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.


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."