Aloha, as you all know, is a very versatile word. My intended meaning in this case is: check back over the next couple of weeks for postings and photos from Maui.

The three of us are flying out tomorrow morning. I'm admittedly apprehensive about flying all that way with a 5 month old. I don't expect to get anyone's sympathy (especially from our friends Derek and Kath who flew with their crawling one year old to Australia and back). No matter how it goes, I imagine I'll have a story or two to tell, and hopefully some pictures to go along with it.

Aloha (this time I choose for it to mean Happy New Year).

RMM (Random Mouth Movement)

One of my new favorite things to do with Simeon nowadays is feed him rice cereal. Over the last month we have both gotten a little better at it with practice, just like anything else, I suppose (although I never seem to get any better at Guitar Hero, returning phone calls from friends in a timely manner, or Excel spreadsheets).

The best time I had feeding Simeon was the first, maybe the second time. I couldn't quite get the food to him fast enough, and he wasn't totally sure what to do with it once I did. If I didn't get the spoonful to his lips quickly enough, he would jam his fists (both of them) into his mouth. I honestly believe that he thought he was helping me. And I guess he was. He was helping me make a mess Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs host), or Marc Summers (Double Dare host) would be proud of.

I spooned cereal in, Simeon swallowed half, and scooped the rest of it out with his hands and smeared it on any surface within a fathom. Surfaces included: His Bumbo, his pants, his shirt, his hair, my hair, my arm, and my face. I had no control — and it was a blast!

Recently, Sarah brought it to my attention that while I am feeding Simeon, I make interesting mouth movements, myself. She laughed at me, and justifiably so — I could tell I looked ridiculous. I tried stopping, but couldn't. The movements were completely involuntary, I thought.

But, I'm not so sure it is involuntary. I think it comes from that part of me that wants Simeon to do well, to learn, to get better. At least that's what I keep telling myself. You be the judge. A father willing his son to cereal-eating success or a doofus who can't properly control his own face?


Very Merry

May this Christmas be filled with less fruitcake and more ... ooooh …  fudge.


Ryan, Sarah and Simeon


A Christmas at the Zoo Haiku

Strings light up the way
Simeon’s a platybear
Good night at the zoo


Mu Shu, the nearly forgotten family pet

I've spent the last few minutes reflecting on my informal and completely undocumented goal of writing at least 4 web log entries per month. So far so-so.

As I was looking back at my entries, I noticed that I had not blogged about, or even mentioned our Shih Tzu (pronounced sheets•zoo, so stop snickering), Mu Shu.

Mu Shu doesn't read my blog — she's illiterate — so I don't think there are any damaged feelings. However, I'm certain she would be crushed if she knew I had written about my friend, Alfred the bat, but not a syllable about her. I can't take that risk.

Compounding my guilt is Mu Shu having to take a back seat since Simeon's birth. It was bound to happen, but I don't think she could have predicted how little we would be throwing her squeaky toy.

I'm going to try and make it up to her by telling you, and whomever happens to read this, what Mu Shu has reminded me of in recent months.

Be less predictable.
It didn't take long for Mu Shu to have my tracks sniffed out. She usually knows where I'm going and what I'm going to do before I do. In the morning, she waits by the stairs when she hears my electric toothbrush, because she knows I will turn my closet light off next and head downstairs. She stops at the threshold below and cranes her neck back as if to encourage me in the steps she knows I will make. She almost always knows where I'm going before I'm there. My paths are so well worn and Mu Shu knows it. While I am a creature of habit, she's inspired me to change some things up. Now, I occasionally mix yogurt into my cereal on occasion, instead of milk; and sometimes I read after Sarah goes to bed instead of watching television; and when I'm feeling crazy, I get the newspaper before I pour my cereal into the bowl.

Family is worth protecting.
Mu Shu stands proud with Napoleonic stature and is in the same weight class as other common watch dogs — the bullying Bichon Frise, the loathsome Llasa Apso, and the malicious Maltese.

If she hears the whine of our front or back gate, she lets the whole neighborhood know our family force field has been breached. (I often have to explain to her that these are invited guests, at which point she is wagged by her tail to the point of dizziness and she snorts like a pig — perhaps because we named her after a Chinese pork dish.)

She often lays on the the threshold of Simeon's bedroom as if to say, "Nothing to see here. Everything's under control. Move along." She is a constant reminder that family is worth protecting.

Maintain a non-anxious presence.
Simeon is neck-deep in the Grabby Phase. Considering MuShu's deep affection for Simeon, she often positions herself within baby fathom. Simeon yanks, tugs, jerks and tweaks Mu Shu's ears, whiskers, head and tail without mercy; and she just sits there. She doesn't necessarily like it. But she doesn't nip at him — not so much as a yelp; she doesn't even run away; She tolerates it.

While I am neck-deep in the Everything-Simeon-Does-Is-Cute Phase, I know it won't last forever. There will be times when Simeon will push any one of my many buttons, and keep pushing them, in fact. In those red button moments, I'll do my best to remember Mu Shu remaining non-anxious as Simeon mistook her tail for a teething ring.


Tradition is a gift

One of the most wonderful things about the holidays is that it is when so many traditions get started and cared for.

The best thing about being a new parent is the privilege of showing your child so many things (nearly everything) for the first time. I take nothing for granted. "Simeon this is a black key on the piano, and this is a metronome. This – it's a vinyl record of Stevie Wonder's best work, in my opinion, Songs in the Key of Life. This is an orchid, one of the most beautiful flowers and most difficult to keep alive. Oh, and it sits on a plant stand — that's what this is.

This season has given me opportunity to show Simeon his first snowfall, Christmas tree and Red Ryder BB gun. But, I'm most looking forward to Simeon seeing my parents sing O Holy Night for the first time.

I'm not sure when the tradition of my parent's singing O Holy Night on Christmas Day started, but I'm certain that it was my Grandpa Noel who got it going. He would request this song every year, without exception. I'm not even sure he knew what he was starting — which is a common attribute to the best traditions, in my opinion. This is the tradition that keeps my Grandpa Noel alive in my heart. It's what calls on me to remember everything else I loved about him. It inspires me to ask my Grandma to tell me, or retell me about him.

I'm grateful to share the O Holy Night tradition with Simeon 16 days from now, and it will likely mean something completely different to him, and me.


Traditions are for sharing. It's in this spirit that I've included video of what, for me, is a sacred tradition.

What is a favorite holiday tradition for you or your family? Please share.



Please, do yourself a favor and read this story from the Lexington Herald-Leader. The characters from Carlisle, Kentucky seem to have leaped straight out of an abandoned Coen Brothers script. If you're feeling engorged from this past weekend's festivities and too sloth-like to actually click the link and read the story, I'll paraphrase for you:
  • Frances Barton needed to move her trailer.
  • She hires a guy named "Pancake" 200 dollars to move her trailer — with a farm tractor.
  • The trailer breaks down on the Highway, blocking the road for several hours
  • Sheriff Dick Garrett gets involved and tries fruitlessly to move the single-wide off the road — at first.
  • A determined Garrett orders two farmers to tip Barton's trailer into the side ditch.
  • Barton's Trailer disintegrates.
  • Barton's family, "a mishmash of real kin and unofficially adopted kids, teens and young adults" along with a mess of pets are left with no home to spend Thanksgiving.
If you still haven't read the story, well, you're missing out on priceless tidbits like: The Sheriff's campaign slogan in 2006 was "More Dick." Seriously.

Before you go thinkin' that I'm a heartless jerk getting some sick pleasure from Frances' Thanksgiving from hell... the story has a happy ending. A billionaire heard her story and bought her a new house on wheels.

Contributing to my fascination with this story is that I have my own Carlisle, Kentucky story.

Carlisle, as my father-in-law says, is on the way to Nowhere. I disagree with him only slightly. For me, Carlisle was on the way (in an out-of-the-way kind of way) to Morehead, Kentucky where I was to visit Sarah in her home for the first time.

Sarah and I had been dating for a short while when it came time for one of the early important courtship steps — meeting her parents.

My parents' MR2 (it looked something like this) was my chosen and only method of transportation at the time. I affectionately knew that car as Mister Two.

My trip didn't take place before MapQuest, but it was before I had fully adopted its use into my traveling methodology. BMQ (Before MapQuest (I love me some acronyms)(...and parentheses)), I would rely on directions the old-fashioned way; someone would tell me how to get from here to over yonder. I preferred the landmark method. "Take a left at the Suds Car Wash and then a right after you pass the house with the yellow shutters" worked for me. There's a couple problems with this: 1) the landmark method is problematic in the dark (are those yellow or brown shutters?); 2) The person giving the landmark-based directions really needs to be a landmark person too.

I would be driving at night, and I'm pretty sure it was under a new moon. And, Sarah's Dad sure don't need no stinking landmarks to get from here to there. When he gave me directions, the macho in me couldn't bear to ask if there happened to be a Skyline Chili, or at least a uniquely shaped boulder, when I turn onto KY11. So, I took my notes, and off I went.

I was doing well, by my standards. I made it out of Anderson, down to 74, meandered around Cincinnati, to the Double A Highway. I drove past my first turn, but caught myself; I whipped a U-wee and made my turn at KY11; no harm done. Feeling good. On to KY 32...

Here's where the trip went from care-free to precarious. I was approaching an intersection where the postings said that whether I went left, right, or straight I would still be on 32. I knew didn't want to go west, which was a left turn. But, still I had two options. My left brain, which I use sparingly, told me, "Ryan, the opposite of west is east. West is left, east must be Right." So wrong.

The MR2 handled the midnight-dark serpentine road with aplomb. There were several curvy road signs, none quite as descriptive as the one to the left, but there should have been. For 45 minutes there was nothing but me and the 10 yard halo of the headlights. No landmarks, ner nuthin'. After those 45 minutes, hope beamed in the distance. Had I finally made it to Morehead? Nope. A Shell station, which that night resembled Grand Central.

As lost as I was feeling, a Shell station sighting was a welcome one. You see, BMQ was also BMP (Before Mobile Phone) for me. I might have been the last baby boomer's kid to get a cell phone.

Okay, I swear to you, there were 50 pickup trucks in that Shell station parking lot, every one of them Ford F150s; all were equipped with gigantic muddin' tires, naked lady silhouette mudflaps, gun rack, one of these, and I'm fairly certain a 12 point buck antler mounted on the grill. Mister Two could have fit comfortably in the bed of any one of the beasts. As intimidating as this V8 Convention was, the people in attendance were more frightening; after all, I could only assume they knew how to use the guns on those racks.

I parked in the only spot not occupied by an F150 — in the little gap between an actual parking space and the dumpster. I slinked over to the walkway that hugged the outside walls of the convenience store. Opposite the storefront was a lineup of gentlemen sitting on tailgates. I tried not to look in their direction, but I think I'm safe in saying they all were wearing sleeveless flannel shirts, Wrangler jeans, trucker caps and belt buckles the size of Mister Two's hubcaps.

I made it to the pay phone, conveniently positioned at center stage. I was one banjo string pluck away from running for my life. There was no banjo music, so I dropped my coins in and started dialing.

Sarah answered, "Hello, are you lost?" No sense in denying it. "Here's my Dad."

Sarah's Dad asked me where I was. I had no idea, so I said, "I have no idea."

He replied, "Well, can you ask someone?"

Apparently, he had never been to this Shell station. But the macho in me won again, "Okay."

I turned around and asked anyone that would listen, "where am I?"

Appearing completely put off, the guy directly in front of me slurred, "Caw-laawl." I turned back to the pay phone and told my future Father-In-Law, "The guy told me that I'm in Caw-laawl." I was pretty sure Caw-laawl was a level of Hell. Why didn't I pay more attention to Dante's Inferno in high school?

Sarah's Pop: "What?"

"He said, Caw-laawl."

"Can you ask him again?"

I found out that my macho definitely has limits. I told him that there was no way I was asking again. Thankfully, he had a map of Kentucky handy and perused the neighboring counties for a town that, with the proper Kentucky accent, might sound like "Caw-laawl."

"Carlisle!," he sounded. He went on to tell me exactly how to get from here to over yonder.

It's fitting that Sarah's Dad, now Simeon's Granddad, told me about the trailer debacle story in the Lexington Herald-Leader. After we were done laughing about that one, I got to tell my "Caw-laawl" story again as if neither of us had ever heard it. That's what makes a good personal story, isn't it?

My hope for Ms. Barton is that in the comfort of her new home, she'll be able to one day laugh about the Sheriff who ordered two farmers to tip her single-wide into a ditch and threatened to fine her for the mess he had just made.


Thanksgiving Breakfast

Simeon had heard all the hubbub about about Thanksgiving meal and had this to say: "My first Thanksgiving meal? It was like Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace — a lot of hype, but pretty bland. And, my Dad was fruitlessly trying to get me to smile the whole time — more annoying than funny — sorta like JarJar Binks. All in all, I'm just thankful my first Thanksgiving meal is over."


Take Mini Driver off my credits

Sarah has been lobbying for a larger vehicle — a crossover (clever marketing term to make me not feel environmental guilt for driving an SUV) more specifically — for some time.

"It's much more practical," she argued.

"When we have the baby, I will need something higher off the ground than the Camry," she would say.

The Toyota Camry that Sarah has been driving is getting up in years, so we have been proactive in saving for a new crossover. One problem, I thought it was a good idea to put our car savings in the stock market. Have you seen the stock market lately? That money turned from "car money" to Simeon's college savings faster than I could say "Wall Street Bailout."

"Well," I said, "we have more equity in my Mini, it probably makes more sense to sell my car to buy the new one. Then I'll drive the Camry and you can drive the new car." It was a moment of complete selflessness — or lunacy — I'm not sure which. Sarah wasted nary a nanosecond in taking me up on the offer.

I have driven a 2004 Mini Cooper named Pepé since, well, 2004. I loved that car. I loved that it's fuel efficient. I loved that I could parallel park where no other car would dare, unless it was lowered in by a helicopter. I loved when people would marvel at how a man of above average size, like myself, could fit comfortably inside. I loved the looks I would get when pulling up to the garden center at Lowe's and load massive amounts of soil, mulch and plants into the back. I understood their intrigue; It was like watching clowns pile in to a VW Beetle. And, I loved the styling and design that you just don't get in a Ford Taurus. To me, inside the cab is where form and function live happily ever after.

As you might have surmised from all the "-ed" suffixes in the paragraph above, I said "Adiós" to Pepé this weekend.

I spent most of the day on Sunday cleaning the Mini, and then the evening feeling sad about selling it. Since then, I've just felt bad about feeling sad. After all, it's just a car, a material thing, right?

Last night, I went to the garage to meet our new car. It's a 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe (I haven't given it a name yet, but I'm thinking Kimchi). I spent the first two minutes in the driver's seat playing with all the buttons and switces while trying to convince myself that this Santa Fe is not a gateway vehicle to a minivan.

Then, I imagined the three of us on road trips together, kayaks strapped to the roof, bike rack on the back, jogging stroller in the back, and well, I'm okay with not being a Mini driver.


Allow me to introduce myself

Emelia always has a big morning greeting waiting for me in the kitchen. That's just one of the reasons I love her.

She is one of many who Robert Mugabe has it out for, so she's here on political asylum from Zimbabwe. I have scarcely known someone so full of joy and energy. It's contagious. To top it off, she wears a beret. How charming is that?

Emelia also helps clean our house, which is why once a month she's in the kitchen to give me a big morning greeting. This morning was no different. Well, a little different.

In sync with my first step on the cold tile kitchen floor, Emelia turned and said, "Goooood Mohning, Baba Simeon!" I asked for her to repeat herself, which I often do; my ability to find the English language deep within her Zimbabwean accent is still a work in progress. "I said, good mohning Baba Simeon."

She went on to tell me that in Zimbabwe, when a person has a child or grandchild, you no longer use your first name. Baba means father. That makes me father of Simeon — Baba Simeon.

It's wonderful, a perfect reflection of how I feel nowadays. I have never felt so selfless in my life. I spent a good many years as Ryan Noel; Then, I spent a good many more learning to be Husband Sarah; Now, I have another name to grow into.

Hello, my name is Baba Simeon.


'Tis nesting season

You know those lazy cold weather days when you just want to put on your most comfortable lounging clothes, make a warm beverage of choice, curl up under a blanket with your beloved and watch a movie or four?

I wish every wintry day was like this.

Spooning on the couch, when combined with the elements mentioned above, is nice — and perfectly lazy. But spooning comes with a few impositions that stand in the way of complete relaxation:
  • My bottom arm always falls asleep.
  • What if I need to go to the bathroom, or get a refill of my warm beverage? I don't want Sarah to have to get up every time and then have to get the blankets situated all over again.
  • Sarah's hair sometimes gets in my nose - and that really tickles
  • I can't see Sarah's eyes to know if she's fallen asleep on me; She needs a friendly nudge on occasion.
I concede that these two problems aren't major, but there's no reason we can't do lazy better. Doing lazy better — this is what motivated me and Sarah to create The Nest.

It's simple:
  • Pick your spot. We find that nestled in next to the love seat and couch is best (the cushion-free furniture makes a nice spot to place snacks and beverages),
  • Pull all the cushions off of your couches, love seats, etc.
  • Arrange cushions neatly (pile extra cushions an pillows at the head)
  • Move an ottoman (makes a handy remote control holder) or other piece of furniture in so the only open side of the nest is at the foot (where the TV is)
  • Pile in loads of blankets
  • Press play
The term "nesting" often refers to expectant parents getting the house ready for the newest member of your family. Maybe that is why Sarah and I often dreamed of a time when our own kid(s) would join us in The Nest. Between Godfather films, we would talk about how fun it would be to Nest as a family; it could be a Noel tradition.

Well, we just had our first Nest-worthy days of the season this past weekend. So, while Sarah changed Simeon's diaper and put him into his cuddly blue fleecy sleep sack, I prepared The Nest and queued the movie — Sweeney Todd.

I know, Sweeney Todd is totally inappropriate for a child. But, I got to cover his eyes, like my mom would have done to me (and probably still would), every time ole Sweeney decided to slash an unsuspecting patron's throat — which was roughly every 47 seconds.

Even with Tim Burton's creepiest, Simeon knew what to do in The Nest: curl up with his beloved and relax.


Grow up? Nah.

I'm not sure I'll ever grow out of getting Dum-Dum lollipops from the bank, bubblegum toothpaste from the dental hygienist, plastic spider rings for 10 skee-ball tickets, or stickers for showing bravery when faced with a flu shot.


The quickest way to creepy

I spend every October growing a beard, such as it is. My beard isn't very full the way beards are supposed to be — not like my dad's beard. My dad's beard is so even and fine that my mom threatens divorce at the mere mention of him shaving. We'll never know whether she means it, because my dad loves her too much to risk finding out. He's had a beard for as long as I can remember, with one notable exception.

I was 3, maybe 4, when my mom and I came home from somewhere — probably a fabric store (My admittedly selective memory places me in a fabric store with my mom for about 72% of my formative years.) The bathroom door at the top of the stairs slammed shut in perfect time with my mom opening the front door. Half a beat later my mom cried, "Daaaaave! Did you shave your beard?!" That was the first and only time I've seen my dad sans facial fur.

My beard is partly a celebration of my favorite season, autumn, but mostly it is so I can have a mustache for Halloween. While scary is Halloween's calling card, I settle comfortably into creepy. My hypothesis is that the quickest way to creepy is to shave your beard down to a mustache. Below is my Halloween experiment (I call it: 1980s Disney Dad) that supports this hypothesis, and also supports my mother's position that my dad allow the razor to continue catching dust.



adjective (privy to) sharing in the knowledge of (something secret).
noun (pl. privies) a toilet in a small shed outside a house.


This past August I went for my annual pilgrimage to Somewhere, Kentucky, with some of my best friends on the planet (I wrote about the impending trip here.) What I did not mention was the amount of food consumed over a course of 3 days (snack cakes, trail mix, hobo pies, oh my). And what I don't need to mention is that food, once eaten, has to go somewhere; and that somewhere is the bottom of a ditch with a cathedral and throne straddling it.

After a day or more of eating our weight in campfire fried potatoes and downing a few cups of french-pressed coffee we were collectively, well, creating something.

I liked it. I was proud of it. I did what I could to make sure I wasn't going to be like the jerk that yanks the Jenga® peg out carelessly and makes the tower collapse. Carefully, I would adjust my position so I might leave our creation taller, stronger, than I found it. During this adjustment period, I noticed I wasn't the only one in awe of this work in progress.

A giant mosquito! It was like one of those mosquitoes you'd see along the Amazon. (Okay, I've never been to the Amazon and am not altogether sure they have giant mosquitos. But, it's a good bet. Let's just say the Amazon has mammoth mosquitos so I can finish my story.) Where was I? Oh yeah — A giant mosquito!

You won't believe this, but that little bugger wasn't even flapping his wings. He was just hovering on the updraft like a pterodactyl on the coastline. It's true.

While I was impressed by his gliding acumen, I've never liked mosquitoes, for all the obvious reasons. And I certainly wasn't going to risk him biting me in the only spots I've managed to keep mosquito-bite free my entire life. In that moment I thought, "Ryan, how cool would it be to make a meaningful addition to the tower and give this mosquito a proper burial." What's that old saying? Oh yeah. That would be like killing two mosquitoes with one bomb.

I made one final adjustment. Bombs away!



I'm really sorry about the puns. I'm a dad, though. It's my right.


Smiling through tears

My friend, Rod, said to me, "when you're expecting a child, people warn you about the wrong things." I agree. 

Don't get me wrong, people generally have good intentions when it comes to helping you prepare for parenthood. But, what they're usually preparing you for is lack of sleep, hundreds of dirty diapers, whether to pacify or not, etc.

What people should warn expectant parents about is the inexplicably large love you'll have for that child, and the reward and challenge that come courtesy of this love. 

In the moment Simeon was passed from Dr. Hurry to Sarah, I could instantly see the power I had as a child to bring unspeakable joy and heartbreak to my parents. Suddenly, the familiar parental refrain, "when you're a parent, you'll understand...,"  didn't seem so trite. This week has been illuminating in that regard. 

When I get emotional, my cheeks tighten up, like I've got Gobstoppers stuffed between my upper gums and cheek bones. I feel like I've had a mouth full of Gobstoppers since Tuesday. 

Tuesday was Sarah's first day back to work, which coincides (not coincidentally) to Simeon's first day of daycare. I knew the day was coming, but I didn't know what was coming. I didn't know how difficult it would be to turn over the child, whom we've been life and love support for three solid months, to strangers. Sarah says they're really sweet strangers, but still — strangers.

The emotions inherent to this event have tested me and the civility of our marriage for a couple of days. It has not been easy. In the midst of such tumult, it's difficult to understand how a coo or a half-smile can light me up, but it does.

This morning, on the heels of a very difficult week, Simeon beamed as I changed his diaper. It was a great gift he gave me. He showed me that I can still smile — even with a mouth full of Gobstoppers.


Stories beget stories

I have spent two of the past four weekends at storytelling festivals. First, was the Cave Run Storytelling Festival, then came the Hoosier Storytelling Festival. Describing a storytelling festival, for some reason, is every bit as difficult to describe as getting someone to understand what I do for a living (my friends say, "... so you sit around and draw pictures all day?" My reply is, "close enough.") But, I'll do my best.

A storytelling festival — think big tent revival. There's a big tent plus a revival of our almost lost oral tradition.

In most cases, skilled speakers and writers tell tales, some tall, some true, some mostly true, some folksy, some familial, some historical, all to an audience ready to listen and imagine. But, my favorite thing about a storytelling festival is that it almost always blows the dust off of stories of my own that I have nearly forgotten.

A couple weeks back, at Cave Run,  Bil Lepp was telling tales. Lepp, a teller of tall tales, explained that male fascination with how far he can pee is the real reason for hunting from a tree stand. If you put your tree stand 80 feet in the air, guess what — you can pee 80 feet! Well, I have no interest in hunting, but Bil's point prompted me to check eBay for the cheapest tree stand that could still support my 210 pounds plus a gallon jug of drinking water or two.

I've long thought that urination is a competitive sport waiting to happen (so has my friend Art, who made this great TV spot).

As a kindergartner, I remember lining up with my friends Stephen and Darryl Mangus at the urinal and carefully backing away as far as we could until our stream began to weaken; then we'd just as carefully, but more urgently, move back toward the urinal. We tried really hard not to make a complete mess. As you might have guessed the boy who peed furthest won bragging rights until the next Piss Off.

Our game wasn't called a Piss Off at the time, my mom wouldn't let me say "piss off", although that's exactly what our game did to the janitor.*

*I'd like to use this footnote to apologize to the janitor at King's Academy, Oklahoma City, 1981.


The first SPAM-ME Awards

I have spent most of my e-mailing existence getting frustrated with the amount of spam I receive. As a member of the advertising community, I know that most ads are directed at a particular demographic or target audience. So hypothetically, if you're a male enhancement company, it would be in your company's interest to target your communications to men with small ... well, you can see why spam irritates me.

I've spent far too much time being irritated by spam, so I'm embracing it. I want to make spam better. I've decided to start the SPAM-ME Awards, which celebrate the best email subject lines that get captured by my spam filter.

My goal in creating this award is that it will encourage creativity in spam writers who too often rely on disgusting and overt subject lines like, "Get a ma$$ive **** to pleaze all naked Russians of the Univers3." I mean, Simeon is, like, 12 months away from his first e-mail account. I don't want him subjected to this smut. Be more discreet, creative, and grammatically correct, Mr. and Ms. Spamwriter. You can do better than that.

So, let's find out who our lucky SPAM-ME award winners are (please hold your applause and boos until the end of the awards ceremony):

The "Could Be For The Do-it Yourself Pumpkin Farmer" SPAM-ME goes to:
Grow fat ones yourself

The "Maybe It's An Omaha Steaks Promo" SPAM-ME goes to:
More meat is never excessive

The SPAM-ME in the "Anatomical Public Service" category goes to:
Penile Health Publication

The "Entrepreneurial Amish" SPAM-ME goes to:
Horses for loan

The "Bob the Builder" SPAM-ME goes to:
Give your new tool some practice

The "Luis Vuitton" SPAM-ME goes to:
Surprise her with the nicest bag in town

{I just want to reiterate, all of the winners were subject lines of emails I actually received}


Nolte + X = Busey

It occurred to me the other day, that there are only two degrees of separation between Nick Nolte and Gary Busey. You can take a dash of Nolte, add a smidge of just about anything, and you get Busey. Allow me to illustrate my point.

First, let's get our Nolte, stir in a little cocaine – voila! A-busey!

You need more evidence? Okay. Happy to oblige. This time, let's take a Mugshot Nolte, throw in some Mr. Ed...

Woah, buddy! Gotta keep the reins tight on this Busey.

You're starting to come around, I think. But, you need a bit more convincing. Let's try one more experiment.

Okay, this time we're going for the standard Nolte (I love the versatility of this Nolte), add a litte MJ — Ow! I think Billy Jean was Busey's lover. It's easy to see how "the girl" might have mistaken Michael Jackson for his father. I was skeptical before I saw this Busey, but I guess the kid wasn't Michael's son.


Emotional muscles in their infancy

So, you've been jogging consistently, lifting some weights and riding your bike on occasion. You're in pretty good shape, right? Well, you decide to play basketball with kids 15 years your junior and the next day your body feels ravaged. Muscles ache in places you didn't even realize you had muscles. You're sore because you're using under-utilized muscles. The great thing is, that your muscles (the ones you didn't know you had) are breaking down, but when they rebuild they're stronger. 

Yesterday, Sarah called me in tears. She was at the doctor's office with Simeon, and he had just received his first round of vaccinations and I could hear him crying in the background. Meetings be damned, I wanted to drive to him and comfort him. But I couldn't. I've progressed (I think I can call it that) in my career to the point where I have real responsibilities. But these responsibilities felt very flimsy in the moment. I gutted out the rest of the day, and drove home as quickly as possible. I needed to hold him.

When I arrived, he was clearly not himself. He had a rough day; you could see it all over his face. The timbre of his cry was one I hope to never hear again. After thirty minutes of crying, Simeon fell asleep. 

He was exhausted, and I was wrung out. 

Sat down for dinner, and started to cry.

Walked by his room, started to cry.

Laid on the couch, started to cry.

I asked myself, "What's become of me?" Even that made me cry.

The only thing I can figure is that I've had some emotional muscles that haven't seen much (or any) work and have become atrophied.  I suspect that these emotional muscles really only see work once you become a parent. This theory makes me feel slightly better about being a blubbering idiot, at least.

I was discouraged that these emotional muscles felt so weak. Dads are supposed strong and stable family presence, right? That's how my dad seemed when I was growing up, anyway. 

However, upon reflection, I'm actually encouraged to know that I have the muscles to begin with; and, Lord willin', after the soreness subsides they'll rebuild and become stronger.


Saturdays with Simeon

Saturday is a good day for very well established reasons, so I need not explain them. But, Saturday's have just gotten better for me. You see, Sarah has asked if she can go out on Saturday mornings to work out and maybe have breakfast with a friend or two. That, of course, leaves me and Simeon at home, just the two of us.

I may have a difficult time telling you why it was so wonderful, as most of the joys of fatherhood seem very slippery when it comes to writing about them. So, I'll run down our first Saturday morning’s activities, and maybe we can discover what made it so great, together.
  • Simeon woke me up gently. Not a cry so much, but a whimper as if to say, “Dad, I’m awake now. Let’s hang out.”
  • I held him in front of me and asked him what he was going to have for breakfast, and told him what I was going to have in my best British accent (which mysteriously transitioned into a New Zealand accent) — this coaxed many smiles out of him. One smile alone is enough to make my day.
  • He let me eat my breakfast before he started licking his lips.
  • I fed him and he looked curiously at me the entire time. He burped well, so no stomach ache.
  • I changed his cloth diaper, which makes him bear a striking resemblance to a Sumo wrestler. He stared the ink drawing of a monkey (Sarah's named him Moe) I put next to his changing table.
  • Saturday is college football day, so I put him in an IU shirt that our friend John Garrison gave him.
  • I laid on the floor with him in his little play gym. We played with the dangling rattles and such.
  • I noticed how his neck is getting quite strong, so I ran to get his Bumbo (its a little baby chair that allows babies to sit upright)
  • Sarah came home and told me you’re not supposed to put babies his age in Bumbos yet. Simeon begged to differ.
  • We took him to a focus group about my friend’s baby food enterprise. In the middle of my contribution, Simeon poo’d in the most indiscreet way, and looked darned pleased doing it.
  • We took him to the library and the grocery
  • He slept the rest of the day
Nothing extraordinary. I just seem to find new ways and reasons to love Simeon everyday — especially Saturdays.


Tom Bodett – He's no George Lopez

Tom Bodett is a real guy.

Through the 80s and 90s I'd always figured that Tom Bodett was a figment of some ad guy's imagination. I'm not altogether sure how, in all my NPR listening, I was lost on the fact that Tom Bodett is a man who lives in Vermont, United States of America, and Alaska before that.  

I've always liked Tom Bodett, the character. As a child, my family sought out Motel 6s (preferably with a pool) like they were Mexican restaurants (my parents are like blood hounds when it comes to sniffing out the nearest mexican restaurant), I always felt a kinship with him. He was just so likable as the "we'll leave the light on for ya" guy, that it made me feel better about staying in a place where the bed spread felt like sleeping with a curtain. 

I found out about Tom Bodett's double-life from a friend, Colin, whom I had only talked to for the first few months of having "known" him.  After we met in person, we were discussing how we had one another pictured based on only knowing one another over email and phone conversations. Colin mentioned that he thought I sounded like Tom Bodett on the phone. I can see how he got that; I do have a very deliberate delivery. Colin also mentioned that Tom Bodett (I can't seem to type only "Tom" or "Bodett" – always "Tom Bodett") has a blog. He might as well have told me that Max Headroom runs a breakdancing clinic in Des Moines.

I was all like, "Woah, woah, woah, Tom Bodett is real?" He was all like, "yeah, and a talented writer, too."

I had to check it out. To my everlasting delight, Tom Bodett's writing and podcasts are completely consistent with the Motel 6 character I've grown to love. He does humor that makes you smile, not belly laugh. I like that.  

I would like to think that Tom Bodett is different than other characters who are based on themselves. For instance, I suspect that when Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and George Lopez (I've never actually watched the George Lopez Show – not that I'm admitting to, anyway) play "themselves," they're actually playing a caricature of themselves, or someone who shares their name; I don't think that's a stretch. 

It is conceivable that Tom Bodett has created a public character that he maintains through various media, that he's giving people, like me, what they want; but, I don't want to believe that. I choose not to. 

I choose to believe that Tom Bodett, if given the chance, will leave the light on for me.



Sundays in the Noel household are a day of rest. Part of our weekly rest exercise is that we don't cook – without a microwave anyway. This means that Sunday is, as Sarah puts it, "clean out the refrigerator hodge podge meal day (COTRHPMD)". COTRHPMD is just as it sounds. All of the food we've accumulated in the previous week(s) or month(s) gets pulled out of the ice box (I'd like to make a motion to re-popularize the word "ice box" in place of refrigerator), and spread out on the counter. You are free to either eat a random collection of foods, or do as Sarah often does, combine different food items into a new never-thought-of-before-and-for-good-reason dish.

We moved COTRHPMD to monday this week because of the long Labour (can we also start putting the "u" back in Labor) Day weekend. We figured that if protestants can move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday we should have no trouble moving our own faintly sacred tradition. 

So here's what was on the menu yesterday:

For Ryan:
  • A 4-day old frankfurter with ketchup, whole grain mustard and sauerkraut
  • A ham submarine sandwich donated by our dog-sitter when we went to pick up our dog, Mu Shu. (I'm not sure why she gave it to us. Maybe she's like my great grandmother who would always insist you take a biscuit before you left the house.)
  • A salad with all the veggies that are a day or two from being unfit to eat.
For Sarah:
  • Gnocchi (a dumpling-like potato pasta) that Sarah made longer ago than I can remember, and has been frozen since then.
  • Vegetarian breakfast sausage links — she mixed these into her Gnocchi. The thought of this still makes me gag a little bit.
  • A salad (see salad description above)
For Simeon:
  • We defrozeified some old breast milk just so he wouldn't feel left out.
Oh, and it wouldn't be a real COTHRPMD if after dinner Sarah didn't say, "Ryan, why do you always have your hands down your pants?"


Pride (In the name of Marcus)

I'm so proud. I can hardly stand it.

Sunday, August 24th (one month and one day after Simeon's birthday) my sister gave birth to Marcus Kai Williams. On that day, I found out that there is such thing as love at no sight. I haven't met Marcus, won't meet him until Christmas, but gosh, I love that little boy.

I can't type anymore and expect to keep my eyes dry. So, I'm just gonna stop. But not before I say — I couldn't be more proud.


Two kinds of people

"There's two kinds of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him."
– Bob (Bill Murray) explained to Dr. Marvin why his marriage ended in divorce (I just realized that I've referenced What About Bob? twice in my blog's relatively short existence)
I was at an Indianapolis Indians game this past week with a friend and he came seat-hopping down to our spot on the first base line with a beer and tray of nachos in hand. We discovered that we have a shared passion for nachos. 

I said, "have you had the nachos at Old Point Tavern?" 

"Funny you mention it," he went on, "there's two philosophies on how to make nachos." 

My interest was piqued, because he's a chef n'all. "How so?," I hadn't ever given nachos that much thought, I guess. 

He told me that you can make nachos piled "high and deep" (<-- also a What About Bob reference), like they do at Old Point Tavern, or you can spread the chips out flat on a giant plate with cheese spread evenly on top. He explained that the second nacho execution produces a perfect nacho bite – each and every bite. While the "high and deep" method makes quite the visual impression, you're left with "dry" areas deep in the nacho pile.

My wife has often preached the virtues of the "perfect bite." You should watch Sarah eat. She measures and assembles each bite to maximize flavor potential. So, I don't even need to ask which side of the nacho divide Sarah has planted herself. 

She's a proud member of the "out flat" camp.

I had to give it some thought. I'm a visual guy, so the "high and deep" pile is appealing. I can remember being mildly concerned with what I'd do with those dry extra chips at the end, but it had never bothered me that much. But, I could definitely see my friend's point on the "out flat" style. He made a very good case.

I was torn.

In the end, I decided I'm not going to be like Bob and risk my marriage to Sarah just to be a "high and deep person." 

I'm "out flat" and proud.


Taste is a fickle thing

I'm the biggest sucker for list and countdown shows. I must be the prototype for VH1's target market. Man, I can't feel more uncool. When did I stop being in MTV's target market and start being part of VH1's?

The last couple of days I've been kicking around in my head some things that I used to not like, even hate, but now I can't get enough of. So, here it goes:
  • Jalapeño peppers – maybe it's just taken me awhile to get over my mom squirting me in the eye with jalapeño juice. (it was an accident, so no need to call Social Services)
  • NPR – I'm not exactly sure when I started caring what was going on in the World, but I do now
  • Running long distances
  • Mushrooms – Shitake, Portobella, Morel — I like them all
  • Eggplant – If you don't think you like it, you haven't had it fried
  • Reading novels – also sitting still long enough to read on the beach
  • Strong coffee – no, very strong coffee
  • Adam Vinatieri
  • Cole Slaw
  • David Bowie – he scared me to death in Labrynth as a kid, but now I love him for his music
  • Sauerkraut
  • Taking a nap – I used to resent being made to take a nap, and my parents for always having to nap on Sunday afternoons.
  • Sushi – admittedly, my first exposure to sushi was at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, so there was no chance for me to like it
  • Tofu 
  • Small dogs – our Shih Tzu, Mu Shu has won me over
What people, place or things did you detest that you now love?


Fishin' and spittin' – something to look forward to

In about a week's time, I will be making my annual trip to Lewis Lake, Somewhere, Kentucky, with some of my best friends. 

Sarah's extended family has created this retreat in the most bucolic (<-- that one's for you Colin) setting one can imagine. Some of the features and amenities that have me aching to get there are:
  • A 1 mile road that passes through a tobacco field (where it's not uncommon to see a wild turkey or two), through a creek bed and requires a truck or SUV to navigate
  • A cabin – a cinder block structure, really) 
  • An aluminum boat – complete with a couple wooden oars to navigate the pond for fishing or frog giggin'
  • Frog gigs
  • A window A/C unit that sounds like a Boeing 747
  • A big screen TV that is good for little more than holding your fishing lures and loose change
  • A luxury outhouse – also serves as a booby trap for locking unsuspecting pooper in with their own stink
  • Corn hole boards – maybe the most essential amenity for our reunion
  • A deep fryer – in case we feel so compelled to fry up some of the day's catch
  • My friend Cliff brings a hammock – I have every intention to read a book while in that hammock, but the hammock is a natural sedative. I think I read 8 words total last year.
  • Two queen sized beds – have I mentioned there are 6 guys going?
That's a lot to look forward to.


Breakfast with Simeon

I sat down at the Noel dairy bar for a day-starting meal – me over some Trader's Point Creamery yogurt and Indiana blueberries, Simeon over Sarah's left breast. To my amazement and surprise, Simeon detached to say, "You know Dad (that's what he calls me), I've had a pretty great first 2.5 weeks of life."

"Yeah, Son? Well, we've sure enjoyed having you around. What's made your first 2.5 weeks so great?," I replied.

The rest of our conversation follows:

Simeon: The hospital was cool, 'cause all these people I didn't know yet, but recognized their voices, came to hang out with us. Some even drove great distances to make me feel welcome. Not only that, but those same people brought gifts, lots of gifts. I especially liked the cookie bouquet that Auntie Jill sent. I'd always heard from you what a magical combo milk and cookies are. But, nothing could prepare me for when mom had one of those sugar cookies, and it filtered to her milk – Yum!  I could eat, like, 5 ounces of milk and cookies if you let me. 

Burp! Excuse me, Mom had cabbage last night.

Anyway, when we got home I was afraid I'd get bored since I had to stay home and allow my immune system to build up for a few days. Bored? Not at all. It was Shark Week! It's never too early for Great White exposure, as far as I'm concerned.

On my sixth day, we went for a walk on the Monon for the first time with Mom, and she let me eat in public for the first time.

Ryan: Yeah, that was my last day of Paternity leave. I thought about how much fun it would be coming home from work to see you and Mom together, but how sad I'd be to leave you in the morning.

Simeon: I was sad to see you leave too. But, Mom has kept me busy so I wouldn't think too much about you leaving.

Ryan: Yeah, I guess your first couple of weeks have been pretty eventful ...

Simeon: Oh, I wasn't finished. I've seen more animals than one can imagine. I went to the Trader's Point Creamery and saw some dairy cows... 

Ryan: Yeah, remember when I told your mom that as productive as she's been, she could earn some extra money up at the Creamery?

Sarah: That's still not funny, Ryan. Stop laughing, Simeon.

Simeon: Anyway, I've been to the Zoo twice. Count 'em – ONE, (he uses his middle finger he doesn't know what it means yet) TWO (he held up 4 fingers – motor skills aren't finely tuned yet). I went to the fair and saw some more animals, some were in cages and others were eating fried Twinkies. I saw the World's Largest Boar who also happened to have the World's Largest Boar Testicles.

Ryan: That's hilarious, you noticed his testicles?

Simeon: How could I not? They were the world's largest.

Ryan: It seems like you've been living pretty large, little man.

Simeon: *rolls his eyes and gets back to his breakfast*


I love poo. Poo loves me. We're a happy family.

It has been over a year and a half since my last poo blog. That is a travesty, if you ask me. I understand that you haven't asked for it, but I just can't resist putting together consonants and vowels to chat about bowels. So, back by unpopular demand ...

Sarah and I went to a class to prepare ourselves for the rigors and joys (more rigors, really) of parenting a newborn. In truth, the only thing I remember about that class was a laminated letter-sized card of poo, a Periodic Poo Table. I was equal parts horrified and intrigued. The chart had pictures, yes pictures, of every stage of poo for the first weeks of life for the newborn. Like Mexican food, it's nearly impossible for poo to look good in a photograph. 

There was only one copy of the Poo Table, so each person got to take gander at the poo gammut, and then pass it on to their neighbor saying, "Take a look at the poo on row 2," or "I found where they compared the size of the poo to a quarter especially helpful," in an attempt to stem the awkwardness.

Currently, I think we're in the honeymoon poo period with Simeon. Thanks to the breast milk he gulps, his poo is virtually odorless. I'm amazed that in spite of eating the exact same thing day in and day out, his poo has evolved.

First, it looked like Bovril®, but with a slightly green tint.

Then it transitioned to looking exactly like whole-grain mustard.

And as of yesterday, I was most surprised at how it so strikingly looked like arugula pesto!

I propose that newborn classes use images of Bovril, whole grain mustard and arugula pesto to prepare parents for poo. It's much more photogenic, and people may actually be able to eat dinner after the class.

Thus concludes the first leg of Simeon's tour de poo. I'll keep you updated, whether you like it or not.


Peace, Love and Understanding

I've been mucking about, trying to encapsulate in words what it is like to have a newborn son. I have met limited, no, zero success. 

Is sleep deprivation to blame? Preoccupation with poop? Or is the experience just too darned cool for words?

Last Friday, our first evening home, my parents came by. (I actually think they sleep in the car outside our house, with cell phone in hand, waiting for an invitation to come see their grandson.) My dad was holding Simeon close to his chest. I nestled close to them to combine my gaze with my dad's. 

We just stared.

Slightly above a whisper I said, "I could just stare at him for days. My heart is so full of love." Dad responded, "You understand now, don't you?"

In that moment, immersed in a cornucopia of emotions, yearnings and compulsions, my dad put it in a way that I just couldn't. He helped me realize that I don't need to explain the unexplainable. But, with a newborn child comes an understanding that needs no explanation.

I understand.


I'm still sorta speechless.

Simeon does all his talking with calisthenics. I like that about him.

Good Morning, Son.

Simeon's stats:
DOB: 07.23/2008
TOB: 11:52 am
8 lbs 2 oz
20 inches


Words Fail

4:56 a.m.
"Ryan! Wake up!" I sit straight up and look around the room for an intruder. "I think my water broke!," Sarah exclaimed. She wasn't lying. There was a pool of evidence right there on her side of the bed.


The car ride – 6:00 a.m.
Sarah's contractions have started in earnest. I don't know what I was thinking. Every time she began a contraction, I wanted to chat. That is when Sarah made the first of two rules – so far.

1. Do not ask me questions.
2. Do not tell jokes – I guess laughing makes contractions hurt extra bad
3. I'm still waiting for the third rule.


Hospital arrival – 6:30

I dropped Sarah off at the door with the bags, and a nice lady asks, "Are you okay, miss?"

"Oh, I'm just having a baby," Sarah replied calmly.

I swear, she's Wonder Woman.


We're in our room now.

It's so strange to me that you ask a woman in labor to do a bunch of admission and insurance paperwork. I suppose it has to be done.

We're playing some music from the birthing playlist. Among those on the list, "Between My Legs" by Rufus Wainwright and "Here Comes The Sun" by George Harrison.


A friend of mine texts me, "Go Horny (The Noel Boy's in utero name), it's your birthday." I show complete lack of judgement by reciting this to Sarah mid-contraction. Dammit, I already forgot rule number 2.


Sarah quickly squashed the music with lyrics. There goes my dream of the head coming out to the sounds of "Here Comes The Sun (Son)".


Sarah is a superstar! She's endured most of her contractions while sitting on a birthing ball and digging finger nail marks into a wooden chair arm.


She's moved to the bed, laying on her side and focused intently on a photo of Charley Young Beach in Maui, where we were married. I've never seen her so focused.

By the way, our doula, Brielle has been a total Godsend. I'm good at the motivational speeches, not so good with the breathing part. I lack focus!


11:15 a.m.
Doctor Hurry is in the house. Sarah's getting ready to push!


I've never seen Sarah like this. I'm turning white and tearing up, not because of witnessing birth, but seeing Sarah in so much pain (no epidural).


Dr. Hurry is doing an amazing job. She said to Sarah, "You were made to birth babies, it just took us a while to get you pregnant." I think Sarah tried to laugh, but this is serious business.


Dr. Hurry apologizes to Sarah for blocking her view of the mirror that shows the birth site, Sarah amidst furious pushing says sweetly, "oh, that's okay."

11:52 a.m.
40 minutes of pushing, and less than seven hours after Sarah's water broke, baby Simeon David Noel arrived. He wailed as soon as he came out, as did Sarah and I.

Words fail.


I'm quite happy with high gas prices

I've been riding my bicycle more often recently. I like it because I think you get to see the world at just the right speed.

Riding in a car is too fast for me. There is a reason they (the advertising gods, I presume) say to only put seven words on a billboard – because it's hard for anyone to process any more than that. If one can't take in more than seven words, think of all the nuance in our surroundings that are missed while riding in a car.

I run as well, or jog, rather. This is a good speed to see the world as well, except that by the first mile or so, I'm too fixated on one of a few things. I may be trying to keep a particular time, in which case, I stare the screen of my Nike+ iPod and watch my pace fluctuate from 8:07 to 7:53. Or, I may be so tired and/or out of breath that I only focus on the next landmark and hope just to get there; or maybe I'm staring at my feet, making sure I continue to put one in front of the other.

Walking is a good option, too. But, if you're a little A.D.D. like me, it's nice to get more frequent changes in scenery.

Biking, though, is just the right speed. I've gotten to witness everything from a zoo keeper walking an elephant to a man urinating on the side of a building from my moderately comfortable bicycle seat (it doesn't supply the unmatched comfort of the banana seat, to be sure). Riding a bike truly is one of life's simple pleasures.

In summer's past I've chosen to ride my bike to work on Fridays. But, with a little nudge from escalating gas prices, I decided to make a more concerted effort to ride my bike to work every day possible. It's proven quite doable.

I ride to work an average of 4 days a week. I calculated that for every third day of riding my bike to work, I conserve 1 gallon of gas. I've also decided that my twice-weekly trips to the library will be made on my bike. I've saved nearly a tank of gas in last couple of months (any ideas of how I can spend my 50 dollars in savings – diapers excluded).

Saving gas and emissions pale in comparison to the satisfaction I get from starting and ending my work day on the saddle.

The beating we've all taken from the price of petrol seems to have made drivers more tolerant of people on bikes. People often wave me on, or just wave (they waved last summer too, but only with their middle finger). A man just last week stopped and held the door for me as I maneuvered my bike into my office building. How nice.

My co-workers haven't even made fun of my tight biker shorts. Recently.

If you know me, you probably know that I'm not a morning person. I normally don't often utter my first coherent word until about 9:30 a.m. In fact, on my last performance review, it was written, "Can be a bit grumpy before he gets coffee." I can't argue the point. But, since I've been riding to work I've felt noticeably more chipper upon arrival.

It's gotten me to thinkin'. These high gas prices have actually made my quality of life better, my world smaller – and, fingers crossed, my annual performance review more positive. An opportunity was created by high gas prices, and I pedaled right in without even knowing it.

All this has left me wondering – what other opportunities have I missed because I had my foot on the gas and not on the pedals?


Emoticon Invasion

I was doing some work this morning – and today that was brainstorming some newsletter names for a power company. I was doing my best stream of consciousness act, when I wrote the words "Light Up."

Initially, I thought, "that's kinda cool," until the humor in it hit me. I smiled to myself, and without thinking, it happened. I handwrote this –> :). I had every opportunity to make a normal smiley face, but it just happened. Sideways Smiley! The conventions of email speak have finally taken me over. 

Anyone else have similar stories of uninvited digital elements finding their way into your analog lives?


Robot Love

I have a swelling interest in robots, that has crested in the purchase of a little tin robot (I used by unborn son as an excuse for buying it) from Mass Ave. Toys on, you know, Mass Ave. A friend pointed out that my robot is made in China and is likely lead-infested, but that will not dissuade me from loving it. If anything, it shows my dedication to the little tin box.

I'm not interested in the kind of robots to do something like mow your lawn or bring you a glass of orange juice in the morning. They're too useful for my taste. 

My robot has integrity. He looks like tin, and guess what? He is tin. He looks like his insides are a series of cheap interlocking gears and coils. Sure enough, that's what's inside. I don't expect anything more from it. My robot rolls across my dining room table at an exceeding slow pace, has wheels for arms, and that's all I want out of a robot.

I've always loved watching people do the "Robot," and doing the "Robot" myself. It is the dance to save all of us who can't dance from dance floor embarrassment. One can't help but smile and be smiled at when Robot-ing

Most of all, I love when people impersonate robots. You know why? It's because everybody does it the same. Stiff arms bent at the elbow. Fingers straight out and together. Rigid legs. And, inevitably the words "I am a ro-bot" pass from their lips – in their best monotone voice.

Do me and yourself a favor, stand up wherever you are, and no matter who may be watching and say "I am a ro-bot" while assuming the familiar robot posture. 

That's better. It's about time we give robots who do nothing their due.


What's Happened To Me?

Many things happen to you when you discover that you're having a child. There is no question that Sarah is experiencing more significant physiological and emotional changes than I can possible imagine, but I swear I've experienced some physiological change as well. My chemistry is altered.

Almost immediately following the ultrasound where we first saw a beating heart, I became much more emotional than I ever had been previously. It seemed that any movie with the slightest hint of drama would send me into a funk for a few hours after having watched it. The strained relationship between Dr. Marvin and his son in What About Bob? was more than this heart could handle.

Another thing that happened — I got comfortable around kids, even good with them. I went from wanting to be good with kids, but never quite feeling natural about it, to feeling so natural that it is hard to remember what it was like before.

One more thing I've noticed (not so much a change in chemistry or physiology), is that getting ready to have a child of my own has made me think a lot more about my own childhood. I think this is born out of a desire to visualise (<-- blatant British spelling for effect) what my own son will be like. I mentioned this to my mom. Her reply, "Did you have a good childho--," cutting herself off, "--don't tell me if it was bad." 

This is a precarious position she put me in. Here's the thing about my mom. She is always teetering on the edge of tears. If you say something that hurts her feelings, she will cry. If you say something that will make her proud, she'll cry. If you make her happy, she'll cry. For a guy who is openly uncomfortable when others cry, well, like I said  it was a precarious position.

I'd already been thinking about my childhood, so I thought I'd make a list of memories (some good and some bad), that all come together to form a darned good childhood, all told. It's a win-win, I can tell my Mom that I had a great childhood, and I don't have to get that awkward feeling inside when someone cries. So here's a representative sample: 
  • Dad mowing the lawn with an orange electric mower, and jumping up to scare me at every pass by the kitchen window
  • Eating yogurt and watching Jesus movies around Easter time
  • Mom and I listening to the radio in the kitchen the day Keith Green died. I think I learned about death that day
  • Getting a TAB® from the church pop machine (the kind you pulled bottles out of, with that metal clanking sound)
  • Mom bringing home "surprises" – namely the G.I. Joe sleeping bag
  • Dad making me say "I will shut the door" 100 times, when I left the back door open
  • Mom saving me from a paddling at school for breaking a window
  • Walks in the evening that ended with an episode of Gunsmoke on the TV Set
  • Getting up early to play Pong before I had to go to school
  • Mom and Dad delaying our move from Oklahoma City a couple times so that I could be with my friends a little bit longer
  • Road trips in our Nissan Sentra
  • Waking up for naps in time for Days of Our Lives to end and Sesame Street and Electric Company to begin
  • Little League games, the concession stand afterwards (and if that wasn't enough sugar), Ice Cream with the whole family
  • Getting up early on Saturdays to get my allowance
  • Hiding in closets until my parents got justifiably worried
  • Late night tennis under the lights
  • Trips to TG&Y where mom let me get a Golden Book and/or a Star Wars action figure
  • Saturday breakfast with my dad
  • When traveling, planning our stops based on where the Hardees was for breakfast, or a Mexican restaurant was at any other time of  day
  • Getting home late at night and learning Great Grandpa Noel had died
  • Dad telling me it is okay to quit playing football
  • Being mad at my Mom and Grandma for watching People's Court – All the time!
  • Playing dodge ball at recess
  • My Grandma's arm getting pooped on by a Hippo at the Oklahoma City Zoo
  • Jill coming home for the first time
  • Grandma and Grandpa buying the first microwave I'd ever seen from Montgomery Ward
  • Having jar after jar of every kind of creepy crawly organism known to man in the house
  • Mom rubbing my head and ears when I didn't deserve it
Well, that didn't exactly work out how I thought. I'm beginning to tear up. I should have listened to my own second paragraph. 

I'm beginning to understand how you feel, Mom.


Assuming someone's reading this, I'd love to hear some of your favorite or least favorite childhood memories. So please, chime in.


Showering In A New Dimension

You may or may not know that Sarah and I are expecting a son any day now. I'm officially on call. I'm delighted to be on call. I'm even more delighted that my sister, Jill and her husband Jeremy, are expecting a boy about six weeks after our son is expected to join us in the flesh. 

What this means is that this Christmas, our sons will meet for the first time, and our collective family will never be the same. I see that as a very bless-ed thing. 

You see, I have a wild imagination, but I don't think it's wild enough to imagine how our family life will change. It certainly wasn't wild enough to imagine having a baby shower moderated by a combined three Mac laptops and the wonder of iChat video. But, that is exactly what happened on Sunday, July 14, and I wasn't sure how to feel about such a technological "advancement", at first.

I try to not frequent baby showers, but this one very much resembled every other shower I've been to. The table in our house was sprinkled with baby-related confetti (storks, I think), and topped with finger foods and a pitcher of lemonade. Family members and my sister's friends funneled in, and we all gathered in the living room. There was one key distinction, the expectant mother was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and all of us were in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

I couldn't quite sort out how I felt about the cyber shower, initially. Seeing my sister on the computer monitor only highlighted the distance between us. And, her image pixelating into what resembled a Chuck Close portrait when the Web connection slowed certainly didn't help. Then I realized, I was thinking about how it made me feel.

This occasion wasn't about me. I was about as focused as the aforementioned Chuck Close portrait. It was about Jill and Jeremy. When I adjusted my own focus, I saw a room packed with people to honor the coming of a baby that would arrive 1,604 miles away. I saw both of my aging grandmothers there with my great aunt, and a host of other friends and family who had traveled a significant distance to "see" Jill and her growing belly. This is quite a powerful testament to how loved Jill and Jeremy are, and that is a beautiful picture – no matter how pixelated.