Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013...A Few Thoughts

Let me start by saying that in a “Baaa Humbug” moment, I decided not to put up the Christmas tree this year.  No grandkids would be in Christmas attendance; therefore, what was the point?  I had made up my mind, in no uncertain terms.  Then I came home one day and the tree was sitting, bare of ornamentation, in the living room.  Not wanting to make an issue of it, I dutifully hung all the ornaments.  It was a very cold and snowy Saturday afternoon; weather not fit for man or beast, so I had no excuse to leave the house and avoid what seemed a grudging chore.

My Scrooge-i-ness began to wane the first time I lit the tree at night, when all the other lights were out.  Sitting in the quiet house, in the dark, with the lit Christmas tree as the only illumination always seems to trip some switch inside my head, or perhaps inside my heart.  There is something magical about it.  And it worked its magic on me.  My spirits lifted and I began to prepare for Christmas in earnest.

Tonight, after all our guests had gone, after all the clean-up was done, and after Jim had gone up to bed, I turned out all the lights and sat in the quiet of the living room with only the Christmas tree for light.  I reflected on the past year, and all the things good, bad, happy, or sad that had occurred, and I felt thankful.  Perhaps I had been subconsciously worried that our family traditions would lose their meaning to everyone in Mom’s absence.  But our gathering was happy, hopeful, and life affirming.  Surrounded by family, talking, eating, laughing, and having a good time in each other’s company, I began to wonder how many more times we will be privileged and able to repeat this tradition.  Although I am happy to be done with the planning, and the baking, and the cooking, and the cleaning, I am also happy that I was able to do it.

I am fairly certain that every night, until the tree comes down, I will repeat my ritual of sitting in the dark and reflecting on its light and beauty.  And I’m pretty sure there will be no “Baaa Humbug” moment next year.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Working my way toward a “no stress” holiday…

Three days and counting!  The tree is up and decorated.  All the shopping is done and the presents are wrapped.  All the cookies are baked, as is my mother’s sour cream coffee cake.  I have everything I need for the table.  I have a menu planned for Christmas dinner.  I have my assignments for Christmas Eve.  I have task lists for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  And all has been accomplished with no hyperventilation, no angst, and no arguments.  I’m not quite sure to what I should attribute this significant change from my norm.

I would like to think that my determination to be calm and laid back is paying off.  More likely the lack of caffeine and aspartame in my system could be reason for this aberration in my behavior.  I’m no longer experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.  My sleep patterns are definitely different.  Then again, I’ve only been Diet Mountain Dew free for three weeks, so I think the improvements will continue for a while, then level out and become a new normal.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a very Happy New Year, and a substantial reduction in stress and angst!  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013, a Holiday Evolves...

When I was young, Thanksgiving was all about the food.  I have fleeting memories of some holiday dinners at my grandmother’s, but most of my holiday food memories were at our house.  My mother made a huge turkey, or at least it looked huge to my young eyes, and we had stuffing, Mom’s special rolls, cranberry sauce and other lovely things we didn’t have on normal days.  We would sit down and eat, and it was always phenomenal. 

When I was in college, Thanksgiving was all about the fun.  I remember heading to my sister’s house in NJ for Thanksgiving one year.  There were six college kids driving East with all our suitcases in a Pinto with no snow tires.  We got stuck in a blizzard in the Poconos.  Traffic was at an absolute standstill.  Parents actually let kids out of the cars to make snow angels on the side of the road.  How crazy that seems now in retrospect. We spent Thanksgiving night sitting in a cold car.  We finally got to an exit on Friday, and spend that night sitting on maps on a gas station floor.  I missed the holiday completely and arrived in Red Bank on Saturday.  My brother-in-law drove down to fetch me, I spent the night at their house, then flew back to Columbus.  At the time I thought it was a great adventure.  Now I think it was just nuts and dangerous. 

After I got married, Thanksgiving was about doing my part for family Thanksgiving dinners.  I loved it.  We would go to Mom’s for the event, but I would cook the turkey and stuffing at home in a big electric roaster, and we would take the cooked bird with us.  Mom would concentrate on all the fixings, the rolls, the pies, the green bean casseroles, etc.  I would set up shop with my roaster and make gravy.  My father’s typical comment was, “the turkey is a little dry.”  I’m not quite sure why he said that every year, but I don’t remember him saying that to Mom when she made the bird.  Perhaps it was to make her feel that no one else could cook like she did.  And no one could.  We had some pretty severe winters back then.  One time, the National Guard had come out with road graders to clear the highways, and we drove slowly down State Route 528, marveling at the walls of piled snow to either side, at least 8-10 feet high.  We managed to get there and the feast went on.

After Mom and Dad sold the big house, Thanksgiving was about gathering together, and we moved it around a bit.  We had some years when my brother and his wife hosted, some when my sister (who had moved back to the area briefly) hosted.  If everyone made other plans, we sometimes had Thanksgiving with Jim’s side of the family.  But in all scenarios, I was the one certainty, making and bringing the turkey and stuffing.

After we built the new house, holidays came to us, and Thanksgiving became more about being grateful.  I no longer had to haul the bird across the county (or counties), even though I had most of the additional preparations to manage:  seating logistics, rolls, casseroles, pies, libations, etc.  At least my oven was free for other baking (love that electric roaster). 

This year will be different.  My daughter and her family will be the only ones joining us for dinner.  My son will not be making the trip from NJ this year with his crew.  My brother and his wife and son will be staying home by choice, but may stop by for pie later on.  My other brother and my sister are far away celebrating in their own way.  Somehow I think I will be missing Mom telling me I don’t chop my onions right and Dad complaining that the turkey is a little dry.  But they are celebrating Thanksgiving together for the first time since 1997, and I am thankful for that and happy for them in a wistful sort of way. 

And now it’s time to head downstairs.  There are pies to bake, a turkey to stuff, a casserole to experiment with, and other things that need doing.  When the eight of us sit down, I will offer up my prayer of thanks that we are lucky enough to gather and do this one more year, because there are so many who don’t have that opportunity and don’t know the joy of celebrating in a warm house with good food surrounded by family.  When dinner is said and done, we’ll clean it all up and prepare for our first Black Friday Potluck.  For all the angst and prep, I am grateful for that as well.  Having all the family on my husband’s side gather for a joyous occasion is a thing of beauty, even if it is at my house!
Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

..of Cabbages and Kings...

Cabbage is cooked and ready.  Rice is cooked and ready.  Tomorrow's task is to mix up the filling, make the actual cabbage rolls and get them cooked, cooled and into the freezer.  Wednesday's tasks are stuffing and pies.  Thursday's tasks include the turkey, a butternut squash casserole, mashed potatoes, salad, and pies.  Friday's menu is potluck.  I will provide the cabbage rolls, salad, mashed potatoes, pies, and all the leftovers in my fridge and those brought by the fellow diners.  I am still struggling with the logistics of 30 for sit down. Now, all that's missing is someone else to clean up the mess...

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Later, Everything Changed, Nothing Changed

I was 11 years old when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.  I remember being in my 6th grade classroom at Assumption School in Geneva when our teacher came in and told us all to get on our knees and pray.  When the President died anyway, I remember wondering if God really hears our prayers and if prayers do any good at all.  It seemed the whole country was on its knees, yet it made no difference to the outcome.

I keep seeing posts and hearing interviews with those who remember that day, and I'm amazed by those who can't believe it's been 50 years.  I don't feel that way at all.  I feel like it was a lifetime ago.  A lot of good and a lot of bad things have happened in the lifetime since the nation's hopes were dashed by that bullet. But in the end, things haven't really changed.  It's all a matter of perspective, and what was true then, is still true now...sad, but true.

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."  President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Black Friday Potluck!

In a move my friends think is downright crazy, I’ll be hosting dinner for approximately 30 people the day after Thanksgiving (Thursday = traditional dinner for eight, Friday = potluck for ~30).  Needless to say, I have to prepare for this event ahead of time.  Therefore, the serious making of the cabbage rolls will commence this weekend.  I’ve decided the most expedient way to accomplish the task is to fill 9 x 13 foil pans, bake and freeze.  When I get them out of the freezer, all the pans, being of approximately equal content, should take about an hour to thaw.  I’ll pop the thawed pans into the oven two at a time until they are hot, then transfer the hot cabbage rolls into the big roaster and let everything stew until dinner time.  Many of those attending will be bringing food and leftovers, so it won’t be just cabbage rolls and mashed potatoes.  The logistics of seating 30 people down to eat at the same time in my house has yet to be determined.  I see much moving of furniture in my future.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

R.I.P. Perry Yowell

Lake County has lost yet another wonderful, multi-talented, local musician.  Dozens of Perry’s friends, fans and musical peers gathered at Rider’s Inn in Painesville to celebrate his life and his music and to wish him well at his new gig in the beyond.  Although the evening was filled with music and laughter as people shared their stories of Perry and his music, I would rather there had been no call for such an event.  Our musical community is diminished by his loss.

At least the stuffing was a hit....

Making the stuffing for 100 people (my husband’s boy scout troop and their family members) went much better than expected.  I suppose after almost 20 years making this dish for this particular event, I should expect it to go with no fuss.  Of course, I dried the 18 pounds of Italian and Rye bread about 5 weeks ago and broke it into pieces, so it was ready to be combined with the rest of the ingredients.  I dumped all the dry bread into a clean, 30 gallon plastic storage bin, and set it aside.  The actual hand chopping of the onions (10 pounds) and the celery (5-6 pounds), as well as the cooking of said vegetable bits with 6 pounds of butter in a huge stock pot, took about 45 minutes.  Once that was done, the salt, pepper and appropriate seasonings were added to the pot and left to simmer another quarter hour.  This concoction, along with a gallon and a half of boiling water, was poured over the bread.  I found the best way to mix this enormous load of stuffing is to don a clean pair of Teflon, oven-proof gloves and scoop it around with my gloved hands.  It’s quicker than using a spoon, but one must make sure that none of the boiling hot stuffing falls down the glove openings!  Once evenly mixed and cooled, the stuffing is scooped into gallon zip lock bags (nine) and placed in the fridge until used.

The funny story here is that, for the last several years, I have made my famous stuffing for this annual event without the onions.  It almost killed me to do so, and I was vocal about the diminished quality of the final product, but one of the assistant scoutmasters was deathly allergic to onions.  Therefore, the onions had to go.  My husband insisted that the stuffing still tasted fine, but I knew it did not.  I had mixed feelings of sadness and delight when the man in question sold his business and moved to Florida over the summer.  I tried not to dance with glee at the thought of once again using onions in the stuffing. 

As I sat eating the turkey dinner with several of the scout parents, a woman piped up and said, “Wow!  This is great stuffing!  They must have gotten someone new to make it since it’s been pretty blah tasting for the last few years.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

Searching for a new "Normal"

It’s been a little over a month since Mom passed away, and I find myself floundering in my search for a new normal.  Her passing has left a large hole in my life and routines.  Someone asked me what I was doing before, and I had to think back a very long way to even begin to figure that out.  I suppose this is something akin to empty nest syndrome.  Chris had moved out, but Meredith was still living with us on and off when Mom first came to stay.  She lived with us for almost 7 years of the 10 years before she went to assisted living.  Even after the move to assisted living, my life was still mom-centric. 

From the beginning, I tried to make Mom an integral part of my smaller family unit.  I wanted her to feel that this was her home as much as ours, and made sure she was included in all the functions we hosted or attended.  Everything I did, barring attending a few sci-fi conventions, was done with an eye to Mom and making sure she was included.  We went to lunch on Saturdays and we shopped.  When Forest and I were still performing as Sabbatical, Mom came with me to the performances.  When we weren’t performing, she came with me to wineries to listen to others.  Sometimes we’d stop at Your Vine or Mine for a Panini and a glass of wine.  A picture of the two of us graces the photo collage in The Vine’s foyer.  We went to Captains’ games, both as family outings and as part of work events where bringing family was encouraged.  One of my fondest memories is taking Mom to the Vatican exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

As time passed, she started to decline those opportunities, and I started to decline those invitations so that she wasn’t sitting at home alone feeling left out.  When Mom moved to assisted living, I visited a couple times a week and we continued our Saturday lunch outings.  Then her health took a turn for the worse, and her condition made it difficult for me to take her out and about.  She needed more supervision than the regular-level assisted living provided, and her dementia was progressing, so they moved her into the memory unit.  I knew she felt trapped there, so I increased my visits to as many times a week as I could, stopping after work most days and for a couple hours on weekend days. 

I'm now heading home after work, but three times this month I have found myself halfway to Emeritus before realizing that I was driving there by rote.  Then again, when I have to shop, I find myself avoiding Sam’s Club because it makes me sad when I have to drive by Emeritus to get there.

I am making a spreadsheet of what I want and need to do with my life and my time going forward.  There is no going back.  I need to create a new normal, even if I tend to be far from normal by most people’s standards.  Though, with the holidays coming at me like a speeding freight train, even my best intentions might be derailed.  We will see.  The calendar is filling up with a lot of events and obligations that in no way resemble the creation of a new normal.
  • Sunday afternoons are filled with Messiah rehearsals until the December 8th concert. 
  • Meredith needs help selling jewelry on Saturdays between now and Christmas.
  • I am slated to make stuffing for 80-100 people for the annual Boy Scout Turkey dinner, coming up this weekend.
  • Meredith, Gary and the kids are coming for Thanksgiving dinner
  • We’re hosting 25-28 (Jim’s side) the day after Thanksgiving for a huge pot luck. 
  • And then, Christmas will be upon us and I’ve done zero gift shopping. 
My only accomplishment to date was making the Christmas wine early in September and getting it bottled up in mid-October.

I guess I’ll keep working on that spreadsheet and plan on not implementing any changes to the status quo before January 1, 2014!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stairway to Heaven: Nancy J. Boyle (1924-2013)

When my mother passed away 10 days ago, and even before the inevitable end of her many years on this earth, I considered what I might say if asked to speak at her service.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to write anything down.  Somewhere deep inside I knew I would never be able to hold it together long enough to deliver such a speech, no matter how well written, no matter how well rehearsed.

My brother Tom fought his grief enough to write an incredible eulogy and found the strength to deliver it.  It touched the hearts of everyone present because it perfectly described Mom for the loving person she was, and it gave voice to the underlying reasons for her greatness as a human being.  His words were elegant in their simplicity yet profound in their meaning.

Although I knew could not speak without breaking down, I wanted to do something for Mom.  So I sang.  The Prayer of St. Ignatius only came forth because I closed my eyes and let my heart sing to her.  I know she is happy now with Dad, once again has all her faculties, and is not bound by the physical restraints of this earthly plane.  Still, knowing she is in a better place will not lessen the pain of her absence here.  Only time…only time.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Frank"ness is next to Godliness

I don’t normally write my opinions about organized religion in general or Roman Catholicism in particular.  I was born catholic, raised catholic, and educated in catholic schools.  I am an active member of a catholic church and belong to the music ministry.  That is not to say that practicing catholicism is simple or easy.  It’s not.  There are rules, you see.

For the past 15 years or so, I have had an extremely hard time keeping the faith, as it were.  While growing older and perhaps even a bit wiser, I find there is little in this world that falls into the black or white category.  Most things are gray by nature.  We are taught to have opinions, black or white, yes or no, all or nothing, good or bad, but I have to assume that God gave each of us a brain for a reason, and that He expects us to use it to the best of our ability to discern what is black, what is white, and what is gray.

We sometimes become so focused on a single issue where we take a black or white view, that it distorts our ability to see anything else in the big picture.  Life is not about one issue.  Life is about the greater good.  When Jesus walked the earth as a common man, he raged against the money lenders while he ministered to sinners, fed the hungry, helped the poor, and healed the sick.  He told us to do the same.  It seems the lesson he taught has been forgotten.

I watch in disbelief as those with agendas use our zeal about a particular issue (such as abortion or homosexuality) to sway otherwise intelligent human beings into basing their politics and their votes on that single hotbed issue.  Make no mistake, an enormous number of Christians, whether they are catholic or protestant, have been swayed to vote for questionable candidates based on abortion or gay marriage.  But you don’t just get a politician who does nothing but back your point of view.  You get someone who stands up and says “Vote for me because abortion is a sin, and homosexuality is a sin,” then turns right around and votes to stop those in need from getting healthcare, to stop children and the elderly from receiving much needed food assistance, cutting funding to schools that educate our kids, and putting money in the coffers of the rich. 

The catholic church is more than a little outspoken about the issues of abortion and gay marriage, and that is fine with me…be as outspoken as you like.  It’s a free country.  But trying to guilt people into voting only for pro-life, anti-gay marriage candidates is not fine.  The Roman Catholic church, with all its highly educated priests, and bishops, and cardinals wants to cut the dead tree in the middle of the billion-acre forest, and they’ll fell every last tree in the forest to get to it.  We are stuck on our own rhetoric, hoisted on our own petard.  I was very close to thinking that there was no hope for my church.

Then along came Pope Frank.  He does not don the ceremonial garb of the papacy.  He refuses to live in the papal quarters and lives in a regular apartment.  He left the Vatican and went to a regular church to pray the day after his election.  He bought himself a little car to drive around, just like an average guy.  He preaches the gospel of Jesus, not the rhetoric of the church. He has called out the church hierarchy for dwelling on issues like abortion and gay marriage while ignoring even more pressing issues that need attention.  I like this Pope.  And I am not being disrespectful in calling him Pope Frank.  I am honoring his actions as a common man, trying to live and act as Jesus would.  Perhaps he can change the direction of the church to more closely fit what Jesus intended.  Pope Frank, I hope you have a long run.


Monday, September 23, 2013

It is what it is...

How often have you uttered that exact phrase when the unexpected happens?  Those words sooth my ego when something occurs that I have no control over, can’t stop, or can’t change.  Sometimes it seems that almost everything in life “is what it is” in one way or another. 

We can steer our lives in a particular direction, but the universe often intervenes and sends us galloping down a different road. Sometimes it just seems crazy that we find it impossible to continue in our original direction, but for some reason, if you don’t fight the change of direction, everything works out…not necessarily as planned, but many times with a better result.

When I was young, I was determined to be a nurse. The universe intervened.  But I still leaned toward the medical sciences, so I became a medical technologist.  The universe intervened again, and I used my medical knowledge and my English expertise to become a biomedical/pharmaceutical writer and editor.  The really funny thing is, after all these years, the absolute last thing in the world I would want to do is nursing.  Had I stubbornly ignored the nudging of the universe, I could still have become a nurse, but just about now I would be regretting that decision.

So the next time the universe intervenes in your life and completely turns your plans into balled-up paper in a trash can, you might want to look around the new path and consider the possibilities rather than stubbornly heading back to the previous road.  You might even be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Things I Wish I Had Known Before Adulthood...

With time and age comes perspective.  I was thinking about the things I wish I had known or at least acted on when I was younger.  Here is my list.

1)         Junk food has long-term consequences.

2)         You can’t escape your own genetics.

3)         Your kids pick up your bad habits and language faster and remember it longer than your good habits and a civil tongue.

4)         If you need a long-term product (homes excluded in the present climate), figure out how to buy it now.  Whatever it is will increase in price much faster over time than your income will increase.  Fifteen years from now, you’ll feel like a genius for getting in on the ground floor.

5)         Don’t leave school until you have the degree.  The time you think you’ll have later to finish your education never seems to materialize.  And again, it will never be as affordable as it is at this moment.

6)         Circumstances change…get over it.

7)         You can’t change others.  You can only change yourself so others react differently toward you.  As the saying goes, if you keep doing the same things, you keep getting the same results.

8)         Try something new every day, or every week, or every month.  Even if it is as insignificant as taking a street you’ve never driven.  Everything in life is a matter of perspective.  Either change how you look at something, or look at something you’ve never looked at before.

9)         Put yourself out there and meet new people.  More is accomplished by networking than you can possibly imagine.  

10)     There is no shortage of mean, nasty, cruel, vindictive people in this world.  If one angers you, do not sink to his or her level.  Just walk away. 

11)     There is a universal law of reciprocity.  What you put out eventually comes back to bite you, so only put out positive thoughts and actions.

12)     Always listen to that quiet voice inside your head.  Its name is intuition.  When it tells you to go for it, then go for it.  When it tells you beware, then stop.  Intuition is your first line of defense.  Learn to use it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Unanswered Phone - A story that bears repeating on this sad day...

I was running a few minutes late for work that Tuesday morning, and I pulled into the parking lot just as the announcement came over the radio that a passenger airliner had stuck the one of the World Trade Center towers.  I grabbed my purse, hurried into the building, and raced to my office.  I announced to all who would listen that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and everyone started searching the web for information and turning on their radios…everyone but me.  I was dialing my phone, desperate to reach my son.  When the second tower was struck, I dialed faster.  And so began the worst 5 hours of my life. 

My son Chris was in New York City on job interviews.  We talked before he left, and he told me that he was very excited to have an interview at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the World Trade Center.  He thought it would be a neat place to work.  I tried to stay calm as his cell phone remained unanswered.  I stood with my fellow workers around the computer monitors and watched news film of the towers collapsing, mortified at the massive loss of life.  My fears grew.

Soon we heard that a plane had targeted the Pentagon and that another plane, heading to the White House, had made a u-turn over Cleveland and subsequently crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  I watched in horror, but I kept dialing.  My husband got through to me around 11, wanting to know if I had spoken to Chris.  By that time, I was on the verge of hysteria.  Needless to say, no work was being done as we continued to take in with disbelief the events unfolding on the East Coast in real time in our virtual backyard.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I dialed for about the thousandth time.  Chris answered. 

“Oh my God, Chris, where have you been?  I’ve been calling you for five hours!”

“What’s up, Mom?”

“What’s up?  The world is ending!  Can’t you look out the windows in Newark and see the smoke?”

“I’m not in Newark.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Perry.  I just woke up.  What’s going on?”

“Then you don’t know.  Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers around 9 this morning.  They both collapsed, killing thousands.  The towers are gone.  The Pentagon was hit, too.  And a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.  It was headed for the White House.  I thought YOU were in one of those towers.  Dad and I have been frantic trying to reach you.  Didn’t you have a job interview this morning in one of the towers?”

There was long moment of silence.

“Yes, I did have an interview, but I finished yesterday’s interviews early, so I called the guy at the Trade Center and asked if I could come in right then, rather than wait until this morning.  He said yes.  So I interviewed late yesterday and headed back to Ohio.  I got in around 2:30 in the morning. I didn’t want to wake you or Dad, so I went to Brian’s and crashed there.”

My relief was palpable. 

Chris was profoundly affected by the events of 9-11.  He made a trip to Ground Zero as soon as it was plausible to do so.  I am sure that he still wonders, as do I, about the twist of fate that kept him so far away from a place he was scheduled to be at the exact moment of that most awful catastrophe.

I am eternally grateful that my son was spared on that horrible day.  As a parent, I experienced 5 hours of the most intense fear I have ever known.  And because of that intense fear, and the memory of how it felt, I am haunted by thoughts of the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and friends who spent hour after agonizing hour, on that day and in the days that followed, dialing phones that were never answered.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Is vernacronym what you get when you cross vernacular with acronyms?  As a writer, I love language, and I love listening to English being spoken in a variety of accents and local dialects.  I know I’ve written about books on CD in previous posts, but I’m having a jolly good time listening to the works of Ian Rankin, a criminal writer from Scotland.  The voice-over is wonderful, and the Scot accents are delicious.

The flawed hero, Detective Inspector John Rebus (make sure you roll that R), is unique in his very Scot attitude toward murder and crime.  Although I am thoroughly enjoying the stories, I admit having to go back and repeat sections where the accent was so thick I couldn’t understand what they were saying, or listening to a word over and over with nary a clue as to its meaning.

So when the good DI Rebus kept saying efffff, whyyyyyy, teeeeeeeeeeee, peeeeeeeeeeeee to himself as he was leaving certain interviews or the company of some characters, I was a mite confused.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what toilet paper had to do with anything.  And what about that “efffff, whyyyyyy” part?  “Flush Your Toilet Paper?”  What if it wasn’t toilet paper at all?  What if it meant “Find yon tiny pub” or “Forget your troubles, Pip?”  There are so many words used in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales that are not decipherable to the average American English speaker, how is one to translate such an acronym if one doesn’t know the vernacular?  After all, this was written in the language of the loo, and the wash-up, and the dram, and the pint.

Three- quarters of the way through the book, DI Rebus finally gives up the secret.  I was more than a little taken aback to find that all my mind-bending guesses were for naught.  He was saying a very American “F&*k you too pal.”  Had I been listening to a book by an American author, that would have been my first thought, but since those in Great Britain normally use a B-bomb rather than an F-bomb, my imagination ran wild in an attempt at translation.

One good thing did come of the exercise, however.  I will be sending “vernacronym” to Merriam-Webster for a shot at being a new word added to the dictionary for 2013!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Office woes redux…the saga ends...

We’ll start just after 2 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The progress bar was making incremental movements, though each movement was miniscule and slow.  I went to bed at 3 a.m. and decided to let it run.  At 7 a.m., I was thrilled to discover that it had completed.  I clicked the tiles, one by one.  Word worked; Power Point worked; One Note worked.  Excel did not work.  For the next hour and a half, I uninstalled, deleted, and reinstalled yet another new download of Office.  When the progress bar was only half through in 3 hours, I turned it off.  I would wait for the senior technician call…the call that never came.

I practically killed myself getting home from my Saturday errands by 6:00 p.m., the scheduled time for a tech to call.  I glued myself to the computer and phone and waited.  At 8:00 p.m. I finally gave up and called them.  Two hours with another overseas tech produced no real results.  He was convinced that I had downloaded a virus.  He started a restore to the date that the computer arrived at my house.  When the restore took longer than he expected, he gave me a number and told me to call when it finished. 

Eight minutes later, I made that call, only to get yet another technician.  At least this one was in the continental United States.  We had quite a good discussion.  After about 40 minutes of various attempts at installing Office, he asked why I had downloaded a trial version of Office.  I told him I had not downloaded a trial version or any version other than the one for which I had a code key.  I told him that the previous tech had done a restore back to the day I brought the machine home.  He relegated my end of the phone call to canned music, and I watched lots of movement on the screen.  All of the sudden, Office was downloading and installing.  It took all of 10 minutes.  Then he came back on the line.  He told me that everything should work properly and asked me to test all four Office tiles.  They worked like a charm.  I asked if he had found a virus, and he replied that there was no virus.  It seems the computer shipped with a trial version of Office that was in complete conflict with the paid version I had downloaded.  Once the trial version was removed, everything worked great. 

So I spent an hour on Wednesday, three hours on Friday, and four and a half hours on Saturday on the verge of heaving the new laptop out the window.  Eight and half hours of my precious time, down the drain.  I spent six hours on the phone, doing nothing but listening to someone else type.  All in search of a tech savvy guy with a 15-minute fix.  But it is what it is, and the laptop is working well…just another painful tech saga with a happy ending.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Office woes...MS Office, that is...

It was such a simple thing.  Jim’s laptop overheated and the hard drive was trashed.  Since it would no longer even attempt a boot-up, I watched for good deals and found him a new Inspiron with Windows 8 for a reasonable price.  His software needs are minimal, so I purchased MS Office home and student 2013.  It included Word, Excel, Power Point, and One Note. 

I received the laptop, but for some reason, the e-mail containing the download key for Office went astray.  This triggered two calls to Microsoft and eight calls to Dell.  I was assured that they would send me a CD overnight.  What I received was a small box containing a download key.  There were four instructions.  It looked like a no-brainer. 

1)  Go to
2)  Enter the download key and follow the instructions
3)  Sign in or create a Microsoft account
4)  Download Office to your PC

I followed the four steps.  It seemed to me that the download was a bit too fast; it was over in about 15 seconds and then took me back to the install page.  There was no pop-up that showed installation, nothing to indicate that it was doing anything.  I went back to the home page, but there were no tiles for Office.  I searched everywhere, but found nothing.  So I tried it again.  It took me to the install page and I went through the motions.  It took four attempts before the four Office apps showed up on the home page.

I wasn’t quite sure what I had done differently, but I was relieved.  I opened Word and was able to navigate around.  Then I clicked on Excel.  My time promptly disappeared down the rabbit hole.  I spent an hour trying every avenue to no avail.  I gave up for the night, knowing I was tired and work weary and probably wasn’t thinking with a fresh mind.  That was Wednesday. 

Tonight, I attacked the problem again.  Jim had tried to do a “repair” on Excel when he got home from work, but the computer was grinding away for four hours by the time I got on the case.  At 8:30, I called Dell’s Solution Station.  I sat on the phone until 11:30 with no resolution.  First there was an 80-minute system scan, then another lengthy process.  After those things did not work, we used the download key again, but I could have told him it wouldn’t take the same key twice…I had tried that on Wednesday.  Then he uninstalled and reinstalled the program.  He was convinced that it would work.  Finally he gave up, telling me that I needed a senior technician and arranging an appointment for them to call me back on Saturday at 6 p.m.

He was confident because the Office installation window had come up and was loading.  Under the progress bar it states “We’re wrapping things up – please stay online as we make some finishing touches.”  When he gave up at 11:30 p.m., the bar was only as far as the “t” in the word stay.  As of 1:50 a.m., I’m up to the “k” in the word make.  He told me that if it wasn’t loaded by 12:30, I could shut it down and wait for my senior technician call tomorrow.  But I figured I should just let it keep working.  It may be progressing at a snail’s pace, but as long as it is still moving, I’m letting it continue.  At its present rate, the progress bar may make it to the end by about 5 a.m.  Here’s hoping by morning, a working copy of Excel will be loaded on the stupid machine!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pink Chiffon Tricycle Queen!

In my never-ending quest for better health and a lower BMI, I started a reduced carb diet on June 10.  I’m not cutting out carbs completely, but I have seriously limited the amount of bread, white starchy foods, etc., that I’m consuming.  I am already down 12 lbs.  I was hoping to be down 20 lbs. by mid-July, but 15 will do.  As long as the scale keeps heading South, I'll be happy.  

Toward the effort to be lean and fit (quite an imaginative goal, I must admit), I took my first outing on my new adult 3-wheel Schwinn on Tuesday night.  It was a bit of a fiasco.  I planned to head East up my road, turn North on Webb and have a down-hill or relatively flat ride the rest of the way to my daughter’s house, a mere 4.5 miles away.  

It was to be an easy first ride...right.  

Reality check:

1) I haven't ridden for two years
2) The new bike has three wheels

3) The new bike has only one speed
4) I’m two years older and out of shape
5) I’m nursing a bad right knee
6) This was my first bike ride since the hip replacement

Turns out a bike with three wheels is not nearly as nimble as a 2-wheeler.  Every imperfection in the road caused the bike to jerk one way or the other.  I had to keep a death grip on the handlebars the whole time.  Every upgrade in the road was like climbing Mount Everest.  I got a quarter mile to the East and stopped at the top of a small hill, just short of a massive coronary.

I turned around and headed West, knowing that the upgrades would not be as high.  With no ability to change speeds, it took huge effort to ride up anything more than a 1% grade.  That effort was a real strain on the bad knee, but I doggedly rode the opposite direction of my planned route.

When I got to the end of River Road, there was a steep upgrade to the intersection.  I stopped about 40 feet shy and walked the bike up and across.  I climbed back in the saddle and biked down Lane with determination, actually making it up and over the two sets of railroad tracks without dismounting, but with some serious leg-pumping effort.  After practically getting side-swiped by someone in a hurry to get home for dinner, I pulled into a quiet development and cut through.  I was only pursued by one nasty-looking, large, black, barking dog (thank heavens).  I came out the other side of the development onto Main Street and rode up into the village, then down Center Road.  The whole time I kept wondering if I looked like Will Ackerman’s “Pink Chiffon Tricycle Queen” (thank you Jim Madden for that vivid image).

I stopped at a small market to grab something wet, since I had sweated out every available drop of perspiration by the time I arrived there.  When I got off the bike, I instantly developed cramps in the soles of both feet and on the backs of my inner thighs.  I hobbled into the store and bought a couple bottles of cold Diet Dew.  Then I tried to park myself on the bench outside the place, but the cramps were too painful, so I stood as still as I could and downed 20 ounces of Diet Dew in about four swallows.  I called my other half, who was at my daughter’s working on a project, and told him if I did not arrive in 45 minutes, to drive up Center Road and drag my cold dead body off the sidewalk.  Then I started to walk the bike.

I did about a quarter mile on foot, which helped alleviate the cramping, but caused annoying rubber burns on the back of my leg.  You see, the two wheels on the back tend to hit your legs if you walk the thing.  I got back on the bike and rode the rest of the way, flying down my daughter’s street at about 50 mph, and barely making the turn into her driveway.  I missed doing a header into a hundred-year-old cherry tree by inches.

All told, the planned 45-minute ride took about an hour and a half, and the 4.5-mile distance turned into approximately 7.5 miles.  I am now in my second day of suffering from my own stupidity, with severe aches in my hip, legs and knee.  I know this too will pass.  I have, however, resigned myself to transporting the bike to flatter terrain until I build up my leg muscles and my stamina.  And, just maybe, I'll wait a week or so before I give it another go...


Apologies, schools, and round-abouts....

It's been some time since I have written anything on the blog.  There are no real excuses, so I'll quote work, a many days long family reunion, a road trip to Chattanooga, and writer's block!  June flew by without so much as a sound and here we are.

I have to say that I love United Way.  They are always right in there trying to make things better and in a pretty proactive way.  We had a request for donations for the upcoming school year that will be used to provide paper and school supplies for kids who can't afford to buy such items.  I think it's great for United Way to be thinking ahead about these things. 

Unfortunately, I read this at the same time I read the New-Herald article about the beginning of the road work for the 1.4-million dollar traffic round-about in Leroy.  I almost choked on my Diet Dew.  There has never been a fatality at the intersection of Route 86, Vrooman Road, and Leroy Center Road to my recollection, and I have lived right up the road for close to 40 years.  Yet this basically country intersection needs a 1.4-million dollar improvement? 

Perhaps we should have tried traffic lights know the kind where you stop when it's red and go when it's green?  Surely, if there is so much danger as to need 1.4 million dollars in improvement, there is enough reason to approve a traffic light, even on a state route.  Then we could have used the remaining 1.3 million dollars to make sure every kid in Lake County has supplies and transportation for the upcoming school year.  Just saying...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Needs Photographers Anyway?

I was floored today by Connie Schultz’s Facebook post relaying that the Chicago Sun Times had fired their entire staff of photographers.  It seems a reporter with a camera or a smart phone should be “good enough” to do the job.  I notice they didn’t fire all the reporters and hand the photographers keyboards.  Could it be that they realize not every photographer can write well?  That begs the question:  what makes them think that every journalist can take a decent photo?

We suffer today in business with the idea that we can cut costs because, given the right tools, everyone can be a generalist.  One person doing two jobs for half the cost is the wave of the future.  Here’s the problem with that theory…you have one person doing two jobs poorly, rather than two people doing one job each exceedingly well.  Everyone can be a generalist, but only at the cost of efficiency and quality.  Truly this is penny wise and pound foolish, since lower quality means fewer sales.  The adage “you get what you pay for” generally rings true, as it does in this case.

I may be one heck of a writer, but I’m all thumbs with a camera.  It doesn’t matter whether I use the film kind, or the digital kind, or my smart phone.  I will get a few decent shots, but I end up deleting close to 95% of the pictures I take.  I simply do not have the gift of photography. 

Photography, like writing, painting, dancing, and sculpting, is not just a learned task.  It’s an art form.  Anyone can take a snapshot, but a professional photographer sees what we, as non-photographers, don’t see.  They see that a certain angle is better or just the right light from just the right direction is needed to convey not only the moment in time, but the feeling, the beauty, the uniqueness that only someone highly skilled in that art form can capture.

In an effort to get with the program, I will make this offer to the powers that be at the Chicago Sun Times:  If you provide the operating room and surgical garb and all the appropriate saws and scalpels, I will be happy to try my hand as your brain surgeon.  I’ll even take pictures.  I’m sure I can do it, given the right equipment, but I can’t guarantee the quality of the result.  I will, however, write one hell of a story about the experience!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It has been ever-so-tempting to give my opinions on some of the big news stories of the last few weeks, but I decided to refrain.  There is no point in yet another voice expressing horror over the holding of three women hostage for 10 years, practically in their own backyards.  There is no point in my expressing outrage and disappointment over the horrendous waste of taxpayer dollars as the GOP tried for the 37th time to overturn Obamacare. (I think it would be a more successful venture if they waited to see how large a debacle it actually creates before trying to vote it away.)  When I heard about the trains in Connecticut, I managed to put it out of my mind and I fooled myself into believing that I could become immune to tragedy, at least for a little while. 

I admit to escapism, in that, instead of writing about the issues for the past few weeks, I have been indulging in actually working on a new book, or an "old" new book, but one that is only half finished as of this date.  I made myself a firm promise to add 1000-1500 words per day to the manuscript and to finish the writing of it by the end of June.  I have to say that sometimes words just flow and other times I have to wrench them from my fingertips with excruciating pain and slowness, but for two nights now nothing has come forth, despite my best attempts.  I find I am not at all immune to tragedy, as I sit here and mourn and worry about the victims of the tornadoes in Oklahoma.  And so I will fall yet another 1000 words behind…but that’s okay.  There’s a time for everything, and this is not the time for writing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wayne LaPierre should have a more thorough background check!

Did he really say that?  Is he really attempting to use the Boston Marathon bombing as a scare tactic to stop people from wanting better background checks?  Yes he did and yes he is.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) said, “How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?”

Imagine if you will, and explain to me if you can, how anyone carrying a gun would have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing.  And in lieu of preventing that terrorist action, who would all those armed Bostonians have shot?  The only armed individual who confronted the duo on his own was shot dead.  He was an armed, trained, law enforcement officer at MIT.
It took a couple days to positively identify the perpetrators, so perhaps the citizens of Boston could have shot the college student mistakenly identified by Reddit as the bomber.  Or maybe they could have “protected” themselves by shooting anyone in Boston wearing a hijab.  How many law enforcement officials could have been mistakenly shot while knocking on the doors of citizens as the search for the perpetrators progressed?  Somehow the image of thousands of panicked citizens shooting at any and all perceived threats is a bit frightening.

The other bit of news I digested over the weekend was that passing the Toomey-Manchin bill would have negatively affected the prosperity of the country.  Really?  How is that?  As far as I can tell, the only industry negatively affected by slowing down the sales of weapons would be the gun manufactures.  These are the same said gun manufactures that are funneling millions of dollars into none other than, wait for it…the NRA.
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating.  I like guns.  I like having the right to own a gun if I choose to do so.  But better background checks do not negate the second amendment and they do not affect my rights.  They are needed to help keep weapons out of the hands of people with histories of violent behavior or mental illness.

Yes, I agree, that registration and background checks will not prevent every criminal from obtaining a weapon.  Yes, I agree that there will inevitably be more terrorists or psychopaths who will acquire weapons illegally and use them to evil ends.  But if better background checks and registration stop even a small percentage of such catastrophic events, why would anyone object?