Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Full Size Vans

In a few weeks, The Salvation Army USA Eastern Territory will be making a decision on the future of our our full size vans. Over the last few years, there has been an outcry from the federal level all the way down to consumers regarding the safety of these vans and their rollover rate. These vans have been the mainstay of our fleet for as long as they have been in existence, 35 years or so. In Norwich we use our 15 passenger Chevrolet van for everything from picking up children, picking up food, soda, etc. It gets a lot of use! I don't know all of the details, but it appears there are new laws either on the table or forthcoming that requires vehicles that transport more then 10 children to built to school bus safety standards. This elminates full size vans from being used for many of our programs. I have grown up around these vans, my mom even picked me up from school when I gave a girl a ride home one day! I could have killed her!

There are some alternatives, and I will list the pros and cons for each

This is the obvious alternative. These smaller vans are light duty vehicles and all but one that is on our authorized list is a well built and designed vehicle. I won't say what model that is! These would make things feasible, but would present challenges to our programs.

Low operational cost--economical engines/economy
Manueverability--very easy to drive

Only 7 or 8 passenger capacity
Light duty vehicle--could it take the beating? Designed for families not commercial use

Dodge Sprinter Van
These vans are designed by Mercedes Benz. Mercedes is a company within the Daimler Chrysler brand which is why they are badged as a Dodge. They are ugly as can be. They were built for Europe, and have a very European design. You can see them on the roads as Fed Ex or UPS delivery vans. They do make a 10 passenger model. They have a 2.7 liter 5 cylinder turbo diesel engine that makes it very economical. I am not sold on these one way or the other, but I thought they could be an alternative.

Very economical--diesel engine gets an average 22 mpg...amazing for a commercial vehicle!
10 passenger seating--apparantly the new standard
Mercedes Engineering--Mercedes makes amazing vehicles
Commercial Duty--could take a beating

Higher initial cost--several thousand dollars more than a current full size van
Diesel engines don't like the cold--would officers remember to "plug them in"
High profile would make them a sail in the wind

Full Size SUV
When I mention full size SUV's I am not talking about your friendly neighborhood family vehicle. I am talking of the big ones that used to be used in commercial applications prior to being a suburban fashion statment. I am thinking specifically of the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition EL (extended length). These vehicles are truck platforms. They are designed to have comfortable seating for up to 9 and be able to carry cargo.

Truck toughness--could take a beating!
Mixed use vehicle--could haul passengers and cargo with ease.
New engines make them very economical--new Suburban gets 20 mpg highway! 15 in the city!
4 wheel drive would be helpful in the northeast!
9 passenger seating--more comfortable than a minivan!

Higher purchase cost--however due to the high gas prices, discounts are sure to be there.
Slight higher cost to operate over minivans

Those of you that know me know that I am a car nut! I read magazines and study cars a lot. I feel that the best way to move forward with this if we do in fact get rid of the vans is to go with the full size SUV's. They are very spacious and could truly be a mixed use vehicle. Minivans are great! I love the one we have, but I would hate to see how they respond to being a mixed use vehicle that transports a lot of weight, whether it be people or cargo regularly. I am sure the transmissions would take a beating, tires, seats, etc. Minivans are currenlty designed more for families and that is evident by the seating and features currently offered in them. The Sprinter is unproven as far as I am concerned. My fear would be that officers would not maintain a diesel properly, as they do require different maintenance then gasoline vehicles.
The Suburban has been in production for 70 years. IT is a proven truck that can be comfortable and haul lots of food, toys, kettles, soda, and several of your average Home League ladies. Being that it is a truck, it could do these tasks and still shine for several years. I was more convinced when I saw that the standard engine has the cylinder deactivation mode that shuts down 4 of the 8 cylinders when they are not needed. That is why it is so economical.

What will happen? I have no clue! I am a low man on the totem pole and my voice is not heard. I will purhcase whatever vehicle I am allowed to and whatever vehicles makes the most sense for my application in Norwich.

What do you think???????

Monday, October 30, 2006

Debate on Halloween

Much can be said of the celebration of the day Halloween. While, I did not research this, I heard some discussion about it at the recently held Officer's Family Gathering in Waterbury.

As a child, I was not "held" back in regards to celebrating halloween. Growing up, my parents were not officers my whole childhood, but they were Christians. We would go to the corps and celebrate halloween by having a party. When my folks were in the SFOT, I believe that my costume contributed to having Halloween cancelled there for a few years. I was the devil...I didn't want to be Satan, I was just having fun with a costume! I don't think Satan looks like a guy in a red suit with ears and a tail!

Whatever people think of this holiday, and there are arguments for and against. Innocent children do not understand the spiritual warfare that is going on. They just want candy and have fun dressing up. Thats what I wanted, and I am sure thats what kids today want. Kids aren't thinking about being evil for a night. I never for once thought I was doing something sinful when I would go out with my friends trick or treating. My children will be going to the mall Trick or Treating. Sam will be dressed as Belle, and Jay will be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. For them, it will be a time to fill their baskets with candy!

I understand that there are those who think my thoughts on this are way out there. That's ok!I don't hold that against you. I tend to be more liberal on issues related to the church than others. I listen to rock and roll, enjoy action movies with good guys beating up bad guys. The bottom line for me in this debate is that kids have fun, and for all intents and purposes halloween is harmless fun. Hey I celebrated it, and I think I turned out okay. I even did the occasional prank here and there! That is a subject for another day.

Sorry for the controversial subject! I welcome comments.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Christmas in October!

This week will be an interesting week! I, myself, just me am taking three days of vacation this week. I am going to Lancaster County, PA to visit my grandparents. I will join my parents there for a short visit. It is always fun to get to Lancaster County and step back a hundred years and see houses without electricity, horse and buggies, and road apples. It will be interesting traveling from Mystic country Connecticut, an area built in the maritime tradition (whaling, ship building, submarines) to Lancaster and seeing the transformation to the "heartland" and everything in between. I just hope that I-95 and the Merritt Parkway aren't too jammed. I figure I-287 will be! Since I will be alone, I will drive fast, blare music, and take in all of the scenery.

After returning home on Friday, we will immediately get in the car, turn around and head to Waterbury for our Officers Christmas Party. For the non Salvation Army readers that translates into corporate or company christmas party. What is so funny about this trip is not only the fact that I spent three years of my life in Waterbury, but the venue for the party is none other then the hotel formerly known as the Waterbury Sheraton Hotel. It is now called the Connecticut Grand Hotel. You may be asking...why is this significant?...what are you setting up for? My junior prom was held in this hotel, probably in the same ballroom we will have our party in!

It is amazing how life sometimes comes full circle. On Friday evening, if it isn't too dark when we arrive, I look forward to driving the family past all of my former stomping ground, our house, my school, and who knows what else! I haven't been off of I-84 in Waterbury except to get a meal at Frankies...a great gourmet fast food joint, in 11 years since participating in a friend's wedding. I haven't lived there in 15 years, so it will be great to see how much the neighborhood has changed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Vacation Report #9 Disembarkation and Sea World

September 16, 2006

This was to be a LONG day! We awoke at 5:30 am for our final meal on the Magic. Our breakfast was to be in Animator's Palate and our servers Dante and Cloverly would be serving us one final time. I must say, I never have an appetite that early in the morning so I did not eat much. Also, I was getting a nasty cold, so that too may have affected my appetite. Shortly after breakfast we gathered our carry on bags, and walked off the gangblank back to reality. We found our way to the lower level of the cruise terminal, located our luggage, and breezed through customs. All we had to do was hand over our declaration forms to the customs agent, get the all clear and walk out of the terminal. Dad and I found our way to the Budget Rent a Car shuttle, and hopped in to get our cars. Elaine, Mom, Tracy and the kids remained at the terminal with our belongings.

After a quick ride to the Budget office, Dad and I soon had the keys and paperwork for matching Chevrolet Malibu's. I followed Dad back to the ship, and we picked everyone up. Mom, Dad and Tracy would be heading directly to Orlando International Airport, while we continued on to Sea World. We said our goodbyes at the ship and we followed one another as far as the airport. When we past the exit for I-95 I immediately fell in love with the notion that I would not have to drive that road all the way to Exit 76 in Connecticut! Soon we were passing the airport, we honked our horn to the Pennsylvania Camuti's, and continued on.

A few minutes later we were in the Sea World parking lot. I have not been to Sea World in 27 years! The last time I was there was 1979 with Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad. I don't remember a whole lot, so I was excited to be returning now. Elaine has been bugging me to go to Sea World everytime we go to Florida, so I finally relented. I am a Disney fan, so it was hard to disown the mouse. However, he got enough of my money, so I can I can give a couple hundred to a beer company this once. No I didn't drink any beer! I am digressing!

We got into the park, looked at the show listings and made a rough plan for our day. The first thing we did was go to the Sea Lion show. I don't think the prop has changed in 27 years. I think it was the same stage and props that were there when I was a little kid. The show was fun and I think sea lions are cool.

Next we went to the Shamu show. This started good, but a few minutes into it, everything got quiet. Soon one of the trainer's came out and said one of the whales wasn't cooperating due to late term pregnancy. She was ready to go at any time! The show did go on, but I am sure it wasn't the entire show. I read a few days later that the new whale was born on September 18th, just two days after our visit.

For the rest of the day, we enjoyed the stingrays complete with jokes and comments about the late Steve Irwin. People just can't leave well alone! The highlight however was feeding the dolphins. When I was younger I was afraid to do this! This time all of us except Jay fed them. They reminded me of puppies. They love having their chin rubbed and would do anything for food! We spent a few dollars here on fish and pictures of us feeding them.

We enjoyed the rest of the park, then finished our day at the dolphin show. This was amazing. There were acrobats, dolphins, all in all a great show. It was a great way to wrap up our day. Soon we made our way to the Malibu and the Beach Line Expressway. We returned our rental car, and this time got a cart to carry our luggage! I wish I would have thought of that when we arrived in Florida! Soon we were past security and waiting for Southwest 2315. We had an on time departure, and we wheels up headed for home. Our cruising altitude was 39,000 ft for the flight home. I caught this picture of the sunset.

We arrived back at Bradley on time, and soon were on the shuttle to the Sienna waiting for us in Lot 4. Ahhhhh, it was so nice to be back in my Toyota after a couple of rental cars! An hour later we were back in Norwich and Jasmine who was waiting for us. We arrived home at 12:05 am on Sunday the 17th. A 19 hour day!

Our vacation was over and our tans would soon fade. I hope my readers enjoyed my vacation reports. I enjoyed our cruise, but could not take a Disney cruise more than once every several years. There is of course the financial aspect, but also the feeling of getting the same experience over and over, and knowing that the trip would cost a few thousand dollars. I can't justify that. Elaine and I will be researching various vacations in the years ahead to determine the best for our family as far as good times, bonding and economically.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Parasailing Pics

The first picture is of Elaine and I getting ready to go. The other two are dad and Tracy.


Vacation Report #8 Castaway Cay

If you know anything whatsoever about Disney Cruise Line, you would know of Castaway Cay. It is Disney's private island and all Disney cruises make a call there. It is simply paradise! It is in the Abaco chain of the Bahamas about 250 miles due east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I woke up and saw the island coming into view from our porthole as Captain Tom backed the ship in. What a beautiful site. Soon the ship was docked, breakfast was in our stomachs and we were off! Dad, Tracy, Elaine and I had an early excursion booked. We were going parasailing. Mom took Sam and Jay to the family beach where we would meet them after flying like Peter Pan!

We went to our meeting spot, had our orientation and soon boarded the boat with our Bahamian guides. Elaine was a little nervous about getting dipped in the water. She kept telling our guide Gibson that she didn't want to be fed to the sharks. Soon, Gibson was calling Elaine, "Bahama Mama." We were the last two groups to go up> Dad and Tracy went up before Elaine and I. While they were in the air, we were strapped in our harnesses. Soon they were back on board and Elaine and I were strapped in the parachute. The captain flipped a switch and we were off into the wild blue yonder. After a couple of minutes, I made the mistake of fidgeting just enough that I was no longer in a seated position, but in a standing position. This translated into a huge wedgie! Elaine could tell I was uncomfortable, but I soon relaxed, albeit slightly uncomfortable and enjoyed the ride. When we were being pulled back in, we got dipped not once, but twice! Elaine felt honored and enjoyed her double dip! Once back on shore, we boarded a tram and went to meet mom and the kids.

Right away, I got into the magical azure waters and splashed around. Sammi was really trying to swim but was a little nervous. She kept swimming back and forth to me and dad/grandpa. After a short time in the water, we made our way to Cookies Bar-B-Q and enjoyed hamburgers, barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, and awesome chocolate chip cookies. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the aforementioned azure water. It was sooooooo warm! Regretfully, it was time to make our way back to the ship.

Dad asked me to take him to the computer lab and help him check in with Southwest. As we were wrapping up, we looked out the windows and saw the water swirling. The Magic was underway. It was a double whammy...airline check in, and departure from Castaway Cay! Soon it was time for our final meal. It was a sad time, the tips were given out, and shortly after dinner we were in the Walt Disney Theatre for the "Remember the Magic" show.

After the show, our luggage was tagged and left outside our door. This was too much! Our vacation was nearing its end, but the last straw was the Til We Meet Again presentation in the atrium. At 10:15, all of the characters and stage people come to the atrium for a final farewell. The kids were able to say goodbye to all of their favorite characters, then all of them line the staircases and wave to everyone! I wish I could post more than one picture to show the photo op! This was it! We would go to bed and wake up in Port Canaveral! After the Til we meet Again, I took a walk around the ship and retired for the evening! The next day we would eat breakfast and walk off to our rental car. However, we still had a day in Florida before our 7:50 flight...We are going to Sea World! That will be my final vacation entry.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Vacation Report #7--Day at Sea

September 14, 2006

Days at sea! They are a very special thing about cruising. It is a time for total relaxation! You can just sit back, and do as much or as little as you want. As usual, we started our day with a breakfast at Topsiders. We enjoyed the pools before they got too crowded. Elaine, the kids and I then went to see the movie Cars. However, the kids were a little tired and we left about halfway through. I was bummed as I was enjoying the movie. I am sure it will be out on video around the holidays. After the movie, we grabbed a quick bite to eat. Elaine and the kids went to the stateroom to take a nap, and I grabbed my suit and headed for the adult pool. I splashed around a bit by myself. Soon I was joined by mom, dad, and Tracy. Shortly after they arrived some members of the cruise staff came, and started pool games. I bolted up to deck 1o and watched from above as the suckers that volunteered did synchronized swimming and dancing to music!

We all relaxed and just enjoyed the warm breeze as the Magic cut through the smooth ocean. This day, we had about the smoothest seas I have ever seen! You can see from the picture above that the ocean was glass. It was simply amazing!

We enjoyed dinner that evening in Lumiere's. We then made our way to the Walt Disney Theatre to see the show Disney Dreams. This is the original show for Disney Cruise Line. It features Peter Pan as he comes into the bedroom of a young child and convinces her to dream a little bit. Several scenes from Disney movies were featured, and it was a very nice show.

The next day we will be docking in Castaway Cay...Disney's private island. Until then!