Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve

My memories are organized like a relational database. Holidays are often the key to accessing thoughts of times long ago, although music can also serve as a key phrase to recall specific times and places.

No other holiday is as important for bringing up old times and remembrance than Christmas. My thoughts roll back over data records of Christmas past, of family and friends, of places I’ve been … like the Christmas I spent at a customer location in Philadelphia. While most get vacation time for Christmas, and I’ve been amongst those lucky people most of my life, there was a time that an important IBM customer problem required me to spend the holiday in a strange city. We did break for Christmas and I was home for three days before returning to the humming halls of customer mainframes and data farms. It was a happy visit, we saved the customer's hind quarters, and IBM kept a paying client, largely based on my emergency services.

But that’s not the tale I was thinking about last night. Linda and I always attend the candle-light service at our local church on Christmas Eve. That’s a tradition we’ve had this last decade or so. Due to its popularity, last night there were two services, and we chose the early service so we could spend the rest of the evening in last minute chores. Christmas Eve at our house is steeped in tradition. There’s fried rice. Originally that was a comfort food prepared by Linda’s mom. Mark has taken over that task these last six years, but last night we dispensed with that since it was only Linda and I. Mark was at home doing his own last minute chores.

We rushed to get to the stores before they closed, but things have changed a bit over the years. Many stores were open until seven or even eight o’clock. We made the round of open stores getting a few, last minute essentials for the next day's festivities. We then found a Burger King that was open 24 hours during the holiday. We had a happy time with the staff wishing each other Merry Christmas, and Linda and I shared a double order of Alaskan fish sandwich. Long ago Burger King had a nice fish sandwich called the "Whaler." Today’s fast food restaurants mostly serve a tiny fried fish pellet on a bun, but Burger King still has a pretty good fish sandwich. So, after last minute frantic shopping for just a couple more gifts and some desserts for today’s feast and a light meal, Linda and I cruised around enjoying the season’s lighting.

I thought back to a Christmas many, many years ago. We were still in our first house over on Sherman Street and our kids were little. It was a Christmas eve we spent with our good friends Steve and Sandi. I don’t recall exactly, but I think our boys were probably at their grandparents and Sandi’s girls were with down in Trinidad. So it was just us four driving around on Christmas Eve.

First we had to find somewhere to eat. Back then, especially around nine at night, everything was closed. We found a Chinese Restaurant to have our evening meal. Just like Ralphie and his family in the A Christmas Story, we found an open business staffed by non-Christians. Maybe our new tradition of fried rice dates back to that Oriental experience. I don’t know.

So, later, we were driving around deserted streets and not ready to go home and go to bed. Steve and Sandi didn’t have a Christmas tree. They intended to get one, but they kept putting it off. We drove by several closed lots with many trees left. In those days, artificial trees were not as popular as today, and there were half a dozen temporary locations in Longmont that offered live trees … at least they were living just previous to being cut down.

All the lots were closed, so we schemed how we would climb the fence and rescue a tree. It wasn’t exactly a felony. We might return the next day and pay for the tree. Alas we didn’t resort to thievery. No one wanted to tie a tree to the roof that cold evening.

We eventually drifted home. We dropped off our friends and returned to our house and warm beds to await the Christmas morning.

Then there was the Christmas of the great blizzard. Our boys were already at their grandparents out in Horseshoe park, about ten miles out of town toward Berthoud. I had the yellow van back then and we still lived on Sherman. It had been snowing heavy all day. About four in the afternoon, as the sun dipped and the snow blew, we hopped in the old Dodge and headed for grandma’s. We didn’t make it to the end of the block before getting stuck. The van was not too bad in snow, but the high drifts that the city had not plowed (“only arterials during this snow emergency”) were not passible by the big yellow truck. So we reversed back up our street and got the van safely back into the garage.

We spent the remainder of the evening shoveling the continuing snow off our driveway and Linda was very sad and upset not to be with her kids on Christmas Eve. The next morning the snow had stopped and enough cars and four-wheel drives had driven down our street that we made it to Main and out on the plowed highway north of town. We turned down Bob and Bea’s road which had been shoveled by someone in a tractor, and started down the narrow path in the four foot snow to their house.

It was a total of about three blocks, and I made it for two before the snow closed in on my van and we were stuck. Due to the high snow on both sides, we couldn’t open the doors, so I climbed to the back and got out that way. We walked to Linda’s folk’s house and brought back assistance with shovels. We soon had the van unstuck and made it down their driveway for a Merry Christmas.

There were other times when the whole fam-damly was here from Alaska and on New Years day I got a speeding ticket in the van as I rushed to load up everyone for a trip to the airport.

There are other times over the last fifty or sixty years that jockey for position in my memory. Many of the events just blur together in a snow storm of present wrapping torn off in anticipation of what's inside. Happy days and happy times as — what else — happiness filled our home. We're ready once again. The tree is up and the floor is littered with wrapped gifts, although not as many as in times past. There's eggnog in the frig and fruit and nuts in the bowls awaiting eager hands. Family and friends will arrive soon, and I'm still in my bathrobe. The hot coffee and pleasant thoughts are my companion on this still morning. It isn't a white Christmas this year, but it will do.

All of these memories come rushing to the forefront of my mind as I access the index=Christmas. There’s many more tales to tell, but I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to always be terse and laconic. So I’ll stop with this simple Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bosch Über Alles

Warning: The following is an unpaid product endorsement.

I just can’t get over what a great job the new dishwasher did over the holiday. Since it is machinery, it is my responsibility in the kitchen. I load and run the dishwasher. I got a lot of practice over Thanksgiving. At one point, I ran three successive loads and even washed some of the heavy-duty cooking dishes. Linda said, “Are you supposed to put pans like that in the dishwasher?” I replied, “Sure, they fit!”

A few months ago we were struggling with our old dishwasher. The tops of the glasses would come out full of soap and had to be re-rinsed and dried. I called a repairman and he diagnosed the problem as a failing pump. Without full water pressure, the rinse cycle wasn’t getting all the soap out that was trapped in the small depressions on the top of glasses and cups. Plus, the cleaning just wasn’t up to snuff.

As I suspected, he said that a new pump would cost as much as a new dishwasher, so I went on the hunt for a replacement. I checked out Consumer Guide (I have a subscription for the online Consumer Guide) for the best dishwasher. I always check CG for any major purchase. I like to have the best and, often, the cheap turns out expensive. The current dishwasher is about fifteen years old, but I expect good machinery to last longer than that. Sadly they really don’t make things like they used to. Most of the latest gadgets are designed for about five years of life and then they are not only obsolescent, but most likely kaput.

I was not surprised to learn that the top three or four models of dishwasher in Consumer Guide were Bosch. I first saw that German model at a store in Beaverton, Oregon. My dad took his rug shampoo machine into this little specialty shop for repair. While there we looked at the Bosch dishwashers they carried. The owner and chief handyman gave us a great sales pitch about the quality of Bosch. I remember the particular model my dad looked at had a flat drawer on top where you would put your silverware one piece to a slot. That prevented “spooning” from hiding a dirty side of a utensile from the cleansing water.

I went down to Lowes. Both my nephew Joel and my son Mark were working there, so I got an employee discount. I picked out a very nice model of Bosch in stainless. The only choices were stainless or white. Our kitchen is almond. (That’s right, we built the house in 1986. You can tell the age of any home by the color of the appliances.)

I know from watching shows on the Home Network or the Realty Network or something like that, that everyone swoons when the kitchen appliances are stainless, so that’s what I chose. Of course, “stainless” is a misnomer as the brushed metal shows fingerprints like a police blotter. Still it does look nice, and — best of all — it does a super job of cleaning.

In the CG report they showed how they tested dishwashers with baked on peanut butter and other impossible dish tests to determine the best cleaning dishwasher. As usual, they also look at value for the dollar. Even though Bosch is no bargain basement brand, it took the top three or four spots in the evaluation.

So I bought one of the top models and had it installed. I don’t mind doing electrical work, but I leave plumbing to the professionals. I like the fact that, if the installation fails and my kitchen floods, I have a major corporation to back me up. That happened to my neighbor. Her new dishwasher ended up costing almost $6,000 when you include the new kitchen they had to put in when the water hose came off. I wanted the insurance of an installation warranty just in case. So far, no kitchen flood.

The funny thing is that Lowes insists on selling you a new water hose … the fancy metal woven, high quality, and quite expensive kind. When the installer put in the dishwasher, he said to return the fancy hose for a refund since Bosch has a permanently installed hose. And it’s just a simple plastic hose. He said that must be new. I hope that Bosch isn’t “cheaping” out on me and that hose is good for twenty-five years. One advantage of being 66 is that a twenty-five year guarantee is really a life time warranty.

Anyway, this dishwasher fulfills all promises. Linda used to prewash things before they went into the dishwasher. Her neanderthal husband just puts in the dishes and glasses, all stained and yucky. I press the button. (The dishwasher actually adjust to how dirty the dishes are and adjusts the time of wash … don’t ask me how it does that, but it has a count down clock and I’ve seen it adjust when the dishwasher was full vs. partially filled. Maybe that’s the metric it uses to set wash cycles.) It also only uses one shot of soap; not the two cups of soap … one with a cover. It also told me when it was out of “finish.”

So there you have it folks. If you want to buy the Cadillac of dishwashers (or maybe, since it is German, the Mercedes of dishwashers), then this consumer analyst highly recommends the Bosch dishwasher. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about our refrigerator. It’s the original from 1986, and it has taken a lickin’ and kept on ticken’.