AT&T BLOWN AWAY!


Monitor

Whether or not you’ve noticed, I have been “away” for almost two weeks. Yep—disappeared, gone, adios, c-yuh.   The only semblance of “being” that I sustained through my hiatus was that of a frustrated, abandoned AT&T customer.

I did not realize it until Hurricane Irma took it away from me for nine straight days, that the Internet has become the most pervasive element in my day-to-day life. I cannot—CANNOT—function in my normal mode without it.

The Internet has become akin to other take-for-granted utilities that make up the infrastructure of my house and my body. I have lost count how many times I have impulsively gone to my computer to resolve an issue or search for information only to have a “duhhh” moment as I regain consciousness and realize there is no wifi in my life.   It’s like when the power is down.,..you still instinctively flick the wall switch because the room is dark.

Since my mobility is curtailed a bit right now thanks to some uninvited medical issues, I could not just hop on over to the nearest Starbucks, park my laptop on one of their tables and use their wifi.

What made it worse was that my service provider, AT&T, was TOTALLY unresponsive to my almost-daily pleas. Yeah, I know there’s been a hurricane and service crews are busy working in your area to restore service as quickly as possible. “But you do not understand,” I tried to explain. Then I’d tell the “representative” how my phone line is completely dead—no house phone, no Internet. And this same thing has happened three times within the past year and every time the problem was found at the location on the side of the house or at the big box just around the corner. They just need to send someone to my house to look at those two areas—it is not going to be resolved by “crews working in my area.” Twice the representative gave in and set up an appointment for a service call to my house…twice AT&T texted me and cancelled it within hours.

Like “Where’s Waldo,” I had the family on the alert to look for AT&T crews working in our area. After three days of driving around the neighborhood pretty thoroughly, nary a vehicle was discovered with the AT&T logo on its side…not one. But I was told crews are working throughout your area to restore service as quickly as possible.

So, as silently as it disappeared just after the last huff of Irma passed over the house, the Internet returned this morning. Crews must have uncovered the problem in my area and fixed it as quickly—nine days?—as possible. Good for them!

What is almost laughable is how each representative dutifully reads the same script and responds to my questions with exactly identical verbiage. There is no wavering. So, while you think you are actually talking to a live human being who will help you, uh-uh…they are all identically programmed robots…each with the same hard-to-understand accent.

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HELLO IRMA!


Irma-300x181

Well, we have had worse hurricanes hit us. I consider we dodged a bullet…a pretty substantial one.

The worst things Irma did were to steal our power for one evening and drop a lot of limbs and trees in our yard. We have some re-gardening/re-landscaping to do and that’s the worst of it, unless I discover anything else that hasn’t shown itself yet. Here are some picture…hey, grab a rake!

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HALF-CENTURY…DONE! NEXT…


AdobeStock_162858567There are certain events in our lives that often leave us for a loss of words.  Our emotions are so hyped that we cannot accurately express exactly how we feel.  Some such events are priceless moments of happiness like the birth of a child or the marriage of one.  Others are quite sad, especially the death of a loved one.  I am not very good at expressing myself when these events come around and I am prone to having to deal with a quivering lip or a swelling of tears.  Today is just this kind of occasion, fortunately not a mournful one.

50 years ago today I married the one and only true love of my life.  We had met almost five years before and from that very day forward we were inseparable. To say the least, Rosemarie and I have faced just about everything—good and bad—that 50 years of commitment have to offer.  Fortunately we have been blessed in that we have not faced, ever, a moment of distrust.  Not every couple can say that.  Trust is a must-have ingredient in a lasting relationship.

It is trust that I have to rely on today to help me communicate to Rosemarie about how much she has meant to me in my life.  I must trust her to know my precise feelings because there is no way and no words that I can use to express them.  Our relationship is beyond words.  We can complete each other’s sentences and usually know what the other is thinking—these are usual traits of a long-lasting marriage.

No relationship is 100% homogenous.  That would probably be boring.  Diversity has merit and learning how to work it into the marriage is what helps things work better.  My mother had a good perspective on this.  She openly admitted that she and my father had entered into a mixed marriage…the mix of one man and one woman.

My marriage, while still presenting challenges at this late date—none of them about the relationship itself—will go on til death do us part.  I, and I know Rosemarie, know that to be true…just as I know that today we are both at a loss of words to express how we feel about the significance of the benchmark we celebrate.  Words are not necessary–we just know.  But if anyone looks closely, they may notice my quivering lip.

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THOUGHTS ON A HOSPITAL ROOM CEILING


Close up hand of elderly patient with intravenous catheter for injection plug in hand during lying in the hospital bedI really wish I­­­ were a much smarter person. I would make it my goal to try to figure out how people—all people—can somehow transition their brains to work together in a positive, supportive mode…and that negative, disruptive, combative behavior would disappear altogether.   Okay, it’s a given, we all exhibit both sides of this scale and I am just as guilty as you.  But there needs to be no in-between mode, no gray area. Yeah, I know, good luck with that.

My brain, along with my body, has just returned home to a semi-state of normalcy after another week confined to a hospital bed. These hospital visits seem to be getting more routine as the aging process inches its way into my welcoming body.   My late brother went through the same scenario to the extent that the calls notifying us each time he was back in the hospital no longer generated the surprise and panic they did previously.

Madeline, of Ludwig Belemmans’ famed children’s book, found herself in a hospital bed, staring up at the ceiling where there was a crack that “had the habit of sometimes looking like a rabbit.” My hospital room’s ceiling had no crack. While I had much on my mind—not the least of which was whether or not the antibiotics rushing though my body’s pipelines were strong enough and timely enough to postpone a crisis—I did find myself staring at the ceiling or out the window pondering the big picture.

Basically, TV filled in on all the latest elements of life here on earth. There were hours and hours of coverage of the effects of Hurricane Harvey on Texas. While I watched all the heroics and kind deeds of people who tried their best to help the hurricane victims, this incredibly super kind, super quiet, super simple, super human being walked about my room cleaning the floor with a Swiffer. You might of sensed I was a hurricane victim and this beautiful lady made it her responsibility to make my floor especially clean and worthy of my footsteps.

How what is that? I cannot even think of the word, let along express what it means. This lady, a black lady, I am sure has felt the wrath of prejudice throughout her life. Yet, if she had a race card to play, I suspect she’d toss it back in the deck and never draw it out again. Her care and concern about me probably did not particularly stand out in her mind. She treated everyone this way—hurricane victim, hospital patient, person next to her in line at the grocery store.

I know this question is asked a gazillion times but it is because the answer is so elusive. How can God produce a lovely person like this and on the other hand, have a nutcase running about North Korea threating the world? It makes no sense. I do not know how to handle it. All I can do is return to my new acquaintance the same sprit, the same sincerity and the basic humanity of goodness that she showers upon everyone—no pre-conditions required, no questions asked. And it would be with the hope that my Swiffer wipes away as many bad things as hers.

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TO LIVE…TO BAKE ANOTHER DAY


CHEF

One thing about me is that I never fear a challenge unless it involves live animals that have a tendency to bite…hard.   This has worked both ways for me. Sometimes I do okay, even surprise myself with my accomplishments. Other times it’s total disaster. Baking is one such area in which I rarely score in the middle. The results of my baking are either worthy of a magazine cover or a hasty toss into the canal out back where the turtles will render an opinion.

In the past month I attempted three projects in the kitchen.  So far, I’m battin’ zero.  For the purpose of feeling sorry for myself, I’ll share two of the big fails with you. The third one? Don’t ask.

First, I set out to duplicate this tasty apple cake my neighbor baked and shared with us. I got the top-secret family recipe after promising to paint their house and install pavers in their driveway.

Everything was going so well as I lined up the ingredients on the kitchen counter. It was an easy recipe, just a lot of steps. One thing the recipe wasn’t clear on was the size of  the pans.  I took a guess, based on the finished product my neighbor had given me. Now, if you’ve ever heard the question, “Does size really matter?” the answer is “Yes!” The recipe simply said to pour the batter into two cake pans…didn’t mention what size. I used two 8” pans. Wrong decision. Eventually the batter spilled over in the oven and it took an extra 20 minutes before I was forced to take it out because it was burning around the edges…although it never finished baking in the gooey middle of the cake. So 8” was too small. Too much batter in too small a space and you wind up with the mess that I wound up with.

A few days later, after consulting with my neighbor, I discovered she used a spring pan for the cake—like that’s 2-3 inches more than the 8” pan I used. I decided to give the oven a rest for a couple of weeks while I reestablished some self-esteem.  And then I spied a bread recipe in a magazine and the picture was irresistible. It was a recipe for Challah, formulated by TV chef, Ina Garten. Hey, I got a fancy mixer with one of the those dough hooks.  Why making this Challah, I told myself, should be a piece of cake! The mention of cake should have been a hint.

Well, I measured things out beforehand and I got all the ingredients lined up and ready to go. The dough comes out perfect. It rises taller than the giraffe we keep in the basement. When I cut it and roll it out into long pieces which then get braided, it’s all good. It looks great when it goes into the oven. I’m already smackin’ my lips.

When the baking time is up, it’s still a little pale looking. I leave it in a little longer. I want that golden brown finish on top just like the picture in the magazine. Eventually I realize that’s not happening. I don’t know why. But I have to take the bread out of the oven or it’ll be Paper Mache if it cooks any longer. So it’s tan instead off golden brown. Who cares as long as it’s not overdone, dry and crumbly inside. Oh well, the ducks in the canal out back thought it was sensational.

Like anything else, baking is a skill. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. Plus, like all art—and I consider baking an art—there is the subtlety of the “it” factor, that inner intuitive skill set that makes things come naturally to some people. It is the thing I’m missing. I keep looking for it…can’t seem to find it. Maybe it is in the oven…no doubt longer than the recipe says it should be.

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BEST OF’S


Female hands typing on white computer keyboard

A few weeks back I celebrated the 500th posting on my blog. Since then I’ve been going back and retrieving those that I think actually had something to say and said it reasonably well. I am considering compiling them into a book  Maybe I’ll buy a copy. I’ve even thought of a working title: “Stories My Fingers Wrote.”  Huh? Bear with me…

One does not wake up one morning and decide that he or she is a writer. Nope, doesn’t happen that way. Most times the decision is made for you and it is just a matter of time when it dawns on you. For some, the big reveal comes early in life and they begin banging out best-seller after best-seller. I suspect Stephen King is likely one of these people. For others it comes later. I am in that group, at least as a writer of books, but certainly not best-sellers. I wrote other things throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I retired that I began to poop out books, as many as one a year initially.

I think the concept of sitting down at a typewriter or computer keyboard and transferring thoughts residing in your brain onto a piece of paper in the form of an organized arrangement of letters is…well, it’s pretty remarkable. And if you write fiction the concept is all the more sensational since that often involves the exposure of one’s usually hidden, deeply personal thoughts. Some writers handle this latter process without any inhibitions. For others, it’s like reaching in shoulder high to adjust the position of a breached calf attempting to escape its mother’s womb and join the world of the living. It a procedure that inevitably gets messy, challenging and always draining.

Try this, if you will: find a quiet moment and sit yourself down at a keyboard, or take pen in hand if you are of the vintage sort, and proceed to write. Write what? Well, not the meaning of life, that’s for sure. No, what I want you to write is more daunting than that. I want you to write a lurid sex scene. You may show some discretion in your descriptiveness, but the details and images should pretty much be present and accounted for. So, go ahead! Have at it!

When I was confronted with this challenge I have to admit I found it hard to handle. The book I was writing at the time, ANCHOR, demanded a sex scene. Not just a stereotypical quickie moment of spontaneous combustion hidden away in a office storeroom—and no, that never happened to me. What I had to write was a scene that involved, a no-holds-barred, very sensuous session between a man and a women. And all I could think about was the fact that my family—my own children and their children—and my best friends would no doubt be reading what I wrote. How embarrassing is that? It was the only time I felt any relief from the fact that my parents were no longer with us. But what about the other people? No surprise there. Some of them did eventually offer feedback, most of them making the “whodda thunk” kind of comment. I guess they assumed I was a highly sheltered, innocent and unworldly soul unexposed to contemporary realities.  They thought me hidden away somewhere wrapped up in my blankie…with my teddy bear.

The point can be made that some writing is very emotional and it involves the whole being, body and soul. For me, the body part is made up of ten digits extending from my hands. Yes, I truly believe that my fingers are an integral part of my writing process. They pound every letter of every word onto the keyboard as the impulses stream down from my brain, traveling through my neck, then taking a hard turn left or right and proceeding around my shoulders, down my arms, through my wrists and then knuckle by knuckle until each pulse finally arrives at its destination. Here a decision is made as to upon which key shall the fingertip place itself and then apply downward pressure.  I swear that at this very moment in the writing process, my fingers—not my brain—are the determinant of what winds up on paper. I know this is true because at this moment my thoughts are always well past what my fingers are typing. And besides, why else would there be typos and misspellings?

So it is with this revelation of realizing my fingers have much to do with how and what I write, that I awaken each morning well aware that I am a writer.   It is a gift that I willingly unwrap and put to use. And at those times when I am stalled or my memory is amiss, I take comfort knowing the resolution—the answer—is right there…it’s on my fingertips.

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PICTURES WORTH A GAZILLION WORDS


SafetyPatrol

Lucky me! I have some spectacular pictures from times past—family times. The one thing I have learned from them is critical. If you have family pictures, have the people in them identified as soon as possible and make sure each picture is labeled. The unlucky me has a huge stack of pictures with no identities. It’s a hardship because I know many of the pictures must be family members; I just don’t know who’s who.

When it comes to family pictures everything is relative, pun intended. If you are not a member of the tribe you will not be enthusiastic about having to sit through someone’s slide show of family vacations or celebrations. That said, I hope you are only moderately bored as I put some of my ancestors on display. I may have shown one or two of these previously. I’ve picked just a few, and the more interesting ones at that.

First, the classic picture above taken on school steps. It is the school’s Safety Patrol of 1926. The school is the John Greenleaf Whittier elementary school in Philadelphia. It opened in 1913 and closed 100 years later, but remains on the National Registry of Historic Places. I just found a new home for this visual gem. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is eager to have it and I have mailed it off to them.  It’s better off in the Society’s collection than sitting another few decades in a storage box. Oh, did I mention that’s my mother in the second row down from the top, second young lady from the right with the lace collar and black bow down the front of her dress. She was 12 at the time. Her parents must have been proud. In fact, here they are (below left) on their wedding day in 1904, Louis and Hanna.

And while my mother’s parents where getting settled in their new life together, my father’s father, Edward W. Sr., was lookin’ mighty dapper as he held up telephone poles on some of Baltimore’s finest street corners.

I am not sure why my grandfather was alone on the corner. It certainly wasn’t from a lack of relatives. Among the herd of aunts and uncles he had was Aunt May, who gets my vote for the one family picture, above all others, that belongs in the Smithsonian. She was a train caller during World War I, subbing for a man who would normally hold such a position back then. Aunt May dutifully showed up at the station each day to call out the train arrivals and departures. She had a face only a distant great, great nephew would appreciate. Choo-choo Chaboggie!

MayKuhn6-27 copy

And last BNL, is a holiday shot of two brothers talking to the boss, making sure he knows exactly what they want for Christmas in 1953. Paul is the older lad and the especially adorable younger sibling is ah…eh….yeah, that’s me, age 8.

PaulMarcXmasx                                              Don’t you just love a tweed overcoat!

*****

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Burrowing Owls Dig Florida


IMG_7360smafphoto

So things are a little rough for you right now, huh? Well, more than likely things could be worse. Take the burrowing owls of Broward County here in South Florida. Their homes are literally being plowed over or bulldozed under by that great American plight known as “development.” Be it urban or suburban, commercial or residential, the land that has served as home to the owls is being claimed and they’re not included in the deal.

Quite coincidentally, Saturday evening I was over in a park just up the street from my home. My mission: get a few photographs of the burrowing owls that inhabit about a half dozen roped-off areas in the park. The very next morning there’s a headline story about them in Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been scooped.

There are a good number of burrowing owls in Florida, thanks to the drainage of wetlands that has taken place over the past half-century. While this provided a welcoming environment to the burrowing owl, what the state giveth, the state is taking away.  Development of many of these drained areas has now threatened the owls residency in the sunshine state. Legislators have in the past, and continue now to pass legislation restricting blatant destruction of the owls’ habitat.

IMG_7313twosomeThey are pretty unique as owls go. First, they live in the ground, not up in trees or in the hayloft of barns. Their homes can reach as much as 8-feet down under. The park near my home has roped off each roost. The owls are pretty used to having humans around and they don’t skitter easily as long as you stay out of their roped area. They are cute little creatures and a for-sure attraction for children, especially when these owls turn their heads to look around. Their heads seem to swivel 360 degrees like the turret on R2-D2. They eat mostly bugs and other tiny thingies.  Area hawks that swoop in from the nearby Everglades eat them.IMG_7335single

If you are into wildlife, South Florida has much to offer. And it’s all practically in your face.  You can pick a topic or an animal and no doubt instantly go strutting off on a nature walk to find it. But be careful what you wish for…’dars alligators out there! Many creatures, large and small, tame and not-so-tame have found a permanent home here. Others, like the burrowing owl may have to relocate, assuming developers continue not to give a hoot.

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HOW GOES THE SLEEP?


newsanchor

Since I have devoted several postings to my sleep disorder, people almost always ask how goes it. So I thought I’d do a brief update on the innovative procedure I had done several months ago as discussed here several times on my blog.  But first a quick background paragraph for any newcomers.

I suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Many people share my disorder. When the body sleeps the muscles relax. As my tongue relaxes it drops down and closes off my airway. Soon, my brain realizes it’s not getting any fresh oxygen and it wakes me up so I start breathing again. Hence I fall asleep only to be awaken soon after. The cycle repeats throughout the night depriving me of quality sleep. Man with sleep apnea using a CPAP machine in bed.The common relief for OSA is a mask worn on the face called CPAP (see victim on the right). It’s hooked up to a  pump that keeps an airflow going through the nostrils and eventually down into the lungs. It works fine keeping the airway open, but many people find the mask and airflow so annoying and uncomfortable that they cannot sleep while wearing it. For these people, me included, there is a new technology modeled after the pacemaker that heart patients have had success with. It’s call Inspire and if you want information about it, go to https://www.inspiresleep.com. This process involves a module being embedded under the skin in the upper right chest. Two leads are hooked up to this module. One goes to the lungs, the other to the base of the tongue. The patient activates the system with an external remote control. In short, it sends stimulants to the muscle at the base of the tongue and constantly moves it out of the airway. It is so new that I am only the 32nd person in Florida to have the Inspire implant “installed.” After the implant surgery there is a period of adjustment to determine the amount of stimulant an individual patient needs. Okay, that’s as brief as I can be in offering some background of the issue. I am sure you can google OSA and get lots more.

My Inspire unit was activated on June 9th and the adjustment process continues. The trick is to determine a setting that stimulates the tongue enough to clear the airway, but not so much that it wakes you up. I have quickly learned that an independently moving tongue can wake you up and keep you up. I haven’t found “my” setting yet so the Inspire system is still a process of trial and error for me. However, the unit has improved my sleeping in two ways: I am sleeping in longer “chunks” than previously so it must be working to some degree in reducing the number of times my air passage is closed down. And, two, I seem to be more restful and still when I am asleep. This is according to the wife and the fact that the bed isn’t blown apart by the time morning comes.

The main issue that keeps the Inspire system from being an “overnight” success story for me is that through the years of being up so much during the normal sleep cycle, I have developed a good strong case of insomnia. Inspire has no effect on this.

So battling the insomnia is my new challenge. If I can force myself to stay in bed and fight the restlessness it may give the implant the environment it needs to help me sleep for much longer periods of time. I guess you could say I am a work in progress…but that’s been the case all my life. I will opt for the in-progress status assuming that having achieved a work-completed status probably means funeral arrangements are being made…and that’s a longer period of sleep than I really want.

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A GRASS FROM THE PAST


ARCHIVEGRASSFour years ago, in July, I posted a piece on Marc’s Blog very similar to an edition I just posted prior to this one (about growing grass, the lawn type) …but I didn’t remember anything about the earlier posting until I stumbled upon it today.  It’s a good follow-up to my current dilemma of attempting to grow grass which, btw, doesn’t seem to be progressing very well.  Anyway, here’s the posting fresh out of the archives…

 

GRASS…THE GREAT EQUALIZER!

grass

The closest I come to being a serial killer is attempting to raise a bunch of potted plants on my back porch.  I confess, I am not good at growing things except whiskers.  Especially lacking are my skills for growing grass.  NO, not that kind.  The kind that covers the ground around my house. That is why I live in a community that has a homeowners’ association.  They take care of the grass.  I take care of my house.  It’ a good deal.

My friend, Ron, however, doesn’t have such a deal.  His homeowners’ association consists of one associate–him.  So Ron has to deal with things like lawn mowers, edgers, fertilizers and weed killers.  It’s enough to make a man…well, it makes him suburban.  Explain what that means, willyuh Ron…

*****

I AM NOT MY LAWN

By Ron Carmean, Contributing Editor

 A few years ago, my wife and I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Houses were attractive, neighbors appeared friendly and the developers had left a significant amount of trees and grass. Usually, in such a setting, the trees were removed, then the area is named Whispering Willows or Maple Grove –without a tree in sight.

As time passed, I noticed the properties around us had lawns that could double for a PGA putting green.  Men put in more time with their lawns than with their children.  Chemicals from large trucks covered every inch of lawn with “growth producing substances.”  (We kept our dog away, just in case.)

Mowing grass was practically an Olympic event.  At least once a week, men saddled up their riding mowers and the race was on.  Who would finish first?  Of course, neatness counted, too.  Some men clipped the edges of their lawn, while on their knees, with tools looking suspiciously like scissors.  One go-around was not enough.  These people were serious.  At least a second cutting was necessary.

Then the borders were addressed.  Flowers, bushes, miniature Christmas trees were tended to next.  Mother Nature was no match for these groundskeepers.  Suburban men meant to improve on God’s handiwork.

When done, they rode over their handiwork a third time to collect clippings.  Most bagged them as the law required.  But one lone wolf turned up his nose at such regulations and poured his excess grass down a sewer.

In comparison, our grass looked at us with a sad, half-green, half-brown stare.  A lawn expert told us why.  Our property was “down hill from the surrounding homes.”  When rain hit their grounds, it flowed to us.  We had puddles the size of kiddie pools.  Top soil was eroded with every rain fall.  In some places, the most shallow tree roots were exposed.  Not a pleasant site, and as daylight disappeared, tripping and spraining or breaking an angle was a constant concern.  I thought of posting a sign: “No strolling after dark.”  But why point out the obvious. Beneath what remaining grass we had was clay—apparently it doesn’t absorb water quickly or efficiently.

Undeterred, we seeded our grounds and cut it regularly—not  too much, not too little.  The end result of our labors: another half-green, half-brown stare…but cut to the ideal height.

Six months into our occupation, my wife and I, at the supermarket, overheard women talking about properties in our vicinity.  One said: “You can tell so much about people just from the condition of their lawn.  If the outside isn’t well-kept, you know the inside is just as bad.”  I thought: “Wait a minute.  I’m a nice guy.  I treat people fairly.  I keep our home in good condition.  But I can’t get blood from a stone, or grow green grass under our conditions.  Besides, I am not my lawn.   Can’t you see that?” But these women had come to a different conclusion.  Plus, they lived up stream from us.  I bit my tongue. I still have the teeth marks.

*****

I wonder if Ron remembers that New Christy Minstrels ditty…

Green, green,
It’s green they say,
On the far side of the hill.
Green, green,
I’m going away to where
The grass is greener still.

 *****

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