Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Floyd

Long before Tammy and I ever met, we attended the same Pink Floyd concert together in June of 1994. I went with my friend Scott and she with her husband to be. They played at the HHH Dome in Minneapolis and although that's usually a lousy place for a concert, you wouldn't have known it that night. Tammy told me how the guy next to her fiancé blew (pot) smoke in his face and he took offense. Tammy had to tell him that he was only trying to be nice.

I first heard about the band in 1970 from a friend in my 7th-grade sculpture class. He was talking about their album, Ummagumma. It would be a few more years before I'd actually hear anything from them but when I did I instantly became a fan. How could you not? Several of their songs have made their way onto my mp3 player which I use on my bike.

Tammy gave me a DVD of Pink Floyd's last concert performance from 2005 for Christmas. Live performances usually leave me disappointed with the exception of a couple, Peter Frampton's 1976 Frampton Comes Alive and UFO's Strangers in the Night. Both are excellent. But, Pink Floyd in Concert P.U.L.S.E. (2 DVDs) blows them both away. It's not even close. We watched it yesterday and both of us commented more than once how it's much better than we'd imagined it could be. Anybody within shouting range who wants to borrow it just let me know.

So, that brings me to the reason for this post.

Rachel had some friends over tonight and after some Wii, they sat down to watch The Wizard of Oz. Tammy came downstairs just as the show was beginning and suggested that they watch the video while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon as there are some incredible coincidences that occur and will leave you wondering. They were game. I sat with them and pointed out what to look for as they weren't familiar with the album, er CD. They chatted through most of it and missed a good part of it but in the end, they thought it was pretty cool, especially the ending.

Here's a video someone edited of the album and the video synched together and here's a some of the highlights to look for:

Watch as Dorothy balances on a fence rail while the words "Balanced on the biggest wave you race towards an early grave" are sung. Dorothy falls as the words "early grave" are sung.

The ringing of the alarm bells coincides perfectly with the entrance of Elvira Gulch. The song during this video is called Time. Notice the fortune teller's sign, it reads Past, Present and Future.

The song The Great Gig in the Sky; is that a reference to the tornado in the video?

The music slowly builds in time to the intensity of the actors' movements in the video. The intensity of Clare Torry's wailing matches perfectly with Dorothy's frantic mood. Her vocals then subside as Dorothy loses consciousness and drifts off to the Land of Oz.

The movie changes from black and white to color just as the song Money begins and Dorothy enters the land of Oz. Okay, if you've been thinking this is far fetched you have to admit that this is an interesting transition.

Watch as the ballerinas enter on "" then proceed to dance in time to the music—the munchkins as well.

Watch as the Wicked Witch enters on the word "black".

Listen as they sing "which is which" while imagining that the singer is really saying 'Witch is witch' as they transition from the wicked witch to the good witch.

Notice the words "out....out....out..." as the good witch fades from the scene.

Dorothy finds herself along the Yellow Brick Road and comes upon the Scarecrow. Not a lot here as far as coincidences are concerned. The name of the tune is Any Colour You Like and some people say that the title is a reference to the Technicolor used in the film which was state-of-the-art in 1939 when the film was made.

The song Brain Damage plays as Dorothy and the Scarecrow are on the yellow brick road. Listen for the line "Got to keep the loonies on the path".

Toward the end of the album and this final segment Dorothy and the Scarecrow come upon the Tinman. The lyrics "All that you taste/All that you hear/All that you feel" accompany Dorothy's efforts to revive the Tinman by oiling his joints.

The Tinman lacked a heart.

Eclipse, the last song on the album, concludes with the sound of a heartbeat. You hear this sound as Dorothy puts her hand and ear to the Tinman's chest while listening for a heartbeat as the music fades out to the sound of a heartbeat.

I have a confession to make. On my first date with Tammy in March 1999 we came back to my home and watched this. Actually, we came back to my home to see the stained glass lamps I'd made. There had been a full-page article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz coincidence and just that week I'd watched it for the first time. I suggested it to Tammy and she gave me her approval. Snickers sat between us as I tried to impress my date. Let me tell you that she was most certainly impressed. Thank you, Pink Floyd.

Hey, we were married less than five months later.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas, 2008

When I was 8 years old we were living in our home in Wayzata. It was just up the street at Jimmy Ward's house that I learned there was no Santa Clause. The Christmas of '65. I'd never even considered the idea until Jimmy told me. I took the news to my older sister Jackie and she confirmed it for me. Looking back, I have no idea how it wasn't Jackie who would've been the one to reveal this to me. She was the one who on occasion would tell me ahead of time what I was getting for Christmas after she'd done her reconnaissance work. If there was no Santa, then what were the chances that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were also frauds? I was careful to keep the secret from Keith and Tim who were still fully sold on the scam.

Christmas day 2008 has been a full one. I got to bed late last night after visiting with family, attending Christmas Eve services, and opening gifts while staying up too late. My alarm got me up at 4:30 this morning and I had to sit on the edge of my bed for a minute to pull myself together before getting up and into the shower. I was dead on my feet. Fortunately, it was an easy day at work and I took whatever breaks were offered. Thankfully, there were many. I came home and slept from 3:30 until 6:00. I didn't nap, I slept.

Rachel and I went to Grandma's house last night to visit with the rest of the family. Tammy had to work until 7:30 so she took a pass. It was a nice visit but I left with two regrets: that we couldn't stay longer and that not everyone could make it. Mom does a great job of pulling together a nice meal for us all and making her home available and comfortable.

I especially enjoy Christmas Eve service at Hosanna. Pastor Bill gave his usual Christmas Eve sermon which I never grow tired of hearing. He took the time to apologize to anybody who has ever been marginalized by the church. He talked about the different names for God/Jesus; Emanuel being one of them. Emanuel means "God with us", not "God with me" and "not with you". God is with all of us but we have to make the decision to accept him. He talked about how God chose to reveal himself to the people of the world, not as some all-powerful being but as a vulnerable child. And that's why we were there—to celebrate Christ's birth. Call me foolish for believing all of this. Maybe it's just another Santa Clause lie. I'll take my chances and believe.

We got home from church a little after 10:00 and opened gifts. We didn't place near the emphasis on gifts this year as we have in the past. Rachel was telling me the other night that she didn't have many requests for us. She's becoming less and less materialistic the older she gets. I could learn from her example.

Tammy had a photo that Rachel took in Guatemala last August enlarged and framed for her. That was easily the most meaningful gift we gave her and she loved it. She talked about how she'll take it with her to college and wherever she goes.

I bought Tammy a watch. I broke down and got her something from within the glass cabinet rather than the spinning stand. I told her that I wouldn't be offended if she exchanged it for something different but she's very happy with it. Hey, I learned from the "doghouse" video. ;)

Tammy got me some new road shoes for cold-weather cycling. I've been making do with my regular warm-weather shoes but I really need something better, more robust in protection from the bitter cold and these shoes are all of that. I'll bike in zero degrees weather for a little over an hour and it's always my frozen toes which brings me home sooner than I'd like. These shoes should be a big improvement in the warmth department. There isn't a better shoe on the market for winter riding. Now, if the ice and snow would recede some I could get back on the road and see how well they work.

We've been getting hammered with snow and plenty of cold weather in the Midwest. Every couple days I'm out there with either my shovel in hand or behind our snowblower clearing our driveway. I've used the 4wd in my truck more this year than any other year in the seven years I've owned it.

Rachel surprised me with The Dark Knight, the Batman blockbuster from last summer. She was excited to give it to me. I wanted to see it when it was in the theaters but we never made it. The three of us sat downstairs tonight and watched it. It's a bit of a departure from the dynamic duo I used to watch in the 3rd grade but it was a good show. I loved the Batmobile/Batcycle the most.

And that's a wrap for Christmas, 2008.

Here's some video from Christmas Eve at my mom's home. Maybe a bit boring if you're not family but feel free to have a look.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

1975 Revisited, part 3

This is part three of I'm not sure how many. Find part one here.

12/31/1975. Less than one month before this date I never would've imagined I'd be spending New Year's Eve in Boot Camp. But there I was and surprisingly, I was already feeling comfortable in the routine.

Easily my biggest concern going in was how my right knee would hold up to the physical demands of the 8-week training as I'd torn ligaments and cartilage in it twice in the previous six months and had my leg in a full length cast each time for one month during the recovery. It was far from healthy. The most stressful thing was all of the marching we had to do but I think that only helped to make my knee stronger.

As long as we were on base there was no such thing as motorized transportation. We marched everywhere, in neat rows. Everyone had a specific place in our platoon's formation and as the weeks went by, our improved synchronization became noticeable. We'd sing out cadence sort of like convicts singing on a chain-gang. "I don't know what I've been told but four-oh-five is growing I right or wrong?'re right...are we weak or strong?...we're strong...sound it off...three-four...bring it on down!" Our CC would usually lead our marches but sometimes he'd take off in his orange Maverick and meet up with us. Winters in Chicago could be brutally cold; who could blame him?

Our Recruit Petty Officer Chief, (RPOC) was a guy named Anthony Laverpool from Brooklyn, NY. He was the recruit among us designated to be in charge when our CC or his assistant wasn't there. He'd wake us up in the morning with his booming voice as he'd walk down the row of bunks. I can still hear him in my head..."Out the rack, Gheemoe...out the rack!" I think he was 27, making him several years older than most of us. He had my respect.

Nights were usually spent polishing shoes and studying the Blue Jacket's manual (a sailor's bible) for weekly tests we'd have to pass. I seldom had time to study due to my clerk duties so I'd go into the tests blindly. Not a good idea. I nearly failed one of them which would've set me back a week in training.

Evenings were also a time when you could socialize with the other guys. One night while I was arranging some stuff in a drawer by my bunk, Edgar came over and offered to give me a hand and show me how he organized his locker. Great! What I didn't realize until later was that after his help, my ID card was missing as well as some money from my wallet. Losing your ID card was a major sin and not one easily forgiven. I couldn't prove that Edgar had stolen from me but in my mind, there was no question about what had happened. Nobody else had access to what was in my drawer as it was always locked when I wasn't in it.

I'd have to tell my CC what happened and suffer the consequences which I was sure would mean a two day trip to Delta (not a place you want to go). Delta was for recruits who needed help following instruction and usually involved lots of physical exercises—read: "pain". I fully expected to be sent there.

I told my CC of my dilemma and he said he'd see what he could do. He arranged a meeting between myself and his boss, LTJG Dillon. I told Mr. Dillon what happened and he gave me the typical reply about being more responsible and blah blah blah, but then he did what I wasn't expecting. He sent me off to get a new ID with the admonishment to be more careful in the future. No Delta. I wasn't expecting that.

I never mentioned to Edgar what happened nor did I ever question him about taking my wallet. It wouldn't change anything. I was back in the fold and that's all that mattered.

The further along we got into our 8 weeks, the more respect we gained from our CC. The mashings were nonexistent in the last few weeks and if the focus had been on breaking us down early on, it was now spent building us up. We were operating as a cohesive unit and winning inspection competitions against other companies on base. I wasn't going to miss the experience when it was done but I'd be thankful for having gone through it.

Without question, my time in Boot Camp was a life-changing experience for me. I felt as though I'd actually accomplished something meaningful rather than just barely getting by as I did in high school.

J. R. Bartling was proud of our company. There was a look of approval that last day which hadn't been there before. You could see it in his face as we gathered together on the grinder outside our barracks one final time before boarding the bus for the airport. Although he did comment to me that I'd let him down with the near failing score I'd had on the one exam. Had I scored better, we would've won another flag to go with the four others we'd won and that was important. One more to our tally would've put us among a small percentage of companies to achieve that accomplishment. It mattered to me but going home probably mattered more at that point.

I remember shaking his hand before I turned to board the bus with my heart in my throat. I had so much respect for him that words were hard to say. I don't know that I needed to say anything. I think he knew.

I'd spend the next two weeks at home before returning to the Naval Training Center in Chicago to go through Radarman A-School before being sent to the Philippines to catch my ship, the USS Fresno, LST1182. The next three and a half years would provide a boatload of experiences, pun intended. I intend to occasionally write a bit about them as well.

To be continued...

Monday, December 22, 2008

1975 Revisited, part 2

This is part two of several. Find part one here.

The whole idea of joining the Navy was a bit intimidating to me but I'd soon figure out that most of the guys I was traveling with on our way to Boot Camp in Chicago were feeling the same so there was some relief in that. My game plan was to keep a low profile and not draw any unnecessary attention to myself. The main advice being passed around among us was to not volunteer for anything. I could only speculate why that was good advice but I'd go with it.

I remember being rousted out of bed the first morning in our barracks to the sound of our Company Commander (CC) banging a baseball bat inside a garbage can at some way too early an hour. This was our first exposure to him and if it was his intent to get our undivided attention, he succeeded. This was the real deal and there would be no hiding or turning back.

We spent a good amount of time in the coming days standing at attention beside our bunks while our CC walked up and down the two opposing lines of men, telling us the way it would be. You didn't smile or make eye contact with him. I found it best to avoid eye contact with anyone at those times.

The goal of Boot Camp is to remove your individuality and get the group working as a team. Everybody got the same buzz haircut, the same uniform and the same set of rules. If anyone dared color outside the lines we'd all pay the price in the form of what was called 'mashing'—intense physical therapy. That's not to say that there weren't times when an individual was singled out for some extra push-ups. "Get down and give me 50" was a common phrase.

There wasn't much downtime as they seemed to keep us busy, especially the first few days. We had inoculations to get as well as our uniforms and other assorted gear. Order was the key to everything. All of our clothing had to be stenciled with our last name and folded a particular way. That part would be easy for me because I'm good at meaningless details.

Early on in the first week, some of us were called into our CC's office and separately interviewed for one of several jobs for which we could volunteer. There was that "volunteer" word I was told to avoid. During the interview, my CC told me that because my penmanship was good he'd like to have me serve as company clerk. What to do? He wanted me for the job and to tell him no could only work against me in the future. I said yes.

I'll pause from the story to add a photo of my company, Company 405. I scanned this a few nights ago. The photo itself is too large to fit in a file drawer so I've had it sitting on an upper shelf in the closet of our den underneath my idled Kenwood KR6030 receiver purchased at the Navy Exchange in Subic Bay, the Philippines toward the end of my enlistment. After scanning it, I dragged it into Photoshop and did a small amount of restoration work before uploading it to my Flickr account.

Once I got it uploaded I spent some time tagging each individual in the photo, listing their name and hometown. Thankfully, I had my copy of The Keel with all of our individual photos to help me place the names with the faces. Still, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Click here to see the final product. Place your cursor within the photo to see the detail I'm referring to.

It was interesting going through and zooming in on each individual in the photo to match the faces to a face and name in The Keel. That effort brought back a lot of memories I'd totally forgotten about; memories that I had no idea were still a part of my internal hard drive. That's what gave me the idea to blog a bit about my Navy experiences beginning with Boot Camp.

J. R. Bartling was our CC's name. He'd spent his time in the Navy as an Engineman and was finishing out his career working with recruits. I recall that his wife was Asian from some things he'd mentioned to me about her. I always felt that he was watching out for me. I don't know what the motivation behind it was except that I was his clerk and it was my job to make his life easier by keeping track of a whole lot of the small detail stuff. Like I said, I was good at that. I took care of him and he returned the favor although I wasn't expecting him to.

There was the time when he was upset with our company's performance in an inspection. It was late afternoon when he came into the barracks and barked an order for us all to stand at attention next to our racks. And so the "mash" session began. We weren't more than a few minutes into it when he yelled out, "Clerk! Don't you have some office work to do?" "Yes sir!" I replied. As I made my way toward the office at the front of our barracks he said, "You smoke don't you?" Again I responded, "yes sir". "Grab your smokes" he told me.

So there I was, sitting in the office sucking on a Marlboro Light doing routine paperwork stuff while listening to my company being mashed. It was an uncomfortable position for me to be in but everybody knew it wasn't something I sought out. I didn't want to stand out from the other guys but having J. R. Bartling in my corner was a good thing and would pay dividends a few weeks down the road when I found myself in some pretty serious trouble.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

1975 Revisited

I think I've mentioned here before that I was a lousy student in high school and probably going back before then. I'd include a senior photo from my high school yearbook but I never bothered to have one taken. I did the minimum to get by and for the most part, I did a good job of that while falling through the cracks. With six kids in our family and a father who was away on business much of the time, it was easy to slide by undetected so long as none of my teachers were calling home. I honestly don't think my parents ever asked to see my grades. If they did they never expressed any concern about the education I wasn't getting. I didn't even bother to attend my graduation ceremony. How disconnected was that?

The summer of '75 after my senior year was a blast but I knew my carefree days were numbered and when nearly all my friends headed off to college in the fall, the party was over. It didn't take much to convince me that I needed to do something more with my life other than my factory job at Northland Aluminum in St Louis Park making Bundt Pans. I remember being new on the line one night when one of the workers asked me if I was I.H., short for Industrial Help. They were the day-laborers who were bused in from the inner city for a shift of work. "No man, not me. I'm an employee here; what do I look like?" I was being mistaken for somebody on the lower rungs of society's ladder and that thought stayed with me.

I enrolled at Hennepin Technical College that fall in their drafting program while working nights at the Holiday gas station on Highway 55 in Golden Valley. I wasn't very invested in either endeavor. I'd leave school during lunch break to grab a beer or three with one of my classmates at a place called the Fox Den or Wolf's Den (or some such name) by the gravel mines on county road 18 not far from the college. I had little to no direction in my life nor any real ambition.

Queue the music

Diana Ross, Do You Know Where You're Going To, (hey, what can I say? with me on this)

In early December of '75, my sister Jackie would suggest that I pay a visit to the Navy's recruiting office in Robbinsdale. I'd never considered joining the Navy or any other service but at that point, I could clearly see that my options were limited.

I walked into the recruiter's office and sat down with Chuck Wilson whose specialty was air traffic control. It didn't register with me at the time that I too could be a controller. I'd have to take the aptitude test to see what I'd qualify for. As it turned out, I scored high enough to get a seat in Radarman school. I don't know if I'd have qualified for Air Traffic Control school because I never asked. I don't remember it being an option so my guess is I didn't make the grade.

I spent a week kicking around the idea of enlisting while Chuck would call me occasionally to see how I was doing, all the while coaxing me along through one step of the process after another. I remember driving with him to a building in Minneapolis where I'd receive my physical. I asked him at what point was it considered a done deal—that I'd be joining: when would I sign the next four years of my life away? He said that once a person has gone through the physical he likes to think they've made a commitment. That's where I was. It was decision time.

I had one stipulation for Chuck: I wanted to go out and visit my parents in Pottstown, PA prior to beginning my service. It must've been simple enough because he arranged for me to enter through the recruit depot out by my parent's home. No more requests, I had no good reason to say no.

I flew out to see my parents and Keith and Tim during Christmas week before entering the Navy. I remember driving to the Norco (short for North Coventry) Mall in Pottstown and hearing the song Do You Know Where You're Going To by Diana Ross. It was popular at the time. That song had special meaning for me as I really didn't know what would become of my life. Hearing the song today takes me right back to that same stretch of Highway 100 on the way to the mall and the thoughts I was working through. It's funny how music can capture a moment for you.

I remember going to the recruiter's office in Pottstown for my exit from the civilian world. I would meet a couple of other guys there who would also be a part of my Boot Camp company, James Carlisle and Scott Trimbur.

From the recruiter's office, we'd be taken to Philadelphia where we'd meet the rest of the enlistees and be sworn in. It still wasn't too late to back out but I was fully wedded to the plan at this point. After being sworn in with the 30-40 others, we were put on a train for the nearly 800 mile trip to Chicago. We were told we'd be riding in sleeper cars but they never appeared. The cheap seats had us crammed in with no room to lay down. That would be a sign of things to come.

Welcome to the Navy!

To be continued...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas, Memories and Miniature Minds

I'm not sure I'll post anything between now and Christmas so I'll take just a few seconds to wish you all a very merry Christmas and hope that you're able to spend some meaningful time with family and friends over the holidays.

We do a family photo each year and send it out with our Christmas cards. This year was no different, or was it? I mentioned to Tammy that I'd like to use the characters we made for ourselves on our Wii as our stand-ins. Tammy liked the idea and added to it by writing on the cards, 'Wii wish you a merry Christmas'. I suppose the play on words will be lost on some but I think most will figure it out.

The photo to the left was my third of three attempts and the one we included in our cards. The figures I used were of photos taken from the TV and cropped into a photo taken in our family room. My first two attempts (attempt 1 and attempt 2) were done using an online avatar editor to create our Mii people. I like our actual Mii characters better.

I was intent on getting a digital photo frame for my mother for Christmas but I've given up on that idea. I don't think the products out there are ready for primetime and the price they want for them is bordering on being ridiculous. I purchased two different frames but I had to return them both. The last one was a Kodak product that didn't perform at all as advertised. Quite a joke actually. I set it to change photos every 3 seconds but it would often wait 20-30 seconds between changes. I programmed it to shuffle between the 1000+ photos I had stored on the thumb drive but it kept cycling between just a couple dozen photos. After a few minutes, the picture would begin to fade and you could no longer make out the image. A real disappointment.

As it turns out, my mom needs a new kitchen faucet more than she needs a digital photo frame. I went out and found one for her at Home Depot last night and brought it over to her this morning to install it. Rachel was nice enough to wrap it.

While I was at her home she mentioned that she was in the process of cleaning out the drawer in the end table that my father used to use. She said she hasn't looked through it since before he died in September 1995. I was surprised to hear her say that.

I watched as she slowly went through the items, mostly an assortment of pens and coasters. But there were two things within the drawer which had special meaning; a card from Stephanie and a Hi and Lois comic which our family of eight could've posed for. My dad was always the one to begin the "pass it down" game in our pew. When my dad wasn't nudging one of us to "pass it down" he was usually making a drawing of a cat on a fence post for me or one of my siblings.

Tammy and I were working our way up in the standings on Mario Kart a few nights ago when out of nowhere a couple of guys in our race took the game to a whole other level. I couldn't figure out how they were doing it. Right from the starting line they were using "power-ups" against the rest of us when we should've all been equals. I said to Tammy, "they have to be cheating somehow".

When we were done racing I went online and looked up "mario kart cheats for wii". I found all sorts of clues for how to unlock things within the game but I also found a device you can buy which somehow interfaces with the controller and makes it impossible for anybody playing cleanly to compete against a cheater. Wow, I didn't realize that it was that important for some people to win at something so small in life.

I'm a little slow to catch on. Usually, when you get in a good room of people racing the names don't change much between races. I couldn't understand how we'd go from 12 racers to 6 or 8 but then I made the connection. Clean people saw the cheaters and left the room. I decided that my approach in the future will be to let the clock run out before I exit the room keeping the cheaters waiting on me so in a sense I have the last laugh. My small victory.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jalisco House-hop and Thinking of Gifts

We had our annual Jalisco Terrace house-hop last night. It's a progressive dinner organized by Rick and Jean Kraus. They do a great job of putting it together and keeping it on schedule once it begins. Lots of laughs and conversation. Once winter sets in around here, we all sort of cocoon ourselves in our homes and don't get a chance to interact much. The house-hop is a nice way of breaking that cycle.

I was able to finally get my bike back out on the road yesterday before the house-hop so I could create a calorie deficit with which to more easily eat more than I should last night with less guilt. We've been getting our fair share of snow and then some which has kept the streets icier and snowier than usual, keeping me confined to my rollers in our basement. The bottom falls out of the thermometer tomorrow but with any luck, the roads will be dry so I can keep doing my thing on them. I'm 140 miles short of 6000 road miles for the year and I'd sort of like to achieve that number. It's a number considerably less than I've done in years past but that's been the plan this year—do fewer miles so I can keep riding for years to come. Moderation. As I told some of my neighbors at the party last night, I fully intend to be out there in spandex well into my 70's. I'm not sure why but when I'd say that the reply was usually something along the lines of, "Really?" and "Eewww".

I've still got some Christmas shopping to do and I need to get busy this week and finish it. We don't exchange gifts on my side of the family between siblings so I don't have a very long list of people to buy for. Over the past several years I've scanned hundreds of family photos and cleaned them up with Photoshop Elements. My plan this year is to buy a digital photo frame for my mother and load the photos into it for her as a Christmas gift. My brother put together a beautiful photo book for her 80th birthday last month and she loved it. This would be another gift along that line.

Speaking of gifts, I was at the men's breakfast at our church yesterday morning and they closed the program with this video. Guys, take note so as to not end up in the doghouse. It's not too late to do the right thing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter's Push, One Busy Kid and Thoughts on The Shack

​Our newly laid concrete driveway is raising up under the stress of winter weather. It used to be that when I'd drive into the garage it was a smooth transition between the driveway and the garage floor. I noticed yesterday that there was a bump as I drove in. I got out to look and sure enough, the driveway is nearly an inch higher than the garage floor. Having rebar encased within the cement should help the stressed area raise in unison and minimize the chances for cracking but I know what they say about concrete driveways: there are those that have cracked and those that will. Still, I was hoping to get a few years out of it before I have to look at any cracks.

Rachel has been a bit overwhelmed this past week by the demands of both school and work. She teaches dance at the studio where she takes instruction and she's been asked to do more than she bargained for since one of the other instructors has been away with some health issues. Rachel loves to teach but they've also got her doing choreography on her own time and she has very little spare time to begin with. I asked her if they're paying her for the hours spent at home selecting music and working on the new dance routines. She said they weren't. I told her that she really needs to be compensated for that but she's reluctant to say anything because she wants to see the studio succeed and them paying her more reduces the chances of Brenda's School of Dance being a success. She's too nice sometimes.

I admire her dedication but more important than what she is or isn't being paid for is the toll it's taking on her schedule. She's so busy as it is. She didn't get home until after 11:00 last night because she was working on an assignment with her lab partners in science class. Her day today began at 5:30 and she won't be home tonight until after 9:00 when Mock Trial competition ends.

Tammy put in a call today to the woman who runs the dance studio to tell her that they need to reduce the demands they're placing on her. I know Rachel won't be happy about that but it needs to be done.

I read a book this week called The Shack. It's been out for a year but I'd only just recently heard about it when our lead pastor at church mentioned it. I remember he said that it was controversial and if I'm not mistaken he also recommended it. I bought it for Tammy for her birthday but since she's already involved in another book I decided to pick it up.

It's the story of a father (Mack) who loses his six-year-old daughter to the deranged hands of a serial killer. The story revolves around the Great Sadness Mack sinks into as well as his strained relationship with God. He goes to the mailbox one day several years after his daughter's murder and finds a note inviting him to go to the shack in Oregon where his daughter was killed and to meet the person who wrote the note there. The note was signed by Papa, the name Mack's wife uses for God.

Mack goes to the shack and has an encounter with God. The book delves into some of the deeper questions that God-believing people face such as why does God allow suffering and tragedy. It also speaks a good deal about forgiveness. For people struggling with these issues, The Shack is an excellent place to find understanding.

I enjoyed the book very much.

To fundamentalist Christians, the story lacks in biblical doctrines such as the author's interpretation of the Trinity: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God appears to Mack as a large black woman. I sort of picture either Aunt Jemima or Whoopie Goldberg. Jesus is a Middle Eastern man with a large nose and the Holy Spirit is a wispy woman of Asian descent. There is no hierarchy between the three as there should be according to doctrine. Throughout the story, Mack has conversations with each of these beings as they impart their wisdom to him.

I'm not going to criticize the book because I think it offers much in the way of visualizing what a relationship with God might look like and that's a good thing. What it lacks in biblical doctrine it more than makes up for in actually addressing some very deep and real issues which are seldom talked about and if they are, they're glossed over and left as unanswerable questions of this world.

I'm not a new-age Christian and I'm not a part of the emerging church nor am I easily hoodwinked into buying whatever the traveling snake-oil salesman is offering. Okay, I actually did sign up as a Nuskin distributor in the early '90s but I was young and gullible.

Read the book and decide for yourself. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tammy's Birthday, Re-Speaking Out, Stuck Indoors and Harry Chapin

Tammy turns 51 today. I thought I knew what 51 was supposed to look like but now I'm not so sure. I don't see either of us as being what I used to see 51 being when I was much younger. It's funny how perspective changes as we get older. 50 is the new 40 or something like that.

When my dad was the age I am the year was 1976. He had just moved what remained of our family out east to Pottstown, PA. I remained behind to finish high school. My image of him back then was that he was a pretty serious guy, focused on his work and always busy with projects around the house. We didn't talk much. He seemed much older to me than he was, at least from my current perspective. I have to wonder if Rachel sees me the same way I saw my dad at this same age in her young eyes? I suppose it's okay if she does; at least we talk. A photo of my brother and father from back in the day, circa 1976.

We had a bit of a surprise birthday party for Tammy last night. We had friends from our small-group at church over to our home for a Christmas get-together. Tammy's sister Theresa called me a few mornings ago to suggest that I use the opportunity to have a cake for Tammy's birthday. It was a great idea and I felt somewhat dumb for not thinking of it myself.

Thank you again, Theresa.

It was nice to get most of our small-group together again as it had been a few months since we last met. Jim is in his 70's and very active even with a couple bad knees. He loves to golf and used to bowl quite a bit. He told me how he was once on four separate bowling leagues all at the same time. I suggested that he should check out our Wii. I wasn't sure if he was the video game type but he evidently is because he had a blast. We only had time for bowling, golf, tennis, and baseball. Boxing will have to wait until next time. His wife Marilyn was curious how much the unit cost. I think she'd like to get him one for Christmas.

Speaking of Wii: the game is turning out to be even more fun than I imagined it would be. Tammy and I have been retreating to our basement at night to spend time racing each other and others around the world with Mario Kart. The Wii is set up to be interactive with our internet connection so rather than race against computer-generated cars, we race other people who are also online playing the game. Neither of us is very good and we typically finish toward the back of the pack but it's still fun. We can only get better.

We made it out to Outback Steakhouse tonight to celebrate Tammy's birthday. It was snowing so hard and cars were spinning out—we nearly turned around to stay home and order pizza but we pressed on. We've yet to have a lousy dinner or service there and so we keep going back.

Rachel ran into one of her friends from Prince of Peace youth group while we were having dinner. Frank works there. They had a blast with their group last year on their trip to Hollywood and they're hoping to be in the same group for this year's mission trip in April. They still don't know where the trip will take them. It's a secret but they do know it's going to be someplace warm.

This past spring I pulled down several posts I'd made last fall and winter concerning my employer, the FAA. I had a 'this is bullshit' moment this week and republished them. It troubles me that speaking the truth can get a person in trouble or worse, fired. There are still several I will hold off on publishing until after I've retired as well as a few which are in the works. I think I'd look back on my actions years from now and be disappointed that I didn't speak up when it was time to and now is the time. Typing "faa" in the search box for my blog will most likely reveal them all.

We've been getting regular doses of snow this week making it too difficult/dangerous to get outside and ride so I've had to resort to using my rollers. I prefer to ride outdoors even down to zero degrees but the rollers can be a lot of fun as well. Truth be told, I actually get a better work out on them as I'm more inclined to focus on my heart rate, cadence, and speed as there's not much else to do.

I brought my Sony Handicam on board today and took some video from my perspective while riding. Yeah, I'm a geek.

I mentioned here a few posts ago of my admiration for Harry Chapin's music. After blogging about that I looked online to see what was out there in the way of a DVD of him in concert. I found a DVD of his final performance with his band before his death in July 1981. It's a copy of an out of print VHS tape. There's nothing on the packaging or the video footage of anything pertaining to copyright laws and seeing that there's very little in the way of good quality stuff on YouTube from Harry Chapin I decided to upload several of his songs to my Vimeo account. Edit: My Vimeo account has been deleted.