A year of blogging…

A year ago on February 24th, I launched The Furry Bard with the post Telling the Story.  It was a terrifying day for me – I had no idea if a single person would read it.  If anyone did read my words, what they would think?  Would they think I was an arrogant jerk for believing people would want to read my stories?  Would they laugh at my pathetic prose and talk about how I need to spend some time learning the English language?  Would they get mad at me and *gasp* defriend me on the Facebook?  I was petrified when I hit the “Publish” button.

I did hit the button though.  I did so because I always wanted to be a writer of some sort.  I don’t know that I’ll ever make the New York Times Bestseller list, but I love telling stories.  At age 34, I no longer wanted to wait for another day to start writing.  I spent far too much of my life pursuing goals that I cared nothing about – the time had come for me to actually do something I have a passion for.  So I decided not to worry about my fears and just start writing.  I set a goal of writing 20 blogs in 12 months, and I sat down and captured my thoughts.

Then an amazing thing happened.  People did read it.  And they didn’t talk about how my grammar sucked (although I know it does).  And only one person sent me a private message telling me I am a pompous a$$ that wants to feel important by writing stories no one cares about (yes, that did happen).  With my fears unfounded, I discovered a delightful way to spend my free time.

Along the way, I learned some things too.  Here’s a quick list of lessons I learned during my first year of blogging:

1.  I can accomplish my goals: As I mentioned, I set a goal of 20 blogs.  This blog will mark my 70th of the year.  Holy crap.  Looks like I was aiming low.

2.  Blogging has made me a better dad:  The simple fact that I always think about “the story” makes me so much aware of the relationship I have with my daughters.  The fun times (like Daddy Daughter Day), the hard times, and the sweet times – all of these might  have slipped by unnoticed if I wasn’t making an effort to capture the tales as they happen.  Although their business idea of sleeping with people for money still gives me nightmares!!!

This time last year, my daughter would never have reached over and grabbed my hand. We are closer today… in large part because of the blog…

3.  I am more fascinated by others: Being more aware of my own story made me so much more interested in the story of my coworkers, friends, family, etc.  We all lead such interesting and varied lives – and I love finding out more about the people who I come in contact with.

4.  I will never make a stupid promise again:  Well, I probably just did make a stupid promise.  But one promise I never should have made was to my in-laws in saying I would keep them out of the blog.  Seriously, like 3/4 of my best stories involve the hillbilly in-laws.  Like the one when my mother-in-law… nevermind.  Or when Virgie… gah!!!  Can I at least tell the one when Uncle Richard sent two little girls across the church with his fake leg to tell me he needed a ride home?  No?  Seriously people!  If you know my in-laws, let them know you want to hear stories – you NEED to hear stories wherein they are the main characters.  

5.  Blogging has made me a better husband:  If you have been reading the Furry Bard since the early days, you know the wifie is my main antagonist.  From the most popular post of the first six months of the blog to her devastating blow to my Christmas dreams, she constantly shows up to foil my plans.  But in real life, I have come to appreciate her much more these past 12 months.  We haven’t always had the best marriage… when you are 21 year-old kids getting hitched whilst barely knowing each other, the road isn’t going to be very smooth.  By examining our story and choosing things we are willing to share, we came to a much deeper appreciation of each other and the amazing life we have lived… even if I ruined it all by sharing the story of my monthly shopping trips.

6. I want to do this more: This might confuse you, as I already said I exceeded last year’s goal by 250%. Plus, I wrote enough words last year for a novel (no lie). I don’t necessarily want to do it more in terms of quantity. I just want to get better. A lot better. And I certainly want to be more consistent. I feel like half the time, my blogs are a mess that just happen to make someone laugh, and I know that I write so sporadically that some people don’t even check in anymore. I want to be more intentional.

I recently watched a video on a friend’s Facebook page and I thought it perfectly captured how I feel. You can watch it here (Note: the sound is kind of funky until the 30 second mark):

So expect more from the Furry Bard this year – much more!

7. I want to touch a life or two: This is the main reason I want to get better. I so deeply desire to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I mean, my whole career is tied up in trying to improve the lives of my students – I want them to feel valued and affirmed and brave and willing to take chances when they are in my classroom. But the truth is, I only have them for 5-10 months, one hour a day. I pour myself into what I do just hoping that they will see how much I care and it will change their lives for the better… but then they are gone, on to another grade or college and a busy life and I can only hope that the seed took root.

This blog is my chance to do the same with words. Even though my skills are not what they could be, I hope that people can sense the thirst I have for life and the passion I have for the stories we create each day. And if I get better, maybe those stories will be shared and spread and make a difference for someone, somewhere.

I hope you have enjoyed year one of the Furry Bard. I hope you’ll enjoy year two even more.

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Posted in Adventures in dadhood, Blogging, Stuff Reagan says..., Stuff Riley says, teaching, The girls, The girls' business ideas, The Wifie | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The best roses are free…

Half a dozen roses… so gorgeous… so expensive… especially on Valentine’s Day.

I usually don’t do roses on the day of love.  I’d rather spend the money on a nice dinner and a movie or concert.  It’s too cliche (because dinner and a movie aren’t cliche).  Who am I kidding – it’s a rip off – those florists probably turn their profit for the year on that one day.  I refuse to engage in capitalism at its worst…

Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to give the wifie some roses on Valentine’s Day.  I’m just too cheap.  But I am also opportunistic.  If I were able to somehow get my hands on some inexpensive roses, I would jump at the chance.

So when a student waltzed into my classroom on Valentine’s Day with a beautiful bouquet of roses from her boyfriend, I felt a little sheepish.  They were amazing roses, lush, crimson, and fragrant.  In short, they were perfect, and she knew it.  She inhaled deeply, set them down on her desk, and almost floated back to the hallway, presumptively to say good-bye to her 17 year-old Adonis.  A few of the other students discussed the quality of the roses (so lovely) and their classmate’s good fortune (she is sooooo lucky to have such a wonderful boyfriend).  All the chatter made me feel guilty – did roses really cost that much?  Here is a teenager willing to put out a small fortune to take care of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, and I am unwilling to break the bank for the mother of my two children.

How lame am I?

What came next was wholly unexpected.

A tempest whirled into the room – the student that had seconds before been basking in the glory of her roses.  “I hate that &@*&#  &#$&*@#)(=!!!!,” she snarled, grabbing the roses.  “He’s such a #*()*$)*#@$!!!”  She turned and fled from the room, but only after slamming her roses into the trash can next to my desk.

There they are… just waiting to be given to someone special…

Complete silence.  We were all absolutely stunned by the turn of events.  When I could finally think again, the first coherent thought to form in my brain was, “I wonder if I can give those to the wifie…”

Then the chatter started back up.

“OMG!  I wonder what happened!”

“She was just madly in love like two seconds ago!”

“What could he have done to make her so mad?”

All the while, I visualized the joy on wifie’s face as I gave her roses on Valentine’s Day.

“Hey, Mr. S!  What are you gonna do with the flowers?  Are you gonna give them to your wife?”

Oh no!  Was it that obvious on my face?  “Do you think I should?” I asked, because every grown man should seek justification from high school juniors and seniors.

“She threw them away!  They’re yours now!”

“I mean, I guess I could – it hadn’t really crossed my mind…” I lied through my teeth.  “But I probably should wait and see if she wants them back.”  Please let her not want them back…. please…

“Are you kidding – she hates him!  You can tell!”

“Your wife is gonna be really happy when you give her those – they’re amazing!”

“Yes, yes they are.”  I am going to be a hero tonight.  For sure.

After lunch, all the students returned to class… and finally Miss Rose walked back in.  She seemed to be a little more settled, and all of the other students looked at me expectantly, knowing what I would soon ask.  I carefully approached her and asked in my most soothing voice, “are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, I’m really sorry I lost it in front of the class.  I just got so MAD AT HIM!!!  I’m sorry, I’m doing it again…”

“Well, I’m sorry about whatever happened.  I saved your roses in the trash can for you, just in case you wanted them back.”  The whole class held its collective breath.

“Oh thank you, but I don’t want them…  in fact, why don’t you give them to your wife?  It would make me happy if someone got them…”

SCORE!  The whole class was grinning.

“Well, if you’re sure…”

“I am.  Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Did I mention that I got roses for my wife on Valentine’s Day?  Not the cheap, flimsy ones.  Beautiful, plush roses that made her swoon.

How smart am I? 

Posted in The Wifie | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A husband’s monthly shopping trip…

A few quick disclaimers:

Wifie wouldn’t give her blessing for this post unless I made it clear this doesn’t happen every single month.  OK.  Not EVERY month.

Also, I had to be somewhat vague.  I think you’ll get the point.

As always, no actual student names are used.  If a student is mentioned, the name has been changed.

There are certain things they don’t tell guys before they get married.  They don’t tell them that for the rest of their God given lives, they will be forced to sleep on approximately 1/8 of the bed, while the wifie is free to roam the other 7/8.  They don’t tell guys that there is no such thing as winning an argument – that even if a guy presents the more compelling case and effectively “wins” the argument… well, that ends up being a loss too.

Most importantly, no one tells guys that once they are married, they will need to go shopping for certain “necessities” once each month.

Now, this really shouldn’t be a problem.  I mean honestly, it’s nature.  It is part of the miracle of life.  Women all over the globe experience the same phenomenon regularly, and have done so for countless ages.  There’s no need to be embarrassed about it…

But its still rough on guys.  I think a few things upset guys about this.  First of all, the failure to plan.  I mean, come on – really?  You didn’t know this was going to happen?  Then, you have the fact that it’s ALWAYS an emergency.  I like things to be on an even keel – I don’t want to have to rush to the store and back again.  I’d rather sit at home and think about starting a new exercise program while eating chips and reading articles on espn.com.  And then there’s the whole fact that you’re a dude buying a lady product of a sensitive nature.  And, yes, no one is going to think that the guy is actually using the product – in fact, many will think “what a nice fella – he’s taking care of his lady.”  But there’s just something about it that brings embarrassment… furtive glances around the store; going up and down low traffic aisles that you normally avoid; and most importantly using the self check out to avoid direct human contact.

Let me reiterate that this is typically an issue EARLY in the relationship.  After a few years, the guy becomes a seasoned veteran.  No longer secretive, he proudly takes his monthly journey to the store and walks around with pride.  If he has a shopping cart, he makes sure to place the package where all can see it  and know: here is a man that knows no shame.  Sometimes, he will even walk up and down the aisles while tossing the package in the air – not even a hint of embarrassment.  Ice water runs through his veins – he is a master of feminine care.

I’ll admit to having run the gauntlet through my married years.  At first, I was humiliated to go on the monthly shopping trip of shame.  Then, I started to embrace it.  Finally, I became a bold shopper, ready to show the world my purchase.  After 13 years of marriage, nothing much can embarrass you.

Unless, of course, you shop where your students shop.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was forced to make my usual monthly run to Meijer Thrifty Acres to purchase necessary goods.  I noticed the parking lot was more full than usual, but I was in good spirits – this wasn’t an “emergency” run, so I wasn’t in a hurry.  I even grabbed the sale paper on the way in to look for other bargains.  Of course, I stopped to grab my “key” purchase first, as I wanted everyone to know what a loving husband I am.  Then, I took a stroll back to the main aisle.

There, I saw one of my students – a young man of 15.  Now, normally I love living in the same community where I teach.  Its always wonderful to see kids out and about town, and chat with them and their parents outside of the walls of the school.  I love that interaction.  This was no different.  We chatted for a few moments about our upcoming break and Christmas and whether or not he was buying any gifts for a lady in the class… and then he looked into the cart.

Conversation stopped.  His eyes were huge as they snapped back up to mine, his mouth moving but making no sound.  He clearly had no idea how to handle such a moment.

I knew the conversation was lost, so I bid him farewell and moved deeper into the store.  I turned a corner, and ran smack into another student and her parent.  I smiled and attempted conversation, but all eyes were already on the package in my cart.  What was happening here?  Of all people, a mother and daughter ought to understand, right?  The mother mumbled, “so nice to see you,” and put her hand behind her daughter’s back and propelled her onward.  Awash in embarrassment such as I hadn’t felt since 2004, I decided to cut my shopping trip short and head for the checkout aisle.  I also did something I had not done for many years – I dropped the sale paper over the package.  I hid my shame.

As luck would have it, I wasn’t quite done having conversations that day.  At the front of the store, one of my older students stopped me to talk.  I was a little edgy, but having covered the package with the paper, I felt somewhat safe.  Then, I noticed her cocking her head… she was trying to see what was under the paper.  I glanced down and realized it had shifted to the side a bit, exposing a just enough packaging to reveal the contents.  Her eyes met mine, and she smirked, but she continued chatting for a few more moments before taking her leave.  Whew.  At least that encounter wasn’t too awkward.

I paid and headed home, off the hook for another month.  I felt exhausted, but triumphant.  I had faced adversity and survived to shop another day.

The next day I was prepping my classroom for the day as students filed in for first hour.  The boy I had seen at Meijer arrived a bit early.  We made eye contact, but he said nothing.  I felt like we had reached a silent understanding.  The girl I saw with her mom shuffled in as well, and just sat looking at her binder, no words to share.  All the discomfort from yesterday was over – it was time to learn about the Age of Exploration.

Just before class started, another girl came in – one I had not seen at the store.  She set down her backpack and announced to the class, “Mr. S was at Meijer last night!  And he was buying “feminine products” for his wife!!!!”

I glanced around the room in horror.  The boy had his head down on the desk, shaking it back and forth.  The other girl, eyes locked on mine, was nodding her head vigorously up and down.  “How do you know what I was doing last night,” I asked as the rest of the class erupted into laughter.

“Emmy tweeted that she saw you buying “necessities” at Meijer and you were trying to hide them!  The whole school knows!!!”

The laughter still rings in my ears.

I blame the wifie.  Why the heck do I have to buy her stuff every month?!?!?  Why can’t she do it herself?

I guess I’m just gonna go sleep on my 1/8 of the bed now…

Posted in Silly moms, Stuff I've Learned, teaching, The Wifie | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The things we say…

“Daddy, why did you tell me I can do anything I want to in life, and then tell me I can’t?”

Whoa. This jarring question smacked me across the face Saturday evening as I kissed Reagan good-night. “What do you mean, sweetie? You CAN do anything you want to.” This is a belief I have tried to instill in my girls since day one. Why would she ever think otherwise?

“Well, the other night I said I wanted to be an inventor AND a professional soccer player AND run a business AND write books AND be a spy. You laughed at me and said I probably can’t do all of them, but I can be really good at some of them.”

Ah, she hadn’t understood me. I chuckled knowingly. “Well, Reagy, that’s true. That’s too much stuff for you to do – you can’t be great at all of those things. You’ll eventually pick what you want to do, and I KNOW you’ll be super awesome at it!”

“But daddy, that’s not what you said to me. You told me I can do ANYTHING. Those are the things I want to do! All of them! Are you saying I can’t do them?”

My mouth moved, but no sounds came out…

Her eyes welled with tears. “I thought you believed in me?!?! But you don’t even think that I can do the things I want to do with my life! You don’t really believe I can do anything I want to!”

How had this happened? I spoke a few poorly chosen words, thinking I was being a help by indoctrinating my daughter in the reality of adulthood. Instead, I had unwittingly weakened the foundation upon which I have tried to raise her…

If you’re inclined to say I’m being a little dramatic, I was also so inclined… after all, there is a good chance she won’t accomplish ALL of those things. I was just being truthful, trying to show my daughter the ways of the world. But there’s something about the hopes and dreams of a child… it seems a crime to have crushed those hopes so casually with just a few simple words. I mean, I don’t KNOW that she can’t do all of those things. Why did I steal away her belief in herself?

I went downstairs and sat in my chair for a bit, thinking about those swollen, tear-rimmed eyes. Was it so bad to teach her to be realistic? I mean, yes, I taught her she can do ANYTHING, but we all know there are limits to ANYTHING. Had I done my special little girl a disservice by teaching her a pipe dream, or by crushing that very same dream? I mean, she will get over it, right?

As I am apt to do, I took a stroll amidst my own memories to see if I could find an answer.

I did.

During my senior year of high school, my focus was entirely on becoming a teacher. It was my singular goal – what I wanted more than anything. I had been blessed with some fantastic teachers through the years – from Miss Wilson in 2nd and 4th grade, to Miss Hiner in 5th grade, Mr. Nichols in 8th grade, and Mrs. Seiler in 10th – 12th grade. All of these wonderful educators made a profound impact on my life. I KNEW in my heart that I would follow in their footsteps – making an impact in the lives of young people and changing the world one student at a time. My dreams revolved around a high school classroom.

One day, during a visit to my friend’s house, his mother asked me, “So what are you going to college for next year?”

The answer came swift and confident. “I’m going to be an English and Social Studies teacher.”

She chuckled knowingly. “HAHA well I hope you are ready to be UNEMPLOYED!!!”

Now to her, those were just nine throwaway words amongst the thousands she spoke that day, a service meant to force an idealistic youth to open his eyes to the reality of a cruel job market.

To me, those words changed everything.

I still remember the feeling inside of me when she said it. That feeling of the bottom dropping out combined with a punch directly in the face. Was it true? Was my future career not a viable choice? Was I destined to be unemployed? Had I, in my ignorance of the real world, chosen the wrong path?

She planted a great big seed of doubt in my soul with her simple negative statement – and that seed took root and came to define the next 14 years of my life. Now, I am not saying she is entirely to blame for my choices, and for decade and a half I spent vainly pursuing a career that I had no passion for. But her careless words were the genesis. I fed the seed with my doubts, and nurtured it with my insecurities until a deep fear sprang forth far too powerful for me to overcome. How could I ever think being a teacher would be a good idea? What a foolish child! So I switched paths, always looking wistfully back at the crossroads until it faded from view and my new life consumed me.

Of course, as most of you know, a new path opened for me later in life. After 14 years, I was finally able to rip my fears out by the roots and forge ahead on this new/old path. This new journey fulfills everything I wanted to be before the power of poorly chosen words changed who I was to become. But I have to be honest and admit that the pain is still real in ways I didn’t realize. I’m sitting here typing this in my classroom four hours after school let out… and it feels just like it’s 1995 and I am in that kitchen and she just said those words again. The sting… the deep ache… even the doubts… I couldn’t help but sit here with tears welling, heart heavy with countless hours lost, of countless lives untouched.

The thing is, I know just how lucky I am. I know it took an unbelievably fortuitous sequence of events to land this dream job, and I know that I beat the odds that she predicted all those years ago. But her words still hold sway over me. They still have me sitting here in doubt. 9. Throwaway. Words.

As a teacher, I have tried to be the exact opposite; to offer encouragement and help in finding strengths. I recently had a student from last year visit me and tell me my words had changed his life for the better. What words? I simply had told him that I deeply admired his dogged determination, and that attribute more than anything would take him far in life. He said it had changed how he approached everything he did. Simple words, casually spoken between teacher and student. What power we hold in our words each and every day.

Which brings me back to my Reagan, my buddy. I had unintentionally played the role of nemesis in my own daughter’s life. Casual words not meant to hurt, but rather to help a young girl be realistic. Casual words that rocked the very foundation I had tried to help her build her life upon. Words that brought tears to her eyes, as words still bring tears to mine. Words that I am apparently more careful with when speaking to students than I am with my own family.

Can my daughter do anything? Truly anything? Yes, I believe she can. Does she believe that? Maybe not now… my carelessness may have planted a seed of doubt. What can I do? Help her to pull that weed before it takes root – help her with words of love, and encouragement, and unfettered belief that my Reagan CAN accomplish anything, ANYTHING she sets her mind to. Will it work? It has to. Too many loosely spoken words have destroyed too many beautiful possibilities in this world.

That night, I stood looking down at my precious daughter as she slept. I lingered a few extra moments, picturing her kicking the game winning goal in World Cup action. Then, as she ran off the field, she veered into the crowd, using her personally designed grappling hook to capture the bad guy attempting to escape under the bleachers. I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined her grinning as she jotted down her adventure in her story journal, and then cut a business deal on her spy phone, all while using the trussed up villain as a bench…

Yeah, my buddy can do ANYTHING. I know it.

I need to choose my words more carefully.

Posted in Adventures in dadhood, Growing up, Stuff Reagan says..., teaching, The girls | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Readin’ in the new year…

Hey all

So now that the smoke has cleared and most of the attention given New Year’s Resolutions has faded, I feel it’s an opportune time for me to jump into the discussion (always fashionably late).  Actually, I’m being a bit disingenuous.  I had a blog post ready to go last week centered around the word “Resolute” but I felt it was a bit too preachy for me.  After all, who am I to lecture people on New Year’s Resolutions?  My most successful resolution of last year was to start a blog and write 25 posts (achieved + 40), but I failed on most every other goal I set.  In fact, my most important resolution of 2013 was such a complete failure, my daughters recently asked me why I hadn’t tried out for “The Biggest Loser.”  Those girls… they cut deep.  

In preparation for a BIG 2014, I spent the last week or two reading countless articles/blogs about resolutions.  In doing so, my thinking shifted.  Some blogs made a compelling case against them, as my blogger friend Nicole did with her blog Resolving Your Need for Resolution (warning for my Baptist-y friends – adult language).  Some argued that you should make them, but not share them, as the amazing Donald Miller mentioned in his blog Don’t Share your Resolutions.  Both of these pro bloggers make valid and interesting points, and made me think a lot about my need to make resolutions.  Maybe I should just be content with who I am, as Nicole argues.  Maybe I should keep my goals a secret, as Donald mentions, to avoid the pitfall of getting too much reward for the act of sharing and not enough for the act of doing.  Maybe I should do what I always do – make a big list, shoot for the stars, share them with everyone so I can hold myself accountable, and then fall short but be farther along than I was.

Maybe I should do all three.

Yes, that sounds like a good way to start my 2014.  Much better than the way I planned to start it last week, at least.

First off, I am going to set less resolutions for myself this year.  I need to.  I’m always opening up on too many fronts, which draws me away from the truly important areas of life.  It’s time to let go of some of the goals I’ve been holding on to – some of which were from my old life and don’t even apply anymore.

But I wouldn’t be me without setting at least a few resolutions.  That’s just not how I roll.  But I think that for the most part, I will try to keep this year’s goals under wraps.  I know that I have been guilty in the past of sharing my biggest goals with my peeps and feeling great about all the encouragement, only to have that excitement fizzle out along with my effort (that might be part of the reason why I still weigh close to 1/8 of a ton).  So I will make fewer resolutions this year, but they will be more focused and I will be working on them behind the scenes.

But what about the whole idea of sharing your resolutions so people can help you be accountable?  That’s where I think this year, I am going to use the blog to conduct a little experiment.  Let me start by giving a little background.  Every year, I make a New Year’s Resolution to read more.  In fact, its probably my most consistent New Year’s Resolution, even more so than weight loss.  Given how spectacularly I have failed at weight loss, I suppose I can consider my reading goal a moderate success – I actually read books last year, whereas I finished the year at about the same weight I started it at (though there was a 9 pound spike upward mid-year).  But my goal was to read a book a week, and I ended up reading a about 25 books for the year.  Again, more than I would have without the resolution, but a lot less than my target.

I think this is a fairly common resolution, and not one that people get a great deal of satisfaction by beating their chest over.  I know not everyone is a big reader, but we all recognize the value of expanding our knowledge and understanding of the world, or just to have fun.  Spiritual living, health, humor, science, literature, fantasy, romance, technical information, self-help – these all can help make our lives better.  

So here is my thought.  We’ll use this post as a springboard for all of us who would like to take part in a reading goal for this year.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to ask you for your specific goals for the year just yet.  But if you would like to take part in the Furry Bard’s 2014 Reading Challenge, simply let me know that you are interested in the comments section here on the blog, or on the Furry Bard page on  Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/thefurrybard, or send me a private message.  I have a rough idea of how it will all work, but I would like to see the level of interest before I make a few of the decisions on the mechanics of it.  

We all know we should read more than we do – if you’re game, let’s make it fun.  Don’t worry that you’re on the hook for something you won’t accomplish – together, we’ll just do a heck of a lot more reading this year than last.  Fair? 

I look forward to hearing from you!

Disclaimer:

You clearly do not have to have the same goals as me, but I am going to shoot for 47 books this year.  That gives me some leeway in case I tackle a really long book and need extra time, or life gets in the way (I start working on a master’s in April – maybe textbooks will count).  I also plan to do a lot more blog reading, but I haven’t put specifics to that yet.

First Book of the year – The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail, But Some Don’t by Nate Silver.  Review coming soon.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Legend of Pirate Claus…

Most of us born and raised in Christendom (and many who were not) take part in the delightful practice of gathering around the television and watching Christmas movies.  Not everyone, of course.  The following people might not take part in such activities:

1.  People like my sweet Grandma Ruth, who tried to watch a movie with us this year, only to say in her Swedish accent, “I yust don’t undertand it.  Vy does the fireplace appeer ven Santa comes down the shim-ney?”

2.  People like my daughters’ Sunday School Teacher, who told them, “Girls, you might have been told that Santa is real and good, but I am here to tell you that Santa is actually Satan’s helper demon, sent to ruin the true meaning of Christmas.”  I’m guessing a Sunday School teacher like that isn’t watching Miracle on 34th Street very often, though the nightmares little Riley experienced of a ghoulish Santa demon coming down the chimney were more real than any Christmas movie this year.

3.  People whose last name happens to be a religion or the name of an Austrian military leader, and have also blocked me on Facebook.  I’m sure those type of people aren’t watching Christmas movies either – they’re planning on ways to judge me for being a bad person , or spending their time returning money that they have found (yes, I’m talking about this guy).

For the rest of us, watching Christmas movies is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend the holiday season.  The family piles onto the couch, the lights are dimmed, and we vicariously live an amazingly wonderful Christmas through Bing or Kris Kringle or Rudolph or the Grinch or Ralphie.

Ralphie’s Christmas Story is my personal favorite.  This is partly because Jean Shepard’s book is based on life in Hammond, IN loosely around the time my dad was growing up there.  Every time we watch the film, my mom and dad get lost in nostalgia, and I love a good story about those days…

Mostly, I love the way Ralphie finally gets his Red Ryder bb gun.  Christmas appears to be over, the family just relaxing on the couch, when the old man spots one last present tucked away behind the desk.  Of course it’s the Red Ryder, and Ralphie’s dreams are fulfilled.

I don’t know if it was seeing that movie that spurred it, but my mom pulled a similar feat on Christmas in 1988.  The day was nearly spent, we had just come back home from Auntie Paula’s house, and I was content, but a little sad.  I had received a lot of nice things, but not my heart’s greatest desire.  As we sat on the couch, my mom asked me what my favorite gift had been, which had been the boombox from my grandma and grandpa.  Then she motioned to me and said, “Wait a minute – isn’t there something still under the tree?”

There was indeed!

I crawled under the tree, snagged the large box, and snaked my way back out.  It was for me, from Santa Claus himself!  I could hardly contain my glee as I shredded the paper wrapped around my Nintendo Entertainment System!!!  Super Mario Brothers included!!!  Hours of my life were lost to this amazing gift, and the “Christmas Story” delivery made it that much more special.

As you might have noticed if you’ve read this blog, I have kids of my own now.  We’ve had our ups and downs as it relates to Santa Claus and Christmas gifts – most noticeably when Reagan morphed into a super sleuth trying to uncover the truth behind the legends.  But for the most part, Christmas followed the same formula every year:  Open one present on Christmas Eve, wake up and read the Christmas Story (the Real Christmas Story, not Ralphie’s version), eat Pillsbury Orange Rolls, open all the presents except for a few, go to Grandma and Grandpa’s or Mamma and Pappa’s, then come home and open a few last presents.  Then, bedtime and recovery from eating so much…

Last year, I decided that we were missing an opportunity with those last few presents.  Why not do something a la the Nintendo in 1988?  In fact, why not create a family tradition?

In truth, I arrived at this decision in large part to try to keep the present for wifie a secret, as detailed in my last blog.  But I thought it could be extremely fun for the girls too… if I could wrap it up into an adventure.

Thus was born the Legend of Pirate Claus.

This is the story I told my daughters…

According to the tales of old, in the 1700’s, a ship tempted the fates by trying to deliver a full load of cargo on Christmas Eve.  This ship had gotten a late start, but the Captain had wanted to push onward because much of the cargo was wrapped in fancy paper, presents for children in the British Colonies.  The ship made it within sight of the port, but the lighthouse keeper had downed a bit too much eggnog and the light had died out.  With a winter storm raging and no light to guide them in, the Captain was forced to take the ship back out to sea.

There, tragedy struck.  The infamous pirate Reddish-Brown Beard and his crew of miscreants appeared in the night, cannons blazing.  They quickly boarded the ship and put the crew to the sword.  The foul pirates brought the Captain to old Reddish-Brown Beard, whose chin whiskers had turned mostly white with age.  The Captain looked him defiantly in the eye.

“Time to say good-bye to yer ship, Cap’n!” Reddish-Brown Beard sneered.  Ye’ll be joining yer men plenty soon!”

“Pfaw…” the Captain spat in the old pirate’s face.  “Though I join my men in death, with my last breath I curse you!  May you spend the rest of eternity delivering the gifts I could not deliver this day!  May you roam from port to port for all time!”

“Har,” snarled Reddish-Brown Beard.  “Time to meet yer maker, fool!”  With that, the pirates pitched the captain into the sea.

“Let’s be gettin’ on, men!” Reddish-Brown Beard felt the cold rain seeping into his bones.  “Stow the presents on arrrr ship and let’s make haste!”

The crewmen brought the gifts up out of the hold, and attempted to toss the presents across the gap between the ships.  ZAAAPPP!!!!  The presents hit an invisible wall, and bounced back onto the deck.

“What manner of trickery is this,” cried Reddish-Brown Beard.  “Get’em on me ship!!!!”

Again, the pirates attempted to toss the presents.  Again, the invisible wall stopped them.

“‘Tis the cap’n’s curse,” the pirates muttered.  “This ship be cursed!”

“Garrrrrr….” growled Reddish-Brown Beard.  He grabbed a present and attempted to swing back over to his ship.  ZAP!  Both he and the present landed on the deck.

The crew edged away from their dazed leader.  “He be cursed too,” they whispered.

“Naarrrr,” Reddish-Brown Beard shook his grizzled head as he pushed himself off the deck.   “Tis some sort o’ freak wind.  Thar ain’t no curse on me!!!”

The pirates looked at the man that had led them for many years, and turned and fled.  They leapt across the gap between the ships, some of them plummeting into the icy sea to avoid the curse of Reddish-Brown Beard.  He attempted to follow his men, but again met the same fate.  An invisible wall cast him back onto the deck as the last of his men scrambled to safety.

His first mate called out as the ship that had been his sailed away, “Ye were a true pirate, ol’ Reddish-Brown Beard, but ye went too far this night.  Enjoy yer endless time takin’ gifts to kiddies, ye Pirate Claus!”

So Reddish-Brown Beard traveled the earth, delivering all the gifts in the hold of his new ship, which seemed endless.  While he was allowed to leave his ship to bring the goodies to boys and girls everywhere, he couldn’t escape his heritage as the foulest pirate on the seas.  So he preferred to leave behind clues or maps to force the kiddies to find their gifts… and maybe, just maybe, one day some of the kiddies that enjoyed their treasure hunt will join his crew.

Why look, girls.  What is this piece of paper stuck between the couch cushions?  It looks like a pirate’s poem…

Why children dost thou look so glum?

Christmas is over, thy fun is done?

Arrgh, thy be wrong, my little sweets

Thou hast to search for a few more treats

A wild search dost call thy name,

to find plunder of pirate fame

Thou must be quick and sharp of wit

Or thy will miss these last tidbits

The first clue takes you to a magic place

Where pictures move with subtle grace

And the family gathers, to watch and grin

Look behind, and the hunt begins

And thus the hunt begins for the special present that Pirate Claus brings to end Christmas for the year…

They found the treasure this year… thank you, Pirate Claus!

I don’t know how long the tradition will continue, but I have the feeling Pirate Claus will be sailing the high seas for many years to come.

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How the wifie stole Christmas… again…

Resemblance to the wifie? Perhaps…

Oh, how I love the holidays. Rest. Relaxation. Time with friends. Surprising the family with gifts. Remembering the reason for the season. All of these are a wonderful break from the reality of day-to-day living.

Of course, there are some things I don’t like about the holidays. Here’s the short list:

The Little Drummer Boy – I hate this song. Every version of it. And especially this version:

I won’t argue with you about the message of the song – I get that the words are meaningful. I still hate the song. Period.

Driving and parking and shopping – Does everyone lose their minds at Christmastime? Today, at Kroger, a lady nearly took me out near the cheese because she was desperate to get to the eggs before me. Literally, I thought I was a goner. This doesn’t even take into account the number of times I was nearly killed in the parking lot. Ugh.

The Santa Claus debate – You don’t want to tell your kids about Santa – that’s fine. But please don’t tell my kids that Santa is Satan’s demon helper that tries to ruin the message of Christmas. I’ll take care of my own kids, thank-you-very-much.

And most of all…

I hate Christmas shopping for the Wifie.

You might be thinking, “but wait, you said that you love surprising the family with gifts.” And I did say that. And that’s the crux of it – the wifie is impossible to surprise with gifts. I’m not kidding you when I say that she has a 6th sense totally devoted to figuring out what her presents are for any occasion. In thirteen years of marriage, I have only surprised her with a Christmas gift once. Last year, I managed to keep the concert tickets I bought for her a secret, but only because it was an “additional” gift that I got last second and after we had already agreed we were done shopping for each other. In essence, I had to cheat to surprise her.

As you might imagine, this is exhausting and unfulfilling work. Usually she knows by late November, giving me nothing to live for as it relates to gifting on Christmas. However, buoyed by my quasi-success last year, I purposed in my heart that I would surprise the wifie this Christmas. No way would she figure out the gift this time around.

I developed a formula for success.

1. Buy something she hasn’t asked for this year

2. Buy something that I have heard her talk about in the past, but not something she is thinking about right now

3. Don’t give even a hint of a clue of what it might be

4. Lie through my teeth if necessary in the name of maintaining the surprise

5. Delight her with my cleverness on Christmas Day

When I decided to embark on a Black Fri-Thurs-day excursion, I was fully prepared to find just the right bauble for under the tree. And find it I did. At Best Buy, one Black Friday purchase kept whispering to me – the Kindle Fire HD. It was on a Black Friday special, and it is something she has always wanted. For you see, the wifie is a voracious reader, and she is usually limited to reading on her tiny iPhone. She hadn’t asked for it, nor had she talked about it in a while, but I knew she had wanted one in the past. My magic formula was clearly going to pay dividends, and I snatched up a Kindle Fire for my lady.

I drove home feeling slick and pleased with myself. Finally, after twelve mostly fruitless years of gifting, I would have the last laugh.

Later on Friday, I was at home and wifie was out shopping. She called from Meijer. “Hey, you didn’t happen to buy me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, did you?”

Stomach punch.

I had to respond quickly, lest the surprise be lost. “Pfft, no. Why would you think that?” Straight to Point 4 of my plan.

“Well, I know you went to Best Buy, and I noticed they had it in their ad, and I was hoping maybe you got it for me.”

Success!!! I had picked the right present!!! But I needed to tread carefully or all would be lost.

“Well, to be honest, I had picked it up and thought about it, but I put it back down.” That wasn’t even a lie! I had picked it up, set it down, and picked it up again! My plan was intact!

“OK, well, the reason I ask is because I am at Meijer, and they have this quilted Kindle Fire case that is beautiful. If you had bought me one, I was going to buy it. If not, I was thinking of buying it to sell on eBay. It’s $5 on clearance, and they are selling for $30 on eBay.”

Hmmm… this proved to be a bit of a dilemma, but not for long. I operate under the old adage “Know thy Wifie,” and I know that she frequently buys stuff to sell, but then it just ends up in a pile in the basement or my old office/storage room (it’s called Lutz-itis, perhaps you’ve heard of it). I could casually tell her to buy something to go along with her own gift, and she would be none the wiser. “Oh for sure, babe. Buy it and sell it on eBay. That’s super smart.” Christmas just got even better, with a new quilted case for the new Kindle Fire.

True to form, wifie brought home the case, showed it to me, and then set it aside to sell on eBay at some future date. My guess was the date would be sometime in 2017. My surprise was secure. She had no idea what was coming, and that she had bought the first accessory for it.

Several weeks passed, with Christmas growing ever nearer. I bought a few more items to supplement the Kindle, but the joy of surprising the wifie became an all consuming glow about me. This was the most joy I had felt since being a boy coming downstairs to find Castle Greyskull under the tree. She had never gone this long without guessing her gift. Moreover, she wasn’t even trying. Can you say best Christmas ever?

My best present ever – Castle Greyskull

A few nights ago, I was laying in bed at about 10:15 when the wifie traipsed into the room. She handed me her phone and said, “Can you look this over before I post it?”

I took her phone and looked at the screen.

Stomach Punch

It was an eBay ad for the quilted Kindle case.

“Aren’t you so proud of me? I’m finally selling stuff on eBay!!!”

At this point, I had to think quickly. I knew she would be mad at me if I allowed her to sell the case, but I couldn’t give up the Christmas surprise. I’d come too far to give in. But what could I do to stop her?

So I pretended to be falling asleep.

Now, she should have seen through this right away. I never go to bed at 10:00. More like 12:00 or 1:00 every single day. But I had to try something. So I went with, “*grunt* Really? It’s 10:15 and you’re supposed to be in bed, and you’re starting your eBay business right now?”

Wrong tactic.

“You’ve been after me for months to sell this stuff, and now you are going to be mean to me,” she growled indignantly. “I’m just trying out help out by making extra money.”

Yikes. Time to soften the conversation. “No, it’s really great. It’s just that I am so tired, and I was just about to fall asleep.” I yawned and smacked my lips for good measure.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said. “I just want you to take a look at it real quick, and I’ll go ahead and post it.”

Not to be denied, eh? Time to try evasive maneuvers. “Hmm… looks like your Paypal account isn’t linked. I’ll just try to link it tomorrow, ok?”

“Can’t you do it now?”

“No, I don’t know your info. I can do it tomorrow.” I turned over and hunkered down under the covers, willing sleep to come to escape this trap. Tomorrow the eBay sale would be forgotten, and my surprise safe.

“Oh, ok.” Crestfallen, she walked from the room. I actually felt bad, but that’s what she gets for 13 years of torment.

A few minutes later, just as I was emerging from under the covers to begin reading, she walked back in with a huge smile on her face. “I just figured out how to link my Paypal account to the ad. Can I post it now?”

Why? Why, oh why, did she pick this – of all days – to start her eBay business? And why the heck was she so determined to post the ad tonight?

Sleep was suddenly upon me again. “Mkayyy… I… I’ll look at it while youuuu go and sa… say good-night to the gurrrrllls…”

“OK!!!” She nearly skipped out of the room.

Now, in this moment, I very nearly deleted the ad. I had the little delete button pulled up, and I was *this close* to pulling the trigger. But I thought it might forever kill her eBay ambitions, and I want those things sold. So instead, I went back into acting mode. I “fell asleep” with the phone just at my fingertips.

She walked back in a few moments later. “Ugh. You can’t even stay awake long enough to look at the ad?”

“Mmm… s’kay. Look tomorr… oh…”

*Grrrrr* I knew that sound meant trouble. I opened the eye closest to the bed. Sure enough, she had the eBay screen pulled up, and was about to press the “Submit” button. I had no choice. My hand shot out and grabbed the phone.

“Just wait for tomorrow, ok? I want to make sure it’s OK!”

“What’s your problem,” she fired back as she grabbed the phone. “Go back to sleep and let me post my ad.”

She went to hit the button again. My hand shot out again. “WHY CAN”T YOU JUST WAIT?”

Her eyes narrowed in anger. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? YOU’RE ASLEEP! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!?!”

Somewhere inside of me, something broke. I was yelling before I even knew words were coming out of me.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY? THAT I BOUGHT YOU A KINDLE FIRE FOR CHRISTMAS, SO YOU CAN’T SELL THIS? CONSIDER IT SAID!!!!!”

Her eyes, which had truly been daggers, opened widely, and a huge grin split her face. “Really?” she giggled. She GIGGLED!!!

I stormed from the room.

A few minuted later, my righteous indignation under control, I walked back into the room. She was laying facedown on the bed, body slightly convulsing. “Are you crying or laughing,” I asked.

“Both,” she grinned as she sat up. “I’m so excited! I mean, I know you are probably sad because I guessed your present yet again, but you should know that I am ALWAYS happy when I figure out what the surprise is, whenever that might be. It’s just never on Christmas!” But I am super happy!!!”

Thanks for the explanation. I really appreciate it. “Why on earth did you decide to sell stuff on eBay tonight?”

“I have no idea! It’s just the way things happen. I’m destined to know my presents!”

“Ugh…”

“SOOOOOO, can I have it now?” she said with an impish smile on her face.

“NOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“But I’m still so happy,” she taunted.

So 2013 will be no different in our household. The daughters and wifie will open presents and be happy, and I will sit on the couch, lamenting yet again that I simply cannot outsmart the wifie. Maybe it’s time to embrace that fact…

But there’s always next year…

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