Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Break '09: Part I (I grew up in Johnson County and was unprepared for this)

Like most of the country, we here in College Town recently celebrated Spring Break. While many friends returned from the tropics with tales of dolphins and a neck full of silver baubles, I returned from our trip to south central Kansas with a half-empty pack of Claritin and sincere apologies to anyone who may have been a part of the 10:20 Hutchinson Salt Mine Tour Group with our family on Saturday.

We arrived at our Bed-and-Breakfast-slash-Animal-Farm in Nickerson, Kansas on a clear, sunny day. The sky was blue and the air was full of newly budding allergens.

Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm is a working farm with a large bed-and-breakfast, many miles from the nearest Interstate. The rooms at the B&B are huge, well-appointed, very clean, reasonably priced, and the B&B can also brag about its outstanding breakfast spread, thanks to the nearby Mennonites and their flair for coffee cake and homemade sausage. The beautiful farm is home to ostriches, giraffes, kangaroos, zebras, camels, emus, and the standard-farm-variety pigs, horses, and chickens. And some peacocks. And a hedgehog. And more...

Needless to say, the good folks at Hedricks hardly noticed when I unloaded my own herd, who made animal noises of their own.

“Look at all the nipples on that pig!”

(The very sight of that breastfeeding pig made me let down a little.)

“The zebra has a HUGE pee--!”

(Apparently he was happy to see us.)

“Can I go brush my hair?”

(That was Ellie, our preteen. I reminded her that we were standing 15 feet way from baby boars, and they really did not care what her hair looked like.)

But our official tour of the farm, which would end with a highly-anticipated camel ride (small children would need to be accompanied by an adult), had to wait until the next day… in the rain, with 20 mph winds at a balmy 40 degrees.

Because the weatherman had told me the rain would hold off until the end of the trip, I had not packed anything warm. So we toured the farm huddled together, cringing with embarrassment every time anyone asked where we were from.

“We’re from [College Town],” I would reply weakly with a slight grin.

They politely smiled and nodded, looking down at my feet as if to say, “Dontcha know better than to wear your Birkenstocks to a farm?”

Dave and I accompanied our kids from pen to frigid pen, learning all about how giraffes give birth and how to greet an alpaca (with your face, not your paws). The wind was relentless, and our kids could not wait to brave it on top of a camel. But I was not so eager.

“Is it too cold for the camel rides today?” I asked our tour guide hopefully.

“Nope!” she replied cheerfully.

The temperature seemed to drop with every area we visited. The kids pointed their cold, shaking, purple fingers in amazement at the baby kangaroos while fumbling to feed them with their numb little hands, but they did not lose focus on the camel waiting at the end. I tried another road block.

“Did I need to make a reservation?” I asked, “because I didn’t, and there are six of us,” I held my breath.

“No reservation required!” she chirped.

We shivered our way through the newborn barn where I fought the urge to push aside the gestating ostrich eggs and curl up fetal under the heat lamp. The tour was winding down, and I was not about to board a camel without a fight.

“Do we need special instruction to ride the camels,” I tried one more time, “because we weren’t here for last night’s tour.”

“Oh, no, you just climb up and hold on!” she said.

The wind grew colder, and the idea of climbing up and holding onto an exotic animal sounded just about as appealing as bringing one home to raise.

As our guide began to wrap up the tour and the promise/threat of “getting” to ride a camel in sub-arctic conditions loomed near, Dave and I began bargaining with each other to get out of parental riding duties.

“I’ll let you listen to Seether all the way home,” I started.

“You can pull out the John Denver,” Dave countered, “and I won’t make fun of you when you sing.”

“You can have all the cup holders and chew gum as loud as you want.”

“I’ll let you drive.”

I was just about to take him up on letting me sing “Rocky Mountain High” while driving all the way home, when we were informed that all four of our kids had been deemed tall enough to ride without an adult.

So Dave and I did what came instinctively at that point and hid in a nearby barn for shelter, free from the wind and the judgmental glares of the other parents who, apparently, loved their children enough to not only stand in line with them for the camel rides, but climb on back and join in the adventure.

Not us. We were perfectly happy taking pictures from afar. We could tell them how exciting it was after our teeth had stopped chattering.

Within four minutes of dismounting the camels (with the help of the staff, as I was too busy cursing under my [visible] breath and Dave was trying to regain feeling in his fingers by playing with his iPhone), I had our kids back inside our room and under the soothing water of the shower in the Zebra Suite, scrubbing the exotic dander off their little suburban bodies.

The camel ride was over, but not soon forgotten, as we would find out the following day…

Come back next week for “Spring Break ’09: Part II (Underground with Our Claustrophobic Diva!)"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Under New Management

Dear AIG Employees,

Greetings to you all. I am Jules, one of your 300 million new owners, the American taxpayers.

Oh, don’t be concerned. Working for 300 million people may be a bit intimidating, but I can assure you we are pretty laid back. After all, in the past 233 years, we have created 10 national and government holidays to celebrate such things as the New Year’s Eve hangover and the day Europeans discovered the Caribbean (please check with Joe in Human Resources to make sure you are eligible to receive holiday pay).

We have also adopted, nation-wide, the "business casual" dress code. Forget the three-piece suit and long, dreary skirts. The more of yourself you expose, the faster you will gain recognition for your talents. Tattoos are fine, we all have them too and are tired of pretending we don't. And the term “accessories” has been expanded to include bolts through the ear lobes and whatever those chains are that connect one’s tongue ring to one’s bellybutton ring.

But be warned. It might seem as though anything goes with regard to fashion around here, but there are some definite unwritten rules to which you must adhere. If we feel you are in violation, we will turn you in to TMZ who has a very progressive “Peer Review” system of discipline; you may even have read about some of their findings in our nationally distributed Semi-Annual Report, People Magazine’s Best and Worst Dressed.

While at work, though, we Americans do have a high work ethic with which we expect you to comply. We do allow you to update your Facebook status hourly, provided you include some combination of the words “avoiding work” and “meatball subs and pantyhose” on your profile. “Lunch meetings” during March Madness are encouraged, but crop-dusting around the cubicles is strictly forbidden.

Now, I understand there has been much discussion about your pay rate. Especially those of you higher up. Please remember that, while we Americans may act like we disapprove of the seven- or eight-figure salaries, secretly we have no problem with the practice. Who do you think financed Kevin Garnett’s last contract? (Props to Boston!) We are not opposed to paying large bonuses, we just want to make sure your jump shot is good enough to win a championship first.

All of your other benefits should remain unchanged, although we will likely restructure the corporate wellness program. We are looking into replacing your gym membership and on-site nutritionist with some old Tae Bo tapes and a free one-time consultation with Jenny Craig. And rather than offer personal and family therapy to ensure your mental health, we have catalogued the last 24 years of Oprah by topic and will have them available to help you through any personal crises that arise.

We do have just a couple questions for you about what, exactly, it is you do.

Like, for starters, what are “annuities,” and do they hurt? And that “Executive Liability Insurance” you offer, can I use that when I accidentally forget, let's say, to pack swimming suits for the Girl Scout camp-out, forcing my daughter to spend lake time on the shore helping the troop leader clean eggs off the breakfast dishes?

That would be helpful to me. So would a re-design of your website. I'm thinking flashier graphics, a little Journey playing in the background, and maybe a quick poll or a place to post funny work videos might help drive a little more traffic your -- I mean our -- way.

I look forward to doing my part (1/300,000,000th) to help lead AIG back to profitability and off of my payroll as soon as possible. Please know, as one of your many, many bosses, my office (a 7x7 foot laundry room) is always open.

I will be in contact again soon with a sign-up sheet for the company picnic. It’s going to be potluck this year, I hope you understand.

Have a great week,


Monday, March 16, 2009

Confessions of a Facebook Addict, Part II

I did not get to be on Oprah last week talking about Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the 24-year-old Facebook founder (and bazillionaire), stole my thunder and landed in the coveted seat next to O on Friday.

While I suppose he was qualified enough to speak with authority on the subject of Facebook, I cannot imagine that, at the age of 24, he is really in touch enough with the fastest-growing demographic, those over 30, to understand what kind of monster he has created for Generation X.

Facebook may have been marketed to the high school and college crowd, but my young FBBFF’s (I have a few, mostly relatives, others who don’t know how ancient I really am) are NEVER on Facebook as much as my over-thirty-five posse. Maybe it is because they are too busy texting ("text" can be a verb, right?), maybe they haven’t lived long enough to be able to write a list of 25 Things.

Truthfully, though, I believe my generation was simply born for this.

First of all, we are the original multi-taskers. We not only grew up walking and chewing gum at the same time (choking hazards were unheard of in the 1970’s), but we could do it all WHILE CROSSING THE LIVING ROOM TO CHANGE THE TV CHANNEL. Yep, those were tough times, but we persevered. We learned to rotary dial the phone with one hand while applying spray gel to our bangs with the other and never had to choose between a Coke or a smile.

Thanks to these many complexities of our upbringing, dragging our iPhones around the house to keep up-to-date on our FBBFF’s status while we cook, fold laundry, and shave our legs is not a challenge.

But not only are we a multi-tasking people, we are also a people unafraid to stir the cyberpot once in awhile. Remember, we did not have “sensitivity training” in the ‘70’s, and, yes, it probably shows. So what? At least we do not fear the possibility of a low Scramble score showing up on our walls.

And we Generation X-ers love our entertainment. We practically invented MTV. Or, at least, we figured out how to make our own music videos using our parents’ eight-tracks, a chorus line of Monchichi’s, and a Light Brite. Posting a David Hasselhoff video or a Snuggie parody to share comes naturally to us.

We also love our friends, probably because we played with them in our backyards, not next to them on a linked-in DS. In fact, my friends and I are already planning the nursing home we will all one day retire in, complete with a Cougar Wing, Hair Band Mixers, and nightly Happy Hour.

But the one thing that really sets us apart from the young kids, is that we have nothing to lose by Facebooking. We do not have to worry about incriminating photos surfacing on Facebook, because (thank you, God) no one carried a camera phone in the 1980’s and all negatives have long been destroyed. Furthermore, we already have our jobs and no longer worry about what our parents will say. So even if that picture from Spring Break ‘92… you know the one… should ever surface, we do not care. (No, Mom, I never did that.)

“What’s all the buzz about Facebook,” Oprah asked? Even Young Zuckerberg was at a loss as to why his little networking wonder is a Godsend to those of us who grew up playing with real people.

But any Gen-X-er (and most of our Boomer parents) can tell you it is the perfect way for a generation busy raising a generation of their own now to keep in touch with those friends from simpler days gone by.

So, Mark, thank you for expanding our worlds beyond the walls of our homes and cubicles. Thank you for giving us a place to come together, where we can talk about your generation and how spoiled you all are, where I can show off pictures of my kids and act like one myself, without judgment.

And, as an aside to Mark Consuelos, I would friend you in a heartbeat!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Birds and the Bees (A Tail of Two Dogs)


My friend, Janie, called to ask me if we would like to adopt a puppy.

I fell to the floor hysterical with laughter, tears rolling down my cheeks at the very thought of ever potty training another living being. After being nonresponsive for a good eight or ten minutes, I picked myself back up off the floor and caught my breath.

“No,” I started, “I already have one.”

“Oh, okay,” Janie’s voice quivered, “I just thought I would ask.”

“Are you giving yours away?” I asked, wondering how she pulled that off with her kids, and getting out a notepad and a pen just in case she had any pointers I could use.

She heaved a big sigh. “I’m going to be a grandma.”

Her oldest is only 11, so I was a bit surprised by this news.

Luckily, she explained…

“Buster (I think he is a beagle, I don’t really know, he is bigger than a lap dog but smaller than a pony) was out in the back yard a few weeks ago. Our neighbor’s dog (a standard poodle, I asked) came in through a hole in the fence. I guess. I don’t know. I was doing laundry and didn’t even know it had happened until the phone rang. It was my neighbor calling from her back yard to tell me their dog was in our yard… and in heat. I didn’t even know their dog was a girl!”

I didn’t know Janie’s dog was a boy, so I didn’t pass judgment. Janie continued.

“I ran outside with the phone and found Buster on top of Paris (the big poodle), totally going at it.”

“How did he---“ I started, but Janie interrupted.

“I DON’T KNOW! He’s half her size!” she took another breath then went on, “So there I am, in the yard, pulling on Buster’s hips, trying to get him off of her, while the neighbor is yelling over the fence, ‘why haven’t you had him fixed yet?!’ I’m yelling back to her, ‘his appointment is in two weeks!’ And Buster is not budging. My son was on the computer, looking up how to dismount a dog having sex, screaming directions out the screen door while these two dogs are engaged in some pretty raw doggy porn, completely oblivious to everything.”

I pondered the thought of doggy porn taking place in their upscale suburban subdivision and wondered if this, in any way, was a violation of the homeowner’s association.

“How do you---“ I tried to ask, but again, Janie interrupted.

“YOU CAN’T!” she said. “Apparently, the male’s penis fans out and gets ‘stuck’ in the female’s canal.” (She never says the “V” word. Never. Not even when we were in high school.) “And just as Danny was yelling this information to me across the yard, in much more detail than an 11-year-old boy should know, much less announce to a family-friendly neighborhood, Buster tumbled off, his hind legs still in my hands, and we both fell to the ground.”

“And now you’re going to be a grandma?” I asked.

“Yes.” She sounded tired. “So, do you know anyone in the market for a new puppy?”

Still shaking the image of Janie cradling a post-coital canine, I tried to think of something to say to make her feel better.

“Well, I guess Sr. Mary Martin was right,” I laughed, (Sr. M&M was our 11th grade biology teacher who always gave her reproduction lecture the week before spring break) “counting on ‘pull-and-pray’ really can get you into ALL kinds of trouble.”

This week’s story is dedicated to “Janie” and her beautiful family, as they learn to laugh again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Royal and I

Dave and I attended an auction this weekend where we did not buy a dog.

But there was one item on the list that caught my eye, a baseball bat autographed by my very first love, former Kansas City Royals Third Baseman, George Brett.
“Remember, you gave up buying stuff for Lent,” Dave immediately whispered as the bat made its way around the room and the bidding began.
I didn’t realize I had been caressing my bidding paddle until that moment, so I put my hands in my lap. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “George and I are old news.”
And that is mostly true.
I have carried a monumental torch for George Brett since before I knew what a crush really was. Oh, yes, there were others who came and went, but George has been a constant. Mind you, he is not on “the list,” he is just a school-girl crush. A very big one.
(And before any of you locals skip to the bottom to comment, I will tell you right now that I have heard every rumor there is and, quite frankly, do not care. So save it.)
I watched every game, read every article, and even slept with his picture under my pillow the entire summer of 1980. I cried that fall when the Phillies beat the Royals in the World Series. And I cried five years later when the Royals beat the Cardinals in Game Seven to clinch the pennant.
My sister and I road-tripped to Kansas City from college to cheer on George as he played his last home game in 1993. And I dragged my one-year-old and newborn to the parade held in George’s honor when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years later. He waved at me.

Nearly 25 years had flown by before I finally had the opportunity to meet my hero-crush. We were living in a city at the time that was hosting a major pro golf tournament, and George Brett, being an avid golfer (legend has it he was once out golfing when the foursome behind him teed off before he had left the fairway; he swung his golf club at the oncoming ball – baseball style – and the ball sailed right back to the intruding foursome), was invited to put on a clinic for kids that week.
I weighed the possibility of dressing like a 10-year-old boy and attending the clinic, but I was afraid of being recognized by my friends. Luckily, I happened to be volunteering at the tournament on George Brett day and had the foresight to bring my camera with me, just in case I would run into George and he would want to document the occasion with a photo.
The morning went by without a sighting. By lunch time, I had all but given up. Hopeless and hungry, I went to the golf course clubhouse to eat before resuming my volunteer post. As I started to walk out of the club, though, I saw George walk in.
Right towards me.
We made eye contact. Actually, he probably looked in my direction when he heard my jaw hit the floor.
And then…
he put…
his arm…
Yes, he threw his arm around me without breaking stride, and pulled me back into the clubhouse with him.
I had rehearsed my next line ever since I heard he was coming to the tournament, and executed flawlessly:
“I have waited 25 years to take a picture with you!”
I smiled, I was charming, and I was totally unprepared for his response, “well, what took so long?”
I had nothing.
“Uh, (giggle, giggle), um…” was all that came out. And then, even worse, I squeaked out the lamest line ever, “I was only five.”
At night, before I fall asleep, I still pray that George Brett did not hear me say that.
He so kindly obliged, though, smiled big for the photo op, and then he asked me what I did for a living. I considered telling him I really had not pictured our conversation going this far and that I was out of things to say, but instead told him I was a mother of three (this was pre-diva) and high-tailed it out of there before he could say anything else to me.
(Clearly, I am not meant to ever meet Bono. I couldn’t keep it together for George, I couldn’t keep it together for Oprah[‘s assistant producer], I am pretty sure I would pass out in front of the Irish rocker.)
So as the price of the autographed bat rose higher than our current mortgage payment, I looked down at my bidding paddle, content to leave it on the table, as I knew I had already had all the George Brett I could handle.