Archive for category Family

Leaf Boats and Sediment Traps

Last week we had a big thunderstorm pass over the house during the evening, and my two boys (ages 10 and 6) put on their raincoats and went out into the front yard to see what was going on. They love to send leaf boats down the edge of the street when it rains. When I came out to check on them, they had piled up some landscaping gravel in the gutter to make a dam, causing a large puddle of murky rainwater to collect in the street near our driveway. The two of them were really excited about their civil engineering: “Look, Dad! We made a dam! But our lake keeps rising and flowing around the dam, so we need more gravel!” I grinned. This arms race continued until their dam started to leak through the gravel, kind of like the turbines at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam. “What? You guys aren’t generating electricity?”

They noticed that the water coming into their little lake was murky with silt, while the water seeping out through the gravel was clear and clean. “Yep, you guys have built a sediment trap“, I explained. “The fast-flowing river water carries dirt with it, but in the calm lake water the dirt drops out to the bottom. That’s why it’s called a sediment trap, because the river sediment can’t get past the lake.” “Wow! We built a sediment trap!” they exulted. “Sediment trapping is a big problem for silty rivers like the Colorado and the Nile“, I elaborated. “The Glen Canyon Dam and the Aswan High Dam trap the river silt and prevent it from flowing downstream. That’s why the Grand Canyon and the Nile Delta are losing their sand.” [Yes, sometimes I talk in html.] The boys were thrilled to hear the world-wide implications of their little experiment.

After the rain we put the gravel back around the mailbox and washed our hands. And I thought to myself, What a great neighborhood / country / life I have! My kids can play safely in the yard, forget their video games, get dirty, have fun, and learn about fluid mechanics all at the same time!

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Middle School Field Trip – by Airplane?

Even Dads have to grow up.

My daughter in Middle School is taking a field trip to Washington, DC over Spring Break. They will tour our nation’s capital with American Christian Tours, a tour company that emphasizes our Christian heritage throughout history. She earned part of the money for the tour, and I am making her study up on the places she will visit. When she gets to Gettysburg Battlefield she will know who Pickett was, why and who he was charging, and what happened on that fateful day. When she tours the World War II memorial she will know who were the major powers and leaders on each side of the conflict. When she enters the American History Museum she will tell her friends to look for the half-naked statue of George Washington.

All this is normal.

The strange part for me is that she and the rest of the kids are boarding an airplane to fly to Washington, DC. An airplane! We live in Colorado, so Washington DC is too far to drive over the one-week break. It makes sense to fly. But an airplane??!!! For a Middle School field trip? Sheesh, next thing you know these kids will be taking a field trip to the International Space Station!

I grew up in New Jersey, and my class took field trips by bus to Philadelphia and New York City to see the sights. The historical sites were within easy reach. On the Circle Line ferry around Manhattan Island some elementary school kids from the city challenged us to fight: “Get your gang together. We’ll meet you in the boys’ room!” Remarkably, we were mature enough to laugh, politely decline, and ask them where they were from? They were fun kids once we got past the macho thing.

An airplane!

Perhaps Sean call tell us if airline travel has dropped in cost relative to the Consumer Price Index since the 1970s? In any case, this Dad has to let go and realize that times have changed and let my precious daughter fly to Washington DC for a wonderful and educational adventure with friends I know and teachers I trust to take good care of her. It should be a good trip! She’ll bring her cell phone with her. Oh yeah, you bet she will!

Men and Women, Scene 537

So we parents are standing around the buses getting ready to take our kids off to the Tetons last weekend. My son graciously came up to me early, said “Let’s get this over with now”, and gave me a big hug. His friend had done the same to his mother, and then they got into a contest over which parents they could lift. Boys. So after they trooped on the bus, and then back off to get their picture taken, and then back on, the parents were talking. The moms were all worried – did I pack everything, what did I forget, I hope they don’t get cold, how are they going to handle the snow, what will they do on the long bus ride, did I pack enough snacks, fret fret fret. The dads were all envious – what a great trip, wish I was going, what a great time they are going to have. Ah, the division of labor – someone to worry, someone to enjoy.

Scenes From A Marriage

Breakfast table 6:45 AM

Her: Oooh, what a beutiful pink sunrise!

Me: Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.

Long Pause

Me: But it sure is pretty.

The Phone Bill Is Here, The Phone Bill Is Here!

I suppose most people first look at the amount they owe when they get their cell phone bill. Not The Murphy Family. We look at the minute usage first thing. And why not, the amount hardly changes. This month we were even more keenly interested because there was a new entrant. In the early days of our cell phones, there were only two – one for me, and one for the funWife. The results were predictable – she always had 10x the minutes used I did. The reason was simple – I only used it to take calls from her. She used it to make calls to everybody. That and I’m a man of few words (at least when I speak them, not write them).

But then we got one for the female Fruit of the Murphy Loins, and the two women vied for first place. I would have thought that a teenager would beat a, well, not a teenager anymore, in the talking on the phone derby, but the fFotML isn’t a big phone talker. It could be that in that regard she didn’t fall from my tree, or it could be that other options like IM and more recently Facebook allowed her to communicate with her friends in a way other than talking on the phone (I’m not even going to mention texting, and yes, we have a special texting rate fee just because of her).

Then my numbers came up when I started to actually call people with my phone. OK, not really people, just the funWife, and I did so on special occasions like when I was dispatched to the store and couldn’t remember what she wanted. I quickly learned to call and instead of admitting the real reason, I’d ask if there was something else she wanted in the hopes that what she told me already would come up:

ME: “Is there something else you wanted from the store?”
Her: “As long as you’re in the baking aisle pickup up an 8 oz bag of chocolate chips, why not stroll over to the diary section and pick up some yoghurt because you ate the last one.”

Of course the conversation never happened like that, and then I’d have to ask if there was a particular size or brand she wanted me to get. That never worked out either (“Size? They only come in one size” or “Brand? Whatever is cheapest”), so now I make a list. But I still ran the minutes up because if you’ve ever been dispatched to the grocery store, you realize that there are minimum of seven choices for any particular item, and your briefing didn’t cover one of them:

ME: OK, I’m looking at the green beans in 8 oz cans, and they have all natural, low sodium, with bacon, with onions, cajun, with potatos, and lite. Which one do you want?”
HER: “Just buy plain”

So now at least I’m up to like a third of the minutes the rest of the family racks up.

But when we added my father to the mix, we got a real surprise. When we went to open bill, we figured “how many minutes can an old man use?” We expected that he might beat me the first bill just because he’d be calling for novelties sake. Well, he was numero uno – he beat the gals hands down. We just had to know. It wasn’t like we were close to our minutes, but how was he averaging 10 minutes a day on his phone? As it turns out, my parents were using it like an intercom. Kind of like the communicators with the original Star Trek cast, only younger. And then lots of months he would inadvertanly use some odd service – texting, email, ringtones. He had a blast with that phone without even realizing it.

So now the male Fruit of the Murphy Loins has the phone (my mother’s arthritis doesn’t allow her to use the phone). So yesterday we got the first bill. Let me just say my son talks on the phone like me, only less so because (1) fewer people call him, and (2) he doesn’t have a brother in California. The only call I could think of was when he was coming back from the Truman Library to let us know to pick him up. I didn’t think he’d even break the 2 digit barrier on minutes. Ha, shows you how much I know, he was in contention for numero uno. I was in such shock, he might have even BEEN numero uno. Once I recover, that boy and I have to talk.

Face to face, I don’t want to run up his minutes.

We Dodged An Icecicle

It’s the Most Busiest Time Of The Year, and the Murphy Family is no different. We’ve been fortunate here in St. Louis to have missed the worst of the ice and instead just suffered from ceasless overcast and light rain for the past week. A couple of days I went to work with no ice on the trees in my neighboorhood but ice on the trees where I work – that’s how close to the edge we were on temperature. Normally we talk about how changable the weather is here, but lately its been all too steady.

Life Insurance

I’m not one to bemoan insurance companies, only in part because the funWife is an insurance claims adjuster.


Yesterday I had my mother call back the two life insurance companies my father had policies with after over a week went by without the paperwork they said they’d send to process the claim. Both can pull up on their computer screens all the details with just a name and social security number; both say it takes 2 weeks (or more!) for the paperwork to arrive. Look, I have talked to old folks homes one day and had their brochures in hand the next via the US mail. The only thing that takes these companies two weeks to send the paperwork just so we can send it back with a death certificate is greed – they want to hold onto the money as long as they can.

I’m wondering if it takes 2 weeks to mail a letter, how long will it take to actually pay?

Veterans Day Remembrance

My father never made a big deal about his service in WWII. He graduated in 1942 1/2 (apparently in the old days they had half years before inflation made them worthless), spent six months working at Ludwig Aeolian, which had switched from making pianos to making gliders for the war, until he could join up. When working with power tools he was known to bring up his coworkers at Ludwig who were missing fingers or parts thereof. There wasn’t any question he was going into the armed forces, the only question was which one. He claimed he pictured himself walking all the way across Europe if he joined the Army, so he joined the Navy instead.

The other day my wife came across the letters he wrote and received during the war. My mother swooped on them, and then threw them out when she realized he didn’t even know her when they were written. So my wife rescued from the trash and we started reading them last night. He did his basic training as a member of Company 683-43 at the Farragut training center in Idaho, which I didn’t know before I read the letters.

Letter Home 1943
Letter Home 1943

At boot camp recruits were asked to choose three specialties, so my father chose quartermaster because he figured he’d have a chance to wheel and deal, gunnery because he figured if the other guy was trying to kill him he ought to at least get a chance to fire back, and electrician because that way he’d at least learn a civilian skill. So of course the navy made him a signalman and off the signalman school in San Diego he went.

As that school was finishing up, he had to choose what branch to go into. The first people to come in were trying to recruit for landing craft. He watched movies of the boats driving to shore with the coxwain behind a metal enclosure looking out a slit and the signalman unprotected next to him and then the signalman standing on the beach communicating with the ships offshore while everyone else found as much cover as they could. He didn’t think that was for him. The submarine people came in without any films, just that you got 1.8 base pay and 2 weeks leave for signing up. That sounded good to him, so he volunteered for submarines. He was ticked when he discovered that the 2 weeks leave would be taken off the back end of his enlistment, not immediate.

He was assigned to the S-45 which finished out the war training surface ships in ASW in the Admiralty Islands. Instead of depth charges, the ships would use hand grenades, and about the only excitement he had on the sub was when a grenade when off on the main induction hatch and seawater poured in. He told me just this year that on the way out or back they stopped off at Guadalcanal and while there a classmate working ashore asked him to go on a patrol. My father asked if they ever ran into any Japanese and was reassured when the answer was no, so he went. He was issued a rifle and they split into four columns and set off into the jungle. After an hour or so of trudging along, somebody opened fire on them without causing any casualties. After hunkering down and checking on the other columns, the leader had them all return to base.

I was surprised by the letters I’ve read so far – no real mention of the war beyond general terms, one mention to burn a letter because of the information in it. Mostly he followed the same interests then he had when I was around – classical music, model railroading, gardening, smoking. He wrote in late 1944 urging his younger brother not to enlist but stay in college since the war would be over before he would be in it.

Then it was back to San Diego, and when the war ended, San Francisco. The S-45 was decommissioned and he moved on to a fleet boat until he was discharged. I always got the impression that he enjoyed, or at least didn’t mind the wartime Navy, but he made it clear he hated the peacetime Navy. There were way to many pointless regulations, like having to be in dress whites to draw from stores on the tender. No doubt there was a certain amount of feeling that now that the war was over he wanted to get on with his life, and being in the Navy wasn’t part of it.

My father did what his generation did – they went off to war. Most had mundane jobs and saw little or no “action”. Some never came back. But by and large they did what was asked of them, whether it was a little or a lot. And when they got home, they didn’t talk about it, except amongst themselves.

So to all of you who served, no matter how much was asked of you, thanks. And most especially to you, Pop.


So I’m calling around looking for an independent or assisted living place for my mother, and the marketing department lady from one of them stops me as I start my shpiel and says

“I have two questions that are really important when it comes to finding your mother the right place for her to live”

“OK, what are they?”

“What is your name?”

“Kevin Murphy”

‘What is your phone number?”

Oh yeah, those were a couple of penetrating questions that really cut to the heart of where my mother should live.


Deaths In The Family

The blog has been quiet, but life hasn’t been. My father passed away Oct 23 and my mother-in-law passed away Oct 26. My father died at home of a heart attack, and my wife and I were there. My mother-in-law passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s for years. We are all in God’s hands.