Posts Tagged ‘Life’

The Greatest Word Ever

Much to my chagrin, we’ve had a preponderance of UHT milk in our house lately. For the uninitiated, UHT stands for Ultra High Temperature, which is what you need to subject milk to in order to give it a nearly indefinite shelf life at room temperature. My chagrin is largely due to the fact that UHT brings back unpleasant memories of being at sea. But with three members of our household eligible for WIC, we get more free milk than we can consume each month. Perhaps more precisely, we get more milk than we have room to store in the refrigerator. Hence the UHT stockpiling.

Anyway, the other day I found myself reading the carton during breakfast (don’t scoff – you know you’ve done it!) and made an interesting discovery. The words are all printed in three languages, which is certainly not interesting in itself. Almost everything you buy in Europe is printed in at least two; what was interesting was the languages used. The UHT brand sold at the commissary, Arla, comes from Denmark, so naturally one of the languages was Danish. The second was of course English, the linguistic common currency of Europe. Can you guess the third? German? Nope. French? Nope. Dutch? Spanish? Italian? No, no, and no. Nor Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish or Portuguese. The third language printed on all the UHT milk in our U.S. army commissary is of course…

Gaellic. Yep, apparently they store a lot of milk out there in rural Ireland. Or they don’t have electricity. Or they just love that kinda odd aftertaste that makes me feel like I’m back in the wardroom of the USS Mount Hood enjoying some delicious oven-baked breaded meat patty on a ceramic plate. Anyway, I’ve had little exposure to Gaellic outside of chillin’ out to some Enya, and I have to say, that is one strange looking language. So my new favorite word for the week is (make sure your browser is on full screen): assigiiaaqqissqarsimasuuvoq. That’s right, a double U and a double Q in one word. You need at least four sets of scrabble tiles (and two boards) to play that baby.

I’m pretty sure it means homogonenized.


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I was asked yesterday if I was done with this blog. The question was predicated by the title of my last post, which I guess I didn’t explain well. Each page in a Navy flight log book ends with a diagonal line through all the blank lines with the words “No Further Entries This Page” (or NFETP) written across it. I was simply reflecting on my final NFETP from August 1998. No, Logomanikos is still alive. I do plan to start writing some more meaningful posts again sometime – soon I hope. Anyway, the question was another reminder of how easy it is to miscommunicate online, and that one should think twice before throwing something on the world wide web for anyone in the world to read if they are so inclined. And with that completely artificial segue…

Two weeks ago, we had a bit of excitement at work when our chapel secretary passed out. We thought it was a heart attack and called 911 (actually 112 here in Europe). He was OK, but left in an ambulance and was taken to the hospital for some tests. (Turned out to be an ulcer.) Then last week, I was lifting weights in the base gym with a couple high school guys when one of them smashed his finger pretty bad – fingertip swelled up, he bled everywhere. I walked him the 200 or so meters over to the fire station to get it looked at, and then waited with him until his dad picked him up. Two unrelated incidents, neither directly involving me, and neither ultimately that serious (though the first was a little scary at the time).

That night, for my daily Facebook status update, I wrote “Steve hopes to end his streak of consecutive weeks interacting with base paramedics at TWO.” I thought it was a good status update: interesting, clever, mysterious – always gotta try to hook some comments, right? Of course no one one asked about it, and life moved on. The next morning, as I arrived at work, the garrison chaplain says: “Hey, your name came up this morning. Something about paramedics at two in the morning?”

What? I was completely puzzled at first; it took a minute or two to connect the dots and figure out what had happened. I realized a colleague with whom I’m friends on Facebook mentioned my status comment in the weekly staff conference call, in the process misinterpreting the word “TWO”, not to mention my ill-expressed tongue-in-cheek intentions. Well, no harm no foul I guess, but it’s pretty interesting how differently information is relayed in this digital world.

So, anyone else have any good stories about crazy untended consequences resulting from communication via the Internet?

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This story is a little stale as far as news of my life, but it’s too good not to record for posterity. I know “ludicrosity” is not a valid logos, but it aptly describes an experience I had a couple weeks ago right after returning from Beach Break. My regional director Otis and I drove a big yellow cargo van from Italy back up to Germany. At the Italy-Switzerland border, the border guards apprised us of the fact that we’d lost our front license plate somewhere along the way. Front plates are mandatory all over Europe. The guard let us through, but warned us that the German police would fine us if they saw the missing plate. We had a similar conversation at the Swiss-German border, but again got through the border with little hassle. So to reiterate: the law enforcement officials of two sovereign nations saw fit to let two rather disheveled Americans driving a large windowless cargo van with a missing license across their national borders without searching the van or even looking at our passports. But then we tried to go on the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg.

MCYM has a storage cage in the basement of a building in the area of the base where the PX is. There are no military personnel, offices, equipment, etc on this part of the base; just some fast food, a gas station, and other commercial outlets. The civilian security guard (after scanning our valid ID cards and searching the vehicle) flatly refused to let us enter because of the missing license plate. We would have to drive back to the main post (Patrick Henry Village – PHV) to file a report with the MP’s. “How will we get through the gate there?” The MP desk sergeant will call the gate to let you through. “Can’t he just do that here?” No – we need to go get a report form for the missing license plate.

Ten minutes later, after another vehicle inspection, we explain the story to the gate guards at PHV. They had received the call from the MP’s and they do let us on post. Otis goes into the MP station and starts the process of filling out the report for the missing plate. In his conversation with the desk sergeant, it comes to light that we are driving a rental van, not a government van. “Oh! That’s a different story! You don’t need a police report; I’ll just call the gate and have them let you in.”

“So you want us to go back to the PX and you’ll do what we wanted you to do in the first place?” Of course, Otis didn’t actually say that, but we had a good laugh about it as we drove back over the PX. After searching our van for a third time that morning, the gate guard at the PX called the MP desk to confirm what we had told him. He came back and said “You’re not going to believe this, the desk sergeant says you need to go back over to PHV again.” Fortunately, he was kidding. Unfortunately, I think I would have believed it.

Well, seeing it in print, that story is not as funny as I remember it. Maybe it was the sun and sleep deprivation.

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Next week I’m attending my twentieth high school reunion. I’m interested to see what this event is like for me. I have many good friends from high school whom I’ve kept in close contact with. These are the guys I’m going back to see. Here are some of them at my wedding ten years ago (Aly, Dylan, me, Bruce, my brother J.J., Kerry and Rob):

I’m curious to see what it will be like reconnecting with other people whom I haven’t kept in touch with. Will it feel odd and uncomfortable? Will it be interesting? Will dormant friendships rekindle? Will I remember anyone? Will they remember me? Will it feel real or artificial? Will it feel like now or like I’m back in high school again? These are the questions that are swirling in the back of my mind. Not the front of my mind though; I’ve been too busy to really think about this trip much.

So one of the things we were supposed to do for this reunion was create a biography / memory page. It was quite a project trying to sum up a little over half my life on one 8.5 by 11 page. And as I did it, I also had to reflect a bit on my motivation for spending so much time trying to “get it right” and make it look good. How much is my pride driving this project? Do I just want to make myself look impressive for a bunch of people I don’t really even know anymore? Shannon wisely reminded me as I agonized with formatting pictures and margins and so on, “All the people who really care already know what’s happened in the last 20 years of your life.” Certainly good counsel. On the other hand, I do look forward to seeing other people’s pages, folks I haven’t seen since 1988, and I do hope that many of them took the time to really effectively give me some sense of where life has taken them these past two decades. So I’m at least telling myself that I really did all this work for them, not for me. You can opine for yourself about that rationale. Anyway, here’s what I came up with (if you find any typos, please don’t tell me):

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A Year Past our Prime

One year ago, on April 17, 2007, our youngest son Zachary turned 11 months old. On that day, I was 37 years old, Shannon was 31, Caleb 5, and Joseph 3. My fellow geeks out there have already caught the pattern (and titular word play) – all five of us had prime numbers for ages. That peculiar mathematical condition lasted for a month, until Zach’s first birthday, and (assuming my kids all outlive me) it was the only time it will ever occur in our family!

Previously, before parenthood, we experienced nine months of double-prime life, from my 29th birthday until Shannon’s 24th. 1999 was a very enjoyable and memorable year year for us, so apparently happiness really doesn’t require many factors.

Rim shot.

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Change? Who wants change?

Yesterday, I had a box full of rolled euro change that I needed to exchange into bills. It was a pretty significant amount of money. I went to (or called) five banks before I could find one that would take the change, and even at that one I had to come back later in the day. Made me wish this place was real:

A couple weeks ago, I listened to a 60 Minutes podcast discussing the pros and cons of getting rid of the penny. Did you know that it costs the U.S. about two cents to make a one cent coin? Can you imagine a business operating like that? Nickel production also results in negative cash flow. In my opinion, a coin that cannot purchase anything is not worth making. That means no more pennies and probably no nickels either. But if you put me in charge for a day, I think I have an even better plan: let’s get rid of dimes. Think how much simpler our money system would be if the only coins we had were quarters and nickels. Here in Europe we have not only one cent, but two cent coins, which is simply absurd. Not only will banks apparently not take them, but a lot of stores won’t. Sometimes we try to give exact change for groceries and the cashier will simply refuse the pennies.

One of the reasons given on 60 Minutes for not eliminating small coins was that it would hurt charities. What a sad commentary on the state of our generosity. If I’m going to toss a stray Lincoln or Jefferson into the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time, why not make it a paper one? It’s still not a huge sacrifice and it increases my gift 100 fold.

So here’s my idea for an act of peaceful civil disobedience for any of you who might be subversive minded. Get a couple thousand people to collect a hundred dollars or so in pennies. Then leave them all in a big pile at the front door of Congress one night (unrolled of course). What would you be prosecuted for – littering? If it was anything like that, it would pretty much exactly prove the point!

So if Obama’s main selling point is that he’ll bring a lot of change to the country, after yesterday’s frustrations, I say the heck with that!

(Easy now, it’s just a bad pun…)

Update: Hmmm – the video’s not available on YouTube anymore. I found an amateur recreation of it. I think they use exactly the same script as the original SNL skit (more jokes than the shortened version previously posted), but it doesn’t come out very funny. Timing really IS everything. And professional production values don’t hurt. If you want to see it, click here. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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Wisdom in Paris with Joey

Last week I led a middle school trip to Paris. While the students were at Disneyland, I hit the metro to scout out a photo scavenger hunt around the sights of Paris. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and to make it even better, I was able to bring my four-year-old son Joey along with me on the expedition. He enjoyed seeing the “Heiffel” Tower, but wasn’t much impressed by anything else. What a joy it was to hang out with him all day and catch a few bits of wisdom from the proverbial “mouth of a babe”.

Upon seeing a park with a line of about a dozen large (dishwasher-sized) boulders along the edge of the sidewalk:
“Dad, did you know that I can pick up all those rocks at the same time?”
“Really? You can?”
“Yeah. I’d just need a lot of help. I might need everyone in the whole world to help me lift them.”

Then later on:
“Dad, does the whole world belong to God?”
“Yes it does Joe.”
“That means wherever we go, we’re really visiting him.”

So there you go: You can do a whole lot if you get everyone in the whole world to help you. And wherever we go, we are sojourners and guests of a loving host. Sometimes I make things more complicated then they need to be.

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