Ups and Downs

Most of the time, I don’t really think about elevators.

I ride them everyday.  I use them almost exclusively when they are available since I stopped having knees a few years ago.  I get on them and I get off of them, but I don’t think about them much . . . until I do.

Today I got off of the elevator at work and was almost knocked over by somebody getting on the elevator.  That is not even nearly the first time that has happened to me.  Why does that happen?  Why do people getting on an elevator always seem shocked that people are getting off it?  Are these people surprised when a car moves through the intersection in front of them?  Do they feel some sort of exclusivity with the elevator?

A few times people have actually gotten on the elevator before I could get off.  Where does that come from?  Once in Japan I watched people in the back of an elevator get stuck because too many people were getting on and they couldn’t make it to the front.  I watched from the safety of the lobby as the door closed and the people in the back went for an additional lap on the elevator track.

There’s actually an elevator etiquette . . . an unwritten list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that are to be observed when riding an elevator.  For instance . . . ‘do’ get on the elevator and position yourself as far from your fellow passenger or passengers as geometrically possible.  That means you should not get on an elevator and stand right in middle.  Nobody wants you up in their business on the elevator.

Talking to people on an elevator is a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’ depending on who you talk to.  I generally go with not.  That’s just me.  I work in a small building in a small town that I have lived in for more than 30 years.  I know people.  I will make small talk in my elevator in my building.  Outside that zone I am pretty quiet.  I am well aware that at my age it is very easy to cross the border from ‘Friendly Middle-Aged Man’ to ‘Creepy Old Man’.  The border is fluid and can be crossed quickly and without warning.  I just keep quiet and stay on my side of the border.  If talked to I will talk back, but I try not to inflict myself on people in confined spaces.

There is a curious task-assignment thing going on in elevators.  Apparently the first person on becomes the de facto elevator operator.  People who get on afterward then call out the floor number for the operator to push.  This requires the first person on the elevator to position themselves by the panel with all the buttons.  It is a minor breach of etiquette to go to the back if you are the first and lean against the back of the car.  Not usually a big deal because there always seems to be somebody who is willing to take up those duties.  All elevator operator etiquette goes out the window if you have kids under 12 with you.  Few things bring enjoyment into a child’s life the way pushing the elevator buttons do.  My boys have had fist fights over who gets to push buttons.  I went so long with having to push an elevator button that I have occasionally stood alone in an elevator for an embarrassingly long time waiting for a child who isn’t there to push the button.

A big ‘don’t’ I see sometimes violated pertains to social interaction.  A few years ago I was in a hotel elevator with a few people.  A young man was talking to a young lady.  After a few floors two things became obvious:  1.  They didn’t know each other.  2.  The young lady was very interested in maintaining the integrity of item 1.  We watched in embarrassed silence as he asked . . . I swear . . . if she had a map.  Yes . . . he said it . . . because when he looked in her eyes he got lost.  It hurt to watch.  As the elevator stopped at the lobby he stood in doorway and said that he would not let her off until she gave him her phone number.  I leaned against the back wall of the carriage and prepared to ride back up.  If it would help her not to give him her phone number I was prepared to stay on the elevator for as long as it took.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Her look and the fact that half a dozen people wanted off the elevator convinced him to move.  People aren’t in an elevator because they want to be and misplaced romantic endeavors aren’t enough make them want to stay.

Like I said, I don’t think about elevators much.  Apparently when I do I have a lot to say.  Don’t even get me started on escalators.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.






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Getting in the mood again

Hi, remember me?  I used to write the occasional blog post on this site.  It’s been awhile . . . like really awhile.  I’m not really sure why I stopped.  I guess it was a combination of reasons, but mostly it had to do with just not having a lot to say anymore.

That is common in this game and with this genre.  I still keep up with all my old blogging resources and recently read that a lot of bloggers in the ‘Family’ genre tend to taper off eventually.  There were many reasons listed in the article.  The reason that jumped out at me was that as kids get older they get more aware of the fact that you are sharing things about them on the internet and they aren’t always thrilled about that.  That hit home.

It is a fact that blogging about your family becomes a different game when your kids learn to read and access the internet.  About 18 months ago my middle son, Charlie, got very upset with me for sharing details about his life.  He was upset because in several blogs I referenced the fact that he has a learning disability and struggles with academics.  He wanted to why I thought it was appropriate to share those things.

“Why do you do that?”, he asked.

I thought for a second.  We were driving and I waited until the next stop light to answer.

“Because you are my hero,” I said.  That wasn’t what he was expecting to hear.

“You are my hero,” I repeated.  “School is a struggle for you and you still try.”  I pressed the accelerator and moved through the green light.

“Do you remember when you were having such a hard time with spelling a few years ago?”, I asked.  He nodded.

“You studied and studied and got a 77 on the test.”

He smiled one of those Charlie smiles.  “Yeah, I was pumped.  That was best I ever did on a spelling test.”  He smiled again.  “I danced in the back seat of the car.”

“I wrote a blog post about that,” I told him.

“I think it is important for people to know that school isn’t easy for everybody and sometimes the grade on the paper doesn’t reflect how hard a person works to get that grade,” I explained.  “You have to work twice as hard in some cases for the results that you want . . . but you do it.”

He thought about that for awhile.  He looked at me again.  I figured that was my cue.

“I think people should know that learning is a struggle for some people and that grades don’t always reflect effort.”  We came to another stop light.  “When I talk about your learning disability I try to focus on how hard you work to overcome it . . . and how you kick its ass.”

More Charlie smiles.  A few weeks later Charlie told me that he thought it might be okay to mention him in my blogs.

Even with that endorsement, the blogs didn’t start flowing.  Like I said, there are lots of possible reasons.  It was a lot more than grouchy kids.  If I am completely honest, I guess it boils down to one factor . . . I didn’t feel like it anymore.  Until recently.

I have been rereading some old posts.  Mostly when the links come up in my memories on Facebook.  Over that last few months I have felt some writing urges.  I have started thinking in blogging terms; putting things as they happen in the framework of how I would describe them in writing.  I think it is time.

So every so often I will be back in this space filling you in on what is happening with my family.  I have lots of things to talk about.  Lots of things have happened since I stepped away from the blog.  I think this time I will change focus a little.  There will probably not be as much intimate discussion regarding the boys.  I will talk more about travel and leisure I will hit relevant topics and still try to share what’s going on with my family.  We will just get started and see what happens.

Thanks for reading and we will be back soon on This Side of the Diaper (seriously . . . like for real . . . I promise).






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Veterans Day and stuff . . .

I haven’t been writing a lot lately.  The TSOTD cupboard has been pretty bare for the last few months.  It’s not that I don’t like writing anymore . . . I am still as passionate about that as I ever was.  I think the blog is going through an identity crises or sorts.  My subject has always been my family . . . specifically my two younger sons.  They’ve gotten a bit older and they aren’t so sure that they want their stories, even from my perspective, splashed all over the internet.  I understand their feelings.

So I am looking for new directions and subjects to stay vital and entertaining.  It is a work in progress.  I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, a friend and follower asked me to reprint this Veterans’ Day Post from a few years ago.  I am glad to do so.  It is one of my favorites.

Happy Veterans’ Day to all my old comrades in arms.  This day is for you.  Enjoy it.


From November 2015

Veterans Day

I am a veteran.  Of this I am fiercely proud.  I didn’t walk around in my uniform for 25 years constantly thinking about how I was providing security for my nation and  its citizens.  To me, it was my chosen profession; a path not everybody takes.  I was, and am, proud that what I did had meaning and importance and relevance.  When I joined the Air Force, the military was not necessarily considered the best route to take for a young person.  It was a different time.  In 1982 we were less than 10 years removed from the Vietnam War and the mixed national emotions and divisiveness that it spawned.  A lot of us joined for financial and fiscal reasons . . . but some of us stayed because we loved what we were doing and what it meant.

My father was a veteran as well.  Air Force . . . same as me.  My relationship with my Dad was . . . let’s say complicated.  We went years with little contact.  There were reasons.  They will stay between me and him for now, but they were real.  The Air Force and our service was something we shared and something that should have been common ground for us, but that never happened.  We were never able to establish ourselves as fellow veterans.  I understood what it meant to serve, but I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a veteran.  It took an old man in a khaki windbreaker to help me understand what being a veteran means.

I was preparing to deploy to Guam with my Air National Guard unit in late January 2002 when my brother called and told me that Dad had a stroke.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  My colleagues were literally pushing my airplane out of the hangar for launch.  I was an aircraft mechanic assigned as a crew chief on one of the aircraft taking us to Guam.  I was talking to Dad on the phone in our break room as they pushed the plane out.  He urged me to go “do what you’ve got to do”.  He assured me that he was fine.  I picked up my flight bag and got on my plane.  A week after we set up operations in Guam, I was on a night shift and decided to call my son, Parker, to say good morning before he went to school.  His mom answered the phone.  “Oh my God,” she said.  “I can’t believe you called.  I just got off the phone with your aunt.”  She hesitated.  “Your Dad had another stroke. It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

The rest of the next week happened in a blur.  I told my Flight Chief, who happened to be a close friend.  He found me an open phone in a quiet spot.  I made phone calls and started making arrangements.  My brothers were en route to Ohio where Dad lived.  My youngest brother is a registered nurse and he gave it to me straight.  Dad wasn’t going to get any better.  We agreed that they wouldn’t wait for me to get there to turn off life support. Later that same morning I was on a civilian flight through Tokyo to Seattle.  At SEATAC I called my brother and learned that Dad was gone.  I decided to go home to Fairbanks before heading to North Carolina for the funeral.

I got to North Carolina two days later.  The funeral was well-attended and just what Dad would have wanted.  On a display table near his urn was an American flag folded into a display case and Dad’s service ribbons.  Among them was his Vietnam Service Ribbon and campaign stars.  I looked at them for a long time.  Toward the end of the ceremony, my brothers made a point of giving me the American flag in the triangular display case.  “We figured that you would like to have this,” my brother told me.  He smiled at me.  “It seems appropriate.”

I left a few days later and took my Dad’s flag with me.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but the lady at the airline counter said there would be no problem taking it as a carry on.  I got on the flight from Greensboro to Chicago with no problem.  At O’Hare, I had to get my bags and check in for my flight to Alaska at the counter.  Again, the lady at the counter urged me to carry the flag on the airplane.  I took my flag and headed for the security checkpoint.  This was just a few months after the September 11th attacks and airport security was still in a state of flux, especially in big hubs like O’Hare.  Airport personnel were still manning the security points and armed National Guardsmen were providing security.

I approached the checkpoint and put all my belongings on the x-ray machine conveyor belt.  An elderly man in a khaki windbreaker and a blue hat that proclaimed he was a World War II veteran in gold letters was in line in front of me with his wife.  The hat listed the Division he was assigned to.  I am not sure I remember correctly, but think it was the 9th Infantry Division.  He looked at the flag on the conveyor and then looked at me.  His sharp grey eyes softened a bit behind his thick glasses.

“Where did you get the flag, son?”  His voice was clear and direct, yet compassionate.  He knew where I got it.

“From my father’s funeral,” I said.  He smiled at me.

“I figured.  I am very sorry.”  He exhaled deeply and looked at me again, like he was doing math.  “Korea?  Vietnam?”

“Vietnam,” I answered.  “Nha Trang 65-66.”

He put his hand on my back.  “He’s one us, son,”  he told me.  “I have seen a lot of those over the years.  He’s with friends now.”  He hugged me.

“Walter, why are hugging this young man?,” his wife said behind him.  He turned to his wife and explained that I recently lost my father who was a veteran.  She hugged me too.  It was their turn to go through the checkpoint.    I followed and was patted down.  I moved to pick up my belongings.  There was a problem.

“Is this yours?”  A man in a maroon sports coat was holding my flag box.  I nodded.  “Could you open this up, please?  We have to look in it.”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  Open my flag display?  “I didn’t have to open it in Greensboro.”

“Well, we aren’t in Greensboro,” he said.  I didn’t like the tone or implications.  “We have to look in every closed container.”

“Can I just take the back off of it?  Then you can look in it.”  I was getting a little panicky.  Opening that flag case seemed a whole lot like opening my father’s casket.  I know that sounds weird, but I really didn’t want to unfold the flag.

“That flag basically came off of his father’s casket and you want him to unfold it to see if there is a bomb in it?”  My quick take on Walter was that he didn’t talk around a point.

The man in the sport coat looked around.  “We have to look in any closed container,” he repeated.  A crowd gathered behind me and the commotion got the attention of two armed National Guardsman who were providing security.  The made their way over.

“That just doesn’t seem right to me,” Walter said.  “You can’t just go digging through a man’s funeral flag.”  Somebody behind him agreed.

The man started to undo the fasteners on the back of the display case.  Somebody else objected.  He looked at one of the soldiers.  “Can you open this and unfold it please?”

The soldier looked at him.  “No,” he replied.  “If your x-ray machine didn’t find anything, then there isn’t anything.  I knew the soldier’s opinion didn’t matter much, the two were in different chains of command.  However, I appreciated the support.

I looked at the man at the security checkpoint.  My hands were shaking when I took the case from him and worked each fastener.  I gently took the flag out and showed it to the man.  He reached over and opened each fold, causing it to open completely in my hands.  I looked at him as he searched through the flag.  He saw me looking at him.  “I really am very sorry,” he said.  I nodded.  He was just doing his job.  These were troubled times.

I took my bags and my flag and case and moved through the line.  Walter and his wife were waiting for me.  My throat hurt and my eyes burned.  “Give it to me,” he said.

I handed him the flag.  he draped it over his arm and turned to the soldier who had followed me.  They each took an end of the flag and stretched it between them.  The other soldier snapped to attention and presented arms with his rifle.  Walter and the soldier folded the flag in half lengthwise and then again.  Then Walter began deftly folding the flag in a perfect triangle.  Behind me people were standing straighter.  Hats were removed and hands were placed over hearts.  Walter finished the series of triangular folds with a field of blue covered with white stars on the top.  He carefully adjusted the creases and then took the flag and held it to he chest.  The years had melted off of him and he seemed to stand straighter and taller.  His grey eyes kept their gleam and direct gaze as he approached me with the flag.  He placed the flag back in the container.  He looked me in the eyes again.  “I present this flag on behalf of a grateful nation  . . . ” I didn’t cry much when my Dad died . . . until then.

Walter and his wife group hugged me just like nobody was watching.  I tried to thank him.  “Don’t mention it son . . . that wasn’t the first time I’ve done that.”  His wife placed an arm around his waist.  She smiled at me and reminded Walter they had a flight to get to.  We hugged again and went toward our separate gates.  I shook hands with the soldiers and went to find a bar.

I had a lot of time to think while I waited for my flight.  I knew what it meant to serve in an active capacity, but I didn’t know anything about being a veteran until that moment.  It would take some thinking, but I was getting it.  Being a veteran is a common thread of dedication and service that binds generations together.  Walter didn’t know anything about my father except that for a time in his life he served his country.  I could have told Walter all about the issues my father and I had, but it wouldn’t have kept him from folding his flag.  Walter knew all he needed to know about my Dad.  I get that now.

Today that refolded flag is displayed in its case next to a similarly displayed flag.  The other one was my wife’s father’s funeral flag.  He served in the Navy JAG Corps in the early 1970s.  Walter didn’t know anything about my wife’s father, but I am sure it wouldn’t have mattered.  He would have folded my father-in-law’s flag too.  It’s part of being a veteran.

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served our country.  Your dedication and service is appreciated.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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Laundry troubles

I hate laundry.  Hate. It.  Really.

I love wearing clean laundry and I don’t completely loathe taking it downstairs to the laundry room.  I can tolerate putting it in the washing machine . . . and drying it only sucks moderately.  It’s the whole folding thing I despise.

I don’t know why I hate it so much.  I ignore it and pretend it isn’t in baskets in the laundry room.  I put off folding it and putting it away until the boys are down to last season’s Christmas pajamas and I am two-daying my socks.  Then I suck it up and fold it. Sometimes my wife gets tired of digging for clothes or takes mercy on me and does it. She is not obligated because as unlikely as it would seem, I take full responsibility for laundry . . . even when Eli’s belly is sticking out from under last year’s Santa jammies.

It has been suggested that perhaps I don’t wait until we are low on clothes to wash them. That isn’t the issue.  I regularly empty hampers and do loads of wash.  The next suggestion was that I fold them in small batches so it doesn’t take a long time.  To me that is like choosing between two mandatory forms of torture; A medium poke in the eye every day of my life or one big poke every three weeks or so.  No brainer for me.  When in doubt – procrastinate.

My hatred of laundry goes back a long time.  I did laundry during my single days in the service because I was forced too.  I also found out that pretty girls did their laundry in the barracks laundry room.  I also found that sometimes pretty girls found it charming when a guy didn’t know how to do his laundry . . . and they would help . . . and strike up conversations.  It stopped working after awhile and started looking pathetic . . . probably long before I realized that it started looking pathetic.

Eventually, I started just buying new clothes instead of washing the old ones.  When I got married and moved out of the barracks, I had over 60 sets of under garments.  I really hate laundry.

It would help a little if I could get the boys to put their own laundry away.  We’ve tried. Eli just lapses into tears and wails that nobody will ever help him do anything . . . ever. Crying is his only real defense and it is remarkably effective.  He works in tears and sobs the way other masters work in oils or pastels.  Charlie has a different method.  He takes all his clothes downstairs and dumps them in his closet.  Then he wears the same clothes all week.  I frequently get folded clothes in his laundry hamper at the end of the week.  He panics because he doesn’t have the requisite amount of clothes in his hamper so he grabs the clean clothes out of the closet and puts them in his hamper.  He will insist that he wore the shirts and shorts and pants . . . but it is really hard to explain the folded-into-a-pair socks in his hamper.

So . . . generally I put the clothes away as well.  That is a little less sucky.  At least with my wife and Eli, I generally know where to put the clothes.  They each have designated drawers for each variety of garment.  I am not 100 percent accurate, but close enough that I don’t get a lot of complaints.  Charlie is on his own.  His room scares me.

The boys will sometimes help, but that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Up until a few years ago, Eli liked to try on all our clothes when putting them away.  It was a little funny but not nearly worth refolding the clothes.  Charlie pretty much stays away when I am folding or putting away my wife’s clothes.  He helped once and accidentally picked up a pair of his mother’s underwear that weren’t exactly granny panties.  He looked at them for a moment with a confused look on his face.  Then he realized what they were.  He dropped them shrieked and was stricken with blindness.  He soon regained his ability to speak, but his vision was fuzzy for awhile.

Recently Eli was in our room with us while we were putting away laundry.  My underwear wardrobe is pretty mundane and predictable.  Boxers or boxer briefs.  Plaid or plain mostly.  My underwear pile tipped over on our bed and Eli looked through them. He picked up a pair.  Apparently in a moment of nostalgia a while back I picked up a few pairs of old-school briefs.  You know . . . the old tighty whities.  Except in deference to fashion and style I opted for black.  ‘Tighty blackies’ just doesn’t ring enough to catch on.

Curiously Eli unfolded my underwear.  He smiled at me.  “Are these yours, Dad?”  I nodded.  I wasn’t sure where he was going with that.  He held up the briefs.  “Are your sure these aren’t mom’s?”

“I’m sure.”

“They look like mom’s underwear.”

“No they don’t,” I said defensively.  “They are briefs.”

He was unconvinced.  “Mom are these yours?”  His mother replied with a raised eyebrow.

Eli laughed, “DAD WEARS GIRL ROOS!”  (Roos are what we call underwear around our house.  It is a shortening of Underroos, I brand of kids underwear sold years ago.)

“Elijah, those are not girls underwear,” I said reasonably.  I could see this getting out of hand.

He held them up displaying how obviously girl they were.

“They are briefs . . . the type that I wore years ago.”

“DAD WEARS GIRL ROOS!” Now he was standing on the bed and waving them over his head.

“Elijah . . . those are briefs . . .”

He was not the least bit interested in the underwear of yesteryear or anything else I had to say.  He jumped down and ran down the hall.  “DAD WEARS GIRL ROOS!”  Of course I chased him yelling “I DON’T WEAR GIRL ROOS!’ because no argument is more persuasive than one made to a seven-year-old while chasing him.  I went back to the bedroom defeated and continued to put away clothes.  Eli was downstairs now proclaiming to the dogs that I wore girl underwear.  My wife did me the courtesy of not laughing out loud, but her eyes were watering a little bit.

So I really hate laundry.   I can’t not do it.  My wife has tons on her plate so I am the logical choice.  Ironically enough, she has no issues with folding laundry . . . she says she finds it relaxing.  Of course nobody runs around the house waving her underwear . . . I mean not anymore  . . . That’s another blog post.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Hope your summer is shaping up to be everything you want.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.






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Oh Brother . . .

I stood in the kitchen this afternoon tidying up with Eli, our seven-year-old.  Mornings are hectic here and we don’t always leave it as clean as we should.

Charlie was downstairs ‘cleaning his room’.  I put that in quotes because I have never really seen any identifiable results of these afternoon cleanings.  His room perpetually looks like a Detroit Lions equipment truck crashed into a Crate and Barrel store through the bedding section.

“Eli!” Charlie called from downstairs.  “Do you want to come play XBox with me?”

I was intrigued.  Charlie is deep in the throws of being 12.  As a result he usually likes nobody . . . ever.  He has perfected the eye roll and shoulder droop of his pubescent people . . . you know them . . . the grouchy, hormone besot tweens that almost all children become.  For awhile now one of the least tolerable people on the planet has been his little brother.

Eli looked at me.  He was suspicious . . . “What are we going to play?” He asked.

Charlie answered from downstairs “Whatever you want.”

Eli narrowed his eyes in suspicion.   “Is this a trap?”

“No!” Charlie answered . . . “Well . . . maybe.”

“Ok,” Eli answered cheerfully “I’ll be right down!”

I wasn’t really surprised.  The coolest person on Earth, to Eli, is his big brother.  Ironically this fact is one of the things that Charlie finds infuriating.  One of the problems is Eli rarely says “Hey Charlie, you are the coolest guy ever.”  Instead he manifests his admiration by emulating and copying everything that Charlie does.  This seems to irritate Charlie like a wool jock strap.

Another reason for their friction is that they come at life from different perspectives.  Eli is the more intellectual and introspective of the two.  I am not saying that Charlie is not sensitive, or somehow less intelligent.  Neither of those are even remotely true.  I am just saying that Charlie has never overthought anything . . . Ever.  Eli could overthink falling down the stairs.

A good example of this difference came up last weekend.  We bought the boys new bikes. Charlie got a nice 12 speed mountain bike and Eli got his first real two wheeler with no training wheels.  It was time for Eli to learn to ride a bike.

Teaching Charlie how to ride a bike was easy . . . I mean like we didn’t have to teach him. When he was about Eli’s age we took the training wheels off his bike and gave it to him. He crashed three or four times in the driveway.  Forty five minutes later I stepped out on the deck just in time to see him hurtling down the hill on the gravel road in front of our house.  He sped down the hill and into the cul-de-sac and crashed into our neighbor’s truck. He was lucky.  If he missed the truck he would have flown off the end of the road and down the hill into the power line easement.

Charlie lay flat on his back next to the truck.  After a few seconds he jumped up and began riding his bike back up the hill.  “I’m gonna try using my brakes this time!” He yelled.  No regrets and no overthinking.

I knew teaching Eli would be different.  I took Eli into the cul-de-sac with his bike.  He put on his helmet and mounted up. Charlie rode his new bike around and pretended not to watch.  I stood behind Eli and gave him a quick pep talk.

“Are you ready buddy?”

“Should I go pee first?”

“No,” I answered.  “I don’t think so.”

“What if I have to go while I am pedaling?”

“I don’t think you are going to be pedaling long enough for that to be an issue.”


“Never mind. Ready?”

“Are my shoes tied?”

“They are Velcro.”

“Ok,” he said.  “Ready!”

I gave him a push and sent him on his way.  I can’t run all that well so I jogged a few yards and let him go.  He pedaled twice, veered to his right and crashed into the ditch.

I walked over to see if he was ok.  He got up and climbed out of the ditch.  “Well I can’t ride a bike, apparently,” he said. “Too bad. Guess I’ll have to ride a scooter.”

“Seriously, Eli?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said earnestly.  “I know how to ride a scooter.”

“You can’t stop after one try,” I reasoned.  “You have to get back on and try again.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because you won’t get good at something unless you keep trying.”

He looked at his bicycle.  “I’m ok with just riding a scooter.”

I stared down at him.  “Get your bike.”

“Fine!” he said as performed a seven-year-old imitation of his big brother’s tween slouch walk.  We kept trying for a little while.  Soon he was going 10 or 15 feet before he crashed into the ditch.   He has this thing that makes him go right all the time.  We’ll work on that.  Charlie watched the whole episode from across the cul-de-sac with a pained expression.  He didn’t say much except for the occasional sympathetic “Ouch!”.

As Eli and I walked back up the driveway towards the house, Charlie joined us.  “It’s ok, Eli,” he said.  “It takes a little while to get the hang of it.”  He put his arm around Eli’s tired and battered shoulders.  I smiled at him over Eli.  Sometimes Charlie snaps out of it long enough to be a pretty decent big brother.

“I’ll never get the hang of it,” Eli said.  “It’s hard.”  I walked behind the boys a little bit as we neared the house.  They were having a moment and they didn’t need me around to have it.

“It’s kinda hard,” Charlie agreed, “but you were getting better there towards the end.”

“Really?” Eli asked, beaming an appreciative smile up at his brother.

“Really,” Charlie answered.  “In fact, that second to the last try only sucked a little bit.”

Eli smiled broadly.  “Thanks, Charlie!”

Charlie smiled down at Eli as the boys walked up to the house.  I have two brothers so I know that the language and actions of fraternal love and affection are not always easily decipherable.  Brothers speak to each other in terms that outsiders, even their parents, don’t understand.  I thought a bit and realized that my two younger boys are constantly talking to each other.  I just don’t always like they way they do it, but they are always talking . . . always together.  Sometimes as their Dad I feel like I have to help them figure things out.  Sometimes that is true, but sometimes I just get in the way.  These two have a relationship that is to be envied in a lot of ways . . . even if it isn’t always apparent or understandable.  They have it figured out.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  I know it’s been awhile between posts, but sometimes life gets in the way of things we would rather be doing.  We also started a new family travel blog at This Side of Travel.  Give it a look.

We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.



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Never forget . . . Scott Johnson, Gabe Rich, Allen Brandt

It’s amazing how quickly time flies.  You blink and things change.  We move on and push forward.  But there are many things in our lives that we should not forget . . . many people that shouldn’t get lost as we move on with our lives.  Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich are two of those people.

These two Alaska State Troopers were murdered in Tanana in the line of duty May 1, 2014.  I published a blog post shortly after.  I decided that reposting it now was appropriate.  Unfortunately since then the Fairbanks Police Department lost Sergeant Allen Brandt in the line of duty.  Please remember these men and their families in your prayers.

Broken Hearts in the Golden Heart City

Originally Posted May 8, 2014

I am going to traffic court on Monday and I feel petty and small.  I feel that way because I am going to argue that the Alaska State Trooper who issued me the ticket didn’t take into account that the roads were icy and some other details that seem unimportant now.  The details don’t seem as important because on Saturday I will attend a memorial service for two of his fellow Troopers who were shot and killed in the line of duty last week.

Somehow, I am not feeling as zealous about exercising my rights and disputing the ticket so much now.  It doesn’t really seem important.  What is important is that on May 1, 2014 Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich responded to a call in the village of Tanana, about 130 miles from Fairbanks.  While apprehending a suspect in an assault case, the suspects  19-year-old son allegedly shot them a total of seven times in the back.  In a moment two men were dead and a community was devastated.

We live in Fairbanks, Alaska.  It is a small town.  The kind of small where you know or know of almost everybody.  I knew of Trooper Rich and Sergeant Johnson.  I knew of Trooper Rich because my oldest son, Parker, played football against him in high school.  That particular chronological fact is sobering to me in and of itself.  We also knew him as a standout hockey player.  Parker’s mother worked at the local Alaska State Trooper Detachment for more than 20 years.  As a result, Parker is well known among the troopers.  Parker remembers Sergeant Johnson as friendly, smiling man who let him play with his working dog.  Like I said, Fairbanks is small.

Community feelings about law enforcement are complicated.  We hate seeing the lights in our rearview mirrors but when we are hurt or scared or lost they are about a pair of wings away from being angels.  In Fairbanks, we tend to be individualists who cherish our rights and mind our own business.  We also take care of our own.  These troopers were ours.  Sergeant Johnson was born in Tok, Alaska just up the highway, and spent his entire 20-year career with the troopers in Fairbanks.  Trooper Rich moved here when he was young and was basically raised here.  They were part of our community before they were police officers.  They were friends and neighbors.  They were raising families here.  Sergeant Johnson leaves a wife and three children.  Trooper Rich leaves a fiancé and  an infant son.  He was in the legal process of adopting his fiancé’s 8-year-old son.

Communities come together in times of tragedy.  Fairbanks has come together in a big way.  When the troopers’ bodies arrived back in Fairbanks this weekend, there was a long slow processional from the airport to the funeral home.  Literally thousands of Fairbanks residents lined the route along Airport Way and stood in silent tribute to these men.  They were our troopers.  Thousands will likely attend their memorial.

There are lessons here.  Evil exists.  That is one lesson.  It exists and in the time it takes an angry finger to pull a trigger, evil can take away a friend, a colleague and a loved one.  Another lesson is one I learned long ago.  When somebody you love steps out the door, tell them you love them.  You don’t know when you will see them again.  So we take these lessons and we talk to each other and we talk to our children.  We tell them that yes, there is evil.  Then we tell them that as long as there is evil there will be men like Trooper Rich and Sergeant Johnson who will put themselves between us and danger.

We are taking it day by day up here.  We hold each other close and pray.  We pray for two brave men.  We pray for our community.  Mostly we pray for the families that no longer have fathers, husbands and sons, for they are the true victims here.  We look for answers where answers are few.  We look inside our community and try to answer the many whys.  We will get through this, but it will never be the same.

I will go to court on Monday.  I considered changing my plea to guilty and simply paying my fine and walking away.  I considered it.  Then I reconsidered.  In light of recent events, my court date is laughably unimportant, but it is a small part of our greater justice and legal system.  Here we get to plead our case in court, in front of our accuser and a judge.  We get due process.  It is our system and I will take part in it.  I feel obligated.  Two good men died to ensure that I have that right.



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I broke my plow


I broke my plow . . .

I remember hearing a snap and watching the plow blade on my Polaris ATV crash down.  The next thing I remember is my wife asking me what Eli’s middle name was.

We got a metric butt-load of snow here in Fairbanks this past week.  It was coming down so hard that I was plowing every several hours.  When we got home last Saturday night there was enough to plow and it was snowing hard enough that I didn’t think it was smart to wait for morning.  I started moving our cars around to get my ATV out of the garage.  I saw my helmet sitting the dog kennel.  I thought for a second then put it on.  That one move might have saved my life.

It took me about 45 minutes to clear the driveway and the parking area at the top of the drive.  I finished clearing an area in front of the garage and decided to try to clean up the road in front of our house.  I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave any of our snow in a road that was already getting clogged.

I started down the steep hill that our driveway is on with my plow up.  The plow is held up by the cable on my ATV’s winch.  You operate the winch to raise and lower the blade.  At least that is how it normally works.  I took off down the hill much, much faster than the speed I use when I plow.  I was going about 15 miles per hour.  That’s when the hook on the end of the cable snapped off and the blade dropped suddenly.

Apparently a lot happened between flying over the handlebars of my ATV and getting the name  pop quiz from my wife.  I have no memory of removing the broken plow from my ATV or carrying it up the driveway to the garage.  This is remarkable because I can’t really carry the plow.  There is some evidence that I might have gone up and gotten my truck and put the plow in the back . . . that is frightening and I don’t really want to think about that.

After I placed our cars in their proper spaces I went upstairs and gave my wife the hook off of my winch cable.  I told her that I broke my plow.  I was soaking wet and told her that I woke up in the snow and my head hurt.  It didn’t take any further conversation for her to put me in the car and take me to the emergency room.

Concussed Curt was impressively tidy.  Besides properly parking the cars, he put the ATV away and placed the plow neatly behind it.  It seems that I got tired of the burned out lights in the garage and changed them.  When my wife asked me how I managed to change the bulbs I told her very matter-of-factly that “I reached them.”  After a few prompts I told her that I stood on a cooler to reach them.  I don’t remember asking Eli to bring me light bulbs,  the cooler-standing or our conversation.

On the way to the hospital I failed a pop quiz on my children’s middle names.  I also, apparently, assigned my grandson Carter status as my child.  When asked who my children were I said “Parker, Charlie, Eli and Carter.”  Well first it seems that I told my wife I broke my plow.  Then I gave her the four names.  I kind of remember the question about Eli’s middle name.  I remember not understanding what a middle name is.

My memory starts to fill in after I got to my treatment room in the ER.   On my way several people asked me what happened.  I am told that I told them that I broke my plow.  That seems to be the only way I could describe my experience.  I remember a parade of people that wanted to ask me questions.  I can barely remember the long list of medicines I take even when I haven’t been thrown to the ground on my head, so remembering the brand name, clinical name and dosage of my meds when all I can say about how I ended up on the gurney is “I broke my plow” is not so much doable.

It seemed everyone had a set of questions for me.  Even my wife kept asking questions.  Middle names, how many kids, what day is it, why do you do stupid shit like this during a freaking blizzard late at night?  I don’t blame her . . . she has to know what she has to work with.  The lady from admissions with insurance questions took one look at me, let me tell her about breaking my plow and said, “That’s too bad, dear, but I am going to talk to your wife for a little while.”  She understood.

For those of you who have never had a concussion, it is kind of like that feeling you get when you wake up quickly and you are still really groggy.  You aren’t sure where you are and you can’t put thoughts together.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answers to some questions; it is more like I didn’t understand the question.  I knew the meaning of the words but I couldn’t draw any context or relevance from them.  On top of all that, with a concussion, you have a killer headache.  If you you know me personally, then you know I have a really big head so a bad headache for me is kind of an all-encompassing thing.

In the week and a half since the accident I still have headaches and my back and neck are still sore.  I don’t shake things off like I used to.  I feel lucky in comparison to some people that we are close to.  Friends of our family have had post concussive systems for weeks or even months.  It is a process

After x-rays and a CT scan the doctors decided that besides a nasty concussion and some bumps and bruises, I would fine.  I didn’t feel fine.  Whatever fine is, I felt the opposite.  The doctor chatted with us for a few minutes.  Before he left he looked at me and said, “You might not be here if it wasn’t for your helmet”.  I disagreed.  I felt like I would very likely be in his hospital if I hadn’t put on my helmet.  I would just be in a different room under much different conditions.

It’s interesting how things that seem little and inconsequential turn out to be huge.  I put my helmet on.  I don’t always wear my helmet when I plow because normally I am going less than 4 or 5 miles per hour.  This time I put it on and it very likely saved my life.  The truth is that I put it on because it was snowing and I was trying to keep my hair dry.  I guess in the long run, the reason you do something smart is secondary.  I will take the result.

Did I mention that I broke my plow?

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