Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

Merry Christmas 2014 from the Dises!

We’re being advised by every weather prognosticator in eastern Virginia that this is going to be a cooo-ooold winter!  And it may well become one.  But not yet.  Our unseasonable warmth is making certain folks blame it on global warming.  On the other hand, if it was colder than normal, they would be blaming that on global warming, too.  And you thought all roads lead to Rome, didn’t you?  Wrong!  They all lead to a seat at the reviewing stand in the Al Gore Eco-Scold Parade.  Be sure you give a big ol’ salute to Big Al when you march past.  Meanwhile, I’ve been investing in Baffin Island waterfront.  Going with the floe, so to speak.  I’ve almost talked L.L. Bean into carrying linen suits and Panama hats for those scorching Maine winters.  By the time we’re done, the polar bears will be so confused, they’ll be bi-polar.

Speaking of ice, Debbie and I, along with twenty bazillion Dise cousins and friends, took a Holland-America cruise to Alaska this past August.  (Their slogan:  “Visit Alaska – before it’s baked!”)  Our friends Kevin and Ann Schmalz from New York joined us in Seattle, along with cousins Jim and Debbie Dise, Kelly and Jean Dise, Ed and Sally Dise, plus a cast of thousands of family friends.  Before boarding the ship, we took the “Tour of Seattle, Hell” on an uncharacteristically sunny and warm Seattle day.  The tour guide led us for many, interminable hours through the neighborhoods of Seattle, stopping to marvel at every blade of blessed grass that was fortunate enough to call Seattle its home.  Debbie (my Debbie) complained that her blood sugar was low since it was 1:30 PM and we hadn’t had lunch, and the sympathetic tour guide responded by driving us through yet more neighborhoods for yet another hour -- this time, we marveled at the lawn ornaments.  We did finally board the ship in time; thank heaven, but no thanks to Seattle’s most self-absorbed tour guide.

The cruise itself, I’m happy to say, was a wild success.  Our ship wasn’t one of the really gi-normous ones that pull dwarf stars in their wakes -- this one was only the size of a typical Virginia county, so we were able to head all the way up into the fjords and watch the big glaciers do pretty much nothing.  Think of glaciers as the ice machine of the gods.  They’re mostly blue, by the way, but well-peppered with soot.  You don’t see the soot in all those touristy travel brochures, do you?  I think it gets airbrushed away.  And any soot you see with flippers?  Those are seals, only slightly more frisky than the soot.   Then we arrived at Juneau, Alaska -- not at all named for Juno, the Roman goddess of politics, but for some old gold prospector named Mr. Juneau, who kept buying drinks for everyone in town until they agreed to name the town after him.  Political pandering has since gotten more sophisticated.  In the world of adjectives, Juneau is nestled in somewhere between quaint and beautiful -- too many state buildings to be quaint, too many run-down homes to be beautiful.  To know what makes Juneau special, you have to look at its setting: mountains and coastline.  The town starts at sea level and is pretty much built straight up into the nearby mountains -- after climbing the streets to the other end of town, we had to rappel back to the ship.  Best $15 ever spent -- we took a tour bus to the Alaska Brewery, where we received a lecture-tour of the facilities… and free samples.  It’s a nice story -- back in the Seventies, a young married couple visited Juneau, fell in love with the place, and wanted to move there.  But… what to do for a living?  She was a CPA, he was a chemical engineer whose hobby was beer-making.  They went door to door, trying to talk the locals into investing in their start-up brewery; today, the unhappiest people in town are the ones who turned them down.  Did I mention the free samples?   Yowzah!   Whoa, did the island just shift?  On our way back to town, as we passed a small island about two hundred yards offshore, the shuttle driver explained it had the world’s highest concentration of grizzly bears.  Can you imagine having to carry an elephant gun just to take out the trash?  Also, Mel Gibson once owned a home there.  The grizzlies had to carry elephant guns, too.  After Juneau, we also stopped at Sitka and Ketchikan on the way back to Seattle, but, by that time, I’d decided that life in the ship’s bar was more fun than climbing the streets, and the wildlife was slightly more active.  Cousin Jim had a system worked out to where we could max out our bar tabs during happy hour and carry a glass of cheap wine into dinner.  It takes a Dise to figure the important things out.  Cara Wallo, a member of our entourage, was one of the finalists in our ship’s version of “Dancing With the Stars!”  I contributed at karaoke time by doing my very best Jim Morrison impression.    Plus, I got to spend lots of quality time with my wonderful wife.  Don’t you love her madly?  I do.

Unfortunately, after thirty years of programming at a desk, my physique has come to resemble an oyster’s.  There are sports teams named after the big cats, bears, and other species of nature’s strong and swift predators, but I defy you to find an NFL team named after a mollusk.  Not getting any younger, and here at age sixty able to see old age from my backyard, I decided to sign up for strength training.  There’s a gym in Norfolk named “Brute Strength” and I went there to see Stella.  In the waiting area, I looked around and realized, I’m the weakest person in this gym, and that includes the pretty little twenty-something ladies.  There was a young boy sitting in the reception area, maybe seven years old.  I thought I might be able to take him.  Stella greeted me.  She’s a very nice lady, and about as helpful as anyone can possibly be.  She’s also only the ninth woman in history to bench-press 350 pounds.  That there is what we call ‘street creds’.  Stella trained me for about a month, and if I could afford it, I’d still be hiring her for every workout.  But I’m more or less on my own now.  And something happened that I never expected: I kinda like this.  After about a month, I started noticing these little tiny bumps starting to spring up in various places, where there had never been so much as a ripple or a ridge.  They’re not big enough yet to call muscles -- I call them “muscle sprouts.”  But recently I’ve had to take some time off, because, somehow, I hurt my lower back, and have been unable to work through it.  Now, my theory has always been, you have to have a muscle to pull a muscle.  That theory seems to hold -- I never had to worry about back pain until I had something resembling a muscle, and I never realized how debilitating it can be.  I’ll just have to find some way to work through all this, because at the moment, I seem to be hooked on lifting.

Speaking of dead-lifts, about a year and a half ago, Debbie and I invested in a zombie movie, “The Other Side”, written and produced by Pittsburgh’s Niespodzianski Brothers -- John and Chris.  I knew John when he was in the Air Force, and simply could not imagine him doing a bad job of anything he’d set his mind to do.  The biggest risk a movie investor takes is that the movie will never actually get made.  I just knew that wasn’t going to happen -- and it didn’t.  Cousin Jim Dise and I drove to Pittsburgh last spring, with my pastor, Wally Sherbon, to see a sneak preview, and again to see the theatrical premier in November, with my friend and colleague Martin Barritt.  Still don’t know whether there’s a financial happy ending, but so far we’ve gotten some excellent reviews, and the production team has announced we are very close to a distribution deal.  Fingers crossed!  If you happen to see the movie, watch for my name in the “Executive Producer” credits -- what I actually produced was a signature on a check, but it’s the thought that counts.  And meanwhile, if some folks who look dead come shambling toward you, don’t assume they’re just asking directions.  They might want to pick your brain about something.

Debbie’s dad, Bill Wallace, at age 86, broke his hip this past January, and both he and Debbie’s mom, Audrey, lost their ability to live on their own.  Debbie intrepidly drove them both up here this past March, and they took up residence with us here in our house.  Audrey is still with us here, but Bill’s health has met with a few setbacks, and he’s in a local nursing home now.  Breaking your hip when you get older is sort of a harbinger for other things, mostly not good.  We have no idea how things go from here, but we visit Bill a lot and he seems to be rolling with the punches pretty well.  We just celebrated Bill’s 87th birthday with beer and pizza.  Bill flirts outrageously with the nurses.

And that’s the year that was.  Debbie is still teaching 5th grade beginning orchestra, I’m still programming and playing trombone, and we both are grateful for the Lord’s many blessings.  This Christmas season; remember the One who came into this world to make life and death both worth celebrating, -- the New Life that is to come.

Love from,

Lee & Debbie 

Bill & Audrey, too!