Category Archives: Family

My Wife, Fighting Cancer and Middle Earth

What do these have to do with each other?  I know it’s a reach but they did link together for me this weekend.

Not Hobbits...

It all started a few weeks ago with my wife saying, “I’m going to do it!”

Knowing this could mean anything from baking a new exotic vegetarian dish, building a cob house or planning to run for Congress, I asked for clarification.  Brandie pointed me to the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer site.  She was claiming she was going to enter and run the 5K event and raise money for the charity.

This concerned me just a bit.  No, not the charity part.  I’m all for it.  What concerned me was the “5K” part.  Though being incredibly active and enjoying a walk or a small jog, my wife’s foot had been shattered in a car wreck many years ago.  It was never properly fixed by the foot doctor and she deals with chronic pain from the trauma.  She had not had any training in the past several weeks and like me with my own foot and knee issues extended running in the past had usually left us in discomfort far above the norm.  She also had never distanced more than a little over a mile.

I asked again just to be sure I heard her right.

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All Boxed Out

The big move in 100+ degree heat is finally over.  The walkthrough of the old place is done and we’ve been given a thumbs-up.  Boxes are piled around us and the new challenge of re-organizing is before us.  We’re into our new place and we cannot get over how wonderfully peaceful it is here; no loud car noises, no yapping dog across the road.  Only the roaring of the summer cicadas to lull us into a nice meditative stupor.

We’re also exhausted.

I spent most of the week being outside and carrying large cardboard boxes full of items that were not mine.  (Oh, don’t get me wrong, my wife will happily explain how several of those crates were mine as well!)  It’s a sneaky thing the heat will do to you.  I was fine for the first few days but as we wrapped up and the week came to a close I became absolutely exhausted.

Sitting with the dawn
exquisite touch of a breeze.
Cicadas and crows.

Today, we’re resting and we’re doing so with all the passion and zeal in which we performed the move.  Part of that has been catching up on email and Twitter.  I was really pleased to see my post “On The Simple Haiku” made it onto the The Weekly World Haiku News page from Paper.li on the 24th!

It made my peaceful morning all the more sweet.

Photo for June 4th

A bit behind.  Big weekend full of graduation fun for my oldest.  Of course, the weather decided to play along and give us muggy, damp 90 degree weather for our outside party.

One friend found an excellent way to beat the heat.


Dinosaurs in the Street

I was strolling over to retrieve my daughter for dinner from a neighbor’s house.  A classic move on her part, forgetting we told her to be home in a half hour.  I think I saw it in my peripheral vision first,  something pegging my monkey brain there was something amiss and telling me it was in the middle of the road.  I thought at first someone had dropped their purse or maybe a curved piece of bark from firewood.  Then it moved and I realized it definitely was not a purse.

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Memorium for a Gentle Soul

I’ve been dreading this post for a long time.  However, because I’m scared of it, because I dread it, it is something that needs done.  It’s been sitting on my chest for several months and it’s time I take care of it.

I will warn you going in – this post is long and it is emotional.  You see, it has to be.  It’s the only way to get it all out.  As I am fond of saying to friends and family, “the only way out is through.”

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In late July of this year my best friend, an eleven year old lab/husky mix by the name of Pooka Grasskiller, passed away.  I knew he was getting older and I was sadly anticipating emotional vet visits and watching him begin to slide downwards.  In regards to his age and health, I said numerous times to friends as well as to Pooka himself, “The next few years are gonna be rough.”  I hated the concept of having to watch his body give out on him, on watching him disintegrate to his age.

Last year, it was obvious his back hips were hurting him.  He was moving slower and slower.  We took him to a vet visit and, except for the obvious failing back hips, they gave him a clear and clean bill of health.  Even then, I tried to walk him a bit more, make sure to sit with him and just to soak up what time was left with him.

It all started in a northern Indiana town.  I’d found him, as a puppy, on the side of a residential road.  I’d been going about my normal business as an all-purpose handyman for my girlfriend’s father after a recent move.  I’d questioned the move but as it were things looked good.  It was temporary but the end promised to be worth it.  It ended up to be a move filled with depression and confusion since nothing had gone the way it was supposed to go.  I was fighting the good fight though and had stopped at a coffee shop to fill my travel mug.  It was a sunny October day but there was still a chill present.   I thought another cup of warm coffee would do me some good.  With coffee mug warming my hand, I was going to my car when I saw two men down a side street walking away from a small, black, fuzzy creature that was following them.  They were yelling at it and waving their arms, obviously not wanting to be followed.

The creature left the sidewalk and wandered, unknowingly, under a parked car and into the street.  I flew out of my car and jogged towards it.  Getting closer, I could see it was a small oblivious lab puppy.  I waved at a oncoming car to stop and I got down on one knee, calling to it.  Without hesitation, the puppy ran up to me, tongue out and happy.  I scooped it up and while it licked my face I spoke to the men.  They said it had been following them about a block.  Otherwise, they didn’t know anything about it.  I asked around.  No one knew the dog.  I took him home, fed him, played with him and tried over the next two weeks through the local shelter, the vets and the paper to find the owner.

No one wanted him.

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Summer’s End

I’ve finally found the time and the energy to get an update to this blog!  July and August were an odd mix of pain and pleasure for me.  Matter of fact, when I look back over it all I can’t believe it was only two months.  It felt like six!

Mid-July brought the passing of my wife’s grandfather and a little over a week later, my closest friend and companion, Pooka, my dog of 12 years, passed away suddenly.  (He was featured in a previous post with my spring maple bonsai.)  I have more to say about him but, for now, let’s just leave it that his departure rocked my world.

I still wasn’t fully recovered when it was time to start planning for the first full blown, 10 day long  family vacation trip in August.  On top of that, there was medical stress, doctor’s appointments, financial issues and school starting for the kids.  All in all, I’m not sure I remember the last week of August!

The dust of all of it has finally started to settle and as one of the most intense summers in my life comes to a close, I’ve felt a yearning to work on this blog again.   During the Summer, this site was always in the back of my mind, pecking away and reminding me that it was still here, postless and waiting.  Part of my energy of returning to it was spurred, in part, by our vacation.

For the first time, we bundled the entire family up into the car and drove North of North  into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The area had always been restorative for me and this trip was no exception.  I was honored to be able to introduce it to my wife and children just as it had been introduced to me by my grandparents.  Passing this  onward to another generation has already been placed on my year’s list of greatest gifts.

I think the first seeds of inspiration for more posting to this blog came from that trip.  I’ve got some cool ideas and I hope you’ll enjoy where the momentum is taking me.  Some of it I wanted to do during the summer but the Universe had other ideas for me.  It’s ok.  With the scorching hot weather hopefully coming to a close, I can start moving forward in the more comfortable climate of Autumn.

Stay tuned!  Good stuff coming along shortly!

A Good Start to The Year

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope the new year is off to a great start for all of you.  The greeting is a bit belated, I know.    I’ve been a bit more focused on the largest of my resolutions which is to push very hard towards being a published writer (more on that subject can be found over on my writing blog, Allegory Harbor) and I felt I should get a post up before the first ten days of the year just so you know I’m still around.

I’ve not really had the time or chance to get out much into the woods.  However, if I read my own blog I’d realize that’s not really much of an excuse for nature observation!  Let’s put it another way.  I’ve been observing but I’ve not been recording much with my camera.  How’s that?  I’ve even started a new section in my nature journal which is a “first viewed” chart.  I’ve chalked up the usual crows, starlings, cardinals, and juncos already.  Even tagged on several red tailed hawks a few days ago.  (More on the first viewed chart in my next post.)  As I move into this year one of my big resolutions is to try and at least update this blog four times a month and to have just as many adventures in the great outdoors.  We’ll see how it goes.

In my neck of the woods, the new year was blasted in with a three day snowstorm.  The snow, for the most part, was never pushed by a driving wind and instead fell gently which left me the perfect impression of what it must like to live in a snow globe.  Our total accumulation was only around 6 inches.  Several times I was given the opportunity of watching the morning sun filter through the falling snow and creating the illusion of daytime fireflies.  Even at it’s worst and heaviest moments it was beautiful.

Yesterday was the first day the blue sky and the sun returned to the sky since the new year.  Though very cold, the morning walk with my dog was stunning.  Later in the day, I wandered out to our garage for an errand and noticed the sky was full of commotion.  I saw hundreds of American robins clamoring around the tops of trees in our neighborhood.

As I watched, a great many of them were taking turns mobbing a crab apple tree a few apartments down.  I raced back inside, called for my middle son who can get bird watching lists for extra credit and grabbed the binoculars and camera.  In my excitement, I spent the next thirty minutes without a coat, hat, or gloves in sunny winter weather.

I talked with my son (who was in a coat, thank you) and I made him do what I called, the “detective work” on what he was seeing.   What had been happening for the past few days?  Why would the robins be acting like this? Why are we seeing robins in January?  Over the next few minutes I helped him to understand what he was seeing.

Obviously hungry from being sheltered up for nearly a week or more and taking advantage of the good weather, the robins had come out of their roosting spots in order to look for food.  During the autumn, I told him, I had recorded in my journal that I was seeing a high number of robins very late in the year around our neighborhood which told me they were likely roosting up somewhere nearby.  This activity confirmed it for me.  Thankfully, he thought all of this was pretty cool.

Then, a flash of yellow completely threw me off-guard.  I walked us closer to get a better look and although wary, the birds were more concerned in their feeding than any danger we presented them.  I finally got a good spot with the binoculars and was delighted to see that flock was not just built up of robins as I caught my first look ever at a Cedar Waxwing.  Then, I saw there was definitely more than one.

I was delighted.  Since being serious about birding last year, I’d wanted to see one of these birds.   All in all, we recorded six to eight of them working the crab apple tree with the robins.   I’m sure there were more but eventually the cold drove me back inside when I finally lost feeling in not only my fingertips but my hands.  I watched from the kitchen window for awhile longer but two things occurred which ended the fun.  One, the sun was dropping lower and two,  drawn by the commotion, a flock of starlings had moved in and were getting involved.  The robins, and I can only imagine their waxwing tag-alongs, started gathering up and within an hour they were gone.

I checked again this morning and sure enough, the robins were back in the area, moving around from tree to tree and hitting several other crab apple trees in the area.   I’ve not seen the waxwings again but I’m sure they’re around.

I hope everyone has a fantastic 2010 and finds, in their own way, a chance to reconnect with the natural world around them.

Confessions and Legacies

Chickadee_6859It was a funny thing to realize after 20 some odd years of birding that I was a birder.  I get it from my grandparents who loved birds intensely.   They watched me after school and from their wide kitchen window you could sit and watch over twenty feeders.  Some days it was my responsibility to run the feeding rounds for my Pa-Paw.  The feed was stored in two large garbage cans in an aluminum shed.  I’d fill up a cut up plastic milk jug or sometimes a bucket and go around making sure all the feeders were full.

My grandparents backyard in Indianapolis, on any given day, resembled an aviary.  There were the usual suspects of cardinals, sparrows, blue jays, and goldfinches.  However, a large number of other birds would visit regularly including escaped parrots from city homes and, on more than one occasion, from the zoo.  When I wasn’t watching after school cartoons, I was watching birds.  Occasionally, my grandmother would allow me to use the big black HEAVY binoculars to look out the window at the birds.  I could never really get the hang of them and about the time I did I had to rest my arms.

Flash forward a few decades.

dispute_6879My grandparents, as their health began to slip, wanted me to have their binoculars, the big heavy ones.  They weren’t so heavy anymore.  I thanked them, used them a few times on hiking trips, and then put them away.   My grandmother passed away early this year and I found the old Golden field identification guide with their small ballpoint pen notes and dog eared pages.  I was allowed to keep it.  It reminds me of them, the times at the kitchen window.

For some reason, I started paying attention to birds around me.  I dug out the old heavy binoculars and, over time, I came to realize there are a lot more than just cardinals, blue jays, and starlings around if you keep your eyes open.  They’re also doing a lot more than just eating seed.

I start poking around on the web and I ffound a great site;  Ebird.com.  As part of Cornell University, it helps to keep track of bird numbers, migrations, and logistics.  I start keeping lists of the birds I see around town.  When I’m out or on the road I’m continually looking around for a bird to watch.  I’m no longer bored at a stoplight.  For instance, sitting in traffic I watched a red-headed woodpecker atop a telephone pole.  I got to see a hummingbird grab a drink while walking my dog.

Have you noticed?  Birds are frikkin everywhere!

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Currently, on my lunch breaks I go to a nearby park and record what I see.  I take my camera with me and make do with what I have; a Canon Rebel and a 300mm zoom lens.   My grandparents binoculars make for a nice backup.  I keep a sketch journal as well.  For the first time in my life, just last week, I saw my first warblers as they moved southward on their fall migration.  I took my eldest son on a morning trip to a nearby lake and we watched an osprey hunt a shallow bay for thirty minutes.  During a recent lunch trip, a red tailed hawk sat 12 feet away from me and devoured a mouse she had just caught.  My life list of birds I’ve seen has exploded over the past several months.  My field notes are getting out of control.

osprey_catch

I’m completely hooked.

Yet, there is a bit more to it.  All this birdwatching and nature awareness is having an interesting effect on me.  Like suddenly realizing I’m a birder AFTER I’ve been birding for years, I’m coming around to the fact that I may be coming into what I’m REALLY supposed to be doing on this planet.  They say do what you love and everything else will take care of itself.

It’s been a long chunk of time.   I’ve danced, goofed, and lollygagged down my  fair share of false starts and dead-end paths.  I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, because I got handed a pair of too heavy binoculars, a camera, and spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, I may be on to something here.

legacytools

It’s got me thinking about where I want to be in ten years, what I want to be doing.  It’s making me go back and look over things.  How do I want to be spending my time?  How do I want to share with my children, my family, and my community?

Yeah, I think I may definitely be onto something here.  We’ll see how it goes.

Pirates on the Lake

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Last weekend I got a chance to break away from the crazy of our move-in.  I had heard about a little gathering at our local reservoir called the Pirates of Paynetown which was to be a historical recreation of piratical days.   I was as excited as my kids to go. Though I have a deep love of theatrical pirates, I carry an  even deeper love of the dynamics of the buccaneer time period which, for some reason, I’ve carried since childhood.

However, growing up in Southern Indiana doesn’t give one much of a chance to see 17th & 18th century nautical re-enactors and as a kid I had a Viewmaster with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, The 1970’s Three Musketeers, and the occasional viewing of Errol Flynn if I got lucky.  I took what I could get…

So, it was a real treat to take my youngest kids to see a small historical village perched on the shores of our local reservoir.   The campsite/village wPirate supply_6169as filled with woodsmoke, muskets, white canvas tents, firing cannons, sword fights, and gun battles.  My little girl , who is smitten with both cinematic pirates as well as historical privateers (I have no idea where she gets it), was in awe and urged my wife and I to join the fun next year.  I replied that the only way I would do was if she came along.  I’m no stranger to historical re-enactments (cough) or the occasional bit of improvisational theater (coughcough) so who knows?  If the winds blow favorably and fortune smiles on us, perhaps we could make our way to a few weekends “roughing it” in 17th century camping gear?

Which brings me around to the final point.  Walking around the campground which seemed, literally, to have fallen out of the sky and landed right next to a crowded 21st century beach and campground on one of the warmest weekends of the summer was, well,  a bit jarring.  The juxtaposition of the two was truly anachronistic as British militia walked past modern day mom’s in swimsuits and holding iphones.

Watching this as well as looking over the camping materials, it helped point out just how easy we have it right now.  We are still one tough species and  just a few hundred years ago, people were living like this day in, day out, and not just for a few days on the weekend.  Actually, in some areas of the world, humans are very close to living like this still.

Without waxing too poetic and historical, we just need to remember  it takes more than a few hundred years to change our evolution.   Although we might have grown a bit softer with our sofas, our air conditioning, and “horseless carriages” the deep down core is still damn strong and incredibly resilient.  We should take heart that it’s one thing which won’t change anytime soon.

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The Magical Road Trip… of Adventure!

Back in early June we subjected the kids to something we like to call The Magic Road Trip.  I had been on a few by myself and last year I  introduced the concept to my wife.  They are the perfect way to take very little cash, a  weekend afternoon, and, well, go get yourself lost.   Originally, they had been introduced to me as a Magic Eight Ball Trip which goes as follows.

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  • Figure out how long you want to be gone.
  • Take a Magic Eight Ball (Or as I like to call it The Magic Infinity Ball.  It’s all in how you hold it, right?)
  • Get in the car.
  • Any and all questions you have concerning navigation must go through the Eight Ball.  “Should we turn here?”, “Do we go another ten miles?”, “Do we get off the highway at the next exit?”  All questions of logistics, gas, food, bathroom breaks should NOT be asked of the Infinity ball because of obvious consequences.
  • Go adventure!
  • At about halfway or 3/4 of the time you want to be gone, start thinking about heading back home.
  • GPS devices, cell phones, or anything similar  are not allowed except in the case of an emergency.

I’ve found that my trips always end up having a tint of magic in them.   The trip with the kids was no exception.  We only had one problem as we began planning the trip.  No Infinity ball!!!

Luckily, I’m an old school gamer who always has some dice lying about the place if not on my person directly and I have a wife that thinks fast on her feet.  We gathered everyone around the kitchen table after my wife made  a quick chart on scrap paper.  Each family member took a turn rolling the dice.  We used 2  six sided die (Hint:  Those are the ones you’ll find in your Monopoly game. ) This gave us a random direction (left, right, straight, North, East, South, and West) and we kept going till we had a little over 20 random directions listed.  This was to be our navigation.   For instance, rolling a 1-2 would be designated as “Straight”, 3-4 = “Left”, 5-6=”North”, etc…  The dice were brought along for a back-up plan should the list fail us.

We dubbed the process the Magical Road Trip.  After bathroom breaks and travellin’ clothes were donned, we jumped into our trusty car, Murphy.  We stopped briefly at the grocery store to fill the cooler with water, ice, a few cans of soda, snacks, and sandwich supplies and then we were off.  En route, we decided that the dice would be used to calculate how many miles we would go before following the first listed random direction.  Then, they would be used afterward to tell us how far to go till the next direction change.  All other questions would be handled with a die roll of one die.  1-3 = “yes”, 4-6= “no.”

blogflwr_5374I won’t bore you with details but the trip proved to be, of course, magical.  It ended up lasting around 5 hours and took us on a large circle into the back roads of Southern Indiana even I’ve not been to yet.  We stopped along the way to look for rocks, save turtles, to see the sights, to eat sandwiches.  Part of the Magical Road Trip is not to just drive through it or by it but to get out and experience it.  This is crucial to remember.  We talked, we told stories, I got to give some brief history lessons, and we saw alot of corn.  We also got REALLY lost.

But the final magical hooks can only happen sometimes when you get really lost!

Just at the point were neither my wife or I had any idea where we might be, we stumbled upon an old country highway which brought us with a few curves into the small little town of Story, Indiana home of  The Story Inn.  My wife had always wanted to come here and I had not been for a good ten years.  Without knowing in advance, it was our final destination for the trip.  We stopped and looked through the art store, the Inn, and grabbed a soda.  Then, it was time to head back home which we calculated would take about another hour and get us home just in time for the oldest son’s meet-up with friends and dinner time.  It was a perfect run.

storystill_5376All in all, with cost of gas and food for the trip, we only ended up spending around $40 for an afternoon of adventure, fun, and getting ourselves lost.  We had quality time with our kids and made memories all for two $20 bills.  Heck, we would have spent close to that on a night of fast food and a family movie at the cinema!   The key to doing it with kids is to make it fun, make it an adventure.  Turn up the music, tell jokes, get out of the car and explore if you get the chance.  Stop for candy!  If you run into trouble or if something goes wrong you have to have the right mindset because the kids will pick up on it.  Simply yell, “Adventure!” and plug through it.  They get the idea soon enough.

These trips can also be planned for a weekend but, of course, may need a bit more money to get you through.  (You’ll want it for a hotel or campground stay and for those extra meals.)   Just always plan to start heading back home at the halfway to 2/3 mark of your journey time.  Also, if you’re real familiar with the area around your home, you can decide that you won’t start using the random directions (or Infinity Ball)  for a set number miles away from your home.  You can modify it anyway you want and the more the kids get to influence those modification, the more fun they will have along the way.

Just remember to randomly shout “Adventure!” as you roll along on your journey.

For instance, “All I see is corn.”
“Yes, but it’s ADVENTURE corn!!”

If done properly and with good timing, it never gets old.