Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rrroll your "R"s please

A number of years ago, my family took its second cross country camping trip, and this time we were heading all the way to the West Coast. My Aunt and Uncle had given the family tickets to Disneyland, so of course, that was one of the destinations of interest. We picked up my oldest sister in San Francisco, so that she could join in on the fun. She had stayed behind to finish painting the family home. Our first visit to California was indeed a memorable one, the Redwoods, San Francisco, the Big Sur, and ultimately Anaheim and the Magic Kingdom, but something that I will not forget was my introduction to the rolling "R".

My sister and I were talking about some of the Spanish words and names that we encountered while heading south along the coast. We saw places to eat Mexican fare serving "burritos" with flour "tortillas" and "frijoles". It became our passion to pronounce those words with the proper roll of the "R". When we'd see a Taco Bell, my sister would wave her hands from side to side singing, "Taco Bell, Taco Bell". It became her signature trademark while in California. Naturally, another of the many stops along the way were the Spanish missions founded by Junipero Serra. You can only imagine the 2 of us rolling our "R"s and my sister singing her little ditty.

When I later lived in California and then went on to Mexico to further my education, I was reminded of the rolling "R" and that jingle sung by my sister years before. In fact, we have been known to "rrrelive" those "wonderrrful" memories when we have gathered since that time. These are the "trrruly grrreat trrreasures" from the past. Gracias para todas las memorias mi hermana!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Break a leg for good luck, I say

While watching the Olympic skiing events, I am reminded of the expression, "break a leg" and how it's used to wish someone good luck, in spite of what how that may appear. If someone actually broke a leg after such a "wish" of good luck, I think most of us would absolutely be mortified. Well, sometimes you can break a leg even with lady luck "at" your side; lady luck in this case was my older sister.

When were we kids, you could often times find one or more of us tagging along with my folks when they'd do their errands. We took rides along the Merrimac river to JM Fields, to The Mill in Exeter for fabric, or maybe to the A&P just down the street. It gave us time together and kept us out of trouble; a win win situation, I'd say.

Once, I remember going with my sister and Dad downtown to the local Western Auto to pick up some thingamabob. Who knows exactly, but we had driven our old blue Ford sedan, one of those with the fins in the back, circa 1955. After completing our business with Mr. C. Rousseau, who reminded me of Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn) in "Mary Poppins", my sister grabbed my hand and led me to the door where we stood in the alcove off the sidewalk. My father had already gone out ahead of us and was standing on the street side of the car, which was parked right out front. Meanwhile, my sister gripped my hand tightly and cautioned me that there was a cyclist coming down the sidewalk. In my excitement to be with my Dad, I broke away from my sister, only to put this biker and me on a collision course. CRASH!!! There we were in a heap...of trouble. The young fellow on the bike, I believe, walked away OK, but I couldn't walk. My Dad had to carry me to the car, and off to the hospital we went for Xrays.

You probably have guessed it by now that the Xrays confirmed my Dad's suspicion that there was more than just a bruise. With the whole summer ahead, what could be worse than wearing a heavy plaster cast? Apparently not much. Except for swimming, I played whiffle ball while batting from a chair and a whole host of other things. In fact, my father had to replace the cast about once a week, as I wore them out just as fast as he could put a new one on.

If only I had listened to my sister and held her hand, I would have avoided this whole little incident from my youth. Now that I have aged and presumably matured, I still cherish the "hand holding" I get from my older sisters. They have always been there to pick me up when I've been knocked off my feet, just like my Dad had been on that day many years ago. I do have 4 intelligent, wonderful, and fun loving "ladies" at my side, "the sisters". I love them all, and consequently, I do consider myself very lucky indeed!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No skeletons in this closet

According to the general theory of relativity, a black hole is a region of space from which nothing, including light, can escape. Although these are thought to be found only in the celestial sphere, there has been mounting evidence that, in fact, they may be found right here on earth.

My parents still live in the only family home that I have ever known, and its 6 bedrooms were an absolute necessity for the passel of children. There were always places to hide, like in the "cubby hole" under the stairs, under any one of those many beds, or in the basement, although you'd have to deal with the "boogey man" if you went down there. However, my mother's closet was the place to be, if you really didn't want to be found. Remember hiding in amongst the clothes at the department stores when you were a kid? Well, that's how it was in "the closet". You could bury yourself in there, with the dresses and long coats hanging down to shelter you, as if you were in a cave. She even had this hanging laundry bag that we'd climb into to hide as well. At times perhaps, there would be more than one of us in there as part of some game, such as hide and seek. It seemed like it was a giant vacuum that just sucked us in, only to release us at some future time.

The "closet" at the top of the stairs provided us with a place to play, but of course, it was designed for a different purpose. There were several rods for hanging the clothes, and my mother even had me add 2 more. There were some built in drawers towards the back which were later removed because it was hard to get at them. She even installed a suspended hanger on the inside of the door. This maximized the use of the space, but seemed to minimize the "personal" space. Closing the door even became a challenge at times.

I remember one Christmas when Mom asked me to "find" some gifts that she had safely hidden away in her closet, and unfortunately for the recipients, they were carefully misplaced in her time capsule. Naturally, after enough time had passed these sorts of things would emerge to be re-gifted. Equally, the wardrobe collection could have provided a time line in fashion history, and some, to no surprise, have come back in style.

The days of hiding ourselves or things in the closet have long since passed, but the closet remains and is perhaps slightly more organized today than in yesteryear. However, it really doesn't matter because I will always remember the memories that came "out of the closet"; and we apparently never lost a soul in that hallowed space because I can't remember ever finding a skeleton in there!

Monday, February 22, 2010

BBM's, a Collector's Edition

Zane Grey may have been the J.K. Rowling of his time, or at least my father thought so. Stories of travels out West, buffalo hunts, and gun fights were all part of the story line for this prolific early American writer. It developed into such a passion for him that he became a founding member of the Zane Grey Society and even a past president. As a byproduct for his enthusiasm to find a complete collection of first edition ZG's, the Maine coast became the target area for those coveted collectibles, and thus the family book buying missions were spawned.

There usually wasn't much of a scheduled agenda for these trips. The overnight accommodations were predetermined, but that was it. My sisters typically made the arrangements at any one of the dozens of mom and pop motels which dot those Maine coastal communities. Some of them had been destinations for us when we were making our way to the old homestead in Canada years before. I guess it was deja vu all over again. Breakfast, often times was followed by several stops at the used book barns to do some early "recon". When a rare book was discovered, everyone shared in the experience, and if there was an accompanying dust jacket, oh boy. Naturally, the grand kids were very much front and center too. After a morning of "wandering" along the roadways of Maine, the hunger pangs would remind us that there might have been an alternate purpose to those trips, getting a little "down home" cooking. There were the usual stops of course, both for books and food, but occasionally a stop to check out those "rare" antiques could be expected too.

Over the years, I do think my father found his share of valued first editions, and I, too, found a gem once at one of those hallowed haunts on my way through Elsworth. My father and I still talk about it, even today. However, the real treasures from those BBMs were not the books or the unusual antiques, but the priceless memories that were created for all to share. Hey, everyone. Come over here, and see what I just found!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Car Named Toby

For many students, the thought of having a car, especially in high school, helped tremendously toward feeling that teenage independence. Well, when I was in HS, the thought of having a car wasn't even on my radar. Fortunately for me, my parents were generous with the use of their cars. I remember on one occasion asking my father for the car, and he handed me the keys and a few bucks for gas. He then asked who was driving since I didn't even have my license at the time. This was in stark comparison to the close parental controls that were in place for the older siblings. Either they had become wiser with age or perhaps just worn down by time. I prefer to think that they were simply wiser.

I purchased my first car when I was living in California during Graduate school. I finally reached my limit of riding my bike to work in the dark or borrowing a friend's car. I will admit that my legs were in pretty good shape from all the exercise though. After completing my degree, I drove across country in my little Datsun. I made stops at my sister's in the Grand Canyon, my Aunt and Uncle's in Iowa, and finished when I pulled into the family home in Massachusetts. The trip home capped off the 3 years on the west coast. The stay home was short lived, however, as I was soon planning my exodus to Mexico to start the next phase of my education.

So, what was to become of the Datsun? My younger brother stepped to the head of the line to take the keys. At the time he was working as a life guard at the beach, and he was in need of transportation. Who more logical than a well tanned life guard should be driving that California set of wheels? No one. He nicknamed it, Toby.

Several years later while I was home for some time off, I needed a car and Toby was still in service. A few modifications had been made since I had last sat in the driver's seat, The most notable was that those keys I had handed over years before were no longer needed. The car started with the push of a button, clever and interesting at the same time. If the door bell button didn't work, you could always resort to hot wiring it.

I am not sure what ever happened to Toby, but I believe there are many other untold stories associated with that first car. The irony in this case is that today's cars have adopted a similar technology, the push button starter, only the one found on Toby was slightly more rudimentary. Now, which button was it to start the car again? Ding, Dong. Sorry, wrong button!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Head and shoulders above the rest

"Chance awaits the prepared mind" is a quote that has been attributed to the famous Louis Pasteur. If you subscribe to this idea, then an individual will assess those opportunities and make the most of them; and the true measure of success then becomes how you deal with those opportunities. There are no exceptions. I know one young man who has been faced with his share of challenges, but he has overcome them for sure.

Since he is the youngest of his siblings, it was more difficult for him to break free of the apron strings, or at least for his mother. I do recall he had a rather severe case of separation anxiety, and no degree of Ferberizing seemed to make a difference. Consequently, his parents elected to give him an extra year to develop his personality and self confidence, and however difficult that was for his parents, the decision has proven well worth that wait.

However, what remains the most impressive accomplishment for this gentle giant was the remarkable resolve he demonstrated when he was faced with surgery to correct his scoliosis. The series of procedures were carried out over 2 days with little recovery between them. I will always remember seeing him in the hospital after the second operation, and he literally looked like a caravan of trucks had run over him. I think you get the picture, but during all this, he maintained his wit. When the nurses asked him how he was feeling as part of their assessment, he responded in his weakened voice by saying, "Taller." Of course this brought a smile to his parent's faces, for at that moment, they knew he would eventually recover from this major, life altering event.

How have these experiences impacted young Fredo? Only he knows for sure. However, as he has progressed through his formal education, he has, without question, matured into a delightful young man with a bright future ahead. He has made the most of his chances, but what this shows me is that he has come prepared, and maybe, just maybe, he owes his growth and stability to his parents and in part to those competent surgeons who made him just a bit taller. Happy Birthday you "taller" drink of water!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No matter what anyone says about you...

Have you ever sat in the dentist's chair and have them start asking you questions? How the heck do you talk with all that Novocaine and those cotton swabs they use to absorb the saliva? What may be even more amazing is the dentist's ability to understand all that gibberish and make heads or tails out of it. Does any of this sound familiar? Well, for me, I had to answer some pretty tough questions when I sat in that "electric chair" because when I was young, my dentist was none other than my very own Uncle.

When we were kids, my siblings and I would head to Humphrey St. for a little grilling and drilling at the hand of my Uncle. He had a beautiful office overlooking the ocean which provided a much needed distraction from the purpose of our visit. We usually did this in December when our parochial school was out for the December 8th, feast day of the Immaculate Conception. Usually, he did this over his lunch break, so there wasn't always time for the Novocaine. It toughened us up, I guess.

There were several things I remember quite vividly about those trips to Swampscott, but it remains the admonishments that came our way that I recall most. There was one that stands out above the others where he'd say with his finger pointed right at me and his jaw clenched, "No matter what anyone says about you, YOU'RE A GREAT KID." My paranoia always had me wondering what people were saying, but as I have aged, I now realize what the real message was behind those words.

As my Uncle celebrates his four score and then some birthday today, I just want to thank him for the immeasurable contribution he has made to my life, to the lives of all my siblings, and the great nieces and nephews. In the words of Sister Sledge, "we are fam-i-ly". He and my Aunt have literally been just that to us. I am sure I speak for all of us as I clench my jaw, point my finger and say, "No matter what anyone says about you, YOU'RE A GREAT UNCLE." Happy Birthday PJM!

A Roof over Our Heads

As I look out my window and see the huge amount of snow and forming icicles, I am reminded of some of the large snow storms we had back in New England. Like any school aged kid, we hoped for snow days too, so we could take full advantage of the freshly fallen snow. If notification came in the evening, the better we liked it because we could maximize our outdoor activities, starting the night before. However, it wasn't all just fun and games. We had the usual shoveling assignments, starting with my father's office, the house, and then the elderly neighbors. We couldn't accept money from them either. It was the start of the work for food program, as I like to call it.

If we had a particularly large snowfall or series of storms, we were responsible for the sun parlor roof too. My father always worried about this one because of possible leaks, and it was flat. Once we had everything else shoveled out, it was time to tackle the roof job. We either climbed out the window or used the drain pipe, like in "The Sound of Music". We'd carefully peel the snow off the roof and throw it into a single pile off the back. We made somewhat of game out of it. However tedious this was, we all knew that there was a reward at the end, play time. It all started when the snow was just about cleared off when we began daring each other to jump. "You go first. No you.", we'd say. Finally, one of us would take the leap of faith into the snow pile sinking up to our waists. Fortunately, the "survivor" would report that it was great, and one by one we'd jump 'til the cows came home, or at least Dad.

The expression, many hands make light work, surely applied here. Getting all of this done was a heck of a lot easier because we shared the responsibility. In the end, we had all the fun in the world and then some, but perhaps most importantly, we always had a roof over our heads. Geronimo!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thumbs up to our Friend

Several years ago as our local "running group" gathered at the usual meeting spot, a "newbie" showed up. He had been told by the owner of the running shoe store that there was a group who met several days a week to run. Those of us in the "club" hadn't really thought of ourselves as a formal running group, but we were most decidedly a group of people who ran. So, we all introduced ourselves and off we went for a typical morning run around town.

Often times it has been noted that co-workers and friends don't really get to know each other, but I can't say that about the folks in our group. Once we exchanged greetings on that cold February morning several years ago, I felt like we all knew our "newbie" friend, as if he had been a long lost comrade. He has mid-western roots and then made his way East to NYU for graduate school. He and his wife found themselves living in Connecticut before moving here, and being from NE, this immediately endeared me to him.

Over the years, we have continued those morning runs, but now he has picked up the swimming and biking disciplines that the group routinely engages in as well. In fact, once he perfected the swimming and replaced his mountain bike for a more conventional road machine, he regularly leaves us either in his wake or in his dust.

As our friend celebrates the second anniversary of his milestone 5oth birthday, we all want to wish him Happy Birthday. Although our friendship started with a simple self introduction, it has grown faster than the county in which we live. The growth within "his" adopted city has been paramount, and now our county has been ranked as the healthiest in the state. Is this coincidental or just good fortune, who knows? It doesn't matter, because we all have grown and are healthier as a consequence of our bond of friendship. Happy Birthday and 2 thumbs up to "our" manager!

Monday, February 15, 2010

President's Day Tribute

Why do we celebrate President's Day anyway? As a followup to that question, I then asked a young person which Presidents were included in this holiday, and the answer was, "All of them". It made me realize that, as the generations get further away from the past, the significance of the day or the memory of the lives we are celebrating have become more clouded or even forgotten. I found that particularly sad because I think we all have become somewhat complacent about our past. Had it not been for the brave men and women who had a vision for the future, we may not be enjoying the present.

So, today as we celebrate President's Day, a collective tribute to the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, let us take a moment to remember their bravery and honesty. These were men that helped shape the nation we have become today. Let all of "US" remember our past, even as we move ahead to the future. Thank you Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Chain of Command

As with all large families, there is a particular chain of command from the oldest child, to the middle children, and on to the youngest. The oldest girl and oldest boy, have certain expectations, not of their choosing of course, only implied. In the case of my brothers and sisters, there was no deviation from this scenario either. The oldest has been the direct extension from the high command, and the pattern has appeared to repeat itself within the family, simply because of the size. However, the chain of command wasn't always related to our various responsibilities within the hierarchy. Let me share with you why this wasn't always the case.

My older brother was a member of the varsity baseball team during his Junior year in high school. The team was quite talented and went on to the finals in the state tournament. Unfortunately for my brother, he was unable to crack the starting lineup, but to his credit, he stuck out the season. I am sure he played some, but his appearances in games were fewer than he deserved.

Hidden among the list of achievements his team had that year, however, was the gum wrapper chain that my brother assembled while riding the bench during those cold, New England spring days. I believe it started as something to pass the time between trips to the 3rd base coach's box, but it soon took on a life of its own. The team received a donation of gum, Wrigley's Spearmint I believe, that became the wrapper substrate for his season's creation. With each game, the chain lengthened, eventually requiring its own carrying case. It was a project that became his passion on game day. May be it was the good luck charm for the team, who knows?

All I really remember is that it grew to some 150 feet, but in my opinion, it was more than that. It really was a measure of my older brother's mental toughness. He practiced hard, attended every game, only to watch most of them from the bench. Did he complain? Nope. He simply went about his business, and without fanfare, contributed to the team. His determination and persistence gained him a position in the starting lineup the following year where he had the team's third highest batting average.

The gum wrapper chain may be gone, but it provided me with a glimpse into his personality. As an older brother, he demonstrated commitment, endurance, and strength of character. These have been the virtues which have made a family chain strong, and there has been no weak "link" here. Happy Birthday Lorenzo!

Valentine's Day Wish

Saint Valentine's Day is an annual holiday held on February 14 celebrating love and affection between intimate companions. The holiday is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496. It is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards.

As we celebrate yet another Valentine's Day, I have but one wish for all the lovers out there, Happy VD!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

There is No Friend like "The Chopper"

Childhood is a time when many of us develop friendships that carry us through our entire lives. Although there are times when the communication may fade; however, when it resumes, it seems like you never lost touch at all. You simply pick up the story line and extend it for another chapter. The longer you've known someone, the easier it appears to be. After all, who other than your siblings learned to walk, talk, and eat with you, except your childhood best friend?

My childhood friend has been known as Charlie, Chuck, and then came "the Chopper". The name changes reflect the various points along the time line, but the basic elements have remained unchanged. We met when we were about 3-4 because our mothers knew each other. In those days there were no play groups or play dates, just play. We played with trucks in the dirt, ate cookies on the stoop, and made up games with our own rules. What else would you expect from a couple of kids?

Our paths took us to the same grade school and for 5 more years, we were inseparable, except for fishing season when Charlie was off with his friend, John and a can of corn. That's when you could find him at Bailey's pond casting his line tirelessly, hoping to land the catch of the day. We lost touch during those final years of grade school, but the foundation was firmly in place for the future.

At the start of the basketball season during our Freshman year in high school, we reconnected. There had been a significant snow storm during the day, and after b-ball practice, we gathered at Chuck's house for an evening of tobogganing. That set the wheels in motion again for what was to become another chapter that was called high school. Whenever you saw one of us, you saw the other, and that's the way it was for those 4 years, and after HS, it was off to college where we roomed together all 4 years. We had good times and bad and managed to survive in spite of it all. The stories are endless indeed.

Now that he has reached the age of "54", a number that he believed had an eerie presence in his life, his number in football during HS; I would like to wish him Happy Birthday. We have spent the better part of our lives playing together, going to school together, living together, and sharing the ups and downs of life as friends. That night of tobogganing reset the stage for our lifelong friendship. Without hesitation, I'd do it all over again. Happy Birthday "Chopper"!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Master and Commander from Down Maine

Master and Commander is an epic movie centered during the Napoleonic Wars, where a brash British captain (Russell Crowe) pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America. The cinematography and music alone are worth the time you take to view this 2 time Oscar winning movie. Long before this feature length movie was filmed, the "Commander" I remember was none other than one of my nieces.

"E", as she has come to be known, was the first born child of my sister and brother-in-law. Naturally, she had the total attention of her parents as she progressed through those early years. On weekends, the grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the older cousins would head "down" Maine to visit the new addition to the "clan". She was singularly, on the top of "her world" there in Vacationland.

The undivided attention that she received probably was not unique for the first time parents. There have been a number of firsts for "E". She was the first in line for the hand me downs from her 2 older female cousins, and the first grand child born on her father's side of the family. Her HS soccer team captured the State Championship her Senior year, another first so to speak, and I imagine there are others too.

Although being the first born was not her choice, she has fully embraced it. She has been a role model for her 2 younger sisters, although I will let them be the final judges on that one. However, I have had a view from the "crow's nest" and have seen the dramatic transformation from "the commander" to a young woman who now is mastering those given talents for which she commands my respect. You go girl, and Happy Birthday "E"!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Spring training usually signals the start of Baseball season. The pitchers and catchers report in first, then the rest of those highly paid athletes who, hopefully, have kept themselves out of the news during the off season. It is a right of passage to what we all hope will be a long, hot summer. Something that most of us long for after the weather of these last few weeks.

However, Spring training came in a slightly different form for the manager and players of my favorite "home" team. We had to wait for the snow to melt and the fields to dry, long before we thought of picking up a glove, bat, or ball to cure us of the winter long drought from baseball. As the days became longer and the temperatures rose, the enthusiasm for America's game would spring to life. There weren't enough ball fields to keep the throngs of professional wannabees from exercising their skills on these "field of dreams".

My father would often take us to the park, especially if we planned to have some batting practice. However, in those days of old, you could almost count on the fields being filled, so we'd drive around until we found one that was free. Bats, balls, and gloves came piling out of the car, along with the future stars of the game, my brothers and me and sometimes even my sisters. We'd start with some batting practice, 10 or so hits apiece, and then we'd rotate to the outfield; Dad would usually pitch BP. One by one we'd each get a turn. Dad was constantly saying, "keep your eye on the ball" before he'd rear back and hurl the next pitch. We practiced this ritual nearly every weekend day from May through August. We were the boys of summer.

Occasionally, when the fields were all occupied, we would find some alternate site to hone our skills. These makeshift lots were just fine, except one thing, a backstop. What do you do when there isn't a backstop? You make one and bring that along too. So. my father put together his own, made out of "recycled" screens connected together, as if they were pieces of a puzzle. It worked out perfectly for this travel baseball team.

Now, when I pass a baseball diamond in the summer, it saddens me to see those same fields sitting there, yearning for the "chatter" of activity to begin again. There are always lessons to be learned from these wonderful experiences of my youth, and this is no exception. When we didn't have an official backstop, that didn't stop us. My father simply used his creative thinking and gave us a more than suitable alternative. But perhaps the real message, however subtle, that was passed on from our "manager and coach" was to keep our eye on the ball. He certainly succeeded in teaching all of us that one, and that has him batting a 1.000 (a thousand), Hall of Fame credentials in my book!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tricycle "Pelotonia"

I suspect that the first bicycle that most of us rode was not actually a bike at all but a tricycle. Those 3 wheels created the perfect balance, so it didn't require the skills necessary to master the more formidable 2 wheeler we all know as the bicycle. With several older siblings, there were always plenty of self propelled vehicles to ride for a cruise around the yard. We had a rather long driveway and a turnaround area which provided a very nice test track for all of us. My mother could watch us comfortably from her domain in the confines of the kitchen which looked out over that hallowed tract. However, on this one particular day, my older sister, brother, and I had other plans. Who hatched the idea remains guarded information, even to this day.

After mastering the driveway, it seemed like a pretty good idea to take our talents out on the road. What better place could there have been than to travel the "short" distance to the hospital to visit our Dad. He always was there, or so it seemed. Why not just drop in on him and say hello? After all, neither he nor my mother ever could resist doing that. So, off we went.

The hospital was 2-3 blocks away, across 2 major streets, but who "cared" when we were 5, 4, and 3 respectively? We pedaled in our mini peloton, as if we were in the Tour de France, only we were members of the "Tour de Trikes". After what felt like an entire day, we finally saw the finish line in sight, the hospital. I think I went first, maybe at the urging of my older sister. The local hospital was perched on a fairly large hill, and upon breaching the crest, I remember taking my feet off the pedals. A bad idea, if you want to have any control at all. Over the hill I went, ever faster because of the steep incline. The others watched as I accelerated "out of control". They opted to stay and watch. There were no good options at this point, either cruise, unannounced, into the busy street below or bail out into the 8 inch curb. What would you have done? I wasn't going to play chicken with the cars, so I bailed out into the curb. You can imagine the scene. After hitting the curb, I was launched like a human rocket over the handlebars, only to find "comfort" in realizing that the projected landing area was a grassy knoll. After opening my eyes, and failing to see the bright lights of heaven, I thanked God I was alive. At some point I wandered up the hill to find my siblings waiting in shock. We all had survived this "wheelie" big trip.

Years have gone by since this trek to the hospital, and no doubt I have selective memory regarding the particulars from our meeting with Dad; I suspect it was a rather engaging discussion too. However, as I reminisce about this near "miss-adventure", just one of many, I am amazed that we even survived to tell some of these stories. On this particular day anyway, our breakaway group managed to "escape" for awhile, only to be reeled in by the "peloton", otherwise known as Mom and Dad!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Comfort Under Cover

Have you ever had one of those mornings when you just didn't feel like getting up? Maybe it looked lousy outside or you were simply too tired to get right out of bed, but you still felt like lying there under the covers. Do you get the picture? Ah yes. Those nice warm blankets draped over you keeping you cozy, just as snug as a bug.

Just the other day, I had one of those mornings when I awoke only to find myself not quite ready to get out of bed. It was "heart warming" not having to hop out in response to some alarm going off in my ear. The thermostat was set at a chilly 60 degrees, but I was toasty in my little cocoon. As I was lying there, I was thinking how the blankets seemed to have become one, and I had become one with them. I was in my "comforter" zone for sure. Why would I ever want to get up? Well, if the coffee maker had an automatic start cycle, I suppose I might succumb to the aroma of some freshly brewing java.

So, the next time you aren't in a hurry to get rolling in the morning, do yourself a favor and stay right where you are. Going under cover may be just what you need to keep your heart and "soles" warm. Then, when you are ready, you can pound the pavement yet another day!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

History does repeat itself, at least for today!

Great Blizzard of 1978.

The Northeastern United States blizzard of 1978 was a catastrophic and historic nor'easter that brought blizzard conditions to the New England region of the United States and the New York metropolitan area. The Blizzard of 1978 formed on February 5, 1978 and broke up on February 7, 1978. Snowfall occurred primarily between the morning of the 6th and the evening of the 7th. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were particularly hard hit by this storm.

We here in Ohio had just a little taste of the past yesterday as we were hit by a winter storm. Granted, it wasn't the major Blizzard of '78, but it was remarkable how geared up the news media and their constituents got over the weather. However, without these advanced warning systems in place, I imagine we'd regret not utilizing every measure to prevent injuries and the consequent tragedies too.

In spite of this extensive news coverage, I still find it difficult to understand why people just don't take their time and be patient. The vast majority of problems, due to the weather, come as a result of everyone being in too big a hurry or throwing caution to the wind. I do believe that these weather systems never hit at a good time. But when would a good time be, I ask? Since we all are going at breakneck speed most of the time anyway, perhaps the weather is simply telling us to slow down. Take it easy for once, and let yourself off the roller coaster of life. After all, none of us can keep the pedal to the metal all the time without suffering in some fashion.

So, the next time the forecast calls for a storm, take a deep breath and relax; take your time getting to wherever you are going. The objective in life is to complete the journey; equally however, you should be enjoying the trip. Remember, Mother Nature is in charge, and you don't fool with Mother Nature. Be safe and use the time to downshift, or at least get out of the fast lane for awhile. It could save your life!

Friday, February 5, 2010

All Queued Up

My friends and I are considering, after a little cajoling from within, trying the Navy Seals minimum skills test this summer. Unfortunately, we no longer meet the age requirements, but we'd like to challenge our skills at the physical fitness screening test.

The SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST) is as follows:

500-yard swim using breast and/or sidestroke in less than 12 minutes and 30 seconds
10-minute rest
Perform a minimum of 42 push-ups in 2 minutes
2-minute rest
Perform a minimum of 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes
2-minute rest
Perform a minimum of 6 pull-ups (no time limit)
10-minute rest
Run 1 ½ miles wearing RUNNING SHOES and SHORTS in under 11 minutes

Do we really think that we could "qualify" to be Navy Seals? Speaking for myself, even if I could, there is nothing in this PST that measures the commitment required to pursue this career tract. But, what the hey; let's give it our best shot, and see where that takes us. Sounds reasonable, wouldn't you say?

As we embark on this 4-6 month training program, I am reminded that we will need a few things. We must queue up for this of course, and the list includes: Number 1, we will need a safety boat when we do the swim portion. We have one, Squish. Number 2, we will have to practice sit ups and pull ups. This will, unquestionably, require some element of conditioning. Number 3, we are all quite reasonable swimmers, so this shouldn't be too overwhelming. Number 4, we will have to improve our running times by practicing quarter mile intervals on the track. I remain optimistic about this one, given my quirky Achilles tendon. Number 5, the pull ups will certainly pose a challenge, but we shall overcome and conquer this too.

As you can see, if we queue up for this properly, I do think we could, quite possibly, avoid being DQ'd, thus becoming Navy Squeals instead. Let's keep this all on the QT, however, because, if we fail, we don't want people to think we are quitters. After all, failure is not an option for this "GQ" bunch of guys. Anchors away!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chemistry 101, the Home Edition

In thermodynamics, entropy is commonly associated with the amount of order, disorder, and/or chaos in a thermodynamic system. To completely understand this, it may take a degree in Chemistry. However, the basic concept is simple. If you have chaos or any degree of disorder, it takes energy to bring things back into order. Thus, depending on the relative amount of disorder, it takes more or less energy to restore things to their ordered state. Since my mother earned her degree in Chemistry, I honestly believe, she understood this concept better than the average individual.

Growing up in a family with 8 children, chaos seemed more the norm than the organized confusion you might expect. It all started with the the first period bell. Getting us all fed and off to school was a major accomplishment unto itself. I can still see the sandwiches all lined up on the counter being made as if they were rolling off an assembly line. One by one, my mother would wrap them, and pack them in a brown paper bag. Sometimes the bags would have been reused, just to save a few pennies and each one with the name beautifully hand written in cursive on the outside.

After school, we'd come home to Mom ironing on her very own mangle iron, the sheets and other clothes then folded neatly, so they would look good in their respective drawers upstairs. Maybe it was moving day. That's when we acted like our very own moving company, moving furniture from room to room simply to provide some change. Maybe she'd been to the grocery store, so we were enlisted to carry in all those grocery bags, enough for several trips apiece. Or maybe it was Wednesday, when Mrs. King had come to help with the cleaning. The house had finally been put back in "order", along with the nicely waxed kitchen floor.

Then there was the task of preparing dinner. General Patton may have said, "Feeding an army is not easy."; my mother had little choice, because she had her own army of foot soldiers. Parsley potatoes, cube steak, and green beans might have been a typical menu accompanied by the customary glass of milk. The after dinner chores were carried out according to the "list" found on the refrigerator door. We rotated the responsibilities to make it fair.

The bedtime routine varied somewhat from day to day, but you could always count on prayers followed by Mom making the sign of the cross of our foreheads. The day was almost done. I feel sure that there would have been a debriefing between the respective commanders before they actually turned in too.

Running a household, may be more like commanding a battalion or being a CEO of a company than being a Chemistry professor, However, if you apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I feel quite certain that it takes far more energy to keep a household in order, than it does to permit the randomness of chaos. I know of at least one Chemistry "teacher" who had enough energy for her "home brood" experiments to keep everything in order!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In the Shadow of Ground Hog Day

As most people know, yesterday was Ground Hog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow then there will be 6 more weeks of winter, and if he doesn't, then spring will come earlier. I am not sure how accurate this little fury fellow's predictions are, but it sure does help pass the time during a long winter. The presence or absence of Phil's shadow on February 2nd is critical to this tradition, but it's the shadow of GHD that really is important among a particular group of friends in Delaware, Ohio. For the 3rd is the birthday of one of the "founding fathers" of our guys' running club.

Several years ago now, a group of us began running, biking, and swimming together. Mostly it was so that we could eat generous portions without looking, shall we say, generously proportioned. It now has morphed into quite the circle of friends. Naturally, we still gather routinely to "stretch it and stroke it", as our old swimming comrade used to say, or we find ourselves running or riding about town in an attempt to maintain whatever youthful skills we still possess. However, we now find ourselves more "half fast" than before, although we have grown to accept this.

Speaking for all the "groupies" in our little club, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish "The Captain" Happy Birthday. Ground Hog Day may get all the attention on February 2nd, but it is really what falls in the shadow of GHD, February 3rd, that has our attention. Since we saw our collective shadows this morning at the gym, the prediction is, more than likely, that "El Capitan", the Rock star of our group, will be leading the exercise routine again tomorrow. Happy Birthday Captain!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Schizzam, more than just a team

During the summer of 1976, the entire country was focused on the bicentennial. It seemed like every community across this nation wanted to have its own celebration. There were parades planned, extensive fireworks displays were scheduled, and in Boston, the tall ships were coming. It truly was an exciting time for the citizens of America. You could sense the emotion and excitement because of its significance.

The summer of 1976 also marked another birth of sorts, the one and only season for team "Schizzam". During the summer, there was a basketball league for the local "legends" in my hometown. Most of us still could run up and down the court, but the speed of our youth was a thing of the past. My youngest brother thought that it might be nice to organize a "family" team, and by recruiting my brother-in-law, we had the 5 necessary to field a team. Although our "dream team" experience was short lived, the summer of '76 was one for the ages.

Speaking of ages, my brother and brother-in-law, ironically, share February 1st birthdays. Today marks a half century for my younger brother and a decade more for our "adopted" brother. Recently, my brother told me he couldn't even remember life before Wild Bill, and here we are now some 40 years later. So, I'll take this opportunity to say Happy Birthday to at least a part of the band of brothers. In the words of Gomer Pyle, "Schizzam". Those previously inducted members of the half century club would like to welcome you with open arms, and that comes as "no surprise, no surprise, no surprise"!