November 2010


This turns out to have been a pretty major holiday for us this year.  Mel’s brother and wife drove down from Aspen, Colorado to visit with the family here and we ended up hosting the Thanksgiving feast.  Mel also got appointed to cook the turkey.

I could have sworn that we had prepared a turkey before but she assures me that she never has.  I guess I just remembered buying a “thanksgiving dinner in a box” from the grocery store and misinterpreted the memory as “cooking a turkey”.  At any rate, we followed the instructions given in a series of videos on the Butterball website and everything came out fine.  I don’t ever remember having a turkey as a child that wasn’t totally dry and this was really juicy so I’d say we did well; and by “we”, I mean Melissa.  I just stood there to serve as a sounding board for her thought process.  And to lift the heavy tray into the oven.

I guess it’s common for there to be a bag inside the turkey containing the neck and a few internal organs.  That was totally gross.

I actually took the entire week off and spent Monday having fun in my own way:  learning some electronics and building some circuits in the garage.  Tuesday I had to spend starting The Great Cleaning of the house.  Mel and Erin were out of school on Wednesday and it was then that we finished up all the other prep work.  Evan was finished with classes Tuesday afternoon so he joined us for that too. He tried to find a holiday job but everybody said they already had their seasonal help lined up so I think he’s out of luck there.

Thursday’s feast went well.  I volunteered to ask the blessing since, for years, Mel’s late mother did it.  She was pretty adamant that it be done right; i.e., her way.  Her way was typically fairly long-winded.  With her sadly no longer with us, I stepped up and offered a classic Methodist blessing:  in other words, it was short and to the point.  Several folks commented later that they really like the shortness; apparently long, drawn out prayers are a common beef.  Especially amongst Baptists which includes most of Mel’s family.

At any rate, there were so many people in our house that it got uncomfortably hot for me although nobody else seemed put out by it.  Her brother also brought along his two dogs who both stayed at the back door staring longingly at us and our food.  Probably they were only staring at our food.

My wonderful Eye-Fi card in my camera failed in its mission to automatically transfer the photos to the computer as I took them which annoyed me.  Erin sarcastically asked me if I really had to actually drag and drop the files with a mouse but dammit that’s what the stupid Eye-Fi is supposed to do:  automatically and wirelessly transfer photos.  If it doesn’t do that, it’s nothing but an SD card.  I got it working the next day but it still galls me.  Lesson for everybody:  never upgrade software – EVER; unless it’s not working. If it’s working, leave it alone.

Friday, Mel and Erin headed out to go shopping as is their annual habit although they didn’t leave all that early – at least the sun was up.  They didn’t even buy that much; they just did it for the excitement and fellowship I guess.  I’m so glad they didn’t make me go. I stayed at home and just reveled in the fact that I was not at work which has been a bit dull of late.

We didn’t do much after that.  Evan and I got down the Christmas decorations from the attic and I made him and Erin put the tree together and put on the decorations.  We spread this out over a couple of days.  Ironically, the fake tree actually drops about as many needles as a real tree would.  Saturday afternoon, we all sat down to watch the Arkansas-LSU game and we finished up the decorations during halftime.  Evan had originally intended to go to the game in Little Rock and stay with friends but we talked him out of it. They won though so he would have had a great time with his buddies.  We were selfish though and wanted him to be with us.

Sunday, Mel’s brother and wife came back through town (they had been in Fayetteville buying a car) and we had breakfast with them.  After that Evan packed his stuff and headed back to the university to prepare for finals.  I spent a few hours out in the yard raking leaves out of the flower beds and listening to Nickel Creek songs on my iPod.  I’m not sure if it’s the fact that Evan had gone or that the music was mournful but I ended up in a very somber mood.  That’s not exactly the sort of mood you should be in while you’re putting Christmas lights on the house but that was the way of it.  All week long we had been talking of his graduation and subsequent career and, with thoughts of Erin going off to college next fall, I suddenly became aware of the impending end of parenthood.  I know it’s the way of all things and I know that occasionally I’ve wished for it but now that it’s here, I’m saddened by it.  The columnist James Lileks once made reference to times like this “where you not only hear Time’s Winged Chariot, but feel the hoof hit you in the back of the head”.

So I feel like it was a major holiday; one which we’ll have more than the usual number of memories about later.

The week-long run of “Our Town” has finished up and Erin is exhausted.  She had a major role this year and that meant lots of lines to remember and lots of times to deliver them.  Her role (Emily Webb if anybody is familiar with the play) is an emotional one and so requires some energy to do correctly.  Plus, in order to stage it the way she wanted, the director chose to only allow about 150 people to attend per performance (seats arranged on the stage so the audience is very close to the performers).  This required there to be more performances than usual to make up the difference at the box office and so Erin was dog-tired after all that.

But the performances went really well.  We all enjoyed them; Mel and I went to three out of the five.  The part was double cast and so Erin only performed three of them and we only wanted to see those three (although Erin had to be present for all of them – usually to help with set changes, makeup, etc).  For me it was very weird to see my daughter playing a character that got married and then died in childbirth.  Erin was quick to remind me that it was a play and that she was acting but still.  It’s supposed to tug at the audience’s heartstrings and it did. 

We’re all glad it’s over though.  It’s fun to be the star of the show but it’s tiring.  Erin says that the spring musical is going to be “Little Shop of Horrors” and she’s definitely not trying out for anything major.   She’s joking that she’s auditioning for the role in the chorus called “sassy black woman”.

I got my hair cut Tuesday. Every Tuesday night, there’s a local bluegrass jam there after the barber shop closes. I’ve written about that before but it took two years or so for me to go back.

Spectators are discouraged and so when one of the guys took a break to have a smoke outside he handed me his guitar and told me to play.

It was one of those oddly stressful but not in a bad way moments where I thought I wasn’t ready but discovered that I knew quite enough to chop my way along with them even though I didn’t know any of the tunes. By watching the left hand of the guy on my left I was able to muddle through.

It seems spectators are discouraged because of a group chemistry thing. With an audience there is a pressure to perform rather than just participate and enjoy. It all makes sense now that I’ve sat in once.

They don’t follow the bluegrass algorithm that I learned from a friend (and a book) where each instrument takes the melody line for one round and it passes around the circle. Instead, each guy picked a song, announced the key, and sang the melody.

Since I was new, they passed me by at my request although not without some pressure.

It was pretty exhilarating and good in the makes-you-practice sort of way. They’re all friendly but I wonder if this is the sort of thing I should set myself up for. The answer is undoubtedly yes; I had the same questions about my first job interview and that was obviously a no-brainer.

I guess it’s good to have a list of things you want to do; it’s better than boredom and watching reality TV.

My friend who wanted to do the guitar stuff has bought a house which has got him too busy to mess with it now which is just as well since I find I have to learn a lot of electronics first.

Luckily I have a good friend who is not only a whiz with electronics but also willing to teach it to me.

Then there’s the acoustic guitar project. I need a large number of a special type of clamp that will gently but firmly hold the pieces while they’re glued. They look easily home made to me and so I embarked upon a project to build them. Thus far, things have gone great but I’m in the middle of production and that’s annoying since I have my machines set up a certain way and can’t move them until I’m done.

It’s all good though. I like having stuff to do.

Here’s some things I’ve learned that I didn’t learn from a guitar teacher.

1) if you say you know how to play even a little guitar, you’d better be prepared to play something. It can’t just be a riff from something, it has to be a real tune although it need not be something the listener knows.

2) If you attend a jam, spectators are not allowed. You better be prepared to sit in and play.

3) At a jam, it’s actually pretty easy to figure out what chords to play. Most jam tunes are in the I, IV, V progression which is easy to chop your way through.

4) It’s a bit less stressful to play with people you don’t know. Something about preconceived notions or something.

5) If you don’t totally suck; if you can play and sing at the same time and can avoid sharping and flatting, you’re probably good enough to actually be in a band. The singing thing eliminates 90% of the population.

6) Thou shalt tune your instrument carefully. The difference between harmony and caterwauling is very small.

I’ve never had a broken bone or any other malady that required anything other than a trip to the ordinary doctor’s office.  And I thank God for that.  I’ve taken Melissa a number of times unfortunately for one thing or another but I’ve never been behind that big set of doors they always take the patients through.

Until now.

Fortunately for me, it was only a colonoscopy which my doctor ordered because I turned 50.  I put it off for one year since the last time he mentioned it, I was only 49 and 11 months old but this year, there was no putting it off. Thankfully it passed (HA!) without incident.  Of course, the classic description of the colonoscopy procedure was written by  Dave Barry and this was my only source of information on the whole thing before I went in.  Perhaps I should have researched it more but the gastroenterologist didn’t give me much more than that; preferring to simply tell me that it was no big deal and just enjoy the day off.

I won’t say that it was a barrel of monkeys but the worst part was the prep which took the form of choking down about half a gallon of thermonuclear laxative and then spending the rest of the day very near the master bathroom.  That stuff didn’t taste all that bad but it was nasty enough that it was really difficult to get it down especially considering what it was.  I knew its intended effect and so was not enthusiastic about it at all. Plus it was slightly salty and slippery which made it remind me very much of snot.  I researched the active ingredient and indeed it is sometimes used as a lubricant such as in inkjet printer ink cartridges.  It is also used to preserve wood that has been submerged such as sunken ships that are raised and restored for museums.  Woodworkers use it to replace the water in green wood to reduce warpage.  And of course the extreme laxative characteristics are the primary use.

I guess I now have a hint of what cholera must be like.  At times, I felt like my eyeballs were drying out and I would then go get some water to drink.  That was Halloween and so I was not called upon to service the many trick-or-treaters that rang the doorbell. 

The best part of the whole thing was the anesthetic.  I was worried about this since I have never had anything other than the face-numbing stuff you get at the dentist.  I was told that I would not remember a thing and indeed the last thing I remember was a nurse saying something like “OK, you’re going to sleep now” and that was all I remember until somebody said my name and I realized I was in a different room.  I also had to think long and hard to respond.  I slurred the response like I was drugged – which of course I was.  I’m actually happy to learn that my body’s response to this is absolutely classical and that I don’t have any weird allergy nor do I get nauseous from it.  I just go to sleep which is what the doctor wants in that case.  I kept going back to sleep and they kept saying my name which I guess at some deep level is really important to me because that always woke me up. 

I also expected there to be some residual sensation from having someone drive a hose up my backside but there was none.  I don’t like to think of the fact that I was lying there with my ass exposed to strangers but it’s something they do every day and for them it’s just another day at the office.  *shudder* What a job!

The thing I really disliked about the entire experience is entirely my fault:  I didn’t like being out of control of the situation or at least fully aware.  I didn’t like taking my clothes off and laying there in a gown with no backside to speak of.  I hated being wheeled around through a labyrinth of hallways in a bed and did not like being in a wheelchair at the end.  I didn’t like being wheeled into a holding area surrounded by (but separated by privacy curtains) other people who were waiting on surgeries and who were all old, sick, and miserable.  I didn’t like the possibility of being drugged and incoherent.  I make a living with my brain and don’t like slowing it down or stopping it with chemicals.

Having said that, I must say that everyone at the hospital was super nice and had made every effort to preserve as much privacy and dignity as possible.  The doctor who drove the hose was incredibly chipper considering his job.  I’m sure he makes a great deal of money but I don’t begrudge him a penny – he deserves a fortune for dealing with colons all day every day.

I was only there for a couple of hours and when I left, I felt fine and was able to go eat anything I wanted and do just about anything although I was told not to drive and not to make any important decisions or any large purchases (Ha!).  Too bad; Evan just lost his iPod touch and that would have been his chance to hit me up to replace it.  Of course, Mel was there and it was her job to have the common sense for the day.  I ended up napping a lot the rest of the day.