Uncle Don's Blog

A place to rant and rave, a place to have my say, to put in my two cents, to provoke opinions and reactions from my friends (seasoned and fresh)... and my critics, too.

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Location: Waterville, Maine, United States

Computer programmer, chess player and movie buff

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Looking in the Rearview Mirror of 2006

With all the news featured in the Economist, U.S. News and World Report, and the daily paper, you'd think there wouldn't be anything else of interest going on in the world. Alas, no, we also had our private little lives to live, each filled with events big and small. Thanks to the Internet (and Al Gore, I suppose) and to whoever thought up the idea of blogging (a sort of virtual soliloquy), I am able to extend and inflate your understanding of momentous events on this little patch of earth in Winslow, Maine.

Global Warming came to Winslow this year, in the form of unseasonably mild winter weather, a summer without much sun and "An Inconvenient Truth", a film about the unsettling disappearance of glaciers and other evidence that we are in the midst of a significant change to our weather conditions. Though friends have informed me of credible information that undercuts some of the arguments made in the film, most agree that something is going on. A friend at work with more than a casual interest in weather does not agree that man-made factors or proprosed solutions would amount to a significant difference in what's happening. Another friend turned up the claim that the statistics aren't solid. In spite of the valid criticism, it is hard to argue with the images. As for the politics, I wouldn't mind if he ran for President again, but I don't think it would be wise for him to do so. We thought enough of the film to see it again at an "Inconvenient Truth party" put on by MoveOn and to purchase the DVD.

We also watched The Corporation, Why We Fight, North Country, Who Killed the Electric Car? and The Future of Food documentaries; all very thought provoking documentaries. We finally joined Netflix (years after the idea was first suggested). We watched many old favorites (including The Jewel in the Crown and Cactus Flower) rented from Netflix, Movie Gallery, Hollywood Video and from my own video tape collection.

Though there was no direct connection to international affairs (the war in Beirut, the demise of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the casualties in Iraq) nor to national affairs (the off year elections and Dick Cheney's hunting accident), we were not completely oblivious to these matters either. I read several books touching on matters of the day (State of Denial, Losing America, The Greatest Story Ever Sold) and tried to keep up by reading The Economist (once in a great while), U.S. News and World Report (at least once a month) and the Kennebec Journal (several times a month). We continue to ignore television, but I do occasionally listen to NPR. We know several people with relatives or friends in Iraq or Afghanistan and continue to hope that they will not be victims of this heinous choice by the Bush Administration. We were very happy with the outcome of the election and happy to see the back of Rumsfeld at long last. An earthquake shook Winslow and Bar Harbor, but Rodney's experience of the event as being like a freight train going through their house seemed more like a burp to us here in Winslow (though Aren noticed it).

My career took a turn for the better this year. After a failed attempt to join the judiciary branch as a Mac programmer, I was reclassified as a Senior Programmer Analyst (my "ultimate" goal) in my current job. I joined the union just to avoid the hassle of paying my "fair share"; this has led to very bad feelings and in some cases to threats of job loss for those who continue to insist that it is unfair to require them to pay for something they don't agree with. In my view, they should have grandfathered existing employees who chose to not belong to the union when that option was available, instead of incurring so much bad will (including many who belong to the union already, as well as those who have been coerced to pay). My responsibilities have deepened as I become more familiar with the world of web application development; now I am juggling about five web applications (with a colleague or two, to be sure). I had a major role in one of our new web applications, which was well received. My only link to the COBOL is EFT at this point; it reared it's ugly head again just before the year's end and it looks like I will be spending a large part of January whipping it back into shape. My advice was sought about the viability of the approach to doing the flagship tax management system replacement; I sided with a healthy majority against going forward with the project. Amazingly, they decided to ignore our advice and plow ahead anyway!

Professionally, I have continued to learn about web development related technologies and Oracle application server administration. I had a very good XML course at the beginning of the year and the Oracle course in December. Unfortunately, the nature of the work is such that it is difficult to schedule learning opportunities at the right time. Often, I struggle with tasks that require knowledge I won't get until after the task is well under way. In spite of that, I continue to enjoy the work (even though I continue to proceed at a very modest pace). The good news is that the applications work well and don't break too often. Cracking the odd mystery may not be as exciting as The DaVinci Code, but it is still satisfying to me after all these years. Gale made a number of strides in her professional goals, particularly entering the Waterville Arts Festival with her photographs. She is still working on how to best share her time as psychotherapist with her other interests (including organizing women's group retreats and trying to help her son survive adolescence). We started attending MMOOS meetings again (Gale's first and only attendance featured digital photography tools for the Mac); I find it invigorating to be in a room full of people who love their Macs and have attended several meetings, though I missed the one in December. Aren is volunteering three days per week to help first and third graders in the Winslow Elementary School.

On the home front, we had our first burglary this summer (miraculously they got away with less than twenty dollars in coins and a nice wooden box). This led to new locks on all the doors, new locks on doors that didn't even have locks in the past and a change in lifestyle for one lady who had been living in the country for years without any need to worry about burglars. We seriously investigated putting the house up for sale and looked at a number of properties that were larger and/or closer to Augusta to cut down on the commute. In the end, our little ranch out in the country looks a bit better than anything we could find at a sensible price, so we may just dig in and stay for a while. We did make progress on drying up the basement with another humidifier. We hired a handyman to replace the outer breezeway siding, the flooring just inside the breezeway door and the door itself; he also patched the roof, the kitchen ceiling, and the flooring just inside the front door. Gale has been clearing out the basement with years of clutter that have gone to Uncle Henry's, or to Ken-A-Set, or to the junk pile. We dismantled some old wooden benches and home-made guppy tank shelving (along with saying goodbye to the last of the guppies). I replaced the rug in the cat room with linoleum (because the rug just wasn't able to keep up with Pixel). We rearranged the living room/dining room/computer room so that it looks bigger and less cluttered (okay, it's better than it was at the beginning of the year, but still not perfect). We are all using flat screen monitors at last! We repainted and moved most of Gale's library into the guest room. Gale said goodbye to all her guppies and all their tanks and equipment. We got estimates to replace flooring, flood proof the basement and put vinyl siding on the house. We are down to one storage unit! Nothing short of an addition on the house will ever give us enough room to feel really comfortable, of course.

My health is holding up pretty well. I have taken my diagnosis seriously and faithfully track my readings, watch my diet and try to keep up a regular exercise regimen. Looks good so far. At the advice of the Diabetes educators, I have paid a lot more attention to my feet this year (buying new shoes, new socks, new slippers and new boots). My feet turned yellow this year after using a prescription creme to help keep them healthy. It turned out to be not a health issue so much as a misunderstanding about the effects of the creme; the podiatrist was not sure about the cause, but our best guess is that the oil used to massage my feet discolored them because of the increased porosity caused by the medication. The massage therapist doesn't use oil on my feet any more and we're hoping that it will eventually go back to normal. My attempts to look into the effects of stress on diabetes got off to a rough start when the therapist I planned to see died the weekend before our first appointment. I have since found another therapist, but the jury is still out on whether my stressors (at work, at home, etc.) are having negative effects on my health sufficient to warrant a major change in lifestyle (e.g., disability or early retirement). At this point I'm leaning towards continuing to work for quite some time.

Financially, this has been a better year for me than for Gale, but we are definitely improving. My retirement nest egg grew for the second year in a row (a gigantic improvement over the previous funds manager, who lost money year after year). I have consolidated all my credit card debt into one account and have held the line on adding new debt. I gave up my separate phone number and my Verizon email address. I started carpooling late in 2005 when gas prices shot up to $3 per gallon and continued with the same arrangement for the full year. Coupled with the raise, it has been a real relief to my cash flow concerns. We cut back on our trips south to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, though we did make a few trips. I replaced the Honda Accord in November with a Toyota Camry (190,000 miles down to 79,000 miles) to avoid increasingly costly repairs that seemed imminent. Gale's Subaru cost us an arm and a leg in the last quarter, which took the wind out of our sails for a while. Gale still has child support and her school loans to overshadow her spending choices. We are both struggling to get a new budget in place to allow us more breathing space. This year we had a fabulous breakfast at the Senator Inn to celebrate a year of working hard at paying off the dead horses. We generally save money (and eat better meals) by dining at home; my cooking still suits us just fine (and many times is far superior to restaurant fare).

We had a number of family events this year (some happy, some not so happy). Dale moved out in December of 2005 and headed out to the west coast, where she met a nice man and got married just before the end of the year. They came out to visit in the summer and we enjoyed meeting him. Blanche had a brush with pneumonia and stayed with us for a few weeks to recover. Dave brought us a treadmill and delivered it during a downpour. He also exchanged his iMac for my G4, which allowed us to send the iMac to Kia in California. Dave seems to have made a full recovery from heart surgery. I joined a family jaunt to Winter Harbor with Carl, Arlene, April, Butch and Kia; they popped into Winslow for a quick visit. Mom and Dad have had a pretty good year, too. Cindy and Mark visited us late in December and Mark made a new friend in Dippy, the papillon. We did the Arabian squash thing again (which had been such a big hit at Thanksgiving with Blanche, Carol, Aren and Justin) and Company Beef, of course. We managed a trip down to Cindy's house in New Hampshire for the annual cookout and hooked up with all the family members we don't get to see very often (including Jeff, Tara, Erick, Julie and Andrew, Vicky and Didi and their boyfriends); they are definitely growing up! We celebrated our anniversary with a trip to Eastport this year, staying in an old Victorian and watching a whale break the surface of the ocean just outside the window of the restaurant. Aren has had a very interesting 16th year (with a dislocated knee, a new puppy, interesting nature walks, old Charlie Chan movies, attendance at the local UU youth group, adjusting to his father's new girlfriend and her 17 year old son Justin, Keystone distance learning instead of high school and his first turn at the wheel of the family car). We had our traditional winter solstice bonfire again this year and a Christmas tree (with lights and ornaments). I survived a mad dash to Bangor in the middle of the night with Dippy and the puppy that didn't make it, the birth of Scruples (her only surviving puppy) and the few months Gale and Aren spent raising the little dog.

Keeping in touch with friends was harder for us this year, but we did manage to see Jerry and Bonnie in Littleton, Rodney and Jill in Ellsworth and Joanne and Jon in Wakefield. Joanne and Jon made it to see us in Winslow. Rainchecks are out to other friends for visits and get togethers in 2007. Rodney and I have been able to squeeze in a few breakfasts and have enjoyed sharing life's vicissitudes and pondering the great questions of our time. I was able to attend Irina's piano recital. Gale's friend Carol has spent a little time with us this year. She also saw her friend Linda (and Barbara) for a weekend in September. Not to mention the women's retreats (for which we took a little trip to Nicatous and made a visual blog of the directions). We recognized some of the faces at the Inconvenient Truth party; I managed to get into quite a discussion with one of the participants about responsibility for the mess in Iraq. Aren and Justin joined us for Thanksgiving. Mike has found a job in Augusta and we were able to get together for lunch at Panera's. Email and iCards have helped to keep the lines open to friends we couldn't see this year. It was nice to reconnect with John, Paul, Annie, Irina and Charlie. Lost track of a few this year and declined my class reunion because there just isn't enough time in the day!

It was a good exercise to look back over the year; I hadn't realized just how much we packed in. We are feeling the need to look forward a bit and try to keep focused, so that we feel we are making progress during the exercise, rather than just looking back. I'd like to make the blog a more regular part of my plans so that people don't feel cut off because we can't make our schedules work together. I suppose it will never be like the old days when we got together at the drop of a hat, but perhaps this way of communicating will be better than silence. I'm feeling better about my life this year and looking forward to working on my agenda (weeding through my past, improving my chess game, continuing to learn my craft and improving our living conditions). Daily chess, monthly massage, nightly movies and weekly crockpot adventures may not be the only recipe for a healthy and relaxing life, but they go a long way in this neck of the woods. If you can find the time, drop us a line and let us know what you have been doing all this time; when we get together there is never enough time to go into all this detail (though Jerry, Bonnie, Alex and Mike kept us up into the wee hours after dinner one night with a lively conversation that just didn't want to end).

Cheers,

Uncle Don

2 Comments:

Anonymous Blithe said...

Good words.

1:20 AM  
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