Today I Became a Grandfather

It was 2:00 a.m.  Wednesday.  December 28, 2011.  I awoke with a start.  I reached over and in the dark, grabbed my Blackberry and logged in.  There were no messages. 

Lauren was in the hospital.  In labor.  She was to begin “pushing” at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday.  It was now 6 hours later.  And no calls.  No messages.  Not a whisper.  My mind raced.  Is she okay?   I sent a quick email.  “Hi LP.  Am awake.  Let us know how things are if you are able.  Love, dad.”  Then I fell back to a restless sleep.

Two hours later – at 4:00 a.m. – the phone rang.  One of those middle-0f-the-night, big news, calls.  I grabbed the phone.   It was Lauren.  Now I can’t recall exactly what Lauren said but suffice to say it was something like she is nine pounds exactly, twenty-one and a half inches and she’s a 9 on Dr. Virginia Apgar’s famous test (1952).  Thank God.  Welcome to the world.  My grandchild.   

Donna and I talked, laughed, and fell back to sleep.  

I haven’t met her yet (that comes later this morning) but I know that she is special.  Beautiful.  Wonderful.  The best.  I can’t believe it.  Today I became a grandfather

Spunk. . . .

A 94 year old Irishman gathered his clan together and began to speak.   “You know I’ve been a lost and lonely man since your mother passed away.  But I’ve met a young lass, she’s 23 years old, and we’ve decided to get married.” 

The children – stunned – quickly huddled.  After a few minutes, the eldest son stepped forward.  “Father.  We know that you’ve been a lost and lonely man since mother passed on.  But the idea of marrying a 23 year old girl.  We are concerned since we feel that this could be fatal.” 

The father looked up and frowned “Well if she dies, she dies.” 

Torn and Restored Paper

This is a great trick on which I’ve gotten great mileage. 

THE EFFECT:  Sitting in a restaurant, take a cocktail napkin and shred it to pieces.  You ball it up – and slowly begin to open a fully-restored cocktail napkin. 

THE TRICK:  Before you start, quietly (and unobservedly) take your own cocktail napkin, put it in your lap, open it, ball it up and secret it in your hand by your thumb.  You’re now ready to go.  Announce that you have a trick which will amaze and astound.  Ask for a cocktail napkin, open it all the while keeping the balled up napkin under your thumb.  No one will see it because it is small and any slip will blend with the other.  Shred the napkin and ball it up with the whole napkin.  Put them together and hold the two in front of everyone’s eyes.  The audience will see only one balled-up napkin.  You though know that the torn napkin is on one side, the whole on the other.  Reverse them and slowly begin to open the whole napkin.  Any dropped pieces can be picked up and reintroduced onto the torn side.   Once open, you can drop the torn ball in your lap or on the floor.  And take a bow. 

Practice a dozen times or so (and in front of a mirror) before attempting in front of a crowd.

Magicians actually run in my family.  They have to if they want to survive. . . . .

The Vikings

From about 790 A.D. until the Norman Conquest in 1066 A.D., the Vikings sailed the world.   They were warriors, raiders, traders, merchants and discoverers.  They discovered America long before that Columbus fellow and they sailed their longships wherever the wind would carry them.   

The Vikings came from the Scandinavian countries –Denmark, Sweden and Norway.   French Normans were descended from Danish and Norwegian Vikings who were made feudal overlords in Northern France.  The Vikings who raided – and remained behind in Ireland (often because they had met a young women) – were given the name “Doyle” which is from the Celtic Ó Dubhghaill, which means “son of the dark (or evil) foreigner.”    

As Christianity spread through Scandinavia, the Viking raids diminished and by the end of the 11th Century, the great Viking Age came to an end – not with a bang but a whimper.  

My father’s great grandparents were from Lyngby (just north of Copenhagen), Denmark.  They were caretakers of the local cemetery.  As they would dig graves, they uncovered various artifacts from the Viking Age.  I have at home two beautiful stone axe heads they found — displayed on a shelf.  Great paperweights but still sharp . . . . and ready to use. . . .        

Railroad Regulation

I take the train to downtown Chicago every day.  

It used to be when the train was arriving in the station, the red lights would flash, the crossing gate would go down and people would cue up to get on the train.   The engineer sitting in his (or her) lofty position could see up and down the tracks for miles and so they would wave across the occasional straggler who might be running late.  The train bell would then begin to clang and the train would slowly pull out of the station.  Part of this workday odyssey has changed. . . . .

Today, the occasional stragglers are not only not waved across but if they have the temerity to do so, the engineer lays angrily on the air horn, the conductor assails the straggler kicking him or her off the train, there are occasionally police waiting to ticket the offender and everyone on the train is treated to a minute-long chastisement about violating the law.   Which we take in sullen silence.  I am continually offended by this harassment and lack of common sense.     

According to RITA statistics, in 2009 there were 458 fatalities at railroad crossings.  This includes vehicular accidents and suicides.   Bottom line – it is very hard to be a statistic on the train tracks unless you want to be.   I for one feel that we have too much regulation rather than too little and I would sure like to see a return to the days when if I was running late, and caught on the wrong side of the tracks, I would look imploringly up at the engineer and be given the nod.  

Port Wine

Port (Vinho do Porto) is a “fortified” wine that comes from the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal.  The Douro Valley was established as a protected wine area (or appellation) in 1756 making it the oldest wine region in the world.  The wine received its name from the port city of Oporto – hence “Port.” 

Port became popular in England in the early 1700’s when England and France were at war – thus depriving the Brits of French wine.  Merchants tried importing wine from Portugal but the long, rough ship journey – in extremes of temperature – would often cause the wine to spoil.  A bit of brandy was added to “fortify” the wine before shipping and voila (or I should say ai esta) the wine arrived in good order and with a slightly higher alcoholic (about 20%).  Today, aguardente (like brandy) is added to this classic dessert wine (best served with cheese). 

The ongoing British involvement in the Port trade can be seen in the names of many of the shippers (Cockburn, Dow, Warre, Taylor, Croft and so on).   There are different kinds of Port (white, ruby, tawny, crust) but the king of Ports is the Vintage Port.  Do not expect to enjoy a Vintage Port if it is less than 15 years old and you are less than 21. . . .    

Education: An Observation

I get on the train each morning and most of the people on board are reading a newspaper, a book, doing work or studying.   A few may be catching up on sleep.  I normally read. 

Some, however, mainly the younger set, are sitting there with earphones in, holding their Ipod or Iphone, slack-jawed, listening to music or playing video games.  And it’s that way for the whole trip.  And their 30 minute ride – this wonderful concentrated opportunity for learning or enrichment – at least from my perspective – has been a waste.   I have to wonder if there is anything that can be done (or should be done) to  discourage this trend.  Ban IPods or video games for anyone under a certain age?  Surely we all need “down time” but to focus on down time on a consistent basis at the expense of learning?  I dunno. . . .  What do you think?

The Rosetta Stone

From before the fall of the Roman Empire (408 A.D.) until 1799, no one was able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.  On July 15, 1799, all of that changed.  Soldiers in Napoleon’s army while rebuilding a fort near the Egyptian port city of el-Rashid, stumbled across a stone marker made of black granite.  What made this marker unique was that it had writing on it — in 2 languages but in 3 scripts:  ancient Greek, Egyptian Demotic script and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

Viewed as a curiosity by the French, it was promptly acquired by the British in 1801 when the British defeated the French in Egypt.  And the Rosetta Stone has been in the British Museum since 1802.   Over the course of the next 25 years, the Rosetta Stone was translated – and the secrets of (and “key” to) Egyptian hieroglyphs were revealed. 

The Rosetta Stone was carved around 196 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy V.  It is called the “Rosetta” Stone because that is the town where it was found — Rosetta (Rashid).  It stands as one of the most amazing “finds” in world history.  Today, if someone uses the term, it will most likely refer to a “key” (“The spectrum of hydrogen atoms has proven to be the Rosetta Stone of modern physics. . . “).  Someone ought to write a book about it. . . .