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 187 - The F Word

Daily Kup (And I'm Painting a Stairway to ... He-a-ven)
My son said the "F Word" in art class. It seems that shading and perspective are frustrating to an eight-year-old. Eight-year-olds who teach their classmates profanity are frustrating to parents. Looking for the meager positive, it seems that we might have scored a place on the third grade teacher's speed dial. Yeah team!

I learned that word from another little girl in elementary school as we waited to be picked up after a Girl Scout meeting. I asked my mother what it meant and she told me. My mother was always very matter-of-fact with questions like that. No obfuscation, just the facts, ma'am. My mother learned the word at her first job in her early twenties working at the New York State Department of Transportation. She came home and asked her mother what it meant. My grandmother had no idea. My mother asked a friend and then came home and explained it to her mother. That must have been an interesting conversation. My grandmother could kill chickens with her bare hands and a little knife, but wouldn't say the phrase "I bet" because gambling is a sin.

Princess Potatohead ruined her perfect school attendance by being absent today. She avoided ruining the carpeting through the use of a carefully located wastebasket handy for throwing up. She felt all too chipper by mid-morning and spent the rest of the day following me around. One of her favorite games is to pretend to be a visiting stranger; this newcomer introduces herself and then ask endless questions about her surroundings. If you are perched on top of a ladder holding a broomstick with a paint roller on the end, someone demanding to know, "Do you have pets and what are their names?" can be a distraction. I almost said the F word myself.

The house painting continues.

Just Give Me The Word
Remember in the ubiquitous holiday movie, A Christmas Story, where Raphie lets this profanity slip while helping his father change a tire? He learned the word from his father, a robust and frequent swearer. Ralphie awaits his doom, which eventually arrives in the shape of his mother who makes him sit with a bar of soap in his mouth.

In our household, I blame celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. His shows are like traffic accidents; you should turn away but you can't quite do it. The audio tracks feature near constant bleeping since Ramsay has difficulty with the unadorned declarative sentence. Apparently, The Onion thinks so, too.



Day 186 - Bad Language

Daily Kup (My Life on a Ladder)
The house painting continues. By the end of tomorrow, we'll have about half of the front of the house complete. Many new muscles have been discovered and all of them are complaining. Some of those are typing muscles and my fingers won't do what I want. They keep typing "short blog tonight."

Coffee Talk
September 24 was National Punctuation Day and we somehow missed it. Period. Gotta dash.

The world is filled with ironic and amusing typos and misspellings. Giggle to yourselves while checking out Engrish & Funny Typos, a site with the occasional screaming funny.

Thanks to Kim for sending this recommendation: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks
This site may be one of my top ten favorites.


Day 185 - Ol' Paint Roller

Daily Kup (Scraping By)
I came, I saw, I scraped. I scraped walls and soffits and trim. And then I caulked and primed and sanded. I haven't spent a whole day dabbing gunk on junk since the kids were infants. There will be some actual painting tomorrow.

My neighbor stood in his driveway watching me for several minutes and then yelled across the street as I was standing on that ladder step that is clearly labeled "not a step" and stretching to prime above the garage door, "So, the house is getting painted." The use of the passive tense was amusing. "Yes, the house is getting painted. It's an organic development that is just somehow happening -- like a meteor shower or the Northern Lights. People will sit on blankets and watch it unfold. At the conclusion, we will join hands and sing Kum-Bah-Yah. It has nothing to do with me, this ladder, or this heavy can of paint." Household projects make me a bit cranky. Since I have enough problems being liked by my neighbors as it is, my actual answer was, "Yes, finally" in acknowledgement of the obvious need.

My plan is to get the front of the house done. I'd like to finish the whole house but, frankly, anything completed behind the fence is gravy. Sometimes a really good facade is all that's needed.

The Mental Freedom of Busy Hands
Repetitive manual labor can free the mind and lighten the spirit. That's the theory anyway. People talk of brilliant poetry and music composed when the mind is free to wander while the hands drive the tractor or chop wood. The rate of producing works of genius seems small in comparison to reports of falling into a threshing machine or severing an artery. Maybe they were singing at the time.

Anyway, I thought I'd try it. My parody work seems to have produced a parody artistic output.

Ol' Paint Roller (Sung to the tune of Old Man River)

Ol' paint roller,
Dat ol' paint roller,
He good wid alkyd,
He best wid latex,
He jes' keeps rollin',
He keeps on rollin' along.

He rolls over fascia,
He rolls over sidin’,
Ah could teach my husband,
But he’s gone into hidin’,
But ol' paint roller,
He jes keeps rollin' along.

You an' me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin' an' racket wid pain,
Tote dat ladder!
Burn in dat sun!
Nex’ time remember
To buy a spray gun.

Ah gits weary
An' hates this bucket,
Ah'm tired of paintin'
And think 'just (don’t do) it,'
But ol' paint roller,
He jes' keeps rolling' along.

If you want to experience the real and original song from the 1936 version of Showboat with Paul Robeson, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s&feature=related. The original lyrics are not acceptable today without context and certainly aren't humorous, but the subject was groundbreaking for its time and Robeson's performance is incredible.


Day 184 - Roll On

Daily Kup (Climbing the Ladder of Success)
The beautiful fall weather is here and the housepainting has begun in earnest. I'm feeling pretty good about the progress made today, though that's probably because my muscles haven't seized up yet. Tomorrow when I can't raise my arms over my head will be a different story.

Unfortunate Segue
It was in the news today that the president of Segway, those two-wheeled personal transportation device company, was accidentally killed when the segway he was riding took him over a 30 foot cliff into a river. A solid 98% of me understands that this is not funny and is sad for the poor man's family. The mutant 2% of my psyche is making Thelma & Louise and Evel Knievel jokes.

It's like when Orville Redenbacher died. He left this world for a butter place. He was cremated, no salt.

Videos featuring segways are surprisingly common, but it's hard to beat this old favorite from parody king Weird Al Yankovich. And, yes, that's Donny Osmond dancing in the background.


Day 183 - Kazakhstan Part 17

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. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In life, the crucial decisions are often made quickly and with serendipity; the trivial are agonizingly slow. I've known people who have selected a breakfast cereal with more research than they used in choosing a spouse. On the flip side, you fall in love with a person faster and more thoroughly than you do with bran, so I guess that's the sort of crazy, devil-may-care species that we are.

We had come to Kazakhstan for Nurlan and we had no intention of leaving without him. Anastasiya was a gift chosen for us and she fit just right. We saw the other children out of due diligence and that thing that gets Americans in trouble for thinking that there is always that better house, career, or spouse that we missed out on while watching TV. You start with the heart and then try to get the brain to go along. Fortunately, they met in the middle.

With the passing years, I've forgotten the backdrops for contact that we had with Natalya, the agency's Uralsk coordinator. She was the big boss through which everything was processed and approved. I see her now in my mind's eye. She was trim, beautifully dressed, and had a facial structure that was almost architectural. When she spoke Russian, the sound was rapid, forceful and staccato; her English was clear but heavily accented, with the slightly pouty and musical sound that Russian women have. In my imagination, she is always wearing a heavy coat. I don't remember meeting in her office, though we may have. In my memory, she just appears and then blinks out. She was there with the Ministry of Education people. She was at the orphanage once in a while. She was definitely at court. She was there whenever significant money changed hands.

Money. Love may make the world go 'round but money keeps it lubricated. During the first few days that we were in Uralsk, Natalya and Yulia, the most experienced translator, came to see us in the apartment. We had been wearing and sleeping with the money belts for days and, surprising as it sounds, we were looking forward to getting rid of their part of the money and no longer feeling that we were in the midst of a kidnapping drop.

The agency had mentioned in a small note on one of the checklists to bring "new" money. When I went to the bank right before we left the US, I asked for "new" money and the teller gave me a stack that "had just come from the Mint." I didn't think about it again. Turns out that I should have.

The only US bills that are recognized at full value in Kazakhstan are recently printed, not folded, no marks, just like your grandma put in the birthday card, new money. Julia and Natalya took all our money, laid it out on the table and went through it bill by bill. Some bills ended up in the good pile and many more in the bad pile. At the end, the good pile was short of the amount agreed upon for their in-country fees. There was much conversation in Russian periodically punctuated by my English statement, "Well, this is what we have." Eventually, they were able to promote enough money from the bad pile to make up the difference and seemed to be satisfied.

While I was on edge, Terry was strangely placid during this whole scene. Later, I found out that he didn't understand the significance. He thought that we would simply have the driver take us to a bank the next day where we would give them the bills with pen marks and they would give us "new" American money. If you've ever forgotten that currency has value only because a government imbues it with that property, try sitting in an apartment on the Russian border where someone has just carried out the last of your money that is acceptable currency and you don't know how you are going to afford to eat for the length of your stay.

A mustache inked on Benjamin Franklin's sage countenance stared back at me as Terry and I had the only argument of our stay. "How can money not be acceptable? It's goddam American money!" "If a Kazakh tourist walks into a bank in Minnesota to hand in a torn tenge note, do you think the bank hands them a new one from the pile of tenge that they have in the back?"

Nightfall interrupted Terry's plan for finding the two women and making them take the "bad" money instead. It was a quiet evening as I painstakingly erased and ironed the best of the remaining bills. And every evening for a week, I operated my money laundry to save what could be salvaged. Inna and Dima "knew a guy" who worked on a street corner and would change the less pristine bills for tenge at a lowered exchange rate. We began to think of him as our personal banker. But even he wouldn't take the bills that were missing a little bit of a corner or where a pen mark was noticeable.

I hear they have credit card machines in Uralsk now. That would have been handy.


Day 182 - Undercover Angel

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Princess Potatohead and I were on our own today since the male members of our entourage are camping and shivering at a Wisconsin Boy Scout Camp. We woke early, made our scheduled Angel Food pick-up (see below), went to the library for a family fitness fair and some reading, cleaned the house, treated ourselves to Burger King and their indoor play area, and then hit the hardware store for materials for my latest project - adding safety rails to the upper bunk bed. Later, we gardened, visited friends, and shared a nice dinner. All in all, a good day.

Do Good, Do Well, Why Not?
I mentioned Angel Food (http://www.angelfoodministries.com/) some time back. We have continued to order from them every month since I discovered them.

Angel Food is the product of a family ministry in Georgia that uses the power of volume purchasing to distribute food using a network of churches; the result is that churches earn a handling fee, consumers can buy food at reduced prices, suppliers have a market, the ministers in Georgia can feel satisfied that they are making a difference in the world, and all parties benefit. A true win-win. From a green perspective, I'd prefer to have less transport involved as we try to eat more locally, but you can't have everything.

In this month's box, there were 12 entrees and side dishes for four people for $40.95 or 85.3 cents per person per dinner.

  • Hamburger patties
  • Pork chops
  • Bean & cheese burritos
  • Fish wedges
  • Spaghetti and sauce
  • Broccoli, rice and chicken casserole
  • Pot roast
  • Smoked sausages
  • Hamburger (bulk)
  • Chicken fryer (cut-up)
  • Chicken tenders
  • Eggs and pancakes

It's actually sort of fun to come up with meal plans to "McGyver" the food even further into an extra soup, stew or stir fry or two. There is a slight sense of eating at a school cafeteria but that can be overcome since the majority of the food can be prepared in a healthful and creative way. Eating frozen carrots is not going to kill anyone. I wonder if anyone would get the joke if I put on that hairnet and slapped each item on the plates with an ice cream scoop.

The kids love picking up the food. Even though we have the menu before ordering, the kids still see this as making an exotic trip to receive a mysterious box. They pull the contents out of the carton item-by-item and examine it like the Hope Diamond. I don't completely understand the allure but I know that they've never cooed that much over a can of spaghetti sauce from Cub. I guess it's like a Christmas stocking ... with frozen corn.

If it keeps us out of restaurants and reduces trips to the grocery store, we are well ahead of the game.

The lovely lady at the church who was helping me check the order at pick-up always departs with their catchphrase, "Have a blessed day." I did and why the heck not?


Day 181 - Pride & Pugilism

Daily Kup (Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings -- Jane Austen)
It's hard to beat a Friday. The two intrepid boy cubs are on their way to a Scout weekend. Mr. T is hoping that they will be late enough so that all the campsites are claimed and they will be forced to sleep inside the lodge. Attila the Son prefers outdoor camping because there are no outhouses in the campgrounds and he gets on a first name basis with the neighboring trees.

Princess Potatohead and I are left to our own devices. We are planning big trouble tomorrow.

Putting a little English on it ...
I watched Pride & Prejudice this afternoon while attending to various and sundry duties. The trouble with spending an afternoon with Jane Austen is that, at the conclusion of two hours, one emerges undeniably British and then proceeds to use such phrases as "attending to various and sundry duties."

While Jane Austen's writing has never been truly out of date, here's a modern treatment that will knock you out:

I hear that Judi Dench has a vicious right cross.


Day 180 - Fingers in Search of a Real Job

Daily Kup (My Life Treading Water)
It rained so much today that ducks are carrying umbrellas. My rain barrels filled up and they aren't attached to my gutter system yet. On the positive side, I didn't have to water my compost piles; in fact, they made their own compost tea to nourish the surrounding area -- I only wish that I wanted things growing well around my compost piles. To-MA-to, to-MAH-to.

Mr. T disassembled the campground in the backyard in preparation for Scout camping this weekend. Where it will rain.

Unemployment Benefits Were Not Wasted on These People

After I finish painting the house, perhaps I'll learn to do this. The coffee ought to help.


Day 179 - Songs That Lodge in Your Cranium 1-5

Daily Kup (A Day Spent Humming that Stupid Barbie Song)
According to the Weather Channel, a monsoon is on the way this evening so I'll post sooner and float later. I pulled yards of grapevines out of the butterfly garden today so that the free paving stones could be installed so that they could be moved from in front of the garage that I need to paint. If it should ever stop raining before I need to collect one pair of each kind of unclean animals and seven pairs of each kind of clean animals, then I can use the ladder stabilizers that I got today free from a terrific guy with a window cleaning company. Soon I will be the best prepared person with a wet, peeling house.

Warning: Yesterday's Discussion Continued
Let these little ditties noodle through the frontal lobes, weaving down the street like a frat boy on a Saturday night.

5. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go - Wham

4. The Macarena - Los Del Rio

3. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Rupert Holmes

2. The Oompa-Loompa Song from Willy Wonka

1. It's a Small World After All - Robert & Richard Sherman (Caution! 14 minutes long. This is very much like being on the actual ride except for sitting on used chewing gum and having some kid kicking the back of your seat half a beat off rhythm.)

And what was that song that was stuck in my mind that started this line of thought? A little number that only Dr. Demento fans would have heard; a twisted novelty tune by professional wrestler "Classy" Freddie Blassie called "Pencil Neck Geek."


Had to substitute some videos that decided that they no longer wished to be embedded. A full-length McFerrin video with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin that could be embedded eluded me, so a shortened one is posted. Since the song attaches directly to the cortex, the short version is probably more than adequate.

After viewing multiple versions of the Spice Girls -- and before my morning coffee (SHUDDER) -- I can't escape the conclusion that Sporty Spice didn't try that hard with her costumes. She just wore whatever was on the floor.


Day 178 - Songs That Lodge in Your Cranium 6 - 10

Daily Kup (My Life as a Middle-aged Mutant Ninja Turtle)
I'm hoping to get back to my writing assignments, and job searching, now that some progress has been made in the major home projects. The kids are now handily stacked, bunk-wise. Exterior projects are still periodic due to cycles of downpour and drying out. Trying to do what I can while it's still warm enough outside.

WARNING: Proceed at your own risk. Clinging tunes ahead.

I've had a song stuck in my head recently. I'd like to stick an auger in one ear and remove it, but I'm afraid that something worse would grow in its place. What could be worse?

Through scientific methodology and exhaustive review of data, my crack team of researchers (and some researchers on crack) have assembled the list of the top ten songs guaranteed to knit little doilies with your dentrites, to fulminate within your frontal lobes, and to macerate your medulla oblongata.

Listen to any of these selections at your own risk. If you are particularly sadistic — you know who you are — forward this to someone you don't like and advise them to listen to each one carefully for the secret message. These are not all the worst songs you might ever hear, though a couple are real stinkers, but they are the ones most likely to repeat in your brain until dulled by hammer blows.

10. Wannabe — The Spice Girls

9. 99 Red Balloons — Nena (The German version for grins. This is where I learned that German for 'Captain Kirk' is "Captain Kirk')

8. 867-5309/Jenny — Tommy Tutone

7. Barbie Girl — Aqua

6. Don't Worry, Be Happy — Bobby McFerrin

Think these are pernicious? Just wait until the top 5 tomorrow. Want to compare your taste in "adhesive" songs with that of the expert panel of Klowns? Leave a comment.


Day 177 - Any other volunteers? Anyone at all?

Daily Kup (Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down)
I went to a lovely, harmless meeting yesterday afternoon with my youngest daughter and came out transformed into ... a Girl Scout leader. A little scary for those of you who know me well, right? Legions of pudgy little Daisies sprinkling sarcasm and cookies with equal fervor. Yes, that is the future.

It was kind of a mistake. They were looking for people who have character and I thought they were asking if you were sort of a character. My bad.

Still, I'm sure it will work out. Or small children will be emotionally scarred for life.

I'm your worst nightmare -- A Daisy with Attitude. Heads up, people. Cookie season coming at ya.

Hey, Lois! Guess who won't be covering that Arizona story ...


Day 176 - Kazakhstan Part 16

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. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As we sat and waited for the next child, the assembled group of adoption agency, orphanage and government representatives lost all pretense of social conversation. Every comment and nicety had been exchanged. We sat.

Eventually the side door opened and the caregiver ushered in a little boy who appeared to be two or three. He was small with a pointed face and darting dark eyes. He walked toward us with a measured step, hesitant but still propelled forward.

His name was Artu. I recognized his brightly-colored shoes immediately; they were the ones that Anya had been wearing. The shirt, too. In a sudden, troubling clarity I realized why fetching the next child had taken so long. The orphanage must have a small number of clothes that they considered acceptable for visiting with prospective parents. The caregiver was removing the outfit from poor, quaking Anya and putting it on Artu. How were the children normally kept when not in costume? What was it like behind that door? I never found out.

The director announced that Artu was almost three and had been in the orphanage since birth. She added that he was racially mixed. In Kazakhstan, that means Russian/Russian Orthodox and Kazakh/Moslem. I asked, "Is that a problem here?" There was a profound silence.
Trying both to clarify and to dig myself out of potentially offending my hosts, I added, "In this society, will it be a hardship for him?"

The interpreter grudgingly translated. Multiple responses came.

"No, of course not. In our society, everyone is equal and has the same opportunities. We are a very fair country. Not like some other places."

I don't know if she meant the US as one of those "other places" where racial and ethnic discrimination were rampant, but that might have been a fair call, stinging though it did. I tried one more time.

"We have some problems in the United States but we are more diverse where we live than in Uralsk. If he would have a very difficult life in Kazakhstan and a much easier life in the US, that's what we want to know because that would be a factor in our decision."

The director again assured us that there were few problems in their egalitarian society. In later days after we had built more rapport, I asked Inna the translator about that. She said that mixed race children were very rare and had difficulty being accepted by either group. After we returned home to the US, we learned from other parents that the children were grouped in the orphanage into rooms by race. During the Soviet years, the Russians had the upper hand and flourished in higher-level jobs while pushing the Kazakhs out. After the Kazakhs became independent, they instituted rules that promoted ethnic Kazakhs and made it difficult for ethnic Russians to hold higher offices. The formerly oppressed oppressing the oppressors. Yes, that's bound to end well. People don't seem to learn from history.

We played with Artu for a while though I remember little about him. He was a sweet little boy and I hope someone adopted him. For us, he didn't have any spark and we didn't feel a connection.

After Artu was led out in his little brightly-colored shoes that would undoubtedly make an appearance for the next visitor, the director told us that these were all the children that were currently available and that she would be awaiting our decision.

Within minutes, we were out in the muddy courtyard. Dima was waiting in his car to drive us to who knows where. The agency reps like velvet pliers applied the message: You can have all the time you want to think but every day is a delay.

There was little point in making the long drive back to the apartment to have a discussion and we really didn't want to talk in front of strangers. We asked our companions from the agency to give us some time and some privacy. We walked to the far end of the yard to a spot near the road. I remember there were some kind of raised pipes that made borders on either side of us as we walked back and forth.

A lot of people spit in public in Kazakhstan. Even beautifully dressed women spit on the sidewalk. Between the mud and the spitting, it's not surprising that most people wore tall boots. Our adoption reps leaned against the car, chitchatted, and occasionally spit on the ground while they waited patiently.

Nurlan? Anastasiya? Irat? Anya? Artu? Push the agency to shake the directors to see more children? There were lots of children in those buildings. We could hear them. But the rules of this game aren't clear. The directors didn't seem open to more than they had already done. We don't have much leverage.

You can't save the world even if you want to. Pull it back into focus. Which children seemed like they "fit" with us?

We walked back to the car, watching where we stepped.

"Would you like to go back to the apartment or maybe to see one of the children again?," Inna asked.

"No. We have a decision. Please get us the paperwork."

Inna spit.


Day 175 - A Toast to Craigslist

Daily Kup (What I Do on the Weekends That's Different from Being Unemployed)
I love Craig and his list. The furniture fairies were very good to us today. I look from my "office" (my modular desk and bookshelves that straddle the border between the living room and the dining room) and see two mattresses and a large pile of oak that make a sturdy, and heavy to carry, set of bunkbeds and a bookcase.

Attila the Son was still sleeping in a toddler bed and has started hanging over the edge. He usually sleeps coiled like some type of univalve mollusk so it hadn't been a pressing issue. With my usual guilt for everything, I envisioned him permanently capped at toddler-length due to the lack of a normal bed.

We'll get this furniture together tomorrow after the carpet dries and my children can move on to a taller future.

I guess it's too late for me.

Lift a Kup to ...
Craig Newmark -- the self-proclaimed nerd who saw that someone else's junk could become my treasure. Thank you for the big TV, little TV, quad server, notebook, coffee cup coffee table, office supplies, firewall appliance, paving stones, BBQ grill, wood stain, bunk beds, trailer, file cabinet and probably a few things I've forgotten. And thanks for taking away all that baby stuff so that someone else could use it. http://www.craigslist.org/about/craig_newmark http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Newmark


Day 174 - Too Kool for School?

Daily Kup (How I Spent my Reality Vacation)
Two events marked this day. First, I got the trailer on the truck and went north -- far north -- to meet a guy with way too many concrete stepping stones. After loading them in the trailer and a slow, white-knuckled ride home, I now have a whole bunch of stepping stones. With a little clean-up, they will fit nicely in the butterfly garden with some left over.

Lifting 900 pounds of concrete into the trailer and then out of the trailer pretty much wore me out. I sat down on the couch for a minute after dinner and woke up at 10:30. Yes, another exciting Friday night.

As for that other thing, in the mid-afternoon, the Call came. No, not a job or a clear signal to join the ministry. The Call from the Principal. Attila the Son had a bad last two days at school. As today was Lifetouch picture day, I suspect that in about six weeks, I'll get a lovely packet of pictures featuring an angry-looking boy in a rumpled shirt. Two other sets of parents will be receiving packets of pictures of their boys with prominent facial injuries and grass-stained clothing.

The school decided that they didn't want him riding the bus home and so I had to go to the school to retrieve him and meet with the teacher and the principal. Oh, happy times. My son sat sullenly in the middle of the discussion. The teacher and principal couldn't have been more reasonable. It almost makes it worse to know that two perfectly nice people had to deal with this situation. The final ruling: If he does it again, he is suspended for three days. This seems like a punishment for me. If he hasn't learned his lesson, I have a large pile of paving stones that need to be moved to the back yard.

Cream, Two Sugars, and Some Recrimination


Day 173 - 'Tooth' in Advertising?

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
Another day with a lower than average temperature and more than average cloud cover. I job prospected -- imagine hunching over a pan of sand by a stream and trying to shake gold out of it -- and then cleaned and reorganized my office with increased productivity in mind. I would rather have been painting since the weather is so determined to tumble into autumn so quickly. Tick, tick, tick.

I was looking at the blog analytics yesterday and was blown away to learn that people in Denmark have been reading about my kidney stones. The adoption posts get a lot of international traffic and I can understand how people ride the SEO wave on that topic and are cast upon my shore. A few people even queried 'soffit installation' and ended up in this hinterland. But Danish kidney stones? Sorry, Danish people, if you were looking for medical advice. (Pause) I don't know any Danes. (Longer pause) I was an usher for a Victor Borge performance in my high school. He seemed nice when I met him backstage.

Can you pour me some more disappointment please?
I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth ... or a book about mouths in the mouth, but don't you think that this is a letdown for a kid who has been promised a special treat for putting up with pain?

It may just be me, but the T3 Tough Tooth Team of Nutriboy, the Flossinator, and Brushetta are not that exciting.

Inside, there's a word find where only the vowels are missing. Some examples:



t_ _thp_st_

The connect-the-dots makes a woman riding a toothbrush.

Gosh, I hope Brushetta can solve the maze and get to the dentist's office without falling into the plaque.

Koffee Lite
From the marquee on a local church: Two silkworms had a race. They ended up in a tie.


Day 172 - Keep Cheap: Reusing Ziplock Bags

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
The heavy rain kept me inside today. After slogging through the various tasks to be slogged in the day-to-day operations that keep this household afloat, I set out to solve a problem that had been bothering me.

Truth be told, several problems bother me. For example, when the phone rings, my husband jumps up, goes and stands next to the phone, and then screams for me to come answer it. That's one problem that needs addressing.

While I'm working on a fix for that first problem -- a project that may take decades -- I decided to tackle an affront to my overwhelming sense of cheapness as well as commitment to green living: wasting ziplock bags.

Grounds for Improvement
With two kids and the occasional husband taking a lunch five days per week, we go through a lot of sandwich bags. Both frugal and green living groups admonish to wash and reuse these for as long as possible.

I've tried, really I have. I dutifully wash them in hot, soapy water and then rinse them thoroughly. Then they sit around in the dish drainer taking up room on the kitchen cupboard and never really drying out inside anyway.

Out of all those little green gadgets, someone must make a ziplock bag drying rack, right? Well, someone makes this thing on the right for $16 to $20 each plus shipping. I'm not seeing how ziplock-on-a-stick is going to get the insides very dry and there's still the question of counterspace and leaking on the counter, let alone 20 bucks for something that looks like a reed air freshener. Another guy must have had the same thought because he made his own version by sticking chopsticks into an old tennis ball. This solution overcomes the expense issue but adds all the sensory experience of having a molding tennis ball on your counter.

Here is an answer that can be adapted to whatever coated metal stand that you may have lying around. I used a $2.49 CD stand from Goodwill, but a record stand or shoe rack could be made to work as well.
By putting the washed bags over the wider metal hoops, particularly two or three of the loops per bag, the bags are kept open and they dry overnight. At first, I kept the rack on the counter where it looked better than having the dish drainer out, but it still took up valuable counter space.

Nowhere to go but up. Here the rack is mounted on the side of a cabinet above the sink using 3 small eye bolts and an S-hook.
When the bags are dry and the rack is empty, simply fold it up and latch it out of the way.
It looks like some medieval torture device, but it works really well.
Remember, "cheap" is just "clever" without a good press agent.

Best wishes to Gene on his retirement. If you get bored, I haven't fixed the stair rail yet!


Day 171 - Kidney Stones

Daily Kup (of Water)
Isn't it a marketing coup that 'kidney' starts with a 'K'?

Yes, that was my third thought as the right side of my abdomen was skewered with a burning arrow yesterday morning. Looking around and seeing no crouching sniper responsible for the lateral jolt of cosmic awareness, I was confused and thought that perhaps everything would become clearer on my hands and knees in the upstairs hallway. Humm. No revelations. Perhaps rolling and clutching my side would be better. Nope. Two cats approach and sit a safe distance down the hallway. They look faintly annoyed, as though I'm infringing on their patent.

If you've never had a kidney stone, I'm sure it's easy to dismiss the wild claims that sufferers make of the level of pain as mere histrionics. If you think that way, I think you should get a kidney stone. In fact, I'd be glad to lend you mine. Keep it. I insist.

I woke up on Monday full of plans and ambition. That lasted until midmorning when I suddenly began to feel very odd. Within ten minutes, I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable with pain throughout my chest and abdomen. I remembered reading some article that said that all the public service announcements about heart attacks describe the symptoms that men have, not womens' symptoms. Like a true geek, I was on my way to my computer to query the symptoms of womens' heart attacks when the pain localized and the carpet became attractive.

In the midst of renal colic caused by having a rock stuck in a ureter to the same effect as having that fat kid stuck in the tube of molten chocolate in Willy Wonka, it was a relief to know that it wasn't a heart attack. The second thought had to do with being stuck all alone and not being able to drive myself to the hospital. The third thought was that K thing but that's not quite as vacuous as it sounds since there was a whole lot of muttered swearing between the second and third thoughts.

My other two kidney stones were on the left side and it's refreshing that calcium oxalate formations embrace both sides of the political spectrum.

Spoiler Alert: I live.

Where do kidney stones come from? The emotional answer: directly from hell. The medical answer is that lumps of mineral and acid salts sometimes form in the kidneys. There is a genetic predisposition for stone formation and once having a kidney stone increases your chances of having one again. The stones develop when the diet is too rich in some minerals or when not enough water is consumed or both.

There are no comfortable physical positions to resolve a kidney stone. In terms of the Great Lakes, the kidney stone starts out at the west end of Lake Superior. It really wants to get to the St. Lawrence River and be dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, but there are all those locks to negotiate. On the way to the sea, it wants to go completely out of its way to Chicago, then maybe to Detroit to hang out with friends, and then to Erie for a nightcap. Your job is to be the current so that it doesn't decide that Sault Ste Marie is lovely and why don't we just see if they have a room available for the weekend?

So, like the liquid chocolate building up behind the fat kid in the tube, there is a lot of pressure to dislodge the obstruction. If this is successful, the stone pretty much drops through and much of the problem is over. The acid environment of the bladder can eat away the rough edges so that the final set of locks, as it were, are not as painful.

While the body is trying to get the stone through a narrow tube, the muscles pulse as if they are rocking a car to get it loose from a snow drift. That's the part that really hurts and makes you take a close look at your carpeting. It can also cause sudden and energetic vomiting, so spending time on your non-porous flooring is recommended.

In dogs and cats, the same formations are called "bladder stones" -- I guess that's speciesism because we humans want our problems associated with a higher-level and more dignified sounding organ.

So what happened with my kidney stone? When you go to the hospital, they verify that there isn't so much blockage that they will have to operate, give you some strong drugs, hand you a plastic strainer to pee into when you get home and tell you how brave you are. It's not a sound investment for about $1000 in medical bills after insurance unless you really have an operable blockage. Which you will know because the pain doesn't stop after a few hours. They are long hours.

So I decided to skip the middleman. I called my husband and he told me how brave I was. Like almost everyone else in the world, I disobey strict doctor's orders and keep and repurpose medication so that was covered as well. (This blog does not officially condone this practice and would not recommend it for anyone. Bad, bad Khrome!) Finally, geology is not one of my hobbies so the strainer is of no interest. And after a few hours, there were no more ghastly pains.

I'm much better today despite the feeling that I'm a test tube and someone cleaned me with a bottle brush.


Day 170 - Every Blog Should Have A Mascot

Daily Kup (My Unlimited Ride Pass To My Life)
OK, so this is one of those crazy things that will either make a terrific story later or be filed with the court with the other commitment/divorce/protective custody papers.

I was perusing the various free/barter sites for bunkbeds. [For some reason, people have interrupted me at this point in the story to ask, "For your kids?" I blink and refrain from saying, "No, for my husband and me. There's nothing a 280-pound married man wants more than to sleep on the top bunk." Yes, for my kids, thank you. I remain perplexed by the question.]

On FreeCycle, up popped an ad for a coffee cup coffee table. I assumed it meant some kind of coffee cup 'pattern' or something. Still, with the blog theme and all, better check out the photo. It was in fact a barrel-sized coffee cup made from joined slats of polished wood topped with a glass circle. And the donor was a few blocks away.

Perfect and crazy are merely terms, often for the same phenomenon. I don't need your labels on me, overlords of conformity. As a token effort, I try to keep it down to one crazy action per month and it was already the 12th of the month.

So, after some emails and a phone call, we were on a coffee run. Like some far-fetched sitcom, we drove slowly down the street looking for house numbers. T said, "I think it's that house." "Why? Can you read the number?" "No, but there's a big coffee cup sitting in the driveway."

Yes, that was kind of a clue.

The only way it could have been funnier would be if the donating couple had been the Folgers or the Starbucks.

I suppose you are wondering WHY they had a coffee cup coffee table. They explained before we even asked as though it were unusual in some way to be the custodian of a 60 pound drinking utensil. The man had made it in a sculpture class in college. It had traveled with them as they changed houses a few times but the pot had finally run dry.

As he was loading it in my truck, the sculptor said, "The funny thing is that I don't even like coffee."

I wanted to do the drive thru at Starbucks on the way home but it was too late in the evening.

I have no idea what I'll do with it. It's sitting in the living room by the couch. The cats eye it suspiciously and slink slowly around the outside.

Every time I walk past it, I pat it and smile.

A Full-Bodied Beverage Who Needs No Introduction ...

Joe is 27 inches tall and 24 inches in diameter, not counting the handle. He's too heavy for me to lift by myself.

Sometimes he might seem a little wooden, but he's smooth once you get to know him. He has great depth but hides it under a cover of pure glass.

How does one accessorize a cup that nearly rivals the ones you can ride in at Disney World? A lamp seems sort of pedestrian.

Now, if only I can find someone giving away a giant saucer...


Day 169 - Kazakhstan Part 15

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. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The whole concept of auditioning children to adopt is distasteful. On the way to Baby House 2 where we had insisted that the adoption agency take us so that we could see more children beyond the three that we had met the previous day, I asked our interpreter, Inna, if the children understood what was happening when they were herded into a room in front of strange visitors and made to perform. She said that they understood, even at very young ages. "Remember Irat, whom you saw yesterday?" I thought immediately of the jug-eared seven-year-old who had accompanied Nurlan and who had tried so hard to please. "They told me that he knew you weren't going to take him and he cried all night."

There has not been a single time in the last five years when I have thought of the orphanages that I haven't wondered what happened to Irat. And I can't tell the story, or write about it, without crying.

At Baby House 2, the process was even more disturbing than it had been at Baby House 1 where at least the room was smaller and decorated with fantastic toys. We sat by ourselves against the back wall of a large room. A door opened on the left side and a small girl was gently but firmly bumped into the main room by a caregiver. She was Russian, with light brown hair with curls at the collar line. She had widely-spaced, prominent eyes and a pinched, pale look. As if to counter the expression on my face, someone quickly translated: "Don't worry. We had special tests performed. She doesn't have Down's Syndrome."

A pause. "Her name is Anya. She is two years old. She has some delays."

Institutionalized children have both mental and physical developmental delays without exception. The lack of appropriate stimulation can be devastating, even manifesting itself in missing neural development if it goes on for a very long time. These are challenges that can be overcome with nutrition and stimulation and love. But it's best to get the child to a family environment as young as possible to mitigate the effects of even a "good" orphanage.

Anya appeared to have some form of mild mental retardation.

And she was absolutely, quakingly terrified to be in this room.

They led her over and forced her hand into mine. She visibly shook. I patted her hand. She reacted as though this caused her pain. She was staring at the brightly-colored shoes that she was wearing as if she had never seen them before. I complimented her on her red plaid dress, hair bow, and shoes, which they translated for her in a sing-song voice. She trembled in response. Terry tried to engage her and catch her eye. Nothing. The caregiver led her in an oval in front of us. It reminded me of some twisted sort of horse show. I felt like we were torturing her and I wanted it to stop almost as much as Anya seemed to. The director asked if we wanted to see Anya any longer and we said,"No, thank you." When the door on the left was opened, Anya shuffled quickly and the sad little girl was gone in a flurry of plaid and curls.

The agency rep and the director talked at length. Whatever they discussed was boiled down by the translator to, "They have one other girl to show you. She is younger but she is retarded. If you want to see her, they can get her up and dress her."

We knew that we were not up to the challenges of dealing with a more severe developmental issue and that it would be difficult enough to bring any two children home at one time, let alone when one had additional complications. We politely declined to see the other girl.

We had this hazy idea that a baby girl would be a good fit for our family with three-year-old Nurlan. I didn't want to deprive Terry of the experience of having a baby around the house simply because we couldn't produce one biologically. That's kind of a silly motivation but these are the types of decisions that are both heart and head. Still, we were prepared to be captivated by a child of any age or gender as long as we felt a connection. Like Mister Jimmy said, "You can't always get what you want." You get what you need.

Since we had told the director that we would gladly see any available child, she said that she had a little boy that she would like us to meet. The caregiver exited through the left door and we waited. And waited.


Day 168 - Off to College

Daily Kup (A Daily Diary of My Midlife Crisis)
Kollege Kid is now re-installed at college. She and her roommate have a lovely, quirky room on one of the upper floors of an old dormitory. It is complete with oak woodwork, a separate bathroom, windows that open and peep out of the dormers, and an actual couch inherited from a friend who dropped out.

I feel comfortable that she is well-launched. In the meanwhile, one small corner of our house is now uncluttered. See the BEFORE and AFTER pictures below.

A Warm Drink at Evening
People talk about raising children, though they really should say 'raising adults' since that's the actual objective.

The day that we take our daughter to college each year is always bittersweet. I got this poem from the college parent group where the topic of parting and gain/loss is much on the minds of the parents this week.

Untitled Poem by groundbreaking anthropologist Margaret Mead from her memoir Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years
That I be not a restless ghost
Who haunts your footsteps as they pass
Beyond the point where you have left
Me standing in the newsprung grass,

You must be free to take a path
Whose end I feel no need to know,
No irking fever to be sure
You went where I would have you go.

Those who would fence the future in
between two walls of well-laid stones
But lay a ghost walk for themselves,
A dreary walk for dusty bones.

So you can go without regret
Away from this familiar land,
Leaving your kiss upon my hair
And all the future in your hands.


Day 167 - Reap and Sew

Daily Kup (Measuring out My Life in Coffee Spoons)
When T.S. Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock that "I should have been a pair of ragged claws" he may not have had in mind recovering from roof work. But he should have. I awoke with very sore hands. T., aware that I can't even make a fist, kidded me mercilessly. (I found that other hand gestures were worth the pain however.)

We are preparing to take Kollege Kid back to school to start her senior year tomorrow. We conquered the mundane chores today -- laundry, packing, and everything left on her summer 'to-do' list. She has the 'list gene' from me. Her father hates this in her as he has an indifferent attitude toward completion of anything; when he's around, she hides her lists.

Being Needled
Despite the lessened manual dexterity, I spent much of the day sewing and mending so that Kollege Kid would have wearable clothing. Porkus, in the profitable days, used to cough up gifts of appreciation at Christmas, so one year I bought myself a new sewing machine. Thank you, Porkus. (This is in stark contrast to last year when they made no mention of any winter holidays to employees and sent the previous year's cards out to customers with a new date pasted over the old one. But Christmas came to Whoville anyway.)

On a roll and fueled with green tea and a pile of DVD's that I'd been meaning to watch, we were also able to turn Kollege Kid's two damaged bed dust ruffles into one good one. (In my house, the dust ruffles are made of real dust. But I digress.)

In hemming a couple of pair of new jeans, I fulfilled a promise to Princess Potatohead to sew her new dresses. With the cold snap, it's unfortunate that they are sundresses. If it doesn't warm up one last time, there's always next summer.

Strange Brew
Since I was thinking of T.S Eliot, here are a few of his memorable quotes:
If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality.


Day 166 - Trying Not To Jump Off the Roof

Daily Kup (How I Spent My Reality Vacation)
I love these productive early fall days. Remember when I had that ridiculous idea about weaning myself from the tyranny of caffeine? Oh, silly woman. Bolstered with the results of three medical studies, I now have a cup of coffee each morning to unglue my eyes and my ambition, smug with the knowledge that energy-in-a-drum may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and cancer.


I Came, I Saw, I Soffit
The first soffit project is almost done. The sun went down before I could complete the last touches but most of the heavy lifting is done ... literally.

The aluminum soffit panels are supported by a J channel strip that is nailed on the wall edge to the bottom of the old soffit. If there weren't an existing wood soffit, an F channel (so-called because it looks like the letter F, only upside down) would be nailed to the wall in the same position. The other edge of the new soffit is nailed up through the old soffit to the board that is inside the fascia. On wide soffits like these 36-inchers, the center is supported by nailing it to the strip of lathe running down the middle.

The soffits come in 12' sections either 12" or 16" wide that need to be cut to the width of the soffit. This can be done with tin snips or a table or circular saw with a plywood blade installed backwards. I cut these with tin snips but, since I can barely move my fingers now, I'd use a saw for a large quantity. One edge of the panel has a flange and the other edge has a channel, so they sort of snap together during installation.

There are special little painted aluminum nails that you pound in with a trim nail punch. Since the nails are put in through the recessed sections of the panels, using the nail punch keeps you from flattening the ridges with the hammer. The aluminum nails aren't very strong, so predrilling helps a lot. Since aluminum cladding needs to be able to expand and contract with the temperature, all the nailing is done loosely -- and the nail punch also makes it easy to avoid smacking the nails flush.

And here's the (nearly) final product. I have a few more places at the roof edge to secure and then some touch-up to do around the nail holes. I kept noticing these weird reddish-brown smudges on the panels and tools and wondering where they came from. Then I looked at my hands and found that I was covered in microcuts from the razor sharp panel edges.
Now that I've figured out the secrets of this job, the remaining expanse of soffit in the backyard should be a snap if two of us work on it.
After that, anyone need some help with your own aluminum installation?

Good To The Last Drop
I was hammering and got this song stuck in my head. I saw Peter, Paul and Mary in about 2004 or 2005. Mary died last November from complications from chemotherapy for treatment of leukemia. Unlike many singers, her voice barely changed as she aged and she sang as clearly in her sixties as her did in this video from early in her career.

Day 165 - A Product Way Ahead of Its Time

Daily Kup (When Soffits Attack)
For anyone following the saga of the soffits, the wood soffit and adjoining wall and anything that didn't move were primed today. Tomorrow, I put up the channel and then nail the aluminum soffits in.

I've learned that wasps like the smell of Kilz primer and don't like when you absentmindedly slap at them, thinking that they are merely paint scrapings stuck to the skin. They take that personally. Also, a bad place to be when this happens is standing on that top ladder step that is labeled, "This is not a step."

Classical Gas
I have several different Guitar Hero games and I play them once in a while. I'm really not a Megadeth kind of gal so a trip to GH land ought to require a passport for me. In a major step in cross-generational understanding, I once impressed a Porkus coworker with my knowledge of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" due to the three weeks that it took me to get to five stars.

The guitar's great, I was a (bad) drummer in high school so I have an advantage there, and my singing is so-so. I've wondered why they don't have Piano Hero but I realized that the way to model a keyboard for the game would be strikingly close to actually playing a keyboard. This would violate the faux music rules, so that's right out.

But have we truly exploited all the great potential mock instruments out there? Where, pray tell, is Orchestra Hero? The Wii controller could easily be used for a baton. Except for the size of the shipping carton, the shift from drum set to tympani is just a size issue. Some of the other instruments would seem to be a little harder. Cymbals could be fun; since it's largely bashing two things together perhaps the existing boxing controller could have a second purpose. String bass? Big Guitar Hero controller played vertically.

Brass might take some additional thought. Real trombone players spend a lot of time taking out the valves and pouring spit on the floor, so that's an important basic function to be modeled. There would need to be both violins and violas so that the violinists have someone to ignore.

For Orchestra Hero 5: World Sousa Tour, some planning must be done to assure that the flute player can quickly jettison her (it's a girly instrument -- James Galway be damned) flute and grab a piccolo in time to play that solo in The Stars & Stripes Forever to please the crowd and bore the living heck out of the other players.

See? What else are you going to do in your family room when 30 or 40 of your friends drop over and want to play a game?
To spark some creative genius out there, here is the first product in the new line: Bassoon Hero. Can Oboe Hero be far behind?