Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Still want change

I'm still in that place, looking for change in the New Year.

The post below is from my "Changing Lanes" column a few months back, I published it here in response to a post from a talented author, blogger, paper artist Pat, in her blog "a view from the attic".

Because the column starts out with a grammatical error, it produced a response from a number of 'grammar snobs' . I quoted a book written by grammar columnist June Casagrande, "Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies". She actually came across the quot and sent me her next book "Mortal Syntax". We have exchanged a number of emails since. She is a grammar expert without the stick up her behind. If something is not right grammatically, but works anyway she will say so..
My word program, from which I write, indicated that the grammar was wrong, I left it as it was because I liked they way it sounded.
I wrote a column in response to all the mail I received, I will publish that on this blog soon. The mail was on both sides of the issue, those who believed things must be written just "so" and those who thought, if the meaning is clear why worry about it...

Travels with Gertie

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:GPS
Gertie travels with Emmy and I, she is mouthy, complains and tells us where to go. Gertie repeats herself often, using the same phrases and words, time after time.
In the car, Gertie interrupts conversations, always changing the subject to her favorite; driving, and driving directions. She will critically point out several times that a turn is coming up, and then admonish the driver if, in her opinion, you missed or made a wrong turn.
You might be asking yourself why we would continue to travel with such a companion. It is because giving us direction in our life is her sole purpose. Gertie is the name we have given to our GPS unit, or more accurately, to the female who talks to us from inside our GPS.
We have used a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system on a laptop computer for a number of years. We often camp in National Forests or other publicly owned lands off the beaten path. We couldn’t afford to buy the maps to cover all the remote areas we traveled to, so the laptop GPS made sense.
With its large data bank of innumerable streets and alleys, it has also helped guide us through towns and cities when we’ve encountered traffic tie-ups. We left the voice option off.
Our new tiny touch screen GPS is very user friendly but unlike our old GPS lacks detail. The voice option is almost a necessity.
I ran errands in Buffalo the other day. I needed to go to a business on Seneca Street near Smith, then up to Elmwood and Lafayette.
When I was done on Elmwood, I gave Gertie the Seneca Street information. She wanted me to return by way of the I-190. That may have been the fastest route but I wanted to see some of the city neighborhoods I had not driven through for a while.
Gertie told me to turn on the next street to the right and I ignored her. When you don’t turn where she tells you, she musters all the sarcasm she can into the one word “recalculating”, which she uses it a lot when I’m driving.
She told me to turn right on the next street and I kept going straight. Several more times this happened. She kept saying, “recalculating” every time I refused to turn. I swear her voice became more irritated and critical with each recurrence.
It may be a bit perverse on my part, but suffering Gertie’s disapproval so long, I felt a little gleeful jubilance each time I refused to do her bidding.
You’re probably thinking I’m giving more critical human attributes to Gertie than she deserves but consider this. There is a good possibility that tucked away in some GPS manufacturing cubical somewhere is a very computer-savvy GPS programmer.
I imagine this person has never taken driving criticism well, particularly when it comes to following directions. Occasionally she has a little chuckle knowing that somewhere someone is putting up with Gertie’s snide “recalculating” repetition.
At this moment, there may be a completely new batch of little GPS’s reprogrammed, a bit nastier. When an unsuspecting new GPS owner fails to turn when told to, it will say, “recalculating”, with more verbal venom each time. Then it will follow with a quick short, single word, “JERK”.
I can just see the programmer, at home, sipping a glass of wine after work, thinking about the “little extra” she put into the new GPS line this time around and smiling, a gleeful jubilant little smile….

New Years

I have had poor results from New Years resolutions and yet I can't seem to drop them from my thought process. If only I could .. lose weight.. accomplish more etc..
I am hung up again on the magical possibilities that a turn on the page of the calendar can bring..

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Yes I know there is no such word as resolutionists but I'd like to start a resolution revolution. My last column was a hard one for me to write and maintain any sort of optimism. I have let myself down year after year with resolutions. My suggestion to anyone is to pick another date to make major changes in your life. I like the ides of March. It seems a lot of transitions have occurred in my life on that date.
Maybe January first is just too much pressure.
If you'd like to have a say in my very un-scientific survey hit "comment" below..

Monday, December 22, 2008

writers' block

I am trying to write a column on New Years' resolutions. It is hard to have a positve outlook on something when I have never, over all the years followed through on a resolution...
I don't know if you would call it writer's block or just a lack of imagination.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hand made

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:gifting
I have mixed feelings about handmade Christmas gifts. When I was eleven, I made two identical magazine racks in shop class.
Christmas morning I gave one to my Dad. He praised it and said I was becoming a fine craftsman. He was amazed (or said he was, anyway), at how many magazines it held and how it cleverly leaned back to display them.
Later that day we drove to “have Christmas” with my grandmother. She suffered from dementia and lived with a bachelor uncle. I gave her the other magazine rack.
I was unaware of her deteriorating mental faculties. When unwrapped, she could not figure out what it was. I explained, “A magazine rack”.
She tried to stand it in a vertical position on the floor. Designed to lean at an angle, it fell over.
She was incredulous at my stupidity and said, “Why Terry, it won’t even stay upright.”
Her disappointment crushed me.
Years later, my own kids suffered disappointment at my hands because of a present I would not make for them. When my oldest son was ten or eleven, he wanted desperately for me to build a rocket silo, attached to the side of the house. He said he didn’t want anything else for Christmas and pointed out, we had extra lumber from another project stored in our barn. He didn’t need help with the actual rocket, which was based on the size and scale of the Apollo program missiles. He just needed me to make the silo from which to launch it.
From a young age, he had an intellect for electronics and computers. I had visions of him actually completing the rocket and destroying both silo and house at lift off. He was wounded when I wouldn’t even consider the rough blueprints he sketched for the project. He argued when I said it would probably violate several ordinances, firing a rocket of that size from a private residence.
He may have thought I was being unfair, after all, both boys’ made gifts for me over the years, and I was unwilling to make this one, the one they really wanted.
I still have all of their handy works. One of them made a simple plywood toolbox for me with a rope handle.
I have a tin coffee can with heavy red yarn wrapped tightly all around it. My first name is written with blue yarn in cursive over the red. The whole thing is covered in shiny shellac. I’ve stored small items in it for decades.
I have one large lifelike, worn looking, ceramic sneaker complete with laces. It sits on my bedside table, a catchall when I empty my pockets at the end of the day.
I have a long necktie carved from oak. I learned it doesn’t bend when you sit, almost broke my windpipe.
I have a ¾-inch thick by eight-inch long pointed stick, with several designs and “Dad” carved into it. It resides now in a dresser drawer, a touchstone when I’m down to that last tee shirt at the bottom of the drawer. It has remained through the most drastic of spring cleanings.
The very best part of all these presents was the wide-eyed look on my boys’ faces, Christmas morning. The look wasn’t just for the gifts they were to receive. They also wanted to know, would Dad like the presents made for him. The easiest things, I gave in return, praise, an enthusiastic ‘thanks’ and a happy smile.
The good intention that accompanied their gifts was the finest present I ever received.
My boys live in two different states now; none of the gifts we give or gather are handmade anymore.
In hindsight, that rocket silo doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Comments? or try

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cat Killing Grill

I tried to kill some of my cats today with our gas grill on the back porch.
I like cats, I like most animals so I don't mean to go on about my cats so often but here I go again.

My lovely spouse cooks a lot using the outside grill ,all year. She wanted her propane tank hooked up as I was remiss in doing so when I brought it back from having it filled.
The kittens enjoy hiding under the base of the cooking appliance, when I started to move it, I heard a little kitten screech come from under the base. I tipped the grill further and saw the kitten there. I grabbed the kitten, which scared the hell out of it and it really started to make noise. Then it bit me. I lost concentration on the grill and it fell over on top of momma cat Delphy. She screached and took off.
No cats are happy with me for most of the day.
Funny thing all was forgiven when I gave them some chichen scraps from dinner tonight...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of Cats and Men

The top photo is of Delphy and her 'cathouse' it is heated with a 25 watt appliance bulb in a large 'funnel' shaped shop fixture. I change and fluff the linens once a week. (OK clean rags)

These are Delphiniums' kittens. As you can see they are of mixed origin. Delphy's such a slut.

There is more to her story. I didn't want to gross out my 7 readers in the weeklies but the red squirrel she left at our back door was the last thing she ate part of. She brought it to the porch and ate just the head.

I would think there were easier parts to eat so maybe it was some kind of reverse Godfather-horses-head-in-the-bed threat. I hope the threat was directed at chipmunks and red squirrels. I would hate it if Delphy were to attack me in my sleep.

Friday, December 12, 2008

First Post Ever

This is the very first post to my blog. I write a bi-weekly column for several Western New York weekly newspapers.
I stay away from hard news unless to comment on events with an aim for humor.

I will do my best to post weekly, including a new column one week, then one from my own archives the next.

This is a recent column which appeared in the Springville Journal and the Arcade Herald;

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:Delphinium
“It’s like trying to herd cats”, is a favorite expression of mine. It addresses dealing with a very difficult task. Pets communicate with, and manipulate people. If you don’t believe that, just stop feeding your cat for the day.
I hate to admit any attachment to an animal but recently a wonderful feline came to live with us. She is the latest in a long line of “free” cats. By ‘free’, I refer to the countless strays we have spent a pile of money on over the past few decades.
This small female with brown splashes in her tiger coat arrived a few months ago. She was near death, emaciated, and infested with fleas.
We fed her and treated the fleas. She gained weight and health quickly. I sent a photo of the cat to my 4-year-old granddaughter Paige, told her it needed a name. She came up with “Oscar”. I reminded her, the cat was a girl. Without hesitation Paige said, “Delphinium”.
Delphy” is extremely at ease around people and has no interest in coming into the house.
Two weeks into her stay, Delphy displayed behavior that endeared her to me. Upon waking one morning, I looked out the bedroom window. She was eating a chipmunk, stem to stern. She consumed the whole thing.
You may think it is wrong to be so happy, finding out that my cat is a murderer. However, we have paid dearly for damage to our insulation caused by chipmunks and I’ve spent untold hours trying to eradicate them from the premises. I feel like Bill Murray in “Caddy Shack”, except his nemesis was gophers and I haven’t used dynamite yet. I am elated to have a cat with an appetite for chipmunk.
To train and reinforce her hunting behavior I gave her a can of greasy cat food, her favorite. Stuffed from the chipmunk, she wasn’t as enthusiastic as usual for the stinky food.
Soon after Delphy came to stay, a large black cat began to hang around. Glimpses of him in the periphery of the yard caused us to call him “Shadow”.
Delphy became romantically involved with Shadow and soon started to bloat up with kittens. Two months later, she disappeared for a few days, and then showed up no longer pregnant. I tried to find her kittens but gave up after a futile search; she would reveal them when she was ready.
The weather was turning colder so I built a ‘cathouse’ with a small heat lamp in it, thinking she might make it her homestead with the kittens.
One day I looked out to see Delphy sneaking around the yard, dragging a plain tiger kitten. An hour later, the tiny shivering thing was on our back porch, I put it in the heated cathouse. Delphy got the idea and later that day there were two more kittens in the little house, a tiny twin to Delphy and a solid black twin to “Shadow”.
Through all, Delphy never stopped hunting. I rewarded her every time she brought home a dead chipmunk or squirrel. She caught them several times a week. I also fed her extraordinary amounts of dry food and any meat or fish scraps I could lay my hands on.
Delphy is still on her murder spree, bringing at least one chipmunk or squirrel a week to our back door, near her little house. Her kittens pounce on the catch, like human kids in a bounce house. Because of the prize of canned food, she no longer eats her catch. I’m not proud of that.
Delphy is raising her kittens to be hunters and now I’m committed to buying canned cat food for a long time. It’s well worth getting rid of chipmunks, but I think I may have been duped.
Obviously, Delphy is a smarter teacher than I am.