Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas, the Season for Commercials

Elections are over, Thanksgiving has passed, and now we are in the midst of the last few weeks before Christmas. Last month was the season of political advertisements; this month is the season of Christmas advertisements.

Last month’s ads and this month’s ads, on first look, seem to be quite dissimilar; however, they are very similar. All of them are written by high-priced advertising executives who want to sell advertisements.  They sell these commercials to business executives who want to sell a product to consumers. In the case of politicians, they are the product and citizens’ votes are currency.

When you put all of these elements together, commercials can become absurd. This is not to be confused with the product itself being absurd. Take the chia pet for instance. This is basically a lawn, growing out of a lump of clay. Some ingenious entrepreneur thought to himself, “If I make a lump of clay into the shape of a cow, or frog, or some ex-president, and grow a lawn on it, people will buy it. I will become rich!” As ridiculous as this sounds, it worked.

What I am referring to is the advertisements that are, themselves, absurd. One of my all time favorites, and I have written about this before, is the ambulance chasing attorney who barks from my television screen, “If you have died from taking this drug, you may be entitled to a large cash settlement. Call NOW!” That is awesome, dead people urning large cash settlements.

Another one of my favorites is Time-Warner cable peddling their internet service. The commercial touted the connection speed compared to their competitors. They described their glorious customer service. Then, at the end of the commercial, as the deal-making detail, they announced that they were including free self-installation. Yes folks, Time-Warner is not going to charge you to hook up their equipment for them. Is that not the pinnacle of awesomeness?

Eldest and I were exposed to one of these commercial absurdities the other day while listening to Christmas music on the radio. During a commercial break, we heard an ad for the Greater Rochester International Airport. The announcer gushed on about coming to the Airport where you could, “park, shop, dine, and fly.”

Flying I understand. It is, after all, an airport. Planes are coming and going at all hours of the day and night. If you want to fly, I recommend doing so from an airport. The other three things, not so much. It makes sense to have a parking lot around an airport, since people drive to get there. In fact airports take advantage of peoples need to park and charge high prices to be able to do that. Parking is not a selling point of visiting an airport. There are many local parks, where you can park, and get a beautiful view too. You just cant catch a flight from any of those parks.

Now, let me point out that to get to shopping and dining areas, you have to go through the TSA checkpoint. This, alone, is a major deterrent to any misplaced desire to shop or dine at the airport.

Usually, shops in airports know they have captive audiences and charge higher prices than you would find at your local Wal-Mart. But, you can’t catch a flight from your local Wal-Mart either.

Dining does not seem to be a major activity of interest for airports either. I have seen a few restaurants with fancy names at airports, but upon closer inspection, nothing on their menus seemed worthy of paying for parking and braving a TSA checkpoint, when you can find food just as good at Chik-fil-A. Although, you cant catch a flight from Chik-fil-A.

But, it is Holiday time and ad executives are trying to sell ads, to businesses who want to sell products. So go ahead if you want, “park, shop, dine, and fly” at the local airport. Just don’t expect me to join you. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

A few days ago Eldest wrote a post on her blog that was a letter to me, click here to read it, my post makes more sense if you read hers first. Here is my response to her post.

Dear Kaleigh,

When you were younger I was afraid of monsters in cars trying to steal you, but not spiders so much. Now that you are older, I am afraid of boys, but still not spiders.

I, too, miss grandpa. There are still times I have a question I want to ask him, or something my girls do I want to brag to him about. There are times I realize that even though he is gone he has planted a deep impression of himself in me; when I sound like him, or deliver a witty comeback, or unleash an amazing joke.

Kaleigh, I miss you too. Observing from a distance is no fun. I can tell you, everyday I am amazed at how much you have grown and matured and become a lovely young woman who loves Jesus. I miss you sitting in my fort, cuddling on the couch, and especially back scratch wars.

When you were younger and something broke, I would tell you to put it on my desk. Then I would fix it. Even then I knew that someday there would be a problem that wouldn’t fit on my desk and I wouldn’t be able to fix. So, when I superglued a limb back on a plastic doll, or untangled a dollar store necklace, or taped the cover on a book, I prayed, “Father, your eyes are better than mine, your superglue stronger, and your tape more adhesive. When my girls’ problems are bigger than I can fix can we put them on your big desk and let you take care of them?” It was at times like that the words of Ira Stanphill’s song would float through my mind.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I remember in vivid detail that day as a toddler that you announced that you had two daddies. I was confused until you explained with great earnestness, your little finger pointing in the air, “I have a heavenly Father” then your little finger pointed at me, “and a down-here daddy.”

I long for the days when you were little and you would say, “ ‘tay me bit more.”  and I would linger for a few more minutes, snuggling you. I wish you still needed to hold my hand in busy parking lots. But you are growing older, and I am still stuck at 25.

I feel a bit like Moses, who after leading the people of God for 80 years, stood with them on the border of the Promised Land and told them he wasn’t crossing the Jordan river with them. He finished his comments with these words, found in Deuteronomy 31 and verse 6.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Don’t be afraid Kaleigh, when your down here daddy can’t hold your hand, or fix what is broken, or isn’t nearby, because your Heavenly Father is holding your hand, helping you cross the street or the river. Be strong and courageous.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How the Government has Ruined Voting.

Tuesday was Election Day here in the United States, in case you missed it. This election was for president of the country, along with some other open posts in the Senate, House of Representatives, various Judges, and dog catcher. A few weeks ago I wrote about the presidential debates. Today, I want to explore voting.

Voting is the way that Americans can voice their choice in politics. Although some believe that the number of signs you have in your yard, or the number of posts to Facebook, or perhaps even the number of times you retweet your preferred candidates tweets constitutes voting; it does not.

In years gone by, the voters in New York actually used machines to vote with. These machines were behemoth booths with a curtain. You went inside, pulled a large lever and the curtain closed behind you. There was a certain comfort in shutting out the world outside knowing that what was done in that booth was kept private and secret.  Once that curtain was closed the voter was presented with a choice. He or she could select the candidates they felt were most qualified for the job, or they could break out singing an Italian operetta and take a shower. If the election inspector heard someone breaking out into song, they were instructed to immediately turn off the hot water to the booths, thereby cutting short any shower activity.

For those citizens who voted in these machines, they simply flipped a number of smaller levers corresponding to the names of the people for whom they wanted to vote. This physical act of flipping levers was both concrete and comforting. Once the voter finished selecting who was going to receive his votes, he pulled the large heavy lever back the other direction. This was a magical moment, for not only did the curtain open, releasing the voter to his native habitat, but all those levers that indicated which candidates were voted for, miraculously rose to their upright position. All of this occurred with reassuring clicks and clacks of gears and levers moving and the gentle swoosh of the curtain opening. As if some industrial wizard were reassuring the voter that indeed, his vote mattered.

Now, when I go to vote, the election inspector hands me a sheet of paper with fill-in-the-bubble spots for each candidate. This is a horrific predicament. As soon as I see those bubbles, nightmarish memories of past standardized tests rush through my brain. My heart races, palms get sweaty, and my stomach gets all knotted up. It is a moment of panic. I worry I am not going to select the right answers. I worry I am not going to correctly fill in the bubbles. I worry I am going to have to pee badly and the teacher won’t let me use the rest room for “security reasons.”

I finally finish filling in the right bubbles and walk up to the new-fangled voting machine; which is simply a black box. No curtain, no levers, no Italian operetta. I slide the paper into the black box. And, nothing. I stand there, aching for the familiar clack and swooshes. Still nothing. Finally, a small click. Thats all. Just a small click and I am done.

Somehow the government has been able to tax me to death, regulate me to being unable to do anything, and now they have sucked the joy out of voting too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Giants and Tigers: Who Will Win the World Series

It is the time for Baseball’s World Series. For the past two years, I have predicted the winner of the Super Bowl with 100% accuracy. I have accurately predicted the wrong team to win every time. This fall I have decided to turn my uncanny ability towards predicting the winner of the World Series.

My first step was to learn as much about baseball as I could in a few minutes. Apparently, baseball has its roots in a prehistoric game where one person, the hurler, hurled rocks at another person, the hitter; the other person would swat the rocks away with a stick. If the person was struck enough times, he was out and required medical attention. If, however, the hitter actually hit the rock, then a bunch of people standing behind the hurler would chase the rock down and throw it at the hitter as he made a mad dash for the safety of his cave.

Over the eons, baseball has evolved into a complex sport, with strategies, uniforms, managers, bright lights, peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy. As people became more civil and more intellectually abstract, they stopped trying to hit each other with rocks and instead created an imaginary square in front of the hitter to hurl the rock through. If the hurler makes it through that imaginary space, then a strike is called. The person who decides whether the hurled ball is a strike or a ball is a direct descendent from the caveman, he is the ump. He roars with a Neolithic holler, “Steeeeeeeeeeerike” or growls with a Cro-Magnan roar, “Baaahhhhhhhhlll”.

Instead of the hitter running to his cave, or house, the rules call for an imaginary home to be marked with a white house shaped plastic cutout laying on the ground. If the hitter makes it all the way around the field and to home, he scores a ‘run’, which is a translation of the caveman phrase, “him run fast and make it home without a concussion.”

Each team has certain freedoms regarding how to decorate their playing fields and their players, but things have to be uniform. The distance between each base is the same at each field. Each teams player decorations can be different colors and designs, but they are still called uniforms. The balls that have replaced the rocks are all the same size and weight, and made from the same materials.

After all this exhausting research on our national past time, I had little time to consider who would be the victor in this year’s competition, until I realized who was playing. The Giants versus the Tigers? This is a no brainer. In a prehistoric game of hurling rocks at ones opponent, Giants would have to be the victor every time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

If Only Every Job was as Great as Mine.

As many of you know, I have three jobs. I am also sure that all three of my regular readers know that one of those jobs is as a substitute bus driver in a local school district. The following narrative occurred just the other day as I filled in on a bus run. Unlike my usual posts, everything here is mostly the factual, unadulterated truth. I promise.

When I first started training to be a school bus driver, I was in a group of somewhere between 4 and a bazillion people. When we finished there were two of us; Steve and me. Steve took a regular run and I opted to stay a sub. The other day, I got to drive Steve’s route.

He drives a handful of students across the county to a small school. When I stopped at the first stop, three girls came out to get on the bus; they were not excited to see me.

“You’re not Mr. Steve. Where is Mr. Steve? Is this the right bus? Why isn’t Mr. Steve here?”

After they finally stopped peppering me with questions, I was able to answer, “Mr. Steve isn’t here today. He asked me to drive for him, is that ok?”

The three girls looked at each other, while making all sorts of girlie noises. Finally a spokesgirl asked, “Do you know how to go?” I showed them the directions and responded, “Yeppers, he gave me directions.” The spokesgirl announced that everything seemed to be in order and we could continue our trip.

The next stop was for one little young gentleman. As soon as he saw me, he turned around and walked away from the door. The adult that was with him said, “Jimmy, you have to go to school.”

“But it isn’t Mr Steve!” he wailed, drawing out the Steve part to a long deep drawl.

I comforted him, as only a bus driver can comfort a forlorn student. “It is ok Jimmy; Mr. Steve and I learned to drive bus together.”

“You did?” He walked back to the door of the bus, sized me up, and decided it might be acceptable to ride on the bus. He got on, found his seat and we started on.

Everything was going fine until I turned left instead of right, or was it right instead of left? It really doesn’t matter, I got lost. Not really lost, just kind of going the wrong direction lost. Very soon the students on the bus realized I was not going the right direction and they began to riot. One girl clapped her hands over her face and squealed in terror. “Oh No! We are lost! Mr. Steve never gets lost. Take me home! I can’t take this, we are all going to die of hunger, or end up in Texas.”

I assured them we would neither die nor end up in Texas. Soon, after I got the bus turned around, they started to recognize landmarks and they were once again calm. That is until we got on the expressway to zip to the other side of town. One of the sweet first grade juvenile female life forms announced loudly, “Mr. Rob, you are a good driver. You are speeding, Mr. Steve never speeds.”

Let me assure you, gentle reader, school bus drivers never speed, that includes me. It is one of the 300 cardinal sins of school bus driving. We do not speed, ever.

Nonetheless, the sweet urchin boisterously announced, “Mr. Rob is speeding.” She boldly emphasized speeding. All of the other children were aghast. Until the girl said, “Just kidding, I don’t even know what speeding means.”

I. Love. My. Job.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Presidential Debates, a Primer

“Tis the season for elections, fa-la-la-la-la-ugh.” This is the beginning line of the “Election Carol for Voters”. Written quite some time ago, this delightful song echoes the frustration of the average voter when it comes to the pre-electionbrouhaha.  This is the time of the year when otherwise well-adjusted adults of the human species unleash their innerchild. Remember the days when the teacher would ask the class of second graders a question and each child’s hand would shoot into the air and each child would gleefully squeal, “Ooh ooh, pick me, pick me.” Politicians do the same thing ate lection time, but instead of teachers, it is voters, but the chant is the same, “Ooh ooh, pick me, pick me.”

We have endured months of candidates stumping in the primaries and now for the general election. Stumping is the word that is used to describe the manner in which candidates travel throughout the country and give speeches outlining their stands on the issues and what they are going to do about whatever impending crisis the country faces, real or imagined. The politician claims to be on the average working American’s side, and then uses words like: obfuscation, misappropriation, cronyism, and pontificabsolutionism. This leaves the average American to run for a dictionary (or a nearby English teacher), in a haze of confusion. They are simply stumped.

Now that we are getting within a few weeks of the election, the candidates are debating. This is just like the Wild West shoot out, except without the guns. In a Wild West shoot out there are two enemies who are going to shoot each other dead. On one side of the street, there is a Dalton, on the other is a Clanton, and hiding somewhere, is a sheriff.

The opponents face each other, under the bright light of the noonday sun, and begin to verbally assault each other. They yell things like, “You are a no good, low down, varmint.” or “You’re a lying weasel.” The two opponents continue hurling insults at each other until they run out of insults and then they draw guns on each other and shoot. The loser dies.

In a presidential debate, the scenario is remarkably similar. The two opponents face each other, under the bright lights of TV coverage. They answer questions, asked by a moderator, who is hiding behind the TV cameras, and begin to verbally assault each other by saying things like, “My esteemed opponent doesn’t know his asset from his deficit.” or “The only thing my opponent knows about foreign policy is how to make french fries.”  This continues until the questions run out, the TV stations run out of commercials,or until the first pitch of the Yankees game. At this point the candidates, instead of shooting each other, shake hands like best of friends. This leaves the American voters stumped once again, wondering, “Who won?”

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Bacon Shortage, or the Aporkalypse.

Apparently, there is a shortage of bacon in Europe. For decades, doctors have warned us that consuming this delicacy was bad for our health.  Bacon can cause heart and kidney disease, we have been warned time and time again. It seems that after all of these warnings, the pigs are finally listening and are neither reproducing fast enough (they are, after all, not rabbits) nor growing large enough to produce much in the way of bacon.   I know this by studying the word ‘shortage’, which comes from some word in some ancient language, which means un-tall. Not only is our benevolent big government dictating what we can and cannot eat, cases in point—New York City banning all large sweetened beverages and the Federal Government reducing the size of school lunches--but now the Animal Kingdom is taking a strong stance against the unhealthy choices we humans make.

There are other theories regarding this bacon shortage. Stephen Colbert, who has his own television show, or something, has made some amazing claims against President Obama regarding this shortage.

Another theory explains that Europe has outlawed some of the ways pigs are bred and raised; ways that are inhumane. I submit that pigs are not human and should not expect to be treated as such. Even if they were human, look at how we treat ourselves. We mistreat each other horribly with wars, crime, forced poverty, and playing the music of Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj in public. Nevertheless, Europeans feel they must treat swine better; so they do, and this will raise the price of bacon. But, only in Europe. We, in America, get most of our bacon from good old US of A swine. I think that European swine are still angry over the Revolutionary war.

The weather here in the states has caused problems in growing the primary ingredients of a pigs diet, namely, slop. It is very difficult to define and quantify what exactly slop is, but let me assure you, when you see slop, you will know what it is immediately. Due to the dry weather conditions this summer across much of continent, there was a significant drop in the slop crop. This will raise the price of slop, making it more expensive, and thus making the price of bacon rise as well.

Bacon will be plentiful, but expensive and, I have been told, for this there is no cure. This I can live with. I would write more about this but all this talk of bacon has made me hungry. So, I am off to have breakfast.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The amazing new iPhone 5 is here!

Today Apple released the much-anticipated iPhone 5. It has many features that, apparently, we cannot live without. The first of which is an alarm clock. Several billion people have been camping out on the doorsteps of Apple stores across the country in hopes of being one of the lucky few to grab one of these new phones. When asked why they were camping out, several replied that they were afraid they would not be up early enough to beat the rush. 

As eager as some people are to be able to use their brand new ultra-expensive alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, Swiss Rail, the national railroad of Switzerland, was not happy with the new iPhone. It alleges that the phone's clock infringes on a patent, for a clock,(picture below, from that they have held for almost 70 years . To clarify, they have had the patent for all those years, the clock I am not sure about. On the face of it, there are some similarities between the two clocks. An Apple spokesphone stated that “we will not be railroaded in this matter. The iPhone does not infringe on any Swiss patents, just as a common kitchen knife does not infringe on the patent for a Swiss Army knife because they are both sharp.”

Besides the alarm clock, other updates include a larger screen. The largest group of new smart phone buyers are the 40 and over demographic, and apparently Apple has realized that some of us in that category resent having to take out our reading glasses just to set our alarm clock.

Getting back to the patent infringement, it would seem to me that the patent holders of the Swiss Army knife actually have a case for infringement against Apple. The Swiss Army knife is a collection of many different tools, all in one knife, such as scissors, toothpick, knife, etc.  The iPhone, with all of the apps that can be downloaded, is a collection of many different tools in one package. iPhones can play music, scan barcodes, solve complex equations, act as a GPS, keep track of appointments, and of course, they have the ubiquitous alarm clock.

All of this patent-infringing, space- aged, cutting-edge technology makes me long for the good old days of telecommunication. Remember good old rotary dial phones. The big black hunks of plastic, with the coiled cord that would insidiously wrap around your neck as you paced and talked. Those cords probably choked a good number of people to death; but I miss them. Which causes me to wonder, can you actually make phone calls with the iPhone? One contemporary philosopher has put this question succinctly, and I quote,

Hey, I just met you, 
And this is crazy,
But here’s my number,
So call me, maybe.
-Carly Rae Jepsen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The first week of school: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

My very first ever blog post was about confusing technological phrases. In that post, I mentioned that Eldest, who was then in High School, was taking Spanish as her foreign language. Now she is in college and is majoring in English and Spanish. She has the same professor I had when I went back to finish my degree. The professor doesn’t know Eldest and I are related, and that is a good thing. She is also taking English Literature with the same professor I had in college. He knows she is my daughter, and that isn’t a good thing, but I hope he doesn’t hold it against her.

 Middlest, who was a freshman, was taking Latin. I originally thought it was so she could talk to Latvians, but apparently since Latin is a dead language, she wants to talk to dead people. Some time ago she took the National Latin Exam and won some sort of metal; it was either gold, silver, aluminum, or latinium. This year Middlest has elected to continue with taking Latin, and in addition she is taking Spanish, starting in Spanish 2, rather than Spanish 1. When her teacher explained something to her, another student stated they already knew that. The teacher replied that they had a Latin Scholar in class who hadn’t taken the first year of Spanish and needed a little extra explanation. Some of the students responded, “What is a scholar?” Middlest, as she related the story, simply shook her head, put it in her hand and said, “Oh heaven! Bless their poor souls.”

Littlest was taking French and continues to do well. About her teacher for Advanced Placement World History, we are a little suspect. She asks questions like, “Does anyone know where the glossary in the textbook is?” and “How would I use the table of contents?” These questions both exasperate and worry Littlest. She is concerned that if “the teacher doesn’t know the answers to these simple questions, what is she going to do when she has to teach us about Ibn Battuta and his impact on the world view and his insights into lifestyles of the peoples of the early 14th century?”

Littlest was thrilled to announce that after 7 days of classroom instruction, her History teacher is giving a quiz. When I asked what period of history the  quiz was going to cover she replied, “The past week and a half and all she has talked about is class room rules and the difference between taking a regular history class and an Advanced Placement history class. She has yet to teach us anything, so the quiz is going to be less of a history quiz and more of a current non-event quiz.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

How was your first day of school?

Today was the day; the day that children have been dreading, and parents have been yearning for all summer. It was the first day of school. I celebrated by going to work, driving a school bus. When I got to the garage, other drivers were gearing up for a busy morning. Soon, they had all left and I was hanging out waiting to see if my boss needed me. Sure enough, after a few moments of quiet, my boss looked out the window and barked, “Distaffen! There is a bus out there; go fire her up and pick up some kids and get ‘em to school.”

I asked which kids I should take to which school. There are a lot of children and a lot of schools in the district I work for.

“I don’t care!” He snarled, “Just get ‘em to school. Let the teachers and administrators figure it out, and smartify them. That is what they got all those college degrees for.”

I dutifully went out and started picking up students and dropping them off at school. Lots of different students, in different neighborhoods, and when I passed a school, I would drop some of them off. Although, once I mistook a lumberyard for a school, and the students pointed out my mistake.

When I got back from picking up dozens of students and dropping them off at a myriad of schools, my boss asked me how it went. “Just fine,” I replied. He grunted, “Fine? Then come back this afternoon.”

That afternoon I returned and looked around for my boss. He was chewing out a mechanic for using an amber light bulb instead of a yellow one. The mechanic looked plaintively at me. All I could do was spread my hands and shrug, because I couldn’t tell the difference either.

Finally, the tirade relented and my boss spotted me. “Distaffen! What are you doing back here?”

“You told me to come back this afternoon.”

“Well, yeah, whatever. Remember those kids your dropped off at school this morning?”


“Go put them back.”

My children’s first day wasn’t much better. Except I think they had a good bus driver. Littlest and Middlest had large packets of surveys to complete. Beloved and I had stacks of papers to sign, assuring that our daughters would be respectful, involved, and interested members of the learning community. I always have nightmares that one of them will yawn in class and the school police will hunt me down with a copy of my signature on one of those forms, and when they find me, they make me go to detention.

Eldest, who is finishing up her secon week of her freshman year lamented over a paper she had to write for some guy named Phil. I asked her who Phil was and why she was writing his paper. She groaned, “Daddy, Phil isn’t a person, it is a class in Philosophical Ethics”

I couldn’t help her, so off we went to see grandpa, who has a bunch of college degrees and he smartified her.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What would I do for my daughters?

As a father of three girls, I can identify with the cliché, “I would do anything for my children.” There are, however, things I would not do for my girls, for instance, anything illegal, things that would ultimately harm them, or brain surgery.

It is expected that fathers will help their daughters. A mechanic will assure that his daughter’s car is in excellent working condition to keep her safe. Dentists, I am sure, clean their children’s teeth. I could go on about fathers helping daughters with plumbers plumbing, painters painting, carpenters carping, and politicians....well, there is always one exception to prove the rule.

This assistance started at conception, when biological fathers fertilize. I grew up in dairy farm country, so I am well acquainted with this concept of fertilization. Trust me, it is not a pretty thing. In fact most farmers I know fertilize their fields in the dead of winter, when snow blankets them. The snow keeps the organic fertilizer from being so malodorous. Then, in the spring, when it warms up and the smell erupts like a manure filled volcano, the farmer goes on vacation to far away places. This is to escape the stench and to avoid the irate phone calls from neighbors.

The reason I have been thinking about things fathers do for daughters is a recent episode from the ABC television show, The Doctors ( The episode I saw had a cosmetic surgeon who had done some work on both of his daughters. His eldest’s belly button was an outie instead of an innie. He fixed that. His younger daughter had a flat chest and one breast was bigger than the other...or one was smaller than the other, I forget which. He fixed that, when she was 18.

People have all sorts of opinions about this situation. Let me give you mine. This father, in effect, said to his daughters, “I, genetically speaking, am a fertilizing failure as a father. Therefore, let me fix your bodies, so you can be beautiful and successful.” Voilá, one daughter has a chest that sticks out more, and the other a stomach that sticks out less.

The rest of the daughters of the world just have to settle for running vehicles, plumbing and roofs that do not leak, or, in the case of my daughters, a well fertilized sense of humor.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A letter to Eldest

This is, at least for us in the Distaffen household, the last week of summer. Middlest just sat on the couch and said, “I hate myself, I hate this time of year. I am excited that school is starting soon and I hate myself for that. Everything I want to do seems boring. You could invite me to go bungee jumping-- BUNGEE JUMPING-- and I would say, ‘No, thanks, that just seems boring.’”

While Middlest eagerly waits for school to start, Littlest is angry since she may not be able to take all the honors/AP classes she wants. It appears that the easiest way to conform “No Child Left Behind” is to hold the smarter children back. Since it is much easier to keep a smart child from reaching her full potential, than it is to have a less smart child exceed her ability. 

As for Eldest, today is her first day of college. It is only orientation weekend, but it is the start. She says she is nervous and I can understand that. Therefore, if you are looking for my usual funny stuff, be prepared to be disappointed, I have simply written a letter to Eldest and included it here.

Dear Eldest, 

Today you start college. I know you already knew that, but I wanted to remind you. It is a start, a new beginning, a canvas waiting for paint, a parchment waiting for words. 

I am firmly convinced that along the way you are going to make mistakes. To that I say, So what? Who cares? What is the big deal? For thousands of years people have made mistakes and the human race seems to be getting along just fine, and to let you in on a secret, those people whom you think are the most perfect and mistake-less, they too, make mistakes.

I also want to give you a warning, for the past four years, teachers have spoon fed you facts, and in the spirit of “No Child Left Behind”, with a few exceptions, have failed to fully challenge you. There are no bells, to mark the beginning and the end, no herds of people milling about as they move from stanchion to stanchion. No ten week review for a test written by some educational warehouse a thousand miles from your class room. 

Instead, you will be expected to learn, and much of that on your own. Questions will be asked, not only to clarify material and clear up confusion, but to challenge beliefs and encourage critical thinking. And by critical I mean terrifying, heart stopping, thinking. 

Your world will soon go from nice, neat, high school boxes, with black and white labels, and always right and wrong answers, to a terrifying hodge podge of brilliant colors and containers of all shapes and sizes. People and ideas will be far different from what you are used to. To be sure, there will be some definite moral absolutes, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” But beyond that, much will be challenged. 

I know you will do well, not only because you are your mother’s daughter, but because you have a strong character, a resilient personality, and a deep love for God. 

So, go forth, enjoy your first steps as an adult. 


Before I posted this, I printed a copy and let Eldest read it. She gave me that special look that teen-aged daughters reserve for their fathers. The look that says, “Male parental unit, you have finally lost every last bit of intelligence. You are officially off your rocker.” That was Eldest’s look and her words to me were, “Dad, I already know this stuff. Haven’t you read my blog?"

Then, I remembered holding Eldest as an infant and praying that she would grow into a young woman who loves God, herself, and others. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A visit to a true country fair

After a long hectic week, I took my three daughters, plus a friend of Middlest, Mac, to the Wyoming County Fair. We packed up snacks and drinks for the long, treacherous journey from safe suburbia to the wild farmland of Wyoming County. The terror was so horrible that Littlest tossed her cookies in the yard. I was worried about her health, but she said, “Don’t worry dad, they were raisin cookies and the raisins looked like flies.”

With eager anticipation, I watched the skyline of Rochester recede in the rearview mirror and the rolling hills loom in front. As we drove down the road, the four youngsters played the alphabet game, looking for letters in signs and license plates, moving from A to Z. Before the game started there was great discussion as to the rules. Finally we reached Z, and the best letter spotter in the van caught a Z on a passing license plate. I am still basking in the glory of that amazing moment.

The fair is an agricultural wonder of the world. We strolled past displays of gardening skills, judged by the 4-H. People, who take gardening seriously, brought in samples of their produce, not to be eaten, but simply to be judged on appearance. There was blue ribbon winning: luscious green eggplant; vibrant, deep red, tomatoes; bright, sunny summer squash, and gorgeous, smooth, brown rocks.

The main attraction of the fair, other than cotton candy, is looking at other peoples pets. For a few years, Eldest had guinea pigs as pets. At the fair, people displayed their guinea pigs. However, being a strong agricultural community and wanting to be as scientifically correct as possible, they call them cavies. In the building with the cavies are also rabbits, ducks and chickens. These are all reasonable pets and I enjoyed seeing them.

The fair has an entire barn for pigs. When we got there most of the pigs were gone. Many of them apparently had plans for Sunday dinner. Specifically they were Sunday dinner. The next barn was the sheep barn, which was also half empty. This was due to the unfortunate number of families who do not like ham for Sunday Dinner.

The last and largest barn, complete with arena and grandstands, is the cow barn. It is a well established fact that normal children want a puppy for a pet. The good people of Wyoming county are a practical bunch and when their children ask for puppies, practicality kicks into overdrive. The practical parents sit their children down and explain that puppies have no useful purpose other than looking cute and making people ooh and ahh, and that is the best they do. Most of the time puppies are yapping, which is simply practicing to bark as a mature dog, and pooping and peeing on the floor, which always needs cleaning up.

The practical parents then tell their grief stricken children not to cry, but that they have purchased a pet for the child. Whereupon they hand them the halter rope to a three thousand pound bovine. They then tout the advantages of owning a cow: skim, 2%, whole milk, and free fertilizer. Not only that, but a house with a cow in the yard is 75% less likely to be targeted for a robbery.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I can imagine how pole vaulting became an Olympic sport.

I believe in practicality, so I have been watching these Olympic games with that pragmatism in mind. I realize that being fit has its own intrinsic rewards. But I enjoy watching the events and imagining what everyday purpose the events could serve. Some are quite easy to imagine like the running events. Running is an excellent skill, especially if you are being chased by ravenous wild animals or being pursued by evil invading Mongol hordes.

The rowing events are an appropriate sport for an Olympic Games being held on an island. After a ship anchored, sailors would row as fast as they could to shore so they could visit Taco Bell and have something besides fish and chips for dinner.

One of the sports that seems to have most hysterical roots is the pole vault. Jenn Suhr, a native western New Yorker, and alum of my alma mater, Roberts Wesleyan College, placed 1st in the pole vault, and is now the proud owner of a Gold Medal. I took a class at Roberts with Jenn and I am sure she doesn’t remember me, but that is ok and has nothing to do with pole vaulting.

In case you are wondering, pole vaulting has nothing to do with the fine Polish people. The pole in pole vault refers to a long stick that, as the vaulter is hurtling down a runway, stabs a hole in the ground and then leaps into the air, attempting to drive the pole through the hole in order to slay it. To the best of my knowledge, no hole has died during a pole vault, but this is not due to the vaulter’s not trying.

Other than slaying holes in the ground, I could not see any practical application of pole vaulting. That is, until one day when I was stuck in traffic and saw someone pull off on the side of the highway. The driver exited the vehicle and pulled a long stick out. Pointing the stick down the highway, the driver took off at top speed, running down the highway, between the stalled lanes of traffic.

As she approached an overpass, she shoved the pole into an ubiquitous western  New York pothole, stabbing it ruthlessly. She launched herself into the air, further trying to slay the beastly pothole. At the apex of her arc, she let go of the pole and landed easily on the bridge over the highway. She then trotted off to a nearby coffee shop and ordered a moch-frappe-cappu-latte.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Olympics, from where I stand--or sit

It is summer Olympic time in the world. These are the sixteen days when the top athletes in the world meet in London to compete in events of athletic prowess to see who is at the top of their game. This is done while the rest of the world’s population stops all physical activity, plops on a couch or comfortable chair, grabs a bowl of unhealthy snack food, and watches all of the competition on television.

Of course, as with any televised event, the favorite activity in our household is critiquing the coverage, commentators, and commercials that come streaming across the screen.

In the commercial category, there are some hands down gold medal winners. In this category are any of the commercials with children or mothers. With the exception of the illegal space aliens living among us, we are all children and all have mothers, so these commercials are easy for the general population to identify with. One such commercial contains a heart warming image of a young male child trying to leap off a concrete platform and land safely in a large vat of water some fifty feet below. It is possible for the child to leap because the platform is without a safety rail around all four sides.

Or another favorite is the “Toddlers-who-wrestle-chairs” commercial. In this commercial event, toddlers of all colors and genders try to pull large pieces of furniture to the floor and pin them. While they do this, referees watch to make sure the toddlers follow all the rules. The commercial ends with these small-bodied, large-headed, little people, pinning the large pieces of furniture every single time. Awesome.

These commercials are total fantasy. This is, after all, America, where we protect our children from all dangers, real or imagined, at all costs. After all, our parents allowed us to play outside for hours, ride our bikes without helmets, and climb trees without nets underneath, and look how this generation turned out.

In the “Epic Fail” category of commercials is the Sears commercial that starts out with a young and, apparently, madly in love, couple frolicking on the beach. The male half of the couple runs down the beach and quickly slams into a large refrigerator. When Middlest saw this, she exclaimed, “What is a refrigerator doing chilling in the middle of the beach?”

There are two types of commentary: the commentary at the venues, and everything else. The voices on the TV, thankfully, have not had a conversation with the voices in my head. Those who speak in venues are awesome. Those individuals are past competitors and present coaches who know the subtleties of the competition and  take every opportunity to tell us how much they know.

The second type of commentary is the between the broadcast of venues, when talking heads sit in chairs and talk...and talk and talk. During the coverage I have observed on NBC, I have seen a number of high profile celebrities being broadcast. With names like, Mick Alfreds, John Mac N Cheese, and Ryan Watercress Salad. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how well known and highly paid these people are, babbling is still babbling. Case in point, Mr. Mac N Cheese was talking about water-polo. In describing the play, he used the analogies of a rodeo and a headless chicken, saying, “Water polo, well, it is like, you see, a bull named Fu-Manchu, riding a headless chicken for 8 seconds, to get across my point."

Lastly, and speaking of NBC, the network has taken a lot of heat for it’s ability to predict the future outcomes of events. Case in point, they were able to air a trailer from the excited reunion of swimmer Missy Franklin with her parents after she won the gold medal, a full 5 minutes before she swam in the meet. NBS has mastered the ability of breaking news, video taping it, and airing it, before it has even happened.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Women are always right

My wife is always right. Women have always been right, except for that one time in the Garden of Eden. There have been a few other times through the course of history where a woman has not been right. Those few times are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Since the entire family took a week to go to Seattle, the rest of the summer is dotted with short day trips here and there to round out our plans. This past week was one of those day trips. Well, not actually a day trip, since we stayed overnight. That moves it into the two-day trip on a technicality. Beloved found an amazing package deal for “Splash Lagoon” in Erie, PA. Splash Lagoon is billed as the largest indoor water park in the east.

Our visit to Splash Lagoon was wonderful. My three daughters and my wife loved the water slides. I enjoyed them a bit too, but my twenty-five year old bones started to hurt a little, so I spent a bit of time in the hot tub (oohh, that was nice), and observing some of the staff from the water park. It was a very noisy environment, with all that water splashing around. Since one of my jobs is in a noisy environment,  I greatly appreciated how the lifeguards could gain a colleague’s attention with a blow on a whistle and then communicate important information across a great distance.

The only negative experience I had during our visit was from a fellow guest. This gentleman was an addlepated twit. Perhaps, dear reader, you think I am harsh, but read on before you pass judgment upon my judgment. My wife and I were sitting next to each other on the deck of the hot tub. She decided to check on our daughters. She left her towel on her chair and I had my hand resting on it. Mr. Twit walked up, blankly staring over the top of my head, bent over, picked up Beloved’s towel, pulling it from my hand. He then wiped his face with it. He kept the towel, which was fine, since beloved would not have wanted to use it after that anyway.

When Beloved’s sister heard of our plans to go to an indoor water park in the summer, she was concerned and asked Beloved if she was sure that she wanted to go to an indoor water park while the weather was so nice. Being the father of three sisters, I have observed that sisters have a deep and profound love for each other and often question each other’s actions and motivations. A sister is constantly looking out for her sibling, eagerly desiring value-added outcomes for the loved one.

I am sure there is a dear reader who is already pointing out that my wife and her sister cannot both be correct in this situation. Let me restate that women are always right. Period. I, as a man, simply must enlarge my frame of reference to see how this is true. First, it has been a long, hot, dry summer in most of the country. Going to an outdoor water park is a right idea. Enjoy the heat, enjoy the sun, and get wet while you do. My sister-in-law was right.

My wife was right too. She had one shot to plan this getaway and she planned it for Thursday and Friday (the 26 and 27 of July). On Thursday, a strong line of thunderstorms moved through Eastern PA and much of New York State. The storms were so strong there was accompanying wind damage in PA, the power went out at Splash Lagoon, and there was a tornado in Elmira, NY.

Therefore, despite the observation that one of them had to be wrong, both my sister-in-law and her sister, my wife, were both right. This proves beyond any doubt that a woman is always right.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Boring week, I wish some of this stuff had happened

Last week I finished sharing about my trip to Seattle. I dragged it out as long as I could, hoping that something else interesting would happen that I could write about. Unfortunately, it has been a dull few weeks. Not that I mind dullness; it is sometimes good for life to be dull. I just have nothing to write about and I am not one of those people who seem to be able to make something out of nothing. The Bible indicates that God made everything out of nothing; people have been trying to duplicate this feat throughout history and have always failed miserably.

The administrators where I work are masters of attempting “something out of nothing”, but usually end up making nothing out of something out of nothing. Whenever something happens, even if it is so small it is really nothing, Administration immediately goes into overdrive, turning it into something. This frenetic activity usually takes the form of designing forms to be filled out and paperwork to sign. By paperwork I mean those long lists of items that outline what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior and usually end with a statement like, “By signing below I agree to follow all the above guidelines and do promise to do so upon the life of my first born child, and if I remain childless I pledge the life of my favorite pet/parent/grandparent.” I once was asked to sign one of those forms with an item that insisted that I keep “dust bunnies locked up at all times.”

Really? Dust bunnies? I get paid for this.

News organizations are often guilty of making something out of nothing and often enlisting the aid of the public in committing this deed. Just watch the evening news on a slow news week and you will find reporters with nothing to report putting a microphone in the face of an unsuspecting citizen who has nothing particular to say and asking them a question like, “Do you have any plans on addressing the crisis resulting from the overpopulation of dust bunnies?”

The unsuspecting citizen usually replies with something like, “Oh, I have noticed that there are a lot of dust bunnies these days, more than in past days. So, I have decided I am going to lock up my dust bunnies.”

Really? Dust bunnies? Who is going to steal dust bunnies?

Speaking of the media, this is the way I wish things would have played out in the media this past week. I recently saw Obama’s television ad criticizing Romney’s ability to sing “America the Beautiful.” Along with Obama’s poking fun at Romney’s musical aptitude there were some words scrolling along the screen about Romney sending many jobs out of the country. Romney’s response to this ad has been, “If you hadn’t clamped down on illegals working in the country, doing jobs American’s refuse to do, I wouldn’t have had to send jobs over seas.” This has ignited a storm of mudslinging between both camps and quibbling like little children.

Abraham Lincoln responded to this behavior by issuing a statement via Twitter, “Go to your rooms w/o dinner; you’re both grounded until you can behave like civil, God fearing adults and lock up your dust bunnies”

Really, dust bunnies?

Also in my estimation, it would have been a good week in news and politics if Charles Schumer, D-NY had issued the following statement:

“Over the past few weeks it has come to my attention that there has been a lack of precipitation across the great state of New York. This dearth of rain has led to not only my lawn, but the lawns of many New Yorker’s turning brown.

“Therefore, I am strongly urging the National Weather Service to forecast rain for New York. This, in my estimation, will help lawns across our wonderful state to return to a verdant greenish color and restore much of the natural beauty of the Empire State. This should result in an influx of tourism, filling my coffers, providing jobs for the citizens of New York.

“Oh, and my aids tell me something about it helping farmers too and dust bunnies too.”

Yes, dust bunnies too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Planes, buses, and ferrys in Seattle (The final chapter)

Although our trip to Seattle was only a week, I have managed to drag out blogging about it for three weeks, this being the third, and final, week. Unless, of course, I remember something interesting that I cannot wait to share, and then there might be another post about Seattle.

If you haven’t read my first post about Seattle, read it now. Even if you have, you may want to refresh yourself on the details to get the full dramatic effect of this post.

While we did our sightseeing, after completing our quizzing, we took public transportation to get to the sights we wanted to see. And by public transportation, I mean buses, both electric and diesel. It is amazing the kinds of people you meet while being transported in large groups.

After a full morning of sightseeing and a lunch, the entire group met at the ferry terminal to await boarding. We patiently waited in line for all the passengers to disembark before we were able to walk down the long walk way to get on the boat. The walkway had a rope divider down the middle, to keep awaiting passengers from getting in the way of those trying to find dry land.

The young people in our group were polite and kept to the right hand side of the rope, and when the line started to move, they calmly walked with the flow of people onto the boat. As we reached the gangplank to walk onto the ferry, I heard a loud stomping behind me and to my left, and upon further review, I found it to be a young lady, not from our group, boldly stomping her way down the hallway in a rush to board the boat. I wasn’t sure what surprised me more, her disregard for social etiquette by walking on the left of the rope, her lack of grace and poise as she clomped down the hall (I pictured her walking through the forest stomping on the precious little woodland creatures.) or her driving desire to get on a boat that wasn’t going to go anywhere for another 15 minutes.  All of her effort was futile. The boat didn’t leave any sooner, and unless she stood in the bow, claiming her spot to get off first, she didn’t arrive any sooner.

Our flight out of Seattle was uneventful. The TSA agents in Seattle do not speak mumble. When I went through security, I put my glasses in the little chamber pot thingy for an all expense paid trip through the X-ray machine. The TSA person looked at me quizzically, and with impeccable English said, “You can wear those.” I responded, “They are just reading glasses and I usually walk around with them like this,” and put them on top of my head to hold back my thick mane of hair. He seemed a little puzzled and replied, “That’s fine; I don’t care how you wear your glasses.” once again in perfect English, without a trace of Mumble.

While boarding our flight to Rochester, the man with the microphone called for all passengers in rows 21 through 27. Typically, boarding a plane is done first by the coach (or first-class passengers), when they are loaded, then they start at the back of the plane. This keeps someone from row 17 from blocking everyone in rows 18 through 27 from getting settled.. After the announcement for passengers in rows 21 through 27 was made,  an older lady slipped in front of me, using the right shoulder-make-no-eye-contact maneuver. When her ticket was scanned I noted she was in row 17 and realized she must have a daughter, who likes to ride ferrys in Seattle. We boarded the plane and I had to wait while she held up the entire line as she stowed her luggage. I made sure to stand close enough to be in her private space without bumping into her and I gave her the smile I reserve for parents of grumpy toddlers in public places. The one with equal mixtures of sympathetic, pity, and kindness. As she sat, I said a quick thank you and nodded as I lead the stream of passengers past her seat. When we arrived in Rochester, there she stood at the baggage claim; alone. By now our large group, which had consisted 13 teens, 4 adults, had swelled considerably with all of the family members who swarmed the airport to pick up their loved ones. Their stood my nemesis line cutter, boarding holder-upper, woman. All alone at the carousel, waiting for her baggage. When the large group slowly engulfed her, swallowing her into a mass of humanity, and making it exceedingly difficult for her to retrieve her bags. I felt guilty for a moment for the feelings of joy for her pay back. But just for a brief moment.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sightseeing in Seattle (Part II)

Nineteen of us flew from Rochester, NY to Seattle, WA to represent our church at the Free Methodist National Bible Quiz competition. I was a coach and my three daughters were quizzers. I have written about Bible quizzing before, so I won’t bore you with the details. If you wish, you can read about it here. 

Since we flew across the entire country, to a city neither I, nor any of my fellow travelers had visited before, we worked in some time for sight seeing. This was a good thing. Seattle is large, and as with most large places, there is a lot to see. Some of the things we saw were unremarkably mundane, but there were still a lot of them.

One of the remarkable sights we saw was the Cascade mountains. While we were in Seattle there was one clear sunny day in which we were able to see all the mountains and especially, the most famous one, Mt. Ranier. The rest of the time it was cloudy and the mountains simply disappeared. I am sure that the TSA is investigating their disappearance.

The city of Seattle is quite hilly due to living so close to the mountains. I think the only flat spot we saw was Puget sound. It is so hilly that if you take purebred Seattlites and stand them on flat ground, they lean inexplicably. It is as if their minds cannot fathom flat land and decide that all land is dramatically sloped and therefore command the body to lean to accommodate the expected slope.

Another tourist sight we went to was the Space Needle, which was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The observation deck is a whopping 520 feet above the ground. I was eager to go there since after a week rushing from quiz to quiz, chaperoning teens, and dorming with a number of imperfect strangers, I was ready for a little space.

When I actually made it to the Space Needle I was disappointed on two accounts. First, there was not an abundance of space. We were crammed into the elevator by the dozens and although there was a little more room to maneuver once we reached the observation deck, it was still crowded. It was definitely not named “Space Needle” because there was room to stretch out and enjoy much personal space.

Next, I assumed we would be close to space, as in outer space. This excited me with the possibility of seeing aliens and observing sattelites and space ships as the floated by.  At 520 feet, this was not the case. In the years between 1962 and 2012, someone has moved space further away from the surface of the earth. Since Seattle is predominantly a liberal city, as far as politics goes, I think they would probably blame the conservatives for this and I am sure conservatives would blame liberals. I believe the problem is a bipartisan one of politicians and all their hot air. Whether their beliefs are liberal or conservative does not matter. All their rhetoric filled hot air has made the atmosphere around earth larger, causing space to be pushed further away from earth.

We also took a ferry across Puget Sound to the quaint tourist attraction called Bainbridge Island. I was excited for this ferry ride. My hometown of Rochester, NY had a ferry for a short time and I never got a chance to ride it. The ferry was called the “Fast Ferry” and made trips between Rochester and Toronto Canada. The two major differences between the ferry to Bainbridge Island and the one between Rochester and Toronto are that a large number of people, other than tourists, actually need to ride between Bainbridge and Seattle-- for work and other activities of daily life, whereas people going to and from Toronto were mainly tourists. The other major difference is that the Seattle/Bainbridge ferry is still running and the Rochester/Toronto ferry is not. It was sold, fast, when it didn’t make any money.

I must confess, I do not know what the great attraction of Bainbridge Island to tourists is, but I do know that the town is filled with the quaint little shops that one would expect in a rustic tourist attraction. Small yarn shops, candle shops that have sweet smells coming from the doorways, little cafe’s with names like Pennywhistle Cafe and the Fork and Spoon. The latter is a real cafe located on Bainbridge Island. I ate there and didn’t need either a fork or a spoon. I had a  sandwich and chips, and I felt cheated since there was no use for their touted silverware.

There was an outdoorsy kind of store called Wild Erness, and a modernish kind of clothing store called Dan Ger as well. When I pointed these out to littlest she just rolled her eyes and said, “Dad, it is Wilderness and Danger.” I think she was wrong.

To conclude this entry on my trip to Seattle, I want to pass along an interesting tidbit I picked up about Bainbridge Island. It is thusly named because it is completely surrounded by water.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Off to Seattle, If I make it. (Part I)

After the frenetic activity of last week, it might be understood that Beloved and I decided to rest and relax. We did not. Instead, we packed ourselves and our three daughters and headed to Seattle, Washington, with fourteen of our closest friends, for a total of 5 adults and 14 teenagers.This was for the annual Free Methodist National Bible Quizzing Finals, which were being held this year at Seattle Pacific University.

As you might imagine, traveling with this many people, especially teenagers is fraught with danger, miss-steps and miscues. For the trip out, we made it with only a few minor bumps.

The two people who are always late came early to the meeting and everyone else was on time as well. We got through the TSA checkpoint with only a minimum of trouble. As I was standing at the conveyor putting all of my precious metal into a plastic tub, I heard a mumble behind me. Throughout the years, ignoring mumbles has served me well, getting me out of many an unwanted task. Then I heard it again, a little bit louder, slightly clearer, but still a very distinct mumble.

I broke my “ignore the mumble” rule and turned to see a bald TSA agent looking at me. I inquired politely, “I am sorry; I didn’t hear you; could you say it again?”

He happily obliged, and repeated himself, but still with that delightful dull squawk of Mumble, just like an adult on a Peanuts TV special. I blinked, trying to process what I had just heard. Thankfully, Middlest, who is fluent in both Latin and Mumble translated for me, “Dad, he wants you to put your glasses on.” This was confusing because my glasses were on my head holding my thick mane of hair back away from my stunningly clear blue eyes. At this point, Mr. Bald TSA person, realized I did not speak mumble and spoke in English, “They have to be on your eyes.”

I am not sure what the problem was with glasses on my head, rather than on my eyes, but I think perhaps he was jealous of my thick mane of hair.

Other than that, the rest of the trip to Seattle was uneventful, except for the one quizzer, who inquired why the plane had stopped, while we were still flying at an altitude of thirty-thousand feet with an air speed of around 500mph. Ignoring the obvious fact that if the plane had stopped at thirty-thousand feet we would be plummeting to our deaths, I quipped, “We had to stop for a train.” This seemed to satisfy her curiosity.

Seattle has one of the fastest growing economies and is one of the best cities in the country to start a career. These facts are inextricably linked to the cities topography. Seattle is built on the mountains that descend into the southern reaches of Puget Sound. Since the landscape is so steep, there are no ground floors in local buildings. The buildings I visited start with the first floor and if I walked around and went in the side of the building I was on the second floor, and when I walked to the back of the building, I was on the third floor.  Being that there are no ground floors, there are also no ground level entry positions in companies. This is, in my estimation, the reason for the fast-paced growth of jobs in Seattle.

Seattle is known as one of the healthiest cities in the States. As I walked the streets I found a large number of people walking, running, and biking. There is apparently a polite way of doing this. I heard a voice behind me call out, “To the left, to the left.” I turned and there was a 100 lb woman barreling down on me with blood-lust in her eyes as she was about to body slam me and knock me into the ground. I quickly jumped to my right in an act of desperate self preservation. Beloved says I exaggerate and perhaps I do; she may only have weighed in at 90 lbs.

Another thing I noted during my walk. On every other street corner there is a gym, or martial arts dojo, or some other place where people can engage in physical fitness activities. This preoccupation is not just due to some weird confluence of as yet undetermined environmental factors; it is rather a case of self-preservation. In the few short days that I have been in Seattle, I have found that it is very difficult to get anywhere without climbing half a mountain. Thus, for Seattlites, exercise is necessary to maintain Olympic conditioning, just to walk around the block.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My busy week in review.

It has been a week packed full of activity in my neck of the woods this week. It started with Sunday, as most weeks generally start with Sunday, that part was routine. However, this particular Sunday was also Father’s day. My wife and children greeted me with warmth and announced that I was to enjoy this day. This was good.

I had to work in the afternoon and my coworkers also gave me warm Father’s day greetings. This, I thought, was good. But then I realized that people were probably not wishing me a happy father’s day because of my being an amazing father, but rather because they are all young and I am not and I probably reminded them of their father.  In light of the fact that I only admit to being twenty-five, this is not good.

I would have called my father to send him best wishes for being a father, but he is dead. This is bad.

I thought of less blunt ways to say that and none seemed appropriate. Especially inappropriate is the phrase, “I lost my father.” Car keys, phone numbers, and pens are lost, fathers--not so much. It may be socially acceptable to lose your mind, but not a beloved family member. Fathers do not fall in the cracks of the couch to reappear during spring cleaning. Nor do they dissappear under beds until the search for heavy winter blankets begins. I hope my daughters pay close attention to this admonition, losing your dad is bad.

Monday followed Sunday, which soon turned into Tuesday, which, of course led to Wednesday, also known as Graduation Day. This was due to the fact that Eldest graduated from High School Wednesday evening. I was excited that my daughter invited me, apparently the years of embarrassment that she had suffered from her father were forgiven and she allowed me to attend.
Not wanting to embarrass Eldest on such an auspicious occasion, I read the letter her principle sent home outlining appropriate behavior for family members during the graduation ceremony, which was being held at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Gordon Field House. One thing that struck me was the ban on air horns. The letter specifically stated that air horns and other noisemakers would be confiscated by RIT security. The only air horn that I have access to is attached to a bus and I couldn’t figure out how to sneak a bus into the field house so I figured I was safe.

Imagine my horror when I saw an entire horde of young people brazenly carrying in air horns, big banging drum thingies, and all sorts of other noisemakers. I was sure that security was going to swoop down on these rule breakers like a horde of TSA agents on a 3.5-ounce bottle of shampoo.

They were left unmolested and soon the patriarchal figure of those young people stood up with a big stick, which he shook at them. As he shook the stick, they made loud noises with their noisemakers. This continued on for three or four minutes until he finally got tired of shaking his stick and they stopped until the end of the ceremony. At this point the man, having regained his strength, stood up and shook his stick again and his horde made noises.

The next day, Thursday, we had a graduation party for Eldest. I was opposed to this. As much as I love Eldest, I do not see why she deserved a party for sitting in a chair for an hour, standing up, walking across a stage, taking a folder, and shaking a couple of hands. This hardly constituted a reason for celebration and I told Beloved so. She gave me “The Look” and we had the party. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Senior Pranks, the dull and unimaginative.

I wrote last week about the end drawing nigh. By which of course, I meant the end of the school year, not the end of the world. Apparently, however, some High School students interpret the end of the school year as a coming apocalypse and determine that their behavior should be adjusted accordingly. It is as if they are living out the answer to that age old rhetorical question, “What would you do if you knew you only had a few (minutes, hours, days...) left to live?”

The answer to that question for many young people across the country is random acts of vandalism. Spray painting buildings, breaking windows, randomly destroying bathrooms and plumbing fixtures. All of these actions are flippantly cloaked in the definition, “Senior Prank.”

I have read with great interest during the past week what some high school seniors consider a senior prank. I am delighted to inform you that our educational system is a success. For thirteen years youngsters across the nation are herded into classrooms, force-fed information, taught to take tests, and taught to think independently. But, mind you, just think independently; do not act independently. As Eldest recently observed, “You see, High School has tried to make me fit in this 8″ by 8″ box. After a while, my edges were sanded away, everything that people considered “different” was removed, it’s as if a big chunk of me is missing.” (

High schools reward conformity, compliance to norms, and blindly accepting the rules. This, with the exception of rule following, shows in the unimaginative senior pranks making the news. Three local teens were arrested for destroying property in one suburban high school and perhaps the most notable, was the defacing of the School of the Arts with graffiti. In this case almost thirty seniors were arrested for that prank. Even worse, one piece of graffiti was a stick figure. One Facebook friend observed that whoever drew that should not even graduate. This was after all The School for the ARTS.

Entering this horrible state of senior prank affairs are a fine group of seniors from Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School, located just south of Albany, NY. These imaginative seniors plastered the inside of their school with 5000 packs of Post-it-notes. ( used different colors to write words such as “Seniors” and (forgive my french) “poop”! These 29 students, including the valedictorian and salutatorian, were let into the school by janitors, who even assisted the students in the prank.

When one of the janitors became nervous and called the students early the next morning, they returned to the school and cleaned it up.

I say KUDOS! to the RCSHS seniors for being both imaginative and responsible with their senior prank. The adults of the school were not happy that their students stepped out of the box, and they therefore suspended the 29 seniors.  Superintendent Elisabeth Smith is quoted as saying, “As adults in this learning community, we are not willing to sacrifice the health and safety of our students...” Yes folks, apparently all you have seen in horror movies is true. Schools are havens of evil beings after 7 p.m. Smith continued to say, “we will not tolerate the the loss of valuable planning or instructional time.” I, for one, am not fooled by that. We all know that the last week or two of school is completely bereft of an instruction or planning. Besides, these young citizens cleaned up the notes themselves, simply at the request of one nervous janitor. Congratulations adults of the learning community for once again crushing the imagination and precociousness of our young men and women.

Of course, the students are left with no recourse to pursue. It is, after all, their last few weeks of school. I wonder, however, what would happen if they boycotted some event the “Adults” in the learning community had planned. Perhaps some event where teachers, administrators, parents gather together to parade their handiwork before a large gathered assembly of other adults. Something so grand that tickets have to be rationed out to insure that the crowd is not too large.  An event where each student is dressed just like the one on either side of him or her. Where, when their name is called, they walk across a stage and receive an empty token of their years in the educational mill, while adults clap for the fine job they have done in chiseling these people to be so successful and being so alike and docile.

What if there were no valedictorian or salutatorian speech? What if 29 of their number were absent? What then?

Friday, June 8, 2012

The end is near! Curious?

The end is near. No, not the end of the world, but the end of the school year, and what a year it has been.  Eldest is graduating this month and this past year has been a busy one for her. She decided to skip lunch periods in favor of filling her schedule with classes. Of the eight classes she took, seven were Advanced Placement (AP). She capped off a week filled with AP tests with my sister’s wedding, where she was the pianist, and her last piano recital of her High School career, where she played a concert version of chopsticks that had major classical themes woven throughout. The piece was fun, yet technically challenging. She also is involved in a Bible Quizzing program through church that is quite competitive ( This past weekend was the final tournament for the local area, and at the end of the month is the National tournament at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, WA.

I say all this, not only to brag, but also to point out that my daughter has elected to take on this heavy load. My wife and I did not force her to take this heavy load. She wanted to. We thought she was taking on too much and counseled her against it, but she did it anyway, because she was curious and wanted to learn.

The actions of my daughter illustrate that people are naturally curious; they want to explore and to learn and to grow. This natural desire to learn is evidenced in everything from the two year old who constantly asks, “Why?” to the popularity of the Google search engine. Google did not become the default search engine for so many people because of slick marketing and sweepstake contests. Google has grown because it met the basic need of curious people everywhere to answer the questions, who, what, where, when, why and how.

A few weeks ago Littlest came home from school a grumpy. She, along with thousands of other 8th grade students across New York State, were in the midst of taking standardized tests. The same test with the infamous talking pineapple, which challenges a hare to a race, loses, and gets eaten by the other animals. These tests are administered to gauge how well teachers are teaching. Consequently, teachers spend valuable classroom time teaching students to take the test.

Littlest summed it up this way, “School is so boring. All we do is prepare to take tests. Like who is going to hire me to take tests? That is just what I want to be when I grow up, a professional test taker. And what is up with the talking pineapple? I mean the story was funny, but it was dumb!”

The Sudbury Model of Education is the exact polar opposite of the way we assume education should be done ( It supports young people's curiousity by allowng their own interests and thirst for knowledge to guide the learning process. 

Exploring, asking questions, and solving problems are how we learn and grow. Standardized mandatory tests did not inspire Edison to invent the light bulb, the Wright brothers to invent the airplane, Chester Carlson to invent the copier, or the French to invent the french fry.

Perhaps someday the pineapples who mandate layer upon layer of bureaucratic testing for children will realize they have lost the race and promptly be eaten by an angry horde of 8th graders.

Until then, congratulations to all who are finishing up another year of education, and to those who are celebrating graduation and moving on to something new. Stay curious my friend, stay curious.

The end.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My sister got married and I need to leave the country.

Last week I was unable to write a blog post and may only be able to sporadically update the blog in the coming weeks, since I am leaving the country. The reasons for my going away come from my sister’s wedding and the reception afterwards.

My black belt in Tae Kwon Do sister got married last Friday. Her husband asked if I would stand with him at the wedding. He apparently is as terrified of my little sis as I am. I agreed. I thought this was a simple thing to do, since I have had years of practice standing.

Then my sister mentioned that I would have to make toast. “Toast?” I asked. I know my way around a kitchen. I can make some excellent instant oatmeal. My family raves about my hamburger grilling skills, and I have yet to burn water when making tea. But why toast, I thought. Then it dawned on me. It was going to be a Peanuts ™ wedding reception. We were all going to gather around ping-pong tables, sit in lawn chairs, and eat toast, pretzel sticks and jelly beans.

My sister corrected my incorrect assumption. I was not making toast; I was making a toast, which was a development I had not anticipated. Unsure of what making a toast entailed, I Googled “making wedding toasts” and found a number of sites eager for me to purchase their book on making toasts. Chapters included “Toasting Etiquette”, “17 Beach Wedding Toasts”, “13 Humorous Toasts”, and a sampling of “14 Irish Wedding Toasts”. All for the low, low price of $19.95. I did not purchase the book for two reasons. First, it would not have arrived in time for the wedding. Second, there were approximately 734 toasts in the book and I figured if it became common knowledge that I had that many toasts, I would be invited to many weddings in order to do the toasting.

Therefore, instead of buying the book, I decided to pretend I was writing a blog post and make it a toast. This was not difficult since post and toast rhyme.

The wedding was a beautiful affair. The mother of the bride was escorted down the aisle and she cried. The bride said her vows and she cried. The groom said his vows and he cried. I want to make it clear, I did not cry. The groom only asked me to stand with him, not cry with him. So, I stood and I did not cry. If you were there and saw me wiping my face, I want to make it clear that it was hot, I was sweating, and I wiped the sweat from my face. That is all.

The reception was delightful. It was wonderful to reconnect with family that I do not get to see often. The toast went well—and by that I mean, people laughed where they should and no one threw anything at me.

This brings me to why I am leaving the country. A day after the wedding a significant number of wedding guests became ill with diarrhea, vomiting, and lingering halitosis. After a few medical tests, the diagnosis was food poisoning. The initial health department investigation indicates the suspected food was the toast.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What do you call a dog with no legs?

There is a corny joke that goes, “What do you call a quadriplegic dog?” Nothing, because he won’t come anyway. Eldest and I went to Imagine RIT, a huge event at Rochester Institute of Technology, where we found a group of students who designed a specialized wheel chair for quadriplegic dogs. I suppose the new answer to that old joke would now be “Lucky; if he has one of these.”

My trip to Imagine RIT was a father/daughter date with Eldest, and the first exhibit we saw was a “homebrew” vacuum tube amplifier for a phonograph. The sound from the amp was amazing-- full, vibrant, and rich. The schematic for the amp was on display, and Eldest and I looked at it. I swelled with pride as she was able to identify the different symbols and the components they represented. With one notable exception, she could not identify the symbol for a vacuum tube. This was not surprising, as she had never seen a vacuum tube before.

As Eldest and I considered which displays to visit we consulted the map and we saw a display that we decided we would enjoy visiting. It was out of the way and difficult to find. We asked a student who promptly gave us directions to get us lost. As we wandered aimlessly up and down hallways for hours without any other humans in view, we discussed why the layout of the entire school was so complicated. Eldest observed, “This is a school for smart people. It must be that if a student cannot find their way to class they are expelled.”

We left the building, and as we walked outside, I noticed a unique architectural design that was easy to spot on the map. We rushed back into the building and there was the display we had been looking for. It was closed. I believe the student could not find where he was supposed to be and the Dean of Students has since expelled him.

Speaking of unique architectural features, we entered one building and found a staircase with the digits of pi engraved onto the steps. This delighted Eldest to no end and we had to take many pictures of pi.
Eldest taking pictures of pi

Take cream add dry ice and stir
Ice cream, delicious.
 On the floor above the pi staircase, young chemists were making homemade ice cream by dumping dry ice into cream and stirring. Eldest and I tried some and found it delicious. It also occurred to me that with the pi staircase and ice cream on the floor above, it was like pi a la mode.

On the way home Eldest and I talked about all the amazing things we saw. She said her favorite display of all of them was the “disk-turny-thingy.” I thought hard, running through all of the displays we saw and finally asked her what she meant. She said, “You know, the one with the vacuum tubes.” Apparently, not only were vacuum tubes foreign to her, but so were vinyl records on a turntable. She, however, claims that this is not the case, she simply could not remember the word “phonograph” and did not want to use the phrase “record player.”