Wednesday, December 31, 2008

You Can Go Home Again

I "go home" two or three times every year, back east where I grew up, to see my Dad, my sister and her family, and a small number of friends whom I still keep in some sort of touch with. This time we brought a car load - with Linda and me, the son, and the daughter and son in law, as well as their (thankfully) small dog, Lilly, a pug who is short on most mental skills but who possesses that "strangely cute" appearance that can win people over.

Two sets of pictures from the trip: First, from an hour spent walking up the main drag in downtown Ellicott City, Maryland. This town proves that in an age of dying shopping malls and vacant big boxes, the 1800's business model for retail sales can work here and there. Of course, Ellicott City has carved out an antique-y, arts-n-crafts, sorta upscale, funky, quasi-Appalachian niche that seems to serve it well.

Every time we go through there, which is a lot as it is between my Dad's and my sister's, the place is jumping. Even late at night.

One thing that is intriguing to this midwestern, flatlander transplat is the topography of the place. The road reaches up through a low point and the buildings fronting the road tend to have hills rising behind them. In some, you can walk in the front on the first floor, and out the back on the third floor. It lends a lot of character to the place. Hostorically, Ellicott City is the terminus of the first passenger train, out of Baltimore. And the site of the old National Road that is now Route 40 when you can still find it.

Second group of photos - Lilly got to meet her, um, I have no idea what her relation would be - her owner is Bella's owner's niece. Anyway, it was puggle meets pug (and Boston...and, through a glass door, ferret being ferret-sat).

We all got home safely and, while sad that the visit is over, it's always kind of nice that after I got to go visit "back home", we got to return to the home we have made back in the flatlands of northwest Ohio.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

W.O.F. 44 Classic Lionel

I'm not going to be at the computer tomorrow, so this week's WOF comes a day early (and thus, I guess, becomes a WOT or WOTh..)

As I was showing ornaments from the family tree last week, my sister asked "Where's the train?" This prompted me to head up to the closet, pull down a pretty heavy box, trudge back down to the tree, and spend some time laying out the O27-gauge track, wiring in the transformer, and sticking the cars on the track. So here it is - the 1950's vintage Lionel, now looping its way around the base of the tree and completing the scene and our decor.
As I think about it, I am not sure what the train imagery brings to the whole Christmas experience, aside from being THE present for a boy to receive about a half-century ago. But, then, we bust out rabbits and eggs at Easter, so I suppose it doesn't all have to make total sense.

I hope everyone who stumbles across this post is enjoying some good times with whomever they choose, feeling pretty good about 2008 and hopeful about 2009, and maybe even catching a nap!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Visit

We picked the coldest day of the year to go down to Linda's home town and take her mom out to dinner. It is not always easy to spring a senior citizen from a nursing home, but we convinced the staff that a little cold air wouldn't lay her low. Our son, fresh from fall semester, met us there, halfway along his way home from college, and he helped wheel Grandma out to the car and steady her in.

The restaurant of choice was the local Bob Evans, just around the corner, and I scraped the curb, pulling up as close to the door as possible to minimize the effects of the numbing combo of seven degrees and 25 mile per hour winds. We secured a table and Linda's mom got her usual - a big, seemingly oversized bowl of their potato soup with the bacon and onion sprinkled on top. Linda's mom is a woman of simple needs, so it seems, and potato soup at Bob Evans appears to be one of those needs. William and I opted for the taco salad, and Linda ordered up a raisin pork chop dinner. Good, hot stuff on a cold evening.

We got back to the nursing home and Linda got chatting with a few of the wheelchair-bound along the way, showing them a couple Christmas artifacts of her mom's, like the singing Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The knick-knacks were well received.

Back in the room, we were chatting about this and that when Linda went down the hall to ask about meds or something down at the nurses' station. The thing about Linda is, whenever she takes off somewhere, you are never quite sure what she's likely to come back with. I guess this is part of the excitement of our three-decade marriage. For the most part.

Anyhow, this time she brought back young carolers and their mothers from the local Lutheran church, who proceeded to camp out at Grandma's door and belt out a few verses of a couple of the Christmas standbys. Linda responded with the Mr. and Mrs. Santa routine, and everyone was thanked for their contribution to the Christmas spirit. It felt kind of festive and, for a while, not so much like a nursing home.

Nursing homes used to give me the heebie-jeebies, but enough experience has made me realize they are like other places full of people with needs, which is basically everywhere there are people. While many just want to be left alone, and that's cool, there are others who are reaching out, and who react pretty positively to being reached out to. Again, basically like everywhere else. You may not expect it, but it felt like Christmas in there, safely away from the harsh cold just outside.

Friday, December 19, 2008

W.O.F. 43 Objects from the Tree

Not really that weird this week, just seasonally appropriate. Here are a handful of the ornaments bedecking our tannenbaum this Christmas, chosen not so much for their weirdness as for their meaningfulness.
First, the ribbon candy ornaments. My mom used to collect ribbon glass, and she liked a box of ribbon candy at Christmas as well. Throwing these ornaments on the tree helps me remember Christmases past.
My wife Linda likes the comic strip, Peanuts, and she is especially partial to Snoopy. Hence the dog is in the house and on the tree.
Our daughter once had a big thing for hippos. She had over 100 stuffed, ceramic, and otherwise constituted 'potamuses at one point. This ornament remains as a reminder of the collection.
This thing below is out of focus, poorly lit, and it looks like it's about to go off and tear the roof off the place. I am not sure of its history or origin. Perhaps I should find out. Also, somewhere on the tree is an ornament that has always reminded me of the satellite, Telstar. If you remember Telstar, man, you're ANCIENT. (Extra points if you remember the instrumental of the same name by the Tornados.)
This one here below is new to me. I guess it is for all the ships plying the navigable waterways in the area so they don't run atree.
This one is just kinda cool looking.
And finally, the tree itself.
I hope that whoever stumbles across this blog entry is in the midst of a merry time. (As for us, we are off to what is intended to be the LAST shopping expedition necessary).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

one's misfortune is another's good fortune

The weekend started as one of those sequences where gravity and other laws of physics just do not cooperate with how one wants to run one's life. I smacked down about a third of a box of Cheerios onto the floor - much to the dog's liking. She got her share of oats that morning.
Things got better - we had friends of Linda's from college, who still get together with us regularly 35 years hence - for our own Christmas celebration. It was a good time.

We played this game called Quelf. The game is pretty insane. If you get roped into playing, be forewarned that you will get asked to carry on like a mad person. But it is great fun when everyone in the game is following their own oddball instructions. Just to give you one example, our daughter was instructed at one point to say the following anytime someone laughed (which was often): "I COMMAND YOU to be SILENT!!!"
The weekend we spend with these people is always a special time, and 2008 was no exception, even if we did tone down the gift giving in lieu of small checks written to local food banks, which need them more than ever these days.

Then I had to go to Columbus on Monday and Tuesday for a departmental meeting - and a very nice dinner at Brio - an excellent Italian restaurant. I got a little Christmas shopping done, since we were located in the heart of one of the City's largest retail mega complexes ("Polaris", for those who know their central Ohio).

Now it's back to the hum of the computer, the incessant gibberish of the parakeets, and the whining of the dog to take a walk in the 19 degree weather (it wasn't too bad, and she kept a pretty good pace going).

Oh, one more cool thing: The woodpeckers are showing up, as they do in the winter. Always good to see Mr. Red Bellied. Looking forward to the break coming up!

Friday, December 12, 2008

W.O.F. 42: The Meaning of Life

OK, you have to be a Douglas Adams reader to understand the above title. It means nothing otherwise. It comes from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe.

I selected an ordinary enough looking object for this week's weird object. Sure, it looks like a flashlight, but it has very special powers. It has an array of buttons on both sides that produce soothing sounds of the following: north woods, gentle stream, chimes, ocean, tropical forest, starry night, and spring rain. The sounds are cool, but what I'm trying to figure out is, on a FLASHLIGHT? What's that all about?

I used to have this light in the car for emergencies. Problem was, stuff would hit it or brush up against it and all of a sudden as we drive along, we're wondering "What is that sound?", as in "Why does the car suddenly explode with the sound crickets, or a babbling brook, or ocean waves?

It's the combination that makes it weird to me, like having an mp3 player on an electric shaver, or an FM radio on a toaster.

Here's what it looks like:
And here it is illuminating...could it be...a...CHICKEN???

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things i Would Not Say - Part Deux

Earlier, I had posted three things (out of five) that I believe I would not be caught saying. I continue to struggle with the assignment, as one never knows when, in the right context, out those very words may come. But in the spirit of the season, let's add a fourth item to the list, to wit:

4. Bah, Humbug!

In point of fact, I have said these words, but only in some mocking tone. I always take some time to get into the "Christmas spirit". There are certain motivators that enable me to reach holiday cheerfulness, and enough of them have to conspire to allow me to reach the tipping point. Those motivators include, in no particular order: The occasional (as opposed to 24/7) nice (as opposed to references to one's ancestors being trodden by large animals) Christmas song on the radio. A little snow. Christmas decorations and lights (as opposed to large, inflated Frosty the Snowmen - apologies if any of you have such large behemoths - scary to small children, by the way - in your front yard). People who pass you on the street exhibiting signs of good cheer, such as genuine smiles, unexpected greetings, offering large sums of money for no apparent reason, etc. City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. Peace that supasseth all understanding. And I forgot to mention: pot luck dinners, specially baked cookies, and other such confections, to be eaten without guilt during the season that extends from Thanksgiving to roughly January 15.

Anyhow, there is always a bit of the "bah" and the "humbug" (but not expressed verbally) until I reach that point of falling into holiday cheer. But that's back around Halloween when anyone with any shred of dignity is grumbling righteously about the absurdity of stores advertising Christmas sales while other holidays are yet to be celebrated before December 25.

But once I am in the Yule Zone, there's no turning back. Not even the marathon shopping blitz with my wife can wear me down and remove that inner glow of "fa la la", which I will cling to with every fiber of my being, even as the 47th item of apparel is returned to the rack because it just will not do for Aunt Eunice. I will bend, but I will not break. This is, after all, an especially good time of year. Some say it's the most wonderful time. Then they typically ring a bell or make a "ding dong" sound.

The point is this: Even in this rather rough environment, where in our northern Ohio newspaper, layoffs are becoming the common staple of the front page, day after day, there is time for blessing counting, and for (in my own case) an annual attempt to strip back the 21st century details and deadlines that drive us all nuts the rest of the year. There's a need for some simplicity for just a couple of weeks, maybe, where the career and family goals and objectives we strive for can be deleted or at least minimized in order to concentrate on getting together, family and friends, and creating memories and images that don't need any digital photography to be indelibly etched in the hard drives of our heads.

OK - I'm done now. Now I need to think of one more to complete the list.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

W.O.F. 41 - and C.O.S. 1

Haven't sat down to the laptop since Thursday - Weird Object Friday totally got by me this week. Went to work at crack of dawn yesterday, came home, shoveled dinner down the gullet, then off to the retail world for some serious shoppage. It was a wise choice to get some of the necessary consumerism out of the way last night rather than today or tomorrow- places like Penneys stayed open til midnight and they were pretty much empty by 11:00, making for good, efficient shopping. Plus, we are not the types to get up at 3:30 on "Black Friday" and brave the crazies - we'd rather be dodging the floor waxing machine at Meijer at 1:00 a.m. as we wrap up for the night. Apologies to the crazies among you who prefer the early wake-up. To each their own.

Then today has been a busy time as well. So the best I can do for a "Weird Object Friday" -24 hours late - is that age old question. What if aliens visited earth this time of year - what would they make of people driving around with dead conifers in their trunks and pickup beds - then taking them inside their homes, stringing them with lights, and singing to them? So my weird object is the dead conifer, one of which we picked up just today. We still do the "real tree" thing, even with the kids gone. Just can't shake these habits. Plus, it does give the living room a nice, piney aroma.
I'm hoping the "American-made car"
does not soon become a "weird object"!

And just because I am so tardy, I will add a "cool object Saturday", although I am not advocating that groups of us start posting cool objects every Saturday. Anyhow, Linda made this (below) with a group last week - it's a glass block with a bunch of lights smashed in the hollow middle and a big ol' bow. I thought it looked kinda cool.
Hope your seasonal fun is not getting too hectic! I think that now, with a Christmas tree in the house and a decent percentage of shopping under our belts, we are now in the spirit of things.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Midweek Rambler

Just got in from a brisk walk of the dog. The weather is my favorite kind of walking weather. 30's to 40's, a fairly brisk wind making a little whirring sound in the pines. Perfect.

My sister or someone else not too long ago suggested posting "five things you'd never catch me saying", or something like that. I was hesitant to respond since, among other things, I'm liable to say just about anything. So I have not given deep thought to the assignment. Here is a stream-of-semi-consciousness response, with commentary attached.

1. You want fries with that?

The economy is taking a turn for the worse, especially here in the Great Lakes region where good old Big Three automakers have been the engine (literally and figuratively, I guess) driving the whole shebang. Anyhow, I have made a solemn vow that, should I ever have to strap on that parachute, gold or otherwise, I will not join the fast food industry. Or I should say, rejoin, as I served a hitch with Mickey D's back in the college days. I was, in fact, a french fry specialist. The worst part was pretty much taking the big box of fatty lard like substance and smashing it into the french fry vat. I will say, however, that McDonalds fries are probably about as good as any in fast food land. Except maybe those curly fries at Arby's. I'm partial to those. (BTW, I was not kiddin' when I titled this midweek RAMBLER.)

2. Take my dog...Please...

We were raised in a cat household. We had two cats in succession. The first one was named "Five"; she was the fifth member of the family and thus was assigned that number. She was a great cat; my favorite ever. She loved to lie down and curl up in boxes, mainly those clothing gift boxes we all are going to amass very shortly, most likely. She also hung out in my room a lot. So one day I got about seven or eight boxes and laid them down all over the room and experimented with the frequency with which she would recline in each box. I have no idea what the findings were but they are written down around here somewhere. As is everything I ever wrote, I think.

Five was followed by Pineapple (due to her color). She was also a decent creature, but I was not living at home for much of her life, so my recollections are more vague and scattered. I know in later years she was thirsty a lot and they kept the tub spout dripping so she could grab a swallow or two at any time. Also, seeing as how Five met her demise by running into a car while beelining in on a bird on the other side of the road, Pineapple learned to enjoy her outdoor experiences while tethered to a string. This is not a bad idea, considering all the strays that cross our yard (see proof two posts back).

Anyhow, we have made this transition in our own homes, from the cats of my youth to the dogs of our adulthood. For us, there is an allergy issue; Linda and our daughter sneeze quite often around felines. Plus, Linda came from a dog family, and someone had to cave, so I caved. Glad I did. Dogs are cool. I am convinced that if you catch them in the right spirit and get their attention and then blink slowly at them, they blink back, as do several other species (my favorite blinkback so far has been from a Bengal tiger). I have convinced absolutely no one in my family of this. Anyway, despite the fact that our canine shows some signs of, if not dementia, quite a bit of goofiness, she is still lovable and good company and of decent temper, a great friend, and a few laughs to boot. I think dogs really do lower the blood pressure a few notches. Most of the time.

3. Music....Who needs it?

Well, I, for one. If there is any sort of life theme, or passion, or addictive need (yes, Linda, of course I mean aside from the things that REALLY matter) in my life, it is music. I have collected music, on reel to reel tapes, cassettes, LPs and singles, CDs, and now on bits and bytes, since about the time the Beatles sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand". I have hundreds of CDs, maybe 1,000 by now. Lots of rock and pop, a decent amount of classical, a good dollop of folk or "singer/songwriter". I have been known to tolerate country, especially if it tends toward the bluegrass end of the spectrum (Nickel Creek did some excellent stuff; Chris Thile is a wizard of the mandolin). A couple dozen Christmas CDs about to get their seasonal spin.

And I have always dabbled in playing music and making stuff up. Mostly keys, but I like to hack around on guitar too. The best description of my playing is "noodling". I basically love to take a chord progression that strikes my fancy and run the sucker into the ground. A buddy and me, growing up back in Baltimore, had a "band" called the Electronic Trashcan. Others wandered in and out of the band. Another kid up the street got a drum set one Christmas, so he was automatically in for a while. We wrote and recorded maybe 100 to 150 songs. I would like to think that the best twenty were actually not bad. It was fun.

In the past 15 years or so, it has been hard to take the time and energy to really create new stuff, but I still hold out hope. However, I have found a really fun and fulfilling outlet through the creation of a new "contemporary" service at our church, where I was recruited (based on what, I am not sure) to play keyboards for the house band. The pastor is an accomplished drummer; we have a killer father and son guitar combo; the leader of the whole effort plays a mean bass and also arranges the music; and we have three women who are also in the choir who harmonize like angels. Ok, I am biased. Anyhow, we haven't gotten a pink slip yet, and people keep coming back on Sunday mornings, and it probably helps that the pastor is actually party to this affair, so we continue... Last night we worked up the Barenaked Ladies' version of God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings. Pretty cool.

And I can't count the times that a good musical score made all the difference in allowing a movie to emotionally connect with me. A case in point for me was "A Beautiful Mind." Love that soundtrack.

OK, that's three. I have not made it to five, but I am thinking that no one really wants to continue reading at this juncture. We will return with the final two at some future time.