Uncle Mack And The Woodworking Trip

They say that every story has a moral.  The moral of this story is:  make sure, upon pain of potential death or horrible disfigurement, that you use the right equipment — mechanical, and human, too.

It was the early ’80s, when Kish and I lived in the D.C. area and Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne had a suburban spread out in Reston, Virginia.  One of his former law partners had decided he no longer could use some woodworking equipment and had asked Uncle Mack if he wanted it.  Uncle Mack — always avidly searching for some new hobby or interest — responded with an enthusiastic yes.  The price of the equipment was a drive to this fellow’s retirement home on the Maryland eastern shore to pick up the devices and drive them away, and Uncle Mack asked if I would give him a hand.  Being an ever-dutiful nephew, I said yes.

I drove out to Reston on a wet Saturday.  Uncle Mack had somehow obtained an actual delivery van to use — a wise decision for which I have been forever grateful, because I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the tale otherwise — and we set off.

After a long drive through D.C. ‘burbs and over Chesapeake Bay bridges we arrived at the guy’s house and went to his woodshop.  Calling it a “woodshop” really doesn’t do it justice, because he had every known piece of equipment that could be used to cut, shape, bevel, or sand wood — from stand-up metal equipment like band saws and mitre saws, lathes and belt sanders, to grinders and hand tools for detail work — as well as a supply of raw lumber.

Uncle Mack’s eyes took on a glint, and I could see that he was envisioning making fine wooden birdhouses, beautifully finished wooden bowls, lovely moldings, and entire rooms of sturdy yet delicate furniture with Amish-quality craftsmanship.  He wanted it all.  At one point I remember him looking longingly at a thin piece of wood with the retiree.  They agreed it was a really nice piece of wood.  “Cherry, eh?” Uncle Mack said.  “Sure, I can use that.”  It was indeed a terrific piece of lumber that might be turned into a bannister or a baseball bat.  It was added to the delivery pile.

I learned that day that old woodworking equipment is heavy.  The stand-up devices were made of metal from top to bottom and weighed approximately 200 pounds apiece, with narrow bases and wide table tops and sharp edges.  We huffed and puffed and wrangled them into the delivery van, but — how to store them to prevent damage during the drive back?  We had no clue, and no cloth wraps.  So we simply placed them upright in the back of the van, moving them next to each other cheek by jowl, until the rear of the van was jammed with metal, power tools, planks, boards, and blocks.  The  van sagged with the weight, and the retiree’s woodshop was denuded.  He looked wistful about it, but his wife appeared to be delighted.

After thank-yous and farewells, we started back, with Uncle Mack at the wheel of the overloaded van.  As we approached one intersection, moving at a pretty good clip, the car in front of us stopped suddenly and Uncle Mack jammed on the brakes.  We felt the momentum shift in the rear of the van and then heard staccato banging back there.  The next thing I knew there was a loud whang! from right behind me and I felt the metal shield that separated the passenger compartment from the storage area shiver with a strong impact at about my neck line.  After the sudden stop that poorly stored stand-up woodworking equipment, with all its razor-sharp saws and points and metal edges had come hurtling forward and toppled like metal dominoes, and only the metal guard had saved me from being beheaded by the edge of a falling band saw.  When we realized what had happened we both breathed a sigh of relief, then burst into laughter.

We finally got back to Uncle Mack’s house, and reasoned that we should drive the van into his back yard so we could move the heavy equipment directly through his walk-out basement to the inner basement that would be his shop.  When we drove the overloaded van into the back yard it promptly sank axle-deep in the soft ground.  We unloaded the van, tracking mud through Aunt Corinne’s beautiful basement, until the woodshop was crammed full, then tried without success to rock the van out of its deep muddy ruts, coating the backyard with mud droplets as we did so.  Finally we gave up and I drove home, grateful to have survived the experience.

I don’t think Uncle Mack ever used any of the woodworking equipment, or that fine piece of cherry wood.


1941351_955763927780741_4444622675154134683_oThe Kishman sisters have been painting the Emerald Isle, well, green.  They’ve visited pubs, driven on the wrong side of the road, and done just about everything you’d want to do in a trip to Ireland.  You can follow their exploits on Heidi’s Facebook page.

Today they’re in Belfast, and tomorrow Dublin.  On the trip they’ve had a chance to reconnect, check out the family homesteads from their Mom’s family, and enjoy the hospitality of the Irish people, who have the reputation of being the friendliest in the world.

I’m glad they are having a good time, but it will be nice to have Kish back at home.

Breakfast At Pistacia Vera

IMG_4978Yesterday morning Russell was heading back to Detroit, so we decided to have breakfast before he hit the road.  We took a short walk to Pistacia Vera.

Pistacia Vera is one of those Columbus eateries you might not have heard about.  I think there’s a reason for that: German Village residents are trying to keep it a secret, because it’s great and they don’t want to have to fight crowds to get a table.

The restaurant has great coffee, lots of very tempting pastry options, and a small menu of breakfast options like quiches, croque monsieur, and muesli and yogurt.  Russell went for the muesli and yogurt, and I got a ham and cheese croissant.  We both ordered cups of Pistacia Ver’a excellent coffee, served Americano-style.

Russell’s greek yogurt was topped with crunchy toasted grains and almond slices and some fresh fruit, and he relished every bite.  My ham and cheese croissant was buttery, light and flaky, and went perfectly with my cup of coffee with a bit of fresh whole milk added.  I think we got the day started off right.

If you haven’t tried Pistacia Vera, you really should.


4Miu79FwsMUqSAi0OlswViKmU2flGKuIuoD3cVmlFWTuokb6p5ENIB6qZhEFZkcdg1Ek6Fu4SdPsxa62KpfQRtb2zEEkUISI5webPwCls1yuFiA7pemcCV3J2npusrBYRP0XXfB4TEBbbGETsVKm6J49uhWlJ6cd43dms5MSkNiui6mlo6CbBeRpk80XiCTYe_idwg-WfhikXfQ_ZAS8d6-KqsY8SEToday we celebrated Mom’s 85th birthday.  The birthday girl wore purple and enjoyed some cake from Mrs. Goodman’s Bakery, and a good time was had by all.

When Family Really Matters

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate Mom’s 85th birthday.  Technically, her birthday is Friday, but tomorrow night the five of us kids will be there, along with a few of Mom’s friends from her retirement home and a cake with candles to make it a real party.

Every birthday is a milestone, and Mom’s reaching 85 is a significant one — not because 85 is especially old in our long-lived culture, but because the last year has been a difficult one for her from a mental and physical health perspective.  Mom’s become more confused and seems much less interested in the world outside her room.  Her personality is veering away from that of the person we’ve known and loved all our lives.  Her behavior is erratic and her mood unpredictable.  She sleeps a lot more, and eats a lot less.

IMG_2910Mom’s decline is not easy to see, but dealing with it would be much more difficult were it not for my brother and sisters.  The “fiveness” of us — two older brothers, three younger sisters — has always been part of my reality, but lately I’ve appreciated the value of being part of a large family more and more.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through this challenging process as an only child, and not just because one person must shoulder the duties and decision-making burdens that otherwise would be shared.  It’s also the real value of being able to share information, talk things through, and reach a common decision with people who you’ve known and trusted all your life.

The five of us are all in our fifties now, and in the decades since we’ve left the family home we’ve each followed our own separate paths.  Since Mom’s own path took a turn several years ago, however, we’ve communicated more frequently than we have in years.  We’re all on a common texting group where we can report on recent events, and we’ve met regularly, often over a meal, to thoughtfully discuss those impossible questions about care and what the future might bring.  At our meetings, I look at those familiar faces and distinct personalities — one a worrier and organizer and planner, one a cheerful, reflexive optimist who can always find the positive, one who likely will have just read another book or article about Mom’s condition, one quiet and steady and practical — and I find comfort when five such different people reach a consensus decision, as we always do.

The five of us have stuck together in dealing with a situation that has caused other families to split apart, and in the process we’ve rediscovered each other and seen, firsthand, when family really matters.  Mom might find that the best birthday present of all.

Screened In

One of the best features of our house, in my humble opinion, is our screened-in porch.  It’s a snug little spot that faces the backyard, with two walls of exposed brick.

For the first few weeks here at our new house, the screened-in porch was a convenient repository for discarded stuff.  As a result, it was a jumble of boxes, stray furniture, papers, and trash bags, with a narrow path for ingress and egress.  Gradually the detritus has been cleared away, and yesterday we finally configured it as we have wanted.  It looks exactly as we pictured it — as a bright and tidy spot to have a cup of coffee on a warm and sunny morning.

With our screened-in porch on line, we begin to see the possibilities of our new house, and it’s fun.