Monday, April 30, 2007

Going for the Trifecta

It's been a crazy week already, and it's barely Monday. Over the course of the past week, I've covered the morning, evening, and now the overnight shift at work. Last week I covered a couple of shifts for one of my coworkers as he took some vacation time, and then another one of my coworkers experienced a death in the family. So here I am covering BOTH of their shifts, and I don't think I'm going to make it. At least I'm getting paid.

I have a newfound respect for people who work overnights. Yours is a special breed, nocturnal dwellers able to sleep the day away and go on the twilight prowl, or in my current case, push a bunch of buttons to air programming NOBODY WATCHES. At least not anybody who is sane.

Have you ever tried to force yourself to go to sleep? It doesn't work too well. I willed myself out of bed extra early yesterday morning because I knew I'd have to go to bed in the early evening to prepare for my shift. Actually, I had to go pick Kyra up from her first ever sleepover party, so it worked out pretty well. I then kept myself busy for the rest of the day in a vain attempt to wear myself out. I vacuumed the Rex hair from the family room. I mowed the lawn. I picked up heaping piles of Rex poop. I pulled weeds and moved river rock from our backyard. I played soccer and softball with the girls. I dropped Kailey off at a birthday party and Kyra and I went to run errands and get a bite to eat. We returned home and I got my things together for my twelve-hour overnight shift.

I should have been exhausted, and I was. I finally fell into bed a little after 6:00 pm, then laid there, awake, for at least the next two hours. My body was tired, but my mind, wide awake. I thought about the day, our finances and the bills that needed to be paid, and continually performed the math to figure out how much sleep I would get if I fell asleep precisely this minute. As my sleep sum dwindled, my anxiety level rose. Dude, you've got to go to sleep! Brain, knock it off! I eventually fell asleep, although I'm not sure exactly when. But I do know that I slept no more than four hours, most likely around three, for my twelve-hour shift. Should get interesting. So good citizens of Tucson, should you experience long periods of black during your morning programming, do not panic. I'm just taking a little nap.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Joys of Dog-Sitting

I was rudely awakened by a pointy-elbowed jab to the ribs at about 4:30 yesterday morning. "Honey? Honey!"

Don't you "Honey" me...I was in the middle of a deep satisfying sleep, and I'm pretty sure I was having a good dream to boot. Was I snoring too loud? Humping her leg in my sleep? Humping HER in my sleep? "What?" I growled.

"Would you go tell Rex to be quiet? He's been barking and crying for the past hour."

I love being a sound sleeper, and, no, it isn't just an act to avoid middle-of-the-night parental duties. I've blissfully slept through dozens of nightmares and peed and barfed beds, although I was usually awakened for peed/barf bed duty. I'll get up in the morning with absolutely no idea that Diane spent the night in one of the girls room because they were freaked out. Oops...hee, hee, hee. I hadn't heard Rex at all that morning. "Why can't YOU go tell him to be quiet?" I groused.

"Because he doesn't listen to me."

I know this defense well. It's the same reason I refuse to learn how to braid the girls' hair: if I learn how to do it, then I'll have to do it EVERY DAY. And I simply don't have that kind of time. This way, whenever the girls ask me to braid their hair like Mommy does, I reply as sweetly as possible, "I'm sorry, Sweetie, I'm just not as good at braiding as Mommy is." I guess what goes around comes around.

I pulled myself out of bed and stumbled to the laundry room where we had Rex penned. We've been dog-sitting for my in-laws the past few days, so far without incident. But this barking-in-the-middle-of-the-night nonsense needed to stop, and I was ready to play the role of alpha male to put the kibosh on it. I rounded the corner where I met Rex's sad, defeated eyes waiting for me at the gate, and discovered what was agitating him: three large piles of puke. Fan-TAS-tic! Being the amazing husband I am, I did not rouse Diane for barf duty, and began the cleanup process. Being the more amazing wife that she is, Diane got up anyway and offered moral support. She doesn't handle barf duty too well. I don't either for that matter, but sometimes you just do whatcha gotta do. I took Rex outside, cleaned up the mess, returned him to his room, and went back to bed.

I woke up again at 6:30 to get Kailey ready for school and found a couple of bile-puddles on the floor in Rex's room. Houston, we have a problem. All morning long, Rex just lazed around, completely lethargic and not at all interested in food, water or play. And when I let him outside to do his business, he'd pick a spot in the yard and strike a pose where his body became tense and rigid, convulsing to produce a half-dollar sized puddle of sludge. As I watched him struggle through his bowel movements, I thought, been there, done that. Buddy, I can FEEL your pain.

I called my in-laws to inform them of the situation as well as to get the number of their vet. Golden Retriever pups are notorious for eating crap they shouldn't, then having near death experiences. And Rex has already gone through this process once. I called the vet and they told me to bring him in, along with a "fresh stool sample". Come again? "A fresh stool sample; the fresher, the better." And how do you suggest...oh, never mind.

So thirty minutes before our appointment, armed with a gallon-sized ziplock freezer bag, I followed Rex into the backyard and waited for him to go through his spastic fece-squeeze routine. I started out with a sandwich baggie, which would easily have handled the volume of Rex's BM. But then I had second thoughts. What if I misjudged the trajectory of the discharge? I envisioned the neighbors calling 911 as they watched me run screaming across my backyard, wildly flailing at my hands while being chased by an 80 pound dog. Gallon-sized...that's the way to go. Rex sniffed around the lawn for a minute, found an acceptable spot, circled and assumed the position. I snuck up behind him and, gulp, slid the bag underneath him. I must have been too aggressive though, and he felt the bag. He twirled around with a "What-the-Hell-are-YOU-doing?" expression on his face. Seriously. "Sorry buddy," was all I could muster.

Rex, looking completely annoyed, moved over to the rocks and, again, squatted. I followed, this time being careful NOT to brush his ass with my oversized bag. That sounded really bad and should probably be rephrased. Anyway, he let loose and I collected every last disgusting, gloopy drop. Then I sealed the bag and ran inside to freak out the girls.

We arrived at the animal clinic where I handed the receptionist what I determined to be the most disgusting fecal sample ever collected. She grabbed the bag without comment or hesitation, albeit by the side rather than the top. She apparently had seen worse. The vet ran a bunch of tests, all of which were negative, and poked and prodded poor Rex. He could find no obstruction in his bowels, but couldn't rule out a bowel obstruction with any certainty without x-rays. He suggested two possible courses of action: an aggressive one which included the x-rays and intravenous fluids, or a conservative approach which included some medication, fluids and a mild diet. Ummm...conservative please. If we need to, we'll cross the aggressive bridge when we get to it.

I'm happy to report that the conservative approach seemed to work. This morning Rex was back to his nosey, playful self. And I'm even happier that he didn't die on my watch. In five days, I'll be even happier still, when Rex goes home. Grammy & Papa, I'm thankful that you let us stay in your home for two weeks while our water situation was being worked out, but now we are even!

On second thought, you never had to chase any of us around with a baggie, waiting for us to take a dump, so I think we may be due some weekend childcare.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Birds & the Bees...and a Dog

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the throne, thinking great thoughts when the silence was shattered (as it usually is when I'm sitting on the throne, thinking great thoughts or reading the paper). "DADDY!! DADDY!! BEES!! BEES!! Daddy?"

"I'm in here!"

The door flew open and smacked into the doorstop. It was Kyra. She doesn't knock and I forgot to lock the door. "What are you doing?" she asked, wrinkling her nose.

"Three guesses and the first two don't count," I replied flatly. "Have you forgotten how to knock?" I asked for the millionth time.

Kailey joined her at the door, breathing hard. "Dad. There are bees, lots of them, in the backyard by the rose bushes."

"Can't you see I'm a little indisposed at the moment? I'll be there in a minute."

"What's indisposed?" Kyra asked with that same wrinkly expression. "Does that mean you're pooping?"


They got the hint, finally, slammed the door and ran off. Thinking time over.

This week our house has become a wild kingdom of sorts. On Monday, we inherited Rex, my in-law's ten month-old golden retriever, for ten days while they travel to see my sister-in-law's new condo. Rex is a good dog, as far as puppies go, but he's still a pup, and caring for him over the past few days has been like having a newborn again. Especially in the sleep department. He's been going to sleep fine in the evenings, but he wakes up early, especially since Kyra has been waking up early at the butt-crack of dawn. Rex, at the slightest sign of movement within the house, stirs to life, and if he sees you, it's over. He's fully awake and ready for the day. He wakes up the rest of the house as he slams his huge wagging tail against the doors and walls of the house.

Yesterday, Kyra told me the reason for her early mornings. "Stupid birds," she blurted out of the blue.

"Excuse me?"

"Stupid birds have been chirping in the morning and waking me up!" she explained. It's true that we seem to have an inordinately large population of birds nesting around our house this spring. There are nests on three corners of our house as well as in at least two bushes and a tree in the front yard. When I drive up our driveway and open the garage door, the front of the house explodes with the flutter of wings as birds of all shapes and sizes abandon their posts and head for cover. Cowards. Two finches managed to build a nest right outside of our back patio door despite our efforts to discourage them. We managed to drive them away for a couple of days, but they were persistent little buggers, and one morning I opened the shades to see a pair of beady little eyes peering down at me from a fully built nest. Finches 1, Humans 0.

So I've got dogs going nuts for attention, birds building nests and making a racket that's waking up my children, and now, it seems I have a bee problem. I finished my royal duties on the throne and headed out to the backyard. The girls had the house in full lockdown, and I soon found out why. I made a beeline (sorry, couldn't resist) to the rose bushes in the back corner of our yard, but was soon distracted by movement, a lot of movement, by the small fruit tree to my left. A couple dozen bees buzzed in spastic circles around the tree. I slowly and cautiously moved in to investigate. The Southwest is notorious territory for Africanized bees who will attack for no other reason than you're there. I moved to within about ten feet of the tree where I saw a football-sized collection of bees on the lower branches. That's just great. It was late afternoon, and since I knew bee colonies are migratory, I decided to wait until today to see if they would move on on their own.

This morning I went out to check on the bees, and found they had yet to move on. That brown mass in the upper center portion of the picture? Those are bees. Here we go again. So I got on the phone to get some quotes from bee removal specialists. The first call I made, the guy asked me whether or not they had been in the tree for twenty-four hours. I didn't think they had, and he told me to wait until the day warmed up to see if they would leave on their own and become someone else's problem. He said that if they were still there tonight, they were probably making my little fruit tree their home and to give him a call. I said okie-dokie, thanked him and hung up. I just returned from a trip to the back yard, and guess what? No bees. Whew! I'm kind of bummed though because I really wanted to SEE them leave. That would have been scary-cool. The girls would've lost their minds. And, hey, something's actually gone in my favor for a change! Now if I could only get my hands on some bird muzzles life would be perfect.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Game Night...A Hush Descends on the Crowd

Kailey had a whale of a game at the plate tonight, crushing the ball twice and going 2 for 2 with two doubles, 3 RBI (that's "runs batted in" for those living in a cave), and a run scored. Her second double nearly took the coach's head off. She easily could have had a triple on the play, except her league has a three-run per inning rule. Her double drove in two runs and ended the inning. She looked a little rusty on D tonight, bobbling a grounder at third and holding onto the ball too long while playing right field and allowing a run to score. Oh well, she more than made up for it at the plate, accounting for four runs in the Blue (Balls) Bandits 6-4 win.

Obnoxious Mouth Guy? I think he read my blog because he was amazingly calm, courteous and likable tonight, and not an ounce of St. Louis Cardinal paraphernalia adorned his body. Either that or his wife gave him an ultimatum: stop acting like an ass at softball games or never see her naked again. I like to think he read my blog, but whatever keeps the peace.

My Growing Addiction

I came to a rude awakening after posting my last blog entry yesterday morning, and this is my confession: I am a Site Meter junkie. Not a blogging junkie. A Site Meter junkie. I used to blog for the love of blogging. Now I blog to support my Site Meter habit. I post a blog entry then quickly check my Site Meter page to see how many tens of people visit my site. It's pretty pathetic, a desperate plea for attention and validation: Please read my vapid, unoriginal blathering. Please stroke my bruised ego. And if you'd like, you can even leave a comment! Oooo! Oooo! A visitor from New Delhi! Where the hell is New Delhi? It's in India, you idiot. I knew I should have paid attention in geography class. Maybe that Blogger Buzz article on blogging in Hindi isn't such a stupid idea after all?

I'll then spend the rest of the day checking my Site Meter page, at five minute intervals. Please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please...A VISITOR...from...Ynysddu? Don't any freakin' english-speakers visit my blog? Wait, Ynysddu is in the UK. Even geography class wouldn't have helped me on that one.

It's getting pretty bad. On any given day, if it looks like I'm not going to meet the average number of visits, I break out into a cold sweat. I think, maybe I can boost the numbers. So I'll go back to my latest post and publish it a hundred more times, the equivalent of pushing the elevator button repeatedly in an effort to get it to arrive faster. Does it work? Probably not, but at least I'm trying to do something about it! Pretty soon I'll be tiptoeing to my computer in the middle of the night, not to sneak in some porn like other demented dads, but to see if I've had any visitors from the other side of the planet doing a google search on "fathers tormenting children". I think I need help. Anywho, gotta get this thing posted. I think you know why.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Extortion, An Excellent Motivator

Last week while at Kailey's gymnastics class (yes, it's not enough that the girls are on separate softball teams...they're now in separate gymnastics classes), Kyra busied herself by perusing the gymastics outfits in the "gift shop". The "gift shop" is nothing more than a coat closet with several racks of leotards along the wall, a couple of snack machines, and a cash register where all of my hard earned money resides. She hadn't browsed long before finding and falling in love with a pink, sparkly leotard. Sticker price: $36. All of my girls have been "blessed" with expensive tastes. Kyra ran to get Diane to show her this amazing find. If I had been there, the answer would have fallen in the category of, "Thirty-six bucks for something you'll be able to wear for six months max? No frickin' way!" But Diane is a little more tactful. She resorted to extortion.

Don't get all self-righteous and judgemental, because you know you do it too. Here's how it all shook down. Diane paused for a moment, then reasoned, "We'll see. If you can show me that you can clean up your messes without complaining and be a good listener, then maybe we'll get you the outfit." I love my wife. She's a freakin' genious. We've been dangling that little gem over Kyra's head all week long and it works like a charm.

Last night as I was getting the girls ready for bed, I asked her to clean up her mess in the family room which she did willingly. She picked up her toys and took them to her room, then returned to inform me that she didn't want to clean up her room. I quickly replied, "Then I guess you don't want that gymnastics outfit."

"Oh, all right," she moaned. "I guess I'll clean my room." A grin crept across my face as she moaped back to her room.

I wonder if we can stretch this thing out until she's eighteen.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Use It or Lose It

All my life I've had a tendency to take the more difficult route in learning life's lessons: pull-ups on the clothes bar in your closet is not a good idea; flipping someone off in front of your history teacher will draw you a little time in detention; stealing the lids to the brand new garbage cans in order to play Knights of the Round Table will get you chased down by your mother; and peeing directly into the wind...well, you get the idea. Granted, these are all examples from my childhood and early adolescence, but trust me when I say that the process has followed me into my adult life. I've heard my most recent life lesson expressed thousands of times, but for me, lessons just never seem to sink in and take hold until I experience them first hand. And the lesson is this: use it or lose it.

Last week, a friend of mine informed me of the American Idol Songwriting Contest and invited me to submit a song. I guess another lesson I should learn is always see what you're up against before agreeing to do something. Since I was feeling cocky over completing my first song in three years, I took on the challenge. That was a week ago, Tuesday. The next day, a thought occurred to me: I wonder when the contest deadline is? I looked it up and my jaw dropped: April 17th, tax day. I had one week. Game over. Not gonna happen. I was already in the process of putting in twenty hours of overtime at work, and my taxes still weren't done. How in the world would I write and record a song in seven days?

Although the cards seemed to be stacked against me, I decided not to pack it in. I mean, I still had seven days, right? Actually, six. I spent Wednesday getting our taxes done. At some point, I don't remember exactly when, a concept came to mind that I thought I could run with, and I spent the next several days jotting down ideas and experimenting with rhyme schemes. I also pulled out my guitar and played around with several chord progressions until I settled on one I liked. After filling several pages with my scribbles, I finally sat down Monday morning to organize to my thoughts. I worked for about an hour and made significant progress, but that was the only free time I had. I entered Tuesday the 17th, deadline day, with an incomplete song.

I figured I had maybe two hours on Tuesday to finish, then record a demo of the song. HA! I pulled my Fostex MR-8 digital multitracker, and it's user manual, out of the drawer that housed it for the past year, and blew off the dust. Kyra was excited because she likes to put on the headphones and sing into the microphone while I accompany her on guitar. To her, this was playtime. To me, it was time to get everything set up so that when I took her to school, I could get down to business. We played for about an hour, taking turns singing songs. I love playing the guitar and having the girls make up tunes and lyrics on the fly. More often than not, they come up with some good stuff. I've been tempted to use some of it, giving them credit, of course.

I took Kyra to school, then went to work. I pulled out my guitar to lay down the guitar track to my demo. Remember, I didn't have a finished song yet. I thought I'd lay down the accompaniment track and then fashion the lyrics and melody to fit. After about ten false starts, I finally laid down an acceptable track. It was only a demo, after all, and I had already given in to the idea that whatever I presented was not going to be perfect. I just didn't have the time and I was OK with that. I recued the track to listen to it, but there was nothing there. Silence. What the crap! I forwarded through the track and found the beginning, roughly a minute in. Since I hadn't used the recorder in such a long time, I forgot to recue it after all of those false starts. Oh well, at least it was there.

I turned my attention to the lyrics, and after massaging them for close to an hour, I came to something I could live with (by American Idol standards, anyway). I then began to rehearse them with the guitar track I recorded earlier. This was the first time that I would attempt to sing the song in my full, head voice. As I was writing the song, I would rehearse it in a light falsetto that was usually audible only to myself. As soon as I sang the first verse, I knew I was in trouble: the key I had written the song in was too high for me to sing comfortably. Crrrrrrrrap! It wasn't always this way. I used to be able to sing up in the rafters with little or no problem, but since I haven't really used my voice consistently over the past few years, I've gotten a little rusty. OK, a LOT rusty. Life lesson? If you don't use it, you lose it. I got it.

Normally, I would say "No problem" and just transpose the song into a lower key, but I couldn't do that because my guitar is jacked up. It buzzes when I play certain chords, which is the reason I wrote the song in the key of buzzing. So I was stuck. I also realized that the song was too long. If I was going to gut out the song in the key of E, I was going to have to shorten it, which meant re-recording the guitar track. What the CRAP!!

By this time, Diane was home from work and the girls were home from school. My "two hour project" was stretching to four hours and beyond. I recorded the guitar track over, this time with only a couple of restarts and recues, and then moved on to my vocals. I figured I'd give it one run through and be done with it, but I screwed up the first verse. I hit the "Undo" button which was only supposed to delete my vocals, but it also erased the intro of the guitar part. MOTHER PUS-BUCKET!! WHAAAAT THE CRAAAAAAP!! I was furious. It was late afternoon, I had been working on this song for most of the day and had nothing to show for it. I'd had enough and was ready to pack it in.

"Don't quit," Diane admonished. She assured me that she would keep the girls busy and gave me the green light to finish the job, so I returned to my makeshift recording studio. I laid down the guitar track AGAIN and quickly moved to the vocals. I practiced them a couple of times to warm up my voice and to ensure no screw ups, then hit "Record". I got through the first verse fine, but began to struggle at the end of the 1st chorus. Verse 2 was OK, but I was outright hurting by the end of the chorus. I mustered all of my strength to get through the bridge, but by the final chorus, I was flat out croaking the melody. It wasn't pretty. "It's a demo. It's a demo. It's a demo," I kept telling myself as I finished the song. Only later did it occur to me that I could have recorded the vocals in sections, taking a breather to rest my voice. But I wanted it done, and I got it done.

I walked into the kitchen where Diane and the girls sat at the table, grinning. Kyra had her hands over her ears, Kailey mimicked me singing, and Diane asked me if I was OK, all of them basically busting my balls. "It's not pretty, but I'm done," I replied. Not really. It took me another couple of hours to read the manual, then go through the long and tedious process of converting the tracks to a stereo .WAV file, uploading the .WAV file to my computer, converting the .WAV file to an .MP3 file, and submitting it to the Idol contest. But I eventually got it done and I was exhausted. And even though I got it done, it felt like I had wasted the day.

Lesson learned? Use it or lose it. If I used my multitracker more often, I'd know the ins and outs and not have to rely so heavily on the user's manual.

Use it or lose it. If I sang more regularly, I'd maintain some of my range. Granted, getting older will suck some of that range from me, but still.

Use it or lose it. If I'd write more regularly, I might have had a song already in the can that I could have tweaked/submitted instead of killing myself to write and record a whole new song.

Use it or lose it. Lesson learned? Probably not.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Am I a Life-Talent or a Talented-Lifer?

I was scrolling through Blogger's "Next Blog" feature, when I came across a blog that contained the following Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz. I was bored, so I took the quiz. Normally, I wouldn't publish my results, but I thought they were interesting, and a little too telling of my current inner life-struggle, so here they are. You can read about the difference between a Talent, a Lifer, or a Mandarin here.

I'm a Talent!

You're a risk-taker, and you follow your passions. You're determined to take on the world and succeed on your own terms. Whether in the arts, science, engineering, business, or politics, you fearlessly express your own vision of the world. You're not afraid of a fight, and you're not afraid to bet your future on your own abilities. If you find a job boring or stifling, you're already preparing your resume. You believe in doing what you love, and you're not willing to settle for an ordinary life.

Talent: 56%
Lifer: 54%
Mandarin: 33%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

Notice that there is only a 2% difference between being a Talent and a Lifer. So I went back to the quiz and changed one answer that really could have gone either way, and, voila, I became a Lifer.

I'm a Lifer!

To you, a job is what pays the bills. You put in your hours, follow the rules, and then go home. Occasionally, you consider quitting, but then you think of how bad the job market is and you reconsider. Whatever happiness you get, you get from your life outside the workplace. Relationships, family, hobbies, and outside creative pursuits are what really matter to you. You're probably taking this test at work because you don't have anything better to do.

Talent: 54%
Lifer: 56%
Mandarin: 36%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

What is interesting to me is that, philosophically, I desire to be and to live my life as a Talent. But, practically, I'm living my life as a Lifer, working in a decent job that pays the bills and provides stability for me and my family. And I just recently came to grips with the realization that whatever happiness or contentedness I would experience in my life would come outside the workplace. Kind of freaky.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Game Day II...The Mouth Heard 'Round the World

You know how at every kids sporting event there seems to be some obnoxious, loud-mouthed a-hole that spends the whole game razzing the officials and blurting out rude comments to no one's delight but his own? Yeah, well that guy has a daughter on Kailey's softball team. And remember when I wrote about how nice and refreshing it was to have all of the parents cheering for all of the kids? I spoke too soon. That utopian ideal of unbiased parental support during children's sporting events has been shot straight to hell.

Kailey's game was Monday night. It was a cold, cloudy, windy, miserable night for softball, so nobody was in a particularly good mood to begin with. Then Mouth began his taunting. First, it was directed at the umpire, who had made a couple of bad calls, calling balls strikes. But understand, being an umpire in an 8 and Under softball league has to be the most BORING job in the world. The girls pitch until they've thrown four balls, then the coach takes over. As you can imagine, probably fewer than 10% of the balls pitched by the girls are strikes. If you're an ump, you're probably going to make a couple of questionable calls out of sheer boredom. I'm not saying that it's right...I'm just saying.

So loud-mouth dad, who, incidentally, is always decked out in St. Louis Cardinal's attire which further draws my ire as a Cub fan, starts in on the ump. At first he drew a few snickers from the parents, but as he continued, an awkward silence descended on the crowd. Then, it got worse the next inning as his daughter took the mound. He turned his taunting from the umpire to THE EIGHT YEAR-OLD GIRLS ON THE OTHER TEAM!! When one of the girls would strike out, he'd yell, "RING 'ER UP!" I was mortified and getting really pissed off. Finally, his wife, bless her heart, turned around and laid into him for being a complete ass. He had a couple of things to say back to her, but eventually relented. I swear I heard a mental cheer erupt from the parents.

I just don't understand people like this. Did he think he was funny? Did he have a few too many at the local pub before heading to the game? Or is he just the world's biggest jerk? I don't know. But what I do know is that his behavior is horribly inappropriate at this age level, hell, at ANY age level. It teaches young kids that it's OK and even expected to disrespect game officials and to ridicule your opponent. So much for sportsmanship.

I can understand the competitive spirit. I played organized sports through high school, college and beyond. I've experienced the thrill of getting the game-winning hit, of hitting the jumper in the face of a trash-talking opponent, and of gunning down the runner at the plate. I get it. There's no feeling in the world like it. But I believe that healthy competition should build people up rather than tear down. When my opponent robs me of a base hit with an amazing diving catch, or drains a three-pointer with my hand in his face, he deserves praise for a great performance regardless of the color of his jersey. It just seems that tearing down your opponent has become an ugly part of competition in our present day society, and I hate it.

Jumping down off my soapbox and into more important news, Kailey had a great game in a 3-2 Blue Balls Bandit loss. She went 1 for 1 at the plate with a run scored. She also had two plays on the field, one from third base and one from shortstop, where she cleanly fielded the ball and made strong throws to first. The runners were safe on both occasions, but that's typical at this level: anything hit left of second base is going to be a hit. Most importantly, she didn't freeze to death during the game.

The Blue Balls play next on Saturday and we'll see if obnoxious dad can keep his trap shut. My money is on no.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Did My Taxes AND Wrote a Song

Taxes and the American Idol song were due today. I neglected my children and nearly killed myself trying to complete both of them, but I did, neither particularly well. I just hope I sent the right stuff to the right people. I don't think the IRS would be particularly pleased if I sent them a song instead of cold, hard cash.

Abbott & Costello - The Tax Return

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shoulda Done My Taxes, But I Wrote a Song Instead

One of the reasons I started blogging was to give myself a regular outlet for writing. For several years now, I've had a monstrous pile of mental crapola that has been blocking my ability to write music. As a musician, that really sucks. The pressure has been mounting as the dry spell extended over three years, my notebooks filled with broken appendages of lyrics and chord progressions that I just couldn't bring myself to finish. I needed to break that spell, and blogging is one exercise I've been using to "write" myself out of my songwriting funk. Truth is, I really haven't worked that hard to break through; I haven't "made" myself finish a song, allowing it to be what it is. If I get to a point where I'm stuck or don't like where the song is heading, or if the song doesn't seem like it's bound to be a Top 40 hit, I abandon it and move on. I've revisited my creations on and off over the years, made some revisions, but no completions. Until this morning.

I should have worked on my taxes. Kailey was at school and Diane and Kyra left early to go to the zoo for Kyra's kindergarten field trip, so I had the house to myself. I had several hours to get a great start on our taxes, but seeing as how I have the gift of procrastination, I decided to pull out my guitar and diddle around instead. I played for a few minutes, messing around in E minor. It's always E minor these days. If I ever actually get around to recording a CD, I'm going to title it "Songs in Em". Suddenly and unexpectedly, my muse began to speak. I don't have a problem getting my muse to speak, it's just getting a complete thought out of her that sucks. I grabbed my notebook and began to write, the first verse seeming to flow from my pen.

"That's pretty good," commented my muse as she began to float away.

"Get back here and help me finish this thing!" I growled as I grabbed her by the throat.

"Hey, take it easy, Bub!" She likes to call me Bub. "You're strangling your muse!" I apologized for being so rough and explained to her my need to finish the song. She agreed, so we worked on it for a couple of hours until I was satisfied that it was a good stopping point. Like me, my muse is global and easily distracted, and she tried to flit away a couple of times, but I stuck to my guns and kept corraling her and urging her to keep working with me.

The song isn't truly finished. It still needs some tweaks here and there, but it's the most complete song I've written in a long time and I'm relieved. I put a lot of work into it and forced myself to keep at it, which I haven't been able (or willing) to do in quite a while. It's not going to be a Top 40 hit, and I'm OK with that. But I will finish it and I will record a demo of it. And hopefully this will open the door to more songs.

Now I've got to finish my frickin' taxes.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Impotant Thing...

Kailey recently became a published author with her contribution to the critically (or parentally) acclaimed book, The Important Thing About 2nd Grade. Don't look for it at; it's a limited edition with probably fewer than thirty copies in "circulation". Her class had the opportunity to witness the publishing process first hand as they embarked on this book-writing project. As you can see, each student contributed two pages, an illustration and corresponding description, of what they felt was the most important thing about 2nd grade. Topics ranged from P.E. to Math to recess and even lunch. Kailey decided to digress from the norm, to think outside the box. Her subject? Popcorn. Atta girl!! It's a great comfort to know that our investment in hours of tutoring is not going to waste.

I was seriously considering enrolling her in private school until I actually read her entry along with the rest of the book. Spelling issues aside (impotant pepol), her popcorn essay is very well written for an eight year-old, and, as one who enjoys writing, I was quite impressed. She chose a theme quite different than any used by her classmates, but then did a great job explaining why popcorn was impotant: "It is buttery and salty." Mmmmm...sounds good! Then she tells you how to make this very impotant snack so you can enjoy it too! And the taste? Oh, it's good. Even some of her classmates think so.

Kailey enjoys school, but it doesn't come easily for her. She has had to work really hard this year to keep up with many of her classmates. So when I see her produce work like this when I know how hard she has been working, it makes me beam with pride. For me, the most impotant part of 2nd grade is that Kailey continue to learn and grow at her own pace, and I'm confident that she's doing just that. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some popcorn to pop.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Vanity of Man

The Good Book tells us that a woman's hair is her glory (whatever that means), and I can't help but think that it's a good thing the Good Lord didn't waste that glory on men because most of it would end up in the bathroom sink or down the shower drain. Like the 80's hair band, Cinderella, prophesied: "You don't know whatcha got 'til it's gone!" Amen.

My hairline has slowly been receding over the past several years, and truth be known, it really hasn't bothered me all that much, which is surprising. My dad is bald, his dad was bald, and his dad's dad was bald. Hell, even my younger brother is bald. Compared to them, I have a beautiful, lush, full head of hair. Over the past year, though, it seems that the desert has been sprinting into the grasslands. It sucks, but I've always resolved that when my hair became too thin, I'd shave it all down. I'm not there yet, but the day may come in the not-too-distant future if the thinning continues at its current rate.

I mentioned this to my sister-in-law who was in town this past weekend. She's a color technician for a hoity-toity salon in the Seattle area, and she immediately replied, "I need to hook you up with some Nioxin! We've had several customers tell us that it works to stop the hair from falling out. Rogaine didn't work for people because it was too high-maintenance, having to use it two to three times a day. Nioxin is a once a day application." She was really excited about it, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I had nothing to lose except more hair, right?

Two days ago she walked in the door after visiting the local beauty supply store with a large smirky-smile on her face. "I got you a present!" she sang as she handed me my Nioxin starter kit ("For Fine Hair"). In it were three bottles: a shampoo, a conditioner, and a small "Scalp Treatment" bottle with an ominous applicator. I flipped the box over to read the back as Debbie gave me instructions on how to apply the Scalp Treatment. I nearly choked on my own spit as I read the following glowing endorsement on the back of the box: "Consumers told us...9 out of 10 people perceive a THICKENING EFFECT." Perceive? Thickening EFFECT? What the hell is that?!! And just how desperate are these people who are using this product. I can see them now, nose to the mirror, staring at their hair follicles and looking for the slightest signs of movement. Hey everyone, I think this stuff is really working!! I'm suddenly aware of a thicker head of hair!

I decided to set my cynicism aside and give the Nioxin a try; it was a gift after all. Besides, I also decided that I could fit in nicely with that random sampling of desperate, follically-challenged Americans willing to shred every ounce of dignity to "perceive" a thickening "effect" within their head of hair. I guess if you want something bad enough, and if the fix makes you feel good enough about yourself, the mind can trick you into thinking anything is OK. I mean, look at all the guys wandering around wearing horrendous toupees. Everyone in the world knows how ridiculous they look, but they still wear their rugs with pride because they (were tricked by their minds) feel better about themselves sporting a full head of Chia-pet hair than they would going bald. I figure if these guys can exist in the world, it's not going to kill me to spend a few weeks boosting my self-esteem with Nioxin. That'll at least give my brain some lead time to do whatever it needs to do in order to give me the perception that this stuff works and to further instill in me the need to fork over serious loads of cash for the rest of my life in a vain attempt to preserve my luxurious locks.

Yesterday morning, I set out on the maiden voyage of Nioxin. I applied the shampoo and conditioner, which cleared my sinuses with their minty-menthol-mediciny aroma. I could just see my co-workers walking by me with their noses wrinkled upward and asking, "What is that smell?" Just another deposit on your way to glorious hair, mediciny though it may smell. The directions on the conditioner said to leave it on for one to three minutes. I lasted a minute because I couldn't help but think that the tingling, slightly burning sensation was the result of mind-altering chemicals seeping into my brain. I counted to sixty and rinsed for my life.

After my shower, it was on to the Scalp Treatment, which needed to be applied to my wet head. I turned the bottle over and read the directions for the thousandth time: "Use daily. Apply directly onto ENTIRE scalp. Gently and evenly distribute. Comb through. Do not rinse. May cause temporary redness after application." I combined this information with Debbie's instructions, took a deep breath and like a psycho playing Russian Roulette, I pressed the applicator to my hairline and pulled the trigger. Now I was expecting a kind of a foam to emerge from the applicator. Don't ask me why. Nobody told me it was a foam. The bottle didn't even say it was a foam. I suppose I just assumed that that fancy looking applicator was a foam dispenser. So you can imagine my surprise when I pushed down on the applicator to discover it was nothing more than a spray pump and that the Scalp Treatment was a liquid and not a foam. And since gravity still works, the liquid that I sprayed at my hairline cascaded down my forehead toward my eyes. "HOLY CRAP!!" I think I screamed as I stemmed the flow then furiously rubbed (rather than "Gently and evenly distribute") the remainder into my scalp.

I repeated this process at least three more times and no matter what I did to try to avoid it, the result was still the same: a steady stream of Nioxin flowing down my vast expanse of forehead. I finally gave up (or wised up) and squirted the crap into my hand. That was when the "temporary redness" showed up. It wouldn't have been bad if my whole forehead was red. Instead I had a network of thin and widening red streaks from my hairline to my eyebrows, and I looked like an idiot with a really bad sunburn. "I can't go out like this!" I told myself. I was planning on running errands while the girls were in school, but those were put on hold while I waited for the temporary redness to subside. After a half-hour of temporary redness, I decided I couldn't wait any longer and threw on a hat, with little fingers of redness still poking out from under it, and headed out the door.

A traumatic experience? Enough to scare me off of Nioxin for eternity? No way, Jose. Because this morning after I woke up and stumbled into the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Shocked, I peered at my hairline, and, crazy as it sounds, I swear by all that is holy and good that I perceived a thickening effect in my hair. And that's all I need.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Parent's Nightmare

Diane and I took Kyra to a pediatric cardiologist this morning because she's been complaining on and off for the past few months of how her "heart hurts". We've come to understand this as anything from her heart racing and pounding in her chest to physical pain. At first, the "heart burn" was random and sporadic. Kyra, being the sensitive soul that she is, would experience it at school when one of her classmates got in trouble or if she got scared. But recently it's become much more common. She would complain that her "heart hurt" before going to bed or during/after physical activity. Diane finally took her to see her pediatrician hoping to get some answers to what we also hoped was nothing. She instead referred us to the cardiologist.

Last Friday, while Kyra and I were playing a rousing game of Roll Ball (because throwing a ball is not allowed in the house), she announced that her heart was burning. I crawled up to her from my Roll Ball position at the end of the hall and placed my ear to her chest. I could feel her heart pounding against the side of my head. I called a Roll Ball timeout, got up, and picked up the phone where I made an appointment with the cardiologist. The earliest they could see her was this morning.

I hate situations like this because at this point, everything's an unknown. And the mind doesn't like the unknown. The mind hates the unknown and can't leave it alone. Like a kid with a crusty scab, the mind picks, and picks, and picks at the unknown, filling in the gaps, usually with the worst scenario possible. In his book, Cell, which I recently finished (HA!), Steven King calls it a "panic rat". The panic rat likes to escape its cage and run rampant, knawing on the nerves of the unknown. The trick is to keep the panic rat caged, which I had been doing a pretty good job of. I kept telling myself not to worry until there was something definite to worry about, until this morning, that is, because last night, I had a dream.

I rarely remember my dreams anymore, so I consider it significant if I'm able to recall a dream when I'm awake. In my dream I was at a performance, a musical or a concert, and Kyra was playing a significant role. The performance wasn't taking place in a theater or a music hall, though. It was being held in what looked like a wide hotel hallway. The carpeting had a rose-colored floral design and I could see several doorways on the opposite side of the hall. I was aware of only one other person in the "audience" besides myself, and that person remained faceless to my left. On "stage" were two people I didn't recognize, a man and a woman, and Kyra. Another person, I can't remember if they were male or female, was just off stage in the shadows.

The man and woman were singing a song downstage (which was actually in the middle of the hallway) while Kyra stood upstage next to the wall. At regular intervals during the song, Kyra would walk downstage and sing a couple of lines to the song, then return to her position next to the wall. It was obvious, to me at least, that it became increasingly difficult for her to keep doing this, that something was bothering her, making it too emotional for her to go on. After about the third time she contributed to the song, she returned to her upstage position where the person in the shadows, whom I decided was the director, emerged to talk to her. The director whispered into Kyra's ear while rubbing her back or giving her a small hug. Kyra would then continue to walk downstage to sing her part, then return to the director. I don't remember what music she was singing, but it clearly was affecting her. Huge wet tears began rolling down her face as she sang, and I soon realized that I was crying too because I didn't know what was wrong with her and I couldn't go to her to comfort her in the same way as the director.

That's all I remember of my dream. What's weird is that I didn't remember it immediately upon waking. I was getting ready for the appointment, shaving actually, when the memory of my dream hit me like a ton of bricks. That's when the panic rat escaped for a little while and I struggled to maintain my composure. I just kept telling myself that we didn't know anything and that it was useless to worry and panic. Thank goodness it was only an hour before the appointment.

We arrived at the doctor's office and filled out the eight million forms and questionaires. Kyra was scared, because to her, doctor's office = SHOT. Diane held her and assured her that there would be no shots; that the doctor would just listen to her heart. At one point during the visit, Kyra, being a very sharp six year-old, asked Diane a question. "Mommy?" she asked. "Did you ever have heart problems when you were a kid?"

"No, Sweetie. I didn't."

"Then how do you know I won't get a shot?"

Diane shot me a look, and I shot her a grin that said, "You're screwed! Have fun answering that one!"

The nurse came in and took Kyra's blood pressure at both her arm and leg, and also conducted an EKG. Kyra was incredibly brave during the EKG, and actually enjoyed having the stickers deposited all over her chest and stomach. "This is just like Grammy," she told the nurse, who completed her duties and then exited the exam room. The cardiologist arrived about twenty minutes later (why do they always take so frickin' long?) and began his examination.

The good news is that the EKG was normal and that Kyra's heart sounds great. The bad news, if it can be classified as such, is that he's not sure of what's causing her heart pain. His gut feeling is that it's acid reflux; that her "heart burn" is heartburn. And he suggested that some kids are just a little more nervous than others, which would explain the racing heart. Still, he suggested that we keep a log of Kyra's "heart burn" that includes time of day, what she was doing, and whether pain preceded or followed the racing heart. If it gets worse, we head back to see him with log in hand.

So on the one hand we're relieved: initial tests proved to be normal. But there's still the question of what's happening inside her little heart. There are still not enough definitives and too many unknowns. I hope that it's just heartburn, that she's just a nervous kid (which raises other issues), but we don't know for sure. There's still the possibility that there's something else going on in there, and the panic rat is always poised and ready to run amuck in the back of my mind.


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