I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Day 157 - The First of Many Big Steps

Daily Kup (My Life on the Cusp)
The first day of kindergarten passed without significant mental upheaval.

I'm reminded of a poignant joke I heard a long time ago. While it's about the first day of school, I would use it when I did training sessions to illustrate the value of clear communication in avoiding missing information and differing assumptions.

A little boy was preparing for his first day of school. Despite his parents' cheerful attempts to assure him that he would have fun, make many new friends, and learn valuable skills, he still seemed morose and frightened. "Mommy, how long do people go to school?" "Well, son, there are twelve grades after kindergarten. People typically go to school until they are eighteen and then decide if they need to go for more schooling in college." The little boy grew more dejected with each passing day, which the parents attributed to shyness and nerves.

Finally, the first day of school arrived and the parents walked with the little boy to the bus stop. As the little boy trudged slowly to the bus door, he turned back to his parents with tears in his eyes, "You won't forget to come back and pick me up when I'm eighteen, will you?"

The Wheels on the Bus Go 'Round and 'Round


Day 156 - The First Day of School

Daily Kup (My Life Hanging Around the Bus Stop)
I am a sucker for the beginning of things, an unrepentant fan of the fresh start. The first day of school in the fall, despite the near-90 degree temperatures, still signals the inevitable spiral into winter and then progression to the new season of renewal and growth.

And yet it's not without mixed feelings that I see this special summer end. Grade school started today and kindergarten starts tomorrow. That will be a new emotional hurdle. I'm hoping for a little quiet time to work on my projects but I may miss the hubbub and look forward to that bus returning in the afternoon.

Third Grade Homework

A white lunch bag, folded flat.
A stapled tag on the spiky upper edge:
"Fill with five small objects
that tell us who you are.
Decorate with creativity
and return for Wednesday sharing time.
Be prepared to explain."

When you are eight, you gather
a baseball and a baseball card,
a favorite Matchbox car,
a picture of the family,
nd a handful of foreign coins.
You collect crayons, magazines for harvesting
and a glue stick to style the outside
Because you know the five things you most are
and never imagine that you will be someone else.

When you are twenty or forty or eighty,
will the bag lie flat in startled hands?
or strain and split from five that grew to fifty?

Letters of triumph and photos of regrets,
a lock of hair (your own or someone else's),
a pet's collar,
a ticket for a plane that was missed,
corks collected from exquisite vintage and from vinegar.

At the funeral of the father of a friend,
a quiet table of
pictures and hand tools,
a computer mouse,
and a library card,
gave proof of homework completed true and well.

I don't expect to see eternity
but if there is another room,
at the door might be a bag with stapled instructions.

Be prepared to explain.


Day 155 - Kazakhstan Part 13

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Evenings in the late fall in western Kazakhstan last a very long time. We ate a simple supper, cleaned the small apartment, and finished unpacking. And then it was 7 PM.

The porch that jutted from the bedroom was not big enough to drag a chair out onto, but you could lean on the base of the bay window and look across the rutted and weedy common area to watch the lights of the other apartments come on one by one.

Terry fiddled with the two televisions. There was a VCR but no tapes. The set in the bedroom was capable of pulling in channel after channel of static, plus a couple in Kazakh and Russian and not English.

The apartment was ungodly hot. We opened every window that opened -- meaning a kitchen window, the porch and two windows in the living room -- and prayed for cross-ventilation. The apartments and many other buildings is Uralsk are centrally heated with steam heat. By "centrally" I mean that the whole city is heated by huge silver pipes. I suspect that the place looks like a circuit board from space. Inna explained that they turn on the heat on a certain date in the fall and turn it off in the spring. The bureaucrat who flips the switch pays no attention to the weather. The Kazakhs have a long association with Soviet-style government; if their apartments are ninety degrees in November, they open the window and carry fans. That's just how it is.

We needed to consider officially selecting two of the children whom we had met. Natalya, the gentle and stylish dynamo, had been careful to tell us that we wouldn't be pushed into making a decision and at the same time reminding us that any delay would throw the schedule right out the window by extending our time into the tumult of the presidential election, the winter holidays where government offices are closed for several weeks, and maybe a change in the laws. But, hey, take your time. No pressure.

We talked into the long evening. The Nurlan whom we finally met was mostly as we had imagined him. He had a clean bill of health, both from our doctor and from the Kazakh doctor. He was obviously bright and seemed to have a curiosity about the world that had not been dulled by the institution. We liked him and could easily see him becoming part of our family.

The question of the second child weighed heavily. Anastasiya had been thrilling to hold, but the shake had frightened us. What if she had some horrible condition? She didn't seem to have a mental disability beyond the delay that is the product of institutionalizing children, but what did we know? We were told that she had been born three months prematurely and had only weighed a few pounds.

This information, if true, conjured up concerns of heart defects and cerebral palsy. On the other hand, medical records from post-Soviet countries are jarring to outsiders since birth itself is recorded as a trauma to the brain. Children placed for adoption have especially scary-sounding medical records. Some people in the adoption community chalk this up to the psychological need on the part of the society to explain why these children are given a lesser status. On the flip side, medical defects are played up in court as a justification to permit a foreign adoption, allowing a child to get medical treatment not available in Kazakhstan. Just another one of those aberrations of the truth that exists in international adoptions because it works and doesn't really hurt anyone.

We liked Anastasiya but were cautious. We felt sorry for and guilty about poor little Irat who so badly wanted to be wanted. We were still jet lagged and not ready to make a decision, schedule or not. Sorry, Natalya.

We decided to tell the agency that we wanted to see more children and particularly to visit Uralsk's other infant and toddler orphanage, Baby House 2.


Day 154 - Computer Karma

Daily Kup (But can I play Tron in it?)
There are good days and then days when the forces combine to produce a bumper crop of excellence. My Christmas club account in the karma bank paid a dividend today.

You know how we question when things seem too good to be true? Sometimes, things are exactly what they appear and still we are unsure. I saw an ad on one of the online "free goods" sites posted by someone giving away servers. The ad stated that the server was VM-capable and would be perfect for an advanced student or a small business. This all seemed unlikely, particularly since we had followed another computer ad in the morning that had been a tool to attract customers to a used goods store. Since we are planning on launching a business in a few months, the timing could not have been better if this was indeed a legitimate offer. We emailed to ask if the server was still available.

Getting an affirmative response to our email, we all piled into the yellow bus and went for a ride. We followed the directions to an office building in a neighboring suburb. Standing outside the nearly deserted building and being a jaded person, I wondered if this is how people fall prey to organ harvesters.

We cautiously approached the locked security entrance. A sparkling woman in about her mid-sixties and sporting a bluetooth headset met us at the door as she was helping some "scrappers" -- people who collect and seller scrap metal and materials for a profit -- out the door with piles of wire, cables, and various hunks of metal.

She directed us to their office on the third floor. There, on an office labeled for a networking company, we found the other half of the couple. We were greeted by the cheery older gentleman in an office suite where computer and office hardware in various states of removal were on nearly every surface.

The server was an HP 5U with quad processors and 1 x 18 GB and 3 x 36.4 GB of capacity. It was beautiful. We kept looking for the catch but there wasn't any. They were moving and right-sizing their company and were giving everything away that they hadn't manage to disposition otherwise.

We were speechless. We put the server in the car and we returning the cart on which we have moved this heavy, heavy piece of equipment. I guess they decided that they liked us, since they offered us a server rack, a firewall accessory (a 1U server similar to what we used to build at Porkus), a huge file cabinet and some office items. We already felt embarrassed at their generosity and didn't want to appear greedy. We left with the firewall, some binders and bins, and the magnificent server. And, yes, it works. It's sitting in my office now with its little green lights twinkling, driving my electric bill further into the stratosphere.

Before seeing the server ad, we'd been on our way to take to the dump the third lawn mower that T has blown up in four years. I am dangerous at the dump because we usually come in with a loaded trailer and also leave with a trailer loaded with different objects. Some wasteful fool had thrown away brand new 10 foot sections of that white wire closet shelving. The store tags were still on it. Soon, it will become shelves on my garage walls. (I restrained myself before I took a perfectly good set of wrought iron lawn furniture that needed a coat of paint.)

To celebrate, we went to the beach, probably for the last time this year since it closes tomorrow for the season.

Day 153 - Retail Therapy

Daily Kup (My Life as a Bag Lady)
Today's caravan headed for that Mecca of hedonism, the Outlet Mall. Our closest mall is Albertville Premium Outlets: 100 stores and lots of chance to walk.

Kollege Kid needed some new clothes and had a gift card. The two small ones were helpful and cooperative — in the first store. After that, it became a little dicey; bribery and threats became the order of the day. On the positive side, the exercise potential was greatly increased by physically dragging two squirming mini-human beings the entire length of the mall.

We completed the planned mission with minimal casualties and hurried home since Kollege Kid needed to be at the airport to meet her Gambian roommate's London flight.

Driving home with bags in the back of the car, I felt like the driver of the getaway car.

Koffee Shop(ping)


Day 152 - Employee Wellness?

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
We went to the school "Meet & Greet" to drop off the pile of office supplies equivalent to the yearly allotment for the country of Sierra Leone. We have meeted and we have greeted.

Sometimes you just have to cartoon.

I'm still working on the blurriness factor. Here is a link to the pristine edition:


Day 151 - The Pickle of Fate

Daily Kup (Relish the Thought!)
As Julius Caesar said -- or should have: Veni, vidi, pickli. I came, I saw, I pickled. Caesar was actually well-known for his pickling, having won a blue ribbon at the Rome State Fair for a jar of garlic dills. He was also acclaimed for a small gherkin, though perhaps that was only what Cleopatra told her friends after a couple of glasses of wine.

In Act I, the cucumbers from the Farmers' Market met the onions from my garden. They eyed each other warily while leaning against the wall at the dance. As time went by, they warmed to each other and the cukes proved to be regular cut-ups. The onions found that a little sugar goes a long way. The cukes weren't sure that was Kosher (salt). They called on their friend, Fresh Ginger, who -- despite her bad reputation -- was quick to pour on the vinegar and remind the awkward couple that it takes the faith of a mustard seed ... and maybe some celery seeds, too.

Act II finds the situation heating up. After being as-salted, the pair is thrown into the tank where things start to get pretty steamy. Just as the scene comes to a boil, Act II ends.

Act III opens with the gang hitting the bottle (literally). The new surroundings are tight but have a great view. But suddenly, they are back in hot water again. After a hot 10 minutes and a cooling off period, the former cucumber and onion realize that they have really changed.
To signify the metamorphosis, they rename themselves Bread & Butter and proclaim that "Brine Really Does Pay." Curtain.


Day 150 - Grasping at Summer

Daily Kup (What I Did on My Reality Vacation)
Each child of eight or eighty knows when the breezes pick up and the nights are a few degrees cooler that summer is slipping through our fingers like sand on the beach. At the end of August, we must capture, we must distill, we must infuse these dwindling days with all the summer that can be jammed in. I thought so when I was nine years old anticipating the day that was both my tenth birthday and the start of fifth grade and I know so today.

Princess Potatohead is looking forward to kindergarten and mourning the loss of her preschool companions. She was especially close to a couple of the little girls and has been crying herself to sleep, sobbing, "I miss my friends." I promised her that we would visit the preschool before her buddies left and we made a surprise trip today to coincide with the preschool's last day before 'graduating' this group of children and scattering them to the world.

We found the class on the playground. They let out a "whoop" and gathered in a mob around my kids. Small children have their own elaborate social rituals worthy of study by Jane Goodall. There was a lot of running around, hugging and general goofiness. Later when I looked at the photos, I came across this detail, blown up at the right, in one of the shots. The delight of this child, another international adoptee, in seeing my son shines from her radiant face.

We left the preschool with a little more sense of closure and there was no weeping at bedtime tonight.

Since our summer bowling passes expire on the 31st, this was one of our next stops on the Summer Summary tour. I bowl at the level where I can almost be beaten by a toddler using bumpers. But the three kids (two little and one college-sized) and I had fun. Here's a shot taken with the freebie Mavica from the last century that I acquired at the school district rummage sale. It's bulky, loud as it writes to the 3.5" floppy disk, and the output is grainy and lacking in depth of field. But look how it transmutes colors and reflections and makes movement look like MOTION. The photos don't look like a brochure -- they look like a memory.

Riding on the high from almost breaking 100, we continued the quest for summer at the Farmers' Market. In a moment of irresponsible optimism last month, I promised that we would make pickles together. With time ticking down, we bought a whole lot of cucumbers. We who are about to brine salute you.

We finished the day with All-You-Can-Eat Tacos at a local chain and then made rice krispy bars at home. It was a simple but glorious summer day.

Kids love summer because they think it will never end. And when it does, they can only imagine that the next summer will be eternal and better than the one before. When, in the sweep of life, the hands on the dial point to Autumn, you have no such illusions. You know that summers are limited in time and space and sparingly doled out over a lifetime. That makes them worth all the more.


Day 149 - Finish the Math Review book or I"ll Scream

Daily Kup (If a 'new broom sweeps clean', what does a Swiffer do?)
Today was the day of the endless math homework, so the less said of it, the better. I got a call that a good friend had gotten a great new job, so that was uplifting news.

Psychedelic Koffee and Magical Beans
On Sunday, we trekked to the Uptown Market in the area of Minneapolis called, not surprisingly, Uptown. It's a gentrified area rolling in trendy eateries and weird little stores. The Uptown Market is set up on a few blocks of West 29th Steet barricaded for this purpose on summer Sunday afternoons.

The crisp white tents cover vegetable vendors, artisans, even a psychic. Our favorite artisan is, of course, fellow blogger Kim B of Baroness Color with her exquisite hand-dyed apparel.

When exposed to the promise of food, the kids act like wolverines coming off a fast. Bypassing even the stone oven that looked like excellent pizzas were forthcoming, they lit upon the Magic Bus Cafe parked at the Lyndale Avenue end of the market. It is the VW microbus of 60's lore -- grown large, purple and producing hot dogs and tofu dogs. The flower-powered menu boasts the Buffalo Springfield Dog, the Magic Chili Dog, and the Wavy Gravy Bowl.

The operators asked the kids if they would like to come and sit in the dining area inside the bus where it was more cool. While I was still eyeing the Mediterranean pizza down the block, nothing closes the deal quite like a chance to sit in front of a fan on a very hot day while your kids are distracted by decor that covers every surface.

We enjoyed hot dogs with hearty and inventive condiments while getting a chance to see how all the clever gear in the mobile kitchen worked.

Chatting with the three operators, I thought that the psychedelic curry relish on my Grateful Dog might be literally named until I confirmed that --yes -- the two women were twins. Not just one woman who blurred in an out of reality. It never hurts to check these things out.

A cafe that keeps the fun in funky, the bus recently appeared on the Cooking Channel's Truck Food Revolution. Viva the revolution! With hot dogs this good, I've got to agree with Ken Kesey (and the T-shirts worn by these lovely people): "You're either on the bus or off the bus."

Day 148 - Kazakhstan Part 12

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Dima's car wove through Uralsk intersections while Inna explained that the region had two infant and toddler orphanages, Baby House 1 and Baby House 2. Dima turned off the main street and took a muddy road past what seemed to be an open air market. The car lurched in the deep ruts leading through a gate. There we were: Baby House 1.

Baby House 1 seemed somehow cheerier and better kept than the preschool had been. We made our way up the pink stairs and through a heavy wooden door. The front office was spare but clean. Inna said something to a young woman sitting behind the office's sole desk. Inna gestured to us to sit and wait on a padded bench. She and the receptionist entered a nearby office.

Shortly, a stout blonde woman in a white medical coat entered the room and greeted us with a warm smile. Inna introduced her as Dr. Irina, the director of the Baby House. We were shown into her office where she asked us a few general questions. By then, we were used to answering just about anything anyone asked us without a second thought.

A few minutes into our interview, the young woman reentered the room holding a baby. We recognized the child as Anastasiya, the nine-month-old girl that the agency had been very excited about. We had received a picture of the baby while still in the US but no video or medical information. The picture had shown a dour-looking baby that somehow looked like an old Russian babushka, an elderly grandmother. We took the limited information to the University of Minnesota Adoption Clinic for evaluation. Dr. Johnson said that he had some concerns but not enough information to make a formal recommendation. He said, "When you see her, use your senses and you'll have a pretty good idea of her condition."
And there she was.

As I held the baby in my arms, she studied every detail of my face with her little-old-woman expression. She was very attentive but did not smile. She was built sturdily, but was neither too fat nor too thin. Her eyes tracked. Her philtrum, the hills and valley skin folds from the center of the upper lip to the nose, were pronounced, indicating less of a chance of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Terry tentatively held the baby. You couldn't say that he was a natural, but at least he didn't handle her like she was made of china; he handled her like she was a large head of cabbage. Anastasiya stared at him intently, unsmiling, taking it all in.

The orphanage people were saying something about her. I was distracted by the baby and was hardly listening. In retrospect, it might have been useful to know what they said.

I was confused about why they were showing us this child. She was prime international adoption material according to the calculus of the adoption agencies: white female infant with no obvious medical issues. According to Kazakh adoption guidelines, I was too old to be allowed to adopt an infant. Should I mention this or just be quiet?

I held the baby again and she seemed to be settling comfortably. Conversation had lulled since there seemed to be nothing to talk about. I was walking around the office holding the baby when suddenly her whole body shook momentarily. I asked Inna to ask Dr. Irina what this meant. She said that all babies do that, particularly when they had been preemies, and they grow out of it by the time they are a year old. I was skeptical since I didn't remember my biological daughter ever doing that and hadn't heard of this symptom in others except for those with cerebral palsy or other neurological illnesses.

The caregiver came to retrieve the baby for her nap. My eyes followed her out the door and down the long hallway. I'd quickly gotten used to that little warm bundle.

We left Dr. Irina's office and made our way back to the muddy parking lot. The roads were always muddy but Dima's car was always clean. He spent the long periods waiting for his clients by cleaning and polishing his car.

It had been a very long day with still one more task. Inna took us to Uralsk's only western-style supermarket to buy groceries. The store had been built to cater to foreign oil executives and their families who were not used to going to multiple special-purpose shops for their groceries. Fortunately, most of the packaging had pictures and so, between the pictures and Inna's translation, we were able to find some canned and packaged goods. We stared at the meat case but didn't see anything that looked familiar except piles of sausages of every color and size. Getting to the check-out, we had to tell the cashier how many plastic bags we wanted to buy since these are not complimentary. Being cheap, in later weeks I would often underestimate or not bring enough bags with me and end up with groceries in my pockets or carried loosely in my arms.

It was starting to get dark, something that happens at 4:30 or 5:00 during that time of year. Inna and Dima left us in front of our apartment building and went on their way back to their lives. Teenagers and young men milled around the courtyard eying us with interest. The shabby building shown with a patchwork of lighted porches.
We climbed the four flights of concrete steps weighed down with grocery bags but with the adrenaline that comes from being followed by strangers with unknown motives. The building was alive with muffled voices and smells of cooking from inside the foot-thick concrete walls. We found our door at the top of the staircase. The outside door was the lighter-colored one shown on the left. It was a good thing that Nastya had us practice locking and unlocking the multiple access doors since the stairs were so dimly lit. We tumbled into the dark little apartment and locked both doors behind us.


Day 147 - Raising "Cane"

Little House M.D. On the Prairie


Day 146 - A Patch of Green

Daily Kup (A broken heart on Broadway for every star on the Walk of Fame)
Like any trite country song, we loaded up the buckboard, hitched our wagon to a star, and headed out of town during a blinding rainstorm ...if the buckboard is an SUV and the town is a Minneapolis suburb. The blinding rainstorm really was a blinding rainstorm however.

The studio was located in the Northeast Minneapolis Art District (http://www.northeastminneapolisartsdistrict.com/) in one of the huge old former Grain Belt Brewery warehouses.

Walking to the far end of the cavernous brick warehouse, we found the door with a paper sign saying, "This is it. Enter here." Inside was another dimension that only needed a Rod Serling voiceover to make it complete. Just inside the door we encountered a large table of sandwiches, muffins and platters of this and that. Sculptures and paintings were thrown randomly and a dappled, otherworldly green light filtered through a drape covering an open arch. The coordinator signed us in and inquired about any sports uniforms that we may have brought. We decided on the baseball uniforms from the big bag of things that I brought just in case. We were shown into an office to change. Suitably sportsy, we waited our turn on a magenta contemporary sectional sofa until we were waved into the green screen room.

The green screen itself was a bright green wall that curves seamlessly into a floor of the same color. There is a green T mark on the green floor in front the green wall where the models are told to stand. The director had the three of us stand together. I love this pose because it allows for the great instant weight loss trick of all time -- having children flanking the fat parts and only letting the skinny parts show. We were told to stare at the director's hand for 10 seconds as he held it in left, right and center positions. In between the hand-staring, we were to look at each other and smile and then look back at the hand. It took a lot of resolve to resist making a "talk to the hand' joke. Two different photographers then took stills with cameras the size of bazookas.

The director repeated the process with the two kids while I stood against the side wall and tried to will Princess Potatohead to stop looking worried. Her hair fell on her face and the director paused, wanting a clearer shot. My son, brushed the hair behind her ears, charming everyone and making a shot that I'm guessing might be used in the final product.

After the kids did their cute posing in front of the Big Green Wall (and not the one in the lore of the Boston Red Sox), the director motioned me to move back to the T mark alone. "Are you kidding?" It's an intimidating feeling to be standing out there alone in front of videographers and hangers-on. The stylist tried to brush my flyaway hair down. It was pasted into shape before the rainstorm but then assumed consciousness and would not be subjugated. With a shrug, we progressed. We went through the watch-my-hand thing plus some head turning and still shots. In my black jeans and T-shirt, I felt like a punk Nanny McPhee.

Since the agency, Vetta-Zelo http://www.vetta-zelo.com/, uses social media marketing and has clients that include Target and Coke, I was interested in knowing what would be done with the footage. (In a post-celluloid world, is it bit-age?) The director told me that the client was a Florida banking chain with 80-some branches. They will release the commercial on YouTube and shove it toward viral immortality. The agency will send me the link when it's posted and I'll post it here. That's not just courtesy on the part of the agency but part of the overall marketing infection strategy.

I had been unreasonably nervous about this whole commercial thing even though I volunteered for it. My stomach had been attempting to leave through my esophagus. I recently read a profoundly simple and simply profound piece of advice: Do what you most fear. Much of this whole experiment has been about stepping outside the comfort zone into the wide-open what-if. Doesn't make it any less scary. One more check-off on the bucket list.

We collected our free lunches and stepped back out into the world. It had stopped raining.

Good to the Last Drop
Fellow blogger and handmade art maven Kim Barron is participating in a show on Sunday at the Uptown Market in Minneapolis. Looks like a great time with food, artisans and locally grown produce.


Day 145 - Technical Difficulties

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
My in-house Tech Support Manager, Mr. T, has been wrestling the demon of the Internet connectivity all evening. Now, at 1:30 AM, I have a few minutes of contact festooned with Blogger error messages telling me that content is not being saved. Fingers crossed for luck ...

We are ready for our green screen commercial shoot tomorrow. It's my dream to wear green and be filmed as a floating head. With the perfect timing that children have, Atilla the Son stabbed Princess Potatohead with a pen below her right eye, creating a jagged cut and a black eye. Hope they want tough looking kids in that commercial.

A Spoonful of Sugar
Sometimes you just gotta go with fuzzy animals. I can't remember under what circumstance I found this site, but it's a terrific example of appealing to a really, really small niche market. Disapproving Rabbits: http://www.disapprovingrabbits.com/


Day 144 - A Slide Headfirst

Daily Kup (What I Did on my Reality Vacation)
The reining in of the wild children continues. A full 75 math sheets have been completed and I haven't had to (figuratively) have my knee in anyone's back since page 50. They are doing their schoolwork and chores with the understanding that they can do it the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is starting to win.

As we approach the completion of back-to-school preparations, I took the moppets to have their sculls sheared. I usually cut their hair but had a failure of confidence in lieu of the TV commercial filming on Friday. The fear of sneezing and cutting short a budding entertainment career drove me to Fantastic Sam's. With a coupon, of course.

Attila the Son returned with a Justin Bieber-like swath of bangs. He was beaming and couldn't resist bubbling in the car, "I feel FANTASTIC." Oh, great. Another one always looking in the mirror...

A Shot of Espresso Like a Kick to the Head

The LA Times reported on a link between incorrect diagnoses of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and head injuries. //www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-brain-trauma-20100817,0,846320.story?track=rss

Yes, this implication is that Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig's disease at all, but may have died from repeated head trauma from concussions suffered playing high school and college football and professional baseball. He was also knocked out in a fight with Ty Cobb. Being hit in the head is apparently bad for you, according to the latest pronouncements of medical science.

I wonder who is buried in Grant's Tomb?


Day 143 - Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Daily Kup (Life Goes On)
The kids are starting to respond to the discipline of Sergeant Mom's Home for Wayward Youth. Chores and study were completed today with minimal fuss, though it still takes until nearly mid-afternoon. I'm a little too Earth Mother for Marine-style boot camp but I'm starting to see the tear-them-down-and-then-build-them-back-up philosophy in a whole new, albeit khaki, light. If I go back into management, a lot of these techniques will be freakishly transferable.

The school held a kindergarten meet-and-greet on the playground this evening. Picture dozens of kindergartners swarming in brightly-colored tubes while adults wearing name tags nodded and chatted. In retrospect, the school was doing a platoon psych on the parents. We've bonded without the crew cuts.

Northern Lite Latte


Day 142 - Monday, Monday

Daily Kup (When, oh when, will school start?)
Mr. T is under the weather. The children were relatively well-behaved and cooperative today. It's true -- you can have it all but not at once.

An Irish Koffee on the House
Happy Birthday, Corsair09!

They Know Beans about This

Made with stripgenerator http://stripgenerator.com/ from an idea from Greg (Congrats on that first day back at work, buddy!) and relayed by Kim B.

Sorry that it's blurry. A more readable version appears on this site: http://stripgenerator.com/strip/408956/childs-garden-of-qa-iso/#id=408956;view=all;accordion=0;


Day 141 - Kazakhstan Part 11

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It had been a remarkable couple of days. We had flown to the other side of the world and then some, been interviewed by government and agency officials, and were now sitting jet-lagged and sleep-deprived in a sunny, wood-paneled room with the preschool orphanage director in Uralsk, West Kazakhstan.

Hidden in our luggage were the latest few pictures of the child called Nurlan that our agency had been able to send to us. In line with Kazak law, we were "traveling without referral" to meet unknown potential adoptive children. In actuality, we were approved by the US government to adopt two children from ages 0 to 4 with minor handicaps and our adoption agency had forwarded us pictures, a video and medical information about Nurlan, a three-year-old boy, and pictures of several other children for consideration.

The agency had made arrangements with the childrens' home to be sure that the child presented to us to meet would be Nurlan.

And now we were about to actually meet him. We were nervous. What if we didn't like him? What if he had some significant handicap that was beyond our capabilities to deal with? What if he didn't like us? What if this had all been a giant mistake?

A slight, pretty Kazak woman slowly opened the office door. The director nodded to her and she swung the door open more widely. Two little boys were bumped into the room. A tall, thin boy with a sad face and bright eyes led a small, stocky boy by the hand. We immediately recognized the smaller boy as Nurlan. It's odd to have memorized a few baby pictures and then have the actual person materialize in front of your eyes.

The older boy was introduced as Irat. He looked as us deeply as though we were glasses of water and he were very thirsty, and then dropped his gaze to the floor. The woman from the Ministry of Education had appeared in the room. Neither she nor the orphanage director were fluent in English. They conversed and then said two words in English with a pleading look: "Big brother?"

The interpreter filled in the details. Irat was going to be seven soon. When children in Uralsk orphanages turn seven, they are taken from the preschool and sent to Zhas Dauren, a children's home where they will likely stay until they are eighteen, taught a trade, and released into society. The orphanage staff was suggesting that we take Irat as well as Nurlan to save Irat from a traumatic move to a place where he would receive less care and have almost a zero chance of being adopted. They were not biological brothers but Irat was a sweet child who was very afraid of being moved to the other orphanage and who truly wanted and deserved a family.

The staff gave Nurlan and Irat a few plastic toys and they sat on the floor and played. If Nurlan spoke at all, I don't remember it. He was strangely silent for a three-year-old. Irat, sadly aware of the purpose of the visit, made every attempt to engage the younger child and be as entertaining as he could be. Nurlan, having no idea why he was there, took the toys out of Irat's hands and generally acted like a toddler. Irat periodically glanced up with a look full of anxiety plastered over with fake happiness and then played with more determination.

Neither child seemed to have physical or mental handicaps. Irat probably needed improved nutrition since he seemed somewhat malnourished. He had a grace and compassion beyond his years as he tried to show little Nurlan how to play with some of the toys. Both boys were ethnic Kazaks, meaning that they were Asian. Nurlan was a handsome toddler, while Irat had a pinched little face and could benefit from cosmetic surgery to pin back his large, protruding ears.

We watched the children play for several minutes. There really wasn't much to say and we probably weren't in the best mental state to ask questions or make decisions anyway. We had come for Nurlan and there didn't seem to be any reason not to go forward with that. The caregiver led the two children out. Irat glanced back while Nurlan looked only forward as he went through the door on his chubby legs.

We asked Natalya what the next step was. She said that we had a little time to decide on children but that it would be best for the schedule if we could do it as soon as possible. This was the first of many times that Natalya would remind me of an ermine-covered bulldozer.

We had been amazed to see Nurlan, though a little sad to see how much he had grown since the early pictures. He was almost beyond being a toddler and we had missed so much of his life already. Irat was a sweet child and deserved an opportunity but we had been thinking about a baby girl as the second child.

Efficient Natalya said that she had set up an appointment at the Baby House, the orphanage for children from a few months of age to three years old. Would we still like to go or were we ready to make a decision at this point?

I glanced at Terry and knew the answer. We still wanted to visit the Baby House. We nodded and smiled our farewells politely to the Preschool Director and were shortly back in Dima's car on the way to a different orphanage.


Day 140 - Celebrity Endorsement

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Not exactly rolling in the bed of excitement here today. I spent a nice part of the morning getting my hair done, one of my few remaining luxuries if "luxuries" mean "stuff that you spend money on." My colorist told me an hysterical story that I'm saving for a future post.

Then we took a trailer-load of junk from the flooded garage to the recycling center/dump. Yes, it's the stuff that dreams are made of. (For my high school English teacher: The stuff of which dreams are made.)

T had an overwhelming yen for tacos. (Don't you love the cultural mishmash that is that previous sentence?) Khrome the Coupon Queen had something for the local faux-Mexican chain eatery so we found ourselves in front of plates of tacos, a basket of chips and three thimbles of salsa for gringos. The place was bustling with noise and color that partially muted the noise and color that are Attila the Son and Princess Potatohead.

The kidlings are rambunctious when hungry. They are also a handful immediately after being fully fed. This leaves a few precious minutes of peace when their heads are in the trough. We savored the moment but -- like innocence and bags of M&M's -- it was done much too soon. During an unfortunately-timed lull in the surrounding conversation, Attila the Son booms loudly in the context of absolutely nothing, "Caitlin can babysit us if you guys want to have sex and drink."

An interesting idea, but not the reason that we left the restaurant quickly.

Stir the Kup
I know this is a series of cheap shots at an easy target, but I'm trying to practice with this particular animation program and these are stock characters and backgrounds. The evil script is entirely mine with a nod to both reality and Tina Fey.


Day 139 - Steps in the Right Direction

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Heat. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Sunshine.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Daily Grind
Good evening, everyone. I'm so glad that I found this meeting. I need your help to get my life back together. My name is Burning K. and -- this is so hard to admit to a room full of strangers -- I am an Anti-topical. Yes, it's true. I have to come to grips with the fact that I don't care about any of the major issues of the day:

* Brett Favre's career plans
* Lindsay Lohan's release from jail, exile from Hollywood or either of her obnoxious parents
* Oprah's new television network
* Tiger Woods' performance in any arena -- we all know what his handicap is
* Team Edward or that other guy either
* The Mel Gibosn recordings and penchant for speech laden with movie cliches and Scotch
* Whether Sarah Palin's daughter is engaged or not to that walking side of beef
* The British Royal Family's sagging finances to match their stiff upper lips
* The location of LeBron James or what Charles Barkley thinks about it
* Anyone called Snooki

On the other hand, I kind of want to know what really happened that made that flight attendant snap and take the escape chute to the tarmac. So, I guess there's hope for me. With your support, I know I can be rehabilitated.


Day 138 - Fast Times and Faux-tos

Daily Kup ("What the hell do you do all day anyhow?")
At the risk of repetition, another blistering day ended with thunder and lightening. The gardens are overgrowing and the children are constantly sticky.

After forcefeeding math, writing, reading, and a trip to the library for a kindergarten prep class, somebody needed a nap. I'm afraid it was me. I've perfected falling like a rock while the children climb over my prone body like seals on an ice flow.

In the evening, we joined our Little League pals to close up the ball field and have one last meal of hotdogs, chips, and whatever liquid comes out of those big yellow canisters mandated for all youth events.

Reheating Yesterday's Koffee
Here's a website that I played with for much of the evening: YearbookYourself http://www.yearbookyourself.com/ It's both addictive and a real hoot! Upload some pictures of yourself or your family members (and not famous people since they seem to be touchy about that in the terms and conditions -- and there's not an option to erase the uploaded original pictures) and bring yourself through time in the Yearbook Universe from 1950 to 2000.

My husband said that he was appalled and 'creeped out' by the results. Still, I think that he may have missed a fashion opportunity by not growing some white guy dreadlocks.
He's a dead ringer for whichever Baldwin brother is in Bio-Dome. (OK, it's Stephen Baldwin in Bio-Dome — I'm embarrassed to admit knowing that.)

Here we are in another faux-to making my family cringe. All rights to the photos and the semi-clever captions are owned by the Jostens people, by the way.

I like the picture of me in the great Gloria Steinem hair so much that I may paste it over my real high school yearbook photo.
It would have been nice to go to the prom with my husband (though I was OK going with a tuba player named Bob whose mother cut his hair to look like the little Dutch boy). This problem has been rectified and not a minute too soon, (The 'husband at the prom' part, not Bob's hair. He may still have it like that for all I know. I can't go into the paint department at Menard's without feeling a little nostalgic for light blue tuxedos.)

Happy revising history!


Day 137 - Hearty Laughs All Around

Daily Kup (What I Did On My Reality Vacation)
The parade of domesticity continues on its ambling way, at least until September. We spend the first half of each day doing schoolwork to make sure that the kids are at grade level or above when school starts. Bless teachers
— I have no idea how they can do this times 13 students every day.

We went to the beach again and dragged T with us this time. He cheered up after a while, particularly when he was promised ice cream. But doesn't ice cream cheer everyone up?

A Happy Brew
Two iconic sites that occasionally make me laugh until tears obscure my vision.
Awkward Family Photos http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/
Cake Wrecks http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/


Day 136 - Sandy Little Helpers

Daily Kup (And the thunder rolls ...)

For two days in a row, I've taken the kids to the local beach to escape the sizzling heat. Between thunderstorms, we've hit the beach with our large plastic shovel and inflatable beach ball. The kids splash, dogpaddle, run on the beach and exert themselves into tired little piles of wet Lycra and sand. They are SO cooperative when soggy that a whole new management philosophy is suggested. If every recalcitrant executive had to do ten cannonballs in a row, the result might be a kinder, gentler business atmosphere and more naps.

I am gratified to see that there are women at the beach who look worse than I do. Not many, but there are some and I cling to this slender thread for solace. Besides, positive attitude has got to count for something.

At the local park, there were maintenance items everywhere labeled like this. I thought at first there was a graffiti artist loose with a limited repertoire. Then I realized: Shady Oak Beach.

Either way, I bet this labeling limits pilferage.

Yesterday, I observed a bald, middle-aged man frolicking in the water. He had his back to me and I marveled at the ingenious watershirt that he was wearing with its intricate cable knit patterns. Then I noticed that he wasn't wearing a shirt. (Involuntary shudder)

The phrase "Life is a Beach" is thirty years past clever. Still, the analogy works:

+ Enjoy the sandcastle now -- it will be gone with the tide or the next running toddler.

+ It's OK to jump from on high, but keep a firm hold on your waistband.

+ Don't ignore a whistle.

+ If you are constantly claiming to be drowning, then no one will save you when you really are.

+ Most things eventually settle down -- sand in water, and weight distribution in a bathing suit.

+ If the signs say that there are rocks under the water, don't dive anyway without doing some research.

+ You can go somewhere or you can tread water. It really doesn't matter to anyone else.

+ Don't choose to swim through -- or make -- suspiciously warm areas.

+ Nobody is as interested in anything about you as you think they are. You are, at best, a momentary source of amusement or annoyance before people go back to thinking about themselves.

+ And, finally: In the end, it's up to you to learn to swim.

A Caffeinated Toast!
I was delighted to hear today that fellow Porkus refugee and spousal unit of frequent blog commenter/talented local artisan Kim B has secured a new and promising job! Way to go!

Day 135 - Exit, Stage Right

Daily Kup (Please add some ice! For the hot temperature, I mean)
Today was the first day of "home here with the kids." I haven't started drinking yet. This itself is a victory over circumstances.

A Splash of Cream, Two Sugars, Dash of Star Quality
In what will surely be one of the most surreal chapters of this personal odyssey, the kids and I seem to have gotten invited to the casting call for a television commercial. I researched the ad agency; their clients include Target, Travelers Insurance, Coca-Cola and Crave. Any of those would be a hoot. I'll try to avoid becoming Gypsy's Momma Rose to my little Dainty June and Gypsy Rose Lee. Everything's Coming Up Roses!


Day 134 - Kazakhstan Part 10

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We looked around the little apartment. It was clean and serviceable. We would get to know it extremely well in the next few weeks. There was an assortment of canned goods in the cupboards and some root vegetables in the refrigerator. A dish drainer sat on the small cupboard and a coffee pot sat on the window ledge. It seemed like some science fiction story where the inhabitant vanishes but leaves their half-finished plate on the table.

The apartment consisted of an entry hall, a bathroom with a small washing machine, an eat-in kitchen, a bedroom, and a living room. There was a shallow enclosed porch with a clothesline off the bedroom. The livingroom had a crystal chandelier, a display cabinet with some little statuettes, an upholstered futon/couch, two matching chairs, a TV and a VCR. The lace curtains hid about a dozen plants. Nastya had asked us to make sure to remember to water the plants. Looking at the mismatched pots that ranged from 3 inches to 2 feet in diameter and their occupants potted in solid clay, I knew that they had been dug out of a field somewhere and that I could count on killing at least one of them before we were done.

We emptied suitcases and stashed clothing in the armoire and dresser drawers. We carefully separated the gifts for the childrens' home and the clothing that we had brought for the little boy called Nurlan. The paperwork processing had taken so long that he'd probably outgrown what we had initially purchased, but we brought it anyway. We were sure that someone would be able to use it.

Prospective adoptive parents usually receive what is called a referral. This is information about a specific child who is, in effect, reserved. The parents then have the opportunity to accept or reject the referral based on medical evaluation, gut feel, whatever. This is how a lot of adoptions work, both for international and domestic situations. Kazakhstan is different. Referrals are literally illegal and adoptive parents are required to "travel without referral" in the terminology of the process. Like many things in Kazakhstan, legality is slippery. We had a pictures of two children, a video of one, and our agency had been actively working with the childrens' home to prepare Nurlan for adoption. Or so they said. Putting the pieces together later, I suppose the upfront money went to the people who run the orphanage to keep them from showing Nurlan to other adoptive couples until we got there. Americans are very concerned with processes and both the ends and means. Other places in the world are largely concerned with the ends. The adoption facilitators provide resources to the orphanages to get favorable service, the orphanages use at least some of the money to provide for children beyond their meager budgets, but we would still call it a bribe.

We watched from the porch for Inna to return. When the car stopped below the window in the unpaved, muddy street, we grabbed our coats and the fistful of keys for the multiple locks on the double doors.

Inna was back with Dima, the driver who would be our regular escort. He had a beautiful newer car and played American music on the sound system. We climbed into the car and were on our way to the preschool. We passed small stores, markets, some beautiful ornate buildings, a huge and newly built mosque, and many small and colorful one-story homes called "doms."
The car turned down what looked like an alley and went through a gate. Like all of Uralsk, there was mud everywhere making most buildings look a little dismal. The preschool's cheery turquoise stripe and roof did not make it look less drab. We were told that we had to wait for Natalya before we would be allowed in. It was warm, so we got out of the car and walked around, trying to look in but not too obtrusively. It was odd that we couldn't see or hear children. You'd think that they'd be outside on a warm afternoon.

Natalya pulled in. We were very nervous. Natalya led us to the front door, which was strangely on the side of the building. There was a large plaque on the door written in Russian. Just inside the door was a place to cover our shoes with fabric booties. The building was warm and smelled of food cooking.

We were led to the office of the director of the childrens' home. She was a sturdy ethnically Kazak woman with a warm smile and an efficient manner. The woman from the Ministry of Education was there also. The director asked us some questions that were pretty much the same as the MOE interview. I think the adoption agency people translated what we said into whatever was the "right" answer. We had been warned not to ask about Nurlan in front of anyone official (wink, wink). The director seemed satisfied with the answers and said that they would be bringing in children for us to interview shortly. We glanced at the MOE woman, shut our mouths and nodded.

We were in a room with a big table, wooden floors and some display cases with brand new toys. We sat stiffly as Natalya and Inna smiled consolingly. Soon, a caregiver opened the door and behind her we saw the shadows of two little people.