Nov 9, 2016

DST Baby!

Daylight Freakin' Savings Time. Another bi-annual tradition that just boggles the mind, interrupts the cicadian rhythm and, after the fall back, depresses the senses.
I do remember when DST was brought back in the 1970s due to the energy crisis. I was totally elated, as a kid, to be outside playing until almost 9PM in the sun, albeit a setting sun. Never could understand why the parents were calling us home at that time...after all, the sun was just setting!
I have wavered on the issue through the years, sometimes appreciating the extra daylight, sometimes cursing it (losing an hour's sleep comes to mind). Does it help farmers? According to a survey, farmers generally oppose daylight saving time. In Indiana, where part of the state observes DST and part does not, farmers have opposed a move to DST. Farmers, who must wake with the sun no matter what time their clock says, are greatly inconvenienced by having to change their schedule in order to sell their crops to people who observe daylight saving time.
Now-let's get the government involved.
Congress appears to have felt we were not having enough of a difficult time so in 2007 they passed a law starting Daylight Savings time 3 weeks earlier and ending it one week later. This cost US companies billions to reset automated equipment, put us further out of sync with Asia and Africa time-wise, inconvenienced most of the country, all in the name of unproven studies that claim we save energy. Does it save energy? The jury is still out on that. But it does screw up my sleep patterns.
According to Dr. Samuel Friedlander, assistant clinical professor of Sleep Medicine and Allergy Immunology at UH Cleveland Medical Center while it is great to have the extra hour of sleep, a few days later that can lead to worse sleep. as it can lead to insomnia or sleepiness
While I can't claim insomnia (my old ass can pretty much get to sleep with a melatonin or two), I do notice that my normal sleep patterns change after the fall back change.
Could this just be older age?

Nov 6, 2016

Tree Swing

"And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon.
Little Boy Blue and The Man in the Moon.
When you coming home dad I don't know when;
but we'll get together then son...we're gonna have a good time then".

These iconic, haunting words by the late great Harry Chapin come to mind often when I spend time with my granddaughter Fiona.
As my kids were growing up, I was, like most my age a busy, often absent father. Due to business and other concerns, I left the formation of my children's early growth processes to others. For example, when Michael needed to build a car for his cub scout group he was turned over to his granddad. When Ruth Elizabeth needed to be corrected for something that she had done wrong, mom and dad were out of town on business and it was left to the relative in charge. Now don't get me wrong. I was not a totally absent father. I spent as much time as possible with both of them and loved the time that I did get to spend. Vacations, holidays, family gatherings, I tried to be as much a part of all these events as I could. And I loved just spending time with them. We had great kids! Well mannered, intelligent and talented as all get out! It was never an issue asking someone to watch them as they were such a pleasure to be around. My point is - as parents, especially young parents, we often overlook the seemingly small things which shape our kids.
Until Ruth E passed away, when I looked at this bright, beautiful young lady hitting her mid-twenties, I thought just how much she took after he mother. She was becoming Laura 2.0. Proud, loud, sometimes brash and not afraid to state her needs. She would often complain to me about her mom's mannerisms and how much some of them annoyed her. I always laughed inside as I knew that if she really looked hard in the mirror, she would see that she was speaking about herself. And as Michael approaches age 40, I see various traits that I had as a younger man in him. The fact that they turned out so well tells me that our, and everyone else that had a part in their upbringing, did a pretty damn good job. Or-they may have turned out so well in spite of their experiences. Whatever it was, I am proud to be the dad of a couple of good ones!
All that being said, I think that I finally understand what is so great about being a grandparent:
Second chances.
This weekend we built a tree swing for Fiona. Now this is something that I would have done for Ruth E or Michael when they were this age. After all, I did put the Barbie Dream House together for Christmas for Ruth E and erected the sliding board/swing set for Michael when they were younger.  No-it's not about that. It was my attitude while building the tree swing. It had to be had to have the appearance of being a bit dangerous while at the same time being safer than a store-bought swing, and I had to spend time with her for each and every swing! None of the "build it and let her go and play on it while I do something else". No! I would push her, she would push me, and this went on most of the day. Sure the football game was on in the house but I didn't care. There would be another game next week, next month, next year. But my granddaughter would never be this age at this moment in time ever again. And with a new, "dangerous" swing that we had to break in, I would not miss this opportunity for anything in the world.
My friend Casey said it best: "Fiona will remember this day for the rest of her life!" And I am honored to be a part of that memory!
"When you coming home son I don't know when.

But we'll get together then dad.
You know we'll have a good time then".

Mar 3, 2016

Old Cars, Old Friends and the Haunted Manor

I started my driving career in a rust bucket.
My uncle had a 1963 Chevrolet Impala, complete with rust all along the undercarriage and a dull, gold paint job that screamed “uncool”. When my dad asked if I would be interested in buying the vehicle, there was no hesitation. Although I had never seen the car or had no idea how much he wanted for it, I was all over it. After all, the only motorized vehicle that I had up until then was a Rupp 3.5 HP mini bike. At 15 years of age, my own car represented freedom. And I would buy my freedom with my own cash! Working at the White Horse Drive In, along with a paper route, had helped me to earn and save enough money to afford the car and the small insurance premium. My dad went to Uncle Charles house and brought the car home for me and I immediately jumped behind the wheel to take her for a spin. “Not so fast” dad commanded. “First, I’ll need $100 for your uncle; second – do you know how to check the oil? the water in the radiator? Tire pressure? You can’t just check the gas gauge and take off, son!” I must admit that, although checking the tire pressure was a no-brainer, the oil and water thing was foreign to me. The mini bike was air-cooled and the oil was something that I had never given much thought to. Dad took his time explaining how to do the basic maintenance procedures, pointing out how important it was for a thirsty car to be quenched. The year was 1973, so I had in my possession a 10-year-old car, rusted by constant exposure to the salt and sand of the South Carolina low country. It was a road boat!
After giving dad the C-note, insuring that my oil and water were topped off and that there was an ample supply of fuel, I took off to show my friends my new ride. Watching my dad in my rear view mirror as I drove away, I could see a worried smile cross his face. He had already bid bon voyage to two older siblings as they tooled away in their new rides so I’m sure the smile reflected more pride than concern. I went by lifelong friend (and co-author of this blog) Larry Durham’s place and found Larry and several friends playing basketball in the yard. “Hop in boys, we’re taking her for a spin”. “Your new ride?” “Yep, bought and paid for! Let’s see what she’ll do!” We went all over the neighborhood, me and the younger brother in the front, Larry and John Chandler in the back. We decided to leave the confines of the neighborhood and explore downtown Greenville, SC. Unbeknownst to me, the radiator had also been a victim of the seaside rust and had sprung a pinhole leak.
We continued through downtown and then decided to go through the ‘haunted house’. It was actually an old brick home with a long driveway that wound its way to the home through an urban forest, of sorts. The driveway led up to the home and then proceeded through to another road on the back side of the home. Why this home was purported to be haunted, I’ll never know. It was one of those landmarks that my older brother would point out whenever we went by the property as kids. As we turned into the driveway, hearts pounding with excitement, a curious series of events unfolded. First, the front passenger side seat broke through the floor and dropped to the ground. My brother was holding on, sparks flying from the bottom of the seat as the metal scraped along the road. Stopping the car (and foolishly leaving the engine running), we got out to examine the damage. The entire floorboard under the seat had given way, rusted out. Opening the trunk, I saw a 3ft 2x4 lying there. I was not sure of its original purpose, but it would now find a new home wedged under the front as a support for the bench seat. Problem solved! Well…not quite. By the time we all climbed back in the car and were heading further into the woods surrounding the house, steam started boiling out from under the hood. Hoping to make it past the house before the worst happened, I floored it! No such luck. The car sputtered a couple of times and then died a grisly death right there in front of ghost manor. We all looked at one another, speechless. The hissing of the radiator gave an eerie undertone to the rhythm of 5 beating hearts, the only two sounds that I recall hearing at that moment. I certainly didn’t hear the footsteps of the approaching gardener, who appeared at my window like a ghost. He was holding a pair of hedge trimmers. “What are you boys doing on this property?” Scared shitless, I mumbled something to the effect of “sorry sir, but our car overheated and we were hoping to get some water”. “Get out and follow me” said the gardener. We all poured out of the Chevy and followed the gardener like a bunch of schoolboys heading to the principal’s office. The old man led us to the house, past the garage and around the back of the house. I thought that we were being led to slaughter. No one else knew where we were – the perfect setup for teenage murder. The old man found a large watering can and filled it from the faucet at the back of the house. Handing me the container of water, he said “be sure that you wait until the car cools down before you open that radiator cap. Don’t want you to get hurt”. The way he said it almost made my skin crawl. He then picked up his trimmers and walked around the opposite side of the manor house. We quickly made our way to the car, opened the hood and waited impatiently for the cool down. As soon as it was safe to open the cap, I poured all the water into the bone-dry radiator and secured the cap. We all piled back into the car and remembered our childhood prayer for “Lord, please let this car start”. It did and we were off!
The 1963 Gold, rusted Chevy Impala only lasted another year with me. I upgrade to a 1967 Chevy Impala, white in color and no rust. And we never made the mistake of visiting that haunted house, ever again.

Oct 22, 2015

An Innocent Abroad Part 4 – Paris

An Innocent Abroad Part 4 – Paris

Paris. City of Lights. City of Love.
Gare du Nord
Our Eurostar train pulled into the Gare du Nord ahead of time. We gathered our luggage and exited the train, emerging into a cavernous, Victorian era building, bustling with people and awash in shops with anything and everything imaginable for sale. After clearing the platform Kim and I headed outside to find the nearest Metro Station. I turned back to look at the massive train station and my jaw dropped – nothing like what I had seen back in South Carolina. Even the train stations in Paris were works of art!
gare-du-nord ext
After a short 5 minute walk, we arrived at the Metro station. We bellied up to the kiosk and purchased a metro pass, allowing us travel on the metro for the duration of our time in Paris. We made our way to our hotel, the Appart’City Paris La Villette, just a steps away from the Ourcq metro station. Pleasant greetings from the hotel manager, and a lovely room set the pace for the next three days. After a few minute’s rest we made our way back to the metro station and headed out for the heart of Paris.
The Louvre is a must see while in Paris. Unfortunately, I underestimated the sheer size of the place and was only able to take in about a quarter of the available art and statues. It would literally take days to see everything in the museum, a luxury of time that I didn’t have. I made sure that I saw the Mona Lisa, albeit from a short distance as the crowds around the small painting were always very large. I was struck by some of the large paintings that lined the walls leading up to DaVinci’s masterpiece.
Rembrandt’s The Supper at Emmaus, Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon and Water Lilies by Claude Monet are but three of the hundreds of paintings that I admired, but stand as the most memorable for me.  Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian statuary, Italian Renaissance sculpture,  Dutch Baroque paintings, my God! The list goes on and on. Depending on the section of the building, the floor and the hallway you go down will determine what you will be fortunate to see.  After more than half a day of being up to my eyes in high art and culture, I found Kim and we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.
Finding a grassy spot in a park adjacent to the famed tower Kim and I sat and took in the beautiful spring-like day that we’d been blessed with and gazed up at the wrought-iron wonder. I then decided to call my friends back at work in the states and share my location and experience. After quality time at the Eiffel Tower it was time to hit the Metro for the trip back to the hotel and a good french dinner.

Next morning, I stumbled out of bed and began the search for coffee. I found the small coffee maker and brewed the two cups that it would provide. I then decided that I wanted to pick up some breakfast for Kim and I and find some real french coffee. Around the corner from the hotel stood a quaint bakery with a beautiful young lass minding the store.  “Bonjour monsieur! Comment puis-je vous aider?” “Good morning. May I please have two bagels and two cups of coffee?” She didn’t understand what I was saying so I pointed to the bagels in the case and held up two fingers. I then pointed to the carafe of coffee behind the counter and again held up two fingers. She smiled and acknowledged my order and gathered it for me. When she steps up to the cash register she said something to the effect of ” quarte euros”. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of euro coins and held them up to her. She took the coins that she needed and placed them in the register. I had to trust her as I was still really new at this euro thing, which I understood far better that this french language thing. She smiled a sweet smile and said “au revoir”. I would have my breakfast there for the next two days.
The next day found us at the Musée d’Orsay, a former train station built at the turn of the last century located on the left bank. The Musée d’Orsay holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Kim was adamant that we visit and I’m glad that she insisted. I was finally able to see, up close and personal, my favorite painting – the famed Starry Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.
I was also able to view a work that I’d heard mentioned since I was a child – Whistler’s Mother, which was known by the original title of Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1.
After a day filled with art and culture, Kim and I set our sights on the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame
The rain worsened as we ascended the stairway from the metro to street level. This did not, however, deter the crowds that were moving along the sidewalk toward the grand cathedral. Crossing the Seine it comes into view. From the front of the structure, it’s imposing. You can’t help but be reminded of that iconic 1920’s era movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, ducking in and around the massive bells that fill the towers. A larger than life-sized statue of Charlemagne stands outside the grand chapel, reminding me of the great historical heritage of this parcel of land. Taking our place in the line to enter the church, Kim pointed to the elaborate artwork that decorated the building. After entering, we made our way around the line and ended up in a small area away from the main chapel to look at some of the clothing worn by priests of long ago. While there, a young lady approached us and, in perfect English, stated that she was a personal tour guide for the church and that her small group had failed to show. She asked if we would be interested in a private tour of the church. After agreeing, she took us to places that the regular tourists weren’t allowed to enter, all the while giving us various descriptions of events that had taken place in said areas. As we slipped behind the velvet ropes which blocked access to some of the areas, the others would look at us as if we were visiting royalty. We were extremely fortunate to be given access to these areas, with a knowledgeable tour guide to boot!
After our personal tour, Kim and I wandered back to the metro and caught a lift to the Place de la Bastille, a monument which stands to mark the spot of the infamous prison that was the ignition point for the French revolution. In my head, I was singing the RUSH tune from 1974 (and they’re marching to Bastille Day. The guillotine will claim her bloody prize.) After a quick dinner at a lovely French restaurant near the hotel we called it a day. Tomorrow-more bread from the sweet mademoiselle at the corner bakery.
Our third day in Paris was a walk about day. I had stayed up most of the night walking the streets of our hotel neighborhood. Ducking into an all night convenience store for a pack of smokes, the owner asked if I was a tourist. “Yes”, I replied. “Why are you walking in this neighborhood at this time of morning? Very dangerous!” Thanks-I’ll just head back to the hotel.
My short morning ritual was observed while at the corner bakery. Same pretty girl, same order, same trust that she would only take the correct amount of euros from my outstretched palm. She did. Awww…love this life!
Then it was time to catch the Metro and walk some of the gardens of Paris. Everywhere you look there are beautiful gardens and parks. We sat on a bench in one of these parks next to a pond and watched the birds do their mating dances. Wow! Does this city also have an effect on wildlife?
A stroll next to the Seine to look at the houseboats completed our wandering. Time to catch the metro, head back to the hotel and collect our belongings. Next stop: Gare du Nord for the trip back to London. Then back home to the good old US of A.
While I enjoyed every single moment of our trip to Europe, and I want to revisit both cities, there’s no place like home. The cabin beckons!