Tuesday, May 27, 2008

God’s Contraptions

We opened the pool last weekend. That means summer – if not by the calendar, at least in our minds – is here.

So I sit on the backyard deck a lot now. I'm sitting there now as I type this, although the temperature is only ten degrees Celsius (or fifty two degree Fahrenheit for my American metric impaired friends). It's quite cool and there is a strong breeze.

Strong enough to blow stuff around in the back yard. Like those little "key" seeds that fall off of Maple trees. You know, the ones that have a single wing attached to the seed, and as they fall, they spin to the ground like a poorly crafted Canadian Armed forces helicopter.

And they crash to the ground. On my backyard lawn. And in my newly opened pool.

The Maple tree (a Chinese Maple they tell me – although a Maple is a Maple to me) resides in the middle of my neighbors back yard. To the west of my house. And since the wind blows predominantly from the west, they predominantly land in my back yard.


I have always liked that tree because it covers so much of the view into neighboring yards it provides a sense of privacy to the west. But after two days of fishing those little key seeds out of the pool, and knowing that there are two large lawn bags worth of these keys to rake and sweep up back here – I am questioning that love for this particular Maple. Chinese or not.

But as I sit and watch the keys fall, I am struck by a certain awe.

How incredible it is that that the seeds of this tree are designed this way. It takes a gust of wind to blow them out of the tree. Grouped in large bundles like grapes on a vine, the wind blows of an entire cluster and the result looks like a mini sortie of helicopters attacking my back yard.

Which is pretty cool. But what has me in awe is the thought that has gone into this means of seed distribution.

These seeds do not simply fall to the base of the tree. They blow away from the tree. Far enough away that if they take seed, the new trees won't grow directly under the parent tree.

As I sit and marvel at this, I notice Hoppy the squirrel running past. He has a fresh new walnut seed in his mouth as he bounds across the fence in my back yard. And he stops to eat that green walnut, like a corn cob – twisting it until he gets to the center seed, which he discards to the ground.

And my awe in the means to distribute seeds strengthens.

And my faith in God is reaffirmed.

You see, I consider myself to be a logical, rational man, superstitious only when it comes to sports like baseball or hockey. You don't step on the lines of a ball field, and you never shave during hockey playoffs.

And for many years I was a true believer in the scientific evaluation of evolution. Which led me down the path of agnostic belief. But each day as I grow older, I find there are just too many little things that couldn't possibly be just a coincidence. Even millions of years of random combinations and natural selection could not – in my humble opinion – and I stress the word humble – result in a system where seeds are deployed and distributed like the key seeds helicoptering down to the ground, or the chance a squirrel will eat a walnut and drop the seed to become a new tree.

There must be a diety that masters this intelligent design. A conscious cognitive force that reasons a thumb is a good thing for biped mammals to grasp tools to work with. A well thought out plan that combines the forces of nature like wind to spread the seeds, bees to pollinate the seeds, and rain to nurture them.

There must be?

A cartoonist from the early nineteen hundreds named Rube Goldberg drew amazing complex cartoons of contraptions that perform simple tasks – usually by launching a ball to knock things over to trigger wheels to spin to scoop up water to flow down a tube to fill a bucket to be heavy enough to pull a rope down a pulley and land on a see-saw to turn on a light switch. You know the guy. And these contraptions as you watch them are hilarious and ingenious. Like his Simple Moth Killer machine:

I think that in a much more subtle – more sophisticated – more ingenious way, God's contraptions work in that same fashion. And they are just as hilarious. God has the most amazing sense of humor.

God's contraptions in nature have helicopter seeds blowing off trees, have strong streams that carry fish downstream and force them to swim upstream to spawn. Volcanoes that erupt to create islands in the middle of oceans, and lightning that triggers brush fires to clear away dead debris to make space for new growth, perhaps by squirrels like Hoppy dropping or pooping seeds back into the earth.

It's incredible to witness even the simplest of these miracles. And you know his awesome sense of humor is present. God is a real practical joker. He's laughing at me right now.

Because it's a real pain in the ass to rake these helicopter seeds up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cats and Dogs and Chaos

The old myth of cats and dogs living together is slowly being dispelled at our house.

We have had Skye, a six month old kitten now since March 1. And Suzy – a six month old black lab – has been in our house now since April 21st.

So far the dog has not eaten the cat, nor the cat eaten the dog. But they take every opportunity to inspect each other – sniffing buts and swiping paws. Suzie does the sniffing, and Skye does the swiping.

They seem to get along. They even tease each other by eating from each other's bowls. But the repercussions are minimal.

When we got Suzie the puppy, Skye the kitty had her operation to be neutered and front claws removed. The result was a kitten wearing a cone on her neck to keep her from licking her stitches and paws. So the kitten was at a disadvantage. But give credit to Suzie the puppy, for she sensed the kitten to be injured and only inspected to see how injured she really was. And give credit to Skye, although having her vision seriously limited by the cone on her neck, she gave not an inch to the new dog.

Aside from the initial accidents a kitten being housetrained usually has, the kitten has damaged very little in our house, save the underside of a mattress she sliced open so she could crawl in to hide, there has been little real kitty damage.

But Suzie – the six month old black lab – is a different story.

So far, Suzie has chewed off a heel end of Alannah's favorite school shoes – though Alannah loves them more now than before the chewing because she says it gives her something to show her friends about her new puppy.

So far, Suzie has chewed the heel strap off of Darlene's favorite blue pair of Crocs, and a plastic baseball bat we use to play T-ball in the front yard.

So far, Suzie has chewed countless items in the garage where she sleeps at night – at least for now, until this chewing fetish ends.

And the digging. Our deck in the backyard is three levels leading down from the kitchen to the deck that hangs over our half-sunk above ground pool. Under the deck is the sandy-loamed soil Essex County is known for, and apparently that dogs love to dig in. She has dug holes around the outside of the pool, under the deck, and against the house.

And the trampling. Unless you tie a puppy up, it is impossible to keep them out of a bed of annuals. Many of our annuals have been trampled by our black lab as she makes friends with the Boston Terrier who lives in the house behind us.

And while the temperatures are very spring like – they have not yet justified us opening the pool. The cover is still on, with water laying on top and a cluster of leaved in the middle. Like our own little mini-swamp. But to a lab in a perpetual black fur coat, it has been hot. So twice she has "taken a dip" in our pool cover. Luckily neither time was Suzie hurt and we were able to get her right out. But both swims resulted in immediate baths to clean the gunk off her.

And the swearing. Oh my goodness the swearing. Not from Suzie, but at her. Poor dog. Our vocabulary of vulgarities have increased since Suzie's arrival, I will admit.

Now we love Suzie very much. And we have no plans of ever giving her away. We know that this is just a little spell that we have to ride out until she ages a bit – like the fine merlot we know she will become. But it is very frustrating. Especially when your leg is in a brace and your confined to crutches. Especially when your darling wife's back and wrists are completely gnarled from years of emergency room nursing. Especially when you have two little girls that always hug and console the poor puppy after she has been disciplined for her latest wrong doing.

Today, Darlene brought home a strong wire pet line and a spike for tying up poor Suzie in the back yard. At least until we can open the pool. At least until we can re-stain the deck. At least until we can get our many gardens sorted out and protected. For this short times, she is on a twenty yard line.

And Suzie does not like it. She pouts as skillfully as my little seven and five year old daughters.

Poor Suzie.

As for Skye the kitty, she finds a window sill, or sliding glass door to sit and watch the moping puppy Suzie.

If there were ever the sound of a kitten laughing, you would hear it from Skye.

So the total chaos at our house is not the result of the relationship between the cat and the dog. But it is the result moreso of the existence of the dog.

But sometimes chaos can lead to a more orderly patterned life. And that is what we are hoping for.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tiger’s Cross The 40 Game Line

Legendary former Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson had a rule to not judge his baseball team until forty games had been played. His thinking was that forty games would give you a good breadth of games to judge where your team really sits. This is the point where you see what kind of team you have.

How does a guy get a nick name like “Sparky” any way?

Yesterday Detroit finally reached the forty-game line.

The Tigers reached the line while playing their second series against the Kansas City Royals. The same team they opened the season against.They have yet to win a game off the Royals. And the Royals are not a very good team at all.

But this year they are better than the Tigers. So far.

Here are the standings as we sit at this point, on the morning of May 15, 2008.

The Detroit Tigers, picked by Sports Illustrated to win the 2008 World Series are sitting in last place in arguably the weakest division in the American League. Five games behind the Cleveland Indians who are also disappointing their home town fans, despite being at the top of the American Central.

The Tigers payroll is second only to the New York Yankees. Note that the Yankees are in fourth place in the AL East and three and a half games behind the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The Devil Rays?

After forty games, the Tigers have scored 182 runs, but have allowed 214 runs. The Tigers have scored only 45% of the 396 runs scored in games involving the Tigers this season. The remaining 55% have been scored by the opposing teams.

In November of 2007, the Tigers made what was considered to be a block buster trade getting Miguel Cabrera – considered to be one of the best sluggers in the game today – and Dontrelle Willis – a solid pitcher who would fill in the final spot in an already strong rotation – for two of our best triple-A players.

Then what the hell is going on?

Simply put, Tiger batters are not living up to their potential.

Simply put, Tiger pitchers are not living up to their potential.

In fact both hitting and pitching have been very disappointing.

The Tigers pitching rotation of Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, and Dontrelle Willis were poised at years start to be among the strongest in baseball.The Chart below shows every American League teams record against each other. By reading the rows going across the table, you see the wins the team has against the opposing teams. By reading the columns down, you see the losses the team has against the opposing teams.

The Tigers wins this season have been highlighted in blue across the middle row. The Tigers losses are highlighted in yellow going down the center column.

By examining the teams that have done the most damage to the Tigers so far this year, you see that it is those other teams in the Central division (with the exception of Boston) who have beaten the Tigers most often.

These games are the most important.

And so far, at the forty-game line, it looks like every other team in the AL Central want to win more than our boys.

From the fan’s perspective, there is absolutely no reason for such a pitiful start to 2008.

And from the fan’s perspective, there is absolutely no reason to think this course will change.

The entire roster has just recently been signed to fairly long-term big money contracts. The Tiger’s payroll is second only to the Yankees.

But the theories abound all around sports talk radio in Detroit.

“The coaches are not coaching” say one pack, “Fire all the coaches!”.

“The player’s have split into groups”, say another. “The Spanish follow the leadership of Pudge Rodriguez, the rest follow Gary Sheffield”.

“Manager Jim Leyland has given up and doesn’t know how to fix it – and is starting to want to quit like he did in Colorado” say a third pack.

And you know, there are probably little trickles of truth to all three. But most of such talk is all hyperbola.

Errors. Missed throws, sloppy base coverage, missed opportunities. Just complete and utter lack of concentration. Or maybe this slew of mega-millionaires wearing our beloved old-English D are just trying to hard?

Nobody knows. Everybody’s frustrated. And we are starting to give up.

Personally I blame Sports Illustrated. Nothing good has ever come from being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Unless you’re a swimsuit model.

And our boy’s were not wearing swimsuits on that cover.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Laid Up But Not Laying Down

Well, I guess the easy part is over. Now the hard work begins.

I'm just trying to convince myself that I am in the mood to do hard work. Actually, I have no choice in the matter. It has to be done, and my wife Darlene is just the tough-nosed slave-driver to make me do it.

But the knee surgery is done and I have been home for almost a week now. A week of finishing exercises only to restart them again after icing the leg.

We were late for surgery – but luckily only by a couple of minutes. We arrived at the hospital in Grosse Point Farms and I ran in while Darlene bypassed the Valet parking to park the jeep herself. And as soon as I walked into the surgery lounge they took me right back to prep me. A knee shaving and I.V. sedation later and Darlene was by my side for the final few moments. And then the sedation kicked in.

And everybody said I acted like a goof-ball as they rolled me out of pre-op and up to the surgery room. I don't remember a second of it, but apparently I was making bad jokes and quoting cliché's and other altruisms.

Me? No way.

Even the surgeon, Dr. Locke, was quick to point out my "antics" as he visited the next morning for the post-operative visit.

When I came to, I was in a recovery room with my beautiful wife smiling down on me.

As I was rolled into my overnight room, I was told to keep my hands in the gurney – I guess I felt an obligation to help us avoid bumping into walls.

Once slid into my bed, the first thing I saw on the wall of my room was a thirty-six inch LCD HD television. And with the Red Wings and Tigers slated to play on TV that night, I thanked our Lord above for blessing me to see these two games on this television that night. Only the Lord works in mysterious ways, as neither game were played on stations my HD TV could pick up. So I spent the night drifting in and out of sleep listening to both games on my little radio. For part of the Tigers game I really thought I was sitting in the garage petting our black lab pup Suzie and listening to the game. But when I awoke, I had merely been petting a pillow used to elevate my knee that somehow had found itself laid across my lap.

Since being home – leg bound up in an amazing brace that takes a PhD to understand – hooked into an automatic icing machine that has a hose running from what looks (and will likely be in the future) a beer cooler to what looks like the cover of a golf ball wrapped around the incisions on my knee.

And my butt hurts. It hurts from constantly completing the set of some 20 exercises given to me to do then icing the leg down – then starting the exercises over. There is no comfortable way to sit.

So I shift myself around to let the blood back into my butt, and I do my exercises. And Darlene enforces my regiment. And she takes care of me, at a time when she is not really feeling very good herself. And I curse her out loud and thank the Lord for her quietly in my heart.

But don't tell her. It would wreck my image.

My original expectation as I took it from Dr. Locke was to be off work for two weeks – and as it is now almost one week done – I am not sure but my expectation may have been a bit too aggressive. But I do get better and stronger every day.

Perhaps I will. I hope so.

I hate daytime Television.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Be All You Can Be, But What All Would That Be?

There are times in my professional life where I truly wonder if I chose the right career path.

When I was a kid playing little league baseball, I thought I would grow up to be a professional baseball player. A shortstop for the Detroit Tigers. I was scouted when I was fifteen. But at that same time, I fell in love with soccer. I picked the game up quick and found that I could easily dribble the ball in circles around my opposition.

When I went to try out for the baseball team the next spring, our soccer coach put the word out I would not be allowed to play baseball. So I was cut before I even tried out.

That sent my Dad through the roof. I think he wanted my brother Paul and I to grow up and be baseball players too. I'm not sure my Dad ever really forgave me for that decision. I regret it still today. No, I don't think I would have been a pro baseball player.

Our soccer team was pretty elite – and we did have a shot to win the state (of Georgia) championship next fall. We came close but it didn't pan out. But I did get scouted to play college soccer. Remember that in the U.S. the term College is almost synonymous with the term University in Canada. I played soccer in college and was hurt shortly after our first season, destroying my knee. At the same time, I was also journalism major and a political science minor. But the professor there said I should quit journalism as the written word is going to vanish and be replaced by television. And in his opinion I had no chance of being a television journalist. So I switched to Computer Science.

Shortly afterwards I withdrew.

I was there to play soccer – I thought. If I can't play, then I shouldn't be here. I still regret that decision too.

After that I did some wandering around trying to 'find myself'. I did take a crack at playing a higher level of Soccer – but the knee was just not ready yet. And I did try to go back to school, both in New Orleans and in Baton Rouge. But I kept running out of funding.

I enlisted into the United States Coast Guard after watching a documentary on TV about the rescue divers. "I'm a great swimmer", I thought to myself. "I could really be a great rescue diver too!"

So down to New Orleans I went to enlist.

One of the questions the recruitment officer asked me was my nationality. "Canadian", I replied. "That shouldn't be a problem", he stated as he signed my papers and set me up to ship out to Cape May, New Jersey for boot camp. And while the military style of life was both intimidating and difficult, I liked the Coast Guard and found there was nothing they could throw at me I couldn't do.

I aced the swimming tests. I aced the written tests. But when the running portions of the physical exam were held, I finished with a limp on my right leg. My knee was not quite ready for that kind of running.

Shortly after that I found myself in the office of the Admiral of the base. I wish I remember his name. I do have his signature – on my honorable discharge papers.

It seems they don't let Canadian's in the Coast guard reach a rank any higher than a Seaman Recruit. That translates to the lowest rank of Private in the Army. My Coast Guard career would have consisted of mopping floors at the hospital on base until I achieved U.S. citizenship. That would take about five years. I had enlisted for four.

"I don't know why you're here son?" Said the Admiral as I stood at attention.

"Sir, I want to be a rescue diver, sir!" I snapped back as my minimal training had taught me to always start a sentence with Sir, and you ended that sentence with Sir.

"At ease, boy", he replied.

"Sir, Permission to speak freely , Sir?" I requested, not quite so snappish this time.

"I think that would be in order, seaman."

"Sir, I am an excellent athlete, and an accomplished swimmer. I had a scholarship to play soccer. I know I could be an outstanding diver, Sir."

"Some think you came here to get free surgery on your knee, boy."

"Sir, I've had the surgery, and the knee gets stronger every day", I said – now in a normal speaking voice, with all the sincerity I could muster.

"You're a Canadian, son?" he asked.

"I am Sir."

"Why did you not apply for American Citizenship? Don't you want to be an American, boy?" he asked.

"Sir, it had never been an issue before, I guess I never really thought I wasn't one, Sir."

That man looked me up and down. And he told me the rules. And rules in the Military are most definitely rules. And he asked me for the name of my recruiting officer, which at the time I still remembered, and told him.

"You should never have gotten this far, Fred." He said. I was stunned to hear my name. No one had called me Fred for four whole weeks. But he called me Fred.

"Your recruiting officer will be disciplined. And I am sorry that I have to give you two options, and the decision must be made right now." He said. "You can either apply right now for American citizenship and spend the remainder of your time on base as a Seaman recruit, or I will sign this Honorable Discharge for you and you can leave in the morning." The Admiral was still sitting in his chair behind his beautiful cherry red wood desk, he sat back and looked at me. It was not a mean look. It was the look of a man who was being sincere with me.

"I can't be a rescue diver, can I sir."

"Not in this tour son."

"I can't serve on a ship either?"


"I guess I am of little use here, Sir. I want to be useful."

"Then you should go home and be useful to your family."

"Aye-aye, Sir."

And he signed my papers.

I am still a Canadian citizen still to this day. I am also loosely considered an American veteran, although I would never claim to be, nor expect any of the benefits of one.

When I returned to Baton Rouge, I found work. Hard work. Managing the night crew at a huge grocery store for a couple of years, and driving delivery trucks and warehouse work for an electrical supply company after that. And I learned that hard work means hard and work. And I knew that I had to get an education and figure out soon what it was I was supposed to do with my life.

When I came back to Canada to go to back to school, the Canadian Immigration officer at the Sarnia, Ontario port of entry said to me "Welcome home". I took that to heart. "They want me here!"

And since being back in Canada, I have always felt at home. Southern drawl or not, I am Canadian.

Since returning to Canada, I achieved my diploma, and for the past twenty-something years have been working in IT or IS - whichever you prefer – the last fifteen years at various levels of project management. And I have a pretty lengthy list of professional accomplishments, not to mention a wonderful family of a wife, two little girls, and now a cat and a dog, all living in what is still our dream home.

But I still sit and wonder about the decisions I made earlier in life. And I still regret I was never a rescue diver for the United States Coast Guard.

And tomorrow I'm getting this bloody knee fixed again.

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