Rename Me Blog, Matey!

Now that I'm updating this blog again, I think it's time to give it a new name. Back when I started it, in 2003 (wow!), the Matrix movies were big, and I was trying to reinvent myself as a philosopher, so that worked for a title. Now I'm just being me, and don't necessarily want to tie myself to a pseudonym.

Any suggestions for a new blog title are graciously accepted.


Dr. Strangegobble: Return of the Jedi

Part Three: Saturday – Hockey Redux

Saturday was a pretty lazy day, spent mostly in front of the two glowing picture boxes. I was being torn in a few directions at once. Part of me needed some time on my own to chill out after seeing everyone at my reunion, while another part of me wanted to go to the Otters hockey game that evening. Another part of me wanted to save up my cash for less ephemeral things than a sporting event. All my concerns resolved themselves later in the afternoon, when a friend from church called, saying he had free tickets to the game, and wanted to invite me along. About an hour after I’d made plans to go with M, my brother called, saying HE had free tickets, and was inviting some college friends, and wanted to know if I wanted to come along too, and invite some people. After a series of phone calls, we decided to combine our tickets into one big group.

I was stationed on one side of the lobby, waiting to meet up with my friend and my brother’s group, I met up with M easily, but my brother entered from the other side of the lobby. I crossed over to meet him, and met with S to get our tickets, which were down low, in the corner where the players used to enter and leave the ice, and we would defend that goal twice. It was a nice change of pace from my usual seat, on the same long side of the ice, but different end, and much lower down than usual. I liked being closer to the action, but the metal rails that hold the glass get in the way of some sight lines, especially around the penalty boxes, where there are a lot of joints and corners. Maybe someday the arena could afford the “seamless” glass, if it fixes that problem like I think it does.

The game was the second half of a home and home series with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. The Otters beat the Majors the previous night 4-3, and Saturday’s game got off to a violent start, with a fight immediately following the opening face-off. Two other fights occurred; the referees let a lot of chippy play go without calls. The Otters got the scoring started not long afterward, scoring two goals in the first six minutes, but gave one back late in the period on the penalty kill. The Majors tied it up in the second, and the teams traded goals in the third, forcing overtime. The Otters seemed to have a hard time staying energized, and giving up the game winner less than a minute into OT showed how well the Majors stayed in the game, and took advantage of their better work ethic.

Since I was with a bunch of people who I met while my brother was in school, and see at church, I wanted to give them a chance to take part in the special fun of a hockey game. During the second period I bought Chuck-A-Pucks for everyone, and when the intermission came along, I explained the object of the game: to throw their numbered pucks over the boards and onto the ice, hopefully into the plastic barrels, to win fabulous prizes. As I had hoped, everyone seemed to get a kick out of the game, and got a little thrill at the bending of the convention not to throw objects onto the ice. Sadly, no one won anything, though I think my brother came close to a barrel with his throw.

After the puck-chucking, I got to share my hockey-knowledge with some folks, and one of my friends even mentioned part-jokingly that I had talked more in these few minutes than he’d heard in the past several months. This is probably true, but being able to share my love and knowledge of hockey is something that comes easily and I hope to use that experience to feel more comfortable opening up about other topics in the future.

Even though the game didn’t end well, spending time with friends at the game was a fun and exciting experience, one that I hope to repeat often in the future.

All in all, this was an excellent weekend, spending time with family, sharing a great meal and giving thanks for all God has done in the past year; continuing the tradition of holiday hockey; getting back in touch with my high school past, and being accepted back into that family after being away for so long; having an opportunity to have fun with my newer friends. I think God was really with me at that time, celebrating where I’ve come from and where I’m going in my life. Here’s to a great holiday weekend, and to the opportunities I’ll have in the next few weeks.


Dr. Strangegobble, Part Deux

Friday - 10-Year Reunion

Most of Friday before the reunion was spent in bed with achy joints, from napping on too-short couches, though I did manage to crawl out of bed after having sufficient levels of pain-killers in the afternoon. Had a second TG dinner, from all the leftovers, and got all dressed up for the Reunion. When I first heard about the reunion this summer, I was 85% certain I’d go, but I’d put off sending in my reservation until the weekend before, since I was nervous about how I’d be received after my unusual departure from school one semester from graduation, and didn’t feel confident comparing how my life had gone since then compared to the imagined lives of people I knew from back then. I finally decide to go, since I’d probably feel worse for not going because I felt sorry for myself and missing the chance to see how I was really received versus my own preconception. I had missed the five-year reunion, since I had really isolated myself after Joanne died, and wasn’t able to be contacted by the organizing committee, but thanks to Facebook, and its search by classmates function, I was found this time around.

The reunion was held at the Erie Yacht Club, right on the bay, though I couldn’t see much, since the evening was dark well before the start of the event. When I arrived, a few minutes late, there were quite a few people there, in groups of 3-5, with a constant intermingling, as people caught up with one-another. The room was decked out in blue and white covered tables, with balloon centerpieces. In the center, a table was arranged with snacks, and along one wall, beverages were available.

There was a good mix of people I recognized, and those I didn’t, though I probably did recognize about 2/3 of my classmate’s faces, if not names. The good thing about reunions, is that, I think anyway, you aren’t expected to remember everyone, since people change as time goes on, and people you saw every day in their school uniforms were now dressed up in more formal wear, and you can ask the person next to you if they remember, and they can ask you for someone they need reminded of.

A few people were in grad school, of those, one was working on developing a mind-computer interface out in California. Others were living in the Carolinas, or NYC. Many were still living and working in the tri-state area. A majority of folks were married, and a few had children.

When I explained what I was up to lately, I explained that I had a computer programming degree, but that I wasn’t working with it right now to act more as a live-in nurse to help care for my mom. They responded exclusively positively, remarking how good it was that I was there to support my family that way. I mingled for a couple hours, bouncing from group to group, and meeting newcomers as they arrived. After a couple hours, a group photo was taken of the whole class, and I joined a group of two other Matt’s (yes, there were three Matt’s in my class along with a half dozen or more Kate’s, Katie’s, or C/Katherine’s). Matt Y. is another Programmer, developing the Verified by Visa software used by businesses to cover losses when sales go wrong. I’ll have to talk to him and get some practical insight on designing software for the business world. Matt K. has held a variety of jobs, but his time in Maine building boats was quite impressive to me. Also in our group was Matt Y.’s wife whose name escapes me right now. The other Matt’s started a discussion on reason and religion, which was quite insightful to listen to, and then moved on to the technical aspects of ring forging and nuclear reactors. We’re quite the technical group :).

Around eleven o’clock, a few of the musically-inclined folks started singing the alma mater, and plans were made by some to move the party to a local bar. I declined that opportunity, and said my goodbyes, exchanging email addresses with a few folks, and looking forward to increasing my friends list on Facebook.

I did feel a little alone, being single, and following the pattern of high school of not really clicking into any of the social groups that had developed, but the fact that I was accepted back into the group was quite exciting.


Dr. Strangegobble or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while; I enjoy the pageantry of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, helping dad prepare the feast, and sharing that feast with my family, then going to the hockey game that evening, getting together with friends over the long weekend. This year would be extra special, with my 10-year high-school reunion held Friday night.

Part the first: Thursday

I woke up Thursday morning and made a big cup of coffee and curled up on the couch with the dog and cats nearby and tuned in the parade. Watching the marching bands reminded me of the good times I had performing in my high-school choir. I feel a kinship with performers of that age-group, and have some sense of the preparations that go into performing, and the excitement of performing in front of a crowd. I got a kick out of the Cartoon Network float, which was based on the recent cartoon series “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” The characters were “life-sized” puppets, and were performing a song about friendship. In the middle of their performance, however, there was the sound of a record needle scratching, and Rick Astley came out and sang “Never Gonna Give You Up,” essentially Rickrolling the parade. (For those of you who now have the song stuck in your head, you’re welcome :P.)

After a late breakfast / early lunch, to get the cooking started, I put a crumb-topped cherry pie in the oven. Here’s a tip folks, don’t wait until the day before thanksgiving to buy your pumpkin pies. On the bright side, the cherry pie turned out really well, with the crumb topping staying crispy to the last piece Saturday night. Once the pie was done baking, dad and I prepared the bird for its turn in the hot-box. A secret blend of herbs and spices went inside and out, and then into the oven it went. Once the bird was cooking, there wasn’t much to do for a while but watch the AKC dog show, then football, and taking a little nap. Sometime during my nap, my brother made his appearance. He worked on the computer and napped a bit too, I think.

Apparently, I needed a little more nap than I had thought, since I slept through the preparations of the many side dishes. I had intended to give my dad a hand with this, but he managed ok on his own I guess. Dinner was superb, the turkey was golden brown and delicious, juicy and tender, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, toasty-warm rolls, and jellied cranberry sauce. My brother’s plate was piled to the sky, and I had a couple pretty big plates of my own.

After everyone had eaten their fill, and the leftovers had been put away, my brother and I drove downtown to the arena for the annual Thanksgiving hockey game. The place was about 2/3 full, which is about what I’d expect since the team isn’t doing that great, but I longed for the days earlier in the decade when the team was great and the game would be a sellout. The Otters were in their red 3rd jerseys, with the Belleville Bulls in yellow and black.

The Otters seemed out of sorts early on, giving up two quick goals, then snapped out of it and responded with two quick ones of their own, only to give up one more goal in the first period. The second and third periods were a real struggle, first just managing to get shots on net, then getting those shots that were close blocked by the Bulls goalie. In the 3rd period, the Bulls got an insurance marker, doubling up the Otters 4-2. Even though we lost, getting to watch the game with my bro was a lot of fun, I hope I can continue the tradition of attending Thanksgiving hockey games for a long, long time.

Back at home after the game, I served up my pie, with whipped cream (store-bought, sadly; someday I’ll use home-made). Even though it wasn’t pumpkin, the pie was really good. The filling was tart, not super sweet, and the crumb topping was just superb. After the pie, my bro left to spend time with his girlfriend, and I spent time with my parents and played on the computer.


Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and Bring a Towel or Two

I've been meaning to get to a Seawolves game all summer, but either they've been out of town when I had the time to go, or I was busy with other things, or I just let time go by without thinking of going to a game. So, since this week was the last games of the season I made a concerted effort to get to a game.

When I checked their website to see what promotions were coming up, I discovered that Country Fair sponsored a ticket buy-out for Thursday games. Anyone going to Country Fair could ask for a coupon for free reserved seat tickets to be redeemed at the park. Now 'Wolves games aren't expensive to begin with, but you certainly can't argue with free. When I visited my local store, I asked for two coupons, figuring that one coupon = one ticket, and I was going to invite my dad along, for a guy's night out. I discovered, after getting the coupons, however that 1 coupon = 2 tickets, so I could invite my brother Andrew along as well. *happyclap* It turned out, though, that my mom wasn't feeling well enough to be left home alone for the approximitly 3 hours for the game, so Andrew volunteered to stay home, which worked out since he's not the biggest baseball fan, and appreciated my need for some father-son time.

Another wrinkle in my plan was the weather. I was watching the remnants of Hurricane(?) Fran(?) pass well to the east of Erie, with what appeared to be just clouds directly over the city this evening. It turned out, though, that a steady mist began to fall after the first inning, but it didn't do much to dampen our spirits. [Sorry about the pun Sky, if you read this :) ]

The Wolves gave up a few runs in the top of the second inning, but scored 7 of their own in the bottom of the frame; They loaded the bases with no outs and kept getting singles and doubles to drive runs home, 'twas very exciting. After the inning ended, I went to buy some peanuts and soda. I've been craving the "eating peaunts at the ballgame" experience ever since my braces came off. Since that time, I've had my share of peanuts, and mixed nuts, and popcorn at home, but watching a ballgame, with a fistful of peanuts, shelling them, and tossing the shells at my feet is something that cannot be replicated at home. As an unexpected bonus, the bags of nuts were kept in a warmer, which was a nice touch on the cool, drizzly evening. So, dad and I split the bag of peanuts, and settled in to watch the game unfold.

After the early explosion of scoring the teams settled down, with a few scoreless innings, and a few more with only 1 or 2 runs scoring. After the 5th inning, I was getting hungry, and walked over to the picnic area to order a sausage sandwich. Right after I placed my order, the light mist turned to drizzle, then quickly from drizzle to a steady rain shower. A delay was called, and the tarp came out. I ate my sausage in the concourse with my dad, then when the rain subsided, wathced the crew remove the tarp and prepare the field to resume play. We returned to our seats, and watched another inning, before the rain strengthened again. An executive decision was reached. The Wolves were winning, we were cold and damp, we had seen enough.

Even though we only saw six innings of the game, my dad and I had a fun time, enjoyed the game that we did see, as well as our time together. It's too bad that the season's over this weekend, but hockey season's less than a month away and then it'll be all Otters, all the time. I may even check out the new basketball team that the city got for this fall.


Pic-a-nic baskets

I've been thinking lately that I need to have more things to do during the week that are me-time, to give me a break from the seemingly always-on-call nature of taking care of mom during the day. My initial thoughts were toward doing things in the evening, after my shift, so to speak. But looking around the kitchen today, searching out some lunch, my prospects weren't that great, so I pondered where to go out for lunch. I could borrow Andrew's car and drive to KFC for their sauceless hot wings I've been meaning to try, or maybe try the Greek food shack at 6th and Peninsula. I also thought of walking to Avanti's to try them out, seeing as I've lived a block and a half away from them for 20 years and could probably count the number of times I've eaten there on less than one hand. As I pondered, I recalled a craving I've had the past couple days for chili dogs, and it dawned on me that I could walk to Country Fair, acquire said chili dogs, as well as a slushy and a bag of chips, then go eat across the street in Frontier Park, taking a little walk through the park afterward. This accomplished four things: 1) got me a little break from caretaker duty 2) got me walking, I could use the exercise, after all 3) got me a little treat for lunch, and 4) got me out of the house, breaking the rut I've been in lately, and into the world. I think of this was a step toward working again.

About quarter to one, I let mom know of my plans, and took care of what needs she had before I left.. Right as I stepped off the porch, a rain shower started, but it only lasted until I got a block or so away from the house. Shortly thereafter, the sun came back out again. As I walked along the south edge of the park and neared the line of parking spaces, I noticed a dark blue van with a familiar-looking person inside. As I came alongside, I saw that it was indeed my dad, who had a similar idea for lunch, and stopped at the CF and enjoyed the scenic park while eating. He and I chatted a little about his work, he's having computer issues, having difficulty getting some software licenses to work. After I said goodbye, crossing the street worked out really well; right as I pressed the walk button, the traffic light changed so that it was walkable in my direction. The store was active, not busy, but enough activity so that the employees were working diligently, and my food was ready quite quickly. I was able to get my lunch for under $5 which was a nice surprise.

Traffic was in my favor again, crossing back to the park, and I headed toward a little gazebo with benches near the creek to start eating. As I ate my first dog, I could see a bit of the creek, but lots of shoreline vegetation left me a little underwhelmed. I decided to head over to the sideways tree, and nearer the creek to look for a rocky spot to sit on, right on the shore. I found a really nice spot right across from where I came down. Balancing on the slick rocks with a tray of food in one hand and a slushy in the other was a fun challenge, and I perched on a nice rock in the sun to finish my meal. In the distance, I could hear kids playing in the water, and I spent several minutes watching the water pass over the gravelly creek bed and scattered rocks. It's hard to explain, but the enjoyment I got from watching a little canoe-shaped leaf drift along the water, around the rocks, and past my feet was a lot more that you'd probably expect. I really am an outdoorsy person, and having such a great park with woods, a marshy area, grassy fields and a creek running down the center isn't something to take for granted, not to mention the Peninsula just a couple miles away as well, but I fear that familiarity does breed contempt, and I haven't been taking full advantage of my surroundings the past few years.

As I finished up my lunch and walked home I realized that I could adapt this excursion into a regular lunch break, not necessarily every day, sometimes walking, others biking, and not always buying lunch, most times just bringing something from home out to the park Maybe Fridays I could eat out, from CF or Avanti's, and the other days “brown bag” it. Being outside, in the rain and the sun, getting to walk through the park, and having a tasty, if not especially healthy, lunch really made this a great experience, worth doing more often.


Adventures at Justin and Sally's Wedding

Saturday, July 19th was Justin and Sally's wedding. Since Andrew was his roommate at Behrend for so long, he got to be one of the groomsmen. Leading up to the wedding day, I wasn't specifically invited, so I wasn't sure if I would be able to attend the wedding and reception. I wanted to go since I'd gotten to know Justin a bit through seeing him when I'd visit Andrew, and also at church. After talking things over with the rest of the family, and believing that the dinner was a pre-ordered affair, I decided finally that it would be acceptable to attend the wedding ceremony, and pay my respects, then not crash the reception.

So I got all dressed up in my dark khakis, blue oxford shirt, with blue tie and suspenders, and drove to the church. I arrived about 15 minutes early, so I sat in the van and listened to the radio until it was time to head in. Walking through the parking lot, I met up with James and Andrew Law, which was a relief, since I could sit with them and didn't feel so odd to be by my lonesome. In the church foyer, Sky and Melanie were greeters, and in charge of the guest book, which people were signing as they entered. I forget now if I shared hugs with the girls then, but at least I recall that I was greeted warmly Sitting nearby on the groom's side were many other Behrend folks, including Meghan Gearhart, Nicki, James and Andrew Law, Brad and Ashley; Sky and Melanie sat behind me once everyone had arrived.

As the wedding party processed in, Andrew looked really sharp in his tuxedo, with amethyst/purple vest and bow tie. The groomsmen were Aaron Wood, Andrew, Brian Baldwin, Brandon, and one other relative/friend. The Bridesmaids were Liz, Amanda Placek, Meg Marong, and Sally's sister, and one other woman. John Wagner's daughter Hannah was the flower girl. Justin was quite handsome in his tux with white vest and bow tie, and Sally wore a beautiful, flowing gown with quite a long train. Pastor Lynn wore a dark suit to officiate. The mothers lit the tapers on either side of the unity candle, Justin's dad read a scripture. The newlyweds lit the unity candle after taking their vows.

At the receiving line after the ceremony, I had an awkward convo. with what turned out to be Sally's dad when I introduced myself, but Justin's parents remembered me from move-in days. As we waited outside for the tossing of birdseed, Meghan G punched me in the shoulder a couple of times, until James turned up. It was decided that several of the IVCF folks would go to Dairy Queen for a little ice cream while we waited for the reception to start. Without really being invited, I decided to tag along, to hang out with the folks I knew.

I had a peanut butter cup Blizzard, and sat with Nicki, Megan G, and James. Brad and Ashley sat at a table behind us. Nicki and Megan kept stealing James' fries and later his Blizzard. They egged me on to take a bite as well, starting a chant of “Do it!” which some teenagers at a nearby table picked up on, so I took a bite, to much laughter, and probably some surprise. Earlier, as we were giving our orders, then again as we were finishing our snack, I made mention that I wasn't planning to attend the reception, and asked if it would be okay if I came. When I first asked, there was a general affirmation of the acceptability of my attendance, the second time Nicki said that she wanted me to be there. Therefore, I decided to go, and see what happened, maybe I could get an extra meal if someone couldn't attend or some-such.

As we entered the reception hall, there was a table with name cards arrayed over it, with each individual's name and table number. All the IVCF folks were sitting at tables 13 and 14, and Brad found a card with my name on it as well, sitting at table 14; the size of our group worked out though, we could all sit at one table. Our table was in the last row from the table(s) of honor, but alongside the dance floor, so I got a front row seat for all the cool stuff like the procession of the wedding party into the hall, the fathers' speeches, the toasts, the first dances, and the cake-cutting.

Dinner, it turned out was buffet style, Andrew probably got confused about the rehearsal vs. the reception. The menu included sliced ham, meatloaf or fish; side salad or antipasto-like salad; cheesy potatoes; and dinner rolls. There was also a table with a variety of large and small cookies; and coolers of water, juice, pop, and coffee. For the toasts, each table got a wine-bottle of sparkling white grape juice. It would have been nice if that had been able to be served cold, but one takes what one can get. Speaking of warm things, the weather was quite warm that day, with only a slight chance of showers, but the hall was nearly stifling, even with all the windows and doors open and three large fans blowing. After dinner and the ceremonial activities, the tossing of the bouquet and garter took place. Melanie caught the bouquet, and Brad got the garter.

The extended families/friends of families/Grandview church people left pretty quickly into the dancing, so the college folks made a large circle where one of the viking helms from the bachelor party made double duty as a selector for dancing exhibition. Anyone wearing the helm entered the circle and did a little dance, then passed it off to another for their turn. I ended up doing a little John Travolta finger-pointing disco maneuver, which got some surprised compliments from a few folks afterward, and Andrew did a really great Robot, and Sky and he did a little gun-slinger number. Dan and Aaron were among the better guys, with someone I don't know doing a lawnmower that I got a kick out of. Meg Marong did some pretty good semi-pro dance moves among the better lady-dancers. Amanda dragged me out to do the Electric Slide, and the dance from the BK commercial, as well as something else similar. Later I joined the YMCA circle on my own. My slow dance card included Melanie, who asked me to dance, which was nice, and later I even got up the courage to ask Megan G. to dance, which was fun too, I think I danced with her at the Valentine's day dance earlier in the year as well.

Around 8 pm, I'd guess, things started winding down, tables and chairs were broken down, leftover food was packaged. I was putting away chairs when a jazzy tune came on, and I started head-bobbing, shuffle-stepping, and finger-snapping, to see if anyone noticed my fun-having-ness, plus it was just fun to do. Brian asked if I would be able to drop him and his leftovers off at the church, where his truck was, and I, being the helpful white knight, immediately accepted. Goodbye hugs took longer that I would have liked; I've got to be a bit more assertive, less afraid to interrupt, I think, without being too aggressive. Eventually we got the van loaded and took off. There were a few cases of pop, trays of food, and a bakery box with an extra cake. Brian asked if there was anything there that I'd like to take, and I selected the cake, since Mom requested I bring her home a piece, but hadn't. It turned out to be a large 8” round, with a pretty purple flower on the top-center. It took about a week to polish off the whole thing.

From a personal growth standpoint, this was kind of a coming out party for me. I'd been sort of familiar with these folks for a couple years, hanging out with Andrew at Behrend, and in the last year, becoming closer to them at church. It's been close to a year for me attending Grandview Alliance, and the social aspects of dancing at the reception let me show them a bit more of my personality. The snapping of my suspenders, and being on the receiving end of Megan's punches are physical signs of my being accepted into their social circle, and Nicki saying she wanted me to come to the reception was another highly evident sign of my being accepted and included into their group. Comments at the reception by Brian, and afterward by Amanda, alluding to my joining the dance circles and otherwise becoming more comfortable around those folks, are a sign to me that they notice a change in my mood and comfort level around them, so the counseling and medication are working.