Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Tides of September

Great Grandma!
Wow.  Has it ever been a scorcher of a summer.  Lawns have gone almost totally unmowed for weeks now, and even the trees are turning brown.  Riding the Harley has been a simple commute to work.  I just don't enjoy riding in the extreme hot weather.  If I wanted to be cooked, I'd turn into a Ball Park Frank and toss myself onto the first waiting BBQ grill.  The electric bill is even screaming for mercy.  Try as I might, its been one challenging summer, and lately I seem to be falling ever farther behind.  My consulting work has all but dried up, and its becoming harder to manage those bills when everyone from Tom Dick to Harry wants a piece of you.  Day work has been extremely challenging as staff retirements are adding to my own workload.  Its just harder all around, and the hot weather is just the added irritant I don't need right now.

Jesse and Dale
At home things are in a constant state of flex.  Our grandson Dale has been a challenge, learning his habits and adapting to his constant changes. He sure is a feisty lad, but at the same time I am reminded many times a day that I am NOT the easiest person in the world to get along with either.  We all have our moments, apparently me more so than others.  At the moment the little guy is teething, which is a very trying time for both baby and parents/caregivers.  Having been through this process I can say that babies at this stage can become very fussy.  His mother, however, is learning, and sometimes she falls and we'll lend that uplifting hand to pick her back up.  Raising Dale will be a tough task, but so far Dale and Jesse are doing pretty darn good.

Cheyenne posing in South Haven
Cheyenne has started college.  She is currently attending the community college here in town.  She seems to be adapting rather well, but sometimes college can present a different set of challenges.  She does face an uphill battle, and struggles some in some of her courses.  Having been through all this in high school, we were fortunate enough to get her into a program that will provide learning assistance as she needs it.  She does seem determined to follow through with this, and it will be interesting to see how she meets these challenges.  She definitely prefers college, however, as she so directly put it.  High school simply has too many rules!

As for Mary and I, we are getting antsy feet.  We've spent our lives raising two fine young daughters, and now we sense a freedom that we have never experienced before.  This year September brings so many challenges that Mary and I are facing, but for the first time in our lives we are finally going to venture out and do a "little" travelling.  Those who know me best know what a huge fan of the rock band Rush I am.  It goes without saying that any band who continues to produce quality music for almost 40 years gets my undying respect.  To that end, several concert trips are planned, including one to Winnipeg and Saskatoon on the Harley.  I am meeting up with a friend for some riding time on the scoots.  Mary and I are also going to a couple shows, including a trip to Toronto.  We plan on meeting up with friends and just trying to enjoy the time away for once.  We have been reaching out and making friends that we would not have otherwise found, and its refreshing to have those that we can relate with, of our age group.  To say we are looking forward to this is quite the understatement!

A recent PGR Ride honoring a
Korean War MIA whose remains
were recently identified
Riding has been sparse.  The hot weather has combined with my other duties to slow my riding time down a lot, but once every few weeks I manage to get in a hundred or so miles under my belt.  We have been experimenting with riding two up with Mary on back, but we're still learning how to do that the best way.  I did manage an oil change and some riding this past Labor Day weekend.  Actually not much traffic out that day. Found a couple of promising routes I might take for later.  The one thing I keep finding on my riding days are things I never usually see.  The eagle soaring overhead, or the family of deer along the creek bed.  A perchance meeting with a beaver or just seeing the trees and being outside.  Being office bound a lot I don't always get to do these things, so every opportunity is a blessing.  Sometimes in life too, we must find those little things that we feel blessed with. Find those things that make you happiest, and never let them go, because you only get once chance at this thing called life.  I am learning to make the most of my time!!

My Marilyn - she sure cleans up GOOD!

Peace & Love Everybody!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Its About THE RIDE!

Dale sportin' a new do!
Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle of ANY kind make model color manufacture knows what those words means.  Its like understanding why pilots fly planes, or why race drivers race, only in this case, to me motorcycling isn't just some hobby you spend a few hours a week at.  Its more than a religion, its more than a profession, or a career.  There are those who say that riding is like going to church, only more important.  I happen to think its deeper than that.  Unfortunately, however, sometimes I forget that, and sometimes it takes a life changing event for me to realize how important that I spend each day riding my Harley and spend some time praying, which, as it happens, I do both at the same time. As for that life changing event, becoming a grandpa might just fit that bill.  At my age I wasn't really mentally prepared to accept that role, but things change!!

Freedom Rock 2012
A few weeks ago I took my yearly trek to Freedom Rock, located in western Iowa. And, as usual, the artist who paints that rock every year did another supremly awesome job on it this year.  I needed the time away to digest the new role I had taken on.  In life every day is a day of change, of new adventure, and mine is no different. Being a grandpa takes dedication, love, and patience.  I needed to spend some time riding to come to terms with it all.  The ride over was peaceable, quiet, perfect weather.  Made my usual stop for a juice and a quick run to the restroom. Opting to take a more direct route over, I knew the route well, and knew what traffic would be like.  On this day there were many visitors, unlike more previous visits.  A Korean veteran, a former machinist mate on a destroyer, several Vietnam Era veterans, all coming to this place in remembrance of those who have made the "ultimate" sacrifice. Then there were those guys on their Harleys.  Some beautifully customized, while others showing the look of a hard ridden machine.  Each coming for their own reasons, and each saluting the Flag as it flew over our heads. Its a wonderful place for veterans to come and give thanks to the fallen, or just to remember the sacrifices each veteran has made in serice to our country.  It may not seem like much, but to a veteran this place is revered.
This side pays respect to the
Sullivan Brothers, from
Waterloo, Iowa

The ride back was anything but boring.  As with any trip on a motorcycle, you make decisions on what your route may be on the fly, and I soon found myself completely lost in the middle of Des Moines.  No need to ask for directions, right? I quickly turned around after realizing that I was not in the most friendly of neighborhoods! To my displeasure, however, I would be forced to take the main highway around town, and ended up stopping for gas just east of Des Moines.  I refueled, grabbed a quick cold drink, and headed back to home.  I took a quick shortcut home, and although I was tired, I had an absolute blast.  I had been to a place held in high honor had met many veterans, and had taken my own time to give thanks for those who have died in service to our country! 

Flag Line for Welcome
Little over a week ago, I took another ride.  I am a Patriot Guard member, and I believe strongly in the mission of the Patriot Guard.  On this day we would be escorting a soldier returning home from Afghanistan to his home about 20 miles away. Again, I took stock in what I was about to take part in, made sure my machine was clean and ready, and left for the airport.  As we met, I noticed some of the familiar faces in our bunch.  Its always nice to have familar faces to ride with, because you can feel more comfortable riding with them.  Newer folks take some time getting used to, and as we tend to ride in formation, my safety AND theirs is paramount. We did our preride briefing, and headed up to the terminal. As we lined up at the gate and presented the colors to this new hero, I realized many folks watching this event just didnt realize what all the excitement was about, and some simply do not care. What a shame that anyone who lives in the U.S. cannot pay simple respect to a returning soldier. 

Cpl. Cole Passick
receiving a PGR flag
Our escort began in the heat of the day.  Temperatures approaching 90 on a motorcycle makes it even hotter, but today I had hydrated enough this wouldnt be a problem.  Most of the escort went safely excepting for a guy in a green Jeep Gran Cherokee who tried to slash his way with his car thru our escort processional, right at ME! Thankfully, I was among friends, who recognized what was happening and were able to give me the room I needed to avoid trouble.  Later one friend remarked that I had done a masterful job of avoiding a collision, but in the end it was the teamwork of friends that paid off.  The ride back home was uneventful, but as I shook this young Marine's hand, a Corporal Cole Passick, I gave thanks for HIS service, but realized he was younger than my oldest daughter Jesse, and yet served honorably in a place where being an American is a bad thing.  My ride home was uneventful, but I reflected on the days events, and said my little prayer "Thank God I am alive" as I pulled into the garage.

For me, riding isnt just about one thing.  Its about life - my life! The ride of life can be bumpy at times, even tragic.  Or, it can be wonderful, peaceful, and filled with love.  Each day I give thanks that I am alive, and that I am able to love others, to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  Times around my house are tight right now, and some days are harder than others.  We all have those struggles.  Each day I ride my Harley "passionately", and each day I find more passion in my riding.  Riding isnt just about a Harley - its about life.  Whatever is your "ride" is, do it with passion, because life is all about the RIDE! 

My Uncle Ron and I - thanks for riding with me Uncle!

Peace & Love Everybody!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Call of Reckoning

Time to Ride at the Brewhaha
I've tried several times to get something out for my friends and relatives living out there somewhere in internet land.  Usually my posts are about once a month and really just serve as more of a "Whats Up" in my neck of the woods.  Lately, however, its been like an insane asylum around here.  I had hoped this would be a quieter year, given how the year started, but it would appear I never had positive control of my life or my direction.  I honestly don't know who is conducting this railroad into the deep abyss, but whomever he is better get a road map and slow down. It could be way way worse, and truly it is the blessings that I count today and during this month of May.  As I get older, however, I tend to find that sometimes all this excitement can be a bit much.  Like things to keep on an even keel so my little brain can absorb and analyze it all.  Unfortunately for some of us dinosaurs, that's a bit much to be asking.

Honest Officer - I can explain everything!
Since my last report, its now almost summer.  Spring has done about sprung its last surprise for the year on everyone.  Flowers have long since bloomed and faded, and now we are pretty much left with the green of the trees. Pollen now fills the sir stifling the eyes and clogging the sinuses.  Lawn mowing has begun, to which my disdain for that is only exceeded by my utter hatred of those damn political ads which are everywhere these days.  As summer approaches so too, does my hope for exciting riding possibilities.  Fortunately, this past winter was mild enough I never really parked the bike, although riding in winter time when there is supposed to be a foot of snow on the ground was, well, rather weird, but it also was such a great thrill to ride about 20 miles or so in 40 degree weather with people looking at me like I am some kind of fool.  I guess if you ride a motorcycle in cold weather, maybe you ARE a fool, but only a fool knows his true paradise.

The April Brewhaha Crew-in May.
For the last two years I have been making some friends online, who, as it were, are fans of the band Rush.  I cannot hide it, I have enjoyed this band since I was a junior in high school.  In the interest of maybe just celebrating a bit of independence, and the music we all grew up on, some of us decided to have a sort of get together in central Wisconsin.  The date set would be May 9th-May 13th, and we called the event the Brewhaha.  Our objective was really do some seeing of the sights, do some motorcycle riding and have a big party at the end.  To that end we had a glorious time.  Enjoyed some sights, took in some wines, toured a bit, and just found some great friends who came to enjoy some great music great food and just have a great time.  For Mary and I we don't do this that much, so this opportunity was readily taken.  On our last night we celebrated with a huge feast of pork and beef brisket, with all the trimmings.  The sharing of a glass, or several, of a great single malt scotch, or a glass of wine or two as we sat by a nice fire made things just about perfect.  All in all we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the company of friends!

Dale Curtis Atwood - My Grandson!
On our last day in Wisconsin, as I was packing up the car to return home, I overheard Mary sounding a bit excited on her phone.  As we were staying with friends, I wasn't exactly sure what this was about, so I went back in to a cup of coffee.  As Mary came downstairs, she sounded very concerned about something, and then put her cell phone on the table.   On speaker was our oldest daughter Jesse.  Sounding rather upset Mary told her to tell me what she had been talking about.  The conversation went something like this.

PawPaw still gots it!
Jesse:  "Hi Dad I ave something to tell you."
Me:    "Ok shoot!"
Jesse:  "Dad - I just gave birth to a baby boy!"
Me:  Silence.....a pause.....and then "Gee dear I had no idea you were PREGNANT!
Jesse:  "Um yeah but I need to give up the baby I'm not ready"
Me:  "Ok Jess before you make any decision let your mother and I get home so we can DISCUSS this as adults."

A gulp, two, checking my pulse.  Yes I became a grandpa!  The circumstances were not the best they could be, however, given my daughter and grandson are healthy, and our youngest daughter, who helped in the birthing process, scarred beyond words for LIFE, all things considered we are very lucky.  The drive home was, well, I think Mary and I were both in shock.  I think we needed the ride home to collect our thoughts, and find those precious right things to say.  As I was on my Harley, it goes without saying the ride home was going to take a toll.  All the adrenaline rush was making me sleepy, and on a motorcycle that's a bit dangerous.  In the end, we did find the right words, the right support, and the courage to face this new life with open arms. 

Dale Curtis Atwood born May 13th, 2012, weighing 6 pounds 4 ounces, at 18 inches in length.  Today Dale weighs a bit over 8 pounds is almost 22 inches long, and is already moving around like a linebacker! When he was born, we had no bed, no bassinet, no car seat, no clothes, no bottles, nothing.  As our prayers were answered, we discovered that in the same friendship we had sought to enjoy the previous week together, so did those very same people step up and send an incredible amount of donations in clothing gift cards even a brand new CRIB has showed up for baby Dale.  All thanks to those friends who share a passion for life!  To them I can only thank you on behalf of Dale and his mom Jesse.  Without such donations we might still be scrambling.

Mom and Cheyenne Graduating!
And then there was this past weekend.  Our youngest, Cheyenne, has finally become a high school graduate.  Her much anticipated day of freedom arrived, and she is going to make the most of it.  She received a 4 year math letter, and her GPA is hovering right at around 3.0, although the final number will not be known for a couple weeks yet.  She is also in the Vital program which helps students with learning difficulties with college tuition.  Her first year of tuition is paid, but the best part is she received a scholarship in the amount of $1000 for her first year.  Dad be heap big proud of her!!!  it was a struggle at times, but the best part was seeing her blossom and come out of her shell this last year or so.  New challenges await as she will attend community college for a two year degree in Graphic Art Design.  She will do well, as long as she stays focused and keeps her mind on her work.  Kids sometimes get rather distracted!

Other such notable events.  Mary it appears has almost fully recovered from total knee replacement in January.  She is moving around much better than she had for a great many years.  I hope to be enjoying some riding adventures this year.  Nothing firmed up, but we will be attending Rush concerts in Chicago and Detroit in September, with Toronto an additional stop in October.  I'd like to hope I can make one of those shows on the Harley, but that's a ways off yet.  Cheyenne starts college in the fall which will bring a new challenge as well.  Jesse is managing her new motherly duties fairly well, but as Dale gets older she will have to learn to adapt to his constant changes.  Even though this has been a challenging year, its been one of change, and of reckoning.

Welcome to the World Dale!!

Peace & Love Everybody!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Obituary of a Brother

Riding in winter time - What a TRIP!

Well, its been a fairly long winter, and now spring is fast approaching.  You couldn't tell me that, though. I never really "parked" the Harley for the winter.  I've been in and out every couple weeks on it.  Its been a couple months and life has been filled with challenges.  OK - maybe that's a bad word.  How about nightmares! Or stressed beyond a reasonable doubt! Riding set aside, its been a wacky time around the house.   Spring is coming, however, and I am looking forward to warmer temps, clearer skies, and my first saddle soreness of the year.  Spring always brings out the most positive thoughts in me.  For whatever reason, its like a reawakening of my spirit, like the flowers that bloom in the garden. The senses, usually numb from the winter cold, suddenly burst into action, and the mind is bombarded by the sights, smells, touches, and sounds of spring.  The aching doldrums of winter slowly subdue into a soon to be sea of green and dotting blooms.   You can feel it in the air, and even the birds are beginning to sing a lovely spring song!

From LEFT: Rich, Tara, Don, Rhonda and I
Family Reunion 1997

You cannot have good, however, without the bad.  To this end I am forced to deal with the death of my youngest brother, Rich.  Through some research, and a bit of tenacity, Mary uncovered a death notice for him dated September 2010. With some luck, and a rather understanding funeral home, we confirmed that Rich did pass away September 6th, 2010, in a hotel in Abilene, Texas at age 40.  The cause of death was attributed to massive alcoholic intake which led his heart to simply stop.  What really happened that night we may never know, however, I find myself in a bit of an emotional dilemma.  For many years I often wondered where my siblings were, given we were separated from each other while I was 7 years old.  Having been reunited with them in 1997, we never really kept in close contact with Rich.  To that end, I never "knew" him as a brother or family member.  The other side of it is he was my brother, and his story has never really been told.  I feel an emotional attachment to him, but part of my dilemma is I never really knew Rich the way I know a good friend. Perhaps in the weeks and months ahead I may be able to make some sense of his life and his death.  RIP Rich.

Mary Thanksgiving

It has been a rather lengthy period of time since my last post.  Christmas to be exact.  Mary has been thru her knee surgery.  Total knee replacement can be daunting for anyone.  Its been about 7 weeks since surgery, and progress has been rather slow at times.  So far the knee is performing well, but healing is slow.  Her knee continues to hold some swelling, and it still requires physical therapy a few times a week, however, Mary is moving around relatively pain free, and although still needs a cane or crutch to keep her balance, looks to be another successful knee patient.  There is still much to be done, however, between her back improving and the knee replacement, she feels better, a bit stronger, and seems....taller? After living for years in pain, finally getting a doctor to LISTEN has been a bit of a relief.  While she won't be doing any downhill slalom skiing, she is up and about. Always a good thing.


The kids are well.  Jesse has moved on from Wal Mart, and is trying to pursue other opportunities, or "challenges" as I call them.  Cheyenne is ALMOST finished with high school.  To say she is looking forward to it probably is a bit of an understatement.  She has done well, tries hard, but I think her biggest relief will be in May.  We did learn last week, however, that her first year of tuition at the community college is now covered by a scholarship program aimed at helping to develop skills in children who are "challenged" in school.  Her second year should have at least 40% tuition covered.  So all we need are books.  The program that offers these scholarships only take up to 3 students every year, so this is a very special achievement for her and for us as parents!  Her major will be graphic design, something she has been looking into for a couple years now.  The biggest thing is to maintain her focus, something that her father wasn't very good at!

Freedom Rock

Took some time this past weekend to make my annual pilgrimage to a little place in western Iowa called Freedom Rock. Its a rather large rock situated on Highway 25, about 1 mile south of Interstate 80.  Every year during Memorial Weekend the artist covers the rock in a freshly designed mural, giving honor to the nations veterans who have served our country. I had not been to the Rock for the 2011 design, as I was decidedly out of state when I normally do that.  As I recall, I was at Mount Rushmore! This year, I believe, the artist has outdone himself.  The pictures should speak to that.  From the main image on the front of the rock, to paying honor to 9-11, Sgt Salvatore Gunta, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, to a memorial of the Seal Team members who were tragically killed when their helicopter was shot down.  Even the mural depicting a Vietnam soldier whose ashes are mixed in to the paint was breathtaking.  The ride to was fairly windy, causing my return trip to be a bit delayed, but the weather was picture perfect, nice and clear.  I made it home just as the last ray of sunlight left the sky.  Thank goodness - I am Alive!

There will be other trips on my Harley this year.  My hope is to travel around Lake Michigan, maybe stop and see family and friends, perhaps a 4 day trip to Rapid City and the Badlands.  Thankfully there are plenty of destinations!  I had hoped to attend the annual "Run For The Wall" that is followed by The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally in Washington, DC this year, however, that goal will have to wait another year.  It is my hope that I attend that event, which starts in California and goes for about 10 days.  It is the pinnacle of riding to cross the United States on a bike, but to end up in Washington DC on Memorial Day to see the festivities is something I have been dreaming of for several years now.  To pay honor to our veterans means everything to me, although there are some who might suggest otherwise.  I am reminded of our Honor Flights every year, and how a simple "Thank You" goes so very far with these men and women.  What more deserving honor than to line up and let our politicians know our veterans DESERVE to be honored, to be respected, to receive the gifts this country has to offer.  Unfortunately this year - Cheyenne is graduating from school, but next year, I hope its in the works!

Until next time everyone........Eyns Vey Drey ....DUPAH!!!

Peace & Love Everybody!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Some Gifts Can't Be Wrapped

Mary and Figaro
Well, its Christmas Day.  Late evening has fallen and temperatures are still fairly warm for this time of year.  Believe it or not, I'm actually thankful today is over.  Too much tension, stress, and add in a hint of dogged tiredness.  Its been a dreadfully long month, maybe too long.  Haven't slept well lately,  and work is picking up.  Ordinarily that's a good thing, but lately its becoming harder to put in those 60 hour weeks.  Some days I can go at it fine, with all the enthusiasm that is needed, but there are days when I wonder if its worth all the headaches, the stress, the sacrifices my family and I make.  Does the net benefit outweigh the cost?  It certainly used to.  In those days maybe 15 years ago, I was grasping for any way to get that invaluable experience, to show those people that I COULD do that job, that I did understand the basic engineering and surveying principles.  That I WAS willing to make those sacrifices, to go that extra mile.  Now I am beginning to question those values, maybe for family reasons, maybe for personal reasons, maybe I need more time away from work, but, then I wake up, snap out of my numbing fog, and rise to my knees to take on more challenges.

Cheyenne smiling deviously!
It was relatively quiet today.  Mary and I woke up a little late.  With all the sleep problems I have had, and her pain level from her knee rising, we slept a little more than late, but after all, it was Christmas day.  Presents were opened, slowly and methodically.  Coffee almost poured into our minds, easing our sleepy minds from the dream world.  I gave my usual "what does Christmas REALLY mean" speech a few days ago, so there was no need to relive that lecture.  We relaxed for a bit, and then I realized two things.  It was after 1 PM by then, and the temperatures outside were well into the 40 plus range.  Plenty warm for.....A ride on my Harley, right?  A quick shower, some clean clothes, and after prodding Jesse to grab a few pics of me in my full Harley garb, I was off to spend some much needed time riding and reflecting.  This month has been fairly warm enough that I can escape for an hour or so on my bike.  2 weeks ago, it was 50 degrees, and I decided to spend 5 hours out on the bike.  That day I was again treated to an up close and personal experience with a bald eagle.  That little guy was close enough to actually look into my eyes.  How cool is that!?

My first Christmas Day Ride!
Riding is a deeply personal and almost religious experience for me.  I've said it many times, that once I get on the scoot, I can release all those stresses, the worries, and the only thing that's left is me.  I can become one with the machine, allow the machine to push all those worldly aches and pains off of me so that I can focus totally on controlling the machine.  This day would be no different, with the exception being that this was Christmas Day.  Pretty cool!  I took a few minutes to visit a new friend before I made my way southward.  Riding can also be a great time to pray, to meditate, as it was today.  Praying for Mary, whose knee surgery should relieve the incredulous pain she is suffering through.  A friend whose health problems have been a source for concern and worry.  Prostate trouble can be devastating to a lot of folks, so I hope that his treatments will cure his ailment.  Another friend who is suffering through some personal issues.  We have leaned on each other a lot this year, and I pray constantly that those problems can somehow find a solution.  Time will tell, but just having such a friend has been a true blessing that cannot be put into words.  I feel truly blessed to have friends, family, health, gainful employment, and the ability to be up and about.  As I rode today, my problems seemed to dissolve into the cool winter air, and  although my legs and body ached a bit from the colder riding, I felt revitalized and refocused, and somehow a bit more relaxed as well,as if my problems had taken a back seat to being at home as a father and husband again.

Jesse pleased about
By the time I had gotten back home, Mary's dinner preparations were almost complete.  A simple smoked ham, with scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole.  A hearty meal to be sure, after cold weather riding.  We gave thanks for our meal, and a simple meal became a blessing as we realized what has been a long and rather difficult year had become a day of thanks and relief.  We counted our blessings and maybe realized we have a lot more to be thankful for than a lot of people in this small world.   We had received many physical gifts this year, but the ones that counted were those you just can't put a price tag on or wrap up.  Mary is slowly regaining some strength, and her back is now pain free.  I have had the ability to spend time actually RIDING my Harley, and not just staring at it in my garage, and just being able to get on a motorcycle is a blessing.  I have more friends this year than most people have gained in a life time.  We have a sense of family, purpose, life, and love in my house, which we have struggled with from time to time.  Indeed - the best presents do not need wrapping, do not need ribbon, or a box.  The best presents are those we have within ourselves that we bless our family and friends with.  The best presents are those you cannot hold, or touch, but you feel them.  The love of your family, the sense of pride at a job well done, sharing some time with a friend or a loved one, even just some encouragement to those that may be struggling with their own problems or shortfalls.

A new friend and fellow Rush fan
As for what's next, I cannot say.  Mary has been scheduled for total knee replacement January 25th.  I can only hope and pray this will move her closer to good health.  We have some time off planned.  A trip tor two on my bike is planned.  Some vacation time in Michigan perhaps.  Who knows, a friend could come calling, or even meet up somewhere.  We have lots of hopes.  Work to be done around the house is always a challenge.  New kitchen cabinets, new shower in the bathroom, challenges that await are always just around the corner, you only need to look.  Not sure how those things will happen, but they give us goals to search out, reach for, and hope for.  This has been a year of struggle, of difficulty, and maybe of searching for those things that seem to be just beyond our reach.  For all the toiling and the worry, however, we came to the realization that we do feel blessed this year, to hold those blessings close, and to try to be just a little more upbeat when the going DOES get tough. 

Figaro guarding the
living room
We hope everyone had a wonderful and Merry Christmas!

Peace and Love Everybody! Lets RIDE!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Penny for My Thoughts

Molly looking for love or a
hiding place!
We have returned!  Thanksgiving is OVER!  I am stuffed with food, wine, good times, good memories, the occasional cross-eyed look or the "yes dear" at dad.  I am almost positive he has thoughts that his eldest son is a few more degrees off plumb this year.  The constant ma-n-pa verbal jabs at each other, which makes me often wonder how poor Molly, their dog, manages to stay cool, calm, and collected under fire.  The insistence of a few family that my Harley would look MUCH better rolling down some Michigan country road.  Well, the views are probably a bit better anyways.  We have much to be thankful for this year, much to celebrate.  Unfortunately, we were missing one, but all in all we had a good time, good food, and a little prodding never hurt!  Even if dad's bald spot is getting bigger amidst all that grey hair - we still love him.

Mary and I. 
Our November started a bit earlier with Mary's successful surgical implant of a neurostimulator device designed to curb pain impulses from her lower back to the brain.  The surgery went very well, and the stimulator is doing its job.  Her pain has been reduced to a fraction of what it was, but she will still be on some pain controlling meds for a bit longer.  Surgery is always hard to recover from, but this has been probably harder than we anticipated.  Next up for her is knee replacement on her left knee.  We also celebrated a birthday, as our oldest daughter Jess celebrated 24 years. We decided to take her out for dinner that night, and I discovered why I do not drink much.  She ordered a rose margarita which was deliriously sour and sweet at the same time.  Made my face nearly implode! Cheyenne our youngest is working on scholarship opportunities for college.  She is working well, and I believe she will be very driven, although she does have the occasional slip.  We all have them, but I do believe I had way more than my fair share.  Just ask my my parents!

Tara, left, and Rhonda, right. 
The "rough draft" in the middle.
Our trip over went well, although I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't take my Harley over the river and thru the woods this time around.  We awoke to rain from Des Moines to Detroit, and knowing I really didn't have the proper gear to make such a trip, and that riding thru Chicago would be more dangerous in the driving rain, I decided against taking the bike.  I spent the day before Thanksgiving helping dad, and relaxing.  I have worked almost 7 days a week non stop for so long, any break is welcome, but being at my parents house, you just never know what will happen.  I took particular note of a picture in dad's office of him and his brothers and sisters.  Its been a long time since I have seen them, and most have changed so much I hardly recognized many of them.  Perhaps next year I can visit them and the rest of my family more often!

Thanksgiving Day is always a bustle of activity.  A morning breakfast turned out very welcome and delish.  Something simple but enough to to satisfy.  Home made jams always hit a high note, and mom's fridge was not devoid of such delicacies.  Then there is the table.  You know the one.  Its only needed during a high feast such as this, but its always in the basement or garage disassembled.  Still need a union break for set up! Then there is the 30 minute regale of which way the table should sit, why it needs pushed away, or forward, or how much the table cloth covers it.  Then family begins to arrive, and its obvious you haven't seen some in awhile.  I still maintain that I am just a "rough draft" so to speak, and my sisters are the ones who got the looks and the brains.  And then there is the pies.  Pies.  Pies are God's way of showing just how much he loves you.  Yea, even something we all do for those we love.  This day was certainly no different, although I am quite sure my younger sister is still wondering exactly where we did get the main course. 

Mom and Pop
Still in love after ??
One of our most recent traditions is the placing of a penny at each plate, and each making some small statement of what we are thankful for during the past year.  There are variations to this custom, but its origin appears to be traced to an English custom of Oblations, or an offering, dating back before the year 1212 where a pence, or penny is offered at a burial, for marriage, for "churching" a woman, thence two pence at Easter, threepence at Christmas, and two other feasts from parishioners to the parish priest as a way of offering thanks to the Church for some service or feast prepared by the Church.  Our adaptation takes a unique twist in that the penny is picked up thanks given, and each penny added to the collection.  However it may be, each of us gave thanks in our own way, and then began the feasting.  And feast we did.  And laugh, sometimes cry, and even hold each other.  It felt good to sit down and feel loved and welcomed to the table, to dine, and to share in the love represented by our presence there.  After dinner we slowly made our way to the back porch, some for picture taking, some for AIR, and some just for the conversation and the view.  As each made their way to their car and home, I felt a thankful twinge as I realized for those that were there, I was also reminded of those not at their tables or their families, of those who stand watch, and secure those freedoms we hold so precious.  There's also family who could not be there.  My grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, some who have passed on from this world, others who celebrate in their own way.  I give thanks for each of them, for the lessons they have given me in my life and for their love that I feel from them every day.

Mom and Aunt Barb
Curious color!!
Uncle Ron
In deep thought
The next day we left for home.  Our bellies still a bit full, our minds tired, but perhaps more mindful of those that had shared their love and fortunes.  We always stop at the South Bend Chocolatier Shop in South Haven for those special mochas that keep me stoked and caffeine medicated for our trip home.  Chicago was fairly devoid of traffic, although one knucklehead in a blue Corvette was in a big hurry to get around traffic.  Those 'Vette people - always hogging the road!  The rest of the trip fairly uneventful, I pulled into the driveway, unloaded the truck, and geared up for a quick ride on the bike for a couple of errands.  Unfortunately, my errand running became a bit of a nightmare as I tore a hole in the back seat of the Harley , a lace cleat ripping open a dime sized hole in the upholstered back pad.  Then finding my new cell phone had none of my contacts in it, which assuredly drove my eyes to cross.  Ahh then there was the trip to the grocery store, and by that time, my urge to use the bathroom was becoming more urgent, only to find the darn restroom closed!  After I arrived at home, settled in with a movie on the bed, only to drift in and out of sleep as my body slowed from the pace of the day. Eventually I succumbed to my need for sleep, drifting off to my thoughts of the week and memories made. 

Aunt Ty and Cheyenne
I was reminded recently of a unique custom by the Sioux Indian tribe, that says there is no word in their language for "Good-Bye".  As in their beliefs, it is said that such a word would break the circle of love and happiness, and therefore no word was ever developed.  Rather than good-bye, perhaps a simple "Look after yourself", or perhaps "See you again" might work. For whatever reason, and in the spirit of the season upon us, I simply ask each of you to take care of yourselves, your family, and Peace be with you all!

Peace & Love!

Steve striking a pose!

Thanksgiving Pictures

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Memories of Edinburgh

My ghoulish ride on Halloween
Its November 12th - the day after Veterans Day.  Quiet fills my house as Mary is off to a funeral for a friend.  The girls are doing, well, whatever it is girls do at 17 and 24.  Having the day off yesterday was a welcome respite from the dregs of the office.  Lately my motivation is, well, on other things.  Call it bad attitude, lack of drive, maybe just dog assed tired.  Between hospitals, daughters, the occasional tooth ache, work stress, and all the other nightmarish ghouls that invade my dreams, lately I just haven't been myself.  We all go through times like this.  Don't tell me we don't.  Even the most savvy of personalities has a down week or two, but eventually things turn up, and you pull out of the doldrums.  Maybe its the season, too, as colder weather is coming, and what a cranky S.O.B. I can be when I am not on the Harley motorbike!  Whatever it is, its nothing I can just take some happy pill for, and its sure nothing that a little wind in my hair won't cure, but those days are coming to a grinding halt.  Whatever it is, I just wish it would take a flying leap out of my life and hit the road.

Mary as we left Mercy Hospital
after her back surgery
Mary's surgery has done well.  Doctors implanted the nerve stimulator in her back last week, and it has done wonders for her pain.  Her back is more stiff from the surgery itself, but the central portion of the pain she had is almost gone, masked by a small device that is not much bigger than a flash drive.  She is still recovering, but has been able to get out of the house on her own a couple times for short trips.  It will take some time for her incisions to fully heal, but it sure is great to see her able to move around better and be in a little better frame of mind.  Next up will be the total knee replacement of her left knee.  That will most likely take place after the holidays.  Doctors expect her recovery from back surgery to take about 8 weeks, which puts knee replacement right around Christmas, so we'll wait on that till after the holidays to give her more time to recover fully.  In the mean time, we're all just thankful to see her moving around a bit better!

From Left: Jim Franklin, Walter Illes,
and John Maldonado of the QM
Division aboard the USS Sam Rayburn
Veterans Day is a day we all give thanks to the veterans of our nations military, and even the local law enforcement and firefighters are to be thanked for their service as well.  Since Mary was feeling a bit better I decided to take her to a local eatery that offered free lunch to any veteran who walked in.  As you can imagine, it was a little crowded.  I was struck by two things, however, that seemed to stick with me.  The first was a class of elementary students who offered a little handwritten card to each vet as he walked in.  The second, more importantly, was that most of the people in this place were not my age, but mostly Vietnam vets.  You can tell a lot of them any more, the long hair, the handlebar mustaches, the look in their eyes when handed a Thank You card.  I make no boasts about my naval "career" as it were.  I served in peacetime.  I served when the USSR was our enemy. I never saw what most could construe as real combat, although the things I did do are still highly classified to this day. After all, it was submarine duty.  Nobody is supposed to know.  No one died on my watch.  No one was blown to pieces by a mortar round, and no one was executed.  I never saw a soldier lose an arm, a leg, or have the back of his head taken off by a grenade.  Those who have deserve my gratitude, my respect, and should always be held in high esteem by our fellow countrymen.  It shames me to no end, however, when people in my community still flip their noses at veterans such as these men.  If you see a veteran, ANY veteran, just say "Thank you!".  Thank you for your service, thank you for your devotion to country, thank you for your dedication, and thank you for my freedoms.  Many of these men were never thanked. Many never were even greeted warmly when they came home.  Some were protested, belittled, embarrassed, humiliated for doing their jobs. The next time you see a veteran, just say "Thank You" and it will make a huge difference in their lives.

From Right: LCDR Wayne Gambin,
Chief Dave Harper, and me in the
foreground on the USS Sam Rayburn
The holidays are fast approaching.  The pagan winter festivals, as some refer to them, are always painful at times.  The traffic, the hoarding masses, the endless lines, the constant chiming of cash registers, all the noise noise noise! I, for one, have chosen to hide in my house and not come out until January 10th! Yes I know - I sound like an old Scrooge, but I give my thanks to my friends and family each day.  I also give thanks for the doctors who are working to give Mary a new lease on life.  The New Year will bring hope and promise, but to be sure, its to those I love most that have brought some measure of understanding.  It has been a difficult year in my house, but thank you to each of my friends and family for sticking with me and having some understanding!  Patience is being rewarded, although at this point I am not sure if its patience or just dogged determination but we have high hopes for the coming year.  I want to wish each of you a great Thanksgiving Holiday!  Make sure you give thanks to each other, and let us all pray for peace and prosperity!

Peace & Love!

A nice little fire to warm the coggles and toes!

Edinburgh Castle