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 248 - And Don't Call me Shirley

Daily Kup (My Life in the Dim Northern Light)
The Solstice can't come quickly enough as far as I'm concerned. These few weeks when daylight is so brief and the sun so low in the sky are my least favorites. If it weren't for all the holiday preparations needed, I'd be yelling from the treetops, "Come on, December 21st!"

At the end of each school day, I think they are giving each child a fistful of sugar and then escorting the little tykes to the bus. After the buses leave, the teachers and administrators go into the back room to smoke cigars and do an evil little dance. I watch the children get off the bus on the cross street and make their way to the house. It's below 20 degrees with a cruel wind; they have their jackets off and tied to their shoulders as capes. They meander from one side of the street to the other and then back again, pausing to kick anything that catches their fancies - an outcropping of snow, a frozen puddle, or each other. They enter the house vibrating like chihuahuas and demand immediate food and entertainment. No drama is too small. Every interaction is a transgression that demands immediate payback. They are twice as loud as the Rolling Stones at one-tenth their age.

My car has not reappeared. If it did, I could take the children some place -- like an abandoned ammunition plant -- where they could run and run until the craziness was out of their systems. Or I could pretend that I had an important errand and leave them with my husband.

"Goodyear?" "No, the worst."
F. Scott Fitzgerald's quote, "There are no second acts in American lives," is widely known and seems to be true mostly of old F. Scott himself. America is full of second acts. We are all about second acts. With all the negative examples of first acts that ended in disgrace and then redemption thanks to limited public memory or interest, it's a pleasure to entertain the idea of someone who did well and then changed to another successful direction a little later in life. Veteran leading man and later comedic character actor Leslie Nielsen died yesterday at age 84. Who would have imagined that the stone-faced guy playing so many authority figures was a 'pull-my-finger-type' practical joker?

We salute you, Lieutenant Drebin.


Day 247 - Issues with Dough

Daily Kup (My Life Rolling [in] the Dough)
With small people returning to school and some large people going to work, the stars have resumed their alignment after a tumultuous weekend.

The good folks at Jeff's Auto have performed an autopsy (auto-psy?) on the yellow bus and found that the transmission that I had assumed was defective was about the only thing that was working on the old girl. She'll be back in a few days with a variety of new components -- a ball joint, plugs, two coils, intake plenum and two of three catalytic converters. On that latter, I guess we now know what kept fouling the sensor and causing the engine light to come on that I took in for ineffective diagnosis until I found that ignoring it was less stressful. One of the catalytic converters by itself cost as much as the 1971 Super Beetle that I purchased in high school. And I could at least push that thing to get it going when it wouldn't start.

The estimate for today's repair pretty much fouled my coils and intake plenum, and I don't even know what an intake plenum is. Jeff's agreed to discount the labor to help me out since I'm a long-term customer and I appreciate their being willing to work with me on it. This illustrates two good rules for purchasing services: 1) Give your business to locals whenever it makes sense, and 2) It never hurts to ask for a discount.

Oh, well. It's a punch that I can roll with. It's not like I can make my own spark plugs.

People in Knead
On the other hand, I can make my own bread. Sort of. In August, I found the one place in the world where a new drive belt for the American Harvest dual load breadmaker can be purchased. The American Harvest is kind of the holy grail of breadmakers. I got mine at a rummage sale for $5 but you'll find them on eBay for $200 and up. With a screwdriver and a cocky attitude, I took the breadmaker apart and installed the new drive belt to replace the one that had disintegrated.

A few minutes later, we were literally cooking ... er, baking.

I think my yeast was too old or the warming coils didn't get hot enough when the dough was supposed to rise. Still, stumpy and heavy though it was, we made sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.

Sometimes life is all about perspective. The car will go another 100,000 miles and the next loaf will be better.


Day 246 - Kazakhstan Part 25

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

Our "tourist Sunday" was a little cold and a little gray, though a blue sky was gradually peeking through. Terry's gastric distress was worsening. I had been hoping that he would become distracted and forget his symptoms but it was becoming clear that this really was only wishful thinking.

The next stop with our companions Inna the translator and Dima the driver was a lovely park next to the river.

The air was shockingly pure and clean. Breathing had the sense of ingesting an icicle. We walked with hands in our pockets through the gate and along the wide walkways of the park. Here and there were families and couples enjoying the early winter day. Their bright voices bounced off the leafless trees.

The mist along the river added to the sense of enchantment. We rustled through the leaves off the path.

It seemed to be a very big park. Benches were scattered here and there amid the stands of what seemed to be birch trees.

I noticed the crows in Uralsk because they aren't all black the way they are at home. They have a lighter middle body and for all the world look like they are wearing white vests. Like crows everywhere, they gathered in public places and swaggered with a sense of entitlement.

While the season had ended, the colorful amusement park rides looked as though an attendant would appear at any moment and summer could resume.

The sun had become quite blue and I felt an amazing sense of wonder in this magical amusement park on the other side of the world. I walked faster to see the brightly painted buildings and Ferris Wheel. Glancing back, Terry did not look like he was nearly as pleased.


Day 245 - Just 15 Minutes

Daily Kup (My Life, Post-turkey)
I always have a bit of the doldrums during the holiday season. So much to do and so little actual useful help. It seems everyone has chosen the same moment to have a personal crisis. I think I'll schedule one also. I've earned it and I have the time. Maybe 10:30 tomorrow? If that's OK with everyone?

A Lizard With an Australian Accent is Still a Lizard
A Burning Khrome response to the latest Geico commercial:


Day 244 - Children Amuck

Daily Kup (My Life, Holiday Edition)
We are almost halfway through five days of two small children in the house most of the day. We had hoped to complete some home projects this weekend but it seems clear that this may be a lost cause. The most common phrase uttered today (maybe 100 times) was "Stop doing that and be quiet." What "that" was could have been bouncing off the walls, wrestling, purposely burping, punching, slapping, or using a stuffed animal as a machete. We bundled them up and sent them out to play but that can only last so long.

Tomorrow, we must take them some place where they can run around. One interesting side effect of having children that don't resemble you very much is that bystanders don't exactly know to whom the ill-behaving children belong. One attendant at the zoo kept trying to shove our son in the direction of an innocent Asian couple and their troop of rambunctious children.

Our sad car does not go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house but instead to the parking lot of Jeff's Auto to await its fate. Please pray to the transmission gods for us.

Last Drop
Bad headline: Mine had worst safety record before deaths of 29
Really? Is it better now?


Day 243 - Happy Thanksgiving

While today did not turn out exactly as we had planned -- unless we had planned to sit in a freezing car on the side of the road with a dead cell phone waiting for a tow truck while children chanted "This is the worst Thanksgiving ever" in the back seat -- the things that we temporarily lost made us thankful for what we have.

Having a car with no transmission makes us thankful for the freedom to travel, a freedom denied to many in the world.

Because we were cold, we are thankful for warm clothing and to be able to go home to a heated house.

Having missed a festive meal, we are thankful for having ample food.

Because we missed seeing them, we are thankful for the warmth and love of our extended family.

Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours


Day 242 - Rock of Ages

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
As the snowstorm has subsided, we are preparing to take to the highway tomorrow morning to make our way to dear relatives for a wonderful meal and warm companionship.

The two smallest offspring did not drive me over the edge today despite their efforts in that direction. Somebody here had to have an enforced nap. I chose it to be them, though it could have gone either way.

Plymouth Rocks!
Look who emailed me a picture. I never understood how the Pilgrims managed to step off the boat onto that rock inside a little building.


Day 241 - No If's, And's, or Turkey Butts

Daily Kup (What I Did on the Way to Thanksgiving)
Kollege Kid rolled in at about noon and it's good to have the house fully populated again. The floor in her room is now covered with bags of laundry and various and sundry "stuff."

As a special celebration, the school served the kids root beer floats and turned them loose, sugared to the gills, on an unsuspecting populace. They screamed, bounced, slammed into walls, displayed some new and appalling vocabulary, and were sent to bed early.

Thus begins the five day period that reminds me that homeschooling is not something that will be entertained in our home except at gunpoint.

The snow and freezing rain are supposed to start tomorrow afternoon and we are concerned that our holiday travels will be disrupted. Winter. Minnesota. Who 'da thunk?

Hats Off to Thanksgiving
My good friend Kim introduced me to the concept of the turkey hat a few years ago and my psyche has not yet recovered. At left is an original turkey hat.

Infants are usually shown modeling this hat. I think it's because they don't have the manual dexterity to get it off.

A warm head is not worth the need for therapy that this will cause.

Here's another take on the same theme. It somehow seems friendlier, if only because the turkey is alive. I have to examine my own feelings in this matter. Is a simulation of a live bird on your child's head more appealing than making your baby's head look like a dead turkey's butt?

There's that therapy again.

While two minds persist on that last question, one area where they meet in absolute conviction is the representation of this third and final turkey hat.

This is advertised as a "sexy" turkey hat. This would seem to be more a tribute to the cleavage than to the turkey entrail dreadlocks. The safety glasses are for those who are taking a moment from using their acetylene torches.

Sexy? Only the right person can carry that off.

What if two romantic partners were each wearing the turkey hat? Blinding mental image. Pain! Pain!
(I'll never be able to look at giblets again.)


Day 240 - Touching, Really Touching

Daily Kup (My Life as Duck Soup)
Lower back pains are fun. Days spent imitating Groucho Marx come along only so often in life and you have to go with the flow.

I love that moment in back pain when the alarm clock jars you awake and you -- can't -- turn -- over. Suddenly life is all levers and fulcrums. You wedge an arm to one side and then use the elbow to flip yourself like a pancake on a hot griddle.

Groucho didn't say much about back pains, though by his own admission he was a pain in the neck.

I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.

My mother loved children - she would have given anything if I had been one.

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that,
you've got it made.

I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
Touched by a Security Agent
Not a word from the wandering coffee cup. I know he's out there somewhere though. I was walking past the television this morning and something caught my eye. He was at the head of a long line of Thanksgiving travelers being patted down right there on cable news

I wonder if he refused the scan or if he was identified as a "cup of interest." Yeah, probably the latter.

Still, one thing has me confused. (OK, a whole lot more that just one, but go with me here, people.) The pat-downs are supposed to be performed by a TSA agent of the same gender. Is Joe really Josephine? Or maybe that's just a feminine-looking male agent.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

At least I know that the cup did not have explosive shoes since it doesn't wear any.


Day 239 - Kazakhstan Part 24

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

Sundays in Uralsk are leisurely. The childrens' homes don't permit visitations on Sundays so it is the only day of the week with an open schedule.

Laundry bloomed on the clotheslines in every porch. Dogs and cats wandered in the muddy courtyards and around the streets. Our neighbors through the wall woke up early to fight. It was a warmish day with just enough of a tinge of chill in the air to suggest the oncoming winter. The steam lines pushed enough heat into the apartment to condense on the windows. We opened the windows in the porch and the livingroom to get some cross-ventilation. Unlike the other days of the week, children could be heard playing in the courtyard amid the weeks and rusting metal that must have been play equipment thirty years ago.

Inna and Dima were coming to show us "the sites." Terry was very under the weather with food poisoning or some kind of gastric distress and would have preferred to stay in the apartment. We didn't know how to reach Inna to cancel. There was a phone in the apartment and it would ring infrequently. We'd stare at it and eventually pick it up only to have someone launch into rapid fire Russian. We'd babble something in English and the caller would hang up.

The translators, drivers and other adoption coordinators make a good living by Uralsk standards. Still, they were supporting families and seemed to need anything extra that came their way. From casual conversations, we knew that they wouldn't be paid if we turned them away today and also that we might not get another chance to tour.

Terry was distinctly uncomfortable but we started out anyway.

We were taken first to the Russian Orthodox Church that was a few blocks from our apartment. The interior was indescribably ornate. Amid the hushed worshippers, my camera was out of place and I wasn't able to capture the splendor in anything but my mind's eye. The name of the church is the Church of Christ the Savior but it's called the "Golden Church" due to the gold onion domes by the locals.

The steps to the church were usually occupied by beggars with a variety of disabilities. During our trip, we walked by the outside of the church frequently and began to recognize the regulars. On occasion, I would give them a few tenge from my pocket. This was less than a quarter in US dollars but was enough in that economy to buy a load of bread or two. A small crowd would gather and we'd have to beat a hurried retreat. If the agency people were with us, they'd give me a stern look and say, "Don't encourage them."

Next we drove to another Russian Orthodox Church on the outskirts of town. There was a baptism underway so, again, no pictures. Like some movie set, the priests wore long hassocks and were swinging an elaborate metal cage of incense, making the inside of the church heavy with smoke. It was interesting that there were no chains and everyone stood for the service.

Here is a photo of the church found later on the Internet.

Perhaps it was the smoke or the driving over rutted roads, but Terry began to feel worse and worse.


Day 238 - Getting Back to Me

Daily Kup (My Life on the Horizontal)
In a completely predictable sequel to Friday's I Unloaded a Truck is Saturday's I Threw Out My Back. More precisely, I think that my back has thrown me out and now refuses to go anyway that the rest of my body wants to.

For years, I've been looking for a suitable family slogan that could be translated into Latin as part of some unique and meaningful crest. Lately, Attila the Son has learned a phrase at school that he applies to our family at every opportunity when the slightest thing does not go his way. I wonder what the Latin is for "You guys suck."

Perhaps It Should Have Been a Cream Carton
It's been several weeks now since my giant coffee cup disappeared into the sunset. He said that he needed "some space" because "you're stifling me." I guess it wasn't enough to sit in my living room under a glass top and have things set on him. He wanted the highway. He's happier there today.
Still, I've looked for him. Since the photo on the plane, I've hoped that a postcard will appear to tell me that he is safe, maybe working as a barista somewhere or spinning around in Disneyland.

I know he's pretty steamed but I hope that he's cooled off by now. I hate to stir things up again but there's no problem that can't be worked out by sitting down mano a mano ... er, taza.

I imagine that he's had to take a lump or two out in the real world but I hope he's stayed as sweet as he was. He really has no grounds to complain about anything but he seems to have a bitter aftertaste. If you see him, please tell him that I miss his mug.


Day 237 - My Wreath Exceeds My Grasp

Daily Kup (My Life Unloading A Truck When Most People Are Doing Really Boring Stuff Where It's Warm)
The best time in any youth program fundraising activity is when it is all over. Today the big truck came and dropped a few hundred wreaths of various sizes, coils of roping, swags, centerpieces, evergreen crosses, and about anything else that cone-bearing green stuff can be shaped into. Being the Upper Midwest, it could have been colder -- which is to say that it was cold enough.

I worked with a great group of people to count, sort and drag into piles so that the Scouts and their parents could pick up what they had sold and get it to the purchasers before Thanksgiving. Because I helped unload the truck, our order was available earlier so I was able to drag my somewhat unwilling family into the car and get all of the local orders delivered this evening.

Done is a good thing. My vehicle smells like pine.

Let Not the Sun Go Down on Your Wreath

Volunteers unload the truck full of Christmas wreaths for Boy Scout fundraising.

I wonder what Jewish or Muslim Scouts think of the general idea. We sold evergreen crosses but I don't ever remember seeing an evergreen Star of David.

My family's wreath is shaped like a candy cane. Happy Hibernal Solstice, y'all!

Not-chyo Cheese
I treated myself to a cheap lunch at a local (non-chain) Tex-Mex restaurant. On the menu are some entrees available "with con queso." This must be Spanish "for para las idiotas."


Day 236 - The Joker's Resume

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
The most exciting event that happened today was the annual Turkey Bingo evening at the elementary school. "I-27! I-27!"

We did not win a turkey this year. At least Attila the Son did not kick the giant inflatable turkey this time. In the car, he said to me, "Sometimes I'm embarrassed by you guys." This from the Jean-Claude Van Damme of the playground from his prime position on the principal's speed dial. I said, "Right back at ya, kid."

The kids' minds wandered about eight calls into the game, so we found ourselves watching multiple cards. I volunteered to dish up the free popcorn and several hundred small baskets were given out. It was a lot of fun and it's gratifying how many more people we know this year than last, counting the ones from all the activities and not the ones we know from having to write apologies for being punched at recess.

Freshly Shaken Off The Resume Tree
I've taken a fresh look at my resume to tailor it to some of the latest opportunities. I wonder if the professional resume preparers start to see everything within that framework.


Day 235 - Looking at the Camera

Daily Kup (My Life as a Potential External Jobholder)
I received a call today from a headhunter who wanted to place me with a prominent local company for which I'd be paid a sum that handily exceeds the ration of gruel that I received from my former employer, "Porkus." I doubt this one will pan out since a colleague of mine interviewed and was deemed to have insufficient experience in hydraulics, an area that is not my strong suit either. But we'll see.

Every day there are a greater number of attractive jobs in my field. I hope to find one that either closely meets my needs or pays obscenely well on a relatively short contract.

Through a Different Lens
I've enjoyed presenting samples of the 1980's vintage videos of directors Kevin Dole and Sherry Revord for the past two days. Today, we'll wrap up the series with Kevin's mesmerizing 1986 music video for Eye in the Village, a self-styled "social media band." I was delighted to find that Kevin himself had posted this on YouTube, resolving a feeling of longing that I'd had since I returned my VHS copy to its rightful owner years ago.

Perhaps it's true. My still camera goes nearly everywhere with me. I sometimes wonder if I'm taking pictures without the experience of seeing in a mindful way what I am capturing. We talk about 'capturing' a scene but it may be that the photographer is captured in the process of starting to look at the surroundings through a lens. When you step outside yourself to document a scene, does your role as a chronologer separate you from being a participant?

I certainly used to think so. Kevin, always the director, would compulsively film with a hand-held movie camera wherever he was. He was a mop of dark hair with a lens sticking out the front. At left is a representation of how I appeared on film at the last jovial social gathering that I remember all of us attending together. Having mellowed a bit, I wonder if I couldn't have put up with it just a bit more. There is something comforting about viewing the world through a lens where you can edit out anything that you don't want to see.

My jungle telegraph informs me that Kevin, an ardent Francophile, is getting ready to film his long-awaited feature, the romantic comedy Kiss the Frog, in France this Spring. No word yet on the actors, but the movie will no doubt be as richly detailed as his works that we have explored together. I can't wait to see it.


Day 234 - Don't Wanna Know?

Daily Kup (Found Voice. Will Travel.)
No nibbles on the ├╝ber-cool part-time supplier quality opportunity that I applied for a few days ago. I was hoping that a helicopter and men in black would appear on my lawn to ferry me into a financially-advantageous future, but I'd be happy with a phone interview. Nice to be back in the game though.

For several weeks now, I've been stalking the elusive, wild, reasonably-priced solid oak dresser in its natural habitat -- by which I mean Craigslist, of course. Like the script for much of my life, I'm the number two caller, the perennial also-ran. "Somebody's on their way to look at it but, if she doesn't buy it, you're next and I'll give you a call." Sad, lonely evenings waiting by the phone for calls that never come. Craigslist wallflower sent on an eternal snipe hunt.

Until today when -- tada! -- emailer numero uno scores a Broyhill 10 drawer dresser of solid, solid, solid oak for a mere 50 bucks and a hernia. It fits in the kids' room like it was built there. For the first time in their American adventure, there is room enough for all their clothes to be clean at the same time.

It's dated, it's heavy, and it's mine. (No, not my husband. I'm going to keep making those jokes until he starts reading the blog.)

I might replace the handles for more acquaintance with this century but, other than that, I'm about a week from completing the update on this room, too. No risk in running out of rooms to rehab.

On The Dole
Yesterday I featured an 80's music video, REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight This Feeling, directed by my old friend Kevin Dole and his then wife Sherry Revord. Today, I came across a short video that I never knew existed where REO's front man Kevin Cronin describes the band's association with Kevin and Sherry and introduces scenes of the video being shot. While special effects have undergone cataclysmic improvement since 1984, it's still enticing to see how they created some of the effects in this video.

When the music video was made, the process for getting the butterflies to tumble from the young man's vest was a trade secret. Twenty-six years later, I'm relieving myself from my vow of secrecy enough to say that it involved running the film backward, a vacuum hose, and yes, butterflies were harmed during the making of this video.

And this is the Kevin Dole that I know, here playing the part of the naughty little boy who gets what's coming to him. The richly layered backgrounds include many topical references and sight gags.

Weird To The Last Drop
I see that someone is using keyword searches to answer the (burning) question: Who is "Burning Khrome"? I guess I'm flattered. Dude, I barely know myself. If you find out, clue me in.


Day 233 - Go Toward the Light?

Daily Kup (My Life until Thursday)
Mondays in my household are devoted to cleaning up all the mess that my family created throughout the weekend. With that as a given, I've realized that for several months I've been striving to live on a Thursday, the day before it all goes to hell again. Arthur Dent said, "This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays" but he only had to deal with the Vogons destroying his home.

The snow is melting, though it only does that to tease us.

Two Ways To Go
Thinking about the passing of a high school friend brought to mind these two different video representations of life's passages and eventual transition. Death Cab for Cutie has a certain creepiness factor in the beginning but that might be due to the singer who looks like Justin Bieber age-progressed 15 years on a milk carton.

Hailing from Readers' Digest more than the Twilight Zone is this old REO Speedwagon video. This one has particular meaning for me since I know the director, Kevin Dole. In the 80's, Kevin made three videos for REO in which he relied strongly on his experience in stop action photography and toy commercial imagery. I enjoy here that he largely abandons the trite song lyrics to tell a different story altogether. I once asked him if he directed the band to look so detached. He said that he shot the live band scenes the morning after a large party and they were wasted. I've always enjoyed that 'three sheets to the wind' look on the piano player's face as he struggles to remain upright.

I once thought that the old gentleman at the end of the video was supposed to be Einstein. In fact, the character is modeled on an old family friend who was from the Droste family of chocolate fame and who dabbled in numerology. Ironic but fitting, I suppose, that his number was up. Graceful exit, though.

Tomorrow, I'll post Kevin's most memorable REO Speedwagon video role and a link to the website of his upcoming feature film.


Day 232 - Kazakhstan Part 23

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 Uralsk, people work and go to school on Monday through Saturday and many have Sunday as their only day off. Saturday night seemed to be a universal night to cut loose. At least that's what it sounded like through our apartment walls. When considering the penchant for the Kazakhs to 'party hearty' please note that the walls are literally more than one foot of solid concrete thick.

People went up and down the staircase until late at night. The couple in the apartment next to ours seemed to become unhappy with each other at about two in the morning. It's funny how you can understand the essence of a dispute in another language. A woman's voice launched into a lengthy diatribe that got progressively louder. The man answered in a brief guttural sound. Whatever he'd been doing, his wife thought he'd either been doing too much of it or not enough and he was not impressed with her input. The conversation continued in this fashion for several interchanges.

We pulled our thin, lumpy pillows over our heads. Every place we stayed overseas had thin, square pillows. I learned to stuff clothing into the pillow cases to get a sufficiently "huggable" pillow.

The morning was gray. Most mornings in Uralsk at that time of the year are gray, though I've heard from other travelers that summers are brighter. The sun hits the earth at such a shallow angle that dawn seems to take a very long time. The shallow porch in the bedroom was a wonderful place from which to take the pulse of the neighborhood. It was too narrow and the ledge too high to drag a chair out there comfortably, so I sat on the ledge close to the windows and surveyed the surroundings.

An early morning walker was probably on his way to one of the little stores shoehorned into the first floors of the apartment and commercial buildings. This is a rare photo where the wild dogs and cats are not visible, though they are probably just outside the shot.

When we first arrived, we were dismissive of the rutted mud trails that took the place of proper streets and the mud that covered nearly everything. Parallels with Scott Adam's Elbonia from the Dilbert comic were inevitable. In time, the ubiquitous mud receded in our consciousness and we began to appreciate the spirit of the people who could work long hours all week, party all Saturday night and still get up in the gray dawn to walk in the courtyard.


Day 231 - Snow Fooling

Daily Kup (Dear Diary, it's snowing)
Minneapolis got a foot of snow and it's still coming down. I took my 4x4 over the river and through the woods to the Daisy Scout meeting this morning. Trees were down on almost every road.

We taught the Daisies to sing "I'm a little Daisy, dressed in blue" to the tune of "I'm a little teapot." Over the years, I've been in a number of business meetings that could have only been enhanced by performing exaggerated motions to plinking music. "We'll review the budget variances next. But first Row, Row, Row your Boat. Accountants, you start and Operations, join in next."

Khrome FM -- Saying What We Want
You may have heard about the JACK FM chain of 60 radio stations in the US, Canada, UK and Russia with the tagline, "Playing what we want." They have spawned imitators in many markets like Doug FM, Dave FM, and the Springfield, Illinois -- home of Abraham Lincoln -- station called Abe FM. My personal favorite is Jose FM, "Toca lo que Quiere."

In a way, this blog is an homage to that uppity mode of thinking. I check my analytics periodically to see what geographic areas have visitors accessing the blog and what posts get the most traffic. There is not enough information to identify individuals, nor would I want to.

The trending data shows which sites most commonly sent visitors to the blog for any time period. Referral sources are other blogs (like Baroness Color and Digital Satori) that link to me [Thanks!], Blogger that indexes and sends visitors my way, and standard search engines.

The data shows that some visitor frequently comes to the blog from a certain porn site. There have been animated discussions in our household about which of our core of friends and frequent visitors this is. I think we have you figured out, Sister Mary Francis!

One of the most interesting ways to look at how people get to your blog is to see what search words are entered into a search engine to bring visitors to your door. During the last month, the five most popular key word phrases used to get to Klowns in My Koffee were:

Cheryl Boobquist
Can you identify my silly band?
field mouse on a stucco ceiling
Kazakhstan adoption
QSP magazines complaints

What a diverse set of topics.

Just saying ...

want we want.


Day 230 - No shirt, no shoes, no druids

Daily Kup (My Life Circling the Fringe of the Working World)
I applied for a job today. It's been a long time since I ran into something paid that sounded like I wanted to do it. This is a part-time telecommuting Engineering contract position setting up and administering a supplier quality function for the medical industry. Every word in there screams "Me!" I only hope that the hiring manager is hearing the same thing.

I am never going back to 70 hours per week of gut-crushing nonsense unless it was a short-term contract to reduce debt load. But for an sentence of undetermined length? Nope. Been there, done that. Done that. Done that. Finally learned.

Pardon me. Are You Eating My Canvas Shopping Bag?
I've been shopping a lot in health food stores and co-ops recently. In addition to the quest for a healthier and more peaceful life, one reason for the shift is that my fluffy vest and sensible shoes do not look a bit out of place. If I had a mullet with a braid, I'd look like half the guys and a quarter of the women in there. I think they are women anyway.

There are no fat people in health food stores. Go and look for yourself. Old people -- check. College students -- check. Denim and flannel -- check and check. Fat people -- not so much.

I'm a shareholder in the local co-op and my investment brought in about ten bucks last year. But so did my savings account.

It's a beautiful store where everything costs about half again what it should, other than the freshly baked bread which is awesome in the original sense of the word. It's enough to remind you that bread is actually food and not merely a fibrous delivery vehicle.

More mainstream (in that they have paper bags and don't stare at you if you forgot your canvas bag) is Trader Joe's, a grocery store not so far off the beaten path that shoes are unnecessary. Yes, it attracts the Birkenstock crowd but manages to be cool as well. And the prices are reasonable if you are a careful shopper. My husband is often reluctant to enter stores like this because he says that the food is not identifiable. He is not a fruit or vegetable person. He feels that the tomato sauce on pizza is sufficient vegetation for anyone. Of edible flora, he recognizes apples, bananas, strawberries, corn, potatoes, and green beans. Of those, he likes potatoes and corn.

The bakery is in the far back corner so I managed to lure him that far, though his exclamation of "What the hell is carob?" reverberated off the smoothie counter.

I liked to claim that these are all normal foods but produced without pesticides, artificial additives, penned animals or enslaved workers. Then I see products like this.
Druid Circles? They are oatmeal cookies. No druids were harmed in the making of these cookies.

In pursuit of today's new experience, I bought the vanilla hemp drink. Seth Rogen and Woody Harrelson helped me carry it to the car. To quote the carton: Hemp seeds are a natural source of omega-3 ALA -- a good-for-you Essential Fatty Acid. This silky smooth beverage is also an excellent source of calcium and a good source of vitamin D, making it a good choice for those looking for a dairy alternative. As you bring the cup up to your lips, you smell the stuff when the cup is about three inches away. It smells like a vanilla candle melting a drycleaning bag. The smell is worse than the taste, and the taste reminds me of licking the dried grass (the lawn kind) caked on the bottom of a lawn mower. It is smooth however.

My doctor told me to lay off the cow milk unless I want more kidney stones. I guess you can say that I have a prescription for medical hemp drink. I got it from Willie Nelson.


Day 229 - Veterans Day

In Flanders Fields
Lt. Col. John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Day 228 - Of Coughing and Kidnapping

Daily Kup (My Life as a Diarist)

An incoming cold/flu hit me precisely at 6:52 PM. I'm looking forward to a phone interview so wheezing, coughing and snorting for air was not the direction that I wanted to go for in promoting my persona brand. Unless my personal brand is contagion.

Many posts have been paragraph after paragraph. This one is not. There's a NyQuil with my name on it.

He Wasn't Prepared for This
As I was leaving the Boy Scout store this morning, having needed to stock up on Boy Scouts to do my bidding, I noticed this trailer in the parking lot. I'm not positive but it looks like someone is kidnapping Lord Baden-Powell.

Somebody wants that Eagle Scout Rank really badly.


Day 227 - Happy All Under

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Unemployed Person)
There is a theory that sales of men's underwear are a significant economic indicator. It seems that men do not buy new underwear when faced with a less than optimistic view of the future. I take exception to this theory since I am not familiar with men buying their own underwear even when it has deteriorated to a few threads of dental floss held together with a rubber band. Maybe women don't replace the underwear of men with a less optimistic view of the future.

The underwear consumption in my household has remained steady throughout the recession and aftermath. My own key indicators are telling me the job market has taken a more rosy turn. I'm finally seeing jobs that are intriguing, jobs that seem to proclaim, "Work here and you might not consider kissing the bridge abutment at 65 mph each and every workday morning."

I got a call from a an extremely well-known Fortune 100 company in Seattle asking me to interview for a Quality Manager job.

Unfortunately, I'm not that interested in uprooting. Though, if I were going to move anywhere, Seattle would be one of my first choices. And they have a lot of coffee there.

Lay Off the Caffeine, Granny!
A group of elderly Swiss women spent two months knitting this tea cozy for a Smart Car. I suddenly feel like my life has not been wasted.


Day 226 - Basic Cable?

Daily Kup (My Life on the road to recovery)
I know it's wrong and shortsighted but I'm starting to feel OK about global warming. It was a perfect 61 degrees today and I cleaned out the gutters and some more gardens and generally felt alive and productive.

Lately, I've felt that some kind of healing has been completed. It's as though there was a vitamin deficiency and now it's finally been countered. Or maybe just some rage scabbed over. Hard to say really. Not drawn to towers or automatic weaponry, so let's say the former just to be social.

Wanted: Sidekick
Tonight marked the return of Conan O'Brien to television after the very public parting of ways with NBC early this year. I've always liked Conan, even when he seems to fall on his face. Perhaps it's that lack of comfort in his own skin or that he seems innately aware of his own absurdity.

A brief overview:
--Dismissed by humorless and conniving bureaucrats
--Awkward and sometimes absurd
--Legally prohibited from working in the industry for a period of time
--Took the summer off to devote to personal projects
--Needed to find a new gig for pride and financial security

But enough about me. What about Conan?

The fog clears and the sun climbs high into the sky. An ah-ha moment. My towering, red-haired doppelganger has shown me the next step in our parallel career trajectories. I need to find a job on basic cable!


Day 225 - Kazakhstan Part 22

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 arrived back at the apartment at dusk on Saturday evening. We gathered our bags and stepped out of the car. Inna gave us a quick wave and a reminder that they would pick us up the next day for sightseeing. The dark car sped into the approaching night and we were standing in front of the building.

A group of teenage boys and young men were gathered outside the door. Walking through the midst of them to get to the door felt distinctly uncomfortable. In the back of my mind was a concern that we would be robbed or worse. We stared fixedly at the door and made a point of not looking at the blue spraypainted 'F*ck George Bush' written on the wall next to the door. In 2005, this phrase may have been the world's most popular graffiti since we saw it frequently.

We went through the door started the long walk up four flights of stairs. Two of the young men walked behind us. We quickened our pace. They two guys unlocked the apartment on the second floor and we were left to wonder if we were victims only of our nerves.

We dragged ourselves up the next flights until we stood in front of our two-deep door. We were getting used to all the keys by now. In fact, the little apartment was starting to feel like home.

Terry was always more comfortable walking around Uralsk alone than I was. Perhaps it was because he was the tallest person in the city or at least seemed to be. The adoption agency had warned us to avoid going out at night. There was a presidential election occurring in the beginning of December and something about that made this not the greatest time to be wandering around looking like a foreigner. I understood the connection more thoroughly later.

In Uralsk, it always seemed to take a long time to go from starting to get dark to being really dark outside. It was another warm day and even warmer in the steam-heated apartment. I opened the windows in the living room and watered "the lady's" plants. We had started to call the owner of the apartment "the lady" or "the old lady" because we never knew more about her than that. Through the windows and over the plants, the muezzin's haunting call to worship at the mosque floated on the air. It was an exotic sound to our ears and yet it seemed perfectly right in this place.

Terry took advantage of the dwindling sunlight and went for a little walk to one of the neighborhood stores. We often forgot our shopping bag when we went out, particularly in the beginning, and it was comical to have to carry an unwrapped loaf of bread or stuff packages into pockets. Terry had discovered the variety of Kazakh chocolate bars. That, and vodka, were available at most of the tiny grocery stores. Sometimes it was difficult to tell what was in the packaging of other items but a chocolate bar seems to look like a chocolate bar around the world.

I pulled back the lace curtains in the living room to get a clearer view. One by one, the lights went on in the windows in the distance building. This was the back side of our building. Instead of the muddy road and central courtyard in front of our building, the back had a muddy road and the rear of this business with the blocks. Sometimes vehicles would move the blocks around but I almost never saw a person out there. Maybe they worked while we were visiting the kids.
After a long and eventful week, I flopped back on the couch and watched the apartments light up as the sky grew darker. It was a good place to be.


Day 224 - Newton's Law of Seasonal Clothing Inertia

Daily Kup (My Life Living The Dream)
As predicted, lovely weather. It was 56 degrees on the 6th of November in Minnesota. Hard to beat that.

In the ho-hum department, I painted my mailbox to match my newly spiffed-up front facade. (My house's, actually. I'm stuck with my personal facade and no amount of paint is going to fix that.) A neighbor jogged by and yelled out how nice the house looked. So, they are speaking to me again.

Physics of Motion: Not Just a Good Idea. It's the (First) Law
As a changeling child who migrated to the Midwest where I really belong, I couldn't completely enjoy the warm day.

Unfortunately, we have already passed the Seasonal Clothing Inertia (SCI) point. In the Midwest, this personal transition occurs the first time that one breaks down and puts on a winter coat in the Fall. After that, you have to keep on wearing the coat and feeling cold, no matter how much warmer the temperature rebounds. It was 56 degrees and I was wearing a shirt, a hoodie and a jacket over that ... and I was still cold.
A body in uniform motion remains in uniform motion ...
A body in a state of rest remains at rest ...

Unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.

When Newton postulated the First Law of Motion, we know that he understood that there was no force more external or unbalanced than winter in Minnesota. (Unless it was the people that I used to work for at Porkus. But I digress.)
The resultant First Law of Motion extended for Seasonal Clothing is:
A body wearing a parka remains wearing a parka unless acted upon by Spring.
And not just the arrival of Spring. Midwesterners, being a cautious and humble people, want to make sure that Spring will stick with it. We've been disappointed before. We don't jump at the first warm wafting breeze. No, sir. We wait until the weather has been above seventy for a solid week before taking off the parka. The coat stays in the front closet for another three weeks before going to the dry cleaners "just in case."

The corollary to the First Law of Seasonal Clothing Inertia postulates that the effect is age-dependent. That's why you see the elderly in Minnesota wearing galoshes and scarves in early July and teenagers wearing shorts in January.
A body wearing a parka remains wearing a parka unless acted upon by Spring -- as long as the body is between twenty and seventy years old. Before twenty, you can wear shorts or tank tops all year round and pretend not to be cold even if your teeth are chattering. After seventy, the arrival of Spring advances one month for every decade of age over sixty. At one hundred, you can wear a hunting jacket for the whole damn year if you want to and people will humor you.

Weather.com predicts a high of 60 degrees tomorrow. I'm going to clean gutters in a knit cap and one of those puffy down vests.


Day 223 - Procrastination

Daily Kup (My Life Starting Tomorrow)
It sounds as though tomorrow will be the last strangely warm weekend. I'm looking forward to painting one more side of the house and maybe firing up the grill one last time. I have no idea what we will cook but the memory will have to linger until May when my north-facing driveway finally thaws.

No Time Like Tomorrow
I've been planning on writing about procrastination for some time but I've kept putting it off. (rimshot sound)

It's amazing the number of relatively unimportant things one can find to waste time on. It doesn't seem like wasting time when the task contributes in some teeny, tiny way to one's well-being. What listmaker hasn't trembled with joy at checking off twelve inconsequential completed tasks instead of one substantial and significant one? It's quality by the pound.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. ~Mark

It's hard for me to overcome the imbalance of spending more time planning than
doing. In past professions, I did a lot of planning and I was good at it.
Perhaps too good. It was nice to develop a plan and have someone else
responsible for actually implementing. T sometimes tires of being my labor
force, though -- went left to his own devices -- his device is the TV.

Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday. ~Author Unknown

I'm trying a simple philosophy and I strongly recommend it. Take your list, either physical or mental, and first do the thing that you are dreading the most. It's rarely as bad as anticipated and there's such a feeling of joy to have the hated task out of the way.

"Do or do not do. There is no try." ~ Master Yoda

On the other hand, if Hamlet hadn't procrastinated, it would be a much shorter play.