Tuesday, March 24, 2015

our return home

It has now been a week since we returned from our Florida vacation.  The return flight was uneventful--just the way I like it. We left 80* and sunshine and arrived home to 35* and clouds, with a nice brisk Wisconsin breeze that effectively lowered the temperature even more.  But, you know what, who cares.  We were home.  And if being home meant freezing any exposed parts of our bodies, that was just fine.  We were home.

One of the best ways to arrive home is to have someone familiar there to greet you at the airport.  We were fortunate to have good friends here to welcome us home.  Tom and Jean were actually returning the favor we had done for them a few weeks ago when we had our turn to be the greeters and met their plane when they came home from their vacation. They put a bit more effort into their greeting, though. 

Tom was standing in the baggage claim area waiting for us so he could help us retrieve our luggage from the carousel.  (I could have done it, but I probably would have hurt myself). But that’s Tom--always willing to step up and help without making a fuss. While they waited for us to arrive, Jean kept driving the circle route around the airport so there would be no parking fee to pay. On time and frugal.  That’s the way we like our friends.

Once we had the car loaded up and were driving away from the airport, we felt the full realization of being home.  Familiar sights, familiar people, and the sense of contentment those bring, make going on vacation for 3 weeks just an excuse to return and feel good about being home.

As we drove into our driveway, the feeling that all was right with the world settled in.  But every saga of travel and returning has to have a glitch, even just a small one, to ensure that the transition back to real life is authentic.

“Honey, why don’t you open the garage door so that we can get inside and unlock the side door from inside,” she suggested. We had to get inside to open the side door because the storm door was locked from inside with no key to open it from outside.

“Remind me again what the code is,” I asked.  
She gave me the string of numbers to punch on the pad that would magically slide the door up, giving us access to our home sweet home. Nothing happened when I punched in the numbers.  Not unusual. It often takes two or three tries to get the pad to cooperate.  But after a dozen tries, with no positive result, even the most optimistic would have to agree that there was something wrong here that continual poking at the keypad would not resolve.

Tom suggested that maybe the battery was dead and installing a fresh one would solve the problem. But, of course, all the batteries in the world would do no good if they were LOCKED IN THE HOUSE. Tom, being the problem solver he is, suggested we go to the hardware store and buy a new battery. So we all piled into the car once more and drove the 1/4 mile to the hardware store, purchased a couple batteries, and returned to the uncooperative opener, sure that we had the solution.  

I installed the new battery.  I punched in the code numbers. Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Mary tried it.  Nothing.  Tom tried it.  Nothing. Even Jean gave it a shot.  Nothing.  Then, for no apparent reason, the garage door magically , if mysteriously, opened.  Apparently someone up there took pity on us.

“Mary, why don’t you go in and unlock that side door so we can get in that way with these suitcases. I don’t want to scratch the cars by squeezing between them.” I said while I started to drag one suitcase behind me on the walkway to the side door.  When I got to the door I reached for the handle and gave it a twist and pulled the door open.  Then I twisted the knob on the entry door, opened it and stepped inside just as Mary entered from the garage to unlock the door for me.

Startled at seeing me already inside, she stammered the question both of us were thinking.  “How did you get in? I haven’t unlocked that door yet.”
We both panicked for a couple heartbeats, racing round the place to check if anything was missing or amiss.  But everything was just as we had left it three weeks before.  

It seems that the last one out that door had failed to lock it behind him/her in the hurry to get going.  We don’t remember who was responsible for the potential disaster that could have greeted us. So we agreed to not scream imprecations and yell about the low IQ that enabled such a stupid oversight to occur.  We were so relieved that everything was safe and sound and that our home wasn’t violated that we sighed a “thank you” to St. Joseph, who, we believe has protected and guided us and stood beside us during the whole buying and selling and moving process that has demanded all our attention for the past 6 months. 

So our vacation was an unqualified success from beginning to end. Back to normal with the house key in my pocket where it belongs and a new garage door keypad that works.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

a piece on pizza

Saturday night pizza is almost a religious experience around here. It's almost like going to Mass on saturday night, an obligation, almost a requirement to get into heaven. We've found that Papa Murphy's large Special Italian Pizza more than fits the religious obligation we try to observe. It goes without saying that the pizza is treated with the utmost respect, being akin to manna from heaven. The oven is always properly preheated with the oven rack in the optimum position to insure a perfect pizza for the congregation. 
So when something somehow goes wrong during the whole process, it's a near sacrilege, a shove down the slide into Dante's Inferno, where pizza is always over or under baked, eaten with a fork with no beer to wash it down.  Abuse a Saturday Night Pizza and you will be summarily condemned to eat only nutritious health food from from the natural food store for the remainder of your days.
Well you can say bye to Yours Truly. I am surely on the rim of the inferno, teetering on the edge of condemnation. I committed the most grievous of sins against the holy pie. I DROPPED THE PIZZA! First it slid off the rack when I tilted the rack to free it from the oven, sliding right into the back of the oven and onto the heating coils, threatening to set the whole pizza on fire. So, after flinging the rack on the kitchen floor (a wood floor naturally, which now sports a lovely pattern of burned lines that will torment me with the visual reminder of my sinning), I grabbed the nearest thing on hand to rescue the sacred pie from such a horrible fate. The towel I grabbed somehow got tangled up with the pizza and heat coils, causing a screaming deluge of very naughty words, as both flickered into pretty red and orange flames. But despite suffering a burn on my little finger, I managed to grab a substantial amount of boiling hot pizza and with a shout of hallelujahs, dragged it from its certain fate as a burned up lump of tomato sauce and various vegetables, and most grievous of all, charred bits of pepperoni. 
Unfortunately, in completing the rescue operation, I tossed the pizza onto the floor. Upside down.

I immediately invoked the 5 second rule, multiplied by 20, so we could still eat it if we were so inclined. Understand now, Mary's floors are always ready to serve as a table, being so clean they are nearly sterilized regularly as part of her routine cleaning. I had no problem scraping the detritus of ruined pizza off the floor and into my mouth once I stopped yelling blasphemous curses at it, at Mary, at myself, and at the kitchen gods who allowed such a travesty to happen. In my defense, the oven was really hot, I am particularly clumsy, and don't forget that burned little finger I mentioned. I could play the PD card here, but that seems too much like whining for sympathy. It's just that pizza toppings separated from the crust they adorned so deliciously only 20 minutes ago, could no longer be classified as pizza, but could only be referred to as a casserole.

Saturday is not the holy experience it should be when all you have to celebrate and worship with is a casserole. Granted, it was a pizza casserole, but we all know it's just not the same. As I scraped the scattered remains off the floor, off the sides of the cabinet, and off the bottom of my shoe into a pathetic pile, I begged absolution for my mortal sin committed against that divine cuisine. Everyday, until I can look at the floor where the marks of the battlefield are burned into a reminder of this infamous evening, I will taste burned pizza and see that forlorn lump of once proud blended ingrediants that had the holy honor of gracing our Saturday night.

RIP Papa Murphy's Special Italian Pizza.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

getting homesick

After being here in Florida now for the past two weeks, we are faced with returning home to our reality in a couple more days. Everything here seems somewhat unreal. Actually, when you think about it, it is unreal for us. Our reality is 1400 miles north of here. This is an alternate universe for us.
The semi-tropical climate is certainly unreal for a born and bred Wisconsinite. Palm trees are everywhere for crying out loud. How weird would that look in your backyard in Milwaukee? And shoveling sand instead of snow is not nearly as satisfying a tweek at Mother Nature. 

On the east side of Wisconsin we do have a reasonable substitute for the Gulf of Mexico in Lake Michigan. Granted, Lake Michigan is probably a thousand times smaller, but you can't see across it and it does have some impressive wave action at times. So call it a wash as far as water goes.
The architecture here and at home has only the term "architecture" in common. Here the buildings are mostly vertical and made of concrete and painted hideous shades of pastels. At home the architecture is so varied that to generalize about it is impossible. But our eyes are treated to such a variety of styles around every corner that we are spoiled by the cornucopia of stimulating eye candy that our northern climate demands of its buildings.
There is constantly so much construction along the Gulf coast that it seems that every day a new high rise sprouts up like another phallic weed, obstructing the view of that beautiful body of water that you only get to see if you can pay a ridiculous amount of money to ride up in an elevator to your apartment in one of those new phallic weeds. If I lived here year round, I would get up every morning wondering if "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Yes, Florida is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. This can remain our alternate universe, to be used occasionally to help us renew our appreciation for the real world we live in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

gardian angel

I met, or I should say encountered, Jeremy the first time under unusual conditions. He is a former soldier with 13 years of service and 3 tours in Afghanistan and PTSD. He was working across the street as a carpenter's helper on a remodeling project. He was one of the first to arrive to help. His manner when he got to the scene was one of caring and concern and reassurance that it would be alright. His voice was filled with competent authority. The others on the scene readily accepted his authoritative leadership and allowed him to do what he knew was necessary.  
One of the others was the woman and her daughter who occupied the cottage in front. She (let's call her Mary) was closest to the scene and responded to the pleas for help upon hearing the first cry. She was tenderly concerned, but out of her depth in that situation. Still, she exuded a calming tenderness. By the time Jeremy was there to take over, Mary was relieved to hand control of it off to someone else. In the "it's a small world" category, it turns out that (Mary) is from Greenfield originally and her brother, who lived just a few blocks away from us and from whom we almost bought replacement windows in the old house, has two sons, the oldest of whom was a classmate of our son in high school. But I digress.

 Meanwhile, as Jeremy was assessing the situation, another passerby (we'll call him David) noticed the commotion and stepped into his official mode as a former paramedic and now anesthesiologist. He checked vital signs while Jeremy checked for broken bones. When both were satisfied that all was ok, David took his leave allowing Jeremy to maintain vigilance and control until the wife (let's call her Mary) arrived from the beach after one of the good Samaritans called her, using the contact list in the phone found at the scene.
By now you must be wondering how I know all this. I was the central character, the star, in the drama. I broke all the rules that my physical therapist, my occupational therapist, and most important of all, my wife had laid down for me.

One of those rules prohibited my carrying ANYTHING, EVER, even when using my cane or walker, because my lack of balance was gone and carrying anything exacerbated the danger of my falling down. But I figured I was stronger and more coordinated than I was. How stupid. So I loaded a beach chair, a towel, a bag of chips (we will leave the discussion of my poor eating habits for another time), my iPad, and a cane into my arms and set off to join Mary on the beach. I was doing fine until I had to maneuver around a tree which was growing in the middle of the walkway between the cottage wall and fence. Something I was carrying got snagged by that tree which, of course, caused me to lose what little balance I still have. 

I went down hard. I reached for the fence, but missed. I broke the fall with my face, but managed not to break my sunglasses, my nose or anything else. All that yelling for help came from me, of course. The funny thing is that I never opened my eyes to see who was helping me. I attribute that to a possible slight concussion. I couldn't get up and walk. I was too woozy and lightheaded and still hadn't opened my eyes. Mary, of course, couldn't help me up and certainly couldn't carry me back into the cottage. So once again Jeremy picked me up,flung me over his shoulder like a rag doll, and carried me into the cottage and deposited me on the couch.The remainder of the day was spent with me on the couch where Mary cleaned up the scratches on my face and leg and lectured me about those rules I am supposed to follow.

The next day all I wanted to do was sleep. And so I did until late afternoon. I was determined to find and thank all those wonderful people who answered my cries for help. I found them all and gave them my heartfelt gratitude. I especially wanted to find Jeremy whose army training had prepared him for such an occurrence. Everyday as I walk down the street, he hails me from the work site to ask how I'm doing. I believe he has become my guardian angel.

If there is a moral to this story it is follow the rules and don't plant trees in the middle of the walkway.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

go badgers

I am an unapologetic Wisconsin Badgers fan.
UW is my alma mater as well as Mary's. Both of our kids matriculated there as well. We are all proud UW alumni.  Those three family members, however, are not the crazy, loud, nervous, uptight, critical, sufferers that I am when the Badgers play a game, any game. Most of my vociferousness comes when they are engaged in a football or basketball game. I would conduct myself the same way even if they were playing tiddly-winks against the Third Grade Varsity Winkers from Yahoo City. I scream, cuss and use bad language whenever they are on the field, any field, wearing red and white. And that's when they are winning whatever contest they are in. You don't want to be in the same county with me if my beloved Badgers are losing the game, any game.
So you can well imagine what my demeanor was like today when the Badgers were playing Michigan State for the Big Ten Basketball Championship. The game was not going particularly well for my team in the first half and I was getting more and more upset at the turn of events. And then....NOTHING. I mean the TV I was watching just up and quit. Went blank. No picture or sound. It was a useless large paperweight.

This happened just before halftime with the score something like 26-22 in the Spartans' favor. I was not doing too well with my beloved Buckys not playing as well as they are capable of playing, so a good portion of my animus was aimed in their direction. I was running in circles and jumping up and down and screaming obscenities at the TV, at the engineers at CBS, who I figured must have tripped on the extension cord and pulled it from the wall in the broadcast booth, and at anything and anyone that had the temerity to cross into my world.  While I was ranting and raving and doing nothing to correct the situation, Mary was on the phone calling Melissa and Valery, the two women who run this place to find out how we could correct this nightmare. It turns out that the entire block was powerless due to something that no one wanted to take the credit for. After Melissa found out what the problem was, my entire being concentrated on a way to circumvent this technological snafu.

My first thought was that I had a car sitting at the curb, cars have radios, so I spent the next ten minutes trying to find a station that might just be affiliated with CBS and would be sending the appropriate airwaves to my car's radio. No such luck. 
After another round of cussing out the powers that be, I was near tears thinking that all was lost, including the game. I'm not sure what was worse: the Badgers losing, or my not being able to witness that loss.
Then a miracle happened. Melissa turned into an angel of mercy who just happened to have an iPhone that she said she could get the game broadcast on, and I could use it if I wanted until the power was restored and the world was back on its axis. She even connected a small speaker to the iPhone so I could hear it better. By this time the game was midway through the second half, the Badgers were trailing by 11 points and it looked like the dream season they were having up til now was going in the dumpster. 
I was yelling and screaming my support for my team while feeling that it would all be in vain. But these Badgers are no ordinary Badgers. They proceeded to make the greatest comeback in Wisconsin history to send the game into overtime and the Spartans into shock. The result of the overtime is already well known. Wisconsin was awarded the #1 seed in the West regional of the NCAA tournament.
As the game wound down my voice got stronger and louder. I wanted everyone on the street to know that MY team had won and my whooping and hollering was my way to celebrate their performance. I also wanted to hug Melissa for coming to my rescue with her generous lending of her iPhone and speaker.
My voice is shot. My nerves are frayed. My pride in my team is overwhelming. My anticipation of the coming NCAA tournament is going to keep me on edge for awhile. God I love this time of year when Basketball reigns supreme. My survival is in doubt, but what a way to go.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

sandy beach

What is it about sandy beaches that attracts us so?
We've come to this area of warm sunshine, ocean views, and white sandy beaches repeatedly over the past 30 years, the first 15 with our kids, and then just the two of us, until now, when I find myself once again sitting on a chair with its legs stuck in the sand, the shade umbrella tilted just so to ward off the too windy conditions for sitting on the beach, with my back to the wind, eyes squinting to moderate the bright sun reflection off the too hot sand, accompanied by m,y favorite wife #1. This scenario is so familiar to us that when the time comes to plan our annual spring vacation,all we have to do is fill in the dates and our preferred mode of transportation and somehow we always end up back here, in a cottage 40 yards from the beach and the sand that beckon us with their familiar harmonizing siren song.

What is it about sandy beaches that makes any time spent there an auxiliary to one of Dante's rings of hell? Why do we keep returning to the sunburn that bakes us an unnatural color not seen anywhere else in nature and is so dangerous to our health. Why do we return, like the swallows to Capistrano, to the discontent we suffer when that sun that boils our blood, fails to appear on the inevitable cloudy day. Why do we insist on returning to the irritable abrasion of sand in our shoes, causing blistered feet and lots of whining. And how does that scraping, grinding, abrasive devil's powder migrate into the remotest cracks and crevasses of our heretofore smooth and comfortable bodies, giving us scrapes and scratches that leave us groping, reaching for unreachable places while trying to sooth the body parts that have been assaulted by that insidious intruder, causing egregiously embarrassing contortions that would be x rated if there was a rating system for such acrobatics.
So choose your poison and pleasure carefully, knowing you will have to take the bad with the good. Now go and clean the sand off your feet before coming in the house.

Friday, March 13, 2015


While walking from shop to shop downtown (actually Mary was doing the walking and shopping from shop to shop. I was doing the shuffling and bench sitting from shop to shop) I was particularly enjoying all the pithy sayings, aphorisms, puns, wisecracks, jokes, advice, and other general nonsense that was printed, embroidered, carved, etched, chiseled, appliqu├ęd, or somehow attached to the various wooden objects, stones, cups, plaques, pillows, t-shirts, signs, statues, knickknacks, beach towels, and any other surface that was available to the tchotchke maker. Someone is losing a lot of sleep at night by spending valuable time thinking up this stuff. I shouldn't care who is responsible for the production of all this lower cast landfill material or how this closet clutter is created. I could be less concerned about those who buy this detritus except for my dismay at the unmistakeable ratcheting sound of the collective IQ plummeting lower with each sale.
Still, given my anti-stupidstuff stance, I have to admit to getting a laugh or two as I tried to disassociate myself from the crowd on the sidewalk. But funny is funny. One of my favorites seen today:  Marriage is like a deck of cards. At first it is all hearts and diamonds, but later it's about clubs and spades."Or how about Mary's favorite seen on a restaurant:"Shirt and shoes required. Bras and panties optional."And no, I don't think I lost any gray matter reading and laughing at those.