Stranded in the Snow

A recent snowstorm left us with a few inches worth as it passed through our region. This area is not well prepared for snow removal. The clustered cities allocate meager portions of the budget towards winter operations and keep a minimal number of snowplows on hand. They rely upon the usual moderate climate to provide natural road clearing within a few days of a storm. Major highways and primary roads through the cities receive the necessary attention, lesser roads and neighborhoods are untouched.

My grown son takes his employment seriously. His scheduled shift had him expected by 3 a.m. He hopped in his car after clearing the windows and backed out of the driveway at 2 a.m. The trip normally takes him 30 minutes or less. This night his progress was much slower.

The icy neighborhood roads had him crawling slowly turn by turn, street by street, exercising great caution to avoid spinning or sliding. The feeder road was slightly better and he made it to the highway without incident. The highway lanes were not clear. The snowplows had been prioritized towards the city center region and had made limited passes to the surrounding arteries.

He navigated a few miles before hitting an icy patch followed by frozen tire tracks left by someone else. His wheels slid into the frozen channels like a train car on rails and he had no choice but to follow them until he could stop. Unfortunately, the previous track maker had ended their journey off to the side of the road. Not fully in the ditch, but enough that his low-slung car had no clearance and wedged itself firmly in the snow bank.

At this early morning hour, few vehicles were travelling. The ones that were out carefully navigated their way past him and kept going. He sat in the car wondering who to call.

  • Mom and Dad? Would they hear the phone? Would they answer? Would they come and get him?
  • The police? It was not a life and death emergency (yet). Would they help? How?
  • A tow truck? He had never called for one before. Should he call one now? How much would it cost?

As he thought through his options, a white van pulled up behind him. Three men got out and began walking towards his car.

“Oh great,” he thought, “I’ve seen this movie. This is the part where I get killed and my body dumped in the ditch.”

The men reached his car and he stepped out to greet them. They spoke little but pointed and gestured quickly at the car and hooked a tow rope to the frame. They spread some sand around the tires and motioned for him to get back in the car. One of them backed the van while the other two watched until he was safely out of the ditch and back on the highway. They disconnected the tow rope, smiled, waved, and got back in their van.

My son called his boss before moving the car again. “I’m not going to make it in for my shift. The roads are too icy.” he said. Then he drove to the next exit and began working his way back home.

Hanging Art With Care

The walls of our first house were almost impossible to safely decorate. The drywall and plaster crumbled wherever we tried to insert a nail. Pictures hung on old hooks left by the previous owner in the oddest locations. We believe his preference for tall furniture drove the picture placement to what it was. Our furniture, being more generic in size and shape, opened wall space where it had previously been obscured by towering antiques.

We moved after 11 years to our current home. Here the materials are newer and we can tap a nail almost anywhere we please. The previous owner left his hanging points in place when he moved out. It seems he was a meticulous person. Each nail is perfectly centered on its particular surface. Almost all are at the same height from the floor.

What do we display? That is up to my wife. She is the artistic one. The rooms are accented with samples of her various artistic pursuits. Sure, we have some pictures of our kids, but most of the wall decorations are my wife’s own creations. Painted ceramic three-dimensional fruits hang in the kitchen. A mosaic tile project sits on the shelf in another room. Oil paintings of differing subjects (landscape, fairies, plants) are in with the pets.

I used to think we needed to attend local art shows searching for beautiful works to display in our home. I realized early in our marriage that we do not. As young married people with small children, money was too tight to spend on professional or semi-professional art. With time, creating her own art allowed for personal growth and stress relief in a way nothing else could. The result is a house accented with original artwork that reflects her taste that truly makes it a home.

What do you display on the walls of your home — photos, posters, artwork, nothing? How do you choose what to display? What mood are you trying to create?

Being Frugal is Not the Point

Men, if you wait until the day after Valentine’s Day to purchase the drugstore chocolates or candy because they get marked down to 50% off, you lose.

Women want the milestones observed on the day, not late. Birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s Day, Christmas, and so on. This arbitrarily selected date set to give those in the northern hemisphere a celebration day to break up the monotonous winter with a day primarily benefiting florists, restaurants, greeting card, and candy makers is still important to her.

Waiting even one day and doubling your purchasing power on the discounted items is failure. The holiday is not mathematically based. It is definitely emotional.

Be a man. Crack open the tight wallet. Pay full price.

Time is running out. Today you will only spend money. Tomorrow, you will pay in other ways less pleasant.

Open the Bedroom Door

I need air to move when I sleep. Waking up in a closed room with stuffy air interferes with a good sleep. Another reason is to dissipate the buildup of toxic methane released under the covers.

As newlyweds, it was a silly prank to release gas and flip the sheets over your partner’s head to trap them with it. (Ah, youth!)

As mature adults whose digestive systems seem to have changed over the years into factories for pungent fumes, it isn’t funny at all.

Ever have a dream where you are drowning and can’t catch a decent breath? Then slowly drift into wakefulness and realize the oxygen deprivation caused by methane displacement was intruding upon your dream state? (Yeah. Me neither)

This Valentine’s day, do yourself and your partner a favor. Leave the bedroom door open while sleeping. Perhaps even run a small fan near your bedside table to force air movement away from the sheets.

Write an ode to someone or something you love. Bonus points for poetry!



First Light – Off to the Hospital Again

I may have ignored some vehicle maintenance in my younger years. There were times I turned up the radio volume to mask the strange noise I (or my bank account) was not ready to face. It may even be true that a denial streak is one of my character flaws. But one area where we have never skimped has been on the health care of our children.

Today I awoke to my wife’s question, “Can you take #1 son to the emergency room?”

I came fully awake in an instant. “Of course.” I replied and began making preparations.

We are not reactionary people who are prone to invoking emergency medical treatment in place of standard care. “Can this wait until normal business hours?” is one of the first questions we ask. My son’s condition this morning warranted rapid response.

The hospital entrance was sparsely populated at the pre-dawn hour. My son went in and the staff immediately began their assessments. By the time I parked the car and walked in, he was almost ready to be moved into a treatment room in the back.

Four hours and a series of tests later, we were about to be discharged. The Physician Assistant went over the day’s activities, diagnosis, treatment plan, and what danger signs to watch for to prompt a hasty return. As she finished and left us, my son dashed to the restroom and vomited. I stepped out of the room, snagged the nurse on duty, and informed him that my son was experiencing the first danger sign of after care. They halted the discharge proceedings and changed treatment strategies in a moment.

Two more hours passed and my son stabilized well enough this time for us to safely leave the hospital and go home. His color is better. He’s hydrated again. Pain is greatly reduced. We both just want to get back to bed and restart the day.

Remember when you wrote down the first thought you had this morning? Great. Now write a post about it.

Pure Maple Syrup Takes Me Back to the Farm

New England maple syrup is a sweet natural treat. Maple sap is 97% water and it takes a long time to evaporate all that moisture away to thicken the 3% sugary content.

I hold childhood memories of watching my uncle boil gallons of sap in a wide metal pan braced atop a stone wall for hours. He stoked the fire underneath with birch, apple, and oak to keep the pan at a rolling boil to speed the process. As a young boy, I didn’t understand what he was doing. All I saw was a clear boiling liquid with a lot of steam rising out of it. It seemed to have no purpose.

Hours passed and finally the liquid thickened and began to change color. My uncle tilted the pan and drained the hot, sticky, sweet fluid into an open cooking pot. He took that to the kitchen stove and continued boiling it down until it reached the desired color. By now, the sweet aroma filled the kitchen and made my mouth water in anticipation.

Mom had a plate stacked high with pancakes just waiting for the fresh syrup. I took two, put a dollop of homemade farm butter on them and held my plate to my uncle for him to drizzle on the syrup. It was the best of times.

Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

It’s not about me

My three children are legal adults now. Ages 23, 21, and 18. Boy, girl, boy. Nobody has moved out on their own yet, and that is fine with their mother and I. All good things will occur in their proper time.

#1 son asked us a question last week. He has been saving for a car and is getting close to his goal. He is also starting conversations about what it will take (financially) for him to live on his own. The questions are getting more serious each time we speak. His most recent inquiry caught us by surprise.

“What mistakes did you make in life? I want to know so I can avoid them.” he asked.

My wife and I looked at each other for several seconds before we started answering with several stories of how stupid we had been about money in our early married years. One hour later, he seemed satisfied with our discussion for now.

Daughter had a chinchilla emergency Saturday night. One of the females was having trouble giving birth. Four hours and no progress. She called the on-call veterinarian and drove off with her younger brother at 3 a.m. to get animal medical services. An emergency Cesarean performed to rescue the baby chinchilla was too late.  The female survived and is recovering at home once again. She will never be a mother. Our daughter handled the financials, paid cash for the surgery, and is providing ongoing care.

#2 son is always there to help his sister. He drives her places. He makes meals for her. He helps with her medical treatments. He helps with her animals – feeding, cleaning cages, watering, etc. They go pick up furniture together, bring it home, fix it up, and sell it. We rarely hear any murmuring from him. He willingly helps her do so many things. It lifts a burden from us and is a great blessing in our lives.

When was the last time someone told you they were proud of you?

Alexandria, Egypt – Not Going Back

Been there. Done that. Even bought a few t-shirts. If I can help it, there is no reason for me to go there ever again.

The US Navy parked us in Alexandria, Egypt for three weeks back in 1989. It was fine for a few days. Just another port on the Mediterranean Sea. After that, it grew on us like mold.

Sure, the tour to Cairo to see the pyramids and sphinx was great. A once-in-a-lifetime trip to see those wonders of the world, take incredible pictures, speculate about how they were built, see a camel driver wipe his butt with a rock. All the unforgettable events you can imagine. It was time to leave that country.

Alexandria has thousands of years worth of history. Fine. Whatever. I remember a crowded, dirty city filled with people looking to me as if I could personally finance their lives forever.

Most of the crew battled diarrhea within days of arrival. Something in the food or water did not agree with our  systems and we suffered through it. As we left port headed for the French Riviera next, the captain said to the crew, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I didn’t lose anything worth coming back for in this place. Even if I left my wallet behind, I’m not coming here again.”

Is there a place in the world you never want to visit? Where, and why not?

It Should be Safe to Admit This Now

Charleston, South Carolina. Summer of 1985. Tom was driving around on a night off with Tim, a fellow sailor. Two young, single men with not much to do. No girlfriends. Neither one drank alcohol (yet). Too early for a movie. I’m bored just remembering the setting. It must have been why we bought fireworks that day.

We both lived on the ship and had no place to store them once we purchased the large paper bag of fun little explosives. It was technically illegal to bring them onto the military base. If we kept them in Tom’s car and they were found, we could both be in trouble. The solution was obvious. We had to use them all TODAY.

It was not a holiday or local celebration event that would need fireworks. We had no noise to cover our fun. The challenge would be setting them off and not alerting local authorities to our activities. We decided to stay mobile.

Tom drove towards the edge of town to a wooded park. Along the way, Tim decided to set off a few items. Tim rolled down the passenger window of the 1979  Camaro and used the cigarette lighter to touch the fuse of a bottle rocket. The glow quickly moved up the fuse and Tim tossed the rocket away from the car just as the rocket took off in a trail of sparks, smoke, and a satisfying “Bang” two lanes over on the empty highway.

“That was cool!” Tim said reaching for another bottle rocket.

He set off three more and refined his timing. His desire was to lob the rocket out the window just in time for it to propel itself in the chosen direction. He changed over to a string of Chinese Firecrackers, lit them and threw them to the highway’s edge. They went off in a long series of “pops” and “bangs” that began to worry Tim.

He’d noticed some houses along the highway nearby. If somebody called the police, they would be in serious trouble. Tim decided to pause on the highway launches and wait until they reached the park. He rolled up his window and put the cigarette lighter into its holder.

Tom grew impatient simply driving. He reached into the bag for a bottle rocket. Using his knees to steer, he lit the fuse and PANICKED as it raced up the short string. He threw the bottle rocket at Tim’s closed window. The rocket bounced off the glass and fell into the brown paper bag with all the other fireworks.

The rocket threw a shower of sparks for several seconds before a fractional pause preceded a loud explosion inside the confines of the closed car. Tom swerved in reaction to the explosion. Tim frantically looked into the bag of fireworks to see if any others were lit from the shower of sparks given off by the bottle rocket. None were glowing. They might have gotten lucky.

A few tense moments passed in deafened silence while Tim monitored the bag of small explosives that now seems much more dangerous than when they had purchased them. Tom drove well under the speed limit and carefully stayed in his lane. Four miles until the park. Neither one anticipated fun now.

Think about the last time you broke a rule (a big one, not just ripping the tags off your pillows). Were you burned, or did things turn out for the best?