The absent-minded genius

quadraticformulaMy husband is a genius of sorts. He can fill a white board with an algorithm no one else understands, but he cannot find his glasses.

Seriously! He has even, at times, worn his glasses on a granny chain around his neck to keep track of them. It makes him look like a cross between a rugby player and a 1940’s-era movie librarian.

(These would be his regular glasses he can’t find. He knows where his prescription sunglasses are. They are in the bottom of Lac Vieux Desert in Wisconsin.)

He has also misplaced his long underwear (yeah, I’m wondering about that too), his favorite pair of mittens (for which he blames the rest of us), and once, his wedding ring (he tried to replace it with a completely different ring, hoping I wouldn’t notice. I noticed.)

He is a conceptualist. I, on the other hand, am steeped in the practical, which some might say is my weakness. He is the dreamer of 100-foot windmills in the yard, perpetual motion engines, and running a business from a catamaran in the Bahamas. I’m “With the nice weather forecast for the weekend, it might be a good time to re-caulk the siding.”

But when you’re all about the big ideas, you sometimes miss the obvious – which is why it’s good to have someone like me around to bring you crashing back down to earth.  My favorite example is a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I need a 1/4″ washer for this project, but the hardware store didn’t have any. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

Me: Why didn’t you just buy two 1/8″ washers?

Him: (Utter silence.)

And then the door slamming as he headed back to the hardware store.

If you live with an absent-minded genius, there will be compromises. You will need to manage all household expenses, bill payment, school schedules and medical appointments. You will need to feed, clothe, and transport the children. You will need to find storage for miscellaneous mechanical inventions in various prototypical states, and tolerate a lot of odds and ends in the garage.

The upside is…well, I’m sure there’s an upside, I just can’t think of one right now.

Well, maybe it’s that he can create just about anything he puts his mind to – a beautiful pergola in the yard, a house completely wired for a completely wired family, with access to whatever electronic activity you’d care to embark.

Ah, yes…the wireless network. Reminds me of another recent conversation. We were having some strange problem that brought down half our network – the upstairs TV, two of the four wireless connections, the printer in my office. He spent hours isolating the problem and trying to identify its cause.

Him: I can’t figure it out. The signal to the router is fine, but nothing connected to the router is working.

Me: Don’t you think the router probably just failed?

Him: (Utter silence.)

And then the trip downstairs to check the router.

We complete each other. Or something like that.

Road Kill

IMG_0017A truly depraved game to play with your children.

My family plays a game in the car that can only be called “Road Kill.” The object of the game is simple: Spot the road kill from a moving vehicle before the other occupants, and you get a point.

This game arose not because we have a particular affinity (or sympathy) for road kill, but because we are so competitive that we can’t take even a five-minute car ride without fighting tooth and nail for supremacy.

You’d think I’d have the advantage in this game because I am usually the one driving, but this is not the case. I’ve found that the act of paying attention to traffic, stop lights, and exit ramps sadly detracts from my Road Kill performance. The rules do benefit me some, though, being the driver. If we drive over a skunk that is already dead, I get the point. If we actually hit an animal of some kind, I get that point, too, but I may not hit one on purpose.

(Before you get up in arms, let me inject that I have never hit an animal on purpose, nor tried to hit an animal on purpose, and in fact, have hit very few animals. Once, a squirrel. Once an armadillo, and let me tell you, that’s a little like running over a football helmet that still has a head in it.)

The rules of Road Kill evolve during play. (A camel is 50 points. A human is 1,000,000.) We keep a running total until someone is so far ahead that the rest of us have no hope of winning, and then we start another round.

While it has provided hours of amusement opportunity for us to battle, there are some unhappy side effects of this game. Most notably, you start to witness the ill effects suffered by the roadside dead if they remain for a few days. Hot, humid weather has a particularly unfortunate effect. And you start to notice when it is taking your local municipality a little too long to pick the stuff up. (“Were all the road kill picker-uppers on vacation last week, or what?”)

And I’m guessing the inevitable winter will put a damper on the game. It’s hard to spot road kill that’s covered in snow. We might have to develop a new game. Perhaps “spot the slipping pedestrian.”

No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. I mean it!

My post has a virus, uh…

detritusWent viral. Viral-ish. And it’s strangely demotivating. Plus Andre is getting on my nerves. He’s my…well, you’ll just have to read on to see.

It’s been two months since I innocently published a post that had the same title as a porn video. My first notice was a little like spiking a fever – a sudden realization that I had way more traffic than usual something was just, well, off.

After my initial panic, I decided to laugh, enjoy the traffic, and wait for it to die down.

But it never did.

In the days following my post, my traffic doubled. Then it doubled again. Now, it’s running about five times what it was in the days P2PR (Prior to Porn Reference). Sounds great, right? But I’ve no illusions that these visitors are all reading. P2PR, I could see from my metrics that most people who stopped by read two or three posts each visit. Now they just hit and run. It really dampens my urge to write.

“Ignore your metrics,” my sage blogging buddy, Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet, advised. But I can’t. I’m a numbers girl. It’s sort of like telling me not to cough. *coughs* See, I coughed right there, just thinking about it!

I’m even getting to know this traffic a little. It’s highly skewed toward international visitors, many from former Eastern bloc countries. I know when they visit, what days and what times. Weekends are a big draw.

I even know some of them think they’ve landed on the right page because they click on the picture associated with the post. (Yes, they click on the image looking for the video. Sigh. Those former Soviet countries apparently aren’t churning out the rocket scientists they used to.)

While I can’t shake the vision of a room full of frat boys huddled around a screen trying to access a get-ready-for-the-weekend video, and their utter disappointment when they instead find someone who looks like their mom staring out at them, I’ve developed a profile of who I think my average porn-seeking visitor is, and how he differs from the traffic I’m accustomed to.

Being a marketer, I like to think in terms of reader profiles. Yes, I know reader profiles are gross generalizations. But given the chance, we marketers prefer to deal in gross generalizations.

Here is the profile I’ve developed for my average reader three months ago:
She’s a mom we’ll call Jenny. Jenny is a professional woman who used to work full-time, but left her job to stay home with her kids, age 4, 7, and 9. Jenny is smart. Jenny is witty. She blogs. She struggles to find balance in her everyday life. She is into fitness and nutrition. She likes to commiserate with me, and is glad to read a humorous take on parenting now and then. I like Jenny.

Here is the profile I’ve developed for my average visitor now:
We’ll call him Andre. Andre lives in (your Eastern European country of choice.) He is a computer programmer. When he needs a break, he doesn’t get up from his computer and wander down the hall – he surfs porn. And when he finds a great video, he tells all his friends who, unlike Andre, do not have the liberty to surf during the day. They search sometime between Friday morning and Sunday evening, hitting my blog by accident, and not at all amused to find a humorous take on parenting. Unlike Jenny, I don’t like Andre. I think I dated him once, and I learned my lesson.

Dealing with Andre has given me a massive case of writer’s block/torpor/disinterest. He doesn’t care what I write. He isn’t even going to read it. Unfortunately, writing is like exercise. You have to keep at it or you lose the muscle. I feel like I’m starting to develop the not-writing version of a beer gut. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I’m guessing “b”.

I’m even starting to resent Andre. On a slowish traffic day, I find myself angry at him for NOT showing up. “What’s your problem?” I hear myself mutter, “Video porn not good enough for you anymore?”

So I need to move beyond my dinner with Andre. Get back on the horse. Turn over a new leaf. Get my blogging groove back. (Ugh, see what I mean? I can’t write without using cliches.) It’s time to elevate the conversation a little. I even have my next post prepped. It’s called “Road kill”.

Yes, well, that’s how bad it’s gotten. Obviously, my recovery isn’t going to happen overnight.

Could I be…socially awkward?

Gem_Tuesday_ButtonIn her link-up today, Charity at The Wounded Dove asks us to post about a parenting fear. Well, my kids are a little older now, so in addition to the standard fears about their safety, nutrition, health, friends, grades, etc., etc., I’ve added a new one.

What if I really am the dork they think I am?

It’s clear they think I’m ridiculous – every instruction I issue, every idea I suggest. (I once overheard my youngest son parody me with the following snarky phrase: “Let’s watch a G-rated movie while eating healthy snacks.”)

And, lest I cause them great public embarrassment, they would rather I didn’t:

  • Like any pop music even though I am forced to listen to it every minute I’m in the car. (Or at least not admit to it.)
  • Sing.
  • Wear my puffy winter coat into their school even if it is -20.
  • Sit in the same movie theater.
  • Volunteer at a school dance.
  • Dance.
  • Display my affection for them in front of another human being.
  • Talk to them at any public event.
  • Talk to any of their friends, ever.
  • Talk to any of their friends’ parents.

They’d probably be happiest if I never talked at all. I have to admit, even I’m sick of some of my more frequent quotes:

  • Close your mouth and eat your food.
  • Can you please use your head for something other than holding up your hair?
  • You people would try the patience of a saint, and I’m no saint.
  • Rise and shine, especially the rise part.
  • This is not a diner!
  • The family dinner is highly overrated (nearly always stated during dinner).

I’m sure they find the constant repetition of these words, and the frustration that usually accompanies them, beneath contempt – and will continue to do so, at least until the day they hear themselves saying this stuff to their own kids.

Lucky for me, my self-esteem should hold up to the constant negative reinforcement. To all you parents who find yourselves in the same boat, who have aged out of “cool”, don’t worry – your popularity will soar the minute your kids need a ride somewhere.

 

A remembrance

IMG_0021A flower, bending in the wind, turns her face to the sun.

Today the blogging community honors Tina Downey of Life is Good. Tina, who was an instrumental part of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge, passed away on August 27th.

Because Tina loved sunflowers, the A to Z team is hosting a tribute today, Sunflowers for Tina, to fill the blog world with flowers in her honor. We were asked to buy or plant and photograph a sunflower, but as I traveled the city this past week, I noticed there are sunflowers everywhere right now, in full, beautiful bloom. They look bright, and restless. They’re blooming together, filling otherwise dull, browning spaces with color. You can’t help but be drawn to them.

I chose one, growing wild near my home, to share.

Rest in peace, Tina. We’ll miss you.

 

 

One last vacation mishap

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376While I’d love to pass on my recent Liebster Award from Taprina at For Sanity’s Sake to Barb Taub, I understand (from Barb herself) that this would be an exercise in futility because she will never, ever respond. So instead, I’m featuring her travel story in one, last vacation mishap post.

We didn’t really get a honeymoon, so a few years later took our honeymoon in Hawaii—with child in tow. How was it? Well, the hotel bathroom was nice. I know this because that’s where I spent the whole trip. My daughter wasn’t feeling well on the plane, and by the time we landed I could spot the chicken pox coming out. The hotel doctor absolutely panicked. We had a visit from the health department, who quarantined us to the room. Because the light hurt her eyes, we spent the better part of the next week in the bathroom, sitting on the floor drinking mai-tais. Her spots were gone just in time for us to catch our flight home. I’ve often wondered what the rest of Hawaii looks like.

And this we have in common, since I’ve never been to Hawaii.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their stories. Here’s wishing you better vacations than these.

Up north

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I don’t fish or water ski. I abhor the smell of wood smoke. I’m bugged by bugs. So why did I so enjoy our “up north” vacation?

My family of five shared a tiny, slightly-musty cabin. The weather was cool and rainy – we barely saw the sun. It was too cold to swim. My son sprained his foot. And we spent most of the week in damp, grubby clothes. On our return, the laundry (literally) brought tears to my eyes.

But there was a wonder to watching our oldest son catch his first “real” fish – a 16″ bass – and sharing it for dinner. To seeing our teenage daughter befriend a tiny, self-assured young man, aged four. To watching our youngest win a sandcastle-building contest. To hearing our children, within hours of arriving, ask, “Can we come back next year?”

And even though this is not the trip my family took when I was a kid, there was something familiar about the call of the loons, the crisp, clear water, and the activities at the lodge. It reminded me of childhood, of a simpler time where the last fleeting days of August were all the more sweet because school was right around the corner.

The rest of our year is a frenzied blur of homework, carpools, business trips, and deadlines. Music lessons. Airport noise. Telephone calls.

“Up north” we traded rushed meals for long dinners at the lodge. Housework for damp clothes draped over the deck railing. Sports practice for pick-up volleyball games. 24-hour connectivity for evenings by the fire.

And non-stop activity for peace. The peace that comes with having all the time in the world and nothing, really, to do. Time to watch an eagle soar, or wait for a bite on the line. To play cards with friends all afternoon. To listen to the owls calling all night, and then sleep in.

Which is all I really wish for in a vacation. See you next year, little cabin.

Holiday travel – a guest post

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Detail from Autolysis (2011 – Oil on Canvas) by Bex

This post is from a guest blogger, Steve at Parnassus Musings, who sent me a great story in response to my request for vacation mishaps. Enjoy – and don’t miss the twist at the end.

Some years ago, my wife and I decided to take the family to Banff for Christmas. We spent a long time planning the trip so that we would be certain to get the flights we needed along with holiday reservations at the Banff Springs Hotel. We also wanted to time the trip so that our youngest child would be old enough to remember the experience and our eldest still to be living at home. Having lived all their lives in Southern California, the three of them had never experienced snow much less a white Christmas.

The morning of our departure, we were all up at 3:00 and ready for the airport shuttle, due at 3:30. The scheduled time came and went. No shuttle. At 3:45 I called the company. They weren’t sure where Mott was, but he should be there soon. I called again at 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30. We were just about to throw everything into the car and take our chances on parking when the van pulled up, seventy-five minutes late.

The shuttle was packed. There was scarcely room to add our luggage and my wife’s wheelchair much less us. Mott had my wife sit in the front passenger seat while the rest of us squeezed into the back as best we could. I had to hold my daughter on my lap with no seatbelt. It was then that Mott announced that we had to stop at a filling station so that he could put air in one of his tires because of a slow leak. I thought a couple of our fellow passengers were going to come completely unhinged. Everyone was late for their flights.

It went from bad to worse once he had taken care of his tire and entered the freeway. Mott was just about the worst driver I’ve ever seen (and that includes my middle kid). Not only was he pretty much all over the road including the shoulder, he kept up a nonstop stream of crazy talk directed at my wife. Kyra is a pretty level woman and an outstanding conversationalist in most situations. I could tell from the cold silence that she was probably looking for the eject button (or maybe a baseball bat).

When we finally arrived at Burbank Airport, limbs intact and stomachs in our mouths, it was a zoo. I’ve never seen a shuttle empty so fast. We headed into the United terminal only to be confronted with a monumentally long line at check in. There was no way we were going to make our plane. However, one of the few advantages of traveling with someone in a wheelchair is that we often get moved to the front of the line and such was the case that morning. The agent looked at our tickets, looked at us, looked at her screen, and then looked at us again. “Your flight has been delayed at least ninety minutes due to weather in San Francisco. You will be unable to make your connecting flight to Calgary and all other United flights are full. What do you want to do?”

Our options were few. We could be stranded in San Francisco or give up and lose a pot of money on non-refundable reservations. We decided to throw in with the travel gods and take our chances. The agent shrugged her shoulders and checked our luggage. We headed to the gate.

Our flight was two hours late when it finally took off and our connecting flight had long since departed by the time we arrived in San Francisco. The agent at the gate had little advice to offer other than check with Air Canada in the next terminal (our tickets were Air Canada but the flights were being fulfilled by United). Air Canada had one more flight leaving for Calgary and it was due to depart in thirty minutes.

So we dashed out of that terminal and down the concourse headed for the next terminal. It must have been quite a sight-seeing the five of us move that fast. Clutching her backpack, my daughter rode on my wife’s lap while I pushed the wheelchair, the boys running behind with the carry-ons. Of course we had to go through security again and while we did get moved to the front of the line, they decided that I was going to require special treatment (and this was in the days before I wore a kilt regularly). I thought Kyra was about to rise from her wheelchair and rip the TSA agent to shreds. I told her to take the kids and go to the gate and see if we could get on the plane. “And whatever you do, get ON the plane. Don’t wait for me.”

The TSA agent dusted everything in my backpack meticulously. She even made me fire up the computer. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she finally let me pack up and go. I ran desperately into the terminal, missing the gate. Once I realized it, I turned back, a little disoriented. An Air Canada agent ran up and said, “Are you Steve?” I nodded, and she led me to the gate and directly onto the plane. The door closed behind me and I barely had time to strap myself in before the plane pushed back. It was only once we were in the air that I was able to find the rest of my family. According to Kyra, there had been a cancellation that morning, right before the flight. Five seats.

We arrived in Calgary in time for the last shuttle to Banff, and arrived at the hotel late in the evening hungry, disheveled, and without luggage. The luggage caught up with us two days later, on Christmas Eve. What a gift it was to finally change from our travel clothes. And despite the lack of snow in Banff (it was a Chinook year), our stay was magical and truly worth the struggle to get there.

The trip home was no less difficult albeit much less eventful. The connecting flight in San Francisco was delayed twelve hours and it was nearly midnight when we landed in Burbank. I called the shuttle while standing in line to put in a claim for our missing luggage. I sent the family out to get into the shuttle while I filled out the paperwork.   When I finally left the terminal, they were already aboard, my wife sitting in back with a wry smile on her face. “You can sit in front this time,” she said. You guessed it. Out of all the possible drivers, we had drawn Mott again.

Steve Humphrey is a people and technology consultant specializing in meeting facilitation, group visioning, and information. He is also a pianist and writer who delights in the inherent pan-applicability of ideas. His blog searches for fundamental truths that transcend their original context to enlighten leadership and decision making in unexpected ways. Follow Steve at Parnassus Musings.

More vacation mishaps

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376Or maybe I should say vacation horrors. This is a follow-up to last week’s post where I asked readers to send me their own vacation mishaps. Their submissions made mine pale in comparison! These poor folks have had some miserable trips.

Here are my favorites (if you can call them that with any empathy.)

Caroline at Not Enough Wine in the World relayed a mishap that occurred after they checked into a Toronto hotel:

We took a nap before venturing out only to discover that our sheets had several blood splatters.  They offered to test the blood for contaminates/diseases.  We were upgraded, big time.

Kristine at Mum Revised recounts a mishap during a Christmas trip to Cuba:

My son threw up on me during landing. My daughter threw up on me in bed. I threw up in the toilet and slept on the bathroom floor. One bed in the room we called the sick bed because it had been thrown up on so many times. Last time we would ever stay in a three star that cleaned the room every second day. We had one meal together in 7 days. I never even got to the beach in Cuba. I can’t even blame the food.

Sandy at PowerPoint. Responsibly., like me, had an episode on a houseboat:

 I spent nearly the entire trip worrying about the kids falling off the boat, which didn’t phase my husband at all since he was fishing the entire time. Imagine my terror one day as we were cruising and my 2-year-old disappeared. I found him climbing up the ladder to the upper deck. The ladder was on the outside of the boat. I remind you – the boat was moving!

And Fred, who can be found at Fred’s Audio Visual, describes a harrowing afternoon while on tour with a group of experienced storm chasers:

As we were driving up the freeway into town, straight ahead of us was a massive tornado – it was HUGE. The tornado ripped through the town – I have never seen anything like it before or since. Our tour director had to make a choice – pull off the freeway to the right or left. He chose to pull off on the right. We went into a restaurant for shelter. The restaurant where we were had some windows blown out, but the structure remained intact. The tornado ripped apart everything on the left side of the freeway. Had he pulled off to the left, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

One submission, from Steve at Parnassus Musings, was so involved I didn’t feel right editing it. Watch for Steve’s guest post on Wednesday where you’ll get the whole story directly from the source. You’ll love the twist at the end.

 

Still want to contribute a vacation mishap? It’s not too late!