Oh (No) Canada!

I'm very happy for the citizens of Canada and their health care system. In fact, I have to admit, I'm actually a little jealous. It's like the neighbor kid next door enjoying a new PlayStation 3, while you're stuck rigging up an old Atari system belonging to your Great Uncle Pete, and the only game that works is Combat.

The fact you don't have to worry about how to take care of your medical bills has obviously made you and even kinder people, given your concern for my little problem with erectile dysfunction, and your earnest desire to save my marriage by helping me satisfy Lois Lane in the bedroom.

I actually don't mind the 57 emails I receive daily, offering numerous medical options to remedy my situation. Not only do I feel they are sincere, but there's also a degree of comfort I take knowing at least one government in this big old world cares about me. The simple senitment is reassuring.

It almost makes me feel bad about those several years I spent stationed on your border while at Ft Drum, New York, defending these great 57 states against the threat you impose. Officially, I was told that remote outpost was built by politicians as a means of bolstering the anemic local economy, but that couldn't have been the case. With what soldiers are paid these days, how could they buy anything more than basic necessities still needed after they've used up all their food stamps. Plus, they're never around anyway, too busy bolstering someone else's economy half a world away. At least it's not in vain since they're keeping oil safe and affordable.

No, I'm telling you I wasn't stationed within viewing distance of your swell country to keep the blue-collar citizens of rural, upstate New York from shooting each other with hunting rifles in a fight over the last job opening as a greeter at WalMart. I was there to prevent the infiltration of your message of universal health care from destroying the US of A. Eh? (sorry, shameless stereotyping - it's what we do in America)

Thankfully, the Internet has no borders, and it's to your credit you've developed the technical savvy needed to bombard my inbox with messages of hope for my wrinkled little soldier that he may proudly stand at attention once again. Yes, you've managed to break through with a wealth of information despite my loading every SPAM filter I could onto my Commodore 64.

It's a delight to find a picture such as this waiting for my viewing pleasure, relieving for a moment, the frustration I feel in searching for a suitable place of employment necessary to pay for such an incredible, low-cost offer.

Oh No Canada Girl

I have to say, the picture alone gives me a great deal of confidence in the quality of your products as the mere sight of such an advertisement brings something of a slight tingle to my unmentionable region, if you know what I mean. How did you know I have "a thing" for tiny fairies scantily dressed as cheerleaders who ride around on gi-normously sized pills? (Caution, dear readers. Unless you have protection for your cursor - a cursor condum if you will - avoid running it directly over the picture as their is a possible risk of it contracting chlamydia, which is very expensive to treat... or so I've been told)

It's a wonder our North American friends in Mexico haven't joined you in this endeavor. What with all the drugs they already cross our boarder with, you'd think they'd at least use their experience to employ better marketing. Then again, maybe they are just bringing us free samples to start off with. Still, for a country that's hosted the filming of so many memorable Girls Gone Wild videos, not to mention being famous for a certain PETA-endorsed, show in Tijuana, I'm a little disappointed. But I understand. Forging Social Security Cards to work jobs apathetic Americans wouldn't consider doing requires a great deal of attention.

Come to think of it, I'm disappointed with China too. They went to such lengths impressing the world with pretty girls who look good singing without singing at all, but they can't make an effort to bring harmony to my libido? The least they could do is be grateful for allowing them to gobble up so much of the planet's resources, including the oxygen required to keep eight bazillion people alive and employed making 99% of what I put on layaway at the Dollar Store. I wouldn't discriminate against a nymph of Chinese descent perched provocatively atop over-sized medication. I realize you're country is hard at work killing the world's children with lead paint and tainted milk, but why not export sexual enhancement, instead. It would seem your populace has mastered it.

Oh Canada, I have to say oh no. Just because I haven't found the courage to accept your generous offers, there's no need to resort to scaring me with these types of ads. You catch more flies with honey, as the saying goes, or in this case, with pill-riding hotties.

Drug Drill Canada

If you've learned nothing from this land that I love, and her fruited plains, take notice, and refrain from out-sourcing your copy writing needs to death merchants in Pakistan. Just because the removal of one's testicles (Holy Crap! Did you see the size of that freakin' knife?) may be an effective marketing strategy in their native country, doesn't mean it will make untold millions by using it here. Please, stick to your original work. I need the distraction from writing meaningful articles people will enjoy enough to pay for.

P.S. To my Canadian readers, of whom there are many, I meant no disrespect in my commentary, and I hope you see where this was really directed. Thank you for reading the drivel bore from a combination of my ADD meds (I'm getting low by the way - hint, hint) and three cups of coffee.

P.P.S. To the citizens of Mexico and China of which I have no readers, subscribe to this blog immediately and I'll tone down what I've just said.

P.P.P.S. Okay, here's the deal, mow my lawn and send me a few Health Inspector Barbies and I'll delete the whole damn thing. Deal?

Note: The author does not suffer from ED or any other problems affecting, well, "down there." Neither did he contract chlamydia in the editing of any photos posted here. He totally swears on it. Really.


The Sting

As you've probably already heard, Paul Newman died this past week of cancer at the age of 83, robbing the world of a great humanitarian. Newman has always been one of those people I looked at and wished I could be. Not so much for the looks, or the movie star career, or even his hallmark coolness. No, what I envied, instead, was his ability to be himself despite all those things. A lot of people out there, you probably can think of some, fall for the trap of giving into the elements that make up only external image. They start to play a part. I've done it too.

When I was in the Army, I acted like I thought a soldier should act. As a young, hot-shot exec, I dressed up in another leading role, and if I'm really being honest, there were times I was just playing the part of a husband in my first marriage. Newman, however, never seemed to be overtaken by anything attributed to an image. He chose to be himself, and he seemed to do it effortlessly.

I first saw Newman in The Sting with Robert Redford, and it instantly became a favorite. I'm a sucker for any film where the good guys, usually grifters and con artists, get over on the bad guys while using nothing but their intelligence, creativity and humor. The Sting was all of that and more, the more part being Newman. Sometimes I pull the dvd out just to watch that scene with him playing cards on the train. There have been so many times I wished I could pull something like that off. If you haven't seen it, do so.

This led to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke (I never wanted to see another egg again after that), Nobody's Fool, The Road to Perdition, The Hustler, Slapshot, The Hudsucker Proxy and the list goes on. Even though I greatly admired his acting skills, it wasn't until I read his book, Shameless Exploitation: In Pursuit of the Common Good, detailing how he got the Newman's Own brand of foods off the ground that I realized the truer nature of who he really was away from the cameras and lights.

He definitely went outside of the box when it came to running a company, which at first, came down to just him and a good friend. Somehow he managed to ignore convention in developing the products, and at the same time, not take it too seriously, eventually raking in huge profits that he gave away to charities and built camps for kids. I took a saying of his, "There are 3 rules for running a business, fortunately I don't know any of them," and hung it in my office (read more quotes here). My boss at the time thought I was just being a screwball, but it was there as a reminder to ignore the external and follow the internal. I didn't need to look at what I was doing the way everyone thought I should.

I think of that mantra every time I go to the grocery store and buy spaghetti sauce. I'll even pay a few cents more to get the jars with his likeness on it. Admittedly I'm a sucker for good marketing, but this isn't the same thing.

Right now, with no job, mounting bills, and my kids living far away, I could play into a new image, the one where I'm a depressed, dead-beat, who shuts down and withdraws in adverse circumstance. Sad as it was, Newman's death, at least reminded me there are some roles we don't have to accept.

Paul Newman
(1925 - 2008)



This post is based off a comment I left on the blog Rude Cactus (nice guy, check him out) in response to a question he posed concerning the personal opinions of his readers over the current economic crisis. Typically, you’re not supposed to leave such lengthy comments, but I guess I had a great deal to say on the matter. Someone, maybe my dad, once said if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all. In other words, spouting off just for the pure sake of hearing the sound of your voice (or your keyboard), is not going to help anybody so make sure your input counts. I hope this meets the criteria of being helpful.

One side note: I edited this slightly from my original comment in order to direct it towards a more general audience. Incidentally, much of what came across Clark's Inbox this week coincided neatly with my response so I sprinkled links to what I read through out the text.

So, in reply to how the economy affected me, and what are my thoughts I write,

As a former homebuilding exec I had front row seats to this whole mess. I used to marvel at how people who just defaulted on all their credit cards and recently had their cars repo'd could still qualify for a home loan. It was a pretty good company (the CEO refused his 9 million dollar as a matter of principal while his peers cashed in) made up of a great bunch of people whom I will always miss. Even so, the market where I transferred to in order to be closer to my kids was shrinking rapidly and layoffs were occurring on an almost bi-weekly pace. I was a loyal associate that made the company some big bucks earning me a high salary, that ironically, made me a huge target for a layoff. Right or wrong, I felt it best to leave on my own terms and in an amicable fashion so I resigned returning to Houston where the economy remained solid. At the very least, I wanted to be able to provide a steady income for my children if I couldn't be near them.

With little trouble I landed a job, albeit a lower paying one, but a job nonetheless. Because it was an international homebuilder, what was happening on Wall Street and the American housing market had minimal effect because the revenues it created internationally translated into stability for the company, and for my position. Or so I thought.

Not 60 days later they laid me off along with 20 other people. And talk about your Schadenfreude moments, my fiancee (now my wife) called to tell me she got let from her job at an oil and gas company the same day!

Since then, we've got rid of both our cars for a fuel efficient mini-van (mini-van cries desperate by itself), moved to a new apt (during the middle of a hurricane no less) with lower rent and utilities, combined cell phone plans, as well as cutting back on all manner of variable expenses. It resulted in huge savings, but still not enough for us to make ends meet.

I've been working on a job hunt for nearly 7 months. They say it takes longer for executives, but this feels different when you can't even get a phone call or returned email. I remember not that long ago when headhunters called at least once a week trying to whisk me away off to some other great company. Not so anymore. Now my unemployment has run out making my search all the more desperate. The fact McDonald's conducts interviews every Monday is not out of the question. (It's true,I do some consulting work to investment firms and research companies, but it's not steady enough to be considered a real job)

My wife, thankfully, landed a great job this summer working for Matt Simmons (read about him in the upcoming issue of Forbes as well as here). This of course, puts us on the forefront of information concerning the future of the oil industry making us very informed on the energy situation. I'm telling you, and everyone - watch what happens to oil and which candidate has the most solid plan for dealing with our energy dependency. That will be a key element to our future recovery.

And forget the housing sector. It's not going to happen anytime soon. Some markets are okay like in Texas, and sure the demographics support a steady demand for housing, but with a nearly two-year supply comprised of newly constructed inventory, existing homes and foreclosures the math is fairly easy to figure when it comes to predicting when stability will return to the real estate market. That's assuming lenders hunkered down in their bunkers ease up some. Their poop chutes are so tight right now that, if you added a little carbon to the mix they could crap diamonds.

On a macro scale, watching Bill Clinton on The Daily Show (watch Part 1 & Part 2) and reading his interview on CBS this morning, I was impressed. I'm a veteran, and I like McCain, but I think Bill's right in his comments concerning who will best lead the country out of our current situation. I have a hard time trusting a candidate who yielded to his party's will and pandered to female voters just to get votes) And the bail out? I'm undecided as of yet. It depends on how it's structured. In any case, nothing is going to get better anytime soon and I think we all have to be realistic in our expectations and prepare ourselves according in the interim. One thing's for sure, taxes will be going up for all of us at some point. Bet on it.

That being said, I'm not sitting around having any pity parties for myself. Many good things have come out these circumstances. One, I got married, and because I ended up at home allot, I spent most of that time getting to build a relationship with my new step daughters. I also started a blog, which not only improved my writing skills (being a writer has always been my lifelong dream), but it also afforded me the opportunity to meet many great people and bloggers via the net. Most importantly, it made me a more aware parent of the issues concerning my step-daughters and my 3 boys from my previous marriage. I'm certainly more attentive and involved in their lives than maybe I would have been in my old job.

I'd still like to have a job, and it doesn't need to be as high paying as the ones I once had, just something steady would be nice at this point. Until then, I guess it's what you make of it. It always could be worse.

When I say it could always be worse, that's not just a cliche I say in a feeble attempt to convince myself I have it easy. It's the truth. Here's a perfect example. Read about writer Lori Hall Steele's circumstances. Single mom to a seven year old, stricken with a paralyzing illness and no health insurance and a house about to be foreclosed on. If that doesn't put a human face on two serious issues that will be influenced one way or the other by this election, I don't know what does. If you can, get involved. Even something small can make a positive impact for her.

These are just a few of the reasons it's important to vote in this election. It's rousted me out of my decades of apathy, and that's saying allot given how lazy I can be. So, to end on a lighter note, I guess I'll have to put up with this (see the video below, and yes, that's me in there) for the next few months. Lest you think me cynical, read this article from the LA Times. Both parties are at fault, so pointing fingers is immaterial in my book.

Allow me to mimic Rude Cactus's question if you will.
What has been the personal impact of the economy for you?
What is the fix?
And which candidate stands a better shot of correcting it?

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!


Incredible House Defies Hurricane Ike

Tootling around some real estate blogs I came across this amazing photo of a house in Gilchrist, Texas that survived the wrath of Ike (yes, just like Tina Turner - that joke has been over-played). Take a few moments to read the comments that go along with the story as well as the before and after shots on Anderson Cooper's 360 site.

I'm sure everyone of the owner's neighbors are going to be asking for the business card of the contractors who built that thing.


I Mean Really People, Do Kids Need This?


Okay, come on people. Do we really need toys to be this realistic for children? What's next, trans-gender Barbie? My Little Pony Stud Farm? Well, of course there's those disturbing Lego's, but that's another story.

And what kind of statement are we trying to make about fathers here? I mean it's cool they show dad playing with his daughter, but spraying him in the face? Like he's so aloof about babies he deserves a little reminder. I can just see some marketing genius at the toy company rubbing their hands together. "It's payback time you chauvinistic, A-holes" they say while watching the commercial demo. "We'll just see who's pregnant, barefoot and in the boardroom now."

I read somewhere that one of the functions of toys should be to serve as a tool for children in the development of their social skills, and to help them in understanding the actions they witness in adults (they should be all kinds of crazy fun for their parents too...okay, that's just me talking, sorry). A doll that eats, cries and requires a diaper change I can see, but one with fully functional parts? That's a bit much.

Am I off my rocker here? Let me know what you think.


The Padawan Learners

During the commotion caused by the storm and the move, Ashley kept the girls occupied by promising them a reward for behaving and helping out. After several days, Allie and Avery finally earned their prize, a trip to Target to pick out a toy. So what did they pick out? To my pure joy, Star Wars light sabers!

While playing at their aunt's house as it turned out, one of the neighbor kids had a blue saber, and a great many duels ensued, with the adults either ducking to avoid an indirect whack or soothing a child smarting from a decisive saber strike to their face. A few days later, Allie and Avery's cousin received one too, although I'm not so sure it was for the fun aspect as much as it was to defend himself without the hassle of trying to wrestle away a “loaner” from someone else.

The girls have really been getting into the Star Wars movies, which will give them something to talk about when they finally get to meet my boys. Of course the boys have an entire collection of light sabers (and laser blasters) themselves. Throw the girls into the mix and we practically have the Jedi temple full of Padawan learners.

Despite the common interest, the boys will likely waste no time in setting Allie and Avery straight on a few of the finer points of the Star Wars Saga. Avery, I’m sure, will be gently rebuffed for her constant references to Darth Vader as Dark Tader.

Note: Avery started using Dark Tader before she ever knew of this video.

Ewoks will not be considered as a galactic version of the Care Bears, and the concept of "rainbow light sabers" will be soundly dismissed as absolutely ludicrous.

Eventually, however, Noah, Harrison and Sawyer will learn to appreciate it when the women in their lives take an interest such boyish endeavors. The flip side, of course, means the boys will need to learn to reciprocate some enthusiasm for the other party's likes. That will come in time, but for now, I'm not going to be sending them Barbie dolls or High School Musical videos any time soon.

Top: The boys' first light sabers, Christmas '05. Bottom: The girls' first light sabers, last week.


We Are In The High School Musical Movie!

Well, sort of.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Okay, High School Musical might not be your particular brand of vodka (or apple juice for non-drinkers), but for Allie and Avery, it's their world. This summer, stuck at home with me and unable to go outside all the time, the girls requested it at least once a week. It drove me nuts, but they seemed to be having a good time bumping into the furniture and shattering glass as they imitated every routine, so it really wasn't all bad (no children or animals were injured during the recreation of any part of the film). As I watched them laughing their heads off when they saw their mom and me flipping around in one of their favorite scenes brought a certain amount of fulfillment to me.

Being the step-dad, my role can be confusing at times for both me and the girls, like trying to plug a light into an electrical socket in the middle of the dark. But, once you've made the connection, and the light goes on, it feels pretty satisfying for all parties, to include their mother. Connection is a two-way street, and I forget that simple fact at times. It's easier with my boys because, as "guys," we share similar interests for the most part. With the girls, I have to remind myself to work at it a little bit, which means finding a few creative avenues to bridge the chasm filled with Barbie dolls, Hannah Montana, and a bunch of overly dramatic, high-fashion, teeny boppers that burst forth in spontaneous song and dance at inappropriate times.

I do have to admit, however, that I wish I could've only been half that cool when I was in high school. Oh well.


If You'd Like To Help

I'm sitting in bed, catching up on the many regular blogs I read but missed after Hurricane Ike (read about the human toll) brushed on through. Many of the posts I read made reference to the storm and its affects as it hit them in places like Arkansas, Indiana and Pennsylvania. In one blog, I noticed a mention of our church and a letter from our pastor, Chris Seay on the efforts of volunteers and the small ways people can help out. I wanted to repost it here in case anyone reading would like to help, but are unsure as to how to get involved.

A few days earlier, one of my sisters contacted me about coordinating a relief drive among her students in Florida, and it made me realize how much compassion still remains in a world that appears to be so self-absorbed under normal circumstances. Of course, I say this with a tinge of guilt as I enjoy electricity, running water, and air conditioning after only a few days being without, while many others aren't even close to having these luxuries restored. Even so, I still wanted to spread the word. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via  Clark Kent's Mailbox.

The following is a letter by Chris Seay, lead pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, Texas:

My Brothers and Sisters,

I am not sure how clearly the national media is telling the story of the devastation in Houston and Galveston, but I can tell you that the rare combination of a massive storm that filled the Gulf of Mexico and the fact that it struck Houston and Galveston ( a combined population of close to 5 million people) has created a disaster of immense proportions. The majority of the city is still without power and clean water and almost everyone has some kind of damage to their residence or business. Houston, which became known as a city of generosity and hospitality after Katrina, is now experiencing what it is like to be on the other end of that kind of generosity.

Ecclesia is thrilled to be able to represent the broader church as a source for light and love to so many hurting in the devastation of this storm. We will continue to need teams skilled in debris removal, demolition, and construction for much of the coming year. If you are willing to send a team, we will work to provide lodging and logistical support for your teams. We are longing to have brothers and sisters that will demonstrate the love of the Liberating King as they help families in a time of dire need. In addition to those that will come and labor alongside of us, there are some immediate financial needs that would help us to serve the region and share the hope of the gospel. There are three areas of immediate needs:

1)Relief Support - any donations to relief support will go to purchase chainsaws, tools, food, van rentals, water, generators, temporary employment for relief coordinators, and necessary items to support relief teams. We are estimating the immediate need for relief support to be more than 25,000 dollars. If you are able to purchase any of these items in your area and have them delivered to Houston, this would be preferred over local purchasing. However both can be accommodated.

2)Financial Relief – for those suffering financially because of loss of property and income, we would like to offer a short term assistance package. For countless families and individuals struggling to make it financially before the storm (hourly wage employees, immigrants, and single mothers), the last week has often been devastating. We hope that the federal government will improve in their response time, but the church is able and willing to fill this gap. If you would like to give specifically to this package we will distribute the following on your behalf. In the case of single mothers we intend to double the assistance.

$150 Mortgage/Rental Assistance
$100 Grocery Card
$50 Gas Card
$20 Basic Toiletries

Gospel of John (VOX)
We will attempt to continue or begin a long-term relationship with all assisted families and will offer this assistance to as many as possible.

3) Taft Street Coffee as a House of Hospitality - You may know that Taft Street Coffee (the coffee shop owned and run by Ecclesia) is rated each year as one of the top 3 coffee shops in the entire city. This morning we had our power restored and would like to re-open the shop as a site for those still without power. We estimate that over the next three weeks many would benefit from a centrally located house of hospitality that offers air conditioning, a free lunch, coffee drinks, Wi-Fi, phone service, children’s play space, and spiritual support. If you would like to sponsor the food and operational costs to run Taft Street Coffee as a gift to the community, we estimate that cost to be $850 per day.

If you have any questions you can contact me (Chris@ecclesiahouston.org) or our Mission Pastor John Starr (john@ecclesiahouston.org). I am grateful for the love and support of the entire church to my beloved City.

In Service to The Liberating King and His Kingdom,

Chris Seay
Pastor – Ecclesia Houston
2115 Taft
Houston, Tx 77006

You can read the letter as part of the original full post on Don Miller's Blog. You can also read more about Ike and view some of the devastation here.

There is also a relief fund to make donations through their website if you'd like to help. Any support they receive will be greatly appreciated I'm sure, especially by the victims.

Thank you


Is This Your Church?

This Sunday, as you head to your place of worship take a moment to reflect on this video. I'm trying to imagine a performance like this in where I grew up. They would've had the stakes up with plenty of wood piled at the bottom before the song was even finished.

It's part Bill Gather Trio, part Lawrence Welk, with a pinch of Backstreet Boys.

If you'd like to see the entire video go here for more. Honestly, it's worth it just to watch the guy's full dance solo.


Hurricane Update

Thought I'd post a quick update to let everyone know we made it through the storm okay. Bumping up the move a day was a good thing as we just beat the storm. I dropped off the rental truck and it started to rain. We were blessed; however, our set of circumstances were inconsequential to the massive damage done around Galveston, Orange and most of Houston. The fact, Ike continued to reek havoc as it made landfall through east Texas, Arkansas, the Midwest and on through to Pennsylvania where my parents said it even knocked out power is a testament to storms destruction.

What the news is showing is pretty accurate from what I can tell. The city seems to be handling things in as efficient a manner as possible. The saddest part is the discovery of bodies as the waters recede and the unnecessary deaths caused by those who don't know how to run chainsaws and generators properly. Officially, the death toll is at 30. In general, though, people seem to be coping with the situation, but their impatience is steadily growing as they wait for several hours to get gas, or their electric hasn't been restored.

As I sit at one of the few coffee shops with wifi, I'm eavesdropping on some of the stories of damage done. One gentleman, (I'm being generous with that term) is screaming at some poor telephone operator at the electric company about how unfair it is that he doesn't have power at his place while all the "rich people with money" across the street have had their lights on for 12 hours. Seriously, dude. Go pound sand on the beach or something. We don't have power either, but we all can live with that when others don't even have a house to go home to. I wished I could've given him a bib and bottle, but they don't make such accessories for 40 year-old men that I know of.

I have to say thanks to my friends Mark and Jeremy for helping me pack up the truck in a hurry and dump it off even faster before the storm hit. They have helped me move so many times it's gotten to the point they've started making remarks like, "Hey, where's that big, honking baby grand piano you used to keep around/" or, "This must be new 'cause I don't recall moving an antique bank safe."

It was rather funny watching the expression on our new neighbors' faces as they loaded up their belongings to leave ahead of Ike as we kept hauling in stuff from the moving truck. It was the same look Forrest Gump continually would get throughout the movie. I even joked I was going to pull a Lt. Dan by riding out the storm from atop our 26 foot UHaul.

The other thank you goes to my in laws for putting us during the storm. It's not easy having four anxious kids running around with no A/C, not to mention one cranky brother/son-law shooting his mouth off (um, ya, that would be me). Allie and Avery seem to be doing fine given they don't have to go to school and they are getting their very own bedroom to decorate.

Thanks also, to all of you who sent emails, twitter messages and comments of concern and offers of prayers for our safety. It was much appreciated. We'd ask that you please continue to keep those who are working so hard to bring relief to the victims as well as the victims themselves in your thoughts.  1.45 million households still are without power as of right now (it was over 2.1 million on Saturday). Galveston may not have power for up to 2 months or longer. Thankfully a cool front has kept the temps cool and humidity bearable. I've made several trips downtown to the old apartment (which ironically, never lost power or even flooded) and the air smells like sewage. Most of the skyscrapers have windows blow out.  They look like children who are missing their front teeth. 

Finally, Ashley was a real trooper through the move, the storm and the aftermath. Any one of these events is stressful on it's own, but all of them together frayed our nerves to the point it resulted in a big blow out. Eventually we worked it, having one of those landmark discussions that make marriages just that much stronger. I'm extremely lucky to have someone that loves me so much.  I love her very much.

After unpacking the boxes, and getting into a routine for the girls the priority is for me to get a job. I've been the teenage slob long enough. It's time to put my corporate face back on, now that the girls are in school, and nail down a serious position. (If anyone has any suggestions or contacts, I'm all ears. My resume is on here somewhere if you're curious about my background. It would be much appreciated).

Last night as we finally lay in bed in our new bedroom Ashley said, "I was kind of looking forward to the hurricane - in a curious sort of way. There's was a part of me that thought it would be interesting, but this isn't any fun at all."

No, it wasn't, but we were still blessed, and when it comes down to it, the whole thing was only a minor inconvenience in comparison to what some are still dealing with. No matter what your religious beliefs are, there is no doubt that when an event like this occurs, God shows up. One way or another.


We Like Ike

Now that Hurricane Ike has shifted to the north it looks like our plans on moving have shifted as well. Instead of moving this weekend we will now be moving, in a rather accelerated fashion, tomorrow. The loft/apartment we are moving out of is located directly behind one of the major bayous in Houston and if there is a surge, it's a safe bet hip-waders will be necessary. 

All of a sudden, packing the fine china just so-so doesn't seem so important as we chuck it into the back of the truck from the window. My only real fear now will be driving in traffic which should be heavy due to the evacuations in place directly south of us. 

If sometime in the next 48 hours you happen to see images on CNN of some guy standing on top of a partially submerged, 26 foot U-Haul, that's me. I'll have my phone with me, so drop me a tweet. I'll give you the play-by-play while all of America sits in front of their TVs at home asking, "what kind of an idiot plans to move in the middle of a fairly significant hurricane?" That would be me. 

PS - I had planed to finish a piece on 9-11, and of course, Friday's Inbox (great stuff out there this week, by the way), but I guess that will have to wait till later.


How Was Your Day?

Last night Ashley and I attended curriculum night at the girls' school. Ashley sat in the 1st grade presentation with Allie's teacher while I sat through the Kindergarten one for Avery. My presence was token at best, since the girls and their mom have the whole kindergarten thing down cold. Even Avery, who's currently in the class, knows what to expect given she spent most of her summer being briefed by her older sister Allie on the daily routine of school life. This included full dress rehearsals and the use of a mock-school room where Allie played the part of teacher, bringing an added sense of realism to the role play.

"Does the teacher really yell at you like that?" I would often hear Avery ask from the bedroom/classroom as I worked from my nearby computer.

"Yes! She does!" Allie would scream, not breaking from her portrayal as the nun from the Blues Brothers. "Now, read this word or I'm going to get into your lunch and eat the cookies your mom packed, right in front of your crying face."

Ashley even started referring to Allie as a "Kindergarten Life Coach." That being the case, I have had my doubts as to the effectiveness of the coaching given Avery has already been in trouble for talking out of turn several times in just the first week. Even Allie seems discouraged by the results of her summer instructional lessons, and it appears she has even dropped some of her motivational tactics like stealing a kid's cookies. Now, Allie won't even eat her own lunch, and on the ride home, she hands her untouched dessert over for her little sister to enjoy instead.

Even though the girls know the deal, I am the one out of the loop. I probably should have taken Allie's course, but money is tight and I couldn't scrounge up enough for the registration and enrollment fee she was charging. Having to forgo this coaching meant I needed to pay attention to what the teacher had to say during the curriculum night presentation. This would be a challenge in itself given I haven't paid attention in a classroom since... well, since a long time anyway.

Luckily, everything being said was already copied down on paper and stapled together neatly for parents such as myself who suffer from selective memory loss. Flipping through the packet, I noticed such information as the school's policies, permission forms for the school to photograph your kids, and book club order forms. One neat little tidbit included was a checklist of questions printed on golden-rod, yellow paper for parents to ask their child about their school day. At the top it read, "Things to ask your child so they won't respond nothing when you ask them what happened today at school." The paper went on to include such questions as, "What was the message of the story during reading time?" and, "Which letter did you learn to write today? Was it capitol or lower case?"

I made a mental note to keep the list handy for the rides home from school where I have about 30 minutes alone with the girls. The interaction would be good as well as showing the girls my interest in them as tiny human beings as opposed to the pancake mafia and wasteful dairy product consumers.

Leaving the school, Ash and I picked up the girls from the baby sitter and made our way home. On the way, Ash, being the veteran kindergarten mother she is, turned around in her seat and from memory, asked Avery a question off the list.

"So, Avery, tell me what was the first thing you did with the teacher today?"

Avery sat up in her the car seat she had slumped into when she first crawled into the minivan. "Mommy, the first thing will did with Ms. B was get our wiggles out, but before that, you know what? This girl in my class, she's one of my best friends now, but she doesn't sit at my table. She had a red dress on and said she wanted to have a sleep over because she likes Pet Shop toys like me. I don't know her name, but in library - wait, we didn't go to the library today. We go on Friday, that's what Ms. B says. We did PE today. PE is just a short way of saying gym class, but I don't know why we didn't go to the library, cause I ate all my sandwich, but I didn't drink my water. I'm thirsty now, but I want to wait till we get home because I don't want to spill water on my dress. My friend had a dress on today. Not my other friend. This one's a different friend. I don't remember her name, but she like purple like me, and you know what? She says she likes....

[15 minutes later]

...and that's where babies come from, Mommy. Why do you ask?"

Ashley was silent, and I had to finally reach across the seat, cuing her to her respond. "What's - huh? Oh, I just wanted to know if you had a good day," she finally said.

I started to wonder if Ashley was going to ask Avery any more questions from the list, given the soliloquy we had just bore witness to. Thankfully, she did not. Shifting in her seat, Ashley looked over at Allie. "And what about you, Sweetie? What happened in the first grade today?"

Allie turned her head from the window and blinked at her mother. "Nothing." Then she went back to looking out the window. Ashley, with an equal lack of emotion rotated back to the forward position and said nothing. No further questions, your honor.

Apparently, no golden-rod piece of paper exists with questions to help your help your first-grader avoid the "nothing" response. In a way I felt encouraged. The girls might be pros at kindergarten, but beyond that, it looks to be a level playing field. Rookies.


Parental Alienation

Many of the Lunchbox regulars are well aware that, of the five kids in my life, the three who are my sons live away from me. I've been questioned by family and friends as to why I allowed their mother to leave the state, and I've always replied by explaining the benefits afforded my children while concluding it's up to me to make it work from where I'm at.

Before their move, I spent as many weekends with the boys as allowed which helped establish a stronger bond between me and the two older boys (the youngest was still a wee baby, but eventually I got to have all three). I briefly moved and picked up on the regular visits again, however, the economy forced me to make some hard decisions and I returned to Houston. It's now been nearly a year and a half since being away from my boys. Even though I do see them on long holidays and for a few weeks in the summer, the only consistent contact I have with them is nightly phone calls.

Moving closer has always been the plan, but in the interim I expected the boy's mother to be a help in my maintaining regular involvement in the boys' life. Unfortunately, however, my ex-wife and I have a relationship that is similar in nature to that of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We may talk to coordinate a visit or inform the other of pertinent news, but these exchanges are infrequent and uneasy, and even in the off chance they are cordial in tone, neither party's finger is more than a few inches away from launching every Intercontinental Ballistic Missile in our arsenals at the other's capitol.

Recognizing the damage done in such an act, we both don't want to push those buttons, but we are fulling willing to do so if we feel justified, especially in the name of "protecting" our kids. The irony, however, is we are not protecting our boys in attacking one another, we are killing them slowly, one little bit at a time. In witnessing the type relationship their mother and I have, the boys are definitely getting a confusing message as they watch us working to keep our defenses. Meanwhile their developmental needs are dealt with in a disjointed fashion because, as their parents, we still cannot get past our own hurts, let alone have a discussion on raising our children.

Within the same Cold War context, our boys are like how Afghanistan and Vietnam were to the Soviets and Americans who tried to control them. If you recall your history, both Superpowers at first acted like benevolent parents, providing aid and support, but eventually the situations deteriorated into messy conflicts with devastating and lasting consequences. In the realm of foreign policy trying to win over a small country with favorable interests to your political ideology is sometimes called as a "heart and minds" campaign. In the world of divorced parenting it's known as parental alienation.

Parental alienation, according to Dr. Douglas Darnall, the author of Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Child From Parental Alienating, can be defined as,

any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent

In simple terms, anything a divorced parent does that causes the children to perceive the other parent in a negative way is considered alienating. We've all seen on TV or in movies, where one parent goes on and on to the children about the other being a tramp or a deadbeat, and as such is responsible for the current set of circumstances. That's an obvious example, but parental alienation can be much more subtle, and it's not limited to just the parents.

Grandparents, friends, relatives, attorneys, and therapists can all be party to changing how kids see the other parent who sometimes is referred to as the target parent. Usually, these are people who empathize with the alienating parent, and in doing so often lend credibility to alternator's efforts in the mind of the children. Sometimes it's the non-parent who's the alternator. The grandparents never liked their daughter's husband from the start so after the divorce they see this as an open license to bad mouth the him in front of the grandchildren.

Parental alienation, based on what I've explained thus far, may seem a straightforward concept, but in actuality it's much more complicated. Pining it down is sometimes tough because we all have moments when we let something slip about the other parent in front of the kids that's taken the wrong way. That could be considered alienating, but is it consistent?

And what about the legitimacy of a parent's remarks? At first, therapists believed that only claims against the target parent that were exaggerated and baseless qualified as alienating. Now however, taking the target parent's tiniest of faults and using it against them counts, which means there are degrees kind of like the way we differentiate lies as either "little white ones" and "whoppers."

Along with these degrees is a breakdown of categories define the types of alienation - Naive, Active or Obsessed. A closer look at the characteristics of each category requires parents to be honest with themselves, which, I can say from personal experience, may not be comfortable admit.

It's easy to see yourself as the target parent, but the fact of the matter is there is no good guy or bad guy perspective. It's a revolving role, especially if the target parent retaliates as a backlash from the hurt caused by the original alienating efforts. In fact, if you continue look at it as a good guy/bad guy situation it really boils down to both parents being bad guys since all the focus is being placed on how it defines and impacts the parent rather than focusing on what's really important, the children and their feelings.

That really became the starting point for me as I educated myself on this topic. As I learned more on the specifics of parental alienation, it was easy to fall into the trap of vilifying my sons' mother. I could think of example after example to illustrate the points I wanted to write about, but I couldn't think of a way to do so without violating the two criteria I've imposed on myself when it comes to mentioning my ex-wife. I never want my boys to read anything negative about their mother who loves them, and I don't think it fair to present one side of a personal issue in a forum where the other side cannot defend itself.

Once I got the part of my research discussing how to positively approach parental alienation, I realized that I have been guilty of alienating behavior too - and blatantly so. The only person's actions I can take responsibility for are my own. Once I could admit this I could accept the core concept in resolving this issue, to put aside hurt and preconceived notions from the divorce aside and place the children's development first above ourselves.

For more information on Parental Alienation go to www.parentalalienation.com.


The Election, Tyra & A Bowl Of Soup

I need to be honest about my complete irresponsibility in paying attention to the Republican National Convention last week. I watched a few of the key speeches, but it was extremely hard to keep up when the convention had to compete with America's Next Top Model. I know bringing up ANTM will probably cost me readers like it did the last time I mentioned it, but in my defense, Tyra did address some political issues in this week's season premiere.



My last week's Inbox commentary concerning the election elicited more than it's share of attention (mostly emails, torches and pitchforks), which was greatly appreciated. The tongue-in-cheek tone was intended to address a few issues that are hot buttons for me in approaching the election. I have registered to vote, but to date, I am still undecided on either of the two major presidential candidates, thus my hot buttons are serving as a filter of sorts in making an educated decision. Specifically, these buttons include:

Hot Button #1: If you don't plan to be involved, keep your opinions to yourself. That one was pretty obvious last week. Chances are we can all think of people who take a strong stance on the issues, but then don't vote. I mean, what was the voter turn out in past elections? For the loud-mouths it's more about drawing attention to themselves that putting forth effort to make a difference.

Hot Button #2: Know the issues that affect you & where YOU stand on them. I was a senior in high school living at home in my first opportunity to vote so making a choice boiled down to which candidate did my parents go with, which wasn't hard to guess because Republicans are always right. Nearly, 20 years later, I know what affects me. I worked for a home building company that downsized and laid me off over 6 months ago. I switched from a gas-guzzling hemi to a fuel efficient, foreign-made minivan to afford $4/gal gas, and yes, I really did have an electric bill over $400 last month. Maybe I'll expound upon these later, but in any case, I clearly have issues (clearly) that will be impacted by the next administration, and I'm going to make sure I'm educated.

Not sure where to get non-partisan information? Try these sites: On The Issues, Glass Booth, and Pollster.com

Hot Button #3: Jesus is not a Republican... or a Democrat. Remember when I said Republicans are always right? Well, that's because they are all Christians. Uuuuh, no. This can be a tricky one, and I don't mean to offend or insult, but if you're picking a president because they are "God's choice," then that is idiotic. However, if you're using your religious beliefs as a baseline in evaluating where a candidate stands on pertinent issues, that's something different. Listen, I may agree with the "Religious Right" on a number of issues, but I also subscribe to the bumper-sticker mantra, that the Religious Right is neither. It's sad they've become a political entity and not examples of how to treat your neighbor.

Hot Button #4: It's okay if we don't agree, but baseless, personal tirades are a turn off. There are some of you out there that will not agree with me and visa versa. Heck, my own wife I don't agree. I can respect someone who has some valid points behind their position, but I loathe it when a someone reduces themselves to making personal attacks or use obviously slanted info to create a soundbite for a crusade. There is a popular blogger I read on a regular basis doing this right now. I believe that person to be well-intentioned, but the way they present themselves on the matter makes me want to tell them to stick to their day job as a photographer and playing second fiddle, and refrain from political commentary.

Hot Button #5: It's great that we DO agree, but personal tirades are not facts either. Same concept except you are damage the credibility of a credible position when you sound like a jackass. The blogger I mentioned above, guess what? I agree with them. However, if we were in a bar together and they started going off like that, I'm acting like I don't know them.

That said, there's one more thing I'm going off of - my gut. I can read all the facts. I can listen to the speeches. I can watch all the debates. I can filter all of these through my "hot buttons," but at some point I'm going to have to make a call based on what I feel in my gut. The one thing I feel compelled to state, after making my earlier points, is that my gut is purely subjective, and if anyone can provide me a well-articulated argument to the contrary, I'm all ears.

In the mean time here's a few other posts and articles I've read this week.

Rebel Dad weighs in on Sarah Palin, Parenting and Dads.

Rude Cactus - Won't Get Fooled Again by the Gov Palin

Dad Gone Mad - On being objective & other things in "On Notice"

Whiskey In My Sippy Cup - An Independent... like me.

Most commonly used words in both the party's convention speeches from the NY Times

The chosen party of the Religious Right bends the rules on telling the truth. Isn't lying a sin?

Speaking of which, don't mess around with God, politics and blogging as Neil at Citizen of the Month found out... almost the hard way.

Finally, an example of how to help/hurt your political party's cause by talking out of both sides of your mouth.

This clip was posted by the Lunchbox and I approve of (laughed pretty hard at) this message.


Netflix: Till Death Do Us Part

I'm quite certain Netflix is the best/worst thing to happen to Ashley and me - metaphorically that is. I say "best" because now we can watch all the movies we've missed at the theatre, and "worst" because now we spend the whole day watching all the movies we've missed at the theater. I credit Ashley as the genius behind this investment. For roughly $8 we can watch as many flicks as we can view and return in a month's time, which is a heck of deal given the fact it can cost $25 for the two of us to watch just one movie at a cinema. She's so hip.

So far the process is fast and reliable. This translates into movies all the time leading to the fact we are practically wallowing in our own fecal matter given that such tasks like cleaning and laundry have fallen by the way side. Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but it probably was a godsend we had company to entertain this past weekend or the cockroaches would have made good on their threats to complain to the apartment office about enduring the squalor.

Last night we watch Dan in Real Life. Thank goodness it was funny. Ashley seriously needed a laugh after the day she was having.

First she had new phone training at work, which wouldn't have been too bad except for the fact she had to endure the endless complaints and trivial questions of a co-worker, who, based on Ashley's description, is the type of person that makes me a firm believer in natural selection. After slinging boxes around, because their office is in the process of moving to a new floor, Ashley left work only to sit in rush-hour traffic with me on our way to retrieve the minivan from the service center where it was being repaired. She looked beat, but worse was the fact, she had to pick up Allie and Avery from her sisters, and then drive back home. Round trip, that's 65 miles give or take. I made dinner, but it was little consolation for Ash and the girls when they walked through the door at 7:30.

Thankfully the girls went to bed easily, marking the end of the day and time for a movie. Had Dan in Real Life been a flop, I'm quite sure Ashley would have used the dvd to slit my neck from ear to ear. Once the opening credits started to role, I got a little nervous, grabbing my neck as I saw Dane Cook's name on the screen. We are not particularly fans of the comedian, but he was bearable playing next to the talent of Steve Carell in his role as the of movie's main character, Dan Burns.

Dan is a widower doing his best to raise 3 daughters on his own while working as an advice column writer. Their relationship is loving, but there is friction as Dan tries to ignore his obvious loneliness by over-parenting his girls who are growing up despite his efforts to contain them. Things change when Dan meets an intriguing women (Juiliette Binoche) during a weekend vacation with his girls and extended family, and hilarity ensures as Dan attempts to navigate the complications associated with this new love interest and her connection to his family. In short, the movie was both funny and at times, sad as Carell made you feel sorry for his character's plight.

I was so convinced, it made me think for a second about life without Ashley. I'm not sure how I would even function trying to raise two girls by myself. They are already larger than life personality-wise and not even teenagers yet. Even with Ashley, I shudder to think of some of the circumstances yet to come.

"Please don't die on me," I said turning to Ashley. "You cannot die."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because there is no way I'll find anybody like you, and besides, I don't want to screw up the girls."

She smiled and assured me that wouldn't happen.

Good, I thought. I couldn't imagine a world without Netflix and Ashley.


Old School

Ashley and I will be moving shortly and we've already begun the process of digging out old junk from every dark corner and closet where it has remained since the last move. It's a judgement day for all manner of items to determine if they still retain enough value to be packed and loaded onto the truck, or if over time, should be banished to the dumpster. Books on how to pick up women, throw out. Novelty Smoking Monkey received as a gag gift at the office Christmas party four years ago, that's a keeper.

One of the many items that most definitely will be making the move is a plastic file box with all of my collected writings since high school. Honestly, it's embarrassing some of the stuff I have in there. Actually, all of it is. I think I kept it in the false hope there would be some hidden gem that someone from the year 2075 would find in their astro-attic. The discovery would either posthumously confirm me as one the greatest romantic poets/writers of the last century, or prove to future scholars their theories that America's education system started to fall apart in the late 1980's and 90's eventually plunging the planet into apocalyptic destruction.

Every time I sift through this box, which contains mostly old homework, scattered journal entries and original poetry, I read through it and evaluate it's place in the history of the written word. And that place should be in tucked away in a little Rubbermaid file box under the stairs or in a forgotten closet. The school work is at least tolerable, but the poetry and journal entries are so stomach churning the producers of Fear Factor have requested they be read as part of an event to weed out contestants on the show.

I briefly flirted with the idea of sharing a snippet of the poetry, but I don't think I can inflict that kind of trauma on the general populace - not in an election year anyway. Instead, after many beers, I convinced myself that posting an autobiographical essay from my sophomore writing class might not too bad. So here it is, my 698-word story called "Camping Out" in it's original and unaltered text.

Camping Out

Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Buffalo Bill and men such as these - men who were rugged, outdoorsy, and adventurous - always inspired me in my boyhood. Any reading material I could find, I would devour like a vulture picking at the carcass of a dead animal. Sometimes I would even try to imitate their heroics, only, when you're twelve, they're not called heroics; they're called antics.

One of these antics found my cousin Mike and I planning a camping trip in the woods behind our houses. Just he and I under the same spacious expanse of nighttime sky as Davy Crockett once did. However, when the day came, my illusions of a star-filled night were dashed by the simple reality of rain. But that didn't stop me.

I'm sure Daniel Boone spent many a night in the rain. He didn't just call everyone together and say, "Gosh, guys, it's really raining out here, and my moccasins are getting wet. Let's stop working on this here trail." If he had the Wilderness Road might not have been completed.

Although reluctant at first, Mike agreed with my reasoning, and we set out on our expedition. The rain had ceased, only increasing my vigor. After tramping over rather drenched terrain, we found a suitable spot and set up camp. An hour latter we figured we were pretty hungry.

To remedy the situation, Mike chopped (or clubbed) down a small maple tree with a hatchet that wouldn't have held a candle to a sterling-silver butter knife. He then began a fire. I meanwhile, pulled out a can of Campbell's mushroom soup, and read the directions for preparation, which were rather simple except for the required cup of water.

Dumping the can's contents into the pan, I mulled over this slight perplexity, and then as if a light had been turned on, it came to me. Without my cousin's noticing, I dipped the empty can into a nearby puddle, filled it up, and dumped it into the concentrated soup. When the soup looked as if it was ready, my cousin and I divided our dinners between us and commenced to eating.

After a few sips of his soup, Mike asked in a rather unconcerned manner where I had gotten the water for the soup, and I replied in the same casual manner, "from the puddle." My cousin abruptly offered his soup to me. This was rather unusual for him, especially when he has never refused food before, and has even eaten food meant only for animals.

Sometime later, Mike stated that he felt a wiggling sensation in his stomach and attributed it to the mosquito eggs in the water that I had put in the soup. Next he suggested we should spend the rest of the evening at his house. I must admit that the whole situation was beginning to wane in interest for me. Both of us trekked to his house, ate a hot meal, and played video games. I'll bet Buffalo Bill would've loved Space Invaders.

Attached to my story was the grading slip from one of the best teachers I ever had - Miss Phillips. The scoring was divided into two parts, general merit and mechanics. On merit (ideas, organization, wording, flavor) I earned a 29 of a total 30 points. However, for the mechanics (usage, punctuation, spelling and, get this, handwriting), I received a 12 out of 20 possible. I also lost 3% for something referring to a "repetitious sentence." Added together, it was a B minus, which for me, was a stretch. At least she remarked that it was funny. That's what I was going for.

As long as I retain this box of collected works I never have to worry about having an inflated ego.

Anyone else still have their old writing assignments out there?


Masterpiece Theater: "Prose and Cons"

I miss the classic days of SNL. I'm actually old enough to be able to make that statement, but sometimes I forget there's a six-year spread between Ash and me, so when I say stuff like that she gets this look and will make some comment referencing my near geriatric state of mind.

"I'll make sure to get some Metamucil when I'm at the store," she'll say, or, "I was checking out a few rest homes online today and wanted to know what's more important to you, allot of social programing or extra cable channels?"

I don't get too upset about it because I've been fortune enough to actually remember such classic skits as Prose and Cons featuring the funny Eddie Murphy (as opposed to the mildly amusing Eddie Murphy of today) playing the "poet" Tyrone Green. Maybe if my writing starts to slump then I'll launder some money for the mob or smoke a few cigarettes in a public building so I can get it jump started again at the Big House.

By the way, the sound is a little jacked up so you may want to adjust your speakers... and send the kids off to get a cookie or a protein shake or something.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Ads Section

Ads Section

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP