Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Eating Day!

The holidays are here, which means it's time to bloat the twenty extra pounds I normally carry around with me to a seasonally appropriate thirty. It also means massive quantities of food must be prepared in order to provide at least five pounds per plateload, regardless of whether we're talking about a salad plate, a dinner plate, or a dessert plate.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve-Eve) was primary cooking day for our Christmas day celebrations. In two days, we will feed a total of eight people -- the five who live under our roof, plus my parents and Brother Tom. Naturally, then, we browned three pounds of sausage, rolled eight pounds of beef and pork into meatballs and browned them, then tossed all of that browned meaty goodness into a vat of homemade sauce.

Next came cookies. Simplicity was the motto of the day, so we kept it to one kind of cookie -- the ubiquitous peanut butter Kiss cookie -- that could be easily thrown together and baked without distracting too much from the browning of the meatballs and sausage. Fresh from their morning meat-rolling calisthenics, the kids helped roll out four trays of peanut buttery deliciousness, in addition to shucking several dozen Hershey's Kisses.

After a brief break to clean a pan, or seven, it was time to experiment with something new -- cinnamon pumpkin roll with chocolate mascarpone ganache.

I've baked many things, but never a finished cake that had to be rolled. It seemed like an awful lot of work to go through just to create a delivery method for getting pumpkin cake and chocolate ganache to my mouth, but I was game. Besides, Giada de Laurentis and the Food Network wouldn't steer me wrong.

To Giada's credit, both the cake and the ganache are amazingly delectable, however rolling the pumpkin spice cake might not have been my finest culinary hour. I passed the first test, flipping the pan and dropping the cake onto a towel dusted with powdered sugar. Trouble is, my definition of dusting is slightly more aggressive than Giada's. The cake landed with a satisfying plop and shot powdered sugar up and out like a Christmas-tinged mushroom cloud full of elf fairies and pumpkiny aromas. The next bit, actually rolling the cake without breaking, mangling, tearing, shearing, or otherwise causing traumatic damage to said cake, was less messy but much more sketchy. In the end, I manhandled it into something that roughly resembles a rolled cake.

Today continued with more baking. After all, you can't serve seventeen pounds of meat and sauce without homemade Italian bread, and where one loaf might suffice, two certainly will provide that measure of overkill necessary for a proper holiday feast.

Oh, did I mention the cannoli? Yeah, I bought twenty pre-made cannoli shells (half of them covered in chocolate, because they were there) and prepped two pounds of filling so we can stuff them on Christmas day short before we sit down to eat our six-and-a-half pounds of meat, sauce, pasta and bread each. That way, the cannoli can set up in the fridge without getting the shells all soggy. You have to plan ahead for these things, you know.

The end result is that, by the time we tuck the kids into bed tomorrow night, I should have gained almost the entire extra ten pounds. I'll leave a tiny bit of space for that last cookie before bed.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Progeny Perfected

You might think your children are special, but mine really are.

I know all parents believe their kids are beautiful, handsome, smart, talented, witty, mature and precocious. Problem is, only one pair of parents can believe that and actually be correct. My intent here isn't to tramp muddy footprints all over your dreams of being the perfect parent. You've tried exceptionally hard to raise perfect children and your kids genuinely appreciate your efforts. I'm here to point out the simple fact that our kids make yours look like they came from the reject bin at Big Lots. No offense.

Take the Italian, for example. The Italian has read more books this year than I have in my entire life, which really isn’t much of a comparison, because my reading skills loosely match those of an underdeveloped Gibbon monkey.

He's also a blossoming computer whiz. The Italian's idea of light entertainment is to prepare point-by-point comparisons of this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference to last year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. He’s thirteen. When I was thirteen, I was more concerned with which episode of Gilligan’s Island would be on after school than I was in getting the inside scoop on the latest advancements in world technology. When I was thirteen my brothers and I were content with playing Dig Dug off five-inch floppy discs on our Commodore 64. The Italian has been breaking out the laptop each morning to teach himself HTML coding over breakfast. And, well, why wouldn't he?

Then there’s the German. The German is sweet natured to a fault, he's an ace hockey goalie, and he plays saxophone as soulfully as a sixty-year-old in a smoke-filled night club. And he enjoys practicing. When I was his age, I recorded myself playing the trumpet for ten minutes and hit play twice to fill out the rest of the half hour I was supposed to be practicing.

The German also is our Lego master. I’m not talking about the 30-piece police car Lego set we got for Christmas forty years ago that I'm still trying to figure out how to put together. I’m talking about 2,000-piece movie prop replicas that are half assembled before the wrapping hits the floor. I’m talking about sitting at a laptop to program code for a WiFi Lego robot that recognizes different colors, utilizes touch sensors, and performs complex tasks.

Between the two of them, the twins have the necessary knowledge and access to technology to hack our online banking and transfer our assets to offshore accounts, all while holding us captive in our own basement with a robotic Lego army.

The ring leader of our perfected progeny is Our Daughter. If I even attempted to maintain half the busy schedule Our Daughter keeps on a daily basis, I would have been dead three-and-a-half years ago. I can count on one hand the number of clubs I joined during my K-12 years, yet this girl's resume reads like an alphabetical listing of every possible extra-curricular activity available.

She's also taken more AP classes than I have clean pairs of underwear. I'm lucky I know how spell AP. She wants to graduate with honors, get a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in dentistry, and ultimately become an orthodontist. At her age, my only goal was to pass the next test and avoid anyone at school who might be interested in giving me a wedgie. Our Daughter has the next ten years of her life planned out whereas my long-term goals include gassing up the car and making sure I leave enough time after getting out of bed each morning to reach the toilet before I wet myself.

I'm certain many of you reading this are making all kinds of mental notes in preparation of a rebuttal of my assertion that my children are better than yours. You're wasting your time listing out your childrens' grade point averages, academic accomplishments, personal triumphs, and tallying the number of times they've been Snapchatted or re-Tweeted. Please, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and launch a well-prepared defense of your children. So long as you're prepared to eventually acknowledge the unquestionable superiority of my kids, we won't have any trouble.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spreadable Nightmare

I've made many sandwiches in my lifetime.

I can spread peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, horseradish and many other primary sandwich ingredients and condiments like nobody's business. I've plated up everything from basic, slapped-together sandwiches, to tremendous Dagwood specials that could choke a horse (but that did not choke me).

What I'm trying to say is, I'm no novice at this task, and neither is My Lovely Wife. We have three kids. We've been making sandwiches for seventeen-plus years without any difficulties. Until recently.

Some months ago, our children discovered the joys of Nutella. If you've never experienced Nutella, please stop reading. Not only can't we be friends, I really don't want to have anything to do with you. Stop reading this post immediately, go to the store, buy some Nutella, and eat an entire jar by the spoonful. Return here only after you've digested the delicious chocolaty hazelnut glory of Nutella and accepted that your parents didn't really love you, because if they had they would have introduced you to Nutella years ago.

As scrumptious as Nutella is, however, if you've ever tried to make a Nutella sandwich, you very likely know that it puts up a serious fight.

The first sign of trouble is when you plunge the knife into the jar and it stops dead in its tracks. If NASA were to measure the force required to drag a butter knife through a jar of Nutella, it probably wouldn't register on any existing equipment. Nutella should come with an elbow brace and a sling, because you're going to need them by the time you extricate knife from jar.

The second sign of trouble is the massive damage caused to the bread when attempting to spread the Nutella. Not only didn't this stuff want to leave the jar, now it clings to the butter knife with a death grip, shredding the slice of white bread like a savage animal in the process. You've got two options at this point:

  1. Hold the bread down with your fingers and spread around them. You might not end up covered in Nutella to your third knuckle, but don't count on it. You'll probably need a shower.
  2. Press down hard enough with the knife to ensure spread vacates knife. You might not completely destroy the integrity of the bread, but don't count on that, either.
I strongly encourage method number one. It's definitely messier, but the chances of success are far greater. Plus, you get to lick your fingers for the next hour.

And if spreading Nutella weren't already an impossible task to achieve, everyone knows the best accompaniment for Nutella on white bread is marshmallow fluff. Unfortunately, the only substance less easily spreadable than Nutella is marshmallow fluff. It's like an overwhelming, sandwich-themed, cosmic joke.

By the time both ingredients are sufficiently applied, the bread sufficiently mangled, and your nerves sufficiently shot, you might have achieved a final product resembling something close to a sandwich. But trust me, one bite is all it takes to prove the final product is worth the struggle.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Word Count Envy: A Pep Talk for Slow Writers

It’s all too easy to feel inadequate as a writer of fiction. So many opportunities to embrace self-doubt arise during the writing process it’s remarkable any writer has ever managed to complete a book.

Are the characters fully developed? Does the plot make sense? Is the manuscript riddled with continuity errors? Does the sentence structure create a natural flow for the reader? Should the story be told by a first person narrator, a third person limited narrator, a third person omniscient narrator, or a biased, secondary, first person narrator? Is my grammar flawed? Does the book I just finished writing tell the same story as the book I began writing eight months ago?

There’s almost no way to keep some of these doubts from lodging in your brain and festering, but there is one often self-imposed hurdle that should be avoided right from the start: fear of inadequate productivity.

It seems no matter where you turn for writing advice – blogs, books, magazines, chatrooms, social media – everyone has a firm idea about how many words you should write each day to consider yourself a serious writer. Two-thousand words a day and one-thousand words a day are the most common numbers you’ll see handed down as required output. They are preached so frequently and so adamantly that not achieving them can weigh heavily on your authorial conscience.

The problem with expecting to write thousands of words a day is it isn’t always realistic, particularly if you are, like me, not a full-time writer.

When I see comments by other authors on blogs or in group discussion threads in which they tout their daily word count, some reporting as much as 8,000 words during the course of a single weekend, a fleeting sense of envy often surges through me. My current work in progress is thoroughly outlined and my enthusiasm for it is boundless, so why can’t I achieve a similar level of productivity?

The answer is simple. I can’t write 8,000 words in one sitting, or two, or even three. It isn’t the way my brain works, and it might not be the way your brain works, either.

After a maximum of 1,000 words, my brain wants to go back and reread what it just produced. My brain wants to take in the latest effort and consider it, make certain it accomplishes what it should, and ensure it will lead me properly to the next thousand words. I learned a long time ago that forging ahead without the full consent of my brain yields only page after page of substandard writing.

There’s also the matter of time.

I have a job, and three teenage kids, and friends, and family, and a dog, and a house, and a life, and all of the experiences and requirements that come along with all those things. In order to remain a viable activity, writing has to take a back seat to the primary responsibilities that provide steady income and make life worth living in the first place. Not only do some days pass without my having an opportunity to write, sometimes entire weeks will pass without the first word of fiction being set to paper. If I allowed every day that passed without accomplishing any writing to impact my belief that I am a good writer with a good story to tell, then I would have given up trying years ago.

If you need a 2,000-word goal in order to keep motivated, then set that goal and achieve it. Does a one-page-a-day goal work better for you? Go for it. Is it enough that you take the time, when you have it to spare, and do as much as you can? If you don’t have a publisher pressing you to meet a deadline, yes.

The best any of us can do is experiment with writing and find a level of productivity that is sustainable. Just keep in mind, it isn’t how many words you’re able to churn out on a daily basis that matters most. It’s the quality of the final product.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I'm not one to buy into mass hysteria.

I've never lost sleep worrying that aliens were going to abduct me, or that I would receive an anthrax-laced letter, or a package in the mail with a return address of "Unabomber." I don't have an irrational fear of Obamacare death panels, or a globalized one-world government designed to subvert our Constitution, or the infiltration of Federal government agencies by the Muslim Brotherhood.

I don't believe Amazon is continuously conniving to find ways of keeping the 37 cents in royalties I make on book sales each month, and I don't think McDonalds is doing anything more disgusting to its meat than any maker of ground meat products has been doing for centuries -- ever hear of blood sausage?

Then there's the newest scare, the Ebola epidemic, the edge of which we presently stand so precariously close to we find it necessary to have the TSA taking temperatures of passengers arriving on international flights. I'm sure that process is being handled with the same efficiency TSA employs at all other stages of the screening process. (If they used a rectal thermometer, they could speed things up by taking temperatures and performing cavity searches at the same time. Sounds like good multi-tasking to me.) And Fox so-called News pundits are even calling for shutting down our borders until we all feel safe again, which is ridiculous. So long as middle-aged, overweight French-Canadians wearing Speedos continue to swarm the beaches of upstate New York every summer, I'll never feel safe.

You see, as horrible as Ebola is, it's just one more thing in a long line of things that could, under the proper circumstances, kill me. There were roughly 16,000 homicides in the United States last year, roughly 35,000 car crash fatalities, and roughly 580,000 cancer-related deaths. Even the common flu kills tens of thousands -- in some years hundreds of thousands -- of people worldwide, so Ebola is going to have to kick things up a notch for me to start sizing my kids for HazMat suits.

Under current conditions, I stand as much chance of contracting Ebola as I do of being struck by lightning while a shark bites off my leg in a crashing airplane in the middle of a hurricane.

But this kind of thinking doesn't offer any solace to those who are overdue for a really good panic attack over something beyond their control. Our culture has been conditioned to live in dread of the outside world for so long that we simply don't know what to do with ourselves if there isn't some great bogeyman sneaking around to fear. And what makes Ebola a really meaty candidate for mass hysteria is that there's no conspiracy theory needed to get the public all riled up about it. It's a contagious disease, pure and simple, and because one person has died and another has contracted the disease, we now have to shutter the windows and bolt the doors until the big bad virus goes away.

Well, I will have none of it, thank you very much. 

While I won't do anything silly to place myself in a precarious position -- such as, say, plan a nice holiday vacation to Liberia or Sierra Leone -- I refuse to live in fear. I will, however, avoid blood sausage, but who could blame me for that?

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Red Sock, Blue Sock

A tribute to Dr. Seuss, or a glimpse of a day in the life of a busy family? You decide. All I know is we had two mismatched socks and my daughter was cranky (really!), so I wrote a poem. I'm warning you now that this isn't a very good poem, but then I never have liked poetry. You can blame Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" for that. Anyway, here it is:

Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.
What's up with the day’s laundry?
There’s one sock here where two should be.
Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.

Sleepy, sleepy, one, two, three.
My daughter’s cranky as can be.
She threw a banana muffin at me.
Sleepy, sleepy, one, two, three.

Inside, outside, one, two, three.
The dog won’t make a poop or pee.
I walked her 'round the block with me.
Inside, outside, one, two, three.

Nagging, nitpick, one, two, three.
The twins are passive aggressively
Sniping at each other incessantly.
Nagging, nitpick, one, two, three.

Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.
Really  laundry – seriously?
The machine is eating my BVDs!
Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.

Turn the clock back, one, two, three.
Our daughter looks like a young lady.
She’ll always be a little girl to me.
Turn the clock back, one, two, three.

Check my heart rate, one, two, three.
The dog just scared the heck out of me
By barking at something I cannot see.
Check my heart rate, one, two, three.

Open the window, one, two, three.
The twins’ room smells adolescently,
And now they’re starting to play hockey.
Open the window, one, two, three.

Growing older, one, two, three.
Spend a few moments leisurely
To enjoy the kids before they flee.
Growing older, one, two, three.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Vanishing Trash Can

Some things make no sense to me.

Like when My Lovely Wife uses the word “geehawing,” for example. Whenever she utters the word, I expect a jug band to start playing and Roy Clark to introduce the next Hee Haw Honey.

Mohawks on grown men also bewilder me. If you’re over the age of, say, twenty-three, and you’re not a member of a punk band, yet you insist on sporting a Mohawk, then you need not wonder why you keep getting passed over for that promotion. Well-coiffed hair and clean shirts just might open doors to new opportunities. Mohawks and ear gauges do not have the same proven track record.

One recent mystery that has perplexed me is that of the vanishing trash can.

Years ago, someone came to the conclusion that the reliable old trash can was lonely and needed a friend. Recycling bins soon were paired with trash cans in high-profile locations, such as shopping malls and airports. This was sensible and offered convenience to millions of recycling-minded people who didn’t care enough about carbon footprints to stop using plastics, but wanted to feel good about their used recyclables being reused by someone else who also didn’t really care about carbon footprints.

In the past few months, however, I have noticed a reduction in the number of available trash cans in certain places, even to the point of there being none where, not too long ago, there might have been several in plain sight at all times.

The airport at Charlotte has always made sense to me, in as much as an airport can. The layout is simple – concourses leading out from a central hub, gates numbered sequentially, conveniently located eateries, and, until recently, plenty of trash cans dotting the landscape. Now they are all but extinct. In July, when I flew out of Charlotte for a business trip to Denver, I must have walked off half the calories from that Manchu Wok teriyaki chicken bowl before finding a can in which to deposit my trash. Not that there weren’t bins. There were plenty of bins at my disposal if I had plastics, or aluminum cans, or unsoiled paper products I wanted to get rid of, just no trash cans. I started all the way at the end of Terminal B and moved methodically from gate to gate without luck, until I finally dropped off my goods in the nearest bathroom. I was so miffed, I didn’t even bother tipping the uniformed man who hands out mints and pretends to clean the toilets (but who actually just stands around singing and watching everyone pee).

Not trash cans.
Even cruise lines seem to be following this annoying trend. During the Royal Caribbean cruise we took this summer to celebrate our upcoming twentieth anniversary, we dared to sneak bananas out of the Windjammer Café and eat them while kicking back in the lounge chairs on Deck 4. I know what you’re thinking: “Blackmarket Windjammer bananas on Deck 4? What extravagant luxury!” But, when I hoisted my widening cruisy keister off the taut plastics straps of the Deck 4 chair to dispose of the banana peels, there was no trash can to be found anywhere.
  • Twenty feet down past the sleeping old couple? Recycling bins.
  • Around the workers chipping rust off mysterious rusting cruise ship parts? Recycling bins.
  • Another twenty feet beyond the happy family trying to kill bystanders with shuffle board pucks? Recycling bins!
It might be paper. Maybe. (Shhh…)
Eventually, it came down to either chucking the peels overboard or defying the stenciled lettering on the bins and letting the crew sort it out later. I chose the latter.

I’m not against the idea of recycling. I’m happy to pretend my diet soda bottle will – without the use of harsh chemical processes that promote acid rain, fish kills, and a depletion of the ozone layer – be magically transformed by communal hippie pixies into a sparkly, clean, brand new diet soda bottle for someone else to use tomorrow.

I just want some consideration for the times I’m not trying to save the planet. I want consideration for those times I’m carrying banana peels, or an empty Manchu Wok bowl, or seven candy bar wrappers and a crumpled Dorito’s bag. In short, I want the world to start geehawing with the idea that, no matter how many recycling bins it thrusts in my face, sometimes I just want to throw crap away.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ship of Fools

We enjoy cruising, which is why we recently spent seven days on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas to celebrate our upcoming twentieth anniversary.

We enjoy having our room cleaned daily (sometimes several times a day). We enjoy being offered a variety of activities from which to choose. We enjoy sitting by the pool napping, secure in the knowledge we couldn't be doing anything productive even if we wanted to. And we enjoy eating food we didn't have to prepare, multiple times a day, without regard for cholesterol levels or blood sugar because, after all, we're on vacation, dammit.

I do expect, however, should we choose to cruise again in the next few years, we might elect to sail on a slightly smaller vessel. There's a critical mass of passengers a ship can take on before service begins to slip from specialized to generic, leaving one to come away feeling more like a sheep in a herd instead of a pearl in an oyster.

The Freedom of the Seas carries 4,300 passengers and 1,200 staff at maximum capacity. That's a population greater than that of 10 of the 12 incorporated towns in the county we call home, and roughly one-third of the population of our town.

A sane man wouldn't willingly spend a week locked in a confined area with one-third of his town's folk -- sleeping in cramped conditions under one roof, eating the same food, sharing the same limited selection of public toilets. But you put that confined space out at sea, fill up a few pools, light up a few cabaret shows, keep the alcohol and consumme flowing, and it suddenly changes from a potential nightmarish post-hurricane shelter at the New Orleans Superdome to a tropical luxury vacation.

Our biggest issue with the size of the ship, however, wasn't necessarily the service. Sure, the pizza in the promenade was low-grade cardboard topped with plastic cheese. It's true, some of the passengers weren't held to any kind of dress code in the formal dining room. Yes, Royal Caribbean's different onboard services are so siloed that we personally had to track down the manager of one of the onboard restaruants in order to have a bill corrected, and there were only enough 3D glasses for a quarter of the seats in the ship's theater.

All of that aside, the real problem with being cooped up with so many people for such a long period of time is the people themselves. Taken individually, human beings are tolerable, at best. Gather together a crowd of us and instill in us a bloated sense of entitlement and our true colors come blazing through with unfiltered glory.

Like the time, during our honeymoon cruise, when we took the galley tour. As we stood there waiting for the line to move, a father and his young child were separated by marauding band of senior citizens who, apparently, felt they were above the need to stand in line with the rest of us rabble. As they worked their way along ahead of the rest of us, but not quite out of earshot, I commented to My Lovely Wife:

"It's okay. They just want to make sure they see the kitchen before they die."

This time around the dinner table proved the most interesting place to meet unique people. And, yes, by unique I mean irritating.

We had know-it-alls who commandeered dinner conversation by telling (and sometimes retelling several times during the same evening) pointless stories that frequently disproved the very points they were trying to make. We had die-hard cruise loyalists who mistook detailing the difference in quality of free alcohol on the various cruise lines for interesting conversations. And, finally, we had borderline alcoholics who didn't realize their incessant discussion about the quantity of free alcohol on our particular cruise had me wondering if we would need to stage an intervention before formal night. Let's just say dinner conversation was strained, at best.

We did meet several pairs of people at random locations around the ship with whom we managed to have quite pleasant conversation, which was a relief because it meant we might not be the social misfits at our dinner table.

In the end, we will cruise again some time in the future, but next time we'll be sure to bring the kids, or go with friends, or maybe just hire some friendly looking people to sit at dinner with us.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Ate a Banana

That’s all I did.

Of course, I did have my normal breakfast not long before that -- a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with milk, along with a bowl of strawberries and blueberries.

I eat the cereal because I like it. I eat the strawberries and blueberries because I believe they can offset the damage done by decades of Dorito binging. While I wouldn’t say I was the least healthy eater in the world, a steady intake of chicken wings, pizza, Quarter Pounders with Cheese, fries and potato chips doesn’t necessarily qualify as a healthy diet. I’m fairly certain the blueberries are compensating for all of that now.

Oh, I also drank water and took the usual vitamins, if you want a complete breakfast inventory from the morning of the great banana incident.

In fairness to the banana, my skin already was slightly itchy when I woke up that morning, but it was after eating the banana sometime around 10:00AM that my immune system shifted into overdrive. Red bumps formed in my armpits within minutes of discarding the peel and, soon after, that familiar tightness in the throat joined the party.

Trust me when I tell you nothing gets your attention faster than a restricted airway. It doesn’t hurt, but it is most definitively unnerving. One minute you’re fine, and the next you find yourself gagging on your own uvula and wheezing like a ninety-year-old chain-smoking coal miner with a collapsed lung.

Fortunately, I’ve had only one reaction so severe that I seriously considered calling 911 and it was a long time ago. My troubles in recent years have been comparatively mild, resulting in only slight restriction of the trachea and a few hives that hang around just long enough to remind me how uncomfortable hives can be.

I wish I could identify my triggers, which would enable me to avoid those things that set off an allergic reaction. Whenever I’ve broken out, there’s never been an obvious culprit, except for that one time I ate gumbo chock full of crabs and clams. They might not have caused my lips to swell, but they’re nasty and that’s enough reason for me to blame them. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely certain I have identifiable triggers. It is an understood fact that there are times when the immune system, just for poops and giggles, decides to respond to an allergen that isn’t there, flooding the body with mast cells itching for a fight with a foe they can’t find. And that’s the most annoying part of it – not knowing what to avoid, or whether avoiding anything will make any difference anyway.

So, maybe it was the banana.

Maybe it was the combined effect of the banana and the strawberries.

Maybe it was the lethal combination of the 5:45AM cycle class, the healthy cereal and the fruit, with the banana serving as the final nail in the coffin.

Perhaps all that healthiness is the root cause. I’m starting to think I might need to return to the dietary patterns of my unenlightened, halcyon youth. After all, I can’t recall the last time Doritos made my throat close up.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Monday, July 28, 2014

You're In my Bubble!

Personal space is one of those things I often believe to be overrated.

We all want enough elbow room to feel like we can breathe, and we all need some small place to call our own that is not subject to the intrusion of others. Beyond that, if you can't accept the fact that there are many people sharing your world who will occasionally, if not frequently, invade your personal space, then you run a high likelihood of needing psychotherapy, or medication, at some point in your life.

A reasonable approach to personal space can keep us from sounding like the first-grader I heard a couple years ago when picking up my sons from school. Another kid was hanging on him, talking non-stop, not picking up on the visual cues that his friend didn't care what he was saying and didn't want want to be followed. When he'd finally had enough of the yammering in his ear, the kid on the receiving end stopped and yelled:

"You're in my bubble!"

Lately, there have been times I've wanted to yell at people about my bubble. I can talk myself out of the temptation most of the time, but there is one situation that has been seriously testing my resolve to behave like an adult. I should explain.

The gym locker room and I are not old friends. It's only been in recent years, thanks to My Lovely Wife, that I have gone to the gym with any regularity. My participation in fitness classes has nothing to do with a desire to go to the gym. Instead, my participation is motivated by two things: (1) wanting to spend time with My Lovely Wife, and (2) not wanting to die. You can't eat the way I like to eat without exercising and not expect to add an inch to your waistline every year, so physical fitness had to enter into the picture before insulin and stomach stapling were required to.

For those of you not acquainted with a men's locker room, it is a spacious area that smells like feet and houses several hundred clean lockers, only five of which are ever in use at any given time and they are always directly next to one another.

Regardless of which locker I choose, someone will enter immediately after me and choose the locker next to mine. When I return to the locker room in my poofy-butted cycle shorts after having sweated out the weight of a small child and try to change into my street shoes for the ride home, there undoubtedly will be a gaggle of men teaming around my locker and using up all the free bench space.

Now, it isn't the fact that I am a magnet for all the whacked-out weirdos in the locker room that bothers me. It's the fact that I am a magnet for all the naked whacked-out weirdos in the locker room that bothers me.

Chalk it up to my years of not playing interscholastic sports, or to my never having spent any quality time in a federal penitentiary, but I would rather not be in such close proximity to other men who are naked. I don't even like being in close proximity to myself when I'm naked. If I could make me wait in another room while I got naked, that would be a major enhancement to the quality of my life.

And, personal space aside, if you're going to plant your naked ass on the locker room bench while you spend the next twelve minutes drying the webbing between your toes and powdering your privates, please put a towel down first. Freshly-showered or not, I do not need to be subjected to any particular matter left behind, or to hear the suction release when you finally hoist your keister from its perch.

So I'm going to take a deep breath (before entering the locker room), try to choose a locker in a corner of the room no one else knows about, and keep clear of the naked men, because I'm not sure how well it would go over if I were to yell at scantily clad septuagenarians to get out of my bubble.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Mother of Exiles

There’s a reason the Statue of Liberty is not an armed warrior standing guard over the shores of New York and New Jersey. There’s a reason she is called Lady Liberty instead of Defender of the Homeland, and a reason she raises high a lamp to guide people safely to our shores.

The chains at her feet represent freedom from oppression, tyranny, and lack of opportunity, or maybe just the chance to leave the past behind and begin a new life in a place with no memory. Her presence at what once was the gateway to America has served as a symbolic gesture of welcome and acceptance to millions of people, even those who didn’t enter the United States through Ellis Island.

But she is, after all, only a statue. A metal frame covered in copper. She gives nothing tangible to anyone and doesn’t truly represent the mood or policies of our country on any given day. We often hear the excerpted quote from The New Colossus, the sonnet so closely associated with the Statue of Liberty because it is there on Liberty Island for visitors to see:  “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” Unfortunately, too few people can finish even just that one line of the famous poem.

As a native New Yorker who willingly left the state a quarter century ago, there is little about New York that gets me choked up anymore. But, if I am truly honest with myself, the Statue of Liberty and the ideal for which she stands still do, which is why I find it difficult to stomach recent media coverage of the bile and bigotry being displayed by some of my fellow citizens at Central American children who have crossed our southern border seeking refuge from harsh conditions.

Think what you will about our immigration laws – the most impactful of which to the situation was put in place before the current administration took office – the sight of privileged adults angrily protesting and attempting to block the arrival of children who themselves are wrapped in bureaucratic red tape is sickening. Lies and rumors about diseases and drug cartels are being spread by local, state and federal elected officials to drive hysteria among ignorant isolationists and racist conspiracy theorists while these children live Spartan lives, drawing pictures and learning basic school lessons, as they await their fates.

And talk about missed opportunities! Rather than shouting horrid insults at twelve-year-olds and throwing up makeshift roadblocks to keep buses from entering your town, why not form a welcoming committee? You want these children, some of whom very likely will become American citizens, to love their new country? You want the ones who end up being deported to still dream of a United States that actually lives by the ideals it spouts to the rest of the world? Then what better way to accomplish that than by doing what most modern religions say is the right thing to do and offer love, hope and support to those among you who are less fortunate?

The Statue of Liberty might be situated far from Arizona, Texas and California, but she is a national symbol.  Do yourself a favor. Read on a bit and take a moment to understand the meaning of all of the words of the sonnet by Emma Lazarus. In a country where only an infinitesimal percentage of our population can claim true native heritage, the words offered up by the Mother of Exiles should inspire us to be better than we have been of late.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Please Stop...

We had a great vacation last week.

Pennsylvania is lovely and the countryside surrounding the city of Lancaster particularly so. Over the course of seven days, we managed to visit historic Philadelphia, HersheyPark, the Julius Sturgiss Pretzel Factory, Luray Caverns, and we even found time one morning for breakfast at IHOP. Incidentally, blueberry cannoli pancakes should be permanently emblazoned on every IHOP menu from now through the end of eternity. If you haven’t tried them yet, what the hell are you waiting for?

For some reason, the soundtrack to our family “Road” movie included quite a bit of Journey. 

Turn on the radio and there’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” Pull into a gas station and get greeted by “Wheel in the Sky” from overhead speakers. Sit down in a restaurant booth and you’re tapping along to “Any Way You Want It” before you consciously acknowledge the song is even playing.

Now, if Journey had never formed as a rock band and later devolved into a lightweight video power ballad band my life wouldn’t be any the lesser for it, but I am not a Journey hater. I don’t hold a grudge against Carlos Santana for suggesting to Neal Schon that he start his own group, and I don’t harbor ill will toward MTV for the thousands of times it replayed the horrifically horrible video for “Separate Ways.” 

I freely admit to enjoying the group’s music. Show me any person in his or her forties who claims to never have attempted to match Steve Perry’s wailing voice in “Faithfully” while sitting alone in a car and I’ll show you a big fat liar.

Regardless of my enjoyment of the bands numerous hits, there was one Journey song that kept popping up round every corner during our trip, most especially during our two days at HersheyPark. You couldn’t hide from it, shut your ears to it, or put it out of your mind because the song, continuing its rise up from the ashes of clichéd eighties pop culture, refuses to die.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” -- apart from being one of several song titles that suggest Journey had a passionate distrust of the letter “G” -- is one of the more commercially successful covers by the cast of Glee, a show single-handedly responsible for convincing teens around the globe that all high schools have the budgets and technical ability to stage professionally choreographed karaoke competitions. This has led to all cover bands everywhere, even Death Metal cover bands, adding the song to their portfolios of musical butchery.

There was the Dueling Pianos show at HersheyPark that featured the song. Three talented pianists in bright suits who worked it into their 30-minute performance of piano-based pop tunes. Passable.

Fifty feet away was the all-girl cover band, Patty and the Peppermints, that featured the song. Six or seven young women in dire need of a properly functioning sound board and at least one band member with the ability to tune an instrument. Mildly annoying.

Then there was the roaming street trio that attempted the song. Three aspiringly disengaging waifs with instruments on loan from the Toys ‘R Us throwback collection. Intolerable.

At this point, I’m just happy to be home where I have more direct control over the soundtrack of my life. Until, of course, Our Daughter hops in the shower and cranks up the teenage tunage. What are the chances that’s actually Journey singing "Don't Stop Believin'?"

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Mischievous Responder

Some genius recently reported via NPR that teenagers skew important surveys by intentionally providing incorrect answers.

I know what you're thinking: "You listen to NPR?"

They call these lying teenagers "mischievous responders" and say they raise concerns over faulty data and misleading survey results. Apparently, the light bulb went off as early as 2011 when some rocket scientist with a clipboard decided to question not only the veracity of answers provided to a survey on the lives of lesbian and gay teenagers, but also whether or not the kids taking the survey were actually even homosexual.

To me, this is nothing more than one of those monumentally obvious "duh" moments.
  • The McDonald's coffee was hot and burned you? -- Duh.
  • The Outback's Bloomin' Onion appetizer is fattening? -- Duh.
  • The Kardashians are soul-sucking parasites that are 47% responsible for all tabloid sales and 97% responsible for the decline of Western culture? -- Duh.
I turned 46 recently-- unless my parents are a couple of mischievous responders -- and I can honestly say that from the very first time I was ever surveyed to the most recent, I have never completed a survey without either gleefully adding an untruth or knowingly answering a question incorrectly simply because I knew no one would take it seriously. Call me a mischievous responder, or a wisenheimer, or a smart ass if you must, but it isn't my fault. If you're hell-bent on asking me stupid questions, I'm going to dedicate myself to being equally hell-bent on giving you stupid answers.

Plus, it's fun. If you're seriously going to ask my opinion on politics while I'm sucking down Dippin' Dots somewhere between Sbarro and Auntie Anne's Pretzels at the local mall, then you deserve to hear that I don't trust the Affordable Care Act because I think President Obama used to be a Somali pirate. In fact, that kind of canvassing might explain 90% of Fox News coverage.

In fact, I plan to make it my goal to respond more and more mischievously with each future survey I take. I'll go out of my way, time permitting, to seek out people with clipboards in malls and airports just to test my creative skills on the fly. I'll even try to enlist the aide of people around me. The next time you're watching the news, don't be surprised to find out a full thirty percent of Americans believe the Pope is secretly an Islamist extremist in league with Glen Beck to undermine the stock value of Apple.

Anyone interested in starting now? Go ahead. Ask me anything.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Flush With Manliness

I am not, by most modern definitions of the term, manly.

I am under six feet tall. My features are not chiseled. I don't follow sports. My last two dogs collectively weigh less than the average Christmas ham. I enjoy shopping. My abs are less six-pack and more lumpy down pillow. I bake a mean loaf of bread. My gambling skills are non-existent. And if I attempt to grow a beard, I end up looking like someone who might loiter near your child's elementary school with a bag of candy and a van parked around the the corner.

But where I have, in the past, proven my manliness are in those home maintenance and upgrade projects that occur from time to time.

Need a room painted? Two coats in one day with clean up. Done.

Assemble a new cabinet or dresser? Stand back. It might get messy for a bit, but you're gonna love it when it's all put together.

Enhancements to a mostly barren backyard? How about a 100-square-foot paved patio with retaining wall and a fire pit on one side of the yard, and an outdoor theater with an 8-foot screen and surround sound on the other side? Yeah, I did that.

Unfortunately, while I can still proudly grunt and strut from time to time, a chink in my manly armor has begun to show. It started small, almost unnoticeably, and has grown into an epidemic encompassing three of the most important rooms in the house. By now, it is nearly impossible to flush any one of our toilets with any sort of assurance it will (a) flush on the first attempt, (b) refill the tank within an acceptable amount of time, or (c) flush without generating a screaming, squealing sound like the souls of a thousand plumbers crying out in vain for you to call a professional for help.

Fixing a toilet used to be simple. Chances were pretty strong the root cause of your problem was a flapper that no longer kept a good seal. Easy enough change out and cheap, too. Five bucks and a little water sloshed over the edge of the tank later and you were done.  And if your toilet innards stopped working, you drove to the hardware store, plunked money down for new innards, drove home and installed them. That was it. Not any more.

In the past year or two, I've plunked down more money than I care to recall on toilet innards. Cheap ones, expensive ones, fancy ones, simple ones, complete replacements and partial repairs -- doesn't seem to make a difference.

This one didn't flush at all. That one is louder than a freight train. The flapper chain on this one can't be adjusted. That other one sprayed water ten feet into the air in a room with eight-foot ceilings. Even when you do get one that seems to work, you'd better hang on to that receipt because once you let your guard down it's going to find some way to mock and torment you.

At this point, I figure I have two options, and I'll let you decide which is the more manly of the two. I can either heed the screaming voices and call a professional, or I can remove the innards from the toilets in the house and hire one of our kids to remain on standby at all times with a bucket of water. What do you think?

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nine Days Old

Of all the things that are oh-so delicious, yet oh-so not very good for you in mass quantities, bread takes the cake.

Too many carbs can pump up your blood sugar, imbalance your metabolism, settle in stores of fat in embarrassing parts of your body, and result in throwback acne breakouts that make you wonder where you left that tube of Clearasil thirty years ago. Trouble is, bread plays so well with most other foods that it's a natural go-to item on most menus.

You can slather bread with any variety of creamy spreads,  melt cheese on bread, pile meats on bread to make excellent cold cut sandwiches, load bread with vegetables to make slightly less excellent vegetarian sandwiches, wrap bread around mozzarella cheese and pepperoni to make mini calzones, spread bread out on a pan and cover it with sauce and cheese to make pizza, and even balance snacky-type items on itty-bitty slices of bread to create dozens of party-size appetizers.

You can make bread bowls to hold soups and salads. You can top bread with olive oil and fancy Italian seasonings to make focaccia bread. You can top bread with caraway seeds to make rye bread. You can make round bread, rectangular bread, square bread, fluffy bread, flat bread, moist bread, dry bread and even pita bread. There is practically no shape, style or flavor of bread that isn't available for your digestive delight.

You can toast it, which so completely alters the nature of bread that we find it necessary to no longer refer to it as bread (but we all know it really still is bread). And, if you don't have anything to put on bread, you can tear a hunk off a loaf and stuff it in your mouth, because that's just one of the many acceptable things to do with bread.

The only kind of bread you can't eat is moldy bread. Sad to say, bread sometimes sits around long enough to turn on you. I'm not talking about the white residue you can convince yourself isn't really mold (maybe some excess flour landed on the outside of the loaf before it was packaged, right?). I'm talking about the hairy, green, mushroom-sprouting, biodome experiment mold that has taken over half the loaf and makes you wonder if other foods in the pantry might also have been contaminated. That's the kind of bread you shouldn't eat.

We have a game we play in our house called "Spot the Spot." Okay, maybe I'm the only member of the family aware of the game, but it goes something like this:
  • Step 1: Buy bread.
  • Step 2: Don't eat all the bread.
  • Step 3: Store the leftover bread in its original clear plastic bag.
  • Step 4: Continue not eating the bread and check it daily for moldy spots.
  • Step 5: When you finally do identify an authentic moldy spot, loudly announce to the rest of the household that you found a moldy spot and will be throwing the bread away.
  • Step 6: Throw away the bread with over-stated dramatic flair.
  • Step 7: Take note of how many members of the household have paid absolutely no attention to you.
More often than not, this game is played out by hamburger and hot dog buns in a basket on our kitchen counter. Unbeknownst to them, they enter this makeshift gladiatorial ring with little hope of emerging unscathed. It's a cruel fate.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Release the Kracken!

So, we have a new dog. Her name is Lola (chosen in honor of The Kinks, not Barry Manilow). She is a replacement dog. You know, one dog dies, so you get another one to replace it. A replacement dog. 

The need for a replacement dog came about last Thanksgiving when our dog of 9 years, a poodle named Lily, passed away from congestive heart failure. Lily was a special member of the family. She was my grilling buddy and my officemate. She welcomed all visitors and kept watch over our house from her favorite perch on the German's bed, from where she could see the neighborhood's comings and goings. She loved us all equally, only some of us more equally than others, which is a matter for continuing debate. 

Our boys were quite young when Lily came into our lives. I suspect for them she was just another part of the furniture. Our Daughter's attachment was more visceral. She never fully understood that Lily belonged to all of us and not just to her. 

Lily's last few days were a roller coaster ride of health problems and emotions. Near the very end, just as we were ready to do the merciful thing and end her suffering, she rebounded. She ate more food than she had eaten in days. Her breathing sounded almost normal and that young puppy light was back in her eyes.
But the recovery was short-lived. By the following night, we made her as comfortable as possible and knew she had come to the end. She joined us in the family room, sat at My Lovely Wife's feet for several minutes, then came over to sit next to me. She gave me one last kiss on the head, rested her body against me and was gone. 

We all cried and mourned her loss. We told the kids that 
we would start searching for a new dog when they were emotionally ready. Less than three days later, the boys announced they had found "the one." 
Due to allergies, our pets need to be hypo-allergenic. Most people think this means a pet that doesn't shed, but it isn't the hair that gets you. Hypo-allergenic pets will never need Head and Shoulders shampoo because their bodies produce no dander. It's the dander hanging onto the shed hairs that waft into your sinuses and send your immune system into a five-alarm panic.

Long story short, we brought Lola, a mostly black Havanese, home with us from a breeder in Garner, NC. Five days might seem like a quick turnaround, and perhaps it is, but the lack of not having a dog in the house for the first time in twenty years hung heavy in the air. 

My greatest concern for Lola was that she would carry the expectation of living up to the high standards Lily set in so many ways. Apart from recurring medical issues, Lily truly was a low maintenance dog. She didn't bark much, she listened well, she enjoyed the company of people, and she was smart. What we are learning now is that exceptional canine companions come in more than one make or model. 

I knew Lola would fit in well the moment she vomited on Our Daughter's boyfriend, Señor Awesome. He is, so far, the only person to have been so christened, with the exception of a stray happy piddle on my Dad's shoe just the other day. Obedience is a bit of an issue. I imagine trying to lead a three-legged cat in heat in a straight line through a fish market might prove easier than taking Lola on even the shortest stroll down the street. Apart from that minor character flaw, Lola is proving smart and sweet and intelligent.

Best of all she likes sleeping in her crate at night, something Lily never would have done. The moment you closed the crate door on Lily she began digging like a crazed Chilean miner to escape. Lola, on the other hand, hangs out in there and sleeps until we open the door 
and announce "Release the Kracken!" to unleash unbridled puppy energy throughout the house.

And now we are temporarily dogless again as our little Cuban is spending the night at the vet's. Today was the big day for spaying, fixing a small hernia, and pulling baby teeth that refuse to give up the ghost. We are all anxious to have her back, because once you're accustomed to the unquestioning, uncompromising, blindly loyal companionship of a dog, your house simply isn't a home without one.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Arm or a Leg?

The problem with most insurance plans is that you, the insured, in order to end up being paid out large sums of cash, have to drop dead. Since dropping dead runs contrary to my goals in life, I have yet to receive large sums of cash from any companies that have insured me.

I mean, let’s face it, insurance companies are happy to reimburse for approved out-of-pocket expenses, or issue payment directly to a third party (hospital, mechanic, tattoo removal parlor) to cover outrageously costly procedures, but there’s no incentive behind any of that. No net profit for the insured. No money to be pocketed by the enterprisingly unwell.

All that might change soon for me, however, with the arrival of a new, and surprisingly versatile, accidental death and dismemberment plan. The death part doesn’t interest me, but that bit about dismemberment shouldn’t be too easily dismissed. I don’t want to give the impression of being a man who plays the system, but the way this plan is presented appears to invite at least the consideration of which body parts might be the most superfluous.

Along with death, there are a few payout options we can immediately rule out, such as quadriplegia and coma. What’s the point in making the sacrifice for 100% payout of benefits if I’m permanently unconscious or unable to grab a wad of bills and wave it in people’s faces? Besides, I never was a big Who fan.

I also prefer to put aside complete loss of hearing and sight, since some of that insurance money will go toward a state-of-the-art entertainment center and theatre room. I’m willing to compromise a bit on stereo hearing and depth perception, but total loss of both senses will completely negate the value of the hi-definition plasma screen and the booming surround sound system. Loss of sight in one eye gets me a half payout, which for some reason is the same amount I’d get for total loss of hearing, which doesn’t really seem fair, but let’s not jump ahead without further investigating other options for a full payout.

For instance, if I’m willing to lose an appendage or two, my senses don’t necessarily need to be compromised. Loss of two or more hands and/or feet pays in full. So does the loss of either a foot or a hand, but only if combined with the loss of sight in one eye. This is where the insurance company’s schedule of covered losses devolves into a rather morbid a la carte menu.

If quadriplegia isn’t for me, then maybe paraplegia is. It pays out 75%, which isn’t bad and is a significantly better score than uniplegia (25%) and hemiplegia (50% again unfair – half a body is half a body, right?)

Or, how about the loss of only one hand or foot for 50%? Maybe.

Loss of thumb and index finger of the same hand for 50%? Possible.

Loss of speech for 50%? I doubt the world would be any much worse off if I couldn’t sing in church anymore.

Perhaps I should start small to test the waters. For 20% pay out I could give up all toes on the same foot, which might make it tough to balance properly, but if the entertainment center is truly state-of-the-art then I probably won’t have to worry too much about standing.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Meaning of Youth Hockey

It's hockey season again for the village recreation youth league, which means strapping on pads, tying up those inline skate laces, and giggling about the idea of two twelve-year-old boys wearing athletic supporters.

It means hauling some of the foulest smelling bags of rancid equipment ever created by man or God to and from the outdoor rink in the hopes that no rain falls (or in the case of this year, no snow) to cancel practice.

It means praying someone from the village Parks & Rec office has finally gotten the lights under control so the kids don't end up in blackout conditions before their hour is up.

It means freezing your butt off sitting on ice-cold bleachers and craning your neck to see around all those people who like to stand at the glass completely oblivious to the fact that they themselves are not transparent.

It means hollering when you see the other team getting away with what you think is a clearly visible infraction and cheering when your kids' team gets away with an infraction that you prefer to think of as a high-quality aggressive play, even though in reality you barely understand the rules of the game.

It means yelling at some kid on your sons' team for standing still as a statue while the puck slips away only to realize he's one of your sons.

It means keeping an eye on your dog on those occasions you happen to bring her to the rink to keep her from eating all the loose strips of fat tape and discarded mouth guards she finds under the bleachers.

It means shifting in an instant from casual banter with your friends to screaming like a crazed psychopath when your kid scores, drives down the rink with the puck, makes an amazing pass, blocks an attempt on goal with a swat of his lightening fast reflexes, or robs the other team of a scoring opportunity by smothering the puck with his body.

It means celebrating when your kids' team ties that one team in the league that's stacked with taller, faster kids and led by an aggressive coach who's more interested in winning than teaching sportsmanship.

It means hearing through long-distance phone conversations about how one of your sons scored in the very first game of the season and your other son held the opposing team to a tie with amazing saves through three periods of play.

It means fighting back the tears when you're sitting in a hotel room three-hundred miles from home and your son says "I wish you could have been there, Dad" after their first game of the season.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Friday, March 14, 2014

So Bad It's Good For You

China’s air is so polluted that some people don’t leave their homes for weeks, or months, at a time.

A picture of a sunny day in Beijing looks like the legendary London fog, only the Chinese are dealing with acid-laced death thick enough to chew instead of suspended droplets of harmless water. One makes you wet, the other burns your eyes, restricts your airway, plugs up your lungs and makes you dead.

But this is a good thing, according to Chinese officials. It might be unhealthy pollution caused by a country willing to work its people to death in order to please those of us living in the richest 10% of the world with the fruits of cheaply-produced sweatshop labor, yet it also serves as a safety net against potential enemies and spies.

It’s like a cloaking device, hiding the bustling cities of Beijing and Shanghai from the prying eyes of all the evil non-Communist countries that might otherwise learn the ancient Chinese secret of how to use caustic chemicals to turn recyclable cardboard into faux-meat dumplings to sell to unsuspecting pedestrians from sidewalk food carts. The citizenry of China shouldn’t fear air pollution, they should run outside and embrace it – but only in ten minutes intervals followed by a full body scrub and sinus flush.

And over in France, the smog in Paris is so bad you can’t see the horizon, let alone the intricate details of the Eiffel Tower from only a mile away. Google it right now and whatever picture you’re seeing of the Paris skyline will look like it was taken by someone who smeared flan all over his camera lens. Actually, that’s probably a better use for flan than eating it. Nasty stuff…

And, while the French aren’t quite as enthusiastic about their pollutants as the Chinese are about theirs, they do at the very least have the good sense to blame it not on themselves and their slack environmental laws but, instead, on Mother Nature herself. It seems that uncharacteristically warm days and cold nights are causing the air at ground level to remain dormant, which means Paris has been left eyeballs deep in its own smog rather than watching the city’s pollutants rise into the upper atmosphere and become someone else’s problem.

Here in the United States, we need to do a better job with these kinds of phony-balony PR tactics employed by our European and Asian friends. We too easily feel the weight of responsibility for our environmental abuses. That doesn’t mean we stop abusing the environment. We just feel really bad about it when we’re done. Heck, if we feel really guilty we might even do something symbolic.

Wipe out 95% of the West Coast sequoia forests? 

Launch a campaign to get elementary school kids around the country to plant thousands of mass-produced, sickly pine sapplings.

Poison our lakes and oceans with trash and microscopic bits of degraded plastic? 
Launch a national PR campaign to discourage people from buying bottled water.

Instead of this kind of bleeding-heart, Johnny-come-lately do-goodery, what we really need to do is shift blame to implausible causes while lauding the fictional benefits of the devastation we have created.

Take the recent poisoning of watersheds in West Virginia and North Carolina, for example. Sure, what those companies did was disgracefully awful and preventable, but why not turn those frowns upside down with some positive spin? Maybe they have compromised the natural water resources for thousands of people and destroyed immeasurable quantities and varieties of wildlife, but those poisons might also be targeting the dreaded Asian jumping silver carp.

See? It isn’t so hard once you put a little thought to it.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Vominator

There's no way to ease in to this topic, so I'm going to leap in with both feet -- VOMIT!

Actually, leaping in with both feet is more than just the cliched use of a literary device, it's a literal fact. In order to deal with the Italian's vomit situation early Sunday morning, I truly had to walk through approximately twenty square feet of vomit-covered hardwoods and carpeting. And why? Because the Italian was in the living room and needed a clean shirt and a blanket from his bedroom. When your kid is sick and shivering, you walk through vomit to help him.

I was in bed when it started, having finally fallen asleep around midnight. The Italian woke me up at one-thirty by poking me in the back.

"Dad?" Poke, poke. "Dad?" Poke, poke, poke. "Dad, I threw up."

It doesn't matter how soundly asleep you are, those words wake you up in a hurry. For starters, your son is sick and needs to be cared for. Secondly, somewhere in the house is a mess that needs to be cleaned, and the sooner the better.

We've enjoyed our share of award-winning vomits during our parenting years. There was the time the German puked up Cheetos all over the back of the driver's seat in the van. There was the time Our Daughter projectile-vomited goldfish crackers four feet across the room, smack into the middle of her Mother's chest and deep into the piles of a shag carpet. There was the time Our Daughter, having finally had the chance to try RavioliOs after years of resistance from My Lovely Wife and I, permanently stained the carpet around her bed. The Italian's Sunday morning vomit easily qualifies for nomination in several categories.

Let's begin with coverage. I walked over to the kids' bathroom to survey the damage only to find myself caught in that fragile mental state between uncontrollable weeping and giddy laughter. There are days when the horizon doesn't stretch out as far ahead of me as that field of vomit did on Sunday morning.

God bless him, the boy tried to make it to the bathroom once he realized what was coming. He jumped out of bed and ran to the door, but never got it open before Vesuvius erupted. It hit the carpet with such force that the door and nearby wall were splattered more than a foot high. Knowing there was more to come, he pulled open the door, stepped into the small hallway, and let loose with another ricochet trick shot on the hardwood floor. It took me fifteen minutes just to make a safe path -- not clean, mind you -- to his bedroom closet.

For more than three hours, I wiped up the hardwoods, wiped down the walls and baseboards, depukified the doors, and scrubbed the carpet. Amazingly, the only other person awake in the house was the Italian, and only because he threw up five or six more times, albeit under controlled conditions. Even the German remained unconscious, despite the fact I was scrubbing for over an hour just feet from his bed. After the sun came up and all eyes were open, we broke out the carpet cleaner and attempted a proper deep clean.

The end result is yet another permanent stain, although perhaps not as noticeable as some others. Years from now, if we try selling the house, I might have to come up with a new name for the carpet color. How about "Nutty Brown," or "Dark Chocolate?"

Would you believe they have a carpet color called "Outback Rib Sauce and Chunky Mashed Potatoe?"

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Year of $100

One-hundred dollars.

That's roughly how much money I earned last year as a direct result of my writing. Three books and this blog as a platform to tell the world about them and all I managed to make off those books was one-hundred dollars. Sounds about right to me, and let me tell you why I think so.

For starters, I ain't no Shakespeare.

I realize that, as an author, I should be the first person shouting from the rooftops about why you should buy my books. I should be that person you avoid at parties, the one who'll bore you to tears with details about the painstaking care I took to plan out plot twists, afflict my characters with bizarre yet endearing traits, and leave the story dangling precariously at the edge of a precipice so the reader achingly yearns for the resolution offered in the sequel. But, even after years in sales, I've never been a fan of the hard sell.

What do I think of my books? I like them. I enjoyed writing them. They were fun to outline, fun to write, and fun to edit. I had a good time creating the covers. And while they are far from perfect, I think you might like them, too.

Secondly, I never planned to make a living off this.

Hobbies should be just that -- hobbies. The problem I see is when people experience the smallest taste of success or attention, they tend to run wild with it and get way ahead of themselves.

One of my lifelong dreams was to write a book. Just because I realized that dream doesn't mean my book is any good, or that I deserve legions of adoring fans tripping over themselves to hand over their hard-earned money. That I have a collection of blog posts and two finished fiction books to my name (with a third coming out in the next few weeks) means just as little. All I did was find the time in my busy schedule to indulge in my hobby. Nobody owes me anything for that. It's the difference between chasing your dream in the hopes of realizing fame and fortune and chasing your dream because it brings you a sense of fulfillment.

Sad to say, on those occasions when I do peruse the blogs and websites of authors with similar track records to mine, it seems these authors spend far more time than I working the market, buying ads, attending book signings, managing social media, and for what? So they can end the month having sold seven copies of their books on Amazon? No, thanks. I have far more important things to do (like spend time with my family and earn real money by being good at my real job).

Thirdly, I'm cheap.

If my hobby were wood-working, I wouldn't spend hundreds for a professional to design the rocking chair I planned to build in my basement. If my hobby were painting, I wouldn't seek out a mentor at a national art gallery for pointers on how best to paint a picture of my dog.

Likewise, with writing as my hobby, I'm not about to spend hundreds of dollars on cover designers and editors, regardless of how many times established authors tell me I should if I want to be taken seriously as an author. I'm a hobbyist. By definition, I don't give a crap if people take me seriously.

Of course, I do feel warm and fuzzy when people compliment my books in reviews, or tell me in person that they enjoyed reading one of my books. I'm not immune to feeling a sense of pride or accomplishment when someone shows appreciation or admiration for what I've created, but I try to keep it from going to my head. Publishing success (either through self-publishing or traditional publishing) is, like any other success in life, equal parts hard work and luck. Call me a no-fun practical stick in the mud, but I'd rather put my energy into my day job which yields success in the form of a paycheck every two weeks.

So, at the end of the day, I enjoy writing and hope that my skills improve with each book I complete. If what I write brings a few fleeting moments of enjoyment to friends in my neighborhood or strangers halfway around the world, so much the better.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler