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.


Remind Me Why I Took the Red Pill?

Daily Kup (My Life in the Real World)
Mr. T and Attila the Son went to Boy Scout Camp and got a ringside seat near the path of a tornado.  They ran through a hailstorm to a shelter and then headed for home during a break in the weather.  They came back soggy, otherwise well and an evening early.  I think T was largely happy to have avoided sleeping in the tent, a possibility that he'd been dreading since the encampment was announced.

Tornadoes don't seem quite real.  When the sirens go off and my family is in the house, I herd them and two uncooperative cats into an internal hallway in the basement.  If I'm the only one home, I go outside and look around.  The landscape seems transformed with strange pinks, architectural black clouds and the oddest green cast over everything.

And It Wasn't Even On A Toyota Matrix

Is it the ultimate question?  Would you prefer to live unknowing in a sensical but false existence or learn the tragic reality?  Take the blue pill or take the red pill?

There's a possibility that reality is overrated.

The greatest truths are often really confirmations of what we already know.  The Matrix Runs On WindowsXP


Still Here ... The World, I Mean.

Daily Kup (My Life in mid-Rapture)
Despite the predictions of Harold Camping, the Rapture did not occur at 6 PM on May 21st.  At least, no one is missing on my street.  Admittedly, there could be other reasons for that.

At that exact time, I was working at my "cash-bringing" job taking phone orders.  As the show of the hour featured a show biz personality who has used considerable initiative to develop a line of skin care products worthy of Dorian Gray, callers seemed more interested in a future of receiving shipments at 30-day intervals than declaring, "I'm going out with a bang and wearing the face I came in with."  My neighbor was mowing his lawn for at least the third time this week.  As he was doing it in the rain and with something that sounded like four jet engines while I was trying to work on the phone, I would have been OK with his sudden disappearance.  I really would have.

On the Career Front
Jobs I'm Not Looking For Anymore
Replacement for Charlie Sheen on Two and A Half Men
Replacement for Aflac Duck

New/Still Open Job Postings
Replacement for Dalai Lama
Head of International Monetary Fund (no travel required)

Spoke Too Soon?
Tornado sirens going off.
In which ring of hell do the sarcastic people go?


Full Plates

Daily Kup (My Life in Parking Lots)
Children require a lot of carting.  They need to be taken here and there.  They need things that you have to get for them.  As sustainable as we are trying to become, I've yet to cultivate a plant that grows notebook paper.

"Plant it over there between the lunch box tree and the pencil bushes!"

Some music is better for the road than others.  For some reason, my car favors Bruce Springstein and Jimmy Buffet and will jam the CD player otherwise.  My car apparently has a lot of good vibes, positive energy, and wants to go with the working class flow without thinking too deeply.  It's an American car.

I once had a German car but it would only play Wagner.

Amazing Plates Seen While Waiting for My Kids, My Husband or the Apocalypse

But it was on a RED car.
Kind of glad this van wasn't selling underwear.

Says it all!

Have you seen some evocative license plates lately?  Send us a picture!


A Visit from College

Daily Kup (My Life as a Sip of Time)
My daughter from college made a quick trip home to celebrate Easter.  Those of traditional college age are such a bundle of contradictions.  The college won't tell you their marks and doctors won't tell you anything other than name and birth date.  (Clue to you, doc.  I'm was responsible for both of those.)  They call when the world deals them some unfairness but remain coy on more momentous developments.  They come home to look for their Easter baskets and then drive off to the rest of their busy and increasingly adult lives.

Who's New At The Zoo?

Behold the college student in its natural environment.  It is largely a nocturnal species that forages for food at odd hours.  It has evolved an outer armor of apparel that seems to function both day and night:  Is it pajamas?  Is it school clothing?  Both?  Neither?

This species can be found travelling with large bags called "laundry."  The college student itself is a wide ranging species that can be found along almost any highway or byway;  the laundry is migratory, always finding its way back home.


For My Peeps

Just when you thought it was safe to take your eyes off your Easter basket.


Another Wonderful MN Chinese Dance Theater Production

Daily Kup (My Life as a Dance Fan)
A longstanding family tradition is attending the annual performances of the Minnesota Chinese Dance Theater.  This group of talented local dancers has the mission of enhancing cultural understanding in Minnesota by showcasing the ethnic dance traditions of China.  The performances feature colorful and richly-detailed costumes from China and are narrated in both English and Mandarin.

A Tradition Tibetan Dance
We are grateful to our friend and superb dancer, Lucy, for introducing us to the performances of this outstanding group.  Even my sports-crazy son sits still through the whole program.  As he is becoming more cognizant of his ethnic and racial identity, he is decidedly open in his appreciation for being in a large crowd where more people look a little like him than do not.

Young Dancers Capture the Innocence of  Pandas at Play
  The finale is always a highlight that includes the entire large cast in a dazzling display of costumes and skillful, energetic dancing.  I regret that I had to leave before the final number in order to be at work in time.

For a joyful, educational and reasonably-priced evening of entertainment, check out the Minnesota Chinese Dance Theater and their productions at the Brady Educational Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.  The neighborhood surrounding the St. Thomas camus is rich in unique eating establishments.

Graceful Sleeves Evoke Rainbows

A few weeks ago, we discovered the Blue Door Pub and its signature Juicy Blucy hamburgers.  This local landmark was featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Kollege Kid had seen the show where the barrel-like and trendily-coiffed Guy Fieri sampled the spam bites, an appetizer breaded and deep-fried spam, cream cheese and pickle.  It sounds awful but tastes great.


How Much TV is Too Much?

If you know more than half of these, that might be TOO much.


The Business Empire in My Living Room

Daily Kup (My Life as Today's Top Value)
Rejoining the ranks of the marginally employed has its drawbacks.  For example, working seems to require a time commitment.  Back in the time of [Career - 1], it required an exceptional amount of time and almost a blood oath, so any improvement over that seems to be a step in the right direction.

Setting one's own hours grow on you after a while.  So much so, in fact, that I am probably ruined for ever wanting a corporate, fixed schedule job again.

So where can you find a job outside of self-employment where you set your own hours, have a minimal commute, and maybe don't have to dress up too much?  Oh, and some benefits would be nice, too.

For people who don't find magic lamps, these opportunities are rare.  Through pure dumb luck, I found one — the opportunity, not the magic lamp.  I am now an at-home phone agent for a large and well-known television and online retailer.  I sign up for whatever hours that I want to work.  I take phone calls through my little headset from people who are spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars and who have no idea that I am sitting in my living room.  The genie did a good job:  there is even a 401K.

Can't beat the commute.

The downside is that I feel for the customers who sound like they really shouldn't be making purchases of this size on credit.  There may be a spot for me in Dante's hell, but it's somewhere in the cooler area with the people who crinkle candy wrappers in movies and send you holidays cards showing their cats wearing antlers.

During my training, I had the chance to see Suzanne Somers while she was filming in my company's local studios.  She doesn't look quite like the forgiving pictures on her website, but she really doesn't look too bad.  Kind of like Chrissy's mom.  She's is in fantastic physical shape and has a vivacious and down-to-earth personality that positively radiates. Take that, National Enquirer.  Whatever she had done to her face, it healed.

A 401K and a brush with minor celebrity.  Doesn't get much better than that.

Cubic zirconia, anyone?  Just call when I'm working.  Which will be whenever I feel like it.

And please buy a warranty.  I get a commission.

Last Week's Brew
For a cruise down memory lane, check out this scene from the George Lucas' love song to a time of innocence and heroism when good and bad were so clearly drawn.  No, not Star Wars;  American Graffiti.

And who was that "perfect, dazzling creature" in the white T-bird?  Suzanne Somers.


The Eagle Has Landed

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Formerly Unemployed Person)
I'm baaaaack!

Life got a little busy for a while there.  Mr. T, he of the giant heart and endless supply of bad luck, upgraded my computer and unleashed demons from the gates of hell.  Or Erie, Pennsylvania.  They both look the same to me.  If you've ever used a public restroom just off the highway in Erie, you know what I mean.

While my computer was lying on the floor, six legs in the air and coughing convulsively, there was a period of rapid change in my life from which the blogosphere has been saved a detailed description.

Once upon a time, there was a day when I was offered three jobs, one full-time and two part-time.  None of them paid well but they were all very flexible and didn't harm the ozone layer or cause wars.  Casting the dried chicken bones of fate, I accepted one part-time job and one temporary contract for another part-time position.

Both companies have reasonable social media policies that pointedly prefer their employees to avoid publishing their internal secrets.  Neither are keen about being ridiculed either.  Fortunately, I don't know any of their secrets and am unlikely to stumble across them.  Even better, neither company seems to have too much to ridicule in other than that joshing, punch-you-in-the-arm kind of way.  For one more kick at that dead horse  (Dig that double entendre!), this is in such stark contrast to Porkus that I feel that my house just fell on the witch and I've emerged in Technicolor.  Listening and training and bonuses, oh my!

What do you get when you blend technology with really shiny things and apply for 24 hours per day?  And why is Suzanne Somers so tan?  I found out on job #1.  I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Technical Java
What was wrong with my computer for all those days?  T knows but he won't tell me.  Usually this means that he did something wrong and doesn't want that fact to resurface in five or six hundred later discussions.  Perfectly understandable.  Of course, I just assume that he did something wrong given the fact that it worked, then he touched it, and then it didn't -- causing him to spend several days engaged in data preservation and swearing.

Porkus Flashback Deep in the Heart of Taxes
Under the question "Do any of these apply to this W-2?", TurboTax has a checkbox for "I earned this income while an inmate in a penal institution."  I stared at that Porkus W-2 for a good long time ...


Out of Pocket, Out of My Mind

Daily Kup (My Life as a Gainfully Semi-employed Person)
Mr. T started upgrading my computer several days ago.  That I am unable to use it at all or to access all the backed-up photos and other work-in-process on the backup server (the server whose job it is to help me out in these situations) shall hang wafting in the wind.  Not an accusation, just an extremely sore point.

Can't wait to share latest developments.  I now have two new part-time jobs.  Yesterday, I met Suzanne Somers -- assuming that 'met' means 'stood twenty feet away from her and gawked while she was working.'

Can't wait to catch up.  As Arnold said, "I'll be baahck."


Art and Sports and Tigers, Oh, My! - Part 1

Daily Kup (My Life between Stops)
Gasoline prices hit the highest level in recent local history.  In the winking irony that is life, this means that we spent most of the day on the the road.  Our first stop was the Walker Art Center, a contemporary museum in Minneapolis that offers free admission to families on the first Saturday of each month.  From there, we zipped over to St. Paul where Kollege Kid had a lacrosse game at the University of St. Thomas.  Defeated but unbowed, we took our goalie to the Blue Door Pub for a famous Juicy Blucy and then rounded out the excursion by ending the day at the Como Zoo.

Kollege Kid went on to her active social life.  And I took a nap.

The two little ones complained that we never do anything fun.

I Know It When I See It;  Art, I Mean
For all the years that I have lived in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, I've never been in the Walker Art Center before.  We once considered having our wedding at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden which is basically the front lawn of the Walker, but had not ventured inside.  The Sculpture Garden is best known to the locals as the place with the big cherry on a spoon.  The iconic sculpture is really called Spoonbridge and Cherry and makes one feel a little more comfortable about contemporary art because you can look at it and know what it is.  And it sprays water in the summer so it's not only art but the biggest aluminum lawn sprinkler that you can imagine.

Spoonbridge and Cherry
Photo courtesy of Tim Wilson
 We plunged into the sea of contemporary art.  I appreciate contemporary art in the same way that I do opera singing and yodeling — two sides of the same coin in my book — because I understand that they are hard to do;  I have to give props to something that requires effort and commitment.

That being said, there are some contemporary art pieces that are easier to approach than others.  For example, the Sol LeWitt geometric sculptures would make the coolest playground imaginable.  An Andy Warhol is more impressive than I thought it would be, perhaps because I expected so little.

Here, the kids get "into" art — literally — in the form of a climbable wooden structure.  The small gentleman is Flat Stanley, a paper cutout sentenced by a school assignment to accompany us on our journeys.  More about him later.

In one gallery with a suitable warning sign was a piece of recorded performance art that consisted of a film loop of a topless woman vigorously rubbing her breasts to the sound of crickets.  Mr. T later admitted that he couldn't remember a single one of the other art objects in that gallery.  I wanted to send him back in there to have his picture taken in front of it with Flat Stanley.

We saw a wonderful short animated film by German director Verena Fels called "Mobile.".  It was so engaging that we watched it twice.  Here is a 37 second promo:

Our trip to the Walker would not be complete without a photo of Attila the Son (and Flat Stanley) in front of the piece of art that he identified as his favorite of the hundreds of contemporary pieces at the Walker.

I don't have the heart to tell him it's where they keep the fire hose.

Good to the Last Drop
Every once in a while, I check my website analytics to see if people are reading and what people are reading and how they arrive at my door.  One recent visitor wandered into the site from a search engine by querying "grossly incompetent boss."  Oh, I think I remember that post.


Dabbling in the (Bird) Housing Market

Daily Kup (My Life on the Cub Scout Bear Trail)
I believe that I was born with a pile of incomplete projects.  Projects are like the mythological hydras; you slice off the head of one and two others will appear in its place. 

On this last day of school vacation, I gathered the project team of Attila "Can I Play a Video Game Instead" the Son and Princess "I Wasn't Pinching Him, I Just Wanted To Know Where He Was" Potatohead.  Needless to say, Spring Break has been a little tough on me.  I've grown used to quiet during the day and the subtle joy that comes from being able to take a shower without people who need you right then for your referee skills.

With our project team assembled and positioned apart beyond arm's length to mitigate the aforementioned location-identification-through-pinching, we faced the project that we had been avoiding all week:  Completing and installing a wren house.

Mr. T and the Son had built the house at a Cub Scout meeting last weekend.  In order to get the very last achievement signed off of the 692 or so needed to complete the Bear Trail and transmute into some other kind of animal with a different colored neckerchief, we needed to get this birdhouse completed and positioned for occupancy.

If you want to build your own wren house to attract these drab but vocal little songbirds, the construction is not hard:
Step 1:  Get a Cub Scout.
Step 2:  If you don't have a Cub Scout handy, you can borrow mine.  Really.  Any time you want.  If you are considering having children and are wavering, this experience will drive you clearly to one side or the other.  Trust me.
Step 3:  If you persist in your aim not to have a Cub Scout, here are free Cub Scout-less plans for cutting and assembling a wren house.

How do you know that this is a wren house and not built for another type of bird -- say, a bluebird or any of the Kardashians?  The diameter of the hole is critical.  Wrens are small and their houses feature an entrance hole 1" to 1-1/8" in diameter.  The hole on a house for the slightly larger bluebird is 1-1/4" and for one of the more surgically-altered Kardashians can be up to 4" in diameter.  The size of the entrance restricts a larger bird from entering and doing something antisocial like coming for dinner and eating the inhabitants.  I'm personally thinking of getting a smaller front door on my house for exactly this reason.  (Don't take this personally, Phil.)

The kit house as built by the little boys has the correct hole diameter but needs a few modifications to make it a perfect home for a wandering wren family.  First, wrens do not need a perch below the entrance hole.  Wrens don't use them but other birds appreciate the stability that the perches afford that permits a hungry guest to grab on while poking his head in for a baby wren snack.

"No wire hangers!"
Second, the metal hangers on the back are a great idea for placing the birdhouse on the siding of your house or on your expensive fence.  Or even to create a pathway for infection by nailing into one of your Dutch Elms in case you have $400 in tree removal money burning a hole in your pocket.  I love birds and all, but off with the stationary hanger and on with a nice padded cable to hang over a tree limb.  Wrens are one of the few birds to tolerate a birdhouse that swings gently in the breeze.

Air in, liquid out
Finally, these are birds that don't have maid service.  Like any dorm room, they need some air holes for ventilation and a couple of drainage holes in the floor to remove whatever liquid that may accumulate.

Martha's would have interior lighting

See the new Bear Scout.
He must stand here until Fall.

The paint is just for fun and to satisfy my inner Martha.  It's the same color as my front door and the trim on my mailbox.  Martha would approve.

Here is the completed birdhouse.  If you don't have a Cub Scout to hang your birdhouse from, I can set you up.

I know a guy.

He's a Scoutmaster.

One project down, three hundred to go.

For Rent

Be the first in your neighborhood to see this one room rental unit.  New construction and freshly painted.  Close to parks, schools, and bus lines.
Good ventilation.  No appliances included.  Natural heating and air conditioning.
"If you lived here, you'd be home already."


Let The Sun Shine

Daily Kup (My Life on Spring Break)
"Can I play a video game?"
"Are you done with your chores?"
"Almost.  Can I play a video game?"
"Please finish your chores.  Then we are going to run some errands."
"Can I play a video game instead?"
"No.  We are going to a museum."
"Do they have video games?"

Saved by the Bell (Museum)
Attila the Son went to baseball practice, something that is just like a video game but much bigger and only slightly more realistic.  On a Geeky Girls' Night Out, I loaded Princess Potatohead in the yellow bus and we struck out for the Bell Museum of Natural History located on the east bank of the Twin Cities Campus of the University of Minnesota.

I'm very fond of the U of M since I spent several years there off and on attempting to graduate, a feat that I finally achieved in my mid-thirties after having been initially enrolled in college half a lifetime before.  In short, I know my way around there except for those pesky new buildings that keep blooming from holes in the ground.

The Bell is known for dioramas featuring taxidermy.  If you are a badger and want to spend eternity with half a squirrel hanging out of your mouth, the Bell's the place.  Sooner or later, every schoolchild is the urban area is bussed to the Bell for their share of pelts and antlers that can be touched.  Here and there are live things and, when they move, it really creeps you out.

In a move away from mallards frozen forever in mid-paddle, the Bell has a current exhibit on sustainable shelter and featuring a solar house.  As a special event, they were hosting a vendor fair this evening that promised to include some interesting resources on sustainable living and general green stuff.

Speaking of green stuff, here is biodome that is consuming a small child:

Note:  No children or biodomes were harmed in the production of this blog.

She is actually climbing up on a stool and has her head through a hole in the bottom of the huge glass terrarium.

The solar house was designed and built by students and faculty for the 2009 Solar Decathlon Competition in Washington DC.  They came in fifth overall out of twenty teams, a good showing for a first time entry.

The house is cozy and capable of generating 13 months' worth of energy in a 12 month period.  Since the house is quite small and the tour was very full, I wasn't able to get a good photo that captures the essence of the rooms.

Though compact, one or two people could live comfortably in this feature-packed space as long as each was relatively neat.  I had the definite sensation of being in Ikea.

We came home with a free lightbulb, some energy-saving documentation, and a business card of a store that has classes in raising chickens and other crazy earth momma things that I'm interested in.  And, of course, we patted a stuffed moose.


Brace Yourself

Daily Kup (My Life Limping Along)
Ever the graceful swan, I survived smacking into a few walls and landing hard on my back yesterday on roller skates only to blow out my knee skating across the carpet as I went to fetch a Slushie.  This only goes to prove the Slushies are dangerous, and not only if you don't want a blue tongue.  Ever notice that they are labeled as having actual flavors -- cherry and blue raspberry -- but they are only called "red" and "blue"?  I've grown lots of raspberries and they have all been raspberry-colored;  not a blue one in the bucket.

Tendons?  Ligaments"  I don't remember which is which but something that used to be attached to one side of my kneecap has relocated and is not happy about it.  I suppose I can cross that major league football opportunity off my career options list.  Too bad.  I'm a better photographer than Brett Favre.  (Don't be afraid to follow the link -- it's not to any portion of Brett Favre.)

With my knee brace, I have that stiff-legged, graceful gait that was so appealing on Chester on reruns of Gunsmoke.

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer
The blogger's equivalent of the fuzzy kitten is a group of little girls in fancy outfits dancing for their parents.  The rojo number that Princess Potatohead is sporting was a gift from her sister's semester in Spain.

Embarrassed to Admit
When I see the Judds, I can't immediately figure out which one is the mother.

How to Keep a Giraffe From Robbing Your Convenience Store


Good-Bye, URL

Daily Kup (My Life Between Winter and Spring)
The two youngest, Attila the Son and Princess Potatohead, are on Spring Break.  They haven't broken me yet.

As a first birthday present for KiMK, I bought my domain.  We are now http://www.klowns-in-my-koffee.com/ without the .blogspot, though the old URL will still forward.  Forgive the analogy, but it's like being out of diapers and into Pullups.  (Is that like SSDD 'same sh!t, different day'?  Ouch; too close.)

Cheap Skating -- Literally
We went roller skating today.  The phrase is tossed off casually, as though I often grab my elbow pads and battle my sisters in the derby.  We went to the Roller Garden, a local landmark known for its huge floorspace and brontosaurus-themed decorations.

Attila the Son is a natural athlete and easily picked up the new sport while still practicing coolness times ten.  Princess Potatohead clomped around the 0.1 mile oval on her little pink skates with determination.  I held her hand whenever possible and was pulled down to hit the hard, shiny floor on several occasions.  After one particularly vicious thwack as my back hit the floor, I decided to lie there for a few minutes near the wall thinking that my best contribution to the sport of roller skating might be as an obstacle.

I had some time to look up at the lights from my vantage point of lying near a carpeted wall and trying to breath.  These global lights from a roller rink started in 1943 are exactly the same as the ones in my kitchen. Somebody needs to do some updating.

Gaining a second wind and, for once, being pleased with the ample padding with which I am endowed, I coughed up the extra three bucks to rent inline skates rather than the traditional models that I had been using.  This allowed me to gain enough confidence and speed that I hit the floor less frequently but even harder.  I recommend it.

I was finally able to remain stable enough to hold my daughter's hand on the floor without risking spinal injury.  Fully worth the $3.

We skated for three hours for $5 each and had a wonderful time.  After a couple of hours of practice, I took a victory lap at a fairly fast clip to the final song, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" -- a bittersweet success as I realized that I was the only one skating who was older than the song.

Speaking of URL


Day 365 - Scars Are Souvenirs You Never Lose

Daily Kup (Celebrating One Year of Change)
I started a one-year experiment ... well, one year ago.  The year has gone by quickly.  My highly unenforceable non-compete contract has expired.  I honored the provisions not because I thought that they were ethically or legally valid but because I am a person of honor.

Most rankling was the clause about not revealing any information that would compromise my former employer in the marketplace.  It was stressed to me that this included any revelations about attempted falsification of test data for defense contracts or management purposefully shipping untested and/or defective hardware.  These aberrations are disgraceful in light of the many hardworking, competent and quality-conscious employees who wanted to deliver the best products to customers and were often able to do that despite an unsupportive environment.

"Don't tell secrets about processes, pricing, supplier and customer information" -- Perfectly understandable and appropriate.  "Slide over the whole thing about signing government contracts with no plan or intention for complying" -- little sticky on the whole citizenship responsibility area.  Not a problem.  I hear that "everybody does it."

Now that the mantle of the non-compete agreement has been removed, I'm not nearly as interested in ploughing this ground as I was a year ago.  What was some bitterness has ameliorated into a kind of bemusement, the same way that you shake your head and wonder why they don't euthanize a performing wild animal when you read in the newspaper that it mauled someone in the audience.

The past is now the past.  Year One was expansive and frightening and ultimately satisfying.  There seems to be no need to number my days any more to remember that I lived them. The continuum of my life as it moves forward without artificial divisions will be even better.

“Living well is the best revenge”
~George Herbert

What I Learned On My Reality Vacation

Next, To Change a Latitude ...
We all say we hate a catchy, syrupy pop song with little redeeming social value.  And we hum them when no one is around.  As balding pop rockers go, Jimmy Buffet seems to be having a lot of fun and his devoted fans are absolutely nuts.  When I found out he had a tour called "Year of Still Here," I knew it was a sign.

OK, Well, Maybe a Tiny Drop of Bitterness Left
I was researching owls with my son for a Cub Scout project.  Owls don't have teeth.  They swallow their prey whole.  They later cough up a pellet of the indigestible portions like fur, bones and teeth.  When I read this, I immediately imagined that the head of Human Resources at Porkus had a special wastebasket in her office for just this purpose.

I'm allowed one last parting shot, right?


Day 364 - Kazakhstan Part 30

Occasionally, 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 were into the second hour of one of the first days of our visitation with Nurlan, a cherubic and thoroughly uncontrollable toddler.  In the first hour, he had inspected and rejected the bag of toys that we had acquired for a king's ransom at the Russian toy store and then gorged himself on a huge bag of animal crackers while we sat like idiotic, grinning statues.  Our attempts to extricate the cookie bag from the ravenous child resulted in a scream from the child and an opened door and a "look" from the interpreter.  It was a very long hour.

The boy had limited interest in me.  My most fascinating feature seemed to be my camera bag.  I took a deep breath and pried the camera out of his sticky hands, weathering the violent screaming.  In this picture, Nurlan sits surrounded by toys but is still clinging to the camera bag.  The double door is slightly open in case we require another "intervention."

After the camera bag and searching for food, Nurlan was most interested in Terry.  He'd get within arm's length, which at this early stage in our relationship was just like a hug.  Terry tried to show the toddler how to color.  Nurlan liked coloring.  He liked watching Terry do it. He didn't seem to want to color himself, but really just wanted to watch Terry color.  Terry didn't really want to be a performance artist, particularly since he had to sit on the floor and bend over or balance the book on his knee.  Nurlan started to gaze with interest again at the tables of lovely, breakable artifacts.

I was trying to head him off when he nimbly rotated 180 degrees and headed straight out the door into the hallway occupied by Inna and her magazines.  Our interpreter popped out of her chair and hustled him back in the room with a guttural syllable or two.  Once again, this early twenty-something girl had established control where we felt we could not.

In those early visitations, we felt like samples of pond scum pressed flat on a slide under a microscope.  We didn't look like anyone else and we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing.  Everyone repeated instructions slowly and twice and then conversed with each other in a language that we didn't understand.  I can see why people become suspicious and self-conscious in these situations.  The other people may be saying to each other, "Isn't the weather lovely today?" but the outsider imagines the message to be, "Look at the jerks."  Of course, I'm fairly sure that "Look at the jerks" was the actual communication at least once.  Maybe on this day.

Inna firmly shut the door and we were left to ride out the storm.  Terry simply resolved the issue by grabbing the boy and swinging him around so that he couldn't get loose.  The combination of the variety and the centripetal force kept Nurlan occupied and out of trouble.  Terry, on the other hand, was losing steam after juggling this wriggling sack of potatoes for twenty minutes.  It was probably the best workout he'd had in weeks.  Nudges toward the coloring book were not positively received so it was up in the air again.

I peered in the hallway where Inna sat reading.  "How are we on time?" I innocently asked, hoping that the true meaning of "When can we leave?" wasn't too apparent.  Some things transcend the limitations of language.  Inna gathered her magazines and attracted a caregiver.  Nurlan clutched the coloring book and crayons.  He swaggered to the door and, once again, didn't look back.

We were exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Perhaps our afternoon visitation with Anastasiya would go better.


Day 363 - Badges and Promises

Daily Kup (My Life on Spring Break)
Kollege Kid is packing to return to school. Great piles of laundry go down into the basement, are dragged up the stairway two hours later, and are swallowed whole by the gaping maw of an enormous duffel bag. It's become a frightening efficient process over these last four years. Everything that has been all over the bedroom floor for a week disappears into the vortex of luggage and is zipped. It takes a startlingly short amount of time to load it into the car and then she's gone, leaving only fiery tire marks like a scene from Back to the Future.

As toddlers learn to walk, they take a further step on each opportunity, going away and coming back. Venturing and retreating. As they grow older, they learn to travel farther on each trip and to move faster. If parenting is a sport, it's not like big game hunting. It's more catch-and-release.

I don't help pack anymore. Kollege Kid has that well in hand. I'm always at a loss for something useful to do during the energetic and stylized dance that is returning to college after a vacation.

Earlier in the day, a souvenir of another time had been unearthed from the deep recesses of a dresser drawer. For the amusement of six-year-old Princess Potatohead, Kollege Kid pulled out her old Brownie and Junior Girl Scout vests. The Brownie vest was intact, if a bit wrinkled. The Junior vest came complete with an envelope of badges that I said that I would sew on many years "as soon as I have the time." Somehow, in twelve years I hadn't managed to scrape up the time.

I Scrape Up the Time
There it was -- a little pink envelope with thirteen badges left over from fourth and fifth grade. Envelopes only 'stare at you accusingly' in really bad fiction so, if not staring, this envelope was displaying a bit of attitude.

This was just one forgotten promise shut away in a drawer, well-intended but now thoroughly irrelevant. Promises don't stay ripe forever. They have a shelf life.

Promises made to children are particularly important. Children trust you until they get to be old enough to understand that adults are people. They don't know a pipedream from a plan, a musing from a mission statement. If you have a glass of plum wine with your General Tsao's Chicken and airily announce, "One day, I'm going to live by the ocean," children run to get their bathing suits and beach toys.

My own parents were masters of this type of dreamy projection. Brighter days were right around the corner and we were going to do some wonderful things. Like have a harness racing track in our backyard near the old barn. Or go to the fancy school with the children of the rich people. I'm not sure why these ideas were appealing but they sounded good as the yarn was spun. My parents not only counted chickens before they hatched but before there were eggs or even some hens and a rooster. It was their charm.

I specifically did not want to be the kind of parent who teaches children that any dream is most likely a wild and baseless musing. I never promised an elaborate tree house when we didn't have any usable trees in our yard. I never got out maps and drew over highways in red marker to places that we weren't really going to go.

But there's that envelope again. It stands for favorite clothes that did not get mended and play dates that weren't arranged. Promises that went stale.

The promises that we unwittingly break that affect the people around us are small open sores that sap our energy. Even worse but somehow more acceptable are the promises that we make to ourselves that never see the light of day. Read more books? Keep in touch with friends? Thirty minutes walk three times per week?

It's a long list. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Or one stitch. While Kollege Kid packed, I got out the thread.

"Why are you doing that NOW?"  "Because I said that I would."

Hey, it's a start. Maybe I'll surprise her by building that bookcase in her bedroom that I bought the wood for in 2001.

The Last Drop
What little unfulfilled commitments, either to yourself or others, have you been carrying around?


Day 362 - Pop Princess

Meet the latest pop princess. I've heard she's had some "work done."
You be the judge.


Day 361 - Farewell to a Friend

Daily Kup (My Life in the Last Half-Century)
The first day of spring break came with a snowstorm, a broken serpentine belt that idled one of our vehicles, and the sad news of death of a friend.

The latter made the first two so much less meaningful.

Ron had the knack of calling at the end of the workday. If the phone rang at 5:25, it was sure to be Ron. When parts had to ship overnight and they didn't get to the carrier in time, Ron would call to take responsibility. He'd tell a long and colorful story for which I had almost no enthusiasm since it meant that I needed to let some customer know that a promised part would not arrive as planned, a communication that would also come late since the customer had likely closed for the day by the time that I was notified. He was always apologetic and yet also unfailingly upbeat, a trait that at first annoyed me.

Only later when I understood him better did I learn that he deliberately chose his embullient attitude to overcome situations that weren't going well.

To die from an heart attack at age forty is ridiculous and wasteful and simply unfathomable. It makes me angry and it makes me sad.

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.

~ Gilda Radner

For RW


Day 360 - Shaken and Stirring

Daily Kup (My Life on the Distaff Side)
I wanted to finish the birdhouse. I really did. We made a pilgrimage to the wild bird store to get the hanging hardware. Attila the Son knew what color he was going to stain the cedar exterior. We were all set. And then the house behind ours caught on fire.

"This is the kind of thing that I should tweet about, if I were a tweeting kind of person," I thought as we pressed our faces against the bedroom window and watched the firetrucks.

Smoke was billowing out of the garage. We could see that a large back window from the main house as open and smoke was pouring out of that, too. A lot of fire fighters were milling around. We took this to be a good sign since their excitement might mean that something wasn't under control.

Our soggy roof didn't seem to be at risk from flying ashes but the possibility of exploding gaslines was fresh in our minds from a recent incident in the news.

It's not gawking if you are concerned that your property is in danger. Well, it was a little like gawking if we stayed there a long time looking out the window.

But at least we didn't try to hang a birdhouse in the yard next to the firetrucks.

Blonde, James Blonde

This is a little change of pace that I stumbled across. It's being shown as a public service announcement in the United Kingdom for International Women's Day.


Day 359 - Spring Arrives With A Cough

Daily Kup (My Life on the First Day of Spring)
In the Upper Midwest, when the calendar says that it is Spring, by golly, it's Spring because — darn it — it's gonna be!

As much as the transition to Daylight Savings Time is disruptive, the natural light later in the day leads to happy thoughts of gardens and school vacation and baseball season. I read that sentence back and realize that the sophisticated urban detachment that I had once sought in my life is as long gone as the odds of playing beach volleyball in a Pepsi commercial.

But Spring has returned on schedule. As if on queue, the icicles have leaped off the gutters and trees are gaining collars of brown-green mud. The remaining snow looks grimy and deflated as every day it sinks lower and lower. (A good place for a Charlie Sheen or Porkus analogy -- NO, No, must resist.)

Spring is a juggernaut now. Winter, you can have one or two more measly snowstorms. You can have freezing rain. You are on the ropes, dude. Spring will crush you and usher in picnics, walks on warm evenings, and the sounds of children jabbing each other with sticks in the backyard instead of weeding the garden like they are supposed to. OK, it's not that bucolic. But it's good.

'Another Sign of Spring' News Flash: Cub Scout Builds Bird House

Can a crystal radio be far behind? I don't know why that particular youth organization bothers to hand out neckerchiefs — each new member should simply be given a birdhouse kit because you know that's what's going to happen anyway.

This bird house is meant to attract wrens, those little loud brown birds who get louder when you are trying to take a nap.

Tomorrow, we'll show you how we built it, we'll trick out the basic Cub Scout model for the exclusive use of wrens, and give you the plans so that you can make one yourself. Come on, you need a birdhouse more than a nap!

The Pessimist's Ballad of Spring

Ice dams drip and gutters fail,
Icicles poised to plunge and impale.

Cats shed fur, kids shed coats,
Low-lying backyards become moats.

Puddles rise and snowbanks melt down,
Displaying lawns a crappy brown.

Snow recedes and reveals the prize --
Broken branches, every size!

Retired travelers return tanned,
Small town rivers grow bags of sand.

We survived the last, we'll make it through --
Winter cold to springtime flu!

~A. Grumpy Guss


Day 358 - Brownie Baking Day

Daily Kup (My Life in Recovery)
A houseful of people with drippy noses and worse attitudes is just about as fun as it sounds. Mr. T stayed up all night working on a new website. Typically, I wake up in the middle of the night and retrieve him from the sagging end of the couch when he is doggedly pursuing some project beyond common sense but last night's Nyquil cocktail prevented timely waking.

When he stays up all night and accomplishes little, any further brush with humanity resembles poking an addled bear with a pointy stick. Some semblance of good humor was restored after figuring out that actually reading the directions might be faster and more effective than repeatedly stating at intervals more and more loudly that one had read the directions.

This is a small portion of the fallout from my illness. The confusing thing to me is that T typically washes the dishes when I cook. For the couple of days when I was cooking little and eating less, he didn't wash the dishes at all, but merely piled them up in colorful stacks like crop circles awaiting a visit from the planet "Do-your-chore-without-being asked."

Alas, that visit never came and now dried-on oatmeal is the tie that binds us together.

I gave up and ordered a pizza.

Bless you, Papa John!

Brownie Baking Day

Our Daisy troop attended Brownie Baking Day yesterday. Despite the possible confusion over the name, this is an event where Daisies (the children, not the flowers) and Brownies (the children, not the food item or the mythical sprites) bake brownies (the food item).

The sponsoring troop also had the girls color placemats for Meals on Wheels while the brownies were baking.

Note the picture of Kollege Kid as guest helper since I wanted to avoid contaminating any more small children with my cold.