Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Happy and Merry Merry

Merry Christmas to all, and wishing you a Happy New Year!

It's the day after Christmas and most everyone is still dozing after a long and busy Christmas day - Which is fine, everyone earned it!

This Christmas was made special by the fact that the whole family pitched in to get everything ready in time. (And by that I mean that our Diamonds in the Rough got a little more "polished" and really stepped up to help more than they ever have!) Best of all, despite the considerable time crush this year, there were no "ugly moments" when someone lost their temper; Everyone felt needed, special, appreciated, and loved!

After all, that's what Christmas is all about!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Never Go to Buy a Car Without Taking at Least One of These!

Several years ago my wife and I bought a brand new car, and learned a valuable lesson in negotiation in the process. In this case the car was for me, so I spent considerable time researching the several brands, models, options, and even the dealerships in the area to narrow down the field. (I think I started the day after I bought my last new car about 5 or 6 years prior, maybe even a bit before.)

Once I was certain of what I wanted, It only took about an hour of blinking, staring, and swearing at my research to realize that our allotted budget was just not going to buy my ideal car.

Or would it?

Once I got over the sticker shock and calmed down, I started to think in cold factual terms. To start with, I had a pretty good idea what the dealer's cost for the car was based on my Internet research. I also had a pretty good idea of what the minimum acceptable price would be from the dealership I was targeting. Right there in black and white was our budgeted amount, and it was (by a hairs breadth!)between the two.

This could work!

Heartened, I continued to inventory my weapons. I had a $500.00 manufacturers coupon from my recent trip to the auto show, I had a trade in that was in very good shape and was a popular model on the resale market, I had a date when I could spend a very l o o o n g time negotiating, I had my wife to represent the impartial voice of reason (in case I lost my objectivity), and I had our two secret weapons: The dynamic duo of Tired and Hungry Toddlers D1 and D2!

Here's a rundown of how it went.

It's Friday, early evening. We arrive at the dealership about an hour or so before closing. We begin looking at examples of the model car I'm after. A salesman engages us. He looks like a nice guy. He talks like a human. I have a slight pang of guilt, but I push it aside (this is war after all, and we have engaged the enemy!)
"Do you like these?" he asks.
"Yes I do" I say, "But it looks like we'd have to go somewhere else or order one because I don't see any exactly like what I want."
(The toddlers are climbing in a nearby car, playing "driving". They are really having a blast.)
"Why don't you all come inside and tell me what you are looking for and I'll check the computer. We have some stock in the lot across the street."
So we go inside - D1 and D2 are upset that they have to stop playing "driving". The salesman looks a bit relieved. Once we are inside and set up at the salesman's desk, with the kids sitting on our laps, I explain exactly what I want.
"Gee we don't have any that exactly match what you want. We do have one in that color that has leather, but has an automatic instead of a stick. - I'm sure I could make you a good deal."
"It has to have a stick" I say.
"OK - well here's one in black, they are really sharp"
(The kids are getting restless)
"I had a black car once. I will never, ever buy another black car. Period"
"Ohhhkaaaay" He hesitated, then asked anyway - "Why is that?"
"Can't keep them clean enough I say. Hard to take care of - paint swirls show up too easily. Plus they're hot"
(The kids are getting really restless, and want down, we let them.)
He looks through the computer inventory some more. "Oh, Um, let me check with my manager. I'll be right back."
(The kids begin fighting over who gets to sit in the salesman's now vacant chair so they can play "Office")
He comes back and we shoo the two very disappointed toddlers out of the way. (They go to an empty desk across the way and begin fighting over the chair there.)
"We just got some new inventory in, they're so new we don't have them entered in the system yet. Usually we're not allowed to sell them until we've had a chance to get them fully inventoried, but my manager says it will be OK." "We've sent someone out to the lot to check on what exactly we have, in the meantime can we check out your trade in?"
"Sure!" We head outside.
Our old car is immaculately clean, inside and out - even the engine was cleaned in anticipation of this moment. It's my turn to be the salesman. "The car has been serviced regularly in keeping with the suggested schedule in the owners manual." "All of the major servicing has been done by the dealer" I continue, "And as you can see there are very few surface blemishes."
"How about the brakes?" He asks.
"Less than half worn" I say. "The next thing it will need is tires"
As if he didn't hear what I just said he asks "What does the car need?" "Say your grandmother was going to by this car, what would you warn her about?"
"The tires are going to need replaced" He walks over and checks the tires - They still have some tread left.
"Are you sure that's all?"
"Yes." "I have the service records if you'd like to see them." I move to the car, open the door and start to open the glove box.
"Uh, no. . . That's OK" he says. I start to wonder if he wants the car for a child or perhaps himself. . . .
Another salesman comes up and says something to our salesman. "Shall we head back to my desk?"
"Ah, so you found one like I want then!" I say, feeling a little excitement building . . .
"No", "But I bet you haven't considered this color - it's brand new" We reach his desk and he shows me the new color in a brochure.
He was right there, it was a brand new color and I hadn't considered it.
"I'll have to see it." I say . . . He goes to get someone to bring the car into the service bay where we can get a good look. By now it's gotten dark, and the dealership has been officially closed for quite a while.
(The secret weapons are really making a fuss now. They are tired, hungry, and bored - they are fighting, whining, and generally being a pain in the butt. We are non-plussed.)
The car is brought in so we take a look. It looks awesome! "These lights make it hard to see the true color of the car" I say . .
The salesman lets out a sigh and seems to shrink in size a bit, but otherwise stoically continues his sell . ..
"These lights are more natural than most indoor lighting because we deliver a lot of cars to their new owners in here."
"Oh, OK . . . Let me take a closer look" It is totally what I wanted, well except for the color change . . .
"What do you think?"
"I think we can talk about terms on this one" I reply" He looks elated.
Back to the desk - the kids are just about to implode they are so done with this whole process . . .
"We can give you [really good price] for your trade."
Of course I say "That's all?" But my grin tells him I know it's a good price, so I don't pursue that any more.
"Now let me show you some of our financing options" I cut him off. "We're pre-approved with our bank."
"But I bet they didn't give you 1.9%!" He was right - I said, "Tell me more!"
We decide to use their financing - the kids are having a melt down on the floor.
"OK so the price is [sticker price], - your trade that's going to leave [ridiculous amount]"
"Nope - how about [dealer cost]?" He turns white. . .
"Sir, are you joking?"
"Not really." "We expect to have to go up from dealer cost, but it's a place to start isn't it" Now he's blushing and seems to be quite rattled. He keeps turning his attention to our darling little negotiation aids who are just this side of going into full tantrums.
He turns back to me and says "You realize we have to make some money on this deal." "Or we would go out of business."
"Yes - So knowing that there are likely manufacturer incentives and such, if we offer you [$500.00 over dealer cost] would that be enough?"
Again turning his attention back from our beautiful toddling distractions he says "Um, no." I can only go as low as [$500.00 more than my offer]"
I hem an haw a bit. I Look at my wife, but ignore the screaming, crying, kicking, and downright obnoxious pair of darling children having meltdowns just a few feet away. The desperate,- pleading really - look on his face told me this was the best he could do.
"I think we've reached a deal we can live with." I'm grinning from ear to ear as we shake on it.
Just then my wife pulls out the $500.00 auto-show coupon from the manufacturer,and handing it to the aghast salesman she says "Oh, take this off that bottom line would you please"? (I love her!)
"But you didn't tell me you had one of those!" he manages to stammer through his shock . . .
"It says right here - 'Take $500.00 off your best deal.'" You didn't think we would use this before we were sure we had gotten our best deal, do you?" she said sweetly. (I really love this woman - did I mention that?)
"OK, fine!" "Whatever!" "Yes" "Let's get this written up so we can all go home." (The secret weapons have worn themselves out, and crawl up into our laps and fall asleep. Perfect timing!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Appreciating What We Have Before it's Lost

My wife has been laid up now for several weeks, having undergone ankle surgery to repair an injury to cartilage in the joint. The recovery for this surgery requires no weight bearing whatsoever! In lieu of crutches, she has a scooter-like cart on which she kneels with her bad leg, pushing with the good. Unfortunately the cart is heavy so she can not negotiate stairs on her own - someone must carry the cart for her.

This means she can not get to her car alone to drive anywhere. So I do all the driving: Our daughter to school and ballet, and she to the doctor and PT.

But it's been much more eye opening at home. Take cooking for example. So far I've managed not to poison anyone, but it's a lot harder than my wife makes it look. I just can't seem to get everything ready to eat at the same time. With her excellent direction though, my brother and I, acting as sous chefs, managed to produce a full menu for Thanksgiving Dinner - It was actually fun, but it also really hammered home how hard my wife works to put meals on our table.

Oh, and don't even get me started on laundry! Apparently I'm way to practical/stingy to properly separate the dirty laundry. I end up with too few loads every time. Thank goodness the kids have stepped up to help with that chore. Mom manages to sort out all the loads, and the kids (and even I, sometimes) manage to keep them moving from washer to dryer to hangers/baskets. . .

If I can stay awake long enough to do it, I must remember to give my wife an especially appreciative hug tonight.

I really love - and appreciate - that woman!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

We just wrapped up our big holiday meal after a couple of very busy prep days and everything is right with the world! Our bellies are full, naps are underway, and visits with family were fun and over too soon.

We are truly blessed, and have much to be thankful for.

Here's hoping you can say the same!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Ritches of Growing up Poor

I realize now how lucky I was to have grown up poor. Sounds strange doesn't it? This is not the first time I've found myself thinking that way either. But it did in fact take me a long time to realize how good I had it. (I was reminded of this again recently as we begin the College Financial Planing process for our two Diamonds in the rough. I'll post more on this topic soon!)

Growing up, we learned to make do without material things, and learned to be resourceful with what we did have. It also meant that we spent a lot of time with family; working together, entertaining each other with games and stories, sitting down to big holiday meals with extended family, and watching TV on Sunday evenings. My brother and I seldom wanted for much; when we couldn't afford something like a new bicycle or stereo, we fixed up what we found cheap at garage sales.

I wonder if our Diamonds will ever appreciate things the way I do?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fashion vs Weather

Ever notice that when the first cold weather hits in the fall, teenagers are the last to move to weather appropriate clothing? Not all teens of course, but there are many who will brave the chill air in shorts, flip flops and a sleeveless tee rather than risk showing up at school or wherever looking like a dork. (Or nerd, or dweeb or whatever name teens call their peers who aren't cool - or is it hip, with-it, down - Oh whatever!)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

. . . And a Good Time Was Had By All

We took in the "John Williams Conducts John Williams" concert at The Ohio Theater Wednesday night. The four of us thoroughly enjoyed the show; In fact it's the only event in recent memory where all of us could honestly say it was the best thing we'd seen in a long time. It's rare to find something with such universal appeal. The crowd - which was sold out - was also very appreciative. Several minutes worth of standing ovations and three encores proved that.

The Columbus community is lucky to have such a fine symphony. We are blessed that we now have another wonderful family memory to cherish and share.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Physician - Heal Thyself

Well, it finally happened: I had a hard drive failure.

I've worked in IT for many years, and have helped folks deal with their own failed hardware many times. I frequently admonish them for not keeping adequate back up copies of their important files. It's always difficult for me to explain to folks that unless they can justify the thousands of dollars it costs to send the drive to a certified clean-room equipped lab, their data is gone. . .

Up to now I've avoided any of my own data loss by replacing a drive that starts to make noises that drives in good working order just don't make. In fact, this has never even been an issue on my home PCs. They've never started to make noise, and none ever have failed before now.

The irony? The drive that failed was my back up drive. There was no warning. It never made any sounds that I would interpret as a precursor of impending failure.

So what's the problem, you ask? It was only my back up drive - so all the original data is still on my main hard drive, right?

Yeah, if only . . .

My "back up drive" also happened to be the one place where I kept all of my digital photos!

I have no backup of them. . . After all, I back up things To that drive, not things already ON that drive.

Well, the drive is presently in the service department of a local computer retailer to see if any data can be recovered using non-invasive, software means. If that fails I stand to be out quite a few bucks. . .

Update. . .

The technician just called me about my hard drive. He said he was able to recover about 75 to 80 percent of my data! I'll let you know what that really means once I get my hands on the data.

Last Update . . .

Well, I know that some data was not recoverable, but I can not remember what is missing. I'm very happy with the results, and it only cost me $64.00!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My commute extends

Ugh. Boy was I wrong.

As I ranted about before in this space, Our daughter doesn't have a bus to ride to school this year. We decided that it would probably be best for me to drive her to school every day as my schedule is somewhat lest restrictive than my wifes.

What was I thinking!

It was with great confidence that I volunteered for this duty. I really didn't mind that it would add about 30 minutes to my commute, especially since fully half of it would be in an Anti-Rush direction. In fact, the route that I take from our place to her school is along a rather pleasant two lane riverside road most of the way. Despite it mostly being one lane in each direction, it has a very predictable traffic load, and even on snowy days, moves very well. The scenery along this route is also nice. Fall foliage, snowy boughs, frozen river sunrises . . . So that coupled with my love of driving seemed like a no brainer.

Right - I didn't use my brain at all. . .

Day one of our commute I thought I would take the expressway - 'cause being the first day, I really wanted to get D3 to school right when her before-care opened, and we were running a bit late. Mind you, a few years ago my office used to be in the city and this expressway route was my daily norm - so no big deal.

Yeah! Right! When did I start getting so tense when driving in rush hour freeway traffic? Where does that a-hole think he's going! HEY! Do you see me here?!!! SHI--!!

I decided that I would stick with the scenic route from day two on. So the next day, I happily headed for the road along the river. Traffic was very light and we were making good time.

I must have really blocked out some things from a few years ago. (I drove both kids to school for several years before we found out that there was a bus.) I forgot about this intersection up here where a second lane exists long enough for folks to race you for the single lane on the other side . . . Ditchers! Why can't they just wait in line like us normal folks?

We got to school with plenty of time to spare. So I headed back from whence I came and then towards the office.

Dang, that sun is right in my face! And where did all these crappy drivers come from? Is the freeway backed up or closed or something I missed hearing about? Why are they messing up my commute here on the scenic route?

My clock tells me I'm making excellent time . . .

What the . . .! Does red no longer mean stop? Holy mother of god! - Is my side of the double yellow line really that much more nicer than theirs?!!

Boy was I wrong . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

As September 11th Approaches . . .

I learned something important about myself the other day. The events of 9/11/01 still have a very dramatic effect on me.

We happened to turn to a National Geographic Channel program about the events of that fateful day and over the course of the show I found myself growing very Angry.

Anger they say is just other emotions expressed in a way that feels less vulnerable to us - even though it's really when we are most vulnerable because we are not in control or being honest with ourselves about the true emotions we are experiencing.

Well my frustration, horror, pride, empathy, and sadness over the events of that day (emotions I recognize now) combined into a rumbling mass that roared out of me as anger - Right at my poor wife.

I guess I'm not over 9/11 - but watching shows about it is for me.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Facet of Fatherhood

Yesterday I found myself first in line in a left turn lane from a residential street onto a very busy main thoroughfare. Despite the busy cross street, there is no left turn light so one must await oncoming traffic when the light turns green.

Fortunately there are crosswalks and functioning walk lights at this particular intersection, for on the corner was a preteen girl very impatiently waiting to cross that very busy street. (She repeatedly leaned hard on the button making it obvious she was not wanting to wait.)

She would be crossing in the same direction I was facing, and so I would cross her path as I turned left. I found myself worrying for this child's safety. Would any traffic coming at me from the opposite side and turning right see her? I was happy when, probably for the first time that I've observed, no cars came up on the straight/right lane towards us. When the light changed, I pulled out into the intersection and turned ever so slightly left so as to see around the opposite left turning traffic. And as I expected, the child hesitated, started across the street, hesitated again, then broke out in a dead run for the far side.

I knew that It was a good thing I was there, for I was sure that the dude in the BMW behind me yapping on the phone probably would have zipped on around the corner - he very nearly ran me over when I stopped - and could have run the girl over. At the very least scared her as he crossed right in front of her. . .

Thing is, before I had my own kids, I probably would have zipped around the corner myself. Being a father has really opened my eyes to the phrase "It takes a village. . ."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bathroom humor of a different kind.

- OK, if you don't like to read about gross bathroom stuff, you may not want to continue reading this post. -

The office building where I work is relatively new, maybe not even 10 years old. I've been working in it for just over two years and have hated the men's rest-rooms since day one.

It's not because they are too small, or too busy or too far away. They're not even all that dirty usually. It's because of something that was decided long before the building first became occupied. Something that no one who works there is responsible for, nothing that the architect or plumbers who worked on the building can be blamed for, Heck, even the person who chose the fixtures can not be blamed fully for this abomination. The fault lies wholly on whatever idiot it was at @meric@n St@nd@rd who designed the urinals we're now stuck with!. These urinals suck!

There is one simple reason for my intense dislike: Flat Surfaces. That's it. Be they horizontal or vertical, flat surfaces in a urinal are splash inducing, embarrassing trouser spot creating, puddle on the floor causing, shoe dampening. neatness preventing crimes against male peers everywhere!

OK, you ladies who might be reading this may not get the full understanding of why flat surfaces are such a problem - You see, Instead of wide, flat horizontal and vertical pieces joined by too small curves, there needs to be a nice big, gentle curve to aim at, and a nicely angled-in edge around the front of the bowl to properly deflect drips. Even flat walls in the back that are angled toward the center are better than a flat back wall. All of the curves and appropriate angles allow for splash free peeing, and helps those stray drips find their way into the bowl rather than all over your pants leg or on the floor. The results of flat surfaces on a urinal lead to a situation kinda like this: Imagine walking into your bathroom at home and finding that one of the males in the household didn't put the seat up when they peed and left you a wet seat. You're faced with grossness you have to clean up before you can go. Well, guys get grossed out at the pee all over the flat surfaces of the urinals and on the floor too. But we don't really have a way to clean up first: There's no such thing as a toilet paper holder for the urinals - heck, I doubt you could flush any paper down a urinal to start with - Anyway, we just stand back a little farther then we should, and end up contributing to the mess.

I wonder if that idiot at @meric@n St@nd@rd was a practical joker - Or just clueless?

Sometimes You Can Call 'em . . .But Often You're Way Off Base

Our son finally received his first paycheck yesterday! You may recall that it was a month ago when I first reported the momentous occasion when he got the job.

There evidentially was some kind of SNAFU at the main office. The trouble his supervisor had to go through was extensive - I'm really glad for our son's sake that she's someone that will go to bat for her employees - she even "threatened" to go downtown to the home office to try and pry the check from the bureaucracy herself! All I can say is it's a good thing he wasn't depending on that check to pay bills last month!

Anyway, when he opened the check it was not at all like what I had imagined. It went something like this:

D1: Walks in the door - "Hi dad!"
Me: "Hey!" "You got some mail today." Thinking he would immediately know what I meant.
D1: "More college stuff?"
Me: (A tad surprised he didn't get the hint) "Yeah, there's some of that"
D1 "Oh! Did I get my paycheck?" Finds the envelope and opens it. "Wow!"
Me: "Heh heh!"
D1: "The Government didn't get all that much!"
Me: (Incredulous) "Huh?" "What?"

That's not at all what I expected him to say. Maybe we had over prepared him for the effect taxes would have on his pay. . . Oh well. I guess he's happier this way.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Our Tax Dollars at Work

We recently became aware, quite by accident, that our local school district has radically changed their bus routes on us. With frustration and dismay we learned that D1 will no longer be picked up in front of our house - his bus will make a stop instead at the middle school over 8 blocks away - and D3 now has no bus to ride at all!

OK, so our kids do attend private schools some distance out of our local school district, and we were fortunate that they ever had bus rides at all. But the manner in which these changes were communicated leaves much to be desired. Well, actually everything to be desired - they never told us!

It was my wife who discovered the mess. Because she is such the consummate scheduler, she contacted our school district's transportation office more than a month ago to ask how soon we could hope to learn what the bus schedule might be for the upcoming school year. The courteous yet unhelpful government employee at the other end of the phone seemed to think that there were no buses for us this year, and if so we should have received a communication stating as such by now. A transferred phone call later, and the news was mostly confirmed: No bus for D3, and a really ugly schedule for D1. Also, we were promised a copy of the communication as we apparently had somehow not receive it as we should have.

This really got my wife in a lather - and boy did I hear about it! Now, I can be just as hot headed as she, but most of the time I jump into problem solving mode and effectively bypass the emotional responses she so often has. This was the case here - and as usual, that was also the wrong response on my part, for she just thought I was being insensitive.. . . Anyway, that's another story.

So I decided I would relieve her of the frustration and run the gauntlet myself to find out what I could do to get to the bottom of this fiasco, and to make the situation as workable as possible. I'll spare you the ugly details, but suffice it to say it took several phone calls to learn the following:

  • Communications about the bus changes were e-mailed to the Schools affected, not the families affected.
  • The principal at D1s school (who answered her own phone when I called - I like that!) said she remembered forwarding the mail to one of her secretaries - who never contacted us, as the assumption was that they were only being copied as a curtesey. They believed we would have been contacted directly. (As we should have!)
  • There were not enough kids on the route to D3s school and so it was cut to save money. This despite the fact that we just voted in a tax increase for the school district.
  • Because there is no school bus alternitive, we can apply for a credit from the state to offset our additional expenses due to having to drive our daughter to school.
  • Before school care for D3 is 20 dollars a week. This is at her school - and there was an opening - thank goodness.
  • D1s bus route has been combined with another route to his school. Due to state laws limiting the amount of time children may be on a bus, there would be centralized pickup locations so the route would be quick enough to conform to the law. D1 would have to be at the centralized location - 8 blocks away- at 6:50 AM
  • It's too late for D1 to apply for an assigned parking spot at school. As a Junior he probably would not have received one anyway without a carpool arrangement. I called the teacher in charge of the parking spot assignments to see what could be done - my message has yet to be returned.
Such a shining example of our local school district's bureaucracy.

We have yet to iron out a final transportation schedule but it looks like we are back in the school transportation business for a while. . .

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Middle Diamond

Well, I was thinking about the family I knew as a teenager the other day. You know what I mean - folks your parents helped you keep in touch with - and unless you are very fortunate, you no longer keep in touch with as much.

Anyway, I remembered a story that made such an indelible impression on my young self that I still get goosebumps when I tell it.

So get ready . . .

One of my favorite cousins worked for the Army for years. Part of that time she was assigned to a job at the Pentagon (well before 9/11, so that's not where this is going). Unlike when she was stationed overseas, she would sometimes travel home for holidays and such.

This one particular time she was coming home for the Christmas holidays. As was her custom, before she set out, she prayed for angels to guard each wheel of her car to help her safely reach home. This trip was during a particularly cold Christmas and as such the highways had taken a beating, with potholes dotting the roads and bridges. It was very late at night and she was growing sleepy. As she approached a bridge up ahead she noticed an unusually large number of cars and trucks pulled off to the side of the road. She realized too late that all the sidelined cars were inflicted with multiple flat tires. Too late I say, because before her sleepy mind could react, her car slammed into a series of very large and deep potholes on the bridge. (Large enough that she reported that she could see through to the ground below.)

Jolted fully awake she strained to listen for the telltale sounds of a flattening tire. But no such sounds came. Also absent were any vibrations or other telltale signs . . . so she continued on home.

The next day my mother took my brother and I to my aunt's to visit my cousin from the east cost. As we parked and walked up the driveway, It was obvious that my cousin's car had experienced some seriously large potholes. Both tires on the driver's side were flat, both wheels dented so heavily that they could no longer maintain a seal around the tire bead.

Yet she had driven almost two hours after the holey bridge had done it's damage.

I believe in angels. . . .

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Diamond 1 has a job!

Well, our son - recently driving solo you may recall - now also has a job! He's a swimmer so it follows naturally that he would want to work as a life guard. Indeed, he went to the requisite classes through the Red Cross, and then the necessary training requested by the pool and so now is a fully trained, responsible lifeguard.

It was not that long ago that all he cared about doing was playing video games. Now he's out there earning money - To pay his share of the auto insurance and gas, and - Oh yeah! To buy more video games!

Well, I guess things don't change that much.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Funeral or Family Reunion?

This past weekend we traveled to a family reunion on my wife's side. On the way my brother called with news that one of our aunts was dying of pneumonia and would probably not make it through the day. Indeed, she died only a few hours after that phone call.

The family reunion was a riot! (You wish you could have as much fun with your in-laws!) I was not preoccupied with the sad news of my aunt's passing, and in fact, other than making arrangements to attend visiting hours once we got back home, I thought little about it.

My mom, one of her sisters, my dad, and now four of his siblings have all passed on. Due to the number I've attended, I must say that I've come to view funerals differently now than the way I did just a decade ago. I find that while I'm saddened by the death of a loved one, I'm happy to see the many (many!) relatives that I otherwise don't have time to keep up with.

In particular, this funeral is likely to draw some of my favorite cousins. Well, first cousins once removed actually - being at the extreme young end of the spectrum of cousins, many of my cousins have children that are my age. So it is in this case. . . Anyway, they were always some of my favorite playmates at family gatherings until they moved several thousand miles away.

Since then, I may have seen them once in 25 - 30 years . . and I think that was at a funeral too.

So is it any wonder that I've started to view funerals as family reunions? (Albeit with a less than happy pretense . . . )

I'll have to remember to not seem too happy.

Friday, June 29, 2007

One of those Dad things

The other day I picked up our daughter (Diamond 3) from our neighborhood YMCA. She had just been dropped off there after spending the day at a Y day camp called Teen Extreme. I noticed immediately that, along with the rosiness in her cheeks undoubtedly due to the summer sun, she sported a scrape under her left eye. She didn't mention it so I didn't bring it up, just helped her by carrying her backpack to the car.

Later, after we got settled a bit at home, I asked her how camp had been. She gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up sign and big grin. So, again I didn't question the scrape on her face.

A few hours pass and my wife comes home. I'm upstairs taking care of business and changing clothes when I hear a very upset sounding Mom Voice from downstairs. I hurry down there and discover that our darling daughter was written up for fighting. Seems another girl, larger of course, had been playing a little too aggressively at whatever game they were playing, and got in our daughter's face. So she pushed this other girl, who promptly punched her in the face.

(Note to self - check backpacks for notes when we get home.)

Being a dad in this case brings two very strong, very distinct feelings:

  1. Disappointment in our daughter for becoming physical with another child
  2. Pride in that she stood up for herself against a larger foe
Of course we made sure she understood our disappointment with her. Using this as a teaching moment, we reiterated the importance of avoiding physical confrontations with other children - Especially when there are responsible adults there (well, young adult camp counselors in this case) to settle disagreements in a non-violent way.

But I'm still proud of her - in a dad sort of way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unease Returns

Well, our son has been a fully licensed driver for a couple weeks or so now and has had several opportunities to drive on his own. He's been humoring us and calls when he arrives at his destination, and if he is going to be late returning home. He's even agreed to shuttle his sister when we've asked. And get this - he's volunteered to drive her even when it meant an inconvenience to himself!

Now, let me explain "inconvenience" because it still blows my mind that he volunteered to do this: He said he would drive his sister to the YMCA to catch the 8:00 AM bus to her day camp.

OK. If you have teenagers, you may already be thinking that I've lost my mind - After all, It's summer: No sixteen year old boy with no school, no scheduled activities, no job (yet), and a penchant for staying up late playing video games could be pried out of their beds before noon. To drive his little sister. Not our boy. He wanted to do it. And because it meant a big inconvenience to either of us, we were happy to let him do it. He did a good job and got her there in plenty of time too. He even told us that evening that he was glad that he had gotten up early, because he was able to enjoy more of the day watching TV and playing games.

Pretty wise for a sixteen year old, I'm thinking. . .

Pretty wise, and . . . pretty eager too, if I think about it. Uh, wait a second! It would seem that our son is starting to enjoy this driving thing a bit more. He says it was cool because he had more waking hours in the day. But maybe the freedom from being tied down by the schedule of two very busy parents is starting to go to his head. Maybe he's out there right now blasting down the road on some wild adventure! Look Out! Be Carefull! Slow DOWN! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Ahem. Mmm. Sorry. It's the Unease coming back.

Such is the lot of a father of a new driver . . .

Monday, June 18, 2007

How's that again?

My wife and I were working the CTS at a swim meet recently, and had an interesting conversation with one of the other parents about our son. She is the mother of one of the female swimmers on our children's team. She was going on and on about how polite our boy was:

I saw your son at practice the other day. I asked him were his parents were because I needed to talk to one of you. He said that neither of you were here, and that he drove himself and his sister to practice.

Now at this point, she paused and commented how surprised she was that we trusted him to not only drive himself to practice, but to drive his sister too - Since he had just received his license.

We explained that we had good reason to be comfortable with him driving his sister because he's been driving at least one of us around for more than nine months, and we were very comfortable with his skill at this point. (See The Absence of Unease)

She must have been satisfied with our explanation, as she continued:

Well, anyway he was so polite about getting his license. I've seen so many new drivers waving their new licenses under their younger friend's noses, and bragging about being able to go where they want to by themselves, but not your son. He really didn't treat it like it was a big deal.

Oh, and he's so good looking too! I keep telling my daughter that she should get to know him, cause he's so nice and so handsome!

Well, I had to make a conscious effort not to burst out laughing in this poor woman's face! I was certain she was talking about someone else's kid at this point. But I soon realized that there probably was some truth in what she said. Hadn't we spent 16 whole years of our lives trying to teach him to be polite, to not brag, to be humble? So why wouldn't I believe that time had been well spent?

Why? Well, I'll tell you. He lives with us. . .

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Thought for today

Ever notice how easy it is to complain about something someone did that hurt us in some way, no matter how minor, and how many people we share that complaint with?

Ever notice how easy it is to do the same thing when someone does a good job for us, and how we feel much better when we share good news with others?

Ever notice how often we do the first, and how rarely we do the second?

Hmmm. . . .

Thursday, May 24, 2007


If you have children you probably do a lot of waiting for them. Waiting for the school bus or waiting for school to get out, waiting for them to finish up socializing after the birthday party, waiting at gymnastics or ballet, waiting at sports practice. Whatever activities they are involved in, there always seems to be waiting involved for the adults in their lives.

I've been made to wait in all those situations, and it seems like it's been going on my entire life, but in reality it's been a fairly regular occurrence only for the last decade or so. Hold on, did I say a decade? Ten years? Is that all? I've been sitting here in the hot waiting room at ballet for at least 10 years. OK, actually it really hasn't been that bad, and in those 10 years I've met a lot of people who, it turns out, are pretty good acquaintances now.

But that's not the sum total of what I do while waiting. I've also become quite good at the daily crossword puzzles from the paper! OK, there's been more: I've also used the time to great effect in getting caught up on my reading. I've listened uninterrupted to entire albums on my MP3 player. I've people watched. And I've even composed blog posts on my laptop - this one included.

I truly enjoy waiting this way. Why? I come prepared. I always assume the worst; That this will be the most boring, uncomfortable waiting I could possibly endure, and to counter that, I load up on activities. The paper, magazines, the laptop, snacks. (Oh yes, I always bring snacks!) But I still hope for a good conversation or at least a good conversation to eavesdrop on!

By far the most trying - no, make that Challenging - waiting revolves around the sport of competitive swimming. Both our children have swum competitively for several years, and we've seen the inside of more natatoriums than I care to recall, all of them hot enough to melt steel combined with 100% humidity.

There are two distinct types of waiting to be had related to swimming. First there's practice. Practices are scheduled usually every night and also on weekends. Because facilities are scarce around here, swim teams must compete for pool time both with each other and with water related lessons and sports of one type or another. It gets so bad sometimes it seems like the pools are filled with gold dust. As such, the practice times and locations can get kind of exotic. Practices often take place at facilities just far enough from home that to do a drop off would have us back for the pick up having spent 3 times as much time in the car than at home in between. Mercifully, practices also are usually where a waiter can find a cool, comfortable place to hang out if they want. Like a nice cool concrete floor. And at two hours at most, practices give us waiters enough time to get through several magazine articles, or finish the paper - including the crosswords, or possibly get in a good nap. And Bonus! When practices are at the Y, we get a chance to work out if we want. (Note to self: Take more advantage of this one!)

But this is easy compared to a swim meet.

Meets are marathon feats of waiting endurance - testing the limits both of boredom-fighting preparedness and backside fatigue alike. Unlike practices, meets almost always require many hours waiting in a hot, humid and extremely crowded natatorium. When that's not the case, then it's an equally crowded meeting room or gymnasium - bring your own seating. Even dressing for swim meets is challenging. The main swim season runs all winter long. Many folks layer heavy sweats and coats over shorts and sleeveless t-shirts. But remember that whatever clothing you take off while at the meet must be kept track of and will take up room while you're not wearing them.

In instances where we must hang out in the natatorium to ensure a good spot from which to view our progeny swim, it can seem like torture! To simulate what it's like at Championships or other "big event" meets where you are trapped in the heat, you could follow these steps:

  • On Friday after work, get home as quickly as possible and pack three days worth of stuff for the entire family into your vehicle. Do this as fast and crazily as possible because there is never enough time.
  • Drive several hours around the beltway at super legal speeds to simulate trying to get to the meet on time. Many big meets have events Friday evening.
  • To simulate arriving at the meet, go into your bathroom and turn the shower on full blast hot. This simulates the temperature and humidity in a natatorium.
  • Drag yourself into the bathroom with enough stuff to do to keep you busy/awake for 4 hours or so. Take a few people with you to simulate a small crowd. Perform several meet watching actions (read that below!)
  • Finally retire to the neighbors house, and stay in the guest room to simulate a hotel stay.
  • Get up at 5:30 and prepare for a full day at the pool. Gather enough stuff to do to keep yourself busy for 8 to 10 hours, don't forget snacks and drinks.
  • Go back to your bathroom but take several folks in there with you, most of whom you don't know very well, if at all. Close the door to keep the heat and humidity in.
  • Vie for a spot to sit on the edge of the tub, the toilet, the sinks, the floor, wherever you can find. Find out that you brought too much stuff and must hold some of it in your lap lest the person next to you sit/stand/sweat on it
  • To simulate keeping track of events, mark down on a sheet of paper the time once every 10 to 15 minutes - sometimes 20.
  • When it's about time to watch your child swim, get out your camera or camcorder and check the batteries, tape, lens cap - wait at a heightened sense of awareness - oh and get out your stopwatch.
  • Go into a full panic because you can't spot your child behind the blocks where they should be because they swim in the next event. Oh there they are!
  • To simulate actually watching your child swim, stand up to get a better view. Have someone give a "Ready, Set, Go! countdown. Have another person simulate your child swimming. Start the watch while taping or snapping photos. Do this for two to three minutes for longer events, 30 seconds or less for the fastest sprints. Don't forget to stop the watch precisely when your simulated child finishes their race. (You must know how many laps the event is, so be aware!)
  • Sit down and wait some more for the next event. Usually in an hour or so. Repeat three to five or six times, depending on the meet.
  • Beginning with waking up at 5:30, repeat everything for one more day.
  • Pack everything in your car and drive around the beltway again (still at super legal speeds) to simulate your drive back home to try to cram a whole weekend's worth of chores into a single evening. Do this while you are very tired.
We once played the tape we shot at a three day championship meet for the children's great grandparents. This tape contained footage of each event swum by both of our children. It was less than 15 minutes long. The rest of the time was spent waiting . . .

I really love to wait.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Wayback Machine

It's funny how memory enhancing it is to have your children attend your alma matter! Our son attends the high school where my wife and I met. Being the involved parents we are, we have many occasions to visit that fine institution and so also find many opportunities for flashback like trips to the days of our youth. It's really too bad many of the best stories can not be shared with him for awhile. Like maybe not until his own kids reach high school age. . .

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Absence of Unease

The other day I was riding "shotgun" with my 16 year old son. He wanted to work out at the Y and because he hasn't quite gotten his driver's license yet, he must have a licensed driver in the passenger's seat.

Now he's been driving since he was able get his temps at 15 and a half and I must say he is really quite a good driver by now - I know this, or actually it would be better to say I met the abrupt reality of this, because of what I did on that ride:

I watched the scenery go by.

That's it - watched the world go by out the side window. So why does that matter? Think about any time you've ridden with someone who really was not a good driver, like maybe riding shotgun with your own novice driver, or possibly a taxi driver who drives like they just came to this country from somewhere where they could never drive very fast because the only roads are choked with cattle, people and potholes. Probably all three. Anyway, think about the unbridled terror you felt when this driver you've trusted with your life seems hell bent on ending it prematurely for you! And if you've never felt this before, then you've never taught anyone to drive, have had extraordinarily good luck with taxis, or you're the worst driver you've ever met and don't know it and so don't know to be scared. Well anyway, because I have been in that situation more than once, and am just not the type of person who willingly gives up that much control in the first place, it was unthinkable that I would not be on "high alert" when in the passenger seat with a 16yo who's been driving fewer total hours than I've spent stuck in traffic!

But truth be told, there I was, son driving, me daydreaming, and time passing.

We get to the Y completely uneventfully and I'm yanked back to reality only when he stops to make the left turn into the Y. It was at that moment when I realized why this trip was so unusual: My son is turning into a responsible adult. (Knowing his parents as well as I do - that seems like a miracle.)

As I drive home alone, I'm remembering this same child was the one who, just a few years ago, could barely steer his bike straight but was nevertheless hell bent on riding the thing as fast as possible while ignoring all the dangers: Parked cars. Moving cars. Other kids. Trees. You get the idea.

Thankfully he drives cars nothing like that. Funny how they grow up when we're not paying attention.

When I arrive at home, I open the garage door and can you guess what's the first thing I see? Sitting there, propped against the wall, is the bike that reckless child once used to ride. Bent wheel, torn seat, crooked and battered handlebars . . .

I decide that I'll drive him back after his workout.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

My Ring has Three Diamonds

I've been thinking about the title for my blog - My Ring has Three Diamonds - and the subtitle quip about the facets. When I made it up I was actually getting a little pissed because I couldn't come up with a title - seemed like every idea I had was already taken. So when I glanced at my wedding band and saw the three rocks there, I thought "Why Not? So I tried it out. It was available, so I used it. I was pretty satisfied with it right away, more so than I really thought I should be for something I pulled out of thin air. I knew there was at least one good story to go with it though, and that was enough.

Or so I thought. over the last day or so I've been really mulling over "My Ring has Three Diamonds" (hereafter abbreviated as MRHTD) Seems that there's more to it under the surface than I was aware of at first, well at least my mind has been able to put some pretty interesting stuff together, but it seems real enough, and vaguely profound. I'll mull over it some more and let you know what comes out.

Meanwhile, let me relate that one anecdote that led me to land on MRHTD as the name. There really are three diamonds in my wedding band. When we were newlywed, my wife and I of course were asked to show off the rings. Ours match - same rings in other words, rather than something plain for me and more ornate for her. Anyway this in itself was usually interesting to folks. However my Aunt was more interested in the diamonds. She told us that she had four diamonds in her band, and they had had four daughters. She obviously was hinting that we might be on the way to having three daughters of our own. We of course thought that was amusing, and since we went on to have two children - one male and one female, it seemed that my Aunt's experience was just a fun coincidence.

It was some years later, (and many years ago now) that I realized that we did have three children (albeit not all female) - The one I had forgotten was the one unfortunately that was lost to miscarriage before having the chance to be born - but a child none the less. Again just a coincidence right? Well maybe, but it sure made me think a lot about my spiritual life - and right at a time when it really mattered. (But that's another article.)

So the title is.

Monday, April 30, 2007

First posts are the worst

This being my first post to my first blog, well, don't expect much. Especially since the only reason this is here right now is because I had a few minutes at lunch to set it up quickly - that and two of my best friends at work have blogs. And they are good. Let's say I've been inspired - But will have to wait and see if that's enough to keep me writing.