It's Only A Rerun - Hitting Below The Belch

No InBox today. I have one sick kid today, and a deadline looming over my head. Forgive me, I'll be catching up blogs this weekend. In the meantime I'm going to post a rerun from 9 months ago. Happy Halloween everyone!

Hitting Below The Belch

When it comes to little girls, they don’t come much cuter than Allie and Avery. Allie, who is six, has a serious demeanor that allows her to impress adults with sincere explanations on how WalMart exploits their workers. “It’s because they won’t pay for their health care benefits,” she say in a matter-of-fact tone. This usually prompts an astonished look from Allie’s audience as they marvel at her charming grasp of such a grown-up subject. Five year-old Avery is much worse. Her face alone can induce a smile on even the rudest of people she comes in contact with, while her natural charisma allows her to make frequent use of words like, booty, panties and “bagina” in casual conversation, doubling over anyone within earshot into fits of laughter. Teachers claim they would easily take a hundred versions of Allie or Avery in their classes any day, and old ladies ask if they can scoop them up and take them home to love forever. It’s difficult for people to use adjectives such as precious, adorable and darling without thinking them to be inadequate in their attempting to describe these little princesses. One would think.

But, as is usually the case with all things seemingly perfect in the world, looks are deceiving. This is especially true for Allie and Avery as they are, in truth, anything but sugar, and spice and everything nice. My initial impressions were not unlike those of anyone else when Ashley introduced the two of them to me. Allie explained the need for tighter controls on gas emissions, while Avery stood smiling nearby, swaying back and forth in her flowery sun-dress. These girls cannot be born of a woman, I thought, Only Heaven could create such perfect angels. What I discovered soon afterward was that this was merely a ruse. Disguised underneath those shiny halos and snowy white robes, a hidden darkness existed.

I used to scoff at horror movies like The Shining, The Omen, and Children of the Corn whose resident evil turned out to be psychotic little kids, that is until I started spending more time with Allie and Avery. If I were to mention this to anyone, it’s almost certain I would be soundly dismissed as a hater of children. You laugh at my ridiculous assertions, but I can assure you the evil that they wield is both real and serious. So just what is this dark power possessed by two innocent little girls? I will tell you.

These delicate little flowers unleash burps so horrifying atheists fall to their knees and cry out to a suddenly existent God! I can understand if you find this claim to be slightly outlandish, so allow me to explain the supporting evidence in more detail.

My experience with this unholy evil began the night of the first-ever dinner with Allie and Avery. Their mom had prepared everything herself, and it was delicious. I inhaled large forkfuls, hand-over-fist in a sincere demonstration of my approval. To anyone observing the scene, it would have appeared almost Rockwellian with the happy family, enjoying each other’s company as they sit smiling around the dinner table. I was so engrossed in this heartwarming moment that I was caught completely off guard by the horror soon to be revealed by Allie and Avery, who were currently shoveling down healthy portions of food themselves. Without warning, they opened their mouths and uttered a sound that can only be categorized in Biblical terms as apocalyptic.

Once the ringing stopped in my ears, I cleaned the blood from my now punctured eardrum. Not wanting lose my composure on such a crucial evening in our fledgling relationship I politely joked that Ashley might want to have these little dears tested or something. Ashley’s response was a blank stair that told me she didn’t get it. Ooookay, never mind, I thought. Besides, was it really so important that I needed to ruin an otherwise perfect evening? I tried to convince myself it wasn’t, but another part of me still thought it unusual. I mean, it’s just not normal for such frail creatures to bellow sounds at decibel levels high enough to drowned out the screaming turbines of a commercial airliner at take off, and with such ferocity they could reduce the mighty King of the Jungle to live out his remaining days as a gay vegetarian.

I felt it inappropriate to curb such abnormally rude behavior myself, but I didn’t expect Ashley, as their mother, to condone it and especially in the presence of a guest. In dramatic fashion I picked another piece of broccoli from my hair, sighing loudly as I placed it back onto my plate, and then looked at Ashley in the hopes she would take the hint. Being a parent of three boys myself, I believe it necessary to keep children in line and I expected Ashley to deal with the matter accordingly. Admit, I felt a slight degree of satisfaction in the thought of watching Allie and Avery being admonished for such inexcusable table manners. Kids are kids, but that clearly was uncalled for, I thought. Little princesses certainly don’t act like that. I watched their mother furrow her brow, giving both girls what appeared to be the unmistakable stare of parental sternness. Serves them right, I watched as Ashley’s mouth opened to deliver a harsh rebuke or maybe just a gentle rebuff. I was feeling merciful tonight. My assumption couldn’t have been more wrong.

In fact, what happened next was infinitely more shocking. Rather than words, Ashley unleashed the very sound of Hell itself, launching a fresh round of broccoli and mashed potatoes into my face and hair. A round of high fives followed as mother and daughters congratulated themselves as if they’d just won a year’s supply hand lotion on a family game show. What only minutes earlier had been a pleasant supper, was now a scene that easily could’ve been never-before-seen outtake from the movie Animal House with me playing the part of an up-tight freshman pledge.

"So this condition,” I asked, “is it genetic?" The gravy was already drying on my skin.

After repeated episodes over a period that included many meals together, I came to realize that this dark power of theirs was neither medical or genetic. Scraping the remnants of another evening's meal off the usual spots on the wall behind my chair, I pictured Ashley negotiating a sort of Faustian agreement with a hideous fire-belching demon. It was hard for me to imagine what Ashley’s part of the bargain was, maybe this foul spirit handed it over willing just for the hell of it. In any case it’s clear what Ashley received, but that she shared it with the Allie and Avery throttled me. It's one thing to watch Ashley conjure forth the stench of burning sulfur mixed with chili cheese fries in the face of a three-hundred pound, leather clad, biker forcing him to fall on his knees and plead for heaven's deliverance. It's quite another to witness Allie and Avery join in on this savagery as they repeat mommy’s performance it in each of his ears thus vaporizing his body into a cloud of ash as he spontaneously combusts.

We’ve all seen kids get away with a burp here and there in public, giggling at their achievement, but these are just the normal antics of a child. Usually they are able to squeeze out one maybe two with a little bit of effort, but that’s it. Sometimes they try to continue the hilarity by faking a burp, replacing the actual sound with a deep, low growl, or by forcing it, which sometimes can trigger their gag reflux, inducing vomiting. I’ve seen this before when a third grade classmate of mine attempted this same technique and ended up shooting chocolate milk from both of his nostrils. This had less to do with demonic spirits, than the fact he was a dork. Allie and Avery, I’m sure would laugh in mocking pity at their peers' pathetic and foolish attempts to harness such power. A power, I will add, measurable, not only in volume but in length, as Allie regularly belches long enough for her to shift from first to fifth without missing or grinding a gear. Avery’s can be just as long, however she tends to be more musically inclined, belting out tunes such as “I’m a Little Tea Cup,” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

Since moving into together, a decision I question after each of these episodes, I have gained some ground in what should be considered as an unholy war of eructation between good and evil. Following the principle that the best offense is a good defense, the first step, of course, was to recognize the signs preceding, what I call, "the unleashing." Most telling is the rapid gulping of vast quantities of food or carbonated beverages, followed by a glazed-over look of concentration similar to that of senior citizen pissing in his adult undergarment. Upon seeing the signs, I’ve learned to cover my ears and crawl under the table. It’s the classic duck and cover. What also best is to remain in that position for several minutes as there are almost always aftershocks. To counter these “unleashings” straws are now required for drinking, while any, and all beverages containing carbon in any form have been outlawed. These initiatives have had a marginal effect in minimizing the damage, so proficiency is still required in ducking and covering.

In an attempt to at least establish some standard of Christian decency, I started demanding of the girls, mother included, to piously chant, "Excuse me, I'm a princess" following each demonic eruption. My hope in doing this is that these goblins will repent in the sanctifying knowledge that "real" princesses are much too proper to engage in such devilish acts. At first, I believed this Ms. Manners form of exorcism might actually be working until it dawned on me how they were rejecting my offer for salvation by turning the chant into a mocking taunt. It was during a Saturday-night dinner several months ago, when I finally determined that all such redeeming efforts were a lost cause as Allie, mouth gaping, double clutched into fifth and then downshifted back to first.

"What do we say, Sweetie?" I calmly reminder her as I crawled out from under the table.

She turned toward me, and broke out into a grin. "That was a big one!" Allie, her mother and sister erupted in an unrestrained celebration complete with more high-fiving and chest bumping. I just hung my head in defeat. Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do.

I would never be so presumptuous as to considered myself a saint but I would gave take the title over that of martyr any time. That is to say, I'm beginning to get the sense that my very life might potentially be in danger, and not at the hands of powerful belching. Destructive as this force can be, there’s an even more murderous and sinister force at work now. It’s the littlest one, Avery, that’s responsible for this new found fear in me. This hideous evil, I imagine to be the culprit in wiping many civilizations from the memory of the earth. Now that evil was in the stubby little hands of a five-year old girl who can hardly walk down the aisle of grocery store without “accidentally” knocking off most of the products stacked on the shelves.

One evening Avery and I sat on the couch, bonding over a few episodes of cartoons. I looked down and smiled affectionately as she shifted closer to me. The idea of that this little doll could be capable of gastrointestinal mayhem was all but forgotten in this quiet moment. In the distance, I heard a gentle roll of thunder, barely audible over the television. Was it supposed to rain tonight, I wondered. Seeing how this was mid-summer, a time when storm activity is highly unlikely, I ruled out this possibility. Then I heard it again, but a little louder. What could that… Oh Sweet Jesus!

The sound, as I correctly deduced, was not thunder, but instead, a horror so ghastly, it makes me nearly choke as I relay it to you. What appeared next was a stench so sickening it made the maggot-filled, carcass of a dead donkey, decaying in feces, smell as fragrant as a bottle of Chanel. This dark odor lifted me into the air and hurled me into the wall behind us. Dazed, I got to my feet and slowly approached Avery, making signs of the cross with each step. Avery, however, appeared as if she never even budged though the whole thing. I said her name. Lightning flashed, and her head spun a full 360 degrees stopping when it locked onto my presence. "I like you, Ron." she said with the most unnerving of smiles. Then she patted the seat next to her, "You're funny."

Lord hear my prayer.

Want to see video proof.


The Bad Boy Of Daycare

Let me say right from the start, there is absolutely no redeeming value in this post whatsoever. I was writing a piece on my two best friends (other than Lois), a couple who have helped me through some of the roughest times in my life. I started retelling a conversation I was having with the wife about kids. They are in their mid-thirties and have none of their own. She's back and forth, but her husband is against it. Understand, he's something of a hellion, which got his wife and I laughing as we imagined a 4 year-old duplicate of her wild child husband. One of the things he's known for is wearing those T-shirts with the suggestive phrases on them. This led to the speculation of a toddler version of those same shirts that their imaginary bad boy would wear to daycare. You might not care about all this, but I thought some back story would take the edge off in case I offend anyone. (Oh, feel free to add your own idea).


Kindergarten Hazmat Art

A while back I started a series (okay, I say series, but this is only the second one) tagged Clark Kent's Icebox. On these posts I display some of the kids' artwork on a refrigerator they same way you would at home when your children bring home pictures you want to show off. The difference with Clark's Icebox being that the refrigerator is a "virtual" fridge (you'll see, bare with me). Now that school's started, there's practically a limitless supply of items to be hung so I'll probably do this a little more (then I can call it a series for real). I just wish I could get the boys' mother to send me stuff they create. I'm getting off track here.

Last week Avery, who I must say is quite the artist (I have to post her picture of God - mind-blowing), brought home this picture taped to the Icebox. Apparently her kindergarten class has the last part of the day reserved for unstructured drawing time "to let them wind down," according to her teacher. Thus there is always some new picture each day.

If you've read any of the posts on here concerning Avery, you'll realize she is very observant, and definitely has her own way of processing things.

The picture I have here seems rather typical. The little girl, of course is Avery, and that's our van (which shows up in allot of her works, we call it her minivan period). There's a giant butterfly after being hit with a does of radiation that turned it into an over sized monster that feeds on people (I made the second part up, sorry). And then you have the sun and a few clouds.

What I'd like to draw your attention to is the upper left-hand corner. If you look close there seems to be some words written. Can't see them? Okay, here's a blow up. Can you see it now?

If you can, you'll see that Avery has titled this piece, "Body Fluid Clean Up Kit." Her mother and I, after recovering from our fit of laughter, have no idea where she got this from, but we're guessing there's something in her classroom (it's an open concept school for all the teachers out there) marked with these words on it. At the next Parent-Teacher meeting I'm going to find out.


A Wild And Craaaaazy Guy!

I actually had a different post for today. I got up early (way early), and started to dig around for my the cradle for my camera to download a few adorable pics of the girls at the pumpkin patch this weekend. No dice. Couldn't find the cradle to save my life (pet peeve numero umo - not being able to find something I'm looking for). This being the case, I'm going to plan B, which isn't much of a plan at all. In fact, it's about as far-out random as I could come up with.

I just finished Steve Martin's book Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. Being both a fan of Steve and a sucker for comedy (go figure), I've wanted to read this book the first time I saw came across it, finally got the chance after finding it at the library. The book covers the period of Steve's stand up comic years, how he started, the tough years getting into the biz, his eventual breakthrough, and the downside of fame. One of the more emotional parts that keeps popping up is his strain relationship with his father.

Like allot of kids growing up, Steve was always trying to seek his father's approval through his achievements. It was ironic that at one time his father tried to get into show business and performing, but failed to even get that dream off the ground, banished to a life working in real estate. You'd have thought he would've been happy for his son, but it was quite the opposite.

I guess this is something I could never understand doing to my own kids. I've had dreams in my lifetime, some I gave up on in order to put my family first. Others that I still purse (I've always wanted to be a blogger since I was yeah high). Along the way I made decisions that seemed like the more practical choice over what I really wanted to do. Now, nearing 40, I'm finally giving into the dreams that have remain the most consistent through my life.

In some respects they may not appear as "practical," but I'm staying with them to show my kids you have to stick with the things you want, ignoring others that try to pull you off course because logic dictates otherwise. And should my children actually accomplish the things I do not, then I suppose another part of me will be happy for them, because I helped foster that in them.

The book has a happy ending, but that's all I can say. It might even choke you up some (uh, not me though cause I had my tear duct sewn shut to appear more manly). I grew up with Steve during the time he covers, and remember seeing him for the first time on the Muppet Show. Reading the back story made me nostalgic for some of those classic performances so I thought I'd show a clip or two with this post. For those of you too young to remember the humor may not resonate with you. If so....Well, excuuuuse me! I'm off to hunt down that camera cradle now and some coffee. Enjoy.

Muppet Show Appearance

Steve Martin's Magic Show

And it wouldn't be complete without an SNL skit - the Czech Brothers with Dan Akroyd


Western PA For Dummies

If you watch SNL, you've probably already seen this video, but I'm posting it anyway because it was just too funny (and because we spent the weekend away from home and I just don't have anything to write). Here's the deal, what makes this so endearing is that I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania. I'm talking the back woods, on a dirt road 100 miles from any major city. Below is a few pictures of the road that runs past our house just to give you an idea (one pic is looking one way and the next is the coming from the other direction). Do I think the people that still live their are dummies? No. Even though I can laugh at the parody, it's still my home and the place that made me the goofball that I am today.

Sen. Biden & Rep. Murtha Crazy In PA...

* * * * * * * * * *

Here's a follow up to the story I told on Friday about Allie's choice for the next president and why. Ashley read it, and although she thought it funny, she also thought it good to set the record straight for Allie, and to encourage her to think for herself, and to have reasons to support the choices you make. One of the issues mentioned concerned Obama's and McCain's views on abortions, and Ashley tried to clarify things in a manner appropriate for Allie's age.

Ashley: Sweetie, neither candidate is going to kill all babies if they become president.

Allie: They're not?

Ashley: No, Honey. They don't want to hurt babies at all. They want to protect them, but they have different ways of wanting to do this before a baby is born.

This is where a previously silent 5 year-old Avery feels it best to clarify for everyone the Obama camp's stance on the matter.

Avery: Ya, Obama only wants to kills babies before they try to kills their mommies first.

Okay, are politicians campaigning in elementary schools or something, because we sure didn't tell her that? No more letting the kids talk to the pollsters when they call at dinner time, that's for sure!



As is the normal routine, I met the girls at the bus, got them a snack and let them watch a little TV once homework was done. It's a challenge to flip through the channels while attempting to steer clear of shows with silly ideas about living the dual life of a rock star / student, or notions of saving the world by shooting magic love rainbows out one's belly button, but I'm up to the task. As I'm clicking and screening, Allie announces her choice for president. "I'm voting for Joooooohn McCain!"

The first question a parent might ask is, "What made you say that, Sugar Blossom?" But Allie's prone to such randomness, and I've long since learned to skip such formalities.

"Why the hell would you do that?" I asked, pondering the merits of a constitutional amendment allowing first-graders the right to vote. God knows they are smarter than some people I've come into contact with over the election.

Allie, turned her head to the side, "Because." She didn't realize how much her comment detracted from the efforts of those working so hard as part of the first-grade voter lobby. One day she may realize the sacrifices made by 6 year olds who had struggled before her so that she might be a part of a brighter America, but sitting here in front of Nick Toons wouldn't be that moment.

"Because? Because! You have to give a reason - a real one - for why you're voting for someone," I explained. "You can vote for anyone you want but you have to know why you're picking them, Allie." Maybe my explanation to her seems a tad harsh, but poor Allie is the quintessential independent voter (after that amendment is passed anyway), having been at the center of a vicious campaign waged by an ultra-right wing aunt and her so-liberal-I'm-from-France mother.

Both sides have been shoving so many arguments into Allie's head, the poor kid is literally traumatized. A few weeks ago I had to explain to her that Sen. Obama's abortion policy did not mean he hated babies. Apparently, Aunt Republican boiled the issue down for Allie into terms only a child could understand. "Obama is going to kill babies," I believe is how it was presented in true conservative fashion. It took me several hours to debunk this notion for Allie who somehow got the idea (and I'm not kidding) that upon taking oath as the Commander in Chief, Sen. Obama's first edict would be to have all newborns killed during his term in office. Finding this out, answered allot for me as I'd watch Allie run to her room and clutch a baby doll every time Obama's name was mentioned.

Equally, disturbing was the discovery of how effective Mommy Democrat (Mommy Commie might be better) had become in pounding the evils of big corporations into little Allie's brain. Last weekend the subject of buying Halloween costumes was casually discussed in front of the girls forcing Allie into hysterics (again, I'm not kidding here). Through uncontrollable sobs she coughed out, "We can't go to WalMart! They exploit their workers!" If you were to ask her what "exploit" means, she will rightfully explain that WalMart refuses to pay for health benefits for their workers. Jebus on a Ritz Cracker! I thought to myself, What did they do to this kid!

You can readily see the hell, poor independent Allie, has been going through the past several months. I mean with family like this, who needs pundits? This is why I wanted to press upon her the need to think for herself. "So, can you tell me why you're picking John McCain, Allie?" I was still flipping through the channels knowing that what she said next would be the difference in Allie becoming the next Gloria Steinem or a mother of 8, living in an east Texas trailer park.

When I looked back in her direction, Allie's brow was furrowed in concentration. However, what she was concentrated on was her finger moving back and forth as it touched the pointer and index fingers of her other hand. As she did this she mouthed, eeiny, meeiny, miney, moe. Then her finger stopped and she paused before looking up at me. "Obama. Ya, this time Obama."

What I just wrote is 98% true - hardly any embellishment at all. If this is what a kid is going through then I have to imagine for many independents making a real decision still is difficult based on all the rhetoric out there. However, there are a few that don't see the choice as being that hard.

Two nights ago, my wife and I went to see David Sedaris read here in Houston, and one of his pieces was from the New Yorker commenting on Independent voters. As he was reading, I turned to my wife and told her I wanted to find that essay from the New Yorker and post it in the InBox. Apparently a certain big name blogger (oh, what's her name? rhymes with goose, or moose, loose, truce, excuse, obtuse, caboose, Jimmy Choo's - oh, to hell with it, I'll remember after I fall asleep) heard Mr Sedaris read the same essay two nights earlier and had the same idea. As such, David Sedaris is a now a household name and so popular God can't get through to request and signed copy of the author's latest release. I have to say this lest anyone think me a copy cat in sharing this essay today (I mean no disrespect, uh, you. Big. Blogger. Person, you It's no one's fault his tour slated Salt Lake ahead of Houston).

- David Sadaris

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

When doubting that anyone could not know whom they’re voting for, I inevitably think back to November, 1968. Hubert Humphrey was running against Richard Nixon, and when my mother couldn’t choose between them she had me do it for her. It was crazy. One minute I was eating potato chips in front of the TV, and the next I was at the fire station, waiting with people whose kids I went to school with. When it was our turn, we were led by a woman wearing a sash to one of a half-dozen booths, the curtain of which closed after we entered.
Read the entire essay...

Still can't decide - then maybe this will help. I was surprised at some of what McCain brought to the table here. You might be too.

Unbelievable McCain Vs. Obama Dance-Off - Watch more free videos

When someone like me, with a blog like this, gets an email with this in it, you know I have to post it.

Find more political action figures here at ImageGate.

And finally...

I've been reading Blogger Dad almost since he started over four months ago. Blogger Dad is a writer, cartoonist and new dad who I'm lucky enough to have an occasional discussion concerning comic book characters and not get laughed at. For being relatively new to blogging, Blogger Dad, aka David, has quickly created a quality site that draws in a number of readers. A large part of this is due to his writing style which is a combination of a down-to-earth tone, intelligence, and simple honesty, making David likable both as a blogger and as a person. Read Blogger Dad over the weekend and you'll see what I mean.

Have a good weekend! We're taking the girls to an intervention!


Lessons From A Blogging Blockhead

There have been more than a few posts I've read on different blogs asking about increasing readership, improving blog quality, blog content, etc. Not sure if this has something to do with the lunar phases and the rising tides, but it seems like the same discussions have been going on all over. I've even received a few emails asking advice. Flattering as this is, I'm quick to point out what an utter block-head I am at times. I'm just living out the curse my mother placed on me when I was young. "You're always going to learn by doing everything the hard way," she repeated through my time at home.

The curse, like in many areas of my life, has held true for my blogging. The good thing at least is that I've learned a few things from my block-headed ways, and I thought I'd share them here in a post. Let me preface this by saying I'm always cautious in dolling out advice, basically because I don't want to sound like some sort of know it all. On the blog posts I mentioned above, I shied away from leaving lengthy comments containing these basic lessons for the same reason, and (in my humble opinion) comments shouldn't overshadow the actual post itself by stealing the writer's thunder. I'm not going to show up at someone's birthday party and draw attention to me. 

That said, the intent is to share five things I learned the hard way that dramatically increased my blog traffic, and to spur on some discussion or posts from readers on what they've done with their sites. What others have to share can be of great help to the rest of us, this block-head included.

1. Getting Social: When I started out, I had no clue what social media. It seemed as confusing as technical manual on farm machinery, and I had the perception only young whipper snappers used it to coordinate their next beer-drenched outing or to gossip and complain about work. Educating myself, I realized its potential, and then went nuts registering for every social network/bookmarking site possible so I could promote every post I ever wrote. Bad move. What I figured out is how social media works best depends on what type of blog you write, and like most things in life, requires balance. Facebook, Twitter, and Stumble Upon were all I really needed (MySpace is optional). Facebook allowed me to reach a vast network of people I knew from various periods in my life. For Stumble, I figured out to live by the proverb, let another person praise you and not your own lips and had a few big campaigns initiated by readers (see what it did for Dave Fowler). Twitter turned out to be the biggest boost when I started to use it to promote my blogs "branding" so to speak. I'm known for my humor, so rather than announce to the world I was lancing a boil, or rolling a fattie, I just posted parodies & dumb sayings that people, for some reason thought were enough to check out my blog. I'll push a post here and there, but mainly I stick to what worked. There are nuances to each of these social media sites, but I've already gotten too wordy on this point.

2. It Takes A Village: There's another proverb out there that if you want friends, you have to be friendly yourself. Sure you can be friendly to the casual readers stopping by, but another one of those light bulb moments was that there are all manner of blog communities out there with bloggers interests similar to my own. In finding these "villages" I found people like Life 2.0 who I may never have otherwise been involved with or enjoyed. Joining communities also gave my site new exposure as well without having overtly promote myself. I know convention says you must promote, promote, promote yourself to gain serious readership. Frankly I just can't force myself to do this, so being in communities turned out to be an indirect way to put my blog out there without going, "Hey, Look at me! Over here! Click on my site!" Most of the communities that have worked out well have been the ones listed in the sidebar. One notable one, that could has the potential for the greatest reach is Facebook community (at the bottom) because it has a greater universal popularity than the others listed.

3. What Did You Say? Commenting on other blogs yielded a big traffic spike too. I knew this from the get go, but went about it all wrong trying to do it only on the A list Blogs. "Hey Dooce, you are...uh, really neat...and stuff," or "Dad Gone Mad, wow! we have so much in common like you're a dad and so am I. You get mad, and Holy Crap! so do I!" What was going through my head was the same thing going through most new bloggers. "They'll read my site and I'll get discovered, I'll be famous and then [sigh] movie rights!" I was like a 13 year old trying to buy beer with a poorly made fake ID, and if they even read my comment they saw right through it like the 275 others that day. The only exception to these PTP'ers (prime time players) being Rude Cactus, because he's actually me written back a few times. When I joined blog communities, I held back on comments because I was self conscious (go figure). Finally, it dawned on me to just be myself and post comments as if I were having dinner with friends - upbeat, but sincere. Bloggers can smell fakeness (reference above). I also figured out it's just good manners in responding to comments other readers make on my post either in comments or by email. Most already do this like Tara and Blogger Dad.

4. First Impressions: I've changed the layout on the Lunchbox more times than I did majors in college. My wife would tease me about it, "You mess with the page more than writing." I just couldn't come up with anything I like and I was too cheap to have it done professionally. Eventually, I figured out you only get one chance to make a lasting impression, and when readers find your site for the time it had better look snappy without making them scroll around. The essential elements for a first look other than the blog title were, a link to an about page, RSS/Subscription widgets, social media widgets for readers to promote for me, a head shot so people could see I was a real person, a list of current comments to show new comers people actually read my drivel, and something that showed this site has some street cred. by being featured elsewhere. Another element, was trying to have a picture in the header of posts to visually draw people into the whatever was written for the day. Along with that was showing only an excerpt from that post so the previous day's post could be seen in the screen shot to peak curiosity a little more. You may feel that other elements are more important than others, there's no real wrong answer here. A layout I really like is Writer Dad's with it's vibrant photos and big social media promo buttons.

5. Just The Stats Ma'am: I both love and hate having a stat counter. I loath it because it's a big distraction for me as I look at the damn thing about every 20 minutes. "5, 17, 23. Oooo, 51!" I need the fix for my ego or something. It's pitiful. But the stat counter I have allows me to see specifically which sources of the above items are drawing in traffic, Social media sources? My comments on other blogs? RSS Readers? Search function? Links from other blog rolls? This is what I based some of the stuff mention in #4 on. This is how I found Heinous which lead to the discovery of a bunch of new blogs out there. The stat counter also tells me which posts are the most popular and what days have higher traffic than others which has aided in shaping my content and general appeal.

Okay, I've droned on enough. This is what's worked, feel free to use or refute whatever you like. As mentioned somewhere in this post, I'm a block-head, making no claims to any form of genius. Feel free to add to the discussion or share a post of your own. Need to check the stat counter now.


On This Date In 1977...

My wife Ashley (aka Lois Lane) was born. Even though her birthday is actually today, we celebrated it yesterday, just me and her. Tonight we will celebrate as a family when she gets home from work and I have to finish her surprise yet!). Last evening we enjoyed a nice dinner together and then went to hear David Sedaris,  one of our favorite authors, read some of his new work. Ashley is a wonderful date, and I still feel the same thrill of a night on the town with her today, as I did on our first face-to-face meeting. The only difference with today, being she doesn't casually comment about the high potential for meeting online predators through internet dating sites (read on).

I know it's traditional to give presents to people on their birthday, but to her family, friends, and especially to me, Ashley is a greater gift than any we could ever give her to mark this day. 



Condescending Interface

Although I can appreciate the efforts in making our lives easier by applying technological advances to basic products, it’s starting to erode my self-image. It's understandable to want to  improve the picture quality of a television or the clarity of a voice in cell phones. These make a reasonable amount of sense, but for some reason, it seems like the boys down in R and D are exacting revenge on us for all the years of ridicule they suffered, taunted as nerds with pocket protectors. Having worked out their issues, they are now developing products for consumers, turning everyday items into condescending jerks.

I recently read of a refrigerator hotels are using that automatically bills a guest for merely moving a bottle of soda. This frankly is just spiteful. Why isn’t it good enough for a fridge to just keep things cool? Why does it now have to cheat people out of their money like some kind of circus carnie all because you were checking to see if they stocked a bottle of diet cola in the back? I’ve never stayed at an establishment using these, but I own plenty of other items that are just as hurtful.

My computer for example, it’s like working on a project together with a mean-spirited co-worker. While I diligently do my part, the computer just sits there, taking it all in then speaking only to point out my screw-ups. The spell and grammar check feature is the most obnoxious in its criticism of me. I fully admit my gross shortcomings in my spelling abilities, but to throw a glaring red line in my face immediately upon switching the i and e in believe, makes me feel like a puppy scolded for not going on the newspapers. 

The grammar check isn’t much better. I would appreciate the fact this tool explains the nature of an error a little more, if I wasn’t so put off by the curt tone it takes with me. “Fragment,” or “Wordiness,” is all it will utter with a mix of both disgust and impatience. Sometimes I’ll respond defiantly by clicking the, “Ignore Once” option. It’s a sad, passive aggressive attempt on my part to show I don’t have to listen if I don’t want. But, even in my moment of satisfaction, I still realize the “Once” portion exists to remind me how short lived my satisfaction will be. “Think you’re so smart huh?” it says. “That’s okay. You may blow me off this time, but you’ll just do it again. Losers are like that.”

I am fully aware I can disable this feature. The concept of “disabling” gives me the impression I can break the computer’s legs with a sledgehammer, but as much as I want to do this, I lack the self-confidence to go it alone in trusting myself to spell every word correctly or to avoid split infinitives. I am like the insecure girl continually running back to her abusive boyfriend even though she knows he’s just going to smack her around again.

Smelling weakness, the microwave joins in with a beeping sound made every thirty seconds upon finishing its assigned task. Forget to retrieve the meatloaf I was reheating and suddenly I’m being admonished for the inconvenience I’ve caused. It’s as if the microwave has plans and I’m holding it up from leaving. I’m sensitive enough as it is when I let others down, it doesn’t help to know the appliances are disappointed with me too. 

Now I’ve learned there are products out there that “talk” to one another. Stereos talk to computers about music selections. Televisions talk to refrigerators, which to me, seems odd. I can see the stereo and computer engaged in a deep discussion over shared interests, but I have to imagine the TV and fridge are limited to only small talk or the occasional chuckle over how the fridge swindled some family out of $80 because the kids got a little curious. The idea of this makes me nervous when I think about it. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out I am a complete moron when it come to operating anything with an electrical cord. This is no secret. But to know the TiVo and cable box are carrying on a conversation behind my back really hurts.

“Can you believe this guy,” the TiVo might say as I take 30 minutes figuring out how to record a show. “I mean, I’ve seen some pretty stupid people in my time, but this doofus takes the cake!”

“Ya, It’s guys like him that make me believe in natural selection,” the cable box responds. Then they start laughing.

“Natural selection. That’s good!” the TiVo says between breaths. “I gotta write that down.”

They remind me of a couple burly dockworkers taking cruel pleasure in picking on the little guy. I pull a throw pillow to my face so they can’t see me crying.

The latest developments have been products that not only make fun of you, but they boss you around as well. The other day I was walking through the electronics store and saw a display for a digital camera that refuses to take a picture until the other person is smiling. At first I thought it to be rather impractical especially for families with angst ridden teens who dress only in Goth attire, but then I felt sick realizing its truly domineering nature. “I said SMILE!!!” I could just hear it demand, the thought of which frightened me. I’m already seeing a shrink about my self-esteem issues stemming from the abuse leveled at me by the agents of modern technology. If I can’t move past that, I’m now vulnerable to being controlled and manipulated by this new breed of techno-bullies as well.


Reason or Doubt?

I'm not given to panic easily. In these situations - both globally and personally - I always remember Napoleon maxim,

“The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.”

We can play into the fear of the current economic situation or keep our heads while everything seems to be falling apart. So when I see stuff like Glenn Beck's interview here, I ask is what is discussed sound reasoning or should it be doubted? Does it help or hinder the road to controlling chaos? Fear only breeds more fear.

Oh, here's another quote from Napoleon,

“Men are Moved by two levers only: fear and self interest”

Notice the profession of who posted this video: fear or self-interest?

Feel no obligation to comment on this, even with the questions posed. It's a slight departure from my normal material. I guess I just get a little irked by some things.



Sorry for getting this out late (and for not replying to everyone's comments in a timely manner) as I learned yesterday afternoon my ATM and credit cards got jacked. What a mess, but thankfully it's fixed now. I'm running about a day behind and will be playing catch up this weekend. I know, excuses, excuses.

How many watched the debate? How many flipped the channel half-way through to Paris Hilton's New BFF? Either way, I wouldn't judge you. "Lois" and I caught the second part of it and were having fun enjoying the Twitter comments on the bottom of the screen. I get a kick out of Lois when it comes to the election, not that I don't respect her opinions. She does keep informed on issues so she's not just talking trash. What makes me laugh is her vocal reactions and her strong stance on Gov. Palin.

Sitting on the couch watching the candidates talk, or listening to sound bytes on the news, Lois rarely can sit there without bolting forward, and making a comment in a demonstrative fashion. Usually it's something to the effect of, "That's bullsh#@!" She could easily be mistaken as having turrets syndrome, or even an angry football fan reacting to a bad call. I've had beer and nachos spilled on me more than once in these situations.

Lois, also has some strong views on the Republican VP candidate. I've become keenly aware of the amount of work she has on a given day, based on what she says when she walks through the door in the evening. "Did you know Palin only has an IQ of 98?" or, "Guess what. Palin scored below a 900 on her SAT's." Once Lois has shared all her findings, it's only then that I get a kiss and hug (No, one ever asks how my day went - pouty lips). If it's not obscure facts pertaining to the governor's attendance record in elementary school that I hear, then it's an onslaught of emails sent throughout the day with links to Palin's spoofed MySpace profile or flow charts depicting the nominee's thought process in answering debate questions.

Not being able to help myself, I sometimes egg her on by playing devil's advocate. "But Honey, Palin represents us Joe/Josephine-Six-Packs (I'm going to work that into every Friday post until the election, doggonit), and she's a mom who understands you like no other candidate in history?" I sound as innocent as a six-year old on Sesame Street. This immediately sparks a heated response on par with a televangelist's railings about a fiery judgment and the need for donations. Yes, we're a regular old George Burns and Gracie Allen we are.

I jest, but as I said before, she truly is intelligent with test scores and attendance records that far out-distance Alaskan governors. Lois works for Matt Simmons. If you've never hear of him, he's probably one of the most key figures in the oil industry today. Yesterday, he held a get-to-know-you lunch with some of his company's associates to include Lois. During the session he went around the room for introductions and then opened it up for each person to ask a question. In true reporter-like fashion, Lois want to hear Mr. Simmons' thoughts on both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain's stated energy plans. He then explained in detail the fallacies of both plans concluding that Obama's was naive, but McCain's was exceptionally naive. The three minute summary Lois relayed to me outlining the arguments, we're factual, and just plain common sense (if you'd like to hear it, I'll put Lois on the phone).

There are two points I'd like to make in my drivel. Lois and I essentially agree concerning our choice of candidates (I'm just a stinker), but I've noticed a great deal of hostility in the blogoshere (and elsewhere), stemming from people's extremely polarized positions on their choice for President. What has always baffled me is the mindset some people have in believing a their vicious tirade against someone with a diametrically opposing point of view is miraculously going to win that person over. I've never seen a referee reverse a call after the guilty player punched him in the face. The same principle applies here. If you want to write in Ralph Wiggum for president (see below), fine by me, but don't verbally abuse someone if they question it. I guess I'm of the opinion, that those that appear as zealots for their cause sometimes undermine the credibility of the cause itself.

My other point is this. Politics is politics. No matter who you plan to vote for, right now each presidential hopeful is just that, hopeful. They are going to say whatever they need in order to appeal to voters, which means making promises they can't keep or are impossible to achieve. Using the energy policies as an example, according to Mr. Simmons, with McCain's proposal of increased drilling the ability to build new rigs is not feasible because no one will lend money to construct them, and there are few, if any new drilling sites even being explored beyond what already exists. The Obama position is admirable, but to build the number of nuclear power plants promised over the next decade isn't feasible either because of the time it takes to do this and the lack of materials and resources required of such an undertaking.

In this election, more than any I can recall (except maybe Carter/Reagan), the American people's expectations are so high that the winner will lead them out of our current state of affairs. I believe that will happen, it's just a question of how long it will take. The realities are, however, that even if their choice takes charge, those expectations will not be fully met. Politicians make promises, but when the dust settles, they will bend to the influences of their party, and they will compromise on some initiatives in order to gain the support needed to pass other initiatives. I don't mean to sound cynical, but this is how the balance of power works these days. My hope is that not too many people will become disillusioned when promises are broken, or when change doesn't occur fast enough.

I've rambled enough, but I would like to know you're thoughts (and I will respond, sorry again).

Why do you think people are so defensive in their political positions?

Am I overly cynical in my opinion about the candidates delivering on their promises?

Okay, on to some stuff that's a little more fun, like this little photo I was sent. I'm not necessarily trying to make a statement with it, but who thinks to liken the candidates to different versions of trains? Made me laugh anyway.

Naturally, I'm drawn to anything making light-hearted commentary on the housing situation, so when I saw this hilarious segment on the Colbert Report, I was rolling.

Based on my earlier posts expressing my appreciation for Canadian Health Care (read here and here), I'm adding a new regular feature for the InBox where I'll post the latest examples of ads and emails I've received. It's called... Canada's Concern For My ED!

Hmmmm? Not quite sure what they're trying to convey to me? Any ideas?

And finally....

I have an entire list of blogs to feature, and that list is growing weekly. This week I wanted to talk about Writer Dad. If you haven't already been reading his posts, then frankly, you are missing out. His writing covers a range of relevant topics from fatherhood and family to blogging and social concerns. Writer Dad, aka Sean, and his wife (see her blog, Namas Daisy) have been running a preschool for some time, but have made the decision to move on to pursue writing full-time. Already Sean, has authored a innovative concept of children's books called Wee Books. This same out-of-the-box thinking is evident in his unique perspectives on conventional topics. What I enjoy is his mature writing style that fluidly conveys emotions in a manner readers instantly connect with. There is an almost Zen-like quality that has a calming effect as you breath in the thoughts expressed in his posts. Take time to get to know Writer Dad. It's worth it.

Enjoy your weekend. God bless you, Plumbers of America!


Pants On Fire

Over the last month or so, Avery, the 5 year-old well-spring of eternal cuteness, has developed a problem with lying. I realize kids, at one time or another will likely tell a fib at some point growing up, but I've been a little surprised at this sudden onset and increasingly consistent pattern.

Allow me share a few recent examples to provide some context.

***These scenes are dramatic re-enactments based on actual events.***

Example #1 - School
The kindergarten teacher's back is turned towards the class as uses the dry erase board to outline an equation related to quantum physics - it's a very advanced school.

Teacher: As you can clearly see class x is to y, as y is to...

Unidentified child's voice: Oh come on, we're never going to use this crap! (well, not those words exactly)

Teacher turning and looking around: Who's talking?

Avery raises hand and then points: It was John Doe, Teacher.

Teacher stares at Avery making voice recognition match: Avery? Was it you that was talking?

Avery blinks and goes into warp cuteness level 50.

Teacher: Avery are you lying to me?

Avery deftly moves from cuteness to deflection mode. Drops to the floor. Sobs uncontrollably: Whaaaaa! I miss my sister! I miss my Ga-ga! I miss my Care Bears! I miss the days when gas was under $2.00! Dear God why?! Why must life be such a cruel b*tch!

Okay, I may not have the actual dialogue correct. It was second-hand from an informant, but you get the gist of it.

Verdict? Guilty. Punishment? Sit out during part of recess.

Example #2 - In Bedroom Playing With Sister
Sister Allie: Whaaaaaaa!

Lois Lane and I enter room to investigate. Me: What in name of Zeus's Butthole happened?

Allie: Sniffle. Avery hit me and then ripped Mr. Fuzzy Britches out of my hands while I was playing with it...sniffle, sniffle.

Me: Avery did is that true? Did you hit your sister and take... Mr. Fuzzy Britches from your sister?

Avery, apparently struck dumb and deaf only moments earlier continues to play on the floor with her back turned toward Lois and me and ignores the question.

Allie: She hit me right me right here on my arm, sniffle. With this! Allie holds up a thin rubber pad consistent in size and shape to the red mark on her arm. Given that Mr. Fuzzy Britches is Allie's favorite toy, and that she's not into self-mutilation, the picture is pretty clear.

Me in deep scary tone: Avery? Did you do this?

Lois: Avery -middle name - last name! Answer the question! Now! (Middle & last name combos are like raising the threat category at airports from orange to red)

Avery, back still turned: No.

Lois: What did we tell you would happen if you lied again?

Avery looks up: Ladies and gentleman, the evidence here is purely circumstantial. So I tell you, if I didn't hit, you must acquit.

Lois: My left white cheek you didn't! All of America knows what really happened, and you're going to face the consequences.

Avery: Bwhaaaaaaa! Not the chair! I'm innocent! You got it all wrong! It wasn't me! It was the one-armed kid! One arm I tell you!

Verdict? Guilty. Punishment? For the crime of hitting her sibling, Care Bear taken away for one week. For lying, no TV for one week. We understand, Allie will be pressing civil charges for punitive damages and time lost at the 1st grade.

Example #3 - Kitchen & Work Desk (following the completion of her week long sentence)
Me making Saturday morning pancakes in the kitchen when I here a suspicious sound from the work desk. Peer around corner to see Avery touching computer, presumably to buy a white Ford Bronco from eBay: Avery, are you messing with the computer?

Avery unaware I have witnessed her touching the computer, walks into the kitchen and says nothing. Assumes I am off my medication.

Me: Avery? We're you on the computer? You know you're not supposed to be on there without an adult?

Avery looking up and using pointing finger to emphasize each word of her response: I did. Not. Have. Relations. With that computer!

Me: I watched you touching it. Why are you lying to me? You just got done being punished for this and now you're going to lose TV again for the same thing.

Avery: Bwhaaaa! What's with you people? Oh, I see. It's because I'm 5? Is that it? I'm 5 and all 5 year olds lie through their cute little cheeks! I'll show you! You don't know nutthin'! Do you hear me? Nutthin!

You can figure out the rest.

For some reason, there is nothing that burns me up more than when a kid lies to me. However, this is ironic, given the fact I had a problem with chronic lying as a kid myself. My greatest desire growing up was to become...a con man. I'm not joking. Most boys want to be fireman, or policemen, while I wanted to be a grifter who swindling rich jerks out of thousands, and outsmarted the law. This was an obsession that started after watching the A-Team for the first time, where one of the good guys nicked named, "Face Man" for his good looks and ability to con his way into just about anything seemed like the coolest thing ever. This is why I love movies like The Sting and Ocean's 11, 12, 13.

Did I get caught lying? Yes, but the punishments did little to break me, and there were many more times I didn't get caught. This went on for a while, especially in situations where I got in trouble for doing something else wrong. I'd invent some "brilliant" tale on what really happened. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.

Don't get me wrong, in the back of my mind I knew right from wrong and lying, especially as blatantly as I was, definitely was wrong. It bugged me, but I fought it. Eventually, I came to the point where my lying had to stop. I can't pinpoint exactly when this happened, but I remember coming to a stark realization that, as an officer in the Army, my dishonesty could result in life or death consequences. There was no honor in being a liar. And as part of that thought, not telling the truth in my marriage would mean hurting someone I claimed to love more than anything (This becomes really tough when asked if an outfit makes them look... well, not their true beautiful self). And what if my children caught me in a lie? This is not to even mention the need for honesty as a writer. Ask Oprah about James Frey.

Bringing this full circle, I'm concerned that I'm seeing the beginnings of the same sort of pattern in Avery as I once did. Lying when in trouble, and then deflecting. Honestly(can I use such a qualifier in a post on lying?), it bothers me, and I am actually kind of stumped as to how to handle it.

So I open this up to the floor.
Am I over-reacting, just because of my background?
Is this just a phase all children go through?
How often do you see kids lie - your own or your students?
How do you handle it?
Give it to me straight.

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