Monday, March 31, 2008

p.s.: glimmer of hope for spring

Went out to let the dog in tonight and I heard the sound of the first spring "peepers" peeping. That's always a good sign that spring is around the corner. Of course, a snowstorm could follow it right around that corner, too (perish the thought...)

lazier day

Man, I haven't had a cold in a long, long time. I'm pretty fortunate in the sickness department. I have not taken a day off from work in a long time (pardon me while I go knock on some wood). Anyhow, I caught a doozy of a cold over the weekend. I chose to sleep in before heading in to work today, and because of an afternoon meeting 20 minutes from home, I was able to get home fairly early, too.

So I'm "under the weather". And what weather it is, too. The TV stations show this ominous line of thunderstorms out in Indiana somewhere. They are inevitably headed this way. Winds are supposed to kick up to some 40-50 mph gusts between midnight and 8 tomorrow night. Not inspiring.

As I look out the window, the sun is trying to display a decent sunset, but it's just not pulling it off. Too much gray involved. So, due to my complete lack of motivation and inspiration, I am reaching back and inserting a photo from last fall that I especially liked. The guy is fishing down below the spillway of a dam on the Scioto River north of Columbus, up near the Columbus Zoo.

Perhaps next time I will be inspired by the present, but for now we'll live in the past.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lazy Day

First thing yesterday, we discovered we couldn't open the back door to let the dog out. Turns out the mechanism in the lock had broken and no amount of cajoling could get the door to budge. I considered taking the door off its hinges. That's when I discovered the contractor had placed the hinges in little indents in the wood around the door, meaning the hinges will not come off. It got a bit ugly, but after the use of a crowbar, among other tools, I was able to wedge the door open without damage, procure a new lock set and doorknobs, and install it. The dog was relieved, in more ways than one.

The picture here just includes a cardinal looking me right in the lens as if to ask "So when does this season called SPRING begin around here???"

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Shawn Phillips

Shawn Phillips came through and performed at my college many years ago. He is a gifted songwriter and guitar player, and his voice has a four octave range; I think sometimes only whales (at the low end) or dogs (high end) can hear him. Anyhow, I've been a fan since that college performance. He was playing in a small venue near Cleveland last night, so a friend from work and I drove in to take in the show after an excellent meal (we both opted for the stuffed salmon) at an Irish restaurant/pub near the concert called Sullivan's (recommended).

Shawn is an interesting guy. He billed this as his "65th birthday tour", which makes sense since I last saw him perform in 1971. He lives in South Africa with his wife and their two year old son. When he isn't singing or writing songs (he has written over 1,200 of them), he is a licensed paramedic, and he has also become some sort of certified rescuer who goes out in rafts and other vessels to rescue and extricate people from boats and ships when things go awry. Not bad for 65 years old.

Anyhow, his music is reasonably complex, full of multisyllabic words, and, to me, pretty touching stuff. My friend, Don, wondered how he had missed this guy, who put out something like 18 albums since around 1968. He played for about two hours, using all six of the guitars he had brought along, at one point laying down a chord progression on an acoustic rhythm guitar, looping it electronically, then singing and playing electric lead over it. The old guy was in touch with modern electronics. He also occasionally employed some foot pedals that gave the guitar an orchestral strings background. He finished up with his double-neck, doing a medley of three of his songs, interjecting a dead on Jimi Hendrix "Hey Joe" in the middle.

The repertoire was a great run through his work. For two songs he reached back to his first album that I had ever heard, and read the lyrics off a sheet as he sang. He said at 65, in bringing back these old songs he hasn't played for over 35 years, he suffers from "CRS", which we'll say means "can't remember stuff" in this family blog.

Shawn hung around after the concert, signing CDs and the like, and it was sort of nice to be able to come up to him and tell him I've really enjoyed his stuff, and that his voice and range sure haven't changed since '71. He seemed genuinely appreciative of the fans' gratitude.

Chances are whoever is reading this has never heard of Shawn Phillips or his music, and that is a shame. Just like most everything in life, whatever is popular is not necessarily what's best. Very true of the music biz, where the "industry" tends to take people, decide to make them a product, package them up, then maybe give the a prefabricated song or two to sing. I'll stick with the genuine article.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

W.O.F. 6 - Meet the "Guano"

This week's weird object is home made. Number One Son (only son, actually) made this object, with some help from a guy with the necessary tools to scoop holes out of wood and perform other tasks.

Anyhow, this musical instrument is called the "guano". No, it is not bat dung. It is a hybrid guitar/piano, sort of; hence "guano". While one hand works the fretboard just like on any guitar, the other one, instead of strumming or picking, flips the little popsicle sticks down so they hammer the appropriate string or strings, much like the hammering action on piano strings.

I am not sure that anyone, including the inventor, has mastered this thing, but it got an A as a high school project where the assignment was to make a musical instrument.

There is at least one more home made instrument around here that may be dragged out as a future weird object.

(Sorry - had to post a bit early this week...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Night Out

We finally got to use the tickets we had purchased to see the national tour of The Lion King in Toledo. We had planned to go a couple of Saturdays ago, but we were snowed out, to the point that it would be illegal to travel that day.

We were told there would be plenty of seats on week nights, but it turned out that this week was Spring Break for the Toledo (and many other) schools. So the place was jammed. Nevertheless, the ticket agents arranged for four seats in a row, actually a little closer up than our original seats, so, in the end, we got to sit with our daughter and her husband, the latter who commented "Who knew plays could be so entertaining?"

The play was a feast for the eyes and ears. I had seen this work on Broadway with my son's marching band after they marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade three years ago, so I knew what to expect. This version was on par with the New York version; same incredible sets, costumes, props. Top notch actors in great voice. A wonder. Highly recommended for all ages. And I know it must be pretty spellbinding because the theater, full as it was with families looking for things to do during break, was pretty much silent with all at rapt attention, when there wasn't laughter or applause or a gasp here and there. Now, being put in a more positive frame of mind by the magic of live theater and the assorted lions, giraffes, baboon, etc., I shall attempt a more "Hakuna Matata" outlook.

The Buzzard Update

I close with today's buzzard shot, taken from our back yard. Yes, they are spreading out from their initial lodging spots, trying out a nearby tree or two - There goes the neighborhood. But we noted tonight that, when it gets dark, they all seem to depart these leafless trees for the shelter of a grove of big pines. And, as the picture points out, we are in the flight path of more than just buzzards.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Wonders of Spring...

Our friends, the buzzards, continue to lodge in the treetops around here. I wonder how long they will hang around. Seems like they would have seen all the sights by now.

To add to the buzzardly fun, and adding a bit more to the macabre nature of our lovely spring, I was out walking the dog at dusk and as I approached home, several hundred crows flew overhead in crazy circles, looking for a place to roost for the night, then realizing they had picked a venue already reserved by the Buzzards International Brotherhood and Sisterhood for their annual Midwest Convention. For a while, the sound of those crows could only be described as a...cawcawphony?
So far this springtime seems to be out of the pages of Edgar Allan Poe, or from the movie lens of you -know-who...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekend Update

First, Happy Easter and post-Easter. We had a very nice one, with son, daughter, and son in law present Saturday and Sunday.

And, pictorially, here is an update on what's going on out in the neighborhood:

Our yard and, really, most of our town have become home for black squirrels. Few squirrels of other colors show up around here. This one, however must have been the result of some mixed parenting. We see this one around a lot. How can you miss it?

Not a lot of bird action recently, but this guy has been by the feeder fairly frequently.

The odd body of water in our back yard perseveres, thanks to the totally saturated soil, although it appears, this evening, to finally be subsiding. At one point, some firewood logs apparently floated out away from the pile. Also, you may note an "island" out there in the middle of the yard. New USGS maps and charts have to be drawn daily, depending upon precipitation. Not sure if the channels are deep enough for navigation.

Yeah, Awna, again, the grand-dog, visiting with her (adoptive) mom and dad. We have to love her like family.

And finally, an update on these guys. The 'zards are still hanging out in the neighborhood. One person out for a walk told us he thought their numbers were increasing every year. Another passer-by thought there was a sort of "creepy" element to the migrating birds. I think it's pretty cool.

Quite a wingspan on these things. The first walker whom we talked to told us (kiddingly, ok?) we'd better keep an eye on our dog....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weird Window Sill Friday

I thought I'd just toss in the contents of my window sill at the office for my contribution to W.O.F. today. You may need to click on the picture to enlarge it and capture the details. Some of the objects of note, from left to right.

The can commemorates the opening of the old Sandusky County (Ohio) jail as the newly furnished County Commissioners' offices. Come to think of it, there may be some value in redoing jails as politicians' offices; it may save a step later, if you know what I'm driving at.

The ukelele and pineapple were given to another guy and me to use as props one year when we were asked to emcee our annual employees' appreciation day. I can't recall if I actually used them for anything, but it lends a festive, more tropical atmosphere as the weather forecasters call for up to six inches of snow over Easter weekend...

The little guy in front of the uke was given to me by an economic development delegation from Belarus that came through last year. Apparently he has some significance in Belarussian folklore or pop culture. I should research him.

The little tray-like thing has a picture of some ruins in Lebanon. Next to it is some wood carving of dolphins that came from, I think, one of those former Soviet republics.

The bottle in the middle contains maple syrup from somewhere around here. No, it's not a flask of Jack....

There is a painted wooden Russian egg in there. Happy Easter!

The baseball figure used to sound like the local Cleveland Indians' announcer, Tom Hamilton, when you smacked it. I think the batteries are long gone at this point.

The little dude in front of the pineapple came free with a meal at Burger King. In his prime, you could move his arm and his eyes would light up red. He was cool in the dark.

And over on the right is a ceramic snowman, a gift from another employee.

And there's a little toy maraca in there. I forget where it came from. I think it was from another employee appreciation day.

The blind is closed (a) to reduce back light and (b) so I don't see whether it is actually snowing out there yet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Surf's Up

We dedicate today's post to the weather. My sister keeps posting pictures of flowering plants in her yard. I am posting pictures of snow, standing water, and buzzards. I will let the majority of the remainder of today's words be those of Van Dyke Parks, on behalf of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, from their tour de force, "Surf's Up". Some may say the lyrics make as much sense as this weather. Others may take solace in them. To each your own.

Surf's Up (B. Wilson/V.D. Parks)
as performed by the Beach Boys

A diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand in hand some drummed along, oh
To a handsome man and baton
A blind class aristocracy
Back through the op'ra glass you see
The pit and the pendulum drawn
Columnated ruins domino

Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping?

Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumperter swan
Columnated ruins domino

Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, Brother John?

Dove nested towers the hour was
Strike the street quicksilver moon
Carriage across the fog
Two-Step to lamplight cellar tune
The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne

The glass was raised, the fired rose
The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting
While at port, adieu or die

A choke of grief HEART hardened I
Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry

Surf's Up
Aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you gave
I heard the word
Wonderful thing
A children's song

Child, child, child, child, child
A child is the father of the man
Child, child, child, child, child
A child is the father of the man
A children's song
Have you listened as they played
Their song is love
And the children know the way
That's why the child is the father to the man
Child, child, child, child, child
Child, child, child, child, child
Na na na na na na na na
Child, child, child, child, child
That's why the child is the father to the man
Child, child, child, child, child

OK, I admit it. This last shot is not of our back yard. Yet. It's the Pacific Ocean. I just felt the need to add some levity. And, while I'm at it, some warmth and color...again, not our back yard. More like Carmel, California. Man, I wish they all could be California, um, weather.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke

I have to put in a brief note of sadness that one of my cultural icons from way back, Arthur C. Clarke, passed away at age 90...a good run, I suppose. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein, science fiction giants from early in my life, compelled me to pick up books at an age when there are many lesser diversions. I remember accompanying my dad to hear Clarke lecture on his vision of the future, down at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore. Childhood's End, 2001, the Rama books, Songs of Distant Earth... The guy was good. Not sure who can pick up the slack.

They're Baaack

Here's what I found up in the trees tonight...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Like Clockwork

I saw something tonight that put a skip in my step and put the awe back in awesome for me. About twilight, we were heading out with the dog for the evening constitutional and, due to excessive mud and lingering snow piles, we headed south instead of the usual east or west. I'm glad we did, because up there, looming in the tops of some neighboring trees, they sat, assuring me that spring is around the corner. I'm referring to buzzards, or turkey vultures. Whatever they are, they have roosted up there in the trees while passing by for the past couple of years. Apparently, these trees are now on their annual itinerary. We counted about thirty of them, and there were probably just as many hidden in some nearby pines. They are apparently on the same approximate schedule as the buzzards that return to Hinkley (OH) every year, to the cheering and celebration of the townfolk and many others who have turned that annual migratory stop into a huge festival with many commercial enterprises.

I'd just as soon keep this visit a relative secret. Too many humans gazing up at them may scare them off. For now, anyway, they have a pretty good way of keeping the humans at bay when gravity and their digestive processes take hold, if you know what I mean. Viewers should keep their distance.

Seeing those birds up there was strangely uplifting, sort of like how the loons drove Kate Hepburn to ecstacy in On Golden Pond. It was really good to see them up there, sort of like when your grandparents return from Florida, in a way. I mean, they don't bring presents or anything, but it's pretty wondrous to just behold them up there, flitting (sometimes it's more like crashing) from tree to tree, seeking the perfect night's perch.

I hope to get out there with a camera in the next few days, although rain is in the forecast. But if I can capture some of these visitors with the camera, I'll put 'em up on a post very soon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sitting Around the U-Shaped Table, Facing the Easels

Have you been there? Captive, subject to the whims of some facilitator? Well, I was there for two days this week, 100 miles south of here, helping an organization as a Board member. It is only fair, since I am often the easel jockey, the E.J., the moderator who has to keep it lively and on track.

This facilitator and her framework within which we worked were pretty good. We took a 30,000 foot view, which is refreshing, just getting down the generalities for the next three years. Previous encounters with the future, in my experience, have gotten bogged down with the minutia of tactics and objectives, and the dominance of the dollar as the important measure of success.

The CEO wanted to keep it this way. He had been reading some books, and used the term, "punctuated equilibrium", to describe how things are going to change in the future, most likely in ways that we cannot foretell, so let's not waste our time on predicting these shifts; let's just be ready for shifts. (I note that the term was initially used in evolutionary theory to say things stay the same for long periods of time, then all heck breaks loose and new species are formed, etc.)
A good working quote was "Change favors the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

Anyhow, I had a "the world is flat" (Thomas Friedman, and lots of people before 1492) ) epiphany of sorts as I was reading the label on my apple juice bottle and read where the juice within "contains concentrates from Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Argentina, Chile, Turkey, Brazil, China, and the US." This was apparently the United Nations of apple juice in front of me. I pondered how the Tropicana people could cost-effectively round up these apples from so many nations.

But then the smell of the markers brought me back into the discussion. These were the old-school, really smelly markers that, whenever uncapped, filled the room with a fairly horrid, chemical smell that begged the question, "Has the FDA tested these things for toxicity yet?" And then, "Since markers are neither food nor drugs, do they slip through the bureaucratic crack, and no one tests them?" In our office and when we are movin' markers, we use those fruity flavored ones. Probably just as toxic, merely hidden by the artificial strawberry or banana essence.

They put us up at the hotel in this conference center, and shuttled us off to a fine dinner at a place called Brio in the nearby upscale mall. I sat at a table of men, which struck all of us as odd once people had settled into seats, and then there was some peer pressure at the table to order the beef, which we all did except for one, who was harassed for the superficially unmanly nature of the penne in front of him. Then lots of harrumphing and asking the whereabouts of the brandy snifters and the cigars.

Actually, I did learn of one pretty cool thing while seated and carving my beef at the testos-table. There is this organization that has this website called It is an international micro finance organization that draws its capital from people like you and me, then channels the money to partners around the globe that perform due diligence and lend the money to small entrepreneurs who may need, for example, another $500 in inventory to make a go for their general store in Tanzania. The donor is in fact lending the money out through the intermediaries to the micro entrepreneurs, and reports are provided on the website or through email on the progress of the borrower and of the loan. The default rate looks surprisingly low, and the lenders can get in for as little as $25 through paypal. Check out the web site and you can get a feel for the types of businesses, borrowers, and needs that are out there all over the world. Seems like a pretty cool place to park some money to do some good.

The hotel room was your basic nicely done, sort of business oriented, room. The place had fallen for that latest fad that has befallen hoteliers everywhere: an incredible mound of tastefully arranged pillows where, ten years ago, just two pillows would be gracing the head of the bed. Now the guest has to toss a half-dozen of the things onto nearby chairs or the floor before settling in. I am not sure what the plethora of pillowage gets us, and I would have preferred a mint or chocolate up there. Depending on the tasteful arrangement, my son sometimes refers to this phenomenon as "bowling for pillows", as they are often arranged like ten pins up there.

The food was good and too plentiful. The conversation around the table was pretty much on track and to the point. One funny dimension that emerged was that it was decided on Day One that the day was brought to us by the letter, V, and that we were to use as many words as would fit the context beginning with that letter. I think I got in a "vicarious" and tried once for a "don't be so vituperative". Then one wag, toward the end of the day, said Day Two would be brought to us by "W". The facilitator was clever enough to start us out with a briefing that was just filled with W-words. "Okay, today we want to know not just the who, when and where, but the why..." The ploy worked, I think, and we tired of the silly word game, and got back on track after a while.

We finished our agenda an entire hour early on Day Two, which got us on the road before rush hour, just as soon as we filled out the inevitable evaluation form. It also let the planned (or prepared-for, or not) future begin just that much sooner. As always, it begins now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

W.O.F. 5

Sorry to post so late on a Friday. I was out of town on an overnighter down south, and returned just in time tonight for dinner and then the local high school's excellent production of "Beauty and the Beast".

Anyhow, here's what I've got:

If you wish to guess what this object is all about, READ NO FURTHER! Because here is what it is, as I just discovered by googling a few key words....

It's a Native American wedding vase...

The wedding vase has been used by many Indian tribes in America. In tradition, the wedding vase was created prior to the wedding. Many believe as part of the marriage ceremony the medicine man would prepare a special potion [usually water] for the young lovers.

First, the bride drinks from one spout and then, gives it to the groom, who drinks from the opposite spout. The mixture signified the promise of deep love and eternal happiness for the couple.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

The old Robert Burns quote is pretty much the theme for this week. Indeed, the plans oft go awry. Indeed, that sling and cast up there are affixed to the right hand and, more to the point, the right pinkie of our son. He got his pinkie stove in by "friendly fire" ( a team member) in a bit of a collision at an Ultimate Frisbee game. On the day that his mission trip team was landing in Nicaragua for a week of labor helping small farmers with sustainable agriculture practices (whatever they are), this lad was under the knife, getting his pinkie bones realigned and pinned in place. All in all, he'd rather be in Nicaragua.

Now he's home for what, in a cruel twist, is known as spring "break". Except, being a college lad, he is not exactly home right now, but off visiting buds to the west at a University that is not yet on break. Then he is to visit a friend in a University to the east and transport him home for his break. Then maybe our son will hang at home for a bit before going back himself. It ain't Nicaragua, but it's a suitable enough "Plan B".

So that's the "Men" part of the Burns quote. Then there's the "Mice" portion:

This little fella's best laid plans involved a series of nocturnal raids deep into our kitchen. This one was actually caught a few months ago; we have abandoned the practice of taking pictures of every mouse perp we trap. More recently, one of these rodents slipped up and dove into the kitchen wastebasket, and failed to implement a workable exit strategy. Then this morning, we live-trapped one on the microwave and gave him a free ride to a new sanctuary away from homes and kitchens. With luck this will be the last of the rodent raiders for a good long while. Do not ask why we catch 'em live. I suppose if we were to really do it right, we'd have them spayed or neutered before they re-enter the general mouse population, he he. Anyhow, we are making no plans for next week; we hope any remaining mice are refraining as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

out the back window

The blizzard watch was lifted, but the winter storm warning continues, and birds gotta eat...

That is one cold looking robin!

Friday, March 7, 2008

W.O.F. 4

Another week has sped by, leaving us with TGIWOF*! And we are posting two today, one from the "animal" world and one from the "vegetable" one. First is a special chicken:

My wife bought this metal chicken at a garage sale, with a special recipient in mind. Our neighbor, Faye, liked chickens and had a couple ornamental birds out in the back yard. So she was presented with this prize poultry, and it took its place of honor in the yard for many a month.

We lost Faye this past fall, and miss her a lot. Her daughter came over one day while cleaning out the house, and told my wife that she should have the chicken back. So now it stands, a bit weather worn but proudly all the same, in our back yard (except when it is invited inside for rare photo shoots).

Second is this unretouched, fresh-out-of-the-bag, heart-shaped potato. Nothing says "I love you" like a valentine-shaped spud!

*Thank Goodness it's Weird Object Friday

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

dogsitting, again

With the fire and the ensuing chaos, we told the kids we'd watch the dog for the week. So Ana's back, and so are the never-ending games of catch the ball, catch the once stuffed whale (Ana has de-stuffed it), and catch virtually any other object tossed at her.

Here is the usual way in which this dog greets me, as if to say "It's in play. Make a move."
Then I toss it and: nauseum.
Meanwhile, our thirteen year old spaniel has her own ways to cope with the hyperactive interloper. It's called "get under the table and pretend you're a rug".
It's been a busy week and our crack cadre of sports researchers has uncovered another fine team name for all to enjoy. We have yet to receive one comment on this spectacular feature, but because it amuses us to no end, we plan to continue it well into this century. Anyhow, today's featured team is the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. That's it - if you want any back story for this one, do your own research - we're on a tight schedule.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

In Like A...

No kidding. It's March, and it has started with a bang. First, the weather. After a teaser of a 60 degree day, Mom Nature is laying down a half inch of ice right now, covering it with some snow, and threatening thunderstorms and enough ice to down limbs and electric lines. The cancellations are flying in.

Then there's life. We have two grown children. Went down Saturday to see our son play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament at college. I had high hopes to get some cool action shots and fashion a decent post on the sport. That will wait. By the time we arrived, our son had broken his right pinkie, badly. Instead of spending a couple hours on the sidelines snapping shots of flying discs and layouts and hucks and such, we spent some quality time, just us and our boy, in the ER awaiting X-rays, the doctor, the nurse, etc. The ER doc gave our son a temporary cast and the address and number of an orthopedic surgeon. Then yesterday, the orthopedic surgeon gave him another temporary cast and the address and number of a "hand specialist" down in Columbus. Then just today the hand specialist gave him the date and time of his operation, this Monday, which was supposed to be Day Three of our son's spring mission trip to Nicaragua. Best laid plans, etc.

Our daughter is not to be left out. At approximately 1:30 a.m. yesterday morning she and her husband noticed a burning smell. Then they noticed an orange glow coming from the bedroom closet. It seems the water heater caught on fire and created a closet conflagration that wiped out their wardrobe and, thanks to the smoke and soot, most of their belongings in the bedroom. They made the early Monday news cycle on channel 13. We spent last night commiserating, sorting out a few essentials with them, and helping them migrate across the hall to a vacant and nice smelling apartment. They are experiencing the fun involved with insurance adjusters and professional cleaning services and the like.

So, anyhow, I know it's only March 4 as I write this but, seriously, bring on April, now.