Thursday, August 28, 2008

Strolling downtown with skeletons and dirty laundry

Another meeting of my small town's Planning and Zoning Commission and another appearance by yours truly to solicit support for my ongoing downtown historic walking trail project.

A little background music, Maestro...

Upon my arrival over three years ago to my central Oklahoma town of 4380, one of the first community organizations to snag my warm Stay-at-Home-Dad body was a local non-profit group that was building a series of walking trails around and through my small town. The folks running the show seemed sincere and committed to their cause of promoting a "healthy and active lifestyle" for the fellow citizens of their beloved burg so I gave them my support and a-ok and have been involved with them ever since.

In fighting the good fight to revive and maintain the integrity of our old Downtown district, I came up with the idea of erecting historic markers along the sidewalks and alleys of our old Main Street district, in an effort to generate some interest in the pioneering buildings and people who preceded my immigration to our burrough on the prairie.

Turns out we were able to secure some private donations for the project and before I knew it, I was spending a great deal of time in our local library, scanning hundred-year old microfilmed issues of newspapers looking to generate some tidbits of text for the proposed downtown markers.

I know, I know, "Jack, next time you get a bright idea just put it in a memo!"

The research turned out to be more fun than I had anticipated. True, I wasn't Nicholas Cage searching for a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but delving into the lives of those who have come before satisfies the voyeur in me in a relatively harmless manner.

Okay, so maybe I stepped on a few toes of local historians who I initially turned to for fact checking and instead received more than a few raised eyebrows and muted harrumphs.

And its possible I may have inadvertently uncovered more than a few inaccuracies in some local myths that have been bandied about the population as facts and givens for so many years.

But if it gets a few more people walking downtown, generating an appreciation for this town and those people who built it, then what's a few exposed sores and picked scabs among community members?

So I get myself all dooded up (clean shorts, clean shirt, combed hair, etc.) and ready to present my case to the P&Z board to allow the non-profit I work with to install our next set of historical markers on the city sidewalks... when what do my wandering eyes did appear, 3 Board short of a quorum.

Let's just reschedule the meeting Thursday at noon, that okay with everyone here, okay fine then...."

Hey, even in my small town, fair is fair and a quorum still means majority rules.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crab-itat for

A few weeks back S attended a campaign watch party for her friend and took along PK as a guest.

The party was hosted by the largest campaign contributor and "backer" of the candidate who lived with his wife and family in a ritzy house on a ritzy street in a ritzy part of town in a ritzy part of the state.

S came back from the party with two things on her mind...1) she was convinced even more that the politics of her friend and the party he represents are no where near her political leanings and 2) an entire Hannah Montana bedroom for little girls is entirely possible given enough time, money, and parental, support.

PK came back from the party obsessed with hermit crabs.

Seems the 5-year old little lord Fauntleroy of the house had an Aaron Spelling size habitat full of healthy, happy and hyperactive hermit crabs that PK couldn't keep her eyes and hands off of.

I know, I know, the same red flags that start waving when I hear the words "fresh sushi" and "Oklahoma" in the same sentence were sparking up a storm in my mind when I thought of getting the girl's a set of hermit crabs of their very own.

But, summer was winding down, and their back to school stuff had all been bought and paid for, so what could the harm be in few little exoskeletoid friends to depend on us for their very existence?
We buried the first one a week to the day after we brought home.

PK had named him/her/it "Don't Kilpatrick," since it had Patrick Star painted on it's shell and every time the girls would spot the Kilpatrick Turnpike sign as we enter the toll road nearest us they'd merrily chant out, "Don't kill Patrick!"

We buried the replacement for the first one a few days after it arrived to ease the suffering of my 5-year old in crab-mourning.

We then buried the second of the original pair (named Miley, as in Cyrus) a few days later.

What's discouraging the most is that I read every dad'gum website there is on how best to care for and provide an ideal environment for those dopey little crabs, and still they popped off on me like I was intentionally waiting for them to just die.

I mean, we can keep a $.39 goldfish alive for over 7-years running, and our dog is approaching her 2nd birthday relatively unscathed (we did find a big ol' nasty tick on her the other day and enjoyed pulling it out and scorching it to death via the hot Oklahoma sun and a 4" magnifying glass), so why did our crabitat become a rectangular plastic biodome of death?

School has provided a welcomed distraction for PK who still seems to be sidelined every now and then with PTCDS (post-traumatic-crab-death syndrome). Oh, the tender heart of a 5-year old.

The 8-year old? After she watched me pull the rotting crab carcasses from their shells and put them in the ground for their burial rites, she commented that it had been several months since we went to Joe's Crab Shack and wanted to know if we could go sometime soon.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Color her purple, the free fair arrives

Since I'm about 4 generations and thirty-six mindsets away from getting my kids to enter a livestock entry of any kind into our small town counties free fair, they instead opt for the arts and crafts competition in their zestful quest to snag a blue ribbon or two.

Generally speaking, the competition for art and crafts in the junior categories isn't as populated as one would think it would be in a small central Oklahoma town. Guess most of the kids are out feeding their heifers and tending to their lambs.

Still and all, C managed to enter 2-acrylic paintings, 2-colored pencil drawings, 5-digital photographs and a glazed ceramic plate she made at art camp a few weeks back.

PK, being of Kindergarten status and relegated to compete in the 12 and under category for her art camp ceramics, entered a baked clay and glazed mask that resembled a fox, and a glazed ceramic plate as well.

Tonight we trekked on over to the exhibit building to see how the girl's entries fared and were kinda blown away by the large numbers of participants vying for ribbons this year.

Nice to see folks picking up their paint brushes, dusting off their 35mm cameras, firing up their ovens and diving into what must be the cutthroat category of the entire free fair, the handmade quilt category.

PK won her first ribbon ever with her fox mask, and even though her plate was skunked, she took thoughtful solace knowing that her sister's plate (entered in the same category) won a blue ribbon. Okay, maybe thoughtful solace isn't the correct phrase.

Try seething jealous sibling rivalry.

All of C's art work won ribbons of varying colors and levels which seemed to reinforce her somewhat pessimistic theory (for an 8-year old) that all she had to do was enter something in every category for there to be a partial payoff, given the odds she was looking at.

Kinda like my college days theory of asking out 100 beautiful women out on dates, with the odds being in your favor that at least one or two will say yes.

Pathetic, I know. Don't think I even got out of the teens on that one.

Onto the digital photographs, and since a wise Chinese fortune cookie once imbibed that a picture is worth a thousand words (more so in my case since I'm relatively illiterate), I'll let my 8.5-year olds 5-megapixel photos do the talking...

Blue Ribbon, Junior Division - Unretouched digital, Nature category, Grades 1-4

Taken with my Kodak C330 5-megapixel digital camera at my Uncle and Aunt's backyard garden in Petaluma, CA on our recent trip out west. I asked C why she chose to shoot this one in black and white and she said, "it just looked better that way."

Blue Ribbon, Junior Division - Unretouched digital, Still Life category, Grades 1-4

Same camera, same garden in Petaluma, same trip out west. This photo is the third in a sequence of photos, starting wide, then closer, and finally this extremely close shot. She titled it, "What a bug sees".

Blue Ribbon, Junior Division - Unretouched digital, Animal category, Grades 1-4

Our pooch Franny is a favorite subject for our little shutterbug daughters and even though I had originally dismissed this photo as being too out of focus for fair contention, S insisted the capturing of the expression in her eye, albeit fuzzy, was worth another looksee. It's an odd angle indeed and apparently good enough for blue and gold.

Reserve Grand Champion, Junior Division, Grades 1-12

For the lighting in our mudroom we went with a threesome of those aluminum clamp on lights you can get in the hardware store for $5. A little matching paint and some inventive wiring and we were set (energy saving low wattage bulbs of course). C sought a more artistic interpretation of our hanging mudroom lamps and received a footlong reserve grand champion pink badge and ribbon for her "flash-off" efforts.

Grand Champion, Junior Division, Grades 1-12

She literally freaked out when she saw the huge purple badge and ribbon on her flower photo. Actually, one of her school friends came running up to her the moment we crossed the exhibit building threshold and told her that she had won a purple ribbon. C was floored and almost near tears as she escorted us over to see her prize.

I can't say enough about this photo, taken with that same Kodak 5-megapixel camera at my relatives spread in NorCal. How the sun spotlights the flower. How she composed the shot for the flower to be slightly off center. The patch of light in the unfocused dark background on the right along with the vibrant greenery on the razor sharp left. The diagonal split of light and dark separating the frame and creating a sense of depth and contrast for the flowers environment. I'm just astounded she took this shot. Even if it was purely accidental, we should all be lucky enough to fall into such photographic fortuitousness on occasion.

And if there are any naysayers that doubt an 8.5-year old actually took this picture, you'll have to contend with the half-dozen or so relatives who witnessed C taking the garden pictures, then watching my cousin's mega-inch computer monitor as he uploaded her pics off the SD card and onto his hard drive.

Big thank-you's to my Uncle T, Auntie K, and Cousin K in Petaluma for tending such a wonderful garden, then letting the girls go wild in it. I'll be sending pics of C standing with her ribbons and prize-winning photos taken in your yard if and when I can get C to give me back the camera.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wherefore art thou onion bagel?

I'm ashamed to admit it, but here goes.

The first bagel and cream cheese I ever ate was out of a refrigerated vending machine on the campus of what would become my undergrad alma mater.

There, I said it.

It was wonderful experience which to this very day, I can recall vividly the explosions of foreign taste and texture wreaking havoc with my tastebuds.

I bring this up because since those days when my friend Randy and I were taking college extension-type classes to "get ahead" during our early high-school years and would scrounge the campus vending machines for contraband nourishment, I have managed to avoid eating nothing but bakery fresh or at the very least, prepackaged "bakery-aisle fresh" bagels.

With the levels of modern consumable transportation and fast food service gluttony reaching near perfection in this country, there are literally no excuses left for why a person should be subjected to satisfying their onion bagel and cream cheese cravings from a refrigerated or frozen environment.

Now, when I say onion bagel, I'm talking ONION. Not just some dried onion flakes sprinkled on the top in the last few minutes of baking. The onions need to be lovingly folded and made as one with the circular doughy delicacy. Ideally the top should be sprinkled with freshly oven-carmelized slivers of yellow onion, the tallest of which made crispy by their proximity to the heating elements in the horizontal surface toaster (never toast a bagel in an upright...yikes).

These are the onion bagels with which I spent my youthful adulthood eating, and these are the onion bagels of which I thoroughly craved.

Yet, here I was in my small town looking at the plain, blueberry and raisin bagel offerings that my local grocery store and Walmart bread aisles had to offer, and facing the fact that it was either settle for a non-onion flavored packaged store bought bagel of passable caliber, or face a possible interface with a low-to-medium quality onion bagel a mere 60 miles or so away at a Dunkin' Donuts or Panera Bread (they don't make onion bagels, but their Everything variety is decent) in the city.

Then I stumbled upon the frozen food fridges at my local super market and the sight of a green Lenders label jogged my memory. Lenders -- frozen -- bagels.

And green was their chosen color for their onion variety. (Why green?)

Now, why would I choose to go with a frozen bagel over a "fresh" packaged one from the bakery aisle? It was that green label. I figured if I was going to eat a bagel to satisfy my cravings, it might as well be the variety for which I wanted. Frozen or not, it was somebodies interpretation of an onion bagel and I was going to give it a shot. A long one.

Which later found me sitting in my kitchen spreading garden vegetable Kraft brand "schmear" over the freshly thawed frozen onion bagel, and flashing back to my first bite oh so many years ago.

I had come full circle. My life journey is shaped like a bagel.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You say tomato, I say Toyota...

The other night S caught me chuckling at a commercial airing between Olympic events on NBC.

The ad was a flashy corporate-made spot for Ford wherein the authoratatively-voiced announcer proudly stated that "Ford now matches quality with Toyota!"

Not better than. Not exceeds. Not even edges out by the slightest margin.

Ford "matches" Toyota.

Now, I'm not going to go into the study that revealed such figures, and truth be told, I couldn't care less whether the blue oval car and trucks of today rate higher or lower on the quality suckage meter than any other car or truck out there.

I'm currently po'd at Toyota because of their built-in obsolescent design of the front wheel bearings on the 5-year old model my Wife drives.

Without getting too technical, wheel bearings are one the many components on a modern consumer internal combustible motor vehicle that should be made serviceable by the average to above average shade tree mechanic. If greased often and correctly, wheel bearings should last 50-100K miles without incident.

Needless to say, when I started hearing the unmistakable sounds of a bearing starting to age on the passenger side front wheel on Wifey's ride, I jumped on the net only to find out the harsh truth of what it was going to take to switch the $25 culprit out.

In a nutshell...jack the car onto jackstands, remove tire, remove brake caliper, remove rotor, loosen steering tie rod, loosen strut, loosen control arm, remove steering knuckle/spindle, have machine shop press out old bearing/hubs, buy new bearings, have machine shop press in new bearings/hubs, replace all components, get front end aligned (for safety).

Or take it to a shop which has a special impact gun press kit that can remove and install the bearings into the steering knuckle on the car (negating the step of removing all the steering components, thus also negating the need for a realignment) but get charged out the wazoo for that convenience.

At dealer rates, we were talking about a $300 - $500 dollar job minimum. The regular mechanic we use (an honest to goodness honest mechanic) is swamped and couldn't fit us in for two-weeks - that's the problem with good/honest mechanics. Word gets out of their quality and honesty and suddenly the whole world is in line before you.

So, I was faced with spending an entire day or two (includes driving to the city for a machine shop that could do the pressing work and finding an alignment shop) doing an Fix-it-myself job, or finding a different shop.

In my time of need, I turned to a Honda specialist shop I had luck with before, knowing full well that they would probably not be able to help me directly, but could possibly point me in a well-informed direction.

First, a little background.

Back when I first moved to OK, I had decided to address the intermittent A/C issue that my Civic was experiencing and took it to one of the Honda dealers in the city. Their incompetence was the stuff that urban legends are made of, but luckily through the grapevine of online ricer message boards I found this place.

C'mon, a Honda shop O and O'd by a former NOPI XBOX Cup Champion (Pro 4 Cylinder), and Honda fac tech since the 90's, here in the middle of domestic car Machu Picchu.

Long story short, he fixed my Civic's A/C in one visit (the dealer techs were still scratching their sweaty bald heads after 4 trips to their shiny service bays), tuned the frack out my D16Z6 single OHC VTEC 4-banger, and gave me a list of parts he could find both new and slightly used that would help my little ricer in the handling and green-light-go department...(wink-wink) just in case I was interested.

Back to my Wife's Toy wheel bearing issue. A quick phone call to Matt at Alternative led to a friendly "bring it on it, we'll take care of it for 'ya," which then led to me dropping the car off that day, which finally led to my Wife happily humming down I-40 to work this morning in her car.

So in retrospect, I'm really not all that po'd at Toyota. Least they did the right thing by making their cars similar enough so that even a Honda mech tech can fix them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Can you dig it?"

The small Oklahoma town my wife grew up in was just a tad larger than my small town is now.

A few years back when we were on the hunt for a small town to call our own, we briefly toyed with the idea of looking at houses near where she grew up. However in the intervening 18 years since she had fled the panhandle state, her little town had sprawled to a staggering 12,000 townsfolk and no longer offered the small town experience that she now craved for our family unit.

Her childhood memory scrapbook is filled with swim lessons at the local park pool, tromping off to the "boondocks" with a piece of raw bacon tied to the end of string to catch crawdads down at the creek, and holiday parades where she knew just about everyone marching or riding a float.

And dance lessons at the Moose.

Moose lodge #1785 that is.

In the 23 years we've been together, I thought I had heard every painful (there were many) and triumphant (a few sprinkled in) tale to be generated from her pre-teen tap, jazz, and ballet dance classes at the Moose.

Not quite.

After cheering for, then screaming with the American men's 4x100 Freestyle relay team as they bested the trash-talkin' rival French team by 8/10ths of a second, S went to take a soak in a hot water filled clawfoot where she learned the news that Isaac Hayes had passed away (yes, we have a tv mounted within optimal viewing direction of the tub...don't ask). For reasons unknown to me at that moment, the news of the passing of the creator of the "Theme from Shaft," sent my wife into a quiet funk.

It was more than a few moments after hearing the news that I heard my wife break out into her own melancholy rendition of Mr. Haye's wonderful but lessor known, I just don't know what to do with myself."

Okay, what's the story here?

Turns out she had practiced and performed an emotional jazz routine to this song as an impressionable small-town dance student. Isaac's soulful lyrics and to-the-bone singing style must have resonated deep within her, for even 30-something years later, she did a total recall on the entire song, beginning to end.

When asked, she could only remember a few of the dance moves that went along with the song, but the lyrics were imprinted into the depths of her soul.

Now, I'm forever teasing my wife about what I've always considered her limited "soul for soul music," seeing as how the soundtrack of her formative youthful years was filled with REO Speedwagon and Journey.

Then out of the past comes the deep baritone voice announcing that perhaps there is some "soul for soul" in my Wife after all.

Rest in peace Isaac. Enjoy your jam session with Jimmy, Elvis, Buddy, John, George and all the others.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The politics of friendship

My Wife has never been very political in public, yet the true value of her friendship was on display a few days before this last round of local elections.

In 102 degree heat, she was out canvasing a far off neighborhood in support of a friends bid for an OK House Seat.

A friend, I might add, who was not a representative of her chosen political party.

Some may say she's a hypocrite. Some may cry foul for her blatant disregard for the sanctity of the multi-party political system. Some may even say she sold out for her own non-political but personal gain.

I say "shut up and go vote."

As if on cue, this article recently appeared in our local news rag that just oozes further proof that every vote counts, especially here in small town Oklahoma.

Deciding an election by pulling a name out of a hopper...what'll they think of next?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who needs Nascar...we have GRASCAR!

It's too long and convoluted a story to tell how my Wife and I recently found ourselves at a relatively local lawn mower racing event, but there we were and here I am now to blog about it.

Lawn mower racing. Go ahead and say it, "Okay, here's a rednecky sport that had to be invented by a bunch of Coors Light swillin' good ol' boys not rich or talented enough to drive in Nascar."

You'd think so, but you'd be wrong.

Invented as a competitive motorsports event in Great Britain (of all places), it's grown in popularity in the States and even has a national governing body, the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association.

This particular GRASCAR event was held on a city owned lot on Route 66. Admission was free, they charged $10 to race, $5 for a pit pass, and a local burger joint had their mobile kitchen there to serve up sumptuous onion fried burgers to the hungry lawn mowing masses. It was a family friendly affair, no alcohol sold or served however there were quite a few tailgaters present that brought their own refreshments.

I'm not sure the event we attended was a sanctioned race by the USLMRA, but there were actual rules and categories/classes that were being adhered to, and the safety measures taken were respectful of the speeds that these ex-grass munchers could attain.

Don't believe me, check out this iMovie I cobbled together while at the event. It's about 17 megs, so be patient.

Oh, and pay special attention to the last few seconds of the video. That's S at the controls, participating in an actual race that evening in what they advertised as the "Powder Puff" lady's only race.

How someone talked her into strapping on that helmet and getting on the back of a mower was beyond me, but considering she had pushed a mower maybe 3 or 4 times in her life and had never ridden on a riding mower, let alone drive one, I thought she did pretty well. Okay, okay, the magic of editing has her taking the checkered flag, but she came in 4th place...same place she started.

The inevitable question being, is there possibly a GRASCAR overhead valve twin powered mowing racer in the works behind all those hot rods parts at the back of my garage?

Well, if I can't convince C to get into Junior Dragster racing anytime soon, then perhaps a few wins on the GRASCAR circuit may get her interested in learning how to drift her Daddy's El Camino and maybe find her way into road racing.

Hey, it could happen.