29 May 2017

On Memorial Day


Memorial Day 2017


As is now tradition here in the Den, I repost my annual Memorial Day post written a few years ago:

Today is the last Monday in May, when the United States observes Memorial Day. As this day is a time to remember those who have died, millions across the country will pause to remember the meaning of the day and will honor those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation.

It is a solemn day. So many gave their lives defending the freedom of this nation. They may have questioned the reasons why they were sent to war, but they went. They died defending our system of beliefs. They deserve our utmost respect and reverence.

I've often wondered how my generation would have reacted had we faced the cataclysmic events that catapulted the U.S. into World War II or had we been teenagers when the Towers fell on 9/11. My gut tells me the reaction would not have been as admirable as that of our counterparts in 1941 and 2001. I'm not proud of that. Perhaps that's why I have a particular obsession with the literature of war. From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, I have read a slew of books and I have been inspired and humbled by the sacrifices of those who were far less selfish than my generation. I mean what does my generation have to call its own? MTV. Madonna. The coke-addled 80's. We set the bar pretty low, people.

I'd like to share a list of some of the books that have had a profound impact on me as I've considered the actions of those who fought for this country. For your consideration:

  • Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose - actually anything Ambrose has written is worth reading, but this telling of Easy Company and World War II is amazing.  The HBO mini-series is an incredible companion and should be required viewing in any and all American History courses.
  • In the Company of Soldiers, Rick Atkinson - gripping look into the early days of the Iraq War
  • The Greatest GenerationTom Brokaw - the generation I wish my generation could be.  Read this and understand why.
  • Behind the Lines, Andrew Carroll - letters from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.  Deeply personal.
  • War Letters, Andrew Carroll - the first of two books that capture war from the eyes of those that fought.  Stunning.
  • One Bullet AwayNathaniel Fick - inspiring story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.
  • The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens - second story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.  Both are stories of very smart young men who could have been sitting in an office on Wall Street, but instead chose to fight for their country.
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand - incredible story of a U.S. Olympian turned soldier turned P.O.W. and his story of survival.  I was so sorry I hadn't heard this story when I was in school.  But I went to public school in Arizona, a state where you'll do more time for knocking over a 7-11 than for killing a child.  I shouldn't be shocked about the quality of my education.
  • The Cat from HueJohn Laurence - a reporter's ground-level view of the war in Vietnam.
  • Final SaluteJim Sheeler - this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  I wrote about it here.  I defy you to read this book without weeping for the lives that were cut short.  The subtitle of the book is 'A Story of Unfinished Lives.'  Is there anything sadder?
  • Lost In Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff - while not about a battle field incident, this book is an epic story of survival and ingenuity during World War II.  Further proof why they were the Greatest Generation.
  • Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Giles Milton - another perspective on the Greatest Generation but from the British. This is fascinating story of a British guerrilla campaign to disrupt HItler through epic bravery and cunning sabotage. 

    I would also invite you to find this movie on DVD and to watch it. Please watch "Taking Chance" as a part of your Memorial Day remembrance. It is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the honor given to our soldiers. Please watch it today.

    Rather than commenting on the dumpster fire that is our nations's commander in chief/Russian pawn, can we pause to remember what this day, Memorial Day, is all about?

    It is a day in which we pause to remember those who have given their lives while serving in our nation's armed forces. In spite of our faults, which are myriad, this is still an amazing country. As so many have given their lives to protect our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy today, especially given the environment we are in, we should never forget just how precious those freedoms are. Never.

    I am profoundly grateful for the actions and sacrifices of those who gave all for the freedom of this nation.  May we honor their memory on Memorial Day.

28 May 2017

Mistakes were made and I blame 1979

13 year old me on the far left (but clearly not far enough left).
1979...I hate you.
In a post earlier this month, I wrote about my Aunt Robin who succumbed to the heinous monster that is Alzheimer's Disease. With plans now in place for her memorial, my cousin Leigh requested some family photos so that they can be displayed at the memorial. To help me with that project, she sent me the gem that I've included in this post so that I would have a flavor of what she was looking for.

In looking at the picture, one phrase keeps coming to my mind over and over again, "Mistakes were made," and to be fair, those mistakes were made by me. I've not been shy about sharing my long history of awkward adolescent horror that was captured on film and this will be no different. So let's parse this train wreck.

First a little historical context for you. Picture it, if you will...it's November 1979 and for the first time in many, many years, the Lyons/Kramer families have gathered from Florida, where my grandparents lived and Arizona, where we lived, in Durham, North Carolina for a Thanksgiving reunion. The turkey would have been evidence of the time of year but given that its beige color blends nearly perfectly with my suit, it's more than a little hard to see the bird.

To celebrate that long awaited reunion, I chose to showcase my own poorly developing sense of no style by sporting a three piece suit/explosion of beige. The short sleeve dress shirt and tie combo was a minor league error but an indication of things to come. I mean who was I? Sipowicz? Also, the tie, which looks like it was sewn into the suit for convenience but wasn't (I swear!), was of my own choosing. The jacket, mercifully unseen here, as I recall (but remember repressed memories may not be 100% accurate), had brown faux leather patches that every painfully awkward, late in puberty adolescent boy wants to have in order to pull off that "I'm a professor" look that was sure to make him a hit with the ladies. The best part about this suit was that it was made of, wait for it...corduroy. This was 1979 corduroy which meant it when you walked the corduroy rubbed together loudly enough to make noise as well as emit smoke from the friction. Awesome!

As I was trying to achieve that professorial look, it was clear that I was trying to adult the heck out of this event. I can tell that from my expression captured in the picture. You may see it and think, 'That's what happens when you try to pull a face in a family photo.' I say nay. I recall trying to capture something of a je ne sais quoi attitude about the gathering and you can see how that worked out for me, which is to say not well. Speaking of expressions, I've got to hand it to my sister for not hiding her feelings that day at all. When I shared this picture with her, she said, "Ha ha! I was mad at somebody here." I think she may have had a side order of rage with Thanksgiving dinner. To be fair, this has given us more than a few laughs in the past few days.

Now you may be wondering where I procured the suit featured in today's mini-lesson in my "Learn From My Mistakes" series. I've blocked it out, if I'm honest, but I'm going to go out on a limb and blame the good people of JC Penney and their 1978-1979 catalog. Methinks the travesty in beige I was wearing was found on page 247 of that catalog. Looking back on those catalogs is an invitation to some kind of post-traumatic psychotic event. That said, if you want to bust a gut laughing about that catalog, you need to read this right now. This legendary post is now nearly 10 years old but unlike the catalog that it skewers, it has not aged one day. It's genius!

Since 1979's epic fail, I've learned a thing or two. I've tried to avoid self-emolating by not wearing corduroy. I've steadfastly avoided short sleeves and ties, with the exception of two years on a bike in Miami as a missionary. You try trotting around Little Havana in long sleeves in August...I've learned that you can survive the horrors of your teenage years, no matter how awkward, and find someone who thinks you're pretty darn OK (it should be noted that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML is a saint). I've learned family forgives things like that a beige suit.

To my family that I'll be seeing in a few weeks at Robin's memorial, rest assured, the suit will not be there. You're welcome.

14 May 2017

On Mother's Day

Courtesy of Benson A
There is a saying about motherhood, and its originator is unknown, that goes like this:

A mother is always the beginning.
She is how things begin.

It's a simple truth. Who we are begins with our mothers and today, we celebrate mothers. 

Today, I celebrate and honor my mother who taught me to serve others, to work hard, and to, to what I am sure is her eternal regret, speak my mind. I celebrate the gajillion chances she given me to improve. I'm grateful for our phone conversations that we have several times a week, even if they sometimes end at loggerheads (thanks Obfuscation Fox News for absolutely nothing on that one). I'm proud of my mom for how she's lived her life since my dad has died. She continues to surprise me.

Today, I celebrate and honor my wife, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. The lives of our three children began with her. Those three are who they are because of her. They got the best of her in every aspect of their lives. Arguably, they got the best of me, too, but their mother's best parts helps them shine in spite of my contributions. Each one of our children are making their worlds better because of the example of their mother. She's amazing and I'm just grateful that she still wants to hang out with me.

Today, I laugh with my oldest daughter as she mothers her two children. Earlier this week, she shared with us the Mothers Day questionnaire that our nearly four year old boss of a grandson completed at pre-school. It is everything. It is the classic thinking of a pre-schooler.

In his mind, his mother is 17, which must be like 40 in pre-school years, because they don't watch TV to speak of in their house so I know he's not been sneaking old episodes of "16 and Pregnant." Also, I fear that my being 50ish is something he can't even comprehend. He must think I'm as old as dirt.

That he is always being told to "clean up stuff" and that when he doesn't obey upsets her is proof positive that his mom and his grandmother are cut from the same cloth.

The he doesn't think she's not good at "going upstairs" is proof that his mom is also just like me, her father. She would be wise to also master going down the stairs, as we know I'm seriously challenged in this arena.

That "she puts food on (his) fork for (him)" and that he wants to give her magnets is proof that a child's love for his mother is simple, beautiful, and just a little mysterious. Magnets? I've got to get to the bottom of this.

One thing I know is this - whether a mother has mastered loading up a child's fork with food or has told her for the billionth time to clean up her room or reminds her middle-aged son to remember who he is and to drive carefully, in spite of the fact that he's been driving for nearly thirty five years, a mother's love knows no end. I'm grateful for it.

Happy Mothers Day to all those who have mothered me. I'm better for it.

07 May 2017

A Farewell

My father and my Aunt Robin during World War II
One week ago, an insidious disease that our family is all too familiar with, claimed our Aunt Robin. As my cousin Leigh wrote so beautifully of her mother's long fight against Alzheimer's, Robin's fight was dignified.

Dignified. Classy. Kind. Loving. Those are just some of the words that describe my father's sister. Loving is the one that frames my memories most of Robin.

From my earliest days, I can recall my father speaking in the most glowing of terms about his sister. He called her "Pud," (rhymes with 'good'), and to this day, I wish I knew the origin story of that name, but to him, that's who she was. Because we lived in Arizona and Robin's family was in North Carolina, we didn't see each other frequently. I do know, though, that when we did get together in their Durham home, we were never strangers. We were family and even in my peek dork years - 13 years of age - when we all gathered for Thanksgiving, that feeling of family that my aunt worked so hard to create was ever present. As I got a little older, I had the opportunity to visit North Carolina several times as my late grandmother, Grandmommy, was in Robin's care. I have fond memories of attending church with Robin on those trips. She loved music and she was in her element, singing in that stately choir loft in that Presbyterian church in Durham. I was unfamiliar with some of the Presbyterian traditions and she always so kind in explaining how it all worked. Kind, welcoming, warm. Shortly after the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I married, I was thrilled that we were able to travel to North Carolina to see our family there. Again, Robin welcomed my sweet wife into the family, as if she'd always been a part of it. I have never forgotten that.

When my father died almost eight years ago, Robin was already fighting the monster that would one day take her life but she was able to travel to Phoenix for his funeral. I will never forget seeing her and my mom, sitting on the couch, holding each other by the hand and reliving memories of my father. The bond my aunt shared with my dad, even though he was now gone, was evident and clearly unbreakable. Family chains don't break and now they are celebrating their reunion, along with their parents who had gone on before them. Their family is together again.

In the coming weeks, we will gather to celebrate her life and to honor the legacy Robin has left in my cousins and their children. We will love, honor, and celebrate a woman who left a positive impact on every person she met.

I'm forever grateful for my Aunt Robin and the life she led. Would that we could all live in such a way that every one you met felt better for it. That's an incredible way to live.

Our family - the last time we were all together. Sweet memories.

Alzheimer's is a horrendous disease. If you'd like to donate to the fight to find a cure, go here.

16 April 2017

Prince of Peace

@barabbas.com
As this Sunday morning dawns, the sun lights the sky from the east in brilliant alternating hues of yellow, orange, white, and blue. Its warming rays slice their way through the trees that are our makeshift fence. As the sun enlivens those trees from their dormant winter sleep, there is hope that leaves will soon burst forth.

Nearly two millennia ago, when a woman returned to the tomb of a man she deeply loved and discovered that the stone sealing his resting place had been rolled back, it was not hope that she felt. Mary felt sheer terror and wanted desperately to know where Jesus's body had gone. When asked by a man whom she supposed to be the gardener why she was weeping, Mary said, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." The man, in response, uttered her name, "Mary," and in that instant she knew it was him. It was Rabboni, Jesus himself. The stone sealing shut his tomb had been rightfully rolled back for he had conquered death.

For Christendom, this Sunday morning, Easter is joyously celebrated. It is a day of hope and renewal. It is a celebration of life conquering death. It is honoring the Son of God and His atoning sacrifice. It is remembering the Savior, the Prince of Peace.

I am grateful to be a part of this Easter celebration. I am grateful to know that He has atoned for me, a broken and occasionally rebellious and difficult soul. I am grateful to know that His empty tomb signified that He conquered death. I know that He lives.

He is the Prince of Peace.

14 April 2017

On Good Friday

@mbhohio.org
The sun is shining brightly today.

Warmth is enveloping the air, reminding us that spring is finally here.

The tulips in our front yard have emerged triumphantly from their frozen winter prison and their brilliant yellow color enlivens our home.

There is, at least for me, a sense of hopefulness in the air. That's not been easy for me to recognize, if I'm honest. Look no further than my Twitter feed and you'll know that it's not been a walk in the park to find all things hopeful of late.

Today, though, I woke up with a sense of hope and I've pondered a bit as to the reasons why. My wife, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, and I are enjoying this "empty nest" phase of our life. As we reshape ourselves in this new chapter of our lives, it's been a lot of fun to progress together. Our children are in good, good places. The Awesomes have given us two of the greatest grandchildren on the planet and our lives are better for it. CAL is challenging herself in her career and is enjoying her Spring Break on the East Coast right now. The RM is, at heart, still The Boy and we wouldn't have it any other way. So I look around at my life and there is reason to be hopeful, even if our world is beginning to look like it may become the dystopian world we saw in "The Hunger Games" (#thanksforthatFuhrerTrump). Even in the dark, violent world she created, author Suzanne Collins wrote this about hope:

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

Hope consoles us. Hope strengthen us. Hope guides us. Hope can be found in the most difficult of circumstances. Difficult circumstances abounded nearly two millennia ago when the Son of God was crucified. Today, Good Friday, is the day that the Christian world remembers that day. It's a day of enormous import in Christendom, as the events of that day initiated a hope of redemption that burns brightly to this day.

I am grateful for this day and for He who, as I believe, died on this day. I am grateful that there is still a measure of good in this world. I am grateful for hope.


26 March 2017

Prompt 3 - A significant object

The keys to the world
In this, the third installment of 'What did I do in that writing class,' I share with you our third prompt of the day. Our instructor asked us to write about an object that had significant meaning in our lives. As soon as she uttered those words, I knew that I would be writing about my passport. I've written about what my passport means to me previously here in the Den. It has literally facilitated opening my eyes to the amazing world in which we live and I truly cherish it. Given that I'm about three more Tweets away from the Trump Regime yanking my passport, or at the very least making sure that when I come back from London in a couple of weeks that my welcome back shake down will make my colonoscopy seem like the tickle of a feather, I knew I needed to write about this little blue book. So I went with it - my passport:

In a quiet, darkened movie theater, a deep voice has the ability to transport you. "In a world," the disembodied voice somberly intones and you are instantly carried away to an adventure in a strange land, a crime spree from a time long since past, or into the agony of someone's heartache. From a young age, seeing that world that voice spoke about, that strange, faraway land, had always been a siren's call that I knew I would one day heed. A passport was going to be the lynchpin in that plan.

I have not been without a passport since my 15th birthday. Those little blue books, some bursting with colorful stamps and surly visa photos and others with just a few pages marked, have been my entry into a world far different than my own. My passport has allowed me into the home of a Turkish family in Istanbul, showing me the meaning of extending hospitality to a stranger. Through the permissions granted me by my passport, I have seen what it means to have hope in the face of nothing, watching the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, work with those who have truly been downtrodden. My passport has introduced me to the joy that is the laughter of Filipino children as they dash through the traffic-choked streets of Manila. It has also shown me darker things, like the toxic impact of Western culture on Bangkok, Thailand.

There is so much beyond our own neighborhoods. There is so much to see and enjoy in this world. With my passport, I have seen the inherent goodness of people no matter where I've been in the world. That goodness gives me hope.

If it seems like that came to an abrupt halt, it did. Such is the nature of being given a limited amount of time to craft a brief personal essay. This is one I'd like to continue to refine as seeing this world has been one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.

Get out there, if you can. This world is still an amazing place.

18 March 2017

Prompt 2 - First Time In Your Life

In another installment of 'What did I do in that writing class,' I'll share the second prompt and what I wrote that day. For our second prompt, we were asked to write about the first time we experienced something in our lives. I was initially tempted to write about what it's like to live under the pseudo-authoritarian regime of a thin-skinned, mysogynistic megalomaniac and Grade A pathological liar but that seemed too fantastical, too unbelievable and this was a course in non-fiction writing (and yet here we are in Trumplandia, but I digress). So I went with something I know - on becoming a dad for the first time:

I became a father for the first time 27 years ago. I was young, some would argue that we were too young to become parents. We were barely out from under our own parents' roofs. The thought of becoming a father, though, was mostly exhilarating, until the day of our daughter's birth. It suddenly became an all-consuming terror. As my wife labored to deliver our daughter that day, I was filled with an overwhelming paralyzing fear, with questions assaulting me at every moment. The pain I was feeling had to be on par with the pain that gripped my wife with each contraction. It wasn't. But doubt plagued me with each of those contractions. How could I care and provide for this little girl who was about to be born when previously one of the most pressing questions in my life had been collar up or down? How would I handle this? How was I going to care for her needs?

Once she arrived, the nurse placed my daughter into my trembling arms. I took in a long, deep breath and looked into her tiny eyes. I, for better or worse, was one of the first people she was seeing. I wanted her to know she was in good hands. As I looked into her eyes with a growing sense of awe, something in me snapped me into our new reality. I touched her little hand and said, "Hi. I'm your dad. And we're going to figure this out all together." That's been my unspoken motto as a dad ever since. 27 years later and two more children, I'd like to think I've figured a few things out about being a dad. It's still a work in progress.

I don't think I've ever been more scared of anything in my life than I was the day I became a dad for the first time. Writing about it a few weeks ago brought back a flood of feelings - fear, awe, excitement, terror, joy. The funny thing is that if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

#storieseverywhere

12 March 2017

Prompt 1 - Your Name

I recently wrote about my first class in writing in many years. Since that post though, I've been reading more than I've been writing. Rereading George Orwell's "1984' in our current political dumpster fire, regime, environment has me transfixed, wound up, and terrified all at once, which is never a good mix.

Taking a break from Orwell's eerily prophetic and unsettling writing, I've been reviewing my notes from that class and the things I wrote that day. For better or worse, over the course of the next few posts here in the Den, I'm going to share them with you.

In the first few minutes of the class, we were given our first writing assignment. As we would quickly learn, each assignment that day would come in the form of a prompt. These prompts were meant to kick start our thinking and writing. Our first prompt that day was to write about our name - first, middle, last, or nickname. I chose my middle name and here's what happened when I put pen to paper:

Wade is my middle name. I'm named for my mother's family. My grandfather, Mac Wade, was a sheriff straight out of an old Hollywood studio's central casting office. He was also a legendary story teller. The stories he told at one point must have been true but as he aged and retold them time and again, details morphed. With each telling, some details became more fantastic, while others simply disappeared. No matter how they changed though, it was clear that that these stories meant something to him. With each story he told, he was teaching me about the power of personal stories. Our stories are who we are and our stories matter.

Writing these few sentences was simply exhilarating. They may not seem like much but I was sitting in a class with a dozen strangers, who like me, weren't quite certain about what lay in store that day. Would the writing stack up? What if I have to read this aloud? What if I can't think of anything to write? As that first prompt was given to us, I knew instantly what I would write about and I wasn't going to worry about my writing stacking up. I remembered what my late grandfather had taught me about stories. Stories matter. It was time to start sharing mine.


26 February 2017

#storieseverywhere

This is PRECISELY how it went down in class yesterday.
In a few posts here in the Den, I've pointed out that if I could have made a living that would have supported my family, I would have been a full-time university student. Seriously, I would never have left. I loved going to school at the university level (high school, not so much). However, after seeing my share of guys in their mid- to late-30s dragging themselves to class, living in married student housing with children in middle school, I knew the full-time student gig was not for me.

So off to the big, bad work world it was for me and there I've been ever since. Over the years, I've thought about going back to school. I'd had no advanced degree in mind. I just wanted to go back to school for the opportunity to challenge myself and learn something new. I've done some executive education related to my job and even spent some time back on campus (Cornell was pretty cool) but that's been the extent of it. I've tried to keep my writing skills up to snuff through my rantings writings in the Den and I've enjoyed that but I've wondered what more could I do to improve my writing and see where this could take me.

Yesterday, I took that first step to finding the answers to those questions. Having heard some good things about the Gotham Writers Workshop, I reviewed their curriculum and decided to give it a go. I took my first class in more than 27 years when I sat down in a one-day course called Personal Essay Writing. I squeezed (my body is not the slender temple it was the last time I was in a classroom setting) into the all-in-one desk / chair / torture device, took at my pen and a pad of paper (keeping it old school), and steeled myself for a day of learning. What a day it was!

Prompts
Structure
Voice
Pacing
Meaning
Show, don't tell

As we wrote six different times throughout the day, I was in heaven! I wanted to read everywhere one of my samples just to get the perspective of the other students as well as our instructor. I didn't because I had to recognize that it wasn't all about me. I found myself taking copious notes throughout the day and getting excited about what's next in terms of my writing and the stories I can tell. It was fascinating to hear what the other students had written. I was amazed at the skill shown as well as the fearlessness. Their stories were moving, funny, and insightful.

The day ended all too soon but that spark I felt is now growing. I'm wanting to set aside time throughout the week now to work on a prompt or two. I'm looking at other classes and opportunities to become a better writer. I'm more and more convinced of the power of stories. My new favorite hashtag comes from Gotham Writers, #storieseverywhere. Stories reveal what is common to us. They reveal our good and our bad. They reveal our humanity.

Stories are everywhere. I'm looking forward to telling a few more of mine. When will you tell yours?

16 February 2017

The 27 Club

So who here has heard of The 27 Club? Anyone? Anyone?

If you haven't, either click on the the link above or let me just tell you that the long and short of it is that unless you're hankering to be dead, you don't want in on this one.

Prominent members of the club include Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Are you sensing a theme yet? All dead at the age of 27 and sadly not by natural causes. Like I said, not the club you want to join.

That said, since we now live in a world that makes the Upside Down World of "Stranger Things" look like the most logical thing ever, there is another less lethal version of The 27 Club and my first-born daughter joined that august group today. We have another birthday here in the Den and Our Lady of Awesome has turned 27.

I still marvel that I am the father of three well-adjusted children (all credit to their amazing mother) and that my oldest has turned 27. I have to admit though that it's good fun to see her at this stage in her life. Watching her parent her two children along with Awesome is something to behold. There are moments where my natural instinct is to help in that parenting, which usually means laughing inappropriately at something my grandson has done, but I manage to suppress and let them parent. It's a delight to behold.

I am amazed at her strength, her even-keeled nature, and how she still manages to not suffer a single fool gladly. I appreciate how she is such an incredible reflection of the goodness of her mother.

I am delighted that we get to spend this long weekend with her. We'll all be together tomorrow night - the whole lot of us - celebrating her birthday one day late. We are really looking forward to that.

As we celebrate her from afar tonight, I am reminded what an honor it is to be her dad. Being a dad to her, CAL, and The RM is the greatest title I could ever have.

Happy birthday, Princess!

09 February 2017

#shepersisted

Not a snow ninja. It's my wife.
(This is not a well-deserved homage to Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the stance she took during the recent confirmation hearings for yet another controversial member of President Trump's cabinet, so read on without anger, if that's what you were expecting)

Seemingly out of nowhere, Mother Nature tossed a fast one called Winter Storm Niko at the residents of New England today. Starting at about 6:00 this morning, it started to snow and it didn't stop at all in this part of Martha Stewart's fiefdom until 3:00 this afternoon. While not quite as much snow as we got four years ago to the day in a similar Nor'easter, the 14 inches or so that fell on our 'hood was more than enough.

As the snow continued to pile up through the day, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I plotted our shoveling strategy. I normally don't like to wait until a storm is over to shovel. I typically divide it into thirds - hit it as it starts, then again about midway through and then a third time to clean up the wreckage. Why take such an approach? Because in my mind, it A) lessens the workload in the end and B) snowstorm-related OCD. It's more likely the latter. Today, though, there were two things working against the usual plan. One was the pace at which the snow was falling and two, my back is still not 100% recovered from the unfortunate stair incident that we don't like to discuss. So we decided to tackle it once the snowfall had subsided.

As my last conference call of the day ended, I dashed upstairs to throw on some snow gear. By dashed I mean approached both the ascent and descent on the stairs as if I were a frail 90 year old woman addled with advanced osteoporosis. Ever since my fall, that is the exact way I approach our stairs (or any set of stairs for that matter). Don't be jealous. It was at that point that I discovered my wife had already shoveled through about 1/3 of our driveway and was working furiously on what remained.

I wish that this surprised me but you see, this is how my wife rolls. As I got outside, shovel in hand, she looked up (at least I think she was looking at me since it was hard to tell what she was looking at  in her snow ninja outfit) from her snow-laden shovel and the following conversation went down:

SNOW NINJA: "What are you doing?"
ME: "I'm gonna shovel."
SNOW NINJA: "No, you're not. I don't need you aggravating your back. You're not even fully healed yet."
ME: "Yes, I am. I'm going to shovel."
SNOW NINJA: "No, you're not. Go get a broom and sweep off the front porch. I can do this.
ME: No, I'm going to shovel."
SNOW NINJA: "You're going to hurt yourself."
ME: I mumble something unintelligible so she can't hear it in her one good ear. Because I am a grown man. I then start shoveling.

About ten minutes in, I had my first delightful back spasm. She of course saw me flinch and wince and just looked at me. I was still determined to keep shoveling. I slipped a couple of times without falling and each time, even though her back was to me, she would tell me, 'I told you that you'd fall. You're only going to hurt yourself more.' Seriously, how does she this? I now know why our children were convinced she had eyes in the back of her head. My contributions at this point were borderline pathetic and that's when our neighbors came over, shovels in hand, to help finish the job. We, scratch that, I am clearly the 'old man' neighbor now.

They were there to help me, not the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. She holds her own in any given situation. She puts her mind to something and she gets it done. She is persistent in a way that can take you by surprise. She certainly persisted with me today. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for her persistence with our children as she carried so much of that responsibility. They are who they are because of her. Our daughters are women who are not afraid to be persistent in their own right because of the example of their mother. I'm grateful for her persistence with me. I get that I am her biggest project (see my insistence to do something that would clearly hurt me earlier today as proof there is work yet to be done).

Persist away, SML, persist away. I'm a better man because of it.

22 January 2017

22 January 1970

Forty seven years ago, on 22 January 1970, a milestone in commercial aviation was achieved when a Boeing 747 completed its first revenue flight for its first customer, Pan American World Airways. The arrival of the newly crowned "Queen of the Skies," as she will forever be remembered, at London Heathrow opened up the world to the masses in a way that could not have been anticipated. Suddenly, hundreds of people at once could traverse the globe in a matter of hours. Overnight, the world became a much smaller place.

As a certified airline dork, Pan Am aficionado, and world traveler, this is a special day. My first trans-Atlantic flight took place fourteen years after that first commercial flight and it was between those same two cities - New York JFK and London Heathrow - on a Pan Am 747 that looked every day of its fourteen years. I did not sleep a wink on that flight, as I wanted to take in every second on board the legendary Queen. Sure, she looked like she'd been rode hard and put away wet, but this was Pan Am on one its marquee routes. Sitting in Economy that night, I was a few rows back from the vaunted Clipper Class and I remember seeing through the occasional break in the red curtain that divided our cabins, the passengers being served multi-course meals, reclining back in their seats further than I thought possible, and saying to myself, "One day I'll travel that way."

I've been very fortunate to travel that way many times ever since. I've flown in the very front of that plane, in its upper deck, and even in a middle seat in the very last row (let's never, ever, ever speak of that atrocity again). The 747 made the world smaller for me. She has carried me to places like this:

London, Frankfurt, Chennai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Manila, Sydney, Tokyo,
Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City

As she carried me to all those places, I could not have imagined all the things that I would learn and experience. When I disembarked from that first transatlantic journey at 17, I had no idea that London would show me what a truly global city it is. In Tokyo, I discovered tastes that I never dreamed would cross my palette. In Manila, I discovered a people so full of kindness that I remember the lessons they taught me to this day. In Hong Kong, I found that a city truly is a living thing and there is nothing as vibrant as that great city. In Chennai, I discovered a people so layered in mystery and beauty that I still have difficulty articulating the experience to this day. In Sydney, I reveled in meat pies and did so with some of the friendliest, most adventerous people I've ever known. As I've traveled the world on the 747, I discovered a beautiful, diverse world full of stunning vistas, amazing cities, and people who prove that we are far more alike than we are different.

That lesson, that we are far more alike than we are different, is one I am trying hard to remember as my own country is as polarized as it has ever been. It's amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can bring you when you are in another country and not able to speak the same language. It's been incredible to see what happens when you express a bit of interest in someone else's culture when traveling. Some of the most amazing meals of my life have happened by asking simple questions in a local market. Language and culture barriers collapse over the joy of shared meals. 

I am forever grateful for the experiences I've had in this world, many of which were as a result of a flight on a 747. The airplane was, and is, amazing, but its the people in those places that plane carried me that have enriched my life. They taught me that our differences aren't so vast and that this world is  a gift.

I need to remember that lesson right now and apply it to my fellow countrymen. Something tells me we're going to need to remember that something awful in the coming months and years.

15 January 2017

I fell and I couldn't get up - Another entry in the "Learn from My Mistakes" series

She fell but she had LifeAlert, so she could get up.
After a great and very busy week in one of my favorite places, Mexico City, I was looking forward to a relaxing night at home with the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML this past Friday. I'd been home about two hours when I realized I needed to get something out of my work bag, which was down in my basement office. As I started down our steep wooden, carpet-free stairs, I gave nary a thought to the fact that I was wearing a pair of socks that are all kinds of slippery. This was, with apologies to the great Ron Burgundy, "a bad choice."

As I hit the third to the last step, both feet flew out from under me with a force not seen since Kris Kardashian abandoned all her morals as a parent and sold out her children and I sailed over the last three steps and slammed onto the floor with my back taking the full brunt of the impact. Mercifully, I didn't hit my head and with my lungs struggling to recover from the wind that was knocked out of them, I managed to scream out a stream of mild profanities as the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML came charging down the stairs to see if I was dead. Dead I was not, but pain I was in. I lay on the floor writhing for about 15 minutes before I managed to get up. Once up, every step sent daggers of pain up and down my back, so I decided to make my way upstairs and crawl into bed.

Once in bed, everything hurt. Pain was radiating all over the place. Every movement was a heaping slice of agony. I took a couple of Aleve, which alleviated nothing. A heating pad, even at its lowest setting served only as an invitation to burns on my back. At this point, it was time to throw in the pain towel and try to sleep. Sleep was furtive (my Fitbit showed I was restless 28 times through the night) and at around 530AM, after hearing me cry out in pain yet again, my wife decided it was time to go an urgent care facility. Getting out of bed was an act of contortion that any circus freak would have been proud of. As I finally stood, it was clear I was going to need a spotter. After a couple of steps, my legs gave out and I was down on the floor, now literally unable to move. Like the elderly stars of the LifeAlert commercials, I was not getting up but I had no monitor to push to get someone to get me up. As SML pondered our limited options, she decided it was time to call 911. She called them, explained our dilemma and asked them to not roll up with sirens and lights blaring. Because who needs that drama at 6AM on a Saturday.

In our little town, 911 calls are pretty exciting because we had two policemen in our home before the paramedics arrived. They were an interesting lot, these two. One took the role of determining if I had been drinking, thus causing the fall. He didn't seem to believe my slippery sock story. The other quizzed SML to determine if she had pushed me. Seriously. They were delightful, in the same way Donald J. Trump is delightful.

The paramedics, on the other hand, were great. I was so embarrassed by the position that I was in, both literally and figuratively, and they could not have been cooler. Because of the narrowness of our hallways, a gurney wasn't an option to get me out of the house, so they went with a stair chair. Once they determined they could move me without exacerbating my injury, it took the two paramedics and SML to get me up. I'll admit I hollered like an angry stuck pig as they got me into that chair. They got me downstairs pretty fast and into a gurney. As they got me into the back of their "rig," the paramedic who was driving was excited to tell me that this was the newest rig in the fleet. As far as paramedic rigs go and given my vast (none) knowledge of them, I will tell you I was impressed. As we drove to John Dempsey Hospital (my choice Cantonites - I like that hospital), the attending paramedic took my blood pressure multiple times as it was skyrocketing as they moved me and he was glad to see it lowering.

Once we got to the ER, we were turned over to the hospital staff and shenanigans began. A nurse came in and asked me to put on one of those breezy, flappy hospital gowns. This meant two things for me A) sitting up and 2) taking my fleece over my head and those were two things I was in no condition to do. I told her in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't be doing that. She said, "Oh you're the back guy. It's OK." Darn right it was OK. The ER attending physician came in and said I'd be going to X-ray shortly and then a nurse breezed in with Percocet and a muscle relaxant. Unfortunately for me and the X-ray tech, they took me to X-ray before either pill had kicked in. Going from the gurney to the X-ray table was an exercise in controlled rage. Then when the poor X-ray tech told me I had to roll over onto my left side, to say that I was displeased would be the understatement of the year. Mercifully, she was able to get it done very quickly. I was wiped out at that point and the Percocet was kicking in, so once back in the ER, I was in and out sleep. The doctor returned and told us that the X-rays didn't show a break and that I was, and this is my interpretation because he kept talking about my injury in words that sounded like names of superheroes (lots of words like echo, exo, and skelton), pretty banged up internally and that I was lucky that it wasn't far. At this point, I felt like a total spastic that I had to have the paramedics get me out of my house. He assured me it was a valid injury and that the muscle spasms I was having, and going to have, were heaping piles o'agony. Tell me about it...

So what have we learned from all this:

  • Wearing hospital socks with the grips on the bottom is now a requirement in the house
  • Carpet runners for the stairs will happen and soon
  • Percocet takes far too long to kick in and pales in comparison to the glory of Dilaudid
  • It is stupid to wait hours to get yourself checked after you've hurt yourself

Yep, that's me in the back of the Canton rig















Hospital Thug Uniform 
Learn from my mistakes people, learn from my mistakes.

08 January 2017

In its 10th year

I was feeling nostalgic the other day and went back to my first post here in the Den - December 15, 2007 - and realized I am now in my tenth year of blogging.

I guess there's something to be said for that, right? I'll let you be the judge of what it is that should be said. Somehow I've managed to stick with this little piece of the interwebs longer than I've ever stayed with one company. We've never lived in one place longer than seven years since we've been married and yet this blog has managed to enter its tenth year.

As it enters its tenth year, I'm taking a bit of a different approach to how I post here in the Den. In the last couple of years, I felt compelled to get at least ten posts in a month. There was no reason for it other than my own self-imposed goal. That goal fell apart when I took a hiatus (thank you  obscene cruise ship internet fees) last year as the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML took a much-needed vacation. Once we returned, I found it hard to get back in the groove. None of your worlds fell apart and neither did mine as a result of my less frequent posting. So this year, I'm not going to worry about  a certain number of monthly posts. I'm going to write and post as I see fit. The content is going to change much either, so you've been warned.

One thing that I do hope will improve is the writing itself. Inspired by a conversation with two friends (one over lunch in Dallas and another while we were back in Chicago last month), I've decided to pursue some writing courses. I'm starting with a seminar with the Gotham Writers Workshop next month and we'll see where it leads. I'm kind of excited, if I'm honest.

Here's to seeing what this tenth year will bring!

07 January 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

With apologies to famed author Jules Verne (but none to Brendan Fraser who starred in the remake of the film by the same name of Verne's book. Because Brendan Fraser), I'm going to recount my own "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from earlier this week. How did I get there, you ask? Well, if I'm honest, I didn't. Instead, I had my first colonoscopy and this seemed like an apt euphemism.

If you don't follow me on the Facebook or the Twitter, you would have missed the fact that I was embarking on this adventure (thanks for that little belated gift, 50th birthday). Because I have a particularly low shame threshold, I either posted or live tweeted as much of the shenanigans as I could. There was a reason for that, I promise, and I'll get to that.

That said, I'm going to cut to the chase. The procedure itself, having "a camera inserted into your rectum" as my 12 year old doctor (seriously...he was the Indian version of 'Doogie Howser' - I have suits in my closet that are older than him) reminded me as I was splayed out in the prep room, was an absolute breeze. Primarily because of the delightful dose of Michael Jackson's favorite sleepy time med, Propofol. Once I was wheeled into the procedure room and I was splayed out differently (on my left side - apparently that's the appropriate angle of attack), the nurse anesthetist said to me, "Ready for a nap?" and like that, I was out. I was so out that I didn't mind in the least that I was being bored like an oil drill fracking the Oklahoma countryside. Before I knew it, I was in Recovery asking the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML how long she'd been there. I asked her this repeatedly. It was then that the attending nurse said I'd been very funny as I came out of the Jackson Juice haze. This concerns me for a host of reasons. After a post-procedure snack of water and a blueberry protein bar (nothing but the best at this facility), I walked out and since I'd not eaten in nearly 40 hours, we went to lunch. That was it. Seriously.

The procedure really was a breeze. What was awful was the prep and by prep, I mean Suprep. Created in the darkest bowel (pun absolutely intended) of Satan's Pharmacy on the Seventh Ring of Hell, this two bottle solution of the foulest tasting concoction is meant to clean out your tender colon faster than a drug-fueled all you can eat binge on Jack In The Box tacos. Marketed as "berry flavored," the clear translucent liquid cleverly hides its foulness. Let me be clear that it is not berry flavored. It is berry scented and this difference, as our mentally unstable, pathologically allergic to honesty President Elect would say, is "yuge!"The Berry Council, if there is such a thing, should sue for defamation of character because this stuff is as noxious as it gets. To call it gross is an offense to things that are really gross (the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" come to mind). I managed to choke down the first dose without much of a fight and then I waited for the output. Within an hour, the output burst forth like a firehose gushing wildly with no ability to turn it off. As a result, this was my view for more time than I'd like to admit:


After more of this than I care to recall, it was time for round two of Satan's cocktail. This one was rough. It took me more than ten minutes to choke it down. I chased each gritty, heinous sip with a generous gulp of water and two different flavors of Gatorade. I may or may not have shed a tear during this process as well. I need to point out that my son, who had to go through this experience in a 'clinic' in southern Mexico, was laughing riotously the whole time. Honestly, I can't imagine what he went through so I'm glad he could laugh at mine. Anyway, with round two barely down, its desired effects went into overdrive. It was past 10PM and I was terrified to go to sleep because given the speed with which this crap (again, pun intended) works, the likelihood of an in-bed tragedy was too high, so I stayed awake as long as I could. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML was literally lying next to a ticking time bomb and I, as the bomb, knew that, so sleep didn't come easily to either of us, once I decided the coast was clear for the upcoming journey to the center of the earth.

That journey, for me, yielded an excellent result. A clean bill of health for my colon was declared by the doctor (BONUS - this means none of that Suprep garbage for another five years!). It was good to know. As I read up in advance of the procedure, I learned that colon cancer ranks in the top three of cancer killers but it is one of the most preventable. It was then that I decided I would share as much of the process as I could; hence, the posts and Tweets. You'll be glad to now that my wife snatched my phone out of my hands as I was led away by some nurses to get prepped because she has a great deal more good sense than I. Yes, the prep is really a suckfest but the procedure is a snap. For those of you that have been afraid to get this done, DO IT! Get screened. In the rear end, you'll be glad you did.

To learn more about colon cancer and prevention, check out either of these two organizations:
Colon Cancer Alliance
Stop Colon Cancer Now

02 January 2017

2017

Well, you're here now. 
It's Day Two of 2017 and not to put too fine a point on it, but we are all still here (well, with the exception of one Mariah Carey's singing career. Wait...has anyone checked in on Betty White?). Given how 2016 went for the world, this is saying a lot.

I've never been much for making grandiose New Year's resolutions, much less post them here in Den. I already share way too much in this space. I don't need to add a cavalcade of potential failures to the parade of TMI.

Speaking of TMI and in a glorious metaphor of the bellicose statements of our newly-elected Fuhrer President, I'm starting this year with my own personal version of #DrainTheSwamp. How, you ask? (Or if you're wise, don't ask.) With a 50 year old body, a fully funded HSA account, and doctor's orders, I'm getting my first colonoscopy this week. I can't think of a better way to welcome this new year! Based on all the feedback I've gotten on this procedure, I know that the prep will truly drain the swamp. At least someone is going to fulfill that promise.

I'm honestly relieved to be doing this. I've been doing some reading in advance of the procedure and I was disturbed to learn that colon cancer is in the top three of cancer killers. When caught early, it is 90% beatable. So I'm fine with some pre-procedure unpleasantness because there's a Propofol cocktail waiting at the end of that rainbow:

"You'll totally know why Michael Jackson loved the stuff."
Nurse who called me to explain the procedure. She
should be awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Talk about an endorsement! Quite a way to start the new year.

When you start your year off like that, it helps frame the year ahead. As I said earlier, I'm not much for resolutions. I am a lot more in favor of guidelines that will help frame the actions that I will take in a new year. For so many reasons, this quote is my 2017 touchstone:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil 
is for good man to do nothing."
Edmund Burke

Please don't sit idly by and let the world pass you by this year.
Do something. Raise your voice. Lend a hand. 
Do not let evil win.