Friday, December 30, 2011

Too Many Projects

I love doing a winter project of some sort. That's how I finished the basement, trained the dog, built a computer - that sort of thing. This winter, I have just too many ideas in my head. Too many things that I yearn for.

The first thing that needs done is that I need to paint my daughter's room. We switched the kids' rooms this past summer and hers needs a new set of paint. Something of a grayish green, I think, would look good with her curtains.

After that, I get confused. I want new flooring, but I can't quite afford it right now. I need to refinish the upstairs bathrooms and would like a custom cherry vanity and cabinets that match our kitchen. Which brings me to the point of wanting to make those things myself.

But I don't have the experience or the work space, so plan to handle both of those by making a new work bench using base cabinets as the, um, base. We also have a record player in the front parlor that needs a table, so perhaps I can make a table for it. Then I can tackle of bathrooms (or not, if I find my skill set or tools lacking). Which brings me right back around to the flooring.

I can probably save a considerable sum by doing the installation work myself. Or I can make a hash of it. Frightening uncertainty.

Having a long term, multi-tiered suite of projects isn't a bad thing, per se. The problem is that I find my interest in the flitting between one or another. It's hard to remain passionate about painting a room when you have visions of mauling hardwood dancing in your head. The other problem is if I do manage to complete these projects. I will be an insufferably proud SOB for months afterwards.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hot Dog Shoppe

It was just like I remembered.

We had been on the road for eight hours. Coming from Connecticut, with a stop in the Hudson Valley for a snack lunch, we were tired and hungry when we saw the rotating, illuminated hot dog over the low buildings lining West Market St.

My father had worked at the post office a couple blocks further down and sometimes lunched there. I didn't go there often, maybe a couple times with my dad, but it hadn't changed. We rolled in around 6:30. It was already dark outside and there was a line along the wall waiting for seats to open.

Inside are several lunch counters, punctuated by a few small booths. As seats opened up, we took them in order. Parties such as mine, that wanted four seats together, let smaller parties grab pairs of open seats as they came free, waiting for four in a row or a booth. It didn't take long for us to be seated, nor did it take much longer for the line to dissipate. It's a popular place, but one where the diners churn quickly.

My daughter doesn't like hot dogs, but got one anyway to try. She liked it. My wife got two with sauerkraut. She's a New Yorker and still enamored with Nathan's hot dogs. What can I say? I was never a fan of either Nathan's nor Ted's Red Hots. I'm not a fan of Yuengling even though I like odd lagers. Tastes are funny things.

My son ate two and asked for more. I had three with sauce and forgot to ask for onions. Still, they were just like I had remembered. The homemade fries were hot and tasty. The shakes were thick and delicious. What else can you say about a place where you have to wait to sit at a Formica counter? They keep it simple, which is their strength and their charm.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rum Diary

Went to see The Rum Diary with a friend, loosely based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson who based his book on part of his life. Three times removed from reality, it was fiction, but interesting. It made me consider Thompson's life.

After all, Hunter did move to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960 and worked as a reporter. Not for the San Juan Star, but for El Sportivo and as a freelancer for the New York Herald Tribune.

He lead a colorful life and invented Gonzo journalism. Eventually, he put a bullet into his brain at his Colorado home he called the Owl Farm. The man was torn between who he really was and his fictionalized character.

Johnny Depp, who played him in the movie, was a friend of his and paid for his funeral. At his funeral, Thompson's cremains were shot from a cannon set atop a 153-foot tower shaped like a double-thumbed fist gripping a peyote.

I am not nearly as creative, I suppose. Probably due to lack of drugs. More's the pity.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fifth of November

What a beautiful Guy Fawkes Day. Sunny and crisp. The perfect day to work and play in the yard, which is exactly what my family did today.

We raked the leaves in our back yard into a large pile. Picked up sticks and burned them on our patio. Enjoyed a smooth Oktoberfest beer or ice cold root beer, depending on age and taste. I performed a craniotomy on our two pumpkins and we dove elbows deep in search of seeds for roasting.

Like much of life, it wasn't flashy or spectacular. It was just...nice. I am left with the smell of pumpkin guts on my fingers, a handful of simple photographs, and a pleasant memory of moments spent with those I love and who love me in return. This has been the best day of my week. If I had to spend my life repeating one day, over and over again, today would not be a bad choice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Heart and Lungs

This week, we've replaced the heart and lungs of our house - furnace, air conditioner, and water heater. None of these were broken, per se. The hot water tank was sixteen years old, though, and due for a replacement due to age alone. The furnace was about 80% efficient and had dangerous Plexvent piping. The a/c was about 8 SEER and wasn't properly fused (the contacts had welded themselves "on" a couple years ago, which was a fun problem to troubleshoot).

Much like our kitchen, things worked but required more and more maintenance. I had replaced valves on the hot water tank. A blower on the furnace. Knife switch on the a/c. At a minimum I was looking at a couple thousand to reconfigure the furnace vent with a pull-fan in b-pipe, add a new drop in filter box, replace our forced-vent water heater, rewire and re-insulate the air conditioner lines. So we decided to just replace it all with a ten-year warranty.

With the variable-speed, more efficient furnace our house will be more comfortable and will cost less to heat. We also relocated the thermostat to a more representative location (away from the heat caused by our laundry room, and away from an area where we might install a fireplace someday). I also figured we'd save a couple hundred dollars per year just with the switch from an 8 SEER air conditioner to a 16 SEER.

In essence, we will recoup our costs over the next decade (except for the water heater) and not have to worry as much about breakdowns and repairs. Seemed like the right decision, but it puts off our flooring replacement another year...and I really want to replace our flooring throughout the house.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Space Station

Today I did something I had only done once before. Today, I watched the Space Station.

Just about every day, weather permitting, it is visible where you are. A silent, white light spanning the sky in a couple minutes. Like an aircraft that doesn't blink, it is bright. As bright as the brightest star. Easily spotted despite the light pollution from nearby cities.

NASA makes this information easy to find, via Skywatch.

I know it might strike some as odd that a bona fide rocket scientist wouldn't necessarily take his work home with him. It's not a hobby for me, although it is for many. Oh, I enjoy science fiction. I like high tech propulsion systems - be they rocket or jet engines. I just don't have a NASA fetish.

Still, the cold light made me a bit sad. My melancholy lingers from the light that was behind me as I watched the ISS course across the night sky. The moon. I returned to NASA to put some poor SOB back on the moon. Not to watch the product of two decades ago pass me by.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Haunted by Big Chuck

Having taken my kids to their first haunted house experience reminds me of my own, thirty-five years ago or so.

It was back behind the Hills Department store in Champion. I don't remember the set up, probably a couple trailers strung together. What I do remember is that parts of it were scary. Well, one part, with zombies clawing at me from behind a cage - having to pass close enough for them to grab me due to the narrow hall. It was one of those stop moments, where you can't go on. Mr. Smith, who had taken Kevin and I, prodded me forward and I somehow survived the encounter.

The other thing I remember was Big Chuck and Hoolihan autographing pictures from their show, under a black light (which made the photos glow...really cool). Hoolihan signed mine.

I had a lot of fun being scared as a kid. More so than I think my daughter has been able to enjoy. I remember seeing Jaws at her age and, subsequently, being afraid of swimming pools and bathtubs (I had a boy's natural antipathy towards bathing, but that's a different story). One way in which I think we have erred, as parents, is overly sheltering our children from being frightened. Roller coasters, haunted houses, scary movies - they're fun!

Let 'em have fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Haunted House

Last night I took my daughter to her first haunted house experience - Bloodview. Staffed by the Legion of Terror, the LoT actors did a wonderful job not only populating the haunted houses and walkways with monsters, but leaving no place "safe" for those in attendance. The parking lot, the food court, there was no place you couldn't run into a ghoulish figure bent on scaring you.

Even the location is a bit off the beaten path. Dark. Somewhat foreboding.

My daughter got her money's worth before we even bought our tickets. Like a typical pre-teen, she isn't always aware of her surroundings and a man with a hook slammed the hurricane fence next to her and screamed in her face. There was a lot of screaming in your face, which makes me wonder if the actors don't end up with sore throats.

Anyway, it was a wonderfully frightening experience for her. I had a blast, too, watching her and enjoying the work that was put into the production.

I even went back later, with my wife and son. Judging that it would be too intense for my son, I sent my wife through with my daughter. Evidently, it was different enough on the second pass to scare my daughter again. I hung out in the food court with my son, who enjoyed the roaming actors and the fire-breathing show.

Admission is a bit pricey at $15 pp, but the proceeds go to charity. The food and drink, however, was very affordable (most things $1).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Catching Up

I haven't written much lately. I guess I just fell out of the habit. So let me catch up with some of my life's events.

  • Became Brunswick Nation Chief of the Medina Guides & Princesses
  • Spent an overnight at The Wilds, a game preserve in southern Ohio
  • Needed some work done on our furnace, a/c, & water tank - decided to replace it all
  • Work has gotten more weird for me, which was unexpected
  • Forty-fifth birthday: camera and Arduino (I'm such a geek)

Clocking Time

Right now, my thoughts are nine months ahead of me. I'm thinking about our vacation plans for the summer. Jackson, WY. Yellowstone. Grand Tetons. Midwestern boy playing cowboy for a week.

There's a tinge of worry, fraying at the edges of my dreams. Money. Soffits this spring, furnace this fall, wife looking for work - money is a worry. Not that we won't have it. No. The worry is that we won't spend it. That I will feel guilty with every dollar spent on frivolity. Just like the fear that my son will misbehave, it's probably misplaced.

Dammit, though. It doesn't do much to weaken my vision of what could be a wonderful vacation. As good as any we've had with or without the kids. Right now, I'm clocking time. My heart is nine months hence. Waiting.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lucky Man

I love my wife.

No. Really. Take a pause and let that sink in.

I am head-over-heals in love with my wife.

We've known each other for decades, now. We are comfortable with one another - able to finish each others' sentences. We laugh at the same stupid stuff (today is was the old Purina Cat Chow commercials with the cat dancing to chow-chow-chow). We know and accept the other's foibles.

But that's not what I'm talking about. I don't mean that feeling of togetherness that comes from being together. I don't mean that flutter of the heart one gets when reunited. I mean that feeling you get when you just love another person to the point of almost physical pain. That love where, if you could, you'd wipe the board clean and do nothing but spend every available moment in each other's arms.

I don't know why I feel this way - I don't always. I just wish the kids would go to bed (yes, it's the middle of the afternoon) so my wife and I could spend hours together.

Life goes on. Dinner gets cooked, beds get made, shows get watched. That overwhelming love gets put in a box and shoved into the closet. But it's there. And it comes out, all by itself, and doesn't care whether it's convenient. I am an incredibly lucky man, because I love my wife.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inflection Point

Have I hit one of life's inflection points, or have I just strung together a couple bad weeks? When you're in the midst of things, it can be hard to tell. It feels that way, to me. It feels like things are going downhill, as a prelude to another upswing. Maybe. You see, when things are going to shit you can't really smell the roses. You just imagine them behind the next pile of shit.

There's no way to short-circuit the process. There's no good vantage to gain to see the future with any useful clarity. It could be just wishful thinking - oh, I haven't ruled that out - but my history is one of peaks and valleys and, thus far, every valley has been followed by a mountain.

As they say, past performance is not indicative of future gains - but that's all the information I have to work with.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Eighteen Years

I have been married to my beautiful wife for eighteen years.

We went into this thing with our eyes open. Before we married, we dated for four years, most of which was at a distance. Me in Cleveland, she in Buffalo. Eight hours on the road, twenty to forty hours of togetherness. Every weekend, on our best behavior.

I know it doesn't sound romantic - and that's okay. Our courtship wasn't entirely romantic. It was a conscious decision for us to each change a little to accommodate the other and for us to both work at forging a lasting relationship. What sounds so cold, so calculated, has resulted in our lives intertwined.

At dinner last night I asked my wife if our marriage was what she expected. She said many nice things to that, but the overall message was that we were closer now than the day we were married. That is true. The negative way to put that is that we take each other for granted - but the beautiful thing is that we can. If one stumbles, the other is there to catch. Without question. Without hesitation. With nothing in our hearts for one another except love.

Our love is now like an old shoe or pair of jeans. Broken in, but not broken. Soft. Comfortable. Eighteen years ago, I did not imagine this. Our life together has been a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


"Come here. Quick!"

It was my wife, calling from the front door. Outside, the sky was an odd orange/yellow/pink color. A rainbow, a complete 180-degree arc, stretched over the tree line to the east. It was, quite frankly, odd.

I know that looks like a badly-rendered photo - but it's not. The sky was actually that color and gave everything a surreal look.

Times like these, I wonder where my wonder went. I used to lie on the grass, just gazing at clouds, passing aircraft, the bird bellies. At night, I would go outside and just look at the stars. Once, I saw a satellite pass overhead.

Tonight, like most nights, I'm in my office on my computer.

I wonder what I'm missing outside my window. Oddly, I don't wonder enough to get up and look.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Boston to Bar Harbor Trip

Not the best vacation, not the worst. All in all, it was a well-executed vacation, performed with adequate precision.

We started in Boston, a place where my wife and I had been years ago on our honeymoon. I had since visited a couple times on business. But this was a new city for our children and my daughter is interested in American history, so we spent a couple days there. The first day after our travel, we walked Boston then rode the Ducks to get a different perspective. It was a bit rushed but we covered some highlights from America's early history.

The next day we went to Clara Barton's Birthplace and Old Sturbridge Village for a piece of history a little later in America (1820 - 1840, on the cusp of the Industrial Age). We followed that with an excursion to Plymouth and dinner in Salem to soak in a bit of pre-USA history.

We left Boston for Bar Harbor, but we didn't leave learning behind. At Bar Harbor one of the first things we did was go on the Lulu - a lobster boat tour of the bays outside Bar Harbor. There we learned all about lobster and lobstering, saw seals and lighthouses, and pulled up a couple traps.

Following that, we headed into Acadia. There we drove to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and skirted the shores of Mount Desert Island. It was gorgeous. That evening was our last chance to unwind on the rocky Maine coast before heading back to Boston and back home.

The evening before our flight home, we explored Cambridge before and after dinner. At least, as best we could from the car, in the rain, without either a plan or a clue.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's a Regular Thing

My daughter awakens, having to go pee.

When I tease her about this, I received the response, "it's a regular thing." My misinterpreted laugh provoked the further explanation that, "I have to do this at home, too."

I tell that story to tell this one.

Sarah and I were taking a stroll around the group camp site. Saying, "hi" to those we passed and dodging little kids on scooters and bicycles who were making up for their lack of control with speed. Along the way we pass a little boy and his father. The boy is sitting on a camp chair, blood streaming down the side of his face - father kneeling in front of him, trying to assess the situation.

We continued on.

We pressed forward on our stroll as if we'd seen nothing, but not with callous disregard. No. I was now headed to the trunk of my car, in which I kept a small first aid kit. Pink, either by design or age, containing little items that might help. We were also giving father and son time. Time to assess, resolve or generate fears - just a minute of space for father and son.

"Do you need help? I...I have a first aid kit. I don't know what's in it, but we can look."

While the father looked through the kit of random and mostly useless items, I examined the boy's wound. Not deep, but an inch-long gash on the top of his right eye socket. The perfect location of sweat to sting the cut. Also a place that is difficult to close. The mop-headed son was a scrappy fellow, but reduced to whimpering at this point. It hurt, and he was frightened.

Dad was doing his best, but he had no experience to fall back on. "I don't know what to do."

I did. Three cheers and a tiger for me, I had experience with this. My wisdom made me feel ten feet tall.

"My son's been through this a half-dozen times. No big deal. You just need to get him to an Urgicare and have them glue his head back together. It won't take long at all."

Pulling the dad out of earshot, I let him know under my breath, "I'll get you directions to the nearest hospital with an emergency room. He may need a couple stitches, but he will be fine." You never say the word "stitches" to a little boy that needs them.

While he tended to his son and gathered his daughter, I found a couple scraps of paper in my car, a pen, and using my smartphone was able to get directions to Mansfield Hospital. I also gave him their phone number in case he got lost.

Off and on again, I thought of the boy that night. The next morning I saw the father. He was really thankful, but in truth I was thankful for the opportunity to help - if even in a small way. His son rode by, fast as can be without even a glance. No, don't call him back - I'm just happy to see that he's okay.

The Medina Guides - we're all dads. We look out for each other and our children. It's a regular thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Camping this Weekend

The annual Indian Guides camping trip is coming up tomorrow. As usual, it will be two thousand degrees outside with one-hundred twenty percent humidity. The sun is forecast to dip within ten feet of the ground above my tent, just when I will be struggling to erect it.

But we will survive. We always do.

These father-daughter outings are supposed to free up our wives for a time.

I wonder, though, if time just continues to fly by for our spouses - leaving in its wake the guilt of unfulfilled aspirations.

In either case, I cannot wait to get home on Sunday. Tired, unshaven, caked with sweat, craving a beer and a shower in no particular order. Coming home is sweet.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Proud of my Daughter

I had never taken my daughter to Cedar Point before (my son would not handle the lines well, so it was just my daughter and I). She had never rode anything beyond carnival rides. Walking into the park, I looked up at the Raptor and suggested we ride that.

"No, Daddy. Let's keep going."

Oh, at that point I knew where this was going. She was going to be scared of anything challenging. Iron Dragon came first. It's a fairly tame, swoopy hanging coaster. That scared her and she screamed the entire ride. Truth be told, I found it a bit scary, too. It had been more than a dozen years, and the body forgets. After that first ride, though, I was readjusted. Bring 'em all on.

Well, my daughter wasn't quite there, yet. So we rode the Corkscrew, followed by the Magnum. Okay. Now she's not only hooked, but riding the big rides. By the afternoon, she was dragging me towards the Millennium Force. Heh.

She conquered her fear - trusted her father and pushed herself.

All her petty transgressions pale in comparison to her fortitude and resilience. She's an impressive little girl - at least to me. Realizing that is as much fun as anything in the park.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Morning Mystery

I don't want an omelet. I want scrambled eggs - with onions, tomatoes, and cheese in them.

"What's the difference?" I asked. I did not receive a satisfactory answer. My wife said because omelets are too big (offering her half an omelet did not seem to placate her). My daughter said that I'm more likely to burn an omelet (by which she means even the slightest browning), but when they aren't burnt my omelets are delicious.

I understand that there are a few impenetrable mysteries to life. Questions such as, "why don't ripe olives come in jars, too?" Some things Man was not meant to know. But this morning's mystery required a bit of research on my part.

According to The Atlantic's food writer, Corby Kummer, "the chief difference between an omelet and scrambled eggs is one of social status."

Julia Child described the omelet as, "soft-cooked scrambled eggs, wrapped in an envelope of firmly-cooked scrambled eggs."

Neither of these people are any help. An omelet is scrambled eggs - cooked with a bit of flair, perhaps, but that's it.

I like making omelets. They're easy, and not as pedestrian as a pan of scrambled eggs. I'll be damned if I can get someone to tell me why one must be in "the mood" for an omelet, as opposed to wanting scrambled eggs.

No, I did not suggest a frittata as a compromise. I have principles.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Way to the Movies

On our way to the movie theater this afternoon, my daughter and I talked. Certainly, we covered many topics, but the ones that I remember involve my childhood. Especially the differences between our current media consumption and mine, thirty-some years ago when I was her age.

You see, we had three good television channels and a couple independent broadcasters. Everyone watched those three channels. Since we were on our way to a Disney movie, I mentioned that one of my favorite shows was the Wonderful World of Disney. Every Sunday night my family would gather in the living room to watch it. I really liked it when they showed cartoons.

I explained that, when I was a kid, we could only see cartoons at certain times on certain days. We didn't have entire channels devoted to them! Having fewer choices lead, paradoxically, to watching a greater variety of programs.

But we were on our way to a movie, so I had to mention drive-in movies. There were rows of speakers set in a wide, gravel parking lot. A huge screen, under which was a playground. A low, central building that housed the projector, restrooms, and snack bar.

I liked going with Kevin. His parents had a station wagon! You know the drill. You back the station wagon into the spot, put down the tailgate, and sit with your feet dangling. The speaker hung from the car window would crackle and squawk a bit, always tinny, but you didn't care.

There was no better summer fun than eating a hot dog served in a paper boat, watching Godzilla fight Megalon from the back of a station wagon.

Pictures Hung - Look Nice

A few posts back I mentioned our trip to Buffalo for the Allentown Art Festival. There, we picked up a set of three food pictures for our kitchen. Today, I hung the photos, and they look really nice.

The photos are by Charles E. Hull.

They weren't very expensive - just $15 each. They look like they'd be somewhat washable, since they appear to be vinyl stretched over a wood block. Just the thing for kitchen art.

Stores Don't Get It

This story is a few years old, but it still applies. I bought a nice coffee grinder, a Cuisinart, for my wife and I. I purchased it from Macy's.

There are a few reasons to choose a brick & mortar store over shopping online. There's the fun of walking around and looking at stuff. You can poke and prod the merchandise and its competitors. You interact with other human beings. The big reasons, though, are that you get your purchases immediately and you have a place to return them if something goes wrong.

As you may have guessed, something went wrong with this coffee grinder. It suffered infant mortality and quit working soon after we bought it. That happens, even with the best products. So I took it back, but they wouldn't take it back. I didn't have the receipt and I didn't have the box. I had my credit card statement, though.

I'm sorry, but that is why I bought it from a store. So they would take it back if it broke. If they can't bring up the record of my purchase given the date, time, credit card number, etc. that's their deficiency. Requiring the wrapping materials for a non-functioning device is nonsense - they cannot resell it. I suggested that they could simply pull another off the shelf and use it's box - I would take a new one without the packaging.


The result is that I no longer shop at Macy's. They broke their end of the buyer's contract once, evidently by policy, so I am better off shopping elsewhere. I am better off having my products delivered to my doorstep, for less.

At least Cuisinart was cool. They sent a new unit to me, no questions asked. Like Chris Elliot pointed out in a recent column, consumers don't care whose fault it is when something doesn't work. We expect to take it back to the company that took our money and get a refund. It's not an unreasonable expectation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hooray for Indians

The beer can chicken came out just fine. The glaze was good - need to use it elsewhere. But that's not what this post is about.

Hooray for the Cleveland Indians. Two quick stories, both involving my son.

My son had a seizure. Just one, but given his disability it was cause for some concern. His pediatric neurologist suggested that we spend four days with him in the Cleveland Clinic, with his head wired to detect seizure activity. He didn't have any, but four days in a hospital, with your world constricted to your room, the hall, and another room, isn't any fun for anyone. But the Cleveland Indians had donated a gaming system, games, and a cart to help protect it - for the use of the children in this ward. My son loved that game.

For a present, my son's physical education teacher gave him four tickets to an Indian's game. Unfortunately, we could not use those tickets due to a prior commitment. The Indians sent us four other tickets for a later game.

Neither of these things are going to be in the paper, or mentioned on the radio. Many are liable to think that they aren't worth mention because the organization is so wealthy. But these little things - a video game to borrow and tickets to a summer baseball game - they matter to my son. And so, they matter to me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chicken Butt

I will be sporting the Jovan Musk smell for the upcoming year. Hooray! Dad will smell like Dad.

It is a little late to be planning our summer, but that's what my wife and I have been doing today, between other things. Turns out that, once you place everything on the calendar, our summer has planned itself. Our big vacation, Boston and Acadia, is well laid out.

Minor emergency. My wife just screamed for help from the kitchen. Expecting blood or fire, I found her incapacitated by laughter. She's making me beer can chicken for the first time and she had just shoved the half-filled can of beer up what would have been the chicken's butt.

This is what passes for excitement in the Zakany household.

Somewhat undignified for the chicken, I suppose. I hope it tastes good.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pissed at Bumper Stickers

I don't let bumper stickers get to me, as a rule. Sometimes funny, often trashy - never an improvement. Much like tattoos.

Still, it's an easy way to judge a person, these shallow messages worn with pride. So on the way to work this morning I found myself behind a car with a Speak English and a Confederate Flag bumper sticker. No big deal. If you're a racist and proud of it, fine.

No, what set me off was what was next to them.

Not that the third bumper sticker was provocative, by itself. Rather, it was the association of that third bumper sticker with the first two that I found particularly distasteful.

It was a US Marines bumper sticker.

I shy away from jingoistic rhetoric when it comes to our armed forces. I do not put our people in uniform on a pedestal. They're people, nothing more and nothing less. People who have taken a bit of themselves and served our country - but still mere humans. Still, although the men in uniform run the gamut, the corps means something. The organization is more than its parts ever could be.

One thing it is not, however, is racist.

I find the juxtaposition inexcusable. The blond, middle-aged woman behind the wheel of the dilapidated car most certainly enjoys a double-digit IQ - but idiocy is a poor excuse for lumping the Marines with racism. Such a person, I would argue, doesn't deserve to display the US Marine emblem.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm Allowed to be Wrong

One day, I learned that it was okay for me to be wrong.

I was back visiting a test facility that I had left a year prior. Probably asked to review a test facility for readiness to run. Anyway, I saw a schematic in someone's office. It was of a pneumatic system. Being pretty savvy about such things, I understood what it was meant to do, but it wasn't how I would have designed it. Something was off, and I didn't like it.

Being somewhat coy, I didn't tell the engineer what I was really thinking. I merely asked, "how did that work out?"

"Great," was the reply.

At that point I fessed up. "I wouldn't have designed that like that. I would have thought you'd have trouble controlling the pressure." We had a laugh, I learned another way to configure a pneumatic pressure system that, apparently, worked just fine.

More importantly, I learned that it was okay for me to be wrong. It wasn't much of a leap from that point to allow myself to be wrong. In fact, I often say exactly that. When challenged on a point, one of my standard replies is, "well, I can be wrong, but I think..."

I can be wrong.
It's okay to be wrong.
I allow myself to be wrong.

For an engineer whose training over the years has been to never be wrong. - to have every mistake punished by grade or derision - such a litany is quite liberating.

At those times when others are trying to punish me for my mistakes, it's quite disarming to reply, "well, I'm allowed to be wrong." After all, it's a truism that people will, on occasion, be wrong about something. You can't effectively argue that, but sometimes people try. To those, I merely point out how they are destined to go through life unsatisfied by their fellow human beings.

One of these days, I'm going to have to work on not being such a smart ass.

That would be easier if it wasn't so damn entertaining.

Obligatory Fathers' Day Post

Ah, Fathers' Day is coming up and so I must write something about it. Usually, it comes and goes without much fanfare. That's fine. My children love me and my wife doesn't need to buy me presents "from the kids." Except this year.

No. This year is different. I have needs that I've let go just so there would be something to buy good ol' Dad for Fathers' Day. I need cologne. I've been stretching some god awful dollar-store aftershave for months. Not that I wear a fragrance every day, but sometimes it's nice.

I've encouraged my wife to pick one that she likes. Go off the reservation, if you will, and get me something different. That said, I fully expect a bottle of Jovan Musk. Evidently, that's what I'm supposed to smell like.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Annual Rituals

There are certain things you do. Every year. Such things give structure to our lives. The annual ritual at play now are strawberries.

Strawberry picking at Red Wagon Farms is something we look forward to every year. It's not much, I guess. Nothing like fresh, locally grown produce that ripens on the vine and not in some warehouse or cargo hold.

Perhaps we will make freezer jam this year. After all, we have the strawberries and the mint. Just as long as they don't all get eaten before we get around to it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Allentown Art

I don't know why the Allentown Art Festival is such a well-kept secret. Then again, it took years for word of buffalo wings to spread from Buffalo, NY.

It had been over a decade since I had gone to Allentown. It used to be a yearly event for my wife and I. Imagine hundreds of artists, lining several city blocks with booths full of their work. Art at all levels. Everything from a $2 bauble to a $5000 painting. Much of it practical, much of it beautiful.

It is hard to adequately describe. Every town has an open art show. Yawn.

Miles of booths? Of art? Really? How many watercolors and pottery bowls can one person enjoy?

Let me put it this way: my daughter wasn't thrilled about the trip. She, too, thought it would be a bore. Well, she wandered into more booths than my wife and I together. There were hand-painted underwater scenes that, with polarized glasses, appeared 3D. That blew her away.

We only bought a few, useful items. A Corian cutting board. A pottery vase. Three photographs for the kitchen, depicting food.

Every year, we meet someone we know there. This year was no exception. We had dinner with some old friends, breakfast with others.

As a bonus, I bought myself a couple beer glasses at the Buffalo Brew Pub - where my wife and I had our first date. Nothing better than a Buffalo Lager, a beef-on-weck, and friends to share it with.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The garbageman  came today. I'm not talking about the BFI truck. That comes later. I mean the garbageman, or perhaps garbage picker might be a better term. He comes in a pickup truck, not far removed from the things he fills its bed with.

Most neighborhoods have one, I suppose. One day, I had a brief chat with him. He is somewhat shy, because most people would rather shoo him away from their refuse pile than say, "hi." I asked him what he looked for. "Metal," was his reply. He takes metal and sells it by the pound. He was delighted at our old stainless kitchen sink. That was seven dollars right there.

I don't always have metal, but when I do I try to separate it out and put it in a conspicuous box. Consider it a lazy man's recycle program, if you will. It's not charity, though. The garbageman earns his dollar.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why don't we talk?

Men don't talk, and we call it a virtue. I would argue that it is not. The stories of our lives matter to others, but they are often told - if at all - after our demise. My wife lost her mother at age four. But my wife never learned much about her, because her father didn't say much about her. I learned things about my father that were both interesting and inspiring - at his memorial service.

It is commonly thought a virtue to not brag about oneself. No one's achievements are, truly, solo endeavors. Even the man who climbs the mountain first does so with the aid of a multitude. Not just the Sherpa who carries the pack or the pilot that flies him in country. Even the woman in a far off land who sews the backpack together helps the man climb the mountain.

Tell the story of your mountain climb. The boy who pumps the water in the village would like to hear of his triumph.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sad Stories

I think it's interesting that I started this blog off telling some of the sad stories in my history. Maybe I just like my sad stories more.

Anyway, I started talking about mothers. But parents aren't the only persons in my life who have fulfilled a parental role. One person who was more of a grandmother to me than my own grandparents was Mrs. Drinkwalter. Bernice, I believe her name was, but she will always be "Mrs. Drinkwalter" to me.

She was always old.

Granted, she was forty years my senior but she was always a slight, white-haired woman to me. She took care of a set of fishermen cottages in northern Ontario, set on the South River near where it pours into Lake Nipissing. Her cottage was as rustic as the others. I remember visiting, having a cup of tea, talking softly while birds bounced themselves off the windows.

We would go there every year. Oh, growing up there were one or two years where vacation meant someplace else - but with those rare exceptions vacation was the Drinkwalter cottages.

Certainly it is sad that she is no longer alive, but Mrs. Drinkwalter did live to ninety-six. I visited with my family when she was a couple years from the pneumonia that would, finally, win the contest she had played with it all her life. Even then, she would take her daily walk. She would smile at our dog futilely chasing the chipmunks (she loved her chipmunks, so I quietly disposed of those critters that my dog had outwitted).

Like any woman in her nineties, Mrs. Drinkwalter would speak her mind. There was no time for subtle phrases or pointless tact. She gave my wife a huge compliment: Mrs. Drinkwalter approved of her motherhood skills and toughness.

The motherhood skills I understood readily. We have a disabled son. However, he is not coddled, nor do we excuse his bad behavior. He, like the rest of us, will be polite. Mrs. Drinkwalter approved.

To understand the toughness, one must realize something about my wife. She was raised in a suburb of New York City. She is not a nature girl. She is not comfortable around bugs, mud, or the like. Camping is not her idea of a good time. So when the carpenter ant swarm decided to exit our cottage rafters through the interior, she wasn't happy.

I had never seen anything quite like it. Hundreds, maybe a thousand inch-long, winged carpenter ants poured through a small crack near our bedroom ceiling and were crawling over and through everything. This happy event occurred while we were enjoying lunch.

As part of the decontamination routine, I had my wife take our luggage outside, remove each article of clothing, shake it to free the ants, then repack it. Mrs. Drinkwalter and her daughter-in-law, Michelle, were convinced that my wife would simply pack those cleared bags in our truck and demand to return home.

My wife proved her toughness by not doing that.

Sure, she was grossed out by the bugs. So was I. But once we had rid the cottage of the ants, who just wanted out to make new colonies, my wife settled back in. I am proud of my wife - she had impressed an important, grandmotherly figure in my life who was always honest with her appraisals.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Drive (part two)

Are you okay? I'm fine.

The weekly ritual I had, speaking to my mother over the phone. She was sick, but not that sick. And she really did sound fine. Of course, she wasn't fine. She was dying, quickly, of cancer. At the time, though, I didn't know. I couldn't know.

Eventually, she knew it, though. At that point, she wanted to come home. So I conspired with a friend of hers to bring her home and set her up with home medical care. We drove down to Florida and, my God, my mother looked like a corpse. Her appearance did not match her telephone voice.

The next day we took one last trip to her local physician. After the exam, he pulled me aside. My mother had a day, maybe two, to live. "But she wants to come home, " I argued. I was told that she'd never survive the trip. Getting back to my mother was the inevitable question, "what did the doctor say, dear?"

I try to be direct and honest. When I look away, it is to put the words together so they say what I mean - not to mask my true thoughts. Now was not the time to try deceitfulness. So I told her what the doctor had told me. It was a shock, because I don't think she had really understood her situation. She may have thought she had months, or even years of slow life ahead.

"I want to go home." My task was clear - I was to bring my mother home, whether she survived the ordeal or not. I arranged oxygen deliveries along our route, a room with an oxygen generator at the halfway point, and a place to stay at home. A handful of pain pills, a tankful of gas, and I was making The Drive again.

Mom made it home alive. The next day, she toured her home town by car - and died that night in her sleep.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Drive (part one)

I was scrubbing human excrement from the carpet (another story) when the phone rang. It was a doctor in North Bay, Ontario. My father was about to die.

I packed my bags and got on a plane - one hop to Toronto, another to North Bay. By the time I arrived, my dad had taken a life flight to Sudbury, because the hospital in North Bay didn't have the expertise and equipment to keep him alive. My mother was waiting for me with their car. I drove her to Sudbury, where we spent the next week making two trips per day to the hospital, to look at my unconscious father in the ICU.

Eventually, my father was released from the hospital. He had stabilized and could go home. The next day, we took The Drive.

Home, for my parents, was central Florida. God's waiting room. That wasn't our destination. Our destination was my home, outside of Cleveland. On the trip, my dad started to undergo congestive heart failure. Should I take him to the Niagara Falls hospital? Buffalo General?

No. My father had enough of that. Either get me to the Cleveland Clinic or let me die, was essentially what he said. He either wanted the world's best cardiologists to "fix" him, or not. What he didn't want is to be strung along.

Well, I got him there. The Clinic doctor told us we came within a half hour of having a corpse in the back seat, but we got him there. My dad lived another nine months. Long enough for everyone in his family to say, "goodbye." Still, after that experience I said that I will never make The Drive again. Never again will I drive hundreds of miles with a dying parent.

I was wrong.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dolls on a Swing

Little girls play at motherhood. My daughter's Webkinz have become her children. She sets up school rooms and teaches them. She takes them outside and plays with them. At eleven, she's not quite ready to put them away. Were she a bit older, and cooing to a baby instead of a stuffed fetish, we would say that she's a good mother. Mothers, too, play a motherhood. We are all dolls on the swing.