Saturday, December 21, 2013

Seventy-one Christmases and Winter Solstices (Solsti?)

Seventy-one; my eighth decade.  When I think that's old, I recall the nursing homes where my singing group entertains and the fact that I'm younger than pretty much everyone in the audience.  Still - I bemoan the aches and pains associated with aging.  I complain about what is essentially minor crap - joints that swell, muscles that cramp - crap.  my knees are so bad I can no longer jog, but I can still walk.  My shoulder joints are so bad that I can no longer do the weightlifting I once did, but I can still do some of it.  My wind is good.  I can do aerobic work much as I did before.  So, aging ain't so bad when you get right down to it.   When I complain to my doctor about getting old, he says, "That's a good thing."  It is when one considers the alternative.

Okay, what in hell has that got to do with Christmas and the Winter Solstice?  Haven't the foggiest, but it felt good to whine a little.

So - many Christmases, many Solstices (twice as many if you count both summer and winter) have passed, most of them fun.  We're celebrating this season in several places: Louisiana, Alabama, and New York.  Celebrating in several different ways, also, but the common ground, the real celebratory core, is family.  We are now, and will be, with family.  The past few days we've been in Louisiana, the home of our son and daughter-in-law, grandson, and great granddaughter (emphasis on the Great)

Next part of the trip is Alabama and Carol's youngest sister, one of my favorite people on the planet. My drives to and from Louisiana always involve a stopover in Birmingham.  Home on Christmas eve and dinner with Wanda's family and in-laws.  

All in all I couldn't ask for a better Christmas/Saturnalia/Solstice season.  

I don't have anything profound to say this year - check last year's post for profundity.   Have a lovely, loving holiday season.  Celebrate it however you do, but remember it's a time of peace and love, two things we ought to try carrying throughout the year.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Apolitical Musing (Hard to Do Lately)

Too much of my musings have been political lately.  You haven't seen them because I write them to vent and almost never publish them.  Mark Twain (one of my favorite writers) would write scathing letters to newspapers he thought were wrong.  When he finished the vent, he'd leave the letter on the dining table for his wife to read.  If she deemed it acceptable she would mail it to the paper.  I don't normally turn my blogs over to Carol unless she is mentioned in it.  Maybe I should.  Anyway, I have written three in the past month titled:: Watching a Grand Master at Work, Thinking About the Super Rich, and Congress and the Idiot Factor. While I won't publish any of them, perhaps the titles will give someone something to ponder.  I don't know.  However, I felt better after each one, which is the real reason to even do this.

This past weekend Carol and I drove our Roadtrek Camper (RV when Carol's not reading this) to Rochester, NY to visit our older daughter and her family.  The reason we drove the Roadtrek is that I needed to dump the holding tanks - the last, maybe next to last, step before storing it in its shelter for the winter. Since all the local campgrounds, both municipal and commercial, were closed for the season, our options were limited.  Petro Stopping Centers  is a chain of truck stops that have dump stations available - five dollars to use; free if you fill your fuel tank.  There was a center at exit 41, a few before our normal Rochester exit.

We accomplished both the dump, and a lovely family visit, including an early Thanksgiving dinner with daughter, husband, both kids and their current squeezes.  The weather turned cruddy - lake effect snow is a euphemism for really unpredictable storm info - but when we left Sunday morning, the trip was just fine.  I drove more slowly than normal until we past the snow belt, driving into the cold, windy, sunny morning sure of our goal, a luncheon with good friends, and an uneventful trip.  Just west of Schenectady that changed.   A deer, a doe I believe, ran in front of our vehicle so close that I didn't even have a chance to take my foot off the gas before I hit her.  She was not large, less than one hundred pounds I'm sure, but the impact at road speed destroyed the oil cooler and the radiator of the vehicle, dumping diesel oil and coolant on the NYS Thruway lane as I guided the machine to a stop on the shoulder.  Some safety interlock in the engine shut it down as soon as the oil pressure dropped, so I was without either power steering or power brakes, luckily I was already in the right lane.

All is well, no injuries, only inconvenience.  The vehicle is now in New Paltz, at our friend's body shop, to be repaired sometime in the next several weeks.  This is not a huge problem since the plan was to wash the Roadtrek and store it when we returned from Rochester.  All in all it was a good trip, considering that our doe could have encountered us on the way to, instead of from, Rochester.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Random Memories on my Older Son's Birthday.

Today, October 24th, 2013, my older son turns forty-seven. He was born at Fort Belvoir Army Hospital in northern Virginia,well over a month past his predicted due date.  He fractured his mother's tailbone on the way out.  We brought him home to a three room, redwood cottage in a cluster of similar cottages on Anzio Lane in Lorton,Virginia.  They had been built to house veterans returning from World War II, I believe.  Over the years most of them had been added to, some replaced with more modern style homes.  Ours was unchanged: unpainted redwood board-and-batten siding, no insulation, a replacement propane furnace stuck through the wall at the far end of the "main room" next to the fireplace to heat the entire house.  The original furnace, non-functional unknown years ago, lay under a huge floor grate in the short hall that led from the big room to the two bedrooms and the bathroom. The cathedral ceilings (uninsulated) made the place pretty close to impossible to heat.  I built a large closet in our bedroom - there were none in the house - and installed a flat, well insulated ceiling in the other bedroom, our baby's room.

So many other memories flash through my mind: of bringing him home, of the curiosity of our two dogs, one of which stood on hind legs to look into the bassinet - not touching it - for a full minute, and so many more.  We lived there the first six months of his life, then sold the house when I shipped to a remote location for a year while wife and boy relocated to a rental house near my family in upstate NY.  When I returned, the 18 month old boy didn't know me, nor I him.  That never really changed.

 We haven't spoken in two and a half years.

Happy Birthday, Jason..

Friday, September 20, 2013

Busy Being a Retired Home Owner

"I don't know how I had time to go to work."

All us retired folks have heard, and probably have said, a similar thing. The truth of it is what intrigues me. I "officially" retired about six years ago, Carol three years later. When I was gainfully employed, my weekdays were taken up with the job and weekends with household chores, a typical working class existence. Vacations were planned in advance and coincided with our work schedules. Now that our time is "our own," we spend it doing things we enjoy: volunteering with organizations we care about, and keeping up with friends through lunches, hikes, etc. Doesn't sound too overwhelming, does it? Well it can be. Example: We talked this summer about escaping in our camper for a couple weeks this fall. Looking at our individual schedules, it appears there are no two-week slots between now and February in which to sequester ourselves in the machine without reneging on some commitment or other one of us made.

 Let me admit that most of the hard commitments are mine: two writing retreats, in October and January; performing in a one act play a couple of times in November; singing with my group at a couple of benefits; handling photography chores and a post-race booklet for the SOS Triathlon; and presiding over Unison Arts Center board meetings.

And then there's maintaining our coveted corner half-acre: mowing the green stuff we laughingly call lawn, trimming edges with the trusty weed eater (a misnamed device that is quite effective at its job,) and hiring people to handle the things we cannot or chose not to handle ourselves.  Ah yes, and recognizing - often too late - that a major appliance needs to be replaced; purchasing said replacement over the objection of our repair guy, who hates all new appliances and would be jobless except his brother owns the local appliance sales store; and finally getting it installed - while whatever it is supposed to store, clean, or dispose of, eagerly awaits the result.

The current malfunctioning appliance is our built-in dishwasher (not us, the automatic one) which only marginally cleans dishes in spite of my having cleared the filter of debris, and which occasionally gets possessive of the dish soap, refusing to release it to the cleaning cycle.  "Why haven't you replaced it?" you might ask.  Good question.  Because the rain barrel repair was not yet complete.   Let me explain.  The answer actually is Carol.  Yes, Carol, my lovely wife, whose mind operates somewhat like a basketball hoop when it comes to household repairs.  Only one ball can go through the hoop at a time.  The rain barrel repair was incomplete, hence ...

Anyway, the rain barrels are now repaired.  Time to shop for a dishwasher.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Being Invisible

This is the end of move in week at SUNY New Paltz.  Freshman Orientation is probably going to take place starting Monday, if it hasn't already happened.  I see young folks walking around town with single page street maps printed up by the college to help the newbies orient themselves to their new town.  Traffic has increased on Main Street.  Students are beginning to populate the streets in the daytime and the bars in the evening.

 I am aware that, as a senior citizen in a college town,  I am invisible.  The late teens and early twenty somethings who populate our beautiful campus and funky berg every year do not see me.  I'm confident I could stand still in the middle of any sidewalk in downtown New Paltz and the students would walk around me as they would a lamppost, never acknowledging me as a person, merely stepping around me as as they would any impediment to their progress.

Since I am still young in my mind, and a guy, I tend to stare at beautiful women, admiring the perfection that nature and their own efforts have bestowed on them.  Were I young in fact, not a septuagenarian, that look could anger, amuse, or scare the woman; now it has no effect at all.  If her eye catches mine, it is in passing, looking over, around, or through, never at, me.

However, there are some advantages to being invisible.  As a writer, I watch people: how they walk, their gestures, facial expressions, dress.  And I also listen: to accents, idioms, patois - where my invisibility is essential.  Being unseen, I am able to sit at a table in a coffee shop next to a group of young folks without alarming them or changing the tenor of their conversation.  I suspect I could even take notes and none of them would notice.

I think I'll go for a walk.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meteors and Memories

We're just past the peak period for my favorite meteor shower, the Perseid.  In addition to being a dependable and sometimes spectacular mid-August show, it is the first one I ever saw.

In early summer 1951 we moved out of Queens where I and my three siblings were born, to Otsego County in the beautiful Catskills.  While my parents were searching for a house to rent or buy we lived with my grandmother and grandfather on their five acre eden on Dutch Hill, the highest point in the county.  With no electricity or indoor plumbing I'm sure it was a hardship for both parents and grandparents, but we kids loved it.  Aside from having every imaginable berry growing wild on the land, there was a small abandoned orchard across the road that yielded plums, pears and apples.  That property belonged to the person who sold the house and five acres to my grandparents.  He didn't live on the land and did nothing with it so it was like it belonged to us.

I mention the orchard because it fronted a meadow that occupied the actual peak of Dutch Hill.  It was a temperate savannah of timothy and oat grasses, alfalfa, and wildflowers; a place we three older kids explored as if it were a foreign land; a place where our small mongrel, Tippy, chased rabbits, leaping in the air every few feet so she could see above the grasses.

One evening in mid-August, my father gathered us three kids up and led us to the top of the meadow where we stretched out on the cool ground - hands behind our heads, as instructed - and stared at the moonless, star-filled sky.  He pointed out various constellations then told us to try not to focus on one part of the sky but to let our eyes kind of wander.

"I saw a shooting star!" called my younger sister.
"Where?" her twin brother asked.
"It's gone," my father said.  "Keep looking and you'll see one of your own."  While we looked, he told us about meteor showers, about the Perseid and others, about how the shooting stars were small pieces that were thrown from the tail of a passing comet, and what we called a 'shooting star' was that piece burning up as it hit the atmosphere.  Despite being frequently interrupted by cries of "I saw one!" or "There's one!" I remember so much of his explanation, and so much of the night Perseid and I met.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Weddings and Lakes

Two weeks ago we fired up our RoadTrek RV (don't let Carol see that I called it that) and pointed it north toward Quebec City to attend the wedding of our amazing niece.  We stopped at Cumberland Bay State Park on the northern end of Lake Champlain for the night, and while stretching our legs in a walk around the campground, we spied one of the most outrageous motor homes I've ever seen.  It was 40+feet long and had a patio on the roof - with a fire pit!  I'd love to show you a picture of it, but I can't.

 Our arrival in Quebec City was a bit of an adventure.  I don't remember whether I've ever mention my love's navigation techniques, but they are precious.  First note that my low-end GPS did not contain Canada maps so once we crossed the border, the only information I got was the compass direction and speed; the screen showed a vehicle in gray space.  The speed was in mph while the signs were in kph so I was kept alert with mental conversions.  Road signs, even though in French, were pretty clear so I was able to get us to the city.  When we crossed the bridge, I needed to depend on Carol's map reading to give me directions while I negotiated the traffic.

Once she has oriented the map to her satisfaction, upside down if we're heading south for example, Carol is adept at reading it.  The problem obtains when she begins giving directions.  While I'm negotiating a busy unfamiliar street in a twenty-four foot vehicle, it doesn't help me to hear "You probably should have turned back there" or  "You might want to turn here" with no indication as to the actual direction of the turn.  Anyway, after one excursion into the parking lot of a museum, and traversing some narrow streets in the old city, we arrived at our 'condo', a lovely walkup complete with a kitchen, two baths and a sleeping loft.

Quebec is old.  The walled city-within-a-city is on a hill overlooking the St Lawrence, it's narrow cobblestone streets beg to be walked.  From our rented digs, everything was uphill - actually including the digs themselves, on the fourth floor above a pharmacy.  The wedding weekend was great fun.  The ceremony and reception took place in a hall overlooking the St. Lawrence, and across the street from our condo.  The day after we spent touring the old city, which was right behind our building.  We didn't have to move the RoadTrek the entire stay, a perfect situation.

We left Quebec Monday morning for a short trip to Maine and the small farm of two wonderful friends.  Once we crossed the border our GPS woke up with actual road directions.  I followed Jezebel (so called because she led me astray the first time I let her guide me) blithely through a series of ever narrowing roads - having been to northern Maine before I was not alarmed.  Carol sat in the shotgun seat with the road atlas open to the state.  As the narrow road we were on turned from paved to dirt, Carol said, "I don't know what she's doing but I would never have gone this way."  Nor would I have, I thought.   In a very few minutes we were at the farm, which was on a paved road.  Curious, I checked Jezebel's settings and found that she was giving us 'shortest distance' instead of 'shortest time'.  I now know the shortest way from Quebec, Canada to Whitefield, Maine.  

In addition to our friends, the Whitefield household consisted of  their lovely twenty year old daughter who was packing for a semester in Japan, and two cats.  One would generally expect a young person to get a little bored in this isolated location, but not her.  She made a friend of a large green pond frog by feeding it deer flies caught by her dad in a most interesting way.  He would walk the property in the morning wearing a blue hardhat coated with flypaper-like sticky stuff and return with the hat covered with deer flies.  Seeing her crouched at the edge of the pond feeding her frog, I couldn't help thinking of Grimm's fairytales.

Since Maine has probably as much acreage in water as in land, it makes sense to own a boat.  Our friends had purchased one used and, after having it refitted, were ready to launch it in a huge lake a ways from their house.  And launch we did.  There were some delays getting it started, but ultimately we were off on a tour of the lake in a successful shakedown cruise.  The first try loading the boat on its trailer when we were done left the craft askew.  I hopped out, removed my shoes so I was barefoot and waded into the water beside the trailer to slide the boat sideways.  Due to the slope of the ramp I was waist deep before I knew it.  I wasn't concerned about the shorts I wore because I had another pair at the house.  However, my passport, wallet, and cell phone were in the pockets.  The passport and wallet were fine after drying out, the cell phone not.  That's why no picture of the outrageous motorhome.

Acquiring a replacement cell phone is a whole other story - maybe for another post.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sunglasses - A Fashion Accessory? And Where Did 'much' Go?

I've begun to notice sunglasses - sometimes referred to as shades or Ray-Bans, I think.  The thing that strikes me about this observation is that they appear to be used as some sort of jewelry - worn: atop the head, on back of the neck, under the chin, dangling from a pocket, or hung in a shirt/blouse (front or back.).  Rarely have I seen them worn in front of the eyes.  I even saw a pro golfer on TV today move them from atop his head to back of his neck as part of his set up for a bogey putt (which he missed.)  It certainly seems like they've lost their utilitarian function.

I wonder when it happened.

This societal change passed me by, as have so many others: the deletion of the word 'much' as a preface to 'fun' (when did "so much fun" become "so fun"?)  None of the online dictionaries accept that phrasing as valid, and we all know that online info is the authority in all disputes.  I am not, in case you wonder, some sort of lexicographer or definition nazi, but it just grates on me, chalk on a blackboard like, when I hear it used.

I don't have much, no make that 'any', more to contribute to this post so I'm going to pop it up on the blog.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Freedom, Independence, and Toilet Seats

We just passed the 237th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, our demand to govern ourselves, to become independent of a government that in no way represented the people; it was in essence a declaration of war.  But it was more than that; it was a promise to the populace, at least to those not shackled by slavery, that a new government would be created to serve and represent them.

But that's not the freedom and independence I'm thinking about.

What prompted the title of this piece was the birthday trip I gave to my love, Carol, to visit all her siblings in Alabama.  The rare occurrence of having all of them in one place was too good to pass up, so I thought it the perfect gift, and it was.  As a result I occupied our home for five days alone save for Zorro and Elvis, our two cats.  Since all three of us were male (with certain modifications relating to reproductive functionality,) it became our man cave.  What does that really mean?

In the case of Zorro and Elvis, not much, well nothing really.  To me it meant: not making the bed, leaving more than one day's dishes in the sink, and the real kicker leaving the toilet seat up.  Actually, the one I left up was broken, but I didn't replace it until the morning of the day I was due to pick Carol up at the airport. Anyway, for four nights the boys and I puttered around the house, avoiding most meaningful chores.  Well, I puttered, they pretty much slept until their exercise period, which coincides with my normal bedtime. I managed to get some constructive things done, but not many.  Instead I wrote, played solitaire, cleaned up a few things in my garage, and painted a shelf.

As I said earlier, I managed to hold off on replacing the toilet seat until the last day.  As far as dishes, I ran the dishwasher twice and actually changed the sheets on the schedule Carol always maintains, but I did it because I wanted to.  All in all it was an exciting, though brief, taste of freedom from household customs.

Let freedom ring!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spring - Rain, Ticks, and Poison Ivy

We are resurrecting our small raised bed garden and generally reclaiming this half-acre woodland that is our corner lot.  Most of it is in fact woods: maple, locust and black cherry; the latter is the dominant tree.  Black cherries are tall straight trees that I'm told make great furniture wood.  An arborist friend also called them "self pruning."  Think on that for a second and you will get the picture.  Limbs, sometimes very large limbs, regularly depart from the trunk; only once (knock wood) has a large one actually hit the house, leaving a substantial gouge in the frame of a window behind which Carol sat reading.

Locust are more tenacious with their limbs but ours are mostly very old and thus subject to similar discharges.  a couple of decades ago, a large locust limb landed (say that three times fast) on the hood of Carol's Mazda 626 as we were leaving our property for an ice cream run into the village.  I removed it and we continued our drive to Stewart's Ice Cream shop, got our treat, then dropped the car a few doors away at Smitty's Body Shop and walked home.  At some point Carol mentioned that, had we been a half-second earlier at that spot, the limb would have fallen through the open moon roof.

What does all this have to do with the title?  Not a thing, but it got me thinking about how seconds and inches can change our lives.  That got me thinking about how often I hear grumblings about: too much rain, too many bugs, noxious weeds, etc.  Some of us can find fault with nature in any of it's variations, maybe wishing for some odd utopia, a Camelot perhaps.  It has been raining a lot for June, so much so that I don't think we've seen two clear days strung together.  I know that come the dry hot summer, we will be wishing for rain and griping about the heat.

In the course of our property reclamation project we attacked the weed bed in the rock and gravel area bordering the finished part of our basement, a place Carol christened "The Moat."  It was overgrown with weeds that had taken root through the gravel because of last year's neglect.  I worked in the moat while Carol cleared weeds from the border rock wall.  We located several stands of poison ivy during the operation, prompting Carol to employ herbicide; this is the only foliage that ever receives such treatment on our property.  Anyway, a couple of days later a few small eruptions appeared on my left  arm, not too bad at all.  Add to that a tenacious wood tick feeding on my right hamstring and the spring triad is complete.

Anyway, summer is only a day away, officially.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Remembering My Hometown

Where is my hometown?  To me it's not the place I was born - New York City; or the place I’ve lived the longest - New Paltz; it’s the place I see, hear, feel when the word hometown is spoken - Gilbertsville. I spent most of my fifth grade year and all of high school there, all tolled less than five of my seventy-one years, but I still consider it home.

In his book, The Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau restructured the boundaries of the continent into logical nations, areas that shared a common interest and culture. I mention this only because upstate New York was, in my opinion, miscast. He made it part of The Foundry, the industrialized area of the continent, when it in fact the bulk of it fits much more into his demarcation  of New England: a land of small farms and no economic future.  My hometown is there.

The village has a population somewhere between three-fifty and four hundred, and has had for the last 150 years or so when, as legend has it, it opted out of being a railroad stop and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western routed through Oneonta instead.

Commercial Avenue, the village's Main Street, is about the length of a football field. The western end T’s at Marion Avenue (state route 51 on New York maps). At the opposite goal line, it forks to either side of a civil war monument to become Bloom Street on the left and Spring Street on the right. Across Marion is Overlook Park, a tiered hillside with low stone walls and polished granite benches, fronted by a large concrete fountain that has never in my memory contained anything but leaves. The “commercial” part of Commercial Avenue consists mainly of a two-story Tudor style building, housing a dry goods store and a supermarket of sorts. There are actually three storefronts in the building but the market occupies two of them now. When I lived there in the fifties, the center store was a druggist/soda fountain and the other was a Victory Market. Across the street is a two-story derelict that once housed the town’s weekly newspaper, the Otsego Journal. Its uneven typeset and totally unrecognizable photos provided our tiny village with local news and gossip. Whenever I’d come home for a visit from college or later the US Air Force, the newspaper published an itinerary of my stay with details that would today be considered a gross invasion of privacy.

 The Marion Avenue end of Commercial sports the two claims-to-fame in this small village: The Majors Inn – a massive Tudor building that dwarfs anything else in town; and across the street, the Gilbertsville Post Office – featured once in the New York Times as the smallest post office in the state. For most of my time in town, the Inn was unoccupied. During my senior year someone with more money than sense tried to open it as a restaurant. I worked there with my friend and classmate, Dick Foster, cleaning the place up. One of my jobs entailed freeing a service for two hundred from twenty years of dust and rodent droppings.

When I went off to college on Long Island, I'd call my girlfriend, by then a high school senior, at least one evening a week.  The call had to go through the Gilbertsville operator, often as not Dick Foster.  If Marnie wasn't home he usually knew where in town she was and either connected me to that house.

 That description was a bit of a tangent I admit, but the place lives in my heart and memory and I wanted to share that.  Hometowns – I’ve asked folks over the years, “What’s your hometown?” and after they answer, I follow up with “Is that where you were born?” Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Where is your hometown, your heart?

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Pledge of Allegiance

We live in a world of words.  It seems, for example, that no public figure is able to answer a “yes or no” question with either of those perfectly servicable responses.  Instead they pour out a dump truck load of obfuscations until one is unsure whether the question was answered at all.  Nothing is so straightforward that our politicians cannot hide it in a jumble of words.  So in the context of word economy I’d like to take a look at our  Pledge of Allegiance as it stands today.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thirty-one words.  Are they all necessary?  Are they all meaningful?

First let’s look at the often controversial 1950's addition, under God.  The culprit here, the real inconsistency, is its association with, one Nation.   In Webster’s New World Dictionary we read: “Nation - A stable, historically developed community of people with a territory, economic life, distinctive culture, and language in common.”  We’re not even close.  We are a group of 'nations' assembled under a single government, but with ethnic and cultural differences as profound as if we were separated by oceans instead of streets.  Our heterogeneity is our strength as a country.  If we were a nation, the controversy over under God wouldn’t exist, it would either be there or not as the common culture saw fit.  So we can eliminate the entire phrase in the quest for meaning and accuracy.

Lets take a look at the next word, indivisible.  Again, we are not.  We are divided: politically, socially, culturally and economically, to name a few current divisions.  We were once even divided into two warring countries.  Read regularly and you cannot avoid divisions we establish in our vocabulary: black/white, Liberal/Conservative, rich/poor, and gay/straight are a few that come to mind.  I'm sure you can think of many more without really trying.  We are not indivisible.

How about with liberty and justice for all?  It should be fairly clear that the degree of liberty and justice available to any individual is a function of that person’s financial status, race, and belief system.  We are able to deny liberty at this point in our history without due process, under the rubrics of patriotism and homeland security, so we can’t claim justice for all in any real sense.  We can aspire to the meaning of the phrase, but we can not claim it as ours.

That leaves us with I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands.  Not bad.  That actually says all that needs to be said.  We are a republic, a group of states united under a single Constitution that establishes our freedoms and their limits.  It is a template that we can lay over our diverse society to both bound and encourage it.  It works.

Perhaps if we limited The Pledge of Allegiance to these twenty concise words we would afford ourselves an opportunity to think about the sentence each time we recite it and appreciate the profound simplicity in its meaning.  We are people of the United States of America, a republic built on diversity, many nations working together to build and sustain the integrity and emotional wealth that we all cherish and have struggled among ourselves to attain.  Though not a nation, we are, in every meaningful sense of the word, a family, supporting each other and arguing with each other within this grand and plentiful land we call the USA.

During my seven years in the Air Force I saluted the flag many times, always with the sense that it was a symbol, that I was really saluting the land behind it.  The most important part of my pledge will always be to the Republic for which it stands.   Why clutter our allegiance up with platitudes that don’t mean anything?           

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing on a Rainy Sunday

This morning I laze on my sofa listening to the rain that prevents me from checking another outdoor chore off my list.  Our cats, Zorro and Elvis, who usually crowd my feet or pin my legs with their furry selves, are elsewhere in the house.  Carol is in her office, either answering emails or playing FreeCell.  I have some work I could attend to in the large back garage which is in desperate need of cleaning and organizing.  I'll attack that this afternoon, but right now when the ancient clock across the room has not yet announced eight, I will write.

I am working on two separate stories.  Neither has revealed its ending yet but both are moving along.  I think the easier one will find completion in the next week, the harder one maybe never.  That one scares me because the character that has grown and developed in it, and whom I have grown to like, may turn out to be a serial killer.  I don't want him to.  Those of you who write fiction will probably understand.  When a character is born, he or she is maleable but soon grows in ways that the writer, to be true to the developing story, must honor.

My writing is so strongly character based that the storyline I intend is often rejected in its development and turned in a direction more attuned to the person who has grown from my tappings on the keyboard.  If the tale takes a direction I cannot tolerate, my only recourse is to abandon it, for the driving character would not accept a course alteration more to my liking.

About my possible serial killer - I'm not rejecting the storyline, yet, but I must steel myself to write it and to be true to the tale, in spite of being repulsed by the idea.  If I am willing to put repulsion aside I will be able to continue.  But maybe my character is of a different darkness he has not yet revealed to me, so I will not have to worry.  The only way to find out is to take him and his story further along its path and see.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing [of] Wrongs and Thinking About What's Right

I'm here first to apologize to my blog readers (both of you) for my month plus absence.  I've mentioned before that I intended this space to be a vehicle for my meandering mind to wander freely along whatever path it chose.  I never intended it to be a place for me to air political worries and annoyances. However, so many recent events have cluttered my addled brain with frustrating thoughts there was no room for musing to emerge in the way I wish.   In order to exorcize this demon I've decided to exercise some first amendment rights and speak out the major insanity that now grips us.

Okay, the thing receiving the most hype on the internet and in print is Gun Control. The bill that failed to get the required votes in the Senate, S.150.RS- Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, is 125 pages long; 95 of those pages are a list of weapons exempted from the ban (I read it.)  There is nothing in this bill that requires current owners of these weapons to turn them in, nor is there anything requiring current owners of large capacity magazines to turn them in, or exempt their use.  Whatever it is that caused gun lobbies to become constipated with fear, is not visible in the bill.

Social networks - read Facebook - are rife with demands that the NRA change its stance (not happening) and that congress grow a set and defy the gun lobby (also not happening.)  The problem with demands in the case of the gun lobby is that they further constrict the sphincter of the fearful.  The problem with demands in the case of congress is that they only work when written in the memo line of a large check.  So what do we do?  We vote!  But our vote doesn't count, you say?  It sure won't if you don't use it.

Only 57.5% of eligible voters actually exercised their right in the 2012 election.  Put in more understandable terms, over 93,000,000 Americans who could have voted, didn't.  That's just wrong.

Now maybe I can get back to my mental meanderings with the hope that this country starts making sense, and supports candidates with a backbone, and a heart.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Numbers Games

Numbers are cool.  You know, those things we use to quantify stuff, to record how many, how big, how far, etc.  Numbers can change our mood by simply being different from what we expected.  Step on a scale and feel the elation of a number smaller than you thought, or the funk at a larger number.  If your bank account contains more than you thought, happiness abounds, if less ... well you get the idea.  Numbers affect our lives.

Numbers had to be invented as soon as things needed to be counted.  Obviously the first number was '1' or a hashmark that represented it at least.  The earliest artifact that indicated something was being counted dates back around 20000 years. The Ishango Bone clearly indicates a tally of something, though 'what' is a mystery.  When it came to measurements, the Egyptians get a prize for the Cubit, the length of a man's arm from elbow to the end of the middle finger, which measurement they used to build the pyramids, not too shabby.

This whole post started when I was playing a numbers game called KENKEN® (you can look up the game if you're interested,)  in which some of the answers involve the factors (numbers multiplied to get the number in question) of a number.  Looking at the number 6, I noticed that the set of factors - 1,2,3 - when ADDed together rather than multiplied, also yield 6.  By now, if you're actually still reading this, you are probably shrugging your shoulders and saying, "So what?"  Well 6 is the only number where that is true.  It is unique in the infinite world of numbers.

I have a notion to go on about numbers and how cool they are, but the imminent danger of losing what little audience I have gives me pause in that notion.  But pause has never meant stop.  I will however just add how numbers can fool us to this jaunt through number coolness before I leave it.

Enter the realm of marketing.  Look at the  price of goods, automobiles for example.  Someone looking at a car with a price tag of $24995.00 will be thinking $24000 rather than $25000.   If it's not true than why do we always see tags like 24.99, or 3.99 instead of 25.00 or 4.00?  There is something in our brain that allows us to ignore the .99's.

Okay I've got to stop this or I'll begin dipping into the most important number in the history of the invention of numbers - 0.  We couldn't have the civilization that exists today without it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Art and Science of Procrastination

This morning, as I worked on a crossword puzzle and interrupted myself to watch squirrels pilfering birdseed from my feeders, I thought about all the minor household repairs that stare back at me from any room I enter.  I think about them a lot.  I just today got a new one - re-caulking the shower in our bathroom.  Each day I think about the repairs, and when I will get around to them.  I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them, and when I will get around to them.  I have even in some cases made a list of what material I might need to accomplish them.  A mental list actually, I don't do actual list lists.  Add to this an 'outside the house' list (unwritten once again) involving yard, garden, automobile ... you get the idea.  I'll get around to them also.  Finally is the list from various volunteer gigs that I have.  All of these I will get around to, eventually.

In my defense, the household stuff mostly involves construction or reconstruction of items, which ultimately involves that place in the far corner of my basement that I call my workshop, and that my elder daughter always called, "the graveyard for tools."  It seems that whenever I start a project down there I am hindered by something: a tool I can't find (probably because it's out in the back garage where I last used it), an unfinished project that is occupying the work space that I need, or a tool I actually do not have and will have to buy.  Surely you can see the dilemma here.

Ah, the "back garage."  This is an edifice built to house up to three normal size automobiles with room to work around them.  Right now it contains a 1992 Mazda Miata (small car) and sometimes a Honda Ridgeline (mid-size pickup truck) with very little room to work.  The formerly empty space has accumulated two complete sets of tires and wheels, a snowblower, three bicycles, and a lot of stuff that really needs a home in a recycle center or landfill somewhere.  I just have to haul it out.  I'd like to have the room so my Miata and I can get up close and personal while I check to see why one cylinder is throwing oil.  To free up the space I have to load up my trailer which means I have to insert the receiver in the hitch and hook it up, but my truck needs an oil change ... sigh.

Guess I'll go check the tire pressures on my wife's Prius - she asked me to last week, I think.  By the way, I started writing this on Monday, the 25th.

Bye for now.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter to Spring and my Winter

We'll soon be coming into spring in the northeast, the mud season.  Carol, an ex-patriot Alabaman who would no more move back there than she would vote republican, often mentions during this time how wonderful spring in the south could be, the sunny pleasant months before the summer humidity takes hold, the scents of spring blooming in yards and fields.  While we spend tour time slogging through mud as snowmelt seeps into the soil, southerners bask in the loveliness of the outdoors as it wakes up from the brief dormancy of their short winter.

Last night we went out to dinner with friends.  M. and I share a birthday, today February 16th, so we have for the last few years dined out together on or about that date.  Our evening has always been at the Culinary Institute of America, the Caterina de Medici restaurant.  There is nothing quite like dining in a place where students are being trained as chefs.  The service is great, since all the servers are chefs-in-training, and the food is excellent.  I have no experience with other schools of this type so I don't know how they operate, whether students have to study all parts of the business from host to server to cook as they do there, but I think it's a great technique, acquainting chefs with how the world outside the kitchen works.  I love the formality of the experience: the way the elegant table is set, the way all plates and utensils are cleared after each course, the tasting glass - stemware smaller than the normal wine glasses that is used only to sample and approve the wine choice.  It brings back a really wonderful memory.

The tiny farming village in upstate New York where I went to high school, and where most of my family still lives, has been the vacation retreat of some very wealthy and influential people.  One was a member of the diplomatic core who served as ambassador to Portugal and Brazil during his career.  His daughter and I dated one summer so I spent a great deal of time at their home.  The girl lived at the vacation home with her chaperone while her parents were at whatever embassy he led at the time.  Well into the summer, I learned that they would be stateside for a week and up at the summer house.
 I was invited to dinner their first night home.  I'm certain it was so the family could take the measure of this country boy who was smitten with their girl.  I arrived all cleaned up from my day in the hayfield, dressed in my best 'school clothes', hair Brylcreemed, nails clean and pared, and nerves on edge.

The ambassador sat at the head of a diningroom table that could have seated a dozen people with elbow room, his wife at the other end.  I was seated to his right, his daughter to his left.  The girl's chaperone, a tall slender woman who bore a strong resemblance to the girl's mother, sat next to her.  She was as much a companion to the ambassador's wife as an overseer for the girl.  But I  digress.  I already said that I was on edge.  I wanted to impress her family.  When I finally looked at my place setting, at the several forks of different sizes all lined up, at the knives and spoons, I knew I was sunk.  The ambassador became a hero to me when he leaned over and put his hand on my arm and said with a smile, "Just watch my wife.  That's what I do."  He is still one of my heros, over half a century later.

It is 6:00am,  and I'm seventy-one years old.  Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Does Vacation Mean to a Retiree?

"Is there a new blog?"

That's what my half awake wife asked me at four am.  I've been up since three-thirty: browsing and deleting email, scanning FaceBook posts from my 'friends', and doing the Wednesday NY Times crossword.

Carol read an article yesterday claiming that one reason older people (me for example) are unable to memorize things as well as they used to is sleep deprivation.  Old people have trouble sleeping.  She picked up this gem from one of her saved NY Times Sunday Magazines.  She doesn't collect them per se; what she does is put them aside to read "later" which translates to, "when I'm less busy" which usually means when we are on vacation, as we are now.  She brings the saved stack along and disposes of each one as soon as she's read it.  Depending on the length of our time away from home, she may get all of them read, if not the unread mags go back with us.

 So, to answer the title question: to this retiree, vacation means being away from home, away from the place that endlessly presents me with something that needs fixing, painting, moving, tossing.  It means getting far enough away for long enough that those sights fade.  Since I don't sleep well, that fade comes more quickly than it used to; there's another upside to aging for you.  The main upside is, of course, as long as one is aging one is alive.

It's warm in Key Largo.  I heard a visitor yesterday ask a local, "When does it get cold?"  his answer, "Never." This time of year in The Keys is most pleasant because it's both balmy and mosquito free, though not completely devoid of biting insects.  Watching the sunset at our inn's Tiki bar, I was mildly fed on by a few very tiny biters, not nearly annoying enough to get in the way of my enjoyment.

Yesterday we took a walk in a fascinating place with an absurdly long name,

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park(click the name for more detail on the park)

All in all a fine vacation so far - as good as any I can remember.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Beard or not a Beard? That is the Question.

I have a beard, have had for the last forty-two years.  It's scruffy because my hair curls, making it pretty much uncombable, and because it's not dense (I must have some Native American blood) it is kinda scraggily, but it is without any doubt, a beard.  I see so many men today with what I classify as stubble or even five-o'clock shadow, not a beard.  Two examples:  Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman.  I only use them because almost everyone on the planet has seen a recent photo of them.  They both look like they need a shave, not like they have a beard.  Maybe one could assume they are trying to grow a beard, but never, never that what they are currently sporting is a true beard.  Anything less than a half inch long really doesn't qualify.

Now I don't know if the world of boy-girl interaction has changed since I was a somewhat marginalized member, but the early stages of beard growth tend to itch the wearer and scratch the love interest.  Is this stubble soft?  Is there a new lotion that makes this micro-inch hairiness soft?  All I can say is "where was I when it was being passed out?"  New beards itch - end of story.  Now I imagine that several woman out there in internet land are saying "Come on Hugh scratch my face." or something less publicly utterable.  But really ladies, if you've never experienced a stubble go talk to someone who has before you take that step.  I'm sure you can find someone.

And guys enough indecision; either grow a beard or shave, so you don't give your dates a rash.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

This Century is now a Teenager - Scary?

Its childhood has been less than stellar.  It was born in a panic over the failure of our computer systems -  an example of our dependence on the ubiquitous microchip.  We worried that our bank accounts would be unavailable, our computers would be unresponsive, our cars would not run, and our aircraft would fall from the sky.  None of that happened.  It was born with a mere whimper.

Not until September of 2001 did plains fall from the sky, and change our country.   We retaliated,  but in a half-hearted manner, and ended up in a quagmire.  Two years later we added a second war to the mix, for reasons that were untrue.  We are still in both wars.

Early on we went from robust economic health into a spiral that left us anemic.  We are slowly regaining our health but our growth has been stunted.

As the century reaches puberty, teenage angst, pouting, and aggression are pretty evident.  I hope that our century is female, in which case that should subside in a few years as it matures.  If it is male, odds in favor of maturity are greatly diminished.