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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pool Time

It has been an interesting few days.

My Lovely Bride, having won a six-month family membership at our local Y, determined I would benefit tremendously from a couple of classes.
I, for my part, noticing Archery, Game Tracking, and Advanced Television Viewing were not listed in the program guide; was less than ambivalent toward partaking of any classes.

Early one morning, while in the midst of my leaving for work routine (consisting of stepping around a whirling dervish named Ike, balancing my travel mug of coffee, grabbing my lunch, and hopefully not forgetting anything), LB announced something to the effect about the sign up for classes closed THAT VERY DAY and did I know what I wanted to take.
As I deftly side-stepped the puppy, tucked my folder under my arm, and tried to not drop my coffee, I believe my response was along the lines of : “Huh??”
She affirmed the question at hand was classes for the Y. Did I care about what I took?
As I was now focused upon getting to the office on time, I tossed off a very casual reply:  “Oh, I don't know. Whatever.”

Rookie Mistake.

Have you ever watched a major league baseball game and seen the shortstop bobble a grounder? A first year Little Leaguer could have made the play.
That is how I felt.

A note to the unmarried or recently married guys out there:   See, what LB did was the classic “Divide and Conquer” gambit. She patiently waited, only reminding me about 6 or 7 times to make a choice. Really. What male would even remotely remember to do this? Come on... give me a break!
Secondly, she had only brought up the topic 3 times the previous evening. How was I supposed to concentrate on Y classes when Duck Dynasty is on?
Thirdly, she waited quietly, sipping her coffee, observing the birds at the feeders until the exact moment I was fully focused upon departing for work to fire the final volley. I had to make a decision, right now.

Well played, Lovely Bride. Well Played.

My decision was:  I decided to not make a decision.
And, boy did that turn out to be a doozie...

That evening, upon my return from the blood-stained, smoke-clogged upheaval of the work-a-day battlefield, she gleefully announced she had signed me up for.....drum-roll please....
SWIMMING WITH FINS   and ADULT INSTRUCTION (aka: “swimming for old people who never bothered to learn as kids, and boy do you feel like a dork now. Your parents were right” lessons)

To say I was less than overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Regular readers may recall my deep seated aversion to water activities.
To come up to speed on this particular topic, the reader may wish to take a look at my May 15, 2013 entry “Water”, and my June 9, 2013 post  “Swimming Pools”.

Okay... all set? Now you can understand my lack of joyous enthusiasm at this news.
But, being the dutiful husband that I am, (and not wanting to waste 20 bucks) I set off to the site of the torture to endure Adult Instruction.

I wandered to poolside; only to see the kid's swim team practicing. Thinking I was early, I sat upon a bench. When the noisy band of children departed; I waited with bated breath for the “big people who can't swim” class to start.

I watched as a bevy of women got in the pool. I waited as the instructor got the class warming up.
They were doing some pretty impressive things for a bunch of swim-like-bricks adults. Finally, I wandered over to ascertain if I was indeed in the proper place.
The right place, yes. Just 2 days late, or 5 days early, depending upon your perspective.
Then, she cheerily said “Fins is after this. Are you signed up for that?” When I told her I was, she gave me a quizzical look.

I waited for Fins to begin. My Lovely Bride showed up, all decked out for her Swim With Fins session. When I had a full grasp of what was entailed, coupled with the NOT FOR BEGINNERS admonition in the flyer, I could only wonder: “What were you thinking?!”

I watched as people effortlessly paddled the length of the pool, happy smiles upon their faces. The instructor, Karen, came by and asked if I thought I could do that. I doubled over with laughter at the sheer absurdity of the question.  I then explained the “hows” and “whys” of my inability to swim.

The upshot was:  Saturday morning found me in the pool, the only guy in a class full of women for “Water Strength and Conditioning”.  The operative phrase in the synopsis was “non swimmers welcome”.  The response to having a man in the group ran the gamut of amusement, to mild interest, to being regarded as something which floated up from the drain.  Yes, there were some who were not bashful in expressing their utter disgust with this male intrusion upon their time.

Next thing I know, I am bouncing up and down, doing jumping jacks, jogging in place, and all manner of ostensibly silly exercises. I was attempting to keep rhythm to the music, and not collide with any other class members.

Did you know when a person jumps up and down in a pool; their swimsuit tends to follow the downward drag of the water? I was surprised by this phenomenon as well. Although not nearly as surprised as the others in the group.  Deftly, I hiked my trunks up, tying the strings with a double bow for extra measure.

Another point of amusement for several of the ladies came during the “leg press with a noodle”. Yeah… it is about as lame as it sounds. The premise is this: one takes a swimming pool noodle, and places their foot at the mid-point of said noodle. One then pushes the foot/noodle combination under water. While the noodle has a natural desire to float to the surface, one presses downward with their foot; thereby replicating the muscle movement of a leg press. There is just one little glitch. When one raises their foot, both ends of the noodle pop up through the surface of the water. It is apparent this exercise was devised by either a masochist or a female.  Hence, the good deal of amusement on behalf of the other members as they watched while I tried to inconspicuously dodge the surfacing noodle.

You know what? Exercising in the water is work! I was sweating like a … well a really sweaty guy when I was finished!  I made a hasty retreat to the locker room. I had endured this test; the real test awaited.

Monday was the Adult Instruction time. Karen, (a different Karen) the instructor is a no-nonsense, I-am- here-to-teach-you-to swim kind of lady. She was not overly impressed by my backstroke, nor with my breast stroke;  both performed  with my head high and dry. Her assessment was direct; we are going to work on putting your face in the water.
What the heck?!? Does she not know that Man is not made to breathe underwater?  Breathing is a long-term, dearly held pastime of mine. In fact, I can’t recall a time when I was not breathing. Now this person wants me to stick my head under the water?

There I was, standing at the edge of the pool, taking a breath, sticking my face in the water, blowing bubbles, raising my head, taking a breath. Repeat. I felt like a total dork.  Not content to let me revel in my accomplishment, Karen insisted upon having me lay on my face, arms extended, while she dragged me through the water. While this little routine was going on, I was supposed to take a breath, blow bubbles, take a breath, etc, etc. Only one time did I inhale about a third of the pool. Have you ever tried to look cool while coughing and hacking up gallons of pool water? It ain’t easy to pull off, let me tell you. I failed miserably.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, and ready to call it a night when Karen announced we were going to work on our arm strokes.  Well, arm strokes; I can do that.  And indeed I did, quite spectacularly in fact. Until it was announced we were now going to incorporate breathing with the arm strokes.  Sure we are.

Yet, I pressed on. After a couple of faux pas, I was able to actually move my arms, breath, and not inhale the pool! I was amazed!

Finally, toward the end of the session, Karen announced she wanted us to incorporate stroking, breathing, and kicking. My gosh the woman is a born comedian! I hung back a bit, watching others venture down the lanes.  I mustered up my courage, and shoved off. I was doing okay, until I started to think about what I should be doing. The wheels came off the cart at that point. I tried again, and made some progress. Again, I shoved off, and realized I had swum half the length of the pool!
In amazement, I gathered up my towel and headed toward the locker room.

While washing the chlorine laced water from myself, I came to an epiphany:  It really doesn’t matter how much water is beneath me. All I have to take care of is the top 12 or so inches.

Maybe LB had a good idea after all.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Knives

The other evening, I was poking around on the ol’ computer, Ike the dog napping at my feet. It was a very Norman Rockwell-esque setting.  If Norman Rockwell painted laptops in his scenes, that is.
I was taken with the notion to check out the approximate value of some older pocket knives I have. Before the reader thinks I am a bit odd, let me explain.
I have always been fascinated by knives. Not in a weird, malicious, or creepy sort of way. I don’t like the huge or strangely designed knives which have become somewhat popular.  Those are just Hollywood show, flashy impractical gee-gaws. I prefer a practical knife, whether a folding pocket knife, or a fixed-blade sheath knife. Yes, size DOES matter. Too small is worthless, and too large is unwieldy, practically useless in application.
What is most intriguing about knives is their history. When Man knocked two stones together, producing a sharp edge and semblance of a point he took the first step toward balancing the scale of power in his environment. This puny, weak, slow, fang-less, claw-less creature now could both defend himself as well as become a predator in his own right.
The knife was the first tool to elevate mankind above the role of easy pickin’s on the food-chain.  Overtime, crude stone implements became today’s high-tech steels, alloys, and mind-boggling array of shapes, sizes, designs, and specialized uses.
A youngster obtaining their first knife is a rite of passage. The object, whether brand new in the box, or pocket worn from years in Dad’s or Grand-dad’s pocket, was accorded near mythic status. Truly, Excalibur was not as fine a blade as this example of the blade smith’s art!  An inviolate part of the ritual required the one bestowing the knife upon the youngster to utter those Time honored words, first grunted in Mankind’s deep history: “Don’t cut anything!”
Unknown to the adult, these three little words awaken an insatiable spirit heretofore slumbering within the blade, be it steel, or ceramic, obsidian or titanium; the effect is the same.  The thing takes on a life of its own, with the recipient merely going along for the ride.
A no-nonsense, level-headed, dependable youngster finds they are inexplicably carving notches in the piano legs, whittling Dad’s split bamboo fly fishing rod into so many toothpicks, making lateral incisions in chair cushions, and “putting a keen edge” on the blade with a newly broken piece of crockery.
When interrogated about the motives of these actions, the accused pleads the age-old defense which has been offered through-out the eons:  “I dunno.”
These words fall upon the ears of the prosecutor/judge with a tremendous weight. Suddenly, they are transported through the mists to a place and time they would rather forget. With shaking knees, they stood before the bar of justice. The implement of destruction held before them by the formerly benevolent giver of said gift. Wide eyed, and searching for a compelling reason as to why they had cut, carved, sliced, and in general created mayhem with the now mocking blade, the only defense they could offer was a shrug of the shoulders and “I dunno.”
The sentence is as fixed as the Sun rising in the East: The Judge thinks for a moment, and then says “Well…I am just going to hang onto this until you are a little bit older and more responsible.”
Depending upon the kid, this is a time period ranging anywhere from 2 weeks to 20 years. I know of adults who have never had their first knife returned to them. They have had to suffer the shame and indignity of needing to purchase their first real keeper knife.
It was with this in mind I set out to get an idea of my vintage knives’ values.
Surprise, surprise, surprise….
Do you realize…
IF… I had kept the Buck 500 drop point, lock-back hunter in the original box with the sheath pristine, never used, or sharpened…. It would be worth approximately $185.00?
Had I wrapped the red-bone handled, 1973 Barlow knife made by Case in gossamer and squirreled it away with a good coating of oil… I would be looking at two Franklins?
The most eye-opening discovery was to learn the early 1970s vintage Case Cheetah which was cozily resting in my pocket…. The same red-bone handles, the same slender blade, the same swing-out blade guard…had I kept this one in the box, with the packing papers, never used it (even for cutting threads off a shirt), never touched the blade to a sharpening steel…I would have $350.00 sitting there.
Dejectedly, I closed the web-site. I pulled the knife from my pocket, and swung the blade open. The lock made a satisfying “snap”. The blade shows some discoloration here and there; the tell-tale remainders of being used for cutting. The once sharply defined edges of the handle (as shown in the photos of the mint condition one) have taken on a softening and patina where years of handling have taken their toll.
I went upstairs and removed the Barlow from the storage case and the Buck from the dresser shelf. Each showed signs of use; the little chip in the handle received when dropped in a rocky stream, the odd little spot on the blade received when experimenting with a new sharpening implement.
Each told a story as well. I remembered buying the Cheetah in the small family owned hardware store in Bluffton, Ohio. The store owner telling me he has had that knife on the shelf for more than a year, and he was wondering if he would ever sell it.
The small town Georgia hardware store, located on a quintessential Southern home town square came to mind. I was on a business trip, and had some time to kill. Wandering into the store (there is a magic old time hardware stores possessed. The big-box stores will never have the charm and character of a Mom & Pop store) I made small talk with the proprietor while glancing at the Buck knife display. We talked the relative merits of Buck vs. Case, the changes the Buck family had gone through following Charles’ passing away. He saw me looking at the 500. Finally, after taking a draw on his bottle of orange pop, he drawled; “Walll… fer a Yankee, you seem like a good enough fella. How about I knock 7 bucks off that knife for ya?”   How could I say “no” to that?
The Barlow brought back the time my Lovely Bride and I visited a flea market in Lima, Ohio. Amidst the tables of children’s clothing, cookware, Tupperware, and so on sat a man I knew. A patrolman on the Lima Police Department (at the time, I worked at the Lima Municipal Court), he did flea markets on the weekends. Just to put things in perspective, flea markets were something new and pretty big doings in the mid 70s.  Not like today, when every other parking lot hosts one. This gentleman had spread before him a “Guys Table”… tools, knives, flashlights, fishing and hunting stuff.  It was a veritable oasis of Testosterone in a desert of Estrogen fueled stuff!
There, nestled between the old Imperial and Keen Kutter knives was as shiny new Case. A red-boned Barlow, just like the one our local Game Warden carried! I would look with longing eyes at the knife as he would cut open envelopes, trim his finger nails, and in general let anyone who was interested know he  had a bone handled Case.  Oddly, except for the internet, his and mine are the only two I have ever seen.
While my knives, well-used and cared for, may not be valued as highly as those on an internet auction, each told a unique story. Memories of good times, places and good friends poured forth as I handled them.  Closing the blades carefully, I smiled inwardly.  No, my knives are not valued the same as on an auction site. 
Mine are priceless.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Strong Women-Strong Men

The other day, I received an article in my e-mail in-box. As this came from my employer’s  health insurance carrier, I determined my best interest would be served to take a few minutes and read it.

Boy was I wrong.

The title of the piece was:

In Showdown Between Sexes, Male Ego Bruises Easily
When wives or girlfriends succeed, men's self-esteem sags, study contends©

Really.
Are our male psyches so delicate?
Intrigued, I read further. The study claims men feel insecure when their wives or girlfriends succeed in any endeavor, even if the two are not competing.

I began to question the breadth and scope of the study subjects. I began to wonder about where the men of today and the future are heading. I wondered how many men of my generation were interviewed.

You see; all my life I have been around strong women.

My Mother, Charlotte, faced the specter of cancer in the late 1950s with dignity and grace.  She had beauty, grace, and intelligence well above the norm. Descending from Swedish and German pioneer stock, she was the solid bedrock foundation of our family.  Then, at the young age of 38, she was stricken with cancer. She faced a brain surgery, cutting edge at the time, primitive by our standards. She endured constant pain and blinding headaches. She dealt with the humiliation of having all her thick, luxurious hair shorn to facilitate the surgery. She faced all with dignity, grace, and with a good dash of humor.
She didn’t see her fortieth birthday.  
Did I feel less of a male by having such a Mother?
Not that I can tell.

My Step-Mother, Phyllis, (known ever after as “Mom”) was a farm-girl from Northwest Ohio. She was a descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier, and early settler to the Firelands of Ohio.  Growing up on a farm in the early part of the Twentieth Century was not an easy life. There was no electricity until the 1930s. She did everything imaginable, gather eggs, feed livestock, milk cows, herd hogs, help with planting, help with harvest, as well as learn the genteel skills every young lady would need. Cooking (boy…could she cook!), sewing, and home making.  She was always a lady, always well dressed, always neat as a pin. But… don’t get her mad! More than once I discovered she still possessed the  speed and skills necessary to wrangle hogs, move cattle and the strength to pitch bales of hay when she grabbed hold of my misbehaving skinny self.  She was a well regarded manager within the charitable health organization she was employed by for many years.
Did my self esteem falter due to Mom’s solid influence?
I don’t think it did.

My sister Elaine is something else. We are primarily Irish and German. Yeah, I know two warm, calm, introspective people groups. Neither is prone to rash decisions or actions. Elaine got a good dose of both, (although I believe I got the majority of the Irish traits. Sometime, we will sit down over a couple of pints, and I will tell you why.) She is about 6 years older than I am. She is a retired teacher (many decades of teaching socially and emotionally troubled middle school students), who got bored less than a year into retirement and began teaching gifted students. A good example of being a strong person is an incident which occurred when we were children.

I have told you a bit about growing up in Mayfield Village in the ‘50s and so on.  Our home was across a 2 lane blacktop from a cemetery. One time, while in elementary school, Elaine was having a sleepover with several of her girlfriends. Our Dad conceived a brilliant idea of waiting until dark, then approaching our home from the cemetery wearing a white sheet, all the while wailing like a ghost.
Of course, the little girls took off screaming. Dad thought this was a great prank to pull. Until, he suddenly saw stars and feeling  a splitting pain in the back of his head. Elaine, rather than running, grabbed a baseball bat, sneaked up behind “the ghost”, and clobbered him over the head! Dad snatched the sheet off, yelling “Sissy! Sissy! (her childhood name). It’s me!” She was getting set to let him have another one.

She has exhibited this strength and resoluteness her entire life. I mean, how many people do you know who vacation to Galapagos Island,  break a leg with no medical care within hundreds of miles, tolerate a 3 day journey back home, have surgery, months of re-habilitation and makes jokes about it?
That’s my sister.
Did having a strong, achieving female sibling mess me up? I don’t see how.

Now, I have a Lovely Bride of 40 years. She is beyond a shadow of doubt the strongest, most steadfast, consistent person I know. In her own right, she has been very successful. Whether in sales, commercial voice over work, charitable work and on into the political arena she is recognized as a leader.  Recently, she had another accomplishment, coming in second in our local paper’s weight loss contest. And, she is still dropping the pounds!
Am I at a low point with my self esteem?
Pull-ease… I am infinitely proud of her.

From a strong Mother comes strong children; we have 3 daughters (Charlotte, Shannon, Aubrey), and a son (Gabe). All are strong, dependable, solid adults. Our girls are like their Mother, lady-like, gentle, but strong as iron when needed. Our son married a true Southern Belle; sweet as honey, gentle as a butterfly, but tougher than rawhide underneath.  We were so thrilled to meet Teri Lynn. She is more than an equal match for our gregarious, strong-willed son.

A  strong woman is NOT a demanding, whining, nit-picking, self-centered female. A strong woman is self-reliant, self-confident; her sense of being is not predicated upon who or what her male partner is. For, that matter, I know several strong women who are single and very happy in that state.

In fact, the men I trust most, whom I would call upon if I had to go into battle whether spiritual or physical, are ALL married to strong, lovely women. 

In retrospect, after more than sixty years of being around strong willed females, do I feel as if my self-esteem, my male ego, my sense of who I am has been diminished? 

Not by a long shot. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Birthday!!

Let me say Happy Birthday to all who share this day with me! Yay!
And, yes the year in which I was born, September 2 was indeed Labor Day. I have had to endure the silly jokes for years, about making my mother labor.
As you may recall, following my recent little episode in Doctor Land, I am frankly quite happy and grateful to be having a birthday.
It was not always this way with me. For most of my life, I have not fully embraced recognizing the event of my birth. We would have the get togethers, I would be happy for friends and family around me. Still, I had a rather ambivalent attitude toward the day.  I realize this would make rich fodder for psychologists and counselors; but, it is the way I felt.
Until this year; the year of perspective if you will.
I cannot say I had a Damascus Road spiritual awakening. I have been a follower of Christ for many, many years. I cannot say I saw a blinding light, nor did I hear a thunderous voice.
When I was told I had a significant blood clot in my leg that set me back a bit. I knew it was only by the Grace of a Loving God I was still alive. I knew that is was only by His mercy this clot had not decided to take a tour of my circulatory system, and ending up in my lung, heart or (yes believe it or not), my brain.
Further, I realized just how good He has been to me. This past Friday I had my post operation follow up and ultra-sound test.  My circulation is 100% restored. The technician said that alone is pretty rare; most people come back at 85 to 90, maybe 95%. 
 I know that our lives are not our own. Rather, they are a gift from God. It is up to us what we do with it.
Therefore I rejoice I am able to be with my Lovely Bride, my children, grandchildren, and very, very good friends. I rejoice even as our furry fountain of youth insists upon untying my shoes as I write this. I rejoice even as I helped my Lovely Bride tend our church’s flower beds.
Grab the day.  Be glad in it! For you will never have these 24 hours again.
And, if we share this birthday… be doubly joyful, for the world would not be what it is without you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where ya been?

Many of you have asked “Hey, Jim! We haven’t seen any blogs lately! What’s up, Dude?”, or words to that effect.
It is not that I have been living in a cave lately. Quite the contrary, things have been very busy. It is the nature of the busy-ness that I will not write about.
I have made a commitment to not be another political commentary blog. The Good Lord knows we have more than enough of those.  So, what has that to do with material for this site, you may ask. Plenty. Mucho plenty.
You see, my Lovely Bride is a candidate for Mayor of our city. There are two others running, which necessitates a primary election in 3 weeks. Ergo, the vast majority of my out-of-work time has been taken with election related functions. Or, if not so engaged, my time has been spent in picking up the slack around the old homestead; doing laundry, dishes, taking care of the livestock.  While it may sound extremely glamorous and exciting, sorting the darks from the lights and towels from delicates becomes pretty mundane.
Do you have any idea what it is like to come home from work, stare into the refrigerator seeking  inspiration for dinner, shut the door in frustration, only to open it again in the vain hope things have somehow re-arranged themselves, and a gourmet meal is mere minutes away? Of course not, that only happens to me.
Have you ever had that feeling of resignation when you come to the conclusion it is going to be chicken again, for the 12th time this week?
And the dogs… I cannot for the life of me understand what compels a canine to be taken outdoors, spend 20 or so minutes wandering aimlessly around Creation, only to return to the house and promptly pee on the kitchen floor. Lovely Bride has repeatedly told me they never do that for her. It must be a special little display of affection shared only with me. Ya-hoo.
Oh to be sure, not all my spare time has been spent in such fascinating pursuits. I have also been an attendee at various campaign planning meetings. These are interesting sessions. Imagine if you will, a roomful of Type-A over-achievers all sharing their perspective, ideas, and thoughts at the same time. A person with OCD feels as if they are attending a support group for sufferers of Attention Deficit Disorder. 
Great strategies are planned, ideas solidified, and wheels set in motion. I would like to share some of these with you, but I can’t. It is not that I am not permitted; I can’t remember much of what is going on. I have enough to keep track of without cluttering up my head with campaign details.
Being as this is a non-political column, I would never say anything like my Lovely Bride’s two opponents are a couple of meat-heads. That would be completely out of order. Nor would I ever state they have the competency of a chimpanzee repairing a diesel engine. And, far be it from me to ever question their character. No siree…not in my column.  Let others stoop to such shallowness. I refuse to.
So, back to the things which have been impacting me recently:  Did you know Wisk has a new liquid detergent designed to “bust body oils and perspiration.”? It seems to work pretty well, too. Oh, I have noticed the Wally World brand of dryer sheets work just as well as the national brand, and you get more in the box for less money! Talk about a no-brainer!
Palmolive and Dawn dish soap are pretty much neck and neck, as far as cleaning and keeping one’s hands from drying out. It is purely a matter of personal choice which one is preferred. I happen to like the Palmolive with Olay hand renewal additives. It has a nice fragrance, too.
I have discovered I hate vacuuming. Every time I fire that bad boy up, I start to sneeze my fool head off. Someone mentioned needing to change the bag; but I have as of yet to find any bags hanging off the thing.  Any tips about this will be greatly appreciated.
Oh, I have also learned that when Ike begins to become (ahem) flatulent; that is his way of saying “I gotta go!” Failure to respond in a prompt manner will result in responding to something you would rather not respond to.
Such is the life of a Political Spouse.  We are so much more than mere Arm Candy.
When LB wins, do you think “First Dude” would be a good title??