas

For the Saturday before Christmas there was a lot to do here in our nation's capital. Of course, first and foremost was the screening of National Treasure 2. The final number for the outing was 84! A good time was had by all. For those readers of this blog and an attendee today, thanks for coming out.

After the movie, which ran long (I know this for when we returned to the car, there was a $25 parking ticket on it for exceeding the two-hour limit - Merry Christmas!), we got back in the car and headed home for the Mrs. BA family Christmas.

The title of this blog is Order from Chaos . . . it is what I strive for when four children descend upon a pile of gifts under a Christmas tree. Sort of gives me the shakes. I understand the excitement, it just makes me nervous. Yeah, I know, I'm weird.

For those looking for the review of Friday night's birthday dinner out, here it is. We went to Montmarte, a little French bistro on Capitol Hill. I was looking for escargot, seafood, and a nice creme brulee. I am happy to report that all was achieved. Mrs. BA and Mr. OSG started off with the pate (ick!) while Mrs. OSG and I had the escargot. I think I could have had three orders of them, but I would have definitely reeked of garlic for well into the Christmas week. My dining companions all went with the hanger steak for dinner, while I went with the Pot au Feu, a very nice choice. For dessert, Mrs. BA had the cheese plate, Mr. OSG had the pear tart, Mrs. OSG had the creme brulee, which I helped to finish. My dessert was a Montmarte exclusive, what they called the "Floating Island." It was a ball of whipped meringue (with toasted almonds and sugar on top), sitting in a bowl of creme anglaise. Sweet Jesus, it was good.

Tomorrow's day is not yet set, but there may be some Christmas Eve shopping (God help me) as I need to have my car serviced over in the old neighborhood (oh joy, Rockville Pike on the day before Christmas - what was I thinking?!) I'll be back with some more before Christmas, but wherever you are, I hope that Santa has put something in his sleigh for you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paterno Makes How Much?

Today is Joe Paterno's 81st birthday. Last year, I wrote about Joe Pa's injury sustained on the sidelines during a game, which kept him off the field for a game, something he rarely does. At the end of November, it was revealed how much Joe Paterno is paid for coaching the Nittany Lions of Penn State University.

On November 29, the amount was released by the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System after The Patriot-News of Harrisburg won a five-year court case that was decided last week in Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court. The salary does not include other football-related income. According to an Associated Press report and an article in the New York Times, please note that in comparison, Alabama’s Nick Saban makes $4 million a year and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops makes more than $3 million. But those figures include base salaries from their universities and outside income related to football from other sources.

Further, it is fairly well known that Paterno contributes heavily to Penn State. The Library at Penn State? It's the Paterno Library.

Did I mention that Paterno turns 81 today? The article quotes Paterno as saying to reporters at a luncheon that Paterno "expected to coach for 3, 4 or 5 more years but probably not as many as 10."

Good for you, Joe. Good for you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I've Reached Two Score

In about two hours time, the daily calendar will read December 20. It will also mark my fortieth birthday, the big 4-0. As someone once told their mother, "Hey, it's halfway to 80!" When my mother-in-law turned 40, the friends next door draped her house in black crepe paper.

All in all, I feel OK about turning 40. I love my life, I love my wife, I love my sons (both the one on the inside and the one on the outside). Yes, things could be different. I could be 25 pounds lighter, more financially stable and not suffering from occasional insomnia. We all want things.

So far the festivities have been quite nice. A public shout out to Ed in Pittsburgh (he knows who he is) for the Golf Magazine renewal. Of the cards received so far, the best goes to Special K and her AH, who found the mandatory archival content card. Yesterday friends from work took me to a nice restaurant to have lunch. I have been asked to lunch tomorrow by OSG and we will go and redeem my free coupon for a steak sandwich at South Street Steaks. It's possible that C in DC and I may go out for lunch on Friday as there is likely to be no one left at work.

Friday night, Mrs. BA and Mr. and Mrs. OSG will head out for a nice dinner downtown. Then Saturday morning is the big movie outing. There's still time to join us!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 9

A Christmas potpourri from the news columns over the past week. (Apologies if some of the links no longer work.)
  • Christmas card arrives 93 years late (from CNN) - A postcard featuring a color drawing of Santa Claus and a young girl (and dated December 23, 1914) was mailed in 1914 and just arrived in northwest Kansas. The card was mailed to Ethel Martin of Oberlin, Kansas, apparently from her cousins in Alma, Nebraska. No one knows where it spent the 20th Century and the Oberlin Postmaster was surprise it never got thrown away. He said, "How someone found it, I don't know." Poor Ethel has gone on to her great reward, but the post office wanted to get the card to a relative. So it wound up in the mailbox of Bernice Martin, Ethel's sister-in-law. She believed the card had been found somewhere in Illinois. "That's all we know," she said. "But it is kind of curious. We'd like to know how it got down there." Wherever it was mailed from, it was put in a new envelope with the proper postage.

  • Holiday mystery amuses police (from CNN) - In southern New Jersey, along the Garden State Parkway, someone is hanging Christmas ornaments on trees along the parkway. It started before Thanksgiving with two glass ornaments - a shiny red ball about the size of a cantaloupe and a smaller red oblong with gold glitter swirls - tied to branches of two large pines along the Garden State Parkway. Motorists easily spotted the bright Christmas balls. Then more decorations popped up. One week it was a glitter-enhanced green ball the same size as the original red one. Next came a smaller gourd-shaped ornament with red and gold glitter. This was followed by a smaller red ball with white glitter snowflakes appeared. Then a large silver bell appeared on a tree on the other side of the road, which was joined by a burgundy apple-shaped ornament about the size of a medium pumpkin. There are no notes or any other indications of who is responsible for the roadside ornaments. State police in New Jersey are stumped, "It's a mystery to us," said state police Capt. Al Della Fave. A spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the parkway, wondered if the phantom decorator might be some frustrated husband whose wife won't let him cover the house with any more lights or ornaments. "This is probably some guy whose wife finally said 'Enough!" There were no reports of hockey ornaments, so it wasn't me.

  • Hotel chain offers a room at the inn for Marys and Josephs (from CNN) - A British hotel chain is promising free accommodation to couples who share their first names with the couple from the Christian Nativity story. Almost 30 Josephs and Marys had already signed up for the free night's stay at the Travelodge, said a spokeswoman for the hotel chain. The gift is designed to atone for the "hotel industry not having any rooms left on Christmas Eve over 2000 years ago when the original 'Mary and Joseph' had to settle for the night in a stable," the company says on its Web site. The offer is good at any one of the chain's 322 hotels in the United Kingdom, the Web site says. The couples must bring proof of identity and must prove that they are in a long-term relationship. The spokesperson continued, "If you satisfy the criteria, you get a free night in a family room for two adults and two children, there's also parking space for a donkey if needed."

Monday, December 17, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 8

Special K, who reads this blog voraciously, sent me this link last week in response to the butter cookie recipe I posted. This site allows you to post your family's best recipes for all to enjoy. As Special K points out "food and archival content all at the same time.!"

I must admit to copping out this week for a recipe. I have not yet gone through the Washington Post's special cookie food section to decide what other cookies I might make in my spare time (because I have so much).

Browse the selection. See what piques your fancy. Let me know how they turn out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


My son sleeps tonight in a big boy bed. We bought a mattress and box spring (and a frame and headboard, but those will come later) and made it all up for him. He was initially unsure of his new surroundings, but once it was made up and populated with the appropriate number of his "friends," he snuggled down for some stories.

And now he sleeps. The question will be will he remain in it the entire night?

My friend ADR has posted a YouTube video on his blog that reminds us that there are many others out there who are less fortunate than we are. It is very moving. NJM, an occasional commenter on this blog, sent me this website, which I recommend. As you improve your vocabulary, you donate rice to those in need.

A final note. As I write this, I am listening to a selection of Dan Fogelberg music on iTunes. Yes, his music has a cheesy bent, but I like it and I'll miss him. Fogelberg passed away today at 56 from prostate cancer.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 7

10 days until Christmas and the house is not yet completely decorated, the shopping is not yet done, and the cookies I wanted to make are not yet made. But it will happen for as Hans Gruber remarks in "Die Hard," "It's Christmas Theo, it's the time of miracles." But I have been successful in getting some Christmas cheer to the Bearded One, courtesy of the Stitch Bitch. It seems my Christmas spirit has been hiding in a bag of peanut butter M&Ms.

I also received my professional organization's newsletter the other day. While I wrote recently that this American President was an honorary member of SAA, it would seem that St. Nick is also a member in good standing of the Society. On the back cover of the November/December issue, was the following:
"Santa Claus is a world-class record keeper and an honorary member of SAA. He has an enormous archives staff who can identify correspondence in every language, which they typically file under the categories of Naughty and Nice."
I know for a fact the Santa Claus archives exist. On the day I met Mrs. Brave Astronaut, she was giving a workshop on Arrangement and Description. She admonished us to get more involved in the workshop or she threatened to spend the entire afternoon on how to organize Santa's extensive archives.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 6

Again, from C in DC, here's a bit of "Twisted Christmas."

  1. Schizophrenia - Do You Hear What I Hear?

  2. Multiple Personality Disorder - We Three Kings Disoriented Are

  3. Dementia - I Think I'll be Home for Christmas

  4. Narcissistic - Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

  5. Manic - Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and . . .

  6. Paranoid - Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me

  7. Borderline Personality Disorder - Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

  8. Personality Disorder - You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

  9. Attention Deficit Disorder - Silent night, Holy oooh look at the froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?

  10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle,Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rangers vs. Capitals and a Brave Astronaut Christmas Tree

I thought you might like to see what has become the Brave Astronaut Christmas Tree (living room edition). You have heard the saga, here is the result.

So tonight, ADR and the Brave Astronaut headed to the Verizon Center tonight to watch the New York Rangers take on the Washington Capitals. We started our evening here, where ADR jumped out to an early lead on the beer race. After some good pizza (and a salad, too), we headed over to the arena for the game.

It started out good, with the Rangers jumping out to a quick two goal lead in the first period. But the Capitals came back, tying the game at two. It was a good game with a lot of back and forth action. The Capitals played better than the Rangers and wound up winning in overtime 5-4. You can read a complete recap of the game here. I know that some people who come here, don't understand hockey (yes, Kim, I mean you) but please know that it was a great game and I am very grateful to Mrs. Brave Astronaut for getting me the tickets.

It was 80s night at the game, so there was really good music and lots of nostalgia to fuel the crowd. There was a Rangers fan three seats away from me, who was getting his fuel from the Budweiser tap but was having a great time. Some of you may recall I took some flak from Mrs. Brave Astronaut for feeding cotton candy to our two and a half year old at a baseball game this summer, but tonight our drunk Rangers fan bought cotton candy for the nearly two-year old behind him. Then as the game drew to a close, the language became a little more colorful. It brought back memories of Ranger games at Madison Square Garden with whiskey and Italian pastries in the "blue seats," AKA the "family section" of the Garden. And people wonder why New York sports fans get a bad rap.

ADR and I were one of the first 5000 fans into the building, we both got bright red mullet wigs. I was prepared to post a picture of me all decked out with the "business in the front, party in the rear" headgear, but I was asked nicely by Mrs. BA to refrain. So you will have to be satisfied with these. Trust me. It's better this way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 5

[partially taken from the Official Google Blog]

You might think that NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) might have their hands full tracking terrorists and all, but for the month of December a few of the monitors in Cheyenne Mountain are tuned to tracking Santa Claus.

It all started more than fifty years ago, when on Christmas Eve in 1955, a Sears Roebuck & Co. store in Colorado Springs advertised a special hotline number for kids to call Santa. However, the company had inadvertently misprinted the telephone number. Instead of Santa's workshop, the phone number put kids through to the NORAD. It wasn't just any number at NORAD: it was the commander-in-chief's operations hotline. Full of the Christmas spirit, the Director of Operations at that time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check radar data for any indication of a sleigh making its way south from the North Pole. They found that indeed there were signs of Santa, and merrily gave the children who called an update on his location. A tradition was born, and NORAD has continued to help children track Santa on Christmas Eve ever since.

This holiday season, NORAD has partnered with Google to use technology including Google Maps, Google Earth, iGoogle and YouTube to track Santa. Starting at 1:00 am PST on December 24th, you'll be able to track Santa's trip in real time. Throughout the month, you can visit the site and find activities to keep the kids amused and, presumably, good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 4

I am the keeper of the family treasures. It's my lot in life as an archivist. When we were clearing out my parent's house after my mother's death, we came across the Christmas cookie cutters. I had accumulated some of my own as an adult, but there was something about the "family cookie cutters" that made me feel good. I was successful in beating off my older siblings to get the bulk of them.

Recently, Mrs. Brave Astronaut was baking an apple pie, for which she placed some dough stars on the top of the pie crust. Little Brave Astronaut decided that was a fun job (cutting out the stars with the cookie cutter). I pretty much decided right there that I would make sure to have a day with him to make Christmas cookies. I have many memories growing up and sitting at the kitchen table cutting out cookies, putting them on the cookie sheet and then decorating them when they came out of the oven. I want my son to have those same memories.

So here's a recipe for the basic butter cookie and some icing. Get yourself some sprinkles and other holiday-type toppings and have at it.

Basic Butter Cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 6 with a handheld. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Form dough into 2 balls and flattening each into a 6-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. While oven preheats, roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining dough chilled) into a 9-inch round (slightly less than 1/4 inch thick) on a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin. (If dough becomes too soft to roll out, chill on a baking sheet until firm.) Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with cutters and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging cookies about 1 inch apart. If garnishing, sprinkle cookies with glitter or nonpareils.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 8 to 10 minutes total, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely.

Gather scraps and chill until firm enough to reroll, 10 to 15 minutes. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once) and bake on cooled sheets.

If coloring icing, transfer 1/4 cup icing to a small bowl for each color and tint with food coloring (if using plain white icing, spoon into 1 bag). Spoon each color icing into a bag, pressing out excess air, and snip an 1/8-inch opening in 1 corner of each bag. Twist each bag firmly just above icing, then decoratively pipe icing onto cookies. Let icing dry completely (about 1 hour, depending on humidity) before storing cookies. (Makes about 7 dozen cookies)

Decorating Icing
  • 1 (1-lb) box confectioners sugar
  • 4 teaspoons powdered egg whites (not reconstituted) such as Just Whites
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together all ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer (preferably fitted with whip attachment if using a standing mixer) at medium speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and continue to beat icing, scraping down side of bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until it holds stiff peaks, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 10 with a handheld.

If not piping icing immediately, cover surface with a dampened paper towel, then cover bowl with plastic wrap. If you plan to spread cookies with icing (rather than pipe it), stir in more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin to desired consistency. Icing can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Beat with mixer 1 to 2 minutes before using. (Makes about 3 cups)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 3

We have a tree. Well, actually two trees. The Brave Astronaut family and the OSG family trucked off to this tree farm to murder some nature and drag it indoors for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the Brave Astronaut lost his spirit in some good mud and a cold, wet December day. While the OSG family was successful (found a tree in record time), I could not find the "perfect tree," which is my quest every year. I may have also been acting a little childish . . .

We tromped around to no avail. I know there was some concern for OSG's fingers and I must report that while he left with the same number he arrived with, he did get a nibble from some geese, a donkey, an alpaca, and some tongue from a gentle calf. So we got back in our cars and headed for home. We made a stop for a late lunch at Beef Shakes, where we got some really good BBQ ribs, some amazing fries, and all around good food and atmosphere. Mrs. OSG and the Brave Astronaut had milk shakes, neither of which were beef-flavored.

Upon arriving home treeless, I headed out to find a tree cut by someone else. I found a local lot and found two good trees. They are up in their stands, hopefully drinking some water, to be decorated tomorrow evening. The remainder of the evening (what's left of it) will involve some laundry (did I mention the mud?), some other decorating and perhaps getting the curtain rods hung in the living room.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

December 7, 1941. Sixty-six years ago today, the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II.

While in high school, for an English class, we had an assignment that involved talking with someone who had been directly involved in an historical event. Somehow, I decided to write about the Japanese attack and found a man named Joe Hydrusko. Joe was at Pearl Harbor that morning and is credited with saving the lives of many men. He was near the USS Arizona when it went down. Hydrusko agreed to come and talk with my English class about his experiences. It was nice to see a roomful of high school students riveted.

In 1970, Joe Hydrusko came up with a plan to honor his fallen comrades. He began flying a vintage World War II plane past the Statue of Liberty, dropping roses to commemorate the event. Unfortunately, Joe died in the 1980s, while fueling his plane. Luckily, the tradition has survived him. This year, the event took place with several aircraft flying past the Statue of Liberty at 12:55pm, the exact time the attack took place in Hawaii. Sixty-six roses were dropped.

Take a minute. Say thanks for people like Joe. Remember.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

On Saturday December 22, I am organizing an outing of archivists in the DC area to go and see the new movie, National Treasure 2. I organized a private screening in 2004, when the first movie opened. About 100 people came out to cheer on the archival heroes!

If you are in the DC area and would like to come along, please let me know. Leave me a comment and I will get you all the information!

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 2

An early present was delivered to the employees of the Federal Government today.

Executive Order: Closing of Executive Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government on Monday, December 24, 2007

For a moment, and only a moment, it will keep me from commenting on this book for sale on Be sure to note the search tags associated with this book.

For those of us with dwindling leave balances and anticipated leave needs in the new year . . . this was very good news.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How do you feel? Let's talk about your mother . . .

A news item caught my eye the other day. Mental Health America, formerly the National Mental Health Association, compared depression levels and suicide rates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Evidently, the happiest people in the country live in South Dakota (really?) and the most depressed people are in Utah (well . . .).

The survey used four measures in the survey to develop the state rankings:
  1. the percentage of the adult population experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year
  2. the percentage of the adolescent population experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year
  3. the percentage of adults experiencing serious psychological distress
  4. the average number of days in the last 30 days in which the population reported that their mental health was not good.
If you are wondering, the top ten "least depressed" states are:
  1. South Dakota
  2. Hawaii
  3. New Jersey (Oh, c'mon now.)
  4. Iowa
  5. Maryland (I guess I feel better now)
  6. Minnesota
  7. Louisiana
  8. Illinois
  9. North Dakota
  10. Texas
The bottom ten "most depressed" states are:
42. Wyoming
43. Ohio
44. Missouri
45. Idaho
46. Oklahoma
47. Nevada
48. Rhode Island
49. Kentucky
50. West Virginia
51. Utah
In my job, I often work on surveys conducted under the aegis of a federal agency. I have seen statistical reports like this. There are a number of other ones to be found here. I am a bit of a geek this way, but I find them interesting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The 12 Posts of Christmas, vol. 1

There are sure to be several holiday posts about the upcoming Christmas holiday. There may even be more than twelve of them. But here's one. This "questionnaire" was forwarded to me via email from my friend, C in DC. Feel free to play along if you like. In fact, I know of at least two blogging friends who might like to grab this. So "Stinkypaw" and Amy in Ohio, tag you're it.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of getting to know your friends. Play along if you'd like.
  1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
    • Wrapping paper, mostly. There is less fun in opening a bag.

  2. Real tree or Artificial?
    • REAL! Always. Never artificial

  3. When do you put up the tree?
    • My family used to be a Christmas Eve family (Santa used to decorate it after I went to bed. Now it goes up when it comes home. So this year, that will be Sunday.

  4. When do you take the tree down?
    • Do I have to? My former mother-in-law always used to say she was going to hang Easter eggs on hers. But it usually comes down around Epiphany.

  5. Do you like egg nog?
    • Ick.

  6. Favorite gift received as a child?
    • See this post, re: the Atari 2600. Also, the year I received a bicycle that was at the end of a long ribbon that wound through the house. One year, I also got the hot gift, Simon.

  7. Do you have a nativity scene?
    • I have dibs on the family set that my father hand painted and my mother made at a pottery class.

  8. Hardest person to buy for?
    • I'm usually pretty good with people. But my brothers-in-law are a little enigmatic to me.

  9. Easiest person to buy for?
    • Mrs. Brave Astronaut. I usually have to restrain myself because I will always see many things for her. I already have four things for her.

  10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
    • Mail, although this year (as when my first son was born) the Christmas card may take the form of a birth announcement.

  11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
    • Underwear. A traditional gift from my mother growing up.

  12. Favorite Christmas movie?

  13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
    • I'm a "snack" shopper, but I try to resist heavy-duty shopping until after Thanksgiving. My mother used to travel to the outlets the first weekend in December to do the bulk of her shopping.

  14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
    • Not as far as you know. But yes, find me someone who hasn't.

  15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
    • I'm a sweets kind of guy. Christmas cookies, Mom's Chocolate Bit Delights (sort of a Blondie), her cheesecake or her trifle say Christmas to me.

  16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
    • Colored. White are too bright for sitting in front of in the dark. It's the wrong "glow." And Christmas lights do NOT blink, ever.

  17. Favorite Christmas song?
    • Carol? O Come all ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis), sung in Latin, it will always get me crying. Song? A song I found a few years ago and gets a fair amount of play on my iPod, "the Marvelous Toy." But Snoopy and the Red Baron is pretty good, too.

  18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
    • Christmas is a stay at home holiday.

  19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
    • Yep.

  20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
    • Star. One day I might tell you of the story of the star in my family that nearly broke the family apart when my father tossed it. The pain is still too fresh and it was 20 years ago.

  21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
    • One on Christmas Eve and the rest in the morning (stockings first, then presents)

  22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
    • Christmas decorations appearing before Halloween

  23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
    • Duh. Red and Green. I grew up in a predominately Jewish area. One year, my father decorated the house in blue and white lights. It was a little odd.

  24. Favorite thing for Christmas dinner?
    • Growing up, turkey used to make a repeat appearance. But a nice roast beast would be nice, too.

  25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
    • See the list on the right hand side of the page.

  26. Who is most likely to respond to this?
    • Hard to say. Who's up to the task?

  27. Who is least likely to respond to this?
    • Mrs. Brave Astronaut doesn't like these sort of things.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Food and Mandatory Archival Content

I love when the stars align and Monday's recipe post can go out with "mandatory archival content" as well. In yesterday's Washington Post, in the front section no less, was this article: "Germans Take Pride in the Wurst." The article's opening paragraph:
"It's the German version of the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: Which was regulated first, beer or bratwurst?"
The Germans worked from tradition, believing that the "world-renowned Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian beer purity law of 1516, which stipulated barley, hops, and water as the only permissible ingredients in the German national drink."

But an erstwhile researcher and amateur historian, found a document in the Weimar city archives [this link goes to the National Archive, as the city archive does not seem to have a web presence] found a document from 1432 "that laid down the law regarding the production of Thuringian Rostbratwurst, perhaps the most popular variety of sausage in a country where wurst is worshiped as sacred grub." A replica of the document will be displayed at the German Bratwurst Museum. The museum is located in Holzhausen, where the main intersection features a giant sausage and bun sculpture.

Go and read the article and learn more than you care to about bratwurst and then you can either make this recipe, which appeared here in October 2006 or you can try the Brave Astronaut plan for (Italian) sausage sandwiches.
  1. Get some good hoagie / submarine rolls. Place a few slices of provolone cheese on the rolls and toast lightly.

  2. Fry some onions in a small fry pan. Set aside.

  3. Place a large fry pan / wok on the stove with some water. Put sausages in the water and bring to a boil. When temperature in the sausages reaches about 160 degrees, drain off the water and grill in the fry pan. I will sometimes add some beer to the pan. [Please note, the WP article says that "To fry it is a sin." Oh Well.]

  4. "Grill" the sausages until browned on all sides.

  5. Place in the rolls with some grilled onions and a good brown mustard. Enjoy.
The sausages are also good when served with some pasta and a good tomato sauce, but only if you are using Italian sausage. Don't insult the Wurst by serving it with pasta.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Political Quiz Answers

So how did you do? Know who you are voting for yet? Tired of the campaigns yet? I understand. Here are the answers for the quiz from last week.
  1. Which member of Congress is the only one who refuses to disclose his or her date of birth?

  2. Which member of Congress is baseball great Hank Aaron's brother-in-law?

  3. Which member of Congress delivered his 2002 opponent's baby?

  4. Which member of Congress worked for Jerry Springer's 1982 Ohio gubernatorial campaign?

  5. Which member of Congress carried the "nuclear football" for Presidents Carter and Reagan?

  6. Which member of Congress is the only member to list the addresses of all his district's bowling alleys on his congressional website? (Oh, think about this one, it's easy!)

  7. Which member appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a professional athlete?
    • Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) in the March 1, 1965 issue. (He was a professional baseball player.)

  8. How many current governors served in Congress?
    • 10 of 50 (Bob Riley - Alabama, Butch Otter - Idaho, Rod Blagojevich - Illinois, Ernie Fletcher - Kentucky, John Baldacci - Maine, Jim Gibbons - Nevada, Jon Corzine - New Jersey, Bill Richardson - New Mexico, Ted Strickland - Ohio, Mark Sanford, South Carolina)

  9. How many Senators served in the House?
    • 49 of 100 (yeah, go ahead and name them, poltical junkie that you are)

  10. How many Senators are children of Senators?
  11. How many presidents has Representative John Dingell (D-Mich.) served under since he was sworn in?
    • Ten, Dingell took office in December 1955.

  12. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore failed to win 30 percent of the vote in four states in 2000. Name them.
    • Alaska (28%), Idaho (28%), Utah (26%), Wyoming (28%)

  13. Which three states switched their presidential vote from 2000 to 2004?
    • Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Brave Astronaut's Christmas Wish List

As I watched my son leaf through a kid's catalog that came in the mail the other day, I was reminded of the days when I would sit with the JC Penney Wish Book or the Sears Wish Book Catalog on the day after Thanksgiving, ripping out pages and circling things for my parents, or "Santa" to get me.

Then there was the year that I wanted the Atari 2600. I made the foolish statement of "You don't have to get me anything else for Christmas as long as I get this." Friggin' family took me up on it. I, like most children, would measure success (or "goodness," if you will) by the number of presents under the tree with your name on it. So that year, I had a good number of gifts under the tree, so I was pretty happy. On Christmas morning, I unwrapped the first gift - a stack of old magazines. Second gift - two bricks. Gift after gift - useless item after useless item, and I was getting increasingly upset as my family laughed. Finally, somebody took pity on me and told me to look under the dining room table. And there it was. Nirvana, Heaven, Bliss, the Atari 2600 had arrived.

As I grew older, I used to type up my Christmas lists for my mother. Very specific, as well. Size, color preferences, clippings of specific items desired. It was a little anal, well maybe a lot. Well, my mother's gone now, but maybe she can read this wherever she is.

It's December 1. My birthday's the 20th. It's my 40th. Feel free to get as many items as you like. In case you forget and this post rotates off, the list is down there on the right. And just in case Santa is reading this blog, I have been very good this year, haven't I?
  1. Billy Joel - 12 Gardens Live
  2. Cuisinart Mix-It-In Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker (I saw this in a catalog. I love the soft serve)
  3. Bill Bryson - "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid", for that matter any other Bryson Books I don't have.
  4. Dean Koontz has a new book out, "The Darkest Evening of the Year." For that matter, like Bryson, there are a few titles, I have not yet read of his, like this one, and this one.
  5. I would read this, too. It is by Richard Bachman, with a foreword by Stephen King. Oh, that's just weird.
  6. I am not the one to look gift clothes in the mouth. Pants, jeans, shirts, sweaters, "night clothes," I'll take whatever is offered.
  7. The holiday shopping season has also been dominated recently by the gift card. Take the creativity out of your shopping and give money (iTunes) . . . My mother hated giving money. And yet, that is what my father gives out now that she's gone. Where did she go wrong with him?

The true wish list (read: things I'm not getting, but would really like.)

  1. The big screen TV. Hey, it's time. HD, perhaps a 42" Watch those ads . . .
  2. A new laptop. The desktop has been wheezing again fairly regularly.
  3. Season tickets to the Nationals
  4. A Wii
  5. The hot gift this year is the GPS for the car. Those are kind of cool, too. I would love one of those.
  6. To travel more, but then again, I don't have a valid passport . . .