Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Year Wedding Meme

As you know, I don’t often reply promptly to meme tags, but every February 29th, I make an exception ... but really, it's because I like this meme from Anthromama quite a bit because I loved our wedding. Many of our guests have described it as the perfect wedding because it was a great party and it reflected Mama and I so well. Or maybe they’re just referring to the house we rented for our guests on Perch Pond where my buddy D’s first words to Mama’s brother, who arrived with a half-keg of beer, were, “So, what are we going to do when we’re done with that?”

Yeah, it was like that at Perch Pond.

And my family stayed at a nice little B&B and got to see more of Vermont and New England than I have to this day, despite Mama’s family living in Vermont. After hearing the stories from my family's travels, I wish that I had family getting married in Vermont, so I could do all of those things too.

And Mama’s aunts and uncles—all 10 of them—were together on that day for the first time in years. I’m quite sure that their reunion had more to do with our getting married on the farm where they all grew up than it did with anything about our wedding, but it was great to see them all there together with each other and their mom and aunt.
OK, on to the meme…

  1. Where/how did you meet? We met when I hired Mama. Our first conversation was a job interview over the phone. Mama was at school in upstate New York, and I was standing on the balcony that overlooks the courtyard at the Plaza Theater. My first words to her were, “What’s your favorite Dylan song?”
  2. How long have you known each other? 11 years.
  3. How long after you met did you start dating? We didn’t date while working together, perhaps only because I am a believer in Beitzel’s axiom: don’t shit where you eat. But once we were together again in Madrid, which was maybe a year later, we did start dating, and we haven’t stopped since.
  4. How long did you date before getting engaged? Uh, let’s do the math…April 1998 to December 1999, so roughly 20 months.
  5. How long was your engagement? From January 2000—we got engaged on New Year’s Eve—until August 2002, so roughly 32 months. I wanted to get married much sooner, but Mama wisely thought that it might be too much to get married in the same year we moved from Colorado to DC and she started grad school. She was right; she’s the smart one.
  6. How long have you been married? Six years, although since 3B was born, we haven’t been able to remember that.
  7. What is your anniversary? August 3. Again, we haven’t been able to remember this in advance of the day since 3B was born.
  8. How many people came to your wedding reception? One hundred or so—I don’t know the final count. Some guests decided to come at the last minute, and we had some who weren’t on our official guest list—they just came with other guests. Did I mention that this wasn’t a very formal event?
  9. What kind of cake did you serve? Ben and Jerry’s sheet cakes—we were in Vermont, after all, and we tried to reflect that whenever we could. They had fabulous cow decorations on them too. And no, I can’t remember the ice cream flavors, although I can remember that we each picked two flavors.
  10. Where was your wedding? On the pasture out Uncle Pete and Aunt Jeane’s front door. They mowed it low where the tent sat, and didn’t use the manure spreader on it all summer, which was a nice touch. The tent was close enough to the barn that Dobbin, the old, blind horse could nearly reach over the fence and eat the wedding cake. Did I mention that this wasn’t a very formal event?


  11. What did you serve for the meal? Uh, some chicken thing and some vegetarian pasta thing. It was pretty custom, based on what produce was good at the time and what mood the chef was in. We gave some basic guidelines and let him go, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
  12. How many people were in your bridal party? Uh, I don’t recall about the bridal party, although I think we were symmetrical, and in the groomal party we had four? Five? Dude, I’m getting old.
  13. Are you still friends with them? One of the groomsmen went underground and is currently on the lam, as far as I know. Seriously. Otherwise, yes, we’re all still friends. And I'd still be friends with him, if I knew where he was.
  14. Did your spouse cry during the wedding ceremony? I don’t think either of us did—although that was in large part because we told our reverend that we didn’t want to say anything more than, “I do.” I’m sure that if we’d had to say more than that, it would have been waterworks for both of us. After the ceremony, however, absolutely.
  15. Most special moment of your wedding day? There are too many to narrow it to just one…my best man D came over to me as Mama arrived and stepped out of the car in her dress and said, “Your bride is beautiful. Radiant.” … watching my Mom talking and laughing and listening to the music with her brother … my uncle and cousin showing up just in time for the rehearsal dinner, which made it feel a little like a Thanksgiving dinner from my childhood … watching all of Mama’s aunts and uncles together … and oddly enough, perhaps, the photo session, which was wonderful because I got to visit with my family, and the photos were being taken by one of our best friends from Colorado.


  16. Any funny moments? Many. I don’t remember any specific moments, however. Did I mention the kegs of Vermont beer?
  17. Any big disasters? Other than losing our marriage license for a few hours the day before the wedding, no. There was also the issue of our vows, but we got those written at least 12 hours before the ceremony, so that worked out too.
  18. Where did you honeymoon? Prince Edward Island. Which is where Mama got hooked on STTNG—romantic, no? They were having record breaking heat—for PEI—while we were there, so we lay around on red sand beaches, soaking up the 90 degree heat for a week or so.
  19. For how long? Ten days? Two weeks? We returned by way of Mama’s hometown and the farm, which extended it a few days.
  20. If you were to do your wedding over, what would you change? I’d be more relaxed.
  21. What side of the bed do you sleep on? Right, as you’re laying on it. This has varied over the years, though.
  22. What size is your bed? King. We got it so there’d be room for Barky—even when he sleeps perpendicular to us—just before we determined that to help prevent him wigging out when we left the house, we were going to build little separations between him and us, so he’d feel confident on his own, which means that he now sleeps on the floor, next to S.S. Bed.
  23. Greatest strength as a couple? Even when we’re not sure how we’re going to do it, both of us would rather go through life together than without the other.
  24. Greatest challenge as a couple? Communication. Is there another challenge?
  25. Who literally pays the bills? Mama does.
  26. What is your song? Probably Forever Young, although we go through phases with other songs. If you were at our wedding, you’d know why.


  27. What did you dance your first dance to? Uh ... crap. I dunno. We picked some song and Matt, Mama's cousin, and his band played it. Later on, Mama's brother sat in for Farmer John and ... crap ... some other song.
  28. Describe your wedding dress. My wedding dress was a black, three-button suit. Mama’s was a beautiful white dress. As D said, she was radiant. Even now, seeing her in my mind’s eye, I get choked up.
  29. What kind of flowers did you have at your wedding? Aunt D grew most of them in her garden behind Grammy’s house. Mama’s mom also had the kids and many guests pick wildflowers the day of the wedding, in the fields surrounding the pasture. There were also some from a florist, but mostly it was local wildflowers.


  30. Are your wedding bands engraved? Nope. Mama’s is an antique heirloom that we didn’t want to alter and mine …well …we never could decide what to engrave in it.
And I’m not going to tag anyone with this, but I’d love to hear your wedding story. If you do share your story through this meme, please leave a comment here, so I--and everyone else--can find it. Of course, you can also reply in your comment right here.


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Thursday, February 28, 2008

For my son, who takes after his grandfather

...and for any other girl or boy who appreciates things that fly and discussions of mean camber lines and chord lines.





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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

L'enfer de l'ouest

Before it became hell on wheels, Brother #2 and I checked out the Tour of California in the sunny, warm northern end of the state...

Wondering what hell on wheels looks like? Check it out (scroll down a smidge to see the video).


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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All Starbucks to close today, Dunkin' Donuts replies: Booyah!

I just grabbed a latte at Starbucks and saw a sign on the door with news confirmed by Machinist:

All American Starbucks shops will shut down this evening between 5:30 and 9 p.m. local time to conduct what the company is calling "a historic in-store education and training event."
Education and training, my ass. The Onion nailed their prognostication for the Bush presidency with their headline, "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'"

And the Onion's crystal ball long ago foretold of this ominous move by Starbucks as well...
Starbucks To Begin Sinister Phase Two Of Operation

The Onion

Starbucks To Begin Sinister 'Phase Two' Of Operation

SEATTLE-Starbucks officials announced Monday that they are through with the coffee-distribution portion of their long-range plan.


The best response award goes to Dunkin' Donuts, for their response at the end of the Machinist article:
Dunkin' Donuts has a better idea. From 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, Dunkin' stores will sell small lattes, cappuccinos and espressos for 99 cents. A Dunkin' exec tells Newsday, "We never want any customers to ever be denied access to their specialty drinks."


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Are you shitting me?

A voice mail from Mama (and yes, I do quote):

"Hey, I just wanted to ... (pause) ... OK, I gotta go. Your son is plucking turds out of his diapers now and handing them to me. I was just calling to tell you the story ... (pause, sigh) ... but I think that he's just done it again, so I've gotta go."

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Personality goes a long way

"But a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way."
--Pulp Fiction

Random surfing while I'm distracted by the thought of Barky in a kennel at the emergency vet hospital, with an IV taped onto his shaved paw.
  • Clearly, the author of this article wasn't a parent who read the book enough times to be able to recite it from memory, as Mama and I can.
  • On my way into work, as we passed Thomas Street--announced by the disembodied voice of the bus--an announcement came on..."Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility." Spooky, since Sir Topham Hatt reminds Thomas the Tank Engine that "Safety is our first concern," in one of 3B's favorite books. It seems that the little blue train's plan to take over the world is working.
  • Your plant is Twittering. What they forget to list in the What You Need section of this article is: a life. People who rig up their plants to Twitter them when they need water are in serious need of something more meaningful to spend their time on. Some suggestions of more meaningful activities:
  • contribute your geek powers to the OLPC campaign
  • develop a technology that could deliver meaningful education to anyone, anywhere, at anytime for less than five cents a day
  • create macrame hanging plant holders
Any of these would contribute more to the human race than a Twittering plant.
We did stop by and see Barky after Mama and 3B picked me up from work today. We even got to walk him around the parking lot while 3B climbed up the small rock mountain at the Land Rover dealer next door. Despite having an IV taped to his front paw, Barky was just as energetic as always. The vets and techs all report that he's eating fine, has plenty of energy, is sleeping well, and is displaying plenty of ... er ... personality.

And while I was writing this, we got a call with the results of Barky's second blood screen--the first was to get a baseline, since effects of raisin ingestion typically don't show up for 24 hours. Apparently, all ofBarky's kidney levels are normal, at the bottom end of normal, even, which is good, since raisins would raise his levels.

Now that we've got that news, perhaps we can get some sleep ... after I get this plant to send a test Twitter, that is.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Good parents don't make their dog barf

Originally, the title of this was "Good parents don't need microfiber." I was going to describe how 3B has been eating his way through his box of Valentine's chocolates, one messy, melting piece at a time.

Typically, he gets his piece while sitting on my lap in the glider, as I read him a story. By the time 3B's done with it, or spits it out, in the case of a caramel, he's smeared melted chocolate on his face, shirt, pants, and on me, my clothes, and across the chair. Fortunately, we got the glider that's covered in microfiber.

One could ask, I suppose, if it wouldn't be easier to not give the boy chocolate than to pay more for the microfiber.

One could ask.

One could also ask what the toxic dose of raisins is for a dog. One could ask, but the answer would not be counted in raisins. And so, if you are like us and leave a box of chocolates--some filled with raisins--in reach of your hound whilst you're shopping at IKEA, you would discover the answer is counted in days and dollars. To be specific, Barky is now spending two days, and we are spending something like $2,000 on raisin poisoning prophylaxis.

Did we need to undertake this treatment? It's unclear. What would happen if we didn't? Oh, he'd be fine, or suffer a horrible death through renal failure. I guess Barky is related to his cousin, after all. Either that, or he was desperate to get out of his teeth cleaning appointment tomorrow, although it's a bit ironic to do it by eating a box of chocolates, no?

Nothing tastes as sweet as irony, however, so it should be no surprise that when I got home from the vet, Mama found that box of Valentine's chocolate that we thought we'd accidentally recycled. Nor perhaps that we went to IKEA to order our new pantries so we'll have somewhere to put our bleach, laundry detergent, Swiffer pads, and so forth, to keep them out of 3B's reach. I suppose we'll have to save a shelf in there for chocolates.

At least we had a good time at IKEA. 3B even got to drive us home...



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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Looking up from the bottom of Pandora's jar

It's so cold this morning that my pants are clinging to my legs for warmth. Or perhaps I forgot, yet again, to put a dryer sheet in with the load of laundry these pants were in. Whatever the case, it's cold enough that my iPod headphone cord is stiff and feels brittle.

It's funny how our markers for temperature change; in Colorado, I could tell the temperature within about five degrees by the sound of the snow under bike tires or by the brilliance and prevalance of the pogonip--was it just faint in the shadows of the trees, or blazing everywhere in the full sun?

Of course, winters there were cold for the duration, so we were acclimated and well prepared. Perhaps in Colorado, wearing my brown felt Biltmore, as I did this morning, might not have made my ears ache, but in colorado, unlike here, we didn't have to worry about bringing sexy back, just coming back alive, so we'd wear our stocking caps.

These days, I only have one person who I have to bring sexy back to, and she wasn't even awake when I left, so perhaps I should have gone with the stocking cap. Then again, 3B does like it when I wear my hats...ah, the things we do for love. Although he was asleep too when I left, I know that I'll see his grinning face when I get home tonight.

They were both tired out by a trip to the aquarium in Baltimore with Grammy and 3B's cousin S yesterday. (Had I known Bacchus would be in B'mo, I would have gone along and lured him out of his meeting to go with us to the aquarium.) Cousin S got to give dolphins commands during the dolphin show and 3B was enamored of the puffins. That's my son: goes to an aquarium, falls in love with the birds. Apparently, he refused to leave their enclosure and was accurately imitating all the chirping and honking sounds they were making. I have to admit that the spot-on mimicry is probably my side of the family as well.

And as I heard about their trip, I was struck by something else that's changed since Colorado: me. Time was, I had to be a part of everything; I didn't want to miss a moment of any event; I didn't want to be left out. Now, however, while I'd love to share everything with Mama and 3B--OK, and Barky too--I'll gladly give up my place in anything if it allows 3B to participate.

Last time Grammy and cousin S came to visit, we went to the Natural History Smithsonian, but Mama and I got separated from Grammy and "Cuzzy," as 3B calls him now. I sent Mama and 3B into the exhibits to check out the goods and look for Grammy and Cuzzy while I took the stroller back to the lobby to look for them. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I jockeyed the empty stroller into the phone booth sized elevator, then strolled out to the lobby and stood waiting and watching the crowd go by. And all I could think of the whole time was how much fun 3B must have been having looking at all the cool stuff upstairs. Was he fascinated by the shiny jewelry? The faint foreign forms in the fossils? The crazy, shiny, foreign crowd of tourists?

Would I have loved to see all of that? Sure. But so long as I knew 3B was up there, I was perfectly content to babysit his empty stroller in the swirling tourist tides in the lobby. In fact, I'm sure that most parents feel this way. Now that I understand a parent's vicarious delight in their child's joy, I would have been more likely to immediately send Mom the link to this Monday's Writer's Almanac podcast, if she were still alive.

Mom always loved visiting Colorado. In fact, she encouraged me to go visit Steamboat years before I ever ended up living there. And while I'm pretty sure she was coming to see me all those times, I'm dead certain that she wasn't heartbroken to have an excuse to make the detour to Steamboat on her many driving trips. However, on the trips that took her beyond Colorado, she always dreaded driving through Kansas, which was "just boring." That's funny in light of the conclusion of the poem, because Mom and I both liked the view east from the top of Pike's Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, or any of the other east slope vantage points.

That's true of most of our opinions, though, right? They're based more on where we stand than what we're looking at. Like my view of the upcoming weather, which is going to add snow, sleet, and ice to the current biting cold. To me, standing at a bus stop, waiting to start my work day, and wondering if I'll be able to drive 3B to day care tomorrow, or how I'll walk Barky without breaking my ankle, it looks like crap. Icy crap. To 3B, looking out at what is still a bright, beautiful, clear winter day, the weather looks more like his new favorite word: Yippee!

Which reminds me that even when I had to shovel three feet of snow off the roof every morning for a week--that's what you get when you live in Skitown U.S.A.--I still loved snow. Maybe that's from growing up in California, or perhaps because I have fond memories of family winter trips to Tahoe for sledding and snow play, or maybe it's because snow is inherently fun. So, I'm taking on 3B's perspective...snow=yippee!

I'm sticking with sleet=icy crap, however.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Standing in a glass house with a bucket of rocks

Thanks for all of your supportive comments about going through Mom's house and possessions. It's never easy to make these trips and do this work, on several different levels, but I'm not alone in the work. My five siblings are all going through a similar process, although it is, of course, different for each of us.

I must admit that I haven't helped make my job any easier by steadfastly refusing to dig through or clear out any of the piles of papers and other memorabilia, trinkets, and junk that I deposited in what remained "my room" over the years. All of it, like those three buttons from the Prince concert I went to at the Cow Palace with Jeremy and Donna during the Purple Rain tour, was precious to me when I deposited it. However, to say that most of my collection had significantly depreciated in value over the years would be an understatement.

Still, I've had to slowly go through it, item by item. That's because my filing system, which consisted of tossing items into the bottom dresser drawer during my brief visits home, was haphazard at best. So, if I had tossed out what looked like a stack of symphony programs and ticket stubs, I would have thrown out with them the two copies of the program that I saved from Dad's memorial service, along with the notes I spoke from during his service. I had jotted those few words down during a discussion with Brother #2 and Mom the previous night in the living room--a discussion which I remember more clearly than whatever words I managed to choke out at Dad's service.

It was a painful process for many reasons--there's the sheer tedium of it, the overwhelming mass of material, and the raw emotions that I unearth at unexpected times. Most are happy memories, although sometimes I'm crushed by the realization that there will be no more happy memories of Mom. And then there are the still painful remembrances of awkward teenage moments brought about by a stray note or photo.

Then there are the "Who is that guy?" moments, like this excerpt from an article in my hometown paper about myself and three other high school students. We were all directing plays for our school's spring night of one-acts, from Albee's Zoo Story to Chekhov's The Proposal:

Papa Bradstein is the youngest director--a 15-year-old sophomore who is directing The Proposal. A throwback to a decade ago and 500 miles south: long, bleach-blonde hair, sunburned face, shorts and beat-up topsiders (without socks, natch). He spoke, however, with the self-criticism of a seasoned professional. "I'm too strict. I don't think I'm constructive enough in my criticism. I guess I'm just too authoritive."

"Authoritative," corrects Parker [another director].

He looks over at my notes. "Yeah, authoritative."
I mean, c'mon, we all know that I'm too strict and critical ... but bleach-blonde hair? For the record, my hair color was totally natural, dude. At that point it was, anyway. Now, if we were talking about a year or so later, well, that's a different story...

Before you pity me for the painful memories this picture might bring up, please check the sweet ride that I was sitting in at the time. I don't believe it's possible to have a bad memory of a ride in a car like that, even if it was just to go to Burger King for lunch in high school. The only time this memory brings me pain is when I realize just how inadequate a sunroof in a bellybutton car like an Accord is.


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Monday, February 18, 2008

Penciled in

I could explain what I was filming yesterday when Brother #2 took this picture of me ...
... but he does a much better job of it than I would, so go read about my yesterday on his blog.

Don't worry ... it won't take long and I'll wait for you.

Back so soon? Are you sure you saw all of his pictures? All of the bike porn and the bike go boom warning sign and the comment from my brother's snarky cousin? OK, if you say so.

What else have I been doing? Well, I'm not just out here to marvel at the cherry trees, which are in full bloom already on President's Day, but also to continue clearing out Mom's house.

I've been asked many times how long it's going to take, usually in the form of a question such as, "It's not going to take much longer is it?"

Rather than go through the entire explanation of how hard it is to split up the Mormon Stepford Fisher Price family equitably between six siblings, I'm just going to say that it's more painful than moving bricks, and it's going to take a little longer.

And that pain reminds me that all of us need to work hard to avoid a 1930's style Depression. Politicians and bankers can only do so much, and if we're not all diligent, we'll end up living through another national time of deprivation and need that will cause previously normal people to do things like hoard rubber bands, paper clips, and napkins and to never be able to throw something away because, "Maybe someone could use this."

And then, after I'm gone, 3B will have to repeat what I'm doing and dig through a house full of not only childhood memories and beautiful objects, but also mugs full of dead pens, enough unsharpened pencils to rebuild Fort Ticonderoga, and enough CDs to resurrect Tower Records.

And sure, we also need to avoid another Depression because we'd all be poor and sad and eating dog food out of a can that we warmed up over a fire in a boxcar as we hoboed across Nebraska or something. But honestly, I'd rather do that than have to unpack, catalog, and move 17 boxes of glass insulators again.

I will concede that if you've got a keen eye for beauty, as Sister #1 does, you can put some glass insulators to good use. The key word being "some."

And, hey, speaking of beauty, I will have video footage of yesterday's prologue after I get back home and splice it together. You know, for all of you other bike geeks out there--or fans of skinny men with ripped legs in tights.

Don't say that I never gave you nothin' ... hey, you don't want a pencil, do you?


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Saturday, February 16, 2008

My hometown takes the high road

Recently, Brother #2 had coffee with the only man who rode with Lance Armstrong in all seven of his Tour victories.

The last time I'd been in the same zip code as that man was years ago, watching him vying for the U.S. National Cycling Championship in Philly, although I didn't get to share a latte with him.

This guy must have some kind of respect for my brother, because yesterday that guy--George Hincapie--was introduced to the world, along with the rest of his team, at my brother's high school.

To be fair, three of my other siblings went to that school too. By the time I was old enough to go, the school district had seen me coming and decided to close the place down to protect its good name.

Speaking of good names, anyone else enjoying the double entendre of the name of a team that has declared its opposition to drugs in sport...Team High Road?

And speaking of irony, I will note that the school district, by closing Cubberley, did force me to ride my bike twice as far across town to a high school at the base of the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which I had already started exploring on my bike, and which I would later ride all over throughout my high school years. Not that I'm thanking them for closing my local high school. In fact, I'm wondering if I can submit receipts for all the silly spandex I've acquired over the years to support my cycling habit.

Or, maybe they could just arrange for a latte with George for me too.



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Clearly I'm not snobby enough

I agree with all of BSNYC's points, but since I just so happen to be in my hometown the same weekend that the Tour de California is holding its prologue here--geez, what are the odds of that kind of coinkydink?--I'm going to head over on Sunday morning* with my coffee, bagel, video camera, and Brother #2 to watch those dopes. Er, dopers. Whatever.


*Yes, I know that the stage doesn't start until 1 p.m., but the early bike geek gets the schwag.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

And the winner is...

...my brilliant cousin, who not only designed a hilarious holiday banner (I suppose I can take that down now, eh?), but also contributed to her cousin's (my brother's) ride against cancer.

And Valentine's Day was wonderful, although it appears that in a flurry of house cleaning, we might have tossed out (recycled, though, so we were green about it) one of the boxes of See's. As 3B would say, "Whoops!" Although, unlike 3B, we're not chuckling about it.

The calculus of balance was pretty much right on this year, although Mama, as she always does effortlessly, did trump me and melt my heart as she did last year with a handmade card...and no, L-P, you can't claim she got the idea from your comment, since Mama did the same last year. But now I'm wondering if you haven't been sneaking around our house while we're out. Either that, or you're clairvoyant--but could you have envisioned something this cute?


(click to see full size)

I didn't think so.

Next time I write, I'll likely be several hundred or thousand miles from here, on my way to or having arrived for a visit with my brother, during which we'll be watching men in tights who shave their legs and perhaps discovering more modern mothering tips. Meanwhile, Mama's mom and nephew will come down from the Great White North to keep her company, and I'll even get to see them when I get back, so we all get a full week of family visits, although Mama and 3B get to skip the jet lag.

Again, a happy Valentine's Day to all, and thanks again for all of your contributions to my brother's ride. See you on the other side ... all together now ...
all the leaves were brown,
and the sky was gray
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day ...


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How you know you've got the perfect marriage

Y'know, Mick, just once I could go for like a sweater or some earrings... something that I could actually wear outside of this apartment?

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays like New Year's Eve or National Horseradish Month for which there's no there there. At certain times in life there are clear rules for valentines--in school, you have to bring one for everyone or none at all. As we get older and our relationships change, however, the rules are more like guidelines, and vague ones at that.

Flowers? Or is that trite? A card? Too cheap? Chocolates? Are you trying to make me fat? And then there are the gifts that are just plain wrong...

And then there's the calculus of balance--what happens if you get her a pair of diamond earrings and she gives you a card with an expired carpet cleaning coupon from an old ValPak mailing she had lying around? Do you get to take the earrings back? Maybe just one of them? She at least pays for dinner, then, right?

In past years, the pressure's really been on me, since Mama's hit seventh-game-of-the-World Series, bottom-of-the-ninth, game-winning grand slams, like buying me beautiful hats, such as my beloved gray Borsalino. I guess that I did OK with my gifts, since she didn't return my hats and cash in the refund for a spa day in the Bahamas.

As our relationship has progressed--which is to say, now that we have a toddler who has absorbed all of our brains, time, and capacity to plan more than five minutes ahead--the calculus of balance is again shifting. Because Mama and I have tended to avoid the traditional gifts, and because we're tending toward more simple gifts, and because Mom and Dad always got all six of us kids See's chocolates for VDay, I thought that I'd shake it up this year by setting the way back machine and getting Mama and 3B some See's.

I know that both of them love chocolate, and I know that Mama particularly loves See's, and I know that 3B will love the puppy and kitten on the lid of his box, and I know that I'm filling in a bit for Mom, who would have sent 3B some--but still...chocolates? Trite?

You can imagine then, how I smiled when I discovered that Mama had already opened the See's box by the time I got home. And when I confronted her with the evidence, you can imagine how hard I laughed when she said, "Oh, I hid those. I thought that was the box that I ordered for you."

And so we discovered that we'd ordered each other the exact same gift. Sometimes the balance is perfect.

Except that neither of us was satisfied with just chocolates, so there are more gifts, which will be revealed tonight. So I still have a chance to screw up. So, if you see me banging on the door of a closed jewelry store tonight, you'll know how that came out.

Note: Tonight, I'll have 3B draw from a hat the name of one contributor to my brother's ride. I'll post the name of the winner here as soon as we can get the scrap of paper back from 3B.

So, you have until tonight to get your contribution in and be entered to win an iTunes gift certificate.


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One Nerve Left

Note: Only One Day Left
If you want a chance to win a free iTunes gift certificate as part of my shameless flogging of my brother's ride against cancer, you've only got one day left.

Last night...
I sat on a bus for three hours, traveling approximately four miles. Finally, I got so impatient that I got off and walked through the ice storm the final mile home. At first, we seemed to make good progress, then we came to a dead halt, which became a crawling halt.

Until then, I was having a good time reading my book. But when it became apparent that I might have enough time on the bus to finish the remaining 800 pages, and that I might not see 3B before he went to bed, despite his being up late, since he napped until 5, I decided to Hans Brinker it home.

At least I learned a few things along the way: in an ice storm, even if the sidewalk is coated in a half inch of ice, the grass median is more treacherous, and I'm capable of skating in work shoes on glass ice downhill on an eight percent grade while my laptop bag swings wildly behind me.

And I made it home just in time to read Pajama Time to 3B two and a half times, while he had his sippy cup of milk and brushed his teeth, until he said, "end," closed the book in my hands, sat up and held his arms out for Mama to carry him to his crib.

So far this morning...
I left the house before 3B woke up. I spent a half an hour standing out in an ice storm, waiting for a bus. My iPod battery is dead. My cell phone battery is dead. I'm going to be sitting in meetings for seven hours today. Callooh freakin' callay.

To cheer myself up, I'm going to look at the bright side of a few things, including some of your recent comments, which I've slacked on responding to of late.

Thanks for all the contributions to Brother #2--one of you loyal six readers even posted a comment about your contribution on my Facebook page. You've pushed Bro #2 well past his fundraising goal. It is true, as The King pointed out, that none of your money, nor all of it together, will eliminate cancer tomorrow, or next month, or perhaps within our lifetimes. But it is still important to keep making incremental progress, because each increment saves someone--even if it's too late for those who you wanted to save.

After Dad died, I lost faith in many things, among them was the ability of anyone to survive a brain tumor. That belief became so ingrained that it was reflexive. When I heard that someone had a brain tumor, my reaction was to write them off before I'd even heard their prognosis. I felt that no matter what the doctors said, there was no hope. I even worked with a woman for awhile who'd had a softball-sized tumor removed from around her optic nerve, but I still didn't believe that survival was possible. My faith in medicine had been replaced with a faith in the lethality of cancer.

But then something happened in France, while I was in Colorado, which restored my faith in medicine and in life. I sat on my living room floor, leaning back against the couch, my dinner on my lap, and watched TV. I watched this man, whose body had been riddled with cancer, from his testicles to his brain, as he shredded his competition:

And I cried.

But I wasn't sad, I was relieved. My tears were the release of years of frustration and mourning caused by cancer. In Armstrong, I saw an angry determination to fight to not just survive, but to thrive, and it made me realize that when I gave up my faith in medicine, I'd given up the fight against cancer.

I didn't give up without good reason--my Dad had died when I was 16, after all--and there is a time for everything...a time to give up as well as a time to search. But, in this moment, I realized that while I had been tearing down my faith, others had been building cancer treatments.

These had been built one step at a time, in incremental steps. In fact, what had been an experimental treatment at the time Dad had his tumor is now a somewhat common treatment for prostate cancer. And it's likely that some of what was experimental at the time of Dad's cancer was refined in the intervening years and helped save Vampboy.

And as I watched Armstrong leave his team and the rest of the peloton behind and haul himself up the road to Sestriere one pedal stroke at a time, I thought about the likelihood that someday I would develop cancer. I thought about who would make the incremental advances that would give me a second chance at life if that were to happen. And I thought about whether or not I could help make some of those advances myself--because even if they didn't help me, they might help save someone else.

And that is when I rejoined the fight against cancer. Although I have a skeptical faith in medicine--I doubt the full faith of my childhood will ever return--I do believe that this faith, and the progress it engenders, is better than no faith. And that's why I thank all of you for your contributions, especially you, King, for whom I know that faith in any progress is near impossible to sustain.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
--Dylan Thomas

I thank you for your tribute to your mom and Joey and my uncle and my dad, and I know that you won't ever go fully over to hate--I know, as my mom did, that you're too loving and giving for that, which is a tribute to your mom and dad. But now is a time to weep, and to rage--and your sorrow and anger reflect the depth of your love for your mom. If you're anything like me, the weeping and the raging won't go away, although they'll fade. Knowing you, I'm sure that as your anger diminishes, your love will fill the void.

Of course, that all won't happen tomorrow or next month; it will continue throughout your lifetime. It will continue because you are the living memory of your mom, who gave all of her love to you, minute by minute, hour by hour, her whole life through, just as my mom gave me hers. And just as I will get off the bus and walk home through an ice storm to spend a few minutes with 3B before he sleeps so that I can pass on Mom's love to him, I know that you will do whatever it takes to pass on the love your mom gave you.

As MetroDad said, and as all the other parents echoed, there is nothing more precious than time together with loved ones. Even for guys like you and me, King, who can no longer spend time together with all those who we love, the time we did have with them is a gift that can't be taken from us. It's a gift that is ever-expanding in our hearts. And the love that time begets is a gift that we can't help but pass on to others, as an unconscious, living tribute to those who gave their love to us.

And that, plus the fact that it's still icy out, plus the fact that drivers here are about as capable of driving in winter weather as I am of carrying a tune, dunking a basketball, or sprouting wings and flying to the moon, is why I'm certainly not taking the bus home tonight.


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cancer

When I hear the word--in the evening news, a whispered conversation overheard, or a friend's diagnosis--I am reminded of how it took Mom's best friend, my father, and how it took the father of my brilliant cousin, my uncle, and how it takes so many other loved ones every day.

Although cancer can cause our loved ones to slip out of our grasp, it cannot steal our love, and it is our love that will raise us up over cancer. It is love that drives the doctors, the scientists, and all those who support them to travel on in their long journey down the road to a world without fear of cancer.

It's a journey of incremental and difficult progress, of small steps and strained pedal strokes, and it's a journey that my brother is continuing on, as a part of Breakaway for Cancer. In this leg of the journey, he did the hard work, the biking; to join him in this journey, all you have to do is give him a little support. [Really, click on that second link, because--holy crap--you can see my brother with George Hincapie. George Damn Hincapie.]

Even though there are only six of you loyal readers out there, together we can easily help my brother meet his modest fundraising goal and, more important, move together against cancer. And if you happen to be my new seventh loyal reader, there's no better time to delurk than now, when you might just get rewarded for revealing yourself.

To get you off your lazy asses motivate all six (or seven) of you to contribute, as part of my contribution to his ride, I'm going to randomly select a winner from those of you who contribute and the winner will receive a $25 iTunes gift certificate.

To qualify, simply leave a comment here to let me know that you've supported him. On Valentine's Day, I'll select a name at random and send off your gift.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can add the widget that's in the upper-left corner of my blog to your own site. Just click "Get Widget," and follow the instructions.


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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Why do we do it?

"I swear they're out there"
--Sheryl Crow

Why do we do what we do? Why do we don our jewelry, paint our eyes, curl our hair, and straighten our hair? Why do we press our shirts, crease our pants, dimple our ties, shine our shoes, and prop hats on our heads?

This morning, I almost didn't see 3B before leaving for work. I had gotten up too late, tired from staying up to watch the recorded News Hour election coverage after dinner, bath time, and catching up with Mama, who wisely went to bed early, after catching up with young master Potter.

And so I wolfed breakfast. I sipped scalding coffee. Turned off all the lights to protect Mama and 3B's waking eyes. I dragged a brush across my teeth and a soapy rag over my tired bones. I leashed up Barky. We cut through morning traffic to get to dog school. I weaved my way back across town to home. I sprinted up the hill to the bus stop, where I stood panting in the slicing cold, feeling my heartbeat pounding in my neck and head. And here I am now, on the bus, wedged against the wall with my book and bag, hemmed in by a woman studying cardiology in a large white binder.

In the midst of these ablutions and chores, between leashing up the dog and weaving through traffic, 3B woke up. Often I won't see him even if he wakes before I leave because he's busy with his bottle and slowly opening his eyes to the light of day. Honestly, it's sometimes a choice of mine, because the five minutes I spend with him in the morning might cause me to miss my bus, have to take the Metro, get to work late, and then I would come home late and mostly miss seeing him in the evening as well.

But this morning, after he called for me, as he usually does when Mama gets him from his crib, he then said, "Dada. Hiiiiiiiiiii." That's his way of saying that he really wants to say "hi" to me, so Mama brought him out to the front door, where I was slipping Barky's new collar over his head.

As I watched Mama holding 3B, who was pressing the back of his hand into one eye and squinting his other one against the pale light of morning, she told me what he'd said. 3B then looked straight at me, held out his arms toward me and said, "Dada. Hug."

I held 3B's warmth against me and felt his entire body go limp after he lay his arms across my shoulders and around my neck. He turned his head to the side and laid it on the front of my shoulder as I rubbed his back through his fuzzy footie pajamas and told him that I love him. We stood like that for what seemed like an hour, and it was the best minute of my entire day.

Then 3B pushed back, pointed at the front door and said, "Work."

"Yes, I have to go to work."

And then pointed at the lightswitch, "On. On." ending that tender moment.

I told him that Mama would let him play with the light switch and handed him off to her, then walked out with Barky heeling along as he's quite happy to do after two weeks at school.

As I made my morning rounds, I wondered again why we do all of these things, perform all of these tiny tasks that amount to little when viewed in isolation from one another. I thought of the long conversation I had over and after brunch this weekend with the Peace Corps CD for Tanzania, who came over with his wife, an long time friend of Mama's.

He and I both work at organizations that do work we're proud of, work that helps others, work that helps large numbers of people--beyond those who are directly employed and served by our organizations; and yet, both of us were asking, "Why do we work? Why do we work so hard?" We both have come to the conclusion that while doing good work is an important bonus, the bottom line is the bottom line--we work to get paid, because it's money that allows us to do what it is that we truly want to do, like visit cows, ride on tractors, throw stones in streams, and run through pastures.

All of this made this morning's poem in the Writer's Almanac resonate that much more with me.
"I close my eyes like a good little boy at night in bed,
as I was told to do by my mother when she lived,
and before bed I brush my teeth and slip on my pajamas,
as I was told, and look forward to tomorrow."
So, how about it, faithful six readers--how do you spend your days? Why do you do it? And, if you knew you were going to live forever, what would you do every day?



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Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'm too sexy for my tractor

Safety is our first concern. Fashion is a close second.

Safety is our first concern...fashion is a close second...




I'm too sexy for my tractor.


[This picture was removed on advice of my six loyal readers.]



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Friday, February 01, 2008

You're roughly 18 months old now

Dearest 3B,
You may have noticed that this letter to you comes at the end of a gap of several months since my last letter. You might have also noticed that it comes a few days after your actual 18 month birthday. Of course, by the time you're old enough to read this, you won't be surprised by either of those observations about me.

But this letter isn't about me. It's about you. It's about all the things that you've got going on now, like how your vocabulary has exploded over the last few months. For the last two weeks, Ms. K has confirmed what Mama and I feel like we've been observing for several weeks--that every day you're acquiring new words, and not just speaking them and picking them out of conversations and song lyrics, but also comprehending their meanings. Words like "back," as in "I want to go back to A's house to play more."

Sure, some words are missing from that sentence when you speak it--namely, all the words except "back," but through your tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures, it's clear to us what you mean. It's a little less clear to us when you're pleading, negotiating with us about a helicopter: "Bucky! Bucky? Bucky." Do you want to see Herky, your toy helicopter? Are you thinking of your cousin R, who flew his radio controlled bucky for you? (I doubt that, since you would say his name if you were.) Or, are you imploring us to produce one on your demand?

So, speaking of "buckies," yeah, your pronunciation isn't always the best, but you do work on it from time to time. There was the night that we were walking in from the car, across the lawn, and I was showing you the moon and stars. I clearly articulated the word, and I could hear you repeat after me, trying hard to wrap your mouth around the "r." I pointed out Mars--we can get into planets vs. stars later--and we both stood out there, next to the sapling oak tree, you on my hip, gazing up at the red planet, going back and forth in a one-word dialogue, each of us speaking our part slowly and clearly.

"Star."

"Staw."

"Star."

"Staw."

"Mars."

"Maws."

"Mars.

"Maws."
At times, it was hard for me to speak, as I got choked up thinking about FunkDaddie--you'll know him as Uncle P--and the obituary he had to write for his dad, who was so good to me over the years, and who Uncle P loved and admired as a son does a good father who is a good friend. The obituary described how Uncle P's dad, just before he passed away, had wrapped his strong arms around his grandson, Uncle P's nephew, and taken him out into the cold, dark night to show him the stars and the constellations they form. In a few words, your Uncle P also brought to mind your grandfather, my father, who had loved Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust."
Stardust
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by
I thought of how soothing it is to me to hear Cassandra Wilson gently shape the notes of that song [or Skylark, which is the Carmichael/Mercer song that she actually sings, as Brother #2 points out..."Haven't you heard the music in the night,/Wonderful music,/Faint as a will-o-the-wisp,/Crazy as a loon,/Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon"], and how watching Carmichael noodling at the piano in To Have and Have Not reminds me of watching Dad's deft hands dance across the keys of the cherry wood Chickering in the conservatory. As I lifted my own hand to point out the stars to you, I felt the weight of Dad's watch on my wrist, and I thought of how fortunate you are to carry forward the invisible inheritance of Dad and Mom's talent, intellect, and love for you.

That talent and intellect come through in your interest in and facility with words, like "back," that are easy to say, but hard to understand and explain, but that you're slowly wrapping your mind around. In this category, "soon" has been on heavy rotation this week. Ms. K, whose name you started saying this week, worked with you on some of the same words that we've been working with you on due, I'm sure, to your fascination with them: up, down, over, and under.

She also mentioned that you read Mother Goose a couple of times, and your tractor book "endlessly." Not surprising, since "trackies" have been at the top of your top 40 words for weeks now. Also on heavy rotation since our last trip to the farm has been "Pete," which leads to conversations about the barn, cows, and hay--which cows "munch munch," a verb you've learned to apply to goldfish crackers as well.

Even though you were too scared to ride on the tractor at the barn on our last visit to the farm, you have seen footage of your previous visit, during which you did ride with Pete on a tracky. Since we're almost strictly enforcing a no-screentime rule, I'm not sure how you got on to YouTube to see that footage. It's also a mystery why you associate the computer with Boobah. Perhaps Barky showed you those sites. Oh well, at least you haven't been scarred by Barney, Teletubbies, or the Spears sisters' antics. Then again, neither have your parents, since we've been so busy enjoying your company.

But I digress...

Back to tractors...Ms. K mentioned that she was thinking of buying you a riding toy, as were we, since you've been straddling and trying to ride everything from Barky to Matchbox cars. Mama and I debated quite a bit about what kind of riding toy to get you--there are cartoony ones, edumacational ones, there are those that look like cars or tractors or bulldozers, there are simple ones, and those that light up like the Vegas Strip. As we stood, weighing the merits of each, you walked up to us, "Tracky? Tracky! Tracky. Tracky! Tracky! Tracky! Tracky! Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!"

OK, then. A green John Deere tractor it is. It was a bonus that it came with a second set of farm animals that matched the ones you already have and love so much. If only it had come with a stunt double for the one and only Pete we have; heaven forbid we ever lose that little doll. I do admit that my recent lessons in how to look for something that is lost are as much an act of self-preservation as they are about words like under, over, down, up, look, and lost. In a way, these lessons are an echo of the sage advice that your Grandmother gave me when I was admittedly older and more capable of helping myself: You look with your eyes, not with your mouth.

Mom would be even more mortified to have me repeat that to you than she was to hear me recall it to her, but it would be as apropos applied to you now as it was applied to me then. When I recounted her comment to Mom, I was laughing, because it had clearly had an effect on me when she said it, causing me to remember it vividly years later. And wasn't her goal to get me to act on my own, to get me to take care of my own needs? And isn't that your goal now, every time you snatch something away from us and declare "Self!" as in, "I'll do this myself, thank you very much!"

Mama did note last week that she thought all of these demands for "Self!" might come a few months from now, but now that you're literally up and running everywhere you can, why should we expect you to slow down in any aspect of your development? Not that we would want you to. As you've started to make your dolls, particularly little, pajama-clad Curious George, walk everywhere and as you shower them with kisses when you are so moved, you remind us that we are running forward with you, showered with your love, laughing all the way.

I love you with all of my heart, tiger, and I can't wait to see where you lead us in the rest of our months together. All my love,
Papa

P.S. In the event that you are looking for a tune to hum when pointing out Orion's belt and sword to your children, I can't recommend a more apropos song than Stardust. If, however, you're looking for something to play that reminds you of your old man while you're, say, stargazing at a rooftop party or during an all night drive across the Mojave, try this.

Stardust
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
of paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain

Skylark

Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
Music: Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark,
Have you anything to say to me?
Won't you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist,
Where someone's waiting to be kissed?
Skylark,
Have you seen a valley green with Spring
Where my heart can go a-journeying,
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom covered lane?
And in your lonely flight,
Haven't you heard the music in the night,
Wonderful music,
Faint as a will-o-the-wisp,
Crazy as a loon,
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon (Oh)
Skylark,
I don't know if you can find these things,
But my heart is riding on your wings,
So if you see them anywhere,
Won't you lead me there?



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