Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Son, the Songwriter (Age 7)

We've been listening to a lot of music lately. My two oldest kids got music cds for Christmas, and they want to play them all the time. (Yes, I am old and got my kids music cds. But that's only because cassettes and 8-tracks weren't available.)

My kids like all kinds of music. They like Justin Timberlake. They like all Disney soundtracks. They like music from kid movies, like Trolls and Sing. They like music from my era, from artists such as Queen, ELO, and Billy Joel. They'll listen to just about anything.

So, when my seven year-old son announced he was going to write a song, I didn't think too much of it. I figured it would be a nice, fun, happy song, because that's mostly the kind of music we listen to, and he's usually a nice, fun, happy boy.

I wasn't ready for the dark turn he was about to take.

He wrote the song on some index cards. He handed them to me and said, "Here, Dad. This is the song that I wrote." It took me a minute to decipher his writing, but once I did, I managed to get that the name of the song is, "Is This the End?"

"Is This the End"
It was when I turned to the next card that I got a bit of a shock. Apparently, my sweet little boy was writing a downer of a song about the end of the world. Was my happy kid suddenly turning goth?

The lyrics were:

This can be the end of the world
Is this the end, end, end?

Wow, such a downer!
This is not the kind of song I was expecting my son to write. And then, it gets even bleaker:

Is this the end of,
The end of the world?
Is this the end of this world?

It's like he was channeling Marilyn Manson or something. When did my innocent little son become so jaded?

But then, in the last line, a little bit of optimism returns:

I hope it is not.

I feel fine.
Here's the song in its entirety:

Is This the End by Buzz 

This can be the end of the world.
Is this the end, end, end?
Is this the end of,
The end of the world?
Is this the end of this world?
I hope it is not.

He tried to sing it to me. The music had a Milli Vanilli meets Motley Crue kind of feel to it. (It needs a little work.)

It's amazing the different ways your kids can surprise you. My boy has a lot of big ambitions for his life. He's always talking about the things he's going to do when he grows up. If he does even a small fraction of what he dreams about, he'll be an incredible success in life. 

But, for all I know, this might be the only song he ever writes.

I hope it is not.




Friday, February 16, 2018

One Instruction Manual For Them All

A while back we started getting puddles under our dishwasher. As far as dishwasher functions go, puddle-creating is not very high on the desirable list. I would have tried to fix it, but I'm not exactly Joe Fix-It.

So, we got ourselves a new dishwasher. It's got some nice features, including, hopefully, a doesn't-leave-puddles-on-the-kitchen-floor feature.

The Wife and I have an unwritten arrangement: she does most of the cooking, and I do most of the dishwashing. Does this make me the greatest husband ever? No. But, it certainly helps keep me off the "worst husband ever" list. (And helps make up for all those times I fart in bed.)

So, since I would be using it a lot, when we got the dishwasher installed I grabbed the instruction manual in order to learn how to properly use it.

The instruction manual for our new dishwasher.
(But wait, why is there a picture of three dishwashers on the cover of my dishwasher manual?)
Unfortunately, when I opened up the manual for our new dishwasher, I found that it was not the manual for just our dishwasher, it was the manual for four different dishwashers (even though only three are pictured on the front cover.)

So, for the instructions to have any meaning for me, I needed to know which of the four models I had. For help with that, there was a handy picture showing the control panel of each model, with each model's number:
Well, that certainly clarifies things!
Well, that doesn't help. For one thing, the model number doesn't appear on the front of the actual dishwasher anywhere, so it's basically gibberish to me. So, I'm left with trying to match what the front of my actual dishwasher looks like with one of the four pictures. It's like something you'd find in a Highlights kid magazine at a dentist's office in 1978! ("One of these things is not like the other!")

For added fun, the model numbers are:
     SHE3AR7xUC*
     SHE3ARFxUC*
     SHE3AR5xUC*
     SHE3ARLxUC*
  * "x" can be any number

Wait a second. "X" can be any number? So, basically they've just added algebra to my little problem. Hey, I just want to figure out which dishwasher is mine, I don't want to relive my freshman year college algebra class!

Eventually, I'm able to figure out that the bottom picture is the same as the dishwasher I actually purchased. Hooray for me.

That leads to a little chart telling me which features each of the four dishwasher models actually has.
So many features! So many models! So much confusion!
Each dishwasher model has a little "x" by each dishwasher feature that it offers. And then it again says, "'x' can be any number." Does that mean my dishwasher can have 7 half loads, or 9 child locks? My brain hurts.

Throughout the rest of the instruction manual, it explains how each of these features work, but as it does it keeps repeating the phrase "model dependent," meaning "this is how this feature works if you are lucky enough to have one of the models that has this feature."

This eventually led to several cases of feature-envy when I read about a great dishwasher feature, only to realize that my model doesn't have it. ("What? My model doesn't have the robot arm that loads the dishwasher for you? Dang, I wish I had bought the STARK3AR7xUC* model!")

So, as I read about each feature, I would have to look back to the chart to see if it was a feature my dishwasher actually features. It's very confusing, but it doesn't have to be.

Really, it's pretty simple: I want an instruction manual for only the model that I purchased. I don't want an instruction manual for a bunch of models that I didn't buy!

This shouldn't be that difficult. Just make an individual instruction manual for each separate model. Done. That's all I'm asking for.

That way I can easily figure out which features the dishwasher I bought actually features. (I really hope my dishwasher has the doesn't-leave-puddles-on-the-kitchen-floor feature!)


Edited from a post originally published on 2/26/2016.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Juice Box Hero

Kids love juice boxes. Of course they do! It's a box full of beverage! They're the perfect size for kids. They're squishy. There is a straw they can play with. (Sometimes it's even a bendy straw!) And, of course, it tastes good. (Mmmm...sugar!)

Parents don't like juice boxes. Sometimes it's hard to get the straw out of the straw wrapper. Sometimes it's difficult to get the straw to puncture the little hole it's supposed to go through. And always, always juice will squirt out of the straw onto your fingers, or your shirt, or your pants, or someplace you don't want it to go.

You WILL get juiced!
The problem is in the squishiness of the box. If the box wasn't squishy, kids wouldn't be able to get all of the juice out. But, because the box is squishy, it's virtually impossible to put the straw into the box without squishing some of the juice out of the straw.

Did you notice I said, "virtually?" That's because there is a way to hold the juice box, put the straw in, and not get juice all over yourself and your surrounding area. It's a trick that my wife taught me. (She's so much smarter than me. Really.) What is this trick? I'm glad you asked. Near the top of the juice box are a couple of folded down flaps. If you unfold those flaps, so that they stick out straight from the top of the box, you can use the flaps as a handle for holding the box. If you hold the box by these flaps, juice won't come squishing out of the straw! (Or, at least not as much juice.)

If you aren't squishing the box, you won't be squishing out juice!

Once my wife taught me the "hold it by the flap" trick, juice boxes became much less of a hazard for me. Oh, I still spill juice on myself when handling them, but not in the same volumes that I used to do.

Of course, there's more containers used for dispensing juice than just boxes. Juice pouches are also very popular.

Just like a juice box, but less boxier.
Juice pouches don't have a handy little flap you can pull out in order to hold the container without squishing it. The best you can do with a juice pouch is try to hold it by the upper corners, up where there is less juice.

The worst thing about juice pouches is trying to get the stabby end of the straw through the appropriate straw hole without also stabbing it all the way out the other side.

Be careful with the stabby end of the straw. You could poke your eye out. (Or, more likely, punch an extra, unwanted hole into the juice pouch.)

When all is said and done, it doesn't really matter. Whether you choose a juice box, a juice pouch, a juice bottle, or simply a cup full of juice, if you give your kid some juice, you had better be prepared to clean up some juice. 

The kids won't care about the spills; they just want the juice. And if you give them the juice, you can be their Juice Box Hero!




Friday, February 9, 2018

Love Stinks: A Story of Junior High "Love"

This may come as a surprise to you, but I was not cool in junior high. I was shy, quiet, and not very athletic. I was about as far away from cool as you could get.

One of my best friends in junior high, however, was cool. (Or, at least he thought he was. And that's half the battle.) At the time, the television show Happy Days was popular. My friend thought of himself as Fonzie. There were some similarities. Even though we were only in the seventh grade, my friend had his own motorcycle, and had been riding motorcycles for several years. He was good looking, confident, and liked to go steady with girls. In his mind, he was Fonzie.

I, on the other hand, had no delusions of Fonzie-ness. I didn't ride a motorcycle. I wasn't confident. I was too scared to talk to girls, let alone go steady with one. I was more than happy to play the role of Richie Cunningham to his Fonzie.

This is me in junior high. (Definitely not Fonzie.)

One of "Fonzie's" few weaknesses was that he struggled with his classwork. I, on the other hand, did good in school. (Or should that be "did well in school?" It's been so long ago that I don't know for sure.)

Anyway, as we entered junior high, Fonzie talked me into taking every class with him, one of the reasons being that he would have me there to help him with his school work. It was a good arrangement: I helped him with his homework, and he let me hang out with him.

Fonzie liked the girls. He usually went for girls a year or two older than us. (Why? Well, ninth grade girls were more likely to be developed in the chestral region than girls our age, so they were more likely to catch his eye.) Despite being a lowly seventh grader, he had a fair amount of success with the older girls. But, just because he wasn't looking at the girls our age didn't mean the girls our age weren't looking at him.

There was one girl in particular who took an interest in Fonzie. For the purposes of this story, and to continue the 70s television show theme, I'll call her "Sabrina." (Sabrina was the "smart" one on Charlie's Angels.) "Sabrina" was in a lot of the same classes as us, and it was obvious, even to someone as inept at reading social cues as I was, that she liked Fonzie.

Fonzie knew this, too, and he used it to his advantage. He would often "let" Sabrina help him with his homework. At first I liked this, because it meant less homework for me. But, after a while, it started to bother me. Fonzie had no interest in Sabrina other than as help for his homework. He was just using her.

You can probably guess what happened. Before long, I developed a crush on Sabrina. And it wasn't a little crush. It was a big, think-about-her-and-my-stomach-twirls-to-the-point-that-I-can't-eat type of crush. It was a see-her-and-parts-of-my-body-get-all-tingly type of crush. I had liked girls before her, but nothing to this level.

So, what did I do about it? Nothing, of course. (There are reasons I became a 40 year old virgin.) I didn't do anything because I knew she liked Fonzie. Even though I knew Fonzie had no interest in her. Oh, I would see her frequently, because we would both be hanging around with Fonzie. We would occasionally talk, but I never let her know my feelings for her.

This went on for most of seventh and eighth grades. While I was in eighth grade, the J. Geils Band released a song called "Love Stinks." It begins with the lyrics: "You love her. But she loves him. And he loves somebody else. You just can't win." At the time I thought J. Geils had a direct insight into my soul. (The song peaked at #38 on the charts in April of 1980, although I find it very hard to believe there were 37 songs that week that were better.)

When ninth grade came around I didn't see Sabrina much, because I didn't have any classes with her. Eventually, I started to get over her. (Even though, to paraphrase a line from the show Friends, I was never under her.) I hardly saw her at all during high school. After a while, I moved on to unrequited crushes on other girls. (I wouldn't find out there was any other kind of love besides 'unrequited' for another 25 years.)

But, whenever I think of my first real crush, I remember Sabrina. And, whenever I hear "Love Stinks" I remember her, too. But luckily, even though it was later in life than most, I found out that the J. Geils Band isn't right about everything. Love doesn't really stink. (It just did in junior high.)



Edited from a post originally published on 4/29/2012.






Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pretend Heroes vs. Real Heroes

When I was a kid, I really liked comic books. I still remember the first three comics I bought, which started a collection that would eventually number in the several thousands. Marvel Double-Feature #11 featured a reprint story of Iron Man battling the Titanium Man. In Fantastic Four #162 the team joined up with counterparts from an alternate earth to battle the warlord Arkon and his lackey, a cosmic hockey goalie named Gaard. (Yes, I said, "cosmic hockey goalie.") And in Iron Man #77 the Golden Avenger takes on a bevy of villains, including Yellow Claw, Mad Thinker, Firebrand, and the Black Lama.

These stories really resonated with this nine year-old boy. The heroes of these comic books became my personal heroes. Iron Man was my favorite because he was just a normal human with no super powers, but he had created this suit of armor that made him incredibly powerful and able to help save mankind. I also liked the Thing from the Fantastic Four because he was funny and able to clobber his way through all of life's problems.

Over the years I collected the comic books that featured the stories of these heroes. I had dolls action figures of them that I played with all the time. And then, as an adult, I watched in wonder as these heroes of mine appeared on movie screens in well-crafted, amazing motion pictures! (Well, Iron Man. I'm still waiting for a really good Fantastic Four movie.)

I wouldn't say I worshipped these heroes, but I certainly held them in high regard. There's just one problem: they aren't real. They are fictional characters, created from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, then refined by other writers and artists over the years. Despite all the times they saved their fictional universe, these characters are simply pretend heroes.

There are pretend heroes, then there are real heroes. (Iron Man and the Thing are pretend.)

Sometimes there are real heroes living amongst us, and we aren't even aware of them.

Recently, my neighbor passed away. I didn't know him very well. I met him only a few times, although I saw him often. He would frequently stand on his front porch, shirtless, smoking a cigarette. Occasionally we would wave at each other. The times I did talk to him I found him to be quiet and reserved, although he and his wife were always very kind and generous to my kids, and were very enthusiastic when we would knock on their door at Halloween.

I didn't really know much about him, other than that he smoked on his front porch and was a good neighbor.

After he passed away, I went to his memorial. It was there that I found out that he had served in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Heart Awards and the Bronze Star, among other commendations. I had had no idea.

My neighbor was a true hero. He risked his life for his country on several occasions.

It's easy to see the stories of the pretend heroes. They are plastered all over the comic books and the movie screens. We don't hear the stories of the true heroes. They usually don't like to talk about them. They don't like to brag; they'll say they were just doing their jobs.

So yes, I still enjoy my pretend heroes. Their stories are fun little fantasies. But, I have a real respect for the true heroes: those who put their lives on the lines in our military, and first responders in the police, fire fighters, and paramedics. By being willing to be there on the front lines of life's most troubling moments, these are the people who are truly heroic.

To them, it's not just pretend.

To them, I say thank you.

Friday, February 2, 2018

8 Things NOT to Give Your Sweetheart on Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day is coming up in just a few days. It's a very important day for anyone who is in a relationship. If you botch Valentine's Day for your sweetheart, the month of February, which is already cold and miserable, will become even more cold and miserable.

People ask me all the time, "What should I get my wife and/or girlfriend for Valentine's Day?" First of all, when I say "people ask me all the time," I'm lying. No one has ever asked me that. Secondly, if you have a "wife and/or girlfriend," you're going to be in a bit of trouble. There can't be an "and/or," just an "or." Either you have a wife or you have a girlfriend. You can't have more than one. Unless you're that guy from Sister Wives. (I have no clue how he handles Valentine's Day. It's got to be pretty complicated.)

Actually, I don't really know what you should get your wife or girlfriend for Valentine's Day, because I don't know your wife or your girlfriend. But, I do know some things you shouldn't get her for Valentine's Day. Here are eight things on the "Don't get" list, and what it says about your relationship if you do:

*An iron--"I love you and I want you to iron my clothes." Or, "I love you, but your clothes are too wrinkly."

*An ironing board--See above.

Unless she specifically asks for an iron, please do not be Iron Man!

*A set of mixing bowls--"I love you and I want you to make food for me." Or, "I love you, but I don't think you make me cake often enough."

*Gift cards to McDonald's--"I love you and I'd like to go to McDonald's with you." Or, "I love you, but your cooking is so bad that I'd rather eat at McDonald's."

*Gift cards to Taco Bell--"I love you and I'd like to go to Taco Bell with you." Or, "I love you, and I want you to fart more often."

*Gym membership--"I love you, but I want you to lose weight." Or, "I love you and I want you to have awkward social interactions with sweaty strangers who are wearing stretchy pants."

*Laundry detergent--"I love you and I want you to do all of my laundry." Or, "I love you and I am the worst gift-giver ever."

*Anchorman 2 on DVD and/or Blue Ray--"I love you and I've never seen this movie but I liked the first one so I kind of want to see this one even though I heard it wasn't very good." Or, "I love you and I want you to be mad at me."

If you are thinking about getting your sweetheart any of these things: Don't! Just don't do it. If you can't think of anything more original, you can always go with flowers or chocolates. They may not be the most creative of gifts, but at least they say, "I love you, and I remembered that it is Valentine's Day." Or, "I love you and I hope you don't mind if I eat more than half of your chocolates."




Edited from a post originally published on 2/5/16.