Dad's catching on


Dad sent me a debit card for Christmas. He sent all the kids the same gift, mailed from the same place. Chris' didn't arrive: it was stolen somewhere between the mailing origination and the post office near Chris' house. I don't know about B's card. Mine arrived just fine, tucked in a card.

I'm strangely excited about this gift. It feels like the start of a school year: full of promise and new beginnings. There are so many things I can do with this card, so many purchases I can make.

I could buy a technical book at Amazon, read it and become more knowledgable.

I could buy an entertaining book, read it and become more relaxed (unless it's one of THOSE, we know how relaxing I find them).

I could pay for an hour massage, and have enough left over for one for Kris - then I would be really relaxed.

I could buy plants at the nursery and plant them in the yard. Every time I looked at them, I'd think lovingly of my dad.

I could buy a plane ticket back to Indiana to visit him.

I could buy a really, really fancy meal for Kris and me (or, just let Mike buy that one).

I could buy stock with the money, watching it grow over the years.

I could buy two dozen or more domain names and continue on my site-a-month goal (this site being the first one I've done, yay, schedule!).

I could buy a stained glass window to hang in front of one of the livingroom windows

Oh, the possibilities are limitless! The choices are all exciting. I've always thought the best gift is one that someone wants but wouldn't purchase for himself. Pretty sure most of those qualify here, since I've cut down my spending from things I want to just the things I need. I've been impressed with how much less consumerism there is in my life, and Kris' buy extension, by not buying stuff on whims. If it'll be used and its necessary, I'll buy it. Otherwise, I'll imagine owning it, imagine the brief joy of ownership, then move on. One less thing to discard later, one less distraction to deal with.

What I find most interesting about this gift from Dad is that the debit card comes with strings attached: I have six months to spend the money, or fees start coming out of the balance. Hefty fees, too: more than 10% of the card's remaining balance a year.

Perhaps that's Dad's way of making sure I actually spend his Christmas gift. I still have the check he wrote to me for Christmas of 1999. It's on pretty yellow paper. Too pretty to cash.

Beth's dog's OD


A Christmas note from Beth:

This is what happens when turkey-coma sets in. Even though spencer looks
like he's dead, I assure you he is as happy as high school wes with a bucket
of ice cream, thanks to many generous suckers with scraps at the table last
night. God bless.

Merry Christmas, and may you too have a triptophantastic holiday


Long suffering


This morning, Kris was in the kitchen talking to his mother, when he noticed a movie sitting on the counter. "Is this a new movie?" he asked, looking at the back cover for a release date.

His mom answered, "Yes, it's a recent movie. It's a good movie, about a rich guy who learns a lot of lessons."

I had wandered into the kitchen around then, and asked, "What type of lessons?" That's me, asking leading questions to keep the conversation going.

"You know, important ones, about love. And friendship. Suffering."

"Why is suffering a good lesson to learn?"

I don't know why I asked this. Just after the last word left my mouth, I realized the error of my question. I had managed to spend six days with Kris' family without insulting anyone. I managed to repair one relationship, and wasn't interested in damaging any other relationships. Yet, there was my question, hanging out there.

Kris stiffened.

Kris' mom inhaled sharply. She continued cutting the leftovers she was working on, saying nothing.

After a bit, her words came out slowly. "Suffering..." she started, "it's a good lesson..."

Kris looked at me, imploring me to shut. up. right. now.

So, I did. Normally, I would press on. I would want to know why the lesson of suffering is a good lesson to learn. Sure, one can learn a lot about what's important in life through suffering. Maybe breakthroughs in personal development happen with suffering. But to suffer for the sake of suffering seems both unnecessary and, well, somewhat retarded if there's no end or goal to the suffering.

We left the question unanswered, the topic unexplored. Someday, maybe, we'll have the relationship where I can press on these questions, ask why and expect a thoughtful answer instead of repeated platitudes or Bible quotes.

Today was not that day.

Second Christmas


Today is our Second Christmas. Instead of crazy clothing choices, we had exciting rounds of flying toys. Starting with the mini marshmallow launchers, which we opened first because that was the gift that was handed to us first by someone who didn't know what was in the wrapped boxes, but did notice there were four of them with the exact same shape.

Nothing like discovering bags of marshmallows strategically placed all around the room, in four corners, for the four combatants with marshmallow launchers. Kris, Shaun, Jen and I all dashed off to find our ammo supply, filled, and commenced our round-robin assault on each other.

So, imagine a largish room, maybe 30 x 20, with four adults in their thirties, running around, marshmallows flying in all directions, while two kids watch in amazement, and two other adults laugh hysterically at the scene.

Now imagine this going on at peak intensity for 20 minutes.

Other presents? What? There's more? Why?

We took at least 20 minutes before some reminded us of our other presents. And that happened only after we were done laughing so hard our sides ached.

Although the marshmellow launcher was our first toy, perhaps the finest, we also received a flying helicopter for air laser tag duels, an electronic board game, a dice game, a sudoko puzzlebook, and a book on how to stay immature forever.

Did I mention the marshmallow launcher?


The grande finale was the super-secret, everyone-open-his-present-at-the-same-time set of gifts that, when all opened at the same time, revealed a complete Wii, with controllers for four players and a Guitar Hero controller. Kris' dad had gone out three times before dawn, before Thanksgiving, to line up to purchase a Wii for the family.

We spent the rest of the day in that largish room, leaving only for sustenance and a brief walk at my insistence.

Had to nudge the schedule somehow.

Chookie would be proud


This morning, after managing to fall back asleep for an hour, Kris and I were woken up to some loud DVD player blaring some Christmas song a its top volume, which mean lovely Christmas distortion. Kris managed to drag himself up out of bed and follow the smells of breakfast into the kitchen, my will power is much stronger.

I managed another 10 minutes before Kris returned to insist I rise, lest the Christmas schedule be thrown off course by a slack ass daughter-in-law who won't get out of bed. We have a schedule to keep! I agreed to the schedule last night, so get. up. right. now.

Kris left, I dragged my butt out of bed and to the computer to ask no one in particular, "In what kind of delusional world do you get mad at me for failing to follow schedule you claim I approved, but in reality have never seen, much less know? And! At which point did you forget that 8:30 am East Coast is still 5:30 am Pacific?"

Yeah, not so cheerful in the morning. I claim no responsibility for any words I type while still in the throes of slumber.

Somehow my fingers moved, my arms moved, and my legs moved. I managed to stumble to the bathroom, start the shower, and wake up with the water cascading down on me. After showering, drying off, clothing myself, and wandering into the kitchen, I verified I had time to eat breakfast, no I hadn't blown the schedule, there were four people still missing from the morning. Kris' mom makes the most delicious baked oatmeal, which is a treat every time we come. When I was done, I thanked his mom.

"Thank you for making bo... baked oatmeal. It's delicious."

"You're welcome," Kris' mom answered.

"Did you almost call it boatmeal?" Kris asked.




"Well.... yeah, um, well, there's no ache in this breakfast."

One dramatic pause later...

"Boatmeal it is."

Chookie would be so proud.



Every year around this time, the Christmas cards come in. Even though the cards bring a tinge of guilt for me, as I rarely send any cards out any more, but feel, as a Responsible Adult™ I should be, I enjoy the cards I receive. They range from the hey-haven't-talked-to-you-in-years cards, to the thanks-for-being-my-friend cards, to the family cards, and everything in between. I receive a couple newsletters in these cards, too. Kris and I sent out a newsletter four Christmases ago, when all sorts of major changes in our lives happened (engagement, dogs, etc.), but haven't actually sent out cards since.

Maybe we shot our wad with that one....

[Side note: I actually looked up the origins and current cultural definitions of that phrase to make sure I didn't just write something offensive. I was pretty sure I hadn't, but, just in case. Turns out that, even though "shooting one's wad" can have a sexual reference, it actually means to spend all one's money (wad). The origins come from the Civil War era guns whose bullets were actually gun powder and musket balls wrapped together into a "wad," the term for the ball, powder, paper package. "Wad" meaning money happened sometime in the 1920's. Phew!]

Each year, amongst all the cards I receive, there's one in particular I look forward to reading: Charles and Noelle Cook's.

I met Charles at Freshman Camp. Caltech takes all Freshman off-campus for three days for an introduction to each other, to school, to what they're about to experience, to what they just got themselves in for, to some upperclassmen and to some faculty. I was horrible at meeting people then, well before I could just walk up to someone, stick my hand out and say hello. I was standing with my back to the camp ground, facing a building, trying really hard to learn to juggle the three balls I had with me, when Charles walked up to me and did exactly what I couldn't do: he said hello.

Charles' and Noelle's wedding inspired our wedding: an outdoor campground with everyone they love for a few days. Whoo, were there stories with that wedding, starting with my near inability to actually get there from the airport. Hello, crazy weekend.

Their newsletter always manages a very nice balance of what's happened in their lives for the last year, without going into the uncomfortable details that spoil some newsletters. I always read the newsletter with Noelle's voice, though I'm not 100% sure it's all her writing.

I think she hates me. When they lived in the area, I went over to their house to cook dinner for the group of us. When she asked if she could help, my answer was something to the effect of you can help me by leaving the kitchen. I didn't really say that, and I certainly didn't mean that, but it was a few years later before I realized what I had done. I had kicked a woman out of her own kitchen by my lack of tact. Yay me. Not.

But, I receive a card each year. This year, they moved to Europe. I'm both surprised ("OMG, they moved to EUROPE?"), as well as, well, a bit envious ("OMG, they moved to EUROPE!"), but they do these kinds of adventures. Kris mentioned they're the perfect family (husband, wife, two kids, dog, cat), mostly joking, though he's quite right. They're a family with parents who have their heads screwed on straight, life going in the right direction.

Of course, I'm projecting. I know it. Must be the newsletter's influence. It's that good.