Shifting Gears

 

I’ve read a few blog and Facebook posts recently about the discernible shift in life’s patterns and nature’s patterns that come with the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Kids and teachers go back to school, it’s dark earlier in the evening and later in the morning, the days and nights get cooler, all that stuff. From what I’ve seen it seems to infect people with a sense of melancholy about the passage of time that spring and summer don’t.

In our own lives we’ve seen this same kind of seasonal shift, though it seemed to happen in some form of slow motion, a kind of gradual partial re-emptying of the nest, if you will. Our eldest flew back to Washington and her senior year on the 24th of August and our middle daughter left for a fall semester at the University of Glasgow on the 31st. Our youngest daughter and my wife, a teacher, both returned to school at about the same time. All of this combined to radically change the structure, pace, and feel of home life, though my work schedule really doesn’t change that much from one season to the next (except for budget season).

Getting back to the shift metaphor, it seems like we’ve come to the end of an extended leisurely cruise in sixth gear with the top down. Now it’s time to put the hard top on, put it in four-wheel drive, downshift, and power through until next spring. It’s not like there can’t be things to look forward to and enjoy, but it seems the coming seasons are much more of a long, hard slog than the rest of the year.

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Crunch

Fender benders are a pain. In this case it’s someone else’s fault, though I can say it’s just as much of a pain the other way around. Insurance companies, adjusters, body shops, and time out of your day. All having to deal with the aftermath of someone else’s momentary inattention. As if that inconvenience and aggravation isn’t enough, there’s dealing with the emotional trauma inflicted on a young driver who was just going about her business. A life lesson at relatively little cost, I suppose, but still. Grrr.

On the up side, no one was hurt and the damage is minor, even inconsequential (but for the fact that it’s our car, we’re still paying for it, and we don’t want to drive around like we’re looking for a demolition derby). So we deal with it and move on.

(Really doesn’t look like much, does it? It’s more impressive in person. :-/)

Black Friday 2009

First off, no new car this year.  The Jeep now has 20,587 miles on it, the rain gutters suck (he says on another ridiculously rainy day) and the 3.8-liter V6 is anemic below 1,800 rpm (which is more noticeable when you short shift at 1,500 to improve mileage), but the mileage is quite a bit better than I expected, as is the ride quality (though, make no mistake, it’s still a Jeep and bouncy and harsh over rough pavement) and, overall, I am quite happy with it.  Yes, there could be a little less hard plastic, and a little more padding here and there, but it’s even more civilized than I expected.

There are times when I still miss the Suburban for its automatic transmission, long wheelbase, and hangar-like cargo carrying capacity, but I do not miss the sub-15 mpg mileage, 42 gallon gas tank, and repair bills we surely would have incurred at 180,000 plus.  I try not to think about the “Cash for Clunkers” credit I might have gotten, or the additional discounts and rebates that I might have benefited from, though the Wrangler has been one of the least discounted models in the Chrysler-Jeep lineup.

So, Thanksgiving worked out well enough.  I only missed the target dinner time by about thirty minutes, yet still managed an almost complete traditional (well, for our family, anyway) Thanksgiving dinner almost single-handed.  A brined roast turkey with sage and onion bread stuffing, gravy (made with homemade turkey stock), mashed potatoes, butternut squash purée, thyme braised carrots, green bean casserole, and homemade whole berry cranberry sauce.  A bottle each of Chardonnay-Viognier and Pinot Noir, desserts from the grandmothers, a little football, and “A Charlie Brown Thanksiving” rounded out the day pretty well.

There was nothing really challenging in any of the elements of our Thanksgiving dinner, but having all of them ready more or lesss at the same time was a challenge with one oven and four burners. I had less of it done by Wednesday night than I wanted, but got up at 6:30 Thursday and had everything but the carrots and turkey done by 10:30. Anyway, like I said, it worked out well enough, and our eldest got to spend some time at home with us and her grandparents before going off to spend much of the rest of the weekend with her friends.

Our Black Friday got off to a later start than in recent years, though we have never been among those waiting for stores to open at 5 a.m., or earlier.  The stores we went to and the mall were all busy, but not nearly as busy as we have seen them in years past.  Some of this might be attributed to the weather which, for the second time in two weeks, is practically typhoon-like.  Even so, it’s probably not the sole reason we had no trouble finding parking spaces reasonably close, spent little or no time waiting in checkout lines, and actually had an arm’s length in any direction between us and other people in the mall.  We’ll be out again tomorrow and will see if better weather (and being Saturday) have any effect on the size of the crowds.

Are You Smarter than a New York Driver?

trafficNot that all New York drivers are terrors of the road but, based on results in the 2009 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test, as a group, they are the worst in the nation.  This is based on their responses to a twenty-question test culled from written DMV tests from around the nation.  According to a GMAC press release posted on Autoblog, the rest of us don’t have much to crow about, since we’re getting worse as a nation.  The Northeast ranks last among regions of the U.S., Maine ranks 31st among states, Massachusetts 45th, and Idaho 1st.  Idaho?!

See where your state ranks and then take the test yourself.

My score?  A perfect 100%.  Of course, getting all the questions right on a written test isn’t all there is to being a good driver, and I know I don’t get it right 100% of the time.  But I have found that taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation‘s Basic Rider Course and taking up motorcycling have done a lot for my vigilance as a driver, and I guess it really isn’t my imagination that there are a lot of bad drivers out there.