Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Where did the summer go?

What a summer it's been! I can't believe it's gone already. So much has happened, both in the world and for me personally, it's hard to keep track of it all.
Essay Interruptus
I started a post on the situation in Iraq some time ago, and was just working myself up to a froth of enthusiasm in my writing when Katrina hit. Along with the rest of the nation, I forgot (at least temporarily) about the situation overseas and concentrated on what was going on at home. We watched in horror as the situation worsened and FEMA failed to do its job. For that matter, most public service organizations failed to do their job. That is, with the exception of the media. I'm not the first, nor will I be the last to comment on the outstanding job the media did on reporting about the disaster. There's hope for that den of iniquity yet.
I have to take a moment to call out my pride for my wife's participation in the relief effort. It wasn't TV-quality heroism, but she and our good friend Kathy definitely did their part.
The story goes that we're somewhat more closely associated to a particular person in Louisiana than we are to Kevin Bacon (a friend of ours has a sister in law who... well, that's where I lose it). This particular someone has something to do with a children's charity in Baton Rouge, and they are getting a lot of refugee traffic; displaced children who may or may not have parents left after Katrina came through. By e-mail, a call went out for supplies specific to their need, and after three or four forwards, Jen and Kathy had a hold of it. The two of them have spent over a thousand dollars and many hours of otherwise useful time gathering, packing and shipping food, clothing, school supplies and whatever else seemed appropriate down to Baton Rouge. However much good the Red Cross is doing in the region, I can't help but think that the timeliness and direct response of everyone who answered the call in that e-mail was more help than could have been received from any large, general relief organization. I don't recommend responding to every call for help that comes in, as I'm sure scams are running amok on the Internet, but do a little research, figure out how to help, and do something. It's good for everyone.
Las Vegas, Round One
In May, we went with a group of friends to our favorite vacation destination in the western U.S., Las Vegas, Nevada. Of the eight of us going (four couples), only Jen and I had been there recently enough to know one end of The Strip from another. Two of the couples had never been at all.
The most straightforward thing to say about the trip is that friends don't necessarily make good traveling companions. Over our five day stay, we generally had a good time, but Vegas is one of those places where you have to turn yourself up to eleven to really get into the groove of it and experience it the way it's designed. Most of our crew seemed content to sit by the hotel pool and drink cheap cocktails rather than go out and do much. The times we did get out, communication within the group was so bad that often one couple or another got left behind somewhere to fend for themselves. Too many hours were spent looking for one another rather than doing things, and I'm not sure that anyone's expectations were really met for the trip overall. Cap that with one couple announcing that they had a bun in the oven (yay!), causing her to be somewhat emotional (hormones) and him to be very reactionary (more hormones, I suppose) made for a long trip.
Mind you, at the end of it all, we're all still friends, and the trip wasn't a total bust. But for future trips (read below), we're using a new ruleset when selecting travel partners, and setting expectations for everyone up front. When you try new things, you learn new things. Using what you learn is the trick, right?
These Things Happen in Threes
I have to say that I'm feeling a bit assaulted this year with the scythe of death. In April, my father-in-law Clark, who had been in a slow decline of health for several years, but was still living life, suffered a massive heart attack while at home. His wife, Nova, was quick to call the ambulance, and they were quick to respond, but it seemed that God had other plans for him, and, after three days of various attempts to revive him, he passed away with his loving family at his bedside, the lot of us crying and holding onto each other. It was Easter Sunday, which, as I remember, is Clark's favorite holiday. It's just like him to settle on that day for his time to go.
A few weeks later, in May, my mom's husband (my step-father, as it were), suffered a massive stroke while at home (why do doctors always use the word "massive"?). His wife (my mom) called the ambulance promptly, and they were prompt to respond, but again, God had other plans for him, and after only two days of various tests, he passed away with loving family in attendance. It was no particular holiday, but then Percy didn't care much for holidays anyway, so it was appropriate. He and Mom had been together for nineteen years.
After Percy passed away, two people within the scope of two days said to my wife, "Ooh! You know, these things happen in threes!" What a terrible thing to say, even if were true. Well, as it stands, Death struck a third time in my family.
Just last month, in September, after many, many years of declining health, my grandfather (my dad's father), passed away quietly in the nursing home where he resided. A year ago May, his wife passed away due to the long term complications of diabetes. Grandpa, ever the pragmatist (though not to the degree that Grandma was), was simply waiting patiently to go be with the love of his life. They had been married more than fifty years when she passed away, and he was somewhat lost without her. My one regret is that I wish I'd known them better. Listening to the people talk about them at both memorial services made me realize just how much we had in common with one another, and just how little we knew each other. It was a realization made too late, and I'd do things differently if I were able.
If there's anyone in your life that you wish you knew better, just get to know them. In my experience, people aren't as hard to get to know as you might think, and common ground is plentiful. Regrets are tough to swallow, and they rarely digest, instead sitting like a lump in your stomach until you finally cough them up.
The Yard Project That Won't End
After experiencing two family deaths in five weeks, I came to a realization that things around the house weren't getting themselves done, and that I should quit lazing around and get a few things done. A couple of years ago, we put a patio in our backyard and surrounded our front yard with a retaining wall. The front yard was more or less re-landscaped, but the backyard looked more like a jungle than anything else, and the huge mound of dirt excavated from the space the patio went into had more or less eaten what was left of our lawn space, now an overgrown weed patch.
Since my back was still having problems from the car wreck last December, I decided that hiring the work done was the only way it was going to happen. A neighbor knew a guy who did general laboring and put us in touch. After a little negotiation, a crew showed up and started working. With very little fuss, the backyard was stripped bald and the mound was distributed into spaces we were going to make raised gardens in. Hey, this is looking good, I thought. Progress is exciting.
To make a long story short, it turned out that Diego was a roofing contractor by trade, and just did general labor stuff when things were slow. I can't remember exactly how it went, but it wasn't long before we had a new roof ordered. From there, my wife insisted we paint the exterior (it needed it badly). Well, since the new roof was going on, how about putting a roof over the porch? Yup, that'll look silly with the brick facade. Tear that out. What's going up around the raised beds? We went from 2x6 lumber to stacked stone in short order. The extra expense was worth it, because it sure looks nice. Then sod went down in the back, and barkmulch kept the mud down until we can get bedding plants in. Things are really looking up.
But the cold weather is more or less here, and in Portland, when it starts to rain, it generally doesn't end until June except for one week in February where you get teased with clear, cold skies. Well, it's starting to look like that weather is here, and the house trim isn't painted, the pillars for the porch roof aren't done, the storage shed isn't built, the slate tile covering the area the brick was removed from isn't up, and we still don't have any bedding plants. Did I mention that the front of our house has no lighting? It's just over ten weeks until Christmas, and we have family coming for the holidays. Aaaahhhhhhh!!!
Las Vegas, Round Two
The second trip to Las Vegas this year was to celebrate Jen's 40th birthday. This time around, we stayed on The Strip, at The Aladdin. I'll say briefly that, while the casino and mall are nice enough, I wouldn't stay in the hotel again. It's not a bad hotel, it's just not a good one either. For the money you pay to get a room there, the room should be much nicer, and not reminiscent of a Motel6.
Once again, we found ourselves out of sync with our traveling companions, but not to the degree we had been on our previous trip. We had one good meal at The Commander's Palace in the Aladdin. The food there was excellent, and worth every bit of the large sum of money we spent on it. Another night, we ate at one of Emeril Lagasse's fish restaurants in the MGM Grand and about half of us weren't impressed at all. Couple that with Jen having an attack of food poisoning from something she ate earlier in the day, and the meal made for somewhat less than a fond memory. The wine was good, though.
I think I'm more or less done with Vegas for a little while at least. Our tastes in things to do and places to go run just high enough that we need to have a more flexible budget when we go there again, and, frankly, I find the trips down there essentially run between waiting around for something to happen and rushing to get to the next happening thing. I want my next vacation to involve a lot of lying around on a beach with nothing to worry about for a week or so. After I've become bored by that, maybe we'll schedule another trip to Sin City. And when we do, we're going to go in style.


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