Monday, July 24, 2017

I Nearly Died! (well maybe not)

A while back I went in for a "procedure" at my doctor's office. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth...but enough about my trying to find a parking spot. Let's go back to the beginning....

I have had, for years now, a dark spot on my temple. I'm guessing people didn't notice it for two reasons. 1) It's small. It's about the size of the mark a pencil eraser would leave if you used it like a rubber stamp with brown paint. 2) It's hidden. It was fairly well concealed just under the hairline of my right temple. I'm lucky enough to still have a hairline there but as it gets increasingly whiter, the brown eraser dot showed through a little more. It was enough for Sylvia to notice.  Since she noticed, and she wants to keep me around for a while longer, she thought I should get it checked out. That was about 5 years ago. It was nothing. The doc essentially said, "if it changes, let me know."

Fast forward to just a few months ago, just before I went to Mexico. Sylvia again said, "It looks different. I think you should get that thing checked out." We looked on WebMD. It's bad...It's either heart disease or I've been exposed to radiation. In the interest of marital harmony, I will say that she also mentioned that I should put frankincense on it a couple times a day to keep it in check. Had I done that I'm sure my story would've ended here. You'll know that I followed her advice if this is the last paragraph.

Anyway...I'm in Mexico, not putting frankincense on this thing, and I got a little more sun than I'm used to. I don't know if the sun is what did it, if I was bitten by a Mexican Mole Spider, or if my warranty was nearing its end, but my little melanin based hitchhiker started to become bothersome. It started to itch. It started to have an occasional sharp pain. And worst of all, it absolutely refused to silence its cell phone so it would not bother other moviegoers. When I came back to the United States it had become more than a smudge...it was now a full-fledged bump. Did you hear me?! A Bump! To make matters worse, while I was running my fingers through my hair practicing for when Fabio calls in sick and they need a hair double, I happened to catch the edge of Moley McWarterson with my fingernail. That's when I knew it was different than before...it bled. Not a lot, but it took upwards of 45 seconds before I could control the bleeding. (No paramedics were called)

In to the doctor I went. As it turns out I was really sick on a Monday and, always one to get a bargain, I figured if I went in for my cough AND had them take a look at my temple I could save a trip and a co-pay. Bonus! My sickness was just a virus so I should rest and drink lots of water. Never mind that all I had been doing was do my impression of a sack of potatoes while drinking enough water to develop an aquarium behind my sternum. Didn't help. I'll press on. When I mentioned "the spot" the doc got on the phone to see if there was a dermatologist on hand. There was. He was on his way.

He came in, looked at it, checked out my entire scalp (to find out if this was just the scouting party for a full blown cystic assault) and then he said the word that rings in my brain to this day. Biopsy. Not "Bibopsy" as in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Not "a procedure" as described in City Slickers. An honest to goodness biopsy. Thing is, he said it like Ham in Sandlot said "Forrrr Evvv Errrr". I know what a biopsy is...he's gonna cut my head! And then the room started swimming like I was Mel Brooks in High Anxiety. I suppose I'll have to write one day about my movie analogy addiction. But it is not this day, as they say Lord of the Rings.

Where was I? Oh yeah, they're gonna cut me. Cutting something off of my head is bad enough, but they will have to numb it first and that means shots! Getting shot in the head is not something I enjoy and I try to avoid it as often as I can. Not a big fan of needles. In the week or so that passed from the initial appointment to when I went in I mentally prepared myself and I, of course, updated my will. The day came, I dragged Sylvia in to the doctor with me.

This thing that the doc said he'd done thousands of times before and would only take a minute was an ordeal. Apparently I am a "fast metabolizer" of anesthetics. This means that it takes more than the usual patient to where I can't feel anything. Of course this also means more shots! What's the way to determine that one is a fast metabolizer? Have someone start cutting something off your head so that you can say, "OW!!" I am not exaggerating...FOUR shots later, I finally don't feel anything and he was able to run me over the deli slicer. Ok, so he didn't do that, but it was pretty bad! When I was able to sit up, I turned a little pale and they wouldn't let me up right away, Sylvia looked at the spot on my head and grimaced. She tried to hide it but I could tell. She was a little horrified. I finally got out of her that there was a good sized lump on my head where he took it off. I said, "Of course there's a lump! That's what happens when you pump a quart and a half of Novocaine into someone's head!"

The excess pain meds absorbed pretty quickly and I didn't notice any adverse effects. Sylvia says I repeat myself more lately but I think that isn't true. Sylvia says I repeat myself more lately but I think that isn't true.

So there you have it. I survived a trip to the doctor. After the two weeks of hiding in the basement of the opera house and finally throwing away the mask that covered half my face, I was able to rejoin society. (But I do miss the serenading) My hairline has recovered and I rarely think about this incident anymore.

And yet, Sylvia was just running her hand through my hair and she noticed something on the other side of my head just at the temple. We looked it up on WebMD and I only have fifteen minutes to live...I'd better type fast.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Peek Inside

As I sit here this morning getting ready to write I have several very important things swirling around in my increasingly jumbled brain. First and foremost, my daughter just left to go live on another continent for a year. Second, We are about 7 days behind on beginning my summer vacation house de-clutter titled "Operation Deep Clean". (Never mind that I've only been obligation free for about 7 days) We adopted an energetic three-legged Pit Bull/Great Dane puppy who thinks the world is his chew toy! Next, I am at the tail end of a 16 week weight loss program. Additionally it is the day before our country's Independence Day and I am a huge fan of all things related to patriotism. Also, we have a 2000 piece puzzle that has been hibernating in a secured location for a year. Only recently we have uncovered it in its 85% completed condition and, through hard work and dedication have moved on to being 90% complete!

With all these pressing concerns I think it's become extremely obvious to anyone who knows me what the first topic of the summer must be. Let's say it together....Hat Face. What? That's not what you were thinking? Allow me to explain.

I come from a group of people, now confirmed through Ancestry DNA, whose skin turns that painful shade of red from the least exposure to the sun. I haven't confirmed it scientifically yet, but I think I could get a second degree burn from standing in front of a painting of the sun. Without extreme measures my skin would go from pale, to red, to peel, to pale. It's not that bad really...and I may be exaggerating a tiny bit...but I cannot even begin to count how many burns I have had in my lifetime. Because of that I avoid the sun like a vampire, I choose to sit in the shade, I prefer the woods to the beach,  and I try to wear a wide brimmed hat to protect my head. This is where the trouble starts.

I, like all red-blooded American males, have a special set of eyes that distort images bouncing back from mirrors. When I look in the mirror I am pretty pleased with what I see. My distortion doesn't show me six-pack abs and hair that is "on fleek." (apparently millenials say that is a good thing even though it sounds to me like what you'd call that stream of spit that shoots out of your mouth when you laugh) No, my mirror distortion involves hats. Whenever I try on a wide brimmed masterpiece I think I got it going on! My criteria is simple: Does it fit? and Does it cover my solar sensitive ears? If the answer to both of those is yes, I have a winner! When I go over to the little mirror my suspicions are always confirmed! It's astonishing really. I look and I see Indiana Jones fleeing from danger! I see Frank Sinatra looking defiant as he looks back over his shoulder under the slightly askew brim of his chapeau. I see Sam Elliot smirking in a western just before he saves the town. (As an aside...I also hear Sam Elliot talk when I hear my voice back on a recording) Nearly every hat I try on is "the one!" In my excitement I show my treasures to Sylvia and that's when I see it. Hat face.

Hat face is the unvarnished truth. Hat face is my touchstone to reality. Hat face is what keeps me from being the American hat equivalent of Imelda Marcos and her collection of thousands of shoes. It's hard to describe hat face but I'll give it a shot. It's really a mix of amusement, disappointment, and pity. You might see something similar as a mom looks at the kitchen mess after the kids have surprised her with breakfast but substituted orange juice for milk in the cereal and baking soda for sugar in the coffee. In an instant I can see that I have not only chosen poorly, but I have brought shame upon the household. I see Clint Eastwood, Sylvia sees Pee Wee Herman. I'm not complaining. I'm really not. I'd rather know when something doesn't look good than not. I'm obviously not to be trusted when making decisions about hats. Occasionally I will test Sylvia's limits. I think my favorite is when I put on the beanie with the propeller. With that one I got hat face with the added bonus of an eye roll.

I have, on occasion, come across a real hat which Sylvia thinks actually looks good on me. In Kansas I found a cowboy hat that everyone in the store agreed was just right for me. It fits, it looks good, it keeps the sun off my head, it's perfect! One problem though is that whenever I wear it, since I am a teacher, my students ask if today is "cowboy day" and then they are sad that I didn't tell them they could wear their cowboy stuff. One summer, when we were camping 12 feet from the sun, I found a camping hat that was ugly but it fit all the other criteria. This was even better than most since it had the added fun involved with being able to scrunch up and stuff into my pocket and it was completely ok in the water. It was great...until I left it on the dashboard one day and it shrank and faded beyond all recognition. I buried it next to my broken leg lamp in the back yard in a private ceremony.

So here I sit at the precipice of summer, hatless, ready to venture outside. I hope to find a suitable hat before I go back to school. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Et Tu Pancakes?

I work with the awesome youth at my church. Saying that is nearly synonymous with saying, "I have worked at a pancake breakfast!" Church youth groups and pancake breakfasts go together like youth pastors and facial hair. (Trust me...it's a thing.) Anyway, I can't even begin to recall all the breakfasts that I have helped put on. But I can remember, in great detail, the two I was part of where I wasn't allowed to eat anything myself. The first was a number of years ago and it was for a good cause. The second was about 2 weeks ago, and I did it to myself.

Like I said, the first was for a really good cause. Our youth group raises money by doing "The 30 Hour Famine" just about every year. It is a very good program where everyone involved gives up food for 30 hours to help you reflect on those who don't have enough to eat. It raises awareness among the kids about the affluence that we are accustomed to and we get donations to help programs all over the world feed the hungry. The famine is developed by World Vision. It is a great organization and they help with suggestions for what to do to keep the kids, who are essentially locked into the church's gymnasium for a day and a half, busy and their minds off of food. It could be work projects or raising awareness games and activities or you could just sit around and listen to everyone grumble about how hungry they are. Well our old youth pastor Matt, who does have facial hair, had a bit of a mean streak. He decided that it would be a great idea (ha ha) to hold a pancake breakfast as one of our community service projects to raise money for the organization. It was tough. We survived. We were all in it together. All you had to do was look to your left or right and you could see anguished hunger on the face of the person working next to you. It was manageable.

This year I did not have similar support. Since I agreed to join this weight loss program, I was going to give it my all and get back to a body that could fit into places like airplane seats, movie theater seats, and occasional outdoor arena (not the seats...the whole arena). I was not going to sabotage myself this early in the process and undo the small but emotionally satisfying progress I had made. I showed up wearing my bravest face.

There was a hum of activity and it already smelled delicious (darn it) so I jumped right in. I was hoping to get assigned a job that wouldn't tempt me. Cutting cantaloupe? No temptation there. Pretty sure if I were stranded somewhere, desperate for food, I would crawl past a field of cantaloupe to see if there was anything left on the questionable zebra carcass that the lions were finished with. Nope, somebody already there. (good thing...the smell...yuck) My son was on scrambled egg duty and doing a fine job of it. Tables were being set. Pancake Bob was in his element. Not too much to do. "Here Jeff...you can take care of the sausages." (insert sound effect of cartoon cars crashing)

Sausage are a weakness of mine. Next to bacon cooking, the smell of sausage cooking is maybe number three. Anything cooking with garlic is number one...I am Italian after all. So here I am hungry, having eaten a healthy smoothie for breakfast, and I have to cook a favorite that I will not be allowed to eat. Press on! It's for a good cause!

As pancake breakfasts at churches go it was pretty standard. Lull, lull, lull, lull, UNBELIEVEABLE CROWDS, slowdown, lull, lull... In all that time, while having multiple opportunities to "sample" the sausages I was making, I never tried one. It was ridiculously difficult at times. The main problem is that they are so easily grabbed and treated as finger food. We had enough to feed our church as well as the next three closest churches. Nobody would miss it. Nope. I didn't want to write it in my food log.

Then came the clean up. There was another group using our dining room about a half hour after we were done so time was of the essence. I ran in and grabbed the first thing that I thought would make a significant cleaning impact. I grabbed all the syrup containers from the tables. You know the type. Glass jars with a silver handle and a thumb button that allows the sugary liquid heaven to pour seductively all over the pancakes. (OK, so I've got a thing for syrup too...sue me) Anyway, I grabbed about six in each hand trying to get as many handles in my grips as possible. I looked like a waiter at Octoberfest...if it was being held in Canada. The syrup had to be emptied from the containers back into the bottles and I took on that job. There's something satisfying about watching that rich, thick, artificially flavored and colored treasury of high-fructose corn syrup ooze from one container to another. True confession time: If I were stranded on an island surrounded by a maple syrup sea, not that stuff from trees...the good fake stuff. Then imagine that the trees were made of sausages. I would fashion a raft out of the "logs" to escape...and then promptly drown before getting out of the lagoon. But I would go under with a full belly and a smile on my face.

The breakfast was a success! We did make a significant amount of money. We did, we did, we did. But I didn't. I didn't eat any sausage. I didn't eat any pancakes. I didn't pour myself a cup of syrup. I didn't eat any eggs, toast, or butter. And I especially didn't eat any cantaloupe. I was good. I continue to be good. And I am happy to say that I am currently down a little over 16 pounds from my starting point. I'll just keep plugging away.
Far far away....from IHOP.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Heavy Hair!

I've probably said about a dozen times that I was going to try to lose weight...by going to get a haircut. I know. It's as dumb as when I say that the room we just painted seems smaller or the Grand Canyon seems a tiny bit deeper than the last time I was there....but I say it anyway.

I've been cranking along losing weight for a little over a week now and I was feeling pretty good. Maybe it's the extra energy I have from the better food I'm eating. Maybe it's the focus on a goal that keeps my mind occupied. Maybe it's even the placebo effect. I don't care.  But with feeling good in so many areas of life I started taking stock in another often forgotten one; my hair.

Whether or not you think it's unfair, I have a thick head of hair. My brother lost his hair while he was still in high school. Many people I went to school with have become follicly challenged. I, am not. Personally I think it was God's blessing through a natural sunblock otherwise I'd look like I had been sitting too close to the toxic waste section of the local dump. You see, I once got a 2nd degree burn from a picture of the sun!

Whatever the reason, I've always been the envy of any hairdresser I  use. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, "I wish I had this thick head of hair!" I would be a very rich man. And just like the woman with curly hair who always wishes she had straight...and vice versa....I really am unimpressed with my hair. It's not that I hate it or that I even wish that it was curly I just wish it wouldn't grow so darn fast! I honestly feel like one of those ancient dolls my cousin had that had hair that could be different lengths. If you wrapped your hand around the base of the ponytail at the top of it's head and yanked, out came more hair! It was the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen! Who thinks of these things! I am unaware of any people who are yanking on my hair so I don't think that's what happens to me, but still it comes. Yes, it's unfair, I know. I should appreciate the gift that has been given to me. I do. I really do. I suppose what it boils down to is that I wish I didn't have to keep paying someone to tame it. I'm generally really cheap.

And another thing! Rarely do I get the hairdresser who actually listens to what I say! I have never been satisfied with the first round of snips on my hair. I haven't found the magic words to say yet...but I keep searching. They ask, "How do you want your hair cut?" and I say, "I want it short! I was just here a few weeks ago and it's already in my eyes. It grows so fast you can't even believe it! I want the number 2 on the sides (unless it's been especially warm and then I'll get the number 1) and the rest just shorten to match. Someone once called it a 'fade' but I have no idea. Short. Don't be afraid. Really really short!" They act like they're able to understand and start spraying my hair. "Wow your hair is really thick!" (cha-CHING$!) And then she'll grab the hair between her fingers and let it slide all the way to the end so about a half inch is left to snip..."Is this enough?" I even had one person, after I said, "No. That is not nearly short enough. Keep cutting. If you cut too much you can just yank on it and it'll get longer!" say "But it will look better like this." Excuse me!?! I seriously think that next time I'll just tell them to pretend I am ex-military and I really miss the haircut. If anyone has anything I could say that would help me...I'd appreciate it.

Anyway, back to my weight loss. Feeling good. Weather is getting warmer. I need to get steps tracked for my program. My hair is once again hanging in my eyes. Something deep inside triggers that little part of my imagination that thinks, even for an instant, "Hey, if you cut your thick hair...you'll weigh less!" I laughed it off as a silly joke I could maybe tell someone in the future...if I get desperate. Then I hear myself say, "Hon! I'm gonna walk up to go get my hair cut!" Here's hoping!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Food Log

Now it's time for something that is as exciting as it sounds. The Food Log.

Apparently the proverbial "they" are at it again. "They" say if you write down everything you eat you will lose a significant amount more weight than if you just watch what you eat. Well who in my shoes wouldn't want to lose significantly more weight? Nobody! That's who! It was also proven that you would lose even more weight if you needed to carve into an actual oak log to record your food choices...but I suppose that wouldn't be practical.

I started logging in my food right away. It helps that I am a guy and they offer an app that lets you keep track of your food on an electronic device. Did you hear me? I get to use a gadget! That in itself is worth the price of admission! I can actually see what the reasoning is behind the food log. At the risk of canceling the near magic that "they" talk about, I think I've got it. When I am reaching for a half of a mini bell pepper for a snack after walking 4 miles...I think, "Do I really want to have to log this in?" Ok, you got me. It also works when I am daydreaming about Cheez-Its while grading papers, sitting at my desk. It is really interesting how many times I think about food. Interesting...sad...toMAYto...toMAHto. The point is it is effective so far.

Another component that is becoming part of my thinking is that I have a coach who is going to read that I really chose to consume a mini pack of Skittles leftover from Valentine's Day 2015 because my brain/stomach are used to getting my mouth moving while I am bored. I'd like to think that I can make a better choice than that on my own.

At this point in the program I have a perfect record of recording meals. I am being completely honest about the things I eat and am looking forward to any insight that my coach can offer me about my food choices. Better stated, the food choices that I make when I am certain that Big Brother is watching me...but isn't close enough to smack the Butterfingers out of my hand.

Here's to being honest!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

So it begins....

Four score and twenty five thousand cheeseburgers ago...

It's a little embarrassing to admit but I just got smacked in the back of the head... with a digital scale. About three weeks ago I got an email from my insurance company. I thought it was just another email that said things like, "Did you know that by cutting down on soda you can be an easy way to blah blah blah...?" This one was different in a couple of ways. First, it didn't say anything about soda. Second, it said they were going to send me stuff...for free! Never one to shy away from free stuff I read on.

Turns out I was a candidate for a program that I had never heard about due to the numbers that come up on my medical record. All I had to do was answer a few questions and hit send and they would evaluate whether or not I would be a good candidate for the program. The more I read the more I liked. There would be a group of people going through the program with me. There would be a coach to help me find delicious alternatives to pizza and bacon cheeseburgers. (hopefully) Finally, as I mentioned before, they are going to send me stuff! I decided to give it a try.

About ten minutes later, I was sending in the answers to my questionnaire and promising to use the computer to log in a bit every day. "Thank you for your interest. We will get back to you soon if you qualify."  I had no sooner hit send than I got a reply saying that I was not only "in" but they were going to send my welcome kit and a digital scale that will transmit my weight cellularly to weight-loss headquarters, my computer, my cell phone, my fourth grade English teacher, that weird TV on the top of those new gas pumps, and the jumbo-tron in Times Square. It's too late now. I said I'd do it. I'm still in! You can't scare me! (although you notice I haven't mentioned what my weight is, here....yet) Baby steps. I can't help but think that there was a team of nutritionists back at Kaiser high-fiving and fist-bumping each other exclaiming, "We got him! Maybe now we won't have to include the percentage of country gravy present in his next blood-work results!"

Regardless of how it happened, I have agreed to abide by the requirements of the program and I am happy to have support all around me. I'll talk about the amount of support and how it shows at some of the more unfortunate times as we get further along in the program. I haven't quite figured out how I will report my progress. As I get closer to weights that resemble the stats of people and not barrels of pickles or mid sized SUV's I will surely divulge. It'll be nice to shock people with my starting numbers as I move along on this trek.

So here it begins. I have my shiny new scale (you can almost make out the head-shaped dent from where it smacked me) and a winning attitude that will carry me through this journey. I also hope to hang onto my self-deprecating sense of humor to take some of the edge off of rice cakes infused with a hint of honey and cinnamon. The program is 16 weeks long and I am just starting. I'm going to blog my way through this. No promises of daily updates, unless you live near the jumbotron, but I will try to be mostly on top of this particular activity to hold myself accountable. If nothing else it will be a good accounting of what caused me to lose my mind and wander the streets muttering, "Dr Pepper...I want a Dr Pepper!"


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Attack of the Gingerbread Men!

I find I am a bit nicer to people (especially myself) when I write, and I noticed the sign in our staff room Friday stating that I said I would do that (be nice to myself and write)...so here we go again. This morning I had another topic in mind, a good one, one that makes me laugh until I can't breathe, but since I am having respiratory distress already in the form of a slight cough, I do not want to risk it. Take heart, today's topic is still funny, in my opinion, but it only makes me cry a little at the corners of my eyes. I will have no need to contact my niece Danielle, the respiratory therapist.

It was so long ago that I think I may have been carrying Jacob in a backpack during this particular trip down memory lane. Since he stopped allowing me to do that just after he got out of high school (kidding) I'm going to say that this was about 17 years ago. Both the kids were little. Kristiana was about 3 and Jake was around 1 when we scooped up Sylvia's mom and went to Octoberfest. Before you inform the authorities that I am a bad parent because I would subject my kids to so much beer and OomPaPa music at such an impressionable age, I should let you know that this was not the stein-laden celebration in Munich. This was in Oakland...at an old folk's home. I know there are more politically correct terms to describe establishments such as these but this place was named, "Altenheim" and that translates almost literally to "old people home" so I feel justified.

Ruth, Sylvia's mom, has gotten the German paper for the bay area for years and she saw an ad for this event. We were off. Being married to a woman  (for 22 years yesterday) who's first generation American and whose parents both came here straight from Germany, I have been to my share of American Octoberfests. There is always food. There is always dancing. There is always a lot of German being spoken. There are a lot of wooden tables end to end where you just sit your group next to the other groups until it looks like there are two, maybe three families at the event when in actuality there are dozens. And there is always a lot of beer. I was sure today would be no different.

Today was different.

We went in to the facility and there was no music, dancing, or beer. I'm pretty sure there were German sausages and pretzels being sold off to the side which you ate while walking around. In the interest of brevity I will refrain from telling you my German sausage joke. Besides...it's the wurst.

Anyway....we realized immediately that this was not so much an Octoberfest as it was a fest that happened to take place in October. The truth was that this was a fundraiser for the facility and the funds were being generated by the selling of crafts and food that the residents had made. It was not noisy. It was not crowded. In fact, it was downright serene. No problem. Gears were shifted. Purpose was redirected. I cinched up my big boy backpack and started to look at crocheted ornaments and dish towels with buttons and loops sewn on so they could be hung on the handle of the oven. We were having a grand time. The kids were having an ok time since everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to say hi to, play with, and smile at our kids. We felt a bit like celebrities. (Don't worry...since it was a fundraiser I only charged five dollars for my autograph instead of my usual ten.)

One of the administrators noticed us and quickly found out that a) we were not ready to become residents any time soon, and b) that we hadn't come because we knew someone who lived there. She was thankful that we had taken the time to come to their event. She walked us around the building giving us a tour and a sense of her passion for her line of work. It really was a nice time. When we had seen much of the building and most of the crafts we said goodbye to our tour guide and made an appearance in the last room of goodies. Sylvia whispered, "It's a fundraiser. We really should buy something." We started the search.

It was difficult since we really didn't need doilies made from bottle caps or a ballerina whose handmade dress covered the extra roll of toilet paper that stands on the back of the tank. We did decide to buy some food that was being sold from a cafeteria window. Because, really, you can explain how the pretzels in the United States really aren't as good as the ones in Germany without actually buying one....but it's more convincing when you are holding an American one. Ruth bought a cup of hot apple cider in an official Altenheim commemorative mug. But mostly we were feeling cheap for not locating something to walk away with.

And then I saw it. The table with the sweet elderly woman selling gingerbread.

At this point I should point out to people who have never traveled to Germany that there is a special place in the hearts of Germans for their gingerbread. It is an art form all its own. There are even shops in some of the more touristy towns where they sell nothing but gingerbread. Thirty eight percent of the homes in Germany are even made of Gingerbread! (kidding) I didn't know this before Sylvia. I was young and foolish. When we were dating, Sylvia and her mom went to Germany over the summer. When they returned, and I picked them up at he airport, I was greeted by Sylvia actually wearing a decorated heart made of gingerbread around her neck. There are many sizes available in these shops ranging from gigantic to tiny and they are all decorated in a similar style...and all of the decorations are done in frosting! People give them as gifts and many of them last for years and years. The one Sylvia wore home, in my honor, said "du und mich" the German equivalent of "you and me" written in white frosting that was frozen in time and preserved in a plastic shrink wrapped cover. The only exposure to air was through the two holes poked in the cookie to house the red ribbon that would eventually hold it to the wall (after I got Sylvia to stop wearing it).

Now I say that I saw the table of the gingerbread...and it brought flooding back the memory of someone who loved me so much that she would wear a cookie on a 14 hour flight because she didn't want it to get broken in her luggage...but more importantly the kids saw the table and the cookies! We wanted to help the facility. The cookies brought back memories. The lady seemed nice. It was authentically German. The kids loved cookies. It was the perfect storm of consumerism! We let the kids pick their gingerbread and we walked away feeling better about ourselves.

And then one of the kids did the unthinkable. They asked if they could eat their cookie. What?!? Eat it? Don't you see that this is Santa Claus and it is supposed to hang on the wall forever? Don't you know that mommy wore a cookie home for daddy and that very same cookie is hanging on the corner of the cabinet next to our closet?! You remember it says "Du und Mich"...well it used to say that. All the frosting dried up years ago and now it looks like a heart shaped bowl of alphabet soup since the letters fell to the bottom of the plastic shroud that is protecting it! But that's not important right now. Eat it? You must be mad! Mad I tell you! Then Sylvia looked to me for back-up.

I try to support her in all things. I really really do. I explained that at this time, in the hallway of the Altenheim, after what was essentially a snooze fest of a day as far as the kids were concerned, I could give in to my Americanist ways. I said I thought it would be ok for the kids to eat their cookies. They weren't covered in plastic. It would be ok.

So the kids each bit off Santa's head. They were as happy as kids with a cookie as we continued to walk down the corridor toward the exit when Sylvia asked for a bite of the cookie. From behind me I hear, "Spit it out! Spit it out!" I looked in time to see Sylvia spitting her bite onto the floor. Then she knocked the cookies out of the kids' hands. Then she went digging in their mouths like she was expertly sweeping their mouths for Legos or broken glass or poisonous insects and dropping almost all of the offending cookie pieces onto the floor! I was shocked. I was confused. I think I said something stunning like, "....wha?....who...?....why....?....huh?" My noteworthy investigation was met with, "They're bad! The cookies are bad! They're rancid or something!" So I did what any red-blooded American man would do in the face of certain death. I tasted it for myself. It seemed fine to me. In fact, it tasted like the gingerbread cookies that Mom used to make. As we stood, stunned, over the mess we discussed the fact that Sylvia didn't really like the taste of ginger in anything so maybe that was what caused her reaction. Ya think?

And then, in middle of hallway of the Altenheim, in the hills of Oakland, amid the broken decapitated remains of pastry Saint Nick I made some revelations. First, Sylvia would step into the fray to save our children. Second, the rules of decorum, including the one about not spitting, yelling, and knocking cookies out of the hands of children go out the window if she thinks she'll have to clean up barf in the near future. And most important, Sylvia had used gingerbread as decorations, building material, and even jewelry...but she had never, not ever in her entire life, eaten a single piece of American gingerbread.