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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Recitals past and present

This afternoon, I found myself seated in a high-school auditorium, awaiting the debut of our granddaughter as a dancer. My Lovely Bride and I had travelled six and a half hours to be part of this wonderful event.
As the procession of little (and not so little) girls tapped, pirouetted, and hip-hopped across the stage, I found myself gong back in time.

In the blink of an eye, I found myself once again seated in a small, hot auditorium in a small school in a small Northwestern Ohio village. Lovely Bride and I anxiously awaiting the cultural highlight of the season; our two daughters, Charlotte and Shannon, were part of the spectacular number know to one and all as Baby Take A Bow.

The murmur of the crowd hushed as the house lights dimmed. The curtain was illuminated by a single spot light. Suddenly; it parted on a group of little girls, in their little leotards, ballet shoes, and frilly skirts. The music came up, and the dance began.

It is interesting how a child can take in hours of practice, and lessons, and show off their dance steps seemingly endlessly, only to let the entire assembly know they have a little bit of stage fright. As the jaunty little number came to the chorus “I’m presenting you right now; Baby take a bow.”,  well…. Char proceeded to take a nice bow in time with the other girls. And Shannon…well Shannon…. For the entire number she seemed to think the thing to do was stand like a statue with her fingers in her mouth.  As a result, the little number has since gone into the family annals as “Shanny stand up straight.”

From the humble school setting, I am transported to another school, in another state. Anxiously we await the debut of our youngest daughter Aubrey’s dancing career. She was cast in a clever number entitled “We Are Dancing Poodles”.  Having two older sisters the name of this cute song promptly became “Dancing Noodles” , which caused no end to the laughter and giggles around our home.

The girls had these adorable little white outfits with cute little Poodle ears head pieces.  With gathering up children,  costumes, shoes, etc , before dashing out the door. In the confusion, the cute little Poodle ear head piece was left at home.  Aubrey was the only Poodle dancing sans ears.  She was a real trouper, doing a fine job, all the while contributing a certain degree of comic relief.

Like a stone bouncing on a smooth pond surface, my memory skips to Aubrey’s Ohio dance debut. She was cast as a Sugar Plum Fairy, in a The Nutcracker meets Scrooge Christmas production.  There is something about Scrooge observing the Sugar Plums Fairies dancing about that lends a new perspective to Dickens’ classic. Again, she did a fine job, making myself and LB proud of her.

Which brings me to being in Virginia, awaiting our grand-daughter’s performance debut in the Swan Dance 2013 Recital.  The girls in her class sit together, little heads hardly protruding above the full sized theater seats. A row of pink little hair puffs, attached to perfectly coiffed hair-dos stand out in stark relief to the institutional light blue seats.  Chattering little voices, smiling little faces; all in eager excitement of their big show.

The time comes, she and her little friends take the stage. Being amongst the youngest students; there is a cuteness factor which steals the show.

While not in step with one another, and bumping into one another,  finally culminating in a tug-of-war over which way to exit the stage; I look at my Lovely Bride. Tears of joy and pride and Grandmotherly love dampen her cheeks. I look to our son-in-law, tears of joy, pride, and fatherly love stream down his cheeks. 

I look to our daughter. Somehow that gangly little Sugar Plum Fairy has become a beautiful young woman, wife and mother. My thoughts went to her older sisters, who  somehow transformed from unsure little girls into beautiful, self-confident  women.  Wives and mothers all, they are strong, gentle, loving  people.

I cannot express the immense joy, pride and love I felt as another little girl steps from her first recital onto the path of becoming a fine woman.

She has her Grandma, her Mother, and her Aunties who have all set a fine example for her

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Brand New Word!

This was a new one to me.
A co-worker sent me an e-mail Tuesday warning of a derecho. My immediate response was to inquire if this was a new menu item at Taco Bell.
The following promptly popped up on my monitor, sent by my co-worker to inform the unenlightened.

A derecho (/dəˈr/, də-reh-choh, from Spanish: derecho [deˈɾetʃo], "straight") is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a land-based, fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms often delivering torrential rains, flash floods, strong winds, and potentially rivaling hurricanic and tornadic forces.

Who would have thought weather-nuts are so touchy??

How could I have not known that, I wondered. Had I spent my entire time upon this planet living in a cave?

Which caused me to think of other meteorological/natural catastrophe terms.

Approximately 7 years ago, the news gave us a new word to add to our lexicon; tsunami. Which, everyone knows is Japanese for “harbor wave”. Or they don't know. It is a humongous wall of water. Until the terrible tragedy to hit Indonesia, who had ever (outside of geologists, and meteorologists) heard of “tsunami”? They were called tidal waves or “humongous walls of water”.

This in turn, brought to mind terms such as “wind-chill”, “ heat index”, “relative humidity”, “dew point” and others. Now, when hanging around the coffee station , everyone sounds like they moon-light as a TV weather person when discussing what is going on beyond the windows.

I sip my coffee asking myself “How did we ever survive before we knew all this?”

Take, for example, our recent derecho. Not only did we experience a derecho, but it was a very specific “bow echo/'low end'” derecho. What this means, I have no idea. Does this equate to golf, where being on the “low end” of the score card is good? Or, does it signify being on the “low end”, this was a small potatoes derecho? Further, the term derecho has its  roots in Spanish, meaning “straight” (see above) which confuses me a bit more.

See, when I was younger, a storm such as this would be referred to as “a really big thunderstorm with pretty strong winds.” The weather forecaster would say something like “Hey, we have a pretty good chance of having really big thunderstorms with some strong winds. You may want to bring light things indoors.”

Simple. To the point, and everyone knew what they meant.

Now, radio, television, cell phone, internet connections all carried constant updates as to the precise location of the storm, along with colorful images of rain-fall, wind velocities, and direction of anticipated travel.

See, years ago, the guy on the radio would say something like “We have a pretty big storm headed our way. I am looking out of our studio window, and see a lot of lightning out over the lake. You folks on the east side will be seeing some rain pretty soon.”

Again, simple, to the point, and concise.

Is my life improved because I can now see at what road intersection a storm is currently at?

If I am not directly there, it isn't going to impact me one way or the other. If I am directly there, I knew about it before the weather service did! So, this is rather superfluous information, wouldn't you say?

And, calling a big thunderstorm with strong winds a new name; what does that accomplish? Is “derecho” the meteorological equivalent of saying “super-size me”?

As the alerts came in I did what any red-blooded American does; I promptly headed out the door to watch the storm! Don't tell me you go downstairs, and hide under an old mattress. Uhh-uhh, I am not buying that. You know dog-goned well if you didn't go outside, you at least stood in your doorway watching. Come on, admit it.

Besides, I figured if this was no longer a really big thunderstorm, but now a derecho; well, by golly, I was going to be able to tell my grandkids about it.

Papa, tell us about the time you were out in the derecho.”

Well....I got pretty wet. And it was windy. Oh yeah, the lightning was pretty cool, too.”

Is that it?”

Yep, that is what sticks in my mind.”

Sounds like a really big thunderstorm with strong winds.”

Yep, pretty much.”

My question is this: Do we really need another term to tell us what we already know?

Examples of terms which do just that are:

Wind Chill: anyone can tell you if you go out on a blustery Winter day, you are gonna freeze! Bundle up! Heck, we knew that back in the 50s! It was called “freeze your ears off” cold.

Heat Index: everyone knows when you can see a haze in the air on a July afternoon, you are gonna be sweating. Does it make you feel any better having someone tell you it feels like a steam bath outside? If it is already 95° out, does knowing it feels like 115° help any? No!

Relative Humidity: relative to what? Death Valley? Humid is humid. Terms like muggy, sticky, unbelievably humid; those work just fine.

Dew Point: isn't that what you do when you go outdoors at daybreak, point to all the condensed water on the grass and car, saying; “Wow! Look at all the dew!”

Please note, I am NOT minimizing events such as tornados, blizzards, droughts; all are definite weather events. When a person says “We had a tornado.” you know precisely what they mean.

A blizzard is a blizzard, unless you are in a Dairy Queen. However, you can have a blizzard during a blizzard. People would probably think you a bit daft; but you can do so.

My advice: Weather Person, please don't over-sensationalize. We don't need additional words to elicit fear and anxiety, especially about something over which we have zero, zip, zilch control.

Thank you.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Swimming Pools

Today, a neighboring city graciously had FREE open swimming at both of their pools.  Our city is embroiled in a rift regarding our pool.  The Dries and the Wets engage in sharp little skirmishes, sometimes prolonged engagements; both sides are entrenched. The pool remains closed.
 The purpose of this blog is not to be a political soapbox; if the reader desires such, there are many such sites available. Rather, the mention of the pool situation in our town is stated to provide background.
Otherwise, why would I really care if our neighbor’s have a free open swim day?
I wouldn’t.
My feelings toward swimming pools can best be summed up as ambivalent. Be they public, private club, or backyard pools; I am NOT going to be the first person in line awaiting the gate to open.  In fact, my attitude regarding swimming in general is one of take-it-or-leave-it, with leanings toward the leave-it side.
While gazing at the river flowing past the hill behind our home; I wonder why this is. Through the mists of time my memory drifts
I see a skinny kid standing on the banks of a farm pond, nervously surveying the scene. A balmy Summer day, the sun high above in a blue sky. Before this lad are his siblings, his friend and his brother and sister; all splashing, diving, and in general having a grand old time in the warm murky water. That same murky water was home turf to a HUGE snapping turtle, which caused no slight amount of trepidation in our young hero’s attempts at swimming.  The prospect of losing a finger, toe, or worse to the unseen monster put a dampener upon the festivities of the ol’ swimmin’ hole.  Coupled with his inability to swim; this was not a particularly fun-filled memory.
Fast forwarding a few years finds the same skinny kid, now with the additional social stigma creating Coke bottle glasses, standing in line awaiting “swimming lessons”.  While those around him are laughing, joking, smacking one another with their rolled up towels, our hero stands rigidly as memories of nearly drowning (see entry entitled  “Water” for explanation) play repeatedly in his mind. Add the admonition of his parents “Don’t hit your head, or you can go blind” (a long story, ask one of my siblings, my Lovely Bride, or children; they will fill you in) echoing like the public address system at the old Municipal Stadium announcing a line-up in the audio memory banks; well the prospect of ditching his glasses, running blindly into a concrete lined hole supposedly filled water just didn’t cut it.  Eventually he comes to the realization that advancement beyond Polliwog is not to be his.
We hit the fast forward button, skipping the commercials, and stop at pools here and there. Always we see our hero (somehow transformed from a skinny kid into what his Lovely Bride refers to as “a pudge”), sans Coke bottle glasses (thanks to Coke bottle contacts), standing within an easy arms reach of the poolside.
Once, in a careless moment while enjoying paradise on Kauai, he wanders into the deep end of the resort pool. Quickly, effortlessly, as past lessons kick in, he gracefully dog-paddles to safety.  To complete the scene, he emits a “woof-woof” on occasion. People sitting at the poolside smile and chuckle at what a card he is, if they only knew the goof darned near drowned.
There are other, less noteworthy “pool incidents”; such as the shoestring used to secure a bathing suit suddenly becoming quite insecure, much to our hero’s chagrin & other’s amusement. But, fortunately, it turned out to be no big thing.
Which brings me back to today’s free open swim at our neighboring community’s pool. For some time, my Lovely Bride has wanted to use the brand new pool. It is a nice looking facility; complete with two waterslides, a splash zone in the shallow area for the little ones, lots of lounging chairs, even a snack bar.
We tentatively waded into the brisk water, taking our sweet time to adapt to the temperature. We had been in the pool maybe ten minutes when the cutest little girl came up to the two of us. Such a cherubic looking child with a round face, bright eyes, she was the classic visage of innocence.
“Do you want to see my trick?” she asked in the cute little voice.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“Do you want to see my trick I can do?”
“What’s that? Oh, a trick. Sure, let’s see your trick.”
“Okay, but you have to hold my hands.”
“Hold your hands…well, Okay.” I say, after looking to my Lovely Bride for confirmation.
So… here is this kind, older, bearded gentleman extending his hands to this little girl. She places her little pudgy hands in mine. Then, here comes the trick.
She flops backward in the water, delivering a kick to an area I would prefer to not have kicked, like Lou “The Toe” Groza drilling one through the uprights!!!
She promptly released her grip upon my hands as memories of the snapping turtle rushed back, and disappeared in the sea of humanity.
LB was laughing hysterically. She was beet red (so was I, albeit for a different reason), tears streaming from her eyes. Ironically, I too, had tears… again for different reasons. LB had to hold onto my arm to keep from falling over; she was so consumed by the hilarity.
When she was finally able to speak, she said something comforting to the effect of “Here, old man. Here’s a trick for ya! WHAM!!”
Don’t you just hate when people laugh themselves silly at their own jokes? I do.
We never saw the little monster child again. I figure she collected her twenty bucks for the bet, and bugged out.
Chalk up another reason why I am not fond of swimming pools.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


June 6... to some merely a date on a calendar.

To others the significance of this day is undeniable. Particularly if your parents were part of America's Greatest Generation.

My Dad and his 3 brothers all served in the Second World War.

All 4 saw combat; 2 solely in Europe, 1 in the Pacific, and 1 who served in the Navy, both Europe and the Pacific. All 4 boys returned home. That in and of itself a miracle.

Dad was a tank commander. Sixty-nine years ago today, he was in a staging area in the Southeast of England awaiting the LST's (Landing Ship, Tank) to return from their first trip across the English Channel. All he knew was the Third Armored division of the First Army was to take part of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Hitlers Fortress Europe.

His all expense paid tour of France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium began on June 7, 1944. His trip ended in a snow-choked field in Belgium on December 23rd, 1944 when a landmine shattered his faithful tank, killing all but him.

His Sherman was the first tank off their LST. When he drove down the ramp, the waters of the Channel covered his periscope. He was fearful the ship had turned the wrong way and was discharging the column into the sea. He thought they were sinking. Suddenly, he felt the tracks grind upon French soil at the edge of the beach. The water receded from the periscope.

He then had a view of Hell on Earth.
Omaha Beach on D-day plus 1 was yet a hotly contested invasion site. Shrapnel from German artillery and mortar fire sounded like gravel thrown against the sides of his tank. The view through the periscope was one of horror; explosions, men being obliterated by cannon fire, others being cut down by machine-gun and rifle fire. To his horror, haunting him until his death; he saw there was no clear path to maneuver without driving over smashed equipment, vehicles, dead and dying soldiers. It could not be avoided. A stationary tank is referred to as “a target”. They had to keep advancing.

He didn't talk much about that day. Just a couple of things he would recount.

One highlight was seeing an American P-38 Lightning and a British Spitfire make a low-level strafing run on a German artillery installation.

Also, he would tell of his tank crew capturing a German Colonel and his staff the night of the 8th of June. By now having advanced in-land, that evening they rumbled to within sight of a French farm-house.

Leaving their tank in the cover of some trees, Dad and two of his crewmen crept toward the house. From within they could hear guttural voices. Dad's crew-mate and life long friend George Krueger*, knew German. He understood what was being said. Stealthily, the three Americans crept toward the door of the house.
Dad had been issued a standard steel helmet and liner, along with his tanker's helmet. The tanker's helmet was similar to a 1940's era leather football helmet, and primarily served the purpose of holding the headphones in place.
Somehow, Dad had lost the liner to his steel helmet. All steel helmets were the same size. How they would fit individual men was by means of the liner. The liner was made of reinforced plastic, with a web-suspension inside. This was adjusted to fit the wearer. The steel helmet slid onto the liner.

Without the liner, the helmet fit about as well as putting a Dutch oven on one's head, with about the same visual effect.

Dad placed his helmet upon his head, eliciting many giggles from his crewmen. The bright Lieutenant's bar gleamed in the darkness. Not trusting any action to just his Colt sidearm, he also took his modified Thompson sub-machine gun. It was modified by having the shoulder stock removed, which made it much easier to pass through the hatch of a tank..

Quietly, the trio advanced, carbines and sub-machine guns at the ready. Suddenly, they kicked open the door, firearms leveled at a very surprised German Colonel and his staff. One foolishly went for his side arm, a burst of gunfire persuaded the remaining Germans to raise their hands.

Now, Dad was not a big man, about 5'8”, a bit stockier than average build. When talking with his crewmen, turning his head, the steel helmet stayed in one place! It was so large, his head would turn within the helmet, while the Lieutenant's bar remained stationary, fixed upon the now German prisoners.

This in turn caused the Germans to smile. This irritated Dad a bit.

He kept turning his head in order to ask George what they were saying. George tried to explain the prisoners thought he looked comical with the too-large helmet.

The more he turned his head between George and the Germans; the funnier it became.

The smiles began to become snickers, then chuckles. Before long, there were 5 German officers, leaning against a wall, laughing in near hysterics. Nothing in Officers Candidate School covered how to handle prisoners laughing in hysterics.

Finally, in an attempt to restore order, Dad set his Thompson down, and drew his knife from the sheath. Advancing toward the Colonel, he reached forward with the sharpened blade. In a flash, he cut one of the red and silver braided shoulder boards from the man's uniform.

Turning to George, Dad told him to ask the stunned man, "Who is laughing now?”

Order now restored, the three American tankers marched the prisoners from the farm-house. There was a group of U.S. Infantry about ½ a mile away. Dad turned his charges over to an American Major.

Dad and his men returned to their tank, the Lord only knowing what lay ahead for them.

That long-gone officer's shoulder board is tucked away in a manila envelope, stashed in my dresser somewhere.

I think I will dig it out tonight.

And... I will say a very heart-felt “Thank you”, not to Dad alone, but to all the English, Canadians, and Americans, who gave of themselves upon the beaches of Normandy.

*George Krueger was wounded while fighting in the Benelux campaign. He returned Stateside before Dad, a new man taking his place in the crew. They remained friends until George preceded Dad in death. Now, they are reunited, brothers in arms, eternally.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wild Observations

The other day, while taking precise notes of native fauna and their activities in the wild habitat environment beyond our patio doors; my mind wandered. It does this with a degree of frequency, usually when I least expect it to.
I would like to point out; my observations on this particular morning were primarily avian in nature. A vast array of species descended upon the scientifically, exactingly located feeding stations.   While shoveling baked miniature circles of oats in my face, I noted with interest several things. However, I had not as of yet poured the scalding black liquid derived from roasted beans and steaming water into my system; so I forget what those things were.  
A constant parade of birds flitted past the glass doors; some I knew well, some I was only slightly acquainted with. The sparrows, for example, are always here. It seems as if we are on a first name basis with one another; there is Herb, Sally, Jane, Ralph, and so on. Admittedly, they don’t always respond to their names. I chalk it up to their being shy and messin’ with the old guy.  The grackles are constant visitors.  While more gregarious than the sparrows; they really don’t want to form any relationships. Upon gorging themselves, they cast a critical eye at the birdbath, splash around a bit, then leave. The goldfinches add an always welcome burst of color and activity. Such happy little guys, I bet if they would only sit still for a bit, they may have some pretty good stories to share. Can birds have ADHD?
Then, the baseball teams show up. The Baltimore Oriels make their appearance at the special feeder filled with grape jelly. Not jam or preserves; it has to be jelly. Fortunately (for our grocery budget), they are not jelly snobs, demanding only Smuckers or Dickinson’s. Nope, the inexpensive store brand is just fine. They enjoy Valu King as much as Sam’s Choice. Better them than me. I prefer Smuckers.
Soon, they are joined by the Cardinals. This being spring, I can only assume these are the baseball Cardinals. The football Cardinals show up in the fall and winter. They are such welcome visitors, like having long-time old friends drop by for a cup of coffee and a chat. 
The National League is represented with the appearance of the Blue Jays; making a lot of noise, and hanging around in the lower levels of the branches, never advancing too far after the mid-point of summer.
Upon occasion, the NFL will send other representatives. The Ravens have not been terribly well received visitors, usually cleaning out the feeders, then leaving. Falcons have zipped through, leaving a puff of feathers where a hapless victim had been. A couple of times, an Eagle was observed soaring majestically over the Chagrin; searching for a meal. 
Not to be outdone, the NBA frequently sends the Hawks and other Raptors in the form of owls and kestrels to represent them. Upon their arrival, things get very still in the woodlot; remaining so until the hunter moves on.
The only league not represented is the NHL. I suppose if the Penguins dropped by, it would be a very cold day in Ohio, and other places.
Feeling slighted, the mammalian contingent drops by, some with frequency; others occasionally. For example, the Bucks. They tend to make a nuisance of themselves, trampling plants, and devouring any and everything.    While not as common as the Bucks, the Coyotes are seen with a degree of regularity. Their bigger cousins, the Timberwolves, are none existent in our little wild corner.
While one has been seen a lot in western Lake County lately, we have yet to have any of the Cubs, Bruins, Grizzlies or da Bears come by. That would be memorable, to say the least. Plus they would probably trash the garden. Woe to the bear that destroys my Lovely Bride’s plantings!
The members of the cat family are not seen, although there have been reports of Bobcats in eastern and southern Lake County. The Tigers, Lions, Panthers, and Jaguars have not been observed.  Oh, they do send a token representative in the form of the resident black and white feral cat; (somewhat) affectionately known as The Tuxedo Cat. I am certain the affection will grow as the tense he is referred to in changes; as in “Remember that ol’ Tuxedo cat? Wasn’t he something?  Bless his heart.”
The Rams are very aloof, never having made an appearance.
The Piscatorial members showing up, the Rays and the Marlins; now that would be ridiculous, the stuff of a bad dream one has upon a fever breaking.
The Diamondbacks, representing the reptilian genus, are not seen at all. While there are Eastern Diamondbacks in Ohio, I have not seen one in our area ever. Again, the token representative in the form of a garter snake pops in. Usually, they are dispatched by the aforementioned cat.
 And, of course, the insects will be making their appearance with the Hornets.
Finally, as we move into summer, we know the Heat and the Thunder will be a fact of life. The Heat will be about as well received as they are at The Q. The Thunder always promises a good show.
It would be interesting to see my college mascot, the Beaver, in the Chagrin and tributaries though. I just hope he has ditched the stupid looking beanie he used to wear.