Category Archives: Family

Happy 2016

First, I did not stay up until midnight to watch the ball drop, the groundhog, the meteor showers, the rain, or anything else.

Young people think, “Let’s party! Who needs sleep!”

As we age we begin to balance our decisions with, “Party, sleep, party, sleep? Let’s go to the party, but we can leave early and blame it on the babysitter.”

When you get to be my age it’s, “Hey! I can get to bed early, and sleep late—all the way until 7:00 AM!”

In other news, I have a January tradition of writing the wrong year on checks. At work we’ve been in fiscal year 2016 for a number of months so I started to think that we were headed to 2017. I now have two (2015 and 2017) possible wrong years to write on my checks! Fortunately, electronic bill paying helps alleviate this.

I spent today reconfiguring antennas on my car. This is the adult geek male equivalent of changing purses, only requiring more tools and getting dirtier. I’m almost done. Tomorrow I’ll test them and see if anything works better than it did before. Wish me luck!

All Right! I Confess!

I admit it. I’ve been trying to write blogs lately, but:

  • There was Christmas.
  • My son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren drove 12 hours to visit.
  • My daughter, who has started reading my blog, says all my blogs are the same.
  • I keep coming up with ideas that are incomplete—which got me thinking.

Some of the Beatles songs, including much of Abbey Road were actually the parts of songs that had never fully developed. Therefore I tried to piece together ideas:

My New Year’s resolutions. After “I will never be a staffer for Donald Trump,” I got stuck.

I tried to write about the era of Downton Abbey and how people were once born into wealth and/or married into it, and how that is rare today.

Then I thought of:

  • The Bushes
  • The Clintons
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Jaden Smith
  • Colin Hanks
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Prince Charles

Which brought me back to square one, so, attempting to steal from the Beatles, using the tune from “She Came in through the Bathroom Window”:

My son and daughter trashed the bathroom,
I think they lost my silver spoon,
So I sat there and I pondered,
I should not get mad so soon.

My kids have always been expensive,
Cost me more than I could know,
But I wouldn’t change a minute,
So now I have these joys to show

Is it any wonder?

Let me close this year with my thanks to God for my NORMAL family (the emphasis is there to remind me that despite the condition of their bedrooms and bathroom, my kids are normal; on the other hand, given their outstanding academic, athletic, and musical accomplishments, I owe it to them to differentiate between normal and average).

For you, may 2015 be the year that was just before when everything became wonderful.

The Night Before—the Night Before Christmas

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Twas the night before — the night before — Christmas and chaos persists,

There’s wrapping paper everywhere and six missing gifts.

We tear the house apart, looking for tape,

Not to mention all the bows, which made an escape.

The stocking are hung just as they say,

But the hooks are too weak to last till Christmas day.

The only old fat man around here is me,

So we gather the gifts to put under the tree.

My wife, who has done the most, heads up to bed,

And seeing all she’s done, “I love you,” I said.

Time Travel

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

Suddenly my entire family was transported—thrown, really—into the mid twentieth century.

The internet connectivity to our house was lost. We still had cable television—just like 1975—but no computer connectivity. The telephones went out, too, but that happened in the twentieth century as well.

Of course the DVR, which is part of the cable service was not working, so we couldn’t watch the TV shows from earlier in the week, just like in 1975, before everyone had a VHS video recorder.

It was traumatic. When we called the cable company on a cell phone, they tried resetting everything from their master control center, but failed. They told us that a technician would have to come out and Monday was the earliest possibility. That would mean three days without internet! Three days! No breaking news surrounded by ads and “Sponsored Stories.” Someone could have rocked a dress or a bikini, and we wouldn’t have known. What if that Nigerian prince had tried to contact me by e-mail?

I carefully peeked in my teenagers’ rooms, expecting to find them in a fetal position, clutching their smartphones as their only lifeline to the present, but they proved to be made of stronger stuff. They weathered almost all of Saturday, trapped in the past.

Fortunately, today when we woke up, it had been repaired.

It’s amazing how the internet has become so intertwined in our lives. The silver lining is that it gave me an excuse for not writing a blog yesterday and a topic for today’s blog.

Counting Down to Christmas

stamp

Parents count the days until Christmas differently than regular people. Are no golden rings, calling birds, pipers, or even a pear tree (sans leaves, since it is winter). Instead, parents way fo counting down to Christmas includes:

Days needed to get a personalized Christmas stocking from (name of mail order retailer here).

The day for the Christmas band/orchestra/choir concert.

The day that the kids need to bring canned food for the needy or a gift for Toys for Tots.

The day you panic and run to the corner drugstore to print out family pictures to send with the Christmas cards.

The day you should have gotten the photos.

The day you should have sent out Christmas cards.

The day you panic and run to the post office to get stamps for the Christmas cards. (And out of 47 styles of special Christmas stamps, they have only one left—the one you used last year, and the year before that, and—you know).

The day you make a list for next year, which you promptly misplace.

Parents—people with strength, courage, humor–and a totally warped perception of reality, which is how they survive.

Wow!

NCIS (But you knew that!)

NCIS
(But you knew that!)

Life is funny, and it sure gets in the way.

I’ve been so busy with my day job, my kids…

My kids—two are already grown up and the other two are suddenly almost there. My younger son just got his acceptance letter from his first choice college—and an early admission at that. Now, it’s kind of hard to chastise him for not taking out the recycling.

My daughter is a few years younger, but also a great student (My grades were never that god), musician (I was never first chair bassoon), and athlete (let’s not even go there). However, after her last birthday she seems to believe it’s necessary to remind me every 15 minutes or so that in in a few months she’ll start driving.

Naturally I’m proud of both of them, but I wonder, if I hadn’t blinked would they have grown up so fast?

Thankfully I have a Sherpa guide who has looked out for the kids and advised me. I’m speaking of my wife, of course. This is a challenge for her, I’m sure. She hasn’t had to resort to the Gibb’s slap on the back of DiNozzo’s head yet (for the benefit of NCIS fans) but it’s not because I don’t need a >HINT< from time to time.

So, thanks to her, even though I’m sports impaired, I’ve been a soccer dad, in spite of myself, which makes a world of difference to my kids.

However, in all fairness, I’ve done just fine as the science, music and school project parent.

If I haven’t been blogging as much as I should, lately, it’s because life has gotten in the way, and the people who are special to me—well, you know.

Cross-contaminated Art

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

My daughter played in a symphonic concert this weekend, and I was the designated (volunteer) photographer. I used to do a lot of photography in my younger days and still remember a thing or two. Of course that pales in comparison to what I’ve forgotten (e.g. if you own multiple digital cameras, put different lenses on them rather than trying to juggle two lenses at the same time).

Taking the pictures is the easier part, and while darkrooms are rare, many of the darkroom techniques have migrated to computer. So, when I got home, I sorted the photos. I then dodged and burned images, adjusted framing just like the old days, but without getting my hands wet. I’ve gotten used to this by taking the pictures at my kids’ soccer games. However, I began to think (always dangerous) that while sports photos are an American tradition requirement, photos of a concert are a bit different.

When you think about it, it just seems odd to use one artistic medium to share another. It’s true that music can reflect other arts—Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is an excellent example. However, it seems more difficult to work in the opposite direction. I don’t think that even a masterpiece painting could reflect a particular piece of music such that the viewer would recognize the melody. I suspect even the greatest choreographer could not create a dance that causes the audience to taste peanut butter. Mixing media is like writing a haiku explaining hockey—it just doesn’t work.*

So, my photos may not transmit, explain, or even reflect the melody, the harmony, the counterpoint, or even the thematic chords that were performed, but it does give the parents a chance to see their kids on stage.

Sometimes that’s enough.

* Although my son wrote his college entrance essay on soccer and its comparison to international relations.

Does It Ever Get Easier?

It’s funny, or maybe just a sign of the times that a number of people—including myself—have asked this very question. You work hard, you try to play by the rules, and you try to treat others fairly, but it just doesn’t seem to get any easier. Why?

What would easier be like, anyway? I suppose my job could be easier—like the guys working on an assembly line fifty years ago; there’d be no need to think, just repeat the same motions over and over. Boooring!

Maybe easier means that I’d make more money and could afford to buy the boat I’ve always wanted. But is there ever enough money? I read about the billionaires do all kinds of outrageous things to make even more or to pay less taxes. Even when you have billions, it still isn’t enough.

Maybe easier means that I’d have more free time in the evening and on weekends so I could—what? I’m not the type to sit still and watch a lot of television. Maybe I would putter around with my various projects, like when my dad retired. He puttered around the house, eventually got everything just the way he wanted, then he and mom would sell the house and move so he could start over. I don’t like to putter that much.

The problem is that easier doesn’t really exist. Things change but we never see it as easier. When we were young we couldn’t wait to be adults, because we knew life would be better. It wasn’t, in fact, we’re paralleling the much of what we experienced back then.

THEN: The school project that is coming due that I haven’t done or really even gotten started.

NOW: Income tax time

THEN: Agonizing over acne and waiting for that growth spurt that will make me tall and thin.

NOW: Agonizing over wrinkles and grey hair, and hoping I don’t gain any more weight or lose any more height.

THEN: Being overly concerned about how the other kids treat me.

NOW: Being overly concerned about how my own kids treat me.

Easy? No. Different? Yes. Better or worse? Whichever I choose.

Selfies

I confess, I don’t understand selfies. What’s the thrill about sending pictures of yourself to everyone you know? It’s tied for last place with pictures of the meal one is going to eat.

I hate having my picture taken, as I’m content to be on my side of my face and have no desire to contemplate the side most people view. I tolerate several minutes during the time I shave, but with the shaving cream and contorting my face and stretching my neck while shaving I do not see much resemble that others believe I look like. Pre-coffee vision also helps.

In my teen years and well into my twenties, I pursued photography so that I’d be on the other side of the camera. The added advantage was that not only was I not asked to be part of the wedding party—saving the expense of renting a tux, etc., but I made a few bucks even on the heavily discounted wedding albums I did for friends.

My kids are the same way. The only way they’ll tolerate having their picture taken is if the only other option is cleaning their bedrooms and bathrooms (which is too bad, because they look better than I ever did—or will). My son chastises me for even taking pictures.

So selfies? I polled the family, and this was the best offer I got.

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Metamorphosis

Monarch Butterfly Cocoon, courtesy Wikipedia: User: Umbris

Monarch Butterfly Cocoon, courtesy Wikipedia: User: Umbris

It’s hard not to be fascinated by insects. I will stop to look at a walking leaf or a praying mantis; butterflies always catch my attention, as do dragon flies. Perhaps the most fascinating insects are those that pupate and undergo metamorphosis. Imagine one day being a caterpillar, spinning a cocoon, taking a long nap and then emerging as a butterfly.

I recently realized that humans have a similar process. Babies are born, demand attention, like to be held, make noise and break things. They grow, start school, but the parents’ role stays pretty much the same.

Then, one day, that cute little kid becomes a teenager.

It’s unfair to expect teenagers to spin a cocoon, since they can’t even pick up their socks, but they are able to compensate. Teenagers’ cocoon is their bedroom into which they sequester themselves for several years. It’s not quite as constant as insect larvae; you can spot teenagers—or at least the backs of teenagers—as they root around in the refrigerator or the pantry. Occasionally you’ll see the front of a teenager, immediately behind the outstretched hand with the palm up.

I’ve examined cocoons, but really don’t know what it’s like in one, but I imagine it gets progressively less sanitary over time, just like teenagers’ rooms. The biggest difference is that teenagers’ cocoons have televisions, smartphones, computers or video games. However, the long sequestration is similar among the various species.

There is another similarity. Someday I know that my teenagers will emerge from their cocoons more resplendent than even the most beautiful butterfly. Then, like the butterfly, they’ll stretch their wings and fly away.

Oatmeal Boxes

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I guess most people get flavored instant oatmeal in the individual, instant packets these days. That’s a bit too sweet for me, so I use the “old fashioned” kind; it takes about the same time—45 seconds to one minute in the microwave, and I can add just a smidge of brown sugar.

We finished one box of oatmeal today, and I looked at the empty box. I felt just a little sorry for the current generation of juvenile oatmeal eaters. They have no idea what they’re missing.

In my grandfather’s and father’s time an oatmeal box was perfect for winding a coil when making your own radio. Such radios were often assembled on a piece of wood with the components screwed to the board; when the wooden breadboard split, this was an ideal base. To this day we refer to experimenting with a circuit on a temporary base as “bread boarding.”

When I was a child, for the preschooler, oatmeal boxes made great drums—and were much quieter than pots and pans. Later, when dioramas were a fact of life for students, oatmeal boxes were perfect for towers of a castle, a grain silo, the body of a steam locomotive, or one of the stages of the rocket used to launch Apollo and Gemini astronauts.

Today it’s just an empty box.

The Plight of a Blogger

For several years now, I’ve been writing this blog. My original intent was to stir up debate—to encourage people to think and respond. Sometimes, I’d write strictly to get a reaction, because I LOVE critical thinkers. Somewhere, deep inside me is a teacher, but one who unfortunately lacks patience with young people.

However, even though I speak of great thinkers, I confess, if I could, I’d be the next Dave Barry, except that he and I are almost the same age. I love his ability to look at any normal situation and point out how it’s actually insane. Well, maybe not insane, but nevertheless, totally funny.

So, after careful analysis, I’ve concluded that real people—like you and I—are too tired at the end of the day to engage in meaningful Sophratic intercourse, because we’ve used our last pathetic brain cells to tell our children why they must (X) or cannot (Y).

So, the best I can offer is that after work today, both my teenagers came out and helped me repair my ham radio antenna, which had been downed by a very large dead branch. I tried out the radio and lo and behold, everything worked! Neither is fond of ham radio, but neither complained about helping.

My antenna. Can't see it in the trees? How about that!

My antenna. Can’t see it in the trees? How about that!

Life is not usually about the grand victories, just little, precious, and important ones.

So—thanks, kids. You made my day.

(If you were expecting great thoughts—re-read the above. Kids helping parents is a great and wonderful thing.)

Soccer Tournament Weekend

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If you’re a new parent, or expect to be a parent someday, here is some information you will need.

In America kids play soccer. In the rest of the world, kids play football, sometimes called futbol. They’re all the same.

Don’t confuse this with American football. American football players, each wear more protective gear than an entire Marine battalion in combat; they “play” for about 15 seconds by banging into one another, usually ending up in a pile on the ground. After that there’s a three minute pause while officials take measurements and the teams reposition themselves for the next play. If it’s professional, college, or whatever and televised add several additional minutes for advertisements. The football is occasionally kicked, but more often it is thrown by hand.

American football players are generally from America, often recruited from American colleges where they played as highly paid amateurs. After playing American football for a few years, most players suffer enough head trauma so as to forget whatever they learned in college, the fact that they ever went to college, and the fact that they aren’t supposed to drool.

American football is divided into four quarters, each of which lasts 15 minutes, but the timer is stopped at the end of certain plays, when a team calls for a time out, for station identification and commercials, or for review of instant replays. The last five minutes of the fourth quarter usually lasts several hours.

In soccer, the players also wear protective gear—shin guards. The game is divided into two halves; for adults, each half lasts 45 minutes. The players play for the entire half, running approximately 250 miles during the average game. Except in cases of extremely serious injury (e.g. missing limb, sucking chest wound), the halves last 45 minutes. In case of rain, snow, or extreme heat, the halves last 45 minutes. Lightning is the one exception; lightning strikes tend to take out entire teams, the spectators, and tend to ruin the expensive soccer balls.

Professional soccer players are international—this means that they are not necessarily from the country where they play soccer. They may not speak the local language, or even knew that the football club, city, or country where they play existed before arriving. Because of such issues, hand signals are used for official rulings and severe penalties are communicated by colored cards. Yellow means, “You better watch it, Bub.” Red means “Yer outta here, and your team can’t send in a substitute.”

Most American kids do play soccer but don’t go on to play professional soccer the way their American football counterparts do. Professional soccer is not as profitable because after supporting children’s soccer, soccer parents cannot afford to attend professional sports matches or live in decent neighborhoods. In fact, if soccer uniforms, travel, and gas for the car were allowed to be deducted for tax purposes, most soccer families would qualify for food stamps.

But if their kids go to college, they’ll remember that they went, and much of what they learned, even if that material in Economics 101 evaporated shortly after the final exam was completed.

Start Tracking the Next Generation*

spock

Leonard Nimoy as Spock (Thanks, and we miss you already)

My in-laws now live near us, so we can include them in celebrations, or just drop by to visit. Of course my wife is with them to help navigate doctors, health insurance, and the other great mysteries of life.

Our son is headed into his final year in high school; our daughter headed to her freshman year.

In the meantime, my older son and his wife, who are up in New England (it’s true- “You can’t get there from here.”) have added a second granddaughter to our favorite grandson and our first granddaughter.

Life keeps us busy. One of us is attending to parent, child, pet, neighbor or whatever, while the other is equally busy (or busier) elsewhere. It’s bad enough that we pass one another like “two ships passing in the night.” When either of us passes ourselves as we scurry from one duty to another, that’ll grab your attention.

Today I realized that I’ve been parenting for forty years. That should count for something (free perpetual VIP access for all the great bands of my youth, [Eagles. Jimmy Buffet, the Who, Jethro Tull, etc.], as well as all first class cruises, AND an ambassadorship to France, Germany, England, Japan, or Poland, at the minimum).

Alas, that’s not how it works. Instead, as time goes on, we focus even more on others rather than on ourselves.

But then Jesus, Himself, said, “The student is not greater than the master,” and He came to serve, not be served.

I’ll keep trying to follow His example, and in another forty years, maybe I’ll have figured out how to do parenting correctly.

Or, maybe not.

*with apologies to Gene Rodenberry

Excused Absence

Please excuse Steve from his recent failure to regularly write blogs as he has been suffering from TCD (time and creativity deficiency). This is not a well-known condition because no celebrity has taken ownership, even though it is obvious from today’s movies, television, and music that the entire entertainment industry suffers severely from the same malady.

Some physicians and the CDC claim this condition does not exist, along with chronic Lyme disease, Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and health problems due to Agent Orange, but I assure you that it does.

As a lifelong voracious reader, I promise that I will work with Steve to help him start writing more regularly.

(signed)

Steve’s Mom

P.S. I apologize for the fact that I couldn’t physically sign this myself due to the fact that I’m currently deceased.

Time, Time, Time—Look What You’re Doing to Me

Kids finishing school.

Kids getting ready for various summer activities.

Trying to get the things that absolutely need to be done, done.

Taking a few hours to enjoy our anniversary dinner at a nice restaurant. Sigh. Wonderful.

Finishing up a four semester course for work.

Fitting in a half-dozen doctors’ appointments, and a little “minor” “routine” surgery.

My mid-life crisis desire to buy a boat.

Oh, and don’t forget work itself.

Whew!

It’s NOT Speed-dating!

The Persistence of Memory Salvador Dali (and his mustache) Courtesy about.com

The Persistence of Memory
Salvador Dali (and his mustache)
Courtesy about.com

Fortunately, I’m past those that deal with dating, on-and-off relationships, and other unsure bets. I am the embodiment of the line from When Harry Met Sally, “Promise me I’ll never be out there again.”

Especially given some of the strange rituals that accompany the process these days. Speed-dating? Really?

Apparently you sit with a person of whichever sex interests you for a very brief period of time—as in minutes—and try to learn enough about the other person to determine if he or she might be worth more time (apparently if that other person has the same opinion of you).

Imagine my horror when I realized that having two teenagers at home is just like speed-dating my wife. We have five minutes in the morning before we each head in different directions.

“When did you say Katie’s trip was?”

“Did I hear something about a soccer tournament for Adam?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

“Wait, did you pay the credit card bill?”

“Call me.”

“No you call me, maybe we can do lunch.”

I’m going to go down to the office supply store and get a couple of those “Hello, My name is:” stickers, and a letter of introduction from some high and lofty personage, and see if that….

Ooops, sorry, gotta run.

Community Service

Socrates Courtesy Wikimedia

Socrates
Courtesy Wikimedia

Yesterday, the American Diabetic Association’s Tour de Cure bicycle race was held in our area. This is a fundraiser for diabetes research and rides can choose a ten-mile, thirty-mile, sixty-five mile, or one-hundred mile course, with people donating to support their efforts. Local ham radio operators provide communications from each of the seven rest stops with the race coordinators at the start/finish lines. When I lived in Wyoming, the local hams provided similar service during Frontier Days.

Some people enjoy providing service to their friends and neighbors; some belong to an organization that encourages (and if necessary shames) its members into serving the community. Churches often provide the tipping point for people who wouldn’t go out on their own. Many high schools require a certain amount of community service in order to graduate. I believe that organizations provide the social network and support to help those who are comfortable being part of a group, but are not comfortable acting as an individual. Members of the Local Club (whatever it is) are more likely to adopt a road and clean it than the same people as individuals.

I know every generation worries about the state of their children. Supposedly, Plato credited Socrates with the following quotation:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

However, in Socrates’s time young men and women couldn’t cocoon in their bedrooms with smartphones and video games.

What’s Wrong with Nursery Rhymes!

Would you let your child hang around this woman?

Would you let your child hang around this woman?

For centuries we’ve taught our children nursery rhymes, and then wonder why they grow up so maladjusted.

“Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone…” Why would she store a bone in the cupboard? If she had a bone left over from a meal, given that there were no refrigerators, it would make better sense to just give it to the dog at the meal. Besides, a bone is more entertainment than actual nutrition.

“Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick.” There’s the poster boy for national fire prevention week. On the other hand, we get our panties in a wad over the idea of our children running with scissors—but jumping over candles is just fine.

“Jack Spratt could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean.” Where does Michelle Obama and the food pyramid stand on this one? Where are the vegetables and the fiber?

“Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon,” but then we wonder why some kids stray into drugs.

Moving—Yuck!

SONY DSCMy in-laws are moving into a retirement home, and we’re helping.

In the business world, there’s an old saying that three moves equals a fire in terms of things that get lost, broken, or whatever.

On a personal basis, I’ve had far too many moves. I tell people that next to leprosy and diarrhea, moving is my favorite thing.

So, although I’d like to write more, I better get ready for the unloading of the truck.