Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Seeing Old Friends on Memorial Day

I visited some old friends this weekend. I hadn't seen some of them for many years. I talked to some of them. I said, "hi" to some, "thanks" to others, and had some personal messages for a few more.

None of them said anything back to me.

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the small farming town of Arimo, Idaho (population: not much.) I moved away over 30 years ago, but still think of it as home, even though I don't get back there very often. (I'm lucky if I pass through town once a year anymore.)

This past weekend was Memorial Day, and I made the trip to Arimo. I drove down two or three streets (literally half of the town) then stopped at the cemetery. It was Saturday, so not many of the graves had flowers on them yet. But, I was surprised to see about twenty or thirty people out walking around. (That's about as big of a gathering of people as you're going to find in Arimo, aside from church meetings and the 4th of July parade.)

And then, I started seeing the people I used to know. There was Jimmy, my former scout leader, who was a great example, and taught me so much more than just merit badges. (He's also the one who said, "For the love of ketchup!" when he found out some of my friends ended up getting sunburned butts when they tried to get a full-body tan while camping in the mountains.)

His wife Helen was with him. She was my second grade teacher, and helped give this shy, nerdy kid a sense of confidence, something I would definitely need in life to battle all of my insecurities.

Then I saw Ken and Violet, the parents of one of my best friends. I don't think I've ever known a man as honest, kind, hard-working, and humble as Ken.

Loyal was there. He was my bishop and then stake president (two influential positions of local leadership in the Mormon church) during my teenage years. His love and concern for me and my friends was always very evident.

I saw my friend's brother Jeff. He left town when I was pretty little, so I never got to know him very well. Everyone was very sad when he went away. That same friend's grandparents, Heber and Blanche, were there, too. They taught me that I really shouldn't name any of my kids "Heber" or "Blanche."

My grandparents were there, as well. My grandpa, Jim, passed along a lot of nuggets of wisdom to me. And when I was a kid my Grandma Kathryn was probably my favorite person in the world. (She gave me cookies and milk every afternoon at 4:00 PM!)

My son saying hello to my Dad.
And, of course, my Dad was there. He was the main reason I came back to Arimo.

Yes, it's gotten to the point where I know more people in the cemetery than I do people alive in my hometown. (I did see another friend's dad, Dale. He was alive and out in front of his house. I waved to him on my way to see my Dad.)

I was glad I got a chance to see so many of my old friends. These were the people who taught me, influenced me, and helped me become who I am today. These are the people who loved me, and showed me by their example how I should live.

I only hope I can live up to their legacy.

Friday, May 26, 2017

First Day vs. Last Day (of School)

On the First Day of School the kids are wearing their brand-new, never-before-been-worn, bright and colorful school clothes.

On the Last Day of School they look like they are auditioning for the cast of Newsies, wearing dirty, grungy clothes with holes in the knees, and pants three inches too short.

On the First Day of School the kids take lunches that are carefully packed with specially prepared and selected items from each of the food groups, with fruits, vegetables, grains all neatly packaged in a colorful new lunch container.

On the Last Day of School they are lucky to get the crumbly remains from the bottom of a bag of goldfish crackers.

On the First Day of School all the kids get their hair styled by their Mom (or their aunt, the professional hair stylist) so they look perfect.

On the Last Day of School the kids may or may not comb their own hair. (Or worse yet, their Dad does it.)

On the First Day of School the kids get to the bus stop at least ten minutes early, because you want to make sure they are on time for the bus.

On the Last Day of School the kids don't leave the house until they see the bus pulling around the corner.

"The bus is here. Maybe you should think about getting ready."

On the First Day of School there are 64 brand new crayons in that 64-count box of crayons.

On the Last Day of School there are 64 pieces of crayon in that 64-count box of crayons, including 31 whole crayons (seven of which, for some reason, are "burnt sienna,") and 33 partial crayons that are in halves, thirds, fourths, and even eighths (four of which are also "burnt sienna.")

On the First Day of School the kids take their brand new lunchbox in their brand new backpack.

On the Last Day of School they are on their third lunchbox and second backpack because the original ones have been lost and/or stolen and/or broken.

On the First Day of School the kids pose for photographs which their proud parents post on Facebook with captions like, "Little Jimmy's first day of kindergarten!" or "I can't believe Jenny is starting 5th grade!"

On the Last Day of School absolutely no one wants photographic evidence of what your kids look like (except for maybe the campus police.)

On the First Day of School everyone is excited (and exhausted) because they've been waiting for months for this day to arrive.

On the Last Day of School everyone is excited (and exhausted) because they've been waiting for months for this day to arrive.

On the First Day of School parents cry (because they are going to miss their kids so much!)

On the Last Day of School parents cry (because their kids are going to be home all summer long!)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Keep Your Pink Eye to Yourself

I want my daughter to be selfish.

Usually we want our children to be giving and share with others. Not today. My nine year-old girl has pink eye. (It was a gift from one of her classmates at school.) And so we've spent the last several days trying to make my daughter as selfish as we possibly can, because this is one thing we really don't want her to share with her siblings.

If you've ever had pink eye, or been around someone who has, you know that it's not much fun. (Pink eye is also known as conjunctivitis by people who feel the need to use big words to describe everything.) The whites of your eyes turn very pink (or even red) and stuff oozes out of your eyes.

One of the worst things about pink eye is that it is very contagious. This means a lot of hand washing, a lot of towel washing, and a lot of yelling, "Don't-touch-that-thing-that-one-of-the-other-kids-might-touch-because-we-really-really-really-don't-want-any-of-the-other-kids-to-get-this!"

I didn't realize how many things in the house a nine year-old girl feels the need to touch until we were trying to get her to not touch anything. Doorknobs; handrails; toilet handles; faucets; baby toys. Yes, baby toys. It is confounding just how often a nine year-old girl feels the need to touch baby toys! If she comes close to any baby toy, she will touch it. And if she isn't anywhere near a baby toy, she will feel compelled to go out of her way to get to the baby toy so she can touch it, conjunctivitis-izing everything!

She's not doing it on purpose; it's just her natural way of walking through life, touching everything as she goes.

After a couple of days of training (which mostly consisted of yelling at her) she's gotten to where she doesn't touch quite so many things.

But then, she figured how to use it to her advantage. She started treating us like her servants. She'd say things like, "Daddy, could you get me a glass of milk? I'd get it myself, but I really shouldn't be touching the fridge or the milk carton." Or, "Could you make me some toast? I don't want to touch the bread or the toaster. Oh, and could you put butter and cinnamon sugar on it for me?" Or, "Be a dear and go fetch my shoes for me."

I reached the tipping point when I asked her to do her chores and she said, "But Dad, I can't touch the broom because I don't want the next person to use it to get pink eye from me."

I replied, "Don't worry, I'll make sure that no one else will have to touch the broom, because you'll be doing all the sweeping! Get to work, Cinderella."

We're not out of the woods yet, but so far she has managed to be selfish enough not to share her pink eye with any of her siblings. I just hope that when this is all over we'll be able to unselfish-ize her again.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Solving the Trade Deficit with China (One Pair of Sunglasses at a Time)

If you're one of my regular readers (and if you aren't, you should be!) you know that this is generally not the place to go for an in-depth analysis of the global economy. If you want a detailed examination of the United States of America's trade deficit with China, I would say you should look somewhere else.


That's right, today we are going to talk about our country's trade deficit with Republic of China. I know, I know, that's a pretty strange topic coming from a guy who usually writes about poo(h), farts, and questionable seafood. But, here we are.

It started when Thing 2 (my seven year-old son) was given a pair of sunglasses in his Easter basket by his mother the Easter Bunny. They were red, white, and blue with a design that looks about as similar to the American flag as is possible for a pair of sunglasses.

Being a patriotic, red-blooded, American boy, he loved the sunglasses and wore them everywhere he went for the next couple of days. He and the glasses were inseparable. And then, one day, he noticed some writing on one of the legs of the glasses. It said, "Made In China."

"That's weird," he said. "Why would someone in China make a pair of glasses with the American flag on it?" I could tell it was something that bothered him.

My son asked, "How do the Chinese even know what the American flag looks like?"

A couple of days later when his Grammy was over for a visit, he asked, totally out of the blue, "What does the flag of China look like?" Grammy pulled up an image of the flag for him on the internet. He looked at it intently.

Then he asked, "What do the stars stand for?" This got Grammy and I both looking at our smart phones to find the answer. (The large star stands for the Communist Party, while the four smaller stars symbolize the four social classes: the working class, the peasantry, the urban petite bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie.) (At least, that's what Wikipedia says, so it's probably right.)

We gave him a slightly simplified answer (because ain't no one wants to try to spell or explain the "bourgeoisie!") and he seemed to accept it. Then Grammy asked him, "Why are you so interested in the Chinese flag?"

"Well," he said, "when I'm bigger I want to make a pair of sunglasses here in America that has the Chinese flag on it so I can send it to the people in China, just like they made some sunglasses with the American flag on it and sent it here."

And there you have it! The simple solution for solving America's trade deficit with China. All we have to do is for every America-based trinket or knick-knack that comes to us from China, we need to make a Chinese version here in the United States and send it back to China.

And that's it: the Chinese trade deficit solved by my seven year-old son! (Next week we're going to put him to work on bringing long-lasting peace to the Middle East.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Made Chuck Norris Chuckle

Chuck Norris loves babies!

Sure, most people say they love babies, but Chuck Norris actually does something about it. Chuck Norris is an American hero!

It was a normal day. I was at home with my two youngest kids, Thing 3, the two and a half year-old girl, and Thing 4, the eleven month-old boy. (Thing 1 and Thing 2 were in school.) I was trying to figure out a way to entertain the kids without resorting to songs from Moana or Frozen when I got a text from my brother alerting me to the fact that Chuck Norris would soon be making an appearance in the town where I live.

My first reaction, as it often is, was to question my brother's sanity. Why would Chuck Norris be coming to small town Utah? But, my brother insisted he had seen this announced on the semi-reputable website for one of the local television news stations. I checked it myself and, yes, Chuck Norris was scheduled to appear at a convenience store/gas station less than a mile from my house in about an hour! (He was coming to promote his new line of bottled water, CForce.) And so I did what any responsible parent would do: I loaded up my kids for an opportunity to stand in line in the hot sun so they could have a ten second meeting with some guy they had never heard of!

When I showed this picture to my 2 year-old daughter she got excited and said, "It's HulkSmash! It's HulkSmash wearing pajamas!" So, apparently, when the Hulk wears pajamas, he looks like Chuck Norris!

As I approached the gas station, cars were lining up and parking along the side of the road. I got my kids out of the mini-van and plopped Thing 4 in the stroller so I could roll him the rest of the way to the convenience store. Because of all the Chuck-related traffic, I was holding Thing 3 in one arm and trying to push the stroller with the other. That's when my neighbor and his wife (and their young son) came along and helped me out. (Shout out to Aaron and Leah!) The neighbor pushed the stroller for me as we made the longer-than-it-seemed walk to the end of the line to see Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris waits for no one, but everyone waits for Chuck Norris.
Chuck was meeting people in a tent in the front of the store, and the line to see him came out along the side of the building, out to the edge of the parking lot, around the end of a dead end road, and down along the side street toward the traffic light. It was a pretty long line. I had been in line with my kids and my neighbors for about twenty minutes when a bigwig from the convenience store (I recognized him from their commercials) came out to the line and announced, "Chuck would like anyone who has babies in a stroller to move right up to the front of the line. He doesn't want the babies to get dehydrated out here in the sun." Yes, Chuck Norris loves babies!

I looked at my neighbors, who had helped me out so much, and who were there with a young son who just as easily could have been in a stroller, too. Was I somehow more worthy to jump in the line than them just because I had a stroller? I felt bad...but I ditched them in a heartbeat. (Sorry about that, Aaron and Leah!)

I strolled up to the front of the line and there he was in the tent: the one and only Chuck Norris!!!

As I started to undo the straps to get Thing 4 out of the stroller, a small joke formulated in my mind. I walked toward Walker, Texas Ranger, carrying my baby boy. When I got close enough that I was sure Chuck Norris could hear me, I reached up to take the binky (pacifier) out of my boy's mouth and said, "You can't meet Chuck Norris with a binky in your mouth!"

And Chuck Norris chuckled. Yes, I made* Chuck Norris chuckle! (*NOTE: That's not true. No one makes Chuck Norris do anything. It would be more accurate to say that I said something that Chuck Norris decided to acknowledge with a chuckle.)

Chuck chuckled, and then quickly said, "No, no, that's okay." Because Chuck Norris loves babies, and he wants them to be happy, even if it means that baby is sucking on a wimpy binky. But, I defied Chuck Norris and took the binky out anyway, because I knew my son was tough enough he wouldn't cry in the presence of Chuck Norris. (He didn't.)

The next ten seconds are pretty much a blur. Thing 3 hid behind me because she was apparently afraid of this bearded stranger and foolishly thought I could protect her from Chuck Norris. So, I had to herd her around to the front of me, but she still was a little leery of him. I held Thing 4 up between Chuck and I. And, worst of all, I forgot to suck in my considerable gut. It's not a very good picture.

As my wife said, "Why look at the camera when you can look at Chuck Norris?"
A few things about the picture: 1) My daughter wanted nothing to do with Chuck Norris. 2) I think my son's forehead might be touching Chuck's cheek, and the boy is staring intently at Chuck's beard. 3) Chuck Norris is not a very large man. And D) I held onto my baby because I figured Chuck Norris wouldn't want to hold other people's babies. I was wrong. It turns out he posed holding a lot of babies. Of course he did, because Chuck Norris loves babies! (If I had known this, I certainly would have had him hold one, or maybe both of my babies. Oh well.)

After the picture was taken, I headed into the store, because if Chuck Norris is there to sell CForce Bottled Water, then by golly I'm going to buy me some CForce Bottled Water! I didn't do this just because I wanted the water. I did this because they were handing out "free" swag to people who purchased Chuck's water. (I'm always a sucker for buying stuff I didn't really want in order to get some free stuff that I also didn't really want.) 

So, I bought four bottles of CForce water and took two of them to my neighbors who were still in line. (Still feeling bad about ditching you, Aaron and Leah!) I then went to the "free stuff" line and got myself a t-shirt and a pair of fake wood sunglasses! 

I look much tougher and skinnier in a Chuck Norris t-shirt! (And when I suck in my gut.)
(I should mention that appearing with Chuck Norris was Truck Norris. Unfortunately, Truck Norris is not some muscle-man cousin of Chuck's, but a large, tricked-out truck.)

(Also, while standing in line the guy in front of me was whining because they only had shirts in sizes L and XL. The person handing out the shirts rightly called him out, saying, "Dude, it's free stuff. Stop complaining.") 

I then took my water bottles, t-shirt, sunglasses, and babies, and went home. I had a really good time. It's not every day you get to meet Chuck Norris and turn him into Chuckle Norris!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pooh In the Potty

I'm not a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. I've always thought he was a whiny character with an annoying voice and an irrational fixation on pots full of honey. (Hey, honey is perfectly fine, but it's not really worth obsessing over. If it was bacon, maybe I'd understand, but not honey.) While I'm okay with a couple of his friends (Tigger and Eeyore, in particular) I just don't have much use for Pooh.

And then, of course, there is the name. Who in their right mind names a character in a children's book after excrement? It just doesn't make any sense.

I've written before about how I have an uncontrollable need to make poo jokes any time I'm around Winnie. (See: Pooh Happens.) But, something happened the other night that is compelling me to bring the subject up again.

I'm not sure where they came from, but my two year-old daughter has a couple of stuffed Winnie the Poohs among the herd of stuffed animals she insists on sleeping with in her bed every night. The two Poohs are different sizes, so to tell them apart she calls the smaller one "Baby Pooh" and the larger one "Daddy Pooh." (Even my wife can't help but make jokes about "Daddy Pooh." It's just too easy. And funny.)

So much Pooh!!!
(But, hey, would it be too much to ask the bear to wear some pants?)

The other night was bath night for the kids. As I got our oldest daughter set up in the tub, her two year-old sister stayed around to watch. I know, I know: bathing should not be a spectator sport. But, at that moment it just wasn't worth the fight to try to get the two year-old out of there. I left the two of them in the bathroom and went to check on the baby.

When I got back to the bathroom, I couldn't believe what I saw: Baby Pooh was in the potty!

There is Pooh in the potty!!!
A few weeks ago, during Spring Break, we made an attempt to potty-train the two year-old. It was a very unsuccessful attempt, but we still had the "toddler potty" on the floor of the bathroom just in case the two year-old miraculously decided she would rather poop in the potty than in her diaper. Instead, she did this. She had heard the term "poop in the potty" enough times that she knew where her Pooh should go.

When I texted this picture to some friends and family, my mother-in-law, knowing my juvenile sense of humor, assumed that I had staged the photo myself. Nope. It was all the two year-old's idea.

Apparently no one in my family is capable of avoiding the potty humor of Pooh jokes.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I Have a Beef with Our Public Education System

What is wrong with our education system? I'm not sure, but I do know this: we are not doing right by the most gifted cattle in the world.

Have you seen the Chick-Fil-A billboards? These cows exhibit intelligence far beyond that of normal cattle, and yet they are absolutely horrible at spelling. Just take a look at this billboard I passed the other day:
Sorry, cows, but I have never dreamed of chicken for breakfast.
"Chikin 4 brekfast UR dreems kome troo." Seven words, and not a single one is spelled correctly! These are obviously intelligent cattle. They are skilled enough that somehow, even without opposable thumbs, they can climb up  a billboard, work as a team, and paint a message that thousands of passing motorists are able to read. And yet every word is spelled wrong.

Do I blame the cows for this? No, it's not their fault. I have a beef with our public education system! There are so many things wrong that I don't know where to start.

Is it overcrowded classrooms? We herd our students into the classrooms and try to corral them 35 to a room. 20 is plenty; with fewer students the teachers can get them individual attention to steer them in the right direction.

Is it teachers who don't care? While there are some teachers who are just grazing through their jobs and should be put out to pasture, the vast majority of educators are trying as hard as they can to rustle their students into being successful in the rodeo of life.

Is it too much emphasis on testing? We all want Grade A students, but wrangling them to fill in circles on a multiple choice test is not the best way to take stock in what they really know.

Is it a failure of school administrators? Sometimes superintendents and school board members try to lasso up a good education without ever visiting the farm and seeing the manure the teachers have to muck through on a daily basis.

Is it our expectations? Sometimes we brand cattle as being worth nothing more than fodder for the feedlot, but if we expect more from them maybe they'll show us what they're truly capable of accomplishing.

Maybe someday they'll even learn how to spell.

Friday, May 5, 2017

If I Could Throw Tantrums At My Kids

My two year-old has taken to throwing tantrums. If she asks for the pink plate, but you give her the purple plate, she will scream. If she asks for the green plate and you give her the green plate, she will scream, because she has changed her mind and now wants the pink plate. If she has the pink plate and you try to give her a cup and/or a bowl that is not pink, she will scream. (Maybe life would be easier if we hadn't gotten those multi-colored packs of dishes from IKEA.)

I had no idea how many tantrums these dishes would cause.

But it's not just the dishes. The other day my wife made some delicious crepes for breakfast, but my daughter thought she said grapes, so she threw a tantrum. When I told her she couldn't wear her "pen-gun" (penguin) pajamas because they were in the wash, she threw a fit.

You get the idea.

While we work on getting her to stop throwing these tantrums, I've wondered what the kids would think if I threw a tantrum every time they did something that bothered me? Maybe I should start stomping my feet, flailing my arms, and screaming until I cry?

This is what my two year-old looks like when throwing tantrums, but with more tears and snot.

Maybe I should throw a tantrum:
*Every time I have to change my shirt because I got some of their barf/snot/drool/pee/poop on it.
*Every time I have to change their diaper less than five minutes after just having changed their diaper.
*Every time they demand a certain kind of food, only to not eat a single bite of that food when I get it on their plate.
*Every time they ask the same question over and over and over and over and over again.
*Every time they ask my wife the exact same question that they've been asking me.
*Every time they wake up early on a day we can all actually sleep it.
*Every time they sleep in on a day that we need to get up early.
*Every time they change their clothes five times a day for no particular reason.
*Every time they go more than three days in a row without changing their underwear.
*Every time they miss the school bus.
*Every time they don't do their chores.
*Every time they demand something without asking "please" or "thank you."
*Every time they scrounge some who-knows-what-that-is thing out of the carpet and try to eat it.
*Every time they throw a tantrum at me.

(To be fair, it's not just tantrums all the time. As I was trying to finish writing this, my two babies climbed up on my lap and giggled for about twenty minutes. As long as I spend enough time reciprocating giggles instead of tantrums, I think I'll be okay.)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

8 Jobs Hollywood Hates

My wife is a junior high math teacher. I often feel bad for her, because when junior high math teachers appear on television shows or in the movies, they are usually portrayed in a negative light. More often than not they are mean, boring, unreasonable, and unlikable. And that's too bad, because she is none of those things. (Usually.)

But, as poorly as school teachers are often portrayed, it could be worse. Sometimes school teachers are actually shown in a positive way, doing whatever they can to help their students. However, there are some professions that have it worse than teachers because they are almost always portrayed in a bad light. Here are a few of those professions:

Plumber--Plumbers are usually seen as dirty, unkempt, loud men who charge way too much for their services. Oh, and yes, you can always see their butt crack.

Corporate Executive--These folk are portrayed as the greediest people on earth. They would do anything for a few dollars, even if it meant poisoning the town well and/or causing the death of several small children and/or cute bunnies. Nothing is more important than money.

Corporate Board Members--Board members are usually not quite as pure evil as the executives, but they are willing and eager to look the other way when a crime is committed if there is a benefit to the company's stock prices.

School Principal--While teachers are sometimes shown in a positive light, principals seldom are. Principals are there to harass, annoy, and carry out personal vendettas against the students, and also stand in the way of the few "good" teachers who are actually trying to help kids learn.

A principal is most happy when he gets to suspend someone.

Tax Collector--According to television and the movies, anyone who works for the IRS is either evil or soulless.

US Senator--As portrayed in popular media, no one is more susceptible to a bribe than a US Senator. Every important evil plot involves a US Senator on the take.

Armored Car Driver--While most of the others on this list are portrayed as evil, armored car drivers are simply just incompetent. If you see an armored car driver in a television show or movie, there is a 60% chance they will end up dead, and a 98% chance that their armored car will be robbed.

Dog Catcher--Has there ever been a dog catcher portrayed in a good light in a movie or television show? I don't think so. Dog catchers are purely evil people who delight in the deaths of cute, pure, innocent animals.

They make mean junior high math teachers look warm and fuzzy in comparison.