Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Effin Elf

I'm not a Scrooge by nature. 

I've been caroling many times in my life. I enjoy Christmas songs in November. I'm even a fan of decorations, eggnog and those acid-inspired Rankin and Bass holiday TV specials. And the meaning of the season is not lost on me.

When my brothers and I were kids, we reveled in our traditional Christmas morning celebrations that began when we descended the stairs to the main floor to empty stockings together in the living room. We'd eat some candy and play a bit before heading to the basement where the big tree, lights twinkling and surrounded by wrapped packages, awaited us in tinsel-draped glory. Christmas was as it should be.

Except for the elf.

Any area the elf inhabited was a zone of fear for me. During the day -- and only when I was not alone in the house -- I might dare to risk touching the thing to hide it from sight for a few days of peace. Eventually, however, someone would find it and restore the demonic idol to its station in the living room.

he elf, a horrid thing my parents delusionally found cute and endearing, emerged year after year to perch menacingly on our mantel. Dolls creep me out as it is. The idea of a felt-clothed, plasticine-faced doll staring down at me with that pervy smirk of his all December long was nearly intolerable. I kept expecting to wake up one morning to find it sitting on my chest trying to steal away my soul with some satanic spell chanted in rhythm to the jingling of its tiny bells.

Which is why I can't understand how so many families have bought into this latest Elf on the Shelf craze. As if the idea of a bearded fat man breaking-and-entering your house in the middle of the night wasn't bad enough, now there's a magical doll that moves around the house while you sleep?

Yesterday, it was in the kitchen!

Today, it's in the den! 

Tomorrow, you wake to find it on your nightstand smiling down at you like a serial killer... Doesn't sound like a holiday thrill to me. Sounds more like the plot of "A Very Chucky Christmas." 

I want to fall asleep dreaming of sugar plums and figgie pudding, not pass out from hyperventilation due to an elf-induced panic attack. My idea of yuletide fun is finding the correct ratio of nog to rum to nutmeg, not figuring out how to set my cellphone speed dial to 1-800-EXORCIST.

Fortunately for me, our children have shown no interest in acquiring their own elf. Our house remains an elf-free zone. Unless there is an elf somewhere in the house and he's just really good at hiding...

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Friday, November 15, 2013


Dehockefication: [dee•hok•i•fi•kay•shun] verb, The act of washing sports equipment in the hope of making them smell slightly less like fermented squirrel urine.

I've created some noxious aromas in my day, many of which I unashamedly claim. As others scatter for fresh air, I proudly breathe in deep the fruits of my labor, as so many others have done before.

Certain smells, however, no matter how noble or rewarding the events leading to their creation, are little more than caustic attacks on the senses -- affronts to sensible beings with functional olfactory organs.

Dance shoes are such an affront. While Our Daughter's dance bag, and all its contents, develops an unholy funk by the time each dance season ends, the pointe shoes are the most egregious offenders. When they first arrive, pristine and pink in their pretty little boxes, you think only of how dazzlingly graceful your child will appear as she pliés and pirouettes from one side of the stage to the other during her fifty-seventh performance of Swan Lake.

But when you dig through her things the next morning to find the dirty leotard she forgot to put in the laundry, you find yourself wondering how big was the animal that snuck into her closet during the night and crapped in her bag. Sifting through the carnage you find the source of the stink. For as raucously virulent a stench as those two shoes have rendered, you might as well have thrown a couple of wet skunks in the bag and shaken it violently for an hour or two. You wonder what could possibly smell worse.

You stop wondering once the boys are old enough to play hockey. No other mephitic monstrosity I have ever had the misfortune to experience has come close to the wafting aroma of an open hockey bag, save for one.

Ages ago, I worked at a public library after school to make a few bucks. In the dead of winter and high heat of summer, the local homeless folks would find their way to the library to take shelter from the elements. This is by no means intended as a commentary on the homeless, but those poor souls we experienced back then carried around with them an odor powerful enough to drive away the most ravenous bookworm. You knew you were within twenty feet of the aisle they were nestled into when your eyes began to water.

Now, imagine carrying that kind of potency around in the car with you twice a week. I love my sons, but there are times I've seriously considered making them walk home from the park after hockey practice. If they wouldn't have to cross two busy highways along the way, I probably would have by now.

After every practice and game, we strip them down and load their dripping gear into two big black bags. The foul, locker room odor of sports and foot fungus lingers around them, but it isn't until the beginning of the next practice or game that you realize how big a mistake it was not to burn the bag and its contents. As the zipper pulls back and the bag cracks open, a vinegary hell escapes like cursed air from a pharaoh's tomb. It's a good thing you're already on the ground to help the boys tie their skates because the stench would drop you to your knees.

And each piece of equipment smells worse than the last.

  • Skates?  Smelly. 
  • Elbow pads?  Remarkably odorous. 
  • Knee pads?  Knees can't possibly create a stink like that! 
  • Helmet?  Dear God, you put that on your head?!
  • Gloves?  I'm sorry... Did I just pass out?

Regardless of my being someone who never embraced the idea of physical exertion as something from which one might draw pleasure, I am capable of comprehending how others might. Sports done correctly build character, and a truckload of laundry. I just wish all that character didn't have to smell so bad.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Poison Veggie-Fruit, Anyone?

When I was a kid, my mother kept an impressive garden. It ran along one side of our suburban Long Island home and was accessible from the backyard. Following the final frost of spring, and lasting straight through to the first frost of fall, you could be certain to find a variety of fruits and vegetables sprouting, blooming, and yielding their harvests.

Although she might plant something new every now and then, there were staples on which you could rely. Tomatoes, of course, and string beans grew well, supported by the chain-link fencing surrounding our yard. Raspberries were a summer favorite. Mom made the best raspberry jam that never seemed to set up properly and, consequently, served as an excellent topping for vanilla ice cream. The tiny closet under the basement staircase was a treasure trove of mason jars filled to the rim with freshly boiled and packed preserves.

But there was one item Mom always planted that I never appreciated, mostly because it both confused and frightened me. I speak of rhubarb. The name alone is enough to cause confusion. What the heck is a rhubarb? Why is that unnecessary "h" crammed into the name?

All other naturally-growing and farmed foods make sense to me. An apple looks like an apple. String beans look like string beans. Even pumpkins and squash look like how you would imagine things named pumpkin and squash looking.

But rhubarb looks nothing like what you might think it should because rhubarb is a silly name with no suggestive descriptive qualities whatsoever, and I suppose that's understandable once you get a good look at a rhubarb plant.

Rhubarb has reddish-purple stalks that sprout a foot into the air like diseased celery and have such a tart flavor that they require an entire field of sugar cane just to make them edible. At the top of the plant are mismatched, dark green leaves that make you wonder if some weirdo snuck into your garden during the night and stapled kale to the top of your diseased celery stalks as a prank. And Mom was always quick to warn us against the poisonous qualities of rhubarb leaves.

"Don't eat the leaves!" she would say, as if my brothers and I were secretly scheming to raid the garden for a quick treat of raw rhubarb. You have to wonder who was the first person to figure out you could eat a plant with the color scheme of a poisonous frog and the mouth-puckering uber-tartness of a thousand Granny Smith apples.

That isn't merely an old wive's tale, either. If you eat enough rhubarb leaves -- 11 pounds, to be more precise -- you could end up dead. Not that I expect any of you to suddenly get a hankering for 11 pounds of tart leaves, but be warned that if you cook the leaves in soda you will increase the poison's potency, meaning you might only need seven or eight pounds to make you drop dead. If only because it would be the most disgusting food you ever tasted, don't do it.

To confuse matters even more, the United States government has officially declared rhubarb a fruit, regardless of the fact it has a stalk like celery, leaves like salad, and bears absolutely no fruit. That's kind of like setting aside the fact the platypus is part mammal and part fowl and declaring it a member of the mollusk family just for poops and giggles.

Throughout the years since my childhood, I have learned to enjoy the flavors of many of the suspiciously healthy items at which I once turned up my nose. Cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and many more now cross my plate with no chance of not being eaten, but so far I have managed to keep rhubarb at a safe distance. I plan to keep it that way.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Linked-In, Looked-Around, Logged-Off

Several years ago, I joined the online service Linked-In. Everyone else was doing it, so I figured why not jump off the same bridge?

For those of you not familiar with Linked-In, it's basically a semi-functional, constantly changing, over-promised/under-delivered social network for business people. Think Facebook, only without videos of dancing babies and talking dogs, and absolutely no Candy Crush Saga. Linked-In enables you to keep up with all the people you worked with years ago, all the people you work with today, and all the people you wish you had worked with over the course of your career instead of all those other people you're linked to.

Not only are everyone's business accomplishments listed out for you to see when you feel so inclined, Linked-In is kind enough to send you emails -- sometimes five a day -- letting you know that Sally Whatshername got another promotion and Willy Givakrap now has three professional certification acronyms after his name.

There are passive sales pitches of all kinds from every self-employed (read "unemployed" or "unemployable") would-be consultant with a laptop and a copy of "Business Plans for Dummies" at his breakfast table. There are total strangers requesting linkage to you for no other reason than to make themselves appear more important than they really are. There are associations and groups that will want to count you on their rolls without offering you much in return except off-topic discussion forums moderated by the Linked-In equivalent of a crazy cat lady. There are people with one-thousand, one-hundred and seventeen "connections" who post comments every three hours and others with seven "connections" who started filling out their profiles in 2007 and never managed to get back around to completing them.

But it isn't simply a one-way street. There's more to it than posting your resume and spouting your accomplishments. Thanks to the recommendations feature, you can help others spout about their accomplishments.

Presently, I have three recommendations on my profile, only one of which I didn't have to beg for. I would have more recommendations, but I'm not really one for reference-swapping with people I don't really know. Not that I mind someone lying to give me a leg up, just so long as they don't expect me to lie about them. I do have a phony baloney reputation to protect, after all.

The latest viral enhancement to Linked-In is the Endorsement feature. It's perfect for people who want to say something nice about someone else, but don't want to take the time to put that sentiment into words. Kind of like buying a Hallmark card, only with a click of a button you can verify that one of your "connections" is an expert in some random field of knowledge.

I have been receiving a substantial number of endorsements lately. There are endorsements for my sales acumen, my crazy-mad revenue management skills, my in-depth knowledge of hotels, my vast motel sales experience, and many more. Some of these endorsements came from people who might even know what they're talking about!

Just today, a person with whom I haven't worked for years endorsed me for a skill she could not possibly know I have in a field of expertise that has nothing to do with any position I've ever held at any job I've ever worked. Mixed emotions flooded over me when my third Linked-In email of the day announced her vouching for my noteworthy, and previously imperceptible, abilities. I thought long and hard over whether or not I should I accept the endorsement.

Oh, what the heck. Like anyone will ever try to verify my hang-gliding skills...

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fast Poop, Slow Poop; New Poop, Old Poop

Gravity. That's the entire basis of modern plumbing as it has existed since the time of Christ.

Water from a higher level runs down through a series of ever narrowing channels and pipes, increasing the force of the flow as it goes, until it bursts from your faucet, or your hose, or your toilet. The toilet even gives it a bit of a boost by providing a reservoir meant to deliver a rushing flush of water to carry your unmentionables along to the sewage treatment plant. Plumbing is a simple, yet somehow perplexingly complex, field to which only the truly talented should apply themselves.

For example, the plumbing in our house is okay. It is plumb enough to carry waste materials to the waste material netherworld approximately ninety-seven percent of the time. Flushing the toilet is mostly a thought-free, worry-free practice that results in the removal from our house of all the things we would not want to have hanging around our house for several days, or even several more minutes than is truly necessary.

But mostly isn't the same as all the time. And ninety-seven percent, while a considerable portion, is not the same as one-hundred percent.

There are those times when -- dare I hazard to guess caused by the attempted flushing of an inordinate quantity of Angel Soft by a member of our household under the legal voting age -- our plumbing proves itself to perhaps not be quite as plumbed as it should be. The water simply cannot manage to force the biodegradable barge downstream to the municipal sewer pipes. A second flush, while tempting, yields no benefit. In fact, you'll likely discover how quickly you can pirouette over the poodle, shove aside the magazine rack, and turn off the water to the tank without killing yourself or permanently damaging the poodle.

A plunger in these circumstances is the second tool you need to resolve the clog. The first tool you need is a detective's keen sense of observation.

Is the clog at the farthest end of the house from the sewer lines? Is it at the nearest end of the house to the sewer lines? Is it between the house and the street? Are all the pipes in the house clogged with Angel Soft and poop to breaking point and the slightest plunge of a plunger will cause them to rupture?

Where does the gurgling of a trickle of escaping water sound loudest? In the kids' bathroom toilet? In their shower? At the kitchen sink? In the master bathroom?

Which appliance has the greatest potential to cause every toilet and sink and shower and bathtub in the house to gurgle and bubble like a witches' brew? The dishwasher? The washing machine? The pump in the basement?

Still and all, for every three challenging flushes there are ninety-seven that go off without a hitch. Considering how many people in this world poop al fresco and wipe with the nearest squirrel, the occasional clogged pipe really isn't so much a thing to complain about. Is it?

Perhaps some day, when the kids understand they don't need to flush an entire roll of toilet paper in a single go, we will be able to properly gauge the faculties of our facilities. Until then, if you see me stalking through the house clutching a plunger and listening intently for the sounds of gurgling water, give me a wide berth. The plunger might be dirty.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Monday, September 30, 2013

Forever Young

Today, my little girl broke my heart. Multiple times. Intentionally.

To start with, somebody told her it was acceptable for her to turn sixteen. I don't care what anyone says. I don't care what year it is versus what year she was born. I really don't care how many birthday cards she received, nor do I care how many people came to her Sweet 16 party, she is not sixteen.

She looks like this:

Or, like this:

But that's as far as I'm willing to take it. Just barely out of diapers, but not in high school, not studying a level of calculus that makes me dizzy, and not, most definitely not, driving.

Nope! Stop it! Not even looking. (Fingers in ears, chanting "La, la, la, la, la, la, la...) Who gave this rotten kid permission to grow up?

Okay, so maybe she isn't a full-fledged adult, yet, but she has her driver's license and we were stupid enough to buy her her own car. You know what she did today after dinner? She drove herself to dance. By herself. Without so much as an apology for not needing us to bring her anymore. How am I supposed to accept the reality of her being allowed to roam the roads unsupervised when it seems like only yesterday I was bathing her in the kitchen sink and buttoning her onesies?

Let her grow up. See if I care. Let her turn into a little old lady, if that's where she's heading. No matter what happens, or how old she gets, or whatever she accomplishes in her life, in my mind's eye she will always look like this:

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Sunday, September 8, 2013

To Sleep: Perchance to Dream

Sleeping in doesn't happen much once you reach a certain point in life.

I was one of those kids who could sleep until noon, take a nap around three, and be ready for bed by eleven, so this whole not-being-able-to-sleep-late thing has taken some getting used to. It all started when I got married.

My Lovely Wife is one of those early-to-bed/early-to-rise people who can barely keep her eyes open passed eight-thirty and can't stand the idea of wasting a nanosecond of morning light. I've never understood that kind of thinking, and twenty-plus years of sharing my life with someone who belongs to that bizarre cult has done nothing to enlighten me to its advantages.

Then along came children. You want to know the best part of having a newborn baby in the house? When the bundle of joy goes down for a nap, all noise in the house must cease. All phone ringers get turned off, televisions are muted, and even the gentle rustling of pants can echo through the nooks and crannies of your home like ricocheting bullet, waking the baby and earning you a nonstop, red-eye ticket to hell. The only thing one can do when the baby goes down for a nap is stretch out on the nearest cushioned surface for a sympathy nap. But our children, not even one of the little ingrates, held to the napping routine for more than two years, so those lovely mid-afternoon Saturday naps vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

As if losing nap time wasn't bad enough, once the children became mobile they were capable of unspeakable atrocities, such as getting out of bed before the sun rises, walking into your bedroom, grabbing your eyelid, and demanding a breakfast of frozen toaster waffles, or "waffies" as the Italian called them.

You'd think after the children aged out of their parasitically co-dependent early years and gained the ability to prepare their own unhealthy breakfasts that a guy could finally grab a few extra winks in the morning, but no. Thanks to middle age setting in, we are now exercising.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against a reasonable amount of exercise. Like red wine, chocolate and stinky cheeses, exercise in moderation can be good for you, or so I've heard.

The problem I have with exercise is that in order to squeeze in a session of sweating out all the delicious toxins I take in each day, we have to get up at five in the morning. It never occurred to me when I was young that there might be otherwise normal-seeming people who jumped out of bed before the cock crowed just so they could feel a little better about their love handles, and here I am cycling and treadmilling along side them, giving up a perfectly sound extra hour or two of sleep for the sake of one more losing round in the battle of the bulge.

Some day, when I am no longer working, when I no longer have children to shuttle from here to there, when I can attend yoga in the middle of the day and nap at noon if I choose to, I am going to turn off all the phones, draw the blackout curtains, mute the television and attempt sleeping in again. If you hear the sweet sound of snoring when you pass my house, please do me a favor and don't ring the doorbell.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Brief Update from a Busy Life

The Pale Rambler, my mainstay blogging alter ego, must be scratching his pink and balding scalp and wondering what has become of me.

After all, he was created for the sole purpose of providing a creative outlet for the wanna-be writer trapped deep inside of me. He hasn't always had profound things to say, but he had been posting fairly consistently up until recent months.

Truth be told, time has been scarce. What little spare time I've managed to get my hands on has been devoted to writing the second book in the "Psi Squad" series. I've never written a series before, and to date I've only completed two books, but I take seriously the challenge of completing the nine-book series as originally outlined. That leaves little time for pale ramblings or other online shenanigans.

Some day in the distant future, when I smell like my Grandfather and worry more about the regularity of my bowel movements than the earning of a paycheck, I might find the time to sit and write all the day long. Rather than scratching down errant sentences or paragraphs here and there on scraps of paper in the hopes of tying them together into a collective whole, my energies can be focused from dawn to dusk when the mood strikes and the ideas are flowing.

It's a pleasant dream, just not one to be realized today. Today is meant for more important things.

Today was spent bringing a meaningful wage into our household. Today was spent calling the school (and being called by the school) to straighten out our twin sons' schedules on their first day of middle school. Today was spent talking with our daughter over breakfast as she prepared for her first day of eleventh grade. Today was spent sitting at the dining room table as our entire family of five attempted (and failed) to solve a sixth-grade math problem. Today was spent enjoying a quiet lunch in a noisy restaurant with my best friend.

As time continues to pluck hairs from my head only to plant them in my ears, I realize how fleeting are the opportunities to carpe the remaining diem of my children's childhoods. The memories of walking Sara through the hallways of middle school for the first time have hardly faded, yet here we are entering her critical college-planning year. Two years might sound like a long time, but for a parent looking at the prospect of sending a first-born to college it might as well be two weeks.

And so, the Pale Rambler waits patiently, as do the "Psi Squad" characters. They'll be there when I need them. They'll come running when I call them out to play.

In the meantime I will cling tightly to every hug, capture the essence of every laugh, collect kisses and wipe away tears. Those are the things that make up a life, and they are far more tangible, valuable and meaningful than any silly dream.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Monday, August 5, 2013

What's In a Name?

Our Daughter is a singer in a band. Six kids, all roughly the same age, singing and plucking and drumming and tickling the ivories together, with an interest in playing local gigs and making a few bucks.

So far, they've gone under the name Dogwood Knoll, which was sufficient to provide an early identity, but is now in a state of flux as all six band members weigh in on what they should call their capriccioso collective.

Although no strong contenders have been presented, there has been some focus on bits and pieces that should be included in the new band name. Like using the word "six" since there are six band members, or the suffix "hurst" since we are in Pinehurst. The only problem with hurst is it sounds too much like "hearse"depending on your elocution, which seems more suitable to a death-metal band than preppie teens covering pop tunes.

However, some quick searches using an online band name generator and the suggested words have yielded interesting, if not entertaining, results. One of my early favorites was "Quick Fix Six," but it doesn't appear to have much appeal to the group. Then there are "Rocking Six," "About Six," "The Sixtones," "Deep Six," and "Pick Six."

Somehow, even though I had asked for random names with the word "six" in them, the generator offered a few wildcards. They might not be appropriate, but you'd be hard-pressed to find band names more memorable than "Nasal of the Brazen," "Indecent Viking and the Shimmering Treat," or "Placenta Boathouse." Just imagine the varied directions a band with any of those names could steer its musical journey.

Hurst has also resulted in fun names such as "Hurst Skillet and Adolescent Payday," which strangely sounds almost fitting. "Hurst Voices" also isn't bad, but I doubt "Hurst Rejection of the Wasting Truck" will make the cut. Nor will "Groovy Hurst," "Hurst Gumbo," "The Incredible Hurst," or My Lovely Wife's favorite "Trousers of the Disappointed." My vote for a hurst-inclusive name is "Nitro Hurst and the Misfits."

Of course, given the number of chocolate cookies the band has eaten the past two nights of rehearsals, it's only appropriate to search for names with "cookie" in the title, such as "Trouser Cookies" (too potentially perverted), "Putrid Cookie" (best for a neo-punk band), "Cookie Acid and the Asian Rider" (too... I have no idea), and the best one: "Cookie Venom."

Something tells me Dogwood Knoll will stick around a little while longer.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler ("Rusting Feggeler and the Fisting Logic")

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yoga Broke My Clutch Muscle

I am not averse to trying new types of exercise.

Long ago -- twenty-one years ago, to be precise -- I broke free of my comfort zone for the sake of true love and thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of a room full of strange women by attending my first-ever step aerobic class.

The experience was not unlike running naked outside the glass-walled cafeteria of my college campus at noon. Not that I ever did that, but one of my roommates seemed to make a hobby of it. One day I saw him flash by as I dined with friends near the windows. If he could have overheard the comments people were making, he might have opted to find a new hobby. And it seemed natural that the people surrounding me in that step aerobic class twenty-odd years ago probably were thinking similar things about me. At least I did everyone the favor of keeping my pants on.

As I stepped and grunted and sweated profusely to music I hated, avoiding the judgmental eyes of women who clearly thought the only reason I was attending their exercise class was because I couldn't afford to buy porn, there was no misunderstanding that I was a fish out of water. The next morning drove that point home when every muscle in my body that I ever knew I had, along with dozens of other muscles in places I never expected muscles existed, launched a massive protest. Since then, I have alternately exercised and not exercised depending entirely upon time and desire. Maybe I simply couldn't find room in my schedule to hit the treadmill, let alone walk around the block. Or I might have had the time, but not the inclination. Be honest, sometimes it feels really great to throw fad diets and cautionary medical wisdom to the wind and eat unreasonably satisfying quantities of pizza and chocolate.

But lately, despite a slightly protruding potbelly, I have been dedicated to the whole exercise thing. Four mornings a week at the gym for cycle class, plus one morning on the treadmill, and even though my belt might still strain a bit under the pressure, I feel pretty good about my overall physical condition. Even my doctor agrees, and he almost always finds some vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance or predisposition to some condition or other to lecture me about.

So, when My Lovely Wife suggested I try yoga, I was all in. She has tried in the past to talk me into trying hot yoga, but I was too smart for that. I break a sweat when I blink too fast. And not a glistening movie star sweat, either. When I sweat I mean it. Sweat pours from my head like water from a ruptured dam, my shirt quickly soaks through (front and back), and my sweaty palms can barely grip the handle bars of the exercycle without risking slippage and a concussion. Hot yoga? Exercising in a room cranked to one-hundred-plus degrees? Ummmmmmmm, no. But regular old yoga in an air-conditioned room with industrial size fans? Why not.

I honestly didn't know what to expect from yoga, other than it would stretch me beyond my limits. Halfway through the class, after getting the hang of downward dog, warrior, flying eagle, and half a dozen other slow-motion disco dance moves, I was sweating and grunting and doing my best to hold position. But when the class ended it all seemed to have gone by rather quickly, leaving me wondering whether or not I had actually worked any muscles at all.

Later that day, however, various muscles around my body began to voice their objection -- upper back, right buttock, thighs, abdomen, arms, left buttock. Driving was an interesting experience, particularly since my car has a manual transmission. I squeaked like a dog's chew toy every time I had to shift gears. Several times it crossed my mind that driving the eight miles from our house to the pool in second gear wouldn't really be an imposition for the cars behind me. Patience is a virtue, right?

But after several days and a return to the routine of early morning cycle class, my body has recovered and I find myself eager to return for another yoga session. Something about the calm pace of the class has me hooked. And how bad can any exercise regimen be when you can do it in bare feet? And when the class ends, you get to lay back on the mat, close your eyes, and fall into a relaxing mini coma.

The only way they could improve on that is to have waitstaff standing by serving pizza and chocolate.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sour Patch Lamaze

The twins have always served to complete the missing parts of each others' personalities. We often joke that, had they been one baby instead of two, they would have been the perfect child. For example:
  • The German is always quiet and reflective. The Italian is always loud and emotional.
  • The German is soft and sedentary. The Italian is sinewy and strong.
  • The German loves peanut butter but hates jelly. The Italian loves jelly but hates peanut butter.
  • The German has excellent hand-eye coordination. He swims like a fish. The Italian does not have excellent hand-eye coordination. He swims like a drowning man being electrocuted while having an epilectic seizure.
Despite their differences, which are endless and register deep down to their inner cores, they desperately need each other. And regardless of the numerous "aw"-inspiring displays of brotherly love this need creates for our amusement, I must admit there are times when the bond does seem a little too tightly fastened. Take the example of the the Sour Patch candies as a case in point.

We were vacationing on Hilton Head Island a few weeks ago and someone with whom we were traveling purchased a bag of sour gummy candies, but several days into the trip had still not opened the bag. One rainy night, as we shopped for contraband candy to sneak into a movie theater for an evening showing of "Despicable Me 2," the German could no longer stand to be denied. For his treat he selected his own bag of sour patch candies. We crept into the theater with eight pounds of sugar in our pockets and left two hours later five pounds of candy -- and several ounces of tooth enamel -- lighter.

On the way back to our rented townhouse, I was groggily attempting to pay attention to the road when I heard My Lovely Wife begin to chuckle. My first thought was that she was recalling some bit of comedy from the movie. That's when she motioned for me to observe the boys.

Turns out the sour candies were so sour that one child alone could not manage the supreme sourness without moral support from the other. As each new morsel was popped into a mouth, the afflicted boy firmly gripped the other's hand. Like coaches in a birthing class, they encouraged each other to squeeze tightly and breathe through the eye-closing, mouth-puckering delight of sour candy pain. I experienced a fleeting flashback to twelve years earlier when I was rubbing My Lovely Wife's lower back and assuring her the epidural was on its way.

At the very least, when it is time for their own children to enter this world, I will be able to advise the boys' future wives they do not need any instruction. They've already experienced sour patch Lamaze.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Breakdown in Communication

We've been pretty lucky, as parents of a teenage daughter go.

Here we are, almost sixteen years into this parenting experiment, and we all appear to love each other and get along fairly well. Our Daughter is sweet-natured, doesn't like foul language, dotes on her younger brothers (whether or not they want her to -- although they usually want her to), earns excellent grades at school, stays active in music and dance, doesn't talk back to her parents, and still laughs at my fart jokes.

What more could a parent ask for?

Okay, maybe the ability to communicate and share information utilizing complex sentence structures and multisyllabic words when texting. And also the ability to read simple text messages and fully understand them before responding. For example, here is a brief conversation from April:

    Me: "I can pick you up at 3:45 from school or from the rink later."

    Our Daughter: "I get out of school at 3:45."

    Me: "Okay. I will pick you up at 3:45."

    Our Daughter: "Um why?"

    Me: "I though you were asking me to. Just let me know when you want me to pick you up."

    Our Daughter: We will be at the rink around 5:45."

    Me: "Okay. Now. Do you want me to pick you up from the rink at 5:45?"

    Our Daughter: "Yes!!!!!"

For the record, adding seventeen exclamation points does not convey any more meaning to me than one exclamation point. I'm also not a huge fan of emoticons -- those little smily, winky faces that are supposed to let me know how you feel at any given moment in time. That's what words are for. Long ago, by which I mean the early 1990s, people knew how to express disappointment without book-ending the word "sad" with matching frowny-face emoticons.

At least we have moved beyond the days of the one-letter answer. Having graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in English, I'm always thrilled when my children respond to a lengthy, multiple choice question with the moronically simple, unhelpful, uncapitalized and unpunctuated response: "k." If I'm planning dinner and I send a text to ask if you prefer corn on the cob or broccoli with your grilled chicken, "k" is not a valid response. If I ask whether your boyfriend is eating dinner with us or going home to eat with his parents, "k" is a relatively answer-free return message.

Some day soon, when I find myself babysitting my grandchildren and Our Daughter texts from some fancy dinner across town to ask if her offspring have been fed and bathed and put to bed on time, I will wait a full thirty minutes to respond with a simple "k!!!!!!!!!"

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Intestinal Fortitude

When I was a kid, I had the average kid's relationship with the green, bitter, leafy plant known as spinach. There was no preparation that made it palatable. Even our dogs wouldn't eat it when I dangled a spoonful at them under the table. If an animal that regularly eats its own poop turns its nose up at a food, how can anyone possibly expect a kid to eat it?

At some point during my early adulthood, I discovered I liked spinach.

Creamed mega-laxative in a pot.
Spinach with garlic and lemon. Spinach in vegetable lasagna. Spinach and ricotta in that all-the-rage, 1990s, faux-bread substitute pita pocket. And creamed spinach. Some certified genius took this outrageously healthy and unpopular vegetable and served it Alfredo! They award Nobel Peace prizes for lesser accomplishments.

But over the last few years, in spite of my growing fondness for all things spinach, spinach has decided it does not like me. And I have learned through direct experience that when spinach chooses to do nasty things to your inner workings, it does not have the common courtesy to provide advance notice. One day you're scarfing it down like Popeye prepping to take on all of China in a cage match, and the next day a single mouthful sets you rumbling on the toilet louder than a launching rocket and gripping tight to the porcelain to keep from lifting off.

Although I've had enough time to come to terms with this new dietary restriction, there are moments when the will is weak and I tempt fate with a serving or two, heedless of My Lovely Wife's warnings and usually when there's a big bowl of creamed spinach before me on the table.

The first sign I've made a mistake is that false sense of security I get after I've eaten more than my share without my body immediately vomiting it back out. Stands to reason if my body can't tolerate spinach, it wouldn't allow it in. But it does, and before the plates are cleared and my belt loosened to aid digestion, the power of that dark-green mega-laxative is already being unleashed.

I might as well not even own a pancreas for all the good its enzymes do in breaking down the spinach on its way along my digestive tract. Like a freight train running off the rails, spinach barrels through my upper and lower intestines, not sparing a second to admire the scenery. By the time it gets through the colon -- carrying along with it the flushed out remnants of every cheeseburger I've eaten since 1977 and every spare bit of vitamin K in my body -- I'm fully cognizant of the fact I should never be more than a pants-dropping away from any one of the three toilets in our house.

The next morning, after the smoke has cleared and several rolls of toilet paper have mysteriously vanished, I make a solemn promise to my reflection in the mirror never to eat so much as a single shred of spinach.

But then there is all that leftover creamed spinach in the fridge...

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Not-So-Mellow Mushroom

There's a reason I finally learned to make pizza. That reason is the Mellow Mushroom.

It's been a couple years since we last ate at our local Mellow Mushroom. Maybe it was the burnt pretzels, or the burnt pizza crust, or the fact we waited nearly ninety minutes for the burnt pizza to reach our table, but whatever it was I knew I was done with the place. The real shame of it is how excited we were for the restaurant to open. Mellow Mushrooms in other cities had never failed to please. Their service is timely and their food noticeably unburnt, both of which are qualities I admire in restaurants.

As a result, we were justifiably delighted to hear someone was going to open a Mellow Mushroom only a few miles from our house. We watched and commented as construction progressed.

"Did you see they hung their signage?"

"Did you see they paved the parking lot?"

"Did you see they're going to have an outdoor patio?"

My Lovely Wife and I were so anxious to have a Mellow Mushroom nearby, we couldn't even wait for the kids to be available to try it out. The first day the restaurant was open to the public, while the kids were at school eating peanut butter sandwiches, we were sitting on the covered patio dining on delicious items from the Mellow Mushroom lunch menu. And it was good. Good enough for us to recommend the restaurant to our friends and family.

As time pressed on, however, we noticed inconsistencies in the quality of food preparation and long waits for tables (which is good for the restaurant) and for the delivery of food to the tables (which isn't any good for anybody). People around town started grumbling. We started grumbling. That last time we tried the restaurant, the ninety-minute wait for burnt pizza was the straw that broke the caterpillar's hooka. I found a Mario Batalli pizza dough online and we never looked back.

Then, just last week, the local high school jazz band performed at the restaurant to raise funds for the band program. Our Daughter and her boyfriend, Señor Awesome, both are in regular band and Señor Awesome is featured prominently in the jazz band, so we thought: "What the heck. Let's give Mellow Mushroom another chance and help raise money for the school band at the same time."

I would like to list now the reasons why we should have stayed home, eaten our own homemade pizza, and simply written the school band program a check.
  1. Non-burnt pretzels, served promptly: This sounds like a promising start, but in hindsight it really wasn't. All it did was draw us into a false sense of security about the rest of the meal.
  2. A Confused Waitress: For obvious reasons, a bad omen. When you tell the waitress you want a cheese pizza with basil and Roma tomatoes (both items from the list of toppings in the menu) and she doesn't understand what you're talking about, you know you're in trouble. And the fact no one at Mellow Mushroom seems to realize cheese pizza with basil and Roma tomatoes is commonly known as a Pizza Margherita also says a lot about this place's pizza bona fides.
  3. One-Hour Wait Until Management Steps In: Yes, one hour. In an industry governed by ticket times and the expediting of food from the kitchens, it took the assistant manager one hour to realize we had not yet received our food, but only because we called it to his attention. At least he was kind enough to assure us our meal would be on the house.
  4. Another 45 Minutes After Management Stepped In: We waited impatiently for a total 105 minutes from time of order to the time our pizzas were placed in front of us. During that time, I somehow managed to refrain from pointing out to the assistant manager that pizza normally takes five minutes to prepare and ten minutes to bake. Allowing the dough to rise is the only time consuming process, but I have to think if any place of business is going to have a ready supply of risen pizza dough, it's a restaurant that specializes in pizza.
  5. A Confused Waitress, Part 2: After being reassured multiple times by multiple people we would not pay a penny for our meal, the waitress came to the table to ask how we wanted to split the bill. She might have gotten a tip if, just once during the two hours we sat at her table, she had refilled our glasses.
The manager arrived in time to apologize and offer us certificates for free food the next time we dined at his restaurant. Fortunately, he neglected to provide us the promised certificates before we left.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A, E, I, O, U and Sometimes 5

You'd think the dyslexic member of our family would be the one whose writing required deciphering. While the German does come out with some interesting new vocabulary when speaking, and although he does create unique spellings for many words, it doesn't normally take much effort to figure out what he has written.

My Lovely Wife, on the other hand, who suffers from no learning challenge of which I have been made aware, seems incapable these days of scribing a single legible sentence.

By her way of thinking, her penmanship is clear and concise, but that doesn't seem to help the rest of us too much. We struggle and squint like we're trying to figure out one of those puzzles from the funny papers. You know the kind where the letters are all jumbled up and you have to figure out which letter is used in place of whatever other letter? Think that, only indecipherable.

Her most egregious offenses appear on the weekly shopping list.

"What does this say?" I frequently ask, pointing at a series of unrelated squiggles on the magnetic notepad stuck to the side of the kitchen refrigerator.

"That says grape juice," she explains, as if I am silly for even raising the question.

Grape juice.


Because no matter how long I stare at the words, the best I can come away with is "Care Jews."

I'm not sure if those are anything like Care Bears, or if there is some important issue My Lovely Wife wants the world's Jewish population to take more seriously, but there was no way I was getting grape juice out of that hieroglyph.

It wasn't always this way.

Twenty years ago, when we first began dating, I could read her writing without any trouble. It's as if the English alphabet ceased to exist sometime within the past few years. Probably not all at once, but gradually and unnoticeably over time, until all of a sudden it became impossible to discern. One day I was able to pick up a note in her handwriting and easily read "Call your Father back" and the next day that same message seemed to say something more like "Growl soy Feather dank."

As her handwriting continues to decline in legibility, perhaps my premature senility might make the entire matter a non-issue. She can happily jot down all the meaningless scribbles she wants, and I can pretend they mean whatever I want them to mean.

For instance, that might not be "dry dog food" scrawled haphazardly at the top of the grocery list. Maybe it's My Lovely Wife saying "I love you."

Works for me.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shoot the Messenger

In the last week, ever since the Boston bombing suspects were identified, I've noticed several lengthy messages being shared and liked on Facebook and Twitter. The gist of these messages goes something like this:

I don't want to hear anything about the suspects! I don't want to know who they are, or why they did what they did, or how they planned the bombings, or how the aftermath affects their families! Execute the one that survived the Watertown shoot out and bury their remains in unmarked graves somewhere no one will ever find them!

I understand the emotions and frustrations behind these kinds of comments. In a free society, we should be safe from terrorists, be they homegrown or trained on foreign lands. Our government should protect us from potential threats. Innocent children, women and men should not be blown up, gunned down or cut through by malcontents, zealots, psychopaths or sociopaths.

Yet no matter how hard we might try to wish away irrational behavior and hate, the reality is they will always exist. Society and culture can, at times when the collective will is strong enough, turn away from them or push them to the side. Unfortunately, in the land of the truly free we must allow space for individuals who believe what we find unfathomable and groups that practice what we detest, providing those practices do not bring harm to others.

The crime isn't allowing these people to exist. They already exist, whether or not we want them to. The crime would be closing our ears and shouting like children to drown them out. A wish and a prayer are sweet sentiments, but they aren't practical choices in the face of ignorance. Just take a look at that couple facing criminal charges for the death of a second child because they chose to pray for God's healing instead of bringing their children to a doctor. You think any amount of wishing away their irrationality will change their belief structure?

The way I see it, the real problem is not that the world is a more violent place than ever before. Go back just 70 years and you'll find that World War II was responsible for the death of approximately 2.5% of the world's population at that time, or roughly 60 million people. According to the CDC, in 2010 homicides accounted for a total of 16,000 deaths, or 0.005% of the nation's population that year. Tragic, but a far cry from the worst this world has seen.

Don't get me wrong. In the case of the Boston bombings, I want justice served. I believe in the death penalty and firmly believe it would be appropriately handed down to someone who can come across a young boy eating ice cream with his family and calmly murder him. There are depths of hell not deep enough for some of the twisted souls allowed to crawl the surface of this earth. But I also want to know who they are, why they did what they did, and how they did it, because it's the best way to understand what went wrong with these two men and, hopefully, prevent others from following in their footsteps. All of us need to understand, so we can carry a measure of that understanding and awareness into the communities in which we live. If it takes a village to raise a child, then surely it must also take a village to maintain civility, rationality and order.

What I don't want, or need, is twenty-four-hour media coverage from people with no immediate knowledge of the events. I don't want talking heads on television, enhanced by animated graphics and dramatic musical intros, talking endlessly despite the fact they have no new information to offer. I don't want newspapers so desperate for a scoop to prove their validity in a digital age that they disregard traditional sourcing of information, ruining lives in the process. And I certainly don't want online would-be news sources replacing static informative articles with meaningless Twitter feeds just so some schmuck in Abilene with PhotoShop can pretend he's an extra in "All the President's Men."

In the rush to be first and loudest to scream the latest developments of a disaster from the rooftops, the news media belittle the gravity and meaning of such a situation by turning it into a relentless audio-visual circus that offers plenty of noise and practically no content.

On the other hand, the media is only giving us what we've proven by our viewing habits we want. Maybe if we stop tuning in, the message would change and we'd feel less inclined to shoot the messenger.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Friday, April 19, 2013

Honey Roasted Heaven

Have you ever tried eating natural peanut butter?

It's a lot like lining your mouth with day-old wallpaper paste, only less satisfying. And you don't need much more than dab of it to permanently glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You can smack, and sneer, and contort your face all you want, but only time and a raging flood of fluids from your salivary glands will make it go away.

Then there's that great natural taste.

All those preservatives and chemicals found in commercially processed peanut butter that tree-hugging, healthy-living people are trying avoid must be delicious, because commercially processed peanut butter is insanely tasty while natural peanut butter tastes like pre-licked stamps, which leads one to conclude that true peanut butter flavor as we've come to know it results from ingredients ending in "dextrose" and "glutimate."

And I'd like to know how anyone can take peanuts, which are supremely delectable, even when not salted, and grind them into a spread with no discernible odor and a flavor profile that matches elementary school art class paste. When the dog gives you that "are you kidding me?" look when you offer it a lick, you know there's a fundamental flaw with the product.

We even tried natural almond butter once. I wouldn't have thought it possible to find anything more bland and unfulfilling than natural peanut butter, but we managed.

It's like the development teams of the two products challenged each other one day to see which could develop the worst spreadable product for general sale. Almond butter takes the prize, but only because natural peanut butter tastes like something. A bad something, but something nonetheless. Natural almond butter's complete lack of flavor is what makes it the more disturbing of the two to eat because, apart from the fact your cheeks have suddenly adhered to the sides of your teeth, you can't be sure you're actually eating anything.

So, when My Lovely Wife entered my office the other day with yet another jar of preservative-free, all-natural, freshly-ground something-or-other, I was leery. A tiny scoop on the end of a spoon was all I took. Then I went back for more and haven't come up for air since.

It had flavor. It was sweet. It had moisture. It was ground honey-roasted peanuts.

Whoever was the man or woman that thought to throw honey-roasted peanuts into a grinder ought to be knighted and given the Pulitzer. It took sheer genius to discover that a little honey and some salt -- and whatever dextroses and glutimates are involved in the honey-roasting process -- could help peanuts grind down into a sweet, salty, slightly crunchy mixture that, so far, has been blue heaven on everything we've chosen to spread it over.

Now the only problem we have is when we open the pantry to find the container empty.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Chocolate Deficit

Stop the presses!

Call nine-one-one!!

Get FEMA on the phone and tell them to alert the nation about the most distressing national disaster of all time!!!

Worse than a tornado! More terrifying than an earthquake! As devastating, if not more so, than the impending zombie apocalypse (scary fast-moving zombies, not the slow "I can't believe I can't outrun them" zombies). What's the dilemma, you ask? The chocolate in our kids' leftover Easter candy bags is disappearing!

Every Easter, when that stupid rabbit breaks-and-enters our house with his paganistic eggs and candy and fills our kids' baskets to the point of bursting, you'll find me lurking in a corner, rubbing my hands together and snickering like Snidely Whiplash. For the next few weeks, I lay in wait, plotting and planning and scheming endless ways to separate foil-wrapped chocolates from their respective rightful owners.

Our Daughter never used to eat any of her candy. Out of sight, out of mind seemed to be her modus operandi. That made her candy easier pickings than a pocket-protector nerd in a dodgeball game.

The Italian never liked peanut butter chocolate eggs, so those were the first to go from his bag, one by one, wrapper by empty wrapper hidden in the kitchen trash can. Like magic the peanut butter chocolate eggs vanished. The German never liked those crunchy chocolate bars with the puffed rice inside of them, so those were next on the hit list. Unwrap it, sweep it through the five-pound container of peanut butter in the pantry, and down they go.

When it comes to chocolate, to call my craving a sweet tooth does not do it justice. Too limiting. Mine is more like a sweet limb, or even an entire quadrant of the body. The fact our kids hardly ever ate their holiday candy simply meant more for me.

Christmas? Stocking candy!

Halloween? Random sampler stranger candy!!

Easter? Holy crap it's time to buy a girdle candy!!!

But this year, something strange happened. I'm suddenly living in some bizarro alternate universe in which children eat candy. And not just the good candy, either. Not only are the Snickers and Milky Ways and Hershey's solid milk chocolate bunnies wrapped to look like Star Wars stormtroopers being eaten, even the jelly beans and faux marshmallows in the shape of cartoon foods that typically spend their days collecting lint and wrapper shrapnel at the bottom of the bag are disappearing. What does that leave for me? Nothing.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Dude, you're forty-five years old and can go buy all the chocolate and candy you could ever want, eat it 'til you puke, and go back for more."

That's true. I can, and I probably have, but it isn't the same. The expression "easy as taking candy from a baby" came about not only because it satisfactorily expresses the ease of accomplishing a task, but also because taking candy from babies is fun and gratifying, especially when those babies are yours and they don't even realize they're missing out on a good thing when you take their candy.

Maybe, if I'm lucky, this trend will reverse itself before Halloween.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Word Count Envy

[I try hard to keep my fiction writing hobby from spilling into this blog too much, but from time to time I figure "what the heck?" Here is a recent post from my author site (Books by Feggeler) that I felt like sharing here.]

I'm not one of those fortunate few able to spend countless hours each day writing to my heart's content. When I see comments by authors on blogs or in group discussion threads wherein they refer to writing two thousand words a day, or eight thousand words during the course of a weekend, a fleeting sense of envy does surge through me.

Imagine my output of published (albeit self-published) works were I capable of dedicating similar quantities of time to writing. The remaining eight books of "The Psi Squad" series would be finished by the end of 2013. And those two murder mysteries I've outlined? I'd be celebrating their sales by this time next year!

Instead, I'm lucky to manage three thousand good words a week. Why?

Well, let's see. Among the things getting in the way of daily writing are: cycling class, breakfast, bringing the boys to school (sometimes), bringing my daughter to school (sometimes), work (and that handy thing called a salary that comes along with work), business travel, meetings, phone calls, laundry, lunch, more work, picking the boys up from school (sometimes), picking my daughter up from school (sometimes), dinner, helping with homework and projects, dance, hockey, church, church youth group, marching band boosters, band concerts, after school meetings, and sleep. Oh, yes, don't forget that every now and then I wouldn't mind spending quality down time with my wife and children, which is why I don't even think about writing on weekends.

It seems my problem stems from not being able, or willing, to give any of that up. All that stuff makes up my life, such as it is at the moment, and it's all meaningful and rewarding. My resulting writing time consists of a maximum of two, maybe three, hours wrenched in bits and pieces from each busy week, but that's okay.

If nothing else, I've discovered a slow pace forces me to think more about what I'm writing than I otherwise might have. It allows me to fully consider the seven-hundred words for the new murder mystery (working title "RevPAR") and the four-hundred words for the second "Psi Squad" book I cranked out in an hour early Tuesday morning before I advance to the next scenes. All that time for extra thinking helps me catch plot holes and fix mistakes before I get too far ahead of myself.

You other writers go ahead and write your two thousand words a day, if only because some oft-quoted remark from Stephen King has you believing you're not a serious writer if you don't achieve that daily goal. Go ahead and celebrate NaNoWriMo by cramming during the month of November to complete an entire novel in thirty days. I did enough last-minute, panic-fueled, late-night writing during college to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. If self-imposed deadlines and massive word-count goals are the things that feed your passion for writing, then God bless and best of luck.

I'll continue to envy your production levels, but I'm not interested in trading places with any of you.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vomit: Greatest Hits

Children ought to arrive with a manual that dedicates at least three lengthy chapters to vomit.

If the site of vomit, the smell of vomit, or even the mere mention of the word "vomit" makes your stomach queasy, then I've got some bad news for expectant parents. For the first couple of months, babies are little more than adorably cute containers of drool, poop and vomit. Squeeze them too tightly or bounce them on your knee a minute too long and you'll see how quickly all that drool, poop and vomit can magically overflow, sometimes simultaneously.

And if your wife is anything like mine, you won't even have to wait for the baby to arrive before you become proficient at handling vomit. At first, I carried her morning sickness bucket like it was filled with radioactive waste. I walked it to a remote section of the neighboring wooded lot and dumped it, then stood a good distance away and sprayed it with the hose. By the time Our Daughter arrived, all the bucket got was a quick swish of water from the spigot and a spritz of Lysol. If any got on my shoes, pants, or in my hair, I no longer cared. Vomit and I had made our peace with each other. Ours was a live-and-let-live relationship.

But that tiny bit of morning sickness vomit is nothing compared to the mass quantities produced by a late-night-breast-milk-binging baby with the upset stomach and an inability to walk to the bathroom toilet. Ever try cleaning vomit from the intricate spindles of a baby crib? Don't worry, you will.

Or how about toddler vomit? When Our Daughter was two years old, she spent much of one visit with relatives circling a coffee table slowly devouring almost an entire bowl of gold fish crackers. A couple hours later, she stood in the crib provided to us and projectile vomited a direct hit at her mother's chest from a distance of five feet. Let me assure you, you know it's a quality vomit when one parent spends two hours cleaning undigested gold fish crackers out of a shag rug and the other has to bathe the baby, take a shower and run a load of laundry.

Or how about the first time they get sick on their bedroom floor? My mother used to tell us to throw up on our beds if we were going to get sick. "I can put your sheets in the wash," she'd say. "I can't put the carpet in the wash."

But there's something counter-intuitive to vomiting on your bed and, in effect, all over yourself. Your body understands vomit is a thing to be shared, so it makes every attempt to spread it out as far and wide as possible.

For instance, were we to go back and visit the house we lived in when our children were born, I would not be surprised to find a barely discernible pink stain on the floor of the back bedroom where, one evening, Our Daughter released a torrent of Raviolio-tinged vomit. It was a monumental achievement, really, and proved too tough a match for any chemicals and carpet cleaning machines money could rent. We were somehow spared the joy of finding out what happens when a boy sleeping on the top bunk throws up in the middle of the night, but that doesn't mean our sons haven't had their share of incidents.

The German once decimated our van with a wave of nausea, again possibly inspired by gold fish crackers. I missed that one and have always felt a bit left out. By all accounts, it was mighty impressive and required some extreme detailing of the leather seats.

And the Italian, well it's been only a few days since his last performance. You would think by age twelve he would have figured out where vomit belongs. Only minutes after he agreed it would be a good idea for us to get him a bucket, but before we were able to get it to him, he sat up on his bed, hurriedly proclaimed "I think I'm going to need that bucket," and immediately proceeded to puke all over the floor. Also hit in the onslaught were his bed, his brother's bed, a bookshelf, three Lego sets, and the storage bins under both their beds. Best of all, I had just given him bubble gum flavored Ibuprofen and the only food he'd eaten in the previous hours were Twizzlers.

Some day I'm going to find out who the genius is who decided it would be a good idea to pack the medicine parents administer to sick children with enough red dye to stain clear through to the floorboards and give him a good, swift kick in the pants.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A King on His Throne

The hall bathroom toilet, and all territory immediately surrounding it, has been claimed by the Italian.

Every now and then it might be possible for the German and Our Daughter to sneak in for a few minutes to shower or brush their teeth, but ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time if the door is closed and light is peeking out from under it, it means the Italian is holding court.

The strangest thing about this new behavior is that I never expected it from the Italian. This is the same kid who, only a few years back, took great delight in running around the house naked and smacking his bare ass to some improvised musical number, often themed around the words "hiney" or "bahookie." I never expected an exhibitionist of his caliber to withdraw to the windowless environs of the bathroom.

If you're leaving for church and the Italian cannot be found, knock on the bathroom door. If you're running late for inline hockey practice and the Italian isn't in the van, knock on the bathroom door. If it's homework time and the Italian's books are sitting abandoned on the kitchen table, knock on the bathroom door. If he's been in the bathroom for twenty-seven minutes and you've yet to hear the shower running, knock on the bathroom door.

Had the German been the one to sit on the toilet for hours at a time, playing Minecraft until the restricted bloodflow to his extremeties had turned his toes a deep shade of blue, I would not have been surprised. The German has always been something of an island unto himself. He hugs less, is less needy throughout the course of the day, and tends to exist in a state of remote awareness of his surroundings. A moderately introverted boy seeking seclusion is not much of a stretch, yet he is the one who does not find it necessary to retreat to the quiet solace of the loo.

Fortunately for our plumbing, the purpose of the Italian's newfound respect for privacy has nothing to do with dysentary, diarrhea, dropping the kids at the pool, or any other bodily functions beginning with the letter "d." It's all about Minecraft, or whatever other game he's playing on his iPod when he disappears, because he knows at some point My Lovely Wife or I will tell him to log off and interact with an actual human being rather than a virtual one. Out of sight, out of mind is the policy he has instituted.

But, as this blog post serves to show, he has been found out. Gone are the days of attempting to FaceTime with relatives and friends with his pants around his ankles. Few are the remaining days of talking to a white door that sounds like the Italian instead of talking directly to him. Preparations are being made for a coup d'etat to oust the king from his throne.

Besides, if we don't put an end to his Occupy the Bathroom movement, where am I supposed to go to check Facebook and play Angry Birds?

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mystery Mail Bingo

Just a few months ago, our mail delivery was perfect. Beyond perfection, even.

Our mail arrived each and every day at the same time of day for seven-and-a-half years. Packages that were marked "Do Not Bend" weren't. Packages too large for our mailbox were hand-delivered to our door. Packages and parcels belonging to other people were not mixed in with ours. We were spoiled.

At least, that's how the United States Post Office must have considered us, because the new year brought the announcement of a change. Our mail carrier, Kim, was retiring and another would take her place.

What I've learned over the past few weeks is that the Post Office for the village in which we live does not directly hire employees as mail carriers. Why? I don't know, and neither does anyone at our local Post Office. Someone, ages ago, determined that's the way it should be and that is how it has remained from farther back than living memory appears to serve.

Instead, a contract specialist two states away in Maryland solicits and reviews bids from anyone literate enough to complete a form and who also happens to be interested in managing one of the many local delivery routes in our area. Past experience is supposed to be taken into consideration, but in this case it doesn't seem to have been a priority.

These days, our mail delivery is one of the greatest mysteries going. A local bookie could clean up taking bets on all aspects of service:

  • Time of mail delivery;
  • Percentage accuracy of mail received;
  • Whether or not you received any mail at all;
  • Whether or not outgoing mail left in your mailbox for the carrier to take with her remains in your mailbox at the end of the day;
  • The number of days outgoing mail remains untouched in your mailbox;
  • Number of days you receive mail without a single piece of it being addressed to you or any other member of you family;
  • The number of bills you neglect to pay because you never received your statements;
  • The number of confidential documents (bank statements, credit card applications, car registration renewals, medical bills, W-2 forms, etc.) you receive that are not addressed to you;
  • Whether or not the carrier understands why mailboxes have those little flags on them;
  • How many mailboxes the carrier runs down before she acknowledges having run over any;
  • How many pieces of mail are lodged between the cushions of the backseat in the mail carrier's car on any given day;
  • Whether or not the mail carry can read.
You see? The possibilities are endless!

In response to the postal mayhem, I'm doing my part by calling to complain every few weeks to keep our local postmaster apprised of how abysmally horrendous mail service continues to be and spreading the name and mailing address of the contract specialist in Maryland to all who live along our delivery route.

I would post it here, but it's probably illegal and I'd end up getting subpoenaed, or audited, or cavity searched, or some silly thing like that. So just shoot me an email and I'll respond back with it so you can write the guy a letter, too. Just make sure you don't leave it in your mailbox for the carrier to take.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bun of Steel

We're planning a trip to Hilton Head for the summer. We've been there before and found it to be a relaxing place to visit for a week of swimming and generally behaving like obnoxious tourists.

In addition to flashing way too much pale skin on the beach and not traveling anywhere without a tremendous rolling cooler stocked with enough beverages, sandwiches and goodies to make the loaves and the fishes seem like a mere snack, one of the requirements of tourists at a resort location like Hilton Head is to rent bikes.

Non-sexy resort bike.
These bikes -- like rental bikes at all resorts across the world -- are not cool. They are not flashy, or stylish, or built for speed. You will never see supermodels riding bikes like these during a photo shoot. And, if you're lucky, no one will photograph you while you are riding one around the resort. No, these bikes are built for three things only: (1) durability, (2) comfort, and (3) being so unattractive as to dissuade potential thieves from stealing them for fear they will never find anyone desperate enough to want to own such an unattractive bike.

The first time we went to Hilton Head, our boys were still young enough to require our bringing their bikes with us. Our Daughter, however, has never liked bikes. You see, when learning to ride, some children, like our sons, fall off their bikes and get right back on until they figure out how to balance and pedal and brake. Other children, like Our Daughter, fall off their bikes and live in fear of them for the next ten years.

Until recently, Our Daughter preferred her scooter to her bike. As every other kid in the neighborhood raced down the block faster than the posted speed limit, she kept pace pushing with one foot. That trip to Hilton Head four years ago was no exception. While the rest of us pedaled the four miles from our rented condo to the shopping district, she shoved herself along and often led the pack.

Our niece, whose family had vacationed with us that week, observed that Our Daughter would develop a "bun of steel" from her scootering efforts. I kept waiting for her to pass out from all the extra work, but she soldiered through and never complained.

This time around the scooter is not an option. An 11-year-old on a scooter is one thing, but a 15-year-old on a scooter reaches a whole new level of weirdness, like a 4-year-old still carrying around a baby bottle, or amateur party clowns. Anyway, in the past year or two Our Daughter has learned to enjoy her bike. She's no natural at it, but at least she no longer treats it like some wild beast bent on killing her.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sputter and a Thud

All my life, the one thing I have never been troubled with is allergies.

On just about any day during the last 45 years, if you were to have asked me how I was doing, I could easily have answered without any hesitation: "Well, I'm not suffering from allergies, that much I know!"

Oh, sure, on the rare occasion I might experience a fluke reaction to something or other.

Like that time, twenty years ago, when My Lovely Fiancee and I were at Sunday brunch with her parents. There I was, minding my own business, feasting off a plate mounded high with buffet delicacies, when suddenly my skin puffed up, red patches flared and vanished and flared again on some very inconvenient parts of my anatomy, and my throat closed up so tight I could barely draw a breath. Let me tell you, nothing puts a damper on a fancy buffet faster than the unexpected sensation you might not survive to digest it.

Whenever hives have hassled me, it's been impossible to tell what might have been the cause. But lately, over the past three weeks, I have experienced a lingering constriction of the throat that my doctor assures me is the result of a mid-life food allergy. After a week of abstaining from most everything one possibly could be allergic to, it's time to start investigating the usual suspects.


I've eaten my weight, and probably your weight, too, in peanuts, almonds, cashews and walnuts. Peanut butter and almond butter, both the hippie tree-hugging natural varieties and the good old chemicalized mega-processed kinds, are no strangers to my diet. I fully understand some people can't get within 60 yards of a shelled nut without a HazMat suit and an EpiPen, but I am not one of those people. I could strip naked, slather myself in peanut butter and frolic through plantation fields in Georgia without fear of contracting a single itch. A little chafing, perhaps, but no itching.

Dairy, then?

Same story with dairy. Considering the quantities of milk and cheese I've consumed in my lifetime, there are probably hundreds of cows laying low, like mob informants in the witness protection program, deathly afraid of being hooked back up to the milking machines. If it turns out I am allergic to dairy, I'll bet the daily quota per cow at every farm across the nation gets cut by a third.

Then there's things like gluten and grains. I don't even want to go there. No bread? That's just cruel and unusual, especially at a time in my life when I've finally learned how to make a perfect pizza dough.

So, now begins a period of trial and error, during which I slowly reintroduce those items I have been avoiding. Take tonight, for instance. A slice of pizza will no doubt test the potential dangers of cheese, tomatoes, yeast, flour, oregano and basil. Okay, maybe four slices.

If you hear a muffled sputtering for air and a loud thud, you'll know half a pizza wasn't a very good idea. Kind of makes me wonder where I might have left that EpiPen.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some Papal Never Learn

You'd think, with our track record, they would have hidden the children in the basement of the church last year when we became members.

Not that we aren't well-inentioned. We are. Very.

Perhaps we simply are living proof that a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Methodist should never be allowed to team up to teach Sunday school.

The first sign of trouble is that word "lapsed." Doesn't sound so bad at first, but the word itself doesn't really provide any indication of degree of lapsitudidness, does it? There's a big difference between, say, one month lapsed and twenty years lapsed. One month lapsed falls in the "things got busy and church fell by the wayside for a bit" side of things, while twenty years lapsed is more at the "remind me again who this Jesus guy is" end of the spectrum.

Then there's practical knowledge and personal experience to consider. The lapsed Catholic doesn't immediately understand the intended purpose of Sunday school, because it isn't really a habit of the Catholic Church to sit young children down in a room, read passages of the Bible, and then open the floor for discussion and interpretation. It isn't a habit amongst its adults, either.

Yet even for a lapsed Methodist, having grown up in a church that did provide many lessons aimed at instilling an understanding of the Bible and a willingness to look at it from many angles, you have to consider the quality of the student. The first thing I learned in Sunday school was how to take off my jacket, tie, belt and shoes in under 15 seconds without the teacher noticing until it was too late. The pants would have gone, too, but even at that young age I knew where the line was and not to cross it.

Several years ago, when we decided to reconnect ourselves to the religious world, we opted first for the Episcopal Church. It was a great combination of Catholic-like structure and Protestant-informed openness -- Catholic Lite, if you will. We threw ourselves into the place and, in short order, were somehow recruited to teach Sunday school.

Given the fact neither of us has ever received any training on how to teach, and considering that due to an oversight no educational materials or lesson plans were provided to us, you'd be hard-pressed to rate our performance that first year as anything other than heretically miserable. For all the good we did, we might as well have been handing out leaflets for Hinduism, Judaism, Muslimism and any other ism that exists in the non-Christian world. We neither understood, nor did we impart any degree of understanding of, the Bible or its teachings. We were the anti-teachers, frequently learning more from the kids in our class than they learned from us. Naturally, then, we were asked to teach again the following year. By the time we left the Episcopal Church, the Sunday school program was all but in ruins. They're probably still picking through the smoldering ashes trying to recoup the souls we corrupted.

And, now, here we are at the Presbyterian Church, recently having been asked to -- you guessed it -- teach Sunday school.

Who knows? Maybe it's our mission in life to hop from one Christian sect to another until we've managed to decimate the youth-oriented biblical study programs of every denomination within a 20-mile radius of our home.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Benefit of Being Downsized

Since 1990, when SUNY Plattsburgh decided it’d had enough of me and awarded a diploma with my name on it just to get me to leave, I’ve worked for 12 distinct corporate entities. That’s an average of one new employer every 1.9 years.

In fairness to me, not every one of those new corporate entities involved a job change. For instance, I was employed by three different corporate entities in the same year while working as director of sales of one hotel in Durham, NC. The hotel’s first management firm was bought out by a second management firm which was, in turn, let go by the hotel ownership which created its own management firm. Simple, right? That’s the kind of year you keep your butt out of the wind and hope nobody more than one level above you knows you even exist.

Having worked for 12 distinct corporate entities, it’s easy to categorize them by degree of enjoyability. On a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being “Made My Spirits Soar Like an Eagle” and 5 being “Made Me Pray for the Sweet Release of Death”) the breakdown is as follows:

  1. Made My Spirits Soar Like an Eagle = Two Companies
  2. Put a Little Spring in My Step = Three Companies
  3. No Impact on My Life Whatsoever = Three Companies
  4. Caused Me to Reconsider My Stance on Assisted Suicide = Two Companies
  5. Made Me Pray for the Sweet Release of Death = Two Companies

Of the bottom two, one was particularly bullying and disrespectful to its employees. You know something’s wrong with your place of employment when you enter the office each day amazed at the fact none of your coworkers has been arrested, or at least investigated. Abuse of power, conflict of interest, unethical business practices, unjustifiable business expenses, questionable investments – the place was a training ground for all of the things you shouldn’t do when running a business if you want to avoid jail time.

Amidst the humanoid detritus that mostly ran this soul-sucking company were a handful of decent people struggling hard to remain decent. Every now and then, one of them would fall victim to the corporate axe, or worse, divest themselves of the virtues that made them decent and join the scheming backstabbers in their game.

I thought, naively, I could remain impermeable to the never-ending parade of injustices perpetrated at that company. “I am one of the decent people,” I would tell myself.

The problem was the decent people huddled together in a cowering mass to bitch and moan about the backstabbers. We became an underground army of gossipers, whisperers and kvetchers. Even when the backstabbers weren’t giving us something to bitch about, we could pull from a vast catalog of past offenses to rile our indignation. We were unhappy, dissatisfied, bitter as tonic water, yet convinced we could hold on to our humanity in spite of every effort of the backstabbers to break our spirits.

Near the end of my sentence, I ran into a former coworker who had been fired some months earlier. He was one of those pleasant, honest people who knows what needs to be done and how to lead by example to motivate others to help him achieve it. I had felt poorly for him when he was let go. He had been wronged, which I expressed to him as we spoke. He smiled contentedly and gave me one of the best pieces of advice anyone has ever given me.

“Mark, get out,” he said. “You think it doesn’t affect you, but it’s corrosive.”

Not long after that brief encounter, I was restructured out of my job. The powers that be called me and six other people into a meeting after lunch and gave us two-hours to clean out our offices. It was the first time I lost a job, and it was frightening, but looking back at it now I am able to appreciate how much of a gift they gave me.

Like an abused pet, I had come to believe I deserved the treatment I received at the hands of those soul-suckers. What was I, anyway, other than a simple drone scurrying this way and that at the whim of its queen bee? Had they not restructured me out of the organization, I might never have moved on to better things.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pete's Parm

You'd think, having a healthy dose of Italian heritage infused into her genes, Our Daughter would know where and when to order an Italian entree.

Not that I'm any connoisseur of world cuisine -- and there's absolutely no Italian blood in my veins -- but I did grow up on Long Island not far from Manhattan. You couldn't spit in our neighborhood without hitting a pizza parlor or an Italian restaurant run by someone who looked like an extra from one of the "Godfather" movies. Add a few hundred randomly placed delicatessans, each serving a meatball sub more delicious than the other, and it's almost impossible not to develop a keen appreciation for properly prepared Italian food.

Twenty-three years ago, when I moved from the Empire State to the Tar Heel State, the lack of diversification among restaurants was the most difficult change to tolerate. We were lucky to have a McDonald's, let alone a great place to get pizza.

My Mother-in-Law used to have little sympathy for my complaints. She had moved to North Carolina in the early 1970s and one of her favorite stories to tell was about the time she went to the local supermarket and asked for help locating bread crumbs. She would roll out her best Yankee impersonation of Southern drawl when she mimicked the confused store clerk: "You want cruuuuuumbs? Of bray-uhd?"

Her story always reminded me of the time back in the early 90s when I made a sales trip to Charlottesville, VA. Not knowing the area, I asked the front desk attendant at the hotel if there were any good ethnic restaurants nearby. The poor girl stared at me like I had asked her to provide detailed instructions for nuclear fusion. After a moment's reflection, she offered this nugget: "There's a Shoney's down the street if you like country." If nothing else, I was glad to know someone had developed a work-placement program for ex-Hee Haw Honeys.

Over the years, our community has been blessed with the addition of a handful of eateries that understand tomato sauce and ketchup are very different things. And they have names that lead you to suspect they might know what they're doing -- Vito's, Valenti's, Fratello's. Let's face it, if an Italian restaurant has a single-word name ending in a pronounced vowel followed by a possessive apostrophe, it's already halfway along the road to success. This is a fact Our Daughter should have learned by now.

So, when her boyfriend's parents took her to dinner not long ago to a restaurant in a metal building on the side of a semi-rural highway, she should have known better than to order chicken parm at a placed called Pete's. You don't order chicken parm at a restaurant called Pete's. You order chicken fried steak, or country fried steak, or fried shrimp. Heck, order just about anything fried you care to from Pete and he'll probably do it extremely well. Like hushpuppies! Pete probably has perfect hushpuppies, but I promise you parmesan was not a staple product in his parent's pantry.

And even though Pete's name ends in a vowel, it's a silent vowel. Had the restaurant's name been Pietro's, then you could have made an argument for ordering chicken parm, or saltimbocca, or even a linguini appetizer. But it isn't, so you can't.

When Pete attempts chicken parm, you get country fried chicken and a red-colored sauce topped with a cheese bearing little resemblance to parmesan. And when that plate is dropped in front of you, you're getting exactly what you deserve for ordering it from a guy named Pete.

Clearly, we have failed to properly educate Our Daughter.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler