December 09, 2009

The Christmas Compromise

Every December since we moved in with Melisa's parents, there has been a little war regarding the displaying of Christmas Decorations. While Brenda (Mel's Mom) prefers tasteful wreaths in the front windows, Melissa's style has been for strings of lights all over and small light-up animals. It's not just conflicting tastes, there is a tradition on this street of a "Progressive Dinner" wherein people on the street start with appetizers at one house, then "progress" with each course to other houses. For many of the women, this is a chance to peek inside people's houses, and to show off their own. So there is a little pride at stake here, and a Motorized Pink Flamingo in the front yard would be the equivalent of that piece of toilet paper stuck to the shoe of an otherwise elegantly-dressed woman.

In the past, we have come home to find that our decorations had been temporarily removed for the dinner, and we had to put them out again after it was over. This year, things are a bit different. Since Melissa doesn't get out much to see these lights, we thought that we'd put all of our gaudy lights in the back yard, where Mel can see them from her window.

From our computer desk, where Mel spends most of her day, she has a nice view of the back yard with lots of trees. There are also lots of interesting birds, since we put four different bird feeders in the tree nearest to her window.
Melissa's View

The first order of business was to string lights across the fence in the back. Only problem was that the fence is actually in the yard of the people behind us. These people were rich, and there house was amazing, so I wasn't sure how they'd react to my idea of putting chintzy decorations from TARGET in their rear view. Saturday morning, I walked around the block to see if I could convince them. Their house is incredible, it's a very faithful re-creation of historical colonial homes you might find lovingly kept up in Virginia. It took me a while to work up the nerve to knock, and I almost had walked away when a 50-something man answered the door.

I started out "you don't really know me, but my wife and I live with her parents in the house behind you. And I was wondering if I could ask a small favor of you." It was cold and he invited me inside for a moment so we could talk. Wow. I found out later that Southern Living did a feature article on this place because it was incredible inside. I don't usually go on about stuff like houses or decor, but this place was just so... perfect. His name was Jim Williams, (just like MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL) He told me that he actually did know about Mel and our situation and we talked about her for a little while. He thought it would be wonderful to have lights on the fence, it would improve their view at night. The guy really was nice and said if there was anything he could ever do for Melissa, just let him know.

I sighed a little relief, headed back and unpacked our lights from the basement. It took a little while to set up, but I think Melissa was thrilled with the results:

Backyard Lights
In addition to the fence, I made that pine-and-ivy island into a star, with her animals in the middle, and wrapped the tree with some multi's. Came out pretty good, I think.

Penguin Sentry

Bright Flamingo Christmas Pig

Fence Lights Rudy

Mrs. Williams came down to the fence to talk to Brenda while she was walking the dog, and despite my fears, she said she LOVED the pig and the other animals.

So finally, Mel and her mom have reached a Christmas Compromise: We have our tacky lights in the back, and Brenda has her respectable decorated wreaths in front. I feel like I just negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine here.

November 01, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Even though the weather was drizzly and cold, we made the best of things tonight. I got to carve a pumpkin for me, Matthew and Melissa. I'm especially proud of Melissa's Piggy. We found a pumpkin whose stem faced sideways and I thought it would be PERFECT for a snout-hole. And I didn't plan this, but I was about to cut parts out of the top for the ears, then I realized that the cut-outs for the eyes were the perfect shape for pig ears! I just trimmed them down a bit and added two slots on top to put them in. Score!
Mel's Pumkin Piggy


Also, my Mario Mushroom turned out pretty good, and Matthew loved his Poke-Ball. I'm getting better at this!
Kern Pumpkins 2009

Matthew dressed as Stitch again, he insisted. Even though he originally wore the costume in Pre-School, 3 years ago! And talk about "Fiver's Flamingoes"... She ordered these plastic Skele-Flamingoes for our front lawn... All kinds of awesome
Skele-Flamingo Pair

Halloween is also Shawn's birthday. And after seeing the awesome Godzilla Birthday Cake Brenda made for Matthew's 7th Birthday this year, he decided HE wanted one. Even though he's 40-something. So Brenda made the cake and I got the toys. I gotta admit it's pretty cool. And I love the Macro shots I got of it:
1 Godzilla Birthday Cake  Godzilla Birthday Cake

I took Matthew out trick-or-treating in the drizzly, cold weather with his friend Seth and he could barely carry back his treat bag! Quite a haul this year. While I was out, Mel and Shawn watched Ghostbusters on the Blu-Ray. For a Blu-Ray, there were some parts of it that were REALLY grainy, like they transferred from a Betamax tape or something, then other parts were clear. Maybe we don't have it hooked up properly, or maybe it's a bad transfer to Blu-Ray.

In any case, fun was had, Candy is all over, and lots of kids LOVED my pumpkins. It's nice to have your work validated. :)

October 09, 2009

A Secret of Marriage

Please note that the title is not "THE" secret of marriage. Also, I am not a psychologist, nor am I a published relationship self-help author, I've just known loads of people in all kinds of relationships and certain patterns emerge just from observation.
---------
I consider Melissa and I to be a well-balanced couple, and that word BALANCED is the key. (I never was very good at essays obviously, since I drop that in the first line.) As I see it, successful marriages are based on roughly 70% compatibility and 30% acceptable or desired differences in personalities. Compatibility does not mean absolute carbon-copied similarity, all-too-similar couples I've met either get bored with nothing new being added to the mix, or one of them is lying. Either way, they're in trouble.

That 30% of desirable difference appears to be the key to mutually rewarding and lasting relationships. We are attracted to people who have qualities that we don't have ourselves (obvious plumbing differences aside). For example, Melissa and I are worlds apart in our communication. She is probably the most outgoing person I have met and has no trouble striking up conversations with complete strangers, laying the smack down on deserving jerks or speaking her mind--loudly--about anything. At the other end of the graph is me. Apart from a brief onstage persona I took on while performing at UGA, the real me is painfully shy and very self-conscious about what I say. So the symbiosis of our relationship in this regard is that she gives me the confidence (or kick in the ass) I need to speak up when required, and I give her temperance to not say things that could get her in trouble, or at least paraphrase them a bit.

You can't reduce a marriage down to the interplay of a single characteristic, but there always seems to be this symbiosis of personality in the happiest couples that I've met over the years.

[Todays "Nugget O' Wisdom" brought to you by Chris having Trouble Sleeping. Yessss...Trouble Sleeping at Night-- chock full of wandering ideas and things you never could quite put your finger on. Available at all fine retailers nationwide.]

August 25, 2009

The Purpose of Adversity

We knew back in 2007 that it was something bad, possibly debilitating, but we had no idea. Melissa went to doctors, Neurologists and orthopedic surgeons, carrying the ever-growing collection of MRI's, CTs and X-rays from previous visits for almost a year and still no diagnosis. She was ready to give up if this last visit to Emory didn't tell her anything.

We knew it would be bad news when the neurologist brought in a junior doctor who just sat in the corner. Mel and I both realized he was here to watch us as the doctor delivered the news.

No one expects ALS, not at age 35, not the incurable wasting disease that usually takes the elderly. People have about 3-5 years after diagnosis. It's what they call an "Orphan Disease", which means that too few people have it, so the drug companies don't research treatments for it because of poor Return On Investment. There is no cure, no effective treatment but Riluzole, which may give you an extra couple of months. And even if some trial drug looks promising, with a life expectancy under five years, anything not currently under review by the FDA when you're diagnosed will probably not be available to you even if it DOES work.

There was a long period of grief, anger, prayer. The usual. But oddly enough, there was a sort of comfort in knowing the diagnosis. ANY diagnosis, even this one. Even the worst case scenario in Neurology. At least we knew what we were up against, and what to expect. Comfort, like life, can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.

After a while, I stopped praying for her to be cured. While I am a Christian, I believe in "reasonable" miracles, meaning things that are possible in the world, we just ask for the chance to be one of the lucky few to receive them. Like winning the lottery or being accepted to Harvard. These things are difficult and highly unlikely, but the do happen to SOMEONE in the world. Being cured of ALS in this lifetime is flat-out impossible, and I decided that I needed to come to terms with that.

So what to do when faced with a truly unwinnable situation? After months of searching, I believe the answer is to accept it, and try to discover what God wants us to learn from the ordeal. Wisdom is gained more by our failures than our outright successes. How much more insight would we gain from this, when the worst possible outcome is certain? I truly believe that this is the purpose.

So from time to time, I will be posting here about things I have learned from the experience of living with the knowledge of Melissa's diagnosis. Here's the first one:

There is always something to be thankful for, even in the worst of times

This is the first lesson that living with ALS taught me. Even when you know that your soulmate is living on borrowed time, even when it's tearing you apart with grief, you can still find things to be thankful for. This is more than a trivial game from "Polyanna", it is the way I turned my thinking around.

Melissa is so young to be diagnosed with this disease, but I am THANKFUL because since she has it now, I am more able to help her than I would be in my 60's.

The medical costs are expensive, but I am THANKFUL to still have a job in this economy, when millions have been put out of work.


And even without the negatives, there are all-positive things to be thankful for:

I am thankful that I work at a company that allows telecommuting. I save on gas, don't sacrifice hours of my day driving to and from work, and I can take breaks to tend to Melissa when I need to.

I am thankful that Melissa's parents are here to help us so much. I couldn't take care of Melissa and Matthew at the same time without their assistance (and good cooking!) Many people with this disease have no family to help them and have little health coverage to pay for assistance.

I am thankful to St. Gabriel's, our small but ever-so-lively church. The congregation there was so full of smart-asses already, that Melissa and I were hooked after our first visit. They have been great in supporting us and raising our spirits.

I am thankful for the internet, and social sites like Facebook and LiveJournal, where Melissa can keep in touch with friends every day.

I am thankful to the ALS Association of Georgia, who have provided us with essentials like wheelchairs and an adaptive computer that Melissa can use by herself.

I could go on, but the point is made. For the huge shadow that ALS has cast over Melissa's life, there have been hundreds of bic lighters, sprouted from the pockets of individuals and organizations that have made a bastion against the darkness. (I know that's a terrible mixed metaphor, but my prose is one of the casualties of improper sleep.)

One last item: I am thankful to you, our friends and family, for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, and for keeping in touch with her. You have no idea how much that little effort means to her. As with ProjectFiver, the group is accomplishing what I could not provide her by myself, and I thank you.

August 14, 2009

Music for Summer Road Trips

Anyone who knows me knows I make mixtapes like nobody's business. So here's some Road tunes courtesy of a new app called 8Tracks.

August 03, 2009

What I learned from 7 days living in a Hospital

Emory Hospital Provides Unforgettable Culinary Experience

By Chris Kern,Travel Writer, "Go Fork Yourself" Magazine

On the rare and unfortunate occasions that one needs inpatient care, one would hardly expect such a destination to be of any culinary significance, would one? Well THIS one was delightfully surprised at the creations that I discovered at one Emory University Hospital located in the Decatur township of Atlanta, Georgia.

As I sped through the winding lane called Briarcliff towards Decatur, the un-air conditioned breeze wafting through my hair, I became lost in the charm of the tiny one-street subdivisions with their tantalizingly different architectural styles and subtle levels of homeowner neglect. I'll spare you the gory medical details, as nothing can kill an appetite like a lengthy description of surgery, and get right to the good stuff. Who would think, but the highlight of my day was the little breaks that I could steal away to sample the unique foodstuffs available in Emory University Hospital.

Macaroni and Cheese -- Asbury Food Court

While the debate over whether it is a mere side dish or deserving of full-course status will be debated for years to come, no one expects surprises from this unassuming comfort food staple. I admit, I ordered it as a palate complement to the stunningly gray Meatloaf Surprise that was served (the surprise being a small piece of yellow plastic that I discovered in my second bite). The Meatloaf was uninspiring with its day-old oatmeal texture and the fact that it took two packets of Ketchup and Texas Pete Hot Sauce to get the first hint of taste, but the "Mac" literally took my breath away and shone as the star of my supper plate that afternoon.

The texture of the macaroni noodles is the first discovery. True capital-I Italians favor pasta to be boiled "al dente", but the Asbury chefs boldly decided to push the envelope of semolina boiling and serve it with a texture so delicate and runny that you'll swear you're having fillet of jellyfish. The counterpart to these was the "cheese" sauce, which was equally as unexpected. Due to the Food Court's distinctive cooking style -- baking in large aluminum troughs -- the "cheese" had a duality of textures and flavors. Most of the dish featured the cheese in its runny, tepid form, which features only the slightest hints of cheese flavor, similar to the "white cheese" (tm) served at Subway. Quite novel, however, was the second texture, the crispy, cut-with-a knife top layer that delivers a tantalizing ounce or two of actual taste to each ice cream scoop serving of the dish, with amusing propane undertones.

The interplay of these layers was such a delight! Switching between fork-fulls of the blander bottom layer and a rationed slice of crispy top was not unlike spending hours in a sensory deprivation tank before attending a Death Cab for Cutie concert: The latter may be bland by itself, but after hours of nothingness, it seemed as mind-blowing as a Grateful Dead tour.

Kentucky Farms Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit -- Refrigerated Vending Machine, 2D ICU

When gravity delivered this package to me (plastic inflated to prevent shattering), I thought there had been some labeling mistake. "I see only biscuit and sausage! Outrage!" I exclaimed to the other two sleep-hung-over occupants in the ICU vending area. I wanted to file a complaint to the management, but there was a notable lack of servers of staff in the area, and the staff that I talked to about it rudely told me to get out of their way, as they continued chest compressions on an elderly woman on a gurney. WELL! Were I not stranded there by a loved one in recovery and a ruthless no in/out policy on the parking lot, I would have driven elsewhere. But as things were, I swallowed my pride and tossed the wrong item into the microwave.

The dish emerged from the riveted aluminum door appropriately steamy and sizzling, however, so I sat in the Plastique Vieux chairs and bit with eyebrow raised in caution. Incredible. To my delightful epiphany, there was no mix-up from the vending machine, the egg and cheese portions were ingeniously injected INSIDE the sausage patty! Never since the invention of the "Uncrustable" Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich has this reported been struck dumb by the delicious utility of culinary invention. The egg was admittedly a bit dry, but there was a cheese-colored juice like right-from-the-oven Pizza cheese that scalded my mouth and mercifully put taste buds out of commission. After two or three singed swallows, I was tasting no pain. The only way I see to improve this is to serve the sausage/cheez/egg INSIDE a closed biscuit. If the magicians at Kentucky Farms can manage that, I predict we'd have a food sensation not seen since the creation of "Turducken".

These are but the highlights of the exquisite delights that I experienced during my stay. Now I know why Emory is called a "Teaching" hospital-- because the cooks there could teach some top chefs a thing or two! Needless to say, the next time that I find myself rushed to the hospital, bleeding out one orifice or another, I may find myself NOT rushing to get back out again!
-CK

March 13, 2009

Where in the World is Terrence?

We had a little excursion to DisneyWorld a few weeks back and it was a really different experience. We thought it would be a nice, slow-paced, quiet couple-centric trip without Matthew there, but we were wrong.

Because our trip ended up centered instead on a little flamingo called Terrence. I named him after Terrence Stamp, thinking of his costumes for "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". and sent him to Melissa as a gift. Both she and Terrence were homesick for Florida (Melissa grew up there), and what a wild ride it was...


Where in the World is Terrence? from Chris Kern on Vimeo.

February 13, 2009

Brief Rant: Zombie Films

I like movies about the undead. But call me a Zombie Snob (snOmbie?), but I think the latest trend of inserting Zombies or vampires into every corner of film culture is diluting something great into a yawn-inducing me-too shoveling festival. For every "Shaun of the Dead" there's a "Lost Boys 2 : The Tribe"

Latest infraction : Film studios are chomping a the bit to publish "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", which isn't even set to be published until May, into a hit film. (As visualized here by webcomic "Hijinks Ensue.") Reportedly, the book is about 85% Jane Austen's original novel, with the remainder being the zombie bits added in.

Treading on thin ice in it's wake is "Rosencranz and Guildenstern are UNdead", which at least isn't a DIRECT re-imagining of Hamlet with Vampires in it, but it still steals the title of the original "Rosencrans and Guildenstern are Dead"(1990), which, besides being hilariously written an incredibly acted, remains possibly the best example of self-aware characterization in cinema today.

Friends and Horror Aficionados assure me that there ARE still good undead movies being made, such as the surprising "Let the Right One In", and all I can do is hope that this keeps the genre fresh amidst all the "Underworld" sequels and commercial tripe. Fingers crossed that George Romero can deliver us from evil... and I know just how ironic that sounds.

February 03, 2009

Layoffs in my Department

Monday morning I found out that my company was going with the "In Crowd" of companies and laying off lots of people. How did the companies end up doing this on the same day? Facebook perhaps?

Home Depot is going to have to cut about 7000 employees. Even shut down the Expo locations. *OUCH*
- Caterpillar : Dude, *20,000* total now. Got nothin on me. It hurts but so do my sales.
- Pfizer : About 19,500 here, Cat. Ouch indeed, HomieD. Need a pill for that headache of yours? I gotz the goods. ;)
- GeneralMotors : about 2k jobs in Ohio and Michigan. Even with the Fed Money.
- SprintNextel : GM - Dude, I CAN HAZ BAILOUT TOO? You just blew a load of it for your cars to be in the "Terminator - Salvation" movie!
- GeneralMotors : Yep S/N. Gonna ask for $3 Billion more soon. Fingers crossed.

I laugh because it's the only way I can deal with this. I was having an IM conversation with a coworker in Little Rock (The Home Office) and he had to break off to escort one of our members out of the building and lock up her laptop. All in all, four employees just in my department are gone : Two report analysts, a mid-level manager and our FRACKING DEPARTMENT HEAD! We just brought this guy in back in September.

So now it's only seven of us left in the department, and we're scrambling to change our methods entirely to suit the new Division Head's declared direction for us. Our Department is called Enterprise Reporting, and my job is in two programs: (1) Concord eHealth, which doles out reports on server health (Disk space, CPU Utilization, Bandwidth) and (2) WebTrends, which creates reports based on clients web site logs (Number of Hits, Visitors, Page Views). 80% of my time and effort has gone towards Concord in the past three years. And Friday, I was informed that this program was going away. I am to stop new reports and slowly shut down the existing ones over the next month.

This program was my life. And because it was so popular, I had to write some automation programs from scratch in VisualBasic just to distribute all of them. (I called the automation program "AutoMAIL" for those of you Anime fans...)It was a lot of work to create the automation, but today I have over 500 reports that have to go out every week, and there is no way that would be possible for a single person to do without coming down with Carpal Tunnel in just under a month. As it is, Concord just churns out PDF and Excel reports to it's own UNIX server. Over the past three years I engineered a SYSTEM that would do the following:
-FTP the reports from the server
-Rename the files to something readable
-Merge related PDFs and even Excel Spreadsheets
-ZIP the resulting files and archive them
-Email out the ZIP to a list of recipients
-Email me with an error message if something goes wrong

All of this runs automatically, on a schedule, without any action required by me. This was the most involved, complex program I have ever written, and it worked beautifully. Any coders out there know the pride and satisfaction of creating an efficient program that is easily customizable and saves so much manual work. And it's gone now. The pinnacle of my professional skill will be useless in about a month.

This is not just vanity and pride talking, I am losing my main area of expertise, the main reason for employing me. I will still have WebTrends, but that is a fairly closed system, fairly easy implemented once you have a system set up. I'll also be training on the new reporting system: SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services, but I'm the last of my department to train on it.

My manager assures me that if they didn't think I could transition to the new way of doing things, I would have been let go with the others, so that bodes well for me. She has always been a great boss - always looks out for me and gives it to me straight, and I trust her. My logical mind knows that I am unlikely to be laid off - but this is a fear that transcends logic and even the established trust we have.

Everyone is fearing for their jobs in this economy. I feel like the protagonist from FINAL DESTINATION: I have somehow survived something horrible, but I feel the guilt of it. Along with the foreboding that I did not dodge this entirely and it will come back for me.

January 29, 2009

Good Read: The WPA in Today's Terms

A Friend linked me in to this article on what we have to do to save the economy. It's an incredible essay. Snippets here, but do yourself a favor and read the whole article if you have five minutes.

...
Along about the time that Roosevelt was about to lose his temper over [the failure of the Public Works Administration], the First Lady talked him into talking to a very successful social worker named Harry Hopkins, who only wanted a few minutes of the President's time so he could ask one question. He showed the President figures (that he later showed Congress) showing that there were about 3.5 million Americans in 1933 who were heads of households between the ages of 18 and 64 that no employer was going to hire, no way, no how, not for any amount of money, and he asked: "Can you give one legal reason why we can't just hire those people ourselves?" The thing is, he got that estimate of 3.5 million people by going through the state-by-state lists of people who were already on the dole, people who were already receiving some kind of charitable or government cash hand-out because they weren't working. And what Hopkins realized was that not only did the American people deeply resent those people for taking money and doing nothing all day, the recipients weren't any happier about it, either: they wanted to work. So FDR shoe-horned a program through Congress, first as pilot program called the Civil Works Administration, to raise about $1200 (1933 US dollars) per year per unemployed head of household: $1000 per worker per year for wages, $24 per worker per year for administrative costs, the rest for hand tools and raw materials for whatever projects he could make up. To get CWA funding, a job had to be something that no corporation was interested in providing, and that no government agency was interested in funding, and it had to be as labor-intensive as possible (see photograph above right).

Conservatives in both parties hated it. And still do. And campaigned hard against it in the 1934 congressional primaries. Al Smith's right-wing Democrats convinced FDR that if he kept the CWA, it would cost him his majority in Congress, so he shut it down after only four months. In that four months, CWA workers had already built 1,000 rural airports, built 40,000 school buildings, built or resurfaced a quarter-million miles of roads, and laid twelve million miles of sanitary sewer lines, some of the first sewer lines laid in most counties. In four months. Right-wing Democrats and anti-tax pro-corporate Republicans screamed bloody murder about all the money that the CWA was "wasting," but (and this is a point I'll come back to again) we're still using almost all of that stuff today. 75 years later, those "worthless" "make-work" projects are turning out to be some of the most valuable stuff the government had done in its first 150 years of existence. So contrary to what the right-wing Democrats in Congress were telling FDR he "needed" to do to "save" the 1934 congressional elections, terminating the CWA turned out to be the least popular thing he did as President, and as soon as the elections were over, on voter mandate, FDR brought it right back again, rammed it through Congress again as the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Only this time it had full funding, and a Congressional and Presidential mandate to try to hire every single one of the roughly 3.5 million unemployed, non-disabled, work-aged heads of household in America. And in almost no time at all, they came as close as makes no difference, getting to 3.3 million, on one simple philosophy: you tell us whatever it is you "do," and we'll find you a job doing it. Those jobs paid very nearly jack squat; nearly all WPA workers ended up living with their whole families in roughly 8" x 10" or so rooms in improvised "boarding houses," spare rooms leased out by people who were house-rich but cash poor, trying to save their homes, tenants with no control over the menu of the meal plan it came with and shared use of a single bathroom (or maybe just an outhouse and an outdoor water pump) with 3 to 8 other families. Nobody lived well on the WPA, but nobody starved either. On the other hand, nobody worked terribly hard, either, and I know this one from a very personal source: my paternal grandfather was a WPA veteran.

Grampa Hicks was himself a right-wing anti-tax anti-communist Democrat of the American Liberty League school, and he hated the WPA with a fiery passion for the entire rest of his life. It was from him I first heard the joke: "How many people does it take to do one WPA job? Three. One on his way to the bathroom, one on his way back from the bathroom, and one leaning on the shovel pretending to work." But here's the funny thing. You know what Grampa Hicks was before the Great Depression? He was a bum. A mostly-unemployed unskilled laborer on the rare occasions he had a job, a street brawler and small-time crook, a chronic alcoholic and wife-beater who spent most of the 1920s in jail. So when he showed up in one of Harry Hopkins' branch offices and they asked him, "What do you do?" all he could answer was, "Nothing." So they stuck him on one of the WPA's archetypal projects: a National Guard armory. Under the thin pretense of "military preparedness," Harry Hopkins made up this total BS scenario whereby some day, in some foreign invasion of the US, we might end up having to retreat all the way back to any random tiny little town in America, so every tiny little road-crossing town and every suburb and every city neighborhood in America should have a solidly built, concrete-block or raw stone building that the state militia can store their weapons in until that day, and can use as a fort when we get nearly conquered. Nobody was fooled. Everybody knew it was a lie: it was building buildings just for the sake of building pointless buildings. Furthermore, the whole "fort" thing was just an excuse to make the job take longer, to build out of improbably heavy materials and as slowly and carefully as possible, so those mostly unskilled laborers didn't run out of something to do before Hopkins and his few staff could come up with something else to do. Grampa Hicks went to his grave still mocking the work he'd done.

But you know what? There's a funny thing about that, something I'm pretty sure Grampa Hicks never thought about. First of all, if it weren't for the WPA, we Hickses would still be bums. Grampa Hicks was desperate to get out from behind that wheel barrow and that shovel, but was too drunk to do plumbing. So he took to hanging around when the electricians were running wire, and managed to get himself a totally useless job as a sort of human Vice-Grip. "Here," says the skilled electrician who was himself out of work, yelling over to my grandpa because the WPA wouldn't spring for proper tools, "you there -- hold these two wires together while I tape them together." By following that guy around and watching over that guy's shoulder, Grampa Hicks taught himself basic electrical wiring. And when the WPA was over, he was able to lie with a straight face to employers that he was a skilled electrician, and that got him his first real job, one his son learned from him, and that I learned from my dad that paid my way through college: electrical sign erector, IBEW local 1.

READ FULL ARTICLE

January 22, 2009

Turn Tragedy Around

Most of you don't know, but Melissa had to have her wedding rings cut off. An unfortunate side effect of her ALS is that once the muscles in her fingers atrophied, there was some swelling and we couldn't remove the rings. It was sad to see them cut off, sitting twisted and open in a plastic bag in her drawer.

THIS SHALL NOT STAND.

So for Christmas, I had a jeweler make the rings whole again... AND intertwine them with her Jens Hansen ONE RING that she wears with her Frodo costume. (A fellowship of nine friends pooled their money and bought it for her back in 2003.)

The Result : The Ultimate statement of Geek Cred. She wears this around her neck all the time now.
The One Ring + 2