If this is your first time visiting, welcome. If you are returning again, welcome back. While this blog was originally not going to be about me or my life, it seems to be morphing to include more of myself and experiences. I will still strive to add a different perspective to the news and events around the world that impact everyone's life,however, I will focus more attention on issues that relate more tangibly to our personal lives. We all live in a world that is increasingly interconnected yet it seems a lot of people are turning inwards, shying away from human interaction. Lets step away from ourselves and see what we can do to make a difference. There are ads on this page and 65 cents of every dollar earned will be donated towards helping the homeless. If you like what you are reading, please share it with your friends.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Friends, Coming and Going

Yesterday I was working, thinking as always, and my mind drifted around the idea of friends.  I got to thinking about the friends that I have, meaning friends I actually talk to and not my plethora of Facebook "friends", and I began to think about how I actually formed relationships with the friends that I have.  I know its not exactly something that we think about on a regular basis, but the idea of trying to figure out how we came to know who we know intrigues me.  Out of the good friends that I have, I'll say a solid 3 (only because I have known them the longest and have the strongest relationship with them), two of them came from my time spent in college and the other has been a lifelong friend.  Let me flesh that out a bit for you.  The friend that I have known the longest and still maintain contact with, oh, about 26 out of my 30 years of life, started in nursery school.  We had similar interests at the time, playing with blocks and building things, and from there as they say, the rest is history.  We ended up going to the same grammar school and high school, and throughout those years, our friendship had its ups and downs, but we still somehow maintained our friendship and at this point unless something drastic happens, I am sure we will probably be friends for life.  Those basic fundamental interests that started our friendship still exist and in part, that's probably a good reason why we are still friends; in addition to being there for each other in a pinch and simply talking from time to time.  But this friendship of 26 years is not the one that got me thinking about how we formulate relationships with others and get to the point where we can call them friends.  In fact, its not even the next two I will tell you about, but they are worth talking about for illustration purposes.  While my friend of 26 years is one of my better friends, there was another person I became friends with who has become one of my best friends, not in terms of how often we see each other (very little), but in terms of our similarities in thought processes, approach to life, and ability to challenge each other on many levels.  I met this other friend of mine, scary as it may seem to write it, about 12 years ago at St. Bonaventure University.  It was a random coincidence that we ran into each other during freshman orientation, yet that was all it took to begin a friendship that has lasted years, even with thousands of miles between us now and only the random phone call to check in.  To be honest, I don't even know what sparked the initial conversation, but something clicked between us and our friendship grew. 
The other great friend of mine, who I actually just saw yesterday during a lull in his travels, was another random run in at another college I attended, Southern Connecticut State University.  We were both standing around waiting for class to begin, and somehow a conversation was started over a specific subject and from there on out, we became friends.  I do remember how this friendship started, but some things are better left unsaid, and this is one of them.  This friendship of mine, enduring about 10 years of my life, is still a solid friendship.  This is yet another friend who I don't get to see that often as he is on the road for work the majority of the time and rarely makes it back to Connecticut.  Yet, despite the distances between us or the time between seeing each other, the friendship we forged over shared interests grew and we still maintain contact with each other.  Of the three friendships I just described, all three individuals couldn't be any different from each other.  If you put the three of them in a room, maybe two would start talking to each other, then again, maybe not.  Its odd how different the three of these friends are from each other, but perhaps that speaks to my odd nature or my varied interests that have brought me to different people over the years.  Even now, with more recent friendships that have started, the individuals are of completely different natures.  In short, I forge friendships with unique and odd individuals, yet ones who are down to earth and share at least some interests.  Of the friendships I have forged over the past 5 years, the basis for how they began varies greatly.  A few began due to business and grew from there, some more than others.  One of those friends actually started playing on my dart team and got me into kickball.  And just this past year, that same friend brought one of his friends onto our dart team whom I now consider a friend as well, in fact, maybe more of a friend than his friend who introduced us.  While all the guys on my dart team are "friends", there are different levels of friendship between the individuals and myself.  Some I feel closer to than others, that's just the way it goes. 
I have also had a few friends who have disappeared off the face of my world, not because effort wasn't put in to keep those friendships alive, but more due to exterior factors that dragged us apart.  Yet, I don't want to focus on those friendships that have dissipated.  To me, any friendship begins when there is at least some shared interest between the two individuals and a willingness to communicate with each other.  From there, it is about openness and honesty.  Whenever I meet someone, I know almost instantaneously if they could be a friend of mine or not, simply due to their nature, their openness, and their honesty.  I have a tendency to shy away from those that aren't themselves or who don't exhibit at least a marginal willingness to talk and share things.  We all have acquaintances, but how many of those can we consider friends?  And what exactly constitutes friendship?  I guess to me, friendship is give and take.  If you are willing to help me out and I am willing to help you out, regardless of how or why that help is given or received, then a friendship is likely.  I don't just call everyone I know a friend.  I know a lot of people on Facebook and in the real world, yet I wouldn't consider all of them to be friends by any means.  In that respect, Facebook culls us into a false sense of friendship, a labeling of a relationship that is perhaps not quite a "friendship".  Through Facebook, we can create what we think are friendships, but will they stand the test of time like those friendships that we forge in real life, face to face, open and honest?  I doubt it.  We may remain "friends" with those people on Facebook, but the majority will never be a true friend.  While I may not have a lot of close "friends", the ones that I do have are dear to me and are ones that would do anything for.  If my friends need help, I will do everything in my power to help them.  As I grow older, I will still seek out those new friends whenever they appear on my radar, and I am sure that not all of them will make the cut.  But for those that do, I look forward to a lifetime of friendship.  Wherever or however people become friends, it all starts with some sort of shared interest.  Its sometimes funny how two people meet and become friends later on, but in the end, the only important thing is that they are friends, period. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Facebook and Birthdays

I, for one, am not one of those avid Facebook users that actually pays attention to those notifications I get about when people's birthdays are.  I glance over to the right of my screen every so often and see that its someone's birthday and I think to myself, "That's nice."  And that essentially ends my involvement with people's birthdays on Facebook.  Is it a useful reminder as to when people's birthdays actually are?  Absolutely, but if I actually spent the time tracking everyone's birthday on FB and sending out those little one liners that say nothing more than "Happy Birthday", I feel like I would have no life left.  But that is the least part of what makes me never wish someone a happy birthday on FB.  My sentiments are there, however, if I don't know a person well enough to know when their birthday is without Facebook, then I don't feel its necessary to wish them a Happy Birthday online.  It may seem somewhat selfish, but its not as if I don't care about those people, I would just rather have my birthday wishes mean something more than just a single line typed on my computer, a cheap and easy way out if you will.   Whenever I see those birthday wishes floating down my news feed, I wonder how well those wishing others a happy birthday actually know them.  When was the last time that they actually saw the person they are wishing a happy birthday?  How much do they actually know about their lives?  (Its obviously quite a bit now due to FB and its ability to spread the nuanced minutia that perpetuates most people's feeds)  When do they plan on seeing that person next?  Maybe I am the oddball here (which I will readily admit to any day), but why should I wish someone a happy birthday if I haven't seen them since I graduated grammar school, oh, 17 years ago?  Don't get me wrong, I know that its a nice gesture to reach out to others and wish them a happy birthday, but I just see a FB birthday wish as a tad bit trivial and short sighted.  After all, we probably didn't know it was that person's birthday until we actually logged onto FB any given day and saw that it was their birthday. 
My other issue with wishing people a Happy Birthday on Facebook has to deal with a more personal, mental dilemma.  If I start wishing certain people a happy birthday on FB, at what point do I get to stop wishing people a HB on FB?  (From here on out, Happy Birthday will be abbreviated by HB).  To me, there is no clearly defined line at which point I can say, "I don't know that person well enough to wish them a HB."  The degrees to which I know people on FB vary greatly from almost not at all to very well.  And for the most part, the ones I know very well aren't as active on FB so to me it seems even more trivial that I begin wishing them a HB online.  The people that I would actually wish a HB are those whose phone numbers I actually have and if I saw fit, could actually call them, have a short conversation with them, and express my sentiments in real life, not in some pseudo fabricated life online.  I also get the feeling, whether it is valid or not, that some people might feel slighted if I start wishing some people a HB on FB, but not everyone.  I know that it shouldn't matter and that people shouldn't harbor ill will towards others just because they didn't receive a birthday wish on FB, but one can never truly tell.  It seems that FB has a whole different set of rules that varies from those we hold true in the real world, and I for one, will not dedicate my time to figuring them out.  I know that I am probably way over thinking the issues, but what else can I do when I see a birthday wish float down my news feed and I ponder whether or not I should hop on the train and share my sentiments with that person, even if I don't really know them.  In the end, I never hop that train and let it coast me by, perfectly content with the fact that I never wish anyone a HB on FB and that no time is a good time to start.  By now I am sure that most people reading this consider me a HB scrooge, but really, I am not.   I enjoy birthday's, especially my own, I have just never been one to glamorize them or place them on a pedestal as these all important events that should hold sway over everything else. 
Even when it comes to my own birthday, I appreciate all the HB wishes I receive, but there is no part of me that actually expects to receive them.  To me, its just another day that signifies another year gone by in my life.  If I actually paid attention to my birthday, I might have to start acting my age and I sure don't want to do that.  If I live in a sort of perpetual oblivion as to hold old I am, or at least down play my birthday, then perhaps I can act a little younger and pretend that I am not getting too old.  Yes, I know that I am still approximately only a third of the way through my life, but hey, I have to start preparing myself now for what I will have to do when I get older to pretend I am younger.  (If that made sense at all).  In any case, for me, the FB HB sentiments will not begin at any time.  I will continue on my current trend, not wishing anyone a HB on FB and at the same time, not feeling guilty about it at all.  If someone would really like me to wish them a HB, send me your phone number and I will call you; provided I remember when your birthday is.  (On a side note, I am horrible at remember when anyone's birthday is and I always have).  Even if I have someone's phone number, there is no guarantee that I will actually call them and wish them a HB.  Such is my HB way of life.  I have no regrets over it and I probably never will.  If someone feels slighted, I am sorry, but its just who I am.  In any case, my birthday is in a few weeks so make sure you wish me a HB on FB!  (Just joking, I never expect them, and I don't plan on starting to expect them now.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Camping Trial and Error

Memorial Day Weekend is typically when we make our first family camping trip to our property in Vermont.  This past weekend was no different.  We spent most of last week planning and packing, figuring out exactly what we needed and what the plan was on how to get there, get things set up, and enjoy the weekend to the best of our abilities.  Everything, as usual, was going without a hitch, except for one minor caveat; it was supposed to rain all weekend, or at least the majority of it.  Being seasoned campers with pretty good shelter up in Vermont, we weren't too worried about it.  I went out during the week to buy our son his first rain coat and we made sure we had our's packed well in advance just in case we needed them.  So come Friday, our plans went into action.  I attended my morning meeting, filled up the gas tank on my van, and after packing up my van at home, was on the road by a little after 11 in the morning.  (The plan was for me to head up with our dogs, trim the clearing and get everything set up so that when my wife and son got there, we could just relax).  It was raining a little when I left, but it wasn't bad and it actually stopped when I got on the road.  Despite a few sprinkles here and there, it was just cloudy the whole way up.  Even when I got into Vermont, and pulled off the highway to head to our campsite, it still wasn't raining.  However, despite the fact that it wasn't raining, I noticed a distinct drop in the temperature from Connecticut to Vermont.  I got out of my van in Vermont and goose bumps immediately sprang up on my arm.  Odd, but it wasn't raining, so I got to work trimming our clearing and setting things up.  I got everything set to go within two hours after which I started a fire and made sure to get it going nice and hot.  I then waited for my wife and son to get there.  With traffic, it took them about four hours instead of the usual three to get up to Vermont.  Our son wasn't happy with the long car drive and by the time they got there, well after his bed time, he looked like a space cadet who was ready for bed.  So we got him ready for bed, walked around for a few minutes, and then fed him and put him down.  He screamed for a few minutes mostly due to being in a strange place, but then passed right out.  My wife and I had dinner by the fire, and then it started raining, joy!  It was getting pretty cool, and still being early, we decided to start another fire by our tarp to stay warm and also stay up for a little while longer.  It was an early night for both my wife and I, and soon afterwards, we headed to bed in our shed.  (No, I didn't feel like setting up the tent by myself, and the shed is much easier to sleep in anyway.)
Our whole family, meaning the three of us, slept in till about 630 on Saturday morning.  When I got up, as usual the first only by a few minutes, it was still kind of cold out and of course, it was raining.  Normally it would start warming up, but this past Saturday, it actually just got colder.  We had packed plenty of warm clothes for us and our son, yet the rain didn't really help much.  We ate breakfast, sat around under the tarp, walked around a little bit with our rain coats on, and essentially just remained cold.  Even our son, who is usually pretty good with the cold, started saying "cold, cold, cold!" He wanted to walk around the campsite with his rain coat on, but with the rain and improper boots on his feet, he just got wetter, and consequently, colder.  My wife headed out to get some small supplies that we needed and I hung out under the tarp with our son.  We sat by our little fire and made the best of the situation.  Yet, it just kept getting colder.  While my wife was out, she checked the weather and by lunch time the temperature hadn't risen above 40 degrees.  Definitely not ideal.  When she got back to the campsite, our son had not yet napped, and was quite cold.  We decided to put him in his car seat in our car (with the car off) and let him warm up some since my wife had just been out driving and it still had some warmth.  Once he was in there, we started talking about the weather.  It was supposed to rain the rest of the day and there was a very good chance of it raining on Sunday as well.  And, yes, the temperature was supposed to get down to about freezing that night.  We knew that we would be fine, but we don't as yet have a sleeping bag for our son, and frankly, we were a little worried about him.  So we talked about our options, and we both decided that it would be best if my wife and son headed back on Saturday afternoon.  The rain would have been manageable if it was about 20 degrees warmer, but rain and cold combined do not make camping fun, especially when you have a 19 month old.  So we packed up what we could into my wife's car, and they left.  I decided to spend the night up there, in the shed with the dogs, for no other reason than I wanted to see how cold it would get, and partially, just relax a little bit more.  Well, for the rest of Saturday, I essentially sat in one spot by the fire without moving except to get a new beer or get more firewood.  And let me tell you, it just got colder and colder.  At one point, I looked up from the fire and it was a mixture of rain and sleet, not something I ever thought I would see on Memorial Day weekend. 
While I was cold on Saturday, it didn't really hit me till I went to change from my jeans into my pajamas.  In between taking my jeans off and putting my PJ's on, I started shivering uncontrollably.  At that point, while I had already kind of known, I was secure in the fact that we had made the right decision to bring our son home.  Sunday morning came, I woke up, and while it was still cold, the sun was out a bit.  What would normally take me till lunch time to clean up and pack away, I rushed through in about 2 hours so I could get home by lunch time to spend time with my wife and son.  So our first camping trip didn't go quite as planned, but then again, the weather had different plans than we did.  We did the best we could, but in the end, it was a choice between our family being miserable with a 19 month old, or changing plans as we needed to and adapting.  So adapt we did and the weekend turned out to be not such a washout after all.  We ended up salvaging the remainder of the weekend and even had a cookout yesterday with our parents which we don't normally get to do.  So despite our camping issues, none of which were too big (despite our tarp ripping and me having to fix it in the rain so that we had protection from the elements) it worked out quite well.  Oh yeah, the tarp ripping definitely impacted our decision for two things; 1) that my wife and son should go home early, and 2) that we needed to build a permanent pavilion so that we didn't have to deal with the tarp ripping at least once a year.  In any case, we made it out, learned our lesson that if the forecast says it will be cold and rainy, don't go camping with a really young child.  So now its back to work and in two weeks I will be headed back up to dig the holes for and pour the concrete footings for, our new pavilion which should be done within a few months.  Cheerio guvna, another project begins!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

One Happy Dad

All things considered, I have to say I am absolutely happy being a dad and would have it no other way now.  I know at one point that I couldn't envision myself where I am now, but having arrived and living the life of a parent, I have to say I enjoy it.  Is the balancing act always easy?  Not at all, but I find that when I look at everything in perspective with family placed number one on my list, the balancing isn't so hard.  Sometimes, the easiest way I have to look at everything that needs to get done is through the lens of my family.  If what I am doing does not benefit my family directly, then it can be postponed.  For me, it is as simple as that.  Yes, the demands of work are always there, always present, always creeping in from the edges, but they don't matter nearly as much to me as my family does.  In any case, I don't just want to talk about my happiness as a father today although I could go on that tangent for quite some time.  As always, my thoughts drift to our son and his life, his growing, his developing, his character.  And also the surprises.  Two days ago, as I was about to start writing my blog, I was startled by a blood curdling scream that erupted from the baby monitor we have in our kitchen.  There was no build up to it, just a spontaneous high pitched screaming that came from our son.  Instinctively, I thought it might be a nightmare as he had never screamed like that before or woken up that quickly.  Needless to say, I jumped up and had to go see what was wrong.  When I entered his room, he was standing at the edge of his crib, gripping the rail, and screaming.  As soon as I picked him up he started calming down.  I held him and rocked him for a few minutes at which point I figured I would try putting him back in his crib to try and sleep some more.  Stupid dad, what was I thinking.  As soon as I stood up and moved towards his crib, his grip on me became like the jaws of life and he screamed so loud by my left ear that I swear I lost half the hearing on that side (at least temporarily).  I quickly retreated to the rocking chair where I continued to rock him for about a half hour at which point I knew he wasn't falling back asleep and the rocking motion was almost putting me to sleep.  At that point, we went downstairs a little earlier than normal and started playing.  Despite that one incident, he was perfectly fine and got right back to normal. 
So despite that minor hiccup, I am truly amazed with our son's understanding and ability to execute requests when asked.  In fact, when he is getting a little out of hand, a little high strung and manic, it seems if we ask him to do something, he calms down and actually enjoys carrying out the request for us.  Obviously it doesn't always happen that way, but when it does, it is nice.  It seems that sometimes he just wants to help out and if we can give him small little things to do, he enjoys it.  Yesterday, as I was watching him in the evening, he indicated that he wanted some water, which he calls gaga (I have no idea where that came from).  As all his water cups were in my wife's car, I grabbed her water bottle instead and gave him that to drink from.  Sometimes it can be a little tricky for him as the water flows out easily once the bottle is tipped, a big difference from having to suck on a cup to get the water.  Occasionally he takes a little too much water and ends up in a coughing fit from having it go down the wrong pipe.  Yesterday, though, he didn't really have that problem.  He walked around the whole house, water bottle in hand, trying to drink while walking.  At one point, I was putting something away in the refrigerator when I turned around to seem him holding the bottle upside down over our living room carpet and shaking it.  Luckily he had just started and not much water had poured out, but it was kind of cute.  I took the bottle away and explained that we don't pour water on the floor.  He started to get upset that I took the bottle away but I turned it around, grabbed some paper towel and asked him to clean up the mess on the carpet.  He took the paper towel, ran over to the carpet, and started wiping up the water.  I was amazed that he did that as we have never asked him to do something like that before.  When wiping the carpet, he didn't stop when he got all the water, he wanted to continue wiping the carpet.  Before he shredded the paper towel on the carpet, I stopped him, told him we got it all, and asked if he could throw the paper towel in the garbage in the kitchen.  So off he runs to the kitchen, opens up the cabinet under the sink, and throws the paper towel away. 
Its amazing to watch how much he is understanding.  What makes it easier now is that he nods his head yes when we ask him a yes or no question.  He hasn't quite figured out how to shake his head no, he just remains silent instead.  However the shaking of the head yes makes it much easier to ascertain exactly what is wants.  He doesn't say the word no yet, however, we think that his word for no is oww, as if he is getting hurt.  His focus is getting deeper when playing with toys and he is slowly becoming less dependent on us for his playing.  We are obviously close by whenever he is playing, but a lot of times now, we just have to sit there, watch, and be there if he wants our help with something.  His frustration during play is diminishing, however, and that is a big however, it is increasing when it comes to not getting something that he wants.  There are even little flashes of anger when something really doesn't go his way including pushing or pulling, or squeezing really hard all while having this ticked off look on his face.  Hello, terrible two's.  In all honesty, though, I find that it really isn't that bad especially if we take the time to explain why he can't do something or why things are the way they are.  It seems to help him settle down a little and move past the anger.  Hopefully we can keep all of his anger to a minimum, but I know it will get worse before it gets better.  For now, I just love watching him learn, grow, and develop.  It is so exciting to see his knowledge of the world quickly expanding and how he is truly becoming his own person.  He is a little nutjob to be sure, but he is our little lovable nutjob and we would have it no other way. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What's Important

I watched a short video this morning that was shared on Facebook and I did something quite unusual for me, I shared it again.  I am not one to share everything that I come across on Facebook.  Its not that I don't come across cool links to either videos or articles, its just that most of the time, I take what I can from them, and move on.  I don't necessarily find it important to share everything that I read or watch on Facebook, not all of it is necessarily worthy of my hitting the like button along with 5.5k other people.  Yet this morning, I felt the need to, mostly because the video I watched drove home points that I found incredibly important to everyone.  In short, the video was about a 17 year old high school student who found out that he had terminal cancer and had about 6 months to a year to live.  It wasn't about the cancer, rather it was about how the cancer had a positive effect on him and drove him to live life to the fullest, to not take anything for granted, to value those around him, and to impact others in the most positive way possible.  He ended up passing away just a few day ago.  In the process of watching the video, it got me thinking about what we value in life and how we live every day.  Do we take our family for granted, do we get too absorbed in work and what we are doing to notice others around us, do we obsess over the stupid things in life and forget whats really important?  I feel that many people probably slip into the middle, living life and yet not living it to their fullest potential.  I know I do.  Its tough not fall into the middle when you envision having your whole life ahead of you and plenty of time to value what's important; tomorrow.  Yet if we keep on putting the important things off till tomorrow, will we truly ever get there?  Some of us will and there will be a good many people who don't.   I am sure that all of us would agree that we want to live our lives without regrets, without feeling that we should have done certain things and not others, we should have made a better impact on others than we actually did.   When do we start living and stop floating? 
To be honest, it doesn't take that much effort to start truly living, we just need to take a little time every day to remind ourselves of what is important to us.  If work is the most important thing to you, then dedicate yourself more fully to it.  If family is most important to you, then spend a little more time strengthening the relationships you have with your family.  Its all about what we value most and how we approach it in life.  We can go about it half assed, or we can dive right in, get our hands dirty, and make a difference.   Regardless of what we value most in life, everything we do from work to family to play involves interactions with other people.  I feel that what matters most is how we treat those we interact with on a daily basis.  If we strive to have a positive impact on everyone we come into contact with, then we are doing a pretty damn good job of living a full life.  Even if we value work over everything else (which I definitely don't do), we still have to interact with others and the more we can impact those around us in a positive way, the more we will have a "full" life surrounding us.  Life is not about trudging along with our heads down paying no heed to those around us.  Life is about creating deep relationships with others than can sustain us through the tough times and make us even happier in the good times.  While I don't always put in as much effort as I should, I definitely strive to have a positive impact on those around me, even if they are complete strangers.  Yet, I could always do more.  We all could, yet sometimes it is not easy to do.  The easiest thing we can all do is smile at other people.  It is one of the most amazing things that I witness on a day to day basis, the impact that a smile has on other people.  There are countless times when I will be walking somewhere and a stranger walking in the opposite direction will look up with a blank expression on their face.  95% of the time, when they see me smiling, they will smile back and you can tangible see their mood lifted just a little bit.  Its the unexpected holding of the door for a stranger, the random act of kindness that has the biggest impact on others. 
Yet in our efforts to impact those around us, we can never forget our family and the relationships we have with them.  Our family is the most important unit we will ever be a part of.  I have talked about it before, but it never gets old to talk about how important family is.  Some people take their family for granted, and I will be honest, there are times when I do as well.  Despite my best efforts to always place family first, I do suffer from the occasional slip up.  Yet I feel for the most part, I do pretty well when it comes to placing a high value on my family.  The majority of the time, if a family member needs something, I will drop whatever it is I am doing to help out.  Even just this past weekend, I got the offer from a friend to work on Saturday.  As much as I would have liked the extra money, spending time with my family was more important to me than making a few extra hundred dollars.  Work will always be there in one form or another, yet family will be there for longer and if I don't establish the strongest bond I can with my family, then what will be left for me later?  I don't want to find out, so I put my best efforts where they are needed, family and friends, followed lastly by work.  I think my ideas have run their course for the day, but I think you get my point, value those around you and love everyone, even those strangers walking down the street. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Recovering From Hip Surgery in Your 90's

Last Thursday I went to visit Baba (my grandmother) at her assisted living facility where she returned after her hip surgery the previous week.   As is usually the case now when I got to visit her, I had no idea what to expect when I went in there.  Before I even enter the facility, I always take a few minutes to gather myself together, put myself at ease, and prepare myself for the possibility of dealing with a grandmother who might not recognize me.  Especially less than a week after her surgery, I really had no idea what to expect when I entered.   Thinking about it now, I can understand why some people don't want to go visit their family members in an assisted living facility, especially if they have dementia or Alzheimer's or some other disease that robs them of their mind.  It can be incredibly disheartening to see a loved one slowly lose their mind, get stuck in loops, not know what day it is, why they are there, who you are, and on and on and on.  For some people, I can imagine it is easier to simply try and forget about their loved ones, keep that image of who they once were in their mind instead of seeing someone who is sometimes merely a ghost of why they once were.  Yet if someone is truly connected to their family, it shouldn't matter what their mind is like, who they remember, or what they look like, they are still family no matter what happens and to just desert them at a facility is akin to locking them in prison without visitation rights.  While I might partially understand why some patients at Baba's "home" never get visitors, it still bothers me that they don't, that their "family" doesn't have enough "time" to get down there and visit them.  In any case, perhaps I understand why people don't get visitors because of my visit last Thursday.  When I went in to see Baba, I was a little taken aback.  I walked into her room and she had a new room mate, one I had never seen before who just stared at me as I walked in front of her.  When I got to Baba's side of the room, she was sleeping on her back, mouth hanging open, hair slightly disheveled and in a hospital gown.  To put it simply, I had never seen her like that before.  Almost every time I have seen her, even previously at her "home", she was always dressed nicely, her hair as neat as she could make it, and always awake.  Its not easy to see someone in their 90's sleeping like that as the first thought that comes to mind is, "are they alive?"  I know it might be horrible to think that, but sometimes its not so easy to see. 
In any case, I didn't want to wake her, so I checked with the nurses and they assured me I could, so I did.  She didn't wake right up, but after about a minute of rubbing her hand, she pulled herself out of her slumber and came to.  Soon after she woke up, she seemed to recognize me as she asked how my son was doing.  I have no idea if she remembered my name, but that is not important to me anymore.  I showed her the most recent pictures of our son and it seemed to be the highlight of her day.  She was so excited to see him, even remembering his name, that it made me happy.  Its funny to me sometimes that she won't remember much else, but she always remembers our son's name.  I have no idea why that is or how it works in her mind, but that's the way it works with her.  Yet, soon after seeing the pictures of our son, she quickly retreated into a very tight knit loop that was impossible to get her out of.  She had a few bunches of flowers on top of her dresser and when she saw them, she just had to have me rearrange them for her.  So through the process of deciphering her gestures and her attempts at directing my movements, I got them in the proper places and she couldn't stop talking about the flowers and how they were "good" now and that she had made the decision to move them around.  That was her loop, talking about moving the flowers and interspersed in that, making sure that I sat on a corner of her bed.  Even when I sat on the opposite corner that she wanted me to, she couldn't get herself off the idea that I should be sitting on the other side.  I assured her that I was OK and comfortable and that seemed to be enough every 30 seconds.  While I was there I did have one minor incident, and trust me, it was minor.  About half way through my 50 minute visit, she said she needed to go to the bathroom.  She was trying to get me to help her out of bed and to walk over to the bathroom.  As she just had surgery on her hip, I didn't think she should be getting out of bed so again, I checked with the nurses and they confirmed my suspicion, no getting out of bed.  So they got a couple of nurses to bring her a bedpan so she could relieve herself.  After a few minutes of the nurses fighting with her to move her onto her side and get the bedpan under her, they realized that she didn't really have to go.  Like I said, a minor incident, but one that comes with the territory I guess.  All in all, she seemed worse off than the last time I saw her, but after talking to my mom afterwards, I guess that the older you get, the longer it takes for a person to come back fully from anesthesia, with her it could be as long as a couple of weeks. 
From what I heard from my mother, I picked a good day to go down a visit Baba.  The previous day, when my mother had gone to visit Baba, she could only speak and understand Spanish.   Up until the surgery and I am sure once she fully recovers, Baba can speak Russian, Spanish, and English.  Last Wednesday, however, it was Spanish only.  So when I went on Thursday, I am glad she was back to understanding English as I am not fluent in Spanish.  Even the day after I went to visit, Friday, my mom said that Baba was wondering why her leg hurt a little bit and why she had a big cast on it.  So my mom had to go through the whole explanation of what happened and why and reiterate the fact that she needed to use her walker when going anywhere, even to the bathroom.  At least she is recovering, though, and her mind is slowly getting back to where it was before the surgery, not great, but better than now.  Its a tough road for her to go down and it isn't always easy to see her in her current condition, yet that doesn't temper the love that I feel for her in any way.  I still see the personality in her that I have known for years and even if and when that goes, I will still have those memories of her and I will still go visit her even if just to make her feel a little more at ease that she has visitors.  For now, my only hope is that she comes back fully from her anesthesia and recovers what she had left of her mind.  Hopefully I can make it down this week to visit her again, yet I don't know if that will happen.  If not this week, then definitely next week. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spring Time

It seems that every year, at some point during the Spring season, I am utterly amazed and mystified by the beauty of nature.  The dormant winter landscape, devoid of all vibrant colors except for the white of the snow, comes back to life over the course of a month.  It seems like just yesterday that I was driving down the road, staring through the barren branches of trees and wondering when spring would finally take root.  Within a few weeks, the buds emerged on the trees and soon afterwards gave birth to the leaves that seemingly float at times on the errant currents of the wind.  Watching the transformation, its like watching autumn in reverse.  The colors that appear on the trees in the spring are muted versions of what we see in the fall, deep reds, pale yellows and golds, the occasional faded orange; all emerging from a well deserved winter slumber.  Concurrently with the trees, the earth seems to erupt with growth, flowers emerging for a new year of growth, more numerous than before and with such gusto as to make it seem like they had been sleeping for decades.  Every morning in the spring, after seeing my wife and son off, I take a walk around our yard to inspect the new growth.  I search for the new flower buds, the new stalks, the new leaves, anything new that populates our gardens.  And every morning that I take that walk around our yard, I always find something new.  Spring, as I am sure I say about every season at some point, is my favorite time of year.  The air is brisk and cool, devoid of the humidity that weighs heavy during the summer months, and all seems right with the world.  Wherever you look there are flowers in abundance, every color in the rainbow and then some.  Whenever I think I have seen it all, I spot something different in the landscape that I travel every day, some new flower emerging for the summer months, or a tree I had not noticed before gracing the world with its shady embrace.  Yet for all the growth that I see around me, there is one plant that truly amazes me every year, and that is the hop plant. 
About 4 years ago now, I planted two hop rhizomes in our back yard and built a 12' tall trellis for them to grow up.  I had heard that they were prodigious growers when I got them, but every year I am continuously amazed at how quickly and vigorously they grow.  For those of you that don't know what hops are, they are one of the main ingredients in beer.  And while I have not brewed any beer of my own yet, I have been saving the hops for the day that I do.  But back to the hops and their growth.  This year they seem to be growing at an exponential rate.  They broke through he ground a little over a month ago, the little buds of their bines pushing upwards, searching for something to grasp on to.  (Bines are different than vines in that bines actually move clockwise as they grow to grab hold of either a rope, twine, or some other means of support)  If you watch hops long enough, you can actually watch them grow and move.  I would love to do a time lapse project with the hops as they would be amazing to watch.  As it is, when I would go on my daily walk around the yard in the morning, I would track how much they had grown the previous day.  By the afternoon, they have usually grown an extra 2-4".  Currently, after growing for a little over a month, some of the bines are nearly 10' tall and fast approaching the top of my trellis.  I can't wait to see what they do this year after witnessing last year's growth.  Last year I calculated that they grew about 24' in all.  They grew up the 12', came back down about 6' before grabbing hold of the rope and working their way back up.  At the end of the season, about September, they die off and get cut back to nothing.  I know that there are other plants out there that can grow at an amazingly fast pace, but for such a short season, the hop plant is one of the most amazing to me.  In any case, I must now cease my writing and move onward with my day, getting ready for my daily walk around the back yard to look at the flowers and see what is new out there. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Summer of the Naked Child

If there is one thing I am fairly certain of with our son, its that this summer he will at least be mostly shirtless if not pant less as well.  Whenever it gets too warm for him, which it already has on a few occasions this year, he wants to take his shirt off and if its really warm, his pants as well.  Not that there are many bad sides to this at all, but one of the good things is that he knows how to make himself comfortable when he gets too warm.  If only it was socially acceptable everywhere to take your shirt off when you got too warm.  For most people, that just isn't a realistic possibility.  For anyone under the age of, lets say 4, its perfectly OK to do so.  Ah, the joys of being a child.  Sometimes I wish I could trade places with my son, have that care free life of play and exploration and no responsibilities, yet I know those days are gone for me.  Yet, I still get to dabble in that life as a father, throw myself on the floor with him, build towers with blocks, and not worry about taxes or income or estimates for at least a little while.  Yes, for me, it all comes flooding back when he goes to bed, but for at least a small time, I get to be a child with my son again, albeit a child that has the burden of responsibility.  The age that our son is at right now, a little over 19 months old, is an absolutely amazing age during which to watch a child.  There is a plethora of innocence, an abundance of new advances, and a cuteness that no matter what happens makes a parent smile on the inside.  Even when he takes a handful of raisins that he had just been eating and scatters them all over the living room floor, it is hard not to laugh inside.  Sure, the raisins get taken away resulting in a crying fit, but the simple act of scattering raisins is sometimes just hilarious.  Our son is now beginning to test his boundaries, see how far he can push certain issues before we put a halt to them, and while most parents would say its frustrating, its really not that bad.  I find that with a little explanation, which he now mostly understands, most situations that could potentially turn into a tantrum can be averted and turned into a learning experience.  Granted, this isn't always the case, but I love nothing more than being with my son, teaching him the boundaries, and helping him to explore and grow into the world. 
The one thing that I love most about this age is the understanding that he now exhibits about the English language.  You can ask him to do almost anything and he understands what and how to do it.  When he wants some milk, he goes to the refrigerator and tries to pull open the door.  When we open the door for him, he grabs his sippy cup of milk and walks around with it till he has had his fill.  When he is done, we ask him to put it back and over to the refrigerator he goes to place it back on his shelf.  On Mother's Day, when we had my grandparents and his grandparents over, we had a platter of cheese and crackers in the middle of the room.  We would ask him to hand out cheese and crackers to specific people and he would know exactly who to bring the food to.  Of course, once he went there once, he would keep on bringing cheese, but none the less, the fact that he could understand our request and execute it was adorable.  Even when it came to dinner on Mother's Day, he did very well.  He didn't want to eat anything that we gave him, so he simply had to sit in his high chair while the rest of us ate.  He didn't freak out, didn't throw a tantrum, and only got a little fidgety towards the end of dessert.  At that point, I couldn't blame him for wanting to get out of his high chair and consequently got him out and went to go play with him.  A few day's before Mother's Day, I was laying on the floor with him when he brought a book over to read.  Instead of sitting up, I laid down and held the book above me to read.  It didn't take him long to figure out that he needed to lay down in order to read the book with me.  So he got on the floor right next to me, laid his head on my arm, and we proceeded to read the book laying down.  After dinner on Mother's Day, before I could even get up from the table, I look into our living room and he has his book next to him, laying on his back, looking at me.  It was pretty apparent that he wanted me to come over and lay down next to him so we could read the book together.  So what did I do?  What any father would, or should do; I went over, laid down next to him, and proceeded to read the book to him.  It seems that every day becomes more and more fun with our son.  I just can't wait to see what he learns next. 
This past Saturday, for the first time, we decided that he needed a hair cut.  His hair is very fine, mostly straight with only a few waves in it, and a such was at the point where it was starting to cover his eyes and hang pretty far down the back of his neck.  At first, we had him in his high chair and my wife took a small pair of scissors and comb and started to cut his hair.  He was doing well, it was just taking a little too long and we both felt that he wouldn't be able to sit there for too much longer without getting fidgety.  So half way through his hair cut, we got him out, sat him on the kitchen floor, and took out my clippers with the adjustable setting that I use for my hair and went to town.  We were a little skeptical at first as to how he would react to the clippers, but much to our surprise, he did really well.  He sat there in my lap as I buzzed through his hair (the clippers were on the longest setting, don't worry) and even when I had to get close behind his ears, I asked him to hold his head to the side and he did it without moving.  At 19 months old, I was amazed that he could sit like that for a hair cut without wanting to get right up and run around.  But he did, and that's all that matters.  One other cool thing that he is learning before I sign off for today.  When I was little, I think in nursery school, I was taught how to put on my jacket by laying it on the floor in front of me, sticking my hands into the sleeves, and flipping it over my head sliding my arms into the sleeves.  Well, I have taken it upon myself to teach our son how to do that now.  He is starting to grasp the concept after only a few days of doing so, and he can almost do it by himself.  I am sure it will take another week or two before I can actually do it entirely by himself, but the fact that he is learning to put his jacket on by himself is pretty cool.  Of course, by the time he can do it by himself, it will be too warm for a jacket and we will have to re-learn it in the fall, but at least its a start.  In any case, he is getting closer and closer to talking and one day, I am sure he will amaze us.  For now, I need to get him out of bed and ready for another day. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A First for Humanity

About a week ago today, humanity reached a milestone that has not been reached for millions of years.  Not since before the dawn of humanity, we have reached a point in our history that, while for many a mere blip in history, signals a sobering change in our environment.  That mere blip that will go unnoticed by most, is the sustained level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere of 400 ppm for an entire day.  Like I said, most people won't even know about it and a majority won't care, but perhaps we should start taking notice of what we are doing to our environment.  The 400 ppm level that was reached will not stay at that level all year long.  It will drop again as the northern hemisphere enters the summer months when carbon dioxide levels annually decrease due to the plethora of trees growing their leaves for another season.  However, scientists indicate that it is only a matter of time before we see a sustained level of 400 ppm for a long period of time if not indefinitely; unless we do something.  That something seems to be harder to do than it is to talk about.  While the United States is no longer the largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other green house gases (we have been surpassed by China), we are by far the one to blame the most.  For the longest time, the United States was the largest emitter of green house gases, and to date, has been one of the few countries to pass any meaningful measures to reduce our emissions and retreat from our carbon hungry economy and way of life.  Most if not all European countries have passed measures to reduce their carbon footprint, yet we refuse to do so.  Why?  Politics and lobbyists.  There is simply too much money flowing from fossil fuel producing energy giants into the pockets of politicians for us to even think about retreating from our fossil fuel hungry economy and way of life.  Yes, we have made small inroads here and there, but our consumption has not decreased in any meaningful way that will have any lasting effect on climate change.  As it is, we are already seeing drastic changes in weather patterns, increasingly errant and larger storms, and in general, our world is warming drastically.  The big question is, will we ever be able to enact meaningful change before it is too late?  I have my doubts yet I can't help but remain hopeful, not for me, but for our children and our children's children. 
Despite all the news out there about global warming, climate change, and the effects of carbon dioxide on our atmosphere, there are still skeptics and those who would say that it is all a hoax.  I, for one, think these people must either live in a clam shell or be entirely disconnected from the reality that the rest of us are living in.  If you simply look at the facts, it is nearly impossible to deny that global warming is having an effect on our climate and weather patterns.  There are increasingly long periods without rain throughout the world, changes in the number and sizes of storms that are ravaging countries world wide, and a steady increase in temperatures with last year being the warmest year ever on record.  We are pushing our environment to its limits and hoping things will remain the same.  Well, they won't.  The drastic change in temperature and rainfall is too fast for most plants to adapt to.  If this were all happening at a slower pace, plants would be able to adapt, slowly migrate northward as the climate warmed, and establish themselves in new environs.  Yet with the change happening so rapidly, we are essentially eradicating entire species of plants and animals because they can't adapt quick enough.  This will have an effect on global food production as we have less and less arable land to farm and as we move forward, it will drive food prices higher and higher.  I could turn all doom and gloom, which believe me I have not yet done, yet what good would it do.  The majority of us read about global warming and climate change and continue living the way we always have, with complete disregard for the world we live in.  It is much easier to keep on living than it is to enact meaningful changes in our own lives and in a broader sense, our society.  I hope that one day soon we will start to push for more initiatives aimed at decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to take climate change more seriously, but it may be too late.  There is a level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists say is the point of no return.  I am not positive of what that level is, but if I remember correctly, it is either 450 ppm or 500 ppm.  Regardless, we are seem to be driving faster and faster towards that point and our brakes seem to be failing.  It is said that once we reach that point, nothing we do will be able to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we will be on a slippery slope to a drastically different world.    I hope we can all make an effort to change, yet the small pessimistic side of me thinks that we won't be able to do so in time. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Surgery, Dementia, at 92

This past week has been a tough one, especially for my mom and Baba (her mom, my grandmother).  This past Wednesday, Baba went to walk across her room to use the bathroom, and not using her walker as she is supposed to, she fell and broke her hip.  It wasn't the easy type of break where a doctor could set the bone, place her in a cast, and send her on her way.  Rather, the entire hip joint separated from the bone leaving her leg shorter and kicked to the side, leaving the only real option for fixing it to be surgery.  The surgery that was performed was an ordeal in and of itself.  Despite all the nurses' and doctor's efforts, the only person who could calm her down in the hospital was my mom.  Nothing is easy when it comes to dealing with a patient in her 90's who has dementia and thinks she fell because she tripped over a rock.  Couple that with the all to frequent occurrence of not even knowing who my mother is, this past week was not easy for my mom or Baba.  I know that Baba is a trooper and that despite her failing mind, her body is still functioning quite well for her age.  Despite the fact that her body is doing well, despite being old, surgery on someone in their 90's is never an easy surgery.  Anything can happen at that age despite the doctor's best efforts and my biggest worry was that something would happen during surgery.  Leading up to it, no one was even sure that she would be able to go through the surgery.  At that age, all patients must be put through a full medical exam to ensure that surgery is a viable option and that they are healthy enough to endure anesthesia and come out the other side with little side effects.  Well, she passed her medical exam, and the surgery that was supposed to happen on Thursday finally happened on Friday due to other emergency surgery's elsewhere in the hospital that needed to be performed.   She went into surgery, the doctor's did their work installing a fake hip ball joint, and everything went as well as could be expected.  She did come out of her anesthesia, one of my biggest worries, and right off the bat persisted in giving the nurses a hard time about the oxygen they were giving her.  Yet without the oxygen, she was short of breath, so life went right back to where it was before the surgery. 
My next biggest worry is that the anesthesia will have a lasting effect on Baba's mind.  I am hoping that it doesn't as her mind is drifting away as it is, but only time will tell at this point.  When my mom went to go visit her on Saturday, Baba had no idea who my mother was, a depressing moment I am sure.  While she has had that issue before, not knowing who my mom was, from what I gathered it seemed worse than usual.  The one person who could calm her down was a complete stranger to her.  I only hope that when my mom went to go visit her yesterday after our mother's day dinner that she remembered who she was.  I fear that the road to recovery for Baba will be a long and arduous one, not because of the surgery she went through, but more because of the dementia she is dealing with.  With her memory spotty at best, I imagine it will be hard for her to go through the necessary steps of therapy that she has to in order to be able to walk again.  If she can't even remember to use her walker on a regular basis, how is she supposed to remember to use it in the future or even do the necessary exercises to recover?  I hope that recovery goes smoothly for her and the first chance I get I will head down there to visit.  I also hope that her mind gets back to where it was before the surgery, not perfect, but containing at least some memories.  I know that before her surgery, she always remembered my son, his name, and that he was her little shining star.  In a way its amazing to me that even though he has only seen her a few times, he seems to know her better than he does my other grandparents, Babci and Dziadziu.  Its odd to me, but special in a way as well.  Its almost as if there is a connection between the two of them that is beyond our understanding. If she can at least hold on to that memory of him, I will be happy.  It is what it is, but it is not easy regardless.  The next few weeks shall be interesting in the saga that is Baba's life.  For now, I am happy that her surgery went well and that she lived through it. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Case Against Divorce

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of what I really want to talk about today, let me first start by saying that I know divorce can be tricky for adults.  Some married couples feel that the only way that they can move on with their lives is to separate, or divorce.  There are those who feel slighted by the other, have perpetrated adulterous acts, or have simply fallen out of love with the one they married.  Despite the efforts that some couples make to stay married, sometimes it doesn't work out for one reason or another.  Yet, I don't want to speak to that end of divorce at all, the adult end.  Adults will do what they want, and if they don't have children, they alone have to deal with the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be.   For those married couples that have children and are considering divorce, the impacts of their actions are far greater than they can imagine, especially on their children.  They may be able to get over things and move on with their lives, but how will their children fare with their actions.  Children never have a say in what happens between a married couple, and rightfully so.   Despite the fact they don't get a say on what happens between their parents, they still have to deal with the consequences of their parent's actions.   We hear of divorced parents starting to over compensate in one way or another to try and alleviate the pain that the children may be feeling.  There may be special treatment on one side versus the other.  Quite often, there are emotional ramifications that are not always evident in the children as they struggle to deal with the separation of their parents.  Sometimes, the divorcing parents don't notice the effect as much as they should because they are embroiled in their own emotional issues and forget about the attention that their children need from them.  Regardless of the impacts, I can imagine that it is never easy for a child of any age to deal with the separation of their parents, even if it the reason for the divorce is because of abuse.  The psychological impacts go far beyond our understanding as adults and unless we have dealt with it as a child, we can never come close to understanding what it is like from the perspective of a child. 
My parents are still married and as such, I have a certain lack of understanding when it comes to empathizing with those whose parents are divorced.  Its the simple fact that I never had to go through it and as such, can never fully comprehend what a child goes through, until now.  No, I am not saying my parents are getting divorced, because they aren't, but after this past weekend in Vermont with my son at home freaking out that his dad wasn't around, I have a little more of an understanding of what a child goes through.  To be fair, I didn't witness my son's reaction, yet hearing of crankiness, obstinacy, and miserable nature, I can surmise fairly well what he was like.  If we look at a child, like my son, who is 19 months old, we get perhaps the clearest picture of what a child of any age goes through when it comes to divorce.  Yes, I know that I was only gone for two days, but that little glimpse painted a very clear picture.  At 19 months old, a child doesn't know how to deal with his/her emotions yet, they don't understand what they are feeling inside and can't necessarily communicate other than through their actions.  To me, this is a distinct sign of what any child goes through.  When a child gets older, they are able to understand more fully what their parents are going through, but that doesn't take away the feelings that they may have of not having a parent around.  I am sure that any child must feel the same way when a parents isn't around, especially through a divorce.  While they may understand that they can still see that parent, not having them around every day is the biggest detriment to them.  When growing up with both parents in the household, a child forms a bond with both of them, albeit in unique ways between mother and father, there is still a bond.  When one of those parents is absent except for certain days a month or however it works out, something is taken away from the child.  While an older child may not act out because they understand that is not what they are supposed to do, they still get those feelings of loss and abandonment that they internalize and must find a way to deal with.  My absence for two days was enough to cement my desire to never get divorced and never put my son or any future child through the loss of parent, even if it is not a permanent loss. 
For my part, I don't think that children and their emotions are taken into consideration enough when parents are going through a divorce.  Yes, I know that sometimes parents can't avoid getting a divorce for one reason or another, but I feel that 99% of the time, things can be worked through if both are willing to meet in the middle, have an open and honest discussion, and put in the time and effort to make things work.  Then again, this is coming from someone who has never had to deal with a divorce on a close family level.  I have had cousins whose parents got divorced, have had cousins who have gotten divorced themselves, and to be honest, sometimes I don't know how to feel about those divorces either.  For some reason, I just can't comprehend it and it never sits well with me no matter how much time passes.   I know my comparison with my son's emotions and not having me around for only 2 days might be pushing it a little, but is it really?  Is it really that far of a stretch to think that all children don't go through some emotional hardship when dealing with a divorce, even if they don't show it?  I don't think so, but then again, that is my opinion.  I think what more parents need to do is take the focus of the children sometimes and focus on themselves so they don't forget who they are married to.  Too often, children become all consuming entities that get between a married couple.  In the end, children move on and we are left with the person we married.  Let us not forget that, I know I won't, and lets try and provide a better emotional environment for our children by staving off divorce through open and honest communication.  I think if every parent started there, things would turn out better for a lot more people in the end. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Never Again a Bowling Scene

Hollywood just may be on the verge of perpetual mediocrity.   Well, maybe not mediocrity as we understand it, but more of a homogenization of all movies within a given genre.  For any of you who are fans of or have at least seen "The Big Lebowski", get ready to never see another bowling scene in a movie again.  Why, you ask?  Well, because bowling scenes in any movie have statistically proven to decrease the amount of money a movie will eventually make.   And if a relatively new entrepreneur in Hollywood has his way and his suggestions are heeded, then that's what will happen.  Enter the script analyzer.   In fact, he has not only entered the building, but he has already had an impact on some movie's scripts, analyzing them before they even get to the filming process.  He isn't an editor by any means.  He does not go in an suggest which lines to adjust to make it sound better or which order to put things in, he goes in with a deep movie knowledge of what makes a film successful and offers suggestions about how to alter to script in such a way as to make it into a successful film, mostly in the monetary way.   This new method of analyzing a script, using data from previous movies, is a new method that is taking hold in a few areas and being fought against in others.  It would seem that the movie production studios are attracted to this new method where for as much as $20,000 a script, they can help mold a future movie into a box office hit.  However, as we all know with Hollywood, those studios are being tight-lipped as to whether or not they have actually used this gentleman's service and will not comment thus far.  The one's who are outspoken about it are the writers themselves.  Some of them are fighting tooth and nail against such a service saying that it strips away a good amount of creativity from their process while a few have actually said that it is the best and most honest feed back they have received over a script.  So who will eventually win out?  My bet would be that the movie studios themselves will win out as they are always in search of the biggest box office hit ever. 

My personal opinion, as a writer myself, is that this is a detriment to the creative process.  It is not traditional editing as writers know it, adjusting lines and dialogue to improve the quality and context, but rather it is molding a script in such a way as to make more money.  Some of the best movies out there are ones that have flopped at the box office initially, mostly because the general population doesn't understand the concept or they have no appreciation for the subtle beauty that the movie contains.  As it is, I have not seen a movie in some time and its not only because I don't like most of the movies coming out these days, its just that I don't have time.  However, the promos that I see for new movies are depressing to say the least.  It would seem that Hollywood as lost their ability to create new and exciting movies based upon original ideas and concepts.  Sure, they will push one out every now and then, but in general, Hollywood seems to be full of repeats, remakes, and series that go on way to long.  Just take "Fast and Furious 6".  I didn't even know that there were a 4 and a 5.  These days movies need to be packed full of special effects, be in 3-D, and have at least 2 movies preceding it to be a box office hit.  Originality, for the most part, has disappeared from Hollywood.  The only place to find originality these days in the small production studios, the low budget films, the indies.  Don't get me wrong, I respect what this gentleman is doing, creating a business to help production studios create box office hits, I just don't agree with the concept or how it will affect movies.  I personally think that it will make movies of a specific genre predictable and lame, eventually putting together a formula for a box office hit to the tune that you will know exactly what will happen and when based on similar movies.  In any case, I wish there were a return to the days when almost every movie coming out was new and exciting, not a spin on something old and predictable.  It seems the only reason that there is currently a market for this type of script analyzing is because Hollywood itself is beginning to flop.  But then again, that is just my opinion.  How about you, do you think this type of script analyzing will help Hollywood or create a world in which every movie is predictable?

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Return

I was up in Vermont this past weekend for the first camping trip of the 2013 summer season, or at least the 2013 camping season as we start in the spring and end in the fall.  There is such a difference between this first weekend of May, now the traditional start of the camping season for me at least, and Memorial Day weekend, just three weeks later when the my wife, son, and I head up together.  While normally cooler during the day than down in Connecticut, this year there was a reverse effect with the days seeing temperatures up in the 70's and night time temps dropping into the upper 30's.  Normally, you don't notice the heat too much as there is plenty of shade, however, at this point there is relatively little shade as the buds on the trees are just starting to push their leaves out.  Down in Connecticut, most of the trees are almost fully "leaved" by now.   In any case, the other big difference between this weekend and three weeks from now is that our clearing has not yet grown its enormous blanket of weeds and grass to be mowed down.  This past weekend it looked like a nice green carpet, soft and low, with no mowing necessary.  The low weeds and little shade is about all the was the same compared to previous years on this first weekend of May.  As I mentioned the temperatures were well above normal and as I was listening to the radio on the way home yesterday, they mentioned that it will probably get up to 80 degrees on Tuesday.  If temperatures keep up like this, it will be one warm summer of camping up in Vermont.  But with shade and relaxation, warm temperatures aren't so bad to deal with.  This past weekend, while I normally go camping solo, a friend joined me up there.  It was a simple weekend, target shooting against the hillside, cutting up trees and splitting wood, nothing more.  To make it even simpler, all we ate was meat, burgers, steaks, bratwurst, bacon, and the exception, eggs (although still technically a meat depending on how you look at it).  In any case, its back to the real world now, always depressing for our dogs who absolutely love the carefree camping lifestyle, and only depressing to me in the fact that I have to go to work today instead of do nothing.  Such is life. 
There was another big difference this year as compared to last year in regards to our son.  Last year he was about 7 months old when I went up camping the first weekend of May.  This year, at 19 months old, he has a better understanding of the rhythm of our life and my absence for a couple of days was a major disruption to that rhythm.  Starting Friday, he was wondering where the dogs and I were and according to my wife, Saturday was a miserable day with him looking for the dogs and myself and being generally cranky.  The same went for Sunday morning up until I got home.  He was napping when I got home, but within 5 minutes, he was up.  When he saw me, he was still a little groggy from his nap but soon started smiling.  When I got him in my arms and he gave me a kiss, he looked outside and saw the dogs and got really excited, I think more excited than when he saw me.  So I really don't know if it was me he missed more or the dogs.  (I'm going to go with me, but who knows).  Once we were home, his mood turned around and I couldn't tell that he had been in an ornery mood all weekend.  He was happy and playful, and in generally good spirits despite the allergies that seem to be somewhat getting to him a little bit.  In any case, the weekend is over and done with, life has returned to normal for better or worse, and I am running a little late.  So in an effort to get back on track here, I will cut my writing short so I can get our family out of the house on time and I can pack my van back up with my supplies for work.  Yay, work!  (Please note sarcasm, if I could get paid to go camping, that's all I would do, but I don't, so I paint.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Slowly Growing Up

Its amazing to see what happens with a child once the language barrier is crossed and understanding of the English language starts to settle into a little one's mind.  Yes, I am talking about our son again.  While he may not be able to say that many words yet, he understands a lot more than he lets on.   His vocabulary is still rather limited with perhaps a dozen words in his repertoire, yet his curiosity about the language is boundless.   He still studies our lips every time we talk to try and figure out exactly how to make different sounds and pronounce different words.  He loves to flip through books and point at different objects to learn what they are and as he has been doing this for some time now, he is getting a better grasp of what animals are which, what different symbols look like, and can now point them out when asked.  He has one of those farm animal things with the arrow that spins in the middle when you pull a lever (its called a see and say, but I don't know the exact technical term) and he can point out what almost every animal is when asked to point to one.  In terms of animals, he knows probably a dozen or more.  Its amazing to think that just a year ago none of this would have been possible; the running around, the meager understanding of the world that he is now exhibiting, the personality.  Yet here we are with a toddler who has a mind of his own yet is also becoming very helpful when asked to do certain small tasks.  While still a little nutcase (takes after his father), he is becoming more and more settled and understands more and more which makes it easier on us.  If only he could communicate his thoughts and desires we would all be in a better position.  For now, though, we will just have to do our best to figure out his desires through his grunts and inaudible words that he thinks should be perfectly understandable.  Its funny sometimes when he looks at us intently, says something that sounds like total gibberish, and yet he is so determined that we understand what he is saying that he says it over and over despite our lack of understanding.   Not that he is capable of this following thought process, but it must be frustrating on his part to be able to understand what we are saying yet not have us understand what he is saying all the time.  I can just imagine him saying to himself, "you thick headed parents, what I am saying makes perfect sense, just listen!"
But life is not that simple.  For us to learn and understand baby talk would take a lot longer than it will for him to learn and speak the English language.  So for now, we are stuck, at least a little bit.   I mentioned above that he is now capable of understanding and completing certain simple tasks when asked to do so.  I absolutely love this by the way.  In the evenings before bed, we ask him to help us put his blocks and a few other toys away.  Despite the fact that he still wants to play and not really go to bed, he does help pick up his blocks and put them in the basket.  If we let him pick up all the blocks right now it would probably take an hour, so for now we help him out.  Its funny to watch him because he must take all the blocks apart before they go into the basket.  If he sees any blocks in the basket that are not taken apart, he will reach in, separate them, and place them back in the basket.  It is just too cute and adorable.  Yesterday, before we even got to the blocks, I was flipping through a small book with him and when he was done with it, I asked him to please go put it back where he found it.  He paused, processed my request, and then ran into the kitchen to put the book back on the counter.  If he finds little bits of garbage on the floor that escape our notice, he picks them up and hands them to us to throw away or actually walks over to where the garbage can is in our kitchen and throws them away himself.  He also knows which side of the under sink cabinet the recycling bin is located on and when asked to put something in there, he either tries to open it himself despite the child locks on it or waits for us to open it for him.  There is something to be said for having at least a semblance of order in the house.  Even in his room, where his toys have been greatly reduced, if he takes a toy out now, he will put it back where it was most of the time.  However, when he is in his room, most of the time he just wants to read books.  It is always the same two or three books, but he can sit for quite some time in either my wife's or my lap reading and looking at pictures.  I couldn't be happier.  And all of this has occurred without any technological help of any kind.  He still has not played with an iPhone or computer and the only time he has seen a TV is when it is not in our house.  Even then, he gets bored with the TV and goes in search of any toys to play with. 

I love this age so much more than when he was only 6 months old and just a breathing, wriggling, lump of flesh.  Now is when it is getting fun.  In the mornings when my wife is ready to leave with him for daycare, I have taken to walking him out to the care both to help out my wife and to see him off.  Every day, he wants to leave before we are ready, however, when we actually do leave, I go into our mudroom, grab him his shoes and ask him to go sit on his stool so we can put his shoes and jacket on.  Without hesitation, he runs over and plops himself down on his stool and starts trying to put his shoes on himself.  Despite the effort, he is not quite ready for that endeavor and I walk him through the process every morning of how to put his shoes on.  Then, when we get into our mudroom and I start to put my boots on, he helps me out.  He takes my slippers off and throws them on the tray we have for our shoes and boots and if I don't already have my boots in front of me, he hands them to me.  The cutest part is, if the slippers don't land entirely on the shoe tray, he picks them up and places them so they are on top of each other on the tray.  Then he points to our jackets hanging on the wall and urges me to put mine on.  It is amazing to watch how his understanding of the world expands every day and his knowledge of even simple things grows.  He still has his moments of frustration, but those mostly come when he is tired and can't handle himself or the world anymore.  As such, we like to keep it simple for him.   Perhaps the coolest part of our morning routine is the fact that he likes to try and brush his teeth himself.  When we go into the bathroom to brush our teeth, I hand him his toothbrush and he immediately goes to run it under the water before sticking it in his mouth and moving it around.  Once it is in his mouth, I hold his hand and guide him in brushing his teeth.  I never yank it out of his hands because if I do, he will refuse to have his teeth brushed at all.  I must help him or it doesn't get done.  Talk about a mind of his own and being strong willed.  Gee, I wonder where he gets that from.  In any case, this is the time that I love.  Despite the occasional ornery toddler, he is a joy to have and I love every second I spend with him.