The Girl With A Thousand Faces

So I guess the other day "Lois" was at the computer and decided to run a screen test or something with Avery to demonstrate the kid's acting prowess and range of emotion. Here's how it turned out...

Oh, and Yo Gabba Gabba? Who can do that? Better yet, who wants to? (Check out sidebar video)


I Had A Dream

“I have a dream.” Like most Americans, hearing those words conjures images of the Reverend Martin Luther King passionately sharing his vision from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where thousands gathered in solidarity as an expression of their commitment to this dream. To many the inauguration of President Barack Obama, this country’s first African American president, was the symbolic fulfillment of that dream spoken with equal eloquence and determination. I suppose it would be easy to deem the moment as ironic given the ceremony occurred only a day after the national holiday commemorating the birth of Reverend King, but to do so, in my opinion, implies a hint of cynicism, as if the two events took place by intention through the scheming efforts of subversive conspirators with a hidden agenda. “Befitting,” is more appropriate.

Regardless of political ideology or personal bias, there’s still a place within our collective human spirit that can’t help but feel at least a sliver of hope in watching such a dream realized over four decades after it was expressed. Blame the (well-hidden) optimist in me, but my assertion is rooted in a belief that when others succeed, whether we’ll admit to or not, it buoys the faith we cling to of achieving our own aspirations. I am no exception, having aspirations that have followed me since childhood, and although not quite on par with the justice demanded from racial equality, my hope dreams are no less real.

Growing up, my career goals were fairly straightforward, a venturesome archeology professor, a helicopter-flying CIA operative, and yes, a highly-paid mercenary (but with scruples). There were others, but basically they all boiled down to adventure-hero archetypes like those in movies. Don’t ask me why, but at thirteen, the choices stayed the same, but now incorporated the element of being a brooding loner with a secretive past and uncanny intellect that rendered women helpless. By my junior year most of these visions faded. Turns out few colleges, at least within the U.S., offered courses on “Overthrowing Oppressive Third-World Régimes for Profit 101.” Still, even though reality eliminated the majority of my boyhood fantasies, some, like the dark outsider too jaded to love, survived, while new ones emerged to replace the casualties.

Undoubtedly, the strongest of those remaining dreams was to be a soldier. This may seem like an unpopular choice in light of the current state of world affairs, but when your father is a Green Beret who fought in Vietnam, you tend to view things differently. To me, my father was the tangible image of who I wanted to be, and my desire to emulate him never wavered, especially when fostered by an arsenal of wooden guns that he made for me to play with while wearing his old Army gear to carry out dangerous mission in the woods behind our home. As I got older, that famed beret my dad earned after passing the grueling Special Forces selection course started smirking at me from the shelf where it was displayed. I grinned back. Sometimes, when alone, I would try it on in front of the mirror and practice saluting the image of what I saw as my future.

Walking away from a dream, even for all the best and selfless of reasons, is no less painful as it shrinks in the distance behind you.

Oddly enough, my father openly discouraged my eagerness to join the Army. Why would a father not want his son to follow in the footsteps made on such an honorable path? Ultimately it was of little consequence once he learned after the fact I had enlisted anyway. He simply broke out with the same grin his beret had been flashing at me. It was the first step toward my dream, but one that also elicited two bits of advice from a man who had already been there, get an education and, as a soldier, never marry. I got the education earning an Army scholarship, and a much desired commission as an Infantry officer after graduation. However, I failed to heed his second point of guidance, eventually leading to a crucial decision, and one that I made without regret even though the consequences translated into an abrupt end to my longstanding pursuit. Walking away from a dream, even for all the best and selfless of reasons, is no less painful as it shrinks in the distance behind you. 

A short while ago, I read a blog post by an extremely intelligent mother, who outlined ways parents can foster healthy self-esteem in their children. Her points were right on target, and could hardly be argued with. However, there was one item that struck a chord with me dealing with encouraging a child’s aspirations. To illustrate her point, she used the example of her oldest daughter’s desire to become a writer. Even in acknowledging her daughter’s obvious talent, as a practically-minded mother, she found herself wanting to point out the hardships involved in becoming an author along with the suggestion of finding a “real job” as a fallback. Ultimately, the mother held back her initial reaction, offering support instead; but what stood out for me was the phrase, “a real job.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “real job” repeated to me, I probably wouldn’t need one today. I’ve spent the majority of my life working these so-called real jobs, but if there’s any dream of mine rivaling that of being a soldier, it has been to be a writer. God only knows why. I was a mediocre student at best, my spelling remains conspicuously atrocious, and it’s more than likely my efforts are hampered by a mild case of “lysdexia.” This general ineptitude probably explains why the idea of a “real job” is floated at me any time I mention a future as a critically acclaimed (and tragically reclusive) author. There is an undeniable logic behind the suggestion, but in all seriousness, I know such advice stems from entirely different thought, fear.

In comparison to “real jobs” with their set hours, established procedures, and, most importantly, steady paychecks, eeking out a living as a writer, an artist, a dancer or any number of “non-real” professions brings to mind images of rag-tag bohemians shivering inside their condemned hovels, eating cold cans of beans purchased with money collected after three hours of panhandling at a nearby convenience store. It’s such scenarios, combined with personal experience, that can reinforce a parent’s conviction they know what’s best regardless of whether their children want to be a Wall Street power broker, or a street mime. At the same time, this well-intentioned mind-set is not limited to only parents.

Growing up, pastors, relatives, career counselors, friends, and just about every other adult that I knew, shared their visions for me as a minister, missionary, politician, professor, basketball coach, nurse anesthetist, and based on the comments left by high school teachers on my recently discovered report cards, a career in the oil industry working as a (dark and mysterious) gas station attendant. Understandably, however, in a community where the economy dictated that a large portion of the populace live paycheck to paycheck, what truly mattered was having a good job, and by good I mean one that actually paid. Dreams were a luxury that didn’t pay car notes and mortgages. Lucky for me at the time, I had the Army to look forward to.

It’s a greater crime, by far, when our own fears prevent us from attaining what we claim to want most.

To solely indict others for discouraging me, to whatever degree, from achieving my ambitions wouldn’t be unfair. At least they were prompted by a fear for my general well-being. It’s a greater crime, by far, when our own fears prevent us from attaining what we claim to want most. Reality may hurl circumstances that shatter our vision, or redirect our course, but to continually ignore blatant opportunities because of self-doubt is almost tragic. Even though I had joined the military, it did nothing to diminish my innate desire to write, and when the Army sent me to college, I felt a pull towards a concentration in creative writing. Instead, I opted for English Literature, a major possessing all the usefulness of a third nipple, but without the embarrassment from sharing my literary drivel with a classroom full of Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac wanna-be’s. It was a chance lost because of the fears convincing me I wasn’t good enough. Years later, these same fears kept me from accepting an unheard of offer by a Rice University English professor whose writing workshop I had forced myself to take. One evening after class, he approached me with the suggestion to enroll in the master’s program at a nearby school where his friend was a department head who could waive all my entry requirements. This professor told me flat out, my writing was better than that of many second year grad students, but I didn’t believe him. I’d witnessed dozens of students beg this same professor for written recommendations needed for grad school, and yet, with the door wide open, my utter lack of confidence prevented me accepting his generous proposal.

The other evening, my oldest son, Noah, informed me he wanted to make movies, which led to a forty-five minute phone discussion covering topics such as story development, special effects, distribution rights and secondary revenue streams. Even the most mundane details failed to curb my son’s enthusiasm in becoming a filmmaker. Hearing the cogs in his brain turn as he spoke impelled speculation on my other children’s fledgling dreams. Allie wants to sing. Harrison loves animals. Sawyer drools over truck engines, and Avery seems destined to become the vertigo afflicted, stunt double for Jar Jar Binks.

And, how will the path to my goals influence my kid's journey toward their own aims?

At their age, nothing seems impossible. Noah has practically started a film production company without the nuisance of money. Harrison attempts to revive the dead moths he discovers, and Avery believes she will run a profitable coffee plantation in central Africa, employing Care Bears to tend the crops. The innocence in their optimism is endearing, but still, I wondered how long before life ratchets up the degree of difficulty in their pursuits. Will they gain the confidence to ignore conventions and what others, me included, think best, choosing instead to follow their convictions? When odds seem impossible, will they quit, or persist? And, how will the path to my goals influence my kid's journey toward their own aims?

Sometime shortly after my son outlined the milestones in his rise to become a modern day Citizen Kane, reality reminded me how fickle, and yet, how equally complicated the circumstances in our lives can be, threatening my writing dream. To this point, I’ve been able to push past the fears holding me back. Not that they don’t still exist, in fact to a certain extent they are even greater. However, for all the frustration, rejection and impatience there’s a motivation I’ve found in the realization that writing has been the one endeavor I have ever actually had to work for. Most of the successes I’ve enjoyed thus far in life have required very little effort on my part. I say this more out of gratitude than arrogance, but at the same time with less attachment than what I have for even the paltry success earned from all the efforts exerted in a writing career. The thought of possibly having to abandon that now, even though it’s for all the right reasons, is for me a jagged, dry pill to swallow without water. I will, of course, do what I have to when the time comes. But, by the same token, I never want to tell any of my children I only had a dream. I’d rather they see me overcome the challenges issued in making my hopes a reality, and in doing so, buoy the faith they might cling to that one day they will attaining their dreams too.

Pictures: 1) Barack Obama inauguration photo. 2) My father after being named Soldier of the Month. 3) My father shaking my hand after pinning lieutenant bars on my shoulders at my commissioning ceremony at the Univeristy of Texas. 3) I think I found this posted to my high school diploma. 4) Avery dressed as her version of President of the United States. 5) Harrison with another jar full of bugs that he announces are his friends.


If You're A Dad And...

Ok, so I've been MIA this week both posting and reading, not to mention replying to comments, especially to new readers (sorry all). Frankly, it's been a miserable past couple of days, but I've been putting this particular post off way too long. Today, however seemed like a perfect moment since the weekend would allow you the chance to further explore these opportunities during your copious amounts of free time. So, before I commence with my unconscionable prattle, I'll just get right down to it.

If you're a Dad (you could be a Mom too) and... want to be in a book.

Tanni Haas, a Brooklyn-based author and father of a 5-year old boy, is writing a book about fatherhood.

To that end, he is looking for fathers of all ages and backgrounds to share their favorite "Daddy Moments" - situations where they learned something significant about what one should or should not do as a dad. These anecdotes can deal with any aspect of fatherhood, from the first time you changed the diaper on your newborn to saving money for your college-bound teenagers. Your observations can be serious, funny, self-reflective – and everything else in between. You decide!

If you want to share your favorite "Daddy Moments," please access the following brief (one-page) questionnaire FOUND HERE.

Guys, I read your blogs. I know you have stories to share with Tanni. have no words to describe what your kids just did now.

Then you need The KidDictionary: A Book of Words Parents Need But Don't Have by children's author Eric Ruhalter. From what Eric told me The KidDictionary is a glossary he compiled after finding himself "unable to describe a great many of the phenomena predominant in his life owed to the fact that he had children." Reading through the various terms Eric compiled, I have to say, they are as clever as they are funny, and accurately convey those moments when your kids have just done...uh, whatever it is that they did. Here are a few examples:

WISHJACK: To maliciously blow out the candles on another child's birthday cake.

KODICK: The child who refuses to cooperate in the taking of a family photograph

INVISIBOOBOO (in-VIZ-uh-boo-boo) n: – The site on a child’s body where you unnecessarily applied a Band-Aid to appease them when they got hurt, though did not bleed. (Ya, I soooo know about this one! Read this rant.)

THREEMAGEDDON (three-muh-GED-in)–n.: The supposed hellfire and brimstone that would erupt should an annoyed mother reach the third digit while counting aloud to 3 to get a non-compliant child to get his act together.. “ONE !….TWOOOOOOO !!!!….. ”

TheKidDictionary is inexpensive (look here) and is a perfect shower gift for new moms or grandparents not hip with today's newfangled ways of talking. Now your three-year old can no longer complain that "you just don't understand" them. have your own Daddy Blog and you like (or pretend to) like people.

If you've been involved in the blogosphere for any amount of time, especially as a parent, then you already know there are a bevy of networking sites expressly designed to promote your own blog while meeting other lonely souls with no connection to the outside world save for a mouse and an Internet connection. Several weeks ago I was invited to join Dad Blogs, and from the first page-load, the site made an impression. Maybe it was the functional layout or the compatibility features that interact with my blog posts and Twitter updates. Then again, it could be because there's a forum group dedicated just to fathers with minivans (I'm not bitter), and then there's always the contests they run (you can get money!). I really couldn't pinpoint the reason exactly, but in any case, I invite you dads (and lest I forget, there's even a section for mommies) to sign up for a Dad Blogs account. It's free, everyone's friendly and there's beer.

... you like comics or need a cartoonist.

David Wright is a writer/cartoonist and former journalist who started a new blog called I Draw Comics where he talks shop and shares musings on pop culture through his comic strips. David also penned Todd and Penguin: Embrace Your Inner Dork, which was published by KeenSpot Entertainment, and is currently working on a children's book for the near future. The guy's talented, but beyond his work, David is also a first-time father which he writes about on his popular blog BloggerDad. Whether you're looking for a few chuckles, in need of some illustrated comic work, or just like reading daddy blogs David's sites are worth stopping by.

...have found that resolution to get healthy is now inconveniencing your schedule.

It's been almost a month since New Years which is right about the time you discover it's harder to stick with your 45 minute work-out routine on a consistent basis than what you first thought. What if you could still accomplish your fitness goals in only 10 minutes? That would be easier, but is it realistic? I didn't think so until meeting fellow dad, blogger and Superman nut, Ed Scow who is a personal trainer better known by his superhero identity The Fit Dad. His workouts are simple but no so much that they sacrifice their effectiveness. The Fit Dad's program isn't just about exercise; however, as it also includes a realistic diet that you don't have to choke down like a leathery old Power Bar. To find out more read my review and then get all the details at The Fit Dad's site Fat Loss To Go (see the ad at the top of this page). People, it's 10 minutes a day. That's like cheating and feeling good about it.

Take some time this weekend after shoveling snow, watching the game or baking a marble cake to look these opportunities over. Have a good'un.


Do You Have A Girl Named Gily?

We have a girl like this, not so much at school, but definitely at home. Her name is Avery.

"Avery? Averrrrrrrry? A-ver-y? Did you just throw toothpaste on your sister because she's wearing the headband you wanted to wear?"


PS - Some people are having trouble with the video so I've added a the link. Click HERE if you still can't see it. This would've never happened were it the early 1900's.


Things Past And Present

Before I launch into this post, one programing note (thanks for the idea MaryAnne), in my attempts to fix issues with my commenting system somewhere along the line everything from November 2008 until yesterday was gone. The IT department (Jim, stop chuckling as you read this) says it can fix this within the next several days, but in the mean time, please forgive me for not responding or if I haven't been at your blog recently. Also, the glitch has put me behind on a few planned posts, product reviews and awards. We will now return to our irregularly schedule program.

With the economy mired in recession, Christmas was a subdued affair in terms of gifts this year, which was more than fine. The kids didn’t seem to notice, and I still managed to surprise my wife with a purse she had casually mentioned to me during a trip to the mall. I was perfectly content with my gifts too. In a day when men are told their masculinity is in question should they not own a forty-six inch plasma TV and Sunday NFL Ticket in HD, my most coveted item was a hat. Yes, a hat. A newsboy hat to be exact and I was thrilled (and relieved) to unwrap the exact one I had been pestering my wife for during the weeks proceeding Christmas. Granted, it sounds a little mundane in comparison to say a Blue Ray DVD player, but I have my reasons.

If you’re not already familiar with them, newsboy hats were popular in America and the UK during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Early on they were worn primarily by the working class to include newsboys hocking papers on street corners, hence the name. Also known as flat caps, they eventually became all the rage with fashionable young men up through the 1920’s. Recently, celebrities such as Samuel L. Jackson and Brad Pitt, along with designers from the prominent fashion houses, and movies have incited a renewed demand for these caps. However, it’s not the current trendiness that stirs my affections for this simple accessory.

Understand, I have an affinity for the past, particularly the period spanning the 1900’s through the 1930’s, right about the time newsboy caps were in style. But vintage clothing isn’t the sole object of my borderline obsession; it’s actually everything from that age, architecture, personalities, social customs, pop culture, etc. Should we ever meet, you would witness this firsthand. I frequent antique stores to scour dusty shelves for relics like typewriters, musical instruments and toys that already dominate the décor of our home. I have an extensive CD library of early Jazz, but I consider it heaven to hear the works of King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, and Syndey Bechet from original celluloid records (vinyl wasn’t used until the 1940’s) as they belt out once popular tunes from the megaphone of my authentic hand-cranked Victrola. And I am enthralled by the localized histories, particularly around my hometown in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, scarffing up books, photos and any other miscellaneous scraps I can pour over.

I’m not sure where my longing comes from or even why I am drawn to this particular era. Maybe it’s because I view it as a time when life was relatively simple, while at the same time, offering the excitement from the ideas and discoveries that would eventually usher in the epoch of our modern world. Phones, radios, automobiles and airplanes emerged or matured during this spam shortening the distance between individuals and extending the reach of mass communication. However, with these new advances only in their infancy, people living during those days still retained an appreciation for a smaller, slower-paced world where they could almost tangibly see their place within it. Choices were fewer and there was less ambiguity in making them. If you wanted tomatoes, assuming you didn’t grow them yourself, then you would go to the market and purchase what you needed, most likely from someone you knew. Today supermarkets boast a variety of brands that can be either organically or commercially grown by God knows who, while running the risk of contracting salmonella because someone didn’t wash their hands properly. I suppose it’s the quaintness contained in these ideas that seem so attractive to me.

Choices were fewer and there was less ambiguity in making them.

It’s possible I’m blinded by the romantic idealism that backlights the emotions found in nostalgia. Archaic social beliefs, gender stereotyping and racial prejudices, were considered to be the norm in that period, many times resulting in tragic stories. And, to a lesser extent, it’s also easy to forget certain modern conveniences like air conditioning until it’s 98 degrees outside and while searching for the temperature controls you realize that the available options are restricted to either opening a window or fanning yourself. Even so, coming from the perspective of someone who is often frustrated by the nuances associated with the mercurial nature of modern technology, and easily overwhelmed by the oppressive volume of information that smothers me daily, those realities of the past are easy to contend with in my opinion. This week our cable provider switched everyone to digital boxes that are incompatible with our TiVo, and today the comments function on my blog erased all recent visitor remarks. Naturally, the ninety-some help pages suggested to read are a nightmare to sort through, prompting me to wonder why I need the aggravation. However, at the same time, my sentimentality for the past should not be misinterpreted either.

As alluring as the early 20th Century may be to me, it still doesn’t skew my outlook on the realities of the present and future. Cranking my Victrola, I don’t sigh aloud and seriously believe my world would be so much better if I only were to live back in the day. My fascination, rather, is simply a respect and a curiosity for a way of life that today, is frailly survived by the evidence it once existed. When I listen to Bix Beiderbecke’s coronet I try to imagine hearing his sound live at a smoke-hazed Chicago speakeasy (see below for a sample). Studying old photos of my hometown, I picture myself inserted somewhere within the frame, and should I discover another typewriter stuffed away in some junk boutique, I wonder what stories might have been punched from the keys. Like my hat, they are indulgences that provide me a measure of connection to a history that seems a bit more vibrant as I hold them in my hand or hear it in my ears. But there’s also a question these items trigger for me concerning how my children will view the past.

Will they want to know or even care about it outside of their school’s requirements? Speaking of which, I’m curious as to how history will be represented within the context of today’s tenets? With distractions like the internet and video games that keep their minds confined in the present, I sometimes speculate whether the past will be all but ignored by this and subsequent generations. Will kids value its relevance without the creative minds at Wii introducing versions of Grand Theft Auto where rival gangsters hijack shipments of smuggled whiskey during the Prohibition, or instead of Guitar Hero, players now operate a plastic saxophone to jam along to the old-timey tunes of Jazz legends? My faith in any of this happening is thin to say the least; as is the hope my three sons and two stepdaughters will develop an appreciation for our heritage on their own.

...whether we live our lives backwards or forwards, in the present or in the past, it’s all inconsequential...
As a parent I see this as being my responsibility, which I suppose, is another reason why I have become the antique nick-nacks version of the crazy cat lady. But dancing to the Victrola and explaining the stories behind old photographs with them has piqued their interest. That might not seem like much, but watching my boys excitedly sift through the dirt looking for rusted tools and glass bottles that mark the site of an old maple sugar shack located on my parents’ property over 100 years ago gives me some hope. I used to do the same thing at their age, however, there’s no expectation they will ultimately mirror my interests and hobbies. It will be enough to know at the very least they have developed some shard of appreciation for life in other eras coupled with another, slightly more important lesson.

My wife and I recently watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The movie is based on a short story by (Jazz Age writer) F. Scott Fitzgerald, and tells the tale of a man who lives his life in reverse being born an old man and dying as a baby. The two versions are vastly different in their details beyond the basic premise to include the time periods in which they occurred. The screen adaptation starts almost where the book trails off somewhere in the 1910’s, and ends some 70 years later, detailing the milestones set throughout the journey most men live, boyhood acceptance, discovering purpose, and of course, finding love. Sitting their absorbed in all the scenery depicting my cherished time period, I was suddenly struck with a thought. 

Pausing for a moment I realized that whether we live our lives backwards or forwards, in the present or in the past, it’s all inconsequential. In any of these cases, the same fundamental challenges and difficulties universally exist for us to deal with and grow from; thus, the only thing that really should matter is how we lived our lives in the current moment aided by the memory of our past experiences.

Maybe this isn’t quite an epiphany, but, to me it was a stirring reminder, and I left the theater turning it over in my mind eventually reflecting on how I demonstrated this precept to my children. When they’re grown, it’s unlikely they will frequent the antique stores of the future in a quest to find a laptop just like mine that they can decorate their home with. And after I’m dead and gone they might box up my record collection, or possibly even toss my beloved newsboy cap in a bag of old clothes for Goodwill, but if they remember the example I’ve tried to set, showing them how to lead better lives in the present by appreciating the importance of their pasts, then I’ll be able to rest in peace.

Photos From Top To Bottom: 1) George Clooney and Brad Pitt sporting newsboy caps or flat hats 2) King Oliver and his Dixieland Syncopators 3)The Meadville Markethouse in 1909 located in my hometown. My mother ("Mudder") still sells homemade quilts and mosaics there today 4) "Nipper" the dog, better known as The RCA Victor mascot 5) Movie Poster for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 6) My son Noah posing in his newsboy cap before making a run to Canada for another load of Irish whiskey 


I Just Can't Harp On This Enough

As you all know, my feelings concerning minivans are well publicized (I know, let it go already). However, when I saw this little video courtesy of FAIL Blog my perspective changed somewhat. Count how many dudes come flying out of this thing.


A Flare For The Dramatic

During the holiday vacation, my mother announced to my sisters and me that she had boxes of junk that belonged to us, and it needed to dealt with. In other words, make it go away, I'm sick of tripping over it. And thus, one day for several hours my siblings and I thoroughly enjoyed sorting through an assortment of old report cards, class photos and miscellaneous notes.

The more we read, the more we laughed, but it also became readily apparent how talented and interesting each of my sisters were (and still are), while I, on the other hand, was all smoke and mirrors. They earned top notch grades and the praise of their teachers. I was average at best and regularly garnered comments expressing the faculty's concerns that I lacked focus and failed to take my studies seriously.

But, I don't care. My sisters deserve everything they've earned and more. And hey, I really didn't make out too bad myself as it turns out considering the facts... only one divorce, laid off from a high-paying job, contracted zero STD's and I, of course have this blog. Not too shabby. However, what actually brought me the greatest embarrassment was the evidence inditing me as, well, "over-dramatic."

Here are a few samples

At a young age I demonstrated a great deal of potential as demonstrated by my first (and only) Literary Award received for my epic entry "The First Story of The Hostages," written in the second grade about the Iranian Hostage Crisis (I still list this award in my writing resume today). 

But after such acclaim, I seemed to have lost my way. Frustrated by the inability to produce a follow-up success, I became quarrelsome and moody leading to explosive fights with my mother. In this particular instance she told me she had had enough and demanded that I get out. But, at twelve years old, I wasn't about to fold, leaving this note for my father to find with the hopes he would be so distraught that he would confront my mother's heartless demands of me.

If you can't read what it says allow me to reprint the text in its original form.

I'm sorry
Mom told me to get out so I did
Don't deny it when Dad get's here

I'm going to become a mercenary
And don't worry about my education



PS. I paid for the gun. It's on the bed.

(to clarify, as part of my plans to become a warlord for hire, I took the .22 rifle used for hunting squirrels and rabbits leaving $20 bucks on the bed with the note. Needless to say, I never made it to that civil war in African Congo)

The note may have brought a smile to my mom's face, but it still did little to smooth the issues preventing my future success as a writer leading to even more drama. In this example it seems I continued to live up to my teacher's perceptions that I lacked serious attention to my studies in junior high.

Once again, I'll rewrite the text in it's original(and I can't stress the word original enough) form for clarification.

Dear Mom,

I know three D's ain't the greatest grades in the world but I am very sorry that I didn't get good grades. I am going to tell the reasons I didn't get good grads.

(#1) Spelling: I don't know why I got a D on my spelling, I wasn't jittery about the words, I was so cofident I would get an A.I even told you. I'm very sorry about my spelling.
(#2) Math Story Problems: It was an easy bunch of um. I guess I just a few simple mistacks.

(#3) Science: I geuss Mrs B*****'s suprise science quiz took me by suprise.

But look on the bright side of all this I got two A's in Bible verses (I attended a Christian school), and Reading.

Well gota go study spelling.

Love Ron (even know you want to beat my head in).

Reading this now, I see I should have pursued a career in dramatic acting and rather than writing. This letter (and those misspellings are correct) made me just. Want. To. Die.

Please tell me you were or your kids are more dramatic than this. I may never blog again otherwise.


Tagged With An Easy One

I'm a little late today, I know. Let me say this for anyone planning to write a book, editing is much harder than the actual writing. It's boring, repetitive and takes up a bunch of time making you late to your own blog. That's my excuse.

Next week I plan on (key phrase being "plan on") getting back to the regular Friday InBox posts, but for today I'm going with a tag that Matt over at DC Urban Dad slapped me with. His selling point was that it was "easy," and Lord knows I'm a sucker for anything easy these days. So here are the rules.

1.go to your documents

2. go to your 6th file.

3.go to your 6th picture.

4. blog about it.

5. tag 6 friends to do the same.

Let's see what I dug up...

I have to say, if Matt knew the state of my files, particularly the pics he would realize the luster associated with this being easy would quickly fade, but no matter. It still was kind of fun.

This isn't exactly the best photo in the world, but what you are looking at is the Dreamland Ballroom found at Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, PA. It was build in 1909 and with over 20,000 square feet of maple for it's dance floor, Dreamland was considered the largest and best dance hall in the Midwest. The Dreamland is just one of the landmark structures makeing up the amusement park that opened for business officially in 1892. Supposedly the entire resort was rather impressive and with it's location on Lake Conneaut it became a premier vacation spot for those living in Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. The park and ballroom remained popular up through the 1960's. 

When I was a kid the park was still considered to be a pretty cool place to hang out during the summer. In fact, this was were I rode my first roller coaster, The Blue Streak which was constructed in 1938 and today is one of the oldest active wooden roller coasters in the country. It was quite a thrill for me to take my own children there once summer a few years back (which is where the pic comes from), even though they lacked patience for my nostalgic strolls around big boring buildings like the Dreamland.

Unfortunately, the local economy, politics and lack of funding have kept the park closed for the last several years. Speculation is that it will all be demolished to make way for a waterfront casino. Just what the place needs. Watching history demolished by a wrecking ball makes me sick, and all money aside I lack any understanding over how people can part with such treasures.

However, the wrecking ball won't be tearing through the Dreamland. Last winter, some a-hole kid, high out of his mind, burned it to the ground and because the owners lacked the money to pay for fire insurance it won't be rebuilt anytime soon. In an ironic twist, the park along with the charred remains of the Dreamland was deemed the perfect backdrop for the upcoming movie entitled "The Road" staring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. And the storyline? It's an apocalyptic thriller in the future where basically the world has gone to crap and is inhabited by cannibals (it's even more ironic to realize this tag has the number 6 repeated three times in the instructions. Hmmm).

What better way to have your hometown shown off, as a vision of the end of the world. It almost brings a tear to my eye imagining some ghastly looking guy chowing down on a human thigh at a place where I can still recall having my childhood innocence. No matter. It still holds fond memories for me.

Now, the trick is selecting 6 people. Well, since Matt already hit up people on my list, I'm going to go with 6 readers who either stalk this blog or are new readers.

1. Church Punk Mom at Embellished Truth & Polite Fiction

2. Eric at Oh My God I'm A Daddy

3. Sal at Everyday Thoughts

4. Christopher or Ca-Joh if you will

5. Andrea from Were Those Wrinkles There Yesterday

6. And one of the newest blogs I've started reading, The Panic Room

Looking forward to what they come up with.


Vacation Slides & Prozac

The trip is over. The kids are belly-aching about school and it's time to go back to work. The last two weeks happened about that fast. Flipping through the volumes of pictures from the holidays brought a fat grin to my face, but like always, it also induced a strong sense of longing for at least a day or two more with my boys. Every time I see them it seems a time warp has occurred launching them farther and farther into the future in a matter of seconds. Noah turned 10, Harrison is starting to read, and Sawyer tells me I'm fired in a tone worthy of a guest spot on The Apprentice.

By all accounts, a good time was had by the lot of us. Allie and Avery meshed very well with Noah, Harrison and Sawyer. They all were very excited to meet one another and when the novelty wore off they acted pretty much like brothers and sisters would, a few spats here, a hug there, and allot of playing together. The girls, I have to add, were great during all the traveling to and fro. They were little darlings the whole time and I was very proud of them.

I tend to become very maudlin for the next several weeks following visits with my sons, a feeling only made worse by the lack of firm certainty in when we will be together again. Besides reviewing the pictures over and over, I play the video games we all like by myself and look up discussion points related to Star Wars or LEGOS or whatever topic was the subject of some great debate between us during the break. Unfortunately, however, it's like trying to capture the moment on an Etch-a-Sketch - everything is two dimensional, and with a few shakes of circumstance those images are gone.

Still, it was a happy time that I tried to depict in a short slide show/movie to the stylings of Coldplay (yes, Lois gives me the dickens about them). I picked this song specifically, one, because it's a B-side to Speed of Sound thus making it cool because it's a B-side; and two, for the lyrics which I've included for reading before you watch the video.

I don't like to put limits on expression which is to say everyone is free to take their own meaning from the words. But to me, they represent the idea that despite the uncertainty, the uncontrollable, and the unfairness we all deal with, life just wouldn't be as rich without those elements whether we understand why they occur or not. I often feel this way about my own circumstances, but it's not sympathy I'm seeking when I say this to others. As I've often been reminded, if it's sympathy I'm looking for then it can be found in the dictionary, somewhere between "sh*t" and "syphilis." Instead, this thought is a reminder that had everything gone my way, then maybe I would take my life and the people in it for granted.

Things I Don't Understand
- Coldplay

How tides control the sea
And what becomes of me
How little things can slip out of your hand

How often people change
No two remain the same
Why things don't always turn out as you planned

These are things that I don't understand
Yeah these are things that I don't understand

I can't (and I can't)
Wrong (oh my wrong)
from right
Day (oh my day)
from night
Dark (oh my dark)
from light
I love (but I love)
this life

How infinite is space
And who decides your fate
Why everything will dissolve into sand

How to avoid defeat
Where truth and fiction meet
Why nothing ever turns out as you planned

These are things that I don't understand
Yeah these are things that I don't understand

I can't (and I can't)
Wrong (oh my wrong)
from right
Day (oh my day)
from night
Dark (oh my dark)
from light
I love (but I love)
this life

Songwriters: Guy Berryman, Jon Buckland, Will Champion, & Chris Martin


American Idol - Toddler Edition

Both Allie and Avery are talented kids (who doesn't think their kid's talented, even if they are step-kids? Nothing says I can't still live vicariously through them too). Avery is the actor while Allie has the musical inclinations. On the trip Allie sung her brains out and actually didn't instigate a migraine. She can hear a song a couple times and have the lyrics mastered, which is sometimes impressive, sometimes annoying and sometimes embarrassing, especially if R Kelly is playing somewhere. For Christmas Allie swore she would die without an iPod or cell phone to which we told her to prepare a will and pick out a nice dress. She did get a little MP3 player, but singing career or no singing career we're not ready to start providing the tools of the trade associated with being a teen or even pre-teen just yet.

Anyway, Ashley was going through some old files and came across this little gem of the girls at ages 2 and 3 with Allie doing her rendition of Kelly Clarkson's Since You've Been Gone. About the 1:33 mark it starts to pick up. Avery jumps in with some backup vocals too. Note Allie's use of the bed as her stage to put some Kelly Clarkson enegry into the performance. Like I said, pure talent.


On The 12th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...A return to the regular routine.

This is the last of the reposts - I just needed a breather before getting back into the routine. Speaking of routine, this comes from last spring and tells of the morning routine I had to go through in getting Allie and Avery ready for school.

So what's a typical morning timeline to include where Ash and I fit it? Basically it would be something like it was today.

6:15 Ashley's alarm goes off. She beats sleep button into submission.

6:20 My alarm goes off. I spend fifteen minutes figuring in my head what to wear and why My Little Ponies like ruben sandwiches and not roast beef.

6:25 Ashley's alarm goes off. She knocks everything off nightstand before finding snooze button.

6:30 My alarm goes off. I get up, hungry for roast beef, but having no idea what to wear. I figure underwear is a good start and make a selection.

6:35 Ashley's alarm goes off. I check for pulse and remind her she's going to be late. Ash glares at me as if I ate the last of the roast beef in the fridge. Gets up and shuffles to bathroom to collect makeup box.

6:36 I make bed to ensure Ash doesn't crawl back in. Head to bathroom to take shower and think about what to wear.

6:50 I get out of shower, medicate myself, brush teeth and fix hair. Ash fixes make up while sitting at computer desk

6:51 Open bathroom door. Find two little girls dancing outside who rush past me and slam door.


6:51 Open bathroom door. Find Ashley holding makeup brush in teeth while answering emails. I start countdown sequence one, two, three... Ash goes back to applying makeup thus saving herself the loss of a marble.

6:55 Go to closet - put on clothes none of which were what I was thinking. Head up stairs to prepare breakfast. Turn on Microwave countdown timer. Ash starts getting dressed. Stresses about which blouse has what effect on her cleavage. Asks my opinion and does opposite. Lays clothes out for girls

7:00 Wake up girls (if not already). Ash or I flip on lights and rub, pat, scratch, dance, joke, cajole, and threaten. One, two, three, four, five... Alley is dressed at "joke" stage. Avery gets out of bed after "five" is sounded and smells smoke from Care Bear set on fire for not getting out bed before "five" count.

7:05 Breakfast is ready. Wrap egg, bacon cheese sandwich for Ash to take with her on ride to work. Will hand her Diet Coke on her way out if it's in stock. Kiss Kiss, hug, hug, accidental grope (by Ash),dirty talk and goodbye. Allie appears, declaring us "gross."

7:06 Hand Allie breakfast - usually a Pop Tart, cereal, or cinnamon toast. Call to Avery downstairs to which she replies with how she got her first Barbie doll while living at the "yellow house." Head downstairs to investigate. Allie asks if my boys like Hannah Montana.

7:08 Open door to find Avery naked and trying to put on little girl underwear. Am screamed at for seeing her, "naked booty." I blush, shut door and step on wet pull up diaper. Remind Avery she can have a marble for throwing diaper in trash. Am reminded I am not to see her "naked booty" or her "panties." Blush again.

7:10 Call Allie for assistance in helping sister. Allie refuses. Negotiations begin. Allie demands marble for efforts. Finally, I agree to three - head up stairs to eat breakfast. Allie asks if the boys like Barbies.

7:15 Check email while eating breakfast. Internet is out. Head downstairs to check router. Allie passes me on the stairs and reminds me of marble agreement. Asks if my boys like to sing.

7:16 Find router disconnected by Ashley who changed setup while I was in shower. Avery appears asking if I think she is pretty / cute / adorable depending on outfit for the day. I tell her she is the prettiest / cutest / most adorable ever and would be more so if she eats breakfast. Fix Internet.

7:18 Follow Avery up stairs and get her breakfast. Get text message from Ash. Wants to know if "she is pretty / cute / adorable" depending on what blouse did which things to her cleavage. Reply that she is prettiest / cutest / most adorable and I like what her blouse did to her cleavage.

7:20 Get new text message with dirty talk. Wonder to self if I am just hunk of meat or some kind of machine, but make note to get bottle of wine later anyway. Allie reminds me of the marbles. Wants to know if my boys like make up.

7:21 Allie counts marbles like Ebeneezer Scrooge. Avery wants marble as she stands over AC register letting cold air blow up her dress. I tell her to eat breakfast or I will take a marble. Avery returns to chair, takes bite and expresses need to retrieve all 7 My Little Ponies from bedroom. Avery is again reminded to eat.

7:22 Return to breakfast. Check email. Get distracted by random spam promising free Viagra from reputable Canadian pharmacies. Reason this to be important enough to investigate for 8 minutes only to realize it as a scam. Allie informs all present of new marble count. I congratulate her. Avery is MIA. Allie is curious if my boys like Spongebob.

7:30 Find Avery in bedroom looking for new outfit. Begins crying that current outfit isn't cute enough. Takes no consolation in my statement her outfit is cuter than mine (secretly want to change my outfit now). Avery crying.

7:31 Ask Avery if Barbie ever had any political aspiriations while she was in college. Avery stops crying, stares blankly into space. Returns to kitchen and finishes breakfast. Wakes with no recollection of need to change outfit.

7:33 Return to my breakfast. Feel morning "man urge" in tummy. Tell girls to get shoes on and stuff together to leave. Make mental note that microwave timer will go off in 12 minutes. Search for suitable reading material to fill time void created by acting on morning "man urge" in tummy.

7:33.01 Allie declares self winner in unannounced Put-on-shoes-the-fastest Contest. Avery melts down due to her all-time record of 0 wins, 674 losses and 1 tie while competing in Allie's unannounced contest league. Allie wants to know if the boys would like the Hannah Montana shoes she is wearing now.

7:34 Continue down stairs at hurried pace while carrying random fashion magazine (Lord only knows why). Yell at girls to work out their issue or prepare to watch all Barbies ripped apart by wild horses. Justify outburst as a result of morning "man urge" speaking through me. Allie scoffs at notion citing the fact horses are not readily available for such work. Avery stops crying with inaudible comment referencing My Little Ponies.

7:36 Position self for morning "man urge" action. Flip through random fashion magazine baffled why chiffon and paper bags are considered worth $10,000. Allie knocks on door wanting to know what I'm doing and why I need a magazine to do it. I agree to another marble if she will go away without the need for an explanation. She agrees, but wants to know if my boys like to watch The Naked Brothers Band.

7:40 Morning "man urge" appears to be false alarm and I prepare to resume morning's routine activities. Receive text from Ashley - more dirty talk. Notice additional fat on my left butt cheek and feel less sexy. Make note to buy two bottles of wine.

7:41 Head up stairs to grab laptop and carry bag (man purse). See Avery and tell her to get shoes on.

7:42 Avery appears with wrong shoes. Wants to know if they are cute. Allie declares Avery's shoes "inappropriate" for day care. I tell her to get shoes her mother set out.

7:42.30 Avery returns with wrong shoes. Wants to know if they are cute. She is told to return with shoes her mother set out.

7:43 Avery returns with wrong shoes. Wants to know if they are cute. She is told to return with shoes her mother set out. I follow her to bedroom.

7:44 Find Avery sitting on floor staring at wall. Ask her where the shoes her mother set out are. Avery says she doesn't know, but is lying because she is a really bad at it. I threaten to trash her coloring book and start, two, three, four five! Five? Five! Head to stairs to make good on threat. Avery declares mother's choice in shoes ludicrous for not matching pretty / cute/ adorable outfit for that day but pulls the correct shoes from where she hid them.

7:44.30 Repeat intentions of trashing coloring book. Hear crying and running behind me. Check if she has on right shoes. Good to go. Grab carry bag (man purse) and head to door. Allie is at door tapping her foot.

7:44.45 Avery joins us at door, but is crying over shoe travesty. I inquire as to whether Care Bears were born with a natural sin nature. Avery stops crying and enters trance-like state. I visually inspect each girl. Hand Allie her reading glasses and tape Avery's show-and-tell item to her body for her to find later after regaining consciousness. Allie wants to know if my boys like girls with glasses.

7:45 Alarm sounds. I shut it off and usher everyone out the door.

That's pretty much how it goes. Day in and day out.


On The 11th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...More about the mini-van!

Well, the holidays are over and now it's time to make the return trip back to Texas. This of course involves a long drive. So in honor of the single greatest engineering feat this country has known, stripping men of all their manhood here's one more post from the past concerning the mini-van.

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's A... Mini-Van?

That's right. Nothing says commitment like "mini-van." A 2006, Honda Odyssey, with leather seats and a "mommy mirror." Yes, the carefree skirt-chasing days of my swinging bachelorhood are officially over. My beloved Dodge Charger with it's dual exhaust, and hemi engine, sits cold and alone in some strange parking lot, waiting to be auctioned off to some second-rate car dealer, or worse... a chop-shop! I've never been a "car person" per say (my 4 year old Sawyer knows more about changing the oil than I do), but my Charger was the first car I purchased because I liked it - not because it was the only one I could afford. It was the one vehicle that really meshed with my "bad-boy" image.

Unlike the Charger, The mini-van won't quite have the same effect when we roll up to the club and rev the engine at the valet station, ensuring everyone in line notices who gets out and walks straight to the front, slapping shoulder with our bouncer friends and walking straight on into the party. Usually, such dramatic, but warranted displays would later result in somebody offering to buy me a drink along with the comment, "You're the guy with the Charger! Nice car... that thing gotta Hemi?"

Although my buddies would appreciate the spacious, leg room and 17 cup holders, which equates to holding almost a case and a half of beer, we all would still be aware it's still not a fire-red, Dodge Charger. Besides, I'm sure they will be less than thrilled that I will now be parking a minimum of 6 blocks away from any clubs so as not to be recognized as the owner, nor will they relish the fact that they now have to conduct a quick inspection of each other's backsides to pick off the kids' "seat droppings" (stray gummy bears and snack crumbs) in the same fashion as monkeys when searching for hidden lice in the hair of their mates.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter. The idea of trying to jam 5 kids (Ashley's 2 girls and my 3 boys) into the back seat of the Charger is pretty much on par with the Israelis and Palestinians simultaneously occupying the Gaza strip, irregardless of it's spacious trunk capacity and leather interior. Short of UN intervention and the presence of the Red Cross, a mini-van makes practical sense for long trips and smuggling illegal aliens.

No. My issue is merely that I am hoping I don't lose my manhood and "cool-guy" image as I transition into this next phase of my life. I'm trying hard to guard against it. The first day after purchasing it, I intentionally wore my black, Triumph Motorcycle jacket - the one with the skull on the back - to drive Ashley's girls to school; however, it just didn't feel the same clicking the remote to activate the automatic, sliding doors and discussing the joys of Hanna Montana as we walked into the building.


On The 10th Day of Christmas The Lunchbox Shared With Me

...This Blogger Showing Off.

First off HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you enjoy your day of parades, food and football. I'm not going to interrupt it with a whole lot of clutter to read. Instead I'm going to show off my hobby doing paintings in my "copious" free time. As it turns out this repost from way back when is the most popular entry of all time according to my stat counter. Not sure why, but I'm certain its not due to the quality of the content.

Yellow Flower Acrylic on canvas 24x32 (it was also a birthday gift to my wife)

Cleveland Skyline Acrylic on canvas 28x38

Red Dress Ruffle Acrylic on canvas 12x16

Girl in a Brown Dress Acrylic on canvas 28x42

Blue Necklace Acrylic on canvas 12x16

The Flatfoots Acrylic on canvas 36x24

Valentine Wine Pastel on paper 12x16

The Succubus Acrylic on canvas 28x38

The Midnight DJ Oil on canvas 28 x 42

Sweeps Me Off My Feet Acrylic on canvas 28x36

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