I’ve always wanted to learn a skill that was useful, could potentially earn me some money in a pinch, and didn’t involve a computer. I’m not sure ever got much further than that thought when it came to deciding on what exactly. After purchasing our new home this past winter, we spent some money on a handyman. Long story short, I wasn’t too happy with regards to how much we paid him in exchange for the work he did. Some quick back-of-the-napkin math indicates that it might just be a lot less frustrating and cheaper if I simply purchase some tools and learn how to do this stuff myself.

Despite a close relationship with my father over the course of his life, he never really bothered to pass on any of his constructions skills to me, since he was fairly intent on and certain of my eventual attendance of college. He wasn’t a carpenter, and he was actually in a fairly atypical niche area of the construction field, but I can’t help but think of him from time to time as I measure wood, and saw, and occasionally use his level. I have to wonder about may have been his amusement over me buying tools that were for something other than opening up the back of a computer.

This is the first thing I built. It is a firewood rack. I worked off some plans and used this project just to get a handle on measuring and cutting. I feel like I learned a lot over the course of the project. I started off considering this woodworking thing in utilitarian terms. I need a place to store wood, and a place to store the kids toys’ in the backyard, and it is cheaper for me to spend $50 on wood than it is to spend $300 on something made of plastic. And that was about all I had in mind. But I actually found myself really enjoying doing this and I’m looking forward to a lot more projects. The big take-away from this is that one improperly measured and constructed right angle of a joint has an impact on every other aspect of the work. It turned out ok. But I will always know there is one place within this piece that could have been done a bit better.


I just started this one today. Its a combo deck box/bench for the front porch that will hold gardening supplies, some toys, some fold-up chairs, and probably a stroller. I figured this would be good practice for framing something out that was a bit more complicated. It was a great feeling when I cut the last 20″ piece of wood and it fit perfectly where it needed to fit and every angle was a perfect 90° all the way around. Next week I’ll get my hands on some all weather plywood and some nice trim to dress it up a little. Lucy wants to help me paint it purple.

Deck Box

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Lucy at Age 3

Lucy: “Where does pork come from, daddy?”

Me: “From pigs.”

Lucy: “Where do pigs come from?”

Me: “From other pigs.”

Lucy: “Where does hope come from?”

Me: “Um… wait, what?”

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When a Promise Should Not Be a Promise

Doing the right thing in life isn’t so hard. Let’s not kid ourselves, we all know what’s right and wrong when faced with a decision. And there’s only do or not do. Simple enough. Really. The real challenge is knowing when doing the right thing isn’t the right thing.

Right now, I’m trying to teach my two and a half year old daughter the concept of a “promise”. She’ll tell us she wants noodles for dinner. So I get her to “promise” that she’ll eat them when mama is done making them. Then she changes her mind when they come to the table. And I tell her she broke the promise she made when she said she wanted the noodles and when she said she was going to eat them. Then she shows me a picture of a blue fish in a book. She’s two years old. She’ll learn, eventually. It’ll work itself out. I’m not worried, but I contemplate, how am I going to explain to her when its ok to walk away from a commitment?

I’ve spent the past few months teaching a couple of night courses at a local sorta non-profit tech school thingy that I’m not going to call out in a public blog. The money was good, the enrollments were growing. I was the first instructor to have a completely sold-out class. I was actually enjoying teaching and I think I was pretty good at it too.

Then I came into the building one night and noticed the construction crews had stopped working on the space that the out of town company had bought to contain the business. Then they laid off the education director who hired me and the remaining staff would take three days or more to respond to emails. Dominos were falling all around. I knew where things were going, I just didn’t know how quickly. There was plenty of time for them to pull things together. After all, the idea they had was just too good to fail.

When my father fell ill, I somehow managed to get through all that by only canceling one class session. During the last week of his life, I missed being able to spend two nights with him because I made a promise. I committed to teaching. I committed to the staff and I committed to the students. I had a one year plan in mind. By my math, after twelve months, I’d be able to make enough money to accomplish some pretty important financial goals my wife and I set, including moving to neighborhood where homeless people won’t be eating from our trash cans on a daily basis.

Since much of what I do for a living is relationship based, and since I expected my father’s illness to draw out for a few years, I thought I was pretty necessary following through on my promise to teach. I just needed to get through the round of classes, then I’d start going to see my father on Saturday nights and I’d watch baseball with him every weekend until he died. I was going to make up for those nights I couldn’t be there. I had plenty of time. At least another 18 months.

I spent my childhood watching a neighbor, who was given six months to live, endure a double masectomy, battle chemo, waste away to a bag of bones, and die only when she was good and ready, ten years later. Through grade school I watched my mother shepherd her mother through the fifteen years it took her to die. As a young adult I watched one uncle, then another, then another spend half a decade in and out of hospitals and through treatments. I knew trench warfare. After that first, and final, ambulance ride my father took, I knew it was my turn to be a witness. Death didn’t just appear at your door step one day, it stalked you for weeks and months and years. With my mother’s words in my head, “there are things in life worse than death”, I clenched my teeth, set myself up to dig in. This was just the beginning, and my father had not yet begun to fight.

It really didn’t work out that way. I did what I was supposed to do, I taught my class on Tuesday and Wednesday, saw my father on Thursday, and then he died early Saturday morning. It wasn’t five years, or 18 months, it was two days. There was no stand-off with the shadows, no grand resistance, they just came and took what they wanted. It really ended before it even began.

Its a month later now and I just got notice my next three classes were canceled because, well, because the dimwits who ran the school burnt through all the money they had and can’t pay the bills. So, sacrificing those last few nights with my father was for, in essence, nothing. I’ll probably find some other part time job, hopefully teaching programming, which is what I do professionally during the day. But I’ll never get those nights back, that I sacrificed, because I promised something.

It seemed kinda hard at the time keeping that promise. I wanted to be at the hospital with him those nights, but I told people I’d be somewhere at a certain time and I had every intention of following through, and I did. Because of the commitment I had, because of the class schedules, during the last week of my father’s life, I spent only one night with him where he was coherent, and watched half an Eagles pre-season game which they, rather aptly, lost. All because I promised something to people I never met, nor who care I even exist, nor have the ability to manage a lemonade stand for profit.

But I really wish I didn’t do it, that I didn’t care so much about the next year, or my reputation as a programmer and instructor. I wish I could have just stopped and recognized the moment for what it was, and realized the doctors weren’t kidding, or understand that my mother wasn’t nuts when she said my father would be dead by Christmas. I’d give almost anything to get those few last nights back. If only I had known when it was the right time and place to to keep my word, and when it was the right time and place to say, you know what, fuck it.

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When These Records Are Yours

If there was one constant in my home as a child, it was music. Nearly every weekend was filled with the sounds of my father’s vinyl 45 collection. At least I remember it that way. It has probably been nearly 15-20 years since I spent a lot of time with him listening to his records. As he got older, his weekend interest in listening to music declined, and his attention probably turned more towards watching baseball. Of course, no longer being a kid meant weekends outside the home, so my attention turned towards friends, girlfriends, and eventually a marriage and a child. Normal circle of life stuff. I suppose it would be a little odd if I were 38 years old and sitting around drinking beer and listening to old records with my father in my parents’ kitchen on weekends. (Although, at the moment, a week after his death, that doesn’t sound so bad. But I don’t think that’s really wanted he wanted for me.)

I remember not really being able to read (yet) and having my father tell me to put on the record player this or that Rolling Stones single or this or that Dion and Belmonts song. I’d start off by recalling the label design for the Stones or Dion, then I’d narrow it down from there, sounding out the words of the single’s title on the label. More often than not, the label would be deeply worn. Sometimes it would be corrupted with an ink inscription of a high school girlfriend of his, or maybe a label with the name of a guy he lost contact with after he was in the Army.

The record player seemed to be such a complex and sacred piece of machinery. We’d always somehow manage to misplace the adapter for 45s, which would have to be found before anything could happen. There was usually some awkward wrangling to get it seated correctly. The space in the record cabinet was never quite big enough for the player so you’d have to feel around blindly to get it seated correctly. Then there’d be that toggle sort of switch that you’d have to slide and release. That would get the whole process going with the arm rising up and gliding over the top of the record. It was this sort of pregnant pause that would follow, a really dramatic moment and the tension would release and the needle would land on the vinyl and a warm crackle or maybe a slow thump would emit itself from the speakers. Finally, the opening sounds of the record would come, until it would all fade out and the arm and needle would repeat its carefully orchestrated mechanical ritual.

I can remember my father, when I was a kid, saying things like, “when these records or yours.” I guess he knew then that I, like he, was the sentimental type and was also bitten by the collector bug too. He may have known that I actually liked the music as well. I suspected he always knew he wasn’t going to live to be an old man. I’m not entirely sure what his expectations were for life span, but I’m pretty sure he, like I, never expected him to still be kicking around when I was in my 40s. But I gotta tell ya, I hated when he said those words, given the obvious implication of what it would mean for me to own them.

When I was 8 or 12 or 15 or 20, it was inconceivable that I would ever be without him. Its almost inconceivable that it was just a little over a year ago that had my last drink with him at my sister’s wedding. There was nothing in this world he wanted more for my sister and I to graduate from college, have productive careers, and to be married with families. This was the success he sought. So following my sister’s vows, he told my mother, “my work is done.” I really wish he had consulted us on that. I’m not so sure we would have let him rest just yet if we had our way.

I left my mother’s house tonight with a box of some of his 45s. Not all of them, just a couple of handfuls to get started with a good, long digitization session at my home PC and USB turntable, which I hope to be therapeutic as I work my way through his collection. Those dreaded words flood my memory as I took to one knee, opened the cabinet containing the majority of his records, and loaded a few stacks into a box in order to bring them home. The words I wish I could forget about.

“When these records are yours.”

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A Eulogy for My Father

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On the night before my wedding I spent a good deal of time with my best man, Shawn, and my father. Shawn eventually left the room we were in and it was just my father and I in a hotel, not far from where the two branches of the Susquehanna River meet. As I’m sure most of you know, my father was a very opinionated man, filled with many stories that he was always eager to share, and never left anything unsaid when it came to speaking his mind. I sat and waited, expecting a speech, some sort of preserved wisdom he would have for me. Maybe it would be the secret to a long marriage — after all he was married to my mother nearly 40 years. I thought maybe there was something he had yet to share with me about life, or about being a father, or a man. But oddly enough, it never came. We just made small talk for a few hours and I waited and waited. I felt the time had come and gone for some sort of talk, and I left completely disappointed, almost angry, that such a verbal man would have absolutely nothing to say to me on the evening for my wedding. How could this possibly be?

Since that night I have come to understand that whatever he had to say to me had already been said and impressed upon me, spaced out over three decades, one day, one night, and one conversation at a time. Everything he needed to do to make me the man I was, or the husband and father I would become, had already been worked out over the course of my life and it would have been a little silly if he waited thirty two years to say something that would suddenly turn a light bulb on or push me over some threshold. As far as he was concerned, and I am concerned, the duties of a father towards a son had been fulfilled some time ago. And for better or worse, I am who I am. I’m not really quite sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I stopped being a needful child requiring a dad, and we became more or less equals as men, and I considered him, my father, to be my best friend. I know I’m lucky to have had what I had as a child, but I’m just as lucky for what we have shared in my adulthood. And as I go through this in my mind, when the pain comes, it is with the realization of what lies ahead of me. With one beautiful little girl already, and another on the way, my heart aches to know he will not be there when it comes time to show them the proper way to feed ducks stale bread at a nearby pond, as he showed me how to do when I was a little boy.

I am, as they say, “pushing 40,” and I’m at the point in my life where I don’t need someone to show me how to shave, or how to tie a tie, or how to sharpen a knife, or explain what it means to make the correct choice for a family when opportunities are few, obligations many, and headwinds stiff. But I certainly would like to be able to call him after Lucy’s first day of school, or share a conversation about the Phillies latest trade over a very slowly cooked steak, or hell, even to hear one more time a story I’ve heard many times already from his youth about the wilds of Kensington in the 50s. And when that realization settles that I no longer have these options or opportunities, as it has many times over the past few days, that’s when the pain of his loss comes most sharply and most deeply.

Along the way, my father taught me, and probably others in this room, the importance of living life in the full possession of humor, even when the humor may not be entirely appropriate. I stopped by a good friend’s home over the weekend, to talk about what had recently happened, and to share some lunch in order to burn some hours before it was time to make final peace. And my friend asked me, quite naturally, “how is it going?” I couldn’t help but ask myself, how would my father reply? And with the tone of his voice ringing in my head, part Jackie Gleason and part Archie Bunker, I told him deadpan, “It could be better. But then again, it could be worse — I could be the one getting embalmed today.”

Over time I learned that the most important stories my father told were ones that didn’t come with any punch lines and were told only once. One such story was surrounding the death of his Uncle Jim Robinson. As many of you know, my father’s father died when he was three. He grew up with his mother’s brother, my Great-Uncle Jim, as head of the household and primary income earner, Great Uncle Jim’s wife, and younger cousin in Kensington. Growing up in a working class Irish home without a father and a mother with a sixth grade education is not exactly the best footing to start out on when pursuing the American Dream. I can still remember my father telling me that story, only once, of when his Uncle died. He and his brother and cousin were too young to own cars, my father only being 16 and his cousin 15 and brother 13. They got word of my Great Uncle Jim’s serious medical condition while he was hospitalized, and they walked from the river ward of Kensington to a hospital in North East Philly. It apparently took a better part of the day to get there. I don’t think my father or his cousin or brother entirely understood the seriousness of the situation until they got there.

Once they go to his Uncle Jim’s side they quickly understood his time on earth was limited, and he did pass away later that night. It was at that moment, at the age of 16, that my father realized he was the male head of the household and his disabled mother and brother were his charge. It was at that moment, finding his uncle unconscious in a hospital bed, that he knew what his future would be, and what his duties to family were, and where his life was headed. There would be no semesters in a college tucked away in the mountains of central PA for him to find himself. There’d be little margin of error when it came to affording groceries or yearly real estate taxes. It was just do or not do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I’m not here to canonize the man whose life we celebrate today. None of us are without fault, short-comings, and we all have many reasons to stay out of glass houses. And, certainly, none of us are truly the person we are at our worst moment. Our true character manifests when choices are limited, the pursuit of self is not an option, and others are truly counting on us. The nature of our character shows itself when decisions mean the most, consequences are most dire, and the right thing is most urgently needed. I have no doubt that there is not a single person in this room right now who knew my father, and if given a choice, would not pick him as the first person to accompany them in a fox hole. When it came to doing the right thing when the odds were most precariously stacked, it was my father that you would want to find yourself relying on.

In his final years, he wasn’t quite the ox I knew as a child. His back wasn’t so strong and his hands were no longer the fists that clenched sheet metal shears in order to glide their blades through sheets of steel. Years of carrying fifty pounds of tools up and down ladders in order to put his children through private school and college left him a bit frail, as did the medical condition that finally took him. But it didn’t stop him from taking in part of one the proudest moments of his life; walking my sister down the matrimonial aisle. When he had to do what he had to do — he did.

And with that spirit, of doing what is necessary, with little fuss, fanfare, self-reflection, doubt, regret, or remorse, I’m going to walk out this door today, and I’m going to watch my father be put in the ground. And then I’m going to get up tomorrow, the next day, and the next day. And I’m going to do what he would expect of me. I’m going to do what needs to be done. And like Bill Brader, my father’s friend of more than 56 years, posted on Facebook in response to my father’s passing, the world will be a little smaller, and a little less fun along the way. But we will always have the stories, the photos, the laughs, and most importantly– the time we spent on this earth with him, in whatever way we each individually may have spent it with him.

If you find yourself not quite knowing what to say or do today, or any day for that matter, please …. for my father, find a reason to laugh. Why? Because you know, he would know, and I know — its the right thing to do.

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Edward Paul Hertzog

It has been a while since I’ve posted here, so it is a bad sad that below is what I am posting. I have a feeling that the focus of this blog is going to be changing slightly. In the meantime… not really sure how to introduce this, but my best friend, my father, has passed away.

Edward Paul Hertzog of Willow Grove passed away Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Ackerman) Hertzog; his children, Edward P. Hertzog Jr. (Kathryn), and Kathryn McCoy (Leonard); his granddaughter, Lucy Hertzog; his many nieces and nephews; and his beloved dog, Buffy.

Edward was a U.S. Army veteran who served in the 3rd Infantry Division. He was a retired sheet metal worker with Local 19.

Relatives and friends are invited to his viewing from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at John J. Bryers Funeral Home, 406 N. Easton Road, Willow Grove. His funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. in St. David Roman Catholic Church, 316 N. Easton Road, Willow Grove. Interment will follow in St. John Neumann Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated to Disabled Veterans National Foundation, 1020 19th St. NW, Suite 475, Washington, DC 20036. John J. Bryers Funeral Home, Willow Grove.

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Between Baby and Kid

LucySomehow, she understands that coins, paper bills, and credit cards are all “money”. And of course, she insists that its “mine” when she discovers a few odd dollar bills on a table or some coins by the night stand. Yet, she needs to be told not to drink her bathwater. Repeatedly.

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Steve Mitchell and the Music of the Susquehanna Valley

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Jazz Baby

The first week at the new job went really well. I spent a lot of time doing research, writing, and I coded some prototypes. I’m just generally getting settled into some new technologies I’ll be working with. Really great people, great technology, great location.

Its an open work space. The building is right on the canal towpath. I’m a good stone’s throw from the Schuylkill River its catfish. Here’s a shot of my desk and a shot of the length of the office.

I made it to the 30th Street Station by 6:00pm Friday night. We got home, got the stroller, and went up to check out the free Friday night Jazz on Baltimore Avenue. Most fortuitously, the whole thing will happen every Friday night during the summer — right next to a playground. The baby got to burn off some steam, we got to nervously watch her go full monkey on the playground, and we all got to hear some great music. The baby didn’t dance though. Jazz is more of a mental trip for her.

This child is now capable of climbing all the way UP the sliding board. A little boy about 6 months older than she just stood and stared in awe. Our child has no fear.

A party in Mount Airy.

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My New Job

Oh, who cares about my job, let’s post baby pictures!

Lucy and her good friend, Charlotte.

Lucy in a hammock.

Went for a walk at Black Rock Sanctuary today. Found this really odd structure in the middle of the woods. The park and its topography is mostly man-made, so I assume this has something to do with the original construction. But it is still sort of odd happening upon it.

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