Category Archives: Family

Babies: Packed up. Old Ladies: Grabbed.

Mom and Dad enjoyed the Neil Diamond concert a great deal. I’m told he did a two-and-a-half hour set with two encores and no opening act. Mom says that he’s “still got it.” I was also informed that he dresses very well. Maybe next time Mr. Diamond is in town I’ll get five tickets so Laura, Laura’s mother and I can go, too (my father-in-law has indicated that he’s not interested).

The rest of the weekend went down something like this…

Thursday evening, we ate dinner at Willoughby Brewing Company. ((Willoughby Brewing Company shares a rather small parking lot with Gavi’s, a popular Italian restaurant. As a result, parking spaces are often at a premium. To make the experience a bit more painless, both restaurants offer valet parking, for a small fee. I had no intention of taking advantage of the valet, particularly since a woman parked three spaces from the door of the Brewing Company got into her car just as I was coming around the end of the aisle.

So I waited for her to pull out of the space.

She started the car and made a call on her cell phone. I waited. She didn’t move. I waited some more.

In a parking lot, a minute seems like an eternity to wait for a space. As I loathe the creature I call the “Parking Lot Vulture” and do not like to “vultch” (yeah, I made that up) myself, I pulled forward to the valet. The woman was still sitting in her unmoving car when we entered the restaurant.

Fast forward 90 minutes or so. I had a brief moment of panic after dinner when I couldn’t find my keys, until I remembered the valet. I handed him my ticket and he dashed off (valets always run when they’re fetching your vehicle, and they should) to retrieve the MVoD.

He didn’t have far to run. The MVoD was parked in the very space that I’d been waiting for earlier. Thirty feet away from the front door.

Money well spent.)) Dad and Laura sampled seven or eight beers, while Mom and I stuck to sours (brandy and whiskey, respectively). We all split the Brewer’s Platter, a tasty assortment of sausages, cheeses and other appetizers. The meal was excellent and afterward we went home and watched Sideways.

I had planned to leave work at 1:30 Friday afternoon but didn’t hit the road until 3:30. Laura’s niece and nephew were still at our place when I got home. Mom was reaching the end of the last book she’d brought and we didn’t want her going into withdrawal, so after dinner (leftovers) we went to Half-Price Books and Barnes & Noble in Mentor. I grabbed a copy of The Once and Future King, Dad got a couple of books about the Great Depression, Laura picked up some smut a historical romance by Bertrice Small, and Mom got a couple of suspense/thrillers and some kind of feel-good novel along the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the Travelling Bees veinEDIT: I almost forgot the booze book. Dad bought Mom a copy of Playboy: Bartender’s Guide from Barnes & Noble. Quite the handy guide, the book covers everything from glassware to the proper use of ice and contains rather a lot of drink recipes (including the Chumbawamba, which contains whiskey, vodka, lager and cider). I expect that this ten-dollar purchase will eventually translate into Dad building a wet bar in the basement (and needing $2K worth of new tools to complete it). Time will tell..

Bob and I did almost 13 miles on the bicycles Saturday morning. Bob pulled a Knievel heading down a long hill near the turnaround point, but escaped without serious injury. I returned home to a very subdued house and much of the afternoon was spent napping and reading. After dinner (burgers), we stopped by Noosa for dessert (they’ve got the best crème brûlée Laura and I have come across) and then visited my in-laws at their new hacienda.

Dad wanted to see the pipe organ at the Painesville United Methodist Church, which he may or may not have read about in a woodworking magazineWhether or not Dad read about a pipe organ in a woodworking magazine isn’t up for debate. Whether or not it was, in fact, this pipe organ remains questionable.. Mom, Dad and I drove out to Painesville intending to sit in on the 10:30 service Sunday morning. The service, however, was being held in “the Circle Room,” so we had the sanctuary all to ourselves. We wandered up to the balcony and Mom took some pictures of the pipes (there are 2,871 in all) as well as a couple of the stained glass windows. Afterward, we bade God a pleasant morning and stepped next door for a bite to eat.

During the pre-concert napping, I destroyed many humans with an alien death ray and then attempted to atone for my deeds by saving the world from time-travelling super villains. Oh, the dichotomy.

‘Rents in the hizzie!

Sometimes, MapQuest is not your friend. A couple of years ago, Laura and I wound up on the wrong side of Ravenna (?) looking for a street that didn’t exist (in that location) thanks to MapQuest. We eventually found our way to the proper area, but only after much driving around and unpleasant muttering.

MapQuest steered my parents toward Columbus yesterday, and though they realized the error quite quickly it threw them for quite the loop. I understand there was some unpleasant muttering before they stopped and called me to lead them the rest of the way to Casa Johnson. Fortunately, they’d managed to get pretty close and I knew right where they were.

So they didn’t have to spend the night in a Denny’s parking lot.

Mom’s birthday is today. She’s old enough to be my mother, and I’ll leave it at that. On Sunday, she’ll be seeing Neil Diamond in concert for the first time. Dad is going, too, though I understand that he’s been telling people that mom will “buy him a ticket when [they] get there.” Not so. Both tickets have been sitting in an envelope on Laura’s desk for a month or so.

Though both my mother and my mother-in-law (who has seen Mr. Diamond in concert multiple times) are fans, I don’t think the latter has ever played her Diamond CDs at a volume severe enough to shift tectonic plates. In 1993, “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” was responsible for southern Ontario and northern Upper Michigan drifting apart by no less than 3 inches (7.62 cm). ((As of this writing, the 1986 earthquake that rocked northeast Ohio has not been officially attributed to “America,” a Neil Diamond song of which my mother-in-law is particularly fond. Nonetheless, there are unconfirmed rumors that the epicenter of the quake coincided with the location of the Sperry residence.))

Last night, we watched Meet the Fockers, which proved to be quite entertaining and apparently skated in beneath dad’s Bullshit Threshhold (apart from the ending, which he thought was somewhat stupid). I was quite amused at the idea of a yappy little dog being flushed down a chemical toilet. PETA and the SPCA might feel otherwise.

In other news, work is work today. I hope this doesn’t signal the start of an unpleasant trend.


If you grew up in my childhood home, you shouldn’t have any trouble parsing the Finnish word for asafoetida, a particularly pungent resin made from wild fennel.


I very nearly laughed out loud.

Camping in the Rain

The weekend was certainly interesting. Friday evening, we met the Wiitalas (Matt, Shiela and Drew) and Winklers (Steven, Velta, Mara and Peter) at the Maumee Bay State Park. Laura and I arrived just as the Winklers were finishing dinner (steak and baked potatoes) preparations. We had two campsites, one for the two tents (ours and the Wiitalas’) and the other for the dining fly and the Winklers’ pop-up camper. Almost every other site in the immediate vicinity was occupied by kiters, who had descended upon the park for their annual (?) gathering. There were windsocks, windmills, banners and (of course) kites everywhere.

Unfortunately for everyone, it rained most of the day on Saturday. We had just gotten the dining fly erected a little before 8:00 Saturday morning when the first rain came in, and the weather just went downhill from there. We spent much of the day clustered under the dining fly, the screened walls of which didn’t offer the best protection from the rain unless you were standing in the very center of the fly (which was occupied by a picnic table). The next dining fly we get will be a bit bigger, I think, and have retractable tarpaulin walls.

Breakfast Saturday morning was bacon and eggs, cooked in the rain. We spent the remainder of the morning running in and out of the dining fly, as it would rain one minute and be bright and sunny the next. I managed to get a good bit of American Gods read before the sun gave up entirely. As afternoon approached, we determined that a trip to the nearby Wal-Mart was in order. The rain was coupled with stifling heat Friday evening and much of Saturday, so the dry, cool shelter offered by Wal-Mart was very attractive. When we returned to the campground, Laura declared that it was lunchtime (so much of camping seems to revolve around the meals).

At one point after lunch on Saturday it was pouring so hard that everyone abandoned the dining fly and sequestered themselves away in tents, campers and vehicles. Laura and I sat in the MVoD listening to the first disc of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which we’d picked up from Wal-Mart (along with ice, chips, charcoal and other supplies). After about an hour, we returned to the dining area and began preparations for dinner. In spite of the rain, it was decided that we’d cook dinner in the fire ring.

Laura was determined to have s’mores for dessert, so Matt and I held our umbrellas over the fire and roasted marshmallows in the pouring rain, both getting thoroughly drenched in the process. The sight of two grown men huddled over a smoking fire roasting marshamallows in a downpour was undoubtedly very amusing. Unfortunately, our digital camera was sitting back home on an end table, so the moment wasn’t captured for prosperity.

The rain had moved east by Sunday morning, so Laura didn’t get any extra water in her pancake batter. After breakfast, we packed up our gear and headed home. We were all on the road by 10:30, and Laura and I arrived home a bit before 1:00.

I spent much of the day ripping the 17 Harry Potter CDs to Apple’s proprietary AAC format, renaming all of the tracks to a common format (“Chapter 01, The Other Minister-A”, “Chapter 01, The Other Minister-B” and so on) and then changing the file extensions (from .m4a to .m4b) so they’d all be bookmarkable in iTunes and on my iPod. While I ran between Laura’s computer and mine (her DVD-ROM drive is better for ripping the discs, while the music collection resides on my computer), Laura listened to the CDs in the living room. I had all of the discs ripped and organized by late evening. Laura finished listening to the book at about 6:00pm yesterday, while I finished at about 3:15am today.

Happy Birthday, boy-eez!

Birthday wishes to my brother, Keven (AKA KJwon), who is 39 years of old today.

Belated birthday wishes also to my brother, David (AKA Thagg), who achieved 42 years of even older on Thursday, the 23rd of June. I apologize for the belatedness. I have a laundry list of excuses for being so tardy, but they are all lame.

Vacation: Unplugged

Laura and I spent the last week in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula visiting my relatives. We left Sunday afternoon and returned last night.

Sunday: Drove to Lansing, MILansing allegedly won the capital of Michigan by a single vote over Calumet, which is in the northwestern Upper Peninsula.. Spent the evening with the Wiitala family. Ate ice cream, played UNO.
Monday: Got up early and drove the rest of the way to my parents’ place. We left Lansing at 7:30AM and arrived at Messy Manor Ranch at about 4:30PM. Managed to not get eaten by Onyx, my parents’ German ShepherdOnce Onyx determined that it was not necessary to eat me, she wanted to play fetch at every possible opportunity. The dog is absolutely insane for her tennis ball, and will chase it all over creation for hours at a time, if given the opportunity.. Mom baked two large piesThe pies were baked in half-sheet pans, and I’d estimate them to be about 16″ x 22″. Dad claims to have eaten eighteen pieces of the rhubarb in the course of the next four days. I’m not sure this is possible, as I ate nearly half that many myself. The apple pie was also quite good, but everyone was rabid for the rhubarb..
Tuesday: Lazy, lazy, lazy. Also, Dad made about eight dozen cookies (oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip) because Mom wasn’t around to tell him not to.
Wednesday: See Tuesday. Brenda showed up a day ahead of schedule.
Thursday: Ditto. We did run into town in the evening to get some frozen treats (Lemon Chill, Bomb Pops) to soothe Laura’s sore throat.
Friday: The big trip into town. Breakfast at the Suomi restaurant, then a visit to Dee Stadium (the birthplace of professional ice hockey) to view the exhibit chronicling the history of Houghton County. Afterward, we went to a junkyard in a failed attempt to find a head for a Dodge Caravan, then took Laura to the emergency room at Portage HospitalLaura had a bit of a sore throat early in the week that developed into a very nasty, wet cough by Friday. At the ER, she was given some sort of inhaler, a prescription for Robitussin with codeine and a prescription for an antibiotic, the latter to be filled only if she got worse. She was feeling quite a bit better by Sunday, but still has coughing fits.. Then it was off to ShopKo to get Laura’s prescription filled. After that, we bought groceries, went to lunch, dropped by the Jeffers High School open house, stopped to see some relatives and went home.
Saturday: Karen arrived at 1:58AM. She drove in from Chicago after Brenda’s plans to visit her there fell through. Laura and I attended the all-school reunion dinner at Jeffers with my Mom, Dad, one uncle and two aunts. There were only three people in attendance who graduated between 1981 and the present. I didn’t know the other two.
Sunday: Croquet in the early afternoon followed by a cookout and birthday celebration at my aunt and uncle’s “camp” on Lake Superior. Dad was born on this day in 1939. The water was cold but certainly not too cold for swimming. Alas, my trunks were back at my parents’ place. To make matters worse, the flies were biting, which kept most everyone inside the whole while. Volleyball in the evening. The flies back at Messy Manor Ranch weren’t anywhere near as vicious as those at the lake. Adam and Brenda went back to the lake to watch the fireworks, but Laura and I skipped them due to exhaustion.
Monday: Drove, drove, drove. Thirteen hours and forty-one minutes from door to door. On the way back we saw one black bear (in the U.P., between L’Anse and Alberta) and fireworks from perhaps two dozen different communities (along the 80/90 turnpike and driving through Cleveland in Ohio). Average speed in the Upper Peninsula over a five hour periodIt took us precisely this long to get from my parents’ house in Toivola to the center of the Mackinac Bridge, including a stop in Chassell (not South Range) for gas.: 56mph.

Mom is very eager to clean out the attic, so I took four large boxes of comics back to Ohio. I’d guess that’s 800 or more comics. They’re not worth any money, but they sure bring back a lot of memories. My brother, Adam, and I spent a couple of hours sorting through the boxes separating his comics (Silver Surfer, The Flash, The Punisher, Amazing Spider-Man) from mine (pretty much everything else).

At some point during the week, we were visited by the Toivola Volunteer Fire Department’s new pumper truck. Several members of the TVFD drove to East Jordan to pick up the truck earlier in the week. My father has been a member of the TVFD since its inception, and the entire family has been involved in various events sponsored by the fire department. The firemen were very excited about acquiring this new truck, and I suspect some of them slept in cots at the firestation that entire week.

More of a Fall pie.

“What kind of pie should I make for Easter dinner?” Laura asked a couple of years ago.

“Pumpkin,” I replied.

“I’m not going to make pumpkin pie for Easter,” she responded.

“Hey,” I said, “you asked, I answered.”

“Pumpkin is more of a Fall pie,” she said, and proceeded to make a not-pumpkin pie.

My in-laws love me, though. Perhaps almost as much as I love the pie of the pumpkin. That occasion aside, my mother-in-law has made sure that empanada de la calabaza is on the dessert menu at every third family gathering or so, regardless of season. Last Sunday, when we gathered for some late Mother’s Day and birthday celebrations, my grandmother-in-law gave me two pumpkin pies.

I had pumpkin pie for breakfast this morning. Just a little wedge of gourdly heaven before work.

Feliz Cumpleaños, mi amor.

Happy Birthday to Laura, who is babysitting her sister’s kids today (and most every Friday), and will probably not read this until it’s no longer her birthday anymore.

Laura’s first trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula happened around her birthday in 1994. Laura was on the verge of graduating from Bowling Green State University (Go Falcons!) at the time, while I was paying matriculation fees to Michigan Technological University (Go Huskies!) and living with my parents in Toivola.

While Laura was staying with us, there was a huge, nasty blizzard. Such an occurrence in the U.P. is not at all uncommon for mid-March, but I think it caught the girl from Ohio by surprise.

My mother made a cake for Laura’s birthday in 1994, and by the eighteenth of March the following year I’d been living in northeast Ohio for several months. Tonight, I’ll celebrate Laura’s birthday with her for the twelfth time. I’ve heard that it may snow.