Friday, September 25, 2015

Of rings and things and the nature of love

Ring back where it belongs and all is well with the world
So there I was, lost in a dream, sleeping away the early morning hours and happy to be warmly adrift in my head and in my bed. Sadly, some cosmic force tapped me on the shoulder and I momentarily opened my eyes.

Big mistake.

It was early. The sun was just a vague smear of orange on the horizon, but I noticed that the light was on in the master bathroom and I could hear the lovely Miss Wendy rummaging about in a frantic fashion.

I don't recall if I called out, or if Wendy simply began speaking. I do recall the plaintive and anguished tone of her voice. Houston, I groggily thought, we have a problem.

And we did. Between heavy sighs, weighted down with equal measures of guilt and loss, Wendy shared this tale of woe.

As is her custom, Wendy was up early and off to the bathroom to wash up and prepare for the day ahead. Still wiping the sleep from her eyes, she was in the process of putting on her wedding band -- a magnificent ring of gold -- when it slipped from her grasp, tumbled into the sink and disappeared down the drain.


Wendy worked mightily at removing the metal stopper atop the drain, but alas, it wouldn't budge. The harder she pulled, the more certain she became that her precious ring was lost, buried deeply in the innards of our home's plumbing system.


So she went in search of a solution. Google offered up a number of possibilities. All she need do to right this wrong is pull apart a few pipes and dig through the bits of nasty stuff that swirl about a bathroom sink. Right; that was never gonna happen!

Instead of jumping into plumbing mode, Wendy wrote  out a few cautionary notes to me, detailing the problem and the hope that I would somehow continue to love her despite the loss of the golden ring that has bound us together for nearly four decades now.

It was during this melancholy exercise that I joined the conversation. I listened and nodded, then listened some more. Then I unscrewed the stopper from the drain. The ring was resting comfortably atop a bit of plastic, strategically placed near the top of the drain to keep rings and other such things from tumbling into the darkness below.

Wendy retrieved her ring. I went back to sleep.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

All you need to know about my 'waspy' new neighbors

Paper wasp nest hidden away in magnolia in our yard.
The lovely Miss Wendy was getting the mail earlier this week when she glanced up at a nearby tree and spotted something a bit odd and a little unsettling.

What she saw looked like a wrinkled basketball, aged and whitish and attached to a limb about 15 feet off the ground.

On closer inspection, it appeared that the object was either some sort of exotic fruit that was withering on the vine or, more likely, a mini-condo for an entire generation of winged critters!

When a couple of flitting thingies poked their noggins out of the complex it became pretty clear that Wendy and I were now neighbors with a fully-developed nest filled with fully-developed wasps.

At first glance the insects seemed to be 'paper wasps', members of the vespid subfamily polistinae that also includes hornets and yellowjackets. Here's the good news.

Paper wasps are the least aggressive of this group of pests. The bit of research I've managed since spotting their home suggests the insects have a live-and-let-live attitude; don't bother us and we won't bother you.

Apparently, that seems to be the case. Nests are usually created in early spring, a starter home of sorts that expands as the waspy population grows. By early summer what started off as just a queen and a few eggs can easily grow into a bustling hive of several thousand.

The flying hordes, however, have yet to cause any problems. If they've been partying this summer, they've kept the music turned down Low. And here's some more good news.

Summer is already burning itself out and with the first chill of fall our waspy neighbors will begin dying off. By Halloween there's a chance the nest will be haunted and even a better chance it will be empty. Only the queen will survive Mother Nature turning down the thermostat and Google tells me she'll be looking for greener pastures next spring to call home.

So if you spot me tip-toeing down my driveway on the way to get the mail for the next month or so, I'm just trying to be a good neighbor. I'm also thinking that should take the sting out of having to share my property with a bunch of wasps!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listen up: 'B' is for Bose, Bluetooth and 'buy me'

Bose Soundlink Bluetooth headphones.
My hi-tech buying spree continued last week when I finally pulled the trigger and bought a pair of Bluetooth headphones. After taking a hard look at the market and my wallet, I stumbled across a Bose discount store in my little corner of the world and spotted a deal that seemed too good to be true.

For a month or so I've been researching headphones and earbuds, checking out department stores, specialty shops and other retailers to see what's available; then surfing the web to see if I could find what I wanted at a price that seemed reasonable.

Here's the problem I initially faced. What I could afford I didn't want and what  I wanted I couldn't afford! Sound familiar?

That all changed when I was out and about recently with the lovely Miss Wendy. We had an afternoon to kill, so decided to venture out to the picturesque little village of Woodstock, and spend an hour or so walking around a new outlet mall featuring a wide assortment of retail stores.

Such islands of consumerism and abundance are part of the fabric of the world today, especially
in America. It's just about impossible to drive a few miles in any direction and not spot a new strip shopping center or mall. After all, you really can't be too rich, too thin or own too many pairs of designer shoes -- or shirts, pants, skirts or dresses, electronic devices or gizmos!

Speaking of gizmos, hidden away between a Clark's shoe store and a Sunglasses Warehouse, was the aforementioned Bose factory outlet. Bingo! It only took me a moment to spot a display of on-ear Bluetooth headphones. The good news is they were being offered at a discount that meant I finally had found something I both wanted AND could afford.

It's probably worth noting that this most recent buying spree began a few years ago when I traded in my flip phone for an updated 'smart' model, that got me thinking about tablets and purchasing an iPad, that led me to updating my iTunes library and recently downloading a satellite radio app which, of course, meant I needed some digitally friendly and fashionable way to access all this new and magical stuff.

In the memorable words of our 43rd president: Mission accomplished!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Turns out father DID know best

Close is good enough when typing on an iPad
My father pretty much stayed out of my academic life. Smart move! He was around mostly to grimace and sign my report cards during my elementary and high school years, and hand over cash when I was in college.

But there was this one time during my senior year at Columbus High when he had a really good suggestion. Dad thought it would be a smart idea for me to learn how to type. He was right.

It's not much of a stretch to report, looking back on my life, that being able to type -- and I'm talking classic touch typing now -- had a profound impact on the road I eventually followed in what I would loosely term my professional career.

It also, perhaps, saved my life!

Turns out, after typing my way through college, that I was drafted, tossed into the army when the war in Vietnam was raging and most anyone capable of breathing and holding a rifle was hustled off to the jungles of southeast Asia!

Fortunately for me, I knew my way around a manual typewriter much better than an M-14. So instead of joining an infantry unit in the Mekong Delta, I ended up being shipped off to a NATO base in central Germany.

I like to think that I was part of the mopping up crew in Europe 25 years or so after the end of World War II and also one of the unsung warriors holding the line against the Russian menace when the Cold War was absolutely frigid.

Truth to tell, I mostly sat in an office filing away intel reports from operatives in the field -- okay, they were spies. And on the weekends I took advantage of Uncle Sam's good sense to drop me down in Central Europe by visiting as much of the region as time and finances would permit.

After finishing up my tour of duty, I continued whacking away at a typewriter, first on an ancient Royal at a newspaper in my hometown, then an IBM Selectric when I moved north to greener pastures. By the early '80s I was still pounding out news stories and features, but I was now doing my job on a computer.

Over the next quarter century the work and pounding continued, always on some sort of computer. The hi-tech boxes first got bigger, then smaller. But the keyboards stayed the same. I retired, swapped my office Mac for my first PC and still merrily typed away in pretty much the same fashion I had mastered as a teen four decades earlier!

That all changed a few years ago when I ditched my flip phone in favor of a "smart" update and learned how to send texts and emails on a tiny keyboard featuring a predictive algorithm. All I needed to make it work was to swipe my hand around the keyboard and come close to the letters I was aiming to hit.

I've now taken it to the next level. Recently I purchased an iPad after being warned that it's a great gadget for playing games and consuming info, but not all that handy for producing stuff -- blog posts, stories and features.

Au contraire mom ami!

The iPad uses the same sort of predictive algorithm as my phone, but with a bit of a twist. Instead of swiping at the screen, I use a hunt-and-peck method that seems a tad magical. As long as I get close to the letters I'm aiming for, the iPad manages to both come up with the right words and, drum roll please, auto-corrects my spelling while adding the proper punctuation.

I can only wish I had this sort of hi-tech device when I was laboring over term papers during my college days! Alas, that was not the case. But here's both the good and bad news. The world has caught up with me and today I can create works of blather from just about anywhere.

Stay tuned. BTW, that's not meant as a warning, just a statement of fact.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aylan offers a glimpse into a world gone mad

On a long journey in search of freedom.
I was out and about recently with my granddaughter Bailey, helping keep her busy as her Mom and Bubbe did a little shopping.

We were passing a new store in a strip shopping center in our neighborhood when she noticed one of those wiggling promotional thingies that's animated with a fan, and shimmies about to attract attention.

Bailey, who will be two next month, is at that stage in her young life when she takes notice of everything. Her favorite phrase these days is "What's that?" So it wasn't at all surprising when she pointed at the rubberized thingy and quizzed me about it.

What did surprise me, however, is after a moment or so of watching it dance about, she lowered her head, covered her eyes and said, "I don't like!" She was frightened, a feeling I didn't know was yet even part of her emotional life.

I told her something soothing, lifted her up and turned her around; and in another moment or so she was smiling and giggling and asking me about a truck that was pulling into the parking lot to make a delivery at a nearby market.

I mention this little vignette, because it's what came to mind when I saw a photo of Aylan Kurdi on the web this morning. He's the youngster, only 3-years-old, who washed ashore on a beach in Turkey earlier this week, one of a dozen refugees, including his older brother and mother, who drowned after fleeing Syria and attempting to reach the Greek Aegean island of Kos.

Aylan was spotted by a soldier who was photographed cradling his lifeless body, a stunning image of loss that had me wondering just how puzzled, desperate and frightened the toddler was after being tossed into the sea.

There was no one about to pick him up and speak soothing words of comfort, no one to lift him up and save his precious life. It's an image that tugs at my heart.

It gets worse.

Another photo, snapped moments earlier, is a stark and melancholy portrait of innocence and death, a somber reminder that we live in a world that has gone slightly mad in recent years. At first glance the youngster seems to be napping on the beach, a slight figure at peace. The truth, unfortunately, is much darker, a bleak essay on life and loss.

And I think yet again: There was no one about to pick Aylan up and speak soothing words of comfort, no one to lift him up and save his precious life. It's an image that tugs at my heart.

We live in a country that is filled with gifts, freedoms and riches that make us the envy of millions around the world. So, at least for the moment, with Aylan weighing heavily on my mind, I find the constant static offered up by politicians and the talking bags of hot air on cable TV to be, at best, small and petty. Truth to tell, I think all the sturm und drang is morally reprehensible.

But I digress.

A little boy drowned this week, searching for what most of us already have. He was found on a beach and gently carried away. There are thousands more, just like Aylan, getting ready to hop aboard a dingy in search of a dream. Here's hoping there's someone around to help them all safely on their journey to freedom.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Stumbling along the information highway

We're well into the 21st century and I'm slowly getting the hang of this brave new digital world that has taken hold of most everyone not living under a rock or too young to have ever whacked away at a manual typewriter!

The good news here is I don't live under a rock. So I managed to dip my tootsies into the digital waters a few years ago when I purchased a laptop and quickly learned that it offered up all sorts of magical ways to keep me entertained and informed. That's not to say I was a complete troglodyte! I, of course, had been traveling along the World Wide Web for years at work.

But when I called it quits, my company's IT department didn't follow me home! That meant the little glitches that hid about in my shiny new computer often turned into big problems. As often as not, it seemed, I was stumbling about the information highway instead of gleefully surfing with the wind at my back.

But I persevered!

And after a time I was up and running, dashing about a wide assortment of sites and even playing a few online games, creating a blog and doing a little webified shopping. Life was good. So it seemed only natural that I take another little baby step into the digital waters and think seriously about replacing my flip phone with one of those newfangled smart ones.

When I learned that another generation -- baby, not phone -- was in the making and that I'd be needing a quick way to text my daughter and, of course, an easy way to document the moment-by-moment happenings of my soon-to-be granddaughter, it all became a done deal. Now I had both a shiny new laptop AND a shiny new smartphone!

Life, yet again, was good. But here's the rub. Apparently that old saw about the more you have the more you want is, um, true. After only a short time, I found that I was using my phone for a wide variety of reasons -- surfing the web, listening to music, checking out Facebook postings and such. In short, I had turned the little hand-held device into a mini-tablet and after awhile it seemed that, well, just maybe, I was actually ready to leap into the 21st century with both feet!

All of this is just a long and rambling way to report that I've recently purchased an iPad and, in fact, am using it right now to whack out this blog posting. That's the good news. Like most everything else in life, there is also a downside to having a magical device that easily links you to the rest of the world in all sorts of ways.

It only took me a few hours to figure out how to navigate around the tablet and only a few days to download an assortment of apps focusing on news and entertainment sites, games, music and videos. I now have access to more books, newspapers and magazines then I'll ever have time to read and a music library -- my own music, satellite radio and Pandora -- that will have me tapping my tootsies for the rest of my digital life; all of this within arm's length, seconds away throughout the day.

So, what's the problem?

Sometimes having it all can be a little too much. Less, as some philosopher once said, is often more.

I'll have to give that notion a little thought as I'm watching The "Dawgs" this weekend on the tube while reading a book on my Kindle and surfing the web on my shiny new tablet.