Thursday, November 30, 2006

From my mother's cedar chest


First we have my great grandfather Albert Boardman Earle, in an undated picture.

If anyone can identify that car, they get extra points. I have no idea what it is!

Next, another undated picture. This is my mom, born in 1916. Hard to tell how old she was here, but clearly she was pretty!

Next, who could this cute little guy possibly be? And why would his picture be in my mother's cedar chest? Couldn't be me, could it?

Finally, I found this picture of a dashing Naval midshipman from 1966. What a great-looking guy!

Here's a close up cropped from that same shot:

Everybody, sing along with me:

"Those were the days, my friend.

We thought they'd never end..."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Texas Thanksgiving golf

Taken by Carol (of course) on the golf courses we played over the holiday weekend.

Think it was humid this morning?
How humid was it?

Pretty darned humid!

Was there any fog?

OH, yeah!

For a while, anyway.

But later the sun came out, right?


At one point this great big fellow wanted to play through...

Did we let him? You bet!

One more shot of a different fairway on Sunday when the clouds rolled in.

Temps in the 70s each day. A great golf weekend.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two unrelated topics

First, let me say that the “Not Right For Our List” notice from the literary agent was not any kind of real disappointment. I had figured long, long before that their silence was an eloquent way of saying “No thanks.”

I just found it surprising that they bothered to send the form rejection card at all after so much time. It seemed to me that after 8 full months something more ought to be stuck in the envelope than just the blue card.

Maybe something like, “Hey, sorry, but I just found your query where it had fallen behind my filing cabinet." Or maybe, "Hey, John, my assistant just found your query in an old stack of mail my former assistant never opened."

I read Miss Snark. I understand that the publishing industry moves v-e-r-r-r-y slowly. But some writers do depend on reasonably prompt communications to earn a living. Most real businesses do as well. I certainly wouldn’t want that agent representing me if it took that long for me to get a royalty check!

Next topic: I was tagged by Shirl a few days ago as follows:

1. Write six weird things about yourself.
2. Post this confession of the absurd on your blog.
3. Tag six other bloggers to do the same challenge.
4. Leave a comment on each of their blogs to inform them they have been chosen

Now, why Shirl thought I might have ANY weird attributes is beyond me. But one man’s “weird” is another man’s “normal,” so here goes:

1. I can smile and whistle at the same time. No, I don’t mean a little grin while I pucker and whistle a tune. I mean a big, toothy, ear-to-ear smile. How? I use my tongue and upper palate, and can whistle recognizable tunes for long periods of time. I used to drive officers crazy when I was in the military. I’d stand in formation with a big grin and whistle, and they could never figure out who was doing it.

2. I cry at sappy, happy movies and at weddings. Very un-macho.

3. I work while Carol stays home and takes care of the thousands of things that two-income families have a hard time getting done. We both like it that way.

4. (Now THIS is REALLY weird!) I married Carol 38 years ago and love her more today than ever. Can’t help myself.

5. My wife beats me at golf just about every time we play (unless she’s playing really badly), and that’s OK. Even when people ask me if my husband plays golf after they see me wimp a drive.

6. I love leftovers, so Carol can cook a huge meal once a week or so and we’ll eat from it for the next six days. Easy on her, and doesn’t bother me at all.

So, there you are. Weirdness by the half-dozen.

I think I’ll skip tagging the requisite six others and let any of you who feel more weird than normal (and that’s gotta be REALLY weird for some of you) have a go at it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm definitely thankful!

What a GREAT golf holiday weekend!

Oh! Was it Thanksgiving? We hardly noticed.

The weather in central Texas was simply PERFECT for golf. Temps in the mid 70s, low humidity, winds at 10-20, and clear skies. Well, today (Sunday) we had a few clouds; but no threat of rain.

We played 36 holes on Thursday, 27 holes on Friday, 36 holes on Saturday, and 18 holes today on our way home.


(Pictures soon – maybe tomorrow.)

Then, guess what was waiting for me when we got home. No, don’t guess; you’d never get it right in a million years.

I found in our mailbox a SASE (you know what that is, right? You DON’T?? It’s a Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope. Some purists insist that it be referred to as an SASE, as in “an Ess, Ay, Ess, Eee.” But I prefer to refer to it as “a Sassy.”) It was from a literary agency I’d queried about representing my novel.

No, it didn’t contain an offer to represent me. Nor did it contain a request that I send the agent additional sample chapters or the entire manuscript. No, it just contained a simple blue card that said although they appreciated my kind inquiry, they regretted to say that my project was not right for their list.

And that’s fine. Standard fare, in fact.

What made me laugh was that I’d sent in that query on March 17, 2006. And their response was postmarked November 20, 2006.

I guess I should be happy that it came in the same calendar year, right?

As Alan Jackson sings in “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” “Lordy, don’t the wheels turn slow!”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ode on a Black Friday (Reprise)

(In case you missed it last year, or weren't reading this blog then. I thought about this when I saw the ads already appearing in today's --Wednesday's -- paper and decided to run it again this year.)

Our paper came on Turkey day.
It weighed about a ton.
'Twas full of ads for stores with sales
On stuff for play or fun.

Or maybe gifts for someone else,
Or items for our homes.
Seemed everything that stores can sell
Was offered in those tomes.

The Mall would open early,
And to get a super deal,
You had to rise at two or three,
(You’d better pack a meal!),

And stand in line outside the door
To be among the first,
Supplies were short. And all agreed;
To lose out was the worst!

So people from around the town
Did congregate and gather
Outside the doors of many stores,
And all were in a lather.

The folks would push and shove to be
The first inside to buy.
As “Don’t get in my way today,
I’ll knock you down!” they’d cry.

The traffic on the streets, it seemed,
Was packed and barely moving,
And tempers flared and teeth were bared.
'Twas not exactly soothing.

I wondered, in the midst of all
This snarling, angst, and hissing,
If maybe there was something here
That all of them were missing.

What happened to the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
And “Peace on Earth!” we’d hear,
When friends and family gathered round
To share, from far and near?

This season is supposed to bring out
All the best in man,
Like loving, giving, peace and joy.
At least, that was the plan.

So what’s the answer? Is there, somehow,
Some sure way of stopping
The discontent connected with
Thanksgiving Friday Shopping?

For me it’s pretty simple:
When the mobs rush out to roam
The malls and stores and parking lots,
I’ll stay inside my home.

I’ll ponder God’s atoning Son,
The best gift given yet,
And do my Christmas shopping
On my high-speed internet!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Back in the saddle again

(“Saddle” = my normal routine.)

Airline travel between Houston and Washington Reagan on a Monday and a Friday meant planes that were booked to capacity. In fact, coming home on Friday the plane was overbooked. Continental was looking for “volunteers” to give up their seats in return for a $200 travel voucher good for one year. I wasn’t interested.

Now, if they’d been offering $200 cash, I might have stepped forward. You know what they say: Money talks.

On Friday morning I had to fight the stop-and-go rush hour traffic to get into Washington to catch my plane home. Then I got to fight the evening rush hour traffic getting out of Houston on the Southwest Freeway. More stop-and-creep.

Today I came back to an office full of things that had been deemed as "able to be put off for a few days." Thus nobody took the time to do them while I was gone. “Oh, John can do that after he gets back; just put it on his desk.”

Of course, this is a three-day week so I’ll still be behind NEXT week, after Thanksgiving.

That’s OK. It’s good to be home again. We’re planning to get outta town over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, so this will seem like a long vacation interrupted by three days of work in the middle. Not bad.

Thanks to all of you who expressed condolences. Your concern and kindness is/was much appreciated.

My posts may continue to be spotty this holiday week as I’m unsure about internet access where we’re going. I hope all my American friends who read this have a wonderful time feasting and giving thanks for family, friends, and other blessings. For those who don’t celebrate this uniquely American holiday, take a moment to give thanks for the good things in your life too.

It’s a good thing to do!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A tribute

She was born in July of 1916; thus she celebrated her 90th birthday just a few short months ago. She’d been raised in the South, spending years in Birmingham, Alabama and Alexandria, Virginia, before moving to Maryland and attending high school there.

When the stock market crashed in 1929 she was just 13 -- thus the Great Depression had a profound effect on the core values she developed as she grew up. Not many girls from families of limited means went to college in the 1930s, and though Fran was very smart a post-secondary education was not in her future.

She began a career in clerical work in the accounting office of a small business near Baltimore. A few years later she met Jack, a young engineer who worked at Proctor & Gamble’s Baltimore manufacturing plant. They were married and soon had a daughter and a son. Fran stayed home as a full time housewife and mom, while Jack brought home the bacon.

Over the years she and Jack passed on to their children the same values they had developed. These included financial conservatism, the belief that marriage was sacred and very important, that although married partners might disagree they never argued (much less fought), that a citizen should love America, that the right to vote should never be taken for granted, and that the opportunity to vote should never be missed.

They took their kids to church until the kids were old enough to make up their own minds about God. They understood the need for a good education, and sacrificed mightily to put their children through private schools and then four years of college.

Jack retired from Proctor & Gamble in 1975, and on Good Friday of 1976 he died of a sudden, massive heart attack. Fran never had any inclination to consider another marriage. She moved in with her daughter, and helped her raise the four grandchildren the daughter produced. This allowed Fran’s daughter to pursue her own career, rising to near the very top of civil service in the federal government in Washington, D.C.

As the years continued to pass, Fran’s physical capabilities diminished, but never her mental faculties. She remained just as sharp at 90 as she had been 40 years earlier.

On Monday, November 13, 2006, Fran died peacefully in her sleep. She had been experiencing fluid buildup in her lungs for a week or two before, but that seemed to be getting better. That morning, however, she went on to be reunited with Jack.

If you haven’t already figured it out, Fran was my mother.

I am in Maryland now with my sister (where the two of them have lived for decades) and will be here through the end of this week.

I’ll be back soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bigger nuts

No, this is NOT a post about the standard male fantasy that "size matters."

Several weeks ago I posted about "Nuts on the golf course," referring, as you no doubt remember, to pecans and acorns. At the end of the post I showed you this picture to demonstrate the size of Texas acorns -- in contrast to the wimpy acorns found in other parts of the country.

Well, today as we were making our way around the course, I happened to find myself wandering around in the shade looking for my wayward tee shot.

Acually it wasn't my only wayward tee shot of the day, it was my second one. We were on the second hole. There are trees along the right side of the fairway. Most of these are pecan trees. But a bit deeper in the trees I found some other species including a quite mature Texas oak.

Scattered around beneath its canopy were many, many large acorns. Some of these impressed me as being significantly larger than the one I had shown you back in October, so I scooped up two nice specimens and brought them home.

In the photo below you'll see in the center the same acorn and quarter I had in the picture above. Dwarfing that acorn are the beauties I picked up today

Texas can be a fun place, sometimes. Today, finding nuts on the ground was a lot more fun than searching for those wayward golf shots.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A shameless plug

If you don’t regularly read my daughter Christina’s blog, you need to check out her current post titled, “What day is it, anyway?”

Her experiences of Thursday morning were some that most of us can relate to, and will smile at. Or laugh out loud, as I did.

You see, although she and I live in different time zones we often find ourselves commuting to and from our respective jobs at the same time. When I’m commuting and my cell phone rings, 9 times out of 10 it’s Christina.

And yes, Thursday morning she called me as she was frantically driving to work. So although I can only imagine the first “Oh, shit(!),” I actually heard her utter the second one. That’s because I was talking to her on the cell phone when she uttered it.

Read her post. You’ll understand.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We’re Safe! (For now...)

When I arrived home from work, the storm clouds were rapidly building over South Texas. It looked like a hurricane brewing, right over my house.

Carol met me at the door.

“I don’t think they fixed it!” She glared at me, as if it were my fault.

“The counter still doesn’t work?” I tried to sound sympathetic and a little outraged at the same time. It isn’t easy. Try it.

“I don’t know,” she fumed, “I haven’t put the battery and memory card in it yet. It just got here a few minutes ago. But look at this note!”

The camera body was still taped up inside a plastic bag. Through the plastic wrap I could read a strip of paper about one inch wide by six inches long. Hand-written on the left was “Still Same?” Typed across the rest of the strip was, “Check folder name of customer’s CF card. Correct name is ‘100OLYMP’, but it may be ‘XXXOLYMP’. XXX is any number. If it is not ‘100OLYMP’, please rewrite folder name correctly.”

I asked Carol, trying not to sound patronizing (she hates that), “Uh, what does THAT mean, do you suppose?”

Hands on hips, she snarled, “It PROBABLY means that they didn’t fix it. It says, ‘Still Same?’ It sounds to me like they think the problem is with our memory card. They didn’t send back the letter I sent in explaining that we had tried another new memory card, and that our old one worked fine in another camera. They probably lost that letter and didn’t know what we did to troubleshoot the problem!”

Now she was really getting worked up.

I suggested (as gently as I could), “Well, why don’t we put the battery and the memory card in and see what it does?”

She acquiesced, but didn’t relent. “It’s not going to work. I’m going to be REALLY mad if I have to send it back again!” I could see not just a typhoon, but also a Tsunami heading for Olympus’ headquarters.

With the battery in and the memory card positioned, she turned on the switch. After the normal boot up activities, the menu proclaimed the picture counter at 462. (That’s the correct number!)

I sensed the Tsunami receding to a swell, and the typhoon was now down to tropical storm strength. The sky overhead lightened a bit.

“Take a couple of pictures and then erase them,” I said. “Let’s see what the counter does.

She took three pictures, and the counter went down by one each time. She then erased the pics, and the counter went back to 462.

The seas calmed, the storm became a zephyr, and the sun broke through over South Texas. All was right with the world.

Well, except for my daughter Christina. She’s having computer problems in Tampa. I’ll probably be on the phone with her for a while figuring that out. She can post about that in her blog is she chooses.

But for now, I’m looking forward to a pleasant weekend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Our camera’s coming back!

They’re sending it 2nd day air. Maybe that’s Olympus’ way of saying they’re sorry we’ve had to send it off for warranty service twice in the last two months.

What did they find? What did they do? Did they really fix it? We don’t know. We may find out from the info that comes with it tomorrow.

All we know right now is it’s on its way and it has a tracking number. Carol’s mood is slowly improving, but she remains skeptical that all will be well when she installs the battery and memory card, turns on the power and looks at the main menu.

If it is NOT fixed properly, be on the lookout for violent storm clouds tomorrow originating in South Texas and spreading out to wherever you live. And Lord help Olympus if they claim to have fixed the problem and nothing has changed. If that happens I think the storm will become a typhoon that will seek out Olympus’ headquarters in Japan.

Election results? Who cares~! The price of oil? No big deal. Earthquakes, floods, riots and wars? Fuggedaboudit (as Badabing would say).

We’re planning an out of town trip in two weeks, and Carol’s GOTTA have that camera.

Or maybe Christmas will come early this year, and the replacement will be a Nikon.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not a popular topic

One more brief post on United Way, and I’ll get off this horse.

First of all, I don’t think anybody appreciates being told how much they “ought” to give to any charity. That’s probably why the United Ways dropped the idea of “fair share” giving. I always tell employees where I work that giving is a personal decision. I will never pressure them to give at all, much less a certain amount!

I’ve been personally involved in our local United Way in one way or another for most of the past 20 years. I’ve served on the board of directors, in various panel positions including chair, and was even the organization’s treasurer for three years.

I’d encourage anyone with any curiosity and a little free time to volunteer to serve on an allocations panel or your local United Way.

You see, each locality (city, county, etc.) has its own local United Way board. This group sets the goals and approves the agencies that will receive funding. But the Allocations Panels (consisting of 3-6 or so volunteers) actually go visit the agencies, review their budgets, determine who they serve and what needs they meet. The panel recommends how much funding each agency should get.

So the control is maintained by LOCAL people, not outsiders. And over 90% of every United Way dollar collected is actually allocated (given) to the agencies that meet the community needs. Volunteers do most of the work, so overhead is about the lowest of any “charitable giving” programs out there.

Plus, there’s annual review and oversight to make sure the agencies aren’t wasting their money. If the allocations panel feels United Way money is being wasted, they simply won’t allocate funds to that agency.

So, if you want to help but don’t have a particular favorite local agency you want to give directly to, use your local United Way.

And now, back to our regular programming…

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Good Grief!

On Friday I wrote a post about my company's United Way campaign. Nankin commented that at HER employer, the "fair share" gift is considered to be one day's pay per month.


Um... Well... Wow!

I guess I must be really behind the times. Like I said, at my company one HOUR'S pay per month is considered the fair share gift, although they don't really use that phrase any more.

About half of my employees pledge that one hour's pay per month, and that always puts us in the top 10 in per capita giving in our local United Way. I'm wondering how many people at Nan's company pledge a day's pay per month (obviously 8 times what we consider to be gererous.)

How about it, Nan? Any percentages or figures on fair share giving at your place?

And you others who actually go to work and suffer through an annual giving campaign like this, what is considered "fair share" at your place (if you even use the concept)?

One hour's pay per month is only a bit over one half of one percent of a person's income. One day's pay per month is 8 times that much, or 4.6%. Some people tithe to their church, which equates to over TWO day's pay per month.

So, tell me your experiences, please.

I may have to adjust my thinking about charitable giving.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Heart warming!

Every now and then I report in this space about some goings on at work. The most recent was the tale of employee complaints about the way we paid out our quarterly bonus.

As HR Manager I get to deal with a lot of unhappy employees. Since I’m responsible for both the payroll function (including the time reporting) and the benefits, there always seems to be something wrong with one or the other of those areas – at least in the mind of one of my charges.

A minor example today was easily taken care of, but it will give you the idea.

Our health insurance plan USED to define a dependent child as eligible until age 19 unless, at that age, the child was a full time student. So long as he/she remained a full-time student, the child retained eligibility until age 25.

There were always problems involving how we defined “full-time” student. If in college, the usual test was whether the child was taking 12 or more semester hours. But that was problematic if during one semester only 6 or 9 hours could be scheduled due to availability of classes without conflicts.

So we removed the “full-time student” requirement last year, and now will cover children up to age 25 so long as they qualify as IRS dependents to our employee.

Well, today one employee brought to me a letter from our insurance company requesting verification of full time student status for his 21-year-old daughter. My employee’s wife panicked, because the daughter is only taking 9 hours this semester. They were certain that her claims would be denied and they would have to buy health insurance for her.


It was just an error at the insurance home office. One quick phone call cleared it up. But when it came to my office it was close to a full-blown emergency!

Anyway, my point is that I tend to think of employees as selfish and always complaining. Little children, so to speak.

But this week I began our annual United Way campaign. All I do every year is send an email announcing the campaign, and encourage everyone to consider a “fair share” gift of one hour’s pay per month. Then I distribute pledge cards.

No meetings, no arm-twisting, no pressure at all.

I did all that on Wednesday. Today, two days later, I already have back 25 cards, and almost ALL of them pledged a fair share gift. That is EXTREMELY generous. The employees at my plant fall almost every year in the top ten in per-capita giving. I’ll have the rest of the cards back within a week or two at the most, and almost everyone will pledge something. Over half will pledge the fair share gift, if this year is typical.

They may sometimes act like children, but they’ve got big hearts!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Plans for Thanksgiving?

Yes, the holidays are right around the corner. Traditionally this is the time of year to get together with close friends and family members for food, drink and good fellowship.

In our family, however, for the past umpteen years we have eschewed the travel time and expense of gathering in late November just because everybody does it. We prefer to gather for a week in February in the Colorado Rockies and ski, ski, SKI!

Our two daughters are off living with their husbands in Tampa, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois. We just visited each of them in September.

So, what are our plans for Thanksgiving? Heck, we’re going to hook up the camper trailer, jump in the car, and head out to a good golfing destination and play GOLF! I get a four-day weekend, so even if we get a day or two of bad weather it’ll be OK.

We’ve been debating where to go. The only criteria are a campground within reasonable driving distance of two or three or four golf courses that are affordable to play. Unlike, say the $400 green fees (apiece) that we’d pay at Pebble Beach. If we went to California. And if we were rich. No, for us the limit is somewhere around 10% of that number. In fact, 5% of it is even MORE attractive.

It might be different if we played scratch golf and the quality of the course mattered to our score. But as it is, we tend to “scratch” our way around any layout and enjoy ourselves even on a $15 daily fee muni.

We thought about making a long drive to Montgomery, AL, one of our favorite destinations. But that wouldn’t leave enough time for golf without taking a vacation day as well, because it takes a LONG day of driving to get there, and a LONG day to get home again. And we’ve GOT to try to play for at least three days.

So for now we’re close to settling on Central Texas, around Temple and Killeen. We’ll probably stay at the KOA in Belton and just enjoy being out of town and by ourselves. We’ll pick up a rotisserie chicken from a nearby supermarket deli for our Thanksgiving turkey. Have a little white wine, potato salad and canned green beans, and feel like we’ve feasted. We can even record some football game(s) during the day while we’re out golfing and watch them (sans commercials) after dinner.

The courses are all nearly empty on Thanksgiving Day, but very crowded on the Friday following. That’s when all the women go shopping, and the men go play golf. Saturday and Sunday are not too bad, because most people have friends or family over and don’t sneak off to play golf.

Ha! For us, what I've described above sounds like a perfect family holiday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Carol is experiencing withdrawal

The camera has been sent back to California for either an adjustment or possible major surgery. As you all know, I blamed the infamous (unmentionable “C” word) that usually causes problems and failures in seemingly unrelated machines, appliances, plumbing fixtures, structures and vehicles.

They (the problems and failures) usually occur in one or more series of at least three, one right after the other. Sometimes there are simultaneous occurrences and incidents. Almost always they are expensive and lifestyle-altering, at least in the short run.

I’ve learned over the years that keeping quiet about this “phenomenon” sometimes (not always) has an ameliorative effect. The “C” will tend to leave us alone with only sporadic attacks if we don’t bring attention to it.

If it feels we are spreading word of its power and ubiquitous nature, it will sometimes unleash an attack of epic proportions.

So, with some trepidation I wonder, Viki, how’s the kitchen coming along? And Peter, to answer your question, yes; a simple mention in the comments section is often enough to cause horrible results. And don’t think that you can escape its notice Down Under in Queensland, either. My good friend Michelle in South Africa can attest to the world-wide reach of this scourge.

In fact, if all of you choose to boycott this blog for the next few weeks, I’ll understand. Even my daughter Christina is concerned, having been a victim herself in the recent past. And poor RobotJam is so upset his comment doesn't even make sense. Either that or he's been smoking that weird stuff again.

So, dear friends and readers, since I have now alienated most of you including my own children, I am left with only Carol for comfort as we two hunker down to try to weather the coming onslaught.

And she’s having withdrawal pangs for the digital camera.