Friday, September 30, 2011

Goodbye, Vi

I wanted to note the passing of a person who was very special to our family, Viola Bye.  She died several weeks ago after a massive heart attack.  Today, September 30th, she would have reached 90 years old.  In fact, we were supposed to attend a very small party this evening at her daughter Yvonne’s house, who is our neighbor.

Vi lived for several years in the house next door with Yvonne and Peter, Yvonne’s brother and Vi’s son.  That’s how we became acquainted.  She was a wonderful person to know.  She walked very slowly, slightly stooped, and used a cane to help her around, but the brightness of her attitude, and the energy she radiated from within, made these physical impairments seem more like adopted mannerisms, like a disguise that she could throw off whenever she wanted.  She reminded me of a cross between Yoda and a hobbit, and I say that with pure respect and admiration.  Her wise eyes, curled body, and cane conjured up a visual similarity to Yoda, while her gentle, friendly, unassuming nature, and the absolutely most delightful British accent ever to tickle an American ear, would have put her right at home with Frodo, Sam and the rest in middle-earth.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 5

Part 4 primarily concerned itself with finding a place to eat dinner while in Flagstaff over Labor Day weekend.  I still don’t know how I got 5 pages out of that one part of the story.  Part 5 picks up as we leave the restaurant on Sunday evening. 

Uncle’s Day Weekend – Part 5

Dusk was creeping overhead as we left Ni Marco’s Pizza.  “How about we drive up to the Lowell Observatory?”  I suggested once we were back on the road.  There were no objections, so instead of following the curve of Milton/Santa Fe avenues, we turned left and headed up Mars Hill Road.  What a great name:  Mars Hill Road.  I don’t know if it was through pure serendipity, or was something less than a coincidence that an observatory came to be located on Mars Hill, but it is perfectly fitting.  We wound our way up in the strengthening darkness, and parked in the lot at the top.  Being a Sunday night, we weren’t sure if they would even be open, but it turned out that they had a special event as part of the holiday weekend, and were open until eleven.

We wandered around the visitor’s center, looking at the exhibits, and just giving Maria a chance to exhaust herself.  It was now around seven, and as I recall, she had napped for literally no more than ten minutes that afternoon.  But she was showing no ill effects, and seemed to be in no imminent danger of pooping out.  We waited around for some video presentation to start, but Maria wouldn’t stay, pronouncing the dimly-lit hall and spacey interlude music “too scary,” so Elizabeth took her back to the exhibit hall where she could continue trying to pull the display meteors off their stands.  I’m a sucker for anything scientific, or that deals with nature, so I was even able to stomach the Mannheim Steamroller music that introduced the video.  Jessica, however, took all of two minutes to become hopelessly bored and annoyed.  I looked at her several times, vacillating between telling her to suck it up, and giving in to her unspoken request to go.  I flashed forward in my imagination to our retirement days.  Elizabeth and I would do nothing but travel, happily watching long, badly scored nature videos in places just like the Lowell Observatory, and we would have the best time of our lives.  I nudged Jessica, jerked my head slightly towards the exit, and we left quietly.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 4

In Part 3, we finally made it to Flagstaff after a full day of high country entertainment, including but not limited to, a dangerous lake, phantom meteors and motorcycles, and porta-potties.  Part 4 picks up after our arrival at the motel late Sunday afternoon. 

After a brief rest, we left our room in Flagstaff and got back in the car in search of a restaurant for dinner.  Our motel was to the east of downtown, part of a row of motels that parallels Interstate 40. We had no idea what we wanted to eat, so we figured we would drive through the heart of town looking for something suitable.  Crossing the railroad tracks, we turned left onto Flagstaff’s main drag, Santa Fe Ave, also known as the I-40 Business Loop, or more romantically, Route 66.  We called out the names of restaurants familiar and unknown as we passed them by, hoping something would spontaneously emerge, like a star in the east, that we all could agree on.  We reached the big curve that bent our line of travel from west to south, and the road changed names from Santa Fe to Milton Ave.  A mile or so ahead, the dreaded I-17 now loomed before us, and still no dining revelation had occurred.  Flagstaff is not a city we know particularly well, but this indecision over where to eat was definitely familiar territory.  I reproached myself silently for not anticipating this problem, for allowing myself to be lulled into complacency.  When it comes to eating out, anytime you set off without a clear destination in mind, you must accept the high probability of serious complications.   Now we found ourselves sliding towards the precipice of possible disaster.  “Well, what are you hungry for?” I finally had to ask.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Letting go or losing control?

I’ve spent some time on this blog ruminating over the concept of “letting go,” what it means, and its implications on how to live.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about where the line is between letting go and losing control.  This is because one, they are two very different things, and two, I feel like I’m having trouble telling the difference.

As I see it, letting go is all about realizing that the control we instinctively want to exert over our lives and fortunes is largely an illusion.  Ask anyone who’s been through Hurricane Katrina, or in a severe car accident, or is living with cancer, or Alzheimer’s, how much control we really have over the things that happen to us in our own lives.  And, in a way, it’s a misguided notion anyway, because I don’t think the goal of the game we’re playing is “the person who most successfully controls their own life wins.” That kind of implies that the person who is able to live under a rock the longest without being found would have the best life.  I hope that’s not the case, because if it is I just threw away my shot at the title.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 3

Alright, I know this is late, and I apologize profusely to those of you who waited with (was that baited, SB?) breath for this installment, and were disappointed when it didn't appear on Sunday as promised.  As I mentioned in replying to some of you individually, life sometimes intrudes on our plans, and this weekend was a great example of that.  Jessica had her 10th birthday on Saturday, and our weekend was booked with a sleepover Friday night, and then a family party on Saturday.  Now, I'm not using that as an excuse, since I had known that Jessica was turning 10 on Saturday for awhile now, maybe even weeks.  I still thought I had everything under control, but then there are the unaccounted things that happen, and we had one of those on Sunday.  So, with final apologies for the delay, let's get right back to the action, shall we?  I hope it proves worth the extra wait.  

The story left off with us trying to find a place in or around Strawberry, AZ, to have our picnic lunch on the way to Flagstaff.  We pick things up around noon on Sunday of Labor (Uncle) Day weekend . . .

 Uncle Day Weekend – Part 3

We scoured the roadside for picnic areas, but saw nothing more than a few areas where the trees pulled back from the road to create a rocky, semi-grassy opening.  My internal stressometer was starting to pick up signals.  “We’re going to need a place that has a bathroom,” Elizabeth reminded me as our heads pivoted swiftly from side to side.  I gestured with one arm to the acres of open land around us.
“We’re in one,” I said.
“We’re going to need a real bathroom,” she said, forcing me to meet her eyes. End of discussion on that point.  The pressure was definitely building inside the car.  This little snafu had the potential to become a major negative check mark in the mental tally I was keeping.  The kids had been great so far; they were watching Beauty and the Beast on the portable DVD player.  But how much longer?  Eight miles passed, then nine.  I wasn’t enjoying the pine trees and the thick white clouds in the sky anymore.  We drove past a filling station with a diner next to it.  “There,” Elizabeth said, pointing. 
“I thought we brought our lunch.  If we eat there, it’s going to seriously impact our budget,” I insisted. Some people spend their lives defending their country, others their honor.  I am the great defender of the budget.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unscrewed T-shirts are here!!!

Based on the enthusiastic response to the sentiments contained in the “Unscrewed” post from 8/13, we had a small batch of “Unscrew yourself” T-shirts made up.  They are now available to order for near-immediate delivery (depending on where you live and how fast I can drive).  Click on 'read more' to see the back side of the shirt and get the rest of the details.

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 2

This is part 2 in the saga of Uncle Day Weekend, a recounting of  our trip up north over part of Labor Day weekend just to get away from the heat.  Part 1, if you remember, focused on the events leading up to the trip itself.

Sunday morning arrived to find us engaged in our usual harried efforts to throw everything together at the last minute before a road trip.   Typically, we start off at harried, progress to flustered, and usually come within sight of completely unhinged, a pattern which normally includes a fair amount of ugliness and some bitter recriminations between Elizabeth and me.  It’s funny; people tell us all the time that we are so good to each other, so kind and respectful.  HA!  That’s just the show we put on for mass consumption; the truth is, we fight like hell.  We rip each other apart at times, and have no compunction about going for the other’s throat (remember the open door, anyone?).  The secret to our success, I suppose, is that as nasty as our confrontations can be in the moment, we get over them quickly, and accept them for what they are: clashes between two people who agree on where we want to go, but almost always disagree about how to get there.  Which is exactly why I didn’t tell her about taking a different way to Flagstaff.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Forward Path 11 September 2011

Just a notation here to let readers know that an extremely brief commentary I wrote about the Flight 93 Memorial was published by the Arizona Republic today.  It appears in the Letters to the Editor under the title "A ray of sunshine in the dark."   It can be seen online here.

It is noteworthy primarily because it marks the second time anything I've written has been published in print, and the first time something I've written appears in the full circulation of the newspaper.    

Have a great day, and a reflective 9/11.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 1

“UNCLE!”   You might have heard this being screamed last week around seven-thirty on Tuesday morning.  That was me.   Sorry if I disturbed you.  That was officially the moment I finally cracked under the heat.  We had been hanging in there pretty well, but August, with its near-constant 110 degree days, aggravating humidity and complete lack of rain did me in.  We spent every single scorching second of the summer in the Valley this year.  Well, technically that’s not true.  Elizabeth’s cousin scored us free comp vouchers to stay for two nights at the Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada, so in June we took a trip to one of the few places on Earth that regularly beats our heat island inferno in the daily mercury velocity competition.  But it was a change of scenery, sort of, and the Colorado River was cool, even if the hotel pool wasn’t, and besides, did I mention it didn’t cost anything to stay there?  That’s an important consideration when your family’s income has taken a substantial hit, thanks to a certain freelance writer, who’s great at the free department, but not so good at lancing yet.  

We finally decided we had to get out of town, and restore our faith in the existence of weather where you don’t have to check the labels of your clothes to make sure they’re flame-retardant before you step outside.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tillman's Legacy

I ran across a few recent stories related to Pat Tillman I wanted to share.  Fox Sports Arizona's website posted an article from Craig Morgan about Tillman's legacy, especially in light of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I found a few new things in it, including quotes from Adrian Wilson, who was a rookie safety during Tillman's last year with the Cardinals, and the amazing story of a man from Mesa named Jeff Lewis.  You have to read it to believe it.  Read the article "Tillman's legacy an inspiration to all."

The Arizona Republic covered the opening of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center at ASU last month.  The Veterans Center was established to provide a range of services for veterans, including military benefits, career counseling, and transitioning to civilian life.  Read the article "Pat Tillman Center will help those who served transition to college life."  

It's reassuring to see the ripples of a brave and unconventional life continuing to cause good things to happen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Introducing Globlogs

Some of you may have noticed that there’s been a new addition to the blog over the last couple of weeks.  You have to look to notice it, but it’s there, down at the bottom of the column on the right side of the page.  Did you find it?  It’s called Globlogs.   Globlogs (global + blogs) is an effort to bring you great blogs from other people, countries, and cultures all over the world. 

The idea behind globlogs is simple:  I wanted to find people with interesting voices who live in interesting places and who blog about what interests them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

9/11 - 10th Anniversary

Ten years. So hard to believe. On September 11, 2001, Elizabeth was just six days from delivering our first child.  On the morning of 9/11, we knew our personal lives were about to change forever, but we didn’t know the world around us was going to change forever that day.  That morning, as I got ready for work, we were watching The Today Show’s coverage of a plane that had apparently flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.  They were describing it as an accident, and it was clear that they were scrambling for any kind of information they could find.  They didn't yet know what kind of plane was involved, or how big it was.  In the jostling commotion of the moment, in one random camera shot, we saw another plane dart across the background and disappear from the screen.  A few seconds later, all hell broke loose. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Potty Training - Part 1

It even has a place to hang the toilet paper!
Our youngest daughter Maria is about four months away from her third birthday.  According to the literature on the subject, this means she’s well within prime-time potty training territory.  As the baby of the family, we’ve had a much more laissez-faire attitude with schedules and benchmarks and developmental milestones with Maria than we did with Jessica.  We haven’t done much to initiate the potty training process, except Elizabeth did bring home a cute little kid’s potty, which we quietly placed in the bathroom, just allowing subconscious acceptance of its presence there to build.  Maria's or ours, I’m not sure whose.  It’s languished there almost unnoticed by all of us for several months.  As parents, it can be a difficult and emotional line to walk, torn between the desire to cling to the last remnants of infancy and the desire to save forty bucks a month on diapers and diaper-related expenses.  Saving money happens to be a very emotional issue for me.  Even without that, however, it can be a bit of a struggle for many parents, especially when it comes to their last child. 

But the delicate equilibrium we had semi-consciously sustained has now been thrown into tumult.  Last weekend we were visiting at a friend’s house, and at one point early in the evening, this very beautiful little girl, who’s about four months younger than Maria, approached our friend, who was babysitting her and her brother.  We noticed she said something to our friend, who then started to excuse herself.  “What’d she say?” Elizabeth asked. 

“Oh,” our friend replied, “she was just telling me that it’s time to use the potty.”  She took the little girl by her outstretched little hand, and together they walked to the bathroom.  I saw Elizabeth’s head start to rotate towards me, and I felt an arrow of fear plunge into my heart.  Her raised eyebrow, coupled with the fixed gaze confirmed it:  Houston, we have a problem.