Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln Assassination 150 Years Ago

One hundred and fifty years ago tonight, at about 10:20 PM (EST), Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC.  He will die the next morning at 7:22 AM (EST).  This event, as well as those leading up to and following, have fascinated me - and many others - for the past 40 years.

What began as a failed attempt at a kidnapping ended in the first assassination of a sitting U.S. President.  Lincoln certainly was not popular during his presidency, but his death made him a martyr and he has since been elevated to greatness because he fought for what was right.  In some ways, his life is an allegory of Christ:  born in modest and meager surroundings, lifelong student and teacher, champion of the downtrodden, leader of people, eschewed personal sacrifice for the greater good, put to death publicly for a cause in which he believed.  The more I continue to read about him, the more he guides my moral compass. His death is one of the more fascinating pieces of a life filled with adversity and challenge.

During the past 40 years, I've read about 30 books on the subject, visited Ford's Theater & Museum an uncountable number of times, visited Lincoln's home, office, grave site, and Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL, seen the gun with which he was shot as well as the chair in which he was sitting, the room in which he died, and even the bed in which he drew his last breath inside the Petersen House.

I've also visited both the boyhood home and eventual grave of Booth, as well as found the spot where Booth died, which is now a nondescript site in a median strip along Route 5 in Southern Maryland.  I've even seen the vertebrae removed from his neck during his autopsy, which is now  held in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, MD.

I've ridden Booth and accomplice Davy Herold's escape route a few times including visiting the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, MD, and the home of co-conspirator, Dr. Samuel Mudd in Bryantown, MD.  And in December 2013, I visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, the prison where 4 of the conspirators lived and died.  I've visited the graves of 6 of the 8 co-conspirators as well as a few of their homes.

I've done all of this to get as close to and learn as much about this event and this man as possible.  To say I am fanatical is fair, but what is cool is that those who know me well cannot hear the name Lincoln and not think of me, if even for a flash of a second.  My friends and family have showered me with books, magazine, pamphlets, movies, documentaries and many trinkets that I hold dear - all now prominently displayed in our new home.

So tonight at 9:20 PM (CST) I will pause to offer reverence for one of the greatest men to have occupied the Office of The Presidency; a man who changed the course of the country in his lifetime.  And I'll wonder, as we all should, what we might have become had the event on that night 150 years ago not taken place.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Irish Heritage

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

While everyone is just a little bit Irish today, I pay tribute to my Mother's Irish lineage.

Mom's paternal 5xGreat-Grandparents, John and Jean Anderson, came to the United States from Ulster, Ireland (which is in northern Ireland)  in 1722 by way of Philadelphia and settled in Augusta, VA in 1735.

John acquired 747 acres of land on Middle River in Augusta County, VA by grant on June 3, 1738, and was also granted 270 acres of land on a branch of Catherys River, now called Anderson Branch.

In 1742, John was a member of Captain John Smith's Company of Augusta County Militia, and in 1756 he belonged to Captain Christian's Company of Militia.  He was one of the first elders of Old Stone Church (near Staunton) and on October 30, 1745, Governor William Gooch commisioned John one of the first magistrates in Augusta.

John and Jean had 10 children - 3 daughters born in Ireland, then 5 sons and a daughter born in Augusta.  The fourth son, William, born in 1750, is from whom my Mother's line descends.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

March 4, 2014: The Toughest Day Of My Life

First off, this is a little long.  I've waited a year to get this off my chest, so bear with me.

Little was going the way it should, despite us doing everything we were supposed to do.  I'd notified the building that we were moving out three weeks in advance.  On February 12, 2014, I told them that I wanted to reserve the elevator for March 5th.  And since we lived on the 36th floor of the building, reserving the elevator was priority for getting all of our belongings down and into the moving truck.  The building concierge confirmed the date and time.  She said we could have the elevator reserved for all day March 5, 2014.

Experience told me that this seemed too simple.

This being Miami, I smartly decided to follow up.  If living here for the past year had taught me anything, it was that no one did what they said they were going to do.  I'd needed to constantly follow up with the post office, building management, utility companies, and building maintenance.  Even 128 of the 131 resumes I had sent over the past year had garnered no response.  Constant follow-up had become my way of life.

So the next day, February 13th, I stopped by the building front desk to confirm the reservation I had made the day before.  Not surprising, there was no record of it.  So when I resubmitted my request, I was told that I could not use the EAST elevator bank (located just outside our unit door which then opened near the loading dock downstairs), but would have to use one of the 4 elevators on the WEST side of the building instead.  It was as if I had sniffed glue.  All I could muster was a simple, "Um, what?"  Once the concierge repeated what she had said, I reminded her that in order for us to move our belongings out of our unit and down to the loading dock, we would need to pass through 3 sets of doors, a security gate, cross the outdoor pool deck area, dodge sunbathers while trying to avoid water damaging our belongings, pass through another security gate and another set of doors just to get to the west elevator bank on the other side of the building, ONLY TO THEN walk our items out the front lobby doors and around to the other side of the building to get to the loading dock where the van had to be parked.  To give you some idea, here is a diagram:

And here's another view:

I asked the concierge if she could see the absurdity in this. She just looked at me and said that's how it needed to be done.  I pointed out to her that this was not the way we had moved in to the building, so it would not be the way we move out of it.  Without excusing herself from the conversation, she walked into the "back office".  After I spoke with two more people, the building acquiesced and allowed us to use the east elevator bank instead, letting me know they were making an exception.

A week before our scheduled March 5th move out, the building management called to bump us up a day to March 4th.  When I asked why, they said others had scheduled to move in/out on the 5th.  My reminding them that I had already RESERVED the elevator and loading space for March 5th fell on deaf ears.  Luckily, Kevin was able to change his day off work at the last minute.

Three days before our now-scheduled March 4th move out, the building management called me again - this time to change our scheduled start time from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. because they scheduled someone else to start at 8 a.m.  SOMEONE ELSE?  How could SOMEONE ELSE reserve the elevator when we apparently weren't supposed to use it in the first place???  So again, I reminded them that we had the elevator RESERVED for the entire day.  It was then that they told me that I couldn't do that - I could only have it for a 2-hour window.  On this, they were unyielding.

At this stage, I lost track of the number of times I said "What the f*ck?" to someone's face.

So finally our actual move date arrived and we picked up the rental truck.  While waiting patiently for our turn to use the elevator, of course the people ahead of us took longer than scheduled.  Add to that, that as soon as they finished, the elevator stopped functioning.  The elevator inspection company came to fix it, but then forgot to turn it back on until Kevin chased after them.  Once the elevator was functioning again and we asked the building concierge for the key to lock the elevator for use, we were told that because it was a public elevator we could not lock it for use and had to share it with the rest of the building.  All 36 floors of tenants.  This slowed the process immensely.

So to sum up at this point - every conversation in which I had involved the building management about our move out of the building ended up being a colossal waste of time.  "Welcome to Miami", indeed.

To our credit, Kevin and I were well-prepared for the move.  Everything was boxed and we had a packing plan.  It took many trips in the elevator, but once we were finally able to start moving at 1 p.m., we managed to get everything loaded in 2.5 hours and were done by 3:30.

This was when an already horrible day turned worse.

The plan was that I would drive 95% of our belongings back to Chicago and move back into our condo while Kevin remained in Miami for an additional 6 weeks to work out a notice at his job.  Neither of us were fans of being separated for 6 weeks, especially since we had come to rely on each other so much for the past year.  But I was starting a new job in Chicago soon and this seemed like the best plan.

But because it was now much later in the day than we had planned (we had originally planned to be done by 10:30 AM), I reached out to the building manager and asked permission to park our now completely loaded truck in a small, hardly-used, gated lot on the building property overnight so that I could start the drive to Chicago early the next morning.  I pointed out that due to the building's incompetence and constant rescheduling, it was too late to begin a road trip (especially starting in rush hour).  The rental truck was too tall to fit into any of the area parking garages and we were not keen on leaving the truck with everything we own sitting on the street overnight.  Without hesitating, she simply said, "no".

So with no other choice, and exhausted, I looked at Kevin and said, "well I guess I need to get going then".  Neither of us was prepared for this.  After so much disappointment the entire day, I now had to get into a truck and drive away from the man I love, leaving him in a city that I know he hated and perhaps not seeing him for 6 more weeks.  It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  We both tried to keep brave faces, but the pain was excruciating.  He walked out onto the street and stopped traffic to motion me out of the loading dock, I took one more look at him fighting back tears, mouthed "I love you", and then drove away.

I honestly don't know how I made it out of Miami.  For 20 minutes, I fought the urge to turn around.  Any chance I had to see our building from any street, I took it - thinking Kevin might have gone up to the pool deck to watch me go and I could see him - tiny him - just for a second.  I didn't want to miss that chance.  Miraculously, I didn't crash into anyone.  With a face full of tears, I cursed the city and yelled "I LOVE YOU BUN" probably a hundred times.

At some point, probably 20 miles into the drive, I accepted life as it was, took a deep breath, and just drove.  I didn't even turn on the radio.  I finally stopped for the night in Valdosta, GA, just over the Florida/Georgia line.  It took me 7 hours, but I wanted to just get the hell out of Florida.  The trip home took me three days.

The eventual bright spot in all of this, is that 7 weeks after this horrific day, Kevin proposed.  :-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vote For Me!

I entered a photo I took in a contest and am asking for your vote.  The contest is sponsored by DreamTown Real Estate in Chicago.  The contest is "Winter In Chicago".  Here is my photo.  I took it on an early morning flight into Chicago from Cincinnati in January:

Click here to vote for me!

Your vote is appreciated.  You can only vote once per browser, so use Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.  It's not cheating, it's just making sure your vote counts.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Like You Used To"

Just over 1 year later and the posts about Carol Burnett on this blog are still being discovered - to the tune of about 150 people per week.
To date, more than 120,000 people have read the posts (including Ms. Burnett, herself!).  It went viral on Facebook.  Rosie O'Donnell tweeted the story out to her almost 800,000 @Rosie followers, calling me a "beautiful person" in the process.  Over 100 people have left comments on the blog postings.  And I've lost track of the number of emails I still receive from people all over the world, thanking me for sharing this story and talking about how Alzheimer's affects their lives and the lives of the ones they love.  In many instances, I find myself acting as a counselor and cheerleader to people who feel - quite simply - helpless.

This is both the farthest and furthest reaching achievement of my life.  Nothing else I've ever done has touched as many people as sharing this story.  I gave up on this blog a few years ago after a very successful run, then resurrected it during my time in Miami, just so I would have a creative outlet.  Surprisingly, the top 10 stories read on my blog all date back no further than August 2013; NOT surprising, the two posts about Ms. Burnett rank as #1 and #2.  I guess there is a message in here somewhere about success and second chances and all that.

My dad is doing well and seems to be living a comfortable life.  He doesn't walk anymore, pretty much confined to a wheelchair.  He has good days and great days and bad days.  And so does Mom.  Although for her, Dad's good days can sometimes translate into her bad days.  For on the days when he's doing well and is communicating openly, Mom feels guilt that he now lives in a nursing home, second-guessing if he should be back home instead.  And then on days when Dad is not doing well, I'm sure Mom feels some relief that he is where he needs to be, of course juxtaposing those emotions with concern for his well-being.  Perhaps Dad's good days are best for everyone.  Good is good enough.

I haven't been home since Christmas, but am eager to visit in two weeks.  I obviously see changes in him with each visit.  At the end of our Christmas trip, Kevin and I stopped by the nursing home to say good-bye to Dad.  When I told Dad we were leaving and I would see him soon, he just looked at me and looked away.  But when Kevin followed with a "see you later, John", Dad looked up at him and tears welled in his eyes.  Of course I joked with a "oh sure, YOU get tears!", but we can't help but wonder what it all means to him. And the ugly fact is that we will never know.

I've been asked to share something that inspires me at work's staff meeting next month.  I'll be sharing the story about Dad and Ms. Burnett because it's truly inspirational.  There is always hope.  And you never know from where inspiration will come.  And that a seemingly small act from one person can ripple around the world, touching thousands.

And all because my Dad, who seems to have completely lost all his memories, said 4 words to me that might have been lost on anyone else:  "like you used to".

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I'm A Bear

Not that I am surprised by this, but I recently took an online Spirit Animal Quiz and found out learned confirmed that my spirit animal is a Bear.  To quote the website, in "the kingdom of spirit animals, the bear is emblematic of grounding forces and strength".  And when they put it that way, I'd say I would have to agree with their assessment.  I am nothing if not a stable, grounding force.  It's a gift.

A few other things the website mentions to make us "bears" feel more comfortable being associated with one of the laziest animals on the planet:
  • The primary meaning of the bear spirit animal is strength and confidence
  • Standing against adversity; taking action and leadership
  • The spirit of the the bear indicates it’s time for healing or using healing abilities to help self or others
  • The bear medicine emphasizes the importance of solitude, quiet time, rest
I basically knew that I would come out as a large, lumbering animal of some kind.  Anyone who knows me would not think of me as rabbit, eagle, ferret, or cheetah.  For a hot second, I thought I might come out as an elephant or rhino or, at the very least, an old dog that's ready to die.  But Bear, it is.  And I can live with that. 

Take the quiz yourself and see how you do:  http://www.spiritanimal.info/spirit-animal-quiz/

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

That Thing Above The 6

The other day, I was prompted at work to update my network access password.  Friends, I ask you: Is there a bigger First World headache than creating new passwords on a quarterly basis?  I tend to use the same 2 passwords in rotation, but now it seems that I'll need to come up with a few more since changing passwords needs to happen on a quarterly basis and they Can't. Be. Repeated.  And to make matters worse, the passwords need to have a capital letter, a number, and a symbol.  AND a symbol!  My online banking doesn't even have that kind of security.

At this point, I have more passwords than I do keys on my key ring.  Nevertheless, I undertook the challenge.  I started typing the usual noun and 4-digit combination, and then I looked at the keyboard to choose a symbol.  I suddenly realized I had no idea what that arrowhead thingy above the 6 is.  It looks like "^".  Every other symbol on the keyboard is familiar to me - most I use quite often.  The @ sign has experienced a renaissance thanks to email; a score ago, it was an unknown.  Even the folks on The TODAY Show had no idea what it was.  And the # seems to change names with every generation.  First, it was the number sign.  Then the telephone company decided it was the "pound sign".  Today it's called a hashtag.  It's actual name is the octothorp.  So I am very familiar with all of the symbols above the numbers except for the ^.  Aside from being cartoon curse words when combined, they each have daily, useful purposes.

When looking for a list of symbols on the internet, one needs to look far down on the list before any interest is generated in the ^.  Apparently, this little gizmo is called a circumflex or caret (not to be confused with carrot or carat), and it means "and".  It's a logical connective used as a conjunction.  I have a degree in English and this is the first time I am hearing this.  Shenandoah University, you've failed me.

Why is the caret the symbol equivalent of the proverbial red-headed step-child?  It's interesting how some symbols have come to mean different things as the years go by, but the caret seems to hold on to its obsoleteness (which Blogger tells me is not a word, but it is).  Perhaps because the caret is used in writing code, there's no way to change or build on its meaning without sending the world into a theoretical Y2K meltdown.  But still, there it is.

Perhaps some day, future generations will give the caret its due.  But until then, it's just going to sit there, mostly unused by a majority of keyboardists.  Just sitting there, like 6's dunce cap.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Land Of Lincoln, Literally

I'm not sure how, being me, that I have not seen this before.  But one night riding home on the L, I was looking at a map of Illinois in an advertisement and it jumped out at me.

Illinois has long claimed itself to be the "Land of Lincoln" - so much so that the phrase is written on our license plates for decades.  Illinois prides itself on being Abraham Lincoln's home, despite the fact that he was born in Kentucky and his family didn't even move into Illinois until Lincoln was 21.  Even so, there are countless businesses, schools, foundations, festivals, barbershop choruses, and even an honor flight using the Land of Lincoln moniker.  And based on what I noticed, they have every right to do so.

Here is a basic outline map of Illinois:

And here is my rendering of what I saw in the map - again for the first time - during my commute home:

( mic drop )

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"That's My Wife!"

I visited with my family over Christmas and spent time with Dad.  He was able to be with the family almost all of Christmas Day.  My brother had signed Dad out of the nursing home for the day.  At times, he seemed to be engaged in what was happening around him.  Occasionally, I would catch him crying, which is the only real emotion he seems to have these days.  His tears are more like a welling-up of emotion and crying is his only way to release.  It's uncertain if the tears are of sadness or joy because Dad can't articulate how he feels.  Still, it was wonderful to have him with us.

It's interesting to see how Dad interacts with each person.  He appears to be intrigued by his great-grandson, Brennan.  Dad's eyes follow Brennan around a room until something else catches his attention.  When my sister, Kim, walked into the room and said hello to Dad, he mostly just looked at her and looked away, much in the same way a precocious house cat will look at you, blink, then look away.  However, when her son, John, walked into the room, Dad was quick to say, "Well, there's John-Boy", a nickname Dad has always called his namesake.  Kim lovingly shrugged it off.

Dad will call some of us by our names, but not all of us.  We've passed the point of asking Dad who people are.  When someone would come into Dad's room, Mom would quickly ask, "Who is this?" or "Do you know who this is?"  In the beginning, Dad would take a few seconds, look at my mother like she was insane, and then say our names.  Over time, Dad's response would become slower until it got to the point where Mom would ask "Who is this?" and Dad would either look at her as though he was annoyed or just completely ignore the question.  Dad got to the point where he was frustrated with all the questions Mom was asking him about who people are or who was in a photograph.  Trying to salvage his memory, Mom created a photobook of old and current photos, but Dad eventually pushed it away and no longer wanted to see it.  He either can't remember the names and faces, or perhaps doesn't want to try anymore.  It frustrates both he and Mom at the same time and for probably the same reasons.  Mom just wants to ensure Dad is not giving up.

While traveling for the holidays, I awoke from a dream that seemed so real, it took me a few minutes to realize where I was and what was happening.  In the dream, I was in a large room, like the waiting room in a train terminal like Union Station.  I was there to pick up Dad for some reason.  I found Dad in his wheelchair and we began to leave the station when a guy's tee shirt across the room caught my attention.  I ran across the terminal and grabbed the guy and told him he needed to come with me.  We walked back to where Dad was sitting and I looked at Dad and said, "Dad, look at his shirt.  Who is this?"  And Dad pointed at the color image on the yellow shirt, tears in his eyes, and very loudly said, "that's my wife!"  The image on the shirt was Mom's high school graduation photo.

"My wife" is how Dad refers to Mom now.  He doesn't speak her name anymore.  He always used to call her "Lo", short for Lois Ann.  But these days, when he doesn't see her, he may ask, "where's my wife?".  Or when prompted by therapists who the woman is sitting across the room, his response is "that's my wife", just like in my dream.

Mom may never hear Dad speak her name again.  Yet another thing Alzheimer's has taken from her.  It just keeps taking.  And taking.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Awake No More

Last week, Starbuck's made a change that has rocked my world.  Without consulting me, they changed their tea vendor.  Every store in the chain, all 21,160 of them, will now offer teas by Teavana instead of Tazo.  This changes everything for me.  Because just about every work morning in my career for the past 10+ years, I've stopped off at my local Starbuck's to purchase a Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Sandwich and a Venti Awake tea.  Being the creature of habit that I am, not to mention being brand loyal to a fault, not being able to do this any more completely upsets my morning routine.

This change in tea vendors is coming on the heels of another change Starbuck's made recently.  Sometime last year, they also changed their Turkey Bacon Sandwich.  This was upsetting not only to me, but to many other loyal customers.  The new version, in my opinion, is not nearly as good.  I tried to adapt to it, but just couldn't.  This change bothered me, but at least I still had my favorite beverage.  Until now.

Tazo's Awake tea is an English Breakfast blend.  Teavana also offers an English Breakfast blend.  They most likely taste similar, but that's not the point.  I have a history with Awake tea.  It's been a source of comfort and familiarity for me.  No matter where I was in the world, I could count on Starbuck's to make me feel at ease.  The taste would always be the same; there'd be no guesswork and no surprises.  And I think that's actually the point - it was something I didn't have to think about.  I could trust my own decision.

I have lovely memories and emotions walking around either alone or with friends while holding those 20 fl. oz of malty deliciousness;  chilly autumn days walking though DC, brisk walks to work in Chicago, endlessly job-searching in Miami, walking around Times Square, Pike Place Fish Market, Copley Square, Old City, Bourbon Street, Hollywood Boulevard, Chinatown . . . the list goes on and on.  And close friends will recall that time when an ignorant motorist had the unmitigated gall to blow a horn at me while I was in the crosswalk.  Yes, Awake has even defended me.

This Christmas, my in-laws bought me a box of Awake tea.  And I know I can order it online - it's not like I can never taste it again.  It's just that I've been doing this action for so long that I now need to change my routine.  Ordering a Venti Awake simply has a more melodic rhythm to it than ordering a Venti English Breakfast.

Starbuck's, you have disappointed me yet again - twice in the same year!  It's okay, though.  I'll be fine.  And so will my money as I seek out another breakfast vendor for my morning commute.