New beginnings

TL;DR summary: 2016 largely sucked for Spaf, with 2015 providing a downramp into the suck. 2017 is going to start with a sparkle (despite the awful prospects given by the US elections) because Dr. Pattie has entered stage left. Takeaways: be positive because unexpected things can happen, and don’t hesitate to make friends because they can change your life.


Some of my friends may have noticed a slowdown in my social activities over the last year+. I’ve never been a great correspondent, but this has been unusual. Of course, being in the wilds of Indiana also impedes connecting with people!

The last 18 months have not been especially pleasant for me, personally or professionally. For example, I was ousted from my position at CERIAS by a (now-former) dean for questionable reasons. Rather than do the right thing and overturn the decision, the provost was more concerned about stopping complaints and news reports of the decision; He did make me some promises to help lessen the impact — none of which he has followed through on. I’m now officially “Executive Director Emeritus” although it isn’t clear what that means.

As another example, I didn’t get my long-hoped-for sabbatical because of a bureaucratic snafu. As a result of that, I was assigned (with only a few weeks notice!) co-teaching a 400 student freshman intro course, with no text and some new, untested technology. It went about as poorly as could be expected from all that.

There was more, but I won’t belabor it because I’ve consistently tried to stay positive. Nonetheless, my life has built up a lot of stress and disappointment. It has contributed to a feeling of not really being valued or wanted at my university … or anywhere else… but I continue to try to find some positive outcomes. And they exist. I graduated two wonderful PhD students, Mohammed Almeshekah and Kelley Misata, and I have two more nearing completion. I handed off leadership of USACM to a great colleague, Stu Shapiro. And I was renewed as editor-in-chief of the oldest journal in cyber security, Computers & Security.

I also was very pleasantly surprised at the end of the year by being named as recipient of two major awards — the 2017 IFIP Kristian Beckman Award, and as a Sagamore of the Wabash. (Neither was publicly acknowledged by my department at Purdue, of course.)

Although not professional, the awful election results haven’t helped my mood any. I fear for where the world is heading, especially for my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and my current and former students. A world where ignorance and mendacity are rewarded, and where bigotry and hatred are encouraged, is not the world they (or anyone else) deserve.

Personally, well, that has had setbacks, too. I partially separated my shoulder 18 months back, and it then developed “frozen shoulder syndrome.” As Wikipedia notes (see the link) “Pain is usually constant, worse at night, and with cold weather. Certain movements or bumps can provoke episodes of tremendous pain and cramping.” Uh, yeah. Exactly that. By the way, typing is difficult, too. 6 months of physical therapy brought me back to 90% of normal. And I’ve continued to deal with some of the regular wear and tear associated with many years and miles. I’m not as old as my students think I am, but there are mornings getting out of bed (and climbing flights of stairs) where my body agrees with them more than with the calendar.

That might be enough for most people, but of course, not for me! In June, my divorce with Kathy, my wife of 30 years, was final. It was not hugely surprising in the long view — we have grown in different directions over many years. It was surprising in the timing though, and right while I was trying to cope with many of the things above. However, we don’t get to choose when everything happens in our lives and Kathy decided early in the year that it was time for her, so there we were.

The divorce was largely amicable. After all, working together against life’s various challenges over 30 years does bring a lot of connection, as does being co-parents to a wonderful daughter. Kathy is a complex, remarkable person, and we had a good run together. She has now embarked on a new chapter in life, and I wish her nothing but happiness. But, it was still more stress for me….

However, out of change and chaos, sometimes new possibilities arise.

While all the above was crashing down on me, I had several long-time friends corresponding with me, to encourage me. These are people who I’ve met over the years where we’ve had some connection that has developed into friendship online. We don’t see each other often, but we share experiences, stories, jokes, encouragement, and occasionally provide a virtual “hug.” Their support was really helpful. One in particular had wise words and great humor about how to cope with setbacks, the divorce, and more. She was someone I met nearly a dozen years ago when she and her then-husband were grad students at Purdue. I hadn’t seen her in person in a decade, but we kept in touch online. In the intervening years she had gotten divorced, gone back to school for her PhD, moved halfway across the continent, and gotten a faculty job teaching. She had positive advice that resonated with me, and her love of puns and bad jokes was delightful. (I realize not everyone would say that about puns. Your loss.) We corresponded more and more until we decided it was time to meet again in person and see exactly what might be developing. We did, and we liked each other even more in person than online.

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After several more meetings, Pattie spent most of the summer with me in Lafayette, helping me do a top-to-bottom clean-up of the house (I kept it after the divorce). Probably more than a literal ton of items that neither Kathy, Elizabeth nor I wanted was donated to charity, recycled, or simply dumped. I ran across things saved from my parents, my childhood, and family souvenirs from the last few decades. It was an emotionally trying time for me, but Pattie provided advice, humor, and affection. When my shoulder or back complained about the endless boxes, she was there to provide a helping hand and sometimes a wisecrack — a perfect mix of empathy and motivation.

After “Dr. Pattie” went back to teach in Louisiana, we had time apart, and we staged several visits and trips together when we could schedule them. The combination only confirmed for us that our paths should be joined rather than separate. So, Pattie resigned her position at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and will be moving to West Lafayette, Indiana in late December. (Yes, Lafayette to Lafayette — one of many interesting coincidences.)

Oh, and just to tie up loose ends, we’re going to get married in 2017. We’re both old enough and experienced enough to know that what we have is special, and time is precious.

So, 2017 is going to get off to a really great start for me, and I’m hoping the overall trend stays positive. I hope it will for you, too. Best wishes to you for the holidays, and beyond

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Update: Pattie and I got married January 3rd. We picked the date because it is equidistant between our birthdays. Perhaps a nerdy reason, but there it is, and a great way to start off the new year.

Wild life adventures

Some long-time friends of mine live in an old house in Pennsylvania. They have been doing renovations recently, and running into unexpected issues. Some issues are taken advantage of by their cats. Two recent such instances: finding a bird in the basement, and bats in the attic. I take it much hilarity and cat antics ensued with both.

We had bats in our attic this year, too. (And no, I am not using it as a euphemism, although I wish that is all it was.) We had field mice up there 3 years ago, after we had new shingles put on. Apparently, the roofers disturbed some of the soffit panels and didn’t reseat them properly. The mice climbed up (the gutter spouts? assistance of itty bitty spiders?) and nested in the attic over the winter. When that happened, we had the exterminator bait the attic and install some patches to the soffits. That took care of the mice — as far we we knew.

Then, in March of this year, we heard scratching and scurrying noises in the ceiling on the second floor. We thought the mice were back, so we called the exterminator again. He went up in the attic and looked around some; he said the mouse bait was still there, untouched. He thought we might have birds that had gotten in as he saw daylight through a couple of holes. He didn’t think our problem was mice.

(Aside: I don’t go up in the attic anymore. There is only one small hatch to get up there, in a bedroom closet, and there is no way to get an extension ladder in to climb all the way up. A stepladder will go part way, but it then requires a pull-up to get up into the space. Given the ravages of the years, plus the accumulation of…er, heavy thoughts… that is now beyond my capabilities. We should have gotten a hatch in the hallway, with pull-down steps, when we had the house built.)

So, we called in a wildlife relocation specialist because the exterminator only kills insects and small rodents — they don’t harm birds, if they can help it. Chad, the cheerful animal specialist, sealed up the biggest couple of holes he could find from the outside, put screening over others, then set up a trap for birds. In two weeks, only one bird was caught (a hapless, innocent bystander sparrow), which I then released. Chad opined that — given the lack of activity — birds couldn’t be our problem. So he went up in the attic, looked around, and found evidence that either chipmunks or squirrels had been up there. Oh, and bats —a medium-sized colony. The exterminator had missed that — either he didn’t know what to look for, or he didn’t do a complete survey.

Apparently, bats go dormant over the winter, and only really wake when the temps get above 50 for about a week. So, we had to wait to take care of the bat issue, because bats are a protected species, and we couldn’t depend on them leaving until the weather was warm enough. However, we could pursue a solution to the squirrels and/or chipmunks.

He sealed most of the holes, but left a one-way passage for the bats, and a trap for squirrels. He put out poison bait inside the attic for chipmunks. We caught one big gray squirrel in the trap, which was taken to a park far away and released. The chipmunks outside are too numerous to do much about, unless I want to sit in the garden every day with poisoned seed, and a .22 to pick off the ones who aren’t currently hungry. Even with that, we’d only see a slight respite — the neighborhood is full of them, and they are prolific.

(Another aside: bats are generally beneficial. They eat all sorts of flying insects, especially mosquitoes. Considering how wet it has been here this year, we can use the help. However, bat droppings can create problems with diseases and insects, so we definitely don’t want those in the attic. Bats also have a high incidence of rabies, so it is better to keep a distance from them. If the attic was totally sealed, any bats left inside would try to find some opening to get out; bats can squeeze through tiny openings, including tiny cracks between joists and chimneys that don’t necessarily lead outside. That would result in an exciting rendition of “Da Bats Are In Da House!” Thus, the humane, reasonable, and far less adrenaline-inducing approach is to seal up everything but an opening with a one-way contraption so that once the bats leave the attic, they don’t come back in.)

Within a few weeks, the bats awoke, stretched, had coffee or whatever, and presumably left. Chad came back and finished sealing things up. We now have a 3 year guarantee of bat exclusion, and a $1500 hole in our savings. However, the only bats now are in our belfries, and that makes for much quieter nights. As a side-effect, the sealing job means we are unlikely to get any other critters moving into our unfinished penthouse.

(Aside: Chad said the bats have their young in late spring — he can’t seal an attic from then until early autumn, because the young may be trapped inside. Baby and juvenile bats may die without their mothers, or surrogates. Thus, there are two “seasons” for bat exclusion — early spring, and fall. And no, I was not going to nurse baby bats all summer. so we had to move quickly to get the exclusion done. )

Now, the only critters around here are the chipmunks (digging holes in the garden, and under the sidewalks), one remaining small grey squirrel (at least one other was taken by one of the red tailed hawks that lives nearby — much cheaper than the wildlife relocator), lots of bunnies (minus whatever the hawk gets), way too many mourning doves (minus… you got the idea), and other wildlife. We live in a suburban area, but seem to have plenty of wildlife, including a family of shrews that lives in my compost heap, raccoons that keep knocking down our birdfeeders (I think they are in a gang), some ducks that tried to nest in our pool, toads and tree frogs, and sometimes flocks of starlings, which we try to dissuade. We also see many robins, red-wing blackbirds, chickadees, hummingbirds, cowbirds, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, and the occasional grackle visit our feeders, as do the mourning doves. We hear bluejays in the distance, but we are too far from the woods to get them to visit up close. Last year we had an oriole visit, but we’ve seen none this year. In the general neighborhood, we also see Canadian geese, several varieties of ducks, and heron near the ponds, and swifts occasionally at dusk.

At our previous house, next to the woods, we had also wild turtles, garter snakes, a fox, a family of owls, several deer, moles in the lawn (grrr), and a few coyotes, all within a short distance of the house. I sort of applauded the coyotes because they helped keep the feral cats in check that were preying on the birds.

It is very depressing to realize that I have reached at least middle age: when someone asks me for a story about my wild life, instead of a tale of parties, drinking, and romance, I talk about birds, bunnies, and bats in the attic.

Father’s Day Memories

[This is mostly personal musings and a little history.  It is probably more for family and a few friends than general interest, but you are welcome to read it.]

Last year, I blogged here about Father’s Day, along with some other issues. I’m a little surprised, and sad, that a year has gone by so quickly. A lot happened, but it also seems that so little happened, too. Where does the time go?

I am on a business trip on Father’s Day. I’ve got the day free, and my thoughts turned to my father. I realize that the images that come first to my mind is when he was old and infirm, a month or two before he died. Yes, those are the most recent memories, so that is perhaps why they seem the freshest. Yet, for all the years he was alive, my father was generally a picture of health. He never seemed to get ill until he reached his 80s. I wish I could have those memories, of him hale and hearty, be my primary ones.

As a child, I spent more time with my mother and grandmother, because my father worked during the day, and when he came home he was tired and had things that needed doing around the house. Weekends meant cutting the lawn and running errands that my mother have saved up for him. I can’t recall many memories of him day-to-day — only on vacations and holidays. Then, as I grew older, time was taken up with school, clubs, and eventually, girlfriends.

My father lived a life I can’t imagine, and I feel guilty about not trying harder to understand it when he was around and I could ask him questions. He was born at the end of WWI and lived his teenage years during the Great Depression. As a child, he was truck by a truck and in a coma for some time, not expected to live, then very ill with scarlet fever (which contributed to his infirmity and eventual death 70 years later). Thereafter, he wasn’t quite as outgoing as he used to be…at least, that is what my uncle told me. With what we now know about the effects of head trauma, I am not surprised. I have often wondered what he would have been like had that not happened to him?

Dad volunteered to serve in WWII (he had a deferment because of work he was doing — he waived it), although my sister and I never heard him talk about it until we were adults and he was in his 60s. Little wonder — he was in one of the first units into one of the concentration camps. As a result of that experience, and others, I ma certain he suffered from what we would now call PTSD for quite some time, and there was no real care for his generation of veterans.

Dad’s twin brother died at 49 from cancer (I wrote a little about him and his wife, Elsa, when she died in 2013), and that affected him deeply. A few years later he unexpectedly became unemployed; age discrimination meant he was only employed sporadically thereafter, and that was a deep wound to his pride and sense of fairness. I know there were may other things that meant life was never quite what he had hoped it would be. In his later years he developed heart problems, cancer, and had several strokes. But he never gave up. He was stubborn!

Dad suffered many a setback in life, but kept on trying. I know I learned a certain amount of stoicism from him. He never got awards or public notice, but he was heroic in many ways. He believed in doing the right thing, no matter the consequences, and he didn’t shirk tough or difficult jobs.

I realize that I was a bratty kid, too. When my father decided in his mid 50s that he was going to focus on getting back into better physical condition, instead of cheering him on, I made jokes, maybe because I was so far from athletic I couldn’t understand. Dad went on to run in the senior class in marathons and did well (even winning once, as I recall), but rather than laud him for his success and his will, I think I ignored it; I was too wrapped up in my own pursuits. How dearly I wish now that I had attended at least one of those marathons and cheered as he crossed the line!

My father wasn’t really outgoing. He couldn’t tell jokes very well — he could only remember two or three, and kept telling them over and over. He was not mechanically inclined — if anything, he was 90% thumbs. He didn’t read a lot, but loved historical TV shows and movies. He was brilliant with numbers. He was a planner, who liked to follow a schedule, and the unexpected often threw him for a loss. Meanwhile, I was a jokester, into science fiction, and dead-set on taking everything apart and putting it back together again to see how it worked. I’ve always been a spur-of-the-moment person who can’t seem to notice the time. Dad and I didn’t seem to have a lot in common, so I don’t recall many things that only he and I would do together. We never had many heart-to-heart conversations, either. I regret all that now.

I never got to meet either of my grandfathers as they both died young. My mother’s father died from after-effects of being gassed in WWI, we believe. My father’s father died on the original day of Mom & Dad’s wedding. I am so happy that both my parents lived to see their grandchildren. It was clear that was a joy for them both. Their lives were hard, but towards the end they had a sense of accomplishment.

The years continue to pass for me. I no longer see an unbounded future. I don’t feel as old as I look, but I can no longer take the stairs two at a time. I find myself reflecting on the past almost as much as I do daydreaming about the future.

Although my daughter is named for my mother (who was named for her grandmother, who was named for her grandmother), I see echoes of my father in her. She is quiet, stoic, and loves history. She is fiercely stubborn, and smarter than she gives herself credit. She doesn’t have the affinity for math, but she dislikes my spur-of-the-moment approach to things. She’s not much into the engineering aspects of the world around her, so rather than leave all my tools to her I need to encourage her to keep a rolodex of good mechanics. She’s had her own health issues that have shaped her young life. She’s definitely not a fan of most of my humor.

I realize that Elizabeth’s memories of me will be like mine of my father: she spends lots more time with her mother than me. I am away for work a lot. Our interests don’t intersect much, so there aren’t many things we do, just the two of us. She doesn’t really get quite what I do in my career, or the scale at which I do it. I know she is focused on her own future, not my present. I don’t begrudge her that — it should be a bright future. 40 years from now she may think back to me on Father’s Day. Perhaps the memories she will have of me will be of me decrepit and forgetful (i.e., as I am right now!). If she has children of her own, that will give her an additional lens thru which she may see me a little better, as my being a parent has helped me understand my own parents. I simply wish I had reached some of these realizations when they were still alive.

I’ll close with some of the lyrics to the song “The Living Years” by Mike (Rutherford) and the Mechanics that always move me to tears if I really listen to them:

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defense

So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be O.K.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

I remember, Dad.Father's Day 1956 I never said it enough, but thank you. I wish I could have told you more often, in your living years.

And to all the other fathers out there — a Happy Father’s Day to you.

My Angry Posts

Yes, my tweets/posts recently have had less overall humor and a bit more anger. Sorry — that’s just me reacting to recent events.

I don’t suffer fools and the venal very easily — especially when they are fools who should know better.

Take vaccines. History shows that the single greatest killer of people is disease. Smallpox, TB, polio, diarrheal diseases of children, typhus, malaria, plague…. Measles also makes that list. We have some effective tools to limit…or even eradicate… some of those diseases, as we did with smallpox. Instead, as a species we have people who reject decades of experience and scientific study, who are letting some of these diseases persist. Polio is one horrific example, where semi-isolated groups are using religion and politics to prevent children from getting the vaccine. We are so close to eliminating that terrible scourge and there is evidence the disease is making a comeback.

Measles is still endemic in much of the world, killing many every year. It and smallpox were two highly contagious and deadly diseases that swept through new populations of indigenous peoples when introduced, often killing more than half of the population, and sickening the rest. (See this for some historical context.)  We were able to eliminate smallpox completely.  With will, we should be able to do the same with measles.

Why is it a concern?  Measles is not simply a rash. In a percentage of people it is crippling…or deadly.  I had a relative who went completely deaf before she was 10 because of measles; she was born before the vaccine was widely available. One of her friends died from the disease.  Those are terrible — and not rare —  outcomes. It’s worse when you consider that those who refuse to vaccinate also endanger the lives of children and adults in whom the vaccine did not gen up full immunity, or who cannot be vaccinated because of underlying medical conditions.  I had measles as a child and I still remember how terribly sick I was.  I would not wish that, nor the horrible potential side-effects, on anyone I cared about.

Someone sent me an article that had statistics showing that (effectively) early vaccinations were not understood as requiring a booster, and maybe not as effective for life-long immunity as having the disease.  He was implying that this was somehow “proof” of something…that the vaccine shouldn’t be used, perhaps?  That was the implication.  Instead, it is simple statistics and medicine that can be understood with minimal effort, and understanding that correlation does not prove causation.  However, to a paranoid, everything is proof of a conspiracy, and everyone who disagrees is part of the conspiracy.  Facts are simply attempts to fool the naive into believing there is no conspiracy.

Conspiracy?  To do what?  Protect people from a potentially crippling and deadly disease?  Yeah, right, that’s evil.  I can see hundreds of thousands of people signing on to actively promote that as a conspiracy.   Some no-nothings said the same kinds of things about the smallpox vaccine, and the polio vaccine.  It’s easy for them to switch to measles now because they haven’t seen the widespread devastation those diseases caused.  They never knew people — friends and family — who had to spend the rest of their lives in an iron lung, or who died from measles-caused encephalitis, or died gasping for breath as a result of pertussis.

Think about it: someone refusing vaccination for their children is basically saying “I’m going to gamble with their health and physical safety, and that of everyone they encounter, because I believe that vaccination causes … well, something.”  The link with autism has been thoroughly debunked, as has every other myth I’ve heard about.  It’s a terribly selfish and anti-social attitude with no foundation.  Tens of millions of people have received the vaccine over the last 50 years, and there has been no correlation found with anything…other than being less likely to get measles.  And here’s what someone with autism has to say about all this.

One of my favorite high school teachers had a withered arm from polio.  I worked with someone who had a useless arm caused by polio because his parents didn’t get him vaccinated.  They both managed okay with only one good arm, and they were thankful that they hadn’t died, but it was a life-long loss.  My aunt became a recluse because of her loss of hearing.  And to think of all the heartbroken parents who lost children to a preventable disease….  The human loss (and potential for loss) is heartrending.

As a parent, I am deeply concerned about my child, even thought she is now an adult.  What angers me is that people are willing to endanger others — including her and the rest of my family — because of paranoia and willful stupidity.  If it was only them, natural selection would help take care of the problem, but they pose a danger to me and my family, too by rejecting standard vaccination: our immunity may not be sure, and will likely degrade with time; there are also succeeding generations who may be at risk.

Of course, most of them have been vaccinated against measles and they are only willing to make the choice to endanger the next generation…they are safe, and hypocritical. They should eschew all medicines for themselves, including antibiotics, flu shots, and tetanus inoculations, too.  Those things have “chemicals” in them and are advocated by the “medical conspiracy.” Expose them to rabies and TB and cholera and malaria while we’re at it. Let’s speed up that natural selection a little…it’s the closest we can (legally) come to getting a little chlorine in the gene pool.

It isn’t only the stance on vaccines that make me angry these days.  The sanctimonious pinheads who are elected to office (and the no-nothings, bigots, and lazy who vote for them, or who don’t vote at all) also add to my anger level.   These are the people who blame the sick, the elderly, and the poor for their bad luck and disadvantaged environments.  Despite too many of the rich having way more of everything (except compassion) than they will ever need (and those same people claiming to follow a religious figure who instructed his followers to give everything to the poor), the hypocrits continue to pursue policies that further disadvantage and hurt the most impoverished among us.   These same jerks seek to exclude and injure others because of their skin color or heritage, although they use indirect terms to pursue that goal.  They seek to deny happiness to people who are born with different sexual orientations, and they treat women as less than even second-class citizens through oppressive health and employment regulations.  So many of them claim to follow religions that command they love one another, yet they pay no attention to people dying in other countries …and often they are eager to send our military to kill even more.  These are the people who, in the interests of making yet more money for the uber-rich, refuse to take actions that will help address climate change and reduce the pollution in our world.  These are the people who seek to destroy knowledge and spread falsehoods because they know the facts do not support their world view (I’ve blogged about this here, before).

I have spent much of my life trying to provide education to those who want it, to help them succeed and make the world a better place.  I have family and friends, including many who will long outlive me.  I want them to have a world where human life and dignity are valued — for everyone.  Where they do not need to fear preventable disease.  Where they are allowed to worship — or not — as they see fit, and to not be subject to physical harm because they do not share someone else’s beliefs.  Where they can love who they want, without criticism because of skin color, or body shape, or background. A world where if they fall ill, or a natural disaster befalls them, they do not need to make a choice among food, shelter, or health care, because they cannot afford more than one and they have no other options.  I hope for a world where knowledge is valued above myth and superstition.  I want those who follow after to have heroes based on something they can aspire to other than fame for a big butt or speed on a sports field.  And I want them to live in a world where their leaders are actually concerned about their welfare, rather than the interests of the monied few.

Recent news has not done much to make me believe that world is within reach, and each day is one less I will have to see a change.  It brings despair that my efforts have been for naught, and concern for the future they will inherit.  So yes, I am angry.  You should be too.

A Family Vacation, Part II

This is a continuation of the story begun in a previous blog post, of a vacation misadventure in 1997.

Travel — August 1

I awoke at 10:30am, a bit bruised and stiff. If you are ever in a car accident, you discover that you tend to pull and strain muscles from the involuntary bracing. Once the adrenaline wears off, you discover you have sore spots where you didn’t even know you had spots. That was my state.

I got up, took some ibuprofin, and then typed a report about the accident into my laptop. I then faxed the whole thing, including the accident report case number and other information, to my insurance agent. I’ll let him worry about it from here. I’m on vacation. To relax. To reduce stress. Yeah, right.

We got packed up and loaded the car. We checked out at 1pm and went to a delayed brunch at a nearby restaurant that was not a pancake place. The only notable thing about this was that Elizabeth really had a nice lunch, and then a fantastic dessert: “Cup of Dirt.” This was a bowl of chocolate pudding, covered with a layer of crumbled oreo cookies (sans filling), with several big gummy worms intermixed. It looked disgusting, so she loved it.

After that, we drove south to Fort Myers Beach, where we have a suite in the Pink Shell Beach Resort, on Estero Island (near Sanibel and Captiva). We directly overlook a beautiful beach on the Gulf of Mexico. It was lovely.

After arriving, I crashed for 45 minutes and took a nap. Then we went in search of food. We ended up at a small restaurant in a marina. The place was called the “Rusty Pelican,” which I thought (and still think) is a great name for the beach, and had wonderful food. I had grouper and Kathy had mahi. Elizabeth said she wanted chicken, but then refused to eat any. In fact, she refused to eat anything. She dropped her napkin and silverware on the floor, spilled her water on the table and on Kathy, spit out some of her food on the plate, and started crying. Then she really began to misbehave. Clearly, the excitement of the past few days had caught up with her. We had to leave without dessert, but even with all that, we still had a table full of strangers come over and compliment us on how pretty and well-behaved Elizabeth was. They did not appear to be angry, sarcastic, psychotic people — they seemed quite sincere. I shudder to think about how their children must act!

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the grocery store and got some basic supplies for the kitchen in the suite.

August 2

Arose earlier than on previous days. Had breakfast in the room. Then, we applied lots of sunscreen (but later learned we missed some sensitive spots) and went down to the beach. This was Elizabeth’s first experience with the beach, but she loved it (after a few minutes). The Gulf has warm water, gentle waves, and nice sand. She enjoyed sitting at the edge of the surf. However, this necessitated me taking her out into deeper water every 10 minutes and shaking about 10 pounds of sand out of her suit, introduced through the surf dragging her bottom through the sand. We spent an hour on the beach, and then adjourned to the pool for a while.

We returned to the room to rinse off, give Elizabeth a snack, and sort through some items. We also called my Dad and found that we had a new nephew, Liam, born Tuesday. Apparently, the day we left (Monday), my sister went into labor. The next morning, she gave birth to my latest nephew, Liam. Everybody else in her family is ill at the moment, so it has been a somewhat trying time. My brother-in-law, trying to juggle everything else going on, couldn’t find my cell phone number, so he called and left a message on our answering machine back home. Of course, Kathy and I haven’t been checking that…because I’d been carrying the dang cell phone around for the past week, getting it caught in every ride at Disneyworld and restaurant chair I sat in as we awaited the news. (It was an age when cell phones were really large and bulky.)

After lunch and a nap, it was back to the beach at low tide. Elizabeth wanted to look for shells and swim again. However, her approach to gathering shells was to pick up every piece of shell she sees, whether it is whole, a fragment, a rock, seaweed, a bottle cap or whatever. As soon as her hands got full, she dumped the lot in the water, and started again. Needless to say, this is not terribly productive from the point of view of a discerning collector, but it is mildly interesting to watch. It actually is a metaphor for how some people live their lives, I guess (except for the bottle caps). At least she had more fun than searching for the “perfect” shells.

After a quick dip in the pool, we returned to the room, shower, and dressed. Rather than tempt fate too much, we decided to play it safe and not go anywhere for dinner. Instead, we called a local pizza place with a good recommendation by the management. I ordered two salads, a small cheese pizza for Elizabeth, and a “deluxe” for Kathy & myself with green peppers on only half (of the pizza, not Kathy) — green peppers and Kathy don’t seem to get along very well. With that, we turned the TV on to Nickelodeon for Elizabeth.

A half hour later, there was a knock at the door. It was our pizzas. However, there were no salads. We pointed that out, and the delivery guy headed back to the store to fetch the salads. Elizabeth dived into her pizza and declared it “yum” — thankfully. Kathy and I opened our pizza to discover that they put green peppers everywhere. However, in a unique twist on this usual Murphy’s Law result, they have put only green peppers on half of the pizza — no cheese! The delivery man, when he returned, was as perplexed as we were. However, his manager was not on duty, so the best he could offer was to give us a coupon for half off our next pizza order…as if we were there at the beach to keep ordering pizza! Anyhow, Kathy proceeded to pick peppers placed on her pizza (tomorrow, she will sell seashells by the seashore). Then we all went to bed early. (And, to add that special touch to my vacation, Kathy has developed terribly sore bruises across her abdomen where the seat belt got her. She is unable to bend at the waist, or even tolerate even so much as a gentle hug from either Elizabeth or myself. Put your own punchlines here.)

August 3

Absolutely nothing terrible happened today — what a relief. We arose late, had breakfast, and played in the surf and then the pool for several hours. (Well, Kathy was too sore to play, actually, but she did wade.) We made up some lunch in the room (Elizabeth had more cheese pizza), then headed out to a nearby Walmart to get some sunburn lotion, some beach toys, and some additional grocery items. After that, and a short nap for Elizabeth, we headed back out to the beach while Kathy did some laundry. The tide was going out, so after a little swimming, Elizabeth and I walked down the beach a ways, picking up shells. Then we played some with her new beach toys. For her, this basically meant picking up sand and dumping it in the water, then filling her bucket with water and dumping it in the sand. She found it great fun.

Kathy finished the laundry and came out to join us. All three of us walked out through the water to a sandbar, now exposed by the low tide. On the way, the water never got above my waist, where earlier in the day the water was above my head; it was a considerable tide. On the sandbar, we joined lots of people (mostly kids — this is a popular family resort) looking for shells. I guess I’m particularly good at this — I dug up a clam, found over a dozen small hermit crabs and two blue crabs, several anemones, a jellyfish, and two sand dollars. (I released all of them afterwards.) One of the kids who was watching me pull these up found a brittle starfish. Elizabeth displayed her usual focus on such interesting things — by digging up sand and dumping it in the water.

Some of the older girls who were present were fascinated by the parade of sea creatures I came up with and one asked “Are you a scientist?” Afterwards, I realized I should have answered “Not simply a scientist — a mad scientist” and given my best maniacal laugh. However, Kathy quickly explained that I was not only a scientist, but basically a harmless old fart scientist. When I complained about this, she enjoyed pointing out that had the young lady been a few years older, she would have seen that for herself. Elizabeth’s only comment: “Look, Dad: sand!”

We then adjourned to the pool where Elizabeth had a great time with her new water wings. In fact, it took both Kathy & myself to drag her out and convince her it was time to leave (30 minutes after sunset!). By that time, she was exhausted and shivering from the cold. So, I ended up wrapping her in her towel and once again carrying her back to our room. This is why we got a 3rd floor room with no elevators, of course. A quick, warm shower, and we went out for a late dinner. We ended up, by accident, at a nearby restaurant somewhat off the beaten path. We had a great dinner, with Kathy & I each having scallops with crab stuffing. Elizabeth had most of a hotdog, then pushed her plate away and tried to go to sleep on the table. We took this as a broad hint, got our desserts to go, and headed back to the room.

Elizabeth went right to bed. Kathy & I had key lime pie, watched some TV, followed by news & weather, and we also turned in. I had trouble getting to sleep. For some reason, I kept having dreams of being abducted and held for ransom. Each time, the kidnappers couldn’t find anyone to pay the ransom. This kept waking me up. I didn’t get much sleep.

August 4

Elizabeth arose early, so we did too. After breakfast, she and Kathy went out to play in the surf and the pool. I stayed inside and did the dishes (lots of small ants had found the few dirty dishes we had left out the day before), cleaned up some of the things we had been accumulating over the last few days, and read some e-mail.

At noon I went out and joined Elizabeth & Kathy. Elizabeth was having great fun in the pool. When I got there, we decided to go back to the ocean. We had been there about 3 minutes when a thunderstorm blew in and we had to get out. Thus, I got a long, relaxing swim — not.

The storm blew in some cool weather, so after lunch we shut off the A/C and opened the windows. I decided to catch a nap, and Elizabeth decided she wanted one too, but it had to be with Daddy. So, she grabbed her blanket and stuffed animal, and climbed on the bed where I was trying to nap. She was asleep in about 30 seconds but kept moving about, keeping me awake. Sigh. She’s so cute, and she’s growing up so quickly. She looked so peaceful, asleep with her stuffed doggie. It was a magical moment, but a full bladder trumps magic, so I had to get up.

After E’s nap, we drove to Sanibel and Captiva Islands to look around. Some of the houses were absolutely amazing — similar houses in the Indianapolis area run for $1.5 million (that’s in 1997 dollars). I’m sure the real estate on these small islands is considerably more expensive; some of those waterfront lots probably cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the beaches there didn’t look any nicer than the one in front of our hotel. In fact, some of them looked rougher. The residents probably can afford to hire professionals to do their swimming for them, so it doesn’t matter.

Interestingly, we first noted at Sanibel and Captiva that many of the street signs are in English, Spanish, and … German? Then we realized that the hotel staff here on Estero Island is bilingual in German, our room has a Yellow Pages book in German, all the hotel literature is in German as well as English, and so on. I stopped by the children’s rec room, and the staff is also bilingual in German, and several of the signs on the wall were in German. There must be some logical explanation for this, but I am unable to come up with it, unless there is a secret base nearby with black helicopters and these folks are somehow related. I don’t think it would be wise for me to investigate further, and besides, it probably means the local beer is worth investigating!

We returned to the restaurant we had visited the night before. This was largely prompted by Elizabeth telling us every 30 seconds that she was hungry. So, we got our menus, Elizabeth said she wanted a hamburger, and Kathy & I ordered seafood. So, what happened? Elizabeth ate one bite and proclaimed herself “full.” Despite all our entreaties, she refused to eat any more, pronouncing it as “yucky.” She then had a meltdown in the restaurant when we told her no swimming unless she ate some of her food. So, we returned to the hotel, put Elizabeth to bed early, and watched TV for the rest of the evening.

I think we’re all ready to head home — I know I need a rest from this vacation. I also think Elizabeth has had too much excitement and isn’t sleeping well. Kathy isn’t sleeping well either, and we’re all sporting significant sunburns in patches where the sun block was put on unevenly or washed off. We don’t need heat exhaustion and car accidents — the dreaded vacation attrition effect is doing us in. Another 3 days and I either explode from boredom, or else give up my university position, learn German, and get a job here on the beach. As we must leave for my uncle’s tomorrow, I think the matter is decided.

Postscript

We visited my uncle & aunt, then got back home again with no further incidents, other than some additional sunburn. Nothing worth mentioning happened at all, except we had a relaxing and pleasant last few days. I totally burned out on keeping up my vacation diary, so this is the only text about it. But as it was really uneventful, that’s just as well.

Despite the lack of more adventure, I still didn’t get much sleep and returned much the worse for wear. Clearly, the only reason to go on a family vacation is to amuse Elizabeth, because I sure didn’t get anything out of it, and Kathy is still complaining about the bruises and the accumulated laundry. And we are continuing to find sand everywhere.

Looking back, this was a typical vacation for us. Sigh.

A Family vacation, Part I

Prologue

As I noted in previous postings in this blog, 15-20 years ago I wrote a regular series of essays, most intended to be humorous. This one was written in the summer of 1997, during the course of a family vacation when my daughter, Elizabeth, had just turned 4. I was reminded of this over the last week when we went to New York (city) to celebrate Elizabeth’s 21st birthday. This earlier vacation had some very memorable moments….

Because the story is so long, I am breaking it into two parts. I will post part II later.

This was originally written as a travel diary, day by day. It is very typical of every vacation we have ever taken; and people wonder why I am such a wreck…

The Story

Prolog

It has been 5 years since my last real family vacation — one where I ignored deadlines, didn’t have a business trip piggybacked on my travel, and where Kathy & I were both present in the same place at the same time. A lot has happened in that five years — our daughter Elizabeth was born, both my parents had bouts with cancer and my mother eventually succumbed to it, Kathy and I bought our first house, we sold my family’s house of 37 years (and thus, my childhood home), Kathy’s father died, I got tenure, I’ve been promoted twice, I established the COAST laboratory, I’ve traveled to Australia and Europe on business about 20 times, I’ve participated in the writing and editing of 4 major books, I missed being named one of People magazine’s “50 Sexiest People” every year running, and so on. You get the idea: a lot has happened, most of it adding to the stress level, whether the event was good or not.

So, after missing Elizabeth’s 4th birthday because of my travel, I decided it was important to get some family time away. Kathy and I thought about it and at Elizabeth’s urging resolved to go to Florida, to see Disneyworld and go to the beach.

I was not going to keep a journal because I thought the vacation would be uneventful and boring. Ha! I cannot be so lucky as to have something boring happen. Entropy swirls about me, and my life continues to fall, buttered-side down. Enclosed are my notes from the vacation.

Travel — July 28

Oddly enough, we got everything packed and accomplished in a timely manner. I even managed to get in to my office to dispose of some last-minute chores. The air conditioner didn’t break, as it did before my last trip. No toilets overflowed, as before my last trip (we have had a talk with Elizabeth about learning to use the potty — she does not need to contribute to global deforestation and plumbing problems by using a whole roll of paper each visit). In fact, everything was distressingly normal — an omen, if only I’d noticed.

Elizabeth refused to take a nap. In fact, she had not slept well for days because of all the excitement. She also had developed a cold. This, of course, was not good news. Kathy & I could imagine how enjoyable it would be to be on a plane flight with a child with a bad cold and plugged up ears, especially considering my history of difficulties in that arena. So, after a brief consultation with the pediatrician, we made some preparations. As we got to the airport, we gave Elizabeth a double dose of antihistamine and a few shots of nose spray — with her squirming, we believe some actually got in her nose.

We had gotten to the airport in a timely fashion (surprise!), and got on the plane with time to spare. Elizabeth asked for the window seat, and promptly pulled the shade. For the next 2 hours, she was more interested in pulling the shade up and down than in looking out the window. This about drove us nuts during the entire flight. Next time, she sits in the middle. Anyhow, on the advice of the pediatrician, we gave Elizabeth some bubble gum before the plane took off — the chewing is supposed to help her clear her ears. So, she chewed it for about 30 seconds, then swallowed it. Big help. She got a second piece after a long discussion about how to chew gum. Unclear on the concept, she now refused to chew. Sigh.

Other than that, the flight was uneventful. So was the landing, except for more lessons on chewing gum operation. However, thereafter we seemed to be prone to some misdirection. We waited a half hour for our luggage — only to discover that we had misheard the announcement about the luggage carousel, and had been waiting at the wrong place. So, we redirected ourselves and we then recovered our luggage. Then we went outside into the sauna of Florida to await the shuttle bus for rental cars. Because of construction at the pickup point and some poorly worded signs, we ended up waiting 20 minutes at the wrong spot. After seeing two buses drive by without stopping, we caught on. We relocated and got the shuttle.

So, we got to the car rental place, where another wait ensued. After some discussion, I got an upgraded car — a Chrysler LHS in Elizabeth’s then-favorite color: purple. We strapped her car seat in the back, and off we went. A drive across Orlando and two confused passes by the entrance to the hotel got us to the hotel where we were staying. Along the way, Elizabeth discovered the electric windows, so I had to engage the override lock on them to keep them closed. She also had been telling us during the whole car trip (about 30 minutes) how she was soooo hungry and wanted cheese pizza. Naturally, she fell asleep 30 seconds before I parked the car at the hotel office. So, I left Kathy & Elizabeth in the car while I went to register.

Lots of people seemed to be registering at 11:30 in the evening, oddly enough. So, there was a delay of nearly 15 minutes. However, I finally got through to register. Then, I walked into the store at the end of the lobby where they had … a Pizza Hut! I ordered their last cheese & mushroom pizza, and said I would be back in 15 minutes to get it.

As I exited the store, I saw Kathy coming towards me. Odd, she was alone. She greeted me with those four little words I so long to hear from her: “We have a problem.”

It seems that Kathy found a nice radio station while I was waiting to register. The music partially awakened Elizabeth, who asked for her mommy. So, Kathy hit the switch for the power locks to unlock the door, got out of the front seat, and went around to the back to get in next to Elizabeth to sit next to her. Only to discover that the door was locked. In fact, all the doors were locked. So, the car is running (for the A/C), the radio is on, Elizabeth is alone in the car with the keys, and we’re locked out. (We later discovered that the lock switch was faulty and had a shorting contact — it would not reliably lock or unlock the door on a regular basis, and sometimes would lock itself. Wonderful behavior.)

Kathy & I went to the car, pounded on the window, and tried to shout to Elizabeth to undo her seatbelt and unlock the door. The combination of the hour (11:45pm), the antihistamine, the radio noise, and her being almost asleep rendered this futile. All we succeeded in doing was making enough noise to partially awaken her and upset her. She began crying and refused to open her eyes. Sort of like her father on Mondays before his sixth cup of coffee, actually.

Our shouting attracted members of the staff, who loaned us a flashlight (the car was parked at the side of the building where there were no lights). We tried to use the flashlight to get Elizabeth’s attention. Some of the staff joined us in shouting Elizabeth’s name to try to get her to at least open her eyes to look at us. All this succeeded in doing was to get her hysterical and crying much more. I’m sure that years from now she’ll have some dim memory of being groggy, restrained by straps, hearing odd voices calling her name, and bright lights shining in her face. In other words, she’ll remember being abducted by aliens.

I called the car company, and after a long delay via voice mail (“Press 73 if you are calling from Idaho and wish to talk to an agent who speaks Estonian.”) they said they’d send out a service person to pick the lock. Meanwhile, about 10 of the staff had congregated about the car, bending coat hangers and trying to break into the car. At the same time, Kathy was trying to get Elizabeth to calm down. However, all efforts only succeeded in making Elizabeth even more hysterical — she heard her mother’s voice, sort of, but the radio and her crying drowned out the words, and this huge crowd of maintenance personnel, tourists, passersby, and so on were all shouting at each other on the other side of the car as to how best to break in. With Disneyworld and Sea World closed at this hour, this was the biggest open attraction and was drawing tourists from across the state.

So after many, many, MANY minutes of this circus, the staff got the door unlocked using several coat hangers together with a screwdriver and assorted materials. There were apparently no talented car thieves on staff after midnight. Kathy & Elizabeth were reunited, and I went to call the rental company to cancel the service call. Of course, the truck arrived as I was dialing the phone. And then to top it off, the store with the Pizza Hut had closed during the episode. Luckily, the night manager of the hotel was there. He went into the store, discovered that there was an unsold pizza (not ours — no mushrooms), and gave it to us without charge.

By the time we had unpacked, had some pizza, and got ready for bed, it was 1:30am. Naturally, I had trouble relaxing to get to sleep. I also awoke with heartburn from the pizza twice in the night. Restful.

July 29

We got up at 9:30 or so, missing the complimentary breakfast from the hotel. By the time we got ourselves around, we ended up having brunch at a pancake restaurant down the road. I should say, Kathy and I had lunch. Elizabeth ordered pancakes, and proceeded to proclaim them “yucky” because they didn’t taste right. This may have been because she put 4 different kinds of syrup on them, cut them into little pieces, and built a structure on her plate reminiscent of the mashed potato structure in “Close Encounters.” After apologizing for the mess and paying hush money to the waitress, we traveled on to Disneyworld, arriving at noon. We rented a stroller for Elizabeth, and headed off for “Fantasyland.”

The temperature was about 95 F, with high humidity. There were huge crowds, little shade, and no breeze; late July is not an optimal time to do things outdoors in Florida. About the only thing missing to make it perfectly hellish was some form of blood-sucking parasite, such as mosquitoes, leeches, or politicians. Actually, there was a close approximation — the vendors. Everywhere you turned, they were selling T-shirts at $20-$36 apiece (note: these were 1977 prices), stuffed dolls, or other souvenirs. What was especially galling was the price for bottled water or soda. $2 or $2.50 (depending on location) bought a 24oz bottle of chilled liquid. Considering that the heat and humidity were such that 24oz was approximately the volume of sweat exuded in 10 minutes, this was clearly a moneymaker for the Mouse Empire.

We spent the remainder of the day in basically the following pattern: park the stroller because it was not allowed inside attractions; stand in line for 45 un-airconditioned minutes, and 5 minutes with some partial A/C or breeze at the end; spend 5 minutes on the ride or exhibit; stand in line for 10 minutes to spend $5 for more water to replace what we lost in the previous hour; drag Elizabeth (or Kathy) away from several nearby vendors of overpriced merchandise; spend 10 minutes hunting for the stroller with our tag, parked amidst 100 other strollers; walk 100 ft to the next attraction; lather, rinse, repeat. We broke the monotony by making potty stops and once spending the equivalent of Elizabeth’s weight in gold for a hot dog and a small bowl of grapes as a snack. Clearly, Disney makes the movies to get kids to con their parents into visiting Disneyworld so Disney can perform this slow motion mugging.

An observation based on people watching. Very warm temperatures are uncomfortable. Therefore, people tend to try to dress in a fashion to keep from overheating (except for the Muslim women wearing full, black burkas or chadors — how they kept from bursting into flame from the heat is something that defies physics as we know it). Thus, it would seem to be a field day for a dirty old man in training such as myself. However, two factors came into play: (a) as the heat index rises, so does the level of babe-itude necessary to provoke a second look and the associated expenditure of calories (and the risk of a bat upside the head from the spousal unit), and (b) the 5% of the population that looks outstanding in short shorts and a bikini top other97.jpgis more than offset by the 25% of the population that does not but still abuses Spandex to the point of criminal offense (and structural failure). In general, it is not A Small World After All, but some people haven’t quite come to that realization. It shouldn’t take a trained scientist such as myself to deduce that the reason some women had hair standing on end and their ankles puffed out and draped over their sandals was not because of some odd genetic flaw, but because they had somehow crammed a size 16 body into a size 4 maillot. Not that the men were all that much more clueful — for instance, guys whose strong gravitational affinity would pancake a stout horse should not be allowed to purchase (let alone wear) Lycra bicycle shorts.

Despite all this, we had a good day visiting attractions. Elizabeth got her picture taken with Minnie, Pluto, Chip and Dale, Ariel the Mermaid, and Goofy (the Disney character, not her father). We also stayed for the 9pm parade of characters and floats, which was spectacular, and the 10pm fireworks.At this point, the heat, the excitement, the walking, and everything else caught up with poor Elizabeth and she basically collapsed. After we got to the stroller return, I had to carry her. In 95 degree heat and 200% humidity. For miles. Standing in line 30 minutes for the ferry back to the parking lot. Then to the car. Imagine carrying a 35 pound hot water bottle around your neck and chest for an hour in such heat, and you get the idea. By the time we returned to the hotel (midnight), I was done in and dehydrated.

July 30

Arose around 9:30 (again). Once again, a late start and breakfast at the pancake place. Again, we got to Disneyworld around noon. Only today, it was about 5 degrees hotter, and 150% again as humid. So, the day was like the one before, only more so.

Today, we decided to dispense with the stroller. We spent more time yesterday chasing after it than actually using it. So, we start off with the train ride to Adventureland, where we visited Tom Sawyer’s island, had lunch, and took the cable car to Tomorrowland. There, Kathy went to Space Mountain while Elizabeth and I visited the video arcade. Elizabeth played a “Whack the Alligator” game (she’s surprisingly good), and tried SkeeBall. She was only able to roll gutter balls, and that after abut 10 tries, but she felt it was a great accomplishment. As it kept her occupied and away from the Super Ninja Motocross Space Warrior Interactive Mayhem games, I was happy — I was tired of explaining that her feet wouldn’t reach the pedals, and she’d need to wait another year or two to send atomic photon torpedoes into targets resembling hungover mutant bunnies. Time enough for that when she’s 8. I plunked some quarters into a crane game to fetch her a stuffed purple bear (I’m good with such games); the bear has not left her grip in the 3 days since then, either. Then we sat at the Space Mountain exit to wait for Kathy. Elizabeth took a short nap — she hadn’t slept well the night before, and the heat was really getting to her.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on rides and at attractions in Tomorrowland. As evening fell, we went to Toontown, where Elizabeth finally got to meet Mickey (after 45 minutes in line). She also got to go on a small roller coaster. Then, we decided to leave before the fireworks to beat the rush to the exits. We left the park at 9:50 and got in line for the monorail to the parking area. We got to the top of the ramp as the nightly fireworks show started. We let people walk around us to get on the monorail as we leaned over the rail and watched the fireworks. Then we boarded the monorail and went to the parking lot. We stopped at a burger place for some food (we had skipped dinner), and ended up getting to bed slightly before midnight.

July 31

Real misadventure day. It started okay, but the weather was similar to the days before. We once again missed the complimentary breakfast by arising after 9am. This morning, instead of going for pancakes, I went to the hotel store and got a few snack items. We had a quick brunch and made it to the MGM theme park by 11:30.

Today was not as hot as Wednesday, but hotter than Tuesday, so it was still unpleasant. Luckily, this park was not so crowded. We traipsed around from attraction to attraction. About half of the things were not very interesting for Elizabeth — they were about movies or TV and had references to things she didn’t know about. However, she appreciated the air conditioning in most of them. She also liked the Little Mermaid show, the making of George of the Jungle show, and the backstage tour exhibits. Kathy & I enjoyed most of the other exhibits, too. Elizabeth loved the Muppet 3-D show. So did I. We even went through it a second time, taking Kathy along (Kathy had gone on the Star Wars simulator ride while we saw the Muppets the first time). Actually, of all the things I saw in the 3 days there, it was the most clever and entertaining. Afterwards, we all had lunch at Pizza Planet (really!), and saw more attractions.

Poor Elizabeth was simply exhausted by evening. I had to carry her about half the time, and she was getting awfully whiney. So, we decided to call it a day earlier than before, and started to head out around 7:30, after Kathy had taken the ride on the “Tower of Terror” (no relation to the Math/Science building at Purdue). However, at this point, Elizabeth declared that she was hungry and wanted to eat at the park. So, we went into the Brown Derby (this is the same as the ones in Hollywood). We had an outstanding meal, marred only by the fact that Elizabeth was extremely fussy and wouldn’t eat. With various bits of coaxing, threats, and assistance from our waitress, we got her to eat half her fish — the half that didn’t make it to the floor. We emerged from the restaurant right on cue for the fireworks to start.

If you visit Disneyworld at certain times of the year, there will be fireworks at Disneyworld, at Epcot, and at MGM Studios. I don’t know about the fireworks at Epcot, but the MGM fireworks were clearly better than at Disneyworld. They lasted longer, had more effects, and they choreographed them to classic movie tunes. It was really magical. We loved them.

We left the park and headed back the hotel, determined to get to bed by 11pm so we could get up, have the complimentary breakfast, and check out by the 11am deadline. We planned to drive through the Everglades to our next stop the next day.

As I was making a left turn into the access road to our hotel, a small Suzuki Samurai driven by a local resident sped through the yellow light and right into our car — she came from behind some traffic stopped at the intersection and I never saw it coming. The driver told a bystander that she had sped up to make it through the yellow (and then changed her story when the police arrived). The Samurai totaled the front end of our car, then bounced into a van waiting on the cross street. We were unhurt, except for bruises from our seatbelts. I was burned along both arms from the airbags going off (an altogether interesting experience, but not one I wish to repeat). We are so thankful that we suffered nothing other than friction burns from the seatbelts.

No one in the van was injured, either. However, in the Samurai, there were several injured people who had to be taken to a hospital. The back seat held two young children — neither in a child seat — who received some facial injuries, including one with a broken tooth. More seriously, in the front passenger seat was a teenager who was not wearing a seatbelt — he went headfirst into the windshield and sustained head, neck, and face injuries. He was taken out of the car on a backboard with a cervical collar in place. I have no idea what his condition was/is.

The police came and spent the next 2 hours writing up the report, calling in tow trucks, etc. The Suzuki and our car had to be towed off — they were both pretty much in ruins. Despite 2 or 3 witness claiming that she ran the yellow or red light, she claimed it was green, and the officer didn’t give her a ticket. However, he did indicate to me he was probably going to ticket her for not having child seats, and he might ticket her for not having the front passenger in a seat belt.

The tow truck driver, with the car in tow, gave us all a ride back to our hotel. It was almost amusing at the gate — showing the security guard the parking permit that had been in the car and telling him we’d only be a few minutes. We explained to him that it was best not to criticize Mickey Mouse when at Disneyworld — he has a mean temper. Kathy & Elizabeth went inside to go to bed (now at 12:30), and I went with the tow truck to the rental car office on the other side of Orlando.

At the office, I filled out some paperwork and was given a brand new LHS. I mean, really new. It had only 9 miles on it. And the locks worked correctly. I then added another 23 as I drove it back to the hotel. I managed to get to bed about 2:30. Luckily, Kathy had called the hotel manager and arranged a late checkout for us.

Continued in a subsequent post.

Letting Go

Several things all crossed my path recently that have a common theme: letting go. For some people, moving on is simple. For others, it is difficult. And for some people, it is impossible. So, for Father’s Day I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the topic.

What do I mean by “letting go”? Many things. Accepting change. Accepting some things have passed. Getting over the death of someone close. Ending a relationship. Leaving a stage of life. Embracing now-grey hair. Saying goodby to hair itself. Accepting getting winded going up the stairs. Giving up seeing your toes while standing. No longer getting through a day without a nap. Selling a family home. Replacing a favorite car. So many other things fit the theme.

By nature, some of us get so used to people and places and states of being that the disruption of change is painful. We also have emotional ties that can make it more difficult. It seems to be the human way for many of us, although a few of us seem to relish change, and there are times in our life when we long for it.

I remember when I was in my early 20s, I was eager to get out into the world, on my own, and start to “live my life.” I didn’t realize until many years later how much I’d miss the actual life I was living, surrounded by my family and close access to places where I had cherished memories. I have new memories, and new cherished family & friends that I did not dream of then, but I cannot help but miss those times. I had to let go — in my case, while driving from NY to Atlanta to begin grad school — but I have never really turned away. I miss those times and people and places, and on the (very) infrequent times I get back to that part of the country I am sometimes overwhelmed with memories triggered by the smallest things (mentioned in one of my earlier posts here). Later, as I left Atlanta to move to Indiana and start at Purdue, I had some of the same “letting go” pains from my time in grad school. And undoubtedly, if I leave Indiana and Purdue for something else, it will be traumatic — maybe more so, as I have lived here longer than any other place — yet it will require letting go to move to something else.

We all handle letting go in different ways, and a lot of that depends on what it is we think we are relinquishing.

I was reminded of this on news of an acquaintance’s much-beloved wife dying, and his hostile reaction to some expressions of solace from others. He didn’t want memories — he was not ready to let go. She is gone, but he has so many memories and such a different life because she was there; she is not really gone in every sense, but he doesn’t yet understand how to let go of the part of her that is no longer there.

I was reminded of this with discussion with a good friend, who is having difficulty coping with his daughter’s pending departure, first to travel, and then to college. He is having trouble letting go of his not-so-little girl. I was reminded how that same situation moved me to tears a year ago….although a chronic illness has brought her home indefinitely, and I will have to suffer that departure yet again. There is a sense of loss at the routine, at the things that I wish we had done together or could do again. Yet, there is a certain pride about her independence and dreams, and a realization that — at some point — she will need to be on her own. But dammit, does it need to be so soon?

I was reminded at Memorial Day of how many people had to let go of someone before their time should have been done. Yet, how different our lives (and the lives of millions of others) been had they not stepped up to the unknown.

Last week, I ran across a gift from a past girlfriend, and I was reminded of the good times we had 40 years ago. She and I are still friends, and I wish there wasn’t such a distance between us because she still makes me smile.

I realized when I stumbled across a picture that my high school graduation was 40 years ago this month.

I was reminded of a former dear friend who, a few years ago around this time seemed to have lost her mind and become a different person. I had the hardest time letting go until I discovered she had been lying to me about a great many things — the person I thought I knew may never have existed. It was difficult to let go of that imaginary person.

I was reminded of several friends who have drifted away in time, and a few special ones who died too soon — LinkedIn and Facebook recently prompted me to remember their birthdays, and a whole set of memories came flooding back. I miss some of the laughter and solace and insights. Some of them are only a phone call away, but we have had to let go because of time and space, and making that call too often would mean having to let go all over again.

I was reminded of this as something caused me (yet again) to think of my own mortality, and the question of whether I will do all I hope to do before then? Some things already slipped from my grasp. Am I ready to let go of some of those dreams?

Letting go is necessary for each of us, to provide “room” for new experiences, and to help us grow as people. There is a saying (Zen, I believe) that anything we cannot bear to lose, owns us; the goal of life is to be free of all owners. Perhaps none of us really requires anything beyond ourselves, but the reminder of the richness that people and routine bring to us makes it difficult for some of us to let go. People who are eager for each new thing can’t quite understand that, it seems.

I know that one of my own faults is that I don’t move on easily enough, at least in my personal life. I get too comfortable with things around me that may not be as good as they could be, but I don’t want to expend the energy to change to something less certain. When I was dating, I was seldom good about break-ups — I couldn’t accept they were over, and (in retrospect) that probably made them worse. I am not good at dealing with the inevitable, either — the cancers that took my grandmother and mother, for instance, or my daughter’s chronic health issues. I react with continual searching for some “fix” and hold out hope for a miracle (not in the religious sense). Again, in retrospect, I probably hold on too long. I know I am not alone in this.

I wonder if there is something genetic in this? When I was blogging about some genealogical research on the Spafford family line, I noted “… family motto has been rendered as Fidelis ad extremum or ‘Faithful to the extreme.’ Another version has been “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” which is rather the same thing. I gather that my forebears were not particularly good of letting go, even of lost causes.

Father's Day 1956May 2007

In one sense, a failure to give up is a failure to surrender to adversity. It is a testament to hope. The people who refuse to let go of hope, of life, of success, of love — they may not always succeed, but sometimes they do simply because they persist when others would have surrendered. There is survival benefit for some of us who don’t let go so easily — there is some chance we may yet succeed. The key is understanding when to continue, and when to let go. As one aphorism goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But then, give up so you don’t look like a damn fool about it.”

Today is Father’s Day. I remember my father, sometimes clearly and sometimes not. I lived under the same roof with him for 21 years, and another 30 years in relatively close touch. He worked so hard to make a good home for us, and to provide whatever he could for my sister and me to succeed. Yet, I seem to have only a few memories I can summon up at will — there are many buried, but I need something to jar them loose. I haven’t let go — time has taken a toll. I realize it will be this way with my daughter, who apparently hasn’t yet realized it is Father’s Day today, and I am a little saddened that I may not be much of a memory to her. Yet, I think about how much of who I am was shaped by my father in all those years, and I know that my influence will be there as long as she lives, and maybe even passed down to any children she may have. Given the nature of life and time, I really can’t expect much else.Me & Liz

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and to the children who have been shaped by them. Don’t let go of the memories or the opportunity to yet shape them. If your father is within reach, give him a hug. Or heck, if any father is in reach — to let go, sometimes you need to embrace, first!

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