Retro Computing…

Retro Computing – a term that probably means something different to anyone who sees it.  To me, Retro Computing is being able to re-experience the early days of home computing – back when there were a dozen different players all competing.

Sadly, for me, the Retro Computing era ended when IBM introduced their Personal Computer and almost over night, dominated the market based on their name.

It took years for the IBM PC and the eventual clones to catch up to computers such as the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 where sound and graphics were concerned.

Most people who owned computers pre-IBM PC either disposed of, sold or placed their original computers in storage – where they languished and faded from memory.

I myself started with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Micro Computer that was retro-actively named the “Model 1” a few years later.  It was my first experience with a real personal computer after a friend told me that the town library had bought one.  (Summer 1980?) The library used it weekly for an “Introduction to Computers” class they conducted – and when the class was not using it – it was available for anyone to use – for an hour at a time.

My friend and I would hit the Library at the same time – and reserve the computer room via the sign up on the sheet so we were guaranteed a two hour block of coding bliss.

The Radio Shack computer had one big advantage for me over other computers of that time period such as the Apple II and the Atari 800 – the cost.  You could get a basic system (Keyboard, Monitor, Cassette tape player) for approximately $500.

I remember saving up from my summer job and buying one via the Trade’n’Times.  I even remember the person’s profession whom sold it to me – he was a Patent Attorney.  I remember never having heard of that profession until that time – and that was the first one I ever met – until years later at a friends house party.

I took computer programming in BASIC during High School – I recall my first class used three teletype machines with paper tape.  You would type in your programs on one of the two “dumb terminals” that were only good for creating paper tapes.

The third teletype machine was the magical one with a modem.  Our school was contracted with a time sharing service in downtown Cleveland.  I don’t know how much online time cost – but it must have been pricey.  Someone showed me how to bring up a “hidden” menu that had a list of games on it – and introduced me to “Adventure” – a text based game where you explored a large cave.  I remember playing it unattended during my lunch one day – when I was discovered by the computer teacher and she was FURIOUS!  It was then I learned that some people considered playing games a waste of time and money.

The next computer class I took at school was in the same class room – and with the same teacher (!) but the terminals were gone.  In their place were three shiny new Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III’s.  The Model III’s replaced the original TRS-80 when the FCC started cracking down on RF emissions.  The original TRS-80 (Model 1) had no shielding whatsoever, and could wreak havoc on the TV sets of the time.

Having Model III’s in the classroom was perfect – since by this time I now had my very own Model 1 – which could save programs on cassettes that were readable by the classroom computers.

I remember one of the computers was connected to a printer – so three students at a time could create their programs – and then take turns loading them into the computer with the printer and print them out.  I would leisurely write my programs (and debug them!) at home – then bring them to school the next day on my cassette.

In 1984, I met someone at college who had brought his computer from home with him  for creating papers – something that was quite rare back then.  Unlike my Radio Shack Model 1 – he had a Radio Shack Color Computer – and I was immediately in awe at the graphics and color it was capable of. I remember he (Doug Kelly) was writing an arcade game – I wonder if he ever finished it…  And I wonder what ever became of him.

When I returned home from college that summer, I bought myself a Color Computer 2. Since I was constrained on table space in the basement (yes – that cliche was true) the Model 1 was moved aside to make way for the Color Computer – or CoCo as they were fondly called.

Sadly, in 1987 a friend introduced me to MSDOS machines, and I bought my first IBM Clone – which resulted in the Coco being moved aside also.

So for me – my Retro Computing era lasted from 1980 – 1987.

Fast forward thirty years (wow – am I really that old?) and now my interest in these “old iron” have been rekindled.  I actually had my original Radio Shack computers up until around 2002 – when I bought a Radio Shack Model 4 on eBay. The Model 4 replaced the Model III (Have to love the numeric inconsistencies).  Sadly, I felt I was done with the Model 1 at this time – and threw it out.  I didn’t even try selling it on eBay – I just threw it out.  One of my great retrocomputing mistakes, but not my last.

During the 80s, I subscribed to multiple home computer magazines of the era – such as 80 Microcomputing (Later renamed to 80 Micro) and The Rainbow.  I also bought the occasional book related to the specific model of computers I owned.  One such book was a rather unique one – it contained the source code for a popular game for the TRS-80 called “Alien Defense”.  The book was entitled “Alien Defense Commented”.  I had bought the book at a B Dalton book store that carried hobbyist books and magazines.  This book languished on a book shelf in my parents basement for years.  After I got married in 1989 and moved out – my magazine collection and computer book collection were left behind – forgotten about.  In 2012, my parents asked if I wanted anything on that bookshelf – since they needed the space.  Sadly, I told them no – so the entire contents of the bookshelf were carted into a paper recycling dumpster – including the precious rare book.  At the time, I had no idea how rare it was – but google searches for “Alien Defense Commented” invariably result in no trace of the book – just people searching for it.  If there was a tarred and feathered offense category for Retrocomputing – my allowing the book to be recycled probably qualified.  The only thing I remember from my glancing at the book soon after I bought it was the pages looked like they had been printed directly from one of the popular dot matrix printers at the time and simply bound with a cover.  Alas, as they say, it’s no use crying over spilled milk at this point.

Speaking of eBay, In the past 10 years I have been slowly increasing my Retro collection of computers from the ’80s by acquiring first an Apple IIgs, then an Atari 800xl – followed by an Atari 800 and a Commodore 64.

Once I have finished collecting (and cleaning!) these bits and pieces of the past, then I shall be able to experience what I missed as a teenager in the 80s.

I am planning on documenting this at




Sample from Cullen the Cleric’s journal

Cullen is my 5th Edition D&D Cleric
These are some excerpts from his journal entries
==Earlier Journal Entries==
They have water damage, and may not be salvageable.  Then again, if the proper magicks are applied…
==Session Report 12/09/2016==
===Journal Entry #17===
Due to the scarcity of available bunks at the orphanage, I have found myself needing some alternative plans for shelter.
I found a group of people who appear to be really nice: a fine strapping young lady ‘Thumper’ who seems to have a pet bear for some reason.  I’m sure there is quite a story behind that one, I’ll have to remember to ask her some day.
There is a Paladin, Joe I think his name is, I dimly recall him stopping by at the orphanage one day to drop a squalling brat off.  Joe is currently out on some boondoggle for his church or something.  Maybe he’s out with Elvis saving a Kingdom or something.  I have yet to meet this mysterious Elvis.
It seems I just missed Thaddeus and Hans.  Hans I have worked with in the past, but have not seem him in quite a while. According to the tenants that ARE here, Thaddeus is a fine upstanding citizen – and a fellow cleric!  Those two are on an errand someplace, and should be back shortly – or so I am told.
Hmmm – reading what I have written so far, I see I have failed to mention just whom I HAVE met – besides the lady Thumper.  There is Garric – an apprentice locksmith who is trying to find a place to hang his shingle on.  He assured me that he only uses his fine fingered skills for good – but I have to wonder.  And I am definitely keeping my desk drawers locked.
Then there is Maya, one of those tree hugging Druids – I guess trees need love also or something.  She also seems to have an affinity for wild life, I imagine she and the bear get along just fine.
Kerowyn whom I have met previously, was out running an errand when I arrived.  From what I remember about her, she is not someone you want to get on her bad side. There are some dark rumors about her past, and I am sure that is just what they are – rumors. Seriously – her a killer?  Nah – just rumors…
Finally, last but not least is Linda, with Thaddeus and myself, she makes three Clerics in this manor – which is very comforting to me.  Her and Thaddeus being present is what made the decision for me to stay here an easy one – over my initial hesitation due to Garric and especially Kerowyn.
===Journal Entry #18===
I have been sharing the manor with the others for about a week now, and things were going pretty well – although they were getting a bit dull – until the day I came down for breakfast after my morning prayers to Crom – and I saw Marshall Macallen with his feet up sitting in my favorite chair – and eating the biscuits like this was something he did every day.
In between mouthfuls of biscuit, the good Marshall explained to those who were present why he was there.  It seems there are opportunities for folks such as myself to generate some much needed income to help pay for the upkeep of this fine establishment.
One of the opportunities which caught my ear, was problems in the neighboring hamlet of Goura.  Seems there is something eating or otherwise absconding farm animals.
I glanced over at Garric, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea who might be behind such a theft.  (Garric is rumored to hang out with some shady types – but he assured me that they would not be interested in pilfering cows)
The Marshall also told us a tall tale about giant bugs or something that have been reported – he really rolled his eyes as he mimicked one of the townspeople reporting that he had seen a 20 foot long bee.  We all got a kick out that one – seriously – a 20 foot long bug?  Who makes this kind of stuff up?
Seeing that something WAS causing the disappearance of the livestock and I was due to work a double shift at the orphanage – I quickly volunteered to join the expedition to Goura to try to solve this mystery.  The fact that there was a 1000sp reward may have participated in my decision also… Hey – a guy needs to have some coin to put food on the table!
Right about this time, as the Marshall was getting ready to leave, into the Manor strode our newest commune member – a Wizard named Auric.  Must like gold or something…  He handed me his card, and it said something like  Bill Auric – Electrician Wizard and Adventurer’ 
So – after showing out the Marshall and having a quick breakfast, four of us: Auric, Maya, Linda and myself, headed down the road to Goura.
===Journal Entry #19===
I’m writing this by campfire on the edge of a pasture – this day has definitely been a long one, I’ll be turning in soon as I am done with this entry, but I need to write it down now – while it is still fresh in my memory.
Oh yes, earlier today we headed for Goura – about 20 miles distant from the manor.
I made sure to remind the others to pack a lunch – it was a long walk and I didn’t know of any stops along the way.
We encountered the usual travelers along the road – mainly merchants. Some of them were carrying pretty expensive looking wares, I took note to look them up when I returned – to see if they needed any security services – since some of our manor commune were members of a local security firm.
We reached Goura without incident at midday, and split up to better conduct our investigation.  We all agreed to meet back at the tavern for dinner that night and discuss our findings.  I immediately learned that the livestock disturbances were primarily occurring in the North Eastern side of town – so I headed there to start my investigations.  I ran into farmer McDonald, an elderly gentleman who enjoyed a good drink and a song.  He pointed out to me the pasture where the missing cow was last seen.
I spent the remaining daylight hours scouring the edge of the pasture looking for clues, and I finally found some.  I had discovered a patch of underbrush along one edge of the pasture was crushed – like something heavy had gone through there.  Something heavy and big – larger than the missing cow I was searching for.
Armed with this knowledge, I headed back to town and met up with the rest of the party and traded notes.
Most of the group decided to turn in for the night, but I had a sneaking suspicion that the abductions were happening at night – so I made my way back to pasture I had investigated earlier.  Maya also announced she was going to join me in this endeavor – which I gladly welcomed.  It would give me someone to talk to.  Besides, I know very little about Druids, I thought this might be a chance to see how much of my decidedly 2nd hand knowledge about them was accurate.
The moon had come up – and we had pretty much decided the night was a bust and was going to turn in – when Maya sat up and said “Do you smell that?”.  In all honesty, all I could smell was the after effects of todays dinner – so I told her “No”.  Turns out, she wasn’t commenting on what I had eaten that evening – but a strange odor she was unfamiliar with.  Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to learn something – we headed out – following her nose.
It was at this point, that things got weird – I had heard rumors that Druids can shape shift, but I had never seen it before myself.  As Crom is my witness, she smiled slyly at me – and transformed right in front of my eyes into a black panther!
Luckily, she seemed to retain her knowledge and memories while in that form – and didn’t consider me as something that needed attacking.  With what I interpreted as a “Follow me” shake of her head – Panther Maya bounded off into the woods – with me right behind her.
She ran us all over the woods – occasionally stopping and sniffing the air – before bounding off in a new direction.  I was getting kind of weary of all of the running around and not seeing anything – when she transformed back to her normal self – and told me she had lost the scent.
At that point, we made our way back to our fire – and I wrote this journal entry before turning in for the night.
===Journal Entry #20===
The next day, Maya and I headed back to the Inn to meet up with the rest of the group for a hearty breakfast, and to discuss our plans for the day.  It was agreed that we would head to the farm I had originally staked out and to see if we could spot any clues in the woods during daylight.
The going was pretty slow at first, until someone (Maya?) spotted a tree branch that was missing its leaves.  We then looked around us closer, and we noticed that a LOT of tree branches were missing their leaves.
Something was definitely going on here.  We did our best to follow the trail of missing leaves, and eventually wandered out into another farm pasture.  This pasture had some inhabitants – but they were all clustered together at the far side – and looking roughly in our direction.  The rest of the group headed for the livestock to try and figure out why they were so obviously agitated.
I decided to try something more direct – I bravely headed for the spot across from them that they were looking at so fearfully.  They don’t call me “Cullen the unscared” for nothing you know!
I was almost at the spot I had picked out as being directly across from the animals – when my highly tuned reflexes prevented me from tripping over what was laying the in grass in front of me.  Something BIG!  In all of my years, I have never seen a lizard as big as this one was – it was completely unnatural in size.  I quickly realized it must be the cause of the crushed underbrush I had originally spotted yesterday afternoon.
The Lizard just blinked one of its large eyes at me – and didn’t do anything.  It seemed content to just sun itself.  While I stood there, mouth agape sculpted jaw firmly clenched, I knew that while it would be nice to simply shoo this away from the farm – there would be no stopping it from coming back and causing more mischief.  Sadly, it had to be killed.  This was also the conclusion Linda must have come to as soon as she saw what I was standing in front of.  With no hesitation – she shot it with an arrow, which just succeeded in pissing it off.  Do I need to remind you, dear reader, that I was still standing toe to toe with now one gigantic pissed off lizard?!
The lizard took a swipe at me – and thanks to my prowess with armor and shield, failed to land a hit.  I struck back with my trusty War Hammer “Clyde” and must have gotten my foot tangled in the tall grass throwing off my balance or something, since the hit failed to cause any perceptible damage.
Shortly after, Maya and Auric came up to ponder at this great beastie also.  Auric wisely stayed back and cast spell after spell at it, which seemed to just be pissing it off more.
Maya, no doubt feeling secure in my unswayed presence, also got closer to lizard, close enough to hit it with her whip.  (Maya had this leather and whip motif, it was actually quite attractive, in a professional sense – of course)
At about this time, tragedy struck – the Lizard no doubt knowing it could not defeat me, switched tactics and struck at Maya – hitting her critically.  I assured her that I could handle it – and ordered her to get away while I distracted it.
Maya, bless her heart, retreated to a safe distance, but then unleashed her full fury on the lizard – a bolt of lightning arced down from the sky – square onto the Lizard – missing me by just a hairsbreadth!
I made a mental note to gently remind Maya to make sure everyone is clear in the future.  While some no doubt found it amusing, I did not like the fact that now every hair on my head – including my beard! was standing on end..
The Lizard decided that one lightning bolt was enough, and tried to flee.  I, of course, was not having any of that – so I soundly struck it as it was running away.
At this point, the Lizard was now bleeding profusely, so it was a simple matter for our party to finish it off.
We sat down to catch our breath, and discussed our next step.  It was agreed that we should bring the head with us back to town as proof of our claim to have saved the town – and to get our reward.
Linda decided to try her hand at skinning the great beast, and made a pretty horrible looking mess.  She did manage to remove the head and the skin, but I think she wore half of the guts on her armor.  “Down wind girl, Down Wind!” was a common chant on our way back to town – dragging the lizard head behind us.
We looked for our contact in town, the local Ombudsman “Bud”, to file our claim for the 1000 sp reward.  We were just starting to celebrate, when he asked us how long ago we had killed it.  “About an hour ago” we replied, “Why?”.  “Because there has been another disturbance report – not 5 minutes ago!” he grumbled back at us.
Son of an Orc – we weren’t done here!
Before heading out to see where this latest report came from, we had a quick meal, and I took the time to update my journal.
===Journal Entry #21===
After a short break, we headed back towards the reported abduction.  This time, it was a goat taken directly from a pen, while the farmer and his wife were nearby.  Unfortunately, neither of the residents had direct eye contact with the pen during the alleged abduction.  The farmer’s wife did report hearing a strange whistling sound, which she thought was being made by her husband, but he reported he was unable to whistle…
There were NO signs anywhere that another giant lizard was responsible, no tracks, no larger flattened areas.  It was like the goat just ceased to exist.
I don’t recall why, but we headed back towards the corpse of the giant lizard we had killed earlier today, and noticed that the crowd of curious onlookers had since dispersed.  We did notice that while the country bumpkins that had been there earlier were now gone, something else had taken their place…  We spotted 2-3 large bee like creatures, approximately 5-10 feet in length.  Some of the group wanted to attack them, but I held them back after convincing them that we should instead track them to their nest, in case there were more of them.
Not unexpectedly, my judgement proved correct, and after a short hike following them carrying their freshly sliced chunks of lizard meat, we ended up back at their nest.
This was the largest wasp type nest I had ever seen, and I hope to never see another one like it in my lifetime.  The giant bees we had been tracking were now in a cluster of at least 8 bees hovering around the nest.
Getting rid of these bees and not being stung to death was going to be a tricky endeavor.  I suggested catching the nest on fire, since I have seen how other (smaller!) nests being made out of paper, caught fire easily.
Auric made attempt after attempt, but was not having much luck lighting it afire from a safe distance. Linda meanwhile came up with the brilliant idea of casting a spell at the nest which created a spinning storm of knives.
The bees, being quite stupid beasts, attempted to attack the knives and succeeded in getting themselves sliced and diced.  About this time, Auric finally succeeded in getting the nest ablaze.
One or more of the bees must have sent out an alarm via pheromones or something (not my specialty) and other giant bees answered the call and started converging onto the nest – and some even came after us!
We had a brief scuffle with the bees that came after us, but we prevailed with only minor injuries, no doubt due to my superior tactical instructions.
In the end, the bees were killed, and the nest was aflame and nearly burned out.  We discussed the situation while keeping a wary eye out for any more stragglers headed for the nest, and decided that something or someone must be behind these aberrations of nature.  In town we had learned of a wise woman, a witch who might be able to shed some light on this mystery.  I’ll refer to her as “Baba Yaga” until I learn her true name.
She is very reclusive and is not seen around town much.  I have a sneaking suspicion that she may in fact be behind these giant creatures – possibly due to an experiment that got out of hand, or maybe due to a more sinister purpose.  It bears investigating.  The group needs to decide if the current party should go calling on her, or if there are people in the manor house who might be better qualified to pay her a visit.  That is a decision she shall make on the morrow, for today has been a long day, and we need to sup and catch some sack time.
==End 12/09/2016 Session Report==
==Session Report 12/23/2016==
===Journal Entry #22===
The day began with a hearty breakfast, as all good days should.  I joined the others at the table, and quickly noticed the absence of [[Auric]].  I was informed that he had pressing business elsewhere, and would not be accompanying us on our search for the mysterious [[Witch of the Wood]].  There was a new face at the table, [[Nar]], a fellow Dwarf hailing from parts unknown.  Judging by the axes Nar was armed with, he is either an out of work wood chopper, or someone who would be quite happy giving an Orc a very short haircut…
After we finished eating, Maya noticed [[Tom]] outside, and we ran out to question him before he could disappear again.  After some skillful negotiating whereupon I convinced the others to cough up 5gp each to help buy Tom a sword as advance payment for his service to help find the Witch, we set off with a spring in our step to find her.  Tom was quite pleased with his new sharp looking long sword – and promised to lead us to her as fast as he could.
Turns out that Tom runs a heckuva lot faster than we did – especially Nar and myself.  I was determined not to allow the young whippersnapper to leave me behind, so legs a poundin’, I kept up with the best of ’em  Truth be told, when the others would stop for a break, I only stopped also – since I wasn’t sure where we were going.  I could have kept running all day without pause.
Tom led us deep into the nearby wood, and then asked us to wait, as he ran on ahead.  I, being ever mindful of the time, waited 5 minutes or so, and then proceeded after Tom.  Turns out, he had ran home to his shanty to pick up a few things – like his bow. Tom and I rejoined the group – and we again, set off at a breakneck pace searching high and low for the witch.
At one point, Tom (who had run ahead) shouted at us “Run!”.  Not knowing what to expect, we dove into the nearby bushes to see what was coming.  About 30 seconds later, we spotted what looked like a bear with the head of a bird!  “It’s just a damn bear” I said and bravely strode out into the path – telling the bear to “Bring it on!”
Turns out – that bear wasn’t alone – it had two friends – two more bear/bird hybrids.
 I shouted “It’s only some bears – we can handle this!”
A few minutes later, we’re surrounded by dead bears that someone had grafted bird heads onto.   Tom chooses this time to return to us, and tells us that he had been running away from more of them and just now lost them.
Proceeding onward through the woods, we eventually come across a nice little homestead, where Tom pronounces “This is her place!”.  After the long hike through the wood, we are all anxious to find her and ask her questions about the abominations we have encountered – and I’m still sure at this point – that she had something to do with it.  Call it my intuition…
Walking cautiously up the path to the house, we can’t but notice that there is vegetables rotting on the vines.  This is not looking good…  We try looking through the windows – but can’t see inside due to the darkness.  Throwing caution to the winds and declaring “I don’t have time for this nonsense”, I boldly open the front door and stride into the dwelling.
The kitchen seems to have been set for a dinner, there are settings for two people, and there is something hanging in the hearth – but it seems to have been burnt beyond recognition.  At some time, it was probably a meat of some sort.
Sadly, we finally make the late witches acquaintance – she is laying on the floor and quite dead, and appears to have been dead for some time.

D&D Backgrounds

In years gone by, I would create a Dungeons and Dragons character in a few minutes – and give no thought to the character’s construction other than its name and stats.

Somewhere around the 3.5 edition, our DM started requesting we create backgrounds for our characters, which would help the DM to better integrate them into his plot lines.

I’ve always enjoyed creative writing, and it’s actually quite surprising to me that I haven’t been creating backgrounds for my characters all along.

A member of our gaming group asked me if I could include her character in a background story, so I whipped up this one where her character “Abraxas” encounters a Drow Rogue I was playing at the time named “Mal’drin” (ahem) “Do’Urden” (please don’t sue me!)

Without further ado – the Abraxas Encounter

    The incessant rains have turned the roads into muddy scars across otherwise serene grassy fields.  A lone warrior is slowly trudging through the mud, undaunted and seemingly unstoppable, even after close to a week’s worth of travel.
Occasionally, the warrior will pause and shake her fist at the rainy heavens – promising a slow death to those responsible for the weather.

    A quick glance may miss the fact that the warrior was female, but her imposing stature makes her race and heritage all too clear, for Abraxas is one of the Dragonborn.

    Dragonborn warriors are normally only called on when the situation is very dire, for their resemblance to denizens of the lower planes tends to put humanoids on nervous footing around them. Dire situations, such as the impending loss of a kingdom to an overwhelming horde of evil Orcs, the battle she now triumphantly is returning home from. She is one of the very few Dragonborn warriors that have attained the title of Paladin. While battle scarred and weary – she is full of the righteousness only those that have vanquished a great evil can attain.

    Some time passes, and the road that seemed like it would never end, is starting to look more traveled, and the sounds and smells of a nearby settlement become sharper as she draws closer.

    Many years ago, farmers and trappers settled these lands.  They established a market place to trade their goods, which eventually grew into the small town in front of her.  The names of the original founders have long since been lost over the ages, and the town itself is now simply called “Farmer’s Hollow”

    Most of the noise seems to be coming from a modest two story building along side what appears to be the town’s general store.

    Realizing that she cannot recall the last time she has slept with out the endless wretched rain soaking her, Abraxas decides to end her trek tonight at a combination inn and tavern – the “Gray Mule”.

    Uncaring of the mud she is tracking across the hardwood floors, she dumps her belongings onto a nearby table and seats herself while none too subtly catching the bartender’s’ eye.

    “Bartender!” she bellows out in the unmistakable roaring voice of the Dragonborn, “bring me food and drink, and make it snappy!” The bartender, visibly shaken by the outburst, hastens over to the grill and instructs the chef to interrupt another patron’s order with hers.

    Beaming with false bravado, the bartender himself brings a large mug of ale over to her table and promises that her food will be on its’ way soon. All he receives in reply is a guttural growl and a nod.

    Abraxas resigns herself to the wait and begins to take in her surroundings; the room seems to contain the normal clientele you would find at such establishments: farmers, trappers, beggars, and the occasional warrior type – most likely members of the city guard.

    Her inspection pauses when she notices someone in the far corner, a corner that is darker than the rest, almost as if the fires’ soft glow itself is hesitant to enter. All that can be seen of the hooded individual is the occasional hint of snowy white hair, and the green eyes that seem to pierce the darkness when turned towards you.

    Knowing that her meal will take some time to prepare, she decides to saunter over and see what manner of individual would sit in such a darkened corner, seemingly repelled by the light.  With a reassuring pat on the battleaxe that never leaves her side, she crosses
over to the far table.  Being of the definitely non-shy type (her Dragonborn heritage at work) she stands at his table and looks down at him.

    Staring back up at her is an elf, but an elf of the sort she has never seen before.  This elf‘s skin is of the deepest ebony, he truly looks like one with the night itself.

    “Elf”, Abraxas says in her thunderous voice, “What brings you to these parts?  I have heard of your kind, and the evil deeds that accompany them and their kin.”  Trained in recognizing evil – she fails to discern his nature as malevolent, but in her suspicious eyes, he may still be a threat to all that is good in these lands.

    The dark elf smiles up at her disarmingly, stands up and bows deeply, introducing himself as Mal’Drin, of the house Do’Urden, traveler, explorer, and dabbler in the mercantile of all types.  He explains that he has heard of the quality of goods in these parts, and is interested in possibly setting up a business arrangement of a sort.  

    “I was on my way to Waterdeep when I heard of this town from a passerby, and just had to check it out in person.  The townspeople here seem friendly enough, but then that may be due to their ignorance and lack of prejudice against my kind.”

    Abraxas gives a loud snort at those words, “Well justified prejudice if you ask me, and keep this in mind, my order does not tolerate any evil in these lands, and I would not hesitate at all to add one more notch to my axe.”  Flashing another disarming smile at her, Mal’Drin assures her of his noble intentions as he sits back down.

    Just then, the bartender calls out “Your dinner is served” from across the room.

    Tromping back towards her own table, she is brought up short by a call from the dark elf, “You seem to have dropped something”.  He stands up and tosses something to her, a coin dangling from a chain, the holy symbol of Kord. Stunned, she can only stop and stare at the coin in her hand, the coin that a minute earlier had been around her neck for as long as she can remember.

    With a growl of fury she unlimbers her axe, turns and stalks back towards the darkened corner, but the booth is empty, as if no one had ever been there…

I, Juror : Day 1

As I write this, the trial I have participated in has ended, and the non-disclosure binder has been lifted, which means I can now write this blog entry w/out running afoul of the legal system.

Today is Tuesday, the trial I was involved in started the previous Thursday,  Friday and yesterday – Monday.

As explained to us potential jurors by the Judge during our selection process on Thursday, the United States of America only asks three things of its citizenry:

Pay Taxes
Serve on a jury if called to.

A month ago or so, I received an official notification via the mail, one that many people (unfortunately) dread – a jury summons.  Unlike most people I know, I was actually excited (and somewhat nervous) about receiving the summons.  The last time I had been summoned for jury duty was (I think) December 2002 – so over 11 years ago.

Prior to that – I had one other summons that I can recall.
The first jury summons experience I had – I was waiting in the large processing room where everyone initially enters on entering the courthouse.  The wheels of law can be notoriously slow some times, so after waiting an hour or so – I left the room to use the rest room.

When I returned – the room was almost completely deserted.  Thinking that everyone had been summoned to a court room while I stepped out – I inquired of the lady at the desk what I had missed.
It turned out – the trials we had been summoned for had been canceled for the day – so everyone had been sent home.  Thus had endeth my almost first (I think) jury experience.

The second experience was the one in December 2002, this one I remember quite clearly.
That day I, along with 27 other people, were lined up in the hallway and marched upstairs to one of the courtrooms.  Once in the courtroom, I first encountered the term “Voir Dire” – which is the process where they shrink the 28 potential jurors down to 12 jurors and 2 alternatives.
This process entails questions asked both as a group by the judge – and individually based on your group responses.  Over that morning – only the 12 jurors and 2 alts remained.

The other 14 were excused.  I remember we then heard the opening arguments from the prosecution, but I can not recall what, if anything, was said by the defense.

The case for my second experience entailed a woman bank teller who was defrauding elderly bank clients who rarely ever accessed their accounts.  She would skim money out of them – and place it in her own account.  I do not recall how long a period this happened over – but one of the elderly customers’ children was balancing their books – and noted the discrepancies.

Prosecution had a pretty much air tight case, this took place at the bank with video monitoring and all of her account activity was recorded as a matter of course.  After the initial argument(s) were heard by us, we were dismissed back to the jury room for a break.

At the end of our break – the judge showed up – and told us that the case had been dismissed – since the defendant changed her plea to guilty.  We were then sent home.

Until this past jury duty – I had never experienced a full court trial from start to finish – but that was about to change – I was going to go all the way!

The color of the summons you receive in the county of Ohio I reside in dictates the type of jury you will serve on.  This can be anything from the local Mayor’s Court to County Common Pleas Court.
Just my luck – my notice was white – which meant I was potentially being summoned to serve on a jury for Common Pleas.  My group number was 56, and the week of my Jury duty was designated as April 14, 2014 through April 18th.

On Sunday April 13th, I checked the jury website mentioned in the notification letter, and I saw that they were calling up groups 1 through 39.  I figured at this rate, I’d be in the next batch.  I was wrong.

Monday the 14th after 5:00, I checked the website again, and this time they were calling up groups 40 through 48.  Again – I figured I’d be next – since I was now just 8 groups away.

Tuesday the 15th, the check in the evening revealed that on Wednesday – groups 49 through 55 were being called in – so I *KNEW* I was going to be called in on  Thursday – if anyone was.

Sure enough – Wednesday evening – groups 56 through 70 were called in – and I informed my boss that night via email I was being tagged for Jury duty on Thursday.  Since I normally get to work at 6:00 and I did not need to be at the courthouse till 8:30, I decided to go to work as usual Thursday – and then walk to the court house since it was just a few blocks from my place of employment.
I was confident that the odds were against my being on a jury, so I left my lunch at work, told my boss I’d probably be back by noon – and headed off on my adventure.

I was wrong…

On arrival at the potential juror waiting room – I checked in, picked up my official “I was really here” paperwork and sat down ready to wait.   At one point, a bailiff walked into the room and started a video that explained the jury selection process and what we could potentially be facing if we were picked.

After the video ended – more waiting.  Recall I mentioned the wheels of justice turn slowly…

At approximately 10:00,  over an hour after I had arrived,  another bailiff walked into the room with the news that one of the trials that day had been canceled – and she was going to read off a list of 28 names, and if you were on it – you were dismissed for the day.
This being Thursday, she said you would still be obliged to check the website for possible duty the next day – but they rarely ever start trials on a Friday.

As luck would have it – I was not on the list, so I settled in to wait some more – with the other remaining folks.  10:30 rolls around, and another bailiff arrives – this time with another list – and it’s a list of folks whom he is rounding up for a trial.  I am the 23rd out of the 28 people called.  That number will be important later…

Over the next two hours, jury selection is conducted – Voir Dire all over again…
This takes place with the defendant in the court room, along with both councilors, and the state’s representative which is the detective in charge of this case.

The judge asks us questions like “Do you have any friends in law enforcement”?  I, along with about half of the people in room raise my hand.  I am good friends with someone who is a county deputy sheriff – but I explain that I am unbiased as to police procedure – since he rarely talks shop.

These questions are intended to weed out any prejudices the potential jurors may have – which would prevent them from keeping an open unbiased mind during the proceedings.

Another question was raised, have you or a relative been a victim of a crime.  This is to get the respondents opinion of the fairness of law enforcement.  In 1986, a first cousin of mine was murdered, but back then I didn’t know if any arrests were made or if there was a trial or not – so I declined to raise my hand – I had nothing to offer.

Another question was raised, I do not recall if by the judge or one of the councilors – this question had to do with lying.  I believe the question was asked by the defense attorney – basically if anyone believed that the mere fact that a police officer wore a badge made him more ethical (truthful) than anyone else.
I do not believe anyone raised their hand at this point.

Another question was asked – if any televised trials had prejudiced you one way or the other where our system of justice was concerned.  At this point, I recall juror #11 (whom I mentally refer to as “Sanford” since he reminded me a lot of that character) answered that trials such as OJ Simpson and others where the defendant was acquitted even though “everyone” “knew” they were guilty jaded his opinion of the ability of the court system to be effective.   Juror #11 had a comment for almost every question asked – and (I later found out) was the cause of considerable eye rolling by the jurors that were eventually selected.

Once questions designed to root our any prejudice were taken care of – then questions pertaining to the hardships you’d be under if you were selected were heard.  These questions had answers such as “I’m the head sales person at our exotic fruit importing company – and the place will fall apart w/out me”  and “I’m in the middle of a major software upgrade at work and no one else can do it”.  The one that really made me shake my head was “I’m a baseball coach at blah blah high school – and we have a game tomorrow (friday) which we’ll have to cancel if I’m not there” (this person was one of the possible jurors who was excused – go figure)

Another series of questions – the ones I remember consisted of gems like this:  “Can you tell if someone is lying by the way they speak?”  A few candidates raised their hands – and one was quite defiant in his declaration in his assertion that if someone can’t look him in the eye – or talk with out wavering or looking away – that they must be lying – no ifs ands or buts.

After a few others gave out similar helpful methods on spotting people whom are not telling the truth – one of the lawyers asked the group if anyone present disliked public speaking.
My hand shot up – and I was the first one picked to answer the question.  I admitted to the councilor that I really, really disliked being put in a situation where I had to speak in front of a group of total strangers – and I was asked if there were any physical symptoms I experienced while talking.
I replied yes, and I mentioned sweaty palms – as did a few other people.

The councilor then told the candidates – please do not judge the veracity of the statements made by the witnesses whom will take the stand based on how they present themselves, none of them are public speakers by trade and will undoubtably be nervous being put (literally) on the spot.

My respect for prosecution councilor who questioned me was raised a few notches by his very subtle knocking the wind out of the previous peoples arguments on how to accurately tell if someone was lying to you based on their body language.

Once the round of questions was finally over – it was now 12:30.  Prior to recessing for an hour lunch break, they decided to excuse three jurors.  Three juror numbers were then called – and they were thanked for their service – told they were no longer needed – and that they were excused.
Surprisingly to no one – juror #11 was one of those three called…

We are then on our lunch break – and I find a small diner in the bowels of the courtroom that serves what almost passes as a hamburger.  At this time I am starving – so it does the job.

At 1:30, we are back in the court room, and the elimination of jurors continue.
Since there are already three vacant chairs in the jury seating area – the first of the overflow juror candidates, #15 is called to take the lowest numbered chair.  This is followed by candidate #16 and #17.

The councilors alternate back and forth removing jurors.  They are constrained in that they can only remove a juror – if they are currently seated in positions #1 through #14.  (12 jurors and 2 alts)

Each time a potential juror is excused from the court – the next overflow juror fills in their spot.
At this time, simple math tells me that the final removal will end up with me filling in the last open jury spot.  As luck would have it – the last juror excused is seat #1 – so I am now officially, Juror #1 and the jury is now settled.  All that remains is the finalizing of the two alts who sit in chairs #13 and #14.
Once that is done – with a “Happy Easter” juror candidate #28 is out the door and on his way home.

For those hoping to get out of jury duty – having a high number is helpful 😉

At this point – there were now 12 jurors – and 2 alts – so we took a break again – prior to listening to the opening arguments presented by both the prosecution and then the defense as to why you should render a decision that agrees with them.
This is also when we finally learned what the trial was about.

The crime took place in one of the lower income housing projects in Akron, and it involved an apartment where the two victims resided – whom I will refer to as “Bob” and “Alice” since I have chosen not to use their actual names in these entries for the sakes of their privacy – and to ensure I don’t get sued.

Bob and Alice lived together, and Bob would frequently smoke pot.  Smoking pot in Ohio at this time is still, sadly, a crime but I tried not to allow my opinions on its legality influence my judgment in this case.  Bob would hang out with other people in the housing project who also enjoyed an occasional joint, and sometimes he’d invite Doug into the apartment where they’d combine their stashes and smoke while playing video games.

Bob had smoked pot with Doug multiple times, and Doug had been over to Bob and Alice’s apartment 3-4 times in the past, so it was no big deal when on December 1rst 2013, at approximately 3:45pm when Doug knocked on their door.  Bob looked through the peep hole, saw it was Doug – and unlocked the door – then turned away and back into his apartment to resume sitting down.

Doug closed the door behind him, and maybe 10 seconds later, it was re-opened and someone unfamiliar to both Bob and Alice strode in carrying a pistol – put it in Bob’s face and told him “you know the drill – get on the floor”.  After staring in disbelief for about 15 seconds, Bob turned away and lay face down on the floor with his feet aimed at the door and his head pointing away from the intruder.

Doug then instructs “Fred” to grab the weed off of Bob’s desk and the duffel bag containing his camera equipment.  While this is going on – Alice is seated at the couch with her back to the front door – but turns her head over her shoulder to see what is going on.  She gets a good view of the intruders for the duration of the robbery which lasts approximately 3 minutes.

“Fred” gathers up Bob’s duffel bag containing the video camera he uses to take a videographer class at a local community college (trying to better his life – more power to him) and Fred also gathers up Bob’s laptop computer along with Alice’s laptop along with Bob’s cell phone, apartment/car keys and some cash they found – I believe $15.  Bob’s small stash of weed (street value $25 is also taken)
Doug says “we’ll be back later” thus the keys they took.

Doug then crows “That’s how we do it – barefaced” as they retreat out the front door – with Fred leaving last and walking backwards keeping Bob and Alice covered.
Originally, Bob thought maybe “barefaced” was the 2nd person’s nickname – but later realized that it was the fact that they didn’t bother disguising their identities.  Doing it “barefaced” was extremely cocky on their part – and not very smart…

Roughly a minute after the robbers have left, Bob gets up and heads for the door and grabs a spare set of apartment/car keys.  Alice tells him to not give chase – but he ignores her and heads out.

Bob assumes they have a vehicle – and since there is only a single main exit out of the apartment complex parking lot – he runs to his car – and drives over to it – parks across it and blocks the exit.

A burgundy Olds Bravada comes flying up the exit lane – and then stops when it sees Bob is blocking the exit.  There it pauses – and then resumes headed for the exit.

Fearing for his safety – Bob backs down and moves aside – the Bravada then drives out of the apartment parking lot and onto the main road.  Bob follows a few seconds later.

During his pursuit – Bob encounters an Akron Patrolman on foot – he is moonlighting after his normal police shift at a local junkyard.  The junkyard hires Akron off duty police to act as security to keep people from climbing over the fences and stealing parts.

Bob stops and tells the Akron policeman what happened – and where he lives.  The Bravada keeps going – and heads for another Akron housing project – about a mile away.  What actually happens between the reporting of the burglary and the Bravada pulling into the parking lot of the other apartment complex is unknown – but what happens in the other parking lot is where things get interesting.

Unbeknownst to the perpetrators in the Bravada – there is an Akron patrol car in the parking lot alongside another vehicle.  The other vehicle matches the description of a stolen car – so the two officers have radioed it in – and are filling out paperwork while awaiting a tow truck.

The Bravada was actually noticed by one of the two officers, but was ignored, since this is a parking lot and people pull in all the time.

What got both of their attentions was the appearance soon after of someone jogging into the parking lot’s entrance – and then having something fall out of his pocket onto the blacktop with a metallic sound.
Both officers initially assumed it was a cell phone – but their curiosity is piqued when the jogger (Doug) pauses to look at the item he dropped – and then keeps jogging away.

One of the officers who served in the military in an armory – recognized the sound as a small gun being dropped – since he’s had experience with butter finger recruits during his military service.

There is a large mound of snow near where the gun was dropped – and small children are playing on it – who also heard the sound and are headed over to investigate.

Officer #1 whom is the driver starts the car and drives over to the object to get there before the children do.  Officer #2 calls out to the jogger to stop – and the jogger starts running.  Officer #2 runs off in pursuit.

Officer #1 secures the gun in his car – sans gloves unfortunately – since he was in a hurry to secure it away from the children – he didn’t have time to put on latex gloves.
Once the gun is secured – he notes which direction his partner and the jogger went – notes that there is a very high wall in that direction between parking lots – so he heads out onto the main road and speeds over to the parking lot where he figures the foot chase will end.

When Officer #2 arrives in the parking lot – Officer #1 has found the suspect hiding under a car and has him in custody.  While frisking the suspect prior to placing him in the squad car – they find a couple small bags of pot on him, a ring of keys and a cell phone.

When Officer #1 and #2 report back to the station they hear about the robbery that happened earlier.
They contact Bob via his home phone number – and they have Bob call his cell phone.  The phone they took from the suspect rings.

A detective is assigned to the case – and heads over to Bob and Alice’s apartment to take their statements and he brings the keys and the cell phone.  While taking the report, Bob unlocks the cell phone with his passcode and verifies that the keys are his by using them to unlock their front door.

The detective tells them that they caught one of the perpetrators with Bob’s belongings – but have not caught the second one with the camera and laptops.  Since Alice had the best view of the person with the gun for the longest time – she is shown a 6 picture photograph lineup – which does NOT contain a photo of Fred.  Alice is 75% one of the people in the lineup with the gunman.  After the police leave, Bob and Alice decide to do some investigating on their own – and decide to search for the phrase “Free Doug” which is a popular expression used in sympathy among miscreants when one of their group is arrested.  They search for that via facebook – and sure enough, they are led to a home page of someone who had recently posted that status on his page.  The profile picture of the person whose home page they are at looks a lot like the gunman, and his banner picture is a picture of him holding a small gun in his hands.

Note – since Bob and Alice are not one of Fred’s facebook friends – the only way they could view his status and his picture is due to him leaving his security settings at the facebook defaults of “everyone”.  If you are going to commit a crime and post incriminating evidence online – you may wish to do so with slightly more secure security settings…

Bob sends the person he suspects as being Fred some facebook messages trying to rattle him into saying something incriminating.  He doesn’t succeed – but he and Alice are pretty sure this is the right person so they call the detective in charge of their case and give him the facebook profile information.
The detective visits the facebook page and makes hardcopies of the pictures and the “Free Doug” status in case they are later deleted.  As it turns out – Fred does delete the incriminating status and pictures of himself and the gun – but not before the detective made his copies.

At this point,  Bob takes the witness stand and is cross examined by the prosecution.
Once the prosecution is finished, the defense attorney takes his turn – and attempts to draw a map of the interior of the apartment on a large flat touch screen monitor hanging on the wall in the court room.  There is a smaller touch screen at the stand where the witnesses are seated – and another touch screen where the councilors present their evidence.  In the jury area, there are multiple monitors at knee level that we can use to follow along – or we can observe the proceedings via the large screen on the far wall.

The large touch screen on the far wall is sadly out of alignment, so when the defense attorney starts drawing the floor plan of the apartment – the lines are appearing approximately 6 inches or so away from his finger – which frustrates him.

He does manage to draw a rough outline of the interior of the apartment based on answers provided by Bob – and it is all we in the jury can do to remain stoic and not burst out laughing at his attempts to master the misbehaving technology.

The attorney finally does render a passable drawing of the apartment – and seeing that it is now 5:00pm, the Judge decides that this is enough for today – and that we will resume bright and early the next day (Friday) at 9:00.  Our bailiff announces “All Rise” for the final time that day – and we march out of the courtroom and head for home – but not until we are once again reminded by the judge that we are not to discuss this case with ANYONE – not even with fellow members of the jury.

End of Day 1.

Lady Luck

  This past weekend we participated in an informal ride called “Ride the Circuit”.
The owner of our H.O.G. sponsoring dealership, Mike Davis,  also owns two other dealerships in Ohio, one in Sandusky, and one about an hour South of us in Dover Ohio.

  “Ride the Circuit” was a contest for people to visit (ideally via riding) all three dealerships between when they opened (9:00 AM) and when they closed (5:00 PM).  I told Julie I wanted to do this, since it seemed like fun – AND they were going to have three drawings for $500 Harley Davidson gift cards (one from each visited dealership) PLUS one lucky person was going to win a $1,000 gift card.

  I kept an eye on the weather forecast for Saturday all week, and it was looking pretty grim: cold and wet.  I routinely ride when it is cold, and I will also ride when it is raining if needed, but I really dislike being cold AND wet at the same time.

  Friday night it rained a lot – on waking up early Saturday morning at 6:00 – the rains had gone and weather RADAR was clear.  It was ON!  Our plan was to leave the house at 7:30 for our first dealership visit – which was the furthest one away in Sandusky.   The plan was to arrive just about the time the dealership was opening – so we would have the maximum amount of time available for us to hit the other stops.

  The temperature was barely in the 50s – Julie deferred wearing her heated clothing since the forecast was in the 60s by early morning.  This is a decision she would come to regret…
A half mile from the house – we ran into some sprinkles – so we decided to break out our new HD rain suits and continued on our way.  As luck would have it – that was the only rain we would see the entire trip.   Even after riding out of the rain – we kept the rain suits on for their added insulation from the cold.

  I had skipped breakfast, since the flyer advertising the ride mentioned the dealerships would be serving breakfast.  With my stomach growling the entire way, I was anticipating some pan cakes and sausage like we were served during the lead up to the ‘Bikers for Boobs’ event a week earlier.

  We rolled into the first dealership a bit behind schedule at 9:15 – and actually met some other folks who were also riding the circuit.  Due to the weather, there was not a great turnout.  That was a shame, since other than the temp – it was a nice ride.

  Other than a few fellow bikers – Mad River HD appeared deserted.  This was not good – I had double checked my email that morning to verify that they had not canceled the ride due to weather.
Peering through the front window – we saw some folks inside – so figured they had opened early just for the riders.  Walking around the building rewarded us with finding a side door that wasn’t locked.
This was the service department entrance – which was deserted inside.  Making our way to the front of the building that we had viewed through the window – we saw the other “bikers” were actually store employees holding their morning pre-opening meeting – which we stumbled into the middle of.  Whoops 🙂

  Luckily the service manager saw us and she asked if we were riding the circuit – and lead us back to the service department where she gave us the paperwork for the contest.  Just as importantly – she informed us that breakfast was in the nearby break room – a box of donuts.   Not the pancake breakfast I was hoping for – but any port in a storm…

  One nice thing about not having a large turnout and having to wait in line for pancakes – we were out of there fairly quickly, before 10:00.  Since we had afternoon plans – I was hoping to wrap up the ride around 2:00 – and so far, that deadline looked to be very possible.

  Normally, I’d opt for a nice ride down state routes – but since we were on a schedule and it behooved me to get Julie home and warm early as possible – it was time to head back onto the turnpike…
Speaking of warm – a quick detour to a rest area allowed us to nab a mug of hot chocolate – which while incredibly weak – was resplendent with one vital ingredient – HEAT!

  We made it to our second dealership around 11:30 – got our papers stamped and wandered over to where they WERE serving a nice pancake breakfast.  I managed to save two pancakes from being pitched while they were cleaning up – but never did get the sausage links I was craving…

  If nothing else – the food was definitely starting to look up – Box of Donuts at Mad River, and some cold pancakes at Rubber City  🙂  As in most  endeavors – timing is everything…

  After our requisite warmup period elapsed – it was back onto the highway for our last stop of the day – Adventure HD in Dover Ohio…  If you have ever been down I-77 South of Akron, you’ll eventually pass alongside Adventure HD.  It is in a really nice location – kinda out in the middle of nowhere – which is a nice break from the insane traffic around Rubber City in the Chapel Hill area.

  As part of the relaxing atmosphere at Adventure, along one side of the dealership are a row of nice rocking chairs where weary riders can sit down and take a load off – and shoot the breeze with fellow enthusiasts…  Mike Davis – the owner of the three dealerships in the circuit – really knows how to cater to his clientele.

  Speaking of catering – after hopping off the bike and tromping inside to get our papers stamped and turned for the drawing on Monday, we were directed to food table where they had a bunch of hotdogs already prepared and waiting to be gobbled.  Food was definitely looking up – warm hotdogs vs cold pancakes (our fault for arriving late) vs a box of donuts. (Disclaimer:  being on a diet, donuts just are not my thing)
  As a thank-you to Julie for accompanying me on this ride – amid temps that never seemed to get past the low 50s, I shooed her towards the apparel section with the instructions ‘buy something nice’ – while I turned my attention to more mundane tasks in the parts area.  I’m always needing this part or that one for seemingly never ending customizations to our two Harley’s.

  Purchases paid for – bladders drained – and it was time for the last leg of our journey – the trek home.
According to the GPS – we were scheduled to be home around 2:15 – giving us plenty of time to get ready to head out again for a cookout at 5:00 later that afternoon.  True to the GPS’s word – we arrived home right around 2:15, including a quick dash into a gas station to top off the tank.

  The ride was fun – as fun as a cold ride can be – but I felt that doing the ride using a car would have defeated the spirit of the contest – although how you travelled was never specified in the rules.
The ride was now over  – and would be forgotten about until the gift card recipients were drawn the following Monday…


  Fast forward to Monday, I am at work pondering how the organizers were planning on announcing the winners.  I assumed they would be mentioned on Facebook – but I have been avoiding FB as a test of my willpower – and succeeding.  Out of the blue, I get a text from Julie letting me know that she has just been informed that she was selected as the grand prize winner of the $1,000 gift certificate!
Woohoo!  Lady Luck was smiling – and Julie was also 🙂

Breast Cancer – doing our part

Wow – has it actually been that long since I created an entry?
Thanks to a now under control Facebook addiction – I hope to have more time for this Blog.

The past two weekends have been pretty busy for us.
Last Sunday (9/16) was the third year in a row our Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) Chapter has sponsored the Akron area “Bikers For Boobs”  Poker run.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a poker run is a motorcycle ride with a series of stops.  At each stop, you receive a card.  Depending on the poker run – you may or may not get to keep the card.  (Hundreds of bikers means the organizers have to supply dozens of decks of cards!)
If you don’t keep the card – then the organizers tally the card for you on a piece of paper – which you then carry from stop to stop.
You receive 5 cards in all – and whomever has the best hand at the end of the day – wins.
Some poker runs (like BFB) will allow you to buy an additional card in case your hand is salvageable.
Unfortunately – my poker hands are invariably pretty poor – I’d need to buy 3-4 cards to have a chance at a decent hand…
In 2010 during the first BRB, Julie and I were signed up to help with registrations – but they had plenty of overlapping coverage – so they didn’t need us.  That year we just bought t-shirts – went on the ride, and had a great time.
In 2011, Julie was still recovering from her surgery – so we skipped it entirely – but Julie did buy a t-shirt to help support the cause.  We really missed it – and vowed that health issues permitting – we’d be back for it the following year.
In 2012, we volunteered again – for any job – and the job we were assigned was to pass out the first card at the starting point of the ride.
The sponsor of our H.O.G. chapter has a new dealership in Chapel Hill (large Akron area shopping center) with a very large parking lot (used to be a Circuit City) so everyone gathered there to sign up, and to draw their first card.  Luckily the parking lot is very big – since by the time the ride officially started, it was FULL of motorcycles!
Julie and I joined another couple for the first card drawings – since pairs worked best.  One person holds the bag with loose cards for the participant to pick – and the other person records the selected card on their tally sheet.
We had a continuous stream of people in line – a line that seemed like it would never end for over an hour straight, before things started to slow down.
  Around 11:00, while we were still passing out cards, we were told that the restaurant had food for 500 people, and we had over 700 registrations 🙂
They had to scramble to line up more food…
The turnout was MUCH greater than anticipated, this ride just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year – which is AWESOME!  These are the kind of ‘problems’ that comes with success.
The ride was setup so the first bike out would be at 10:00, and the last bike out was at noon.  By 11:30 most people had gotten their first card and were on the ride – so Julie and I were able to set out ourselves.
We rode to three different stops to collect cards 2,3,4 – and then the ride ended after 107 miles at an Akron area restaurant that routinely puts on bike nights during the summer – so they had a decent sized parking lot also.
In 2010, the ride made $5,000 for breast cancer, and in 2011 it made $11,000.  This years ride was the most successful yet – and we were told it made $17,000…
All of the money goes to local cancer care centers in the Akron area – not to some big national thing like the Komen foundation – where half of the money may be tied up in admin costs etc…
When we actually arrived at the restaurant and received our last card – Julie won a nice door prize, but the line for food was so long and moving so slowly (they were overwhelmed) we went home to eat.
Other people has similar gripes about the food service so next year they are planning on trying a different strategy to make it more efficient.  While they put on weekly bike nights – they have never gotten this many people all at once, so were didn’t know what to expect.
Since this was a motorcycle ride – it was of course very dependent on weather, and the weather on the 16th was perfect.  Considering that the ride was planned many months in advance (8!) this was phenomenal luck – especially since the weekend after had such poor weather in comparison.
This past Sunday (9/23) we attended a Pot Luck fundraiser in Bedford for the wife of one of our friends.  The husband is someone whom I worked with in the 90’s and is now someone whom we occasionally attend GeoCaching events with.  He and his wife have been married now for 8 years, but have known each other for over 15 years.
This past Spring, his wife went to the doctor after finding a painful lump in her breast.  After having some tests (X-Rays) ran – they headed for home.  While they were still driving, the doctors office called to let them know they believe the mass shown on the X-Rays was cancer – and they wanted her to schedule a surgery to remove it ASAP.
 His wife had the surgery to remove the lump about a week or so later and the followup biopsy showed it was indeed cancerous.
This started an ordeal of surgeries including a followup surgery to ensure that all cancerous cells from the surrounding area were removed, and they also removed some lymph nodes for checking. (My research showed that the removal of lymph nodes is a standard procedure in cases like this)
Unfortunately, the story keeps getting worse, 8 of the 9 lymph nodes tested as positive.
Further testing revealed some traces in her lungs – which bumped her right to stage 4.  Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread to the surrounding organs – no matter how many – or how extensively.
She is only 42 (I think) and has no prior history in her family for breast cancer – so she always considered herself to be low risk.
She was originally fitted with a port for chemo – but later analysis of the lab cancerous specimens showed that (at least for now) her cancer should be treatable via hormones.
They are giving her medication to shut down her ovaries, and will be removing them entirely at a later date.
She has missed a LOT of work with all of these surgeries and the related recovery time – and even with him having a good job – house expenses were starting to add up – such as their basement sewer line breaking.
To help them out – some of their friends came up with the idea of a Pot Luck fundraiser and advertised it on Facebook.  We immediately accepted the event invite (yay for Facebook!) and we reserved that date (yesterday) on our calendar.
To raise money – during the potluck there were multiple 50/50 raffles and “The Big Board Reverse Raffle”.  The latter was something I had never participated in before. It consisted if a  big board with 80 squares hanging from it – numbered from 1 to 80.
For $20 you could buy a square.  Once all of the squares were sold  – there were 35 (I think) donated prizes – so they would pick 45 numbers and throw them out.
So – unlike a normal raffle – if your number was initially called – you lost…
I bought ’64’ since we both were born in 1964 – and later when the board was down to just a half dozen or so numbers, I also bought ’76’ for 1776…  At this point – we didn’t give a damn if they were winning numbers or not – since the money was going to cause near and dear to us.
Once the big board was completely sold (raising $1600!)  they started pitching numbers out – and both of our picks were NOT called.  So they were winners of something.  (Compared to the two 50/50 drawings we entered which we had no luck with) 
One of the numbers were three pottery vases made by a local artist – which I guess are very nice, if you are into that sort of thing.  Unfortunately, we are not – but I’m sure we will find a good home for them with someone who can appreciate them.
They other prize was a nice book put out by the Bedford Historical society – basically the history of Bedford.  I always enjoy reading these sorts of books – since it gives you a picture of how a town used to look 100 years ago.
Last Saturday(15th) , He and his wifeparticipated in the Cleveland Walk/Run for the Cure – which was a Komen foundation ??K Marathon or 5K Walk for breast cancer.
They each had their own team with a goal of raising $250 dollars.  We decided to sponsor them for $100 – and since he was at $175 and she was at $275 – we gave him $75 to get him to his goal, and then donated the remaining $25 to her team.
When we do our taxes – our tax program always tells me that I should have more deductions to lower our tax burden – so I figured that since the $100 is tax deductible – how could I resist?  It is money for a good cause and it reduces my taxes.  Win/Win!  In my opinion, tax deductions like this is one of the few methods you have available to specify how your ‘tax’ money will be spent.  If I hadn’t donated the money – I would have owed $100 more in taxes – taxes that I have no say over their disposition.
We normally give money to local animal shelters and deduct those contributions also.

Grief. Loss. Depression.

I have been refraining from posting anything since earlier this Spring. Things were going very well and I was very afraid of jinxing it.

One of our cats, Rusty, developed a serious case of stones in his bladder, which caused him to be unable to urinate.

Being the clueless types when it comes to diagnosing such an issue, we observed his behavior and assumed it was constipation – due to his frequent visits to the box and lack of visible production.
After this had gone on a few days, we got concerned and took him to the local vet hospital. As usual, we got concerned after our local vet had closed for the day – and we did not want to wait till it re-opened the next day.
We arrived at the Vet hospital, and after the usual red tape of signing in, we were shown to an examination room. The orderly immediately diagnosed the issue as a rock hard bladder.
This stunned us – since it was something completely unexpected. Luckily, they were able to take him into the back and using a catheter to relieve the pressure.
They called us the next day and informed us that XRAYs had shown multiple stones in his bladder, and one had blocked his urethra completely.
They asked us if we agreed to proceed with surgery, with euthanasia being the only other alternative. Of course we agreed – w/out any hesitation whatsoever.
They called us back and let us know the surgery went well – but were going to keep him another day for post-operative observation. We had brought him in on a Thursday, and we were able to bring him home on Saturday. They figured that the issue was due to his dry food diet and not getting enough moisture – so it as a strict wet food diet for him from then on.
Due to the surgery, he was restricted to a non-clumping litter box filler, so we bought “yesterday’s news” which is created from recycled newspapers.
To keep the other cats from abusing the box and eating his food – Rusty took up residence in my Den – where he would spend a good deal of time during the next three months.
The Thursday following his arrival home, we noticed him laying funny and kicking his back legs and crying. We immediately bundled him up and took him off the vet hospital again.
Again, he was diagnosed as having a blocked bladder – one of the stones had been missed from the surgery the previous weekend and re-blocked him.
At this point, there was one other surgical procedure available – PU as it is termed, or the removal of his penis. This would result in a larger opening for the eventual passing of the stones and in most cases, solved the issue completely.
Again, we immediately agreed to the surgery and I sold some employee stock shares to cover the cost, since our income tax refund was already consumed by the previous surgery.
I wish Rusty could have been covered by our family healthcare plan, he met the amount of our personal healthcare deductible in one week – an amount which took us nearly six months of routine doctor visits to meet…
Again though, there was never any hesitation on our part, I had plans to spend some money ont he Harley this riding season, but they immediately took a back seat to looking after Rusty.
When Rusty came home from that surgical procedure, he was wearing an “e-collar” or Elizabethan collar to prevent him from working over his incisions. This collar was supposed to only need to be worn for 7-10 days at which point we’d be able to remove it.
Wearing the collar necessitated us making some changes, such as substituting a dinner plate instead of his usual bowl for wet food – since the collar would push the bowl away from him.
With the dinner plate, he was able to successfully angle the collar so that he was able to eat.
The collar did require frequent cleaning – both of food residue and other bodily functions…
The first night he came home, I was extremely tense until he went into the box and I could hear the sound of him urinating, a sound that brought me more joy than I would have previously imagined…
As the following Thursday drew near, we held our breaths, since the last two had ended up with us running to the emergency vet. That Thursday came and went uneventfully with a sigh of relief..
The 10 day mark came and went – and we decided to keep the collar on him since when we would remove it – he’d immediately go after his incisions and pull at them, growling all the while.
All told, he wore that collar for almost a month until it was decided at a follow up appointment that he could have it removed for good.
With that news, we were able to place the lid back on his catbox, since with the collar in place, he had difficulty navigating the opening to get in the box – and once inside, was unable to turn around with the extra width of the collar banging into the insides of the lid.
With out the collar, the next month and half or so went very well – Rusty was allowed out of the den to mingle with the other feline residents, some of which treated him like a stranger (due to his isolation) and growled when he got near.
Eventually, the growling subsided and he was almost fully integrated back into the fold, except that he still slept in the Den at night and received his meals in there, while everyone else continued to eat dry.
I wish the story at this point ended with “and they lived happily ever after”, but that is for fairy tales, not real life.
Last Friday (June 25) I had taken the day off from work and we planned on spending some time with Julie’s Mom. The day started off like many before, I got up during the wee hours to give Rusty a snack and returned to bed. (For the previous 2 months or so, I had been getting up at about 2-3am to feed Rusty) Later that morning, he continued to eat well and finished off his first can of wet food. The second can would wait till we came home from our visit – at which time I expected him to be very hungry – as usual.
Our visit with Julie’s Mom went well – and when we arrived home, it was time to feed the cats. Rusty was not on the main floor with the rest of the cats, so we called to him. Nothing.
I went into the basement – found him there – and brought him up into the Den for his wet food.
I set him down on the floor, and opened the can – and he just lay there – disinterested.
He then cried a few times – and I went into instant panic mode, calling for Julie to get dressed – we were headed for the vet hospital.
My first thought was that he had blocked up again, since this behavior was similar to how he was acting that Thursday after he first surgery. We hustled over to the Vet hospital and arrived at about 8:30. They were surprisingly not very busy, and we were able to get an orderly to check him out while we were still going through the sign in paper work.
We were told his bladder felt fine, and his temperature was normal.
Previously, we had taken him in for a false alarm – since he was not eating regularly, and it had turned out to dehydration. We were hoping that this was all it was this time.
They conducted a blood test and took xrays, and they both came back negative.
We left him there for them to try to figure out what was going on, and to see how he would be after an IV drip.
The next morning (Saturday) they called us with an update that he seemed fine, but still was not interested in food. They told us they would call back that evening with further news.
We had made plans to attend the wedding of one of our friends that afternoon, but since it was over an hour away – we did not want to be that far from the hospital in case something turned up.
We did not hear from the hospital for the remainder of the day, and assumed that no news meant good news.
We were very wrong.
We received a call the next morning that Rusty had a problem, he still was not eating and his temperature had lowered, plus, he had weak pulse in his hind legs, and they were turning blue.
As you might imagine, this was a complete shock to us, since we had been under the impression he would be coming home that day. Extreme worry set in – and we made plans to visit him at the hospital that evening when Julie came home from working all day.
During our visit with him, he looked to be in worse condition than when we had brought him in two evenings prior – and was almost continuously growling. (from pain?)
The doctor in charge of him was honest with us, and told us that he was in pretty grim shape, and that they were very concerned he had a blood clot – or maybe multiple clots.
After visiting with him – we made plans to return after work on Monday, in the evening.
Monday morning Julie called to see how he was doing, and was told that his condition was worsening – he had no reflexive movement in his hind legs and still was not eating.
This really devastated us.
Practically in tears, we went to visit him last night – for what would be the last time.
Our vet/doctor had told us he would be at the hospital sometime after 7pm when he wrapped up his duties at the clinic. So we arrived at 6:30 to get in some time with Rusty alone before he was due. Normally, visiting hours end at 7:00, but we were told that we could take as much time as we needed. Two hours later, the doctor finally is able to show up and we had a long talk with him concerning Rusty’s outlook. The news was very grim, even if he was able to recover, he would probably not have 100% use of his legs and might be in pain the rest of his life. On a worse note, there was the possibility of complete blood loss to the lower legs and having them atrophy.
It was time to make that decision that all true pet lovers truly agonize over, one that puts the needs and comfort of the pet over their own emotional needs.
Considering the slim possibilities of his recovering and strong possibility of his continuing to suffer, we consented to euthanize. There are few situations for a pet owner that is more depressing than coming home with an empty pet carrier – or worse yet, a signed copy of a consent form to euthanize.
That was last night, and as I write this, the tears are still fresh in my eyes.
I do find that writing about this acts somewhat as a catharsis for my grief, and I write this as a memorial to Rusty, one of the most lovable souls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Where ever you may be Rusty, we miss you and someday hope that we will see you again on the other side…
Rusty enriched our lives for almost 9 years, and if we had a chance to do it all over again back in 2001 by adopting him – even knowing the eventual outcome, we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Rusty gave us unconditional love and never asked for much in return – and for that, we will always be thankful.
Rusty will live on in our hearts forever – he will never be forgotten and will always be missed.
Rusty, may you rest in peace…

Spring is here….

This is undoubtedly one of my most favorite times of the year!
The memories of Winter are fading quickly – and the trees are in full bloom and the birds are singing!

Here in Ohio, the weather can vary widely during the Spring, one day it may be close to 80 degrees out, and the next day it can have trouble topping 50…

This has not been an easy Spring for us by any means though – it has brought us unexpected concerns and expenses with a urinary blockage issue in one of our male cats.

Rusty, unknown to us, has been collecting urinary stones in his bladder for some time – and one or more recently resulted in his inability to urinate. This can be deadly in a cat as the bladder fills to capacity and the kidneys shut down.

We were very lucky to have mis-diagnosed the ailment as constipation and took him to a local Vet Hospital where we learned what the real cause was.

It was with indescribable joy that we received the news later that evening that they had managed to drain his bladder via a catheter – but that news was tempered with grim news that his bladder had multiple stones that would require surgery to remove.

No self-respecting pet owner ever wishes to hear the news that their beloved pet requires expensive surgery to survive – it can lead to an agonizing decision based on the cost and the age of the pet – whether to proceed or not.

Considering that Rusty is only 9 years old, we decided the expense was worth it – and were glad that it was not one of our older cats – whom making the decision for would have been much tougher.

To further compound events – three days after taking Rusty home from the hospital, we had to take him back since he had blocked up again. This required even more extensive (and expensive) surgery to reconcile – but again – we judged him to be worth it and gave our OK.

As I write this, it is now 8 days since the second surgery, and things seem to be proceeding very well – at least to our untrained eyes.
To protect his incision, he has been fitted with an Elizabethan or “E” collar – a conical device around his neck. The collar has made mealtimes interesting – but Rusty has figured our how to eat within its confines.

We have a followup vet appointment tomorrow night, here is hoping that the prognosis is a positive one – for both Rusty’s and our sakes…