Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Open Letter to Our New (Old) Dentist

Before I get into this I want to make clear...I bear no ill will toward our dentist.  I'm not going to mention who it is...but if you know me personally and you ask me, I will tell you who I may not recommend.  I hope she enjoys success in her new practice and helps many many people find their way to proper oral hygiene and dazzling smiles.  Having said that, let me get started.

A while back (about 35 years ago give or take) I started seeing a dentist.  He was nice, and funny, and gentle, and my whole family loved going to see him.  His office staff was nice and caring and at least one person seemed to have been with him the whole time he was there.  Honestly, in my childlike, mind I thought that he and the receptionist were married.  I won't tell you how embarrassingly old I was when I figured out that she just worked there.  After seeing him for so many years we built up a rapport.  I could call and ask dumb insurance questions without being laughed at.  I was counseled on which procedures could wait for the new monies to become available and which needed to be sucked up and taken care of now!  After so many years and so many times sitting in his chair listening to bad jokes that were so bad they were good...I missed him when he retired.

Enter the new dentist.  She started taking over immediately and it seemed that the transition would happen without too much of a hitch...I thought.  When the receptionist retired as well, I thought this may not be the smoothest of transitions...but we'll give it a shot.  A few cleanings and a referral to an oral surgeon later I was hit with the cold reality that there would not be so much a transition as a complete restructuring of everything that we held near and dear to our hearts.

In teaching there are sometimes events that happen after school.  Most are planned, some are not.  On the day before my scheduled cleaning I found out that I was not going to be able to make it to the appointment.  I called.  I told them that something had come up and that I wasn't going to be able to make the appointment.  It was at least 30 hours beforehand.  When I called to reschedule I was informed that I would be billed for a missed appointment and that the dentist had changed her policy to needing 48 hours notice for cancellations.  The poor girl on the phone informed me that all of the dentist's friends operated like that.  Being the responsible bloke that I am, and not wanting to waste money paying for services that I didn't receive, I rearranged my schedule.  I worked through my lunch (as if I didn't most days) and my understanding principal allowed me to take care of my responsibility earlier in the day.  When everything was in place and I was sure that I could indeed make it to the appointment, with three hours before I was supposed to be there I called the dentist.  It went like this.

"Hello.  My name is Jeff.  I had an appointment scheduled that I wasn't going to be able to get to.  I rearranged my day and I will be able to make it after all."
"I'm sorry.  That slot is no longer available."
"Oh, you filled it.  That's great!  That means that I won't be billed for missing it."
"Uhhh, no.  You will still be billed."
"I don't understand.  The spot is filled.  You won't be out any money."
"I'm sorry that's the new policy."
"No.  I'm sorry I don't agree with that policy."

And then I went back to teaching.

I was frustrated and upset that they were going to bill me for, the way I saw it, not being out any money.  My phone rang during class and I didn't answer it.  I was curious.  After school I listened to my message and it was the receptionist asking me to call them back.  When I talked to her I was told that the dentist would waive my fee "since it was my first time."  I told her that she should waive my fee since it was the right thing to do.  Another explanation of her dentist friends' policies being the same as this...and as nicely as I could...I snapped.  I didn't raise my voice.  I didn't use foul language.  I was not banned from being in my own reality show.  I simply, without giving any leeway, said, "The next time you hear from me it will be to tell you where to forward my records."

Then I felt bad.

Did I overreact?  Should I have given one more chance.  I did what any modern nerd would do in this day and age.  I appealed to social media.  I gave the Reader's Digest version of the events and asked, "Was I a jerk?"  The results were unanimous.  Apparently, I was not only un-jerky...people were proud that I stood up for myself.  So I went about my business.

Jump ahead to last week.  Sylvia went in to this very same dentist to have her teeth cleaned.  We talked about my experience but I would never try to say she had to follow my departure to a new dentist.  She has a brain, a great one, she can decide for herself.  At the dentist she was told that she would need to come back to have a filling.  (Sorry Honey...I spilled the beans)  She asked, "Do I have enough insurance to take care of the procedure?  It is so close to the new year I could wait and do it then.  I do not want to pay anything out of pocket for this."  The response, "You have plenty of insurance left!"  She gave the amount, but that is irrelevant.  She made the appointment to get the filling and came home.  The night before her appointment we got a bill from the dentist.  It was itemized to an extent and there was an amount due.  We have a small amount of insurance but that amount applies to 100% of the bills we get...until we run out.  The way it looked to us was that our insurance had been exceeded and we were now being billed for overages.


Now, we have two problems.  First, we don't understand how we got a bill for something that we had never been billed for before...especially after we were told that we had "plenty of money"...and we were approximately 12 hours away from her appointment.  This was a quarter of the time the new dentist allowed for her cancellations...and since Sylvia's appointment was nearly first thing in the morning, and they wouldn't get any kind of message until then, we had approximately 0.02% of the time she allows for cancellations. We had learned, from my experience, that we would be billed if we cancelled and since it seemed that we were out of money, we would be billed if she went in.

Double crap!

Sylvia got up early and called as soon as she thought the office would open.  I wasn't I got the blow by blow through text.
Called.  We do have enough money but the extra $28 is possibly for fluoride treatment that isn't covered.  Never been charged for that before???
(I didn't think you had fluoride treatment)
She called back.  We were billed because it was my third appointment and we are only allowed two???
(Never heard of that before)
That time the crown fell off, she counted it as a visit.  Old dentist didn't do that.
Receptionist just called.  She said the dentist doesn't think we are transitioning well and wants me to find a new dentist...not only that.  She is cancelling my appointment for the filling.  She is refusing to do it.  Asked to talk to the dentist.  She won't come to the phone.
(Hello new dentist)

When I came home Sylvia mentioned that the dentist had not given her 48 hours before cancelling her appointment so we should bill her.  I think we will let it go.  But if she had taken the morning off of work to make this appointment and then had no work done, we would be very upset.  As it is, you probably don't want someone who is upset with you to stand over your open mouth with a drill.  It's probably best that we let it go.

So, finally, we get to the letter that I want to send.  (But I probably won't...I haven't decided)

Dear New Dentist,

We regret that we weren't able to have a "smooth transition" to your new practice.  While you may feel that we have been difficult to deal with, we feel that you have not had your patient's interests at heart.  I am not going to say, "It wasn't like this before."  What would be the point?  You are your own person.  You make your own choices.  Your choices affect real people.  When you try to bill even after a time slot has been filled, all I see is greed or punishment.  When you say that there is "plenty of money" and then send a bill, what I see is an unexpected expense.  To some, a $28 dollar budget error is difficult.  It is true that you waived these fees but it is disappointing that the reason was, as it appears, to get a difficult person off your back.  The true reason they shouldn't have been billed was because it would have been the right thing to do.

We, of course, are going to take our business elsewhere.  You asked us to do that.  But I wanted you to know that people are more than just sets of teeth and insurance forms.  We do not live in a vacuum where actions do not have consequences.  I am not the type of person who goes to Yelp and fills out a scathing review.  I think I would be justified in telling people what they might encounter, but that is just not my style.  I will, however, give friends and family (should they ask) my opinion about where they should not go.  It's a shame.

I wanted to let you know why, even if you hadn't asked us to leave, we would have been leaving.  Without a relationship the only benefit to coming to you as our new dentist is that we wouldn't need to find directions to a new place.  I do not wish you ill.  I hope you are able to take this criticism for what it's intended and remember that all of the files from your predecessor (a number of whom have been referred by my family) are looking for a little more than "what your other dentist friends" are doing.  I wish you luck in your practice but I think, if you are not careful, you and your receptionist should learn some card games to play while you sit in an empty office.

Jeff Garrett

There...Rant finished.  I feel better.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ave Maria and The Fully Monty

Today...I am torn.  I would really like to write about a financial and personal business issue involving our new (soon to be old) dentist...but I want to give it a day before I do so I can maybe calm down a bit.  Too bad for you would have been scathingly hilarious today.  You'll just have to settle for poignantly humorous tomorrow.

Alright...I have an equally emotional topic today, and I am just as eager to express it, so here we go.  Unlike the topic involving money, this involves my heart, and the wonderful memories it includes.  As is often the case with my blog topics, today's comes to me from a variety of sources: Our anniversary, Music, and an old friend.  (No, I am not calling you "old" Michelle.)

Precisely four days ago, Sylvia and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  We exchanged cards.  We were surprised by a wonderful meal by our kids.  (Fondue, steak, and Caesar salad ...Mmmmm!)  We even posted it on you know it's official!  And I, being the moderately romantic guy that I am, took part in a tradition that I have done for many years now.  As close to the time that we were saying our vows as my schedule will allow, I arrange for Sylvia to hear the song "Ave Maria" on our anniversary.  Once I left her a note on the CD player saying, "Turn this on to track 2 at 11:30."  But that didn't seem to cut it.  So recently, I have been finding recordings and playing them over the phone when I call.  Music hasn't been a huge part of our relationship, but there are a handful of songs that will make us grasp hands, smile, and even dance (including in a hardware store).  Ave Maria is definitely a hand holder.

At our wedding we wanted to include this song.  It was a favorite of her Mom's mom in Germany, and including it (and her wedding ring) in the ceremony was like a part of her was there.  Sylvia had even secured a German version on cassette tape so we could play it during the ceremony.  I think the discussion was, "Would it be ok if we..."
"During the ceremon...."
"It's the German versi...."
"YES!"  (I knew that family is a huge part of who Sylvia is...hence, the proposal.)

It just so happened that on this particular anniversary there was an odd convergence of events.  While I was getting ready to call Sylvia this year to play Celine Dion's version of the song, I got a Facebook message on my phone.  It was from Michelle.    She wanted to wish us happy anniversary.  She also wanted to comment on, you guessed it, Ave Maria.  WoW!  As I was fumbling with YouTube and my apparent lack of technological savvy, I received confirmation that it was a memorable part of that day.  Michelle mentioned that the song stuck out in her memory because she had never heard it live before.  (OK, so it wasn't live...but it did stick out in her mind.)  I'm gonna let it slide...she's really old.  (OK Michelle, now that time I did call you old.) Michelle and I messaged back and forth for a bit and I mentioned that it may have stuck out since, as it turns out, it was the longest known recording of Ave Maria...EVER!!  I am sure it's not hard to imagine a long version of this particular, wonderful, song since the first two words, eight letters long, are often turned into at least a minute and a half ...and about thirteen syllables.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Vayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Marrrrrrrrrrr Eeeeeee  Eeeee eee eee eeeee EEeeeee eee eeee eeeeeee ee UhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHhhhHhhhHhh....You get the idea.

That's not the best part.  The best part is that a few minutes before Sylvia was supposed to go walking down the aisle, the sound guys came to me in the pastor's office where I was waiting all alone for the ceremony to begin.  (It's all right Craig...Best Man...I have forgiven you for leaving me all alone...sniff)  It seems that these two people had listened to the recording, determined that it was too long, and wanted to ask me a question. They wanted to know if they could just turn it off after two minutes.   I was dumbfounded. I was about to take part in the most important day of my life and they were on a schedule?  I stammered, "Wh, wh, wh, Huh?"  They explained that it was really long, about five minutes, and there was a pop at about two minutes where they could pretend that was the end and just turn it off.  I thought, Sylvia and I never discussed this...that won't work.  I thought, it took us two hours to decide which garbage can we would have in our kitchen...this is not going to be easy.  I thought, it's in German!  What if we are cutting it off at her grandmother's favorite part?  I thought, I am NOT going to try to involve Sylvia in this...she has enough to worry about.  While inside my head I really thought the 1994 version of, "SERIOUSLY!?!"  It was probably, "SAY WHAT!!?!"   

I had mentioned this lopping off the song option to Michelle while we messaged back and forth and she added the possiblility, "Louvre director to Monet: 'can we just cut a few feet off these damn waterlily paintings? They're so freaking big'"  

I of course, suggested that the reason the Venus de Milo looked like that was because they couldn't get her to fit in the door. Is it any wonder we are friends?

So right there, in the Pastor's office, and then I made the first solo decision of my soon-to-be married life.  I went for the full Monty! I sucked it up, I erred on the side of caution, and I told them to play the whole darn thing, all five minutes of it, pop and all!  And it was a memorable part of the ceremony.  One that I look forward to reliving each and every year.

Sylvia read this, as she does with all of my posts, and she said, "I cannot believe you didn't write what I said during the song!"  To address this egregious error, I have decided to make an unprecedented change.  (It's unpresidented too but most of what I do is)  So here goes.

During the song, Sylvia and I held hands and looked lovingly into each other's eyes.  She was teetering and I was a little worried that she may go down.  I squeezed her hand, told her to hang in there, and bobbed and weaved so I could track her gaze.  That's when she said it..."This song is soooooo long!"  Too late I thought.  We are already past the pop...we have to ride it out to the end!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One? Two? Three? Four?

One? Two? Three? Four?  Yeah...I got no clue.

A painting I made for Sylvia in 1995.  It still hangs in our room.  
So I decided to be really romantic one year and paint a picture for Sylvia for our anniversary.  I was taking a class, I had bought a painting at a garage sale to paint over (a money saving trick the teacher taught us), and she was away with Kristiana for a while so I had alone time where I could leave the painting out and no one would know about it.

Well it is our anniversary once again and I thought I would drag this out and "give" it to her again because it may just be the right year.  I have no idea actually.  You'll see.  I am not one of those "grumble grumble anniversary again" kind of guys.  Don't get me wrong.  I can grumble with the best of them...but not about anniversaries.  In fact, whenever someone asks Sylvia and I how long we've been married, she always looks sheepishly at me to double-check her account.  She is much much better now and I am happy to say that we both know that today is our nineteenth anniversary.  Then why, astute reader that you are, do I keep saying "I have no idea"?  I'll tell you now.

When I painted this picture...titled, 'beginning painter, moderate talent' I got distracted.  If you have read more than twelve sentences in any of my blogs you will have seen that I am easily distracted.  SQUIRREL!  Anyway, in the middle of painting this, in the kitchen of our old house, I lost track of my counting.  This shouldn't be a problem...just count again.  Well that would be easy enough for someone who wasn't colorblind (OH!  NOW I GET WHY THE PICTURE LOOKS LIKE THAT!!)  You were all thinking it, I just said it.  I had a plan.  Get my wife's favorite vase. (I thought)  Put it on the small round table with the lace tablecloth that dwarfed our tiny little kitchen.  And paint.  What a great surprise for her when she came back to flowers on the table and flowers that would last and last. (until some guy buys this at a garage sale to paint over it to save money on canvas...I heard that somewhere)

Here I was happily painting away, I had the leaves in.  Some were light, some dark.  Then I started putting in the flowers.  One, two, three, bacon, silverware, brillo pad, honeydew, waterslide, (Did I mention that in addition to being colorblind, I am also ADHD?)  That was it.  I had no idea how many roses were on the painting and I'll be darned if roses and leaves don't have a very similar shape in the world of Jeff Garrett masterpieces!  I was sunk.  I knew that roses, for whatever reason, were supposed to come in sets of twelve...and here I was clueless.  So I went rose happy!  There were, by gum, going to be at least a dozen roses.  Any less and the rose cartel would have carried out the hit.  As it turns out, the first thing Sylvia said when I gave her the picture was, "There aren't twelve."  OK, so it wasn't the first thing...but it was in the top three.  I'm glad I covered my bases.

So now here I am, nineteen years later, assuming that this is the year that I can give her the painting again (in the form of a blog post) with, hopefully, the correct number of roses.  I'll never know.

What I do know is that I love Sylvia more now than I did when we got married.  She is the rudder to the craziness that happens in my wacky brain.  I'm grateful every day for the love that she gives and the patience she shows toward this crazy guy.  I hope you enjoyed this Honey.  But more importantly...I hope there really are nineteen roses in that painting.

I love you!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Crappy Subject

Feces.  Scat.  Droppings.  Little presents.  Caca.  Doody.  Special Raisinettes from the Easter Bunny.  However you say's never fun to find that a rodent has visited your cupboard.  And since they are not the cleanest animals in the world, the evidence that you have been invaded is their leavings.  Although there was a very civilized family in Westchester who installed tiny little commodes for the little vermin and only knew that they were having a rodent problem when the dirty little buggers forgot to put the lids down...Savages!

After several moments of imaginary research I have concluded that every house in the United States has been, at one time or another, a home to an unwanted guest.  (the number of feet these guests walk on depends on your personal boundaries)  I generally assign no blame to having the occasional squeaker running around in your pantry.  They want food, you have food, you keep the food on the inside, they will work to get inside.  Occasionally they succeed.  If, however, you cannot tell whether or not that fuzzy lump on the floor is a leftover moldy hand towel or a deceased woodland creature, you may want to straighten up a bit...or call TLC to have them feature you on their next Hoarders expose.

I will admit it.  Our house, our castle, our home away from vacation, has at one time been graced with the presence of roof rats.  I can assure you that you do not want this particular species to come set up residence.  They are noisy.  They are destructive.  They are hungry.  They are hard to eliminate.  And they are big!  They may not be mistaken for a small dog, big...but they are sizable.  Our particular infestation happened when I was a teen.  (I grew up in this house)  We had interesting things happen.  The plastic garbage can where we kept the dog food had a hole chewed threw the bottom.  There were wires whose insulation was gnawed off.  There were strange scratching sounds at night.  They left above averaged sized droppings all over the garage and attic.  The worst was the nightly bowling tournament that happened overhead.  As a kid I was embarrassed and didn't want people to know...I'm over it now.  I thought I would share this with a million of my closest friends.

According to the exterminator, the reasons we got them were: a) we had a dog and dog food.  b) we had tiny holes next to the wires coming into the house that were pencil sized. (apparently that is a superhighway for a rodent) and c) we lived in a house.  We had already tried poison from the store.  We had tried to patch any holes.  We donned camouflage jumpsuits and patrolled the house with rifles and night-vision glasses. (not far as you know)  Nothing seemed to work.  Then the exterminator came to my dad and basically said, "Psst...Buddy...I can get rid of those things...for sure.  You willing to go the extra mile?"  Since we had fought and fought these battles and were continually losing the war, he agreed.  The exterminator donned his most protective gear, climbed up into the attic, and spread what looked like a fine powder all around.  When he came down, he said we wouldn't have any problems after that.  I don't know what that stuff was but he was right.  Almost immediately the bowling alley closed.  The way he described our particular rats were too smart to eat the normal bait.  This "special poison" they walked on and when they licked their paws clean...(insert funeral march here).  My theory was that he used an illicit drug and the rats all ended up hanging around the Seven Eleven late at night and got picked up by police.  No matter...they were gone.

Now I told you that story so I could tell you this one.  In true American homeowner fashion, my mom has been 'blessed' with critters eating their way into her pantry.  One problem is that her association owned garage is connected to four others so the burden of trying to keep them out by patching holes is multiplied.  She discovered that she was having a problem when she picked up a box of granola and found that there was a hole chewed in the bottom.  "Drat!"  (Sorry for going all street talk on you...trying to keep it real)  Then she looked into the pantry to see what else had been snacked on.  When she looked in she saw a group of very large black things lying in a pile.  Since she was there in the roof rat invasion of the early 80's she is familiar with large sized leavings.  These were way bigger than that!  She thought she had been invaded by granola munching caribou!  Then she inspected further.  As it turns out she was indeed playing host to a tiny little rodent.  What she thought were world record sized pellets turned out to be the extra large raisins from the granola that the mouse had chosen not to eat, but left in a neat little pile as if to say, "I'm not fond of these but there's no use throwing them away.  We can share."

All of this leaves me wondering two things.  What kind of rodent is so cultured that it will leave things in a neat little pile like that.  And, what the heck is so wrong with the organic granola raisins that even mice won't eat them!?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I Ship That

"It's a narrow mind that assigns only one meaning to a word!" ~ My Family

This is actually a variation on a saying that my family uses whenever it mispels, miss spells, misppells, doesn't write a word correctly.  Then the narrow mind is attributed to spelling only one way.  But this is not the forum, and I am really not the guy, to host a spelling blog.  Making fun of new ways that the English language is massaged (read massacred) by teenagers?  I'm your man!

Even when I was a teenager I thought that people did not do enough to utilize this fine language of ours.  I never liked when people would assign words new meanings, and worse, assign new parts of speech.  The big one when I was in school was "party."  In my narrow-minded brain party was a noun.  It was something you went to...not something you did.  During high school, somehow, the dictionary got jumbled and the "n." next to the word party magically turned into a "v."  People were partying all over the place.  Not me.  I refused to join in the butchering of the English language.  (Being a socially awkward geek didn't have anything to do with it...I was standing up for my principles!)

In my humble opinion there are ways of saying things in the English language that escape translation in other languages.  The nuance afforded the careful speaker is nearly unlimited.  And how do some people choose to speak?

"Mm Hmm."
"Peace out."

I believe it was Shakespeare who coined the term, "Chill Yo?"

Don't get me wrong.  I am not above learning a new skill.  I have been able to learn new words and even use them in the proper context.  I explained to the high school group at church that their new clothes, skateboards, skills, were "beast" (beyond great)!  Everything that used to be cool is now epic.  And I definitely know what the Fox says.  (Ki Ki Ki Ki case you want to know.)  I can get behind most everything that comes my way.  I admit that I have a little trouble still when the new fad is to simply shorten the word.  One that comes to mind is crazy.  Nothing is crazy is "cray cray".  As in, "OH when he jumped off the wall and did a flip!  It was cray cray!"  Allow me a moment to break down my thinking.  Was it crazy?  Certainly.  Did it call for someone pointing it out?  Most definitely.  Did you shorten the amount of syllables that you needed to say for expediency?  Nope.  Crazy = 2 syllables.  Cray Cray = also two.  Then why do it?  That one in particular is like fingernails on a chalkboard...but I choose not to say anything unless everything in the vicinity is "cray cray".

Now, I told you all of that so I could tell you this.  I heard a new one...and it floored me.  It wasn't that it was beyond amazing in a clever and poignant way.  No, I was left slack-jawed and wide-eyed because I had no idea what the connection was.  In the kitchen, as we were talking about kids that we knew, two names came up and we heard, "Yeah!  I ship that!"

Sylvia and I looked at each other like someone had suddenly turned off the teenager to English translator we had installed in the house.  We looked over at Krisi, who was happily calculating the number of times that she had thoroughly confused us.  I said, "You ship that?"
"Yeah, I ship that."
"And what exactly does that mean?"
"It's hard to explain...It means that it is good."
"That person is good?"
"NO!  Dad!  It means that two things are good."  (Like I was supposed to magically figure that out.)
So I, in typical Dad overcompensating, went the extra mile.  "Is it like saying, I am Jeff Garrett and I approve of this couple?"
That is when my name turned into several syllables..."DaAaAad!"  But after closer inspection, I think I nailed it.

Later that night, when we were invaded by teenagers, I was 'shipping' everything.  (You know, to fit in)
"Can I have some apple cider?"
"Yeah, I ship that."
"Where's the bathroom?"
"Second door on the right...and I ship that."
I saw someone with a leather jacket.  "Hey, I ship that jacket.  And you with the water bottle, I ship that water bottle."

Of course I was being obnoxious and silly and using my new-found word in the completely wrong way...but nearly everyone at the party new about this new way to use a relatively benign word.  And they all thought I was funny.  That's good.  They all think that I am rutabaga!  It's a new word.  It means extra awesome in a cool old guy sort of way.  I just made it up.  Think it will catch on?

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Not Just Me!

If you are new to the blog...Sylvia and I have two teenage kids.  They are wonderful, charming, helpful, and several other adjectives that would look great on anyone's resume.  They are also not "allowed" to admit that their old man is funny.  After years of deflecting comments stating that I was funny I have finally gotten to a place where I can say, "OK, in certain instances...with the right people...between a certain longitude and latitude...between the hours of 8:12 A.M. and 6:43 P.M....under the proper barometric conditions (I'm writing this at 7:48 is that clears anything up), I can be humorous."  Unless I'm talking to my kids...then I'm FUN-NY!  The problem arises when their friends say that I am funny.  It is met with a new and emphatic "NO!  He thinks he is!"  I naively thought this was about me.  Turns out I was wrong.

Last Friday the kids participated in a progressive dinner/scavenger hunt.  The teams go from place to place eating a different course of the meal as they searched for objects to gather and pictures to take.  There were about 25 teenagers that gathered into 5 cars.  They all had a list of clues, a list of hidden locations, and a stopwatch.  Each team left the starting point at a staggered time so they wouldn't encounter each other as they raced (drove responsibly in a safe case any Fremont police are reading this) around town.  Sylvia has been the driver numerous times but this year, to change things up, we elected to be one of the houses.  This meant that we provided one of the courses for the meal.  We opted for hors d'oeurves. (please don't make me spell that again)  The nice thing about being in charge of the hors d'oeurves (D'Oh!) is that we were first.  We didn't have to wait until late in the night, we didn't have too much to prepare food-wise, and we didn't have to worry about having every teen in the house at the same time since there was little possibility of them catching up to each other right away.  I was naive about this too.

Sylvia and I went shopping for our little corner of the feast and we foolishly kept saying things like, "Maybe that's enough." and "We've never needed more than that."  The actual event occurred in somewhat of a blur. Sylvia got an entire crock pot full of nacho cheese cooking.  We organized the kitchen to fit the maximum amount of people.  There were supposed to be five or six at a time.   Then we sat back and waited.  The six o'clock start time came and went.  Then it was six fifteen.  We kept hearing cars slow down...then drive away.  Finally at about six thirty we got the first carload.  Then six thirty one the next.  Then six thirty five, then six forty, then six forty two.  They were all under the instructions that they needed to wait at each house for twenty minutes before opening the next clue and going on their way.  We had all the kids and all the drivers at the same time.

There was commotion.  There was noise.  There was a crowd big enough to make an introvert like myself want to desperately check Facebook statuses in another room!  But I mustered enough intestinal fortitude to go out into my own kitchen and stand there hoping that there wouldn't be a lot of small talk.  I flunked small talk in high school.  I was standing there minding my own business when my phone went off.  It didn't ring.  It signaled that I got a text.  Since I tend to try to stay on the cutting edge of technology (ha!) I had recently found an alert message from the minions in Despicable Me.  It's really kind of cute.  It goes "Ooh Hoo!  Text Message!" in the sing-songy way high-pitched way that they talk.  There were many people here but since I am deaf to all things phone-like I almost always have it turned up to the maximum.  One of the kids heard the message and made an assumption.  It went something like this.

"Mom!  How could you?!"
"That ring tone!  Oh My Goodness!"  (obviously embarrassed by her lack of decorum while being surrounded by nacho eating locusts)
"What ring tone?" (She is obviously worse than me in the phone hearing department)

Then my phone got another message and the kid zeroed in on the sound coming from my pocket.  As soon as it wasn't his mom, the conversation changed.


Then it struck may just be a proximity thing.  This guy is near his mom most of the time.  Mom's cannot be cool.  Therefore anything close to his mom is not cool.  I barely see him maybe once a year.  I am allowed to be partially cool (for an old guy).  My kids are close to me.  Dad's are also not cool.  So everything I touch, see, say, or am involved in may not be cool in their eyes.  This is strictly a mathematical formula!  Coolness is inversely affected by proximity.  D X 1/P = C cubed.  Phew!  Because my kids weren't laughing at me I was going to dig my rubber chicken and fake vomit out of the garage.  Guess I can save myself the trouble.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


"There were 22 steps up to our apartment in Iowa."

I met someone for the first time today and in the course of our conversation she said, "there were 22 steps up to our apartment in Iowa."  For some reason this statement struck me as odd.  Not so much that it would come up in a conversation, especially a conversation with me, but rather...Why would someone know how many steps there were leading up to their apartment?  Do most people know this definitively how many steps are in their houses?  It got me thinking...Do I know how many steps lead up to my house?  Of course I do!  Don't I?  It's six.  Definitely six.  Or maybe it's five.  Definitely five. Well I'm sure, without a doubt, that it is most likely five or six.  How is it that some people just KNOW without a shadow of a doubt how many steps lead up to their apartments and I, having lived here most of my life since 1972, have to go out and count to make sure.  I was the is five or six...unless you count the last one that leads into the front door.  Then it's seven.

Being a junior scientist (2nd degree) I decided to try an experiment.  I asked the other people in the house at the time just how many steps they thought were here.  I got a wider range of answers.  One person even guessed four.  I knew it wasn't four...for goodness' sakes!  Then it hit me.  How many people know?  I'm gonna call some people.  OK, I'm gonna call one person...maybe two.

I got on the phone and called my sister and asked about this house.  "Let me, It's either six or seven."  Hah!  You don't know either!  Then in the course of the rest of our conversation it came out that she was talking about six without the step into the house and seven if you count it.  I think I have to give her this one.  I'll let her be right this time.  My mother also got a phone call.  She didn't sign the release form so I cannot quote her here...but let me just say that she was not as accurate as my sister.  Then I remembered that she had a second floor in her house. I had her guess.  She underestimated by two!  Then she exclaimed something to the effect of this is why her hip was hurting so much!  So many darn steps.  (Really mom this would be a lot easier if you would just sign the release form.

Over the summer we went spelunking.  (Beginning to see why a conversation might steer toward steps?...or rubber chickens?...or how the banana got its name?...or anything really.)  As we got ready to go on the tour (That's the only way this guy is crawling around in a cave) they announced that there were going to be 534 steps on the tour.  If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or are just a major whiner...please do not go on this tour.  Well that got us to thinking.  Why would they count them?  We also thought, "We gotta check."  So there we are walking around underground going 333, 334, 335, ouch, 336...and so on.  I bumped my head pretty good because I was looking down at a time when I should have been looking straight ahead.  The bottom line, they were wrong!  By a lot!  There were about a hundred extra steps from their fact.  We counted every rise or fall in elevation as a step.  We started at the mouth and ended at the exit.  We didn't cheat and we had three people coordinating their answers so we may have been wrong by a few...but we all certainly didn't over count by a hundred!  I see no reason to lie in this situation.  They could have just said, "There are a boat-load of steps!  Including one that is really close to the ceiling so watch your head."  That would have been fine.  But to underestimate so's not fair.  Just imagine if there was someone who thought they could make 534 and maybe even push it to 550 steps.  What do you think would happen if they got to 579 and their legs just gave out?!  I suppose we could have eaten them and saved ourselves, but that really wouldn't be a pleasant picture for the brochures.

And this all leads me to a challenge.  There is no prize other than my undying esteem:
HOW MANY STEPS ARE IN YOUR HOUSE OR WORK?  (The place you go most days.)
Really, I want to know.  Is this a worldwide phenomenon that people know the correct number of stairs?
Message me your guesses.  Tell everyone how you did.  I am dying of curiosity.

Good Luck!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

This Blog Counts For Both My Birthday,,,and Thanksgiving!

It's my birthday soon. I'm not telling you this to elicit mounds of praises and loads of presents...(although, since our truck has been rendered non-operational by a crack in the head gasket, I will take what we can get). No, the real reason I am telling you this is to talk about birthdays. Specifically about birthdays that are on famous dates.

I used to work with a girl who told me her birthday was on December 25th. I was immediately struck with empathy for this poor girl. I said things like, "This present counts for both." and "Honey, nobody can come to your birthday party...they are all away on vacation." She pulled her mouth straight back into sort of a flat smile and nodded. I understood. From then on I would try to contact her on her birthday and make no mention of that other holiday that just so happens to be on that date.

I know another long-time friend whose birthday is the day after Groundhog Day. This birthday is considerably less problematic than a birthday which lands on the King Daddy of all birthdays, but I suppose there are still occasionally people who can't come to your parties since they have made a pilgrimage to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania  to see Phil in all of his shadow spotting splendor. (interesting note...if you type the name of this city into this computer it will autocorrect it to say "subcutaneous") The first principal that I worked for was born on February second...I think she made the trip more than a few times. (I think she was secretly hoping to see Bill Murray...but that is just a rumor)

There are other birthdays that may be unique. If you are born on St. Patrick's Day, for instance, you had better like green beer. If you were born on Halloween, all of your birthday parties will be costumed. If you were born on the Fourth Of July, you had better get used to fireworks...and Tom Cruise in long hair and a wheelchair. If your birthday lands on Easter, I suppose your parents could have you search for presents along with your eggs. If you were born on Arbor Day...well I guess nobody really knows what Arbor Day is about. That wouldn't be such a bad day to be born on...especially if you enjoy those white flower covered archway things at weddings.  (just kidding...I know it's really about kissing trees)

These are all well and good...I suppose each birthday has its challenges and/or benefits...but mine is a little weird.  I was born at the end of November.  Since my birthday is always at least near Thanksgiving, I get to tease my students by telling them that the reason they get a week off from school is to celebrate my birthday! As birthdays go, it's OK.  My mom has this thing where she announces every year that she knew I was going to be kind because I was supposed to be born before Thanksgiving...and I "waited" and allowed her to eat with the family before deciding to be born.  Yup, that's me.  Mr. Thoughtful.  I prefer to think that I wasn't about to be fed a turkey leg if I was only three days old.  So I figured out a way to get it...and then I wrung my hands together and laughed sinisterly.  On a side note, in the days before ultrasound, the doctors thought I was going to be twins because I was so big...I think it was all the turkey.

Being born at the end of November means that occasionally your birthday will fall on Thanksgiving.  For me...that means seven times in my life.  Yes, I went back and checked.  The one change that happens when my birthday is on Thanksgiving is that there was no discussion about where I want to go out to eat on my big day.  In 1863 Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November should be a day of Thanks.  He did not say, "In future times, when comes a time that a man celebrate the day of his birth on this day, he shall be allowed to go forth and eat at the restaurant known as "Fridays" and celebrate this grand adventure of thanks on the next day."  So I think I won't go against President Lincoln.

To be fair, this is only the third time it has happened while Sylvia and I have been married.  And she asks, every time, if I would rather go out to eat instead of having turkey.  I don't know, for some reason I think that I am not the guy to thwart a tradition like that.  I've never been much of a thwarter.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Wife...and a Pot Of Rice

They say that the way to a man's stomach is through his heart.  That's not it...the way to a man's duodenum is through his ear canal?  The way to a man's pituitary gland is through his spleen?  No, no...I'll get it.  The way to a man's esophagus is through his mouth?  Almost there...(But Coach junior high science teacher would be proud that I remembered that)  Of course I know, the way to a man's heart is through his wife and her wonderful and giving spirit...while she makes wonderful food!

I love my wife, all the time, and still there are times when love turns into a great big giant incapacitating hug on the inside that warms me from my soles of my feet up to the roots of my hair.  I believe the technical term for this is Goo Goo.  Yes, the other night I went Goo Goo for my wife.  (I'll now pause so that the diabetics in the audience can go increase their insulin due to all this sweetness)

Goo Goo, or Ga Ga in the southern states and portions of Los Angeles, happens to me most of the time when there seems to be no external reason.  She just walks by, BAM!  I gotta hug her, weak in the knees, take my breath away, hug her.  She smiles, WHAM!  She looks at me like I am crazy and doesn't know what she is going to do with me and my weird sense of humor, SMACKO!  (actually that last one is the one that happens most often)  It is usually accompanied with her saying, "What?!  Stop looking at me that way!" But what're you gonna do.  I can't help it!

Now, to shift subjects, I really really like comfort food.  You can see evidence of this hanging in the labels of my clothes and on the display screen of my very sarcastic scale.  For the purposes of this blog, and to explain to my ever growing overseas readers, I describe comfort food as hearty, unhealthy, dense, stick-to-your-ribs delicious.  Some examples might be mashed potatoes, meatloaf, or macaroni and cheese.  While visiting Germany this last summer I reacquainted myself with the European version...Schnitzel!  It is yummy, it is satisfying, it is not terribly good for you.  I'll have that.

Comfort food has made its way into Casa Garrett and most times I will be greeted by a delicious aroma when walking up the steps to the front door after work.  Other times I might be greeted by a harried spouse with a "I have had quite a DAY!  Dinner is waiting for you to pick it up as soon as you decide where you are picking it up from." look on her face.

Now allow me to tie this all together.  The other evening I plowed headfirst into a smell that made me wonder why there weren't neighbors with plates lined up to try to get some.  It was Stroganoff night!  If you aren't's a creamy meaty concoction whose recipe was handed down from Heaven above.  (or possibly Russia)  The way my family makes it is dangerous.  If some spilled on the floor I would fight the dogs over who would get to lick it up.  Rest assured, nobody is that careless with this ambrosia!  This meal is traditionally served over noodles but there have been people, my mother included, who have served it over rice.  I made it with rice once for our family.  Everyone preferred noodles...rice go bye bye.  No problem.  Majority rules.  Pass the Stroganoff.

So I walked in, commented on the wonderful dinner we were about to have, kissed Sylvia hello, and then I saw it.  There was the rice cooker steaming away.  I was surprised, we were a noodle family after all.  I could tell by the plates on the table, both kids in the kitchen, (and the line of neighbors forming out the front door) that dinner was almost ready.  I said, "Rice?  I thought you all preferred noodles."  Sylvia said, "Yes, we prefer noodles...but you prefer rice. Why didn't you tell me?"  I surveyed the scene. There on the stove was a big pot of noodles to complement my individual portion of rice.  (actually it was a gigantic portion of rice that would have fed three hungry lumberjacks but since I'm the one writing, I get to make up the details to make myself look good.)  I had mentioned something about rice a while back and she picked it up and ran with it.  That was all it took.  Getting pampered by your very thoughtful wife, as soon as you walk in the door, and with comfort food no less!  I was in full blown GOO GOO mode!  I grabbed her and hugged her tight.  I participated in a public display of affection that made the teenagers run from the room (but the puppy jumped up on us because he doesn't like to be left out) and then I sat down to enjoy a wonderful meal with my family...and a bowl of rice.

I Love You Sylvia.  Thank You!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I'm guessing that if you have read a smattering of my writing you would have realized by now that my brain just doesn't work the same way other people's do. For the record, according to Jeffipedia: a smattering is approximately equal to two and a half paragraphs...but they have to be non consecutive paragraphs...and one of them should have been written on a Monday.  Anyway, one of my teachers in elementary school actually said pretty much those exact brain describing words to my parents during a parent teacher conference.  They were so proud.

It is with that abnormal brain, and the totally random and unrelated subjects that go whizzing through, that I will attempt to entertain you today.  I'm not sure I've ever gone through the process on paper with you but I'll see if I can attempt to give you a clearer picture of where my blog ideas come from.  Two weeks ago I was talking to family in Germany about the weather and how the end of our trip was really beautiful weather.  It reminded me of a movie where the weather channel said, "72 degrees and perfect...every day."  Then, a week later in America again, a few of us were talking in the gym after church while the kids were trying to shoot baskets (not doing a stellar job by the way) and I asked, "Did you ever see Pleasantville?  The basketball team is undefeated and every time they throw the ball from wherever they are in the goes in!"  Of course I was the only one to have seen or remember that movie.  (Stay with me...I'm getting there.)  A week after that Sylvia and I were home without kids and decided to look through the movie selection on TV.  Pleasantville!  I decided that this was a must see!  It is a movie about a TV show portraying idealized America from the fifties and how everything is pleasant...go figure.  This movie, like the other I talked about just a short week ago, also had perfect weather all the time.  Then we come to this morning.  (almost done)  As I turned on Facebook to see if there was anything worthwhile seeing, I saw a black-and-white picture of Tony Dow.  Now everyone knows (probably not) that he was Wally on Leave it to Beaver...Sproing!!  All of these past instances came together...perfect weather, Americana, black and white, the fifties, TV show...It reminds me of a story, and now I know what I am supposed to write about today.

Twenty five years ago I worked in San Leandro selling electrical parts.  If you are now thinking, "I've been on roller coasters that had fewer twists and turns" welcome to my world.  In San Leandro I was in charge of the counter.  This meant that I talked to almost everyone and I was supposed to answer questions for the other counter people when there was a question they couldn't answer.  The typical questions were "Do you have this?"  Others included, "How am I supposed to_________?", and "Is it legal to _____________?"  Every once in a while there was a question that I couldn't answer and I had to go to the big boss but for the most part I did OK.  I enjoyed the people who came in with a puzzle to solve the most, and always felt good when they walked out with parts that would do the job.  Sometimes the three parts that they thought they needed could be done with one, sometimes the one part nobody else had was at my fingertips, and sometimes the part we didn't have could be re-created out of three other parts since they needed to get their factory going NOW!!  It was challenging, it was interesting, it got me interested in doing something besides sales.

Before I left working in sales, though, there was a group of customers that stick out in my mind.  They were different in that they weren't grizzled old electricians who knew exactly what they wanted and could recite part numbers through the haze of smoke from the lit cigarette clenched in their teeth.  They weren't helpless homeowners with shards of household items that needed replacing and were hopeful that the numbers on the pieces would help me identify them.  They weren't even work crews who came to our counter because we had popcorn and sodas (and if they were really good  No, this group of characters looked like they were coming straight from a college classroom.  Dressed too nice to be working on fixing things and not nice enough to be going to a wedding.  It seemed at first like they might be on a scavenger hunt for the frat house and were just asking about random things.

I gave them prices, told them what was legal, available, and expensive.  Eventually I was able to decipher what it was they were trying to do.  I forget exactly what they were trying to create but instead of telling me their idea, they were asking about the way they thought they had to do it.  I knew a better way.  "It sounds like you guys are trying to do this....but you don't need to do it that way.  If you take this, and that, and'll have exactly what you need contained in one device that is cheaper, smaller, and looks way better than the Frankenelectrician's Monster you were trying to build.  Will that work?"  They high fived each other and told me to grab everything.  When I was writing their sales ticket I said my usual, "Is there anything else you need to know?"  The quietest one in the group finally piped up randomly and sarcastically asked, "YEAH!  Who played Lumpy on Leave it to Beaver!?"

Without batting an eye, I kept writing my ticket and said, "Frank Bank."

They paid in stunned silence and as they walked out with the stuff he said, "That guy's brain doesn't work like everyone else's."

So now you know.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Today I am going to veer away from the subject of world travel, and back toward what I usually write about, totally random unconnected subjects that I may or may not have personal experience in, or knowledge about. I know that you have come to expect a certain amount of professionalism in your reading material, not necessarily from me but from others, and I do not wish to disappoint anyone, so here we go.  Today I am going to write about something that happened a long time me.  I don't have any idea what made me remember this particular event, but here it is at the front of my very unusual brain.

I will try to enrich this posting with a spattering of very rich details.  In reading this I may need you to engage your four senses a bit.  Yes I know there are five senses...I am just thinking of you.  Please leave your sense of smell parked securely in the garage of your mind.  You may want to lock the door as well...and park a van in front of that door so it cannot raise...and then you might even want to go around the side to the little window on the side door and cover it with foil...just for the time being, later feel free to stop and smell the roses.  What I am trying to say is that there are no roses in today's blog.

Many years ago we went to the local animal park for the day.  It was back in the days when places like animal parks were gone to once in a while, had no roller coasters, and you weren't pressured into paying one and a half times the normal price of admission to get a season pass.  When we went it was an event.  If I remember correctly, we normally brought some sandwiches along but I think it had to stay in the back of the station wagon so we would get our hands stamped to be able to go back in after lunch.  (Are you all paying attention?  Sandwiches: taste.  Hand stamp: touch.  I will help you out but you'll have to do some of the work here.)

It was the hottest day of the year (probably not, but I always came home from these excursions with horrible sunburns so I am projecting) and we walked and walked and walked.  We saw the seal lion show, they played music by squeezing bike horns.  We saw walruses waddle around the stage and grunt and growl on cue.  I'm pretty sure it burped for some reason.  We saw dolphins wave at the audience, swim very fast, and jump up in the air to come down and splash everyone who was silly enough to sit close to the edge of the tank. We even saw acrobatic waterskiers who jumped, spun, and made huge pyramids all while being pulled behind a trio of speed boats.  All the while we had fun, we clapped and cheered, and the tops of my ears felt like tiny pieces of curved bacon in the hot sun.  If you didn't notice, all of these things have to do with water.  If you did notice, please put a gold star in the upper right hand side of your computer monitor.  Yes, we were at Marine World for the day.  The big attraction of the day was the killer whale show.  It was a toss up between sitting in the sun listening to my ears sizzle and sitting down in the Splash Zone to get a few minutes of relief when that huge whale belly flopped into the pool and splashed everyone within fifty feet.

When that was all done Dad looked at the guide to see what other things we might want to see.  Like I said, this was a once in a blue moon occurrence.  There was no mention of "next time we will..." because there probably wouldn't be a next time.  We needed to see everything marine related today! As I look back I think it was excitement with a touch of ignorance that suspended my questioning of the next place we went. Deep down I hope that I at least wondered "But what does this have to do with water?" when Dad announced, "There's an elephant show.  Let's go see that."

This is where I need you to really pay attention.  While the marine animal shows had very large arenas with different colored bleachers labeled "Splash Zone" the elephant show had four rows of curved cement benches that almost made three fourths of a circle.  The last section was where the elephants walked in from.  The front row benches were on the same level as the performing area with a cement rim around the edge that was maybe a foot tall and six inches wide and it was close enough to the first row that most people used it as a footrest.  The only thing keeping people from running out onto the "stage" with the elephants was common sense.  The only thing keeping the elephants in was conditioning and the trainer with what looked like a riding crop.  My family, born with an abundance of common sense, did not run out to play with the elephants...we also did not sit in the front row.

When the show started they brought out one elephant to show the small crowd, "This is an elephant."  They had it walk in a circle, turn around, back up, and put its front legs on a giant stool.  Then they brought out another elephant and had it do tricks with the first one.  They both walked, turned around, and stood on stools but this time they picked up a huge log in their trunks.  Impressive!  The only thing I can do with my nose is frighten children when I sneeze.  They did what was expected of them. These elephants weren't shy.  I know that they weren't shy because they 'ahem' did their business 'ahem' right in front of everybody on stage.  These two workers, who quite possibly had the worst job in the whole place, came out with shovels, sawdust, and brooms, and took care of the elephants' business.  (aren't you glad I had you leave your sense of smell locked away?)

We sat the whole time on the third row seats, roughly a foot higher than stage level, eating our stale sticky bricks of pink candy corn.  Then they brought out two more elephants.  Now we have a show!  They had the elephants stand in a row together "Uchoo".  Lift onto their back legs together "Mbat!".  They even bowed together "Undutu".  I am fairly certain that I couldn't even get one elephant to do any of this by simply calling out African sounding get four to do it was impressive.  Then they had the elephants walk together around the circle.  Hmmm...not so impressive.  Then they had the elephants speed up a bit.  OK, now that looks better.  They were actually going pretty fast, and they were really near the people in the front row.  Then the trainer announced that this would be the grand finale.  He would make the elephants spin around while they kept running around the inside of the arena.  He yelled out "UNGAWA" and I'll be darned if those elephants didn't start spinning as they were circling the arena.  What we in the audience didn't know was that these not-shy elephants were not only able to take care of business in front of crowds of people...they were also able to do it while running and spinning in a circle.  One of the elephants decided to display his distaste with the whole idea of show business by doing his business.  Right in front of the crowd that was about two feet away he let loose.  The momentum of his running and spinning flung poop out into the crowd.  It was like watching a demented pachyderm teacup ride at Disneyland.  People screamed and jumped out of the way and the elephant just kept on spinning and pooping.  I'm glad to say that three rows away was the "No Splash Zone" and my family was safe...but those poor kids with the shovels and brooms really earned their money that day.

So there you have it.  My typical type of post.  If you started reading because of the European vacation, be warned, this is pretty much normal for me.  The only difference would be that I would typically try to end with a joke.  I do know one joke about an elephant with diarrhea but you've probably already heard's all over town. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pass the Buttermilk Please

As we drive rapidly (in Europe that translates to 130 kilometers an hour) toward the end of our trip, I have decided on a theme for our trip.  I know, I know, themes are usually chosen at the beginning of a journey, but this theme is one of retrospect.  The unofficial, irrevocable,  singularly chosen theme of our trip is..."It's Special to This Region!"  Whenever some new activity or food was met with resistance, someone would pull this catch phrase out of the air and the decision was made.  It was happening.  

The kids, being the brilliant and talented, figured out early on that this was the theme.   The relatives and friends we visited (similarly brilliant and talented) have figured out this theme as well.  It has become sort of a catch phrase around us.  I like it.  And I usually liked the outcome.  

Try some homemade apple's special to this region.
Let's visit the dairy to buy milk and butter from an honor-system's special to this region.
Let's climb the alps...they're special to this region.
Let's eat in an outside bier garden while listening to music for's special to this region.
Let's visit ancient cathedrals, castles, churches, salt mines, forests, lakes, alms, etc...they are all special to this region.

I apologize to those who have been following along on our trip and thought I was the bold adventurous type...I don't care how special it was, or how small the region, buttermilk will remain special to region...for others.  They can have my share.

We have done things in these fortunate five weeks that a lot of people have only on a bucket list that lies somewhere in the back of their hopeful minds.  Visit Europe.  Ride a gondola.  Swim the Adriatic.  Walk from Germany to Austria.  Ride a bike to a bakery for Italy.  Fire a a castle.  Walk where kings and queens have walked.  Eat an ice cream cone on a mountain top.  Drive really fast on the autobahn.  We've done them all...and they were all special to this region.

There was something else that was very special to this region...the people who have treated us so very well.  We have been fed, taken in, fed, pampered, fed, cared for, fed, taken on tours, fed, welcomed, fed, had schedules overturned for, fed, chauffeured, fed, loved, and given food,  (I know you thought I was going to say, 'fed' again, but I read once in a book about being a good writer who wants to be rich and famous that you shouldn't be too predictable).

I cannot even express how grateful we are to every one of the families that have allowed us to park our weary band of travelers in front of their houses and in the midst of their lives for extended periods of time.  There is an old saying that says fish and visitors both smell after three days.  If that is true, we must be absolutely stinky, in a metaphorical hygienic sort of way of course.  I can not fully express the gratitude and genuine thanks I feel toward everyone who have taken time out of their daily lives to accommodate us.  I can say, when you come to our area we will try to repay the favors.  Instead of ancient cathedrals and bier gardens we have Golden Gates and sourdough bread bowls with clam chowder...but we like it.  We can work to find things that are special to our region.

Thank you     X    999   =    Still not enough!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Parles Vous German

As we travel through Germany I am making a discovery of sorts.  There are many German words that you can figure out if you have a decent English vocabulary.  I think I have stumbled upon the reason...and it is not what you may think.  

There are scholars and linguists who may tell you that the reason there are many language similarities between English and German because many of the roots of English are Germanic in nature and therefor and so on and blah blah blah.  My blog shall not become a lecture series!  After weeks of imaginary research I have discovered that the truth behind these so called "roots" in our language is due to a guy with a hearing problem, a speech impediment, and a sense of humor.  I will now pause for a moment while academics the world round slap their palms to their foreheads and reconsider their chosen professions.  Also, this would be a good time for all of you students writing final exams to delete everything you have already written and instead write about the mumbling guy.  

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Germany was established first.  The fact that there are cities here that trace back to dates that end in "B.C." should be help you accept this, but we won't quibble over facts.  So people were speaking German a long time before America was a country.  Then a guy named Wolfgang traveled over to America to establish a language.  (Prior to Wolfgang's arrival Americans just sat around saying "forsooth" a lot.)  Well he met Fred (Wolfgang spelled it Pfred) and decided to have some fun trying to communicate.  I think it went something like this.

Wolfgang:  Hallo
Pfred: huh?  I mean, huh forsooth?'s a greeting.
Pfred (ears still ringing from shooting at squirrels) Hello got it!
So I see you live in a hutte.
That there? it.
May I have an apfel?
Here you go...enjoy...let me write that down.  Apple.
You don't seem very bright Pfred...may I speak to your vater?
My father?  I guess, he's over there.
Hey! Who ist sie?
Who is she? Forsooth!
Sie ist your schwester.  
My sister?  If you say so.

It went on and on like this for hours until the two of them had come up with the basics of a new language.  During a thunderstorm Wolfgang said "donner", Pfred wrote down "thunder".  Pfred pointed at the "flowers" and Wolfgang said they were "blumen". Pfred said, "of course they are blooming...they're flowers!"  And with that a comedy routine was born.

I have been able to follow along with many stories that Sylvia has told by just listening closely and picking out key words.  It's interesting how much you can pick up on when you know the story of Wolfgang and Pfred.  Of course they didn't get everything mixed up.  Camera, for instance, is kamera.  Ya is ya.  There are many more but I keep vergessen (forgetting).

I tried to put my newfound language into practice when I asked about going to the apothecary to get some medicine.  It is spelled apotheke and it has that mortar and pestle symbol next to the words so I was able to figure it out.  I was not, however, able to pronounce this new word.  I said something like (a POTH o  k) and was met by confused looks from everyone.  I said it again.  Nothing.  I knew it was the right place to talk about.  I knew it was where we would need to go.  Still nothing.  Then I explained that it was where you needed to go to get band aids or rubbing alcohol or cotton balls..."Oh!!!  Ah po TAY KAY!"  Then they laughed and pointed and called me Pfred.  I think that I will come up with a game that involves pronouncing words the wrong way with the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllables.  It could be lots of fun.  I won't try to let the fact that they already have such a game stand in my way!  I am on a mission!

There are a lot of things that make sense when trying to learn German.  Tired, for instance, is müde in German.  It's like you are pronouncing the word "moody" with a rubber band wrapped around your lips.  I think anyone who has been near a two year old would be able to tell you that moody and tired go hand in hand.

The last one I want to talk about takes a bit of explanation since I have discovered that there are many new German readers of the blog.  Der Weinerschnitzel is a restaurant in America that serves hot dogs.  They specialize in them.  I have never been there.  Apparently my parents never thought there was anything special enough about hot dogs to go to a restaurant to eat them...even if that restaurant specialized in them.  I have continued this tradition of not going.  Also, now that I am embracing my German roots, I know that true Weinerschnitzel is delicious and breaded, and seasoned, and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with hot dogs, and I'm hungry!  The point is, if you are from the land of hot dog restaurants and wish to eat something that is hot dog shaped, you should order something completely different than a Weinerschnitzel.

In conclusion, I will say that all of this food and language talk has reminded me of a joke.  And it fits in to this topic!  But I have decided that I will not tell it at this time.  You see, German sausage jokes are the wurst!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Yesterday we got to go to one of my favorite cities in the world.  Salzburg.  If you've never been, I can describe it in one word...absolutely without a doubt undeniably spectacular.  (Ok, so I'm no good at counting...but I know a beautiful city when I see one).  I've said for years that you could drop your camera and accidentally take a picture, and it would be gorgeous.

Sylvia and I have been twice to Salzburg.  There were some things that we did the first time that we didn't get a chance to do again...but there were other things that we experienced for the first time this trip.  

We went to the castle this time, and last time we only watched from afar as construction happened on the outside.  What Sylvia didn't know was that while they were doing the construction on the outside, they were tearing down bits of wall on the inside and discovering new rooms, new frescoes, and new sections of some really old parts of the castle.  It was great to see things that Sylvia hadn't seen in a castle that she had been to several times before.  We saw the cannons, the gold room, the torture room, and some really interesting cabinets that I'm sure were the inspiration for some of the ones in the Harry Potter movies.  

Dieter, Jake, Kristiana, and I, spent a tiny portion of our time using the crossbow to send darts sailing across part of the castle.  Since they have re-fortified the walls, however, our attack was unfruitful, but at least they didn't pour boiling oil on that was good.  There were sections that showed history, and military uses, and (since it was used in the filming of The Sound of Music) I opened my arms wide and tried to sing, "The hills are alive...with the sound...." but that was as far as I ever got.  Apparently Julie Andrews didn't sing while inside the castle...or in front of the castle...or in the room of torture...or the graveyard where the Von Trapp family snuck away at the end.  Does anyone know how much "I had a weird dad" therapy for children costs?  Do they offer group discounts?  I'm hoping the kids will forgive me when they find out that we replaced our VHS copy of the movie with a more modern version.  Now we can watch it over, and over, and over...on Blue Ray...and over...or DVD...and over.   Maybe I should start a collection for that therapy now.  

After the castle we walked through the fussganger zone.  We looked for a sausage (a bosner) that is only sold in one place.  Montreal, which is why it was weird that we looked here.  No, it is only sold in Salzburg, by one place, and there is always a line.  Unfortunately it wasn't a long enough line to see from where we walked because we still don't know what they taste like.  Another interesting thing about Salzburg is that Mozart was born here.  Perhaps you've heard of him...I think he did a duet with Olivia Newton John...we walked to where Dieter and Sylvia thought it would be and then gathered our bearings.  Again it's one of those places that always has a crowd so we should have found it easily.  Just when we were about to ask someone where the house was, Sylvia looked at the wall right in front of us.  Ta da!!  The Mozart museum.  As she said his house should be near here, she looked up the wall of the building...and in foot tall golden letters...Mozart Geburtshaus (birth house).  Very cool.  We didn't go in.  But we did go into the music store that was a few doors away.  Kristiana bought some sheet music and Jake looked at a few electric guitars that were rumored to have belonged to old Wolfgang himself...rumored by me that is.

It got pretty late so we talked about going home...but there was one more thing I wanted to see, The Mirabell gardens.  I remembered walking hand in hand with Sylvia through here eighteen years ago.  I wanted to see it again.  This is when a minor miracle happened.  I remembered where it was...sort of.  We walked over the Salzach river to the Rathaus then entered the garden.  It was as nice as I remembered.  We saw the statues and the fountains  and thousands of colorful begonias that outlined beautiful patterns all throughout the garden.  They were all the same size and nothing looked out of place.  There weren't any workers wandering around making sure it was pristine...I'm guessing they have an army of elves and lawn gnomes who come out only at night.  Some of us toyed with the idea of standing in the main fountain but ended up being content to just dip feet.  

As I sat on a bench looking at the people walking by I was struck by how each one of them had a story.  There were couples holding hands who were probably we were many years ago.  There were couples who were holding hands because they each needed support to stand up...who would laugh when I said that eighteen years was "so many years ago."  There were melancholy people who sat quietly looking at the fountain, perhaps flooded by memories of shared times that couldn't be again.  Everyone in their own little space, no one disturbed by the people who may be cutting through just because it was shorter than going around.  I was glad we came.  If I were a TV producer I might try an idea like Mirabella Stories and go through one each week.  But I'm not, so...sigh.

Sylvia and Dieter had their own memories of the garden.  I knew that their Opa liked it...but I didn't know that he took them there almost every Sunday.  The roses were his favorite and it took us a bit to find them, one level up, but I'm glad we did.  I thought about snipping one off to dry and take home, but I hear gardener elves are very touchy about their roses.  We crossed over the river again,  looking at the hundreds of red locks people have clipped to the bridge.  The story is, click the lock, throw the key in the river, your love is forever locked.  They even sell red locks at the base of the bridge.  Don't bother asking which one is ours.  Our love is locked with rings and a vow.  Sorry.

We walked back to the car that we parked in the garage, carved under a mountain, eight past the bosna sausage store (as they were closing) and Sylvia navigated us home, in our borrowed car, through two-way streets wide enough for almost one car, guided by signs that indicate straight ahead...when straight ahead is clearly a building (a beautiful centuries old building...but a building nonetheless.)  

My one regret for the whole trip is that my trip to the garden made us very late for the delicious dinner that Monika made, and held, for us.  I joke about a lot of things (almost everything) but I am completely serious about this...  I am very sorry about that.   I'll end with this, if you ever get a chance to visit this great place, two things.   Allow a lot of time, and bring your camera...OK, two regrets. (thank God for smart phones)