Friday, November 28, 2014

Nietzche said the essence of true art is gratitude but I think it's black-and-white photographs of a bowl of Skittles. (Pictures Of The Day)

Some shots from Thanksgiving:

They're wearing swimming suits.

In response to the question America is asking:
No, I didn't mix the Skittles into the potatoes.

"What is it?" asked Mr Bunches.
"Pecan pie," I said.
"Pepperoni pie!" Mr Bunches said.

The top one is a ham, which The Boy likes to have for Thanksgiving.

Mr F helped crack the eggs and mix the stuff for the pies!

I like these close-ups because it takes a while to even realize it IS a pie. It's a new way of looking at something you see all the time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Time to re-run an old Thanksgiving post of mine. HOPE I DON'T BREAK THE INTERNET.  This originally was posted back in 2008, just after our Thanksgiving that year. My comments from today, as always, are in red.

If you want a unique take on Thanksgiving in the form of wildly creative short stories not a single one of which actually involves a family sitting down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, check out my "Some Thanksgiving Stories" which is available for free on Amazon through Black Friday. You'll meet my newest favorite character, "the regular mouse." And there may or may not be a savage horde of beets with swords.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD IT NOW FREE.
And now on with your old post for you to leave a generically bland comment about because you only read about 1/3 of the way through, said "How the #*#$%;$ long is this thing?" and then went to read "Beetle Bailey" instead. That Sarge! Beetle makes him SO ANGRY.

Hark! The Thumping Potatoes... Make Change For A $20.

The sounds of the holidays, in our house, include things that you would not hear elsewhere, sounds like the soothing tones of Foghat blasting out Christmas music accompanied by the pounding beat of potatoes being thrown across the room. Also, there was a Thanksgiving pageant in which Sweetie played two parts.

Pageants have always played a big role in my holidays, so it was nice to welcome them back this year. When I was younger, we regularly put on Christmas pageants not just at the Catholic school we attended for a while, but also at home for all the aunts and uncles who would come over and subtly mock us while we put on the Christmas pageants. My memories of those pageants, both official and un-, are somewhat hazy. But I know that for one, I was the Christmas star: a fat kid with crooked glasses holding up a giant star covered in tinfoil and ringed with garland reciting a poem for the whole Church and for the whole family Christmas gathering.

"Christmas Star" was one of my few starring roles -- pun intended -- as a kid. The other starring role was "narrator" at a choir concert in fourth or fifth grade, during which the whole school sang while I stood uncomfortably in front of them and in between songs gave little introductions for the songs. I was, even at an early age, marked as "not leading man material," except for that year that I was the Christmas Star, and even that wasn't really a "leading man" type of role. You can't see Brad Pitt or Harrison Ford playing "Christmas Star" in a major motion picture, can you? Although that would be excellent: " Christmas Star," the story of a Hollywood celebrity whose ego gets too big, so, to teach him a lesson, an angel makes him into the ACTUAL Christmas star, where he witnesses the birth of Jesus and learns a valuable lesson about what's REALLY important. Starring Brad Pitt as "The Star," and featuring Dame Judi Dench in a double role, as the head of "Herod Productions" and as Queen Herod at the Nativity.

I am aware that I am not quite accurate on who was at the Nativity. I'm also aware that so far this really isn't a Thanksgiving post at all.  

The leading man role in the Christmas pageants my mom put on when we were kids was played usually by my younger brother, Matt, who was recognized as leading man material early on, despite having really no acting ability whatsoever. Matt starred not just as Joseph in the family Christmas pageants, but also as whatever leading role there happened to be in the middle school musicals that were put on every year in the spring. So while I muddled through my own middle school years in roles such as "Lord Growlie" in "The Wizard of Oz," and "Innkeeper" in Annie, Get Your Gun, (and as a Munchkin who was part of the Lollipop Guild, making me the biggest, fattest, glasses-wearing-est Munckin in the history of theater), Matt became "Narrator" in The Fantasticks, a role that he played tongue-in-cheek-- quite literally, as whenever he wasn't talking, Matt would stick his tongue in his cheek, something that you could see easily when the stage was the gym floor and the audience sat in bleachers around it.

Of course, I may just be jealous because Matt got all the girls. Girls always want to date the leading man. The Christmas Star gets very few groupies.

None, actually. Gets none.

For the home pageants the stage was our living room, or at least that portion of the living room between the Christmas tree and the dining room, next to the yellow chairs and in front of the glass coffee table.

It occurred to me as I read this that in the 19 years I lived at home, my parents never rearranged the furniture.  Never.  I can still remember the exact layout of furniture in our house and it didn't move an iota during my entire childhood.  I change my house around all the time.  I've lived in our current house for 11 years and I bet I've had 10 different living room setups in that time. The latest includes a hammock, but technically that is there to replace the swing that we couldn't have any longer.  I think it's weird to never rearrange your furniture. My parents were weird.

 As Christmas Star, I stood in between the tree and the yellow chairs and made my speech, and then Matt and my cousin Shannon would enter as Mary and Joseph, and my cousin Jason had a role, too, and some years also I would double as a wise man with my cousin Joey and my brother Bill, three wise men wearing bathrobes

Why are bathrobes a thing? People wear them over pajamas, right? Why do that? I suppose if your pajamas are scandalous or something you want to wear a robe over them but if the pajamas are just ordinary pajamas do you still wear a robe over them? When we were kids we had bathrobes that we wore over pajamas that were pants-and-shirts combos. That's like wearing an overcoat around the house, but one made of terrycloth. Nowadays I mostly wear pajamas (no robe!) around the house if it's too cold for shorts. I don't want to lounge around in jeans anymore.  Jeans are uncomfortable.  It's all pajamas for me from here on out. That's one of the great things about being 45, almost 46. You can just wear pajamas and not worry about whether anyone thinks you're a dork, because everyone thinks you're a dork already, whether or not you wear pajamas.

 over their Christmas pants and shirts, entering from near the front door to take the gifts of the magi to the Baby Jesus, represented by a bundle of something held by Shannon, while Joseph looked bored and stuck his tongue into his cheek. Then we would all get out of costume and prepare to play the holiday songs that we had diligently practiced on our various instruments: I played piano, Bill played acoustic guitar, and Joey played saxophone. Not all together -- we weren't a jazz combo. Instead, one at a time we'd haltingly pick our way through a couple of songs, the family would clap, and then we'd be free to go off and talk about how we hoped we got an Atari 2600 that year.

PS I am fairly sure eventually this gets around to Thanksgiving.

Holidays for me now are a much more relaxed affair, so relaxed that this was the first time I've ever had the kids put on a pageant. They didn't perform for the family, though; they performed to teach them a Valuable Lesson, something I tried because it came up on the Wheel of Parenting, which is the mental image that I get when I consider the various parenting techniques I try to prepare the kids to take on the world successfully:  a giant wheel just like the "Wheel of Fortune," only it has, instead of dollar amounts, parenting methods: Kind-But-Firm. Yelling. Take Away Privileges. The Dad on "Leave It To Beaver."

Interestingly, on my Wheel of Parenting, there is still Lose A Turn. And Bankrupt.

So yesterday, when a fight erupted while I was cooking Alternate Thanksgiving

Told you! There it is, only 14,000 words in: Thanksgiving!

dinner, I moved on from the earlier parenting method I'd spun up (Sarcastic Comments Hollered from the Kitchen) and instead landed on Overly Dramatic Teaching Method.

I'd used up Sarcastic Comments Hollered From The Kitchen while peeling potatoes, something I did accompanied by the sounds of Foghat. I was listening to Foghat because I was playing Christmas music in the background. I'd have dialed up some Thanksgiving music, but the only "Thanksgiving music" I know of is the song "Alice's Restaurant," and I really wasn't in the mood for that. I was in the mood for Foghat, and specifically for Foghat Christmas music.

You know, what with it being Thanksgiving and all.

10 pounds of potatoes wasn't even daunting to me. 10 pounds of potatoes, for me, is a walk in the park. This is because I was prepared as a kid by my parents for such things as peeling potatoes.  My parents prepared me for all kinds of things as a kid: peeling potatoes, someday having a job and responsibilities of my own, and, of course, how to deal with the fact that every person in the world is just waiting to steal your wallet, rape you, and murder you and your entire family.  (Step one: put your wallet in your front pocket when you go into the big city. That stops them cold: they can't move on to rape and murder if they can't get your wallet first.)

I'm never sure that even with the Wheel of Parenting Method I'm actually preparing the kids for life, because instead of the things that my parents did, I do things like let them sleep in a little while I started preparing Alternate Thanksgiving dinner, something I allowed them to do this day until Mr Bunches intervened and forced me to get them up.

I didn't let them sleep in because I'm nice or was being kind; those two slots rarely come up on the Wheel of Parenting. No, I let them sleep in because I wanted to hear my music while I cooked dinner-that-was-actually-lunch because we were eating at 11:30, and I let them sleep in because the holidays tend to increase the friction between The Boy and Middle, resulting in the kind of dumb fights that they would, in fact, have later on thatday, and I didn't want that. I wanted to stay in a good mood and peel potatoes and jam out to Foghat,

I'm so cool.

both of which got harder when Mr Bunches discovered what I was doing, and discovered that potatoes made a good, solid, thumping sound when you throw them.

I was sitting in the kitchen by the garbage can, peeling the potatoes and whipping right through them, something I could do because, as I said, my parents prepared us for adulthood, prepared us better than we could suspect, given that my adulthood actually does include peeling 10 pounds of potatoes on a Saturday morning. I couldn't have expected as a kid that potato peeling skills would be necessary as an adult. Somehow, though, Mom and Dad seemed to understand that kind of thing was in my future, because we peeled potatoes constantly when I was a kid. At least, that's what it seems like, looking back. Every day, it feels like, there I'd be: peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink and looking out the window wistfully at the backyard, where I could be playing if I didn't have to peel potatoes. We probably didn't even eat potatoes every day; Mom probably just had us peel the potatoes to build character or teach us to be self-sufficient, or as a cost-saving mechanism that we would inevitably misunderstand, the way I misunderstood when she hollered at us about crushing up the milk cartons before we threw them away.

"You have crush them up and put them in the garbage," she'd said, stomping it down viciously and then putting it into the garbage can. "Otherwise, they take up too much space in the can."

From that lecture, I took this: We are too poor to afford to buy garbage bags! I did try to crush the milk cartons after that, but not because Mom and Dad said to do it. I crushed them to avoid us having to live on the streets, because I knew that would be embarrassing.

That's why, by the way, I don't worry too much about my parenting methods and/or changing my parenting methods randomly. I know that whatever method I choose, the kids will inevitably entirely misunderstand or misinterpret the message, the way they misinterpret my telling them about the time I nearly failed Chemistry in college, a story I tell them to show them the importance of studying: Study, I tell them, because if you don't, you might be like me and have an "F" in Chemistry before your final exam, so you will have to stay up all night reading 17 chapters of the textbook you were SUPPOSED to be reading all along, because you will need to get an "A" on the final just to pass the class.

"Did you pass the class?" they ask me.

"Yes," I say. "I got that A on the exam, but I wish I'd studied harder and didn't have to risk it."

"What grade did you get for the class?" they ask me.

"A D," I say. "See?" I add. "That's why you've got to study."

The point of the story from my perspective is "learn from my mistakes: study so you don't have to cram just to barely pass a test, and instead actually get some value out of your education and make your life easier."  But what the kids take from it is first, you got a D so I can't be expected to do any better and second plus it's possible to pass a class by half-assing the studying part and cramming at the end. 

It doesn't matter how hard you parent. It's not going to work.  Even kids raised by wolves will misinterpret what the wolves teach them and eventually stop trying to kill sheep and go off to be chiropractors.

Mom and Dad would never have let us sleep in while they peeled the potatoes, no matter how hard Foghat was rockin'. That's just one of the many things I do differently from them and from other parents. Other things I do differently include letting Mr F and Mr Bunches walk around the kitchen while I'm preparing a dinner/lunch that includes the two turkeys that were not fully thawed out before I had to start cooking them. I hadn't even remembered to start thawing them until the night before at about 7 p.m., and I'd had to start cooking them at 7:30 a.m. the next day. They were still partially frozen when I stuck them in the oven, each in their own little disposable tinfoil pan. They barely fit into the oven together, which caused me some concern, too, because there was no time to cook two turkeys one after the other, so it's a lucky thing I was able to cram them in, bending the foil pans only a little. Well, a lot. But they fit in. That's the important thing.

I don't remember why I was cooking two turkeys. It might have been because by the time we went to buy our turkey, only smaller ones were available. I might also have been unsure of how big a turkey might fit in our oven and bought small. I am not very good at Thanksgiving.

Later, as I was desperately trying to finish up the rest of the meal while the guests -- Dad and Grandma and Grandpa and Sweetie's sister and kids -- milled around drinking coffee and eating the Chex Mix I had grudgingly put out for them, Oldest and The Boy commented that I had messed up because I was cooking the meal that morning. They told Sweetie that if it were them, they would have cooked the entire dinner the night before.

I added that to the mental list I keep of Reasons I Will Never Eat Dinner at the Kids' Houses and kept going with the dual turkeys, etc.

I'd had to wake the kids up while peeling potatoes because Mr F and Mr Bunches were roaming around the kitchen and dining room while I cooked and were starting to be too interfere-y. I was able to live with Mr F throwing the chairs to the ground. He can not stand to see a chair standing upright. We have five kitchen chairs and if Mr F is in the dining room, all five must be laying on their backs or sides. He doesn't even care that this makes it more difficult for him to get around. He comes in, throws the chairs down, and then roams around looking for other things to throw, stepping and stumbling over the chairs.

Throwing things down is his hobby, and he's getting better at it. He used to just take things and drop them to hear the sound they made -- soft like a pillow, clanking like the little drain piece from the bathtub.Now, he hurls them, and he's fast, like he was Friday night when he walked into the kitchen and whipped an arm out and knocked my can of soda onto the ground. I stopped baking pies to clean that up, putting the remainder of the can of soda on the other counter, only to finish mopping the spill up at the same time as Mr F threw the remainder of the can down on the other side of the kitchen. Then, while I began cleaning that up, he grabbed the bowl of cat food off the counter and whipped that down, which had to be a nirvana-like experience for him, as it resulted in a giant clang from the bowl, thousands of tiny little clicks from the cat food, and a howl of despair from me.

Saturday morning, he was content with throwing the kids' trophies off the bookshelf and knocking over chairs. Mr Bunches was bored and came into the kitchen where I was peeling potatoes, and began throwing those, enjoying the thump! thump! thump! they made. But he was slowing me down and interfering with my hearing Foghat, so I began calling for Middle, who had been sleeping in but who now had to get up to do her jobs, which were (a) supervise the twins and (b) clean the bathroom.
It went like this:

Thump! And I'd holler: "Time to get up and get the babies!"

Thump! Me: "Time to get up and get the babies away from the potatoes!"

 Me: "I better hear the sound of people getting out of bed and getting the babies!"

Thump! Me: "Let's get moving before I decide to reassign the potato peeling!"

Thump! Me: "For every potato he throws I'm charging a dollar." ("Make a profit off punishment" had come up on the Wheel Of Parenting.)

Thump! Me: "Mr Bunches, come on! Go throw something somewhere else!"

Finally, Middle had come down and taken the Babies! downstairs so I was able to check on the slowly-thawing turkeys and get The Boy going on his job, which was "deep-frying onion and apple rings/complaining about random things," (the latter one not assigned; he opted to take that on willingly) but the stress of the holidays and of doing a chore must have gotten to both of them, because shortly before guests arrived, the fight broke out and I was forced to do some Real Parenting to assist Sweetie, who was running out of patience with them.

The fight broke out, from what I can tell, about no issue; I say that because no matter what I asked about why either The Boy or Middle was mad I got a different answer -- a new answer cropping up every time I solved the first one. During this all, Sweetie tried to resolve things, too, while Oldest, who had arrived, did her best to keep it from being resolved by throwing in little, nonhelpful comments like "I get it; I don't know why she doesn't," which served only to fuel the fire.

The starting point -- not the cause, but where it began-- for the fight was the division of twenty dollars the kids' Grandma had given to Middle when they'd gone to visit her. Middle and The Boy had driven up on Real Thanksgiving to see their Grandma and eat spaghetti (because, why not?) and bring home what looked to me, when I found it jamming open the freezer later that night, like a bag of blood (only it was spaghetti sauce). They'd agreed/been ordered to split the gas by each paying $7 of the $14 cost of the trip.

As of Saturday morning, The Boy had not given Middle his $7 yet, but Middle had been given $20 by Grandma to cover the cost of gas. So Middle asked Sweetie to break a $20 for her and explained how it all came about and also apparently said that The Boy had not yet given her the $7. (I'm a little unclear on the details of the fight's inception, because I was upstairs collecting potatoes.)

Sweetie had then allowed Middle to keep $17 of the $20, and given $3 to The Boy, doing the math quickly and coming up with the correct result -- The Boy was entitled, she said, to 1/2 the $20, less the $7 he should contribute for gas.

That caused Middle to begin complaining, loudly, about things in this order: (1) The Boy never had to pay for anything (2) as usual, she was paying for everything, (3) The Boy is spoiled, and (4) How come The Boy can yell at Mom all he wants while every time SHE yells at Mom she's in trouble.

That last one was a newcomer brought about when I got into the action and told her not to yell at her Mom.

While Middle was having her Complain-A-Thon, Oldest was throwing in little comments here and there and The Boy was getting mad, too. I'm not sure what The Boy was getting mad about; I think he was mad about not really having anything to get mad about. His complaints were, in order (1) Why is everybody mad at him, and (2) What did he do and (3) He gets in trouble more than Middle, so shut up.

Even though the problem really wasn't the division of the $20, we thought it was because Middle kept alternating between "I'm getting ripped off" and "Why can't I yell at Mom?" so I set up my first ever Thanksgiving Pageant, which we can call "The Gift of the Grandma." It starred The Boy as The Boy, Middle as Middle, Oldest as Grandma-With-$20, and Sweetie as "Gas Station Attendant Who Middle Pays $14 for Gas." This pageant told the Magical Thanksgiving Story of "Why The Boy Should Not Have to Pay $7 and Should Get $3 from the $20 Grandma Gave."

As they acted it out, we were supposed to show Middle how it worked that The Boy would get $3 and not pay her, but we ran into snags because Oldest wasn't sure where she should come in, the Babies! wanted to throw things at the Pageant, and Sweetie didn't have the proper cash to actually make change, resulting in us having to pretend that $7 was, at times, $10, $7, $20, and, for all I know, the Christmas Star. But in the end, the Pageant was performed, chairs were uprighted, turkeys were cooked to a point where they were safe to eat, and Middle learned, as we all did, a valuable lesson, which she summed up at this:

I still don't see why The Boy can yell at Mom anytime he wants and I get in trouble just for yelling at her once.

Words we can all live by in this holiday season.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Some THANKSGIVING Stories is here!


Everybody talks about Thanksgiving, but nobody does anything about it.  UNTIL NOW.  I have written the definitive collection of Thanksgiving short stories, 'definitive' meaning that every story in this collection at least mentions Thanksgiving. But some do more so: I have written a series of stories each centered around one Thanksgiving menu item.  In "Turkey," you'll learn why it might be better to deep-fry your turkey.  Stuffing introduces sure-to-be-classic character "The regular mouse," and a discussion of things you can stuff. And so on, through every course of a Thanksgiving dinner, finishing with the magical story "Pumpkin Pie."

The collection also includes the shorts "Pompeii" and "A Happy Story About The Universe, And Stuff," which, as promised, is happy! (And about both the universe as well as stuff!)\

You can get it for just $0.99 today, so go check it out by clicking here.