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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Watery Milestone

This past Monday evening was a milestone. Well, not maybe a “milestone”… nor a “half-milestone” even.
I stood at poolside; drying off with a dog-show freebie Eukanuba Dog Food towel from about 10 years ago, I enjoyed a minor sense of achievement.

I had completed Adult Swim Instruction without drowning or making a total fool of myself. Oh sure, my skills in the pool will not astound anyone. But, I have come further than I had even expected upon my first foray into the water. The biggest achievement is being able to stick my head in the water while swimming. I have to fine-tune the breathing thing (face in water-blow out, face out of water-breathe in) for some reason, I tend to reverse the procedure. This can cause a fair amount of anxiety and excitement as one attempts to gracefully expel a gallon or so of water without attracting too much attention.

Actually, I know what happens. I have always been apprehensive (no, scared doodoo-less) about sticking my face in the water. It may have to do with a couple of near-drowning experiences while young. Not being able to breathe with ease can do that to a person.

Now, I have overcome that fear. With the aid of some really cool goggles, I can actually swim with my eyes open and see! My vision is a bit rough; Mr. Magoo would be considered to have 20/20 vision in comparison to my eyesight. As a result, since the age of 7 I have worn either eyeglasses or contact lenses. Now, with the aid of the wonder-goggles, I have been able to stick my face in the water while wearing my contacts. I move my arms while kicking my legs, and actually propel myself forward! I know, many of you may be thinking “Big deal.” Well, let me tell you, Joe Biden summed it up when Obamacare was passed and he thought his microphone was turned off: “This is a (bleep) big deal!”

As a result, I can see the tiles of the pool sliding past. I can marvel at the tiny bubbles in the arc my arms make as they pull me forward. I can look to the side and see my classmates standing around. I can forget to breathe! Which I do, usually resulting in raising my head, exhaling like a whale, then sticking my face back down just in time to take a deep gulp of…water. Soon thereafter the wheels come off the cart. I deftly place my feet upon the pool bottom, and suavely move to the side of the pool; all the while emitting polite little “ahems” as I clear the water from my lungs. Apparently my Lovely Bride must be observing someone else, as she refers to my brief time of recovery as similar to a bear thrashing about at high tide while making strange hacking sounds which would embarrass a bull moose.

The image of a bear swimming began the gears in my head to turning. I thought of deer, dogs, cats, moose, caribou, horses, cattle, and sheep. I had visions of otters, beavers, muskrats, and minks. Then, it struck me; all these mammals can swim. And all of them swim without sticking their heads in the water! Now, I must clarify; I am not referring to marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and such. I am referring to bona fide, land dwelling mammals. The only time you will see a beaver swimming with its head underwater is when he purposely wants to swim below the surface of the water. Same with any of the above referenced critters; they all swim with their heads out of the water! Of course, there has to be a “class clown”. The duck-billed platypus holds it’s breath, and swims underwater, with its eyes closed! After about 2 minutes of bumping into stuff, it comes up for air, and repeats the performance. But, consider the source… a mammal which lays eggs?? Can you imagine God when He created the platypus?? He probably called to the angels “Hey! Check it out!! This is gonna keep them guessing for eons! HAA HAA HAA!”

But, I digress.

I then thought “Why would Man, a mammal, upon observing beavers, deer, elk, lions, tigers, and so on swimming, determine the thing to do is stick his face in the water?”

While there do exist ancient cave art, Egyptian ceramics, Native American petroglyphs and such depicting humans swimming, it is unknown who had the bright idea to hold one’s breath and stick your head in the water.

Still, the history of swimming is quite varied. The first recorded swim meet was in 36BC in Japan. Did you know the Japanese Emperor Go-Yozei declared all school children should learn to swim? None other than Benjamin Franklin invented the swim fin in 1716, at the age of ten. Also, the common front crawl, or “freestyle” stroke was unknown to Europeans of the 19th Century. During a swim competition held in 1844 in London, several Native Americans took part. While the British used the breast stroke solely, the Americans used the traditional front crawl, while placing their head in the water, and coming up for air.
The British were somewhat put out, as all the splashing which resulted from the Native’s swimming technique was most ungentlemanly. However, the Americans won handily with the much faster, efficient stroke. Oddly, the front crawl as we know it, was known not only to Native Americans, but to peoples of West Africa, and many Pacific Islands.

Of course, it is much more effective, faster and less dorky looking. I mean, a guy just doesn’t look all that cool doing a butterfly stroke. The backstroke? Who came up with that one? I mean, the idea of floating on one's back watching the world drift by is okay. But who decided to whip your arms around like a synchronized wind-mill while doing that weird, frog-like thing with your legs? Add the excitement of not seeing where you are heading (literally)... the recipe for calamity is complete. It is just a matter of time!

Still, if there were a way to swim effectively using the front crawl stroke, all the while keeping one's head high and dry...well, I am all for that!

Maybe the International Olympic Committee can begin working on a new category for swimming. They can call it the “splash around a lot with your head sticking up like a turtle” stroke.

Regardless, I have committed to another course of humiliation... I mean... instruction.

I am determined to accomplish this!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Life with Ike.... continued

As some of you may know, we recently acquired a new puppy.

Come to think of it, acquiring an “old puppy” is somewhat impossible. By virtue of being a puppy, the critter is “new”
Ike, as he is known, has been a character. He possesses  the rugged good looks of Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid, the charm of David Niven, the canine intellect equivalent of a Henry Kissinger, and the zaniness of Adam Sandler; all wrapped in a furry perpetual motion machine.
To say he keeps us on our toes would be an understatement.
I would like to address the usual questions at this time.
How big is he getting?
Somewhere between a baby koala bear and a baby hippo. At the last weigh-in, he was 42 pounds. He is as tall as Mimi at the shoulders (about 13”). We expect he will grow yet.
Does he eat a lot?
This is a relative question. Compared to a growing elephant, he eats hardly anything at all. Compared to a growing dog, he eats like an elephant.
Does he visit people?
Yes, he does. Just last week, Ike came by to entertain the troops at my office. He did his best to boost everyone's morale; even people from other companies in our building. For his part, the attention is very satisfying.
Does he know any tricks?
Yes, my Lovely Bride has been teaching him quite a few things. She has been able to call upon 40 plus years of training me in her work with Ike. Unlike training me, she is quite delighted to see Ike actually pays attention and does what she wants him to do. She is hoping this will rub off on me. I don't want to burst her bubble, but I don't see that happening.
He has learned to “come”, “sit”, “wait”, “come front”, “come around”, “spin right”, “spin left”, “down”, “speak”, “wave Hi”.
Mimi and I are disgusted by his complete lack of pride and shame....sigh....
How is housebreaking coming along?
Yes, we have a house, and it is breaking. Seriously, he is doing better. If we catch him heading toward the bathroom, we intercept him, and divert his attention outdoors. If we don't catch him; we have the satisfaction of knowing he realizes the primary purpose of the bathroom. He likes reading Field and Stream as well.
Does he sleep through the night?
Yes, much better than I, in fact. I don't hear him getting up every 75 minutes.

Does Ike have any dog friends?
Yes, a few. Nikki and Suzy are his favorites. He loves to visit at their homes and act like a 17 year old boy on a date. You know, run around in circles after le femme. And, like a 17 year old boy, when he catches her, he isn't quite sure what to do next. After ward both parties usually flop down and relax together. He also has some friends at the training center. He is always looking for more buddies, though.

Is he in any classes?
He is. We recently enrolled him in Conformation Class. This training is for humans in how to handle dogs in a breed show ring. The dog is just going along for the ride, enjoying training treats. If one listens closely, one can hear the various dogs laughing at how stressed their owners are getting. Following this class he will have more challenging ones such as Obedience, Agility, and Advanced Calculus. Who will be laughing then, Ike?? Hmmm?
Has he done anything funny lately?
This depends in large part on whether your definition of “funny” is being a participant, or an observer.
I will relate a humorous episode after the Q&A Period.

Do you have any regrets about getting him?
None what so ever. He has been a real blessing to us.

Would you sell him?
As is the case with most dogs, we wouldn't take a million dollars for him, and at times, wouldn't give 2 cents  for another one just like him.
Now, for the amusing anecdote...
Have you ever had the impression things happen for a reason? Even though the event(s) seem so randomly out of control?
Take this past Sunday, for example.

It was one of those mornings where numerous things went askew.
We woke up late.
Mimi and Ike needed more attention than normal after we came downstairs.
Breakfast took longer than usual.
Then, Lovely Bride let Ike out the back door.
We live atop a bluff, overlooking a river and marinas. The bluff is about 50 or so feet high. While it is a negotiable 40 degree or so slope immediately behind our planted area, the incline quickly approaches about a 60 degree or more pitch. This part of the cliff is inhabited with grape vines, wild blackberries, daylilies, and so on.

It was this exact area Ike decided to explore.

The inducement was the remnants of a moldy squash which had been tossed down the hillside to feed the raccoons. Apparently finding it too disgusting for their liking, the raccoons left it.
LB called for him to come, and he did respond. Only, his hind legs were tangled in the various vines and runners from all the vegetation. While attempting to advance, these would draw tighter about his legs. As LB and I were the only ones present, the options of who was going to descend the Hill of Doom and rescue the dog were somewhat slim.
Carefully, I worked my way down the slope; hoping my stupid loafers didn't slip. I found myself at the point of the bluff where the angle of descent becomes quite steep. Undeterred, I continued on, supporting my self with a stout goldenrod stalk. I quickly assessed the situation; realizing he was hopelessly entangled. Removing the knife from my pocket;  with a quick flip of the thumb-stud, the blade locked open. Reaching toward Ike, I freed him with just a couple of swipes; severing the vines and brambles holding him. And people laugh at red-necks always having a knife on them.

Happily he bounded up the cliff to see Cindy.

Replacing the knife in my pants pocket; I, however, was faced with the prospect of ascending the obstacle. No wonder the Erie Indians built their village on this bluff! It makes it very tough for an enemy to attack from the river. After pulling my self back up by grapevines and such, I was able to step upon level ground. Happily, I went in the house to get a cup of coffee.
I observed Ike sniffling around the hostas. Then, his little white behind was seen going over the side of the cliff! The little goof went right back to the same place!!
Setting my cup on the patio table with a sigh, I again descended the face of the bluff. I again cut him free from some new vines he found. With a sense of deja-vu, I watched as his little butt bounded back up the slope. And.. .again... feeling like Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Mt. Everest, I pulled my self up.

All this in my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes!
The clock showed we were going to be about a half-hour late for church. I was not about to walk into the service that late, no Sirree Bob!
So, we opted to go visiting a different church. Which was very good. Their service started at 11, so we were only about 2 minutes late. We reconnected with some friends we had not seen in some time, enjoyed a very good, impactful message, and Lovely Bride got a speaking engagement with the Ladies Group.
Yep, even with a puppy, and all the seemingly disconnected events that occur; things happen for a reason.
We just have to be open to what God is trying to tell us.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shut Down!

Government Shuts Down!!
Shouting from the front page of the paper, screaming from the speakers of the radio, bleating from the talking heads on television. If one lived in a cave, they may be immune to the relentless babble.
We have been bombarded with information regarding “non-essential” Federal employees being “furloughed”, a polite way of saying “laid off.”
See, here in the Industrial Heartland of the Midwest, we can handle the harsh reality of the term “lay-off”. We are a tough, non-nonsense breed up here. Just tell it like it is. We don't need the sugar coating of “furloughed”, “reduction in force” or other more gentle terms.

. Get to the point: “Dude, we have no authority to spend money. You are laid off until we can. Sorry.”
What struck me as an oxymoron is the designation: “ non-essential”.
For example; a keeper at the National Zoo, who feeds and cares for living creatures; is that person “non essential”? If one were to ask the pandas or the giraffes if having food, water, veterinary treatment, clean living quarters is non-essential, you may get a difference of opinion.
What about the Physical Therapist in a VA hospital providing treatment to the returning veteran missing a leg? To that service person, therapy may be quite essential.
The USDA will curtail food inspections, as this is non-essential. Somehow, I cannot equate ensuring a safe food supply with being unnecessary.
While Social Security checks will go out, new applications will not be processed. This can be problematic to seniors or disabled folks who truly have a need.
Our son is a nuclear engineer, charged with monitoring environmental radiation. To the personnel assigned to the base he works at, to the residents of the surrounding community, to the wildlife near by; they may consider his efforts as “essential”.
On and on the list goes... National Parks, the Smithsonian, FDA, and others.
From my perspective, given the never-ending finger-pointing, blame-laying, and fault- finding (hmm sounds like Eastlake politics), the only true “non-essential” Federal workers are located within the Capitol building and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Still... being the historian that I am, the idea of Federal Shutdowns triggered a thought in my folliclely challenged head: Just how many times has the Government shut down?
Do you realize... since 1976... The Federal Government has shut down EIGHTEEN times?
Yes, it is true.

Once in 1976, three times in '77, once in '78, once in '79, once in '81, twice in '82, once in '83, twice in '84, once in '86 and '87. Again, one time in '90, two times in '95, and now, once in '13.
Neither political party has a monopoly on Government Shutdowns; Three Democrat Presidents and three Republican Presidents have all had shutdowns on their watch. However, the Rs lead in the number of shutdowns: 10 vs. 8. This number is skewed by the fact Reagan had two shutdowns in '82 and again in '84.
The all time leader for number of shutdowns in one Fiscal Year is Jimmy Carter; 3 in 1977.

We had an unbroken streak of Presidents with at least one shutdown from Gerald Ford (1976) until Bill Clinton had two in one year(1995).
The ONLY President to NOT have a shutdown during their time in office was George W. Bush.

As I looked back over the preceding 37 years, I came to an interesting conclusion.
Eighteen times, our government did not have authorization to pay it's bills.
Eighteen times, our world was on the brink of crumbling, to be relegated to the refuse pile of history.
Eighteen times, the pundits, talking heads, and associated experts claimed the most dire of outcomes.
Eighteen times, America was in peril.
However, the sun still rose the next day. The Stars and Stripes still waved over our land. The wolf at the door was much further away than first believed to be. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence did not cease to exist. The United States survived.
The central premise of our Nation: a government by the People, for the People, and of the People, proved sound.
I pray to God it continues to do so.