Sunday, December 27, 2009

Two Degrees

Who would have thought that two little degrees could make such a big difference?

My son Ben chose the day after Christmas to begin a big remodel of his garage. The first project was to build a tool bench. He had found the plans for one he liked. Researched the materials he would need. Even watched a video online of someone building the exact bench. Ben decided that having an extra pair of hands would be a big help, so he figured he'd take advantage of the fact that we were already in Charlotte for the holiday by putting me to work. I don't do these kinds of projects on my own, but I'll gladly lend a hand when needed.

Still building his own tool collection, there was a framing nail gun that we needed to rent for the day. Then it was on to Lowes to purchase the necessary materials, including a box of about 3 million 3" framing nails. (I think they're only sold by the million!) We brought everything home, built a couple of portable workbenches to use as sawhorses, and then got busy cutting the 2X4's into the various lengths we needed. Once that was complete, it was time to fire up the nail gun. And that's where things came to a quick halt.

Instead of driving the nails all the way in, the gun left them about a half inch out, and bent over at the top. Not good. We determined, in our infinite wisdom, that it must be that the air compressor Ben got for Christmas was not quite powerful enough for 3" framing nails. Off we went to borrow a slightly larger compressor from one of Ben's buddies. Brought it home. Fired it up. Same result! Nails were still not penetrating their full length, and they were bent over at the top. Left up to me, I would have thrown in the towel at this point. I have no creativity when it comes to troubleshooting mechanical things, and thus very little patience when things don't work right. Ben, on the other hand, IS creative, and seems to have a double measure of patience when working with his hands.

Early in the process, one of us noticed that the nailer said it took 30 degree nails. We happened to look at the box of a million nails and it said they were 28 degree nails. We paused for a minute, but then decided that two degrees shouldn't make that big a difference. If they were the wrong nails, I thought, then they wouldn't fit in the nailer. This one simple oversight cost us several trips around town, a bit of frustration, and a lot of time spent Googling to find out what might be wrong.

As it turns out, two degrees makes all the difference! When we rented the nailer, it had a couple dozen nails still in it, which we proceeded to remove, in favor of loading it up with the new nails we just bought. Late in the evening, as a last resort, Ben decided to empty the nailer and put back the nails that were in it when we picked it up. And of course, that did the trick! The nails drove perfectly, and both air compressors worked just fine.

Who would have known that two degrees could make the difference! I mean, the nails looked pretty much exactly the same! The good thing is that we enjoyed working together, even as we had to put our heads together to figure out the problem. But we learned a lesson. The details are important, even when they seem insignificant! I'll have to remember that whenever I'm tempted to rush through something without giving my full attention to the details.

In the meantime, does anyone want to buy a box of a bazillion 3" framing nails? I'll bet Ben will give you a bargain. Oh...and make sure you need the 28 degree ones!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It might seem silly, but this week is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and not just because it's Christmas. At 12:47 PM yesterday afternoon, we reached the winter solstice for 2009. This marks the shortest "day" of the year...actually the day with the fewest hours of daylight.

Why do I celebrate?

Because the days will now be getting longer for the next six months. Now that's something to cheer about!

Never a fan of these days that get dark so early, I had to give a shout out to the day when things, once again, turn in the right direction!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


With the end of 2009 quickly approaching, I thought it might be fun to look back at some key numbers from the past year. Most are personal, but some are pertinent to all of us. Here goes…
This is the number of flights I took this year. 10 of these were for personal reasons, the other 86 for business.
The number of nights I spent in a hotel. This represents about once in every 5 nights. Gotta love those hotel points!
This is the total number of nights spent away from home, including business and family visits. That means I’m sleeping away from home about 29% of the time.
The number of points the DOW is up since March 9th. That’s a 60% increase!
This is how many ‘friends’ I have on Facebook! I signed up almost a year ago so I could understand it enough to help Paulette if she ran into trouble. Turns out, I’ve had great fun reconnecting with former students, high school friends, and people from so many areas of my past. Nothing like catching up with someone you haven’t seen in 40 years!
The number of cousins I met this year that I didn’t even know existed a year ago. It has been a delight to get to know them.
The number of new pairs of socks I bought this year. (Aren’t you thrilled to know that?) I finally chucked all of my old socks and replaced them with a brand new dozen! My feet appreciate it.
This is how old the students in my very first sixth grade classroom are turning this year. They were 12 just a few years ago!
The number of text messages I’ve sent/received so far this year. I signed up back in March as a way to keep in touch with my niece who lives here in Raleigh. Only to discover that this is a preferred method of communication for both my kids. So easy to keep up with them this way! I’ll need to pony up an extra $5 a month soon to get on the unlimited text message plan! I know some teenagers who send this many texts in a month!
The number of emails I’ve sent so far this year from my desktop computer. This does not include the hundreds of quick emails I sent from my Blackberry Bold phone.
This is how many handwritten letters I’ve written this year. Both were to my 89 year old cousin in California (she has no email). It reminded me that it has been many years since I’ve actually written a letter.
11 and 21
The number if items I have bought and sold respectively on Craigslist this year. And I still have two more items I plan to sell. I’m hoping not to buy anymore.
This is an estimate (but a reasonable one) of the number of purchases I’ve made at Starbucks this year. It may be more. And it doesn’t include other coffee shops. Now you know why I ask for Starbucks gift cards at Christmas.
We have this many new grandchildren this year…both granddaughters. Including the twin boys, we have a total of 4 grandchildren now. Couldn’t be more proud!
The number of days (at this writing) until the winter solstace. I love knowing that at that point, the days will start getting longer. Not a fan of 5PM sunsets!
The number of years remaining in this decade. January 1 starts not only a new year, but a brand new decade! Hard to believe that Y2K was 10 years ago already.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Technology Lapse

So many times recently, I have walked through an airport wondering what we all did without our cell phones and laptops. A high percentage of passengers passing through airport terminals are either talking, texting, reading emails, or surfing on their cell phones. And once they’re seated at the gate, out come the laptops for some full-blown web-surfing. The way we communicate and obtain information has changed dramatically in the past decade or so. There used to be banks of pay phones at the airport, often with lines of people waiting for their turn to make a call. Now, airports have turned those payphone booths and phone kiosks into mini computer stations, complete with plenty of electrical outlets for charging various devices. Without all this technology, some of us would be lost.

We have pretty reliable cable and internet service at the house, but as I write this, we have been without both for about 3 hours. I have to admit, it’s a pretty strange feeling to know that I can’t just jump online to send a quick email or to Google something. It has made me realize how much I depend on this technology to move through my day. Now don’t misunderstand. There are things to be done around here that don’t require technology. In fact there are some decidedly non-technology oriented tasks waiting for me in my yard right now. But when it comes to gathering information, communicating, entertainment, or even work, we live in a pretty technology dependent culture.

Fortunately, my cell phone is still up and running. That means I can do some things online if I want to. Not quite as conveniently, but I’m not cut off completely. And my computer is still up and running for things that don’t require online access. But I’m sitting here trying to imagine what it would feel like if all of my technology was lapsed right now. Tasks would get done, for sure. I would still have a meal on the table. But I have to admit, that the day would feel very different from the norm.

We adults are not the only ones intrigued by technology. On my recent visit to Washington, my grandsons (Jackson especially) were all excited to find me waiting for them each morning with my laptop. They wanted to “go to Google” or “YouTube” to look for “Cars” videos. They love the Pixar cars and also a series of videos called Auto B Good. Jackson got to typing stuff himself, and I realized how much technology is just second nature to these new little ones coming up. I have it in my head that some day when the boys are older, they’ll come to me and say, “Hey Geep…remember when we used to use those laptop things when we were little?” Who knows what advances will take place in the next 10-15 years. We won’t even recognize today’s gadgets!

And speaking of recognizing technology, here is one of life’s little mysteries. Why in the world, when you go to the toy department, do they still sell toy rotary phones?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Second Chances

I think it must be a common experience to want a second chance…a “do over”, if you will. Years ago when I did a little golfing, we called it a “mulligan”. When your drive off the tee was less than acceptable (even embarrassing), you got to do it over…once for a round of 18 holes. How many times in other situations have you wished for a mulligan?

I just had a situation recently where I got a “do over”, and I am very grateful. I had just gone on a wild goose chase over a potential Craigslist purchase. The seller had grossly misrepresented the condition of the item I had hoped to purchase, which I discovered only after driving clear across town in the rain, during the late afternoon traffic. I was irritated, both at the seller who had been given multiple opportunities to be forthright, and at myself for having made such a rookie Craigslist mistake. I was also getting irritated with several other drivers who had made poor driving decisions which not only slowed me down, but created a dangerous situation for those of us driving nearby.

On the way home, it seemed like I was hitting every single traffic light just as it was changing from amber to red. And most were at large intersections, where the light cycles are about 3 minutes long. With each delay, I was getting more irritated over having made the trip at all. As I approached the next light with good hopes of making it through, the light changed on me at the last minute. Had no one been in front of me, I would have sailed through on the amber. However, the car in front of me (wisely!) chose to stop. As soon as I saw the brake lights, my first thought was, “I’ve missed enough lights, so maybe YOU’RE not making this light, but I AM!” I (unwisely!) decided to move into the right lane, pass him on the right, and make it through the amber light. (Can you see where this is going?) Yep…there was another car in the right lane (in my blind spot) with the same idea. He sped up to make the light. Believe me when I say it was a close one!

But…I got my mulligan! I was able to swerve back into my own lane, and apply the brakes in time to stop at the light without ramming into the guy I had intended to pass. There was fishtailing. A fair amount of rubber was left on the road. And I’m sure that my heart was not the only one racing. The result of my hasty decision could have been disastrous. I believe the Lord protected me from my own foolishness that day, and a couple of lessons were quickly learned. First, don’t be so quick to get irritated at others when they make a foolish driving decision. Second, slow down when you realize that emotions are causing you to drive with less caution than you normally would.

My “do-over” was a valuable learning experience. We don’t always get them. Whether it’s driving, or at work, or with relationships, we can’t ever count on a mulligan. Good enough reason to do it right the first time!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dealership Shout-Out

I'm typically not a big fan of car dealership service departments. The repairs are often more expensive, and I often feel like I'm being up-sold. However, I had a good enough experience today that I thought it deserved a shout-out.

My 2001 Honda Accord needed some recall work. Something about a potential problem with the driver's airbag inflator using so much pressure, that some metal part could explode, sending metal fragments into the driver, should the airbag ever deploy. It sounded sufficiently scary, so as instructed, I called my local dealer to arrange for the free repair.

I called Leith Honda two days ago. They were very pleasant on the phone. I was asked to fax the recall notice, they would order the part, then they would call me when it arrived so I could set an appointment for the work. Yesterday I got the call, and we arranged for an 8AM appointment for this morning. All very professional.

Upon arrival at Leith Honda, I simply pulled up under a portico, and was met by a pleasant and professional check-in agent who quickly got some necessary information from me, told me the repair would take about an hour, and then pointed me to the customer service waiting room. I never had to step out into the bad weather, which was much appreciated.

In the waiting room, instead of the obligatory "Mr. Coffee" pot with burned coffee brewed several hours before, I had access to a professional "one cup at a time" coffee machine that actually made a decent cup of coffee. (Not being a fan of styrofoam cups, if I ever have reason to return, I'll bring my own cup.) There was also a supply of chilled bottled water, along with a basket of granola bars and other snacks.

Perhaps the biggest perk of all (which I had confirmed ahead of time) was the availability of free wi-fi. I was able to log in to my home PC using GoToMyPC right from the waiting room and accomplish the morning tasks that would have had to wait, had I been in most other auto service waiting rooms.

The service was complete in just under an hour. The agent who led me to the check-out counter was very pleasant, and the checkout staff person was efficient and professional. Best of all, the repair cost me nothing other than 50 minutes of round-trip driving time.

I usually dread having to take care of auto service. Calling, scheduling,'s always such an inconvenience. Thanks, Leith Honda, for making this one of the most convenient and pleasant auto service experiences I've had.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

School Clothes

Growing up in the Philadelphia area during the 1960’s, we were always on a traditional school calendar. The schedule where you went back to school the day after Labor Day. We always dreaded that last Monday night, because even though it was a holiday, it was also a school night…the first one of the year. Our school bedtimes kicked in, and the next day the freedom of summer would be over.

There was always one bright spot at the beginning of the year. The weekend before school started, we would go shopping for new school clothes. (This was back when we had school clothes and play clothes.) I still remember what it felt like to put on a brand new pair of pants, a stiff new shirt (button down with a collar was required in those days), and a new pair of shoes. Once the tags were unpinned (remember the straight-pin price tickets?), our new clothes were ready to go. They smelled new, and when we were allowed to choose the latest style, we felt like we looked really sharp on that first day back in class with our schoolmates.

Another highlight of the new school year came the evening after our first day of class. We came home armed with that year’s requirements for school supplies. What fun we had picking out a new 3-ring binder, subject dividers, book covers, pencils and erasers, rulers, notebook paper, and pencil cases. When we got back from the store, we got to organize everything and get our textbooks covered, all prepared for another year of hard studying.

Well, some things never change. Even though many schools in our area have moved to a year round schedule to accommodate a growing school population, and even though I’ve been out of school for many years, my mind still functions on a traditional schedule. After all, I had 13 years of public school, 4 years of college followed by 10 years as a public school teacher, and finally all those years raising 2 children through public school and college (all on a traditional schedule). Old habits are hard to break. As the August calendar page gives way to September, I still get that “fall” beginning-of-the-school-year feeling. And I get the urge for new “school clothes”. (OK, now it’s “work clothes”).

Because I travel so much for work, I have a set of clothes that is always ready for the suitcase. I never wear these clothes at home. Once laundered, they get folded and stacked on a shelf in my closet. When it’s time to pack, it’s a simple matter of selecting the appropriate number of slacks and shirts, and along with the underwear and socks, into the suitcase they go. My travel shoes, belt, sneakers, and my toiletries never even leave the suitcase. I even have separate gym clothes for travel.

Every September, having worn the same clothes on business trips for an entire year, I find that things are starting to look a bit worn, and sometimes I tire of wearing the same things over and over. So when that old “new school year” feeling kicks in, off to the store I go! I’m not a big shopper, but this is one time during the year that I check out the goods at a lot of stores, picking out new pants, shirts, and shoes to wear for the next year. Makes me feel like a kid again! And boy, do I feel sharp my first few times out wearing the new stuff!

Every other year in September, I get to satisfy my “new school supplies” urge by replacing my suitcase. I’ve found that no matter how high the quality, after two years of packing and unpacking, not to mention hundreds of trips through baggage claim, most any suitcase is going to break down enough as to require replacement. Again, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I check out the newest crop of luggage at all the stores, and after I make my selection, I take my new bag home and spend an hour or two figuring out the best way to organize all my travel stuff. It really reminds me of the old days getting my new school supplies organized for the new school year.

Like I said, some things never change! Once a kid, always a kid when that traditional school calendar says summer’s over and a brand new school year is about to begin!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Still Amazed After All These Years

I've written quite a bit in the past about the perils of business travel...particularly air travel. It's certainly not glamorous, and it's often exhausting. That said, I have to confess. When you strip away all the hassles, air travel still blows me away.

Think about it. Board a plane in Atlanta. Drink a couple of cups of coffee and eat a snack, do a little reading, watch a couple of episodes of West Wing, maybe get a little work-related stuff done, and then you get off the plane in Seattle. When you look at a map, it really hits home how amazing this really is. No matter what inconveniences or frustrations go along with it, waking up in one city and having dinner in another one that's clear across the country is still pretty darn amazing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

That's 3 Bags, Sir

I really can't figure out the airlines. Gate agents make a big announcement before boarding about how travelers are only allowed to carry on two bags. One regular bag, such as a roll-aboard suitcase, and one personal item, such as a purse or computer bag. Yet, I regularly see those same gate agents turn a blind eye when passengers board with bags hanging all over their bodies...and clearly more than three!

Many experienced airline travelers disagree with my decision to check my bag. They would much rather carry their bag on board, thereby avoiding the often long wait at baggagee claim at their destination. I, on the other hand, am willing to lengthen my check-in time and to wait at baggage claim in return for other benefits. By not carrying on luggage, I do not have to worry that all of the overhead bin space will be gone by the time I board. And because most of my flights involve a connection, I like being hands-free at the connecting airport. My one carry-on is a backpack so that both of my hands are free while walking from one gate to the next. One to hold my Starbucks, the other to be checking email on my Blackberry. Finally, I prefer not to have to put a second bag under the seat in front of me, so that I can more freely stretch out my legs during longer flights. So...everyone determines which advantages are most important, and then acts accordingly.

My beef is with people who want the best of both worlds, and don't care who they inconvenience. On a recent flight, the guy seated next to me in first class arrived late. By the time he arrived....with three carry-ons...the overhead bin space was nearly gone. He proceeded to rearrange other passengers' belongings, and then shoved his larger bag up against another bag, without regard to whether he might be damaging someone else's stuff. He then became frustrated when he couldn't find space for his second large bag, so he enlisted the help of the flight attendant. In my opinion, the flight attendant should have called him out on having three bags, and required him to gate check the third one. Instead, she started checking each of the full overhead bins to see if some additional rearranging could be done. In the end, she spotted my backpack. Keep in mind that I have already agreed to the prior mentioned inconveniences of checking my bag, in order to achieve the benefits that are important to me. Now the flight attendant requests that I place my backpack under the seat in front of me so that my seatmate can use that space in the overhead bin for his illegal third bag. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper.

So IS the limit really TWO carry-ons? If it IS, then please enforce it. If it ISN'T, then please stop saying that it is.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'll Take the Compliment AND the Discount

Attending church recently with family in Blaine, WA. Son-in-law Jared leading worship. Fellow band member sees me sitting next to my daughter Rachel in row 2. Band member: “Is that Rachel’s brother sitting down there with Rachel?” Jared: “No…that’s her dad!” Me (later, upon hearing the story): happy to take the compliment. Rachel: Maybe not amused??

After church. Local restaurant. Everyone hungry for something different . Brunch to the rescue. Senior discount ($3 off) mentioned in menu. Me: “How old do you have to be to qualify for the senior discount?” Waitress: “It’s available to anyone age 55 and older, sir.” Me: Thrilled to be getting a senior discount for the first time. Me (two seconds later): depressed that I just qualified for my first senior discount.

Later the same day. Picking up a few things at the grocery store. Rachel and I in checkout line with her boys. Cashier (talking to my grandson): "Have your daddy lift you up so I can show you something." Me: “Well, actually I’m his grandfather.” Cashier: "Grandfather?? Whoa! Lookin’ good, Grandpa!" Me: Beaming, and feeling totally OK about qualifying earlier for that senior discount. Rachel: Maybe not amused??

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Five Simple Rules

Sometimes life gets a little complex. I think that’s what vacations are all about. It’s not only a change of scenery we’re after, but also a chance to simplify our daily routine for even just a short time. That’s why some people who plan busy vacations with a lot of planned activities often return home feeling like they need a vacation from their vacation. Sometimes I wonder if our normal lives could be a little simpler.

How about if we just had a few rules to live by, and if we followed them, our lives would be a bit less stressful? The thought came to me while watching a video my daughter recently posted to her blog. You see, her 2 ½ year old twin boys are giving her a run for her money these days when it’s time to go to bed. Nap time has turned to play time, and by the time they eventually settle down to sleep, the day’s schedule is all messed up. The video she posted is of the two boys and their dad reviewing "Five Simple Rules" for bedtime. If you’ve had young children, particularly twins, you can probably relate to these rules, and have perhaps reviewed them with your own children.

Rule #1: No talking. Takes me back 50 years when I had to share a bed with my brother. When dad yelled up at us to be quiet, we both consistently blamed the other. Then the whispering began. And the giggling.

Rule #2: Heads down. Reminds me of elementary school when a few kids misbehaved and the teacher made us all put our heads down. We always peeked around the classroom!

Rule #3: Stay in your own crib. You need no imagination to picture in your mind why this rule is necessary. The surprise to me was just how quickly they can make the switch!

Rule #4: Don’t touch the curtain. This is a room darkening curtain, closed at naptime to create the right "mood". Not usually being IN the mood, the boys regularly open that curtain so they can see outside.

Rule #5: Go to sleep. I see the intent here, but this one is a little like telling a snowman not to melt when the sun comes out. A nice thought, but it somehow falls into the category of wishful thinking.

Now this is a grandfather speaking, but I think the video is the cutest thing ever. Especially when you see the looks on the boys’ faces as they repeat the rules that are meant to govern their lives for the next hour or two. They try to look sincere, but I suspect they think the whole thing is just part of "fun time with dad".

In spite of that, I really like the idea of putting things in nice, succinct, repeatable phrases. And sometimes I think we’d all do a lot better if we had just a few rules to live by, that if regularly reviewed and diligently followed, might make our lives simpler, yet with more impact concerning the things that are important. What the boys haven’t figured out yet is that if they would (or could) obey those simple rules, they would have loads of time to enjoy playing outside of the confines of their cribs…AFTER they wake up. And perhaps we haven’t learned that either. Our lives rush by, often in a swirl of stress, because we haven’t stopped to review the things that are most important. Instead, we let life’s pressures dictate our mood and often our actions, and we end up missing out on things because we were too busy to enjoy them.

I would never presume to present a list of “the” five simple rules. Likely we’d each have some different items on our lists. I can, however, say that I’ve begun to formulate in my own mind what my list might include. And I can certainly challenge you to do the same. After you’ve thought about it some, perhaps you should sleep on it. But remember…no talking! Don’t touch the curtain. And whatever you do…stay in your own crib!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Small extended family. Mother an only child. Father with two siblings, one who never married. Five children in our family, and five cousins born to my one and only aunt. Only visited them once a year. This is how I would have described my own family, had you asked just a few months ago. Both of my parents are gone, Mom for 40 years now, and Dad for nearly 11. My aunt passed away earlier this year; my uncle several years back. No one left to ask about my heritage. I just figured that’s the way it would always be. Until this past January.

Due to a chance communication online between someone who turned out to be one of my mother’s second cousins in California, and one of my brother’s in-laws in New Hampshire, I now know a great deal more than I ever expected about my mother’s side of the family. I have since made two business trips to California, and a family trip to Nebraska, all providing opportunities to meet relatives I did not know existed, and to explore my "roots". It seems that I have a rich spiritual heritage, , a background steeped in the pioneer spirit, as well as some living relatives who are delightful people.

I can now go back five generations to my great great great grandmother, who was born in 1810 in Germany. After bearing four children and being widowed twice, she moved to America at the age of 54. After a year in Wisconsin, she purchased a homestead (160 acres) on the prairie land of Stanton County, Nebraska where her oldest daughter (my great great grandmother) had located with her husband. Before long, all four of her children were homesteading in the same area, where 18 cousins grew up together during the mid to late 1800’s. The four families had a deep faith in God, so it was no surprise to learn that together they started the first church in the town of Stanton. Though not an active church today, the original building still stands, and I recently had the privilege of visiting there.

Three of the original families have remained in rural Nebraska. However, the Boelters (from whom I am descended) eventually moved to southern California around 1890, which was where my mother was born nearly 40 years later. By all accounts, the Boelter home was characterized by regular prayer and family devotions. Two of their sons, including my great grandfather, were called into full time ministry as teenagers while attending the small church in Stanton. Both attended college and seminary in Illinois prior to starting lifelong careers as ministers in the Evangelical United Brethren church, which at the time was a conservative and evangelistic denomination. While his brother eventually moved to California and served in churches there, my great grandfather served his entire career as minister in a number of churches throughout Nebraska. His parents, his siblings and their families, and all of his children and grandchildren had all moved to California, yet as much as he and my great grandmother likely longed to be with their family, he stayed true to his calling to preach in Nebraska. Now that is a rich heritage!

While I’m excited to have met some relatives and learned about many ancestors, I’m also disappointed that I didn’t know about them sooner. Several are quite elderly now. Some have passed away, and if I had only known they were there, I could have met them before they died. Several relatives live less than five miles from where my work often takes me In Orange County. Some of my mom’s aunts and uncles are buried one block from the hotel I always stay in…and I never knew it!

I have now been privileged to visit the grave site of my grandmother (who I never knew), along with those of many who went before her. For some reason, that helps me feel connected to them in some way. I don’t know when I’ll be able to put more time into it, but I am now quite motivated to learn about the other branches of my family, and to discover what other heritage is mine. I’m also motivated to begin writing things down about my own life, so that perhaps my great great grandchildren someday might know a little more about their own heritage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Honoring the Fallen

I had an unusual experience yesterday while flying from Raleigh to Dallas. After all of the passengers had boarded and were in their seats, the pilot announced that it was our honor that day to be transporting the remains of a fallen soldier home to a final resting place. I had noticed while waiting to board, that some sort of honor guard had just done something out near our plane. They had escorted the casket to its position in the cargo hold of the jet. The pilot requested that we remain seated upon arrival at our gate in Dallas until the military honor guard flying with us could exit in order to escort the body to its next destination.

I did not know this young man, who had lost his life in Iraq. However, I was reminded how grateful I am to be living in a country where young men and women are willing to give their very lives to protect the freedoms that I enjoy, and often take for granted. It was my honor to show respect to the fallen soldier, as well as to the military honor guard who had the responsibility of making sure this young man's body made it back safely to his family and his final resting place.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Allure of the Oldies

There is a Blackberry app store available now, which allows me to shop for applications that I can download and use right on my phone. I suspect this is RIM's answer to Apple's iPhone app store. (RIM is Research in Motion, the company behind Blackberrys.) I've had some fun shopping around, especially since I've been able to find a bunch of free downloads that have expanded the versatility of my Blackberry Bold on the cheap. Rather than list my faves, I thought I'd focus on just one that I have particularly enjoyed. It allows me to play 100's of radio stations...both local and from around the country. As long as I have a cell phone signal, I can access a wide variety of radio formats.

From 1964 through 1975, I was in junior high, high school, and college. It was during those years that I listened faithfully to a couple of local Top 40 radio stations, first on a clock radio by my bed, then on a small transistor radio I got for Christmas 1964. (Eventually I earned enough money as a paperboy to buy some of this music on vinyl 45's and play selected songs on my record player.) As I look back on those years, many of the events I remember are punctuated by the music I was listening to at the time. For instance, if I hear a few bars of "Wooly Bully" (Sam the Sam and the Pharoahs, 1965) or "Wild Thing" (The Troggs, 1965), 44 years just melt away, and I am in the wrestling room of Woodland Ave. Jr. High School, where we were permitted to dance to popular music during lunch period. There were two local radio stations in Philadelphia back then that built their audiences by playing the popular rock 'n roll music of the day. WFIL and WIBG (Wibbage) routinely pitted the Beatles music against that of the Beach Boys, asking their teen listeners to call in and vote for their favorite. Once I graduated from college and begain teaching in 1975, for some reason I stopped listening to popular music, and pretty much left the radio off until several years later when I was more interested in classical music, NPR, and eventually talk radio. Songs from those transistor radio years represent the true oldies era, in my book.

One of the stations available on my Blackberry now is out of Minnesota somewhere, and it plays those true oldies 24/7. Music from the late 50's, the 60's, and the early years of the 70's. It couldn't be more perfect. I've listened to other radio stations that claim to have an oldies format, but their definition of oldies is much broader than mine. After all, songs from the late 70's and 80's can certainly be considered "oldies" now in 2009. They're just not MY oldies. And now I've found a station that caters to the very years I was listening to popular music. And believe me, there is quite an allure. Once I turn it on, I find it hard to turn it off. Each song that comes on seems to pull me back in time where I can remember people, places, and events that I often haven't thought of for decades. Over 40 years after receiving that first transistor radio with the single earplug headphone, I slip my Blackberry into my pocket, pop in the stereo earbuds, and head out to do yardwork. But I'm not really in my yard, and I'm not really weeding or pruning or planting stuff. I'm really back in my junior high school dancing to "Lightning Strikes" (Lou Christie, 1966).

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Is that number at all familiar to you? It actually has an important meaning to every one of us.

The first thing I was aware of when I emerged from a sound sleep one recent morning, was a very subtle and rhythmic sound. As I attempted to clear my head from the remnants of my early morning dreams, I eventually realized that the sound penetrating my consciousness was the battery driven clock on the wall of our master bath. One tick after the other. Never slowing. Never stopping. A relentless reminder of the passing of time.

That particular morning, I chose to lay in bed for awhile before facing the day. The ticking of the clock, which I normally don't even hear, would not fade. It almost seemed to get louder. So I started thinking about the time that was passing. Sixty seconds for every minute, and 3,600 ticks for every hour. It didn't take long to work the math in my head and realize that the clock would end up ticking 86,400 times in the next 24 hours. Yep! 86,400 is the number of seconds we have available to us every day.

After laying there for awhile longer, I decided not to figure up the number of seconds that I had just wasted by not getting up right away. There was just no point in calculating how much time I would now no longer have to accomplish other things during the day. However, since then I have been strangely aware of clocks ticking.

In my office, I have another battery operated clock. Normally I glance at it throughout the day, but I really don't hear it. Until later that same day. In fact, I sat and looked at it for a short time. The second hand made its relentless trip around the dial several times. If I looked very carefully, I could just see the almost imperceptible movement of the minute hand. The pace of the hour hand, of course, is too slow to be perceived by the human eye. Nevertheless, I was once again confronted with the unstoppable passage of time, and the realization that we all have the same number of seconds to be used in whatever way we choose. We can waste those seconds, or use them wisely.

Do you know anyone who always seems to accomplish so much more than you do with 86,400 seconds? I sure do. There is one guy I know, who is actually in the same business I'm in, and I simply can't believe the things he fits in. Besides running his business, he is in an over 55 softball league, and travels the country playing tournaments. He singlehandedly maintains and landscapes his beautiful yard, he routinely builds things in his wood shop, he vacations with his wife, and he's an active involved grandfather. He also does some community volunteer work, and hosts a two hour call in radio show every Saturday morning. I'm just not sure how he does it all.

I am not intimidated any longer by such a show of resourcefulness, but I am challenged. I'm grateful for the reminder provided now by every ticking clock, to put my 86,400 seconds to more productive use every single day. The ones that are wasted will no longer be available (wouldn't it be nice to have "rollover seconds"?). The ones that are put to productive use will often yield benefits far into the future.

Yeah...those are the ones I want. The productive ones. Let me order up a few million of those. In the meantime, have a great 86,400 seconds.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Food Mood

Not infrequently, I find myself craving certain foods. I'm not always sure why, but I definitely recognize times when I really want a particular thing to eat. I call these food moods.

Weather is one of those things that seems to put me in the mood for certain foods. I have experienced what seems like an unprecedented number of cold rainy days this year. Just as the weather seems to clear here at home, I head off to some other place where the weather is just turning for the worst. Not surprisingly, cold or dreary weather puts me in the mood for a pot of homemade soup...the kind that simmers on the back burner all day long. A client recently invited me for lunch, and although it was a sunny day, it was cold outside, and the soup was incredible. Just yesterday, it was cold and rainy outside, and Paulette made a pot of soup for supper that really hit the spot. And the "all day" simmering made the house smell so inviting.

On a recent dreary day, the aroma of freshly baked bread seemed like just the ticket. I pulled out the bread machine that I used to use weekly a number of years ago. Being more aware of "carb overload" these past few years, I have tried to steer clear from so much bread. However, within four hours, I had a loaf of oatmeal white bread all ready to go. Followed by a loaf of 7-grain honey wheat bread. Let me tell you, nothing goes with a pot of homemade soup quite like a piece of warm, freshly baked bread.

What about those warmer sunny days? A different food mood. I tend to like a fresh salad to go along with grilled food. Along with whatever meat I grill (usually chicken or pork chops), I really like to grill up red, orange, and yellow peppers, along with onions, mushrooms, and sometimes some squash or zuchini. The sizzle...the smoke... the smell...all conspire to make my mouth water. Eating this kind of food out on the deck makes it all the more appealing. Definitely more of a summer food mood.

Sometimes one food puts me in the mood for another. I'm not a big soft drink fan, but when I eat pizza, I just have to have a coke to go with it. Eggs put me in the mood for cinnamon toast. You get the idea. Other times, for no apparent reason, a favorite food just pops into my mind, and I can't wait to eat it. Guacamole. Peal and eat shrimp. Mac and cheese (Paulette's homemade...not the Kraft kind). Pepper jelly and cream cheese on crackers. And of all things...meatloaf! I have lots of favorites, and when I recognize the aroma of something that's cooking in the kitchen, I immediately feel a food mood coming on!

I'm thinking food moods might be universal or transferable. Hmmm...I know how we can test this. Let me know if you have food moods, and if so, what you make (and how!) when a particular food mood hits you. I'll be happy to test out your ideas.

It's raining outside. Time to go heat up some of that soup. And there's a hunk of dark pumpernickel bread downstairs with my name on it.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Just a brief rant here. I've been active on CraigsList again this month, and I have encountered some very poor CraigsList etiquette. I was ditched twice today when attempting to sell a particular item.

One guy asked lots of questions, and was very interested, negotiated a discount, and told me that he would be at my place to pick the item up no later than 3:30PM. It's 9:45PM now...he still hasn't arrived. No phone call or email...and I get only voicemail when I attempt to contact him.

When he ditched me, I called a woman who had emailed saying she was a "serious buyer" and told her the item was still available. She told me she wanted to pick it up on the way home, and she would be here around 6PM. She finally did call at 7:25PM with some explanation. She told me she was at a gas station about 15 minutes from my house, and she was on her way. Again...9:45PM, and she has yet to arrive. email or phone call, and voicemail when I call her.

Do these people have mothers? And did their mothers teach them anything?

Being a "no show" is very poor CraigsList etiquette. At the very least, a phone call or email is in order. If you change your mind, fine! That's how CraigsList works. You're not obligated until cash and goods change hands. But please...have the common decency to inform someone with whom you've made a verbal deal that you have changed your mind.

End of rant.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Coffee - One Cup at a Time

When I'm on the road, I make frequent stops at Starbucks. Typically just for a cup of black coffee, though occasionally I treat myself to a hot Chai. Mostly just the coffee. And sometimes it's Caribou. For Christmas, I was fortunate to receive a gift card to both places. I like the coffee shop atmosphere, and I do like my

When I'm at home, I have been brewing a 4 cup carafe and sipping it all morning from my travel mug. And I'm much less discriminating about what I'm drinking. I collect packet coffee from my hotel stays. Sometimes it's gourmet...sometimes it's just plain awful. But at home, it's just so easy to grab a packet and not have to mess with coffee and filters. I often don't even care if I grab a regular or a decaf packet. I also have purchased coffee beans, so sometimes I grind and brew, but it is an extra effort that I don't always make.

I'm not grabbing hotel coffee packets these days. For Christmas I treated myself (with gift money) to a Keurig Elite One Cup Coffee System. These are the one-cup-at-a-time brewers that use the little K-cups. The coffee comes pre-packaged in small vacuum sealed plastic cups, which you simply pop into the provided slot on the machine. Close the lever, push a button to indicate what size cup you want (mine has 2 choices), and in a minute or less, you have a steaming hot cup of coffee. You simply keep the water reservoir filled with water, and it's good for about 6 or 7 cups. It really couldn't be easier, and it puts out a pretty good tasting cup of coffee.

The downside is that the little K-cups can be pretty expensive. Not compared to a trip to Starbucks, mind you, but pricey compared to scooping your own coffee into a coffee maker (or using free hotel coffee packets). There is quite a variety of coffee and tea available in K-cups, both by type and by brand. However, depending on where and in what quantity you purchase them, K-cups range in price from 40 to 50 cents each. That's too much for my at home morning cup of joe. Not to mention that it limits me to the choices available, when I would rather be able to use my favorite grind.

Fortunately, there are a couple of nice solutions to these problems. First, you can buy a little pseudo K-cup that can be filled with your own coffee. I haven't tried one, but I have heard that some of the "Keurig one-cup convenience" is lost on having to clean the used grinds out of this permanent K-cup replacement after each cup is brewed. The second solution solves that problem.

There are certain coffee makers that use little round "pods" of coffee Essentially a little round enclosed filter with coffee inside. Someone came up with a way to use these with the Keurig machines. You can purchase a "pod-holster", which looks like a little K-cup, and you can stuff a coffee pod into the holster, pop the holster into the K-cup slot on the Keurig machine, and in no time you're drinking your morning brew. This is only part of the solution, though, because just like K-cups, the little coffee pods can be expensive as well, and the variety is limited. Unless you make the pods yourself.

Enter the electric "pod-maker"! You purchase pod filters, and you put one in the pod maker, fill it with your favorite coffee, and flip the filter lid over the coffee. Close the lid of the pod-maker for 3-4 seconds, and voila! You now have a sealed tight coffee pod, filled with your own favorite coffee, ready to be stuffed into the holster. Into the Keurig it goes...and out comes your coffee. I know it sounds complicated, until you realize that you simply make a bunch of pods at a time and store them. I made 20 of them today in less than 15 minutes, and I was just learning. My speed will increase with experience. Now when I want a single cup of coffee, I grab a pod, stuff it into the holster (5 seconds), and I'm ready to go.

With the new Keurig sitting right on my desk, a piping hot cup of coffee is only 60 seconds away. I think I better make some decaf pods.