Thanks

These days we are all just too damn busy.
From dentist appointments and kids’ soccer practice to cramming in a 15 minute lunch and sitting for hours in “rush” hour traffic, most of us forget that we’re essentially human.
From the rising sun in the morning to the phosphorescence of the moon at night, our daily lives are chock full of people, places and things that we need to be more aware of.
I occasionally take a mini-mental inventory of the things that mean something to me, my favorite things.
Generally, Thanksgiving is a solid reminder if I’ve been lax in my duties.
The most evident blessing in my life is a family that loves and cares for me (and two pretty cool cats).

I’m thankful for my two hands that let me write, wash my face and tie my shoes (and zip my fly, ooh, that’s embarrassing).

Sometimes I’m more blessed than I think I deserve to be and it’s then that I find myself on my knees, humbled and vulnerably human.

Smoke and Mirrors has introduced my to some wonderful people that actually take the time to read the stuff I write. That is amazing.
I’m so lucky to have a small piece of cyberspace that I can call my own; a place where I can tell the world how I feel, whether it agrees or not.

My hope is that your cranberry sauce gels, your apple pies come out great and your turkey (unless you’re vegan) looks good enough to win first prize in a state fair.
In the words of the late Raymond Carver, these are small good things.
Tomorrow, when you find yourself surrounded by the people and things that make this life worthwhile for you, consider yourself truly blessed and say a silent prayer for those less fortunate. There are just too many.
A Happy Thanksgiving to all…

Ps. My computer seems to be running ok….for now ;)

~m

To Beer, with love

“Beer is living proof that God loves us.”

Ben was such a smart man and I’m assuming he loved beer.
I love beer. Not just any beer though.
I’ve never been the Budweiser type and have a tough time figuring out how in God’s name this brew ever received the moniker “King of Beer”.
The Prince of Beers? Maybe. The Duke of Beers? Ok. But the King?
I guess when you spend as much as Anheiser-Busch does on slick advertising you have to get something for your money. The Coors Light twins would be thanks enough for me…
Any beer drinker worth their salt knows that Bud can quench the thirst, but like a sixth-grade crush it leaves you looking for a relationship that’s more substantial and worthwhile.

Some brands that have made it to my ever growing “worthy” list”:

  • Rogue (especially the Mocha Porter)
  • Guinness (at only 125 calories you can drink up boys…)
  • Allagash (the Tripel is simply astonishing at room temperature)
  • Magic Hat (not an everyday brew for me. My wife likes the #9 with essence of apricot)
  • Samuel Adams (Boston Ale and Cream Stout are good friends but the Sam Light tastes like moose piss, IMHO Right now I’m sipping a new Winter Lager, the jury is still out. First impressions are favorable)
  • Samuel Smith (Oatmeal Stout. I don’t really need to say anything else, do I?)
  • Bass Ale (Never has a little red triangle meant so much to so many)
  • Pete’s Wicked Ale (I put this on the list because 10 years ago Pete’s was putting many microbreweries to shame. I loved this stuff. The bottled version was good but the draft was a total religious experience. Since the brand got sold this beautiful brown ale has transformed into a skunky,
    wimpy and sad excuse for a beer and got scratched from my list immediately. Shame on you, Pete. I loved you, man…)
  • Anchor Steam (a micro from the West Coast. The Christmas Ale continues to amaze me.)

A few interesting Beer facts:

Before the advent of thermometers, brewers tested the temperature of their maturing brews with their thumbs: too cold, and the yeast wouldn’t grow, too hot, and it would die. Hence the phrase “Rule of thumb”

Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of an empty glass.

When knocking one back, each swallow should leave behind "Brussels Lace," a term describing the head that clings to the side of a glass. Brussels lace is a strong indicator that you're drinking a fresh, natural beer.

An American scientist, Fred Stevens, has discovered cancer-fighting properties in the micronutrient Xanthohumol, which is found in hops.
The compound, which helps to give beer its aroma and flavour, is believed to help to prevent breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer cells.

Dr Stevens, from Oregon State University, said: "Research on Xanthohumol's properties is just exploding at this point. It is one of the most significant compounds for cancer chemo-prevention that we have studied, and the only way people are getting any of it right now is through beer consumption."

Next time you reach for a brewski, think extraordinary. You may be pleasantly surprised and ultimately be doing your health a big favor.

~m

Virus (Bad Times)

This is from my good friend Bones

Virus Warning

If you receive an email entitled "Bad Times", delete it IMMEDIATELY.
Do not open it!

Apparently this one is pretty nasty.

It will not only erase everything on your hard drive, but it will also delete anything on disks within 20 feet of your computer.

It demagnetizes the stripes on ALL of your credit cards.

It reprograms your ATM access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD's you attempt to play.

It will program your phone auto dial to call only 900 numbers.

This virus will mix antifreeze into your fish tank.

It will drink ALL your beer. (I hate that)

FOR GOD'S SAKE, ARE YOU LISTENING? ???

It will leave dirty underwear on the coffee table when you are expecting company.

It will replace your shampoo with Nair and your Nair with Rogaine, all the while dating your current boy/girlfriend behind your back and billing their hotel rendezvous to your Visa card.

It will cause you to run with scissors and throw things in a way that is only fun until someone loses an eye.

It will rewrite your backup files, changing all your active verbs to passive tense and incorporating undetectable misspellings, which grossly change the interpretations of key sentences.

If the "Bad Times" message is opened in a Windows 95/98 environment, it will leave the toilet seat up and leave your hair dryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub.

It will not only remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows, It will also refill your skim milk with whole milk.

**WARN AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN. **

And if you don't send this to 5000 people in 20 seconds you'll fart so hard that your right leg will spasm and shoot straight out in front of you, sending sparks that will ignite the person nearest you. Send this to everyone…..

BCD

14 Signs you may be suffering from a BCD
(Blogger Compulsive Disorder)

#14) You know what the phrase “I got Dooced today” means.

#13) You are proud of the fact that you can use conditional tags.

#12) You know what ‘HTML’ stands for.

#11) WWJKD? (What would Jason Kottke do?)

#10) You wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden urge to “ping” your blog.

#9) You’ve flirted with the idea of having your URL permanently tattooed on your forehead. (don’t laugh, it will happen, not to me but…)

#8) You know what a URL is and you’re not afraid to use one.

#7) You experience “blog envy” on a daily basis (sometimes hourly)

#6) You love Technorati. You hate Technorati. (repeat Ad Nauseum)

#5) The phrase “I have a blog, ‘ya know,” finds its way into the most mundane conversations.

#4) You utter, “I am sooo blogging that…” when any catastrophe happens, personal or otherwise, ex., a tree falls and shatters your car windshield. A post on your blog let’s readers feel your pain.

#3) New unbridled enthusiasm reading daily email hoping the content may be groundbreaking fodder for a new original post.

#2) You know that the Martian Anthropologist isn’t really an alien at all, or is he? He sure posts a lot for a human . . . (well, not anymore)

#1) You keep repeating, “CSS is my friend, CSS is my friend…”

~m

Shamrock

the whisper of a song…

In the summer of ’98, we moved my mother to an assisted living facility called Hearthstone.
At the time, it was getting downright dangerous for her to stay at home for a number of reasons:
she was driving my father up a wall with questions, she was becoming increasingly paranoid
and she would leave the house on a whim and disappear in a wisp of smoke.

The facility we placed her in was secured and specifically designed for people with progressing dementia.
This was to be my first foray into the deeply fragmented world of Alzheimer’s.
So many things happened while she was out there.
From the clinging and uncomfortable goodbyes to the sad moments of epiphany when I realized I was becoming a total stranger to her.
I liked to think I took it all in stride, showing the world my brave face and big shoulders when in reality,
many a visit found me in my car afterward weeping bitterly while forsaking the heavens above.

The God I thought I knew was turning His back on my mother with a deep negligence and offering me little to no discernible shred of mercy.
I was the only one that saw the situation for the tragedy that it truly was.
I felt He “owed” me.
These days I’m beginning to believe that maybe
He was there after all.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I believe there were many small “miracles” that happened way back then.
I was just too angry to realize it.
This story is about one of them…

It was St. Patrick’s Day in ’99 that I went to see my mother.
It was a routine visit at best.
I sat with her in the common room at Hearthstone and talked using my one-way conversation that had become a learned ritual.
Usually, when I ran out of things to talk about it was time to leave.
I went into the kitchen and poured a cup of juice for her and went to leave.
For some reason, I decided I would check her room to make sure everything was clean and in order.
(Another story in and of itself)

Everything was fine and after talking briefly with one of the aides that took care of my mother,
I went downstairs to leave.
There’s a long corridor that takes you past the common room before turning left to the thick oak door that led to the free world outside.

My memory of that walk down the hall goes into slow-mo right about here.

I had a gazillion things buzzing through my mind at the time.
As I approached the doorway leading to the common room I began to hear music—Irish Music—Danny Boy, to be specific, one of my mother’s favorite songs simply because her father sang it to her when she was a child.
As I walked towards the door leading outside, I stopped.
Someone was singing the song.
I turned and walked back towards the doorway recognizing the voice of my mother.
I looked into the room and saw that all the residents had their heads bent down, prayer like.
There in the middle of the room was my mother, head back; eyes closed,
singing every familiar word I’d known since I was a child.
Ten minutes ago she couldn’t say or remember my name and here she was going solo.
I began to mouth the words sotto voce along with her.
It was about as close as I could get to her in that one solitary moment in time.
And it felt wonderful.
It was really her once again.
I smiled realizing that I had just been given mercy.

~m

“Nice tie.”

I wear some fairly radical ties to work.
Basically what happened was my wife went to TJ Maxx one day where there was a sale on Tommy Hilfiger ties. These things were cheap.
Like “I can’t buy a Venti Espresso at Starbuck’s but I can buy five of these ties,” cheap.
I usually wear them with a solid color button-down collar Polo shirt and they make even me look good for very little money.
The price tag on several of these ties ranged from $50 to $95.
The day I pay that kind of money for a tie is the same day I go to the big white house on the hill wearing a Hannibal Lechter muzzle.

These ties are various patterns and colors that teeter on the brink of outrageous.
They’re definitely not apparel for the corporate world but for retail, hell, it’s a tie.

Last Friday afternoon, our UPS driver, TJ, forgot to take a package. (stay with me, it will all make sense soon)
The boss was out at the time but we knew if this package was still sitting here when he returned we’d most surely get our asses reamed.
I bolted out of the store in the direction TJ was headed.
He couldn’t have gotten very far.
I finally found his truck a short distance down the street but there was no sign of TJ.
I began walking back towards the store when I spotted him standing in a doorway talking to one of his other customers.

I raised my hand and yelled, “TJ!”

He saw me and waved back.
At the time there was a disheveled panhandling street guy walking past TJ and he must have thought I was yelling to him.
He also began waving me over.
I’m thinking he wants change or something (actually, panhandlers now ask for a dollar, must be inflation).
He’s staring at me intently like I’m some complicated math problem he’s yet to solve.
I’m about to just walk by him when looks at me and says, “Hey, nice tie.”

Although I’m not, by any stretch, a slave to fashion I do appreciate a compliment from time to time.
From a woman, I’ll take one anytime and from a well dressed man, occasionally. But one from a street guy wearing clothing that closely resembled a badly soiled paper bag?

How am I supposed to take that? I mean, really.

I am still scratching my head, laughing but…

And TJ is now telling me on a regular basis, “Hey, babe, nice tie.”

Shave

A moment with my father who is now in the late middle stages of Alzheimers.
I wrote this on the train this morning…

I went to see my father the other day.
I needed to sign some papers so he could get a flu shot since he can no longer sign his own name.
What comes out instead are crazy lines and meaningless squiggles that would probably mean more to a child than any adult.
In my mind, I can still see his signature from not so long ago; the smooth and precise lines of legible writing that defined the organization and intellect I once associated with the man that he used to be.

He smiled softly when he saw me.
Maybe I still look “familiar” to him, which seems to me a paradox because he’s become a total stranger to me.
My sister had been to see him and asked that I stop by and trim
(please, excuse me here) his nose hairs which were, in the words of my sister, “long enough to braid”. Hey, hair grows, right?
His beard was stubbly as well; a testament to his growing aversion to anyone strange getting near him.

“Would you like a shave, Dad?” I asked.

“Ok.”

He doesn’t say much more than a few words these days and is sadly beginning to dabble in a bit of gibberish as well.
I know the pattern well by now.
He was never a talker anyway but these days I feel he’s just dog tired of trying to communicate his needs to the strange world around him.
I’ve learned over the years that it’s just easier for me to talk about… things. Anything relatively inconsequential works: my life (boring),
the grandkids (cool), the weather (foul), food, the Red Sox (suck season)… Nothing too complicated.

Questions are pointless and leave him frustrated because he searches for an answer I know he’ll never find.
I feel sad knowing my mother is flying with angels and can never tell him so.
In his heart he still thinks she’s alive and maybe that’s not such a bad thing because in some ways, she is.

I walk him to his room and have him sit in the bathroom for a shave.
I draw some hot water to soften the stubble and glance at him, he's unaware I’m doing so. He looks sad to me and my heart breaks for him, like always.
It’s almost as if he knows all that’s transpired but refuses to acknowledge it to the world.
It should be an unusual thing to shave your father’s face but after all he and I have been through it seems almost a comfort, for him and for me.
It’s simple and it’s right.
He seems to enjoy it as much as I enjoy doing it for him.
I finish and find myself face to face with him.

I look into his eyes that seem to be growing more tired by the day and I say, “How’s that?”

“It’s good.” He says.

And it is good; for him and strangely enough for me.

Shaving is an essential part of the day for any man, a ritual we look forward to, a cleansing of the soul of sorts, a clean slate we give to ourselves.
For us gorillas, it seems to complete the daily “routine”, and we like the way it feels.
So my father takes pleasure in the memory of the ritual with my help and it makes me happy.
I bring him back to the common room where the other residents are doing some light exercise.
He seems happier now than he did before and I feel I actually accomplished something.
Come to think of it, maybe I really did….

~m

Fall

It’s fall here in New England and the leaves are painting the landscape with their autumnal palette of colors.
Uh, right. Leaves suck.
If only the leaves would never in fact “leave” the tree.
Oh, the joy.

I was walking with my wife the other day when she told me of her new-fangled leaf idea.

“Wouldn’t it be great if leaves stayed on the trees all year but still changed color in the fall?”

What a wonderful concept.
Instead, we’re faced with Mother Nature’s personal metaphor for the death of summer and the introduction of winter. “Sure, stuff is dying, but look how pretty I can make it!”

So far we’ve raked/mowed Mother Nature’s autumnal doo-doo a total of six times with no foreseeable end to the in sight.
The beauty of the falling leaves escapes me when I spend an afternoon cleaning the yard only to find that when I’m done things don’t look much different than when I started.
The driveway in front of our house could easily be a feature story for a TV reality show dealing with the paranormal.
It seems to be a magnet for any wayward leaf blowing through the northeast corridor in search of a new home.
You can sweep these little bastards away and return 30 minutes later to find every stinking one right back where you left it.
What’s kind of fun is when it finally snows.
If you’ve missed a sizeable pile of the decaying vegetable matter, when you run it over with the snow blower it’s like firing a confetti gun.
The only difference is the confetti is now wet as well as dead.

In a perfect world, leaves would be fiery red, brilliant orange and vibrant yellow during winter, spring and summer.
Come fall, the leaves would turn into something we’d all love to clean up; cold hard cash…a nice emerald green, thank you.
If that were the case, I can safely say that I have a few trees in my backyard worth roughly 1 mil a piece.
It would sure give new meaning to the phrase, “raking it in”, wouldn’t it?