Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dojo Mojo

We spent much of last weekend at the dojo.

Friday was movie night. Every few months, the kind Senseis reward us with movie night, which coincidentally falls right after the humiliation of parent workout. Movie night is great, you drop off the kids at 6:30 armed with pillows and raw, palpable energy. They eat pizza, watch a movie, and whack the shit out of each other in what they call a “pillow encounter”. We pick them up at 9:30, happy and spent.

Sunday was the in-house tournament. I always give my kids a choice about whether or not they want to participate in tournaments, there is no pressure either way, but if they commit to it they don’t get to complain about it. I encourage them to practice their forms, but also remind them that there is no losing in a tournament, if they go out there and try hard and look sharp, they should be proud of themselves.

The problem is that being proud of yourself sometimes takes a back seat to the prospect of a big shiny medal. Those medals can be tricky. Ever since that one time when my boy was in a group of 7 kids and 6 trophies were awarded, he has come to associate tournament success with the extrinsic reward potential. You might imagine that he is up till the wee hours of the night practicing with a focus rivaled by Daniel LaRusso, but you’d be wrong. A big part of my boy feels that he deserves the rewards just for being the ray of sunshine that he is upon this planet. He’s pretty busy; it’s hard to squeeze in the practice. He is writing another autobiography, this one is called “My Painful Stories.” I wonder if he’ll get past the intricate cover art this time…. But I digress. The tournament.

I have two children, one of each flavor. The boy is older by 28 months. He started karate during Kindergarten, and is now sporting a brown belt. My girl has been watching karate classes for the duration, and this year she started attending as well. She’s up to an orange belt, and she’s on fire. She is no Macchio either, but she did practice her form about 700 times on the morning of the tournament. To his credit, her brother was the one to show it to her and offer lots of tips and corrections on technique. He ran through his about a dozen times, and he did look sharp. Off we went.

In the car, they talked about the order they hoped to get. They agreed that they wanted to go first and get it over with, but also discussed how the scores usually get higher with each kid. My boy’s belt level was scheduled first, and the kids were grouped by age. There were 4 nine year olds, and mine was called up first. He did great; he snapped his 24 motions and never faltered. When I saw his scores, I thought “uh oh”. The other boys did fine, none really stood out, there were even a few errors, but as expected, the scores crept higher each time. My boy got the bronze. He wuz robbed.

He got another bronze in sparring, which was accurate and he knew it. He did have his first chance to practice head contact though, and you should have seen the grin he threw me after making first contact with the skull of his opponent. Remind me to worry about this later.

It took forever for my girl to get up there; we were all bored silly by the time the orange belts were called to the mat. She was in a group of 6, the only girl. She went last. She had watched the others start too close to the judges and wind up nearly punching their faces on the last motion, so she stepped back and bowed deeply before she began. She had practiced sounding off with her brother; no one else in her group had done so without prompting. She threw each of her 45 pounds and 45 inches into her eight motions, and she was great! Naturally, she got the gold.

She totally deserved it. So why was I wishing she’d get the bronze? Because she doesn’t care about the medal, she loved the whole thing – just being up there and doing well was reward enough for her. But which comes first? Does my boy need the external reward because he doesn’t feel it inside, or does he not feel the reward inside because he keeps getting the message that when it comes to the shiny prizes, he’s never quite good enough?

We love their dojo, they are great with the kids and really help them develop strength in ways that go beyond muscle mass. The Senseis are young and dedicated. They command respect, which they give as well as receive. The twice weekly workouts include public speaking, “bully busters”, character education, and of course traditional forms in karate and sparring. After the trophy fiasco, the big honcho talked to my boy and commiserated that it really was not fair, but this would only make him stronger and he hoped that my boy would continue to compete and do his best, and he has. He keeps going back for more, and I am very proud of him for that. I know that this is an important lesson, that life is full of hard knocks and kids need to learn to handle defeat and failure. It would be easier to stomach if there were a lucky break thrown in every once in a while. Just for my boy.

On the bright side, here's how Aunt Ellie and Mistah Schlekah and I look in the mirror when we're watching karate:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rainy days and Mondays

It's no wonder that "Rainy Days and Mondays," the 1971 song by The Carpenters, went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Monday's suck. They just do -- at least if you're working the 9 to 5 gig (which I am). It's as if there's a big cosmic sign that reads:

It's too long. There are too many work hours between Monday morning and Friday afternoon.
And it takes such mental and physical effort to switch from happy weekend mode to resigned Monday workday mode.

And once you finally do get to the office, the mind resists. Your body and your mind long for the freedom of the past (always-too-short) weekend.

This resistance leads us to slack off a bit sometimes; to check email, do some online shopping, or, yes, to blog.
So in addition to the resistance there's the always present threat of being discovered.

We all do our best, but it can't be denied that Mondays are a struggle.
Mondays would be easier to endure if our offices employed these employee-friendly tactics:

But alas, most of our offices do not. So it continues, week after week, to be just as the chickens say:

Mondays always suck.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weekend 3-Way: Ale to the Chief

It’s not officially the weekend yet -- it’s early Friday evening, and it turns out tonight is going to be the first 2008 Presidential Debate. And I, like many Americans, plan to watch it. However, I’ll be chaperoning “movie night” for the 7-year-and-younger set, so it might be tough to follow. But honestly, it might be tough to follow anyway – these debates can be painful to watch.

To ease the pain, you might opt to self medicate. (I mean it is Friday night).

Maybe you’ll opt to play some sort of Presidential Debate Drinking Game.


Maybe you'll take a sip of your drink of choice every time:

--John McCain refers to himself as a "maverick."
--Barack Obama rolls his eyes when John McCain refers to himself as a "maverick."
--One of the candidates says "I disagree."
--Anyone says "pulling out" when referring to Iraq.

Or, if you’re a more serious drinker, you maybe you’ll:
--Pound a Red Bull and vodka every time McCain mentions "the surge."
--Drink a Car Bomb every time they bring up Iraq.
--Finish your drink and pour another every time someone says "bailout."
--Switch seats and drink the other person's drink every time Obama says “change.”
--Take a sip of your dirty martini every time McCain tries to associate Obama with an unsavory character.
--Take a shot of tequila when either candidate mentions "immigration" or "border security."

So here it is, what did you drink (or not, for you more serious folks) during the debate last night?

Argh, it was exactly like I expected, I did not even see the debate, I was half way watching "Shark Boy and Lava Girl" while filling popcorn bowls and delivering waters. However, I'm confident that I can watch the debate online. When I do so, I plan to have a stiff drink in hand. I'll keep you posted!

I love those suggestions Beth, I really do. In fact, we talked about them all night while we were out not watching the debate! I nearly resorted to fisticuffs with that Irish Bastard about what time the debate was being broadcast. Who was right? Hey, look at that pretty birdie outside!

What? Oh, nevermind. So my drink of choice during debate viewing will probably be coffee and water. I'm going to the gym right now to sweat out some of what I was drinking while my Barack was debating. It's hard to focus on what he's saying, because my pupils become heart shaped and pixie dust shoots out of them whenever he speaks. Here's my drinkie poo:

Thank God I had the presence of mind to photograph this beauty - it was called "The Day Spa", from the mojito menu. Cucumber and mint were involved. And vodka. Check out that supercool ice surface it's sitting on - that bad boy runs right around the bar! Brilliant. And I should have moved the basket so as not to distract from the beauty of that drink, but the Cubanos? Beautiful in their own right.

The story of what I drank during the debate starts much earlier in the day -- I took the bus to the Tavern because it was pouring down rain in the morning. Incredibly, I'd been able to ride my bike for every other shift all summer. So when I finished at around 3, I sat down to my lunch of a bowl of Rhode Island Clam Chowder and a 1/2 tuna melt (with tomato and swiss on rye). . . and a Guinness. I then proceeded to have lots of Guinnesses in the hours I sat on the barstool, reading the New York Times, doing the puzzle, greeting the happy hour peeps, including Mistah, who arrived around 6:30. I switched to Chardonnay then -- how much Guinness can one person drink? Later Bill and I decided to splurge and get Indian take-out -- Mistah got a paycheck yesterday, afterall -- which we ate right at the bar. And there I still sat, through all the pain of the debate, until it was over, at 10:30 p.m.

The cool thing was the Tavern was full of people -- every seat and barstool was taken -- and everyone was completely focused on the debate on the tube.

And despite what I thought was a less-than-stellar performance by my man Obama, and too many missed opportunities on his part, I firmly and vehemently say:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Like A Pop-Tart

A lot of people have been asking me how Mistah’s new w-o-r-k career is going.

Let’s have an imaginary conversation with him and find out, shall we?


Ellie: Hello Mistah. How’s the new work career going?
Bill: Okay, I guess.
Ellie: Do you like it?
Bill: It’s okay.
E: What time do you wake up in the mornings?
B: 7:30.
E: Do you pop out of bed like toast?
B: Not exactly.
E: Like a pop-tart?

B: No.
E: Well what do you pop up like then?
B: --

E: What about luncheon?
B: What about it?
E: What do you do for lunch every day?
B: I bring it.
E: What do you bring?
B: Turkey and mustard on a tortilla.
E: You make lunch for yourself every morning?
B: No, you make it for me.
E: You mean to tell me your wife gets up and makes you lunch every morning?
B: It’s just a turkey roll-up.
E: What kind of mustard?
B: Grey Poupon.
E: Well, that sounds absolutely superb.
B: It’s pretty good.
E: Do you at least get one of those little mini bottles of chardonnay in your lunch box?

B: --
E: No?
B: --

E: Okay, what about your evenings?
B: We usually listen to your baseball team lose on the radio.
E: Mistah!
B: What?
E: Is that strictly necessary?
B: Well it’s true.
E: They won last night.
B: My team already made the playoffs.
E: Don’t gloat; it’s unseemly . . .

. . . plus my team has Mr. Met, a much cooler mascot than . . .

.. . . Wally? What kind of mascot is that?

E: What else have you been up to?
B: On Wednesday night we saw a one-woman play about Louisa May Alcott.
E: That was good, wasn’t it?
B: Yes.
E: I liked all the non-Little Women and background stuff. Her dad Bronson Alcott was pals with Emerson and Hawthorne, was he not?
B: And Thoreau.

E: You’re a big fan of Thoreau, aren’t you?
B: I consider Walden one of my biggest inspirations.
E: You know what I think of Thoreau.
B: I do.
E: Tell the story, Schleck.
B: After I read it and loved it, I got you to reread it. We were in bed one night, reading, and about halfway through Walden you put it down and said, “Get over yourself, Henry David.”
E: Well put, well put. If I do say so myself.
B: --

E: What are your plans for the weekend, Mistah?
B: On Saturday I’m volunteering at the 1st Annual New London Americana Music Festival at the Hygienic Art Park.

E: Volunteering?? After a full week of work?
B: I’m pouring beer.
E: Oh. Need any help?
B: You didn’t want to volunteer, remember?
E: But I’m a really good beer pourer.
B: No, we’re all set.
E: Well, can you at least slip me a couple freebies?
B: What do you need freebies for? You’ll just sneak margaritas in, like you usually do.

E: Mistah!
B: What?
E: The things you say!
B: It’s true.
E: Margarita season is over. It’s wine-smuggling season now.

E: Anyway, back to the job. It’s been 2 weeks. Any pithy nuggets?
B: I didn’t get fired and I didn’t quit.
E: Yet.
B: Yet.
E: And now, for my last question: Are you ready for a beer?
B: I was born ready.
E: Happy Weekend, Mistah. You've earned it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


My girl is seven, and teetering on the ledge between childhood innocence and a worldliness that I did not realize I should expect from age seven.

One night at bedtime, I was lying in her room waiting to read stories, and I asked her for the eight-forty-billionth time go brush her teeth, and she left the room to do it but then popped back inside to make air quotes around a sassy: “oKAY”. She returned seconds later and repeated the gesture, asking: “what does this mean, anyway?” Teeter.

She is a wee one, a full head shorter than all the other girls in her class. And she also stands out for pretty much looking, dressing, and acting like a little girl. She doesn’t care if her pants are 6 inches too short, or if her clothes are stained and mismatched. She likes what she likes and if it’s pink? She likes.

There are girls in her class who wear platform shoes and face glitter to school, and who dress like they are much older. What is up with little girl clothes, anyway? How and why would a size 6-8 shirt have a freaking bustline? There’s no bust! How does a 2nd grader wear low slung jeans while sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet? Her princess panties will hang out for all the world (ewww, boys) to see! Teeter.

Recently, my girl has started addressing me by saying things like: “whassup yaw?” I don’t know if she’s saying y’all or yo or what the hell, she’s a seven year old suburban white girl! She wants to know why I tell her not to talk like that, and lists the names of other girls who talk like that all the time. It’s hard to explain – it’s disrespectful to people with legitimate ghetto cred, yaw. I told her it sounds like she’s not smart. But that’s not cool either; I don’t want her to assume that people who speak this way are unintelligent.

I just want her to slow down and be my little girl with the jack-o-lantern smile. I want the nuances of her speech to simply be the way she says “breh-fixed” and how she says she needs to get “nused to” something and that she has burgers in her nose-holes.

She’s teetering, and I want to drag her back down to the safe side, where boys will always be gross and moms are cool and smart and worthy of giant mooshy love notes of apology taped to their bedroom doors after a particularly rough day:

I want to always be asked to read books at bedtime. Last night, I read this passage:
Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman’s swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no child ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.

My baby girl looked at me knowingly and said: “That’s true, mommy”.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Habla ingles?

Are you bilingual? I’m not. I wish I were. I’m not sure when I had this strong desire to be able to communicate in a second (or third) language, but for as long as I can remember my answer to the question, “If you could wish for any one thing in the world, what would it be?” is that I’d like to be fluent in every language in the world. I’d like to be able to communicate with every person I come across. And I don’t mean via charades, hand gestures, and present-tense-only dialogue like I do now. I mean that I want to understand the nuance of each language; I want to perfectly understand the jokes and innuendoes.

I guess it’s not surprising then, that my daughter goes to a Spanish-language immersion school. She’s received nothing but instruction in Spanish since her first day of kindergarten. She’s in second grade now.

I truly think I’m doing my daughter a favor. I think I’m providing her with an advantage that many American children don’t have. I think her bilingual education will make her a more well-rounded student, a more culturally sensitive person.

But will it? And am I?

What if I’ve got it all wrong?

Since starting back to school three weeks ago, she’s really struggling. She’s seemed to have regressed more than normal over the summer, and I’m beginning to think she might be dyslexic.

She cannot read in English yet (which is not unusual in her situation), and her reading in Spanish is halting at best. She read better last January than she does now.

Is it fair to make a kid who is struggling to read, read in a language that is not her native language? Is it fair to ask her to not only sound out the foreign words, but to also have to comprehend them?

Am I one of those parents who is trying to live vicariously through his or her child?

Am I any better than the father who shoots his teenage son up with steroids so he’ll be the football star? (Okay, maybe a bit better than this, but still.)

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Where were we when we last spoke?

Ah, yes, heading east into flat southwestern Oregon.

There are NOT a lot of people driving around out there . . .

. . . thankfully. It's pristine and gorgeous and empty.

We met these guys at a campground near Ashland.

They're The New Frontiers, a band from Dallas, Texas. Aren't they cute? Plus they totally rock. Listen to them on their site. Seeing them spill out from their van was such a nice change from the usual old timers we meet on the road. Nothing against old-timers, of course. But it's nice to talk to the young 'uns sometimes too. Especially rockin' ones.

Two of them had new Texas tattoos they were very pleased with.

We met this guy, too, driving through Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, as soon as we crossed into Nevada.

Aw-ah. Isn't he adorable?

Nevada is a great traveling state because, well, it's pristine and gorgeous and empty, and you can never quite believe you're in Nevada.

We stopped in the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest, near Paradise Valley, for the night. Forests do not have to be full of trees, you know. That's Mistah Schleckah in the distance.
And there's ol' Westy. That was a camping spot for the ages.

The mountains and the moon were our only friends for miles and miles . . .

We built a fire pit and a fire . . .

. . . and called it a night.
In the morning it was just as dreamy . . .
Mistah Schleckah has always been the absolute epitome of camping high-fashion.

Who wouldn't hire this man?

There actually was a lot of traffic in the morning.

"Move it along, fellers."

Ah, the nature-and-barb-wire shot. I love the nature-and-barb-wire shot.

Non-barb-wire is pretty dramatic, too.

We carried on, across northeastern Nevada . . .

. . . until we reached the border of Utah. And at West Wendover . . .

. . . we camped under the watchful eye of this guy. He's some kind of casino sign or something, on the Nevada-slash-sin side of the border, calling all those pure-as-the-driven-snow-Utahans over to the dark side.

We continued our trek into the Utah desert, and found an awesome spot under gnarly juniper trees.

It was quiet and desolate . . .

. . . and at night, kind of spooky.

But we didn't care. We built a big fire, set up camp, and we knew, somewhere out there in the desert,
Someone was looking out for us.