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!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Most kids have a few bumps and bruises on the way from baby to toddler to teen. A sprained ankle here, a bug bite or two there.

Andy is not like most kids.

Ever since he was born, nearly 21 years ago, Andy has had a devil-may-care attitude about safety. When he was little, if we went somewhere near a pond, pool or body of water, he'd try and jump in it ... never mind he couldn't swim at the time. If there was a play structure to be climbed or a fence to be scaled, Andy was right there. And also unlike most kids, he had a tolerance for pain that's really remarkable. 

Like the time in grade school when he was at the park with friends. Gone just a few minutes, they all came running back to the house, with one little girl telling us "Andy fell off the bars and his arm doesn't look right." When Andy came into view, he was white as a ghost, but not making a peep. Diagnosis: Broken elbow. Six weeks in a cast and sling was to follow.

Then there was the time he was at junior high bike camp with our church group. This particular year was Eastern Oregon year. At the end of the camp, a friend brought him to the beach, where we were already at with Kate for a swim meet. Poor kid was red from head to toe, with nasty blotches all over his body. Diagnosis: Poison oak. He had told his teenage counselor, who told him to go ask an adult. That must have seemed like too much drama, so Andy went back to bed and started scratching. Got so bad he had to be on antibiotics.

Also in middle school, there was the time he was visiting the Oregon coast with Lisa and her extended family. Lisa's brother let Andy climb up on some barnacle-covered rocks in the waves. Sure enough, whoosh came a big wave and down fell Andy — peeling off a dinner-plate sized piece of skin from his leg and thigh. Diagnosis: Enough degloved skin to require stitches, antibiotics and very nearly a skin graft. No tears, though, even though it hurt like hell — especially the cleaning. 

With a nurse in the family, our kids have lived by the adage that if there are tears and fussing, there had darn well better be blood. As with all things, Andy likes to take that mantra to the extreme.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fasten your seat belts, it's another anniversary!

Another year, another wedding anniversary. 22 wild-and-crazy fun-filled years with the Mrs. 

As I look back and reminisce, my mind wanders back to our honeymoon to Disneyworld. Ah, memories.

The plane trip from here to Chicago was uneventful. The trip from Chicago to Orlando, however, was anything but. Lisa and I were two of maybe 10 non-Asian, English-speaking passengers. Seems a Japanese Amway group had booked the other 190 seats. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the flight attendants rolling their eyes. Before we even left the gate, tray tables were down, bags were in the aisles, it was crazy. And they either didn't understand the instructions the flight attendants were giving, or they didn't care. After a short delay, we took off. Not more than 3 minutes in the air, the seat in front of me reclined as far as it would go. For the next four hours on a sold-out flight, I had a tiny Japanese man practically in my lap. Preparing to land, the flight attendants had to tell everyone — not once or twice, but dozens of times — to fold up their tray tables and sit upright. Having enough at this point, Lisa took matters into her own hands — literally — reaching over the seat and thwopping the man on his head to get him to sit up. Straight-forward and direct, that's why I love her!

Once in our hotel, we had a fun day-and-a-half in the parks. Then just after lunch, returning to our hotel via monorail, I suddenly felt lousy ... really, really lousy. Thought maybe a nap would do the trick, but no such luck. Spiked a temp, felt horrible. After a day of this, Lisa called for the in-house doctor. Turns out I had pneumonia — which apparently is very common with honeymooners, as they tend to be run-down from the wedding, then thrown into a hot and humid environment. Wheat Thins, apple juice and antibiotics every 4 hours. It's good to have a nurse on hand! Lisa said she knew it must be serious since we could literally see the Magic Kingdom outside our room and I was too out of it to go. Finally felt better just in time to enjoy our last two of ten days in Florida. 

Here's to the next 22 wonderful and wonder-filled years. And may I never be on a Japanese Amway chartered plane again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"H" is for Hilarity, Part Deux

In our last edition, we introduced you to the wacky and eclectic cast of characters who can be found in the hospital on any given day.

In the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain't seen nothin' yet!

Take the other night. A quiet Wednesday evening. Our gals on Labor & Delivery get a call from the E.R. telling them they have a pregnant woman, age 60, who needs to be seen. And, um, her water has broken.

Age 60, you ask? Call Ripley's Believe It Or Not and grab the ultrasound. So the charge nurse went down to investigate. Have you met our new friend, Crazy? She's having Jesus' twins. That's right — twins. And the water that's broken? She's peed on herself, naturally.

Another night in paradise and there's no room at the inn. 

Don't judge a book ...

As the talented Susan Boyle taught us the day she belted out "I Dreamed A Dream" and became a worldwide sensation, you can't judge a book by its cover.

Case in point: Lisa's visit to the credit union drive up this morning. 

On short outings like this, we often take Essie, our chihuahua. She likes to hunker down behind your head as you drive. If any sort of drive-up is involved, she knows that if she makes her presence known to the people behind the window, she might get a treat.

Today, as Lisa waited at the drive-up, a scary looking guy pulled up in the car next to her. Tattoos everywhere. Multiple piercings. The kind of bad-ass dude you picture riding a Harley or starting a knife fight in prison. So imagine Lisa's surprise when he rolled his window down, leaned over and said, about Essie, "She is just precious!" "Yes she is," Lisa replied. They exchanged pleasantries until the pneumatic tube — and Essie's dog treat — made its way back to the car.

Axe-murderer? Rogue undercover cop? He certainly had the look. But anyone who likes chihuahuas enough to chat it up at the drive-up can't be all bad.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Let the sun shine!

As a native Pacific Northwesterner, I'm used to rain. Lots of it. But the fact that I'm sitting here in long pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a thick Eddie Bauer sweatshirt — and it's May 28 — is crazy. Apparently this was the coldest and wettest May on record. And that follows a cold and equally record-setting-rainy April. The lawn is more than watered. The flowers are so wet they're falling over. As we head into the Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer, I think it's time we get reacquainted with a long-long friend: the sun. Hurry, please, I'm tired of being cold and wet.

Monday, May 24, 2010

White, rich, married and educated ... like me.

America is a multi-cultural rainbow and that's what makes us the great country we are. Whether you're black, white, green, purple, one-eyed, eleven-toed, tall, short, skinny, fat ... it makes no difference. The saying "it's what's inside that counts" is true. Hard work, the saying goes, is what pays off in the end.

Until, that is, you enter the world of scholarships.

Kate has been an exemplary student, leader, athlete and volunteer for years. Her GPA is near 4.0, taking all advanced classes and college courses. She's been the ASB leader for four years, including serving as Executive President (the head honcho) this year. She's a state championship level swimmer. She goes to YoungLife youth group. And in what little spare time she has, she volunteers for the Red Cross and other charitable organizations. She's a dream candidate for scholarships ... in 1965.

Thus far, she's zero for ten on getting any of the scholarships she's applied for. For one, a healthcare-related scholarship (she plans on being an OB/GYN), she wasn't ethnic enough. For another scholarship, her parents (that's us) made too much money (too much being barely able to make ends meet). Another was nixed because she has two parents — sorry about that, kiddo. And for yet another, the fact that her parents had gone to college — and thus, she would not be a first-generation college student in her home — got her the big goose-egg. 

So while I'm all for we are the world, hakuna matata, and kuumbaya, I'd love it if we could get back to judging scholarships based on the actual qualifications and achievements of the student.

Color me unhappy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where were you when the mountain blew?

Every so often, an event happens that stops time. Years later, people will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened.

The day President Kennedy was assassinated? Sorry, I was just shy of my second birthday. The moon landing? I was in Chicago visiting my grandmother and remember vividly watching it on her console TV. The Challenger disaster? I was at work at Turtledove Clemens, an ad agency in Portland, when Lisa called and told me she had seen it happen live. 9-11? I woke up to get the kids ready for school just in time to see the first tower fall. 

And Mount Saint Helens? When she blew her top, I was winding up my freshman year at Washington State. My parents had called earlier in the day, telling me the mountain had erupted and that the ash cloud was headed straight for us in Pullman, on the eastern side of Washington. Sure enough, not long after noon a black cloud formed on the horizon and quickly made its way toward us. I was on the 7th floor of Roger's Hall, with a room that faced west. Within the hour, the sky was pitch black and all of the automatic street lights came on, thinking it was night. Then it started to snow, only the snow was actually volcanic ash. No one knew anything about it, so police cars and ambulances drove around campus, using their sound systems to tell everyone to remain indoors with the windows shut. This went on for hours.

Before long, we had a good inch or two of ash on the ground. They cancelled school for Monday ... then Tuesday ... then the whole week. Life pretty much ground to a halt. We went down to the dining hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then back to our rooms. This was the week I learned to play hearts. Bandanas and surgical masks were handed out. And if anyone needed to drive, they were told to stretch a pair of old panty hose over the air filter. It was a crazy time, but definitely one to remember. And speaking of crazy, my girlfriend at the time decided to take the university up on its offer of "if you're having issues because of the ash, you can take your grades as-is, skip finals and go home." Me and my blue bandana stuck it out — the semester, that is, not the relationship.

So now, as we look back fondly some 30 years later, I can say "wow, I was there." And saying that out loud makes me also think "wow, am I old!" Not as old as a volcano, mind you, but ...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Queasy in Corvallis.

Twice a year for the past several years, we make the trek to Corvallis for a big swim meet. The pool facility is lovely ... the town, not so much. Sorry, Beavers, when the biggest draw you can give me is that you have a Baskin-Robbins AND a Cold Stone, the battle is lost.

A highlight, though, is always our late-morning breakfasts at Elmer's. Great service. Great food. Carb- and protein-loaded goodies galore (that's for the swimmer). 

But today, for some reason, I had one of those mind-bending near-miss unfortunate incidents. The kind I have nightmares about. Something so heinous, so horrid, I hate to even relive it (but I will!)

Puking in public.

I can hear the gasps from here. But don't worry, there was no vomiting involved. Just the extremely real possibility. Let's go back to the beginning.

On the drive from the hotel to the restaurant, I began feeling really nauseous. "I'm hungry," I thought. No big deal. Got to Elmer's. Got a table right away. Ordered breakfast, along with a milk and a glass of water.

By this time, I was getting really nauseous. My mind was reeling. Anything on the table I can use just in case? No luck. Do I have a clear path to the bathroom? We were on the opposite side of the restaurant and the entire lobby area was packed with senior citizens, both coming and going. "I'll never make it through that sea of walkers, canes and blue hair," I thought to myself. My shoe? A napkin? Why doesn't anyone have a hat? Damn.

The waitress brought the water and milk. Great, milk should help. Water, too. And ... nothing. Felt worse. Could feel my mouth start to water in that nasty, icky way it does before one throws up. Frantically, I grabbed Lisa's purse and started digging. A folded plastic shopping bag — perfect. I held it in my hand and hung on for dear life.

By this time, Lisa had figured out what I was doing. She and Kate both started peppering me with questions, but I signaled for them to be quiet. The barfing man does not want to be interrogated. I closed my eyes.

Within the span of maybe 30 seconds, I went from beet red and burning hot ... to sweaty, the kind where beads of sweat literally pour out of your face ... to being cool and pasty white. And with that, the nausea and vomit alert was gone.

I mopped my forehead, drank some more milk and let out a huge sigh of relief. And while I was momentarily convinced I was dying, Nurse Lisa figured out that the more logical explanation was that I had stupidly taken my blood pressure medicine on an empty stomach right as we left the hotel. Damn you, modern medicine. But before I could give it another thought, my blueberry pancakes arrived. Queasy in Corvallis no more.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gettin' crafty.

Growing up as the son of two elementary school teachers, I was forced to become handy with butcher paper and Elmer's glue at an early age. Sadly, that was about the extent of my artistic ability.

Over the years, Lisa and I have tried our hands at various craft endeavors. When the kids were babies, we went through a cross-stitch phase. It was fun to do and an easy activity during nap times and watching Jungle Book for the 387th time. Samplers, Christmas ornaments, seasonal wall hangings — you name it, we cross-stitched it. During the stamp madness of the early 1990s, we were right there — stamping greeting cards, lunch sacks, notebooks and anything else we could get our hands on. Then a dozen or so years ago, Lisa became a quilter. A good one, too. Her favorites were the ones using retro fabrics from the 30s, 40s and 50s. They're amazing.

But like all hobbies, life got in the way. Too much day, not enough time. And our crafting fell by the wayside.

And then I discovered Etsy — the eBay for hand-made, hand-crafted items. It is SO cool. Paper goods. Jewelry. Bags and purses. Toys. Housewares. Glass. All hand-made. Want something custom? It's here. Something old-school? No problem. Something that would make the perfect gift? Start clicking. www. 

No time for crafting projects? Don't worry, someone out there is still crafting away. And their happy to share their creativity with you. Enjoy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Get In the Van: My Day at the Prom

Senior Prom 2010 has come and gone. And what a lovely affair it was. Girls in elegant dresses with movie star hairdos and make-up. Boys in tuxedos looking slightly nervous. Photos. Dinner. Dancing at Union Station in downtown Portland. It was an event to remember ... if you're an 18 year old girl.

My prom story is somewhat less glamorous.

Since Lisa had worked the night before ... and was working on prom night ... I was called into duty as Mr. Mom. No problem, it's a role I'm familiar with. Besides, it's Kate's last big dance, how bad can it be.

First stop, the florist to pick up the boutonniere. A simple white rose with a hint of purple flowers to match Kate's dark purple dress. Great. We were there, in and out, and home in 30 minutes.

Next stop, into downtown Portland for a hair styling at Dosha — a luxury we reserve for very, very special occasions. Getting there was a breeze, as traffic heading into town was light. But something was odd going the other way, as traffic was backed up for miles. Note to self: On the return trip, take an alternate route. Dropped Kate off at the door 10 minutes early. She said it would be about 45 minutes. So I drove around a little bit, then parked and did a little shopping. Fun. It was nearing the 45 minute mark, so I got back in the car, drove around several blocks trying to find a place nearby to park, then got lucky and snuck into a hard-to-see spot a few streets away. "I'll wait here for a minute or two until she calls," I thought. 25 minutes later, I got the "I'm ready" text. By this point, it was after 4 p.m. No big deal, except that she had a make-up appointment with the Clinique guy at Macy's in Vancouver Mall for 4:30.

"Get in the van" I yelled to her, "we've got to hurry." So off we went. Remembering that I-5 northbound was a parking lot, I quickly got onto I-84 going east, with the goal of connecting to I-205 and going over the other bridge into Vancouver. Halfway to our goal, traffic came to a stop on I-84. Stop and go, stop and go. After 15 minutes, we'd moved about a mile. "Call Clinique and tell them we're late," I told Kate, which she did. Just before the 82nd Street exit, traffic stopped for good. I maneuvered my way to the off-ramp and got off at 82nd. Followed the side streets to the airport, not moving fast but at least moving. Got just shy of the I-205 Bridge and traffic was again backed up. Turns out construction on the bridge had cut four lanes down to two. Ironically, this was also the cause of the back-up on the Interstate Bridge, as motorists were being advised to use it, due to construction on the other bridge. 15 minutes later, we were up and over the bridge. Stepped on the gas and got to Van Mall around 5 p.m.

Iram, the Clinique make-up guru did his magic on Kate. She looked beautiful. Got done there and Kate informed me that she needed a special pair of no-seam undies to go with the dress. "You didn't think of this before?" I thought to myself. So we raced upstairs to the underwear department. Kate explained what she needed and the saleswoman showed us the options. Holding up two different pairs of silky, skimpy underpants, Kate looks at me and says "which one do you think works best?" I looked at the saleswoman and said "This is not the kind of questions a dad should be answering." She laughed. We bought the black pair and off we went.

By this time, Kate's date, James, was already at our house. Kate got home, put on her dress, earrings, shoes and was ready to roll. Lisa was going to do pictures, so I had a few minutes to sit, grab some water and take a deep breath. 

Following pictures, my merry band of six kids in formal attire piled into the van and off we went, back downtown, to PF Changs. Dropped them off at the door, then I hung out in the van for the better part of two hours. By this time, it's dark and I'm parked, sitting in the van, in a creepy area of NW Portland next to a boarded up warehouse. I fully expected a cop, a carjacker or a vampire to knock on my window at any second. Got the "we're ready" text so I fired up the van, wove through The Pearl and picked them up. 

Then it was a quick ride to Union Station. Pulled up right in front, let everyone out and told them that I would be back at 11. I had a little less than 90 minutes left, so I drove home ... zoomed through the McDonald's drive-in (it's been a long, LONG time since I ate a donut at 10 a.m.) grabbed dinner ... went home ... and let the dog out. Naturally, for the first time on my watch, she decided to run off into the night. Found her after a few minutes (damn dog!) ... shoved down dinner ... then turned around and drove back downtown. Got there at 11:05 and they were ready to go. 

They had a blast! Dinner was their favorite part, and the dance was great, too. Lots of stories. Tons of memories. How can you go wrong having fun with friends in high school.

And as for me, I had a good time, too. Prom 2010 was definitely a success. And yes, that arm you see in the photo is me ... with daughter Kate sitting behind me. Good times.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"H" is for Hilarity, Part One

With a wife who's a night-shift RN, the stories around our dinner table are a little different than most. "How was your day" often reads more like "You will not believe what happened last night."

Case in point, the wacky, are-you-kidding-me things that come through the Emergency Room. 

I know what you're thinking. Really, you say, they never show things like that on Grey's Anatomy. True. But then again, they also never show ugly people ... or patients filling out paperwork. So much for reality.

A hospital is like a very large office building. If a story is crazy enough, sooner or later the whole place knows about it. And thus our stories today.

There's the guy who came in with a Coke bottle up his derriere. For real. And the guy who came in with a cucumber stuck in his bottom. Seriously. Not to be outdone, the gentleman who came in with an eggplant where the sun don't shine. Noticing a pattern here? The best part? All three of these naked men "tripped and fell" onto their backside impalements. 

Then there are the two people — not one, but two — who recently came through the E.R. on the same night. Separate cases. Separate stories. One, an extremely overweight woman, was in a car accident. Her oddity, you ask? She had several CDs jammed into the fatty folds in her rear-end. Seems as though shoplifting has taken an uglier-than-normal toll. During the same shift, a gang member came through the E.R. with a gunshot wound. Being extremely vigilant for good hygiene, he had an air freshener between his butt cheeks. I guess when his mama said to always wear clean undies in case you need to go to the hospital, he took it a step or two further.

But without a doubt, the story of all stories is the one of a young couple in love ... or at least lust. He had a piercing in the end of his, well, you know. And she had a piercing in her, well, you know. One thing let to another, and just like those magic rings that hook together, our pair of lovers was forever entwined. Good thing Dad came home. He knew nothing of the piercing ... or the love affair ... but he got to try his hand at getting his daughter and her paramour unhooked. No luck. So he called 911. The paramedic gave it a go, too, but to no avail. So they had to come to the Emergency Room, as is, to be cut apart. Ah, young love. If this doesn't serve as a cautionary tale for safe sex, nothing will.

And with that, I bid you adieu on the first of what will surely be an ongoing series. The folks who come through a real hospital may not be movie-star pretty, but they sure have some good stories.

Honk if you love safety.

Favorite new bumper sticker (courtesy of friends on Facebook):

Honk if you love Jesus.
Text if you want to meet Him soon.

To the woman I followed over the 205 bridge yesterday with a cigarette in one hand and text messaging with the other (steering wheel? what steering wheel?), this one's for you.

When life gives you lemons ...

... it really helps to have a wife who makes lemonade!

When Andy and Kate were young, Lisa worked part time and I worked full time, first at ad agencies and then here at home as a freelancer. This gave Lisa more time to be home with the kids, when it really counted. By the time the kids were in middle school, Lisa and I both worked full time. Heaven knows it takes that much these days just to stay afloat.

Then, when we hit the Great Recession of '08 (or '09 or '10), my work started to slow down. First it was as minute as a job here and there that had been discussed, but now would not be going forward. OK, this is manageable. Then it was a client whose entire marketing department had been dismantled and would no longer be using outside help. Not to worry, it was a smaller client. And then, as they say, the other shoe dropped. A creative director I work with lost a major client. My steadiest clients are cutting back. And my income is going from holding on to hardly there. Bring on the recovery! Sadly, the bills haven't changed any, just the income. 

But that's the beauty of marriage. When one partner is down, the other partner picks up the slack. And that's just what Lisa has done. Not only has she maintained her three twelve-hour shifts each week, but she's picked up any and all standby shifts that have been available. As a result, we're still here!

And me? Ironically, having more free time has enabled me to help Kate with scholarship applications, college forms, NCAA paperwork and so on. 

So when life give you lemons, make lemonade. Or better yet, make your wife a lemon drop.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's a store, not a museum.

For anyone who has been to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon and lived to tell about it, I salute you.

Don't get me wrong. I love IKEA. And when I heard they were coming to the Portland area, I was thrilled. When I found out they were going to be just across the river near the airport, it was like I had died and gone to hard-to-put-together-yourself Swedish college furniture heaven. 

Living so close — less than 10 minutes away — has its advantages. The biggest of which is that I've learned when it's best to go ... and when it's best to stay home. Weekday mornings and early afternoon is a great time. So is any day after 7 p.m. The weekend? Just say no.

But regardless of what time it is, one thing always strikes me when visiting my favorite Swedish warehouse: the slow-moving people. Be they first-timers, elderly, with stroller (or strollers), pushing carts, pushing grandma, lugging boxes, from near, from far or even from a galaxy far far away ... please remember — it's a store, not a museum. You do not need to stop in the middle of the aisle to ooh and ahh. Affordable silverware is not a Renoir. A $19 plastic lamp is not a DaVinci. And synthetic pillows in six different colors does not a Picasso make. So please, keep moving. Unless it's Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My privates are just fine, thank you!

There's a special place in hell for spammers. 

Recently, I've discovered that I can go to my master online account and see what spam is being filtered out. Wow, was that an eye-opener! On a typical day, I get more than 100 spam messages. The bulk of them are shut out because they come from dubious places, like eastern Europe and sketchy regions of Asia. Yes, they have your email addresses, too. Scary stuff.

But there's another chunk of spam in my box that falls into three main categories: Replica watches, online pharmaceuticals, and an assortment of ways to make ... how shall we say ... my private parts much bigger/better/more powerful than they currently are. Apparently, if I take their pills/potions/mixtures/procedures, I can be a much better lover/partner/pleasurer to her/him/myself in no time. I'll be able to get dates and the ladies will be knocking down my door. Not to mention the fact that oxycodone, vicodin and a myriad of other prescription-only drugs are mine for the asking. And should I need a good looking replica of a super-expensive watch for mere pennies, I'm covered there, too.

So much for Internet etiquette when you're faced with wham, bam, thank you ma'am in the heading. Viagra at half price? Rolex knock-offs a jeweler couldn't detect? My spam box runneth over ...

The 5:07 wake-up call

I don't know about you, but I'm not a morning person. Unless we're at a theme park, I'd just as soon sleep a little bit longer every morning. One of the perks about working at home is that there is no true 9 to 5 time period for work.

That said, for the past six years, a little birdie has been waking me up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at just past 5 a.m. Her name? Kate. 

When she was 13, Kate started having morning swim three times a week. So every M-W-F, I'd stagger out of bed, throw on some shoes and drive Kate to the pool. Then come home, sleep for an hour, get up with the alarm and return to the pool for the pick-up. 

Before she could drive, this also meant early morning summer practices at the Mt. Hood Community College pool in Troutdale. For two summers, that meant getting up at 4:45 a.m. and driving the 30 minutes to the pool. Once Kate was in the building, I'd park the van, flatten the seats in back and take a nap. Pillows and a blanket became part of the must-have gear in the van. I'd set my alarm for 7:15 ... wake up ... drive back to the front of the pool and wait for Kate. Then we drove back home, hitting a burst of rush-hour once we hit I-205. Good times.

Nowadays, Kate drives herself to morning practice. And on mornings when Lisa is here, she graciously not only gets up with Kate, but makes her waffles, too. But since our driveway is way off to one side of the house and since Kate is still a tad afraid of the dark, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday when it's just me at home, I hear a quiet little "Dad, can you walk me out" sometime around 5:07. And while I'll admit that at some point, that was like nails on a chalkboard, these days I pop out of bed without a word and stumble outside in the dark with her. My baby will be going off to college in the fall, and my days of the 5:07 wake-up call are coming to an end. Who thought I'd miss that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

What creeps you out? The branches of an overgrown shrub outside your bedroom window scraping the side of the house in the wind? The sound you thought you heard in the basement when no one else is home? Maybe the dog suddenly perking up and barking for what appears to be no reason?

Forget that. The real life horror these days are the people who steal your information online.

Work up bright and early Monday morning from an automated call from the Wells Fargo fraud department, asking us to call back, which I did. Went through the usual series of "enter your billing zip code" questions, then got to the crux of the call. The system asked if we recognized a $300 charge to Yahoo something-or-other the night before. Nope. And in clicking the no option, we were immediately connected to a real person. They ran down a list of recent charges on the account. $50 at Paper Zone. Yeah, that's us ... making invitations for Kate's graduation Open House. $29 at Target. Yep, that's us, too. As was the Union 76 charge and the Land of Nod rug purchase. But the $190 to T-Mobile of Bellevue? Sorry, we have AT&T and live at the other end of the state. And the Yahoo purchases — there were two — not us either.

So long story short, the cards were immediately canceled, we can't access the funds in the account, and we'll be receiving paperwork to fill out and documentation to sign within 5 to 10 business days. After that, we will at some point get the money from the bogus charges returned to our account.

When I asked the fraud expert if there was anything we had done to cause this, she said no. "They're just really good at what they do," she told me. "And what they do is figure out ways to beat the system and steal other people's money. It's their job."

Personally, I'd like to see them change jobs. I hear the license plate foundry at the Walla Walla State Prison is hiring.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And the little dog pooped ...

What is it about this chihuahua of ours? Don't get me wrong, Essie is a GREAT dog. Probably the best dog I've ever had. She's loving, loyal, quiet, mellow. When she sees big dogs out the window, the hair on her neck stands straight up and she goes crazy ... never mind the fact that they could eat her six tiny pounds as a snack. On nights when Lisa works, she'll sleep all night with me, then sleep all day with Lisa. And since she's a burrower, she's like a little heating pad under the covers. 

But then there's the issue of poop. We find it here, we find it there, we find it pretty much everywhere. And we often find it just minutes after she's gone outside to do her business. What the heck!? All I can say is that thank goodness she's small! 

Let's play ... PASSWORD!

Back when computer passwords first came out, the requirements were simple. The name of your favorite teacher. Your beloved childhood pet. Your sister's birthday. Nowadays, passwords have become more and more complicated — and harder and harder to remember. Six letters? Not enough. Eight letters? Add a number. Added the number? Include at least two capital letters. Decided what to capitalize? Now add a symbol. No, not THAT symbol, try another. What could be easier. Now try and remember it six months from now.

I used to have a couple of passwords I liked to rotate with various accounts. That, I can remember. But lately, businesses have been upgrading their systems and strengthening their online security. So now instead of two or three passwords, I have dozens. Can I remember then all? On a good day, I can barely remember then names of my two kids.

And the questions you need to answer now in case you forgot your password? "What's the name of the elementary school your father's next door neighbor attended?" Can I take "HELP" for $200, please, Alex.

So when I saw a four-star-rated application for the iPhone that works like a safe for all your passwords, I jumped. Spent hours meticulously entering the information. Now if only I could remember the special password I created to access it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buddy, can you spare $20,000?

More good news on this wonderful second week of April! Just got an email from the Financial Aid Office at the University of Northern Colorado. Seems our "financial aid awards" for the coming school year total just over $20,000 — in loans. Are you kidding me? That would be $80,000+ in loans to get a Bachelor's Degree. Seriously? So needless to say, we'll be in contact with the Financial Aid Office with lots and lots (and lots!) of questions. 

In the world of higher education, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. We're smack dab in the middle of the middle class. Translation? We make too much money to qualify for grants and free money ... and we make too little money to be able to actually afford the cost of a college education outright. And once we click the "what's your ethnicity" box that says "caucasian," forget it. 

That said, you'd think that a school-loving dream student with a 3.93 GPA (in primarily honors, AP and college classes) ... State Championship level swimmer ... Executive Class President ... and steadfast volunteer would be worth some sort of cash tossed her way. If only. As it stands, Kate has applied for roughly 15 or so scholarships, and has actually made the second round in a couple of them. Knock on wood that a few will fall her way. 

Financial aid? More like a financial miracle. Ready or not, college, here we come.

The Road to Guatemala

Tomorrow morning, Nurse Lisa and her 35 teammates leave for Guatemala. It's a week-long Christian mission to help impoverished Guatemalan women get all sorts of necessary medical care, especially related to OB/GYN needs. Lisa, with her always positive attitude, is very much looking forward to it. Me? I'm nervous, apprehensive and worried. At one of the meetings she attended, team members were told to always have $14 in cash on them at all times — that's the going rate for a life in Guatemala. They've also been told NEVER to go anywhere along ... and not to leave the hotel after dark. So you can see why me, with my easy-going, what-me-worry attitude (heavy sarcasm here!) would be concerned. But it's something Lisa felt she was called to do, and we're here backing her up 100%. I'm always proud of the work she does helping people, this just ramps it up another notch. Or as she's so fond of saying, "more jewels in your crown." Team Lisa, we look forward to your safe return.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Battle of the Bulge

When I got married, I weighed 170 pounds, soaking wet. At 6' 4" tall, that's skinny by anyone's standards. Now, nearly 22 years and 70-odd pounds later, I've gotten big. Too big. The mirror knows it. The button on my pants knows it. My aching back and low energy level know it. And sadly, I know it, too. What once was a size 32 waist transformed into a size 34 ... then 36 ... and now 38. My daughter, the future doctor, tells me that tall people tend to accumulate their fat in one spot. Guess that explains the Buddha belly (no offense to Buddha). Forget beer gut (I hate beer), this baby's a junk food gut.

There's a chance we're going to Disneyland in late June, to celebrate Andy's 21st birthday and Kate's high school graduation. In the event we're able to pull it off (timing, finances, etc.), my goal is to fit comfortably back into my size 36 shorts. That means returning to the gym ... that place I used to go religiously, but over the past year have forgotten where it's at — as well as drinking more water and eating less pie/cookies/cupcakes/junk. You know the drill: Eat less, move more. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. But to win the Battle of the Bulge, I'm ready to fight. This week, I make friends with the water bottle and start eating better. Next week, after those damn Reese's Peanut Butter eggs are gone from the shelves, we find the gym. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Diamonds — and reruns — Are Forever.

Today is James Bond day on BBC America. Woke up to From Russia with Love, lunched over You Only Live Twice, enjoyed an afternoon of Diamonds Are Forever, and are now winding down with a little Thunderball. Me? I could watch James Bond 24/7. Bad guys, bombs, bikinis — what's not to love. For some strange reason, my wife doesn't get it. "That's the problem," she says, "too many gadgets and they always end up with everything blowing up. And who wears a bikini to climb a volcano?" Yeah, ain't it great! Sorry, I hear Shirley Bassey singing "Goldfinger," time to wrap this day up.

12 Items or Less

I have the gift. You know the one — the one that guides you, without exception, to the slowest line every time you're in the store. The line where the guy is paying in change. Then line where the lady has 75 coupons she's pulling out, one by one. The line where they have an exchange so complicated it takes three managers, an abacus and a set of tarot cards to figure out the refund. See that line that's not moving? I'm in it. 

Today was the perfect example. Went to Fred Meyer to buy milk, dish detergent, some lemonade for Kate and some Immodium (don't ask). Simple. Fast, too, considering I spend enough time in this store that I know exactly where everything is. Within three minutes, I was at the check-stand ... the self-service check-stand. Normally, it's a breeze. Six terminals, no waiting. But today, ah today, I had the gift.

That said, to you, the citizens of the world, please, PLEASE do not use the self-service check-stand if any of the following apply to you:

1.  Your idea of advanced technology is Pong
2.  You are unfamiliar with any of the many languages spoken 
     at Fred Meyer
3.  You have a major fear of pushing touch-screen buttons
4.  You don't know the difference between an apple, a carrot 
     and a bottle of ketchup
5.  You have 23 plastic bags full of bulk items ... and you forgot 
     to write the codes
6.  "Now where did I leave my wallet?"

Another simple rule of thumb is this: If you have enough items for a full-blown grocery cart, you're in the wrong line. And if I'm in the store, I can guarantee you that I'll be right there with you.

Welcome to the Funhouse

I'll admit it. I love a good story. My wife calls it nattering. Maybe that's why I'm a writer, so I can get what's in my head out for the world to share. Some say the glass is half full. Other say it's half empty. Me? My glass is around the corner, down the street and over the bridge — and who knows what's in it. Ready or not, here I come. Let the nattering begin!