Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mother Nature's a teasing little bitch...

Everybody in Michigan by about mid-March is about ready to strangle themselves with the drawstring of their quintuple-insulated parkas. Even though this winter got a very late start, it doesn't change the fact that we have absolutely had it with the cold, slushy roads, and salt-covered everything casting a pale and morbid fog over everything we see. The worst part of March in Michigan is the annual Spring Tease – and here it is.

Yesterday, it was 72 degrees and sunny. Happens almost every year. Sometimes it'll even last a week or so, but then comes the bitter reality – Mother Nature's is a teasing little bitch. In the span of a day or 2, the temperature will drop about 30-40 degrees and we'll be stuck with what seems another interminable bout of winter, as if to say, "You dumbasses! You live in MICHGAN! You think you'll get off THAT easy?"

The worst part of it is when you just can't seem to enjoy the beauty of the tease, either because you can't fit it into the brief time given to the drop of idyllic weather, or because you know what's coming. Yesterday was one of my days working both jobs. I got to appreciate the weather for exactly 30 minutes – 5 minutes on the way to work, 5 minutes grabbing a pack of cloves, and 20 minutes going from one job to the next. The rest of the time I spent either in the dungeon-like, sunlight-deprived shop of Custom Music cleaning and servicing tubas, or behind the register at Blockbuster Video. Even worse was that I just couldn't seem to fully "get" that Spring Fever I so longed for and which should have been unavoidable.

Usually when the weather takes even the most brief turn from the deep-freeze, I get a touch of the spring fever. The smell of the ground thawing, the sound of the birds – hell, even the smell of diesel fumes can get to me on a day like that (you drum corps folks know what I mean). I get a cartoon-like lilt in my step and every breath I take is a deep, hearty gulp akin to drinking one's favorite beer from a never-ending, free tap.

I just couldn't get it, even in the brief time I had to nuzzle against Mother Nature's ample bosoms, because I made one, fatal mistake – I checked the forecast. Yup, by checking weatherbug, I found that Mother Nature's ample bosoms were nothing more than a Kleenex-stuffed bra, covering up the proverbial cold witch's tit: soft and warm perhaps, but not comforting. The next day would be 20 degrees colder, then another 10, then another 5…with snow. Ugh.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. I recall a winter about 13 years ago when the wind chill dipped to -52 degrees. Every major university in the Lower Peninsula closed for the first time in roughly 3 decades (except, of course, Wayne State – a commuter school, no less). This winter has been relatively quite mild, starting late and rarely hitting daytime highs below the teens. Still, I really only appreciate cold weather when it's accompanied by a good amount of snow on the ground, and only then around the Holidays. Come Valentine's Day, I need some sunshine, a nice long drive, and the radio blasting some classic rock with the windows down – preferably without my hands freezing to the steering wheel.

It will be over soon, I know. Old Man Winter is gasping his last breaths while he begs for mercy as Spring slowly increases her grip on his frail throat. Still, it can't come a minute too soon. I want to grab some Taco Bell, walk with Sonya and the kids to the park, and have a picnic as the kids play on the swings. I want to sit on the porch with Sonya, sipping a beer, listening to the kids giggling uncontrollably as they ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk. I want to drive with all the windows down, the radio up, and the scent of mud, lilacs and roses sweeping away the scent of salt and stale cigarette smoke from the interior of my car. I want that. I NEED that.

This tease of Spring tease we had makes me feel like a kid on Thanksgiving: getting a first taste of the holiday season, watching the Christmas parade, seeing the catalogs in the paper advertising the holiday wares, and staring down the barrel of Christmas, but not there yet. The anticipation is killing me, but I know it's coming – and soon.

Luck of the (mostly) Irish...

The annual Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade. A tradition in our family. Weather permitting, we go almost every year. Staged on Michigan Avenue, there are floats, bands, clowns, horses, dogs, politicians, and candy flung at the kiddies in the crowd, like in every parade, but the nature of the holiday just seems to lend itself just as well to the adults. Running between the Lodge Freeway and the old train station, in the shadows of the looming, decaying hulk that used to be the glorious Tiger Stadium, the Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade is every bit as much a joy for the kids as adults.

It's kind of a mix of Mardi Gras and the Fourth of July parades. There's all the aforementioned sights, spectacles, and treats for the kiddies, but also bustling Irish pubs and LOTS of alcohol for the grown ups. Starting at 2pm (enough time to get home from church and start the corned beef and cabbage boiling on the stove), the street is lined 10 deep in most parts (especially in front of Nemo's Pub and the Gaelic League) with locals of the oldest and traditionally Irish neighborhood of Detroit, ex patriots of the city looking to relive the glory days of Detroit, and a bunch of suburbanite college kids looking for an excuse to get drunk (like they need one).

The participants include Irish politicians, Celtic Dance groups, Irish civic organizations, half a dozen pipe and drum corps, and several marching bands sporting as much green as their uniforms can afford, as expected for such a holiday. Beyond that, however, there are TONS of other groups that make this well worth braving the increasingly drunken crowd. There are karate dojos, DFD Clown Brigade, limo-busses sponsored by local pubs (occasionally throwing Jell-o shots), youth groups passing out flyers and throwing strings of green beads, and my favorite – a Star Wars club that marched in FULL costume. Not the cheap $25 costumes, mind you, but the professional quality stuff that usually costs hundreds, of not thousands of dollars. Those are the kind of geeks I can relate too (or could had I the finances for such frivolous purchases).

The weather was unbelievably accommodating this year. Just enough chill to justify a light jacket (or in my case, Irish wool sweater), but BRIGHT sunshine and blue skies. Sonya, the kids, Leigh and I piled into my car after Leigh spiked Liam's hair and painted green tiger stripes his face (the theme this year was the Celtic Tiger) and got there just in time to catch the beginning. Open alcohol is not only common, but almost expected at this parade, so I brought the flask Sonya got me for Christmas full of whisky, which I was more than happy to share with the rest of the crowd that gathered with us across the street from Nemo's (THE place to be for the parade and the holiday itself). By mid-parade, there was myself, the kids, Sonya, her parents, her brother Jeremy, his neighbor Frank, Leigh, my sister Val, her friends Stephan and Nikki and a few others. We had an absolute blast watching the kids scramble for candy as it shattered to powder in its wrappers on the ground, catching beads, and drinking beer, whisky, and the homemade Irish cream Sonya made.

From there we went to Sonya's parents' house a couple blocks away and all spent the next several hours there, drinking, chatting (loudly), laughing, and eating corned beef, cabbage, potato soup, and Irish soda bread.

Aside from neglecting to do our taxes once again, it was one of the best days I have had in a long time. Next year, the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day, you MUST plan to come down and join us. Ask anyone who's ever been, and they'll agree – it's the most fun you can possibly have on a Sunday afternoon in March!

Sunday, March 16th, 2008!!! Mark it down now!!!

PS. If you want to see some great pics of the parade and how much fun we had, check out Val's Corktown Parade Pics on Flickr

Monday, March 12, 2007

Smoking: On the wagon again (sorta)...

First off, the entire impetus for my getting a new laptop from my dad was my remarking that I wish I had one to be able to keep up on my blog while sitting at the coffee shop on the occasional mornings I take the time between dropping Liam at school and going to work. Thus far, this is the first time I have done so. Not for lack of desire to, but with the free wireless here, I tend to get sucked into web surfing, instant messaging, checking e-mail, etc.. The guilt is compounded by the fact that there has been PLENTY to blog about the past few weeks. I'm going to try and cover at least some of these to some degree here, and hopefully expound on them later.

Smoking - On the wagon again

Sonya and I have been doing very well lately. We still have a problem finding the time to actually spend actual TIME with each other, but we have been making sure to let each other know how much we love one another at every opportunity. That's a big thing. Even just the occasional hug, loving smile, or a simple "I love you" can mean the world to me, as I hope it does to her. Of course, it helps that I don't stink of cigarettes as much lately.

I have tried several times to quit smoking, often to little or only temporary avail. One of the tricks that has seemed to work best for me that I am trying again is to switch to clove cigarettes. I know, not the best substitute for just plain quitting, but it works for me as a step-down measure. They are a bit harsher than what I usually smoke, and thus I don't inhale them NEARLY as deeply. Also, I can't usually finish an entire one at a time, so I tend to smoke them about a half to a third at a time and less frequently. This has the added financial benefit to me spending $6.50 per pack of Djarum every 4 days or so vs. paying $5.50 almost every day for a pack of my beloved Camel Turkish Gold.

More importantly, Sonya doesn't mind their smell as much, so I feel less guilty about them and don't have to try and cover it up to avoid arguments. The smell of cigarette smoke so utterly repulses her, it often makes it hard for me to approach her without getting an instinctive look of disgust. I usually take this quite personally and thus tend to avoid her to avoid the shame. For that reason (and financial ones as well – smokes are getting expensive), I decided to give the weaning-off process another go.

So far I haven't bought a regular pack of cigarettes in a week and have only bummed one from a coworker in that time. The first day, I felt a bit "off", but not strung out or irritable, much to my surprise. Since then, it's been easier to fight off the urge to buy or bum regular smokes. This is HUGE for me! I have been between a ½ pack to 1 ½ pack a day smoker for about 5 years now. I haven't had this easy of a time weaning off yet (knock wood).

Next step: weaning off the cloves. It's in the plan, but I'm not going to force it yet. I'll just start by fighting one craving at a time, as I can handle them. Here's hoping.

Coming up next…

Luck of the (mostly) Irish…