Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Traditions

I am sitting in the Phoniex Airport Terminal D, Gate 1 charging my computer and listening to the automated messaging system pronounce names like Najeet Pradmindovic, and thinking about Christmas. Kate and I are on our way to spend Christmas with my family in Oregon and have spent the last couple of days having Christmas with her family. Kate's family has many more yearly traditions tied to the holidays and she has been a little sad as some of those are coming to an end. There will be no opening of PJ's on Christmas eve or nut in the pie to see who gets to play Santa. Looking ahead we think about when we have kids and what that will mean for Christmas with parents. We want to start our own traditions and build on the past we have both experienced but at the same time it is really hard to see some of those traditions we have grown up with end. Difficult more so for Kate then me but still difficult. For me Christmas has been family for sure but not tied to a place, or to yearly traditions. We might give gifts, we might not. Christmas could be in sunny Santa Barbara or rainy Clatskanie but the house has changed just about every year. I think because of that I much more ready to start my own traditions with Kate while she is just starting to mourn the loss of what was. I mean it is still the end of something that you have loved. No matter what family fights sprout up or embarrassing scenes are played out it is tradition. We will see what it is we make as a family but as that legacy is built it is OK to be sad for what is lost. We honor it with our sadness, we look back and say this was good, this was mine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some guys get up early to go hunting, others.....

My heart started to beat faster as we pulled into the parking lot. John told me to just be honest if the police came, the worst they could do is tell us to leave. He got out and had a look at the dumpster, well lit, tucked away, “This is a good one here.”

The frozen snow crunched under our feet as we lifted the hinged lid and peered inside. “Just rip open the bag, grab the blue cups, dump out everything you can, and throw them over here to pick up at the end.” Simple enough instructions, I set about the task at hand. Rustling plastic bags, the thump of my heart in my throat, and the light clunk of cup on frozen snow were the only sounds I heard.

4 cups equals a point, 32 cups equals a one-way flight, 64 cups yields a round-trip. The cups were starting to pile up as we riffled through the soggy bags of half eaten burgers and frozen chili. It was not as gross as I thought it was going to be. I guess 8 degrees outside has a way of muting any nasty smells.

Just when my heart started to slow and I got into a rhythm or rip-grab-empty-toss, a semi truck pulled up next to the restaurant. There was yelling and banging but it didn’t seem to be directed at us. Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I looked at John for my cue. He kept working seemingly unfazed so I did too, though much less believable in my effort. We bagged up the cups and walked out of the dumpster area back to our car without so much as a look from the men unloading the trucks. Once we pulled out of the parking lot I exhaled.

We went to 4 other restaurants that night, one had already been cleared of the greasy loot, another was emptied of all trash, but the other two filled a couple more bags for us. We started at 2 AM and John dropped me off at 4:30 AM tired but too excited to sleep. I had 3 hours of sleep before we left and an hour and a half after we were finished but I wasn’t too tired. I’ve had shorter nights before and with the baby coming there will be shorter nights to come.

We got about 150 cups on the night and had a good conversation or two about family, racism, faith, and the future. A great night of adventure with a side of frozen fries.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

17 weeks and counting.....

Some time around May 22, 2006 there will be a marked difference in the make-up of my immediate family. Kate is pregnant, 17 weeks along and doing well by all accounts. We had our third appointment last week, the first one I have gone to, and we heard a loud, steady heartbeat coming somewhere in the vicinity of Kate’s growing belly. In early January we will have an ultra-sound where we will hopefully learn the gender but in the mean while Kate is doing very good. Pregnancy agrees with her as she has looked so beautiful the past couple of weeks. More to come to be sure…..

Monday, December 19, 2005

There and back in 54 hours

Would you spend 22 hours driving in the span of a little over 2 days just so you could have breakfast with your Sister and Dinner with your Mom? The McGrails would and did this past weekend and I was fortunate to come along for the ride.

We left Cicero, Indiana at 4:30 Friday night and headed west to join up with Tom’s Brothers Tim and Dan and their families to give their Mother a special Christmas/Birthday present. This mother, Grandma Weezie, lives on the Western edge of Iowa in Sioux City some 676 miles away. We loaded the Van with blankets and presents, cranked up the heat and hit the road. It was a balmy 18 degrees when we left but the skies and the roads were clear. We made it to Aunt Barb’s (Kris’s Sister) house in Des Moines, IA a little before Midnight and I went straight to bed. Early morning coffee and cards were the faire as we chatted and laughed and planned the next leg of the trip. Barb made us breakfast and we were back on the road by 11 for the far shorter second leg.

After a quick 3 hour jaunt we were in the childhood home of Kate’s parents and therefore were treated to a tour of old houses, missing schools, and fuzzy memories. “This didn’t used to be here”, “so and so lived here” “no she lived over here”. It is a real joy to see where people came from and to watch their faces as they glance over houses that have shrunk with time. After the short trip down memory lane we pulled into Tom’s boyhood home and quickly unloaded the van and sat in the living room that time forgot to catch up.

It has been longer then anyone could remember since Dan, Tom and Tim had all been home together with the incredible woman that raised them after their Father had died. They have all been together at weddings and graduations but not Home, not with Mom, not together, not for a while. Seeing these three brothers together is like watching an elaborate dance of deference. Each is more proud of the other and they absolutely beam when telling the tales of how great the other is. “Tom is Vice President now” says Dan, “But Tim just got back from Germany where he resolved the safety feud” says Tom, “Oh but Dan, he has lost his sight and recovered it all the while still teaching kids” As the dance was winding down we passed out gifts and watched as Grandma Weezie opened her grass skirt with wide eyed bewilderment. Next she opened her lei and was even more confused. She modeled both and gave us an impromptu hula that had us all rolling on the floor. Finally she opened the ticket to Hawaii with eyes as wide as any 6 year old getting a new bike. “Oh wow, really?” she said as clutched the ticket to her chest. “There’s one more thing mom, is it OK if we all go?” A family reunion in Hawaii for the 80th birthday of a remarkable woman.

After Church the next morning we set back out on the road to make the trip in reverse. Sioux City to Des Moines, Des Moines to Cicero, a stop for lunch with Barb and Marv and a lot of mile markers passed. We made it back home Sunday night a little after 10 PM, weary but warmed to the soul by a wonderful trip.

Here’s the math:

22 hours of travel
17 hours of sleep
15 hours of visiting
54 hours total
1353 miles traveled

Not bad for a McGrail weekend

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Friday: Work and Charis

After the snow on Thursday a number of people didn’t make it into work on Friday morning. Apparently only the Cali boy could make his way through the treacherous streets and arrive at work early! Well because of all the people out I was asked to work late and ended up doing an 8 AM to 9 PM shift that was much busier then it should have been. With only myself and another co-worker taking the calls that usually 9 or 10 people would cover we were moving from issue to issue like Meet the Press on speed. While grabbing a bite to eat I got a call from my friend Charis and she said she was on her way from NC to MT and asked if she could stay with Kate and I for the night. With that Charis became the first guest that Kate and I have had stay in our house for the night. Earlier this year I was thinking about who would be the first and with promised trips from my parents, my brother, my aunt, my best friend I had the odds of Charis being the first right up there with Ron Artest getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Well look out Stockholm Ronnie is coming to town.

Thursday: Snow

As many of you already experienced or heard we had 7 inches of snow here in Indy this past Thursday. I left work at 4 PM to head 2 miles to the Castelton Mall to meet Kate and Kris for dinner. It had been snowing hard for about two hours at this point and Traffice was backed up heading in every direction. It took me a little less then two hours to drive those two miles and I saw about three accidents and one near miss. One car, a mini van like mine, thought he would be cute and drive in the middle turn lane on the left and move up in line. He tried to pull back in front of me but that was not going to happen. He waved at me, I waved back, he started to pull in, I shook my head no, he put up his arms, I bumped his car and smiled that loving “I will freaking ram your car back into the snow bank before I let you in” look and he backed up. Later on my trip another car tried to speeding up on the left turn lane only to find he could not stop as quickly in the building snow. He slid into on coming traffic and narrowly missed two cars before stopping in the ditch on the other side of the road. All I could do was shake my head and pray that people would not be stupid around me. After dinner Kate and I made our way home and by the morning the major roads had been cleared enough for me to make it to work just fine.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Welcome to our home!

Kate and I have a couple of new guests living in our house and they are both named Art, help me welcome the first one
from the brushes of Kyle Ragsdale

Monday, December 05, 2005

"If you can't spot the sucker within 20 minutes of sitting at the table then the sucker is you"

This past Saturday night after work I played poker with a couple guys in the neighborhood. 4 guys, $20 to start, nickel, dime, quarter chips, nickel ante, dealer calls game. Simple enough math even for me. Somehow I stumbled the one block back home over icy sidewalks with nary a dime in my pocket. How did this happen?

Of the other 3 guys playing one was an OK player and the other two needed the games explained to them repeatedly. One had a chart in front of him listing the hands which anyone who has lost to Kendra knows is a particularly stinging beat. Things started off smooth with a couple of games of 5 card stud. Small bets and hands of two pair taking the first pots. The chatter was typical guys playing cards with no women around and therefore can not be repeated in this forum. I won a pot or two early and felt like I had an early read on the players at the table. Then I tried to be cute by seeing if I could bluff the guys by not taking any cards in a game of 5 card draw. It worked on two but the other guy made his flush to the ace and so I got unlucky. After that I kept winning small pots and losing the big ones, always a bad scenario. You feel like your doing well but your stack is shrinking like the rain forests.

While we are playing we are also enjoying some tasty mixture of tonic and vodka. I’m not sure what these are called but they agreed with me tremendously. After 2 or 3 of these adult beverages and a particularly bad beat in 7 card stud when I my full house was trumped by one that was a bit fuller I started to notice the alcohol becoming acquainted with my blood stream. The embraced like old friends and immediately started dancing through my body in an effort to see as much as they could before the night was over. After a couple more hands and enumerable inappropriate jokes there was introduced to our table a peach beverage with Chinese writing on it. Had I known that this bottle was to be my undoing that night I would have stayed away, but hind sight is always 20/20 and fore sight was in the low hundreds for me that night. I had a shot of the smooth peach beverage and then lost the rest of my money in 3 successive hands. I was then given a bigger portion of the peach beverage as consolation as well as a couple dollars in chips to play out the night with.

To add insult to injury the host then brought out his collection of Jones Soda Holiday pack and we took a shot of everything from Turkey and Gravy to Pecan Pie. Seemed like a fine idea at the time but again looking back that was pretty gross. At about 2:30 we decided to count up the money and call it a night. I had turned the couple of bucks into $16 but gave it back to the guy who fronted me. I grabbed my coat and found me hat, hit the door in seconds flat and made my way stumbling and sliding across a sheet of ice on the sidewalk. I crossed the street to my side and then zig zagged the half block to stop sign and then half more to my house. I didn’t fall once, a point I only make because of the sheer miracle of it. Came into the house to meet an angry Kate and spent the rest of the night in the bathroom as my body had a disagreement with the alcohol and so everyone had to leave.

Not a good night, not good at all.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Feels like its cold, that what it feels like

I am being introduced to a new weather term here that I was previously unfamiliar with in Sunny Southern California. The weather report has a current temp followed by a feels like temp. Yesterday morning it said 21* feels like 9*. Right now it is 30* feels like 20*. There are two things that I enjoy about this new math. First the current temp means nothing to me, only the feels like temp. What do I care what is really happening, I am only concerned with it feels like. How very relative it all is huh? The other thing that is funny to me is that after a certain point the numbers don't mean anything to me any more. Really once we get into the teens there isn't any difference between 19 and 3 for me, it is just really really cold outside and I want to go inside by a fire and have a hot chocolate with a little splash of Bailey's in it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Beautiful Mind

It is quite possible my beautiful wife is in the early stages of losing her mind. I haven’t seen the research lately but I think 23 is still a little early for all this but the evidence is building up as it relates to coffee. First let me point out two things for you: 1. Kate is very intelligent and learns rather quickly. 2. Kate has worked at a coffee house and is quite adept at mixing mochas and frothing latt├ęs.

Right then, a couple of weeks ago Kate got up with me, at what Robin so lovingly calls the crack of butt, and told me that she would make the coffee while I jumped in to the shower. I confess that it was early and I was tired so it was more of a step then a jump but cleanliness was achieved so we will let that one slide. Once I dried and dressed I poured myself a cup of cold coffee. Cold? Why is the coffee cold Kate? Did you clean the old coffee out of the pot before making the fresh stuff? No worries, I downed my cool cup a’ joe and was out the door.

Last week Kate was again getting up with me but this time she made sure to clean the pot of old cold coffee, she cleaned the filter of the dry used grounds, and she filled the maker with crisp clear water and set the pot to brewing. After my shower and quick bowl of Chex I made my way to the pot with paper in hand and browsed the box scores while pouring the morning elixir into my travel mug. The thing about fresh coffee is that permeating aroma that flirts with your nose and coaxes you to drink. There was no coaxing aroma. I also love the chocolate brown color that reflects a little on the top as you pour the cream in and stir like an artist muting his palette. What looked back at me was more of a clear greenish brown that evokes no sense of art and aroma. Kate did you put coffee grounds into the pot this morning? Storming back to bed Kate told me to make my own damn coffee then!

It’s a good thing she’s beautiful, that’s all I can say.

(I can’t tell you how much trouble I am going to get in for this post)