Farewell, Dad

By | March 28, 2016
Mom, Elizabeth, and Dad

Mom, Elizabeth, and Dad at Mom’s 70th birthday party in 1999

My father, Keith Furr, is, to put it bluntly, dying. He has been suffering from pretty severe dementia for several months now, not recognizing anyone and not really knowing where he was, and showing no signs of improvement. However, in recent days he took a severe turn for the worse. He has had only very short periods of consciousness, and has refused food and water, and has been suffering from pneumonia. His physicians have placed him on palliative care, meaning no drugs other than what would keep him comfortable, no food or liquid.

Over the years, he has repeatedly expressed wishes that he not be kept alive after all hope has gone, and we feel this, the palliative care and quiet end,is what he would want. He has been very sad in the four and a half years since my mother, Dora Furr, passed, and though he was never very religious, in recent years he spoke of having something of a change of heart and hoping that he would get to see her again.

Dad reading to me after work when I was about three years old

Dad reading to me after work when I was about three years old

Dad was a good man. He was the only child from his family of four to make it out of the North Carolina Piedmont and to college and wound up with a PhD in nuclear physics from Duke University, where, incidentally, he met Mom. He spent his entire career working as a professor at Virginia Tech, first in physics and mechanical engineering, directing the Virginia Tech research nuclear reactor, and then, when the reactor was closed down, switching to head the university’s occupational health and safety services program. Under Dad’s leadership, the Virginia Tech campus safety department became a model for others across the country. Dad authored many publications during his career, but one he was particularly proud of was the CRC Handbook of Laboratory Safety, which went through multiple editions and sold very well.

He was married to Mom for over 50 years and when she passed, he was never the same. They argued and fought as any couple likely does, but at the end of the day they knew they’d always have one another.

He is in a nursing home in Florida. My siblings and I just said our goodbyes via cell phone, with the exception of my sister Elizabeth, who lives in the same town as Dad. We’re very grateful to our cousin Anne Bartlett who’s been there through thick and thin for Dad, and who has been acting as a go-between and many other things besides to keep us informed and in the loop and aware of how Dad is doing.

My sisters Elizabeth Furr and Julie Furr Youngman, and my brother Rob Furr plan to hold a memorial service for Dad, very likely at the end of May. We will all miss him very much, and we’re very sad that his time has come.

The one (and only) thing I know about college basketball

By | March 19, 2016

I grant you that the following blathering would have counted for more if I’d said it on Thursday or Friday, but I never got around to it until now.

I filled out five NCAA men’s basketball brackets this week, mostly because I’d taken part in various pools last year, or the year before, and got reminders to keep participating this year. It’s not as though I know anything about college basketball (with one exception, for which, keep reading), but I fill out a bracket or two (or five) anyway out of misguided curiosity to see how long I can go before all my Final Four picks are knocked out.

I said there was one exception to my “not knowing anything” about college basketball rule — and that is “Don’t Pick Pittsburgh”. I used to pick Pittsburgh to advance, sometimes even to make the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 (one year they did, but I picked them to make the Final Four, since they’d gone in as a #1 seed). I don’t know why. On some odd level, I guess I thought they were good. They’re certainly better than either of my almas mater, Virginia Tech​ and the University of Georgia​, but in any event, without fail, Pittsburgh would always get knocked out in depressing fashion just in time to wreck what was left of my bracket.

So this year, as I hopelessly clicked random teams in hopes of dumb luck winning out for once, I kept repeating one mantra: “Don’t pick Pittsburgh. Never pick Pittsburgh. Don’t pick Pittsburgh. Never pick Pittsburgh.” Over and over.

I was fairly sure that by not picking them I was all but ensuring that they’d win the whole damn thing, but for once, Fate smiled on me. They got knocked out by Wisky in the first round.

So I do know one thing about college basketball. Never pick Pittsburgh, my friends, and you’ll avoid complete immersion in the Slough of Despond.

If only we had kids to embarrass by doing stuff like this…

By | February 19, 2016

Carole and Jay: Love Shack 2016

Random Acts of Banality

By | February 16, 2016

From time to time I find myself having to upload receipts to some website or another, such as when I have to document a medical expense in order to get reimbursed by my FSA administrator, or when I have to submit business expenses to the site my employer uses to track travel expenses. (I have a company card, but they still want proof I wasn’t off spending money at the “Pink Pony Theater and Museum” and claiming it was dinner at a Waffle House.)

I know that the vast majority of these uploaded receipts are machine-processed and no human ever actually looks at them (unless the machine kicks one back as unreadable).

Nonetheless, I find myself uploading a little something “extra” on occasion. Upload a receipt, throw in a picture of a hamster trying to eat a grapefruit. Upload proof of employment for a loan application, throw in a picture of Spongebob Squarepants’ friend Patrick Star wearing a hula skirt. Just on the off chance that some poor drone whose job consists of reviewing the odd misaligned upload will come across it and go “WTF?” or better yet, smile.

Today’s little freebie, tossed in with a scanned image of a payment for balance due at my doctor’s office:

Corgi SleighI hope whichever person comes across it in today’s upload appreciates the sentiment behind it, and has a slightly less mind-bogglingly-boring day as a result.


I Feel So … Dirty

By | February 2, 2016

AlabamaYesterday I had occasion to place a call to the membership/enrollment arm of my health care insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama.

I work for a very large Fortune 500 company. Our HR department insures us via an ever-changing network of health insurance plans. It’s actually kinda rare that I have the exact same carrier for more than a year or two, and as of the beginning of this year, my fellow Vermont employees got switched this year from MVP (a New York and Vermont insurance provider) to BC/BS of Alabama. For all I know, next year I’ll be enrolled with Cosmopolitan Health Insurance of Pago Pago.

Still, it’s not that big a deal: the actual benefits remain the same from insurer to insurer. This is the advantage of working for a megacorporation who can say “Here’re the benefits we wish to offer, what rate will you give us? Low bid wins.”

So anyway: I placed my call to the customer service number on the back of my member ID card and promptly got through to a friendly female employee whose voice couldn’t have been more Deep South/Heart of Dixie if she’d tried. Let’s put it this way: there was no question of this being an offshored call center employee somewhere in Hyderabad.

I had the mad urge to ask her where in Alabama she was and make some random reference to the giant statue of Vulcan in Birmingham, but a voice inside me said “Confuse her after she’s helped you, not before.” So I told her what I needed to have changed in my records; she promptly made the change and asked if she could help me with anything else.

I said “No, thank you so much!” and then the Devil got a hold of me: against my better judgment and the good solid values I learned during my undergraduate years at the University of Georgia, I betrayed all that is right and proper and said … “Roll Tide!”

The nice lady on the other end of the call paused for a second, then, sounding surprised but very pleased, responded “Well, Roll Tide to you too!”

I feel so dirty. I think I’ll go hide somewhere now and conceal my shame.


Who knew?

By | January 20, 2016

TriglyceridesI just got done with a fasting cholesterol check at my family doctor’s office.

It turns out that even if you are taking drugs for high cholesterol, curling up in a fetal position in a dark room after working hours every day and getting absolutely no exercise DOES NOT HELP KEEP TRIGLYCERIDE LEVELS DOWN.

Who knew?



By | January 17, 2016

Twilight in winter

Carole and I went for an absolutely purposeless drive this afternoon. It wasn’t an especially pretty afternoon: overcast and gray, with scattered patches of snow and mud. But it was better than sitting around the house staring at the wallpaper, you know?

We drove down south to Middlebury, had hot drinks at “Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe“, then walked around a bit in the cold and looked at ice floating down Otter Creek. When that got old, we decided to head back north and in the general direction of home. On the way, I suggested that Carole check in with her parents to see how they were doing. (What did we do before cell phones when we had idle miles to travel and not much else to do?)

During the ensuing conversation, ancestry.com came up; Carole and her parents have been working on Carole’s family tree fairly steadily since Christmas. I could only hear one side of the discussion, but apparently they were chatting about strategies for tracing certain branches of the family. At one point, Carole said “Yeah, Jacksonville is rich ground for finding Earles and Cockes.”

During the pause that followed, as her parents replied, I found myself muttering “… just a nihilist”.

And Carole grinned, slapped me on the knee, and said “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

(For five lemur points: explain the connection.)


By | January 14, 2016

You know you’re depressed and down and out of good ideas when you actually stop and contemplate mailing a letter to the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, to ask him what he thinks of Donald Trump.

And then think “… and how the Kardashians fit into his societal analysis. I should ask him about that too.”

I’m bored and depressed in part because two consecutive out of town work trips got called off. I like to keep busy. A bored Jay is a sad Jay.

On the positive side, our efforts to save electricity have worked so well that Green Mountain Power just mailed us back $245 because we’d built up such a balance with our set-in-August annualized monthly “budget plan” payments. I suspect our next budget amount is going to be a lot lower when next August comes.

And we just got a heat pump installed today for our enormous living room. That will definitely help lower our heating oil bill and the air conditioning and dehumidifying will be great come the summer. So we have that going for us, which is nice.

Heat pump


By | January 13, 2016

I don’t know how those of you who live outside major media markets stay in touch with current music — since I don’t watch TV or listen to commercial radio and am not exposed to it on the subway and so on, I’m kind of in a vacuum.

I’ve been working at home the last two weeks because absolutely nothing I’ve had to do has required me to be physically in the office, and so I’ve been trying to keep music playing to keep from being absolutely despondent with wintertime depression blahs.

Today I’ve been playing the 2015 Grammy nominees for Best Folk Album — starting with Eliza Gilkyson’s “The Nocturne Diaries”. I’ve never heard of Gilkyson before now (she evidently has managed to get along just fine without my notice; she has been releasing albums steadily since 1969), but so far, I like what I’ve been hearing.

I’m fond of our Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime subscription. I can just speak clearly and tune to whatever suits my mood, adjust the volume up or down, skip to the next tune, whatever. If out of a clear blue sky I decide I really need to hear Devo performing “Whip It” or the Ramones doing “Blitzkrieg Bop” I can, just by speaking clearly and loudly and bam, instant gratification. The Echo can also play music from Pandora, provided I can provide a decent ‘seed’ song to work from, or play radio stations from around the world via IHeartRadio or TuneIn. I can’t say that I’ve ever wanted to hear the local Catholic radio station in the French Pacific island possessions of Wallis and Futuna, but if the urge strikes me, it’s all a clearly enunciated request to Echo away.

But today isn’t a punk kind of day. Electric folk seems to be what’s working, and I’m not gonna argue.

Moronitude. Moronicity. Whatever

By | December 30, 2015

Some people say I’m fairly intelligent. (And incredibly annoying and irritating, but that’s a subject for another time.)

But I’m not always that way. I have a confession to make.

If you put one of these


in front of me, on a plate, along with other items of food, I will plunk the entire thing in my mouth. Just because.

It’s not that I don’t know what it is. I do. I simply remain convinced that it won’t ever be “that bad” to eat an entire glob at once.

It always is.

You’d think I’d learn after the fortieth or fiftieth coughing, weeping paroxysm.


I never do.