Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I could easily end this post right there for all it means to me.
New Years, like Halloween, is one of those holidays I really would like to enjoy, but always seems to end up being a disappointment. "We'll do something special next year." I can count maybe four or at most five New Year's Eves that have had any real significance or fun to them.
My pal MathGuy and I used to love to go into Boston for First Night. We'd start at four or five o'clock in the afternoon and run all around town with a copy of Parade magazine under our arm. The pages would have circles around the performances, vignettes, and displays we wanted to see and our schedule and route was all mapped out. I recall one year when we ended our windings in Back Bay and then had to sprint down to Custom's House for the laser light show and the fireworks. I think we dang near covered all of Boston in about 8 minutes on that run.
I'd love to do First Night again, and I would, except for one constant and invasive fact: New Year's Eve is always the coldest night of the year. Take this week. A few days ago it was 65 degrees (F). The day after it was 50. What is the temperature expected to be tonite? 12. Yes, twelve. I mean, c'mon? Who wants to walk around anywhere in twelve degree weather? It takes you 30 minutes to get a coffee at Dunk's with these crowds, and you can pretty much forget about ever seeing a bathroom, so how does a guy take his girl out, effectively, in twelve degree weather?
Maybe I'll wait for the Chinese New Year, or perhaps the Jewish one to celebrate. I'm pretty sure one of those happens in the Spring.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I just finished reading Cemetery Consort's blog. Let me tell you, she and her husband Rythter are smart folks, and doubly so when it comes to managing money. CC's a lot like me. If you don't have the cash, don't buy it; and if you do have the cash... well, don't buy it then either. It's not that they don't have nice things, they do; but they're very smart about how they go about acquiring them.
Janet and I make a pretty good team when it comes to managing finances. When we got engaged, she had some credit card debt, but she was meticulous about paying her bills on time and managing her credit score. I was big on saving and avoiding debt, but was a slacker when it came to paying bills on time. We've used our strengths to offset our weaknesses and come out largely ahead.
Overall though, I'm still quite disappointed. Though I've had some pretty dang good jobs, I've also had a few employment problems that have off-set the gains. I've seen my salary yo-yo back and forth, once climbing close to the six figure mark. However, I've also been hit by a couple periods of unemployment as well. When IBM layed off me and ten-thousand of my closest colleagues, I watched our savings melt faster than a sugar cube in the rain. More recently, I chose to leave SuckFactors rather than to risk a myocardial infarction. (What an absolute hell hole. I'll have to blog about that place one of these days.) And once or twice, Janet found herself on the short end of a layoff as well. Those types of situations haven't helped.
We've always kept our heads above water, kept saving for retirement, and never lacked for anything, but, dangit, I can't help but feel we should be in a better place than we are. My biggest beef right now is that we do have some debt at the moment. This fall, we had to have our furnace replaced unexpectedly. On top of that, in order to prepare for Janet's day-care business, we had to have a fence put up. Those two expenses weigh on my mind and I can't wait to get them paid off.
One major bright spot on our financial "portfolio", to use a fifty cent word that is better left to folks who dress way better than me, is our home. We bought it before the housing prices started to shoot up. I love the convenience of the location and the house itself, so there's no pressure to move, and we were smart enough to land a 15 year loan back a few years ago. Even with home prices falling, we're still way ahead of the game. I'll still be fairly young when our house is paid off.
What burns me is that we're in a golden period to buy property at low interest rates and low prices, but I'm not situated to capitalize on the moment. Grr. When some people are worrying about how to hang on to what they've got, I'm trying to scheme up a way to buy a second house, something I can rent out and make a buck or two on. Doesn't look like it's happening, unfortunately.
So, for now, I'm treading water and helping Janet set up the day care business. If things go well there, we'll be in good shape. I just can't help but feel we're a day late. I'm just glad I'm also not a dollar short.
But Christmas was great.
Both Janet's side of the family and mine kept things very low key. Janet's family chose not exchange presents because of the pain of having lost her mom just as few weeks ago. I tried to talk my family into not buying presents this year except for the children because we were all so broke. We discussed it, and we ended up having a grab as a compromise. Mom still spent more than she needed to, and probably more than she had to spend. That bugs me because my suggestion was largely aimed at trying to spare her from doing just that.
But what we each got was great. My favorite gift this year was an "antique" of sorts: a vintage Magic Shot Shooting Gallery, in an original box, from 1975. I loved this game when I was a kid. It was whizzer, and neato, and I was wicked good at it too. I could nail the clock, the bell, or put it a BB through the hoop consistently.
My nephew, The Nooch, got an exciting gift as well - a framed personalized autograph from Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. My sister and her husband spotted him in a coffee shop one morning and, after some hemming and hawing, she managed to work up the courage to walk over and ask for his autograph. Good work, Sue!
But the real news, of course is little Benjamin. He had his very first Christmas. As expected, he made off with lots and lots of loot ("phat lewts", for you Warcraft players out there). He sat on Santa's lap on Christmas Eve at the annual family get together, and of course, Christmas morning was complete sensory overload for the little guy. True to form, he was nonplussed, not crying, not laughing, but just taking it all in with that little look that says, "My, but what an interesting culture you have on this planet." We all tried to keep him entertained, but he just yawned, and kept observing us and taking notes in that little book of his. (One of these days I have to sneak a peak in that thing to see what he's writing about us.)
It was a good Christmas, one filled with pictures and toys, and memories - some good, some not so good - but a good Christmas overall.
Monday, December 22, 2008
"I am going to work" is obscure. Are you going to perform work or are you going to the place at which you perform work? "Work" works best as a noun or a verb. It fails to convey adequate meaning to be effective as the word to describe where the work is being done.
"Where do you work?"
"I work at work. In fact, I brought some work to work to work on."
See? Terrible, just terrible. The English language can do better than that.
I thought I had found a great term to use when, some time ago, I discovered the Latin term ergastulum. At the time, the definition provided said it was "a place where work is peformed." Perfect, I thought. I'll use that. So for a couple years I've used the word the word ergastulum to describe that place where I am employed, at least within my own head if not in conversation with others.
Unfortunately, upon reexamining the word today, I found a disheartening and more thorough definition of the word:
ERGAʹSTULUM was a private prison attached to most Roman farms, called carcer rusticus by Juvenal, where the slaves were made to work in chains. It appears to have been usually under ground, and according to Columella ought to be lighted by narrow windows, which should be too high from the ground to be touched by the hand. (1)
For me, I miss Margaret. My eyes fill with tears almost every time I think about her and the fact that we won't see her again this side of the veil. I feel that all the more so when I think that Janet no longer has her mom and that Benjamin will never know a person who loved him so terribly much, someone who did so much for him in such a short time. Ben, if these words persist until a time when you can read them and comprehend them, please know that there was someone who loved you so very, very much who you haven't yet met. Praise God that one day when this is all over, you will.
Quite literally, on her death bed, Margaret spoke with our Pastor on two occasions. On that second occasion, she made a profession of faith and claimed Jesus Christ as her savior. Had this not happened, I'm not sure any of us could endure her loss with the strength and patience that we have. It's the hope that we will see her again one day, and this time in paradise, with no fear of ever being separated again, that helps us (certainly helps me) carry on.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
It was tremendously sad. I think we're worn out from the emotion of it. I'd like to say more about this, and no doubt I will in the coming days. But... not now.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sometimes, when I'm bored, I'll try to turn my soul around inside my body.
It's a simple concept really. Everyone has a body, right? Well, inside of your body is your conscious self. You know you have it, you can't deny it. It's the thing that animates your body and gives it locomotion. The trick is to try to turn it around so it faces the other way.
Close your eyes. Close 'em.
OK, now --
Hey, I said close your eyes
OK, which way is front?
You can tell, can't you? You can't see which way you're facing, but you can still tell which way your front is even with your eyes closed. How?
Because your soul is lined up inside your body to face front. It's just naturally positioned that way so you can look forward through your eyes.
Now, close your eyes again. This time, try to turn your soul around so it's facing the other way inside your body. Try to turn your soul around to face the back of your head. Try it. Keep your eyes closed, otherwise you'll be distracted by your visual senses and you won't be able to focus on your consiousness. Obviously, it's not a natural position so it isn't easy. It takes some practice to get it right.
Just be careful you don't get stuck that way.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Yep. It was stuck.
Slowly, I inhaled.
I coughed. Nothing.
I coughed again. Nothing.
OK, this was becoming something of a "situation." Gently, very gently, I swallowed. The bone moved. It moved into a more painful and alarming position.
"Well, this sucks."
The thought came to me that I had just completed the American Red Cross CPR class in November. For just a moment I thought, "Excellent, I've been trained in this sort of thing." Then it occurred to me that my colleagues standing over my blue-skinned body may not have been.
I inhaled once more. My breathing passage was clear, but the bone was certainly making its presence felt.
My mind sprang into action running through a checklist of vital points:
- Was I wearing clean underwear? Check. (Thanks, Mom.)
- Was there anything incrimating or personal on my computer? I quickly closed YouTube and launched an official looking spreadsheet.
- Was there anyone around that I respected and whom I didn't want to see me flopping on the floor in paroxysmally? No, the coast was clear.
It was also clear that, one, the bone wasn't necessarily impeding breathing functions (yet) and, two, I wasn't going to be able to cough it back up. I had to do something and I had to act fast.
Since I couldn't swallow the bone, I swallowed my panic. Then, I reach out, pushed aside the coke, and grabbed a big forkfull of mashed potatoes. I gulped them down.
The mashed potatoes intercepted the bone like a wet blanket thrown over a cat. They enveloped it, subdued it, and pushed it down. It worked. I was saved.
I've torn up my Red Cross card. Instead, I am now a card carrying member of the Idaho Potato Farmers Union.
This Christmas season, Benjamin's first, has already gotten off to a disturbing beginning. The state of the economy is being likened to the Great Depression of the 1930s: Layoffs are being announced daily, people are losing their homes, and the heavy saddle of debt is a constantly looming concern for many households. But overshadowing this by many orders of magnitude is the dark spectre of Janet's mother's illness.
The diagnosis came last summer. A month before Benjamin was born, Janet's parents sat us down and informed us. The hope, with successful treatment, was five years. In short time, treatment was to begin, then to be followed by additional procedures. The former proved so devastating to her system that the latter was soon called into question and then, following an episode, ruled out entirely. The thread of life is now measured in weeks.
A casual glance toward the calendar places a fortnight devastatingly close to Christmas Day. No one wants to lose anyone they love, least of all anyone so dear as one's own mother; however, for so disconsolate an event to happen at this time of year compounds the situation and stains Christmas for years to come. And so, it's this darkness against which I am simultaneously bracing and fearing, that not only this Christmas, but the next, and the next, will be impacted by what we dread today. A baby boy ought not have to see his mother crying at Christmas time.
And so I will file into the concert hall at ENC tomorrow evening. I'm going to wear a tie and a jacket. I'm going to take a seat in the balcony, in the center. With luck, friends and family will join me. And there, with waves of sound inspired by the rushing wind of angel's wings swirling about me, I'm going to listen to Messiah. I'm going to let it lift me out of this sorrow and set me just a little closer to God. Just for a little while.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Janet & I spent Wednesday evening at her parent's house in order to help take care of Ma and to make it easier to prepare for dinner. They have a very nice place in one of those retirement communities. You could play nerf football in the bedroom, it's that big.
Dinner was delicious, though with the added complexity of caring for Ma and so forth, we kept it relatively simple. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes. (Note the complete absence of anything green in color. I am cry with teh sad.)
Assorted aunts & uncles were in attendance, some coming over for coffee & pie after dinner and a quiet relaxing time was had by all. Janet makes the best applie pie of all time. I've never heard anyone who's ever tried it disagree.
Sunday was a great day in itself too. We had a Baby Dedication service for Benjamin at church in the morning and then brought the family to the function hall at La Scala for a really great dinner buffet. Eggplant parmagiana, veal parmagiana, chicken marsala, ziti, and a great salad was the order of the day. Our guests were dually impressed, and I felt that special enjoyment I get from playing host to people I love.
So, where does the "heavenly peace" come in? That's what I'm feeling this morning in the wake of yesterday's family gathering. After so many years of attending gatherings for other family members and their kids and seeing how "complete" they seem to be, I now feel that same sort of peace myself within what I really can now call my own family. It's one thing to be married. Sure, that's a family, but when you've got your own child(ren), and your relatives are all gathered around to show their love and support, it's an order of magnitude better. At least it is for me. For me, it's a sense of peace that I haven't been able to experience before, and I'm really enjoying it.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I'm celebrating the day with Janet's family at their home here in Hanover. In fact, we spent last Night here so as to make it easier to do much of the cooking and caring for those in need.
Janet's mom had a stroke a week ago.
You can imagine the impact that has on a family during the holidays. But the worse part of it is that the stroke seems to be at least partially caused by cancer. Yes, she has cancer. One of the more serious forms that is highly resistant to treatment. One that carries with it an inevitable conclusion. Perhaps I'll address this further in another web log. But for now, let us stay with the matter at hand.
I think Thanksgiving has a special feel to it here in Massachusetts, being so close to the site of the first such event as celebrated by the colonists in this New World. It's more than just the history though. It's partially the foliage and the landscape itself. Maybe it's that the foods they ate are indigenous to the area and can readily be grown? Squashes, corn, beans, and the like.
I wanted to make traditional succatash this year. I doubt anyone would have liked it, frankly. I doubt even that I would have had more than a few bites myself. But it would have been fun to do it in the spirit of historical Thanksgivings.
I think the weather contributes also to the spirit of Thanksgiving here in Massachusetts. There is something in the air. To quote Agent Smith, "It's the smell." There is something about New England air that tells you quite accurately what time of year it is. Halloween has a smell, so does Thanksgiving. No, not the smell of food cooking. It's an outdoor smell. You know it when you sense it; in fact, you know it from childhood. That is the better part of any holiday, I think. The smell.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I've started a blog. And yes, it is as painful as I said it would be. However, it seems that there has finally come a point where I need (or at least am compelled to) connect to friends and family in an online manner that addresses my life in general sense, rather than in the various nitches (with aliases and pseudonyms) as I've done thus far.
So here it is. My life, in a sort of high level play by play, complete with rants, thoughts, musings, blessings, and events. Whether it will be read by anyone remains to be seen; nevertheless, here it is.