Category Archives: Parenting

Pong

One snowy Christmas eve, my father came home with a bounce in his step, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Along with this energetic demeanor, he also had a bag, a big bag with a big box in it. “What’s this? What’s in the bag?“ We could tell this was going to be something big, because he was all “presentational” about it, and after a deep breath, he told us.  Over the strains of The Julie Andrews Firestone Christmas album playing in the background, he told us; this wasn’t just a simple present.  This was a “family” present.  That had to mean something big, right? Something great, and something amazing.  With great restraint and absence of inflection, he said it was “Pong.”   Pong, the very first home video game on the market. “Pong”- even the name was fun. We had only heard of it, whispered of its glory on the playground, but here he was, my father, with an actual Pong game in his big, strong hands. For us!  For Christmas!  We couldn’t believe it. He was so proud and we were in awe. He was a god at that moment, a prince among men.  He must love us very much to bring home such a trophy, such a grand display of fun and affection. It was quite a moment for our family.

He slowly pulled the box out as if it were a time bomb. He then opened the box. “Ahhhhh” followed by “Wow” “Far Out” and finally “Rad.” Even my cynical brother had his interest piqued. There it was, the Pong. It was white and shiny and futuristic looking and somehow, oddly enough, had that new car smell. There was a moment of silence, and then my brother blurted “Well, hell, set it up!”

Those 10 minutes spent hooking it up to the TV seemed like a century. We were giddy with anticipation. “Hurry up, Dad!“ ”Hurray for Dad!” “Hurray for Pong!” we cheered. I thought about how jealous my friends would be when I told them we had Pong.  And then, after what seemed like an eternity of wires and swearing and static and more swearing, the screen changed from snow to black and our television was transformed into a game! It was magical! There we were, in our family room and we were playing an arcade game, in the family room, an arcade game! And oh, how we played. It was a delight; it was fun and fabulous and amazing and everything we had hoped for. We cheered and laughed and my father was a hero; everyone knew it. This was Frank Woodworth’s moment; he was in his glory, for exactly eight minutes. My brother dared to be the first to say what we were all thinking, “That’s it? That’s all there is?” With those few words, my father’s shoulders fell. It was over. The golden glory was gone.

For those of you who don‘t know what Pong is, to call it “basic” is a bit like saying an overhead projector is cutting edge technology. Like saying guys who work at NASA like science.  It is the MOST simple of video games. Although the box “claimed” to have 3 different games in 1 console, those games were in fact: tennis, badminton and ping-pong. I think you know where I’m going with this. In essence, one player rolled a dial (yes, a dial) that controlled a white “bar” on the screen that moved up and down. Not across or over or under, just up and down, and a square “ball” would bounce back and forth; the mission was to hit the ball with your bar. If you did so, it would make a sound, much like the game’s name. It you missed, a new ball would miraculously appear so you could repeat this exercise ad nauseum. The ball moved at a snail’s pace, all this on a black background.

The graphics were, well…not. It was the most basic, primitive game possible. A ball (for lack of a better word) went back and forth. That was it. It was the tennis without any of the fun of tennis. If Edison would have invented Pong, he would have considered it a failure and kept on trying until he ended up with Ms. Pac Man. It even bored the dog.

But that was my Dad; he would buy the first new thing that came out on the market, and suffer through all of the improved versions that came afterwards, stubbornly committed to the first version he bought. He didn’t really take the “wait and see” approach to much in life. Who else do you know that actually bought an Opel hatchback? He once bought one of those “porta-phones” that was the size of a golf cart and it had an antenna so large it should have been able to receive calls from the moon, but oddly, it only had a 20 feet radius from its “docking station” in the kitchen. We would try to use it by the pool and would have to tilt our heads toward the kitchen as if we were constantly in a state of confusion. When newer, smaller phones came out, he would look down his nose at them. “We have a port-a-phone…who needs another one?”

“Yeah, but dad, this one works in the car.”

“We don’t need to talk in the car. Americans are smarter than that. It’s unsafe….that’ll never catch on.“ That was my dad. A trend setter.

Sadly, my father’s Pong stayed under the television, right next to the Beta recorder (see?) collecting dust. He didn’t give up though. He was undaunted. Years later, when my father would energetically ask “Who wants to play some Pong?” I respond with “I have homework” which was code for painting my nails, popping zits, or writing emotional, crappy poems in my journal.

After the Pong bust, the cooler more versatile games starting coming out, like the “Atari” home system. Ohhhh, Atari.  You know, where you could actually, you know, change the game? It was like an 8 track player (which of course, my father also owned) for games where you could pull different games in and out; it was the precursor for the Holy Grail of games, the Nintendo.  I would beg my dad for an Atari system and he would say emphatically “No, play Pong! You have a perfectly good Pong game over there. You kids don’t appreciate what you have…” which was absolutely true.

My dad was taken from us when he was way too young, but he’s still with me.  I can still hear his voice, coming out of my mouth, when I tell my daughter, “No, you don’t need a smart phone you have a great walkie-talkie. Angry Birds, Schmangry Birds. Go get a deck of cards.”

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Filed under Family, Humor, Parenting, retro, Technology

Ticks

I need to fess up.  I have lived in Northern Wisconsin for 23 years, and I have never had a tick embedded into my skin. Never, which is freakishly rare for someone who lives where I live. Kriner and I can take a walk together and he will have 37 ticks crawling on him but somehow, I come off clean. I once read they are attracted to heat and my body temp runs low, so I assume they go after my hot-blooded man.

Ticks are gross, disgusting, and at times dangerous, but I’m not going to talk about Deer Ticks.  They’re the ones that carry Lyme disease, and yeah, it’s singular; this is something you learn when all of your friends, co-workers, acquaintances, students, former students and enemies get Lyme disease. They will correct you and you know what?  They get to, because they had Lyme disease.

“It’s not Lyme’s, it’s just Lyme.”

“I’m so sorry that you know that.”

That would be a downer to talk about and I want to keep these blog entries fun, so, I’m just going to talk about the ticks that are disgusting rather than dangerous. Those would be the Wood Ticks. (*Note, if you are squeamish about ticks, or bugs in general, please stop reading now.  It’s going to get really, really gross fairly quickly.  Also, I am sure my paramedic friends would point out you can catch bad stuff from Wood Ticks too…)

If you have never seen a Wood Tick (and I doubt there is anyone in an English-speaking country who has never seen one, since they are so common that I frequently see them pushing grocery carts at the local IGA and driving cars up and down main street) they are flat, tear-dropped shaped, brown insects with 8 legs and 2 big pincers coming out of their head. They are as thin as a thumbnail, that is, until they find a host.

The tick has the “awesome” ability to squirt a numbing chemical into your skin before it starts sucking you dry, so you really don’t feel it once it is in you. You may feel them crawling on your leg or arm, but if you don’t catch them early, they will find a nice, warm, quiet spot on your body (think gated community in Florida) before they proceed to dig in. They will stay there until they’re found or until they have satiated themselves and drop off, which can be a very long time.   (Have you checked the back of your neck while reading this?  I have.)

If you’re a dog owner in the northern part of Wisconsin, you are well-versed in ticks.  Dogs aren’t able to find and remove ticks as affectively as humans (you know, opposable thumbs and all) and most humans don’t find them on their dogs until they can feel them under fur, which means the tick has gotten bigger and more bloated.  You pray at this point your dog doesn’t bite them off and yes, I too just threw up in my mouth a little bit.  Most dog-owners have their own special rituals for dealing with the ticks they find on their beloved animals. We’ve all heard of the scotch tape trick, and if you haven’t, it’s time to leave the city.  Other tricks are the “toilet dump”, the “fingernail squish” (very difficult to execute but most impressive and final) and of course, the “burn.”  However, perhaps the most intriguing yet repulsive tick containment/elimination technique is the “tick jar.”  That’s right; sometimes there are so many ticks on a dog, that you need a jar when you check your animal.  And here’s the best part, sometimes people don’t get rid of the ticks right away; they keep them in the jar for fun.

This great little craft can be enjoyed by the entire family.  It’s easy, fun and educational!  Here’s how you do it.  You will need a jar or can, some cooking spray, and lots and lots of ticks.  When attempting to make your own tick jar, it’s important to spray the aerosol cooking spray on the inside of the jar, preferably one without ridges. You want to make it impossible for the ticks to climb out.  Since the top of the jar is open, you get to see the ticks, in all of their disgusting glory, in a not-so-natural habitat. You may think this is horrid and gross and only a select few humans would opt for this method, and you’d be right.

Among some of my friends, there seems to be a competition to see who can have the most lively tick jar. When I first moved here, Brian Grube had a tick jar he  never emptied and we all found it fascinating, albeit disgusting.  To this day I have never seen a tick jar that even comes close to his, but to be fair, he had 4 hairy dogs in one house.

I feel at this point, I should spend a little time describing the occupants of the jar, because based on diet, these ticks can range greatly in appearance.

On the bottom of the food chain are the newer, or “probationary” ticks.  They are small, lively and thin. When a dog’s owner finds them, these ticks are most likely only crawling on the dog, and not yet embedded.

Then you have the “less than a day” suckers; they still look like ticks, but they are thicker, maybe the depth of a quarter. They are “all that” in the tick world, because they have just recently fed. That’s really what it comes down to with ticks. If they’re hungry, they’re nothing, but if they’re fed, the world is their oyster, so to speak.

Now we get into the “John Gotti” tick. They have sucked blood for days, and have lived the good life at the expense of others.  They have lived under the radar, and in spite of petting, scratching and brushing your dog, they have remained unfound. They’re sneaky and smart.  If they got pulled over, I’m sure they would tell the officer that the blood just “fell off a truck.” These ticks look like little balls; they have so much blood in them you would think they would start to roll downhill, but they are still brown in color and still look like ticks, much like Violet Beauregarde when she got all plumped up on blueberries. They have trouble moving around in the tick jar.  They’re pretty damn gross.

(SPOILER ALERT – Now we move into the “no longer look like a tick but still a tick” arena. We are moving into the really, really disgusting aspect of ticks.  Feel free to drop out here.)

Unless you live where I live and have animals, you will not have experienced the “Grape tick” and you should be grateful for it.  A funny thing happens to ticks that feed for more than four days. They get big, much like a grape, and they no longer look like a tick. They turn into a sick, gray-purple color and their legs seem to disappear, under their bloated bellies.  They look like a raisin that has plumped itself back up by soaking in bleach.

Here’s what happens when you drop one of those vile, revolting plumped up, over-fed ticks into the tick jar. Remember the hungry newbie ticks?  They are so hungry and little, and the grape ticks are so big and slow, that the newbie ticks attach themselves to grey grape ticks’ bellies. So in the ultimate act of parasitic disgusting “ish”, we see ticks sucking on other ticks.  It’s like eating by proxy.

So, during this very special time of year, let this serve as a reminder to be sure to tuck your jeans into your socks, wear a hat, check yourself at night, get out the Frontline for your pets, and be careful when you scratch under your dog’s collar.  You never know what you’re going to find.

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Filed under Bayfield, Environment, Fall, Family, Humor, Parenting, Wisconsin

Disney (Part 1)

Kriner and I have very little in common.  He is vegan; I love meat.  He is an exercise fanatic; I sit on the couch and use the remote.  I love musical theater, he would rather go to the dentist.  I’m loud; he’s quiet.  He’s a planner, I’m spontaneous.  He gives 100%; I clock in around 60.  He’s concerned with the state of the environment; I’m concerned with the state of entertainment.  Kriner hates being embarrassed, and unfortunately for him, that is where I live.

There is one thing however, we have in common which will surprise many.  We both have an undying love for Disneyworld.  I’m completely and utterly serious.  We love Disney and all things Disney.  For all its consumerism, marketing, plastic and fakery, we “buy in” big.

Disney has the ability to melt my cynicism and snark and leave me in a puddle of tears when walking down Mainstreet USA, listening to the constant orchestrated soundtrack and watching the faces of children.  (They actually release doves when the park opens.)  For Kriner, it is a place of amazing rides, education and culture.  (Disney really does sneak in a lot of cultural and environmental education under the guise of “fun.”)  We really love it.

When we go to Disneyworld, I leave everything up to my husband.  Kriner is all about the planning.   Disney has four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios) and he has researched them to the hilt.  He knows the short cuts, the good food, and the trouble spots. He knows where to go and what to avoid.  He knows what parks open early; he knows what parks are open late.  He knows where the parades are going to be, and most importantly he knows how to manage the lines.  We have been there 3 times, and we have never, NEVER waited more than 13 minutes in a line for a ride, and even that is a rarity.  I am completely serious.   And these aren’t dumb insignificant rides like Goofy’s Barnstormer, and the lame tram in Tomorrowland; these are big, impressive rides like Space Mountain, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain.  He has a system and it works, but it comes at a cost.

In order to make it work, we need to strictly adhere to the system.  We take our vacations pretty seriously, and no one ever returns from a Woodworth/Kriner vacation feeling relaxed and well-rested.  We have things to do and Disney characters to see.  Kriner is the captain and Em and I his crew and we do what he says, no matter how taxing it may be.  It almost becomes a bit of a religion with its own dogma and practices.  He even has Commandments…

1. There shall be no sleeping in.  All wise and good men and their families shall be up before the sun so they can cleanse and feed their bodies in order to make pilgrimage to the chosen park of the blessed day.  All feeding during the breaking of dawn shall happen in the holy hotel room, as it saves consecrated time and blessed money.

2. A wise man and will be waiting in line before the park opens.  When the park opens in the sacred time of the early morning, there shall be no dilly dallying, and all rides in close proximity shall be shunned, for they are evil and can tempt a man into a hellish line.  The wise man will move to the back of the park and work his way back to the front, moving against the tide of the unwise who are sinful line-waiters.  It is then that his good and chaste wife will travel with haste to the other most desired and deserved rides and obtain the righteous and holy fast-pass.

3. The fast-pass is a thing of glory and shall never be mocked or taken in vain.  It must be heeded at all costs.  There shall be no stopping for ice cream or photos with park characters if it means missing a fast-pass.  It is the way and the law.

4. A man must not be afraid to run verily in the park in order to avoid the temptation of the hellish line.  If the good wife is hesitant to do this, she must repeat the mantra “It’s OK, no one knows us here.”

5. At the holy hour of 2:00 pm, a wise man and his family will go back to the holy hotel room for a time of replenishing.  This is the blessed time of swimming, napping and snacking.

A wise man and his family will then return back to the sacred Disney fully refreshed at 6:00 pm for dinner and again, he shall go into the park against the tide of the unwise, exhausted and often sunburned man who is leaving at this time.  The wise man is refreshed and jubilant going in.  The unwise man is spent and cranky going out.

6. After the 6:00 dinner, the family members will then have time to be “open to what they want to do” and no plan need be followed.  This is the most special time of reward for the man who had planned, as the wise man knows. This is a time of low attendance in the park and hellish lines can be avoided.  However, this special evening time may not coincide with special evening parades, for then the purpose is lost and he may again be tempted down the path of the hellish lines, as the unwise man seeks out the parades, the wise man avoids them.

7. Midday meal will be planned and shall not be eaten with sloth or vanity.  It is sustenance only and if possible, should be eaten while walking.  The only meal of the day that can be eaten with enjoyment and abundance is the evening meal.  Reservations for all evening meals must be made in advance at least 30 days prior to the pilgrimage.  This is done to avoid the hellish lines.

8. If a wise man’s mother-in-law is with him on his pilgrimage, a wheelchair must be procured for her, even if she is perfectly capable of walking.  Without it, she will be slow and weak.  The divine wheelchair will also help with avoiding the temptation of the hellish line, as on certain glorious rides, the mother-in-law will be able to move to the front of the hellish line and her family can also be permitted into the glorious gates of “handicapped access entrance.”

Also, if a child is under the age of 6, a stroller will be procured for the child.  The good and wise wife will push the child even if the child is perfectly capable to walk.  This also makes sure that all young and old people do not stray from “the way” and get diverted into the temptation of the t-shirt shop or the evil pin seller.

9. There shall be no pilgrimage to the consecrated Disneyworld Parks during Christmas, Easter, or Halloween.  Those are times of the most evil temptation and the hellish lines cannot be avoided even by the best of wise and good men.  March, May and June are blessed times for the hallowed passage and the wise and good man will be rewarded.

10. There shall be no staying on park property.  It is wasteful and mocks the holy Priceline and the blessed Orbitz.  A wise man and his family will get a hotel in the glorious city of Orlando and rent a car to travel to and fro.  (Also, a wise man will use his AAA status to get the glorious green parking pass to get sanctified “rock star” parking.)  This wise man might be tempted to get a midsize or larger car, but that is not the way.  The car shall be economy and the mother-in-law or child can be cramped in the divine back seat for that very short distance.  They shall be rewarded in the park afterwards for their suffering.

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Filed under Bayfield, Disney, Fabulous luxury, Family, Humor, Parenting, Roller Coasters, Travel