Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do You Speak Texan?

I graduated college, much to my profound amazement, with a Bachelor of Arts degree double majoring in History and Anthropology. This was after going through brief dalliances majoring in art and engineering with a much longer stay in the “I can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up” major. Now that I think about it, it’s probably more accurate to say I never really got out of that particular major. I now work in the insurance industry as a commercial auto and general liability claims adjuster handling high exposure and litigated claims. Go figure. Poster child for academic counseling and career planning I am not.

I’m not complaining about my education. Believe it or not, it has been very helpful to my chosen line of work. Majoring in history taught me how to analyze what happened and draw intelligent conclusions about the ramifications of those events. Majoring in Anthropology taught me that not everyone is a WASP and also how a white bread from the suburbs like me can gain valuable information about different groups and cultures by observation and examination.

One of my favorite subjects in college was cultural anthropology, and I was fortunate to have some interesting professors. One in particular was a former Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry a nun. And Ricky thought Lucy had some ‘splainin’ to do. I just hope I’m in line behind him when he gets his chance to speak with The Big Boss. I have got to hear that conversation. I imagine it would be something like this:

God: So, you were a priest in the Catholic Church, correct?

Professor B.: Yes, for a time.

God: For a time? Did you not enjoy your work? MY work?

Professor B.: No, no, no. I loved the work. However, I kinda wanted a family. So, I left the priesthood to get married.

God: Hmmm. I see. Who was the lucky woman?

Professor B.: A nun.

God: Interesting. Fishing off the company pier were we?

Professor B.: I suppose You could call it that.

God: I think I just did. You do realize there is nothing in the Bible requiring the priesthood to remain celibate don’t you?

Professor B.: Um…no. They must have skipped that one in seminary.

God: Seems like they skip more and more every year.…. Hmpf. Papal infallibility My bushy eyebrows. Makes Me laugh every time one of them shoots their mouth off.

Professor B.: Can I go now?

God: No. We’re just getting started. I haven’t even gotten to the Andean mountain religion thing or the coca leaves.

Professor B.: Uh-oh.

This particular professor brought a guest speaker into class on one occasion that stands out in my mind. I don’t recall the speaker’s name, but I do recall what he spoke about. He spoke about the theory of “language windows”. Basically, the theory is that any given culture can be better understood by the manner in which that culture’s language shapes its people’s outlook on life, relationships, etc. He used his study of one of the Arabic/Middle Eastern languages as an example to illustrate how it works. There was a greeting in which you said whatever you said verbally in greeting while covering your eye and bowing slightly. Apparently, the literal translation of the greeting is something along the lines of “I step on my eye for you.” I’m not sure what window those folks were lookin’ out of; however, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see that particular view. Especially if they’ve been walkin’ around in my backyard canine poo garden.

What brings this story to mind is the ongoing difference of opinion that exists between The Queen and me regarding linguistic matters. I was born and raised in the great state of Texas, and its imprint has been irrevocably left on me and my linguistic capabilities. The Queen, on the other hand, was born in California and mostly raised elsewhere (including Texas much to her dismay). Given her exposure to more “civilized” parts of the world during her formative years, The Queen’s delicate ears are sometimes offended by my occasional lapses into the more comfortable colloquial speech patterns of my native tongue.

So, as a public service, I thought I would take this opportunity to give a brief insider’s guide for outsider’s to words and phrases common to Texas’ unique window on the world.

1) “A cat can have kittens in the oven, but it don’t make ‘em biscuits.” This is polite way of saying to someone who was technically born in the state that, just because you were born here, it don’t automatically make you a Texan. Thanks to a thriving economy, favorable tax laws, a reasonable housing prices, Texas has become the Mecca for snot nosed, ingrate foreigners from other parts. That includes folks from Oklahoma and other points further north, east or west. We won’t talk about points further south. I’m trying to work on being politically correct… I mean being more diverse and inclusive. Yeah, right.

2) “That boy/girl ain’t right.” and/or “He/she’s touched in the head.” This one should be fairly self explanatory. These two phrases generally apply to someone who, while otherwise being free of mental retardation or severe autism, is exhibiting strange and/or abnormal behavior.

3) “He needed killin’.” This one is most often heard during arraignment in criminal court proceedings and is generally considered to be a valid defense to homicide.

4) “Sweet or unsweet?” In most non-chain restaurants in Texas, your waiter/waitress will ask you this question. They are not making a pass at you or making a comment about your child’s behavior. They just want to know if you want your iced tea pre-sweetened or if you plan on doctorin’ your own.

5) “Pee-can” vs. “puh-kahn”. This is a pronunciation issue regarding our beloved state nut, the pecan, which is still the subject of considerable debate between people hailing from different parts of the state. Whichever one you chose, just know you are annoying the stuffin’ out of the other half of the population.

6) “Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke”. If you want to be immediately branded as an unwashed heathen from out of state, please, by all means, ask for or offer someone a Pop. Soda is barely acceptable but may get you funny looks in certain small town establishments. Coke is the preferred moniker used to request and/or offer a soft drink regardless of brand. Brand preference is determined by the follow up question: “What flavor?”

7) “I’m fixin’ to….”. Simply put, it means someone is about to do something. Exactly when the something will take place is generally a little fuzzy and greatly depends on the past performance of the speaker. Get over it. Or duck if this phrase was preceded by the words “Hey, watch this.”

8) “Howdy, hi-dee, etc.”. Most everyone has a grasp on Howdy. It’s short for “how do you do?” or “how are you doin’?” “Hi-dee” is a little used variation of “howdy” which my grandmother used and which I prefer personally.

9) “Y’all”. This is the correct contraction of “You all”. It can refer to one person or a group of people. Some individuals are just a plurality all in themselves.

10) “Bless your heart…”. If you somehow manage to find yourself in the midst of a tragic comedy of your own creation or otherwise succeed in surviving doing something incredibly stupid, you will most likely hear these words spoken to you. Usually by emergency room personnel or claims adjusters. And your mother, grandmother, aunt and any other distant female relatives who find out about your spectacular screw up. Frequently used in conjunction with “That boy ain’t right.” It can also be used as a sincere expression of sympathy in certain circumstances. Context is everything.

11) “Over (t’) yonder”, “a little ways”, and other measures of distance. Texas is a big a** state. El Paso is closer to L.A. than it is to Beaumont. People from elsewhere just plain don’t get it. Not too long ago, my boss in Chicago suggested I drive from Dallas to Houston for a half day meeting returning the same day. I found that amusing. Most people will give long distance directions in terms or driving times in minutes or hours rather than miles. Driving across town in the DFW area can be 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on traffic. Dallas to Houston is about 4 hours. For shorter distances, you can use “over yonder” or “a little ways”. They basically mean your destination is further than you’d really want to walk but you don’t need to top of the gas tank or make a bathroom stop before you leave.

I sincerely hope this helps those of you who have wondered about some of these words or phrases. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m fixin’ to go to bed so I can head over yonder to the Home Depot first thing in the mornin’ fer some more plumbin’ supplies to get the Queen’s shower built. Bless her heart.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Anniversary

I know I’ve been neglecting my blog posting here of late again, but I have an excuse…er, explanation. Several, in fact. Silly things breed like drunken, teenage rabbits on Viagra and meth.

Excuse/explanation number one: Work. Need I say more? Apparently, yes, I must. Being a claims adjuster is not an occupation for the easily stressed, offended or grossed out. One of these days, I will get around to writing an insider’s guide to the claims process for the uninitiated in the hopes that it will dissuade some poor idiot from yelling “I’ll get a lawyer and sue your a**.” The last quarter of the year is always the busiest time of year. Everyone wants to settle their claims or get their invoices paid so that they can have Christmas money or close out their books for the year. And they want it done RIGHT the HE** NOW!!!! There seems to be a universal belief among claimants and vendors that they are the only person/company I am dealing with and calling and emailing repeatedly several times a day will yield faster results. It will. It will completely grind my voicemail and email inboxes to a stop at the speed of light. There is a fine line between sufficient work to maintain job security and too much work to be productive thus leading to job termination due to ineffectiveness. I am so standing on that line right now. With a landmine under my feet.

Explanation/Excuse number two: The bathroom. When not waiting on the Queen hand and foot or earning a living, I am trying to rebuild the master bathroom from scratch which has been sans shower since the “Now You See It, Now You Don’t…” post in November. If I am seen after normal work hours without a hammer or other suitable construction tool in my hand, I get raised eyebrows and cross looks from the Queen who wants to have her bathroom back in one piece so she is not assaulted by all the chemical smells which were once safely trapped by layers of tile and mortar.

Excuse/Explanation number three: Our Anniversary. Monday was the sixth anniversary of the Queen’s and my glorious entrance into wedded bliss. As we enter into the seventh year of our marriage, I find myself wondering what the whole seven year itch thing is supposed to be about. I probably wouldn’t know it if it jumped up an’ bit me on the butt. Which is probably for the best.

Given the Queen’s ongoing health challenges, I’ve tried to make this anniversary as special as possible within the limitations imposed upon us (i.e. can’t go out in public for fear of being exposed to pneumonia or swine flu or something equally enjoyable…again). Nothing quite takes the joy out of fine restaurant dining like being forced to wear a self contained bunny suit made of latex. I know it sounds like it would be fun and kinky, but we’re just not into that sort of thing.

So, what is a loyal and faithful servant/husband to do? Cater to his Queen’s every desire of course. First, there were the two dozen roses. Always a must for any anniversary going experience. Then there was the dinner. We had home cooked filet mignon with garlic mashed taters and gravy with oven roasted veggies followed by her favorite strawberries and cream for dessert.

But, wait, there’s more. We can’t have an anniversary without a truly unique gift or experience. Now, I know there are some truly sensitive men out there who feel that giving his spouse a vacuum cleaner or a new dishwasher for their anniversary is the absolute pinnacle of loving thoughtfulness. Let me tell you, these paragons of marital bliss have nothing on me. If you really want to endear yourself to your spouse, nothin’ says good lovin’ like …. wait for it …. a colon hydrotherapy session. I spared no expense on my lovely copper topped bride. Only the very best in organic coffee colonics would do for her.

As is the defense of every vacuum cleaner giving man on the planet, she really did ask for it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiger's Having Round of His Life...

Welcome to the Golf Channel.

It's sunny and cold here at the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Invitational, but that's never stood in the way of Tiger as he slices his way through the course like it's a cherry pie.

There is a raucous, party like atmosphere in the gallery as Tiger makes his way to the eleventh hole. He's been having a truly amazing round. He's been just tearing up the course in a way we haven't seen since Ron Jeremy took up the sport. He's made a hole in one on every hole. He just makes it look effortless, and he seems to be having so much fun out there while he's doing it.

He's even so contemptuous of the competition that he's playing each hole more than once with the same results every time. You'd think playing each hole repeatedly would have an effect on Tiger's stamina, but he's not ready to lie down and quit just yet. He's unstoppable. If Viagra doesn't dump Bob Dole as a spokesperson and sign up Tiger while he's hot like this, they need to seriously reevaluate their marketing strategy.

Tiger hasn't even had to use his irons or his putter today. He's been doing it all with his driver. That's just as well, when we snuck a look at his golf bag earlier, we noticed his nine iron was missing.

And now, a word from our sponsors....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger Update

This will be a quick post following up on "Tiger Grabbed a Tail." I had to go to Tyler, TX yesterday on business. Getting up at 5:00 AM and driving 2 hours one way to do someone else a favor does strange things to my sense of humor. So, when my attorney showed me the news article that the Tiger Woods mistress count is up to 9 now, I couldn't help myself:

I said, "Well, it looks like he's gotten nine holes in...he could finish out the 18 by playing the back nine."

(rimshot...wa, wa, wa, waaaah)

Then there was the part of the story about Tiger having sex with one of his friends with benefits while in his car in the church parking lot. Tiger, yelling "Oh God" repeatedly while in the backseat of an Escalade in a church parking lot does not constitute going to church.

Either Tiger is addicted to sex or he never learned how to say no to crack.

Okay...I'm done now. I think.

More updates as events warrant.

Monday, December 7, 2009

With Friends Like These...

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to find a comment on one of my posts from GunDiva (aka Mrs. Wilson of directing me to her blog for a little pat on the back. GunDiva has been a loyal reader and commenter on P&H since the EasyStreet Blog Carnival award I received in early October brought me to the attention of people outside close family and friends. It seems I made an impression with my special brand of baffling bull hockey ('cause I know I ain't dazzlin' no one with brilliance). While I didn't set out on this adventure to win awards or receive recognition, I have to say it's really nice to be appreciated and get kudos from my peers.

This award comes with strings attached, though. The rules, as explained in GunDiva's blog posting, are as follows:

1) grab the award (see the big blue circle thingie above - click on it and save it as jpeg file on your hard drive somewhere you can find it)
2) post it on your blog along with five things you love to do
3) name five others you want to recognize
I think I've already posted at least five things I love to do in my blog; but, what the heck, repetition can't hurt. Here, in no particular order, are five things I love to do:

1) Read. I think it was Stephen King who said that anyone who wants to be writer should read everything they can get their hands on. I'm not sure I ever had a conscious thought to want to be a writer until recently, but I've tried to read just about everything I can get my hands on for as long as I can remember.

2) Cook/Eat. This may seem like trying to cheat and get a two fer; but, the truth is, you can't do/love one without doing/loving the other. They go together like high school sweethearts. As the saying goes, never trust a skinny cook. Unless they have metabolism issues. I was 30 before my pasta binging caught up with me and beat my metabolism into submission.

3) Fly. It's sad that one of the things I am most passionate about in life is so freaking expensive. To fly for one hour in a small, basic single engine plane costs upwards of $75. Get something with a little more power or complexity and you might as well light a stack of Benjamins on fire. Still though, when I can afford it, there's nothing I like better than breaking the surly bonds of mother earth to go punch holes in the air.

4) My Wife. If you haven't figured this one out yet from reading this blog or knowing me personally, you are seriously and truly screwed in the observation department.

5) Tinkering. I can't help myself. Really. I just can't bring myself to pay someone else to do something I can do or figure out how to do myself. It's just too much fun to learn something new or fix/make something with your own two hands.

Now comes the hard part...figuring out who to recognize. Here, in no particular order, are the five people I'd like to recognize:

1) GunDiva. The logic of this choice may seem a bit circular and perhaps not in the spirit of the award, but the rules don't say nothin' about not doing it. So, I'll recognize who I darn well please. Thank you very much. Seriously, GunDiva is a loyal reader and regular commenter whose feedback I value. Knowing that there is someone else out there who gets a kick out the thoughts oozing from you brain is, more than anything else, what makes writing worthwhile. She also happens to be a pretty good wordsmith herself. I am a particular fan of her "other blog" Lyon's Roar Protection Agency (

2) Candace at Crazy Texas Mommy ( This is double recognition for her since GunDiva already beat me to it and recognized her. Candace is flat out nuts and knows the true meaning of "bless your heart" to boot.

3) Melanie at One Hot Mess ( Like GunDiva, I've met a few people I wouldn't otherwise have crossed paths with. Melanie deserves special recognition as she was follower #2 on the blog and the first follower from the blogosphere outside of friends and family to publicly admit to following my deranged ramblings.

4) Mary Witzl at Resident Alien ( Given the fact I have a double major in History and Anthropology with an emphasis in cultural anthropology, I was immediately drawn to Mary's multicultural stories of growing up and living in foreign countries and teaching English to young kids who are not so interested in learning anything much less English. Great writing, and it will probably irrevocably crush any thoughts I ever harbored of entering the teaching profession.

5) Tay at ProfoundiTay ( Tay is another glutton for punishment who fell on the hand grenade that is P & H and publicly admits to reading my witty attempts at prose. She is also another person whom I would never have met but for this world of blogging.

There. I hope my selectees enjoy my humble accolades as much as I enjoyed mine from GunDiva.

Tiger Grabbed a Tail

It seems like all I’ve heard for the past week or so on talk radio, in the news or in casual conversation is something about Tiger Woods, his accident and his alleged infidelity issues. I say alleged because, as a Christian, it’s not my job to judge or condemn Mr. Woods’ purported behavior (go look at Matthew 7 starting in verse 1 if you need more instruction on the subject of judging others). He’ll have to stand before God and explain himself just like the rest of us. I don’t imagine that will be a fun conversation for any of us.

However, given the apparent facts: 1) at least six women have come out of the woodwork claiming to have had a little Tiger in them; 2) he reportedly renegotiated the pre-nup with his wife; 3) he made a public statement about letting his family down; 4) he left the house at 2:00 AM for no good reason, etc., I’d say it’s pretty safe to say Tiger was out looking for strange. Where there is smoke, there’s fire as they say.

Tiger, just answer me one question: Why are you out hooking up with other women when you are married to a Swedish swim suit model? A SWIM SUIT MODEL for crying out loud. Was it just not the same after she gave birth to YOUR children???? Okay, so that was two questions. Sue me. You can stand in line with the rest of the world and try and get blood out of this turnip.

I just don’t get it. In most cases, no one puts a gun to your head and forces you to get married. If you’re not done sleeping with everything that moves and mentally/emotionally/spiritually ready to fulfill marriage vows, don’t get married. It’s that simple. “Forsaking all others” does not mean you can cross your fingers behind your back and whisper “Except when some hot chick just HAPPENS to tackle me and forces me to give her sex…repeatedly.” Unless, apparently, you are a professional athlete or are elected or appointed to government office. I bet John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Kobe Bryant, and a whole bunch of others were having déjà vu moments this week.

As many of you already know, I have very strong VIEWS on the subject of marriage, and I feel like I have been blessed to be married to a wonderful woman. I would never, ever consider cheating on her. And it has nothing to do with the fact she wouldn’t stop at breaking out the rear window of the car with a nine iron either. The Queen is much more creative than that, and I’m rather attached to certain parts of my body. At least, if given a choice, I’d like to remain attached to certain parts of my body.

Seriously, though, all this focus on Tiger Woods’ marriage has me thinking about my own marriage and the marriages of people close to the Queen and me.

While the Queen and I will have only been married for six years at the end of this month, we’ve known each other for twelve and a half years. We almost made it past the seven year itch before we even got married. Six and a half years might seem like a long courtship to some people; however, the Queen and I are not even in the running for the record. We know a couple who have been ENGAGED, not just dating, for at least nine years. We think they are nuts. And not about each other either.

On the other side of the coin, The Queen and I are friends with another married couple who we have known for a while. They married each other after a long distance relationship which lasted less than a year. The Queen has known the husband of the couple since they were kids. Individually, they are decent people who are fun to be around despite their character flaws and other personality quirks (like the Queen and I don’t have any of those). Together, they are like oil and water.

To say they have been having marital issues is like saying the Mona Lisa is a pretty picture. These two have taken marital strife to an art form. They should be framed and studied.

He thinks she is a “whore” who should meekly obey and submit to his authority as head of the household instead of contradicting and undermining him every chance she gets. She thinks he is an overbearing, selfish control freak who is Hell bent on making everyone else’s life miserable. This is his second marriage and her first marriage. He has custody of the kids from his first marriage, and she had two kids “out of wedlock” from prior relationships. They now have one child together.

Let me take a moment and step up on my soapbox for a moment. To all you guys out there that think you have to be “in charge” and force your wives or girlfriends to submit to your authority, you are morons. Submission is a voluntary act committed by the person submitting out of faith. Attempting to force someone to submit is, in fact, subjugation and won’t last. Dave Ramsey quotes a line frequently which is applicable here: “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.” By attempting to force your will on others, all you are doing is bringing your own little Al Qaeda terrorist cell into your life. Look forward to that day when you wake up strapped into your bed soaked in gasoline. It’s coming.

Stepping off the soapbox now….

As near as the Queen and I can tell, these two are not on the same page about anything. They don’t seem to agree regarding how the money should be spent, how to raise the kids, religion, how to dress, makeup, etc. The Brady Bunch they are not.

The Queen and I did a lot of soul searching and counseling before we made the decision to get married. Watching the meltdown of this couple’s marriage, I am reminded of some advice our minister gave the Queen and I when we were in pre-marital counseling. He said, “A bad marriage is a whole lot worse than no marriage at all.” Truer words were never spoken.

This is just my opinion, but I think a lot of people lose sight of one important component in any marriage. That is: marriage is both a physical union and a spiritual commitment. I see so many people getting wrapped up in being “Princess/Prince For A Day” and forgetting that they are making a promise and a vow to God in front of however many witnesses, friends and family to “have and to hold” a particular person until “death do you part.”

That’s serious business. God says so (see what Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 has to say about failing to fulfill a vow). I have no intention of standing before God and having Him call me a fool. Or worse. Not if I can help it.

To borrow from Forrest Gump, “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” It’s about applying the Golden Rule every day. If you want to be treated like royalty in your marriage, treat your spouse like royalty. Not because they are royalty, but because you made a promise before God and creation to treat that person like no one else.

I didn’t marry a Swedish swim suit model. I married someone much more beautiful than that. I married a woman who loves me unconditionally not because I have money or fame or physical endowments, but because she is a loving, caring individual who sees the same in me. I married a Queen, and I try to be worthy of her every day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Good Food, Good Times

I think I’ve already mentioned a line I once read in a book which really stood out to me, but it’s worth repeating here. It went something like: “I love to cook, I love to eat, and I’ve won awards for both.” I haven’t won any awards for eating yet mainly because I haven’t entered any eating contests. Not that I ever will, mind you. I find the concept of trying to eat mountains of any particular food faster than the next guy to be utterly repulsive. In a projectile vomiting kind of way. I did, however, win third place in a cake baking contest once for my Black Forest Kirchen Torte.

The fact I learned not only to cook well but also learned to enjoy the process of cooking is nothing short of a miracle. I learned to cook when I was rather young. I wasn’t forced to learn how to cook, per se, like some kids were; however, it wasn’t exactly an optional experience either. Learning to cook became more or less a necessity for survival in a single parent household in which the parent, mom, was busy earning a living and going back to school to finish her degrees.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first learned to cook, but I know I learned to make a fairly basic spaghetti sauce sometime before I was eight years old. By the time my parents separated when I was eight, I was fully capable of managing most basic meals.

This early introduction to the culinary arts came with some interesting side effects. Most notable was the occasional odd menu choice. Leaving a pre-teen with a sweet tooth in charge of meal planning and cooking is not always wise. Fortunately for me, my mother had the prerequisite combination of desperation/insanity/lack of choices which allowed me to make what others might consider to be, shall we say, unwise dinner selections. I remember one dinner in particular which consisted solely of uncooked chocolate chip cookie dough. In my defense, I did ask her what she wanted me to fix for dinner to which she infamously replied, “I don’t care.” I don’t recall her protesting very strongly when she was presented with her bowl of dough either.

While my mother gave me a good grounding in the basics of cooking, she never really had the time or inclination to teach me about cooking for the shear joy of it. I was to learn the finer points and the love of cooking for the sake of cooking from others. From my grandmothers, I learned the fine art of baking. Mother’s mom had a way of making biscuits that was just divine. There was no better breakfast that her biscuits with cream gravy and a little (read a lot) of butter. To this day, I can’t match her biscuits which she managed to get done with a high degree of consistency sans recipe or measuring cups/spoons. I also got my cinnamon cookie recipe from her Liberty Cookbook of which my sister currently has custody. T., if you are reading this which you admitted you do, that cookbook is long overdue for a stay in my kitchen. Hint, hint. Then there was great grandmother’s carrot cake recipe. Mmmmmm…..(slobber, drool, smack). It’s no wonder I can’t pass up a bakery without whimpering and drooling like Pavlov’s dog.

However, it was really my uncle Don (mom’s brother) who taught me the finer points of cooking from a truly Epicurean point of view. To him, food was not merely a means of sustenance. Food was an experience. He was of the opinion one should only consume food and beverage of quality and skillful preparation. To his way of thinking, the ingredients of a sauce which had cooked for less than an hour hadn’t really gotten a chance to get to know each other yet.

It was also because of him I never had to worry about other people drinking my beer at college parties. While most college kids are more interested in a cheap drunk using Milwaukee’s Best or Keystone Light or whatever else was on sale for under $10 a case, Don taught me to enjoy beer that actually tastes like beer was meant to taste instead of the watered down, purified rat urine most college kids swill. As a result, I usually went home more or less sober with enough beer left over for the next party.

That’s not to say, however, my cooking skills are without their limitations. For instance, while I am fairly successful at cooking well timed meals for a small group of people (no more than six people), I find myself intimidated by pulling off meals for larger groups. I think this comes from an experience I had in high school. I was dating a girl who wanted to introduce me to her parents. She suggested I make a batch of my now famous spaghetti for her parents and sister. She asked me what would be required, and I gave her a shopping list based on an expected audience of five diners. I arrived at her house to find out I was cooking for ten. There’s nothing quite like being surprised and put on the spot to go with the nervousness of being a tall, uncoordinated 17 year old meeting a girl’s parents for the first time to throw you off your game and put a damper on your joy of cooking. I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. This was the same girl who introduced herself to mom as a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. At the ripe old age of 17 no less.

So, when the Queen informed me we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, it gave me a moment of pause. The kind of moment where one of your eyes twitches uncontrollably and coherent speech is temporarily impossible. After all, I was at a business meeting in mid October when I received a phone call from the Queen advising me of her royal decree. No discussion. Just (Surprise!) “We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year.” That would be the Royal “We” apparently. What else is there for a good slave to do but hear and obey?

To quote the famous infomercial announcer guy, “But wait, there’s more.” As loyal readers are already aware, the Queen’s health issues result in her not having the energy to really assist in the meal preparation. Add to that my mother in law’s complete lack of interest in cooking. She claims to be allergic to the kitchen, and her idea of cooking is to put a pot of beans on the stove to be served as bean and mayo burritos. There are times when I really do feel sorry for my father in law.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression that my family is without its culinary ineptness. There is one story involving a certain family member’s first attempt at roasting a Thanksgiving turkey which bears relating here. I am withholding the identity of the guilty party by request in good faith. I didn’t even solicit a bribe for this one.

As the story goes, our intrepid Turkey Toaster was fairly young, newly married and clueless as to the secret arts of the kitchen. Not one to be shy about asking for guidance, our would be chef put in a call to an older and wiser family member who instructed said neophyte to begin by “bathing” the bird and to call back when done. Having no other experience in the matter with which to compare and taking the words of wisdom somewhat literally, picture a young person merrily drowning and scrubbing a turkey in a sea of warm water and Ivory liquid soap suds.

It’s my understanding that the subsequent phone calls to the older and wiser family member involved much more explicit instructions after the initial shock and laughter wore off. I don’t know how well that particular turkey tasted as it was before my time; however, the story does not involve any trips to the hospital for food poisoning. So, I assume everything turned out well.

So, you see where this is going right? Me, who is not real comfortable with the whole cooking for a large group idea, cooking for no less than twelve people. We actually wound up seating 14 for dinner. It was almost 22 at one point. Fortunately for my sweaty palms and nervous ticks, the friends with a family of seven politely declined.

All in all, despite my aversion to cooking for large groups, we had a good Thanksgiving dinner. No one went home hungry, and leftovers were kept to a minimum. My brother in law and his family brought several side items, wine, chocolate chip cookies and a chocolate cheesecake for dessert. I managed to bake a batch of cinnamon cookies, roast a turkey, cook a brisket, make homemade cranberry sauce, make fresh hot sauce, make cream cheese Rotel dip, cook a pot of mashed sweet potatoes and whip up some cream gravy more or less on time.

The only thing that didn’t turn out right was the attempt at homemade barbeque sauce. It was one of Grandma Erickson’s recipes I had never tried before. It was bad. I mean gag a maggot bad. It went down the drain before anyone had a chance to realize how bad it was.

I’ll have to try that recipe again. Maybe with a little Ivory soap next time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Now You See It, Now You Don't

It's no secret I will do just about anything for the Queen. Under the right circumstances, the Sixth Commandment might even be subject to a more liberal interpretation should some poor, unfortunate fool be dumb enough to attempt harming the Queen thereby underestimating the depth of my willingness to fulfill my marriage vows. Specifically, the one about protecting her. Is it really murder if someone simply ceases to exist on this planet?

So, if I'm willing to do serious bodily harm to a would be regicidal maniac, it should come as no surprise that I'd engage in a little property destruction without too much persuasion.

As regular readers, friends and family are aware, the Queen's health has been challenged for some time now. We had been noticing a musty smell in the master closet for some time which would not go away despite our best efforts to clean, vacuum, wash, and reorganize said closet's contents.

Not long after we started smelling the musty odor, we received allergy test results indicating the Queen has sensitivities to mold. Sensitivities in most people might be a case of the sniffles or a slight headache. Sensitivities with the Queen are slightly more debilitating. Like seizures, severe muscle weakness and other forms of excitement.

Naturally, we started looking more closely at the master bath for potential sources of mold. The sink and toilet were clear of any water leaks leading us to the master shower which looked exactly like the photo below.

A close examination of the shower revealed cracks in the second course of tiles up from the floor as well as a lack of grout in the corner from the floor almost to the top. The Queen and I had been discussing remodeling the shower for a long time. It just had not been a major priority given everything else we have been dealing with of late. Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of taking risks and letting a potential shower leak go unrepaired.

To quote the magician: "Now you see it, now you don't."

The good news is that the person who built this shower was very good at his job. There was no water penetration into the wall cavity. The bad news is that I need to build a new shower.

If anyone is interested in buying a slightly used but extremely well built shower, I'd be happy to make suitable arrangements with anyone willing cart it off. One warning though:

Some assembly required.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's in the Cards...or the Genes

I find myself slowly creeping up on my 40TH birthday. Hiding from it is probably a better description even though the event will take no notice whatsoever of my efforts to avoid capture. I don't want to grow up anymore than the next Toys 'R Us kid; but, as the winter months tip toe into Texas for their brief stay before being unceremoniously thrown out on the street by the bluster of spring barging in like a drunken Irishman full of too much hot air and recycled beer loudly proclaiming the yearly anniversary of my birth, I find myself reflecting more and more on what I still want to be when I grow up. Or least, what I want to do in the next 40 years or until the Second Coming...whichever comes first. If me and the planet are still here when I turn 80, I suppose I'll have to rethink everything again.

In between pondering my purpose in life and during those rare times when I have nothing better to do, I've been playing online poker. It's not nearly the same as sitting around the table with a group of family or friends, telling stories and jokes, and generally having a grand old time, but it'll have to do for now.

I've always enjoyed playing real live card games. There is a feeling and a smell to a well worn deck of cards which I can't even think of a proper way to describe. A new deck is a little like a brand new car. They're all sleek, glossy and shiny with a sharp chemical smell of fresh ink. They're slippery in your hands and fly across the table on a deal. A well worn deck of cards, on the other hand, has a texture that forces you to make an effort to spread them across your hand to reveal the secrets handed out by the dealer. They will still fly across the table until some minuscule imperfection in the card or the table stops the card dead in its tracks like it hit a brick wall. The ink smell is still there, but it has lost some of its edge and has matured from countless games as if aged in a barrel with fine wine.

It is no secret that my love of card games comes from my upbringing in a family of card players. I think I learned to play gin about the same time I learned to play Chutes and Ladders. My grandfather's (mom's dad) morning ritual for as long as I can remember was playing Gin with his second wife while drinking their morning coffee. My great grandfather Pennington (mom's mom's dad) even played poker semi professionally to help put food on the table for his family back in the Great Depression.

I guess you could say card games used to be a way of life in my family. I don't remember many family gatherings or visits that didn't involve a game of cards at some point or other. Gin or Canasta were the main games of choice; however, an occasional poker game was not unheard of. I say used to because family gatherings have become increasingly rare these days for a variety of reasons; and, on those rare occasions when we can get everyone in the same spot, the TV or the computer or the honey do list trumps the simple pleasures of a real live, ink coated cardboard in your hands, face to face game of cards.

One such family gathering stands out amongst the disorganized mess that is my memory. I can't remember the occasion, whether it was Thanksgiving or what. Nor can I remember who all was there. I do remember we were at great granddad Pennington's house in Austin when someone, cousin Pat (I think), suggested we have a penny ante poker game. So, a bunch of us all sat down around the round oak table now sitting in my mother's house and commenced to playing good old fashioned 5 Card Draw and 7 Card Stud. This was well before the huge popularity of Texas Hold'em.

I recall holding my own fairly well despite the fact I was the youngest player at the table (all of probably 16 at the time) and hadn't played much poker before that night. I can't remember what time it was exactly; but, sometime around way past late:30, a general consensus arose amongst the group that it was time to pack it in for the night. Cousin Pat piped up and said, "One more hand. No limits." I was sitting across from great granddad which gave me a front row seat to catch the gleam in his eye as he said, "Awright". The action came around to Pat at which time he bet $10. Heady stuff for what was a friendly penny ante game up to that point. Great granddad was next in line around the table from Pat, and the only sound he made was the sound of his belt clearing belt loops as he whipped off his money belt. He started to count out several hundred dollar bills much to Pat's dismay.

I remember Pat trying to argue about something. I can't remember exactly what. I suspect it was a feeble argument trying to limit the game to table stakes or pleading poverty. Whatever it was, it was a losing argument and a losing bet. He lost on both counts, and the game was over.

I miss that. You can't get that kind of story from an online card game. "I beat the computer in hearts" or "I was in a heads up hold'em battle with a guy from the Ukraine on" just isn't quite the same. Where are the smells, the sounds, the glint in the eye, the knowing smiles, the smug satisfaction of watching your opponent cringe as you lay down a winning hand in an online card game? Will it matter in 40 years?

The big round oak table is still there bearing the patina and scars earned through years of family get togethers and countless card games. It sits waiting for a table full of family and friends to gather around to shape new memories of old games. It waits patiently to see how often mom will try to bait the stack in Canasta, who will try to bluff to an inside straight and whether a rare lay down hand in gin will appear. I look forward to that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Moving Curse

I had dinner with mom recently. I think. It may have been a week or two ago now. Time no longer has any meaning to me. Warning to those who are offered the chance to work from home: make it a point to get out in public once in a while to avoid becoming a workaholic hermit.

It was a lovely dinner after a long day of driving from Dallas to Aggie Land (Bryan, TX - that’s a 3 hour trip one way for those of you who are cursed with the misfortunate to be from somewhere other than Texas) and back; however, mom made it a point to take issue with the way in which she has been portrayed in this blog so far. Specifically, she indicated perhaps, just perhaps, I might have been using my bully pulpit to make her the butt of my slightly skewed worldview a little more frequently than a good son should.

I love my mother. I really do. I wouldn’t have a world view, much less a slightly skewed one, without her. So, in an effort to show her how much I appreciate her and respect her wishes not to be the whipping girl yet again, it’s dad’s turn to be thrown under the bus. I’ll get around to rehabilitating mom’s image in another post. I promise. Oh, and if my sister is reading this by some miracle, I will gladly entertain requests to be left out of this exercise in character assassination. I’ll even seriously consider such a request if accompanied by appropriate compensation.

Now that the solicitation of bribery as a means of avoiding familial libel and slander is over with, we can continue with our story.

I’m not too worried about dad getting offended by my humorous references to his character flaws, real or imagined, as I’m pretty sure he’s still not reading the blog. When I last spoke to him a few weeks ago and inquired as to his opinions about whether he liked the blog, the quality of the writing (he was an English major in college after all), etc., he said, and I quote, “He-eh”. At least, that’s the only way I know to spell the sound that comes out of his mouth when he has no clue what someone is talking about. It sounds like a cross between “hay” and “eh” with a slight hint of a nasal “nuh” in the middle. Or maybe the nasal sound is tacked onto the end somehow. It’s hard to tell.

I’m sure there are lots of stories to tell about dad. The problem is I only know a few of them that don’t involve carefully repressed memories. I think it’s one of the side effects arising from him not being the custodial parent in a “joint custody” situation. One of these days I’m going to ask a family law judge how they figure “every other weekend and two weeks in the summer” constitutes “joint custody”. Seems to me like someone was smoking a joint when they came up with that euphemism, but I digress as usual. Instead, I will focus on how I take after dad.

If you were to ask number one follower, best man and all around good guy, Ken, what is my most notorious curse, he will likely, without hesitation, tell you it is my perverse luck with moving. As in “it’s time to pack all my crap and change addresses” moving. I’ve lost count over the years, but I’m pretty sure Ken and I have helped each other move at least a dozen times. We’ve got it down to a science. However, every time, without fail, on any moving day I happen to be involved with, disaster strikes. I’ve pretty much seen it all: a completely insane soon to be ex-wife (not mine, Ken’s, The Queen is a dream to work with on moving day), dozens of fearless cockroaches chasing Ken and I down to reclaim their sofa that had just been moved in the middle of the night so that Ken’s now ex-wife could avoid leaving a forwarding address (that move was also the scene of the laundry closet wall caked with dryer lint because someone didn’t connect the vent hose…for a few years), heatstroke caused by choosing the hottest freaking day of the summer to move (there is not enough water or Gatorade on the planet to keep someone properly hydrated in 100+ degree Texas heat when the inside of the moving van feels like the surface of the sun), moving furniture up three flights of stairs while coming down with pneumonia (The Queen had to do most of the work that day as I was passing out from fever), thunder storms, furniture that had to go in through a second story window because it won’t fit through the front door and many other fond moving memories.

I come by my curse honestly though. It’s genetic from dad’s side of the family. Mom’s side of the family doesn’t move unless forced to by a tornado. I can prove it, too, with two fond memories from the Annals of Disastrous Moving Adventures.

The first fond memory I will relate is actually the second memory chronologically speaking, but it’s bad form to give your best evidence first. As moving weekends go, it was what has become typical for me: the weather sucked (thunderstorms all weekend) and one of my uncles (mom’s brother) went into the hospital for the final time due to a terminal illness. The bad karma of that weekend could have all been avoided though had my father made a simple, life altering phone call. You see, my dad and my uncle (his brother, not mom’s brother) had season tickets to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys made it to the Super Bowl that year which gives season ticket holders first dibs on Super Bowl tickets. My uncle generously asked dad if I would want the other ticket. Dad, without asking me, told my uncle that I wouldn’t want it because…wait for it…I was going to be moving that weekend. He and my uncle went and had a great time in Pasadena, California while I was stuck back here in Texas to get run over by the bad karma bus. No, I’m not bitter at all.

The curse actually got started earlier than that though. This particular story will prove, without a shadow of doubt, my curse is genetically inherited from dad. Dad and my uncle owned and ran their own company. Sometime in mid to late 1988, they decided to buy a competitor’s operation down in Houston. Dad drew the short straw and prepared for the move to Houston to become the fearless leader of the office there.

By the time dad was ready to move, it was late December or early January. The week he was going to move, he was out of town for the first part of the week when the weather was perfect: sunshiny and relatively warm for winter in Texas. Dad came back into town Wednesday night, and we started loading the truck on an overcast and chilly Thursday so we could leave first thing Friday morning. Thursday night brought a Dallas, TX version of a blizzard: snow and ice covering everything, dropping power lines, and turning roads and bridges into skating rinks.

Now, I can hear some of you from places that actually have four seasons and see snow outside of a glass globe snickering into your coffee mugs; but, down here in Texas, most drivers think ice goes in your tea and were never given practical tips like cruise control don’t work on ice. Dad and I woke up Friday morning to a winter wonder land and embarked on what should have been a four hour drive to Houston. I know this is beginning to sound like the opening to Gilligan’s Island, but it’s really not that bad.

The snow and ice storm followed dad and I from Dallas to Houston. Ten hours later, dad and I rolled into Houston with a moving van full of dad’s worldly possessions still shiny side up by doing what most other Texans haven't figure out yet, driving incredibly slow. It was well after dark, and a lovely freezing rain gave Houston that cheerful, death on a slab in the morgue look. I don’t remember what floor dad’s apartment was on. What I do remember is being stiff from sitting in the cab of a moving van for 10 hours and then having to unload enough of the furniture to have something to sleep on that night. One elevator load at a time.

Saturday morning, after we unloaded and hooked up the TV, dad and I discovered that Houston had its worst ice storm in decades. Forty plus unlucky drivers managed to have a massive accident on an ice encrusted I-45.

Remember what I said? To people in Texas, ice goes in your tea.

As you can see, my moving curse is most definitely a genetic gift from my father. What I’m still trying to figure out is, given the fact he is well aware of my curse, why does Ken keep asking for my help when he moves?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Health Food

Insurance adjusters typically have a love hate relationship with being out of the office, and I've been out of the office quite a bit lately. In fact, between time off, computer failures and attending mediations, I've only been IN the office about 5 days for the entire Month of October. That's serious when it typically takes about 2 days to recover from every day you spend out of the office in this business. In just the past 10 business days, I've gone to mediations 6 times. Some of which were a complete surprise to me as my inbox overfloweth. Yes, I'm completely screwed.

Among mediators, as with other professions and industries, some are better than others. One thing that almost all mediators try to do is to create a comfortable environment and provide snacks and drinks to their captives...I mean clients. Mediators actually have no power to force people to do anything, but they've learned that adjusters with low blood sugar get cranky and put a serious dent in their settlement percentages.

At Tuesday's mediation, my attorney and I had just had an awesome lunch at Chuy's Tex Mex. We waddled into the mediator's office for our afternoon mediation and were greeted by the above pictured 2 foot square bowl of chocolate and sundry snacks. Now, I have been accused of having a sweet tooth, and I have a well documented love affair with chocolate. However, at that particular moment with Chuy's Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken still making a valiant effort to convince my brain that my stomach was full, I could not bear the thought of another morsel of food. Not even for chocolate. Had it been a plate full of fresh baked cookies, that'd be a different story. But, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Then my attorney said, "Hey, look. It's a salad for fat people."

After I finished laughing, my brain started arguing with my stomach.

Stomach - Salads are healthy, right?

Brain - It's chocolate, stupid.

Stomach - But, it's a salad.

Brain - No, it's not.

Stomach - I'm hungry. Can I have some salad?

Brain - No, you're not; and, no, you can't. We just ate.

Stomach - How about just a little bite?

Brain - No

Stomach - Yes

Brain - No

Stomach - No

(Mmmm [smack, lick], this is good)

Brain - Yes....hey, wait a minute.

It was some good salad.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How I Met The Queen

Some might ask why I call my bride The Queen. That’s a simple question with a deceptively simple yet subtly complicated answer.

First, the simple part of the answer. I tell young people who are thinking about getting married that, instead of worrying so much about the wedding and being prince/princess for a day, they should be more concerned with whether or not their chosen spouse will treat them like a king/queen for a lifetime.

Now, for the complicated part of the answer. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. To be perfectly blunt, it was not a pleasant experience for a young child and didn’t get any easier as I grew older. As a result, I have very definite VIEWS about marriage. I think a major cause of the alarmingly high divorce rate in this country are people getting married for the wrong reasons: shotgun weddings, young people with no clue who are in “love”, people who really have nothing in common with the person they’re with, the whole prince/princess for a day thing, etc. Based on my experiences growing up, I told the Queen in no uncertain terms that divorce would never be an option for us. In fact, I told her not to promise “until death do we part” unless she had picked out the spot in the back yard where she was going to bury me as I would never go through nor put another human being through what I experienced as a child.

In light of that background, you might be curious as to how someone with such definite VIEWS on marriage came to find the perfect woman in the first place.

To say that I was not always the best at selecting dating partners prior to meeting the Queen is probably an understatement of such colossal proportions that metaphors or similes to adequately describe my lack of skills in that area simply fail me. I still cringe at the thought of a certain memory from high school involving me bringing a girl home to meet mom for the first time.

The Scene: Typical 1970s era galley kitchen. One painfully thin yet very tall 17 year old young man with longish hair (okay, okay…it was a mullet…don’t laugh, you know you liked them) quietly stirring the spaghetti sauce at the stove. Mom leaning against the counter, arms crossed, eyeing the young thing with intentions towards her son. One tallish, 17 year old female of the species wearing tight jeans, boots and big hair (yeah, you know you liked the big hair, too), sitting on the counter next to the sink looking mostly innocent.

Mom to girl: So, tell me a little about yourself.

Girl to mom: Well, I’m a recovering drug addict, and I go to Alcoholics Anonymous.

(5 seconds of stunned silence interrupted only by the “blop” sound of a large sauce bubble popping while my brain locks up after trying desperately to become invisible)

Mom to no one in particular: Oh, that’s nice. I think I’ll go set the table.

I still, to this day, have no clue as to why this particular girl decided to withhold such vital information from me until the all important parental introduction; however, I can only assume it was a perverse test of some kind. Now, I know some people might be thinking that I had some prior knowledge of this little tidbit of information or that the girl was making it up to get a reaction, but you would be wrong on both counts. I went to a suburban high school of approximately 3500 to 4000 students. It’s not like everyone knew each other from birth. I had only known her a short time when this event took place, and at no time during our brief acquaintance prior to that moment did the subject of her adventures in recreational pharmaceutical use or self medication come up. Perhaps she just assumed that I knew these things since her best friend’s locker was next to mine. Perhaps the mullet gave her the false presumption of shared habits. I will never know. To Mom’s credit, all she said to me after dinner was “be careful.” Oh, yeah. You think?

So, the story of how I met the Queen should come as no surprise to anyone. The fact that she turned out to be a genuinely decent person who later, for reasons that still escape me, agreed to marry me is nothing short of a miracle.

It was a gloriously sunny but not unbearably hot day in early June 1997. I decided it was a perfect day to go rollerblading at the park. Some friends of mine had just recently introduced me to rollerblading as a form of exercise, and I was probably out there trying to get some exercise and improve my rollerblading skills. That, or I was “sightseeing”. I mean I was a hot blooded, American male with a pulse after all.

As I’m rolling along, I happen to overtake a breathtaking red head rollerblading with, shall we say, a woman with more life experience. Courtesy demands that a person overtaking and passing another give them a warning. I said, “Passing on the left.” The red head immediately responded with, “Well, passing on the right.” Passees don’t normally respond to passers. At least, not in my experience. So, naturally, the future Queen made an immediate impression beyond her obvious physical attributes.

Well, I continued on my merry, solo way until I ran into a friend at the parking area. He and I chatted about nothing in particular for a bit until, lo and behold, the red head and her partner turned up as well. I’ll be honest; I was rude to my friend as my attention was immediately drawn to the conversation between the red head and her partner as they were parked within earshot of where we were standing.

By shamelessly eavesdropping, I determined the following:

1) The woman of experience with the red head was, in fact, the red head’s mother.
2) The red head was teaching her mother how to rollerblade.
3) The red head’s mother was tired and had decided to go home.
4) The red head was going to stay at the park and continue rollerblading.

Now, some might say I’m a bit shy. Others might say that there are wallpaper patterns more outgoing than I am. Perhaps. I prefer to think of myself as reserved and selective. I mean, really, how do you maintain the aura of the tall, dark, mysterious stranger if everyone knows you? At any rate, I heard myself asking the red head if she wanted some company. Who said that? No, it couldn’t have been me. Well, yes. Yes, actually, it was me. Maybe it was the fact that we had actually already exchanged a few words. Maybe it was God pulling the strings for a lark.

Regardless, I heard the red head utter the now infamous words, “If you can keep up.” Then she was off like a shot. I can’t recall for sure whether or not I said goodbye to my friend, but I think he got the picture. It took me about 50 yards to catch her again, but I did. I may be quiet and reserved, but I have a competitive streak a mile long. There’s also the fact that I’m about a foot taller than the Queen, and my stride gives me an edge on the rollerblades. She didn’t have a chance.

We spent the next couple of hours rolling around the park. We chatted and joked and had a great time. Or, at least, so I thought. At this point in the story, she usually claims that I asked for her phone number. While there is a distinct possibility that this occurred, I have no firm memory of doing so. So, of course, I deny it. I do recall giving her my business card with my numbers. Which she didn’t bother to use. And here I thought I had made an impression.

What’s a smitten man of means and intelligence to do? Turn stalker, of course. I started hanging out at the park a little more frequently hoping to catch sight of her again. I did manage to catch up with her briefly one more time in June when she was at the park with her best friend. That event was memorable as she slipped at the water fountain and imprinted the back of her white t-shirt with a muddy full moon. Kodak moment missed except in my mind’s eye. I wish I could print that memory.

Still no calls, though. Time for drastic measures. Even though she had never revealed her last name to me, the future queen had made the mistake of letting it slip where she worked. She claims she didn’t know she had told me where she worked. I think it was her way of testing me to see how persistent I would be. I finally worked up the nerve and looked up the phone number to her place of employment in the phone book. I called and asked for the future Queen by her first name and was greeted with the response “Which one” in reply. I asked for the red headed one and was transferred by the receptionist. Apparently, there were two red heads at this company with the same first name as the lady I was connected with had no idea who I was and said something like, “Oh, you must be looking for the other one.”

At this point in the story, I would like to report that I was greeted with an “Oh, hi, it’s nice to hear from you. I was just thinking about you.” Didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the truth is that the future Queen answered the phone in a surprised and incredulous tone with a “How did you find me?” Score one for the stalkers. To her eternal credit, the future Queen regained her civility and composure quickly and informed me that it was her last day at that particular place of employment. Score two for the stalkers. When I asked the Queen to be if she would be interested in going out on a date, she actually accepted my offer since I had shown such persistence and resourcefulness. Score three points and the hat trick for the stalkers.

Not one to let an opportunity to make a better impression go wasted; I made reservations at an awesome restaurant. Reata in downtown Fort Worth. At the time, this restaurant was situated on the top floor of the Bank One building 30 something stories above the streets of downtown (on a side note, they had to move after a tornado struck downtown a couple of years later and caused major structural damage to the building). The view was spectacular at least as far as billiard table topography allows, and the food is phenomenal. It didn't hurt that a business associate had given me a gift certificate which helped cover the check. Don't roll your eyes at me. At least it wasn't a BOGO coupon at Whataburger.

Apparently, I made a good enough impression to warrant further dating. The Queen to be and I dated for 6 and a half years before I proposed to her after dinner in the rooftop dome at Reata’s new location a few streets over from the old location. From the moment she said “Yes”, we planned and held the wedding in under 4 weeks. Mainly because we didn’t spend a lot of time sweating details and delegated a lot of things. We knew each other, and we knew that the wedding was going to be just one day in a lifetime together. We wanted to have fun and did things very spur of the moment. Wedding cake? How about a baker’s dozen of hand decorated cup cakes? The wedding recessional? How about the fanfare from the throne room scene where Hans and Luke get their medals at the end of the original Star Wars movie? I can tell you it was a hoot to walk back down the aisle hearing people laughing and saying, “Hey, that’s from Star Wars isn’t it?”

Yes, yes it was.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The News is all Happy and Gay

Even though it’s usually depressing, I try to keep abreast of the news so that I have at least a vague idea of what’s going on in the world around me. I still remember going to a retreat up in the mountains of Washington state which was so far removed from any contact with civilization that there was no phones, no radio, no TV and no internet access. You’d only see a newspaper if someone brought one with them when they arrived. However, after spending a week on the side of that mountain with no contact with the outside world or modern conveniences like cars, I was stunned to find out how alien everything in our modern society felt. It was absolutely wonderful, and I’ve been meaning to go back there for years.

On the other side of the coin, I was also stunned to learn that people wondered what planet I had come from when I said I had no idea Princess Diana had died in a car wreck while I was busy communing with nature. Why couldn’t I have been there when Michael Jackson died instead?

Now, the other day, I read a news article that President Obama has nominated a policewoman from Minnesota to be the first openly gay U.S. Marshal. My first reaction was: Why is this news? Did she cheat on her taxes, too? Apparently not. The brief news story makes mention of the president’s rocky relationship with the gay community and specifically his pledge to end the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the US military despite his lack of concrete efforts to do so. It reminds me of an Bloom County cartoon from the 1980s in which Milo is calling NASA about shuttle launches back when NASA was making a big push to get the first [fill in the minority/ethnic/special interest group here] into space. Milo asks if NASA had launched a blind, Indian contortionist or some such and the NASA spokesman said “Yep, he went up this morning.”

I’ve never thought of myself as homophobic. I just plain don’t understand why a man or a woman would look at another person of the same sex with lust in their heart to borrow a phrase from Jimmy Carter (and to think that man won the Nobel Peace Prize), and let’s not talk about lopitoffamy or addalittletomy surgical “interventions”. That just makes my skin crawl to think of looking at an original, standard equipment item attached to your own body that’s functioning properly and not cancerous and decide you can’t stand the thought of living with it another day so badly that you pay good money to have it removed. Uh, uh. No thank you, sir. Step away from me with those sharp objects.

So, this news story, to me at least, is a thinly veiled article about progress the administration is making towards ending discrimination against homosexuals. Despite the fact that I am a committed, life-long heterosexual, I have always wondered what sexual orientation has to do with what a person does for a living. As far as I’m concerned, the only criteria beyond education and prior work experience is whether or not a person is physically capable of performing the duties and responsibilities of a particular occupation. For instance, I’d love to be able to earn a living as an airshow pilot; however, I am not sure that I’m physically capable of keeping myself from puking through a 10 minute aerobatics routine. Does that mean I’m being discriminated against?

Then, today, I see another news article about the administration’s efforts on behalf of the gay community ( This article makes no bones about the fact that the administration is working to end workplace discrimination against the gay community. Okay, fine. More power to you; but, really, how far do we need to go with this?

I mean, seriously, do we need to be adding more groups to the list of protected classes? I think we have more than enough of those already. I think the fact that we even have to have a list of protected groups is a sad commentary on us as human beings. Think about it for a minute. Companies are in business to make money. Non-profit groups exist to effectively achieve a certain goal or provide a certain service while wasting the least amount of resources necessary. They should WANT the best, most productive person for the job regardless of what the look like, which god they worship or who they pick up in bars; and, yet, here we are still dealing with discrimination in the 21ST freaking century since Jesus came down from on high to show us the way.

Does that mean we have to force people under penalty of law to do what’s in their best interests? Have any of the government’s affirmative action efforts to coerce people into being “diverse” changed anyone’s attitude about anything? I doubt it. I still hear racist jokes and religious jokes, hear stories of sexual harassment and glass ceilings, and more. We’re still seeing a culture of thin skinned victimization reported in the media, and you can’t disagree with President Obama without people looking throw your dresser drawers for a Klan robe. The only thing I’ve seen discrimination laws do is keep lawyers busy like they needed any help with that.

I tend towards a healthy dose of common sense in my opinions. I think an employer should be entitled to seek out workers who fit within the culture and demographic of their business to more effectively work within an industry or market. Does it make sense to force a fundamentalist Christian organization to hire an openly gay or transgender person as a lead spokesperson? Probably not. Does it make sense to hire a person who barely has a command of the English language and speaks with a heavy accent that no native born Texan can understand to sit in a customer service or help desk call center? No, it doesn’t AT&T. Neither of those scenarios make sense.

My feeling is this: If a business person is too stupid or small minded to over look their own prejudices so that they can hire the best person for the job and pay that person according to the value they bring to the company, that company deserves to lose money. Their competitors won’t always make the same mistake. Unfortunately, a distressing number of them do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Until We Meet Again, My Friend

***Warning. The following post may be a bit of a downer compared to my usual cynically humorous outlook. If you're already depressed, go read old Calvin & Hobbes cartoons or something.***

My week got off to a very inauspicious start. I was on "vacation" last week taking care of the Queen while the inlaws went to the annual church festival without us, and I took Monday of this week "off" even though I was secretly trying to work in an effort to get caught up on the 168 emails, 91 edocs and 27 voicemail that had accumulated in my absence. I say trying to work because my DSL connection has been plotting a suicide attempt for several weeks now. Due to the DSL trying to convince me to shot it by crashing every few minutes, I was unable to get any real work done. Tuesday and Wednesday were not much better.

One of the few emails that I was able to read on Monday was from a friend and former co-worker, Barbi, informing me that another friend and former co-worker of mine, Mike, had been in a serious car accident on Friday. The email said he was in the hospital critical care unit. Mike was not quite 2 months older than me. So, I bad could it be? Right?

Then my Facebook account exploded. Not literally, of course, but relatively speaking. My Facebook activity has stabilized to the point where new requests, notes, messages, etc. are the exception rather than the norm. Barbi sent me a friend request on FB as well, and I got another friend request from another former co-worker. 2 friend requests in one day from the same day. Red flag. Then the urgent messages started showing up. Things aren't looking good.

How bad can it be? When I finally spoke to Barbi, I found out. Try "Mike hit an eighteen wheeler suffering severe head injuries and now on a ventilator" bad.

I spent the next few hours debating on whether or not I should go to the hospital to visit. Not necessarily for Mike, since he was out of it in a coma, but mostly to be there for friends and his family. And so that, later, I wouldn't hate myself for not going.

Despite my cynicism, I tend towards being more emotional than the average male of our species. So, it wasn't an easy decision. I cried. I prayed. I cried some more. In the end, I decided to go.

I got to the hospital shortly after the late visiting hours started. Barbi was there with her husband. Mike's wife Erica was there (on a side note, Erica was the one who printed the invitations for the Queen's and my wedding), and I had just missed seeing Mike's daughter.

Even though we weren't family, we were allowed to go back into CCU and see Mike. From what I understand, the hospital bent the rules at Erica's request given the situation. I was able to see Mike and spend some time with him. He was recognizable in a distorted kind of way due to the swelling from his injuries.

Mike was always a very fashionable guy, and he would have been mortified to receive visitors in a hospital gown not to mention all the tubes and wires. Then there was the fact that they had to shave part of his head. Fortunately, he didn't suffer any really grotesque injuries like some of the things you see with severe burn victims or amputees. He was whole, but he just looked like he had been in a bad fight.

By this time, Erica had already made the decision with the doctors to have the ventilator removed the next day and "let nature take its course". Apparently, Mike was not showing any brain activity and was not expected to improve. But, for reasons I didn't think about at the time, I stopped short of saying goodbye. The last thing I said to Mike was that he was a good friend and always would be.

I spent some time with Erica after I visited with Mike. She's holding up remarkably well under the circumstances even though she describes her current emotional state as "Craptacular" to any who ask. She talked about how difficult it was to get a hold of anyone at Mike's work. In this day of direct dial extensions, she only had Mike's direct number which wasn't much help. Mike's cell phone was not among his personal possessions when he was brought to the hospital. It surfaced a day or two later. Fortunately, people from his work got in touch with her and started the ball rolling on the workers compensation claim, insurance, etc. The president of Mike's company even flew in from Connecticut to visit.

It still chokes me up to think about Mike and what happened to him and his family. I sit here writing this with tears trying to fill my eyes. I still won't be saying goodbye to Mike here even though he died on Wednesday shortly after the ventilator was removed. Mike was not much on religion. But it doesn't matter. God believes in us whether we believe in him or not. I believe, and I know I will see him again.

Mike, I will remember your smug, knowing laugh. I will remember your sense of humor and your love of Hondas and Acuras. I will remember that you were a fan of The Cure. I will remember that the most prominent thing in your office was a picture of you holding your daughter on the day she was born. I will remember you until we meet again. Rest in peace and worry no more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The View From My Office Chair

The Queen and I are animal lovers. We often tell people that we have 2 cats and 2 1/2 dogs which frequently puzzles them. I work from home, and I took a moment to look away from the computer. This is the view that greated my eyes. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a photo of the 1/2 dog. The reason we say we have 2 1/2 dogs is that custody/ownership of this mutt, sprawled in all his glorious wonder, is more or less shared between the Queen and I and her parents.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Queen's New Drawers

The Great and Glorious Queen of the Erickson household has one personality trait that makes me, as her husband and loyal subject, the envy of every married man alive. She hates to shop for clothes. She hates it at least as much as I do, and I only go clothes shopping when I start looking like something which no self respecting homeless person would want to associate with. Working from home has only seen my wardrobe stagnate even more than usual since I only have to look presentable once a week or so. I’m just not ready to show up for church in my bathrobe and slippers.

So, anyway, a little over a week ago, The Queen informs me that she is in desperate need of new underwear. Under normal circumstances, this would not be a news item to which I would be privy. Unfortunately, The Queen and I have not been living under normal circumstances for about three and a half years now.

Three and a half years ago, The Queen began having health issues. We’re not talking about a touch of the flu or a garden variety case of pollen allergies. We’re not even talking about something scary yet identifiable like cancer. No, The Queen has to be unique and enigmatic. She has to come down with a chronic mystery illness that’s left my formerly energetic, athletic and independent Queen in a very dependent, constantly fatigued and decidedly unsporting state.

After three and a half years and thousands of dollars worth of medical treatment later, you’d think that The Queen’s condition would be a little less mysterious. While the exact nature of her condition remains somewhat illusive, we have learned quite a bit about what her condition is NOT. It’s not HIV. It’s not cancer. It’s most definitely not all in her head. Seriously. Why can’t doctors just admit they’re stumped when they don’t have a clue instead of more or less accusing their patients of making everything up? Some doctors need a little more practice than others, I guess.

And, now, back to our impending adventure in lingerie shopping.

Due to her distressing lack of energy and stamina, The Queen has must confine herself to a wheelchair when making public appearances. I’m sure you see where this is going. Me pushing The Queen into Victoria’s Secret.

Please, no. Not that. Anything but that.

First, let me say that sending a guy to go shopping for women’s underwear is a little like sending a bull on a tour of a slaughter house. The bull is pretty sure he shouldn’t be in there in the first place, and it’s an even money bet that he’ll be too scared to ask any questions.

This is due to the fact that men keep underwear simple. Men’s underwear comes in two basic styles and a variety of colors. The entire men’s underwear industry can be displayed in the same amount of area occupied by a walk in closet in a modest sized house. Most men can shop for underwear in less than 5 seconds. Men generally have their style choice made by the age of five and, for the most part, see no need to fix something that’s not broken. With some exceptions, men don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the color of their underwear. That leaves locating the correct size as the most time consuming task in the shopping experience. Size is based on your waist measurement. If you know the size of the pants you’re wearing, all you have to do is make sure the numbers match. Done.

Not so with The Queen’s underwear. So many dangers to marital bliss. So little time.

Let’s start with styles? The Queen shops for her dainties at Victoria’s Secret which has more styles than there are people on the planet. They have everything from “granny panties” to “What do you think I am? Some kind of cheap slut?” to “Why, yes, I am; but, no, you can’t afford me.” And don’t get me started on the displays. This is supposed to be a family blog.

Then there is size. Ladies, never ever ask a guy what size underwear you should buy. You might as well ask us to do jumping jacks in a mine field. You might be saying “Should I get this size or that size?” and really want to know which one will look better on you. All we men hear is “Honey, how big is my butt?” There are no correct answers to that question. So, don’t ask. Our brains will lock up. You can spot us in the store easily. We’re the ones frozen in position with a nervous tick. Besides, it annoys the sales staff.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Adventures in Car Repair

I’ve always had a powerful desire to work with my hands even though I’ve never been properly trained in any particular trade. I love to tinker with things, build things, make things, take things apart…occasionally put them back together properly.

My mother loves to tell a story about when I was 3 years old. I had one of those little red fire engine pedal cars; and, apparently, I was under the impression that it needed to be “repaired”. Frequently. My “repairs” allegedly took the form of the wheels and steering wheel being removed and put back on. This is the point in the story where Mom starts laughing uncontrollably as she tries to tell people of how I would be pedaling madly down the sidewalk only to have all fours wheels fall off simultaneously leaving me holding a steering wheel no longer connected to anything but my very inept hands.

Since then, I have worked on every car I’ve ever owned to one degree or another. Some of my efforts have been more extensive than others. Some of my efforts have been more successful than others.

For the last several days, the latest victim of my mechanical talents has been our 2002 Ford Windstar. The AC compressor on the Windstar chose August in Texas to take an eternal dirt nap. I’ve never attempted an AC repair before; but, after the shop said they wanted $1300 in parts and labor to fix, I figured I should give it a whirl.

After tinkering with cars for most of my life, I’ve noticed a couple of things that others might find amusing.

First, automotive engineers are a sadistic lot. There’s an old joke about the difference between a masochist and a sadist: The masochist says “Hurt me. Hurt me.” While the sadist says “No.” I’m convinced that car company engineers spend millions of dollars and hundreds of man hours thinking up devious and perverse ways to thwart countless masochistic shade tree mechanics such as myself. It’s their way of saying “No”.

Second, I am convinced that the folks who write car repair manuals have never, in fact, seen a car much less attempted to repair one.

For instance, the manual on the Windstar says that you should be able to remove the AC compressor from the engine compartment after removing the four mounting bolts. That might be possible in a pig’s left nostril. Maybe. Not, however, on a Windstar.

The bright eyed sadists at Ford buried the AC compressor on the front left side of the engine. Hiding out below the compressor is a frame rail, a radiator hose and part of the exhaust manifold leaving absolutely not nearly enough room to remove the large, heavy rectangular peg from the much smaller triangular hole. The top side is not much better. To the left is a huge chunk of engine compartment wall. To the right is more radiator plumbing and the battery. Above the compressor, Ford found a great place for the alternator and its mounting bracket creating another peg/hole combination from Hell.

Now, I’m enough of an arm chair engineer to grudgingly admit that you have to make compromises which sometimes sacrifice ease of repair. That, however, does not relieve repair manual writers from their obligation to accurately report the steps necessary to successfully undertake a particular procedure. Is it too much ask the manual companies to have some junior grade tech writer actually present when the repair is done? I mean, you might actually pick up little time saving hints like you need to remove the alternator and its mounting bracket to get the compressor out of its little hiding spot.

I spent the better part of several hours alone in the workshop trying to noodle that one out. The rats living in the shop’s insulation were no help. Ungrateful freeloading squatters. I give them free room and all the junk they could ever hope to hide in. The least they could do is give a guy a constructive suggestion once in a while.

All’s well that end’s well, though. I succeeded in getting the old compressor out and the new one in without having parts left over. It even started on the first try with no sparks, smoke or flames. A system flush and some R-134a later, the Windstar has cold AC again.

I can hear the Ford engineers back at their CAD programs cursing under their breath. Go on you turkeys. Take your best shot. Hurt me if you can.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blog Carnival Award

I think it was Sunday evening when I received the email from Monda at Easy Street Prompts ( telling me that "I Speak Thingie" had been selected as an Editor's Pick in the September Blog Carnival. I'm still hyperventilating into a paper bag and laying awake in bed in the middle of the night thinking "Holy keyboards, Batman. What next?" Stunned doesn't quite seem to cover it. Floored, maybe? How do you sum up disbelief, validation, redemption, elation and a whole legion of emotions into one word?

I will probably be geeking out about this for at least another week. So, if you know me personally or have the misfortune of being related to me, I apologize in advance for the radiant smile and the constant murmuring of "I can't believe it."

So, to Monda who had to wade through an unknown number of submissions to narrow it down to the 9 selections I say simply: Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, tell me your favorite liquor and where to send it, thank you, gracias, danke, thank you.....

To my fellow award winners, congratulations. You all ROCK!!!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Welcome, Follower

I noticed the other day that I now have 2 followers. Number one follower has been with me since the beginning of this little adventure which I think says something about our friendship. I mean, my own mother won't sign on as a follower. Then again, she has admitted to a lack of technological understanding in this matter.

But, now, I have new follower. Someone named Mel. I thought I'd take a moment to thank you for your patronage. Welcome to Preachers and Horse Thieves, Mel. I will now proceed to hug you and squeeze you and call you George. Yes, I watched Bugs Bunny religiously every Saturday morning as a child. I do a fantastic Marvin the Martian impression if you'd like to hear it sometime.

Why Do We Need Middlemen?

The Queen of All Things in the Realm of Domestic Tranquility and I are huge science fiction fans. We’re not huge fans in the “dress up as Klingons or Hans Solo/Princess Leia and go to conventions where other weirdoes gather” vein, but huge fans none the less. There are limits to how far one should go in your efforts to be a nerd. We draw the line at including favorite lines from movies and TV shows in our daily conversations. Actually, I swipe a foot through that line in the sand once in a while and actually read the books upon which our favorite movies and TV shows are based. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to book to screen conversions. I get really annoyed when Hollywood trashes a perfectly good story in favor of some sort of “artistic vision” that a director had in a moment of weakness, egomaniacal pretentiousness or alcoholic stupor. I still can’t watch Starship Troopers without cringing. Don’t get me started. Robert Heinlein must be spinning in his grave.

(Step away from the soapbox. It’ll be okay. You’ll always have the book. I promise.)

One thing I have discovered in my forays across the line in the sand is that I am really fascinated with the social insight of science fiction. I am also amazed by the fact that literary critics and English professors seem to be only recently catching on to this. I mean really. Good writing is like any other art form that stands the test of time. Art imitates life; and, sometimes, life imitates art. Can someone please explain to me why the works of Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein are any less relevant as social commentary than the works of Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson? I challenge you to pick up any science fiction novel, take a look at the copyright date and then read the book. Odds are good that understanding the times in which it was written will reveal a wealth of social context and commentary in the book. For instance, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War makes a lot more sense when you understand that it was written in the middle of the sexual revolution and the Vietnam War. Ditto for Heinlein’s Starship Troopers written in the era of McCarthyism, the Korean War, etc.

One of my favorite sci-fi TV shows was a little, short lived thing called Firefly. I believe it ran as a summer replacement series on Fox a few years ago. I enjoyed the show immensely, and was very disappointed that it didn't get a longer run. Fortunately, they were able to do a feature length movie called Serenity to wrap up some of the loose ends. In one of the episodes, there is a little exchange between characters about why they were going through middlemen to sell stolen goods instead of selling the items themselves to maximize profit. One of the characters replied with a line something along the lines of: "One third of the universe is middlemen, and they don't take too kindly to being cut out of the middle."

When you start thinking about it, one third of the population really is a middleman. You buy your cars from a dealership instead of direct from the manufacturer. You buy your houses through an agent instead of directly from the seller or builder. You get your groceries from a store instead of direct from the farmer. You get insured through an agent or a broker (although some companies have started direct writing programs).

What started me thinking about this was a discussion I had with a mediator not too long ago. For those that aren’t familiar with the tragic comedy that is the litigation world, a mediator is a (supposedly) impartial third party (Hey, look! A middleman.) who aids opposing parties in a lawsuit in resolving their case. The Texas Legislature calls it “Alternative Dispute Resolution”. Mediators are usually former attorneys who got sick and tired of the rat race that is personal injury litigation and decided to become intermediaries for others still stuck in the rat race.

Anyway, back to our story. I have spent the last 18 years working in the insurance industry the last 14 of which I’ve spent as a claims adjuster handling complex, high exposure and litigated injury claims. So, I go to mediation at least a couple of times a month. Sometimes I go a couple of times a week. On this particular occasion, I was at a mediation trying to settle a case as a favor to a co-worker when this mediator was asking me why people in the claims business (and me in particular), needed mediators (and her in particular) in the first place.

First, I found it interesting that a middleman would ask one of their customers why they needed a middleman. To me, that’s sort of like a grocery store manager asking their customers why they don’t milk their own cows or brew their own beer. After some thought and setting aside my natural tendency to issue snarky replies, I answered that I thought it was because we have developed a culture of distrust. Nobody seems to be able to trust anyone anymore. Given all the scandals reported in the news, it’s not surprising. This minister is going to be “called home to Jesus unless you send me all your money.” That politician got caught with $90,000 in cold hard cash in their freezer. Some Nigerian wants to send me millions of dollars and all he needs is the routing numbers for my bank account and a small earnest fee to show my good faith. In small bills, of course.

Take buying a house for instance. My great grandfather bought a house in Austin, TX back in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s with nothing more formal than a handshake. A sweaty palmed handshake I’m sure, but a handshake none the less. I’m not even sure they checked to see if the fingers of his other hand were crossed. Compare that with the inch and a half worth of paperwork involved when I refinanced my house a year ago. The Queen and I had to sign a piece of paper affirming that our signatures confirmed that we were the people our identification verification forms said we were not to mention the form that we had to sign swearing under oath that we were not members of a terrorist organization or that the home would be used for nefarious purposes. Apparently, you can lie about your income and the fact you actually do have a job that earns enough income to pay for this tremendously expensive asset that you cannot afford, but they are going to make certain that you’ve certified on pain of death that you are who your driver’s license says you are. Next time I buy a house, I may just sign all the documents “P.T. Barnum” to see if anyone notices.

Seriously, though, does anyone else see the absurdity of what we’ve come to as a society? We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t even trust ourselves anymore much less our friends, family and neighbors. So, what do we do? We go get middlemen. We abdicate our own common sense, experience and personal responsibility to someone else do in the hope that they will do what’s right for us. For a nominal fee. In small bills, of course.