Sunday, January 30, 2011

Got Common Sense?

Got Milk?

You've all seen the popular milk slogan. It's one of those advertising slogans ("Just Do It," "Fly the Friendly Skies") that become ingrained in the language. Or so I thought.

As a hobby/stress-reducer/creative outlet, I make cards. Handmade, one-of-a-kind cards featuring cool old stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s. There's something so fun about rescuing a beat-up old text book from the 50s and turning it into something cool and new. After I finish a batch of cards, I put them on Etsy, via my "store" called paperlunchbox.

For some reason, textbooks of the 50s and 60s are quite fascinated with milk production. There's a story in nearly every book I have talking about the dairy. So one day, when I was making a batch of fun cards from the 50s, I created a milk-related card. 

On Etsy, each item for sale has to have a name. I try to make my names sound fun, clever and interesting. Damn you, advertising degree! So when it came time to name this card, it was an easy one ... Got Milk.

That was six months ago. So imagine my surprise when I received an email last week from the California Milk Board's lawyer in Sacramento telling me that I was using their trademarked slogan without permission and I needed to cease and desist at once or risk facing legal action.

Seriously? For my $5 homemade card? And keep in mind that the title "Got Milk" doesn't appear anywhere on the card itself ... it's just the name I used to title the card.

So I changed the listing title of the card. Would it be "Milk Sucks?" Or "F@$% You California Milk Board?" Ultimately, I calmed down and went with "Milk Time."

Has our world so lost touch with common sense that it's come down to this? I'm one guy. Cutting out pictures by hand from textbooks that would otherwise be destroyed. Having a little fun. And trying to make five bucks. What a threat I must be to the corporate milk folks.

Geez, I hope Dick and Jane don't come after me, too. Or Sally ... I've heard she's really a hard-ass when it comes to legal matters.  :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Many Cats is Too Many Cats?

In a word, FOUR. 

For as long as I can remember, we've been a house with three cats. The trio we currently have include Fuzzy (a bushy-haired gray cat we originally named "Einstein," because of his hair ... but sadly, his intellect was not quite there and thus the switch to Fuzzy) ... Mookey (a black-and-white tuxedo cat who is so big, he looks as though he could have eaten another cat) ... and Squink (one only female cat — black, slender and rules the roost).

A few years ago, a friend of Kate's was frantic to find homes for kittens that had been born — unbeknownst to them — in the garage. Suckers that we are, we let her bring one home. He was very tiny and very sick. After a pricey vet visit, Lisa had to literally nurse him back to health, with hand-feedings, bottle feedings and daily medication. Poor little guy. We honestly thought he was a goner. But no, Gato (as we eventually named him) was a tough little cookie. As he grew, he deviled the other cats, especially Squink. It got so bad that the two of them couldn't be in the same room. Eventually, our friend Shannon (another cat fancier) agreed that Gato could live with her. And then there were three.

When Kate was first starting Whitworth in September and it looked as though she'd be in an apartment by herself, Lisa's sister couldn't bear it. "She needs someone to love," she said as she went to the cat adoption place in Spokane. That's where they found Beatrice, a tiny black kitten, full of piss and vinegar! "Bebe," as she was nicknamed, and Kate had a wonderful five days in the apartment. And then a dorm room opened up ... Bebe moved to Vancouver ... and it looked as though we'd be back to four cats again.

But by this time, we also had two chihuahuas who are not big fans of new cats — or any cats, for that matter. So bailing us out once again, Shannon decided Bebe would be better off with her. God bless that Shannon!

And here we are again with three cats. While we love the furry little buggers, we've already decided that since the kids are gone, once the cats die out ... (I know, don't boo, they have to go sometime!) ... they will not be replaced. 3-2-1 ... and someday, none.

The moral of this story? Even if you love cats, four is one cat too many. Don't believe us, ask Shannon. She tells people she has three cats plus one "foster cat." Cat people think alike.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tales from the Road

As the year 2010 comes to an end, I can't help but think back to the two round trips Lisa and I made to Colorado in late August.

Driving there the first time, taking Kate to school (see previous post) was fun. Everyone was excited, full of optimism. We spent the night in Park City, Utah, at a Marriott  Resort literally steps away from a chairlift. Summer price? $140/night for a room that had to be at least 1500 square feet. Just for fun, we looked up the December price for the same room ... $950 + tax. Yikes. Got on the road the next morning and marveled at the change in scenery. Hours (and hours and hours) later, got to Greeley and the nightmare ... um ... magic (again, see previous post) began.

On the way home several days later, the trip had a much more sad, somber mood. We had just left a tearful Kate and decided to drive straight through. It's amazing how fast you can go in Wyoming when no one's around! Got to where we could hit a rest stop or do a fast food drive-thru in less than two minutes. Eating in the car is an acquired skill, one at which we now excel!

Roughly two weeks later, after learning about Kate's feelings towards her new school, we decided to drive back and get her. This time, the mood took on a rescue mission vibe. We enlisted the help of Kate's dear friend, Jackie, to go with us. Family friend Shannon baked us cookies, we stocked up on water and off we went ... leaving around 1 in the afternoon with the intention of arriving at Kate's dorm between 8 and 9 a.m. the next morning. Mission Impossible: Greeley.

This is the segment of the trip that I most remember ... for all kinds of wacky reasons.

Somewhere near the Idaho/Utah border, Lisa suddenly realized we were very very low on gas. Late at night, in the middle of nowhere, frantically fiddling with the navigation system to find something — anything — in the area. Finally did, and not a minute — or mile — too soon. The best part? Here, at this gas station time forgot, at well-past midnight, there were two huge tables out front selling flip flops, slippers and other "gift items."

In the dead of night, with Lisa asleep in the passenger seat, Jackie asleep in the back and me at the wheel, we came around a huge hairpin onramp turn, where I-80 becomes I-84. At the bottom of the turn, in the middle of the road ... one big-ass deer. I swerved to the left, hit the brakes and did a quick prayer. The van stopped, literally, a foot or two from the deer, who gave us a good stare, then ran off. Stopped hard enough to wake Lisa up and toss Jackie around in the back. If that doesn't get your heart pumping, nothing will! No sleep for me the rest of the night! 

We saw thunderstorms and prairie dogs, big mountains and big rigs. And when we rolled into Greeley at 9 a.m. on the dot, this phase of the drive was over.

Then, after picking up Kate, emptying her dorm room, withdrawing from school and having a series of unpleasant "chats" with the swim coach and athletic director, we were off for home. Tense, but happy. Knowing deep down that we did the right thing. And the one stop we'll never forget? "Little America," somewhere in the middle of Wyoming. To call it a super-sized truck stop is not nearly enough. This place was a small city unto itself. Cafe. Restaurant. Grocery store. Souvenirs. Playground. Hotel. Gas. Car wash. Bathrooms. You name it, Little America had it. We enjoyed lunch, 50 cent cones (one of the services they tout!) and a visit to the restroom. In the middle of nowhere, it was nice just to be out of the car for an hour. 

Yes, that's a trip I will never forget. And one I hope to never repeat! Here's to a healthy, happy and amazing 2011, wherever the road may take you!

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Colleges

Kate, my daughter, is a very smart, level-headed young lady. She has always been a black-and-white, by-the-book, follow-the-rules type kid — the polar opposite of her brother, Andy, but that's another blog.

So when it was time to select a college, she did her homework. She wanted a school that was on the smaller size. A school that was in an urban area, but not necessarily a large urban area. She wanted a school with a good pre-med program ... a good Spanish program ... and a safe campus. And she wanted a school with a good swim team.

To that end, she went on half-a-dozen college visits, many of them paid visits on behalf of the swim team. In the end, it came down to two different schools: The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, and Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Each school was giving her academic scholarships. And UNC was giving her athletic scholarships, too. Factoring in all the options — including the money — the Colorado school won out. So thirteen months ago, she accepted UNC's offer and that was the plan ever since.

In August, we made the trek to Colorado. Kate, Lisa and I in the van, loaded top to bottom with dorm-room stuff. We spent the better part of a week in Greeley, setting Kate up in her room, going through orientation and so on.

But some things that happened there gave us pause.

The swim coach, for instance, could never find the time to meet us. And because she was a swimmer, Kate had to register with an "athletic advisor." This young man spent an hour with Kate, arguing with her that the classes she wanted to take were "too hard" and that she should consider taking fewer classes — and easier classes — to help boost the swim team's GPA. That didn't sit well with Kate ... or with us.

But after a tearful farewell, we parent got back in the van and headed home. 

Roughly 10 days later, on a Saturday, we got a long, very unhappy email from Kate. She said she had made a terrible mistake and UNC was not the school for her. She knew it was too late to do anything about it, but wanted to let us know that she would stick out the year, but that she would not be returning.

Her reasons? For one thing, her three roommates wanted to do little else but party. Kate was placed on an all-athletes floor where the students were essentially given carte blanche. When the three male baseball players living next door came over to introduce themselves, the first thing they said was "you guys all smoke pot and drink, right?" One by one, Kate's three roommates said sure, of course, absolutely. Kate just looked at them and said "no way." That's Kate.

In one of the first team meetings with the swim team, the head swim coach told the girls that she knew they would drink and party ... and that was OK, as long as they didn't come to practice with a hangover. Oh, and her advice for partying? "If the cops come, drop your drink and run." Seriously? A D-1 head coach essentially condoning drinking and partying? Again, that is SO not Kate.

Because of a scheduling snafu, she was never able to eat lunch. She has class from 11 to 2 each day, and the dining halls weren't open beyond that for lunch. So she was supposed to go to morning workout ... eat breakfast ... go to three classes ... then go to afternoon workout with no lunch. The dining hall people told her that it was her problem.

Anyway, long and unpleasant story short, Lisa and I decided that Saturday that it was silly to make Kate spend a year in college being miserable. So we called her ... talked at length ... then packed up (along with one of Kate's dear high school friends in tow) and drove straight through from Vancouver to Greeley, a super-fun 19+ hours.

As you can imagine, the swim coach was none too thrilled about this. Although ironically, in talking about drinking on campus, she mentioned to us that "out of control drinking" was one of the reasons she lost her previous coaching jobs. Hmm. Dorm cleaned out, admissions withdrawn and coach unpleasantness, we were officially done with UNC.

Spent much of the 19 hour drive home on the cell phone to the folks at Whitworth. What a difference. Yes, they could admit Kate. Yes, she would still get all of her scholarship money — even more, in fact. The snag was housing. This was their biggest class ever and they were actually 100% full up. Between the wonderful admissions counselor and the amazing swim coach, they made it happen. Kate was allowed to live in an apartment off campus — the first and only time they've allowed a freshman to do that. Whitworth staff — from the president and the director of housing, to admissions, financial aid and the advisors — bent over backwards to help us out in any way they could.

Again, long story short, we went from withdrawing at UNC to driving Kate to Whitworth in the span of five days. She had an apartment very near school. Our plan was to make it so that she would never be there along for the first week. As lucky would have it, we didn't get that far. Five days after she moved in, a dorm room became available. We're not 100% sure why, but our hunch is that Kate's advisor made it happen. He was horrified that an 18-year old freshman girl was living off campus in an apartment by herself. He even went so far as to line up classmates to escort Kate to and from campus! So we drove back to Spokane and moved Kate from the apartment to the dorm. Our prayers had been answered.

Yes, Whitworth is more expensive than UNC. But in the grand scheme of things, what's another loan or two. The bottom line for us is that the fit is right. Kate is where she belongs. She loves her dorm. She loves her swim team. She loves her teachers and classmates and the campus. And she loves that it's a close-knit Christian school with all that entails. Equally important for her is what it doesn't entail ... the big partying scene and the dumbing-down of student athletes.

No two universities are the same. And finding the right fit for your student is paramount. As trite as it may sound, don't let your checkbook be the key determining factor. That's a lesson we learned the hard way!

P.S. — To our friends, family, co-workers and clients who send support during this miserable few weeks, we say THANK YOU! Hopefully this gives you a little more detail of the craziness going on this past August and September!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging ...

Do not adjust your dial.

Somehow between the end of school, graduation, Disneyland, Andy's birthday, summer swim season, packing for college and driving to/from college (in Colorado), my blogging efforts have fallen by the wayside. But never fear fans of the perpetually too long stories! I'm back with a vengeance. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Burning Bush

'Twas the Fourth of July, six or seven years ago. As in previous years, we were the crazy house where everyone came for dinner and a fireworks show — and what a show it was! Since our town is one of those last bastions of fireworks insanity (where you can buy everything short of firecrackers and M-80s), we always went a little over the top. We'd spend a couple hundred dollars, friends would bring fireworks, too. Before you know it, we had 30 people in the yard and enough fireworks for 90+ minutes.

On this particular year, there was a bit of a breeze. Felt great, since it was hot out, but not good for fireworks that blast 50' into the sky. About an hour into the show, our mistress of the matches, Shannon, lit off something that was supposed to send a dozen flaming balls high into the July 4th sky, each one breaking into a different colored firework. If only.

Instead, the damn thing tipped over the instant it was fully lit. The first ball shot out over the head of the kids in the lawn. The force of the shot made the entire thing spin. It became a crazy Russian roulette of fiery balls. The second ball shot down the center of the street, harmless. I was inside, getting a blanket when I heard all the commotion. "Duck!" "Stay down!" "Run!" What on earth was going on.

As I came out the back door and neared the gate onto the driveway, a flaming ball when whizzing past my head, literally inches away. I ducked ... took a look around and saw that everyone else had scrambled.

Once the firework stopped its crazy dance, we noticed that the neighbors boxwood hedge was on fire. No problem, we had the hose ready to go and a bucket of water. Unfortunately, the hedge was dry. Very, very dry.

So in a matter of seconds, an entire section of the hedge was in flames. The hose wouldn't reach, naturally. As Lisa and a few others ran to use the neighbors hose, Andy and I ran into our backyard ... grabbed big plastic toy tubs ... and dipped them into our kiddie pool. We then ran across the street and tossed the water onto the shrubs. Someone in the house had called 911.

By the time the firetruck arrived a few minutes later, we had managed to put out the flames. Picture a 20-year-old boxwood hedge with a 5' section in the middle charred and smoking, no longer green. 

The capper to the evening? As Lisa was explaining what had happened to the fireman, she accidentally sprayed him with the hose in her hand. His buddies howled ... checked the bush ... told us we had done a great job ... and drove away.

No one said a word. We boxed up the remaining fireworks and gave them to a friend. We swept the street. Everyone packed up their stuff. And the neighbor — who was very nice — told us she was so happy no one was hurt. 

Yes, we bought and planted new boxwoods and purchased a new mailbox, too (the other one had melted in the fire). But that was the last time we ever did fireworks at our house. As I lay in bed this time of year, listening to the pops and bangs and booms in the distance, I wonder if somewhere out there, there may be another burning bush. Happy July 4th, everyone! Make it a safe one!