Worth it

Parenting is hard.

For some, this is obvious. For others suffering denial, this is a sign of a severe character flaw. For a blessed few who’s beatification awaits them at their death, who’s names will be remembered in song and psalm for all time, this is an inconceivable truth.

God did us this one favor – he made these people rare. This is not to say parenting is without its rewards. If it was, Homo sapiens sapiens would have died out long ago (no mater how much fun getting there was/is).

This little post is for all of you out there who live in the real world.

Fortunately, there are times that force the hard parts to the rest of life’s background noise, and this weekend was filled with those times.

We took the kids on their first camping trip this weekend. On Friday I worked half a day, Cheryl picked up the kids early from school, and we drove to Orlando for a weekend of camping, Disney style.

Admittedly, Disney, realism, and roughing-it don’t really belong in the same post. But this weekend did involve tents, sleeping outside, camp-side cooking, and relaxed standards of personal hygiene.

Being Disney, it also involved buses, pools, water-slides, campfires with Disney characters and shops stocked with grossly overpriced marshmallows.

We brought our own marshmallows.

While the kids enjoyed the Disney aspects of camping, they also enjoyed its traditional appeal: running around dark campsites with friends exhibiting all the signs of a marshmallow sugar high, setting foods dense in simple sugars on fire, and eating lots of grilled meat.

It warmed my heart just seeing them having fun, soaking up all the new experiences and never growing saturated.

One simple moment almost moved me to tears.

Adam and I were settling down for the night and I knew he was afraid of the dark, preferring to sleep with one or twelve of his stuffed, furry friends for safety. I asked him if he was o.k.

“Well, I wish Halo was here,” (his stuffed dog), “but I’m o.k. because you’re here with me.”

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In between

Most trips my wife and I took since our wedding were merely travel – complete with a detailed itinerary. They involved as many relatives as possible. It was misguided, but it was how we measured a trip’s success.

You probably know at least a few people like this – folks who don’t think a trip has worth unless they need a vacation afterwards.

Do you know what I like best about a vacation? I like not thinking about what I want or need to do next. This doesn’t always happen when we travel – thus the distinction between travel and vacation. Vacation may be a subset of travel, but it doesn’t take business to take the vacation out of a trip. Last week I had a vacation.

We went to Ocean City, New Jersey. Why New Jersey, you might ask? It’s where my brother-in-law’s parents met. Long story not so long, they went every year for nostalgia’s sake (and because they had fun), my sister went after she met Mike, and she talked us into joining them, renting a second floor condo looking out over the five mile boardwalk, the imposing dunes, and the Atlantic Ocean. In short, she made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. I don’t need to tell you this was a vacation, not if you’ve read my earlier posts.

While I’m glad we went, today was time to go back to work. Yesterday was supposed to be the day but I had a doctor’s appointment – and, well – I felt a little unwell. Is it possible I just had a case of post-vacation blues? That’s something only me and my thermometer know, and neither one of us talks much.

Why is it so hard to go back to work after vacation? Unless we hate our jobs and the people who share space with them, returning shouldn’t be all that bad. We’re returning to life. Real life. We’re returning to people we generally like, to jobs we find at least bearable – if not rewarding. I’d imagine a few people feel more at home at work, those lucky enough to have a job that’s more than a career – a calling.

Tonight I’m just not buying. You see, for me a vacation is a glimpse at perfection. It’s like drinking water all your life then tasting a sip of fine wine, but only just that sip. Water doesn’t taste quite the same after that sip, but why should that be? If we generally enjoy life (when not suffering from depression), why loathe it’s return? (In my case it may have something to do with that depression.)

In my mind I keep going back to a conversation while we were in NJ. It was one of the more serious conversations… most of them were rather light. A topic and a few tangents were discussed, but my cynic’s lightbulb went off and I quieted the group with a single line. “I think the problem is too many people in this world are too stupid to understand or accept that the world we live in is gray.”

I warned you it was going to be cynical. And yes, I know it loses something without the context, but sums up why I can’t come to grips with the return to work. In my mind’s eye, vacation proves the purest white exists, and I lose a bit of my grasp on reality. That, and I’m just as stupid as a lot of folks out there. Life is rarely that perfect. We should recognize, savor, and celebrate it when it comes along, but realize it’s not forever. It’s not sustainable. Life is messy. Life can be a struggle – to each in his or her own way. The trick is to balance the light and the dark, to live in the gray, sustained by the moments of light – at times making our own.

I think about the peddlers of “success” manuals, the “you can be happy all the time” crowd, and religious zealots (talking about these mysterious plans, or giving away free toasters with each first time prayer). I probably think about them too much. I think they are a lot like a vacation (from reality). I think they pose a real danger.

It’s when we think everything can always be perfect that we’re ripe for disappointment.

We can strive for it. We can look forward to those moments when we achieve it. But I don’t think we should always expect it. Not from ourselves, or our lives.


Taking flight

It’s the last day of our vacation, if you can call it that. It’s travel day. It’s my birthday. It kind of sucks. I’ve mentioned before it’s been a while since I’ve traveled, but I sure don’t remember the seats on an airplane being this tight.

Impossibly tight.

Some seats recline, some don’t. It’s a matter of luck of the draw. It’s a matter of matter. Does the person behind you have short legs or long? If they’re long, that seat isn’t going anywhere, unless someone’s femur develops a joint.

My neck really enjoys the seat-backs. They were designed for someone about six inches shorter and with much better posture, forming the business end of a right triangle. It has a nifty headrest that bends at the edges, keeping your head immobilized as you sleep. Too bad for me the head rest pushes ever so gently on my back at about T-7, causing my head to lean forward when the seat is in it’s full, upright position. Fortunately, no one is sitting behind me – so my seat reclines. I don’t have to hold my head up for two hours like a swimmer lifting his head out of water for air.


However, I think my knees will have pressure marks for a week from the magazine pocket. Did I mention the seats were a tight fit?

What airline delivers this kind of comfort at bargain prices? Spirit Airlines.

You get what you pay for.

On a lighter note, the last full day on the shore (yesterday) was everything I could have asked for. There was lots of time to relax. There was lots of time to read. There were lots of opportunities to go snap-snap with my camera. I sat quietly most of the day by the balcony overlooking the shore. Cheryl, bless her heart, took the kids out to spend their last bits of energy before flying home.

It didn’t rain and it wasn’t cloudy, but the surf was up a bit from the hurricanes out in the Atlantic. There were alerts all over the news to refrain from swimming in the Atlantic. However, my brother-in-law and his family couldn’t resist the call of the surf – they went boogie boarding. This was a natural camera moment, watching my 6’1” brother-in-law challenge waves beginning their break a foot or two above his head. They had a great time taking a beating from the sea, and I had a great time taking their pictures.

Twenty minutes later… back on the plane.

Dick-head was just moved by a representative of the airline. Someone complained about Dick-head’s seat-back pressing into his bad knee, and Dick-head’s refusal to sit up. So what does Dick-head do? He moves into the seat in front of the tallest person in our section: me.

Dick-head could have moved into the center seat a row up. There’s no one sitting behind that seat.

But noooo. That’s not how Dick-head rolls.

Meanwhile I have a certain obligation to stay with my family. I could move to a seat a row back, but it involves a trade-off. Another tall person is behind this seat, meaning I couldn’t try to put my seat back, in good conscience.

This is my choice – John’s choice. Sit in a pitched forward position or live with pain in my knees (which I’ll get to in a moment). My neck is already a mess, so I’m sacrificing my knees.

I’m having an outstanding time playing a passive aggressive game of tug of war over seat position. Dick-head tilts his seat back. It moves about an eighth of an inch – approximately the amount of compression possible between seat, skin, fat and bone on a knee attached to one of my legs. Throughout the flight he keeps trying to press back further, looking back at his impediment – my lower half – looking up at me as if I’m the bad guy. Believe me, I’d be shorter right now if it was up to me, Dick-head. I keep shifting my hips, alternating pushing a hip into crook in my seat-back and the crushing pressure on a knee. This serves two purposes. It temporarily relieves some of the pain in one knee, and it concentrates the surface area poking into the back of his seat. Plus, as a bonus it jostles him around a bit when I switch back and forth.

Fuck. This is going to be a long hour and a half. I’m already losing sensation in my toes.

Do you think I’d be looking at criminal charges if swatted the back of his head a few times? Open fisted, of course, I’m a nice guy. That’s the way I roll.

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Ocean City

Hump day usually brings relief to a tired soul. Sometimes you really like your job, but it’s still a job. There are other things you can think of you’d rather do, unless you’re the rare individual who’s found your life’s calling… and it found you too. Or there’s also the exception to the old axiom: you can never get enough of a good thing.

What a crock.

Well, today’s a hump day for me just like it is for you, but in my case the hump more accurately plots my level of enthusiasm.

Today’s the middle day of my first big vacation in years, and it’s gone about as fast as you would expect. From my perspective, it’s gone nearly perfect. Today the only thing I did of note was walk down the boardwalk for some frozen custard (pumpkin cinnamon swirl, if you must know).

Now it’s night again, one of a series of increasing endangered species. Dark and cool… surf and crickets are the only sounds preventing silence. We just had my idea of a perfect evening: a group of family and friends gathered together to talk, exchange funny stories, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

Now I’m following it up with a perfect nightcap: on the patio out back, listening to the surf, and writing the first words that come to mind (so sorry for that). Saturday we go home, but I’m milking this trip for all it’s worth.

Now I have to admit something to you, but you might already know. I’ve enjoyed this trip more than I thought. When it was presented as the “Jersey Shore,” all I could think about was reality TV and a bunch of buffoons. Instead it’s been quiet. The people have been nice. The boardwalk is quaint and a departure from my normal haunts. Take the frozen custard for example. The shop has been here for a century. Imagine that? Maybe you can, but in Florida eateries come and go like the tourists. My sister’s in laws worked here summers as kids – possibly eating at the same places we ate today – only 40 years ago.

I love it. I love the slow pace. I love waking up in the morning and playing every day by ear. I love that the ear usually doesn’t end up in a car.

For now on I’m not going to think of this special place as the Jersey Shore. Somehow, saying I like the “Jersey Shore” sounds like I prefer the smell of one arm pit over the other.

It’s Ocean City, a place I’ll long remember.

– – –

Sorry, no proof reading this time ;-) Thanks for your patience.


The second in-flight post!!!

It’s an hour or so into the flight, and time for a little airline commentary.

“Spirit airlines: we stack ’em and rack ’em.”

It’s the first airline I’ve been on where the seat backs don’t recline due to physical impossibility (assuming someone is behind you). As it is, in order for my legs to fit I have to spread ’em wider than Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

Thank God I’m not wearing my skirt!

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High altitude

This is my first in-flight post in a long time (as measured in senior Kauffman years).

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? In fact, it’s the most exciting thing in my life since the Lost finale. Heavy stuff, I know.

It’s my first venture outside the state of Florida in the post cancer era. But wait. I gets better. It’s my first real vacation since those hairy celled invaders started clogging the marrow. When I say “real” vacation, I mean multiple, consecutive work days. None of those long weekend pretenders. We’re off for a week to a beachfront rental house on the Jersey Shore with my sister and my brother-in-law’s family.

It promises to be a week of relaxing in the cooler temperatures of the northeast, water’s edge hikes on the beach, and walks on the boardwalk.

The forecast highs are nearly twenty degrees cooler than home – thirty if you count the heat index. It’ll be WAY to frigging cold to actually go in the water. A west-coast Floridian rarely sees beach water cooler than 80F. Walking the shore is what my soul craves.

I might even throw in a bike rental to satisfy my two wheeled jones.

I’m hoping to have plenty of time to meditate, JK style – camera in hand, thinking about the perfect picture.

I rarely find it, but it’s the process I find relaxing not the results. That’s just icing.

I hope all of you out there have great week. I may still be around – time and thumbs permitting.

Back to Disney

The Great Thunder MountainAnother Friday of fatigue. Another drive to Orlando. Another day in the world that Walt built.

My sister called on Thursday to warn us about the epidemic of colds working its way through the house. The implied message: “John comes at his own risk.”

But when have I ever given in to good sense?

We hit the parks with my standard equipment: a big floppy hat, sunglasses, my Nikon, and my afternoon meds. The day started with a textbook example of gluttony. It was an all you can stuff in your gut “character breakfast” at the Contemporary Resort known as “Chef Mickey.” I paid for every bite the rest of the morning.

We skipped lunch, the cement in our stomachs formerly known as “breakfast” still in place.

It wasn’t until a snack, an hour or two before dinner time – a frozen banana – that I got my groove back. After that we had a great time. We stayed through the evening to watch the fireworks, something we hadn’t done in several years.

Castle with colorThe kids had a great time though, throughout the day. The character breakfast, our second in as many months, didn’t lose any of it’s magic. Even Beth, 12 going on 25, enjoyed hangin’ with the Mouse and his crew. From there we ventured over to the Animal Kingdom.

I still can’t get over the center piece of the park: the man-made “Tree of Life.” How quintessentially Disney?

We hit a few of the attractions we missed the last time through. One turned out to be the best damn bird show I’ve ever seen. As it happens, this was only the second bird show I’ve ever seen, but still….

Then there was the “broadway style show about life in the Jungle.” I speak, of course, of the Lion King show. I expected it to be the single most corny thing I’d seen in my life. Maybe the low expectations colored my view, but it was actually pretty good. For a theme park show… heck, for any show, the singing was excellent.

Today I was back at it in the office, looking over orders and sniffing out solutions to problems. I was tired and my head hurt.

And you know what?

It was worth it.

Beth at sundown



My wife was looking through the pictures I took today and put a few things together.

“I thought you said you didn’t know how Adam got his shoes wet?”

No, I said I couldn’t stop him from getting his shoes wet.”

“So how many times had he jumped in the water before you got your timing down?”

Well, I… ah… I didn’t think his shoes could get any wetter.”

I really wanted to add, “… besides, I was having so much fun taking pictures,” but there comes a point in some conversations when I find it’s best to just stop talking.

How much water do you need to make a splash?