Monday, December 13, 2010

Here's something you don't see every day

Having lived in Minnesota, I can attest to the amount of snow that falls there. Of course, I never saw this happen when I was there! Somehow, I don't think this is supposed to happen to an NFL stadium.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Tis the Season

Nothing says "Christmas is coming soon" like the hanging of the decapitated snowman ornament during our annual tree trim here at home.

An ornament only Quentin Tarantino (and we) could love

Of course, the end result is definitely worth it as we wish you all a nice early "happy holidays"!

Sure, Christmas has become even more commercial and now starts sometime in August in retail stores but this is a wonderful sight

Monday, November 29, 2010

You'll always be Shirley to us

RIP Leslie Nielsen.

Watching "Airplane" on a regular basis was something of a ritual with my dad, my sister and me after my folks got divorced. We were able to quote chapter and verse at the drop of a hat. Even now, 30 years later, my sister and I can't let the question "what can you make of this?" go by without responding "well, I could make a hat, a brooch, or a pterodactyl." Likewise, Leslie Nielsen's deadpan answers to frantic questions get me every time.

I enjoyed Nielsen in "Forbidden Planet" (aka Shakespeare's "The Tempest" for the sci-fi set) and generally ignored the juvenile Naked Gun series. However, it's in "Airplane!", the movie against which all other movie spoofs are measured and found lacking, that Nielsen gained screen immortality along with the thanks of a kid who definitely needed the laughs when he was 15 and 16.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

50 Lost, 50 Gained

A list of 50 things I've gained while losing 50 lbs (and counting) since early August:
  1. A new selection of pants after my original pants started falling off followed by another set of new pants when the first replacement selection also became too large and the recognition that my newest pants are already just a touch loose
  2. The ability to walk from a conference room on the second floor to my office on the third floor without being out of breath
  3. A serious affinity for spinning
  4. A comment from a senior exec at my company that "I'm melting away"
  5. The MVP award for my team during our recent fitness challenge (of course, there were only two people on my team but my wife can be a cutthroat competitor LOL)
  6. An appreciation for the fact that I'm no longer carrying around the added weight of an average 7-year old boy every day
  7. The satisfaction of running (and completing) my first 5K in about 20 years
  8. A liking for low-fat, low-sugar homemade almond-jam bars
  9. A larger bank balance because we're no longer going to restaurants to eat or ordering take-out any more
  10. A correspondingly smaller bank balance because of all the new clothes I keep needing to buy
  11. The achievement of running a mile 20% faster than I did 9 weeks ago (I'm still no Roger Bannister but I'm chugging along)
  12. Odd looks from people at my office as I carry my massive lunchbox filled with healthy food in Rubbermaid containers into work every day
  13. The observation from my favorite spin instructor that I couldn't possibly be old enough to know the songs from the 70s and early 80s on a recent class playlist because I couldn't possibly be older than 30 or 31 based on my appearance
  14. The pleasure hearing that losing weight has apparently shaved 10-11 years off my appearance
  15. The hope that that weight loss is also adding years to however long I'm wandering this planet
  16. A serious chuckle when I tried on one of my suits at the tailor today and felt like David Byrne
  17. An appreciation for my personal trainer, who has kept me injury-free and on track with my workouts and shoulder-strengthening regime for the last 13 weeks, especially with my long history of chronic shoulder injuries (thanks, D!)
  18. The opportunity a few weeks ago to purchase shirts with sizes that didn't start with "XX"
  19. Profound pleasure in seeing my wife succeeding so well in her mutual effort to lose weight and get in shape (read more on her excellent 80 Sticks of Butter blog)
  20. A fun (if challenging) experience with the 10-week fitness challenge conducted at our gym
  21. The confidence that the next time we're in the White Mountains and hike up Mt. Battie Willard, the mountain won't kick our ass so completely
  22. The willpower to not stop and pick up a pizza or candy bar because I need a nibble
  23. The opportunity to pull a jet for charity (ok, me and 19 other people but it was a 727, which you have to admit is pretty cool)
  24. A ring guard because my wedding ring was too large and kept falling off my thinner finger 
  25. A selection of new belts because my old ones didn't have enough holes for my smaller waistline
  26. The ego boost that comes with people constantly telling me "wow, you look great!"
  27. A huge (and growing) pile of clothing to donate to my company's December clothing drive
  28. Skinned knees from diving around while playing volleyball during one of the fitness challenge's team events
  29. The regret that comes with knowing how much time I wasted by being complacent and not doing something about this previously
  30. The satisfaction that I finally got off my butt and did something about it
  31. Great support, encouragement, and not a few laughs from the other participants and trainers in the fitness challenge (thanks, guys!)
  32. An understanding of how to make healthy choices when eating
  33. The occasional feeling that if I eat one more tossed salad for lunch that I'm going to have the change the meaning of the "R" in my middle name from "Robin" to "Ruminant"
  34. Which is immediately followed by the realization that I really like tossed salad so really, it's OK
  35. A large, well-used selection of new gym clothing
  36. The knowledge that my good choices are making it easier for my wife to meet her goals as well by reducing temptation, eating healthy, and getting to the gym
  37. The realization earlier this week that I could purchase and wear some styles of shirts with a size that begins and ends with "L"
  38. An expanding set of new photos of the thinner us to replace the adoption profile photos of the heavier us
  39. The opportunity to play kickball for the first time since elementary school
  40. Anticipation for next summer when I can go to the beach and feel pretty good about walking around with my shirt off
  41. Potentially trademarkable phrase for life pre- and post-weight loss...2010 BP and 2010 AP (before pizza and after pizza)
  42. A reminder that, when I was in shape, I was a good athlete and enjoyed it, and that I'm getting back into shape, which means that I'll be able to do more sports
  43. Relief that healthy eating and weight loss doesn't have to involve bland food and fanatic counting of calories
  44. A sense of amazement that I'm sometimes the one at 5:30 AM saying "No, you can't go back to sleep. C'mon, you're already awake. Let's go to the gym." (I sometimes think I've been replaced by a pod person...I never got up that early before. I still don't like it but I do it.)
  45. The pleasure that comes from seeing my friends and family feeling so happy (not to mention relieved) that I've lost so much weight
  46. A slick new leather jacket (70% off at Wilson's Leather...woohoo!) because my old one was huge
  47. The rather embarrassing vanity boost that came today as I walked by a mirror wearing new, smaller jeans, a tshirt, and my new leather jacket and thought "damn, I look good!"
  48. The relief that I've gone from looking like this
     to this 
  49. The commitment to keep at it because I'm not where I want to be weight-wise yet
  50. The confidence that I'll get there

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The coolest science experiment for kids EVER

When I was in middle school, my science experiments ranged from testing the effects of acid rain (a big deal in the early 80s) to making a homemade wind tunnel with my dad and testing different wing designs carved out of balsa wood. Not exactly the Manhattan Project but they were fun, won an award or two, and my science teachers liked them.

Max Geissbuhler's science teachers ought to be completely blown away by his science experiment with his dad, Luke. Together, they sent a balloon, a parachute, an HD camera, and an iPhone up into the stratosphere, videotaping the entire ascent and virtually all of the descent (until the batteries ran out two minutes from touchdown 30 miles from their launch site. Steve Jobs and the PR folks at Apple ought to be all over this!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Participating in this fitness challenge is skewing my sense of perspective a bit. At this week's weigh-in on Monday morning, I found myself terribly frustrated at:

  • the discrepancy between scales again (note to self...I just assume that my official weigh-in result will be 4-5 lbs heavier than the result provided moments earlier on The Scale I Like)
  • the fact that I only lost 2 lbs in the preceding week
In the grand scheme of things, I should be thrilled that I've dropped another 2 lbs but part of the fitness challenge is trying to reach target percentages each week and I keep falling just a touch shy. The competitive part of me is sorry that I started the South Beach diet (loving it!) and exercise regimen several weeks before the challenge because that's when 20 lbs just melted off. I'd be kicking butt in this competition right now if I'd waited! 

However, that's not the point. I needed to lose it and there was no need to wait for the challenge. I have to keep telling myself that, especially when our fitness club posts the results of all four teams and my wife and I are the only ones on our team and, as a result, we're miles behind in the points tally.

During my private training session on Tuesday morning, after doing laps of walking lunges and squats while holding two 15 lb kettlebells followed by some upper body strength training, trainer D walks me over to the Stairmaster, which left me a total sweaty, gasping wreck the first time she had me use it. This time, I climb on and, as I trudge up its endless incline, D and I chat. I find myself increasing the steps per minute. Finally, at the 8:00 minute mark in a 10:00 minute sessions, D looks at me and says, "you realize you've been on this for 8 minutes and you've been talking with me the entire time. You couldn't do that before."

She's right. I'm finding that I can do a lot of things that I used to be able to do but haven't be capable of for quite some time. 

At Friday night's team session, it was the dreaded intervals on the treadmill. The first session had been miserable with a series of quarter-mile high and low stretches. This time? Quarter mile low followed by half mile high, quarter low, quarter high, quarter low, quarter high and cool-down. I was dreading it. I've never liked running (bikes and swimming for me, thank you) but could do it when needed. Friday night? Cruised through the half mile and actually increased my pace on the final high impact quarter mile. What the hell's up with that? I even did the same workout voluntarily on Monday morning just to prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke.

Yes, I dropped 2 lbs last week and other people in the challenge dropped more. Good for them but good for me, too. Sure, the team stuff is fine, but I'm not looking for a trophy at the end of this. I'm looking for the opportunity to donate all of the new pants that I bought two weeks ago because I'm even thinner. I'm looking to keep dropping weight steadily and then keep it off. I'm looking to reach my next major target so I can buy myself an iPad as a reward.

I've got a long way to go and a lot of weight to lose before I get there but I'm just keeping it all in perspective.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

History on the Road

For the history buffs out there, I can't recommend highly enough the current series on Slate called "A Civil War Road Trip", in which author John Swansburg and three buddies embark on a 10-day road trip to drive from New Orleans to New York and visit as many Civil War points of interest as possible. His columns are quick reads, humorous, and certainly not a dry travelogue. After I started reading these, my first thought (as a holder of a degree in history whose senior paper in college was a comparitive analysis of the sieges of Vickburg and Charleston) was "why the hell didn't I think of this first and why haven't I done this before?"

I think I know where I'll be lobbying for our next big vacation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hand Dancing

Really, I don't have any words to describe how cool this performance is. I just want to know how long it took to choreograph and practice!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

As readers of this blog may know, last year my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought like a trooper and with the help of amazing doctors, nurses, and medical treatments she beat it (none of us doubted that she would).

The relief at that news was overwhelming for all of us and that's why I'm walking in this year's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event on October 24 at Roger Williams Park in Providence. Other women and other families should all be given every chance to experience the relief and joy that comes at the end of the fear and heartache that appears when cancer steals stealthily into their lives.

I encourage those of you in the region to come out for this walk. If you can't make it, I hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts to raise awareness and funds to support breast cancer research and treatment for our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, friends, and coworkers.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Scales have become a major source of frustration as I proceed through the Fall Fitness Challenge, especially on Monday mornings when I absolutely know I'm weighing in heavier than I really am for the weekly official tally.

The standing balance scale (like the one in your doctor's office) in the fitness club men's locker room said I was 2 lbs down yesterday AM (with shoes on!) and then I step on the glass bathroom scale with no shoes for the official weigh-in moments later and it says I'm barely down a pound. What's up with that?

Then I try the standing scale again this evening (in shoes again!) and it says I'm down 5 lbs from yesterday. Seriously? I doubt I sweated off all those pounds in my spin class this evening.

I like the men's locker room scale. It's my friend. According to its oracular pronouncement this evening, I've dropped 36 pounds since this sweaty adventure began in early August. And really, the only practical measure I'm really noticing right now is that I just had to have a link taken out of my watchband because it kept falling down around my hand, a jeweler added a "ring guard" to keep my wedding ring from sliding off my now-thinner finger and into the green bean bin at the supermarket, and I've retired every pair of pants in my closet because they were falling off. Pleasantly, the new ones I bought a week ago are already feeling a touch loose, too. Well, those factors and the fact that it feels really good when people come up to me and say "wow, you look great!" and they're not just being polite.

Take that, you freaky bathroom scale!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lift 'em up, put 'em down

Entering week 7 (or maybe 8) of the "eat right and get your ass the gym" regimen. Here are a few things I've discovered over this time:

I like spin classes. Of course, I've only taken two and I felt like a limp noodle at the end but I like biking and I like being around people to keep me on task so spinning seems to work for me.

It's a bit frustrating that there aren't always enough bikes for everyone who wants to be in a given spin class. I was first alternate for a class tonight (never got the call so I guess everyone showed up) and am first alternate for a class tomorrow night (hoping I make it into that one). I think the hardcore spin addicts are sitting by their phone at 5:00 AM waiting for the gym to open so they can call in their reservations for the next day.

I actually don't mind the elliptical trainer so far though I haven't moved up to using the arm portion yet (still working up my shoulder strength due to an ancient yet occasionally quite painful shoulder injury). I am, however, increasing the resistance, etc. every time I'm on it and plugging through 30-minute interval training.

It's a good thing I don't like to watch TV when I exercise because I've gotten into the habit of leaving my glasses in the car when I go in the gym because otherwise, the bridge of my nose gets sweaty and they slip off. Luckily, my eyesight is such that I'm still fully functional without the glasses.

Treadmills suck. I've always hated running and the whole "pounding along the treadmill doing interval training" thing is a miserable experience. Of course, I also hobbled off it on Monday absolutely unable to get my right calf to stretch out despite stretching before getting on, and then hobbling around for two days until it recovered. So I guess I'm just bitter.

Running on a track by yourself sucks even more. On day 1 of the Fitness Challenge, we had to run a mile and while I was blowing like a bellows at the end, I finished strong and kept a pretty steady pace throughout. Last Sunday I tried to do that at our local track by myself and while my time was a little shorter, it was a miserable experience. I had no one to pace myself against and, with no witnesses, I had to struggle against the "oh, it's OK if I walk a one can see me...who will know?" bugaboo. Many years and even more pounds ago, I used to swim competitively (source of the aforementioned shoulder injury) and every time I crossed a major threshold with regard to time, it was because I was pacing myself against someone just a bit faster, who I knew could swim the time I wanted to achieve. I think I need that when I'm running.

Someone at last Friday's team session joked about using ExLax before the official weigh-ins. At least, I thought he was joking. Maybe not. I know that my official weigh-in would have been a damn sight better at 6:30 AM on Monday if I'd indulged a bit the night before.

Scales are like economists. Talk to two of them about the cure for the economic malaise and you'll two different answers. Scales are the same way so I've found the scale that I like and just keep going back to visit that one so I know that the numbers I'm seeing are moderately consistent. Of course, it's then a shock to step on the "official" digital bathroom scale at our gym and have it consistently read 3-4 lbs heavier than the standing scale with weights and balances in the locker room. Damn scales...

I undo my belt now and my pants and shorts fall off my hips. Anyone need a collection of Columbia cargo shorts and Dockers khaki pants?

Here's a special shout-out to the jackass chatting loudly on his cell phone while on the elliptical...the gym is a no cell phone zone, dork! There's a sign saying that 5 feet away from you and we really don't want to hear about whatever you're blathering on about.

iPods and audiobooks...the perfect way to plug along and ignore the time when on the bike or the elliptical or (shudder) the treadmill.

Days are getting shorter and colder...not as much time to ride my real bike outside but I'm not packing it  away any time soon.

I wish I was a morning person. It would make going to the gym at 6 or 6:30 AM so much easier. However, going after work is a nice way to exercise (or exorcise) any frustrations out of the day.

Hmmmm...I appear to have misplaced roughly 30 pounds. I'm not looking too hard to find them again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just pocket change, I guess

Something is seriously out of whack when Meg Whitman spends $119 million out of her own wallet in an effort to become Governor of California. Really? Is it that important? There wasn't something better to spend this money on?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tell us something we don't already know

To the shock of no one living in RI, the state's highways have been ranked dead last in performance and cost-effectiveness. I hope they didn't spend much time and money on this research. They could have just called me or any of my friends and family. We would have told them that for free.

Perils of Losing Weight

My wedding ring is too large now. I lost it briefly in the supermarket on Sunday (found it in the green bean bin after a frantic search...does that elevated heart rate count as cardio?) and am not sure I can keep wearing it until it's resized. The only problem is that the design of the ring doesn't lend itself to resizing. Geez...probably new clothes soon and now a new wedding ring?

Monday, September 13, 2010


"The time has come," the Walrus said, 
"To talk of many things --
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax 
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether I can get rid of my fat ass."

- with apologies to Lewis Carroll

I won't go into the gory details but basically, at the start of August, I finally realized the obvious -- I was over forty, I wasn't immortal, I couldn't keep eating pizza and nachos like I did when I was 20 (thank God I'm not a serious beer drinker or I'd have been really screwed), and it was time to do something about it. Oh yeah...I am also hoping to become a dad someday soon and I don't want to be out of breath while trying to chase my kid around.

So I decided to get off my fat butt, started going to the gym and riding my bike as often as possible, and began the South Beach Diet. Due to chronic shoulder injuries suffered while swimming competitively in college, I also signed up with a personal trainer specifically for shoulder work. Due to my work schedule, I am also doing all of these things at the hellacious time of 6 AM. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I'm a miserable morning person but can work until all hours of the night so the fact that I'm getting up that early must mean I'm serious. My lovely wife is lending moral support while doing her best to get into shape as well, all while chronicling her own efforts in this regard at 80 Sticks of Butter.

The results after 6 weeks...26 pounds down and a fat ass-load to go but I'm feeling good about it. So much so, that I want it to happen faster and so signed up for the Fall Fitness Challenge that's run by our gym and its 3 other locations. Sunday was Day 1, involved lots of paperwork, an official weigh-in, and a 1-mile run. Hmmmm...if I was feeling like that after 6 weeks of biking and elliptical trainer, I hesitate to think how I much more I would have been sucking wind if I'd tried it a month and a half ago!

I've already had to get a new belt that's tighter, this will be the last summer for this particular collection of my favorite Columbia cargo shorts, and I'm going to need a new wardrobe pretty soon as my work clothes are starting to feel baggy. Who knew that losing weight could be so expensive?

Further updates as workouts and weigh-ins warrant...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Other Family

I was a pretty active kid in middle school, high school, and college -- swim team, theatre, speech team, baseball, and just messing around with friends -- but from the time I was 10 and a half until my sophomore year of college, there was an unbroken thread running through my life: Troop 82 Providence and Scoutmaster Donald C. Dewing.

Don founded the Troop in 1927 and was its only scoutmaster until his death in December 1988, just hours after attending a Troop meeting. Don was the heart and soul of 82 and, more than that, he was a friend, mentor, guide, and father figure for the almost 1,000 boys who passed through the Troop's ranks. When I joined the Troop in the summer of 1979, some of the assistant scoutmasters had themselves been scouts in Troop 82 in the 1940s. In many cases, it was a family affair with multiple brothers having passed through the ranks and then returned with their sons, at least one of whom was explicitly named in honor of Don Dewing.

We spent at least one weekend a month at the Troop's cabin in southern Rhode Island where we swam in the pond, were warned not to fall into the well, visited (or tried not to visit) "5023 in the Valley" (the eternal name for any latrine that the Troop used in recognition of Don's license plate number and the fact that old plates always got hung up on the outside of the latrine), and played "Manhunt", "Capture the Flag", and "roofball". At night, we sat around the campfire or, if it was winter, around the long central table as Don would read stories that always had a lesson of some sort at the end (case in point..."A Message to Garcia", which Don always pronounced "Gosha" and used to illustrate the virtues of initiative and self-reliance). There were trips to Mount Monadnock and Mount Chocorua, bus trips to Washington, DC, games in the basement of the Troop's home at Church of the Redeemer, and even one evening where the Troop was turned out to help search our section of the city for a young girl with learning disabilities who was lost.

We camped for two weeks every summer at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, spending the first week at Campsite Wuttah (the giant "82" banner stretched between two trees along the lakefront proclaiming to everyone that 82 was in camp) and the second week at Campsite Dewing, given by the Troop and supporters in honor of Don's more than 50 years as scoutmaster. While that was one summer before my time with the Troop, I'm told it came as a complete surprise to Don when it was unveiled and formally inaugurated in front of more than 1,000 scouts and their families during the Sunday parade in the summer of 1978.

After five summers as a camper, I then spent five years as a staff member at Yawgoog, first as a lifeguard and then as the assistant director and director of the Ashaway Sailing Center, or as we on the staff preferred to call it, the Yawgoog Yacht Club. While I loved being on staff, the highlight of the summer was always the two-week visit by the Troop, during which my buddies would come hang out or I'd spend an evening or three sitting in the leaders' tent, often snagging a slice of contraband pizza, and enjoying the opportunity to sit with the adult leaders and other senior scouts.

And with that rank and age came responsibility. I learned how to lead by watching the older boys and the adult leaders and then advancing in rank and responsibility from just a member of a patrol to assistant patrol leader to patrol leader (go Screaming Eagles!) and then eventually to Senior Patrol Leader, the senior position a scout can hold who hasn't turned 18 and moved into the ranks of assistant scoutmasters.

The Providence Journal's coverage of the Eagle Scout ceremony for me and Philip Speare with Don congratulating Philip. I still cringe at the thought of the speech I gave. One should never actually use the phrase "when the going got tough, the tough got going" seriously but I was 15. What the hell did I know?

More so than almost all of my friends from school, I had and still have a stronger connection to those boys, now men, because of the time and adventures we enjoyed together. We worked on projects together, swam and fought and tormented each other (usually in a good way). It was a camaraderie unlike any other I can recall because it was built over 10 years of shared experiences, seeing each other every Tuesday night for Troop meetings, searching for firewood, pitching tents, racing to be the fastest to tie knots or run an obstacle course, or win the award for best costume at Halloween.

Boys and adult leaders came and went, moved away, headed to college, and got married. But Don was always there, fiercely dedicated to his boys, the Troop, and Scouting as a whole. Shortly after I joined the Troop, my family moved to a new house right around the corner from Don and I often found myself over at his house visiting or helping with projects. On snowy days, several of us would gather to shovel Don and his station wagon out and then enjoy cookies and soda in his basement as we warmed up and dripped melting snow all over the place. His office in Narragansett Council HQ was on the other side of my high school's athletic fields so I'd often drop in to say hello when school was done for the day. When my parents separated and then divorced when I was 15, Don was there for me as a stable anchor in my universe, serving as a sounding board when I needed to talk, never judging, and always with a kind and caring word for my parents when he saw them.

Don left us midway through my sophomore year of college. I'd talked to him a week or so before about getting together for lunch over the Christmas break. When I landed at the airport following my flight back from Minnesota, my mother broke the news to me that Don had died two evenings before. Sitting in the parking lot at Logan Airport in Boston, I couldn't stop crying. Returning to Providence, the first thing I did was walk around the corner to Don's house where I found 3 or 4 friends from the Troop gathered to sort through Don's memorabilia, slides, photos, and more. Sitting in his small study where I'd spent so much time over the years, I wept again, a friend's arm around me and another friend saying, "It's OK, go ahead. We've all been doing that for the last two days." 

Days later, there was a funeral service. The church had to open another wing to accomodate the overflow crowd and it was still standing room only with more people outside unable to get in. I sat in a pew next to a former member of the Troop. He had to have been in his 50s, we'd never met before, and the two of us wept along with hundreds of other people. Then the current and former scouts gathered by the gravesite and quietly sang "Gather 'round the Dying Campfire", the melancholy song of love for Camp Yawgoog that we would always sing to close out every campfire during those summer weeks.

Don never married. He never had children of his own. Instead, he devoted his life to helping raise and guide almost 1,000 boys over the course of 61 years. Don was no saint, of course. He could be irascible, impatient, and demanding as he asked for the best out of us. He never did it for the money or the acclaim. Instead, I believe he did it because it was his calling, like some who become priests or know from an early age that they're supposed to be doctors so they can heal people.

For some boys, Scouting and participating in Troop 82 were just things to do because their parents signed them up. I'm not sure what lingering memories or connections they might still have. But for many of us, Donald Cushman Dewing was much more than just the leader of a Tuesday night activity. He became a beloved member of our families and, in our own way, we were his family. Losing him was a terrible blow to us in the same way losing a parent or grandparent might be. The Troop forged on for a few more years and then, eventually, faded away. However, the memory of Don Dewing remained, along with the family he helped to create.

Gather 'round the dying campfire
Lift your voice in song
Sing the praise of old Camp Yawgoog
Sing it loud and strong

Scouts and scouters stand in friendship
'Neath the starry skies
We will long remember Yawgoog
As the years roll by.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Golly, do I feel old

I regularly run into situations at work where I or another colleague make a cultural reference and are greeted by blank stares by younger members of the staff. More than once, insightful references to "The Breakfast Club," the single big hit by "a-Ha", and "Magnum P.I." have fallen flat with a portion of the conversational participants. Thankfully, references from the early 90s at least still manage to get that "oh, I understand what he's talking about" look.

Intended to help teachers understand how their students' frame of reference is dramatically different, the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014 just makes me realize just how much has changed from when I was in college to the students who will be working for us as interns this year (#19 "They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone."; #46 "Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.").

Geewhilickers, do I even speak the same language as them?

Monday, August 16, 2010


With a budget of $10 million dollars and 170 years of history on the line, restoration teams and shipwrights are painstakingly restoring the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining American wooden whaling vessel, with an eye not only toward making her last for another 170 years but to take her sailing once again.

I am absolutely fascinated by this project, spotlighted in today's New York Times, as well as with the Morgan, Mystic Seaport, and wooden sailing ships in general. The breathtaking simplicity and beauty of a tall ship under sail belie the complexity of the wooden sailing machine itself. From a distance, it's all hull and masts and sails but up close, it's a fantastical maze of lines and blocks that to an untrained eye would seem impossible to decode. The idea of restoring the Morgan so she can head to sea is a wonderful one that I hope will fire the imagination of young children who watch the ship sail by or walk her decks in some port here in New England.

That's how it  happened to me though with a book rather than seeing a ship. At age 11 my father gave me my first copy of C.S. Forester's Beat to Quarters. Reading about Captain Horatio Hornblower and his battles against Napoleon's navy absolutely captured me. My dad and I played Wooden Ships & Iron Men incessantly. Then I read the now-out-of-print Eagle of the Sea by Bruce Grant and had to visit the U.S.S Constitution in Charlestown, MA. I can't get enough of the TV footage of the grand old ship whenever she is under sail as happened in 1997, just in time for her 200th birthday. I think it says something about me that my first official date with the woman who would eventually become my wife involved taking her to the U.S.S. Constitution on a late December afternoon followed by Mexican food at The Border Cafe. I think if I was going to make one entirely selfish wish, it might be to have been aboard for that 1997 sail or, since I can't go back in time, to be aboard for the annual "turnaround cruise".

As I sit here at my desk, I can glance over my shoulder to a huge framed poster of Mystic Seaport and its many vessels. Directly to my right is a vintage poster promoting visits to the H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth, England (my visit there almost 20 years ago was something of a religious experience for me), while a calendar of sailing vessels, a large framed photo of wooden workboats in Grenada, and a photo of the light cruiser U.S.S. Montpelier all face me on the wall behind my desk. I won't bore you with the recitation of the other photos and posters of ships that I've seen and sailed upon spread throughout the house. And of course, there are the books...well, that recitation would just take far far too long.

Instead, I'll just think about seeing the Morgan under sail sometime in 2011 and while I've been on board her many times over the years at Mystic, I think it's pretty safe to say that I'll brave the lines and crowds when she sails into Newport or New Bedford to have my imagination fired up again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guess we'll need to buy a Blu-Ray player next year

Apparently the original Star Wars trilogy is being rereleased (again) for home viewing but this time it's on Blu-Ray and with some never-before seen scenes.

I've lost track of how many versions of the Star Wars trilogy I've owned. I think I've emptied my wallet at least for:

  • the original theatrical release on video
  • the remastered version on video
  • the Special Edition on video (I'm sorry, Mr. Lucas, but not matter how you change it, Han shot first)
  • and the official final real director's version on DVD
That doesn't even begin to take into account the number of times I paid to see the first three Star Wars movies in the theatre (both during the original releases and the 20th anniversary rerelease in 1997).

And while not everyone will agree with me, those tickets, videos, and DVDs were worth every penny.

Now, it's being reissued again and this time with deleted scenes that I don't think were ever in the theatrical cut. Plus, it's in high-def. Part of me knows it's a scam to transfer another $50 from my wallet to George Lucas' but damn if it doesn't have me thinking about upgrading to Blu-Ray sometime next year. 

I am such a dork.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In case you were wondering...

A team of mathematicians and some massive computers loaned by Google have proven that it is possible to solve Rubik's Cube in 20 moves, no matter the starting position of those seemingly simple yet fiendishly complicated colored cubes.

And on a related note, the world record for solving the Cube is 7.08 seconds, which makes my successful 1-hour effort when I was 11 seem rather humdrum. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Iceberg ahead!

If you're planning a leisurely cruise through the North Atlantic, keep an eye out. An ice island 4 times the size of Manhattan is adrift and heading for shipping lanes and offshore oil fields. Probably a result of global warming and too big to divert or redirect, apparently we now need to wait for it to melt. Oh, the environmental catastrophe irony!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

600 Yawns

Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th home run today.


In the years following the steroid-enhanced 80s and 90s, what would have once been a milestone for baseball fans everywhere to cheer instead carries absolutely no weight or interest for me. The spectre of the cheater looms large over all of these records. While I've never liked him as a player, I once looked forward to Rodriguez erasing that monster of all tainted records -- Barry Bonds' lifetime home run record. Now, I'll never be able to see it as anything but a record by a cheat eclipsing another record by another cheat.

It's a damn shame. I love baseball and always have but the needle and the 'roids have spoiled much of what I once cheered. Yes, I watched when Mark McGuire surpassed Roger Maris and while he was blown up like Mr. Stay Puft, I didn't know much about anabolic steroids or ever think of them being used in baseball and so was willing to cheer along with the crowds.

The revelation that David "Big Papi" Ortiz had been caught in the drug testing made me wonder about his Red Sox record for single season home runs as well as the validity of the 2004 and 2007 World Series. (The revelation that Manny Ramirez had been caught with female hormones used to mask steroids in his system didn't really surprise me...he was such a flake nothing about him surprised me.)

Now I look at records being set and amazing things in the game and always face a niggling doubt that what I'm seeing isn't real.

Hank Aaron's hallowed record is nothing but a hollow bit of fakery in the hands of these charlatans. While Major League Baseball won't admit it, Hammerin' Hank Aaron and Roger Maris are still the true home run kings.

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Annals of (in)tolerance Part 2

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission today approved a plan that will permit a Muslim fellowship center to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Good for them.

While I can't know what it feels like to have lost a friend or loved one in the events of 9/11 and respect how those families feel, it's not those individuals who scare me. It's the politicians and isolationists who are using this issue to further their political ends while promoting hatred and fear of those of the Islamic faith. After I commented (in my own personal snarky fashion) about the bigotry on display over this issue, Will Saletan at published a scathing, outstanding rebuke to the isolationists and the threat that they pose to the values that America was founded upon and that they supposedly uphold. And if there's any doubts about the views of our Founding Fathers, I encourage you to read Matthew Duss' recent post regarding George Washington's own words on the subject of religious tolerance.

Sadly, this groundswell of xenophobia is rearing its ugly head in so many places. The recent confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, for example, showed us Republican senators like John Kyl who declared that he's troubled by the idea of examining how other countries are coping with the legalities of a rapidly changing world because "because it suggests that you could turn to foreign law to get good ideas."

Thankfully, people are willing to stand up in the face of ignorance and bigotry and veiled hatred. The Commission in New York was no doubt under a huge amount of pressure to quash the chances of the fellowship center as was Mayor Mike Bloomberg. I hope the commission members have unlisted phone numbers because I shudder to think about the hateful rants being left on their voice mails tonight. Even if they weren't directly taking a stand on the fellowship center itself, they knew what their decision meant and went ahead with it anyway.

And I'll leave you with one final link to a excellent editorial from today's New York Times, celebrating the powerful speech by Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg in favor of taking an international view of the law and our place in the world.

Picture of the Day

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Annals of (in)tolerance

Gee, you've just got to feel so optimistic about our society's ability to adapt, evolve, and draw strength from all of the members of our community. Nothing warms the heart like hearing about the church in Florida scheduling a "Burn a Qu'ran Day". We'll ignore the irony embodied in the Dove World Outreach Center's name. And don't forget the breaking news that the Anti-Defamation League is opposing a Muslim Fellowship Center two blocks away and not even in the line of sight from Ground Zero in Manhattan. Isn't this sort of racial and religious bigotry exactly what the ADL was created to oppose?

Sometimes, you have to wonder how we've managed to avoid wiping ourselves all out. Didn't anyone else watch Star Trek?

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Obama: Year One in the eyes of Jonathan Alter

The political junkie in me found Frank Rich's review of Jonathan Alter's new book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, in the New York Review of Books definitely a worthwhile read. While I don't think I'll be buying the book, Rich's assessment of it certainly makes me think it might be a worthwhile library selection.

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who says it doesn't pay to go into politics?

I think that public employees like teachers are often terribly underpaid given their value to our communities and children. Apparently, some public servants in Bell, California, also felt that their efforts on behalf of the city of 40,000 were also underappreciated so they decided to do something about it. I've never been interested in going into politics but for $750,000 a year, I'd be happy to be the city manager. Hell, I'd do it just for a few months and then happily resign.

Picture of the Day

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hmmmm, I hadn't thought of that

My revised and revamped home office is finally all set up, the centerpiece of which is my new desk. It's a sleek black steel and glass arrangement and I love it compared to what I'd used for years...namely, a narrow door across a pair of filing cabinets. Sure, the door wasn't pretty but it was solid, perfectly functional, and easily moved when necessary. However, the resurrection of our basement gave me the opportunity to try something new. So now I have my cool new desk. It looks great, has room for all my stuff, and offers several distinct working spaces.

It also shows every speck of dust and cat hair that lands on it. Fingerprints, too.

This was not something that I'd taken into consideration when selecting the new workspace. That was the benefit of a door. Unless there was a major dust bunny on it, the incidental dust and other debris just didn't show up. I'm sure it was there but it was easily ignored.

No longer. I'm not a neat freak but shiny black and glass definitely help highlight the white cat fur. Well, the cat's not going anywhere and the new desk isn't going anywhere so it looks like I'll be using some extra elbow grease every few days to dust and de-smudge.

Picture of the Day

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sure, it looks cool but...

The effort to build the world's first supersonic car is moving ahead apparently. Still, until they can drive a rocket-powered Ford through a mountain, I don't think I'll be that impressed.

Whale vs. Boat

Many of you might have seen the photos of the right whale breaching on top of the sailboat but now video is available showing the same thing. Wow. The fact that the boat didn't sink was amazing. The manufacturer should market them as "whale proof"!

Picture of the Day

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Political line of the day

"He's a thinking person's conservative. I expect him to do well among voters with IQ's in triple digits."

-- a consultant for Sensor Lindsey Graham (R-SC) when asked about his boss' chances in the upcoming election after Graham broke ranks and became one of the few Republicans to support Elena Kagan's candidacy for the Supreme Court

Is anyone really surprised?

Today's NY Times reports today that workers on the Deepwater Horizon, the doomed oil rig that was at the heart of the Gulf oil spill, were seriously concerned about safety practices, unsafe behaviors, poor equipment reliability, and lack of inspections. Not surprisingly, they were also afraid of reprisals if they spoke up about these issues.

The icing on the cake? There were multiple known problems with the blowout preventer that was supposed to have stopped exactly what happened.

Instead we're left with 11 men dead, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spreading throughout the Gulf, economic wreckage in the region, incalculable damage to marine and wildlife habitats, and years if not decades of cleanup.

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Make war not...hey, does anyone else feel like microwave popcorn?

Apparently, the U.S. Army's "pain ray" is being recalled from Afghanistan without ever being used in action. Feelings about an invisible microwave beam weapon aside (yeah, I admit, it seems kinda cool), does anyone else see the irony of the test group in this video being military personnel playing "non-violent" protesters in favor of world peace while hurling rocks and other debris? Apparently the anti-Gandhi wasn't available.

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bloodless but effective

In a bout of whimsy as we finished a major project at work and sent it off for consideration by our hoped-for customer, I recommended that the team members cross their fingers, say a prayer, and sacrifice a goat to help tilt the scales in our favor.

Since that time, "one more goat!" has become the unexpected mantra of members of my department as we do our best to bring to completion a wide-ranging slate of projects that have been lingering on, sucking up our time and energy like oversized mosquitos in business casual.

Shockingly, the virtual threat of goat sacrifice appears to be working. Projects are coming together, we're making progress, and while my desk at the office is still a wreck, the "must be done ASAP" piles might be shrinking a bit.

One might attribute this to effective leadership, good morale, a team that enjoys working together, and old fashioned elbow grease but I prefer to think it's the beneficial presence of our new ruminant department mascot. Yeah, I know virtual goat sacrifice isn't something taught at the American Management Association, but it seems to be working and I'll take all the help I can get.

"Sacrifice" the Goat, department mascot extraordinaire

Picture of the Day

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Restoration

I'm back at my desk. After several months post-floods, I am no longer perched on a drafting chair at a counter in the kitchen. My feet can touch the floor, the visual stimulus of the kitchen isn't reaching out to me at the corner of my eye. Instead, I am back in our restored basement at my brand-new desk -- not a door balanced on filing cabinets or a cheapass particleboard desk but an honest-to-goodness steel and glass piece of furniture, my first real serious new desk ever -- with my computer and a sense that I'm someplace where I can write again.

Of course, it's so freakin' hot and humid, my brains are melting but the idea is there to write. After all, I invested in the desk. I should probably do something constructive at it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

But I want to give you my money!

Can someone please explain to me why companies will go to the trouble to get themselves listed on line, spend money to offer websites with information about their services, and provide an online option for someone to request an estimate and then not bother to call or e-mail the prospective customer?

It's seems somewhat counter-intuitive, doesn't it? You're in business to make money, you get that money from customers, and then when a prospective customers comes to you and says "yes, please tell me how I can give you my money" you just ignore them.

What's baffling is that I submitted requests to five different companies via their websites, asking all of them for a call to provide a quote for some work to be done on our house. Current number of replies?


All five of them just decided to ignore me? Did the economy start booming again and no one told me? I know it's not my computer or my Internet connection. and the iTunes Store aren't having any problem receiving my requests and charging my credit card.

So now, five different companies have all lost out on me as at least a 1-time customer if not a long-term customer. Way to make the most of your marketing and customer acquisition dollars, guys.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keep your fingers crossed for Abby S

16-year old Abby Sunderland, attempting to become the youngest person to complete a solo circumnavigation, is feared lost at sea following severe weather. You may disagree with her parents for letting her attempt this feat (I'm not in favor of it myself) but that doesn't matter now. Rescue teams are en route to her last known position. Keep your fingers crossed that they find Abby alive and well.


Reports are that she's been found adrift but alive in the Indian Ocean.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Paging Miss Remembering

Quote of the day:

“I simply misremembered it wrong."
- Representative Mark Kirk, attempting to excuse his exaggerated claims of military service

When exactly did "misremember" become a verb? Actually, when did it even become a word? And does this somehow count as a double-negative that actually means that Kirk's efforts to remember incorrectly were still wrong? I'm very confused.

Of course, there's the larger question here: when are politicians going to realize that there is no way to NOT get caught in lies and exaggerations now that every iPod user at campaign events is a potential videographer?

Probably never.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wow, that was easy

A masked figure broke a window, slipped into the Paris Museum of Modern Art, and absconded with $100 million in art.

He broke a window and walked in. From an area that local skateboarders knew wasn't really ever watched. And then walked out with five paintings.

Are you kidding me?

Isn't that a bit...well...mundane?

I want my art thefts to be like something out of the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. Suave, daring, smooth, dashing.

Breaking a window and climbing in? Sure, if you want to steal my blender but not when you're stealing $100 million in art.

How disappointing.

I bet the thief didn't even have a really cool soundtrack.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Geek Ballot

I'll admit it. My political geek is emerging again after a hiatus following the 2008 Presidential Elections though my interest in tomorrow's various primaries is akin to watching a car crash in slow motion or a natural disaster uproot trees and barns.

Anyone know the Vegas odds on Republican-become-Democrat Arlen Specter's chances of surviving his primary?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Photo of the Day

The HMS Bounty enjoyed a 1-night layover in Bristol, tied up at the docks opposite the Herreshoff Museum. As someone lucky enough to have crewed on two tall ships, I can't pass by a ship like this without stopping to watch, just for a little while.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Defend it by ignoring it?

I thought congressmen and senators took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens? Then why are GOP senators advocating that the Times Square car bomb suspect be denied those right and subjected to enhanced interrogation (you know...what non-politicos commonly refer to as torture)?

Yes, Faisal Shahzad apparently confessed. Yes, if he's guilty, he should be put away for a long, long time. But it's a scary step to consider NY Rep. Peter King's statement about denying Shahzad his rights by stating "I know he’s an American citizen, but still..."

The Constitution is a brilliant document designed to help guide our country and establish the rights of and protections for its citizens. But is it actually possible to defend and uphold the Constitution by ignoring it or tossing it aside for the purposes of expediency or political posturing as "tough on terrrorism"?

I have my doubts.

***May 5th Update***

I highly recommend Emily Bazelon's analysis of the Miranda issue and how law enforcement worked within the law to gather a wide range of valuable information legally. She also excoriates Senator Joe Lieberman for pushing a new bill that would permit the government to strip you of your U.S. citizenship if you are even accused of being involved in a foreign terror plot, not even convicted. No word on what Lieberman would do to people involved in domestic terror plots...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill

As the growing environmental disaster spreads along the oil-slicked waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I wonder how many people are chanting in support of offshore drilling at Sarah Palin gatherings? it just me or does she seem strangely silent as well.

Spill, baby, spill!

(On a serious note, I'm sending positive thoughts down to the Gulf and the thousands of people trying to contain the damage from this increasingly devastating spill. It's no laughing matter.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hypnotizing Chickens

PowerPoint Ranger -- a military term used to describe someone who spends most of his or her time in front of a computer making PowerPoint slides. Some have even gone so far as to create mock badges, similar to the wings worn by paratroopers or aviators, which denote how many hours a person has logged in front of their computer on PowerPoint.

It was once said that an army runs on its stomach. Now, it appears that the maxim has been updated for the computer age...the U.S. military apparently runs on PowerPoint.

I expect that virtually everyone has sat through a mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation at some time. You know the ones...30 slides, the text getting eye-chart small, the presenter simply reading the bullets to you, the flashy animations that add nothing. While intended as a means of presenting key information quickly, clearly, and easily, more often than not the critical information within a PowerPoint presentation gets lost in a morass of competing bullets.

A number of years ago, I participated in a 1-day seminar given by Edward Tufte, a Yale professor, expert in information design, and author of a nice little zinger entitled "PowerPoint is Evil". In his surgical dissection of PowerPoint as an inadequate tool for presenting critical information, he pointed to a slide used by NASA engineers to address potential danger points due to cold weather in the space shuttle program shortly before the Challenger disaster. The key finding -- that the O-rings used to seal the rockets were at serious risk in extremely low temperatures -- was relegated to the last line and in the smallest font where it was guaranteed to get the least amount of attention. Sadly, that risk factor is exactly what caused the loss of the Challenger, an eminently preventable tragedy.

Of course, the fact-obscuring capabilities are apparently being put to good use by the U.S. military, according to today's New York Times:

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A whole new meaning to "may I approach the bench"

Somehow, I thought I would be more shocked by Dalhia Lithwick's article about a death penalty case in Texas (where else). The convict, who has been sentenced to death, appealed his conviction based on the fact that the judge and the prosecutor (both of whom were married to other people) were secretly screwing like horny bunnies throughout the trial. Hmmmmm...I wonder if the judge's decision making might have been affected.

The shocking thing? The appeal was denied because his lawyer didn't file it soon enough. However, he wasn't able to file it until the judge and prosecutor finally admitted to having a long-term affair!

Following a spate of other convictions and Supreme Court decisions that ignore evidence, falsify evidence, reduce the rights of the accused, and led to a potentially innocent man being put to death, I guess I'm no longer capable of being surprised by the insanity that crops up in our legal system. Something needs to change. Until it does, just pray that you don't get arrested for something. God knows where you'll end up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sleeping through 3AM

The inexorability of that water seeping up through our foundation and creeping ever higher on the walls downstairs, lapping at the base of the steps, and then climbing higher, embedded itself in my subconscious and then emerged late at night, every night. I'd never been through anything quite like that and it apparently stuck with me.

For two weeks following THE FLOOD, I woke at 3AM every night in a panic, certain that there was water in the basement or, in a particularly unpleasant moment, convinced that the moonlight reflecting on our polished bamboo bedroom floor was actually more floodwater.

At first, I would find myself dressed and downstairs, walking through the rooms to convince myself that the basement, while in need of repair, was actually relatively dry.

Then I managed to reach the point at which I would be out of bed and dressed but stop myself before I actually left the bedroom and headed down the stairs.

Then I reached the point at which I could stop myself after getting out of bed but before actually getting dressed. And then the next-to-final stage -- waking up but recognizing that I knew there was no water and that I didn't have to be irrational and get out of bed.

Finally, in the last week or so, my own minor form of PTSD receded like the waters that preceded it and I could sleep through the night without worrying about flooding. Now I just have my regular stressful dreams about work so everything is back to normal!

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I'm not sitting where I usually would be when writing. The chair is wrong. The wall behind my computer isn't right. The items I see in my peripheral vision aren't what I expect.

I'm a displaced person in my own home.

I never realized how much of a person of habit I'd become when it came to writing. My home office wasn't much to speak of, really. It was just a desk made of a varnished door resting on a filing cabinet and wire shelving units but it was my desk, my office chair, my blank wall with the small casement window above.

My wife's desk was to my left at a 90-degree angle but she never used it, preferring to write on her laptop upstairs in the living room. The "home entertainment" area with the couches and TV was off to my right and my noise-canceling headphones were always handy for when I needed to write when Jennifer wanted to watch TV. Eventually, in a larger future house, I hope to have a home office that will be mine, with a door that shuts and a window that looks out over something rather than providing a ground level view of the trunks of the arbor vitae growing along our property line. But for now, that desk and blank wall were my place to go, to immerse myself in writing over the last 5 years, and I now find myself displaced, my desk and chair unavailable to me as a result of THE FLOOD.

Everything has been moved out of the basement except the basic furniture. The basement is dry but in need of serious work before we can move our stuff back down there. And so I had no choice but to relocate. However, there was really no place to go. The guest room/Jennifer's studio is now a warehouse (and she is cut off from the antique drafting table I bought her years ago). Neither the bedroom nor the living room are suitable places for my iMac and as a result, I find myself in the kitchen.

There is a desk of sorts built into the wall between the fridge and one wall and here I find myself, perched on Jenn's drafting table chair with a phone next to my ear and the kitchen appliances all within 6-7 feet of me. My feet don't touch the ground and the chair just doesn't feel right. There's a window directly behind my computer and in my line of sight and, even with the blinds shut, random flickers of movement still catch my eye.

In the weeks following THE FLOOD and the relocation of stuff within the house, I haven't been able to write. I've barely even visited my blogs and postings to Facebook have been sporadic.

Part of it was just a lack of motivation...dealing with the water that filled our basement and the ongoing recovery just took a lot out of me.

But I've come to realize that the greater part of it was just that my habits and environment had been so dramatically disrupted. I'm not sitting where I expect to be or where I'm really comfortable. There's visual stimuli that I'm not used to, and in truth, I'm finding it hard to concentrate when my legs are swinging freely or tucked into the rail at the base of the drafting chair.

In the grand scheme of things, I have nothing to complain about and I know that. We didn't have to evacuate. No one was hurt and the items that we lost are virtually all replaceable.

However, amidst all of the physical damage and stuff we've had to discard, I've discovered that I lost my sense of place. It's strange. When I'm traveling, I can plunk myself down with my laptop and write wherever I happen to be. But when I'm at home, I am a creature of habit, habits that have been disrupted along with my environment. Now I find myself having to learn new habits and how to adjust to this new (and hopefully temporary) writing space. I need to rediscover...or sense of place.

And so I sit here, perched above the kitchen floor, trying to figure out what to do with my feet, ignoring the blinds and the window directly in front of my eyes, my noise-canceling headphones over my ears, and the soundtrack to "The Visitor" playing quietly to block out the incidental noise as I force myself to learn how to write again in this new space and not feel displaced anymore.

And when I'm done here, I'll turn my eyes back to the basement and the next stage in recovering down there with an eye toward eventually reclaiming my old, habit-filled space, at least for the time being.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

She's watching and celebrating

My maternal grandmother was a college basketball fanatic, especially when it came to the UConn Huskies. It didn't matter if the game on TV was the men's or the women's team. Either way, you could count on Babci to be watching and cheering them on.

My stepfather told me a story about how he dropped by her apartment once after she moved here to Rhode Island. She was watching the game and was completely fired up. He sat down and they cheered the men on. It was only after 20 minutes or so that he realized something...the game was a repeat. She didn't care.

We took her to a UConn-Providence College game in Providence a few years ago. I sat beside her as she rested in her wheelchair, overlooking the court, and she was clapping and cheering (and occasionally mentioning how good the young men looked in their shorts). The younger members of the crowd kept looking at the tiny 91-year old woman next to me and complete strangers came over to say hi and ask if she was rooting for PC or UConn. "UConn," she said. "Always UConn." Even last year, in the final weeks before she passed away, she still wanted to watch the March Madness games.

And so it's especially poignant right now, as we approach the 1-year anniversary of her passing. The UConn Huskies won the national championship last night. My wife commented "It's too bad Babci isn't here to see this. She's be having so much fun." Then she stopped. "Maybe she is watching and cheering for them."

I like to think so.

Congratulations, UConn Huskies. You've made my grandmother very happy.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

OK, it's worse

Last night, as I drove home from work, I sat in my car with a feeling of dread about what I'd find in the basement. It started raining again yesterday and after our flood last week, I'll never look at rain the same way again.

Stunningly, the basement was dry upon my return home. Much relief all around. Heading to bed at 11 PM or so, the basement was water-free.

Then our neighbor's gas generator fired up at 3AM, waking us up and a good thing, too.

There was more water than yesterday and it was rising fast. Even the efforts we'd taken to move items to positions where they'd be safe were about to fail. So we scrambled to haul stuff upstairs, emptying filing cabinets and CD racks, carrying futons up the stairs and dumping them in the guest room. Moving the power cords and new surge protectors to the tops of desks or the entertainment center.

There was no way our utility pump was going to handle this. A dawn run to Home Depot when it opened at 6AM bore no fruit -- completely sold out. Lowes? Same thing. So I turned around and headed home, detouring around sections of roads and towns that were impassable. Then I figured I'd stop at the local hardware store in the hope that they opened at 7AM. Thankfully, even though they didn't actually open until 7:30, the staff was already there and kindly let me and another gentleman in to buy pumps.

So then home with utility pump #2 where I quickly got it fired up. By that point, the furnace was extinguished and our telephone jack was underwater (bye bye warm water and the landline). I fired off a few e-mails to work to let them know that I most definitely wasn't going in (not the only person from work in this predicament) followed by a lie down on the couch with the cat, just needing to relax for a moment. Sadly, that didn't work and hasn't worked all day as my stomach is tied in knots.

And then it became apparent that the two pumps weren't keeping up with the influx of water. A call to family for aid saw my mother arrive a short while later with their utility pump. Now all three are spewing water out of the house and appear, just maybe, to be at least running even with new water coming in.

Even so, the rain continues to fall in sheets and buckets with no sign of letup. Several counties in RI now enjoy the designation of Federal Disaster Area thanks to a statement by President Obama. Sadly, ours is not one of them yet but we can hold out hope. We can also hold out hope that the rain stops, that the water table eventually begins to recede, and that we do not under any circumstances lose power. It's bad enough now. Losing power and the pumps will make things oh so much worse.

Send good thoughts and dry weather, please!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Well, it could have been worse

"Wow, the family room floor looks mighty shiny this morning."

7 AM today and that's what went through my head as I stood at the bottom of the stairs looking into our basement family room (aka our home office space and TV room).

Sadly, the tile-polishing elves didn't come in the night to buff the floor and make them all pretty. That would have been much more welcome.

Instead, our basement flooded for the first time in the five years that we've owned this house. Sure, during the summer we run dehumidifiers down cellar to deal with the summer humidity but that's nothing compared to what I saw as I trooped downstairs for a quick look at the morning news on my computer.

There's nothing to wake you up like seeing 2-3 inches of water across virtually your entire basement. A quick visit to the circuit breakers and I minimized the risk that computers or TVs would blow up or that I'd get fried as I sloshed around. (Side note -- thank god we had an entirely new breaker box installed just a week ago and our great electrician kindly labeled all of the circuits! Hurrah!)

An hour later, after I'd moved all the electrical cables and such out of our new indoor swimming pool and had started to relocate the many items that were now doubling as sponges, my wife gets home from the gym.

"Honey," I shout up the stairs. "We've got a problem."

And so our unexpected vacation day began, leading into a seemingly endless struggle with the shop vac, utility pumps (no sump pump here), soaking feet, continuing seepage of more water from a freakishly high water table, and profanity galore. Seriously, I just wanted to chuck it ever now and then and go someplace without a flooded basement. I hear Australia is nice this time of year.

11 and a half hours and I think several hundred gallons of water later, it occurred to me that while I'd taken a few breaks, I hadn't had anything to eat since I woke up that morning. Not good. So my lovely wife dragged me from the house, my stomach in knots about what we'd find when we got home. Dinner was great but I was still thinking about how miserable I was going to be if we returned home to find everything underwater again.

Thankfully, things were no worse and perhaps just a bit better than when we left. And then I started the grand scheme of things, it could have been so much worse. Yes, the basement is soaked and we'll be running dehumidifiers and using drying agent from now until Doomsday to get rid of the moisture and avoid mold. However, we didn't lose anything irreplaceable like photos (let's hear it for plastic bins!). Our furniture appears to be fine. Our electronics survived with the exception of the easily replaceable laptop power adapter (that will teach us to leave it lying on the floor by mistake), and neither of us got hurt, electrocuted, soaking wet, or otherwise seriously damaged.

It could have been worse.

We could have been like the guy we heard about today who came home from vacation recently to find 5 and half feet of water in his basement. I can't even imagine how I would have reacted to that.

We could have been like the family here in Bristol who came home after work one day to discover 200 gallons of heating oil filling their basement, the result of a mistaken oil delivery to the wrong house...a house that had an external pipe but no oil tank. Those poor souls were out of their house for 18 months as hazardous waste crews pumped out the oil and then gutted the foundation and surrounding yard as part of the toxic waste cleanup.

We could have been like family members who discovered that their tankless hot water had ruptured, filling their basement not just with water but steaming hot water.

Thankfully, none of those things happened. Instead, we had an extremely crappy day that left us exhausted and frustrated and not yet done (more cleanup tomorrow). However, it's manageable. We've been lucky. It's been a while since we've had a real stinker of a day or a major disaster. Hopefully, we've gotten it out of our system (and our house) and can avoid another for a while. After all, everyone has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day now and then, even in Australia.