Random adventures through my life... in all their glory and splendor.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bandit B Gone

Just wanted to say that I caught another 2 raccoons this week. I'd like to thank the first one for eating blackberries before capture so that I now have a big purple stain on my pooped deck. I'd also like to shout out to the second one who left 'signature' in big scratch marks.

I know, I know, I should have set the trap on say... cement, but I've never had those problems before.

Anyway, the kids got to see the last one and have now had the 'My Daddy catches raccoons' experience.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Critter Review - Summer 08

Ok, well for starters, if you haven't figured it out, I've been blogging over here a lot more lately as things have kinda changed around the Gardner household recently. I will probably continue to do so, but I couldn't really justify griping about feral animals on the family blog, other than the fact that Yordanos wanted to know the Amharic word for "Raccoon." I'm like, "No Amharic. Raccoon English Only," and pulled up this picture in an attempt to describe why I don't want them running around the backyard, dining on free cat food.So yeah, about 3 days ago I could no longer deny the fact that there were too many flippin raccoons hanging around. I put food out for the cats and a half hour later, no cats, but *4* raccoons (looked like a mother and 3 'cubs' or whatever you call them) were enjoying dinner. So I put the trap out, and needless to say, I caught the one male cat that I couldn't get when I was on the 'neuter the neighborhood' spree. It was kind of a toss up, but I decided to let him go and hope for one of them masked bandits. About an hour later, I looked out and saw a small raccoon in the cage. But here's the thing, whenever I've captured a cat, the other cats all do the, "No sir, I didn't see anything, officer" pose. But this is the first time I've gone out to the cage to find 3 other animals trying to help the trapped one out, and let me tell you, mama was pissed. So I took the little guy 'to a better place' and set the trap again, hoping to catch the mother, figuring that it would be my best bet at keeping them all together. Less than 15 minutes later, another sibling wandered into the trap. Again, he is now in a better place and hopefully caught up with his brother. I guess losing 2 in an hour was enough to convince mama raccoon that there was no such thing as a free meal at the Gardners because there has been no evidence of raccoon activity and the outdoor cats have been lounging around the yard all afternoon (lately they've been dine-and-dash'ing.)

But speaking of the outsiders, it's been over a week since we've had a 'Fat Murray' sighting and I think it's safe to say she's slinked off to the eternal catnap. Once she was no longer pregnant, she really wasn't very fat, but the name stuck anyway. I've probably mentioned this before, but I was amazed that we didn't lose any cats in the winter when the temperature dipped to -25. I figured if they could survive that, they could handle pretty much anything. But I guess when you're talking about feral cats, it's really a matter of when, not if. She was a gentle cat, I hope it was quick.

So cheers, Fat Murry, your serene, fuzzy face will be missed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

How I made my insurance man's day

Step 1: Find bat in attic
Step 2: Go to internet and search for "OMG, I has a bat in my attic! Please Advise." Be sure to read about how good they are for the environment, how disease ridden they are, and then the part about how there's a big fine if you're caught exterminating them, you insensitive twit.
Step 3: Call insurance guy and say, "The interwebs said that most home owners insurance policies cover bat removal and clean up. Does mine?"
Step 4: Tell him to call you back when he's done laughing.

For extra credit, read about how you aren't supposed to 'relocate' bats in June, July, or August because the babies can't fly yet. Then look at this and try to care (No, it's not my attic.)

Ok, but the ironic thing is that, although they won't help get the bats out, they will pay for property damage caused by bats. Not clean up, but actual damage. So I guess I have to wait until the attic is so full of bat turds that it crashes through to my dining room. Geniuses.

De-Dinked: The Last Hoorah, no regrets.

It occurred to me recently that there really isn't a formal, "Go out with a bang because from now on you'll have to actually BE responsible, and not just faking responsibility like you have been throughout your marriage" rite of passage. There's no equivalent to a bachelor party before having children. I've watched my friends scurry about trying to get in that one last gift for themselves before their baby arrives. Money is almost always tight and the wife is usually keeping an eye out for such activity, but most guys wheedle in one last treat. I got lucky. I got permission to get the bass guitar early on. But Hallmark is really missing a niche here. Whichever company convinces women that having a child should constitute a celebration (and I'm not talking baby shower) will make some serious money.

It might also eliminate some of the awkward conversations I've had with folks who try describe the joy of children but are just too exhausted to think striaght. Seriously, parents are the worst salesmen for parenthood. "It's the best thing in the world... well, I mean, it's hard but it's worth it... and it's going to change life as you know it... and you won't sleep for 18 years, but you know, it's great." Um, so which is it? Because as far as I'm concerned worrying about whether the bleach is in a locked cabinet and "sheer bliss" are mutually exclusive, but apparently becoming a parent melts your brain to the point where that makes sense. Anyway, wouldn't it be easier if instead of trying to explain how joyous it was when your kid finally coughed up a LEGO, if current parents could just say, "So, what did you do for your Un-Dinking?" (Dink= Double Income No Kids) See? It's easy.

Anyway, I was thinking of all this because the past couple weeks have really been kind of one extended DINK fest (if that catches on, you heard it here first) and it's been better than any one event I could have planned. At a wedding reception, the math is working against you. A four hour reception with 240 guests means that you get to average 1 minute with each person, and that assumes you visit all through dinner. Maybe I've just been more aware of it lately, but I've done most all of the 'Me' things I've wanted.

-Had coffee with Wandtkes
-Played at The Brick
-Went to an Ethiopian restaurant with the Owens
-Sang at church
-Drove the commute with my wife one last time
-Saw movies (in the theater) with Megan, Brent and Zach
-Karaoke'ed with good (I dare say, borderline "great") friends
-Saw my favorite bartender
-Had lunch with "The Boys"
-I READ A BOOK!!! (Well, half of one anyway...)
-Various people who I haven't seen in ages have called out of the blue, the list goes on.

I know none of this stuff sounds like party material, but add it up and it's actually what any single celebration could ever hope to accomplish. I've interacted with nearly everyone whom I consider near and dear (I've missed a couple of you, but you know who you are!) in the past two weeks and that has made this transition into parenthood a real celebration for me.

So thanks to all of you who came to my two week De-DINK-A-Thon. It's really been my pleasure, and hopefully Team Gardner can return the favor sometime.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Saturn does not need more "BAM!"

So Friday night, Chris stayed late in Elgin to hang with her knitting crew, and I went out to Open Mike and Karaoke. So, I'm walking home at 1am and I see Chris's car parked in the street, which is *really* unusual. I guess I had left my car in the driveway and she wasn't up for the car swap it would take to get her car into the garage.

Now, normally this is not a problem, but occasionally, on weekends when the weather is good the youth of Belvidere take advantage of unattended vehicles. I say "occasionally" because since we've lived at this house I've had stuff done to my car a handful of times. Getting my mirror whacked off was probably the most serious, but that happened to every car on the street that night, and clearly nothing personal. Some might say once is too much, but for me it's not so much the damage that bothers me, it's more just the feeling of being violated.

So, knowing that it's a nice spring evening and it's not a school night, I approach the Saturn trying to get the glare from the street light at the right angle to see if there's been any damage. I see a big clear splatter mark across the windshield which, if I hadn't gotten the car washed 3 days ago, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but now this requires more investigation. I continue walking toward the car and I see that there is little bits of something on the ground, but they're not reflecting so it's not glass, which is a bonus.

Care to guess what I found sticking to the hood and windshield wipers of my wife's car? If you guessed "olives" you'd be half right. Yeah... someone threw olives and maraschino cherries at my car. Cherries? Olives? If you can't make a good martini, don't take it out on me. Seriously who, pray tell, decides at midnight that they are going to drive around and garnish the neighborhood?

And this isn't the first time this has happened. Okay, okay, technically last time my car was condiment'ed with catchup but you get the idea. I don't know if the "traditional" vehicle vandalism foods are too expensive now or what, but it's just really weird. What's also weird is that they they didn't just whip the bottle of olives at the car (i.e. I didn't find a chip in the glass, or the container in the lawn) but they did egg the side mirror. ??? As if to say, "It's just a prank, but not really." I really don't mind the "sticky until you wash it off" stuff, but eggs can do real damage. Maybe kids just don't get the difference yet. I know I didn't until I had to clean it up and then realized a couple months later that I had missed some places where the paint had been eaten through.

Kids these days... pfft, whatever. Just stay off my lawn or I'll shake my fist at you.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bob Strikes Back! (Hoser...)

I've talked about Bob, the World's cheapest man and the previous owner of our house, before. Well, for the past year, I've been watching various hose carriers and reels decay and fall off our house. All I could think was, "We can put a man on the moon, why is it so difficult to keep a hose tidy?" I believe the answer lies in how much one invests in equipment. For NASA that means, "As much as is necessary," while for Bob it means, "As close to zero as possible." Big difference.

(Note how the spigot is actually holding more hose than the caddy at this point...)

So I'm at K-Mart the other day and I remembered that the south side hose caddy is literally on it's last leg. I trudge off to the lawn and garden section, just to kind of get an idea for how much a replacement part is going to cost me and I see that there are about 15 different devices for storing your hose. Finally I find the one that's $3.89 that looks similar to the one that's clinging to my house by it's fingernails. It seems to meet all of Bob's criteria: It's an off brand, has absolutely no frills, and it's the cheapest one... at K-Mart! I get back home and find that my current hose "organizer" is exactly the same brand, no surprise there.

I go back to K-Mart and buy two of them. Why? Because to Bob's credit this particular hose carrier has five mount points, four of which line up perfectly around a brick. So since I got the exact same model, I don't have to drill more holes into my house. And I won't have to the next time it falls off either. Home improvement using the Bob method. Ta-Dah!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Feline Evangelist [Eye Roll]

Want to know how to tell you're a crazy? When you start comparing yourself to other crazy people and you say to yourself you must be ok because at least you aren't like them.

I went to the grocery store today for 3 things. 3. Just a survival run. Milk, tea, and catfood. That's it. The first two took me about 2 minutes, so I go whipping my cart into the kitty section. I'm scanning for the biggest bag I can find, when this other guy in the aisle sees me perusing and says, "Hey, can I make a recommendation?" Sure, why not, and hopefully you're going to point out the stuff that's on sale.

So he points out the only Purina catfood flavor that's not made with animal byproducts. Ok, kinda interesting. He then describes what 'animal byproducts' actually are. Ooo-kay. Then he explains why beaks, claws and feathers are bad for a cat's digestive system. Fine, I got it. Then he proceeds to give me an anatomy lesson on feline kidneys, and the proper diet to care for them. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I look at his cart and it's FULL of cat food, but interestingly, not with the brand he recommended. He then goes into great detail about how the wet food he's buying is way better than the dry stuff he recommended. Glazing commences, no more eye contact. He tells me about how this particular wet food is produced at a fish cannery and not a catfood plant so it's higher quality. He says blah-blah tuna blah, when Chris calls me with a couple more items to pick up. Oh, I love that woman and her timing! I pull back. He leans in. The smell of dirty cat wafts toward me. I stand still, thanking God that my wife wouldn't put up with our house (or me) smelling like that. Then, I kid you not, he then starts to suggest milk alternatives for lactose intolerant cats. Now I'm trying to figure out an exit strategy. He then shows me the two bottles of Lact-Aid buried in his cart under the cat food. Leaving is no longer optional and is now paramount. He says that he learned all this because his other cat died of kidney problems and the vet explained all this to him. KTHXBYE! I leave without a bag catfood. Dude, I was just happy to get out of that aisle.

I came back later, but he had cornered some other woman. Sorry sister... he's sexually harmless, so you're on your own.

Here's the thing, I was looking for food for the outdoor cats. Feral cats have an average life expectancy of about 3 years, 5 max. And frankly, I suspect far more die from a Chevy overdose than renal failure. And I happen to know that they can survive -25 degree nights on whatever food is on sale. But there was no way I was going to pick up the 20 pound bag 'o dehydrated chicken eyeballs in front of that guy after that lecture.

Well, not there anyway...

Now, I'm not exactly an emotional cornerstone when it comes to the death of a pet, but seriously, at least I'm not that guy.

Fat Murray is not impressed with the outdoor buffet.
(Yes I stole this pic from Chris's blog. It's a great shot.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Putting the Oh-Oh-One in m0n0nuc1eosis

Smiles everyone, Smiles! This is officially my 100th post! So I'll try to make it a reeeeally good one, like the 100th episode of Stargate or the 100th Strongbad email. You know... a real American classic.

Or, I could just post an oh-so flattering picture of myself with my head on a stump and be done with it...Ta-DAH!
Back in my day, we didn't have Photoshop. NoooOOOoo! We had dead trees, and a game called, "Saw off my head and throw it at a stump." We played it for hours AND WE LIKED IT!

Ok, Ok, meanwhile...
I mentioned earlier that I finally went to the doctor last week. Well, the lab results came back today and oh, lookie here, there's a big pile of Mono-fighting antibodies hanging out in my blood. The only reason those would still be there is if I had recently had Mono. Lovely. I feel mildly vindicated though. It's kind of like the old Wayne's World quote, "I thought I had Mono once, turns out I was just really bored," but in reverse. Granted, it's not as funny to say, "I thought I was bored for three months, turns out I had Mono," but it's more accurate to my situation.
Anyway, Chris listened to the voice mail, squinted at me and said, "Hmm, who'd you get Mono from?" playing the coyly-jealous spouse card. "You," I said, answering the question and trumping the conversation in one syllable. Her attitude kinda descended after that. Chris had a rough winter too, and not just because I was asleep or the living dead the majority of the time.

Oh, and apparently I'm low on vitamin B12. So my doctor who casually mentioned that I should probably be taking a daily multivitamin, was right. Care to guess the symptoms of a b12 deficiency? Clipped from wiki:

"Common early symptoms are tiredness or a decreased mental work capacity, decreased concentration and decreased memory, irritability and depression."

Really? No freekin' kidding. Here's a summary of my winter: Eye roll. Fidgit-Fidgit. Yawn. Glare. "What were you saying again?" Tap-tap-tap. Sigh. Glaze. Stretch. Head in hands. "What?"

Aaaand Scene!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No time like April...

...to start working on those New Years resolutions, that's what I always say!
Last month I had to return the Bass guitar I had been borrowing for 3 years. The original owner was coming back from (at least) his second tour of duty and wanted it back. I was going to arm wrestle him for it, but you know, I didn't want to embarrass him or anything... so you know, I just played it cool. I didn't even cry.
Ever since then I've been laying the groundwork for getting my own. You see, in our marriage there's a LOT of passive-aggressive, cloak-and-dagger, mind games going on all the time. It's like this constant brutal chess match. Here's a sample conversation:

Me: You know, I had to return that Bass Guitar I was borrowing... I'm going to need my own.
Her: Fine.
Me: I'm serious, I need to buy one soon.
Her: Ok.

(20 minutes later)

Me: Hey, I'm going out to go buy a Bass guitar and you can't stop me.
Her: I told you that was fine. Bye!

See how at this point I've got her so spun around she almost thinks it was her idea? CheckMate baby, CheckMate.

Anyway, so I drove out to my not-so-terribly-local guitar shop looking for a bass guitar. I don't think I was being really picky, but I had some basic criteria. For starters, acoustic-electric translates to me as, "I can practice without an amp" and that alone is a deal maker. Also, it has to have frets and only 4 strings. I could not care less about the brand or the electronics, I did have those two options figured out. The design and style should be fairly 'generic' for lack of a better word. I don't need a lot of bling or attention at this point. Oh, and it should sound and feel good... did I forget to mention that?

Turns out I did have a couple more parameters though, that I didn't even know about. For instance, I immediately skipped over any guitar that had "JAZZ BASS" printed on the headstock. I'm sure they sound great, but I guess I'm just not comfortable enough in my bass-ulinity to get over that. And on the other hand, there's a lot of really presumptuous Bass guitars out there. I'm not Flea, nor will I ever be. And there was a whole wall of daggery/skullified/blood-oozing/spidered basses that just gave me the finger as I looked them over. Seriously, for me, it's an instrument, I'm not trying to make a statement yet. I finally found this one in the far corner, facing the wall without a price tag. That's about as unassuming as you can get. SOLD!

Oh, and last rule of guitar buying. Once you put your money down, don't pick up another guitar. No good can come of that.

Gauging my [CENSORED] success

In my constant quest to write down all the unwritten rules of karaoke, I've come to recognize some very tangible indicators of audience approval. Now you might assume that this would be fairly obvious, but you'd be thinking with your sober mind. Your friends are there for support and should be encouraging even if you tank. Strangers are well, strange and unpredictable.

Applause is not a particularly valid indicator. From the mic it's hard to tell the difference between, courtesy clapping, genuine applause, and just unrestricted enthusiasm induced by "liquid courage."

Being completely ignored isn't necessarily a good or bad thing either. Maybe you missed that single approving nod, or it could mean folks just came out to socialize and it happened to be karaoke night.

Sometimes people sing along because they are familiar with the song. Other times people sing along because they're trying to drowned you out. It's kind of a toss up.

So how do you know if you suck or not? Here's how I gauge it...

1) How do *I* feel I did. Bottom line is that if I think I nailed it, I probably did.

2) Explicatives followed by "A!", "Rocked," or "Sweet," tell me that I did something right. I'm going strictly by experienced frequency here. I get an enthusiastic "That was BLEEPIN' Awesome!" so rarely that it has to be noteworthy. And lastly...

3) Did it make girls dance? Because really, at that point, does it matter how well you're actually doing? The consensus from guys is, "No." Technical accuracy goes right out the window after that. For women singers, your mileage may vary.

I'd like to thank my friends who came out the other night and made sure I heard #2 and then proceeded to completely abuse #3. I still feel scarred and dirty, thank you Julie.

I've already said too much.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Supporting the Arts

So today was my day to go to The Brick Cafe and do my guitar thing. I've been trying to expand my mainstream folk repertoire, so it's really cool to start playing something new and see toes start tapping immediately. This follows the "People like what they know" philosophy. I'm sure at some point I'll get bored and embittered, but for now, there's just sooo much catching up to do. Today's successful request was 'something by Dan Fogelberg' and I was able to whip out "Bad Moon Rising." (Ok, Ok, that was CCR, and I sang it nearly and octave lower, but it was close enough to count.) [Addendum: actually it wasn't close at all because I keep confusing Dan Fogelberg and John Fogerty, so technically it's strike two...] But on the flipside, I thought I had "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night in one of my books, said I could do it, and then had to renege.

Anyway, There were two things that made today noteworthy. The Sweet Adelines were rehearsing up the street and came by on their lunch break. And let me tell you, these ladies were not done singing. I'm not used to having 5 women belting harmonies, and frankly carrying me through "The Boxer." That was cool. They have a concert coming up iff'n anyones interested.

And the other notable event was that I got to see my wife's pictures up on the wall and for sale in an art shop! One of the owners used to be a display designer and did a great job of showcasing Chris's stuff. For instance, her butterfly picture is hovering behind a cactus display so it looks integrated and natural. Things like that. It's a very thoughtful, pleasing layout, but admittedly, I was distracted. Partially because I was really proud of my wife for getting her pictures off the computer and into the world, but also because the picture in the middle was hung vertically instead of horizontally. It's fine, and I doubt anyone else (other than Chris) is going to notice or care, but my brain couldn't get past the fact that 'it was sideways.'

It's also fun to see her get a glimpse of celebrity status. This evening at Church someone came up, without prompting, and said that they had seen her pictures and really liked them. Chris was gracious and as the conversation went on, the woman asked her how she got so close to the bear. The bear? What bear? "You know," she insisted, "The black and white close up of the bear." I could see Chris mentally scrolling through her portfolio...

"Do you mean Murray?" Chris asked.

"You have names for bears?"

"No, he's our cat."

"Does he look kind of like a bear?"

"Actually, he looks kind of like a house cat."
There was giggling involved and it was all in good spirit, but welcome to the world of art Babe, where everyone is free to interpret your stuff however they want.

Murray. Not a bear.
(but available for purchase at The Brick Cafe!)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From the 'Information-I-could-have-used-earlier' department

This morning's excursion into awkwardness was actually an extension from earlier in the week. Monday afternoon I went to the doctor's office because I had sat down at a blood pressure machine again and had pretty much exactly the same experience as last time, and it made me nervous. So my Doctor took my blood pressure twice and couldn't figure out why I was so worried about 110 over 72. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about why these stupid machines think I'm 130 over 85 and categorically 'prehypertensive.' The rest of the conversation went something like this:
"Has work been extra stressful?"
"No, not more than usual."
"Do you exercise?"
"Yes, twice a week. In fact, I feel great afterwards."
"Then do it more."
"Uh, ok..."
"Are you taking any vitamins?"
"Do that too."

Now I know all that doctor-speak and medical jargon may have gone over your head, so let me put it in plain English. She said that it was her professional opinion, that I should just suck it up, quit whining, and come back when I'm carrying a limb. If you read between the lines, you'll note my response was something to the effect of, "Ok, but if I have a heart attack tomorrow, it's your fault."

Communication with the doctor types is a very subtle art.

We compromised and agreed that it was worth my time to 'get some bloodwork done.' I know it's a common phrase, but I still don't like it when they make it sound as mundane as an oil change. Anyway, the problem is, that I had not been fasting and that I needed to come back when I hadn't eaten anything for 12 hours. Fine.

That brings us to this morning. I walk into the blood lab at 8:32, sign my name on the roster, and look expectantly at the lab tech since I'm the only one there. She proceeds to squeak a highlighter pen across my file a couple time and then reaches under her desk and pulls out a dixie cup and a plastic lid.
"Fill this and bring it back to me. The bathroom is on the right," she said.
"This doesn't seem very sanitary. Don't you have syringes and sterile vials for this kind of thing?" Ok, ok, I didn't really say that. What I really said was, "Wait... what?"
"The. Bathroom. Is. On. The. Right. I need a urine sample," as her tone soured.
Really I wasn't trying to be difficult, but my brain was trying to figure out how 'urine sample' constituted 'bloodwork.' What came out of my mouth was, "Well THIS will be interesting..." and I walked to the bathroom.

See, when you're psyching yourself up to face one of your fears (me and my own blood go way back) you tend to take care of the other calls of nature so you can stay focused on your opponent. But don't worry folks, I was able to pony up and 'meet the demand.' (Just call me Johnny on the Spot! heh...)

But you know, would it have been so hard for for the Doctor to give me a little warning about that? You know, just a little, "Hey, fyi, I circled the 'make him pee in a cup' box too," would have been greatly appreciated. Is that too much to ask? Apparently.

PS) I google image searched for "Urine sample" thinking it would be really funny to add a picture to this post. Yeah, um, again, not one of my better ideas.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Here "Kitty" "Kitty"

I was doing my usual evening routine of cleaning up cat vomit and wandering aimlessly around the house when I looked out back and saw another raccoon dining out of the cat dish.
This has brought me to one of two conclusions:
Either A) I need to get into the Coon Skin Cap business, or B) I've been getting the wrong animals fixed.

Sigh... this is so not how I wanted to spend my weekend.

Guess that explains why I haven't seen any real cats this evening.
At this point, I think I'd take the Cougar.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In other news... There is pizza in Ethiopia

As stated before, at this point we can't post any pictures of our children. But if, say, you were to do you're own research on Ethiopia, and just happen to find an article with a picture of a smiling boy and a girl in a red shirt out there on the internet, then well, you know... that would be some pretty good research.

[After reading the article] Chris was a little disappointed that their first pizza won't be with us in the States, but it struck me funny. "You will be going to America soon so, quick! Figure out how to eat this with your hands!"

I guess I forgot pizza was cultural. I wonder what else is on the 'How to Survive in America' class schedule? What else do we totally take for granted? Slurpies? Duct Tape? Captain Picard? Peanut Butter? Road Rage? I know, I know, it's ridiculous... everyone's heard of Picard, but humor me.

One of my friends has already claimed dibs on their first Happy Meal. I hope that isn't lesson two or he's going to be ticked.

Moment of clarity

I discovered one of the secrets of happiness today:

Try not to have mutually exclusive interests.
For instance, playing guitar and glass cutting are probably not the best combination of hobbies.
I'm just sayin'...

Not so great, actually.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's Calculus, don't take it personally.

This post is for my Father, the humanitarian, who dedicated his career to humbling college students one semester of Calc at a time... (click to enlarge)
As a general rule I really try to only use my own stuff, but I saw this at the FailBlog today and snorted.
Love ya, Dad!

Adoption News

For those of you who we haven't talked to directly this week, Chris and I finally got an adoption referral from Ethiopia and we quickly accepted. What this means is that Habtamu, a 9 year old boy, and his 6 year old sister Yordanos will be joining the Gardner Clan sometime in the near future. We're figuring summer-ish, but really who knows.

Details are sketchy, but we've been told that they are healthy physically and emotionally. We also have received pictures (finally, faces for our children!) but aren't supposed to post them since they are minors and all the legal stuff isn't finalized yet. Chris has been updating our Adoption Blog, pretty regularly lately. Check there for the latest and greatest.

That's my objective, just-the-facts version of the story...

My subjective, emotional response goes something like this:

For those of you who we haven't talked to directly this week, Chris and I finaaaAAAHHH hubbida hubbida (runs in circles) Yeek yeek (arms flail) AAAAAAHHHHGH! (clunks against wall making that coconut noise) pftpftpftpft (drools) RADIO SILENCE.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

How about we do this one in the Key of EEEeeeEEEeeeEEE

Pet peeve #775: Church music that can't physically be sung.

If you write a song, and you're the only one who is ever going to perform it, then feel free to put it in the 'right' key for your voice. But you know, if you're going to write music for the masses, maybe you should put it in a key that's friendly to the average singer. Seriously. We sang a song this morning in what I call "The Key of Chris Tomlin." If you aren't familiar with Tomlin, it equates to "The Key of Sting." He sounds great singing it. He is also an alto. The rest of us are left fumbling with trying to either sing an octave lower or harmonizing and hoping that some woman out there is picking up the melody. I knew we were in trouble when I heard my friend Marty, who has the vocal range of Prince, started choking off notes. I'm not knocking Tomlin as a worship leader and songwriter, I just wish you didn't have to be a dolphin to sing his stuff.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This Old House, "Spring" Edition

The weather has been crap for crap here in Chicago this April. We had a couple nice days and then it's just been raining steadily since then. It snowed today. It didn't stick, but still...
Anyway, I know it's spring because the bugs that have been happily dormant in our basement for the last 4 months are now out on the prowl again and they're flippin huge. I had a great shot lined up of a 2 inch house centipede when Sibbie heard the camera and came to investigate (i.e. swat at the bug and then lose it under the couch.) Thanks girl, I'm sure next time we find it, it'll be 6 feet long and carnivorous.

I think I'll be sleeping with Janis tonight.

Ugh, so nasty but at least they don't crunch.

All we are is Dust in the... thank you, thank you very much

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but awhile ago I talked to the owners of our local cafe/art store (Yes, we do have an art shop) and asked them if they would be opposed to having some live music. They said that would be great, and they asked me if I knew any musicians with real talent that would be interested. I said I did, but that I intended to play anyway.

So for the past month, on Saturdays I've been "doing my guitar thing" for about an hour at The Brick Cafe. I've been kind of keeping it on the down low because I didn't want to get all excited about it and then have it not work out. But things are going well and it's been a lot of fun.

I haven't sung at a coffee house for at least 10 years, so building up a coffee house set has been kind of an interesting challenge. Back in the day when I only had to fill 20 minutes, I used to play novelty music almost exclusively. Which is great for surprising people, and giving them something they haven't heard, but isn't always appropriate dining music. I mean, although *I* think the song "Dead Puppies" is absolute genius, I'd be hard pressed work it into my lunch set with a clean conscience. That's clearly dinner music.

The approach I'm taking this time assumes that people come to a coffeehouse to relax for a little while. So I've been trying to add 'comfortable' music into my repertoire. Fortunately, the bulk of the Saturday crowd is older and appreciates folk music, so the likes of John Denver, Simon and Garfunkle, John Prine, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan, go over really well. I have now even successfully taken requests (for songs!) which is a big milestone for me. Really, Whoda thunk? The whole thing has been very cool and has been really rewarding.

I've also experienced first hand one of the best pieces of advice I was given about playing at coffeehouses... people tip better if you play what they want to hear. I know, I know, if you aren't a musician it sounds extremely obvious, but there's a part of most performers that really wants to play either our own stuff, or stuff we think we play technically well. That's what Open Mike nights are for. Truth of the matter is, people are much more engaged when they know the song, and not so interested in hearing what you feel like playing at any given moment. I'm not saying I would play Brown Eyed Girl (which in my little circle of musicians is so cliche it's taboo) I'm just saying that an audience with a penchant for folk music would probably enjoy it if I did.

I've really enjoyed defining my coffeehouse style and voice, not that I've got it perfected yet. It's definitely not my Karaoke voice, which is a lot of fun but has... shall we say, "limited appeal" outside of Friday night (I wouldn't inflict my Alice Cooper on anyone sober...) And yet it's rougher and looser than my Sunday morning voice.

It's a great little gig. Low pressure. Low commitment. Play stuff folks like. Play stuff I'm not bored with. When I'm done I get a HotDog. It's pretty much an ideal situation. So next time you're in the neighborhood on a Saturday, come on out, have some coffee and a sandwich, and see me. I might even play something you actually want to hear... :-)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Please disperse... there is nothing to see here.

It took all day, but I finally feel better and am not acting like a such a crabcake anymore.
We now return you to your regularly well-mannered Lee.

It's ok. You can come out now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kitty round up, bound up, and ground up: Spring'08

Ok, this is a really rambling catch-up blog, but I promise it'll be the last one about cats for quite awhile... You've been warned.

I caught the b/w female (CodeName: Rica) before she had kittens. On a whim I left the trap open and baited before leaving for work the other week. I came home 10 hours later and found her inside.

I apologized to her because she had probably been in there 9 and a half hours already and then was going to have to spend the night in the same cage, as well as any waking time the next day at the vet.
Sorry little girl, it's for the best. Apparently she was a horrible patient, but from our angle, she recoup'ed pretty quickly. After two days in the basement, she was eating normally so we left the back door open for a couple hours and she found her way out. That's the way we like it, nice and easy.

The cat before her (CodeName: Crested Murray, because we're oh, so clever) was the exact opposite. After two days, no food had been eaten and the litterbox hadn't been used. I knew she was hiding in the one dark, unreachable place left in the basement, perching on the pipes behind the utility sink... the cast iron utility sink that is riveted to the floor. This is when my inner voice said, "The only thing worse than trying to get a cat out from behind a bunch of plumbing is trying to get a dead cat out from behind a bunch of plumbing." So at about midnight, I found my old friend Janis and together we made sitting on the pipes less... "inviting." The downside was that Janis literally scared the pee out of this cat. I cleaned it up as best I could at the time, which wasn't nearly good enough. I think I'm going to have to bleach under the washing machine to really eliminate the smell. Won't that be a nice project. All facts considering though, that's the first accident we've had to deal with from one of the stray cats.

One of the reasons I've been so zealous this year about caring for the strays is that last year at this time, the back deck smelled like death and it lasted for half the summer. I swore to myself that I'd do whatever it took not to have to deal with the smell and wondering what the hell died under my deck this year.

And people, let me get on my soapbox here for a minute... a couple years ago I was sitting in the reception area at the Vet's, when this older woman came in with a kitty carrier. We started talking and it turned out that she was there to get some pregnant female fixed. I remember thinking to myself, "Jeez, just pawn off the kittens and be done with it," but now I totally understand. Cat population growth is exponential, and it's yearly. The only real way to control it is to nip it in the bud. I've been dealing with 3 pregnant females this season, but in 2 months, I'd be trying to figure out what to do with another 10 kittens. The economics of the situation make decisions easier, and dealing with it sooner is definitely better than later.

I know, I know, some of you are thinking that I should have just had them terminated, but honestly, I don't mind them being around, I just don't want any more of them. The average life of a stray cat is something like 3-5 years max anyway.

On a totally different note, from the Kitty-Karma-Police Department... The other night coming home from a party, I hit a farm cat. In my youth I thought that there should always be time to swerve. Yeah, well, I'm older now and sometimes there just isn't. I remember white legs and two thumps and that's about it. It was disturbing, but not as devastating as you might think for a guy who has spent a year now caring for feral cats. Surprising, but at least it was over quickly, and in that sense, fairly compassionate. My conscience is clean about the whole thing, but I've got to tell you, two days ago some dirty white cat that I had never seen before showed up in our backyard. He sat on the fence long enough for me to get a good look and I haven't seen it since.

All I could think of was, "OMG, The cat came back, the very next day..."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

There are no clean getaways

I was out of town for all afternoon and didn't get home until about 9:30pm yesterday. Since the feral cats didn't take the bait (I'll get you yet, Lil Rica!) this means I missed the "close the trap and before dusk" window. I didn't think much about it because I caught the raccoon yesterday. I know there's a possum that's been sniffing around, but what are the chances of that wandering in less than 24 hours later, right?

Around 1am I heard the cage thrashing, which is a bad sign because I don't usually hear trapped cats from inside the house. Not able to leave an animal in peril, I get up to check out what's going on. It was just beginning to rain so I just poked my head out the back door and could only hear something in the dark hissing and clawing. Yeah, probably not a cat. Especially since there were 3 sets of cat eyes coming over the fence to do their own investigation (I guess you could say they were going to perform a CAT scan... thank you, thank you, you guys have been great. Next show at 11!) Anyway, I ducked back in to grab a flashlight. When I got back out, one of the cats was about 18 inches from the cage. Sigh... That's what this neighborhood needs is for one of these cats to get rabies, so I shoo them away and take a closer look myself.

Yeah... not a possum either.

Don't let those big brown eyes fool you. This bad boy was mean and Cra-Hanky. I knew this guy was going to be 'special needs' because he had already soiled the length of the cage and then continued to panic in it. No wonder the cats were interested. And since I've been a raccoon specialist for oh, the last 24 hours, I knew with certainty that there was absolutely no point in feeding this bugger a towel. But out of pity, I moved the cage over a couple feet, getting him out of the rain (and his other stuff) and went back to bed.

Chris checked him out the next morning and noted (as you can kind of see in the picture) that he really didn't have raccoon stripes. I told her that in my raccoon-expert opinion, the coloration difference was most likely due to genetic variances and the fact that it had spent the night digging a 2 inch deep trench through the mud under the cage. Somehow, it had also managed to pull some rocks into the cage. I'm still baffled by that one. Was he planning to pound his way out? Did the cage need decorating? Only the raccoon knows for sure...

Anyway suffice it to say that this is NOT how I planned on spending my spring break. Oh, and kids, don't worry, he's "in a better place" now too.

PS)This blog title is the tag line from the movie "No Country for Old Men" which fits nicely with this topic and my previous blog. I was going to photoshop the movie poster and put raccoons in it, but I'm running out of steam here...

No Country for Old Racoons

As a quick summary of recent events, the last time I walked into the veterinarian's office, the vet tech behind the counter looked up and said, "Hello Mr. Gardner, finish spaying the neighborhood yet?" The answer is no. I've got one more very shy, elusive girl that needs a fixin'. The feral cats have a very specific pecking order for eating, so catching them has been pretty easy and methodical. I put one bowl of food out until it's the target cat's turn to eat. Then, I put the food in the cage. Wait about 10 minutes and then 4 out of 5 times, I've caught the cat I'm expecting. But this little one (Codename: Rica) has either figured out the cage or is so far down the pecking order that she eats hours after the other cats. For about 3 days I've been feeding the other cats, then taking the food away hoping that at some point she'd figure out the food schedule. Well, again, she's either too smart or too stupid. So started leaving food in the trap throughout the day figuring that since the other cats were fed they wouldn't sniff around the cage, but she still might.

It hasn't worked yet, and worse yet, it threw off my system.

So, the other day I had a passing thought that if I left food in the live-trap overnight there would be a pretty good chance I'd catch something other than a cat. We know other critters have come dining on the cat food, I just really didn't want to have to mess with anything else. Then, the other night after forgetting to bring the food in, I found this on my deck:As you can see, this sucker was about 10 feet long and not at all pleased with his dining arrangements. Note that the gaping wound on his back no doubt added to his pleasant demeanor. I had toyed with the question, "What am I going to do if I catch a wild animal?" before, but now I had to have an answer. I mean seriously, what the hell was I going to do with this thing? So, I think I followed a pretty logical course of actions.
1) First, I grabbed the camera and took a couple pictures. What you don't see in the above shot is Famine sitting on the railing over the cage enjoying the show.
2) I tried my one cat trick. When you throw a towel over a trapped cat, it chills out. When you throw a towel over a trapped raccoon it pulls the towel through the cage and eats it.
3) I call for backup. I grab my cellphone and call the first person I could think of who owns a gun. He tells me he can come out the next morning and take care of it. I tell him I may be able to handle this on my own, I just wanted to know his availability.

Legally, I'm not exactly sure what the 'proper' course of action is in my town. My best guess is that it involves hiring a professional trapper to transport my already caged critter. So, without incriminating myself, what I can tell you is that the raccoon is "in a better place now" and we'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NOW it's St. Patrick's Day

Today there's been a lot of talk about U2, Van Morrison, and Thin Lizzy on the radio. But the day just isn't complete without a plug for my favorite Irish band, Flogging Molly. I stumbled upon them back in the Napster days. Someone had categorized them under "Christian, Celtic, Punk" and that combination was too much to resist. Actually, I don't really think any of those words describe them particularly well, but give them a listen and decide for yourself.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Karaoke King PreMix

So I've been trying for months to figure out how to add music to this Blogger-thingy. See, here's the deal... Blogger is owned by Google and therefore it's pretty friendly with other Google products. So, let's say I wanted to add video. It's no problem to slap in your favorite YouTube video into your blog. Pictures? Easy. Picasa even has a 'Blogger This' button built right in. But Music... oh, yeah... about that... you're going to need a "third party vendor" and "personal storage space" for them there MP3's.

Well, I found www.podbean.com which is free for us little people. Granted it's geared toward podcasting, but it can work with MP3's so I figured I'd give their widget a go.

And if everything goes right, here's my latest musical nugget. And as per usual, I should probably explain myself.

Basically, this one time, when Matt and I were at karaoke, there was this guy who thought he was God's gift to the karaoke machine. Long story short, he sang THE song was going to be my finale, and right then we looked at each other and decided that the "Karaoke King" song had to be written. So Matt wrote up 2 verses and a guitar riff that he liked and then passed it my way to see what it would turn into after going through the Leevis filter. Well, what he gave me was about 6 minutes of himself cranking on his guitar, giving a commentary, screwing around, and then more cranking. And I thought, wouldn't it be funny to just run with that? Wouldn't that just tick him off to not use any of the actual lyrics? So, although "Karaoke King" hasn't been recorded or even totally written yet, here's the "Pre-Mix." Just click the green triangle on the left.

Powered by Podbean.com

Just some Good Old Bo...AAAAAAH!!!

Gah, what happened to the last week and a half? I don't know if I really got that busy or if I just hit the, "I should blog about that sometime" point and decided that thinking that was close enough. I've got about 400 things I've been meaning to jot down and I think that has also become a mental barrier.

Anyway, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, right? So for starters, Remember this guy? Well I got the scoop the other day. Apparently, if you want "custom bodywork" like this, the formula is quite simple:

1) let the roads to ice up
2) wait until 3am
3) get reeeally drunk
4) drive full tilt into a snowbank at the end of a T intersection
5) enjoy 2 seconds of Dukes of Hazard goodness
6) walk home so you can call in your "accident" later and dodge a DUI
7) congratulate yourself on being a super-genius YEEEE-HAW!

The General does not approve.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I'm too sexy for my... umm... er... never mind.

Here is the most important fact of this post:

-I won a push-up contest.

You read that right. I was challenged. I conquered. I acted like it was easy.
Granted, two days later I'm still feeling pain in places where I didn't even know my arms went, But the important part is that I actually won some form of physical competition. Me. The original cubesitter. My "slow but steady workout plan for nerds" finally paid off.

So here's my exercise plan:
-A lousy workout is better than no workout. Step one is to just walk through the door at the gym. I tell myself that I don't have to run the whole time I'm on the treadmill, I just need to get on it. I don't set any free weight expectations, I just lift what's comfortable. Minimum goal is to "move around for at least a half an hour." I can talk myself into leaving my couch and doing that. Then I usually end up staying longer, but it feels more like extra credit than obligation.
-If something starts to hurt, stop and do something else. If my knees start hurting on the treadmill I move to the elliptical machine. If my arms hurt I either do less weight or I move onto my legs. I've come to the conclusion that there's some equipment in the gym that I am just not meant to use. It's ok. It ain't worth a permanent injury. If I'm moving, it still counts as exercise.
-Keep it interesting. Monotony = boredom = quitting. I need both an iPod and a TV to last any amount of time on a treadmill. But it works. I plug in, tune out, and before I know it, a half hour goes by. If my routine gets boring, I'll either ramp it up or move on to something else. And that leads into my next point...
-Do ONE thing you haven't done before. Whether it's 5 extra pounds, minutes or push-ups, it counts as an accomplishment. Even if it's the lamest workout ever, you can honestly tell yourself you've made some form of progress. And the effect is cumulative.
-Don't expect radical change. This isn't a "15 pounds in 15 days" deal. This is about a routine that you can perpetuate (I'm sure there's a better word for that...) There will be progress, but it's measured in months, not weeks. And if you do decide to bulk up or train for something, the good habits and time commitment are already in place.
-If you don't feel better when you leave, you're doing it wrong. I guess this is my way of saying quit while you're ahead. Stop before you're absolutely exhausted. It puts positive reinforcement on exercising. Yes, it's like willingly tricking yourself, but it works.
-If you don't want to workout, go back to rule one.

This is my routine. I'm not the bulkiest beefcake or the sleekest runner at the gym, but I feel good and it works for me. And if you follow it, after two years, you too may be able to do more pushups than an 8th grader.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

As a matter of fact, the bag DOES say "CAT FOOD"

Now, in general, even the feral cats are pretty tidy. Even when we had to bring some of them in for neutering, they all figured out the litter box. But every once and a while there will be a big mess next to the food dish or the water bowl will be full of ambiguous floaters, which to me indicates that one of the cats is sick or has a mouth infection or something. So the past couple of days I've noticed some sloppiness around ye olde feeding trough so I was keeping my eyes open for an ailing cat. Well yesterday I figured out which one it was...

It was the fat ass raccoon. And he's doing just fine.

I wish I had gotten a picture of this bandito, as it stood frozen almost audibly debating whether to bolt or stay "incognito." (Oh, remind me that incognito rhymes with bandito next time I'm stuck for lyrics...) Anyway, that cheeky treerat-monkey thing just stared at me for about 3 seconds and then went on it's way. Apparently I wasn't much of a threat.

Chris came home right about then and said, "Hey, I saw a huge cat earlier in the evening. Turns out it wasn't a cat." "Was it the mask or the ringed tail that gave it away?" I responded. She then blurted, "That's no Coon, it's a space station!" and proceeded to giggle back into the house. Fine. You win. Nerd.

When Raccoons Attack!
This whole episode reminded me of a time I was up in Northern Wisconsin in a cabin that actually had a raccoon feeder out back. Yeah, it was like a huge bird feeder with a ramp on either side. The folks up there would put out 5 loaves of day-old bread and watch the feeding frenzy in the evening. It was actually far more entertaining than it really should have been, but the best part was when a porcupine showed up and lumbered up one of the ramps backwards, quills at attention. Watching 20-odd raccoons (who had just established some form of pecking order) bail off the feeder like it was on fire was definitely worth the price of admission.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wreck of the Week

I probably haven't mentioned this directly, but my neighbor has a flatbed truck. Since we share a driveway, it's not uncommon for us to come home and see a random vehicle sitting on the back of their truck, especially on the weekends. What is unusual though, is that generally we see cars that have spun out or ended up in a ditch somewhere and just needed a tow. Not so much in the head-on collisions department... Anyway, we came home from church this morning and saw this bad boy still thawing at the end of the driveway. I thought it looked epic and battle weary, waiting for triage.

I'm not exactly sure what it fought, but I think if this truck could talk it would say, "Yeah, you should see the other guy."

Here's a close up:
I'm not big on car maintenance, but I don't think I would have used a fence post to drain my radiator...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Memories of my childhood, as told through caffeine-goggles

So I'm sitting here at The 'Boo. You know, CariBOU Coffee. I've been here once before under similar circumstances so you know, we're, like, pals now so it's earned a nickname. Of course, I'm here by myself so there's no one else around who can appreciate my cleverness. That is, if shortening the name of a location down to one syllable constitutes clever... ala 'The L' or 'The Y.'

Chris is off knitting a couple blocks away at a friends house. I was invited to join them but I declined and opted to chill at the Boo. Admit it, it's growing on you. (I think what makes it so cool is that I'm sure I'm the first person in the world to think of it.) Anyway, yes, I said knitting. She is off cavorting with her knitting buddies, or as I like to call them "unsavory elements who refuse to put down their needles." And I'm stuck here at the Y. I mean the Boo. Whatever. I'm left to caffeinate myself slowly (or quickly if I prefer) and try to stay out of trouble until she calls and says she's on her way. Then I'll go wait outside until she pulls up and drives me home.

The only thing missing at this point is Ken. When it came to standing around waiting for parental units to arrive in vehicles, there was no one more often by my side than him. He was like my early teen equivalent of a foxhole buddy. We'd stand around with our coats unzipped in the parking lot of a church, or school, or community building, or wherever depending on what day of the week it was, avoiding eye contact and trying to find something to talk about that we hadn't already verbally smothered the life out of the night before. I don't know exactly when we learn the art of the rhetorical question, but I sure didn't have it back then. Some nights there would be grueling expanses of silence as we'd desperately try to think of something poignant to say. Something new... Something pertinent.

As an adult, I've lost that urgency.

When did stating the ridiculously obvious, or random words start counting as acceptable conversation? As a teen I never would have been caught saying something like, "Oh, looks like the radio's on" or "Man, this weather..." while tugging the strings of my gray hooded sweatshirt so tight that only my nose would stick out. And I certainly wouldn't have expected any kind of intellectual nod from Ken while he jerked his coat zipper back and forth loosely to the rhythm of some song by Queen. No wonder kids think adults are lame. If you didn't have something profound to bring up, you didn't say it because you didn't want to prove to everyone you were an idiot. You just stood there picking at the flapping sole of your tennis shoe until you thought of something. Of course, you have to define the word "profound" through an adolescent, blurt-prone filter, but still, if only for a second, you thought your insight was important. More often than not though, feeble attempts at conversation would ensue. Phrases like "My braces hurt" would come out completely unprovoked, but hey, at least it wasn't some comment about the existence of weather. And eventually, one of two things would happen, either a car would pull up and rescue us from the dusk of uncomfortability, or the conversation would somewhat begrudgingly get rolling again... and THEN a car would pull up.
Take the following example:

"I can see my sock through the hole in my shoe. (Pause) Did Andy get a BMX?"
"No, he got, like, a 12 speed or something."
"Did he ever get passed the third level of Lode Runner?"
"Yeah but I had to show him..." **Beep Beep**

Fortunately though, all this verbal fumbling eventually paid off and allowed us to land impressively wicked babes later in life. You know, High quality women who are thoughtful enough to drop us off at coffee shops while they go seek the council of other women with an unhealthy obsession for natural fibers.

True story. As I sit here, some guy (not me) sitting at the table next to me with brown hair, glasses, an oversized gray hoodie, a black watch, bracelets, faded jeans, and short white athletic socks with brown shoes (I said NOT me) just asked the girl behind the counter how much a walrus weighs.

The answer? "Enough to break the ice. Hi, my name is..." I didn't actually catch his name though because at that moment my brain somehow slapped my forehead from the inside. I tuned back in in time to catch him high five his buddy. Then he sat down and made a Thundercats reference thereby singlehandedly molesting my whole childhood. Nothing is sacred to this generation.

I've been totally scarred at the 'Boo.

Granted, 25 years ago, this guy would have been my total hero, but since he hasn't had as many years to hone his skills at conversational repartee as yours truly, I'm going to put this in the simplest terms I can:

You can put whipped cream on a turd, but it's still a turd.


Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to pack my bag, put on my oversized winter coat, and stand around outside until my wife pulls up to drive me home.

And on that note, I think my friend Ken said it best:

Zrippah-Zip, Zrippah-Zip, Zick-Zak!
That's his coat's zipper singing "We Will-We will-rock you," loser.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"I'm running the wrong way."

If you happen to be reading this and you don't live in the area, earlier this week some asshat in a trenchcoat walked into a lecture hall at NIU and started shooting, leaving several dead and eventually killing himself. Now, DeKalb is only a half hour away from here so everyone has some kind of connection to the University. Everybody knows someone who was there, or should have been there, or a friend's friend who saw the whole thing, or whatever. But I've got to tell you, I don't mean to be cruel, but I just can't wrap my mind around that kind of situation. The blatantly senseless violence. The emotional wreckage. The lack of clear motive. Even though it happened 30 minutes away, when I hear first hand reports, I still kind of glaze over. There's nothing to say, there's nothing to do. I can't relate to this on any level, nor would I attempt to cheapen the experience by acting like it.

So as folks around here have been talking things out, I've just kind of been, well, letting them talk it out. I try to actively listen, but for the most part I just sit there zoned out. I've been emotionally distant throughout the whole ordeal, but that's not my personality and I know it. So I've been waiting for something to sink in. Something to click. Something to push me out of shock and onto the next phase of healing and understanding.

This morning in the chiropractor's office, I found it. I was sitting in the reception area sifting through the Rockford paper, noting how the local media was handling this whole thing. Students shocked... police acted... parents relieved... school responded... No offense, but you could pretty much write these stories beforehand and just fill in the names and numbers after it actually happened. As I drifted over the headline "As Students Fled Danger, Medic Ran to Give Help" I slowed down to indulge in a 'Hero story' no doubt about some emergency responder who jumped out of an ambulance and acted supernaturally. But I was wrong.

Ok... just to give you some background info, I am a total chump for heroics. I went to a conference once where one of the speakers read clips out of some "Winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor" book for about 15 minutes out of his 20 minute lecture. It was absolutely riveting. I was completely absorbed by all the selfless and monumentally stupid things men do for God and Country. It really only takes one story about a guy charging a machinegun nest to bring me to tears anyway, Band of Brothers made sure of that.

So I start reading this article, and I get to the part about how Jeff Merkel, a Navy medic who is now at NIU on the GI Bill, called his wife and I quote;

“I told her, ‘I’m running the wrong way,’ but I had to,” he said. “I know how to do things. I’ve seen this kind of violence.”

And I lost it. Yes Jeff. If your gut reaction was to run toward an unknown threat to assess damages and help victims, the fact that you "Know how to do things" is a ridiculous understatement. I sit here wondering if I would have even had the presence of mind to duck and crawl out of the auditorium, let alone help anyone. I can't relate to this kind of heroism any more than I can relate to the tragedy or the insanity that brought it about, but it touched me when the other two hadn't. And "running the wrong way" has such tremendous spiritual implications I could write a series of blogs on that phrase alone.

So I'm sitting there unsuccessfully trying not to cry and needless to say, that is when I get called into the chiropractor's office. Fantastic. My doc walks in perusing my chart and says, "Hey Karaoke King, How are you doing today?" And I'm like, "JUST FINE! WHY? I mean **wipe-wipe** I'm fine. Well, my back doesn't hurt. **sniff** How are you? Say, are those my X-rays?"
"I'm good," He responded, "Why don't you lie down and let me take a look at your back."

Good Chiropractors know where to push, great ones know where not to.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I said tree HUGGER, not MUGGER...

We moved out to this sleepy little community about 8 years ago to get away from the craziness of Big City life. You know, to start a family where life is a little more straight forward. Where there aren't as many bad influences like you have in the burbs. You know, like gangbangers, White Castles, and community colleges. That kind of crap. True story, I knew we were no longer in ChicagoLand when I saw an ad in one of the local papers advertising "A free shotgun with purchase of an ATV." Let me know when you can get that kind of deal at a Starbucks.

But somewhere along the line, everything changed. It's like we just got here and suddenly the schools were overcrowded, the Earth started warming up, and people were driving imports. It's like we were right back in suburbia. And I gotta tell ya, I'm feeling like some soccer mom just crammed me into back a minivan full of cleat-wearing, iPodded, stinky boys and took the beltline straight to Hell. I blame WalMart.

Well, the other night, it hit home. Literally. One of the things I've noticed about youth around here is that they really want to be all 'awesome' like the City kids. So, they do their best to mimic their antics. You know like cosmic bowling, or going to a private school, and my personal bane... littering. I cannot begin to tell you how many Twinkie wrappers and fastfood bags we've found in our front yard over the years. I don't know what it is about my lawn that says, "Don't worry, clearly these folks work for the department of sanitation" but apparently it whispers it to all the kids in the neighborhood. I found a full, upright cup of salsa once, still wrapped in tinfoil (I guess the burrito had enough flavor on it's own.) I also hit a ten dollar bill with the lawn mower last fall. For future reference, don't try to cash a shredded bill at a bank unless you can recover both serial numbers. Who knew?

Anyway, you're probably wondering why I'm grousing about litterbugs when it's 5 below outside. Well, the other night, I walked out the front door and found this laying on my sidewalk:

And my first thought was, "Why the hell would anyone break off a reflector and throw it at my house?" For whatever reason, my brain usually asks "Why" before "Who" or "How." It also takes things extremely personally. I've spent far more energy than I care to admit mulling over whether an errant Ho-Ho wrapper was a symbolic gesture or just windblown garbage. Anyway, upon further inspection, this reflector was not the only piece of vehicular debris in my front lawn. So, I followed the only logical course of action. I took a deep breath, trudged back into the house, and asked my wife point blank if there was anything she needed to talk to me about.

"Like what?" she responded, blinking twice. She caught onto my tone though and was taking me seriously. I could tell because she stopped knitting to make eye contact.

"Oh, I don't know..." I said with as much restrained judgment as I could muster up, "How's your car these days?"

"Why? WHAT? Did you hit my car again?" At this point, I *think* she actually set down one of her needles. But either way, I knew she didn't have anything to do with the situation out front.

"No, nothing, never mind. There's a bunch of green car parts in the snowbank that apparently are not off your Saturn."

"Really?" She went to the window, but at this point it was too dark to see anything.

The next morning, Chris took pictures from the other side of the sidewalk:What the picture doesn't show is that the gouge taken out of the tree is at least 3 and a half feet off the ground. And keep in mind that our house is in the middle of the block. I'm not saying it hasn't been slick out there, I'm just saying that it's not like some bloke just slid through an intersection, hopped the curb and clipped our tree. Someone was going pretty fast... and if that someone is you, I've got your bumper and I'd like a word with you.

It's a sad day when trees aren't even safe to line the streets anymore. What's this place coming to? Will the hatred ever end? I mean, if it was a Sugar Maple, I'd understand... But, dude. Won't someone think about the conifers?!?!!

All we are saying, is give trees a chance.

PS- Apparently our tree was the only victim and that whoever else was involved is ok. A police report was filled out, but we can't request records until business hours, so stay tuned for the next exciting episode of "Get Off My Lawn"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Winter Schminter

This winter is starting to wear on me. Chris has blogged about this as well. But seriously, we have this deal with our neighbors. We mow their front yard, they take care of our sidewalk in the winter. Then, our neighbors on the other side have a plow so they take care of the driveway. It's been quite a while since I've had to do any serious shoveling, and I know I shouldn't expect to get through a winter without shoveling but a guy can dream, right? So here's a couple more action shots from my folks house.

Earlier this week I shoveled on our Snow Day so it wasn't like I had just worked 8 hours and had an hour commute to look forward to. One of my coworkers did go in the day it snowed around 12 inches. The problem was that only about 3 inches were on the ground on the inbound commute, which is bearable. But by the end of the day, the driving conditions were ridiculous. He took a picture on the way home and I thought I'd share just to show how bad it's getting around here. (Double-click to embiggen the picture if you can't read the sign.)
Ok ok, just kidding, but when is the last time I've posted a photoshopped pic...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dopplegangers! Imposters! Fan Club?

How do you know your blog is popular? You start running into people who mimic your behavior. Take this couple I found on the interwebz the other day. I don't care how much you knit, or how snazzy your laptop is, or how red your room is, or how boring your life is, or how cute your cats are, you will NEVER be the as awesome as the originals. Never! Besides, all the cool kids have 3 cats these days. Pfft. Two cats is so 2006.

So, uh... wanna hang out some time?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There's a reason why they call it a Snow Day...

I was hoping to get a chance to go out and shoot some pictures

but it was my turn to shovel

And my cat was useless

And so was this one

And my berries were cold
So I didn't get any pictures

Big pond, small fish pt II

So last Saturday, I ended up running with the big dogs. Matt called and said he had a green light to go to karaoke night. Now, if you are a loyal reader, you know that Friday night is karaoke night period end of quote. So after explaining to him that he had the wrong night and that I already had plans (no really, I did) Matt said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Save the drama for your Mama. We're singing in Hanover Park tonight." So I rescheduled my other plans and trucked out east.

I had been warned about culture shock, but I still had a pretty serious case of country mouse syndrome. For starters, singing started at 10pm, and secondly, there were 35 singers. 35. So, let me do the math on this one... 35 people x 5 minutes per song = you're lucky to sing twice in four hours, and that assumes you can make it until 2am. It reminds me a lot of going to an amusement park, where you stand in line for 2 hours for 3 thrilling minutes. So really the highlight of the evening was sitting around with Matt making fun of anyone who made me feel old and inferior... which was pretty much everyone. But you know what I always say... those who can't do, blog. So to that end, apparently in Hanover Park, any kid who doesn't go to school or have a job does karaoke. I know this because, A) by looks of them they clearly weren't going to church the next morning and therefore obviously high school dropouts and B) they were just a little too good at this singing thing. A little too refined. And that was enough license for Matt and I to act like the judges from the Muppet show. Ok, but seriously, there were a lot of amazing singers. Definitely a younger gene pool than what I'm used to though, and apparently this is the other world that Jeti Entertainment lives in. Who is Limp Bisquick anyway?

In Belvidere, it's no big deal to try new songs. Folks appreciate the effort even if the execution is not particularly... polished. You can practice a song over and over only to find out that the karaoke key is higher than the recording you've been listening to. That kind of thing happens. If you only get to sing one song, then the stakes are a lot higher and it's a lot harder to take risks. The other advantage of singing in a smaller venue is that you get to see growth. I've seen people go through a huge metamorphosis throughout the course of an evening. I mean that in a good way, well, ok, I've seen it go south too, but that usually is due to a little too much 'liquid confidence.'

Maybe these things happen in the Big Pond too, and I just didn't see them unfold that night. Also, I've never been in a bar with so many people and so few listening, but I guess that's the way things work. Anyway, I guess I'm spoiled rotten in my little pond where everybody knows my name.

I've occasionally entertained the idea of singing in a karaoke contest somewhere, but mostly just to affirm if I'm good enough. But you know, I don't think that's really necessary any more.

Big fish, small pond pt I

So last Friday, Chris and I went out to karaoke. And let me just take a moment to set the record straight, I don't go religiously because I have no where else to be on the weekends... ok well, maybe I don't actually have any place else to be, but singing karaoke is where I'd choose to be even if I had another offer. And besides, now my wife is there and like, my one other friend, so why would I want to go anywhere else? Granted, karaoke may not be as 'cool' as staying up late doing keg stands or playing cribbage, or whatever you kids are doing these days... Not all of us enjoy diving into the pinochle underworld at the VFW, or enjoy the thrill of Blessed Virgin's high stakes bingo night, you know. If you can't go a weekend without the adrenaline rush you get from playing that damn Atari2600 into the wee hours. Fine. I'd say YOU are the one with the problem, my friend. And as far as I'm concerned, you can take your Guitar Hero, and your Facebook, and your Grey's Anatomy with you into the 5th circle of Hell where all you riff-raff belong.

I'll be at karaoke.

Anyway, I digress... I guess... bottom line was Karaoke was a hoot and we were pretty much the only ones singing so I think I sang about 17 songs. Other than the fact that I couldn't get John Denver's "Calypso" out of my head for about 4 days (thank you soooo much, Marty) it was great. And if you didn't know, my wife has every WHAM song committed to memory and has been known to even do a little dance while singing. And seeing THAT is worth giving up euchre night. Or at least moving it to the karaoke bar...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I shot a man in Reno HEE-HEE just to watch him die. BWA-HAAHAAHA!

Although I've been blogging consistently for a couple months now, I haven't done any song writing. I haven't really even gotten 'the bug' to do so. With blogging, I can start with, "What bonehead maneuver did I pull off today without getting myself killed?" and work from there. The beauty of this approach is that every day is filled with new material. Also, in the blog/journal format, if I write something that isn't terribly interesting, I can wait around until I do something else stupid and turn right around and type up another one. Which, depending on the day, could be less than an hour.

Song writing is different. Since I inevitably put way more time and effort into it than I initially intend, I feel like I need to make count. No gutter-balls, so to speak. It needs a 3 minute story arch. It needs to be clever, yet not esoteric. It needs to be catchy yet poignant. Blah blah blah... and thus songs don't get written. I heard a live session with Suzanne Vega the other day. Apparently, she has songs on her latest album that she started six years ago. !!! It shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes to decide if whether then next chord should be C or G. It's got to be one of the two... Six years? Come on Suzanne. I just don't have that kind of attention span. (Hmmm... that rhymes, may have to use it later...)

Anyway, Yes, I know, that's totally the wrong attitude for song writing. I need to just turn off the filter and do it. But even then you need a starting point, or an ending point. Either will do. Sometimes artsy types begin a journey and see where it leads, other times you set your sites on the horizon and try to figure out how to get there.

Well, finally I had two ideas that when combined could work their way into becoming a song. The first was the belief that, although one of my friends says he's over his Johnny Cash phase, I came to the convenient conclusion that he's just tired of all the JC songs he knows and not really sick of the genre. The other spark came from the fact that this same friend is about to be the father of his fourth son. We tease him on a fairly regular basis about being prejudice against little girls and so forth, so I imagined at some point, this would probably be discussed around some family meal as well. I envisioned teen aged boys poking their father. "Why don't we have a sister?" "Yeah, Dad, where's our sister?" And then I thought, what would be cooler than to say, "Oh, you used to have a sister...," whip out your guitar, start playing a boom-chucka-chucka-chucka rhythm, and sing some scandalous tragedy that ends in the terrible death of a girl?

Yes, that's certainly cool enough to write a song about and since I'd never tried writing a tragedy before, I thought I'd give it a go. Now I had a style and an ending. That was enough to get started, and soon I stumbled on the phrase, "Your sister, she won't be coming home." There's something about the 'sister, she' part... the reinforcement through redundancy, that I really liked, so I knew I had a good chunk for the chorus. For you math nerds who can't relate, this is like knowing two angles and the distance between them on a triangle. It's a slam dunk and only a matter of time before the whole thing fits together. (Just a little geometric proof illustration so you remember whose geeky blog you're reading...)

Anyway, so I hunched over my laptop and started filling in the gaps in my story like a crossword puzzle. This is kind of how my brain worked:

Ok, so this is a Johnny Cash like song... so, the singer should be singing from prison. Typa-typa-type. Aaaand, the song is about 'the sister' dying tragically. Ticka-ticka-tick. Add some religious undertones. Tappa-tick-tip. No wait, it's a case of mistaken identity, so it's is not about the sister, her death is the ironic twist. BackSpa-a-a-a-a-a-ace. So what would drive the singer to murder? Adultery! Typitty-type-type So why would the singer accidentally kill someone he doesn't know...? Wrong woman! Ticka-tappa-tick. Ok, and just to make sure the singer is really guilt-ridden, he's got to do something heinous like kill a priest too. Ticka-tick... tap... tap... Delete-delete-buhleet. Typa... Delete. Ticka-tap. Delete Delete. Crap. How do I kill a priest in an adulterous case of mistaken identity? Double crap. How about a Nun? It doesn't have to be a priest if it's easier to kill a Nun... Usher? Altar boy? Flower girl? Gah!

This is how your brain tells you it's time to walk away.

So I stopped for the evening figuring I'd find a way to put down the priest or whoever in the morning. Well I woke up thinking about it, and still couldn't find an even remotely plausible way to get a priest in bed with the wrong girl at the wrong time. I was stuck and so I did what the pro's do when they get caught in a rut... you ask an expert.

"Hey Brian, I need to kill a priest and an innocent woman, how do I do it?"

"Why are you killing an innocent woman?" (It's worth noting that I was not questioned about my motives for killing the priest, nor why I was trying to murder anyone at all at this point...)

"Because I need to kill someone else in a murderous rage, and the victim is a sympathetic plot point."

"Oh, then that's easy. You shoot the confessional and take them both out. You should watch more movies. "

"Thanks, Brian, I knew you'd know how to solve my dilemma."

"Sure, anytime you have need to off some clergy, just let me know. Wait... why do you...?"

"Oh, no reason. Thanks, bye!"

So I got home and continued typing. An overheard confession, 12 bullets, a case of mistaken identity, a dead priest, and a life sentence later, my Cash-esque tragedy was complete. Chris happened to walk in just after I finished it and so with wild anticipation I sang it for her. Afterwards, I looked at her expectantly. She just sighed... "If you're trying to be serious, don't smirk when you're killing people off. And if you could use your powers for good next time, that'd be great."

I guess she's right. You can write Cash lyrics and sing it Cash style, but Johnny Cash never giggled delightfully at his own cleverness in front of an audience. Ever.

I bet Edgar Allen Poe did, though.