Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Poll

In December's poll, you all decided that Obi Wan Kenobi would make the best Santa Claus.  After much frustration and my consideration of taking a Photoshop class, I gave up on something that could have been cooler and decided to post this:

Everything was going so well until I found myself unable to work with transparency, so that's why his face looks all messed up.  Whatever.

And now for something completely different...

This month's poll will focus on New Year's resolutions.  I firmly believe that less is more and our resolutions area part of that theme for 2012.  Please go to the left hand column and decide what you resolve to be less of this year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I'll Save You, Princesszzzzzzzzz

It disgusts me to admit it, but I have become a casual gamer.  Once a twelve-year-old who possessed a near perfect Tecmo Bowl record, crushed Dr. Wily and all his nefarious creations and always (yes, always) scored 5000 points on the pre-castle flagpole jump, I have grown into a man with a video game learning curve larger than the turning radius on a semi truck.

The sad state that my gaming has fallen into was made evident today as I made an attempt to get back on a horse that desperately tried to throw me.

I relinquished ultimate control of the Wii console to my sons back when their friends started coming over daily to play.  This decision was made easier by my brother's purchase of an Xbox console for me and my wife (yeah, right!) as a combined Christmas and birthday gift one year.  For a while I was dedicated.  I purchased relatively new games and even downloaded an occasional title, some that I love (like Mega Man 10 or Limbo) and some that I regret (the original arcade version of Tron).  The point is, I made an effort.  I was on year five of my Madden franchise, had beaten several titles form beginning to end and had struggled to become a step above complete embarrassment during online MW2 matches.

When my work schedule changed drastically at the start of 2011, sleep became a much higher priority than gaming on any console.  It shouldn't be that way and it never had been before in my life, but my aging physiology deemed it so.

Thus, jealousy would rage inside me as I heard my sons gaming in the basement while I tended to other matters that had lapsed during my sleep.  On more than one occasion I had to resist the urge to trip a child I had just let in the door and told, "They're downstairs playing Wii," out of spite.

Then, for Christmas, my wife bought me the new Legend of Zelda game Skyward Sword.  I was determined to start fresh.  If Zelda and her proclivity to fall into perilous danger (seconded only by Princess Peach) could not inspire me to grasp my sinking gaming career with both hands and hoist it from the shadowy void of adulthood, no fictional video game character could.

And so it came to pass that Transformer Generation Dad cleaned the basement of errant Lego bricks, swept up the remnants of popcorn from the floor, positioned his well worn recliner in the dead center of the room, popped in the first Legend of Zelda game he committed to playing since having children...

...and discovered that his Wii remote was not equipped with Motion Plus.

After some encouragement from my wife, I ventured off to quickly, soon expiring coupon in hand to pick up an adaptor.  Several hours and a vivid reminder why I don't enjoy shopping at Best Buy (being given advice from a "specialist" who happens to be an eighteen year old kid with a blank expression on his face and who starts every answer with the phrase, "I'm not really sure, but..." does not make me a confident consumer) later, I returned home with two pizzas, no Wii remote adaptor and a ball of rage in my stomach that I am fairly certain may be the early signs of an ulcer.

The Nintendo gods did not want me back.  My effort to scale to the top of their mountain and pay homage at their temple saw me cast down to the jagged rocks below.  I thought back to my quest to defeat New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  I simply could not defeat Bowser during the final battle and gave up, only to have my seven-year-old defeat it within a few tries while I was gone one day.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I lamented my falling into disfavor.  It was interrupted only when my wife told me to stop whining and just go buy a whole new remote from a nearby GameStop.

Begrudgingly, I walked in to find no lines, helpful service and a used remote with the necessary adaptor that had technically never been opened.  Within twenty minutes and sitting in my recliner watching the opening sequence of my newly adopted quest.

The Nintendo gods had smiled upon me once again.  They had simply meant to test my resolve.  If this prodigal son was to return, his commitment would need to be tested.  Apparently, I passed.

But then I stopped to write this post, go to the bathroom and eat a few cookies.  Now, I must get back to my game before I upset them again.  Goodbye, sunlight.  Hello, Link.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Brick to Rule Them All

It goes without saying that I am a huge Lego fan, but I said it anyway.

As a kid, I built a Lego town that spanned two, count 'em, two unused dining room tables in my basement.  It had a downtown area with skyscrapers and parking garages.  A train (one of the earliest Lego train models) circled its borders.  It even had a space shuttle launching site.  Thank God I was never trusted with any urban planning because the proximity of the launch pad to the rest of the town would have left it in a heap of melted plastic.

For as into my Lego town as I was, the Lego Star Wars sets would have easily risen above the city sets on my Lego hierarchy.  Alas, I was in what many Lego enthusiasts refer to as the Dark Ages when Lego began making Star Wars sets.  When Episode I was released, I was preparing to finish college and the money I had was still going toward beer and books, not plastic bricks.  I'm sure my parents are glad I had not been purchasing Lego Star Wars sets as well as they would have had an entirely new problem on their hands of Lego starships hanging from their ceiling instead of sitting on a table (note to self: figure out a way to hang the boys' Lego Star Wars ships form the ceiling; convince wife it takes up less space, pun intended).

With this obsession over two awesome things combined to make one even awesomer thing (Lego + Star Wars = Lego Star Wars, or where you not paying attention?) in mind, imagine my excitement when I read the news on The Brothers Brick blog that Lego had acquired the rights to produce Hobbit and Lord of the Rings sets.

I know!

I have been barely able to contain my absolute joy over this.  Each time I converse with someone, it begins with my attempt to analyze whether or not they will be interested in the news.  If there is even the slightest chance that they will be, it slips from my mouth in a slightly higher than intended volume at even the most forced segue opportunity.

"It was awesome, he hit the shot just before the buzzer.  You should have seen it."

"Right before the buzzer?  Wow.  Interesting they would use a buzzer, not a bell.  A buzzer buzzes, but a bell rings.  Speaking of rings, have you heard that Lego is going to start making Lord of the Rings sets?"

But for as willing as I have been to embarrass myself at holiday parties by hijacking conversations, the greatest amount of excitement came when I allowed my brain to come down from its euphoric high of lego and all awesome franchises living in harmony (what's next, Lego Firefly?  Lego Zelda?  Lego Marvel Universe?...I hear that last one really is forthcoming).  Some of my favorite video games over the past decade have been the Lego Star Wars games.  They have allowed for total immersion into the Star Wars films' events better than any other game in my humble opinion.

Now there is certain to be a Lego Lord of the Rings video game.

I know!

At this point, I've had to temper my enthusiasm before it gets the best of me.  I have resigned myself to wait until the game is released.  I will try and put it out of my mind until then.  Once it is out, however, I will play it with my older brother to its completion and the kids can get a crack at it after.

After Christmas Sale on Features

The holiday rush is over and it is now time to catch up on the weekly features.  The top five list this week consists of the top five Lego pieces that came in the numerous sets my kids received for Christmas this year:

5. Large blade - made to deter dinosaurs from escaping, but it can also be used for ninja weapons or even Lego horror film scene remakes.

4. Phone handset - I've seen this piece used in all kinds of ways, including on the Millennium Falcon.  It always intrigues me at how many different ways it can be utilized and I look for ways to use it in my own builds.

3. Raptor - Technically it is four pieces, but it's cool nonetheless.  It's always nice to have a new Lego adversary for your minifigures.  The menacing teeth and razor sharp claws give you plenty of excuses to dismantle your minifigures.

2. Syringe - Maybe you'll use it as a tranquilizer or in a medical scene.  Or maybe you want to portray an overly accurate, gritty, inner-city scene in Lego.  Regardless of the purpose, it's a very unique piece to be sure.

1. Alien clinger - If you're going to have aliens invade your Lego city, clinging to their yellow heads and controlling their minds will definitely be a top priority.  That way they can infiltrate the human ranks and create an uprising from the inside.  Brilliant.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own (unless you already own it) is the accurately minifigure scaled Lego Ultimate Collector's Edition Millennium Falcon #10179.  Currently on the market for over $2,000, the set originally sold for around $400 might cause you more problems in finding enough space to display it than finding the money to purchase it.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you have organized all of your kids' Lego sets from Christmas.  More than likely, you have them stacked up in the order you want to assemble them.  It's also possible that you organized them by product line, alphabetical order or model number, which would make you an even bigger nerd.

This week's nemesis is space.  Not outer space, but physical space.  With a whole ton of new products in our home, finding somewhere to keep them, especially after they have all been opened, makes me wish I had paid more attention in physics class... or maybe geometry.

This week's lesson learned is to check the box and keep the receipt.  If you check every box before you make a purchase, you greatly reduce the likelihood that you will have to stand in the infuriatingly long and slow moving return line at the department store where the gift came from.  But mistakes will inevitably be made, which is why it's important to keep the receipts handy until you are certain the purchase is sound.  There's few feelings that can cause your stomach to sink like walking into a toy aisle to make an even exchange and finding the toy you need to come back home with isn;t on the shelves anymore.

This week's equation is meant to help you track holiday weight gain:

The weight you gain over the holidays in pounds (W) can be calculated by multiplying the number of holiday parties you attend (p) by the percentage of food at said parties that would qualify as dessert (d) then subtracting from that product the result of the total number of leftover dishes you take home from various parties (l) divided by the product of the number of other member of your household said leftovers will be distributed amongst (f) and the number of hours you will spend this week doing cardiovascular exercises (h).

Finally, this week's Star Wars quote is, "Having trouble with your droid?"

Monday, December 26, 2011

'Twas the Day After Christmas (TGD Throwback Post)

With Christmas in the rearview mirror for my family, I reached back into the Transformer Generation Dad vault and pulled out this gem from one year ago today.  A few minor changes have been made to it since last year, particularly the changing of a painful ending (you can read the original here to see what I mean because I'd rather not talk about it) and the new year's popular toys being mentioned (though Lego stands firmly in its place), but the majority of it remains the same.  Please enjoy and Happy Holidays once again to all of you and your loved ones.

'Twas the Day After Christmas

‘Twas the day after Christmas and on my end of this blog,

My kids were still fired up like a blazing Yule log.

The stockings had been harvested for their Christmas Morning booty

After St. Nicholas had filled them per his Christmas Eve duty.

My children played with Angry Birds, Lego and more,

Leaving toys in their wake strewn across our wood floor.

My wife in frustration and I with chagrin

Had underestimated how many presents there’d been.

As I picked up wrapping paper, a sneer crossed my face

And my wife mentioned wryly, “We could use some more space.”

I nodded agreement without using my voice

And realized I needed to make a tough choice.

While our sons played downstairs with the occasional shout,

I could search through the house for old crap to throw out.

But try as I did, I failed, I confess.

Our house did not look like there was anything less.

No matter how many bags to the garbage I schlepped,

When I walked through the house, I inevitably stepped

On Nerf darts, on Hot Wheels, on Lego brick sets,

On plush Angry Birds, and almost a new 3DS.

My feet very sore from stepping on toys,

I shouted out angrily, “Get your butts up here, boys!”

With a pause of the Wii and a drop of Nerf guns,

They came, unsuspecting I’d redden their buns.

But what I then saw prevented utter calamity.

The joy on their faces snapped me back to my sanity.

I decided right there not to wallow or sulk.

I decided it was no time to rage like the Hulk.

My mood was suddenly improved without warning,

I asked, “Did you like what you opened last morning?”

They said they had maybe the best Christmas Day

Then I gave them each hugs and sent them back down to play.

Seeing small smiling faces led me to a simple deduction:

That’s precisely why we make the day such a production.

The spirit of giving is why we celebrate this season

But getting is also a pretty decent reason.

Instead of cleaning up mess after mess the whole day,

I had cool books to read and new video games to play.

So I put on warm pajamas and thick, comfy socks

And snuck up to my room where I played some Xbox.

Then I thought as I fired with my rifle’s thermal site

We had a pretty damn merry Christmas, alright.

Hope you had one too and your hearts are all full

Now it’s on to the New Year and welcome back to my Bulls.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All and to All an Awesome Night

I hope every single one of you out there, for the past twenty-four hours at least, has been able to set aside all stress, worry, disagreements, grudges and strife and enjoyed those around you.

Here's to the idea of peace on earth and goodwill to men.

I hope Santa brought you every thing you asked for, even if you slightly less than nice all year.

Merry Christmas from Transformer Generation Dad.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Lesson in Resource Allocation

On the eve of Christmas Eve, my nine-year-old and I had a conversation about the Elf on the Shelf.  He looked at the creepy little doll and we talked about whether or not the elf would be leaving over the night to make his final report to Santa or if he would leave on Christmas Eve.  I half felt that he was trying to go over the protocol more for my benefit than anything else so that my wife and I would get it right.

Then the conversation turned.  What resulted led me to believe that my oldest son might take after one of his uncles and have a head for business affairs.

"The Elf on the Shelf is the opposite of a Christmas song," he explained.  "In the one song, it says, 'He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake.'"

I agreed and asked him why that was the opposite of the Elf on the Shelf.

"Why does he need an elf in everyone's house to watch them if he can already see them.  I think he should just keep those elves in his workshop so that they can make more toys."

I started to try and defend the little guy on the shelf, but, frankly, I couldn't come up with anything.  My son found a significant shortcoming in the logistics of Santa's workshop.  Here he's hired hundreds, probably thousands, of employees that do nothing during the busiest season (the only season) but sit around in the homes of strangers, relaxing.  Sure, they log a lot of miles having to fly back and forth from the North Pole, but if this can all be seen remotely anyway, it's a waste of manpower.  Get those elves in the shop and get them making toys, I say!

It would certainly seem that Santa does not have his crew operating at peak efficiency, which worries me.  What else has Santa been dropping the ball on?  I'd like to get my hands on a copy of the route map he plans on taking to deliver presents.  I'd also bet he's not getting great mileage out of those reindeer.

Maybe my son could sit down with the big man after the holidays and go over his long term business plan to make things better for next year.  With the way the economy is going, I'd hate to see Christmas go bankrupt.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Third Person Thursday: High Seas Distractions

It had been a long, hard day, filled with distractions.  Finally, he sat down at the table with his laptop and intended to get some writing done.

This particular Thursday, the author had envisioned a story about the Elf on the Shelf, the children's book and accompanying, somewhat creepy elf doll that was meant to help keep his sons in line during the Christmas season.  The story had buzzed about in his head all day.  It was simply a matter of taking the time to type the words and that time had finally come.

His fingers hovered momentarily above the keyboard and the story spun through his mind once again.  It would be at once heartwarming and humorous.  Silly and suspenseful.  It was a work of art in his brain only waiting to be set free.

But just before the first keystroke landed, another opportunity presented itself.  He cast aside his writing and dove headlong into the glory of distraction, not stopping until it had run its course and far less time than necessary remained to write the tale of the elf.

After a moment's regret, he looked again to that which had diverted his attention.

Then he mumbled to himself, "Yarr, it be worth every wasted second, it be."

Just then his son came up from the basement to discover his massive Lego set completed.  "It's finished?  Thanks, dad," he exclaimed and gave his father, the author, the builder, a great big hug before starting an imaginary pirate battle.

He was right about it being worth it.  It be.  It most certainly be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making the Bloody Best of a Bad Situation

Learning to roll with the punches is an invaluable life lesson.  Christmas provides a litmus test for how well your children do this sometimes.

Consider your kid receiving a gift that is the opposite of what they wanted.  Do they cast it aside quickly as the bearer of said gift watches?  Do they outwardly groan and throw their hands down in dismay?  Or maybe they make the most of it, comment, "Oh, cool," and, if they happen to know who the giver of the gift is, look them in the eyes and say, "Thank you Aunt Bertha."

At a family party this past weekend, I had the opportunity to watch my oldest son face gift reception adversity.  I discovered that he was more gracious and optimistic than I gave him credit.

He received from Santa in the form of his costumed cousin a Tron action figure.  It was an old school Tron figure too, so the gift itself actually caused no reason for disappointment in my mind.  Nor did it in his, obviously, as he pulled it from the package shortly afterward and started playing with it.  That's when the potential tragedy struck.

Very early into his play, the arm snapped off irreparably.  Instead of pouting, throwing the toy in the garbage or crying, he calmly collected the pieces, put them back in the gift bag they arrived in and carried on playing other things.

Upon returning home, he showed me the figure.  When I confirmed it was not a break that I could mend and suggested he could use it as an injured guy during his imaginary play, he quickly found a red permanent marker.

"Is it okay if I draw on it with this, dad?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.  "It's your toy."

I did not expect the result pictured below:

Now, if that isn't making the best of a bad situation, I don't know what is.  Humorous amputation FTW!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Double Your Features

The last two weekends have been quite busy for me, as I am sure they have been for all of you too.  Add to the normal holiday hustle and bustle (I can't believe I just used that term) the fact that we were celebrating a child's birthday in our home and it makes for a shortage of time dedicated to anything other than hiding presents and then crawling into the extremely cramped space where the present was hidden to retrieve it, hoping to not have to call the fire department to then help and retrieve you.  Those firemen can be merciless with their ridicule.

My point, which I am ever so valiantly attempting to distract you from, is that I never updated the features last weekend.  In a feeble effort to make it up to you, I have decided to make this week's top 5 list a double shot.  No, not a top ten, but two top fives.  Behold Transformer Generation Dad's most awesome and most annoying Christmas songs:

The 5 most awesome are...

5. Baby, It's Cold Outside (Redbone/Deschanel) - The best songs have been redone... a lot.  While this particular tune has been overdone by a lot of different artists recently with varying degrees of success, the version done for the movie Elf by Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel is my favorite.  However, since no holiday is actually mentioned in the song, it only gets the five spot.

4. Christmas All Over Again (Tom Petty) - You need some sort of rock song in the mix, and this is the best.  Sad to say, but Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming to Town gets old quick.

3. White Christmas (Bing Crosby) - If you can bring yourself to keep the suggestions of racial purity and ethnic cleansing out of it and accept the fact that it's about snow, old Bing delivers a low, slow, crooning classic.

2. Sleigh Ride (Johnny Mathis) - Deliciously cheesy.  Best line ever: " the fireplace while we watch the chestnuts pop.  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!"

1. The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole) - Or pretty much any Christmas song sung by Nat King Cole. The introductory line, "Chestnuts roasting on a open fire," sets the mood for all your holiday activities instantly.

The 5 most annoying are...

5. We Wish You a Merry Christmas - The reference to figgy pudding is mildly annoying.  The repetition adds to my frustration.  But what really gets to me in the demanding nature of the song.  You won't go until you get some?  Who the f--- do you think you are?  Get off my porch right now before I give you some, but it won't be figgy pudding, you pushy little bastards.

4. Any pop diva remake of a classic - Yes, this includes mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You.  Too high energy.  Too many added syllables just to show the range of their voices.  Sing it straight or don't sing it at all, dammit.

3. Last Christmas (Wham!) - I'm not a Wham! hater, which should be obvious from the respect I gave them by properly including the exclamation point both times I've written the bands name.  I tear up without fail every time I hear I'm Never Gonna Dance Again just like the next guy.  But this song goes against the whole point of Christmas.  Who wants to be depressed about love lost when listening to Christmas songs.

2. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas - I love kids.  That said, I hate when kids do over the top, campy performances.  This song reminds me of something performed at a child beauty pageant, which is just wrong.  Whenever I hear it, I picture a young boy prancing around the stage, his baby teeth already yanked out and replaced with a perfect row of pearly white mini-dentures and doing his best Fred Schneider of B-52s fame impersonation.

1. Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney) - So lame.  So cheesy.  So destructive to my psyche in its complete disregard for the potential of the synthesizer and its ability to keep me from enjoying any Beatles' hits sung by Paul during this time of year.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is Santa's bag.  Flying this holiday season?  Bag fees and luggage size restrictions are not a problem when you have a magical sack like Santa.  He has presents for children all over the world in it and still fits it on his back.  Your three days worth of clothes and toiletries will be like packing a grain of sand in comparison.  So go ahead, throw that extra pair of shoes in there and while you're at it, save airfare by letting the kids jump in too!

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you will refuse to accept the Star Wars Blu-Ray set as a gift.  In fact, you won't even set it aside and hope there's a gift receipt included or re-gift it.  Just imagining Darth Vader exclaiming, "Nooooo!" prior to throwing the Emperor down the reactor shaft will cause you to hand it right back to the person who gave it to you and say, "Take this out of my sight and never speak to me again."

This week's nemesis is holiday sales emails.  I think I spend about ten percent of my time each day clearing out my inbox.  How are these things not being picked up as spam?  Then there's the inevitable important email that you get rid of because your thumb momentarily becomes a machine whose sole purpose is deletion and you end up having to wade through your trash folder to find the one meaningful email in all the rubbish.

This week's lesson learned is to keep a close eye on your kids when letting them use permanent markers to customize their Lego Star Wars Clone Trooper minifigures.  It's hard to get red permanent marker out of wood.  My suggestion would be to put some newspaper on your nice dining room table before letting the start.

This week's equation is:

You can determine the number of strings of lights you will need (n) on your tree by first calculating the surface area of the tree (the radius at its base, r, times the hypotenuse of the resulting right triangle, s, which will most likely require your employment of the Pythagorean Theorem, times pi) then multiplying that by the desired frequency of lights per square foot (f), which I suggest should be at least three to four, and then dividing that product by the number of lights contained on each set (l).

This week's Star Wars quote serves to remind you not to judge your presents until they are open.  "Size matters not."

Thank you for reading.  Hope you all survive the holidays.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Third Person Thursday (on Friday): From Ear to Eternity

Even in the darkened room, the blond hair looked like an explosion against the deep blue sky of the Spider-Man pillowcase.  The matching comforter was pulled up around the rest of the boy’s head, covering his face, leaving only the top half of his left ear exposed.

There were still several hours before the festivities would begin.  In fact, it would be a good three hours before anyone else in the house would even be awake.

A few hours of sleep before the busy day would help, he thought when he had ascended the stairs and quietly crept down the hallway to his bedroom.  But he decided to stop at the doorway to his sons’ room and leaned his head in to take a peek.

Knowing the effects of sleep deprivation from working the overnight shift, he wasn’t in the habit of stopping in to kiss them in their sleep.  He never wanted to accidentally wake them.  Today was an exception, however, and there he found himself, sitting quietly down on the edge of the bottom bunk bed, staring at the top of his oldest son’s left ear.

He always laughed at people cooing over ultrasound pictures.  “I don’t care if it’s 3D,” he would scoff, “if I showed you another couple’s ultrasound, you wouldn’t be able to tell their baby from yours.”

He believed this was the case for the first week or so.  Infants, for the most part look the same.  Aside from distinct differences like hair, skin and overall size, few people could tell a row of newborn babies from one another.   This was precisely what made his son’s left ear so special to him.

When the crown of his son’s head emerged during his wife’s labor (a process he, to even his own surprise, was not grossed out by in the least) nothing about it seemed particularly unique.  It was the top of a baby head.  Sure, it meant that his first meeting with his son, the moment he had waited months for, was finally near and that excited him.  But if you’ve seen one baby head, you’ve seen them all.

The first distinctive thing about the boy to appear was his left ear.  “There’s an ear!  I see an ear,” he had exclaimed to his wife as if he hadn’t been expecting the boy to have any.

It was from that moment on that fatherhood set in.  Years of love and affection, of worry and fear, of pride and joy were to come.  Over the fleeting months following, he would achieve so many firsts.  First poop, first smile, first word, first step.  The wrinkled, fragile baby would become a hearty toddler, shoving French fries in to the face of his newborn little brother upon his return from the hospital to meet him.

Soon, it was off to school and into sports.  The child’s brain seemed to grow faster than his legs, which they could not seem to keep in appropriately sized pants for longer than a month at a time. He was an avid reader, a budding artist, a stellar video gamer and great at being a son, brother and friend.

And it had all started when he had seen the tiniest little ear.  That ear and the rest of the little boy connected to it, including the unassuming top of his head, had been one of the best things to ever happen to him.

But the time had come to get the few hours of sleep that were left before a celebratory breakfast and the boy’s father lifted himself slowly from the bed.  Then he leaned over his son, kissed him on that very left ear that had so drastically changed his life nine years prior and whispered into it, “Happy birthday, son.  I love you.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the End of Every Hard School Day Kids Will Find Some Reason to Believe

Spoiler Alert:  If you have any young children who are all about Santa, and you are allowing them to read this blog then, first of all, your children have very strange taste in reading material and your parenting skills are thus called into question.  Second, get them into the other room now because it is time for the adults to talk.

Go on.

Are they gone?


I know a lot of parents struggle this time of year with what I shall ever so covertly call The Santa Conundrum for those who have still not removed their kids from the line of sight of the computer screen (Seriously? Can't you send them into the other room or something? Just suddenly exclaim, "Oh, no, all that chocolate cake I left out in the kitchen is going to go bad if someone doesn't eat it right away!").  They worry whether or not this year will be the year that their kids figure it all out.  With children of various ages, the added pressure of keeping the oldest from spoiling the good time of the younger ones.  Too often, the jaded, experienced eldest child lashes out over being lied to and ruins the ending for the little siblings.

"The psychiatrist is a ghost the whole time," they might shout.  "Also, there's no Santa."

My wife and I, too, have pondered how we will react when our kids finally reach the age when they no longer buy the Santa schtick.  Two years back, I thought they had us dead to rights when they kept asking, "Are you and mom really Santa?"

I deftly answered their question with a few of my own (a classic parenting technique).  "How could I be Santa?  You think I could get all those presents all over the place in one night?"

This stemmed the tide of inquiry, but I could still see the doubt in their faces.  They were waiting for some sort of proof.  They knew I would slip up eventually and then they would have their answer.  So, my wife and I began our discussion.  In the end we decided that, when the day comes, our explanation to our children will go something like this (feel free to use it on your own kids):

"Boys, it's true, we have been giving you those presents all these years.  But the reason we pretended it was Santa Claus wasn't at all because we wanted to trick you.  It was because we didn't want credit.  You see, boys, we wanted to see the joy on your faces without you having to thank us.  We wanted to give you gifts without you ever knowing that they were from us.  That is a wonderful way to experience Christmas and maybe if you have your own children one day, you will understand what it is like to give without any expectation of acknowledgement.  After all, Christmas isn't about getting.  It's all about giving."

We would then put our arms around one another and smile in smug satisfaction before adding, "Oh, and Jesus is also the reason." (We are Catholic, after all, feel free to remove this part if your faith differs)."

After masterfully preparing this speech, it just so happened that "Santa" came through with the Lego Death Star for them for Christmas that year, fully assembled on our dining room table.  Since they reasoned that their old man couldn't have possibly put it together over the weeks preceding Christmas while still hiding it somewhere from them (a task I'd like to see Santa pull off), their faith in Santa was suddenly renewed.  They were even convinced (by a certain older child in our home who may or may not be me) that Santa must have magically endowed the minifigures with the ability to move overnight so that they could assemble the Death Star like miniature plastic Star Wars themed Egyptian slaves while he scarfed down cookies and milk and went on his merry way.

Two years later, the belief structure holds strong.  Their belief in Santa is so firmly cemented in their minds, in fact, that upon adopting the new tradition of "The Elf on the Shelf" this year, my sons burst immediately into tears when my wife inadvertently touched the somewhat creepy looking doll.  They thought that in doing so she had removed its magic.

While I never want to see my kids cry, it was a powerful reminder that the magic of Christmas lives on in their hearts.  The potential tragedy was explained away easily enough when I told them their mother's innocence was lost long ago and that she had no power over the elf's magic because of it.

Of course, that left some more explaining...mostly to their mother.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Thank You, My Family Thanks You, My Dog Thanks You

The past several days have turned from constant dog watch, worrying that a beloved member of our family was on his way out the door to the tree, squirrel and fire hydrant filled backyard in the sky, to days full of hope and Christmas cheer.  Yes, our family pet, the stinky, floppy-eared basset hound that I alternately want to pet and strangle on many days seems to have made a full recovery.

The poop and vomit left behind on our floors has been moved outside where it belongs.  The shivering and listlessness has given way to tail wagging and inquisitive trots through the house whenever he thinks he has heard a visitor enter.  In short, he's gone back to being the lovable, quirky, sometimes annoying pet that he has always been.

I thank all of your who read my melancholy posts regarding his health over the past several days and looked fondly back with me at the great memories he has provided our family.  I honestly believe that your thoughts and prayers have helped him recover from whatever it was that had stricken his stomach.

And it couldn't have happened at a better time.  With Christmas right around the corner, dealing with the loss of such a constant lovable family member would have been tough to bear.  It would have taken the Christmas spirit out of me even faster than stepping on his bloody feces while walking through my living room... barefoot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double Third person Thursday (Throwback Edition) In Honor of My Ailing Dog

Third Person Thursday: Dirty Little Secrets

Each morning for three months while he breathed steam across the surface of his cup of coffee between sips, Gregory stared out across the frozen expanse. Anytime a new inch or two fell, he liked watching the loose powder slide across, up and over the largest drifts which had turned to solid hills of ice long ago. He thought of Carl Sandburg’s description of fog whenever he saw it.

That’ll be frozen soon enough too, he would think.

Despite the monotony, he admired the majesty of such a large rolling field of nothing, a surface where you could lose yourself and your sense of perspective if you looked at it long enough. He had to remind himself to look away, blink and rub his eyes now and then.

Snow-blind, he would mumble to himself as he did this and then take another sip of coffee as it had already begun to cool.

He used this routine as a way to clear his mind and relax at the beginning of the day. He imagined that his day started the same way the landscape looked, a blank white canvass. Yet every day, as he looked out the window at the pure, sprawling sheet of white, Gregory knew there were secrets beneath it all. He knew that things were buried below the ice and snow that not man nor creature would reach until Mother Nature had decided to allow them access via thaw.

He knew of the mess and the filth that someone had left beneath the snow, concealing it where nobody would find it for months. And each day, Gregory wondered how soon it would reveal itself. When would the pure snow that he looked at one day recede and expose the disgusting truth that lie beneath? He knew the day came ever closer, but it was impossible to know how long it would take.

And so, Gregory waited. He had learned years ago to enjoy the scenery while he could before it was sullied. Too soon, he would have to deal with the truth. That day always arrived before he would have liked, but it was inevitable.

The worst part came when he began to just see parts of them peeking out through the melting ice and snow. When it first began to warm, the rotting, decayed remains would still be frozen to the ground. There was no point in trying to dispose of them. This was when he stopped enjoying his coffee at the window. During the weeks when he waited for the thaw to grip the ground fully, Gregory peeked out to look at the progress and then retreated to his desk with his coffee. He didn’t want his appetite ruined.

But he could only avoid it for so long. The bits and pieces had to be retrieved and properly disposed of or people would begin to talk. He could only imagine the complaints.

It was then that the yearly ritual would commence. Gregory would don his rubber boots, pull on latex gloves, stuff the oversized pockets of his coat with as many heavy duty trash bags as they could carry, throw the old rusted shovel over his shoulder and go out to do the dirty work. It fell to him to clean up the mess that had been left behind because somebody had to do it. He realized his friend couldn’t help himself, but he wished there were a better way for him to satisfy his urges. There was no changing that now, however, and Gregory would set to his duty.

“Going out honey?” his wife called to him, somehow oblivious as to what had gone on behind their home every winter for the last several years.

Gregory cringed. He didn’t want to explain to her the disgusting task that lay before him. Yet, he didn’t know what to say. To his horror, before he could figure anything out, the truth was escaping from his lips.

“Gotta go clean up the dog crap in the yard,” he shouted up the stairs, “be back in an hour or two.”

Third person Thursday (Throwback Edition) In Honor of My Ailing Dog

Third Person Thursday: Lost in the Storm

He had focused so much on the task in front of him that he hadn't thought about the return trip. He was regretting that now.

As Butch turned to begin his trek back home after dropping off his package, he didn't recognize a thing. The snow blew sideways and swirled past his face, leaving him barely able to see a foot in front of his nose. He saw everything in shades of grey, and now mostly white. Even the tracks he had left behind on his journey had been blown over by the drifting snow. There was no trace that he had ever traveled this way. Butch suspected that if he stood still much longer, he might be drifted over as well.

His first instinct was to call out. Immediately after doing so, he thought about how silly he was to think it would help. The rest of his party was safe and warm. He was the one who had insisted on venturing out in such conditions. He was the one who absolutely had to make that drop off. He was the one that couldn't wait.

His next step was to begin moving in the direction he thought was right. As he did, he sank into drift after drift. He had to use all of his strength to bound over the hills of snow and more kept piling on top.

Before he knew it, he had reached a wall. He knew it wasn't the way he came from and began to panic. Having obviously already headed the wrong way, he had now thrown off his sense of direction even further.

He called out again in fear.

All hope seemed lost. Anger began to well inside of Butch. He pictured the rest of his group huddled in the warmth. They never should have let him go out in these conditions. Not by himself.

He called out again and again. He had no idea what else to do. Butch was certain that he would be lost forever, his frozen body encased in a mountain of snow only to be found in the Spring thaw.

That's when he heard something. His eyesight and sense of smell were useless in the blizzard, but his impeccable hearing picked something up. He moved instinctively toward the sound.

It came again. He still couldn't make out what it was, but he had to keep moving toward it. He had to hope that it was something that could save him. He had nothing else left. While trudging forward, his legs burning, his eyes straining to make out something in the haze of grey and white, the frigid winds bit at his nose and ears.

Just as he was about to give up and lie on his side in the snow to await an icy grave, he was able to make out a figure in the distance, through the blustering snow. The hazy outline of the figure stood as if it was waiting for him. With the rest of his remaining strength, he moved toward it.

"Come on, damn it, it's cold out here," the voice from the figure shouted. "If you're done taking your crap, get inside and quit barking."

Butch didn't mind being spoken to that way. He was just happy to see his master again. He stopped quickly to lick his master's hand then ran into the house where the warm pillow with his name embroidered upon it waited next to the heating vent for him.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Favorite Posts About My Dog Day, Part 6

Rest in Peace, Snaky or Slither or Whatever They Were Calling You This Week

Today, my six-year-old called my attention to the fact that, while our pet snake had crawled out from under his rock earlier in the evening, he no longer seemed to be moving. Being a six-year-old, he wanted what he feared to be confirmed before he would believe it. So, once I reached into the cage and nudged our little reptilian friend and he found didn't slide around the cage like he usually does, I had to make it official.

"Yeah, he's dead," I told him.

Time of pronouncement 5:32 PM.

The next hour or so in my household involved a lot of crying. Other than our dog, they had never really had another pet before. We caught a praying mantis once and fed it bugs consistently, but it seemed to be having problems from the beginning and only lasted a few days. They never had the chance to name it or become attached to it. It was more of a science experiment than a pet.

I saved the snake from getting stepped on at work as I walked out of a fried chicken restaurant one day last October. He stayed with me in a bag for the remainder of my day and then I brought him home for my sons to see. I fully expected to release him in our yard or even a nearby wooded area. But my sons wanted to keep him and my wife surprisingly consented. The little brown snake whose name was changed regularly had been with us for about five months.

While I knew my boys wouldn't exactly be happy about the snake's passing, I hadn't expected their sorrow to be so profound. We spent some time remembering what we liked most about Snaky (his original name) and discussing the most respectful method of disposing of his remains (they immediately rejected flushing him down the toilet, but I figured I'd at least throw it out there).

To conclude the night, a very small yet tasteful prayer service was held in the backyard, a hole was dug and an impromptu cross was made out of wooden kitchen skewers and electrical tape to mark the grave. The tears subsided and my sons began to speak of how much longer the snake had been able to live in our care than he would have been able to live in the fried chicken restaurant and how they will miss watching him devour earthworms whole. Eventually they got back to their activities, playing video games and fighting with one another about whose turn it was to play which video game.

With the passing of the most recent addition of our home behind us, I pondered how my boys had just grown up a little. No matter how small (six inches to be precise), my sons had just faced the loss of a family member. They took their time to express their grief, remembered the good times and moved forward, wiser for the experience.

And me? I went over and paid a little extra attention to my dog. I sat on the floor and scratched him behind the ears. Then I took his head in my hands and went nose to nose with him to let him know how I really feel.

"Hey buddy," I said to him. "I swear, if you up dig that snake up and eat it, I will kill you."