And we want to become adults because?

It would have been nice had someone explained to me when I was young how difficult it is to be an adult. It’s not a cakewalk. Nor is every day a day at the beach. I probably wouldn’t have listened, or cared, but it still would have been nice. All those milestones we dream of as children, 16, 18, and 21, blow by. Then we become adults and can do anything we want, including wishing we were 16 again, but smarter.

Okay, moaning over. It’s just one of those days. Let me explain.

So many questions, so little time. © kbuntu – Fotolia.com

I spent two days writing a post about what happened over Memorial Day weekend with a neighbor. I would love to publish it, but I don’t know if I can make it plain enough to avoid all legal scrutiny and not get in hot water. In a nutshell, a neighbor who has caused the neighborhood and my family great stress went to jail this weekend. I and another neighbor followed the instructions of the police the last time they were here: call if she shows up again. We just wanted her out of the neighborhood. The going to jail part was a surprise and not intended. Now I know why some people don’t get involved. It’s easier and requires less effort and stress.

And if you do get involved, it’s easy to muck it up and experience more stress (I know this firsthand).

I’ve been on the phone with a lawyer about my options to sue since then, and I’ve spoken to a police officer about everything happening in the neighborhood for the past year. My wife and I have had stressful conversations about the situation. Unfortunately, there’s no manual on how to protect your family from people with drug habits.

But there should be.

I went to clinic today and my PFTs haven’t gone back to baseline. Not looking good. So, maybe it’s time for IVs to see if we can nudge them back.

When the nurse was reviewing my records, the conversation went like this: Have you made an appointment with the sinus doctor? No. Have you scheduled a sleep study? No. Have you scheduled a bone scan? No. An oral glucose test? No. And so on.

Working 50 hours a week makes it difficult to spend my weeks enduring medical tests.

A new doctor untrained in the mysteries of CF walked in and surprised me. I’m picky about my doctors and my time. I knew in the initial 30 seconds based on the way she entered, spoke, her mannerisms, and plopping herself on the first chair she could find that I had nothing to say to her. And I told her that, then asked for the regular doc. Nothing personal, I said, as she left. One of the regular doctors I like entered the room and it rained happiness and Skittles. I only had to use a third of the words and effort with her compared to the doctor I booted.

A similar situation happened with a temporary member of the staff. I answered her questions as quickly as I could and got her out of the room as fast as possible. But the visit wore me out, as the longer I’m there, the more the work feels like it’s piling up.

So, all of this and more have added up to remind me why some must turn to drugs in life. The future overwhelms. How much of what we worry about will or won’t happen? I wish I knew.

My new pet peeve: really long receipts

I guess this has been going on for a while, but really long receipts drive me nuts.

I wonder how many trees take a fall each year to make them. Did someone from the logging community suggest this to companies? “Hey, email is killing us. How about making receipts excessively long to make up for it?”

In the picture below is one receipt that deserved to be 17.5-inches long, as it includes the groceries we purchased for the week (and getting through that week wouldn’t be possible without two boxes of chocolate-covered gummi bears).

37 items in the shorter receipt. 9 items in the long receipt, if you count the 4 sprays of balloon juice. Oh, and the 4 identical balloons. So, really, three different items.

My favorite item on the short receipt is “battered halibut.” I love this name. Someone has a sense of humor at Sprouts. This is the fish half of “fish and chips,” not something hit repeatedly with heavy blows, though who knows what the fishermen did to it when it was caught. It’s possible it was netted by really angry fisherman and spouted off in its fish-way with some attitude, “Kiss my fish tail, ugly humans, for ripping me out of my cozy, cold Atlantic home.” Fishermen to rude halibut: “Batter that fish until it shuts up, men.”

The second receipt, Party City, was for balloons for my wife for Mother’s Day, because nothing says “love” like helium-filled rubber. Not only did Party City give me this super-long 21.5-inch receipt for purchasing five balloons and four sprays of a chemical to keep the rubber ones healthy for more than a day,  they delivered what I would call “less-than-friendly” customer service. Yes, the employees who worked at this location appeared to be “less than enthused” about working Sunday morning after a fun Saturday night of beer pong, Xbox, and borrowing the Party City helium tank to speak in mouse-like voices.

Nothing says “torture” for kids in their early 20s quite like filling up and tying 100s of balloons before the clock strikes noon (the latter action would be enough to make me go mad if I worked there for more than a day, as tying balloons is an action I’ll have to repeat for eternity when I’m working 24-hour days in Hell).

So there you have it, a tale of two receipts. And, yes, I’m quite mad.

The parenting gods deliver another lesson to moi

I should know better.

My wife and I like to have a “clown night” once a month. It makes us laugh and keeps the relationship fresh. (This photo may or may not make more sense later in the post.) © pirotehnik – Fotolia.com 

Fresh off the letter I wrote to my daughter the other day, and thinking about the person she became this year, I decided to surprise her with American Idol tour tickets. We hadn’t planned to go this year, but then I thought, what the heck, she deserves it (and how many concerts can you take a 10-year-old to these days?). So, I bought tickets. Three bills, including parking and ticket insurance.

When my daughter came home from school, I let her know we had a surprise for her and would reveal it during dinner. She asked for two guesses. Clothing? No. My little pony? No.

Off she went to guitar and singing lessons where she told both instructors about the coming surprise of surprises. I don’t think I made it out to be that big. But once again I underestimated the mind of a 10-year-old and the things she can dream up in a section of her brain called, “Cave of Super Cool Surprises.” Evidently it’s quite a spectacular place. No adults allowed.

“All she talked about in the car was the surprise,” my wife said.

Still optimistic, delusional, and blind, I sat down at dinner and started telling my only daughter how we thought she really grew this year. My wife added some nice words and we both realized none of it was sinking in. We were the adults in the Charlie Brown holiday special, “wa wa wa, wa, wa wa,” speaking unintelligible words to a child.

I handed her the piece of paper with the concert information on it.

Then the parenting gods sent in The Clown. And he delivered a large pie to my face. Smash. Cream filling up my nose. “You should have seen that coming,” the Gods said.

My favorite pie to be hit in the face with. © xmasbaby – Fotolia.com

Disappointment on my daughter’s face. I never learn.

She was polite, but we could tell she had something else in mind.

“What were you hoping for?” we asked.

After 30 seconds of not wanting to say it: “an iPhone.”

Send in another clown. Smack, brick to the face. Is that my blood dripping in my pasta?

An iPhone? Hello, left field, are you kidding me with that one?

Oh, yeah, she’s 10. It came from the “surprise” cave in her mind.

And then we had the painful “gee, we sound like parents” conversation about how she didn’t need an iPhone.

“Who would you call?” Silence. “You can use your mother’s iPhone.” Silence. Clearly, she’s a government agent and needs her privacy. Can the government not afford the cost of iPhones for their agents?

I ate my dinner and we talked about the upcoming concert. Once again, I felt like a chump. And my wife salted the wound by reminding me of the bike at Christmas (see post in Dec 2011) and the pain of that unwanted gift.

Lesson learned: Never surprise a child with anything other than the exact gift they want. (In other words, don’t surprise them.) Otherwise, the parenting gods will serve up a harsh lesson delivered by an imaginary clown.

But it will feel like the real thing.

Letter to my daughter – 05/09/12

Dearest Munchkin,

I’m not sure why I chose this image. Well, I do know, I think. But I’m not telling. © INFINITY – Fotolia.com

10 years have blown by, a heavy gust of wind, and when I rubbed the sand from my eyes there you were tall, funny, and with feet almost as big as your mother’s.

In a few years the two of you are going to see eye to eye, literally, which may be the only time the two of you do during your teen years. But in case I’m not around, remember what I’ve told you since you were a baby: No one will ever love you more than your mother does. So, treat her love with respect – as if it’s the most precious, fragile object in the world and it’s your job to carry it from point A to point B without dropping it. Godspeed.

I’m writing to your future self tonight to tell you how proud I am of the way you handled this entire soccer season. If you remember, the previous season ended with a hard talk about your effort and not being a top player, which didn’t match up with your self-assessment. But you found some inner fortitude and proved you had it in you. I hope you never forget what you did and who you became. And I don’t mean the goals or assists or defense or transforming into a better soccer player. It was about more than that.

I’m talking about the effort you put into it and the results you earned and the person you became. Yes, that is what had me in awe the whole season. And I’m hoping it’s a lesson you’ll take away and remember forever, or by reading this letter you’ll be reminded of the spring you grew in more than height.

You learned one of the most important lessons in life: great effort equals great reward. And that’s what I want you to remember in this world of instant fame and riches for being an idiot. Most of the time, barring a lotto win or role on an MTV series, it still comes down to elbow grease, passion, and not giving up against great odds.

You displayed a great deal of character this year. It’s been a pleasure watching you evolve into a more complex person, which probably doesn’t describe it well, but that is what you are now. You’re more interesting to watch and listen to not because you’re a kid doing kid things that parents find interesting, but because you’re becoming unpredictable and surprising, with depth. And that feels like a huge compliment in my book of life.

She shoots, she scores. GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL.

The next 10 years may be rough sailing at times. But after seeing you explode into a solar storm of character and confidence this year, I’m certain that no matter how hard things get at times, you will have the inner strength, humor, and craftiness (like a fox), to make it through the darkest moments of doubt and come out stronger and wiser.

Have faith, my daughter. Have faith. But it also doesn’t hurt to have a good plan and an understanding that you’re going to get everything out of life that you put into it.

So remember, no slack for the timid. Or goals.

Love always,

Daddy

The Lost Week

I’m not sure what happened to last week. I lost it. I know I lived it. It existed. It took place. But it was a wisp – gossamer – ethereal.

Even my calendar forgot about last week

I wasn’t drunk and partying with Harry Nilsson in Los Angeles like John Lennon once did. No, I was at home on vacation and the week disappeared as if a magician borrowed my watch and didn’t return it.

What time is it? What day? Where am I?

I had plans for the seven days – a big to-do list – but have nothing much to show for the time.

I bought my daughter a new bike for Christmas, which didn’t take long. I ordered my wife some presents. Just some clicks at Zappos and L.L. Bean. Not very time-consuming and she’ll probably send everything back anyway. I worked a little bit each day, as mentioned in my previous post. But not that much.

Other actions completed: My daughter’s Christmas show at school one night (one song and we sat far away). Bought a new electric guitar and played Rocksmith a couple of times. Installed a wall mount for a TV. Watched a couple of movies. Switched alarm companies. Spent an afternoon on refinancing paperwork so I can build a compound wall high and strong enough to keep vermin out and our dogs in.

With the exception of Skyping with my friend @seanset of Englandshire, I have nothing valuable to show for my time. I didn’t read or write a book. I didn’t write five or six blog posts. I created very little.

I managed the mundane.

Some scientific minds theorize Time feels like it moves more slowly when we’re young because we constantly experience new situations and thus make boatloads of new memories. When we’re older, we don’t make as many and time feels like it moves faster.

I’m not sure if they’re correct, or if I’ve accurately described the therory in two sentences, but it will make do for my purposes because I believe I lived a week without memories. A week without anything worth remembering beyond tasks on a to-do list. A week without surprise.

I’m hoping to change that this week and slow down time by creating new memories. I need to explore new places, plan the days, and make the most of the two weeks I have left in my vacation. I don’t want to repeat this post on January 3rd. I want the first post of 2012 to be titled, “Two weeks I’ll never forget.”

An American Work Vacation for Me

I have three weeks off. It’s because I didn’t take much vacation this year and I can’t roll over the days to next year.

Here's where I want to be on my vacation. I'm pretty sure this island lacks cellular coverage

So, I’m catching up on projects around the house and working, as in “work work.”

Yes, the work I’m supposed to be off from right now.

Last week, just before we were about to launch a new video – 5 ,4, 3, 2, abort, ABORT – my manager asked for a major change  – one he and others could have caught early in the review process.

This led to a week of my time tweaking it and the programmers devoting another week to the changes. I like my manager, great guy, but the bummer of this change is that it won’t make much of a difference for the end user, and I now have to shepherd and review the project during my vacation.

Part of this is my fault. I have a hard time making a clean break from work. I have to come down slowly and wean myself off it like a junkie breaking a habit. But technology, limited resources in our department, and the economy are the pushers.

And one device stands out as the villain of my story.

Blackberry, oh Blackberry, the enemy and destroyer of vacations. Blackberry, oh Blackberry.

What a turd of a device at times and savior when I need it. I want to fling it like a rock across a glassy pond. Watch it bounce off the payment and explode into a thousand shards of plastic. But then there are days I want to marry it, be its mate. I love you, little BB.

Future generations will discover piles of these buried in landfills, plastic dinosaur bones

Blackberry, oh Blackberry, you tease. I try not to look at my email, but I can’t help it. I’m Pavlov’s dog and run when the ringer sounds or red light flashes. Email, must read now. Bark. Bark. Must read now. [Drool everywhere.] Why did I read that now? I’m such a stupid f**K. It could have waited. Where’s my bowl of food?

Now I imagine you reading this and thinking, “Why doesn’t someone else do the work while you’re gone?”

Good question, O Wise Reader. I have several answers for you.

First, no one knows the content like I do and they’re buried with their own work and planning for their own vacations. Second, we have limited resources. Over the years, we’ve been told “do more with less.” It’s all about maximizing production and working ourselves to the bone, which ties into my third answer to your question, the economy. Yes, if you don’t do more with less and work every minute of the day and beyond, there is someone unemployed who will. And if you’re thinking of getting another job, don’t.

“There ain’t none to be had, Mister,” said the imaginary hobo by the bus stop.

I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself. I have a very good job and according to this Yahoo!/CNNMoney article, $34.3 billion in vacation days to go unused this year, a good percentage of Americans don’t use many of the vacation days they earn. At least I get to take my days with some work sprinkled in.

So, bring on the holidays, Xbox madness, and day trips with my daughter to places unknown, like a lake with a smooth surface, perfect for skipping stones.

The economy + an uncertain future + daughter’s future education costs + corporate cost cutting and waiting for the return of Queen for a Day

My wife and I spent some quality time at the dining room table this weekend pouring over what it would cost to move. Over the years, we’ve resisted moving up like many of our friends have. Thank you, cystic fibrosis, for that decision, as my wife needs to be able to afford a house payment on her own and not be straddled by debt.

So, we looked over the numbers. And as much as I want to move, there’s no way around the costs associated with moving, e.g. agent commission, movers, etc.

And then there is the weight of carrying debt. It’s heavy when you’re allergic to it.

The bank offered us a boatload of cash for a loan, or at least it feels like a boatload to us. And we had to laugh because why would we want the stress of starting a 30-year loan with a big payment right now?

Damn, I can get this stove on Amazon for 28 bucks and change. Yeah, baby. I may need it for boiling nebs if we remodel.

Big payment = hello, soup kitchen line.

We factored in our daughter’s future education needs, the current economy and both of us working for large corporations. We’re convinced there’s someone at our companies fresh out of business school looking at numbers and thinking how he or she can save the company big bucks by sending more human capital to the unemployment line. Or by outsourcing our jobs to monkeys – my job at least.

Uncertain economy + uncertain employment by large companies + my uncertain future = staying put.

Now our conversation has moved to upgrading our house – security wall with razor wire first; kitchen second. But totaling up what it will cost us for a new kitchen is causing my wallet to pucker up.

Mormon dream or old TV show?

We had a contractor over and we’ve worked up a kitchen budget. The sound you hear is me gagging on 35K of kitchen debt.

Here’s my new plan: I need to go on The Price Is Right and win a new kitchen. But then I’d have to pay taxes on my winnings. Damn you, Taxman, the Beatles were right.

If only Queen for a Day was still on and my wife could tell a pathetic story and win a refrigerator because God knows a new appliance makes any woman’s hardship vanish.

Here’s the story my wife could tell on Queen for a Day: My husband won’t do dishes or cook. He made me watch every minute of the movie Melancholia. He won’t let me drive when he’s in the car. He’s called me “grumpy” during my special time of month (audience gasps). He’s missing a few bricks upstairs and roams the house saying, “I’m the McGriddler; Batman ain’t got nothing on me.” And he’s so ugly, he wears a paper bag on his head.

Damn, after writing that, I think she wins. I’m buying her a new dishwasher for Christmas. I am the McGriddler and I make the magic happen – one appliance at a time.

Odds and ends and odds

Work

I’ve been doing it. A lot lately.

My life would be so much better if I didn’t have to work and was rich. Actually, I like working. If I could just trim some of the mundane, mind-numbing tasks from my job and keep the good parts, I would be happier.

I like work that doesn’t feel like work. And sometimes I have that type of work. Just not as often as I used to.

***

Robert Frost, my man, you were wrong about fences. Wrong, so wrong.

Good fences don’t make good neighbors

I feel like I’m playing a real-life game of Risk in my neighborhood. My argumentative neighbor hasn’t said anything to me since the day we disagreed on how he should speak to my wife. And he hasn’t said anything to my wife since then, which is even better. But times are tense here in the land of palm trees, cement and brown lawns.

I do, however, feel better about loading up my house with security cameras and the soon to be built Berlin Wall II. I have East German-like clandestine meetings with my neighbors on the side of my house in the dark, where we whisper about what we’re going to do about the country so intent on causing pain and suffering to its neighbors.

We’ll see how it plays out, but it makes me wish I was a renter right now and could give my 30-days notice and move.

It’s amazing how much stuff my wife and I have accumulated over the years. I long for the days when I moved to California and all of my possessions fit in a brown Camaro with a 1-inch round hole in the driver’s door where someone shot it with a slingshot one night.

My advice to my daughter – don’t buy s**t you don’t need and live light.

***

Now we’re cooking – or not

Holy crap, kitchens are expensive. If my wife and I don’t move, we’re going to remodel our kitchen. We’ve lived with the current one for over 15 years. The grout is chipping away. One drawer won’t shut and points upward when you close it. The giant fluorescent light fixture covers the area with nasty light and fills up with dead bugs and debris. Our stove is black; our stove hood white. The face of the dishwasher falls off sometimes.

Yes, we are the most frugal people in the world. But even we don’t feel like being pigs anymore and would like something nicer – a smooth countertop, no grout. Handles on the cabinets. Ah, to dream.

***

Grind away

I’m going to the dentist every week these days. All because I chewed through my bite guard a few years ago and was too lazy and busy being sick to replace it.

I’ve eaten my own teeth – cracked and polished them like river rocks made of glass.

I blame the stress of CF and going to bed many nights not 100 percent positive I’d wake up in the morning.

So, my public service announcement tonight is . . . see a dentist and get a hard plastic bite guard if you grind your teeth. You’ll save your teeth, thousands of dollars, and more importantly, you’ll avoid annoying lectures from dental hygienists who can’t wait to tell you “would have, should have, could have.”

Yes, I am an idiot.

What my security cameras revealed

My security cameras are installed and working like a charm. I can see around my house day and night. I can see my wife and daughter pull into the driveway each day, and I can spot people soliciting before they hit my doorstep, like the 26 year-old pretending to be a high schooler trying to earn a trip.

The only drawback of a four camera system is that now I want another four cameras. I should have bought the eight camera system.

Have you experienced this scam? The person claims to live in the neighborhood by saying something like “I’m Ted, Bob and Carol’s son. We live over on Valley Circle.” Classic B.S.

There is no Bob or Carol. His name isn’t Ted. Therefore, none of them live anywhere near me.

But he wants me to feel guilty and help a neighborhood kid, despite looking like a crack addict, which might help him if I were sympathetic to Bob and Carol’s imaginary plight of having a drug-addicted son. I’m not. I didn’t send him on his trip.

I only buy something from kids who bring their real parents with them because they’re too young to roam the neighborhoods alone selling chocolate and cookies. I lived the nightmare of going to door to door selling Girl Scout cookies with my daughter. Now we just buy a case ourselves and give them away. But I empathize with parents stuck with the same duty.

So, what have my cameras revealed?

  1. One opossum sitting on the roof blocking my camera view. My daughter deemed my excitement of seeing the opossum funny enough to do a stand-up routine for her grandmother making fun of me and my new furry friend. I’m proud of that little girl.
  2. People stealing trash. Both times a man got out and searched our blue recycle bin and our neighbors’ cans. I’m torn. I feel bad for anyone who has to survive rummaging through trash. On the other hand, it bothers me. This is why we shred everything.
  3. Cats. It wasn’t quite the musical, but they find our house a convenient place to cross through on their way somewhere. And there are lots of them in different colors. It’s CatLand at 4 in the morning here.
  4. The paper delivery man chucking papers out the window of his lighted car. This is a service he performs for my elderly neighbors who are afraid of the Internet and don’t mind their news a day old and stale. “Jo Pa was fired from Penn State? What? When did this happen?” Yesterday, you turtle.
  5. Bugs and angry birds. F’ing bugs activate the motion sensors. And if I were a Ornithologist, I’d tell you why birds like taking a direct route at my cameras when they’re not killing pigs.
  6. My wife freezing and the dogs pooping. Fortunately, this isn’t the other way around. But every morning there they are, my wife dressed up in my jacket shaking and the dogs running around killing our plants.

I'll be watching home from my hospital bed one day. Hopefully, not soon.

I’m in no hurry to go back to the hospital, but the next time I’m there I’ll be able to watch over the house while my wife and daughter sleep. If anyone approaches, I’ll see them. It will give me reason to fire up the new laser defense system I installed. It works great on cats. Can’t wait to see it bring down a perp.

Behave. Someone is watching.

(Note: If you think I’m shooting cats with a laser system, you’re the perfect reader for my blog. Keep on keeping on, my crazy friend, and come back soon.)

Building my fortress one camera at a time

The security cameras are on the way – thank you, Amazon.

This weekend I’ll be climbing up the ladder, drilling holes, running wires, installing video cameras and looking manly in my tool belt. Female neighbors will bring me lemonade and cookies and marvel at my handy-manliness.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Okay, pour the oil, honey. Pour it now.

Or, not. Probably not.

Perhaps they will if I wear my Stars & Stripes lounge pants.

It will take all of my willpower not to point each of the day/night cameras at my new neighbor’s house. Oh, how I miss the cold war – damn you, Reagan. 

Then, sometime this weekend I’ll be able to kick back with a cold one and spy the intruders coming up the walkway, at which point I’ll signal my daughter to pour vats of hot oil on them.

Is that an appropriate job for a young girl?

Ah, what the hell. Kids these days have it too easy. My daughter should know how to take down a bird with a slingshot and skin a pig at this age, not shoot pigs with birds.

After my security system goes in, a contractor will be over to tell me how much I’m going to pay for a wall so thick a helicopter can’t get over it, which I didn’t know was possible until you-know-who took a bullet to the face.

Unfortunately, I don’t live in Pakistan where building codes are lax, not to mention my neighbors might object to a wall of that size. Instead, I will have to build something decorative and nice looking.

Still, there will be a place to pike the heads as a warning to other criminals. Ah, London in the old days. Could they think up the best ways to torture people or what?

Would it be wrong of me to compare some of my hospital stays to being tortured here?

Then, when I’ve completed these two security upgrades, I’m going to sell the house and move to a cave with a gate. And there I’ll protect my family and live on bats and McGriddles.

That’s my story and I’m not sticking to it.