Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, My Beloved!

Please join me today in wishing a very happy and blessed celebration of her birthday to my beloved wife and life-mate, Jen.  I'll decline to state her age directly, but for the next seven months, she and I are the same age (at least, in terms of integral years).

In our family, we like to tell each other on our birthdays, "I'm glad you were born!"  Simple, straightforward, and to-the-point, don't you think?  In Jen's case, I can honestly say that I am gladder for her birth than anyone else's I can think of.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Loosely paraphrased - 'Stuff Gets Broke'.

This past week has been a tad. . . frustrating.  And I don't always deal well with frustration.  God's approach to me in this regard sometimes comes to seem like, 'Just keep sending him more of it, until he figures out how to do it right'.  Which could account for all sorts of ways my life has gone that I wouldn't exactly have planned. . .  But, I digress. . .

Last week, I was overdue for a tire rotation on my car.  When you drive 40k+ miles/year, like I do, getting an extra 5k-10k miles out of a set of tires is non-trivial, so I try to be pretty punctilious about doing tire rotations.  I used to be able to get them done at the oil-change place that I visit roughly monthly (and those regular oil changes are a major factor in the fact that my car has 267k miles on it, and still going strong; just sayin'), but the oil-change place broke their lift, and they've subsequently decided that the money they stand to make from things like tire rotations, for which they need a lift, doesn't outweigh the cost of a new lift.  So tire rotations suddenly became significantly more complex in my life.

No matter, though; Jen and I worked out a pretty satisfactory arrangement, whereby, every couple months or so, when I'm due for a tire rotation, we swap cars, and she takes my car to the tire place where we bought the tires, which just happens to be around the corner from her job, and they do the rotation as part of the 'tire maintenance plan', at a greatly reduced cost.  So, win-win.

This arrangement has the side benefit that I get to drive Jen's car at least every couple months, so I can loosely keep track of how her car is doing, and identify any maintenance needs that she might not notice.

Anyhow, last week, we swapped cars, and my tires got duly rotated.  I was driving Jen's car down the freeway toward home at the end of my work day when, for whatever reason, I reached for the clutch pedal (both our cars have manual transmissions).  And it wasn't there!  I mean, when my foot went to the 'clutch-pedal-space' under the dashboard, there was no pedal there.  I did a quick inventory of pedals, finding the accelerator and the brake, but the clutch pedal was missing in action.  I felt around a bit more, and found it, flat against the firewall, and totally useless.  Uh-oh. . .

Fortunately, I made this discovery pretty early in my homeward commute, so I had the better part of an hour to work through in my mind what might be going on, and how best to handle it.  We had replaced the clutch in that car just a couple years ago, so it seemed unlikely that the problem was in the clutch itself, and was probably in the pedal mechanism.  As long as I was on the freeway, without any need to change gears, I was fine.  The problem would come when I got off the freeway and had to stop, or change gears.  So I planned, if necessary, to pull the car off to the side of the 'surface road' and call for a tow, if I needed to.

As I got off the freeway, I could see ahead that the traffic light was just turning red.  Dang it!  So I braked, slowing to a virtual crawl, trying to hit the light while I was still rolling.  But the car was still in 5th gear from the freeway.  So, I made some attempts to drop into a lower gear, shoving the shift lever around, hoping it would clunk in to one of the lower gears.  Just as the light turned green, I got it to clunk into 2nd gear, which allowed me to speed back up from a near-standstill and continue on.  So, I turned on my 4-way flashers, and limped on down the road in 2nd gear.  Eventually, I was able to clunk it into 3rd gear, which was a little better for limping down the road.  I adopted a strategy of alternately coasting and accelerating, trying to leave a good long distance between me and the car ahead of me, so I could hit as many traffic lights green as possible, knowing that, if I ever had to come to a full stop, I was probably done.

I managed to limp the car all the way into my own driveway like that, and then from our house to the mechanic, three blocks away.

So - yay, and all that.  Pat myself on the back for being so clever.  But, we still haven't had the use of Jen's car for the past week.  And, it being a nine-year-old car with 252k miles on it, it was an open question as to whether or not this was even a repair worth doing, or whether it was time to say farewell, and thanks, to a car that had served us well.

Turns out the problem is in the slave cylinder in the hydraulic clutch system, which was part of the clutch replacement from two years ago, and it's under warranty.  So, the replacement will end up costing only $300 or so, instead of the four-figure numbers that flash in my head every time I hear the word 'clutch'.  And even better, one of our neighbors (who is also a member of our Christian community) has given Jen more-or-less free use of their 'spare car'.  So, while it's been a significant disruption, it hasn't been nearly as bad as it might have been.


For years, Jen has gotten by with buying a rebuilt vacuum cleaner every few years, rather than buying a new one.  And it's been OK, but we do end up spending a fair bit of time with our vacs in for repairs.  For most of those years, I've been hearing ads on the radio in my car for Oreck vacuum cleaners, and how light they are, and how powerful, etc, etc, etc.  And they've seemed to have good customer ratings, when I've checked them out.  So, every few years, I've asked Jen if she might rather get a new Oreck, than buy another rebuilt vac, but she's always waved me off, and said she's just fine with the used ones.

This past spring, though, for whatever reason, when our most recent used vac went to vac-heaven, she told me she was ready.  "Let's just go ahead and get that Oreck you keep trying to get me to buy."  So, we went on-line, and it turned out that the model we were most interested in was on sale.  So, we bought it, and vacuum-cleaner life was good.

Now, these most recent hot summer days have induced our kids to spend more of their time indoors than they might normally do in the summertime.  And our family room shows the effects of their modified strategy, mainly in the form of a copious coating of crumbs, from various and sundry chips, crackers, slices of toast, etc, etc, etc.  So, late last week, as I walked through the family room upon returning home from work, I noticed the remarkable abundance of crumbs, grabbed the first kid I saw, and told him to vacuum the family-room carpet.  "I can't," he said.

What?!?  You CAN'T?!?!?  Why not??

"Because the vacuum cleaner is broke."

I looked for Jen.  "The vacuum cleaner is broken?"  She nodded sadly.  The belt had snapped, rendering it virtually useless for cleaning carpets.  So, we had to take the vac in to get fixed.  And we, um, had a bit of trouble locating the warranty papers, which did nothing to ease the stress/frustration levels.  At least, we could borrow the neighbor's vac to get rid of the carpet crumbs. . .


Finally, Sunday morning, after church, we were preparing for our semi-regular Sunday Brunch.  We were having a few guests in, since we were having our 'family observance' of 5M's 20th birthday (we hardly ever observe birthdays on the day itself; sometimes the observance can lag the actual birthday by weeks; it's a big-family thing; you wouldn't understand).  Somewhere along the line, we discovered that the kitchen sink wasn't draining.  Which was actually a mildly catastrophic situation; Sunday brunch is by far the biggest generator of dirty dishes of any of our family meals, and a plugged drain takes the dishwasher out of service.  I spent an hour or so poking and prodding at the pipes under the sink, finally determining that, whatever was causing the clog, it was beyond my meager powers to unclog it.  So, we ended up doing a couple hours' worth of dishes by hand, carrying basins of water from the bathroom to the kitchen, and dumping the dirty water in the back yard.  And then we got to pay a plumber to come and unplug our pipes (although, he was also able to address the problem in more permanent fashion than I could have, so it works out OK, even if our wallets are a tad lighter than we'd prefer).


So, it came to feel a bit like a 'perfect storm' of broken/disabled machines.

I never cease to be amazed at the ways such disruptions, uh, disrupt our lives.  Losing a car is a fairly big deal, with both Jen and me needing cars to get to work.  And even just the knowledge that, sometime in the relatively near future, we'll be car-shopping again, causes me to break out in a sweat (mostly just wondering where we'll get car-shopping time from).  The vacuum cleaner and dishwasher are less major, but the time it takes to deal with those things is precious.  The dish-washing actually turned out kinda fun - the whole family gathered in the kitchen, doing the old assembly-line like Jen and I did when we were kids (Jen wanted us to sing, but the teenagers were in a more surly mode, so we just accepted such 'family togetherness' as we could muster, and called it good).

But, my goodness - how did people live, before they had vacuum cleaners and dishwashers?

Sunday, July 22, 2012


A while back, I wrote a post about solar eclipses I've seen, in my young life, and the comments for that post took a turn toward 'celestial sights' more generally - such things as Comet Hale-Bopp, or the Moon-Venus-Jupiter conjunction of this past spring, and this summer's transit of Venus.  My friend Xavier mentioned meteor showers, and shooting stars in general, and that reminded me of another story I have to tell. . .


As you may know, if you've followed this blog for very long, for many years (somewhere around 20), I've volunteered at a kids' summer camp (although this year, they've decided that it's time to engage a younger generation of parents in serving the kids, so I won't be going to camp this year).  In general, my role at camp didn't involve living with the kids in a cabin, so once the lights were out, those few of us who were similarly irresponsible unencumbered had some time to ourselves before we hit the sack.

For good reason, alcoholic beverages were not allowed on camp property, at least around the kids.  So those of us irresponsible unencumbered types would occasionally, under cover of darkness, go out on a boat late at night to have a beer refreshing beverage (particularly if the temperature had climbed above 85F or so during the day).

Now,  after dark, in the middle of a lake in the middle of nowhere, the available options for passing the time it takes to drink a beer refreshing beverage are fairly limited.  Sometimes, we'd tell each other stories, or talk about how things were going for us, or our kids, at camp.  But one of our favorite ways to pass those late-night half-hours (or heck, hours; sometimes you just have to nurse your beer refreshing beverage a bit) was to just lean back and gaze at the sky, watching for shooting stars, or other celestial phenomena.

As I said, our camp was on a small lake, in the middle of serious no-place.  So there wasn't much in the way of Ambient Light Pollution (unless there was a full moon, or somesuch).  Which is to say, the sky was full of stars to a degree we never get to see in our more urban setting back home - thousands, heck, millions of stars were splashed across the night sky, and the denser band of the Milky Way was clearly visible, stretching from one end of the sky to the other.  We could orient ourselves by locating the North Star and the Big Dipper at the northern end of the lake, and the W-shape of Cassiopeia.  During camp time (early August), the constellation Scorpio, with its bright star Antares, stretched across the southern sky.

Our camp has typically been held around the end of July, or the beginning of August. Which means that camp has usually roughly coincided with the time of the Perseid Meteor Shower, so our shooting-star sightings have sometimes been fairly prolific.

As it turns out, one of the 'boat-guys' was well-versed in the protocols of shooting-star sightings (or at least, he said he was, and he managed to convince the rest of us), and he instituted among us the protocol that all shooting-star sightings had to be 'confirmed' - so much as to say (at least, by light of the protocol), if only one of us saw it, we couldn't be sure of what we'd seen, but if two of us saw it, it 'counted' as a reliable sighting.  So we'd be laid back on our seats in the boat, gazing at the sky, and one of the guys would point and shout, "OOH!" and if the others were all looking  at a different corner of the sky, we'd say, in desultory tones, "UNconfirmed. . .", leaving the poor fellow to gnash his teeth in frustration, making his appeal as to what a wonderful sighting it had been, how bright, or how long its path had been, but the rest of us would merely shake our heads sorrowfully, repeating, "UNconfirmed. . ."

Of course, it was about as common for two or three guys to suddenly point at the sky, shouting, "OOH!  OOH!" (which, on occasion, sounded a bit like a chorus of gorillas from one of our 'silly camp songs'; but I digress), and then the group of them could have the satisfaction of saying "confirmed!"  And sometimes, if it was a particularly bright or long-lasting shooter, the first-sighter's cry-and-point would prompt the rest of us to quickly swivel our heads, and catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared, and we could all say "confirmed!" together.

Shooting stars weren't the only things we saw moving across the sky.  Once our eyes got dialed-in to the low light levels, we'd notice anything that moved against the stark black background, and the fixed white points of light sprinkled across it.  In particular, we'd see orbiting sattelites, which looked like very dim stars moving slowly across the sky (although, in point of fact, they were moving at many thousands of miles per hour, and crossing the sky in a matter of a few minutes; compared to the shooting stars, though, they were positively pokey).  Some of us would actually check the astronomical charts before camp, so we'd know if Mars was up in the southeast, or whatever.  It was always a little hilarious when we'd get a newbie on the boat, and he'd get all excited and point at a pair of flashing red-and-green dots moving across the sky, slightly quicker, but considerably brighter than a sattelite.  "OOH!  OOH!" he'd cry, and we'd all turn to look, and someone would say, with an air of disdain, "Airplane. . ."  Sometimes, more often than we might have thought, we'd see a plane flying in a northeasterly direction, at very high altitude, and we'd wonder where in the world it was flying to, since there are no population centers - none whatsoever - which would have an airport to which such a high-flying jet would be bound - to the northeast of our little lake (perhaps it was a red-eye from Chicago to Europe, on a great-circle route to London or Paris?)


One night, we were sitting in the boat, idly gazing at the sky, not getting much action.  I remember I was seated in such a way that I was generally looking toward the northeast.  Suddenly, from the northeast corner of the lake, in the center of my field of vision, I saw a bright light slowly rising from the horizon, looking almost like a rocket slowly leaving its launching pad, getting brighter as it rose.  It was many times brighter than a normal shooting star, and at least at first, it was moving fairly slowly; it looked almost like a giant celestial fourth-of-july sparkler.  At first, I was so stunned, I couldn't even form a coherent sound; I just pointed and grunted - "UH. . . UH. . ."

The other guys all spun in their seats toward where I was pointing, as the brilliant light continued its rise above the treetops, now looking like a brightly-glowing fuzzy caterpillar, moving faster as it rose.  And all of us in the boat could only watch in slack-jawed wonder.

When it had risen to maybe 30 degrees above the horizon, suddenly, it veered and accelerated rapidly, splitting the sky, roughly from north to south, in less than a second, leaving behind a glowing ion trail that marked its path, for almost a full minute afterward.  And it was about that long before any of us could speak.  It was probably the most spectacular thing I've ever seen in the sky.

Finally, one of the guys managed to form his mouth into a single word -



I rode 45 miles on my bike yesterday, bringing my total for 2012 to 1001 miles, making this the sixth consecutive year I've ridden 1000 miles or more.  This is also the earliest that I've hit the thousand-mile mark since I lost weight and got back on my bike, and by a full month.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Let's Play Four. . .

7M is a fairly talented baseball player, the latest installment in the line of my sons who have played with some decent level of skill.  He played for a team this summer which was composed of 7th and 8th graders, Mostly 8th graders.  The same group of 8th-grade boys, from various Catholic schools around Our Town, has been playing together since they were 9 or 10 years old.  Last year, as 7th graders, they took their lumps, winning roughly half their games in a 7th-8th league.  This year, they did much better, winning their league championship with only a single loss during their season.  Such is the difference between being younger than most of the other teams, and being older.

7M was one of the better players on his team.  He was one of the main pitchers, and batted either 3rd or 4th in the lineup all season.  I don't know what his batting average was; in fact, I didn't get to see very many of his games, since my commute usually got me home late enough that his games were about half-over by the time I got back to Our Town.  As the season wore on, I made more of an effort to catch such bits of his games as I could, since he really appreciated it whenever I could come.  So, often as not, Jen would bring my supper to the ballgames, and I would eat it in the bleachers while I watched.

We developed an odd, and frustrating, pattern, wherein I would arrive at the game, and as I walked up to the ball field, the other parents would greet me with, "Oh, you just missed 7M's hit - he really crushed it!"  Then, when he came to bat again, he would get walked, or hit by a pitch, or some other less-dramatic thing than The One I Didn't See.

(*sigh*)  Alas. . .


Last week, 7M's team played in a tournament (it had nothing to do with the league they'd played in all summer; it was just one of those tournaments that any team can pay the entry fee and play).  As is common with baseball tournaments, it was double-elimination, meaning that every team plays until they lose twice.  Once a team loses their first game, they drop into the dreaded Loser's Bracket, where they keep playing until they lose a second game.  Aside from the name, one of the major downsides of the Loser's Bracket is that you end up playing a LOT of games.  If you keep on winning, you can earn the right to play the team that stayed in the Winner's Bracket all along, without ever losing.  And you can even win the championship, if you beat that team. . . twice.  But of course, they win by beating you only once, since you already have a loss.

7M's team lost a game fairly early on, thereby dropping into the Loser's Bracket.  The upshot of which was that they had to play (and win) two games on Saturday just to stay alive.  And Saturday, in these parts, was what they call a scorcher, with a high temperature around 93F.  And when they succeeded in winning both of their Saturday games, they were set up for a brutal gauntlet of games on Sunday, starting at 9:30 AM.  On Sunday, each game they won earned them the right to play again, a half-hour after the end of the previous game.  So, when they won their 9:30 game, they got to play again at noon.  When they won their noon game, that made them the champion of the Loser's Bracket, and they got to play the Winner's Bracket champion at 2:30.  And if they won that game, they got to play the same team again at 5:00 for the championship.

I missed the 9:30 game, since I had some, uh, liturgical responsibilities at church (and obviously, the tournament organizers were not remotely worried about how the players and their families would be getting to church).  So I called Jen, who had gone to the early game with 7M, to find out how the early game had gone.  When she told me they'd won, I changed into ballgame-watching clothes, filled as many water bottles as I could lay my hands on (Sunday was, if anything, even hotter than Saturday had been), and headed to the ball field.

I parked the car and as I walked up to the field, I was met by a chorus of my fellow-parents regaling me with, "Oh, you just missed it!  7M hit a home run!"  Sheesh; again?  But as I said already, they duly won their game (over the team that had sent them into the Loser's Bracket in the first place), and the right to play for the tournament championship.

At that point, I expected that they had Gone About as Fur as They Could Go, since the mercury had climbed back into the 90s, and they were playing their third game of the day, against a fresh team that had cruised through all their games up to that point.  In fact, it was a team 7M's team had played last year, and been soundly beaten by.  Badly, even.  We hadn't seen them yet this year, because they had moved up to a more-competitive division.  They had a couple of really top-notch players, including one young man who was built like a plow horse, could run like a thoroughbred, and threw bullets (sort of like a 14-year-old Kirk Gibson, with a better arm).  I figured that we were about due to have the heat catch up with us, and anyway, the team we were playing was probably just better than us, anyhow.  And the idea of getting out of the solar furnace was not, I admit, unattractive, either.

But, lo and behold, it seemed that, by virtue of playing two earlier games, our boys' heads and bodies were in full competitive baseball mode, whereas the other team, having stepped out of their parents' air-conditioned SUVs, seemed to be more affected by the heat.  They committed a few early errors, and their bullet-throwing pitcher got frustrated, started over-throwing, got wild, and ended up getting pulled.  And the other pitchers we saw were all more eminently hittable.  Before we knew it, we were ahead 7-0, and by the end of the 5th inning, we were ahead 15-3, so the 10-run mercy rule was invoked.  It was the other team's first loss all season.  And I'm guessing those kids had never in their lives been on the losing end of the mercy rule.  So, against all odds, we were set to play our fourth consecutive game, this time for the championship.

I had no illusions as to how easy it would be to win that last game.  At some point, I figured, the heat, and all those games, would catch up to us, and we wouldn't catch the other team back on their heels again.  Plus, by playing four games in a single day (and six over the weekend), we were running out of pitchers.  7M had already thrown 11 innings over the two days, so he wasn't available even for relief duty.

But lo and behold, we came out even stronger in the second game than we had in the first, amassing a 10-0 lead by the end of the 2nd inning.  Our bats were incredibly hot.  Even the kids who didn't normally hit a lot were having bloopers drop in, and the big bats were sending big drives over the outfielders' heads.  7M hit a triple, and as he stood on third, I called out to him, "I saw THAT!"

We held that lead for the next couple innings, but in the 3rd and 4th innings, it all seemed to come apart.  I don't know if the heat, or plain exhaustion, started kicking in, but we made a bunch of errors.  And you know how it is, that when the first error happens, somehow, it just makes the next one that much more likely, and pretty soon, it's like nobody can think straight.   By the end of the 4th inning, we were behind, 12-10.  Somehow, though, our boys collected themselves and scratched out three runs in the 5th, taking a 13-12 lead.  The other team scored a run in the 6th inning, tying the game, and it stayed that way as we came to bat in the bottom of the 7th (and nominally final) inning.

7M led off the inning, with the other team's bullet-thrower back on the mound, now himself recollected, and throwing incredibly hard.  But 7M got around on one of his pitches, and drilled a double over the left-fielder's head.  The next batter, a lefty, hit a similar ball to right field that the right fielder was able to run down, but 7M was able to tag up and advance to third base.  So we had a runner on third, with one out, and a pair of decent, if not quite super-stellar hitters coming up.  The opposing coach intentionally walked both of them, though, setting up forces all around, and bringing a young man named Will to the plate.  Will is a gritty little ballplayer, but - how shall I say it? - he's a gritty LITTLE ballplayer.  And a 7th-grader, to boot.  He had come to bat against the flame-thrower kid earlier, and hadn't come close to getting around on his stuff.  I would be disingenuous if I told you I wasn't thinking that we were headed to extra innings.

The big kid went into his windup, and suddenly 7M broke for home, running full-speed down the line.  The pitch came home, little Will turned and squared, and dropped the most beautiful bunt you ever saw, between the pitcher and the third-base line.  But it didn't matter.  By the time the ball landed fair, 7M was already across the plate with the winning run.  Incredible. . .  I told our coach afterwards that he's got some pretty big ones.  And honestly, it was a pretty genius move, since Will was unlikely to do any damage any other way, and he's probably the best bunter on the team. . .

So, 7M and his team ended up playing six games over two days, and four in ten hours on Sunday, all in 90+ degree heat, winning every single one of them, on the way to winning the tournament championship by handing an excellent squad their first two losses of the season.

I never would have thought that I could ever remotely be 'baseballed out', but today I'm pretty close.  Somewhere in there, I figure that Jen and I must have earned some kind of 'Parent Points' for sitting for that many hours in the scorching heat, watching our son play baseball.  And by the time the last game finally ended, and the trophies were well and properly handed out, it was nearly 8 o'clock, and the last mass in town was just ending.  Sheesh.

But. . . wow. . . just Wow. . .

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Another Birthday, and Cycles

Please join me in wishing a very happy and blessed 20th birthday to our son 5M, who, by virtue of his status almost exactly halfway between our oldest and youngest children, is the closest any of our children can come to claiming the designation as our 'Middle Child', even though his Borg Designation '5-of-8' might suggest something more like 'early in the second half'.  No matter.  He is a very earnest, and yet very fun-loving young man, and he has mainly been a joy to Jen and me, and our family.


Also, with this birthday, we are down to only two teenagers in our family.  I was going through the math recently, and cumulatively, we have had three teenagers for roughly 9 of the past 11 years.  We have never had four (2F turned 20 a month before 5M turned 13; likewise 3M and 6F); we will never have three again (6F will turn 20 a month before 8M turns 13).  By the time 7M turns 20, we will have had at least two teenagers for all but a month of 20 consecutive years. . . (*tic*). . . (*tic*). . . (*tic*). . .


The children in our family fall in this odd 10-year cycle, wherein each of our children (except 4M) has a 'decade buddy' among his/her siblings.  1F was born in 1982, 2F in '85, 3M in '88, 4M in '90, 5M in '92, 6F in '95, 7M in '98 and 8M in '02.  Thus, 2F/6F are a 'decade pair', born in the '5-years' '85/'95; 3M/7M are '88/'98.  1F/5M/8M are a '2-year' triad '82/'92/'02.

Alas, 4M has no 'decade buddy' for the '0-years'.  But Jen and I were married in 1980, and we moved into our current house in 2000, so his 'decade buddies' are just a tad more 'abstract' than his siblings', I suppose (and having three children after Jen's 40th birthday would have seemed just gratuitous on the part of the Universe, don't you think?).  He was born barely a week after our 10th anniversary, so when I took Jen out to dinner in honor of our Tin Anniversary (seriously? tin??), she was very great with child (and heck, she's pretty darn good, even without child. . . *ba-doomp!*).  Which just seemed fitting, somehow. . .

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feeling a Draft

My blog-friend Uncle Skip recently posted in observance of the anniversary of his induction into United States military service.  I never served in the military, but even so, his post reminded me of a story from my own young life, of my own very limited interface with the US military.  I thought that I had posted it before, but it turns out I hadn't; so now I am correcting that gap in the stories of my life presented here.  Enjoy. . .


When I was in my childhood, and into my teens, the Vietnam War was still in full swing, and registration for the draft was compulsory.  In fact, sometime in the 60s, a lottery was instituted; every year, birthdates were pulled out of a rotating drum at random, setting the order in which that year's crop of draftees would be called.  The lottery results were published in the newspapers, and, like most young men, I would check the list to find my birthday on the list.  In all the years I checked, my 'draft number' was never significantly below 200 (out of 365), which I regarded as hopeful, that I might actually bypass the government's offer of a free trip to southeast Asia.  Not, mind you, that I was categorically or morally opposed to military service, or unpatriotic, or anything like that; I merely hoped to complete my education, get married and raise a family, and all that 'regular stuff', without the disruptions that military service would entail.

I actually went away to college when I was still 17; my 18th birthday was in the spring of my freshman year.  So, a couple months before my birthday, I got a letter in the mail, which very helpfully reminded me that it was my duty as a citizen to register for the draft within 30 days of my 18th birthday, which in my case meant 'between the dates of 1 February 1974 and 2 April 1974' (since my birthday is March 3).  It even told me where the nearest Selective Service office was (in the Student Services Building, right on campus), for my convenience.  I noted the correspondence, and made sure to stash it in a prominent, visible location on my desk, lest I forget my obligation to my friends, neighbors and fellow-citizens.

Now, at the time (being a not-yet-18-year-old freshman) I saw no particular reason to run right out and register early.  And my birthday was down toward the end of the Winter Quarter (my university, in those days, divided its academic year into quarters, rather than semesters), and final exams loomed.  So I decided that I would have plenty of time, without urgent academic pressure, to register at the beginning of the Spring Quarter.  I finished my exams and went on spring break, and all was well with the world.

I returned from spring break and got settled into my Spring Quarter classes.  On April 3 (of course, the date is absolutely significant), I was sitting at my desk, when my eyes fell on my letter from Uncle Sam.  I smacked myself on the forehead for forgetting to do it sooner, and ran right out to the Student Services Building, found the Selective Service office, and duly registered for the draft.  Yes, I thought to myself, it's actually 31 days since my 18th birthday, but I had done my duty, if a day late.  No big deal, right?

I can hear those of my friends who've ever dealt with either the government or the military, laughing at my precious naivete.  And of course, in due time, it was impressed upon me just how big a deal it really was.  It was perhaps a month or so later, that I received a letter from the Selective Service Administration.  I opened the letter, thinking that it was an acknowledgement of my faithful registration, and instructing me as to what happened next.  I was a little unclear as to exactly what the process was, and when I got my vaunted Draft Card, and all that.

I don't have the letter anymore, so I can't quote it verbatim.  But, in so many words, it said:

"Your duty under the law is to register for the draft within 30 days of your 18th birthday.  We see here that you registered on April 3, which is 31 days after your birthday.  If you think you're making some sort of a statement, or having a joke at our expense, we're not laughing.  Send us a letter explaining your actions within 30 days of the date of this letter.  If you don't, or if we don't like your reasons, the law gives us a range of options for dealing with people like you, including drafting your ass immediately.  Have a nice day."

Oh, I wrote the most sorrowful, contrite letter you ever saw, explaining that I meant nothing by my tardiness, that I wasn't remotely trying to make any sort of grandstand moral or political point, or, God forbid, making a joke at their expense, because, hahahaha, that would be incredibly stupid, wouldn't it?  That I had simply put it off too long and lost track of the time, what with exams and spring break and the beginning of the new quarter, and all.  And how really, really, REALLY sorry I was for the inconvenience that my procrastination had caused them, and that I loved my country, and may God bless you all, and the President of these United States.  And Mrs. Nixon, too.  Pleasepleaseplease don't draft me.  Thank you.  PS - Can I mow your lawn, or wash your car, or anything?  Believe me, it was pathetic.

Evidently, I appeased their wrath, because the next correspondence I received was the standard, 'OK, we got your registration; here's what happens next' letter.  For which I heaved a heavy, grateful sigh. . .


As it turned out, when the lottery took place for those of us turning 19 in 1975, which was when I would actually be 'on the line', my lottery number was 53.  It figures; all those years of numbers above 200, and when it really matters, I drew 53.  But 1975 was also the year that US troops left Vietnam, so the draft didn't go very far down the list that year, and never got as far as 53.  It wasn't very many years after that, that the draft was eliminated altogether, and the US military became an all-volunteer force.

I wonder, from time to time, if my letter still exists, buried in a file somewhere in the basement of a warehouse in Washington.  But as far as making points is concerned, the SSA made theirs, and they got my full and undivided attention, for a couple months during my freshman year of college. . .


Jen and I, and our three youngest kids (ie, the ones still unfortunate enough to be living under our roof) got home yesterday evening from a little 4-day mini-vacation.  Our goal was to be home in time to catch the fireworks show in Our Town, but as it happened, we decided to pass on the fireworks this year, when it was still 92F at 9:15 PM.  As it was, our A/C could only cool our house down to 81F.  Which was just fine with us, especially given how the A/C cuts the humidity. . .

We spent 4+ days at Jen's mom's house over in the Thumb of Michigan.  Since she remarried a couple years back, my MIL and her husband have spent most of their time living at his house here in Our Town, only four blocks from us.  Which means that Mom's house over Thumb-wheres spends a lot of time sitting empty.  So Jen hit upon this great idea of us taking a vacation there - it's only five miles from Lake Huron, and Jen's sister has a place on/near the lake, only eight miles away, so we could spend a lot of time with her and her two kids, as well.

And all in all, we had a real good time.  We got to hang at the beach and chill with Jen's sister (and help her with some maintenance on her cottage).  And when Sister had to go to work on Monday/Tuesday, we talked her into letting her kids stay with us (five kids is not a freaky situation for us, by any means).

Jen and I were sitting in the kitchen one morning, and we noticed several large paint blisters on the kitchen ceiling, that have bugged us the last couple times we've been to her mom's house.  Jen, being the type who doesn't let annoying paint blisters just sit there, without letting herself be provoked into taking action, decided that, what the heck, as long as we're here, let's just scrape 'em; it's only about ten minutes' work, and her mom loves to paint, anyway.  Three hours later, virtually the entire kitchen ceiling was devoid of paint.  Apparently, the last time it had been painted, the prep-work had left something to be desired.  So Jen ended up shooting her mom one of those phone calls that grown daughters sometimes shoot their mothers; the kind that begin with, "Mom. . . you love me, right? . . ."

8M watched something like two full seasons of Spongebob Squarepants, since we were Officially On Vacation, and Jen and I were inclined to be a tad more indulgent than usual.  I now know WAAAAYYYYY more about Spongebob, Squidward, Patrick, et al than I ever thought I would.  Or wanted to.

We also took a day to Be Tourists in Our Own (or at least, our wife/mother's) County.  I came across something a few years ago relating to the Sanilac Petroglyphs, Native American etchings in a large outcropping of sandstone, right there in Jen's home county, and the only such site in Michigan, as far as anybody knows.  And, as is so often the case, Jen had never heard of them, much less seen them.  So, we took a trip across Sanilac County to go see them (I might as well mention that Sanilac County is the largest county in the Lower Peninsula, and the petroglyphs are at the far opposite corner of the county from Jen's hometown, which might help account for why she'd never been there; at any rate, it was roughly a 50-mile drive, without ever leaving the county).  It was very interesting, and very cool; the petroglyphs are believed to be between 300-1000 years old, which pretty much predates the presence of Europeans in this part of the world.

On our way to the petroglyphs, and on the other end of the technological time-line, we drove past three large wind farms - clusters of huge wind turbines - in Sanilac and neighboring Huron counties, of whose existence we had been unaware.  It really was a pretty striking scene - we counted well over 100 wind turbines, each one well over 200 feet tall, with propellor blades probably 150 feet in length.  As we drove, more and more of them kept appearing over the horizon.  It was really quite a stunning vista - the big machines have a kind of stately grace to them, with a clean simplicity to their design as they spun slowly, turning wind into electric power.  And all the moreso for the fact that we had been completely unaware of their existence.  It's funny - in the last couple weeks, on my drives to/from work, I've seen maybe a dozen of the giant propeller blades being transported on the freeway, and wondered where they were all going.  I guess now I know. . .

Anyway, we had a good time.  Or at least a good-enough time.  Close-quarters with two teenagers and a very, uh, chatty and inquisitive ten-year-old, in a very slow-moving rural town certainly had its moments, but on the whole, I think it was good, and family-building.

And it's good to be home. . .