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

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..."