Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gag Me With a Blog!!

What's Crackalackin!?

There is a point to this post for totally, fer sure!

It would be bogus for me to barf you out by wasting your time on a most non egregious blog posting. I would hate for you to tell me to step off! I continue to strive for being a gnarly dexter while putting out these posts. Sometimes I am just overtaken with an idea and I start spazzing til I get the chance to write it down. And this one has me amped to the max!

It's not like when I was first sprung for Sylvia. Back then I didn't even try to write a blog. I know what you're thinking, "No doy!" Don't worry about offending me by telling me that I be illin. I'm down. My posse has been telling me that for years. You don't need to be harsh or anything.

And if any of you say, "Gag me with a spoon!"
I will simply reply, "Whatchu talkin bout readers!?"

I am not trying to offend anyone. I would hate for any of my 22 followers to say, "Later Days!"
That would be lame. I would be hosed if that were to happen. I will hold my tongue and not tell you to eat my shorts or get bent. That would be rude. You would motor away from me and my silly little blog most definitely.

I will try not to be mental when I write from now on. I would be mondo excited if you stuck around to see what other ideas come from me. There will be none that make you ralph or make you wig out. I would never try to dis you like that. Hopefully you think this post was schweet. Now I am gonna cool out and hope you realize how fantabulous this is.

Psych!! Big time!!

Let me give you the 411.
I have just traveled back in time and I didn't even need a hot tub to do it. What I did need was a youth director that has way more energy than me. But that is understandable since he was busy being born when I was graduating from high school. I mean Matt is totally tubular when it comes to finding rad ideas for the Youth.

When I walked into the "80s Dance Party" room I had to stop for a second. There was someone who had just walked out of an Olivia Newton John video. There were Crockets and Tubbs as far as the eye could see. They looked like they had a great time. But I don't have time to sit around and reminisce...

Later, I gotta bounce!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Heading For Fame and Fortune?

Today I wanted to take on what might be a sacred cow of pun intended...OK maybe it was intended a little bit. Today I want to ask a serious question that it seems a lot of people just seem to be accepting with no apparent reason at all. Every day I am confronted with this and every day I have to wonder, "Why?" I have a feeling this will be so shocking, so amazing that people will liken this blog post to the story about the boy who said that the emperor had no clothes (OK so I meant that a little'll see). I will most likely become rich and famous...but then, at least there will be a reason to point to. My question, you may want to sit down, is:

Why, exactly, are any of the Kardashians famous?

You may feel a bit uneasy and experience disorientation as the spell cast by the Internet and TV wears off, but I think the benefit will outweigh the risk. Following this revelation you will be able to walk by a People magazine without worry.

I know I try to be silly and exaggerate in my posts but I am totally and completely serious. I have no idea what any of these K people have done to benefit society. For the record, I don't count showing more skin than is required at most doctor visits as a benefit to society. To me, all of the stories about them have headlines about swimsuits or racy photo shoots. This K clan seems to be an industry of its own. I don't get it. I really don't!

I am not so interested in them as I am in why people seem so smitten with them. For a while Mary Kate and Ashley were in every magazine in the free world but they, at least, were cute on TV and made America laugh. Lance Armstrong has bursts of headlines, but he is known for working hard and becoming the best in his field. Donald Trump is also a headline magnet, but he has achieved a level of success in real estate and business that warrants a little attention. These K girls are a mystery to me. I thought about doing a Google search about them to see just what they had done to garner all of this attention but thought better of it.

This, you may or may not be surprised, reminds me of a story about Sylvia. My wife, who is wonderful and brilliant, has a peculiar trait that shows most when she is around technology. She is a teensy bit naive about certain things. Now allow me to explain, a lot, before I get smacked in the back of the head. Sylvia was the chair of the women's retreat for our church a couple of years ago. The retreat is a time when the women in our church get together and have a time together with a speaker to guide them for a weekend. The chair gets to decide the theme, the location, the speaker, and the symbol. Previous symbols had been a kite, a sailboat, and a chaise lounge. The theme for Sylvia's retreat was Jesus is the Living Water. The symbol was an ancient water carrying jar.

When we (yes "we" because when your wife is the chair you have work to do too) were searching for pictures of ancient water jars on Google we were getting a little frustrated. There were loads of pictures of jars in groups, on heads, with silly modern decorations, but there were precious few which looked as if they could have been used in ancient times and even fewer which were pictured alone. When I left the room to do something else for a moment Sylvia decided to try other ideas to get images for the retreat. At this point Sylvia decided to type in "pitchers" and some came up, and "water carriers" a few more, and finally "jugs." And that is when I walked back into the room. That's OK, I'll wait for ten minutes or so while you stop laughing. For those of you who are maybe not as computer savvy as the average person and didn't start laughing hysterically, let me explain. Think slang. You do NOT want to type "jugs" into the Google Search bar unless you want to be bombarded by images that leave "risque" far far behind! Sylvia knows

So I am still curious about just what makes this collection of people famous, but this experience will by why I am not going to search for anything relating to the Kardashians...from the things that I have seen without looking I expect that I would meet with the same result as when Sylvia typed "jugs" into the search bar. Wait a minute...I thought they looked famili...Nope, not gonna go there!

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Summer In California!

The smell of new-mown lawn. Barbecues being uncovered and fired up. Californians complaining because the heat has almost reached the triple digits and humidity is nearly 30%. Me, growing a beard to see how gray it has gotten over the last year. (much much more!) Fudge developing a case of separation anxiety and peeing all over the place because he thinks we are going to leave him here, but we never do. All of these are inevitable but there is one localized sign that it is summer and it is showing up just like the swallows to Capistrano idiot neighbor parking his car under my shade tree in front of the house. (so I got the wrong season for the birds, sue me)

I would apologize for using the word idiot but Yosemite Sam used it and nobody ever bugged him about it. Of course he also could shoot his guns at the ground and lift himself into the air so I am fairly certain people who can do that are not subject to discussions about being politically correct.

Back to my neighbor...he is an older gentleman. (Older and grayer than me but not old enough to use the "he just doesn't know" defense.) He is the type of neighbor that writers use in their books about crotchety old men who keep to themselves except to grumble at little kids who play near his house. He also has a routine. It is a very bizarre routine and it happens every day. I would say that it happens every day rain or shine but face it, I live in California.

Every morning he backs out of his garage to move approximately 200 feet to park in front of our door under our shade tree. Did you catch that? Pulls it out of his gaaarrraaaggge to park it under our tree. I could understand if he went for donuts and coming home didn't want to park in the garage. I could even understand if he was allowing someone to use his garage while his car was out. He doesn't go anywhere and visitors don't bring cars. At this point I should explain that this tree is like a bird condominium also. People don't usually park under permanent poultry port-a-potties if they know about it. I'm guessing he, and his car, knows. (Can I get an atta-boy for alliteration!)

This alone would be a blog-worthy story but it gets better. As you have no doubt learned in your science classes at school, shade does not stay in one spot forever. When neighbor guy has left his car there for a little while he comes across the street to move it. Would you believe me if I said that he moves it up a few feet to stay in the shade under the same tree? Of course not, that would be weird. He gets in, starts it up, makes a u-turn to park in front of our neighbor's house, and then gets out and walks across the street to his condo. Am I alone? Is this a bit off? I cannot for the life of me understand why he does this...especially because when he moves it from in front of our house he parks it where there is no shade whatsoever! Away from his garage, away from the shade, and to go nowhere in particular. I don't get it. (and I get things!)

Now is the time that I mention that his side of the street is completely full of trees and has shade most of the day! I mean there is no logic to it at all!

I should tell you (both of you who read this...hi mom!) that I care as much about this ding-a-ling parking in front of my house as I do about having to order hamburgers with pickles (I hate pickles) so the kids can take them. I'd rather not but it's not worth mentioning to cause trouble. It's a free country and it is a public street so he can pretty much park wherever he wants. Besides, we live on a corner so we have plenty of parking space. I also know that two of my neighbors who don't have as much parking area in front of their houses have told him that it is inconvenient for him to park in their spots. Yelling ensued...both times that I know about. (I used the word "ensued" deal here I come) I would hate to be the guy who is seen yelling in the street about something as trivial as a parking spot. I would rather observe and report and thank God that I don't have neighbors who steal our hubcaps, break bottles on our sidewalk, or call the police when a car has sat for the unthinkable 48 hours without moving...all of which have happened. This quirky gentleman is the least of my worries, it's just odd.

So we are enjoying our summer and we are enjoying watching this slightly OCD neighbor go through his routine. I just wish he had been there to shield my cars when we got egged the other night. Now if you'll excuse me...I need to go turn all the drinking glasses in the cabinet one quarter turn counter-clockwise.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Cry For Me...Kristiana

Well here I am on the first night of this road trip and Mark and I needed to pull in for the night. We've been having a good time talking for the thirteen hours we've been on the road. Mark, like me, is a storyteller. In case you haven't read my latest entry...I am going to a Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona with the missions pastor from our church. I do not (and this is kinda important to me that you understand) go on random road trips with guys named Mark. It's already bad enough that the borrowed van for the trip has a "DANCEMAKERS" license plate frame. Two guys in a mini van just doesn't say the same thing as two guys on Harleys. Nough said.

So after thirteen hours and checking into a hotel that wasn't completely booked, there were some, we went down to eat at a diner. As we sat there talking about trips we've taken, I told him a story about a trip Sylvia had taken. I figured this might be a good story for the blog. So here goes.

When Kristiana was just over a year old Sylvia's mom said that she would like to take Sylvia and Kristiana to Germany to meet the family. After weighing the pros and cons we went ahead and accepted the offer. I decided to load up on college credits and become "Mr. College" while they are away. I would move closer to graduation and it would keep my mind off missing them...I was half right.

In preparing for the trip Sylvia took a picture of me and put it into a very distinctive frame. It was gold colored with a heart outline around the picture. Nothing special but memorable. Sylvia planned on calling from time to time , having me talk to Kristiana, and showing her the picture of me while I talked to her. Good plan right? It worked just as we planned. Sylvia was gone for a few weeks, Kristiana charmed all of the German and Austrian relatives, and I had several one sided conversations with the newest love of my life. No problem...but Sylvia made me promise to never let her do that again.

Skip ahead about ten years (if this was a movie this would be where the calendar pages would flip, world event clips would play, and a musical montage showing progressively older pictures would flash across the screen) and we were clearing out a cabinet long forgotten. I saw the heart frame and pulled it out to show Sylvia.
"You remember this Hon?"
"Oh yes. Do you?" (She likes to check if I'm paying attention )
"Hey Kristiana come here!"
..."what do you need?"
"Do You remember this?" And I showed her the picture in the frame. She didn't answer, she didn't have time. She started bawling! Uncontrollable sobs. I asked her why she was crying and she said, "I don't know! I don't like that picture!"

Because of that I choose carefully when to be away from the family. This trip to check out the mission made the cut.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Road Trip!

I have been asked to go on a road trip with the Missions pastor at our church. We leave tomorrow morning to visit the Ganado Reservation in Arizona, near Gallup, New Mexico. We will be seeing if this might be a place our high schoolers might want to support it with a trip of their own. Our church has been going to Mexico for years to support ministries down there. It may be time to mix it up a bit. The need has not gone away, there are not insurmountable problems that have suddenly arisen, it is just nice to consider alternatives to the way it has been done in the past.

Reminds me of a military story about the outsider watching a flag ceremony. He asked why there was a man standing away from everyone with no discernible purpose. The person he asked had no idea so (long story...up the chain of command) and eventually found an old-timer who promised to tell why he was there. They all gathered together and listened as he whispered the answer, "He is there to hold the colonel's horse."
Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean that it should always be done that way.

So this trip was presented to me as such an opportunity. I asked about this place and Mark, the pastor, said, "It used to be a mission but the missionaries were butchered and killed." SO I have that going for me.

I just hope, if I make it back un-butchered, that I am not given a different name...mine would probably be Argues with Cats! We'll see.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Teacher Dream? Already!?

Teachers are a funny group. We are the worst audience you ever want to have (good thing principals don't put adults in detention). We are hopelessly, helplessly, drawn to careers where they pile money upon money upon money at your feet and never make you spend any of your own on your classroom. (did you know having your tongue in your cheek that far can actually hurt?) We also, almost unanimously, have what I call "teacher dreams." They can range from harmless to frightening but we all have them. I had my first one of the summer last night, and I am not happy!

Normally, since Sylvia and I are both teachers and the kids are both students, we take off in our camper to explore the country. We have been to 28 states and most of the time we have very definite plans about where to go. It typically goes something like:
"Where do you want to go this year?"
"I don't know. We haven't been north yet."
"OK, north it is."

Reservations? What's that? Destination? Somewhere else. Jake, when he was four, used to tell people who asked him where we were going next, "Wherever the wind takes us." True story. He would probably say it now, too, but it was really much cuter when he was four. If we haven't seen it, we're game. If we have, and we loved it, let's go again. The Corn Palace...been there, once. Yellowstone...been there, four times! And about Yellowstone, one thing you should know about travelers to places like that is they are almost all friendly. It's great! Wide open, no lines, having a difficult time at one place and you can get literally miles away from whatever the trouble is and still be in the park. These are things that, if they were instituted at Disneyland, would make it truly the happiest place on Earth. (and would not compel rational people to swear)
I love the house of the mouse, don't get me wrong, but for our money we can see so much more when we go for distance. (if my loyal readers wanted to fund a special trip I would promise to write about what I saw. For that matter, I would be happy to write about the Caribbean, Hawaii, Australia, or just about any other place....ow! there goes my cheek again)

So as I was saying about people being friendly, loads of people will talk to you wherever you go. One of the most common questions is, "Where ya from?" When we say California a typical follow up is, "Oh! You are near Yosemite! Kids, don't you love Yosemite!?" To which they get this quizzical look on their faces and turn to us and say, "Have we been to Yosemite?" "Umm, no kids. But you have been to the Doll Museum!" (I am happy to report that we finally have taken our poor deprived kids to Yosemite...last year...because we got tired of being embarrassed)

The further we are from home the larger the area we live. If we are in Yosemite the answer to the 'where ya from' question is, "The Bay Area." If we are in Buffalo New York the answer is, "California." A few times we have met people who have narrowed our answer down from near San Francisco, to between San Jose and Oakland, to then say "I used to live in Fremont." Oh! Us too! But not often. Once I was talking to an elderly lady from here originally who said, "Did they ever finish that freeway they were putting through there?" "Umm, Yeah. As long as I've been there it was finished." (Didn't have the heart to say longer than I have been alive.)

Another regional 'where ya from' response has to do with our entire state. In Kansas, or any of the Tornado Alley states really, when people hear that we are from California they say, "Ooh! Earthquakes! How can you live there?"

"Oh, I don't know. The temperate climate, the lack of humidity, the ability to drive from the beach to the snow in a few hours, it's tough."

"Not me. I could never."

At this point, if people really feel the need to continue, sarcastic Jeff comes out to play. I know, I know, hard to believe but true. I then ask them to compare notes on difficulties. I explain that sure, we have earthquakes, but we don't have weekly tests to make sure our earthquake sirens are working. Earthquakes don't cause cows to fly through the air (don't look up!). And most importantly, We DO NOT have a natural disaster SEASON every year! That's it, two points, nothing but net! Never works though, I guess we handle what we can handle and that's that.

Wait, what was I talking about?

I got a little sidetracked there, no apologies, just want to explain why you may be feeling a bit disoriented. I started out talking about teacher dreams. There is a connection, really! You see we always travel and travel with not too much concern about where's and when's (I know I am REALLY on vacation when a clerk says, "We only do that on Wednesday." and I have to say, "Great! What day is it today?") As I was saying...we could be literally anywhere in the country and one thing determines when we start to head back. My teacher dreams. When I start having dreams about the classroom not being set up, kids and parents waiting for me to get my act together, and for some reason Benjamin Franklin is playing the banjo ('s the kazoo), we start for home. I wish I knew what it meant when I start having "the dream" before we have actually gone anywhere...and where can I buy a kazoo?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crack Kills

Did you ever notice how certain things happen all at one time? They say that Hollywood loses celebrities in threes. When something goes wrong with one car, it seems that our other car feels neglected and wants some monetary attention. When "somebody's" wife brings home a new set of carpets for the bathroom, it turns into new paint, new fixtures, and new carpet in the hall outside the door. (not that this has ever happened to me...but I've heard about it) And the thing that is happening right now throughout our extended family is somebody has tipped the first of the plumbing dominoes.

It all started when Sylvia's mom went to Germany. There's nothing like going to another continent for two months to make your house want some attention. Leaving her house unattended for 8 weeks wasn't Ruth's recipe for peace of mind so someone is staying there for her. The day she left for the airport was the day her friend came to stay. It was also the same day that her friend called us to say that there was water pouring out of the water heater cabinet. We were only out of the state for a few days at the time so our house luckily didn't feel too neglected....yet.

Since she was out of the country, we were out of the state, and it was fourth of July weekend so plumbers were walking around with triple sets of dollar signs in their eyes, we were exceptionally lucky to have my dad come to the rescue. He worked it out so the house had water but none of it was the least bit warm. Luckily for everyone concerned Ruth's friend has a marvelous sense of humor and tenacious survival skills so managing until we got back into town was merely an inconvenience.

After a series of disappointing Ruth-remote-directed phone calls to programs for seniors who help with the cost of repairs and even installation, my dad and I hit the stores to find and pay for a new water heater ourselves. The kid at the register asked for ID for the check we used but accepted mine...even though I don't look anything like Ruth. At this point I would like to take a moment to reveal a pet peeve of mine. The object involved is a water heater not a hot water heater. If the water is already hot there is no need to heat it. OK, I feel better. After using the emergency signed check that Ruth left we drove away with a brand new hot wa... I mean water heater. It took us most of an afternoon to take out the old, install the new, and make operational a new 50 gallon water heater.

It was funny working on this project with my dad. Even though I made a lot of the purchasing decisions, we used my tools, I drove the truck to get everything, and I even have kids of my own...there were still times when I felt like my ten-year-old self handing Daddy tools as I looked on. Even though it was messy heavy work there were times when it was kind of fun. Of course there was the requisite time when Dad sent me to find something to help finish the next part of the job. When I came back with my contribution, he had already figured it out. I'm guessing he uses secret powers and he doesn't want me to see him in his cape.

After hooking up water, gas, and firing it up, we started filling it up. The trick is to open the tub's hot water faucet when filling the 50 gallon tank. It lets the air leave the system as the tank fills up. As water lines sit idle things settle. These things shake loose when water is introduced again and the resulting water that spews out at first ranges from dark coffee to weak tea for the first few minutes. If you are saying "Eww!!" then try not to think about all the things that are in your water pipes that are not getting flushed'll sleep better.

So at this point we have everything working, we've waited long enough for the water to be leaning toward hot, and I decide to check all the faucets. I wanted to be the one who got spit on when the air in the pipes burst through. This is when problem number two happened. Bathroom number one? Fine. Bathroom number two? Aces. (No bathroom puns intended...which is highly uncharacteristic for me) Kitchen faucet...running. Turn it off. Still running. Jiggle jiggle....still running. OH COME ON! Still running. Unbeknownst to us, but knownst to her friend, it had been dripping for a long time and she didn't really expect it to last that long. Who knew that it would last precisely three days longer than her water heater? I tell you, somewhere Murphy is laughing his butt off! (You know, anything that can go wrong...)

So anyway, I let my dad off the hook and I put the new faucet in the Ruth's kitchen myself. After a second trip to the store to pick up parts that were left out of the packaging it is working like new...because it is. And now I get to take the second kitchen faucet we bought and install it at our house. You guessed it...drip drip drip...and NO, I am not available for side jobs! Does anybody know where I can get pants that dip low on the backside?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Right Place, Right Time

Here is photographic evidence that I am the luckiest camera snapping guy on the planet. I was walking down to meet Sylvia and the girls at the lake and this leaf happened to fall right in front of me into the water. I noticed that it had a drop of dew on it so I snapped a shot. I think it came out pretty darn nice for a kindergarten teacher on vacation.

I have always enjoyed taking pictures and it seems that some pictures I take create the photographic equivalent of miniature fireworks. "Oooh....Ahhhh....That one turned out nice." I like that. I like when a shot comes out nicely. With the advent of digital pictures I am able to take hundreds of pictures to get a few worthy shots but it's nice when it happens. Of course I use the "Dug" the talking dog method of preparing for a shot. You know, "I am walking to the water. I have a camera. I am wearing shoes. I just met you, but I lov....LEAF!" (instead of squirrel) If you don't get the reference for this, I suggest you see rent some kids (we lease, with an option to buy) and see the movie UP!, it's a pretty darn good movie.

Whenever I walk around with my camera (my camera = a present FOR Sylvia on our last anniversary...I think it was a month before she was able to pry it from my hands to take a picture) what was I talking about? Oh yeah, whenever I walk around with our camera I picture myself as Ansel Adams taking pictures for the ages, documenting America, setting up a shot and waiting for days until the lighting is just right....wait, what? Days? Lighting? If Ansel Adams had an extreme case of ADHD, wished they would invent a pill that would give you SPF 1000 protection and air-conditioned clothing, and was afraid of bees, then I would be like him....without the pictures worthy of books. Not sure ole' Ansel would have made it to stardom if he started breakdancing whenever he heard a buzzing sound.


"Dear journal,

I have been on this mountain with my camera set up for three days. The weather is frightfully cold but I think the moonrise over Half Dome will be quite spectacular tonight. I have studied the weather patterns and astronomical charts and realize that tonight will be the night to have the picture I have been thinking about for three years. Last night was nearly as spectacular as I have imagined but with the passing of one more day I know that the millimeter the moon moves to the right tonight will make it ever so much more special. I did not even bother to take a picture that I fear would have been substandard. I have prepared months ahead of time and I have provisions enough, but I fear that I may never feel my toes again. Tis a small price to pay to achieve my dream. Ah, the time is fast approaching and I fear that I may miss my opportunity...I have only three hours to prepare. Away with me for now."


"Dear journal,

I am walking. Those people are laughing at my hat. I have the camera with me. This strap itches. Bee! Oops. Hope Sylvia didn't see me bump the camera. Hey it took a picture. I wonder if I can go back to the air conditioned trailer yet. I hate when sand goes in my sandal. Is there any ham left?"

Do you not see the comparison? It's like we're twins!

These are two more shots from our last trip. This is Fudge, the wonder dog, doing one of his favorite activities. (next to sneaking up behind people and laying down at their feet so they trip when they try to leave) Kristiana might say that Fudge is one of my favorite photgraphic subjects. I just like that he doesn't stop and pose whenever I point a camera at him. I am a candid sort of guy. That is why most of my pictures of Sylvia are from the side and slightly to the back of her head. I like to catch her when she is just turning around with her natural smile. I could look at that smile all day long. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with her.

There's one more picture I just have to show you. More to prove that I wasn't lying than to say it's what I would call a good picture. I mentioned before that I vacationed on Snake Island and "christened" it in my own special, personal, sort of way. Well those snakes were imaginary I'm sure. This is just one of the many snakes we saw on this week we spent in the Oregon state park. When they put up signs that say, "Beware of Snakes" they aren't kidding! At last count we saw four rattlers and one garter.

Anyway, I just wanted to take a minute to share a few pictures from our last trip. There were a few pictures of people that were in the "ooh....ahhh...." category, but I didn't want to add those without their permission. Besides, who would want to see a picture of Cameron Diaz being carried into the forest by Bigfoot?

And by the way...I am about to land a 52 pound trout!! The line is not caught on an underwater log and I did not use the opportunity to pretend that I had a fish. That would just be sad!

Monday, July 5, 2010

But I Live in the Suburbs!!

Happy Fourth of July! I know, I know, I'm a little late. It sounds a lot better than saying Happy Fifth of July. I wanted to celebrate with friends and family and not get into trouble for sitting at the computer. But mostly it was to spend time with the family. Also, had I written yesterday I would not have been able to tell you all about the exciting time we all had right here in downtown Newark.

We live in a town that has banned fireworks in a most spectacular way. We used to be able to have the typical "Safe and Sane" fireworks that could be sold to just about anyone who had cash. I remember riding my bike to the various stands around town with pocket change and walking away with a small bag of incendiary treasures. Smoke bombs, piccolo Petes, Ground bloom flowers, sparklers that seemed to be as long as your arm and on metal rods that glowed red when they were done, and enough snakes to fill an auditorium to the brim with lighter than air ash. My friends and I would use all of these up before we got anywhere near the fourth. And then we would all go over to the lake and watch the display put on by the city on the night of the fourth. It was fairly easy to get hold of "the other" kind of fireworks and everyone "knew a guy" who had them for sale. For the sake of my kids reading this...I never purchased, handled, saw, knew about, altered, redesigned, blew up, or otherwise experimented with any of "those" kinds of fireworks. (If you believe that, I am selling a rather nice Atlantic oceanfront bungalow in Nevada!) In reality, I am really lucky that all of my friends and I didn't get nicknames like, Lefty, Fingers, and The Recently Deceased. It was a different time.

At the end of this entry I will tell you about my favorite back-east story involving fireworks and, yes, an uncle.

Well our town and all of its fireworks seemed to be getting along well and making huge amounts of money for any organization who wanted to run a booth. And then our mayor's lawn got a little scorched by an illegal bottle rocket. His solution? Ban legal fireworks. But he sold the idea to the city by saying, "We still do a wonderful job of entertaining the entire city with our celebration at the lake." Everybody bought it. I was mad. I saw the writing on wall. And then it happened. It took a couple more years but it happened. The city decided that too many people were coming to the lake and it was unsafe to continue having the show. So now we live in the darkest spot of land in the California on July 4th. I am sure there are more factors involved but this is what it looked like to an interested citizen. If I seem a bit bitter about how this all happened, you have marvelous reading comprehension skills.

So now we risk life and limb to travel to the next city over to light fireworks at my mother-in-law's house, or like this year, a friend's house. Even though I wholeheartedly disagree with our city's decision to ban all fireworks I am vehemently opposed to Fremontonians going over to Newark's parking lots to light fireworks and then leave a mess. We always manage to find somewhere to burn a hundred dollars worth of gun powder in a legal way. (It's probably about four dollars worth of gun powder that is repackaged into a box labeled a hundred dollars.) Last night was no exception. Sylvia's mom is out of town in Germany so we got the opportunity to accept a long standing 4th of July invitation to our friends' house. A good time was had by all.

Our friends bought fireworks, we bought fireworks, and then they had surprise guests come visit...and guess what? They brought fireworks too! At this little get-together we had three times (I almost said thrice to impress the would-be publishers but who am I trying to kid) our normal amount of sparkly things. Even with our unusual overabundance we paled in comparison to the groups down the street. We noticed them right away. While we were watching various colors of sparks spew out in perfectly sedate and serene and sane you could say...the neighbors were the epitome of dumb and dangerous. In the middle of a neighborhood, and seemingly through trees, this group was shooting off aerial displays that lasted long enough for the police to get there. In fact the police were on this street constantly last night. Once they took a cache of fireworks from the group nearest us, that caused their party to end.

The group further down the road did not go gently into that good night. They had boxes set up in the middle of the road and if cars came down the street they would flag them to stop with a flashlight so they could light their minutes long displays. The last car they stopped with their flashlight was an unmarked police car. Dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn. (or dum dum dum DUMMMMMMMMMB) It was a beautiful display but it was punctuated by flashing patrol car lights, and then yelling. And then there were more flashing lights. More yelling. Even more flashing lights. Even more yelling. Now the police were blocking the street with more than just a flashlight. More yelling. SHOTGUNS! Check please. All told there were 13 police cars and too many shotguns to count trying to get these belligerent ding-a-lings to give up the fireworks and go back into the house. Thirty minutes later they decided that the police had had enough fun and went back inside. We continued to set off our mini ooh and tiny ahh producing fountains well into the night.

When all we had left was a smoldering pile of spent cylinders and the kids had gone to play inside Bob and I started to clean up the street in front of his house. From down the street we hear, (forgive the language) "I'm gonna kill you bitch! I'm gonna kill you brother! I'm gonna KILL you mother [Teresa]!!" (I do have limits). Bob says, "GUN GUN GUN call 911" and I ran into the house to call 911. Never mind that this family has phones everywhere! Decorative Ma Bell looking things hanging in the kitchen. Since I didn't know how to hold the earpiece to my ear, put my mouth to the cone on the wall, and turn the crank on the side to reach 911, I kept looking. This was my first time calling 911 from a house and I am hoping it will be my last. We stayed inside quite a bit after that and finally got home around midnight. Needless to say it was an adrenaline laden night.

Now about my uncle and his attempt to entertain us when we were kids in Kentucky. My uncle is a rather oversized child who took full advantage of the anything goes fireworks sales back there. He had bottlerockets that would have carried Buzz Lightyear into orbit, but he also decided that the kids should be able to do some of the tiny bottlerockets too. If you have never seen them, they look like tiny little paper tubes that are stuck to spindly little sticks of wood. Picture half of a skinny cigarette taped to a long sliver of wood...with a fuse. The stick is to guide it (sort of) up after placing it in a bottle as a launch pad, thus the name. Another important part of the design is to place them in the bottle one at a time!

After shooting all of the big ones over the dry lake bed it was getting a little tedious for my uncle while we shot off our little things one at a time. He took a single package of our little ones and said, "Watch this!" The little ones come 12 to a pack all wrapped together in a bundle with the sticks wrapped together at the bottom. It looks like it was designed to be set into a bottle all at once. Looks like but isn't!

Well my uncle unwrapped the top so they were loose and left the bottom together so the would all fit into the bottle together. He then turned up his Bic lighter so the flame was as high as it would go. He held it sideways and s l o w l y moved along the fuses to light them all at the same time. The problem arose when the little slivers the bottlerockets were tied to burned faster than the fuses. All 12 of the projectile explosives hit the ground, without their guiding sticks, with lit fuses. I personally didn't know that my family could move that fast, and I also figured that I would probably fit under a car but I hadn't tested it...yet. It was fifteen seconds of bedlam while all twelve of these crazy devices shot out and exploded all around our whole family. My immediate family was unscathed. My uncle? Oh, Lefty's just fine.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Memories...Like a Campground in My Mind

While camping this year I have been reflecting on some of my past trips as a child. Now before you say,"But Jeff, it's hard to picture you as a child. You are so mature, dignified, and poised." Let me assure you I was once a youngin'.

It's funny what triggers certain memories from childhood. This year I have so many triggers aiming at me I feel like I'm the lead in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

Trigger number one, as always, is camping itself. Camping and traveling in a camper were my family's standard vacation. It was a given. We had a third-hand boat we bought from my uncle and that added a bit to some of the trips. Any of our family within driving distance would come and camp together. Cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, as far as the eye could see. Of course I couldn't see very well, I desperately needed glasses but didn't realize it til junior high.

Second trigger "kapwing!" (That's my attempt at a richochet sound effect) is all of these warning signs. Warning signs are fairly common at campsites. In Yosemite,"Do not feed the wildlife." In Yellowstone, "Be bear aware." In Niagara Falls, "Stairs are extremely slippery." In southern California, "Angelina Jolie may try to adopt your kid!" In northern california,"Beware of the guy from the deep south who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to pee on his camper as your daughter and her friend walk by." Wait, there wasn't a sign for that, but there should have been. Signs are everywhere!

We aren't too concerned about most of the signs, generally, until we came to our usual spot here in Oregon. As we drove in we saw a "Beware of snakes" sign on the entrance. Well that's new! No big deal though. Can you say it with me? "They are more scared of us than we are of them."

Then we drove fifty feet into the campground...again, "Beware Of Snakes!" Hmm, that's unusual. As we drove past the bath house, "We're not playin'! Beware of Snakes!" As we rounded the corner to pull into our site, "Didja ever see Snakes on a Plane? It's kinda like that!" OK, I may have made up one or two of those signs but you get the idea. And there really were a large number of snake signs.

I've been a camper for years. Seen many snakes. Even been followed by a snake when I carried a lantern around. My sister had a huge Burmese rock python named Reggie that I held more times than I can remember. We even saw one on this trip. No problem, snakes do not bother

My third trigger for the camping memory was a giggle laden discussion about how girls need a "facility" where boys just need a tree. True, somewhere in the Sierras is a patch of snow with my son's name. Proud dad over here.

I told you all of that so could tell you this story. A long time ago, on one of our family trips, everybody was there. We were camping at a lake, with our boat, and it was "rustic". For the uninitiated that means, not a lot of bathrooms. You could hike to them from your campsite, provided you are sure you can find your way back. That also means that when you take the family to an island in the middle of the lake there is absolutely no chance of finding a bathroom there. That is the place that my uncle decided we should spend the day. An exceptionally hot day.

Aside from the lack of bathrooms let me describe it for you. Imagine an oversized dump truck spilling a humongous load of jagged rocks in the middle of the lake. So many rocks that the pile breaks the surface of the lake and reaches toward the sky. No vegetation, just sharp rocks and me, wearing flip-flops. This is the point in the story where I need to admit that I am flip-flop impaired. I have never mastered the skill of walking in them and usually end up with some sort of injury. For some reason that little deal between your toes acts like a pivot and the part my heel is supposed to touch almost never does. It is not an exaggeration to say that I hate flip-flops.

So now we have the slagheap, my whole family, no bathrooms, and the sun beating down on us like it had a personal vendetta against us. All of which I can deal with, begrudgingly. And then we add my cousin Tom to the mix.

Tom is an awesome guy who was way more adventurous than I'll ever be. He also knew more about the outdoors than I did at that point in my life. He felt the need to impart some of this knowledge onto me. What did he choose to teach me on this day on that island?

"Hey Jeff. This is the perfect place to find snakes!"

Great! So now I have that going for me.

Then he adds, "Yeah, there are snakes under all these rocks."

I am now thinking, good thing I'm sure-footed in these flip-flops! Wouldn't want to disturb the jagged rocks here on Snake Island.

And then it happened. It's the same mechanism in the body that makes you laugh when you are at church and need to scratch your nose when you're hands are covered in nasty smelling muck. Apparently when you are on Snake Island with jagged rocks, no bathroom, and no hope of need to pee.

"Uncle Dick?" (driver of the boat and dad of Tom) "I need to go to the bathroom."
"Well, go over the top of the hill."
"That's OK. I'll wait."
"We'll be here a while. Just go over the hill to the other side of the island."

I resigned myself to my fate and began the tortuous climb to the other side of the island. It was ten minutes of step, trip, wobble, jab a toe on a rock, expect instant death, step, get the idea. As I got to the top of the mountain (mountain = I could throw a rock across the whole pile of rocks) I decided if I was going to fall off my shoes, split my head open on a rock, and be poisoned by a snake, I at least wanted someone to find the body.

I dropped trou' and started to go. I was facing away from the group, of course, but as I went about my "business" my uncle happened to look up. The way he described it, after he stopped laughing, was something like Superman standing on top of the building during the opening credits of the TV show. Elbows bent, hands on hips, cape blowing in the breeze. My uncle felt that I was making a statement about the world in general and when to this day,he tells the story, well let's just say he needs to pee. In reality I was just hoping to get back in the boat as soon as possible , without being bitten by a black Mamba, King Cobra, or any other imaginary North American Snakes.

So there you have it. A memory remembered while I build memories with my own kids. By the way, after I started writing this entry, we saw four rattlesnakes at our camp. Good times!!

Shoulda Known

Apparently I, as always, am way behind the curve technologically speaking. I could never get the silly phone to accept text. Not a problem until you are trying to write text.

Here's where I stand. We are hours away from picking up Jake and his friend from ranch camp
Then we are at a site with internet. If I can keep the girls away from their face book I have a post ready to go.

Thanks for checking in.

P.S. Sylvia is OK with me doing this on vacation because she knows how happy it makes me...but mostly because she also happens to be asleep. Along with the rest of the world.

P.P.S. four rattlers!