Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing in the New Year ... Literally

Like many folks my age, I am blessed with tinnitus, so I ring in every day at varying decibel levels.  It's not so bad really, in fact it's pretty much background noise unless I focus on it (which I'm doing now, unfortunately.)  Maybe it's actually a sign of creativity, a kind of signal from my inner ear that my muse is calling me to write something.

That must be it.  After all, one of the most bizarrely creative writers of the nineteenth century, Edgar Allan Poe, surely had it.  You doubt me?  Who else but someone intimately familiar with this incessant ringing could have crafted The Bells, a magnificent poem around the word, tintinnabulation?  I rest my case.

There's an intriguing phrase, "I rest my case."  It bears some research ... Okay, I'm back.  After one minute of exhaustive Googling, I've concluded that all discussions concerning its origin beg the question (research that phrase yourself, if you care,) so I've formed my own conclusion.
Since the earliest days of the British legal system, briefs were prepared by a solicitor then delivered to a barrister, in a case - a briefcase.  It follows that, since the barrister had little time prior to arguing at trial to examine the stuff, he invariably chose to carry the briefcase while arguing for the prosecution or defense.   This enabled him to extract and refer to the contents without needing to return to his chair, thereby interrupting the drama building in the courtroom.  When the presentation of evidence concluded, he returned to his chair and rested his case on the table or floor.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

BTW The brief was probably so called from its first being only a copy of the original writ. [from Wikipedia on Brief (law)]

While musing about this, I found myself visualizing a barrister being handed a case that actually contained tighty-whities.  Couldn't get the image out of my head  for a while - must be the tinnitus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chaos Theory and My Office

My understanding of Chaos Theory (which is at best, minimal) is that, even though the possible outcomes of a process are known given specific starting conditions, which of those outcomes will actually result is unpredictable.  I beg to differ.

  • Given: my office is always in chaos, and I need to find something.  
  • Process: hunt through the mess for hours.  
  • Result: go out and purchase the item, only to return and find its mate clearly visible.  

So you see that, in my case at least, the result is always predictable.

I mention the above only because I've promised myself to get my office straightened up, neat and orderly as  my wife's.  Those of you who know me, please stop laughing; I really mean it this time.  This is not a New Year's Resolution, which I never make, because I started it on December 27th.  I have gone so far as to bring a cardboard box up from the basement and toss in all the papers that I will shred, someday.  I also had a two-by-two foot section of my desktop cleared as of yesterday afternoon.  I say "had" because this morning I found several sheets of paper, two business cards, and three checkbooks nestled in that space.  I have no idea how that happened.

Perhaps one of our sneaky, disruptive cats, who frequent my chaotic cave, are responsible - all three are here now just waiting for me to leave so they can mess things up.   Hmm ... I could avoid any future cleanup then they would be discouraged from their mischief.

I'll have to think about that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrating Light in all its Variations

There are many ways to stop cursing the darkness and instead find your own light.  Be it Christmas trees, menorahs, diyas, bonfires, or whatever is significant to you, the essence of it all is shedding light on the hours of darkness.  Our  bodies need light to survive both physically and emotionally; we are not made for dark.  Our eyes, our primary means of sensing danger, are unsuited to night, so we have developed light sources to combat it.  It sets me to wondering whether fire, in our ancestors' earliest experiences, found its first use as a means of seeing better.

Think about how many rituals involve candlelight, how many involve bonfires, fireworks.  We crave light.

Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, whichever you celebrate, or take both in equal measure if you wish.  Better yet become your own light.

This is what happens when I start musing late at night.  Deal with it.  I'm a big fan of moonlight myself.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Levis conundrum - 501 or 505

It started in middle school in Bayport Long Island, my love of Levis 501 jeans.  You probably know them -  button-fly, shrink-to-fit, blue jeans - worn in Bayport at least, by the JD's(Juvenile Delinquents), the guys with DA (Duck's Ass) hairdos, who sported leather jackets and engineer boots.  One of them, my girlfriend Joan's older brother, Donny, told me he bought them two sizes too large and shrunk them to fit perfectly.  When I asked how to shrink them, he said, "Fill the tub with hot water and get in with the jeans on, then wear them till they dry."

I saved money from my paper route delivering the Long Island Daily Press, until I finally was able to purchase a pair.  I had to ask my mother what size I was, since she bought all my clothes.  She told me and asked why I wanted to know; I told her I'd saved up for a pair of jeans.   It took the next half hour to convince her I wouldn't become a JD just because I wore the same jeans - though I secretly admired their lifestyle.  On Saturday, I road my bike to Patchogue, the town with the nearest department store that carried the beloved 501's, and bought the dark blue, two sizes too large jeans.  Back home, mom inspected my purchase and declared them too large.  When I explained that they shrink a lot she just shook her head, mumbling something about a waste of good money and went outside with a pitcher of Kool-aid to sit with Dad and our next door neighbors.

I headed for the bathroom with my purchase, took off my dungarees (now more popularly known as carpenter jeans) and donned the new Levis while the tub was filling, carefully folding the pantlegs two times each to shorten them.  I climbed into the tub, easing myself into the water.  After soaking for what I deemed an appropriate interval, I stood up and pulled the plug to let the water drain.  Then it occurred to me - How was I going to get out of the tub without dripping water all over the floor?  I stood in the tub, dripping, holding the too-big jeans up with both hands, and pondered my predicament for several minutes. I had decided to stay where I was until they stopped dripping when my mother, pregnant with my youngest sister, knocked on the door.

"Tommy?  I need to use the toilet, hurry up."
"Ma ... I..." She must have heard the desperation in my voice, because she opened the door and rushed in.

Even now the range of emotions that crossed her face are vivid in my memory. Horror, concern, anger, humor, all contended for dominance.  "Take them off in the tub," she ordered, "And put on dry underpants before you get dressed."  She picked up my T-shirt and dungarees, handed them to me as I stepped from the tub, and pushed me out the door.  In the room I shared with my brother, I dressed quickly then hurried back to wait by the bathroom.  When she emerged wet Levis in hand, I tried to explain about needing to wear them until they dried, but she rejected my pleas.  Back in my bedroom,  I watched out the window while she unfolded the pantlegs and hung the jeans on the clothesline in our back yard.  I stared at those jeans, willing them to remember my body shape and size while they dried.  Though I couldn't hear the conversation when Mom joined Dad and their friends in the yard, their laughter pretty much told me the topic.

Back to my conundrum - I love 501 jeans, (which now come preshrunk, though the shrink-to-fit originals are still available) but the last time I tried on a pair I had great difficulty buttoning the fly.  When I finally got it buttoned, I realized that my aging plumbing might not be able to hold off emptying itself while I unbuttoned it.  With great sadness, I opted for the zippered fly Levis 505's.  They are adequate, but that's it.  No love there.

Last night I decided to fight back and ordered two pair of 501's.

And, no, that first pair never did look quite right.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thinking about implements, utensils, weapons.

A few days ago I had occasion to listen to a man go on about the second amendment at some length.  Since he was sitting in a friend's living room wearing a ball cap with the NRA Golden Eagle logo emblazoned on it, I wasn't surprised.  What did startle me however was, when someone asked if he carried a weapon, he said, "A gun is not a weapon; it is an implement, just like a knife or fork."  Since I was the one who posed the initial question, I was about to ask if he ate with a gun, but it struck me that anyone who considers a rifle or sidearm anything but a weapon, should probably not be confronted about it.

This person also quoted some numbers to support his contention that carrying a concealed weapon (he did call it a weapon then) was a crime deterrent, basing it on a Texas law allowing concealment and the resulting drop in muggings, assaults, etc.   I have to be suspicious of any stats coming from a state that prides itself on the number of executions it performs, and tends to elect governors with an IQ equivalent to pocket lint.

For the record, though I do not currently own a firearm, I am not opposed to possession of same.  I have owned several in the past and may own one again.  I do, however, believe that every one of them should be registered in some central database.  They are not, I repeat not, implements in any but the most general definition of the term.  They have only one function and that is to kill.  They are weapons.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It takes a weary man, to sing a weary song

I'm retired, allegedly.   I'm considering getting a job so I can get some rest.  This retirement gig is tough with board memberships, volunteer work, hobbies, household chores, etc., none of which add anything monetarily to my life.  Sure there's a bunch of personal gratification and enjoyment involved in this stuff, but damn I'm tired.  Back when I was earning a living, it seemed that things were simpler.  Work then come home and relax.  (I know you're laughing at the memory lapses that allow me to forget any but the most pleasant, easy history.)  Anyway, I'm tired and I will be performing in a play on Saturday then singing on Sunday at another venue.  The following weekend is yet another singing gig.  All are benefit performances.

There's nothing profound here, I just felt the need to post something.  If you're looking for something to ponder, try thinking about the absolute dysfunctionality of our government and the potential to make it even worse if people don't pay attention to reality.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I miss George Carlin

Carlin was a funny, brilliant, angry man.  He slaughtered sacred cows, made us aware of the absurdities of our consumer-based lifestyles, and criticized the politics in our country, all with humor.  His autobiography, Last Words, is a great read and a testament to his sometimes brutal honesty.  He made a simplistic, but fundamentally accurate, statement about the two major political entities in the US, saying in essence, conservatives protect property; liberals protect people.  Actually, that is one of his milder statements. Check out some others here.

The assertion above - property vs. people - leads me to another musing, the apparent need for so many of us to treat life as a series of binary options: good or bad, hot or cold, true or false, etc., when pretty much the only truly binary option is life or death.  All else, it seems to me, is nuanced, with many shades rather than simple black or white.  We live in a world of many dimensions, not two.  I'm kind of babbling here, but I hope you understand.

Those folks who believe in a binary world have an advantage over those of us who do not.  Their decisions are easy.  Mine, not so much.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What exactly is an unfinished root canal?

Yesterday at eight am I plunked my butt into my dentist's chair for a root canal.  I'd wanted him to pull the small crooked lower tooth, but he convinced me a root canal would be better and not leave a gap.  I didn't care about the gap personally, it being tiny and insignificant in my estimation, but I went with his preference.

After an hour-and-a-half in the chair with him drilling and poking and grinding, he told me we'd finish it up at the next appointment(!?)  He also said I might feel some discomfort, which could be mitigated by Ibuprofen or the like.  I made my next appointment at the front desk, a little worried that it was more than two weeks away, but confident that I could handle a "little discomfort" since the tooth had been providing that for most of a year already.  Well, I'm not sure what he would define as a "little discomfort" but this ain't it.  It hurts like hell every time the Tylenol or Advil wears off (I'm alternating them at a shorter interval than I'd be safely able to take either alone - a method my doctor recommended when I had shingles.)

I'm trying to macho it out until Monday with the help of OTC drugs, but he may be getting a call this weekend.  It kind of reminds me of a mantra we had in IBM, "Don't do any software updates on Friday, unless you want to work over the weekend."  Maybe that holds for unfinished root canals.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Enjoying The Morning After

Yesterday I got great news, my sort of blood brother orange cat is healthy and resenting being cooped up.  My neighbor e-mailed me that the cat was fine, and the health department called later in the morning with a message containing the same information.  The exception is, the health department guy must have repeated "No Rabies" three or four times, just to make sure I heard it.  I heard it.  I didn't realize/admit to myself how tense I was until that news.  My stomach stopped trying to reject any food I ate, and I was able to breathe more easily.  The bite is healing and, though it still hurts at intervals, whatever other bacteria  the cat and I exchanged, I'll let my immune system handle.  For now, all is well.

We have completed the first leg of our trip home from Louisiana.  We are stopping at my sister-in-law's home in Birmingham for the night; a visit I always look forward to.  She is one of my all-time favorite people.  She and Carol are about finished preparing a terrific dinner, so it looks like about time to eat.  Tomorrow's a long ride into northern Virginia where we'll stay the night at a motel.  The next day will be lunch with daughter and then home.

More when we get back there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the Road Again, and a Quarantined Cat

I write this from Bristol, Tennessee after 670+/- miles of driving on our way to Patterson, Louisiana.  Tomorrow we travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for dinner with my niece and mother-in-law.  I'll try to add an additional shot of Carol's former home post-tornado, tomorrow, but tonight let's talk about a town/city with an identity crisis.   Bristol straddles the border of Virginia and Tennessee.  One contiguous urban area with two distinct governments, one town divided by an arbitrary, invisible line on someone's map.  I guess it's no stranger than several other similar urban areas, except for the fact that both parts have the same name and, where other areas have a visible boundary, usually a river, this one seems completely arbitrary.

One lesson to be learned about Bristol, however, is that the bulk of the restaurants, hotels, etc. seem to be on the Virginia side.  Just a note to anyone who happens by and wants to spend a night.

Now about quarantined cats:  I believe I mentioned I was bitten by a neighbor's cat on Saturday, if I didn't mention it, there it is.  The neighbor hadn't kept the critter's shots up to date, and it apparently had an altercation with some unknown animal five days before it bit me, so we are waiting.  The Ulster County Health Department said to me that if the cat was rabid at the time I was bitten, in ten days it would be dead.  I wait now, until the twenty-fourth to see if I must undergo the rabies treatment.  I'm hoping my blood-brother cat lives a long and healthy life.  So far so good.  I'll keep you posted.  I feel a little bad for the cat, but not too bad.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Huge sculptures and Elvis stalking his tail

Elvis is my cat, actually he's one of three but he is my constant companion, so I call him mine.  Yeah I know, he made the choice so "I'm his human" is a more accurate designation, but why quibble.  Anyway, we're buds.  Now those of you who know cats have seen them chase their tails as if it were a toy, which it may be in catland.  It's usually nothing special, they notice it and pounce.  Not Elvis.  He sits and glances over his shoulder, sees the tail and waits, watching for it to move.  And move it does, a teasing flick of the tip followed by a more overt wag, then it goes still.  Elvis' other end, seeing the motion, tenses for a pounce but when the teasing tail stops, he waits.  Very soon, the tail-tip flicks, followed by the wag, and he finally attacks, only to go into contortions when it evades his grasp.   This is remarkably entertaining to me, and I assume to him, since it's a daily occurrence.

Enough about Elvis.

Carol and I went to Storm King Art Center today.  This is hundreds of acres of enormous outdoor sculptures, most in steel or stone, a huge outdoor museum.  Any attempt to describe it would be inadequate so here's the URL for the website. Storm King Art Center

It was a bone-chilling windy day today but we managed  to walk through a bit of the place before hopping the tram for a forty minute ride around.  If you are ever in the area, this is not to be missed.

This evening, as I sat out on my front steps, a neighbor's cat bit me, drawing blood.  Bummer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Strangeness of Estrangement

I have two sons and two stepdaughters. I am close with both girls and my younger adopted son. I am estranged from my older son, the only offspring who carries my genes.

I don't know why, exactly.   He refused to visit on the weekends I was supposed to have the boys.  That carried all through his middle and high school years.  When he was out of school and working,  however, we visited each other occasionally, usually around some project one of us was engaged in, or a car to show off.

One day, ten, maybe twelve years ago, he came over to show me a Ford Mustang he and his best friend had set up to race in the infamous Cannonball Run (I think it was renamed, Rally Across America and legalized by then.) He mention that he was getting married.  Carol and I knew the girl, having lunched with them a few times, and we liked her.

"Great," I said. "When?"
"October 11th," he answered. "It's going to be a small wedding."

We said our goodbyes and he left. What I didn't know until later was that I was not invited. Those were his last words to me until his brother's fortieth birthday celebration in Louisiana this March. My attempts to communicate with him through the years yielded nothing. His wife sent notes apologizing, saying she couldn't understand why. She finally divorced him.

The strangeness, the curiosity question of this estrangement in my mind is, "Why then?" It would have been logical, though no less painful, for him to have done it immediately and totally when I left. Logical - funny how that word came up. The whole estrangement issue rose while watching a Star Trek Next Generation episode where Spock talked of being estranged from his father.

The reason we both ended up in Louisiana together was my younger son's gift from his wife, race car driving lessons. His best friend and my older son were also invited. At the end of the day, I photographed the three together. I took several shots, but he didn't look at me in any of them. The enclosed shot is as close as he got. It should be obvious that he's the one on the left.

While we were there I discovered that, in many ways I was proud of the man he'd become. Even though it hurt being so close to him physically and so terribly far away at the same time, I could see that he'd crafted a life that worked for him.   I wish it had included me.

I thought about just dumping this after I wrote it. Maybe I should have.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Inventing Time

I once mused about how we measure the passage of time. I may have done that here, I don't recall. Anyway, it intrigues me so I'm musing again. The divisions of time into manageable parcels is in some part a way of naming an observed phenomenon: a day for example contains both light and darkness in a cyclic pattern; a year, a pattern of seasonal changes; a lunar month, tracks the orbit of our favorite satellite. But we seem to need additional slices of time, slices that take steps away from that reality.

The gregorian, or western, calendar divides the year into twelve somewhat arbitrary segments that don't track the observable world. The division of the day into daylight and darkness apparently needed to be further divided, again somewhat arbitrarily, into twenty-four hours, an hour into sixty minutes, minutes into sixty seconds, and then the decimal system takes over to further divide time into infinitesimal pieces. Why did we need to do that?

However, the strangest of these arbitrary divisions is the week. The only rationale for the week being seven days long as far as I can determine, is the book of Genesis. If one needed to carve the year into chunks of days, why not five, which divides the year into seventy-three weeks rather than fifty-two with a day left over? Here's an interesting site to explore on the issue, if you're so inclined.

This is what happens when I wake up at 3:30.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Narcissus and Odd-sized Inseams

The two topics are unrelated but both have crossed my limited consciousness in the past couple days so here they are.

First - and I believe I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating - bodybuilders are the ultimate narcissists. The gym I use sporadically has, in addition to many aerobic and strength training machines, a free-weight section on a separate floor. Typical of that kind of room the non-windowed walls are mirrored floor to ceiling. Ostensibly this is to allow one to check one's form while working out to ensure correct technique. Sometimes though I see the male weightlifters flexing and posing with no weight in their hands. Not so the women who seem to be there for the conditioning, and perhaps to be ogled while exercising (probably not.) The narcissism becomes more pronounced in the men's locker room, where I've noticed that not one of the twenty/thirty-something bodybuilders seems to be able to pass a mirror without looking into it at his own reflection, and there are a lot of mirrors in there. Obviously I don't know how women react in their own facility, but I'm guessing they're more interested in how their clothes fit than how flexed biceps or triceps show up. There's definitely a reason Narcissus was male.

Second - Those of us who generally select our trousers and jeans from the Wrangler, Lee, Dockers, Levis sections of big box stores, have to wonder why there are not enough men on the planet with odd numbered inseams to warrant production of clothing in their size. I have a thirty-one inch inseam, not thirty, not thirty-two, so I am plagued with pants that are either too short, or fray at the cuffs from being dragged on the ground. I think this is a discriminatory practice that has to stop. Perhaps an "Odd Inseams Unite" movement is in order. Just Sayin'.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Being a non-Jock in Jockland

First of all, I am no couch potato. I work out regularly and am in excellent condition for a man of almost seventy. That said, I hang out with triathletes, who are in my opinion the most superbly conditioned humans on the planet. They train at distances in a day that I, in my youth would consider a week's work. Whenever they collect in a group, the conversation revolves around running, biking, or swimming; comparing times or sharing training strategies. These are, for the most part, people who have regular day jobs, some at very high professional levels, yet their day almost always includes a level of athletic activity that would incapacitate the average person for a week.

I am privileged to be a member of the race committee of one of the more intriguing and challenging events in the realm of triathlon, the Survival of the Shawangunks, more lovingly known as the SOS. This is a race unique among triathlons in that it involves eight stages, including three lake swims and four individual runs. there's no need to describe here, look in the SOS Triathlon website. The reason I'm chatting about it is we ran it this Sunday, September 11th. It was probably the most exciting iteration of this event since I've been part of it, mainly because we had to reconstruct an acceptable course with less than two weeks notice. Here's why.

Hurricane Irene devastated Minnewaska State Park, the source of two swims with intervening runs, and the park is closed until further notice. We adjusted the run and swim course, shortening it considerably, and then had another couple of days of heavy rain, which flooded and closed our road course. It wasn't until Saturday morning September 10th that we settled on a road course.
All that said, the race went off with a hundred-thirty plus racers supported by over two hundred volunteers. It was by all empirical measures, a rousing success.

I think what keeps me involved in an event I couldn't hope to enter is the dedication, intelligence and wonderful sense of humor of the people who arrange it, and the people who participate. I'm happy to be part of it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Record's Forty Days

That's what my father used to say when we complained about too much rain. The past couple of weeks, with Hurricane Irene barreling through and now remnants of Tropical Storm Lee soaking our already soaked area, begins to look like we could approach that record. Roads west of the Wallkill River are once again inundated. I'm guessing that the village side of our road is also under water. We are the lucky ones. No need to detail the devastation upstate New York has suffered. Anyone who watches TV has seen it.

A couple of days ago I had a truckload of clothes and kitchenware, the leftover items from the Unison Arts barn sale, so I called around to local relief organizations to see where I could deposit the stuff. Every place I contacted was full to the rafters because they were unable to deliver the supplies, roads were gone or open to emergency vehicles only. I finally managed to get them to the Salvation Army warehouse in Poughkeepsie, which was also filling up very quickly.

It is still raining. The record's forty days.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

After Irene

By now any of you who don't live under a rock have seen the devastation wrought by this hurricane on upstate New York. Some things that may not have reached your TV or computer screen: Our local CSA farm down the street lost its entire fall crop.

Another, Wallkill View Farms, out on the flat west of the Wallkill River in New Paltz is accustomed to having its land flood in the spring, but not when a maturing crop was in the field. That farm sells their sweet corn and pumpkins to the many tourists who visit our area in the fall. Both the corn and the pumpkins are gone. This year there will be no hayrides to search for the best pumpkin, no corn maze to dazzle the kids, and no goodies to take home. In addition to the fields being inundated, the store itself was under several feet of water damaging the refrigerators and destroying the nursery plants.

While the damage here isn't as dramatic as that in Prattsville and Windham, it's seriousness cannot be minimized. Even the SUNY campus suffered water damage to a couple of its buildings.

We are lucky in that we had electricity restored less than two days after it went out. Our cable service is still not back so no regular phone, TV, or internet.

More rain is forecast over the next couple of days, hopefully not enough to bring the flooding back.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post trip postscript

Arriving home on the twelveth after three weeks on the road, we were greeted by our friend, neighbor, and cat sitter, Bob, who was tending to his stone-paved driveway.  After bringing each other up to speed on travels/local news, Carol and I  did some minor, very minor, unloading then I caught up on emails while she prepared our offering for the evening's Flamingo Friday around the corner.  We spent three lovely hours with neighbors, eating great food, drinking good wine, and chatting about a little of everything from my dying peach trees to our extensive travels.  Worn out by about nine-thirty, we made our exit.  We were in bed on our porch before ten.

Several things drifted into my none-to-nimble brain while traveling.  I'll see if I can sift through the fog and bring some of them forward.

While heading west through Canada, I notice several places where Canadian flags were tacked up on rock hillsides.  It pleased me to see them at first, but then I thought about how I'd react if I were in the US and saw the Stars and Stripes displayed in a similar fashion.  I knew it would annoy me, because I would associate it with the belligerent "I'm a patriot, and if you don't display the flag, you're not." displays: trailing shredded from car windows, tacked on the lapels of politicians, or painted on the sides of buildings.  I resent the implication, especially from people who claim respect for the flag but seem to lack respect for the country it represents.  It made me wonder if that was happening in Canada.

I heard a preacher on one of the innumerable christian radio stations across the country claiming that the Statue of Liberty was a graven idol. Wing-nuts abound, and the scariest thing is that too many folks buy this stuff.    I'm always struck by people who quote the bible as the "Word of God."  Is that the King James version of the word, the Douay version, another version?  What about non-english translations?   I hark back to a statement by Deepak Chopra. “Walk with those seeking truth; run from those who think they've found it."

Enough of that.

After hosting our youngest grandkids for the past two days we passed them off to the the other GP's at a Plaza Diner breakfast. They will ferry the munchkins back to mom and dad.  At four and seven, they are all energy and fun.  At sixty-nine and sixty-six, we are worn out.

The sun is down.

I sit in that grey space before the dark. All is quiet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

End of the trip

We left Lakeport around eight this morning, after spending an hour drinking coffee on the beach and watching the sun rise over Lake Huron.

We fueled up in Port Huron, before crossing into Canada.  The machine has been yielding over twenty miles per gallon the last few tankfuls, pretty remarkable.  We made good time crossing Canada, including a stop for breakfast at a Tim Horton's in some town beginning with "S".  It was incredible to see how much traffic the place got on a Thursday morning, the road was even blocked a couple of times with cars waiting to enter the Drive thru lane.  

We got to see Lake Ontario as we approached Niagara Falls skirting the coast on Canada 25.  Once in Niagara Falls, we drove along the shore drive, allowing us a pretty good view of the falls from the Canadian side, before crossing into the US.  Once again I lucked out; a lane opened just as I approached and I ended up in that lane with only one car ahead of me.

We opted to avoid the Thruway to Rochester, choosing instead highway 104.  It took us through quaint towns and past many farm stands.  We bought fresh peaches and a sour cream cookie at one of them.  we arrived at Laura and Tim's place about two-thirty.  This is the official end of the trip, even though we still have the ride to New Paltz tomorrow. 

We actually saw only four of the Great Lakes - missing Erie. 

August 10th

We were on the road this morning just before seven am, our target Lakeport State Park on Michigan’s shoreline with Lake Huron.  On our way, we skirted Superior and Michigan.  Carol observed that we would touch all five Great Lakes before this trip was over.  We arrived at the park around four this afternoon, about four hundred seventy miles in nine hours.  Much like our experience at Van Riper, we have the best campsite in the park (#18.)

I’m writing this sitting in a chair at the back of our site, watching a fascinating dynamic unfold.  It started with three teenage boys, I’ll label them: the tough guy, the fat follower, and the nerdy friend.  I saw them on the beach first then they came to the “playground”(a group of five swings, four slings and one kids chair).  They hung around the swings not paying much attention to the equipment, just sitting and chatting.  In a while, another group came up from the beach: three pretty teenage girls and one boy about the same age, and a three or four-year old girl they were all caring for.  The first group separated themselves from the swings then the fat follower stayed while the other two left.  A few minutes later they returned on bicycles and rode in and out of the area for a good half hour while the girl-heavy entourage ignored them completely.  Meanwhile the fat follower just hovered. Tough guy and Nerdy are continuing to ride around.  Fat leans against a far support of the swings, not looking at the group.  Now Nerdy is on one of the swings.  There’s still no interaction between the groups other than their proximity.  Tough Guy keeps riding away and returning.  It’s truly a fascinating scene.  Nerdy and Fat are now standing some thirty feet away, consciously ignoring the other group.  Tough guy has once again disappeared.  He’s back now with his two friends.  The girl entourage just left.   Everybody but Fat is now gone; he sits on one of the swings, a blank expression on his face.

Now back to the trip.  We stopped in Gaylord to do a little shopping and get some more coffee.  The Starbucks inside the supermarket provided me with coffee and two mini cupcakes, a great addition to their treats.  These are a single bite (though Carol makes two bites out of it) treat, a perfect fit for a second cup of coffee.  I put Carol’s chocolate peanut butter cupcake on the passenger’s seat, still in its Starbucks paper bag, forgetting about my love’s powers of observation.  She sat on it.  She recovered by putting it in the fridge for half an hour before extricating it from the bag and eating it. 

Huron is calm and inviting, unlike the windy whitecaps we saw in Superior and Michigan.  A four-year-old boy just walked by carrying handcuffs – you can’t make this stuff up.

August 9th

Our only day on this return trip that did not involve driving.  We rose early this morning to visit Lake Michigamme, greeting the few campers who were awake at six-thirty with a mutual wave of our coffee mugs.  The wind coming across the large lake added to the chill in the air so we couldn’t stay long.  On our walk back, we stopped at the comfort station to comfort ourselves and wound up finishing the walk in the rain. 

I rolled the awning out yesterday but forgot to install the center brace.  When the awing started flapping in the wind this morning it occurred to me to add the brace.  It comes in two parts, one inserted into the other to make the complete, adjustable unit.  I assembled and installed it.  Later in the morning we decided to take one of the hikes listed in the park brochure and, since there were twenty-five mph wind gusts predicted, I chose to roll up the awning to avoid possible damage while we were gone.  That’s when I discovered that I’d assembled the center brace backward, which made it almost impossible to separate into its two component parts, and therefore unstowable.  With pliers and silent curses, I managed to part the pieces without damaging either significantly.  Given a fifty-fifty chance, I can screw things up almost one hundred percent of the time. 

We hiked the “Miners Loop” during which I fed several mosquitos and we got rained on, but it was a good walk anyway.  Back at the lake proper, we visited the concession stand for mint chocolate chip ice cream in wafer cones then returned to our Traveler, whereupon I opened the awning and properly installed the center brace. 

We had been discussing the merits of the two small, collapsible tables that we carry.  Carol is enamored with a circular plastic thing that we carry and treats the canvas square one with some disdain.  When she suggested Scrabble, I agreed.  While she gathered the necessities for the game, I set up the square canvas table, placing the Scrabble board on it.  We were five minutes into the contest when she remarked, “Oh you got the other table out.”  I love this woman.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Coffee on the shore of Lake Superior

The Tap Roots Coffee Shop occupies one corner of a brick house on the corner of Lakeshore Highway(US 2) and 4th Avenue in Ashland, Wisconsin.  The rest of the building is a law office and gift shop.  I stopped here on the way to Oregon and loved it, so I knew I'd have to come back.  We're sitting next to a window that gives us a view of the lake across the highway.  The window frame is tiger oak, as are the remaining frames and the doors.
Window Sample
Our plan, currently, is to spend two days in Michigan's UP before journeying through Canada to New York.

My quick repair of the hot water line in the bathroom has sprung a minor leak.  I am trying to pack in with putty (or whatever it is; it seems to mold itself to the pipe) to keep the leak from getting worse.  Right now, if it stays the way it is, we will be fine.  I think one of the jarring back roads must have put a strain on it.  One of the bumps shortened my spine an inch.

We're at Van Riper State Park on Michigan's U.P.  We'll be here for two nights then scoot south and east to a campground around Flint on Wednesday.  Thursday we'll enter and exit Canada and drop in on our daughter Laura and her family for the night.  Friday is home.

We walked to the boat launch this evening after dinner, passing the "rustic" camp area, meaning tents and pit potties.  On the way, Carol said, "It's a Jame's Taylor song," then, sometime later, "Ice."  I'm still trying to figure that out.

A path leading from the boat launch followed the lake shore toward the "modern" campground.  A short way along the path we climbed stairs set into the hillside, that deposited us at the edge of "modern".  "Look they have RV's in the rustic campground," Carol observed.   It took a bit for her to convince herself we were actually back in the modern campground.  This is why I worry when she decides to hike somewhere unfamiliar all alone.

August 7th

Okay so we’ve located another cool state park, this one in Wisconsin just a few miles across the border from Duluth, MN.  Its name, Amnicon Falls State Park, which might lead one to believe that there’s a waterfall or two there.  There are actually three.  I’m imagining that this is a particularly high water period because there are signs reading “No Swimming Today” and I cannot believe anyone is able to swim here, ever.  Of course, anyone who would consider swimming in this river today probably can’t read anyway.  
Check the sign
Upper Falls and Carol

We finished listening to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a heart wrenching, well-written novel.  I highly recommend it.  Next on the list is a biography of Einstein.  Anecdote heard on NPR: An elementary teacher trying to shore up kids who weren't doing well in math told them that Einstein flunked math once in school.  One child raised a hand and when called on said, "If he flunked, why'd they call him Einstein?"  

August 6th

Camping tonight on the east side of North Dakota – Turtle River State Park.  It showered most of the day but cleared up shortly after we arrived so we saw actual shadows on the ground.   We have water and electric tonight so we’re splurging and using the convection oven to bake a sweet potato. 
On our way here we saw lots of evidence of the flooding that has plagued North Dakota up around Minot and east along US 2.  Thousands of acres of farmland are still under water and the rotting hay bales in dry fields speak of the devastation that has already occurred.

We had to make a brief stop in Rugby to see and photograph the marker pinpointing the geographic center of North America, after which we decided to resupply a couple of items.  Sadie directed us to a market in the tiny town of Lakota, ND where we were able to get some fruit and veggies but no yogurt, beer or wine.  We asked at checkout and found that bars sell beer and wine to go in addition to their usual operation.  We were told that Third Base, a bar just up the street was one possibility.  A woman in line behind us suggested another place that would have a better wine selection but the clerk said they didn’t open until four.  It was only three when we checked out. 

We found Third Base with no trouble and went in.  There were four men sitting at a table, two more sitting at the bar, and a bartender who looked more rundown than the bar he tended.  I spotted the cooler against the far wall on our left and made for it.  The relic bartender met us there, standing wordlessly a couple of feet away.  I saw Sam Adams Boston Lager on one shelf and a quick check of the expiration date told me I had barely time to consume it.  I pulled two bottles then asked about their wine selection.  The bartender pointed to two one-liter boxes of burgundy.  We left without buying wine.

August 5th

We spent a good part of today in Glendive, scooting in for breakfast at Book 'n' Bear Nook/Coffee Den on Merrill Ave (the main street.)  Before we left the park, Carol spent twenty minutes meditating while I dug the dried mud out of the soles of our hiking boots, the result of an aborted hike through an arroyo in the park after the evening hailstorm.  The muck is incredibly slippery and sticky when wet and rock hard when dry.  It took a lot of gouging with a little used saw-tooth blade on my utility knife to finally expose the tread. 

For breakfast, we each had a slice of spinach quiche and an apple juice, then split a bagel and coffee while downloading our email and engaging in other miscellaneous internet activities.  We spent a couple of hours there, over-tipped the staff, and left in search of a coin laundry.  Before I could start the Traveler, Carol noticed a local drug store where she might be able to replace the sunglasses that I’d stepped on yesterday (they were on the floor next to the drivers seat.)  I was also low on disposable gloves which I use when dumping the holding tanks, so there were a couple of reasons to check the place out.  We scored both items and while paying for them asked the woman where a laundry might be.  She directed us straight up Merrill a few blocks. 

We were able to park in the shade while the laundry was happening.  Carol spent a fair amount of time trying to decide whether the bathroom sink's tap was high enough to allow her to wash her hair.  It wasn't until our laundry was dry and folded that she noticed a utility sink in the middle of the room, with a high-arched tap.  She didn't wash her hair.

Turns out the place also had internet service so we both spent more time with our computers. Lest you think I was wasting said time, I’ll have you know I made a campground reservation for my family reunion the end of this month, and also scouted out state parks in North Dakota, finding the Lewis and Clark State Park only a hundred thirty miles away, just outside Williston.  I know, it’s the second L and C park we’ve stayed at.  I think by tomorrow evening we’ll be too far east for any more.  Anyway, this one advertised electric and water hookups, showers, and even internet.

When we arrived all the hookup sites were taken so we’re in a primitive site anyway.  The showers are still available.  Haven’t found the internet service though.

We stopped for lunch at a neat little corner cafĂ© in Sidney, MT.  The name of the place is Sunny’s, and Sidney bills itself as Montana’s Sunrise City, so …

It rained pretty steadily from lunchtime until almost sunset so Carol didn’t even need the sunglasses.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More catching up - Montana Style

August 4th

Glendive, Montana, home of some famous dinosaur fossil beds.  We are at campsite 8 in Makoshika State Park.  It is 96 degrees at five pm and the late afternoon thunderclouds are forming along the western ridge.  We are bounded by sandstone hills in this desert; the layers of sediment so perfectly horizontal as to make one think they were placed there by some gigantic master stonemason. 
One thing Carol and I have noticed about the small cities we’ve traversed in both Idaho and Montana is that they seem healthy.  There’s no evidence of boarded up shops in the downtown areas and the surrounding residential blocks appear well cared for.  I’m not sure what that says about anything, it’s a curiosity though. 

The evening thunderstorm has arrived.  In general, they last several minutes with rain of varying intensity and sometimes, spectacular lightning.  As a reward for being cooped up inside the Traveler for the duration of the storm, we have twice been treated to a rainbow.  

It has just turned into a hailstorm.  Cool. 


Rainbow number three

The handle “Big Sky Country” fits Montana.  Even with the mountains and rolling hills in the way, the sky seems to go on forever.  One kinda cute thing about the state is the number of places with “Lewis and Clark” in the name.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear they settled the place instead of passing through it on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve had good experiences in this state both, this year and last.  I highly recommend a trip out here.  Tomorrow’s plan is to browse around Glendive for a bit then take a relatively short run into North Dakota.

August 3rd

We left Craters around eight this morning, after one last loop around the road.  When we reached Arco we had a choice between going north to Salmon and into Montana at Missoula, or driving east to Idaho Springs then turning north on I-15 into Montana a ways south of Butte.  Carol chose the second.   About sixty miles into The Big Sky state, we pulled off the interstate into the town of Dillon where there was a visitor center.  We got info from there, coffee from a Starbucks squirreled away inside a huge Safeway market, picked up some groceries while we were there, then got back on the road.

We’re camped at Lewis and Clark Cavern State Park, about thirty miles east of Butte.  I’m writing this while sipping from a cold can of Scape Goat Pale Ale, a brew from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula that claims, “We make water fun.” Their motto, printed on the side of the can, “Always drink upstream from the herd.”  Anyway, it’s a pretty nice ale.   My first can of it fell victim to my … I don’t know what to call it when one hurriedly folds up a chair in order to stash it under the Traveler, forgetting that a nearly full can of Scape Goat was residing in the cup holder. 

We hiked to the Jefferson River, going out by way of the actual trail but returning on the road we’d taken to get to the park, about two-and-a-half miles round trip.

Carol is picking through dirty laundry right now.  She was allegedly setting up to cook dinner while I go shower.  Got sidetracked I guess.  I asked why and she informed me that she was going to wash out some underthings so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time doing laundry.  The laundry bag is nearly full however, so I think the two bras she has hanging from tree limbs outside are kind of a study in futility, especially since we’ll probably get some more rain this evening.
By the way, the weird power issue I had with the shoreline seems to be just a fluke.  I’m plugged in now and everything is working fine.  I still think the batteries are trashed but will have to keep an eye on their performance when they are the primary source to be sure.

We’re about eight hundred twenty miles east of Eugene, after two-and-a-half days actual driving. 

August 2nd
There’s been an unusual amount of rain up here.  We arrived in a thunderstorm and it rained off and on for a couple of hours today.  One of the rangers said it rained for three hours solid on the 31st.  Makes for interesting discussion in a desert.  This is a place of images.  I could try to describe the features but I believe a photo or two will do the trick much more effectively than my words.
Hilltop ten feet from our campsite

Our camp

We met a pika, a chattery little squirrel-like critter native to the lava bed, who apparently lives in the huge limber-pine tree, about three-feet in diameter, at our campsite.

 Limber Pine

Pika's Home

It objected to our presence by lecturing us at length before disappearing into his/her home.  The critter below is not a pika, it’s a chipmunk.  The pika wouldn’t pose for me.

I will put up a photo array of Craters of the Moon images on when I get back home.  The place is just so amazing, visually.  Carol and I agree that it approaches Chaco Canyon as a favorite national treasure.

August 1st
Shopping in Mountain Home, Idaho, preparing for a few days in Craters of the Moon National Monument; 750,000 acres of lava bed.  Maybe not the most exotic place in the US but I think it’s close.  I’ll enclose a few pictures. 

The mishap we had with Ray and Judy’s popped circuit breaker seems to have trashed the cabin battery pack; it won’t hold a charge.  Hmm … maybe that needs a bit more explanation.  Ray and Judy are Doug and Lynn’s wonderfully generous neighbors.  They offered to let us use their driveway, connect to their water, and plug into their porch outlet for the duration of our stay.  When I parked in the designated spot I needed all fifty feet of thirty-amp cord, and my twenty-amp adapter to attach to the outlet Ray showed me.  Once I hooked up, I saw that we weren’t getting anything much out of it.  I put the blame on the combination of the cord length and the drop to fifteen amps, but figured it was at least keeping the batteries charged, wrong.  The connection had apparently popped a breaker in their house, but the circuit is virtually unused except for some kind of nightlight in their laundry room.  Judy noticed it on the evening of the second day by which time the batteries had been discharged for many hours.  The discharge – charge cycle is normal for this type of battery so all is well as long as it doesn’t remain discharged for an extended period.  This could be an expensive lesson in paying closer attention to things.

July 31st
Doug and Lynn’s wedding reception was … was beautiful, friendly, special, … pick an adjective, it was all those things.  I met many of their friends and I think all of Lynn’s family – two sisters, Sally and Kim.  The three boys were there: Taylor being Taylor with girlfriend Andrea, Will with girlfriend Laura, and Cody with girlfriend Margeaux.  Both Will and Cody performed with their groups so we had terrific entertainment.  The meal was potluck and awesome.  Wine, beer and champagne flowed freely.  When the evening ended, meaning when all the people over forty had gone to bed, the younger crowd did a bunch of cleanup so there was no disaster facing us in the morning, only a bit of packing up of dishes, glasses, etc. for the party supply company to pick up. 

We left about noon hoping to get as far as Clyde Holliday State Park in central Oregon.  We got pulled over by the county sheriff a few miles before we got there.  I thought for speeding but he said there was a complaint that I was passing on curves and driving recklessly – Not.  Anyway, he apologized but said he had to react to the complaint.

When we arrived at the park, only overflow camping was available, so we overflowed.  We took showers in the morning knowing that Craters of the Moon had none.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Catching up

This morning I am in Burns, Oregon.  I arrived here way late last night after taking a wrong turn on Oregon's secondary roads.

Let me back up a bit, say three days.

I didn't leave the Lake Michigamme campground until around ten on Tuesday morning, after dumping all my tanks, including the fresh water at the dump station then returning to my campsite to reload the fresh water.  I knew I wouldn't be piling on miles this day and also that I would be getting into Minnesota early afternoon so when I stopped to fuel up in Duluth I called my friends the Lyslos in Glenwood and invited myself over for a visit.  I arrived somewhere around six I believe, locked up the Traveler and climbed into their new Buick to go to dinner, I think in Alexandria.  I can't recall the name of the restaurant but the food was good and we got to catch up a bit both during dinner and back in their living room afterward.

I wanted to leave early next morning, intending to chalk up substantial miles to get me well into Montana.  Mary asked me how early, adding that Subway didn't open for breakfast until seven.  We settled on seven.  During breakfast El and Mary mentioned their high school reunion and it hit me once again that this town had been their home forever.  I think they were high school sweethearts, Mary will correct me if I'm wrong.  I thought about my own nomadic life and wondered what it would have been like to have a hometown, a real one where I'd been born, raised, gone to school, left, and ultimately retired to; a place with a history that I and my family had been part of for however many generations.

After breakfast, which Mary wouldn't let me buy, I headed west on I-94.  With a few stops for fuel and coffee, I arrived in Big Timber, Montana an hour before dark.  I settled in at the Spring Creek Campground and Trout Ranch, by a fast running stream which I have to assume is the namesake of the place.

I was on the road by seven-thirty Thursday morning, rolling back up over the stock grates that held the campground owners' three horses in the field.  The horses, in the same place they were last evening when I'd arrived, shifted from their side-by-side, head-to-tail position, doing a little do-si-do for me as I went by.  My plan, if one could call anything I think formulate a plan, was to stay on the interstate all the way to Missoula then turn south, wending my way through Idaho mountains on secondary roads and crossing into Oregon around Weiser, Idaho.  I "knew" that there were many campgrounds along 20/26 in Oregon.  Sigh...

Shortly after crossing the border 20 and 26 split and I, I took the road less traveled.  Well not really, but I like the phrase.  I had spent many hours behind semis  (interruption: two deer just walked through my campsite) climbing through the Idaho mountains, not that I'm complaining but it did mean that I arrived in Oregon way later than I thought I would.  See what I mean about planning?  So I go in a hurry and didn't give the roadmap a recheck before choosing US-20 when the roads split.  No campgrounds in the high grassland of south-central Oregon.  I finally, after many hours and in the dark, arrived at Burns, Oregon and the Burns RV Park, exhausted with a windshield so bug-splattered that I'd had to stop twice to clean it.

It is now seven-thirty Friday morning, I'm less than three-hundred miles from Eugene and I'm eager to get there.  Bye for now.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Go [north]west old man!

Yesterday, July 24th, at about 7:45am I cranked up The Traveler (Carol's name for the Roadtrek camper) and started my 3100 mile trek to Eugene, Oregon.  Partly because I hate the boring drive across Pennsylvania, and partly because Canadian campgrounds are so much nicer than those in the US, I added a couple of hundred miles to the journey by entering Canada over the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, returning to the US at Sault Ste Marie.  I also instructed Sadie, our GPS to avoid tolls so she directed me along New York's Southern Tier before angling up to Buffalo.  I Stopped for the night at Earl Rowe Provincial Park a bit south of Barrie, Ontario, about 500 miles along the journey.  Sleep deprived and thus exhausted, I fell into bed at 8:00pm.  I woke a little before 3:00 but told myself that, if I remained still I'd go back to sleep, and so I did - at about 4:00.

I finally got on the road after 8:00 this morning, my target - Michigan, my next stop - anybody's guess.  Twelve hours later, I pulled into Lake Michigamme campground - a commercial site with a discount for Good Sam members.  It's now about 10:30, dishes done, teeth brushed, and writing this.  Tomorrow I'm going to drain and refill the fresh water tank - I still smell chlorine from the sanitizing process even though I've gone through the drain and refill thing once already.

As I passed by Michigan's Teal Lake I spotted a pair of  cranes on the side of the road.  They were probably immature sandhill cranes or possibly immature whooping cranes (both have similar color then).  Way cool.

Time to get some sleep.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Too Wired to be Tired

It's nearing one am on July 24th.  In not many hours, I will be hauling my butt into The Traveler to begin my cross country trek - target Eugene Oregon on July 29th.  Buy the route I've chosen, the trip will cover about 3100 miles.  I always have trouble sleeping the night before a trip: anticipation of the adventure, concern that I may (probably will) forget something important, and a little reluctance to leave, all factor into this absurd wakefulness.

I think I'll post this and hope I can sleep because I owned up to the reasons I can't.  G'night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Musings from a scattered mind

I woke this morning just before five.  Grabbing my laptop, I decided I'd write about pre-dawn, then I thought about today being Tuesday and starting a long drive west this coming weekend.  I went over the mental list of things that I still needed to do to prepare the ... Traveler (I think I've mentioned that Carol refuses to accept the fact that we're old white folks in an RV - she has decided to call it that) for the journey.  From there I pondered my decision not to take Elvis, my primary cat, on the trip.  
That brought me to thinking about cats and their ability to survive, which led me to remembering my Aunt Edith and Uncle Vincent who moved from a comfortable suburban home in Bridgeport, Connecticut to a forty-acre farm in Otsego County, New York, with two pedigreed Persian cats.  I then looked up the breed on Google, read the Wikipedia info which mentioned Angora cats in some context.  I read about Angoras, a Turkish breed, which led me to the Turkish Van - a rare breed from the Lake Van area in the eastern mountains.  That brought me back to Sugar, our lone female cat, with the ear tufts, one green, and one blue eye and other van-like indicators.

By that time it was five-thirty.  I closed my computer and went back to sleep until seven-thirty.  Welcome to my brain.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Comfort Zones

Our youngest grandbabies are here - Miranda, 7 and Danny, 4.  They're sweet and energetic, reinforcing the fact that raising children is work for young people.  Miranda is tiny (her nickname is Peanut), slender, agile and strong.  She is heavily into gymnastics and swimming.  Danny is sometimes headstrong and contrary, deviling his sister but often as not following her like a devoted puppy.  He is also athletic, beefier, likely to grow up a well-muscled jock.  I love them both and am glad when I see them.  But I'm also scared.

I don't know how to play.  I don't think I ever really knew how to play, even as a child; I was more of a watcher.  I watched other kids play, not joining unless asked and most often not asked.  I was never a boy scout and until high school, was not into sports; not much socialization.  So, when it comes to kids games I'm not creative enough to invent one and not comfortable playing any that are invented by the little people.

I am in awe of Carol and our daughter Wanda, of their ability to do both those things.  I relate much better to our three teenage grandkids.  I can hang with and talk with them and not be concerned about amusing them.  Maybe that's it, I only need to keep them safe, without the responsibility of amusing them.  

Being a watcher helps me as a writer but doesn't do me much good as a grandfather.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

games and more games

So the Supremes have deemed violent video games protected by the first amendment.  Seems rational to me - parents should make the call, not the morals police; just as parents should make many other calls they unfortunately outsource to computers and schools.

The argument that it desensitizes players to violence, smacks of the similar argument applied to violent movies and TV, and probably to violent radio broadcasts (though I have no personal recollection of restrictions on The Green Hornet, The Shadow, or any of the others I listened to.)  As adults, we question the ability of children to differentiate reality from fantasy, when a few moments observation would assure us that children know the difference perfectly well.

The reason I'm musing about this at all, has to do with an opinion piece I read in today's NY Times (  What intrigues me most about the piece is the author's acceptance of the fact that the games are adaptive - the goal being to keep the player involved, not bored by easy wins, not frustrated by continued defeat.  This type of interactivity, as I learned from the article, is used in GRE and GMAT testing.  I like that approach to testing because it gleans the level of knowledge of the test-taker more accurately than a static paper exam could, by keeping the person involved.

But in a game?

The only purpose of adaptive gaming is addiction, feeding the pleasure principle just enough to keep the player coming back; an escape route from boredom, from conflict, from all the chaos that is the real world.

I find that frightening.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cotton bole clouds in a powder blue sky

That's what the morning looked like on my drive from Montgomery Alabama to Patterson Louisiana.  The phrase jumped into my old brain as I turned west on I-10 in Mobile, and I really worked to remember it.  So often I hit on a phrase like that, one I think is worth remembering, and I promise myself I will remember but I don't.   This one seems to have stuck, so there it is.  Now I don't have to remember it alone anymore.

Tomorrow I turn north, rolling home to New Paltz.  It's been a good trip.  I won't be home long before I get back on the road, this time heading west with Elvis (my cat, not the ghost) on our way to Eugene Oregon.  I thought this summer would be spent mostly at home, so much for that thought.  I wanted to resurrect my garden but that also hasn't happened.  So much for plans.

Anyway, I'm eager to spend the couple of weeks between jaunts, at home.  

What kind of poem will those words fit into?  I'm thinking, long distant trucker maybe.  I'll have to work on that.

More later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Endangered vs "Invasive" Species

Last Sunday I was driving from Chapel Hill North Carolina to Cape Hatteras, a beautiful blue sky ahead, the faint smell of smoke from a distant forest fire coming through the air vents, and NPR's Weekend Edition on the radio.

The story had to do with the infamous Spotted Owl, the darling of every tree-hugger in the northwest, and the nemesis of every logger. Turns out that the little critter has begun to accomodate itself to more populated areas - good news - however, now another problem has developed in the little bugger's life.  The Barred Owl is pushing into its territory.  As I listened to the commentator I heard the Barred Owl described as an eastern species that the speaker is claiming as invasive in the northwest.  This took me back a bit.  I understood that invasive species were brought into an area by some human action, either intentional or accidental, and then went wild.

As far as I could determine from what I was hearing, the Barred Owl simply migrated into the area looking for a better home.  That sounds to me like nature at work, not an invasion.

Inevitably, the question came up, "What do we do about it?"  Some official in some government environmental protection office said that the only way to control the "invasion" is to begin shooting the invader, a process that was scheduled to start in 2012.

Shoot one owl to save another?  Doesn't make sense to me.

Finally, however, a naturalist in the area was asked about the idea.  His response,  "Shooting them won't do much good because as soon as you stop, they'll be back.  I think the best thing to do is leave both species alone and let them work it out."  I love that idea.  Humanity keeping its hands off something.  Great thought.  Not gonna happen.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Jennifer: A Different Kind of Hero

I respect and admire the people who rush to save us and our possessions in emergencies, and those who place themselves between us and people who wish us harm, but they have chosen the professions that make them heroes.  

There are others who have the opportunity for heroism thrust upon them, who have not asked for and do not want it, yet perform in ways that make those around them better people.  Jennifer was such a hero.

Soon after she was born doctors discovered severe immune deficiencies, so severe that the family was told she wouldn’t live into her teens.  When I met her she was thirteen.  Jennifer and her two sisters, age ten and eight had come with their father to our house for a barbeque. Our three kids, for reasons I can’t recall, wanted to sit on the roof of our small brick cape and invited the girls to join them.  Jennifer, hands as red and raw as a scullery maid, tiny determined mouth looking chapped as a skier’s, smaller than both her sisters and so frail I worried that a light wind could blow her off our roof, was first at the ladder.  She scrambled up like a playful kitten, scooting to the peak of the roof before any of the other children reached the eave.  She had claimed the high ground.

In spite of her many hospitalizations and consequent absences from school, Jennifer graduated with a more than acceptable grade point average. 

At her college freshman orientation, students were asked to stand and introduce themselves.  When Jennifer’s turn came, she stood and noticing she was still shorter than many of the seated students, climbed onto the desk seat and introduced herself proudly in the high nasal twang that life had forced on her.  She made it clear to all by that gesture that she was neither to be pitied nor denied.  That Jennifer went on through school to become a pharmacist, struck no one who knew her as strange.  She had knowledge of exotic drugs almost from birth.  

When this tiny wraith, who wasn’t supposed to reach her teens, was in her early thirties she was attacked by the one disease she couldn’t beat into submission, cancer.  Even this horrible killer had a fight on its hands.  It took more than two years for her to succumb, and even then she didn’t exactly lose the fight.  When her father struggled to find the next miracle drug to add to the litany of medications that had both formed and damaged that tiny body; when she saw the pain and frustration on his face, she reached out and held his hand.  “I’m tired,” she said in that funny voice that always sounded as if someone were holding her nose.  “It’s time.” 

During the next two weeks, until she closed those eyes so magnified by her thick glasses, Jennifer consoled her family, went with her two adult sisters to get matching bracelet tattoos around their right ankles, and made herself ready to die.  Even cancer had to take Jennifer on her own terms. 

So remember all the heroes this day and every day. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Best People

Often I hear interviews where someone is explaining a request/demand for more money by saying something like, "We have to pay more if we want the best people."  Almost always the existing salary is already in six figures.  New York State judges and school superintendents are two that I have heard most recently.  It seems to me that offering more money attracts the greediest people, not necessarily the best.  

In 2010, for example, a commission was created in New York State to decide on judicial compensation - taking that responsibility out of the hands of the state legislature.  Salaries had been frozen at $136,700 since 1999 - not a bad wage even in today's economy.  
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman commented -
"... we will be able to have, like other professions, the ability to attract and retain the highest quality judges to the bench.” 
That's the mentality I'm talking about.  The best (whatever that word means) is equated to money. So do we measure a judge's worth in dollars, or in quality of decisions?  Is that a valid measure for anyone's worth?

A good friend, with a masters degree in organizational development and an excellent job at IBM, decided to join the Peace Corps.  She wound up in Jacmel, Haiti for her assignment and, when her tour was up, stayed for another five years.  She spear-headed the formation of an art education program for children, that also provided studio space for local artists and musicians.  She formed a not-for-profit foundation in the US that provided funding and helped find markets for the artists.  All this while living off her savings and donations.   When she felt that her goals were met in Haiti, she returned to the US with an orphaned Haitian girl  she had adopted.  She now free-lances from her small  home in Massachusetts, where her daughter attends the local public school.  

Is she one of the best people?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mothers and Balance

Happy Day to all you amazing mothers out there.

I've been thinking this weekend about balance, mainly about balance in the universe - kind of a big topic I know - the word that jumps into my head is equilibrium.  I know from various physics and chemistry courses I've taken over the years, that all of the natural world seeks equilibrium.  "Seeks" kind of personifies nature, and I don't mean to do that.  The natural world, in my opinion is not sentient.  Powerful - yes, destructive - yes, but not knowingly so.  It is merely a series of opposing forces.  Equilibrium is the state in which these forces reach stability.

At the atomic level, an ion will not long stay that way.  It will combine with some other atom to reach neutrality.  On a larger scale, the continental plates on this ever-shifting planet of ours push against each other, generating massive stress which is momentarily neutralized by an earthquake.  The air around us, our breath of life, can become unstable and must find neutral ground.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. are the vehicles of neutralization.  The human cost of this quest for stability can be enormous, as our recent history shows.

Carol and I just returned from Alabama where we visited relatives in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, where Carol grew up.  The family drove to Forest Lake to see the home Carol and her siblings grew up in.  It was designed and built by her father.  The following photos will say more than any words I could put down.

Carol's bedroom is on the left. 
Forest Lake from 15th Street.
Carol's home is between the two tarped roof houses.
This side of the lake suffered worse damage than her side.

Enough said.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

Interestingly, this is not, according to Wikipedia, Mexican Independence Day (which is September 16th) but actually celebrating a victory by the Mexican Army over the French.  It is recognized pretty much only in the Mexican state of Puebla, where the battle occurred.  In the US on the other hand, it is a celebration of Mexican culture.  Funny how misinformation becomes fact by repetition. 

The huge international news this week is the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  The only way to miss that news would have been to be hiding under a remote rock somewhere.  The death of a man who dealt in death.  The various reactions have been fascinating, and in many instances troubling.  I understand the evil he perpetrated and would have definitely continued to perpetrate.  I understand the rationale that dictated that he not be brought before any court for trial.  I understand that his death was necessary.

That said, I cannot celebrate it.  Killing another human being, however evil that person may be, diminishes us as humans.  I believe it was Gandhi who said, "An eye for an eye, makes the whole world blind."  I cannot celebrate Bin Laden's death, but I can say, unequivocally, that were I the first Navy Seal entering that room, I would have pulled the trigger, and it would have made me sad.

Tomorrow I go to another place of pain, Alabama.  The devastation in Tuscaloosa, and the somewhat less damage in Birmingham must be visited.  Carol grew up there.  Much of her family is there.  Though none were physically touched by the tornado, there is no doubt that seeing the destruction in places that once held fond memories has to touch the heart and mind of the family.  We will be there to see.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Uno de Mayo

Last week was one of extremes, from the enormous tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama and took  hundreds of lives, to the royal wedding that captivated millions at a cost that could probably rebuild most of that destroyed city.

My wife grew up in Tuscaloosa and has family there.  They are all okay, but her childhood home on Forest Lake, the one her father designed, is likely gone.  We'll probably be heading down there this weekend to help with some of the cleanup.

Ah but May is here and everything is growing again.  Trees have tiny leaves and blossoms, my yard is covered with tiny purple and yellow flowers, and green is everywhere.  Sitting here on our porch, we  are privy to the call and response of several different species of birds trying to entice mates, or call off rivals.

Balance - the planet adjusts itself to maintain or regain balance, earthquakes that relieve tectonic pressure, storms that relieve differences in air pressure and temperature.  Humanity has been a victim of this balancing operation quite a bit recently.  Maybe killing some of us is part of that balancing act.  Scary thought.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Inspiration or Perspiration?

Most often when I type something here, it is the result of some flash of creative light that danced along the synapses and landed in my consciousness; not so today.  Today I'm here because it's been a while and my faithful readers (both of you) will begin nagging me if something doesn't appear soon.

So here I sit in our favorite room, glancing at our wooded vista through the seven large windows that cover the two exterior walls.  Carol is reading; two of our cats are wrestling on the floor; Elvis, my main cat, is stretched out on my lap with this computer resting on top of him.

The newest addition to our outdoors is the nearly completed carport, more appropriately labeled camperport,  attached to my barn/garage a hundred feet away.  It will shelter our Roadtrek when it isn't "trekking."  Less visible, but no less important is the addition of electricity to the barn, real wiring, not the hundred foot extension cord that served as my power source for the past twenty years.  As one of the builders remarked, "Now you'll have to work out here."  I'm looking forward to it.

Well this session isn't very inspired, but there it is.  My "desk" is getting restless so that's all for now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Monday, Monday (It was when I started this)

The beginning of another work week for the folks who are productive members of the American Tribe.  For those of us who ceased producing years ago, it is just another day.

Our two youngest grandchildren arrived with their mom yesterday afternoon.  It's always a treat to have the little people (Miranda - seven, Danny - four) in the house.  Our other grandkids are teenagers, great kids but ... .  These two are still excited about visiting their grandparents.  After they got settled Danny and I went outside with a jar of bubble soap.  We tried letting the gusty wind make bubbles for us but that didn't work.  I blew a couple just to make sure we had a good mix, then Danny took it on.  He had an inordinate amount of difficulty blowing a bubble, which confused me until I noticed that he held the bubble ring so that his breath was actually expelled below it most of the time.  Seeing this, I moved his hand lower to which he responded by lowering his head.  I raised his head and up came the bubble ring.  We couldn't seem to coordinate the two.  Finally, he smiled and shrugged,  "I guess it doesn't work," he said, handing the jar to me and walking into the house.

The Millrock Writers reading Saturday evening was well-received by a small but attentive audience.  The selections my compadres read were excellent, and we sold five books.

4/20 -
Mama Wanda and the magic little people left for home this morning.  The house is quiet.  My main cat, Elvis, has reappeared from his "Fortress of Solitude" somewhere in the basement, where he stays while the youngest grandkids are here.  The other two braver cats hang out in view of Miranda and Danny but just out of reach.

On top of today's grandkid news, Phoebe passed her driving test today.  Our second licensed driver in that generation is now on the road.  Watch out world.

Enough for today.