Caring For Storm

Katarina was playing in the backyard, by herself, while I worked in the garage the other afternoon.

She’s only 19 months old, and in that short time she’s shown much independence and an understanding of the world around her.

I heard an excited yipping, that sounded almost like the squeaking of our puppy Perry, but not quite. I figured it was the neighbors’ puppy, Storm, barking at Katarina from across the fence, but to be sure it wasn’t an escaped Perry, I went out on the porch to check.

Sure enough, it was Storm yipping. I expected that Katarina might be frightened by that, and that she would be crying, or come running my way for me to pick her up, but she was doing the very opposite. She was walking right toward the fence that separated her and the excited dog across the fence.

Katarina didn’t notice that I had walked out on the porch, so I just watched her quietly. She was holding something shiny in her hands as she walked toward the fence. I was wondering at that moment if I should intervene, because maybe Storm would take whatever was in her hand and carry it away. Just as I was about to call out to her, she said “water?” in a questioning voice (when she says water, it sounds more like the word wire, but we still get the meaning).

Then it all came together for me.

The shiny thing in her hands was Perry’s stainless steel water bowl, still a quarter full of water, and she was offering it to Storm. It was beautiful to see her offering him help.

The Path

I thought this was a new path. I had to find a way of my own in the wilderness. Like Bilbo, the hero from my childhood, the steps I took led me deeper out of my comfort zone, farther and farther out of what I had expected my life to look like. Even as I took those steps, I suppose that I thought I would find some place to call home.

I don’t remember the last time that I played hide and seek in the backyard with my friends, I remember playing that game so many times, but I can’t remember the last time. That last time came, the last game I was ever to play with them, and I didn’t know it for what it was.

Each step I take makes my history longer and leaves me with yet more memories of things that once were, but will not be again for me.

My grandparents have all moved on. I have memories of Grandma Jenny, Grandma Elaine, and Grandpa Carl – but my daughter will never know them. Her world is one that doesn’t have them.

And yet.

Yet these roads are well worn. Generations upon generations have walked this way and have asked the same questions. I understand more of why Jacob said to the Pharaoh “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”

The fact is, I never will find my home in this world. One day I’ll write my very last blog post, one day my fingers will hit these keys, now worn smooth by my typing, for the last time. The last line of code, the last words, the last thoughts. I don’t know when that day will arrive, but I know that this time I have been given is an incredible gift.

Later, some time after Jacob had spoke to Pharaoh with those tormented and heavy words, he reached the end of his journey, and summoning his strength one last time, he knew it was his final chance, he sat up and spoke a great blessing on his sons.

Overwatch 2001

This has nothing to do with the incredibly popular video game Overwatch. This post is about the game I first played in 2001 – “Halo: Combat Evolved”. It was an incredible experience for me. The first night I had played it, when it came to go to bed, sleep eluded me. I am one that often has no memory of turning the light off (in fact I frequently have fallen asleep with the light still on). On that night, sleep eluded me. Instead I had eidetic memories of battling grunts and jackals.

I had never played a video game with such a responsive enemy before. The intelligence was creepy. Yes the NPCs had their starting positions, but they moved and responded to me in such a way that it felt like I was really there. I got lost in the game for a while, they had at the first passed my Turing test.

Eventually I traversed the uncanny valley and the game took a much more mundane role in my imagination. The AI was scripted and bounded. It was, after all, hollow and dead inside once you had dug deep enough.

And yet there was still magic to be found in that game, not by the games designers, but within our own imagination – in recreating a moment that had impressed me as a boy a couple years before.

This scene.

An excellent story of honor, love, sacrifice… I recommend watching that film in its entirety. It will move you.

Anyway, that scene had especially impressed me and my younger sister, Elizabeth, and in cooperatively replaying Halo many times over, we had found a way to recreate that scene. In fact I can still remember exactly how we did it,

We would sit in the room upstairs in my mom and dad’s house, the old room with pink carpet and thick walls, that had once been part of the original log cabin. I had an alarm clock that was also a CD player. It had a cracked screen. It had a function to increase volume until the snooze button or shut off was pressed, and it would occasionally get all the way to maximum volume before waking me up. Unfortunately for my dear family, it would wake all of them up at that level. On one occasion, I finally woke in a panic because my family was yelling at me to shut it off, and in my haste to do so – I knocked it off the table and cracked the screen.

Elizabeth and I would play together, over an hour through one of the longest stages in the game, Two Betrayals, and make it to the Final Run.

Two Betrayals. Halo: Combat Evolved

A legion of enemy warriors, including even two armored tanks and a dozen dug-in infantry troops, waited for us at the other end of the valley.

We would then put, into that old CD player, the soundtrack (that we probably had downloaded from Napster) of the “The Last of The Mohicans”.

Most often I, but on occasion I would allow my little sister to do it, would sneak out ahead and steal one of the flying ships from the enemy. Ideally one would use the powerful weapons of the flying ship to bombard the entrenched enemy position, or at least to take out the heavily armored tanks, but in this case we would park our vehicled on a very high ledge and instead pull out the sniper rifle.

The other player, previoulsy watching and patiently waiting, would now arm themselves with the shotgun and an assault rifle, and with the Last of the Mohicans Music resonating in the room, the person on the ground would let out a battle cry and charge the enemy position. The trick of that person was mainly to avoid the massive cannon blasts from the enemy armor and to charge straight for the door on the far end of the valley, all the while the person up on the bridge sat in overwatch.

Up on the bridge I could see the full battlefield and I would use the sniper rifle to protect my friend from the attacking infantry. We made believe that we were the legendary Uncas and Hawkeye while we provided cover for our brave hero that was face to face with the enemy.

That is a most precious memory of a shared experience with my sister Elizabeth, and one I will continue to treasure.

Bathhouse Row

This was my first time to visit the historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, AR. Tiffany, Katarina and I had a wonderful stroll down, up and back down Bathhouse Row. We were late to town and ended up only having a few minutes in the National Park Visitors Center. It was still worth the visit and gave us a glimpse of what once was at Bathhouse Row.

The beautiful old structures had gilded fronts and architecture honoring the Spanish missions and the ancient Roman bathhouses. The interior was dominated by marble, brass, and steel.

The thought that returned to me again and again, when we visited each ornate structure, was “how this must have looked like in its heyday!”. Looking at the historical visitation records it may not be impressive that 265,000 people visited in 1926, but considering the limitations on transportation at that time, Bathhouse Row would have been a magnificent sight. I imagine it full of people and energy, just bursting to the seams with excitement. In one of the bathhouses, it was written that ladies had waited for hours for an available bath.

I felt like Bathhouse row was just a frame of what it used to be. Walking amongst the buildings was like looking at an old photograph, quiet and lonely now, which had once been beautiful and bustling.

I want to visit Hot Springs again, I want to breathe more of it, and I want to be in the history of it.

Out front of The Arlington, that old castle of Hot Springs Arkansas

The Foreignness of a Newborn Babe

I have seen hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of newborn Holstein calves over the last 3 and a half years.

Back in veterinary school, I saw a black calf with white spots, or vice versa. Now I see so much more in a calf.

I see chest and hip shape, muzzle curve, ear angles, neck length, elbow rotation, fetlock breakover, craniolateral position of the eyes and more. I am not even trying to look at those things, I just see them now. It fascinates me because it was happening over time without my full knowledge.

There is some part of my brain that collects, stores, and compares those measurements and observations, without me even aware of it, and it is working all the time. It’s a process that builds, and even as it conitinually ran in the background of my brain, I never really noticed it until my daughter was born.

Katarina taking her first of many naps

In that moment that I saw her present to the world, I realized, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. It was humbling to see this little life and not know anything about how a brand new human looks. It was a token moment, feeling like the moment the window pane trembles, and the walls shudder, under the lashing rain and burgeoning gusts of a thunderstorm. In that instance, you realize just how much the window and walls mean to your survival.

Seeing her for the first time told me very clearly that my life had crossed some threshold and would never be the same.

Our ship had found itself in new waters.

I Found You!

Parenthood has forever changed me, kind of like marriage did.

Back when I was a single man, I had so much time alone. Evening after evening, if I didn’t have plans with friends, I went to sleep in silence. I often ate my supper alone. I watched the television program that I wanted to, or listened to the music that I wanted to (I must have played Emotionalism a couple hundred times). My bathroom cabinet was stocked only with products that I used. The blankets and sheets on my bed were the blankets and sheets that I chose. Yes I was limited by budget and location, but other than that I had full autonomy. I could get anything I wanted from the local Salvation Army, and decorate my apartment in the best way I saw fit.

After marrying, I found a forever date. Dinner out – now always for two. I get to consider someone else in every decision.

Now that we have a baby, the dynamic has changed again.

It’s a whole new level of taking another into consideration.

Even when my wife and I step out on the porch for a few minutes of coffee and contemplation, and our little one is happily playing with her cousin and auntie Emily, she will find us. She is not easily dissuaded.

The Lighting of the Trees

My interest was captured by a beautiful invitation on the door of the donuts shop this morning. It was advertising a fundraiser for the Tulare Hospital Foundation at $125 ticket price. Hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, networking, awards, and a silent auction were all promised as part of the evening’s experience.

I stopped for a minute and looked at the flyer, and I found myself surprised that a posh event like this would even be of interest to one such as myself. I began to daydream about Tiffany and I dressing to the nines, sipping wine and enjoying the gala. Yes Christmas is our favorite holiday (thus our daughter has a French middle name – Noelle), and yes I am happy to support the hospital, but I think the real allure… was status.

I believe the attraction I felt, in that moment, was the chance to feel high-society. At such an event, I could tell myself the story of mystique and sophistication, and I would have the chance to play the role of a wealthy elite.

I don’t know why I felt this today. Perhaps it is because I watched a couple episodes of Frasier last night, with all of it’s tongue in cheek refinement and erudition. Perhaps it is because I am adjusting to the life I now live with a 14 month old, and the regular public displays of goofiness I provide. Perhaps I am feeling rather unrefined.

As an aside, when my daughter, seated next to me in her carseat while I drive to town, hands me her WubbaNub Baby Giraffe (pacifier), what am I to do except for to begin sucking on the pacifier? When I can so easily delight her, and make her smile, a smile which is like a thousand gold sunsets, how can I not accept the gift from her – no matter how much posterity I give up? And when someone driving the other way seems to recognize me and gives me a very questioning look, what can I do except wave and smile?

Are you OK being with yourself?

I am always with myself by necessity, but I am learning that I can also choose to be with myself.

In the same way that I can be, physically present, with my family, and at other times I can choose to be present emotionally and cognitively.

A family member once told me they were in between jobs and had been asked by a friend to care for their friend’s home over several weeks one winter. This home was a small mansion that sat on a lake in Minnesota, and my family member’s responsibility would be watching over the home and taking the family Golden Retriever out for regular exercise, and they would be paid to boot. I was starstruck at the thought of that. What a glorious winter that would be. No deadlines. No expecations. Just the chance to be present, in a luxury home, in the glorious Minnesota winter.

I pictured lots of hot tea and cider, beautiful snow all the time, a warm fire and good books. Oh what a dream. My family member said they didn’t know if they would take the opportunity because “I don’t know if I like myself enough to be with alone with myself that long”. He went on to say that he didn’t think it would be as much of an issue for me, but that it was a real struggle for him. That comment made me think deeply.

It’s been a decade since that conversation, and as each day passes, I am learning more about present with myself and being OK about that. I am not the same man I was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a new day again, but the beautiful gift and the only place I can ever be, is right here, today.

You are not a mistake. You are loved more than you’ll ever know. It’s only life, enjoy the ride.

Sauna

I took a sauna (sow-nuh) today, in memory of my grandma Elaine, and I smiled at the old familiar burn within my nostrils. There were other gentleman sweating it out at the same time, one fellow was Latino and another Portuguese.

They seemed to experience the sauna differently. You see, grandma used to tell me about the sauna being my heritage, and we learned about the traditions, and the community, those old Finn’s had in regards to the sauna. For me it is always a memory of family and fun times. A place of joy.

For these fellows it seemed more a place of labor. I was disappointed that they seemed to endure it rather than relish it in the way I was trained too. I felt some mild offence that they would wear their full exercise gear into the sauna, and listen to their rap music through headphones.

After reflection, I think I was foolish to look at it that way. The sauna experience is ritualized for me and loaded with subtext and a story I’ve been told since I was a young boy.

These fellows have different stories and childhoods.

Why should I be offended by their tradition?

Showing Love

I just returned from a long day at work. I left my home just before six this morning, and now it is nearly nine in the evening. Katarina was asleep when I left for work, and she is asleep now. I feel bad because I missed an entire day of her life.

But I don’t want to dwell on the sad parts right now.

My lovely wife had prepared delicious food for me, had the kettle simmering gently, and a mug with my favorite herbal tea ready to be filled with boiling water.

It may not seem like much to you, but she was showing me love by doing this.

That means a lot to me.

Bathroom Tap Pt. 1

We left Sandalwood Ave, and moved to Auburn St, this past April. We had rented an older, but clean, house through a management company for the 12 months previous to that.

When we did the initial walk-through of the house, before we signed the lease to rent it, we discussed many things that still needed repair or replacement.

One of the issues in the home was the master bathroom sink. It had no hot water flowing to it, and it had poor pressure from the cold water tap. The handyman told me he would fix it soon after we moved it. We contacted the company nearly every month and the response was always the same, “we will tell our man to fix it soon”.

He never fixed it. We lived there for an entire year without hot water in our bathroom sink.

Our home on Auburn also had a shoddy bathroom tap. When the faucet was opened up wide, the water came out from the tap much too slowly. Fully on, it could be better described as leaking rather than flowing.

Today I finally had the gumption to tackle it. It took several hours, but it was successful in the end. I’ll write more about the techniques soon.

Just Like Momma

I am continually amazed at how much Katarina wants to be like her mother.

I heard a neurologist say, on an interview, that the three ways children learn from their parents are; example, example, and example.

Many times I have seen Katarina enthralled by what her momma is doing, and this is just another example. Katarina watches every move Tiffany makes, and is very excited to imitate her mother.

It is sobering how much the little human is watching and learning.

In The Neighbourhood

We traveled from Bladensburg to Gallipolis Ohio today. I have made that trek dozens of times before, but I went a different way today.

On one of our windy country roads, we saw signs for Ravenwood Castle only a few miles away. It brought back memories for my wife and I.

Four years ago we visited this charming location.

Just before proposing to my girlfriend, we stopped in at the castle and I tried to subtly inquire about Ravenwood as a venue for “events”. My thinly veiled attempt was thoroughly pierced by the receptionist, who quickly asked “Like a wedding? Are you two getting married? Congratulations!”…. I am still trying to play it cool, when she says “oh we are having a wedding reception right now, try some of the cake!”.

Today we laughed about that trip, and about how awkward Tiffany felt at that time as we were not yet betrothed. We decided to visit again and look around.

Coming here with our daughter is unbelievably different, and we want to bring her here when she is a little older, when she can all dress up like royalty, and Katarina can feel like a Princess in her castle.