Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Wanted to Make Our Anniversary Special...and Boy-Howdy, It was!

My wife and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary last Friday. I wanted to do something special, not because 23 is some sort of special number, but because it's easier to do big surprises when the expectation is low than when the expectation is high.

I was aiming for unforgettable--and landed firmly on unforgettable. Unforgettable. Lots of things are unforgettable...including surviving the Titanic's first voyage.

I decided to do dinner outdoors. Not just any dinner, but a very special dinner. For that I needed help.

The Plan:
The plan was straightforward. I work at a restaurant, and a friend of mine has impressed me mightily with his skills as as chef. I asked him to make a special meal for my wife and I, to be served outdoors on our anniversary. He agreed happily and readily. He's a great guy.
Another great guy plays the accordion at the restaurant where I work. I asked if he would be willing to come out and play at our little party, and he agreed. When he asked what I'd like him to play, I told him we were married in 1992, and anything from that time period would be great. He said he didn't know Unchained Melody. (Spoiler alert--he learned it.)
I planned to tell my wife we were going out to dinner. Period. I was lucky in that I didn't have to give much more information than that, other than to tell her on the day that she might want to bring a rain coat.

The Weather Report:
When you plan an outdoor event, you need to plan for the weather. We concocted this plan three weeks before our anniversary. I started watching the extended forecasts. On the day, the weather report predicted a 50% chance of light rain during our dinner.
So... Hedging my bets, I modified my plan. Instead of putting a white-linened table in the middle of a field, I bought a tarp to put over the table. I went out in the hot sun, selected a spot, and set up. It was 88 degrees when I set up the table. 

Getting My Wife There:
It's no fun, I suppose, to celebrate an anniversary without your spouse. We've had exactly one anniversary apart in 23 years, and as I recall, it was kind of a bummer. But what to tell her? A week after setting the plan in motion, I got around to checking her schedule. She had a conflict. I asked her to cancel it because, "I have special plans that can't be changed." Fortunately, that was enough for her. Until the day... Then she had questions. Lots of questions, especially when I told her to dress casually and bring rain gear.

The Menu:
If you're in the Mid-Michigan area and you're looking to have a special meal catered, I highly recommend Tyler Stark (810) 931-2718. I wanted some surprise in this for me too, so I didn't give him any guidance other than a budget. Here's what he came up with, delightfully presented in a picnic basket and served out of mason jars:
Appetizer: Smoked salmon dip with capers, pita chips and bread with tomato basil dipping olive oil.
Soup: Orange carrot puree with a hint of ginger--served chilled
Entree: Brazilian Endive salad with bleu cheese, walnuts, raspberries, smoked asparagus tips, and grilled chicken in a berry vinaigrette dressing
Dessert: Fruit cup with cream cheese dip

The Music:
The restaurant that employs me also employs some top-notch accordion players.

My friend Trent Arbaitis is one of them. When I asked if he would be willing to come out to our little picnic dinner and play a few tunes for us, he agreed. Here he is, smile, lederhosen, accordion, and...giant storm cloud over his shoulder. The storm cloud isn't his fault.

Enter the Weather...
All was going according to plan. My wife--her curiosity running high--was in the car with me, trying to guess where we were going. As we approached the field, I had a nervous eye on the tops of the trees, waving in wind that hadn't yet touched the ground. She saw the blue tarp in he field and said, "Look! Someone is having a picnic." I told her that the someone was us. We parked and approached the table. I pulled her favorite flowers (blue iris) from a cooler, and put them on the table. A minute or two later, Tyler pulled up in his car and chef's jacket. Introductions were made, and he served us our appetizers. As he served the soup, Trent pulled up and started to play. My wife was grinning wide. The food and music were great!
And the heavens opened up and poured water...cold water. Grey, misting, sheets of water...

We retreated!
Laughing in the rain, we made a dash for our car--conveniently located behind the accordion player--who was busy stashing his instrument in is car. We decided to finish our picnic at home, but still had to pack the table and the tarp away. Tyler jumped in the car with us and described the rest of the meal. He and Trent stuck around to help us take down the equipment. Both men went well above the call of duty, and we really appreciate it. Good friends do things like that for each other, and I've promised them I will do the same for them if the opportunity presents itself. I hope it does.

We ate the rest of the food when we got home and put on dry clothes. We'll never forget this anniversary, and in a strange way, the rain only enhanced the experience.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Wrong Way to Size a Watch Bracelet

   I started with damn and worked my way up to sonofabi**. I think sonofabi** is quite handy. Especially when I start something I'm not sure I can do.
    I bought a watch, and Amazon sent me the one on the metal bracelet instead of the leather strap I wanted.
    I decided to re-size the bracelet by myself. Watched a YouTube video on how to do it. I have the tools.
    Bent the first tool I tried to use because I missed the hole. Damn.
    Then I watched a different video and used a different tool. Struggled from damn to sonofabi** in a hurry.
    Wasn't sure I was going to like the steel bracelet, but was determined to re-size the sonofabi** and put it on the damn watch anyway.
    I did. Poked myself three times and drew blood--three times in exactly the same spot. My cries of sonofabi** grew quite rapid and loud.
    Reassembled the damn bracelet and put it on the damn watch after removing one more link than I should have. Sonofabi** rang through the air in the room.
    Put a link back in. Stabbed my sonofabi** finger in the same damn spot three more times. Did the "sonofabi**" in sign language because I was already waving my damn finger around.
    Re-re-assembled the watch. Didn't like the result. It didn't quite fit.
    So I removed one of the micro-adjust pins. It flew in the air, bounced off my damn head, and now I can't find the sonofabi**.
    Then I took the damn bracelet off the damn watch and put the parts of the sonofabi** bracelet in a damn drawer...
    ...and put the silicone strap I took off the watch in the first place back on the watch.
Learned a lot, namely...leave well enough alone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bought myself a good fountain pen, and I'm going to use it.

Okay, I'll admit it. I splurge on a regular basis. I usually splurge by buying a watch. I collect those and make no apologies for it.
   This time I splurged on a pen. It's a beauty. It's the Parker Sonnet. I got a good deal on it, but it was still $93 by the time I paid the sales tax.
   Why would any sane man spend a hundred bucks on a pen?

   I asked myself that very question when I skipped over pens that cost half that much and chose this one. That's the Parker Sonnet in stainless steel. The nib (that's the part that touches the paper) is 23k gold plate over stainless steel, and so are the gold accents on the cap and clip.

I have been using fountain pens for years, for reasons explained elsewhere in this blog. I have had cheap ones, and most of them are okay. They'll get the job done.

I think like most people who spend money they have to think twice about on an object they don't really need (my definition of a splurge), I feel a little guilt (and gilt--for the wordsmiths out there) when I think about the purchase.

I didn't test the pen at Staples when I bought it and shelled out my five $20 bills. I pulled it out of the box, saw that there was an ink converter--the device that sucks the ink out of the bottle--included, and felt the balance in my hand. It's not too heavy, nor too light. Unlike some fancy pens, it doesn't slide in my hand. I can write with it for hours.

My wife bought me some fountain pens when she visited Vietnam recently. They're made for students, and they work okay. They scratch the paper--sometimes even cut through it, and sometimes they just stop writing. It's beyond frustrating. Other fountain pens can leak ink inside the cap. Some make an annoying sound when put to paper. Some come unscrewed in your pocket. Even a fountain pen from Parker that I spent $40 bucks on and like a lot can become loose. I have to tighten it before I put it to paper.

My guilt went away when I got home and filled the pen with ink. It filled smoothly. When I put it back together, the balance was perfect. Not just good, but perfect. The cap fits tightly on the back of the pen. It's not too long. It's not too short.

And when I put the pen to paper and wrote my name, I swear I heard angels sing! They were singing about my lousy handwriting, but a song from angels is a song from angels. Here's where the gold plating really pays off. The pen slides smoothly, soundlessly, even over the roughest paper.  The gold shines in the light and calls attention to the fact that it is a fountain pen, a pen steeped in tradition, and--thanks to Pelikan--a very bright royal blue ink.

The guilt, but not the gilt, went away after writing a few pages. This pen is the most expensive pen I have ever purchased, but that's okay. I plan to keep it for a very long time.

I found myself wrestling with a dilemma. I have an excellent pen. Should I keep it at home and only use it in a safe environment, saving it from harm by using it only rarely? Or should I take a risk and carry it with me so I can enjoy it wherever I am?

The dilemma lasted roughly 30 seconds. I don't believe in not using things, no matter how much they might have cost to buy. Having a fine pen is good. Using a fine pen is better. If I drop it and bend the nib--which I've done, sadly--I'll save my pennies and buy another one.

After all, it's a pen. It's a nice pen...but it's just a pen.