Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Happy Fourth Birthday Grace

(Today is Grace's fourth birthday. She is four-years-old today!)

Congratulation to you Grace for achieving this milestone of growth. You are firmly entering that phase of life known as "kid." You aren't a baby any more (as you sometimes, and forcefully, remind us.) Indeed you are not a baby. You are very verbal, highly mobile, and absolutely able to speak your mind--things that babies don't do very well.

You are a very energetic kid, full of life and excitement. You aren't shy and are always willing to share your thoughts on things. One characteristic of yours that I truly love is your very expressive face. You don't know this (because you aren't always looking into a mirror) but you have many facial expressions that signal to us how you are feeling and what is important about what you are saying. In some ways you remind me of my cousin Karen. You are unique, but you have that "spunk" that she shows.

I am so proud that you love and respect your sister Sarah also. You look up to her now and follow her lead in many things (except for when you decide to dig in your heels and do what YOU want to do). She can (and has) taught you many things. Don't forget that she can be a good friend as well as a sister.

You are taking to your bike riding very well, which I am glad to see. I enjoy seeing that spark of confidence and pleasure in your eyes when you do something well and look for approval. I hope we let you know clearly how proud of you we are.

So, you are four-years-old today. I am very interested to see how you will continue to change as you grow. As I sometimes tell you when getting you in bed at night, you are my favorite Grace in all the world.

Happy Birthday! I love you,


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Party Month

For the next thirty days or so, it's going to be non-stop partying at our house.

Why, you ask? Especially since we aren't exactly known for tearing it up around here.

Well, due to a convergence of many things, we have a great deal of Events occurring between now and the end of July. Many of them are typical, but THIS July is especially celebratory . . . as I will describe forthwith.

Event #1: Grace's 4th birthday. The actual date is this Tuesday, but we won't be having a party for her and some of her friends until next weekend. What, exactly, will go on at this party is still up for some debate. Unfortunately, we live in a complicated world where the value of one's child and the amount of love you hold for that child is reflected in the complexity and inventiveness of the annual birthday party. By the lamentable standard, we love Grace very little . . . or so society would have you believe.

As regular readers to this site are aware, we've been rather busy at work for quite a while. By nature I am also more of a procrastinator than I should be. Therefore, Grace's party planning has been sporadic and unfocused. Lynda has been worried about this and is trying to come up with a good party for her. I have been cautioning her not to become too elaborate for a gaggle of 4-year-olds that often don't follow directions well. Unfortunately, my negativity can be construed as lack of interest or general laziness.

I am more of the opinion that getting Grace and a select few of her friends together, providing one game or activity, plying them with cake, and then sending them on their merry way is a successful party. I don't really think that Lynda disagrees with this, but the sticking point is what should the game or activity be? Since Grace wanted Dora the Explorer to be the party's theme, we are starting from there when trying to come up with an idea.

So, the anxiety sets in. Pump up the pool and just let them splash around? But we didn't TELL everyone to bring bathing suits when we gave out invitations on Friday. Hmmm.

Oh well, something will happen and a party will occur. We can't ruminate about it too much because of . . .

Event #2: Lynda's birthday. A week after Grace's successful party, Lynda celebrates her special day. How? Don't know yet. What am I getting her? Not sure yet? Do we have a babysitter? Nope. Will we have a babysitter? Maybe.

Success or failure doesn't matter because I won't be praised or blamed too much, because hot upon the heels of Lynda's birth is . . .

Event #3: Our anniversary (the 12th for those keeping count). Much like Lynda's birthday, I don't have a good handle on what will or will not occur on this special day. The fact that this come right after the birthday confused me and the whole planning process. Do I do two separate, distinct, and equally important events? Do I attempt to combine them into one whizbang blow out? What, oh what, do I do?

This is an important thing to consider, because I love my wife, but also because if I do a particularly bad job of it, I can't immediately turn to the next event to distract hurt feelings as we have been able to do for the previous few weeks. Nope, there is a two week lag in Party Month before

Event #4: Sarah's 7th birthday. Normally, this is the end of Party Month, but not this year. (But I'll get to that later.) We don't yet have a theme for Sarah's birthday, but I can guarantee that it won't be a Pokemon Party like the one we just witnessed yesterday with one of Sarah's church friends.

You might have thought that Pokemon--those Japanese Pocket Monsters that took America by storm a decade ago were dead and gone, but you would be wrong. Pokemon are back, at least in this youngest generation that weren't yet around when Pokemon first hit our shores. At Sarah's friends school, they broke out in Pokemon fever a while back and it literally swept the school. We were specifically asked to bring Pokemon trading cards as birthday gifts and it was easy to see why when the guests began to arrive. Each boy brought along his notebook containing his Pokemon cards and when they weren't playing on the Slip-N-Slide or eating birthday cake, they were swapping cards, making trades, and generally talking Pokemon. Even some of the girls at the party had their own Pokemon, though none of them brought their cards to swap and share.

So important are the cards that mini fights broke about between some of the boys about trades. Apparently, one boy felt that he was being shafted in a trade discussion and tempers flared--as they often do among seven-year-olds. Eventually peace was restored, but it was a close thing for a while.

So, Pokemon party is out . . . but what is in? Not sure yet. We've got to get through the first three events before we can decide.


Normally, this is the end of Party Month, but not this year. This year, we've got other things going in mid month that make it even more complicated. For you see, this summer involves three other Happenings that will keep up hopping and planning for quite a while.

Special Event #1: Release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie (July 11). Other than Spider Man 3, which I liked but didn't like as much as I wanted to, this is my most anticipated movie of the summer. By all accounts--and I've heard quite a few--this movie is very good. Easily the most politically dense book of the HP saga, OotP looks great in previews. I'm very excited.

But, that's not all. In the third weekend in July comes our vacation.

Special Event #2: We leave behind the drudgery of work and deadlines and parties and everything and head to Owensboro, Kentucky to experience my mother's Family Reunions. This is a big deal mostly because it's never happened before. Mom and her sister worked hard to put this together so we could meet her aunts, uncles, and cousins, people that most of us haven't met. I look forward to seeing these people and experiencing the town that my mom grew up in. It should be a lot of fun.

But, in the exact middle of this event, comes

Special Event #3: the release of the final Harry Potter book--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I wasn't alive when Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books were published in the U.S. in the 1960s, but I've heard stories about how people waited to find out the fate of Frodo and Sam on the cliffs of the Emyn Muil and they prepared to head into Mordor. Similarly, I've been waiting two years to find out what happens to Harry and the gang in this last installment of the HP story.

Who lives? Who dies? What happens? It's all up for grabs and I'll be in the middle of the family reunions when the book officially releases on July 21, 1 day before Sarah's birthday. I can't be reading the book during the reunion, because that would be extremely rude. But I will go out and buy it Saturday morning and I'll probably be reading it at night and on the drive back from Kentucky that weekend.

I mean, I've GOT to read it quickly. If I don't, I'll have to shut myself off from all media until I'm done, because the outcome will certainly be reported very fast. I might even take a day off of work Monday to finish it.

After this month of events, I might need that day for sleep, after all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shhh . . .

. . . don't tell anyone.

(I didn't bring anything home this weekend from work.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This Job is Destroying My Brain

I'm in a very weird state today.

I don't have anything sitting on my desk that is an immedaite crisis (meaning it has to be done this afternoon) and so I find myself struggling to concentrate. But at the same time (and due to cruel experience that I have mentioned before) the back of my awareness feels like it's in a state of anxious readiness.

I dearly want to relax, but I'm afraid too . . .

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day

I fully intended to post yesterday about Father's Day. I was sitting in church listening to the sermon and simultaneously working out phrases and memories in my head about my experiences as a dad.

Typically, I was going to put together something that was halfway between true memories and Hallmark treacle.

But . . . as the day wore on, I just couldn't get myself to sit down in front of the screen and type something. It seems like much more fun to do other stuff, or to do nothing at all (as long as I could get away with it). So, day turned into night and I found myself with nothing typed to show for a Father's Day.

But, I did talk to my dad on the phone yesterday and I committed the fatal flaw that I have committed several times in the past year and a half that has encompassed my Work Project From Hell. I got comfortable; I got relaxed; I actually said on the phone that I felt good, and happy.

So, Monday comes and the bottom drops out from under me once again.

You don't need the details, I don't need to think about them, and probably, a week from now it'll all be different--either because I have gotten over the anxiety and am back to being numb, or because we've found a way to struggle through the mess and everything seems somewhat possible again. So, why bother worrying.

It just boils down to ramping up the anxiety again, beating myself up internally again, and wondering when (God WHEN?) will it ever come to an end?

But, Father's Day.

Being a father (or a Dad, as I hope to be . . . if you understand the distinction) is more than Hallmark sentiments. It's coming home from a day like today and being the only adult (because your wife is having her own late night at the office). It's cobbling together something that resembles healthy food from two or three leftover meals in the refrigerator. It's eating the disappointing meal, and being glad that the kids ate MOST of it (especially the vegetable, thank goodness) and then cleaning up the kitchen while simultaneously trying to be Disney music DJ to one daughter and promising the other that "Yes, for the fifteenth time, we WILL play Blue Shoe, Blue Shoe, Who's It? Not You!"--whatever that game happens to be.

Being a dad means getting baths when you back hurts and kneeling down beside the tub on your knees is not at all pleasant. Being a dad means playing School with the girls when all you really feel like doing is laying down in a dark room and sleeping to forget everything that went wrong today . . . and trying just a little bit not to let that depression, anxiety, and frustration show in your face while you think about the several hours of work you really ought to do this evening once they are in bed.

That's what being a dad meant to me today. Tomorrow or the next day, it'll be Lynda's turn to go through this. Because, being a mom isn't different than being a dad. Being a working parent is what this is. Gendered rules need not apply here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sarah's new book

My A B C's Book by Sarah Martin.
(Note how the author, presumably Sarah?, is sporting an "adult" professional hairdo. Also, she's wearing glasses, another sure sign of being older, right?)

"My friend gave me an A B C book one day."
(The friend, a boy, says "here" while the girl is clearly flummoxed by his boyness and his generosity. She can only manage to say "um." But look at the boy. He's clean cut, got a nice smile. Someone who should be no problem bringing home to mom and dad.)

"I guess I'll have it, I said."
(Well, okay says the girl. Great, says the boy. And the sun shines and it's a beautiful day.)

"So, when I got inside, I read some of it."
(Cool! Ha! says the girl. Keep reading, says the baby. Definitely, A is for Apple and B is for Bee is scintillating reading for everyone. It's such a great book that the infant has been compelled to learn to talk in order to best express its love of the book.)

"When it was suppertime, I was still reading."
(Be quiet! says the dad. Stop now! says the mom. Be shhh! says the baby. All of them show their displeasure with extremely downturned eyebrows that are v's of anger furrowing deep into the brow. But our reading hero is not to be deterred. Look at it, she says with an insane glee.)

"It was night time. She was still reading."
(The girl is oblivious to her bedroom and wants nothing but to wallow in the reading experience. I see it she says. But can't you see the box of stuffed animals, the bed, the teddy bear awaiting a hug? Can't you see anything but that which you desire the most?)

"Be quiet!" yelled her father. "But I still love you."
(Yes, it's true. It's love, but it's a tough love. Rules must be followed--even if it means the reading must stop. The brain may be willing, but the body will be weak unless it is given the sufficient amount of sleep. These things can be explained to the young girl, but can such a long explanation be shouted from the bottom of the stairs during a commercial break? Of course not. Tough love is tough for everyone, isn't it?)

(Yet another fabulous story that teaches us all that reading is fundamental and that fathers are mean.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Music that you've never heard before!

We live in a world where technological formatting changes almost hourly.

Are you afraid of hitching your tech wagon to the next Betamax?

Don't know your HD DVD from your BluRay?

Waking up at night in a cold sweat about whether or not you should pay $0.30 more per download for Apple's premium downloads?

Well, I don't know what to tell you about the first few problems, but my personal friends at Slate.com have an answer to the Apple conundrum.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sarah's dance recital

A few weekends ago, Sarah wrapped up her year of dance lessons by participating in a whiz bang recital downtown with the hundred of other kids that attend this dance studio.

I have put a few pictures that I took of Lynda and Grace in the audience while we were waiting for Sarah to perform. She was in the seventh group and she did her three minute performance within the first thirty minutes of the recital. Then we waited for the next two hours for the entire thing to finish. Sarah did a great job, but the rest of it wasn't as stimulating as I had hoped. I guess I'm not a fan of modern dance.

It's sad, too, because there were lots of interesting things to observe and comment on, if I had been more engaged in the entire process. But my blogging brain just wasn't into it.

One thing that I do remember was the most anomalous performance of the entire recital. It consisted of a group of teenage girls attempting (and I do mean attempting) to perform urban, hip hop dance styles. They did NOT do a good job, though I admit that I am far from being an expert--even though I do have Tone Loc on my iPod.

These girls didn't perform with the snap and energy that they did for every other type of dance shown--ballet, tap, jazz, whatever. It's clear that this studio doesn't cater to modern, urban dance styles and the kids are not trained in that direction. So, the whole thing just felt off, out of place, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.

(It makes me question the ENTIRE premise of that Julia Stiles movie, Save the Last Dance.)

You can view a short video of Sarah's Friday afternoon rehearsal over on WWYG?! Omnimedia.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Glarkware collection

Today's entry in The Clothing Project is my series of Glarkware t-shirts.

These shirts all come from the Internet store Glarkware.com, which I first heard about when I started reading TV show recaps at Television without Pity.com back in 2000. Glark is the husband of one of the writers/entrepreneurs that created TWOP. I perused the website from time to time and enjoyed the design styles of the shirts and the fact that many of them were TV related--as we'll get to as we break down each shirt.

(By the way, you can always access Glarkware from the red button link on the right side of my blog. I recommend you peruse not only to find yourself a nice bit of snarky fun, but also to enjoy the imaginative descriptions that go with each shirt.)

You can also say that the year 2000, Glarkware and TWOP marked my first honest embrace of the Internet and what sort of information I was able to access and identify with. It isn't surprising that this coincided with the first time I was ever sitting in front of a computer enabled with high speed Internet for the first time in my life. This was, of course, when I got my job, which demanded that I be in front of a computer all day long. So, this, in total, was a defining period in who I currently am right now.

My first shirt is the orange 70s sci fi tee:

I bought this one back in 2001 I think, because I've been a science fiction throughout my life. I liked the sarcastic reference to old sci fi TV shows such as "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" which featured interior decorating that consisted of honeycomb patterned walls made up of interlocking hexagons. But, what I really liked about this shirt was that you had to think about it to understand what it was saying. So, it's a test of your nerdy coolness.

I will also regret that I didn't purchase a T-shirt that simply said NOT A ROBOT, but did so in the seventies era BG font. It was a brown shirt with gold letters, reminiscent of the color palette of the Lorne Green sci fi saga. Since I watched the original as a kid and am a big fan of the new Sci Fi channel version, this was the perfect t-shirt for me, but it was discontinued before I convinced myself to buy it. Bring it back Glark!

My second shirt is one of the most interesting ones. The Rambaldi shirt:

This shirt is a shout out to ABC's "Alias", the J.J. Abrams show that I loved BEFORE I loved "LOST."

The text reads--The Rambaldis, Central Intelligence Agency. In very small type below the swoosh is U.S. Gov. Inter Agency Baseball League. On the back of this shirt is a player number which is (what else?) the number 47.

I love this shirt because, again, you have to be in on the joke to full get it. (I guess I'm a real TV snob, aren't I?) But, I have always been a big fan of "Alias" and faithfully watched each episode--good and bad. And the Rambaldi episodes and plots were always the most interesting and the most perplexing. I'm a great fan of J.J. Abrams and his TV shows--warts and all. Much of what happened in "Alias" is now happening in "Lost." Mysterious beginnings, multiple plots that sometimes don't get resolved happily (if at all). But I have to say that I love the journey and his shows engage my imagination in ways that typical shows simply do not. (Having said all of that, I really am intrigued with how Abrams is going to handle the upcoming Star Trek movie that he is working on. Sign me up!)

Speaking of Mr. Abrams and "Lost", my next T-SHIRT is simply that:

This one pays homage to Television without Pity AND "Lost" at the same time. Purchased during the Hatch-centric second season of "Lost," this shirt bears the TWOP mascot (Tubey) within the Dharma Initiative glyph that can be found in each of the Dharma stations. The white color and the generic T-SHIRT moniker refer to the Dharma-brand food that is occasionally dropped from hot air balloon onto Mystery Island. So, I generally like to eat "chocolate cream cookies" and Apollo candy bars while wearing this shirt and watching "Lost." This is what I call "Wild Wednesday Night."

Please don't call during Wild Wednesday Night. As you can see, this is when I cut LOOSE!

My last shirt and my most recent Glarkware purchase has nothing to do with television. I bought it on the strength of its visual alone:

Isn't that just cool? What's better than a nun (with sexy red lipstick) wielding nun chucks and preparing to battle for the Lord? Well, I made that last part up, I guess, but it is a pretty funny image. Elements of it remind me of Sally Field's Flying Nun outfit and if I were to be truly honest, I could imagine Sydney Bristow donning this habit to battle some Rambaldi artifact out of a convent in Rome. So, I guess there is more television connections to this than I thought . . . even if I am supplying those connections myself.

The first time I wore this shirt publically, it was to a Lenten bible study dinner at our current church. I admit it was somewhat intentional. I am too much of a clothing grandstander for my own good, I think. Lynda was vocally disapproving of my wearing it when we prepared to leave, but that didn't stop her from pulling me over to our priest as soon as we arrived to point me out. I don't know if she was hoping for an excommunications or what. (Fr. Rick is a former Catholic, thought you don't need to be Catholic to appreciate or disapprove of this shirt.)

Just to be clear. I have never attended Catholic schools--though my mom did. (Gotta get a mom reference into each Clothing Project post, I guess.) I am certain that none of the nuns in Kentucky ever wielded nun chucks to get my mom to learn her multiplication tables. They did, however, force her to eat bread pudding once.

Not having experienced the fabled nun treatment, I have always viewed that, very typical and familiar stereotype of the ruler-slapping nun to be a bit of a stereotype and have grown tired of it. And PLEASE don't ask me what I thought of the idea of Sister Act/Sister Act 2. Never seen them and never will.

But, I grew up a big fan of The Sound of Music and have been religious all of my life.

So, as usual, I'm full of contradictions and half truths.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Madder than a wet hen

Today we took the kids to Magic Mountain, one of those entertainment emporiums that tries to do everything for everyone. It's got miniature golf! It's got bumper boats! It's got go karts! It's got indoor arcade games! It's got a four story climbing area! It's a birthday center! It's got laser tag!

Normally, we don't frequent these places. The kids generally have a good time, but it's basically a black hole that your money disappears into. The girls want to play the arcade games for tickets, and you can't convince me that the way these things are set up, you aren't teaching your kids to gamble.

But, we were there today for birthday parties--two kids from Grace's class were having a joint party and so, there we were. But we could have Sarah mooching off of Grace's friends' party. So, it was my job to do fun things with Sarah while Grace did her thing.

So, we played $3 dollars worth of arcade games and then ate some lunch in the buffet. Surprisingly, the buffet was very cheap for Sarah and for me. (I guess they make more than enough money from everything else they offer--and they do charge for EVERYTHING else they offer, by the way.) Also surprising was that the food was surprisingly edible. I had some pizza and some salad.

After our lunch, Grace was done with playing and was into the birthday cake and gifts part of the party. So, Sarah and I played some miniature golf outside. Sarah did a surprisingly good job and had fun. But once that was done, we needed something else to do while the party was winding down.

So, we paid for the bumper boats--small circular boats that function like bumper cars. A single person maneuvers the boat with a small front-mounted motor that has two joysticks--one with a GO! button and one that sprays a jet of water. So, you drive your boat around, bump into the eight or nine other people in the swimming pool and spray each other good-naturedly with water. It's all good, clean wet fun, right?


Well, we paid inside at the counter and then headed out to wait our turn. A previous group of kids were already done and were being let out by the single attendant manning the bumper boats--a teenage girl, who I had already noticed while playing mini golf before. I thought that she moved pretty slowly and that the transition from one group to the next seemed to take an awful long time and that she was not very efficient. (This is an important point going forward with this story.)

While Sarah and I waited beyond the fence, the teenage attendant slowly and methodically tethering each boat to it's mooring clips and slowly moving to the next one. Slowly, slowly. Meanwhile all the other kids are sitting, waiting to be let out. Apparently, no one is allowed to move until Teenage tells them to. I guess she had to pull each boat flush with the pool to make sure they get out.

All fine and good, I guess, except for what happened next.

We're still waiting to even be let into the fence and for the other kids to let out. Finally, they are gone and we move in--a group of about six or seven. We have to wait one by one for the kids to be let in the boats and then Teenager moves on down the line, slowly, slowly. Meanwhile, we can see that the sky is darkening a bit and there is a threat of rain. But it hasn't happened yet, so maybe we'll get our time in . . . maybe if Teenager will get her butt in gear.

Finally, all the kids are in and we hear a rumble. Teenager uses her walkie talkie to check to see if she can let the kids go. The word is that as long as there is no lighting, no problem. Full speed ahead!

Finally, the kids are let to go and it begins to sprinkle. But, I'm not too concerned. The boats are equipped with sprayers anyway, right. The object is to get a little wet. Besides, we've already had to wait this long . . .

Well, about one minute into this fun time, the rain picks up. Teenager is going to let them go, I suppose until lighting strikes. (Presumably, she is able to kick it into high gear and display heretofore unseen speed if someone is in danger and lighting strikes become a possibility?) But, no she is going to let them play it out as the rain strengthens.

By now, Teenager is under the cafe umbrella that the parents (and I) have been standing under since we were let into the fence. She, it is clear, since she says as much, is much more concerned with getting wet than whether the pounding rain (and it is seriously pounding now) is impacting the fun or whether or not this is even acceptable weather to let the boats continue running.

I look over Teenager's shoulder and see that Sarah is trying to maneuver her boat, but she's not having any fun and the look of anguish on her face as she is drenched with water is all that I need. I storm over there, maneuver her boat to the side, tether it up and gather Sarah up. She's very upset and extremely wet--as am I. Without a look back to see what, if anything, Teenager is doing, I get Sarah back outside the gate and back into the building. By now we are absolutely soaked through our clothes and I might as well have jumped into the pool to swim Sarah to shore. She's crying and I'm extremely furious.

Lynda and Grace are finished with the party and the entire building is crowded with kids and families protecting themselves from the downpour that continues from outside. I get Sarah to Lynda who looks at us in semi-shock and turn to find some employees to complain to. I get someone's attention and very clearly, very angrily tell them what I think about how Teenager is handling things out by the bumper boats. She listens, immediately hands me a rain check coupon and asks if I want to speak to a manager.

YES! I say. She finds someone and I let him know, once again, my opinions about Teenager's judgement and how she seems much more interested in keeping herself dry than doing anything to facilitate the problems outside. And, oh yeah, if she's move her butt a bit faster, we might have actually had an opportunity to get in some fun before the bottom fell out of the sky.

The manager apologized and said that he'd talk to Teenager. I should have waited to verify that this actually took place, but then I moved on and got the kids together and we all headed home. Sarah was still pretty upset, but I apologized for her disappointment and assured her that we would use the rain check to come back another day when it wasn't raining and we'd try it again.

But, if that girl is working that day, I might just turn us around and do something else.