Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snowbound in New England

Now that the Christmas holiday has passed and most travelers have returned home, the attention turns to New Years.  However, New England is notorious for its fierce winter weather, and the prospect for an honest to goodness nor'easter is heading up the coast.  The weather reports started to predict the path of a major winter storm, and it now upon us.  Like most weather stories today, there has been lots of "hype" about the storm, but only time will tell whether this storm turns out to be the blockbuster that has been predicted.

As I sit listening to the wind howl out my window, I am reminded of John Greenleaf Whittier's famous poem, "Snowbound" that was written in 1866.  It must have been dramatically different for our ancestors to have endured the wrath of Mother Nature without the advanced warnings that we receive today.  They relied solely on their common sense and their good fortunes to ride out the storms in those days.  Of course, there were no 24 hour stores or superstores to supplement their cache of provisions, and they survived, although it must have been tougher.

What will tomorrow bring?  Who knows, but I am sure that the storm will have disrupted all sorts of things from work to post holiday shopping to the travel plans for some.  However, for me, I prefer to think of a simpler time when we would just settle in for a long winter's nap.  When the Sun rises, I'll deal with the consequences.  In the meantime, I am snowbound right here in the same town where John Greenleaf Whittier made his home and that seems fitting enough and with that, to all a good night!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The meaning of Christmas

As we embark on the celebration of Christmas, the spirit of the season is filled with prayerful reflection, music, but most of all, it is full of hope.  Of all the gifts that we could exchange this Christmas, my wish is that we give each other the gift of peace, and if we all do that, we can then live in a world that will be full of peace.  I hope for everlasting peace this Christmas, and that's what the true meaning of Christmas is to me.  Peace on Earth and good will to all men and women!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Eve of the Eve

Year after year, the time between Thanksgiving to Christmas has become increasingly more frenetic.  Although many people look to Christmas Eve or Christmas day as the more celebrated days, I would just like to cast my vote for the eve of the 24th as one of my favorites.  Naturally, the significance of Christmas for Christians is unquestioned, but with the commercialism that has overwhelmed the holiday, sometimes the meaning of this holy night looses its focus.  For this reason, I have always enjoyed the 23rd, nearly as much as the 24th or Christmas day itself.

In anticipation of Christmas, I wish for peace, happiness, and the joy of the season to be carried throughout the year.  On this eve of the eve, I can comfortably say, "I believe".  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A chip off the old block

According to the dictionary, the idiom, chip off the old block means:  A child whose appearance or character closely resembles that of one or the other parent.  Certainly, any parent whose child is reported to be a chip off the old block would take that as a compliment and be very proud.  Well, I know one "little guy" who is every bit a chip, but he is very much a chip from both blocks, his parents.

JB or "Bones" as he is referred to is the youngest member of his family, just like his dad, and in fact, is his dad's namesake.  He loves to play baseball, soccer, and tends the nets, as the "Gumper", for his local hockey team.  However, in addition to his athletic talents, he is a very good student which is what makes his parents most proud.

Although Bones has several siblings, his kindred spirit is without question his cousin Chachi.  When these 2 boys get together, the words "boys will be boys" comes to mind because they just keep each other busy with their creative imaginations.  By the end of a day together, they fall into bed, only scheming for the next day's activities.  And when they have to say good bye, well that's about the only time there is any moping at all.

As my nephew prepares to celebrate his 8th birthday, I believe that he has the necessary "building blocks" to achieve most anything that he sets his mind to.  After all,  he most definitely is a chip off his old "blocks", and that should serve as a firm foundation for the future.  Happy Birthday "Bones"!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Solstice gets Eclipsed

The shortest day of the year typically arrives with a minimum of fanfare; but for those of us who make a habit of watching the daily weather and skies, it is a welcome event, as it marks the jump off point for the return to another summer.  Nonetheless, we still  must endure the cold and snow of winter, those raw days of spring, before the summer solstice warms our spirits, yet again.

This solstice is going to be different though, as it will be accompanied by a lunar eclipse.  The last time a winter solstice was coupled with a lunar eclipse was in 1678.  Few of us were around for that celestial phenomenon, and likely, this will be the only time any of us will ever witness such a rare happening as well.

Hopefully, the star gazers out there will actually be able to view the eclipse, but if you can't, don't despair.  There will be another one in say, 3oo years.  How do you live long enough to "eclipse" that?  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Memories of my first "White Christmas"

Ever since Irving Berlin's song "White Christmas" was immortalized by Bing Crosby, it just doesn't seem like the holiday season until I hear that familiar voice for the first time during this time of year.  Naturally, having a white Christmas just puts everyone in a festive mood for the season, but if it was actually snowing on Christmas eve, well that would be something from a Currier and Ives lithograph.  Of course,  it certainly makes it easier for the jolly old elf himself, Santa, to navigate the globe too.  However, when you have several sentimental older sisters who just love the old movies, a "man" and his brothers had no choice but to watch the holiday classic.

Long before the era of videos and DVDs, if you didn't catch the television broadcast of a movie or special, that would have been the last opportunity to see it again for some time, maybe next year.  In the time leading up to Christmas consequently, my sisters were frequently checking the TV listings to see when the specials were airing, in particular "White Christmas".  Frankly, I couldn't quite understand why they thought this movie was so wonderful, when we could have been watching Charlie Brown's Christmas, Rudolf, the Grinch, or maybe just cartoons or the Three Stooges.  However, my brothers and I evidently must have just gone along with their wishes, probably because they were older, and well, they made us.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate some of their passion for watching those holiday classics.  "It's a Wonderful Life" is perhaps my all time favorite movie, and I scarcely remember that one being on their short list when we were kids.  However, these behaviors served to be very valuable in that they created traditions, and that's what we all carry forward from the past and share with our own children today.  In this case, I guess I owe a lot to my sisters, and in the words of Irving Berlin, "there were never such devoted sisters".  Merry Christmas, and may all your Christmas' be white!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections off the snow

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to see at night after a snow storm or even when the snow is still falling?  Of course, those moonlight rays are reflected beautifully from that blanket of white, almost as if someone had turned on the lights.  Even if the clouds haven't cleared from the skies, there is plenty of background light to maneuver about after the Sun has gone down.  During a recent snow storm, I was reminded of a few snowy adventures from the past, and now that it's snowing again, I thought it was time to share those memories.

Growing up in New England almost guaranteed that a few winter storms would come our way every year, and if they became real nor'easters, well then, you could anticipate a whole pile of the white stuff.  I remember this one huge snow storm, just around Christmas of 1964, that "dumped" about 18-20 inches on us.  In those days, everyone in the family was expected to pick up a shovel and start clearing the driveway, and age was not an exclusion either.  So after bundling up, we'd all head out to start the process of clearing the snow.  On this particular occasion, after getting the some of the driveway cleared, my older sister moved the old blue Fairlane station wagon, but failed to keep it on the driveway.  We spent the next hour digging it out of the snow banks we had created.  Of course, just about the time we'd be finishing, the city plows would come by and push all of that heavy, compacted snow back into the end of the driveway again.  Ugh!

One New Year's eve, my younger brother and I made a night of exploring the back woods during a major storm.  We spent hours out trekking around on foot, using nothing but the reflective moon light to see our way.  We imagined ourselves as rangers out on a recognisance mission with the snow plows as the enemy tank brigade.  In spite of the elements, our imaginations didn't permit us the time to feel tired or cold.  As I recall, that was another monster storm, however, we "weathered" it safely and still managed to get the shoveling done before our parents got home.

Yes, a good snow storm can be very exciting what with the prospects of a snow day from school or even a slower day at work.  After a freshly fallen snow, we'd make snow angels or igloos out of the piles of snow from all that plowing.   However, what I have always found soothing is how quiet everything becomes and just how easy it is to see, even as the darkness falls.  So, the next time there's a snow storm, don't despair.  Just get out there and enjoy it for all it's worth.  "Snow Bound", written by John Greenleaf Whittier, revealed the merits of being stopped in time by the falling snow.  Time does seem to stand still, although as you can see, none of us did!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fudge Factor

A fudge factor is a quantity introduced into a calculation in order to "fudge" the results: that is, to make them match better what happens in the real world.  In other words, if the results can not be absolutely explained or calculated, then you have to account for the differences through some variable or fudge factor.  As part of this holiday season of gift giving, people frequently prepare homemade cookies and candies, with fudge being one of the favorites, and boy do I have a story about fudge.

My older brother was the Graham Kerr amongst the boys.  He made lasagna, beef stroganoff, and a mean pecan pie, but he was the one who taught me how to make the "never fail fudge".  I recall my mother using candy thermometers and double boilers, which really intimidated me, but he said, "you don't need any of that; just use the recipe on the back of the Kraft marshmallow creme jar".  Certainly, I could read the directions; but there was a trick to it, and he was going to share that with me.  Boy, was I excited.  We mixed several of the ingredients together and brought all of that to a boil.  Without using the thermometer, we just cooked it at a rolling boil for 5 minutes, and then added the remaining elements.  After letting it set overnight, we had perfect fudge the next day.  Easy as "pie", I said to myself.  Anyone can do that.

However, the next time I decided to take my new found skill to the kitchen, I didn't quite end up with the "never" fail fudge, but ended up with a hideous, granular mixture of the ingredients that, well, failed at becoming fudge.  So, back to the master for another lesson I went.  This time, I took careful mental notes of his technique and was determined to never fail again.

Yes, fudge typically finds its way into those holiday tins, but as we "snarf" down those very sweet morsels, do we ever think of the concentration of pure sugar that we are consuming?  Heck no.  It's the holidays, and we aren't about to admit to anyone just how many pieces of fudge we may just have consumed.  If you find yourself in that position, just remind them about the "fudge factor".  In this case, it's whatever number you want it to be, but remember, just leave a little room for another piece!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Delivery men have their "UPS" and "Browns"

During a holiday party the other day, as you might expect, the conversation included a little discussion about Christmas gift giving.  We commented on the changes from your traditional store shopping to the now popular purchasing of gifts online, and of course, each had its own valued and unique properties.  We all agreed, that if shipping was included, making purchases on line could be a cost, as well as a time saving measure, and if you buy on line, there is one additional benefit that may frequently be overlooked.

How many times have you waited longingly for a letter or package to come, perhaps from a relative or after sending in some coupons.  In the old days, that occurred commonly.  In fact, I remember collecting box tops, and after gathering enough of them, I'd then send them in to be redeemed and then came the challenge of waiting.  Nowadays however, with today's speedy air transport and the expectations of consumers, the faster it arrives, the better.

Not that long ago, the internet was just burgeoning, but now it would be difficult to manage some of our affairs without it.  In fact, the online retail shopping has well, "virtually" exploded.  Online retailers offer deals, just like their storefront counterparts, but many of them include shipping and handling for the same price as in the stores.  Of course, the time, effort, and gas to physically go shopping may make this online stuff a more attractive option.  However, the purists wouldn't care to miss out on the social part of the experience, and recalling some of the family trips to Boston, to view the lights on The Boston Common, Santa's Village on the top floor of Jordan's, lunch at Bailey's, ending with mass at the Arch Street church, there are a few things that online shopping will never replace, nor should it.

However, even with all the changes as a consequence of online shopping, the internet based retailers can't replace the good old fashioned delivery man, and I am not sure they ever will.  How else would those purchases make their way into the hands of the buyers if it wasn't for those hardy foot soldiers from UPS, USPS, Fed Ex, and all the other delivery companies?  Each of us was able to share a story or two of the mailman or the UPS man stopping in for a few friendly words while transacting their business. 

Yes, the internet has changed the way holiday shopping or for that matter, some everyday shopping is carried out.  Now, instead of a person behind the counter, we now talk to an operator handling the orders or simply place an order without the benefit of any personal contact.  However, when those packages arrive at the door, it is your delivery man who becomes the “face” behind all that activity.  So, the next time the delivery man stops by to drop off a package, be sure you say a kind word, because they are people just like you and me.  The delivery men of today are the milk men of yesteryear, and that makes them special!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"A date that will live in infamy"

"A date that will live in infamy", proclaimed FDR as he informed the country of the tragic events of Pearl Harbor and then announced the declaration of war which brought the Allies into the conflict now known as World War II.  In spite of their horrific nature, anniversaries such as this should never be forgotten because we should remember the victims, and too, they serve to remind us of the senseless nature of war and these unnecessary acts of violence.  Hopefully, history does not have to repeat itself for us to learn from it.

May the souls of the men and women lost on that day rest in peace, and let's pray for an end to all violence, hatred, and acts of of terror.  That would be the ultimate tribute honoring their memory and all the lives lost under these circumstances.  Peace on Earth and good will to all men and women!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A night out with the boys, his boys

Certainly many of you have heard the expression, a night out with the boys, but not to be outdone, the women have their night too, the familiar girls night out.  Of course, most people would picture this activity as a group of men getting out for a few frostys and some male bonding time.  However, for a father who loves his sons, a night out with the "boys" carries a somewhat different meaning.  If there was a choice to be with his sons or with his friends, I'll guarantee you that there is little doubt what the choice would be and allow me to explain.

My nephew celebrated his birthday in September, and for his birthday, his father thought that it would be nice to take the boys to a Patriots game.  After a much anticipated wait, the day finally has come, tonight, the Pats versus the Jets on Monday Night Football.  When I called them earlier this evening, they were tailgating in the cold at Gillette Stadium, 3 hours before game time.  The dinner menu consisted of brats and steak tips, but anything would have been perfect under the circumstances.  In spite of the frigid night, the atmosphere was anything but chilly.

As the game has unfolded, the Patriots have delivered with a dominant performance.  Although it is always more enjoyable when the home team is winning, in this case, even if their beloved Pats were losing, I am sure that nothing, except the weather, would have chilled their enthusiasm for this night.  In this case, my brother spent a night out with the boys, his boys; and I am sure, he wouldn't have wanted it any other way, and of course, neither would they!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One small step for...

When Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon, he proclaimed, "it is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".  Many of us watched in awe back here on planet Earth, but if you were too young and tired like I was, you fell asleep during that historic event.  Those personal recollections may be entirely due to the wonders of archived TV film footage.  However, not all historical first steps have been captured on videotape, and consequently, they remain only imprinted in our mind's eye.  I remember one such event, and those first steps have grown into a "giant" leap for the youngster I call my daughter.

As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of so many things, but none any more vivid than the memory I have of watching my daughter take her first steps on December 2nd.  When she was just 13 months old, I recall sitting in the living room with the Christmas tree lights on with carols playing in the background.  This was something that she and I did almost every night during the holidays.  On this evening, she was inching along the furniture just like every other night, but like some many other kids, she was ready to take those first memorable steps.  With the enthusiasm of a child, she took that "one small step" which would and has transformed her life forever.

Most of us have fond recollections from holidays past, and this was no exception for me.  Even today, I enjoy sitting in the light of the Christmas tree, listening to carols and simply letting my mind wander to those wonderful memories of an age gone by.  Imagine, if a child never took that first step how different their lives would be.  The world was forever changed when Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World and NASA decided to put a man on the moon.  Each of them had to take that very first step, and although my daughter's first step carries no historical significance, sharing that moment in time with her meant everything to me, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Stairway to "Heaven" may prevent us from arriving "there" prematurely

Led Zeppelin's, "Stairway to Heaven", was and still remains a classic rock and roll song from the 70's.  In fact, it served as the theme song for many high school proms after its release, including one I happened to attend. However, when they wrote it, I am sure that that the band members weren't thinking of it as an alternative running venue like my friends and I do when the foul weather hits and prevents us from "takin' it to the streets".   Please forgive me, because I really didn't mean to reference the work of another 70's band.

Yesterday, the inclement weather finally reared its ugly head in central Ohio, as rain hadn't been much of an issue over the last few months, at least during our morning workouts.  As a consequence, we were forced indoors for a date with the track, weight room, and the stairwell.  Since we have been trying to develop our a "rhythm" for this GFR concept, running on the track offered a perfect opportunity to work on our cadence counting, 180 steps per minute.  Unfortunately, we haven't quite mastered that syncopated rhythm, but as they say, "we're working on it".

After a few laps around the track, with only one hand on the wheel mind you, we headed to the weight room to pump it up.  Weight training isn't one of our strong suits, but as we have all learned, it is a necessary evil, particularly as the years have rolled on by.  Following our brief but long overdue visit to the weight room, we decided to throw in a few stair sets.  Of course, during our little ascent up those treads, it occurred to me and the others that this was our recipe to help prevent an early "invitation" to the "eternal rec center".  Incidentally, none of us saw the bright light at the top of the stairs either.  I'll take that as a good sign.

As you can imagine, morning workouts are most definitely influenced by a number of factors, not the least of which is the weather.  However, even when the rain is falling hard enough to hear it on the roof, I know a group of guys who are willing brave the elements for a little exercise.  In this case, when the "heavens" opened up, we knew enough to come in from the rain.  Although, the Doobie Brothers may have takin' it to the streets, Mother Nature had other plans for us.  However, I guarantee you that when we were done, we had been heard all over the "stairways", and that may just keep us from taking that other "eternal" stairway anytime soon!