Crayons And Cakes

Friday, 24 October 2014, 14:37

The things you remember from childhood are probably not the things your parents would expect you to have remembered. It’s often little things that stick with you – not that they’re the only things, or even the most significant things, but they’re sitting there on your memory shelf alongside the big stuff. For me, from my elementary school days in the early 1960s, it’s crayons and cakes. And let me say at the outset that I’m not complaining that I was made to do without. I had three older sisters and a younger brother, and a mother who stayed home to take care of us, so money, while never absent, wasn’t flowing in abundance. Every year, when it came time to buy school supplies, I wanted one thing – one of those big, genuine Crayola 64-crayon boxes with the sharpener in back and the unbelievably cool gold, silver, and copper crayons.

What I got was the smaller box, no sharpener, no gold, silver, and copper crayons. I do think maybe one year I got the big box, maybe 5th grade. Or maybe a friend gave me the cool crayons, I just know that one year I did have gold, silver, and copper. But I always felt just a little less worthy, only having the 24- or 48-count box (whatever was the minimum required, probably 24).

And then there’s cake. My memory is a little hazy, but what I remember is that our weekly lunch tickets came in two variants: basic and deluxe. I’m sure they weren’t called that, but that’s that they were, I think. The basic ticket got you lunch, but no dessert. The advanced got you dessert. And dessert was often either square yellow cake with chocolate icing, or chocolate cake with chocolate icing. And I almost never got dessert. As I said, my memory is a little hazy, and it’s barely possible that rather than having two levels of lunch ticket, dessert just cost extra and you had to clean your plate first, and I almost never cleaned my plate, because English peas were often on the menu and I’ve always hated English peas. And I’m sure much of the rest of the menu was nasty by my elementary school definition. Anyway, for whatever reason, I rarely got the cake. I wanted the cake, especially when it was chocolate on chocolate. Somehow I survived and grew to be a mostly-responsible citizen of these United States, but imagine how much further I might have gone if I’d had 64 crayons and cake?

Category : Life

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What I’m Reading Now…

Thursday, 23 October 2014, 20:26

is a lot of Cold War spy stuff. Novels – The Spy Who Came In From The Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Non-fiction – Legacy Of Ashes (not just Cold War, but that was the driving force behind my picking it up), The Art Of Betrayal. It’s not coincidence. After reading several books about the period leading up to World War I, and the war itself, I was looking for a new genre. And despite all the books I’ve read through the years, spy fiction and non-fiction was something I rarely delved into, unless you count some Tom Clancy novels during the 80s and 90s. But while I liked Clancy’s stuff early on, there came a point, I think probably with Debt Of Honor, when it felt like Clancy would get two-thirds of the way through a book, get bored, and decide to just wrap it up. But I digress….

I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. As an elementary school student in the early-mid 1960s, I lived in a world of atomic-bomb tests (we, students and teachers alike, still called them atomic bombs then, although I’m pretty sure everything was thermo-nuclear by then) and Civil Defense signs, and fallout shelters. A family up the street from us had a fallout shelter in their back yard. I never saw the inside – I never knew the family – but you could see the entrance to the shelter through their carport. All of those things were constant reminders that the Godless Russians might very well one day decide to blow us all to Kingdom Come. It was a strange time, I guess. We were not far removed from World War II, although at the time that seemed like ancient history. But we were only 20 years beyond that catastrophic struggle. Now I look back on things 20 years past, and I wonder about all the men and women – our fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles – who served or just lived through it, and I think about things that are now only 20 years in my past, and I think how strange it must have been for them. Maybe strange isn’t the right word, but there they were, just two decades past an event that dwarfs anything I’ve experienced in my life, and yet the world they made for us was so normal, so seemingly free of problems. Except that atomic bomb thing. And then Vietnam, which was piped into our living rooms every evening at 5:30. My idyllic existence began to crumble a bit then, as I approached the teenage years, then the later teenage years, then draft eligibility. Vietnam was winding down by the time I was actually eligible, in 1972, but it was a cloud hanging in the distance during my high-school years. It was the Cold War turned hot, on the other side of the world.

So the Cold War has always held a certain fascination for me. What would have happened if it had ever really turned hot? What if Soviet armor had come pouring through Fulda Gap? I’ve read many books about what might have happened in a World War III. But the actual conflict was played out in the shadow world of espionage and counter-espionage. And so, when I went looking for a new subject area for reading, Cold War spies were waiting. And there’s something else at play here, I think. The conflict between the West and the Communist Bloc, frightening though it was, seems so much simpler and more understandable than the world we’re in today, with religious fanaticism and Third-World nationalism fueling an ever-changing set of enemies that don’t match up well with our traditional means of applying resolutive force. It’s almost a sense of nostalgia for a conflict that made more sense, even if the potential for national destruction was much, much higher. So, for now, I’m reading about Cold War spies. Duck, and cover.

Category : Books, History, Life

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Unexpected Bloom

Saturday, 4 October 2014, 16:42

I do believe I have a dahlia blooming. I’d forgotten about these, picked them up in the clearance bin at Walmart in May.

Category : Gardening

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School’s Out….

Wednesday, 1 October 2014, 18:09

One of my regular walking routes goes around the old “downtown” of my little suburban town. I say “downtown” because it’s small, and because there really never was much of a downtown. No village square, no real Main Street, although the main street is called Main Street, but it as never more than a few small buildings and an old train depot. But the loop does make for a nice, roughly 3 1/2 mile route that generally ends up being about 4 miles because I almost always add side trips.

In the shaded area between Montgomery Street and Highway 51 is the old school building. Some of it is now used for the Cultural Arts Center, some is used for our branch of Tulane University (not as impressive as it sounds), but most just sits abandoned.

(Ironically, the yellow brick building on the right is the gym where my wife played her last high school basketball game (her high school was about 45 miles away), injuring her knee.)

Despite the fact that I live in the town with the highest median income in the state, and this school sits in the middle of town, the abandoned parts of this building have fallen into pretty bad disrepair. Lots of broken windows and piles of refuse in the rooms. But one morning this week, I walked further around than I normally do, and found this – a chair sitting in an otherwise empty room:

I have the Camera+ app on my iPhone, and I’ve been playing with it lately. I tried a gray scale filter on the photo:

But then I found a filter called Noir, and I really like it. I think it makes me look like some kind of hipster photographer:

School’s out, indeed.

Category : Walks

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Walking Man

Tuesday, 30 September 2014, 22:24

About 9 years ago, I started walking in the morning before work. I hadn’t exactly been slothful before that, but I hadn’t approached walking as a regular form of exercise. For several years, I was pretty consistent, walking 2-3 miles a day; then a series of injuries, minor and less minor, began to interrupt my schedule, and consistency became less so. I still walked, but instead of every day, or 6 days a week, it might be 4 days a week, or 3, or 2. And I might only walk for 30 minutes or so.

Fast forward to last winter. For years, I’d been having occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation. The episodes would typically last for less than a day, I would convert back to normal rhythm on my own, and move on. At some point, my cardiologist put me on an anti-arrhythmic drug, which worked well for about 4 years; then I had a episode that didn’t convert back for several weeks, and he changed me to another drug, which worked for a while. Last January, I had another episode, short-lived again. But at that time, he said it was time to consider cardiac ablation surgery. The drug I was on wasn’t working like it had, and the drugs beyond that had more and nastier side effects. We decided to to discuss it again after my vacation to Greece in March; when I got back, we scheduled the surgery for July 1. In May, I had another episode; I didn’t convert back, so they started me on a blood thinner until the surgery. Once again, my walking got interrupted, because in a state of constant atrial fibrillation, I really didn’t have energy for long walks. On July 1, I underwent cardiac ablation surgery. It went fine, I was in the hospital overnight, and went home the next day to recover. After a few days of a very sore chest and throat (from the things they had shoved down my throat during the surgery), I was getting better rapidly, until my left leg began hurting. No blood clot, but the cardiologist wasn’t sure what was going on. Additional CT scans and ultrasounds didn’t reveal the cause; finally he said I should maybe go see my orthopedic surgeon (which I had wanted to do days earlier). When I was finally able to get in to see him, he diagnosed the problem in 5 minutes – bleeding into the quad muscles, which caused my left leg and knee to be very swollen and stiff, and very painful. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, which worked wonders in fairly short order. And while I was going through the weeks of PT, I started really wanting to be walking again. By early August, I was pretty much back to normal, and decided to start getting out of bed and getting out the door again. Since retiring from my state government job last year (I now work as a consultant part-time) I have a very flexible schedule, so I can get a good walk in and still have a leisurely morning most days before going to work.

So, I started walking again. At first I took walks like I used to take – 30-45 minutes. But I soon realized that (a) that wasn’t really long enough, and (b) I had time for a longer walk. So I began adding time and distance, and finding new walking routes. Some days I walk in the neighborhoods near my house. Other days, I’ll go to the multi-use trail along the Natchez Trace. That’s where I can get some really good, long walks in. My Fitbit measures the distance and number of steps, and I’ve found that the Fitbit’s distance measurement is pretty accurate. Now, most days I walk at least 4 miles, and I often get 5 miles in, all before breakfast. I take my Walkman radio and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and walk, and walk. It’s often the best part of my day. And my reward is scenes like this:

or this:

or, at this time of year:

And most days, when I’m walking along the Natchez Trace trail, I have the trail to myself:

Right now, I’m averaging about 25 miles a week on my morning walks. According to Fitbit, if you include all the steps I take during the day, I average about 40 miles a week. I guess when winter sets in I’ll see how dedicated I really am. For now, it’s just one foot in front of the other.

Category : Walks

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