Sunday, August 24, 2008

Start Your Engines

The last week in August spells the end of Summer. Summer as we know it anyway. The true end of Summer comes September twenty first.

But in most work environments, this will be the start of the busy season. Most places will ramp back up to nearly their normal full pace. Oh sure, there will be some who were smart enough to take this last week off as vacation time. But for the most part, now things will start to get busy.

The traffic to work will return to it's normally congested state.

The line ups at the drive-thru coffee shop will again line up into the street.

The number of emails requesting immediate responses to their urgent needs will again fill the first three pages of you inbox.

The number of times the phone will ring about those emails will resume their normal frequency.

The number of meetings your invited to will increase.

Because everybody is back from vaction.

Decisions can be made.

Action items assigned.

And performances again be evaluated.

And now things can get done.


So be ready.

Summers over and people are back at work.

But the good news is that next week, everyone will be facing the same dilemma as we are. And everyone will be hesitant to let summertime pass. So the attitudes of next week may still remain a bit more casual.

Until school starts. Until it is officially September.

Then hang on to your hat, boy. Because everyone will be back and ready to get back to work.

So start your engines. And do your best this week to be ready for next week.

Because my friends, I am sad to tell you, Summer as we know it is over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From Six to Five

Last March, our little family of four expanded to five. My two little girls got their wish as a friend of my beautiful wife Darlene brought over a six month old little kitten.

She had a white body with a black cape and a black little mask with her white nose sticking out. As a family we had a vote for the name, and my eldest daughter won – coming up with the name Skye.

I wanted to call her Buster, but Alannah and Ashley-Ray insisted she was a girl, and needed a proper little girls name. So the kitten was called Skye.

I am always out voted by the women in my house.

This little kitten had lived a tough life already, abandoned on the streets and scrounging for morsels of food, she arrived at our door very timid and frightened. The first two days she hid in our partially finished bathroom downstairs. Only when Alannah dragged a toy mouse on the floor would she come out. And she had always favored Alannah ever since.

During the day, Skye would follow Alannah all through the house. She would sit beside her on the couch while they played games or on the floor with her while she watched TV. At night, after the girls were tucked into bed with stories read, Skye would sneak into Alannah's room and cuddle up to her while she slept.

Sometimes Skye would sleep with Ashley-Ray – and she took to an oversized Barbie doll house in her room and tried to make it her own – claiming Kitty squatters rights. But in the end, it was Alannah that Skye would cuddle with.

In April, we got a new puppy, a little black Labrador Retriever that had already been named Suzy. And for a couple of weeks Skye was forgotten as Suzie got all the new pet attention. Forgotten by all except Alannah, who went out of her way to make sure Skye got all the loving a kitten deserved.

Suzie and Skye became great friends. After the initial bum sniffing ceremony – the two moved their relationship to playful pals. Skye would often sneak up on Suzy in the house, punch her in the nose with her declawed paw, and dart away while Suzy tried her best to punch her back with her nose.

Often, Skye would sit at the back patio door – a sliding glass door that usually found Suzy on the outside lying looking back at Skye. Or she would lay on the sill of the giant front window watching the flowers in the front gardens blow around and chase the bees and bugs on the other side of the glass.

Skye never once came outside at our house – but she watched it more intently than a senior citizen watches the weather network on TV.

Down in the family room, Skye would often dart around the pool table as we played, chasing the end of the cue stick or attacking a loose chalk cube that had fallen to the floor.

Last weekend, amidst all the happenings of company coming and going, poor Skye – once again squatting in the big Barbie dollhouse – found herself closed into Ashley-Rae's bedroom. She didn't make a sound – as Skye could never really meow louder than a whisper. When she was discovered, she was playing with a toy diaper from one of Ashley-Rae's dolls. The kind of doll that wets herself – and the diaper used over and over again.

While Skye never ever chewed anything before, this time she chewed and ate the stuffing from that diaper. There was a little mess, but we didn't think there was any cause for concern. Not until the next morning when a visitor informed me that the cat had made a mess on the downstairs carpet.

The mess was unlike any I had seen before. It was kitty poop and vomit together. And when we found Skye the kitty, she looked very weak and tired. She would not eat or drink unless pushed, and that was always thrown back up.

Yesterday evening, Darlene and the girls took Skye the Kitty to the vet. They expected the vet to explain what was wrong and that he would fix her. I was driving on the expressway on my way home from work when my cell phone rang. It was Darlene, and she asked that I please get over there right away.

The scene was odd. In this beautiful little room, sat Skye looking sickly and tired. Darlene was crying, yet the girls were behind her fighting over who could use the red crayon as they colored on paper the vets assistant had given them.

At that glance I knew this was the end of Skye the kitty.

The doctor explained to me that Skye was suffering from an entangled and perforated bowel. That her temperature was way to high, and that the prognosis was slim to none to save her. Should we opt for surgery, she had only a small chance of survival, and then not for long. And yes, the operation would cost a thousand dollars.

The suggestion was made that I bring the girls back into the room, explain the circumstance, and allow them the opportunity to say goodbye to Skye. The scene was heart wrenching. Alannah and Ashley-Rae both fought the idea and insisted we leave there now with Skye and take her home. But I had to tell them no. Skye seemed to perk up at Alannah's presence while Alannah hugged and kissed her kitty and told her how much she loved her. Ashley-Rae had a moment as well, but Alannah went back and kissed Skye goodbye.

I took the girls home, while Darlene stayed with Skye through the end. When she came home hours later her eyes were red and swollen.

And so our little family shrank from six to five.

There are lessons in life that we all must learn.

How to love. How to care. How to cherish.

And how to let go and say goodbye.

The girls are now learning the pain of these lessons. And how to deal with their grief. And my hope is that this experience will help them deal with ones promised to come in the future as our loved ones age over the years.

So there was purpose to Skye the kitty. She was a teacher. And she taught both Alannah and Ashley-Ray to love, cherish, and say good bye.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Truly Great Vacation

I returned to my desk at the office this morning. The previous weeks vacation easily ranks up there with one of the very best I have ever had. And of course the question asked when you return from holidays is "where did you go?"

"Putted around the house mostly", is my reply,

"Really, what made this such a great vacation then?"

"Friends mostly. Dropping by to say hi, staying a while, you know ... back yard pool and barbeque stuff".

"And that's the best vacation you have ever had?"

"Well, one of them, we did go a couple years back to my mum's in Florida and caught up with my brother Paul".

"Well what made this vacation so great?"

And so I would explain about Ray and Michelle visiting from Ireland with us for three weeks.

I would start by describing our time on the back deck – laughing and having a great time together. And I would explain about watching their English comedy shows and comedians on YouTube – like 'Little Britain' and 'My Hero'.

I would then also explain that friends also came to visit from places as far away as Collingwood or Barrie – both an hour outside of Toronto. Local friends and family came by to sit at the patio table for an evening and enjoy Ray and Michelle's company again and again. The one couple, Martina and Glen – who as a private investigator was responsible for locating the other couple, Michelle and Dave – who was an old Canadian Forces buddy of Ray's when they were stationed in Beirut and Syria in the mid 1980's when Ray was in the Irish Peace Keeping Forces.

But unfortunately Martina and Glen have never yet met Michelle and Dave – except for telephone messages left.

I would also explain that our pool table was heavily used. Ray and I would start playing at eleven at night, and often would finish a game only to ask each other "one more?" The result was a freshly racked table until we would realize it's almost five in the morning.

"You shouldn't be letting people beat you on your table, Fred" Ray would chide as he waited to break the next game. Most of the night our conversation would be one sided while playing and would go something like this:

"Nice break Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Nice shot Ray"

"Good Game Ray", I would say at last.

"Play again?" would say Ray. I would then rack up the balls for Rays next break.

Then I would explain how sad it was that Saturday afternoon as we stood out on the front lawn to say goodbye to Ray and Michelle while my wife Darlene and Ray's army buddy Dave drove them to the airport to go home to Dublin.

But before I let it get me sad all over again, I would look at my watch and explain to my co-worker that I really should get back to work, that I didn't realize an hour had flown by already.

When I go home tonight – to our quiet little house where once again only the four of us reside, my lovely wife Darlene will ask – "How was your first day back to work?"

"Busy", I will reply.

"Was there a lot of working piled up while you were away?" she will ask.

"Still is", I will answer, "I spent the whole day telling people about my vacation".

Friday, August 15, 2008

Best Friends

They are the best friends a guy could ask for.

Ray and Shell are visiting us from Dublin Ireland. But the end of their three week visit is drawing near as they fly home tomorrow afternoon.

Some would be happy to have their home back to normal after a three week visit. But not my little family, as Ray and Shell are like a part of our family. And we will be very sad to see them go. Ray is like a big brother to me in many ways, and Ray and Shell are both truly like uncle and aunt to our daughters Alannah and Ashley-Rae.

Ray, a former UN peace keeper for the Irish forces was stationed in Beirut in the 1980s. There he met a buddy Dave who was a member of the Canadian peace keeping forces. Together they spent their free time getting into trouble and finding ways to make their tour of duty pass more easily.

Four years ago, Ray and Shell made their first trek to visit us. It was Rays hope he could find Dave while over here and resume their friendship. We organized a trip to Niagara Falls – as that was one of Shells dreams to see. While there, we received new that Dave had responded to one of our messages – and he arranged to meet us there.

After hours of searching the Canadian side of the falls for a face that Ray remembered from years ago, my brilliant wife Darlene called our hotel to see if they had stopped there by chance. Amazingly enough the girl who answered the phone was speaking to Dave at that precise moment, and we dashed back to the hotel for the reunion.

Mission accomplished.

This visit, with a multitude of friends from past visits stopping by and driving a days worth of travel to come back to say hello, the one friend we couldn't find was Dave. Other friends Martina and Glen had travelled down from Collingwood – 5 hours north of us. After a round of golf and few cool drinks on the patio by the pool, Ray explained to Glen, an investigator by trade – his dilemma in finding Dave again. The address and phone number we had for Dave was wrong, and the two had again lost contact with each other. All we knew was that Dave worked in the Canadian penal system and was located someplace in Barrie – about an hour east of Collingwood and north of Toronto.

"Let me handle this for you" said Glen.

Several days later, we received a message that Glen thought he had tracked Dave down – but he was on holidays for the week. At the end of that week, Glen left another message that he had indeed found him, and left his number.

Ray called the number and suddenly found him talking to Dave – with only three days left of his time to visit.

As it turns out, Dave was indeed on vacation, and in fact was here in Windsor for that week.

If only we could have known.

Today, as we write this, Dave and his two teen age daughters are driving down from Barrie and are about to arrive here at our house. Their five hour journey starting at six o'clock in the morning. And they should be here any moment.

Mission accomplished.

It is amazing the last minute contact these two have made in these last two visits from Ireland. And the extent they will go to visit for an evening.

And truly each to the other is the best friend a guy could ask for.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Summertime Waking Thoughts

Another summer morning finds me on the back deck by the pool with my coffee, a smoke, and my laptop. Our black lab pup Suzy lies curled at my feet as I sit and try to wake up.

But there is just so much to do today at work. I hate to think this summer day will be lost on me.

Our Irish friends Ray and Shell are now half way through their three week visit. I do hope they are enjoying themselves. When guests travel "across the pond" like Ray and Shell have, you certainly want them to get the most enjoyment for their efforts.

But I will be at work this fine beautiful August morning.

I had stayed up pretty late last night listening to the Tigers game. When I went to bed, they had given up a six to one lead in Chicago to the White Sox, and were in the 13th inning battling to win a game that could possibly bring them within five of the AL central division lead.

But it was not to be as I wake up this morning to read the news that while my boys scored two in the top of the fourteenth inning, they lost it in the bottom of the inning on an error to shortstop Edgar Renteria. The next batter, Swisher, knocked it out of the park off blaze-ball thrower Joel Zumaya.

We have had a number of these losses lately. And they take their toll on you. The debates on the sports talk radio station 97.1 FM in Detroit will continue to call for manager Jim Leyland's head, and every player to be put up for auction.

My favorite talking head, Pat Caputo, will write in his blog "The Open Book" today more about the possibility of a strong Lions football season this upcoming fall. It is not odd to hear such talk in August – only to realize in September or October that it was only that. Just talk. But right now it seems more plausible than a winning Tigers record in this year of ohhh-eight.

Nobody really knows why the Tigers, picked by most to win the AL Central this season as early as Christmas last year, are playing so poorly – but everyone has their beliefs. Caputo will say it's the starting pitching. Others will say it's the lack of clutch hitting when runs are needed. Even others will tell you it's the lack of defense with errors most every game. But everyone will agree that our bullpen can't shut the door on opposing pitching. In fact they seem to hold the door wide open and usher opposing batters around the bags.

And I am sick of listening to it. If these fans and writers had their way, they would likely choose the US Women's fastball Olympic team over the Tigers starting lineup.

Yet here I sit on a beautiful August summer morning. A cigarette butt, an empty coffee mug, and a snoozey puppy at my feet to show for my first thoughts of the day. Best friends visiting from a far away land, and the promise of another week of vacation next week if I can only survive this one.

I love summer. I really do. It's the season of golfing, sailing, and backyard barbeques while the children splash and play in the pool.

But all I can think about are the Tigers.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Grandma’s Birthday

Today is my Mother-In-law's Birthday. She turns seventy-seven years young today.

I have told all kinds of stories that are about this one of the two Grandmas. But I probably haven't really given you a taste of how great the Grandma's in our family really are.

Joan is known in our household simply as Grandma or Grandma D when a distinction between the Grandmas is needed. The only living Grampa we have in our family is Joan's husband Glenn. And Glenn is known to my little girls as 'Nonos'. I used to joke that hi sname 'Nonos' came from his ability to say no. But nothing is further from the truth as Glenn is one of the most generous men I know. But he covers his kindness with a very thick crusty mask.

Nonos working life was spent as what I would see to be a project manager of large construction projects – mainly road construction around the world. He was seriously injured when he fell from a cliff in Africa. But work such as that, dealing with tough and rugged people, requires a gruff and rugged leader. And that was – and still is – Nonos.

The Grandma and Nonos participate in the local Legion. For those of you who may not know, in Canada, the Legion is a national association of social and community clubs supporting the Veterans of our Armed Forces. The Grandma and Nonos are very involved with their Legion, as Nonos' recently held the presidency of the local and now stands a past president.

As president, Nonos brought the Legion back from near bankruptcy and certain closure to a profitable and more desirable state for their membership. Now as past-president – Nonos is watching his hard work wash away as the practices of the past drain both the membership and their financial state.

Joan supports her husband's endeavors completely. But the beauty of their relationship stems from the adage that familiarity breeds contempt. I have never met two people who care for each other so much but hide it so well in their day to day battling.

But this the Grandma's birthday. I only tell you about Nonos so that you better understand the this one of the two Grandmas. Both Grandma and Nonos are very social people. Both enjoy a party if you will. And both do their best to bring that party atmosphere with them as they tackle the common challenges of ever day life.

I have not met anyone who dislikes the Grandma. My own Mum – the other Grandma – enjoys Grandma D very much. And when the two are together, well – things just happen.

Today, my family – which currently includes our Irish visitors Ray and Shell – will pack up the car and head over to the Grandma's house for the day. We will sit in the back yard and enjoy the pool and the perfect summer weather. And the girls will be dressed in the summer dresses, and Ray and Shell will enjoy with us this special day with the Grandma.

It will be a day we all remember. A day that my little girls will always remember.

Happy birthday, Grandma D.

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