Friday, December 30, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust....

So... another year is down. It sort of freaks me out in a way when I think of how fast this year flew by.. I hope that they rest of my years won't all go past so quickly.

It seems to me that only a few days ago I was celebrating the holidays, and then I put some stuff away, cleaned something, went to work, and it was time to get ready for the 4th of July cookout... I started taking the hotdogs and hamburgers out to put them on a plate, and realized that my birthday flew by and that everyone had given me some really cool gifts! I opened one, and took a look at it, and the next thing I knew somebody was banging on the door, talking about "Trick or Treat!". I chucked some candy into a bag, the turkey was ready, and we had some Thanksgiving dinner, after which we put up the Christmas tree, decorated it, and headed off for our vacation... I got back from vacation... and now it's time for New Year's again.

I'm not quite sure whether to buy a Valentine's Day card, or to go Christmas shopping..

Where is the speed control on this thing, anyway??

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back from Vacation... and Need a Vacation!

The vacation went well, in the sense that we got there, did what we had planned, saw who we wanted to see, and got back all in one piece. However, I found that it was quite a bit stressful to me for a number of reasons...

The cats were more or less on their own for the week, which stressed me out more than I realized at the time. When I saw that they were fine, I was incredibly relieved.

Elysia's mom and my mom have something in common that is a part of their respective personalities... they tend to want to control and orchestrate every single minute and every activity. I don't see my mother all that often, so it doesn't really affect me all that much. I don't really see Elysia's mother all that often either, and when I do, I am generally so happy to be able to spend time with her that I tend to overlook this trait. But, a week can be a relatively long time.

I think I may be hitting an age where I have become more set in my ways than I had previously realized.

(NOTE: For the sake of Clarity and brevity, I call my mom 'Mom' and Elysia's mom 'Mommer' - I don't have any explanation, it just worked out that way...)

Mommer is an angel. She is quite possibly one of the kindest, loving, and most personable people that one could ever meet. When we visit with her, it is usually for a couple of days, and we pretty much always have a great time. She has a way of wanting to cram a month of stuff into a two day visit that can be sort of 'exciting', but we do our best to accomodate her and it always works out well.

When we arrived at her house, we wanted nothing more than to put on our 'yummies' (lounging clothes... sweats, jammies, big floppy t-shirts... you get the idea) and basically veg out and spend time visiting and talking.

No deal.

Mommer told us that a friend of hers who we don't actually know 'was dying to see us' and that we were scheduled to meet her for dinner. We cleaned up, got dressed, and trundled out to the vehicle to go to dinner. As it turns out, the friend didn't appear to want to see us at all... as a matter of fact, she just about hit the sidewalk on a run at the first socially acceptable opportunity... my wager is on the fact that Mommer most likely told her that 'Bear and Elysia are just dying to see you!' and this was how the whole mongasso of a dinner had been planned.

The next day, I was looking forward to sitting on the porch, walking about in the woods, and perhaps reading a little... once the holiday chores were completed... it was not to be. I got honswoggled into spending the day driving around with Mommer's husband. I will call him JG for the purposes of this blog. JG was born and bred right there in the community in North Carolina where they live. He isn't much of a conversationalist, doesn't really enjoy my company as far as I can see... and, if truth be told, although I like him and get along with him alright, I don't particularly enjoy being cooped up with him for any length of time. We have absolutely nothing in common, other than the awkward silences... and quite a few differences; in culture, upbringing, religiosity, tolerance, and pretty much everything. You name it, and we are different in it... I knew it had to be some sort of a planned set-up thing, because this doesn't generally happen. Elysia and mommer headed off to South Carolina to the chiropractor and to do holiday errands (I would have much more enjoyed going with them....) and I was more or less backed into going with JG. At one point, I even announced that I wasn't going due to an upset stomach, but this was pretty much tromped over and I got cornered into going along... yay.

One of the main characteristics of Mommer and JG is that they are very, very religious. They are fervent and zealous adherents to their particular denomination of the religion in which they believe, and they hold the opinion that everybody else is too... or that they should be. I, on the other hand, while being deeply religious in my own right, do not share their beliefs in any way, shape, form or fashion. We do not see eye to eye on anything as it pertains to religion. While I have no problem with other people having and pursuing their individual religious paths, they, on the other hand have a very difficult time accepting that other people do not believe as they do, and they expend a great deal of thought, planning, and engergy into encouraging, coercing, and sometimes bludgeoning other folks to believe as they do.

I find this distasteful, extremely uncomfortable, and a complete and utter waste of time. I will never change my religious beliefs. Ever. I believe as I do, and that is that. I am not lacking anything in my life, from a spiritual standpoint, and I am not seeking anything that can not be found in my current belief system. Simply put, I am an inconvertable prospect. I do not proselytize, and I do not accept proselytization directed towards myself. This creates a great deal of underlying tension and conflict that can run from amusing, to tedious, to downright obnoxious... depending upon how long one is forced to put up with the constant, never-ending subliminal programming... or the direct, in your face, preaching and sermonizing. Admittedly, Mommer is much more subtle and low-key in her efforts, which are usually not consciously pursued, and which are, consequently, much more palatable... if one must be forced to have to face this sort of thing. She is such a sweet-heart that it is very difficult to get annoyed or upset with her. JG, on the other hand sees the world as black and white. White, which is right (defined as his chosen path of faith and belief), and Black - which encompasses anything and everything else that does not fit his parameters. I am very black, apparently.

I am making a conscious effort to avoid naming either my religious path, or the path of anyone else. I don't want to get into a series of endless and ultimately unendable debates with readers who undoubtedly have religious paths of their own. I don't claim that my path is the right path, or that anyone else's path is the wrong path... In fact, I don't honestly believe that ANYone has the right path to exclusion of anybody else. In any case, nobody really knows... not in this life. They may fervently believe that they know... but that isn't the same thing. If I am wrong, then I'm wrong... but I believe what I believe, and I simply wish to be left alone to believe what I believe... whether I am right, wrong, or making a complete and utter ass out of myself.

I don't tell anyone else to believe anything... I don't try to convince anybody that they should or shouldn't follow whatever path they so choose... if they want to pile shit into a box, stick a stick into it with a bunch of straw tied to it and call that their god, then, as far as I'm concerned, it is their god, and I would never do anything to be disrespectful towards their god... so long as they don't happen to find my peaceful spiritual path to be a transgression. If they do...well, what we have is a conflict.

Well... what we have here, folks, is a conflict.

As JG pulled out of the driveway, he turned on a radio station that was non-stop preaching and sermonizing. Much of this was judgemental, and finding fault with other belief systems. This much is easily ignored, but then the conversation began to take the same bent. He told me that many of the folks that had come to the area as refugees from Hurricane Katrina had been 'way off the beaten path' and that they were messed up, bad, faithless, useless people..... until! Until they 'saw the light' and got on the right track - which is his track, by the way.... Now they are wonderful, marvelous people, and they are once again worthy of being treated with courtesy, respect, and love.

I considered this whole line of yammering to be a huge crock of unmitigated shit. But I didn't say so. I just listened, and didn't comment... at all.

This tended to drive him somewhat bugshit, and he got more and more direct... taking me to be introduced to a pastor, coming right out and saying that people who don't believe in his faith are lost, and that they have a huge burden on their heart that can be lifted at any time if the lost, burdened individual would simply make the proper choice and 'come back to the fold'.

I pointed out that I, personally, was never 'in the fold', and that the entire set of rules and scriptures that he was attempting to hold me to didn't apply to me anyway, since I wasn't one of the folks that it was directed at to begin with. I pointed out, using his own religious document - line, chapter, and verse - to illustrate how I was one of the 'other people' and thus, not included in anything that followed. I admitted that if he found joy in his faith and on his chosen path that I was extremely happy to know of it, and that I wished him nothing but joy and happiness in his beliefs, and that I had similarly found joy and happiness in my belief system, and that I didn't really need any help with any spiritual matters at all, but thank you for the kind thoughts.

Every other religiously based comment for the remainder of the day was met with, "Oh, look!! A Chicken!!" or some facsimile thereof.

Thouroughly frustrated at his abject lack of success in converting me, he lavished me with gifts - in the past these had been books, scriptures, and other similar items. This time they were key chains and t-shirts with the logos of his chosen religious organization. It would have been socially awkward, not to mention downright impolite not to accept them, so I did... though I am sad to know that they will never be used , worn, or displayed, and are therefore a lamentable waste of materials, money, and effort. Sigh.

The next round was taken up by my brother-in-law. Basically the same conversation, but I had my back up by then, and more or less used his own scriptures to lead him into circles or point out gross inconsistencies in what he was doing and what his own religion said that he should be doing. Bludgeoning people and passing judgement on people is simply not being loving, accepting, or charitable... in anybody's religion.

Earlier in the day, JG and the Brother in Law had gotten into a conversation regarding two men who had been found stabbed and deposited in a local shed. Apparently, they had been murdered in a drug deal gone bad. As it turns out, one of the men was married to a woman that was a member of JG and Brother in law's congregation. Elysia's sister had echoed my sentiment; that the woman must have been very upset and sad, and that it would be made worse by having happened so close to the holidays.... JG's response was that 'he never came to church', with the inference that since he wasn't an avid churchgoer... he wasn't worthy of our consideration.. sort of saying that his death was no great loss to anyone. He had earlier said to me that he had refused to hear god's call, so god had taken him out of the world. I don't know if this is true or not, but it seems like a particularly cruel thing to say in any case.

I had to basically just bite my tongue and let this stuff slide past me... but it got to be somewhat wearing over the course of the week.

I love them all, and I would not want to say or do anything that would upset them or make them feel uncomfortable. I only wish that I was given the same consideration. Even though I know intellectually that they do this out of what they consider to be my best interests, it is not welcomed and it is not wanted by me. I have given every signal short of being blunt and rude about it, but they fail to see it, or refuse to see it.

Were I to point out what I considered to be 'wrong' in their beliefs, if such a thing existed... they would be highly affronted, aghast at my blasphemy, and most likely the relationship would suffer greatly, or come to an end... on the other hand, they don't seem to have any compunction about letting me know how wrong my beliefs are, in so many words, or in peppering me with religious references... of their own choice,... or, indeed, in saying flat out that folks who are like me, resemble me, or possibly shared a similar thought or belief with me are 'off the beaten path', 'burdened', 'wandering in the darkness', or are just wrong. Plain and simple.

There appears to be some fallout already, judging from some terse responses to emails and such... so I suppose it won't fix easily.

I have never discussed my beliefs with them, never uttered a name or anything that would clue them in to what I believe or don't believe, and never, ever try to push them into sharing my beliefs, participating in any form of worship, ritual, or theological, cosmological or liturgical discussion or practice... and basically keep my religiosity to myself...

... I wonder why it is so much to ask that others do the same for me??

I could tell that this was having a stressful effect on Elysia, as well, though I think she is much more equipped to deal with this particular sort of thing than am I, her having grown up with it.

We did a bunch of pointless visiting around, and pretty much stayed hopping almost the entire time there. Not having any control over how your day is planned is a strange thing when you are an adult, regardless of the reason...

At some point, I think Mommer realized that Elysia wasn't enjoying herself at all.. and she more or less stopped planning things. It got quite a bit easier for everyone after that. We were able to spend some time actually visiting and spending time together, which was what the whole point was to begin with.

That part made the whole trip worthwhile, at least for me. Because, when all is said and done, I really do love the whole family and greatly enjoy spending time with them - minus the whole judgement and mind-control/soul-saving part.

The night before we headed home, we all went out and saw 'King Kong', which I thought was awesome!

The next morning, we were up early and out the door... and hour drive to the airport, only to be met with a huge (HUGE!) crowd of people, all with the same idea, apparently. We missed our flight, caught the next one, got stuck in Philadelphia for the whole day, and finally got home late last night, instead of early in the day as we had planned. We greeted the cats, got cleaned up and changed, and opened our gifts to one another. It was a marvelous, magickal, wonderful night and we both had a fantastic time!! The gifts were out of this world, and we ooohed and aaaahed and commented and got misty-eyed, and laughed... each in our turn.

When it got late, we turned out the lights, headed upstairs, and blissfully curled up in one another's arms... happily in our own bed, in our own little cottage, with our very own kitties... in our sleepy little village... we nodded off to sleep...

Monday, December 19, 2005

At Last...

At work, they file things.

Well.... they call it that.

To my mind, what they actually have been doing was to stuff various documents into folders in no particular order at all!

If somebody went looking for a folder, and was unable to find it NO PROBLEM!!
All you have to do is simply make a new folder!! See how simple that is??!

Why, you could end up with perhaps eight or fifteen folders with the same account name on it... and they could be spread out all over the place! It was quite the adventure!

As for where these items were placed, as a rule?? Well.... anyplace was fine! Once place was just as good as another!!

You must, by now, be starting to opine that there must be some dodgy bits to this system, for instance, when one needs to find a particular document one would think that one may be faced with some degree of difficulty. I can testify that, in fact, one was often faced with an insurmountable problem, to say the least!!

In more common terms, the file system (I use the term 'system' in the loosest possible sense, because, in all honesty, no system,... WHATSOVER... existed!!

This often impacted upon me, because when a client would call or fax over a list of perhaps twenty five, forty, or seventy invoices... guess who would be directed to find them and fax or mail copies back to the client... while still expected to handle an extremely high call volume, assist customers, and do all of the other odds and end that comprise the daily routine?? (If you guessed 'pushover jackass' you would be correct!)

Well... after contending with this vicious, vexating, miserable fucking situation for close to two years, I eventually snapped and let everyone have it, basically planting my feet, folding my arms, the epitome of the braw "Heelan' Laddie... fearing naught and stubborn as rocks!!"

Back in August or September, I had a meltdown over the friggin' file system, and bloody-well demanded that I would be given both the permission and the wherewithal to redo the entire file system... from the ground up. I basically refused to move or do anything else until they; a.) Acknowledged and validated my feelings about the current state of affairs. b.) Accepted the solution that I was offering, or, failing that, came up with a better one that was workable. And, c.) Allowed me to order the supplies that I needed to get the job done and promised not to climb all over me whenever I tried to take a wee while to work on the new system.

They pretty much realized right away that I wasn't budging on a single fucking detail, and that what I proposed would benefit all of us. It would make us more efficient, reduce salaried time spent on fruitless file searches, and make our lives somewhat easier. In short, it made good business sense. The job isn't over until the paperwork is done, and maintaining and storing records in a sensible and well-maintained fashion is just part of doing a proper job!

I received my supplies sometime in October, and after threatening to choke somebody's eyeballs out of their head if they refused to comply, got the lads to build me a lockable supply closet in what had been an alcove. So this afforded me the opportunity to keep some degree of control on office supplies, which were flying out the door and causing the business to hemhorrage money.... It also allowed me to segregate supplies that were earmarked for future projects (such as the new file system!).

I first sat down and compiled a list of every single account. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, by the way... I created a database, and was able to identify duplicate accounts and dead accounts by cross-referencing telephone numbers, addresses, and account activity. This enabled me to eliminate the duplicates, which made the job a wee bit more manageable.

I then started to produce labels for the files. After discussing the project at length with the staff, it was agreed that the filing system should mimic the account names, in that everything would be filed exactly the way the name showed on the account summary. For instance, if the account showed John Doe, it would be filed under 'J'. If it showed Doe, John, however, it would be filed under 'D'. It was weird and sort of disorganized, but that was what The Nose, The Fly, and The Old Man wanted... so I set to work.

When I was approximately three-quarters of the way done (say... five hundred labels), the owner showed up and overrode everyone's wants and wishes and decided that he wanted names to be last name, first name, middle initial. Period. Company names would be as is, but personal names would be last name first. Back to square one!!

I started working on the actual files just over a week ago. The first day, I was able to complete sixty-five. As the days chugged along, I was able to increase my speed to about eighty-five in a day (don't forget, I still have to handle my regular workload... and it has been fairly busy!).

Over this past weekend, it occured to me that I wouldn't have any time at all to get this done when I returned from vacation! I had to get this done before I left!! Talk about time pressure!!

Well. I went in there today like a man on a mission and got the damned job finished!! COM-PLETE-LY!!

I am pretty darned proud of myself! I worked like a lunatic, but I got it done!!

I wish you could have seen the looks on everybody's faces when I let them in on a little secret;

.... The alphabet actually has a pre-determined order!!

Wow! What a friggin' concept, huh??!! We might even be able to find some of this stuff after we file it!!

I don't think they had the slightest idea what I was talking about when I said I wanted to re-design the filing system. As a matter of fact... I have some doubts that they had any idea what I meant by the term 'filing system'.

I suspect that they simply intuited that I was on about something, that it didn't much impact on them all that much to let me have at it, whatever the hell it was... and that the worse thing about it was that I may be occupied with something that they saw no immediate function or benefit for... but that it would only last for about a week or two. So they let me do what I thought was best and let me be.

When they saw the new file folders, in order, neatly labeled, in a sensible and easily understandable fashion (Intuitive, even!), they almost shit!

NOW they get it!! Everyone was pretty much thrilled!! They can see how this is a good thing for everyone, and they were all very happy about it.

I'm happy too!!

Imagine that??? Being happy about something so completely idiotic and mundane as a flippin' filing system??

Holy Sheep-shit, am I strange, or what!!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Festival of Lights

During this Yuletide, as the Holly King is crowned and falls to his lighter aspect; the Oak King, the days will begin to stay lighter for longer... so we celebrate the return of the light from the ever-encroaching darkness by festooning everything in sight with beautiful lights! Evergreen trees were considered magickal in ancient times because they remained evidently alive and green during this seemingly dead time of year. As a result, the custom of decorating with evergreens has been a part of the seasons festivities ever they symbolized the survival and rebirth of the sun at Yule.

One of our yearly traditions here at Thistlebright is to go on our annual 'Yuletide Light Ride' and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. We make awards - essentially cards proclaiming the recipient to have the 'Best Lights on the Block', which we affix to a candy cane with a bit of ribbon. When we see a house that knocks our eyes out and touches our heart, one of us grabs a candy cane, runs up to the house, and hangs the award in a prominent place. Our way of saying 'Thank You' for adding this touch of beauty to our lives...

More isn't always better, however... sometimes just a few lights, some evergreen, and some ribbon is enough to make a house so beautiful and inviting that we almost can't stand it!!

We generally listen to holiday music as we meander around, and we take huge cups of steaming hot chocolate to drink.

This is one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year, at least by me!!

This years Yuletide light ride was a smashing success!

We came home, fixed a couple of Metaxa and Cokes, put on 'It's a Wonderful Life' and snuggled up to relax... with only the white lights dancing on the tree...

Elysia gave me a beautiful new ornament; A golden oak leave with a copper colored acorn on it.. both hanging from a golden ribbon. The leaf and acorn were alive at one time... both have been dipped in copper, and then the leaf was plated in gold.

It is absolutely amazing!! Throughout the movie, my eyes kept sliding over to it, admiring it as it hung there glittering and winking at me!!

I held my girl close... sipped my drink... and thouroughly enjoyed my night!

Today was my last day at work before vacation! Yay!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Christmas Story...

Sometimes, the neatest and most special things aren't the things that you can plan... they just sort of happen on their own...

Sometime around 1984 or so, my platoon was scheduled to be in the field training during the Christmas holiday. We thought that this sucked for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we were assigned to a weapons platoon, which consisted of the 'Mortar Maggots' - the 80mm and 160mm mortar guys, The 'Panzer Fausts (Anti-Tank)' (the Dragon and TOW gunners), the Stinger teams, the machine gunners, and the sniper squads, of which I was a member.

Generally, we are broken apart and assigned to various companies. For instance, my two man sniper team was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Platoon. Each of the other sniper teams were assigned to other platoons and companies... and the same went for the mortar teams and machine gun teams. Basically, even though I was technically assigned to Headquarters company; weapons platoon, I went to the field and trained with Alpha company. It's confusing in writing, but simple in practice. The short version is that we were administratively assigned to HQ company, and operationally attached to whichever line company we happend to be assigned to. This was more or less a permanent gig, as we didn't switch around from company to company for the most part.

So... here it is, Christmas Eve, and the weapons platoon is supposed to be going out to the field to train as a unit, which, honestly.... is just plain stupid. I have no idea who's bright idea this was, though many of us had some suspicions...

We were airlanded at our drop zone, and moved out into the treeline after the sound of the choppers died down. It was a cold, clear night, with a sky simply full of stars. Snow was on the ground, and while the moon wasn't full, it provided a great deal of light. This made it seem like twilight, what with the snow on the ground.

We were pissed off when we had first heard the news that we would be working on Christmas, and for no good reason, and to no sensible end whatsoever... but, we were soldiers, and when it came down to it, we checked our gear, shouldered our rucksacks, and moved out without any grumbling.... .... well,.... without much grumbling, anyway...

We stayed on the move for some hours, hitting a series of checkpoints along our route and radioing our position back to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). We were going to be practicing a tactical reconnaissance of an objective (a mobile radar site - actually a U.S. Army mobile radar site. They had no idea that we would be coming..), after which we were going to be given orders to conduct a raid against the site, simulate destroying it, and then move back to a pre-determined pickup point.

What we didn't know is that they had some surprises in store for us... there was a rapid reaction force of soldiers prepared to pounce on us right after the raid, and we would have to rapidly retreat, setting up a series of hasty ambushes to slow down the pursuit (this is the sniper's job... we drop off and stay behind, drop a bad guy, then try to link up with the unit again at a pre-arranged rally point). We also set up a text book L-shaped ambush and actually creamed one entire platoon... but before all of this, we had no idea that it would pan out that way... the training was in fact very useful, and we had more or less, a good time. Back to Christmas Eve...

We had been moving for a few hours, and finally we reached what is called the ORP or Objective Rally Point. Here we set up in a 'cigar shaped perimeter' (not my term.. but it is what it is), check everything from A to Z, get a little rest if possible, the leaders do what is called a 'leader's reconnaissance', where they creep up and eyeball the objective to see whether it is still the way the pre-operation intelligence described it (it would be handy to know that three battalions have arrived to reinforce a potential target before one hurls oneself at said target...). Generally, they leave two guys watching the objective, and then come back and bring the remainder of the unit, minus heavy rucksacks and crap like that to conduct the raid. A few guys stay back to guard the rucksacks.

We had just arrived at the ORP, we are all lying on the ground.. in the snow... looking outwards... suddenly one of the guys stage-whispers "Hey! It's Christmas! Merry Christmas, guys!"

We all sort of rolled onto our backs, so that we could look towards the center of the circle, and, thus, at one another... and whispered 'Merry Christmases' and hand-shakes were exchanged. In the very center of our perimeter... dead center, in fact, was a small evergreen tree... one of the guys dug in his rucksack, took something out, and scuttled over to the tree... he had brought a small brass Christmas tree ornament with him, and he hung it on one of the branches of the tree. We all sat and stared at it for a few seconds... then one of the other guys went up and hung the pop top from a can of something that he had eaten on a branch... a little shiny metal disk, swinging from a ring... I followed suit by hanging my dog tags, and each of the guys in turn dug something out and decorated our tree.

The First Sergeant had been doing something during this, and he came around with a huge thermos of hot cocoa, and poured a bit into each of our canteen cups... shaking our hands and saying, "Merry Christmas, Dirtbag!", "Merry Christmas, Shit-For-Brains!", "Hey! Joe Shit the Rag Man! Merry Fucking Christmas!", "Merry Christmas, Useless!" to each of us in turn.

We sipped our hot chocolate, looking at our field-expedient Christmas tree, and the stars twinkled in the cold dark sky like distant, constant, companions.... I could smell the piney scent of the evergreens around me, mixed with wisps of hot chocolate and candy cane (Our platoon leader, (a first lieutenant) had followed the First Sergeant around, wishing us all a very Merry Christmas, thanking us for our service and our dedication, and neatly dropping a candy cane into our hot chocolate... like a gaily colored stir-stick. It was like drinking a cup of Girl-Scout Cookie!)

I felt a sense of complete and utter peace and contentment unlike anything I had ever experienced before that moment...

Norm, the senior sniper in our two-man team, back-handed me in the arm, snapping me back to the present moment. He handed me a box, wrapped in a brown GI towel, and tied with a shoelace. "Merry Christmas, Bro. I want my towel back after you open it."

I opened the package. It was a pair of Herman Survivor insulated combat boots. One of the other guys tossed something at me just then. It was a pair of thick warm woolen socks. "Merry Christmas, asshole!"

"Now, maybe we don't have to hear you snivel anymore about your fuckin' feet being cold! Merry Christmas! Wear 'em in good health!"

I dug out the presents that I had brought for the guys... thinking at the time that I was the only one who had done this. As it turned out, every single person had brought something along to give to each of us.

We sat there, admiring our gifts and smiling our asses off... eating cold pop tarts and drinking hot cocoa, and enjoying one another's company.

It was one of the best Christmases I ever had in my life...

"..It came without boxes, it came without bags, it came without wrapping, ribbons or tags. Maybe Christmas isn't something you buy in a store. Maybe Christmas is something a little bit more."

Dr. Seuss - 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'

Merry Christmas to all of you. Each and every one of you. Please take a moment during this holiday season to reflect on the fact that a great many of our number will not be home this Christmas with their families. They are in harm's way, protecting us, and our way of life.

While my heart will be with my wife and my family this holiday season, some part of it will be out in the field, with my fellow soldiers... drinking a watery cup of hot chocolate, freezing my ass off, and loving every minute of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Compliment... Or Something....

Last weekend, I was scheduled to play a piping gig at a Presbyterian church not too far from where I live. The occasion was an ordination service for a lad who had been studying to become a minister.

My part was to play just outside the church for the arriving congregation, and then to play again at a reception being held in one of the special function rooms in another part of the church building.

I played for everyone as they arrived, and once the last member of the congregation had arrived, my wife and I went inside and took a seat in one of the last pews.

Generally speaking, it usually feels slightly awkward to me when I am in either someone else's church, a church of a different faith or denomination. This isn't because I am uncomfortable with the beliefs and traditions of other people... I'm not. It is chiefly because I don't want to make some faux pas or otherwise draw attention to myself under those circumstances.

So. Here I am, in full highland attire, after everyone just walked past me while I was playing the great highland pipes. Its a presbyterian church. Most of the congregation are either Scottish, think that they are, claim that they are, wish that they are, or heard of a scotsman once and know that scotsman are all supposed to wear kilts and play bagpipes (...ahem). It is just a wee bit difficult to remain unobtrusive under the circumstances...

So, anyway... I take my seat, and my wife is sitting next to me just to my right. On my left is an aisle that leads up to the altar, and just across the aisle is the long center pew. Sitting just on the other side of the aisle, perhaps three feet from me, is a woman. She gave me a great big smile when I first walked in and took my seat, and my radar is screaming at me because she has her head turned 90 degrees to the right and is blatantly staring at me. After about 20 seconds, I glance over at her, give her a smile in return, and go back to the program in my hand to try to figure out where we are in the continuum, so that I will know what is coming next, and whether I should be ready to stand, or sing, or read, or pretend to be reciting something, or what....

She returns her attention to the service for a few minutes, but eventually I realize that she is looking at me again. For some reason, this begins to make me feel extremely self-conscious, and, once again, I sort of glance over at her, nod, and smile. I am trying to let her know that I am noticing that she is looking at me, and that it is making me feel a little bit uncomfortable. She gives me a huge smile, and once again, returns the focus of her attention back on the service.

Not five minutes later, she is looking at me again!! I resolve myself to not look over at her this time, and keep my eyes riveted on the front of the church, or the hymnal, or whatever the hell is was that I was supposed to be looking at. This works for a little while, until I realize that she is actually leaning towards me and waving slightly in order to capture my attention. This is entirely too much for me to maintain my resolve, which crumbles immediately, and I look over at her... she is smiling her ass off and stage whispers, "You are simply ravishing!!"


I am staring at her... well... gaping at her, actually.. as my brain does its level best to wrap itself around this development and come to grips with it.

I am fairly certain that she was absolutely not coming on to me in a church full of people, including my wife who was sitting three inches to my right. She was simply trying to be friendly and to give me a compliment and let me know that she enjoyed my playing and felt that it added something to the occasion. She was making a nice gesture.

I understand this... and I understood it at the time... and there I was, mouth slightly open, staring at her as though I was addled.

I had this mental picture of Rita Hayworth in a red dress with red lipstick and nail polish, and a cloud of hair out to here, with cleavage and hips and legs goin' on everywhere... over which is superimposed an image of me, in a kilt, and ghillie-brogues, high-and-tight haircut... all 250 pounds of me... and I just can't reconcile 'ravishing' with me, or with anything about me.... and my brain is telling me that I should respond to this lady, because it would be the polite thing to do.... but I am thinking that she was aiming for 'dashing', which would be sort of cool because nobody ever told me that I was dashing before, and I feel that I wouldn't mind being dashing at all!! (As in, the piper arrived, looking dashing in his smart looking kilt and sporting a lovely sporran and plaid).

But she didn't say 'dashing'.... she said 'ravishing'. And I am still sitting there, just this side of drooling on myself... her smiling at me for all that she was worth, obviously very happy and proud of her choice of words... I expect that if she were to be called ravishing, she would be thrilled! (What woman wouldn't want to be called 'ravishing'??)

Finally.... FINALLY.... I managed to snap out of it and mumble a quick 'thanks.. that's very nice of you to say so...' before turning back to the hymnal, or whatever the hell it was that I buried my face in, trying to hide my glowing face and ears (no such luck, by the way...).

The woman had apparently been bursting with the desire to unload this compliment on me since I had taken my seat, because once she said this, she happily returned her attention back to the service and sang and prayed and stood and sat without much more of a look in my direction. (I guess she was shocked to realize that the piper was obviously suffering from a serious mental health issue, and wanted to be elsewhere...)

Perhaps eight minutes passed, and my wife nudged me with her elbow, signalling me to lean closer so that she could tell me something. I obliged her by leaning towards her and she whispered, "What did that dumb twit just say to you??"

I considered this for a second, then replied, "Well... ahh.... she apparently, um, finds me ravishing..."


"Mmmm..." (My ears are positively glowing now...)

"She actually said 'ravishing'??"


"That's what I thought she said...."


"Doesn't she know that women are ravishing??"

"I uh..."

She gives me a once over, and starts to giggle. Great.



"If she wasn't such an idiot, I would kick her ass!" (still laughing)

"I think she was just trying to give me a compliment..."

"Ravishing!! hee-hee!"

Great. The unending gauntlet of humiliation and degradation continues... (sigh).

To make a long story short... we finished up, and went home. The next day I got a phone call at work.


"Speaking!" (It was my wife..)

"Is this Bear... 'The Ravishing'??"

Oh, man....

So. Apparently, I am ravishing, and as such, I think I am entitled to special treatment, discounts, back rubs, and other tokens of worship and appreciation.

Bring it on.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Flea on a Griddle

This weekend went past like a whirlwind;

Friday night, Elysia had made an appointment to show the apartment in the front house to some prospective tenants. She had gone out and bought some blinds that had to be put up before the folks arrived to look at the apartment.

When I got home from work, I immediately noticed that she had been a busy bee all day! The windows were decorated beautifully for the holidays, and she had done a bunch of other stuff around the house.

One of the things was that she had taken all of the left-over turkey, and had made a big batch of turkey soup, which was just what the doctor ordered for a cold, windy, damp night!! When I walked in the door, she put a bowl of steaming, delicious turkey soup in front of me, served one up for herself, and we both sat and wolfed down our respective bowls of soup! That done, we headed over to the apartment to get the blinds put up before the people arrived to look at the place.

Working together, we got it done just in the nick of time. The folks arrived just as we finished up and had a look at the apartment. The real estate agent was a character, and the prospective tenant was a tough elderly woman who struck me as somebody who would most likely be rather.. um.... difficult to have as a neighbor.

My take on the whole thing was that she didn't find the apartment to her liking. Actually, my take was that she didn't find much of anything to her liking.... ever!

Once they took a keek at the aparment and cleared out, we locked everything up and went out to get our Yule Tree.

We go to the same place every year, and have a 'tree guy' who we enjoy seeing each year. He is a rather hefty, red-faced lad who sort of reminds me of a rougher version of the character George Castanza from TV's 'Seinfeld'. We generally spend about an hour joking and talking and basically laughing our asses off.

The place always has gorgeous trees, and somewhere along the line it has become our tradition to go there. This year was no exception in the tree department, and we picked out a beautiful fralsam (fraser/balsam hybrid) who we named 'Claire' (Yes.. every year we name our tree... no laughing!)

When we got home, we were just about to set it up when we discovered that the stand had a huge crack in it, in the place where it is supposed to hold the water for the tree... so, we put our coats back on, braved the cold, and headed back out in search of a tree stand. Not just any tree stand, either.. but a strong, beefy, hefty, bad-assed tree stand that wouldn't let our tree tip over, even in the event of an earth quake! (Okay... the earthquake part is a wee bit over the top... but, we wanted something sturdy).

We stopped at Harrows, which sells trees, but we didn't take into account that most of the trees they sell are made out of materials with nineteen syllables, will be here longer than rocks, and come with their very own stands built-in as a rule. We waded through the crowd of crazed, frantic, lunatic shoppers only to learn that they basically had a choice of two types of stands; 'flimsy', and 'complete shit'. Being unsatisfied with either, we breeped back out to the vehicle and headed towards the local K-Mart shopping center where we knew there was a moderately well-stocked garden center full of Christmassy goodness this time of year.

Upon our arrival at K-Mart, Elysia wandered off in search of some crazy PJs for her impending PJ sleepover party hosted by a fellow 'Stitch & Bitch' member. For my part, I was on a mission to find a stand. I managed to find a mongasso stand that looked like it would hold the Eiffel Tower ramrod straight if you upended the thing and stuck the top of it into the stand. I headed back over to the PJ department in search of my wife, where I found her with an adorably cute frustration wrinkle smack in the middle of her brow.

THE PROBLEM: She had found some PJs that fit the bill perfectly insofar as the design, colors, and material were concerned.... the problem was that the sizes of the top and the bottom were mismatched, and there was just the one set left on the shelves.

THE SOLUTION: I indicated the mannequin, and asked her whether she had checked the size on the PJs that the mannequin was wearing. She had not. Soooo... I accosted the mannequin, quickly undressing her and then redressing her in record time. Elysia got her PJs, the mannequin got a change of clothing, and I got to save the day. So everybody was happy.

We paid for everything and rewarded our remarkable diligence with a stop at the Paneria Bread place in the same shopping center. After being on my feet for 16 hours, it was heaven to sit with my wife and eat a tasty meal and listen to the laughter and light hearted conversations of all of the patrons, who, for some reason, always seem to be nice folks in that place. We had a conversation of our own, finished our meal, and headed home, where we finally got the tree into the stand.

That done, it was time to head up to bed at last. I was scheduled to work on Saturday morning, and had to be up early.

I got my sorry, tired ass up early Saturday, and headed in to work. It was a crankin' morning, but it wound down at around 11 o'clock. The bosses daughter came into the shop and during a conversation she suggested that we hold our own 'biggest loser' competition where we all weigh in on specific days, and through our own individual programs of diet and exercise, compete to see who will lose the highest percentage of body weight, the winner receiving a small cash prize and considerable word-fame (i.e., 'bragging rights'). We decided to have our initial weigh-in on Monday 12 December. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

After work, I blasted home, had another bowl of Elysia's turkey soup, and got ready to go to a bartending gig. It turned out to be a wedding, and the night went smoothly. It was a sort of limp, nondescript crowd, to be honest... and there isn't really much to tell. They were sort of beige. I finished up the night, came home to the last bowl of that turkey soup, and polished it off. We watched the end of a Frank Sinatra movie, and I began fading fast, so we headed up and I believe I was fast asleep before the mattress stopped moving from me flopping onto it.

Elysia woke me up with kisses and hugs and after looking out the window at the snow that fell during the night, and the squirrels and birds playing in it, we headed downstairs to start coffee and breakfast (waffles!), after which I dug out my highland attire, ironed what needed to be ironed, and then hit the practice chanter and pipes for an hour or so before showering up and dressing to head out to a bagpiping gig that I was scheduled for.

This job was an ordination ceremony for a new minister in a local presbyterian church.

I played outside the church for the arriving congregation, and then we headed in so that we could get seated for the ceremony. There had been some discussion as to whether I would play at the reception as well, but, in my experience with bagpipes, a little goes a long way. I opted to simply play before the ceremony. Since this was an ordination ceremony for a new minister, (I was hired by his mother...), I opted to defer any payment to me. I asked the mother if she would instead simply give the payment to the minister's (her son's) new congregation as a gift, instead. I think that there are certain occasions where accepting payment is sort of cheesy. He will be giving a great deal to a lot of people for a very long time. The least I can do is give him a small thing such as this to make his ceremony feel a little bit more special.

After the reception (we only stayed for a little while, actually....), we headed home, changed into sweats, and sat quietly for about an hour. Elysia worked on a crochet project she is planning on giving as a Christmas gift, and I sat and thought and browsed a magazine and listened to 'Echoes' on NPR.

Elysia began to fade at around 9 o'clock, and we turned everything off and headed upstairs... her to bed, and me to blog for a little while...

It seems to me that I just left work on Friday, and here I'll be heading back in in about six short hours. That's the way it goes, though, I suppose.

Tommorrow night, hopefully, we will be trimming the tree... which I am looking forward to immensely!!