On The 9th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...Dove Chocolate.

Is anyone here a Dove Chocolate fan? I love the dumb things and what's even better is that dark chocolate is a good source of anti-oxidants when taken in moderation. Dove is one of those brands that's recommended among the list containing these healthy elements. The only thing that kind of bugs me are those little sayings printed on the wrappers that are supposed to give you warm and fuzzies. Not that I'm a cynic, but... okay sometimes I am. With tomorrow being New Year's and the traditional time to make resolutions for new patterns and habits for our lives, maybe this will help in coming up with a few ideas.

Can't You Just Feel The Dove?

As part of my healthy eating regiment I was encouraged to incorporate dark chocolate (some regiment huh?) into my diet because of their natural anti-oxidants, and because sweets can signal the brain that a meal is over. This made perfect sense to me and I was eager to make the inclusion into my dietary rotation. Further research indicated that Dove, brand dark chocolate was the best choice given it's natural ingredients and high anti-oxidants levels. Ever obedient, on my next visit to the grocery store I tossed a bag into my cart, and following my evening meal, I downed a couple pieces (actually, it was closer to seven or eight before my brain actually caught on). As I threw the wrappers in the trash, I noticed that there were words written on the inside of the foil which, like fortune cookies, formed little phrases called "Promise Messages." However, unlike the stoic incites and vague innuendo of happy outcomes found in the fortune cookie, these Promise Messages sounded closer to the scripted advice of a self-help guru using local, cable access to reach audiences with his late-night guarantee of personal fulfilment for the low, low price of only $19.95 plus tax.

It's obvious that some evil marketing genius concocted this scheme, whereby consumers are drugged with a double dose of endorphins as the brain is injected with the sweet, high of personal validation in conjunction with the sugary rush contained in a rich, dark chocolaty treat. But not everyone can feel the "Dove." Apparently, years of exposure to Baptist legalism in my childhood has rendered me virtually immune to anything allowing me to feel good about myself (this includes candy, which is why Trick-or-Treating is a sin).

This resistance to marketing-induced, self-esteem, I've been told, can also result in a noticeable rash, spontaneous twitching and an uncontrollable urge to laugh your head off, which I do often when reading these wrappers. Upon seeing this reaction for the first time, my fiancee figured I had finally cracked up over the strain of being so... so... well, the stain of some extremely positive trait I possess, but that's not the point here. Recognizing her bewilderment, I showed her my "Dove-ly" little message, to which she started laughing hysterically as well. Since then, we've started saving our wrappers, and now with the bag of chocolates gone I've gathered our collection to share these bits of joy with you here.

- Follow your instincts.
- If they can do it, you know you can.
- It's definitely a bubble-bath day.
(my personal favorite)
- There's a time for compromise... it's called "later."
- Count the stars.
- Sometimes one smile means more than a dozen roses.
- Live your dreams.
- Send a love letter this week.
- Flirting is mandatory.
- Don't think about it so much.
- Age is nothing but a number.
- When two hearts race, both win.
- Keep the promises you make to yourself.
- Watch reruns, they replay your memories.
- Temptation is fun... giving in is even better.
- Hey, why not?
- Be mischievous. It feels good.

If you are one of those who laughed until your sides ached because the concept of grace eludes you, or you didn't laugh at all because this really isn't funny, then take a moment and re-read the list. Note how enabling these Promise Messages can be. I noticed this a while back, and it actually disturbed me enough that I wrote the Mars Corporation (makers of Dove) a letter recommending they include a disclaimer on their packages. This warning would advise buyers that Dove chocolate and the suggestions found in the Promise Messages are not intended for the following people: Anyone convicted of murder or serious crime; those accused or guilty of sexual harassment; individuals with the repressed memories of a traumatic past; anyone diagnosed with mental illness, multiple personalty disorder or psychotic tendencies; anyone having a restraining order filled against in the past five years; those recovering from an alcohol, drug or gambling addiction; cannibals; and those with an allergic reaction to bubble bath products.

As part of my recommendation I also suggested an alternative possibility of changing from their broad-base theme in Promises Messages to one with a more selective reach. With this approach, I reasoned, they could use criteria to establish individual groups to whom they could communicate a targeted messages of Dove that would make consumers feel even more special about themselves. For instance, practical-minded individuals would find Promise Messages saying things like, "Change your oil at 40,000 miles, not the dealer-recommended 30 because listening to yourself saves money," or, "Buying extra canned goods will make you feel smart when unexpected disaster strikes." Choco-holics in the "Active Adult" category could enjoy such golden nuggets as, "Go ahead and fart. No one will say anything because it's cute at your age," and, "They don't visit because they realized you were right in saying they'd never amount to anything." Not wanting to alienate the "Pre-Adult" demographic, the company could include messages of consolation such as, "Wear more black because they'll never understand you," and, "Grab it, Mom shouldn't have left that 20 laying there."

Although I really liked this targeted concept, my experience on the big-time corporate playground halted my hair-brained notion with the realization that such an idea was simply not "cost-effective." Recognizing the impracticality of such a strategy, and not wanting to damage the credibility of my message with the executives at Mars, I re-drafted a list of suggested Promise Messages that, I believed, would resonate with an even broader base of consumers than does the current one now (a disclaimer would still apply, however.) And so, I submitted this final list of "warm and fuzzies"

- Don't you think you've really had enough.
- Dodge, deny and deflect. It doesn't have to be your fault.
- I know what you did. Don't make me tell.
- Drink from the jug, nobody's around.
- It's ok, everyone takes office supplies.
- Fake a disability! You get free money and a parking tag.
- There's no such thing as "too much information."
- Switching price tags is just being thrifty.
- You're not fooling anyone.
- Try harder, no one's going to recognize the effort.
- Don't feel bad. It was her turn to pick up the kids.
- Ignore it and someone else will take care of it.
- It's always the right thing to do if you can get away with it.
- It's ok. You can quit anytime.
- They've already had a full life, now it's your turn.
- If they loved their cat so much they would've kept it inside.
- Depression is an excuse. Just take the pills!
- Recreational drugs aren't a big deal.
- Go ahead, he's a jerk anyway.

I sent this proposal off several weeks ago and I have to admit I'm anxious to receive the company's response, which I am sure to get. In the mean time, I will continue to eat Dove chocolate and laugh hysterically at their Promise Messages while I sit here watching television at 1am in an attempt to put my life back together for a reasonable price if I act now.


On The 8th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

... Superman!

Go figure right? Well this is a repost of an article for another blog, and I wanted to share it again specifically on the Lunchbox. It's about how Superman made me a better dad, and one of my all-time favorites. Right now as I am spending a rare length of time with my boys in conjuction with my two step-daughters it seems fitting.

How Superman Made Me A Better Father.

To many, it might seem odd for a guy in his mid-thirties to be such a huge fan of Superman. If I worked in the comic book industry, or were if I was a serious collector it would make more sense - but I am neither. In fact, I wasn’t even interested in The Man of Steel until a few years ago when I first moved to Chicago. I bought Season 1 of the CW television show Smallville as something to watch until my cable was hooked up. If you’ve never heard or seen it before, Smallville is an exploration into the life of Clark Kent as a late teen and early adult as he learns to use his developing powers in his many adventures prior to donning the now iconic cape and tights as Superman.

Granted, the show is more of a teen drama with a fair share of campiness, but I was struck with the overwhelming number of themes related to fatherhood throughout the entire arc of the story. Central to the plot is Clark’s relationship with his adoptive father Jonathan Kent who raises him, but also his biological (and spiritual) father Jor-El who guides Clark towards his ultimate destiny. These images are contrasted with the father-son relationship between Lex Luthor and his father Lionel, culminating in the transformation of Lex, from Clark’s best friend to Superman’s archenemy. Being that I came to Chicago specifically because I wanted to be an involved father and not just a child support check to my three boys after their mother moved away, the images of fatherhood depicted on Smallville hit home.

I was tearing through the remaining seasons on DVD in a race to catch up to the currently aired episodes when I was struck with the concept of what it would it take to parent a child that can lift a truck, or run the speed of light. Not only do you have to deal with all the normal things like getting him to stay in bed after tuck in, and sharing toys with other kids at play groups, but now you have to worry he won’t run through his bedroom wall when you try to catch him or shove you into the next county when you take back the toy he just grabbed away from a playmate. As he gets older these lessons would become exponentially more complex, and as a parent, if you back away because of fear, it’s more likely the end result would be a super brat and not a super man. Had that rocket ship from Krypton landed in the backyard of the Spears’, Hilton’s or Lohan’s rather than a dirt field near the Kent farm I shudder to think of the possible outcomes. The Man of Bling maybe?

From that perspective, I realized how integral good parenting was in the development of Clark Kent from small town boy to “The Big Blue Boy Scout” (as he is sometimes cynically called as a reference to his uncompromising moral code). I also reasoned that there must be lessons within the story I could find for myself as a father. My interest expanded beyond just Smallville as I starting studying all things pertaining to the Superman Myth, making special note of any items I could incorporate into my own parenting skill set. I did not have to dig too far to find some essential lessons that I have tried to incorporate.

1. Use your abilities to help others: Superman has all manner of mad skills - mega-strength, x-ray vision, super hearing, heat vision, freeze breath, super speed, invulnerability, oh yeah, and he can fly. I imagine it would be tempting for both the parents and for Clark to use those powers for their own personal gain, but Jonathan Kent ingrained in his son a sense of selflessness and purpose. In the first Superman movie (staring Christopher Reeves), there is a scene where a young Clark uses his super speed to out-race his high school classmates who are in a car. As Clark comes up the driveway, his father (played by Glenn Ford) who has just witnessed what has happened, gently admonishes Clark by reminding him “his powers were meant for more than just scoring touchdowns.” This is a point I often think about when I see some of the child celebrities with their parents as managers. I wonder whose benefit those parents are really looking out for and what that says to their own children about putting others first.

2. There are consequences for our actions: I remember reading an article that claimed one of the most important lessons a father can teach his children is there are always consequences for our actions. The point being, eventually we have to let our children go and either we’ve taught them to live within rigid boundaries or we have taught them to make good decisions based on their own judgment of the potential outcomes. This point echoes repeatedly in the Smallville TV series, starting with Clark’s desire to join the high school football team. His father (this time played by John Schneider) is adamantly opposed; arguing that Clark is unaware of the consequences should he inadvertently hurt other players when using his super skills. Clark backs down, but several seasons later, he joins the team again, this time after careful consideration. The ensuing discussion between Clark and his dad over the renewed desire to join the team leads to another parental issue - learning to trust your children’s decisions. This summer one of my sons, who is a huge animal lover, learned the absolute consequences in shooting a frog with a BB gun. He has been repeatedly told guns are not toys, and after targeting something other than a soda can, he found out why. I know he learned a life lesson that day which he will remember every time he sees a gun.

3. Invulnerability and infallibility are not the same: As the strongest being in the universe, Superman could punch your head clear to China if he thought you were challenging his decisions. He could easily take over the planet if he desired, but that is not his nature. This is the very concept Superman’s enemy, Lex Luthor, tries to capitalize on in his attempts to turn the populace’s trust against the Man of Steel. Lex cannot conceive of someone having ultimate power and not using it to gain unchallenged control over others. Superman however, recognizes his infallibility, endowing him with a healthy respect for the damage he could inflict if left unchecked. It is the same type of respect I have for the damage I can cause my children by lording over them with “the-boss-is-always-right” type of parenting. Instead, I try to include them in decisions and make sure they hear me say sorry when I make a mistake.

4. Even Superman has a weakness: Superman might be the baddest mo-fracky around, but he still has a weakness in the form of kryptonite, meteor rocks from his home world. This isn’t exactly something he advertises, otherwise he would become vulnerable to anybody able to get their hands on it and use it against him. However, he doesn’t shy away from it when it comes between him and his duty. In the movie Superman Returns, kryptonite renders him a useless sack o' taters that Lex Luthor’s henchmen kick the stuffing out of and chuck over a cliff, where Lois Lane (along with Superman’s potential son) find him floating and pull him to safety. Superman then flies up to the sun to charges his batteries (solar energy fuels his powers), and then goes on to defeat the forces of evil once again. What I’m reminded of is that I, as a man, have weaknesses too, but admitting to their affects vs. parading them around as an excuse are two different things. My weaknesses should not prevent me from my responsibilities as a father. Sometimes though, I need help from others, just like Lois coming to Superman’s aid and I try to pass along that it is not weakness to accept that help.

There have been quite a few times when my kids will ask me why I like Superman so much, and I always reply, “Because he makes me a better dad.” The idea of a cartoon superhero somehow interacting with their father is intriguing to them and they want to know how that is even possible. “Well,” I say, “You remember when Superman was fighting Lex Luthor …” Soon we are having a big discussion about what happens when you make the wrong choice, or why you should look to help others. If I were talk to them directly about such stuff, they would think I’d fallen off my rocker, but somehow, because it’s Superman it doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Thankfully, my kids may not be able to fly at supersonic speeds or use heat vision to weld the toaster shut, but they do possess the potential to have an impact on their world one day. I guess if these lessons are good enough for a superhero known for his stance on truth, justice and, “all that other stuff” then it can’t hurt to use them on my own super crew.

Epilogue: After noticing the images and lessons of fatherhood in Superman, it seemed to me like there were quite a few others in pop culture, most recently with Indiana Jones having a son in the latest movie. Star Wars is another example. What are some you can think of? How do you use pop culture in parenting?

All artwork by Alex Ross


On The 7th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

... Pancakes!

Since there are so many kids and family from out of town, my sisters and I decided to split up cooking and cleaning duties to alleviate our poor mother from having to do it all herself. My primary job? Breakfast. And why? Because I make the best pancakes out of the bunch. In fact some may say they are too good. This is an old post from the spring. It's been re adapted for the book which means the writing's tighter and cleaner, so forgive the rougher grade quality of this re post titled,

Make Us Some Pancakes Funnyman!

I’ve started a new habit of getting up early on Saturday mornings. Why would any sensible person do such a thing unless they had a weekend job like delivering newspapers or selling new homes? The truth of the matter is I do have a job… sort of. I’m the On-Call Pancake Production Specialist covering the weekend shifts from 6am to 9am. Basically, my job duties boil down to simply whipping up gourmet pancakes at the whim of Allie and Avery. Thank goodness, it’s only a three-hour window outside of which, I can tell them to go chew on leather belts as a means to quell their tiny growling stomachs (it’s a technique used by the French Foreign Legion as a means of survival when getting lost in the desert. My boys think it’s cool.).

Typically, I roll out of bed, get dressed and head upstairs to the kitchen praying the girls will be satisfied with today’s offering to the gods of their bottomless pits. It’s my own fault. I created these little monsters back when I started dating Ashley in an attempt to impress her by winning over the solid gold hearts of her darling little girls. So, when she mentioned to me her girls loooooooove pancakes, I saw my opportunity. I am a master pancake maker, a talent handed down from father to son for generations in my family, so mixing a batch of golden brown, cinnamon flapjacks would be, well, child’s play. I had no idea my well-intentioned act would turn these little dears into mini-me, meth addicts.

Based on height, weight, and gender, I estimated about twelve to fifteen pancakes as the appropriate amount for the girls, their mom and myself – two each for mom and the girls and six for myself. It filled my heart with joy watching the excitement in Allie and Avery’s eyes as I poured, stirred and flipped their breakfast treats, and then resulting joy as they swallowed the first bites. “Mmmmmmm! You’re a good pancake-maker, Ron,” they said in unison as their mom looked at me with love in her eyes. I was in, which is to say, in way over my head.

“Can we have some more?” I turned from the stove to see these little cherubs holding their plates in the air like those starving kids in Africa. How could I refuse? I’d just subtract 2 from my portion and make up for it later with a snack, but 30 seconds later the girls returned hoping to receive pancakes 5 and 6. “Wow!” I thought, “Either I’m even better than I think I am or these little urchins have been living a deprived existence outside the realm of the pancake world .” The final count for that first morning ended up running something to the effect of twelve a piece for the girls, eight for Ashley, and the lone pancake dropped on the floor going to myself.

I actually had to make more in order escape the kitchen with my own life. After pancake number 8, Allie handed me her plate with the expectation of another hit of “the good stuff.” I tried to explain to her that there was no more batter (I held off on the part about generously giving up my portion as a matter of good Christian living. I figured I’d get a “Golden Pancake” from God as my reward in heaven.). Allie said nothing as her face slumped in disappointment, and she walk off only to return a minute later with a folded up piece of paper she handed to me. At first, I thought this to be a charming thank you, but I believe the actual text scrawled in black crayon was closer to, “MAYK MOR PANKAKZ OR YU WEEL DI.”

There was a red scribble at the bottom. Sensing the confusion mixed with the horror in my expression, Allie motioned for me to bend down close so she could whisper in my ear. Cupping her hand she whispered, “The red is supposed to be blood.”

“Holy, Smurfing Care Bears! Who are these kids?!” I thought as I slowly straightened up and looked over at the mother on the couch. She looked up and smiled adoringly at me for feeding her hungry offspring, completely oblivious to the murderous extortion taking place at that very instant and not five feet away from where she sat.

Fast forward to the present where I slowly drag out mixing bowls, pancake mix, an egg, milk (not to be confused with “sugar milk”), cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, flax seed, and…. “Oh, dear Lord, let there be frozen blueberries in the freezer,” I pray as I rifle through the freezer. “No, no, no… Yes!” There is a God and He pities me. It’s much better for me to get up early and prepare everything in advance so as to avoid such pitfalls as not having blueberries on hand. It makes for a harmonious morning with less tension in the air.

I used to sleep in, letting Ashley get up with the girls to feed them cereal and turn on cartoons so she could fall back to sleep on the couch. However, as soon as she would start snoring loud enough to drown out the TV, Allie and Avery would push away from the table and proceed downstairs to express their displeasure with me.

I would open my eyes, to the blurry sight of the girls standing next to bed. Their faces would be eerily expressionless. “It’s time.” Avery would say simply in a flat monotone voice, and Allie would raise her arm to show me a red crayon as if to say, “You know what this means, don’t you?” Taking the none-too-subtle hint, I would roll out of bed and head up to the kitchen to perform my duty.

On my way, I’d pass a practically unconscious Ashley slumbering unaware on the couch prompting a reminder by one the girls. “Don’t wake mother,” they would say in that same monotone voice, but with the notable hint of a creepy English accept.

Nervously, I’d whip up a heaping batch of blueberry pancakes hoping to meet with their approval, but the pressure to perform in front of such a demanding and cutthroat audience increased my chances of making a potentially fatal mistake. There have been some close calls, eventually prompting me to my current routine of waking up ahead of time. On one occasion, I forgot to add flaxseed.

“Hey!” Avery said throwing her fork on the table. “Where’s the flaxseed?”

I tried to smooth it over; amazed she could even tell it was missing. “I’m sorry, Sweetie, I forgot…” But she cut me off.

“Forgot?! You forgot?!” her tone more accusing than questioning.

“Forgot? What did Ron forget, my little angel?” It was Ashley standing at the top of the stairs. Somehow she miraculously manages to wake each Saturday morning without fail just at the moment I start serving the first round of my “griddle manna.” “What do they think you forgot, dear?” she then asked me. But as I opened my mouth to speak, it wasn’t my voice that I heard.

“Mommy! Ron put sugar milk in the pancakes!” Allie said while starting to rub her eyes as if she were crying. “He said he ‘forgot’ that you said he couldn’t use it anymore.” It took me a day and a half to convince Ashley otherwise, and at no small price.

On another occasion, I used frozen mixed berries instead of the outrageously more expensive blueberries. The mixed berries had of blueberries, but it also consisted of blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries (which Allie detests). I clung to a single hope that I could make the substitution and the girls would be none the wiser, and maybe, with any luck, they might even like this new version better. Things were going along better than I anticipated with Allie and Avery each having gulped down four “modified” pancakes before Ashley casually mentioned how she really like the way I mixed in the raspberries and especially the strawberries.

“Aren’t these good pancakes, girls?” Ashley said to the girls. “Tell Ron what a good pancake maker he is.”

I slowly turned to face the girls who were nodding in agreement and wearing large fake grins that accentuated their over sized cheeks stuffed full of pancake and mixed berries. I nervously smiled back as a sign of my gratitude, hoping to gain some small amount of mercy from Allie and Avery. It was not to be.

As soon as Ashley got up to give me a peck on the cheek and put her plate in the sink, the forced smiling ceased. Allie put her thumb to her throat and slowly drug it under her chin in a simulated slashing motion and then pointed at me. When their mom turned back around the girls’ smile immediately re-appeared, and then faded slowly as Ashley walked away, clueless that my life was now hanging in the balance. Once she had disappeared down the stairs Allie and Avery turned back towards me and spit the contents of their mouth out onto the floor for me to pick up. I can’t remember quite what happened next, but for the record, as part of the terms of the confidentiality agreement, I am not allowed to disclose the detailed concessions made in order to remain among the living. I will say it was steep and involved marbles and possibly a voodoo doll bearing my likeness.

That incident was the final straw convincing me I needed to be awake and ready before everyone else. Now I have the batter made, the griddle perfectly heated and the blueberries thawed, making me as ready as I can be for Allie and Avery’s demand for stacks of golden pancakes. As I mentioned earlier, this routine makes for a more pleasant morning with the girls not behaving with that Children-of-the-Corn demeanor. In fact, they usually smile at me as they enter the kitchen, knowing I have accepted my role as the On Call Pancake Production Specialist and thus recognize my place within the household.

At 6:45AM, they appear right on schedule all bright and cheery upon seeing I have prepared for today’s session.

“Fix us some pancakes, clown!” Allie demands while climbing up to the table.

“Ya,” Avery echoes as she joins her sister. “I want blueberry pancakes, Funnyman!”

I’ll admit, it’s a bit demeaning to take such abuse from a six and four year old, but it’s better than dying a horrible death for refusing.

PS. Watch the video (from Wedding Crashers) and insert “pancake” for the word “bicycle.” It’s like that.

Wedding Crashers


On The 6th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me


I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and got all that you hoped for. I'm assuming most of you had nice dinners either at home or with family. If that's the case, be glad you didn't have these little girls in attendance. Many of you have read about these little demons but for the new readers I thought it would be nice to run it just one more time.

Hitting Below the Belch

Before you read further I ask that you first, take a few moments to look at the pictures of these two little girls one more time.

Ok, now what words would you use to describe them? Precious Adorable Cute... I'm sure you came up with those descriptions and many more along the same lines, all of which would be equally appropriate. Allie and Avery are as darling as two little girls can be; however, they share a disturbing dark power putting them in the ranks of such horror classics as Chucky, Damian, and Children of the Corn. You laugh, but this evil that they wield is quite serious I assure you. And what is this darkness wrought forth by such delicate little angels? I will tell you.

These little cherubs can let rip burps measurable on the Richtor Scale!

I am not joking, people. Allow me to tell of my the first experience in being subjected to this most unholy evil. It was the first dinner Ashley ever cooked and it was delicious. I inhaled large forkfuls, completely unaware of the impending doom yet to be revealed by Allie, age 5 and 4-year-old Avery. Without warning they opened their mouths uttering an apocalyptic noise described only the book of Revelations. Once the ringing stopped in my ears, and I cleaned the blood from my punctured eardrum, my first thought was to politely suggest to Ashley that she should have these little dears tested or something. To me, it just didn’t seem normal for such frail creatures to bellow sounds at a decibel levels that would drown out a KISS concert or with such ferocity that they reduce the mighty King of the Jungle to live the life of a gay vegetarian.

Being that it was very early in our dating relationship, I felt it inappropriate to curb the girls charming behavior, but I couldn’t condone it either. Picking another piece of broccoli from my hair and placing it back onto my plate, I looked at Ashley to see how she would deal with the matter. To my relief she acted as I would’ve expected a parent to, furrowing her brow as she looked at the eerily silent (and exhausted) girls. "Here we go," I thought as her mouth opened to deliver a stern rebuke or better yet, a gentle rebuff given that company was present. I couldn't have been more wrong as Ashley, instead, unleashed the sound of Hell itself, launching a fresh round of broccoli and mashed potatoes into my hair. High fives all around. It was like Animal House on Bizzaro World and they looked at me as if I were this year's newest pledge.

"So this condition, is it genetic?" I asked, untangling my hair from rapidly drying gravy. However, after repeated episodes, I realized there was nothing medical about this dark art. Scraping the remnants of another evening's meal off the usual spots on the wall, I pictured Ashley making her Faustian agreement with a belching demon. I wondered which of the two parties made out better in the deal. At the very least I know what Ashley received, but that she shared it with the girls blew me away (no pun intended). 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 beer-guzzling biker forcing him to fall on his knees, pleading for heaven's deliverance. It's quite another to watch Allie and Avery follow up this savagery by repeating it in each of his ears thus vaporizing his body into ash as he spontaneously combusted.

Many times, you’ve seen kids get away with a burp here and there, giggling with pride at their achievement, but these "normal" child-like burps are comparable to say, the mere clicking a pen or the snapping of a clothespin. Often these little scamps will attempt to repeat their mischievousness but find they are unable to duplicate its authenticity forcing them to grunt, instead, hope the hoax won’t bring their fun to an end. At worst, they may try too hard, triggering their gag reflux which results in the projecting of chocolate milk from their nostrils as I once witnessed a third-grade classmate do during lunch. He however, was more dork than evil sorcerer. Allie and Avery on the other hand would probably laugh in disgust at their peers' pathetic and foolish attempts to harness such force. A force, I will add, measurable, not only in volume but in length as well. In one instance, Allie belted one out lasting long enough for her to shift from first to fifth without missing or grinding a gear.

I have gained some ground in this unholy war of good and evil. The first step was to recognize the signs preceding, what I call, "the unleashing." Most telling is the rapid gulping of vast quantities of carbonated beverages, followed by a glazed-over look resembling that of the scary twins in The Shining. Upon recognition I’ve learned to cover my ears and duck. I've also learned to remain in that position for several minutes as there are almost always aftershocks. The best defense thus far has been to insist on the use of straws, while outlawing all liquids containing carbon in any form, and then to, of course duck and cover since the use of straws and choice of beverage are immaterial.

In an attempt to at least establish some form of Christian decency, I've been requiring the girls (all of them) to piously chant, "Excuse me, I'm a princess" following each demonic eruption. It's my hope that these poltergeists will repent in the realization that "real" princesses are much too proper to engage in such devilish acts. At first, I believed that my little exorcism might be working until it dawned on me that they had turned my offering for salvation into a mocking taunt. It's almost wasn’t worth continuing on any more. In the instance where Allie displayed her adeptness in driving a stick, I quietly reminded her by asking, "What do you say, Sweetie?" She looked up at me, breaking into a huge grin. "That was a big one!" High fives and uncontrollable laughter all around. Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do.

I never considered myself a saint but I will take that mantle over being a martyr any time. What am I referring to? I'm beginning to fear for my life. It’s the littlest one that scares me the most. She's developed an additional hideousness felt only by those civilizations, that upon contact with this evil, were instantly wiped from the memory of the earth. One evening Avery and I sat on the couch watching cartoons in a bonding moment worthy of Hallmark. I looked down at her and smiled, while in the distance, I heard gentle thunder build. However, the ensuing horror was not thunder, dwarfing it tenfold. A stench appeared, making the maggot-filled, butt hole on a dead donkey’s carcass, half-decayed in its own fesses, smell as fragrant as spring flowers sprayed with Chanel. This dark stench 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 never budged through the whole thing. I called her name. Lightning flashed, and her head spun a full 360 degrees stopping when it locked onto my presence. "Ron, I like you." she said with an unholy smile. Then she patted the seat next to her, "You're funny."

All that have ears hear me now. For those that see this all as another opportunity to cry, "Girl Power!" with a thrust of your fist into the air; for those feminists out there that seen this as the destruction of yet another male-stronghold; and for those that believe this to be final sign confirming the prophesy of the country’s first woman president, I implore you to open your eyes and see the truth. Those sweet girls are made of anything but “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Pray for me. Pray for deliverance.


On The 5th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...A Book Exerpt.

MERRY CHRISTMAS To you and your families. Not that I expect anyone would be reading on a holiday, but I posted just for the heck of it. This is another excerpt from the book found in a chapter titled "Match.Con." The chapter itself goes over the misserable time I had with online dating even though it eventually led me to Ashley. Here's a taste of one of those horrible dating experiences.

... However, if I thought being sought out as a cheesy cyber-gigolo was bad, the actual dates were worse. The first match I ever replied to had an attractive photo, was playful in her emails to me, and, because she was a grad student studying art therapy, seemed intelligent. After a few phone calls we planned to meet, and when the time came I took the train north to Evanston where she would pick me up at the station. That night was forecasted to be one of the coldest on record, and standing in below zero temperatures on the curb, I hoped she’d show up soon. Twenty minutes later a grey hatchback that looked as if it had barely survived Mad Max’s Thunderdome rolled up.

“Hey,” she said kicking open the passenger side door, “Sorry I’m late. Some asshole in the library was taking his sweet ass time helping find a couple books I need for this report.” Ooookay, I thought, at least it will be warm inside the car. Oh, by the way, the heater doesn’t work.

Although my first impressions were tepid at best, things started to improve over dinner where we bantered flirtatiously back and forth through the entire meal. What I was exceedingly grateful for was that even without the two drinks I’d already downed, my date was as attractive in person as she appeared in her photo. Sometimes this isn’t always the case, as girls will substitute a picture of themselves from back in their prime, or the one likeness they have that looks good only as a matter of accident or through computer generated improvements. Watching her as she tried to get the waitress’s attention for another glass of wine, I was glad that what I’d seen was what I’d gotten. Not only did she have a pretty face, but she was tall and slender as well. Just a few of the items I’d indicated as being attractive in my compatibility test. This online dating gig wasn’t so bad after all. I thought as we got ready to leave. That’s where I jinxed it.

As I helped her into the full length winter coat she was wearing, my eyes were immediately drawn to her stomach as it just seemed to roll out from under her blouse as she lifted her arms to fit them into the sleeves. The way it crested the top of her slacks, reminded me of thick batter as it starts to pour from a bowl. At first I thought maybe she was pregnant, but recalling how I was laughed at for ordering the salmon while she herself packed away an entire steak and lobster, half my mashed potatoes and refused to even entertain the idea of splitting a dessert, convinced me otherwise.

“Want to go back to my place,” she asked buttoning up her coat.

Will the belly be joining us? Ah, well it’s kind of late don’t you think? This is the universally accepted phrase in the world of dating politely letting the other person know that in fact, no, would not like to go back to their place. Apparently this was not a language my date was fluent in.

“Oh come on. It’s only like 9:30.” It was a hasty claim considering she wasn’t wearing a watch. I however did, and it read closer to 11:45. “Listen,” she continued, “I want to show you a few of my paintings. We’ll have a glass of wine and I take you back to the train station. Okay?” It seemed she wasn’t giving me a choice.

“Sounds good.” How bad could it be, I thought. Well, other than that instant pudding-like gut. It’s questions like these that only set me up for failure. Upon entering her first-floor apartment things took a turn towards the dysfunctional. First off, I was greeted by a massive dog who jumped up, slapping his front paws onto my shoulders so it could look me right in the face the way a housewife might greet her husband as he walked through the door after a hard day’s work.

“Oh, that’s my dog, Sparky,” she said. Sparky in turn looked over at her as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to introduce us?” Right on cue, my date slaps me hard on the back, “And, Sparky, this here is Ronnie. Now hop down so he can take his coat off and stay a while.”

The way she said “awhile” made me nervous. Great, I thought, she can’t pick up that I want to get home, but she speaks dog perfectly. I hate dog people.

“I’m going to pull out some of my artwork and that bottle of whine, be right back.” Sparky followed her not being much of a conversationalist. The low ceilings made me feel even all the more trapped, while the cracked paint chips that hung like dead leaves made me curious as to whether they contained lead that could possibly explain my date’s dulled senses. That’s when I noticed a man waking up from the living room couch. He seemed just as surprised to see me as I did him. “Hey,” he said as his eyes adjusted.

“Oh, that’s just my roommate, Ryan.” My date had walked up behind me. “He’s was just heading out.” The way she said it sounded to me as it were a pre-arranged setup. I could see her grabbing her coat on the way out the door. “Hey Ryan, if I bring this guy home and tell him that you’re headed out, that means I plan on getting’ some tonight. Got it?” Apparently he did get it because it took about thirty seconds for him to skedaddle. “Come on back to the kitchen, I got something to show you.”

For reasons that seemed logical at the time, I believed physcologist specializing in art therapy would actually be at least to a certain degree proficient in art themselves. Turns out that’s not the case at all, unless she ranked among the bottom of her class, because what she pulled out was more apt in sending me to therapy than it was to help me through some deep emotional crisis. “Well, what do you think?’ I knew she was going to ask this.

“Those are pretty good.” In my mind I might be the meanest bastard in the history of mankind, but it’s just not in me to be outwardly cruel. “Did you say something about wine.” The look on her face told me she thought I was implying a desire to get a little more intimate, but in reality, I wanted to avoid any further moments for forced compliments. “Right this way, Mr. Smooth,” and she lead me to the kitchen.

If the pudding-gut, the dog and her poor artistic skills weren’t enough to kill the evening, the kitchen was the final, and most lethal, blow. The sink was jammed full of dirty dishes that spilled over onto the counters. Next to the trash can was an already full bag of garbage that the corners had been clawed open by some animal smaller than Sparky, spilling an unknown fluid onto the faded linoleum floor. “Those damn cats,” she said sort of apologetically noticing how I was staring at the mess. “You’d think they’d eat their own food instead of tearing into the trash.”

Yes, you would given that it was so accessible sitting out in the open on the counter next to the stove. I wanted to hurl, but held it down. I’m not sure it would’ve changed any plans my date had for me anyway. She dug around in the cupboards for the wine glasses which might have been easier had she turned the lights on, but as she explained to me earlier, the kitchen lights didn’t work for some reason. “Here we go,” she said setting the round, almost globe shaped glasses traditionally used for reds down next to the cat food. I had to grab one to keep it from falling as one of her cats jumped up from the floor to the counter for a midnight snack. “Oh, that’s Socks,” she said from the refrigerator. Her head was half-way inside as she bent over, freeing her belly to peek out and smile at me like a shy five-year old. “Ricco, he’s the other one, he’s probably hiding in the bathroom again.” She stood up, holding the fridge door open as she pulled the cork out of a half full bottle of Chardonnay. “This smells like it’s still good.”

As uncouth as this method was in checking the integrity of wine, it was nothing compared to the full litter box illuminated by the light of the fridge as its door swept across the lumpy pile of grey granules before closing. I was going to hurl again. “Here you go.” I heard her say, which, thankfully forced me to turn around and grab a glass of flat wine that would force the vomit back down my throat. If I thought the litter box was the worst of it, I once again had my expectations exceeded as I faced her, only to watch as she lowered her own glass to a level where Sparky could lap up a little for himself. “He like Zinfandels best, I think it’s because of the fruity flavor,” she said raising the glass up and chugging the rest of it. “But he’ll drink Chardonnay in a pinch if he has to.”


She wiped an errant drop of wine from her chin as she grabbed my arm and dragged me to the living room to watch some TV. I reminded her it was getting late. By then it was close to one in the morning, but she insisted it would only be for a few minutes so she could even out enough to drive after so much alcohol. It was that point I realized that I really had no exit strategy. Shit, shit, shit, shit! You are such a dumbass, Ron! Of course, as we sat on the couch watching God knows what, my date did even out, and by even out, I mean she put her head on my shoulder and feel asleep, pinning me between her and the armrest. Now what? Getting up will only wake her and then she’ll claim she’s too drunk to drive and that we should just hop in bed. I’m sorry, but that mini-Buddha sealed her fate in that department hours ago. My other option was to make my best attempt to sneak out without waking her, and then figure out how to get myself home.

I looked over at my date as she drooled on my shirt. Suddenly, I felt bad for her. She was lonely. Some girls are just sluts willing to jump in the sack the systematic way most people execute a fire drill, but her awkwardness in trying to pull that maneuver made me believe she wasn’t the sort. And despite my higher standards of cleanliness, what really made me any better? I was lonely too and had been for a while. That’s why I didn’t protest more about getting home when we left the restaurant. Belly or no belly, there was a part of me deep inside that hoped for some companionship of my own. Still, I couldn’t let myself give in just for the sake of sympathy. It would be settling for something less than what I was really looking for and that wouldn’t be fair to either of us. I had already done that once before in my life, leading to a failed marriage with three sweet little boys innocently caught in the middle.

My date was snoring now. Poor girl, I thought, I know how you feel, but I’m sorry. When Sparky rested his huge head on my knee and looked up with eyes that seemed to ask, “Are you my new daddy?” I decided to just go for it. I managed to slide out without disturbing her. Sparky walked me to the door. “Is there anything you want me to tell her,” he asked?
“Tell her she’s very nice, but I had to go.” I answered in a whisper. Guess my fluency in dog is better than I was willing to admit. Then I headed out into the sub-zero night where I walked three and a half miles to catch the train home at 2 in the morning.

The next day she sent me a text message apologizing for how dumb she had acted. You could easily sense her actual feelings of embarrassment. I tried to reassure her otherwise telling her I thought it was cute. Later that day, however, I deleted her number from my phone. It was best for the both of us.


On The 4th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...Keeping Up with the Kabalarians

It's Christmas Eve, the night prior to day traditionally celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ. I'm not going to make any strong statements on my religious beliefs here. Naturally I have them and you can search through my blog to peice them together. This re-post, however, takes the Kabalarian concept of meanings from proper names and applying it to Jesus's to see what sort of interpretaion it provides.

Keeping Up with the Kabalarians

If you haven't heard of the
Kabalarians you can read the specifics on their page, but basically they have a fundamental belief that our names can dictate our ability to be successful or not. I'm not going to judge this belief one way or the other, but checking out different names in their free index is pretty cool. Of course the fist one I put in was Clark Kent, to which I got the following traits associated with our Man of Steel:

Although the name Clark creates the urge to be creative and original, we point out that it causes an emotional intensity and a dominating nature that is hard to control. This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the nervous system, and tension or accidents to the head. The first name of Clark creates an intense personal nature. Your feelings and emotional desires are strong and consequently you are an individual, determined, strong-willed person. Your creative nature and ambition drive you to pursue success to the extent that you jeopardize your personal well-being. There is a tendency for you to dominate others. You are too certain of yourself, and you are not open to the views of others or responsive to their desires or needs. Also, this name does not incorporate qualities that enable you to be diplomatic and to compromise.

"That was pretty good," I thought. So then I tried another one - Lex Luthor:

Although the name Lex creates an active mind and a restless urge to explore new ideas, we emphasize that it causes a restless intensity that defies relaxation. This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the solar plexus. The name Lex gives you a strongly independent and highly creative nature, with drive and ambition to have experiences and accomplish things out of the ordinary. You can work intently at whatever is new and holds your interest at the moment, but your interest wanes quickly when drudgery and monotony set in. Obstacles to your progress or restrictions on your freedom to act create a sense of frustration which may cause you to feel resentful and even rebellious. You can then become intolerant of others, and caustic and belittling in your expression, thereby imposing stress on your personal relationships.

Well, if that don't beat all! I was impressed. These guys know their comic books. I tried to think of a few more, and then settled on one last name.


Although the name Jesus creates executive ambitions, we emphasize that it causes procrastination, lack of confidence, and the inability to realize your goals and ambitions (I guess Jesus was supposed to start his ministry in his 20's, but kept putting it off to live with mom and dad in their basement).

This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the reproductive organs, and fluid systems (Ya, I guess crucifixion can do that to you).

Your name of Jesus has given you the ability to handle people (That's an understatement - handle them or create, either way He's covered).

You are pleasant and diplomatic, and seem to sense how others feel (All true unless you are a Money Changer at the Temple, a Pharisee Diva or a demon that really likes pork and base jumping).

For this reason, you could do well in public relations work (He did that and the results were mixed - people like to be healed and fed miraculously for free, they just get a little upset when you start saying you're the Son of God. Christianity ain't a Presidential Campaign).

You appreciate the finer things of life, and like to have a good standard of living (I guess heaven would probably set the standard for the finer things in life - or after-life. Could you see Jesus offering a jar of Grey Poupon to a fellow donkey rider as they both sit waiting for the light to change).

You feel that it is important to convey the impression that you are financially secure, and you place importance on your mode of dress, and on appearances generally ("Lord save me, I am a sin... those are really great sandals. Did you do something different with your hair? Highlights! I thought so... now, where was I?).

While you could do well in certain positions of authority, you have a certain lack of initiative and a tendency to procrastinate (the idea of Jesus actually being like this made me shoot milk through my nose).

Could you imagine? "Ah, ya, Jesus? Hey, um, I'm sorry, but you just don't have what it takes to be the Ruler of Heaven & Earth. However, you will be just perfect for organizing the church rummage sale next week... What? What do you mean 'not up to it?' Listen, get up off your hairy tookis and start miraclizing or healing or whatever. Try a little harder and maybe you'll make something of yourself one day. Who knows, maybe you'll even get to save all humanity from eternal damnation or something... I don't know 'how?' Stop the moaning, just get up and do something other than sulking about living in your Dad's shadow. I swear, if He could see you right now..."


On The 3rd Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...Things Not Recommended For A Mini-Van

Today we are swinging over from Chicago picking up the boys and heading to Pennsylvania. That's about 8 hours of driving with five kids. In honor of this wonderful experience, I give you a post from this past spring concerning recommendations on what not to do when driving a mini-van.

After a week's worth of flight time in the new vehicle, I've compiled a comprehensive list of recommendations for driving a mini-van. I do this because, one, I care. And two, I have lost my sense of dignity. As such, I recommend you heed this advice in earnest.


1. Take a trip to a remote Mexican village and drive around real slow with the doors open while shouting, "Who wants a ride to opportunity?!" in a bullhorn. The mini-van may have 17 cup-holders but it will not fit the corresponding number of eager, sun-hardened immigrants anxious to mow your lawn. Seriously, though, I felt somewhat bad for driving through the boarder gate at 87 mph while my passengers' limbs were hanging out. I can only imagine the difficulty in pushing a lawnmower around without the use of one or more of your limbs.

2. Pretend to re-enact the German's blitzkrieg tank assault on Poland, but while in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Although professional welfare recipients, plump from years of Snicker-Bar consumption and redneck families dressed in coordinated hunting gear, together, make for a convincing group of terrified civilians running from the terror of the merciless Hun invader, those golf carts driven by the parking lot rent-a-cops are faster than you think. Once 30 or so swarm you, the war's over.

3. While shirt-less, hang out of the sun roof in the middle of the day and rub your nipples in a suggestive fashion as you motor on down the road. Aside from the obvious, it's very hard to drive with your feet, not to mention there's literally no explanation that will persuade cops they shouldn't give you a ticket. (I've got 3 court dates from this stunt alone).

4. Mini-vans make poor substitutes for the Batmobile. You get some really funny looks from fellow commuters as you throw Bat-a-rangs at their windows while you wait for the light to change. At first I thought it was the hooded cowl, cape and tights, but no, it was the mini-van. Even with those cool, automatic sliding doors, the van eventually made me feel self-conscious and I went home.

5. Just because it's a Japanese manufactured vehicle; thus, superior in every way, you shouldn't drive to every Ford, Chevy and Dodge dealership, wait for the salesman to approach so you can scream, "YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF FOR WHAT YOU'RE DOING TO AMERICA!" then drive off to the next car lot to repeat the whole scene all over again. I could only do this about 10 or 12 times as I started to get embarrassed watching from my rear-view mirror as they crumple onto their knees, weeping into their hands. I mean, have a heart already.

6. Wearing your most authentic cowboy outfit complete with hat and fully operational lasso, attend some large public event like a Texans football game or the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. As all 6 bazillion vehicles attempt to exit the parking lot simultaneously, pop up from the sunroof and start swinging that lasso around in the air while busting out with phrases like, "Yee haw! Yippie Tie Yay!" and "Get along there lil' doggies!" Try to have a long repertoire of cowboy-inspired phrases or the other drivers won't respect you as believable. If you can, get a friend to drive and while you give directions so as to herd the other vehicles in any direction you see fit... oh, and hope that lighting doesn't spook them to stampede.

7. Drive as fast as you can down the freeway until you get pulled over by the police. When they ask you just what in the hell did you think that you were doing, respond indignantly with, "What?! This is the Millennium Falcon, the fastest ship in the galaxy - it did the Kessel Run in 9 parsecs!" When the cop opens his mouth to speak, cue your friend (who should be wearing a wookie costume) in the back seat to appear behind you with a long bellowing roar. Then say, "Your right, Chewy, he does look like a scruffy, nerf herder." If the cop doesn't just walk away, then tell him you're going to file a motion in the Galactic Senate requesting that Jedis be immediately dispatched to police headquarters for "aggressive negotiations."

8. Stand next to your mini-van while at Toy-R-Us. When kids and parents walk by, dramatically flop onto the hood, extending your arms, embarrassing the van in a hug. Using your best, tear-filled voice cry, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for rescuing me from the Decepticons! I love you, Optimus Prime! I want to have your mini-mini-van children!" If in the off-chance anyone joins you in extending their affections to your vehicle, get up in their face and challenge them with, "Hey, freak! This one's mine. Go find love somewhere else, you sicko!"

9. Go to a pubic high school, and drive around the parking lot slowly. When you see a groups of girls hanging out, drive over and in your best "cool-guy" voice ask them if they like ice cream. JEEZ! Kids these days are soooooo immature - haven't they ever heard of a "joke?" Apparently, the SWAT Team hasn't either. Tazers tickle.

And my final and biggest warning of what not to do in a mini-van...

10. Find the nearest public recreational park - one with lots of soccer fields. On game day when every field is packed full of kids and spectators, drive recklessly through the crowd, horn blaring, and dirt flying, until you reach center field at which point, wrench the steering wheel hard right so as to execute the perfect "cookie" with your van. Then, jump out and accusingly yell to the stunned on-lookers, "YOU HYPOCRITES!!! THE TERM 'SOCCER MOM' ISN'T EXCLUSIVE TO WOMEN! GENDER STEREOTYPING IS A HATE CRIME!" Then jump back in the van and drive like hell to the closest Hooters Family Restaurant.

Are these all fun? Yes. Recommended? No.


On The 2nd Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

... Chicago.

Well, sort of. This is a re-post from Thanksgiving of 2007 just before picking up my boys. I really hate the level and quality of writing so forgive me, but thought I'd run it anyway, because as you are reading it we are on our Christmas trip and planned today as an extra day to spend at the Children's Museum off the Navy Pier in Chicago.

I'm often amazed at the speed in which one can travel to other destinations around the country in such a short time. This morning I woke up in Houston where it was already 75 degrees and not yet 7:30 am. Four hours later I'm having lunch at my favorite diner on Broadway in cool, rainy Chicago. I love Stella's Diner and not just for the food. It's warm inside with large windows from which you can watch the people outside. About every third person that enters the restaurant recognizes someone else already eating. The wait staff acts like they really know you if nothing more than their second cousin's best friend from college whom they met once but have never forgotten. The manager, a large man that wears only Hawaiian shirts and talks about cars helps all the families carry in their babies or seats their children while telling a funny joke. I smile as content familiarity fills my mind. I used to live in this part of Chicago known as Lakeview. Little did I realize at the time when I moved what a great part of town I had selected.

There really was no science behind it. I knew I wanted to live in the downtown - close to the culture and far from my office. I ended up with just what I was looking for which also included a nearly 2 hour work commute in traffic, but I still would consider it worth it. I found a newly remodeled flat at the end of a tree-lined side street. The flat was perfect with 2 bedrooms, wood floors, a fireplace and a bay window with a view to the life outside. My neighbors incidental were The Blue Man Group who based their Chicago shows at the Briar Street Theatre with which I shared the back alley.

Granted there were nights when I felt the frustration of coming home late only to be blocked for nearly thirty minutes while waiting for traffic to let out from the evening's performance thus blocking access to my garage space. Then there was the large population of rats that fed on the left over food that served as props for the night's show. Captain Crunch, whipped cream and marshmallows would litter the asphalt where the dumpster sat, thus serving as an all-you-can eat buffet for those (not-so) little rodent bastards. One morning I went to my car and found several containers of used marshmallows on the top of my car. They had spilled, of course, and contents were spread around quite nicely with the tiny outlines of rat prints stamped in it as if to mimic a miniature Hollywood walk of fame. However, that was still better than the homeless guy I found sleeping under my car on another cold morning. Despite our little differences, The Blue Man Group and I existed in relative harmony thus maintaining the eco-balance of urban Chicago.

I am sitting in an Argo Tea as I write this. My Mate' Late depleted with the empty cup winking at me as I consider getting another. Argo Tea isn't exactly an independent coffee shop, in fact it's really just the "tea alternative" version of Starbucks only with a less commercial feel to it. There are plenty of the hard-core purist coffee shops that require at least one genuine body piercing in order to drink there (in fact I can think of one where you get a new piercing with each coffee and on your twelve epidermal hole-punch you get your next drink or tetanus shot free); however, I came to Argo, not for the authentic Bohemian feel, but because it was close, had free wifi and large windows that allowed me to observe through glass the people of Lakeview as if they were an exhibit of sorts. Today is no different in that respect. It's in the upper 40's today, overcast and wet. Fall leaves are still on the trees, but most lie matted on the streets and sidewalks forming oddly patterned quits that hide the pavement. People walk all over them. The kids shuffle through them breaking their continuity. The adults walking by look down, then up and keep on walking. Mothers push strollers through the leaves stopping periodically to peek over the stroller cover to check if their baby is awake, or asleep, or wet, or cold. But everyone keeps walking in their way.

As they go by I watch their faces. I like to play a game as I watch them trying to guess which ones are happy and which ones are just numb to life. I make snap decision. "Happy... sad... really happy... high... kicks his dog (that one is easy because they are kicking the dog as I watch)." I harbor a certain impatience in making my little judgements because what I'm really wanting to focus on is what they are wearing. It's superficial to a certain extent on my part, but I love to see what they have on. Given the weather the corresponding fashion requirements are a favorite of mine. I love that layered look. Designer jeans and chunky boots, turtle neck sweaters and wool petty coats. Some of the women wear hats. The businessmen where heavy fall suits in natural hues; some have overcoats and leather gloves. There is one item in these people's wardrobe choices that I value above all over. Scarves. They are something you rarely can wear in Houston unless hiding hickeys from family and co-workers, but here in Chicago at this time of year they are as essential as air itself.

I love the fashions prevalent in the north. For whatever reason I attribute it to a perception of looking smarter. Looking smart is almost as important to me as actually being smart. Hell, if the truth be known given a situation where I met someone that was a complete mental reject, but they dressed smart and could at least speak in coherent sentences I would likely have a higher opinion of them than I would of some Einstein member of Mensa wearing cut offs and a t-shirt proclaiming either his unflinching desire to "Do Chicks" or his work as an FBI agent... FBI being the acronym for Female Body Inspector."

There's another superficiality that attracts me to walkers of Chicago. Smoking. I'm not an advocate of the practice, but yes, I smoke (and quit and start again and quit, etc) and I am aware of the health hazards but damn it nothing looks cooler than to have a cigarette wedged between the fingers of your hand as it swings back and forth in perfect step with your stride. It hangs at your side like perfect walking companion, conversing with you in each long drawn out drag. Houston recently banned smoking in all public buildings to include bars and clubs creating the impression that the act of smoking is on par with necrophilia. In Chicago, you just look cool.

My time is almost up and I need to get on the road now. My visit has been an unexpected treat. I miss Chicago very much even though it was one of the loneliest times in my life. Of course that has all changed for me and for the better I might add. I am very happy where I am at in life and in Houston, but there are times when I think back to my short stint in Chicago and I fantasize about transporting my entire life, friends, family, job, girlfriend, church, etc there. I know that's just not possible, but today at least allowed me to indulge in my little day dream and for that I am content. As a parting sentiment I think I'll a pack of Marlboro Lites and take one more stroll up the street.


On The 1st Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...Sleep Domination.

Here is a short excerpt from the book I've been trying to get finished up. It's from a chapter called "Sleep Domination" dealing with the adjustment I had to make in order to get used to sharing a bed again after being married. The portion contained here is a little background observing my parent's own issues when it came to sleeping together.

... At times, the thought of never getting more than a few consecutive hours of sleep till death do us part troubled me. It made me wonder just how long before I either moved to the couch permanently or replaced our current bed with two twins. Then I thought about my parents. Over the course of thirty-six years, a virtually iron-clad marriage had been forged through all manner of ups and downs to include their sleeping habits. There was a legendary story in our family about a bad dream my father was having one night shortly after their wedding. Apparently, he was in an argument with a particularly difficult customer at work and in his unconscious state dad punched the guy in the face.

Unfortunately, the person my dad socked wasn’t the customer from his nightmare but my mother who now sported a nasty black eye. If that weren’t bad enough, the following evening they were to have dinner with her parents. Of course the I-walked-into-the-door excuse my mom used was so obviously suspicious it naturally earned my dad glaring looks from the in-laws with every bite of lasagna they took. Since then, mom has learned to sleep elsewhere whenever dad has a rough day at work, or watches war movies which trigger subconscious flashbacks from his time in Vietnam. But that’s not the only problem affecting their quality of sleep.

Even though my parents won’t admit to it, my sisters and I are agreement that our parent’s bed was an adverse factor affecting their relationship. For one thing it was only a double, making it the perfect size for landing a right hook or gut punch without over extending your arms. Doubles may be designed to fit two adults, but add a child and suddenly the occupancy exceeds that allowed by fire code. They make a perfect guest beds; however they are not intended for the long-term use by married couples, ones hoping to one day celebrate a fiftieth wedding anniversary anyway. Sitting at the breakfast table it was difficult for my sisters and me to fathom how our mother and father couldn’t recognize the mattress as the source of their crankiness and the ensuing bickering every morning. We have theorized it was pride and practicality that kept our parents from blaming their tiny bed and spending hard-earned money on a queen. The fact that they held onto that mattress well beyond its ability to function as a mattress at all only further supported that notion. The springs had long since lost the will to sprung, and the only reason mom and dad agreed to purchase a replacement was because the current version kept sliding down between the box springs and the footboard. Even still they contended the mattress was still functional.

“I’ll bet if we take it to the second-hand store in town we could get fifty bucks for it,” my mom claimed ever true to her thrifty nature.

“That’s not a bad idea, Hon,” my dad agreed. “That would offset the five-hundred friggin’ dollars we’re wasting to get another.” To dad, that figure equated to a six-year supply of Copenhagen snuff. “Makes me sick to think this one only cost seventy-five and lasted for over fifteen years.”

“Sixteen.” Our mother corrected.

My sisters and I rolled our eyes as we watched dad haul that wafer-thin piece of junk down to his truck and then drive off, believing someone would actually pay for it. Turns out the store did indeed take the mattress for a dollar fifty in store credit, only to turn around and sell it as area rug. But if my sisters and I thought our parents were finally upgrading to a larger bed, we were way off the mark as they brought home another double. The very next morning the arguing resumed, continuing until the last of my siblings finally moved out. At some point shortly after, we notice during calls home that they were taking fewer cheap shots while the other wasn’t on the line. My sisters and I also learned this coincided with mom’s new habit of sleeping on a futon in the guest bedroom. With no one to fill the role of nocturnal punching bag, dad began falling asleep in his recliner or on the floor in front of the TV. Today, they are the happiest couple I know. ...


Double Feature: Poetry Spam & Take Your Daughter To Work Day

Today's "Double Feature Thursday." Actually I just made that up, but this post really is about two unrelated ideas wrapped up in one box with a neat little red ribbon. Since I don't have an office Christmas party of my own per say, then consider this a blog version of my gag gift for a random co-worker if I did have one.

The first one is a concept rolling around in my head for a long time. I've been saving up all the subject headings from my spam mail account over the past month to create a free-verse poem. Instead of calling it a Poetry Slam, I'm changing it to Poetry Spam. But first, here's a little performance to get you in the mood before reading my entry.

Here's my December Poetry Spam entitled [No Subject]

[No Subject]

Tami21 sent you a message,
Reduce Fatigue, Gas and Bloating.
Find the one just for you,
As seen on Oprah
As seen on Oprah
As seen on Oprah

Camel, The Cowboy and Smoke Free
Looking for a fling,
Looking for singles,
Looking up to 10 years younger.
Say hello to skinny.
ShamWow! Holds up to 5 pounds of liquid.

Guess who has a crush on you?
Someone had a crush on you.
Lenders waiting to lend you money, and
The Incredible Pet Nail Trimmer.
Short on cash.
Get rich now.
Be a lazy millionaire with
Important info about dialysis.

Wanna see my pics
Wanna see my pics
Wanna see my pics

The second feature... well, it speaks for itself. I know it's random, but for whatever reason it was just stuck in my head and kept making laugh while I packed the girls lunches. I'd take my kids to work but it would end up being like every Saturday morning with me checking email and them watching cartoons. We'd probably just play allot of video games too.

Tomorrow officially begins the Christmas crazies for me and Saturday marks the maiden voyage of the star ship "Mini-van" going where few dads have gone before with five kids and no wife to help (how whiny am I?). Since I'll be away from the computer all that time (where we're going cell reception and Internet are almost as bad as in India - wink wink Braja. Come to think of it, there are cows where I'm going too.), tomorrow will also mark the beginning of a Twelve Days of Christmas-type countdown comprised of some of my older post, some new posts and a few other surprises along the way that hopefully will be entertaining. I'll be reading all my other favorite blogs as much as possible while gone, but the majority of my attention will be on my boys and family, which I'm sure will be the same for everyone else. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the Twelve Days of Christmas and I wish the very happiest of holidays to everyone!


Toon Books Keep Your Adult Kids From Living At Home

Out of all five of our kids, four of them are either reading or just getting started. Noah, at 9 is making the leap to basic chapter books, Allie has already established her dominance of the English language as a first grader, testing at a third grade level in her recent aptitude tests, while her sister Avery is making similar strides in Kindergarten. Harrison who is also in Kindergarten has actually been complaining that he’s not learning words fast enough to read the books that interest him. This is all fine by me. I mean, who’s going to argue that they’d prefer to have illiterate kids playing video games on their couch for then next thirty years? Not me, which is why when The Book Report Network asked me to review Toon Books for them, I could almost envision a life of peace and quiet as I caught up on re-runs of Matlock during my cruise to Florida.

Toon Books are a series written for children in a comic book format. I know the first impression one might get of comic books is that of a superheroes flying around on a few pages stapled together in between a glossy paper cover, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The idea behind Toon Books is to combine the feeling of action created through multiple illustrated frames along with stories designed to foster the skills of beginning-level readers.

The first volume I read was Jack and the Box written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for his powerful graphic novel Maus, A Survivor’s Tale as well recognition for a number of other works. In this Toon Book, Spiegelman tells the story of Jack and his newest toy, a goofy Jack in the box who does not fail when it comes to providing surprises. The drawing style manages to convey a bouncy sort of feel, while the words are simple and easy to read. Allie and Avery chose this book as their favorite. It’s perfect for kids from Kindergarten through 2nd Grade, and if they are fans of Dr Seuss then they’ll like Jack and the Box just as much.

Stinky by Eleanor Davis was the next volume I looked at. It’s a charming story (yes, I just used the word “charming”) of a swamp monster named Stinky who learns about the misperceptions he has after a little boy starts hanging out near Stinky’s home. The illustrations are colorful and well-drawn making for good eye candy, but at the same time, move the story along. I liked the fact it’s broken down into a couple chapters, which makes it perfect for our kids to read before bed and still allow for a few minutes discussion about the message behind the story. And honestly, who can resist a purple polka-dotted creature that loves pickled onions and has a pet named Wartbelly?

The last Toon Book is Mo and Jo and it incorporates the traditional superhero element of comics without sacrificing a clear moral lesson on getting along with others and working together. The story itself is about Joey and his sister Mona, who like all siblings, manage to fight about every petty little thing. When the mailman makes a surprising delivery involving a costume from the crime fighter, The Mighty MoJo, Joey and Mona inherit his superpowers. Unfortunately, brother and sister can’t quite get their act together fighting the villain Saw-Jaw until it’s almost too late. Like “Stinky”, this book, which was written by Jay Lynch of Garbage Pail Kid fame, is broken in chapters again making it convenient for reading. The chapter also allows readers to take in all the action illustrated by Dean Haspiel who has also drawn for DC and Marvel Comics which probably explains why, of all the Toon Books, this one has the closest feel to an actual comic.

Each of these books is designed for readers in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade and run about $12.95. That might seem steep at first, but keep in mind these are high quality books written by pedigreed, award-winning authors and illustrators and bound in a durable hardcover.

Combined with the other Toon Book titles, they make a great collection that will survive enough wear and tear to last for all your children. In fact, I’ve spent the weekend tossing the things around like ninja darts for a couple hours and the kids could still read them after I pulled them out of the sheetrock. Toon Books are the books you will keep around for the grandchildren to read and your grown children will recall them so fondly they will fight over them after you die. That’s all fine by me as long as my kids aren’t still living in the basement counting the days until my demise.

Anyone can purchase Toon Books from all major wholesalers or through Diamond Book Distributors. There’s even an avenue to order Toon Books for schools and libraries (there's even lesson plans associated with each book). You can also learn more about these titles to include their authors and illustrators at Toon Books. I’m not getting any huge kickbacks for this review or to tell you to purchase these books, but if you don’t want to be handing half your social security check over to your adult offspring so they can blow it on Playstation (version 10), then Toon Books is at least something to consider as tool to improve their ability to read more than just game cheat code books.


Meme'd For Life

Last week turned out to be a complete bomb in terms of productivity. I did knock out some Christmas shopping, but due two strait days of providing testimony in a deposition pretty much wiped out all plans to sharpen the pencil on sample chapters for submission, as well as a getting a few blog posts written. At least the proceedings were both entertaining and educational. It was like Court TV combined with dinner theater. I even was threatened with perjury. Fun! The only thing missing was Sam Waterstone walking through the door.

But enough of my whining. This is supposed to be about... oh ya - me. While I was "missing," blogger Mom/Mum tagged me, and then my dear friend Tara from Sticky Fingers hit me up this past week as did Sal over at Everyday Thoughts Life, so it would seem I had better get my keyboard in gear (By the way, if you haven't already, go check these sites out - good writing & good people). Having already knocked out a few of these deals before, I really had to dig in order to come up with six or seven new items about myself, so I modified it a bit. Not only are these random things about me, but for the purposes of bolstering the entertainment value, they are seven of the most embarrassing facts about myself (those with a PG13 rating anyway). Tara and Sal, you both luck out by getting a bonus - that is if you consider an extra fact to be lucky.

1) Man Crushes: Yes, [sigh]I have man-crushes namely on George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Tom Welling, Scott Foley, Tom Everett Scott and - why am I doing this to myself - Justin Timberlake. I have no idea where this man-crush thing started for me, but I'm going to blame it on a book I purchased in the attempt to enhance my male image during my swinging bachelor days. The book? [double sigh] Queer Eye for the Straight Guy : The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better

2) Piercings: Actually there were piercings and tattoos. Many asked me when and where I got these, thinking it was during my time in the Army. It fact, it wasn't the Army at all. Instead it was when I was a business executive. I really hated having to play the part and be someone I was not because of the politics involved and I went out of my way to resist giving into that image. Every time I would get ticked about something at work another tattoo would be inked (usually, where no one could see it unless I was shirtless). Soon tat's weren't enough and piercing were added to the mix. Was this a tad immature on my part? Probably. And just where were these piercings? Weeeeell, both nipples to start with... (I took them out a year ago).

3) Decorating: No this didn't come from the book mentioned in embarrassing fact #1. This is something I've always liked to do. Don't ask why. I just do is all. Here are a few examples of my lofts in Houston and flat in Chicago.

4) The Farm Fresh Prince: During the 1980's when rapping was all the rage a friend and I tried to start up our own rap group. In my attempts to project the rapper image, I did my best to play the part by dressing in baggy pants covered with pockets, un-tucked shirts, suspenders, round sunglasses and this stupid purple hat. It was one of those baseball caps with the large fronts used by companies to advertise their logo - in this case it was a chemical company specializing in bug repellents for crops. To give it a more "fly" appearance I tied a blue bandanna around it and wore the damn thing with the visor towards the side of my head. I looked like the farm-version of The Fresh Prince himself - minus the talent, the fashion sense, the...well actually, minus everything. It was bad and so were the rhymes performed by my friend DJ Corn-Crop Jed. I have pictures somewhere but couldn't find them. It's probably a good thing. Thankfully by the 90's I came to my senses, switching to the more believable fashion trends set by New Kids On The Block.

5) A Walk to Forget: For a time, I was really into Nicolas Sparks books and movies. Not that I read everyone of his titles, but it was still enough to be cringe in admitting it. But it wasn't just the books, my lapse in manliness included the movies too. I watched The Notebook and balled my eyes out vowing to never watch it again. Oh come on people, stop your snickering! That Twilight crap that everyone is so ga-ga over is pure crap! It doesn't hold a candle to A Walk To Remember!

6) You Did WHAT?!: Okay, I debated about including this item, but decided to go forward and be a little edgy. So should I offend anyone please forgive my impertinence. I lost my virginity in my twenties, and it was to the South Korean film industry's equivalent to Winona Ryder. Or so I was told after the fact. After the Army transferred me back to the States, a Korean friend explained who she was, and then we watched a bunch of her movies. It always did strike me as odd that she picked me up in a limo for our dates. I just figured she was a little dramatic. Turns out she was, just not in the way I was thinking.

7) That's Fierce: I blame this on good ol' Lois, but I like watching America's Next Top Model. Having watched three current seasons plus the reruns on VH1, I've developed an eye for runway walks and photo poses. It's sad really.

Now that I can never show my face in the blog world again, I'm going to post the rules:
- Post 7 Interesting (or if you're brave you can go my route) facts about yourself.
- Include a link back to the person who tagged you.
- Leave comment on the post where you tagged.
- Designate 7 others to write 7 similar items about themselves.

Tell me I'm copping out here, but the last time I tagged 7 people made me feel really bad for some reason so I'm not going to name anyone specifically, but if anyone has the guts to take up the banner, I'll make a big deal about you!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Ads Section

Ads Section

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP