Wednesday, January 28, 2009

P.S...I Love You Too

Goal: Secure protection from under-bed/in-closet monsters, boogie men, and various extra-terrestrial life forms.

Be cool, stay polite, make it casual. Leave note in very obvious place, like on mom's computer keyboard. Close with the three words that are sure to seal the deal.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lessons Learned: The Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby. A time honored tradition among Cub Scouts and their parents. A chance for father and son (in our case father, mother, and son) to create something out of next to nothing, all in the hope that your certain something ends up being the fastest something to roll down a hill. Gravity is your ally. Your foes...friction and air resistance.

Your standard issue, regulation materials: one 5 ounce block of wood, 4 nails, and 4 plastic wheels. There you have it. The possibilities are limited only by your time, talent, and M.I.T. level engineering capabilities.

In the Chicago area, we don't have the luxury of housing production in garages or outside areas--It's just too cold. So the basement it is. Mom is nervous about paint, glue, etc. invariably landing on hardwood floors but trying to stay in the spirit of the thing. In other words, I shut-up.

Drill/carving dry-run. Note E's intensity.

Now, as you can imagine, there are some folks who just go over the top and once over again when it comes to manufacturing the most aerodynamic, friction free, expertly crafted wooden car known to the derby world.

Others opt for form over function...

And then there is E's, which is somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, I have yet to snap a photo of it and the cars are still impounded. So I'll have to add that later. Suffice it to say, it was something like this:

The night before the big race, cars are officially weighed to ensure that the 5 ounce maximum is not exceeded. Then the tiny vehicles are impounded. These Cub Scout leaders know a thing or two about Cub Scout parents. Surely these cubmasters realize that if they don't confiscate the engineering marvels, moms and dads across the land will engage in all-nighters to perfect their creations. Worse still, parents are famous for showing up late no matter what start time is indicated. Better to impound the car the night before rather than battle it out with dad as to why little Cooper's wonder machine cannot be included. After all, they were "only 45 minutes late". I digress.

After several qualifying races, E placed a very respectable 4th place. Mom and Dad...jumping up and down ecstatic. E...let's just say his reaction was a bit more sedate...

J and I were thrilled that E not only participated but that he received a real, honest to goodness trophy. And guess what? It didn't say, "Honorable Mention for Those With a Pulse". It really, really said 4th place. E, on the other hand, was going for first and was bewildered by his parents' slacker mentality. To his credit, he held it together. But as you can see, he's also not beaming with pride.

So you see friends, we're still learning. We spent so much time on the car and the design ideas and the plans and the whole whoopity do dang dingle, we neglected the most important, most valuable part here. The fun. The joy. And somewhere along the line, E picked up on it. So for the time being, J and I are on an over-achiever moratorium. Call it a self imposed time out for mommy and daddy. Rehab for the results addicted parent.

Because we sure want to see a lot more of his pre-trophy demeanor:

And less of this:

E is pictured fourth, coincidentally.

Yes siree. We're learning, right along with him.

As for the trophy...well, let's just say E had a change of heart. On his way to bed that night, he retrieved the lesser award from where he had nearly discarded it several hours earlier.

"I guess this isn't so bad, huh?", he asked as he polished the trophy adornment with the top of his PJs.

"Not bad at all my sweet little bear. Not bad at all", I reassured him. And I held back a lump as we marched up the stairs to his bedroom, trophy clenched in his still baby-like, chubby hand. There are so many of these every day lessons in store for my little boy. And for us parents. You can always win another trophy. But you can never relive the joy of that exact, particular moment. You just have to hope that a similar opportunity presents itself. And with God's grace, there will be many more.

Enjoying our blessings as they are given instead of lamenting over the prize or the award not received. A goal for the whole family, apparently. And for many others, no doubt.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day...A Letter to My Children

Dearest E and JoJo,

Today was big. Bigger than you can imagine or even understand right about now. It just so happens that on this day, the country stood together and welcomed that nice man, Barack Obama, as President of the United States! Wowie, wow, wow. He stood on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and promised before God, the country, and the entire world that he will do his very best to lead our country. I believe he takes that promise seriously and that he will work very hard to be a good leader. In other words, his heart is in the right place. And you know mommy thinks that's not such a bad place to start.

But there is a problem. While he was running for president, I'm sure you guys figured out that I didn't agree with Mr. Obama about lots of things. Many other grown-ups in our town and in our part of the country feel the same way. It's just that he does not share some of the same ideas that many of the people you know and love happen to consider very, very important. And so, I can only hope, only pray, that maybe he will change his mind about some stuff. I don't know if this will happen or not. But I'm willing to give him a chance. That's only fair, right?

Just for today, I'm not thinking about what's not going to work. Nor about any danger that we face now and in the future. I'm just proud of our country. And yes, E, his is, as you noticed, a brown man. His ethnic background is referred to as African-American. Because he is the very first African-American to become President of the United States, this is a very big deal. A ginormous, big, honkin' deal. Remember how we talked about something being historical? This event is definitely historical.

And this is exactly what he had to say as soon as he became president (His speech made mommy cry in a good, happy, sad, mommy kind of way):

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

What a time we live in, dear children. What a time, indeed.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy 4th Birthday JoJo!

January 6, 2005

How lucky I am to be your mommy. What do I tell you every single night of your life?? I love, love, love you to the moon, and to the stars, and back again. Plus a little more.

1st Birthday...Chrome dome and power cheeks!

2nd Birthday - First Poofy Dress. Last Poofy Dress. That's the last time you let me put you in one!

3rd Birthday...a bruise and a bink. The t-shirt is so much more your style JoJo!

4th Birthday..A party with some pre-school friends!

Happy, happy birthday!!!!!!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Evil on Four Legs

"He's ruining our lives and eating all our steak".

Napoleon Dynamite lamented over the misery unleashed by Uncle Rico. Too bad for us that his pithy observation applies in our home as well... In our case, however, the culprit isn't a washed-up high school football player from the 80s. Far more menacing, our foe is a smelly, slobbering, gas emitting soul crusher names Winston. And he's a pug.

I'm told he belongs to us but I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around that particular condemnation. Anyway, the point may very well be mute. Looking at the matter from his perspective, I'm sure this canine playah is assured we're all HIS...His bitches, that is.

At the moment, I'm not convinced that we're dealing with a force of this world. That possibility was explored in Men in Black. Call it a movie, call it fiction if you will. I say it's prophecy. If a creature has the ability to move both bulging eyes simultaneously, in an opposite trajectory, you do start questioning the validity of his earthly origins. My Irish breatheren dismiss the phenomenon as one eye lookin' at ya and the other lookin' for ya. Some call it the east-wester affliction. I, on the other hand, am not so sure. The wandering, googly eyes may be a manifestation of something far more malevolent. Stay tuned.

Oh, by the way, did I fail to mention that if you squeeze his neck, even slightly, one or both of those glassy orbs will pop right out of his head? Here's the kicker: If you insert the displaced eyeball back in its socket, sight resumes in an instant. And you think your retriever's play-dead trick is impressive! Then again, your Rover was sired by a shelter mutt. Maybe even by a show dog. But make no mistake about it. Winston is spawn. Of who or of what is a notion too chilling to fathom.

G.I. Tract of Steel...or Some Unidentifiable Alloy
We're told that there are a host of ingested substances that can kill a dog. Reportedly, pugs are susceptible as any other canine. Uh huh. How then, do I explain Winston's consumption of all manner of flora, fauna, animal, vegetable, and mineral? My friend Eileen once told me that her rotweiler ate two-by-fours like they were potato chips. Not chewed on them, mind you. Gobbled them whole. Long ago, our beagle devoured an entire orange tree. Roots, trunk, branches and fruit. Still, these doggy chew-fests pale compared to Winston's misadventures. Books, computer wires, conduit, drywall, nails, legos, Polly Pockets, pens, crayons, socks, shoes, boots, houseplants, cleaning supplies, dolls, roof tiles, seat cushions. These household items have simply vanished. Poof. And that's just the beginning.

Winston has what appears to be a potato. One of an entire sack that "just disappeared".

How about underwear? Another pug owner mentioned she's convinced that her four legged ham hock positively levitates when he encounters a pile of dirty laundry. I believe it. Around here, Dad's hummin' Calvin's are pug-manna-from-heaven. And my undergarments...Let's just say he can pass bra under wire through the backend while gobbling up some other equally delectable morsel up at the bow. In the bat of one cattywompus, misaligned eye. Two minutes later he unapologetically nudges me for his dinner.

E's Nintendo DS is rumored to have fallen prey although I'm hesitant to mention it. E's yet to complete his grieving process and it's a very touchy subject. To say the least. On a slightly more positive note, my Blackberry was rescued from the mini-beast's slobbering jowls moments before it vanished into his black hole of a gut. But the gelatinous, malodorous goo that remains on the device has rendered it unusable. No solvent nor solution known to man has the ability to decontaminate this phone. May it rest in peace.

To use my friend Monica's favorite phrase, I now present you with the pièce de résistance. There's no way to say this without inducing nausea, so I apologize in advance. Winston's all-time favorite delicacy is cat poo. For him, freshly acquired cat poo is the equivalent of a sublime French truffle. If it's straight out of the cat box, all the better. The added texture only heightens his gastronomic ecstasy. Meanwhile, after recovering from a family barf-o-rama, I concede that this thing, this purported animal, is slowly, insidiously robbing me of my humanity. Surely, Saint Francis himself would give me a high-five if I somehow mustered up the courage to oust hell dog from our semi-peaceful home. But who am I kidding?

Our stick-of-butter-on-four-legs has somehow worked his way into our hearts. Maybe he trampled and pillaged his way there. I don't know. Let's just say we love this incredibly destructive, sometimes amazingly stupid animal. Somehow we overlook the odors that instantly clear a room. His ability to shed like a buffalo--well, that's also part of the deal. Surely, we use sublimation as a way to cope when it comes to his daily frenzy of destruction. Yes, we throw our hands up in total acquiescence. The "dog" is here to stay. As for our family, if we all just disappear, you know who (or what) is to blame.

You've been warned.

Haters, Hecklers, and Sad Sacks

One of my resolutions this year is to "let go and let God" with a couple of folks who just, well...bum me out. I wish you no harm, I pray for your safety, your health and most certainly for your happiness. 'Cause it sure seems like you missed the happiness bandwagon somehow or other. Truly, If I could magically bestow you with happiness, with peace, with contentment, I'd do it in a heartbeat. If I could replace your missing happiness "chips", I'd run right out to Best Buy, right this very minute, and swoop up the most powerful, the most robust tranquility processors that my money could buy. Or, more correctly, what my MasterCard credit limit would cover.

But muchachas...count me out when it comes to engaging in your pissing contests. Cross me off as a guest at your never ending pity parties. If you do nothing else, grant me this--just let me be. You know those browser bookmarks with the delete button. Go be a drag on someone else's time. Keep lurking behind the scenes if you want. But lurking is all you'll ever get to do on this play date.

When you can play nicely, maybe I'll reconsider. In the meantime, go hate somewhere else.