Friday, November 26, 2010

Modern Thanksgiving update

Things did not go according to plan at all.

1. Oldest son missed a detail on Girlfriend's dinner plans: What time are you eating and visiting relatives. It turns out that it was late. too late to drive to PA.

2. Dessert at Mom's turned into dinner at Mom's after Dinner at The Chancellor's Mom's. Oh and then dessert.

3. We still have to work out today's plan.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Modern Thanksgiving

Well it's the holidays and once again we plan to put on more miles than a trucker trying to make Tuscan by sunup. The only difference is that we will be driving in circles. Also, the difference today is we have four drivers now so we get a certain economy of scale over the days when I was the lone driver for this insanity.

I'm just hoping the Aluminum Falcon is up to the task because we are asking it to play a major role in "Operation Dessert Storm"

First up: Thanksgiving day finds Youngest Son working here in Mt La-La because either he is too junior to pull rank or he didn't plan ahead and request the day to eat with his family. It also finds Oldest Son unknowingly establishing lifelong patterns as he eats dinner with Girlfriend's family, picks up his brother and then heads to PA for some dessert.

The Chancellor and I are headed for Her Mom's for dinner where we are in charge of dessert and salad. Not just any salad, which is what I had assumed while shopping yesterday, it has to be a salad with mandarin oranges. So there is a trip to a supermarket some time this morning. After dinner with her Mom and this magical salad, we head over to my Parents, joining up with the boys and having a second dessert just the way Lombardi drew it up.

You would think that we would be able to get in our cars and all head home after all that. But wait, there is more fun ahead.

On Black Friday, the Chancellor and Youngest Son have to work (there is that life lesson about planning again) while I am free and Oldest Son going upstate with his cousins to see their cousin's band in a show.

And now it becomes like one of those river crossing puzzles. We have four people, 2 cars stuck in PA and three of us are returning to Jersey. Youngest Son needs the car to work, The Chancellor has to get to work and I see a lot of driving in my future. The solution of course is that we drive separate cars back to NJ while Oldest Son stays at my Parents with my younger Brother and his wife and my youngest Brother and his family. It's a big house.

From there our plan looses detail but I'm pretty sure I will be going back to PA at some point. I think we need to go to daily meetings and dedicated project manager until Sunday at this point.

It wasn't going to be this way this year. Back in October we were asked to host Thanksgiving instead of her 80 year old Mom doing it. There was phone call, we were both on it and before I could say we'll have to talk about it, The Chancellor said "yes".

And then nothing happened.

About once a week I would ask "are we making plans for Thanksgiving?" and I was told "it wasn't for sure yet". I made contingencies and I took the day off before Thanksgiving, not knowing what lay ahead.
In the mean time, The Chancellor decided that since she had few days off, this would make a fine time to rip the wallpaper off the dining room walls. I should have realized something was up then

Finally, last weekend the word came from headquarters that her Mom was not ready to give it up yet. Operation "Cook a bird" was off and "Dessert Storm" was on and now I sit in my empty kitchen trying to figure out how we are getting all this done.

The best is yet to come really. While we are making plans here, something, some unknown event, some over looked detail, is going to come along and completely wreck these plans. It will not go down as planned.

All of this makes me long for the days when it was simple. We got up. We had Breakfast. We got in the car and went to her Mom's and we visited. We went to My Parent's for the meal. On the way home two boys slept in the car. It was simple.

Before that it was even simpler. In 1978 I was in the Navy in Alexandria, Egypt on Thanksgiving day. I got up. I got in a long line to eat. I ate. I took a few pictures.

All I know is I'm getting the van and the Ez-Pass.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Falling Leaves

005The cold weather is finally settling in as if for good, like it's moving in to stay. The days can be nice like last weekend was. This weekend is looking the same.

The leaves seem to have real staying power this year and the colors have been brighter and staying longer than I ever recall, but maybe that just comes with getting older. I feel like saying "Yep, back in aught two we never had colors like this, must be that global warmin'".

Of course falling leaves mean raking leaves and the problem these days is what to do with them after you have them in big pile. When I was growing up it was simple, you light a match to them and watched to make sure they a) kept on fire and b) didn't burn anything else. Of course that is highly illegal these days and now my township picks them up from the curb but only when they announce it. Since the township can not possibly be all places at all times, this means they pick up twice: the 3rd week in Sept and the week after Christmas.

You have no idea home any times I've made a big pile of leaves out front in November only to have to shovel up that mess when the first snow comes in January.

My the trees on the front lawn actually had the leaves fall in time with the township's schedule and a couple of Sundays ago I got out there and put the leaves to the curb. Magically they were gone by Wednesday. It was like a Autumnal miracle. Of course the township geniuses some home missed the larger pile that my neighbor had across the street.

All my other leaves stubbornly missed being picked up by the township since they were cleverly hiding in tree branches up in the air.

Last weekend The Chancellor and I raked some in the back yard. Since I knew that the township would not be around again in 2010, I thought I'd just put the leaves in plastic trash bags and put them out with the trash and that's where they remain today, in bags by the curb. The trash folks refuse to pick them up.

This week brought cold temperatures and wind, the arch enemies of the leaves still clinging to the hope that Summer will be right back make them healthy converters of CO2 into O2 again. Now I have the largest pile of the season waiting to be picked up and some how disposed of.

 Pictures here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hunter College, NYC

The college search for youngest son continued last week with a visit to Hunter College in New York City. This was his idea, I swear.  The Chancellor and I set aside the second Tuesday in November and took the time off to take him on the train to NYC.

Monday night before the visit and suddenly it's a different story. He doesn't want to go because he has to make dumplings for his German class version of Oktoberfest.

I was not happy about this, after all a plan is plan and The Chancellor had turned down hours at the Hospital we were going, like it or not.

He agreed only if his friend Pat could come.

Pat could come if Pat paid his own way.

They agreed.

On Tuesday morning Pat showed up with yet another Hunter College candidate, Paul. the five of us piled into the minivan and headed to the train station in Hamilton. We timed it perfectly and caught the 11 AM to Penn Station without incident despite of the boys deciding they wanted a last minute donut at the train station while the train was pulling in.

It was only the beginning of my stress.

We arrived in New York at 12:30, found a seemingly endless buffet bar in midtown, grabbed some lunch and then headed for the Subway.

Now, I know nothing about the MTA or NYC Subways so I had consulted with Oldest Son when he was home the week before. I thought you got on a Subway and it just took you where you wanted to go. Apparently it does not work like this. You need a map and the map of NYC Subway system looks like some one took a bowl full of different colored spaghetti and then threw it on a map of NYC. 

Oldest Son had a iPhone App that mapped out your trip on the Spaghetti/Subway system. We had to take the "E" train towards Queens, change over to the 6 train and then get off at Hunter College which had its own stop.

This seemed easy enough. One transfer, how hard could that be, right?

Well, it took us a while but we figured out the MTA machines and we got on the E train. The only hitch was that Patrick's MTA card was a little fussy and wouldn't let him through the turnstile. While the four of us waited on the Subway side, Patrick wiped his card like a mad man until it let him through.

This would come back to haunt us later.

We rode the E train, listened for the transfer point for the number 6 and then got off the train. So far so good except we were at the south end of the platform and couldn't find the 6 train. We saw two of NYC's finest and asked them.

I guess you just expect a cop to know everything and so when they said they were trying to find it themselves, I was a little shocked. They were from Brooklyn and were peering into a smart phone to try and get directions. About that time, we all saw the signs for the 6 at the other end of the platform and headed north.

When you are that far below ground, you lose all sense of depth. I had walked down a flight of steps back in midtown so I thought we were still about 1 story down. That's why I pooh poohed the elevator when I saw a line of about 15 trying to get on it to get the 6 train. This ended up being a huge mistake.

Let's just keep walking and find a stairs, I thought. Now somewhere in here, we lost the cops, maybe it was at the elevator, I don't know.

A little further down we found a stuck escalator that an endless stream of people were pouring out of onto the E platform. There was a short black woman at the bottom headed up and she squeezed her way unto the escalator and started to make her way up. I figured she knew where she was going and so I followed her up and the rest of our field trip followed me.

We were fighting traffic and climbing at the same time and had no idea where we going since all we saw were people coming down and we never really looked up.

If we had, we would have seen something like this (except from the other direction):
Where's Your Canary

Soon the traffic coming down stopped and we could see that we weren't even half way up the tallest stuck escalator I have ever seen.

It was about here that the short black woman decided that she could not go on. The Chancellor was directly behind me and the boys behind her, all climbing for daylight. The woman stopped, I passed her and continued marching up.

This action showed a big difference between my wife and I. I kept marching up and she went into "life coach for strangers" mode. She demanded that the small tired woman "keep going" with encouragements like "You can do it". She refused to let her go back down.

Meanwhile, I looked up and nearly fainted from vertigo. There was something about the small round tunnel, the lack of Oxygen and my wife yelling "You can do it" like Rob Schneider in an Adam Sandler movie that made my head spin a bit. I fought my way to the top with our new best friend behind me. The Chancellor refused to let her stop or turn back.

Finally we made to the top. My legs were rubber and I was bent over, out of breath. All I remember saying was "what..... was..... that?". It was the stuck escalator from hell, that's what it was. I don't even remember what happened to the small black woman as we all regathered ourselves at the top.

We found the 6 without incident and found Hunter easily. We were early and so we spent some time in Central Park killing about an hour. We went back to Hunter, sat through a 45 minute presentation and then all three boys decided  "I don't like Hunter". We bailed on the tour and decided to go home.

I was greatly disappointed since a) it's cheap ($4600/year!) and b) I had climbed that stupid escalator and spent $120 bucks to get there.

Now we had to reverse the trip except now it was rush hour. Of course Patrick has somehow used both rides during his frantic swiping of the MTA card and we found ourselves in the same position with Patrick on the outside, the rest of us on the inside. Patrick was ready to jump the turnstile like it was some Jenifer Lopez movie  but I pointed to cop and made him go to the ticket window where they fixed his card and then he joined us.

The 6 train was packed but we stuck together. I was afraid I'd lose one of them in the crowd and we would get separated so I drilled them on where to go.

"OK So we get off the 6 and we get on the..... anyone... "E" We get on the E. And then we head to ? Penn Station at 34th street." They understood the gravity of being lost in NY and stuck with me.

We ended up getting on a 4:37 express train to Hamilton and we were home by 6 PM. Youngest Son made the dumplings, brought them to school the next day and no one ate them. When he told me that, I reflected back on what a total waste the day had been.

Ohh and next time, I will take a cab. Pictures Here

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Italian Government wants to know how much I have in the bank.

Oldest Son is spending next semester in Italy and on Friday he came home so that we could work on logistics. He's in a well established program that helps with details like housing and a student visa to Italy. I'm not sure that this program makes it easier or not since we had to download a huge PDF that explained in extenuating detail the process of obtaining a visa with all of its "supporting documentation".

He was preparing to get the visa on his own since his passport needed renewing and that was expected to take several weeks but we were surprised to see the passport show up on Friday. He showed up Friday night right behind it and Saturday was spent trying to figure out the arcane rules for obtaining the visa since (surprise!) all the paper work has to be in on Tuesday. My God, how I love the twitter generation.

First we had decided which Italian consulate we belonged to. Since Italy is really a set of loosely connected regions, it must assume that the rest of the world is the same way and so one can't just pick any consulate to get a visa from. They do it by geography and since we are close to Philadelphia, we are to use that consulate to get the student visa. This is good, because if we were under the LA or Washington DC consulate, we would have been unable to submit our paper work to the special visa process sponsored by his program. Instead, we would be out on our own and would have to make an appointment at the consulate and apply in person.

Next, there was a 4 page form in Italian (with subtitles) that was to be filled out out MAKING NO MISTAKES. The instructions stated that if you made a mistake you had to start over. Apparently the Italians do not like mistakes. It was four pages of hell. The boxes were to small to actually print the required information and some of it just didn't make any sense. It took him only three forms to complete it with page number three inexplicably blank.


A passport photo was to be stapled to the 4 page form from hell UNLESS you lived in San Fransisco or Miami. Then you were to glue the picture to form. I'm not making this up.

And so it went like that all Saturday morning. Do this only IF you live here or here. After I while I was looking for Allen Funt and candid camera.

One of the many "supporting documents" was to be a letter from my bank. The Italian government wanted my bank to write them a letter stating that I had a least $5,000 in the bank. Later I was thinking how bold this was since no one bothered to check to see if my great-grandparents had a dime on them when they showed up here FROM Italy. Now they want to know if I have enough money to let my son back in for 6 months.

It just doesn't seem to make sense, does it?