Busy Real Life

I recently realized that I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like. Real Life seemed to keep throwing curve ball after curve ball – derailing any blog ideas that I might have.

First up was B’s mother’s open heart surgery. We had known this was coming for some time, but a recent checkup turned it from “some time in the future” to “in the next three weeks.” The surgery itself went smoothly, but B’s mother was very weak and in a lot of pain afterwards. This was normal – the nurses described the procedure as if you were pummeled by a professional boxer inside and out. Still, B’s parents needed as much help as they could get. Understandably, B wanted to be with her mother every second she could. It fell to me to juggle working my day job with taking care of the day-to-day parenting tasks that B normally does. Of course, I had no problem with this, but I was exhausted at the end of the day.

Of course, during this time was when I blogged last about my computer being fried. I got a new computer (a nice touchscreen model from Dell) and took some time to set it up. Luckily, my old hard drive wasn’t fried. A quick USB enclosure purchase from Amazon and I have an external hard drive with all of my old data. Of course setting up this new computer took days and contributed to not-blogging.

After B’s mother improved, things slowed down a bit, but by now Passover was on the horizon. Passover is the Jewish holiday that requires the most work. I need to clean the kitchen entirely from top to bottom, put all non-Passover utensils/pots/appliances/food away, and take our Passover supplies down from the attic. Complicating matters was a visit by some of B’s family the weekend before Passover. Though it was busy, Passover went by relatively uneventfully – except for the last day.

I was sleeping late as I was off of work when I was woken up by screaming. My kids were yelling at me that B needed me. As I became aware of what was happening, I first figured out that B was in the basement and feared she had fallen and hurt herself. Then, I heard her mentioning a flood in the basement. We have a utility sink down there that floods if it’s not cleaned out. My first thought, as I put on clothes and shoes, was that the sink overflowed and I’d need to stick my arm into that disgusting water to clear it out.

Oh, how I would soon wish it was that.

Turns out that our pipes had backed up and sewage was running in from a drain we have in the center of our basement. Specifically, a combination of sludge, toilet paper scraps, and feces. There was a lot in there and the smell was awful. B called a plumber and I opened the basement windows – at least the two that I could open without crossing the nasty pond. The plumber came by and figured out immediately what was wrong. Within a half hour, he cleared a U bend pipe of build-up and all of the water flowed back down.

Notice, I just said “water” and not “everything.” When the water went down, a lot of other stuff remained. His portion of the job done, the plumber left this for us to clean up with the wet-dry vacuum. Now, having handled diapers for two kids, I thought I had been toughened up in handling this type of stuff, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I used our wet dry vacuum to suck it up, but the combination of the smell and sight of what I was vacuuming threatened to make me hurl. I put on headphones, cranked the Hamilton soundtrack as loud as it could go, tried not to look (as much as was possible) as I waved the vacuum around the ground, and held my breath. This helped and I soon cleaned up as much as I could.

Then, I had to take the wet dry vacuum outside, empty it into a garbage bag, clean it off, and spray the basement floor like crazy with a bleach-water mixture. I also went to Home Depot and got a few big tubs filled with crystals that absorb water from the air. This helped to dry the basement up more. That night, despite being exhausted, I had trouble sleeping. Any time I closed my eyes, I was back in the basement looking at – and smelling – everything that was down there.

In between all of these events, I’ve been working on my Ghost Thief sequel – tentatively titled “Outcasts and Artifacts.” I’m up to 41,000 words now and the story is just getting started. I’m juggling a lot more plot threads than in the first book and a lot more characters. It’s slow going, but I’m making continual progress.

NOTE: The “Busy desk” image above comes from Wikimedia Commons` and is in the Public Domain.

2016 The Celebrity Killer

The year 2016 has not been a good one for celebrities. We started the year off with David Bowie passing away. Soon after, Alan Rickman joined him. Later that year, Prince died. Singers and actors weren’t the only ones to go, though. Supreme Court justice Anton Scalia passed away as did Morley Safer, Muhammad Ali, and Elie Wiesel. Most recently (as of this writing), George Michael died. At every turn, it seemed like 2016 was robbing the world of another celebrity. I began to wonder if this was true. Is 2016 a celebrity killer? Or were we so acutely tuned to celebrity deaths that it seemed like a lot when it was really a normal amount?

To answer this question, I did some searching. At first, I tried Wikipedia, but they listed many people that seemed to be unknown outside of a small area. I was more concerned with names that most people would recognize – not ones that would require a repeat visit to Wikipedia to explain who they were. After some more searching, I found the website FiftiesWeb.com. They had a handy listing of deaths by year starting in 2000. The result was quite intriguing.

As you can see, 2016 did indeed see a spike in celebrity deaths. In fact,it has had almost 40% more celebrity deaths than the closest nearest year (2005). The good news is that I think 2016 is an aberration. Next year will likely see fewer celebrity deaths than 2016. The bad news is that it looks like the “normal level of celebrity deaths” is increasing. This makes sense as many people who became celebrities in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s are now 60’s or older. As the years go on, this crop of celebrities will die off resulting in more and more years like 2016 – albeit years with slightly fewer deaths.

Someone please keep an eye on our remaining celebrities. Although this year is days away from finishing, I have a feeling that we’re in for a rough 2017 as well.

EDIT: Unfortunately, after this post went live, it was announced that Carrie Fisher passed away. This brings the number of celebrity deaths in 2016 to 140 – or 46% more than the second place year (96 in 2005). If no more celebrities die this year, there will have been an average of one death every 2.6 days. No wonder it seems like the death notices have been coming so fast.

Here’s a Google Docs Spreadsheet with all of the data. I’ve also updated the graph above. The 2016 spike is now more prominent than ever.

Laughing At The Bar Mitzvah Chaos

stressed-to-laughterYou know how you can have something happen to you that is horribly stressful at the time, but mellows out into a funny story with time? Well, two of those things happened to us before NHL’s Bar Mitzvah. Each of these caused us much stress – and, I’m sure, a few extra grey hairs. However, looking back on it all, we can laugh about it.

Printing Brochures

It was the day before NHL’s big day. I was off of work and helping B by running a few errands. My first stop was a local office supply store whose name I don’t want to use for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let’s call them Scissors. Anyway, I went to Scissors to print out the brochures that would be available for family and friends to pick up. They gave such information as what NHL was doing, who was being called up, and why certain rituals were important. Since we had printed many things with them in the past, I walked into Scissors confident that I’d soon be on my way to my next destination.

The first snag occurred when they announced that the “e-mail to print” service was down. I was counting on using this since the file was on my phone and not a USB thumb drive. (Yes, I know. I should have had it on a thumb drive.) I went to my next stop – which was close by – in the hopes that the service would be back online when I was done. Unfortunately, when I called them back up post-second-stop, they said the service was still down. There was good news, though. They had a website that I could use to upload the document to them.


So I went to the site, created an account, uploaded my document, and went to select my local store. Problem Number Two. The website wouldn’t let me select a store. I went back into Scissors to see if they could help me. As the staff member was puzzling over my phone, trying to figure out why this wasn’t working, I glanced at their printers. I noted that their printers supported Google Drive. I could easily put the file on Google Drive and grab it from there!

Problem solved, right?


The printer let me log into Google Drive, but then hung. Eventually, another staff member told me that the Google Drive connection was down. And that the USB ports on the printers didn’t work either. The only way they could print was by connecting a USB thumb drive to their own computer behind the staff desk – and they refused to plug in my phone.

I left Scissors and drove to a nearby FedEx Office. At this point, I was nearing panic mode. I had a lot of other things to do and these programs were important. I needed to get them ready for the next day. Thankfully, the staff there were excellent and showed me exactly what to do. I e-mailed the file to an address they gave me and received a pick up code about half a minute later. After typing this into the printer, I could see my document on a small screen. (Very helpful in making sure I was printing the two-sided document so that folding it didn’t result in the center pages being upside down.) I ran off a quick test copy and then printed the rest of the copies. I thanked the staff members and then happily went on my way.

Do you think the story is over just yet?

Of course, it isn’t.

Later that day, B called me. Apparently, when I copied the file from the template we were given, I missed something. The template was from the previous Bar Mitzvah and I had missed one instance of the previous Bar Mitzvah boy’s name. Every single copy was saying the wrong name in this one spot. I was dumbstruck. I swore that I did a Search and Replace on the document and couldn’t believe I had missed that. FedEx Office had been reasonably priced, but the copies still cost over $100. I wasn’t looking forward to paying again for another set of copies.

Thankfully, our temple staff came to the rescue. They printed off a set of stickers with NHL’s name on them. B sat down on a tiny chair by a tiny table (meant for preschoolers), cutting out tiny NHL name stickers, to cover over the mistake.

The Morning Clothing Rush

On Friday night, we placed all of our clothing out so that we wouldn’t be rushing around early Saturday morning. Saturday morning, we woke up, ate a quick breakfast, and got our clothes to put on. I immediately noticed a problem. My pants were way too tight. I tried on the jacket and that, too, was too tight. Now, I had tried my suit on about three weeks prior and it fit fine. I wasn’t watching my weight at the time, but knew I couldn’t have gained THAT much weight THAT quickly. Still, I couldn’t wear these clothes. Tossing them aside, I rummaged through my closet. I found another suit, tried it on, but it was too small as well. Bigger than the first one, but still didn’t fit right. Finally, after much stress, I found dress pants and a jacket that fit and didn’t look horrible together. Resigned to wearing a less-than-ideal outfit, I went to help the boys get dressed.

NHL was having a particularly hard time. He declared that he needed a belt, but his belts were nowhere to be found. Finally, exasperated, I told him that the pants had fit him fine when he tried them on before and he shouldn’t need a belt. He replied that the pants were way too big on him.

Now you know those sitcoms where something happens that all of the characters realize except for the one dumb one? You know how all action stops, the other characters look at the dumb guy, and wait a few seconds for him to catch up? Well, that was me at that moment.

I was flabbergasted at that moment. What else was going to go wrong? First my clothes were too small and then NHL’s clothes were too big…. Wait a second…

Yes, I had put on NHL’s dress clothes and NHL had put on my suit. NHL is big enough now that his clothes look like they might fit me, but he’s not so big that they actually fit. In hindsight, we’re just lucky I didn’t rip NHL’s clothes when I tried putting them on. I don’t know what we would have done then. So NHL and I swapped clothes and – surprise surprise – our clothes fit perfectly again.


Like I said, at the time these were highly stressful situations, but time has allowed us to laugh about them. Of course, next time I’d like to get the funny stories and skip the stress. I have enough grey hairs as it is!

NOTE: The image above combines Petrified Smiley Face Silhouette and Laughing Smiley Face Silhouette. Both are by GDJ and both are available at OpenClipArt.org.

Keeping Busy

Machovka-Write-300pxI haven’t been posting here that much, but I don’t want anyone to think I’ve dropped off the face of the Earth. I’ve just been keeping very busy with a few things.

Friends Outing and Emotional Rollercoaster

We had an emotional rollercoaster starting with Bar Mitzvah Incident. The next week, NHL had an outing with a friend of his. After seeing NHL sad because he was excluded, it was so wonderful to see him playing and having fun with a friend.

They ate out at Puzzles bakery in Schenectady – which we love supporting because they’re a local business and they hire people on the Autism spectrum. I even let NHL get dessert – a half pound peanut butter and fudge brownie which we split.

After eating, we all went to the Museum of Science and Innovation. It was wonderful seeing NHL having fun with a friend. The butterfly house was still out so we all went in it. Now, normally, NHL doesn’t like going in. He overemphasizes with the butterflies and winds up afraid that he’ll hurt them. This usually means we go in without him, but today he voluntarily went in. More than that, he was enthusiastic and loved seeing all the butterflies all around. He even went in a second time before we left. We’re definitely doing another get together soon.

Writing My Book

Back in high school and college, I was a voracious reader but I also loved making up my own tales. I wrote down many short stories. Over time, though, I stopped writing. Partly, this was because I sent a story to be published and it was rejected.   The rejection was your average form letter saying they weren’t publishing my story at that time.  There was nothing extraordinary about it and definitely no "your work stinks" text in it.  Still, I was a college kid and took rejection to heart too much.  I had decided that being successful as a writer meant being published and this one rejection meant I’d never be published so why try at all.  (I’d like to go back and slap some sense into younger me.)

A few months ago, JSL told us that he was writing a book.  This wasn’t a surprise since JSL loves making stories.  Whether it is written stories, playing with his toys, or even with the magnets on the fridge, he’ll have whole storylines pouring out with heroes, villains, and epic battles.  When he told us he was writing a book, had illustrated the cover, and was giving out signed photocopies of said cover, it sparked something in me.  I decided to take up writing again.  I have had two story ideas bouncing through my head for years.  I chose one and mapped out a long tale – then quickly discarded it.  I decided to start small and work on a short story instead.  Also, I decided not to map the story out but to just write and see where it took me.  (Though, sometimes this meant needing to go back and rewrite a section to make everything fit better.)  My "short story" grew and grew.  Before I knew it, I had 5,000 words written.  Then 10,000.  My most recent count puts me at almost 32,000 words and the story is only around halfway over.  I figure that, when it ends, the tale will be 50,000 words long.  This is in the "long novella/short novel" territory.

It doesn’t end there. As I was fleshing out the world while writing this story, I realized that the tale would extend to multiple storylines.  So when this story ends, I can start "Book 2" and expand it more.  I also have built a world where I can tell side stories that don’t involve the main characters at all.

As I’m writing the story, I’ve been reading it with JSL. First of all, this helps me spot typos. I’ve been writing this in Google Docs on my computer and on my phone.  When I’m writing on my phone, I can go quickly, but often the wrong word gets put into the story. As I’m reading with JSL, I can spot "he turned his fact and looked at her" and quickly correct it to "he turned his face and looked at her."  Secondly, it helps me spot sections which don’t work either due to how it was worded or because later story points contradicted this earlier segment.  When I encounter this, I can quickly correct the section before moving on.  Finally, it lets me gauge JSL’s reactions to see how good the story is. Granted, he’s a biased audience, but given his begging to hear more, demanding I answer many, many questions about the characters, and getting frustrated when I say "I can’t tell you that, it’s a spoiler", I think I’ve got a hit on my hands.  At least with JSL. (Then again, he’s one of my three most important readers along with NHL and B. Sorry everyone else.)

Oh, and remember that whole "you need to be published to be a successful writer" thing that I believed as a college student?  Well, I might have been wrong, but it so happens that it’s much easier to publish nowadays than it was twenty years ago. Back then, to get published, you needed to submit your work to publishing companies who would critique your writing and likely reject it. Now, I could publish it on my blog – giving it out for free. I could post an ePub file for everyone to download. I could even use CreateSpace to make an actual, physical book for people to buy. I’m planning on taking this last step. I’m under no illusion that this will sell like crazy (though I do allow myself the occasional fantasy where my book becomes the next "Harry Potter") but it will be satisfying to give someone a copy of my own book for them to read.

Cleaning For Passover

Passover starts tonight. During December, I’ll sometimes laugh when my Christian friends talk about the pains of putting up all of their Christmas decorations.  I’ll respond with the "pain" of decorating for Chanukah. "You take out the menorah and some candles. Done."  Unfortunately, Passover is when Karma kicks in. Passover preparations begin weeks in advance as you buy special foods (that cost a lot of money) and try to use up all the foods you can’t eat during Passover. Yesterday, I started the main preparation of cleaning the kitchen. Counters were scrubbed, ovens were cleansed, refrigerator shelves were taken out and put under hot water and soap.  Today, I need to finish cleaning everything and THEN I get to go to the attic and carry our heavy Passover pots, pans, and other various equipment down from our attic.  Once that’s all done, I get to "relax."  Normally, this is where I’d cook a huge meal, but we’re going to someone else’s Seder both nights so I get to take the night off from cooking.  The downside?  Dinner won’t start until after 10pm.  Saturday and Sunday morning are definitely going to be sleep in kind of days.


So if I don’t seem to be around much, don’t think I’ve deserted the online life to become a digital hermit.  I’ve just been extremely busy.  I do promise to stop by and write a post once a week or so, though, and will definitely post updates on my might-be-a-novel.

NOTE: The image above, "Write" is by Machovka and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

Parking Lot Road Rage and Adult Bullies

comic-red-angry-car-300pxThis isn’t the post I wanted to write this week, but after the weekend’s events this is the post I needed to write.

Saturday started off like such a normal day.  We had NHL with us (JSL was with B’s parents) and we were doing some shopping for needed supplies.  As we pulled into a parking lot of a local shopping center, someone pulled out of an aisle without stopping and looking and almost hit into us.  We both stopped, we honked, and some choice words may have been said.

We urged him to go on (he was already halfway into the intersection), but he signaled for us to go.  Eventually, we went on our way.

Now, if the story ended here, it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.  Encounters like this happen all the time.  Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.

As we drove on, the guy pulled behind us. At first, we didn’t think much of it, but then he started pulling up close to our car.  B pulled down an aisle to get away from him, but the guy followed us.  Down the aisle, he got close and attempted to get around us. He couldn’t get to our side due to the aisle width, but he made his intentions to not let us go quite clear.

As we neared the end of the aisle, we began to panic.  B told me to call 911, but I held out hope that we would lose him by going down another aisle.  We rounded a big snow pile and went down another aisle.  Our pursuer followed.

This was it for even me.  I pulled out my phone and called 911.  As I spoke with the operator and gave her our location, we reached the end of an aisle.  A car stopped to let us go and then pulled behind us.  We’re not sure if they knew what was going on or not but this seemed to be key.  As we passed the store we had wanted to go to B rolled down her window in case we needed to yell for help from random shoppers.  We pulled down a few more aisles (while I was still on with 911) and it looked like we lost him.  We pulled into a parking spot and waited for the police to arrive.

The officer was great and took our information.  Unfortunately, in our panicked states, we didn’t think about getting the guy’s license plate number. Our minds were totally devoted to "get away from this crazy guy" and not on "collect evidence to give the police.". The officer noted all the security cameras around the parking lot and said he could check those.

The officer told us that we did the right thing by not stopping and confronting the guy.  In fact, the only thing he recommended that we should have done differently would have been to leave the shopping center and get on a main road.  We explained that we lost him soon after getting on with 911.  Besides, the guy had been trying to cut us off.  This was tricky in a parking lot, but would have been easy on the main road.

We questioned whether it was safe for us to go into the store as we were afraid that he was still lurking in the parking lot and would "take his revenge" on our car.  The officer assured us that we’d likely never see or hear from the guy again.  He said that the guy was probably upset that he didn’t get the last word in and decided to give us a scare.  Mission accomplished, idiot!

Not only were we panicked, but NHL was really on edge.  He wanted to leave and was nervous all through the store.  Thankfully, our car was untouched when we got back to it.

The next day, i had a fight with my father.  I had recounted the take to him the previous night and he called me to update me on their big snowfall.  He also criticized my calling the police, saying that this "escalated" the situation and that he surely has our license plate number and can track us down.  He told me that we don’t know this guy or what he’s capable of.  I replied that the escalation was taken when this guy moved from "nasty words shouted through closed windows" to "chasing through a parking lot."  As for not knowing what the guy is capable of, that’s exactly WHY we called 911.  We were being pursued by some guy we didn’t know.  If he had managed to force us to stop, would he have shouted obscenities at us and left?  Would he have pulled a bat out to smash our car?  Would he have taken a gun out to shoot us?  I needed to be sure that the police were on their way BEFORE we found out what his plans were if we were stopped.  I wound up hanging up on my father as he kept insisting that we should have kept the police out of it.

Yesterday, at work, I told a few coworkers about our weekend parking lot pursuit.  As I told the tale, I could feel a familiar panic rising inside me.  Here I was two days after the incident and the pursuer was out of our lives, but my anxiety over the situation was threatening to overwhelm me.  I distracted myself with work until I felt the anxiety subside.

While we were in the store, post- incident, NHL asked me why someone would do what this guy did.  I answered that we had just encountered the adult version of a schoolyard bully.  I told NHL that he makes himself feel better by getting good grades or doing well in a video game.  In other words, NHL is a normal person who feels pride in accomplishing something important to himself.  This was not the case for the guy who chased us, though.  That guy felt like the only way he could good about himself was to make others feel bad.  He didn’t know any other way to improve his self image than by squashing as many people as possible under him.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with bullies growing up.  Bullies thrive on setting the rules – placing themselves above their victims – and ensuring that their victims fear the bully.  This bully wanted to make sure that we knew that he was above us and that we feared him.  Calling the authorities wasn’t an escalation.  I’m sure the bully would have wanted us to view it as that, though.  Bullies don’t like when their victims get assistance.  However, this wasn’t some schoolyard bully taking a kid’s lunch money.  This was a grown man driving in a reckless manner and possibly threatening violence against me, my wife, and my child.  Contacting the authorities was exactly the right method to stop the bully and to protect us from his pursuit.

The bully did succeed in making us afraid of him, but this fear will be short-lived.  Whether or not he faces legal repercussions for his actions, I refuse to change my behavior (e.g. not going to that shopping center anymore) or live in fear of any bully.  As the anger over being put through this fades, what will remain is pity for an individual who can only find meaning in his life by pushing down and scaring others.

NOTE: The "Comic Red Angry Car" image above is by roland81 and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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