Saturday, September 7, 2013

Tomorrow is Grandparents Day, and They're All Still With Me

Tomorrow is Grandparents Day. I miss my grandparents--including the great grandparents I knew--but I'm not sad.

They're with me every day. Sure, I can't see them or talk to them, but I don't have to look far to see how they have touched my life. Over the mantle of our fireplace sits a portrait of my great, great, great grandfather. We don't look much alike, but if one looks closely at the set of my eyes and then looks at the portrait, there is a definite resemblance. I have his eyes.

We have a china cabinet, and in the cabinet on the top shelf sits a platter. That platter belonged to my great grandmother on my mother's side, and I think of her when I see it. I wonder what she would think of my cooking when I serve food from it.

I remember my great grandpa Beck. I got a pair of his shoes after he died, and they fit like they were made for me. It seems I have his feet. I don't plan to give them back... My great grandmother, Grandma Beck, taught me how to crochet. I don't do it anymore, but I still remember how. I have cookbooks from my grandmother on my mother's side. I've cooked a couple of those dishes and although I know they're not quite the way she made them, I still like to make them.

On one of the walls in the staircase in my house there is a counted cross stitch sampler. My great great great great grandmother made it in 1836. When I look at it, part of her is with me.

There are a couple of my grandfather's degrees hanging on the walls in our house. I like to look at them because I think they're cool. I'll confess I'm glad one tradition stopped somewhere along the line--on my grandfather's high school diploma, they listed his grades by subject! He got excellent grades, but someday his great grandson (my nephew) might ask about that B-, and I won't know what to say.

I miss my grandparents and great grandparents. I miss the ones I knew, and I miss the ones I didn't know. I'm thinking of them, but not with sadness. I'm thinking of them with gratitude. I can look in the mirror and see legacies they left me. I can see the parts of them that became me. It's cool; it's life.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Goodbye to Judy. We'll Miss Her, and We'll See Her Again

My mother-in-law passed away a couple of weeks ago. I loved her dearly. She was an excellent mother-in-law: loving, supportive, and non-invasive. I never have been, nor can I ever be (and wouldn't want to be if I could) a mother-in-law. It can't be easy.

She didn't want an obituary written. She didn't want any fuss made over her. She was over-ruled by her children. Memorials and funerals are for the living, not for the deceased.

Today is mom's memorial service. Actually, it's a memorial service for her family and friends. She happens to be the honoree. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about laughter in funerals. I think there will be laughter in today's service--at least I hope so. Laughter heals as much as tears. There's no reason the two can't be mixed.

My wife is holding up well, as are her siblings. The past couple of weeks have gone a long way toward passing through the grieving process. We have been waiting for this day, for this service. Waiting with a strange mixture of dread, hope, love, and sadness. The dread is that no matter how well done they are, no matter how deep the belief is in an afterlife, death is hard for the living. There is a finality to memorial services and funerals that is as hard to accept as it is necessary. The hope is that it will go well, the memories happy and strong, and that everyone will feel better having said their goodbyes.

I'll have some tissues in my pocket. Maybe I'll need them, maybe I won't. My wife will probably need me to have them handy for her.

I take comfort in the solid belief that I will see her again, in a happier place where time has no meaning and the ravages of age and infirmity are but a dim memory.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leadership Lesson I Learned at the Age of 11, and Needed Again

I started a new job, and I'm excited about it. It's a management job, but also a very 'hands on' job. Like any job, regardless of previous experience, there are things that have to be learned.

In the case of this job, I have to learn to manage people in a restaurant. It's a large restaurant, and there are a lot of people, including a lot of managers.

One of the things I like about the place is that the servers carry food on trays, and they carry the trays on their shoulder. It's an impressive sight, and servers have been carrying food that way, in that location, for over 100 years.

There was a problem. I was afraid to carry food on a tray. I worried about picking the tray up without spilling it. I worried I might dump it on someone by accident. Planting noodles on someones head is not my idea of a wonderful experience...for anyone concerned.

I have the enviable task (and I mean that sincerely) of getting to learn about every department in a large restaurant. Cool stuff!

I made it through the first couple of days of training without lifting or carrying a tray. People told me that was okay. In my new position, I won't have to carry a tray.

I almost let myself get away with that. Almost.

A friend of mine once gave me a photo of an Eagle. The caption of the photo is simple. Leadership is Action. I believe that. Leadership is action.

These are not small trays, by the way. They're about two feet across and three or four feet long. We load them heavily.

I worried about carrying the tray. I rationalized, as demonstrated above, a way out of carrying trays.

In the end, it was my eleven-year-old self that kicked me into (here's that word again) action.

Now we come to the title of this post. I needed my eleven-year-old-self to teach older me a lesson.
That lesson was learned when I failed a basic BSA swim test my first year as a camper. The Boy Scouts call you a "swimmer", as opposed to a beginner, when you can swim 100 yards and float for a minute.

I failed my swim test the first year. It was not a big deal to anyone but me. Swimmers could go out in a canoe. I couldn't, unless I had a buddy who was a swimmer who would take responsibility for me. I couldn't go out on one of the small sailboats. I couldn't go into the deep water, or use the high dive.

It wasn't a big deal to me until I got elected to the position of patrol leader. I thought about summer camp, and I worried about the swim test. It was okay for Tenderfoot Scout Dave Steele to flunk the swim test.

I felt that a patrol leader ought to be able to pass a simple swim test. It's not a BSA requirement. In fact, I fell into a happy time period when an Eagle Scout could earn Scouting's highest rank without getting swimming merit badge.

I spent several nights convincing myself I could pass the swim test. I convinced myself that I had to pass the swim test. In my head, I went over it stroke by stroke.

When summer camp rolled around... I passed the swim test. I didn't pass it with flying colors. I snorted a bunch of the lake through my nose and sent it out my ears like a whale spout. I floated for a minute. By floating, I mean that I was somewhere between the surface of the water and the bottom of the lake.

...I passed. Had I not passed the first time, I would have done nothing else all week until I passed. It wasn't really about me. It was about leadership.

The first day of server training came and went, and I did not lift a tray. The second day of server training came and went and I did not lift a tray.

I didn't feel good about that. No one pressured me to carry a tray. I decided--me, and that 11-year-old Boy Scout that still kicks around inside me--that I would carry a tray like every server and most managers.

So, I borrowed a tray and brought it home. I piled it with dishes and walked around our dining room--dodging cats. At the restaurant, we never have to carry trays up stairs...but I did it at home. I picked it up. I put it down. I thought about putting a cat on the tray, but ruled that out. By then I was having fun, and the cats were hiding.

Today I showed up for work, determined to carry as many trays as the job required. I was nervous. As nervous as a cat with a lunatic in the house carrying trays of dishes up and down the stairs.

I did it! I don't know how many trays of food I carried through the crowded dining room. I don't know how many times I picked up a tray and put it down. After a few times, it became routine. I almost dropped one, but managed to slide my hand into a better position and didn't spill a drop of soup or soda. (Let's not talk about the puddle I almost made in my pants when I felt it slide.)

Leadership is action.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Good Funeral Includes Laughter

I believe.

It's okay to be sad at a funeral or memorial service. Sadness comes easily at a funeral. Even for those strong in faith, the knowledge that we won't see the person again until the end of our time on this earth makes the passing of the friend hard to bear.

Being sad is the easy part. The hard part is celebrating the life. That's why many funerals--at least the ones I like--are called life celebrations.

Today my wife and I went to the memorial service of our friend Jack Beamish. If Jack was still alive, there wouldn't have been a funeral for him today. (That's the "duh" sentence.")

This is the "ah ha" sentence:
Jack Beamish lived. Jack Beamish touched my life. He touched my wife's life. He touched the lives of a lot of other people. We went to a memorial service, a celebration of Jack's life...because he lived!

Like anyone else walking around on this planet of ours, Jack had his quirks. Some of them were pretty funny.
Jack was, among other things, the ranger at a Scout camp. He and I shared a small cabin the summer I met the woman who became my wife. He was in his late sixties at the time, and I was in my late twenties.

On more than one occasion, I would wake to the sight of Jack heading to the shower in his briefs. The sight of a man in his briefs isn't one of my favorites. It ain't my idea of a great way to wake up.

I said to him once, "You look like the Grinch...and I don't want to see him in his underwear either."

He laughed, pointed out that seeing me in my underwear was no great prize, and took his shower.

You know, sometimes at memorial services they ask if anyone has a memory they would like to share.

Thinking of the Grinch line and Jack in his underwear... I took a pass on the opportunity to share what was on my mind. I just shook my head and laughed (yes, I did!) to myself.

There was a lot to laugh about, thinking of Jack. The man had a great deal of love for people, and the camp he nurtured and cared for. His love of the Lord was always there, but never forced upon others. He was a true friend. He was also human, and we all do funny things.

I was grateful for the great job one of his fellow Scouters did with the eulogy. He was able to help us remember Jack's quirks, personality, and love. He spoke of a life well-lived, and the laughs he brought from us were genuine, warm, and needed.

My wife cried during the memorial service. I held her hand and passed tissues to her when she needed them. My eyes misted once or twice because I miss Jack, but I couldn't bring myself to cry. He had 87 years of making a difference under his belt when he went to the Lord, and I believe (really believe) I will see Jack again.

I'll say it again, just like I did at the beginning of this entry:
I believe.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

One Cat, One Window, One Stepladder, and an Involuntary Body Piercing

There's a window in our staircase. When open, it provides a nice breeze through the upstairs landing and helps cool my writing office.

The only problem with opening and closing the window is that I have to stand on a stepladder to do it. If you're afraid of heights, that's a problem. You find yourself looking straight down several stairs, or peering out a window high in the air. A fall from there would be quite painful.

My cats like that window. They sit on the sill and feel even more like kings of the world than they usually do.

This evening I opened the window. When it got cool a little while ago, I decided to close the window. Jake--the current Cat King of the World--disagreed. He was perched on the sill. His way of getting to the window is easier than mine. He jumps from the landing to the sill, and he does it quite well. When we first bought the house, I was pretty sure I would find a cat-shaped hole in the screen and a cat shape on the lawn below.

When it got chilly and I wanted to close the window, I looked up at the sill and saw Jake looking down at me. I told him I wanted to close the window. He gave me a stare, in the way cats stare, that indicated he had absolutely no intention of abandoning his post.

A smart man would have let him stay there and gotten himself a sweater.

I'm not dumb, but I am a wee bit stubborn. I wasn't about to let a cat--King of the World or NOT King of the World--tell me I couldn't close a window.

I opened the stepladder, the one that leans against the wall under the window on the staircase for the sole purpose of letting me open and close the window, and climbed up.

I was eyeball-to-eyeball with King Jake. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way," I said. "The easy way is for you to jump over to your ledge and walk off with your dignity intact."

Jake, unlike most cats, maintains eye contact with humans. It's his way of showing superiority. That's my fault. I teach cats to look people in the eye. It freaks people out in a way that makes me giggle.

"The hard way," I continued as if Jake understood a word I was saying, "is for me to pluck you from the windowsill and carry you down this ladder to the stairwell."

His look said, "Bring it."

Life was about to get more interesting than I wanted. I should have known it would, but I had my stubborn on.

I lifted the cat from the sill.  I tried to make assuring sounds as I did so.

The assuring sounds came out in an embarrassingly girlish scream.

Jake poked a hole in my chest with a claw from hell. The claw to the chest made me jerk back on the stepladder. I was balanced on the stepladder with my big toe as the only point of contact. My scream caused King Jake to look me in the eye and hiss. Time froze, or at least seemed to freeze, as my big toe protested my weight.

I performed a little cat-like acrobatics myself, scream, big toe, cat and all...
...I think Jake and I actually switched places for a microsecond--with me in his arms and him holding the ladder with one claw from Hell...
...That scared Jake, and we switched back.

I used the big toe from my other foot, the one in the air along with the rest of me, and the cat in my arms, to find the next step down.

Big toes and cats and even small men such as myself are bound to invoke gravity whether we want to or not. I landed on a stair on my tush, which ain't nearly padded enough for such a landing, and expelled a rush of air (that sounded amazingly like a little girl's scream and a mix of manly cuss words) and found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a very unhappy hissing cat. The searing pain in my chest was not the result of a heart attack. It was the result of the freakishly large cat claw stuck in it. I think the claw originates somewhere behind the damn cat's shoulder, extends down his spine, and looks tiny from the paw.

He withdrew the claw, and bounded down my extended body...bouncing on my balls just to show me who's boss...before darting off to the kitchen.

Lying on the stairs, I realized several things:
1. I was alive, with no broken bones, and I had completed all the exercise I wanted to complete for the day.
2. The cat was no longer on the windowsill.
3. (This one is important) The damn window was still open!

I climbed the ladder again, closed the window, climbed back down the ladder, folded the ladder, and rested it against the wall.

Thankful I was wearing a dark shirt that hid the trickle of blood running down my chest, I returned to my writing office and hoped my wife would ignore anything she might have heard.

She didn't. She sat in her chair, reading a book on her Nook, and glanced at me when I walked in the room. "Did you get the window closed?"


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We Have A Rule: Don't Do Dishes in the Bathtub

...As you might guess, it's our rule, not my rule. In other words, I didn't make the rule...which means I might or might not follow the rule.

The rule came about because our crock pot doesn't fit in our kitchen sink very well, which makes it difficult to wash. I solved that problem once by taking out the ceramic lining and washing the thing in the bathtub.

Proud of my ingenuity, I left some bits of carrot  and a few hunks of celery on the bathtub drain and waited for my wife to inquire about the presence of vegetables in the bathtub, then admire my ingenuity.

The first happened...the second did not. In fact, she made up a rule: Don't to dishes in the bathtub. Not ever. Not one bowl, not one spoon, and certainly not a crock pot.

Dishes. She specifically forbade the washing of dishes.

She never said a word about ironing board covers.
I use a lot of starch when I iron. I also iron every seam when I make clothing, and I recently made a pair of pants. Our ironing board cover was matted with starch and bits of black thread.

Ironing board covers aren't expensive. I pay about five bucks at a store a couple of blocks away. It's not a big problem to replace the ironing board cover, but I hate spending money on such a boring purchase. Still, the one on the ironing board was beyond it's usefulness.

The cheap ironing board covers I buy don't hold up in the washing machine. They're made of cheap cotton and by the time they go through the spin cycle, they're shot.

But... As I was ironing a shirt before showering this morning, it occurred to me that I could clean the ironing board cover in the bathtub while I showered. This is known as killing two birds with one stone. It's also known as living dangerously. I do these things with the knowledge that I will--most probably--have some explaining to do when, not if, I get busted.

So, I removed the crispy thread covered ironing board cover and tossed it in the tub. I closed the drain and proceeded to take my shower. I kicked the ironing board cover around in the water, watching the water turn yellow with starch and fill with threads. When I rinsed myself, I rinsed the ironing board cover.

When I dressed, I went upstairs and put the ironing board cover back on the ironing board. Wow! It's clean, baby! Saved myself five bucks in the process, too!

I'm a genius. I don't say it often, but it's true.

Now we come to the part of my "genius" that's going to get me killed one of these days--maybe even this day.

You see, there's a yellow ring around the bathtub now. The yellow ring bears quite a few black threads.
A true genius would clean the bathtub.

I'm not going to do that. I'm testing a hypothesis. My hypothesis is as follows:
By the end of this day, there will be a new rule, a corollary to the Dish Rule of 2010: Thou Shalt Not Wash Fabric in the Bathtub.

I'm not a fan of rules...but for some reason, they tend to grow in my path. They grow like weeds in my path.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pride in My Pants. Wait! That means I made the pants.

If you know me, you know I'm not a big guy. If you don't know me, you're about to know I'm not a big guy. I have a 29" waist and a 29.5" inseam. It's not easy finding pants that fit.

There's a couple of ways around that without having to gain weight. (Yes, I'm prepared to go into the witness protection program if someone with anger management issues decides to chase me down the street with a pitchfork for complaining about being too small to find clothing that fits well.)

One would be to pay a tailor good money to build me a pair of dress pants. The other way is to learn to sew and tailor a pair of pants for myself.

I chose the second option. Sewing isn't new to me. From my first stint with a sewing machine as a 7th grader forced to take a home economics class, I developed an interest in sewing. As a Boy Scout hell bent on earning the rank of Eagle Scout before his 14th birthday (Yes, I was 13 when I earned my Eagle), I earned badges so quickly that my mother taught me to sew them on my uniform myself. That was a gift to me, and self-defense for her.

I have made several garments for my wife, and if you look around on this blog, you'll find some photos of quilts I've made. In fact, the background of the blog is a photo of one of my quilts.

Pants aren't easy to sew. There's a lot more to pants than people give them credit for.

I did it, as you'll see at the end of this post.

Here's how:
1. I dug out a pattern I bought a long time ago when I wanted to make a suit. Never made the suit, but I kept the pattern. It's still available, for about $15.

2. I took a trip to Joann's. I like that store, and I am almost always amused by the person who cuts the fabric. They're still not quite sure what to make of the situation when they find themselves face-to-face with a solitary man holding a bolt of cloth. It's almost as much fun as ordering a Happy Meal with coffee at the McDonald's drive-thru. It locks 'em up for a while.

3. I cut out the pattern pieces so I could take advantage of the cutting layout suggested on the pattern. Nowhere in the instructions does it say to do this--but the paper pattern is going to get cut into pieces anyway, and you can't match the grain lines (some pieces are cut on the long threads in fabric and some cut on the short threads, otherwise known as "warp" and "weft") if you don't cut the pieces out beforehand.

4. Then I cut the pieces from the fabric.
I use two pairs of scissors when I sew. The cheap ones with the plastic handles are for paper. Paper is made from trees, and it's hard on scissors. No kidding! Besides, I'm not new to the sewing thing, and I appreciate my Ginger sewing scissors--true left-hand scissors, but that's a different story--and use them only for fabric.

The piece on the cutting table is actually two pieces being cut simultaneously, the front of the pants.

There were more than thirty pieces cut for the pants. Everything from pockets to zipper flaps, to belt carriers, to facings for the pockets, welts (double welts for the back pockets), etc.

5. Then I read the instructions for the construction of the pants. Again. Then I read them again.*

*Let me insert a couple of points for those men who might be reading this, who might be tempted to scoff at the idea of a man sitting in front of a sewing machine. One: Don't think of it as a sewing machine. Think of it as a single-cylinder engine. One piston, holding a needle, punching holes in something. Feel better? Two: The making of tailored clothing was the province of men long before the word 'seamstress' entered the lexicon. Three: There doesn't need to be a "three". I refer you to one and two.

6. I fired up the third (behind scissors and sewing machine) most important piece of equipment needed for sewing a fine garment. I'm referring to my iron. I press each seam as I make it. Some seams can only be reached properly as the garment is being built, and that bit of detailing makes or breaks the garment, at least as far as I'm concerned.

7. I followed the instructions. Vogue has pretty good instructions, and those who use them do well to follow them to the letter. If you don't follow them to the letter, be prepared to use the fourth most important piece of equipment--the seam ripper.  I screwed up and sewed my back pockets closed. That was embarassing only because I didn't realize I did that until I put my new pants on and couldn't put my wallet where it belongs.

It's okay--indeed expected--to cuss loudly, frequently, and with enthusiasm when using a seam ripper. After all, you only use it when you screw up. Plan to screw up at least six times for a complicated garment, and less than that for an easy one.

8. As I completed each step, I tried on the pieces I built. Sometimes I used pins to see how the fit was coming along. That's one of many reasons I'm glad I used dark cloth. It hides the blood when a pin takes a little more interest in my skin than it does in the fabric... That's another perfectly acceptable reason to cuss while sewing, by the way.

9. Eventually, I ended up with a pretty darn good pair of pants, especially made by me for me.

10. Of course, I can't resist a little bragging about making my pants. Most people look at them, and me with a bit of disbelief. That's why I like to use printed fabric for the pockets. I refer you back to the photo at the top of this post. See the green fabric? That's leftover from a quilt I made my wife some time ago. You can't see it in the pants, but if (when) someone looks at me like they don't quite believe my pants are homemade, I just turn out a pocket and show them the green. That I'm using good fabric for the pockets also gives the advantage of having pockets that will last as long as the pants.

This final photo is of me in my pants:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Old Watch Band? Kiwi Shoe Polish to the Rescue!

My wife thought I was nuts. You know...again.

I couldn't argue with her when I looked at the old leather watch strap I pulled out of my nightstand drawer. It was old and dry. Leather dust came off when I rubbed my thumb over the faded tan leather. Sure, I could have gone down the street to the jewelry store and spent $15 on a decent new one.

I didn't want to do that. I wanted to see if I could breathe new life into that old piece of leather with some shoe polish, some determination, an old t-shirt, and some time.

Shoe polish brought back the shine.
Look at this! Hats off to service personnel who manage to keep their boots and shoes shined and glossy. I shine my own shoes on a regular basis, and I'm glad I took the time to polish that old watch strap. Not only is it supple and strong, it's already shaped to my wrist.

I won't kid you. It took half a tin of Kiwi Shoe Polish to make it look like it does now. Hours of buffing with  piece of an old t-shirt. I sat at my writing desk, watching TV, and buffing the strap. The color is darker than the original, but it has a nice patina.

I was tempted to cheat and apply a coat of polyurethane. That would have given a better shine and added some water protection. It also would have stopped the aging process in its tracks. I didn't want to do that. I have some watch straps that are coated in polyurethane, and I don't care for it. Eventually the poly starts to peel off, like sunburned skin.

Now I'm eying my old leather jacket. It could use a little sprucing up... Maybe I'll buy another tin or two of shoe polish and go at it. On the other hand, maybe I'm better off finishing the last Sexton Chronicle. More people care about that than care whether my jacket shines or not.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Goal Setting, Achievement...and Building A Watch

This is about goals.
Why build a watch?
My watch will look a little different. 
I think it would be cool to wear a watch I make myself. That's all, and that's enough.
Don't laugh too hard, but I won't blame you if you want to laugh a little. I will succeed in this endeavor.

I'm writing this on a computer I built. Computers are bigger than watches, but they're no more complicated than building a watch. I didn't make the mother board in this computer and I don't plan to make my own watch movement, so I'll confess I'm skipping the hard part of making a watch.

I think (and I could be wrong) that if I can build my own computer, I should be able to build a watch.

I have a habit of success when it comes to goals I set for myself. I was an Eagle Scout by the age of fourteen. I wrote (so far) ten books and published them.

Now I want to build a watch. Yeah. I can do this.

How? I'm not sure...yet.

I started collecting watches a couple of years ago. I have several of them now. I have some Chinese mechanical watches, and they work pretty well. I have a couple of Seiko automatic watches and they work great! I don't need another watch, but I have the watch bug so I'll probably keep buying them as I roll along this path called life.

This is kind of an evolutionary path for me. The Chinese watches I bought all came with cheap straps of a doubt-able material they call "pleather" or "man-made leather". Junk. I got in the habit of going to the local jewelry store and having them put new straps on my watches as soon as I got them.  I've said all I mean to say about those experiences.

The other day I ordered a watch tool kit and now I'll be able to change the straps on my watches by myself. I have a watch that needs a new quartz movement, and I'll order one and install it myself. I have another watch that came with a cheap clasp and the bracelet is too large. With my new tool kit, I'll be able to replace the clasp and remove the link myself. It'll be fun and satisfying.

Well shoot, I thought to myself... Why stop there?

All I need to do is buy a watch case, a dial, a movement, a strap, assemble it, and it will be mine. I'll have a Steele. Most people won't know I'm walking around knowing what time it is wearing a watch I built myself. I'm not doing it for recognition. I'm doing it just to see if I can.

I've given some thought to how I'm going to go about it. This is the planning stage of goal achievement. We know that what: I want to wear a watch I built myself. I'm giving myself a year to do it.

  1. Determine a plan of action.
  2. Learn how by tinkering with watches I already have.
  3. Learn how by reading tutorials online.
  4. Order the parts piecemeal as my budget allows. That will take some time, and that's okay. I have other watches to wear, and I want to make myself a nice watch.
  5. Assemble the watch parts and make sure the darn thing works before showing it off.
There are several decisions I'll have to make along the way, and it will be fun doing the research to do them. For example, do I want to buy expensive materials as I go, so when I get done I'll have a better watch than I could afford to buy already assembled? I'm leaning that way, but a wee bit o' caution is entering my mind. If I do that and I fail, I'll have a bunch of high-priced pieces parts that aren't good for anything. On the other hand, if I buy cheap parts and finish successfully, I'll have a unique, but cheap watch. Nah.
When I make clothes for my wife (which I do often), I use quality materials. Always have, even when I was just learning to sew. By the way, I know more about watches now than I knew about sewing when I started making clothes for her. I don't think I want to go to the trouble of building myself a cheap watch even when I'm learning.

On the other hand, I don't think I'll spend the hundred bucks or more that it would take to put a Swiss movement in my watch. I don't have a spare hundred bucks around to play with in this experiment. I can get a very good movement for under forty bucks, so I think that's the way I will go.

I found a couple of sites that sell watch parts. It's fun looking at their selections and playing (in my mind) designing the watch. I want a white face. I want the date. I want three hands: hour, minute, and second. That leads to a lot of choices. I'll have fun poking around deciding what I want.

It's kind of lay-away the hard way. I'll buy the case first. Stainless steel, probably. Then I'll buy the dial. Then I'll buy the crystal. Then the movement, then the strap. Lots of choices. I'll build the thing in my head a hundred times before I get it assembled.

Some guys build their own cars, or refurbish an antique. This is probably a lot like that. It's a disease I wouldn't wish on anyone, but one I'm glad I have.

...I'll post pictures when I'm done. Don't hold your breath. This is going to take a while.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Have Had Enough of Minor Watch Repair at Jewelry Stores

The photo on the left looks like it could be a tool kit for the dental hygienist from Hell, but it's not. It's a watch repair tool kit. I ordered it today from eBay for the whopping sum of $18.99, including shipping. 
   I have had enough. Enough that  I shall underscore it in italics: I have had enough!
   Don't get me wrong--I'm not angry. I was angered a few times along this particular path, but I'm past it now. Now I'm doing something about it.
   Good things have happened when I have entered the Land of I Have Had Enough in the past. I learned to make bread by hand when I walked into the land of Had Enough with my bread machine. I learned to do my own clothing alterations after a stint in the Land of Had Enough. Both of those journeys were successful. I make my own bread, and if I need to take in the waist of a pair of pants, I can do that. In fact, I can make the pants  from a hunk of cloth if I'm in the mood to do so. I built this computer after a jaunt in the land of Had Enough when me old one died a piece at a time.

So now, in this current reality, I can munch on a piece of homemade bread while I wear a pair of pants that fit like they were made for me, talking to you through this computer I built. I like this world.

   In my wildest dreams and or nightmares, I never thought I would see the day come when I would decide to do my own watch repairs. 

   Sane people will wonder why I'm going to attempt my own watch repairs. It's a reasonable question. Most of the things I want to have done to my small collection of watches cost under $10 when done by qualified personnel at a jewelry store. When I need a battery put in a watch, the lady down the street will do it for $5.00, including the battery. When I want a new strap put on a watch, the store that sells it to me can put it on for me. Fine and dandy...but! 
   But the lady at the jewelry store down the street always puts on the wrong size. I think she struggles with getting the pin in if the fit is too tight. There's another jewelry store in the next town, but I'm no longer speaking to them. There is a snobbishness there that  I find intolerable. I would complain to the owner, but that's where the snobbishness originates. Frankly, I would rather have a close enough job done by a friendly person who tries hard than a perfect job done by a person looking down their nose. (Unless it's a tall person looking down their nose. Then it's okay because I'm not prejudiced against tall people. They're people, too!)

   Today I went to Walmart because I was looking for a leather strap to go on one of the  Seiko military watches I own. I found the right size and handed it to the clerk with my watch. She rang it up and handed it back to me. I said, "Please put it on the watch for me."
   She said, "I can't do that."
   "Why not?"
   "It's a Seiko. We don't sell Seikos."
   I thought she was confused. I pointed to the strap. I said, "It'll go on there just fine. It has pins, like the strap."
   "We don't sell Seiko," she said. She said it as if it made all the sense in the world.
   "I don't need you to sell me a Seiko." I smiled. "I already have one. I just want that strap on it."
   "It's policy," she said--again as if that made all the sense in the world.
   "It's a stupid policy." She looked shocked. I said quickly, "I'm not blaming you. I'm blaming Walmart." I handed the strap back to her and thanked her for her time.
   Now that I think about it, it's probably not that stupid on the part of Walmart. If she damaged the watch putting a new strap on it, Walmart would have to buy me a new watch instead of just grabbing another one off the shelf.

   That was it. That was, as far as watches are concerned, my gateway to the Land of Had Enough. I'm not mad at Walmart. I'm not mad at the jewelry store down the street. I am coldly angry with the jewelry store run by the snob, but I'm not going to use this as a pulpit from which to lambaste them (but the temptation is there.)

   I came home, logged on to eBay with my homemade computer, ate a piece of homemade bread, and in my well-fitted pants, I ordered a watch repair kit. When it arrives, I'll order some parts I need to: put new straps on my Seiko watches, order a new movement for my L.L Bean field watch (they no longer make that watch, or it would be under the L.L. Bean warranty), fix the bracelet on my BSA watch, and put a new battery in my Timex watch.

   I have never done any of the above things, but I'm not worried about that. Like learning how to sew, make bread, and repair or build a computer, I'm sure it will take some time and trial/error on my part. That's okay. In fact, I enjoy the process.

If something happens and I don't enjoy the process...well... I refer you to the photo. See the free hammer? I think I know what I'll do with it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I'm Gonn Fix That Dryer, One Way Or The Other!

It's you and me, clothes dryer. At the conclusion of this exercise, either you're going to work, or you're out. Unless, of course, I blow myself to kingdom come in the process. If that's the case, I'm taking you out with me. Got it? Good.

   Oh. Hi! Ya heard that, huh?
    I am by no means a handyman. We'll call that a strike before I start when it comes to my chances of successfully fixing the dryer. What I am is two things: 1) damn stubborn when I want to be, and 2) durable.
   The results when I try to fix something are pretty good. I have only a dim idea of what I'm doing, but I keep hacking away at a solution until I find one that works.
   Sometimes the results are pretty funny. A couple of years ago I put a new light fixture in my den. I have hard-earned respect for electricity, so I powered down the entire second floor of the house when I did the job. I wired the fixture, went to the basement, turned on the power upstairs, then went back up to check my work.
   The light fixture was off. That meant I did something wrong. So...stubbornly, I got back on the swivel chair... That's right. I was standing on a swivel chair with a pair of pliers, reaching above my head to disconnect a light. By the time I realized the power was on--because I commented on something said on the TV in the room--it was too late. I did forty-three pirouettes and lay on the floor in a puddle of brain goo, saying, "Bzzzzt! TV ON, POWER ON! Moron! huvvuvuvuvvvvvv."
    The problem with the dryer has been going on for a few days now. It runs for a few minutes, then stops. It's like something physical is blocking something else physical.
    I went online and looked at a variety of trouble-shooting sites. The motor isn't burned out in the dryer. I'm pretty sure of that. I think the culprit is lint.
   I washed the lint trap and put it back in. That didn't fix the problem. Then (feel free to laugh soon), I pulled the panel under the door off. There's another lint trap there. It was full. FULL! So I took it up to the bathtub and scraped and scrubbed it.
   If you ever do that, be smarter than I was. Clean the tub before your wife goes to take a shower! She thought I had washed the fur off both of our cats and left it for her to find. After she finished screaming, she went looking for the animals. When she found them, she knew she had me to blame, but wasn't sure she really wanted to know what it was I washed that covered the bath tub with off-white fuzz. No. I did NOT tell her what it was.
   Reassembling the dryer wasn't easy. It would have been easy, but my wife knows me well. She hides her tools for fear I might try to use do things like foul the bath tub with gray fuzz. She's not wrong, in case you haven't figured that out.
   I put the cover back on with a screw driver and a socket (couldn't find the socket wrench, but I found the sockets). I might have cussed a bit.
   That didn't solve the problem.
    I removed the lint thing again and looked behind it. That was when I saw the cone of flame that is the provider of the gas heat that dries the clothes. It glowed blue and hot when I started the dryer with that panel off. I should probably apologize to my neighbors for the girlish screams they endured until the flames went out. I'm pretty glad dryer manufacturers build safeties into those things.
    I put the panel back on. Took me a while with the screwdriver and the socket. I blame that on the fact that I was trying to do that without sticking my face near the cone of fire that lives in the dryer.
  The problem was, and remains, unsolved. I think there's more lint. I think I have to remove the exhaust hose (it's one of those collapsible metal tubes) from the dryer and the outside vent and run a cat through it to clear it of lint. With the amount of lint I washed down the bath tub drain (give yourself twenty points if you think that will be my next repair job), I think it's highly probable my dryer vent is clogged.
   The last time I checked that hose, I found a dead bat. No kidding! He came in from outside in a life-changing quest for warmth, and ended up getting his fabric softened...

So tomorrow, after my wife goes to school, I'm going to remove that exhaust hose. I'll put a bit of catnip in one end and a cat at the other, then go upstairs and pour myself a cup of coffee. If, when I go back to the basement, I see what looks like at least two cats, I'll call the operation a success and put the exhaust hose back on.

...Then I'll ask my wife to finish the laundry.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Thoughts on Happiness

This isn't a sermon. It's not a quick fix for unhappiness.
   Lots of people have written about happiness. Some of it's good stuff, and some of it isn't. There's no method to obtaining and keeping happiness.
   It's up to you.
   I was unhappy for a long time, but didn't know I was unhappy. I had a good career, but somehow it just wasn't satisfying me. I didn't recognize the correlation at the time, but the higher I went up the ladder, the more I drank. The more I drank, the less happy I became, and the combination of the two led to some interesting--and not good interesting--twists and turns.
   In a path I don't recommend to anyone, I got very sick (Wernicke encephalopathy--which you can read about in this blog). I came pretty close to dying and had to make some difficult lifestyle changes.
   I'm glad I did. I'm glad I got sick--and even happier I recovered--and I'm glad I made the lifestyle changes.
   How does that make me happy? It doesn't. Not by itself, anyway.
   I made a decision to be happy. Maybe it's because of the illness. It might have allowed me to open my eyes and see that happiness is a decision. I decided to be happy.
   Deciding to be happy is the easy part. After that, I needed to decide on the how. My wife, always, and I mean always a source of happiness in my life, stayed with me through it all. 
   One day, while cleaning toilets at 4:00 AM as part of my duties as a housekeeper in a big restaurant, I looked at the Johnny mop in my hand an almost felt sorry for myself. There I was, a man with a college degree and seventeen years management experience, wiping bodily fluids off a stool at an ugly hour of the day.
   It made me sad, for about thirty seconds. Then I reflected on how much I had come to dread staff meetings, and long hours, even for the noble cause for which I worked.
   My sadness left. Maybe I banished it, and maybe God blessed me a little bit (again) that day. I started to grin. The job was about as unglamorous as I could imagine, but I did it and did it well. I found it strangely satisfying.
   I was free! Not free financially. I needed the money they were paying me. Trust me, cleaning toilets at 4 AM didn't feel like any sort of noble public service, even though it is.
   I looked up. Up at the ceiling of the restroom, and then (in my mind at least) through it to blue skies of a world. A world that didn't care what I was doing at that hour. The world was marching on.
   The reason I quit my salaried position, was that my wife and I wanted a chance for me to pursue what makes me happy. In my case it was writing. I wanted to write books.
   It was a concrete goal. We set a deadline--a couple of years--for me to get books into the marketplace. Sure, I dreamed big. I dreamed of writing a bestseller, backed fully by a publisher. It hasn't happened that way, yet. I think it will someday.

I've written several books and self-published them in Kindle format (available at Amazon), Nook format (available at Barnes & Noble), and in paperback and hardcover available here: I'm not a housekeeper anymore, but I didn't give it up because I was unhappy with it. Other positions in the same company became available to me, in no small part because of my attitude.

   I started getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. I find happiness in watching the birth of each new day. I quit drinking--at first because doctors told me I would die if I didn't--and learned to enjoy sobriety. I learned that it's okay to love simple things. I learned that if I thought I was going to have a bad day, that's what I had. I learned that if I decided to have a good day, that's what I had.

   Guess which I decide now, decide consciously. I decide to have a good day. I'm fond of telling people to make it a great day, and I mean it.
   Deciding to make each day great is an important step, but it's not the only step. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. If there's something in your life that makes you consistently have to change something about the situation. Don't take that the wrong way. Don't march into your supervisor's office tomorrow and say, "Steele says I have to quit." 
   I have no idea what you have to do to be happy. You might not even know what you have to do to be happy. Maybe you're happy and don't know it. Take stock of what you have, and you might find you have a lot to be happy about.

What's my point? Simply this:
Happiness starts with a decision to be happy.