Sunday, July 30, 2006

summer doldrums

While reading a variety of blogs over the past few days, I noticed a common attitude that seems to have taken over the blogoshpere. Nearly everyone seems to be having a problem with motivation and energy, and the consensus is that the dog days of summer are to blame. The prevaling lassitude has made the task of blogging more of a chore than a delight.

I must confess to some of the same feeling. I have no dearth of subjects in mind to blog about, but finding the energy to actually sit down and write about those ideas is becoming more and more difficult as the heat of summer becomes more and more enervating. The past week has been especially difficult with the current heat wave sweeping across the area. In fact he entire country is suffering from the same heat wave, so at least we all have that in common as an excuse.

Personally, I find the summer months to be a tough time to stay consistent with blogging. Dividing our time between home and the lake cottage means that my access to a computer is limited, and so my ability to write here on this site is an occasional thing. And keeping up with all my usual blogging friends has become nearly impossible. I miss reading all of you and leaving the occasional comment. I feel somewhat out of touch.

I would much rather have the heat of summer than the cold of winter, but right now I find myself wishing for a spell of that cold air just so that I can make the excuse to stay inside and indulge myself with the blogging world. And as much as we complain about the heat and humidity around here, it is always good to remember that in January, when the snow is up to our eyeballs and the temperature is sinking north of zero, we'll be wishing we had more of these 90 degree days. I guess we are never really happy with the weather at any tme of year. If we couldn't complain about it, we'd have nothing to talk about.

Before sitting down at the desk today to blog, I thought my subject would be golf, a game that is a passion of mine. But I figured most of you would rather hear me complain about the weather than rhapsodize about golf. But consider this fair warning; one of these days I'm going to write about golf, maybe when the snow flies and the green of the golf course gives way to the dingy gray of winter. You've been warned.

Friday, July 28, 2006

in need of goats

When we arrived home last evening we were greeted by the unexpected length and lushness of our lawn. There has been an unusually copious amount of rain in southeastern Wisconsin over the past two weeks, resulting in the strange sight of healthy green, long and thick grass that would normally be brown and dry and mostly dormant during the month of July. And since we were at the lake for the past two weeks, I haven't been here to keep up with the growth. Now I am faced with hacking my way through the lawn until I can get it looking as though I care.

Adding to the anxiety of coping with the unusual state of my lawn is the real fear that the old riding mower, that has done the job faithfully, if not always well, will refuse to cooperate this time. The last three or four times it was called into service, it balked and stalled, and ran fitfully and somewhat reluctantly. I pampered it as best I know how-- clean airfilter, new sparkplug, fresh gas and oil--but not being a mechanic, or even remotely interested in things mechanical, my efforts were rejected by the mower as it gasped its way around the yard. Granted, it is a bit over 25 years old, and as the life expectancy of lawnmowers may be somewhat less than that, I guess it may be time to retire the old girl and flirt with a new and sexier model. But though I may be seduced by the shiny, shapely form of the pretty young thing on the showroom floor, I'm wise enough in my advanced years to realize that those young and pretty seductresses come at a cost that may be too high.

Given the condition of the lawn at the moment, though, any cost is probably acceptable. So if the old girl balks again, we may be out scouting the market for a replacement. It's time. But if we find the new to be too pricey, we may just look for a goat herd for hire to get this field looking properly suburban again.

So I am off to get started (or not), plowing my way through grass that is long enough to tickle my ass (and I'm standing on my tiptoes). If somehow I get lost between here and the garden shed, send out a search party and bury my remains somewhere that won't add any more fertilizer to the lawn.

Monday, July 24, 2006

used but not used up

She's threatening to throw out or burn my shoes. I have this old pair of sneakers that she wants to get rid of just because they are worn-out looking, scuffed and scratched, scarred and marred by the years of dedicated service they have supplied to me.

Aesthetics aside, they pliantly mold themselves to my feet like a second skin, and are oh so comfortable. I feel a certain sense of loyalty to them for the uncomplaining years of abuse to which I have subjected them. They have survived getting green stained from grass cuttings. They have tolerated muddy soles and soggy toes from my getting to close to the water on the lake shore. They wear the grease stain on the heel from my bike chain as a badge of honor. They have absorbed the juices from sweat soaked socks and bare feet as sustenance to keep them going, going, going strongly in service to my comfort.

Once pristine white when they emerged form their box, now they are faded and sad looking, their laces gray and somewhat frayed. Despite the sorry condition they are now in, I could no more toss them out than eat them. Why can't she see that?

Mary's need for order and cleanliness is the culprit. If it's dirty or dented, frayed, faded, or past its prime (and especially if it's mine), the witch with the disposal itch will hunt it down and banish it to the garbage heap. We have had many discussions (ok, arguments),about my inability to part with anything. I mean, I have wood scraps in my workshop, older than my first born child, that I refuse to give up. I may still have a pair of frayed bellbottoms from the 60's hidden in some secret cache she knows nothing about, that if found, would be immediately and mercilessly destroyed with unseemly delight, my protestations of sentimental value notwithstanding.

But just because someting is old and getting older, well-used, nearing or just beyond its expiration date, or past its youthful handsomeness, graying and a bit scarred from years of heavy duty, doesn't mean it should be so unceremoniously dicarded. Luckily her penchant for the ruthless culling of old and used and fading things applies, so far, to inanimate objects, because I think I just described myself.

I guess as long as I keep moving I'l be ok.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

grown up

This morning, while riding my bicycle down the road here at the lake, I was suddenly struck by the size of the trees alongside the road. I know, that sounds like a rather obvious observation, but what caught my attention is that I was unmindful of those trees for the longest time, and now there they were all grown up.

When we first bought this place 16 years ago the surrounding countryside looked a lot different than it does now. Sixteen years is a long time for things to grow and mature. Those trees along the road (some kind of evergreen) that got my attention this morning where only about a foot high back then, having just been planted by the county as an eventual windbreak. Now they are twenty feet high and nearly as wide, creating the windbreak they were planted for, as well as providing a genial habitat for all matter of critters. Why I didn't notice them before today is a mystery to me, but my inattention imparts a valuable lesson, I think.

All too often we proceed through our lives without taking notice of the day to day changes that occur in our lives. We fail to notice how things are growing and maturing until one day we are surprised at the changes that have taken place. All those 16 years ago, my two children were 13 and 9 years old. Now suddenly I look around and see mature adults, where little saplings stood before.

It's not that I was ignoring their growth into adulthood, but for some reason I still, and will probably always, regard them as my little kids. I think that is a parrent's perogative. But I can't ignore the changes that have taken place in their lives and mine, and certainly will have to accept those changes and, I hope, revel in them.

When those trees were planted they took a bit a nurturing and at least a minimum of care to survive and grow into the magnificent specimens they are now. My children are no different, except the amount of nurturing and care was a bit more extensive. The result is prety much the same; they are both now mature. They are both functioning as they should. They are both successfull in their lives. Trees and kids--pretty much the same.

And now that I've noticed how those trees have grown, I am certain to take a closer look at my kids and how they reached this stage of growth. While they were growing into the adults they are now, I'm sure I didn't notice the daily progression they went through. Suddenly there they were, full grown. Sure, there are tons of memories involved, both good and not so good, but still, all of a sudden all those years have passed and I feel like I didn'nt take quite enough notice of their passage.

Let that be today's lesson. When you plant a seed, care for and nurture it, and be mindful of the daily development of that seed. Be aware of each day's passage and the effect it has on that seedling. Notice every stage of delvelopment and revel in the maturing process. The care and nurturing of plants and kids is a serious undertaking. The end result is a strong and capable adult, mature and thriving. As parents and gardeners, we can ask for nothing more.

Just pay more attention along the way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

juxtaposition

This past weekend, while we were home for a few days from the lake, we decided to go to our favorite place, the Milwaukee Art Museum, to do a couple things, stay cool and be mentally refreshed as well. As we got closer to our destination, though, we were confronted weith an unusually large amount of traffic and a lot more people milling about than we expected. Obviously there was something going on along Milwaukee's lakefront that we were unprepared for. Apparently there was an air show going on that we didin't know about.

We still made it into the museum without too much trouble and then actually sat down inside the main paviliion and watched a few minutes of the air show from inside. We saw fighter jets of the Air Force Thunderbirds roaring past and doing some amazing flight stunts. I have to admit that I was immpressed by the technology that allows such machines to do those wondrous things and the skill and daring of the pilots to fly like that. But somehow I felt an unease watching those planes from my usually tranquil setting amid the works of art.

I couldn't help thinking that those planes were not really meant to entertain us, but rather to frighten us with the amazing might and power to destroy that they represent. At the same time that I was watching them fly over the lakefront, doing their maneuvers to dazzle the assembled crowd, I kept thinking about those same kind of planes screaming overhead in Lebanon and Israel, the GAza strip and over Iraq and Afghanistan, not to dazzle the crowds below, but too frighten them and terrorize them and destroy them. While those weapons of war scream overhead, the people on the ground scream in terror and seek shelter from the destructive onslaught. The sight of those planes doing their maneuvers can't be the least bit entertaining to those people.

I turned away with a feeling that seemed so out of place in those galleries that house such beauty and usually provide such peace and inspiration. Though we wandered the galleries and soaked in the art, there was a palpable sense of unease the whole time we were there. We returned home with a sense of dread at the world we live in, but thankfull also that we have those planes and pilots to protect us. I only wish that the people in those war torn parts of the world were watching an airshow meant to entertain them instead of watching the arrival of planes meant to destroy them.

Friday, July 14, 2006

down in the barbershop

It's been at least ten years since I last set foot in a real barbershop. In all that time I haven't just let my hair grow; I have gotten my hair cut, just not professionally. And no, I don't try to cut it myself. Mary is the designated barber in this relationship. She is definitely not a professional stylist, but as you can see from the picture, I'm not exactly "stylin."

Once upon a time I actually had longish hair, never shoulder length or ponytail possible, but long enough to be reasonably hip for the time. We're talking late 60's here and into the 70's. Then while still fairly young, in my 30's, I started turning gray.
That was not unexpected since both my parents were gray forever. I was never particularly vain about my hair color. I figure if you were meant to be gray, go with it.

As time went on, though, I got more and more annoyed with my hair, constantly having to comb it and wash it and cut it. Still, going to the barber was always an enjoyable experience back then. The shop I frequented had three barbers and a loyal clientel that made for a sometimes boisterous atmosphere filled with manly banter and the sometimes mildly off-color joke. The conversation always made for a lively half hour of testosterone laden commentary on the issues of the day. I guess it was worth the ten bucks I paid for the entertainment as well as the haircut. But as I got older, I became even less concerned with the way my hair looked, so those visits to the barbershop became more of a luxury than a neccesity. So I recruited Mary to become my live-in barber, since I decided that short is best, and anyone could run a clipper over my head and mow down the excess growth found there.

She took to the new chore with relish. I have on occassion questioned the wisdom of allowing her near my neck with a sharp object, but so far I haven't lost enough blood to worry about. The banter does leave a bit to be desired however. Now the conversation goes along the lines of, "why do old men grow so much hair in their ears? That's so gross. And your beard is so shaggy, why don't you trim it more often.
Your eyebrows are just creepy the way they get so long. You really have to do something about those nose hairs." All this from the woman who professes to love me.

I suppose saving the ten bucks (it must be closer to twenty by now) is worth the abuse I have to tolerate. Plus there is no tip involved. And occasionally I get to smack her on the ass when she gets too rambunctious. When was the last time you got to do that to your barber? And when was the last time your barber kissed you on the head when your haircut was done? I may have to reconsider that tip.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

senior moments

I don't really consider myself a "senior", although the AARP certainly is doing its best to convince me otherwise. I am daily inundated with information about all the things that should interest those people of a certain age: health insurance, life insurance, retirement communities that only the rich can afford, gizmos and gadgets of all kinds to make the old body feel like a young body, and of course the ever present ads for sexual enhancements because, you know, we old folks should still be able to get it on.

I don't know when I'll actually feel like I've earned the title "senior", but there are indications that I may be approaching that designation. Minor instances of insipient decrepitude are showing up more and more in my daily life. I do tend to get crabby when those damn teenagers drive by with their sound systems pounding out bass that trembles the walls. I get a little pissed when the newspaper is delivered in the driveway and not onto the porch. I do like to get my supper on the table by 5 or
5:30, but that's a habit born of Mary's need to eat by then because her work schedule has her eating her lunch at 10:30 in the morning. Still, that schedule allows me to take advantage of the daily dinner specials at the diner we like to frequent (free glass of beer with any entree before 6PM). And the increasingly common occurrances of short term memory loss that bedevil me are a true indicator of approaching senility.

That last is the most disconcerting and maddening to me. It seems I'm constantly forgetting from one moment to the next why I am headed in a certain direction, why I am standing in front of the open refrigerator door, why I stumbled down the stairs to the workshop, where I left the car keys, what store am I going to once I get into the car, and once I get there what was I supposed to buy. Names are a frequently a matter of some consternation. Just the other day I couldn't for the life of me remember the actor's name who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones. It took me a full day and night before I woke up to the name Harrison Ford tumbling out of the dusty reccesses of my cramped brain. The fact that I did eventually remember is a bright spot in my otherwse dark experience, but it is still a cause of concern.

They say that short term memory loss (I forget who said it), is a harbinger of senility or dementia. I don't see it as a negative though. I figure there will be fewer domestic spats in my future because I won't remember what started it all. I can simplify my menu choices since I won't recall what I had for dinner yesterday or what I had for breakfast or even if I had lunch. My wardrobe will be easy to maintain--just wear the same thing everyday since tomorrow I won't remember what I wore yesterday. I'll only have to remember one joke because I won't recall telling it to the same audience over and over.

I figure, look on the bright side. There are definite advantages to memory loss. After all, I'll be able to hide my own Easter eggs.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

star gazing

On these warm summer nights here at the lake, the clear skies allow an unhindered view of the myriad stars that share the heavens. Those same stars (at least they look the same to this man's remembering eyes) twinkled their sometimes bright, sometimes dim, light on us so many times before, while we sat in our chairs around a crackling bonfire, gazing skyward. Some of my most cherished memories revolve around those bonfires and twinkling stars.

From her early childhood on, Carrie, my daughter, and I have been accused of sharing a brain (admittedly she is using her half to greater advantage than her old man is using his half), since we always seemed to be communicating on a wavelength unavailable to those around us. We understood the vague references, both spoken and implied, that others could only shake their heads at while staring blankly in our dierction. Not that we ever noticed. Once we entered into our own shared world of conversation, the other world around us became a vague humming in the background. And some of our most memorable conversations took place next to one of those bonfires with those twinkling stars in attendance.

Leaning back, staring straight up, we would count the stars and then speculate about their continued existence or long ago firy demise, their leftover light just now reaching us. While engaged in such star gazing, we would leap into the vastness of the universe, trying to comprehend our own insignificance in that endless arena of life. Philosophical meandering came easily at those times, and we wandered the byways of philosophy freely engaged in the search for anything that indicated that we were actually here.

I recall that one time while tripping through the realm of discourse, freely bending the rules and blurring the lines between logic and supposition, we entered into a long and convoluted pathway with many left turns and cul de sacs, backtracking and restarts, forks in the road and right turns that became circles, as we tried to justify the existence of her little brother, my only son, Jonathan. Somehow we came to the irrefutable truth that he is derived from, and wholly made up of, goose poop. Trust me, it made complete sense then and, though I can't retrace the path that got us there, it still seems to make a certain twisted, but amusing, sense.

While I look above and continue my star count, I can't help but wish that Carrie was here to help with the tally. We have so many more truths to find. Carrie is planning a visit here in August and, if we can get our logic mojo working again, we may at that time have to revisit our conclusion about Jonathan. Over the years he has given ample evidence that he is so much more than mere fowl excrement. As I am certain that the stars will still be shining in August, their enduring light should be able to guide us along those meandering paths of philosophy and help us find the true meaning of goose poop.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

2 billion people can't be wrong

I tried. Really, I tried. I set aside an hour to devote specifically to the effort.
I embarked upon the self-assignment with an open mind, willing to condede the point, wanting to concede. But in the end, I was forced to admit that I was right all along with my initial assessment. Soccer sucks.

It went like this: a guy in a yellow jersey kicked the ball to another guy in a yellow jersey to his right. That guy turned around and kicked it to another yellow jerseyed guy behind him who then kicked it to a guy to his left who also wore a yellow jersey. The guy on the left then kicked it downfield in the general direction of another yellow jerseyed guy who had no chance to get to it, so a guy in a white jersey bounced it off his chest and then kicked it 40 yards back the way it came. And so it started again. Every now and then the white jerseyed guys would get to pass it back and forth and downfield where inevitably the yellow jerseys would steal it and head the other way. Occasionally, one of the goalies, who wore whatever color jersey their mothers put out for them that morning, would grab the ball and either toss it, roll it, or kick it back the way it came. There didn't seem to be any particular reason for his choice or propulsion other than whim. Sometimes a whistle would blow and everyone would shuffle around and catch their breath while one of the players would arbitrarily place the ball on the ground and then kick it somewhere where everyone would chase it again.


Variations of the above continued for the full hour I subjected myself to. The game had been going on for about half an hour when I turned it on, so for 90 minutes that aerobic exercize went on for no apparent reason. NOTHING HAPPENED. Sure, occasionally the ball would be kicked in the general direction of the goal, but it would invariably sail wide left, or way wide right, or so high over the goal that a 7 footer standing on Yao Ming's shoulders would have needed a long broom handle to reach it. Granted, the players exhibited noteworthy and admirable skill in the way they kicked the ball among themselves, but it was just an exhibition. NOTHING HAPPENED.

What is all the excitement about? Watching a bunch of guys, the most skilled of whom had only one name, was as interesting as watching the grass grow in my backyard. If there was any stategy involved, it was well disguised. I am not totally bereft of athletic intelligence, but I was unable to find any purpose in the frenetic milling about. Kick it, chase it. Kick it, chase it. What am I missing? Apparently 2 billion people can be wrong. Soccer sucks.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

celebrations

Here at the lake the 4th of July holiday celebrations began with the start of the weekend on Saturday. The local town had the usual small town parade, kids with their bicycles and tricycles decorated, local veterans proudly marching mostly in step, the typical antique cars all shined up for the occasion, a few musicians representing a band of some sort, and even a few tacky, but well meaning, clowns tossing stale candy left over from previous parades to the excited kids along the curb. The real excitement arrived later at dusk when the fireworks were finally set off and everyone could oooh and ahh at the display of red, white, and blue patriotism. The fact that the actual 4th of July was still three days away did nothing to dampen the enthusiastic response and civic pride. As far as fireworks go, the small town effort was charming enough, but woefully lacking in the excitement department to these more big city eyes. Still, the pride in their show of patriotism was well evident and uplifting for all that.

On the lake itself, the display of fireworks over the next three evenings was awe inspiring simply for the effort and expence that people will go to to show off. I greatly appreciate the trouble they all went to to entertain me while I sat on my deck overlooking the lake. A few doors to the left we were treated to a few rockets red glare and a bunch of sparkling bursts of ground flares. To the right, a large family gathering vied for our attention with a more elaborate display of sky brightening explosions. But the greatest effort to burn ten dollar bills and throw them up into the sky came from a cottage directly across the lake from us on the south shore. A display of fireworks to rival even the muninciple effort was put on to entertain us. We had a front row seat for all of it and even did a bit of oohing and aahing ourselves. It sure ws nice of those rich folks to burn their money for our benefit. I felt like the Baron of the fiefdom, perched on my deck, allowing my minions to entertain me. Nice bunch of serfs they are.

Though we didn't set off any of our own foreworks, we did proudly fly our flag and decorated the planters on the deck with little flags. Mary found a lighted red, white, and blue star for the window to add that bit of extra color to the night. The only thing missing from our holiday was the company of our children. Carrie of course is in California. Jon stayed home to party with friends, who were also celebrating Katie's birthday on the Fourth. So we were left to remember past Fourths of July while watching the fireworks around us. There's always next year.