Friday, May 28, 2010

Go Cup Crazy!

Do you know what you can do with $500?

You can buy a new TV. You can get twenty new hardback books or sixty paperbacks at retail, and several hundred books used if you know where to go. You can get a new DVD player and every movie worth watching that was made in the last thirty years, which, granted, is not a large number of movies, but work with me here.

Or you could get one - one - nosebleed seat ticket to see tomorrow's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Chicago between the hometown Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. That doesn't include parking, gas, tolls, refreshments, souvenirs, meals, or taxes. Just the ticket.

I've been a Flyers fan for most of my life, with varying degrees of intensity. It's a sport I enjoy watching no matter who's playing, and they are by far my favorite team in it. I can remember the last time they won the Stanley Cup, in 1975 - my brother and I were in the bedroom we shared as kids, not sleeping at all, when all of the sudden horns started blaring and it sounded like the Russians had invaded Philadelphia in search of cheesesteaks. We didn't find out what the story was until the next day, by which time I might have been writing in Cyrillic had things gone differently. I've actually gone to a few games, too - once as a kid when my dad scored some tickets, and twice courtesy of my brother's in-laws, who gave me a game from their season tickets a couple of years' running. Both times they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime, oddly enough. And when Tabitha was born I put a Flyers pennant (and an Eagles pennant, which was a leap of faith at the time) over her crib, in the fond hopes of raising another fan. It sort of worked, as much as she follows any sport.

Part of the effort, way back when.

This year I've been following the Flyers' improbable march through the playoffs as best I can out here in the nation's tender midsection. It has not been easy.

For one thing, there is the fact that NHL hockey in general is not exactly a major draw out here. The local newspaper does not regularly print standings, let alone scores or stories, during the regular season, and while you can often get video of high school girls basketball on the local news they rarely give you NHL scores even on the bottom-screen crawl.

For another thing, the Powers That Be were not all that interested in showing the Flyers on their little television network when the playoffs rolled around. There were eight playoff series in Round 1, and they televised some 35 games, not one of which included the Flyers. We were the only series that didn't get a minimum of two games. Some got seven.

On one level I can sort of understand that, since the Flyers qualified for the post-season literally on the last shot of the season, winning a shootout on the last day of the regular season just to get in, and very little was expected of them. But their opponents were a 2-seed, the division winner, and you'd think that would count for something.

But you'd be wrong.

So I listened to them on internet radio as they beat the New Jersey Devils. And when the network finally decided to show some of their games, I watched them go down three games to none in a best of seven to the Boston Bruins, only to pull off the fourth ever comeback from that deficit in North American sports history to win in seven. This despite going down 3-0 fifteen minutes into that seventh game. Apparently they like a challenge, this team. I then watched them take care of the Montreal Canadiens with some efficiency, because there are only so many challenges one's heart can take in one season.

And now it is the Finals. In Chicago, a city within easy driving distance.

Kim told me I should go see a game. "It's not like they do this every year," she said. "You may never get this chance again."

So I looked into it.


There is just nothing appropriate for a married man to spend that kind of money on for three hours of entertainment. I've thought about it and the only things that qualify as worthwhile on that scale of dollars-per-hour involve large quantities of alcohol, several new acquaintances of questionable virtue, and fevered attempts to reconstruct events from police reports over the following weeks. This might conceivably have worked when I was 22, but even if it sounded attractive to me now I don't think I would survive it.

So I guess I'll watch from home this year, which is just fine.

Go Flyers!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Run, Tabby, Run!

Tabitha comes from a long line of people who run in circles.

When I was in high school I ran track for a season and a half, before the coach cut about half the team one day. We were never sure why, as a group, but I can't say it crushed me, not being the star of the team even in my fevered imagination. I was a "c - heat" sprinter, one of the extra guys too fast to ignore and too slow to win anything, though I was quick off the mark. If there had been a 4-meter race, I'd have been state champ.

Kim also ran track back in her high school. They took one look at this 5' 3" woman and said, yes, folks, here is our hurdler. She also ran unimpeded races.

Grandpop was another hurdler, back in the day.

I've always been impressed by people who could do that. As a friend of mine once put it, "It's bad enough they make you run all that far, but then they put things in your way."

Today was the city-wide fourth-grade track meet, and Tabitha was entered into several events representing Not Bad President Elementary. So we trekked down to the town football stadium and settled in to watch our girl give it her all.

It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, and not as hot as it had been recently, though after a few hours sitting on metal benches facing the morning sun it did get a bit warm. I now have sunburned knees, which is not something I get to say very often. It's hard to imagine a context in which it would naturally come up, in fact.

Not long after we got there the buses carrying the NBPE team came and the place was suddenly filled with buzzing children wearing vocal-yellow tee shirts. It certainly made them stand out against their competitors, who were attired in more sedate colors such as red, blue, and orange. They gathered out on the track in front of us and sang the University of Iowa fight song in honor of their departed gym teacher, a UI grad. I had never heard that song before, not even when I was a student there.

And then it was down to business!

After you haven't done it for a while you forget the barely controlled chaos of a track meet - the milling athletes, the droning announcers trying to get people to where they need to be, the incessant gunfire from the starter's pistol, as if you're in downtown Baghdad. It was an entertaining morning, with all of the runners doing their best and getting cheered on from the sides.

Tabitha's first event was the long jump, and here she scored her greatest success - taking second place overall in this city-wide event! She got a nice red ribbon and the admiration of her parents and friends - she's already exceeded my win quota from my entire career - and then she moved on to other events.

She competed in the frisbee toss and the fifty-yard dash, both events featuring wild excitement all around.

And finally at the end there was the 4x50 relay, which took place on the infield - conveniently marked off in yard lines already. They lined the teams up from sideline to sideline - there must have been a dozen teams in each heat - and let them rip.  Chaos doesn't begin to describe what happened next, but they had a good time running and (speaking as someone who was single-handedly responsible for almost three hours of team baton practice in my ill-fated track career) I was impressed with the baton passes. They did a really nice job.

It was a great morning.

Congratulations, Tabitha. We're proud of you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Bridge to the Future

Wanna buy a bridge?

Last night was Bridging Night over at the Daisies. This is what Girl Scouts call their graduation ceremonies, and really it's a nice little metaphor. Graduation and commencement are all about leaving one place but not really about landing in another - that's up to you. Here's your diploma, what's your hurry, don't let the door hit you as you leave. But bridging implies that somewhere on the other end is a place for you. This is yet one more reason why the Girl Scouts are better than real life.

Lauren has been a Daisy for two years now, and it was time for her to move on to the big, exciting world of Brownies. So we wrapped her up in her bright blue vest and headed off for Greatest President Elementary, there to bridge.

These ceremonies are nice, simple and short - key qualities for events scheduled on hot, muggy days in elementary school gyms. The parents and siblings gather in the audience, having deposited all manner of treats in the school cafeteria for after. The scouts parade in - and there were a lot of them on this night, since not only does Lauren's troop of Daisies number around three dozen but there is also a Brownie troop that meets at the same time and they were there too. There are a few words from the troop leaders - brave women all.

Then each girl walks across the bridge and underneath the raised arms of the other, nonbridging girls, to receive her certificate.  At that point there is an explosion of camera flashes trying to capture the moment - unsuccessfully, it turns out, because it happens at warp speed (they redo it later for the parents to take pictures that are in focus) - and then the cycle repeats for the next troop.

And then there is food - lots of it, mostly sugar that has been dyed colors not found in nature - and a fair amount of energy being burned off through motion and noise.

Congratulations, Lauren!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


This is one of those “friend of a friend” stories, the kind that are invariably jokes, hoaxes or viral marketing campaigns but are just too good not to pass along. I’d like to think it’s true, but then I’d like to win the lottery too. Could happen; not likely.

My friend Josh used to work for the National Park Service, and this is the story more or less as he told it to me.

A friend of his in the Park Service was leading a group of tourists through a historic site that dated back to colonial America, sometime in the 1600s or so as I recall. One of the buildings was a frame house, and the guide was explaining the various features of the building when one of the visitors spoke up.

“This is a reconstruction,” he said.

“No,” the guide replied, “this is the actual building, constructed in the 1600s.”

“No,” the tourist insisted, “it is a reconstruction. This is not the original. It cannot be the original. It has nails holding the boards together. They didn’t have nails then, only wooden pegs.”

“Well, sir,” the guide responded, “it is true that wooden pegs were sometimes used in construction at the time, but there were also nails. They were expensive, but people at the time did use them to construct their buildings.”

“No they did not,” said the tourist. “They did not have nails then. Nails were not invented until the 1800s.”

“Sir, nail-making has a very long history. I assure you that they did have nails.”

“Now you see here. I know these things. They did not have nails that long ago.”

“Look,” responded the guide. “Jesus Christ was not Scotch-taped to the cross.  Trust me, they had nails.”

I really hope this story is true.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Not What It Seems

I am surrounded by liquor boxes.

It’s not that I am a heavy drinker. There are times when I’d like to be, but I’ve just never made that leap – not even in college, when I was supposed to be doing such things. Most of my visits to bars back then were because I was with the band (a handy way to get around being carded, I found), and at parties I was usually the other sober guy next to my roommate.

Beware of two smart-alec sober guys in a room full of drunks. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

No, this week is when I try to get my office cleaned out for the big carpet switch. There’s a lot of stuff in that office, and it has to get packed up somehow. And being from Pennsylvania, my first thought was: “Boxes? Liquor store.”

The rest of the country thinks we’re all lushes. We roll up in our moving vans, throw open the back doors of the truck, and start unloading boxes with proof content clearly stamped on them. This impressed my neighbors in Iowa no end, when I showed up there.

But it’s not that.

Pennsylvania has some of the most bass-ackward liquor laws in the United States, which is saying something. I once had a friend in Pittsburgh who moonlighted as a stand-up comic, and he had an entire 20-minute routine that was a 100% factual question-and-answer session on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Laws. It was side-splittingly funny – “I want to buy a beer.” “Well, you can go to the bar.” “But I want to buy a six-pack.” “Then you have to wait until closing time and buy them one at a time, unless they serve food.” “Can I go to the store and buy one?” “No.” “But that store sells beer!” “That’s a distributorship, not a store. You can buy a keg there.” “Not a six-pack?” “No.” “A case?” “Maybe...” And on and on.

The key thing to remember is that all alcohol except beer is sold by the state (or was – it’s been a while since I lived there). Beer is sold at distributorships and some convenience stores. You go to the State Store (really – that’s what they’re called) for everything else. The Stalinist overtones of that are not coincidental – when I was a kid, the way it worked if you wanted a bottle of wine was you would go into the store – a grim, grey, soulless place with fading posters of wines being held by heroic workers tacked on the wall – walk up to the counter and look through a book. You’d point to the one you wanted, and the clerk would disappear into the back and return with your wine. It was part of the Commonwealth’s plan to curb drinking by making the experience unpleasant. It was about as effective as you'd imagine, and eventually they decided that making money from sales was a better way to go. When they set up a State Store as a regular store – with aisles full of merchandise that you could select from yourself – it was front page news.

When I got to Iowa in 1993 I went to the grocery store and there, on the shelves, were bottles of wine. I found this deliriously exciting and bought some just because I could. I may have still had it when I moved out in 1995, but the important thing is that I could buy more if I wanted to. One must have one’s victories in life.

The one nice thing about Pennsylvania’s system was that you could go to the State Store and get all the empty boxes you wanted, any time you wanted. Really, I had paid for them with my tax dollars (not that I paid many taxes as a college student or younger) and they were mine anyway. So every time I need boxes, I think liquor. It makes my stuff just that much more interesting.

My boxes will be filled with paper and gadgets rather than wine or whiskey, but I can dream.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Break In The Action

There is nothing left to grade.

This is a difficult concept to wrap my mind around right now. There’s always something that I should be grading. There is always an essay or a quiz or some other example of the poor transmission rate of my teaching to my students’ learning that needs to be slogged through, commented upon in the fond hopes that maybe this time it will work, and returned. Sometimes it does work, which is one of those things that teachers live for. And sometimes I don’t even need to comment – once in a while, they just get it. Hail, happy day.

But the semester is over, and there is nothing else to grade.

I find myself searching my office for more. It does not seem likely that this burden has been taken from me. In truth it will be returned to me in a few weeks when the next cycle comes up anyway.

And really, that’s a good thing – it means somebody’s paying me to teach history, which is an all too uncommon thing to have happen in today’s job market. The Great Recession of 2008 was nothing new for people in my field. Historians have been in recession since the late 1980s. I remember when I first got to graduate school in 1989, the word was that soon the post-WWII wave of PhDs would begin to retire and new opportunities would arise for historians, opportunities the likes of which had not been seen since the Johnson Administration.

But those people did not retire right away, and when they did they were not replaced by full-time tenured faculty with any great speed or in any great numbers. The 90s were tight, the 00s remained so, and the current economic unpleasantness coupled with the relentless sustained assaults by modern conservatives on history (ironic, really) and education in general (who needs facts and expertise when you have paranoid fantasy and faith-based reality?) have rendered any general hope of improvement in that situation rather forlorn.

So any time someone is willing to hire me to do what I was trained to do – what I have spent an inordinate portion of my life working to be able to do, and what by most accounts I am very good at doing (I don’t believe in false modesty, since I have so much to be genuinely modest about) – it is a good day.

Grading still sucks, though, no matter how you slice it. It’s the cloud that goes with my silver lining.

But it’s over. For now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Change is Good

I am not sure what it says about me that I managed to scrounge up four dollars in change out of my car this afternoon.

Probably just that they were selling ice cream at Not Bad President Elementary and the girls were hungry. It is amazing what you can do when there is ice cream at the other end of it, especially here in Wisconsin. This is a state where the ice cream section of the average grocery store is bigger than all of the grocery stories combined that I went to in the UK when we visited a few years back. But that is a country with warm beer, so what to they know about ice cream?

They also have coins that double as manhole covers, so removing enough coins from your car to pay for two ice cream cups would probably increase your gas mileage (kilometerage?) by nearly 40%. It was kind of a let down to spend a week or so carrying around the slag heap that is a pile of pound- and 50p-coins and then return to the United States and be handed a dime. How can we in the US even consider ourselves an economic powerhouse when our coins are that flimsy?

But it was walkabout day down at NBPE, in honor of the gym teacher who passed away last fall. They're trying to build a track with his name on it, and this was one of the fundraisers - most of the kids spent the day walking around the field surrounding the school to raise money, and the process continued after school let out as well. One of the local ice cream vendors showed up as part of it, with half the proceeds going to the track. So it was worth digging around in the car a bit.

I actually spent most of the day over at NBPE, which was a nice break from a hectic week of grading, exams, and other end-of-semester heartache.

A couple of months ago, Tabitha came home and said that her class was discussing the Underground Railroad and the local UGRR site. Now, it happens that I used to run that site, so I volunteered to come in and talk to her class about it. And then one thing led to another, and it morphed into two separate hour-long presentations, one to the fourth grade and one to the fifth, though in the end they were only 45 minutes each and the PTA chipped in to make a nice donation to the UGRR site, so it all worked out well.

Tabitha said I did not embarrass her any more than usual.

But I got there at noon, and with the walk-a-thon on top of everything I didn't get home until nearly 4:30, by which time my blood sugar levels had reached Kelvin-scale lows and I simply sat in my chair for half an hour eating until I felt better. That's not a bad way to spend time, really.

If only I'd found another eight quarters in the car, I could have gotten an ice cream for me too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home Improvement, More or Less

I need new carpeting.

Not in the whole house, really. To be honest, most of the house has been headed the other way for the last few years. We've got hardwood floors in all of the main rooms, so far as we can tell, and Kim has been on a decade-long campaign to bring them to the surface. I resisted this when the girls were little and learning to walk, but this hasn't been a problem for some time now and I expect that by 2013 there won't be any carpeting left in the house except for one or two rooms.

Of course by then the world is scheduled to have come to an end - on my birthday, no less - so I suppose changes to flooring is just one more thing I don't really have to plan for.

But my office is another matter.

It is at the very end of the heating duct runs and isolated on three sides from the rest of the house - it's a kind of architectural peninsula sticking out of the northwest corner of the house, and as such it gets very cold in there. I have learned, on those nights when I stay up late working, not to touch Kim when I climb into bed, lest I end up peeling her off the ceiling. It's the little things that make a marriage work, I've found. So removing a layer of thermal insulation because there's hardwood underneath just isn't going to happen in there.

But the rug has got to go.

For one thing, it is criminally ugly. It is the kind of carpeting that gets installed in prisons to remind inmates of the heinous nature of their crimes. It can leach the beauty out of poetry in closed books and achieves its remarkable effectiveness at hiding stains through the simple tactic of being uglier than anything I can drop onto it. It was there when we moved in, almost 14 years ago, and one of the first things we said to each other was, "That rug has got to go." Naturally, it remains.

And it would probably still remain except for the fact that I have now worn a hole in it where my desk chair wheels around. At the moment the pad underneath still holds it up, but that won't last. Eventually the hole will widen until I fall into the basement, where it is even colder in the wintertime than it is in my office and then I won't be allowed back into bed at all until summer.

That cannot be good.

So Tabitha and I went over to the local Home Improvement MegaMart this afternoon, for to order up some carpeting.

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but there are a lot of different kinds of carpeting out there. There are loops and twists and assorted other kinds of fabrics that also sound like aerobatic maneuvers. They come in colors that range from sort-of beige to beige to more beige to even more beige to electric drug-induced hallucinations, without going through any of the steps in between. And they all come with reduced price installation, simply because the stores know that installing the carpeting is the least stressful part of the job.

It's getting the room ready for installation that will kill me.

Remember what I said about this being my home office? I'm a historian by trade. This means that my tools are books. And I read for pleasure, which means even more books. There's a whole lot of books in there.

Ah, you might say, books are just paper - they should be no problem to move! This would indicate that you are illiterate and have never tried to deal with books in quantity. If you had, you would know better. Those of you who have ever moved large numbers of books are already shaking your heads, thinking, "This idiot thinks he's going to move large numbers of books! I hope somebody is filming it."

Because books are not paper, not really. They are finely sliced lumber. Lumber that has been so finely sliced, in fact, that all of the air has been removed and all you are left with is the condensed essence of wood covered in heavy-metal ink.

So I have three weeks or so to figure out how to do this without causing undue strain on my back, my bank account, or my relationships.

But in the end, I'm sure it will be worth it. I will have new carpeting.

I went with the sort-of beige. It seemed appropriate.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everybody Wants To Get Into The Act

Now everyone's got a blog of their own.

I don't mean that in the usual, "all the cool kids are doing it" sort of way, since very few of us bloggers are all that cool to begin with. Well, maybe YOU are. You, dear reader, are indeed cool, a veritable mountain of icy hipness, and good for you, I say. But I am not. I wasn't cool when I was young and cared about such things, and at this point in my life I am not even going to pretend. Soon my children will be teenagers and will let me know, in ways both subtle and profound, how uncool I am, and I will say, "Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't know."

So no, that's not how I mean it at all.

When I started this blog, I was the only one in the family who had one. I was vaguely famous, in an anonymous, minor league kind of way. Kim and the girls would look at me in wonder - the sort of wonder that said, "I wonder what boneheaded thing he'll say next" or "He wouldn't be stupid enough to put that online, would he?" It wasn't much, but it was mine.

But eventually Tabitha decided she wanted her own platform to tell stories, and since telling stories is something we try to encourage around here we figured it would be okay. It was a bit tricky to set up, given the privacy restrictions that we ended up layering onto her blog (at least for the time being it's strictly reserved for family members, for example), but eventually she was happily blathering along on her own just like her dear old dad.

Recently Kim started one as well. It's fun to read, and you should ask her for the URL. I'm sure she'll give it to you.

And then Lauren felt left out, so she decided she wanted one too. We'd have to layer it with the same sort of restrictions that Tabitha labored under, but since we'd already done that once we figured how hard could it be?

Harder than we figured, it turns out. It became a digital odyssey, fraught with all of the pitfalls of well-meaning security in the digital age.

First, she needed a unique email address. My original plan was to add her to my blogroll, since theoretically I could make infinite blogs here online that way, but this meant that she would be posting as me all the time and that she would not accept. It's bad enough she has to listen to me in meat space. And as you can't open up multiple Blogger accounts with the same email, a unique email address it would have to be.

Ah, I thought. I've got an email address that I do not use - it came with the cable television, many years ago, along with the similarly useful Hallmark Channel. We could use that.

Well, we could if I remembered what it was.

Finding that out took nearly two hours and involved several phone calls, an internet chat session with a help-desk representative who is probably still snickering about me to his buddies, and a deep and abiding need for seriously adult beverages afterward. And that was just step one.

We still had to set up the actual blog.

My initial effort at this ran afoul of the FCC.

One of the steps you have to take when filling out the application here on Blogger is that you need to fill out your age. Lauren insisted that I use her real birthdate. It turns out that even if the blog is, for all practical and legal purposes, mine (everything she writes I approve before it is published), the internet powers that be don't recognize this. And once you make this mistake, it kills your email address forever. I tried entering my birthday, and all I got was the notice that I was too young to blog. Other than Social Security I don't know that I'm too young for anything these days, so it was an honor of sorts, though one I'd just as soon have lived without.

So a new email was needed. And that's where things exceeded my admittedly limited technological capacity.

Fortunately Kim stepped in and took care of it, through a mysterious process that might have been less mysterious had I been in a less cable-company-and-Google-inspired mood and been able to watch without wanting to hurl bricks at random passing cars. That sort of thing opens up vast realms of trouble that I'd prefer not to explore, thank you, and so I let the mystery be.

But now everyone has a blog around here.

All the cool kids are doing it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making Omelettes

The Big Egg went away yesterday.

We're a book-centric household. There are books in every room of the house, with the possible exception of the mud room - and that only because there's no place to sit down there. Not that this same fact keeps the kitchen from having a few books in it that we can breeze through while standing around waiting for something to boil. You can't have too many books.

But sometimes it is time to let things go where they can be better appreciated.

The Big Egg was the first book I bought for Lauren to read all by herself. It's a fairly simple tale of cuckoldry (if you think too hard about kids' books you find yourself in all sorts of places where you probably didn't want to go) and loving the one you're with, spun as a morality tale about accepting people despite their differences. The most complicated word in it is "egg" and the pictures are bright and cheerful.

Lauren was just so thrilled when she read it. Everyone else in the house was reading books on their own, and now she could too.

We read it a lot.

But now she has grown past it, and The Big Egg sat gathering dust in the living room. It was time for it to go back into the Kid Stuff Jetstream that makes it possible for everyone to afford to have children. The girls are actually pretty good about that - they pick the things that they want to pass on to other kids, and it feels good for them to do that. I like that they're generous with their stuff that way and don't try to hoard it. Stuff should be used.

So yesterday I took The Big Egg and a couple of other books over to the Montessori school where Tabitha and Lauren spent so many happy days before graduating to Not Bad President Elementary. I like to think that even now some other kid is working their way through it, and discovering why books are good things.

And that's a very big egg indeed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


There are times when even the simplest task gets weighed down by unexpected complexity.

I usually am the one who picks up the girls from Not Bad President Elementary in the afternoons. My schedule is considerably more flexible (and less lucrative) than Kim's, for one thing, and for another I really do enjoy seeing them come out of school and asking them how their days went. And if a small subsection of the other parents who also pick up their children at NBPE would only consent to get some driver training on the etiquette of waiting in a "swoop and scoop" sort of line (or agree that their vehicles should be taken to the dump and compacted into end tables, possibly with them still inside), then there would be no worries at all.

This semester I am on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays for my one face-to-face class, which means that most of the time I am coming to NBPE from home on the other three days. And Thursday was one of those days - I had gone out to run some errands that afternoon, and when I got back home I figured there was no need to pull the car into the garage since a) I would be leaving shortly anyway, and b) Kim would still be at work and would not need to get past my car if I just left it in the driveway.

It was also a fairly warm day on Thursday, as memory serves. It certainly wasn't sleeting, as it was today in Our Little Town, but that is another story. Thursday. Warm. Warm enough, in fact, that I had rolled the windows down on the car.

Our Little Town is a pretty quiet one. You can leave the car in the driveway with the windows down and be pretty confident that it will still be there when you want to use it. It's one of the things I like about living here.

So I got back from my errands and went back inside to get some work done on my online classes before I had to go pick up the girls. And it being warm, the cat shot out the door as soon as I got home. Fortunately the one neighbor who objects to this has been fairly quiet about it recently, and the cats are duly registered these days so I figured it wasn't a problem.

After putting out a few brush fires online, I looked up at the clock and realized that I had better get a move on, since NBPE was about to let out. So I dashed out to the car, backed out of the driveway, and headed off.

It was shortly after this that I realized something was different.

I'm not sure what tipped me off. The angle of the sun. The foreboding soundtrack music that swelled up out of nowhere. The total loss of all radio contact with the outside world (although I'm used to that, really - we live in a radio dead zone). The swirling winds. It could have been anything.

Although if I had to put my finger on it, I'd say it was the fur-bearing missile that shot up from her nap in the cargo area and was ricocheting around the front seats.  It's those subtle cues that generally tip you off, I find.

There was an interlude of crisis.

Tria was not happy to be in a moving car. Moving cars almost always mean veterinary appointments, and those rarely end well as far as she is concerned. I was not happy to have Tria in my moving car. For one thing, five of her six ends are pointy and this is possibly more distracting than talking on a cell phone when driving. For another, I really did not want to take the cat to school with me, which meant turning around and taking her home. And I was already cutting it close as it was.  It was not a happy carload of creatures, is all I'm saying.

All this time I'm moving forward, by the way.

So I grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her to the front seat, made a quick three-point turn in someone's driveway, and went back home, hoping that the yowling would not shatter the windshield. Not my yowling.  My voice is pitched too low.  But success was achieved, and the cat bounded out of the car as soon as I stopped, and I was off again.

Cats - nature's way of reminding you how little brainpower it actually takes to get through the day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Awards and Presentation

I'm not doing well with technology these days.

Oh, the new microwave is just wonderful. We probably should have taken a sledgehammer to the old one years ago, now that we know how great the new one is. That's not the issue.

The issue is a DVD. Or, more properly, how to copy one. This is not a commercially-available DRM-protected DVD that I would probably be hounded unto the ends of the earth and well into whatever purgatory I end up in by copyright lawyers intent on extracting their fifteen cents in royalties - no, this is a DVD that I made on my own camera. You would think this would be relatively pain-free to copy, but then you would be wrong.

I have to copy it because in its current form it won't play in either of the nice new computers that we ended up with over the last year or so and I need it to be in a more congenial form. This is not because of any software difficulties but because the camera records on mini-DVDs, which are about as big across as most coffee mugs, rather than the normal sized DVDs, and the DVD slot on the computers is vertically-oriented rather than horizontal, so you can't just put a small disc in and expect it to work. It will gum up the computer, causing it to grind, smoke, judder and otherwise void its warranty with maximum prejudice and minimum recourse. So, my task is to find a way to copy it onto a big disc.

Score one for the engineers. I'm sure the vertical slot looked really cool on the blueprints.

But I'm working on it, because copies of the Not Bad President Elementary performance of The Granny Awards are not easy to come by.

The Granny Awards are pretty much exactly what they sound like they would be - a parody of the Grammy Awards, only starring fairy tale characters. I haven't seen the Grammies since ... well, never, not even when I actually recognized the names of the bands they were giving those awards to. But the Grannies? This I had to see.

Tabitha tried out for this sometime in the spring and won the part of Little Red Riding Hood, which required her to attend rehearsals after school and Kim to craft a bright red cape to go with her costume. There was a lot of work gone into this, and it all came together on Wednesday.

The show started at 9am, because this is rather off-off-Broadway and that's how we do things here in the nation's tender midsection. There was another showing at 1pm for the parents of 5th-graders. Two-a-days, just like the pros.

It was actually a very enjoyable show, full of sight-gags, actual comedy, and the musical stylings of most of the upper two classes at NBPE. Tabitha's scene came toward the end, and it must be said that she nailed it - a real trooper, she is.

She also knew all of the other lines, and we could see her in her spot in the chorus reciting along with the other actors while she waited for her chance in the limelight. So if a freak dodgeball accident had wiped out half the cast, the show could in fact have gone on.

It was a great show, and we are very proud of Tabitha for her part in it.

And now I'm trying to figure out how to spread the good word to the grandparents. Someday.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One Must Have Standards

When I am Grand Vizier of Creation, things will be different. Not necessarily better, but certainly different.

Among my many edicts will be a demand that manufacturers of common household appliances get together and standardize them. I'm not talking about having everything have the same features or colors. Hey - you want your fuchsia toaster to provide real-time updates to your Facebook account and you're willing to pay for the technology and take the chance that your bagel will start playing Mafia Wars and bump you off, you go right ahead and do that. No, my edict will be about more mundane aspects.

Common household appliances will come in a standard array of easily differentiable sizes, for example. Refrigerators will come in maybe three heights and three widths, each no less than six inches different from the one above or below so you can tell in the store which one you're looking at. Toaster ovens? Large, Medium, and, well, that's it. There is no point to having a Small toaster oven.

Don't even get me started on charging devices for portable electronic gizmos.

Further, anything that has to be screwed into the wall will have a standard placement of holes, both on the bracket holding them to the wall and the appliance itself, so that once a bracket is in place it need not ever be removed. You can just remove the appliance and put a new one in its place. Nor will manufacturers be allowed to put holes in places other than those already specified. No new holes will have to be drilled into cabinetry to accommodate dimensions that vary by less than two inches.

And while I'm at it, they can all use the same size and thread for bolts and screws, too.

We finally got all of our technology straightened out here, and not a moment too soon. I have no doubt that the recent uptick in the stock market was solely due to us replacing our router, DVD player, electric teakettle and microwave oven, all of which died in the space of about four hours. It was an expensive week.

The router wasn't all that hard to replace, even if our security code for access jumped from a manageable 384 digits to an unwieldy 1,938,830 digits, all of which have to be entered by hand into each device we want to connect to the internet. It's a bit unwieldy, true, but on the plus side, we figure this will slow down an enterprising hacker by almost half an hour, giving us time to get rid of the really juicy stuff on our computers like saved Internet memes that were funny in 2003. Because you never know when those things will come back.

The DVD player was a bit tougher, as the model we wanted - the one that had enough buttons on the actual machine that you could conceivably operate it without a remote - was not available in this year's version. Apparently that was too convenient, so the manufacturer did away with it. I kid you not. So now we have another remote.

The teakettle was even more of a trick, since electric teakettles are hard to find on this side of the Atlantic apparently. I have no idea why, since they are convenient, cheap and useful. Or maybe that's it, I don't know. But we found one, and it is all shiny and new and it boils water in a most expeditious manner and that, as they say, is that.

Which brings us to the microwave.

We went shopping for one of these last week - a process that basically amounted to walking into the local Sears and saying, "That one, please" when we found a model with a price we could afford. There really aren't a whole lot of choices when it comes to microwaves. There are countertop ones, which are small and come in a wide variety of black and white colors, and there are under-cabinet ones, which are larger and come in black, white, and stainless steel. So, to that point, the standardization thing seemed to be working in our favor. We picked out one of the under-cabinet ones - a white one, since a) the one we already had was white and it just made sense, b) black would make the whole kitchen look dark, and c) stainless steel doubles the cost - and they told us we could have it on Tuesday.

I got it home Tuesday evening, and it sat in its box until the weekend, when we had time to deal with it.

When we pulled it out of the box (which has since gone on to lead a productive second life as a lemonade stand, so if you are thirsty you need to stop by our driveway and see Tabitha and Lauren about a glass of something), we measured it against our old one.

On the one hand, it is exactly the same size as our old one, only a little deeper since the vent is on the top facing up rather than facing out. So it fit nicely into the space being vacated.

On the other hand, the screw holes on the top where you fasten it to the cabinet were off. Well, the left one was exactly where it should have been, and there was a hole in the microwave where the right bolt needed to go, except that this hole had no threads for a bolt to use. I am not sure why there was a hole there, in that case, other than to mess with our heads, but the functional hole was another inch and a quarter to the right, which was exactly where the jamb of the cabinet began. This made drilling a new hole in the cabinet somewhat problematic.

And the bracket was wrong.

Now, I'm used to brackets being wrong - it's how I spend my March every year. But in this case, it was a crashing nuisance since putting the new one up meant drilling through the tile backsplash that Kim put up during a romantic weekend of home repair one fall shortly after Tabitha was born.

Fortunately Grandpa was down to see the girls do their concerts, so he took over. He shaved off some of the cabinet jamb and - after an emergency trip the hardware store for some anchors and a tile bit - managed to get the bracket up with only a minor cloud of tile dust circling the kitchen. And now we have a nice new microwave, ready to go.

We figure we're good for technology now, at least until the next cycle starts.

Wait, what was that noise?

Bring on the Noise, Bring on the Funk

Yesterday was recital day here in Our Little Town!

Tabitha and Lauren have been taking music lessons for some time now, and every spring their teacher rounds up all of her students and rents out the hall where Kim and I had our wedding reception. All the families show up with goodies for afterward, and we go upstairs for the show.

This does require preparation.

The girls have been diligently practicing their recital pieces for weeks now. Tabitha had a selection of "Ode to Joy" for her violin, and Lauren had two piano pieces - one a short, minor-key piece entitled "Russian Sailor Dance" that turned out to be Ukrainian (who knew?), and the other a bouncy little thing called "Hot Popcorn."

That last one was a duet. With me.

It's been a while since I was last on stage with a keyboard in front of me, and it's been an even greater while since I had my year of piano lessons way back in high school, but Lauren and I worked it out.

Grandma and Grandpa came down for the show, and after a last minute trip to the dollar store to find Tabitha some nice-looking shoes that a) fit and b) were not sneakers we made our way to the recital hall. We've been there many times in the last fifteen years, but I still picture it the way it was when Kim and I got married and I'm always vaguely surprised not to see the paintings of tractors on the walls. Instead, there was a raft of other, less agriculturally-centered art on the walls and rows of chairs on the floor.

And the show began.

Both girls did a wonderful job with their pieces, as did all of the performers really. I even held up my end of the duet, which was a relief.

And then there were cookies. Mmmm. Cookies.