Why is the Sky Blue?

My kids recently learned that my college roommate my freshman year was a transfer student from Japan.  I still remember him well, and we became great friends over the course of the year.

Trying to indoctrinate someone from another country to American culture can be a tumultuous journey.  For instance, there was a portion of our freshman year where a friend from down the hall attempted to teach our Japanese friend ‘The American Slang.’

So that we are clear: I discouraged this…believe it or not.

Nonetheless, our Japanese friend was extremely interested in this, until he went out on the town one evening and drove past the Beaver Valley Mall.

In an effort to relate to how this probably made him feel, I tried to imagine how I would react if I were driving through Japan and happened upon One Penis Plaza.

The following year he moved back to Japan.

However, God evidently feels I have a calling for this because over the past several years at work I’ve been assigned to mentor a young man from South Korea.

He is very proud of his country.  I remember him telling me once that he felt embarrassed that despite all his country had to offer, the United States would know them best for Gangnam Style.  I told him he might feel less embarrassed if he thought about the fact he wanted to impress a country with States that elected studio wrestlers and The Terminator as their governors.

That seemed to help…so perhaps I do have a calling for this.

He’s a great guy.  Very mellow, soft-spoken, and polite.  That said, we are both engineers and so he is also very…how should I say this…logical.

He has no shortage of questions on any endeavor he takes on, and I do my best to answer them until I’ve lost my voice.

The other day the group of us were discussing local fish fries we might attend for lunch now that Lent was on.  After the conversation ended, he approached me with some questions.  Allow me to recap:

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What is Lent?

Me: It’s the forty days before Easter.

Psy: Oh, yes! Where you give up something! What did you give up?

Me: Swearing.

Psy: But you used to be in the Navy…I thought they said all sailors curse.

Me: And interestingly enough, it’s available for me to ‘give up’ every year at this time…so maybe there’s something to that.

Psy: So why is it forty days?

Me: Because that’s how long Jesus was in the desert.

As soon as the mention of Jesus was made I should have just run for my life…but it was too late…I had opened Pandora’s Box.

Psy: But why would Jesus go to the desert for forty days?

Me: That’s a good question.

Psy: Do you know the answer? Because it’s very hot there, and he’s Jesus…so it seems like he could go anywhere.

Me: Yes, you have a point there, Psy.  But there’s a story in the Bible about him travelling to the desert for forty days while the devil tempted him.  So we give up something for forty days to honor that sacrifice.

At this point there was an awkward pause…which occurs frequently anytime Psy is processing what I’ve just told him.

To be clear, none of this was an attempt on his part to debate with me…Psy would never do that.  He is too polite.  He is just too curious for my own good.

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What did the devil do to tempt him?

Me: Well, he offers him the cities they can see at the bottom of the mountain they’re on if Jesus agrees to bow down to him.

Psy: Wait a minute…I thought Jesus already owned those cities!

Me: That’s true, but…

Psy: Then how is this a temptation?

Me: Well…

Psy: That would be like me saying, ‘Jeff…if you do all my work for me I will let you have your desk.’

Me: Yeah…I’m really not even sure how to respond to that…

It is at this point that there was another awkward pause…this time because I couldn’t think of anything else to say…

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What else did the devil do?

Me: Well, he told Jesus if he was thirsty he should make water come from a rock.

Psy: Wait…didn’t Jesus make water into wine in another story?

Me: That’s correct.

Psy: Then couldn’t he just make himself something to drink anytime he wants?

Me: Listen, Psy…I’m not really going to be able to rationalize Christianity to you the way that we do with engineering problems…

Awkward pause…

Psy: Then what did he do?

Me: Who?

Psy: The devil.

Me: I think he told Jesus to jump off the side of the mountain to see if the angels would catch him.

Psy: But he’s Jesus! He can fly if he wants! 

Me: Right…why don’t you think of this as like…a comic book story or something.  It doesn’t have a bullet proof plot.

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy.

Psy: What else did the devil do?

Me: I think that was it.

Psy: That was it? But Jesus was there for forty days? Why did it take him forty days to ask Jesus three questions?

Me: Um…I don’t think it did.

Psy: Then what else did he do while he was in the desert?

Me: They don’t really say.  Maybe he just hung out.

Psy: Then why did he stay in the desert?  He’s Jesus.  He can go pretty much anywhere he wants.

Me: Honestly…I have no idea…

Awkward pause…

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy.

Psy: Did you know the movie ‘Noah’ is coming out this weekend?

Me: Yes…yes, I heard that.

Psy: How did he make the Ark?

Me: Um…with wood?

Psy: No…I mean, did he have help?  In the movie ‘Evan Almighty’ the animals came out and helped him build it.  Did Noah have help?

Me: I don’t want to toss out any spoilers.  Why don’t you go and see it for yourself.

No…THIS is 40…and I Couldn’t Have Asked for a Better Start

Last night Mrs. Lisakbooks threw me a Fortieth birthday party.  This was an 80′s themed party.  Somehow she found Brett Michaels and he agreed to attend as a very special guest:

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The whole week was really good.  On my birthday she and the kids took me to dinner and gave me their gifts.  Mrs. Lisakbooks got me an album with a “Year Worth of Dates.”  She literally made all of the arrangements for us to go on a date once a month…which is a rare commodity.  We’re typically lucky if we go on a date once a year.

This was great…except that the Gremlin was highly pissed when she realized that it would be just me and Mrs. Lisakbooks…and she would not be included.

Can’t please everyone…and typically can’t please that kid.

Oh well…

I plan to take up fishing with my Dad again this year, and so the kids got me a tackle box and some bait.

At the end of this past week, we had a party.  Mrs. Lisakbooks went to great pains to set up something with an amusing 80′s theme that gave me the chance to spend a few hours surrounded by the people who are most important in my life while I dressed like an idiot.

All in all a great week.

Toward the end of the evening last night I was talking with my brother-in-law, who is quite possibly the most relaxed person I’ve ever met.

This never ceases to amaze me, because he’s a person who lost his Dad at a very young age, and became the man of the house in a house with a mother and three sisters.  To this day he lends them (and pretty much everyone else in the family) a helping hand any time they need it…all with a smile on his face.

Then we have me, who has faced little to no hardships in his life, but is probably one of the top ten most stressed people on earth.

My brother-in-law jokingly said to me, “Well…this is forty…so now you can have a mid-life crisis if you want, right?”

I replied, “I think I’ve already had a few.”

He seemed to be shocked by this, and so I went on to explain, “I can’t say for sure…but I think I might be a little more tightly wound than you are.”

The fact for many people of the universe, is that when you approach forty you tend to pause and reflect on how things have gone thus far…and where they are headed.  And typically it doesn’t make you very happy.

Last night, my father asked me if I did that when I hit thirty.  I explained that because your twenties don’t come with things like Bursitis in your shoulder or the development of a pear shaped body, it doesn’t occur to you that you are aging.

So in short: No, this does not happen at 30.

This is precisely why the movie This is Forty was so good.  If you are at or around that landmark age, I would highly recommend it.  It is a riot.  If you are someone who has just turned thirty, then I would suggest waiting ten years…at which point I would highly recommend it.  Unless, of course, you are thirty and feel bad about your age…in which case, I am forty, and shut the hell up.

Mid-life crises come up for most, myself included.  Allow me to share a story with you…which I believe is a conglomeration of several of the stories I’ve told you before…

About two years ago, I dropped my first book.  Many of you may have read it, and thanks again to you for giving my story a shot.  I will tell you that it was one of the more interesting endeavors in my life from an ‘emotional roller coaster’ standpoint…whether it should have been or not.

Many of you have heard this story.  I’ve dreamed of being a writer all my life, and one day I reached a point where I decided that I needed to take the story of the Bryant File which was developing in my head and make it a reality.

I pushed hard to do it – making it a goal to write 5 pages per week.  During the course of all of that I basically burnt myself out, but I pushed to do it anyway.  I wanted to put this out there so that someday I would not say, “I wonder what would have happened if I had done that.”

This was a point of view I’d used at one time in my decision to join the military.  When people ask me what brought me to that decision, I tell them that it was something I thought I might like to do…and I never wanted to look back some day and wonder what would have happened if I’d done it.

So to avoid this…I just did it.

That particular endeavor was a success.  It was one of the more difficult things I will ever do – but in doing it I traveled to places across the globe, I saw things I may never see again, and I got to drive an aircraft carrier.  It was hard, but I will never regret it.  Pursuing it taught me something: you should never allow yourself to be in a position where you look back and wonder ‘what if?’

The Bryant File was like that for me…but with a very different outcome.  As a result, I learned something different…but something that was every bit as important…and I’ll take it with me through life.

By the time I was done with the book I was completely spent, but one-hundred percent convinced I had written the best story I was capable of.  I shopped it around to over 100 agents…and every last one of them told me they weren’t interested.

Not ready to give up, and convinced I’d written a great story, I researched to try to determine where I’d gone wrong.  I learned that no one will take on a manuscript from a first time author that exceeds 400-pages.  It costs too much to print, and you’re too big a risk.  The Bryant File, at that time, was over 600-pages.

I went through re-write after re-write until I managed to get the story down to under 400-pages.  Now I felt as though I was ready to try again…and I felt as though it was condensed and therefore more action packed than the first manuscript.  I was excited.

I tried again…and the second time around I had one agent who asked to see more of the manuscript.  In my research I’d learned that it was tough to get through this particular hurdle…because agents receive hundreds of queries every week and getting one to notice you is damned near to impossible.

I was convinced I’d succeeded.

Then months went by with no further interaction.  I proceeded to circulate queries to other agents.  For a second time, I petitioned over 100 agents, and for a second time the balance of them had told me they weren’t interested.

Finally, roughly six months later, the agent who had expressed interest contacted me to tell me that the book wasn’t quite what she was looking for.

Inasmuch as I promised myself I would not get caught up in the rejection, because I had so much else to be excited about in my life, the disappointment was overwhelming.

Eventually I decided to self-publish the book.  At the beginning of the book, I made the dedication to my kids, with the message: Never allow yourself to wonder ‘what if…’

I believed at this point I’d found closure.  Other people would have the chance to read the story, and perhaps my children could see the message that I’d placed in the front, and realize that they should always be willing to take a chance on themselves regardless of the outcome.

Shortly thereafter, I read a book by John Locke, who to date is one of the most successful self-published authors in the business.  The book described ways in which self-published authors could promote their writing.  After seeing what he’d achieved I once again began to believe I could make this writing endeavor into something big.  That’s when this blog was born.

Over the past two years and some change I’ve gotten to write a lot of stories about my life and my family, and they’ve been read by a lot of people.  As best I can gather, they’ve been really well received…and again, I want to thank you for giving my story a shot!

Admittedly, my message to my kids at the front of the book wasn’t quite as easy to ‘live out’ as it was to write down.

I spent much of the last two years wondering how to take the blog and The Bryant File further…and wondering why I wasn’t getting as many readers as I’d hoped when I first decided it was time to take the Bryant File from being a story in my head to an actual book.

I’d often think I needed to work harder to publicize all of this, and then I’d start to feel depressed about that…because in some ways I’d rather be spending time with Post Tween or the Gremlin…or even poor Mrs. Lisakbooks who has the thankless job of dealing with all my crap but typically plays second fiddle to the kids in terms of my attention.

Sometimes I’d look at the job I had as my daily grind and feel a sense of disappointment that there might never come a time where I’d get the chance to do ‘that thing’ I really wanted to do.

This, my friends, would be a fine example of a mid-life crisis.  And I wasn’t even forty yet when it happened.

Then there’s the ‘need’ to ‘fix’ the pear shape that my body had taken on.  Because after all, I ‘looked like’ Arnold Schwartzeneger in college, so surely with some work I could regain that physique.

I filled my evenings trying to fit in time to blog, promote the book, work out, etc.

And I became more unhappy.

Interestingly enough, what would snap me out of it was often the realization that what I really wanted first was that time with my family.  I’d ‘let myself go.’  The result was that I wouldn’t make a lot of progress on those ‘extra things’ I wanted, but I would be happy.

At some point, and I couldn’t tell you when exactly it was…I came to terms with all of…well, this.

I started just enjoying spending time with my wife and kids and stopped trying to fit in all of these other ‘requirements.’

I stopped trying to push myself to crank out two blogs a week and just wrote when the spirit moved me.  I stopped beating myself up to try to promote The Bryant File…and write sequels…and worry about what agents might care about…and I just started writing another story.

I’m proud to say that I’ve just crossed the 100-page mark in this new novel…but I’m actually prouder to say that I have not placed a five-page per week requirement on myself…and while I may try to circulate it to literary agencies if I finish it, I am just enjoying writing it.

I am good with whatever the outcome.

I am now just doing the things I want to do.  I am focusing on the things that really matter to me…much of what you’ve read about over the past two years and some change.

One of the things I learned recently is that this is the best cure for a mid-life crisis, or any form of depression or anxiety.

My wife once told me that she enjoys the blog much more than she did the book, because when she reads it she can tell that I’m writing about things I care about…and I think she’s right.

That said, I still embrace my mantra that you should pursue the things in life that you feel mean something to you…even if it takes some time and some work and sacrifice.  You only get to be here once, and you should make the most of it.

Sometimes the things you want to pursue will scare you a bit, and they will be tough on you, maybe harder than you imagined.  Yet you’ll be certain you are doing the right thing…because it’s something you knew you always wanted…and in going through it you’ll find courage and satisfaction.

Sometimes the biggest and greatest things you go through won’t be the things you’d always dreamed of as a child.  Instead, they will come as a surprise…but you should embrace them nonetheless and put everything you have into them, and know that sometimes God understands what you need in your life better than you do.

Sometimes things will not work out as you’ve hoped they would.  If that happens, I hope you can eventually come to the realization that I have: that those things were still worth pursuing, and that you should always be willing to take a chance on yourself…but also be willing to accept wherever life takes you and see it as a blessing.

Never look back and wonder ‘what if.’

This past Monday I turned 40.   It was a great week.

Horror Films

How many of us can remember the effect that a good horror movie had on us in our younger days?

As a child, I remember the times when I would have to walk home from my friend’s house after it was already dark.  Very little walking occurred.

As I would sprint past the houses that were on my path home, I would look beyond them into their dark back yards and wonder what might be back there.

Inasmuch as we all insist to ourselves that there is no such thing as a ghost, some part of us must believe in them during our childhood.

I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but at some point I moved beyond that.  Now I can’t seem to watch a horror film with out there being what I refer to as the, “Aw, come on!” moment.

Occasionally, I’ll still take the plunge and watch a horror flick anyway.  Once in a blue moon I’ll see a horror film that I think is good – but for every Sixth Sense there are easily ten or twenty Houses at the End of the Street.  And yet I am still stupid enough to occasionally pay money to watch these things.

Most recently, I rented the movie Mama when I had the house to myself.  It was a toss-up between that and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  These are the sorts of things I watch when I have the house to myself.  They are a genre of films which I refer to as, “Crap Mrs. Lisakbooks Would Never Consider Watching.”

The biggest thing I will remember about the movie Mama is that it marked the day that I realized I’d never get the ninety minutes of my life back that I could have spent watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

As Nicholas Cage would say: that, my friends, is high praise indeed.

For those unfamiliar with the movie Mama, the premise is as follows.

Two little girls go missing for years, after which they are discovered in the woods in a deserted cabin.  Their parents are dead.  So their Uncle and Aunt adopt them and get them together with a child psychologist.  The shrink learns the girls invented a fictitious maternal figure to get them through their years alone in the cabin.

However, something is off about these kids…and as you can probably guess: it turns out their Mama isn’t fictitious.  Oh, and also…she followed them to their new home.

So basically, this is Tarzan, but replace The Apes with Demonic Ghost of a Woman Who Died in an Insane Asylum and you’re there.

For a while, I tried to put myself back into the mindset of my younger years.  This was all part of an effort to at least appreciate the movie as a good ghost story, even if my days of appreciating ghost stories had passed.

However, that all ended when the child psychologist finally concluded that Mama was real.

At this point, he did what any logical person would do if they found themselves in such a situation…and went to the cabin to look for her…by himself…in the dark…in the woods.

I would like to mention, again, that he went alone to a deserted cabin in the woods where an evil ghost was living…at night.

Seriously?

When he got into the cabin, even Mama looked at him and said, “Seriously, dude…what the f^&# is wrong with you?”

Then she ate him.

And the world’s gene pool improved.

You might be surprised to hear that all of this recently tied into a real life event for me.

Sometimes at night the Gremlin will sit in her room and chat with herself while she’s trying to fall asleep.  Typically this is quite cute.

This ceases to be the case if she’s been sent to bed early because she’s being punished.  As I stand at the end of the hall I can hear her in there hissing quietly about the fact that Mrs. Lisakbooks and I are the worst parents in the world.

Frequently I wonder who she is speaking to.

Based on the way she sounds, I’ve always suspected she was talking to Lord Voldemort…or someone like him…but I never really knew for sure…

Recently, I decided to call her on it.  I could hear her seething after being sent to bed early…something about, “He is the worst…”

So I yelled down the hall, “Oh, I’m the worst, am I?”

And received the reply, “I wasn’t talking to you!”

Immediately I jumped to the conclusion that this was an indication that I was right about the Voldemort thing.

Then it hit me: perhaps Mama was here!  My home was about to become the setting for the sequel: 2 Mama, 2 Furious.

At this point I felt I had a few options at my disposal…

I could go and find a child psychologist to feed to Mama, and perhaps she’d go away.

I could also invite her into my living room to watch The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and have some microwave popcorn with me…which again, might make her go away.

It is at this point that I am forced to ask myself: What would Bruce Campbell do?

In any case, if you are a reader who has had no past association with horror movies you are probably bored at this point and haven’t gotten any of these jokes.

To you, I would say: Don’t worry, they weren’t that funny anyway, and I apologize this is the best I could come up with after a month and a half hiatus.

Regardless…I must sign off now, so that I can go and advance purchase tickets for myself to see the remake of Poltergeist that is scheduled to come out in 2014.

And I’m afraid I am not kidding about that one: they really are releasing a remake of Poltergeist this year.

Now that is scary.

Either My Dog is Getting Smarter, or I Am Getting Dumber

In the book Marley and Me, John Grogan tells a story about how he came home once to find that Marley had escaped from his crate.

This is proof positive that Labs, while hyperactive and somewhat learning disabled, are capable of evolving into intelligent beings.

As a Lab owner…that is a disturbing thought.

A few weeks ago, Post Tween and I were raking leaves.  We have pretty expansive woods behind our house, and so we simply rake the leaves onto a tarp and drag them into the woods.

This requires that fence gates be open, making the yard unsafe for Harper the Labrador.

If given the choice, Harper would live in the woods full-time and just visit our house on occasion when she wanted fed.

In fact, the way she runs off into the woods when she realizes we’re pursuing her tells me that, in fact, she thinks the woods are her home and cannot comprehend why we’re trying to kidnap her.

During Leaf Rake Day, Post Tween and I were working hard to keep tabs on whether the gates were opened or closed.  This way, we’d know whether the yard was Harper-Safe in the event that she needed let out.

We’d been doing a fine job until I gave Post Tween a lunch break.  He meandered into the house and didn’t shut any of the gates he’d recently opened.

Typical teenager.

I then failed to check the gates that weren’t in my immediate field of vision.

Typical idiot Dad who is no more responsible than a teenager.

Poor Mrs. Lisakbooks…

But I digress.

A few minutes after Post Tween headed in for his lunch break Mrs. Lisakbooks asked if she could send the dog out.  I checked the yard…actually just the part that was in my immediate field of vision…and the gates appeared closed, so I gave her the go ahead.

When it comes to keeping track of prisoners who require maximum security, it’s unlikely you will hear of a penitentiary who just does a ‘quick scan’ on the gates of the jail that are in their ‘immediate field of vision.’

After a few minutes, I noticed the gate was open, and I charged quickly up to it to see how much trouble I was in.  I was surprised to find that Harper was only about ten feet past the edge of the yard.

I called her in my ‘happy voice’ and she naively ran towards me.  She operates on the assumption that the ‘happy voice’ means something good is about to happen to her, regardless of what is actually said in the ‘happy voice.’

Just when I thought I would suffer no consequences, her face suddenly took on a look I shall deem the “Hey…Wait a Minute…

At this point, the chase was on.

The bottom line here is that the dog is slowly becoming more difficult to outsmart.  I am unsure of whether this is an indication that she is getting more intelligent, or that I…in my advancing age…am becoming dumber.

Another non-correctable idiosyncrasy the dog has is the desire to eat foreign objects.  I can understand trying to get people food, but some of the crap she goes after can’t even be that good.  For instance, she eats so much paper she will crap out a book someday…I am sure of it.

I am ashamed to admit that I have eaten paper in my life.  Again, you should remember that I am the idiot Dad who is no more responsible than a teenager when setting your expectations regarding my behaviors.

However, this does provide me with the credibility to state that paper is tasteless, and I sure as hell would not be caught eating enough of it to crap out a book.

Please…no jokes about The Bryant File at this point…

In years past we’ve relied on Harper’s ‘tell’ to identify the times when she helps herself to a treat which is of the non-food variety.  She tends to lower her head and begin skulking around.  As soon as she notices you move, she heads for the dining room table and ducks underneath.

The whole thing sort of pisses me off, because it’s a clear sign that the damn dog knows we don’t want her to eat whatever it is she has.

You try to go after her under the dining room table, and she charges back out from under the table.  You get out from under the table…and back down under she goes.

*** Insert stupid sounding Benny Hill soundtrack here ***

Before you ask, the answer is: Yes, I have attempted to feed her paper to lure her out of the woods.

Once, I succeeded with Kleenex, but only once.  Again, I believe this is because the dog thinks the woods are her home, and cannot comprehend why we keep trying to kidnap her to drag her here to our over sized crate.

With regards to eating foreign objects, Harper is getting more clever regarding the ‘tell.’  It’s like she’s figured out she has one, and is trying to develop a more refined Poker Face when it’s time to eat paper.

Recently, I was playing with the Gremlin.  We’d received a package in the mail in a large cardboard box, and so we did what all good father/daughter pairs do…and made the box into the Gremlin’s new residence.

What was the package in the box?

I’ll answer your question with a question: Who cares?

The only goal here is to make the box into what it was meant to be: a child’s toy.

So my kid thinks her home is in a box, and my dog thinks her home is in the woods…

…but that’s not weird.

The Gremlin’s “box home” required lots of tape and generated lots of scrap.  At one point out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Harper skulking around.  I was unsure, and so I called her.

At this point, if she was eating tape or paper scraps she would no doubt have charged under the dining room table and I would have begun hearing the Benny Hill Song playing in my head.

The dog did not charge under the table, however.  Instead, she perked up, came directly to me, buried her head in my chest, and wagged her tail while I pet her head.

All was well.

Or was it?

The second I released her…she charged under the dining room table.

From an intelligence standpoint, you have hit rock bottom when a Labrador pulls a Keyser Soze on you.

In any case, I believe that perhaps I have reached the point where it is time for me to put barbed wire beyond our fence gates and purchase a padlock for the dog’s crate.

I also need to keep insisting to myself that these high security measures are only necessary because she is getting smarter.

The alternative is too upsetting.

Controlling Your Temper

One item of fundamental importance in parenting is the ability to control your temper with your kids.  This is really quite simple.  Allow me to provide an example.

Kids in elementary school are great, because they are still at an age where (most times) they think you are the coolest person in the world…as opposed to teens who are completely certain you are the dumbest person in the world.

The Gremlin wants to spend no less than several hours a day just hanging out with me.

Folks…that is how cool I am.

I am lucky that I have a good work/home life balance that allows me to do something close to that on most nights.

There was a time that Post Tween was like this.  For a teenager, he is still pretty good about being around his Dad, but it requires more effort now.  That said, I realize these days with the Gremlin will come to an end and so I do all that I can to savor them.

The trouble is, she expects that I will spend no less than several hours a day just hanging out with her.

Allow me to compare this behavior to that of my dog, Harper.

When we bought Harper the Lab, it was because Lab’s are notoriously “People Lovers.”  The trouble is, there is a fine line between “People Lover” and “Black Hole of Need” which the dog frequently crosses.

Sometimes kids cross this line as well.

This takes me to a story of a Friday night in recent memory.

The Gremlin was watching The Sound of Music.  So that I wouldn’t interrupt her, I grabbed the Chrome Book to play Tetris.

The Gremlin finds Tetris addictive.  She asks to play constantly.  Then, within 30-seconds of starting her game, she is hollering at the Chrome.  She becomes meaner than some of the fans I observe at the Steeler games I attend.

And yet she asks to play this game every chance she gets.

This may not be healthy.

The issue here is that the Gremlin does not like to lose.  The problem with Tetris for people who do not like to lose is that it does not end…until you lose.

Besides losing, another thing The Gremlin does not like is to feel as though she is not being included.

Playing Tetris right in front of her while she was trying to do something else was a lose-lose from the outset…I see this now.

She stopped watching her movie and sat next to me.  Something went wrong with my game and I grunted at the computer.  The Gremlin is not unfamiliar of the sound of someone growling at the computer.  In fact, she saw this as an opportunity to empathize and become more involved with what I was doing.

She asked if she’d disturbed me.  She hadn’t, and so I told her, “No, you’re fine.”

The fact of that matter was this: Sometime during this period, The Gremlin had discovered that by playing Tetris while she watched the Sound of Music, I had created a scenario whereby I was failing to meet her quota of spending several hours per night exclusively hanging out with just her.

At this point she began to lean very hard on my playing arm, became an obnoxious distraction, and my game was over within 30-seconds.

Then she snatched the Chrome off of my lap and yelled, “My turn!”

What you want to do in this instance: take the Chrome Book back and bop your kid on the head with it.

What you should do, and I am proud to say that I did, is keep your cool and use it as a teachable moment.

Allow me to begin by saying that I would have been more than happy to stop playing Tetris and spend time with her.  I would have also been more than happy to allow her to have a turn.  This, however, was not the way we were going to do it.

I calmly told her as much, and told her if she could sit nicely while I finished my game I would let her play.

I began my new game, and then the fluffy Black Hole of Need (in case you’re confused, I’m talking about the dog) began to whimper.  This was a sure sign that she needed to be let outside…because evidently the universe is grievously disturbed anytime I have the nerve to try to play a video game for ten minutes.

Since the Gremlin was no longer interested in The Sound of Music, and would now have to wait a turn to play Tetris, I asked if she could let Harper out so that I could finish my turn on the game.

Rather than fulfilling this rather simple request, she did a one-eighty and proceeded to give me static for asking this of her while she was really busy trying to watch The Sound of Music.

And so, I told her that because she could not do this simple favor, she would not get a turn playing Tetris at all.

You see what I did there? I was teaching her a valuable lesson and likely saving her blood pressure points all at once.

You’d think she would thank me.

Instead, she was kind enough to inform me that I was, “The Worst Dad Ever” and stomped off into her room.

It was at this point that control of my temper ceased, and I became like an elementary school child.

My first thought?

Cancel Christmas.

This was probably going to be too much for me to ask of myself from a logistical standpoint.  I needed something more realistic.

Next thought: Coal in stocking.

However, if you’ve been staying tuned to stories about the global energy crisis you will know that coal is at a premium and she could probably sell it for more than her toys would be worth.

This was also a non-starter.

Perhaps replace coal in stocking with cubic zirconium in stocking?

No way – the cost of shipping the cubic zirconium would far outweigh it’s worth.  It’s a tight economy, and all of us need to think “cost efficient.”

Then I realized: the two of us were supposed to go ice skating the following morning.

Eureka!

I stormed after her and informed her that the ice skating trip she and I had planned for Saturday was cancelled, because the Worst Dad in the World does not take his kids ice skating.  If she was going to label me the Worst Dad in the World then dammit…I was going to live down to her expectations.

This was classic elementary school kid behavior…on my part.

Furthermore, I informed her that ice skating was cancelled several decibels louder than was really necessary.  Harper the Dog was nearby and she took on the same facial expression she has when I test the smoke alarm.

To provide some background, Harper once charged right through one of the baby gates we have during a smoke alarm test.  I think maybe the noise bothers her…

Mrs. Lisakbooks was downstairs folding laundry.  I stopped to brief her on the situation and tell her that I needed to lie down for a while because I was that pissed.

She calmly told me she thought this was a good idea, and reassured me that she would “take it from here.”

While I was lying in the dark bedroom trying to cool down I heard Mrs. Lisakbooks enter the Gremlin’s room.  The initial exchange (which was muffled by the bedroom wall) sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher having a discussion with him.

As I continued to listen through the wall, this quickly transitioned to what Charlie Brown’s teacher would sound like if she experienced steroid rage.

Mrs. Lisakbooks had snapped as well.

That damn Gremlin was awfully clever.

At the precise moment of Mrs. Lisakbooks’ breakdown, Post Tween and Harper the Dog had officially become the two most mature people in the house.

So now for the Epilogue, where I tell you how things turned out over the long haul…

Needless to say, the Gremlin enjoyed an early bed time that evening.  The following morning the fun ice skating trip was replaced by confession at church.  I expect that this will not be the final time we have this sort of outburst, but she’s probably a more holy kid for having gone through this particular experience.

Tetris is still on my Chrome Book, but I am wholly confident it’s days are numbered.

Harper the Dog may have gone deaf for being too close by when I lost my temper…then again, she wasn’t a very good listener before and so it’s really difficult to say for certain.

Somehow, Post Tween managed to avoid the whole thing.  He is the only one who came out of this completely clean.

I hope you are able to use this cautionary tale to your advantage.  Remember, one item of fundamental importance in parenting is the ability to control your temper with your kids.

This is really quite simple.

Nativity Scenes in a Tight Economy

As of late, we all find ourselves tightening our belts.  It seems as though if you’re fortunate enough to even have a job, raises have become few and far between.  Despite this, the price of gas goes up…as does the price of groceries, the price of utilities, and just the general price of life.

One of the frustrations I’ve always had would be the things that are grossly disproportionate to inflation.  For instance, to buy the same house my parents purchased in 1970-something would cost four to five times as much as it did then. Or what about the cost of a college degree?

A few weeks ago, someone was telling us a story regarding the construction of a Nativity at their church.  Perhaps you are not aware of this, but evidently every individual piece to a Nativity scene can cost several hundred dollars.  As you can imagine, a midst the tough economy and the rising cost of other things in life, churches are not bringing in tons of money to purchase Nativity pieces which cost more than flat screen televisions.

One potential solution would be a Paper Doll Nativity.  However, you can imagine this will not hold up once precipitation strikes.

Hence, it would not work in a place like Florida.

Another potential low-cost solution: Snow Man Nativity Scene.

Mrs. Lisakbooks’ cousin lives in Minneapolis and posted that it is -11 degrees there this past weekend.  A Snow Man Nativity scene for a region such as this is a low-cost, durable solution that is sure to last through the holiday…and perhaps until the 4th of July…hence the reason I do not live in Minnesota.

Conversely, this solution also will not work in Florida.

But then, what does?

Another option: corporate sponsors for your church’s Nativity.  If it’s good enough for the BCS Bowls, then it’s good enough for Jesus.

Imagine this: The Geico Donkey.

What about The Yahoo.Com Virgin Mary?

The MetLife Messiah?

One final solution would just be to post a sign outside your church stating that Bethlehem experienced a government shutdown this year due to the Pharisees trying to repeal Herod-Care, and hence there will be no Nativity scene.

As the holidays approach, I wish all of you luck finding creative solutions to your own pocketbook problems.  And remember that if you steal a figure from a Nativity scene it will evidently fetch you several hundred dollars on eBay.  However, you may wind up in Hell someday.

In any case, best of luck and have a Happy Holiday!

(Not) Book Suggestions

One of my favorite authors is Ken Follett.  If you’ve never read him, he tends to write suspense novels with a historic setting.  If you’d like to give his books a try, I’d recommend Jack Daws.

Typically, this is how a book suggestion goes.  You find something you really like, and then suggest it to others.  However, it doesn’t always go down as planned.  For instance, even though I really like Ken Follett, not all of his books are winners in my eyes.

A few years ago, my mother loaned me the Ken Follett book World Without End, with the promise that it was one of his best books yet.  I was excited, and then I strained my shoulder trying to lift the book.

World Without End had over a thousand pages.  It is an epic set in medieval times.

I once asked Mrs. Lisakbooks to explain to me what an ‘epic’ was.  She stated that an ‘epic’ is a two-hour movie that someone stretched out to six hours.  For books, this translates to a two hundred page book stretched to over a thousand pages.

Don’t get me wrong – for some people this is a wonderful book.  It is critically acclaimed and he has written multiple books for this particular series.

It just wasn’t my kind of book…

I found that World Without End was simply a Book Without End.  Around page 400 I was preparing to bail.  I decided to give it one more day and spent about forty-five minutes reading over 50-pages about whether the main character and her father would sell their sheep’s wool at the town fair that year.

It was at this point that I decided the book met Mrs. Lisakbooks’ definition of ‘epic’ – and I returned it to my mother.

A few months later, my father tried it.  When I asked him what he thought, he described it as, “Probably a good chick book.”

This is high praise, indeed…and upon reflecting on it, I have concluded it was probably an apt description.

This is one version of a book suggestion gone bad: I call it the, “I Really Liked This and So I Guarantee You Will as Well.”

We’ve all done this before – I am also guilty of this.  We read a book or watch a movie we like, and decide that we liked it so much that it must be right for the rest of the world.

For instance, when my wife and I were dating I took her to see the movie Tombstone, which I billed as one of the greatest movies ever made.   For those who haven’t seen it, Tombstone is basically a Western about revenge.  It is Hollywood’s version of the Wyatt Earp story.  To steal a review quote, I would describe it as, “Probably a good dude movie.”

My wife is someone who thinks that certain episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos is too violent.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I built up Tombstone as a sure-fire winner for date night.

Needless to say, she and Tombstone were a match made in hell.  My point is that we’ve all been guilty of this sort of thing.

This past week, my father threw one my way that I think falls into a new category of book suggestions gone bad.

I have read enough Lee Child to conclude that I am not a Jack Reacher fan.  You’d think this was contrary to my love of the movie Tombstone, as Jack Reacher is basically all about ending people violently.  Believe me, no one was more surprised than me that I disliked these books.

My father expressed interest in trying them out, and so I loaned him the first Child book, The Killing Floor.  If you are someone who cannot stomach violence, do yourself a favor and just watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.  This book is not for you.

That said, my Dad liked it so I bought him more.

He recently finished the Lee Child book Echo Burning, and handed it off to me.  I’ve openly expressed I’m not a Reacher fan.  Nonetheless, he handed this book over with the statement, “Try this one out.  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on some parts of it when you’re finished.”

That said, despite the fact I am not a Reacher fan, I figured this must mean this one was good.

Before I go further, I need to help you ‘know’ my Dad a bit better.

When Mrs. Lisakbooks was first introduced to my father, he told her his name, but then insisted that she call him by his alias – Captain Kirk.  When picturing my Dad, you should think of a cross between Chevy Chase and Jerry Van Dyke.

That said, it should have occurred to me that this book loan may not have been on the up-and-up.

My first warning sign was when the Reacher fan that I work with…who has made it his life’s work to try to get me hooked on this series despite my open hatred of it…told me that I had in my hand, “Probably the worst one of the entire series.”

I read through the first hundred pages – which can be summed up in three sentences:

Reacher gets into a fight in a small town with a guy who winds up being the town’s sheriff.  He needs to get out of town so he hitches a ride with a woman who is in an abusive relationship and asks if Reacher will kill her husband for her.  Reacher says, “No, I don’t do that sort of thing,” and they proceed to argue about it – FOR ONE HUNDRED PAGES!

The first hundred pages of this book sounded like an argument between Post Tween and the Gremlin:

Post Tween: No, I don’t want to play Candy Land.

Gremlin: Please?

Post Tween: No, I don’t do that sort of thing.

Gremlin: Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease???

Post Tween: No.  Please leave me alone now.

Gremlin: But whyyyyyyy?

Post Tween: I just don’t do Candy Land.

Gremlin: Pleeeeeeeeeeeease???

And so on…for 100 pages.  Just swap out Candy Land with Kill My Abusive Husband and you’ve nailed it.  If you ever decide to read Echo Burning you can now skip the first 100 pages.

You’re welcome.

It was at this point that I decided it might be prudent to ask Chevy Chase what his intentions were in loaning me this fine piece of American Literature, that even die-hard Jack Reacher fans apparently hate.

So I called him on the phone…

Me: So when you loaned me this Reacher book, what specifically were you hoping we might discuss?

Chevy Chase: What did you think of the book?

Me: Well, so far I am 100 pages in and all he’s done is get into a car and argue with a woman who wants him to murder her husband.  Even I could have written that in less than ten pages.

Chevy Chase: See…that was exactly what I thought!  Now that’s one of the things, I wanted to talk about.  See what you think of the rest of it.

Me: Wait…so you loaned me a book that you knew was painful to read?

Chevy Chase: Well, I think it gets a lot better after that first hundred pages or so.  Keep trying.

At this point I began to wonder if it were possible to throw a book at someone through a telephone mouthpiece.

I’ve run across many people who have loaned me books or movies and over-hyped them…but never have I had someone loan me something so that they could see if I hated it as bad as they did.  Who does that?!

Answer: Captain Kirk

So in short, book loans can go bad.  This could also easily be said for movie loans.

The quick solution when recommending a book or movie to someone is to try and place yourself in their shoes.  This is sometimes hard to do – particularly when you’ve found a piece of literature or a movie you really enjoyed.  We are all guilty of this…myself included.

Before you suggest it to that person, try really hard to think about who they are and whether they would like it.  If you conclude the answer is ‘no,’ then don’t suggest it…even though you might be dying to do so.  If you conclude the answer is ‘no’ and you still go through with the suggestion knowing full well that person will hate it, I would suggest one of two things: don’t tell them you thought this through to that extent, and/or be sure to wear a helmet on the day they return said book to you for your own safety.

Happy reading!