Thursday, May 29, 2008


She never had a clue. The surprise was total. Her reaction was priceless. Her surprise birthday party was both a party and a surprise. It couldn’t have worked out better.

About three weeks ago I figured I had to do something special for Mary’s birthday this year. After all, your 60th birthday is something of a milestone, not unlike your thirtieth. At thirty you pass into real adulthood; at 60 you pass into senior adulthood. So it is definitely worth noting in some special way.

I am not usually one to take notice of birthdays and anniversaries. In fact I have landed in the doghouse any number of times for forgetting some special occasion that I didn’t think was so special. I don’t typically do the card thing or lavish presents on the celebrant. I’m not cheap, just indifferent. I hate it when anyone makes a big deal out of my birthday, so I would be a hypocrite to treat others the way I don’t want to b treated.

But for some reason I thought some special effort was required this time. Sixty is a milestone worth noting. So I jumped in with both feet and started planning a surprise party for her. I have never done anything like this before so I was flying blind here. The first thing I did was contact the people I knew she would love to see there. I had to judge if there was actually any interest. Everyone I contacted was thrilled to be part of the surprise. So now I had to actually come up with some kind of party.

The next concern was the best time to spring this surprise on her. Since her birthday was actually on May 19th ( see, I’m not a total loser. I do know when her birthday is), and we were in California that weekend, I had to find another weekend when everyone would be able to be there. Since Memorial Day weekend was the next weekend, figured most people would have some flexibility with the extra day off. So I settled on Sunday and everyone seemed good with that.

The next question was where to have this shindig. Memorial Day weekend is typically spent at the lake, so if this surprise was going to be a surprise I figured we couldn’t deviate from the norm. So Sunday at the cottage was the place to be. The fact that our lake cottage is a two hour drive away didn’t deter any of the intended guests. I think the fact that they were all willing to make that effort for Mary says a lot about how much they think of her.

Most parties like this require food and refreshments of some kind so that was my next concern. Since this is Wisconsin, you can’t have an outdoor picnic without brats and hamburgers as the main entrĂ©e. I think it may actually be against the law to not serve brats anytime there are more than three people in a backyard. So brats and burgers was the obvious choice. I ran to the deli and scored a cheese tray and a veggie tray and bought a whole truckload of junk food snacks. Since most of the expected guests were winos, I bought a case of various wines to satisfy that vice and added some beer for those of us who favor more traditional liquids with our brats. Naturally I threw in some sodas for the younguns and teetotalers in the crowd.

Next problem—logistics. I couldn’t just load the van for the weekend with all the party goods and not expect her to see them and know something was up and spoil the surprise. So despite $4 gas, I made a quick run up to the cottage on Thursday to deliver the food and drink. I put most of the stuff in a cabinet in the garage that she would never think about going into. The food that needed refrigeration I put in the neighbor’s refrigerator. I drove the 2 hours there, spent twenty minutes unloading, and drove two hours back to be home before she came home from work . When she asked me what I did that day, I told her I vacuumed the house and washed the floors. Ok, so I told a little white lie. It was for a good cause.

Sunday arrived right after Saturday the way it always does. Jon and Katie (son and daughter-in-law) came up on Saturday so Jon and I could get in a round of golf. They told Mary that they had to leave by noon on Sunday to go to a friend’s picnic back home. So at noon they got in their car with their stuff and their dog and drove out of the driveway. They actually just went to town to buy the ice we needed for the drinks. I had arranged with our next door neighbor, Judy (Mary’s best friend in the whole world), that she would take Mary out for lunch at noon on Sunday so we could get her out of the way for an hour or so. That also solved the problem of getting Mary dressed and presentable since she likes nothing better than to lounge around on Sunday in her pajamas, reading the paper and drinking her coffee. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed as well as surprised, so lunch with Judy solved two problems. We had some serious party prep to take care of while they were gone.

As Judy drove Mary out of the driveway for their lunch, I was on the phone calling Jon and Katie giving the code “the hen has flown the coop”, so they would know it was ok to return. Then while I grilled the brats and hamburgers, they decorated the place and got all the other food out and prepared. Pete from next door brought over a bunch of extra lawn chairs that he had cleaned up for the occasion. I stapled the sign I had made to the mailbox so the guests would know they were at the right place. We managed to get pretty well organized by the time the first of our guests arrived at 1:15.

By t he time Judy brought Mary back from lunch most of the partiers were there. As they drove in the driveway Mary saw the sign and it didn’t really register that she was going to be the center of attention. Then the first person she saw standing in the driveway was her brother, Joel, whom she hadn’t seen for three years. She gasped, screamed, bent over at he waist crying in joy and excitement and proceeded to nearly break his spine with a hug. It still hadn’t dawned on her that there was anything more unusual than a visit from her brother going on. Then as she noticed more people in the driveway and on the deck greeting her with birthday wishes she finally got the idea. But the surprise wasn’t over just yet. She thought she had seen everyone there when she walked into the cottage and three of her good teacher friends and colleagues from school were hiding in the kitchen waiting for her. She shrieked in astonishment and literally wet her pants. (I promised not to tell that part, but I lied) By then she realized that all this was for her and she settled into the party, enjoying being the center of attention. As the afternoon progressed, more friends arrived starting the cries of surprise and joy all over again. Just witnessing her reaction was worth all the effort that went into making this a celebration she won’t soon forget.

My efforts on her behalf also garnered me scads of husbandly points. I may actually be on the positive side of the ledger for the time being. I am enjoying her grateful attentions. Unfortunately, a sixtieth birthday only happens once, so I will have to come up with some new excuse for throwing a party or some way to stay in her good graces for awhile. It was all worth it and I would do it all again just to see her joy once more.

Friday, May 23, 2008

wedding weekend

So here we are back in the real world after last weekend’s sojourn into the realm of the super rich. It’s ok, we were invited.

Mary and I were on the privileged guest list for the wedding of our son’s best friend since their preschool days. Dom was really another member of our family during all those years of growing up. He spent nearly as much time with us as he did with his mother. His father was only sporadically involved in Dom’s life, so he became another son to me. I tried to fill in the gaps as best I could. Dom spent many a holiday with us and joined us on many family vacations. Like I said, part of the family.

So it stands to reason that when his wedding day arrived, he included us in the celebration. His bride, Marie, is a wonderfully intelligent, sweet, and lovely young woman. And she has the added advantage of being the only daughter of an excessively wealthy father. Thus our brief peek into the world that we could only dream about before.

Jack, the bride’s father, was intent on giving his daughter the most lavish and unstinting wedding ever imagined. And he was generous enough to make sure that all those invited were treated with the same lavishness. He provided accommodations and all meals and entertainment for the entire weekend at the Post Ranch Inn on California’s Big Sur coast for everyone invited to the wedding. All we paid for was the plane fare to get there.

To say the staff at the Inn was attentive and accommodating to our every need is an understatement and does them a disservice. I could get used to being treated that way very easily. The accommodations were beyond what any human could ever wish for. Our suite, with a wall of windows facing the ocean, had a very private patio and a bed with a mattress so thick I needed a step stool to get up onto it. And the view from our “room” of the craggy Big Sur cliffs tumbling into the endless Pacific was beyond imagining.

We arrived Friday late afternoon after driving down from SanFrancisco in time for the barbecue hosted by Dom’s mother. That is, they called it a barbecue. But I have never been to a “barbecue” that sported a phalanx of chefs, their toques bobbing in the breeze, serving up five star cuisine instead of hot dogs and bratwurst and hamburgers. I’m sure the delicacies they presented to us had names that only a Frenchman could pronounce or understand. And not a ketchup bottle in sight.

Saturday morning we were treated to a breakfast prepared by another line-up of whltely clad chefs whose only mission in life was to prepare the perfect omelet to sit next to the perfect waffle on a dinner plate that weighed more than my first car. They succeeded. That breakfast was consumed in the restaurant that provided a heart stopping view through a wall of glass of that same Pacific Ocean that was last seen from our bed that morning, when the glittering water was reflecting off a fog bank well below our lofty perch on the mountainous shore. That freakin ocean was everywhere. And more beautiful each time we looked.

After breakfast Mary and I got the hedonist’s dream treatment when a pair of masseuses (masseusae?) set up shop on our patio overlooking that same ocean (once again) and proceeded to knead muscles in our bodies that before then had been lying concealed below our comfortable padding of, shall we say, excess avoirdupois.
Such a lovely mugging. For me that was all I could handle for the day and I was ready to pass out happily on the 18” thick mattress that managed to lull, enfold, and caress all at the same time, but I feared that I might wake later to find it was all a dream and that the ocean and the rocky coast I had been marveling at were really a pile of rocks and a driveway puddle outside my window at home. So I stayed awake and refused to give chance to such a possibility.

The wedding itself later Saturday afternoon was, of course, beautiful and emotional and full of love, just as all weddings should be. After the ceremony and the obligatory hugging, congratulatory handshakes, and thousands of pictures, the bride and groom were trundled away to the reception dinner by a horse drawn carriage, which was led down the mountainside to the meadow below by the bridesmaids who threw flower petals in its path. A little excessive, but it beat walking behind the horses.

All we mere guests had to settle for a ride down that same path in one of a squadron of black hybrid Lexuses (Lexi?). The wedding dinner and reception were held in a tented pavilion of copious enough proportions to suit a major Rajah. The chandelier twinkled, the flowers scented the air, the orchestra backgrounded quietly, and the champagne flutes contained happy little bubbles that just wouldn’t quit. There was an excess of wine glasses for each place setting and the place settings themselves involved more utensils of various sizes than our entire silverware drawer at home. The wine glasses were of a dizzying array of shapes and sizes and, through the course of the evening, put to good use, although after the third glass full I lost track of how many different wines I actually tasted or even what color the wine was that I was imbibing. It all tasted good so who cares. I ran out of fingers counting the courses served for dinner and was only mildly dismayed that I couldn’t pronounce most of the names on the menu. It may have been the wine clouding my ability to decipher the printed words there or it may have just been beyond the capability of my high school French. I did notice some words that looked suspiciously like snails and truffles and I’m quite sure that caviar appeared somewhere on the menu. After four hours of fine dining, interrupted occasionally by the newlywed’s first dance, the bride’s dance with her father, the groom’s dance with his mother, the parents of the bride dancing together, the father of the bride and the mother of the groom dancing together, and any number of variations that you can imagine all dancing, dancing, dancing across the floor, I was so sated that I never wanted to see another morsel of frenchified hooha.

By ten o’clock in that overstuffed evening, when the orchestra retired and the raucous blarings of the DJ took over, I was ready for that big old comfy mattress that waited patiently to swallow me up in its embrace. I managed to hold out for another hour, even venturing out onto the dance floor amid the gyrating young bodies there. I used my cane to clear a space for my Parkinsons shuffle, which was surprisingly in sync with the beat of most of the hip hop songs vibrating the air. I may not be the greatest dancer, but I can still keep a beat despite the sometimes dissynchronous twitch and tremor. It’s not like anyone was paying attention to me, so I had a great time. Especially when the music slowed down and I could embrace my own bride of thirty-nine years and stroll across the dance floor with her just as we did at our own wedding so long ago.

We left the party with still an hour to go and with the younger revelers still with energy to burn and retired to that mattress. But not until another bit of hedonistic indulgence in the whirlpool tub in our suite. I’ll spare you the details, but we were very friendly and very wet. You can take it from there.

Sunday morning came too soon, but that ocean was still there, impossibly blue and shimmering, dazzling our eyes while the breakfast chefs dazzled our palates. Sunday’s breakfast was one last occasion to wish the newlyweds well and to thank Jack for his generosity and hospitality. Dom, now a doctor, and Marie a Masters candidate in International relations, are bound off into a new and exciting time. They have such a bright future. We all wish them well.

Mary and I then drove back north to the Bay area and a chance to visit our daughter, Carrie, and her husband, Jeremy until our departure for home on Monday morning. The fact that it just so happened to be Mary’s birthday made that visit even more special. Carrie and Jeremy treated us to a birthday dinner at a Tapas restaurant with a good bottle of wine and candles in the dessert. That was a perfect cap to the great weekend.

The flight home was on time and uneventful and now here we are wondering if it was all a dream or did that weekend really happen. We are left with some fine memories (the views, the food, the good company, and, oh yeah, the whirlpool) and realization that this was a once in a lifetime experience. But in looking back, I realize that maybe it was all just a bit over the top and a little too excessive a display. Spending several hundred thousand dollars on a wedding seems like a cool thing to do, but I am left with the uneasy feeling that all that money could have been spent more wisely. Dom and Marie could have gotten married before a Justice of the Peace without all the hoopla and they would be just as married. And all that money could have fed how many children……….?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

boxes, more boxes

I like making boxes. I think I've mentioned that before. Boxes have such an infinite variety of shapes and posibilities for design, using a variety of materials. Each one has its own special character, its own special use, its own special lid. I could spend the rest of my woodworking life just making boxes and never repeat myself.

These two little boxes are the latest to emerge from the shop. They are both small treasure boxes meant to hold those little treasures that are gathering in the corners of your drawers, until now, homeless and mostly forgotten. Not only can you give those treasures a home, but you get to look at these pretty boxes too. A real win/win situation if there ever was one.

This little beauty is 5" long by 3" wide and 2" deep. It is maple and walnut. The top pivots open.

This treasure box is 5"x3"x3" and made from maple and walnut and oak with a stripe of purpleheart around its equater. The top on this one slides open.

I've added these two to the compilation of other work at my gallery site so you can see them along with all the other stuff that has come out of my workshop. Thanks for looking.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

problem, not no problem

If I hear “no problem” one more time when I say “thank you” to someone, I will rip out that persons tongue and stomp on it. Whatever happened to “you’re welcome” as a response to my thank you? Where and when did “no problem” gain legitimacy as a proper response to “thank you?”

The thing is, it usually is some small problem whenever someone has performed a service that elicited my thanks. No, not a major deal, just a small mostly insignificant “problem” that required a bit of effort on the part of the thankee. The waitress refilling my coffee cup or the store clerk who had to help me find an item are two instances where my thanks should not get a “no problem” from that person because it was a bit of a problem to please me. So just say “you’re welcome” and avoid my ripping your tongue out.

This trifling little annoyance is simply a symptom of a greater problem that has taken over our relationships with people in public places-- the erosion of good manners. It has become increasingly rare for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady. (For that matter, “gentleman” and “lady” have become nearly pejorative terms snickered on those old fashioned enough to use them.)
Holding a door open for someone is such a simple act of courtesy, yet one that seems to be ignored in the rush to get there first.

Good manners used to be something that was taught by parents to their children as part of the parental responsibility. Table manners were taught at the dinner table when the family gathered together for those daily meals. Now, getting the family together for a meal is a special occasion and the manners are mostly ignored or forgotten. Using the proper utensil, keeping your elbows off the table, saying please and thank you, and not talking with your mouth full were just a few of the simple lessons that made us civilized.

And while the adage that “children should be seen and not heard” is perhaps a bit stifling for most children, they need to learn that interrupting a grownup’s conversation is not an acceptable act. The child’s concern is not as important as the conversation he is interrupting. Unless the kid is on fire, he should hold his tongue until the adult is finished and can deal with whatever prompted the interruption. Too often nowadays we see and hear children when neither is acceptable or appropriate.

I suppose I could go on and on about the current deficiencies in civilized behavior, but I’m sure I would be labeled just an old fuddy-duddy who longs for the good old days. It really was easier in those good old days to behave with the appropriate manners since life was really simpler then. We didn’t have the onslaught of technology to deal with for one thing. With all the new technology supplanting the old face to face interaction of people, it has become increasingly difficult to know how to act or react in public. I fear that the latest generation will never be exposed to polite behavior with enough repetition for it to make a lasting impression. We may be doomed to a life of jangling cell phones and needlessly overheard conversations and senseless intrusions into the mannerly world we long for. But a rant about phone usage and manners is a rant for another time.

Thanks for listening. Please don’t say “no problem.”

Friday, May 02, 2008

give me the oldfashioned way

Ok, I am officially pissed off. Everyone keeps telling me, "you have to do your banking online. It's so easy and convenient. It's time to join the 21st century." So I tried. What a bunch of bullshit.

For the past three days I have been trying to get our accounts set up online so that we can take advantage of that so-called convenience. For some reason, I am the only one in the entire universe that the system refuses to accept. My repeated attempts to register with our bank have met with a recurring rejection for whatever unfathomable reason these fucking computers have decided to throw in my way. Three different calls to the bank's help line have resulted in three different reasons and three different solutions, none of which have proven to be correct. Even the people who are supposed to know how to do this thing don't know how to do this thing.

We have been banking with this same institution for nearly thirty years now. The problems started just recently when the original St. Francis Bank was sold last year to Mid-America Bank, which held on to it for less than a year before being sold once again to the current National City Bank. Since Natiional City took over there have been problems and confusion that we have had to deal with on a weekly basis. We never experienced any problems with our accounts when we banked the old fashioned way--with paper deposit and withdrawel and transfer slips that the friendly teller would run through the machine to validate and complete our transactions. It was all so simple and easy. Paper in, paper out. and everyone was happy. Now with all this electronic mumbo/jumbo we have had nothing but one problem after another.

If we can't even enroll online, what does that say about the accessibility of our funds in that institution? This enrollment system is hardly confidence building. If this online crap isn't resolved in the next couple days we will move to another bank. I am willing to try to make online banking work for us, but when they place so many obfuscating obstacles in the way, what are we supposed to do. Keep banging our heads against the computer screen? Put our money in mayonaise jars buried in the flower beds in the yard? Pay our bills with cash? Now there's a revolutionary concept. Wonder if that will ever catch on?