Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I miss my Christmas boys..

I just posted this, then realized I posted this published column last year around Christmas time. I would remove it but it is one of my favorite Christmas stories. I don't always enjoy reading my own stuff after it has aged a bit but this one I like enough for a second 'read'.. T

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.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

lackey lacks credit

I know I swear to post more often, but here I am letting more than a week go by without a word. And I need to blow off steam.

I know I shouldn't have done it, but yes I have credit card debt. If I ever begin to lament about having it I remind myself that no one twisted my arm to borrow on plastic. And Betty and I have a lot of neat stuff and have traveled to great places. Traveling is cause to a large percentage our debt. It is easy to use credit cards on the road.
One long-term card I have used is with Capital One. For a time after others' charged a foreign transaction fee, Capital did not. Now just like the rest, they do, 3%.
My limit at Capital has always been $5000. A mere pittance compared to the automobile buying power I have (if I want it) with others. For a long time and intermittently, I have used the card. The interest rate used to be high, 9.9%, seen in the light of how high other cards have gone these days it is good.
For the past twenty years, Capital has cut down and processed a number of trees just to make the paper to send me, multiple times each month, checks to use the remaining balance of my card. I haven't taken advantage of them for decades. Recently I was carrying about $3000 and they were anxious for me to have the full $5000 in use at all times.
I have higher interest money out on credit, so Thursday I took advantage of the better interest rate and the "no fee" Capital checks and used $1500 dollars to pay off some higher debt (paid from my checking account, Capitals check deposited to same.)
Friday morning I got a call from Capital one. I presumed they were just checking for theft because of the large amount of the check I sent.
Instead, they called to inform me that the account's upper limit would be changed to $3600. In essence creating a great over-the-limit fee for themselves instantly.
To say I was miffed is an understatement. I was far unkinder to the the telephone representative than I should have been. After a lot of loud and impolite conversation, Capital One graciously changed my upper limit back to what it has been for the past twenty years. I assume I was supposed to be grateful to them for this "favor". I wasn't.

I will try to rant less and create more in the future.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blackberry Blues column

I vow to contribute more often here is the latest column I can blog..

Changing Lanes:Blackberryblues.
I’ve always wondered what a Blackberry was and why President Obama was having such a hard time parting with his. I’ve had one for a week now. I have a slight headache, a stiff neck and sore thumbs from operating the clever little device. I’ve become very attached to it.
There was a time I kept every phone number of acquaintances, my employers and most addresses I considered necessary, in my head. I could also remember the list of a half dozen items I needed to get when I walked the aisles of my local super market. Back then, if I ambled to the living room from the kitchen with a purpose, I could recall what that purpose was. Now I wait for it to come to me or walk back empty handed. Somewhere along the line, my brain has turned to oatmeal.
Several years ago, I purchased a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) smart-phone. A long time before that, it had been cutting-edge technology, ridiculously overpriced. After years of Assisting many other people, (read became much cheaper) I bought one.
The smart-phone performed a plethora of important functions. It stored my appointments, my calendar, and address book. It contained my ‘to-do’ and grocery lists. Once a week I attached it to my computer with a cable and ‘synced’ all of the above. If I changed or added something on either the PDA or the computer, the two would talk it over during ‘sync-time’ and exchange the information. It even was a good calculator.
I loved the touch screen at first, but became less fond of that later. The PDA did many things wonderfully, but it wasn’t a good cell phone. It was a step backward in that area. When talking to someone, it felt as though I was holding a brick to the side of my head. Not a regular brick either. It was more like one of those heavy, dense Olean paving bricks. Some part of my face would hit the touch screen and end the call early or start a conference call, or play loud music. During the call, my ear would sometimes touch the screen in an inappropriate place and it would activate an unwanted application.
The volume settings were unruly, refusing to adjust the way I wanted. It would inexplicably convert to speakerphone between calls. After leaving scar tissue on my eardrums a few times, I knew to answer the phone carefully.
My two-year contract with Verizon wireless ended a year or so ago. Because I didn’t attempt to sign up for another service contract or get a new phone, Verizon began pestering me, sending me special “deals”, almost on a weekly basis. The longer I did not sign, the phones offered for “free”, got better and more elaborate. Competition in the wireless market is fierce and I was one guppy they didn’t want to lose. Verizon seemed frantic to win me back.
Following my brain’s example, my PDA smart-phones’ thinking became cloudy. When I entered information on the touch-screen, the wrong numbers and letters came up, I would hit a “t” on the virtual keyboard and an “r” would register on the screen. I had to ‘realign’ on a daily basis.
I finally accepted one of Verizon’s offers. My new Blackberry does all the things my old smart phone did, only faster and without prompting. I don’t turn on my computer many days because email comes to the Blackberry. I can get CNN news, the weather, and Google anything, anywhere, anytime. It reminds me to take my medications and to take out the garbage. I can download audio books from the library or listen to music from any number of sources and, it’s a great calculator.
Technology has come a long way. As evidence, when used as a phone, the Blackberry feels like a much smaller brick than the old PDA did. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
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