Thursday, July 7, 2016

Vacation Contemplation

My wife and I took a vacation trip to New Jersey recently.

New Jersey.

Not my preferred destination.

And, honestly, were it not for a family gathering taking place there, I never would've gone.

It wasn't unpleasant. We stayed at Days Inn across from Fort Dix/McGuire Air Force Base. I did basic training at Fort Dix back in the 1980s. Given my desire to see old spots again, it was a little interesting. But we didn't attempt to go onto the post. Had we been there a few more days, I maybe would have tried to find out if it was possible. But neither my wife nor I are retired veterans, so we don't have an ID higher than my VA card which wouldn't be enough to allow access.

Being across the street from the military installation meant we had to listen to a myriad of aircraft taking off, landing, revving their engines. It got quite loud at times.

We were also treated to the sound of Taps being broadcast from loudspeakers every night at 10:00.

The Days Inn is located in Wrightstown. I had heard of Wrightstown back when I was in basic, but never saw it as we weren't allowed off post. My first impression of the town was that there are a lot of boarded up, empty businesses in plazas that are pretty run down. I have to assume that retail doesn't fare well outside of a post that boasts of a mall to service both Army and Air Force personnel. It was a smallish mall when I did time there; I have to assume it's larger now.

My second impression is that Wrightstown is small for its location. At other posts where I have been stationed, the towns right outside the gates were pretty good sized and growing.

We ate at a couple area restaurants. One was a BBQ place and it was just okay despite its claims to having won awards. Given the lack of competition in the area, I'd say that it was much easier to win than in places like... oh, New York City or Boston.,

Another was a German restaurant, and I really enjoyed that. The decor was very cluttered with steins and dolls in all sorts of costume. The brats and sauerkraut were good as was the bread and salad. I didn't sample any of their beer.

We spent an afternoon in Bordentown which is about 20 minutes away. This is an historic town and maintains a colonial atmosphere. Thomas Paine had a house on the main street there according to a sign beside it. The business owners we chatted with were all personable.

 Cookstown, where my wife's cousin lives and was the center of family activity, was only about 2 miles from our motel. The drive there, once you get beyond the security fence around Fort Dix, is pastoral with fields and white fences. There is a well kept park with a gazebo in the middle of Cookstown. There is no business district, just a few small establishments here and there. For grocery shopping, one has to drive about 15 miles. It seems like everything is about 15 miles away from where we were at any given time.

We did take a drive up the road to New Egypt where there is more of a business presence. I had all the tires replaced on our RAV4 when I noticed one was worn quite badly. Since the vehicle is 4-wheel drive and the tires it had were no longer available, I had to go with a new set. This service was done at GW Tire Service on Cookstown New Egypt Road. The people there were friendly as well.

It was surprising to me how many wineries are in that part of the country. I had never envisioned New Jersey as a producer of anything but chemicals, mafia and gambling. But we passed by a few without stopping in.

The family gathering was nice. It was a reunion of sorts. I finally got to meet one of my wife's cousins for the first time. This after being with her for over 30 years.

All in all, it was a good trip. But I was glad to get home and had no post-vacation blues.

Now, two weeks after, I find myself still thinking about the trip.

It's not that I want to go back. After all, New Jersey is still not my preferred destination.

But at least it was away from work.

And that's always good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Nose Doesn't Know....

I am not a drinker.

Well, maybe an occasional beer, but my real drinking days are far behind me.

I've never liked wine or hard liquors with the exception of gin and brandy. Back in college, I did find a taste for Yukon Jack, but didn't drink much of it.

When we drank, whether it was in college or the Army, it was for the alcohol.

Obviously.

And it was never expensive stuff.

I always assumed I didn't like wine or liquor simply because I never had anything that cost more than $6 a bottle. I mean, to get to the connoisseur level, you have to plunk down a lot of money, right?

The last few years, I've spent more time with family members who drink. The evolution of this situation would take too much explanation, but suffice it to say that the lack of time previously had nothing to do with animosity. Just distance.

These family members have some interesting liquors and wines. Some are quite expensive.

So any time I was asked if I would like a glass of something, I would indicate that a full glass wasn't necessary, but enough for a taste would be welcome.

With this, I have tasted moonshine, an expensive Italian wine and Johnnie Walker Blue scotch.

The moonshine was actually a homemade concoction my wife's uncle bought from a fellow who had a still. It was pure jet fuel. After the sip, I believe I commented that it tasted like a hangover in a jar. One taste was quite enough. That was a few years ago.

Recently, I tried the wine and scotch.

I can't remember the name of the wine, but I had a sip and found it to be somewhat better than I've had in the past. But it still wasn't enough of a difference to make me a convert.

The Johnnie Walker Blue is a $200 a bottle scotch. It has high praise from the alcohol reviewers in magazines and other media.

From one website I found this information.

Johnnie Walker Blue has a subtly sweet aroma with notes of bittersweet chocolate, caramelized oranges and a touch of tobacco.

The initial notes of roasted nuts and smoky chocolate are complemented by hints of rich fruits (including pears), dates, toasted bread and delicate brown spices. The finish, which is incredibly smooth, has a touch of pecan pie, milk chocolate, peppercorn and figs.


When I received the splash of JWB, I immediately sniffed it because I know that's what cultured people do. However, I sensed no hints or notes of anything but scotch. I certainly didn't notice a tobacco aroma. Maybe that description came about from people who like cigars with their scotch?

Then I took the first sip and was immediately struck by the expected jolt of alcohol flavor which mostly masked the taste of the scotch.

On the second sip, the alcohol was less obvious and I could taste the malt beverage. No roasted nuts or smoky chocolate came to mind on my perusal. Really, it was more like a little butterscotch and a little wood. That's about it.

I guess my palate isn't that refined.

Either that, or the reviewers are totally making this stuff up to obfuscate the fact that people are just drinking booze.

I can't imagine anyone drinking an alcohol-free scotch. I mean, who wants to guzzle down viscous woody butterscotch? At least not on a hot summer's day.

Nope. Fine scotch and whiskeys, not to mention rums, vodkas and so on are imbibed primarily for the feeling one gets from doing so. That's my take on all this.

The occasional beer? That's mostly to recall fun memories I had back in the day.

For the most part, I'll stick to coffee.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Traditions Come, Traditions Go

Traditions are the result of performing the same activity at the same time of year with the same or close to the same people. Traditions are basically habits imbued with a sense of family or friendship and a certain level of sentimentality. They are often warmly anticipated, though not always. Sometimes traditions are upheld through a sense of obligation.

As a kid, it was tradition for our family to go to my grandparents house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the families on my mother's side of the tree would gather there as well with the exception of my Aunt Barbara who lived in Ohio.

So on those two holidays, the house would be stuffed with people eating, exchanging gifts, watching football on the television. Memorable times.

Every August, my parents used to rent a cabin on Highland Lake and we spent two weeks there before returning to the school year. Those were very fine weeks of swimming, fishing, archery, exploring dirt roads on a minibike, grilling, boating and all the typical things done at camp. Memorable times as well.

Those traditions are done now, of course.

As parents, my wife and I have established some traditions with our sons as well. We have carried on the tradition of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with my parents and sisters and their families. Our summer vacation became a tradition when we would drive 1000 miles to North Carolina to spend a couple weeks with my wife's parents. Sometimes there were family reunions attended there. After her parents passed on, we still made the trip for a few years to visit with her uncle and aunt who lived in the same area. But they are in Florida now and my sons are adults, so that tradition has passed on as well.

See, the thing about traditions is some of them just end. Some kind of fade away. You will miss some and not others. Some bring fond memories and others are viewed as just something that happened.

This Memorial Day, our tradition of getting together and watching the parade in my parents' hometown may be done. My parents have gotten to the age where it is difficult for them to get out. They aren't in bad health, just old.

My sons won't be there. It used to be great fun to take them to the parade when they were children. Their cousins would be there and the people marching by, the old cars, the fire trucks, enthralled them. There were balloons, candy thrown to the kids on the sidewalk, a lot of mayhem and poorly played (but enthusiastic) music by the middle schools' marching bands.

And now, I think I can safely say that this is one tradition that has grown old. It's time to let it lapse. The small town parade in a pretty good sized city is not the spectacle it used to be when I was much much younger.

Traditions come, traditions go. And I'll gladly say goodbye to this one.

The following is a video I made of the parade in 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Latest Rant

Facebook has become a vast wasteland of unfunny memes, intended-to-be-inspirational sayings, supposedly thoughtful spiritual posters, graphics with cutting statements meant to shame, links to "news" stories that slam one political side or the other, links to not-so-scientific gotchas that preach about how bad foods or vaccines are for you, defiant pablum posts intended to boost people's self-esteem (mostly directed to women it seems), various videos of kittens and puppies doing cute things, ongoing updates about the depths of depravity the world has sunk into, fraudulent give-away hoaxes, many many many "mind-blowing" something-or-others.

It has become a mindless stream of content and true "aha" moments have all but vanished.

At least people don't post pictures of their meals as much as they used to.

Uh oh, there's one.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Seriously?

Brandon Robinson wants to impregnate his wife.

To that end, he's asking for people to provide the finances to use a fertility clinic.

I understand that he went through debilitating circumstances as a teen.

I understand that many couples would like to have children but are unable.

But why is any of this my concern?

A gofundme page has been set up for Brandon and Ashley. Click here to see it: gofundme.com
 
They have a wedding date of May 13, so assumably won't be looking for the fertility services until after then.

I understand that a gofundme donation is totally voluntary.

But back in the day when there was no gofundme, childless couples either
  1. Remained childless
  2. Had insurance that would cover such services
  3. Was loaned money by family or friends 
  4. Adopted
Now they ask the general public for money to support their dreams of having their own child.

This is what we have come to.

Maybe I should start a gofundme campaign so I can buy a Ferrari.

What do you think of that idea?



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Photo Finish

I never used to be this way.

But when I reached my fifties, I started thinking about the end.

It may have something to do with the increasing frequency of people I know who are shedding their mortal coil. It may have something to do with changes in my body and practices.

Either way, death has become a bit more real to me.

I don't obsess over it, yet I have made some preparations. A will. Considering where I would like to be buried. Insurances. But there are still some questions. For instance...

What will happen to my pictures?

We have thousands of pictures, both prints and digital. My wife has taken a fair amount of time to categorize and file away all the prints we have into a plastic tub and store it away under the bed. I assume that they will never be looked at again, for that seems to be the inefficiency of such a system.

I think that the value of picture taking is not in the action itself, but being able to refer back to the picture from time to time. It may be to relive a memory, to remember something. Or it might simply be that the picture is particularly liked for its subject matter and/or artistic value.

Photo albums can be created, of course, from favorites culled out from the pile. I'm not a fan, though, of the standard album where pictures yellow and become stuck behind a deteriorating piece of plastic sheeting. And they aren't practical for digital photos anyway.

Facebook and other photo-sharing websites have become an important repository for the collection and display of pictures. This makes them available for friends to look as well.

Another strategy I have utilized is the creation of photo books through services such as shutterfly.com or blurb.com. These are not cheap books, but they can be created very nicely and present a quality feel. They make great gifts and offer a way to ensure that pictures will be seen at least once again.

However, it occurs to me that many of these pictures will be relevant to perhaps two or three generations: mine, my kids and possibly grandkids. Beyond that, I think they lose most of their inherent value.

I suspect that long after my wife and I are gone and all our possessions have been divvied up, sold or donated, the pictures will become an afterthought.

That is until my sons and their families get to the age where looking back becomes as important as looking forward. How many of those pictures will still be around then?

I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People Prefer Posting a Plentitude of Platitudes

When I log into Facebook for the first time every day, I find my newsfeed filled with all sorts of memes, quotes and sayings. Some have to do with life, some with spirituality and others politics. It has become like wading through a wasteland of Bartlett's, Nouwen and Sanders. Or Gingrich. No matter.

People post other people's words regularly and constantly instead of their own.

There is beauty in a well-turned phrase. Sometimes, there's also truth and wisdom. If it wasn't so, then what someone said centuries ago would have long been forgotten.

However.

However,

However, like Jim Rome often says, "Have a take."

Real thinkers use the words of others to frame and support their own arguments. Nonthinkers use those same words to be their arguments and, in doing so, I suppose, hope to make themselves appear as thoughtful and wise as well.

An occasional witty saying has the potential to delight. A steadily flowing stream of them mutes and numbs.

Show some original thought, even if it isn't eloquent. Discuss if you like; it's far better than pontificating with words that aren't your own.

For goodness sake, just have a take.