30 December 2012

The F**kit List

Seems like everybody feels the need to make lists this time of year. The 10 Best ___ in 2012. The 25 Worst ___ in 2012. The 100 Most ___ in 2012. And of course those nasty lists of New Year's resolutions.

A couple of weeks ago, Huffington Post ran a piece called "The F**kit List". This promising title sucked me into one of those self-help, feel-better-about-yourself kind of articles that I never read, just on general principle, but it got me thinking.

What if I kept a list of things I do, or might once have done, or felt I should have done, but have come to suspect are no longer worth the effort? Some are probably things I never should've started doing in the first place. I won't miss doing them, and nobody will notice if I don't. Those are easy. But what about things I used to like to do, and I thought were worthwhile, that now take more effort than they used to? In some cases, much more effort. In other cases, I can no longer do them at all, but still wish I could, or still feel like I should. Which of those should I continue to struggle with, and which should be relegated to my F**kit List?

The first item on my F**kit List: Christmas cards.

Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, the end-of-the-year celebration used to be a really big deal around here. Even before Tuffy was born, there was sewing, shopping, baking, digging out the boxes of decorations and lights and putting them up inside and out; it was a really big deal. I used to like to send cards, lots of cards, made them by hand, included a personal, hand-written note with each one, the whole 9 yards. Crazy.

As it got harder and harder to do, I couldn't bring myself to just scribble a signature on a store-bought card and print out an address label from my meticulously maintained database. I wouldn't include a generic "holiday letter". I wouldn't send out fewer cards. No, apparently if I couldn't do it right, I wouldn't do it at all. 

I don't remember when I last mailed out real physical Christmas cards in envelopes with stamps. It's been long enough that the only ones I get are from my insurance guy and the dentist, whose secretary adds a personal, hand-written note wondering why it's been so long since I've been in for an appointment.

I regret losing touch with the people I only heard from once a year. In some cases they're people I like a lot, but our paths no longer cross on a regular basis. Even if it's only the sketchiest outline, even if it's just knowing they're still living in the same place, I miss hearing what they've been up to the previous year. I liked letting them know that I'd been thinking about them. But you know what? I could no longer do it, and I'm tired of feeling bad about it. So it goes on the F**kit List.

So, to all my blogger buddies: Whatever you celebrate this time of year, celebrate the heck out of it. Although I rarely leave comments on your blogs, it's usually because I can't think of anything useful to say, not because I don't care how things are going with you.

Even if I didn't send a Christmas card.

21 December 2012

Winter Solstice

Well it's rise up, Jock, and sing your song,
For the summer is short and the winter long.
Let's all join hands and form a chain
'Til the leaves of springtime bloom again.*

Tomorrow will be four seconds longer than today! 88 days, 13 hours, 21 minutes, and 17 seconds till spring! Bring in the holly and the ivy! Hang the mistletoe! Decorate the evergreen! Light the candles! Fire up the Yule log! Happy Winter solstice!

*Rise Up Jock (Bob Pegg), recorded by Nowell Sing When Clear

15 December 2012

Because Japan

Just about this time 23 years ago, I met my daughter for the first time. In some ways she was immediately familiar. The shape of her head, her pointy little elbows, her feet, were as recognizable from the outside as they had become on the inside. That was reassuring, because I was still trying to accept the fact that my life  had just changed in a way that I could never undo. You'd think that would've happened sometime in the previous nine months, but no. It wasn't until I was confronted with the physical reality of her that I realized I was no longer me. I was us.

I don't know how much influence I might've had on the person she eventually became. It didn't surprise me that she was relentlessly verbal, or that she was a reader from the time she could hold a book. What choice did she have? We had no TV. For fun, we went to the library.

She grew up in a house full of dogs; her earliest reflex was pushing a big black nose out of her face. But she doesn't love dogs. I don't think she even likes them all that much. She never once asked for a pony. She didn't collect bugs, or small animals. She never wanted to be a vet. Or a biologist. That was a surprise. Not a disappointment – but a surprise.

Scarecrow wrestled in his youth, but gender aside, it never occurred to me that this child would be a wrestler. This was totally unlike anything I ever did; I could barely stand to watch. In eight years, it never got any easier.

Why Japan? I don't know where she came by her fascination with things Asian. She started taking Mandarin Chinese in high school, but really, there weren't that many choices. When she needed another year of foreign language in college, she switched to Japanese because it fit into her schedule better. Once she heard about the JET Programme, the prospect of going to Japan was never far from her mind. The application process took almost a year. Still, somehow, it was a surprise to watch her drag her bag through the door of the airport on her way to Japan. It was totally unlike anything I ever did.

In the past five months, she has been learning about life in a place I will never go. For all her facility with words, sometimes there's just no way to describe her adventures in a way I can understand. "Because Japan," she says. There's no explanation. That's just the way it is.

I get that.

Happy birthday, Tuffy. Happy birthday!

13 December 2012

Not Today

Sometimes I open up a text editor to start on a blog post without having any idea what I might write about; just hoping inspiration will happen. Sometimes it does. Usually not.

I feel like whatever I write here ought to tie into MS, somehow. That was, after all, my original excuse for starting this blog. But lately, I haven't much wanted to read about MS, and I sure has heck don't want to write about it. If that's denial, so be it. (Really? Gimme a break!)

I feel kind of bad about turning this into a blog about my family history, although I don't know why that should be. I don't expect my family to be of interest to anybody besides me (and a second cousin of Scarecrow's who shares my obsession with stalking dead people), but nobody is compelled to read about it. If I'm worried about boring my adoring readers, I really need to get over myself.

Tuffy's blog is not turning out to be the source of inspiration I had hoped it might be. Her most recent post went up before I resurrected this blog from oblivion, so it hasn't been the source of much competition, friendly or otherwise. Not that motivating me to run off at the keyboard should be her top priority.

What does that leave? The whippets usually become blog fodder when they've done something odious. They haven't lately, as far as I'm aware, besides inflicting a bit more damage on Scarecrow's left slipper, which was already pretty well chewed. On balance, that's probably good.

When I used to write in a paper journal, with a really nice fountain pen, the excuse to pick up a really nice pen was reason enough to come up with something to write. Sometimes it was a note about the weather, and any birds I might have seen during the day. Sometimes that got me started on other things. Sometimes not. Tuffy has my pens now. They don't seem to be working for her.

Maybe something will happen tomorrow.

10 December 2012

Lucky Me

Sparky left this morning. It was a good visit. He's a good guy, and I always enjoy his company. The dogs accepted him as a member of the pack (as long as he didn't wear his hat – Bareit didn't like the hat). They pretty much abandoned Scarecrow and me, preferring to hang with Sparky. They even slept on his bed most of the night (well, he could've shut the door, couldn't he?). They're moping around by the front door now, waiting for him to come back. I guess if you're looking for a devoted, one-man dog, you wouldn't choose a whippet anyway.

Although I'm sorry to see him go, I can't wait to dig into the pile of stuff he excavated from the sediment that had accumulated on the floor of my dad's office over the years.

Shuffling through it once, quickly, with Sparky, I saw some pretty cool stuff:

  • a receipt for ladies lingerie, which my dad sold door-to-door after he graduated from high school; 
  • the invoice for my dad's first car, a used Studebaker, for which he paid $75 and put $5 down; 
  • v-mail between my dad and his brother when they were in the service during WWII; 
  • a picture of my aunt and uncle at their wedding, with a guy who I'm pretty sure is my grandfather; 
  • a copy of an application my dad submitted for a fellowship, with a whole bunch of information on it that I didn't know.

And Sparky says there's more where that came from.

This will keep me busy for now.

05 December 2012

Family Matters

My very favorite brother is coming up tomorrow from Southern California for a visit. Sparky is my only brother – my only sibling, for that matter – but even if that were not the case I'm pretty sure he would still be my favorite. He's a good guy. I'm looking forward to spending some time with him.

It should be easier to get him up here, now that his oldest son (Arkman) recently took a job in our neck of the woods. Fortunately, Arkman still has zero furniture, so Sparky will be staying with us, this time at least.  It'll be fun!

Sparky has agreed to fill any empty space in his luggage with family papers or photos or whatever other detritus he might have run across in his excavations of the house where mom and dad lived (apparently without ever throwing anything away) for almost 60 years. Who knows what kind of stuff might turn up?

You never know what you'll find. After trying, off and on for a couple of years, to find out when my paternal grandmother arrived in this country, I had pretty much given up. I knew she came from a shtetl near Bobruisk in what was then the Russian Empire, and that she was traveling with at least one sister. I knew she was born sometime around 1890, although my dad always said she lied about her age. I knew her surname was common in the area she came from – the local equivalent of "Smith" – and that it could be spelled about 8,967 different ways. I knew (I thought) the girls' given names, although it turned out I really didn't. I thought she came here before 1906, because my father said she would call my grandfather a greenhorn because she had been here longer than he had. I looked every place I could think of, or at least every place I could find on the Internet, but couldn't find documentation of any of this. So I pretty much gave up and went on to other things. Then, a month or so ago, out of the blue, I ran across this:

It is the passenger manifest of the S.S. Lituania, sailing from Libau in Russia on 26 October, 1911. On line 12 is Riwe Gorelik. It says she's 21 years old, so she would have been born around 1890. On line 13 is Sore Gorelik, age 23. Both young women gave their occupation as tailoress. They said they were unable to read or write. They were Jews, from a Russian town called Pariczi in Minsk. Their nearest relative was their mother, Liebe Gorelik, in Pariczi. Their final destination was Chicago, Illinois.

Riwe Gorelik is my grandmother, Eva. Sore Gorelik is my great-aunt Sophie.

So you never know what might turn up, or where you might find it. I just wish I could show this to my dad. He spent a lot of time looking for it, and would've been happy to finally see it. I'll show it to Sparky and he'll think it's cool, but it won't be the same.

This is the three of us, captured in my mother's inimitable photographic style, sometime around 1954.

One more thing: On line 15 of the manifest is Basse Gorelik, a 19-year-old from Kcsedrin, which is a village near Pariczi. No relation, I don't think. Gorelik was a really common name in those parts.

27 November 2012

Remembering My Dad

27 November 1920 –26 August 2011

This picture of my dad must've been taken sometime around 1947. I think it says a lot about him. For one thing, he could be a total doof. It was not something he ever grew out of. He enjoyed being funny, and he liked to laugh.

He could do that thing with his eyebrow. In fact, he could do it with either eyebrow, at will. He could wiggle his ears, too, which my brother and I used to think was absolutely hysterical, but you can't tell that from the picture.

He wore a mustache. I'm not sure I ever saw him without one. He let it grow out some in later years, but it was always there. I don't know why. It never occurred to me to ask.

He was fit at 27, or whenever this was taken, and kept fit all his life. Never much for team sports – he was too little for most of them anyway – he did some wrestling and Golden Gloves boxing in his youth. After he retired from his day job, he'd leash up the dog early most mornings and go for a long walk. Usually multiple miles, at a pace that I found challenging even when I was mobile. On his 90th birthday he walked down to the beach, a jaunt of over a mile, going down and coming back up a serious hill. Just to see if he could do it. That's the kind of guy he was.

My mother must've taken this picture. Like every other picture she took in the 60-some years they spent together, she cut off the top of his head.

22 November 2012

Empty-ish Nest

Tuffy lived at home while she was going to University of Washington, so this is our first holiday with an empty nest and her first holiday as a fledgling. She'll be sharing a Thanksgiving potluck with other JETs in Nagahama. The organizer assembled the contributions into the following menu:

Suzie: mac and cheese
Sandy: a pre-made meat of some sort that you will buy at Heiwado because I know you don't cook
Kayla: roasted root vegetables, pumpkin soup, maybe hummus
Amy & John: roast chicken
Melissa: eggplant side dish
Michael: mashed potatoes
Leslie: drinks, paper plates and cups
Tuffy: okonomiyaki
Caitlin: disposible utensils, and..
Willie: drinks, maybe a side
James: chocolate
Ellen: pie, & stuffing maybe

Tuffy was not much of a cook before she left for Japan. Now, she not only has to feed herself, she has to do it with unfamiliar ingredients, in a kitchen that has a stovetop and broiler, toaster oven (with no temperature control), and microwave. Like many Japanese kitchens, hers does not have a large oven. The one thing she says she can reliably pull off is okonomiyaki. Her Thanksgiving grocery shopping list (from creepy stalking on Facebook):

☆天ぷら flakes
☆green onion

Basically, ingredients for okonomiyaki.

Scarecrow's Thanksgiving menu is somewhat more traditional, although he's planning to roast a small-ish turkey on the grill rather than in the oven. Not as far from the beaten path as a potluck in Nagahama, but adventurous in its own way. Our nephew, Sparky's son Arkman, will be having dinner with us. This will be the first time we've seen him since he moved up to Bremerton from southern California a month or so ago for a new job. I don't expect he'll make an appearance until after the football games are over. Scarecrow warned him that we don't have a TV.

So it'll be different for all of us, but we'll all be celebrating the holiday with good food, family, and friends. I hope all my blogger buddies in the US have as much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

20 November 2012

Set Me a Good Example

Somehow, I expected Tuffy to be diligent about posting on her blog, and somehow I expected that would motivate me to post on my own. (Not that I'm competitive or anything.)

It's not working.

I suppose I should be glad that she's too busy having real life adventures to sit down and write about them, and I am glad. I am. I don't want to be the needy, nosy parent, and I know she's busy and she has a lot of stuff going on and all that, and that's all good, really. Really really. Neither of us have ever been much for chatting on the phone. There is Skype and it's a fine thing and we've done that a couple of times but I should probably let her know that if she ever wants to, you know, talk, that would be OK. In the meantime, I have to admit that Facebook status updates and photos are a lot more than my parents ever got from me when I was her age.

Scarecrow went out and got a mess of Indian food for my birthday. Not much else planned by way of celebration. But birthdays? Sure, I'll take as many of 'em as the powers-that-be see fit to send my way, and happy to do it.

15 November 2012

Fair's Fair

It occurred to me that my previous post might have left the impression that my mother served in the military during World War II, and my father didn't. That's not true.

This was my father's main contribution to the war effort:

Between 1941 and 1945, Willys-Overland Motors in Toledo, Ohio, built a small four-wheel drive utility vehicle called the Willys MB. Production of this vehicle, popularly known as the Jeep, was considered essential to the war effort. It was so essential that, as a machinist employed by Willys-Overland, my father
was granted three deferments from military service.

He was finally drafted in 1944, and served in the Army Corps of Engineers. It was not a good fit. Fortunately the war ended in 1945, and the Army spat him back into civilian life. He went to the University of Toledo on the G.I. Bill, where he met my mother, and on to grad school at Caltech, which is how I came to be born in California. You knew this would eventually turn out to be about me, didn't you?

When my cousin was here for a visit earlier this year, he told me that our grandfather moved from Chicago to the Detroit area to work for Ford Motors. The story goes that Ford was not hiring Jews, so he went to work for Willys-Overland. This must've been before May 1914, because that was when my uncle was born in Toledo. (If you're not from around here, Toledo, Ohio is very close to Detroit, Michigan.) My grandfather was a cabinetmaker, and at the time, much of a car's chassis and frame was made of wood. My dad said my granddad was proud of the fact that he worked on the showroom models, the ones that had to be perfect. I don't know how long he worked there. In 1915 and 1916, the Toledo city directory gives his occupation as woodworker. By 1920, when my father was born, he had opened a grocery store. So this has nothing to do with my dad's military service, and it's not like my dad and my grandfather worked shoulder to shoulder on the production line or anything. They just worked for the same car company, 25 years apart.

Another digression: From 1926 to 1931, without help from anyone in my family, Willys-Overland produced a small car called the Whippet:

This also has nothing to do with my dad's military service. It doesn't really have anything to do with whippets either, but there it is.

My mom's family worked in the auto industry in Toledo, too, but that's a story I'll inflict on you another day.

12 November 2012

Veterans Day

Marie Helen Couturier Spevak
13 September 1921 – 13 January 2012
photo c1945, U.S. Navy WAVES 
(Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)

Thanks, Mom.

10 November 2012

I Think I Need One of These

The wheelchair guy was here yesterday. This is a new wheelchair guy, one who belongs to the new insurance network, but he seems OK. We're working with a new PT, too, because the old one (with whom I'd worked for many years and who I liked a lot) didn't belong to the new network, but the new one seems OK, as long as I don't actually have to go in for an appointment, because the bathrooms in that building are really not very accessible even though it's a rehab medicine facility, for cryin' out loud! What were they thinking?

Where was I?

Nothing exciting in the works, chair-wise. A new seat cushion, because the one I have is getting distinctly butt-shaped. Taking a switch I can no longer work by hand no matter where I put it and moving it to my head array someplace, although we haven't figured out where, yet, exactly. And upgrading the electronics so the chair steers and tracks better, although the previous wheelchair guy said they couldn't do that in a chair this old, but this guy says they can. I guess we'll see about that.

Like anything having to do with medical equipment, it won't be cheap, which has me wondering how much I want to spend to upgrade a five-year-old chair. But whatever.

After a long blogging sabbatical, there are several things I want to catch up on, and I can't decide where to go first. Nothing that won't keep 'til another day, I suppose. Nice, not having a deadline!

06 November 2012

Signature Required

Scarecrow put our ballots in the mail a couple of days ago. All voting is by mail in Washington state, which is very convenient, although I admit I miss the ritual of going to the polls in person, carving out time before or after work, braving crappy November weather, crossing paths with friends and neighbors, waiting for a little stanchion to open up so I can step up and mark my ballot. With a mail-in ballot, Scarecrow can fill in the circles for me. Voting is easy. The tricky part is signing the outside envelope, to assure the powers that be that the enclosed ballot was submitted by a registered voter.

Yesterday we were notified that the Powers That Be are not too happy with the signature on my envelope.

I understand that. I'm not too happy with it, either. My hands first went numb in spring of 2002, and signing my name has been a problem for me ever since. Some of that time I could do it, kinda; the result just didn't look like my signature. Now I have trouble making a mark on paper, even if Scarecrow shoves a pen into my fist and moves a piece of paper underneath. It does not look like a signature. It does not even look much like an X.

If I ever gave any thought, before I became disabled, to the ways MS could make your life interesting (which, I admit, I never did), not being able to sign my name would not have wound up on my top 10 list. Or my top 25 list. Or probably my top 100 list. I don't think it would've ever occurred to me. But it's a real problem. It surely is.

Really, you wouldn't think it would be that hard. I can't be the first person with this problem. I just need a way for Scarecrow to write my name for me. (He has terrible handwriting, and although mine was never that great, the thought that anyone would take that signature for something I would've written causes me almost physical pain, but I'm willing to cope. That's how far I'd go.) There's the whole power of attorney thing, and making Scarecrow my attorney-in-fact makes sense, but it's kind of scary. It says I can no longer manage my own affairs, when really the thing I can't do is write my name on a piece of paper. It's not that I don't trust Scarecrow to act for me. I do, absolutely. It's just a control thing, I guess.

We're supposed to close on a refi here pretty soon. In case you've never had the pleasure, closing a mortgage loan entails signing your name 8267 times. I'm really looking forward to this.

04 November 2012

Catching Up

It's fall, and the leaves are doing that. With the shift back to standard time and the typically gloomy November weather, it starts looking like it's getting dark right after lunch. Scarecrow went out to scoop the dog yard and get the current batch of leaves off the deck. It appears he got carried away, and is raking leaves off the roof and removing a season's worth of compost from the gutters. He'll just have to do it again when the rest of the leaves come down, but he knows that. Won't hurt to do it twice.

I've been reading about what my Blogger Buddies have been doing while I wasn't looking. Honestly, for plot twists, and suspense, and cliff-hangers, authors of fiction have nothing on you folks! Being lazy, I'd always rather read about your adventures than write about my own, and your combined output for the past year or so will keep me in reading matter for a while yet.

02 November 2012

Hang Time

It's almost a straight shot from the kitchen, through the living room, and down the hall. At first you just hear the thunder of whippet feet as they rip through the kitchen, then the frantic skratchel of their nails (whippets are hell on hardwood floors) as they accelerate towards the bedroom and gather themselves to leap…


After an improbably long silence they fly from the middle of the hall, through the door, across the bedroom, and 70-some pounds of whippets thump onto the bed. (For whippets, gravity isn't really a law. It's more of a guideline.) If you happen to be in the bed when they do this, particularly if you're asleep, it can be very exciting.

Where was I going with this?

I last posted not quite a year ago. In some ways, it's been a very eventful time. My mom died last January, in June Tuffy graduated from University of Washington, in July she left for Japan, to teach English to high school students, and Scarecrow and I became empty-nesters. In other ways, it seems like nothing much has changed at all. We still have two whippets. They are still thieving, cowardly, and disrespectful (as much as I would like to take credit for this wonderful if painfully accurate description, I got it from Terry Darlington, from whom I also appropriated the term "narrow dog". I am not clever. I admit it. I just steal from clever people). I still have MS. I still have an unhealthy obsession with stalking dead people.

So why now? Tuffy started a blog to record her adventures in Japan. I thought that would be motivation for me to start Howling again (not that we're competitive or anything), but it wasn't. Why now? Beats heck out of me. Really. It does.

Maybe it was because I came across an interesting article, and the only way I could think of to share it was to resurrect my blog. Who knows? An awful lot of bloggers don't have a reason, or seem to need one. Why should I be any different?

Where was I going with this?