Saturday, January 29, 2011

"V" and the Chinese Acrobats

It is not a closely guarded secret, but it is also not something I use as a conversation starter, Sylvia and I are not having any more children.  To a medical certainty.  I will try to be "v"ery discrete about the reason that I am sure.  I don't want to "v"iolate anyone's sensibilities.  I also wouldn't want anyone to think that I employ con"v"oluted de"v"ices to introduce ideas in my blog.  (ok, even I think that last one was a little forced)

Yes, for reasons that are far too personal to discuss, we decided that we would accept the blessings of two children and no more.  Or as I like to put it, "Girl, Boy, Cat, Dog, done."  And, being the learned people that we are, we found out that "it is far easier on the man than it is on the woman."  That may be true but I have to tell you, the operation (I call it the big V) was no cake walk.  And I now have a special compassion for male puppies that go under the knife...the poor things.

Since I am not a doctor, but I will play one in the movie about my blog...Howie Mandell will play me...I don't want to go into the specifics of the procedure.  I also am not, listen to this women, not the guy to send your spouses to when you want someone to talk about how "it's no big deal". I have only one thing to say about that, "ouch."  Well, ouch and "I didn't realize there were vise grips involved in the procedure."

But, believe it or not, that is not what I wanted to write about today.  I would actually like to talk about the events directly after the procedure.  This is where it gets good....

I would like to explain that I carefully planned this procedure.  I took one day off work, I rested during the weekend, and was going to work the next Monday.  No problem.  The doc said there were people who had "it" done and finished working their shifts on the loading docks.  The doc was then taken away in a funny looking very long-sleeved jacket laughing maniacally while asking if Walter Cronkite knew what the frequency was.  I would like to say, men, if you are contemplating this, bags of frozen peas are your friends.  Stock up.  By Monday morning I was able to limp and wince my way to work.  I'm a teacher after all, I can sit right?  (my teacher readers know how hilarious that last statement was) And after all, there was an assembly.  That means I get to watch the kids while they watch some performers, minimal stress.  I'm going in.

The day went smoothly enough.  Morning routine.  Check.  Reading.  Check.  Going to assembly.  Check.  "What are we going to watch Mr. Garrett?"
"I think it is the Chinese acrobats.  We'll see."

Sure enough, the acrobats started doing a clever little juggling thing.  Great.  Then they balanced on a board that was balanced on a can.  Clap clap clap.  Then one of them did a weird kind of splits that I felt all the way in the back of the room.  OooooOooo.  (that made me hurt)  Another one rolled out a barrel and contorted herself into it...while bending at the waist.  I had to look away.  Then the leader of the group explained that one of their members was in the Guinness Book Of World Records for something.  Ooooh, ahhhhhh.  Apparently, there is a category for people who ride on unicycles, balance bowls on their heads, balance other bowls on their toes, and then high kick them up spiraling through the air so they land in a stack on the head bowl.  (it's an obscure record to be sure)  This woman was the best at it, and she showed her stuff.  She mounted the unicycle and then high kicked about ten bowls up to her noggin, to the obvious delight of a gymnasium full of children.  Applause applause applause..."well that's our show...but wait!  (uh oh)  I think you might want to see more!"
"Do you want to see a teacher do this?"
For this next sentence you need to read in a very deep, very slow motion voice...kind of like the "forever" scene in the movie Sandlot.


This is where I break into a cold sweat.  I have never, and I mean never, been at a school assembly where I was not the "volunteer."  I have held giant snakes, been the dupe in a mad scientist sketch, held props for a magicians, and even been smacked in the face with a cream pie.  There's just something about a six foot three man in a room full of four foot children that makes him stand out.  I start to think, will they try to get me, and my freshly healing personal wound, onto a unicycle and that torturous seat?  They wouldn't.  I don't think I would fit into that barrel standing straight upright, let alone bent in half.  That's out.  Will I need to balance a bowl on my head?  What about that high kick?  High kick?  Are you serious?!  Heck!  I am not even sure I can manage to negotiate the six steps to get up on the stage!  "Maybe they won't pick me." never entered my brain.  I was going up.  It was now a matter of how foolish they wanted me to be.

Balance and high kick it was.  The next few minutes went by very quickly.  He balanced things on my head and then put a bowl on my toe.  I was desperate for a chance to clue him in about my tender spot and limited mobility.  Due to his thick thick accent, I thought there might be a language barrier anyway.  And he had a microphone clipped to his shirt.  I could just see me leaning in to whisper something to him and then hearing my own deep voice over the school's loudspeakers..."vasectomy."  Wouldn't be my first choice.  I'd hate to have to move to the Himalayas.  I just wasn't going to be able to warn him while I was on the stage.  SO there I was standing in front of the entire student body, balancing a bowl on my head and another on my toe, all the while trying to determine how high I could kick without needing to be taken away in an ambulance.  Luckily, being known as the goofy teacher around the school helped me get away with sort of pushing the bowl off my toe, sliding it off the stage, and landing it in the audience.
"I guess he will need to work a little harder if he wants to be in the world record book.  Right kids?!"

Uproarious laughter!

I limped down to my class and managed to make it through the rest of the day without any more physical challenges to my secret place.  When I got home I kissed Sylvia, I hugged Kristiana and Jake, and thanked God for His sense of humor...and bags of frozen peas.

Monday, January 24, 2011

S.E.C. and Me

I would be willing to bet that this has happened to you.  Picture this.  Standing in line (bank, store, amusement caviar and gold ingot line at the country club...whatever) and something happens.  It doesn't matter what it is, just something out of the ordinary. And then it occurs.  The Shared Experience Conversation, or SEC for short.  Not to be confused with the Security Exchange Commission which will just have to change their name for the sake of the common good.  I'm sure more people have had these conversations than have understood what the other SEC is doing.  I have a feeling they are just a fraternity prank that has gone horribly wrong.  But I digress...

You've all seen it and been part of it at some point in your lives, but until now it has not been given a name.  You know the signs.  It all starts with a collection of people.  How many times have you been in line at the grocery store when there aren't enough lanes to help everyone?  Once?  Ok, I can continue.  Then the person at the front of the line has an issue, real or doesn't matter, it's an issue...SEC.  They announce that the movie you have been waiting in line to see is sold out until the midnight showing...SEC.  You get up and gather with a group of parents in the freezing cold at 5:30 because there was a rumor that they had a shipment of Wii game systems the week before Christmas...SEC.  You can sense it.  There will be a delay.  And then it occurs.  People start to pivot their necks, eyebrows raised. eye contact is made, perhaps a shrugged shoulder, it is inevitable...positive or negative...someone will say something.

"They never have enough checkers."
"They have all of the spaces at the window but there are no tellers."
"I can't believe I am doing this...can you not feel your toes either?"
"Is it me or is that DMV worker actually walking backward?"

I would like to point out that I am not prepared to talk about DDS (Dumbass Driver Syndrome) at this point even though there are similar characteristics.  When people at a stoplight need to collectively slam on their brakes because one more clown speeds through a red light...DDS.  When you have waited in the long offramp lane on the bumper to bumper freeway and someone speeds down the shoulder to jump in at the last possible moment...DDS.  This I will need to save for a future posting.

Trying to be the nice, forgiving, and extremely introverted soul that I am, When faced with SEC I usually shrug and nod and try to give a look that says, "I feel your pain" or even, "I'm with you."  I'm not one to initiate the conversation, usually, since I have been in these workers' shoes before, and I always hated it when people complained about things that were out of my control.  But someone always falls victim to the effects of SEC and they are usually right next to me...I must have one of those faces.

My face, and the contents of my shopping cart, spurred an attack of SEC just last night. Jake and I were in Safeway to pick up a few things for a dinner we are making for a new mom, and we were waiting to check out when someone's bag of sugar sprang a leak. The checker called for a replacement bag, the customer started the the payment process, and the person ahead of me got a case of SEC induced swivel neck. When he turned my way he looked down into our cart and said, "I didn't know they had that here."
"Uh huh."
"Oh you have to be careful. Did you know what's in that? They do this and then that and then everything good is gone and everything bad remains. Its shocking to think. Its terrible, its awful, same as rat poison, you're gonna die."

I'm paraphrasing of course but you get the idea. And I am purposefully not telling you what the offending item was.  But let me say that everyone, I mean everyone, has had it at one point in their lives.  When I just nodded and smiled he continued.

"The zimafram from the waxamoop has too much zifflemix for the kooklafran and I hear the gradimenters are too ploscitudinal for the body to absorb."

Even though I knew better than to encourage him, I said, "Really?"

"Yeah, it's shameful."

Nothing was happening up front at the register..."oh?"

And then he came in with his closer..."Yup, everyone should be living to about two hundred years old but because of all this, that "they" are doing, it is keeping us from living that long."

"200?  Hmm.  That's something else."  (when I was thinking...I have seen some 100 year olds in my day...Wouldn't want to do another hundred years of that.)

By now the sugar bag had been replaced, line started moving, and the doctor (I can only assume) paid for his large bottle of some sort of alcoholic beverage (seriously), and walked away.  I think I know why his life expectency is not going to be in the 200s.  Oh well, live and let live. 

When he was gone, Jake came out of hiding from behind me and I tried to pay for my things as quickly as possible so the people behind me didn't start talking about my food selections as well...or felt the need to have a Shared Experience Conversation concerning my newest friend...I do have that kind of face.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You Smell That?

It feels like I haven't written in a month.  I haven't had a reader from Slovenia in about a week!  I need to get back to writing! Well, actually it was yesterday.  It only seems like longer.  I think my cheese may be slipping off of its cracker.  (well a nice aged Camembert would sit comfortably above a multi grain stone ground baked wafer...but I digress) 
I was trying like mad last month to write as often as I could, during the Christmas break from teaching, and I was able to write almost every morning but, whew, did it make me tired.  Not the actual typing...I'm not that out of shape.  "Yes doctor, I typed 20 words a minute for an hour.  I'm spent!  Does that count as cardio?"  No, the reason that I was worn out is that I have sort of promised myself that I wouldn't take away from family time to write.  Before you start saying, "Awwww, that's so sweet....I think Bill Cosby should play him in the movie they make about his life." let me stop you.  I am not always able to keep that promise.  And sometimes, when I've gotten up early to write, it takes me a little longer than an hour to get my ramblings written down.  Here's the thing...once I've started to write, it is very hard for me to stop and do something else.

Sylvia says, "Honey, could you come take a look at this it supposed to be on fire?  Oh, you're writing, I'll come back."

It's not quite that bad...but it's close.  There have been times when Sylvia will get up and wonder if I forgot to look at the clock since we have a half hour to be somewhere...and are the kids up?  Oops.  I try not to start writing unless I have a solid block of time to finish.  Thanks to Fudge the wunderhund I am up early... often...too often!  But I suppose it's better than spending my weekends shampooing carpets.

So, losing track of time (and topics) is not the only reason I fear that my mental marble sack has developed a hole.  I have a smelling problem lately.  Ha ha, very funny...Oh yes, the body odor humor is very much appreciated sir.  Haven't heard that one before.  That is not what I mean.  I do stink, but I am talking about something else today.  My brain has been misfiring lately and I have been smelling things that just aren't there.  Not unpleasant things, that would be awful, but normal things...if I wasn't sitting at a computer. 

It started about a week ago when we had a spill in the computer room.  An oil lamp, of sorts, tipped over and slowly leaked down a shelf.  Every once in a while we (the 'we' is important at this point) would get a whiff of something chemical in the play room.  (the play room, AKA the school room, and the computer room, the Wii room, and formerly known as the blue room, before the carpet was changed)  The smell kept increasing and we would typically smell it while working at the computer.  As the lead bug killer and chief smell finder in the house I tried everything.  I crawled under the computer, I moved around the chairs, I crawled on my hands and knees sniffing and looking very much like a bloodhound trying to find a missing child.  Fudge was looking at me and thinking, "I know he used to be in charge, but I think I could take him."  I was stumped.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  That is not like me.  I once was able to have the school cancel an exterminator call because I found a hidden lunch box that had begun to rot...odoriferously!  That's me, and my super sniffer.  This time, nothing!

It got increasingly unpleasant and I even said to Sylvia, "I know that smell.  It is some sort of solvent that has spilled on plastic."  I just couldn't find it.  And then Sylvia did.  Across the room at the base of the bookshelf an old plastic clipboard from when I coached baseball (which is a series of hysterical blogs in itself) was saturated in lamp oil.  Having been bested by Sylvia in the smell finding arena I released a handful of bugs into the I wouldn't seem completely obsolete.  I'd hate to be replaced by Jeff 2.0.  The new version with a nose that works.

After the cleanup was complete we had no more strange odors while sitting at the computer.  (well, none that couldn't be explained away.  Fudge!! No No!!)  And then a few days ago it happened.  I was sitting at the computer and I smelled pancakes.  I didn't smell them cooking in the kitchen.  I smelled them right here!  It was like the kids were trying to coax me away from the keyboard by waving a plate under my nose.  Problem was, no kids, no plate.  I felt the computer desk to see if someone had eaten breakfast here and spilled a significant amount of maple syrup that didn't get cleaned up.  No luck.  I got back into smelling stance (eager to redeem myself) and found nothing.  I smelled my clothes.  "Hon!  Did you buy a new laundry detergent that is made from trees?" 
"Umm?  No?  Are you okaaaay?  Come here and kill this bug." 

There were no pancakes anywhere.  I even asked the kids, "Did you guys eat syrup this morning?" 
"Nope.  Can you come get this bug." 
(Contract.  Renewed!)

I tried to pass it off as some sort of cranial misfire and go about my day.  Then I went into our bedroom to get something.  Toasted marshmallows.  Oh come on!!  Seriously?  Now I smell toasted marshmallows in the bedroom.  As an aside, let me explain that we have NOT toasted marshmallows in our bedroom...for at least a month.  There should not be the odor of anything resembling toasted marshmallows in our bedroom.  It was like someone had secretly jammed a couple of odd smelling Jelly Bellies into my I checked.  Nothing.  Hey, anything at this point. 

So now I am walking around sniffing the air, walking up and smelling everyone, slowly searching the house for a phantom...with a sweet tooth...all the while Sylvia has her hand hovering over the phone wondering if this is something the authorities might like to know about.  And then it went away.  No more pancakes.  No more marshmallows.  Sylvia took my temperature.  The dog was able to stop laughing at me.  All was right with the world.  Until I went to work.

I got into my classroom and sat down at the computer and wham!  Who the heck is chopping down pine trees behind me?  Come On!!  Yup, now I smell trees.  Anyone have Dr. House's number?  Perhaps a portable CT scan.  I could use a little help over here.    This is the strangest thing to have happen.  Not terribly unpleasant but odd.  I suppose it could be worse.  I could be smelling chicken coops and roof tar.  I think I'll stick with the sweets and the nature thank you very much.

My cousin Bev, who just recently found me on Facebook, suggested that my body was trying to tell me something and I should listen to it.  Her theory is that my brain is trying to make me remember things that it wants me to do.  Pancakes, Marshmallows, Trees?  She thinks I should go camping.  That is a better theory than any other I've heard.  I think I might listen to my body.  I'm gonna go make pancakes.   Well I was going to make them.  I may not need smells like someone started cooking sauerkraut!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to NOT Get Fan Mail From Supermodels (REDO)

This post has been taken away by the author.

I had a bad feeling while I was posting it and upon further reflection I decided that it just sounded mean.  And that is not what I am going for.  I apologize to those who read it, to those who I may have offended, and to models...who are just trying to do their best with what God has given them.

Now fair warning. 

I have this post saved away and I may try to re-work it where I can talk about the absolutely ridiculous things that some people have said...without being mean.  Be on your toes supermodels!

Now, just so you don't leave empty handed...

A man wanted to go ice fishing.  He researched and found out the best place to do it.  He outfitted himself with thousands of dollars of equipment.  He took time off of work, transported all of his newly acquired things, and set out on his way.  Once there he used his GPS enabled depth detector to locate the exact right place, drilled through the ice, sat in his ergonomically designed heated seat, and started to fish.

After a few hours of nothing happening, he saw a young boy with a folding lawn chair and a handmade pole come over to an abandoned hole on the ice and sat down.  Almost instantly the boy yanked the largest fish the man had ever seen through the ice.  "Luck."  The man thought.  Then again, the boy pulled another fish, nearly as big as the first, through the hole.  "Fluke."  said the man.  When the boy pulled his third fish through the hole, the man couldn't take it anymore.  He got up, marched over, and demanded that the boy tell him his secret!
"How the heck are you doing that!?"
"Mmmp mmmmp mmm mmm mum mmmmmp mmmmmp." the boy replied.
"Mmmp mmmmp mmm mmm mum mmmmmp mmmmmp!"
"Mmmp mmmmp mmm mmm mum mmmmmp mmmmmp!!!"

The man had enough!  "Tell me the secret!"
The boy put both of his hands to his mouth, very loudly spit everything from his mouth into them, and said,

Have a nice day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


While sitting at the computer, hands on the keyboard, trying to decide what to write, I sometimes have to reach deep down into the metaphorical soup pot of ideas and stir it up a bit.  I have, on occasion, scraped against the bottom to come up with an idea or two.  Do not worry though.  I have not run out of "idea soup" as it were.  In fact there are those who would say that I am full of it!  A lot of people, actually.  Curious.  Perhaps I should re-evaluate my personal relationship screening process.

In reality, my phone has become my storehouse of blog ideas.  It has a note writing application (can't bring myself to just say 'app'), it is simple to use, it is smarter than me, and I usually have it with me.  Except this morning.  Admittedly when I look at my phone later and see the things that I put in, I am often faced with wondering why on Earth I would have written, "plastic animal tube" or "the sermon about the fish."  Whenever there isn't something happening in the house that is begging to be written about, I look in the phone.  Today would have been one of those days.

Well this morning I walked out of the bedroom without taking my cell phone from the charger.  It seems that the dog had an urgent need that I really didn't want to ignore.  Walking back in to the bedroom would have meant waking Sylvia before she wanted to get up.  Of course that would have been an automatic blog idea, I mean who wouldn't want me to write about German swear words!  Just kidding.  Sylvia isn't a swearer...she is more likely to throw flaming knives.  Kidding again.  She has a trained attack cat and an Indiana Jones souvenir seriously this time.  But I digress.

Actually, I just wanted Sylvia to get some extra snooze time, feed the puppy dog, and write a little, so out I came...without my phone.  I sat at the computer, checked in on my friend's baby Scarlett and her brain tumor surgery (awesome by the way) and stared at a blank screen.  cursor...cursor...cursor....cursor...(the little blinking line that says where the writing starts...not my beautiful German wife)  And then it came to me.  We used to do an exercise in my writing classes where we would just be given a random word or phrase and then write about it for a period of time.  I had the idea, but not the word or phrase.  What to do, what to do...?

I considered reaching next to me and grabbing a book off the shelf, opening it to a random page, and then using the first word or sentence as my starter.  But that would have involved, reaching, and then reading, and then I'd have to put the book away.  It was all just too much to think about this early in the morning.  I thought about using the punch line from a tired old limerick and moving on from that point.  But, I really don't know all that much about people from Nantucket.  I thought about using an ingredient from a package of German cookies that someone had left on the computer desk..."sugar nuts" didn't have the right ring to it.  Again, what to do, what to do? 

I know, I'll type in a word into google and then write about the first thing that came up.  I typed in a few words of things I see on the desk:  Binder, Christmas Story leg lamp, catalogue...I could hear the snores coming back to me from your computers from all the way over here.  Slovenian people everywhere would wonder what on earth I was doing and start a call to arms to take away my license to write a blog.  Those ideas just wouldn't work. 

I know!  I will just close my eyes and type on the Google search bar and see what happens.  Sylvia had gotten into a bit of trouble with this looking for images of water pitchers but writing in "jugs" but I was confident.  Whatever comes up is what I get.  That is what I will write about no matter what.  I needed to get going.  It was almost time for church and I needed to get changed out of my tuxedo and into my church clothes (as you know I only write wearing a tux) or I wasn't going to make it.  Close my eyes....  Hands on the keyboard...  Random typing!  I hit enter after I typed, seeing that I had written "bjrnmed " I looked, afraid of what I might see only to find...and horror of horrors I saw.

Welcome to IKEA 

Oh man, I hope Sylvia doesn't read this post...I hate shopping there.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tell That To My Feet!

It gets a little tedious having to squint to see the words on television.  It's even more tedious to have to sit exactly three and a half feet in front of the screen so everything makes sense and you don't have to say, "Why is that panda screaming like that?"  Only to hear, "That's a police car dad."  So I got my eyes checked.

For those of you who are my Facebook friends, you have already heard the short version of the visit in the form of my status.  I believe it was, "Trifocals? Are you serious?"  For those of you who are not my Facebook friends, here you go..."Trifocals? Are you serious?"  (As a side note, if you want to ask me to be friends I wouldn't mind...I have to do something to keep a higher number of friends than my teenage daughter...I'm competitive that way.  Tell me you are from Slovenia, I'll totally believe it.)  Actually, I have been telling people, at work, who laugh at my jokes, "You think that is funny, you should read my blog."  Now I am telling people who are reading my blog, "You think this is funny, you should read my Facebook statuses."  There you go, the cycle is complete.  Cue Phil Collins singing "The Circle of Life."  If enough people jump on board I may never have to speak again.

Back to the eye doctor, not literally...I promise to finish this first...of course I do need to constantly squint so that the drivel I am writing is visible.  Sometimes though it's better if I don't know what I have typed.  It helps me sleep at night.  But I digress...

In the beginning, there were bats...and they were blind...and these bats made fun of my eyesight.  I never knew that I couldn't see, it was just my version of normal.  Kind of like when my parents bought me a Lite Brite for Christmas.  If you were raised in a cave, in Slovenia, allow me to explain that toy.  It is a box with a light bulb inside.  The front has a screen that looks like honeycomb but with round holes instead of hexagons.  This screen holds in place a sheet of thick black paper that had letters that showed through the holes.  Then there were these bags that had tiny little pegs inside...and they were labeled, "Blue, Red, Orange, Yellow..." you get the idea.  Then you take the pegs and poke the orange one through the hole that said "O", The blue one through the hole that said, "B", and so on.  I feel that, having the smartest readers in the world, I do not have to explain further.  Well I dutifully poked my little heart out, pulling the correct pegs from the labeled bags, the black paper blocked the light and glowed through the colored pegs, and I ended up with a very colorful hot air balloon that, if I do say so myself, rivaled that of the great masters of the Renaissance.  And then I took out the pegs.  (Here I need those first four "dun dun dun dunnnnn" notes)  Mom was great, she let me use one of our matching salad bowls, they all said Cool Whip on the side, to put the pegs in after I took them out.  Then I put in the next black piece of paper and reached into the tub of pegs which had magically turned all the same color.  Yes, Lite Brite was the magical toy that can be played with once...if you are color blind as well as wildly farsighted. 

As an aside, please do not send me swatches (That's right I said swatches) of fabric asking, "What color does this look like to you?"  That's been done.  It is a curious thing really.  People cannot refuse to ask about my malfunctioning ocular parts the first time they hear.  I have never gone up to a diabetic and said, "Show me how your body doesn't process this candy bar."  or up to a person with a prosthetic arm and said, "Can I lend you a hand?"...oh wait I did do that

Still I didn't know that I was blind, or color blind, until I took one of those screenings at school.  They recommended that my parents get my eyes checked.  So I got my first pair of an awkward overweight pre-teen...I always suspected that God had a well developed sense of humor.  And I have had glasses ever since then...until five years ago on Sylvia's birthday.  I won a radio contest and the prize was one free eye of laser surgery.  It was great.  I went to the evaluation, I found out that I was not only generally and chromatically blind I also had eyes that were shaped like identical little football ends.  They could fix it!  But it would cost more than we could afford. 

Enter my dad.  He thought, if there is a chance I didn't need to walk around with coke bottles strapped to my face we ought to give it a shot.  He covered the cost, the lifeless personality-less doctor handled the surgery, and I haven't worn glasses in years.  Until apparently, precisely now.  If I want to stop having headaches, or be able to read, and stop bumping into things, I will need to get glasses to see close up, see distances, and see the mid ranges.  But other than eyes are great (even if I still can't see colors).

My new assignment is to pick out frames to house the new lenses.  They call the lenses "progressive" but that is just code for trifocals.  I feel like I have been run over by the old age bus.  The doctor explained that I was not getting old...I am old.  He then said that my eyes healed too well.  The surgery was a success and my eyes healed beautifully.  Unfortunately, my body thinks "healed" means to go back to far-sighted football eyes that need lenses to see everything.  I just wish the reset button that made my eyes go back to the way they were when I was a kid would work on my feet!   But I would like to say that I definitely am NOT old!  Now if you'll excuse me I have to go tell the kids that their music is too loud...before I tell the neighbor kids to get off my lawn!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A while ago, way back in November, I wrote about Dave Barry in my blog.  I wanted to let you, my faithful readers, know that I have been contacted by Mr. Barry, and it wasn't a cease and desist order either!  I was writing about the fact that he was actually getting paid for writing silly things in the paper.  I have been getting paid as well.  As of this writing I am skyrocketing up to six dollars and thirty two cents in revenue generated by the ads on my blog.  Google doesn't actually send checks for less than ten dollars so I haven't actually seen any of the profit yet, but it could happen at any time!  Well, at any time in about four hundred days since I average about a penny a day...but I digress.

As is my custom, whenever I mention people in the blog I send them a note to let them know.  I have reconnected with old friends, I have gotten new followers, and I have been rumored to have received a restraining order or two...but I'm sure Bonnie was only kidding.  Well, when I sent Dave a note explaining that I had taken his name, in vain, he sent one back to the real mail!  USPS baby!

Knowing the level of my blogular obsession, Kristiana took a picture of his note and sent it to me as a text.  I was happy to say the least!  I have written to some fairly important people in my day and aside from Ray Orrock, who used to answer my letters in his newspaper column, this is the first time anyone has ever written back to me.  Happy as I am, as excited as I was, I promptly...lost the note.  The time it took me to read the note, read it again, double check the signature against one that is in a book my sister had him sign, and then misplace the note...took all of about forty five minutes.  I was upset!  I turned over the pile of papers where I last had it, I checked the kitchen table...twice, I even checked the freezer (you never know).  I was a little frantic.  I had it, in my hand, and then poof...gone.  I wanted to write this blog yesterday but wanted to quote it in my writing and I hadn't yet memorized it...I have now.  You see, not only did I find it but I took my own picture of it, I have it in our safe, and I have plans to have a replica tattooed over my heart.

I was a little disturbed by the fact that I found his note, and I am not making this up, under my pillow.  I can imagine that a rich and powerful man such as Mr. Barry would be able to have the resources needed to break into my house, obtain the note, and plant it under the pillow on my side of the bed.  That would be a funny joke that he and his minions would be able to laugh about for days!  I interrogated the kids, nothing.  I lovingly asked my wonderful bride.  "Seriously?  No."  I remembered that it was on my nightstand when I made the bed earlier...understandable, but not even remotely as funny.

His note was simple, elegant, and yet, to the point.  After years of getting paid to write this man is a wordsmith extraordinaire!  When this little scene is portrayed in the movie they make about my life, Kurt Russell will play me (Mr. Barry's note will be played by Mr. Barry's note) it will surely be the clincher in the Academy Award sweep. 
"Not a dry eye in the house!"  Washington Post.
"The raw emotion!  Breathtaking!"  New York Times
"Hey!  I thought Bonnie Hunt was supposed to be in this!"  Fremont Argus

Have I kept you all in a satisfactory yet not intolerable amount of suspense yet?  Hopefully, since it is winter time and, exactly on schedule, my fingers have started cracking at the tip and each keystroke is a new reason to cringe, flinch, and whimper. 

Mr. Barry's note said, and I quote, "Hey, Thanks.  Sincerely Dave Barry"  Anyone have a tissue?  I have a little something in my eye....nevermind...I think there's one under my pillow.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Cat!

We have a cat.  She does all the 'cat' things.  She is aloof, temperamental, demanding, secretive, and completely nuts.  She also has held a grudge for going on 16 years now.  She is a mostly-dark calico and many people do not believe she exists.  You see, she was broken at an early age and has never really recovered...this is her story.  For you dog people, let me throw you a bone, (get it dog, bone, I crack myself up!) Fudge, the wunderhund, sits beside me while I write every's just a matter of time before I write about him again.

Sylvia and I got our first house, then got a cat.  Sylvia's friend, Tammy, is a vet tech and she, "has a box of kittens that someone dropped off at the hospital where she worked."  My response was probably something like, "Good, she'll take care of them.  Where we going to dinner?"  And then the eyes started...complete with pouty mouth...  "Okaaaay, we go see the kittens.  But I'm not really a cat guy!" 

If you are thinking, "Oh no!  This guy is a cat hater.  I must stop reading immediately and tell my cousin to take down the blog I printed for her refrigerator!"  You couldn't be farther from the truth.  That was my brother's friend.  His license plate frame said, "Looking for your cat...check under my tires."  That is not me.  I was just always a dog guy...and I have had "experiences" with cats.

In high school my friend Rachel had a cat named La Leak (It was probably spelled some exotic way like La Liq...I never asked)  This was a cat I could deal with.  She came to me every time I visited and wanted to be pet.  She was also 147 years old and would drool on anyone who pet her...but that's not the story.  One day I was petting the leaky one, and she was purring, and then...for no reason...she turned her head and started chewing on my arm!  Begone psycho!

My sister had a cat who would walk just out of arm's reach and if you tried to pet it, it would draw blood.  It was a mane-coon, which is a special kind of "cat" that is part feral, part raccoon, and part three headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld.  It was not my, or my bleeding appendages', favorite cat.  My sister loved that cat (and all things furry) but I never understood it.

I had a friend, Sandy, who couldn't say no to a cat.  When I went to her house, which she shared with about 6 cats, I would always walk out feeling like the cat fairy had sprinkled me with magical allergy dust.  Nose running, eyes itching, the whole nine yards!  I would take an allergy pill before I went over there...just in self defense.  It was also where Sylvia and I had our first date.

Then, closer totghe time when Sylvia's friend had these free kittens, we were looking for our first house.  With the real estate agent (who will be a blog all on his own one day) we went to a house in Newark.  We got to the door and there was a note that said, "Do not let the cat out..."  As we walked in, we were ambushed by a creature with no compassion for human life.  Before we were three steps in the cat had batted my arm with its claw three times and I was bleeding!  I later looked at the note about not letting the cat out...It actually said, "Do not let the cat out... of the gates of hell.  Someone already blew that one!  Or, maybe cats just don't like me.

We got to Tammy's house and she showed us this collection of little balls of fur. 
"Aren't they cute."
"Yes, but they grow into cats you know."
"Cat's take care of themselves."
"Yes, and then they 'can take care of themselves' kind of like a prize fighter can."
"But look, that one is sitting off all by herself...she is a loner.  She needs a home.  Tammy says she'll do all the shots.  But if you really don't want one..."
"Never had me at loner."  I'm a sucker for the shy kids.

So now we had a cat...and this shy, retiring, cute little bundle of fluff...turned into psycho kitty.  She was so rambunctious we named her Friska (I know, we are just too cute for words) and she was a lot of fun.  She also made me feel like I had radioactive sand in my eyes and talked like Fran Drescher whenever I was home...but she was cute.  Sylvia washed her, explored allergy reducing creams, and we tried to keep her as far from me as possible. 

Now the cat sleeps on my pillow (how do they know!?) and we have since learned that kitty dander is much more potent than cat dander so we have a sniffle free house again.  But that is not what I wanted to write about.

We have friends who have been in and out of the house, for years, who do not believe we have a cat.  We have had people take care of our pets while we were away and the only way they knew that we weren't lying about owning a cat is that the food disappeared a little each day.  Our cat has carved out a little niche in our room and only comes out when Sylvia or I go in.  Then she is playful, fun, demanding, ornery, and psycho.

Why the self-imposed living space limits?  Tammy broke her.  Well, that's my explanation and Mythbusters hasn't come over to prove me wrong yet, so there you go.  When Tammy came over to give Friska her shots she rang the doorbell, walked over to Friska, grabbed her and stabbed her with the needle before even telling anyone hello.  The cat, who apparently feels the same way about needles that I do, took off!  We didn't see her for three days. 

And this is how the legend started.  So if you come by one foggy night (because the kids left the hot shower on too darn long) and you see the silhouette of a cat walking along the windowsill.  Do not be alarmed.  It is really a cat.  A cat named Friska.  Who is lying in wait until Tammy returns.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Frost I Ain't

Wah Diddy,
Diddy Dum,
Diddy Doo.

I have a feeling that if I ever go to a poetry slam (I think that's what they're called) I will have to get up and say this poem.  I would love to have all the beatniks nod their beret clad heads and snap their fingers while pretending that I have done something important with my verse.  (See how relevant and hip I am!  Most of my poetry reading knowledge is from Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies)  I think I'll have to put poetry reading on my 'bucket list' because I am a huge fan of making fun of pretentious snits.  In Starbucks I always ask for a large (when I get something for far as I'm concerned coffee = yuck) only to hear some, in a nasally voice, complain, "Did you mean grande, venti, fortissimo, a'capella, Pavarotti?" 
"No Skippy, much like Horton (of Hears a Who fame) I meant what I said and I said what I give me some coffee, here's five hundred cent."

And the rhymes just flow out of me today!  I am inspired!  I am also reminded of a poetry reading that we discussed in one of my creative writing classes in college.  (yes, I have actually taken classes in's really not nice for you to say, "Really?! And this is the best you can do?!" so loudly...words hurt you know.)  In my class we had quite a varied group of people.  Eclectic you might say.  The teacher assigned many genres to write about and I was ok with that.  Until we got to poetry.  I panicked, not as much as the kid with thirty-three visible piercings and extensive tribal tattoos whose stories always ended up being about some mythical being ravaging a fair maiden...if you get my drift, but still, I panicked. 

Reading poems?  Can do.  Discuss them with any clarity or conviction?  Not so much.  Poetry is just not my thing.  All that symbolism and "this means this" and "that means that," I just want to crawl into a hole and die.  I am a straightforward sort of guy.  I actually told Sylvia, when we were dating, "I don't do hints well.  If you want me to know something, write it on a board and smack me in the face."  Have I mentioned that my nickname is "flatnose"... and that Sylvia is extremely literal?  But I digress.  I remember a scene in the movie Weird Science.  The whole house is in chaos, magical things are happening all over the place, and a missile forms and pushes it's way through the room and out the roof.  As it stops growing and the camera lingers on the missile, a white dove flutters down and lands on the nose of the missile.  Then, and I love this, you hear a bell, "dingggg."  It's like the movie makers are saying, "We know this is a movie for attention and see symbolism...NOW...OK, back to the silliness."

I would like to say, I do know what a white dove symbolizes, but I have no idea what it means in the big picture of the movie!  What?  It's a peaceful missile?  Don't worry, be happy?  No countries were bombed in the making of this scene?  I have no idea!  Just tell me stuff...and then feed me a sandwich.  I'm a simple guy.

Well all that rambling has led into what I really wanted to talk about today.  My creative writing teacher loved to have us all read our writing.  She called it "publishing" but I called it terrifying.  I was not a comfortable reader.  Turns out, though, that I got so many compliments on my voice that I soon got over the fear and was comfortable with it.  But today is not about something I wrote, but about something a grandmotherly (it's a word) classmate wrote.  The teacher led us into her reading with a special, "I want us all to pay close attention to this.  We will be discussing it after she is done."

The poem started, my brain shut down, I tried to figure out if there really was a difference between red and green M & M's, and then she was done.  Poem over, I tried to look like I was contemplating her work seriously.  The class loved it!  We literally spent most of the class having people say things like, "I think the use of the clouds to show sorrow was brilliant!"
"The changing of the seasons brought tears to my eyes.  This is an important piece."
"It brought up images of family members I've lost.  Can I get a copy of that?"

All the while the author sat silently, the rule of the teacher, not showing any emotion at all.  Merely taking it in with a nod every now and then.  The teacher let this love fest go on for about half an hour, and luckily never called on me because my comment would have been something like, "Seriously, why are these things different colors?"

When the conversation waned (told you I went to college) the teacher asked the author, who was probably in her mid sixties, to tell what she thought the poem meant to her.  Her response was priceless! 
"It's a load of crap!" she laughed, "I hate poetry so I just put words on a page to finish an assignment.  She (teacher) made me do it and then wanted me to sit silently while everyone discussed it!"
At this point I was out of my chair pumping my fist in the air and shouting, "YES!! Woof, Woof, Woof!  Brilliant!"

So my point is, I guess, that poetry is fine to read and it can be important until another person reads it too...and then the fireworks start.  I mean who knows for sure?  Maybe Robert Frost was working for the zoning commission when he wrote about fences and good neighbors.  As far as poetry is concerned, I only need to know one thing...where can I get a Jethro-like beret to wear while I read my poem?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Who Me?

I know it's been a while since I've written...I cannot tell you how many stories are just floating around inside this cavernous cranium of mine waiting to come out in words...but alas, I have started earning my keep again.  The writing will have to be fit in when I can.  While I am still in the "nuts and bolts" portion of the blog, allow me, once again, to thank you for coming and checking this out.  I've even gotten a few compliments out walking around my daily life...I gotta tell you, that feels nice. 

I have assigned a new goal to the blog.  Whenever a musician hears his or her song on the radio, they know they've arrived.  I really doubt that any radio, anywhere, would read my words over the air.  Whenever my family would see something in the newspaper that was worthy of repeating they would clip it out and send it to me.  Then I would, and you know where I am going with this, put it on my refrigerator with a magnet.  That is my new goal.  I now want to see my writing that has been printed out and posted on the refrigerator of a stranger.  How would I know?  Well I have started breaking into houses all over the tri-cities area to do random refrigerator checks.  Nothing yet, unfortunately.  Remember I said "a stranger's house" so if you are a follower of the blog that doesn't count and your house is relatively safe...but one of you really needs to change the toilet paper roll in the back bathroom.  It's been out for two days!

Now that that's off my chest, I can start to write about what I really wanted to talk about.  A kindergarten story.  I believe the statute of limitations has expired and I won't name names so I think I am safe.  The final words of this story have become a punch-line of sorts around the school.  I hope you enjoy it.

It was a calm clear day and, more importantly, I wasn't absolutely stressed about needing to get something done in my classroom while my students ate their lunch.  (It could happen)  I decided to hang around in the lunch room and socialize with my little ones.  It was a fairly tough year (and I have taught everything from high school emotionally disturbed kids to elementary aged special needs this is saying something) and I was just making a break-through.  I wanted to keep the momentum going. I was walking around teasing the kids, "Is that for Mr. Garrett?" "Did anyone save me a piece of pizza?" "No? Rats!" The kids and I were having a good time and I sat in an empty spot at the long cafeteria table when all of a sudden behind me... BLAM!!  The next few seconds played out in slow motion and I will remember them forever.

I turned around and was face to face with two very shocked and very messy students.  I cannot do the scene justice but I will try to describe the fallout.  It will be much easier when they put this into the movie about my blog...Orson Wells will play me.  In front of me were two 5 year old girls, side by side.  One of them was covered with varying degrees of lettuce, croutons, noodles, ranch dressing, and topped off with what looked like about a gallon of chocolate milk slowly draining down her face, neck, and arms.  She was still holding what was left of her tray and her expression was a mixture of "Huh?" and "What do I do now?"  It was really sort of comical but I have been doing this long enough to know that I would really hurt this child's feelings if I were to start laughing hysterically. 

This was also a rare moment of clarity for me.  As a teacher (and as a parent) I find that I, quite often, need to work out the details of what happened and then decide my course of action.  Not this time.  I was right there!  I turned around the instant after it happened!  I was also absolutely positive that there was no malice in this situation.  No kids were running off and laughing while these two suffered.  There were no angry looks anywhere near us.  Both of the girls had looks of "what the heck just happened?"  I knew there was no punishment to be doled out, I didn't even need to break into my "teacher face," there was just a mess to be dealt with and a child to be consoled.  Child, not children.  Allow me describe the other girl now.

She was equally covered by the edible debris...on exactly half of her body.  She looked like she had been lovingly draped with a drop-cloth that only covered the right side of her body and then had it taken away just before I looked.  She was surprised but not terribly upset and even managed to take a bite of the apple that was in her hand. 

I tried to convey that I knew nobody was at fault in this caloric catastrophe and that I knew it was just a horrible accident, but I couldn't quite piece together how this could have happened...unless they started placing tiny explosive devices in the milk cartons.  I just couldn't help myself.  I asked the holder of the tray, "Honey!  What happened!?"

The other girl said, taking another bite of her apple, covered with as much food as anyone next to the epicenter of a foodquake should be, and with as straight a face as you could possibly imagine said, 
"I wasn't there."
Not "I didn't do it."  Not "It wasn't my fault."  Not even "Boy, did you get the license of that truck?"  She actually said, "I wasn't there."  And this is when I started laughing...and I thought (but didn't say) "I hope you have fun in prison sweety."

So now I have an out.  Every time something bad happens, I can just say, "I wasn't there."  Works like a charm.

I hope you learned something from today's blog...and I also hope you send this to your cousin to post on her refrigerator.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Puzzle That Ate Fremont

I was going to title this, How I spent my Christmas vacation, but I thought that might be to cliche...even for a kindergarten teacher.  As I lay here in a bed that is not my own, less than twenty four hours from when the students come back to class, I thought I would try to squeeze in one more post.  If someone wanted to call me and offer me millions of dollars to write this rambling for a newspaper making it possible for me to stay here another day, I must tell you...I can only wait maybe ten or fifteen more seconds....starting now...ok bout now...crap.  So I need to get up in a bit and start packing for home. 

We started this break much like any teacher part of a spectacularly choreographed dance number where we all throw student work into the air and jump off tables singing about no more kids for two weeks...well that's what we feel like anyway...and when they turn this blog into a movie that is how it will be portrayed.  Kevin Bacon will play me.

Actually, I had a few things to take care of around the house, we needed to finalize the decorating for company, we needed to shop for a few last minute presents, and I needed to get the fire extinguisher to put next to the tree.  Remember, we are German and put real candles on our real tree....real carefully.  On Christmas Eve we spent the evening watching Kristiana perform in the choir at church and then opened presents with Sylvia's side of the family.  On Christmas morning we spent a little time going through our stockings before my family came over in the morning.  There were some very strange looking, rather large, rather smelly, raisinettes in my stocking...and a nasty note from Santa saying that "coal was too good for you!"....but I digress.

When the wrapping paper carnage subsided, we had time to sit and enjoy each other.  Well, Kristiana got a new Ipod and Jake got a new remote control thing-a-majig, so Sylvia and I got to enjoy each other...while working on "the puzzle."  I have no one to blame but myself.  I bought it.  And even with the best of intentions I now see that I should have chosen more carefully.  Allow me to back up a bit.  It was 1996, Kristiana was just a few months old, Sylvia and I were celebrating our third married Christmas, and I thought it would be a good idea to start a tradition.  I actually thought, "this will be fun" but I now see that I was young and foolish.   I bought a puzzle.  You see, I didn't really think about how hard a puzzle whose border was not rectangular would be.  There were also two puzzle ornaments about the size of a Pringles lid where you put together these ornament puzzles and then hang them on the tree.  Those pieces were mixed in with the larger puzzle.  Drat.  I thought we could leave it on a table and when visitors came we could sit and chat and put a few pieces on.  No pressure.  That was the first year...and the last...for more than a decade.

This year I got it out of the bottom of the closet and thought, "This is the year."  When I opened the box I saw what will now become an omen of Christmas peril...melted candy the box...all over the pieces.  Throw it away, right?  Did I mention that I am cheap...with OCD tendencies?  I lovingly wiped off each sticky piece, threw away the offending canes, and laid the puzzle out (face up) so "we" could begin.  That initial start consisted of us looking at the box, saying, "There are no edge pieces", and then going off to do something else.  Oh sure, occasionally we would get together and put together all the pieces that had words on them.  Those were easy.  There was a woman in a plaid red skirt.  She, and her skirt, remained headless for quite some time.  There was a swan (a swimming) that was relatively easy to piece together, since it was all white...but most of the time we just complained that there were no edge pieces!  In fact, when people came over and saw that we had a puzzle out...and then commented on how brilliant the person who started this tradition must be...would look closer and say, "This thing has no edge!  We have to go."

Such was our misery.  We covered the table when our niece came over.  When we uncovered it, "Noooo!" some parts fell apart.  We moved a light to shine on the table because, of course, that was the reason for our slow progress.  It helped, but in the final assessment we see..."the stupid puzzle has no edges!"  And then we got invited by very generous and wonderful friends to come here, to Angel's Camp CA, to celebrate New Years.  After the first of the year I go back to work, the rest of the family despises the puzzle, I need to at least finish the border or it will be thrown into the box in the first fifteen minutes of my being back in the classroom.  I'm telling you, this puzzle is getting done.  This Year!!

It came down to the day before we left...everything was set, we were mostly packed and were going to leave in the morning.  I decided to try to get at least the border done on this puzzle that was just about half finished.  If the border was done, I thought, then they can't just throw it into the box.  I can stay up a little while longer.  I gathered all the pieces that looked like they should be border, I started trying them all.  Great!  This one fit.  Well that created a weird looking space...I think I saw one that looked like...yes it fit!  Then the edge literally dead more obvious pieces.  I had to just put a few pieces together in the middle to figure out how to finish the edge. 

Well to make a long blog short...I had a full blown mental break and ended up staying up until three in the morning finishing the puzzle.  Good thing we weren't planning on leaving until noon.

So filled with a sense of completion we came to celebrate the New Year and play in the snow with a group of friends.  I can't tell you about all the fun we had just yet...statute of limitations and all...but we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 

When I go home I plan on taking the puzzle apart and putting it back into the box.  Then I will wrap the box with chains and throw it off a bridge into the murky waters below and prevent others from suffering the same fate...or maybe I'll raffle it off as a prize in my blog!  (insert evil laughter here)