Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Technology for My Pocket

For a good number of years when I was asked what I want for Christmas I was stumped to come up with anything which, upon opening it, would make me jump for joy. There were things I'd have wanted that would have had a very unrealistic price tag. Likewise, I could have named things just for the sake of naming them that would have left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed. I just opted for cash which would give me some options if I ever did find something I really wanted and which I could use in the mean time for my refreshing mini vacations out of town. This year it was more or less decided by the "Santas" that I needed to want a thing. Though the price was on the higher end of reasonable, I figured I might as well ask for the only thing I'd had my eye on for a while and that I knew I wouldn't buy for myself - an iPod Touch.

I spend 98% of my time most days here in the house or at work and I have wireless 'net access in both places. And, I spend much of my free time online. What would be better than being able to take the internet with me - to the toilet, for example, or to the deck in the summer without having to lug out the laptop and then worry about a bird bombing the keypad? Yes, an iPod Touch would be handy, so that's what I told the Santas I wanted. They came through, and with a bigger and niftier one than I thought I might get!

It came as a delicious bonus when I read just a few days ago that McDonalds is going to offer their Wifi service free starting in a few weeks. And, in having borrowed my daughter's Touch for the past week to learn the basics in anticipation of getting my own, I discovered that there are a good number of unsecured wireless routers out there in just about every neighborhood. Okay, so maybe it's not perfectly legal to borrow a little bandwidth on occasion, but for a quick mail check I'll do it. (It's not like I'm going to sit in front of somebody's house researching a professional paper for hours on end with a palm sized device. If you don't want me using your router, at least put a password on it!)

Frugal as I am I've downloaded a bunch of free apps and haven't even started to look at the ones with price tags yet. Though I've had an mp3 player for years, it's not something I ever really used; I don't need to have music glued to my ears all day like the kids seem to, so the Touch isn't going to get filled with tunes and if it does get a few they'll be from the 70's. It's basically going to be an internet browser and mail client. If you correspond with me and it might disturb you to think that I wrote from the crapper, you're weird. Get over it!

Now comes the question of where and how to carry it. If I add another pouch to my belt I'm going to look like Batman with his utility belt. (Some folks think I do already.) I can't carry it in a pants pocket because I already carry about 10 pounds of stuff in them, and said stuff might scratch it or do worse damage. It seems that a shirt pocket will make the most sense except I'll need to remember that it's there whenever I bend over. Maybe in a sock would be better. In any event, I'll be enjoying myself for a while and hopefully after, when the novelty wears off, I'll still be able to amuse myself with it until scooter riding weather is back.

I fired up the BV yesterday morning just to warm it a little. I tried to start it a few days ago when it was bitter cold and I was a little worried when it wouldn't turn over. I keep in on a battery tender and there was plenty of juice so I'm guessing the oil was just sitting in it like molasses.

A Merry Christmas Season to one and all who share the joy of the season with us, and to those who don't - have a happy whatever you have!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And, Suddenly, It's Winter!

I sort of lost the past month.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that length of time when the anticipation of the holidays seems to put the apparent movement of time into overdrive.  It seems that the last bit of leftover stuffing barely clears the gullet when the  spicy scent of festive cookies being baked spreads through the house.  A big old evergreen appears in the living room.  The countdown of days till Christmas vacation excites young (students) and old (teachers) alike.  And, depending on one's view of the stuff, the earth is blessed with a covering of snow.

Clement Moore's "long winter's nap" comes with the advent of winter.  Actually, many such naps are in order during the season, especially later when it drags on into when it seems that the arrival of spring might never come.

Favorite machines get put aside out of necessity.  Others which are much less fun need to be readied to do their duty through the long, cold days and nights ahead.

The first half inch of the first snow is kind of delightful.  After that, it becomes old hat awfully fast.

I've lost almost 50 pounds since June.  I can shovel snow without feeling like a heart attack is waiting just around the corner.  I was out clearing the walk this morning, and felt almost a kind of childish glee while tossing the shovels full of it aside.  I wonder if my gas mileage will get even better on the scooter with less of me for it to haul around?

I'm waiting for a "warm" day when all the sludge on the roads is cleared so I can get out on the BV.  Till then I'll anxiously await the arrival of Christmas!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving with Ghosts

The weather cooperated today in spite of a forecast for showers and I was able to take my third annual Thanksgiving scooter ride to the parish cemetery. I remember a time when I picked on my parents for visiting there - back when I was in high school and knew everything - demanding of them the point of going to a place where only the bodies of distant relatives were interred. Now, the relatives entombed there aren't so distant. They are my own dear grandparents, their siblings who were all very much a part of my formative years, some of my mom's sibs, and a few of my cousins. Just as my mom and dad couldn't do when challenged, I could not put into words my purpose for going there to where my family is buried, but I am compelled to visit on occasion and on Thanksgiving Day as has become my personal tradition.

The camera sits atop the tombstone of my Grandma and Grandpa as I remember their parts in my life. Though years ago I might have played through in my head various scenes of the times I spent with them, nowadays I simply wallow in a vague but rich and deep feeling rather than calling to mind specific memories. I am Slovak through and through, tracing my entire ancestry back to that part of Europe known today as the Slovak Republic. We often joke in my family, though seriously, that the Slovak heart is a somewhat morbid thing. I felt that heart beating inside myself today, standing there and being somewhat cognizant of my own mortality, feeling an odd and compelling pull to the soil myself, almost hearing a whisper of voices from long ago calling in the breeze, "Lie down. Lie down with us, Joseph."

I fought off the urge to spill out my eyes and then I got a text from the love of my life. "Say hello for me, wish them all Happy Thanksgiving and consider yourself hugged and VERY loved!" That did me in and the dam burst. I was Grandma and Grandpa's little boy again, but realized that now, I am as loved as I was by them ages and ages ago. It was an overwhelming moment that I knew would be tempered later by a feeling of loneliness as wide as the Pacific. I worked my handkerchief, savored the moment, and steeled myself against the emptiness that would be coming. And then I rode some more.

It was the state park more or less just around the corner from the cemetery to which I rode as if somehow this recent Thanksgiving ritual of mine required it. The trees were barren as expected. The last time I had been there they were adorned with their richest fall colors but now they were barren and the anticipated lonely feeling began to grip me already. I sighed heavily a number of times as I walked around and took a few pictures. I made a call that lightened my spirit for a while but knew that it wouldn't last much beyond the click at the end. I rode off to face the rest of the ghosts that wouldn't be coming from a bad bowl of gruel but from my own heart.

I stopped here at what would appear to be a most ordinary place. Objectively it is, but it has much significance from two Thanksgiving ago. It was here, at this intersection, at which I offered up my deepest thanks of the day to the Almighty. And then, as usual, in my next breath I begged Him for a few things.

The cold was having a cumulative effect and though I didn't really want to come back to the house I did. Although I'd not walked through anything more wet than the grass at the cemetery, I had somehow gotten water into my boots. My socks were soaked and I was starting to feel miserable. I napped for about two hours when I got back, woke up with a sore throat, and then headed to my mom's for dinner. The food was good but my lack of appetite held me in check. In a while I'll light a candle, kick back with a glass of mango rum, and try to keep the chill at bay. I'll hope not to hear the rattle of chains. If by chance my own Jacob Marley shows up, he'd darned well better have some answers for me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lost on the Farm

So, where have I been? Stuck on a farm. A virtual farm. Farmville, to be precise, that accursed application on Facebook.

No, I don't use my real name on Facebook. I don't want my students "friending" me nor reading the things I'd be tempted to write if I used the social networking aspect of the site. All I do is plant my little crops and then harvest them. If anybody knows of an "antidote" for Farmville, send it along. Till then I'll probably be rotting away the winter months in this chair pretending to be Joe the farmer from Podunk. Meanwhile I'll be waiting for them to award a John Deere hat or something to all the poor slobs like me who are way too much into Farmville.

Friday, November 6, 2009

She's a Mrs!

It was a fairy tale wedding! I was going to write about it the day after, but apparently there was more emotion to contend with that I hadn't expected. When I got back here, having left early on Sunday morning to drive my mom, dad, and sister back to town, I faced an unexpected sense of loss. Nothing had changed, really. She'd been out of the house for a few years, at school, and got a job down there (a little over an hour away) more or less as soon as she graduated. For all intents and purposes she was already out on her own. Nevertheless, the heart is going to feel what it wants, and on Sunday I felt as if I'd buried her. Now? All seems to be well.

After spending Saturday morning here alone with my thoughts I made it down the aisle just fine and "gave her away" without shedding any tears. It was cool walking her down to the front of the church; it felt like I was back on stage, and I savored the moment in the sun.

No, I had NOT had my beard trimmed for the wedding. Actually, when I held my fingers around where I wanted it cut I hadn't realized that I was indicating for quite so much to be taken off and if I'd been conscious of it, I'd not have had it cut back quite as far. As it turned out, though, I thought it looked perfect with the tux, so I was well pleased with my overall appearance.

What Halloween wedding would be complete without pictures at the cemetery? Here's my little vampire and her old man hamming it up on the stairs of a grand mausoleum.

I think they make a beautiful couple. My new son-in-law does the same thing for a living as I do. How could I not love him?

After I danced the first verse of "Daddy's Little Girl" with her, I passed her over to dance a verse with my daddy. In doing so I touched him in a way that I never had before. It was one of the best ideas of my life.

The reception was amazing. The tables were festively decorated with skulls, candles, and black roses. The favors were Halloween treat bags which the guests filled at the candy bar after dinner. While we ate, the DJ played themes from classic horror films. I almost coughed out a mouthful of food when, during "Tubular Bells" (the theme from The Exorcist), my Aunt Betty leaned over and said, "This music is a lot nicer than that jitterbug music they usually play." Many of the guests wore costumes and they danced the night away.

My little girl is now a Mrs. A chapter closes. Another begins!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Father of the Bride

In a few hours I'll become something I've never been before - "Father of the Bride!"  Not just for Halloween, but for the forever kind of real.

So often I was asked in the past few months, "Are you ready?"  What could I say?  How does one get ready to cut off his arm?  To rip out his heart?  To give up a significant and substantial part of himself?

I couldn't wait for this day to come for her sake, and for his - the man who will be her husband and my son-in-law.  But, how sorry I feel for myself as I take on this role that I've only seen other men assume before. 

I want to make it down that aisle and to dance with her to "Daddy's Little Girl" without becoming a blubbering fool, but if I do, so be it.  I cried like there would be no end to my tears on the day she came into this world and a nurse put her into my arms.  Would it be so bad if I did the same as I put her into the arms of the man she loves, to be his wife?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Being

No school kid ever asks a teacher, "Are you wearing a costume for Halloween?" He invariably asks, "What are you being for Halloween?"

This year, I'm being something I've never been before. I'll be sporting a "costume" I've looked forward to wearing for many years, yet at the same time dreaded. I'll give you a day to take your best guess as to what I'm being.

Tomorrow I'll take my costume out of the bag and show you.

(Susan, no fair guessing 'cause you already know!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I travel about an hour to get my hair cut these days. The woman who cuts it was a kid in my class in my rookie year of teaching. Out of the 30 so of them she was the least likely to have become a friend of mine many years later, yet friends we are and I enjoy visiting with her and her family every time I made the trip to get sheared. When I was there last evening her husband remarked that they were being inundated with ladybugs and I saw a few buzzing around the ceiling light in their kitchen. Today, apparently, it was our turn and I saw bunches of the little buggers here and there on the way to work and outside my classroom windows. Today as I hopped on the scooter to go to the bank I saw this stowaway settling down to take the ride with me.

As I rode along she hung on and even walked around a bit, and a few miles out, just when I thought my small rider was going to climb up onto my fingers, she spread her wings and took off. I thought at once of the morbid chant my mom would say whenever we saw a ladybug when I was a lad. "Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home! Your house is on fire! Your children will burn!" My curiosity about that line grew the more I thought about it, and I knew I'd have to Google it when I got back here. Not surprisingly, the big G found some references to it, and my suspicion was confirmed: it's every bit as disturbing as "Ring around the rosy" though in an insect sort of way, of course.

I saw a bunch of these things too when I went for my haircut. For the record, if I see one of them mounting the scooter with me, it's getting the boot!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Anniversary of Sorts

This past Friday came and went without any scooter fanfare.  I didn't realize it was the two year anniversary since I'd gotten the BV, but even if I had, the day's plans would have been the same and my butt wouldn't have kissed the seat of the cycle.  I did do some traveling, but in the car, and the roads looked like this...

I remember the day I traded in the Fly and got the BV.  I tend to grow unduly attached to some things, and the little scooter was one of them.  Although I never gave it a name, I felt a fondness for it that went beyond what one ought to feel for inanimate objects, and when it was time for that final ride to say goodbye to it forever the only thing that kept the lump in my throat from growing too large was the excitement of knowing that I'd be picking up the BV.

I've learned a lot about myself from that trade and from the riding I've done on both of the bikes.  I've grown more introspective in general and riding has provided a wonderful forum for those insightful visits into my own head.  I won't pretend that I know myself better now, but I do know myself differently than I did before, and I'd say in some very good ways.

I've learned of some self imposed limits, too, and I don't consider them weaknesses but instances of respectful deference to my own common sense.  I won't be taking any journeys of epic proportion on the scooter, for example.  I'll ride within my comfort zone and make no apologies for doing so.

I'll keep on riding - and writing - as much as I feel like and not a bit more nor less.  I'll celebrate the scooter kinds of anniversaries, some quietly and others with a little more noise.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Harvest Ride

Although I've never worked a minute on a farm, there is something inside me that connects with Autumn and harvest imagery on some primal level.  I don't believe I'm alone in feeling some kind of grab in the gut when I see pumpkins, cornstalks, apples, and other symbols of the harvest.  That whatever it is that reaches inside me and strokes some ancient chord is probably the same whatever it is that makes Children of the Corn type movies more horrifying than their surface content would explain.  Something about cutting down and storing the crops stirs us way down deep in the sub, sub conscious, and while on one level it is compelling, on another it raises the little hairs on the backs of our necks.  Halloween brings it all together and enriches that "something wicked this way comes" feeling with rank symbolism that is all but impossible to ignore.  The unsettling emotion of the harvest touches the human soul with an icy finger.

It was a beautiful day for a ride today with warm sun (eventually) and cool, crisp air juxtaposed in a delicious way.  I left the house around 9 and didn't get back till early afternoon for lunch.  As I once did with the Fly50 out of necessity, I rode the BV at a slower than speed limit cruising speed, pulling over to the curb numerous times to let the speed demons behind me get to those all important places to which they seemed hell bent on racing.  I wasn't going to let the cagers force me to move any faster than I wanted to go, and if I remember the resolve I felt about that today, I'm going to do that more often in the future.  I rode past Komensky's market in Duryea and had to circle back to pose the scooter in front of their festive window which I knew even as I was taking the picture was going to become the masthead photo at the top of this page for the next few weeks.

As I neared the rail yard in Taylor at which I always stop to see if anything's going on I happened to glance to my left and caught a mural painted on the side of a building.  I thought it had to be new, but the date beside the artist's signature showed it to be a few years old.  Perhaps it was the slower speed at which I was traveling that allowed me to see it today for the first time.  King Coal and the trains take a central position in the painting, and rightly so.  Many, many years ago it would have been nigh impossible to get anywhere around here without seeing a reminder of the mines and hearing the plaintive horns of a working locomotive.  I'm glad that the mines are dormant but the rail traffic lives on.

Since I ended up close to the Steamtown site, I had to stop by to see if there was anything new.  Two steam locomotives were hauling passengers today, which is rare.  Although I got a good number of pictures of the action and the thick, black smoke the engines were belching, it was this quiet engine set that drew me closer to see if I might get a decent picture with both the locomotive and the scooter in it.  I was thrilled when I saw that the grade crossing on which I have the scooter parked was right there waiting for me to roll onto it!

The weather, the colors, and circumstances in general seemed to be smiling in my direction as I rode.  The sun and the cool breeze of riding played against each other to keep me refreshed and totally appreciative of ever mile that I covered.  Only one thing could have made my time on the bike more perfect.  Perhaps next year!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Out of Town Again

It wasn't until Friday evening, after I expressed my feeling of restlessness, that I headed out to western Pennsylvania again. There had been no plan to leave town, but around 7:30 PM when the stars and planets somehow ended up in proper alignment, off I went with a spring in my step. I'd been only a half an hour away from sinking into the sofa to watch "Ghost Whisperer" when those plans were gleefully scrapped in favor of a four hour drive, most of which would be made in the dark. What a difference a month makes in terms of daylight and temperature. I don't know if I ever appreciated how fast it goes from being August to October before.

Once again I took particular delight in experiencing Fall in all its glory as I drove from the northeastern part of the state to the southwestern and found it becoming more Autumnesque with every mile. Their trees, out there, are almost past the threshold of peak leaf viewing season, while ours, here, are still green - or worse, going from green to rusty without turning yellow or red in the process.

When I was there two weeks ago, we discovered a refurbished train station in Stoystown but ran out of time to explore it because it was time for me to head back east. We headed back there just as soon as we could, and as we walked the grounds and peeked through the windows of the place, it almost felt like I'd never left.

Photo by Susan

The last time I was on the Lincoln Highway I came back with a picture of myself about to be gobbled up by a huge praying mantis. This time, something a little more artistic...

Photo by Susan

I'm not even going to caption this one. Maybe one of you guys can come up with a better line than I might have...

Photo by Susan

There were four of these gentle creatures in the field when we stopped by to take some pictures. I started talking and these two came right over to me...

Photo by Susan

I never fail to find much happiness in simple, unique scenes such as this one. Just plop an old bathtub where it doesn't belong and my camera and I are drawn to it like a moth to a flame...

Photo by Susan

It's so beautiful out there! And to think that until about two years ago I'd only been beyond half the width of Pennsylvania once. In two weeks I'll be heading back. I'm not sure where we'll end up then, but I'm fairly certain that I'll be seeing whatever I see, in part, through the lens of my camera. And when I'm not behind it, I'll most likely be in front of it!

Monday, September 28, 2009


By now I really ought to know better and dress in one layer more than I think I'm going to need when I go out riding in the evening at this time of year.  It's my third Autumn on two wheels and I should remember that it gets colder than I think it's going to when the sun starts setting, but I don't.

I left the house after supper in a flannel shirt with the temperature in the mid 60s.  A few miles out I had to stop to button the sleeves and by the time I decided I needed to turn around and start making my way back I knew I should have brought a jacket along.  I kept my fluorescent yellow/green one under the seat until the last repair run and never put it back in there after the bike came back.  Guess now with the smell of wood fires in the air I'll think twice about my invincibility to the temperature.  Or maybe I won't and continue to pretend that Summer's still with us at least in spirit while chattering my teeth along the way.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More About Being

My rides of late have become more about being places than going places. I think I've finally realized that until I decide to do some serious expansion on my self imposed mental limit of what constitutes a reasonable distance to travel on the scooter I'm pretty much bound to riding "in the box" so to speak. I rarely venture more than about 20 miles from the house these days. I'd not say that I'm having any less fun riding the scooter, yet when I need to go out somewhere I find myself heading toward the car more often than before.

Yesterday promised to be dry at least till around noon, so having the day all to myself because of the daughter's bridal shower being hosted by her future mother-in-law, out of town, I knew I needed to take advantage of the opportunity to ride before the showers of the wet variety hit. Having nowhere in particular that I needed to go I decided to take the long way along a country road to a local orchard to get a jug of their fresh cider though I could have gotten one of their half gallons at the supermarket around the corner.

It was the evening of October 29th in my sophomore year of high school when I played the accordion at a senior citizens' center for their Halloween party. I'd had a glass or two of cider while I entertained the cute old folks who'd dressed up in their odd assortment of costumes. That night I awoke sometime between midnight and morning with an agonizing pain. Noon the next day I was undergoing emergency surgery. From that night on I couldn't so much as look at a cup of cider because I'd somehow associated it with the pain and the resulting operation. It wasn't until last year when I took a sip of the stuff right from the orchard's cider press that I regained my taste for it.

I wrote about my scooter dream here a few posts back. I remember only vaguely another one that I had last night or the night before. I'd put the scooter down at a familiar and often traveled intersection. Somehow I managed, while the machine tumbled onto its side, to scramble out of the saddle so that when it had hit the pavement I was standing beside it on my feet. There's a dream that I hope won't be coming true!

I'm afraid that short sleeved riding will be a thing of the past in a week or so. It felt good today, even down by the river, but I could tell that my days are numbered.

I've had this final picture on my drive for over a month now. When I snapped it, I was sure there was something I wanted to say about it. Now? I'll be darned if I can remember what it might have been that I'd thought so post worthy at the time.

I believe it might have had something to do with how all of us, as little boys, had such an attraction to big trucks, especially fire trucks with their screaming sirens, blasting air horns, and the general excitement one felt when one of them thundered by. There's still a temptation in me when I see a dinosaur like this one to get behind the wheel, check over my shoulders to make sure there isn't another soul in sight, and give it my best "Vrrrroooooom! Vrrrroooooom!" sound while racing to some imaginary fire.

Well, there you have it - the best I've been able to crank out lately. I've been wanting to write, but when I sit down here to put the pen to paper - the fingers to the keys - I realize that there isn't anything upstairs for my brain to deliver to my hands. It's not like I'm going to stop trying, though!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Western Weekend

It was another weekend out west - western Pennsylvania, that is - my first since school started and I had a grand time as usual, some of it just doing plenty of nothing all over the place. How I wish I could ride around out there on a scooter. Many of the local roads seem to be made for two wheeled riding with lots of twisties and gorgeous scenery everywhere the eye can see!

We stopped by at an auction where I saw these little guys. They didn't appear to be street legal with their tiny little headlights and lack of mirrors but they sure were cute.

Photo by Susan

Not far from there we met up with another pair of cuties. I approached their enclosure with camera in hand, about 20 feet away from them, and they both came trotting down to where I was standing, smiling and snorting like a couple of excited puppies might have done. I wanted to pet them but the electrified fence kept my hands outside.

Photo by Susan

When I'm out there I hear trains often enough as they roll through the downtown with their horns blowing. This time when we heard one we had nothing else to do than hop into the car and chase it. We caught up with the tail end as it was leaving town and with the GPS in hand I was able to follow the map of the rails to a crossing a few miles away. We beat the train by a few minutes and I was able to get this shot as it came blazing through.

When the train passed these bikers came through the crossing. I'm not typically one to admire patriotism worn all over somebody's sleeve, but the sight of the large American flag on the back of the bike stirred me.

On the way to the crossing we'd seen a sign indicating that there was a covered bridge to be visited down a small side road. We took the turn on the way back. The covered bridge was a nice one, but the sight of this beauty outside a V.F.W. hall was much more impressive.

I'll be heading back out there in three weeks or so and by then most of the leaves will probably be wearing their spectacular fall colors. Meanwhile I'll do as much riding as I can get in before it's time to plug the BV into the battery tender, cover her up, and wait for the spring thaw.