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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Funny Kid Story #1: Standing in the sunshine

Glacier water cools you down real quick,
but our 2-year-old daughter spent 10 minute
chunks of time in up to her waist.
We went to the glacier-fed String Lake in Grand Teton National Park yesterday where the water temperature hovers just above absolute zero. Swimming in the lake is a little like cryostasis. I'm pretty sure you could live forever by floating in this lake if your heart doesn't fail when your toes hit the water. I swam in it. Briefly.

But my daughter put me to shame. While all the adults were daring each other to go and egging each other on whenever the sun came out from behind the clouds, my daughter spent 10-minute segments of time buried up to her waist in the freezing water. She busied herself by digging mud off the bottom of the lake and placing it in a pail to make us "soup." At the end of each 10-minute segment of water time, she traipsed up the hill to make sure we got some of her lovely broth, colder than gazpacho and uglier than black bean soup.

Delicious...

Anyway, she would come out sometimes and shiver just outside the water in the dappled light of the shoreline. We being good parents, while her teeth chattered, encouraged her to come up and wrap up in a towel and get warm. She being my daughter (as opposed to my wife's) just refused by answering, "No, I standing in the sunshine." Immediately after making the statement while her knees knocked together and her teeth clattered like wind chimes made out of hundreds of small rocks during a hurricane, she would tear back down to the water and go back in to her belly button. It was like she thought we'd deny her the privilege unless she took advantage of it that instant.

I have to say that I liked her rationale, though. Standing in the sunshine is the quickest way to warm up. And you can look at this from a general perspective on life that when your life is coldest, you need some sunshine to warm you up. Your sunshine might come in different ways: time with loved ones, pursuing a hobby or giving service. Whatever that sunshine is, though, if you seek it out and bask in it when you're up to your neck in life's cold, the water won't seem as cold the next time you have to dive in. Heck, you might even enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

FDA Smoking Labels 2012: Who should teach your children not to smoke?

Would seeing this on a cigarette label keep you from smoking?
It may be preaching to the choir. How many smokers do you know
that hope to remain smokers until they die from lung cancer?
Let me get this straight up front. I hate everything about smoking. Everything. It has absolutely no redeemable quality. At all. If someone made me choose between smoking one cigarette and taking a bath in cat vomit and skunk juice, I would choose the latter. Do I need to clarify that further?

Let me also get this straight: I never want my children to smoke - anyone else in the world for that matter. A smoke-free world would suit me beautifully. And if my kids ever pick up smoking, they probably won't be allowed in my house. Kapisch?

Knowing my stance on that, let me light up the FDA's newest use of taxpayer money. By October 2012, if not squelched by tobacco lawyers and lobbyists, tobacco companies will be forced to print graphic labels like the one shown above which take up a majority of their printed space. At least 90% of me wants to applaud the decision by our government to attempt to undo much of the damage they have done by subsidizing tobacco farmers to make sure there are hoards of tobacco farmers to provide tobacco companies with affordable crops. By 2015, these subsidies will be cut out, thanks to George W Bush. Now you can tell people he did at least one thing right. 

Will it change anything? Who knows? My kids will get the same anti-smoking education no matter what smoking labels say. But anyone who smokes through a hole in his neck caused by a little thing called smoking probably won't be deterred from his addiction by seeing his spitting image on a cigarette package. Will it stop a few people from starting or help a few people quit? Maybe. It's not like we're not an educated society on the health risks of smoking. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA projects a decrease of only 213,000 smokers in the first year of the gnarly looking labels. That's less than half a percent of all smokers in the U.S. 

And we all know how accurate government projections are anyway. For instance, government projected in 1967 spending of $12 billion on medicare through 1990. Drumroll for the actual numbers... $98 billion! More than 800 percent offtrack. And other sources list the cost at $109 billion, which is dang near $100,000,000,000.00 off. I just thought you should see the zeroes. If I had just one check written out to me for a millionth part of that, I could pay off my home and live like an oil tycoon on my comparably meager paychecks. 

But hey, maybe it will mean that more smokers quit than projected. Yeah right. Anyone know smokers? I know a smoker who has tried and been addicted to just about every major hard drug out there. He has quit all the major hard drugs. Smoking? Not so much. He wants to real bad though. Just ask him while he's lighting up.

So as much as I want to say “Thank you” to the FDA, I think I have to pass. Smokers will probably just be smokers anyway. I don't know where the funding is coming for this little label project, but I guarantee taxpayers will fund at least the government's court costs when tobacco companies sue their federal behinds off.
And besides, there's a small part of me that thinks it's just one more step toward Satan's plan. Government, more often than not anymore, has decided to step in and play watchdog on our morals. Sounds a little like our big bro Beelzebub. He wanted us all to be forced into doing what's right. Of course, you can't force anyone to do what's right. And it's my opinion making a smoker a nonsmoker only happens when said smoker decides it is the one thing most important to him or her. Government can never be a substitute for self control, no matter how much taxpayer money they throw at our problems.

Optimistically speaking, though, maybe the nasty labels will help my own children understand what I mean when I say I'd rather they swam through cat vomit than pick up a cigarette. Take it from me: Getting the government involved in just about anything is a bad idea, even when it seems good on the surface. Personally I think if every parent taught their children through example and strong admonition about smoking, no one would be able to sell cigarettes anyway. The responsibility for teaching people not to smoke remains in society's most basic unit: the family. Until families take responsibility for spreading the news well, no teenager will be dissuaded from a pack of cigarettes, no matter how grisly the images it shows.

How do you see the new labels? I welcome opinions from smokers and nonsmokers alike.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm one lucky dude, even if I forget sometimes

It's easy to forget how blessed you are sometimes when
you're changing the 400th dirty diaper of the day.
Taking a moment to reflect on the love of family
changed a bad day for me into a great one.
I'm one lucky guy, but life has a way of making me forget that sometimes. I get so caught up in trying to balance my time that sometimes I forget how amazing my circumstances are.

Most recently, with the arrival of our third child, I have had very little time to myself. Perhaps more importantly, I've hardly even been able to look at my wife, much less have some relaxing one-on-one time with her. Last night I came home from work to find her feeding the baby, as usual, while my two older kids demanded playtime. I'm not scared of playtime, but sometimes I just want to relax.

Since what I want generally means about as much as a Star Trek convention in the grand scheme of things, I went outside and played with my kids. That could be a bit of an exaggeration. I mowed the lawn, and the kids followed me outside excitedly to watch me mow through this summer's until-now virgin grass.

My son was upset I couldn't mow the grass right by the porch. Since I didn't feel like weed eating it either, he took matters into his own hands. He snagged handfuls of the long grass and chased me around while I pushed the mower and threw the grass into my path so it would get "eaten" by the lawn mower. It was hilarious watching him sprint up to the mower, which he's scared of, toss a few blades of plucked grass, and dash off again at top speed to make sure he wasn't eaten himself.

This whole time I'm mowing, I'm thinking how much I'd just like to be hiking with my wife on one of the first nice days of the year. While thus lamenting, my wife came out with our newborn and stood watching me finish off the lawn. My son then stood next to her and my daughter filed into place next to him, curls bouncing as she grinned at me.

It was a "masterpiece moment." My whole family lined up in descending order, back light streaming through their hair to give them golden halos in the afternoon sun. All (except the infant) had genuine smiles as they watched me trudge across the lawn through one of my last strips of uneaten grass. Suddenly, I wasn't doing the yard work because I had to. I was doing it for that beautiful family of mine. For that instant, I couldn't have changed anything to make my life better.

It was a reminder I needed. When we get caught up in the drudgery of raising children, we can look to those silver-lined moments to count our blessings. Ever since this happened, I haven't been able to erase the image from my mind - not that I've wanted to anyway. I hope to always be able to remember that between crying sessions, pouty fits and picky meals, my family is as about as perfect as they come. And no quantity of bad days will ever change that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Juggling babies: The transition from man to zone defense

Having three kids requires learning to juggle. But the
cargo is a little more precious than colored balls.
I'm pretty sure it was Confucius or some other wise philosophy type guy that once posited “When your third child you have transition to zone defense you must.”

The syntax makes me wonder if it was Yoda.

Who cares? I'm learning after our third child arrived last week just how true the principle is. Before, my wife would take one child and I would take the other, keeping mischief to a somewhat manageable minimum in the process. However, after my wife delivered our newest daughter with some complications, the man defense has been tossed. Now, my resting wife's zone happens to be a very large armchair with a sleeping infant on her chest. Since she's on doctor's orders to rest, relax and recuperate, I'm pretty OK with that, if not a little jealous.

Let's just say my zone covers a little more ground. Today, my zone starts in the kitchen, where the wife feeds me orders on how to cook up her favorite multi-ingredient oatmeal. She gives me the directions mostly from between snatches of slumber as she cuddles our snoozing baby daughter on her lap. It's the first time in history oatmeal has taken more than six minutes to prepare. I think I take an hour and burn the bottom layer. The process is something like this:

Me: What do I do here?
Her: Umm...zzzzzz
Me: Yes?
I wait five minutes, then remind her I asked a question while gently awakening her with a hand on her arm. Breakfast is her request after all.
Her: Oh sorry. One cup oatmeal and one cup water.
I pour oatmeal in the scalding hot pan and watch smoke drift dangerously close to the fire alarm. Then I add water.
Her: Bring the water to a boil before you add the oatmeal.
Me (to self): Now she tells me.
Me (to her): Then what?
Her: Get some Craisins and put them in after the oatmeal softens up.
Me: Where are they?
Her: Buried in the pantry somewhere.
Me (to self): I gotta go into that mess? We've only got like nine square feet of space in there under our staircase, which means the roof is widely variable in height, and we have six months of food storage crammed in there.
I find the Craisins stashed behind a box of graham crackers which is behind a can of unsalted peanuts which is underneath a 50-pound bag of rice.
Me: How many Craisins?
Her: Like a handful.
Me (to self): Does she mean a me-size handful or a her-size handful or a kid-size handful? These are hugely varying portion sizes in our household. I try to guess what her hand would pull out of the bag and scatter the Craisins into the oatmeal like a farmer tossing seed around a fertile field.
Me: Is that it?
Her: No. Two tablespoons brown sugar, a dash of vanilla, the rest of the can of evaporated milk and chopped walnuts. Use the small food processor.
I pour in the can of milk and realize I've drowned the poor oatmeal.
Me: Is it supposed to look like a few grains of oatmeal are throwing a pool party under a cow's udder?
Her: Add the other ingredients and see what happens.
I dutifully toss in everything else. Now it looks like the oatmeal invited some risque walnuts going shell-less at the milky pool party.
Me: Should I add more oatmeal now?
She's back to sleep so I repeat the question.
Her: If it's runny add just a little.
I wonder if the pool party counts as runny before I toss some more uninvited guests into the ruckus. It luckily thickens up and I feed it to my wife. Somehow she approves.

Long tangent aside, the kids aren't awake for the cooking time, or it would triple my already ridiculous time in the kitchen. When they do wake up my zone becomes feeding the two kids who don't want food while my wife occupies her big comfy chair snuggling seven pounds of perfection. Not that I'm complaining. I saw what she went through this week between childbirth and complications. The chair is hers dangit.

Then my zone shifts outside where I take the kids to the park. I get steamrolled, grass-stained, jumped on, slid upon and more. My kids ask me to climb the playground equipment in a different place, which means doing it all with upper body strength. I dutifully ratchet myself up some bars going across a bridge, only to find I have seriously strained some muscles in my neck and shoulders, giving me the equivalent of a kinked neck after a week of camping on sharp granite boulders without a pillow.

Park time is over, but the zone defense has only just begun. Returning home, I fertilize the lawn while doing my best to keep stray children from swallowing the weed pesticides in the lawn feed because they look like yellow Nerds.

Then my zone hops in the swagger wagon and goes to the store. My kids beg to get their own little grocery carts to help me pick up a grand total of four items. I relent, thinking I can manage for just four items. I rejoice when all the small carts are gone from their normal keeping place. This is the last time I'll rejoice before bedtime in my zone. My kids then proceed to profusely ignore me as I ask them to follow me into or out of the pharmaceutical section, where the kid vitamins and tiny colorful bottles are kept at my older daughter's eye level. Then I have to make a trip to the baby aisle, where my daughter wants to check out the Cinderella sippies. My son sprints around the corner and out of sight as I call him to come back. I decide at that point he's just going to have to get abducted or find me again on his own time. A couple minutes later I hear him whining for Daddy two aisles down. Finally figured out he ditched me and I had stopped chasing him. The baby aisle only has one of two items I need, so I return to the pharmaceuticals to find the missing link. Nothing but a bunch of colorful eye-level bottles for my girl. I think about stepping in line to talk to the pharmacist about where to find it, but the line is filled with about six women who look like they are there to fill out prescriptions for STDs.

I then wander the store trying to remember the last item on my list and to find an associate that can tell me where to find the other thing. I call my wife to remember item #4 and tell her I already want to throw my phone across the store. At some points, I want to just drag the minions behind me, but my kinked neck hurts so much I can barely turn around to find them much less actually carry them behind me. I look like a sideways hunchback with my neck cocked to one side grotesquely. While I try to usher my daughter away from the cute little bottles, of which she wants to know the contents of every one, she informs me she needs to go poopy. Now.

Exasperated, I toss the two items I had managed to find on top of some feminine hygiene products and race my daughter into the bathroom, where someone had viciously sprayed the entire seat with man urine.

“Are you serious?” I say out loud. My daughter takes my exclamation up as a chant and turns it into a song, altering the words to her own as time goes on. “Are you serious, are you serious, are you pear hook, are you bear head...” etc. It's actually really cute, especially when combined with the potty stalling dance she's doing. So while she sings I do a quick wipe down on the toilet seat with a wad of toilet paper fat enough to choke Rosie O'Donnell. I rocket the singing and dancing girl into place on a toilet protector hoping it'll do it's job.

When all is done there – I won't go into detail – I go back and pick up my two items off the feminine hygiene shelf and usher my children off to find a store rep. I wander the whole store looking for someone available to tell me where the heck to find the item. No luck. I go back to the pharmacy (none of this is as easy as I make it sound – remember, two rambunctious children.) The line has dwindled and filled with old men instead of STD magnets, so I step in line and let my kids peruse baby shampoo while I wait. I get to the front of the line to be told by a crotchety pharmacist they don't know where anything outside their “box” is. He motions me toward the customer service department.

“There's a customer service department?” I ask him incredulously, practically slapping my forehead at my own scatter-brained idiocy. I go there. Two Russian associates seem to be flirting at the customer service desk. I interrupt without tact, asking for the rather unflattering, post-pregnancy item I'm looking for.

“If we have that it'd be in aisle 4,” she tells me.

“Nope,” I tell her confidently. “Just spent a half hour or more there.”

The flirty guy tells me just last week he was stymied when some woman asked for the same thing. Probably one of our friends. This enrages me because it means a trip to another store. One with toys. My kids like toys. I storm out of the store with three of my four items and get blown off when I ask my kids to hold my hands through the busy parking area. My daughter almost gets squished because of her refusal. I finally ignore my pain and bodily heft my kids off the pavement and throw them in the van. They throw a party in the backseat instead of obeying me when I ask them to get in their seats. I finally place them both, screaming, into their car seats.

I'm amazed by this point I have had the wherewithal to avoid making child-shaped holes in any walls. This is somehow worse than another time I went shopping.

I take them to the other store and, having learned from experience, I put them in a cart and wheel them directly to the baby portion of the store, where I find the item immediately. My kids want to see toys. I take them to the toys. I spend a long time at the toys. I haul kids whining about me not buying them toys away from the toys. I pick up an enormous plastic jar of comfort food on the way to the checkout. When we make it to the car, the kids again get their fiesta on in back. Not wanting to chase them down with a sore neck in a cramped space, I do the only logical thing I can think of: I tell them I'm leaving and start to drive. Like mice sniffing cheese at the maze's end, they scurry to their seats, where I can then buckle them into place for the final push into the endzone.

Upon arrival at home, I feed them a hasty dinner of cinnamon toast and put them to bed alone while my wife cuddles our infant daughter on the couch, mostly asleep.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, zone defense is a lot harder to play than man. I just hope it isn't like this every day, or I'll find a way to switch back to man, no matter what Yoda has to say.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Goldernit: Cottonpickin' prospectors ain't got a right proper vocab

Cottonpickin' prospectors all look alike.
This prolly ain't the one I met, but sure looks
the spittin' image.
The visit started innocuous enough, but it got weird real quick.

"How you doing this afternoon?" I asked the man with a gray handle-bar mustache that attached right into his sideburns. He had just walked in to the fine art gallery where I work most days.

"Eh?" he responded, one eye bigger than the other as he cupped a hand around his ear.

I repeated myself a little louder.

" 'ell on a sca' o' one uh teh-yen, I reckon roun'abouts six an' se'en aiths."

I filtered the melee of wordish thingies through my universal translator and thought he said: "6 and 7/8." I went with it.

"I like how precise you are," I told him.

"Tha'sa wuh-ay uh be," he spewed like a computer attempting to read Swahili.

"Let me know if you have any questions." This was my way of dismissing myself from a conversation in which I was pretty sure I'd be the only one speaking English.

He immediately began coddling the wood work of one of my artists, telling me it was "mahty fahn" over and over again. Before long, my brother who I work with came into the conversation, asking if the man was finding everything all right.

"Eh?" he asked again. After my brother repeated himself a little louder, the man decided us gallery guys could probably help him with his dream.

"You woodint heeappuhn uh know wheres ah could find mahself a lid fer mah mercureetort?" he asked like we would know what in the heck he just said.

"A what?"

"Mercuree-eetort," he enunciated. Running it through the translator and asking for spelling, we finally figured out he was asking for a new lid for a mercury retort. We still had no flippin' idea what he was talking about.

"Ah wuz uhfrehd o' tha'," he said. "Ain't one eein teh-yen peeple I talks to what knows what a mercureetort eeis."

I silently marveled at how well he could slur together mercury and retort. I was starting to understand this guy, though I still wasn't fully convinced he was spouting English from his talk hole. He could make three syllables out of one and one syllable out of five. Ain't no way to fake an accent like that, goldernit.

After a quick Google search, my brother brought up pics of real live mercury retorts to confirm what the man was looking for. It turns out a mercury retort is a prospector's tool used to strip mercury of its impurities so you can use it to amalgamate gold flecks into nuggets, as I understand it. Click here if you want an actual doctor's explanation of this. After meeting this fellow that came right out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon, I have a hard time believing a doctor wants to be a prospector, but there's the proof right there.

Anyway, when we showed Yosemite Sam the mercury retorts on the screen, he lit up like a shiny gold nugget.

"Them's mahty fahn stuff," he said, ogling the computer screen filled with ugly metal pipes like a teenaged boy might view more, um, questionable portions of the Internet. (I double-dog dare you to click that link...)

"Lookithere," he kept saying in absolute awe of what he was seeing while pointing at the computer screen. "Cottonpickin' lookithere." Yes. He actually said cottonpickin'. Repeatedly. He even fit a "goldernit" into conversation, fitting the holy trifecta of prospector swearing into our brief conversation: daggum, cottonpickin' and goldernit.  I think "cottonpickin' was the word I heard out of his mouth more than any other during our "conversation."

When my bro asked which one in specific he wanted him to look at, the prospector had high praise for the whole screen.

"All-oh-i's good," he said. "Them's mahty fahn newfangled mercureetorts. Nah-yow, you says all them's jee-ust on thee-at Google thang? Daggum, I'ma hafta steal mah wahf's compyuooter! Ah could look at them thar mercureetorts all day!"

I'm not even making this stuff up. This is an actual experience. I have witnesses, half of them sane even.

Craziest of all, the guy almost bought a bronze from us after eying those retorts. I was surprised to know that someone I could hardly understand would find pleasure in art. Turns out the guy is a welder by trade, but loves to prospect by night, or vacation or whatever. He had a wad of $100 bills in his pocket nearly two inches thick, and complained to us that "Iffen I bought that, ah'd barely be able to make it to Coloradee, much less home agee-uhn." We're guessing the guy distrusts banks, so pretty much carries his life in his pocket and a bunch of small glass vials filled with gold flecks. His goal was to make it to "Coloradee" because he was sure he'd find a lid for his mercury retort there, what with all the mines and such in ghost towns down there.

It may sound like I'm making fun of this guy. I may be making fun of this guy. But I frankly liked him. He was engaging in the craziest way you can imagine. I didn't know people like him existed outside of cartoons, but goldernit, I'm glad they do. It makes my life a little bit more golden as I see the colorful characters that cartoons are made of.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Seven pounds of perfection: Welcoming a new baby to the world

Who wouldn't want toes this perfect?
Perfect.

I can think of no better way to describe my new daughter to you. One word encompasses so much I can't even fathom it. Her tiny toe bubbles make my heart melt. The dimples on the back of her hands make my mouth form a silent "Ohhh" when she's sleeping in my arms. The dimples on her chubby face are even better.

She already has more hair than me, but that's because of this. Her dark hair is a departure from the two blondies I started out with. I love it. After three days with her as a part of my life, I love her in ways only a parent can understand. As my mother puts it, our daughter came into the world "trailing clouds of glory." The clouds were tailing her with good reason. How can you beat perfection?

She represents all that is important to me. We come into life perfect. We strive to leave it perfect. We just mar the perfection along the way. It is sad to me that at some point in the future, my daughter will be less than perfect. It kills me to know that choices she will someday make will cause those clouds of glory return to heaven to follow the next perfect baby down instead.

This thought makes me want to be a better man. How could I possibly let her become less than perfect? How can I keep her as perfect as possible without attaining perfection myself? In a major irony, I hold in my arms a perfect example of all that we should be. As the parent, I should be the example. But that's like trying to be an example to Christ himself. She'll learn from me. No doubt about that. She'll love me. I'll make sure of that. She will love playing with her daddy. I've already set the precedent there with my first two kids.

But she'll see my shortcomings, because I still have plenty. I cannot think of a stronger motivator for repentance and striving to live a perfect life than holding seven pounds of perfection in my arms. Her heavy eyelids rarely open, but that doesn't keep me from being able to see the halo blazing above her head. When she does manage to prop her eyes open, I can't believe the depth of life I see in her. Newborns are just that: newly born. They have a minuscule, uncoordinated body, but looking into their eyes tells it is not the beginning of all they know. Just a new beginning. A new body. A fresh start. Perfection, for a while.

We all have the chance to attain perfection, or else there wouldn't be a commandment telling us to be perfect. We have all been perfect at some point. There is no reason we cannot attain that again. We just have to work at it a lot harder than those babies who just crossed the veil.

Fatherhood and motherhood are the fastest, most effective ways to achieve that. With three kids, I can assure you I haven't attained perfection, but as a parent you get a small glimpse into what God sees. And that is worth a trillion sermons. If a picture speaks a thousand words and a toddler speaks a hundred words, a baby preaches the whole gospel just by coming to your home. All from seven pounds of purity.