Cold Snap

My dogs told me to eff off this morning.  I think my wife did as well . . . though she didn’t really mean it.  She just gets in a mood when it gets down to 44 degrees below zero.

My dogs got attitude because I made them go outside.  Both Abby, our pug mix, and Bone, our cranky old American Bulldog, decided that they would pass on going out this morning and would just poop in the house.  That’s not how it works.  Abby had to be physically carried to the door and placed outside.  Her eyes said it all as she went over the snow mound and did her business.

I wasn’t even done loading the Keurig before she was ready to come in.  She side-eyed me on her way in.  I called for Bone.  He just blinked and pretended to be in a coma.  He is good at coma.  I started to get grouchy myself as the cold seeped in through the open door.  I went to get Bone.  He is too big to carry, but not too big to drag.  He glared at me and got off the couch and made his way to the door.  He took two steps out the door and peed all over the deck.  Then he turned around, looked me right in the eye and dropped his doggy logs on the deck.  He wiggled a few times and walked back in.  With a vast amount of dignity he waddled to the couch and resumed his coma.

I made the coffee and went upstairs.  “Good Morning!” I said brightly.  I thought a little cheer might get some of the gloom off the morning.  A noise came from under the covers that vaguely sounded like “eff off”.  I was not surprised.  Out household really doesn’t do mornings.  “What?” I said.

My wife’s head appeared from the pile of Eli and pillows surround her.  Eli, our youngest, hasn’t been getting in our bed as much lately.  However, when the world is frozen he seeks warmth and finds his mommy.

“Good Morning,” she said with little enthusiasm.

Our mornings are spent mostly in denial.  We just aren’t morning people.  It gets worse in the winter.  It gets much worse when Mother Nature gets this twisted sense of humor and makes your back yard colder than the blast chiller contestants use on the  Food Network show “Chopped” to save their failed ice cream.



We usually take two cars to work, even though I work in her law firm, because we have different schedules and I try to get home before the boys get home from school.  This morning she left with the boys and dropped them at the bus stop.  I was just stepping out of the house when she called and told me she was coming back so we could ride together.  It is our mutual stance that harrowing and scary ordeals are best when shared.

Going outside at -44 is like going deep sea diving.  When I was an aircraft mechanic with the Air National Guard, we would put on heavy coveralls and gloves and headgear at these temperatures.  I always felt like one of those guys from the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as I plodded around in my winter gear at 40 below zero.

It’s a little different now.  I wore heavy fleece gear and my normal shoes this morning.  My wife was dressed similarly.  Driving to work in our truck was like taking a submersible deep in the ocean.  Things just seem different.  Visibility is cut down considerably by fog and haze.  We don’t wear heavy clothing but we keep it handy at these temperatures just in case we have to get out of our submersible unexpectedly.

The local media has made a really big deal out of this cold snap.  We are expecting this to last for several days before it warms up just enough to snow some more.  January has been a very “weathery” month for us.  We had a big dump of snow around the New Year and now it has gotten cold.  Words like ‘Legendary’ and ‘Epic’ have been thrown around.  I just call it January.  You see . . . I lived through the Winter of ’89.  I realize how much of a codger I just became by simply writing a sentence that used an apostrophe and a number to describe a point in time.  I get it.

The Winter of ’89 has achieved legend status.  It has been highly exaggerated and turned into much more of an event than it really was . . . but it was really, really cold.

I won’t look up the actual numbers but I remember almost a month of -30 with three weeks of -40 and several days of -50 with the accompanying ice fog and frozen pipes and dead cars.

Regardless of the official temperatures in the Winter of ’89, people who lived through it will tell different stories.  That is because of a rarely talked about phenomenon that can be found in our area and is prevalent in the winter.  I call it the ‘That’s Nothing!” phenomenon.  Briefly described it involves one person mentioning how cold it was at there house according to their thermometer.  Let’s say one person mentions that it was -34 at their house.  Somebody will invariably yell a version of ‘That’s Nothing!’ and announce that their thermometer said -37.  Somebody else will lower the number and somebody else will lower that number . . . you get what I am saying.  This phenomenon was wildly common during the winter of ’89.  Telephone apps and online weather sites have made this phenomena a bit less common, but I am sure that it still happens.

The thing about the Winter of ’89 was that we got through it.  Just like we will get through this cold snap.  We haven’t had a prolonged -40 episode, that I know of, in several years.  That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t get cold in Alaska.  Each year the temps drop into “Oh My God” range.  They just haven’t stayed there in awhile.

This cold snap will be a learning experience.  People who haven’t seen this before will learn how to drive, work and just live in it.  The learning curve will be steep, but doable.  Even those of us who have been here 30 years can learn something new.   Like just today I learned that doggy logs freeze to the deck instantly.  That is definitely information I can use.

Thanks for reading and sharing.   Happy New Year to all our friends.  I promise we will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.







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Thankful . . .

Thirty-nine years ago today, November 23, my mother died suddenly.  Like this year, it was the day before Thanksgiving.  I was 14.  My brothers were 11 and 9.  I remember life going on around us as time stopped in its tracks for my family.  All around us people were running full stride into the Holidays . . . and we just couldn’t.  For many years I couldn’t or wouldn’t participate in a season that I felt turned its back on my family.  I wrote about the experience early in my blogging career.   Getting Happy About Thanksgiving . . . Again

Over the years, with the help and patience of some incredible  people, I am pretty much a Holiday nut . . . as much as I can be, anyway.  I still have my issues.  Even now I have this queasiness and unease about school Holiday festivities.  A chain of events that ended in my mom’s passing started the night before right after our school Holiday pageant.  It took me many years and a couple of therapists to tie all that together.  Understanding why I am uncomfortable at school events for my kids doesn’t make me any more comfortable at them, however.  It is good to know why I feel that way, but most people just assume I am a jerk about the subject.

I learned a powerful lesson on my journey.  It was hard to get to and hard to digest, but it changed things for me.  It required that I look around me and look at what I have and focus on the blessings in my life.  I had to appreciate what I have and not resent what I don’t have.  My family, my friends and the life that we have built is a wondrous thing.  At some point, again with the help of some incredible people, I realized that if anything in my past was changed I wouldn’t be the person that I am in the situation that I am in with the people that are around me.  When I look at where I am in my life right now I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing.  That realization changed everything for me.

I have a wonderful wife and three incredible kids.  I have everything I need and most of what I want.  I have an extended family that I love and admire.  I have accomplished quite a bit over the years and I am in a place now where I am happy and fulfilled.  A person can’t ask for much more than that.  So I am thankful.

Along the road I took from here to there I learned  other valuable lessons.  I don’t take the people I love for granted.  I tell my family I love them . . . often . . . like randomly or whenever I leave them.  Early in our relationship my wife told me that I didn’t have to tell her that so often . . . she felt like maybe it was becoming habit and that it was starting to lose some of the power it holds because I was saying so often.  My kids sometimes roll their eyes when I tell them for the fifth or sixth time in a given day that I love them.  That’s ok.  What I have learned is that you never know when the last time you see somebody will be.  I learned the hard way that you don’t know if a person will be there when you get back from work . . . or when you get home from school.  The last thing that my mom heard me say was “I love you.”  At one point that was all that got me through the night.  So I say I love you a lot.

It took me so long to get to where I am now because I felt like being happy was somehow being disloyal to my mother.  I felt that if I forgot the terrible wrong that that I believed was done to my family that somehow that meant that I loved her less or valued her less.  If my mom was here today she would not be happy with that line of reasoning.  I understand now that being happy in my life is what would make her the happiest.

I think my mom would be very pleased with her boys.  We are all devoted family men.  My younger brother has a wonderful wife, three gorgeous kids and two grandbabies.  My youngest brother is the “cool uncle” who spoils his nieces and nephews.  I have a beautiful family and there is a grandson for us on the way.

All of my mother’s sons have college degrees.  She would be happy about that.  My mother placed a great deal of value on education.  She understood what it meant.  That would make her very proud and frankly would surprise the hell out a lot of people who knew us in our teen years.  I think she would be very proud of where we all stand in our careers.  She didn’t bring any children into the world who were afraid of a days work.  That would make her happy as well.

She would be thankful for all of these things and many more that I haven’t mentioned.  If she would be thankful for them, then I should be too.  She would be proud of where we all are today . . . 39 years later . . . so it’s ok for me to be proud of it as well.

So this morning I complained about being required to go to Charlie and Eli’s respective Thanksgiving events.  It is hard to shake the feelings I have.  But I shake them because this isn’t about me.  It is about my family and it is about being thankful for what my road led me to.  Maybe that is the most important lesson I have learned.

Thank you for reading and sharing.  Our family wishes yours a very Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous start to your Holiday Season.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.




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Season’s Eatings

So the Holiday Season snuck right up on us, huh?  Its amazing that an entire season can go unnoticed until it is on us seeing as we are all adults and we own calendars . . . and we have known the months of the year since before kindergarten.

The Holiday Season really starts with Halloween these days.  Especially if you apply my personal definition of Holiday Season to the formula for deciding when the Holidays start.  I figure the first big eating holiday of the fall (winter if you live where I do) marks the start of the Holidays and these days that is Halloween.  I know it’s mostly candy at Halloween, but my boys are all about the candy.  So the Holidays have been here for awhile . . . which makes Thanksgiving sneaking up on me even more embarrassing.

For me the Holidays seem like one giant overeating experience . . . I don’t mean to over eat  . . . it just kind of happens.  Sometime in late October candy starts showing up and after that it starts smelling like pie and turkey . . . and it just happens.  Don’t get the wrong idea . . . I don’t break out the sweat pants and go grazing this time of year.  I just get myself into situations.  Like with pie for instance.

My wife makes one of the most wonderful pies I’ve ever tasted.  She is a master at making Buttermilk Pie.  Yes  . . . butter milk pie.  I can practically hear the noses turning up as I type this.  I know how you are reacting because I reacted similarly when my bride of less than a year announced she was going to take a crack at  this Southern delicacy.  I was wrong and so are you . . . try it . . . really.

Buttermilk Pie is made from buttermilk and other ingredients that form a custard like filling when baked.  It is similar to Chess Pie, but Chess Pie is apparently made with cornmeal while Buttermilk Pie uses flour.  My wife’s family uses the names interchangeably and I don’t think anybody really cares.  The result is a tangy, sweet cream pie that transports you to a place where, as my six-year-old Eli would put it,  Rainbow Barfing Unicorns romp and play.  It is that good.

My first experience with Buttermilk Pie was almost my last.  My wife made her first Buttermilk Pie attempt before Thanksgiving in the first house we bought together.  She poured a suspiciously loose liquid into prepared pie shells . . . don’t judge the pie shells . . . we were busy . . . and placed them in the oven.  The smells coming from our oven were glorious and the resulting pies were gorgeous.  However,upon inspection we realized I forgot to remove the wax paper from under one of the pie shells before baking it.  Even though she was careful, the result of my wife’s attempt at removing the paper resulted in a mess of broken pie crust and custard.  Warm, crisp pie crust . . . with warm soft filling . . . all sitting in an appetizing array.  My wife suggested I try a piece of crust with filling on it.  The first bite transported me to the land of the gastronomically challenged unicorns I mentioned before.  It immediately became my favorite pie.  I tried another small piece of filling-covered crusty goodness then pushed it away . . . it was far to rich to eat much more.  Well, maybe just one more piece.

My wife went downstairs to do something and I went about my business.  Occasionally I would sample a small piece of yumminess.  I would pass by and sometimes grab a piece of crust.  Not too much you understand . . . just a taste here and there.

After about an hour or so my stomach started bothering me.  Oh no . . . I cursed my luck.  This close to Thanksgiving and I was coming down with a stomach virus.  I stretched uncomfortably and let out small burp.

“What was that noise?” my wife called from downstairs.  I blinked.  There was no way she could have heard that little burp.  My stomach was really starting to hurt.  My breath was coming in shallow gasps.  This virus was moving fast.

“Nothing, Honey,” I called out as cheerfully as the bubbling in my stomach would allow.

“It didn’t sound like nothing,” my wife answered.

I was feeling just this side of awful and I needed to lie down.  Hopefully this ninja-like stomach virus would pass before the real feasting began.  I settled down on the sofa and a wave of nausea washed over me.  My stomach rolled.  Inside a small creature had formed and was poking my stomach walls and laughing.  I swallowed hard and tried to relax.

I could hear my wife moving around downstairs.  I needed her to come tend to me.  The creature in my stomach poked really hard . . . hard enough to grab my gall bladder and twist.  I let out a pained exhale and waited for the creature to find my spleen.

“What’s wrong with you?” my wife asked as she came up the stairs.  “You don’t look so good.”

“I don’t know,” I gasped as the creature slapped my liver.  “I was fine then I got really nauseous.” I said.  “I think maybe I have a stomach bug.”

My wife came to the couch and felt my forehead.  She ran her hands through my hair and smiled, then went to the kitchen. “I’m sorry you don’t feel well honey, I hope you are bet- – – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PIE?”

I winced at the tone and volume she used.  “We broke it when we were getting the wax paper out, remember?”

“Let me rephrase,” she said.  “Where did the pie go?”

My wife is an attorney and she loves to ask questions.  I was way too ill to answer these right now.  “How am I supposed to know?”

“Did you eat it?”

Seriously?  How could she think that I would eat an entire pie?  Preposterous.  “Of course not . . . how could I eat an entire pie?”

“You tell me,” she demanded.

“What makes you think I would eat an entire pie?”

Suddenly there was a pie plate with the remains of Buttermilk Pie in it.   Small pieces of crust remained stuck to the pie pan with the last remaining smears of filling.  My stomach rolled as the creature did cartwheels.  “The fact that there is no pie left and you are laying on the couch with a very noisy stomach are my first clues.””

Hmmmm . . . The evidence was pretty damning.  I had no recollection of eating a whole broken pie, but I did have many memories of having bites of a broken pie.  The creature kicked me in the pancreas and I swallowed hard.  The thought of Buttermilk Pie, or any type of food, seemed to make the creature angry.  I did not want the creature to be angry anymore.

My wife looked down at me with a look that was part pity, part irritation and part disbelief.  “Seriously?  The whole pie?” she said.  “No wonder your stomach hurts.”  The creature was angry again.

She turned and walked into the kitchen muttering something about pies and common sense and somebody having something coming to him.  I didn’t catch all of it, the creature was pulling on a lung at that point.

So I don’t mean to over eat.  It’s kind of like when you decide you want a potato chip or a pretzel and you get out the bag.  Then after a while you can see the bottom of the bag and you don’t know what happened to your chips or pretzels.  Sometimes that happens.  And sometimes it happens with pie.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.







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Veterans Day

With all the hoopla surrounding the Presidential Election Veterans Day kind of sneaked up on us.  Here is a past post from Veterans Day that I really enjoyed.  Thank you to all of men and women who served and serve in the military.  Your service is appreciated.

I am a veteran.  Of this I am fiercely proud.  I didn’t walk around in my uniform for 25 years constantly thinking about how I was providing security for my nation and  its citizens.  To me, it was my chosen profession; a path not everybody takes.  I was, and am, proud that what I did had meaning and importance and relevance.  When I joined the Air Force, the military was not necessarily considered the best route to take for a young person.  It was a different time.  In 1982 we were less than 10 years removed from the Vietnam War and the mixed national emotions and divisiveness that it spawned.  A lot of us joined for financial and fiscal reasons . . . but some of us stayed because we loved what we were doing and what it meant.

My father was a veteran as well.  Air Force . . . same as me.  My relationship with my Dad was . . . let’s say complicated.  We went years with little contact.  There were reasons.  They will stay between me and him for now, but they were real.  The Air Force and our service was something we shared and something that should have been common ground for us, but that never happened.  We were never able to establish ourselves as fellow veterans.  I understood what it meant to serve, but I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a veteran.  It took an old man in a khaki windbreaker to help me understand what being a veteran means.

I was preparing to deploy to Guam with my Air National Guard unit in late January 2002 when my brother called and told me that Dad had a stroke.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  My colleagues were literally pushing my airplane out of the hangar for launch.  I was an aircraft mechanic assigned as a crew chief on one of the aircraft taking us to Guam.  I was talking to Dad on the phone in our break room as they pushed the plane out.  He urged me to go “do what you’ve got to do”.  He assured me that he was fine.  I picked up my flight bag and got on my plane.  A week after we set up operations in Guam, I was on a night shift and decided to call my son, Parker, to say good morning before he went to school.  His mom answered the phone.  “Oh my God,” she said.  “I can’t believe you called.  I just got off the phone with your aunt.”  She hesitated.  “Your Dad had another stroke. It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

The rest of the next week happened in a blur.  I told my Flight Chief, who happened to be a close friend.  He found me an open phone in a quiet spot.  I made phone calls and started making arrangements.  My brothers were en route to Ohio where Dad lived.  My youngest brother is a registered nurse and he gave it to me straight.  Dad wasn’t going to get any better.  We agreed that they wouldn’t wait for me to get there to turn off life support. Later that same morning I was on a civilian flight through Tokyo to Seattle.  At SEATAC I called my brother and learned that Dad was gone.  I decided to go home to Fairbanks before heading to North Carolina for the funeral.

I got to North Carolina two days later.  The funeral was well-attended and just what Dad would have wanted.  On a display table near his urn was an American flag folded into a display case and Dad’s service ribbons.  Among them was his Vietnam Service Ribbon and campaign stars.  I looked at them for a long time.  Toward the end of the ceremony, my brothers made a point of giving me the American flag in the triangular display case.  “We figured that you would like to have this,” my brother told me.  He smiled at me.  “It seems appropriate.”

I left a few days later and took my Dad’s flag with me.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but the lady at the airline counter said there would be no problem taking it as a carry on.  I got on the flight from Greensboro to Chicago with no problem.  At O’Hare, I had to get my bags and check in for my flight to Alaska at the counter.  Again, the lady at the counter urged me to carry the flag on the airplane.  I took my flag and headed for the security checkpoint.  This was just a few months after the September 11th attacks and airport security was still in a state of flux, especially in big hubs like O’Hare.  Airport personnel were still manning the security points and armed National Guardsmen were providing security.

I approached the checkpoint and put all my belongings on the x-ray machine conveyor belt.  An elderly man in a khaki windbreaker and a blue hat that proclaimed he was a World War II veteran in gold letters was in line in front of me with his wife.  The hat listed the Division he was assigned to.  I am not sure I remember correctly, but think it was the 9th Infantry Division.  He looked at the flag on the conveyor and then looked at me.  His sharp grey eyes softened a bit behind his thick glasses.

“Where did you get the flag, son?”  His voice was clear and direct, yet compassionate.  He knew where I got it.

“From my father’s funeral,” I said.  He smiled at me.

“I figured.  I am very sorry.”  He exhaled deeply and looked at me again, like he was doing math.  “Korea?  Vietnam?”

“Vietnam,” I answered.  “Nha Trang 65-66.”

He put his hand on my back.  “He’s one us, son,”  he told me.  “I have seen a lot of those over the years.  He’s with friends now.”  He hugged me.

“Walter, why are hugging this young man?,” his wife said behind him.  He turned to his wife and explained that I recently lost my father who was a veteran.  She hugged me too.  It was their turn to go through the checkpoint.    I followed and was patted down.  I moved to pick up my belongings.  There was a problem.

“Is this yours?”  A man in a maroon sports coat was holding my flag box.  I nodded.  “Could you open this up, please?  We have to look in it.”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  Open my flag display?  “I didn’t have to open it in Greensboro.”

“Well, we aren’t in Greensboro,” he said.  I didn’t like the tone or implications.  “We have to look in every closed container.”

“Can I just take the back off of it?  Then you can look in it.”  I was getting a little panicky.  Opening that flag case seemed a whole lot like opening my father’s casket.  I know that sounds weird, but I really didn’t want to unfold the flag.

“That flag basically came off of his father’s casket and you want him to unfold it to see if there is a bomb in it?”  My quick take on Walter was that he didn’t talk around a point.

The man in the sport coat looked around.  “We have to look in any closed container,” he repeated.  A crowd gathered behind me and the commotion got the attention of two armed National Guardsman who were providing security.  The made their way over.

“That just doesn’t seem right to me,” Walter said.  “You can’t just go digging through a man’s funeral flag.”  Somebody behind him agreed.

The man started to undo the fasteners on the back of the display case.  Somebody else objected.  He looked at one of the soldiers.  “Can you open this and unfold it please?”

The soldier looked at him.  “No,” he replied.  “If your x-ray machine didn’t find anything, then there isn’t anything.  I knew the soldier’s opinion didn’t matter much, the two were in different chains of command.  However, I appreciated the support.

I looked at the man at the security checkpoint.  My hands were shaking when I took the case from him and worked each fastener.  I gently took the flag out and showed it to the man.  He reached over and opened each fold, causing it to open completely in my hands.  I looked at him as he searched through the flag.  He saw me looking at him.  “I really am very sorry,” he said.  I nodded.  He was just doing his job.  These were troubled times.

I took my bags and my flag and case and moved through the line.  Walter and his wife were waiting for me.  My throat hurt and my eyes burned.  “Give it to me,” he said.

I handed him the flag.  he draped it over his arm and turned to the soldier who had followed me.  They each took an end of the flag and stretched it between them.  The other soldier snapped to attention and presented arms with his rifle.  Walter and the soldier folded the flag in half lengthwise and then again.  Then Walter began deftly folding the flag in a perfect triangle.  Behind me people were standing straighter.  Hats were removed and hands were placed over hearts.  Walter finished the series of triangular folds with a field of blue covered with white stars on the top.  He carefully adjusted the creases and then took the flag and held it to he chest.  The years had melted off of him and he seemed to stand straighter and taller.  His grey eyes kept their gleam and direct gaze as he approached me with the flag.  He placed the flag back in the container.  He looked me in the eyes again.  “I present this flag on behalf of a grateful nation  . . . ” I didn’t cry much when my Dad died . . . until then.

Walter and his wife group hugged me just like nobody was watching.  I tried to thank him.  “Don’t mention it son . . . that wasn’t the first time I’ve done that.”  His face went a little dark and sad . . . like he was remembering.  Then he smiled again.  His wife placed an arm around his waist.  She smiled at me and reminded Walter they had a flight to get to.  We hugged again and went toward our separate gates.  I shook hands with the soldiers and went to find a bar.

I had a lot of time to think while I waited for my flight.  I knew what it meant to serve in an active capacity, but I didn’t know anything about being a veteran until that moment.  It would take some thinking, but I was getting it.  Being a veteran is a common thread of dedication and service that binds generations together.  Walter didn’t know anything about my father except that for a time in his life he served his country.  I could have told Walter all about the issues my father and I had, but it wouldn’t have kept him from folding his flag.  Walter knew all he needed to know about my Dad.  I get that now.

Today that refolded flag is displayed in its case next to a similarly displayed flag.  The other one was my wife’s father’s funeral flag.  He served in the Navy JAG Corps in the early 1970s.  Walter didn’t know anything about my wife’s father, but I am sure it wouldn’t have mattered.  He would have folded my father-in-law’s flag too.  It’s part of being a veteran.

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served our country.  Your dedication and service is appreciated.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.


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Halloween Spirit

I am not a Halloween guy. I like the whole idea . . . I just resent its ascendance to the Major Leagues of Holidays.  I think it belongs in the minors with Columbus Day and May Day.  It is not a ‘card’ holiday.  Anyway, I am not writing full time again right now so I pulled out one of my favorite Halloween posts.  Enjoy!

Scary Foods  Oct. 28, 2013

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am not, personally, much of a Halloween guy.  It’s fun and all, but dressing up in goofy clothes and imposing on people is something that I am frowned on for normally.  It’s just not cool anymore when everybody is doing it.  I get into it for the kids sake and I manage to have a pretty good time.  I mean, when there is candy involved how hard can it be to go with the flow.  No matter how hard I try, however, I just can’t get into Halloween Cuisine.

By Halloween Cuisine, I don’t mean the candy.  I have said that is great and my cardioligist will vouch for my enthusiasm for it.  I mean actual food . . .  kind of.  I mean food that is made up to look like things that you would never, ever eat in a million years.  I am talking about finger sandwiches that look like actual fingers and  little meatballs covered with ketchup and made to look like bloody rats.  Not only do I not get it . . . I take offense.  This is food we are messing with.

Last year my mother-in-law had us over for “Halloween Dinner”.  The fact that Halloween is actually staging it’s own dinner event is further evidence of it’s evil plan to try to move into the holiday big leagues with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.  Mom served several courses of “eerie” foods dressed with bugs and “blood” other contrived grossnesses.  The dessert is what took the cake.  Get it?  Dessert . . .  took the cake?

Served in something made up to look like a cat box was a mixture of pudding, Tootie Rolls, maybe some Milk Duds and something to resemble kitty litter.  She proudly presented her Kitty Litter Cake.  I could only stare in disbelief.  Really?  I like pudding, I like Tootsie Rolls.  But when you make the Tootsie Roll look like cat poop I am out.

I just don’t get it.  Halloween is about being scary and spooky.  Eating kitty litter or fingers isn’t scary.  It’s gross.  It’s like the ever present “Ax-in-the-Head” mask.  You see a dozen of them every Trick or Treat expedition.  It is a rubber full-head mask of an unattractive man with an ax in his head.  Not scary . . . just gross.

So this year we had what I am sure will be an annual talk that will be entitled “Why is Dad a Jerk About Halloween Food?”  My kids see spooky/gross food as pure fun.  My wife feels the same way.  I just don’t get it.   It’s not scary.  If you want to scare me with food. Jump out of the kitchen dressed as Sarah Palin, throw a turnip at my head and scream “IRS audit!”

Charlie is all about Halloween and scary food.  This year he asked to make Mummy Dogs for Halloween Dinner.  He took hot dogs and wrapped canned croissant dough around them.  After coming out of the oven he decorated them with ketchup eyes.  He was very proud.  I can get behind the Mummy Dogs even though mine had a different level of spookiness/grossness because they were Mummy Tofu Dogs.

“What is scary about bloody finger food and that stuff?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It’s just cool and funny.”

I firmly believe that food should be not funny.  I am serious about not being hungry at dinner time.  “Isn’t Halloween supposed to be scary?” I asked.

“I guess so,” he answered.

“But what if it’s gross and not so scary.”

He shrugged.

“I know,” I said.  “I can get some liver and some sweetbreads and we can have those for dinner on Halloween.  If you are looking for questionable food, we can do it for real.”

“No way! Liver would be gross!” he exclaimed.  “What are sweetbreads?” he asked.  His face told me he was hoping for something doughnut-like.  I explained what a thymus gland was.

“That’s not scary,” he said.  “That’s gross.”

I guess we are stuck with finger sandwiches and Kitty Litter Cake.

Thanks for reading.  Keep your little ghouls and goblins and Power Rangers safe this Halloween.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

I guess we are stuck with Mummy Dogs.

Thanks for Reading and have a Happy Halloween!!

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Brothers . . .

Family relationships are weird.  I have observed before that sometimes we treat complete strangers better than we do people we are related to and, presumably, have some level of affection for.  My younger sons Charlie and Elijah push the limits of fraternal relationships.  They will fight like demons over ownership of a months-old Happy Meal toy found between the car seat cushions and have epic shouting matches over who gets to look out of what window.  Lately I have seen examples of two kids just being mean to each other for no particular reason.  I have been worried about them and their relationship and their bond.  Turns out I shouldn’t have been worried.

Yesterday Charlie and Elijah came home from school.  Charlie came through the back door yelling for his mother.  That is unusual because normally they come through the door begging for food and explaining how hard the walk from the bus stop was without proper supplies.   Elijah was quiet as he came in the house.  Quiet Elijah is unusual just because.

I indicated that I was downstairs and Charlie came stomping.  His face was tear-streaked.  Between sobs he explained how he and his best friend (we will call him Bob) had a huge fight that culminated in words that would be very, very hard to take back.  He was crushed.  All five-feet five inches and 175 pounds of Charlie climbed into my lap.  He sobbed uncontrollably as he recounted how his friend had angrily grabbed and stomped on his backpack.  Eli sat in a lounge chair in our man-cave and looked sadly at his brother.

I held Charlie close.  I wasn’t sure what to say or do so I just held him . . . as best I can hold somebody who is basically my size and sitting in my lap.  I tried to listen and calm him down.  I wanted to tell him that it would be ok and that it wasn’t as bad as he thought but I know how much I appreciate my emotions being mitigated when I am really upset.  So I just held him.

I looked up and Elijah was standing next to us.  “Charlie?,” he asked softly.  “Is it ok if I hug you?”  At 11 years old, hugs from his little brother aren’t Charlie’s favorite.  I waited to see what he would do.  Between sobs Charlie reached out and embraced Elijah.  “I’m sorry he was so mean to you, Charlie,” he said.  “I am sorry you are so sad.”  From somewhere in the pile of Charlie came a mumbled ‘thank you’.   After several minutes of hugs the sobs quieted.  I asked Charlie if he wanted to take a snack up to his room.  His recovery became more advanced at the thought of a sugar cookie or two.  We went to the kitchen.

Sad Charlie took his snack and iPad up to his room.  I looked around for Elijah.  I found him sitting next to the door putting on his shoes and jacket.  “Are you going to play outside, buddy?” I asked.  “It’s kind of cold.”

“No,” he answered.  “I am going to Bob’s house.”

I immediately assumed the side-eye position.  This couldn’t be good.  “Why?” I asked.

“I’m gonna beat him up,” he said with a straight face.

I tried not to smile as I looked down at my little sack of hair and sincerity.  “Do you think that is a good idea?”

He nodded gravely.  “He made Charlie sad,” Eli told me.  “And I’m gonna whoop his ass.”

Ever have that moment when you fully realize that what your child says and intends is inappropriate, but you still want to laugh out loud anyway.  Yeah . . . like this moment.  I fought for control.  He was serious and sincere and as committed as a 6-year-old can be.  But the way his voice dropped an octave or two on the word ‘whoop’ was adorable.

NOTE:  I would like my readers to understand that ‘whoop his ass’ is not now nor has it ever been a phrase that is uttered in our house.  I blame the media.

I picked him up and sat him on my lap.  He hugged me tightly as I explained he couldn’t go to Bob’s house and whoop anything.  Charlie would have to handle this his way.  Even though it isn’t appropriate to ‘whoop’ a person’s ass . . . or anything else . . . I was proud of him for wanting to help his brother.

“I love my Charlie,” he explained.  “I don’t like to see him sad.”

I worked hard to keep my melting heart in my chest.  In his way, Eli looks out for Charlie.  Charlie works hard to develop his cognitive processing functions and executive functions.  Social relationships can be tough for him.  Simple tasks like following instructions or even remembering to pick up clothes on the floor or toys in the living room can be hard. That is not a problem that Charlie owns alone to be sure, but those type of things tend to be tough for him.  Eli will frequently help Charlie out when he thinks nobody is looking.  Don’t get me wrong, he will still happily fling his brother under any convenient bus, but sometimes Elijah helps him out as well.

I held Elijah and remembered a very similar situation that happened when I was about 10. It was during recess at Morton Elementary School in Hastings, Nebraska.  I was on the play ground being harassed by another kid.  I remember his name, but that’s not important.  This kid was much smaller than I was, but he had several brothers who were all older and bigger.  This group of kids were not  . . . shall we say . . . great scholars . . . so they were all bigger and older than typical elementary students.  My antagonist would not have dared pick on me under normal circumstances, but with the protection of his older siblings he was simply tolerated.

At some point this kid physically pushed me.  Suddenly his world erupted into a blur of sandy hair, flashing Converse sneakers and brown and blue Bobby-Brady-striped shirt.  The kid was lying in a pile of gravel under the Jungle Gym with another smaller kid going all spider monkey on him.  My antagonist was shrieking as a tornado in patched jeans lit him up.

It took me a split second to realize that my little brother Randal had come running from the little kid play ground and dealt some justice to the kid he saw giving me a hard time.  I pulled Randal off and made sure he wasn’t hurt.

“LET ME GO! LET ME GO!” he yelled.

“It’s over . . . It’s over,” I told my brother.  “It’s okay.”

I looked down at my little berserker.  He and I fought like wildcats and sometimes we hated that we were breathing each other’s air . . . but he ran across a school lot for me.  He seemed a little less dorky.

My antagonist announced loudly that he would tell his brothers and we would be sorry.  I couldn’t have cared less at the moment.  His brothers weren’t that hard to deal with.  I smiled.  “When you tell them,” I called after him.  “Make sure you tell them a 7-year-old kicked your butt.”

He stopped and pondered for a minute.  Then he went to the monkey bars.

I told Eli the story about his uncle and the playground.  He laughed.  He explained again that Bob was mean to Charlie.  I asked some questions about the role that Charlie played in the situation.  He didn’t know specifics because he didn’t see everything.  I wasn’t surprised.  Eli was only interested in Charlie’s feelings.  Nothing else mattered.

As the day went on, more information came to light.  My wife talked to the other boy’s mother and more information was shared.  After awhile it was pretty clear it was a bid misunderstanding wrapped in 11-year-old perspectives.  Things will be alright.

This morning there was the typical yelling and arguing that is typical on a school day at our house.  Somebody looked at somebody else’s breakfast or something.  Things are back to normal.  But I understand my sons better than I did before.  Last night before Elijah went upstairs to bed I saw Charlie hug him.  I wasn’t supposed to see because . . . well that wouldn’t be very cool.  But I saw.  They will fine, I just need to trust them a little more.  They will take care of each other.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.


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Hair today . . .

Curt Hair

I got a haircut today.  Haircuts are not nearly the big deal they used to be back in the day . . . they don’t take nearly as long either.  Today the discussion about what to do with my remaining hair and the reminiscing about the hair of yesterday takes longer than the actual haircut.

Today I was in and out in about 25 minutes . . . that’s with a wash and blow dry.  Ah but back in the day it took 25 minutes just for the stylists to get their minds around the magnificence pictured here.  Hair like that, my friends, didn’t happen by accident . . . it took work and skill to bring that ‘do’ together.  The look you see in the this picture is from late 1981 or early 1982 . . . I can’t recall because hair quantity isn’t the only thing that diminishes with age . . . it’s not the first either.  Regardless, I stepped away from a 90 minute session and went straight to the photographer so it could be captured for posterity. Take a minute to just take it all in if you need to . . . we can wait.

After high school my hair magnificence was briefly stymied by pesky Air Force grooming standards.  The blow dry ‘Bee-Gees’ look was most decidedly not appropriate for the next 25 years or so . . . but that didn’t mean that a brother couldn’t work a little hair magic.  For the first several years I stayed low key . . . I kept it well-trimmed with a conservative side-part.  But I couldn’t keep it corralled for long.  Air Force Regulation 35-10 placed clear rules on hair grooming.  At least it was AFR 35-10 when I enlisted.  Then they changed it to Air Force Instruction something or other because the AFR system worked way too efficiently to survive the bureaucracy.  The regulation set limits, but there was some wiggle room available. I wiggled right in.

I embraced the 90’s completely and went sideburn-less.  Then I started letting it grow a bit and started combing it back more than to the side.  At this point my hairline started a gradual retreat.  We were holding our own, but our lines kept moving back a little at a time.  By the turn of the century . . . I love using that term . . . I had a pretty decent look going.  It was a bit ‘TV Evangelist’ but it worked for me.  The picture here is from our engagement picture.  That is why there is hair near my face.  That belongs to my wife.  She has awesome hair, but that is another blog post.

Curt Hair 4

It kind went down hill from here.  Haircuts aren’t so much fun any more.  Before I new just what I wanted . . . now it is a bit of a crap shoot.  I refuse to do a combover so I am embracing that thin spot in the back.  In the meantime I seem to be growing forehead at an alarming rate.

I have discovered a new truth.  When you have good hair, stylists . . . or barbers as I call them now . . . will listen to you when you tell them how to cut your hair.  Now . . . they just look at me with sympathy.  The result is I end up with different methods of ‘helping’ me with my hair issue.  One barber simply shaved off the bottom inch of my widow’s peak . . . seriously.  It was fun watching people try not to look at the razor stubble growing on my forehead  . . . or my fivehead as my oldest son calls it now.  Fivehead . . . get it?  Like five is more than four because my forehead is big.  Get it?

For the last few years barbers have insisted on leaving the hair on top disproportionately longer than the hair on the sides.  I know it is supposed to be a bit longer, but they leave it much longer.  I know why.  Even though I tell them I am anti-combover, they are  . . . you know . . . just leaving the combover material there . . . just in case . . . you know . . . I want to look like a tool.  That’s fine except after a week or two the hair on top gets really long and I wake up with a sleep fringe down the middle of my head.  It sticks straight up with little curls on the end.  The best part of that is when my six year old wakes me up by pulling on it and giggling.  He then calls me ‘rooster’ and runs around crowing at me.  That is splendid.

So today I had a frank heart-to-heart with a new stylist.  We talked about the past and I told her about the hair of old.  She nodded sympathetically and looked at what time and genetics has left me.  My new haircut doesn’t have the magnificence of the blow dried, feathered, sprayed and brushed Bee-Gees cut, but it looks pretty good for a guy just trying not to look like a rooster in the morning.  The upside is that I can recreate this look in just a few moments in the morning . . . not so much with the old look.   That took a lot of time and fluorocarbons to bring to life.  That look fit me back then . . . this one fits now.

I don’t fight the hair battle as much as I just manage it.  I briefly mourn the losses each morning in the bottom the shower as more hair gets a burial at sea.  Then I rejoice with the survivors.  We take it day to day, along with the waistline battle and the creaky joints battle.  My boys like to give me a hard time about my thinning hair.  I just have to smile . . . one day they will wake up and wonder what happened to all their hair . . . and why their children are making rooster noises.

Thanks for reading and reminiscing with me.  We’ll talk again on This Side of the Diaper.  Please share TSOTD as Facebook doesn’t always send it to all of my friends and followers.



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