Eskimo Kisses

Hayden potato

Thank you, dear readers!  A Map of California has reached the milestone of 100 followers.  I am humbly grateful for your support.

It’s amazing watching my grandniece learn to walk.  Now, this may be old hat to many of you out there, but it’s a rather wondrous experience for those of us who skipped the whole having children thing.

My grandniece is still more comfortable on her knees than on her feet, but she seems to have figured out that there are two alternate means of locomotion, kind of like choosing between taking the bus and taking the train.  Only she hasn’t quite mastered the timetable for the train yet.

What’s really funny is how she surprises herself when she is able to take several consecutive steps without falling on her bottom.  She raises her hands to balance herself and assumes an open-mouthed, shocked expression, as if to say “Holy crap, I can do this!”

We are blessed to have the little one over here for at least a few hours each day, and all day and evening at least a couple of times per week.  Now that we’ve been here for a month, I am starting to become more comfortable playing with her.  And it touches my heart that the feeling seems to be mutual.

She doesn’t seem to be averse to a little roughhousing, as long as I don’t overdo it.  I might throw her over my shoulder or hold her upside down so she can do a headstand while I pretend to read a “this end up” label on her little feet.  I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, but that doesn’t seem to bother her any.  She puts up with me.  I’m just glad she hasn’t learned how to do the eye roll yet.  Whatevs, Uncle Guacamole.

Speaking of which, we have ripe avocados again.  I’m saving them for tomorrow, so we can make (and eat) guacamole together.

I’m really lucky that my wife and her mom take care of the business end of things (diapers, powder, ointment) and let me just play.  I am fortunate that I am a night owl who sleeps til the afternoon and blogs in the wee hours, as I don’t get much of anything done when Li’l Miss is visiting.

I think she’ll have her own blog pretty soon, and I can only imagine that I will blush at the things she has to say about me.  I know she digs this scene because she is forever banging on the keyboard or yanking at the cords of either my laptop or my wife’s.  She also likes to play with our iPhones.  I have to hide the mouse and my headphones when I see her coming this way, or else I know they will be summarily disconnected and whisked out of sight, whereupon I will spend an hour searching for them under the couch, behind the TV and in the kitchen cabinets.

You think I’m joking?  Earlier this week, the little scamp did something to my wife’s keyboard, after which she unable to type the letters H or C.  Then she changed the text notification tone on my wife’s cell phone to a ring tone so that my wife keeps thinking someone is calling her every time she receives a text.  Hello?  Hello?

I don’t know what my grandniece did to my laptop, but after she got her hands on it, I couldn’t get any sound through my headphones for two hours.  Then she grabbed the TV remote and recorded one of her Baby TV shows.  I kid you not!

We’ve been calling the little one Bug since she was born.  But now my wife has come up with another highly appropriate nickname:  Screech.  The lung power of someone so small defies logic.

I feel badly that we have to tell her “no” every minute or so, but the kiddo grabs at anything in sight and proceeds to investigate its qualities by tasting it.  When the prohibited item is removed, she likes to express her disapproval of this untenable situation by screaming her lungs out.  As I mentioned, I sleep during the mornings, and I am accustomed to hearing, with one eye open, “No.  No!  NOOO!!” followed by “Waaaaaaahhhh!! Wah-ah-ah-ah-wahhhhh!”  My wife and Pastor Mom must have incredibly deep wells of patience to draw upon.  If it were me, I’d be blogging from the looney bin.

If it can be knocked over, it will be.  If it can be dumped, it will be.  If it can be flung, it will be.  My grandniece particularly enjoys turning over the trash can and playing with our discarded paperwork.  When she comes near, I must quickly remove my glass of iced tea as well as the tea pitcher, or both will end up poured over her head, her clothes and the carpet.

A writer must have a pad to take notes, and I keep one next to my computer.  There are always loose pages stored inside the cardboard backing.  If I look away for a minute, the loose pages will be strewn every which way and my grandniece will be sitting among them while she sucks on the pad itself.  This has already happened at least four times to date.  As the magical masters of legerdemain point out, the hand is quicker than the eye.  That is, her hand is quicker than my eye.

So now it seems that my wife is schooling the little one in the operatic arts.  They perform a two-part tune known as “The La-La Song.”  My wife cacophonously screeches “la, la, la laaaaa!!” and then says “your turn.”  Li’l Miss then sings her part in what is actually a fairly good imitation of my wife.

She has also been teaching Screech how to rub noses, known as giving “Eskimo kisses.” I remember my aunt doing this with my sisters and me when we were little.  Where this particular maneuver got its name I have no idea.  Do the inhabitants of the Great North actually rub noses to greet each other in their fur parkas?  If so, I think the time has come to update to the modern age and be a bit more PC.

But who am I to say?  Somehow, “First Nations osculation” doesn’t have quite the same ring.

 

NaNoSloMo

nanowrimo

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  For details, click here and here.

Ten Reasons I Will Not Be Participating in NaNoWriMo:

  1. 50,000 words?! You’ve got to be kidding!  If you break it down, that’s 1,666⅔ words every day for the entire month of November.  That’s more than twice as many words as I blog daily, and my blog posts already take hours to compose.  Besides, how do you write ⅔ of a word?
  2. Too much pressure!  I hate feeling that I have to do things, particularly when I’m not getting paid for them.  I don’t have to write a blog post every day and, let’s be honest, no one will care even if I skip an entire week.  Skip a few days on NaNoWriMo and you’re pretty much toast.
  3. You need to have an idea.  I have no ideas.  Someone in my family has to say or do something funny before I have anything to write about.  Luckily for my blog, they do this daily.  Even then, the theme is pretty much played out by the time I hit a thousand words.
  4. In my home nation, the United States of America, the Thanksgiving holiday falls during the month of November.  When we go around the table taking turns sharing those things for which we feel thankful this year, I will say:  “I am thankful that I do not have to write 1,666⅔ words today.”
  5. I am already working on a memoir.  This does not in itself exclude me, as the NaNoWriMo rules state that your “novel” can be a memoir.  However, I am three-quarters done with this memoir and I do not feel like writing another 50,000 words just to get a gold star and a happy face icon.
  6. I am a lazy butt.  ‘Nuff said.
  7. NaNoWriMo is egalitarian, and as such, is very much in the American tradition.  The very concept posits that anyone can write a novel.  Perhaps.  In my case, however, it would be horribly bad!  I am not going to write the Great American Novel in a month or a year or a hundred years.  Whatever drivel I pen will just sit in a drawer (or on a flash drive) somewhere.  I might be able to get my mother and father to read it, and that’s only if I’m really lucky.
  8. My character development is nonexistent, my dialogue is laughably stilted, and I mix my metaphors, split my infinitives and punctuate my sentences with maraschino cherries instead of commas and periods.  Also, I have no concept of how to move a plot forward.  Oh, and don’t get too attached to any characters in the first few of my chapters.  I tend to forget about them and then you’ll spend the rest of your days wondering how they turned out.
  9. If I ever lose my mind and decide to write a novel in a month, I am not such a lemming that I would feel compelled to wait until the month when thousands of others are doing the same thing.
  10. I started writing my memoir 13 years ago.  Me, write a novel in a month?  Don’t bet on it.  Sign me up for NaNoSloMo, will you?

 

Join me in writing a blog post every day in the month of November!  Click here to sign up for NaBloPoMo.  See you on the blogroll!

Legacy

cemetery

On Sunday, I attended a funeral for someone who I did not have the privilege to know.  She was the mother of one of our neighbors, the woman who lives just across the fence from the parsonage.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch the health of a parent fail so dramatically, but I feel encouraged about all the things that were done right.  The neighbor’s mom died at home, not in some sterile, faceless hospital or nursing home.  She spent her last days surrounded by the ones she loved.  There were nurses who came in to help and to teach her caretakers how to use the medical equipment and feeding tubes that became necessary.  And even when the funeral home people came to collect her body, they did so with dignity and, yes, caring.  Unable to get her out on a stretcher, the funeral director carried her out, gently, in his arms.

Funerals tend to be all about memories and associations; we tell stories from our loved one’s life, look at photos and reflect upon the ways in which we are better people for having known the one who has been taken from us.

But we also reflect on our own mortality.  At a funeral, we are faced with the fact that one of these days it will be our turn, our photos up there on the easel, our stories being laughed and cried over friends and family.

A funeral can help us turn introspective.  What will we leave as a legacy when it’s our turn to go?  If we’re not too happy about what we see in the mirror, we may wonder whether there’s still time to change, to become the kind of people we really want to be.

When we clean out the house of the departed, there are always knick-knacks and mementos to distribute, small tokens that may sit on a shelf to remind us of a loved one for years to come, or may be packed away in a closet to bring out on special occasions.

Is that all that remains of us after all the trials and tribulations of a lifetime?  We hope that our influence and values will affect others positively long after we’re gone.  I think of my grandfather, who had a profound influence on me when I was growing up.  More than thirty years after his passing, I still remember his birthday every year and think of him often in the little things, such as when I find myself saying the same things he used to say.  But who will remember him when I am gone?  I have no children of my own, and my sisters’ children never had the opportunity to meet him.  I think of my oldest nephew (whose name is somewhat similar to my grandfather’s) and doubt that he knows anything about his great-granddad.

Maybe I need to sit down with him and his sister and tell them some stories, bring out some photos.  While there’s still time.

When we attend a funeral, it’s not about us; it’s about the one who we lost and whose memory we are now honoring.  But as we hold hands and sing the hymns, we cannot help but reflect on the great chain of family and our place in it as time marches on, l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation. 

California’s AB 1266: Equality, Respect and Peeing

rest room

So I’m still trying to help the niece get through quadratic equations.  Factoring some of these babies is like wrestling with a grizzly bear, I tell you.  Particularly the ones with fourth powers and such.  Just remember to rationalize your roots and use integer factoring before resorting to the quadratic formula.  Oh, and get rid of the variables in those denominators.  Simplify your expressions.  Show your work.

I’m so glad I’m not in school anymore.

My niece loves her psychology class but is stumped on choosing a topic for her final paper.  It has to be a current issue and she must introduce it by expressing her position in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.  The instructor wants her students to stay away from topics that are “redundant.”  Whatever that means.  “Not gun control” was the example offered.  My guess is that this teacher doesn’t want to see any topic that has been debated to death in the news.

I asked my niece whether she had anything in mind.  She told me she’d like to gripe about why 18 year olds can die for their country in a war but can’t drink legally.  I asked if she’d Googled the topic and she said she had, but found nothing.  I suggested this could be because 18 year olds who are active military can drink legally.

So now we’re back to square one.  I suggested doing something on bullying, a topic that has returned to the news in the wake of last week’s murder/suicide at Sparks Middle School.  But we couldn’t decide whether or not this falls within the purview of the “redundant.”

One topic that interests my niece is California’s AB 1266, the recent law that modified the state Education Code to grant transgendered students the right to use their choice of the school’s boys’ or girls’ rest rooms and locker rooms, even before sex reassignment surgery.  Massachusetts and Colorado already have adopted similar laws, so our Golden State legislators are not exactly being mavericks here.

I rather like this topic, because it exposes entirely unreasonable societal fears for the warrantless cultural bugaboos they really are.  Tell me how this goes now?  As long as the student in the skirt still has male equipment, that student needs to stay out of the ladies’ room?  But as soon as she (yes, I said “she”) has her junk removed, it will be okay?  After all, we wouldn’t want any transitioning male-to-female transgendered people committing rapes in the women’s.  (Say what??)  Preoperative female-to-male transgendered people we don’t really care about, as they haven’t the equipment to rape anyone with.  Does this sound as insane to you as it does to me?

Of course, the conservative right and the evangelicals are up in arms.  That’s okay, go ahead and withdraw your kids from the public schools.  It may reduce the state aid available to our district, but at least it will improve the student-teacher ratio (until they start laying off teachers, that is).  Besides, home schooling rocks.

I went a step further and suggested that the whole issue of who is permitted to use which rest room is little more than a tempest in a teacup.  I am thinking in terms of all public rest rooms, not just those in schools.  Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that rest rooms were segregated by race.  Why should they continue to be segregated by gender?

If rest rooms in airports, stores and public buildings were not segregated by gender, the idea wouldn’t seem so radical in the case of schools. And when is a better time to teach gender equality, respect and human decency than during the formative years?

One thing that all of us of both genders have in common is that, sooner or later, we gotta go pee.  Standards of common decency should be no different in a rest room than elsewhere.  Like so many things, this goes back to how children are raised.  In the home, the bathrooms are not labeled “men’s and “women’s.”

I had to tell my niece a story about the rest rooms in my freshman college dormitory.  Each floor of the dorm had two wings, one for men and one for women.  Each gender had a large rest room and shower facility in the center of its wing.  In the men’s wing, the problem was that many of the guys had girlfriends who liked to stay overnight and didn’t want to have to trudge all the way over to the other wing to go pee in the middle of the night.  The residence assistant called a meeting to take a vote of the men living in our wing as to whether women should be permitted to use our rest room and shower facility.  The “yes” vote would have been unanimous if not for the fact that yours truly took the coward’s way out and abstained.

As I saw it, I no more wanted women walking in on me than the women in the other wing wanted men walking in on them.  So what terrible things happened?  Absolutely none.  I became accustomed to exiting a rest room stall to find a woman in a bath robe coming out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her hair.  It occurred to me that this was not that different from what I experienced with my sisters back at home.

I think the increasing popularity of “family rest rooms” is a baby step in the right direction.  This solves the problem of what Dad should do when his four year old daughter has to pee during a shopping trip to Wal-Mart.  The naysayers point out that family rest rooms are “single occupancy;” if the parent locks the door, no one else can walk in.  As I say, it’s just a step.  But it’s better than nothing.

A rest room should be just that, a rest room.  A neutral location divested of political and religious issues, an equal opportunity place where anyone can go pee.  I suppose there will always be those who obsess over who is a woman, who is a man, and who may legally step into a particular rest room.  I think those people have bigger problems.

 

Cup Song

cup

Every day is a thrill here in the old home parsonage.  I never cease to be amazed at how much love there is to go around.

On Thursday, my adult niece, who lives about an hour away, showed up unexpectedly and spent the afternoon and evening with us.  Pastor Mom started cooking chicken fried steaks (vegan “chicken” nuggets for me), corn on the cob and mashed potatoes (she made a special batch for me with soy milk and no butter).

As if that weren’t enough, my 17 year old niece and her baby came by.  My niece showed me a YouTube video that she was required to watch for her psychology class, described a novel she read that was set in North Korea, and asked me to help her with her algebra homework.  When we sat down to work on quadratic equations, Mr. Meyer’s ninth grade class at Pomona Junior High came back to me out of the depths of misty memory.  My niece rattled off the quadratic formula from memory.  I smiled, recalling a time long ago when I could do the same.  “It sounds complicated but it’s really not,” I offered, and we exchanged knowing grins.

She started talking about the Holocaust and our conversation took us through Schindler’s List, the Holocaust Museum in L.A., Freedom Writers and how much she enjoyed Roma Ligocka’s memoir The Girl in the Red Coat.  I was smiling again, recalling how I found that book for her at a library sale in Fresno several years ago.  She says she wants to visit the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and I hope she gets there someday.  She has a bigger heart than mine, that’s for sure.  I don’t think I could handle it.

I am simultaneously impressed by my niece’s range of knowledge and surprised at her ignorance of other facts that I would consider basic.  My wife urges patience, reminding me that not all of my interests coincide with those of my niece.  But I felt a warm glow when I found myself expounding about the differences between communism and capitalism.  Who would have thought that I’d ever have occasion to quote Das Kapital?  Gosh, I knew there was a reason I went to college.

On Friday, I rode down to the Roseville Galleria with my wife and Pastor Mom; we enjoyed a wonderful lunch (we had a 20% off coupon) and then spent the better part of an hour wandering through Whole Foods (their fresh sourdough bread is beyond amazing).  In the evening, we mosied on over to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner and had a ball playing with my little grandniece and her stuffed monkey, Curious George.  She (the baby, not George) is just barely able to take two steps without falling on her bottom or reverting to fast-crawling across the room, but I bet that in a few weeks more she’ll be standing erect and we’ll be tearing down the hallway and out into the street after her.

My niece, who has a beautiful, melodious singing voice, returned from catching the Jackass flick with her brother and tore into “The Cup Song,” which is accompanied by a cup-slapping, hand-clapping game that I said sounded like some kind of Zulu African ritual.  This remark proved with some authority that I am a fine specimen of the species Dorkus americanus.  Upon further scientific research (thanks, Wikipedia), I learned that this little routine was performed by Anna Kendrick in the movie Pitch Perfect, and then went viral courtesy of Anna Burden and an infamous YouTube video.  Uncle Guacamole may know a lot about history and geography, but he apparently has a way to go when it comes to popular culture.

Yeah, I know, I’m still trying to figure out that Twitter thing.

Don’t hassle me, man.

You don’t want me to start singing “you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone,” now do ya?

Trust me, you don’t (clap clap).

Extended Family 101

parsonage

Yesterday, I shared our daily bathroom follies with you.  But this is just one part of the paradigm shift associated with transitioning from a child-free nuclear family to an extended family living arrangement.  In the parsonage.  Right next to the church.  This has been a true learning experience.  The following describes just a few of the lessons in which I’ve been schooled of late.

Just because you hear the crunch of tires on gravel does not mean you have visitors.

200 years ago, Jane Austen wrote that the sound of coach wheels on gravel meant the party’s over and it’s time for everyone to go home.  And just like in the old days back in Hertfordshire, vehicles approaching our humble abode are announced by the crunching of gravel in the lot between the church and the parsonage.  Don’t get too excited about having company, though.  Likely as not, it’s just a couple of CalTrans workers on their lunch break snagging some quesadillas at the taqueria across the street.  We really need to erect a sign that reads:

CHURCH PARKING ONLY.

THIS MEANS YOU!

                                       – GOD

No matter how thirsty or hungry you are, do not walk to the kitchen in your undies.

Why?  Because you never know who you’re going to run into.  I haven’t had so many people coming in and out of my living quarters since I resided in a college dormitory in the 1970s.  That’s right, welcome to Grand Central Station, where everybody knows your name (and they’re always glad you came, tra-la-la).  Even if you make it through the living room unscathed, and even though it’s three in the morning, there’s a good chance that yours truly is sitting silently in the kitchen, just waiting to scare the living daylights out of you when you come around the corner.  And just because the house sounds quiet doesn’t mean that a parishioner, one of your niece’s friends or the homeless guy who hangs out across the fence will not show up at the door at exactly the wrong moment.  Surprise!

It’s important to learn the names of the regulars.

I’m getting tired of mouthing to my wife “What’s her name again?” to avoid embarrassing myself.  Personally, I think too much Baby TV is making me soft in the head.  But, alas, my wife is probably right, I just don’t pay attention.

For example, my niece has two young friends, sisters close in age, who show up here on a regular basis.  Both of their given names begin with M, so my wife and I have taken to referring to them as M&M.  I’ve suggested calling them Plain & Peanut, but one of them heard me say that and now she knows what a buffoon I really am.  But I think I’ve got it straightened out now.  One has dark hair and braces and the other is a blonde with none.  Got it.

When you’re used to sleeping in a king-sized bed, and then you move and have to switch to a queen, be thankful that your wife doesn’t fling you out of bed on your head.

Let me start with a disclaimer here.  My wife has never flung me out of our bed onto my head or any other bodily part.  Okay, now that we have that straight, let’s move on to a picture of the realities of the situation.  My wife tends to luxuriate in our soft, comfy bed by spreading all the way out as if to say “aaaahhhh!”  Then she places a pillow under her right arm.  My wife refers to this state of affairs as “taking my half out of the middle.”

With my wife and that blasted pillow taking up most of the bed, I am left with about an inch and a half of space to curl up in.  One false move and gravity will have its way with me.  More than once I have clutched the side of the bed just in time to avoid going kerplop.  Oh, and by the way, I have learned the true meaning of the phrase “stick it in your ear.”  That’s right, with my wife’s arms spread out, her index finger is generally about 0.2 centimeters from probing my Eustachian tubes.  At least bring a Q-Tip, will ya?

Seriously, my wife is really a good egg.  She tells me to just wake her up and tell her to move.  I sure appreciate this, but let’s just say that waking up my wife is unwise.  But if I begin snoring too loudly or making any of the other weird noises I am prone to when in a somnolent state, I fully expect a poke in the ribs and a request to please turn over.

No problem, my dear.  And, uh, sweet dreams.

Now can I have my king-size bed back?

Be thankful and express your gratitude at all times.

In an extended family, there is never a lack of entertainment.  There are more people to cook, more people to shop, more people to babysit, more people to keep you company.  Every day is truly a gift.  No matter how much you buy, there is never enough milk, bread or potatoes, and just because you’ve already been to Wal-Mart once today doesn’t mean that you won’t have to go again.  Enjoy the warm fuzzies, and don’t forget to express your appreciation early and often.

So thank you, Pastor Mom, for making me spaghetti with fresh zucchini and mushroom sauce, and for the vegetarian stew and for the homemade beans and for the Sprite cake and for the chocolate pie . . .

Thank you, dear wife, for putting up with me while I am “between jobs.”  (I know I messed up when I blurted out that remark about vegetarian chili in Target the other day and I am truly sorry.)  Note to self:  Learn to control the mouth, dude.

And thank you, dear nieces, nephews, baby grandniece and assorted relatives, friends, neighbors and countrymen, for making me feel like a kid again and for reminding me what family really is for.

God bless you one and all.

 

Bathroom Follies

tp

I’ve been thinking about the many changes to our lives since we relocated from the desert to northern California nearly a month ago.  The obvious includes the change in climate (coming from 100°F+ for six months out of the year to cool breezes every day), going from a regular job as a manager to being unemployed, and moving from just the two of us in a big old rental house to living with my mother-in-law (Pastor Mom) in the parsonage of a church.

Another life change we’ve experienced:

We’ve gone from two bathrooms for two of us to one bathroom for three of us.

Most of the time, this is not a big deal.  Heck, Pastor Mom has even offered to keep a chamber pot in her bathroom in case the facilities are occupied when she needs to use them.  If that’s not extending yourself, I don’t know what is.

Generally, I am the one who inconveniences everyone else due to my inconsistent plumbing, care of medication that results in regular attacks of Montezuma’s Revenge.  However, I am very pleased to report that the three of us are unfailingly polite to each other and have learned to stay out of each other’s way.  So we experience things like this…

4:00 in the morning and I have just awoken from a comatose state because my bladder is so full that it is about to leak all over a bed that we do not own.  I step out of the bedroom and immediately see light coming from beneath the closed bathroom door.  I return to bed.

Me:  Psst!  I gotta go, but Mom’s in there.  I think I’m gonna go out and use the church bathroom.

Wife:  Why did you wake me up??!! Just knock on the door.  She’ll probably be out in a minute.

Me:  (grumble)

Wife:  Dammit!  (Sighs.  Crawls out of bed and walks around the corner.)  Mom, are you gonna be in there a while?

Mom:  I’m coming out right now, dear.   (Door opens and Mom heads back to bed.  I come half an inch from bowling over my wife in my haste to hit the loo.)

…and things like this…

I step out of the shower and begin toweling off.  Including my toileting, I’ve already been occupying the bathroom for 45 minutes.

Wife: (knocks on door)  Have you showered yet??!!

Me:  Yes!  Why?

Wife:  I gotta goooooo!!

Me:  Hold on, I’ll just be a minute.  (unlocks bathroom door, streaks around corner with wet towel, slams bedroom door)

…and this…

11:30 am (which is about the time that Mr. Unemployed hauls himself out of bed).  I call out for my wife, who shows up at the bedroom door.

Me:  Can I go shower now?

Wife:  You have to wait.  The Thompsons are visiting.

Me:  Okay, let me know when the coast is clear.  (plays around on his phone for the next 20 minutes)

Wife (appears at door again):  They’re gone.  You can go now.

(I grab my underwear in an attempt to streak around the corner.  I open the bedroom door and run smack into my niece.)

 

I think I need to invest in a pair of PJs.

And maybe some adult diapers while I’m at it.

Mom, may I please borrow your potty chair?