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41TXbEhIqkL._SS300_Until recently, the job for which these Dog Waste Bags are designed required a shovel in our expansive Indiana back yard or a slight detour into nature off a Pennsylvania country lane. Now, however, our Whipador faces down the requirements of nature in a small side yard on an urban campus in Colombia. To complicate matters only slightly, much larger guard dogs that prowl our campus at night appear to have developed a predilection for our yard as their latrine. As I noted, they are large. My short morning stroll becomes too often a moment of discovery.

Enter these dog waste bags with their ingenious little leash-borne dispenser. They come tightly wound into rolls, fit nicely in a pocket when the leash and its dispenser are not in action, and in general help me adjust to my newfound intimacy with dog poop in the least shattering way possible. Honestly, I hardly mind the task any more.

When were these invented? What did we do before that? I shudder to think on it.

Fantastic product.

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When it came to the hard decision to take our beloved Whipador with us on our move 413wKZdIjdL._SS300_from the USA to Colombia, here’s what we needed from the GITTIN’ THIS DONE department:

  • the ability to order the right-sized crate, not too big, not too small, without having to run from one pet store to the next to eyeball things.
  • the assurance that the produce would meet all airline and government-agency requirements.
  • solid construction at a not-exorbitant price.

Rhea and her family are now happily ensconced in Colombia and the trip is a distant memory. All went well, in part because this product made its part of the complex journey both simple and predictable.

A great product, snagged at last minute on Amazon as we were making final prep for a 51Q7yRwiPHL._SS300_multi-old-suitcase move of personal effects and their owners from the USA to Colombia. I wasn’t sure if some of the old bags would stand the stress of our over-packing. These well-made luggage straps added an extra layer of assurance and their bright colors made our bags double easy to identify at the baggage carousel upon arrival. Another inexpensive little product that makes AmazonPrime a godsend for last-minute needs as circumstances throw them across one’s path.

Wonderful little product here. I love the predictability and economy of it. We bought31t-3k4TzBL these as an add-on level of protection as we were moving a beloved dog overseas in a dog crate on a Colombian airliner. Easy to get, easy to use, easy to remove. Great value.

41uM1wjugdL._SS300_I consider this a strong-value product. I ordered it and will use it for a narrow purpose rather than as an every-day winter hat against business-casual and higher dress requirements.

I live for most of the year in a warm, South American, climate. I tend to make a handful of business visits to North American locations when it’s winter in those places. For this reason, I need a suitcase-resilient, economical, neutral cap for my large, bald head. The 9th Street Seville British Dome Ascot gives me what I need.

For comfort reasons, I would probably opt to pay a little more and acquire a more comfortable head-capper if I were spending lots of time in winter climates and this were an every-day part of my uniform.

But for my purposes, this product represents strong value.

Sitting outside our home in Medellín, Colombia as I finish this long Robert Ludlum trilogy, two thoughts ‘just pop into my head’. This description of jocose randomness is the standard family dialect when I ask my wife after a particularly good recipe has made its mark on an evening around the table, ‘How did you come up with that?’

‘It just popped into my head.’

So, far from the kitchen, here goes:

First, the next Bourne book and/or movie needs to be set in Colombia. Our own northern 51O3lPCHlEL._SS300_Andean city—with its steep valley walls, its exotic potpourri of neighborhoods and its innovative deployment of cable cars and escalators as public transportation to and from the sprawling city sectors that cover both sides of the mile-high Valley of Aburrá—makes the perfect setting for, say, the first seven chapters of Bourne IV. Then the action could move on to seaside Cartagena, with its walled jewel of a city left to us by the Spaniards in unintended payment for the gold they stole. From these promising beginnings, we have an abundant portfolio of other eye-catching sites for the location manager to scout. Since Robert Ludlum left us in 2001, this will require that some studied disciple become struck with Ludlum’s conspiratorial madness and pick up the late imaginer’s pen.

Second, an odd and complex relationship between Ludlum’s Bourne Series and the One Hundred Years of Solitude left to us by Colombia’s Nobel-prizing-winning Gabriel García-Marquez suggests itself. Stick with me here, I can hear a reader grumbling to or about the sometimes incomprehensible Ludlum, ‘I know García-Marquez, and you ain’t no García-Marquez.’

‘Tis true. But I started with ‘odd and complex’, so don’t get your knickers in a twist just yet. Both writers’ set of characters is bafflingly complex, crying out for Cliff Notes at every third turn of the page. Both storiers can become lost in their own way with a pen, though García-Marquez more often resurfaces to stun and amaze when Ludlum has merely wandered into the woods with too few breadcrumbs left behind for clues.

If these are formal similarities common to the two long-winded authors, the formal contrast is stark: García-Marquez’ action takes place chiefly in the mind of his protagonists and in semi-private conversations among the certifiable oddballs who populate his pages. This is by definition a slow journey. His best-known story, after all, requires a hundred years.

Ludlum’s Bourne on the other hand is all action. ‘We’ve gotta’ move! Now!’

Yet both leave this reader frequently confused, generally amused, and—in the end—ready to start the whole dang thing all over again, knowing I’ll understand much more the second time, then more the third. And, so I fear, so on. From this reader’s end-of-the-book perspective, neither Ludlum nor García-Marquez are going away soon.

Candidly, it’ll take me another stroll or two through Bourne’s reluctantly dramatic and violent life before I get any kind of respectable grip on the hair-turn-rich plot lines that kept Jason Bourne away from the people he loved most and out chasing the world’s second-craftiest assassin for a handful of decades.

Oh, as other reviewers accurately and inevitably remark: those Jason Bourne movies? Great flicks, very little to do with the book.

If you want to meet the real-deal Chameleon, you gotta’ take up and read.

 

We laid Dad to rest between these mountains two days ago.

Never have the words ‘laid to rest’ seemed so appropriate, so purposed, so fine. These last years of Dad’s life were restless. Now there is rest. Here. In this fine valley, between these mountains.

    *     *     *

I took Dad’s dented car—one of the used ‘Gray Goose’ erstwhile-flower-carrying Ford station wagons from the funeral home that made for great value—down to Nelson’s Express where he was working nights. I feared he’d murder me for backing it into a telephone pole down on Union Street so soon after getting my driver’s license.

He didn’t murder me. He walked across to the parking lot where the wounded Goose waited sheepishly, took one long, expressionless look at her, and said simply: ‘OK, I’ll call my insurance man.’ Then he went back to work.

Dad said most things simply, back when he was whole and well.

‘Didn’t raise his voice, didn’t threaten, didn’t say “Oh, it was nothing” (because it was something. I bashed in the corner of his car.). ‘Just kept it steady and in perspective.

    *     *    *

I was probably twelve years old the day I tried to catch his knuckle ball, down on the very slanted field behind the house where Grandpa had taught my Dad to throw a baseball, back when nobody knew yet that he’d blossom into a Local Hero on the baseball diamond and drive away one day to play pro ball in faraway places and then bring back a wife and a little girl from there.

It hit me on the foot.

We were playing catch and I asked him to throw me a knuckler.

‘Are you sure?’, he asked. ‘Yeah.’

‘Can you catch it?’ ‘Yup.’

‘OK.’

It seemed so easy. The ball was about two feet out from my glove and I was ready to squeeze the mitt on what seemed no big thing. Then it moved. It hit me in the foot.

Wow, this dude really knows something.

    *     *     *

Dad worked hard Monday through Friday driving trucks, back before union rules and other niceties meant that truck drivers were not truck loaders and unloaders, too. He probably wanted to rest on Saturdays. But there I was, his little railroad-train freak, asking Dad whether he’d drive me up along the river to wait for a Conrail train to come by so I could watch it. So he’d drive me up Route 147 and we’d pull off the road, park along the tracks, and wait for a train to come by. You never knew when there’d be a train. Sometimes, we waited a very long time.

I don’t remember that we talked about very much as we sat in the car by the tracks and waited for a train. When the thing had roared past and I’d seen and heard my fill of train for a day, he’d put the car in reverse and we’d go home.

I have no idea what he thought about this. I just know that he drove me to see trains on Saturday mornings.

   *    *    *

I peaked early. In Little League, I had one brief shining moment as a pretty good pitcher, going 6-0 my final year. I loved hearing the old codgers who leaned against the chain-link face and watched our games say, ‘He’s gonna’ be just like Mimmy.’

That I never truly excelled at sports is something for which I still await my own healing. Dad would have liked it if I’d become an All-Star, but he was OK with things as they were.

    *     *     *

While serving as a relatively penniless missionary in Latin America, circumstances would occasionally allow for my family to see Dad and Mom. Not like nowadays, when plane travel is within reach. But sometimes.

When I’d see Dad, he’d very quietly insert a $20 bill in my pocket, or $100. I was not allowed to object. It was ‘for gas’ or ‘for lunch when you fly back’. Nothing more was ever said about it. It was what was going to happen. No fanfare. No noise. No drama.

    *     *     *

I grew up knowing that some things were ‘bush’. You just knew this. It was not complicated.

On the baseball field, failing to run out a ground ball or a pop fly was the poster child for bush. But people could go bush off the field, too.

It was years later that I realized that ‘bush’ was short for ‘Bush League’, a kind of baseball that’s played on unprepared turf by people who didn’t care enough or push hard enough to make it to a smooth field. It was not about ability, it was about commitment and what we called ‘class’ before we knew that the word had ugly reverberations in other places beyond these two mountains.

All I knew was the expression ‘That’s bush’.

I didn’t want to do bush. The message was ‘We don’t do bush…’.

I think I’ve run out one or two ground balls in life because of this early, short-sentence training in life.

     *     *     *

Dad had an incredible memory for the details of baseball games that occurred decades ago, mostly games in which he himself had played.

‘I had worked him inside and out and then Stumpy called a curve-ball on the inside corner. I backed him off the plate and it curved in to catch the corner. He wasn’t happy when Leupold punched him out. ‘Just stood there and looked.’

I had my doubts about Dad’s oft-repeated story about a major injury to his catcher when the young Hank Aaron inadvertently plunked him on the forehead as he slid into second base. Dad was allegedly coaching third base when it went down. I imagined the years had embellished the tale.

Then, in recent years, I found Jerry Poling’s A Summer Up North. Henry Aaron and the Legend of Eau Claire Baseball. There’s a whole chapter about the very thing.

  *     *     *

Secrets.

I’m not sure whether Dad had any, and I don’t care to know now.

But there was one question he never answered: ‘Did you ever throw at anybody?’

    *     *     *

I suspect Pennsylvania Dutchmen experience the full range of human emotions. I just don’t think they tell you about it.

But I recall giving the news to Dad as he made his familiar post-work trek up through the backyard and up the back stairs into the house that Princess, our (runt-of-the-litter-but-we-loved-her) German Shepherd had died. Dad responded with a compassionate groan that I don’t think I ever heard a second time: ‘Ohhh ….’.

  *     *     *

Dad didn’t like what was happening to the country in or around 1968. Our nation’s fabric was being torn to pieces. He was pretty sure that the detail of men wearing their hair long lay somewhere near the root of it.

At Miller Bros Dairy one night on our family ice-cream stop, there ensued a stare-down worthy of the OK Corral as two kids smoking their cigs with their long hair flapping in the breeze enjoyed their ice cream cones at a slow amble in our general direction. When the distance between them and us had narrowed meaningfully and to our collective mortification, Dad shouted ‘Move along, Long Hairs!’

    *     *     *

I never remember a ‘My Dad’s not perfect’ crisis. There was never any insinuation that any of us was perfect, so there was nothing to get over. But I knew that Dad would do the right thing 99 times out of 100 with that between-these-mountains steadiness of his. The other one was his business. I never thought to worry about it.

    *     *     *

Dad, along with Brooke Solberg and Dave Deibler, were grown-up Christians who were athletes. I needed that. I needed them.

I walked down to Dad’s open grave last evening and noticed that he’ll lie practically right beside Dave Deibler, his scrappy, younger, ball-playing friend whose presence always put a twinkle in Dad’s eye. I imagine there will be some dugout banter going on out there on the hill.

*     *     *

Dad loved my friends, and was inexhaustibly interested in what they were up to.

To this day, I joke with them that ‘My Dad always loved you more than he loved me.’ It is spoken and heard as a compliment to Dad, never a denigration of his love for his four children. The latter was not in doubt.

*     *     *

My all-time favorite Dad-ism is ‘It’s early.’ Curiously, my siblings have little or no recollection of this declaration, though I can never forget it.

It’s how Dad pushed back on any irrational exuberance about the results of Spring Training or even the first month or two of the regular season.

My Red Sox are this year off to a 16-2 start, the hottest start in franchise history. Dad, by the way, became a life-long Red Sox fan the first time he and Mom walked with me into Fenway Park when my seminary studies just outside of Boston coincided with the 1986 World Series (a.k.a. Bill Buckner) season. Now that was a way for Dad to show love without awkward spoken words.

If I had less Mim Baer in me, I might have been tempted to say something really stupid on one my recent visits to Dad in the nursing home, something bush like ‘Hey, Dad, the Red Sox are looking absolutely unbeatable this year. This is our year! I can’t wait for the World Series.’

Well, I’m not stupid enough to say words like that, or even to think them, because Dad would have responded in his head if not with his faltering ability to express himself, ‘It’s early.’

‘It’s early.’

It’s a two-word prophylactic against pretension of any kind. Nobody with those two words glued to his synapses and dendrites with Mim Baer Super Glue ever counts his chickens before they hatch. It’s early.

All that we knew of Dad, and especially, these last fourteen years of incapacity and suffering, have perhaps merely been the redemption’s-eye analogue to the first days of Spring Training. ‘They don’t mean anything’, in the baseball sense of the purpose of Spring Training games. They’re preparation for the real stuff. If you get excited about Spring Training, it’s because of the existential reality that there is baseball, not because your team has won more games than they’ve lost.

Over the long haul of the season itself, over whatever is the eternal equivalent of 162 games, and only then by the grace of God, my Dad’s a champ.

His body is lying in that casket over there. But it’s early.

  *     *     *

Dad was a strong man in his way, but Dad’s strength was not like the Rockies or the Andes or the Himalayas.

It was more like our little Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains. I grew up between these mountains, played ball between these mountains, went to school between these mountains, kissed my first girl between these mountains, left for college from between these mountains, brought not one but two wives back between these mountains to be welcomed by Dad and Mom like their own daughter, returned a year ago and for too little time to this beautiful valley between these Berry’s and Mohantonga mountains.

Very soon I will have buried my father between these mountains.

I remember studying up on mountains to find out why ours were so, well, modest while other people’s mountains were big and beautiful and had snow on top of them in the summer and got their picture taken for National Geographic.

I learned that our Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains are well-worn mountains, modest in their own way but solid, stable, reliable. They don’t split wide open in huge earthquakes. They don’t even do earthquakes. They don’t trickle lava on anybody’s village. People don’t get completely lost in them, only to emerge in twenty-seven years looking much older and really hungry.

Our mountains are a kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get mountains. They haven’t changed very much over the last 100,000 years and they’re not going to look much different in another 10,000.

But they’re our mountains.

And, when you take the time to look at them from a certain angle on a particular day, when you pause to take them in on their own terms, they’re a little bit breathtaking.

My Dad was like that. And though I’m confident that by God’s grace Dad soars in some very real way right now, his depleted body will in another hour lie in the ground near to where Grandma Baer’s people farmed this valley, here between these mountains, where it belongs. Where he belongs. Where I belong.

Here in this place, things are what they are, without much shouting.

But it’s early.