Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ghosts of Halloween Past

Tomorrow is Halloween Night. This is one of the few holidays we don't spend much time on every year. It used to be a much bigger deal when the kids were younger, but now that they don't trick or treat, we really don't do much at all. We were never into the decorating thing, other than a few pumpkins that we'd carve up. I think this year we may even turn out the lights and pretend we're not home. I'm much more okay with Halloween than Donna, who has never been a big fan. I had my bag stolen at the end of a long night of trick or treating when I was a middle schooler, so I can certainly see how it might not be someone's favorite night. I'm just vanilla about it, I guess. As I say, it was a little more fun when the kids were able to dress up.

There was a day when we used to dress up and go to Halloween parties, but that was way back when I had hair. We haven't dressed up or gone to a party for at least 18 years, I'm guessing. When we did, I went as a pirate with a pigeon on my shoulder as a parrot. People kept pointing out that it was a pigeon, but hey, Goodwill was out of parrots, evidently. I can't even remember what Donna went as at that party it was so long ago.

There were other parties, back when I was single and costumes parties were all the thing. I went to the State Street madhouse in Madison on a couple of occasions. At one I went as a man covered with maps. I also had "You are Here" and a line drawn down to my nose. Because of my pointy hat, I had one person mistake me for the Tin Man from Oz, and another for a Ku Klux Klansman. Evidently the fact that I was covered in road maps was lost on these students of higher education. As the evening got rowdier, I had people trying to find their streets on me as we walked along the crowded street. Like any costume, it was a real treat to drive in as well.

A costume I wore a couple of times was some Lycra snakeskin pants with a sleeveless Lycra top. They were skin tight and as frightening as they sound. My friend bought them as a joke and they were used for occasions just like this. I was going as a rocker ala George Thorogood, who wore them with much more dignity. I can't believe I wore them (twice to two different Halloween gigs, years apart), but I actually fit right in in Madison.

One year when I was working at Intelligraphics I went to a house party dressed as the HHH Metrodome. I'll admit this idea was stolen from my brother Paul who actually went out as the same thing the year prior when he came down from the Twin Cities to visit. How do you dress as a building, you ask? Think umbrella painted silver and a piece of green indoor outdoor carpeting with a hole cut in it and a football field lined on it. It was ingenious, but again, I had to explain it to people.

My wife and I went as a couple to an Intelligraphics halloween party as the Jolly Green Giant and Little Green Sprout. This was a hit, mostly because of our height difference. Credit goes to Donna for doing all the costume design and leaf attachment.

And then there was the year when I was in college and dressed up as a woman. I recently saw a picture of that costume and I thought, if I didn't know who it was, I'd actually be attracted to myself. (The fact that at the party I was groped the whole night is a different story.)

So, we weren't always Halloween scrooges. Nowadays, if we had to we might give it a go again. It's just not that big of a thing anymore. I don't hold anything against anyone who does, whatever lights your candle, but it's not something I want to spend a lot of time on.

In any case, Happy Halloween everyone!

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Working Mother

Throughout our parenting years, my wife has never really worked a 9-5 job. She tried it for a few months when Sarah was just a baby, but daycare was not only expensive, but just didn't feel right to her (or me.) As a result, over the last 17 years she has held a number of part time and self-employed jobs in order to contribute to the household bottom line and to keep the creditors at bay.

I'll be the first to admit that when she mentioned she wanted to quit her 9-5 job because she hated the daycare thing, I was terrified. Losing an income, or in this case, dramatically decreasing it -scared the heck out of me. When we did the math on what daycare was costing however, as well as the thought that making her available to the kids during those critical first years held value too, it was an easier decision than I thought.

And so over the years she has tried many things. The one steady job has been waitressing at a local Italian restaurant. It's not great money, but the work is steady and the money somewhat predictable from week to week. She's quit a time or two but gone back and they always welcome her. She's good at her job, dependable, and the customers like her. She's a low maintenance employee. It's not her favorite work, but she grinds it out.

She's also tried various self employment ventures. For many years she was a Pampered Chef representative and, much like her waitressing job she took it seriously and was very successful at it. She not only sold her share of cookware, but was able to recruit and mentor new reps under her, thereby increasing her income through their income. She was good enough at it that she won incentive trips for us almost every year. One year the whole family got to go to Walt Disney World almost all expenses paid. Another year, the two of us got to go to San Francisco because of her sales. These were unaccounted for perks that you tend to forget add to the family bottom line. 

Another steady self-employment venture has been her Personal Chef job. She cooks for a few clients anywhere from once a week to once a month and then freezes the meals for them to reheat during the week. She has always had a love (and gift) for cooking and baking and this seemed like the perfect outlet for it. When she mentioned she wanted to start up Donna's Delectables as a personal chef business, I was supportive of the idea. There was relatively little start up costs, some food licensing things, a website and some other small things, so it seemed like a no brainer. She has been at that for I would guess 8 or 9 years now and still enjoys it. Again, not a 9-5er, but helping the family (ours and others) put food on the table.

Her latest enterprise is as an Events Coordinator for Purple Door Ice Cream of Milwaukee. She sets appointments for clients of theirs to do tastings, weddings, promotions and other events. It's food, so it's right up her alley again and she seems to love working for the couple that started the business. It's part time, only 10-20 hours a week, but could become more as they grow.

The reason I give this rundown of her work over the years is because it's become clear to me that as difficult and unnerving as some of those early decisions were, I'm glad we decided to let her follow her gut and pursue what she loves. On those days I struggle with the fact that I work a consistent 40 hour 8-4:30 job, I have to remind myself that she is juggling three jobs, Personal Chef, waitressing, and Purple Door. Each of those requires planning, coordination and time. Furthermore it's a lot of shifting gears. Working with the public one minute, working for a single client the next and all the computer and paperwork when she can fit it in. She is as busy or busier than me, just different hours, that's all.

Part of what woke me up to the fact that we're doing okay with this arrangement is our kids. Both of them are doing well in school, have a good group of friends, and have a moral compass that never ceases to amaze me. Would that have happened if Donna worked outside the home when they were little? Maybe. And I'm not dissing those that make that decision. To each his own. My own mother worked a 40 hour week because she had to. Everyone has a different situation, but we're all doing what we think is best, right? We're all trying to make it work. 

But there's also a part of me that will defend anyone who questions what she does all day if she's not working a "full time job". She's like a teacher in that, when she's not working she's still working. Clipping coupons to save a few bucks, getting groceries, housework and keeping on top of all the kids' school stuff to mention a few. I think people like her don't get enough credit sometimes and I'm as guilty as the next guy at forgetting to recognize it. I love her for the family she's helped me raise, and I am blessed to be able to help her achieve her dreams and goals. 

I love you Donna.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Writing From My Life

I've been actively writing since about the fourth grade. Of course, it has been an on again/off again affair over my lifetime, but if I had to pin down when I first realized my love for writing, it would have to be in fourth grade. It was then that I wrote some stories that were not even required for class. I did them just because I enjoyed creating them. Each of the stories were written on 1/2 sheets of paper which were then cut in 2 and put together like a short book. I still have the stories, Mom saved them over the years, and there are some common themes to them, namely disaster, some sort of resolution to the disaster and a moral to the story. I remember a nun teacher of mine asked if she could put one or more of the stories in a special box for the class and I really wasn't keen on the idea. (Author's rights at a young age, I guess.) She got the drift and backed off, but it was really kind of cool to be acknowledged for something I just thought was fun.

Through high school I didn't really do much in the way of writing, but during my college years I took it a little more seriously. I never minded long papers and some of my English classes were my favorite. One thing I did do during my college years was started writing letters. I wrote to my brother, my friend in Ireland and a host of others. I knew the thrill of getting something in the mail and I knew that it took sending a letter to get one.

Shortly after college, I moved to Wisconsin and the letter writing took on a much bigger role. I wrote home, I wrote to my brother in NY, and eventually I started writing to Donna who would later become my wife. It was during this time that I started hearing from people fairly consistently who said "I love your letters" or "Your letters make me laugh." This kind of feedback meant more to me than anything. Although I was not tapping my talent in a "productive" way through publishing or formalized classwork, I was still putting pen to paper and maybe becoming a better writer along the way.

For the next, oh, twenty years or so, I floundered around not taking it seriously or knowing how to go about doing so. I gave some thought to getting a Masters degree in Journalism for a bit, but after talking to a writer who used to work for the Waukesha Freeman who asked "Do you like long hours and little pay?" I decided that might not be the career path for me. I'm not sure I would like the parameters of writing news and expose' articles anyway. My preference is for humor and memoir.

Then in 2006, I finally took action and enrolled in a short course offered through the City of Waukesha titled "Writing from your life." It sounded like exactly what I was looking for. Non-credit, non threatening, and memoir based. The instructor Shannon Jackson Arnold was nothing short of inspiring and encouraging. One of the goals of the class was to have a 10 page paper written by the end of the session. I did mine on stories from the Boundary Waters and as it later turned out, it was the flash point for my work on my BWCA Manuscript.

After the class finished I floundered for a couple more years until I finally emailed Shannon and asked her what I should do. She was forthright with getting me to set some goals and stick to them. I started by checking out a class at AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop. I audited a class before I signed up and realized within the first half hour that it was exactly where I needed to be. Under the direction and instruction of Kathie Giorgio (and, later, Michael Giorgio,) I discovered I was among other mere mortal writers who were struggling with the same things I was.

I continued in that Workshop for three years and then took a couple of the book writing classes through the same studio. I began getting my poetry published within a year of enrolling, and within a year and a half I had my first paying nonfiction piece published. My goal all along was to get published, getting paid for it at times has been a bonus.

My writing has given me great joy over the years. (Don't get me wrong, it has given me a fair amount of angst as well.) In some ways I think it even gave me my wife and, as a result my life. Donna has always said that my writing won her heart first. (Before my good looks. LOL). I'm glad I finally found the road I should be on. I'm glad I finally took the steps I needed to take. Now, I'm writing for my life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Lesson in Humility and Futility

This past weekend was "Muskie Fest," one vacation weekend I really look forward to every year. It is a chance for me and a couple of friends to go fishing for two and a half days for muskie. These fish are hard to catch, but when you do, you know it's probably going to be a beauty. In the past four years we've always caught a fish and sometimes multiple fish on these trips, so I had high expectations going in.

We didn't catch a thing.

This year it was just Steve and I because our friend had prior commitments. On Thursday afternoon when we arrived, we tried our luck on a new lake we heard good things about. We had no luck, so I attributed it to being a new lake that we didn't know.

We fished our favorite lake in a chilly 41 degree steady light rain on Friday morning that was relentless. Whenever the rain stopped for a few minutes it seemed the wind would pick up. We fished all the areas that have always produced in the past. It was a sure thing in my mind. When it didn't produce in the morning, we changed lakes to our other favorite lake. In year's past, we almost always got a fish on one of these two lakes. We fished it hard in the afternoon, but it was not to be. It was a tough day on the water.

We'll get 'em tomorrow, I thought.

Saturday was more of the same. Trolling, casting, repeating. No luck.

The whole weekend was a lesson in humility and futility. I came away on Saturday afternoon feeling despondent, dejected and defeated. I thought the two of us were pretty good at this game and we had not even had a hint of a fish.

And then I remembered that this is a very common muskie fishing experience for most people. After a shower, a change into some warm clothes and a good dinner, I came to grips with it. I had not caught a fish, but it occurred to me that I had much to be grateful for. Much more than the satisfaction a fish could provide.

When I counted them down, I realized I was grateful for:

  • My friends Steve and John, whose graciousness allows me to visit this outdoor playground. John lets us take over his place and use his boat like it's our own, oftentimes when he can't make the trip. Steve invited me 5 years ago and I've been lucky to be included ever since. Without friends like these, this trip doesn't happen. Grateful.
  • The fish of my past. I have 5 muskies to my credit in five years. Some people fish a lifetime and never get one. And I'm moping? No, grateful.
  • I had the chance to build some great memories with Steve, including fishing in godawful weather that we will laugh about forever, using a one-eyed sucker for bait that we nicknamed one-eyed Charlie, and loading the boat at the end of the day in a 5 minute momentary sleet storm. My sister messaged me on the last day and reminded me that the trip, the journey and the memories taken away are not to be overlooked. Be grateful, she reminded me.
  • This place. The Vilas/Iron County area of Wisconsin has become a sacred place to me for many reasons. It's where I go to recreate with my Minnesota family every August, and fish for muskies every year. It's where I learned to walleye fish with my friend Brad 19 years ago. It is boundless in beauty and I can't get enough of it. This trip we saw deer, loons, eagles, hawks, turkeys. Grateful for God's handiwork.
  • My health. Fishing muskie is hard work. Throwing heavy lures, the logistics of launching, loading and unloading the boat in sometimes adverse conditions takes strength and stamina. I'm just happy to be able to do it at 51 and hope to be doing it at 71. Lucky to have healthy friends to do it alongside. Grateful.
  • Mementos. On this trip I brought along shirts given to me by my two brothers Rob and Paul. Both of the shirts are muskie related and I consider them lucky. While they weren't lucky for me this trip, having them means much more to me than many other things I own. It makes me feel connected with them, which is weird, I know, but grant me this quirk. They and the rest of my family are pretty important to me lately so my attitude is, whatever it takes. 
I've learned in life that there's three answers. Yes, No and Not Now. When I look back at this trip I'm going to look at it as a "Not Now" trip, and I am Grateful to have learned something along the way.

Blogging off... 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jack of All Trades - Master of None

This past weekend was a bachelor's weekend for me. Well, sort of. It was more like a boys weekend, as Ben and I stayed home while Donna and Sarah went to Minnesota to tour Carleton College and attend a bridal party gathering for my niece. These weekends are a mixed blessing for me for a few reasons. While I like the peace and quiet of having less people around the house, by day 3 I am ready to have it back to normal. I don't ever get to the point of talking to myself, but I sure do talk to the dog and cats a lot more. This is not a healthy thing.

I also like the lack of a schedule structure. I can come and go as I please and do whatever is next on my agenda without redirection. The downside to this is I tend to want to "do it all" in a weekend. This weekend's projects included replacing our motion detector light overlooking the back yard and painting the front steps. I got through both of them and the 76 other things I needed to do as well, so in all it was a good weekend.

The light project went about as I planned including the usual SNAFU's. The first speed bump came five minutes into the project. After I had the light off, it started to rain. Nothing spells a good start to an electrical project that a wet base to work with. I managed to get it all covered in plastic and took to doing other things until the rain quit. The second snafu came when the locking nuts that I was careful to place on the tray of the stepladder I had were nowhere to be found when it came time to attach them. Oy!

Could they have dropped to the ground, I wondered? I got off the ladder and started looking. I found one right away and thought good. That was easy. Of course it took another five minutes before I found the second one, but was ecstatic when I did because they are a specialized nut and the last thing I wanted was a trip to the hardware store at this point.

Well I eventually got the light on and working. Because they are LED lights, it's a wee bit on the garish side for my liking, but, hey, at least it's energy efficient. So what if my backyard looks like a dentist's office.

Another drawback to a bachelor's weekend is that it brings to the fore my lack of cooking skills. Donna left plenty of easy to prepare meals and they worked out fine, but what I discovered is that I eat differently when she's not around. Many of my meals are eaten while standing up, on my way to something else. I'll eat out of the pan at times, over the sink of course, because I'm a gentleman caveman.

It's a sad disorder, my hatred of cooking. It's a wonder that I ever made it out of my bachelor years alive. When I weighed myself after Donna got back home I had actually lost 5 lbs. I'm convinced this was in part to working hard, but it is also attributable to my culinary-ineptitude. (Fear not, when I weighed myself the next day I had gained it all back. I'm like a yo yo that way with my weight sometimes.)

The final indicator that we were in the middle of a boy/bachelor weekend was our trip to get Ben some shoes. He decided kind of late that he wanted to go with some friends to the Homecoming dance at school. Donna was johnny-on-the-spot about getting him some dress clothes a few days prior, but at the last minute we realized he had no shoes.

Now, understand that Ben doesn't wear dress clothes that often. Plus, he's growing like a weed, so we didn't want to spend a lot on shoes for him, only to have him outgrow them in 6 months. We thought we'd try Goodwill first and see if we could luck out. We went in and made a beeline for the shoes because we're men and we were hunting. When I pulled out the second pair, Ben tried the right one on and said it fit. I saw that with a little shoe polish these would be fine. Total cost $4.99. Total time spent shopping, approximately 3 minutes. I said, "Should we go?" Ben said he wanted to look at the electronic junk, so we did that for 10 minutes. My point is that we could have been in and out of Goodwill with a very good pair of shoes for $5.00 in a record 7 minutes flat. If that isn't a guy's shopping dream, there isn't one.

In short, it was a good weekend. It's good for Donna and Sarah to get out (and in this case, road trip) together. It gave them time to talk and hang with the women side of the Landwehr family. She attested that it was a good weekend for them. It's good for Ben and I too. We're able to hang out and talk as well. I showed him the life skill of how to tie a tie for his dance and how to speed shop for shoes. Despite all this goodness, it's always nice to have the four of us back under one roof. It's the way it supposed to be.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In the Face of Fifty

We celebrate another milestone tomorrow. My brother Rob would have been fifty. It is a sad occasion in that I wish he were here so I could have helped him celebrate it. At the same time, I'm choosing to turn it into a happy occasion. The reason being, it's what Rob would have wanted. He would want us to celebrate him, not cry into our beer. If he were around, I have no doubt that he would take all the age jokes and senior citizen cracks and ribbing in stride, and would probably throw some barbs back as well. He'd smile big for the camera - it was his style. You don't see any pictures of Rob with the straight-line, no teeth smile that I have in most pictures of me. He was truly a very happy person an he wanted others to be happy too.

In looking back over the past years, there was no birthday of his that really sticks out to me as being special. Because I am in Waukesha and have been for 27 years, I didn't get the chance to go to many of his birthdays. The one I do remember though was in 2006 at the Landwehr "Hunt," an annual event that brought all of the male uncles and cousins up to Dent, Minnesota. Rarely were guns brought to the hunt or discharged except for a little shotgun bowling, which is as redneck as it sounds, and twice as fun.

It happened that Rob's birthday fell during this particular hunt. There was no cake to speak of because Rob made little mention of it being his birthday. It also didn't help that we were guys cooking our own food, so cake wasn't really on the menu. We did toast him during dinner as I recall, but otherwise there was little fanfare. It was however one weekend I will never forget. I laughed so hard with him, Tom and Paul at times I thought I was going to die. It was one of those rare weekends where all the brothers were together for a time and everyone was in great spirits.

Rob taught me many things in life and played a big part in making me who I am. He always put family first, even though there were times when one or all of us drove him crazy. We might have been crazy, but we're still family and you don't mess with that. That was part of why he made such a point to be at things like the hunt and the cabin. He was a social nut - loved people - but especially his family. I do too, in short machine gun bursts. Rob was more of a mushroom cloud kind of personality. Come early, stay late because he loved talking about the family, including his girls Jane, Alison and Amanda.

Rob taught me that a disability like a hearing loss can be overcome or at least neutralized. He even used it as a way to get a laugh once in a while. I remember our neighbor was giving us a ride somewhere once and Rob turned his hearing aid up to the point that it whistled with feedback whenever he turned his head. When the neighbor said "What was that? Did you hear that?" Rob and I just said "Nope." Then he'd turn his head again, and she said "There it is again!"

"Nope. Didn't hear anything." Our poor neighbor thought she was going insane. Good humor.

One of his favorite jokes with people who didn't know him was to say "You know I have Aids, right?" To which the stranger would look very concerned at him and say, "You have Aids? Really? I'm so sorry." Rob would then say, "Yeah, hearing aids!"

Making lemonade out of lemons in the name of a laugh. That was how he rolled.

Rob taught me that one person's advice can have a lifelong impact. He said that it was me chiding him about his smoking and about how even though he only smoked after work, I told him that soon enough he would need one at break at work, then on the drive to work, etc, etc, and before long he'd be hooked. He said he always remembered that and the voice stuck with him until he finally quit for good. He credited me with helping him, even though it was an online community called Quitnet that helped him stop for good.

He taught me that one can never have enough friends. Though again, it's not my style to be super-outgoing to the point that people want to be around you, Rob's essence just oozed that. He was energized by people - total extrovert. People helped him get through things. He didn't retreat to his man cave much (from my perspective anyway.) The friends he had in high school and college were his until he passed, which goes to show you how he kept in touch and valued people.

He taught me to live for today, to relish each sunset, each fish, each holiday discussion, each significant event in his kids' lives, each promotion or success, and most of all each Viking victory over my beloved Packers. (I'm still working on that last one.)

And so, as much as I miss him, I miss that he's not there to teach me anymore. At the same time, I know he'd want me to move on and pass on the principles that he held important. To smile, to appreciate your family every day, and to not take one minute for granted. Because if I waste time worrying about something, I have a feeling I'm going to get a talking to someday.

Happy 50th, brother. I love you man!

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Timeless Homecomings

Well, it's homecoming week for my kids' high school as well as for Carroll University, (the college right across the street from me.) What a great tradition! It's the celebration of people returning to their alma mater (High School or College) and is built around a dance and a football game. It's a great way to build school spirit while giving the kids a chance to be kids a bit.

At Waukesha South, every day this week is a different dress theme. Monday was "Seniors" day where kids dressed up like old folks. Tuesday was "Mismatch day" where you were to dress with plaid and stripes or things that clashed. Tuesday was also "Toga Day" where the seniors got to dress in Togas and were allowed to "storm the halls" in the afternoon. Stupid, crazy fun, but a good way for students to build great memories and have a good time in school. Wednesday was 50's day where you had to dress like it was the 50's. Thursday is "spirit day" where you dress in school colors.

It brings back memories of my own homecoming experiences of my years at Cretin High School. Being an all male, military high school, as freshman we were required to March around the track before the football game started at St. Thomas College (now St. Thomas University, I see). It was considered our "home" field, much like Catholic Memorial High School uses Carroll University's field as its home field.

And so, march me and my classmates did. I'll be honest and say that it kinda sucked wearing your uniform at a game, but that would probably dishonor what the uniform was supposed to stand for at the time. Still, as a 15 year old, it kinda sucked.

As a bit of an aside, attending high school football games was one of the fonder memories of my high school years. There's something so fun about piling some of your friends into one of their dad's cars and going out on a Friday Night. It was one of the first times I really felt like an adult. A mini-adult perhaps, but adult nonetheless. We could raise hell at the game, go out for pizza afterwards, and stay out late-ish.

The rest of Homecoming week was all good too. One of the bigger things was getting a homecoming button for $1.00. The funds raised went to the Student Council, I think, or maybe some charity. I actually still have all of my buttons from Homecoming and MidWinter - the winter equivalent of homecoming.

There was something for every class too. Freshman had "Frosh Field Day" where they spent the afternoon out on the practice field doing torturous drills (aka games) overseen by the seniors. I think we were broken up by homerooms or something. It was fun even though it was really just sadistic seniors beatin' on the Freshman.

Sophomores had some event that escapes me.

Juniors had the Big Ball Bash that meant playing soccer with an inflated ball probably 10 feet in diameter. The year I played it it lasted 10 minutes and somehow got popped. Game over.

Seniors had Hobo Day where they all dressed in costume and spent the afternoon disrupting all the other grade levels by going around the school and singing the Cretin Rouser (school song). There's nothing like blowing off classes to goof around and be disruptive.

Homecoming is a nice reminder that while school is meant for hard work, learning, making friends and growing up, it can be a lot of fun too. With that, I'll leave you with the Cretin Rouser.

Cretin Rouser

Oh dear Cretin High, the greatest school in all the land.
Our Alma Mater we doff our hats to thee and stand.
The purple and gold spells loyalty we’re proud to show.
Hail Cretin, Rah! Rah! Hoo-Rah! Hail Cretin High let’s go!
Fair school of our youth, our happiest days were spent with thee.
The friendships we’ve made, will live fore’er in memory.
Wherever we go our motto always VICTORY.

Hail Cretin, Rah! Rah! Hoo-Rah! Hail Cretin High lets go!

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Power of Teen Spirit

Let me start by saying I have good kids. I would even go so far as to say great kids. Smart, polite, funny and talented.

At the same time, I also have two teenagers one nearly 18 and the other 15. These two teenagers bear no resemblance to my teenagers, though there does seem to be some sort of spiritual possession going on. That "teen spirit" that people talk about, and Nirvana once sang about? Yeah it's in my kids. I'm not sure how to get it out except to pray and wait.

The way the spirit-beast manifests itself varies from day to day, but it's always there for sure.  One of the most blatant signs of its presence are stacked dishes in the kids' bedrooms. Sometimes the beast is thoughtful enough to move the stack to the stairway newel post so as to make it obvious that it is satiated, but other times the chocolate milk glass and pizza roll plate are left on a dresser or desk in hopes that the holy dish exorciser will remove them. And Father Jim or Sister Donna usually does while muttering under their breath about ants, bugs and mold.

The dishes stem from the teenage appetite which seems to have reared its head with a vengeance. The kids eat Totinos pizza like they own stock. They pop pizza rolls like Pez candy. Furthermore, when I go to get the leftover "good pizza" from Matteos or other order out, I am more often than not told "the kids ate that this afternoon".

What? That never used to happen. Since when do the kids eat any leftovers?

Oh yeah, that's right. They're possessed.

The teen spirits seem to have 6 feet. I know this because it leaves all twelve-times-two of its shoes by the back door until it looks like a Famous Footwear show floor. It seems to have an aversion to putting any of them on the shoe rack, and I'm not sure why. Structure must not be its thing.

The spirit of ThirteenToNineteen is evidently a perfect driver. It seems to recognize, correct and admonish every bad driving habit that its parents have picked up over the years. Driving record counts for nothing and heaven knows they will never pick up the same bad habits. The thing has it's own radio stations too, and not only likes to listen to them when they're driving, but also prefers that I listen to them when I'm driving them too.

Somewhere along the way teendom has taken my cute little child voices and made them deep, throaty adult voices that I can suddenly hear from any room in the house. Much of their language is indecipherable anyway, either because of my encroaching deafness or the fact that they are like speaking in like, well, like a different language. Throw into that some eye rolls, "tsk's",  or "wow, Dad"'s and well, I do my best using hand signals, text messages and stair hollering. We communicate at a subhuman level, but it seems to be working most of the time.

It seems the teen spirit needs rest too. Lots and lots of sleep. It doesn't seem to like sunlight much before noon and prefers indoor surroundings to fresh air as well. It can watch an entire TV series on a 2 inch phone screen for entertainment and seems to get exceptional joy out of 7 second videos called Vines. It loves pajamas and Axe deodorant and seems to have a new affinity for personal hygiene. (This is a good thing.) Soda is it's drink of choice leading to belches that would make a sailor blush. Not cute kid belches, but adult belches.

I want to know when and how did this happen?

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of really cool things coming out of the passage of my kids through their high school years too. For example, Sarah now drives Ben to school every day. This means that Donna is freed up to do more important things. They now understand our adult sarcasm and Also, they seem to be much more mature about making their own decisions and calling out injustices or prejudices in others. They also use this good judgement to determine which friends are the good ones, worth pursuing, and which ones are best left out.

The funny thing about it is I was exactly the same way when I was a teenager. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

And so, I'll have to wait this one out. Soon enough they'll be college bound and the teen years will be a distant blur. Until then, I'll keep studying these beings, as I know my cute cuddly children are in there somewhere.

Oh, and maybe I'll start storing my leftovers on the shoe rack.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trail Gazing

I am a bit of a biking nut. I usually put on between 1200-1500 miles in a typical season, running from late April to late October. I bike to work almost every day, even though it's less than a two mile trip one way. Then, most nights I bike another 8-10 miles on the Glacial Drumlin trail near our house. It has become my nightly ritual, a way to decompress and work through the events of my day.

Evidently I am not the only regular out on the trail from night to night. I often times see the same people walking, biking, roller blading, or land-skiing. It's funny what I think about when I'm riding and seeing these people from day to day. Some of them communicate or acknowledge, while others just whiz by, intent on finishing their workout. I love to people watch anywhere I go, so this presents its own form of that. It is an interesting cast of characters, including:

  • Carhartt T-Shirt Wearin' Guy. This guy walks with his iPod and while I don't see him every day, I see him quite often. It's my guess that he's walking to lose weight, as his build suggests. He always gives me a nod as I pass, and I do the same back. Not sure why it's almost always a Carhartt T-Shirt. Maybe he works there.

  • Manic-Skinny-Workhard Girl. This girl is a hit or miss scenario from day to day, but when I see her, she is always straining forward on her bike in high gear with a look of determination, almost anguish, on her face. She's always hauling, certainly not out for a stroll. My guess is she's on a tight schedule and just wants the workout for workout sake.

  • Native American Jogger Guy. Never really running hard, just kind of plodding along. It's weird, but I've only seen him jogging one direction. It must be a timing thing. He always give me a "low wave" like you see Harley Riders give each other on the road. I nod or give him a grip-the-handlebar half wave. It's a weird kind of mutual respect wave.

  • Pale Old Rollerblade Dude. I'm not sure why this guy is so pale, being that he's out there most every day. Maybe he's big on sunblock. He always wears a helmet, so maybe he's big on safety all-around. I call him old because he looks older than me. I give him credit for getting it done though. Rollerblading is a workout, for sure.

  • Recumbent Ricky. Another one of those guys I always see going the opposite way from me; never in the same direction. Seems very comfortable in his recumbent bike, annoyingly comfortable, actually. I've thought about going recumbent, but my wife assures me it skews OLD. Maybe my next bike, or maybe my bike in the next life.
  • Asian Androgynous Ponytailed SheMan. This one whizzes by on their road bike at 20+ MPH almost every day, and I can never determine whether it is a man or a woman. He/She has a long black braided pony tail that is one of those that could go either way. They're always wearing androgynous biker-geek wear, so it's impossible to tell. For the record I'll just refer to her/him as Pat.

  • Baseball Cap Organ Donor Guy. Always flying by at a good clip on his cross training bike, this 50-something wears a blue baseball cap backwards instead of a helmet. Now, I always wear a helmet. I got over the "cool" complex long, long ago. It's foolish not to wear one. If I wipe out, I want to be able to feed myself when I come out of my coma. A helmet could mean the difference between that and getting a spoon fed dinner from Nurse Ratchet. Seriously. Helmet, sunglasses and gloves are really all a biker has to protect him. I've had a couple of falls, and realized then how quickly it can happen. Put a skid lid on.

  • Tall Skinny Orange Bike Guy. This guy is as regular on the trail as clockwork. Starts at 5:00 goes until 5:45. Same route, same outfit; cargo shorts, t-shirt, sneakers. Occasionally gets caught up in the beauty of the trail or some random wildlife and becomes a hazard to himself and others, but only occasionally. He warns when he's passing and always has pretty decent trail etiquette. He is me.
So it's an interesting cross section of loners, weirdos, workout fanatics and OCD personalities, but I've grown to love seeing them every day. They're my peeps. 

Blogging off...